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.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist, and I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti at Open Book Literary.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor