Neal Shusterman, author of Scythe and Dry, recently visited South to discuss his books with students.
Thanks to librarians Stacy Rice and Ann Maass, students were able to choose a free copy of either Scythe or Dry, two of Shusterman’s best sellers, to have signed by the author.
Shusterman didn’t want students to feel as if he was giving a lecture, so instead he went straight for answering questions students wanted to ask him. Students asked a variety of questions, including questions about how he got into writing.
“I started when I was in high school, it was a combination of my 9th grade English teacher and a 26-foot-long great white shark,” Shusterman said.
He explained how reading Jaws as a book and watching the movie version on its opening night, inspired him.
“I remember walking out of that theater after watching Jaws and thinking to myself, ‘I want to be like Steven Spielberg,’” Shusterman said.
Shusterman went on, telling students about a story he wrote inspired by Jaws.
“It was about a seashore town that was being attacked, not by sharks because that had already been done. In my story there were these sand worms that would come up and eat people through their beach blankets, jellyfish that would attack you while you were swimming, dragging you down to the bottom, and lobsters that got into the sewer system crawling up through the toilet in the middle of the night and eat you alive,” Shusterman said.
His principal entered his story into a short story contest, but he lost and didn’t even receive an honorable mention, like some other students did.
“My English teacher came up to me and said, ‘Neal get over it, you want to be a writer? Fine. Here’s your first lesson as a writer: it’s called rejection. Deal with it,’” Shusterman said.
Shusterman discussed how many times he was rejected as an early writer and how each person will face rejection multiple times in their own life. He then explained how the way that a person reacts to rejection will lead to their ultimate success or failure, depending on whether they try again or choose to give up.
One audience member asked him what he does to deal with writer’s block, a phrase referring to the times in which a person needs to write but is not able to because nothing comes to their mind.
“When it comes to writer’s block here’s a secret: there is no such thing. Sometimes when you write it’s easy. Those ideas come to you and you can’t type or write fast enough, but then it stops. It always stops. You can throw up your hand and say, ‘oh I can’t write, I have writer’s block.’ But that’s not writer’s block, that’s being a writer,” Shusterman said.
“If you call it writer’s block, that just gives you an excuse not to go through the hard part of writing.”
This mentality has led Shusterman to commercial success as he has 52 published titles and his book, Scythe, has been picked up by none other than Spielberg himself to, as Shusterman hopes, be turned into a major motion picture.