Coming out of Hibernation

18 03 2016

polar bear

What did you do on the long winter weekends? Besides hibernating to meet deadlines, I’ve also been spending time on writers’ retreats.

The first one occurred during the worst week of winter. I was anticipating a lovely warm cruise to Mexico when the car got stuck in the ice in the driveway, and airports all over the east coast shut down. I worried I might not make it to Florida before the cruise ship left. My own cancelled and delayed flights left me wondering if I’d make it. I arrived about six hours later than I’d planned, but in time to spend a night in a lovely FL hotel.

FL hotel

But delays weren’t the only thing I needed to worry about. Nothing like trying to board a ship with an expired passport. My new passport was safely locked up at home hundreds of miles away. After hours of frustration, we managed to get a copy of my birth certificate faxed a short while before the ship left port.
ship

So we were off to the Caymans and Cozumel with a group of authors, editors and agents aboard the Brilliance of the Seas. Some great pics of the fun and “work” we did can be found at the Seymour Agency website (scroll to bottom of page). Oh, wait, are most of those pictures of us eating? Believe me, we really did work, attend sessions, and pitch books. I returned with several editor requests for manuscripts and two more agents at the Seymour agency who will rep my work, so it was time well spent.

We did find time for fun and touring. I spent a day swimming with sea turtles and seeing babies to adults, touring small towns, and visiting Chichen Itza. My lovely editor gave me an additional week to finish my manuscript so I could enjoy the sightseeing and socializing.

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I returned home to warmer weather than when I left, but holed up in the house to finish that manuscript. Thanks to some wonderful critique partners, who edited while I wrote, I made the deadline.

After all that writing, I needed another break. So it was off to the North Carolina beach with a different group of authors. The weather was nice enough on Topsail Island for walks along the shore, picking up shells and sea glass, and sitting on my bedroom balcony to write and enjoy the view. Lots of craft sessions and fellowship filled the time between writing and meals. Hmm…are we eating again?

Topsail

The following weekend I headed to the lovely Mimslyn Inn in Luray, Virginia. Again, lots of great food and company, but time to work too. We created journals with pictures and notes about our book’s setting and details. As I researched, I stumbled across a valuable resource for my historical novel. I’m looking forward to delving into it further. I left the retreat refreshed and eager to get back to writing.
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I have some more hibernating to do before I attend one more retreat in April — this time an illustrators’ retreat. And then in May and June, I come out of my cave completely to attend a whirlwind of events for my book launch. So the next few weeks will be a mix of writing and planning.

As writers we often need to hibernate to get work done, but we should also plan to come out of our caves from time to time. And even if you’re not a writer, do you hunker down in winter and spend a lot time indoors? What do you do after an extended period of hibernation? Do you socialize or prefer quieter activities? And if you’re a writer, what are you favorite writers’ retreats?





A Trip to the Maine Coast

1 11 2014

marcia-promo-final-close-upTo celebrate the start of a new month, I’m welcoming another friend with a book release, Marcia Strykowski. Marcia’s second book, AMY’S CHOICE, debuts today, so I invited her to tell a bit about herself and give some tips to aspiring as well as experienced writers.

So glad you could join us, Marcia. I have plenty of questions, so I hope you’ll settle back with a cup of tea and enjoy a long visit.
amychoice_front-smaller
Where are you from and how has that and/or where you have lived/visited influenced your work? I grew up in Massachusetts, but often traveled to Maine and New Hampshire. Most of my stories reflect my love for New England. Amy’s Choice definitely shows your love of the coastline. 🙂

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Many things…from a ballerina to a puppeteer.

Marcia at 6

Marcia at age 6

When did you start writing? As a kid, I was always drawing little comic strips and making storybooks. And then in high school I was thrilled when they offered a new class called Children’s Literature. I also took creative writing classes whenever I could in college.

What advice do you wish you could give to your younger self? Don’t worry about the future, everything will fall into place. Or, as the old saying goes: Most of what you worry about will never happen. So very true!

What hobbies and interests do you have? I dabble in many things—mostly art, music, and crafts. For example, I love paper-cutting, such as wycinanki and scherenschnitte as the craft is called in Poland and Germany. Beautiful!
wycinankiRed - Copy

What made you write your novel? For Call Me Amy, strong memories of my grandparents’ home on the coast of Maine gave me a setting that needed a story. After that book was accepted for publication, there were still ideas I wanted to wrap up, so I continued to write her story in Amy’s Choice.

What is one thing you hope readers will take away from your book? To stand proud and be that special you and to know that everyone has a voice worth hearing.

Can you give us an idea of your writing process? Rather than outlining, I usually have a small story with a beginning and an end. From there I plump up all the middle chapters. I repeatedly polish until it’s a full-size manuscript. Unfortunately, I am not at all consistent with my writing schedule, rather, it comes in spurts with great gaps in between.

workspace 2 - Copy

Marcia’s writing space

Which authors have influenced your work? A collection of my favorite authors would include Harper Lee, L. M. Montgomery, Richard Peck, Katherine Paterson, M. M. Kaye, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Willa Cather.

Any tips for new writers? There is no one way to write. Many authors are long-winded and later they have to chop a lot of words. Others, like myself, write first drafts sparingly and then have go back in and plump everything up. Do what works for you.

Any tips for more experienced writers? Don’t give up and try not to submit your work until it’s as good as your favorite book.

Do you have any secrets/advice for dealing with rejection? It’s important not to take rejections personally. Writing is subjective and is really, after all, just ink on paper. Because someone doesn’t like your writing, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you.

What are you working on now? I’m working on a YA novel about a boy, Mateo, who lives in a big city and has a unique hobby. Hmm…can’t wait to find out what that hobby is!

If you had three wishes, what would you wish for? World peace, health, and food for all. 🙂

What super power do you wish you had? The ability to slow down time. Now that sounds like one I could use too.

Have you ever climbed into or out of a window? Definitely. Both. Both, huh? I won’t embarrass you by asking about the circumstances, but I must admit, I’m definitely curious.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you choose to go and why? Probably Scandinavia to find my roots. Ah, so that’s where your love of the sea came from as well. Will you find you’re descended from the Vikings, I wonder.

Did you experience anything new while researching your book? I attended a seal release at the University of New England. They have a Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center where they nurture orphaned baby harbor seals back to health and then when they’re strong enough, release them back to the ocean. Five pups who started out at about 15 pounds and now averaged 50 pounds were set free on a mild day in August. How wonderful to see the healthy pups swimming out to sea as nature intended.

seal four pic

Seals heading out to sea

Where can readers find out more about you?

Website/blog = http://www.marciastrykowski.com

Facebook = Marcia Strykowski

Twitter = MarciaStry

And here’s a blurb about Marcia’s latest book, Amy’s Choice, a sweet story that takes you back to the early ’70s,  followed by her booktrailer:

Amy’s freshman year starts with a new best friend, Cat, and a newfound confidence. But she misses her crush, Craig, who has gone to live with his aunt in Boston. Craig has promised to write, and Amy checks the mail daily, but to no avail. There are new adventures, even so. Cat’s brother, Ricky, seems interested in Amy, but is she interested in him? And a new friendship with Finn, the lighthouse keeper, who Amy discovers is a talented artist, keeps Amy and Cat busy as they arrange for him to exhibit his work. But things get complicated when Craig returns from Boston and Finn is accused of arson. There are more questions than answers for Amy as life becomes as turbulent as the cold and stormy ocean of her coastal Maine town. Ideal for preteens, this novel is the sequel to the critically acclaimed Call Me Amy and touches upon issues of friendship, boyfriend troubles, and the power of believing in oneself.

“Well-drawn, sympathetic characters and the developing spark between Amy and Craig combine to create a pleasant, satisfying read.”—Kirkus for Call Me Amy.





Turning History into Stories

1 10 2014

BRD CoverI’m honored to have award-winning historical fiction writer Bobbi Miller as my guest today. She and I have several connections that make this a special opportunity for me. We’re both graduates of Vermont College (yay!) and both are historical fiction writers. My most recent release, Grace and the Guiltless, was set in the Wild West, so Bobbi’s talk of the frontier is close to my heart.

Bobbi’s latest book is set in Gettysburg, and I lived a short distance from there when I was in high school. We’re both also busy with the booksignings, school visits, and conference talks that go along with our 2014 book releases, so I’m extremely grateful that she found time to write such an inspiring post.

So here’s Bobbie’s wonderful advice on using history to create stories:

Growing up in the American West, I was surrounded with the bigness of everything: big sky, big mountains, epic stories about larger than life individuals. I’m also a longtime student of American history. The Frontier is one of the most significant events in American history. It marked the edge of the civilized world. Beyond that edge was the rough and tumble place full of outlaws and pirates, fanciful and alien creatures, rivers of gold and prairie seas. It was a place and life full of possible imaginations, a near incomprehensible vastness of landscape, extraordinary fertility of the land and a variety of natural “peculiarities” that inspired a humor of extravagance and exaggeration. The frontier is ripe with stories. And what intrigued me the most were the stories about the little known or the forgotten or the unexpected.

A good story makes history personal. History isn’t dull or dry, as textbooks would have us believe. It isn’t a list of dates and names, like a shopping list that no one remembers once the task is complete. History is real and relevant. The study of history, in essence, is a way of making sense of the present. As David McCullough once said, in one of my favorite quotes, “We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by-and-large historically illiterate. [But] there is literature in history.”  History enlarges our understanding of the human experience, suggests Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and as such, it needs to include the “stories that dismay as well as inspire.”

And there is no more powerful story to tell than that of the American Civil War.GIRLS

As I was researching another book, I came across a small newspaper article dated from 1863. It told of a Union soldier on burial duty, following the Battle at Gettysburg, coming upon a shocking find: the body of a female Confederate soldier. It was shocking because she was disguised as a boy. At the time, everyone believed that girls were not strong enough to do any soldiering; they were too weak, too pure, too pious to be around roughhousing boys. It was against the law for girls to enlist. This girl carried no papers, so he could not identify her. She was buried in an unmarked grave. A Union general noted her presence at the bottom of his report, stating “one female (private) in rebel uniform.” The note became her epitaph. I decided I was going to write her story.

Researching this story was a daunting task because no other battle has been studied so thoroughly. I read A LOT to get these facts right. But then, there’s the emotional truth, the story behind the facts. This is the heart that belongs to Annie’s story. Historical fiction makes the facts matter to the reader. For me, the only way to discover this emotional truth was to walk the battlefield of Gettysburg, and witness that landscape where my characters lived over one hundred and fifty years ago. I walked the battlefield and talked to re-enactors and the park rangers.

I studied with the master storyteller Eric Kimmel while a graduate student at Simmons College. That tutelage continued while I was a student at VCFA, when he became my advisor. He remains to this day my Master Guru, as I call him. And, I am so very lucky and honored to call him one of my best personal friends. Likewise, I studied with Marion Dane Bauer, whose stories remain some of my all-time favorites, and I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher to show me how to find the heart of a character, or the soul of a story. The key to writing Girls of Gettysburg was finding the soul and voice to each of my three main characters.

As I began to piece the story together, I took notes. I am a great fan of purple and pink post-its. I also like anything neon colored! I outlined everything. I wrote my first drafts in longhand. I find the relationship between pen and paper much more intimate, and demands me to go deeper into the character. Then, I transferred the story to the computer. But even as I edited the manuscript, I had to print the story out, and work with pen and paper again. I use recycled paper, to be sure!

But as we know, stories tend to be organic, and sometimes outlines, research, and all the “great plans of mice and men” need to be tossed as characters take over. In which case, I tag along for the ride. Even in historical fiction, with its challenging blend of story and fact, It’s as much about story-building as it is about story-creating. Mollie Hunter explores this process in her book Talent is Not Enough in which she offers: “The child that was myself was born with a little talent, and I have worked hard, hard, hard to shape it. Yet even this could not have made me a writer, for there is no book that can tell anything worth saying unless life itself has first said it to the person who conceived that book. A philosophy has to be hammered out, a mind shaped, a spirit tempered. This is true for all of the craft. It is the basic process which must happen before literature can be created.”

CABIN

Bobbi’s cabin

Storytelling is the oldest invitation to the human experience. Stories have been told for over 100,000 years by every culture in the history of the planet. Not all cultures had a written language or codified laws, but all used stories to frame their cultural experience, history, and rituals. Heroes and heroines, like all aspects of story and myth, answered a basic human need: to explain the unexplainable. And we writers, like those ancient storytellers, are the keepers and the tellers of those “sacred” stories. Such stories do not always have a ”happily ever after.” The best stories, in fact, reflect the whole human experience. And the resolution comes because the protagonist’s choices are made when life no longer fits into her definition. Such heroines are then free to be who they need to be, and such stories empower the adolescent reader to seek, and ultimately discover, the heroine within herself.

At least, I hope my stories do.

Yes, they do! Thanks for sharing your inspiration, Bobbi! BTW, I see that your home reflects your love of the historical.

Here’s where you can find out more about Bobbi, her writing process, and her wonderful stories:

Please visit my website for more information about me and my books at: http://www.bobbimillerbooks.com/

For more about my research process, see my discussion at Donna Marie’s Peace and Poetry: http://donnamariemerritt.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/bobbi-miller-folklore-artist-extraordinaire/

Also see my discussion on Historical Fiction at Yvonne Ventresca’s blog, http://www.yvonneventresca.com/1/previous/2.html)

Holiday House, my publisher, lists where you can buy the book here: http://www.holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=9780823431632
And I couldn’t resist adding this fun Lego promotion created for Bobbi’s book release:
LEGO Girls photo





A New Project

21 01 2013

school supplies
This has been a month of major deadlines–a YA historical due to the editor mid-month, 60 articles on children’s and YA authors, and a 3-sample-chapters request from a book packager. Plus NaNo–which got a bit sidelined with all the traveling for the holidays. I met all my deadlines and am now ready to start on a new project.

It’s temporarily under wraps, but I’ve started some research and hope to get a lot done on it over the next month or two. I’m working with a great collaborator (it’s actually her idea that we’re working on). It’s great to work with someone so enthusiastic and supportive!! Can’t wait to see what we produce together. And thank heavens for the Internet and cell phones as we live on opposite sides of the country.

Right now I’m in the fun stage of the project–the preparation. It always reminds me of getting ready for the first day of school. The blank pages of new notebooks and smell of sharpened pencils and unused crayons. The anticipation part of the process. The adrenaline charge when everything is fresh and new and anything can happen.

So much of writing is just showing up to the page, churning out word counts, ignoring carpal tunnel syndrome and stiff necks. So before the newness wears off and the dull dailiness sets in, I’m taking time to revel in the broad expanse where anything can happen and usually does. This is when magic happens.





Virtual Weight Loss

21 08 2012

viewing footballOne of the fun things about being a writer is running across fascinating information. In an article on cognitive science, I read that observing others performing an action fires off the exact same neurons in the observer’s brain.

I guess that explains couch potatoes who watch hours of football. They aren’t as lazy as they appear. In their minds they’ve actually played the game. All the same neurons were firing in their brains as were firing in the brains of the players on the field. No wonder viewers are so exhausted at the end of playoff weekend. And it explains why people pay big bucks to go to sports events or stay glued to the TV during the Olympics–they’re actually performing all those feats in their minds.runner exercising

So that leads to an important question: If neurons do the same work in observers’ brains, couldn’t this idea work well for weight loss and fitness? If I watch hours of exercise videos, will my body soon look like that of the trainers’? Surely someone can figure out the optimum number of hours I’d need to watch to lose, say, twenty pounds. My brain would feel as if I’d done all that strenuous exercise and would trigger the fat-burning processes that go with it. It seems logical that my body would automatically burn the same number of calories as the trainers’ if my mind is doing the same work.

weighing on scale
Maybe scientists should put more research into virtual exercise and weight loss. No need to use guinea pigs. I’m sure there’d be plenty of volunteers for those experiments.

guinea pig