Reporting in after yesterday's MASC’s Young Authors and Illustrators Festival!
Ever had such a fun day that it flies by? That’s what happened to me yesterday. Honestly, the all-day event felt like it took five minutes. Okay, maybe ten!
I was a presenter, along with Kevin Sands, Melanie Florence, Katherine Battersby, Kean Soo and Jessica Scott Kerrin (that's them in today's pic). We all gave two master-classes to amazing kids from Grades Six to Eight. My topic was “Bringing History to Life: Tips for Writing Historical Fiction.”
What I should have realized was that the students would be AMAZING. I've presented twice before at MASC events, so I know the students who sign up tend to be talented and motivated young authors (and illustrators). But what I should have figured out is that kids who sign up for an all-day master-classes DURING A PANDEMIC have to be extra talented and extra motivated!!
I’d prepared a ton of tips to share with my group. I began by explaining that one of the things I like most about writing historical fiction is that history gives us a kind of scaffolding on which we can “hang” our stories. But writing historical fiction also presents a giant challenge – getting the facts right! I explained that when I write novels set during the Holocaust, I am aware that some of my readers will never read a non-fiction book about the subject – so I have a responsibility to be as accurate as possible. Which is why doing research is such an important part of writing historical fiction.
Though I thought my tips were useful, the day got WAAAY more interesting when my workshop participants took over the conversation! When I talked about how for writers, reading is as important as writing, pretty much all my participants told me in the "chat" box that they were hooked on reading. Nandi wrote that, "My mom has to stop me from reading because I won't leave the house!" (I suggested she get her mom to join our Zoom so I could explain that Nandi is showing the signs of becoming a professional writer, and to let her read as much as she wants!!) I laughed out loud when I read Navaab's comment: "My parents: Go outside. Me: Brings my book outside. My parents: Face palm."
We did several writing exercises, including a couple of lists. (I had explained to the students that writing lists is a great way to get ideas flowing, or to un-block on a tough writing day.) I asked them to write a list of historical topics they were interested in exploring, and then everyone shared their "top" topic. I have to say I was dazzled by the topics, which ranged from Nadine's interest in the Romanoff family, to Grace's topic of the Underground Railway, and Madison's topic of the history of women's rights!
Because I got to spend three hours working with my "class," there was time for a longer writing exercise, and also for me to comment on the participants' writing. Again, I was dazzled (it's the right word) by the students' work. I did make some of my usual suggestions: show; don't tell... vary your sentence lengths... death to adverbs... include dialogue -- but what I want to do next is SHOW you why I was dazzled by sharing a few bits of what the kids wrote.Are you ready to be dazzled?
Nadine used the word "mottled" to describe paint on an old building -- I ADORE the word "mottled" and anyone who uses it!! Katie used the word "muttered" -- another one of my favourites. (I seemed to be in the Mood for M-words yesterday!) Nandi used the following line in her excellent dialogue: "Let the whole world wake up!" I SOOO LOVED THAT. Stephanie described "the musty scent of death [that] hovered in the air." I CAN SMELL IT! And Jenny wrote about a man's trial: "I feel his breath... he whispers, 'Convict me, Attorney Maya!'" I had told the kids that successful writing TAKES US THERE. And that's what they all managed to do yesterday. Perhaps my favourite part of the day was when Katie responded in the chat to Jenny's piece about the trial. Jenny wrote: "I was like in a trance haha."
See! That's what good writing does. It's kind of magical -- good writing does put us in a kind of trance, taking us there, wherever that may be. But it takes some talent and a whole lot of hard work to make that kind of magic.
Here's to the wonderful gang at MASC who made yesterday possible, including Faith Seltzer, Wendy, Nathalie, Vanessa and Roslyn (Nathalie and Vanessa, who were there to oversee all things tech did the writing exercises with the kids! and Roslyn stayed to listen to a good chunk of my class!); to my fellow authors and illustrators; to the wonderful event host Jamaal Jackson Rogers (you're the best, Jamaal!); but most of all, thanks to the kids for being amazing and working so hard. I look forward to reading your books in the not-too-distant future! Now what are you waiting for? Go get to work on those books!! xo from Monique