Monthly Archives: November 2015

Processing Time

It is the takeaways that count. Yes, the atmosphere, the complextion of the group, the fealty to the idea of craft and craft at a high level definitely count. But it is what you can takeaway—apply, use, incorporate into your own writing that makes a retreat, a conference, a writing event more than a good one, but a great one.

Falling Leaves in upstate NY run by the regional team of Nancy Castaldo, Lois   Huey and Kyra Teis, falls into the great category. In part because I was not distracted by running the program, I was there to sit and to learn. I did.

It was also because the presentations which covered voice, character, tension, emotion and suspense came complete with writing exercises to draw more from the presenation than just notes, but  practice.

I’m a plotter. Before I even know the character I know the basic plot. Like: MC finds out that _____ is able to ____  and yet  saves the ____. I have a problem, some action and a solution. What I need is what Lisa Yoskowitz [Executive Editor, Little Brown Books for Young Readers] brought—Raising The Stakes–the conflict, the pacing and the suspense of getting to the solution. She talked about the ‘three sentence story‘ as a way to understand the problem, conflict and solution, i.e., Baby shoes. For Sale. Never Worn. The middle sentence sets up the suspense. Also being able to write this three sentence story is great for a pitch.

This complimented Ben Rosenthal’s [Senior Editor, Katherine Tegan Books] Revise with In-Tension, adding friction to the dialogue. Not ‘he opened the doors and walked in’,  but better ‘the door blew open as he rushed in’.  Ah. Adverbs and adjectives!

Cheryl Klein’s [Executive Editor, Arthur A. Levine Books] presentation Connecting With a Character was full of nuggets too numerous to mention. Her definition of the difference between MG and YA which revolves around home is of value. For a middle grade book–the ideal is to find family, friends and return home. For young adult–everything except home is what they want, to fight in a wider world.

Anne Heltzel’s  [Editor, Amulet Books] Let’s Talk About Voice, Baby was for me [I’m the plotter, remember] what comes later, I have to know the story– establish plot, tension, character, then to the actual voice. We know voice compels agents and editors to read on. I know voice is the character. But it is more. Voice equals style, consistency and authenticity, meaning that the character MUST have a distintive emotional arc changing from beginning to end.

Oh, and that emotional arc. You can have the voice, but if you don’t have the emotion to go with it, the character is not compeling. Jill Santopolo [Executive Editor, Philomel Books] brought the retreat to a close with The Emotional Connection. Jill was on the faculty of our 2014 spring retreat and presented on voice and it was a wonderful discussion of using word choices to discover what the character sounded like, that consistency and authenticity that Anne Heltzel talked about. In this talk she paired that idea with action rather than attribution in dialogue. ‘In story, every action has an emotion behind it. Some more obvious than others.’ We all get what it means when a kid rolls their eyes, or stands twirling a strand of hair.

It was hard to say where one talk began and the others ended, because it takes all these–and more–to make a good story. For me, the talkaways were not of my own writing, although we each received a critique of 20 pages of a mss by one of the editors. For me, like anything I do, I don’t want to be told where and when to change my story. It’s my story. I want the skills I can take to my character to discuss and develop a more complete, satisfying story with a protaganist I would have related to as a kid, with the tension to keep me up at 2 am reading, with a voice that would resonate in my head for a long time after I finished reading.

Present Time

In the south autumn is in November, maybe even mid November. Not so in the northeast. On the way up to Falling Leaves Retreat in Silver Bay, NY, we saw the world in various stages of preparation for the long winter nap. We traveled on Hwy 81, that runs up the western side of the Blue Ridge into Pennsylvania. We started out in dank and dreary weather, but soon were surrounded by waves of color–yellow, rust, bright red. Then suddenly the trees were sticks, pointing and reaching skyward, some brown, some black, some a dull silver. In those places it was desolation. Evergreens were the only relief. Then strangely back to the colors again as we continued up 81, across the New York Thruway. This is autumn, the time between summer and winter. The only season with two names.

IMG_1312The night before the retreat we stayed in Saratoga Springs. We were pleasantly surprised with a walkable downtown. Arty pieces in unsuspecting places on streets with nice restaurants, interesting niche shopping and bookstores. Leaves danced up and down the sidewalk. We found a lovely Italian restaurant that made limoncello martinis and an amazing eggplant appetizer. We knew adjacent Warrensburg from camping there summers when the girls were little. We were delighted with our venture into Saratoga Springs.

Friday dawned sunny and chill but with the promise of a great drive to Silver Bay and we were not disappointed. Stopping at Duffy’s in Lake George for a Philly Cheesesteak we saw the lake we knewIMG_1321 from years past. From Duffy’s up route 9N winding around Lake George into Hague we arrived at the retreat location. The road to Silver Bay YMCA dipped and turned and ended with a spectacular view of the IMG_1322northern section of Lake George, blue, calm, wide and probably freezing. The YMCA is a historical treasure of over one hundred years. It is simple, plain, basic. No TV…which was a disappointment to Tom… but with acres of walking trails and a porchIMG_1325 wide and inviting. I LOVE porches. The weather was accommodating, warm–for November– we were just 250 miles south of Montreal–clear, fresh from some rain, reminiscent of Ukraine’s Velvet Season. We sat and rocked and just enjoyed the view. 

IMG_1323The weekend was spent at the Watson Art Center. A single room with round tables and the warmth of participants gathered for one purpose–to listen, to discuss, to study, to be better at story telling. And the weekend did not disappoint.

Falling Leaves is an autumnal event. As I listened to the each editor’s presentation I was fascinated by the depth of information. I appreciated the breath of topics. The willingness of these editors to share. Autumn is a time to prepare, be ready. Falling Leaves did just that.

Transition Time

I was raised in southern California. Driving was compulsory. Driving was reality. I really really like to drive. So a lot of the time when I have a place to go, even if flying might be an option, I drive. So this week, Tom and I are driving to Lake George New York for the Falling Leaves Retreat. Seriously, you ask?  That’s four extra days out of your week. Two up, two back.

Why yes. Yes it is. And that’s a good thing.

The first couple of years Meghan was at Loyola of Maryland, she flew home. But then one trip home she came home by train. Yes, it was a longer trip for her. But you know what? She had a chance on the train to leave behind college and when she got off the train she was ready to be home.

That time on the train was time to make the transition from college life to home life.

For me, this drive to Lake George is transition time. I packed yesterday–yes, too much stuff–after all, the car does not check the weight of my suitcase. It was the beginning of my transition time, I had to concentrate on what would be happening this coming weekend, not thinking of what was going on at home, with my writing, with the puppies, with SCBWI Carolinas. Time to turn off email, Facebook, twitter–not that I’m huge on tweeting.

I love to multitask, although I think that I have lost a little of that edge from not doing it as  consistently and constantly as when we were raising the girls. But this isn’t about multitasking or about IS GOOGLE MAKING US STUPID?  When we multitask we don’t have the opportunity to go deep. That is like googling an answer and then thinking we are smart. But we aren’t. The article suggests that by such a cursory view of so much material we are changing the synapsis in our brains.

Personally, I like my brain, and I liked the way I could spend hours in the library researching my senior english essay for Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, or my high school senior thesis on World War II spies, or  my graduate thesis on Jacob Burckhardt  [and yes, lol, I’m linking to wikipedia]. I liked that level of concentration on a research subject. I liked that ability to synthesize information. And it’s hard to do with all the electronic and non-elecontronic bombarding us every minute.

This transition time, these two days each way, gives my brain a chance to reconnect, to think, to be ready to accept five presentations, a critique and a group critique at this retreat.

I like this transition time!