In October, I was made the decision to take the big leap and attend my first Highlights Foundation workshop. The workshop I chose was called “Creating Page-Turning Non-fiction for Middle Grade Readers and Up.” I’ve had a fair number of non-fiction pieces published in really great children’s magazines and I would love to also create non-fiction books for children.
Lucky for me, this workshop was taught by the incredible Deborah Hopkinson, who also has a ton of experience writing page-turning historical fiction, one of my ‘dream genres.’ I love the way a really skilled writer can weave a great story around accurate historical facts.
We also had the chance to hear from and talk with Steve Sheinkin, a two-time National Book Award finalist.
The setting for the workshops is the Barn, a retreat in the woods outside of the small town of Honesdale, PA. It was almost a six hour drive from Pittsburgh, so I chose to fly to Philadelphia, then take a connecting flight to Scranton, then a driver from Highlights drove me the last hour or so to the Barn.
On site there is a lodge and cabins, and I stayed in cabin 10, a short walk from the main building where we had our classes and our meals. The food, by the way, was very healthy and fresh.
In our classes we discussed so much, from standards to research methods to what librarians want and teachers need, to what readers want – but Deborah reminded us that our job is to tell the story. She gave each of us two thoughtful critiques and plenty more listening time outside of class. We learned a tremendous amount from her about constructing a solid non-fiction book proposal. Deborah comes from a grant-writing background and she really knows how to show the value of a project. She’s also a fine writer. I read her book Titanic: Voices From the Disaster in one day.
It was a productive three days. During my time there I read (and loved) several books, including Sheinkin’s Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War. At the end of this workshop, I felt like I was in a great place to put together at least one solid non-fiction book proposal. Deborah also coached me through the elements of my planned historical fiction story and a new novel about running. On the flight home, I revised my butterfly story and came away with a very strong new version. The runs on the woods, the walks around the grounds, and time spent with thoughtful writers was really invigorating.
We were also able to take a tour of the Highlights offices and Boyds Mill Press in Honesdale. I enjoyed seeing the “where the magic happens” and connect with some editors.
I have been considering doing one of these since 2012, but they do require a fairly significant financial investment and for some workshops, I’d have to be gone for a full week.
But I knew these workshops also offered significant resources and information. Back in 2012 I thought I might bring my first novel to a “whole novel” workshop, but I’m really glad I did not. I’ve learned a lot in the past three years and I know if I had attended that session it would have been heart-wrenching. Instead, by waiting for the right moment, I think my first Highlights Workshop was a real success.