Thursday, January 29, 2009

And not to be outdone...

High fives to author extraordinaire and Vermont College (VC) faculty member Kathi Appelt for receiving a Newberry Honor for her deserving picture book The Underneath. As a VC graduate, I can't help but be tickled by this news, or the fact that my alma mater's faculty and graduates continue to win recognition for their work and make national headlines. A few highlights: In 2006, former VC program chair (and ace ghost story spinner) Tobin Anderson won a National Book Award for The Astonishng Life of Octavion Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1,the Pox Party, graduate Martine Leavitt, was named a finalist for Keturah and Lord Death. And last but not least, in 2007 one of my VC advisors, Tim Wynne-Jones, was recognized as a Horn Book honoree for Rex Zero and the End of the World.

Kudos to Neil Gaiman

Congratulations to Neil Gaiman, winner of this year's Newbery Award for The Graveyard Book! It's gratifying to see such a talented writer recognized for his work. I also love the fact that his book's a fantasy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Writers' Group, Critiques and an Inauguration

Politics and writers' group. The thought of mixing one with the other brings to mind the taste of orange juice and toothpaste. I try not to combine the two, but yesterday, I couldn't help myself.

It was a Critique Group Day. The first of the new year. J, A and I were supposed to meet last Thursday. But the extreme weather and school closings changed our plans.

When we rescheduled for yesterday, none of us connected with the fact that we'd be meeting on Inauguration Day. Quite frankly, the fact slid right by me until the reporter side of me took note of the countdown to the Inaugural, becoming fascinated by the way the story was unfolding, and swept up by the need to witness history as Obama took his Oath.

I was hesitant, at first, to ask if J & A wouldn't mind taking a break for the swearing in, but I'm glad I did. Turns out A wanted to watch it, too. We broke in time to witness the ceremony and then went back to work. Inwardly, I marveled at how well our new president can write/communicate/inspire.

Here's hoping his words will inspire action for the common good.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Writerly Assignment: Six-Word Memoir

What would you write if you were asked to share the story of your life in a single sentence? The online magazine Smith asked its readers this question. The result is Not Quite What I Was Planning, a collection of six-word memoirs by famous and not-so-famous writers, artists and musicians.

According to National Public Radio, the "stories are sometimes sad, often funny - and always concise." I agree. The sentences left me laughing out loud, pensive, and wondering about how this technique might be applied to the hard work of writing a novel.

In the inspirational phase of novel writing, we don't always know what our main characters want or how his or her story will end. This is the great mystery of the process. We follow a whisper or a snippet of dialogue in search of a six-word memoir for each main character, and somewhere along the way we hope to find motivations and goals worth pursuing.

During the next phase, we explore our discoveries. We walk our characters across the story stage, allowing them to interact with one another, and we experiment with pacing, throughlines and setting. This is where the hard work of writing begins, and where, I'd wager, many aspiring novelists give up.

The truth is that if a main character's main goal isn't compelling enough to carry a story--if his life in a sentence doesn't make you want to read more--then it's time to revamp the character's deepest desire or dump that story idea and start again.

Letting go of the characters, scenes and diaolgues that don't support our story is never easy. But every seasoned writer knows it's a necessary part of the process. As many times as I've done it, I never get used to the queasy feeling I experience when it's time to relegate another 60, 100 or more pages creative to my clips file.

The only thing that keeps me going at this point is knowing that those pages weren't wasted. Inevitably, in writing through my story yet again, I've deepened my understanding of my characters and their motivations and the story that must be told. In essence, I'm in search of their six-word memoir.

Note to self: Hmmm. I wonder how the six-word memoir might be applied to stalled projects or those pieces to which I throw up my hands and blame writer's block. In light of the six-word memoir, I wonder if the reason the pieces aren't working is because I haven't yet defined the main characters' six word memoirs. *Tapping one's chin.* I definitely plan to explore the idea.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Visit a Vermont College Residency Through the Eyes of Writers on the Scene

Have you ever wondered what happens at a Vermont College Residency? If so, surf on over to Through the Tollbooth for a play by play of the Winter Residency now in progress.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cool Tool--Put this One in Your Writer's Toolbox

If your creative or non-fiction writing requires a bibliography or citations, you'll want to check out Easybib.

Fellow writer J and I met one of the creators of the EasyBib after making our presentation about teen writers' groups at the Illinois Library Association Annual Meeting in Chicago last fall. The idea for the site was born after its creators (college students at the time) were assigned a flurry of research papers requiring bibliographies with conflicating citation styles. Tired of scrambling for the proper format for each professor, they set out creating the go-to source for bibliographies and citations. Millions of students have used the site since its creation in 2001. Ingenious.

As J said (in so many words) after hearing the story: You've got to love it when college students use their powers for good.

Sigh. I wish I had had this nifty little tool while at Vermont College. It would have made the task of writing all those critical essays A LOT less painless.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happy (Belated) New Year

Since graduating from Vermont College, my routine has been to put down my writer's pen by mid December and take it back up again after the girls return to school. Unfortunately, my reentry into 2009 didn't go as planned.

My last post on Kat's Eye was three weeks ago. Three. I didn't realize I'd been absent from cyberspace for so long until my good writer friend, A, called this evening to ask if I was alive. The subtext to her question was really, “Is everything all right?”

The question isn't a trivial one, especially when taking E and her many health issues into account. In the past, unplanned hiatuses from this space have been caused by unexpected hospitalizations and prolonged illnesses. For the record we're all fine here. But if you're near a good solid piece of wood, preferably oak, walnut, or cherry, please knock on it for us.

We survived the holidays, and all its requisite visits to relatives and from relatives. We even hosted our traditional New Year's Eve sleepover with family friends we've known since high school. We did all this and more without serious illnesses or mishaps. Our healthy run lasted so long that for a few bliss-filled weeks I seriously believed that the new medication E had started was the circle of protection I'd been praying for, the one that would keep her healthy during the dark winter months.

The magic wore thin near the end of Christmas Break. We suspected something was amiss when E lost her appetite. A cough followed. Then the fever arrived. Diagnosis when it was all over: ear infection. The medicine kicked in in time for E to return to school Thursday.

Then it was my turn. My head hurt. My sinuses ached. I was coughing and crabby. And instead of feeling energized after Jazzercise, I felt like I was 90 years old. I should have been writing on E's first day back at school. Instead, I parked in the waiting room of my physician, feeling guilty that I hadn't seen him in person for over a year, and praying that my cell wouldn't ring with a call from the school that E wasn't well enough to return to school after all.

In the end I was diagnosed with—you guessed it—a full blown a sinus infection. All this time I'd been attributing my headaches and fatigue to the holidays and my bottomless to-do list. Um. Doy.

On a positive note, the medicine is already working its magic. Day two and I'm able to think in complete sentences again. Yea me.