Visiting Author: Story Structure, Facebook, and Majestic Unicorns

Writing tends to be a quiet, solitary affair.

On a typical workday, I can work for hours without speaking or hearing a single word.  But recently, I had the amazing privilege of guest-speaking at Turkeyfoot Valley School in Confluence, Pennsylvania as a visiting author.  I was asked to share with some students (ages 11 to 19) a bit about the writing process and my journey to self-publication.  As you can imagine, for this quiet, solitary writer, it was anything but a typical workday.

Congratulations to KeithRicky and Julie for each winning a signed copy of The Fallen Odyssey.

I arrived at Turkeyfoot School with a briefcase full of notes and copies of my book.  It was with a feeling of deja vu that I entered the main office to fill out my visitor’s badge.  It seemed that not long ago I was the high school student, watching a nervous substitute prepare to do battle with that most formidable of foes: his very first teaching experience.

With only one busy month left before summer vacation, schedules were nebulous, and I was still not yet sure how many classes or what age groups I would be speaking to.  But before I knew it, I was in front of a small group of aspiring writers, and there was nothing left to do but jump right in; into an experience that turned out to be both illuminating and enjoyable.

Storytelling and Publishing

My lesson plan began with a short introduction and a few words on my newly self-published book, The Fallen Odyssey, followed by a broad look at storytelling in books, movies, TV, and video games.  The students appreciated references to video games like Skyrim and Call of Duty, as well as a few examples taken from The Walking Dead. (The consensus seemed to be that Daryl Dixon was their favorite character, though one young lady said she “roots for the zombies.” Interesting…)  All present were impressed by the fact that people are actually paid to decide what happens next to Daryl Dixon.  They also enjoyed the idea that watching TV and playing video games can help a discerning writer study story structure.

I followed with an overview of the traditional publishing process.  The kids seemed surprised to learn about the arduous procedures of query letters, literary agents and publishing houses.  I presented self-publishing as the entrepreneur’s alternative: treating a book as a small business to take advantage of better royalties and creative freedom– if, that is, one is disciplined and driven enough to take on the challenge.

Social Media Marketing

By far, the biggest hit of the lecture was in the utilization of social media to market authors and their books.  Using an overhead projector, I took them on a guided tour of my links around the web– Facebook to Twitter to Amazon to WordPress to Pinterest and back again– demonstrating the importance of developing a web presence and the benefits of social media working in a circle.  (Mrs. Wheatley’s 7th-grade Career Development class seemed especially impressed with this portion of the presentation. Several of them used their phones to “Like” The Fallen Odyssey on Facebook, even as I was presenting.)

WordpressCB_headshotComing back around to story, I spoke about drawing inspiration from the classroom.  I used examples of how my studies in Anthropology, Archaeology and History helped me with world-building.  Specifically, I mentioned how studying real-world cultures through Anthropology classes in college later influenced the development of fictional cultures in The Fallen Odyssey.  I also cited instances where I have used seemingly random bits of knowledge retained from school as elements in my stories, making the point that paying attention in class can pay off in unexpected ways.

I concluded with a few words on making the most of one’s own specific passions; namely, utilizing the vast resources of online connectivity to broadcast talents and products across the globe.  I tried to get across that with the internet, circumstances no longer define opportunity, and that no generation before has been less limited to follow their dreams.


The question and answer session was the most rewarding part of the experience.  I had the pleasure of fielding questions from aspiring writers and skeptics alike, ranging in topic from the common, “Where do your ideas come from?” to “How can I resist the urge to edit what I’ve already written, so I can move forward on a project?”

It came as a great delight that some students had advice of their own.  The 6th grade collectively agreed that they should all be main characters in my next book, though a few of them were dismayed to learn that there were no “majestic unicorns” in my story.  (Not to worry. They said I could include them next time, but I owed them some money for the idea.)  On a more serious note, when I asked one group if they could think of any other ways to market a creative project online, one student asked if I had considered a “Kickstart campaign” to move my book forward.

As I stated above: writing is generally a quiet, solitary affair.  By the end of the day, I had grown very tired of the sound of my own voice, but I loved hearing what the kids had to say.

I had a great time at Turkeyfoot.  I was impressed by the amount of participation I got out of my audience.  The students showed respectful interest, and the teachers and staff were gracious hosts.  I’d like to thank all involved for a wonderful experience, and I hope you’ll have me back again sometime.

For any authors out there, I would highly recommend taking some time to address the next generation of writers and entrepreneurs.  You might just teach them something; or, the other way around…

I try not to inundate the content of my posts with links.  So, as a postscript, I’d like to give any interested readers the opportunity to see the marketing examples in this article put to use.  Check out these links to view some examples of how I’ve used social media as marketing tools:

The Fallen Odyssey on Facebook

C.B. McCullough on Twitter

The Fallen Odyssey on Pinterest

The Fallen Odyssey on Amazon

C.B. McCullough on Amazon

4 thoughts on “Visiting Author: Story Structure, Facebook, and Majestic Unicorns

  1. I really like the fact that you got feedback from the kids; I want to do something like that since one of my target audiences is young adults. How did you get the chance to talk at Turkeyfoot? When you received the invitation, was it because of past school speaking opportunities or out of the blue?

    1. This was my first speaking gig, and it was actually my mother-in-law’s idea. (She’s the Mrs. Wheatley I mentioned in the article). I have a feeling that if you wanted to do something similar, most schools would be receptive of cold-calling them, just to see if they’re interested. Thinking I should see if my own High School or Elementary School might want to host an alumni author…
      I tried to be as informative as possible about storytelling and publishing, but I also tried to approach it with the mindset that I was once one of these kids. What could a visiting author have said to me, as a kid, that would have benefited my creativity?
      By the way, just took a tour of “Self-Published Gold.” Enjoying it thus far. I see you’re not currently accepting submissions, but if you’re interesting in checking out the book I mentioned in this article– The Fallen Odyssey– let me know, and I’ll get you a copy.
      Thanks for the comment, and keep in touch.


  2. What a wonderful story and wonderful day. There are folks that get paid a great deal of money to do these types of presentations to schools, colleges, and to the public. You are obviously very good at it if you were able to actively engage middle school-aged students. I would highly recommend you consider marketing yourself as a writing consultant or speaker for schools. Writing is becoming more and more important in school curricula and schools are clamoring for ideas. Just do it!

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