Author tries to inspire for Teen Read

SNELLVILLE - Katara Datcher listened as Cecil R. Cross II read from his novel, "First Semester."

The high school senior said she was intrigued by the descriptive passages about a college freshman moving into his dorm and waking up late on the first day of classes at the fictional University of Atlanta. So when Cross offered to give away two copies of the paperback book, Datcher put her hand high in the air, trying to catch the young author's attention.

The first book was given to senior Deanthone Debardlabon, who recalled four facts Cross mentioned in his presentation.

But when Cross offered to give away the next book to a student who could teach him the Superman dance, Datcher seemed a little less eager to volunteer for the challenge. After enduring a couple of minutes of prodding from her friends, she got up and taught the 24-year-old Atlanta resident the steps to the dance.

"I didn't want to do it in front of everyone," she said. "I wanted the book, though."

Cross spoke Wednesday at Shiloh High School, which is celebrating the American Library Association's Teen Read Week. The event focuses on teen literacy, and Shiloh invited authors who have written books that high school students would want to read, media specialist Kate Hoppenrath said.

Cross, a Seattle native who has written articles for several newspapers and magazines, said he would like to be "the foremost African-American author of the next generation."

Although he's not an avid reader, Cross said he writes daily. While writing his novel, he said he put himself on a "writing diet," with the goal of writing an average of three pages a day.

He decided to become a journalist years ago, when he took a cross-country trip with his grandmother, younger sister and five cousins. His grandmother made them all write in a journal "morning, noon and night," Cross said. At night, the family would share their journal entries, and Cross said he was asked to read his last because he was considered to be the best storyteller.

Cross told the students about some of the challenges in writing and publishing his novel. During college, Cross said he turned down dates in order to accomplish his goal of writing a realistic story about experiences at a historically black college or university.

"I saw the end from the beginning, and I put my blinders on," he said.

After college, Cross said he turned down a paid job to cover sports at The Seattle Times and took a 10-week unpaid internship at Vibe magazine in New York because he wanted the opportunity to pitch his book to literary agents. He was rejected 15 times before he found an agent.

"I could have quit and put the book out independently, but I was determined to get it out nationwide," he said. "I never quit. Once you have a goal in mind ... go for it. Give it your all.

"Don't listen to the haters that try to get in your way," he said.

Senior Kenny Boreland said Cross was easy to listen to because he related so well with the students. Boreland said listening to the book made him want to try harder to get into college.

"The way he explained things ... I could see myself in that situation," Boreland said.

Dezmeshea Williams also said she found it easy to relate to Cross.

"I was very excited to meet him," said Williams, who has read Cross' book. "When he publishes his next book, I'll be one of the first people to read it."

Cross said he is writing a sequel, which he plans to call "Next Semester." He's also working on a screenplay for the movie adaptation of the book.

"First Semester" is available at Wal-Mart, Borders, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.