Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Call for Sentences

You may remember that I'm in Dr. Campbell's Chaos Theory Literature class this semester. It's the last literature class I'll have to take during my time in the MFA program, and it's certainly a far cry from Doug's one-600-page-novel-per-week fiction forms class last semester. We're only reading five books, and the authors range from Douglas Adams to Haruki Murakami. I imagine the light course load is probably because it's a mixed graduate/undergraduate course. It's a lot bigger than most of my classes have been in grad school (though still not that big), and it's full of young, cynical white men who think their opinions are the most important opinions of all the opinions and therefore like to talk over everyone else.

But that's beside the point.

The point is, we (happily) don't have to write a term paper for this course. However, we do have to complete a creative project. That's where you come in.

I'm going to attempt to write three flash fiction pieces in a chaotic manner. To accomplish this, I need to recruit 60 of you to write sentences for me. Writers and non-writers, people of all ages, races, genders--I'd like a diverse sample of the population, if possible. I don't want to give the whole thing away, but it will essentially work like this: at some point in the next several weeks, you will receive an email from me with a partial story. I will need you to write the next sentence, then email it back to me. Once the whole project is over, I will gladly send the final stories out to everyone who participated.

If this sounds like something you'd like to do, please get in touch with me: beckyr003 (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks!


Other things that are happening in my life:

Last week I won tickets to the RuPaul's Drag Race Season 7 Premiere Party at The Paris, simply by retweeting something from their official account. My social media obsession pays off sometimes. So Joe and I went to that on Friday. They showed the first episode of the season, and then all the new queens performed. I'm officially #TeamMax, and then probably #TeamVioletChachki, though it's a little hard to tell having only seen one episode and one performance. It's possible my allegiances will change in the future.

I climbed a 5.10 route at the gym today because I'm awesome.

Today I also went to the Pinball Hall of Fame for the first time with new friend Dave. Did you know that pinball games have plots? I mean, I was obviously aware that they had themes, but I did not know that there was a story to what you were supposed to be doing with the ball. For instance, you might be storming a castle, or fighting an alien invasion, and you can tell whether or not you're successful via various lights on the board. Sometimes the machine noises give you information, too, but I've never listened to them before. I always just assumed they were there to distract you and make the whole thing more difficult. Anyway, I guess you learn something new every day. Lunch + pinball might have to become a regular activity.

I'm reading at Neon Lit on Friday. I think I've settled on reading flash fiction rather than a novel excerpt. I'd rather not bother with explaining the context. And this weekend Katie and Seth are coming from L.A. because Monica is flying in from Chicago! High school reunion time.

Okay. I have to write before all that happens. Bon soir, dear readers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Big Week

As my title suggests, this is a big week for me.

Applications for most of our study abroad funding are due Monday the 23rd, so I have to finalize all that in the next few days. I have my plan of study written up, and an itemized budget, but I have to double check everything, fill in a separate budget form, collect letters of recommendation, and so on. I stopped in the Office of International Programs this morning to collect their budget form, and now I wish I'd stopped in there much earlier in the process. The secretary scheduled an appointment for me with an adviser tomorrow, who will help me go through the forms and make sure I've completed everything correctly. I'm confident I can complete it all on time, but I have to stay on my toes.

On Thursday the fiction writer Manuel Gonzales is coming to talk as part of the Emerging Writers Series. Since I helped pick him, I've been asked to introduce him before his reading. I wrote my introduction the other day, but I have to print it, and maybe read through it aloud a few times so I don't sound like a complete idiot. My friend Sarah is a goddess, and she's going to sub my classes on Thursday so I can attend lunch with him and his craft talk. It would be a bit weird to introduce him without ever having spoken to him, don't you think? I'd highly recommend his book, The Miniature Wife and Other Stories.

Let's be honest: this is a big month for me. I'm also reading at Neon Lit on the 27th. What am I reading? I have no idea. Novel excerpt? Flash fiction? Maybe I'll bring both and let the audience choose. I'm excited because it's our first reading at The Writer's Block, Las Vegas' newest-and-hippest bookstore. I think it will be fun.

I'm sure I'll find time to write in all of this. You know, because I have a time-turner like Hermione. (I wish.)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

oh. mon. dieu. (omd?)

Big news, people.

Last night...I bought a plane ticket to France! (Goodbye, savings. You will be missed.)

Don't worry--I do get reimbursed, but only after I complete a harrowing amount of paperwork.

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but for the MFA program we have to travel abroad, and we also have to do a translation. So I've decided on Toulouse. After all, how often do you get to abscond to France with someone else's money? I've never been to France, and I've always wanted to go--especially since it's still the language I can read best, even after studying Italian and Chinese.

My goal is to get in touch with the creative writing graduate program at Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès and see if a student might like to give me a piece to translate. Apparently it's quite rare to find creative writing programs in Europe, so I thought this would be a good opportunity. I'd even be willing to trade, if one of the students there would like to translate something into English as well. Hopefully it will work out. If not, I can always find something there, in a literary journal, maybe.

It's expensive to fly directly to Toulouse, so I'm flying into Paris first--where I can see ma chère  Catherine! She lives there now with her French boyfriend Arnaud because she obviously exists within a fairytale. It will be wonderful to catch up.

As you can probably imagine, I'm enormously excited. Now I just have to find somewhere to live in Toulouse. Catherine pointed me to several colocation sites--websites where people search for roommates or for someone to sublet--so I'm confident I'll find something. I still have to make itemized budgets and write cover letters and project proposals, but I shall do so with joy in my heart, because let's be honest--who could be unhappy about a summer in Europe?

And you know this blog is becoming Vive la Becky in June. Don't even worry about it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sitting on Talent

My title is a terrible pun. I literally spent the weekend sitting, along with over 1,000 other writers and illustrators, who presumably have some talent, at the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators Conference in New York City. I know it's terrible, but while I was doing all that sitting--often quite early in the morning--lots of exciting things were happening, things that set off a hurricane of thoughts and possibilities in my brain. Consequently, I was simultaneously sacrificing a great deal of sleep. Which is all to say: please do not blame me for my terrible title. I am exhausted.

Will that exhaustion stop me from blogging about the conference? Of course not.

Let's just do highlights, though. So much information was packed into one weekend that I'd need three blog entries to cover it all. 

Friday morning I had breakfast with Destiny Howell, the undergraduate winner of the SCBWI Student Writer Scholarship, and with the judges of the contest--Bonnie Bader, Editor-in-Chief of Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers, and Ellen Hopkins, author of several books for young adults including Crank. Conversation topics ranged from travel abroad to the merits of law school, but they were also extremely helpful in terms of explaining the ways in which we could benefit from the conference and from SCBWI as an organization. I'm so grateful that they thought my work was worthy of recognition. 

I went to lots of panels and breakout sessions about working with agents and editors, and one on the craft of YA writing. As I suspected, I found the the panels about agents and editors to be more enlightening; my professors and classmates are able to help me with craft at school, but I rarely receive insight into the business side of writing. 

Which isn't to say that the panel about craft wasn't helpful--in fact, it was probably the most helpful part for so many other conference attendees, who aren't currently in an MFA program and don't have anyone to work with them on their writing. I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by a community of writers, but most people aren't. One thing that was so amazing about the conference was the kindness and openness of everyone there. Nobody closed themselves off. Old or young, published or not, we all talked to each other, traded business cards, celebrated each other's successes and commiserated over each other's rejections. Nobody seemed competitive or jealous. It was, perhaps, one of the friendliest atmospheres in which I have ever been immersed. 

Thanks to the scholarship, I was also fortunate enough to participate in the Writers' Roundtables. The day was divided into two sessions. You were assigned tables at the beginning, and each session you would join seven other writers and one agent or editor at a table. It was like a mini-workshop. One person would read the first 500 words of their manuscript aloud, and then we'd all spend 15 minutes critiquing the piece. Then it would move on to the next person, and so on. Even in such a short time, I received heaps of feedback--some confirming problems I knew were there, some opening my eyes to new issues that I hadn't noticed. 

Here's a weird thing about me: I love receiving critique. I know most writers don't want to hear their baby called ugly, but I love it. Point out each and every flaw, positively trash it--my baby is too young to understand language, and therefore you can't injure its self-esteem. I can't raise my baby properly until I know all the ways in which I've been a terrible parent. (How's that for an extended metaphor?)

Considering all this, I found my morning session with an agent to be far more useful than my afternoon session with an editor. The agent was more blunt in her feedback, which was perfect. I need to know what to change so that one day, she (or someone similar) will offer to represent me. The editor was very nice and supportive, but not particularly straightforward in terms of criticism. I don't doubt that she's an excellent editor--in her bio she had some famous titles on her list. But I have a hunch that since agents are constantly browsing through manuscripts that haven't been professionally edited, they have to be more honest. Agents normally work as gatekeepers for the editors, so editors aren't often faced with dozens of unpolished pieces. The editor may have wanted to be encouraging rather than critical, since she knows it's unlikely that she would ever professionally see any of our pieces in their current states. That's my theory, anyway.

The keynote speakers at the conference were fantastic. One of my favorites was Anthony Horowitz. Because I only found out I was attending the conference in January, I didn't have much time to research the speakers. I knew Horowitz's name sounded familiar, but I assumed it was probably because I'd sold his books when I used to work at Borders. How wrong I was! He wrote The House of Silk, which is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes spin-off novels. Too many people try to add love interests for Holmes, or send him to ridiculous locales like St. Paul, Minnesota. Horowitz captures the nuances of the characters to a T. His rapidfire talk was filled with hilarious quips and useful tips, and he even read an excerpt of the brand new James Bond novel he's been commissioned to write. On Sunday I was able to purchase his new novel Moriarty, and have him sign it for me. 

Surprisingly, I loved Kami Garcia's talk as well. I haven't read Beautiful Creatures--somehow I got it into my head that it was a horrible Twilight rip-off--but her charming speech about its creation made me realize that it is no such thing. In fact, I am tempted to download it on my Kindle and devour it right now. Alas! I have so much reading for school to do first. 

The best talk was easily (brand new Newbery Medal winner) Kwame Alexander's. I can't imagine it was as improvised as he claimed--if that's true, he may be the public speaker of the century. His speech was funny and heartfelt and inspiring, and somehow he managed all that in a way that was not cheesy or overly-sentimental. He walked around and interacted with the audience. His poetry was interspersed throughout. He demanded that we Tweet the various gems that flew from his mouth, which were never didactic or condescending. The talk culminated in the story of how he learned he won the Newbery, and then everyone was on their feet, cheering.

Other delights:

The first day, I ran into none other than Shayne Renee Taylor--wife of Jed Taylor, lead singer of The Fortunate Sons, Chicago's finest Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band. I knew she was an amazing artist, but it hadn't occurred to me that she wanted to illustrate children's books. We had dinner and reminisced about my gogo dancing days, among other things.

On Saturday night there was a gala, featuring a mashed potato bar. You heard me: mashed. potato. bar. It's exactly what you think it is.

Sunday afternoon, when Lin Oliver, Executive Director of SCBWI, began talking about sundaes with a cherry on top, I thought we were going to be treated to a surprise ice cream social. The surprise was, in fact, much better: Henry Winkler. The Fonz himself--or Barry Zuckerkorn, if you prefer Arrested Development to Happy Days. He and Oliver have written several children's books together, and he came to tell us to try hard, even when we doubt ourselves.

I am so happy I went to this conference, despite the lack of sleep. I learned a ton, and I am thoroughly impressed with the quality of SCBWI--so much so that I'm planning on checking out the Nevada chapter. Thanks again to the organization for choosing me to come!

And now I must try to write instead of immediately falling asleep. The pen stops for no mere physical needs. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Off to The Big Apple!

Time flies, n'est-ce pas? Last I checked, the Spring semester had only just begun, but now my 27th birthday has come and gone (I hosted a party and wore a dress dripping in sequins), and tomorrow I'm already flying to New York City to attend the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference.

I've spent the day preparing--getting my hair cut, packing, trying and failing to think of an appropriate synonym for "blithe," printing 18 copies of the first 500 words of my novel for the Writers' Roundtable, buying a coat. (Can we tall take a moment to appreciate the fact that the Las Vegas Burlington Coat Factory has only two racks of women's coats?) Now I ought to be in bed--early flight--but I wanted to blog first.

I think this weekend is going to be extraordinary. Receiving feedback from professional editors and agents alone is amazing, but I get to attend panels, too? And a keynote by Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander, who was awarded the prize only a few days ago? (It's like they knew he'd come out on top....) How did I get so lucky?

Oh--I know how I got so lucky. It's because I have supportive friends who force me to apply for scholarships and who help me edit my work. And it's because I have a loving family who encourages me to pursue my passions.

I suppose I put a little effort into the whole writing thing, too.

But more importantly, you guys. Thanks, you guys! 

You know I'm getting tired when the exclamation points take over. Other things that have been on my mind:

Is it really a yoga class if the instructor doesn't demonstrate any of the positions for you, choosing instead to call out various long words which you assume are positions of some kind?

How might one go about writing a story chaotically?

Considering that I climbed a 5.10- route at the gym tonight (the hardest I have ever managed), does that make me a total badass? (Yes.)

That's all for now. More when I return from New York!