Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Museum That Celebrates Writers

How long has a been since you visited a museum dedicated just to you? Not to you as an individual, of course, but to your creative calling as a writer? If the answer is “never” or “not lately,” you should check out the American Writers Museum in downtown Chicago.

First, some vital information.

Location: 180 N. Michigan Avenue. Two blocks north of Millennium Station, this is easy access for visitors coming from Indiana by the South Shore train.

Hours: Monday–Friday, 9 am–5 pm. Unfortunately there are no weekend hours, but if you need time off from your day job for mental health purposes, this is a good place to go. It is also a good place to take the children for a summer outing.

Tickets: $12 for adults, $8 for seniors 65 and up, $8 for students with a valid ID, and free for children 12 and under. Ticket sales end 30 minutes before closing.

Memberships: $40 for one year and $70 for two years.

Telephone: (312) 374-8790.

It takes a minimum of two hours to do the museum justice, and you may want to consider spending three to four hours there. Here is a quick look at the exhibits.

A Nation of Writers: This permanent exhibit features information on 100 American authors who illustrate how American writing evolved and flourished. It also reminds us that memorable writing can be long or short, fact or fiction.

The Mind of a Writer: This fun, interactive permanent exhibit offers insights into how writers think, exploring daily discipline and habits as well as how authors use language to make their writing sing.

Readers’ Hall: Learn about the critical role of the reader in this permanent exhibit, and vote for your favorite book.

Children’s Literature Gallery: This permanent exhibit highlights some of the best American children’s literature and helps children discover how and why each of those books was written. Only a few books are covered and your favorites may have been omitted, but the exhibit does a good job of selecting books that represent various categories.

Wintrust Chicago Gallery: Another permanent exhibit, this gallery provides information on selected Chicago writers.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: From Prairie to Page: This is a temporary exhibit that is only scheduled through Spring 2018. The website does not contain an exact closing date or information on what will replace it. If you can make it while the exhibit is still open, however, you will learn about the forces that shaped Laura Ingalls Wilder and her books.

Capturing Stories: Photographs of Writers by Art Shay: This is also billed as a temporary exhibit but doesn’t list a closing date. The exhibit consists of Art Shay’s photographs of well-known American authors.

So find time to visit the museum that celebrates you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

In Search of a Common Language

Kathryn Page Camp

It’s a good thing writing isn’t a science, because nobody agrees on terminology.
I recently attended the Let’s Just Write conference run by the Chicago Writers Association. I enjoyed listening to other writers’ experiences and came away with some good craft tips.
But I was also very confused. Why? Because writers don’t have a common vocabulary. We may think we do, but then someone uses a different definition.
I’ve been at a number of conferences where literary fiction was defined as fiction that doesn’t fall within a particular commercial genre. Sometimes they add that it must have literary merit or be of social value, although that condition is meaningless because literary merit and social value, like art, are in the eye of the beholder. But at the conference in Chicago, I heard a different definition. One of the presenters said that fiction can’t be classified as literary unless it is written by someone with an MFA (Master in Fine Arts), especially if the author is a woman. That’s the first time I’ve heard it described that way.
The other definitional controversy isn’t as new but was given a new twist at the Let’s Just Write conference. Nobody seems to know what an independent (or indie) publisher is. Some people say it is anyone who publishes their own books, others say it is small or midsize presses that aren’t affiliated with one of the major publishing houses, and some say that the definition includes both. The new twist I heard in Chicago is that independent publishers use a traditional print run rather than a POD (print-on-demand) process.
Granted, both unexpected definitions came from the same person, and nobody else spoke up to either agree with or dispute them. So maybe that presenter is out-of-touch with the industry. But when I returned from the conference, I searched the Internet for definitions of literary fiction and independent publishing, and the results were just as confusing.
Yes, fiction is more art than science. But if we want to be taken seriously as a profession and an industry, we need to speak a common language.
And that means getting our definitions straight.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer who writes adult non-fiction as Kathryn Page Camp and middle-grade fiction as Kaye Page. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014, and her first middle-grade historical novel, Desert Jewels, was released in August 2017. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Writing Middle-Grade Fiction

Kathryn Page Camp

Middle-grade fiction is adult fiction written for a younger audience. In other words, middle-grade readers expect the same tightly written story, gripping plot, and believable characters that adults do. So don’t attempt to write middle-grade fiction unless you are willing to learn the techniques used by respected authors who write for grown-ups.
What are these techniques? Here is a partial list.
·       Hook the reader at the very beginning (the first sentence, paragraph, or page).
·       Use a consistent point-of-view. Even if there are several POV characters, make the POV consistent within a scene.
·       Show, don’t tell.
·       Give the protagonist and other major players distinctive personalities and individual character arcs.
·       Ensure that your main plot has rising stakes and plenty of conflict and tension. Middle-grade readers can handle a lot of bad news (think Harry Potter).
·       Write natural-sounding dialogue that doesn’t copy actual speech (e.g., avoid words like “um,” pauses, and meaningless words and phrases unless they convey something about the character or the action).
·       Eliminate unnecessary description, dialogue, and action. If it doesn’t add something vital to the story, cut it out.
·       Write with strong nouns and verbs (avoiding most adjectives and adverbs).
·       Trust your readers (e.g., don’t tell readers what they can figure out for themselves).
·       Provide a satisfying ending. Surprises are good, and the reader doesn’t have to see it coming. But the reader should be able to look back with hindsight and say, “of course.”
Look for writers’ conferences and online classes that teach these principles. And since they are the same for older audiences, you aren’t limited to conferences and classes geared to middle-grade authors.
Obviously, there are a few differences between adult and middle-grade fiction, but they don’t apply to the actual techniques. For information on how to gear a story to the right age audience, check out the IWC blog posts from August 1, August 9, and August 16, 2017.  
As Madeline L’Engle said, “a children’s book must be, first and foremost, a good book, a book with a young protagonist with whom the reader can identify, and a book which says yes to life.”
So if you want to write one, first learn the basics of writing fiction for adults.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer who writes adult non-fiction as Kathryn Page Camp and middle-grade fiction as Kaye Page. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014, and her first middle-grade historical novel, Desert Jewels, was released in August 2017. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Make Your Writing Sparkle

We all want our writing to sparkle like fireworks against the dark sky, even if the subject is somber or terrifying. These suggestions are reprinted from the March 6, 2013 IWC blog post.

Make Your Writing Sparkle

Looking for ways to make your writing sparkle? Try these rhetorical devices.
  • Alliteration repeats sounds at the beginning of words or in accented syllables. Here are the first two lines of an old nursery rhyme:
                        I saw a ship a-sailing,
                        A-sailing on the sea.
  • Anaphora is the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase, often at the beginning of sentences or paragraphs or verses. Think of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • Hyperbole exaggerates for emphasis. Ralph Waldo Emerson used it in “The Concord Hymn” when he described the start of the Revolutionary War.
                        Here once the embattled farmers stood
                        And fired the shot heard round the world.
  • Imagery involves the use of vivid or figurative language to represent objects, actions, or ideas. Consider this passage from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
                        Never in his life had he seen a river before—this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again.
·    Metaphor is an implied comparison that usually includes a word picture. William Shakespeare used a metaphor in As You Like It when he said, “All the world’s a stage.”
  • Simile is also a comparison that usually includes a word picture, but it differs from a metaphor because it draws the comparison explicitly using “like” or “as.” In E.B. White’s essay “The Geese,” he describes three swallows who circled overhead during a fight between two ganders: “They were like three tiny fighter planes giving air support to the battle that raged below.”
There are many more rhetorical devices that you can use, but this list provides a start.


The fireworks photograph at the head of this post is © 2014 by Kathryn Page Camp.