Book Camp 2020, Day 2

Last night we watched Knives Out on Prime. It was the girls’ first time to view it. Everyone adored the film, of course, but I especially loved what came after: a chat about craft totally unprompted by me. And this gem: Cheeze Ball said, “If I could write something like that…” as stars twinkled in her eyes.

Lights out got a bit late. Turns out, we’re not very good at it.

Still, we were up this morning before the sun. We tag-teamed the kitchen, since we spent most of yesterday without water access. And we huddled in the fort to write new six-sentence stories (snake, rubbish, acute) and overview the day.

A is still for Adapt, and the kids are taking the works of fiction they reviewed yesterday, charting them on a five-act or three-act structure, and then altering the structure. SIM campers are then doing it again for their own works.


B, still for Business, covers book publicists and book marketers. The people who force you to buy all the books against your will (and pocketbook) are some of the most interesting. How do they do it? Well, we got in the weeds with that question this morning. For exercises today, the campers prepared several promotional materials, including an author bio, press release, author Q&A, artifact (like a bookmark, coloring page, screen saver), back cover copy, and a draft email to book bloggers.

While they turn things in separately, it was delightful to hear them working collaboratively today. From the office I heard Cheese Ball say, “Figgy is helping me with my press release.” For two brothers, that’s significant!

And we had some bumps today. Playing the instrument for less than the allotted time. Singing at top-voice while not doing assignments and other people were working. Control issues surrounding the group write. Let it be known: Book Camp is not for the faint of heart!

There was even a slight existential crisis, and it wasn’t even mine.

Today sleep reared its pernicious head and I needed to sleep at 5 pm. Thankfully, the kids gathered up to revise their group write, and the A.D. led dinner efforts, so I awoke to laughter and a dinner plate.

For dinner there was a delicious comedy if errors that featured bison and angel hair pasta.

Yep. A bison-angelhair-garlic-bread sandwich.

Now we’re watching a movie that gets paused periodically as the A.D. or I point out gross stuff like white privilege and misogyny. We’re definitely the fun aunt and uncle / parents.

Until tomorrow…

Book Camp, Day 1

Missed Day 0? Check it out here!

Well, day 1 came in like a lion. Hopefully, it goes out like a lamb.

Thunderstorm. No water access to the house. A dog who wouldn’t brave the elements. Alarms sounding at 5:45 am. These are the hallmarks of a first day at camp, clearly.


Yet at five minutes to seven we sat around the fort, journals and notebooks in hand, ready to overview the day and write our six-sentence stories. The words pulled from the jar: union, lose, acid. The rules: Nouns can become plural but cannot become adjectives or adverbs; verbs can take any form of the verb; the story must have a beginning, middle, and end; the story must have exactly six sentences. Commas and semicolons will be accepted.

Upon finishing the brief exercise, Cheeze Ball said, “Mine took a bit of a dark turn at the end,” to the surprise of absolutely no one in the room.

The rain cleared up enough for 45 minutes outdoors for campers while I turned to my work. Then the campers decamped in the fort to work on assignments, peeling off one or two at a time to fulfill their group write contribution, play an instrument (viola, trombone, baritone, bass, saxophone), do some meal prep or chore, or complete some other task, eventually running out of assigned duties and devolving into cheery, screen-loving, game-playing, fort-sharing teenagers. But first, they had seven documents to turn in at seven pm, so there was no time to lose.


A is for Adapt. We all adapt all the time–to people, circumstances, settings, changes in schedule. Knowing that is half the battle. The other half is knowing how to adapt. Understanding how fluid life really is or can be. Book Camp lessons are about story and craft, but they are also about life. Not overtly. Kids hate that. But seeds planted or tender shoots watered and tended. With humor. With love. With intentionality.

Starting softly, today’s A assignment was an easy one. The campers each examined three works of published fiction, filled out a worksheet about the setting, world, protagonist, antagonist, inciting incident, climax, and resolution. Then they filled in little comments in the margins about where the story could be adapted–the word used very loosely here to mean any change. Because if you cannot imagine how a fictional story might be different, you’ll never be able to imagine your own story as different.

This year, we have two tracks in camp for the first time: SIM and FUN. SIM stands for Story In Mind. FUN is a word meaning, well, you know. Those campers who chose to be SIM have certain optional assignments to expand the stories of their hearts. Today, the optional assignment was to fill out the A1 worksheet for their own fictional story and then jot some possible adaptations in the margins. There was a good deal of moaning over this. The story of the heart or mind does not easily adapt. And what is life but a story of heart and mind?

B is for Business. The first six days of Book Camp, campers are learning about jobs in writing and publishing. Not because I expect them all (or any) to choose a job in that vein but because it is useful for young people to learn that all kinds of jobs exist and those jobs have all kinds of needs: creativity, math skills, solitude, people skills, self-discipline, and on and on. What applies to publishing applies elsewhere. The point isn’t these specific job titles but that adults have jobs, those jobs pay different median amounts, have different tasks, and require different knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Today’s B1 worksheet: writers and editors. They practice writing daily, so the exercise on the worksheet was to practice editing. They used a critique form to gather their thoughts about the six-sentence story I wrote today. Then they each wrote an edit letter to me.

(Don’t tell. The last six days of Book Camp, the campers will do a practicum of sorts. Each camper will assume the role of someone in book publishing and perform that role as it pertains to the group writing project they have been working on all camp.)

As I write this, the last of the X-Box turns is being had and dinner is quietly baking in a hot oven. I hear the campers conversing, half playing a card game, half watching the X-Box play. The day has gotten bright and hot, and the dog has overtaken the fort. Assignments are in neat little folders, each with a camper’s name, in a file stand. More than 1000 words have been generated on the group writing assignment.


The campers and assistant director face a cool inning. I face a lot of reading and giving of feedback. But that’s okay. It’s what I signed up for with this whole book camp thing. And I wouldn’t trade it for a thing.