Michele Regenold, Writing for Kids from the Boondocks

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The burgundy velvet dress

The Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in writing for children graduating class of January 2008, the Dedications. From left to right: Frances, Mary, Barbara, Nancy, Margaret, me, Page. This is at the reception after graduation. Photo by Frances's husband Lance.

Margaret Bechard (right) and moi at the reception. Photo by Frances Lee Hall. Frances surprised us with her photo request, I think, so we didn't have time to get self-conscious. At least I didn't. I think Margaret likes having her picture taken about as much as I do.

Barbara and me at the Black Door in Montpelier for supper after the reception. The rest of the Deds were there too. Barbara was showing me how to smile for the camera. Photo by Frances Lee Hall.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Vermont College MFA in Writing for Kids and Teens

I have graduated, hallelujah! Several students have told me they stumbled on to this blog and found the info useful. To make it easier for people to trace my path through this program, I put all the related links here, in chronological order.

Acceptance and anticipation (fall 2005)
It begins: Residency 1, January 2006
Semester 1, Spring 2006
Residency 2, July 2006
Semester 2, Fall 2006
Residency 3, January 2007
Semester 3, Spring 2007
Residency 4, July 2007
Semester 4, Fall 2007
Residency 5, January 2008

Graduation from Vermont College of Fine Arts

(From left, Barbara, Nancy, me, Margaret, Page, Frances, Julie (and cut off on the right, Mary) as the dean confers our degrees. Photo by Paulette Oxner.)

Tuesday, Jan. 22 was a big day. I had to give my lecture that morning and graduate that afternoon.

The ceremony itself was short. We had to decide a lot of it early on, like who to be our graduation speaker and who to read the brief selections from our creative theses--these people are usually faculty members. My class decided not to do an invocation, so that cut a few minutes. We kept the class's welcome statement brief too. We announced our gift to the program, a new hard drive to help make lectures available in more formats.

We asked David Gifaldi to be our graduation speaker. He gave a marvelous speech that was funny, moving, and personal. We asked Rita Williams-Garcia to read the selections from our creative theses. She's a great reader, and she's worked with half of us, more than any other faculty member. Since there were so few of us, she was able to read several lines. The selection is chosen by our 4th semester advisors, so we don't know in advance what they'll choose. I smiled when I heard the piece Ellen Howard chose from my YA mystery, Smells Like Money:

Through the windshield I noticed the giant sunflowers in LuAnn’s garden. Their heads were as big as dinner plates, their deep gold petals painfully bright.

I closed my eyes against their glare. Grandma told me once that sunflowers follow the sun throughout the day, their heads turning to keep it in view.

Since Dad died Mom liked, no, needed to keep me in sight.
The president of Vermont College of Fine Arts usually confers the degrees and puts on the hoods, but he couldn't be there. We found out that anyone on the faculty could put the hoods on us. We asked Tim Wynne-Jones to do it. The hoods are kind of tricky little devils, so he practiced before the ceremony. The new dean made the formal statement conferring our degrees.

We've always admired the beautiful organ but never heard it played, so we had someone play that as we walked in and out. Other classes had bagpipes for that, but they sound sad and funereal to me. The organ was nice.

The organ in the chapel of College Hall, Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont. Photo by Paulette Oxner.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Lecture: "Solving the Mystery of Literary Detective Fiction"

I was still feeling crummy last Tuesday morning by the time my lecture rolled around, but when a faculty member asked how I was doing, I told her I could fake it for 45 minutes. The number of people at my lecture was reasonable considering it was 8:15 on the last day of the residency. There were maybe 25 students there and several faculty.

Possibly because I wasn’t feeling well enough to get really excited, and therefore speak too fast, I spoke fairly slowly. I used PowerPoint slides to augment what I was telling people. This was partly to give them something to look at besides me and partly a way to help visual learners.

I started by pointing out the broad nature of mysteries and then zeroing in on detective fiction in particular. I compared the 2 main kinds of detective mysteries--the classical/puzzle mystery (think Miss Marple) and the hard-boiled/noir mystery (think Sam Spade). Then I compared detective fiction for kids and teens and got into specifics about how smart choices about setting, point of view, and character all help create literary detective fiction. I used examples from Wendelin Van Draanen's Sammy Keyes series, Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes series, and Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart series.

Lots of people were taking notes. Afterward, several complimented me on the “clear, succinct” information I presented. I was glad to hear that because I was a little worried that it wouldn't sound coherent to people who aren't as familiar with the topic.

One faculty member, David Gifaldi, who's a former 5th grade teacher, told me I was a natural teacher. I laughed and thanked him, but I don't agree. I felt well prepared and I'm experienced at speaking to adults. I also spoke from notes instead of reading my lecture. So maybe those things combined gave him that idea. Certainly, I was flattered.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Sick during the residency

I haven't been sleeping well at this residency, which I think has been going on now for about 3 months. It's so bizarre how time passes while I'm here. I caught a mild cold a couple of days ago. Then Sat. night I started feeling a little feverish, and in the middle of the night my stomach became upset. I thought it was the combination of a beer and NyQuil and possibly the Thai food I'd had for supper. So the next morning I went for a run, chewed some antacid, and met some friends for brunch.

Big breakfasts are my absolute favorite. We went to a place downtown for a brunch buffet, and it was gorgeous. They made omelettes to order and waffles while you waited. But all I could tolerate were 2 pieces of toast.

Shortly after brunch I headed back to Noble Hall to get ready for my lecture. And then my stomach started to hurt, I had chills, and I was getting weak and jittery. It sounds like nerves, but I don't get nervous about giving presentations.

So my classmates and a faculty member sprang into action and got the schedule switched around so I could go back to my room and try to sleep off the virus. Unfortunately that meant I missed 2 of my classmates' lectures and 1 faculty lecture. I felt somewhat better last night, but I think that was just the cold medicine.

I get easily tired and am heading back to my room for the 2nd nap of the day. I'll be giving my lecture on Tuesday morning, the last lecture spot of the whole residency. (No pressure there. At least it's first thing in the morning.) I may not be 100% better by then, but certainly better than I am now.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Reading from my work

One of the graduation requirements during the final residency is to read from the work we produced during our time at Vermont College. I was a little nervous about this.

The night before my reading I went out for supper with another student and Margaret Bechard, my 3rd-semester advisor. Margaret would be introducing me because my 4th-semester advisor, Ellen Howard, was unable to come to this residency. I asked Margaret what she was going to say in her intro. I wanted to make sure it was nothing mushy. She assured me it was not.

As the day approached (last Wed.), my anxiety mounted, and I finally realized why I was so anxious. It wasn't the reading itself so much as fear of getting choked up in front of an audience.

To help ease my tension, I drank another helpful, foamy beverage during the lecture right before the reading. My classmate, Mary Atkinson, read first from her wonderful middle grade novel. I listened carefully and was totally absorbed in her story.

Then Margaret Bechard went to the podium and I held my breath. She said she had fun working with me on my critical thesis on girl detective fiction (she thought she had more fun than I did--not true except for when she suggested I add another 10 pages or so, which I declined). She then relayed some of Ellen Howard's unmushy comments--that I was an easy student to work with and that she was proud of how far I'd come.

When I got to the podium, I could tell that, despite the helpful beverage, I still wouldn't be able to keep it together if I thanked people, as VC custom dictates. Instead, I said I had to forego the traditional thank yous in order to maintain my composure. And then I read my YA short story about a family shopping trip.

As Ellen Howard had suggested, I had practiced it several times, so I was able to read it with inflection and make it more of a performance. It was easier than I had expected. And then I gave my advisors the calligraphy pieces I'd prepared for them and happily accepted their congratulations.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Graduating students' gifts to faculty

One of the traditions at Vermont College is for the graduating class to present small gifts to the faculty on the first day. This happens at the end of the opening session.

My class had many discussions about this. Maybe I'm the most introverted of the 8 of us, but I really, really didn't want to do anything involving singing or dancing. We finally decided to walk in, with attitude, to the Mamas and the Papas version of a song whose title I'm blanking on but has to do with dedications (our class name is the Dedications). We wore scarves and sunglasses (except me because I'm wearing regular glasses). Even to do that much I needed some liquid help. Let me just say that the Vermont beer tinged with blackberries was tasty.

We gave faculty personalized notepads with their names, a cute design, and a quote from their letters to us. We also included silly candy and short notes that we each wrote.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Easy arrival

I took a different route to Montpelier this time. I flew from Des Moines to Hartford, Conn. and then rented a car. I did all my checking in online so getting through the airport in Des Moines and picking up my car in Hartford was easy.

I'm driving a VW Rabbit, which was a lucky choice because that little car has some get-up-and-go for the hills. It was about a 3-hour drive, practically straight north, hilly and tree lined the whole way. The roads were dry, traffic was light, and the day was gorgeous--sunny and low 40s.

Everyone else staying in Martin House (literally a house on campus that sleeps 6) was already there when I arrived, so they'd already chosen their rooms. They saved me an excellent room--in the back where it's quiet with a beautiful view of the woods and ravine behind the house.

The sun rises a little earlier here and sets a little sooner than where I live in central Iowa, so I was able to see where I was going when I went running this morning at 7. There was no breeze and the icy patches were easy to see, so although it was cool--probably 25 degrees--it felt great.

It's a thrill to be here for my last residency.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Prep for last residency--done!

I finished my PowerPoint presentation and my lecture handouts. I wrote notes to the faculty. And I finished my calligraphy projects. They aren't professional, but they look pretty good (better than this scan shows). And each one is on different colored paper using different colored ink or paint.

I even tried on the dress I may decide at the last minute not to wear to graduation. It went into my gigantic red rolling duffel anyway.

Probably the most important thing I'm trying to do the last few days before the residency is not get sick. My husband has a cold, so I keep snorting Zicam and telling him not to touch me with his germy hands. It'll be a miracle if I can stave it off because I'm ridiculously susceptible to colds.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Countdown to last residency at Vermont College

This is my last weekend before heading back to Montpelier, Vermont, next Saturday at 6:30 a.m., my last big block of time (my husband has thoughtfully decamped to go hunt pheasants).

What I absolutely have to accomplish with all this lovely time before the residency because graduating depends on it:
  • Trim my lecture notes. I timed my lecture a few weeks ago and it came to 41 minutes. I have 45 minutes total, including questions. I need to chuck some more of the historical stuff. I'm sure I care more about that than my listeners will. They'll probably be most interested in the nitty gritty of writing a detective novel.
  • Prepare my lecture hand outs and PowerPoint presentation. At a minimum, I plan to give people a bibliography of kid and YA detective novels that shows some of the range of what's being published these days. But I also want to include some useful info, which I still need to decide on. I'm a firm believer that listeners who take notes will remember better than those who rely solely on the lecturer's handouts, so I don't want them to duplicate the lecture, but somehow support it.
What I really want to finish and intend to finish before the residency:
  • small tokens of appreciation for my 4 faculty advisors. These are calligraphy projects that I've been working on all semester. I've learned that there are just as many, if not more, decisions to be made about visual art projects as there are in fiction writing projects. Nevertheless, I found it rather relaxing.
What it would be nice to finish but I could live without:
  • brief, handwritten notes to all the faculty to go in the gift from our class to the faculty.
I also need to try on the dress I'm planning to wear for graduation to make sure it still fits. It also needs to fit in my duffel. Luckily, even though it's cold in Vermont, the rooms where I'll be spending most of my days and nights are usually warmer than I'm used to. So I don't need to take a bunch of sweaters. Still, winter clothes take up more room than summer clothes. So if I need to take 2 bags this time (because of special graduation/lecture/reading clothes), I'll just suck it up and do it. I'm strong. I can lug 2 bags to the airport and then to my rental car.

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