One of the reasons I continue to attend this conference is that I always learn something new, and that was no less the case this year.
From jeannineatkins and Laurie Calkhoven, I not only learned new things about setting and scene structure, but I generated some ideas and mini-scenes that will be a big help when I start working on my next workshop piece.
The keynote speakers were absolutely fabulous. Sharon Creech--well, Sharon Creech! As she pointed out, it is all about "the words we choose to say." But what I will remember most is this: "It's a matter of discovering what is already in you--finding the words for those things" or finding the words and exploring the words until the story arrives." If I'd had those words thirty years ago, things might have been different. I'm not saying better, because I'm in a very good place right now, but they would have been different.
Those words also resonated with the other keynote speaker, Grace Lin. As Grace shared the story of how she grew from being a girl who loved to draw into a classically trained artist who had to return to her family's roots in Asia before she found an artistic home, I recognized my own long journey through academia until now, I am writing about what I have known all along.
I also did a fun workshop on graphic novels with Ed Briant. Tip: The latest version of Scrivener has a graphic novel format. This is something I want to play with more, sometime down the road.
The weekend closed for me with an amazing workshop on identifying the right agents for you. Lynda Mullaly Hunt seriously rocks, people. I now feel well-prepared to look for the right agent. Major take-away: "How many books do you read 15 times a year?" That's how many times an editor will read your book and why it's so important that they love it as much as you do.
I didn't participate in as many workshops as I have in the past, because I've learned to pace myself (and, okay, because I had some revisions to make on my CT), but I did have time for meals with old friends and new. There was lots of catching up.
One of the reasons I am most glad I went to this conference this year is that joknowles was presented with her Crystal Kite award at lunch on Saturday. I'm glad because, not only do I know and admire Jo, but her acceptance speech caught what happens at NE-SCBWI, and why we go, year after year. The first year I attended, I'm not sure I knew anyone. But people were welcoming, and now, it feels like I know so many people.
(Jeannine & Jo post-Crystal Kite Award)
This is a place I go to fill the creative and craft well, but also to be reminded once more what a supportive and generous group writers and illustrators for children are.
- Current Mood: grateful
This week, even as I'm devastated by what happened in Boston, I do have much to be thankful for.
My daughter is now a paid intern at Skyhorse Publishing. She interviewed a couple weeks ago and received the good news Monday morning.
My daughter's BFF from middle & high school, who lived with us for over a year, has been accepted at the local state college. She also received that good news Monday.
I heard from both of them within the space of an hour. I could not have been happier.
I would have been thrilled anyway, but for both of them, these successes came at the end of a long process. My daughter has been in New York, applying for jobs, since last summer. Her friend has been trying to get back into college for at least three years and has been thwarted largely by bureaucratic stipulations that didn't take her personal situation into consideration.
So I am extra thrilled for Lydia and Kiki because of the persistence they demonstrated. They kept faith with their dreams and goals. They are remarkable for that and I am so glad I know them.
They remind me of this post:
It does come down to desire, deep desire that gives us the faith to keep on trying.
What are you grateful for this week, difficult as it has been?
Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.
Hugs to everyone who posted congratulations here. , olmue, robinellen, stephanieburgis, kellyrfineman, and Lisa Papademetriou, that means you.
I know I've neglected this journal since I started the MFA. It hasn't been intentional, but as you all now, sometimes life gets crazy, even when it's crazy good. Thanks for sticking with me.
I am so deeply grateful for the recognition this manuscript has received, particularly since Stefan is a guy who isn't always seen, either in literature or in the world as a whole.
I am equally thrilled and honored and jumping up and down that the other winner is none other than Anna Boll, a VCFA alum, who was one of my fellow Novel Writing Retreat attendees this past year.
We will be celebrating with a reading of our work at the Discovery Evening at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. If you want details on how to attend, leave a message in the comments and I'll send details.
Most of all, I am thrilled that THREE MINUTES THIRTY is getting such attention. This is the same novel I received the Norma Fox Mazer for, and to have such recognition for this story is so affirming. I took risks that at times felt like stepping onto a high wire (not that I ever have done that) and I held my breath for fear of falling as I inched my way along, but now that I've reached the other platform--Whahoo!!!
Like the man said, "you've got to
As I have learned at VCFA, you also have to
It's a variation on the tried-and-true stopping work in the middle of a sentence or after writing the first sentence of the next chapter.
I read through the scene I would be revising next, thought about how it needed to relate to theme and character and all those things we think about when we are revising, and then I made notes, telling myself what the point of the scene was and indicating places where, for example, the topic of a conversation had to be changed. In one or two places, I wrote the start of possible dialogue, so that I would remember what I was thinking. In total, I had maybe five or six lines of directions for a five-page scene.
I walked away knowing more or less what I was going to do today. When I returned today, those notes were a huge help, as were the fragments of dialogue. It still took me a while to get into things, because three days is a long time to be away from a manuscript, but it didn't take as long as it would have without those notes. The scene is revised, and is much stronger than the original, and in the process I discovered a way to make a sub-plot make more sense (character motivation was key).
As for the diversion--this past weekend was the Vermont State Odyssey of the Mind Tournament. Friday afternoon we set up for Saturday's tournament. The tournament itself is always great fun--the students are enthusiastic, creative, and in many cases deeply talented and it's always interesting to see the variety of solutions they come up with for their chosen problem. This year, for the second year in a row, I was working the theatrical problem, which is one of my favorites (tied with the classical problem). If you want to see exactly what the challenge was, go to Problem 5 here. The judging team this year was about half parents and half college students earning credit toward a developmental psychology course.
There was one amusing incident, when we were talking with one team after their performance. They had used a lot of social media jargon, (BTW, hashtag), and had even made up an internet acronym of their own that might catch on(WAYAWAYD=Who are You and What Are You Doing). They said to the college students, "We are so glad there are young people here, because we were afraid the judges would be too old to know stuff like BTW and hashtag." Me=ROFL.
But as much fun as it is, it is also exhausting. It usually takes me a full day to recover, and yesterday was no exception. On the other hand, I am as inspired as I am exhausted. After all, these kids are my future audience.
What's your favorite revision trick? Or should I say WYFRT?
I have just started to revise. My first draft was finished in November, which means it has been in hibernation for a few months.
Over the weekend, between listening to wonderful talks by authors Julie Berry, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Lauren Myracle, and editor Andrea Tompa, I dug in and just about met my goals. That I didn't quite meet them says more about my continuing struggle to set realistic goals--I always, always, always think I should be able to do that ten-percent-ish more than I can actually, realistically do.
But I did make great progress, and much of that has to do with the synergy that happened over the weekend.
Thanks to Julie Berry's advice, I quieted my mind and looked for ways to visualize each scene, even as I thought about its purpose.
Thanks to Cynthia Leitich Smith, I have extended my understanding of Andrew Stanton's concept of 2+2, thinking about the ways that having to work for understanding can be attractive on multiple levels.
Thanks to Lauren Myracle--and her writer friend Jen Lynn Barnes--I have a concrete way to understand reivision: "Taking the book to the next level. And there is always a next level."
And thanks to Andrea Tompa, I know I am not the only one who thinks of writing and revision as a sculptural process. She used woodcarving as an analogy, but I use marble--hence the icon. I choose marble, because of what Michelangelo said about revealing the sculpture trapped in the block of marble.
For me, the rough draft is the process of making that block.
Now it's time to do some sculpting.
Clearly the road to that far, far warmer dominion, filled with pitchforks and unpleasantness, is paved with good intentions. The last six weeks have been consumed, almost literally, by work on The Dread Critical Thesis. (I started to think of it as like the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride, leaving me each night with the thought, "I'll most likely kill you in the morning.")
There was planning, aka outlining, which is very much not work I am good at, hence the office supplies.
There was a first draft. You know what Anne Lamotte says about first drafts? Well, that goes for critical theses, too. Squared. Maybe even cubed.
More outlining followed. This time, I made progress because one of my colleagues said something about index cards, which I have started using for creative brainstorming, and---
Okay. The index cards were not a miracle cure. But they were a huge step in the direction of progress. Once I had played a day's worth of index card solitaire, in the name of outlining, I had enough to type up an actual outline.
That outline worked to a certain extent. When it stopped working, I had to go back to the index cards for a few more hands of solitaire, until I'd figured out that snag. Then back to the writing. Back to the cards. In the process, here's what I discovered. We talk a lot about structure in fiction (at least that's what's going on in my writing world at the moment). However, there is also structure in something like the Dread Critical Thesis. It's not as predictable as the narrative structure that rises to a crisis, whether you're talking McKee or Aristotle, which is why, I think, it's tough to write. Each of us has to find the best way to organize our material. But it is structure, nonetheless. Once I found the right one, the writing was much easier.
And of course, there's the delight of making discoveries along the way. That, by the way, is the real reason to write a critical thesis or any critical essay. They're such good ways of finding out how stories work. The Dread Critical Thesis isn't finished, but at the moment it is with my advisor. That gives me time to gain some welcome perspective.
And how is your writing going?
Monday afternoon the program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts announced its scholarship awards. Members of my class, the Magic Ifs, received several honors and awards and I was so, so pleased for all of them, because I knew how hard they had worked.
The last award of the day was the Norma Fox Mazer, which is awarded for the first twenty pages, plus synopsis, of a young adult novel.
Martine Leavitt presented the award on behalf of the committee of three. She said wonderfully complimentary things about the manuscript, which included something like "in the spirit of Norma Fox Mazer," and some specific details that I no longer remember because when Martine said, "The Norma Fox Mazer award goes to Katherine Quimby," all coherent thought vanished from what was not really a mind at that moment.
What I do remember:
- Feeling stunned in the best possible way. For all the good things that have happened in my life, I did not know it was possible to be this overwhelmed and overjoyed. It was a Sally Field moment.
- The warmth and kindness in Martine's smile, like she knew how I felt, when I didn't quite know myself.
- The applause, the cheers, the sheer sound that filled College Chapel. WCYA people--your support will buoy me for the rest of my writing days.
- Needing to hug Tom Birdseye as a way of thanking him for being the advisor who made that award possible (more on that in a minute)
- Martine's hands guiding me so that someone could take a photo--I did not know where to look.
- My Magic(al) Ifs surrounding me with love when I finally got back to my seat and collapsed.
While I can't say that I knew Norma Fox Mazer, I did meet her, in 2006, when she and Carolyn Coman were the YA and Middle Grade author-faculty at the SCBWI New England Novel Writers' Retreat.
Kara LaReau came instead, which was how I met Kara--Yay!)
Norma Fox Mazer gave an inspiring presentation on structure, one that will come as no surprise to those of us now at VCFA, but which was a new concept to me at the time. I found my notes today, and they are as helpful--if more familiar--now as they were then. Here's one metaphor: "Structure is the bottle that holds the wine of the story together."
From my notes, from being in Norma Fox Mazer's presence, and from knowing the high esteem in which she is held by former students like Sarah Aronson and Martine Leavitt, I have a sense of her high standards and what she valued in writing. I am truly humbled at the thought that what I was working on last semester in some way measures up to those standards.
I had so many doubts about that project--about the story, about decisions I made about how to tell it, about my ability to tell it in the way it seemed to need to be told. The beauty of being in the MFA program was that I could share those doubts with my advisor, and Tom Birdseye, to his great credit, asked the right questions and, more importantly, encouraged me to keep going as long as I felt compelled to move forward with the story.
So I kept going, except for a week or so in October, when I went back and revised the first twenty pages and wrote the synopsis so that I could enter them for the scholarship award. And then, when I went back to drafting, it took me a long time to get back into the story. In my next packet letter, I wrote Tom that it might have been a mistake to go back. Let's just say, I no longer feel that way.
Receiving this award will make a difference to my work from here on out. It's not that all my doubts have completely vanished. I think, for me at least, a certain level of doubt, of self-doubt, of questioning, is helpful. It puts consideration of the story's needs first when I am writing. But the award does tell me that any doubts I had about the value of taking creative risks have diminished. From here out I will take those risks, knowing that if they work, it will be worth it--and if they don't, "all" I have to do is try something else.
I will also continue to listen to that inner voice when it says, "try this." And if it feels right, I will continue to keep going until I reach the end, or until it no longer feels right, whichever comes first. And if it stops feeling right, after two semesters of MFA work, I have more tools to figure out where it might have gone wrong and how I might be able to redirect.
I know I have much work to do to revise the rest of the manuscript that was recognized. It is work that I was going to do anyway, because this story has not let me go--I can feel it as an almost physical presence in the left half of my body. But receiving the Norma Fox Mazer award gives me that much more faith that I am capable of doing the work that is necessary.
Finally, I have to say, we do not achieve like this all by ourselves. Indeed, this work would not have existed at all if I had not had Tom Birdseye as my advisor. Going into second semester, I was considering at least four projects and I decided I would let the advisor I was matched with determine the project I would work on. Other possible projects were a fantasy I took to workshop and a completely different contemporary YA novel.
I may have done the work, but the revisions I made were done keeping in mind Tom's specific suggestions and questions about certain aspects of the work. Tom's interest in the project made me brave enough to dare to submit.
And HH's continued faith in my abilities and his support for my work, which extends to saying "Okay," when I announce immediately after the "I'm home" kiss that I need to go back up to my office for another half hour to finish something. If we achieve, it is because others have faith in us, sometimes when we doubt ourselves, faith that encourages us to put forth our best efforts.
One week after receiving the Norma Fox Mazer award, I am still amazed, but I am more focused--focused on continuing to take creative risks, to explore and expand my skills, to do my best work, to write in a way that honors an amazing author who left us too soon.
- Current Mood: accomplished
Zarr's post reminded me of something my VCFA advisor, Tom Birdseye, said in a lecture last residency: "We get to do this work." He meant it two ways--no one is making us sit down and write stories, and we are privileged, because we have the time and skills and desire, and not everyone has those things. At least for me, gratitude comes hand-in-hand with that privilege.
And I think that gratitude can keep us writing even when editors haven't loved one of our stories enough to want to invest in it, even when the rest of the world may look at us askance, because we have no product to show for our efforts.
I don't know about you, but I am deeply, profoundly grateful that I get to write stories. I've always loved books and reading and I knew for years that I wanted to do something with books and stories, but the paths I tried--the ones that provided me with income, were never quite right. No matter what, I still had this core of dissatisfaction, this sense that there was something I was supposed to be doing, and the thing I was doing was not it. It wasn't until--in the middle of a deep, dark night that was a true deep, dark night of the soul--I allowed myself to want to be a writer, to want to write and tell stories, that dissatisfaction turned to satisfaction. At last, I felt that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, and I felt as right as I have ever felt.
There are many, many ways to describe that feeling: a calling, chakras in alignment, taking the hero's journey. It doesn't matter what the name is, all I know is that I am so grateful to have that feeling, because I could have gone a lifetime without ever finding it.
So yes, gratitude keeps romance alive.
The passing of Dave Brubeck saddens me, even if 91 years is a long time to live. As everyone commemorated his passing, I couldn't help but be reminded of what we writers can learn from the jazz greats, who mastered their craft until they didn't have to think about craft but could springboard from the basics in whatever direction inspiration led.
In Brubeck's case, so often the direction was toward joy.
Over at The Atlantic, there's an excellent appreciation: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/a