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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 spooky mist

The spooky mist

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 barn

The barn

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.

"Ssssssssssam..."

“Ssssssssssam…”

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.

authors come to visit

authors come to visit

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.

Book Review – The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks

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Frankie is the good, little girl living in the shadows and trying to figure out her place in the world. After her older sister graduates and her figure appears, she gains the attention of a cute, older boy. Matthew Livingston on her arm, she begins to think she has it made. And then she realizes, she isn’t the good, little girl she thought she was.

Here’s a bit from Goodreads:1629601

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father’s “bunny rabbit.”
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.

I love, aside from the story, the way Frankie places with language. It seems to be the first thing that shows her rebellious side, and sets her apart from everyone she speaks with. For example, she’ll use words like “gruntled” to infer she pleased. She labels it a “neglected positive”. She looks at the world differently and her sweetheart isn’t quite sure what to think about that.

She’s a girl who hangs with the boys, but doesn’t quite fit in. She is, of course, the cute little “bunny rabbit”. When pranks start being pulled by Matthew and his group of friends, no one questions who is pulling the strings. Meanwhile, Frankie is quietly waging a war behind the scenes.

All of the fun and hilarious drama changes Frankie and everyone in her life. It would be safe to say after this year she’ll never be mistaken for a bunny again.

 

 

Book Review – A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely loved this book. It was written by Patrick Ness, the idea begun by Siobhan Dowd and carried on by Ness after she passed away.

Thirteen year old Conor awakes in the middle of the night to find the monster waiting for him. It’s been coming to him at night since his mother started her treatments, but he doesn’t have the reaction we expect.

“Come and get me then,” the boy says.

Immediately, we are immersed in Conor’s world. He worries for his mum, tolerates his grandmother and doesn’t know what to think about the father who has moved across the world. All the while, the monster comes to him at night and tells him stories.

It’s a beautiful story for ages 12 and up, but a great adult read. This was a book club pick. I won’t ruin the ending, just share a line:

“Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.”

View all my reviews

A Dream Come True – Writer’s Retreat

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I am not an adventurer, not by anyone’s scale. I’m a homebody. I hate roller coasters, horror movies, basically anything that will cause my gray roots to appear sooner than they should. But this weekend, I’m taking off an adventure. It’s one that I began dreaming about years ago without even realizing it.

Adventure is out there!

Adventure is out there!

In 2009, I began writing a story. It was a story like others I’d pieced together and scrapped since I first got a typewriter for Christmas when I was in 9th grade. I wrote it for myself like I always had. I wrote late at night and sitting at the kitchen counter while the kids played. I saved my precious work in progress when my daughter accidentally spilled the coffee I’d been drinking on the keyboard and I transferred it all to a new laptop.

I kept going until I got to the end and then I got stuck.

Four years ago, I was looking at the age of forty approaching and I created this deadline in my head about wanting to have this story perfected, agented and published by the time that birthday rolled around. I read a quote by J. K. Rowling recently about the quickest way to kill an idea is to say it aloud. So I said nothing and sat there with my flawed story.

Life went on as it does. My job changed, my kids grew. My husband told me to keep going, giving me time and encouragement and endless patience when I disappeared to go type words. In the last year I discovered some wonderful writer friends who became the critique partners and finally helped me get unstuck. With love, and humor, and brutal honesty, they helped me rip apart that flawed story that began years ago. I looked over my shoulder when my 40th birthday deadline rolled on by in October, not feeling distressed so much as refocused.

In November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month and finished a new, 50K word story. After writing that first one, I wasn’t sure I had a another one in me, but this character appeared in my mind and starting bossing me around (like all good characters do). I don’t know if the last year has given me more confidence as a writer or not, but I’ve had a few dare-to-dream moments, leading up to this big one.

Here it is. On Sunday I leave for the Djerassi Artists in Residence Program Months ago I applied for the opportunity to spend a week with YA author Nova Ren Suma and was floored and thrilled when I was accepted. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous, but it’s an adventure I wouldn’t have dreamed of years ago when I began that little story. I’ll be spending the week with Nova, other writers and lots of brilliant words. You can find Nova’s Author Page here or check out her Blog She recently did a series called “The Book of My Heart” which was lovely.

If you’re reading this, and you’re not following a dream, a part-time dream, a silly dream, a this-seems-crazy-dream, a this-will-never-work-out dream, I say go for it. At least you’ll have stories to tell. I know I will.

I am Not Ashamed to Read YA

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Originally posted on Rebekah Faubion, Writer:

ireadya

I interrupt an otherwise pleasant Friday morning, to rant for a few moments about an article from Slate. First, you should check it out.

Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read Young Adult books.

Are you back? If you are a reader of this blog, you likely also read Young Adult fiction. Maybe you are a young adult yourself, or maybe you are also a 29-year-old mom and wife living in Texas and taking her kid to swimming lessons.

There is nothing wrong with the article, unless you count everything she says after:

“Not because it is bad—it isn’t—but because it was written for teenagers.”

No doubt her statistics on the amount of adults that choose to read YA fiction over Adult fiction are accurate. On one hand, she speaks to the larger issue of prolonged adolescents among twenty-somethings, which is a topic we should absolutely examine and discuss. The breakdown…

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Flawed Reasoning – How to Be Wrong

Mistakes Enable Discovery
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I often told my students “I am not always right”. This is a powerful thing to say to kids because we empower them to question, reason, and think. In my classroom, it didn’t bother me when they’d find the word I misspelled because I was rushing, or the direction I’d forgotten to give. I’m a terrible artist, so any time I had to draw something, I prefaced it with a warning about my skill.

“You’re a great drawer, Mrs. Hager,” my first graders said.

“You’re right, Mrs, Hager, you’re not good at that,” my fifth graders said.

There’s a moment of being wrong that I hate, though. I hate it more than flying and almost, almost as much as I hate Rod Stewart songs.

Right?

Right?

I hate it when I’m trying to prove a point, and I realize I’m wrong.

Any of you ever had this happen, when you see a glimmer of the other person’s argument, point, or logic, and realize yours doesn’t hold up?

 

I was at a coaching meeting not long ago when I heard something that I’ve not been able to get out of my mind. Two teachers were talking about how they use number talks in their classroom. Talking about numbers is scary to me, because I don’t have great reasoning skills when it comes to numbers. I’m much more comfortable with rules, which is why I loved algebra and accounting, but not physics or geometry.

ME_221_RightOrHappy2

When their students were solving problems, and realized they made a mistake, they used this sentence to explain it:

“I see a flaw in my reasoning. I’d like to change my answer.”

Realizing you’re wrong is hard because you don’t have an out, but here it is. If someone said to me, I’d feel like he or she was the smartest person in the room.

Mistakes Enable Discovery

Mistakes Enable Discovery

This is something I will try to remember the next time I want to be more right than compassionate, to win rather than to relate, and to feel smart rather than learn a truth.

What would the world be like if we embraced our “flawed reasoning”?

 

Book Club Reads – A Monster Calls

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A recent Book Club selection was A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. The premise was originally dreamed up by Young Adult author, Siobhan Dowd. As Ness writes in the Author’s Note: “This would have been her fifth book. She had the characters, a premise and a beginning. What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.” Siobhan died of cancer in 2007, at the age of 47. I don’t know what the book would have looked like in her expert hands, but I was captivated by what Patrick Ness created.

Here’s a bit from Goodreads:
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.

Conor’s mother is fighting cancer, perhaps that’s the reason Conor isn’t immediately frightened when the monster calls to him just after midnight. He’s just awoken from a nightmare. Rather than fearing it, Conor challenges the monster to come and get him. The monster continues to visit, telling him strange tales while his mother deals with the fallout of cancer. Her health demands both Conor’s grandmother and estranged father to visit. Their presence isn’t any relief for Connor, only making him realize how alone he is.

Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.

I’ve added this to my favorites on Goodreads. There are elements of it that a 4th grader would completely relate to, and ones that I did. It’s timeless and lovely. I think Siobhan Dowd would have been pleased.