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Thalia Book Club Camp offers up-close interaction with renowned children's book authors and illustrators, book discussions, and book-related field trips around the city. This blog follows the camp's activities.

Thalia Book Club Camp Week 3 Day 5

Published on July 31, 2015

Today was a day where we really used our imaginations – again!  Upstairs on the Sharp stage we discussed pen names, also known as pseudonyms, or noms de plume (if you want to be fancy.) Several of this week’s authors use pen names.  So we made up pen names for ourselves.  We imagined that it was 2025 and we were coming back to camp as an author.  We drew the cover of our book, with the title and our pen name.  And then we had to guess who was the real author of The Jonas Brothers Through the Ages, by C.A. O’Neill (as if!) or The Pizza Wars, by Bob McBoberson (seriously?) or Book, by Maxi Ars, or A Ghost’s Handbook for the Underworld (Final Art TK,) by E.F. Riley, or The Sunny Day, by E.B. Whyt (wait – who?) They were all fantastic and so funny.  It was also interesting hearing how each person chose their pen name.  A round of Duck Duck Goose ended our early morning session and we returned to the camp room to meet Elise Broach, author of the Superstition Mountain series.

Elise gave us a whirlwind tour of her life.  She started making picture books when she was six years old.  She would tell the story to her mom who would type it up. Elise would draw the pictures and her mom would paste the text next to it.  She revealed that now, as a grown up, she still loves the ideas for books that she loved as a child. She talked about where she gets her ideas from : things that happen in her life, memories, her imagination, things she passionately likes or dislikes, what if? scenarios; and she usually uses a combination of them. She has written a lot of mysteries, including Supersition Mountain.  It turns out that there is a real Superstition Mountain in Arizona and Elise went there, in spite of being told by everyone that she should. not. go. People disappeared there; it’s like the Bermuda Triangle on land!  But she and her daughter hiked it and, though they saw how easy it would be to get lost, they made it back and she used her experience there to write the book.

We learned a lot about the key elements of a mystery.  There’s the main character who functions as a detective, even if they really aren’t one.  There is a crime, problem or puzzle to solve. There are suspects, villains, motives, twists and surprises, and a solution.  And there MUST be suspense! But how do you make a reader feel the suspense? Well, Elise walked us through an exercise that produced some really suspenseful story beginnings.  We started off with a boring sentence; it had to be boring.  Her example was “They walked together down a quiet road.” Step 2: Add one of the five senses.  Example: As they walked together down a quiet road, she smelled something burning.

Step 3: Add a ticking clock, or a deadline.  Example: With only an hour left, they walked together down a quiet road.

Step 4 focused on the setting or atmosphere: “as the sky darkened. . . ”  Step 5 required adding foreshadowing.  Step 6 involved adding emotion.  Step 7 was adding an element of danger. When you put it all together, you got:  “”With only an hour left, and knowing what lay ahead, they walked down the quiet road.  The sky darkened and the woods closed in all around.  They smelled something burning.  Their hearts pounded with fear.  Suddenly, they heard footsteps behind them.”   AHHHHHHH!

It was fascinating to hear how each camper’s boring sentence turned into a suspenseful episode.

After proving beyond a doubt that she could tell what color an M&M was just from the taste (except blue, which they didn’t have when she was growing up,) Elise then signed our books and we posed for our final group photo of the week.

We had lunch outside.  Finally, a beautiful, if hot, day!

Back at Symphony Space, we went into the Thalia Theater for our Friday sharing session.  As usual, it was a wonderful assortment of book recommendations, original poetry and prose, pictures, and even skits with costumes, scenery, props and accents!  Totally enjoyable.  We played a few of our favorite camp games: “Ghost,” “Handshake Murder,” and “Statues,” aka “Night at the Museum.”

Then it was time for our final party.  We signed each other’s photo, got new friends’ contact info, ate a cupcake, and, before we knew it, wonderful Week 3 was over.  Have a great summer, everybody!  Hope to see you next year at Thalia Book Club Camp.

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