Archive for July, 2008


It’s taken me the better part of a week to get re-acclimated to life at home. It’s so good to be with my family again, but there was the laundry and the putting-away-of-stuff and the ordering of more books and the reading of more books and the writing of novel notes that needed to be done.

Part of re-entry too has been helping get things done that were put on hold while I was gone and it’s all come together nicely. I finished two books this week – Alexie’s “Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and Leavitt’s “Kathura and Lord Death.” I haven’t blogged them on GoodReads yet (in fact, I’m sorely behind on entries there) but it’s safe to say I loved both books and learned much about writing for the YA audience.

The novel notes are coming along and I’ve worked out some glitches from the first draft and created some interesting changes for the new draft. It will be interesting to see what makes it on the page finally. I haven’t decided on my essay topics yet, but I suspect one will be on how magical environments/themes are introduced in novels and the other on the significance of community in fantasy novels.

I’m trying not to panic about how little I’ve actually written this week and trying to focus on what I have accomplished in the way of novel development. Time is coming, though, to stick to my chair and write. We’re easing into a routine at home which is helping and I’m looking forward to really digging in this weekend.


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Time to bid Montpelier farewell-for-now. I puttered most of the morning, tidying up my things and waiting for the taxi. It was thunderstorming off and on, but the taxi driver didn’t think it would delay flights. I had the good fortune to not only share a cab with two faculty but to see two more at the airport. I was feeling a bit bereft since the day previous I’d forgotten to say goodbye to all but one faculty member. They all taught me so much in the few days of the residency and I felt guilty for not expressing my gratitude before heading out.

Thunderstorms not withstanding, the day progressed very slowly as planes were delayed due to traffic over Boston. The delays were incremental and by the end of the day, I was three hours delayed. Thankfully Blessy was traveling on the same flights and we kept each other company between naps and reading. Really, though, the day was a complete blur punctuated by bone-tiredness and anxiety to get home.

My family picked me up sometime after midnight and we decided to stay in town overnight before heading home. Tired though I was, I really felt a longing to be in Vermont, trudging up the hill and attending lectures. What an incredible experience!

Class of 2010

Class of 2010

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The day started early with a lecture by Ellen Howard on Sacred Silence. A self-styled luddite, Howard eschews the use of technology whenever possible – she uses a typewriter (albeit with 1 page memory) and a copy machine. That’s it. No email, no internet, no cel phone.

She inhabits this space in order to give herself the best chance to write without distraction, and I’m thinking I will do similar, writing long-hand during the week and typing it up on the weekends. I’m not sure how long my hands will last, but I’m the first one to admit that when I’m stuck, it sure is easier to check my email (all three accounts), the forums (obsessively), and the news. If I’m really stressed there’s always Lolcats to view, YouTube flicks to watch, and blogs to skim. The idea of just sitting and dreaming and writing seems…unnerving.

I know I need to be more quiet, but I’m often unsettled by my thoughts as they bounce around telling me what I haven’t done and what I should be doing and what I’ve failed to do. I’ve been encouraged on several fronts to take up meditation, but I often fall asleep as a result. But learning how to wait and be patient – I can see the value of this.

Today was also the last workshop and I snapped pix of my workshopmates and tried to soak in their wisdom. After a quick lunch, I tried to catch up on …yep… my email, blogs, etc. skipping the Career Development Discussion and waiting for Graduation.

Watching the graduating class receive their diplomas and be recognized for their work was very inspiring. They’re a very cohesive group of writers, bonded at the hip and all bound to do great things in children’s literature. It’s amazing to think that in 2+ years that will be me.

The graduating class very graciously gave my class journals – spiffy ones made of old hardbound kids books. Most of my classmates got classic titles – Dr. Seuss and Dick and Jane. Me, I got “Tom Swift and His Space Solartron” (c) 1958, which looks like a cross between the Hardy Boys and Spaceman Spiff. It’s the perfect journal for me considering I started this whole writing thing with writing science fiction back in junior high. And it’s a terrific way to recycle old hardcover books! Interleaved with the blank pages are several pages from the actual book.

Opening line: “Calling Tom Swift! Power failure in the wind tunnel!”

Talk about immediacy, use of dialogue, and conflict revelation all in one!

Ending line: “Dare you to make a roast beef dinner with our skipper’s solartron!”

Apparently exclamation points are important too.

After the reception, most of my cohort headed to the main restaurant for NECI. We figured that if what we had been eating in the dorm was ‘first year’ food, then we deserved to know what ‘graduate food’ tasted like. I had a nice virgin strawberry daiquiri with a plate of mussels and a salad. Delish. Our group was too big to seat all at one table, so we were broken up over three tables. The discussions were lively but bittersweet with the knowledge that we wouldn’t be seeing each other for six months. But we were all very excited to get home and work on our first packets.

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Being assigned to Martine Leavitt and knowing that I would be able to work on my novel rejuvenated and inspired me in so many ways, not the least of which was finishing a long overdue project for Galatea Resurrects.

Eileen had sent me a copy of Bob Marcacci’s chapbook “Beijing Background” last year and it always found itself sinking to the bottom of my to-do pile. Determined to release as much energy as possible before delving into my first packet for Martine, I took the chap with me to read on the plane and somewhere in the middle of the residency, I wrote the review of Marcacci’s chap.

I figure it was a good warm-up for those critical essays I need to write.

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Day 10 Retrospective

I felt the end of the residency keenly today, taking time to ship some things home and generally catch up on last minute details for my departure in two days. I picked up gifts for family and a few more postcards (which are still unwritten), then managed to hoof it up the hill for Marion Dane Bauer’s lecture on POV and Psychic Distance. I feel pretty confident on my ability to figure out POV in a piece of writing, but it was a revelation that POV was a matter of choice for the writer, that the writer could set out to tell a story in a particular way by choosing the POV at the outset or changing the POV completely during revision. I’m an organic writer, letting the story unravel as I hear it in my head, but after Telling as a performer, I understand that stories do change depending on how you¬†manage the story landscape.

I hoofed it back down the hill to ship my package and grab a quick lunch of Chicken Ceasar salad. The waitress asked me if I wanted anchovies and I expected little dried bits to be sprinkled on top. I was delighted to see real anchovy filets on the chicken. Delicious and a treat to be sure. I hoofed it back up the hill (wondering if I’ve actually gotten in shape this past week) just in time for Margaret Bechard’s lecture on dialogue which ended in a lively discussion about the ending of Hemmingway’s Hills Like White Elephants. I’m not a Hemmingway fan (please, no stone throwing!), but I have to admit, the use of dialogue and space scenery really was effective… for it’s time period. I doubt a writer in current times could pull something like that off (at least not without a critic referring to the original Hemmingway), especially if they are in a workshop or critique group.

The intensity of last week has definitely tapered off and after lecture and dinner, I was back down the hill trying to cool off with my B&J shake and an excursion into online RP. The brain fry is evident as is the anxiousness to get home. Although there is a part of me that has grown accustomed to the pacing of my life, the ability to move where I want when I want while soaking up the wisdom of my writing elders.

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Tuesday’s lecture was at 8am, but it was one I was really looking forward too – Rita Williams-Garcia’s lecture on loss. She talked about everything from the losses sustained through copyediting to the catastrophic, unexpected loss of an entire manuscript by various means – fire, file failure, choice. She helped me understand that the niggling feeling of loss about the first draft of Maganda’s Comb originated in a feeling of guilt – I’d asked so many people to read it and comment on it, even paying a freelance editor to review it, yet I haven’t really looked at comments or worked on it in nearly a year. Inside I knew that the story needed to be reworked. Now I had found the courage to do the work and touched on the faith needed to know the story was still viable.

I skipped the grad lectures, unfortunately, feeling the need to catch up on my residency evaluations and write up my study plan. I was scheduled to meet with Martine over lunch, but while waiting for her, I got into an animated discussion with Rita about loss and first publication. We were having such an intense conversation, I completely missed that Martine had come into the building and ended up late for our meeting. Inside I was mortified, but Martine is a gracious, generous woman who was excited about my project and encouraging. She increased my modest proposal which included rewrites, to a full draft of the novel by semester’s end. She not only recommended books for me to read, but genuinely wanted to know about FilAm writing, asking for suggestions on what on my bibliography she should read.

I am tentative about all this – I’m coming into the program with very little experience in the subtleties of children’s writing – but she is so supportive, understanding not only the intuitive nature of my writing process but also my fears of inadequacy. She told me that I’m ‘twin-souled’ with passions in both childrens and nonfiction – and That’s Okay With Her. Being focused and directed has its advantages, but in the correct proportion and at the correct times. Otherwise, the creativity gets stifled. I love that she gets me so well.

I take the afternoon to hone my study plan and add more entries to my residency evaluation. We’re supposed to write an evaluation on each lecture, a minimum of 8, but I’ve attended the minimum and generally feel as though I need to put in a few extra. I don’t think I’ll write them all up though. My brain continues to be too full to process all the information adequately.

Grad student Lynn Acheson’s lecture on the retelling of fairy tales is particularly apt to my study plan and she provides such a plethora of information, I know I’ll need to ask her for a copy of it. Later, I get the chance to hear Louise Hawes (another fairytale writer!), Martine, and Tim Wynne-Jones read. Louise is hopeful that I’ll get the chance to work on my picture books with her and that’s a huge compliment in my book. I need to get the novel done, maybe even some supporting short stories, before I think the PBs will be cool enough to tackle in revision.

I’ve learned that letting a manuscript cool is a good thing – I’ve always been afraid that cooling meant ‘abandonment with denial’ – so I’m hopeful that when the time comes to revise the PBs, I’ll be ready to take on the comments provided to me during my workshop.

Later that evening, I had a nice chat with Sharon Darrow who had graduated from the MFA program also as a dual genre – Poetry and NonFiction. She, like Martine, assured me that my interest in two genres and even variance within those genres didn’t mean I lacked discipline necessarily. Sharon in fact pointed out that if she ever tried to divide her children’s from her adult writing that she would be less of an artist, much like being forced to favor one child over another.

Speaking of children, that evening I gave a reading of my poetry, my perhaps late-in-life child, the one I know least of all, but who seems to keep informing and enriching my writing. The reading went really well – I felt strong and capable – and I even had a chance to help with multivocal pieces created by one of my classmates. Tired but happy, I returned home feeling very full of words and creativity.

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Day 8 Retrospective

Martine Leavitt!

I get to work with Martine this semester! It all falls into place –¬† yesterday, my path could have gone in many different directions: picture books, historical fiction, urban fantasy. But with the selection of Martine as my advisor, there’s no question – urban fantasy. I’m thrilled beyond words! I started writing in the 8th grade because of my love of science fiction and fantasy, but could not find anyone to teach me how to approach the writing. I’ve spent years cobbling together skills to try and get to the writing of fantasy, but always felt I was missing something. Along with being a VCFA graduate and adult fiction writer, Martine specializes in the YA fantasy/mythic fiction genre.

I trotted up the hill anxious to meet with her formally and meet the other students in her group. Two other students are in my workshop group, one of them in my class. We bond happily. After scheduling individual conferences and planning rough outlines of our study plans, I head around to clear up unfinished bits about my financial aid and such. I’m still trying to figure out how the dual program works, but I think that I’ll attend two residencies/semesters in the Children’s program, then two residencies/semesters in the NonFiction program, then go back for a single semester and two residencies in Children’s. It’s going to be a bit mind bending to figure out which genre I’ll do my critical and creative theses. I know I’ll have more questions as time goes on.

I head downtown again with Addy and Blessy, knowing that will mean skipping lunch with the second semester students (who give tips on surviving packet-making) and the first lectures of the day. There’s a nice looseness, though, going downtown and looking for a new place to eat. We settle on Sarducci’s where I have a delicious bowl of red sauce pasta with mussles, scallops, and shrimp. I forgot to take pictures, but there were 7 of us at lunch together, comparing notes on advisors and semester plans. We’re all invigorated, finally feeling a sense of direction and purpose, something to finally work with.

That evening, I’m the first to step up to the podium for our class readings. It was an okay reading of an excerpt from my memior piece, but I didn’t feel terrific about it. I had planned on doing an excerpt from Yellow is for Luck, the YA short story I’d written, but we had a three minute time limit and I found myself editing the poor piece to death to get it to fit in the time allotted. I shouldn’t have done that because by the time the reading started, I’d worked the thing over so much, it felt all wrong. My classmates though are brilliant risk-takers tackling a variety of forms and topics. I’m very happy to be in their company, even for just two semesters.

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