|Our Lady of the Prairie (AKA Anne of Green Gables House)
I flew to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had a weekend-long "slumber party" with 8 other writers, including author/teachers Jill Esbaum and Linda Skeers. I played charades, stayed in an Anne of Green Gables house, and revised one pesky manuscript and began another that I feel has promise. I had homework - read 30 picture books and did a one sentence synopsis of each book. I amassed 17 handouts and 3 pages of typed notes. Wanna know more? Come along.
- I had never been in such an intimate setting to work on my writing. Going to a serene retreat center helped center me. Being with writers who didn't know me or my work opened up new ways for me to see my stories.
- "Show not Tell" can be unpacked by playing "emotional" charades. Jill gave us cards with one word emotions: confusion, joy, scared, sad, surprised. We acted them out and the rest of us tried to guess the emotion. Body language is useful for show emotion, and will engage our readers, too. As Jill said, "Make the readers do the work." They're smart enough to grasp the author's intent. (Try this w/a face-to-face critique group. It's fun.)
Here writers act out silliness!
- Openings are so crucial, but hear this. Editors and agents typically read only the first six words. If you give them a reason to pass on the work, they will. Your first lines are the foundation of the house (story) you build.
- With opening in mind and armed with a Character-driven Picture Book Analysis handout, we scan recent books, noting by which page we identify the main character and her/his internal and external conflicts. Then we look at our own work. If either element isn't there by the third spread, it's time to fortify our story foundation.
- Linda encouraged us to really amp up our main character's defining characteristic. She stresses that one can't go overboard with this. We should be able to pull our character out of the situation and know how he/she would respond in any new set of circumstances. Two mentor texts that show determination as a trait include CINDY MOO by Lori Mortensen and PRUDENCE WANTS A PET by Cathleen Daly.
- When creating characters and story, keep in mind the three Fs found in a child's life: family, friends, and frustration.
- Finally a huge "aha" moment for me came via my manuscript critique...there's still major work to be done. I had a hard time seeing that since I was so invested in it. I've dusted myself off, made a list of how and where I can revise, and this knowledge will make my WIP stronger.
|Linda Skeers & Jill Esbaum
The Dynamic Duo - Linda & Jill
Using our discretionary income for craft development is important to us writers. I have attended an LA SCBWI annual, NESCBWI twice, as well as workshops in my region for almost four years.. As a former educator with my M. Ed. in Curriculum, I can vouch for the value of Whispering Woods for me. Why?
- Jill and Linda are professional, easy-going, and fun. They've presented this weekend retreat enough that it is a well-orchestrated mix of work, rest, writing, and application of craft.
- The Friday-Sunday summer retreats include home cooked meals - locally grown and organic whenever possible. We were even feted with a festive dinner out on Saturday.
- The grounds include nature paths and wildlife, private rooms w/shared bathrooms, fields of prairie grass, a nature pond, and a labyrinth.
- Our instructors offered very detailed written critiques for each of us as well as oral critiques with our small group. Attendees are friendly and at an intermediate+ level in their craft. I received written critiques from all of them, too.
- Jill and Linda left room on Sunday for an open discussion on anything we wished to discuss. Our conversation included agents, editors, queries, and their recommendations for next steps on our path to publication.
- Slots fill up quickly and this year there were two summer sessions. Contact Linda here. Due to the housing restrictions, the center can only accommodate 10 guests.
- After seasoned writers attend state, regional, and national conferences, I feel a small retreat focused on manuscripts/craft is the next best step. I'm also considering Whispering Pines next spring. See information here.
Please share your professional development favorites for us in the comments, and check out Linda & Jill's newest books, too.
WOMEN WHO DARED by Linda Skeers is a very accessible nonfiction anthology that I'm ready to read NOW. FRANKENBUNNY is a fun mash-up that Jill Esbaum shared with us at the retreat. Ready to hop on it, too.