Archive for the ‘writing workshops’ 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!

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

Summer Writing Classes for Teens!

Writers Collaborate

“Katherine brings life and excitement to what she teaches and interacts with me and the other students in a truly honest, personable way.”

–Samantha Meuller, BCCE blog.

Another reason I love my life: Every summer, I spend a month with several dozen glorious teens who write for the joy of it. Different classes every week. Many take several; some take every one. We laugh, create a lot, and I am privileged to know them. If you are a teen, or have a teen in your life, we’d love to have you join us!

 

Bellevue College Summer Teen Program

Week of June 29, M-Th
Teenage Novelist: The Novel in a Nutshell   NEW!
Geek Fiction Writing for Teens  
Week of July 6, M-W
Teenage Novelist: Scenes and Dreams   
Teenage Novelist: Live-Action Writing  
Week of July 13, M-F
Teenage Novelist: Plotting and Scheming 
Teenage Novelist: Re-visioning the Novel  
Week of July 20, M-Th
Teenage Novelist: Novel Intensive  
Teenage Novelist: Publishing 

 

 

Mists of Enigma

And of course, don’t forget EPICWRITE, our four-day live-action writing summer camp for teens, taking place at Camp Ramblewood in Sequim, July 9-12. (Epicwrite is not affiliated with Bellevue College)

Janet Lee Carey Interviewed by the Mad Queen

rsz_1in_the_time_of_dragon_moon_high_res_coverI loved IN THE TIME OF DRAGON MOON! And not just because I was around as it was being born. Reading the finished book (which I stayed up all night to do), was a completely different experience from hearing tantalizing bits of the manuscript during the three years Janet was writing. I loved living in the pages of this book with the spirited Uma, and Jackrun, the boy who breathes fire and has dragon in his blood.

 

 

 

 

 

We were able to catch a few minutes with Queen Adela, as she interviewed the “bard,” Janet Lee Carey.

 

About the Book:
Beware the dark moon time when love and murder intertwine
          All Uma wants is to become a healer like her father and be accepted by her tribe. But when the mad queen abducts her and takes her north, Uma’s told she must use her healing skills to cure the infertile queen by Dragon Moon, or be burned at the stake. Uma soon learns the queen isn’t the only danger she’s up against. A hidden killer out for royal blood slays the royal heir. The murder is made to look like an accident, but Uma, and the king’s nephew Jackrun, sense the darker truth. Together, they must use their combined powers to outwit a secret plot to overthrow the Pendragon throne. But are they strong enough to overcome a murderer aided by prophecy and cloaked in magic?

~In the Time of Dragon Moon is a story of courage and romance that readers will not soon forget.~ VOYA

WORLD-BUILDING WORKSHOP WITH JANET LEE CAREY “From Elves to Aliens”

Saturday, May 23, 1-3, University Bookstore, Bellevue

Do you write fantasy or sci-fi or create worlds for games? Create the natural setting from the ground up with believable ecosystems and interdependent life forms. Add societies with interesting political, religious, and economic systems. Make a world vivifies your unique story ideas. It’s a demanding process, but ask the right questions, and all the elements from natural setting to social structures combine to create the inevitable conflicts and tensions each story demands. Come ready to discuss ideas and do a fun interactive world-building activity.

Sign up at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1360728 Price includes workshop, refreshments, handouts and a signed copy of In the Time of the Dragon Moon or other works by Janet Lee Carey.

Book Trailer:

Janet Lee Carey grew up in the bay area under towering redwoods that whispered secrets in the wind. When she was a child she dreamed of becoming a mermaid (this never happened).She also dreamed of becoming a published writer (this did happen after many years of rejection). She is now an award-winning author of nine novels for children and teens. Her Wilde Island Chronicles are ALA Best Books for Young Adults. She won the 2005 Mark Twain Award and was finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Janet links each new book with a charitable organization empowering youth to read and reach out. She tours the U.S. and abroad presenting at schools, book festivals and conferences for writers, teachers, and librarians. Janet and her family live near Seattle by a lake where rising morning mist forms into the shape of dragons. She writes daily with her imperious cat, Uke, seated on her lap. Uke is jealous of the keyboard. If Janet truly understood her place in the world, she would reserve her fingers for the sole purpose of scratching behind Uke’s ear, but humans are very hard to train.

Visit her website here

Thanks again to Janet Lee Carey for appearing. For other stops on the Dragon Moon blog tour please click here.