Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My Djerassi Experience

I spent last week at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains attending a YA writing workshop and retreat led by the amazing Nova Ren Suma.  I'm going to share my experience by allowing photographs to convey most of the story, but first I want to take the time to say that if you have the chance to work with Nova, you want to say yes. Also, if you have an opportunity to attend a workshop/retreat that will give you the opportunity to read the work of fellow writers, benefit from their feedback on your writing, and to spend time getting to know them outside of the workshop hours, you want to say yes. If you feel insecure about the level of your own writing, or your ability to offer quality feedback, or like you really prefer to work alone, rather than surrounded by other writers, you still want to say yes. When the opportunity knocks, it's for a reason.

My week at Djerassi wasn't my first workshop/retreat but it was the longest one I've had the opportunity to enjoy. I'd never participated in one longer than a weekend before Nova's class. I've benefited greatly from weekend workshops, but having an entire week away from home added depth to my experience in the downtime, the beyond-the-workshop hours, that I couldn't have fully anticipated. Did I miss my home, my family, and my pets? Beyond measure. But I did make the most of my time there. I made great headway on a novel revision and even expanded the opening to a whole new project I had no intention of working on while I was there.

And here are some visual highlights:
I stayed in the building known as The Artists House and this plaque greeted me every time I returned.


Every program tells you they have great food. Djerassi is telling the truth. Chef Dan's nightly creations were delicious. Watch for his homemade sauces to be available soon under the brand name, LG Sauceworks. Trust me on the fermented ghost pepper hot sauce. Just do it! I can't explain it, but you will thank me.
Let me just admit this isn't what pork chop night looks like at my house.
Chef Dan cuts into his life-altering vegan fruit tart we enjoyed on our final night (while his buddy, Lucy looks on hopefully).

You can't even imagine the deliciousness.
Workshops were held in the barn, as was movie night, an evening of writing from prompts, and a special surprise Nova managed to provide.

The barn.
Our panoramic view from inside the barn as we worked from writing prompts one evening.

Movie night in the barn! The movie was Adaptation.

And Surprise! The Simon & Schuster Summer Lovin' Tour 2.0 featuring Suzanne Young, Sarah Ockler, Jody Casella, and C.J. Flood came to us on Friday afternoon. Wow. Still shocked and incredibly grateful this fell into place.
Djerassi has an amazing sculpture collection on the property. I didn't get to see them all, but I saw so many impressive and beautiful works of art on our guided hike and on my individual walks. Here are a few things I had the privilege to appreciate:
"Fall of the Celestial Axe" by Drue Kataoka. My shot doesn't capture it well but every flat surface is covered in mirror mosaic. The reflections are stunning.

This way to David Nash's work.

"City of Salt" by Nicholas Kahn


Orpheus from "Orpheus Coyote and Friends" by William King.
Coyote from William King's "Orpheus Coyote and Friends"

"Dialog" by Roland Mayer

"Link" by Aristotle Georgiades

"Ouroborus" by Sebastian Mendes

"To Market To Market" by Ann Weber & William Wareham
A view inside The Old Barn

Wire oral contraception package scupltures done by Brittany Powell in the Old Barn windows were inspired by Djerassi's founder, Dr. Carl Djerassi , known as the father of the birth control pill



These "State Certified Fact" plaques by James Chinneck are such fun and will make you think twice about what you believe on a bronze plaque. 
"Proof" of the "State Certified Fact" featured above. 

Then there is the raw beauty of the Djerassi grounds that inspired the artists:
Redwoods. Ahhhh  . . 

The remarkable stretch of the views

The magical mist

The path from The Barn to The House

The moss

My favorite tree

Wild beauty

The Old Barn

Fresh Air
And a real life Hank the Cowdog, along with his human, Tom, keep things functioning. They are both pretty great, but only one of them will fetch a pinecone. But then again, only the other one can drive you around the property for a motorized tour on his Gator four wheeler. 


And I owe a huge shout of thanks to Laura and Celia. Thanks, ladies! For everything! These two staff members, who are also artists, provided transportation, shopping, conversation, and just overall did everything possible to make us feel at home. I didn't get pictures of either of them, but you can trust when I tell you they are lovely.

Another lovely lady I need to thank is Margot Haliday Knight. Margot was my very first contact to Djerassi through her warm emails. She was every bit as warm and welcoming in person when she sat with us and shared Djerassi's history and purpose. 
And all good things must end . . . but not entirely. I'm no longer at Djerassi but I think it will always be a part of me, and I know it will always be a part of the manuscript I workshopped while there. And the new one I started. And the fun writing pieces spurred by writing prompts. And, just and and and and and . . . 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Celebrating the Critique Comments I Don't Agree With

All critique comments are valid, even the ones (maybe especially these) that I don't agree with. If I ask someone to take their time to give me feedback, I want their honest feedback. 
That doesn't mean I apply every comment/suggestion to my manuscript, though. I saw a comment on a social networking site recently about how hard it was to apply all the critique comments from all the beta readers/critique partners. All I could think was, "Bless your heart." And, yes, I am from Texas, but I thought it in the nice way that time. 

I read and consider every comment, even if my initial reaction is to disagree with it, but I apply only the ones that ultimately resonate with my vision for the story. Admittedly, however, sometimes my vision changes a little after reading and truly considering all the comments. 

This is a timely monologue for me because I have feedback coming in on a new manuscript. It's great feedback, but so far it seems there is a stark divide between those who like the first half but think the second half needs an overhaul and those who like the second half but think the first half needs an overhaul.

My best guess at this point is that the answer lies in the middle, with a good deal of overhauling needed on both sides. But if I were to try and apply every comment from these contrasting opinions, I'd end up with a new draft that was far worse than the original. And possibly a liquor store bill that rivaled the national debt. 

As for the comments I don't apply, I love every one of them because they help me in ways beyond the revision of my manuscript. If I'm fortunate enough to see this manuscript become a book, readers will still have objections and questions. Seeing objections to something and choosing not to make a change is part of my job as a writer who wants to create something complete and coherent that is still my story. But giving thorough consideration to all comments helps me learn how to talk intelligently about why I didn't change/don't want to change something if it should come up again. I can explain myself because I actually know why I did or didn't do something. Not to say I won't get blind-sided with a whole new and fresh objection somewhere along the way, but you strengthen your defenses where you can, right?

Again, sometimes during careful consideration, my staunch opinion actually mellows and I end up making a change I initially opposed, but when I stick to my original words, I want to know I did it for a reason other than ego or a knee-jerk reaction.  

For now, I'm reading all the feedback and ruminating. Hopefully, I'll be able to puzzle it all together at an upcoming retreat. Of course, it's a workshop/retreat so there will be new comments to incorporate, or not. 

Until then, I'm working on something new that is more comedic and will elicit a whole new bevy of divided opinions. I look forward to them all. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Short Story Guest Post

E. Kristen Anderson was kind enough to invite me to her short story guest blogger party last week. You can read my ramblings on the subject here and the posts from others who said things probably greater and wiser as well.

Hope everyone is having a grateful, relaxing Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sucker Literary Writing Process Blog Hop



I've been tagged by Charity Tahmaseb for the Sucker Literary Writing Process Blog Hop. Her own writing process post can be found here. At the end of this post you can see the fabulous writer I've tagged. And without further procrastination, I give you the question and answer portion of our post:

1. What am I working on?

I'm closing in on The End of a new young adult contemporary, realistic manuscript featuring a teen sociopath. He isn't the main character -- I don't even know how you'd do that since sociopaths tend to lie more than the average unreliable narrator -- but he is a very important character. And some days I wonder if I should really be having so much fun writing someone so horrible. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Oh, wow. This is truly a hard question. I've only published short stories and articles thus far, but when my husband read my latest short story in Volume III of Sucker Literary, he said, "I would know you wrote this even if no one told me." Maybe I should have him answer this question. I don't think these things are unique to me by any means, but I guess my biting sarcasm and love of dark humor probably come through in my writing. I come by it honest. My whole family shares what some might consider an inappropriate sense of humor, but you'd be surprised how much coping can be achieved through laughing in places and at times that might inspire (and has on more than one occasion) gasps and raised eyebrows form those of a particular state of composure (a state I may never know). In other words, at all formal (or somber) events, sit next to me at your own risk.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Okay, hold on while I kick my soap box out of reach to keep this answer in line. *kicks hard - twice* A writer friend of mine once told me she believes everyone has what she called a "heart age" -- that age you can close your eyes and go back to in an instant. For me, I guess that age is 16 to 18. I tend to like people that age, even with all their snarly, snarky, woe-is-me, the-whole-world-sucks moments. I remember those moments all too well. True confession: I feel sorry for the adults who've forgotten those moments, or who've allowed themselves to grow ashamed of them. Those are some of the greatest "teachable moments" we'll ever have, mostly because we had no idea we were learning anything. Learning was just for school, right? Yeah, sure it was. So that explains the draw to young adult stories. I also write picture books and I can't imagine that needs to be explained, does it? Because little ones with sticky fingers and wonder-filled eyes! I like those people, too. 

4. How does my writing process work?

I love the assumption that it works. Ha! Seriously, it usually starts with a character showing up out of the blue who has something to say. I may not have a clue what the character is talking about, but if I sit at the keyboard and listen, sometimes they'll explain it all to me. I do some freelance work in another, much more rigid and boring industry, so my schedule is sporadic. I don't have a set time to write, but I do find that I really enjoy writing first thing in the morning. I don't write every day but I do write seriously and I have learned to find the time when the story calls, even on days when I have other obligations. And when I have a free day to devote fully to writing, I've found the discipline to sit down and make it happen. If the story doesn't call me, I call it -- and I nag it until it answers me. 

Next up is Shellie Faught. Shelli/Shellie/Shelly/Shelleys unite!:  

Shellie Faught writes fiction for young adults and not-so-young adults. She has an MFA from Texas State University and her work has been published in Black Fox Literary Magazine. She is currently working on a novel.

Find Shellie at her blog here and on Twitter as @chicklitwrites.