Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Home sweet home

I got home on the 18th after a long train ride from Vermont.  I was so happy to be home with my family, but I truly missed all the friends I made at school.  I never expected to develop such strong connections with so many people-people who are going through the same thing I am.  No one here quite understands my life right now, but my Vermont friends get it.  

On the 16th, the first 20 pages of my middle grade novel was workshopped.  I was terrified that someone would say, "Oops, now we see that you don't belong here.  You aren't good enough yet.  Come back in a few years."  But no one did.  In fact, I got many compliments on the novel, and lots of helpful feedback.  The common thread in all the critiques was that it was ambitious, and complex, and that I had taken on a big task for myself.  That kind of freaked me out.  But the novel is finished, and no loose ends were left hanging.  So I guess it's not too bad.  I gave the entire novel to Sarah Ellis to read, and she'll give me some feedback on it with her response to my first packet.  Which is due on August 13th.  OMG!  

I am focusing this packet on the picture book.  I've written a couple first drafts  so far-I intend to turn in 4 or 5 picture books with this packet, an annotated bibliography of about 20 books (mostly pb's), and 2 critical essays whose topics will be something to do with picture books also.  I'm feeling pretty confident about the rest of the packet-but those essays are stressing me out.   I'm beginning to think that maybe picture books are not my thing.  They are really hard to write well!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What day is today?

Yesterday, whatever day that was, I went to graduate lectures, graduate readings, workshop, and I met with Sarah Ellis and the rest of her group of students (there are 5 of us).  I also read one of my picture book manuscripts (minus the pictures) to the rest of the newbies.  We each read a piece of work for 3 minutes or less.  I am part of an amazingly talented group of writers.  I am honored to be a member of this class-the Working Titles.  

What did I learn today?  I learned about the controlling belief of characters.  I will explain more about this when I have more time.  I've learned so much over the last week that my brain feels full.

Today's agenda?  Lecture by Rita Williams-Garcia, graduate lectures and readings, meet with Sarah Ellis privately to talk about what, exactly, I will be working on this semester.  It's an early night tonight, and I will be hitting the sack as soon as I can.

Tomorrow? I forget.  Lack of sleep will do that to a person.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 7

Yesterday, July 13, 2008 we had 2 graduate lectures that were fascinating (one compared the artistic life of Picasso to the way a writer learns-it was wonderful!)  Then we had a lecture by Martine Leavitt that spoke about the writing life and ways to make it more effective.  We ate lunch with Norma Fox Mazer, and then we workshopped 2 pieces (not mine-I go on Wednesday). More graduate readings, Sarah Ellis spoke about fairies in literature, pizza dinner where we decided our interim class name would be Working Title.  We heard MT Anderson, Alan Cumyn, Sharon Darrow, and Shelley Tanaka read their work.  Then we waited.  The staff assigned us to our faculty advisor over dinner, but tormented us by making us wait until 10:30 to post it!  I will be working with Sarah Ellis and I am very excited about it!  I think she'll be a great teacher and I'll get a lot out of this semester.

What did I learn?  I learned to announce myself as a writer.  I learned to make the time to write regularly, because no one else will make the time for me.  I learned that I have the power to make things happen.

Today's agenda:  Meet with Sarah Ellis and the rest of my group.  Free morning (I don't know what to do with myself!).  Workshop.  Tonight I read for the rest of the newbies.  With a microphone.  Ugh.

Tomorrow:  Lunch with Kathi Appelt to discuss her new book, THE UNDERNEATH!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 6 - Picture Book Day

Yesterday, July 12, 2008, we heard some fabulous lectures!  Susan Stevens Crummel and Janet Stevens, sister author and illustrator, told us about the process they went through in writing some of their incredible picture books (too many to mention here).  They were entertaining and really gave us a glimpse into their highly creative minds.  We also heard from alum Sarah Sullivan, who spoke of her experiences in getting published.  And finally, we heard from Jeanette Larson, editor at Harcourt, who spoke of the process of creating a picture book from the other side of the editor's desk.  There was a Q&A panel with these guest where they answered the questions we all have.  We had a BBQ dinner on the green and an opportunity to get to know our classmates a little better.  Then...the big party!!! It was a great time, but I'll never be able to look at the faculty the same way!  They were dancing and partying with the rest of us and having a fantastic time!  

What did I learn?  Vermont College is an amazing place where magic happens.  People make connections with other students as well as faculty that will carry on long after graduation.  The school feels like a giant family; no one ever feels left out and can join or not join in at any time.  The faculty put themselves in the mix with the students-they stay in the dorms, attend the lectures, and play at the parties.  I will miss this place terribly when I'm done!

Today's agenda:  A few graduate lectures, a lecture by Martine Leavitt, author of Keturah and Lord Death, and readings tonight by some of the faculty, including MT Anderson, author of Feed (among others)-who by the way was dancing up a storm last night!  Tonight we get the results of the "speed dating"!  But honestly, I'd be happy with any one of the 15 advisors; they're all wonderful.

Tomorrow:  Meet with advisor; FREE MORNING!!!  Two whole hours with nothing scheduled!  Yahoo!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 5 - Lectures Continue...

Yesterday, July 11, 2008, our first lecture was by Shelley Tanaka, author of many creative non-fiction picture books, and the second was by Tim Wynne-Jones, author of Rex Zero, King of Nothing.  Both lectures were fascinating.  Later in the day we had a funny lecture by MT Anderson, author of Feed and Octavian Nothing among many others.  He was a great speaker, but in listening to him I realized how little I really know about the science of writing!  The auction later in the evening was hysterical-with the auctioneers being MT Anderson and Tim Wynne-Jones.  I wish someone had recorded it-we could've put it on YouTube!  The auction raised $8500 for the school's scholarship fund.

What did I learn today?  I learned about motivation, and how important finding your character's motivation is for you story.  How motivation drives plot.  And I learned how much I still need to learn!

Today's agenda:  Picture book day with lectures by Illustrator Janet Stevens and picture book author Susan Stevens Crummel, author Sarah Sullivan, and agent Jeanette Larson.  Later is the big party!

Tomorrow:  Norma Fox Mazer is coming to discuss her new book, The Missing Girl.  And...tomorrow night we find out who our faculty advisor is for this semester!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Day 4 - Lectures begin

Yesterday, July 10, 2008, we had our first set of lectures.  We heard from Sharon Darrow, author of a wonderful book called Painters of Lexieville (and others), and Alan Cumyn, author of The Secret Life of Owen Skye (and others), and Louise Hawes, author of Black Pearls (and others).  Then we had workshop, where we spent 2 hours discussing 2 very talented people's work.  My workshop day is sometime next week, I think.  We also went to a graduate lecture that was fabulous, faculty readings, and of course, speed dating.  That was where we had about an hour or so to interview each of the 15 faculty members so we could choose 8 for our list.  Basically it is a process of elimination-who do I not want to work with.  Some factors are that an advisor works with primarily poetry, for example.  I am not a poet, so I would not want to work with her.  It was a mad dash around the campus to ask a question or two of each advisor.  
Food has been interesting.  Last night for dinner it was Tempe Dogs.  I think that's a form of tofu in the shape of a hot dog.  I had vegetables and a piece of bread.  The cookies though are another story.
Then of course there was karaoke.  I only stayed for a few minutes, and it was fun, but by that time my brain was frazzled and I needed some time back in the room to decompress before going to sleep.  I was not the only one.  

What did I learn?
In Sharon's workshop and in Louise's workshop, I learned ways to dig deeper to get to the true heart and passion of the character.  In Alan's workshop, I learned some of the pitfalls of writing and how to avoid them.  In the grad. lecture, I learned the science of creating humor.  In workshop, I learned to read carefully and what things to look for when critiquing a piece of writing.  I learned nothing in Karaoke that I didn't already know (I am not brave enough to get up and sing unless I have many magaritas!)

Today's agenda:
Today is registration, so I have to fork over the money.  Also lectures by Shelley Tanaka, Tim Wynne-Jones, and MT Anderson.  Tonight is yet another cocktail party and then an auction of some sort run by Tim Wynne-Jones and MT Anderson.  Should be fun!

Picture Book Special Day Event!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day 3 - Orientation

Yesterday, July 9, 2008 was a jam-packed day with so much information I felt like my brain would pop.  We had library orientation, and computer lab orientation, and a general new student orientation.  I've now introduced myself to this group at least 5 times-they know more about me at this point than most of my friends at home!  We had lunch with the faculty; I sat with Kathi Appelt, author of the amazing book THE UNDERNEATH, and Leda Schubert, author of the beautiful picture story book BALLET OF THE ELEPHANTS.  They were both truly incredible people who genuinely love teaching us newbies.  In a few days, I'll have to list the names of the faculty members I would like to have as my advisor this semester.  Out of the 15 (?), I get to list 8, and then it's a random selection from there.  Each residency, the number to choose gets lower so you are more likely to work with exactly who you want.  Everyone says, "Trust the Process."  In other words, you will get exactly who you are meant to get each semester and it all works out in the end.  I believe that's true.  I have to, because they are all so wonderful, I don't know who to eliminate from my list!

What did I learn today? 
 I learned that living this closely with a group of people bonds you in ways I never would've imagined.  When the "upper-classmen" got back together on campus yesterday, there was laughter, tears, hugs, and just a general excitement.  You could see how close they were.  It's a very special connection.

What's on today's agenda?
Let the wild rumpus begin!  We have many lectures scheduled today-Sharon Darrow, Alan Cumyn, Louise Hawes, and a couple of graduating students.  Oh, and our first workshop.  After dinner is faculty readings and then KARAOKE!

Tomorrow: More lectures!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Day 2 - Meeting the newbies

So, yesterday, July 8, 2008, was spent getting settled into the dorms (was that only yesterday that I dragged my enormous suitcase up 3 flights of stairs?) and getting to know the other newbie students.  I've met lots of wonderful and interesting people.  The thing that strikes me most, though, is the diversity, in age, in location, and in interests.  At 38, I am right in the middle of the age range.  We have a few grandmothers, and a few young-uns, and many people like me with young and teenage children.  It's fascinating!  There are people from all over the world, literally (one woman has been living in Iceland for the past 2 years and is in the process of moving to China!)  and certainly from all over the US.  Not too many men, though.  I think there are only 3 or 4 in our class.  And that's another thing-our graduating class is huge compared to previous classes.  The group that just graduated in January only had 8 people.  Our group has 27!  

What did I learn today?  That walking up and down the hill from the college into the town of Montpelier is hard work (people have likened it to the Grinch's descent into Whoville).  That dorm rooms with no air in the summer are HOT!  And that it's fun to get to know lots of new people with similar interests.

Today's agenda:
Orientations.  All day.  And a cocktail reception tonight.  I may need a drink after a whole day of orientation.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day 1 - Travel

Yesterday, Monday, July 7, 2008, I took the train from Stamford, CT to Montpelier, VT.  Because of delays, it took about 9 hours.  But it was 9 hours of watching dvd's, reading, napping, and chatting with the 3 other new students I met on the train.  Then it was off to sleep at Betsy's Bed and Breakfast for a good night sleep.

What did I learn?
I learned that everyone is as excited and nervous as I am.
I don't know how to relax and do nothing.  I was so antsy on the train, I probably drove everyone else crazy.

What's on today's agenda?
Checking in to the dorms, lunch at Thrush Tavern with as many newbies as I can gather, exploring the town, then an informal dinner at the school.  Who knows what else might come up?!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

This is it!

The day that I've been waiting for for the past 6 months, really the past 2 years, is finally here.  Tomorrow morning I get on a train bound for Montpelier, Vermont to begin my MFA degree at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  I'll be on the train for 8 hours, ugh, and on Tuesday I'll meet up with other incoming students for lunch before we begin our official journey.  After only writing seriously for a little over a year, it really is a dream come true to be doing this.   Unfortunately I haven't had time to get excited about it because I've been too busy stressing over the little details of my being away for 2 weeks.  Making sure the house is fully stocked with food, all the laundry is done, my DH knows what to do with the kids to get them off to camp and home again each day.  I've discovered that I am completely obsessive about these little details--so much so that I seriously haven't thought much about going back to school at all.  I suppose once I get on the train tomorrow reality will suddenly hit me in the face and I'll realize I am actually doing this.  Then I can stress over that for awhile.
I will continue to keep you posted as much as I can throughout the residency.  If I can find time in the EXTREMELY BUSY schedule!