Zelda Lockhart–Writing Workshop


I had the pleasure of attending a workshop Saturday with a wonderful woman, author, and speaker, Zelda Lockhart.  She is the author of Cold Running Creek and Fifth Born and the 2010 Piedmont Laureate.  She also has a new novel coming out this summer, and I am looking forward to ordering it as soon as it hits the bookshelves.

Zelda held a workshop on writing entitled “Write It & Publish It: A Publishing Guide” in Durham at the Bean Traders, a coffee shop on 9th Street.  As my husband and I walked down the wooden steps to the lower part of the coffee shop to meet Zelda, I was amazed at how tall she was.  I had seen her photo on her book cover jacket as well as on her website, and for some reason I expected her to be shorter than I.  I was surprised to find that she was a tall woman, regal in stature and appearance. 

We walked to the far end of the shop, and my husband and I greeted Zelda, and I sat down at wooden tables reminiscent of the ones I was accustomed to in elementary school, wooden tables, some painted and some stained, (shabby chic would be my best description of them), dented in places, and filled with scratches and dings that indicated they had been put to good use in a classroom. 

After greeting Zelda, my husband left us to our workshop.  I, along with a thoughtful, elderly woman who had previously attended one of Zelda’s poetry workshops, were the only participants.  I greeted her and pulled out my pen and pad to what was an informative yet relaxed workshop.  We were originally scheduled to attend the workshop in another location, but that fell through.  Zelda contacted me the night before to inform me that the workshop may have to be cancelled, but I asked if I could still meet with her individually, and she agreed.  Even though plans had fallen through at the other location, I still wanted to meet this author and gain some insight from her background and expertise as a published author. 

The atmosphere in the coffee shop was peaceful, the occasional sound of coffee being expressed upstairs and the aroma of richly brewed coffee permeating the air and the light tapping of fingers to computer keys filling the charming and quaint space.  People were seated at other tables in the coffee shop, reading a book, looking over important paperwork, working on their laptops, or as in our case, discussing writing with a published author.  Sitting with Zelda and my fellow participant, I felt like I was having coffee with two old friends (although I didn’t order any coffee—I had a cup of Java before I left for Durham). 

Zelda began with asking us participants to pitch our work to her.  I wasn’t expecting that to be a part of the workshop, but I understand why she began with that exercise.  We were given a few minutes to compose our ideas, and then we “pitched” our work to her.  I realized I had a good understanding of what my work was about and who my characters were, but I was lacking in the area of expressing what my goals were in the work and explaining how I would bring about redemption for each of the characters.  The short-story collection I pitched had many characters, so expressing how I would bring about redemption for all of them would take a while, and I needed to learn how to pitch the short-story collection in 30 seconds.  Zelda suggested I open with a brief overview of the story and then choose one story or character and briefly discuss his or her struggle and the hopeful outcome of the story.  This would give the listener a sense of what the entire collection was about.

Another exercise she gave to us was a “Jump Starter,” a way to jump start our writing at home.  She called it “Steal the Line,” choosing a line from a book—poetry books are great for this exercise—and putting your ideas down on paper.  It was a fun exercise, and it worked.  It’s amazing how a few words can inspire you to write a poem, a short story, or a personal essay.  Some other jump starters she suggested were “Photo Prompts” and “Music in the Same Vein.”  These prompts could be done individually or combined to get those writing juices flowing. 

Next to us was a young girl, I imagine a college student as she was tapping away at her computer keyboard, occasionally glancing over whenever Zelda shared one of her pearls of wisdom.  I wanted to ask the student to join us.  “You should get in on this great information,” I wanted to say, but kept quiet.  It was a paid workshop, however.

Zelda shared with us her insight on the publishing industry.  She clarified the differences between subsidy or vanity presses, commercial presses, and self-publishing.  She indicated that many new authors are not familiar with the differences and often fall into the trap of publishing their work with subsidy or vanity presses.  She noted that authors should never pay a publisher to publish their work.  If a publisher charges you to publish your book, you need to run like your house is on fire. 

Subsidy or vanity presses tend to get grouped in with the term “self-publishing.”  Zelda pointed out that the term needs to be changed because “it is a misnomer.”  Even though you are paying to have your book printed when self-publishing, she mentioned that you should make sure you are not paying too much for the printing that you cannot recoup the costs.  And she noted that if you want to self-publish, you should always go into it as if it were a business and as if you were the business owners.  You should follow the same steps as commercial presses, replicating the process they use (ie. obtaining ISBN numbers, contracting book designers, typesetters, and book manufacturers, securing distributers, etc.).   In essence, publishing a book, either through a commercial press or by self-publishing, is a business, and many first-time authors don’t go into the publishing industry with that sentiment in mind.

One more important piece of information she pointed out was even in self-publishing, you should make sure you know the total costs, not only the cost of printing the book, but also shipping costs, returned book fees, etc.  All of these costs need to be calculated in the pricing of the book so that you can recoup your investment as well as make a profit.

Zelda discussed submitting works to literary magazines, journals, and online literary websites for the purposes of getting your work published, especially if you want to get it noticed by agents and book publishers. She emphasized the importance of the “Author’s Bio” as bait for agents.  It is a calling card, a mini advertisement of your accomplishments, so you want to use it to your advantage.  Include only pertinent information that relates to your writing and publishing accomplishments. 

That last part of the workshop was a walk-through of the bookstore next door to us.  We went into the bookstore, taking our notepads, and looked for works that were similar to the works we wanted to publish.  I was focusing on historical fiction as that is the genre of my short-story collection.  Once we found works similar to ours, we were to look for information in the books that would help us find an agent who would sell works like ours, who would have a relationship with the press in which we were interested in getting our work published, and who would be associated with the editor.

This exercise was extremely helpful as we would be finding the most current publishers, agents, and editors.  Zelda suggested we research them also to ensure they are still in business and to find the correct contact person as some editors and agents may not be in business anymore or may have moved into different positions within the industry.

The workshop ended, and we two participants were left to explore the bookstore on our own.  I thoroughly enjoyed spending those few hours with Zelda Lockhart.  I learned a lot about the publishing industry and plan to utilize the techniques from workshop in my daily writings.

Of course, as with any workshop, you always think of questions afterwards that you wished you had asked during the workshop, but they didn’t come to you at that time.  Zelda informed us participants that we could email her and keep her abreast of our work.  I took her up on that and emailed her with a few more questions about things that came to me after the workshop. 

Zelda Lockhart is a great resource for information on writing and the publishing industry.  She has several upcoming workshops that I know will be informative to any writer at any stage of the writing and publishing process. 

  • Zelda will be facilitating an “Elders Writing Memoir” workshop at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham on May 1, 2010. 
  • Zelda will be hosting a workshop entitled “Adding Color to the Cheeks of Historical Characters” at the Writing and Visual Arts Workshops at Moorefields in Hillsborough on May 22, 2010 and May 23, 2010. 

You can find out more about Zelda Lockhart, her works,  Fifth Born and Cold Running Creek, and upcoming workshops at her website: www.zeldalockhart.com.


1 Comment

  1. May 26, 2010 at 5:15 am

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