E.L. Konigsburg named Literary Legend

Thanks to the St. Augustine Rec0rd for the permission to republish this article.

Published: August 21, 2016

By LAURA HAMPTON

laura.hampton@staugustine.com

ELKonigsburg

E.L. Konigsburg

Elaine Konigsburg spent her childhood in small Pennsylvania towns. An avid reader growing up, the award-winning children’s writer was 37 years old and a mother of three before her first book, “Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth” was published.

Though Elaine showed artistic abilities early on, she tucked her artistic side away and entered Carnegie Institute of Technology. Her plan? To be a chemist.

She taught science for a while after graduation, but she found her true calling when her youngest child started kindergarten. While her children were in school, Elaine spent her mornings illustrating and writing children’s books.

It paid off.

Writing under the pen name E.L. Konigsburg, she established herself as a thought-provoking writer whose books addressed childhood and adolescent struggles openly and with wit.

She is one of six writers to win two Newbery Medals, the nation’s highest award in children’s literature. The Newbery is given for the year’s “most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature.” Elaine won her first Newbery in 1967 and the second in 1997.

In addition, Elaine was the U.S. nominee in 2006 for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international recognition available to creators of children’s books.

Though the family of five spent some time in New Jersey and upstate New York, Elaine and husband, David, made Jacksonville their home. All of the couple’s children graduated from Bolles School.

For her accomplishments as an author in the sunshine state, Elaine Konigsburg will be inducted, posthumously, into the Literary Legends Hall of Fame at the Florida Heritage Book Festival in September.

The award will be accepted by her son, Paul.

The Record caught up with Paul Konigsburg by phone to talk about his mother’s process, inspiration and legacy as an author of children’s literature.

What was It like growing up with a literary mom?

The part I remember most is that she was a great cook. My favorite dish was Split Pea Soup.

She was also an artist, and that’s what she liked to do as a hobby. When we were lounging on the couch watching TV, Mom would say, “Freeze,” and we would hold that position for 45 minutes while she sketched us.

On the literary front, when we were in Port Chester, New York, we would come home to eat lunch. While we had lunch, Mom would read to us what she had written that day.

What was your mother’s writing process?

She would write in the morning and then do whatever else she had to do in the afternoon. She kept that discipline up pretty much her whole life. Mornings were reserved for writing and work. Sometimes, it would spill over into the afternoon. But even if she stared at the ceiling for eight hours, she was at her desk.

Was her first passion art or writing?

Her first passion was chemistry. She almost has a master’s in chemistry from Carnegie Tech. She did well with theory; she wasn’t so good with the practical. She blew up the lab at least twice and lost her eyebrow. A note to readers: Lithium and water do not mix. When we were living in Jacksonville the first time, she actually was a teacher of science at Bartram. This was before Bartram and Bolles merged. It was an all-girl’s school, and she taught biology and science.

So, she was both right- and left-brained?

Exactly. My dad who was a Ph.D. psychologist measured her intelligence, and she was off the scale. She could turn it on and off. When she turned it on, she could be quite intimidating.

Of the two, writing and illustrating, did your mother enjoy one more than the other?

She would often say she writes for a living and paints for a hobby. She painted to relax. When she went on a trip, she brought her sketch pad, and she would sketch all the time. She had quite the talent as a child. She was in second or third grade and on the chalkboard she drew a fly – a realistic fly. So she had the artistic talent very young. At one point she was thinking about becoming a painter, but she became a writer. This is after she decided she couldn’t be a chemist.

Where did she draw inspiration from?

Her family was her inspiration, but she would also work into that things that she cared about – art, her travels, stories about adolescents becoming adults and the changes that they go through.

Do you recognize yourself in any of her characters?

Oh, heck yeah. One day at school I was taking a science test. When I got home I said to Mom, “The test was easy. There was a guy inside of me telling me all the answers so I decided to just copy them down.” She said, “Oh, you have a George.” So she wrote a story called, “George.” It’s a story about Benjamin Dickenson Carr who had this little fellow who lived inside of him named George. George had the bad habit of speaking up at exactly the wrong time, saying the wrong things. My brother and sister were Claudia and Jamie in “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”

Why children’s books as opposed to adult fiction?

Partly because she started looking at her kids and their lives and what they were going through. So she started writing about that. She actually never wrote for a specific age group. She wrote the novel. She did not dumb down the story or dumb down the vocabulary. She let the editors put the age group on it. As we got older, the books got older.

Your mother won several awards throughout her career. How did she feel about awards?

The word she used was “validation.” It validated the work that she’d done. She was a female in, at that time, a pretty male-dominated field, and she felt it put a level of validation on her work.

What did you think when you learned your mother would be inducted into the Literary Legends Hall of Fame?

I thought it was good. I thought it was appropriate. If my mom were alive, I know she would be happy to accept it.

The Literary Legends Reception will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 16 in the Solarium at Flagler College. The cost is $70, and registration is required.

To register, go to fhbookfest.com.

 

Joe G mug

Be Your Own Muse: Inspiration in Hard Work

Joe G mugLike most people, I used to think that writers relied on short bursts of inspiration in order to develop short stories and books.

I once also believed in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and moderate politicians.

Writing – at least to do it well – requires a great deal of time.

Most people have the wrong perception of authors, believing the writing takes place in short bursts each day midst brunches, drinks, social gatherings, walks on the beach, and readings before packed rooms. Nothing could be further from the truth. Writing is hard work that requires skills shared by many other professions, such as carpentry, engineering, and architecture, whose best and brightest are adept at juggling multiple projects, solving problems, imagining new perspectives and enduring long hours.

One can’t wait for inspiration; one needs to provide it.

That means scheduling time to write, even if that means writing one to two times a week for an hour. Obviously, the more time you devote to writing, the more ideas you’ll develop and the more content you’ll produce. But start small, if you cannot find larger time slots at first. Consider the casual runner who wants to run a marathon. It takes months to prepare for a 26.2-mile marathon. Or consider the 40-year-old who decides to play the guitar, practicing chords before being able to eventually riff complete songs.

Early in my life, I disregarded advice like this. Why wouldn’t I? Bred on journalism, I’d often research a topic or person for a few days and then knock out a story immediately consumed by a sizable audience. Sometimes, I’d just show up at an event before writing an article.

On days when I wanted to work on some fiction, poetry or other nonfiction, I’d simply sit in front of my typewriter or Mac and start writing until I lost interest or focus or even any clue as to the desires of my characters or the flow of my story. As a result, I have hundreds of pages buried in several file folders, awaiting further inspiration – or a burn barrel.

I did not learn writing discipline until I was awarded my first book contract for a sports journalism text, eventually entitled “Field Guide To Covering Sports,” which is now used in college courses. I soon realized that I’d need to schedule large blocks of time in order to make a spring deadline seven months away. By grinding away, I wrote nearly 300 pages thanks to a routine where I’d write anywhere from four to fourteen hours a day, depending on my work schedule and my ability to get by on very little sleep. I no longer measured success by a set number of words or pages but by time spent writing.

This approach enabled me to complete my second book, “Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot,” a nonfiction book released earlier this year. I’ve now come full circle, finally prepared to work on a historical fiction book set in Florida I first worked on sporadically (spastically?) a few decades ago. I am currently developing my writing work schedule.

Besides setting aside time, writers need to consider process. Every writer has his own approach to writing, whether that’s stopping in the middle of scenes, writing the first few pages by hand or editing every line at the end of the day. There’s no one way to write a longer work. Here’s my process once I’ve finally settled on a story idea.

  1. I work like a journalist, which means that I attempt to research thoroughly before writing anything. This research includes reading articles, books, diaries, captain logs, memoirs, footnotes, old newspaper accounts, brochures, websites, and everything else I can access. I especially enjoy finding older texts in libraries that might not be online. I also like to interview numerous people who can supply insights, stories, context, expert knowledge and details. These interviews can be anything from extended, formal conversations where I have my digital recorder rolling to a chat with a ranger at a national park to a store manager. Like with all interviews, I seek information and not quotes. Sometimes, I’ll fire off a quick question via email or social media to a potential source to either set up a chat or to ask a question. I leave the option to the source. After I believe I have dug deep enough, I start writing. I often tell my journalism reporters that if you have two days to report a story, then do two days’ worth of research, but if you have two weeks, do a full two weeks’ worth of reporting. Since books rarely have deadlines, one can easily get lost in research, as I frequently do. Yet, that’s where I find both essential details and feed my imagination.
  2. Along the way, I constantly writes sketches of people, scenes and locations and outline opening scenes for chapters that I save both digitally and in file folders.
  3. By hand, I outline the entire book so I’ll know where I will need to go. This step enables me to think about the book structurally, a great help since I know that plot, scenes, characters and content will change along the way, whether the work is fiction, nonfiction or a text.
  4. I then start writing the opening chapter, going as deep as I can over days and weeks. Inevitably, I take detours in order to chase butterflies – or, in one case, to pursue spiders. As I wrote a chapter about the Green Swamp in “Monster Trek,” I thought about a moment when I had leaned against a royal palm deep in the woods. At the moment, I had leaned against an oak and watched life scramble in and out of the shadows across the sandy soil all around me. I’ve always been mesmerized by Florida’s wetlands, having hiked and canoed through them since I was a teen living near the Everglades. Anybody who spends time in these remote areas knows that insects rule, especially spiders and ants. In just a few minutes, I noticed what appeared to be several spider species: wolf, spotted orb weaver, and banana spider, whose enormous, intricate webs and lengthy legs can prompt chills. I wondered: How many spiders reside in this area? I figured readers would find this interesting as well, so I tracked down a biologist at Florida State University who revealed that millions of spiders can reside in a mile of lush wetlands like those that surrounded me. In fact, more than 250,000 spiders probably lurk in a square mile back home. Creepy and cool. These asides do not hinder my progress; rather, they offer depth to my stories. As a result of these excursions, I write pretty slowly for a journalist, but that’s OK. By the way, Kurt Vonnegut once said his goal was to write 250 worthwhile words a day. A writer who can accomplish that would have a book at the end of the year, even after taking off weekends.
  5. I revise along the way, often changing scenes and chapters so much that they barely resemble the original draft. That’s not to say that I’m writing sections that will need an overhaul. But it happens. So don’t fall in love with early drafts. There are exceptions, of course, but there’s a reason we have erasers, delete keys and burn barrels.
  6. I edit for accuracy along the way, worried that I will forget to verify facts during the editing process. If I am on a roll, I’ll bold and underline the section that requires a fact check, otherwise, I’ll verify at the moment. I’m far more concerned by a factual error than a grammatical mistake. That said ….
  7. I next edit for sentence style, story flow, grammar, spelling and punctuation. Keep in mind that punctuation is far more subjective than one was taught in school. For example, you can interchangeably use a colon, long dash or parentheses, depending on whether you want to elevate, set aside or list information. If you are able, read each sentence aloud so that you can hear how it will sound in readers’ minds’ eyes and so you can catch awkward sentence constructions.

There are other parts of the process that do not fit neatly into a list, as cited above. For instance, I frequently read work by other writers right before diving into my own work in order to prime the pump, so to speak. I might read the opening lines from my favorite books when I’m starting a new chapter. Or I might start by reading the previous few pages from my own current work.

Often, I play music while writing. Right now, I’m listening to John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” Typically, though, I’ll play movie themes or classical jazz. I grew up writing in a newsroom where machines clattered, colleagues yelled and phones constantly rang. Didn’t matter if a reporter was loudly speaking with a source on the phone a few feet away, you still had to make deadline. Some friends who write prefer complete silence to a soundtrack. That’s the joy of writing: You can adapt an approach that fits your personality – and that’s, ultimately, what we need to do: create an environment where we can write, and then do so on a regular basis. After all, we are really our own muses.

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Gisondi, author of Monster Trek: The Obsessive Search for Bigfoot and a professor of journalism, traveled to eight locations across the country, trekking into swamps, mountains, state parks, and remote woods with people in search of bigfoot as well as fame, fortune, adventure, and shared camaraderie. In this session, he’ll show you how to develop scenes before, during and after you’ve spent time in a locale through research, interviews and observations.

 

 

 

Ring All the Bells

sohrab fracisWhen I was first entrusted with teaching a creative-writing course in fiction at the University of North Florida in 2001, I drew up a handy one-page feedback tool that nevertheless endeavored to be comprehensive. I wanted it to have an appropriate space, in terms of the elements of craft, for absolutely any comment that came to the mind of students while constructively critiquing a story manuscript.

I divided the blank sheet by horizontal lines into what eventually became a dozen broad categories of craft. From obvious suspects such as character, plot, setting, and dialogue, through jargony elements such as point of view and verisimilitude, I opened out into holistic matters such as style, reader interest, freshness, and unity. Related subtopics within each bracket allowed me to hit on less commonly considered aspects such as authenticity, structure, heft, wit, aesthetics, and texture.

Each time I reused the feedback template—as Visiting Writer in Residence at Augsburg College, workshop faculty at UNF Writers’ Festival, guest author at The New School, and now critique-sessions faculty at Florida Heritage Book Festival—I tweaked it, adding more of those nuanced subheadings. Atmosphere, voice, beats, art, depth, coherence, and other matters wormed their way into relevant brackets, the left sides of which grew crowded. But the page itself stayed predominantly white space, leaving plenty of room for the reviewer’s comments. I took pride in noting that never once did a reviewer complain of not finding an appropriate slot for any comment. I admit it helped that the bottommost bracket, Holistic/Overall Response, was a catchall. Anyhow, objective achieved.

The more I employed that comprehensive, versatile, and convenient tool, the more I saw that, while some broad elements of craft are clearly more prominent than others, they all matter. When playing racket sports, I’d realized the importance of a strong all-around game: any weak area can and will be exploited by your opponent. A limited backhand, for instance, invites an attack on that vulnerable flank. However strong your forehand, you’re likely to lose. Similarly, to write exclusively “character-driven” or “plot-driven” fiction is to severely handicap a story in terms of quality and, increasingly, publishing potential. Literary and genre writers alike today recognize the necessity of a balanced approach.

That an interesting storyline remains unsatisfying without strong characterization, and vice versa, is obvious. Less obvious is the extrapolation of that to the other major elements. A thinly evoked environment for those characters makes the story feel more written than real…. And no matter how action-packed and colorfully peopled, a story lacking originality feels stale and derivative…. Too much narrative and too little scene will leave the best story sounding told rather than actually happening…. But too loosely assembled scenes will make it seem aimless or incoherent…. And so on.

So I tell my workshop members as they run their eyes down the sheet: “Ring all those bells. Your story will be better for it.” To also “show” this and inspire, I read them exemplars. At last year’s FHBF, I read the gorgeous opening of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and all of Aimee Bender’s brilliant short-short, “The Rememberer.” Possibly intimidated by their rounded near-perfection, one of the writers emailed me later to say perfection is unattainable. I replied, “Yes, ringing all the bells at a high level, not perfection (a word I never used), is as much as even great writers can manage.” As great a songwriter as Leonard Cohen wrote these lyrics for his song “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Perfection is too big an ask, although the higher you set the bar the closer you get. For the majority of less-than-great writers like myself, I simply mean keep all the craft elements in mind as you draft and revise. Is even that a bit demanding? Yes, but not too demanding. It’s a demanding world of publishing out there.

Sohrab Homi Fracis won the Iowa Short Fiction Award, juried by the legendary Iowa Writers Workshop, for Ticket to Minto: Stories of India and America (University of Iowa Press). It was re-published in India and translated into German. He was awarded the Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature/Fiction and the Walter E. Dakin Fellowship in Fiction. He was Visiting Writer in Residence at Augsburg College, and an artist in residence at Escape to Create and Yaddo.

It Turns Out You Can Go Home Again

Darlyn Kuhn - Color - RWW author photo - hi-res

Darlyn Finch Kuhn

With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, it turns out you can go home again.  When you’re caring for an aging parent, you have to go home – often .

The house I return to, on the southern bank of Trout River in Jacksonville, is the same house that Tupelo Honey Lee inhabits in my novel, Sewing Holes.  Loosely based on the people who inhabited the house during the 1970s, and our friends, neighbors, and relatives, the characters have been camouflaged, altered, and combined.  Some events I’ve made up out of whole cloth.  Unlike Wolfe’s unfortunate George Webber, I’ve received no menacing letters or death threats, but I did have one explosive telephone call from my hysterical mother, during which I had to remind her, repeatedly, “Mama, it’s FICTION.”

It’s so confusing.  On her first read, my mother announced that she LOVED the book. I exhaled a sigh of relief, because the mother in the novel is a difficult one, and clearly some of the events paralleled our own experiences.  Then one day my stepfather asked his visiting personal caregiver to read the book aloud to him, due to his failing eyesight.  Hearing the same words she’d already read silently, now falling from another person’s lips, sent Mama into a rage.  “I never knew how much you hated me!” she cried into the phone.  After she calmed down, I gently suggested to my stepfather that they abandon the reading.  He died without ever hearing the lovely scene of mother-daughter reconciliation at the end.

Mother’s memory is failing enough that her pride in my accomplishments has replaced her fear that someone in her Florida hometown will read the story and decide that she and the mother in the book are one and the same.  She now introduces me as, “My baby, the author.”  Embarrassing, but, given the alternative, I’ll take it.

What I find fascinating is how entering the doors of that small frame house takes me back to a time when I felt small and powerless.  The river is still lovely and timeless; the hill our house rests on still slopes gently to its shore.  The rooms inside still form a circle to traverse endlessly, and some of my father’s paintings still grace the walls.  Mother is still queen of her domain, forever pruning her flower garden and fishing for compliments on its beauty.

True power has shifted.  I have her power of attorney and am her medical surrogate.  I pay her bills, and when the time comes, I’ll decide where she spends her last days.  We both hope that she’ll go to sleep one night in her bed in this house, and wake up in Heaven.  But not for a long time to come.  For now, I spend our visits doing her bidding, trying endlessly to please her, and sometimes succeeding.  Like little Honey in the book, my fondest wish is her nod of approval. She gives it more freely now than then.

Home, for me, will always be where Mama smiles.

Darlyn Finch Kuhn‘s work has appeared in literary journals, newspapers, magazines and online, in addition to her two poetry collections (Red Wax Rose and Three Houses). Her poems have been featured on Poetic Logic on NPR, and read by Garrison Keillor on the Writers Almanac. She was interviewed on World Radio Paris. Kuhn is the eponymous “Scribbler,” of the Scribbles literary e-newsletter. She produces book trailer videos with her husband at Brad Kuhn & Associates in Orlando, Florida. Her debut novel, Sewing Holes, (available now from Twisted Road Publications) won first prize in the 2015 Royal Palm Awards from the Florida Writers Association.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your First Book

Brad Kuhn

You’ve finally done it.  You opened up a vein and somewhere between a year and twenty years later, you finished a book.  Whether that book is poetry, fiction, non-fiction, or just an old scrapbook of family pictures, congratulations!  By actually seeing your book through to completion — and yes, completion includes revision and professional edits, just as a finished diamond requires final cuts and polish — you’ve gotten farther than 95 percent of the people who say they are “thinking” about writing a book. F or the record, that’s 81 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 200 million people.

Publishing a book is an incredible accomplishment, and without ever having met you, I can see you opening that first box, breathing in that fresh-from-the-printer smell of ink ethers and binding glue.  Don’t try to deny it.  I know it as surely as I know that you read that published book cover to cover looking for typos and flaws, even though you knew it was too late to fix anything.  It’s a rite of passage, like a new parent counting a baby’s fingers and toes, getting to know its geography.  It’s your baby.  It’s finally here. And it’s beautiful.

Like any parent, you know that your baby is the prettiest, smartest, and most adorable baby there ever was and that everybody else might as well stop having babies because you have done it to perfection.

Everybody wants their baby to thrive.  You want it to have all the advantages.  You want it to get into all the good schools, and maybe even become President.  In your heart, you know there will be disappointments.  You know it’s a dangerous world and that, despite your best efforts your baby is going to get teased, bullied, and rejected.  But that future has yet to be written, and you’re willing to do everything in your power to raise a happy, healthy and successful child.

What does that look like?  As an author, what should you expect, now that you’re expecting?

Expect to work.  Books, like babies, take TLC.  We know it takes years for a baby to find its way in the world, but it’s surprising how many authors expect the world to show up at their stable with Frankincense and Myrrh.

Expect to market yourself.  Booking a venue is just the “where” in a value proposition that also includes: who, what, why and how.  People can only be in one place at any given time.  In this event-planning equivalent of Tinder, you have to give people a reason to swipe right.

Expect mixed results.  Every author has had the nightmare, and experienced the reality of showing up at a bookstore only to be met with the sound of silverfish gnawing on slow-moving inventory.  With luck, you’ll also experience the joy of eager readers lining up for your signature.  As Rudyard Kipling wrote: “Treat these two imposters just the same.”

Expect to have fun.  We haven’t talked here about money.  That’s a discussion for another day.  But, really, who has kids for financial gain?  The joy here is in the journey.  It’s about the places you’ll go that you may not have otherwise gone.  It’s about making new friends — both readers and other authors, the other “parents” you may never have come to know except through your offspring.  It’s about hearing and celebrating their stories and raising your “kids” together.

We’ve only scratched the surface here.  My wife the author Darlyn Finch Kuhn, and I will be facilitating a session on this topic at the Florida Heritage Book Festival Friday, Sept. 16th, at 10 a.m.  The session is called “Bookstores and Beyond: Marketing in the age of Amazon,” and we’re hoping you’ll come. Expect a lively discussion.

Brad Kuhn’s first book was I Hate My Banker, a business book published in 1997.  He is a founder of the Jack Kerouac Writers in Residence Project of Orlando and Shady Lane Press.  He and his wife, the author Darlyn Finch Kuhn, have ghostwritten several books, and own and operate Brad Kuhn & Associates, LLC, a PR and marketing firm with author and publisher clients. 

 

Buckets of Inspiration

SHutcheson IMG_0780

Sandi Hutcheson

Booker T. Washington, the educator, author, and president of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, gave a famous speech in 1895. During what is known as the Atlanta Compromise Speech, he told the story of a ship was lost at sea for several days.

The crew had run out of fresh water, and they were dying of thirst. No land was in sight. When they spotted a friendly vessel and sent a signal to indicate that they needed water, the other ship immediately sent back this message: “Cast down your bucket where you are.”

The desperate crew sent a second message: “Water, send us water!”

Again, the response came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.”

Four times this exchange occurred before the captain of the first ship lowered a bucket into the ocean. To his astonishment, that bucket was full of sparkling, fresh water.  They were in the Atlantic off the coast of northern Brazil, where the Amazon so powerfully propels its water nearly one hundred miles into the ocean.

Washington concluded his speech with these words: “To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of preserving friendly relations with the southern white man who is their next door neighbor, I would say: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ Cast it down, making friends in every manly way of the people of all races, by whom you are surrounded.”

I was in Ireland during the summer of 2013, traveling with the Spalding University MFA in Writing students at their summer residency and hoping for a shot of encouragement and inspiration as a writer. An hour after I’d arrived and settled in, I headed out for a short guided tour of Dublin, and within the first few minutes of that tour, I met a couple of writers who would do just that–inspire and encourage me. The funny thing is that I traveled all the way to Ireland to meet a couple from my own waters.

Darlyn Finch Kuhn is a poet known for her saucy style and engaging readings. Her poems have been featured on Poetic Logic on WMFE-FM, and read by Garrison Keillor on the Writers Almanac. She was a Kerouac Project writer in residence in 2006. Her first book, Wax Rose, a poetry and short story collection, was published in 2007. Her second book, Three Houses, is a collection of love poems with collaborator Brad Kuhn, her husband. Together, Brad and Darlyn own Brad Kuhn and Associates, a stellar PR firm in Orlando.

And that is what I love about the Florida Heritage Book Festival. We don’t have to travel out of the state of Florida, out of our own waters, to find writers who inspire us. Every writer featured at the Festival has a connection to Florida. So why not cast your bucket where you are this September and join Brad, Darlyn, and me for three days of inspiration, instruction, and building friendships with hundreds of fellow Floridians.

(Sandi Hutcheson teaches at Flagler College and writes a column for the Sunday edition of The St. Augustine Record. She volunteers as coordinator for the Writers Conference portion of the Florida Heritage Book Festival)

Why attend a writer’s festival?

Kevin MurphyWhy attend a writer’s festival? by Kevin Murphy

One reason would be to gain a sense of community.  I used to agree with the statement that writing is a solitary art until I began attending workshops and conferences and festivals held by writers for writers.

I was heartened to find that many shared the same challenges—how to make time for writing, how to confront the blank white page, how to spark imagination, how to revise the wonderful mess my imagination made.  And there seemed to be as many solutions as there were writers in the room.

Perhaps none was altogether right for me, none completely wrong, but each piece of advice had worked for someone and might work for me.  Readings were often enthralling, inspiring me to get back to work.   And even chats between sessions reminded me how much fun it was to belong to this far-flung clan of hard-working dreamers.

When I sat before my computer to begin my work again, I was armed with good practical advice, but more importantly I did not feel that I was alone.  Even though the actual workshop was brief, the sense of camaraderie lingered and I felt myself part of a community intent on getting good writing out into the world.

Kevin Murphy graduated from FSU’s Creative Writing Program with a PH. D. and then taught college classes on US Navy fast frigates and for University of Maryland UC in Germany, Italy, Spain, Iceland and extensively in Japan.  Currently he resides in lovely St. Augustine where he is becoming reacquainted with his family and working on a fantasy novel.  Kevin is a FHBF volunteer.

How to Grow a Novel (or Getting the Mouse Through the Maze) by Phoebe Fox

TYM650tonedAsking an author about his or her writing process, to me, yields as many varied answers as asking about how they make love. We all have our habits, hang-ups, and quirks.

The most common divide is plotter versus “pantser” (someone who writes with no firm idea of how the story will develop), and I’m a pantser to the bone. The idea of carefully plotting out every scene in an outline I’ll then write directly according to is as mind-numbingly dull and unappealing to me as having a flowchart to follow for sex. If I know exactly how things are going to go (whether at my desk or in bed), I’m a lot less interested.

For me, the joy of creativity—the joy of story—is following the little mouse of inspiration as it winds through its maze, not sure where it may go or what path it will take to reach the end—or even where the end is. As I like to tell people, if I know exactly what happens in the story, I no longer need to write it. Part of the creative process is telling myself the tale as I go along; that’s what keeps me engaged.

But that kind of creative freedom has its downside—sometimes the mouse gets lost. Sometimes it hits a dead end. Sometimes it finds an interesting bit of cheese, and starts gnawing on it, and forgets all about the fact that there’s a maze to be run at all. Those are the days where, for just a little while, I envy the methodical plotters.

When I’m writing my Breakup Doctor novels—a light women’s fiction series about a therapist who specializes in helping people get through their bad breakups, and then winds up breaking all her own rules when she’s unceremoniously dumped herself—much of the delight for me lies in exploring how my characters might be affected by the things that happen to so many of us in our dating lives (and in our friendships and family relationships too—I love examining the dynamics of why we do the things we do).

And yet sometimes I get lost in the maze.

I have files full of discards from each novel in the series that are nearly as long as the novels themselves. I have “darlings” that it killed me to murder, but I did it. It’s agonizing to see so much material that will likely never see another reader’s eye—and yet I never call these “wasted” words. In every case, I had to take those detours to find where the story actually wanted to go. (Kind of like life…or really good sex…)

Once I finally find the story and wind up with a draft I call “finished” (yes, I’m laughing too…), the real work begins. My editing process starts with what I call “triage” (with a tip of the hat to master editor Sol Stein for the concept). This entails reading the “finished” (hahaha! it’s funny every time!) manuscript like a reader—without analyzing or trying to edit, just making very brief notes of where the story still needs work. For Heart Conditions, book three of the Breakup Doctor series that’s in production right now, that looked like this.

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Then I go in and spot-address those big-picture story elements. This usually entails breaking the story out into scenes so I can see it “visually.” I do that through what I call a road map—a bulleted list of basically every story event, which I color-code according to character/storyline, and then I note in comment boxes the time line as well:

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If the story is extra vexing, I will bust out the index cards, so I can “see” its flow laid out in front of me (that’s one of my doggie helpers there in the corner):

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Only after all that do I read start-to-finish with an analytical eye, smoothing and polishing as I go. Then I send the truly “finished” (*still giggling*) manuscript to my first beta readers—my trusted writing group, the first eyes on anything I write. All talented authors in their own right, my three longtime crit partners are like human X-rays, looking deep into my manuscript and showing me exactly where the bones are broken or missing or utterly misaligned. I address most of their comments, and laugh at how misguided they are with others, and then send the revised manuscript to my indefatigable agent.

With great charm and diplomacy, Superagent Courtney proceeds to point out all the exact same things I was resisting, because my crit group is almost always right, and I finally address those as well. Except for just a few where, really, none of these guys know what they’re talking about. And then I send this perfect, “finished” thing to my editors at Henery Press.
At which point Erin, Kendel, and Rachel proceed to tactfully yet unflinchingly give me honest feedback about what’s still not working—which is generally all the things I’ve been resisting at every stage of revision prior to this. And finally I realize that all these people who’ve seen it so far know what the hell they’re doing, and that no author can be objective enough about her work to see it as clearly as a trusted reader can. And at long last I fix those final points of resistance.

None of this takes into account the extensive nuts-and-bolts work that’s still to come—line editing, copy editing, and the endless tweaking that I’m ultimately curtailed from only because of publishing deadlines. E. B. White famously said, “Writing is rewriting,” and that’s as true as anything I know of the process—at least my own.

I was an actor for many years, and I was always stunned at the talent and dedication of the crew on film and commercial shoots and in theater productions. These unsung heroes get none of the glory of the folks in front of the camera or onstage, yet they were there long before the actors arrived and long after we left, making everything possible. I feel the same way about all the people who make it possible for me to pursue a career I love so much: my genius crit partners, insightful agent, and keen-eyed editors; the book bloggers, reviewers, and kind fans who help get books into readers’ hands; and always, readers, without whom books never come to life.

Phoebe Fox is the author of The Breakup Doctor and Bedside Manners, part of the Breakup Doctor series (from Henery Press). Heart Conditions, book three of the series, will be released February 2016. You can find her at www.phoebefoxauthor.com, and have news and relationship advice delivered right to your in-box here. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Relationship author’s books more than ‘chick lit’ by Karen Harvey

Karen Harvey

One of the great pleasures of volunteering for the Florida Heritage Book Festival is reading books and selecting authors for the Festival. Two books with unusual titles and an author with an unusual name came across my desk. The Breakup Doctor and Bedside Manners by Phoebe Fox caught my attention and turned out to be nothing I expected.

The books were based on stories of broken relationships. I thought it was “chick lit,” but the stories were so real I felt I knew the characters. The question I asked Fox in a phone interview was, “Are you Brook Lyn Ogden (the lead character).” Fox answered that she indeed had the breakup problems. She did not, however, start writing breakup columns until after her first book sold. She now has written a third book called Heart Conditions and is working on a fourth called Out of Practice. She also writes a breakup column for Huffington Post.

I don’t think many men would read these books – but I challenge any male readers of this paper to try it. The reality in the stories makes anyone want to look at his or her own relationships.

As Brook Ogden goes a bit crazy after being left at the altar and then unceremoniously dumped by her rebound lover, she finds she is vulnerable. After a drunken night and getting a tattoo that said nasty things about men, she realizes she has to gain control.

Her venture into helping others includes group sessions with people with all kinds of problems, including men.

Each situation rings true and each person mirrors the reader in one form or another.

Fox said people always tell her their stories and she uses them for future books. I would make a bet that anyone reading her books has a story.

Phoebe Fox will be available at the Florida Heritage Book Festival Saturday, Sept.26, at the Ringhaver Student Center at Flagler College. There will be a ticketed event on Friday, Sept. 25. Visit www.fhbookfest.com for more information.

Phoebe Fox now lives in Austin Texas, but her books are based in Ft. Myers. She is happily married and loves to visit Florida.

Guest Blog: The Evolution of “Going Ape” By Brandon Haught

Brandon HaughtWhen family, friends and colleagues find out that I’ve published my first book, the aspiring writers among them are eager to learn about the process of writing and publishing. How did the book develop from an idea to a finished product? What’s the writing and researching process like? Was it hard? That last question is the simplest to answer. Yes. After five years of researching, writing, revising, and then researching, writing, and revising even more, I can say that it was a mountain climb. But the view at the summit was worth it.

The project didn’t even start out as a book. Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom arose from a moment of pure curiosity. I had been personally and deeply involved in a public conflict in 2008 over how evolution would be taught in Florida’s science classrooms. The controversy had attracted national media attention, sweeping up the state board of education and the state legislature in the whirlwind. Once the battle finally ended, I reflected on what had happened over the previous year and wondered: Had there ever been a headline-making controversy over the teaching of evolution in Florida before? That question launched an informal research project that turned up fascinating glimpses into this largely forgotten aspect of Florida history.

I wrote a series of blog posts to share my discoveries, digging deeper with every successful expedition. My blog series kept growing until I finally realized I had enough material to fill an entire book. I abandoned the blog and set out on a new adventure. I had done a lot of writing before, but never on the scale of a nonfiction book. Enthusiasm initially made up for my inexperience and naiveté, but it soon faded in light of the workload I had taken on.

The blog series had been fun, but writing a serious history book was real work. I understood my research had to be impeccable, and the relaxed tone of my blog posts needed to mature into something more academic without losing readability and personality. And I needed to do much more detailed and difficult research than I had done before to bridge the information gaps.

Whereas the blog posts were churned out in only a couple of months, the book chapters were slow, exhausting slogs. It took several years to stitch the historical information together into a flowing narrative. Keep in mind I’m not a full-time writer. I have a regular day job unrelated to writing, and I have a family. At times it seemed like the project would never end. But my genuine interest in the subject sustained me through the tough times. There finally came a day when I joyfully completed the last chapter, but the celebration was short lived as I worked to document my source material. My inexperience and disorganization almost killed the project as I worked to organize stacks of materials, including newspaper articles, school board meeting minutes, interview notes, audio recordings, video clips, books, etc. into a detailed notes section for the book. I realized I was missing some vital source information from the initial research for my blog posts, forcing me to retrace my steps from a few years prior. It was discouraging and exhausting to have to do all that work over again.
This part-time hobby project was no longer fun. Now it was non-paying work that was eating up my free time. What kept me going despite the dark cloud hanging over me was pure determination to see this project through to the end, and the support and encouragement from loved ones.

Fortunately, the next step was surprisingly easy. I sent a query letter to the University Press of Florida and quickly heard back from them that they were interested in my book. I know many authors have faced letdown after letdown at this stage. My advantage was that I had written a unique book completely focused on Florida, making it an easy sell to UPF. However, the publisher’s editing process was a slow one, demanding lots of patience. From the time my initial manuscript was accepted until I had a copy of the printed book in my hands was a full year. During that time there were several rounds of editing. Then came the tedious indexing, which I did myself because I couldn’t afford to hire a professional. Finally, there was the last proofreading. By then, I had read my work so many times already that I actually was tired of looking at it.

Now that all of that hard work and waiting is over, I’m back to truly enjoying the subject like I did when I was writing the blog series. It’s fun to share this fascinating aspect of Florida history with readers and show them how this history flows seamlessly into the present day. We’re seeing in 2014 a repeat of events from decades past. Only the cast of characters has changed.

I now have an itch to take on a new book project, but this time I’ll carefully document source materials as I go. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Brandon Haught is a former Marine Corps combat correspondent, a former newspaper columnist and a current public information officer with a central Florida sheriff’s office. He is a founding board member and volunteer communications director for the statewide science education advocacy organization Florida Citizens for Science. Haught was deeply involved in the 2008 fight over evolution’s prominence in the revised state science standards that made news headlines across the state and the country. That controversy inspired Haught to research other evolution battles in Florida’s history, resulting in Going Apehttp://www.brandonhaught.com