BookFest 2017 with Schlow Library and Central PA Arts Fest (& Bonus Recipe)

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I recently had the fantastic opportunity to participate in Schlow Library’s annual BookFest, which occurs in partnership with the Central PA Arts Fest. This was my first year participating as an author, and after working my table from 10am – 4pm, the one word that crossed my mind was:

WOW

Those 6 hours (in heels, no less!) flew by. Schlow Library kindly set up a tent for all of us 18 authors to run our tables while being protected from the sun, and the tent was packed with readers and writers the entire time! My table was at the back of the tent, which meant that I had an excellent spot to chat with attendees as they made their rounds. I met with writers and readers of all ages–including a little 7-year-old girl who, when asked if she was a writer, responded with a resounding, “YES!”, a middle-school-aged boy who had already written a novel, and a new mom starting a new university job and hoping to get some writing time in as well.

BookFest

On my table I provided handouts with writing prompts for all ages, some of them written by me and some written by my children (thanks kiddos), offering a free writing critique for a 500-word story based on one of the prompts, or another 500-word piece an author would like to share and receive some feedback on. I’m looking forward to reading the work of other writers in my community–so get your stories in!

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Hanging out with Romance writer, Lindsay Detwiler–we are just too cute, right?!?

The joy of talking with people who love to read, who love to write, and who simply love the power of words for that length of time was invigorating (although I did sleep like a baby that night). I feel so grateful that I had the opportunity to meet other local and regional authors, to share my book with potential readers, and to hopefully inspire other writers to keep working on those manuscripts. So many of the writers I met while they visited the tent immediately dismissed their own work as of little value, and I tried to emphasize in our conversations that every writer feels that way. Take heart, keep writing and growing, and have faith that hard work yields quality. It’s an old adage, but a true one: Every published author was once a writer with a manuscript, revising, revising, and revising away.

Keep Calm, Dear Friends, and Write On!

Special thanks to Jaru Copy Services for making my table posters on the fly–they looked fabulous and I received many compliments on them!

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Can you spot the photo of me in my awkward adolescence, at a–you guessed it–Power of the Pen competition?

And another special thanks to Gesine Bullock-Prado for once again proving herself the doyenne of all things buttery, pastry, and delicious. Her recipe for Brown Butter Brown Sugar cookies were a huge hit at my table, as evidenced by the empty crumb-filled plate by the end of the day. You can get the recipe at her blog. And if you are so inclined as to want to take a baking class with her personally, read more about my experience at her Sugar Glider Kitchen here (Spoiler: It was AMAZ-ING!).

 

 

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?