Michele Regenold, Writing for Kids from the Boondocks

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

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Feedback on first packet

I heard from my advisor, Rita Williams-Garcia, a few days ago. Not that I was seriously worried or anything. If I hadn't known her at all before she was assigned to me (or me to her), I might have been wondering if she was wondering why the heck Vermont College admitted me in the first place. But she was one of my workshop leaders, so I knew she liked my YA mystery. I just tried to chill and perhaps drank a little more than usual.

So on to the feedback. We're working totally by email. She sent a letter, about three pages long, in which she responded to some of the comments and questions I'd written in my letter to her. For example, I told her that for fun I was reading Frank McCourt's Teacher Man. (I love his writing. He sounds like he turned into a fabulous teacher.) She said she's read it too and described him as "one of the most natural writers in our time." Right on.

She commented on both essays. She wasn't fooled by the flabby thesis and support in the first essay and asked me to revise it for next time. Okie dokie. But she said she enjoyed the second one. I think she's giving me more credit than I deserve here because she read it as though it were a mystery, complete with clues. It was, as Elizabeth Bennett says in Pride and Prejudice to Mr. Darcy on rejecting his first marriage proposal, most unconsciously done.

As far as the mystery chapters I sent, she offered specific suggestions for revision, like kicking up the language and making some expressions my own. I know just what she means.

The letter also includes her expectations for next time: 15-20 pages of new stuff, revision of a chapter she just read, two new essays on topics of my choice, and a revision of that blasted first essay.

In addition to the letter, she also returned both essays and the two novel chapters with comments in them (using track changes in Word). Some comments are reader reaction like she thought XYZ was going on but realized it was ABC instead. Some remind me of comments my critique group buddies make--"you can do better."

Overall it was really positive feedback. No extra alcohol was necessary to numb any pain.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Waiting and waiting and waiting

Really, I shouldn't have gotten into this writing biz. I have too little patience.

A week ago today I sent my first packet to Rita, my advisor at Vermont (she actually lives in New York somewhere and is probably buried under two feet of snow). She said something about taking eight days to get back to me. I didn't pay close enough attention to that part when she was explaining how she handles packets. I was more concerned about what I had to send her, not when she'd get back to me. So it's kind of like watching the mailbox on the earliest possible day you might hear from an editor--if the world were perfect.

Meanwhile I had an idea for a new non-fiction book, something that's actually related to my 9-to-5 job. Amazing. I never thought it would happen. So I've been researching that idea for the last few days, and it looks like a good one. There's been one adult book published about it, but it didn't get great reviews, and no kids' books on it. And I know where to look for primary source material.

So far, noodling a non-fiction idea doesn't get in the way of working on fiction. I've found it very difficult to juggle two fiction projects.

The key to waiting is distracting myself with other projects.

But inbetween sending the first packet and receiving Rita's comments, I wasn't sure what I should be doing exactly. Which is probably why I started on the new non-fiction idea. Probably I should be revising stuff, but maybe I'm supposed to revise work I just sent Rita after getting her feedback. (This all sounds very disjointed and ridiculous.)

During the residency I wasn't sure this MFA thing was for me. Now I'm sure. It's really fun.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Iowa Writers Week, Feb. 19-25

Cindy Blobaum, my SCBWI cohort in Des Moines, and I have declared the week of February 19 as Iowa Writers Week. Ah, the power.

Whether you're in our neck of the woods or not, I hope you'll consider challenging yourself to participate. Here's the deal: Pick a goal, something you can accomplish in a week. Maybe you want to complete an article or a draft of a short story. Maybe you just want to write for a certain amount of time or certain number of words every day. Or maybe you just want to do one good thing for yourself as a writer during that week.

Then announce that goal to someone. Maybe to your writing buddies, maybe to your significant other, maybe to the Iowa SCBWI listserv. Or maybe just a note to yourself on the fridge. The choice is yours. It's not a competition.

At the end of the week, on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 11 am, I hope you'll join other Ames/Des Moines area SCBWI members for lunch at Chip's in Ankeny. Chip's is east of I-35 at exit 90.

If you're not a member of SCBWI, that's okay. We welcome all children's writers.

Monday, February 06, 2006

First Packet Sent

I sent Rita my first packet this evening. I finished it last night about 10:00.

Unlike most classes I've taken since forever, I never once felt this homework was onerous. That must be the beauty of working on stuff I really enjoy and think is helpful in some way.

Tonight I'm going to veg in front of the TV.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Working on the first packet

My sister, Stef, said she was disappointed that I didn't include some kind of conclusion to all my posts about the first residency at Vermont College last month. I told her that's because I didn't see the end of the residency as any sort of conclusion. It was only the beginning of a whole lot of work. Plus I was tired.

For the last two weeks I've been reading, reading, reading, and writing, writing, writing. My 20 pages of creative work are just about ready. Some of it's still on paper, so I have to type it in today (packet's due tomorrow).

I also have to write a brief synopsis of the first nine chapters for my advisor. She read the first two chapters in workshop during the residency but wants to know what happens inbetween those chapters and where she'll start reading in chapter 10 (she graciously allowed me to keep going on my YA mystery). Frankly I think much of that inbetween stuff will end up in the dumpster. It's a lot of back story, but as someone in my workshop said, I need to tell myself the story first. Then I can go back and prune judiciously.

Besides the creative stuff I have to turn in two short essays of 2-3 pages. That's not much room. Trying to figure out how to focus on such a small topic that I can cover it adequately has occupied significant mental energy.

I've been reading the first couple of chapters of YA and middle grade mystery novels. One of my essays is about effective openings. I've narrowed that down specifically to detective series openings. I'm comparing the first novel in a humorous mystery series by M. E. Rabb (the Missing Persons series) to the second to see how she handles the introduction of the "detective" main character and the main story problem/mystery. The standard writing advice is to hook readers on the first page, but I think series mysteries have the additional obligation of hooking readers on their detective.

The other essay has a vaguer direction right now. I've been amazed at how hard it is to find series mysteries for teens in the library and the book store. Where are they all? And how do we decide what's a mystery anyway? These are some questions I'm thinking about and trying to answer in 2-3 pages. Maybe I'll jar something loose when I go running this morning.