Monday, August 8, 2016

Conversations with Kathy: Summer Camp at Highlights Part II

"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
Since my first pages had been critiqued a lot, Kathy graciously agreed to read an additional 25 pages--and then she read several more chapters during the week. (Note: if you are considering attending a Highlights Foundation workshop, do it! The faculty bend over backwards to provide you with a quality learning experience.) 

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!)

Kathy's Comments

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:
    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. 

  • Build tension and strengthen character motivation.

    Example: Kate's goat, Eileen, has a suspicious skin disease. Lillie is in need of a science fair project and in my original manuscript, she sees Eileen and decides right away that finding a cure could be her project. In the new version, this realization develops over two chapters. Kate'
    s act of kindness towards Lillie serves as Lillie's motivation:
      Miss Anna Katherine put herself out for me. The least I cando is help figure out how to treat her goat. Then a thought crashes into my brain. Maybe I’ll useEileen 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.)

      More Suggestions

  • 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. 
Word Garden at the Barn
Highlights Foundation 

Kathy's Keynote

    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

Stay tuned. In Part III of this series I'll share Jan Cheripko's insights into secondary characters and transitional scenes.


Jillian Sullivan said...

Thanks Carol for an informative roundup.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Love reading the Patti Gauch tip. I first met Kathy at on of Patty's workshops at Highlights!

So proud of Kathy for stepping in sheep poop! I will say that the setting was absolutely vivid and almost touchable for me as I read Badger Knight!

And I am thrilled for you that Kathy was your mentor.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Jillian and Joyce. And I am often teary eyed when I read your books, Joyce!

Linda Phillips said...

Hooray for Kathy and Patty and their influence on your writing, Carol! May their wisdom shine through your work. So looking forward to seeing the birth of your book one day soon!

Theresa Milstein said...

It was truly a wonderful week. Kathy and all the mentors gave so much of their time. I'm glad you shared what Kathy told you.

Hey, I think I took that picture of the two of you! :)

Bonnie J. Doerr said...

Carol, you are so good at providing specific examples. Thank you, as always.

Vijaya said...

What lovely comments and how wonderful that Kathy looked at more of your novel. It's great to have examples!

Carol Baldwin said...

Vijaya and Bonnie, glad the examples are helpful. Linda, I knew you'd like that quote from Patty. And Theresa, you're absolutely right about the photo--and are now credited in the caption! Great picture!

Rosi said...

Highlights workshops always give more than we think they possibly can, don't they? What a wonderful experience you had and what great help on your novel. Thanks for sharing so much.

Clara Gillow Clark said...

Thanks, Carol, for sharing great tips from a top notch author! Sounds as if Summer Camp was a great experience for you. Yay!

Carol Baldwin said...

You're right on, Rosi--these workshops are amazing! And this time I got to meet Clara and work with her too-- what a great bonus!

sheri levy said...

Wonderful input! Sounds like a very productive time with encouragement and motivation. Can't wait to read the final,product.
Hugs- Sheti

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Sheri. Me too!! :)

Constance L said...

Thanks for sharing these helpful insights!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Constance.

Cat Michaels said...

Wow! So much to think about and learn!

Carol Baldwin said...

I think that's part of the journey, Cat!

Anonymous said...

Carol, First of all-Congratulations on receiving such wonderful praise!!! You must have floated the rest of the day :) I love what you did with your tightening/hightening paragraphs! I'm so excited to read the final product. Also think that Joyce's phrase describes it well :) The pictures on your pinterest of the time period definitely would help you to set the scene. I did a lot of searching for newspaper or pictures in books of what Hiroshima looked like before the war. I'm just so happy for you and the fantastic feedback from the Highlights retreat.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Kathy. Success stories like yours help keep me going!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
What a great idea for writers to figure out which part each character is playing in our books.

Thanks for sharing what you've learned!

Believe in you
Never Give Up

jan godown annino said...

I've read almost everything now, of Katharine Erskine's. She's tops!
And I've signed up for your newsletter.

Carol Baldwin said...

I agree, Jan. Kathy is tops!!

Kesha said...

Hi Cathy,

I'm loving your blog. It was such a fantastic experience. Great recaps - keep them coming

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Kesha! Glad you're enjoying my blog. Means a lot to me.

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