Suzuki_Harunobu_-_Woman_Admiring_Plum_Blossoms_at_Night

She is…

She is alive

Still

Alive

Her forgotten
beneath her feet
in quiet evening mist
held
by memory’s tombstones
and uneven ground

Her wishes
born like starlight
skim
across constellations
fall
behind the line of dawn
where her dragons sleep

Her hope
worn on her hip
empty
for that double edged sword
waiting
to fill her body like
a river meets the sea

Her lessons
on torn paper
practiced
from accidental tales
open
wide to disappointment
a door to her belief

She is…

She is alive

Aunt Rhoda 4

She is…
She is reborn
Spread beneath the stars
On strings pulled tight from invisible heaven
Her fingers pluck the tune

A starlight taker

She is the tour guide
A route through memory’s artifacts
The line forms to the left
To buy cheap replicas of her dreams

An artful faker

She is pleasure and pain
Your never ending wish
The long way home
Easy answer, lucky guess

A story maker

She is burned alive
Her ashes drift in wind swept seas
Sink into the dark
The hidden lonely depths

Starlight taker

Artful faker

Story maker

She is as she was
Caught below the surface
On strings pulled tight from invisible heaven
Her fingers pluck the tune

Pandora artist: Warwick Goble source: http://goble.artpassions.net/

Pandora
artist: Warwick Goble
source: http://goble.artpassions.net/

 

She smiles when she asks
what would life be
deprived of beautiful Chance
with her dirty hands
running ahead
to dig rabbit holes in our paths

Well,
you shrug
that’s how it is with our kind
with ugliness
loss
and pride
kept safe in a box

Hidden
she replies
with our beauty
our courage
and our hope
If you surrender to curiosity
and look

Alfred_Stieglitz_-_Georgia_O'Keeffe_-_Google_Art_Project

Photo by Alfred Stieglitz, 1920

 

She stood
in snail paced, ancient wonder
through the center of gravity
forced
grounded
counterbalanced
by the stillness of a spinning world
in ordinary time
emptied the calendar
found herself
lost her mind

No shelter, no justice,
no greed, no crime
only a world
given birth in decay
shattered earth, and night,
and day
while she found herself
through the center
in ordinary time

A night out with fellow SCBWI Winter Conference attendees... Photo courtesy of Uzi Barlev

A night out with fellow SCBWI Winter Conference attendees…
Photo courtesy of Uzi Barlev

I just returned from the 2014 Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City. To get a better idea of the over all feel of the conference, I recommend the following:

The Official SCBWI Winter Conference Blog

Kate Messner’s Blog Post, SCWI Winter Conference: A Weekend with the Tribe

I thought I would share the lessons I learned at this year’s conference:

I attended the Friday Plot Intensive. I have done a few intensives with SCBWI, but this was by far the best. The intensive was moderated by the fabulous and energetic Emma Dryden, founder and owner of drydenbks. Author/ editor Jill Santopolo gave an enlightening talk on mapping both emotional plot and action plot with Freytag’s Plot Pyramid.

Lesson #1: Try a new way to organize my story. Jill had us write down our 10 point plot structure, and I’ve already put an enlarged version of Freytag’s Pyramid on the cork board in my office. I plan to try it out on my current work in progress. I’ve never been one to map or outline, but I made quiet a few connection with my subplots as I worked through Freytag’s 10 plot points! If you are interested in learning more about Freytag’s Plot Pyramid,  I thought Intuit QuickBase was a good resource.

Author Elizabeth Wein gave a talk on weaving plot and structure.

Lesson #2: If I am not engaged in my mind with the character I have created, my readers won’t be either. A great writing exercise from Elizabeth Wein: rewrite your first paragraph from the perspective of a newspaper reporter, a social worker, and then another character in the story. I was amazed at what I learned abut my main character, the setting, and the shape and feel of what my work in progress is becoming! I love having this tangible work next to my computer as I get back to writing. In fact, I would say that the best part of this year’s intensive was the writing exercises.

In her talk Chasing After, the incomparable and always inspiring Jane Yolen spoke of using characters to find your plot (my favorite method).

Lesson # 3: “Sit down and listen to the story. Don’t dictate it. Listen to the story and its needs.” -Jane Yolen. I was inspired by her challenge to “fly into the mist” and let character go out on adventure while I chase them down. What a joy! This is how I love to write, but the above lessons in charting out my territory are going to come in handy while I edit! My writing always feels like an untamed forest. I like the idea of creating a new wilderness, then returning with mapping techniques to chart out the territory a la Louis and Clark.

Kate Messner talked about “inventing the tools we need” to tell a story. She is one of the most giving artists I’ve ever come across. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend you attend one of her classes.

Lesson #4: Kate gave a valuable writing exercise. She asked us to write down an answer to the following questions: What is my book about on the surface? What is it REALLY about? That undercurrent can be explored through subplots. I love subplots (sometimes too much) and I think this will be another valuable tool to organize my writing during the editing process.

The intensive also included a small group faculty-led critique of a story synopsis. Kate Messner was the facilitator at my table. It was the best round table critique I’ve ever experienced. The other writers were supportive, and I learned a great deal from each of them. I thought it might be helpful to share the synopsis I brought with me, and then the lessons I learned from the feed back of Kate and the other writers:

Sixteen year old Elin Anderson lives a pampered life with her pretty, artistic mother and her prominent doctor father as the Victorian world crumbles into World War I. When Spanish Flu strikes, death takes her mother. Elin survives, but she is changed. She now sees the world in the blurred colors of the impressionist paintings her mother always loved. As she learns to navigate life again, an accident brings an unexpected friendship with wealthy, disreputable Nolan Young. Elin’s father enlists in the war and sends her to live with her grandmother and her strange stories of the Northern Lights in the North Woods, but Elin desperately wants to return to Nolan and her indulgent city life. She makes a promise to Nolan she believes will always be easy to keep…until she meets Tobias, a strange boy who lives in the woods. Tobias teaches Elin to live on her own and to cherish the gift in her new vision. When Nolan comes to bring her home, she isn’t quite so sure what home means anymore. Elin discovers the truth in her grandmother’s strange tales. Not everyone who lights the path of her story will be there until the end.

Lesson 5: Where does this story take place? Originally, I planned to set this story in an alternate world but while doing a brief scan of the internet before I got to the conference, I became intrigued World War I. Now that I’ve got a time period, I need a place! (Smacks forehead and goes beet red). The quick addition of these historical fact into my synopsis lead me to my next lesson…

Lesson 6: Do your research. World War I followed the Edwardian, not the Victorian Era (ugh, and I knew that!) Did the Spanish Flu epidemic fall into the dates of World War I? Barely, but yes it did, which leads me into the next lesson learned…

Lesson 7: Research holds magic. Kate Messner said this. When the intensive was over, I started researching World War I, the Spanish Flu and the influences of Modern Art in early 20th Century America more thoroughly, and I was met with magic almost right away. Not only is my story more accurate, but I’ve discovered a new plot twist with Elin’s father shaped by the timeline of history!

Now I have a story set in Minnesota during the short period of American involvement in The Great War and the Spanish Flu epidemic. This puts the parameters between April to November 1918.

Lesson 8: Aside from the great faculty, the best reason to attend an SCBWI conference is meeting your fellow writers. It’s cliche to say it, but writing is a solitary effort. Our stories come from our hearts and telling them is like sharing a secret. I find it hard to open up about the stories I write, but at SCBWI it is impossible to feel alone. I met another writer at lunch and told her about the feedback of my critique. It turns out she is also writing a novel set in World War I and is also a fan of art. She told me about a show at the New York Historical Society Museum.

New York Historical Society

The Armory Show at 100

The Armory Show took place in 1913. It was an epic exploration of Modern Art and while it was controversial, it did a great deal to raise an understanding of historical and contemporary Modern Art for an American audience.

As I walked through the exhibit, I became my main character Elin. I saw myself as a younger girl, five years before the story takes place. My parents took me by train to see the Armory Show because it was important to my mother. They argued about the inclusion of European artists. Did they overshadow the American contributions to the movement? My mother still loved Van Gough, although he’d been dead for more than twenty years. My father preferred the more realistic works. Father liked the American artists. He thought art should convey an idea through a subject. Mother liked the Europeans and believed art for its own sake could touch a deep cord in the human heart. In living through Elin’s eyes and Elin’s world…in experiencing what felt like an intimate moment with her family… I suddenly knew my characters better.

And Elin was disappointed in me. She doesn’t want to be seen as a girl who “desperately wants to return to Nolan and her indulgent city life.” Elin has so much more she desires and dreams about.

I opened the book from the Armory at 100, and discovered this chapter...

I opened the book from the Armory at 100, and discovered this chapter…

She is living in the dawn of women’s suffrage. In the outside action of Elin’s world, the definition of what it means to be a girl growing into womanhood is changing fast. Elin will have opportunities her mother didn’t have…and all the while in her emotional plot, she is struggling with the hidden guilt of believing her mother took her place with death. Women went to jail so that she could vote. Her mother died so that she could live. What is Elin going to do with the gift of these sacrifices? Now there’s the question I will have to answer!

On Saturday morning, I heard Lin Oliver, Stephen Mooser, and Jack Gantos. I attended two break out sessions: Seven essentials you need to know about Historical/ Period fiction with Kendra Levin, Senior Editor at Viking Children’s Books. In the afternoon, I attended another break out session: Seven essentials you need to know about Fantasy with Karen Wojtyla, Vice President and Editorial Director, Margaret K. McElderry Books. Eizabeth Wein gave a keynote address on authorial responsibility. The day ended with a keynote panel on banning books (one of my favorite subjects). The panel included Joan Bertin, Executive Director, National Coalition Against Censorship; Ellen Hopkins, Author; and Susanna Reich, Chair, Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee, Pen American Center. On Sunday, Kate Messner gave an incredible talk on The Spectacular Power of Failure. There was a keynote panel on picture books with Peter Brown, Raul Colon, Marla Frazee, Oliver Jeffers and Shandra Strickland that was moderated by the legendary Arthur Levine! Sharon Draper gave the final keynote, Creating the Dream through Fiction for Young Readers.

I am going to sum up what I learned from them into one final lesson (although they were all so much more too)….

Lesson # 9: Be brave and write! I used to spend a great deal of time in front of my computer asking myself who I thought I was to believe I could write a book. Now I wonder who I think I am to hear the call to write and not answer.

I hope the lessons I’ve learned at the 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference will give some sense of what it was like to be there. I’ve included links to everyone I mentioned and enjoyed reading more about each of them now that I am home.

Be brave and write!

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