Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hello Folks!

Just a quick announcement that my short story "The Weekend" was published by Visitant Lit. I hope you'll check it out and give it a read.

Thank you.

A LaFaye

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Mentoring Bond:
Finding a Mentor is Investing in Your Literary Future

By A. LaFaye

The Winding Road to Mentorship

My road to finding writing mentors has been like my writing style—long and winding!

My writing aspirations began with a popularity campaign.  The kids in my small-town Wisconsin school didn’t know what to do with a quirky, creative kid who left the classroom when she already knew the material so that she could wait for a passing sixth grader who could answer her questions about how the world worked.  My strangeness pushed other kids into their default setting for oddities—tease it until it goes away.

My strategy for addressing this problem was to become famous, clearly not an achievable task for the not-so average eight year old.  But what did I know?

Not enough, clearly, so I went to the book with the most famous people I could think of—THE GUINESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS. I poured over the book, intent on finding a record I could break.  I was already taller than the shortest person ever and with parent’s who were in the five-foot height bracket, I would never be the tallest woman in the world.  With height records unreachable, I kept looking and discovered that Dorothy Straight had published a novel when she was six which was ironically titled something like The History of the World. I’ve never been able to find a copy of that book, but it inspired me to become a writer. 

Unfamiliar with the role of writer, I did all I could to learn more, reading books, asking for advice, and trying to find people who would read my work.  Things did not go well. The books said, “Write what you know.” What did I know, I was eight? My teachers didn’t want to read my work because I couldn’t spell, my penmanship was awful, and my short stories ran on the long side. They recommended I learned the fundamentals first.  With dyslexia that proved challenging. 

Fast forward to my first college professor who told me I didn’t know a thing about writing and I should just give up.  See how well I listened?

Actually, what I said was, “Okay, if I don’t know how to write, then teach me.” And so I found my first reluctant mentor.

At first, graduate school wasn’t much better.  When I asked a professor to read a novel I’d written, her reply was that she had to scrape and fight to get her own work published, so I would have to do the same thing. So much for finding a mentor.

Each of these challenges in my path toward find a mentor taught me the importance of generosity and helping others. The very things I found when I entered the graduate program in writing for children and young adults at Hollins University.  There, I met faculty and visiting authors who were generous with their time, talents, and mentoring skills. As a result of this amazing creative community, I won a scholarship to an SCBWI conference where I met the late agent George Nicholson who represented me for my first five novels, including my debut novel, The Year of the Sawdust Man which received my best blurb ever as a result of my time at Hollins. While I was there, Elizabeth Forsyeth Hailey came as a visiting author and she agreed to read my novel, saying after,“I read the book with the same sense of joy and wonder that I had when I read a debut novel by an unknown author, To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee.” This praise filled me with humility and gratitude, not just to her, but to the mentors who helped me write that book and to the program and the University which brought together so many amazing writers who could shepherd me through this process.

Finding Mentoring Opportunities

Not everyone can pool the resources of time and money to invest in a graduate program in writing like the one at Hollins though, so seeking mentoring opportunities like those offered by the writing workshops at The Highlights Foundation, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators (SCBWI), and wonderful regional workshops and conferences. 

There are also fabulous mentoring programs offered through regional organizations like the Loft Literary Center in Minnesota, online programs like Kidlit College, and many of the MFAs in writing for children and young adults offer mentor opportunities, courses, and webinars.

There are also excellent literary coaches who specialize in writing for children like Emma Dryden of Emma Dryden Books who draws from her decades of experience in the publishing field to mentor writers, but like graduate programs, these services are quite expenses. For those who can afford it, they are an excellent way to go.

All of these are worthwhile avenues of honing your craft, but today, I wanted to focus on the benefits of mentoring with another author who has coaching experience whether it is in an established program like #Novel Direct at KidlitCollege or more informal writing groups like those you can develop through critique match up sites on Facebook like this one hosted by Subit Club.  I’m a member of a critique group composed of clients with the same literary agents and I couldn’t be happier with support, challenges, and guidance of my fellow writers from Storm Literary Agency.

Going Into Mentorship in the Right Mindset

No matter how you approach the mentoring process the most important things to keep in mind are the need to be open to growth to importance of embracing the unnecessarily dreaded part of the writing process REVISION. The reality is that even the most polished and published authors can continue to grow and learn about their art and revision is NOT a punitive stage of a creative process.  It should be an invigorating, creative, expansion of the initial flow of creativity that forges a story in its early, molten stages. For me, revision is a  Re-Invisioning of my work that gives me an opportunity to explore the hidden recesses and layers of the work I started.

Why You Should Seek a Mentor

You know what it’s like when you go through your day thinking you’re looking great in your new outfit and then you see yourself in a mirror or a photograph and think, I look like that?

You need a literary version of a mirror and let me tell you, selfies are as distorted and hard to do in writing as they are with your phone.  When you reread your work, it’s important to know the literary elements that go into making a good story great and to test your spelling and your grammar (something I’m still lousy at), but there is only so much you can really “see” when looking at your own writing because you automatically fill in all of the subconscious level inspiration and knowledge that went into creating the piece. That subliminal subtext doesn’t travel with your work and a mentor can help you see what isn’t on the page yet.

But unlike an editor who no longer has the time to share revision suggestions with you, a mentor will not only tell you what is not working in a piece, but they will give you the feedback you need to help you re-invision the piece and bring it to the height of its potential. 

Why I Mentor

The initial difficulties I faced in starting my career as a writer and the amazing mentors and guides I met in graduate school have all taught me the essential importance of sharing your talents and time with others in pursuit of the same goals.

In my opinion, what I have was gifted to me to share with others and inspire them to make this world a better place. As a writer, this happens by mentoring fellow writers to become the best they possible can at what they are seeking to do. It’s not my role to shape into a writer like myself because the world deserves to see, hear, read the voice and vision of each individual artist out there and a mentor’s job is to help them hone their own endowed skills.  That’s why I teach in the creative writing program at Greenville College, the graduate program at Hollins that helped me launch my career and dive into the opportunity to mentor other writers in a program like the Novel Direct Contest through Kidlit College.  It gives me a chance to help writers reach their full potential and successfully pursue their dream of a career in writing. 

As a professor, conference critic, workshop facilitator, and writing coach I have helped many writers move from idea to published manuscript and many of them have even gone on to be nominated for and/or win national awards.  Seeing their work shine, makes my heart glow.

So, I invite every author and illustrator to seek out the courses, programs, and mentorships that will help them bloom as an artist.  May you find all the inspiration, guidance, and support you need on the road to become the best you can be at what you love to do!

A LaFaye
@artlafaye on Twitter and Instagram
Find me at Sylvanocity: A Creative Community with Author A. LaFaye on FB

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hole 5: Let Your Characters Rebel

Staging the Rebellion

Many years ago, when I was working on, Nissa's Placethe sequel to my first published novel The Year of the Sawdust Man, my mother asked me how the writing was going and I replied, "Well, it's bizarre, no one is doing what I expect them to do and I don't know what's going to happen next."  She paused for a moment, then asked, "How can that happen if you're creating the characters?  Can't you just tell them what to do?"

I sure could, but that would be far less interesting to me and to the readers who will eventually pick up the book once it's published. If we authors try to control our characters, we become a literary puppeter, so I'm suggesting we cut the strings and allow our characters to become "A real boy!"

We can't breathe true life into our characters, but we can create characters that are life-like. I'll never forget the reader who told me, "I was afraid to put the book down because I thought the characters would so something while I was away."  This remark revealed how real the charactrers felt to her as she read.

In order to create the sense of realism that tells readers the characters have a life of their own, you have to allow those characters to rebel against your own conception of them.  How can this happen if you're the one creativing them?  It's all psychology, my dear Watson, psychology.

Knowing How Your Mind Works

How many times have you meet somone and thought, there's someting about this person that is setting off my radar, but I can't put my finger on it?  Sometime later, it clicks, a gesture the person made, an offhand comment, something clues you in that this person wasn't telling the truth, was harboring a secret crush, or was tyring to hide a fear. You noticed the tell, but didn't realize what it meant. 

Sometimes we have a conversation with someone that mystifies us until we dream about it and that person's actions in the dream clarify what was really going on behind the scenes when you spoke to the person last.  

Just like the screen in the throne room of the Wizard of Oz, you have to look behind the screen and see what's really going on in the pyche of the person you're dealing with and that's also true of writing. The more you can get inside your character's head, the more real that character can become.

Delving into your charater's psyche consciously can make your character development too analyzitical or stiff and you're rarely surprised by what the characters do. On the other hand, if you do explore the charater subconsciously, both you and your readers may be quite surprised by your characters' behavior.

Letting Your Characters Surprise You

And just how do you create characters without thinking about it? Act your way through it. Allow yourself to imagine being that character and act your way through what s/he would do next. Don't think ahead, react to the situation you've fictionally created and act your way out of it.

To do this well, it helps to steep yourself in character development before you start writing. Study human psychology--in books, people watching, personal interactions, films, books.  Make people your homework. Notice clothing, gestures, dialogue, and all the other little things that show us who a person is and how they interact with others. Let all this material seep into your subconscious.

I also do a lot of character exercises--what restaurant would a character choose? What would s/he order? How does she eat? What does he drink? Any food s/he would pick off his/her plate?

It can also be helpful to make a take a mental walk through the character's world. A trip through the house to hear the sounds, listen to the family go about their day, walk through the neighborhood, visit the school, go to a friends house.  I realize all of these things will rise out of what you know and think, but when you can take these walks without thinking about what you're creating, the better you become at randomly generating details and building character profiles you can draw on as your write.

Test it For Truth

Once you've allowed your characters to "do their thing," go back and test the behavior for "truth."  Often when we allow our subconscious to drive the bus, it can venture into neighborhoods populated by our own issues rather than the things that the character is facing. If you're in a power struggle with your mother-in-law, she may show up as the bosy neighbor, or your battle with her may creep into your character's conflict with his homeroom teacher. If that happens, you want to make sure that the emotions remain true to the central focus of the story and the lives and background of the characters.  

Trim the Trival

Writing form the subconscious can be quite freeing and that can sometimes lead to an excess of material. You can hit the zone and just keep on writing even after the scene your working on has resolved.  As you reread, make sure the material you've created fits well into the plot and character development of your story. If you're just riffing, you may want to trim out the trival.  Take out the things you included because you were having fun with the characters, but they don't really move the plot or character development forward.

Follow Where Your Characters Lead You

On the other hand, occassionally, characters can create a new direction in the plot you weren't expecting. They do or say something while you're letting them lead you that changes everything. Dont be afraid to follow them.   We often work things out in our subconscious well before we realize and/or accept it consciously. This leads us to do or say things that surprise us. We ask, "Why did I just do that?" If you examine things further, you realize your inner realizations lead to external actions. The same can be true for your characters. You've created situations and movitvations your characters are propelled by, but you don't fully understanding on a conscious level. If you act your way out of the situation, you'll often realize that the changes can be quite revealing and inspiring.  

So allow your characters to rebel a little and they may carve out new terrirotry for you that is as exciting and insightful to you as it will hopefully one day be for your readers. 

Thank you so much for reaiding my blog. I would love to hear your insights into character rebellion. Please share them here!  The first five people to comment will be entered into a drawing to win prizes. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Hole 4: Keeping Your Characters on Par and Writing Against Type


Creating realistic and compelling characters requires layering. In this series on Keeping a Character on Course Through a story, we've talked about stake, distinction, and world view, so let's turn now to talking about writing against type.

We've all heard the phrase, "There are two types of people in this world...[fill in the blank here] and a writer's goal is to create people who don't fit into this binary or any stereotype that limits people's understanding of others.

Not every construction worker will sit on a beam, eating lunch, and whistling at "lookers" as they walk by. While construction is a draw to folks who like hands-on experience with visible results, the type of person who wants to do that work varies wildly based on class, gender, faith, ethnicity, and a thousand other variables. How is your construction worker different than others?

Is she a woman who creates industrial inspired sculptures from work site scraps? A man who performs in an improv group on the weekends? A Mohawk grandson of one of the men who helped build the Empire State Building.  Is he struggling with a fear of heights and the knowledge that the world says Mohawks don't have such fears?

Getting a Little Theoretical:

There's a concept called "radical multiculturalism" which suggests that the only way to end discrimination is through the intentional deconstruction of the concept of the 'other' by viewing all cultures through an emic perspective."  Seeing cultures that are not our own as they see themselves requires understanding them and that means reading their stories and their history and getting to know as many people from as many backgrounds as possible.

Going Cross-Cultural:

As an author, it also means doing extensive research before creating characters from cultures that are not our own. Keep in mind, we do that every time we write. I've written about men, but I'm a woman. I've written about children and I haven't been a child in far too long. Writing cross-culturally doesn't just mean crossing ethnic lines.  I encourage people to cross all kinds of cultural boundaries with respect, honarable intent, and an open mind.

Here's a great blog by Molly Henning on resources for writing cross-culturally
10 Great Resources on Writing Cross-Culturally

Writing Against Type:

When it comes to writing against type:

1.Know the type. If you're creating a particular type of character, be conscious of how that type of person is often portrayed in literature, film, and humor and break the mold for that type.

2. Be aware of your own preconceived notions about a particular type of person. If you don't explore your own ideas about people, you'll act upon misconceptions without fully realizing it.

3. Learn about real people in that role. As a geek with zero athletic ability, I didn't have a high opinion of athletes, so I learned about athletes like Bobbi Gibb and Katherine Switzer, the two women who broke the mold and showed the world that women could run in the Boston Marthon. Gibb ran in 1966 by joining the race after the starting line because they wouldn't allow women to register. Katherine registered without declaring her gender in 1967.  Here's more about her run in her own words:

1967 Boston Marathon, the Real Story

These athletes like so many that I have known have demonstrated the heart, discipline, and individuality that go into being an athlete.

4. Be Genuine. In going against type, don't do it just to do it. Allow the unique qualities of the person to rise organically out of realistic life experiences.

5.  Be Complex.  Allow characters, even if they are  a secondary or a background player in the story, to be layered and complex. What makes them unique? How can you bring that out in economic ways. Patricia McLachlan, the author of the critically acclaimed [book:Sarah, Plain and Tall|106264] is a master at economic character development by giving them defining actions and characteristics.

How do you go against type in your own writing?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Character's Course Through a Story--Hole 3: Creating World View

Establishing your character's view of the world is such important part of making your character distinctive, it's a figurative "hole of it's own" in this golf course of character development we're walking through this summer. 

I also realized that readers will have to do a lot less scrolling, if I posted each "hole" of this course in separate blog.

World view is the way your character uniquely views the world s/he lives in and the more unique and nuanced you can make this world view, the more real your character seems. Junie B. Jones entirely kid-centric, totally Junie way of seeing things has made those books an international success because of her own unique, but totally relatable way of looking at the world. 

Showing the Readers The World "Anew"

Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life points out that authors need to recognize that choosing to be a writer is also saying that they have something to show the world they might not see on their own. When we write about life, we should do so with the knowledge that we need to help people see the world they live in "anew"--as if it is new to them.

Unique character world view is one way to do that. In my own work, I have characters who often have world views that are askew from those around them. In 1930s Louisiana, Nissa Bergen has a mama who crosses the color line, the gender line, nearly every other line she finds-- a free spirit, she refuses to bow to social customs. Nissa is her own girl as well, when her best friend, Mary Carroll intends to go flower picking in a dress wearing perfume, Nissa wants to know if Mary wants every wing flapping bug in the parrish to be tormenting them because perfume is just a nasty smelling bug attractor to her--not the typical feminine view.

Just as each writer should learn unique ways to describe ordinary things, they should be able to look at the world from a unique set of eyes and be able to look at the world through the eyes of each of their characters, even if they don't like the view. 

Seeing the World Through A Character's Eyes

Acting theory is a great way to learn more about how to see things from a character perspective. Screenwriters and fellow authors can also be helpful in this regard. Here's a recent article from the Huffington Post that might be helpful:

5 Ways Writers Can Get into the Minds of Their Characters

But let me offer an exercise that can limber up your literary mind reading skills. Go to a public place with a lot of traffic and pay attention without being intrusive. Notice how people reveal what they think of the world by the way they dress, what they eat, what they read, and how they carry themselves. 

If you see someone reading, try to imagine what they think of what they're reading based on the material, their appearance, and their body language, then ask for their opinion. 

Ask three different people what they think of a movie? A type of weather? A historical figure to notice how they express their world view differently.

This type of exercise hones your skills and allows you to internalize the way that each person exhibits a unique view of the world.

How do you get into the mindset of your characters?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Character's Course Through a Story

A Character's Course
Through a Story

Summer is often about going light and airy--shorts and a breezy blouse, a salad or a slice of watermelon, a book on the beach with your toes in the sand, so let's take that route through character development.  Better yet, let's approach it with another summer pass time in mind, golf-- a character course in nine holes.

We'll take this course one hole at a time, adding a new hole a day!

Hole One: The Clubs You Bring Onto the Course AKA Backstory
In golf, you're swinging to hit the ball into the hole in as few shots as possible using different clubs, judging the lay of land, and doing the legwork to get that ball to the flag. Characters can work much the same way. You to create them in as few strokes as possible using the best tools and covering the distance from first page to last by judging the lay of the land in the fictional world that unfolds as you write it.

For your first tee shot, it's all about the clubs you bring onto the course and the metaphor is apt in more ways than one. In creating a character with compelling backstory, you have to remember that much of that character's story remains "under the rim" of the bag and the surface of the story until you pull a club out to take a swing. And each part of that story as a different purpose in your story like a driver is much different than a putter. With emotional situations that are raw and real and lead your character rash action, they are swung hard and fast like a driver. Emotional issues that are delicate and require diplomacy, you swing slow and easy with great care and aim like a putter.

For me, I come to the course with my bag of clubs aka backstory, but I allow my subconscious to choose the clubs.  I just pick the bag--the point when everything that changes, the incident that shapes who the character is at the beginning of the story--the storm that leads to a farming accident that takes away the use of a boy's leg (Worth), the end of slavery that frees a young boy to go find the mother who was sold away from him (Walking Home to Rosie Lee), and the adoptee who is terrified of water has to go live on a lake for the summer (Water Steps).  From there, I let the backstory unfold as the events do, asking myself "What would my character do now? Why?"

An understanding of character motivation and life-shaping events is essential here--study it in the books you read, the movies you watch, the people you meet, and consider a course in psychology via a book or an actual class. All of these things will be instrumental in helping you shape your character's past and remember--give everyone a past or the secondary and tertiary characters won't seem real.

Keep in mind, everyone plays golf differently, so everyone creates their character backstory differently. Find the way that works for you!

Here's an article from Rachel Ballon to offer you another perspective on developing backstory:
"How to Weave in Backstory to Reveal Character"

How do you incorporate backstory?

Hole 2: Swing with Distinction

Making your character unique is an essential of character development. You want your character to be someone your readers can relate to, but that can be as simple as making them a golfer--allowing them to have a hobby, need, or desire that readers in your target audience share.

Stake is an essential for your readers as well. That's the need/want that drives your character through the story aka keeps them on the golf course plugging away that little round ball. It could be a hole in one they're looking for here, but whatever it is, it should be internal and external. The hole in one is an external goal. Internally, the character may be trying to control their temper so they don't wrap their golf club around a tree when they miss a shot.

My dad frequently came home with bent clubs claiming that he was attacked by a heard of buffalo that he had to fight off with his club or get trampled.  Let's just say, I came by my ability to spin a tale naturally and my dad was a definitely a distinct character!

You also want your character to have a distinct voice. To speak in a way others do not.  Does your character constantly use shopping metaphors? Do they speak in as few words as possible? Run off at the mouth? Use a catch phrase like, "As long as no one swallowed a bug, we're good" is that because he swallowed a bee as a child and discovered he was allergic?

As I said, backstory is important and should be woven in.  You can also distinguish characters through the pasts you create, the clothes they wear, the pets who follow them, the things they do every Tuesday at 9:15 AM.

Let your character walk off the page by being a unique individual with layers, voice, and motivations!

But don't just take my word for it, here's
an article on giving your character a distinctive voice by fiction editor, Beth Hill
Variety in Character Voices

How do you make your characters distinctive?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

"Book Addiction": 
The Reads That Shaped This Writer
by Guest Blogger Laurie J. Edwards

A Reader Gets Hooked

Asking me to choose the book that had the greatest impact on me is liking asking me to choose my favorite child – it can’t be done. My mother’s favorite story is that, when I was eight months old, I would sit in my playpen and “read” Reader’s Digest from cover to cover, turning one page at a time and looking over one side and then the other, before turning to the next page. I may have been imitating my parents, who were voracious readers, but my love affair with books began then and continued throughout my life.

When I truly learned to read, I holed up in my room, ignoring my mother’s plea that I needed fresh air and exercise. My reading addiction led to flashlights under the covers and books hidden inside my school desk. I read an average of 20 to 30 books a week throughout my elementary, teen, and young adult years. I read my way through library after library, and my greatest joy was becoming a librarian with access to free ILLs (interlibrary loans) and no fines.

All of this makes it difficult to pinpoint one special book that turned me into a writer. The book I reread from cover to cover until it was tattered was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. That book influenced my philosophy of life: I wanted to be Sara Crewe, to always be cheerful in spite of life’s hardships, to always look for the best in people, and to use my imagination to brighten any situation. If I had to give one book credit for inspiring my outlook on life and stirring my creativity, A Little Princess would win the award.

From Reading to Writing

The author that I most wanted to imitate, though, was Madeleine L’Engle. When I read A Wrinkle in Time, I dreamed of writing a book that affected readers so powerfully, that immersed them so deeply in a fantasy that they lost track of time and space, and that made them sigh in contentment when they closed the cover, knowing that the ending was not only inevitable, but perfect.

When I began writing, I took Madeleine L’Engle’s quote to heart: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” I strongly believe children have an open-mindedness and a deep, innate understanding of what’s important in life, a knowledge that adults lose as they rush through their days worrying about to-do lists and other people’s opinions. Young readers are storing up knowledge and information they’ll use as adults, so children’s books have the power to influence their life choices.

I still remember the impact Madeleine L’Engle’s quote of Francis Thompson made on my young impressionable mind: “Thou canst not stir a flower / Without troubling a star.” Reading those words made me appreciate the vastness of the universe and the interconnectedness of all life. I realized the ripple effect even tiny acts of kindness can have on the world around me, and to this day, I can’t pull weeds without feeling a vast sadness. I’d rather have an overgrown garden than remove a plant, any plant – even a weed. To touch readers’ lives so deeply that my words positively influence decisions made decades later would be my greatest dream.

I may never approach Madeleine L’Engle’s greatness, but when a teen boy comments on Wattpad about my YA novel Grace and the Guiltless, “I've never been so moved by a book. You honestly made me cry…”  or a young teen girl says, “Reading this makes me stick up for myself and teaches me to boost my confidence,” I feel I’m heading in the right direction. Someday I hope to influence readers the way Frances Hodgson Burnett and Madeleine L’Engle affected me. These writers have taught me many things, but the most important is:
 "Thou canst not stir a reader
Without troubling a heart.”*

*an adaptation of poetic lines by Frances Thompson "The Mistress of Vision"

A Little More About This Book Loving Author

Laurie J. Edwards is the author of more than 2200 articles and 30 books in print or forthcoming. A student in the Hollins University MFA program in Children’s Writing and Illustrating, she also juggles editing and illustration careers, while writing fiction and nonfiction for children and adults under several pen names. As Erin Johnson, she writes the YA Western series, WANTED, in which her heroine, Grace, has been called “the Katniss of the West.” As Rachel J. Good, she writes the SISTERS & FRIENDS Amish series. Visit her at and

Thank you so much for this lovely homage to the books that shaped you, Laurie.


What books shaped your life?