Sunday, February 26, 2006

Back To Normal

I'm back from my weekend retreating with the New England Society of Childrens' Writers and Illustrators at Whispering Pines. I felt more excited and stimulated about work than I have in a long time. I feel somewhat uncomfortable saying that since my workday involves doing pretty much whatever I want so I really ought to be excited and stimulated all the time.

Still, there is a great deal to be said for for eating three meals a day with people who do the same thing you do, who read the books you read, who are interested in what you're interested in. I spoke with other authors who have also been experiencing a big downturn in school invitations. I spoke with authors who had suggestions for organizations to contact regarding said school presentantions. I had a big discussion at breakfast this morning with a graduate of Vermont College's MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and by 9:00 AM I wanted to go to graduate school.

The urge to go graduate school comes on periodically. It will pass.

I was the first speaker on Saturday morning, which was good because I didn't have to listen to the other talks and go " I have time for a rewrite?" I did just fine. I did not forget my script and have to run back to my room...up an enormous, never-ending get it as I did in the nightmare I had the night before.

Kathy Dawson, Associate Editorial Director at Harcourt Children's Books, gave a great presentation on how writers create fear in their writing. I'm not just saying she was great because Kathy was my editor for eleven years while she was at G. P. Putnam's Sons. (Years ago, Kathy and I bonded over The X-Files. This weekend I kept meaning to ask her if she's watching Bleak House because Gillian Anderson plays Lady Dedlock.)

Nancy Mercado, an editor with Dial Children's Books, spoke about things she's learned about working with books that apply to writers as well as editors. Nancy very bravely gave me an ARC for Defining Dulcie by Paul Acampora even though she has picked up on the fact that I may very well be the Simon Cowell of the kidlit blog world. I've got a blog, Nancy, and I'm not afraid to use it! (Actually, she's probably in luck. I'm reading a really awful adult book. Whatever I pick up next is going to look so good.)

Today, we heard a presentation from illustrator Nicole Wong. I was particularly interested in her education. I'm interested in how artists study art, anyway, because it then raises all kinds of questions for me about how writers study writing.

Susan Burke, associate editor with Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ended the retreat with a talk about the five things she looks for in books, which just happen to be five things writers ought to be paying attention to in their writing, anyway. She had something particularly interesting to say about pacing.

I was struck by something as I listened to the editors this weekend. When I am at various on-line writer hang-outs, I am always hearing that editors don't edit anymore. Having worked for so long with Kathy, I definitely know that isn't true in her case. Nancy talked about encouraging Paul Acampora to send her more and more of Defining Dulcie before there was enough of a book to talk about editing. And Susan talked about working with an author for three years on a novel. What I was hearing this weekend was very different from the rumbling and grumbling I get in other places.

Another good reason, perhaps, to attend a retreat every now and then.

The Whispering Pines Retreat is an annual event, with many writers coming back year after year. Many of the writers who attend are already published. All the work I heard was sophisticated even when it was in early draft form. Writers who attended had the opportunity to submit a writing sample for review by one of the editors and then meet with them for feedback. I didn't hear of anyone who was unhappy with the editorial assistance they received.

In case you can't tell, I am very up on Whispering Pines.


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