Not only did students at Alfred G. Waters Middle School get to meet an award-winning author Oct. 3, they also got a sneak peek into her next book, which comes out this month.
Priscilla Cummings, author of Red Kayak and many, many more young adult books, spoke to students in all three grade levels at the Middletown middle school about how she became a writer and her books.
As a part of the school's program, One School, One Book, every student read Red Kayak last summer to prepare for Cummings' visit.
"It brings the school together," said A.G. Water Librarian Patty Abrams, who is responsible for bringing the author to the school.
The school's Parent Teacher Association made it possible for all students to have a copy of the book, she said.
Cummings, who lives outside of Annapolis, Md., began writing when she was in the first grade. She went on to attend college and worked as a reporter for about 10 years. She has published dozens of books, including a follow-up to Red Kayak, The Journey Back, which will be released in two weeks.
"It focuses on one character from Red Kayak," she told students during the Wednesday assembly.
The sixth, seventh, and eighth graders began shouting out character names from the book they had read already.
Cummings then gave the spoiler.
Her new book focuses on the character, Digger, who at the end of Red Kayak, ended up in a juvenile detention facility.
Last spring, students at A.G. Waters were given five options for what their summer reading would be. They chose Cummings' book, which focuses on a group of three teenage boys who have a hard time doing the right thing.
"It's easy to know the difference between right and wrong," she said, "but it's not always easy to do the right thing."
The main story line focuses on Brady, a teenager who enjoys fishing on the Chesapeake Bay, and his two friends, J.T. and Digger, who are involved in a kayaking accident that takes the life of a local toddler.
At first it seemed like an accident, but Brady learns the truth and has to decide whether or not he will rat out his friends for their involvement.
The book ends with J.T. and Digger being sent to a juvenile correctional center, Cummings said.
Each year, Cummings visits between 30 and 50 schools to talk about her books and her career as a writer.
"The kids have been great here," she said Wednesday. "For a huge school, they have been attentive, polite and ask good questions."
Page 2 of 3 - Cummings started out her third and final presentation of the day by asking students who kept a diary.
Some raised their hands, including a few teachers.
"I had no idea what I was going to be when I grew up," she said.
But since she was elementary school, Cummings said that she loved to write and that she was always writing in her journal.
She graduated high school with five scholarships and then from the University of New Hampshire.
"I still loved writing, so I took journalism in college," she said.
In the next ten years, she worked at four newspapers in four different states as a reporter before moving to Maryland where she met her husband and started a family.
"I would hire a babysitter for two hours to go upstairs and work on my books," she said.
Cummings then chased her next dream, which was to write her first novel, and she did.
She also told students where the idea for Red Kayak came from.
"I was reading the news one morning and there was an article about two kids who took their family's canoe out for a ride," she said. "The wind lifted the front of the canoe and flipped it."
Both children perished because the water was so cold, Cummings said. Even though that is where the idea for her book came from, it wasn't the same story. She thought to herself, what if someone was on shore to call out a warning to the two children.
Then came character development.
"I needed to know Brady as well as I know my own son," she said.
Then she needed to know more about the setting, so Cummings set out an explored the area where she was basing the book in Maryland.
"When I start a book, I start a file," she said. "Anything related to the story is just thrown in."
For her file on Red Kayak, Cummings told the students that she threw in an index card with the name of juvenile court judges, news clippings, and information on oysters and the Chesapeake Bay.
The group discussion then went into the oxymorons in the book.
Students called out, "alone together," "jumbo shrimp," "a definite maybe," and "pretty ugly," as examples.
Cummings said that she writes between three and five hours every day.
"Tomorrow will be a writing day," she said. "I will get up early, take a walk, and figure out what my family is having for dinner."
The house has to be completely silent for her to write; even her cat is sometimes a distraction.
Page 3 of 3 - As her discussion Wednesday afternoon came to a close, Cummings gave more spoilers from her soon to be released book.
"Part of Diggers escape includes hi-jacking a traffic trailer and the Patomic River and C & O Canal in Maryland," she said.
The story itself though, she didn't give away.