Archive for Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Author reveals techniques to students

November 5, 2003

Tonganoxie Junior High students had a taste of Halloween early this year.

First, the students in Bill Shaw's language arts class read the book "Trick or Treat."

And then, on the day before Halloween, the book's author, Richie Tankersley Cusick, visited the class. This is the third year that Cusick has made an October visit to Tonganoxie to talk with Shaw's students about the 27 books she has written.

An additional bonus for the students is that Shaw holds lotteries in which the winning students get to visit Cusick's Lenexa home to see where she writes.

Student Sarah Smith said she was surprised to learn that Cusick starts her books with no idea of where they are going.

"I thought it seemed kind of hard because she said she just looked at different pictures and decided what their characters would be like," Smith said.

In fact, Cusick told students that when she needs a character she merely goes through the many notebooks of pictures she's collected -- photos of people she's clipped from magazines and catalogues.

"You look at the picture and you just know what kind of person it will be," Cusick said.

She's even gone so far as to study house plans, so that her description of a house will be believable.

Once she has her characters and location in mind, she's set to write.

"When I start writing a book, I never know what's going to happen," Cusick said. "I just sort of let the characters go and they tell you the story."

Cusick, who was born and raised in New Orleans, told students about haunted houses she has lived in and about New Orleans area cemeteries, in which the dead are entombed above the ground, not buried below.

And she told them how her parents and grandparents, natives of the Missouri Ozarks, were natural born storytellers.

Even as a young child, Cusick knew she wanted to write books. A former writer of verses for Hallmark Cards, Cusick now writes books full time.

She can complete a young-adult novel in fewer than three months. An adult novel takes longer.

Jenna Nehl said she enjoyed the author's visit.

"I think she's really nice and she has a lot of imagination," Nehl said.

Jessalyn Wilson said she was surprised Cusick didn't outline "Trick or Treat" before she wrote.

"She wrote it without any ideas or anything," Wilson said. "I thought that might be kind of hard because all along she didn't know who the killer was -- until the end."

Tyler Gurss said that was why he liked the book.

"You never knew who the person was who was the killer," Tyler said. "You never knew for sure until the very end who had killed Elizabeth the year before."

So far, none of her books have been made into movies. But Ryan Wolfe is hoping that will happen with "Trick or Treat."

"I wish it would be a movie," Wolfe said. "Because I would like to see how it was in relation to the book."

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