Just so you know: Naomi Jackson is totally worth 40 Hrs on a Megabus

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Royalty with her constituents.

I recently completed my four in-house Master Fiction classes with Naomi Jackson at Catapult in NYC (with two more to go remotely). This required that I board a Megabus in my small central Pennsylvania town on Thursday morning, careen across the pasture lands for 5 hours, plus at least an hour of stop-and-go New Jersey traffic and Lincoln Tunnel nausea, rush down Fashion Ave. to our class at 7pm, eat dinner with friends, sleep, and then board another Megabus Friday morning for the reverse journey back home.

All in all, I spent 40 hours (at least) in travel time for only 8 hours of actual class.

And you know what? It was totally worth it.

Why? Because of Naomi. Because of my classmates. Because of Catapult.

As a writer whose professional training is in another field (in my case, development psychology), I find that professional writers whose training encompasses years of building their craft in intensive programs (Naomi went to Iowa) simply view words, language, and narrative differently. Taking a class with Naomi allowed me to benefit from her capacity to take a piece and distill it down to its essential components. I work-shopped two short stories that I knew were strong, but just not fully realized yet. Naomi’s feedback revealed to me what was missing–elements that I would not have discovered on my own.

The best way I can describe this process is that Naomi’s perspective is like an x-ray of an entire work–she sees not just the flesh, but the bones of a story or novel, and that also means she can see what doesn’t belong, what has ruptured in the narrative, which characters or themes are too porous or weak. It’s a skill built from years of training and careful observation of the written word, and there is absolutely no shortcut to this endpoint. She has earned this skill, and her students can only benefit from it. I certainly did.

Notes and notes and notes…
Another important tool was the way Naomi constructed the feedback portions of the course. We each read the submitted pieces, brought detailed notes and a written letter for our fellow classmate, and then discussed the piece in our group class, but the discussions followed their own important narrative arc.

Naomi insisted we begin with Aboutness–What did we feel the piece was about? This allowed the author to see whether the themes they  thought they’d captured were actually realized in the reader’s experience with the work.
Secondly, we provided Warm feedback. What is working in the piece? What are its strengths.

Only then did we head into Cool feedback, describing to the author what we felt could be improved upon.

I know many writers, myself included, have felt gutted by workshops, where classmates take critique opportunities as a venue to attack another writer in order to make themselves appear more intelligent or talented to the instructor. Naomi does not allow this to happen, partly through the structure she institutes and partly through the atmosphere of respect and constructive discourse she embodies in her own feedback.

 

In other words, taking a workshop with Naomi will make you a better writer, but it also won’t make you cry, question your existence, or imagine writing angry e-mails to each of your fellow students.

Which brings me to my fellow classmates, who are all incredibly talented, generous, and people I now call my friends. A group is only as strong as its components, and alongside Naomi’s skillful leadership I am certain the time and attention each of my classmates gave to my work has helped me grow further as a writer. I also thoroughly enjoyed reading their work, and cannot wait to hold published books and stories in my hand, as I am sure I will have a chance to do for each of them in the near future.

I cannot recommend Naomi’s class enough–and I hope you get the chance I did to work with her. You’ll be a better writer for it, and isn’t that what we all want to become?

Write On: Dreaming Writing Into Reality with Nadette Rae Rodgers

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Today on Write On we are lucky to feature Nadette Rae Rodgers, author of Illusion and the forthcoming Illusion Trilogy. Nadette is a Pennsylvania author, passionate about writing for all ages. Her interest in dreams inspired her first novel. For Write On, she helps us explore dreams and dreamscapes in writing.

Nadette is a member of the Quill & Scroll Society. She was also a featured author at the Beaver County Book Fest and Passages & Prose 2016: A Gathering of Authors & their Books.  Follow her on twitter @NadetteRae and read more of her writing on her blog.

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1) Your Illusion Trilogy plays with the idea of dreams invading our real life. Did you base this premise on experiences from your own life?

The storyline didn’t exactly come from personal experiences I’ve had in my life, but I’m sure we’ve all experienced a bit of deja vu where you’re just going about your day and think to yourself, Did I dream this happened already? So I guess I took that feeling and asked myself “What if that really happened to someone?”

 

2) From a psychological and neurological perspective, there is a great deal of disagreement about the role of dreams and the role they play in our lives and our health. How do you integrate these contradictions in your writing?

Everyone dreams. Some people may not remember them in the morning, but everyone does. Some dreams are inspirational or calm, while other dreams, or “nightmares”, cause anxiety for many people and can shake you to your core. I wanted to really play off of a natural occurrence all people could relate to and that’s why I chose the topic of dreams. In the book, Addison’s dreams definitely affect her health. If she fell in a dream, she’d wake up with a cut and blood dripping down her leg. REM Behavior Disorder is definitely a real thing- very rare, but real all the same- where people act out the dreams they are having. Typically, it is not to the extent of Addison’s dreams as I was trying to exaggerate this, but for people suffering from any type of sleep disorder, dreams play a big role in their health.

3) Writing classes often malign the use of dreams as a cop-out for the ending of stories. How do you recommend writers incorporate dreams and dreamscapes into their writing while still avoiding the cliche-riddled path of “it was all a dream” endings.

Well, in the case of Illusion, it may appear that I followed that cliche-riddled path of the “it was all a dream” ending. However, the reader will uncover more to Addison’s story in books two and three, which I can’t say much about just yet.

But I guess my advice would be to make it your own and add a twist to it. You want to leave the reader guessing, unsure if it really was a dream after all or not. Give the reader just enough information in your ending to leave them satisfied and happy, but still eager for the next book. I get asked all the time “When’s book two coming?”

4) Do your own dreams inspire your writing?

Not really. I can’t say I’ve ever experienced dreams like Addison. I would say that my interest in dreams inspired the book, though.

5) Have you read much on the analysis of dreams–do you see any value to this approach for writers who want to explore the unconscious mindscape in their writing?

I’m very intrigued with dream analysis, so I’m always analyzing my dreams the next day!

Dreams are a very common occurrence in books; I could list books I’ve read in the past few months that all have a dream scene or a description of a dream.

As with any part of the plot, the dream sequence should tell part of the story. You don’t want to have a pointless dream that tells the reader nothing and acts as filler.

So I would say any research, even just investigating your own dreams and figuring out their meaning, can offer relatable insight into the mind of your character when you write a dream scene.

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6) What was your favorite part about working on the Illusion Trilogy?

I think my favorite part was the ability to take something that everyone could relate to (dreaming) and turn it into this whole other world. The dream realm and the dream scenes were probably my favorites to write because it was so creative and intriguing to me. The possibility authors have to turn words into a whole world is still amazing to me!

7) What’s next for you?

I am currently working on the second book in the Illusion Trilogy, so I’m hoping to have that out sometime soon!

Writing the sequel has allowed me to dig deeper into the characters’ backstories and write from new perspectives, and doing so has given me ideas for future books- some not related to the Illusion Trilogy.