By KAYLA J. MARSH
MIDDLETOWN — Students have a story of their own to share after award-winning author Dan Gutman visited Nutswamp Elementary School to provide insight into the process of creating a book from start to finish, handling rejection, and why reading and writing are important.
“This is a very special treat,” Principal Dean W. Bisgrove said during the Jan. 22 event. “Many other schools do not offer the opportunity to meet famous authors.”
During the event, Gutman read aloud from his book “Rappy the Raptor” for kindergarten classes, took time to sign books for pupils and spoke to children about his career, offering tips and advice.
“I never took a writing class in my life,” Gutman said. “I went to college at Rutgers University, but I didn’t study writing, I studied psychology, and after college, I didn’t want to become a psychologist.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I thought ‘what do I like to do,’ and I always enjoyed writing letters to my friends, so I just decided to start writing.”
Gutman said his first book came out when he was 30 years old and said it was nice since he wasn’t big on reading while growing up.
“I was one of the kids who hated to read,” he said. “I thought reading was really boring and hard to do.
“My mother was really worried about me and she used to buy me comic books and magazines hoping it would get me interested in reading, and it didn’t work.
“It wasn’t until I was in about fourth grade or so that I became a big sports fan and suddenly I wanted to know everything about sports, so I started reading books about my favorite athletes and that is what got me interested in reading.”
Leading up to the event, classes decorated the outsides of their classroom doors with designs inspired from Gutman’s more than 120 books, several of which he discussed with students.
“I can’t do magic tricks … but I can do something magicians can’t do, and that is I can take a white piece of paper and I can turn it into a book,” he said.
Discussing his Baseball Card Adventure Series, Gutman said the road leading up to the first book in the series, “Honus and Me,” was rough and told students that while rejection is tough, it won’t be the end of the world.
“Did I give up? Did I let them push me around? Did I quit? No, [and] I’m really glad I didn’t quit on this book when all those publishers were telling me it was no good, and I hope in your lives, when you get rejected for something someday, I hope you don’t quit either because you never know what might happen if you stick with it.”
Gutman also took pupils through his process when he is writing a new book.
“Every time I have an idea, I jot it down on an index card,” he said. “Some authors they just sit at their computer and start typing, but I can’t write like that. I have to plan my whole story out from start to finish, and that is what I do with these cards.
“This is my outline for the story, and I might spend a month just doing the outline, then I’ll sit down at my computer, take the first card off the pile and start to write the book.”
Using his The Genies Files Series as an example, Gutman explained his process of creating a book from start to finish, beginning with genre.
“I decided I wanted to try to write an action adventure mystery,” he said. “I had never done a book like this before and I thought it would be an interesting challenge for me.”
Thinking next about setting, main and secondary characters, what the characters’ goals are or the problems they are trying to solve, Gutman told students he likes to start with a bang.
“With my books I always feel like I need to start with a bang because I have a short attention span and, while I’m reading a book, if the author doesn’t grab me on the first few pages, I just lose interest and close the book,” he said.
Despite a process that can be long and tedious at times, Gutman encouraged students to follow their dreams.
“Sometimes writing books is fun, sometimes it is not so fun, but for the most part I really love what I do,” he said. “There is no age requirement to write a book. One of the most famous books was written by a child, ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ so there is no reason why you can’t write a book today.”