"Great story, Carol! Honestly, I have very little to say except can I read more?? It sounds very polished, the writing is excellent, and I love the characters. It sounds from the synopsis that you have a very well thought out book and an interesting story.
GREAT first line! Love it. You've gotten into the action right away, which is also great. We're swept away with the story from the very beginning."Who wouldn't love to receive those comments on their first twenty pages?
It took awhile for my heart to return to normal after I read Kathy Erskine's comments. And that was just the beginning of working with my amazing and award-winning summer camp mentor.
|When Kathy isn't writing, speaking|
or mentoring, she is known to sniff flowers.
Fox Hill Farm
We met for 30 minutes five times during the week to discuss my work. She got picky--which is exactly what I need as I enter this "tightening/heightening" stage. (term courtesy Joyce Hostetter--the master tweaker!)
Here are a few of her comments on Half-Truths:
- Eliminate vague language.
Example: On the first day of school Lillie's principal references an incident from the previous year when the football team had gotten into trouble. Kathy recommended spelling this out and showing the difference between how the white and black students were treated afterwards. Here's the new version:
My brother Sam and some of the other football players almost started a fight while waiting to use Harding High’s football field. The Harding guys had called them names and made fun of their blue and white hand-me-down uniforms from Central High. We all hate that we don’t have our own colors.
No one laid a hand on anyone but tempers got hot, and angry threats were thrown back and forth. The coaches stepped in just in time. I bet the white coach just slapped his boys on their backs and told them they'd take care of those colored boys another time. Our guys were suspended from playing the next two games.
- Deepen a character's reaction to an event.
Example: The principal challenges the students to be a credit to their race. Kathy suggested Lillie might feel bothered by his subtle insinuation that blacks have to prove themselves. So I added the last two sentences to this paragraph:
- Build tension and strengthen character motivation.
I catch Mr. Grigsby’s drift because it’s been hammered into me since I was little. White people don’t expect Negroes to be smart or successful. It’s up to us to show them they’re wrong. If we do, we’ll be a credit to our race. Of course, it doesn’t matter if white folk think we’re not as good as them. The burden of proof is always on us.
- Cut to the chase in each chapter. Have I said the same thing more than once in a scene? Am I explaining more than showing?
- Cut out backstory which removes reader from the story. Move forward.
- Put character or setting descriptions when the character first meets or enters the setting.
Miss Anna Katherine put herself out for me. The least I can do is help figure out how to treat her goat. Then a thought crashes into my brain. Maybe I’ll use Eileen for my science experiment! It’s not exactly what I thought I’d do, but since it's about disease and infection, I bet Mr. Levi will approve it.
- (Note: This also strengthens the girls' connection to one another. Which is exactly what Rebecca Petruck advised me to do.)
Kathy also delivered a keynote on "Making Your Writing Feel Authentic." Here are some of her points:
- Post a one-sentence description of your work on top of your computer to keep you focused
- Keep a talisman or picture--something which reminds you of your work--close at hand. (Pictures on Pinterest work. Here is my Half-Truths board, one on fashion in the 50's, one just of images of people, and one related to African Americans.
- You are not just writing about a person or a place. Experience that particular character in that particular place. Her novel, THE BADGER KNIGHT takes place in medieval England. Kathy visited castles, felt the trees, and imagined what her character might have seen, smelled or heard there. She even stepped in sheep poop and touched the standing stone
- Walk, talk, act, dress, and eat the same food your character eats. These details are shorthand about your character
- Use dialect with a light touch. Don't be distracting.
- Your climax should be unexpected, but not unbelievable. Set up well so that it is not trite and predictable. Knowing your character and portraying him or authentically will enable you to set this stage.
- And finally, a quote from Patti Gauch: “You know your ending is right when you’re crying at your keyboard.”
|One happy writer + one generous mentor=|
a fantastic Summer Camp experience
Fox Hill Farm
Photo by Theresa Milstein