Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Hot Topic & A School Visit

This morning I read from BUCK FEVER to the fifth graders and teachers of a New Jersey elementary school. The novel won’t be out in all of its hardcover glory until November, so this was kind of the first official reading to a group, if reading from a plain ol’ advanced reader copy counts as official. Nonetheless, I was a bit anxious to see, hear and feel the reactions to the deer hunting elements of BUCK FEVER. Why? Well, from the moment I started mulling over the idea of a novel that hits the varied points of view about deer hunting, I’ve encountered lots of personal opinions and points of view. And I do mean lots. From the dedicated hunters that I interviewed to those who love to target shoot but can’t bring themselves to aim at living things, to the folks who can’t fathom looking into the eyes of Bambi and pulling a trigger (I am, by the way, a member of this last group), hunting can be a red hot topic.

Would a similar mix of conflicted opinions and points of view rise up this morning? Ah, yes. After my reading, my audience dove right in to a lively and wonderful discussion about the main character, Joey, in BUCK FEVER. We talked about his predicament, and then why hunting is important to some people, such as Joey’s dad. And what happens when animals such as deer have no natural predators. Alex shared with us how the town I was visiting hires hunters at least once a year to thin the deer population because it keeps growing out of control. Unfortunately, out of control means that many poor deer get hit by cars, die of diseases and starve during the winters, when that yummy green stuff they like to munch on goes away. Casey told us (much to the surprise of her teacher) that her dad sometimes goes on safaris to hunt big game (wow, I thought, how very Hemingway). Wide-eyed Kevin couldn’t imagine why anyone would eat venison (that’s deer meat for you city slickers). Yet Craig felt certain that his dog would chow down on deer any day of the week, if given the chance. Apparently Rascal the terrier lives to chase deer that wander into Craig’s yard. Dana spoke up to say that she loves venison tacos. She’s been hunting with her dad and can’t wait to go again. Yet Kyle confessed that he argues with his cousin about hunting (Kyle being anti hunt and his cousin being pro).

So, yes, there were many opinions about hunting. But by the time I left the school, we were all a bit wiser and a bit more informed. Happily, I came away much less anxious about how the deer hunting elements of BUCK FEVER will be received. Especially if these aspects of the novel continue to lead to such wonderful discussions. And it didn’t hurt that my audience wanted to hear more of the story, wanted to know whether Joey would or would not become a hunter.

Wonderful. I left them my advanced reader copy.

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