Friday, August 16, 2013

Eileen Charbonneau's Elements of the Novel Writing Workshop at Merritt Bookstore

Scott Meyer and
Stephanie Lehmann
Local bookstores are neighborhood gems. Since their numbers have been dwindling, it is imperative that readers, writers, well, everyone who reads or gives books as gifts, supports them. In my local area there are a handful of bookstores and today's post highlights one.

In the pastoral town of Millbrook, Merritt Books is a beacon for lovers of the written word. Owned and run by Scott Meyer and his family, Scott can be found at many local events from the annual Literary Festival to hosting author signings in The Upstairs Gallery of the bookstore. This past Saturday (August 10th), as I have done for the past three years, I went to Merritt Books to attend Eileen Charbonneau's Elements of the Novel Writing Workshop.

Eileen and attendee Robert.
I'm a firm believer we meet people throughout our lives for a reason. These reasons aren't always immediately known. When I first met Eileen at the Literary Festival in Millbrook five years ago, I was immediately drawn to her warm, outgoing spirit. She wore a colorful, flowing outfit and had very long hair. My first impression of her was of someone very outgoing and natural. I later learned when she was the featured author at my local library that she is multi-cultural, comes from a big family, and is the author of nine historical books for adults and young adults. She also penned a non-fiction book, "Elements of the Novel, A Primer for Beginners." Find her Goodreads page here.

Stephanie Lehmann
When I first listened to her speak about her books, I was in awe. Here was a true book lover, a story teller, a fan of authors no matter the stage in their careers. As an aspiring author, I learned a lot from her, from her graceful ease in public speaking to the plethora of knowledge she has. Every year that I attend her writing workshop my awe grows and I continue to learn. During the day-long event, writers delve deeper into the craft of writing. This year's theme dealt with the "Drafting Process" and "Show and Tell."

Throughout the morning and afternoon sessions the attendees were given exercises to do. What I really enjoy about these work sessions were the unexpected things. Our first work session centered on creating a scene in our WIP where setting was a character. I discovered during the second exercise of turning a "tell' into a "show" that one of my minor characters wanted to have a stronger presence in the story. In another session, Eileen chose one line or section from our individual manuscripts and had us rewrite it to "show" instead. Very insightful and productive! Another exercise had us treating our current work-in-progress as a movie script with three additional parts to follow and write at home.This exercise really had us 'opening' up our work and thinking deeply about it.

Susan Newhof  
During our lunch break, we were treated to meeting two authors who were at the bookstore for a signing. These lovely ladies were Susan Newhof ("Spirits and Wine") and Stephanie Lehmann ( "Astor Place Vintage"). Both authors were extremely gracious and talked a bit about their books and let us ask questions. After our final session ended later that day, we met the afternoon author, Kevin Egan. He spoke about his latest thriller, "Midnight." The other two authors joined him in a panel and the public was invited upstairs as well.

Included in the event's fee was a critique of our fifteen page manuscript which we had mailed earlier to Eileen. When I first saw my pages and all of the pencil marks, I didn't think my manuscript tanked or something bad. I actually smiled. I've never had anyone else match the level of Eileen's editing prowess (so far in my writing journey). She floored me once again with her keen eye and astute changes. After I went home and made the changes, the opening pages of my YA urban fantasy, Strays, had lost the fat of excess verbiage, the pace had quickened and the tension was heightened. Those are the pages we need to hook today's readers. 

Kevin Egan
Since all of us have attended Eileen's class in the past, everyone present already knew each other at Saturday's workshop. I can honestly say attending Eileen's yearly class has now become a family gathering for me. This is truly the one special day I look forward to all year long.

My favorite quote of the day from Eileen: 
"Novel writing is a forgiving form."

What I highlighted in my notes:
"Watch your 'and' constructs." Eileen said to "carefully choose the right words and use them sparingly to convey our meaning."

What I REALLY loved learning TODAY: 
Eileen said during the Draft Process writers need to do this to their novels:
1. Give it SOUND.
2. Give it SENSE.
3. Make it SING.

For information on Eileen's next workshop, check the calendar of events on Merritt Bookstore's website.
Eileen introduces the authors

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