Thursday, July 29, 2010

A sign?

Last week when I was at Chautauqua and having all that trouble printing, I made a mistake. I was frustrated, trying to add printers, change default printers, and generally do whatever it took just to get something, anything, to hand in. While trying to print a chapter outline that my mentor had requested, I left several jobs in the print queue for my printer at home. Which, in my rush, I totally forgot about. So this week, when I went to print out some Slushbusters critiques for our meeting, guess what happened? Yup. I now have multiple copies of said chapter outline.

The most important information I got last week about my manuscript was to spend more time looking at the big picture. My mentor helped me see that my plot needs some work. Theme is clear, characters are pretty good, voice is good. Plot. Needs. Help. I was told that this is the fun part. Boy, I sure hope so! Regarding it as the fun part is way better than thinking of it as more work I have yet to do on this manuscript I've been working on for over three years.

I had been considering marking up my hard copy of the manuscript. I'm not a pen-in-hand kind of reviser. I'm more of a read-it-on-the-screen-and-delete girl. Now that I have on my desk all these copies of the very outline I need to revise, I'm thinking it might be a sign.

Tomorrow, the red pen and I have a date with at least one of those copies.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Remember those people I mentioned the other day?

One of them is our new buddy and Chautauqua Inn-mate (not inmate!) Nora Macfarlane, who deftly summarized our week on her blog. Last Monday morning at breakfast, we were told to write down the names of all the books the faculty mentioned in their presentations. I did, but haven't yet typed them up into a list to work from. Nora has.

I spent much of the day yesterday readjusting to the real world. You know, the one where there is no breakfast buffet. So sad. But there is air conditioning, and for that I am grateful.

This morning was all about critiques for tomorrow night's Slushbusters meeting. I already see where the things I learned at Chautauqua are coming up. I just hope my fellow Slushies will take my notes well, because I have far more of them than usual! I feel all editor-y. Now I want to go and work on my own book!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I Write Like....

Someone I know recently sent me to this website, I Write Like….

You enter in a sample of your writing and the site tells you what famous writer you most write like.

I’m not to willing to swear on this site or attest to its accuracy. But I thought it would be fun and possibly enlightening…

I entered 8 different writing samples of my own writing -- pretty diverse choices.

Apparently I Write Like:

George Orwell
Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow
James Joyce
Kurt Vonnegut
Cory Doctorow
Robert Louis Stevenson
Cory Doctorow

Well, obviously I’d better go and read some Cory Doctorow…or maybe I’ll go type in some Jane Austen to that site and see what happens…..bruhahahhhahahhaa…..

Check it out and let us know who YOU write like…..

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Humming in my head

No, it isn't music, although Chautauqua has plenty of that. It's the buzz of all the words heard, read and written over the past week. I'm going to take a few days to process and look at my notes. When the background noise quiets, I'll find the best bits of what we learned at Chautauqua and share them with you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A different kind of goal

One of my goals at Chautauqua has been to talk to a lot of different people. I am a chatty person, but usually in a large group like this, I tend to meet a few people the first day, and they become my group. That hasn't happened here.

There are roughly a hundred attendees and around 20 faculty at the workshop. My goal coming in was to meet and have a conversation with at least half of each. I'm defining conversation as the give and take, "Where are you from, what do you write, what do you do when you're not writing," variety over just saying hello. If I ate a meal with someone, sat next to them at a workshop, or walked with them from place to place, and had a chat, that counts.

We have a booklet with everyone's photo and a brief bio. I love that. It gives me a kind of checklist to work from. I'm just about at my goal, too. I may have surpassed it. I haven't counted people yet today.

Sarah and I sat together at the first couple of meals after we got here. By mid-morning Sunday, we were both okay with splitting up and doing our own thing for a while. Later that day, Becky from Texas saw me at dinner and asked where Sarah was. She was surprised we weren't joined at the hip. But that's cool.

Most of our new friends know we came here together, but we've each met a few folks the other hasn't. And that's great. Because as important as all the writing is, the people are even more so. We may find new beta readers or blog followers. In fact, I'm sure we will. I know there are at least a handful of people I plan to stay in touch with. So, new friends, if you're here, hi. I'm glad I met you.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The library

This is the library, taken from the center of Bestor Plaza. I had no intention of going there today. But in the grand tradition of libraries, they helped me when no one else could.

Our opening session today was presented by Patti Gauch. She read from a number of wonderful books, giving us the common theme of "a catch in your breath." We were excited to see Kathy Erskine's Mockingbird up on the dais. It was the last book Patti read from, and I actually heard a couple of gasps from the audience. Listening to Patti read made me want to lie on my stomach on the floor, propped up on my elbows, chin in hand, and listen. I didn't. I stayed in my chair.

We had about an hour and a half free after that, and I wanted to print my work from last night to give my faculty reader time with it before our meeting tomorrow.

I went to the business center. Unfortunately, they don't have wireless printing. More unfortunately, I forgot my flash drive. No problem, I think. I can email my work to myself from my laptop, open it on their desktop, and print it. But the internet was down. I asked if I could connect directly to their printer. Nope. The young woman helping me apologized. I felt worse for her than for myself. She sent me to the library.

For once, I was on the patron side of the desk, repeatedly going up and reporting my computer's various error messages as I tried to log in to their wireless system, tried to add their printer. I had to download a driver. Reset my default printer. Check the time...getting close to lunch. Really want to get this done, no more time until late in the day.

Finally, I got it printed! Wonderful, wonderful library. New system for me, same summer reading posters as at home. Thank you, Chautauqua librarians.

Sarah just headed over there to print her work. Cross your fingers that she gets it printed before the bus leaves for dinner!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Photo of the day

This is the Hall of Christ building, where most of the Highlights workshops take place. We get our lunch in the basement, too. All those folks you see are our new writing buddies.

Too busy to say much, but

I know some of you are curious. Sarah and I both had our first manuscript critiques today. Juanita Havill is my faculty reader. She couldn't be nicer, and even though I have things I need to work on, her manner of delivery was very gentle.

I got a little time to come back to the inn and write. I love that this laptop has a button to turn off the internet altogether! I sat on the balcony at the back of the house, overlooking the lake, and worked on a new outline while listening to the rain. That was literally the only rain we've had since we woke up this morning, so the timing couldn't have been better. It was clear out during all the times we had to walk between activities.

This afternoon we attended three fantastic workshop sessions. More on those later, when I have more time. I see from my perch on the front balcony that some of our new friends are heading out to dinner. I'd better go look for Sarah...


Boy, are those Spinellis smart.

We had a barbecue today, and while everything was being prepared, Jerry and Eileen Spinelli talked to us. (How amazing is that!!!!) They asked each other the questions they hear most often and then answered them.

My favorite takeaway was about ideas. You know I hate the concept of ideas equaling stories. I am convinced that good books are all about the execution of an idea- not the idea itself.

However, Eileen made an excellent point about why new authors especially focus on finding ideas. It isn't that they don't have ideas.

It's that they don't trust them. They're not sure it's a good idea. They're not sure it's grand enough. But Eileen said writing is not a case of capturing grand ideas so much as "the ability to pull the grandness up out of an ordinary day."

So take a second look at a few ideas that you have. Maybe they're ideas for new stories, or maybe they're ideas about how to make your current work in progress better. But give them a chance. Give them something cool to drink and sit down and chat a while. You might discover your ideas aren't so bad after all.

Let us know: how do you treat your ideas? What do you do with them? Have you found it easier to trust yourself the more you write?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Books! Banquet.

I wanted to upload a picture of the books we got in our bags, but for some reason, it keeps coming up sideways. No idea why. It's the right way up in the folder on my desktop. I've tried six times to flip it. This will have to do for now.

We enjoyed meeting many of the other attendees last night at the opening banquet. Patti Gauch was the faculty member at our table, and she and her husband Ron were very friendly. Donna Jo Napoli gave the speech, and was very motivational. We met a few people we'd talked to on the chat boards before we came, and now we're about to head out to brunch and meet some more.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Road, and the end of it.

Six am. That's what time Sarah arrived to pick me up this morning. I was ready, and we got on the road. It was an uneventful trip overall. At lunchtime, we were somewhere in Pennsylvania, just approaching Interstate 80, when I consulted the GPS.

"Look, there's a Denny's, just about two miles off the highway," I said.

"Great!" Sarah followed the directions.

We found ourselves in a residential neighborhood. The GPS said, "Recalculating," as we missed our turn.

I looked at all the run-down, wood-sided houses in need of a good paint job. "This doesn't look like a place where they'd build a Denny's.". Sure enough, there was a Denny's. But not the chain restaurant.

It was a biker joint. And pretty full for 11:30 on a Saturday. We decided to risk it. Good sandwiches, friendly service. A million choices of appetizers. What more could you ask for?

By 3:30 we were here. We met the infamous Roger, who we've been chatting with on the discussion board for weeks. He directed us to where we could leave our bags, and we headed inside for a brief orientation. Then, packed book bags in hand, we went to park the car. After a longish walk to the Chautauqua Inn, we're having a rest while we wait for the luggage to arrive. I hope it gets here soon. We want to leave for the Opening Banquet in about an hour. Meanwhile, I'm sitting on the balcony outside our room, enjoying the breeze. This is what it looks like from where I sit.

And we're off

As of this posting, Sarah and I are on our way to Chautauqua for the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop. We'll post as often as we can during the week. From the looks of the itinerary they sent us, we're going to be very busy, so I may just put up a few photos to give you the general idea, and then sit down and write more when we get back. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Getting to know you

One of the cool things about this whole process of preparing to go to Chautauqua has been their process of getting to know us. They sent us a two page questionnaire a couple of months ago. It had the basics of where we went to school and stuff like that, but also a few great questions to help them get to know who we are. They then used that to match us with our faculty mentors, and to create a brief bio of each of the attendees, so we can get to know each other and identify folks we share common interests with.

My favorite question they asked was who is our favorite character in children's literature and why. I hadn't considered this before, but it's very telling. We all want to create characters that readers will relate to, but it's the characters we've read that inspire us, and likely brought us to this place to begin with.

I came to my answer pretty quickly. I chose Claudia Kincaid, the heroine of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. She's practical. She's a planner. She wants to be appreciated, and she's willing to go the distance to earn that. She wants to run away from home, but she's not willing to give up comfort to do so, and finds a way to make that work for her. She also wants to make a difference. And perhaps most importantly, she immediately recognizes that she can't do it all herself. She knows where her own weaknesses lie, and enlists her brother Jamie to help her with the aspects of her plan she can't handle herself, mainly money.

Do you have a favorite character in children's literature? Who and why?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thank you.

Thanks to any of you who took the time to vote for the Harry Potter Alliance in the Chase Community Giving. They won! I can't wait to see what they can accomplish with $250K.

And it all started with a book. You never know what lives your characters will go on to lead once they leave you.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Packing for preparedness

I've started packing for Chautauqua. (Stop laughing, Slushies!) Today was my last day off until we go. I didn't pack my clothes or anything, but there's so much I want to take that I'm prepping a few different bags.

I organized my new, smaller laptop bag with a notebook, pens, and a couple of books I'd like to have signed. I put together my knitting project for the car trip. I like to make a little kit with everything in one place: yarn and needles of course, but also the pattern (cabled socks), some safety pins, a crochet hook (for dropped stitches), scissors, tape measure, post-its for keeping track of where I am on the pattern, and also some beads, because this pattern has a few beads in it. I packed my mini-pharmacy: cough drops, ibuprofen, bandaids, small tube of sunblock, all those things you never know if you'll need, and I like to keep on hand.

I haven't earned the title of "Our Lady of Perpetual Preparedness" for nothing. You have to keep earning a title like that year after year, on road trip after road trip. And no, I don't bring a huge bag. Just a small sampling of a lot of stuff. My purse is like Mary Poppins' carpetbag. Ask anyone. Although, I've yet to figure out how to get a floor lamp in there. The best I can do is a small flashlight.

For once, I'm not worried about maps. Sarah went to AAA and she's got that covered. Plus, we're bringing the GPS.

And if you haven't voted yet for the Harry Potter Alliance in the Chase Community Giving, please do. The link is still over there on the right margin. These guys work really hard for a lot of great causes. They were still in first place the last time I checked, but the second place organization has made a huge comeback over the weekend. You have until midnight Monday to get a vote in. Thanks!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Harry Potter and Helping Out

I'm in the middle of a summer cold, and I'm not feeling inspired to write anything original today. But I wanted to mention something where you, the kidlit community, can help out. It only takes a moment, and the results could be big.

Back in February and March I told you about the Harry Potter Alliance. They raised enough money for Haiti to send not three, but five airplanes full of supplies. They collect books do donate to kids around the world. They use children's literature as inspiration to work for positive changes. And they've got the support of many folks in the children's literature community, including J.K. Rowling herself.

They need more help. This is an easy one. Chase Community Giving is donating $250K to the organization with the most votes. Currently, HPA is in first place. I'm hoping you, the members of the kidlit community, keep it that way. The deadline to vote is July 12. You can get all the information here. I'll keep the link up over there in the margin until voting is completed.

And beginning today at noon EDT, if you can, head over to their livestream. They've got a super secret plan in the works.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

This has helped me...

I'm in the middle of huge revisions on my MS. I've lots of time to work now that school is out.

But more important than that, I have a deadline. I applied to be part of the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Program participants are matched with a mentor who will work with them for six months (six months!) to get their MS on track.

I'll know by August 1 if I've been accepted. If I am accepted, I'll have to send my mentor my MS within a week of the notification.

So, I've been hauling though my MS, revising the new second half that I wrote last year. This is not a pruning, polishing sort of revision. This is digging in, up to my elbows, so I can extract gems from the rough draft and arrange them in some sort of compelling order.

I'm halfway through, but it's been exhausting work. Several times I've finished revising a chapter and not been able to tell whether it's been an improvement. I'd lost my vision, which is a big part of revision (six letters, by my count).

My tendency is to push on through, to show the MS who's boss, but Steph mentioned a piece of advice that Alisha Niehaus gave her: if a scene is giving you trouble, write a few scenes past it, and then come back to it.

Yes, it is ridiculously simple, but it has been saving my bleary-eyed self. When I get tired, I lose perspective of what's working, what's necessary. Every time I've worked a few scenes ahead, it's given me a better idea of what needs to happen to set up the scene I've moved ahead to. Then I'm able to return to the difficult scene, weed out the unnecessary, and emphasize what's working.

So, for those of you who are working hard, who (like me!) will be as pale at the end of this summer as you were at the beginning, consider skipping ahead when you hit a wall. I'd also love to hear any other tips you might have for tackling a difficult stretch of writing.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Camp 3 (Sunday morning) at the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Novel Revision Retreat

We woke early in the Big Meadows campground despite our late night s’more party (lol! ended by 10 PM). The clouds hugged the Blue Ridge Mountains, or so we thought. Within half an hour the sky was clearing and the day turned sunny.

Over breakfast we talked about what a great party it had been. Though only three of the participants at our writing retreat attended, among them was Alisha Niehaus, Senior Editor from Dial Books for Young Readers.

In her Last Chapter session, Alisha mentioned the standard elements of tying up the narrative and emotional arcs. But also how authors can create a little mystery by opening doors for their characters in the final chapter. This engages the reader’s imagination at guessing what will happen next. Alisha suggests your think of the last chapter as a playground where you and the reader can have a little fun.

Other tidbits gleaned from Alisha on writing: salt heavily with pungent verbs and lightly with peppery adjectives, coming of age is often your focus, and your plot should move the characters through their emotional arc by building events and challenges.

I was very glad I attended the retreat and would recommend it. But I personally suggest you camp. It adds flavor to the retreat.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Camp 2 (Saturday afternoon) at the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Novel Revision Retreat

My two fellow campers and myself sat through the downpour, happily dry in the Big Meadow Lodge but with worries about our campsite. The storm tracked along the Blue Ridge Mountains and put it directly over our tents which were comfortably snuggled among the trees of the Shenandoah National Park. But who could pull themselves away from the second craft session on First Chapters to the futile task of saving our camp? Our tents were staked down, so no threat of Wizard the Oz II. Fellow Slushbuster Stephanie, the engineer amongst us, had strung up a tarp over our picnic table the day before. It withstood a very windy night so we hoped it could survive this summer thunderstorm.

Again Alisha Niehaus, Senior Editor from Dial Books for Young Readers led the session. Her advice on what needs to be in your first chapter came in three pitches: show who the characters are emotionally, plant a seed of where the plot will take the reader and create a clear and unique voice. Hit all three and you’ll have the bases loaded.

On the matter of voice, she described it as heart, made from melding together the voices of the author and characters.

As examples Alisha used two novels she edited, showing the before and after rewrites. This was a real treat of the s’more variety. The two books were Savvy by Ingrid Law and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. Her edits included changes in plot to build more tension, scaling back characters so as not to overshadow the main character, creating other characters and, of course, grammar corrections.