Filed under: Being Awesome, Interviews, writing | Tags: JUTE, Kathryn Ash, online writing class, Write Out Loud, writing course, writing resources
Today, I have something a little different for you all: an interview! Kathryn Ash is a playwright with years of experience who says she “cannot remember a time when [she] wasn’t in awe of stories.”
Read on to find out more about Kathryn and the Write Out Loud program, which is ideal for beginning and seasoned writers alike.
Share a little bit about yourself.
I was never read to as a child, rather I grew up in a strong tradition of hearing stories delivered as if by performance, a tradition that most likely established by my yarn-spinning grandfather who regularly held court at family gatherings with his hilariously convoluted and mostly suspect tales of “life as a poor Kentuckian runaway working on the Mississippi steamboats, hanging out in wild New Orleans in the 1900s and stowing away on a boat to Australia, all before the age of sixteen.” So the thrill of telling and seeing stories rather than reading them was implanted in my mind very early.
For the longest time I was content to perform other people’s stories, as an actor. But in 1992, when the theatre company I was setting up with two other women (JUTE Theatre Company) needed an original story quick, I hurriedly put forward the story that had been rattling around in my head all my life—Bag O’ Marbles. The play had a lot of success over the years, including winning me the New York Dramatist Exchange Award, and marks the beginning of my long affair with writing stories for theatre.
I discovered I also like helping people who want to get their stories out as well, and found the vicarious but none the less rewarding thrill of dramaturgy. I helped put together a program for JUTE that encouraged writers to pen their stories as performance pieces. That program, Enter Stage Write, grew enormously over its lifecycle, creating so many beautiful stories and launching the careers of so many talented writers. It was an amazing ride.
How was the Write Out Loud program born?
The Enter Stage Write program I mentioned had been running for sixteen years, with an award-winning format, and had had so many theatrical successes to its credit. But JUTE Theatre Company’s Artistic Director realized the need to extend the reach of the company by entering into the digital realm to bring these skills to a global audience. Theatre places emphasis on performance of a story and all the elements of creating that story are geared toward a live audience engaging with it. Theatre is a magical art form in that way, and requires specific skills and processes. Theatre is, however, just one of the many ways stories are developed and delivered, and each has its own peculiarities and conventions. But one thing remains largely the same—the basic elements of the story-making. Whether you read a story, hear a story, listen to a story or see a story, the underlying mechanics—for want of a better word—are present.
JUTE engaged me to create an online course of materials that would be used to inspire all kinds of story-makers (not just those stories for theatre) and give them the basic tools to deliver the story they wanted, how they wanted and in the time frame that suited them best.
Is the Write Out Loud program designed more for beginning writers, or is there value in the course for more seasoned writers as well?
The program is very simple. It deals with very basic elements of how stories are put together, what makes them work, what makes them broken, and what makes them powerful. I personally believe that all of us, yes, all of us, know the elements of story intuitively—when we hear a story, we immediately recognize heroes, we automatically follow structure, ideas of metaphor and notions about thematics are ingrained.
Story-making is sewn with invisible thread into our minds before we even get to first grade. How, I’m not sure. Perhaps because our parents read stories to us, or told us yarns, or perhaps we inherit it genetically. But you’ve only got to watch a child being read a story, to know they are absorbing the elements of story—and when the story goes off the rails somehow, how quickly they switch off or demand a change in how the story is shaping up!
Write Out Loud is pointing out to us what we humans all already understand about story, but articulates it in a way that helps you use the information consciously instead of just intuitively as a child might. If you have a story you want to tell but just cannot for the life of you think of where to start, this program will kickstart that process. If you know some things, but are missing the information to exercise your story-making skills, Write Out Loud will help you fill in the gaps. It’s practical work because nothing beats a blank page more than writing on it.
A seasoned writer can sometimes find the path to their finished story is getting muddied—time to go back and look at the elements of story. Write Out Loud will help an established writer step back, think and re-apply their skills with the writing exercises designed to make them clearly articulate their story.
The Artistic Director of JUTE also believes this is a great tool for actors and directors to refresh their skills in analyzing a text….so it works for all storytellers.
The program is described as “the ultimate A-Z of creative writing”—can you share a few topics addressed in the program?
Write Out Loud is divided into nine modules of learning and each elaborates on a topic concerning story-making; Finding Ideas, Defining the Big Idea, Creating a Hero, 7 Stages of Story Structure, Dialogue, Metaphors, and Villains and other Characters. Each module contains several videos that the writer watches, followed by a writing exercise. There’s also a unique section for each module called an Inspiration Spark, either a five minute visualization or image provocation, to help explore the full meaning of each module’s topics. Each module also contains tips and tricks to help you push through challenges.
As a playwright, how do you deal with the ever-dreaded writer’s block?
The ever-dreaded writer’s block! There is a whole section in the Write Out Loud program that deals exclusively with writer’s block and how to work around it.
For myself, one the best pieces of advice I can give is when you feel writer’s block on a certain piece of work you are working on you should remember to acknowledge that the block is there for a reason. Your inability to move forward in the story very well may mean something has gone wrong with the structure of what you are writing, that you’ve somehow gone off track. You would do well to stop, step back and unpack the structure. Interrogate the work so far—is what the hero wants clear? Is there too much talk, not enough action? Is the hero getting distracted from what he or she wants? Are you writing too much background? If you cannot spot the structural error, my advice is just leave it. Write something else for a while, or engage in some other creative pursuit until the mood strikes you to try again.
Want to learn more about Kathryn and the Write Out Loud program? Visit her website here and Write Out Loud’s home on the Web here.
Filed under: Interviews | Tags: Chimney Bluffs, David B. Seaburn, David Seaburn, editing, Fiction Editing, interview
I had the distinct pleasure of working once again with David B. Seaburn (previously, I edited his novel Charlie No Face) on his most recent work, Chimney Bluffs. David took the time to sit down with me and talk about his latest novel.
Katrina Robinson: Tell me a little bit about Chimney Bluffs; from where did you get the inspiration for the story?
David B. Seaburn: When I was working on my last novel, Charlie No Face, I read an online news article about an incident in England where a mother and father had leaped to their death from a famous cliff after the unanticipated death of their four-year-old son.
Of course, that was awful in and of itself, but what really captured my attention was that they jumped with two sacks: one had their dead son, the other had his toys. Somehow I couldn’t get that image out of my mind. They clearly wanted to be together in whatever world awaited them. The sack of toys was very poignant. They must have thought their son would need them.
I couldn’t shake this story. I began to wonder: How did the couple come to their decision? What if one of the parents had not died? Those questions helped me develop the premise for my story.
KR: You depict the death of a child in such a personal, heartbreaking way. Was this difficult for you to write about?
DS: Yes, it was difficult. In the first chapter, Clancy Brisco, a ranger at Chimney Bluffs State Park, discovers two adults and two sacks resting on the beach at the bottom of a cliff. When I finished that chapter, I pushed myself away from the computer and thought, What have I gotten myself into?
It was not easy, but it shouldn’t have been. If you’re going to take on a subject like this, it should be just as challenging for the writer as it may be for the reader.
KR: This is your fourth published novel. Are there any key lessons that you’ve learned along the way?
DS: Have a good editor! (That would be you.) I think I have gotten better at developing character at greater depth and allowing for more complexity without losing a clear and, perhaps, simple narrative line.
I’ve also learned how to live better with the uncertainty of not knowing where I’m going. When I started writing Chimney Bluffs, I had no idea where the story would go or how it would end. Unlike some writers, I don’t work from an outline. I work through my fingers at the computer. Not that I don’t have a good notion of what the whole should look like, but I tend to trust what emerges as it emerges. I think I have gotten better at living with this ‘not knowing’ aspect of writing.
KR: What piece of advice would you give to a writer who hopes to have his or her work published?
DS: I think it’s important to write about what is meaningful to you. When I start a novel, I know that for the next eighteen months I will be wrestling with issues that are of personal concern to me, that have something to do with helping me define what it means to be here in this world. I never write for an audience. It would drive me crazy. I have to write for myself first.
KR: Any ideas for your next novel? (We won’t tell!)
DS: I am actually well into my fifth novel. The working title is More More Time. The basic premise is that how we address the issue of time may be the most important thing we can do to live meaningfully. In the first chapter, the lead character, a cantankerous sixty-two-year-old high school history teacher with an obsession about Lincoln, falls down his basement steps. Soon thereafter he starts hearing this phrase: endingworldendingworldendingworld. In very different ways, each of the characters in this story will be addressing the issue of time whether they are aware of it or not.
Filed under: Interviews | Tags: Charlie No Face, David B. Seaburn, interview
I first began working with David Seaburn about one year ago, in February of 2010. I worked as the editor for Dave’s book Charlie No Face, which is set to be released on Amazon any day now–and I loved every second of it. Dave sat down with me and answered a few of my questions about his experience as an author.
1. Tell me a little bit about your experience as an author.
I was published for the first time when I was in seminary at Boston University in the early 1970s. This was a series of poems that appeared in an alumni journal. But I didn’t start writing seriously until a few years later while I was pastor of a small rural church in western New York. There I wrote a book of inspirational vignettes, poems, and songs that was accepted for publication by Macmillan only to be later rejected. I stopped writing completely for almost two years after this, but then started writing short stories again, although I didn’t try to publish them. I left the parish ministry and entered the field of psychotherapy in 1980, working in community mental health, where I published a few papers on my experience as a clinician, including one on a patient’s suicide.
In 1986, I started working at the University of Rochester Medical Center, where my focus on academics also accelerated my development as a writer. Over the next twenty years, I co-authored two professional books and wrote fifty-five papers and book chapters. The rigor of mentored writing and excellent editing taught me a great deal about the craft.
During my academic career I remained interested in fiction, but did little more than collect ideas and make notes.
My first novel, Darkness is as Light (2005), was based on a personal vignette told by a former patient. I couldn’t get the story out of my mind and reworked it in several creative nonfiction workshops, finally transforming it into the backbone of a novel about a middle-aged man and his relationship with his alcoholic father. I wrote Darkness in exactly one year.
In 1990, I did extensive work on a story idea and then stored it all away in a folder. I returned to them years later. They became the basis for my second novel, Pumpkin Hill (2007). I used many of my experiences in rural ministry for this story.
I am very excited about my third novel, my first with Savant, Charlie No Face. I enjoyed this writing project more than any other, perhaps because it gave me the opportunity to use the first person voice of Jackie, the eleven-year-old protagonist, and it is set in my western Pennsylvania hometown, Ellwood City. The title character, Charlie No Face, is a fictionalized version of a disfigured man who lived a rather secluded life in our area. He had been severely burned as a child in a freak accident that left him deformed. He was known to walk country roads late at night, often the target of thrill-seeking teenagers. In this novel, I humanize Charlie No Face and create a unique relationship between him and Jackie, one that transforms them both.
Common to all of my work is an abiding interest in the unique struggles that make us human—loss, fear, hope, uncertainty, connection, separation, meaning, questioning, love, guilt, wonder, joy, and storytelling. I think we are all storytellers. That is how we make sense of our lives and the world around us. When I write, I feel that more than anything else, I am trying to make sense of life, trying to explore its meaning. And, of course, I am trying to tell a good story in the process.
2. Charlie No Face is your first novel working with Savant Books and Publications. How was the publishing process?
I had not heard of Savant until I started the search for a publisher. I found them through a publishing clearing house website and was impressed with what I saw as an independent publisher that was open to new ideas. I quickly learned that the publisher was interested in creating a literary community of authors that would build their writing careers with Savant. This intrigued me. I also learned again that publishing a novel is a very slow process with many steps that must be taken with as much precision as possible. At times, this was frustrating, but the result has been very satisfying.
3. Charlie No Face is also your first novel working with me as your editor. How would you characterize the editing process?
As I have said numerous times, having you as my editor during this process made all the difference. As you know, writers tend to be an anxious group who are a little possessive of their work. Trusting one’s editor is critical. We made a connection very quickly because we committed to communicating with each other regularly, even if we didn’t have much to discuss about the book. You worked very efficiently and creatively.
I remember being delighted when you had completed your first review of the manuscript and had sent me your comments and recommendations. What I appreciated was that it was clear you understood what I was trying to do, you committed to the voice of the narrative, and you sought diligently to make it better. Your suggestions were always offered firmly but respectfully. I think I took them all! And you didn’t hesitate to say what you liked, something that meant a lot when I was feeling insecure about the story.
When we got to line and word editing, my God, I don’t know what I would have done without your keen eye. You found literally hundreds of minor errors I would never have seen. I think we had a great working relationship.
4. What do you look for in an editor/author relationship?
I’m using our work together as the model for what I will look for in the future. Simply put, I look for ‘fit.’ I want to feel like there is a connection between myself and the editor that I can trust. This involves candor, respect, and humor. Of course I also look for talent, someone who can see the big picture, the thematic thread, understand character development and narrative arc as well as the minutiae of editing detail that finishes the product.
5. What are you currently working on?
I am about two-thirds through my fourth novel, Chimney Bluffs. This has been my most challenging work. It is based on an actual incident that occurred a few years ago in England when a little boy died. His parents were so bereft that they leapt from a famous cliff to their deaths, taking two sacks with them. One had the body of their son, and the other had his toys. I thought about this incident for many months and wondered two things: What made this a reasonable thing to do? What would have happened if one parent had survived the leap? These questions form the core of the story.
For more information about David Seaburn, visit the author’s website at www.davidbseaburn.com.