LoonSong: A Writers Retreat & LoonSong: Turtle Island


LoonSong: A Writer’s Retreat is scheduled for Sept. 6 to Sept. 10 at Elbow Lake Lodge in Cook, Minnesota.

Faculty include children’s-YA authors Nikki Grimes, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Bruce Coville, Marion Dane Bauer, Jane Buchanan, Sarah Aronson, and Debby Dahl Edwardson as well as agent Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary and editorial director and publisher Yolanda Scott of Charlesbridge. Note: author Susan Cooper, who was previously listed on the site, will not be able to make the event.

See more on the faculty. Peek:

“We offer a smorgasbord of activities for writers to pick from: stimulating lectures and panel discussions, writing prompts and workshops, readings and one-on-one marketing, agent, and editorial consultations. 

“There will also be lots of ‘fresh air’—space to simply write and retreat, kayak, canoe and connect, informally, over a campfire or on a pontoon cruise, with other writers. Participants will be invited to read their own work. 

“An agent and editor will be present at all readings. Our presenters include seasoned writers, an agent, and an editor who will help you grow your career, develop new approaches to craft, and think deeply about the writing life.”

LoonSong Turtle Island is scheduled from Sept. 11 to Sept. 14 at the same location. Faculty include authors Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee (Creek)), Tim Tingle (Choctaw) and Dawn Quigley (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe), author-editor-publisher Arthur A. Levine of Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic and editorial director and associate publisher Yolanda Scott of Charlesbridge. See more on the faculty.
Peek:

“…a writing retreat for Native American writers only, a place where writers can come together with a talented faculty of published Native writers and industry professionals to share their writing, spark their imaginations, and make the kinds of connections that help set a career on course.”

Please note that a few publisher-sponsored scholarships are available. Thank you, Candlewick and Charlesbridge!

Author-Teacher Interview: Esther Hershenhorn

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Esther, welcome back to Cynsations! What’s new in your writing-teacher life?

I’m happy to report: the teaching part of my teaching-author life is taking off in all sorts of new directions this year, literally and figuratively. I continue to teach writing for children workshops at both the University of Chicago’s Graham School’s Writer’s Studio and Chicago’s Newberry Library, where I’ve taught since 2001 in alternating seasons.

However, this April and May I’ll be facilitating a Writers Group at the Writer’s Studio for middle grade and young adult novelists. This June I’m introducing a new hands-on workshop in which writers use common marketing tools to create a GPS to guide their final submission-worthy revisions.

Both institutions bring me stellar students from all walks of life, so committed to telling their stories to children they wring me out like a sponge.

I love it and remain “Jewish-Mama proud” as they fully immerse themselves in learning and honing their craft.

Come July, I’ll be flying northeast to Landgrove, Vermont, where I’m honored to continue Barbara Seuling’s venerable Manuscript Workshop from July 10 to July 15 at the Landgrove Inn.

I’m back in Chicago July 23 through Aug. 3, again honored, this time to facilitate a writing for children workshop, along with Joan Bauer and Sara Holbrook, in Judson University’s Doctoral program.

We’ll spend time on campus grounding the soon-to-graduate Doctorate in Literacy candidates in the Children’s Book World’s story-telling opportunities and possibilities; we’ll then retreat to a northern Michigan resort where we’ll work one-one-one with our writers to help each ready his or her manuscript.

How exciting that you’ll be leading the Manuscript Workshop at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont! Would you please tell us about the history of the program?

The one-and-only Barbara Seuling – children’s book author of more than 60 titles, illustrator, former children’s book editor and esteemed children’s book writing teacher, founded The Manuscript Workshop in New York City in 1982, moving it to Vermont in 1992 and then to the Landgrove Inn these last few years.

That’s Barbara Seuling, the expert author, as in How To Write A Children’s Book and Get It Published (Wiley, 2004), Barbara Seuling, whose dedication to craft and children’s literature as well as to her students and fellow children’s book creators is known to all in the children’s book world.

I’m mindful I’m stepping into some mighty huge shoes.

An early brochure’s cover quote underscored Barbara’s heart and the workshop’s intent: “Spread your writer’s wings…and discover how high you can soar.”

Countless working writers who attended the workshop and retreat have indeed flown high, connecting with fellow writers, learning new skills and polishing their work.

The good news is: my heart lies with Barbara’s; the workshop’s intent remains the same.

The small (up to eight writers) week-long workshop continues its tradition of offering insightful, informative and inspiring one-to-one student-teacher connections.

Morning sessions include hands-on writing exercises and instruction on craft – story and its structure, format and genre considerations, the young reader’s needs.

Afternoons are set aside for individual writing and/or re-visioning of manuscripts, optional special interest sessions or free time.

Evening sessions focus on readings of the day’s work and guided critiques.

Throughout the week, focused food-for-thought conversations at meals highlight the writing process, paths to publications, writer’s tips and sustaining the creative spirit.

Appropriately enough, manuscript workshop founder Barbara Seuling ices the week’s cake with a guest speaker visit.

How about your personal philosophy of teaching? What should your students expect from you?

As corny as it sounds, like Barbara I do things “the old-fashioned way” – up close and personal, eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart.

In my humble opinion: each of us has a story and the right to tell that story. It’s my job, as well as a privilege, to help the writer do just that if children are his or her audience. I do indeed invest in that story – in its construct, its telling, its place within the body of children’s literature.

But as important, I also invest in the writer. Knowing what our characters want/need/wish for and why isn’t enough; we need to know our own what’s and why’s. As Marion Dane Bauer taught me, the writer needs to be somewhere in his story if it’s to re-sound in the reader’s heart.

This was a truth that came late to me in my own path to publication, a career that – proudly – earned me the title “The Susan Lucci of Children’s Books.”

Again, it might sound corny, but I do my best to give my students and the writers I coach what I needed while out and about on my own writer’s plotline: I needed someone seeding me, feeding me, cheering me on, believing in my story, believing in me.

Like the earlier-mentioned Jewish Mama, I’m tough – because children deserve the very best, I nurture and I take enormous pride in the strides my students and coached writers – my “storied treasures” – continue to make.

One of the great lures of any workshop is the location. How would you describe it?

I cannot tell a lie: I’ve yet to visit the Green Mountains in person!

However, I’m counting the days ‘til I arrive.

Paging through Vermont travel guides and scrolling down the pages of online Vermont websites, I know what awaits me: majestic mountain peaks, rolling hills, picturesque valleys and verdant forests, scenic roads, hiking trails and quaint charming towns. “Idyllic” is the word most travel writers choose to describe the Green Mountain State.

Tom and Maureen Checchia, proprietors of the historic Landgrove Inn, known, incidentally, for its award-winning meals, describe their country inn and town as “authentically Vermont.”

The truth is: a whole lot of magic can happen when we leave our known and familiar writing rooms, when we take ourselves and our stories to new places and spaces and surround ourselves with like-minded, like-hearted folks who share our passion.

Tell us more what you’re doing in your writing life.

Ah! The author part of teaching-author.

Alas, when I do claim writing time between my teaching and coaching, my work, like my teaching, has taken off in new directions, literally and figuratively. Now, when I do write, I’m usually writing nonfiction.

I found this funny at first, since I was somewhat reluctant to join my fellow TeachingAuthors bloggers, certain the writing would not fulfill me as my fiction did. (How wrong I was!)

I also found my reluctance ironic. I minored in journalism at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication and cut my writer’s teeth working for a local newspaper, then educational text book publishers.

Researching and writing S is for Story, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (Sleeping Bear, 2009) turned me around 360°. The writing itself, straightforward and concrete, came so naturally, lost as I was in that creative flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi advocates.

Recently I began blogging for the American Writer’s Museum, scheduled to open in Chicago in late 2016/early 2017.

Given my love of Chicago and All Things Children’s Book, my posts have featured Shel Silverstein (“A Chicago Gift Named Shel”), L. Frank Baum (“Somewhere, Over Lake Michigan!”) and The Center for the Book’s Letters About Literature project (“Dear Author”). Future posts will feature Gene Luen Yang (the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature), the Walter Dean Meyers Award and a favorite author’s upcoming 100th Birthday.

Currently, I’m working with a graphic designer to create a new alphabet book concept.

And that one middle grade fictional character whose story grabbed my heart a life-time ago?

Fortunately, she’s making herself known on a daily basis.

How would you say your journey has evolved over time?

Leo the Late Bloomer and I have much in common.

For starters, like most beginning children’s book writers, I had no idea I was embarking on a journey, and a Hero’s Journey, to boot.

I was simply writing a picture book to be published in time for my son’s third birthday. It would be easy. It would be fun. And how nice that while doing so I could realize my childhood dream of seeing my name on the cover of a children’s book. I mean, I did teach fifth grade, right? I did write for newspapers, yes? I did write text books.

Fast forward lots of years dotted with lots of rejections and “oh, no!” Moments, past lots of twists and turns, not to mention lots of mentors and allies. To my amazement, as story helps the reader discover/uncover/recover his story, writing – and revising – my never-published picture books and middle grade fiction helped me discover/uncover/recover my story. I’d finally found my voice. I could speak from the heart. Published picture books soon indeed followed.

But wait! Just as the hero surprisingly returns with something so much better than what he first sought, I did too.

Once published, I went on to become a teacher and coach of children’s book writers.

In Elizabeth Strout’s new novel My Name is Lucy Barton (Random House, 2016), the title character and narrator shares remembered advice from a famous author whose writing workshop she’d attended. “You will have only one story,” Sarah Payne told the class. “You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”

I agree.

I’ve come to see that all of my books, whether fiction or nonfiction, picture book or novel, and all of my characters from Lowell Piggott to the referenced and cited children’s book creators in S is for Story, tell the reader: you matter!

Which is just what I tell my students and writers.

In so many inevitable yet surprising ways, I now understand my story may well be helping other writers tell their stories.

I look forward to doing just that July 10 to July 15 at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont.

Through February, The Inn offers a discount for accommodations. You can email Tom Chechhia at vtinn@sover.net.

Interested writers can also email me their questions at esthersh@aol.com.

Guest Post: Jean Reidy on Choosing a Writer’s Workshop

Cynthia Leitich Smith & Jean Reidy at The Writing Barn

By Jean Reidy
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’ve been tackling a new genre – the middle grade novel. And after hammering out the latest draft of a novel-in-progress and getting solid feedback, I was excited to put the “work” into a workshop.

So, I kept an eye out for just the right opportunity.

On a message board, I saw mention of The Full-Novel Workshop at The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas, and amazingly, the week of the workshop was completely open on my calendar.

It was like the stars had aligned and I’d gotten the approval of the universe…not to mention explosive enthusiasm from family, writer friends and my agent.

As it turned out, the workshop hit me just right – at the right place in my career, in my novel process and in my life. I struck gold. But not entirely by accident.

A writing workshop can be a serious commitment – travel expenses, workshop fees, time away from “real life.” There are many to choose from – across every genre and for every stage of your writing. So how do you pick? It takes a little soul-searching, a little researching, and a leap.

Know What You Need

My work-in-progress had been through a round of critiques and revision. My agent had read the first 50 pages. Her response? “Love it. Finish it.”

But I struggled with story structure. I needed a workshop that provided not only critique and revision time but also instruction that would put new tools in my novel-writing toolbox.

A workshop should meet you where you are in your writing process and match your experience. If you’re new to writing, look for workshops that focus on the nuts and bolts of your genre. If you’re farther along or befuddled by feedback you’ve received, you may need to revisit the art of story again, from a fresh perspective. If you’re published, consider a master class designed to take your writing to the next level.

Often writers seek out workshops where they’ll have opportunities to pitch to agents and editors. But if your manuscript isn’t ready, you won’t be doing yourself any favors.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you need instruction? Critique? Time to write or revise? Time to relax and refresh? Or all of the above?
  • Are you wanting to focus on specific techniques like outlining, plotting, revising?
  • Are you hoping to get a first draft down or tackle a revision?
  • Do you want to be paired with a mentor? And, if so, what do you hope to gain from that?
  • Finally, how much time do you need to accomplish your goals and how much time can you commit?

Know What You’re Getting (and at What Price!)

Student Meredith Davis & faculty Kathi Appelt

One word – research! Faculty? Facility?

Food? Almost any answer can be found with some investigating. The Writing Barn publishes detailed workshop schedules, faculty bios and facility photos on their website. I knew how my week would look – ample time for revision, instructional programming, mentor meetings, visiting author evenings, social time, plus a trip to BookPeople – before I committed.

But I went farther. I scoured faculty online interviews. I read their books. I searched forums and message boards for reviews of workshops they’d taught. And I asked trusted pros in the industry.

My conclusion? The Writing Barn faculty were teaching experts.

If a workshop you’re considering includes a critique, pay attention to who will be providing your feedback. It may come from a peer participant, an author, an editor or an agent.

My workshop included a full-novel critique from an award-winning author and one-on-one discussion time with her. Score! Plus, the low teacher/student ratio throughout the week offered me a more personal experience all around.

Chatting informally at The Writing Barn

Consider the workshop location and travel options. While remote locales may appeal to your creative wanderlust, a “planes, trains and automobiles” journey to and from a venue can completely curtail your positive experience.

And don’t forget to check out accommodations. My creativity thrives in cozy settings and the “Caldecott Room” at The Writing Barn was just the ticket.

Are you an introvert? Find a workshop that provides private space for recharging and common spaces for spontaneous sharing and socializing.

Ah yes, that spontaneous sharing might end up being the most valuable part of your workshop experience. While sitting on a front porch over a glass of wine discussing a main character’s “controlling beliefs” – you just may unlock the secret of your story, clear the path for a successful revision and make lifelong friends. I know I certainly did.

Author Shana Burg teaches at The Writing Barn

Cynsational Notes

Rita Williams-Garcia taught the Full Novel Workshop

Upcoming programs/faculty at The Writing Barn include:

Jan. 8 to Jan. 11: Authors Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

March 26 to March 29: Memoir event, with Theo Pauline Nestor

April 30 to May 2: Picture book event with author-librarian Betsy Bird, editor Neal Porter, and literary agent Alexandra Penfold

Check The Writing Barn website for additions!

New Voice: Tracy Holczer on The Secret Hum of a Daisy

Teacher’s Guide & Excerpt

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tracy Holczer is the first-time author of The Secret Hum of a Daisy (Putnam, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. She thinks she’s found it with Mrs. Greene and her daughter Lacey, so when her mother says it’s time to move on again, Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels. 

She’ll always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.


Now faced with making a home with a grandmother she’s never met, and according to her mother, didn’t want her in the first place, Grace is desperate to get back to Mrs. Greene and Lacey. 

A mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on, may must be the key. It all begins with a crane. And Grace is sure it’s her mother showing her the way home.
 

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

Back in 2003, when I’d been writing for about a year, I applied for a scholarship to Chautauqua, a workshop given by the Highlights Foundation.

I tried not to giggle too hysterically as I filled out the paperwork, thinking, “Who the heck do you think you are? You can’t go anywhere for a week! Besides, scholarships are for writers. Not wannabes with three young children to care for.”

“Pfft,” said the Rational Voice, and I sent it in.

When Kent Brown called to let me know I’d have a tuition scholarship, I immediately burst into tears and accepted with no idea how I’d cover room and board. We’d just started a new business and moved into a house and every penny was allocated to something much more important than my writing hobby.

My husband was the first person to suggest that maybe it wasn’t a hobby. When my family stepped in to cover the rest of the cost, expressing the same sentiment, I burst into tears all over again.

So, in the summer of 2004, I left behind a ten, seven and two-year-old to study craft and meet the rock stars of the kid lit world. For heaven’s sake, I sat right next to Jerry Spinelli for dinner one night. And talked to him as though he were a normal person. I’m sure I didn’t drool too terribly.

But what changed everything (aside from Sharon Creech just stopping by because she was in the neighborhood) was having Patti Gauch as my manuscript advisor. I started to get the idea that I’d lucked out when I began noticing people following her around in little clumps.

When you meet her, you really want to do this, too, because all that comes out of her mouth are these snippets of brilliance you immediately want to wear on a T-shirt.

Then, it was just Patti and me for our meeting. She told me to dig deep. To take the images as far as they would go. She told me to make sure there was a surprise on every page. A unique turn a phrase, a special image, a new way of looking at something. She told me to ignore my “homogenized self” and to embrace the part of me that was different.

She made me feel as though all my weirdness, everything I’d ever tried to hide from everyone, was the very thing I needed to cherish and put down on paper.

Then she talked about character being the heart of the story. After failing miserably at any sort of plotting, this was a new and breath-taking perspective. Maybe I could write a story by following the character, rather that expecting the character to follow a story. It changed everything.

It still took me six long years to write The Secret Hum of a Daisy, but Patti Gauch, and the Highlights Foundation, helped put me on the right path.

Lisa blogs at Smack Dab in the Mid^dle: A Middle Grade Authors’ Blog.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Grace came by magic. During that sleep/waking time when everything is half-real, half-imagined. She stood on the front porch of an old farmhouse wearing Mary Janes.

“They’re the only decent ones I’ve got,” she’d said, and rocked back and forth from heel to toe.

Photo of Tracy by Lisa Williams Photography

I knew her mom had just died. I knew she had to live with a grandmother she’d never met, one she was afraid of. I didn’t know what else was in store for Grace, but I knew it would be a magical experience for me. And it was.

Samantha, however, the twelve-year-old in my new book, is not coming magically. She is a tough nut to crack.

What I’m doing to coax her out is more writing exercises with her running the show. She’s writing Haiku and journal entries (even though she would never do either).

I’m asking her to tell me secrets and what she yearns for. Sometimes I put myself in the shoes of her best friend, Milo, and have him ask her questions that she might actually answer.

What I’m learning, this time around, is that I have to listen even harder to my instincts. And that some characters express themselves in different ways. Just like real people.

Interestingly, in this case, it wasn’t until I did a character biography on her dad that I saw Sam more deeply. She hasn’t been as easy as Grace, but we have come to an understanding. She’ll be in bookstores in summer, 2016.