Monday, July 27, 2009

VCFA residency--lectures, workshops, readings and more

VCFA residency was fast-paced, intense, incredible, as always. I love residency. It is so energizing to be with so many writers who are committed to children’s literature.

Julie Larios has wonderful information about many of the lectures on her blog--a great place to get a small taste of VCFA. Uma Krishnaswami gives a 60 second whirlwind synopsis of her lecture on her blog--go there and read it. I already used some of what she presented while revising a book this past week. Excellent info.

I learned so much from my workshop with Kathi Appelt and Uma Krishaswami. I submitted first drafts of three stories. One I submitted feeling it would be a good learning book. In my opinion the workshop is a place to learn how to improve my writing, as well as a place to get feedback on a story. But other writers felt this book has potential (and one writer had dreams about it); I still believe it is a learning book--it is a concept book--but will revise for fun and to figure out how to make the story work better. I like revising. Also, I now have some excellent ideas of how to revise another super fun book, which is one of those books where the characters got involved in the story creation. But the most important part of the workshop is learning how to look at everyone’s stories, both raw and more polished and learn how to find the heart of them, and what the possibilities are, so each story can be made the strongest possible and become a story that children will love.

One of my favorite parts of residency (well I love all of it: the workshop, the lectures, the discussions) is the readings. It is such fun to hear faculty read from works in progress, and often these are truly works in progress--as they revised them moments before, or even while reading. Then a few years later, we get to read the final text in the printed book.
The readings are open to the public, so if you are in Montpelier during a residency, come up to campus and enjoy.

My presentation went well and generated many questions. I discussed atypical arcs in picture books--these are more common than most readers or writers realize. I covered the eleven most common atypical arcs. Understanding the possible arcs (or structures) that can be used instead of (or in addition to) the standard Aristolean plot arc allows the writer more flexibility, and gives unity to our books. A point that I feel is very important is that we should layer arcs. The strongest picture books use more than one narrative arc. If anyone wants to read the essay I based my presentation on, send a message to my email which you can find under my profile, and I’ll forward you a copy.

For the next five months my advisor/mentor is VCFA faculty member Shelley Tanaka, who is also a Canadian editor at Groundwood books (which publishes Canadian, not American writers.) She won the Orbis Pictus award earlier this year for her book Amelia Earhart. I look forward to another incredible semester. I will learn so much from her about writing both fiction (novels) and non-fiction picture books.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Vermont College of Fine Arts Residency

I am in Montpelier, Vermont, ready for the start of my third residency at VCFA for the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Julie Larios, a faculty member and an incredible poet, will be posting each day about residency. Go visit her blog and read about it.
She posts awesome poems too--check out her Poetry Fridays. She also has written some great books of poetry for children and adults.

This residency I am on the picture book panel.
I wrote a long essay, "Finding Unity: Crafting a Spine in Pictures Books with Atypical Narrative Arcs" for a packet, and that is what my presentation is based on.

As I worked to put my presentation together, making it a presentation for an audience, rather than an academic essay, I came up with a catchy title: "deviant rule-flouting picture book narratives." (Yes, the title is all in lower case.)

It looks like the panel is scheduled for Wednesday morning next week. I'll post a little more about my topic afterwards.

Vermont College is such an incredible place. The next ten days will be intense, exciting. I look forward to my workshop group (with Uma Krishaswami and Kathi Appelt) and all the great lectures and readings and other activities.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Semester Break

Vermont College of Fine Arts has long semesters, about 20 weeks long. We have breaks, about three or four weeks long, during December/January and June/July.

So what do I do during the semester break?

Family things.
This break I moved from China to Germany. We are exploring our new city.
Last December I went to Beijing and Xi'an.

I read. We get a list of books that the faculty will use in their lectures so I am reading those as well as three other assigned books for a discussion at residency. I also read all the manuscripts for my workshop group--there are ten of us, so that is about 25 stories because I am in a picture book workshop this time.

Also for this coming residency--I will give a presentation as part of the picture book panel. I am fine tuning it, putting finishing touches on my power point, giving my presentation to a few friends (over the computer) so I can see what I need to adjust.

I revise. I already revised several picture books using Uma Krishnaswami's response to my last packet, which included editorial notes and line edits.
I am also revising a novel, the one I drafted first semester.

I read for friends. I get to read a novel for a writing friend. The first draft even. I always enjoy reading books at the various stages and giving feedback. This will be fun.

During break I don't have packet deadlines and the pace is different. It is a time to recharge and read and write--
and look forward to Vermont.
My next semester starts soon: residency begins July 11th.