The students of Tuttle Middle School got out of the classroom Wednesday morning to listen to and ask questions of award-winning author Neal Shusterman.
Shusterman is currently in the middle of a book tour to promote his new novel “UnSouled,” and in Indianapolis to accept the Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award for his novel “Bruiser.” He has also written for film and television, including several episodes of Goosebumps and an original Disney Channel movie called “Pixel Perfect.”
“We’re very excited to have him here today,” Tuttle librarian Michelle VanHorn said. “When we found out he would be in the area we knew this was something we needed to make happen.”
VanHorn said that Shusterman’s novel “The Shadow Club” is in the sixth grade curriculum, and since the end of September the school has had giveaways and contests to promote several more of Shusterman’s 43 novels. The Montgomery County Community Foundation and Teachers Credit Union helped fund those efforts, VanHorn said.
“I published The Shadow Club in 1988 at the age of 23. Since then I’ve written a book and a half a year for 25 years,” Shusterman said, preparing in the library as the students shuffled into the gymnasium. “It’s always very rewarding speaking to students and helping them connect with the stories. They’re at a time in their lives when they’re figuring out who they’re going to be. Hopefully I’m providing positive models through the characters in my books.”
In the gymnasium Shusterman stood elevated on the stage, surrounded by larger-than-life book covers. The best-selling author, instead of lecturing to a crowd, started with a question and answer session that lasted the entire hour.
Many students asked about “UnWind,” a story set in a society where troubled teens are salvaged for their body parts. Shusterman was asked detailed questions about character’s motives and his personal thoughts on the dark, fictional society he created.
“When I’m writing I like to think about what is going on in the world and the problems facing it, then I like to take it a step further,” Shusterman said. “As for the direction of the story, I’m a firm believer that the story will go in the direction the characters want it to go.”
Shusterman, a self-described genre buster, said his inspiration for becoming a writer came the summer before his ninth grade year when he saw the film “Jaws” for the first time. He wrote a short story about man-eating sandworms and lobsters that attack through the plumbing and turned it into his freshman English teacher. She encouraged him to continue writing and had a positive impact on him, he said.
“Ever since then I’ve wanted to capture people’s imaginations and keep them on the edge of their seats.”
Judging by the reactions of dozens of hands shooting into the air every few minutes, each attached to an eager student begging to ask Shusterman a question about this character or that literary decision, he succeeded in that mission on Wednesday.
Much to the delight of everyone there, Shusterman announced he is currently working on “UnDivided,” the fourth installment in the UnWind series. He is also in the middle of “Tesla’s Attic,” the first book of a new trilogy set in Colorado Springs. Shusterman said in the book a young boy moves into a new home and clears out the attic, full of odd trinkets, so he can use it as a bedroom. The boy soon finds out those trinkets are the last inventions of Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor often overshadowed by Thomas Edison, and that these inventions each have the capability to destroy the world. “Tesla’s Attic” is scheduled to be published next year.
“I was very impressed by their questions,” Shusterman said as the students filed out, off to second period. “Lots of questions about ‘UnWind’ today. That one always seems to be a favorite.”
Shusterman travels today to Chicago to continue his book tour for several more weeks. Then he’ll return back to southern California where he lives with his wife and four children.