PETERSBURG – It’s not every day students get the chance to pick the brain of their assigned reading’s author, but that isn’t much of a problem when she lives right down the street.
Eighth-graders at the Upper Township Middle School took advantage of the opportunity on Thursday, April 28, when author Amy Reade visited the school library for a talk. Teacher Shelley Forsman told Reade, of Beesleys Point, that the students had a lot of questions about her gothic mystery, “Secrets of Hallstead House.”
“They are very savvy readers,” Forsman said.
The students asked Reade questions about the killer in the novel, and she said the culprit actually changed during the writing. Some of the students’ questions couldn’t be answered, because Reade herself doesn’t know for sure.
“It’s up to the reader to decide,” she said, of what happens to her heroine afterwards.
Eighth-graders in Forsman and Mary Abel’s Language Arts classes also asked about the setting of Reade’s first novel, which takes place in the Thousand Islands region of upstate New York. Reade said she grew up in that part of New York, and her great-grandmother grew up on one of the islands in the St. Lawrence River. Her grandfather was born on the same island.
“Many of them don’t have running water, but on some people live there year-round,” she said. “There are almost 2,000 islands. They are small communities in themselves. Where my grandfather was born, there were only 16 families.”
Reade described a section of the Thousand Islands called “Millionaire’s Row,” where she imagined her story took place. She said the isolated islands with old mansions were the perfect place to set a gothic novel.
“I can really see those places,” Reade said.
Reade worked as an attorney in Manhattan before she and her husband, John, moved to Upper Township. She first became interested in writing after attending a three-day workshop led by author Anne Kelleher at the Ocean City Free Public Library. The setting of “Secrets of Hallstead House” suddenly came to her during the workshop and she felt compelled to write a story, she said.
She told the students that setting can be another character in a novel.
“If you have a setting in a basement or outside you have two entirely different stories,” Reade said. “My story is set on an island in the middle of a river. The main character can’t swim.”
It is important for an author to “show, don’t tell” when it comes to emotions, Reade said. Instead of saying a character is in a scornful mood, it is better to describe how she looks or is acting, she said.
“If you can make the reader feel what the character feels, you’ve got a really successful scene, a scene they won’t want to put down,” Reade said.
Forsman said that she is friends with Reade, and that she read “Secrets of Hallstead House” one summer and thought it would be great for her students. She said her students started the reading assignment by doing “presearch” on their computers, finding out what the Thousand Islands region looked like and facts about the area.
“Nobody in the class had been there,” Forsman said. “We have one-to-one computers, so that allowed each student to go on a virtual field trip. They could turn their screens around and show the other kids what they found.”
Forsman said the Language Arts classes also use a graphic organizer program that allows them to track their progress through the novel, make notes and record questions.
Reade, on the other hand, said she writes out everything longhand while working on a novel. She showed the eighth-graders a big blue binder in which she plots out her books. Her publisher, Kensington Publishing, strongly suggested she start using social media when she sold her first novel.
“A lot of authors complain about the amount of time they have to spend on social media,” Reade said. “It’s something they have to do.”
Reade said she keeps her own blog at www.amyreade.com, which she updates once a week, and is on Twitter or Facebook an hour a day. She writes at her desk in the living room of her home in Beesleys Point, or sometimes at the Ocean City library. Her most recent novel, “House of the Hanging Jade,” was released last week. She has also written “The Ghosts of Pepernell Manor.”
She said she has also done research for a work of historical fiction set in Cape May County, but her editor has asked her to set it aside for now.
“I would love to finish it,” Reade said. “The amount of history in Cape May County is fascinating.”