Archive for the ‘classes’ Category:

Mom’s Gift

Mom brings stories to the next generation.

My mom has always been all about stories. When I was little, she read and read to me: Winnie the Pooh, Ramona the Pest, the Book House books (which, heartbreakingly, were lost in a move.) She was, and is a teacher, and she made sure I became a reader.

But there was another gift she gave: she showed me that stories come from ordinary people–and that it is our birthright to create them. At night, she tucked me in by telling me stories of Cherrybrook, her childhood home in Westfield, Indiana, which, to me, was magical. Then she took a children’s writing class and began writing the stories down, along with the “Kathy-Mary” stories, about me and my best friend. And when I began to name my drawings and tell stories, she put my words on paper (“A Cookie Named Gaggy,” is still preserved somewhere.)

Now, we have come full-circle and, to my delight, Mom is taking my writing class.  She thinks she’s creating Cherrybrook stories for herself, because they sing in her, but really she’s giving me one of the best gifts ever.

For whom do you want to be a storytelling example? To whom will you give your stories? What storyteller could use your affirmation even more than that new iPhone?

I would love to have you AND that person in one of my winter classes., where I get to do what Mom did for me. (And if you pick the one in Seattle, you can meet her!)

Happy holidays!

Katherine

PS Make sure you hurry. The the first classes begin just after New Year and window for registration will close soon.

That Character You Love to Hate

Sometimes it’s the little things…

Writing antagonists can be almost too much fun. Of course, we don’t want to make the ALL bad. We need to show them as balanced human beings. But when you first introduce an unpleasant character, how do you show he’s unpleasant?

I thought we’d take a little stroll through The Summer of No Regrets, so you could meet a favorite nasty character of mine, Webster Lampson, the college advisor of Brigitta’s sister, Mallory.


A red Porsche was parked outside. Out of it climbed a tall, thin man with a brown beard. He wore a Greek fisherman’s cap and a tidy raincoat. Mom extended her hand. “I’m Clare,” she said. “I was expecting Alana. Are you here to see the dorms?”

The guy took her hand. “No, actually, I don’t know an Alana. I’m Webster Lampson. I’m here to collect Mallory.” He winced as a raindrop hit his face.

Mom’s smile wavered. “Ah!” she said. “Mallory is not here. She’s running some errands for me. Won’t you come in?”

Webster Lampson studied us, the driveway, the entrance of The Center. He was getting wet. “Yes,” he said, “I think I will.”

I’m not good at guessing ages, but this guy was old. Almost as old as my parents. He must have been like forty or something.

Dad was in his office tapping numbers into a ten-key when we came into the foyer. “Paul,” Mom stuck her head in. “We have a visitor.”

Dad came out wearing his wolf sweatshirt. His ponytail was held with this bone and feather thing that dangled from the nape of his neck. “Paul Schopenhauer,” he shook Webster Lampson’s hand.

“Schopenhauer,” Webster Lampson grinned. “Mallory tells me that great German mind was a relative of yours.”

“Distant cousin,” said Dad. “You aren’t here about the Indigo Children?”

Webster chuckled. “I should say not,” he said, “though I have heard of their movement. An article on pseudoscience in one of the journals.”

I disliked him more moment by moment.


  1. List the small actions that give you a feel for Webster’s character (e.g. wincing when a raindrop hits him.)
  2. How would you describe the way Webster speaks? List some of his distinctive word choices.
  3. List some descriptive details about Webster.  (clothing, belongings, physical characteristics)
  4. From what you’ve read above, how would you describe Webster to a friend?
  5. Now, choose two of your own characters. For each, list
    1. two small actions (e.g. nervous tapping)
    2. two descriptive details. (e.g. neon green sneakers, tattoo of a sailing ship.)
    3. two ways of speaking/word choices (e.g. polysyllabic words/ “multitude of reprehensible behaviors”)
  6. Write a short dialogue between your protagonist and another character, using these details to show the distinctive personality of each.
  7. Post it in the comments!
  8. Come join us at Bellevue College for Cultivating Complex Characters!

I have never told you

“I have never told you.” Five words that can deepen your characters, add page-turning plot elements, and shed light on motivation.

When I talk to my characters (and yes, I do this frequently–it’s a relationship that must be maintained), I’m gratified when they talk back. And they will, if you know what to ask them.

 

Try this:

  1. Go to a quiet place where you can concentrate.
  2. Open your story journal. Don’t have one? Use a notebook, or a Word file, or a Scrivener page.
  3. Summon up the character from whom you need answers.
  4. Begin the journal entry “I have never told you, but…” and allow the character to speak. Don’t write about the character–“Marigold is angry with her aunt”–write as the character–I am angry with Aunt Joy. So angry. When she talked about Mike in her nasty way, calling him a “slick, know-it-all peacock,” I nearly walked out. All right, I DID walk out. And I took her dog with me.
  5. Don’t worry that you must include what you learn in the story. You may, or you may not. And what your character says may shift and change as they talk–as did Marigold’s decision to walk out.

You’ll be amazed by what this technique brings forth. In our upcoming Cultivating Complex Characters class, you’ll learn how to make your characters nuanced, believable, and fascinating to the reader.

Here’s what students are saying:

“Katherine is fun and encouraging—she made the class a pleasure.”

The motivation, goal-setting really helped me produce and move forward in my work. It really helps to be in an environment that is conducive to the writing process.”

Do come join us at Bellevue College!

 

 

 

Teens Ask “How Do I Get Published?”

And no, it’s not a silly question!

In the Teenage Novelist: Publishing class, I always start by saying, “Read and read and read; write and write and write.” It’s pretty hard to write publishable material if you’re not reading. That sounds like a no-brainer, but I know plenty of people who want to write books, but get all their stories from movies and television. I love movies and television (and we watch a lot of them in Geek Fiction Writing for Teens), but you have to read good writing to write well. Really. If you can’t find time to read, think about swapping out some of your gaming or social media time, or even (gasp!) some of your writing time. I am a big fan of audiobooks, too–for some reason things I hear stay in my head longer. And if I listen and ALSO read the book? YOWZA! (Here’s where to get some free audiobooks.) How many books will you read/listen to this summer? I’m aiming for ten, beginning today.

Don’t forget that we have new classes each week at Bellevue College North Campus, starting Monday! Come take a bunch of ’em. So much fun with such great people. (We’re all a little weird, but definitely great!)

If you’ve got the reading thing down, here are ten steps that will move you along the path to publication.

  1. Get critique

I’ve told before about the first short story I submitted in college–how it came back with a big, fat “C” accompanied by comments like, “Cliche” and “One wonders why the protagonist’s  girlfriend would have any interest in him at all.” I was arrogant enough that my first thought was, “This professor does not know talent!” (By the end of the quarter, though, I realized he kind of had a point.) Critique is hard to hear at first, but good critique is essential to your growth as a writer. In my writing classes I strive to provide feedback that is specific, honest, encouraging and usable.

2. Form a writing group

You need a tribe to keep you going in this crazy endeavor called writing. Find some like-minded friends and get together every Saturday at a coffee shop, bookstore or library to read and critique each others’ writing. If you’re part of Epicwrite, you can also post stories on the Epicwrite Forum for others to read.

3. Take writing classes or workshops from a published author

I would be delighted to see you in my classes, or at Epicwrite, but there are plenty of other opportunities as well. Lois Brandt’s short story class, and Dana Sullivan’s graphic novel class, for starters, but also the teen program at Hugo House in Seattle, and The Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Additionally, Go Teen Writers is a website for teens run by Stephanie Morrill, who was herself published as a teen. Local libraries also sponsor free writing classes with local authors.

4. Enter contests

Many contests that require an entry fee for adults have a free teen category. Winning Writers has a good list of Resources and Contests for Students and Educators. And don’t forget the prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Contests are a good way to learn to write to specific guidelines, meet deadlines, and stay within a word count–all essential skills for the pro writer.

5. Go to writer gatherings

When you hang out with writers, you end up with writers for friends, and you learn what writers do. When what your friends do is publish books, it doesn’t seem like such a strange and difficult thing. There’s no reason to let age stand in the way of your getting involved in the writing community. Check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Write on the Sound writing conference, for a start.

6. Meet authors

As well as taking classes from local authors, don’t forget book signings. Check with your local bookstore , with your favorite authors’ websites, and with your library. Your presence at an event is appreciated by authors more than you know. Even very famous authors can find themselves in front of tiny audiences. Buy the book and introduce yourself to the author. Sometimes amazing friendships get started that way.

7. Start a book review blog

Did you know that you can get free books before they are released if you run a book blog? You have to work at gathering lots of followers, and you have to follow through on the commitments you make to read and review the books, but I know of many bloggers who learned their way around the publishing industry this way and went on to publish their own books. Here are a few successful book blogs started by teens: Peace Love Books, The Tale Temptress, IB Book Blogging. (What? You say they are all reviews for the same book? Don’t know what happened there…)

8. Pay attention to who publishes writing you love

Start a list, noting the title, author, date published, publisher, imprint, editor and agent. These last two may take some treasure hunting: Sometimes authors name their editors and agents in the acknowledgments. Other times, you have to do a lot of online searching to track these names down. Over time you will become familiar with who publishes what kinds of books, so that when it’s your turn to submit a manuscript you can do so more intelligently. Start separate editor and agent files as well, because editors and agents often move around as their careers advance and change. You’ll want to keep track of your favorite ones. Agentquery is a good resource for learning more about specific agents.

9. Submit to magazines, journals and anthologies

Make sure you’re writing more than just the Great American Novel. Write poems, stories, articles, and essays. There are many publications that seek work from teens. And there’s no rule against teens submitting work to publications not specifically for teens.

10. Self-publish

But don’t be hasty about it. One advantage of traditional publishing is that so many eyes have looked at your book before it is released to an audience. By the time a publisher has released your book, you have revised it many, many times, it has been through a difficult and competitive selection process, and you have revised it even more. If you decide to self-publish instead of going the traditional route, you’ll want to get a lot of competent critique, revise the living daylights out of the manuscript, and then take it by people in-the-know like a bookstore owner, a librarian, or a professional editor. Have a different set of eyes than yours do the final copy-editing, as well. Also, have an idea of how you will market your book. If you’re good with social media and have a large following on your social networks, this will help a lot. Smashwords, and Createspace are inexpensive options for self-publishing. (Cheapest Createspace printing option is here.) Teens I know who have self-published beautiful books are Maya Ganesan and Logan Fenner.

I’d love to see you in one of my classes!

Go Where the Longing Is

20150408_113351Perfectionism is a thief of time. I used to be plagued by this wily thief—I’d let it into my mind and give it full access. There it would scold and prod and criticize. And I would go slower and slower as my muse slogged toward mirages of excellence. After all, isn’t excellence what we are after?

It took me a long time to learn that excellence and perfection are not the same thing. Excellence is full of imperfection. We cannot begin with a finished product. And any creative work is a work in progress, even when it is finished. It’s not that the completed work is “bad,” but that we’ve chosen to capture it and hold it at that one moment—to bring it, just then, to the world.

Art is about longing. The goal is to go where the longing is. The other day I read a friend’s account of his wife’s slowing due to Alzheimer’s—how she becomes more distant day by day. I wept when I read it, and I wept as I wrote a response. After that I didn’t feel fit for anything but to play the violin. I notice that music responds to sadness because it creates longing, the same way writing does. Is it because when I open myself to the longing, I know that there is something to long for? Not wealth, or even happiness, but something undefinable? That I will spend my life trying to describe some small piece of it? And that the effort is its own feast?

That is what I want to offer the world.

To offer is not to guarantee reception. I offer because it is in me to offer—because the act of offering is its own celebration. I play, I sing, I write for the still, small voice within me. That it is imperfect is inconsequential. I do it because it opens me to the Mystery. I could say I don’t do it for awards and acclamation, but that’s not because I disdain those things. I create because when I am fully in creation I can’t do anything but create. I give myself to the act of creating in all its imperfection. This is what it means to be alive.

Come be imperfect this weekend! It’s not too late to register for the Full- Bodied Novelist. Use the discount code FBNRETREAT75 to save $75. The retreat cost includes lodging, meals, classes, a massage, and a one-on-one consultation on your manuscript.

Meet our massage therapist, Rene Pinkham on the retreat page, just below the event description.

The Violin Diet

Katherine violinWith the Full-Bodied Novelist Retreat coming up this weekend, I’ve been playing the violin again. There is a connection, so stay with me here.

I usually let months go by without my music. I play only to prepare for performance, thinking I need an “excuse” to play. But lately I have played for the sheer joy of playing with no audience but the Universe. I work on a piece that is hard for me, but attainable, or I just make something up. I let the music come up from my feet; I close my eyes and listen to the strings, letting my fingers find their way. It makes my neck hurt, using these muscles I haven’t used in a long time—but the muscles remember how to cradle the instrument, how to make it sing.

After I play, I sit down to write, and I’m open enough for the wind of word and emotion to blow through me. I’ve needed that. I’ve also found that I don’t eat as much on days when I play. I’ve satisfied some deeper hunger.

What do you do that is physical? That takes your entire concentration? It might be running or gardening or painting. Do it. A little every day. Even if you’ve let it go for a long time, find that thing you used to do that you are longing for and give yourself to it until you are back in your body. Then write.

It’s not too late to register for the retreat! Use the discount code FBNRETREAT75 to save $75. The retreat cost includes lodging, meals, classes, a massage, and a one-on-one consultation on your manuscript.

Meet our massage therapist, Rene Pinkham on the retreat page, just below the event description.

Overcoming Bored Writer Syndrome

Bored AuthorWhen I first began writing fiction it felt like all of the characters were me. Of course, all characters come from someplace deep in our psyche, but when I had a character who sounded, acted, talked and believed like me, I was BORED. I have great self-esteem and lots of people love me, but really I am BORING. At least to myself. And a character exactly like me doesn’t intrigue me enough to sustain a whole novel, hence–for a long time–many, many unfinished novels.

I’ve had to find a way to go deeper–to unpack why a character may think and act the way they do, and then write that character from the INSIDE. Ironically, this has led to a lot of self-discovery, as I get into the mind of the character the way an actor would.

Are you are suffering from Bored Writer Syndrome? Ready to think hard? Here’s a place you might start.

What is Your Character’s Philosophy? What are their underlying beliefs about life? Are they hopeful about life or pessimistic? Do unforeseen events have a purpose or are they just random? Do they believe in revenge? Forgiveness? Do they want to champion the rights of others? Do they have a religious or political ideal that guides their life? How close are their ideals to those of their family and/or friends? If they are quite different, why?

What is Your Character’s Self-Perception? How do they see themself? Do they have a source of power? Do they see themself as a victim? Do they believe they are worthy or unworthy? What are they afraid of? What topic would they rather not touch? What do they see as their role in the family? Among their friends? In the community? In the universe?

We’ll explore more about characters with things like character interviews, story journaling, talking to our characters on the page, and unpacking how other authors develop their characters in Cultivating Complex Characters. Come join us!

Other classes include The Plot Thickens and Writing the Hidden Story.

When It’s Hard to Relate

DSCF1569As a writer you know you must allow your characters to live through you as they unfold on the page. But what if the character feels unlike you? A character you can’t relate to is hard to, well, relate. But you WANT characters who are different from you–whether they are sympathetic, antagonistic, or simply “other” because they are outside of your community or life experience.

When you find the connection point with such a character you expand your empathy, a characteristic sorely lacking in our culture, but one that is essential for a writer.

I call the following exercise “Dressing Like the Enemy,” though the character may not be a villain in your story:

    1. List some of your political/cultural/religious values. “I believe…”
    2. List some activities you do not, will not, or cannot do. If you just want to get your feet wet, it could be something like mountain climbing. To take the plunge, choose something that you have a visceral reaction to. Don’t automatically jump to something extreme like murder, but try for something that makes you uncomfortable.
    3. Write a scene in the first person that includes the following:
      • The viewpoint character is one who would ordinarily feel “other” to you: different race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, economic situation, political party, religion.
      • The character is doing an activity you can’t see yourself ever doing, or making choices you would never make.
    4. Before you begin, imagine yourself sitting in your chair as that character, relating your story. Watch out for authorial moralizing, and let the character express themself in a way that is authentic and allows room for the reader to relate to at least some of it.
    5. If you have difficulty “getting in,” see if you can think of or imagine an equivalent situation in your own life. “What if my own child had died and my closest friend had just said something like that?” Spend some time inside that situation until the feeling “clicks,” then continue with your scene.

If you’d like to post a link to your scene in the comments, it might be fun to see what unfolds for different people.

We’ll continue with more of these in Cultivating Complex Characters, Wednesday evenings at Bellevue College. Feel free to enroll, even if you miss the first session. You won’t be “behind.” Check here for other classes this quarter.

 

Wordless Times

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I lost my father in July. Then in August, my husband underwent a high-risk surgery. And then last week, I had surgery to determine whether I have cancer. (It looks like I do not.) Now everything that has always felt certain is entirely up for grabs. We have been so well-loved and supported by friends and family that I am not frantic or filled with dread. In fact, the time feels distilled. But I am wordless.

Usually, if I sit very still, the words for what I believe and experience will slide into place. There’s a “click” and I know that the sounds and meanings I’ve gathered say what I want to say. But now is a time of half-completed phrases, of writing one word and replacing it with three more, none of them right. It’s a time of short, stiff journal entries.

Instead of writing, I am reading: Madeleine L’Engle’s A WIND IN THE DOOR, which I hear from childhood in my Nana’s voice; the stream-of-consciousness poetry of Jorie Graham’s OVERLORD, which made no sense to me ten years ago and now makes me weep without explanation; Mary Doria Russell’s THE SPARROW, which my husband and I read aloud, and are still unpacking. Right now questions are more nourishing than answers.

I think that I am lying fallow—resting and waiting to plant new words: lush and vibrant ones that will emerge when it is time for harvest. Deep underground my hidden story waits. I’m going to trust it to come when it’s ready.

I’d love to see you on Wednesdays, at Bellevue College North Campus, starting September 23 for fall classes: Writing the Hidden Story, The Plot Thickens, and Cultivating Complex Characters. Sign up ASAP to insure a spot.

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Writing Classes

Fill Your Wednesdays with Writing!

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Bellevue College, North Campus, Redmond, WA

*These classes are for adults; high school students may enroll only with instructor permission.

Writing the Hidden Story

9/23/2015 – 11/25/2015, 10:00 AM – 12:30 PM

Your characters live and breathe because of a hidden story—one you must go deep within to find. A work of fiction that is disconnected from YOU is nothing more than a clever word exercise. Mine your own life and the story will ring true. Discover the story you didn’t know you were writing and see how it can transform you—and your reader.

The Plot Thickens

9/23/2015 – 11/25/2015, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM

In this course, students will focus on structuring the novel–often the most challenging part of novel-writing. Discover the three words that drive your entire story. Find out how to avoid mid-novel sag and how to keep your reader turning pages all the way to the end. By the end of the session you will have a complete outline of your novel, and a synopsis–“The story of the story”.

Cultivating Complex Characters

9/23/2015 – 11/25/2015, 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM

While a strong plot makes a story worth telling, it is multilayered, nuanced characters who make a story worth reading. Learn six techniques for developing vibrant and believable characters, each with a distinct and compelling voice. Course includes reading, critique and support from a community of fellow writers.