As I sat completely intimidated, Kate began with encouraging remarks. She stated writing a novel is challenging, but we need to be confident in ourselves even though others may doubt us. Novelists use their life experiences. We all know stuff. We must utilize it as we craft our individual stories. Finally, we should ignore and banish the editor on our shoulder whispering that our writing is terrible.
Next she gave us an overview of character, scope, and tension development. Then came our first exercise. We had about twenty minutes to list four impactful stories.
After writing furiously, Kate inquired, “Who wants to share?” One classmate was brave enough to start. When he was finished I thought, “What the hell” and raised my hand.
I related the story of Marcia’s (my wife) grandfather who had come to the U.S. from Europe to make a living. When he had saved enough, he sent a third class ticket to his wife. She refused to come. So he worked harder, saved more, and sent her a second-class ticket. She still refused. Finally he earned enough to send her a first class ticket. Upon receiving it, she boarded the ship and joined him in America.
My classmates all chuckled. When the other volunteers were done, Kate asked us to reflect upon why we listed those stories. Was it the characters? Was it the emotional core? What grabbed us about them? A good discussion followed.
Our next exercise was to write a description of something familiar. Kate gave us around thirty minutes to describe our childhood bedroom. As we put down our pens, she asked for volunteers. A different classmate raised her hand. She playfully stated her description was spooky. It involved a ghost. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Mine has a ghost too!” Kate advised I would be next. I was so nervous that I hardly listened to the spooky description. Then it was my turn. With trepidation I read:
My childhood bedroom was cozy. The shutters on the windows blocked out most of the light so at night, putting your hand in front of your face, you could not see it. The walls were of wood panel. A boy’s room. Shelves contained items of boyhood interest. One top shelf contained ceramic dogs of various breeds because although a pet dog was coveted, it was not to be-allergies of the parents prevented it-or so they said. The room was in a corner of the house so two windows were on one side overlooking the yard while the one window between the bookshelves overlooked the back door. A perfect way to spy on those who came to the side door and wonder about why they did not appear at the front door. But the best and perhaps scariest element was George, the ghost. He would first announce his presence through the creaking of the attic floorboards. Then appear in the boy’s imagination and engage him in conversation. Not about frightful things, but about the concerns of a boy.
Finished, I waited for reactions. After a moment, Kate commented, “That was really good”. My self-confidence soared!
As the class ended, Kate asked us to read and listen to stories over the next week and list those that intrigued us. She also wanted us to go on line and read the short story The Lottery.
Upon arriving home, Marcia asked about the class. I summarized what was discussed. Then I told her about the exercise describing our childhood bedroom. She asked me to read it. When I was done, her eyes shone as she said, “Honey, that is incredible!” As I ecstatically absorbed her comment, I thought, “Maybe I can do this!”