Award-winning author shares writing tips with students at Patrick Marsh

Laura Resau reads an excerpt from her novel Red Glass during her presentation to sixth and seventh grade students at Patrick Marsh Middle School on Friday, Nov. 19. Resau is the author of five young adult novels, and spoke to the students about how she became a writer and her process for writing stories, most of which are based on her experiences traveling in Latin America and Europe.

A select group of sixth and seventh grade students at Patrick Marsh Middle School had the opportunity to learn from award-winning author Laura Resau on Friday, Nov. 19.

With a background in cultural anthropology and ESL-teaching, Resau has lived and traveled in Latin America and Europe. Her experiences inspired her novels for young people – What the Moon Saw, Red Glass, The Indigo Notebook, The Ruby Notebook, and Star in the Forest. She lives with her family in Colorado.

Resau was in Wisconsin for the Wisconsin International Outreach Consortium’s ninth annual International Children’s and Young adult Literature Celebration held Saturday, Nov. 20, at the University of Wisconsin. She also read at the Governor’s Mansion on Friday morning for Jessica Doyle’s Read On Wisconsin Book Club.

PMMS Reading Specialist Sandra Kowalczyk said she’s been a regular at the conference for the past eight years, and when she found out Resau would be attending this year, “I called the conference organizers and begged. I said if she’s making any school visits, please consider us.”

The visit to Patrick Marsh was the only school visit Resau made while in Wisconsin.

Kowalczyk read Resau’s Red Glass this past summer while attending a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute in Oaxaca called “Meso-American Cultures and Their Histories: Spotlight on Oaxaca.”

“I read her books and I knew the students would love them, and sure enough they did,” Kowalczyk said. “All her books in Dane County are on hold. Parents said they went to the library to check out her books and they couldn’t get them because we had them. The kids were so excited about reading, not just one, but the next one.”

The students present for Resau’s presentation on Friday were from Kowalczyk’s reading classes, and also students invited by the school’s LMC Specialist Rhonda Van Blairicom.

“She is super nice and if you’re reading her books, you should try to get her to come to your school because it’s really educational and inspirational,” said Charlie Rauls, PMMS sixth grader, was one of Kowalczyk’s students that attended the presentation, as well as one of two luncheons held with Resau and the students. “And I would recommend the books to anyone. Red Glass is one of my favorite books. I’m happy I came, it taught me a lot about how her stories are really real.”

Resau spoke to the students about her writing journey and process, and about three of her books that most of the students present have read. Each student received an autographed postcard or bookmark following the presentation.

She opened by discussing a wooden box that one of her characters in Red Glass carried around with him everywhere.

“I got the idea for this because when I was a teenager, I had this exact box and I would keep it locked and had the key around my neck and I had my most important possession in this box,” she said. “What do you think my most important possession was? It was a book I was writing, my first book.”

Her first book was about dragons – it is still locked in that old wooden box – and she said she was really excited about this first book.

“I put my heart and soul into it. I kept it inside this locked box,” she said. “I thought if anybody looks at this story, I will just die. I was terrified that somebody was going to criticize it.”

She was first inspired to write at the age of 7 when she was given creative writing assignments, and because she grew to love stories from reading stacks of library books weekly.

“The only thing more exciting to me that reading really wonderful books was trying to write them myself,” Resau said. When she was in elementary school, she said she shared her writing with everyone, but became very shy about her writing as a teenager.

When she graduated college, she applied to jobs all over the world as an English as a Second Language teacher, and was hired on at the University of Oaxaca in Mexico.

“I had a shift in my thinking where I thought maybe I had something to offer people,” she said. “And it was when I went to Mexico and I started writing about my experiences there and the stories I heard. That is what really gave me the courage to share my writing with other people.”

In Mexico, she spent a lot of time visiting the homes of her students in remote villages, helping in the kitchen, attending healing rituals, feeding turkeys and making tortillas.

“All of these things I got to participate in, doing every day tasks with people. And I always carried my notebook with me everywhere I went,” Resau said. “I have dozens of these notebooks on my shelves now. I basically wrote, and wrote and wrote in these notebooks. I would interview people, ask them about their lives, and sometimes I would just sit in one of those kitchens and write down using all my senses what I was experiencing. These are all the raw material that ends up later going into my books.”

Much of what goes into Resau’s books are based on personal experiences, or the experiences of her friends, and jotting those stories down in her notebooks is the first step in her writing process.

“Do I worry about complete sentences? No. Do I worry about handwriting? No. I don’t worry about that stuff. When I write in my journal, it’s just to get what’s in my head on paper,” she said. “All of my books have their beginnings in my journals. That’s such an important first step to being a writer.”

Once the ideas are on paper, she moves over to the computer and starts typing stream of consciousness and drafting a rough outline of possible story lines.

“Most of my research is talking with people, hanging out with them and participating in their activities. My books are set in different countries, and I do a lot of traveling. But also I do a lot of book research,” she said.

She then hands pages of text over to her writing group for feedback before beginning the revision process.

“I think it’s really important to have a writing group or readers to help tell you what you should keep and what you should cut,” she said, encouraging the students to start their own writing groups. 

She said she performed dozens of revisions to her novel What the Moon Saw before sending it out to be published.

“It took me five or six years to write and revise What the Moon Saw,” she said. “If you told me, Laura, you have to write a book and it has to be 100 percent perfect the first time. I’d feel so much pressure, I wouldn’t be able to write a single word. But if you told me Laura, you can write a book and have a really terrible first draft and fix it later, that’s a big relief. I can do that. I can write a bad first draft.”

Resau left the students with tips for writing their own stories:

• Read a lot

• Be adventurous and observant

• Have confidence

• Share with people

• Have many revisions

“So I want you to think about what stories are in your locked box and what would give you the courage or motivation to share with them?” Resau said.

For more information about Resau, visit her website at www.lauraresau.com

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