This week has been an amazing opportunity to learn and grow as a writer. As I look back on the week, I want so share some of the highlights (pun intended) of this inspirational Highlights Writers Workshop.
I learned from Harold Underdown, my reviewer, that I needed to figure out what my character wants. Although I have taught that principle to other writers, I had missed finding that driving force for Kate Dinsmore, my 13-year-old protagonist in my historical novel, Half-Truths. After an hour of soul-searching, I finally got it! My novel now has the "arrow which will drive a book" as Patti Gauch shared in her talk on conflict and tension.
I also learned from Gauch that, "You have to be a little crazy to write a good and original book." Getting there has to do with discovering the truth in yourself. Gauch's advice fit as I wrestled to pin down the truths that Kate will discover about herself and her family. Gauch gave us all permission to think unimaginable things and to follow what we're passionate about.
Speaking of passions...Once upon a time I wrote a kids book about the art, history, and science of glass. Although I was under contract for Discover Glass, the publisher went bankrupt and the book has languished in a box in my laundry room closet. Caught up in writing and promoting Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8, the glass book has been untouched for several years. I'd lost hope of every publishing it, until I met Andrew Gutelle, who encouraged me to speak with Carolyn Yoder, the editor of Calkins Creek Books. She said she was willing to look at the outline and Andy Boyles, science editor for Boyds Mill Press said I could send him some sample chapters. Encouragement for all types of projects- fiction, nonfiction, magazine articles--abounds here.
Kim Griswell has been one of the people who has encouraged me in my writing career. She edited both articles which I sold to Highlights Magazine and it was fun to meet her and to take her workshop on "A Sense of Place." She said a lot about the importance of creating authentic settings including how a setting can introduce a threatening element and tell the reader to pay attention to what is going to happen next. A setting can shape characters, create a sense of mystery, demand the character's immediate action, and be a character in and of itself. (Think Oz in the Wizard of Oz.) In keeping with her class, here is a picture of Kim and I sitting at an antique desk in Alumni Hall here on the campus. I took dozens of picture of furniture to help me with my research for Half-Truths.
Finally, it is always a pleasure to be around Kent Brown, executive director of Highlights Foundation. His passion for educating and nurturing children was communicated throughout the conference. Here he is at last night's annual auction. The proceeds go to a scholarship fund which helps authors and illustrators participate in this writers workshop. His energy, enthusiasm, and love of life is contagious.
Joyce Hostetter, a friend with whom I lead writing workshops for teachers, told me that coming to Chautauqua would be life changing. I suspect that she is right.
Highlights Writers Workshop, Calkins Creek, Boyds Mill Press, Harold Underdown, Kent Brown, Patti Gauch, Joyce Hostter, Carolyn Yoder, Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8, Kim Griswell
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