Books -- reading and writing.
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And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


This year's keynote address was given by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Of Shiloh fame. And the Alice books. And her newest, which Coe Booth told her breakout session yesterday was one of the best examples of "voice" she's read in a while. So I must put Faith, Hope and Ivy June on my reading list. Phyllis talked to us about how her life has played out in her novels. How despite being an ordinary mid-westerner with an ordinary family of teachers, preachers and salesmen, with nobody in jail and no family photos in Life Magazine, she still manages to draw on her life for her stories. How Shiloh finally came together for her when she adopted her Mississippi relatives' dialect to tell the story. As Willa Cather says: Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet.
But a problem with writing what we know so well? We assume the readers know it also. Readers need to see the history hidden in a writer's brain.

On Saturday we'd met the Longstockings. After listening to these young women, everyone at my table wanted to be in their group. Writing dates, group retreats, meeting for coffee at all hours, critiquing and supporting each other's work. Who wouldn't want to be in that group.
They talked about how to make a critique group work- techniques learned and adapted from their classes at The New School. The most important part of their technique? The writer says what she is looking for whether it's just a "keep going" for a first draft or some serious slicing to get a manuscript ready for an editor. My favorite line from the panel? When you are "in the box" (ie it's your turn to have your work critiqued by the group), you can't talk. You can't elaborate. You can't defend. After all, said one member, "You're not going to be able to go to a reader's house and explain what you mean." Their rule of feedback is give it a couple of days and think about it before changing or reacting to a critique. Great advice.

On Sunday, we heard a different panel: the Class of 2k9 talked about Group Marketing. In case you haven't heard, this Class of whatever has become a great marketing tool. Maybe it just started in 2007- But for the past few years, groups of debut YA and Mid-grade writers have banded together to speak, sell, do school visits, hire publicists. These writers live all over the country and meet via a Yahoo group, but as they talked about their books and the group, there was no doubt that this is a great tool. I was writing as fast as I could to get some of the new titles on my list. Again, everyone at my table wanted to join.

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