Archive for the ‘Backstory’ Category

Notes and Quotes

GwenW notes that letterboxers seek to manifest, through their hobby, their belief in the unseen but discoverable.

They enjoy puzzles and word-play. They’re comfortable taking risks outdoors, exploring new areas based on someone elses clues and encouragement. They want to leave their mark to show they’ve passed through this world. They want to know they are not alone on their adventures, they want to see who has gone before them, even if they never meet them in person.


The first draft of Maganda’s Comb was about predation and predators. This draft is shaping up to be about choices – knowing that choices are there, figuring out how to make the right choices, acting on choices, and living with the consequences of choice.


KelvinS notes that Choices must be thought through, then Movements must be acted upon. Often we Choose with our actions, without thinking, and allow Thinking to stop our actions….or something close to that. I’m still trying to figure it out… it’s about not overthinking actions, but thinking through choices and acting based on that choice.


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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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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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Day 7 Retrospective

Sunday lectures started at 8:15 am and I chose to attend the grad lecture on the use of light and movement to show time in stories. Nina Kidd gave a really good lecture and I got another breakthrough on the novel rewrite I’m contemplating. Patti Brown’s lecture on use of the Tarot for deepening character development was also good, extending those skills I have with tarot images and symbols to my writing process. Faculty member Martine Leavitt’s talk on time management basically boiled down to a lecture about distraction and it’s link to fear. By lunchtime, I was exhausted again, my brain filled with so many concepts and implications and possible changes to my writing.

Workshops have been enlightening but also challenging, my chronic fatigue making itself a nuisance as I’m trying to stay awake for my classmates. Chewing gum is the most effective way I’ve found to stay awake since not even guilt or a sense of professionalism is making it for me. Along with lectures, I try to make as many of the graduate creative readings as I can, seeing what topics and forms the other students tackle, and how expertly they are writing. This the most talented, disciplined, creative group of writers I’ve ever been around and on this particular day, I wonder if I can keep up with them, learn as well as they do.

Sarah Ellis’ lecture on fairy was excellent, getting back to the essence of Fae and pointing out that that to fairy, the human world is a skewed version of the fairy world. A lot of this lecture will affect the novel rework to be sure. In fact, I think this lecture that made me revisit the idea of reworking Maganda’s Comb as a YA novel, that a rework from a single POV might just be the thing to do.

I decide to go home early after our pizza party as a cohort. My brain is shutting down and I feel narcoleptic. I would have liked to stay on campus to find out who my advisor will be, but I ask instead if one of my classmates can drive me back to the Guest House and another classmate to email me my advisor if she notices.

When I got home that night, I call my family and watch Spaceballs. I’ve watched Young Frankenstein this trip and clips from the Producers. There’s something comforting about Mel Brooks for me.

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Day 6 Retrospective

Got thrown off with having to retcon a few posts, then plunged into the heart of the residency. Day 6 was a long, long, long time ago. I think that’s because Day 5 was my emotional crash and Day 6 I was still trying to regain my equilibrium.

Anyway, this day I decided to take the morning off, do laundry and generally run around downtown for bits and pieces I needed. The laundromat was only a block away and the attendent was willing to let me just wander off while my wash was running. I found the public market a few blocks from there – a darling little farmers market and I knew I was missing real food, my own cooking, when I found myself lusting over fresh veggies stacked for sale stall after stall. To my delight and surprise, there was ethnic food to be found – Ethopian, Mexican, Chinese – plus a stone fire pizza place. Unfortunately it was only 9:30 in the morning, so I wasn’t really feeling up to eating such rich food.

Instead I picked up the requisite bottles of maple syrup for Christmas gifts, a bottle of fresh apple cider and a bagel. After putting my load in the dryer, I headed to main street, wandering to see what was there and ending up at the grocery where I picked up soy milk for the granola I’d found earlier at a deli and some water. I also found St. Augustine’s church, a sweet little Catholic church, gothic on the outside and neatly renovated on the inside. I knew I was going to miss Mass the next day, so I sat awhile, prayed a little, thanked God a lot, then wandered off to find my freshly laundered clothes. It was getting hot again and I was anxious to get back up on campus, when I was invited to lunch by a couple of gals from my cohort.

We dined luxuriously on tacos at the Mexican place – restaurant food being preferable to dorm food by a long shot. I cooled off and felt rejuvenated, especially after grabbing some Ben and Jerry’s on the way back. Up on campus, the day was dedicated to picture books and I felt a bit guilty for not attending the morning sessions since my workshop pieces were all picture books. Lectures and Q&A panels by Jeannette Larson, Sarah Sullivan, Susan Stevens Crummel, and Janet Stevens filled the afternoon. I was struck by how little I know about PBs. They’re deceptively complex, theme, plot, character, and concept all crammed into less than 500 words. These are not fleeting moments pieces like in flash fiction/poetry, but pieces relying on dramatic POV. I’ll be looking at the concepts carefully in regard to my pieces for a long while.

The bookstore yielded treasures, of course – I had hoped to discipline myself, not buying anything here since I’d have to haul it all back home, but I didn’t count on my classmates having books published and available. I toted four PBs, all signed, tokens of good luck for the future. After the BBQ and evening reading, I intended on going home – the planned dance sounded too extroverted for me, but I was convinced to at least show up for a bit. I stayed about an hour and danced – to say it was ‘fun’ simply doesn’t do the time justice. All of us who danced in the dark, glowsticks lighting up our bodies, danced with each other, all tribal and remembering a younger time – 70’s and 80’s music got our bodies moving and we didn’t care that we looked like a bunch of middle schoolers at a dance. After all, we were writers of middle grade books!

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