August 10, 2012

LLF DAY 6: Double Mitzvah

Awaiting Scholastic Inc Publisher, Arthur A. Levine

The YA cohort finally finished its manuscript critiques! YAY for YA! We enthusiastically turned our attention to our long-awaited writing prompts.

A few days after Lambda notified the us we’d been selected for the retreat, our mentor sent an email asking the YA group to do the following:

ü Read Anne Lamott's book, "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life"
ü Bring a 15-25 page manuscript of an unpublished work-in-progress for critique.
ü Bring hard copies of all the other participants’ manuscripts noting (a) strong points, what worked, what kept you reading, etc., and (b) what you think could be improved/strengthened, what would inspire you to read more, etc.
ü Bring a favorite poem about growing up.
  • Bring one photo of you taken during your teen years.
  • Bring a CD with a song that was important to you when you were a teenager.
  • Bring one pad of blank Post-It Notes.
  • Bring a favorite scene (1 page) from either a young adult novel or a novel that inspired you when you were a teen.
Every morning we stared the session with a poem or two. By day 6 we’d burned through all the poems. Today we brought our teen photos. We all agreed my roommate Jef had the best photo. It was his prom photo and it was so horribly bad that it was good. It was out of focus, bad poses, people halfway out of frame, I mean it was classic. It was the kind of bad photo you’d proudly put on the inside of your locker door and know it was totally rad.

In preparing my list of items to bring to the retreat, I forgot about the photo. On the plane, I looked over the list from Alex and remembered I hadn’t selected a photo. When my friend picked me up, we went to his house and I logged onto Facebook to print a photo (any photo) of young Miguel.

Miguel Goes to Prom
My photo, like Jef's, was of my senior prom. I sat at the banquet table (it was a dinner-dance). The guys sat on one side of the table and their dates sat across from them. On my side, all the guys wore white tuxedo shirts. Mine was pink. Across from me, my date was the only one wearing a bow tie and a white dinner jacket. Everyone else in his row had big '80s hair and prom dresses to match.There we sat, two guys at prom, and no one said a word. We took our prom photo together like everyone else. Even then, 25 years ago, it was strange how natural it felt for us to go to prom together. I don’t remember anyone making a big deal out of it. If they did, I never heard about it.

Teen years can be difficult so I was happy most of the group shared their picture and their stories. Some didn’t and I respect that because looking deeper at my picture, I could’ve written some dark stuff. It wasn’t all rainbows and glitter for young Miguel.

The afternoon session featured Arthur A. Levine of Arthur A.Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc. The YA groups was particularly excited to have him visit and we even came up with questions during our morning session because this was a rare opportunity.

Arthur gave a rundown of some of the books he edited most notably Harry Potter series and the Golden Compass series. Here’s some highlights of his presentation:

  • It doesn’t matter what you have to say (it’s all been said before) but it matters how you say it.
  • YA authors need to stop channeling Dr. Seuss, C. S. Lewis, and J.K. Rowling. “Darling, just be yourself.”
  • When you write LGBT YA you’re doing a double mitzvah. You’re writing about two vulnerable communities.
  • Enough with the literal fictional equivalent. Use your background to inform your writing and to create three dimensional characters.
  • Layers of observation help dismiss/bust stereotypes.
  • Sci-fi/fantasy? Build worlds and reveal them in organic ways – not with long boring descriptions.
  • Stop letting clichés be the last word on a subject. Yes, they’re precise but you can do better.
  • Tell the reader as much about you as you do other things.
  • Write about what you know.
  • I’m a sucker for a good love story.
oh yes he did
Oh no he di'int!
That evening the second night and final night of LLF fellow readings took place. I was so relieved to have gone on the first night. I’d be able to sit and enjoy the reading without worrying about my piece. Again, my YA cohorts did us proud.

We had another night of drink and discussion. We all talked about the next day, our final day, and how the week passed so quickly. I spoke with other fellows that, for whatever reason, I had not connected with earlier.

Sadness tried to creep up on me but I pushed it away wanting to enjoy the moment and not worry about how much I’d miss everyone and everything about the retreat.

That would come tomorrow.