Whole Novel Historical Fiction Workshop
I recently returned from the AWP (Associated Writing Programs) conference in Seattle, followed by a visit to my daughter, the Runaway Bunny, in Los Angeles. At the conference, I presented on a panel titled “Activist Movements in Historical Young Adult Novels and Youth Activism Today” with authors Diana Ma and Katia Raina. Diana, a 2019 We Need Diverse Books mentee, is the author of Her Rebel Highness (2022), a romance set amid the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Katia was born in the Soviet Union and witnessed the dissolution of the communist regime and the country’s breakup, which inspired her 2019 novel Castle of Concrete. I talked about Torch and my forthcoming YA historical novel in verse, Eyes Open.
Among the topics we discussed were our connections to the historical events, working with expert readers, the role of romance in our stories, and young people coming to terms with the risks of activism. The audience had a lot of questions as well. A Black writer told us she has been trying to sell her middle grade historical novel for a long time without success. Diana described her WNDB mentorship and how it led to the two-book contract for the Daughters of the Dynasty Series. Mentorships are key to revising books for younger readers, particularly for those like the AWP attendees who are more experienced in writing for readers of adult literary or scholarly work. They also build industry knowledge and connections, as the children’s publishing world is very different from that of adults.
Update 3/21/23: My co-panelist Katia Raina had a lovely write-up of this event, while sharing some of her own publishing struggles and how she’s dealt with them.
I also spent time at the Highlights booth at the conference. Diana has a Highlights Foundation Muslim Storytellers Fellowship, and I taught at their Summer Camp in Fiction last year. I wrote a piece titled “Experts” about what I learned from my students, one of whom emailed me recently to say they’d signed with an agent.
I’m pleased to announce that this year I will be teaching in the Whole Novel Historical Fiction Workshop at Highlights. I’ve always wanted to be a part of this workshop, focusing on my favorite genre and working with some of my favorite authors. My esteemed colleagues, most of whom have taught this workshop in the past, are Ashley Hope Pérez, Nikki Shannon Smith (who also taught at the Summer Camp last year), Alisa Alering, and Gloria Muñoz. The Whole Novel workshops mean that the instructors will read and comment on entire manuscripts — not just the opening pages. This allows us to evaluate the shape of the story, the characters’ emotional arcs, the pacing, and the ending. Most workshops only look at the opening pages, but effective endings are so crucial to a book’s success, and so hard to pull off — the subject of a forthcoming blog post here. Because of this whole-novel revision focus, this workshop would be a good choice for agented writers as well as those seeking an agent.
The workshop is online during the summer, with an optional stay at Highlights at the end, August 8-12. The stay is worth it if you can make the trip. The food is excellent, and the housing options include individual cabins full of character and history and a comfortable inn or farm house with common rooms and unlimited snacks. I’ve stayed in both the cabins and the inn and appreciate both. The farm house is a new accommodation, and maybe I’ll end up in that one this summer. The Historical Fiction Whole Novel Workshop consists of six weeks of faculty lectures and panels on various topics as well as a one-on-one reading and consultation (editorial letter and meeting in person or online) on a novel of up to 80,000 words.
Applications are open now, with the deadline to apply of May 16, 2023. All you need in order to apply is a finished draft of a historical or historically inspired novel for children or teens. (If you’re at the beginning stages or in the middle of your first draft, the Summer Camp in Fiction is more for you.) The online classes begin June 15 and end August 11 with the optional retreat, but you’ll have the class and consultation whether or not you attend the retreat. Scholarships are available.
My comments are open to any questions you may have, with the link to the course information and application here. I hope to see some of you, online and maybe in person, this summer!