Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Life, The Universe, and Everything

I promise to get back to my MFA experience, but I just have to blog on this. Since it's what we all go through.

So: I'm trying to write packet 2, under a tighter deadline (September 15). This means, the revisions of the 2 picture books, plus a new short story, plus reading, plus a revision of 20 pages of my middle grade...you get the picture...

Then there's the air conditioner leak in the ceiling; the electrical problem; the plumbing problem; the raccoon that wants to destroy my garden (and ripped through every fertilizer bag in my shed when the door was left open over night)...

Then there's the new computer I needed to buy but the old one wouldn't sync so I have to take both in to the repair shop so I can have a new one with my old stuff on it...

Then there's the new school year, where I have to home school my son in science, since they won't offer what he needs this year...

And I'm waiting for my edit letter, and my publication date is now 2010 (this is fine with me, because I have so much else to do that I'd feel really overwhelmed if it came right now) and I have a second novel to write! Plus one I'd like to write...

And we really need another car, since my son is now driving...

And, well, if I went on I'd just have to rant. I told my son not too long ago that my "to do" list was now so long, it was the one thing he was sure to inherit.

Okay, enough.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Packet One!

I was so delighted with Sarah's comments on my first packet! For one thing, she is amazing. She misses nothing, and works very hard to be honest while being nice (not an easy task, believe me).

But more importantly she confirmed something I've felt in my heart for a while: I need to trust myself more. When I feel really like I love something I write, even if my critic voice is nattering at me, I need to trust the gut. Sarah really liked the two stories I feel most closely attached to - the ones that other people either don't get or don't think are publishable - because, ultimately, if they work for me, they will work for others, too. I feel so liberated by her comments.

Something else I learned: free writing is a wonderful way to start writing. Literally, "free". Free the brain, the heart, the emotions. Then what is true and right seems to emerge.

What we all have to do in life - trust ourselves! Trust our instincts! Believe!

Gosh, I sound like a cheerleader!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Creative Non-fiction

It's been almost a week, because I've been very busy finishing my first packet. I turn it in over the weekend, to arrive in Sarah's inbox on Monday morning. And every time I look at what I've done I revise! Nothing, at least in this writer's world, is ever perfect.

But I want to continue with what I learned at VCFA. The next lecture I heard was given by Shelley Tanaka. When she showed her first slide I wanted to yell. My son had devoured her book on the Titanic when he was in 3rd grade. He was totally fascinated by the ship - and her book brought it alive for him. Wow! She is truly one of my heroes, because she was a life-saver for my non-reading son.

She talked about what works and what doesn't in creative non-fiction. What doesn't is drama. Creating scenes that never existed is risky, especially if the creation is solely to raise the dramatic stakes. Because there's plenty of drama in real life, if you look for it.

And look she does. She pursues facts like a Sherlock Holmes. Sourcing is critical, as is knowing what to choose to keep in and what to leave out. What she does is create a story arc that is fixed by facts.

By the time she finished her lecture, I was ready to run to my computer and write a piece of creative non-fiction! And, if you care about such things (and you should) there is always always a market for good creative non-fiction.

Friday, August 8, 2008


One of the lectures I attended at VCFA was presented by graduating student Lisa Doan, who addressed writing humor.

I find writing humor difficult. I think it takes a special personality to create believable humor. I also think it can't be forced. Lisa pointed out that it really comes from character - and this was a true "aha!" moment for me.

She talked about the character who has a "skewed world view" - that is, a character who spends time thwarting society's expectations. The further "out" the character becomes, the more we find that character's behavior funny (think "There's Something About Mary"). Lisa said:
"To invent a skewed world view, define society's view, define the exact opposite, then back it down into something workable."

Wow. I was really taken with her ideas (and there were many more like this one). Suddenly I totally got why I find The Wednesday Wars or Holes so funny. I expected one thing, and the opposite happened. Actually, and more importantly, the characters expected one thing, and the opposite happened.

So the next time you are working on humor, think "skew".

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The "Packet"

I thought I might put in a little about the packet - the monthly homework assignment that comes from our advisors at VCFA and pushes us on.

Before we left Vermont, we each met with our semester advisors and set up the contents of the first packet. Mine's due August 18, and needs to contain: 2-3 picture book manuscripts; a 10-book annotated bibliography; 2 critical essays on subjects that pertain to my own areas of weakness or curiosity; a letter to our advisor detailed what we've been working on and how it's going.

This work is in addition to anything else I might be working on - for example, I'm working on the first draft of a new middle grade novel, and any day now I'm expected my edits on Faithful.

There are lots of folks at VCFA with full-time jobs. They walk on water, as far as I'm concerned.

The thing I love about the packet/homework is that I do like deadlines. And the knowledge that someone who cares will be reading and commenting on my work. And that all of this effort will play into everything I do work on in the future. I find picture books hard to write, so being forced to write them will tighten my other writing.

I'm so happy to be part of this program.