Author Kat Falls on preparing to teach at this year’s Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop

Close-up of woman writing in notebook while sitting at wooden table

Award-winning novelist Kat Falls writes fast-paced science fiction for middle schoolers and young adults. Her Dark Life series has been translated into 18 languages and is in development for a film at Disney. In addition to her work as an author, Falls teaches screenwriting at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

 This June, she’ll be teaching one of four writing classes at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop. The annual event, now in its 22nd year, will be held virtually, June 15-19, and is open to writers of all genres and levels.

 Falls will be teaching Reinventing Fairy Tales & Myths for All Ages & Genres at the retreat. Here she shares what students can expect from her class, how she got involved with Write-by-the-Lake and what she’s working on next. You can learn more about Falls and her work on her website.

Talk a little bit about how you got involved with Write-by-the-Lake and what that experience has been like.

I first attended Write-by-the-Lake as a participant in June 2006. I took the class, Writing for Children, with Kathleen Ernst. I came in with an idea for a book – a futuristic western set in the ocean. However, I’d earned an MFA in screenwriting years earlier and knew nothing about writing a novel, let alone one aimed at middle-grade readers. The workshop was wonderful, eye-opening and frankly, life changing. I wrote the first chapter of Dark Life that week and went home with the confidence and enthusiasm to keep going.

Kat Falls, Write-by-the-Lake Workshop Instructor
Kat Falls will teach a course on fairy tales and myths at this year’s virtual Write-by-the-Lake Writer’s Workshop.

By June 2007, I’d finished a first draft and signed up for Write-by-the-Lake again. This time, I took a class on revision with Laurel Yourke and began revising Dark Life that week. I got so much out of Laurel’s class that I took advantage of the UW–Madison critique services and paid to have Laurel give me notes on the first 50 pages of my manuscript. It was worth every penny.

Eighteen months later, I signed with Josh Adams of Adams Literary and in January 2009, Scholastic bought Dark Life at auction in a two-book deal.

So, as you can probably guess, Write-by-the-Lake holds a very special place in my heart. That’s why I wanted to come back as a teacher — and because I love working with writers at all levels of experience.

You’ll be teaching Reinventing Fairy Tales & Myths for All Ages & Genres at this year’s workshop. Where did the idea for this class come from?

I’ve always felt that fairy tales and myths can be an incredible source of inspiration for a writer. I think writers are drawn to these stories because, by their very nature, they’re meant to be retold and reinterpreted. They often go back hundreds or even thousands of years and yet certain fairy tales and myths are more popular than ever. We can see versions of them in every form of media we consume — movies, books, music and ads. So why not take a classic story and twist it into something unfamiliar, possibly even something dark, subversive and very adult?

What are some things students can expect from this class?

If there’s a particular story that a writer has always loved, this will be a great opportunity to mine it for inspiration or even reinvent it entirely. We’ll examine the challenges that come with adapting a well-known and beloved story; discuss the unique parameters of fairy tales and myths and how to weave those elements into your work; and talk about how to develop heroes and villains for a modern audience.

In addition, I’ll touch on practical matters such as how to catch an agent’s eye and the publishing process. Along with the daily topic discussion, we’ll workshop the participants’ material, including in-class writing exercises, and share pages from a work in progress.

Write-by-the-Lake is going virtual this year! How do you plan to connect with your students in this online format?

I’m excited to meet other writers via Zoom. Getting together virtually shouldn’t inhibit our workshops in the slightest. Participants will still get plenty of feedback on their work and hopefully be inspired by the nightly writing prompts I assign. I also intend to do a one-on-one coaching session with each writer in the workshop.

What’s new in your own work?

It’s weird, but I feel oddly prepared for what we’re going through as a nation right now. My latest novel, Undaunted, came out last year as the sequel to my YA dystopia, Inhuman. The series is set after a highly contagious virus sweeps through America and forever changes the way people interact. I spent a lot of time trying to imagine what life would be like 20 years after a pandemic. The story is told from a 16-year-old girl’s point of view and things like online classes, sheltering-in-place and germaphobia are her norm. It’s strange to be living like the characters in my books – especially since I thought I was writing science fiction.

See the Write-by-the-Lake website for more information to register. For questions, contact retreat director Christine DeSmet at christine.desmet@wisc.edu.