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.)

 

MWPA Desire Workshop Gets New Date & Time

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Dear Friends,

My Maine Writer’s and Publishers Workshop, Desire in Middle Grade and young Adult Novels, has a new date and time. Instead of two three hour sessions we are compacting it into a single five hour session on March first at the Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine. Click the picture or text link above for more information and registration. I can promise you a kick-ass lecture with examples from wonderful books, and one on one attention. If you know a someone in or around Maine who might be interested, please send them the link to this blogpost. Retweets and Facebook postings are encouraged!

Happy Writing,

Anna

What does your character want?

You’ve heard it from critique partners, agents, and editors: “What does your character want?” The adult world is full of desire but what about the world of children and young adults? 

Children and Teens often want passionately. Some are passionate because they are untouched by failure and disappointment; others are passionate because people who are supposed to love and protect them from failure and disappointment– have let them down. 

I’m going to be leading a two part workshop for Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance where we will discuss the importance of a clear desire line in fiction for young readers. This workshop takes place over two Saturdays: February 1 and March 1. We’ll use ancillary writing activities to discover our character’s deepest desires, and explore the differences between positive and negative desires. We’ll have a guided critique of each other’s first chapters and look for ways to make desire more opaque. Before the second session, you’ll get to revise your first chapter then we’ll process what we’ve learned and I’ll share my own revision process and techniques. Take a look at the full workshop description

By the end of our 6 hours together I hope to persuade you that one of the most important things you can do for your story is to clearly define your character’s desire in the first few chapters of your MG or YA novel. Depending on the audience, it is even better if that desire is clearly stated or hinted at in the very first chapter.

When the reader can clearly access the character’s desire:

  • The reader roots for that character from the onset.
  • The reader sympathizes with the character. (Even in the case of an unsympathetic character, the reader will connect with the act of longing.)
  • It is this longing that keeps the reader reading.

If this kind of inquiry into the craft of writing for children and young adults interests you, sign up!

More about me:

Anna J. Boll, author/illustrator and educator, earned an MFA and Picture Book Certificate at Vermont College of Fine Arts and a MSEd at the University of Southern Maine. A winner of the 2013 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, she is represented by Alexandra Penfold. Her poetry is published in Highlights High Five, Babybug, and Ladybug magazines.

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: youngwritersproject.org/celebration2013.

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 vtdigger.org. 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.

Big Announcement!

I promised you all that I’d post an announcement yesterday and even though it was the longest day of the year (Happy Summer Solstice), I didn’t post. Perhaps you are reading this on your tablet next to some pool, or you’ve just dropped off some child at camp and you’ve decided to check your email… whatever the situation, please forgive me and thank you for coming back during your weekend.

I’m so proud to announce that I’ve signed with Alexandra Penfold of Upstart Crow Literary. I love this explanation of the agency name Upstart Crow from their website:

To begin with, it is an insult slung at the young Shakespeare in 1592 by older, more-established, but less successful playwright Robert Greene. His obvious irritation at the younger artist’s pluck and nerve is, we think, typical of the response of the old guard toward any new talent. There is something in the phrase that speaks of courage and brio and daring, and we feel we should all be upstart crows when it comes to our writing and our work.

I wish I could say that I was a young artist, but my journey has been too long to claim that. (Ten years? Thirteen?) What is courageous, however, is to persevere despite the obstacles, and daring to dive into craft and care more about the journey than the outcome. I had finally gotten to that point. I had finally reignited my love of writing for writing sake. I had decided to open up my schedule and say to the universe (often aloud into the trees around my home) writing is my priority. That was when good things started to happen. First, the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award and now representation by Upstart Crow.

Of course this is just another step in my writing journey, but I couldn’t be more pleased than to have the smart, savvy, connected, experienced, communicative, compassionate Alexandra Penfold on the journey with me.

Oak Hill Young Writers Inspire

Last night I spoke at the annual awards ceremony and author’s reception for the Oak Hill Young Writers’ Club in Sabattus, Maine. I knew that the event would give me a chance to brush up on my public speaking skills before my award reception Sunday evening. I knew that the event would give me a chance to see what my Creative Bookings clients were experiencing. I knew the event would be my chance to inspire a group of kids who were interested in the thing that I love most.

What I didn’t realize is how much they would inspire me.

The Oak Hill Young Writers’ Club started with a handful of children at a single school and have since grown to one hundred children throughout the the school district. The teachers and volunteers leading the charge are passionate about children and passionate about writing. They see cuts in school budgets year after year and have “band[ed] together to become a foundation of support for [the] children.” Through business and community donations, volunteers, and the kindness of local authors, they have focussed their energy on making writing appealing and cool for students through club meetings, writing contests, and scholarships.

After the speakers, I was honored to watch the attending young authors receive their t-shirts and certificates of participation for the year. The contest winners received their prizes. Their smiles, and the pride on their parent’s faces, lit up the room. In that moment, I was reminded of the pure joy of writing without the expectation of publication or money or awards.

I wish for you all a day of writing without ego.

#amrevising

I made a chart with the first sentences of each of my chapters yesterday. That’s right folks, I am revising again. My reading at the PEN New England award ceremony is 12 days (and a wake-up) away and then… THEN!… my YA manuscript will be submitted to publishers as the award winner. 

The upcoming award triggers my Impostor Syndrome (See a great blog post about this at PubCrawl.) but the love from participants at his weekend’s New England SCBWI conference put those fears to rest. Still, I know that I’ve been working a lot on those first 20 pages one sends with their query and not at all on the other 200 pages. I wanted to do a polish on the entire manuscript.

One of the comments I had from an agent who declined was that the writing was too “diaristic.” The comment has been niggling at me, as comments that ring true do, but I hadn’t been able to pinpoint the problem. Time away from the story, and inspiration from the conference have allowed me to see it fresh this week– thus the chart.

My chart revealed many things. I have three chapters where my character “woke up”, many that include time or setting markers, and a significant number that try to catch the reader up on what happened just before the chapter starts (backstory). Diaristic.

Just as cartoon character runs in place before they shoot forward, I’ve written these throw away sentences to tell the reader what is going on.

(I wanted to put a video here but all I could find was this sound clip. Still funny.)

 

What would be more effective? Sentences with emotional resonance that grab the reader so that when they finish the previous chapter, and are about to go to sleep, they peek at the next chapter, read the sentence and say to themselves, “Just one more.”

In a future post, I’ll show you all the spreadsheet with the old and new first chapter sentences. For now, I #amrevising.

I’m Thankful for Digital Hugs

Even though I had a week before the big reveal to digest the news that I was one of the winners of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Discovery award, I was not quite prepared for the outpouring of digital love that came my way. My blog and twitter feed gained followers, I gained friends on Facebook, and I heard from friends who haven’t contacted me in years. My comment boards lit up, and for a moment I thought, “Oh my, everything has changed.” That was until I opened up my WIP, stared at a blank page on Scrivener, and slapped myself upside the head. The hard work, joy, and pain of writing haven’t changed one bit.

What has changed is that I get a moment to celebrate. After a particularly difficult year that often felt hopeless, I find myself with a group of growing businesses serving authors and illustrators. I get to read a manuscript that I love in front of members of a community that have taught and nurtured me. I’m in this situation because the difficult things forced me to expose my writing and myself to the universe in a way that I had not been brave enough to try in the past. (Note to self– no one can see your awesome manuscript if it sits on your desk.) Yes, the universe works in mysterious ways.

I also get a chance to be recognized in my community of writers for my writing. Here’s the thing about our community and SCBWI in particular. There’s no one standing at the door telling new authors or illustrators they can’t come in. You can be in a room full of 1000 people at a national conference and have no idea who can write well and who is new to the craft. This allows people to be welcomed and safe, while they learn and grow. I’m grateful for this, and I’m grateful for the community of writers, illustrators, librarians and teachers who gave me a digital hug this week. Thank you all for your kindness.

Huge News! Pen New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award Winner– ME!

I am pleased thrilled ecstatic to announce that on April 1st I was informed that my YA manuscript about a rower who has a secret romance with her crew coach, CONTROL. CRUSH., won the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award! I’m sure that this was not an April Fools joke because soon after, I began to get wonderful congratulatory notes from other writers in our community whose work I respect and admire.

So what’s the big deal about this award and what is PEN New England anyway? The Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award honors emerging writers and illustrators and is given to a New England resident for an unpublished work. This year, the award was given to TWO emerging writers. I’m so happy to say that I’ll be sharing this award with Katherine Quimby. I’ve known Kathy for many years through SCBWI. Kathy and I share an alma mater, she’s in her third semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts; I graduated in July of 2011 – we’ll share this award! 

Kathy and I will read from our manuscripts at the awards ceremony tentatively scheduled for Sunday, May 19th at 6:30 pm at Lesley. If you are in the Boston area, I hope you’ll come. If you’re not able to make it, don’t worry. We’ll both be at the NESCBWI Annual Conference in Springfield. Please stop me and say hello!

As part of the award, our manuscripts will be submitted to a participating publisher. I’m so thankful to the committee for this opportunity to get my work in front of industry professionals. I’ve been on this journey for over ten years – long enough to know that I’d write even if I never got published. Perhaps that’s the moment when things begin to change for a writer. Still, I can tell you that I’ve had plenty of dark and doubting moments when I thought I should just give it all up.

There is something to be said for making your dreams known the universe, for putting yourself out there, for taking a chance. I’d wanted to submit manuscripts for this award for the past three years and missed the deadline. This year, the deadline snuck up on me again. Luckily, through a snafu, I was able to get my work to the committee, and I’m so glad I did! The email about this award came at the perfect time, and I couldn’t be happier.

PEN (poets, playwrights, essayists, editors, and novelists) New England is the most active chapter of PEN American Center which is part of PEN International– a literary community celebrating literature and protecting free expression. “The P.E.N. Club,” founded in London in 1921 by Mrs. C. A. Dawson Scott, a Cornish novelist, and John Galsworthy, a well-known literary figure, was borne out of Mrs. Dawson Scott’s “unshakable conviction that if the writers of the world could learn to stretch out their hands to each other, the nations of the world could learn in time to do the same.”

Yoga, poetry, a writing retreat and school/library bookings. Phew!

The last two weeks have been jam packed. This blog is my attempt to explain.

Ahhh… Princess Bride as a metaphor for life.

Okay so summing up:

  • Last week I went to Kripalu Yoga & Health Center. It was a safe and supported space for my newly-returned-from-deployment husband and I to reconnect. 
  • At the same time, I was deep into Rounds 1 & 2 of the ThinkKidThink.com March Madness Poetry Contest. I’m only disappointed that more people didn’t like my Miss Trumpet poem because I loved it so much. (reprinted below)
  • From Kripalu, I went to visit with my dear friend and author Meg Wiviott. I was able to revise a few picture books and get some perspective on life.
  • From Meg’s I went to VCFA for the Novel Writing Retreat. (Deb Michiko Florence is doing a great summary of that on her blog. Check it out.) At the retreat, I met wonderful people, got helpful (and positive) feedback on two novels. Right now, I’m trying to get amped up for another round of revisions on my crew novel.
  • All this time, I have been building a new business as a school and library booking agent!!! More about this soon but if you are a teacher, librarian, or conference planner I hope you’ll bookmark my site.

For those of you who might have missed my poetry, I’ve posted Miss Trumpet below. Happy Poetry Friday and keep voting over at ThinkKidThink. We are closing in on the final four (without preempting your favorite TV shows.)

Miss Trumpet
By Anna J. Boll

When the jazzy band, plays its jazzy jam
Miss Trumpet steals the show.
She slinks in, buttons down her back,
slender,
shiny.
With a wink she says, “Let my brass gown
glint,
in your eyes.
Let me skip you, trip you, Biddley-bop you, through meadows
Let me Wa-wa you, rock you low, slow, like a hammock in springtime.”
And when you’re even and easy she plunges you, Zweedley- BAM,
into ice cold waters.