As a blogger and former attendee at a Highlights Writing workshop, I received an email assessing my interest in hosting one of their instructors. Always on the lookout for interesting blog material, I checked out The Highlights Foundation schedule and contacted Darcy Pattison. Darcy is not only a prolific author, but also the instructor for the upcoming Highlights "Master Class in Novel Writing." Read on to find out more about this workshop and about her book she's giving away.
1. What are your goals for your students for this workshop? What are you hoping they will leave with?
Since 1999, I’ve traveled and taught The Novel Revision Retreat, one of the first whole-novel retreats. It targets beginning writers who needed to understand their craft better, as well as intermediate writers who are close to breaking into publication, but just need a small boost. I’m pleased that the retreats have helped dozens of writers find acceptance for a debut novel.
But I’ve always had a passion for the intermediate to advanced writer, the target audience for the Master Class in Novel Writing 2016.
In every craft, the top artists say that they are constantly learning new things, even after they’ve achieved a level of success. Yet in writing, it seems we find fewer ways to do this than in other crafts. I want to challenge successful writers to try something different, to see a technique a different way, to stretch their craft, to go home excited and hopeful that they can at last try the novel they scares them silly, scares them because they worry that they can’t do the story justice.
This isn’t a workshop for the faint at heart! We’ll be looking at The Rules and challenging them—for good reasons—and finding times when breaking The Rules better serves the story. We’ll role-play the editor’s and reader’s roles and how you might answer objections. We’ll talk and argue and laugh and pour words onto the page. I hope we’ll have writers with different strengths, opinions and challenges because it will force us out of our comfort zone.
Cynthia Oznick once said, “Writing is an act of courage.” We’ll find the courage to tell our stories—our way. That’s my goal: for writers to find the courage necessary to write their stories, their way. And in learning to control their voice, they’ll find a wider acceptance for their stories.
2. Looks to me as if you have a mixture of fiction, nonfiction, and writing resources under your belt. That’s very cool! Do your different projects feed one another? Which came first—nonfiction or fiction? (I’m asking because I started with nonfiction and am moseying over to fiction now. :)
For me, fiction came first. Nonfiction came along because I wanted to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you look at Arnold’s career, he had successful action movies that alternated with successful comedies. From “Terminator” to “Kindergarten Cop,” it seems like a big stretch. I admired his ability to find a very different second genre in which to work. It widened his career, and it stretched him as an actor.
I thought about what sorts of books I could write as an alternate career and decided to try science/nature picture books for kids. It’s been a happy place for me. Wisdom, the Midway Albatross received a Starred Publisher’s Weekly review, and Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma was named a 2015 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book. But my first love is still fiction.
3. Pretend you are talking to a perspective workshop student. How would you sell him or her on taking your class?
Are you complacent with your career and the direction it’s going? Then this workshop isn’t for you. This is for the brave-at-heart who wants to be challenged to go beyond their best, to surprise even themselves.
4. Can you give some details about the morning lectures or activities?
I’m excited with the two topics we’ll discuss this summer, plot and point of view. The topics will be interwoven with alternating activities that challenge writers to reach beyond their present understanding. Articles that challenge the traditional understanding of point of view and its implications for stories should stimulate discussion and experimentation. Tight plots, loose plots, plot twists, subplots, three-act structure, four-act structure—we’ll attack plotting from many directions until writers find a unique way through the maze of connecting scenes in meaningful ways. We won’t find one answer, but many answers to the question of how to plot. One of those answers, though, will feed a particular story for each writer in unexpected ways. I’m planning readings, discussions, role-playing, writing, sharing writing, lively and interactive group activities. It should be fun, exciting and challenging. I expect the writers to challenge ME to think and to write something new. And that makes me very excited.
5. What is your current project and how does it feed your teaching?
My current novel is a science fiction trilogy with this high concept as a starting point:
Earth finally gets a message from space. “You only live on the land; allow us to live in the seas.”
This story is challenging me in new ways as I connect a plot across a trilogy and experiment to find the right point-of-views for each scene. I often say that the only reason I can teach writing is that I’m in the trenches myself, struggling to tell a compelling story that won’t leave me alone. In spite of many family upheavals, I come back and come back to this story. It won’t leave me alone. That struggle—even if I ultimately fail—is what allows me to reach out and encourage other writers with the stories that haunt them.
I hope you take a minute to visit Darcy's website and blog. The Highlights description says that attendees for her workshop "must have either attended one of her previous Novel Revision Retreats or be a published novelist to attend. Our aim is to challenge the established writer to step out and take new risks, to work in a new direction. Some advance reading required before the workshop."
I asked Darcy if writers who like myself have not previously attended her workshop or published a novel may attend. She said, "I'm glad to consider anyone's writing. If you've been seriously working for a couple years on your craft, you'll be a good candidate."
As I mentioned, Darcy is generously giving away a copy of her book, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel, which she uses in her video course.
To enter this giveaway, please leave me a comment by noon on Thursday, March 10. If you are new to this blog, make sure you leave me your email address. If you decide to follow my blog, or share this giveaway on social media, I'll enter your name twice. Just make sure you tell me what you do.