Taking writing on the road

Writing can be a solitary business. When I’m working on a writing project, as I am now with my novel in progress, I get to my keyboard each day by 9 a.m. and do my best to stay on task until noon. I dive headlong and alone into my story – forgoing phone calls, emails, social media and texts. For the past couple of months, I even set aside blogging. (Did you notice?)

I was urged out of my writing isolation by an invitation from Janet Givens who offered her home on Chincoteague Island, VA, as a retreat space for writers she’s come to know via social media. Since my writing friend Mary Gottschalk and I love a good road trip; we love talking writing; and we love the inspiration that inevitably results from our time together, we loaded the car and headed out.

Friends & writers - Mary, Shirley & Carol

Friends & writers – Mary, Shirley & Carol

We looked forward to joining the authors on Chincoteague Island, but the journey to get there was an equally important part of our experience. In Harrisonburg VA, we spent a night with Shirley Showalter, author, friend, dairy farmer’s daughter, and co-founder with me of I Grew Up Country. The beauty of the Shenandoah Valley grew more vibrant in color and meaning as Shirley and her husband Stuart shared their Mennonite and family history. Thoughtful conversations about next stages in writing and life made it difficult to move on.

Natural beauty deep in the earth.

Natural beauty deep in the earth.

After a morning at Luray Caverns and an afternoon in the Shenandoah National Park, we were welcomed to Charlottesville, VA, by Joan Rough and her husband Bill and their dogs – Max and Sam. In between tours of Monticello and the University of Virginia, we tucked conversations on Joan’s upcoming memoir, Bill’s playwriting, and art in general since Joan’s creative talent manifests in many directions.

Making avatars into real people. Mary, Carol & Joan.

Making avatars into real people. Mary, Carol & Joan.

Monticello in spring

Monticello in spring

 

 

 

Finally on Chincoteague, we joined Janet, poet Merril Smith, memoirist Marian Beaman and author/nurturer of women’s voices Susan Weidener. Loosely structured, the retreat became whatever each of the authors wanted. Blogs. Poetry. Editing. Essays. Marketing. Technology. Who knows what will result when a group of creative minds come together? Friendship. Sharing. Support. Inspiration. Synergy, for sure.

Synergy: the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.

Every day of the trip brought new thoughts, new inspiration, new friendships and richer understanding of renewed friendships. I hope you’ll take a moment to look into each of the women from this writing journey. You won’t be disappointed.

Cooking together deepens the writing experience.

Cooking together deepens the writing experience.

Even though writing can be solitary, I’ve never felt alone. The synergy of weeks like this are one reason why. As I return to working on my novel, I’ll do it with renewed enthusiasm and insights ignited by this trip.

 

One bit of Synergy: Our discussions of social media techniques led me to make a couple of changes. I added a box you can click to notify you of responses to comments you make. And, I moved the share buttons to the handy position below. If you find these posts interesting or helpful, please share with your friends.

The big questions: Memoir or fiction? Is the Past ever Past?

Life is full of so many questions. What’s for dinner? White wine or red? Is it time to turn on the furnace?

The writing life is no different. Three events coming up in the next several days let me join other authors in discussing some of the big questions writers face. I expect those discussions to both fun and challenging. Equally fun is that you can join in on some of those discussions even if you’re not in Iowa.

The Big Decision – Memoir or Fiction? – On Thursday, October 15, at 6:00 p.m. CDT, my long-time writing buddy author Mary Gottschalk and I are the featured guests in a free teleseminar hosted by the National Association of Memoir Writers. If you’re interested in exploring The Big Decision with us, there’s still time to sign up. Click here.

Celebrate Writing PosterCelebrate Writing at MPL On Saturday, October 18, at the Marion Public Library in Marion, Iowa, I’ll join other fiction writers in a panel discussion on “The Art of Fiction.” Other panels will explore the Perks & Perils of Self-Publishing, Writing Memoirs, and Selling Your Book: Marketing. After lunch, Mary and I will reprise the Fiction or Memoir discussion in a small group workshop. If you’re in the area, seats are still available for the morning panels and a noontime Lunch with the Authors. The afternoon workshop is already wait-listed. For event details, click here.

Live from Prairie LightsIs the Past Ever Past? – On Sunday, October 19, from 2-3 p.m., I’ll be in Iowa City for a book talk and reading at Iowa’s iconic indie bookstore – Prairie Lights. Reading at Prairie Lights is an honor in itself, but this event is even more special because I’ll be joined by author Shirley Showalter, author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets A Glittering World. Shirley and I have more than a little in common even though we grew up 1,000 miles apart. Just one tidbit: we’re both dairy farmers’ daughters who grew up to be authors. We’ve only met online, so it will be great fun to meet in person and share the podium.

Since our three books are all set in the past, Shirley recalled William Faulkner’s quote “The Past Isn’t Dead. It isn’t Even Past,” which we adapted for our talk title. If you’re in the area, join us. If you can’t be there in person but you’d still like to hear what we talk about, you can tune in as Prairie Lights streams readings live.

These events offer a unique ability for in person or live interaction over the airwaves. I hope you’ll join in for one or more.

Since I’m still preparing for these presentations, I’d appreciate your thoughts. What do you consider the major factors in whether to to write about a topic as memoir or fiction? What comes into play for you in considering fiction “art”? How do you react to Faulkner’s quote? Is the past dead? If not, why not? How can it be that the past isn’t even past?

Workshopping the first 50 pages

Next week is a big week in the life of my new novel. My baby – at least the first 50 pages of it – is taking its first steps at an advanced novel workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. For the first time, total strangers will read what I’ve written and tell me what they think about the story I’ve been laboring over for the past few years.

I haven’t been toiling in isolation all this time. My writing buddy Mary Gottschalk has walked this long road with me. She is also writing her first novel. We consider ourselves able critique partners, but we agree we know each other and our respective stories too well. It’s time to get others involved.

The first 50 pages of a novel bear a great responsibility. An article by Les Edgerton in Writer’s Digest (the Oct. 2011 hard copy version, unfortunately, not online) titled, fittingly enough, “Your First 50 Pages–The 4 Goals Your Beginning Must Meet,” points out that these pages must:

  1. Introduce the story-worthy problem
  2. Hook the Reader
  3. Establish the Story Rules, and
  4. Forecast the End

I hope that my first 50 pages do all that, but readers will judge whether I’ve been successful. Beyond what Edgerton outlined, this workshop will look at the characters and point of view, the balance of summary and story, the use of dialogue, prose style, voice. The list goes on.

Many emotions swirl in my chest as I think about this workshop, but fear is not one of them. I’m filled with eager anticipation. In spite of the fact that I just learned my novel will be critiqued first. Gasp! Past experience with the Writing Festival workshops reassures me that the workshop leader will guide the discussion to a productive end. Other participants will be honest and helpful, knowing they, too, will sit in the critique chair that week.

At the end of this workshop, I expect to have an understanding of what works in my first 50 pages and what doesn’t hit the mark yet. I expect to have clear thoughts to guide my next round of rewriting. I expect to know whether I’m still on track to have my manuscript ready for an editor and beta readers later this year.

This workshop is just the first of several reader hurdles to cross before my work of historical fiction is ready to publish. But, yes, I’m excited. One more step on the journey to my first novel.