Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Monday, June 25, 2012

The wheels on the bus go round and round

I just read my last blog. The retreat seems to have taken place eons ago; yet, it has only been 12 days. So much has happened since then. 

When I brushed off the (pixie) dust of the retreat and sat down at the computer, I edited a few stories over several days running. I also wrote an article about the retreat for our Southern Breeze newsletter. Keeping up with my writing wasn’t easy because life interrupted—in a good way—as it has a tendency to do. Most noteworthy was the visit of our niece Maria.

On her first day here, she and I baked chocolate chip /walnut cookies, and I shared my baking secrets for perfection.  (Okay, they aren’t all that secret—use a mixture of butter-flavored Crisco and butter, plus sift your dry ingredients, even when using all-purpose flour.) We don’t often barbeque because we’re hold-outs for charcoal—which takes a bit more effort than gas—but we barbequed that night. Yum.

Her arrival got us out of our rut to witness the world around us. My husband took her sailing while I read in the shade at the edge of the dock overlooking Lake Guntersville. Bliss for all involved. We went to the Space & Rocket Center—something I hadn’t done since my kids were half-pints wondering if they’d grow up to become astronauts. In the great out-of-doors, we listened to a 14-year-old boy croon about love, followed by the lovely sounds of a friend’s Celtic band. We hopped in the car and drove an hour and a half to Lynchburg, TN—a disturbing name, indeed—where we toured the Jack Daniel Distillery. (And, if you have a chance to go, make reservations a couple of weeks beforehand at the famous Miss Mary Bobo’s. But be prepared to share your delicious meal family-style, as well as your life history.) The final day found us strolling through our beautiful botanical garden and taking life easy.

YOLO. You only live once. It takes a teenager to share the meaning of the latest initials. Maria was game for everything—from eating anything I cooked to going to zumba with me (where she wasn’t a bit mortified by the presence of her aunt on-stage) to helping paint the deck. And while Steve remarked to me that it was reminiscent of having teenagers in the house again, it really wasn’t. She was on her best behavior, and so were we. You know how it is.

After she left, we felt a hole but reverted quickly back to our usual routines. And that’s when I got busy again.

I now have a new  job with www.childrenslit.com. Learn more about its mission at: http://childrenslit.com/about_new.php. It’s a volunteer job, but it pays—in books. For every five books I read and review, I get five more to read and review. Despite the fact that I’m expected to review books outside of my typical genre, this job has my name written all over it. But reading takes a fair amount of time, and reviewing takes even more. If I think something stinks, I have an obligation to let people know . . . in as gentle a way as possible.

But that’s just me. Don’t feel any obligation at all to let me know your true feelings about this blog.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

No: She was mad. Yes: Her upper lip curled, her nostrils flared. SHOW DON'T TELL!

Just having gotten back from the Show Don’t Tell Retreat: How Acting Techniques Improve Writing, I’m all hopped up. Led by Hester Bass, award winning author of The Secret World of Walter Anderson, I had been looking forward to tips that would allow me to approach my writing in a different way and, thus, strengthen it.

Timing was everything; accumulating rejections takes its toll. And while I write steadily and meet with my critique group regularly, it had been too long since my last workshop. This was just the shot in the arm I needed.

Having attended several workshops and conferences, I’ve learned the importance of keeping an open mind in my quest for understanding and I’ve learned that shyness just won’t cut it. But this retreat particularly required me to keep an open heart. Yes, a few of us knew each other beforehand—but not particularly well. Imagine spending an entire weekend with people you’ve never seen before, getting physical, sharing emotions, acting out characters, living in the moment with improv. (Don’t think it’s easy to pretend you’re a 4-year-old girl who has to GO RIGHT NOW but insists there’s nothing wrong, while your caretaker, a 17-year-old boy, insists there is!)

When you can learn writing techniques under the leadership of a woman who has lived a fairy tale—who slips into accents like a minnow through reeds, who makes you laugh until you cry—and learn within the safety net of like-minded, fun-minded individuals, now, that’s cause for motivation!

The setting alone would have inspired the Greek gods to rethink Mount Olympus as their home, and the feeling of camaraderie was nothing short of miraculous. But, best of all, are the results.  I’ve been burning up the keys this week, applying my inspiration, my renewed energy, and my new-found secrets to the stories within me.

Perhaps, like Hester, I'll write a manuscript that attracts the attention of a famous author who will subsequently become my mentor, a literary agent, and an editor (who sees my work on Monday and offers me a contract on Friday).

My advice to writers: Open up your minds, your hearts, and your arms.