Beth Kander, author of the dystopian novel “Original Syn,” conducted a writing workshop and signed copies of her book at Rochester College on Thursday, March 21.
“Original Syn,” released by Owl House Books in 2018, was nominated for the MIAL Fiction Award. Kander has written other works of prose, children’s books, plays and screenplays. A sequel to “Original Syn,” titled “Born in Syn,” will be released in October 2019.
During the writing workshop, Kander worked with the attendees by offering writing prompts followed by reading and critiquing each other’s work.
The 10 participants decided between writing an introduction for a short story, specific stage directions for a play or three versions of the first line of a poem. Then they read their work to the rest of the group. From science fiction to poetry, each person covered a diverse range of content. Kander divided the participants into small groups so that they could go in-depth on each of the works. These groups would read out the works that each wrote and the others in the group would comment on the piece. Questions were asked in terms of clarity and the choices made by the author.
Melissa Aalbertsberg, a community member who attended the workshop, said, “The methods are very good. They boost your confidence.”
Brian Eddings, a senior English major at RC, agreed. “It was really interesting. For the most part, it makes you want to focus on your writing styles and techniques.”
Kander said she is interested in any kind of literature. “I love a good book,” she said. “I’ll sometimes be on a real kick for a while of a certain genre.” She said some of her favorite authors were Stephen King, John Green, Lois Lowry and Neil Gaiman.
Dr. Catherine Parker, dean of the School of Humanities, coordinated Kander’s visit to RC. “Beth is the daughter of Dr. Lisa Kander, who teaches in the theatre department,” Parker said. “She [Beth] had just released her novel early fall, the first in her trilogy, and we started thinking how to get her here to promote her book and share her expertise with our students. She has also published several plays, and our department is interested in the possibility of producing some of her work in our program in the future.”
Before the workshop, Kander held a book signing in the Ennis and Nancy Ham Library. At the signing, Kander talked with guests about her books and her writing process, remarking that her process is different for each piece. “There are some that I just jump in and start writing, and there are others that I outline. I would say if I had my choice, I would definitely be considered more of an outliner.”
Kander said she gets new ideas constantly. “I tune into everything going on and catch inspiration from there. Aside from personal experience and family life, the biggest sources for inspiration are the news and how is everyone responding to it.”
Alyssa Brady, a fan of Kander’s work who lives in the Rochester area, said she was excited to meet the author. “I was caught off guard that there was no charge for her playwriting workshop,” Brady said. “It’s remarkable when people become well known or famous and still give back to the community.”
Brady said she also came to the event to learn how she could improve her own writing. “While Kander was being interviewed, I heard her say ‘Stephen King and his book on writing says if you can’t carve out time for reading, you shouldn’t have the audacity to think you should be writing.' I thought it was pretty harsh, but this was a huge takeaway for me,” Brady said.
Kander lives and works in Chicago. Some of her other works include the novel, “Was,” and the children’s book, “Glubbery Gray: The Knight-Eating Beast.” Kander earned a MFA degree in creative writing at Mississippi University for Women and also earned degrees from Brandeis.