Category Archives: VCFA

top 4 post-workshop mistakes to avoid

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Vermont College of Fine Arts Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Vermont College of Fine Arts
Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Kathi Appelt, David Macinnis Gill, Dana Walrath, Joy Peskin Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Kathi Appelt, David Macinnis Gill, Dana Walrath, Joy Peskin
Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You roll your quarters, register, and highlight the dates on the calendar. You pre-pick your plane seat and pack your bags. You’re going to a workshop! You look forward to it for months, fret about how many pairs of shoes to take, and finally, it’s time to blast off. I got to do just that earlier this month when I attended the amazing 12th Annual Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts. (If you’d like a great recap of the experience itself, I highly recommend visiting Debbi Michiko Florence’s site.)

I don’t know about you, but time passes at a sloth’s pace leading up to an event, but then the workshop itself whisks by at road runner speed. If you’re not careful (and by you’re, of course, I mean, I’m), it’s easy as gliding up an escalator to let the whole experience slip away once you’re back home.

Watch out for these post-workshop mistakes . . . 

1. Rushing to query or submit your manuscript. Some writers think, if I don’t send that editor or agent my manuscript as soon as I get home, they’ll forget all about me. Not true, especially when you wisely offer a little reminder in the first sentence of your cover letter about how you met. Even if a presenter gives you a teensy window–like six weeks–to submit, take your time. Better to email a glistening, well-groomed manuscript, than to rush yourself and offer a schloppy copy. Your work is a reflection of you. Go for shiny, not speedy.

2. Neglecting your notes–if your notes are handwritten (mine always are), type them up. Seriously. It won’t take long, and while you’re typing, you’ll be reviewing the gems the presenters shared with you. It’ll be easy to highlight the parts that resonate with you too. [Next, pop some brackets around a hint or suggestion that perfectly applies to your WIP and cut/paste it into your ms. to serve as a reminder when you return to that section.] Don’t want to type? Use an old school highlighter or sticky notes to spotlight the bits you most want to recall. Put those pages (or copies of them) in the folder of goodies (research, hard copies, feedback) you’re compiling for this new novel. The idea is to incorporate every epiphany, aha and eureka into what you’re working on now, plus you’ll make them easier to find for future follies, that is to say, novels.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

3. Disconnecting with the people who “clicked” with you. Friend them on Facebook, send a follow-up email or connect with them on LinkedIn. Send a text, a tweet or smoke signal, whatever works for you. These are your new peeps who share your passion. Passing on this chance to expand your circle is criminal, okay, well, at the very least, a pity.

4. Cooling off—you arrived home pooped, but positively giddy about a new idea for your WIP, but then your fervor fizzled. Family, your tyrannical to do list and Facebook eclipsed your euphoria. Don’t let them! If you have a critique group (or a beloved writing buddy), share what you learned with them. Talking about the lectures will help to solidify concepts in your mind. Your group/buddy may also be able to help decide out how to best use what you learned (and of course, you can return the favor). Ask someone to hold you accountable and offer to do likewise.

How about you? How do you keep the momentum moving after a workshop or retreat?

It is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. ~ J.K. Rowling

how to “rung” in the new year

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From "Frog and Toad"  by Arnold Lobel

From “Frog and Toad”
by Arnold Lobel

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When you’re up high, let’s say on a ladder, people always tell you, don’t look down. But do me a favor, will you? Take a minute to glance over your shoulder. That’s right, look down the ladder the today. Here’s why . . .

When your sole focus is looking up the publishing ladder as you struggle to climb rung by rung, it’s easy to feel like you’ll never reach the top. But let me encourage you to hold the rung a second. Pause. Even for a moment. Stop craning your neck upward and turn. Look back down that ladder. You started at the bottom, maybe this year or maybe years ago. Now, see how far you’ve come!

Today, before you uncork some bubbly or sing that silly “Auld Lang Syne,” make a list–not a mental list, a REAL list on paper or screen–of all you’ve accomplished this year toward your writing goals. You have so much to be proud of. (I know, I should have said, You have so much of which to be proud, but that sounds kind of snooty for my purposes, and using proper grammar wasn’t one of my goals for 2013!)

Sure, there’s a lot more you want to do (same here), but treat yourself to a moment to appreciate how high you’ve already climbed. Take a deep breath. Enjoy the view!

My “rungs” for 2013 include:

January – Attending the annual SCBWI winter conference in New York City. Amazing!
February – Seeing my non-fiction article “Sculpting Lincoln” in Highlights for Children magazine.
March – Participating in a writers workshop at Vermont College of Fine Arts and receiving encouragement from incredible YA authors Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lauren Myracle and Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa.
July – Celebrating with my dear friend Kelly Barson on her debut novel “45 Pounds More or Less”–and being honored to be included in her acknowledgements page–a first for me!
November – Being selected to be part of the SCBWI – Eastern New York Falling Leaves master class workshop in Silver Bay, New York, and meeting five amazing edtiors, along with more than 30 encouraging writers.
December
– Enjoying another year of mutual support and feedback from my wonderful critique group (aka, Church of the Word!).
– Toasting the first anniversary of “Frog on a Dime.” I started with zero followers and now have 1,043. (Not record shattering, but hey, it’s progress.)
– Finishing through Lesson 8 of 9 in my Institute of Children’s Literature writing class. My second middle grade novel is almost done.
– Gathering ideas and details for my third middle grade novel that’s bubbling to the surface (Finally! Phew.) Exciting!

I’m wishing I could say my second novel is completely done. I’d like to say I have an agent and a two-book deal a publishing house. But those rungs are just ahead of me (fingers and toes crossed). I’ll be delighted to put those on my 2014 rung list.

What’s that? You say you submitted your work this year, but only have a stack of rejection letters to show for it? Well, that’s VERY rung-list worthy. (Honest. I’m not just saying that to give you something to put on your list.) You submitted your work (it’s virtually impossible to receive a letter of rejection otherwise!) You wrote, revised, researched publishers and took the leap to share your work for consideration. Okay, so you didn’t get the desired response, but you’re now ready to narrow your search and target new houses for submission in the new year. That’s great. Rung it up!

Happy New Year! Let’s “rung” it in together. Umquam porro. Ever forward, my friends. Ever forward. Rung by rung.

A poet is a man who puts up a ladder to a star and climbs it while playing a violin. ~ Edmond de Goncourt

meet debut YA author K. A. Barson

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K.A. Barson (aka my friend Kelly)

K.A. Barson (aka my friend Kelly)

45 Pounds More or Less by K.A. Barson

45 Pounds More or Less by K.A. Barson


What a delight to welcome my friend and favorite new YA author K.A. Barson to Frog on a Dime. Kelly’s debut novel 45 POUNDS (More or Less) will be released by Viking on July 11. I was lucky enough to read it this week. Trust me, you will want to pre-order yours now! In fact, order two–one for you and one for a teen girl you love. She’ll thank you for it!

Recently Kelly was kind enough to pull up a dime and spend a little time answering a series of grueling, mind-numbing questions. She’s quite a trooper.

So, Kelly, when did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I don’t remember ever not wanting to be a writer, but for most of my life it wasn’t a real dream. It was like wanting to be President or an astronaut or professional basketball player or rock star kind of dream. I wrote stories and sometimes submitted them. One rejection meant they were destined to live in my file cabinet. I didn’t realize that it was something I could really do until I shared with a friend from church that I’d written a book for young readers (it had a file condo in my cabinet) and she introduced me to this group called SCBWI. Her name is Vicky. Maybe you know her?

Very funny, Kelly. So, back to you, what is it about writing for children that appeals to you versus writing for adults?
I don’t have much in common with adults. Kids’ and teens’ feelings and life experiences feel the most alive and real to me. Whenever I imagine a story, it’s from a young person’s perspective. They have the most unique ways of looking at the world.

What were your favorite books growing up?
My first loves were Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss. I remember making up my own stories to the Mother Goose illustrations. I would look at them for hours, long before I could read. Then I devoured everything by Beverly Cleary and then Judy Blume. As a teen, I loved Stephen King.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?
When talking about my work-in-progress at the time, a mentor once told me that my character has to DO something besides not die. That really stuck with me. Knowing a character’s motivation–what s/he wants and why s/he reacts a certain way–has helped me shape my work ever since.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
It takes 10,000 hours to master any craft. I wish I would have had the patience to wait until I had my hours in before submitting. I was gutsy enough to think I had what it took long before that. Maybe I needed that intestinal fortitude to keep going, but when I read some of the stuff I submitted too early, I’m embarrassed.

What are you glad you didn’t know when you were starting out?
I’m glad I didn’t know how long it would take. If my Magic 8 Ball had given me cold, hard numbers and dates of when things would finally start happening, it might have been too overwhelming. I might have given up. I hope I wouldn’t have, but the idea that it “could happen tomorrow” kept me going. I might not have worked as hard if I knew it would still be years away.

What’s the most encouraging thing anyone has ever said to you (related to writing)?
This is the hardest question. I’ve been blessed with a massive support network–from my dear friend Vicky who first encouraged me to be a real writer to multiple-award-winning authors who’ve cheered for me every step of the way. Just thinking about the answer to this question has overwhelmed me with gratitude.

What advice would you give to someone who has been pursuing publication for a long time, with close calls, but no contracts?
Never give up. “The Call” happens in an instant, often when you least expect it. Just keep plugging along and don’t let discouragement rule you. It really could happen tomorrow.

You’re a great encourager, Kelly. Thank you so much for stopping by. Best wishes on the release of your awesome first novel. I know teen readers will love it as much as I did.

And, as always, we end with a quote. This one happens to be one of Kelly’s favorites . . .

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t–you’re right. ~ Henry Ford.

focusing on the write thing

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My "cheerleader," Cynthia Leitich Smith

My “cheerleader,” Cynthia Leitich Smith

My "cheerleader," Lauren Myracle

My encouraging retreat critique group--Ann Finkelstein, Anna Boll, me and Lori Steel

My encouraging retreat critique group–Ann Finkelstein, Anna Boll, me and Lori Steel

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Someone once told me that the way detectives learn to spot a counterfeit is to study the original. The more familiar they are with, say a real $100 bill, the easier it is to see the differences in a fake. In other words, they focus on the good, not the bad.

This weekend I participated in a retreat for writers of novels for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. Now, I’ve been to lots of writing conferences and workshops over the last decade, but what set this experience apart was the emphasis on the positive. Retreat organizer Sarah Aronson told us at the outset that when we receive a critique we should not discount the good comments we receive.

Too often that’s just what I’ve done. I think to myself, This person is only saying kind things to let me down gently before the hammer falls. But Sarah encouraged us to really listen to the observations about what we’re doing well. The good bits are, after all, the parts we want to create more of, right? By concentrating on recognizing my authentic writing voice, not the counterfeit, I’m better able to hear the difference between what’s true and what’s tinny. Sarah’s advise made all the difference for me. I soaked up the good comments, not to pump my ego, but to learn how to make progress.

It goes without saying, but here I go saying it, that this doesn’t mean I get to ignore the parts of my work that need, well, work. (Some of it is downright stinky. Get the clothes pins please!) And sure, it’s essential to listen to constructive criticism, to consider the suggestions of others and to welcome even hard-to-hear feedback. But allowing myself to accept words of specific affirmation has caused me to see my abilities in a whole new light. I’m better able to see what’s possible, instead of thinking, this is impossible.

As a result of embracing the positive, when our amazing presenters like authors Cynthia Leitich Smith or Lauren Myracle or Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa humbled me with kind words, I could thank them. Was I shocked? Okay, yes. But I was still able to thank them instead of waving the words away.

I came home from the retreat feeling rejuvenated. My faith in my abilities was bolstered a bit and I can honestly say I feel hopeful for the first time in a long time. I am energized, instead of deflated. WOW, does that feel good!

You may not be able to escape to a writers retreat in the mountains of Vermont (I’m still stunned that I was able to!), but let me encourage you to adopt the same shift in focus. You will be amazed at the difference it can make. I’m positive of that.

You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mister In-Between. – Johnny Mercer