Quote of the Day: In most good stories, it’s the character’s personality that creates the action of the story.” Flannery O’Connor, via Sheila O’Connor at her Creating Characters workshop in Brainerd, MN, Saturday March 8, 2014.


Sheila O'Connor signing a book for Mary Aalgaard

Sheila O’Connor signing a book for Mary Aalgaard

Sheila O’Connor’s creative writing classes have been some of the best I’ve ever attended. She had us visualize our characters, answer questions about them, and start writing descriptions. I left her class fired up to continue writing my next play, Grace Notes: Piano Bench Confessions.

I also teach classes, on occasion, and used a few of her prompts to help middle school students start writing their own stories. This is the fourth year that I’ve been asked to teach a break-out session at the Young Author’s Conference in Thief River Falls, MN. Mary Morken coordinates the program with expertise. I always feel so well taken care of, from the hotel reservation to the thoughtful placement of a water bottle in my classroom. Thank you, Mary! I know you work very hard to make this day run so smoothly.

The students enter the room with their tickets in hand, notebooks at the ready, and full of energy. Most of the other authors have published books to sign and sell. I do not. That was the first question of the day. My words are in the clouds, I explain. I’m a blogger, reviewer, article writer, and playwright. I told them about writing Coffee Shop Confessions and performing it in coffee shops. A few kids shared that they are also playwrights and have performed in their houses. One of my piano students wrote a play and performed it for her class. Plays can be done anywhere! Characters are popping up all over the place. And, so we began.

Willie, Millie, Lillie, Billie, and Mr. Happy all rode along to meet the kids and offer inspiration.

Willie, Millie, Lillie, Billie, and Mr. Happy all rode along to meet the kids and offer inspiration.


I could have used my own puppets a little more. I did share some of what I’d created last year with my own paper plate puppets, but I wanted the kids to have a chance to create their own. After getting them started with some character questions, they got right to work.



Sometimes, the teachers attend the class with their students. It’s fun when they get into the writing, too. I exchanged info with this teacher. Her sister lives in the Brainerd lakes area.


Writing, drawing, sharing, coloring, connecting, creating: What a great day!


 Some of the puppet/character creations


Some of us do wear our hearts on our sleeves.


Lovin’ the facial hair on this dude


This author gave me a quick overview of her story. Something about two people on a train ride who need to help out this guy with a nasty skin rash. Not sure I’d like to sit next to him!


Some of them are excellent artists.



In the third and final hour, after lunch, the kids were really interactive. Kids are at the conference from many different schools around the Thief River Falls area. Sometimes, two or three are in the room from the same school. During this class, it felt like they’d all been together for the school year. They interacted, laughed, jabbed a few jokes, and for the most part, encouraged each other. What a lively crew! Although, I was thinking they were ready for recess, not a long bus ride home!


Girls write about assassins, too. Look out for those redheads!


Let’s just say that this character kept evolving. I think he started out as a ham.


Our keynote speaker was Margi Preus, author of the NY Times best selling novel and Newbery Honor Book, Heart of the Samurai. I bought that one, of course, along with Shadow on the Mountain, because she said she was inspired by the book Snow Treasure, which I read and loved as a child, my sister read and loved, then passed it to my son. Her next book, West of the Moon, also links to her, and my, Norwegian heritage, an immigration story. I think my author friend Candace Simar might want to read this one, too!


Margi is a great connection for me. She is also a playwright and started a theatre company in Duluth, several years ago, and is connecting me to her peeps so I can get something going here in the Brainerd lakes area.

I love writer’s conferences for any age. As a student or a presenter, I learn so much. Thank you, Mary Morken, for inviting me to teach at this conference. Thank you, Margi, for sharing your stories and knowledge with me and all the young authors. And, Thank you to my dear friend, Roxane, for connecting me to this conference. We are conference buddies from way back. It feels like going home when we do conferences together.


Roxane Salonen and Mary Aalgaard together again at a writer’s conference!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Write about a conference or event that inspired you, or where you were the instructor.

The authors mentioned in this article all write for young audiences and are terrific speakers. Click their links below to connect with them.

Sheila O’Connor
Margi Preus
Roxane B. Salonen