Monday, July 25, 2011

Sound and Silence

A week ago Sunday another great class of graduates launched themselves out from the Hamline Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, marking the conclusion of eleven days jammed with lectures, readings, workshops, and an intense focus on what comprises good writing for children.

Usually after a residency I go home and take to my bed to catch up on sleep. But this time, thanks to good friends, I headed up to an island to be with yet more children’s writers. Here we write during the day, share and comment on our writing in the evenings, cook together, swim, canoe, read. I am one of those who claim to be writing when it might look as though I’m lying in a hammock or paddling a canoe.

And I do write. I listen to that silence that Marilyn Nelson talked about in her fabulous presentation at Hamline. On the island I listen to the silence of waves and wind and loons and birdsong, the silence of storms and heat haze and cattails and lichen. The silence of ten thousand books and ten fine writers who don’t hesitate to offer their work for discussion or shovel out the outhouse at the end of the week.

I never know what will arise out of that silence, but something always does. Butt in chair, words on page, we write our stories. And that’s good. That’s what we do. But don’t forget the other side of writing. Find yourself some silence. Listen.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Let's Get Critical

I’ve been home for a few days now, recovering from the summer residency. One of the highlights of residency is attending student lectures. These lectures are based on a long paper each student wrote during his/her third semester in the program. While all of us come to the program to focus on creative writing, the critical work has proven to be equally important and interesting. I’ve loved and benefited from these student investigations into some aspect of writing craft or children’s literature. As an advisor I’ve worked with students on a variety of topics for these papers and presentations: creating a setting that is as vibrant as a character; the use of fear in YA fiction; what all YA writers can learn from YA chick lit; visual literacy for writers; elements of the middle grade and YA ghost story; survival fiction and the modern wilderness-starved child; the use of dialect. (And many more)

I know my writing and teaching has grown because of these papers and presentations. Thank you, MFAC students.

And a shout-out to our new grads: Mandy Bachta, Jen Huffman, Rebecca Grabill, Polly McCann, Alice Ross, Ann Schoenbohm, Elizabeth Schoenfeld. Congratulations. We'll miss you.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Plotting Along - Residency Day 8

Workshop magic, Marilyn Nelson historical lyricist, Sheila - deep dark revision. The fun continues as we romp toward graduation tomorrow.

Residency, day???

Whoa--meant to post more often. A quick recap:
Marilyn Nelson read from her wonderful poetry and talked about finding a plot or through-thread when writing in verse.
Kekla Magoon read from her terrific novels and talked about emotional autobiography and how she uses that to enrich her fiction even though the details in the story are not autobiographical.

MFAC faculty have worked us hard: Among the many highlights was a rock-the-house reader's theater presentation of Eleanora Tate's novel The Secret of Gumbo Grove during her session on Plot and Setting.

We're also about half-way through on the student lectures. As always, these are a highlight and I plan to give them their own post soon.

And, finally, on Thursday night many of us watched the Minnesota Twins beat the Kansas City Royals.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Plotting Along Residency - Day 4

Video chat day four-- the fun and stimulation continues.

Best Intentions

We get so busy here at summer residency. Sorry for not updating more frequently. Since the last post we've had a couple more presentations on a plot and a terrific talk by Sarah Davies, literary agent and founder of The Greenhouse Literary Agency.

She talked about things that make an ordinary story extraordinary and cited these as the "great themes" that are worth returning to: friendship, courage, redemption, dilemma, betrayal, power, love, identity, and the omnipresence of the past.

I love that last one. And I also loved her comment that "Big stories spring from small lives."

On another note, we'll be uploading another video soon, but we're all flying around a mile a minute that it's hard to get the camera and the willing on-camera talent in the same place. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Greetings from Saint Paul!

We're trying something new--we're adding some video to the blog to give you a peek at what happens at the MFAC residency.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

ANSWERS, INK An occasional feature of questions that writers might have asked

Dear Inkpot,

I’ve heard a lot about the rule of three being important in writing. Do you think I should revise my novel to A TALE OF THREE CITIES?

Doubly (or triply) yours,


Dear Chuck,

Three as a rule shows up often in children’s books: three little pigs, three billy goats gruff, three bears, three wishes. But as with almost all rules about writing, this is more a rule of thumb than an absolute dictum.

The rule of three may have its roots in philosophy: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. When faced with a problem, the protagonist may try one solution, then the opposite solution, then a third solution that might be some combination of the first two.

If all three fail, readers and protagonist are left with a feeling of almost utter despair, a bleak moment. If only one or two solutions fail, the problem may seem trivial. If six or seven solutions fail, the problem may seem so unsolvable as to lose a reader’s interest.

So the rule of three is certainly a useful concept, but I believe there is only one real rule of writing, and that is, make it work. If two cities works in your story, then go for it, and good luck!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Off to Saint Paul

If we’ve been quiet it’s because most of us are headed to St. Paul for the summer residency. I’ve been finishing up with a summer session class and reviewing workshop pieces in advance of the residency. I’ve also been busy checking over my essential residency supplies (toaster, coffee maker, dishwashing stuff, egg-carton pad to supplement the awful mattress) because we’ll all be moving into the on-campus apartments.

Not part of the Hamline MFAC community? You can join us for several events. In addition to the many great faculty and student readings, there are some guest authors--including Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall), who will be speaking near the end of the residency.

Residency, BTW, is fun.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Are We Having Fun Yet?

For two days now we’ve had 90+ temperatures and humidity you could wade through, but last night the heat broke with a thunderous storm. I sat outside with a glass of wine and watched the clouds boil in over my neighbors’ rooftops until the plummeting rain drove me inside.

This morning, early, I’ve been out in the cool clean air tending my garden in my small city yard. My hands smell like parsley, sage, and rosemary (the thyme didn’t need any work today).

I love to garden, but it’s not always easy. Sometimes seeds don’t sprout. Sometimes cute little bunnies get to my plants before I do. Despite everything I try, every year wasps lay their eggs in my squash stems, where they hatch into squash borers and eat their way out. Rain, no rain, heat, hail all happen whether I want them to or not.

Gardening (and writing) always reminds me that results are uncertain and beyond my control. But I love the acts themselves. Are they fun? Maybe. Does doing them make me happy?

You betcha.