MY CHATAUQUA BLOG - WORKSHOPS, PEOPLE, PLACES.
Saturday 17th July – on the way to Chatauqua.
At the airport my bag was 52lbs which was 2lb over the limit but he didn’t penalise me. I had no hope of putting the other bag through so had to carry it. Security was tough and the woman made me take the laptop out of the plastic bubble wrapping – first time anyone has made me do that. I staggered down to my gate and found I had about an hour and a half to wait. Again I could have lain down and slept. Instead I read for a while, ate some fruit salad and coffee at the café and waited some more. Wanted to go to the bathroom and then it was too late. On the plane at last, delayed, took off, tried to go to the bathroom on board but it was locked and we couldn’t get it open. Finally after half an hour it was opened and when I went I think my bladder must have contained about 3 gallons.
At Buffalo I had to hike for miles again with my bag – don’t know why it was so heavy but it did have the laptop, cameras, books and folder of all my paper stuff. Oh well. The guy from Highlights was waiting in plain view at the bottom of the escalator so was easy to find. (The Highlights Foundation runs the Chatauqua workshops and so the Foundation and magazine and publishing staff all take part). If you’re interested see www.highlightsfoundation.org
Got my suitcase and joined a group of others – it turned out that most of them were tutors and one was my manuscript person, Kristi Holl. It was great to talk to her and she said my manuscript was really good – very nice of her! Also Carolyn Yoder (historical fiction) and Floyd Cooper (illustrator) were there.
Ended up sitting on the bus with a guy from Texas called Brian who was very nice and good to talk to. Made the trip go faster. It took ages to get here – well over an hour – and the scenery was boring until we got off the freeway. Then it was great – trees and streams and even some Amish houses and farms.
Chatauqua is amazing. It’s hard to describe. It’s an enclosed community, with front gate and security. Little streets, like a village except the houses are not village size. They are old style (Confederate?) with several storeys and made of wood with shingle roofs and shutters. Lots of porches, gardens, flags and huge green trees. I am staying in the Summer House, up on the 3rd floor and thank goodness there were some young guys to take bags up. I turned out to be opposite Brian but I have my own bathroom – wonderful. The room is quite small but the bed is flat and OK to sleep on.
I unpacked a little bit, changed my top and pants for dinner and off we went. The dinner was at the Atheneum Hotel and first we had to stand around on the huge porch and talk to each other (mingling!). Met a few nice people and kept having to explain where I come from. In for dinner and I went and sat at a table with people I hadn’t met yet – trying to be sociable – but it was heavy going for a lot of the time. A bit too noisy to talk or hear people so I sat and watched and listened as best I could. The dinner was nice and I ate dessert again – I must stop this!
After dinner (no wine) Ron Jobe gave the opening address. He was very entertaining and had lots of good things to say – tonight is the start of the New You! But I was dog tired, as was the girl next to me (Pam Calvert) and we were both dozing off.
Finally it was over and I headed for my room. Unpacked more, read the information package and went to sleep. Slept quite well.
Alarm went off but I went back to sleep for another half hour. Showered and got dressed. Sick of clothes! Walked down to the Square and rang Brian (at home). That was nice to hear his voice and catch up on news. Then I walked around some more, had a look in the bookshop, went down to the lake and took some photos.
By the time I made it to breakfast I was really hungry but in the end I just had cereal and fruit and that filled me up. Talked to some more new people, then shifted to Brian’s table and his mentor came past so they gabbed on for quite a while about nonfiction writing so I listened in a bit.
The Highlights people did an information session at 11am about the magazine and how it gets put together which was interesting and useful for class stuff for me as well as if I want to send them stuff. Someone asked the question about rights (they buy all rights) and they were very open about it, said they did share payments with the author when something gets sold to a publisher. I guess the credits look good on your CV.
After that I booked the library computer for later in the week, then paid to use the one in the Business Centre. Finally got around to emailing Kendra and explained that I’d been having trouble. Got soup from the Café because I had a feeling it would be a while before we got our chicken BBQ.
Relaxed in my room and then walked up to the buses. We were taken out to Westchester to David Brown’s house. It started to rain, quite heavily, and although they had tents in the back yard, it was wet and uncomfortable which was a shame (forgot to bring my brolly this time). I ended up sitting opposite Kristi Holl and had some good conversations with her. She also teaches but for the Institute of Childrens Literature which I think is an online or correspondence course place. She has 300 students! They seem to have a good reputation. I hadn’t heard of them before.
There was actually wine and beer – I was beginning to think it would be an alcohol-free week – mind you that would be a good thing for me. Food was good and I did eat dessert again. Sigh.
Sat next to Kristi on the bus too and talked some more. We share a lot of the same experiences, especially with the teaching and writing.
Early night coming up.
Monday 19th July
The day started with breakfast and I sat with Kristi – also with Ron Jobe and made contact with him. Need to give him the business cards tomorrow. He told me that Australian Standing Orders has been bought by Scholastic. Handy bit of news/info.
After breakfast we had a talk by Peter Jacobi. He was funny and interesting, talked generally about writing and nonfiction.
After that, I had time off so I headed to the Square, wandered around the drug store, bought a box in the PO and posted a postcard, had a coffee and then headed for the library. Thinking, of course, of half an hour free email time. Within about 20 seconds the system went down on our bank of computers and it took about 12 mins to get it up. So I still had to rush and didn’t really say what I wanted. No one turned up to take over at 11.30am so I just kept going. How come we have learned to rely on emails for communication so quickly? Addictive but sure cheaper than phone.
Back for lunch and I had signed up for an extra session on marketing. Another woman and I went where we thought we were supposed to be but no one arrived. We waited and finally went back to the lunch room, discovered we’d been in the wrong place, went to the right place and caught the last 5 mins. Darn.
The afternoon sessions were pretty good. Patty Gauch on characterisation was great. Within about 5 minutes I had had a great breakthrough about what my picture book needs. She talked a lot about language, how writers create character through the words they choose which was very valuable for me.
Jerry Spinelli kind of danced around his topic a bit – theme - and then went to questions and no one really focused on the hard stuff. Probably the best thing he said was about Maniac Magee, that he had too much in it and it wasn’t until he focused on the theme that he pulled it all together and streamlined it. There were people there who seemed a bit starstruck but I’m more cynical I guess, I always want more!!
Kristi’s session on Creating and Maintaining Tension was great – lots of information. She gave a long list of tension “creators” and I could see how in places I had dropped the ball with tension, letting the characters and also the setting off too easy. She said she will email the full list to us if we request it.
After the class I gave her my synopsis, which she had asked for as she didn’t get it, and she said that if I was interested in teaching at Chatauqua, I should talk to Kent Brown about it at the end of the week. So I might do that. You never know, in twenty years they might consider me.
Dinner at the golf club was nice. Linda Sue Park gave a great speech about writing and what it was like after she won the Newbery Award. The Newbery is like the Holy Grail of awards to children’s fiction writers. I talked to Marsha from Seattle who is really nice and is in my house, and a few others too. Walked back to the compound with the woman who is taking all the photos – she is on the job 20 hours a day.
Then I happened to end up walking with Pam (from Texas) and Katherine (from North Carolina – they are friends) and talking to them.
In my room I turned the fan on high to get rid of the stuffy air. The sun came out this afternoon and suddenly everything heated up about 10 degrees.
I need to try really hard to remember everyone’s names. Keep confusing people.
Tuesday 20th (I think!)
Already it feels a bit other-planetish. Hard to remember what day it is. Everyone seems to be getting more comfortable with each other and so far, from what I can tell, there are no total loonies here. Usually there is always one!
The speaker this morning was Patti Gauch (it took me a while to remember that – it seems like yesterday she spoke). She was great, talking about what originality is and I took lots of notes. Wish I had taped it. She was very inspirational and gave me a lot to think about, and talk about with my writing group.
My critique with Kristi was straight after and I did tape that, although I probably didn’t need to as she had written notes on my ms (but in the future when I am doubting myself, her words may well pick me up again). She got exactly what I was trying to do with the novel and she thought it was great, not too complex at all, unlike Kendra who wanted me to simplify it. She also saw stuff – resonating elements with other characters – to do with the bullying theme which I hadn’t really seen, and which made me realise that it resonates in other ways too that I can build on a bit. She had some excellent comments to make about the relationship between the girl and grandmother. She has said she is happy to read more for Thursday so will try to get that printed off tomorrow at the library. Half an hour was way too short.
After lunch I walked over to the square with Pam and Katherine for an icecream but I was too full. I investigated the flavours for next time (we have been given a free icecream voucher) and need to choose between Amazon Storm and Moose Tracks, both of which have large amounts of chocolate in them.
Just to backtrack a bit, I woke up at 6.30am and couldn’t get back to sleep so ended up doing some … WRITING … and before lunch, when I had a spare half hour, I did even more!! Wonders will never cease. But the whole atmosphere is about writing so I did hope it would kick in at some point, even though there is no assignment to finish like there was at Fresno.
The afternoon sessions were OK. Linda Sue Park was very good on conflict and tension (totally different approach to Kristi so lots to think about), giving some clear examples and talking about how to write scenes. I asked a question about the structure of a scene and she kind of misunderstood me but gave an interesting answer about how the scenes build up to the whole novel.
I was in two minds about the next session with Jerry Spinelli but it turned out OK. He talked about character – gave lots of examples of where his characters have come from and also said some good things about what a character needs to be/have.
The last session on point of view was a waste of time for me. All stuff I know – basic stuff – and that I teach. It was mildly interesting to hear someone else do it but I was hoping for more advanced stuff. I do know that people struggle with it. It’s interesting though how the reading thing continues to be a strong element. Everyone is using examples from published books, reading and discussing them to make their points, and saying over and over that that is how to learn for yourself. Read read read!
I went to the pay phone and booked the Newark-JFK shuttle for when I fly back to NY so I just hope I get there in time and make my international flight.
Then it was off in the big yellow buses again, this time to a local museum of natural history. They had an exhibition of paintings and some drawings by Charles Bateman who is this amazing nature artist. I took some photos but they probably won’t do the paintings justice. We went outside for drinks and snacks and Ron Jobe came and talked to me for a while, then Laurence Pringle came and talked to me about his trip to NZ and about Australia, then when I sat down at a half-empty table to eat my dinner, Jerry Spinelli came and sat next to me!!! Talk about gob-smacked.
I had a long talk with Jerry about books and publishing in Australia and when I said I had 24 books published he shook my hand. He was very interested in the movie Rabbit Proof Fence and other things like that (Whale Rider) and then when it was nearly time to go, I was also talking to Eileen and Floyd Cooper and his wife. Quite an amazing end to the day, but a very good indication of the whole philosophy of this conference – that the faculty mix with us participants all the time. It means you feel relaxed even talking to really famous people and can ask questions. I think it also means some of those people who might be demanding and rude to faculty don’t really get the chance or have the excuse because they can talk anytime to anyone. And the faculty are all friendly and open.
On the bus back I sat next to the girl from India and we had a really good talk about publishing in India and what she was doing and then we got onto arranged marriages and how she is “on the shelf”! I have promised to write down directions for her to B&N on 6th Ave and also Strands.
I lingered by the open air auditorium for a while on the way home to listen to the orchestra which was nice and soothing. A good day all round.
First session was Sharon Creech, which I was really looking forward to. She didn’t look at all as I expected – she is tall and slim with short thick blonde hair. About 40-45, quiet. She gave a great speech about writing, about how she got started and what it was like to win the Newbery. Also talked about how 50% of readers probably won’t like your books and about a website in the UK where kids made comments on her book (part of an award process). Some of the comments were horrible. One boy said he’d rather brush his teeth with sulphuric acid than read her book again! Kind of puts bad reviews in their place.
Afterwards I got my book signed by her and told her that her book Love That Dog had inspired my own – Farm Kid. Gush gush. Some people seem to have limitless gush to spill out – hopefully I am containing mine most of the time (Sharon Creech is the exception).
Went to the library and thankfully managed to get my chapters printed out for Kristi Ok, did some emails.
Afternoon classes were good. First was the genre session with Ron Jobe. He went into all the stuff about the categories – early readers up to novels – and the word lengths which explained a lot to me about how I was getting them wrong. He had lots of great handouts.
Second session was on plotting – very basic but I got a few hints that I can use in class. Not that much for myself. It did show me how short magazine stories can be structured which was helpful. They analysed a story that had appeared in Highlights magazine and the structure of that was clear. Good to remember also for things like readers and picture books.
Last session was Kristi’s on writing mysteries. She is so generous with her material. She gave us a solid hour of notes and said the whole thing was actually 27 single-spaced pages so we can email her for it. I learned a lot in that session that I can use in my new series, so am looking forward to the full notes.
For dinner we got on buses again and went to the Browns’ cottage by the lake. A kind of plain small house with a huge back lawn that went to the lake’s edge. It was a more relaxed night – not many people went (about 60%) which was good. Ron had suggested I talk to Larry Rosler from Boyds Mill about Farm Kid because they do a lot of poetry, so I approached him and ended up talking to him for about 20 minutes. We started with books but got onto Peter Weir movies (he wanted to know what Hanging Rock is really like) and then wine. Dinner was a plain BBQ with beans and stuff. I had a nice sauv blanc from California.
When we got back about 8pm, Katherine and Pam went to the dance concert. I watched for a little while from outside, then went and had my free icecream (which was huge – I had Amazon Storm – vanilla with chocolate sauce and choc covered nuts in it) and then for a quiet walk down to the lake. A bit of time out. Sat on the little dock for a while, then walked along the drive. Stopped to watch the bats – they are so small they looked like big moths – but couldn’t see them close up.
Came home and went to bed. My neck is playing up so will have to take care with it and sit up straight. Which is not what I’m doing right now, of course.
It continually amazes me how generous the faculty are here. I was very sorry to miss a session Patti Gauch did yesterday – impromptu on the steps – where she sat and read the first few pages of people’s manuscripts and made comments on the spot. That would have been great. Oh well.
The first session was a panel on nonfiction writing and it was terrific. Made me feel inspired to have another go at it. As they point out, the market is more open but you need to take on board the stuff you have to have like a bibliography and consulting the experts. But I did come away with new enthusiasm (yeah so I’ll write it in my ample spare time).
My second one-on-one critique session with Kristi was good – she really has picked out the weak bits and how to improve them. Wish I had her as a critique person all the time. I taped the session again but she has made lots of comments on the ms so that is useful too. She is very good at pointing out the things she likes which makes you feel positive.
I went to lunch later on, including the session on ‘Meet the Editor’ with Randi Rivers and Larry Rosler. Quite useful. They said school stories have been done to death. And they also said they rarely read cover letters! They look at the manuscript first.
First afternoon session was Humour. I got a bit out of this one – that you should use humour in a way that wins the heart of the reader rather than being cynical or nasty. Lots of picture books have animals as characters because it’s easier to make bad/sad things happen to them rather than child characters.
The second session was Eileen Spinelli on Poetry. She talked a lot about what and how she writes – she does use a rhyming dictionary. And she said she “shows up at her desk” every day, no matter what.
Third session was on online opportunities. The stuff on websites and blogs not really new to me but again I got some good pointers, and am becoming more convinced that I need to add articles to my site.
Thursday night was dinner at the golf club again. I got talking to Juanita Havill about emergent readers and chapter books and she was very enthusiastic about my chances of getting in there. At dinner I sat with Peter Jacobi and Marcia from Seattle and Pam and Katherine. And also I had Iris next to me. She is an illustrator and she was just lovely. We got on really well and decided we would both leave as soon as it finished to go to the poetry reading. They actually put wine on the table and I had one or two glasses too many. Never mind. Dinner was buffet yet again.
After dinner they held the auction which raises funds for the scholarship program. What a shock to the system that was. People went berserk. The woman from Delaware in our house ended up paying about $1800 for one of Floyd’s artworks and someone else paid about $1300. Apparently Floyd was greatly embarrassed.
Marcia ended up paying about $350 or $400 I think for a manuscript edit from Patti Gauch – that was probably a bargain, but in Aust $ it would have cost me about $650 so not a bargain for me perhaps.
Apparently they made about $15000 altogether – I shouldn’t complain because I benefited from the scholarship money so I thought I would send something for next year’s auction. A sweatshirt with a fluffy koala on it maybe!
As soon as it was over Iris and I took off at top speed to walk back to the Author’s Corner for the poetry reading. I read 3 poems from my book and got a good reception. You had to fill out an info sheet about yourself beforehand (which didn’t stop people from going way over their time – what is it about readings? Why do the crappiest poets and writers go on and on? It is the same all over the world!) Iris was last and she only read two poems but they were great. I’ve told her to email them to me and if they read as well as they sounded (you can never be sure) I’d love to put them in Poetrix.
Home to bed.
Friday 23rd July
The day’ schedule was altered as it was the last. I sat at the same table as Chris Clark (editor of Highlights) and she said how “low maintenance” this year’s group was. And she was right. There was nobody who was really obnoxious and dominated sessions. Everyone was polite and sharing and everyone got on really well. People also didn’t harass the writers and faculty like I have seen them do in other places.
The first session was with Patti Gauch about fantasy. I was hoping for lots of good writing stuff but she stuck pretty much to theory about fantasy generally. Referred a lot to Tolkien, read lots of excerpts, and even did a diagram of the hero’s journey. I thought – oh no, what a bore – but in fact she gave it a new slant, a much more psychological one which was interesting.
It seemed to me that she was very much a traditionalist in her tastes and she read from books that I would say are pretty standard classics in fantasy. Considering that everyone keeps saying ‘do not duplicate Tolkien’ it was refreshing to hear an editor who is OK with that. Besides Tolkien kind of did everything already so it’s hard to avoid!
Second session was the beginning readers with Juanita which was good. I got a few hints and more info on categories and publishers. A girl I was sitting next to gave me some publishers/editors’ names for submissions. I had to leave Juanita’s session just before it finished, but I caught the bit about the Fry index which will be handy if I want to test vocabulary levels. It’s on the internet.
Off to the library to do emails. Tried to post my box of books at the PO but they said it would be $58 airmail and $30 surface mail (10 weeks) so I thought I might as well cop the $25 weight penalty at the airport!
Back for lunch and then the last session – Historical Fiction with Carolyn Yoder. Very good, and lots of handouts, but made me realise that I need to make it very clear to publishers that my historical novel (if I ever get this draft finished) is a fictionalisation and not necessarily sticking to facts exactly. A lot more research needed to create those vivid details. I also need to keep good track of my sources just in case.
A guy came to the afternoon final session to talk about the organ in the hall we used for meeting and eating, and he played a tune too. Wonderful.
We were divided into our four teams and went outside to practice our cheer which Marileta had written. I was asked to do a little thing afterwards about one thing I had learned during the week. I had written a poem (like a chant or cheer – Marines style) and I was to go after Randi. Very nervous, but I decided to do it as I had written it. A performance challenge.
Ron had worked it all out – we did our cheers first, and the blue team did a Marines chant just like my poem! That nearly put me off doing it but I thought, what the heck. We went around, Red was last, everyone was pretty pathetic throwing their streamers across the room. Finally it was my turn and I shouted as loudly as I could. It went down really well and everyone clapped in time. It was an “Ode to Patti Gauch”. God only knows what Patti thought. I threw my streamer like a baseball pitcher and nearly knocked someone out! But at least mine made it right to the other side of the room.
Then we did this thing where we had to weave the streamers and move around the room. Very chaotic but fun. Very American? Cheers and stuff…
Final thing was we were shown the CD of photos that Pam had created. I imagine more might be added at the end. It was great and I had tears in my eyes. So sad to think it was nearly over.
I had given Larry Rosler a copy of Farm Kid so met him on the steps to talk about it, and he asked if he could pass it on to their poetry editor. I didn’t ask him if he liked it! Just assumed that if he didn’t he would have given it back to me, so we shall see what happens, I guess. More fingers crossed, and toes.
We had free time before dinner so I went down with Brian and a few others for icecream. Had to try Moose Tracks – not as good as Amazon Storm, but close. It had little tiny peanut butter cups in it. Went home, packed 2/3 of my bag, ironed my dress and tried not to think about how heavy my luggage would be.
Dinner was at the Atheneum Hotel so everyone was really dressed up for the last night. I had asked Kristi if we could sit together so she saved me a seat. She had to say Grace (or the blessing they call it). Dinner was one course after another – very fast – and then we had Kent’s final speech thanking everyone. It went on and on and on, for about ¾ of an hour, but it was good to acknowledge them all.
After dinner, there were lots of photos and hugging people – Leda gave me an enormous hug – and then we wandered up to see Bobby Vinton at the auditorium. Not really my cup of tea so I went home. Had missed out on coffee at dinner so made a cup of tea. Some of the others were in the kitchen with Peggy who was singing and playing her guitar, but I managed to quietly leave. Almost finished packing and went to bed.
Up at 5.45am to shower and get ready. My bag weighed a ton but I got it down the stairs without breaking my back. The bus came and away we went. Got about five minutes down the road and I realised I had forgotten my purse!! I still shudder to think what might have happened if I hadn’t realised until much later. I probably would have missed my flight as the next bus out wasn’t until 7.30. Everyone was lovely about it but the girl who had the 9am flight wasn’t very happy. We went back to Chatauqua, Marcia raced in and found it where I had left it on the chair and away we went again.
Kristi was sitting in front of me and we had a great talk about work habits and how we were going to change our writing lives!
When we got to the airport, somehow she just disappeared and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I will have to email her. Saw her way ahead in the security check queue but that was all. I was sorry not to be able to give her a hug.
Sat with Carolyn and she was very pleasant. The flight was OK apart from an Indian woman who kept doing that horrible sinus/snot sniffing thing that makes me ill.
At Newark I had a lovely 1-1/2 hour wait for the shuttle (not). I had all of my luggage and nowhere to leave it so had to take it to the toilet with me, and drag it to the café. Had a horrible sandwich that cost $6.50 or so but it filled the hole.
The shuttle to JFK went via Staten Island which surprised me. Never got to see Manhattan again, but did get to see a bit of Brooklyn from the freeway. JFK airport was a madhouse – how drivers ever find their way around beats me.
Got to the United line and saw a sign saying “Take your films out of your check-in luggage as the Xray will ruin it”. Great. My bags had already been through Xray twice going to Buffalo and back – thank you Continental. Anyway I thought it was worth the trouble to find them and take them out, so I was down on my knees in front of everyone, ferreting through my undies and hairspray and clothes to find the two film canisters. And in the process discovered that the bag had been searched yet again. Which was why the second zip was open. They couldn’t get the stuff back in again.
The guy put me on an earlier flight to LA so I left at 4.35 instead of 6.30. Meant I had to spend 4 hours at LA instead but with the stuffing around changing terminals, it was OK. Just hope my bag and box turn up in Melbourne at the other end.
Went into the bar in the Int Terminal (after waiting in a queue for half an hour to have my boarding passes and luggage tags doublechecked) and this guy bowls in who was a Marine, home on leave for the first time in 18 months. So loud and brash, but he was interesting – good for a character. From South Carolina, which is what I would have guessed. One thing about all the people at Chatauqua is that I am starting to recognise regional accents.
Monday 26th July
Having missed Sunday because we crossed the date line, I arrived at Auckland airport, filling in another 4 hours while I waited for my final flight. LA to Auckland was OK, I slept for about 6 hours, I think, and read and watched movies.
I am already missing Chatauqua. Keep thinking about all the people there, all the things I learned, friends made, lots of laughs.
I read ‘Walk Two Moons’ (Sharon Creech) on the plane(s) and it was great – I kept thinking about what she’d done with moving around in time, and I did wonder if the ending could have been better. It seemed like she ended up telling us a lot of stuff, but then you could argue the whole story was being “told”. I also finished ‘Pictures of Hollis Woods’ and that also played with flashbacks – it goes back and forth between the past and present. Again, you could argue that the sections in italics aren’t flashbacks, it is really just interspersing two time frames because one illuminates the other, and vice versa. It just shows that you can use these kinds of structures in middle grade novels, no matter what they say.
As Kristi said, you have to teach your students the rules first, then they can go out and break them. I have decided to read them stuff in class, and make them read even more. They don’t read enough. I can just imagine if I told them what Linda Sue Park said – you should read 300 books before you start writing your own!
I want to make this big plan when I get home about how I’m going to organise my life – especially the writing part – but I feel too overwhelmed right now. Too much travelling and sitting in airports.
Looking forward to slowly letting it all sink in and getting back to some writing.