Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday morning review

Since I posted about the Virginia Festival of the Book last week, I felt I should tell you all about it. I forgot to bring the camera, and I still haven't figured out how to get pictures off my phone, so if you need pictures, you'll have to visit the festival website and see the official ones.

Friday evening Sarah and I went to Sweet Reads, the dessert reception to honor Ashley Bryan and meet all the children's authors participating in the festival. Fran Slayton and her friends at the Charlottesville Catholic School did an incredible job coordinating the event.

I bought a couple of books, chatted with some librarians from other branches in our system, and caught up with a few SCBWI folks. Ellen Braaf, our SCBWI Regional Advisor, made the trip from northern Virginia. We always enjoy seeing her. I talked with local authors Kathy May, Kathryn Erskine, Anne Marie Pace, and Fran. Several of the Slushies have taken Kathy May's class on writing for children, and she always is so encouraging, even though it's been awhile since I was her student. Sarah and I are super excited for Kathy Erskine, because she's going to be on the faculty at Chautauqua this summer. How cool is that?

The focus of the evening was the presentation for Ashley Bryan. Fran listed a few of his many accomplishments in children's literature, and Nikki Giovanni and Kekla Magoon, who both know him well, spoke about him. Then Mr. Bryan rolled up his sleeves and did what he does best--poetry. He did a recitation where he walked among the children on the floor, and then had them repeat back his lines. His warmth and humor were wonderful.

Afterward, people had an opportunity to meet all the authors. With 29 of them there, there weren't even long lines to get books signed. I had a special request to ask Jacqueline Kelly to sign several copies of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate for me, and she generously agreed.

Saturday morning, Sarah and I met our friend and blog follower Kristi, who had come in with her husband from Richmond for the day. After a few minutes catching up over coffee, we went to our separate panels. Sarah and I went to the one on picture books, featuring Jacqueline Jules, Kim Norman, Susan Stockdale, and Charlottesville's own Anne Marie Pace. Each of them talked a bit about how their books came to be.

Sarah and I walked to the next panel with Kristi, Adam, and Ellen Braaf. We had a beautiful sunny day to stroll over to the Village School, where five YA authors read from their books. The panel featured John Connolly, Jacqueline Kelly, Valerie Patterson, Tammar Stein, and Steve Watkins. Each of their books was very different, and not a vampire or werewolf in sight!

Sarah had to leave right after that. I had lunch with Kristi and Adam, and then we went to the second half of the first pages critique panel featuring the Mosely Writers. We all felt their critiques were kinder and gentler than those we've seen at other conferences. I realized that those panels are usually editors and agents. I think the difference is that a writer has been on the other side of that very public critique, and an editor's job is to really push to get the best work out of someone.

By the time that panel ended, I was ready to go home. I visited with a few folks in the lobby of the Omni before I left. All in all, a great day at the festival.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's that time of year again

Around here, a sure sign of spring is the Virginia Festival of the Book. If you've been following us for a while, you'll remember that the Slushbusters usually try to meet up and go to some of the events as a group. While the festival lasts five days, we do have jobs and families and other obligations, so we generally make Saturday our big festival day.

This year, there's a Friday night event we're going to. If you're in the area, and you haven't heard about it yet, (which is hard for me to believe, because those of you in Charlottesville are usually pretty aware of this stuff) check it out! All the children's and YA authors attending the festival will gather to honor Ashley Bryan, eat dessert and sign books. What more could you want in an evening?

There are several other events geared toward children's authors. Saturday morning, there will be a panel on Picture Books. Saturday at noon we'll have to choose between panels on writing historical fiction for kids and books for young adults. Why do they always schedule two things I want to attend at the same time?

There are more events on publishing and book signings and speakers and the book fair. It's impossible to get to everything. Especially since this is also a time when we get to catch up with some of our writer friends who will be in town from Richmond, Northern Virginia, and elsewhere. If you'll be around, let us know. We'd love to meet up.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Clearing, freshening, changing

This morning I've been working on critiques to the sound of men talking about everything from where to get a good sandwich to the Charlie Sheen interview on TV. Punctuate that with a very squeeeaaky paint roller, the metallic creaks and clacks of boots on ladders, and the scent of fresh paint, and you have my morning.

We're planning to move. Not far, just to a different neighborhood. So we're having some work done on the house to get it ready to sell. And in the middle of it all, I've been packing. Clearing out closets to be painted. Donating stuff we don't want or need anymore. Putting our extraneous clutter into a storage unit, so the house will look clean and fresh and more spacious for showing.

All this has taken a lot of time away from my writing. That's okay, though. Although I'm compulsively creative, and need to make something every day in order to feel right with the world, sometimes it doesn't matter what that something is. I've never been one of those writers who must write every day. When I'm in a good place with a project, I have decent self-discipline, and will sit down and produce. Other times, I can go months without writing, and put my energies into something else. I always return to the writing. At best, I get some distance from my project. At worst, I have an excuse for procrastinating. This is the beauty of working without externally imposed deadlines.

So in the middle of all this chaos, what lessons can I take that I can apply to writing?

Editing is good. Whether it's your coat closet or your book, get rid of the stuff you don't need. I know we all know this, but a reminder never hurts.

Sometimes you need a change. It may be as small as a fresh coat of paint, or as significant as a new office window overlooking a new neighborhood.

Eavesdropping is fun. Most of the conversation in the background of my world today has been about what to do when, the order in which they're going to do things. Ceiling first in the living room. Drywall taping in the hall. In between, the dangers of cigarettes and too much diet soda.

Earplugs are useful. I got this one from Sarah. She wore them on one of our trips to a conference, and wasn't awakened at all by the noise in the hall of our hotel. I took a page from her book and used some this morning when I was trying to read and critique through all the background noise. Entertaining as eavesdropping is, it doesn't get the critiques done.

Mostly right now, I'm grateful that my office is one part of the house that doesn't need work. Yes, I cleaned out the closet in here too, but at least I can be in here and not feel like I'm getting in anyone's way. It's an odd feeling to be in some stranger's way in your own house.