Last October, on a grant made possible by the Highlights Foundation, a not for profit organization, I attended one of their Founder’s Workshops, “The Art of Biography: Real People, Great Stories.” The Highlights Foundation was established in 1985 with a “mission to raise the level of the offering of writing and illustration for children.” The organization offers workshops for writers who are just starting out, as well as those who have been published, but wish to hone their skills.
Most people are familiar with the Highlights for Children magazine of their youth, or now have young children who enjoy its quality content at home, or in doctor’s offices across the nation. If you are a writer for children, a Highlights for Children credit is something to be very proud of.
My four day Founder’s Workshop began on a Thursday with a tour of the Highlights offices and facilities in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Meeting the editors of the magazine, and those of their book imprints, was a great experience, putting a smiling face on the people who read all those submissions that are sent their way in droves.
After our tour, we drove up to the little town of Boyds Mill where we essentially cut ourselves off from the world, and got down to the business of writing, and had some fun, too. But not until I settled into my beautifully appointed modern cabin nestled in a rustic, picture postcard setting. On my bed, I found a tote bag filled with reading material and my itinerary that included times for three full meals each day, and yes, a wine and cheese gathering before dinner each night. The meals I might add, like the accommodations, were first rate! Move over Martha Stewart.
All settled in, I made my way down the hill to a welcoming and warm farmhouse where all the workshop sessions would take place. There, I met my fellow writers, seven woman from all over the country, some who came from as far away as California, and the workshop facilitator, Carolyn Yoder, Senior Editor of the Calkins Creek imprint. Carolyn, an engaging, entertaining, and exacting writer, and editor led the workshop with non-stop energy, a constant treasure trove of information. That first evening, we enjoyed a presentation by Gail Jarrow, author of the Middle Grade book, Robert H. Jackson: New Deal Lawyer, Supreme Court Justice, Nuremberg Prosecutor. Gail gave us an intriguing behind the scenes account of her experience researching and writing her book which was edited by Carolyn.
The next day, it was our turn to get writing. I have to admit, I approached my one-on-one critique session with Carolyn with a mixture of excitement, and dread. When our time was up, she had torn apart and discarded most of my submission, leaving a kernel of the original story. Did I dispair? No! For in that one kernel, the possibility of a better, stronger book emerged. I was elated, ready to start anew. I ran up the hill to the computer cabin for more research, and some quick rewriting. By the end of the workshop, I had a hook and the start of something exciting.
Those four days filled with, writing, revising, talking, listening, and sharing ideas and experiences with my writing comrades passed too quickly. By Sunday, it was time to come off the mountain, and out of the clouds. But I appreciated that rare opportunity when all I really had to do was get up, get down the hill and immerse myself in the literary world! I left with a sense of purpose, and a signed copy Of Gail Jarrow’s book, and one of Carolyn Yoder’s excellent John Adams:The Writer-A Treasury of Letters, Diaries, and Public Documents.
I do hope to return some day, many of the attendees I met were happy and satisfied workshop “regulars.”
As I work on my National Dog Week project, I add to and maintain a research folder for that special idea that was hatched in that farmhouse on a hillside in Pennsylvania on a bewitching Halloween weekend. May the spirit of a Highlights Founder’s Day workshop inspire you some day.