Recently, I went to a workshop taught by YA author Nova Ren Suma at Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California. I had worked with Nova in a previous class and was so excited to be selected for this opportunity. I knew it would be productive. I knew that I would have time and get to work with other writers. But there was so much more that I didn’t expect. I’ve been pondering all week what exactly I wanted to say about what I found meaningful, so here goes.
I didn’t expect to love the quiet. I write with the TV, or music, or Netflix ever present in the background. My first night there, I spent a while staring at the ceiling listening to the crickets without the familiar comfort of my television, and I lived to the tell the tale. Imagine that.
The longing for noise didn’t go away immediately, but it did go away. It wasn’t long before I was spending more time looking around at my surroundings than at a TV screen.
Each morning we would gather in the barn to critique another writer’s work. I began to really love these stories and hearing where the ideas came from, what lit the spark that started this story or that story. Conversations would last well into the night over glasses of wine and begin the next morning over coffee, hours spent in front of laptops in between. It was like everyone’s stories and characters were in constant motion.
The most interesting thing about focusing on each others stories, was that our “real lives” faded into the background. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t seen as a mom, or a wife or a teacher, but instead the writer of a reckless foster kid and the crazy world she lives in (my fictional creation).
As Nova and I sat down for our one on one conference, I found myself wanting to remember every word that she said, the wisdom she had to offer, cementing the answers to all my questions in my mind. But that wasn’t what I walked away thinking. I left thinking that an author I very much admire thinks I have a story worth telling. All the details of how to work on it were written down. I had taken copious notes during our workshop. The little nugget of feeling like my story needed to see the light of day gave me the drive to sit down and type words.
Lots of them.
It would be an understatement to say I’m not a “nature girl” but I did have the opportunity to take a tour of the property with Tom and his trusty dog Hank. Bonus, seeing the beautiful art on the property and NOT having to hike. I’ve included some of these shots in the gallery below.
There was wildlife everywhere, deer would come up to the windows and stare at us like we were zoo animals, Nova fashioned a handy spider-trapper and a bat had to be shooed out of the eaves, but I had an up-close-and-personal encounter one day while walking the path to the house. I was wondering what I would do if bitten by a snake when I heard the rattle.
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake slithered across the path a short distance away. My camera was around my neck, but while frozen in place, I managed to get a shot of it. I didn’t move until it was out of sight, but at that point I ran. I might have been screaming. On the bright side, I tucked myself away in my snake-free room that afternoon and got a lot of writing done. I swear I could hear it hissing my name.
The night before we left, we were in for a surprise. Four YA authors: Jody Casella, C.J. Flood, Sarah Ockler and Suzanne Young (pictured left to right) had been touring California for Simon and Schuster’s Summer Lovin’ Tour.
Over conversations on Twitter with Nova, they worked out a private Q&A session and braved the mountain to come spend a few hours with us. They were so kind sharing stories about their writing processes (chaotic they sometimes may be) worries about revising, and excitement about book deals.
We had the opportunity to read aloud each night at the house and I didn’t think I would at the beginning of the week. I did finally venture a bit of an idea that had weaved its way into my head during the week. It wasn’t as much fun as acting out the screenplay of another writer (especially because I got to play the bad-ass lead) but it did feel important to share.
I have a big, rich, full life. I have wonderful family and friends. I have a job I enjoy. I have a husband who loves me and my big dreams. I guess what I feel so in awe of, is that I could feel so equally at home in an amazing place with a talented bunch of writers.
P.S. – Nova is an amazing teacher and I would HIGHLY recommend taking a writing workshop with her should you ever have a chance and the desire. She’s planning on doing more of this in the future (yay!) to get on her mailing list click here.