A Bonus Halloween Post!

Today Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting a contest on her site. The challenge is to write a Halloween story, under 100 words, using the words witch, bat, and trick-or-treat. I didn’t have a problem working the words in, but staying under 100 words was hard!

Happy Halloween everyone! Hopefully Sandy hasn’t put a damper on your fun!

 

ARE YOU BRAVE?

This Halloween party was CREEPY.

The decorations howled and shrieked. A witch stood by the fireplace, a bat flew over her head, and fake blood dripped down the bathroom mirror. Where was Trick-or-Treating?

The doorbell rang and I jumped. Was someone here to rescue me?

A little fairy girl tiptoed in. She bit her lip.

I knew what to do. I took her hand.

“Stay away from those creatures, and stay away from the bathroom,” I said. She looked up at me. “Thanks, Captain America. You’re so brave.”

I puffed out my chest. “No problem,” I said.

To Workshop or Not to Workshop? Heck Yeah!

I had the chance last Saturday to participate in ENCORE, held by the Northeast Region of SCBWI. They hold their annual conference every May, as well as a workshop day in October with the four highest rated workshops from the conference. Given the fact that the workshops looked great, the price couldn’t be beat, and it meant a Saturday to myself, I jumped at the chance.

The day was the perfect balance of lecture and writing exercises. Here’s what the agenda looked like:

  • Do Your Kid Characters Sound Authentic? (Karen Day)
  • Saying Stuff Good: A Workshop about Strengthening Your Writing with the Effective Use of Voice (Mark Peter Hughes)
  • Keeping It Campy: Writing Camp for Grownups (Jo Knowles and Cindy Faughnan)
  • Dialogue: Crafting Conversation in Fiction for Young Readers (Mitali Perkins)

For each workshop, the speaker took us through the concept in a fresh way, gave us specific examples to refer to, and led us through exercises to apply our learnings immediately. Several challenges forced us to work together with our fellow participants, so no playing wallflower for anyone. I left with a journal full of books and blogs to read, new contacts, and ideas for tackling the next revision on my current novel. I even have some new ideas for my next two novels.

To Sally Riley and everyone else who worked to put together the ENCORE program, I say Bravo! It was well worth the 2-1/2 hour drive for me each way.

For me, the best judge of a workshop or conference is whether I learn something that forces me to look at my writing in a different way. I have never considered myself a poet (well, since high school, anyway). Perhaps I get caught up in the temptation to rhyme. Or as Joanna put it, starting poetry from a blank page is daunting. One of the exercises from the Writing Camp session was all about writing a poem. But we had a construct to work with. Here’s the exercise:

Write your phone number down the page, one number for each line. Now write a poem about something or someone you love. The number on each line tells you EXACTLY how many words you can use (no more, no less). A zero is a wild card.

Give it a try- even those of you who don’t consider yourself a writer! If you are willing to share, please post your poem in the comments. We’d love to see them!

Here’s how mine turned out:

I love…

Her sweet little face

beaming at me

her little hands spreading across my back

kissing my nose.

She smells of syrup and playdough and soap

and childhood.

She giggles, crinkling her nose.

I’m somehow a funny Mommy today to my precious

Elizabeth.

Thanks to Jo Knowles and Cindy Faughnan for the exercise (and the inspiration- it may be just me, but I think my poem isn’t half bad. For a non-poet, that is.) To check out more writing prompts, Jo has tons on her website here.

Best wishes for a creative week, whatever your area of interest!

Making My Story Matter: A Second Look at Revision

A few posts ago, I wrote about revisioning my novel, a la Cheryl Klein. Now I’m back at it, with another book – Writing A Book That Makes A Difference by Philip Gerard.

I admit it – I’ve had this book for well over a year and haven’t even cracked it open enough to skim more than a page or two. At first glance, it’s dense – altogether different from Cheryl Klein’s light, but informative transcribed speeches. But on closer inspection, this is a winner. I suppose it’s important to know why I even picked the book back up, after many failed attempts. Last winter, an agent requested a full manuscript read of a YA novel I’m working on. She liked some bits, but overall said the book wasn’t about much. Those are my words (she was very polite) but it got me thinking. I knew the book was about more, but after the teeniest bit of scrutiny, I had to agree with her. But what to do?

I underwent a big revision, after a random and fortuitous email sparked an idea, an idea that raised the stakes in the book. At this point, I knew I wanted the book to *be* something, at least in my eyes. Not just a bittersweet coming of age story (which it still is). I wanted my book to make a difference. Or at least read like it did. So I picked up Gerard’s book.

Yes, I’ve skimmed a bit, but the book isn’t as dense as I’d first thought. And there’ve been lots of great tidbits including:

– Have each character “present different facets [of an issue] in their actions and words”. Gerard is referring to novels affected by didacticism. Using characters in this way helps alleviate preachiness. Though my story isn’t driven directly by an “issue,” this approach has helped me flesh out the sidekicks in such a way that they now (hopefully) aid my protagonist in reflecting on what’s challenging her. Duh, right?

-A quote from John Steinbeck, included in the book: “A chapter should be a perfect cell in the whole book and should almost be able to stand alone. If this is done then the breaks we call chapters are not arbitrary but rather articulations which allow free movement of the story.” Wow. For some reason, this struck me something fierce. Mostly in that I’ve never quite reached that level of revision, and I mean that in the best of ways. Yes, I’ve reworded and rearranged and cut and inserted and and and, but this one quote raised my goals to heavenly heights. Could each chapter in my novel almost stand alone? Not yet.

Perhaps the most striking thing about reading Gerard’s book was realizing how I just hadn’t been ready to approach my novel in this way. I knew the people, but only vaguely. But my last revision helped me get to the place that I was even ready to delve into a book like Gerard’s, a book about meaning, a literary book (egads!). Now that I know why my characters matter (at least in my head), about why they as individuals will each make a specific difference in the story, my mental revision feels like it’s been expanded exponentially. Of course, now I have to actually do the revision.

With a big thank you to Philip Gerard.  His book made a difference.

Hanging On To Autumn

Here in the Northeast U.S., we are fully enrobed in autumn. The leaves have switched their warm green summer clothes for cool sweaters of yellow, brown, orange, and red (yes, I like to think of the leaves wearing sweaters, like I am). When taking my morning run or walking my son to the bus, I am taken with how truly beautiful the trees look. Mother Nature puts on quite a show.

There is a crispness that comes with autumn: leaves crunching under your feet; the crunch of a firm, ripe apple; the pop and slide noise a knife makes as you carve your jack-o-lantern. There is plenty yet to do outside. We just need to wear coats and hats.

As we play outside or take a walk, I yearn to hold on to this in-between time. It is no longer the warm, long days of summer. And winter has not yet arrived. Yes, my husband is mourning now that the pool is closed and it is dark soon after he gets home from work. This is all the more reason to hang on to every precious moment of this transition time. Soon, we will be inside, cozy in front of the woodstove and under blankets. Going outside will take more than just throwing on a jacket and a pair of shoes.

Don’t get me wrong. I like many parts of winter too. I especially enjoy reconnecting with family and friends over the holidays. But I am in no rush.

While spring is a time of renewal and rebirth, autumn is a time for me of pause and introspection. Where am I at? Did I get where I wanted to be this year? Or am I on a completely different path? What else do I want to accomplish this year? What do I want to make sure not to miss?

The bustle of day to day life seems to pick up as soon as September begins. Just look at the stores: school supplies are displayed in July, Halloween costumes are up in September, and some of my stores even have Christmas decorations on the shelves already (By the way, isn’t Thanksgiving in their somewhere? Sigh. Another topic for another post.) If you take all of the school and extra-curricular activities, and add in this pressure to rush towards the next big thing, you could feel overwhelmed. Panicked. Even stressed.

But Mother Nature has a built-in de-stressor. Go outside. Look to the trees and the sky. Take a deep breath. Listen to the wind. Feel the sun on your face. Watch your children jump in the leaves, or play flashlight tag at twilight. It’s very hard to stay stressed when you are open to the wonder.

What are your favorite things to do or experience in autumn? Please share.