A children's author who hated writing when he was a child told and showed Mount Olive Intermediate School students Wednesday they can weave words into compelling stories.
Michael Finklea, 51, grew up on an Arkansas dairy farm. While traveling the world as a model for five years, he discovered his passion for writing by keeping a journal.
Combined with his incessant imagination, he overcame attention deficit disorder and eight rejections to get his debut book published in 1998. "The Worldwide Adventures of Winston and Churchill" is about two mice cousins.
Eight more books later with Ozark Publishing, including popular titles such as "Creepers," "Scared Stiff" and "Tardy Mardy," he has visited more than 2,000 elementary schools across the United States.
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It was during his first speaking engagement when he stumbled upon his main message. He asked the 750 students assembled at that school in Houston whether they like to write.
Only four raised a hand.
"That was the day I also learned something about myself," said Finklea, now residing in Dallas, "because all I wanted to do was go home."
But an insightful question from one of the students saved him: "Did you like to write when you were our age?"
"No," he replied, then thought to himself, "Aw, man I can't believe I just did this. I'm an author and I'm telling these kids I didn't like to write?"
Now, he turns that notion around for a valuable lesson.
"If you say writing is boring, or you say you don't know what to write about," he boasted, "I'll change your mind." Then he did.
He told the Mount Olive students to look at their gym wall as he spontaneously talked them through a story about a student finding a secret world behind a loose block.
When he finished, he asked them, "Is it boring to write about that wall now?"
They hollered, "Nooooo!"
"Open your eyes," he continued, "and look around you, and you can look at things completely differently. The vent on the ceiling, that can become the next best-selling scary story. Anything with a little imagination, a mystery, can take a little-bitty idea and make it into something big."
Mount Olive principal Tammy Barnes called Finklea's presentation "awesome" and expects it to motivate her students.
"We're trying to find ways to make it interesting for them as far as descriptive writing," she said, "using those adverbs and adjectives to describe and capture your attention."
Mount Olive librarian Cyrone Overton learned about Finklea's tour from an email. She checked with other school librarians who hosted him and read rave reviews. The price also was right: free.
Finklea explained why.
"These days, they pull back on budgets for schools so badly, even if I charged only $200, I'd be bouncing all over the place just trying to fill a week," he said. "So with not charging, I'm able to get to more schools and give them that good message."
And sell more books.
After the presentation, students lined up to buy Finklea's autographed paperbacks for $7 each.