September's waning. Fall was officially announced last week. My sunflowers are done and the seeds gathered from the pods for planting next year. Fake pumpkins and scarecrows are popping up on porches. Real pumpkins are stacked in bins at the stores but Floridians know better than to buy them now. They quickly turn to mush in this heat. If you carve them, best to do it Halloween day and expect a wilted gourd the day after.
Despite our best efforts, we still haven't found homes for the feral kitties we found living in the yard behind us this summer. This week we captured them in a crate and carried them to the vet to be spayed and neutered. It was an emotional experience. The poor kits were terrified and obviously hurting when we picked them up. Even though I still hope to place them in loving homes, I felt the time had come to honor them with names. Naturally, we turned to literature for inspiration. The mama was easy: Minerva (McGonagall), the Hogwarts' professor who transforms to a cat.
So her sons must be wizards. We named the silvery-gray one Albus (Dumbledore) . . .
. . . and the bushy, darker boy, Rubeus (Hagrid). They grow friendlier and more trusting by the day, seeking affection as much as food. When we brought them home from the vet, I expected them to tear off and want nothing to do with us. Not so. They stuck close as if they sought comfort and the next day, Rubeus was rolling on his back, purring and patting at my husband to play. I'm hoping their names will somehow help them find the path to someone's heart. Afterall, in fictional worlds, names are powerful things.
One Potent Teacher
A cup of super organizers
Nearly two dozen passionate writers
Directions: Mix well in a cozy Panera's room; season with a spicy lunchtime presentation and two bean ceremonies. Sprinkle with goodies.
Saturday before last, I was privileged to participate in my second Joyce Sweeney workshop. Joyce is the author of fourteen young adult books, plus short stories and poetry. Fifteen years ago, she began blessing Florida writers by sharing her knowledge through classes and workshops. This past April, she came to Tampa Bay for the first time to teach a character workshop. Many of the people from that workshop attended the recent event so we had already begun to bond. Then Joyce spread a fairy godmother spell on the room, transforming us to entranced children in the best kind of school.
Joyce focused on Voice this time. She broke it down to tone, diction, detail, imagery and syntax and she used the first pages we brought to illustrate good examples of each. As someone whose first pages have been used for examples of problems, it was gratifying to hear mine praised for strong imagery. I applaud Joyce for taking this positive approach and I sensed I wasn't the only one who appreciated it. Writers need critical feedback to grow but I'm not sure we grow from public humiliation, no matter how sensitively it's delivered. The room glowed as Joyce pointed out the strengths in the pages. The writing was fantastic and the examples goaded me to reach higher. I thought I wrote pretty good detail until I heard the description of a bus scene that provoked all five senses. Joyce asked us to explore our strengths and weaknesses. My greatest weakness is syntax. That's prompted me to pull Strunk and White off the shelf. Joyce also recommended Eats, Shoots and Leaves.
During breaks, we were honored to be part of two ceremonies. Joyce presents a magic bean (from Costa Rica, don't you know!) to writers she mentors when their first book is published. The day of the workshop, she honored the thirty-seventh mentee, Shannon Hitchcock, author of The Ballad of Jessie Pearl. In turn, Rob Sanders honored Joyce's mentorship by presenting her with a can of beans (pinto, I think) and a copy of his new book, Cowboy Christmas. At lunchtime, Dr. Joan Kaywell thrilled us with a presentation about the Hipple Children's and Young Adult Literature Collection at the University of South Florida. That deserves a blog post by itself and I'll try to get to it soon. Then there were goodie bags, owl folders holding workshop material and chocolate-covered owl pretzels. It was impossible not to feel like a kid again!
By the end of the day, the writers in that room had risen like a yeasty loaf of bread, stuffed with new knowledge, commraderie and appreciation for the hard work of others. Rob Sanders and his crew (you know who you are!) organized this do and it cooked like teflon. To top the day off, there were numerous drawings for books. I won Freedom Summer by Wiles and Lagarrigue.
If you ever have a chance to attend a Sweeney workshop, I urge you, go! If not, you can still benefit from her mentoring through critique services at her website.
Cowboy Christmas is here! Rob Sanders' debut picture book is the tale of cowpokes Darryl, Dub and Dwight who are stuck so far out on the range at Christmas, not even Santy can find them. They miss the holiday traditions so grub chef Cookie suggests they recreate them. The results are disastrous: burnt molasses-bean cookies, steers with stick antlers and a thorny cactus for a tree. But when the cowpokes mope off to work cows, Christmas miraculously comes to their camp and even Santy makes an appearance.
Rob's humour is perfectly seasoned with cowboy jargon and John Manders' illustrations flesh out the story in lively, southwestern color. Publishers Weekly calls the book "a rip-roarin' good time," and Booklist says, "The warmhearted and goofy story hits all the right notes for a hearty Yuletide warble."
The Cowboy Christmas website offers a wagon load of fun: Cowpoke recipes, musical and theater productions, and writing craft suitable for all ages. Mintz Elementary in Brandon, Florida has chosen the Cowboy Christmas musical for their holiday program. And the book's only been out one day! It won't hit most store shelves until the Christmas season but it's available online now. Rob's devoted his blog posts this week to the book's debut and the experience of seeing that first book published. To meet him in person and snag autographed copies of Cowboy Christmas, check out Rob's Appearances schedule on his blog's sidebar.
I meant to do a photo Journal his week but alas . . . no photos. My brain's too fragmented with stories, deadlines and workshops to write a cohesive post on craft. So today, I'm leaning on other writers and offering links to posts by some of my favorite bloggers.
First up, a hysterical montage by Nathan Bransford on the writer's road to publication:
Next, picture book writer, Rob Sanders, features a proclamation by author/illustrators in response to rumors that the picture book is dead: http://www.robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2012/08/remembering-proclamation.html
Then, witty, Maggie Stiefvater shares her summer vacation in words and art, complete with a horsehead, sand sculpture reminiscent of The Scorpio Races:
Now, Lois Lowry, who writes circles around authors half her age, offers excuses for her absence from her blog, some literary, some not, but all in Lowry style:
Finally, author, Augusta Scattergood, (don't you wish that were your name?) touts writer, Wendy Mass, and her outlining method. It's an approach I haven't seen and I'm eager to play with it.: http://ascattergood.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-way-to-write.html
That's it for my blog tour. Hope you enjoy. Tomorrow, I hear news on my application to Eckerd College's alumni writing program and Saturday I'm doing a daylong workshop on voice with Joyce Sweeney. Next week, I'll report back.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. And creatures, always creatures. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor