There is a little shop up in Blackwood, New Jersey that sells old and new books. The Book Asylum is located on 26 N. Blackhorse Pike and I’ve been to this little gem several times in the last two years. There is something special about this little shop that also hosts a café with damn good coffee, teas and bakery goods. Yummy! And, the reason for this good feeling is due to the owners Jeff and Rosemary Moore. You can find my interview of them, here.
Today, I’m interviewing Laura Kaighn, who is a published author, a professional storyteller and a pretty amazing woman. Best of all, she is a very good friend. Laura and I both belong to the South Jersey Writers’ Group, but she is also co-facilitator of The Book Asylum’s Writing Group. This is Laura’s site: http://www.ladyhawkestorytelling.com
Steampunk Granny Chats with Author Laura Kaighn
Marie: “Hi Laura. Surprise! I wanted to interview you before you began the meeting with the group. What is the name of your group here at The Book Asylum?”
Laura Kaighn: “We call ourselves “The Book Asylum Writers” or the “Asylumites” for short. Word doesn’t like how it’s spelled, but I said the heck with it.”
Marie: “How often does your group meet, here?”
Laura: “Actually, there are two parts to the writers’ group. Mine, in which we focus on writing, critiquing, feedback and little mini workshops on the writing process and concepts such as plot and character development, and all that stuff. We meet on the first Thursday of every month. There is another woman, who is a retired art teacher named Pam Laurenzi. She comes in for journaling. She gets them writing, but it’s not organized where they have to have a theme for the night. Pam gets them to write and they share what they’ve written around the table. All positive feedback, and they have a good time. And that’s it.
So, depending on what you want to experience as a writer or to grow as a writer, you decide if you want to come to one or the other, or both. It’s very open, and Pam is very good. She’s a sweet lady. She switched days with me because I was originally doing the third Thursday, but that is when the South Jersey Writers’ Group meets. Pam was willing to switch with me so that I could attend the meetings while she was here doing her thing here. That’s the writing group, I call myself the co-facilitator because I bow to her since she was here first.
It started with Johanna Swank. She’s a member of the South Jersey Writers’ Group. When she was finished with her workshops, she asked if we wanted to stay as a writers’ group. Everybody thought that was a great idea. At that time, I had poked myself in towards the end, and she asked me if I could take over. First it was only going to be the one night when she couldn’t make it; but before you knew it, I was here. I’ve been here every first Thursday.”
Marie: “How many people are there in the group?”
Laura: “Overall, we have around twenty-one, but luckily not all twenty-one people show up for the meeting. I keep in contact with them through e-mails. We have a core group of about five writers that are here pretty much every time. And again, some don’t necessarily come to my group. They’ll go to Pam’s because they are interested in just journaling without any end product, like a book or memoir.”
Marie: “So, on your end are you trying to help people get published?”
Laura: “Well, just to be better writers. I help them with whatever they are interested in. I have an entire list of topics that we’ll touch upon from time to time. If they have an interest, I’ll put together a bunch of stuff. And then we’ll do a writing exercise. I’ll show them examples, or they’ll give me examples. We’ll critique and go over where their weakness and strengths are: grammar, punctuation, dialogue, character development. You know, whatever. So I’ll periodically bring that list up again and say, “Okay! We’re just playing ‘Swap & Share’ all the time and reading aloud. Now, let’s get back into the writing process. What do you want to attack, next?”
I know that I’m going to have to touch upon Point of View again, because that’s a bit complicated for those who are interested in writing fiction. We have a couple of people that are interested in memoir, but not a lot of poetry. Even my other group at the Margaret Heggan Library; they’re not really interested in poetry, but memoirs mostly and autobiographies. One member over there is writing a cookbook with family stories. She keeps getting sidetracked with her ninety-three year old mother. I said to her, “You better get back here.” It’s a diverse group between the two venues and I enjoy their company. I learn from them as much as I think I guide them.”
Marie: “You’re a busy person because you have several books published and you are busy doing book signings and also doing presentations. When is your next presentation?”
Laura: “I don’t have anything scheduled at this point. But because it is the beginning of the year, that is the topic that I’ll be broaching with both groups. I want to know what they want to take away from this and what instructions I can guide them through that will make them stronger writers. We will be picking more topics. I have a list of strengths and challenges. What I do is: I’ve collected their works in a recent assignment. I took them home, checked them over and made a list of where I saw that they needed help. We are definitely going to be touching upon dialogue, grammar rules, using good verbs, good adjectives, strong subjects and all that stuff. I’ll do sentence structure and dividing up sentences so they aren’t rambling on. Just those things that I saw some needed help on.”
Group Member, Claudia: “I tend to ramble.”
Laura: “I do too. I end up with long, long sentences and then when I go back to proof-read, I go, “You’ll run out of air by the time you get to the finish. It’s time to break it up!” So, yeah, that is what we do a lot of. We write, and then we look at our writing. It’s not just writing, “Oh this is wonderful. I love it.” You need more specific feedback if you want to get better. We help each other with the critiquing. But once in a while, I’ll bring them all home and give them a more thorough once over.
If you are a strong writer, yourself, you can step back a little bit and see some things that other people missed because they are focusing on the story or focusing on the grammar and it’s hard to do both, plus focus on the dialogue and word choice and sentence structure. That’s why there are four different editors to go through when you get a book published. There is the copy editor, the line editor, the proof reader and...”
Marie: “The developmental editor, right?”
Laura: “Yes, exactly, which is the first one to see it. That’s a lot to think about. So, I do what I can.”
Marie: “Well, you’re having fun and it’s a great coffee shop/ book store to have these meetings at.”
Laura: “Oh yeah. Jeff and Rose are such wonderful people to have us here, and they let us talk loud. When we are at the library, we’re in the conference room. So we just shut the door and we laugh and don’t worry about anyone shushing us or having the librarian shaking her finger at us.”
Rosemary: “I love when they do Mad-Libs.”
Laura: “Yes, we do Mad-Libs. When I did substitute teaching, I always had at least three activities just in case the teacher didn’t leave materials and I couldn’t do a lesson. I would say, “Hey, let’s do this.” I always had my goody bag, like these which I got from ‘Toys R Us’ while Christmas shopping.” Laura hands me one of the flip books to look over. “One is Story Starter, the other is Silly Starters and this is Creative Thinking. It’s slated for grades first to third, but you just throw it out and write a journal entry. It’s challenging.”
Marie: “I know you do storytelling events. When is the next event?”
Laura: “It’s not a public event because of it being so early in the season, but I’m happy to say that Rabbit’s Tale and Other Rites of Passage has been accepted by the Spring Hills Senior Living Centers, and there are eight facilities, mostly on the east coast from Florida up to Connecticut. Once a month, they are reading, sharing and doing activities based on one of my stories. Last month, for December, it was “Dad’s Charlie Brown Tree” because it was Christmas. This month, in fact next week on January 12th, I’ll be going to the Cherry Hill facility and reading “Tornado Child”. It’s the story about my three year old little sister who got into my room and wrecked it. In February, because of Chinese New Year, I’ll be doing the story, “Holding up the Sky” which is based on a Chinese fable. “
Marie: “Are there any public events?”
Laura: “In the summer, I’ve already booked a program for the Burlington County College on July 15th for the summer reading program. It’s at 5 Pioneer Blvd. in Westampton and here are the directions.” http://home.comcast.net/~ladyhawkestorytelling/site/?/event/view/110/
Marie: “People can check on your calendar of events on your site?”
Laura: “It’s not up yet, but there will be more events posted between now and then. The only ones that I post on my website are the ones that are public.”Marie: Thank you Laura for taking the time from tonight’s meeting to chat with me. For all my followers out there, you can find all of Laura’s works here: http://home.comcast.net/~ladyhawkestorytelling/site/?/page/Writer%27s_Portfolio%3A_A_Collection_of_Works/