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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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

This day was the day I have most looked forward to and the one I was most nervous about – the first real day of lectures and workshop. I’ve described the residency to others as a two-week conference and it has a lot of those markers with the exception that we’re all focused in the same direction and the ones already in the program have this sense of community that one does not usually see at conferences. My cohort is getting there, thankfully not falling into cliques (a natural possiblity given the size of our group). We watch out for each other, try to get to know each other and I think the cohesion is coming together. I do feel a bit on the fringe simply for being off-campus and for being in the dual-program. It’s a subtle thing, a choice on my part, parcel of the way I tend to be in large groups. At night, whenever there’s a social, I manage to mingle for about 10 minutes before bolting home. I’m becoming comfortable with being alone as well as with small knots of people at lecture. I had a dread going into this day that I have my crash soon and I wasn’t looking forward to it – in fact, I hoped that I would skip it altogether. Skipping this, though, would likely mean I wasn’t fully engaged emotionally and that was something I knew would hamper the experience too. Balancing it all was challenging.

One bonus of the day was getting my Amazon package finally containing a copy of Alexie’s new YA book and a Voyager deck. It’s such a cute deck, smaller than the previous version which makes it easier to shuffle. I found myself in conversations about Tarot in general with a couple of folks which was a bit of a mindbender. The deck really does lend itself well to writing with it’s vibrant collages perfect for the Jungian mind looking for associations.

Over the course of the day, I attended four lectures (three faculty and one graduate) all really excellent. I’ll blog about these in a separate post, I think (::Addendum – in thinking about possible copyright issues, I’ve made these posts private and I’ll be giving general topics/lecturers available only in the future::). The workshop was pretty standard format, with the exception that the participants are all really good with their comments, both positive and challenging. I did find myself on opposite ends at times, and perhaps too reticent, but I think that eventually as we get to know each other, we’ll be able to have better conversations. My pieces are up for critique tomorrow and if it hadn’t been for the kind words of a couple of faculty about my application pieces, I likely would be more hesitant about the critiques to come.

After so many years of doing my best to make writing classes bend to what I need to learn and ending up doing genres I was only tangentially interested in (oh, say like poetry when I wanted to do memoir, flash fiction when I wanted to do Fantasy, short story/novels when I wanted to children’s picture books), it was a  bit of a culture shock to be in a room where I was trying to learn what I actually wanted to learn…and realizing that I had little in my pocket to offer in the way of new work. That’s what made Kathi Appelt’s and Julie Larios’ words so meaningful – I’d set out to write for children, they write for children, they teach children’s writing, and they /like/ my work. Amazing. A place where I don’t have to overly explain or apologize or hear “oh that’s interesting, but I won’t be able to help you with that.”

After years of disappointment and making do, to finally have what I want is really quite novel and disorienting.

My anticipated breakdown came after the last lecture – Louise Hawes offered an excercise in emotional depth that sent me over the edge. I knew the work was good for me, but I also know that my crying was upsetting to others and that’s always embarrassing. Thankfully, MaryAnn from the picture book cohort came over and comforted me, even giving me a few tips and excercises to work through the painful thoughts. Quite a few of my cohort checked in on me the rest of the evening, allowing me to be normal again, which was really sweet and supportive too. I went to bed exhausted after the faculty readings and after trying to reach my family at the company picnic they were enjoying. I have a bad feeling that I’ve fried my cel phone. (I put my water bottle in my purse with my cel. I don’t think the bottle leaked, but I think the moisture on the surface may have gotten on the cel phone and fried it. I can dial out, but can’t get the person on the other end to hear me). Unfortunately, I think my neoprene allergy and the heat has caught up with me and I have welts on my neck from my CPAP straps. Not quite sure what to do about that yet.