Missing: Mrs. Cornblossom is bringing me so much joy. A few days ago I learned that my children’s book has won a bronze Moonbeam Children’s Book Award in the category of “Best First Book – Chapter Book.” And, even though it’s a long drive from here to Traverse City, Michigan, I intend to accept this award in person on November 10. My heart is with this little book, and I’m planning to enjoy it to the fullest.
Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
I love this picture of Irene McKinney enjoying an evening with other writers at the Aurora Project Fall Writers Retreat a few years ago. Irene loved the idea of the Aurora Project—a residency program for artists, where they have time and space to create, free from distractions. She generously donated her own time toward making the Aurora vision a reality, even while she was battling the cancer that took her from us in February of this year.
“I remember going to MacDowell Colony after four hard years of graduate school and teaching in a prison in Salt Lake City, and weeping in gratitude when they brought my lunchbox to my studio door,” she told me in an e-mail message. “I sat there in that quiet place looking out at the pines and feeling: someone thinks what I do is valuable enough to take care of me for a while.”
The Aurora Project Fall Writers Retreat takes place this year November 1-4. If you have attended a past retreat, you know what a wonderful weekend this will be: time to work on your own creative endeavor, fellowship with other writers in the evenings, beautiful surroundings, and wonderful food. Someone taking care of you for a while.
In past years we have invited a well-known writer to join us and give a public reading. Irene was our guest three years ago. Maggie Anderson and Anita Skeen have also been featured. This year we’re devoting that public evening to the poems of Irene McKinney. Everyone who attends the retreat will be invited to share, in a reading open to the general public, one of their favorite Irene McKinney poems.
For more information and a registration form, e-mail email@example.com.
It’s the middle of a hot, hot summer in West Virginia, which makes me long for autumn. And I cannot even imagine autumn without a trip to my other favorite place, New Mexico. Again this year, if the fates allow, I will be teaching a weeklong class at Ghost Ranch. The title of the class is “KISS: Keep It Short & Shapely,” and it’s a week of writing short essays, this year from October 7 to 13. We’ll hear some wonderful essays, mine our own beliefs and experiences for inspiration, write amazing essays, and then make them even better by editing them.
Year after year, the quality of writing in this class thrills me. Part of that, I think, has to do with the atmosphere at Ghost Ranch. There’s space and time and a special camaraderie here that encourages one to open up, take risks, and work at a higher level. It’s a gift we give one another and one that can remain long after the class has ended.
So…meet me at Ghost Ranch. Sign up for the class at http://www.ghostranch.org. Quick instructions: Go to the menu for “Courses and Retreats,” choose “Online Catalog,” and then search by my name or the week, October 7-13. (Sorry about the complicated procedure, but their website won’t allow me to link directly to the page.)
Hope to see you in October!
When my book was still in manuscript form and this young man was a few years younger, his mother read the whole story to him. At the time, they were my neighbors on Arlington Court, and Mary Alice told me that Owen was a little bit confused about whether the characters in the book were real. (They’re not.) I guess he thought that, if he just knocked on the right door, he’d encounter Mr. Inchbald!
Now he’s living in another city, going to school and playing sports and…well, growing up too fast. But apparently not too old to reenter the make-believe world for a while. I love all images of children reading, but this may just be the most beautiful picture I have ever seen, even if it was made with a smart phone.
Most of the writing I have done, over many years, has been aimed at adults. But I must always have known, if not consciously, that children were the audience I wanted. Connecting with young readers—and young writers—gives me a special satisfaction because it mirrors the joy that reading brought me when I was a child. For me, the library’s collection of fairy tale collections, in all the colors of the rainbow, was a treasure worth more than any amount of money.
Of course, I still love to read, but I can rarely muster the deep immersion, the absolute giving-over-of-self, that a child brings to a story. I see it here in Owen, and it moves me. Thank you, Mary Alice. Thank you, Owen.
About a week ago I got a call from publisher Bill Clements announcing that my first children’s book, Missing: Mrs. Cornblossom, had arrived at his warehouse. I’d have bragged about this before now, but it has been a busy, busy week: it was also my parents’ first week as West Virginia residents, and we were all busy getting them unpacked and settled in their new home.
Then, a couple of days ago, a series of massive thunderstorms came barreling through West Virginia, and I was without electricity for a while (many people still are without power, sad to say).
But I’m finally getting around to it. Missing: Mrs. Cornblossom is a book for children, families, and anyone you love. It takes place in a community called (oddly enough) Arlington Court, and it really is a love letter to my neighborhood, among other things. It includes a couple of eccentric fellows named Toothbucket and Inchbald, three 10-year-old kids, and a mischievous cat whose adventures, singly and together, teach them much about life and love.
Missing: Mrs. Cornblossom is available from West Virginia Book Company and will soon be available online in both print and ebook versions.
Here’s Mom, Dad, and me celebrating together on publication day.
A few days ago I got an enthusiastic e-mail from a woman named Cathy, who told me, “My husband just gave me the best possible birthday gift: an all-expenses-paid trip to the Fall Writing Festival at Ghost Ranch!”
Cathy signed up for my class, KISS: Keep It Short & Shapely, which meets October 9-15. It’s a workshop on the art and craft of the short essay. We laugh a lot, sometimes shed a tear, hear some great essays, and write some great essays. My last class did such fine work that they published a beautiful chapbook together.
I hope you will consider giving someone (say, yourself) the gift of being part of the Fall Writing Festival at Ghost Ranch. Visit here to access the whole online catalog.
I am in East Lansing, Michigan, taking part in a multi-media event centered around a new exhibition of masks at the Michigan State University’s art museum. Instead of being organized around cultures, the masks in this show are grouped by theme: spirituality, power, gender roles, and the like.
Along with the visual art exhibit, there has been a week of readings, discussions, and workshops presented by West Virginia’s poet laureate, Irene McKinney, whose own collection of masks is extensive and varied. On Wednesday, February 16, Irene will lead a workshop, open to the public, around the theme of masks.
I’m really thrilled to be here as Irene’s helper and friend, and I’m looking forward to writing about masks. More later.
I think it was about this time of year in 2007 when I first got to know Michele Mouré-Reeves, whom I consider the guiding goddess of the Aurora Project, soon to be West Virginia’s first and only full-time artists’ residency program. Earlier that year, I had been blessed with a three-month stay at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico; for the first time, I really appreciated the value of the gift of time and space to work on one’s own art or refresh one’s own spirit.
Hard to believe, but Michele and I have collaborated on spring and fall writers’ retreats ever since, in the process becoming friends and learning to write grants together, among other things. The most recent retreat, in early November, featured a special guest, poet Maggie Anderson. Maggie’s public reading, on the Saturday evening of the four-day retreat, inspired me. So did her encouragement for the Aurora Project board and friends. As the founding director of the Wick Poetry Program and chapbook series, Maggie had valuable advice to share, but it was her enthusiasm, more than anything, that will keep me going.
It’s no small project to start a residency program. It’s even more challenging when there’s not a big endowment, when the funding must be raised bit by bit, and when the economy takes a nose-dive halfway through the process. It has been ten years since Michele and her board launched the Aurora Project, and the progress toward renovating the cottages that will eventually house artists and studios has been slow. But it has continued. Each time I visit, something new has been accomplished: a roof repaired, porch railings added, furniture acquired.
And I have to believe that the writing retreats play a role. I have to believe that each of the writers who come, spring and fall, to enjoy a restorative weekend at Aurora go home inspired, refreshed, and ready to spread the word about this wonderful vision.
The next Aurora Project Writers’ Retreat is planned for May 5-8, 2011. Writers, put it on your calendars.
I recently spent a week with ten Road Scholars (formerly known as Elderhostel participants) who had come to Cedar Lakes Craft Center in Ripley, WV to work on memoir writing in a class I titled: Your Own Story, Your Own Words. It was a wonderful week for me because of their stories. I particularly enjoy Road Scholar groups because they have lived long enough to gather interesting life experiences and because they were young during an era when young people actually learned how sentences work. (Remember diagramming? It really was a useful exercise.)
This picture of Cedar Lakes, which I snapped one morning just as the sun was rising, seemed to illustrate an experience several of my students described. Thanks to my friend Kathryn, whose skills include leading meditation and yoga sessions, each day’s writing prompt was actually a short period of relaxation, cleansing breaths, and a guided “entry meditation” that allowed the students to proceed quietly and gently from remembering to picking up the pen (or going to the keyboard) to put their own history into words.
More than once, a writer who claimed to remember almost nothing from a particular time would find, as he or she let the guided “movie” play out behind their eyelids, that images, textures, sounds, tastes, and smells began to come to them in clear detail, like objects emerging from a foggy landscape.
And, by staying attached to their senses, the writers managed to convey the living essence of their experiences to the rest of us. Some stories made us laugh, and others made us cry. By the end of the week, the shared stories had made us into friends.
This is a typical morning sky at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. That flat-topped mountain on the left is Pedernal, one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite painting subjects. Needless to say, this landscape is still among the most inspiring, and not only for painters.
Each October, for the past few years, I have had the privilege and joy to lead a workshop at Ghost Ranch. It’s happening again this year, from October 10-16. “Read-Aloud Writing: Shapely Short Essays” is the title of the workshop, and that’s what we’ll be writing: short, shapely pieces that are meant to be read aloud. The class meets every morning for a week, and afternoons are free for writing, hiking, thinking, visiting with new friends.
And, each October, I am amazed by the quality of writing that emerges. There’s something magical about the camaraderie at Ghost Ranch, the awesome landscape, the collaborative process, and perhaps the students’ willingness to revise, revise, and revise some more.
Last fall, in fact, I thought that some of the essays my class wrote were so good that, when someone suggested publishing a chapbook, I agreed to edit it. The resulting booklet, published by Village Books Press (Cheyenne, OK), turned out beautifully, as you can see:
The fine cover photography (and Photoshopping) are the work of one of the class members, William Graustein, who also took this picture of our group:
Can you tell that we bonded? I can’t speak for the students, but I would have to say that this one of my all-time-favorite experiences as a workshop leader. I won’t promise a chapbook every year (in fact, it WAS a lot of work), but I do promise you’ll meet some fine people and do some writing of which you can be proud.
There’s something about Ghost Ranch. If you have a yearning to write short essays, to spend a week with a congenial group of fellow writers, and to experience the place that has inspired Georgia O’Keeffe and so many other people, I hope you’ll check out the Ghost Ranch website and search for “Read-Aloud Writing.”