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Award-winning author Roland Smith speaks to second- and third-graders Wednesday at Northern Elementary School. Smith showed the students a notebook with a rough draft of a book he is writing. Throughout the day, he spoke to students in all grades at the school. Also Wednesday, he spoke to students at J.W. Smith Elementary School. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Author visits Bemidji schools

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When Roland Smith was 5 years old, he wanted a bicycle for Christmas.

Instead, he found a typewriter under the Christmas tree.

"And I fell in love with this typewriter," he told second- and third-graders Wednesday at Northern Elementary School.

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Smith, an award-winning author who has written more than 25 fiction and nonfiction books primarily for children and young adults, is speaking this week at schools throughout the Bemidji School District.

On Wednesday, he shared his journey as an author with students at Northern Elementary School. Earlier in the day, he spoke to students at J.W. Smith Elementary School.

"I got interested in writing at a very young age," he said.

Smith's desire to write led him to work with animals, a biography on his Web site states. He was studying English at Portland State University to become a writer when he took a job at a local children's zoo.

Before he became an author, he spent more than 20 years working with animals. He was a zookeeper and helped rescue sea otters after the Exxon Valdez oil spill and save red wolves from becoming extinct.

Working with animals eventually led Smith to become an author of books that feature animal and adventure themes.

"When I write a book, I write about what's important to me," he told students Wednesday at Northern Elementary School.

Smith's books include "Sea Otter Rescue" and "Journey of the Red Wolf," which feature his own photographs. In his book "Thunder Cave," he wrote about elephants.

"In order to write this book, I went to Kenya," Smith said.

His latest book, "I, Q: Independence Hall," received a finalist nomination for the National Best Books 2008 Awards and made the 2009 Texas Lone Star Reading List.

"It's about rock and roll, it's about being a celebrity and it's about international terrorism," Smith described the book.

He told the students the reason he was able to become an author was because he can read. He added that he reads two to three books every week.

When he writes a book, Smith conducts research. He said he reads books and studies maps and photographs. He added that it takes him twice as long to do research for a book as it takes him to write a book.

Next, he said, he sets up a storyboard.

"I plan my book out just like it's a movie - scene by scene by scene," Smith said.

Then, he is ready to write.

"It took me 20 years to learn the secret to writing," he said.

He said the secret is revision.

"I wrote 'Thunder Cave' 12 times," Smith said.

Pulling out a small notebook from his pocket, he showed the students a rough draft of a book he is writing. He said he writes in notebooks by hand because they are portable.

"I can take this out anywhere, anyplace, anytime," Smith said.

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