March Round-Up: Part Three, VCFA Novel Retreat

This past weekend was wonderfully relaxing. I played catch with my kids, went to see Divergent, enjoyed the spring ritual of going to Fat Boys drive in and binge watched How I Met Your Mother. But March was full of travel for me. Check out the March Round-Ups Part One:The Brunswick Inn  and Part Two:Brooklyn & NYC or just read on to hear about Part Three: VCFA Novel Retreat.

This was the second year that I’ve driven up to Montpelier in March to meet with writers, my people, in the safe and supportive writing community that is Vermont College of Fine Arts (FMI: Writing Novels for Young People Retreat-VCFA). Last year I signed up for the critique track which allowed me to get feedback from other authors, and industry professionals about my work in progress. This year, I chose the writing track which gave me time to write and revise.

Vermont Alum at the Novel Writing Retreat

No matter what track one chooses, all participants enjoy lectures from the guests. This year, those guests were author Jennifer Richard Jacobson, author Rachel Wilson, and editor Martha Mahalick from Greenwillow Books. Rachel kicked off the weekend with a wonderful theater-based workshop on allowing yourself to play. I’ve already gotten her permission to borrow some of the great theater games for my “Active Mind, Active Body,” presentation at NESCBWI in May. Jennifer took a wide look at emotion on the page and I ended up with pages of notes. Martha discussed revision, the problems that she sees most often, and ideas about how to fix them. She let us have an inside view to the relationship between an editor and her authors. All the presentations were inspiring!

The change of place, the helpful presentations, the wonderful company all allowed me to write again after an stress-induced hiatus. I completed a the first draft of my WIP, printed it out, and started my read through. The other wonderful thing about the weekend is the public reading. One night, we are all welcomed to take the floor and read 2 pages from our manuscripts. I love reading my work (probably because reading was a part of the VCFA curriculum when I was there). However, I hadn’t read from the work before and found myself nervous and a little breathless. Still, it was well received and it’s always good to take advantage of a chance to read aloud. Especially in such a supportive environment.

VCFA Novel Retreat Reading Night 2014

This week, my goal is to complete my first read through and to write myself an editorial letter. This is one of my favorite revision techniques. I get to pull back from being an author and just attack the manuscript. Sure, I’m still personally involved, but I try to give the story some tough love. When I read the editorial letter in a week or so, I’ll have the hard job of hating my editor (me) and trying to figure out how to resolve the problems in the manuscript. (A little schizophrenic I know, but it works for me.)


Calling Young Writers! Celebration of Writers on Nov. 9th @VCFA, Montpelier

Vermont College of Fine Arts and Young Writers Project announce plans for Celebration of Writing 2013, Nov. 9 at VCFA Montpelier campus

M.T. Anderson, a National Book Award winner, will be the keynote speaker at the Celebration of Writing 2013, co-sponsored by Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) and Young Writers Project (YWP). The celebration will take place Saturday, Nov. 9, at VCFA’s campus with workshops beginning at 9:30 a.m. and the keynote at 4 p.m.

The day will highlight publication of YWP’s latest anthology, Anthology 5, a collection of the best writing and photographs drawn from 14,000 submissions.

The event, held at VCFA’s main building in Montpelier, features a day of workshops led by prominent writers and artists in digital storytelling, poetry and prose. Each workshop is 75 minutes long and all are free. A special workshop for parents begins at 2:30 p.m.

Workshop leaders include actress Robin Fawcett, poet Reuben Jackson, slam poet Geof Hewitt, digital storytellers Barbara Ganley and Bryan Alexander, poet Kerrin McCadden, and novelists Sarah Stewart Taylor and Jo Knowles. 

At 4 p.m., M.T. Anderson, winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, will talk about how, as an adult, he resurrected a novel written as a teen into a series of novels. VCFA President Thomas Greene will also welcome young writers and their families to the college. Several writers featured in Anthology 5 will read their work as part of YWP’s continuing Millennial Writers On Stage series. A reception, formal release of Anthology 5 and author book signings will follow.

For more information and to register:

About Young Writers Project …

Young Writers Project is a nonprofit dedicated to building a generation of better writers. Each year it publishes 1,000 students’ work in 19 newspapers and on Vermont Public Radio and It operates a civil teen writing community, youngwritersproject.orgworks with 63 schools through its YWP Schools Project; and holds community events and workshops. This year’s anthology was drawn from 12,000 writing submissions and 2,000 pieces of visual art.

That’s One Lovely Blog You’ve Got There!

A huge thank you to Julie Kingsley for the “One Lovely Blog” award. The award is sort of the equivalent of the old chain letter (add a few names and send it on) but better because there is no envelope licking involved, and it’s a wee bit of recognition.

Yes, I do take time from my writing, children, and domestic goddess (not) duties to share a bit of myself, my reading, my writing life, and industry news with the rest of the world. I throw my writing into cyberspace and listen to the deafening silence. So I’m happy to pay it forward and possibly introduce you to some other bloggers who post a good blog.

First, according to the rules, I need to tell you seven random facts about me.

1. I love dancing, although I don’t do it much these days. I took dance for years, and was in an Afro-Caribbean dance troupe in college. I’m also often the first one on the dance floor.
2. I was in musicals throughout my teen life both in summer camp and in Junior High School and still sing “Tomorrow” loudly from time to time, if only to embarrass my own adolescent children.
3. I’m sort of evangelical about voting. There are people who died for my right to vote and folks all over the world who don’t get that right. Every American should honor those people by casting a ballot.
4. I row in boats that look like this:

(Top: I think that’s me in bow seat. Bottom: I’m coxing.)

and I’m learning to row in a boat like this:

(My coach sculling.)

and I love the beauty and strength and insanity of the sport. My current WIP is about a high school crew.

5. I’ve been dealing with Patella Tendonosis for the last 12 or so weeks which means that I’ve done no running, or biking, and only recently started rowing again (just as the water is turning cold) and that bums me out. Still, I have my eye on the weather prophets who say that  we might get a snowy winter. So if I can heal, I could xcountry ski and that would make me happy.

6. My guilty TV pleasure is Project Runway. I think the design and crafting skills required to participate makes it one notch better than most reality shows.

7. If I had one wish, I would read faster and retain more of what I read. (Is that two?)

And for the second half of the One Lovely Blog award requirements, I am happy to tell you about some of the blogs that suck away my writing time keep me in the know.

(Pub)lishing Crawl: Great place for craft discussion, writer’s life and industry info.

Writing With A Broken Tusk: Blog of Uma Krishnaswami, faculty member of VCFA Writing for Children and Young Adults Program, kind and peaceful soul, and massively intelligent person.

Mitali’s Fire Escape: Mitali Perkins writes about Children’s Book, diversity issues, the industry, and goings-on around Boston. Ah… Mary Kole. This agent and fun loving industry professional does not mince words. Amazing archive of information for those new to the children’s publishing industry and those not so new.

The Brown Bookshelf: I firmly believe that all children should be able to see themselves in the books we publish. This site brings “the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers” to our attention. This site posts photographs that are great for story starters, illustration reference, or just to be amazed.

Write at Your Own Risk: Shop talk with the faculty of the VERMONT COLLEGE OF FINE ARTS MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Yes, I’m ridiculously loyal to VCFA.

Thanks again to Julie Kingsley. Now all of you, get off the internet and do some work!


Member Monday: Old news or news to you?

I’m just back from a two-week research/family trip to Italy where I visited Florence and small red-roofed, hill topped towns in Tuscany. I’ll be posting more about that later this week, but first I’m passing on some of the news, blogs and articles that I missed while I was away. Perhaps these are just old news, but perhaps you missed some of these too. Hope they are helpful.

Most important on my list is this announcement from SCBWI. The On-the-verge Emerging Voices Award. I’ve been sitting on this since before my trip, itching to tell you all about this news and then they go and announce it at the LA SCBWI National Conference. Follow the link above for the full press release but here is a quick snippet.

The annual award, established by SCBWI and funded by Martin and Sue Schmitt, will be given to two writers or illustrators who are from ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds that are traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America and who have a ready-to-submit completed work for children. The purpose of the grant is to inspire and further the emergence of diverse writers and illustrators of children’s books.

Here is the link for the grant eligibility, process, and deadline. 

This issue is close to my heart. I hope that writing programs across the country, most notably VCFA, my alma mater,  and Hamlin College– and publishing programs, NYU and others will stand up and take notice. Action can be taken to increase diversity in publishing. Here are some thoughts from the CBC Diversty blog from those in the industry.

Here is a wonderful post from Laurie Halse Anderson that discusses the lack of diversity on the recently released NPR YA list.  Happy & Sad about the NPR Top 100 YA List In her post she also posts the following links which are important enough for me to list them again here:

On NPR’s Very White Best Young Adult Books List, by Shaker Laurie.
Reading in Color’s Booklists

And… one of my favorite sites The Brown Bookshelf.

(The link for the NPR Top 100 YA List is here if you haven’t seen it.)

In other old news:

Women On The Rise Among The World’s Top-Earning Authors This is an interesting article on celebrity authors but I’m not exactly sure what it says for the rest of us. The article celebrates that there are now six women on the list at all. Perhaps I’m a glass half empty person, (No, I’m not.) but what I see here is a continuation of women earning 78% of what men earn. Even if you go from the Stephen King’s $39 million (instead of James Patterson’s $94 million) 78% of that is about $30 mill. That- and below- is where we find the women.Of course, once you get into the millions of dollars, this may matter less but it is still true. For more on gender and writing see my post here or take a look at VIDA- Women in the Literary Art’s annual count for 2012. 

Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning In Indie Books – And That’s A Good Thing Okay. I need a while to both read and process something like this but if you are interested in the economics of the publishing industry and are concerned/interested in the changes in traditional vs. digital, this is the article for you.

That’s it for today, friends. Read, write, draw and do at least one of those outside. Two weeks and counting until kids go back to school in the home of Creative Chaos.

Member Monday: Stages of writing ala L.B. Schulman

This post, Chugging through the Stages of a Writing Career, on EMU’s Debuts is so wonderful and helpful for beginning through PAL authors that I thought I’d post the link here and let you enjoy L. B. Schulman‘s words today.

I will add that there is a mental piece that I’ve found very important that is not addressed in her post. Here’s how it worked for me. After eight years of being active in SCBWI, and following the industry, and researching agents and writing and getting a first agent, and asking questions at workshops, and conferences, and retreats… I felt my writing knowledge had plateaued. I entered Vermont College of Fine Arts in July of 2009 because I no longer knew what questions to ask. Diving deep into craft, forgetting about the industry and rediscovering my love for writing and my love for the craft of writing made me realize that I would be– will always be a writer. I think this happened to me somewhere between my fourth semester at VCFA and my graduate residency. 

Do I want to my book published? Yes, and I’m working at it every day, but if it never happens I will still be a writer. My dear friend Lita Judge calls it “finding your calm.”

Currently, I am finishing my fourth week calmly waiting to hear from agents.
*checks clock, pops cork, drinks wine*

Where are you on L.B. Schulman’s list of stages and how does SCBWI meet or not meet your needs?

Book Review Wednesday: Soup!

Picture book month continues here at Book Review Wednesday, but first a word from our sponsors…

Now back to our regularly scheduled program. When the temperatures cool it is a good idea to pull out the ingredients for a little soup– the ultimate comfort food. In my husband's family, the joke is that a chef can't make truly good soup until they've reached 40. (We're there.) To pull together the right ingredients and spices, and end up with love in a pot, it takes creativity, know-how, and risk taking. 

Ruthie, in The Princess of Borscht, has all of these qualities. The Princess of Borscht, written by Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty member Leda Schubert, and illustrated by another VCFA faculty member, Bonnie Christensen comes out Tuesday, November 22rd. (Happy Book Birthday Leda and Bonnie!) 

From the publisher:
Ruthie's grandma is in the hospital, not surprisingly complaining about the food. All she wants is a nice bowl of borscht. Ruthie comes to the rescue, even though she hasn't the faintest idea of how to make it. With the help of a few well-meaning neighbors (including the Tsarina of Borscht and the Empress of Borscht and some ingenuity of her own), a soul-reviving brew is concocted…

The book has earned a star from Kirkus
"Of course, it’s not just about borscht or even about cooking, though there’s a great recipe included. Schubert has concocted a sweet mixture of traditions that bind and give comfort, along with love in many forms; intergenerational family, friends and neighbors all act with selflessness, kindness and compassion. Christensen’s heavily outlined, strongly colored illustrations emphasize equally strong personalities. The paintings are filled with details that add interest to the proceedings, from the array of get-well cards in the hospital room to the homey, old-fashioned décor of Grandma’s apartment."

The book also got some attention from the New York Times (that's nothing to sneeze at):
"Schubert (“Ballet of the Elephants”) turns the story of a sick relative, not a particularly cheery topic, into a sweet and salty tale, warmed by Christensen’s lively sketches, about bickering Jewish neighbors and intergenerational caregiving."

If you'd like to know more about Bonnie and her art work I can point you to not one, but two! lovely postings on Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast. 

Soups on, grab a book!

The discipline of the blog…and a graduation.

Here is what happens to me when I sit down to post to my blog these days.

1. I get an idea- "Today is my graduation from Vermont College of Fine Arts." Simple enough. A little yahoo! a few tears an amazing accomplishment. Shouldn’t be hard.
2. I start to reflect on the topic. It’s like cleaning my desk. I can’t just pile up the papers and put them neatly in the corner. No. I have to look at each sheet of paper. When I do, I realize that each paper- idea and memory connect to another.
3. Now the post is looking more like "Vermont College and all the amazing wonderful  things that have happened here, all I’ve learned, all about the incredible faculty, the community, my grad rez, my work and…and.. and before I know it the task seems overwhelming.
4. I click to some less daunting thread of the world wide web until I forget all about the blog tab on my desk top.
5. When I get back to it, the post seems irrelevant.
6. Repeat.

In order to reintroduce the discipline of the blog, I’ll be posting small at first. Trying not to get overwhelmed. I’m hoping to blog Mondays,  Wednesdays. Don’t be fussy if I miss a week and share interesting content with others when it moves you. Comment often to keep me going. That way I know you are out there and that it is worth it.

I do graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts today. My residency has been wonderful. Full of friends new and old. A few stand out lectures from faculty and a lot of pride watching my fellow League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwich members ace their lectures. The readings have been amazing. Each one full of heart and soul. We’ve come so far, and the growth is all based on two years of intense study and work.

My lecture and reading were well received. I am so thankful to the entire VCFA community. This process has taught me not just how to write, but how to be a writer. I leave the program with confidence. Confidence that might even last a whole week before the fear of creation begins again. I am ready to leave. I know I’ll stay in touch with my dear friends but like the end of an emotional book, I am reluctant to close the back cover.

More reflection in time. Peace.

Happiness is a bike ride.

This morning has been a peaceful and relaxing end to a crazy week. I had the deadline for my 5th and final VCFA packet, a deadline for my workshop submission (15 pages out of 20 was all I could manage), and a deadline for my own student’s end of semester reports. My husband was gone for the third week on business, my sons had events each night, and son #1 sprained his ankle and ended up on crutches after a trip to the doctor. I said crazy, right.

Today, I woke at my weekday time (5:45) and hopped right out of bed. The sky was a beautiful cloudless blue and I wanted to bike. Leaving my husband in the bed, I dressed, pumped up the tires and started out of the house only to run back inside for a jacket. Blue, sunny, June skies do not especially mean warmth in Maine and when you are on the bike it is colder. The light breezes felt stiffer on the ride but the quiet roads and beautiful morning light was wonderfully worth it. Tiny yellow buttercups filled the fields along Flying Point road, and the occasional whiff of balsalm pine always gives me an energy boost. I passed a few other hardy Saturday morning riders but not many.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll bike the same roads in the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s "Women’s Ride." I’m not sure if you can still sign up or do same-day registration but if you are interested, follow the link.   On the end of my loop I detoured to Mister Bagel, picked up a dozen and rode home. It was certainly not a training ride, I’m pretty slow these days covering about 13-15 miles in an hour, but the sense of freedom and release I feel when I’m alone on my bike is tremendous.

At home, I cut fresh chives from our garden, and served my hubby fresh, hot coffee, and bialy & chive cream cheese as he hustled out the door with son #2 for a baseball game. Now I’m sitting on my screen porch and enjoying the view of our neighbor’s field and listening to son #1 play the piano. Peace.

Five on Friday

1. I am sitting on my screen porch enjoying the third day of sunshine after two weeks of gray, foggy, cold. The cold came back last night, just as son #2 and I took our places on the bleachers to watch son #1 play baseball. "Where’d the blanket go, Mom?" "I took it out of the car when the sun came back yesterday." I should have known better. At least I got two hours of intensive snuggling from son #2.
2. In the dog walking field: many ticks, volunteer asparagus, two dead frogs in large standing puddles, one muddy yellow lab.
3. Got in a nice run Wednesday afternoon when it was about 75 degrees. Lucy dog kept up nicely and was thrilled when I let her cool off in the cemetery pond. (I don’t think the residents minded, do you?) Can’t wait to start training regularly again.
4. Walked the Portland, ME "Freedom Trail," yesterday with 13 fifth, and sixth graders. The trail features important sites and people involved with helping fugitive slaves escape to Canada on the underground railroad. Two weeks left of teaching. I’m ready for summer.
5. Final and fifth packet deadline this Tuesday. Must complete novel revisions. Not getting far. Please send productive vibes.

Hello From Montpelier

When I am able to pull away from the isolation of my studio, and reenter the land populated by real (as opposed to imagined) people, it is a gift. The Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program is an such an amazing community of real people that I consider myself especially lucky and blessed. We are five days into the residency and it is laundry day. Traditionally, this is the day when people cry. Think of it, you put generally solitary people in rooms where they schmooze, and discuss craft, and put their writing up for critique (the work that they’ve birthed out of their hearts and heads), and listen to lecture after lecture after lecture and there are bound to be a few tears.

Not for me this time. As a third semester student I know what to expect and I’m savvy enough to skip a few events here and there to keep myself sane. In fact, I am extremely happy right now because I presented my semester’s work to the school and it was very well received. The whole Picture Book Certificate class was extremely thoughtful in their work and we were told the presentations were particularly professional. Some have even suggested we submit our work to industry journals. Very, very exciting!

Also, the list of advisors was posted last night and I’ll be working with faculty head, Margaret Bechard. I’ll focus on my researching and writing my critical thesis and then work on my novel with her guidance. Margaret is famous for her lengthy editorial letters and her wonderful teaching abilities. I’m thrilled.

It’s been a little difficult, but necessary for me to break out of my VCFA head space to complete work for Friends School of Portland. Look for our ad in the Common Fair newspaper!