By Lon Anderson
He thinks like a kid, and sure has the energy and intensity of one. How else can you explain an adult who can write a children’s book and mesmerize about 250 kids from five grades by reading it to them in a gymnasium?
But that’s exactly what author Greyson Masters did last Thursday, January 9, at Eastern Hardy Early/Middle School in Baker. You could hear the proverbial pin drop as Masters read his latest book, “The Worthless Penny” to the kids, with much animation, his voice rising and falling. He’s also, it turns out, a talented performer with a heck of an imagination. And the kids loved it.
The “Worthless Penny” is the story about a boy and his penny, told from the viewpoint of the penny. Because the boy would never spend the penny, but did spend the other coins in his pocket, the penny felt undervalued and unappreciated. “We all know the value of a penny,” Masters told the children, “but here’s the lesson: When you are loved, you are priceless.” And the boy loved his lucky penny and would never spend it.
Masters, a resident of Winchester, Va. and a graduate of the Byrd School of Business at Shenandoah University, is now a best-selling author on Amazon. “I’ve been on a best-seller list with James Patterson,” he proudly proclaims on his website.
So, after reading his book to the children, he engages them in some hands-on instruction about how to write a book which, he says, starts with inspiration. “You gotta want to do it. It’s not easy, but it’s a lot of fun.”
His inspiration, he said, came to him as he sat eating in a Chick-fil-A restaurant. “Ideas come from everywhere,” he tells the kids, and asks them for help.
“Dreams!“ shouted one student.
“Vacations!” volunteered another.
“Now you’ve got to have a plan,” he told them, and suggested that their book should answer the questions Who, What, When, Where and How.
Then you need to figure out if your book is going to have meter, he continued. Some books are written in rhyme—like Dr. Seuss. To get the feeling for this, he found 10 volunteers – five girls and five boys, with even a teacher joining in to dance to the beat he tapped out.
Then, you have to actually write your book.
“It’s not going to be perfect the first time,” he warns. “You’re never done the first time—you won’t be done the first time. You’ll have to revise and rewrite, and this can take forever.”
He threw several early drafts of his book in the air remarking “not finished, not finished, not finished.”
“Be open to suggestions from your teachers, parents and friends,” he urges. “Watch out for praise –it’s a lot like candy—too much is not good for you.”
After the revise/rewrite phase, it’s time to illustrate. “I was going to hire an illustrator,” he told his mesmerized young audience, “but that can cost thousands and thousands of dollars, and I can’t afford that. But I can’t draw either.”
“What I learned,” he said, “is that words are far more important that the pictures, so the pictures don’t have to be elaborate.”
Ten more volunteers were needed, selected and brought up front to help him demonstrate how easy creating simple illustrations could be. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest drawer: “If you can write the alphabet, you can draw,” he told the assembly, and he used his volunteers to prove the point.
The last big hurdle to publishing your book, he explained, is getting past the gatekeepers.
“You find them throughout life, and you have to get past them to write a book.”
To illustrate, he recruited two more students, and instructed them to say nothing but “No!” So, to his every comment they shouted “No!”
“Then came the internet,” Masters explained, “and that allows you to go right around the gatekeeper. You can self-publish and put it on Amazon. When someone orders it, it’s printed right then. They sell (my book) for $6.94 and send me $1.95 for each one sold.”
He admitted you can’t do much with $1.95, but noted if you sell a lot, you can make a lot.
And then the student assembly was over and it was time to head to Mrs. Marguerite Glogau’s second grade class where Masters provided the first of several writing workshops that he had agreed to put on. Mrs. Glogau’s class is the same one that student Jaylynn Gano was in last year when she entered the SMART529 writing contest and her essay won a $5,000 prize as part of the state’s plan for encouraging college savings.
In the classroom, he carefully retraced the students through his steps in book writing, but this time in a small group, with pencils and paper in their hands. When it was over, according to Robin See, a teacher and the Title I Remedial Specialist at EHEMS, Mrs. Glagau’s class specifically asked him to come back in the spring to read their stories.
Response to his visit was terrific, according to See, who said many students said they were anxious to finish the stories they started in his workshop and hoped he would return to hear them. In fact, Masters said he would return next spring.
“I get excited when I do these school visits,” the author explained afterwards. “I get pumped up like at a pep rally. I just enjoy it and I haven’t stopped smiling since my visit to East Hardy. The kids were so fantastic—like sponges, they seem to be absorbing everything. I will never forget my visit—it was just a great day, and the teachers were so open and receptive.”
When asked how he found his way to East Hardy, Masters noted that he had been friends for many years with Cheryl George of Baker, who worked at Summit Bank when they met. George is now a pastor with the United Methodist Church in Baker, where she also serves on the Local Schools Improvement Committee. She had recommended Masters to EHEMS and then sought funding assistance from the local no-profit organization Lost River Projects, which provides financial support for educational and community events.
At the school for the Masters’ program, Pastor George was wearing a sweatshirt with a poignant message: “When we read to kids, we change their lives.” With a little luck, perhaps a lot of young lives were changed at East Hardy Early/Middle School last week with the help of author Greyson Masters.