The Keystone Nursing Care Center board paid for a Writer’s Workshop for me, because I won an essay and a photography contest in 2002. A packet of information came in the mail about Kirkwood’s Writer’s Workshop in Cedar Rapids. I chose the classes I wanted for the five days in October. Later on, I received a schedule of classes and instructions about what to bring for each class. My younger brother had taught computer courses in that building for several years and still does. At the time, I wished I knew which classroom was his. I wanted to leave a note that said John’s sister Fay has been here.
I walked in and introduced myself to get checked off the list. The woman in charge of the workshop was standing nearby. She said she wanted to meet me. She couldn’t believe that a nursing home would pay the fee for me to attend the workshop. She wasn’t the only one. I kept thinking I was dreaming and would wake up before the workshop started. I was amazed at how many people in this area were aspiring authors. Attendance for the workshop was good.
Most of the students left during lunch break. Not me. I brought lunch with me. I wasn’t leaving and risk that I wouldn’t make it back for the first afternoon class on time. I went to my car to eat the first day. The car was cold so I ate fast and went back in. On Tuesday, I sat by a woman who asked if I’d like to eat lunch with her in the break room.
One class instructor worked at Rockwell Collins. He set a small object on the corner of our table in the dark. He asked us to describe what we saw, took the object away and turned on the lights. We had a few minutes. Most of the students did just as he asked. They did a detailed description of what they thought they saw in the dark. The instructor read what we handed in. When he got to mine, he sounded surprised when he said I’d written a story. Clearly not the response he had expected. The next time I was in his class he had a statue on the table. I’ve forgotten the name, but the bearded man in a robe on an oxen. Each student was to add a sentence to a story about the figure. Now I usually have to take my time and give thought to what I intend to write, but I held my own with my sentences. It was fun to see the final story.
In June of this year, I was invited to author day at Anamosa, Iowa’s library. One of the authors looked familiar to me. I connected him to the Workshop, but seven years is a long time. I could be wrong. Finally, I asked him if he’d been at the workshop. He was. I told him I was one of his students. The instructor who worked at Rockwell Collins said he remembered me. That surprised me with so many students in the classes, but I thought maybe I had impressed him with my writing ability. No, it was my distinctive voice that he remembered. Funny, that is just how everyone I meet say they remember me - my voice.
Another class was first page of first chapter. I took the first chapter in my children’s book "My Children Are More Precious Than Gold". The instructor was a woman from California that had grown up in Cedar Rapids. She made her living editing children books. The first class, she asked each of us to describe our main character. I shared I had 13 of them. She said, "You can’t do that." My reply, "I did." No, that isn’t the way it works. You have to pick one character to build the story around. Work on that and by the next class she’d look at my writing. The last class went by so fast the instructor barely had time to look at the first paragraphs. A surprised look on her face and a darted glance at me and she read my paragraph out loud. This is what she read.
In the Blue Ridge Mountains near Riner, Virginia, the Bishop family listened to a January blizzard. With a sound akin to the wail of a prowling panther, the wind announced a snowstorm’s approach to the hollow before it pounced on the log cabin.
The instructor said my writing sounded like a movie opening. Did I mean for it to sound that way? I said I write like I hear it in my head. She went on to the next student. On the last day, the instructor and I passed each other. She stopped me and ask me to let her know if I had any success with my book. She was interested even if I had not solved the dilemma of who would be the main character. Wow!
I took with me my "Open A Window" book that I’d printed myself. In one class a writing instructor for Kirkwood taught us how to write a query letter and gave advice about publishing. I pulled out my book. The instructor said I should find a way to get the book in doctors office waiting rooms. So far that hasn’t happened. But the book has been a success with families needing help and for training CNAs which is even better.
Another class was taught by a English professor at Iowa. My class with him was right after lunch on Monday. Remember I ate fast and came back from the car. I walked into the dark room to find the professor during nap time with his head on the table. I thought about leaving, then decided maybe I should very quietly sit down and wait for the other students to come. After all I had the seat I wanted, far enough away from the instructor to suit me. Before the students showed up, the professor woke up. Right away he began to question me about why I was in his class. (I’m guessing he wanted to take my mind off finding him asleep.) He said he had a group of students that came to his house to work on their writing. I slid my "Open A Window" book (ISBN 1438244991) down the table to him. He made a quick pass through it and sounded amazed when he said, "Now that was a book." Nondescript as a compliment but the sound of his voice was good enough to bolster my confidence.
Don Harstad, Iowa author of five Sam Houseman series about a deputy sheriff, gave lectures about his success in writing. His first book was named "Eleven Days" because he wrote it in 11 days. He sent his manuscript out for several years before a publisher picked it up. He quit his lawman job and went to writing full time. A movie company bought the rights for a period of time to make a movie from his book but that hinged on getting a script writer. The time was about to run out without a script writer finishing the movie script. I don’t know what happened next. Everyone enjoyed this colorful character. Don was good at holding an audience’s attention.
An agent was there. We spent some time with her one afternoon, describing what our books were about. She seemed interested in mine. In fact, she was the one who gave me the idea when she said my mystery with an elderly woman as the character was like Miss Marple. If anyone in the audience wanted to send a manuscript for her to look at they needed to put on it they were at the workshop to get a free critique. I sent mine to her. "Neighbor Watchers" (ISBN 1438246072) Got a note to call her. She picked my manuscript apart and rightly so. For anymore, she wanted $2000, and she sent me a contract. One clause said when she went to a book fair to push my manuscript I’d pay for her plane ticket and expenses. I called Kirkwood to ask the woman in charge of the workshop if this was a legit agent. She didn’t know so she called Don Harstad and ask him if he’d talk to me if I called him. He said yes and gave her his phone number for me to use. He had an agent. The good agents don’t ask for money up front. Some might ask for reimbursement after they had sent the manuscript to publishers or made calls to cover those expenses. Others would take the postage or phone calls from your royalty when you got a publisher. I declined the contract, feeling lucky that I checked with Don before I signed it. Better yet, I used the agents critique to make my story better.
On Friday afternoon, anyone could stand up and read something they wrote. I picked the essay that got me sent to the Workshop -- "A Woman For Four Seasons" The woman in charge introduced each of us that participated in the reading. When my turn came, she made sure to say I was given the Workshop by the nursing home I worked at. She still couldn’t figure out how that happened. I could tell the students appreciated my essay whether it was the writing or the subject matter I don’t know. Maybe a little of both.
Each day, something new surprised and amazed me. I learned so much and found it a good confidence builder to be around other writers. Some of them were far ahead of me with their goals and others were not. At night, I came home and called the administrator to tell her how the day went for me. I don’t know when I have or ever will again be as excited about an event in my life. I was ready to try the workshop the next year which had been cut down to three days at the end of the week. Sent in my fee and was disappointed to get it back. Not enough interest in 2003. What happened to all those writers?