Michele Regenold, Writing for Kids from the Boondocks

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

Monday, July 23, 2007


At every Vermont College residency, all students are assigned to a workshop group led by 2 faculty members. This time my leaders are Leda Schubert and Jane Kurtz. They've done a great job of guiding discussion and finding the strengths and weaknesses in each student's work.

But we don't use the word "weakness." Instead we ask "questions" about the work. Sometimes the questions are literally questions, like "Why is the mother so calm?" Other times they're comments, like "I couldn't visualize the layout of the backyard." These are some of the things my fellow workshopees said about the piece I submitted, a middle grade fantasy novel. Overall the feedback was helpful. Once I get back to that novel, I'll have a good way to get going on the revision.

One thing that I particularly appreciated about the leaders this time is that they both are conversant with fantasy conventions. Leda and Jane and the students who were particularly familiar with fantasy were also able to point out some problem areas that were specific to fantasy, so that was especially helpful.

We have a pretty good range of material to critique, including picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, and YA novels.

The students in this workshop all speak up. There's no one dominating voice. Leda and Jane take turns leading the discussion versus keeping notes about it. It's been one of the best workshops I've had here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Faculty frenzy

Each semester every student in the Vermont College MFA in writing for children program gets a new adviser. The days leading up to the due date for the faculty preference form turn into a feeding frenzy. Faculty members get ambushed and waylaid by students trying to make their choices.

Sometimes students are polite enough to ask a faculty person who's just sat down to dinner if they can ask them about XYZ. Sometimes students ignore a gentle rebuff.

Student X, as he climbs over a chair with his tray in hand after he's
already settled elsewhere: "Can I talk to you about what I'm working on?"

Faculty member Y: "Sure, if you don't mind boring everyone else."

Student X doesn't mind.

One day during the residency (today in the case of this summer) there are scheduled faculty interview periods when faculty answer the same basic questions over and over:
  • How do you work?
  • What do you expect in the packets (of homework/5 per semester)?
  • Do you use email? (not all faculty do)
  • Are you interested in ______?

I'm skipping these periods today because as a 4th-semester student, I only have to put down 2 choices on my faculty preference form, and I've already decided who they are. My criteria are pretty simple:

  • Do I like and respect the faculty member's work?
  • Does the faculty member show interest in/enthusiasm for my work?

We'll find out the results in a couple of days.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


As my husband could tell anyone, procrastination is one of my worst tendencies. In his lecture, VC faculty member David Gifaldi described procrastination as one facet of resistance. Resistance arises from within writers and artists. Amen.

Another facet of resistance, he said, was comparing yourself to others. That's pretty hard not to do.He said if we must compare ourselves to others, compare ourselves to Emily Dickinson and Vincent Van Gogh. Dickinson wrote 1,800 poems and published 7 in her lifetime. Van Gogh sold 1 painting in his lifetime.

So how do we beat resistance? We show up. Getting my butt in the chair is sometimes the hardest part of all.

I told David G. at breakfast that I'd thought about his advice while I was running this morning. I was doing speed work on the high school track--4 x 3 laps with 1 lap recovery jog--and it wasn't going well. My legs were still dead from the hilly long run on Sunday and from climbing to the 4th floor of College Hall 3 or 4 times yesterday. My times were pathetic. I was tempted to stop, but just like bad writing days, I also have bad running days. So I persevered and finished the workout. If only I could remember that when it comes to writing.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Fictional truth

Rita Williams-Garcia (my first semester adviser) lectured on fictional truth and how it operates on a different plane than the truth of facts or non-fiction. People who regard fiction as something that's untrue, just made-up stories, don't seem to grasp that emotional truth is often just as important, if not more so, than the facts of the matter.

The core of the fictional truth is the reader/writer contract. The writer tells the best, truest story s/he can, and the reader suspends disbelief to a certain degree. If the writer violates that contract in the reader's eyes, the reader may put that book down.

I think that the main reason I stop reading novels is because of this breach of contract. I can suspend disbelief at the drop of a hat, but that disbelief is quickly reinstated if the writer gets facts wrong or even if I just suspect the facts are wrong.

I recently read the beginning of a novel whose parents are both US Army officers. They were both being transferred to South Korea and the girl refused to go with them. Well, for one thing, I really doubt that both parents would be transferred at the same time. For another thing, I don't think families are even allowed to go to South Korea and live with their soldiers. So right off the bat I was disinclined to continue reading.

Rita quoted John Gardner as saying that non-fiction is a "trivial kind of truth." I don't think that's a fair comment about all non-fiction, particularly creative non-fiction. Ultimately the facts alone don't tell the whole story or the whole truth.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Back to Vermont College for semester 4

Kellye Carter Crocker, fellow Iowan and Vermont College alumna, was right when she told me that the days seem long but the time flies by in this program. Just one more semester to go, which kicks off today. Yeehaw!

Our opening night speaker is Susan Cooper, author of The Dark Is Rising fantasy series, among other books. I saw a trailer for the new movie based on this series the other day. I'll try to find out what she thinks of the screen adaptation.

I arrived in Montpelier in a different way than usual since my husband is driving out to meet me at the end of the residency. I flew from Des Moines to Boston yesterday where my friend/classmate, Mary Atkinson, met me and drove directly to Montpelier. The forest-covered hills along the way were lovely, and after a quick 3 hours we arrived. And Mary even packed us sandwiches! I will definitely be buying her a nice meal or two as thanks.

After a nice mini reunion with some classmates I got settled into my room, which this time around I have all to myself. All students were offered single rooms without having to pay extra, so naturally we jumped at it. Each room in Dewey Hall has 2 platform twin beds. I laid on the one near the window and decided it was a little firmer than I cared to endure for 10 nights, so I hoisted the mattress from the other bed on top. I felt slightly like the princess and the pea, but it was more comfortable.

The weather so far is cooler than I anticipated. I may have to buy myself a sweatshirt downtown today. I didn't pack a single shirt with long sleeves. No jeans either.

This morning I got up about 5:30 and went for a 10-mile run (I'm training for the Des Moines Marathon). I headed north out of town on Highway 12. Lots more hills than I'm used to. There's one hilly mile on my route at home. Here it's more hilly than flat so my legs got tired a little sooner than usual. It was a little strange running by myself. I usually run with my Brittany, Diesel. He would have enjoyed all the new smells, and he could have helped pull me up some of the more atrocious hills.

There's some tree or shrub that gives off a strong flowery scent. It's kind of like being stuck in the grocery line behind someone wearing too much perfume. I ran in and out of it for a few miles.

I saw only one other runner in town this morning. One guy passed me on skate skis, which looked like fun. He also had the poles to help push himself along. He wore a helmet but no knee pads or elbow pads. Maybe he's so good he never falls. But he was skate/skiing in the middle of the road, which didn't seem like the safest place to be. Maybe he was trying to avoid the bits of gravel on the paved shoulders.

I carried a water bottle with me and left it next to a no passing zone sign. When I picked it up about 40 minutes later, I didn't notice the slugs on it until after I'd taken a big swig. Luckily I didn't kiss any of them.