With All Your Heart

Adapted from a guest blog I originally wrote for fantasy romance author Suzanne Jackson.

Anyone who’s been hanging around the Twittersphere lately will have seen writers sharing their ‘rules for writing’. Now, I’m not that big on ‘rules’ (what works for one person might backfire splendidly for another!), but here are a few things I figured out early on and which keep me going. Hopefully, they’ll help you too!

Three things I’ve learned about writing:

1. Take Your Time. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. When I started writing ‘for real’, one of the first things I did was read a lot of bios and websites of authors I admired. To my surprise, there were very few true ‘overnight success’ stories. One author took ten years to be published, another five. Another more than that combined. Some writers didn’t become household names until their third, or fifth, or seventh book.

Beginner-writer-me found this hugely reassuring. If other people could do it, so could I. If I had to put in the time to learn the craft and get it right, then so be it. I wouldn’t be the first, or the last, to take a deep breath and tell myself, “As long as it takes.” I knew this was something I loved, and that I was prepared to be in it for the long haul. I just had to jump in, and keep going.

2. Make Mistakes. Also known as: you have nothing to prove. When I was younger, I’d always planned on becoming a writer ‘someday’. Perhaps when I ‘grew up’. But somehow, I never got around to it. Probably because I had this weird notion that writers sat down at their perfect writing desks and dashed out the Next Big Classic all in one go. Yes, I really was that naive! I knew nothing about messy first drafts, or that it takes rewrites, revisions, and a whole lot of elbow grease to produce something halfway decent. So of course, with that sort of self-inflicted pressure, inevitably I was terrified of starting and failing.

When I figured out that the writing business was a long-distance event (see number 1), this led to the realization that nothing had to be perfect right away. I could allow myself time to work things out, to back my story into corners and fall into plot holes. I could get it wrong, and dust myself off, and rewrite, and get it wrong again, as many times as necessary. The only thing I couldn’t do, was let the fear of failure hold me back from trying.

3. Have Fun!  Along with realization number 2, came the awareness that I didn’t actually want to write the Next Big Classic. I wasn’t fussed about literary immortality, or having my books on required reading lists. I couldn’t care less whether my prose was gorgeously poetic. Instead, I wanted to enjoy my writing. I wanted to fill my pages with fight scenes, and daring escapes, and fireballs. Maybe a breathless first kiss or two. I was an 80’s teen, and all those hours spent watching the likes of Star Wars, Die Hard, Back to the Future, and The Goonies had to impact my writer’s soul somehow. Once I figured out the sort of things I enjoyed writing, the stories took off and the words just flowed. I was having fun, and I never ever wanted to stop.

Of course, these discoveries may have worked for me, but may not work for you. Find the small bits of wisdom that inspire you, personally, and use them to keep going on the dark days. We all have those days – beginner writer or seasoned pro – and sometimes you just need to remind yourself of why and how you got started in the first place. And then get up, dust yourself off, and jump back in with all your heart.

Words, Chocolate, and NaNoWriMo

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Free with blog post: Beastie Boys earworm…

It’s almost November, and if you follow writers on social media, you’ve probably come across at least some mention of the National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, as it’s known, challenges writers to reach a stretch goal of a 50,000-word novel by the end of November. You can find more info on it here.

But the truth is, NaNoWriMo isn’t really about writing a book in a month; unless you’re writing middle grade, or maybe younger YA, 50k words isn’t enough for a full-length novel. But it is enough for a rough first draft, or to lay down a solid foundation for something you can develop on your own time, later, when the month is up.

What NaNo does is challenge you to make writing your absolute priority for an entire month, even if you need to wake up earlier or sleep later to do so, or DVR your favorite TV shows for a while. This complete focus on writing can be the push many people need, in several different ways.

You don’t even need to do the official NaNo challenge; make up your own if you prefer. For example, I have a Facebook group of writer friends who get together every November to cheer each other on and to exchange beta reads and critiques once the month is up. Most of our group don’t sign up on the NaNo website, relying instead on each other for companionship and support.

The NaNo concept works for me, for a very simple reason: it gives me a deadline to focus on. I’m always setting myself personal goals, like ‘finish this revision by September!’. But self-imposed deadlines are easy to push back. There’s always a good reason to delay things a little. However, if I use an ‘outside’ deadline like the one NaNo suggests, it gives me that extra incentive to get things done.

So, what should you do if you are planning on participating in NaNoWriMo, either officially or unofficially?

For a start, determine your goals. You can use NaNo as a push to:

  • Start something new and build writing momentum, so that after the month is up you can continue, or revise, or rewrite what you started.
  • Finish something old; dust off that stalled WIP and see it through to the end!
  • Revise and rewrite something you had written previously.
  • Set yourself other writing goals, such as draft three picture books, or do a writing prompt every day. It doesn’t have to be about one single book; NaNo can simply be an excuse to focus on all things writing-related for a solid month.

Once you’ve decided what you’re using the month for, the next step is to plan out your roadmap. Are you focusing on picture books? Brainstorm ideas beforehand and make a list of the most likely ones. Aiming at finishing a stalled WIP? Get it out and read through what you’ve got, familiarizing yourself once again with the rhythm and voice of the story. Starting something new? Do some prep work, so you know the basics about your characters and world before starting. Some NaNo writers outline everything before going in, but not everyone works that way. Do as much as feels right to you, to save yourself time in figuring things out when November rolls around and the blank page is waiting.

Carve out your writing time. Decide when the best time of day is for you. You might normally only be able to snatch small portions of time here and there, and that’s fine but, for this one month, perhaps try and find a routine that works. If you need to talk to partners and children, do it: you may find they’re excited to be part of the challenge in this one small way.

What happens when you get to the end of November? One thing is for sure: you’ll still have a lot of work ahead, whether in finishing the story you started, or polishing up that first draft you powered through. So now it’s time to take a moment and look back at what you’ve achieved. Maybe you didn’t hit your 50,000 words, or finish your rewrites. But hopefully you got a good solid chunk of work done, and perhaps pushed past that writer’s block or slow patch. Celebrate it!

And remember: NaNoWriMo is set in November for one reason, and one reason only: leftover Halloween loot*. So, now you have words and you have chocolate, and really, what else does a writer need?

*Disclaimer! This is probably not true. Or maybe it is, who knows? It’s a valid enough reason…

**Please consume your Halloween treats in moderation.

Small Steps, Tiny Bites

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Star stickers make everything better!

I have kids. Two of them, teenagers now, which allows for plenty of ‘me’ time, since they’re often occupied with their private worlds of school and friends, YouTube and online gaming, and books of their own choosing. But still, I have kids. This means that, twice a year, my carefully set up writing routine gets turned upside down.

Winter break is easier. Although December is usually a blur of things to do and places to be, the school hiatus itself is unreasonably tiny in the USA. They’re out for around ten days and then it’s back to school. The routine hits a small bump in the road, but rightens itself quickly.

But summer… Summer is hard. Summer is long. Summer is frequent breaks for day trips to the lake or the beach, cousins staying over, kids asking for rides to the mall, or to friends’ houses. Summer is slowing life right down to a comfortable crawl, and enjoying a last-minute barbeque, or setting up an inflatable pool on the blacktop and having a family water fight. Summer is fun, summer is a welcome change of pace. Summer is… not great for writing. For me, at least.

After the kids (finally) go back to school at the end of August, it usually takes me a while to find my rhythm again. This year was extra especially hard as we adopted a puppy in August, with all the pet training challenges an enthusiastic three-month-old dog brings. So, come mid-September, I was screaming at myself to get a grip and focus on my work. But it just wasn’t happening, and this was dragging me into a downward spiral of self-doubt, fueled by VERY EARLY mornings (thanks to Small Pup) and not enough sleep. I wasn’t writing ANYTHING, and I wasn’t reading, either. My to-be-read pile looked like an unclimbable mountain, and I just didn’t feel like touching a single book. So I sat down and came up with some strategies to ease myself back into things. I decided that, instead of tackling the big tasks on my to-do list, I would try starting out with small steps, and tiny bites.

On the reading front, I resolutely put the TBR pile away. I went to my town library and looked for comfort and familiarity, and a change of genre. If science fiction and fantasy were stressing me out, I was going to move away, at least for a while. I picked up a few thrillers by an author I used to love, rereading a few old favorites and trying a couple of new titles. I mixed in a bit of middle grade, and a bit of YA. Before I knew it, my 2018 ‘books read’ list — horrifically untouched throughout July and August — was suddenly growing, and I was having fun again.

I approached writing with clear and easy goals, and a challenge. The challenge for what was left of September was to do something writing-related every day. It could be creating a blog post, going over a critique partner’s submission, or working on a short story. I set aside the must do’s (like work on Star Blade!) and focused on the can do’s. As my confidence grew, I began to hit my goals. I revised a short story that had been languishing for a couple of months, I wrote a promised blog interview I’d been sitting on for a while, and I got through most of a new editing pass for my brand-new sci fi thriller. I wrote down what I achieved every day in my journal, and gave myself stars and a pat on the back. I was on a roll, I was getting things done.

I’ve kept the momentum going into October, with slightly more challenging goals, keeping to my system of trying to do at least one writing-related thing each day. So far, it’s working, and I feel like I’m back up to speed and moving along nicely. The strategies worked, for me at least, and I shall reapply them whenever I lose momentum or get into one of those self-doubt spirals, and need something structured to help me along.

We all go through slow patches at times. It’s normal, and often downright necessary. And sometimes we need to help ourselves a little to get out of a slump. Will my strategies work for you? I don’t know; perhaps you might have to come up with your own solutions. But here’s a recap of mine, in case you need them. Good luck!

  • Daily challenges. A loose ‘do something writing-related every day’ worked for me, but find your own. It could be trying a writing prompt, or doing a different daily writing exercise. Make it something that can be as big or as small as you can handle on each specific day. Small steps, tiny bites.
  • Easy goals. Give yourself tasks you know you can handle. One page of new words a day. A new short story. Ten pages of revision. Victory with easy goals will encourage you to take on more demanding ones next.
  • Comfort food. Or comfort books, really. Though food is good, too. Especially cake. Wait, what were we talking about? Books, that’s right. Think of it as comfort food for the brain. I got myself back in the mood for reading by returning to old favorites and switching genres for a while.

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Small Pup is a big fan of ‘tiny steps get you places’.

Extra Ordinary

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Small Pup exploring the backyard universe

When we are young, the extraordinary is everywhere. Babies reach for dust motes, sparkling like magic in a stray sunbeam. Toddlers find enchantment in sticks, and stones, and seashells. Shadows hold mysteries, a puddle is an ocean of promise, and every street corner hides a story yet to unfold.

We recently adopted a shelter puppy, which means I’ve been taking endless trips to the backyard in the name of house training. Small Pup is in awe of everything in her newly expanded universe: the crackle of last autumn’s leaves in the woods at the back of our house; the chirp and cheep of crickets and chipmunks and other wild calling things; the dappled play of sunlight through the green boughs.

Our multiple excursions have forced me to slow down, take a break from life, and actually take a good look around me. I’m rediscovering the art of enjoying the details, the little things: early acorns, tiny frogs, the first of the autumn colors in the trees. Last night a small snake — barely a hatchling — slithered past. When it saw us, it froze and raised its head in youthful defiance, until we moved away and it could escape, leaving a rippling trail in the grass.

It takes me back to childhood days I’d thought forgotten. To the tall bushes at the end of my London garden, which I was convinced held a path to a secret world if I could only find the right word, or the right moment, or the right gesture. To games played in the nearby woods, looking for fairies in the quiet places and wondering if the squirrels could be persuaded to talk.

Our young lives are alight with stories of magic doorways and other places: a rabbit hole in the countryside or a space behind a dryer in a big city basement laundry can lead us to a Wonderland of talking playing cards or an Underland of giant roaches and warrior bats. But more than that: when we are small we believe in the possibility of magic and that these imaginary worlds might just be real. We lose that as we grow, and reason and logic begin to prevail.

These stolen moments, out in the backyard with Small Pup listening to the rustle of wildlife in the trees and letting my imagination soar, have been a true gift. I’ve been a little out of sync with my writing lately, and this quiet process of getting back in touch with the enchantment of my childhood days is helping me connect to my own words again. And find the extra in the ordinary.

Summer 2018 Updates

We’re already halfway through 2018 — where did all the months go? Seriously, someone needs to get working on that time-turner technology, and fast! So, what have I been up to this year?

Short stories! I made one of those infamous New Year’s promises to myself that I would submit a short story every month in 2018. So far, I’ve managed to (just about!) keep that promise. Of course, it doesn’t mean every submission has been accepted. But it’s been a good push to keep writing and — just as importantly — to keep sending my work out, even if it gets rejected. And taking a chance also means the occasional success!

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In February, my sci-fi detective tale Blood Makes Noise came out in The Last City anthology (DUST, 2018). This was a really fun initiative, with a shared-world premise that led to plenty of pre-publication discussion in our collaborator Facebook group. Check out our joint author interview in SFF World.

My angel love story Dawn Chorus was published in Kraxon Magazine in March, another happy moment. Kraxon always has great stories (free, go take a peek!) and I have a soft spot for the magazine, as it gave me my first ever paid writing sale, back in 2015. I also just handed in my contribution for an upcoming all-female-writers’ science fiction anthology: a teen time travel romance set in 1985. And I had a short story accepted for another anthology — I will have to wait for the official announcement to say more on this one, but I’m thrilled to be in it as competition was apparently pretty fierce, and the list of participating authors is amazing.

Novels! I spent most of the first part of the year finishing and revising a YA science fiction thriller. It’s completely different from my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, although my critique group says it’s still ‘very me’, which is hopefully a good thing? I’m really excited about this one! After a long querying hiatus, while I fulfilled my contracts for Heart Blade and Night Blade, I now have something brand new and have begun once again looking for an agent. Wish me luck…

And no, I haven’t forgotten my Blade Hunt readers. I’m taking a writing break in July, to visit my family in Brazil, but when I get back it’s all about books 3 and 4. Yes, the plan is to write the last two books in the series together, and hopefully have them done by the end of the year. I love my characters and story, and have promised myself (and a few of you as well) to finish the Blade Hunt Chronicles and give Del, Ash, Raze and co. the ending they deserve.

Appearances! I was once again a panelist at Boskone this February, and it definitely made a difference knowing what to expect this time around. I found that I managed to relax and enjoy my panels, and I ended up having a blast! A lot of this, of course, is due to the great moderators I had. I also took part in my local library’s Author Festival, speaking on the Teen Author panel. Out theme was Inspiration, and it was a great evening and a really good conversation.

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Photo credit Avon Free Public Library

All in all, it’s been a productive year for me so far. With plans to finish the last two Blade Hunt novels in the second semester, and to keep on writing and submitting short stories, it looks like it will get even busier once August arrives.

I’ll leave you with a link to a terrific interview I gave in January on Peat Long’s blog, with bonus Deadpool-riding-on-a-Lego-dinosaur pic. Because why not? Happy summer!

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The View From The Road

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Last week, I posted this brief thread on Twitter:

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Sounds easy, right? Except that us writer types are a notoriously insecure and self-doubting bunch of people, and this isn’t always easy advice to follow.

Once you’ve been bitten by the word bug and you’ve made it past the first hurdles and learnt a little about publishing, chances are that you’re either going to run away screaming and never look back, or dig yourself in and prepare for the zombie apocalypse long run. Those who decide to stay in the bunker and face the crazy, fascinating, heart-breaking, wonderful world of writing will find themselves periodically adjusting their dreams and goals.

SF/F writer Jo Zebedee, after asking writers on Twitter, Facebook, and internet forums, brought out this great blog post on writer aspirations, where the many different responses led her to conclude that not only did the goals and dreams reflect where a writer was in their journey but also that, for every step reached, there’s a new one ahead. Perspective is not only necessary, but crucial, and so is taking time to celebrate the steps you’ve already climbed, rather than just dwelling on the ones to come.

Not long after Jo’s blog post, a comment on the SFF Chronicles forum, by author Stephen Palmer, touched briefly on envy. I think that a certain dose of healthy envy goes hand-in-hand with a writer’s goals and aspirations. Being able to look at someone else’s success, wish them well, but also say to yourself I want to get there someday can be a powerful motivator. Emphasis on healthy envy: as long as you use that as a push to grow in your work, looking up to other authors and using them as inspiration is never a bad thing.

The problem with comparing your writing career to other people’s, is that there will always be someone who is already there, at your next goal, or who has managed your dream achievement. It’s easy to get discouraged, and to think your work will never be that good, that perfect. But I think that sometimes we forget to look back and see how far we’ve come. I’m incredibly proud of my published novels, but sometimes I find myself dismissing the hard work I’ve put in and the stages I’ve reached when I get too stuck on looking ahead at the next big goal.

That stone in the Twitter thread? I bought it for exactly that reason: to remind myself just how much I’ve accomplished already. Do I have objectives, dreams, and lofty aspirations? Absolutely. Do I sometimes feel a quiver of envy, a touch of ‘I’d love that to be me’? Hell, yes. All this keeps me going and fuels my passion for what I do. However, commemorating how I got here, one step at a time, is just as important.

Celebrate your path. Take joy in what lies behind, especially when the way ahead looks daunting. And keep writing. You’ll probably never reach the top of the mountain, because there will always be a higher peak to climb. But the view from the road can be pretty darn satisfying if you take the time to look around.

Write Like Yoda

A few weekends ago, I attended the Eastern PA SCBWI Poconos Retreat, which had as its theme ‘May The Force Be With You’. All attendees were set homework: to prepare a short piece about the Force to share with everyone on the first night. It was a lot of fun hearing all the different takes on the subject, and made for a great ice breaker!

Since this is opening weekend for Solo in the USA, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my own scribblings on the subject…

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As a Seventies baby, I grew up on Star Wars. Luke Skywalker was my first screen crush. I have an X-wing fighter on my writing desk, and tend to repeat Yoda’s famous words when I need a kick to get things started: Do, or do not… There is no try.

Back in 2012 when I first started writing ‘for real’, I lived by Master Yoda’s words. “I will finish this first novel,” I told myself, and I did. I quickly found that if I allowed myself any room to think about it, the doubts crept in. “I’m going to try and finish this by…” was a sure recipe for procrastination and disaster. But if I gave myself concrete goals, and deadlines, then things got done.

I love the concept of the Force in the Star Wars universe. But just believing in yourself (or in a mystical Jedi power) isn’t enough. Luke, Han, and Leia didn’t beat the evil Emperor on belief alone; they worked hard to get there. There is no try. There is believing you can do something — like complete your novel — and then sitting down and making it happen.

I think that people who aren’t in creative fields often have this idea that writers and artists sit down at their workspaces and produce beautiful things without breaking a sweat. Piece of cake, right? Wrong. It takes a lot of effort to produce something, whether an illustration, a novel, a picture book, or any other creative piece. It’s far from easy. But without those two things — belief and perseverance — it would be impossible.

So may the Force be with all of you, but remember, no one gets things done on the Force alone. I believe in you. Now go do it.

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Not Fine At All

Today I have a guest blogger! The talented Liz Powell shares a lighthearted take on her writing process. Liz is the author of Hunted and Otherworld. When she’s not working on deliciously angsty romance and fantasy novels, you can find her on Twitter or Goodreads.

 

Liz: My writing process goes more or less like this…

1) Am in the middle of boring non-writing task, e.g. washing, squashed under someone’s armpit on the Tube, eyes glazed over staring at Excel at work, when lightning bolt hits brain. An Idea has arrived. And now I MUST WRITE THIS NOVEL IMMEDIATELY, THAT’S IMMEDIATELY, ABANDON EVERYTHING AND LET’S GO!

2) Two thousand words in. Wow. Fingers raw from typing, maniacal grin plastered to face. It’s 2am but that’s fine. This is GREAT. Imagining bookstores lined with my novel, signing copies for adoring fans. Being interviewed at premiere of film adaptation. Phone ringing off the hook. What’s that, Harry Styles? You’re begging for the lead role?

3) Ten thousand words in. Wireframe plot of nonsensical lines of dialogue and thoughts beginning to crumble. Self doubt sets in. Perhaps…this novel is not the one… No, no. Don’t be weak. Persevere. You’ve got Harry Styles’ future acting career on the line here!

4) Twenty thousand words. Am by now a mess of rewriting and anxiety. Imagining crawling to the end of this novel only for it to be submitted to agents and laughed at as the most droolingly pathetic excuse for novel-writing they have seen in their sophisticated lifetimes. Have sweaty nightmares of rejections with simply the words HA HA! scrawled in red pen, a la the Nelson Muntz Literary Agency. Spend hours rewriting one paragraph. It’s 2am, but everything is Not Fine. Not Fine at all.

5) Draw diagrams of plot movements to calm brain. Realise nothing actually makes sense. How does one write bad guys? Would anyone ever, truly, be so maniacal? Research serial killers and find that, disappointingly, many real bad guys are just pathetic, not even in a Love-to-Hate them way.

6) As writing exercise, consider re-writing the Harry Potter novels from Voldemort’s point of view. That will teach me how to make a sympathetic villain!

7) Wait. Where can I find an accurate source about Voldemort’s family tree?

8) Three hours into a wikipedia spiral about silk moths, when disaster strikes. No, it’s not a silk moth, it’s a silk worm! Three sequel’s worth of content shelved. Panic well and truly setting in. Twitching in sleep. The words HA HA! swirl around my brain. Voldemort re-write not even a worthy distraction. Everything is exceedingly Not At All Fine.

9) Lay awake at night and suddenly, BINGO, lightning hits again. We can make this work, brain! Just…get rid of those nasty, fetid thirty thousand words you’ve already done. Look. Nice fresh clean page. This time…this time it will be The One…

Originally posted on the SFFChronicles.com forum and reblogged with Liz’s kind permission.

liz

Poconos Retreat, Part II

(Continued from Part I)

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Our last day dawned soft and gray, drizzle misting in from the hills around us. Luckily the weather had no impact on everyone’s enthusiasm, and after another amazing breakfast (seriously, Highlights, do you not want us to ever leave?), we gathered once again in the main room in the Barn to watch the faculty talk us through some of the (anonymous) first pages and illustrations that attendees had sent in. I’m always fascinated at these events to find out just what an experienced editor will pick out of a fragment of text.

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Mealtimes at the Barn

We broke up into workshops after this, and I chose to hear agent Kira Watson talk us through scene development. We looked at the difference between ‘core’ scenes and ‘bridge’ scenes, and how to avoid the so-called ‘fluff’ scenes. Kira told us that each scene should make a difference, even if it’s a bridge scene, and not just be there to fill space. I’m looking forward to trying her flashcard exercise!

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Kira Watson talks us through scene essentials

The final keynote was given by picture book author Tara Lazar. Tara’s speech was joyous and uplifting, even when talking about personal obstacles, and was just right for sending us home all fired up to get back to creating. She both began and ended her talk by reminding us that “there is no divide”, and that authors are just people like anyone else.

We sat down for a last lunch (with a huge round of applause for chef Amanda and her staff), and then said our goodbyes to all our new (and old) friends, and then it was time to take off my name tag, grab my bags, and drive the three hours back to Connecticut.

 

Our printed schedule ended with Master Yoda’s words: “That which you seek inside you will find.” That may be true, but all of us at the 2018 Poconos Retreat found plenty in each other, too, and in the inspiring words of our weekend mentors.

 

 

High points for the weekend:

  • Location, location, location. And did I mention location?
  • Star Wars references everywhere!
  • Great faculty choices: everyone was kind, generous, and friendly, full of wisdom to share.
  • Good attendee vibes. Everywhere I turned I was met with a smile and a friendly face. I returned home with lots of nice memories, and plenty of new Twitter and Instagram contacts, too.
  • My awesome roommate, Tina Holt. I was a little worried about sharing a cabin with a stranger, but Tina was a star. #TeamCabin20
  • Okay, I won’t mention the food again, but I loved the ‘help yourself’ hot/cold drinks stations set up all over the place. And the baskets of snacks, too. (Oops, did I just mention food?)
  • The Eastern PA SCBWI crew: Kim Briggs, Alison Green Myers, Lindsay Bandy, and Virginia Manning. You all rock, thanks for organizing this tremendous weekend.

 

Poconos Retreat, Part I

(In two parts, because it was just THAT great!)

 

Ever since I met the ray of sunshine that is YA author Kim Briggs, five years ago at my first ever SCBWI conference (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), I’ve wanted to go to the annual retreat organized by her region, Eastern PA SCBWI. This year I finally made it down to Pennsylvania, and I’m so glad I did!

Around thirty or so writers and illustrators gathered with faculty and staff at the lovely Highlights Foundation center in the Poconos, for a weekend of workshops, critique sessions, good food (so much good food!), and lots and lots of creative chit chat. The theme? May The Force Be With You, of course. What else for a start date of May 4th?

The magic began on Friday evening. After appetizers, the illustrator showcase, and dinner, we were all invited to go to the podium and present our homework. Yes, homework: to prepare a short presentation of what the Force means for you and your work. A great opening for the weekend. (I’m saving mine to share in another blogpost; wait and see!)

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Wookiee Cookie from Saturday’s lunch

Saturday, after a generous breakfast in the Barn (seriously. So. Much. Food.), we were treated to an opening keynote by YA author K.M. Walton, who encouraged us to trust our goals and dreams; to know our dreams and do the work to make them happen.

Next, I headed up to the Lodge for a workshop on Plot Meets Character with Kate Prosswimmer, editor for the Sourcebooks Fire and Jabberwocky imprints. Kate went over some of the key approaches for breaking down plot and character in stories, and then suggested we chart our own novels with the tools she introduced us to.

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Plot Meets Character workshop

After lunch (more REALLY GOOD food; I was feeling thoroughly pampered by that point!), it was time for the keynote by author/illustrator Angela Dominguez. Angela talked about the difficulties of growing up bilingual — something that most people in my family can relate to! She also gave us an important reminder: that there’s a lot of waiting in publishing, and it’s okay to get frustrated.

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Keynote by Angela Dominguez

It was time for a break and a group photo, and then onto the keynote by editor and author Harold Underdown. Harold walked us through a selection of children’s books for all ages and talked about the importance of beginnings and endings: of making a promise to your reader at the start of a story, and following through on that promise at the end.

The afternoon was set aside for peer critiques (and one-on-one critiques with faculty for those who had signed up for one), but as I had been deep in revision mode when the deadline came around, I hadn’t sent anything in. Instead, I snuck off to my cabin for a bit of tea and quiet time. With so much information bouncing around in my head, it was a perfect way to unwind.

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Some much-needed downtime

Saturday evening brought nachos on the patio while the faculty signed books inside, followed by dinner and the silent auction. There were lots of amazing items to bid on, and I’m pleased that one of my bids made it to the end: a 15-page manuscript critique offered by agent Kira Watson, along with a signed ARC from her client Naomi Hughes’ upcoming release, Afterimage.

We closed the night on a high note: with s’mores on the patio by the open-air fireplace under twinkling lights. And then it was off to our cozy cabins for our last night in Writer’s Paradise.