Putting the Story in History

September 16, 2006 at 5:30 am Leave a comment

Workshop with Chris : 2006 Aug 15 & 16
3rd of 5 Installments
By Dominique Garde Torres (Nikki)

Author’s Note: These are my personal impressions about the writing seminar with Chris Eboch, which was sponsored by the Philippine chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) in Manila on July 15 and 16, 2006. Chris is the Regional Advisor for SCBWI New Mexico, and the author several of books including The Well of Sacrifice, a young adult historical fiction set in 9th century Guatemala. – Dominique Garde Torres (Nikki)

I fully intended to take part in this workshop not just as an organizer but as a participant as well. In my mind, I wanted to take full advantage of whatever the privileges of ARAship are and learn, learn, learn!

Foolish thought. Murphy’s law stepped in and I simply could not focus completely. My apologies to Chris. But my eyes and my ears had to be kept peeled for the movements of waiters and other staff, the needs of the participants and the facilitators, registration matters, etc., etc. It didn’t help either that I had set up my household as such an absolute autocracy with myself at the helm that even as all this was going on, I was getting a million and one calls from them as well about everything from homework to laundry schedules. Sigh….

Anyway, I shall do my best to recount the events of the 15th and the 16th.

Having a “full time” or should I say fully involved staff of 2 for an activity like this is doable but not always practical. A few days before the start of the workshop, my memory and Beaulah’s were going haywire and we kept getting confused with the numbers. Did we have 40 or 42 or 50 or 60 participants? Telephone calls, text messages and e-mails from last minute registrants – and would be registrants – added to the confusion. But again, we were happy. We felt so popular! We finally pegged the food and seminar kits at a number that we felt was safe.

So in they came, a mixed group of writers and would-be writers. We had teachers, retirees on their second careers, published and unpublished writers, publishers, marketing people and illustrators. Unlike myself and Beaulah, the majority were not SCBWI members. In fact I would venture to say that for many of them, this was the first they had heard of the organization. I believe, I truly believe that one and all came with minds open to new possibilities.

Beaulah, the indefatigable RA, started everything with introductions. She introduced herself, she introduced Chris and she introduced the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Then Chris took over and that was that.

Okay, okay. Then Chris took over and started in her rather quiet manner to share herself, her talent and her knowledge with us – at that time a room full of strangers and almost strangers.

Quiet or perhaps serene – these are the words that I would use to describe the way Chris Eboch spoke. She was not a very emphatic person, her voice was never raised. In her entire stay, I never heard her say anything in a very loud manner. She spoke with a very even cadence, her words were measured out with care. At times, she would flash a smile. Sounds corny but this smile, close lipped and rare as it was, did light up her entire face.

This did not mean she was a pushover. On the contrary, she made her views known in a very definite manner and there was never any doubt as to what her opinions were. In any case, she was very thorough in all that she chose to do.

She introduced herself, making sure to stick to the details which were pertinent. In other words, no juicy little tidbits about her love life or anything like that. Even when she mentioned her sort-of-pet duck, Pete, it was to illustrate a point about writing history!

Then she got to know her students. Basically, she learned which ones wrote fiction and which were interested in non-fiction.

Having armed everyone with these very basic but necessary details, she proceeded to the lessons.

She spoke of definitions, specifically the meaning and components of historical fiction. She gave words of encouragement, assuring one and all that there was room in the international market for more works.

She went through each book that Beaulah had sent her and:

a) defined it as a work of either history, historical fiction or of another genre altogether;

b) on the second day gave her very gentle and tactful critiques of each work.

She spoke of the possibility of writing works which could tie in with school curricula, of stories that could entertain even as they taught lessons, and of the use of language and vocabulary. She even gave helpful tips on maximizing the use of specific computer programs!

Dialogue was discussed along with the need for research and sources of stories. The preferences of some editors came into the conversation, followed by the process in the US through which one could get published.

Setting, description, action and again, dialogue. In just one and a half days, we delved into these topics and with her help, gained more than a modicum of understanding of how these elements could push a story forward.

Naturally, Chris also made everyone write. And write. And write. At the one or two exercises which I was actually able to take part, my fingers, long accustomed to typing started hurting. I was no longer used to gripping a pencil for such long periods of time!

As if all this were not enough, Chris still found the time to segregate the fictionists from the non-fictionists for special lessons. And to critique a few works. And for morning, afternoon and lunch breaks. Breaks where we continued to learn, this time from each other as we “networked” and gossiped in the manner of all students when released from the classroom.

All in a day and a half! Whew!!

In the end, most of us came away satisfied. I hasten to add that this is not merely my opinion. Ever concious of trying to improve for the next activity (calendar it: November 11, with Alice Maclerran) we distributed evaluation forms after the workshop. We got no complaints at all about Chris, a few comments about the tiny bathroom and many, many calls for more such activities.

Of course, at the end we had our group picture taken. If you look at our “class picture,” it’s nearly a sorority. But one and all, even our very few men, had big smiles plastered on. I am excited to find out in the next few months, which of the 41 will remain in our sphere, will become SCBWI members, will get published, will remain friends. In my mind, I see myself a year from now staring at the class picture and saying “Oh yes, her book launch was last….” or “I just attended the baptism of her child,” stuff like that.

Special thanks again to Ani and her mom Lyn, to Neni, to Guia Yonzon for the comic books given away to everyone, to Rochelle for helping with the registration, to Adarna, Anvil, UST, St. Scholastica’s College and Southville International Colleges. Beaulah and I may have been at the forefront but without all of you, it would have been much duller, much less exciting and certainly less succesful. My personal and most sincere thanks.

Photos to follow soon! Click the link below as well for more on the event.




Entry filed under: Blogroll, children', children's books, children's books asia, children's illustrators, children's writers, children's writers asia, graphic novels, Uncategorized, writing workshops.

Booktalk, 2006 June 12 : Graphic Novels Joy Flies in the Philippines! A writing workshop

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