Michele Regenold, Writing for Kids from the Boondocks

A blog about writing for children and the quest for publication.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Study plan

Today I had to turn in a study plan, signed by my advisor, that outlines what I plan to read and write for the next five and a half months.

So here it is:
  1. Complete the first draft (approximately 100 more pages) of my YA mystery, which is currently in progress. In my writing I plan to deepen the emotional resonance of the main character as well as show the relationships of the people within the small, rural community where the story takes place.
  2. Draft one nonfiction picture book manuscript about the canine sense of smell.
  3. In my reading, I plan to study the openings of mystery novels. I also plan to study how the plot in mysteries weaves (or doesn’t) with the emotional / under story. I’ll also research dogs, particularly hunting dogs, and how their sense of smell works.
  4. Write two critical essays, one about the results of my research on effective mystery openings and the other about emotionally restrained characters and how to portray them effectively. If I remember correctly, I'm supposed to write two essays per packet, so these two topics will probably be in the first or second packet. Other topics will arise from my reading or prompts from Rita.
I also included a list of award-winning middle grade and young adult mysteries that I plan to start with:
  • The Boy in the Burning House by Tim Wynne-Jones
  • Acceleration by Graham Mcnamee, The 7th knot by Kathleen Karr
  • Dangling by Lillian Eige
  • Harriet Spies Again by Helen Ericson
  • The Mystery of the Haunted Caves by Penny Warner
  • Red Card : [a Zeke Armstrong mystery] by Daniel J. Hale & Matthew LaBrot
  • Are You in the House Alone? by Richard Peck
  • Dovey Coe by Frances O'Roark Dowell
  • Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen
  • The Clearing: A Mystery by Dorothy Reynolds Miller
  • The Absolutely True Story of My Visit to Yellowstone with the Terrible Rupes by Willo Davis Roberts
I also want to read some series mysteries.

Sounds like a lot of work. Since I did my modified version of National Novel Writing Month last November, I'm confident that I can turn out new creative work.

The first deadline is Feb. 6, so that's coming right up. Rita wants to see 20 new pages and a synopsis of my novel so far in addition to the two essays.

Good-bye, TV.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Having my piece workshopped

Today my piece was critiqued during out workshop. I'd submitted the first two chapters of my YA mystery novel, which is set in rural Iowa. A couple of weeks after I sent it in to be photocopied and put into the workshop booklet I realized where the novel really starts, but oh well.

Some of my classmates asked me if I was nervous about it. I wasn't. My heart speeds up a lot when I'm nervous. I can feel it stuttering away. Today I didn't detect any excess fluttering. I suppose I've had enough pieces critiqued by enough different people (including a book editor at an SCBWI conference--that was nervewracking) that it doesn't feel personal any more. Plus these workshops are so gentle that even the so-called "critical" comments feel like swats with a feather. It was really painless for me, but I know for other people in my class who've never experienced this kind of feedback before that it can be tough.

The positive feedback was first, as usual. One woman said she has a crush on Jake, the secondary character who has the hots for my main character. Several people commented on the characters being well developed. The setting seemed vivid. Hog farming is part of the plot, and several people commented on the hogs. I think it was Rita, my advisor, who said this is a big story, that it's really about community. That was a surprise to me.

The criticism touched on things like making the main character more emotionally open (my fatal writerly flaw) and being true to first person and letting the narrator notice only things that she would really notice in that moment, feeling the way she does. I thought that was an excellent point. When I revise I'll have to watch for those moments when I sort of trade places with my main character and make sure I put in her observations rather than my own.

I took about two and a half pages of notes as people talked, and several people gave me their written comments as well.

At the end it was my turn to talk and answer a couple of questions people had. One was about the family relationships and why the characters aren't more huggy. I explained about stoic farm families and that I deliberately wanted one character to be more stoic and another to be more demonstrative. I told them that I use my little sister as a model for the demonstrative stuff.

They also wondered about the source for the old lady farmer character who drives an all-terrain vehicle. I told them about this wacky old woman my sister, Stef, and I met when we were carpenter's helpers years ago. She lived by herself in an old farmhouse and tended her goats by driving around her farm on her ATV. The carpenter we worked for was installing a new cellar door that opened directly outside.

Stef and I were patching the concrete walls in the basement. It was an old stone foundation, damp rooms, very creepy. The two of us speculated on how many people she may have buried in that basement. Then I realized the old lady was standing in the doorway watching us. I'm pretty sure she overheard us because she had this funny smile on her face.

Honoring the real world

April Pullye Sayre, author of many nonfiction books (and member of the Vermont College "hive"), exhorted the audience to write nonfiction. She encouraged us to discover our passions, find what speaks to us in the real world, and write about it. She emphasized being excited about what you're doing, and her lively presentation with photos, shots of her books, and video (all within PowerPoint) reinforced to me that she's living her own advice.

She talked about things we often hear about in fiction writing: voice and depth. Making nonfiction layered so that it's subtly more than just the topic makes it speak to people. This approach appeals to me. As for content, she said to let the content tell you its voice.

She recited her book, Trout, Trout, Trout: A Fish Chant, by memory. It was essentially a list of North American fresh water fish names. But they were so artfully and rhythmically arranged, that it sounded like poetry.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The food at Vermont College

The food here is pretty darn good. Some meals are better than others, but there's plenty of it. I've never eaten more sweet potatoes in more ways in my life than I have in my first week here.

I've also had chicken, pork, beef, fish, and vegetarian dishes of all kinds. Lunch is as big a meal as supper here, althought you can usually go through the sandwich bar if you'd like to go lighter. There's also a salad bar.

A basket of fresh fruit is available, and so is a tray of cookies. Additional desserts like pie, fruit crisp, and cheesecake are also offered.

For breakfast they'll offer to cook eggs the way you like them. They usually have a breakfast meat too. Bacon was good this morning. I tried the sausage patties once and thought the seasoning was strange. They also offer a hot cereal like grits or oatmeal. I ate grits once and pretended it was Cream of Wheat. Their waffles are excellent and so is the French toast. I had pancakes once, but they must add some flavoring that I didn't expect, so I haven't tried them since.

Vermont weather

Winter finally stopped by for a visit today. It started snowing last night after raining for most of the day. This morning there were a few inches of snow on the ground.

The temperature dropped at least 40 degrees and the wind was raw. Ah, it felt like Iowa, except that winter hasn't been particularly cold so far.

I would have gone running this morning despite the cold and wind but my shoes were (and are) still wet from running in the rain. Actually they're wet from running through too many puddles. The sidewalks around here don't drain very well in places, partly because of the snowpiles between the street and the sidewalk. So when I couldn't go around the puddles, I had to go through them.

Today it was cool enough even inside that I could wear a turtleneck and a sweater and not be too warm.

Older students keep warning us new students about the hot summer and how miserable it is in the dorms, which are not air conditioned. It's awful trying to sleep when it's hot, but maybe this summer won't be quite as bad as last year when New England had such a hot summer.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

No more bloopers: how to edit like a professional

Jennifer Gennari, another grad student (who's in my workshop), showed us her top 10 mistakes--things she especially looks for when editing her work. These included
  • resist the urge to explain
  • avoid stage direction (too much moving people around or describing lots of tiny actions that have no relevance)
  • use dialogue beats and misdirection
Since reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print, I've become more aware of these kinds of errors and how to correct them, but this was a nice review for me.

Jennifer also walked us through a fun excercise. She took a scene from a published novel, Stoner & Spaz by Ron Koertge, and introduced errors. Then she had the audience try to identify them all. Some of her errors were funny and obvious, but others less so.

The writer's stage: converting acting techniques to the page

Grad student Vicki Wittenstein took some acting lessons to help her get into her characters more and discovered how helpful several acting techniques can be.

One of the techniques is to study a character's actions and his/her objectives in a given scene. A character's actions give rise to emotion, so finding the right action lets the writer show, rather than tell, the appropriate emotion. This is based on Stanislavski's method acting technique.

This approach makes perfect sense to me. As an observer, I like to speculate about what people are thinking/feeling based on their actions and body language. I tend to use this in my own writing.

Vicki also walked us through an excercise to help generate sensory details. She asked us to remember a painful event and then list all the sense memories we could recall. Where were we? What did it look like? What did it feel like? What was the light? What was the weather? Who was there? How did they sound? What were they doing?

After listing details for a couple of minutes, she asked us to pick one of our characters and start with this prompt: [fill in your name], there's a lot you don't know about me. Then we wrote for four or five minutes from the point of view of that character. I learned something pretty surprising that I didn't know before. The parents of my main character fought terribly one night, just a few days before the dad dies in a fire.

Finding an emotion/feeling from my own past to use for a character, and then personalizing the emotions for that character, will be another helpful tool I'll be practicing.

First-term advisor

Rita Williams-Garcia, one of my workshop leaders, is my advisor for my first semester. I think she'll be excellent.

This morning all of her advisees met (there are five of us, including three first-term students) to learn more about her expectations for the semester.

We'll be expected to submit five packets during the semester, starting with a February 6 due date for the first packet and then one packet a month through June. The packet will contain about 20 pages of new writing (12 pt., double space) and (for us first-term folks) two essays of two to three pages. Each time at least one essay has to be a critical essay, which I interpret as a more scholarly/literary analysis piece. The other essay can be a discussion of craft.

After the first packet we'll be adding about 20 pages of revised material, for a maximum total of 40 pages of creative work in each packet.

In addition to the essays and creative work, we're supposed to write her a letter that tells how the writing's going, asks any questions we have, and discusses the books we've read.

We also have to develop a bibliography that I think gets turned in with the last packet. She expects us to read at least 100 books this semester. I tried not to choke on that. I bet I didn't read 100 books all last year. But she's counting books that we may not read completely, like books on craft, which I suppose helps a little. I've read lots of craft books. Mainly she wants us to read in the genre we'll be working in.

I have a one-on-one meeting with her Tuesday to discuss my semester plan. I need to come up with a list of books I'd like to read by then.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Choosing an advisor

To aid all students in their choices, which are due in the office today, the faculty held interviews yesterday. They were scattered in various rooms in two separate buildings, and students could drop in and chat during an hour in the morning and in the evening.

Some students were very thorough and took careful notes. Not me. I used the interviews as a quick way to assess the personality fit of individual faculty members with my own. I was able to choose six people using this method.

Kellye Carter Crocker, a wonderfully helpful, friendly, fourth semester student and Des Moines Register book reviewer (how's that, Kellye?), described a method she and her roommate use to check their own feelings (there's that word again) about advisors they might get. They write each name on a piece of paper and then draw one blindly out of a hat. If they're disappointed at the result, they don't choose that person.

Using that method, I decided to eliminate one person from contention this semester. I eliminated a couple of others because I figured I wouldn't get them anyway since they work primarily with picture book writers.

I don't think it really matters who I get. I'll be happy with anyone on my list. We find out the results tomorrow morning.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Emotion and revision: How to get to the emotional core

This faculty lecture by Sharon Darrow was one I knew I couldn't miss since it addresses my fatal flaw as a writer--conveying emotion.

One point she addressed several times was the stimulus response chain reaction starting with feeling (sensation and emotion) followed by thought followed by action. In first drafts it's easy (for me) to leave out characters' emotional responses to actions and events. But that's where revision comes in handy.

Characters need to respond to events based on their state of mind. So asking myself how my characters feel after something happens is going to become a new step in my revision process.

Sharon also addressed some of the obstacles writers face when trying to get to the emotional core of a character and a story. One is the author's unwillingness to experience the emotion along with the character. She suggested that it may be easier to describe emotion if authors mine their own. Authors should also have faith that they have the capacity to do it because going inside their characters and themselves is the only way (ick).

After all, Sharon says these stories are calling to us for a reason.

She suggested that in revision we re-enter the story scene by scene and show everything, even if we think we're being overly dramatic. Stay open to new discoveries.

One thing she called "technical shorthand" is another useful way to approach revision. These are flags in our writing that offer opportunities for revision, things like verb/adverb pairs, especially "-ly" adverbs, but these flags will likely be unique to each writer. We just need to learn to spot them in our own work.

Sharon said that writing may seem like a selfish activity. We shut ourselves away from people. But ultimately, she says, it's a gift of self as we each tell the stories only we can tell.

Grad lecture: Demystifying the mystery novel

Debbie Dunn discussed how to balance the mechanics of the puzzle (or plot) with the back story (or emotional story) in a mystery. She evaluated five different MG/YA mystery novels, including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler, and Chasing Vermeer, to see how they balanced plot and back story.

Of the five she studied, four were commercially and critically sucessful, including the ones above. The unsuccessful one, a novel by a well known YA mystery writer, received some rather harsh reviews.

Mystery readers choose mysteries because they love the puzzle, so plot is very important. Yet a satisfying mystery doesn't necessarily need a complex plot.

Curious is a good example of this, as Debbie demonstrated. The back story about the autistic narrator is even more compelling (to me) than the simple mystery of who killed neighbor's dog with a pitchfork (this happens on page one, I think).

Debbie used Chasing Vermeer as an example of a good mystery that's mostly plot with little back story. I didn't care much for this novel because it was so puzzle oriented.

Debbie also gave some guidelines about finding a balance between plot and balance in your own work. She suggested introducing the back story after the plot is rolling. She quoted someone (sorry, didn't get who) who said to drop a character out of a plane and then tell the readers how she got there.

This is advice I plan to take.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What to work on first term

I made a startling discovery this evening. I will very likely not be allowed to work on my in progress mystery novel--not for credit at least. Apparently the faculty much prefer (and some insist) that we first term students work on something completely new. Maybe this is true for the older students too. I don't know. But I wish I'd known this coming in. I like time to mull over ideas and figure out what to write next.

Not that I'm a controlling Taurus or anything.

I'm trying to go with the flow. One of the older students in my workshop said that Marion Dane Bauer likes to have her first semester students work on short stories so they learn narrative arc.

And I hear that advisors work with their students' interests. I won't be forced to write picture books, for example. Which is lucky because I'd flee in terror.

When Phyllis Root discussed the requirements of the creative thesis the other night, which we complete during our fourth semester, she mentioned that for novelists that would be about 75 pages of publishable quality. Absolutely doable, I thought. When she said the equivalent for picture book writers would be about eight picture books, I recoiled in horror.

I've had one picture book idea on my own and my sister and I wrote one together. That's it. I have lots of ideas for novels, some memoirs, and even some non-fiction and short stories. But picture books? Takes a different kind of writer than I seem to be.

Reading in public

Most nights there are faculty readings. I attended the first one last night.

Margaret Bechard read from her science fiction novel Spacer and Rat, which I've read. Laura Kvasnosky read a funny picture book work in progress about a bored little girl and her talking dog as well as a short story (a form she's trying since coming to Vermont). Marc Aronson read from a work in progress that's a history of prejudice (if I'm remembering right).

Afterward about a dozen of my classmates and I gathered in another room to read for five minutes in front of each other. I wasn't particularly in the mood. One woman had invited us for a glass of wine, and that was really speaking to me, but I went along with the reading thing.

In preparation I'd whisper read (didn't want anyone to hear me talking to myself in my room) a few pages of a story I'd sent my critique group in Iowa last month. It sounded horrible to me, so I decided against that. Instead I read three pages from the piece that's getting workshopped, the first two chapters of my YA mystery.

The variety in our class was pretty cool. Everybody who was there read. I don't know if it was peer pressure or what. I think it was the first time for some people. I was not particularly nervous because I hadn't had time to be. I hadn't been planning to do it. If I had, I probably would have hammed it up too much.

Reading in front of our peers is highly encouraged because we have to give a 20 minute reading during our last residency. Since I've been a teacher and given lots of presentation and done a little reading in public, this doesn't seem like a big deal to me. Maybe it should be.

Originality in nonfiction

Author and editor (and faculty member) Marc Aronson is only here a couple of days this residency and won't be around for the faculty interviews tomorrow (when students talk to potential advisors--more of the shopping alluded to in an earlier post), so before he started his talk he described how he likes to work with his students (by email, just in the packets--no other emailing). He concluded this by describing himself as less nurturing than other faculty members. This got a big laugh from the audience. I suspect that writers who are newer to receiving feedback may steer away from him. I haven't decided yet if I'll include him on my list of seven.

I did talk to him briefly about an idea for a nonfiction book--something that would incorporate memoir about moving around a lot with research about the impact of moving on kids along with interviews of kids. He didn't think a lot of publishers would be interested but said a few might. It would depend on how poignant the stories were.

In his talk he did an excellent job of discussing his main topic--originality in nonfiction--with how to write critical essays, one of the main component of our work in the program. He just published an article called "Originality in Nonfiction: A writer for young people makes a case for recognizing innovation," in the January 2006 edition of School Library Journal. He provided copies and we sort of skimmed it as he talked. He used the article as an example of a critical essay.

The main points he made about originality include the following, but if this topic interests you, I encourage you to read the whole thing:
  • "Originality can come as much in organization and presentation as in spadework." This makes me think of Candace Fleming's biographies, and in fact, he mentions her early in the article.
  • Original ideas and thinking may be invisible to all readers except specialists who are familiar with the sources.
  • Finding the right voice and tone for nonfiction is tough.
  • Using innovative research strategies contributes to originality.
  • And finally the design and layout of the book can make nonfiction sing.
So as he worked his way through the article, he also talked about his techniques in writing it. How he hooked the reader with his opening, how he used digression to lead readers to his main point. How he presented his evidence and engaged with current thinking on the topic, and how he presented his own thinking.

Overall an excellent rhetorical strategy. He may be sort of New York cranky, but I bet he's an excellent advisor.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

First workshop

This afternoon the workshop groups met and discussed two writers' work. My workshop has 12 students, a mix of first, second, etc. term students. Rita Williams-Garcia and Norma Fox Mazer are the leaders. This is Rita's second semester at Vermont. Norma has been here since the beginning of the program (minus the very first semester).

We introduced ourselves and then Rita explained how it would work. The workshop meets for just over two hours each time, six times during the residency, so each person gets critiqued for an hour. In my workshop, the author isn't allowed to speak until the end when she/he can respond to questions and ask questions. I'd say more than half the session is devoted to positive comments--the good stuff that we find in each others' work. Then we delve into what somebody called "the dark side." But believe me, it's not very dark.

We started with a fabulous piece that hardly any one could find a fault with, including Rita and Norma. It was just gorgeous language and imagery. To me it read like literary fiction (but with a story) that would also appeal to adults.

One very nice thing about this workshop is how people don't talk over each other, even though there's no formal turn taking. Norma did, however, make sure that everybody said something. (I didn't have much to say, but I tossed something out.) Also, Norma and Rita were not the first to speak. It was really a democratic sort of discussion. That's not to say that everyone agreed all the time. Au contraire. The disagreements were enlightening too.

The people who've been here a while are very good at taking a piece and evaluating it on its own merits. After the very literary, poetic first piece, we turned our attention to a middle grade suspense/adventure novel. It was a fun contrast.

I'm scheduled to be critiqued on Monday.

Yes, but is it literature?

Ellen Howard posed this question this morning during the first faculty lecture. Early in her career, she said, she didn't "presume" to write literature. She's since changed her mind.

But what is literature? Ellen told a story about attending a writing conference at a university. She was having a piece workshopped and the professor leading it told her her work was commercial rather than literary. The writing was too clear and simple because, according to the professor, "what makes writing literary is its deliberate obscurity."

While this was funny as Ellen told it, I'm sure many "literary" adult writers would disagree. But it sure seems that way to me sometimes too--as far as some literary adult novels are concerned.

Ellen defined literature as writing
  • that's clear and simple,
  • that tells the truth as the writer has experienced it,
  • that is complex as life is complex,
  • that is crafted writing,
  • and that lasts.
Being entertaining, informative, and profitable are nice too.

She also addressed why literature is important. For one thing, she said, stories can point the way through life. They help us feel and develop empathy. They can also be empowering. And fine children's literature also offers hope.

You as a writer can't really know if what you're writing is literature. But you can ask yourself, "Did I tell the truth as I know it as clearly and simply as I could?"

Visiting Writer K. L. Going

K. L. Going, author of the Printz honor winning Fat Kid Rules the World, her first published novel, kicked off the residency by talking about what it means to be K. L. Going. But what she was really talking about was what it means to be a writer and what it means to be you.

Kelly (K. L.) is a young, attractive woman, a far cry from the 17-year-old, 300-pound protaonist of her first novel. But that's just the outside. What she and her character share, she said, is self-consciousness. Her character, Troy, is extremely self conscious, and that's what she really wanted to write about.

My impression of her is that she's a writer who makes very deliberate, conscious choices in her work. Fat Kid is written in very short chapters. Essentially each scene is its own chapter. That form was a deliberate choice as were the plot and characters--all were designed to reflect punk rock.

I find it hard to imagine making all those choices so consciously in my own work, at least not in the draft stage. Maybe I haven't written enough yet.

One question she posed is whether as a writer, are you willing to bare all your faults and put them in your work? This makes me cringe, but I see how it will be necessary.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Shopping for an Advisor

This afternoon all the students from all the classes and the faculty attended orientation (yes, another orientation). The faculty took turns telling about their favorite teachers. Several of the women faculty had favorite teachers who were male, which is interesting to me since I married my favorite teacher. A couple of the stories ended with the teachers telling their students that they were going to be writers one day. Neither of these students had expressed this desire openly. Isn't it interesting what teachers can see?

Once the all-student orientation was finished, the faculty got together with us first-termers. They took turns briefly describing what they write and what kinds of work they feel comfortable advising students on. Then for what felt like the fiftieth time today, we students introduced ourselves, said where we were from and what we write.

By sometime this Friday we first-termers have to turn in a sheet with our faculty advisor preferences marked. So this opening round was kind of like the first trip to the car dealership to see what makes and models are available.

But it's not like we really get a lot of choice this semester. We have to check at least seven names (I think there are 12 faculty members). To help us decide, there will be faculty interviews on Thursday when we have the chance to ask questions about how they like to work (by email vs. snail mail, for example).

Kathi Appelt, the program director, takes a more philosophical/spiritual approach. She says whoever you get is who you're supposed to get.

Marc Aronson, an editor and non-fiction writer/faculty member, won't be available on interview day, so I may have to chat with him tomorrow. One thing the faculty encouraged us to do for our first two semesters is play with writing. Marc compared it to finger painting. Non-fiction picture books would be pretty far out there for me, so I may chat with him about that.

I came here thinking I'd work on my YA mystery, but maybe that will depend on who I get as an advisor. I'll go with the flow.

Arrival and orientation

After a long layover in Detroit, I arrived in Burlington, VT yesterday afternoon where I ran into two upperclassmen in the Vermont College MFA program and two faculty members, Phyllis Root and Jane Resh Thomas. We all shared a shuttle to Montpelier, about a 45 minute ride away through tree- and snow-covered hills. Or maybe they call them mountains. They look like hills to me (I lived in the Wyoming Rockies so the Green Mountains don't look moutainy enough for the name).

Got checked in okay and issued my sheets and towels. People had warned me that the dorm rooms were plain and simple. A better descriptor would be Army barracks. I kept expecting to hear drill sergeants shouting at me to get in formation.

But, happy surpise, I got a single room, which I didn't request. It's tiny, about 8 feet by 12 feet, but no one to share with. My biggest fear about coming here was that I'd get a roommate who couldn't stop talking.

I met all the other students in my class last night. There are 17 of us, including one man from Iowa who served with the National Guard in Afghanistan. We played an ice breaker game where each of us told three things about ourselves, one of which had to be a lie. My lie was that I have four kids under age eight. I have no kids period.

Today has been all orientation stuff. Orientation to the school, to the library, to the computer lab. I'm almost oriented out.

At lunch today the newbies had assigned seats with the faculty intermingled with us. I was seated between Liza Ketchum and Margaret Bechard. When I was preparing for coming here and reading faculty books, I read Margaret Bechard's SF novel Spacer and Rat first.

Tonight visiting writer K.L. Going, author of Fat Kid Rules the World, will be speaking. I'm looking forward to it. I read that novel on the plane. It was fabulous.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Leaving on a jet plane

Tomorrow's the big day. Tomorrow I arrive in Vermont. Which means today I pack.

People have been asking me for days now if I'm packed and ready. Ha! No. I'm a last minute packer. For one thing, I had to do laundry first and because of a family obligation last night, laundry didn't get done until this afternoon.

I have to get up tomorrow at 4 am. I'm staying at my sister's in Des Moines tonight because otherwise I'd have to get up at 3 am. I'm bribing her to take me to the airport. She says she's going to wear her pajamas because she's only stopping long enough for me to hop out. I don't blame her. Getting up early, particularly in the dark and the cold, is really unpleasant.

Eleven years ago this month I left in the cold and the dark and boarded a plane for a new adventure. I'd enlisted in the Army Reserve and was headed to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. I was an older enlistee--late twenties--old enough to know better. But I wanted to see if I could do it.

It's the same with an MFA. I want to see if I can do it.