April 25

Preparations for School

Life is growing increasingly hectic as I prepare for my second semester of school.  Outside of  normal responsibilities, I have things I need to read, critique and watch.  I’m also trying to decide what to pack.

When I made this trip last year, I had the luxury of driving down. I say luxury, not because the cross-country trip was easy, though I’ve made the trip so often it’s probably far easier on me than on someone who has never managed it before. I say luxury because cars have the advantage in some areas when it comes to travel. By taking a car, I don’t have to limit my luggage.  As long as it fits in my car it can go, whether it’s edible, leaky, necessary or dangerous. With airlines you either pay a small fortune or are severely limited to what you can take on the plane, and how heavy/large your bag can be. So it’s a tossup on which is better the plane or the airline.  Both are uncomfortable, but you’ll, usually arrive faster on a plane than by car.

So, I’m making and re-making packing lists, trying to prioritize what needs to go and what can stay.  The school stuff has top priority. I need to take the screenplays, books and the schedule with me, along with a handful of other things. Clothes are an obvious necessity, but how much do I take with me? With me staying at my mothers I can do laundry at her house without it costing me anything.  However, I don’t want to be doing laundry every night. Do I take my manuscript, even though my focus is screenplays? Make up, which I rarely wear, but wore every day at residency? Then I need to consider my sister, who will be coming with me on the trip.  She’s seven. This will be her first time on a plane. What do I need to make sure she has in her carry-on? Then I’m trying to get other things done.  Newsletter for the Coeur du Bois Romance Writer’s Group, paying bills, working…looking up ideas on what Young Adult screenplays I should read for the semester…

As stressful as preparing for Residency is, I’ll be glad when I finally get there.  Last year I learned a ton.  The information I received from lectures, workshops and critiques transformed my writing, making me stronger in some areas. My story has made a dramatic change because of what I learned last year.  This year, I expect, will be no different, especially when I look at lectures they’ve announced will be at residency. For me, the semester was fun, a retreat, a vacation of sorts despite the long hours and sometimes stressful, last minute assignments. Plus, things will be less stressful for me once I get into the swing of things and add homework to my regular schedule again.

Until then…well, I’m wondering if the queen of hearts is trying to chop off my head.  I hope not.  The way I’m going right now, I’d never find my head again.

September 7

Researching for Books

Even with all the advances in technology and all the material out there, researching a particular subject can be difficult.  Their are simply some things that don’t translate well on the page, which makes learning the material difficult and not everyone can afford a trip or a class on the subject they are researching. I do a lot of research online.  I ask random people if they know anything, sometimes they’ll surprise you. and have answers you never considered.

For example, I wanted my next scene set in France.  Not Paris.  I posted on Facebook asking for suggestions.  And I got a great one.  Reims, France. With that lead, I started a basic search, history, pictures.  I liked what I saw so I dug deeper.  Maps, both virtual and real, books, websites.  This was all made difficult by the fact a lot of the websites were in French. And their are some things you either have to guess at or be really lucky about finding. For example, what does Reims smell like?  Grapes? Champaign? Chocolate? Perfume? River?  Something else?  What does it sound like?  Chatter in French and English? Trains rolling by? Tolling bells? Really I can only guess.

Figuring out what to have my characters specifically do there, while the non-location related event happens has been a challenged.  What would be interesting for readers to see?  What is unusual but potentially new?  I kept returning to tour barges in Reims. Because touring old buildings I haven’t been too didn’t seem right, and since Arabella is basking in the sunlight sending her into a Champaign Cave seemed cruel.  But those are the things that are most advertised as happening in Reims.

I looked deeper into the barge idea. Where would the boat take passengers?  Where could and would it stop?  What would passengers see from the barge?  How big are these things? How expensive?

Wait, what’s this? While searching for “What’s outside of Reims?” I find Hot Air Ballooning? Really?  Hmmm. My search starts anew.  What does Hot Air Ballooning involve?  How many people can fit in a basket at a time? I found the option of going Hot Air Ballooning in Boise and experiencing it for myself.  But for the price I’d be required to pay…well, lets say that under my current circumstances I’m more likely to see Satan Ice Skating in the South Pacific before I can afford that experience. It sounds marvelous though.

Research reveals that normally the pilot will take no more than three people up with him or her at a time.  I’ve only seen prices offering to take two people up.  So I’m wandering if their is a reason why a single person can’t go up with just the pilot or if that is such a rare occurrence they didn’t bother listing it as a price on the website. If their is a reason why more than one person needs to go up with the pilot, then the idea of making Remy a pilot is thrown to bits and I’ll probably need to find another form of privacy and entertainment in one that’s non-traditional.

Again, I was stuck wandering, where would my characters land if they went up in a hot air balloon?  Could it be somewhere in the mountains, in the woods?  And what would they realistically find there? Considering my characters abilities I’m not too worried about them finding their way home.

Research takes a lot of time to do properly.  I’ve emailed both a hot air balloon company about the information I need. And asked for the tourism department of Reims for help.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have answers in a few days. Until I get the responses I’ll work on finding them all online. Hopefully, I’ll have some hair left by the time I finish this scene.

What do you do for research on things you can’t experience? Or learn on your own? Do you know much about Reims France or Hot Air Ballooning?

June 25

Retreat Update: It was a blast

I got home from retreat today and I am sad I am home.  I wish the retreat was still going on and I did not have work tomorrow.  I learned a lot at retreat both about writing and non-writing topics. I tried foods that were new to me, drank a single glass of some sort of alcohol every night. I had great conversations with writers, about writing, helping them through their story and about books we’ve read.

There was no internet access at the cabin, which meant when we were on the computer we could only write. We had to leave notes in areas where we would otherwise immediately start doing research and distracting us for several hours from our writing.  I got some good feedback on my work, good sound-boarding was accomplished and some general editing.  I went there intending to edit my novels, which I did, not to create new pages, so I can’t say exactly how much writing I got done.  But one of the attendees there hit 20,000 words. It’s amazing what no internet and several “Power Hours” can accomplish.

A Power Hour, for those who don’t know, is basically an hour of writing.  You don’t worry about grammar, whether the scene makes sense, or anything other than getting words on the page. It can all be edited later. And some make it a mild competition.  Who can get the most words on a page in an hour? I was editing, so I didn’t get as many words written as I otherwise might have when I participated in two of the power hours.  I hit about a thousand words.

This was my first writer’s retreat, my first retreat. I wasn’t sure exactly what to bring with me to this one so I took the basics and a few other…”I may needs.”  Now I have a better idea of what I’ll need to take with me for retreat next year.  Here’s an example of a few things:

  • A Throw

I think I would have been a little more comfortable if I’d had a small blanket to throw over my legs or shoulders at different parts of the day. It got chilly in McCall.

  • A small pillow

I would have been more comfortable with a small pillow to sit on.  The chairs I sat on–the kitchen table chairs–were hard and would grow uncomfortable after a while. The pillow would also give me a little support when I was trying to go to bed for the night.

  • A Hard copy of my novel(s)

I may not feel the need for a hardcopy at a later time. But since I do everything better on paper–editing, writing, reading, critiquing–I probably should have brought a hard copy with me to help me with my editing.  If I’m focusing on writing, instead of editing, next year I should be fine with just paper and pen.

These are only a few examples but they are what I would put on the top of the list of wants/needs.

Thanks to everyone who made the retreat a great experience for me. I look forward to next year’s retreat.

June 20

A Writer’s Retreat

As some of you know, I am a member of several writer’s groups. One of the groups I’m involved in is the Romance Writers of America (RWA). I am an active member of the Coeur du Bois chapter. I’ve been a member for almost a year now and I have no regrets in joining the RWA chapter. I’ve gained a great number of writing resources, writing friends and learned a lot things about writing. Usually, the group  meets once a month to discuss various topics on writing, whether it’s how to write dialogue, or build an author platform. However, this month their is no meeting.

From June 21-23, the Coeur du Bois chapter (CBC) is hosting a writing retreat for its members in McCall, Idaho.  The idea of the retreat is simple: escape the world, get away from the distractions that make writing hard, and write. The only thing keeping us from writing is other writers, which may or may not be a necessary part of the process, depending on where in your writing you are.

I have never been to a writer’s retreat.  But I have heard of them in the past, and, since the retreats are an annual event, I’ve heard nothing but good things about the experiences from fellow CBC members. One person told me she got 25,000 words written during one of the retreats. Food is paid for by the CBC, though we are encouraged to bring food for ourselves or to share with other members if we like. I’m looking forward to it and, honestly, the trip couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

My current homework packet is due on Wednesday.  As soon as I turn it in, I need to start working on the material for my second packet.  So I’ll start working on my second packet at the retreat! It’ll be the perfect place to get a great start on my editing and writing.

I’ve also never been to McCall before. I’ve had family members and fellow writer’s tell me it is beautiful.  On Google, I find pictures of a lake, woods, mountains, old-fashioned buildings.  It sounds ideal and I intend to take a camera with me to take a lot of pictures. Going off the map, it appears the cabin we’ll be staying at will be relatively close to the lake. The cabin itself looks attractive and will no doubt help spur my imagination into overdrive. Hopefully I can keep up with my imagination.

May 15

On The Road…Again

And I can’t wait to get on the road again. On the road again -Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway. We’re the best of friends. Insisting that the world keep turning our way. And our way is on the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again. –Willie Nelson

Today is the day. I’m leaving for a few days to participate in Spalding Universities Residency program. Residency marks the beginning of a semester and I’m looking forward to getting started on the MFA program.  It sounds like it’ll be a lot like a writer’s conference, with different workshops, lectures, conversations and events. Is there anything in particular you want me to take extra careful notes on or ask about? No promises, but I’ll try.

Anyways, as soon as my shift ends at work, I’ll be heading to Indiana.  According to MAPQUEST the 1874.52 mile drive should only take 27 hrs 22 mins.  I’ve made this trip enough times to know MAPQUEST lies.  Unless you don’t have a bladder or need to stretch, it takes longer.  Fortunately, I know how to prepare for it and I’ve given myself enough wiggle room where, even if the weather is nasty or we end up trapped in a traffic jam for 4 hours, I should still make it in town in time for opening ceremonies.

No little ones with me, unless you count my grandmother and she’s taller than me, so that saves me a lot of time and space. I’m a writer, so I’m easily entertained with things that can easily work/fit in a car.  On road trips like this I always have multiple notebooks and a ton of pens.  You can never have too many pens.  I have books to read–some of them for class. Of course, since we’ll be driving at night, I have book lights and extra batteries so the darkness won’t be an impediment or dangerous as my grandmother drives.

I take an MP3 player with me.  I don’t care what they say. There is always somewhere out there that doesn’t have a single working radio station and you need music, for those long hours on the road. Usually that’s all I need to entertain myself, but I also have my latest draft of my manuscript printed out so I can look through that and a few other things.

To cheapen the expense of driving cross-country we’re bringing snacks.  We bought those goldfish cheez-its, some fiber and protein bars, butter crackers and chips.  We’ve made our own chip dip and a handful of other things.  The idea is we’ll snack the entire trip down. If we need to stop for something, fine, but we’ll try not to. That way gas is the only expense.

What do you do for long trips?