Artist at a writer’s workshop

IMG_0691 Wow. There have been some serious cricket orchestras playing around here. My apologies. I’ve been meaning to blog, really I have. Just as I’ve been meaning to scrub down the guest bath, trim the lilac bushes, sand down a desk for my son, help my aunt with her website, and a multitude of other things. But none of them happened. I suck, I know.

So what have I been doing with my time? Well, the day job has been a HUGE time-suck lately. My company is growing, which is good, but that means more work. My son has also discovered that mom tunes everything out when the laptop is open so he does his damnedest to get all up in my grill when he sees it open. He’s too cute to pass up.

There was also a couple online synopsis and query workshops I took with the fab C.J. Redwine. She’s awesome. DO IT!

The reason for this post today however, is the recent trip I took up to Honesdale, PA. I’m an equal opportunity SCBWI member and buddied up with my pal Carli for the Eastern PA SCBWI Retreat Workshop. In short, it was amazing. Quite literally in the middle of nowhere, we stayed in some too cute cabins at a facility owned by the Highlights Foundation. A full kitchen staff was on hand for all meals and unlimited supplies of cookies, ice cream and coffee!

The workshop was amazing. Miss Darcy Pattison headed up the UNfinished track I attended. Her tricks for writing will certainly come in handy. I really enjoyed the bit we did on writing a letter from one character to another. It really fleshed out my other character’s motivations; stuff I knew was there, but hadn’t written from her POV. Another bit that I enjoyed was to take a scene from the WIP and flip the feel of it. For instance, the scene I chose is where my guy, Luc, is totally freaking out over the crazy things happening around him. To flip it, I wrote the same scene as if he thought everything where totally lame and predictable. The result? It was hard! But I can see where something like this would help with a pesky block or if you can’t quite get the feel of a scene.

The crowning moment for the weekend, though, did not come from the writing world, but the illustration world. You may, or may not, know that at my core, I am an artist. Or at least I used to be. I seriously think I was born with a set of crayons up my tush. I drew ALL THE TIME when I was a kid. Once, my mother (whom can draw a mean stick figure) asked me how I knew what to draw. She said I told her, “You make a picture in your head, and then you put it on paper.” I was like four or five.

I dreamed of going to art school, maybe doing illustrations for children’s books (before I even knew a writer lurked inside). Then in high school, I had an advanced art class my sophomore year. You had to get an ‘A’ in a prerequisite class to even get IN the class so I was beyond happy. My previous art teacher was nothing but supportive and I knew I was going somewhere.

But he wasn’t my new art teacher; Ms. Yanes was.

Ms. Yanes was the most unsupportive art teacher. Maybe she was trying to push my boundaries or make me ‘see’ more than my trusty sketch pad, but there are only so many “It’s wrong, do it again”s a kid can hear before it starts to chip away at your confidence. In my case, it chipped a lot. After my sophomore year in high school, I stopped drawing. On occasion I would pick up my sketch pad, but I no longer liked what I produced. I stopped showing my parents my work, and my friends. And eventually, it all stopped.

As an adult now, I have a need to reconnect with that inner artist. I know she is still in there. I’ve seen her rear her shy head in various doodles during work meetings or ideas for a book that I need a visual for. But doodles aren’t enough. I want more. After setting my Arwen free, I’ve had an idea for a picture book inspired by my son. The thing with picture books though, is that they include PICTURES. How can I create a picture book if I can’t reconnect with my artist?

So at the EPA SCBWI, I dared to ask. On closing day, I walked up to author/illustrator Selina Alko, with stomach in knots the size of Mt. Everest, and asked what she told artists who’ve lost “it” but want to get it back. After some background info, Miss Selina said the most amazing thing ever, “I believe there’s an artist in all of us.”

Out of nowhere, I started crying.

I apologized, feeling like a total tool, but I think Selina understood. She said to carry a sketch pad with me always. I tend to doodle on note pads, but it’s not the same. Selina said to just let the moments take me. When I felt the need to doodle, doodle in the sketch pad. Which is funny, since what are we told to do when experiencing writer’s block? Yup, we write. Doesn’t matter what it is as long as you’re writing.

The clouds parted and I felt a new sense of peace inside. Then I couldn’t STOP crying. Poor Carli had to deal with the emotional me. But I will remember Selina’s words always. When I got home, I went to JoAnne’s and bought a small sketch pad and travel case for sketch pencils and such. They are in my bag as we speak, right next to my writer’s note pad. Have I drawn anything yet? No, but I know I will.

It was amazing to experience this emotion. I knew I resented Ms Yanes for what she did to me, but I hadn’t thought how deeply it went. Apparently, REALLY deep. As one of those ‘had I known then what I know now’ scenarios, I would have told Ms. Yanes to kiss my ass, but I was an impressionable teen with little confidence in my art. I still don’t have much confidence in my art, but as an adult I know that the best part of my art is that it IS MY ART, not any one else’s. My art, just like my writing, is an extension of who I am. Just as every writer has their own voice, every artist has their own style. No one is perfect and what one person thinks is trash is the most awe inspiring piece of art to another.

In my heart, I have told Ms. Yanes to kiss my ass. It will be a rocky road, but I will reconnect with my artist. I want to create a picture book. I want to be a writer/author/illustrator. That is who I am, and I won’t let her go again.



Embracing the writer in…you

Several months ago I decided it was high time to make a proactive step into solidifying myself as a writer. Sure, I slaved over my laptop at both home and the day job. I punched out nearly 160k words in six months without batting an eyelash. I alienated my family and friends because “I have to finish it.” But did that mean I was a writer? Maybe, maybe not. I still felt sort of – transient – I guess is the best word. I didn’t really feel like I was part of that world. The fantastic writer world where imaginations fly free, and we are surrounded by creative minds. Where words are plucked from the air like a ripe grape. Nope. I was still sidelining.

After doing some checking around I found several writers’ groups. You know, the big dogs. The one’s you have to fork over some dough to be a part of. The serious kind, for serious writers. One that looked promising was the Romance Writers of America (RWA). This sounded good. But I was not a fully fledged ‘romance’ writer, was I? My forte was more YA fantasy with, of course, kissing. When I picture “Romance Novel” I see a corseted red-head gasping in the arms of some super steroid, long haired (don’t forget the leather cord holding the hair back), half naked Adonis. That is SOOOOO not me. The thought actually makes me giggle uncomfortably.

Next up, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Now here we go!!!! This is more like it. All things KidLit. From tots to teens and everything in between! Heh, I’m a poet and didn’t know it… Sorry, shiny ball happened. Anyway, I looked into it and felt it a good fit so, wa-bam, I signed up. This was my claim to writer-dom. I was now a member of something! Big girl writer panties are ON yo!

When I received the email about the Winter Conference in January I knew I HAD to go. There were no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. I was going! By late December, I had everything booked. Now terror set in. Non-refundable flight to a HUGE city I had never been to, a nice chunk of change forked over to a hotel that I had never seen, and a registration fee paid to an event where I would only know me, myself and I. Holy CRAP what am I doing?!

As I got on the plane last week, I mentally went over the multiple places I had stashed an ID, credit card, and cash in case I got mugged somewhere. But that was so negative, and I didn’t want to begin this journey on a negative foot. I sat in the seat and focused on having the most amazing time. I would not allow the big-bad-city to scare me. Sure, I’m from Tennessee, but I grew up in Sacramento and visited San Francisco often enough to befriend a bartender (whole ‘nother post on that, lol). I was not a stranger to big cities, but NYC was just – different.

All my positive thinking mojo did the trick! It was a FANTASTIC weekend! NYC was awesome and the SCBWI folk were beyond amazing. I met a fellow writer, and Twitter friend, and we hit it off. Happy to call her an actual friend now. 🙂 And met dozens of other writers and illustrators.

Up until this point, whenever I talked about what I write, it was sort of awkward. When I mentioned I write YA Fiction I generally get hit with the pregnant pause and “Ooohhhh… That’s cool” with an exaggerated nod. Not so much with the SCBWI crew. They wanted to know what I write, how long I have been writing, what was my story about, am I pitching yet, have I written anything else, am I published, etc etc… Whew! So many wonderful questions from people who were just like me! It was AWSOME! I did not feel awkward discussing my writing at all. The only times I felt ill at ease were when I ran into someone who had been writing since the womb, but then the next person I talked to was an elderly lady writing her first novel. How much more awesome can you get?

The speeches were better than I could have ever dreamed. Damn you Chris Crutcher! You cannot share stories like that and NOT have a mom cry uncontrollably!!! Cassandra Clare gave us the inside tip on love triangles and I totally fan-girled her. She signed my name badge!! Jane Yolen was phenomenal! And a surprise visit from the one and only Henry Winkler was inspirational.

Over the course of two days, all-around awesomesauce surrounded me, and I could not have been happier. By the time I boarded my plane in LaGuardia Sunday evening exhaustion took on a whole new meaning. Not only did every limb ache from standing and walking, but my brain was surely reduced to ooze. But the good kind of ooze.

I learned so much in that time that I will never forget. The nitty gritty of what makes a good novel; voice, hook, plot, action, emotion, show – don’t – tell, and a story that is not like any other! But it was more than that. The things that really stuck with me did not have to do with the nuts and bolts of writing a novel or picture book. It was the other stuff, the beating heart of writing; the writer.

I learned that no matter what, if you believe you are a writer, then you are. If you have a story to tell, then tell it! It does not matter if you are published or “pre-published.” It does not matter if you’ve had ink stained fingertips since birth or if you picked up your first writer’s notepad yesterday. It does not matter if you cannot outline to save your life or if you have a whole database dedicated to every micro detail of your books. It does not matter if you are grammatically incorrect or if the folks at Webster’s or Idiot’s Guide to Writing consult you before publication. It does not even matter if you are 40+ and writing books for teenage girls and boys! You know why? Because you are a writer. We come in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, education, experience, ages and outside professions.

That is what’s so fabulous about being a writer. It does not matter when the bug bites you, as long as it bites, and bites hard. I will never forget the inspirational words for a newbie writer like myself. Never give up, never back down, never lose your voice, never stop challenging yourself, never let go of an idea because it’s ‘too risky,’ and by GAWD do not EVER stop writing! These are my new ‘words to live by.’ My new mantra. Why? Because I am a writer…