Novel Writing Retreat at VCFA – Part 2


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A full week later and I’m still feeling the very positive effects of attending this fabulous retreat.  I loved making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. It was special to be able to room with my long time writing partner, Cindy Faughnan (who for ten years has been co-running this amazing retreat). I had a couple of first times during this weekend.

First, I had never heard of Sugar on Snow! Cindy mentioned it as the Farmer’s Market was setting up in the chapel next door to our dorms. For those of you who don’t know – it’s freshly tapped maple sap, cooked and poured onto fresh snow. I snagged new friend Catey who is from North Carolina and I assumed correctly she’d never heard of it either, and the two of us headed over to the booth before lunch! (Yes, dessert before lunch!) What a delicious and special treat! The snow was scooped onto wooden troughs, the cooked maple sap ladled onto snow, and then plastic forks were stuck into the “glops”. I took a fork and slid the concoction into my mouth. YUM! It was chewy like taffy and oh so sweet, and the snow was crunchy and cold. Catey and I helped ourselves to quite a few forkfuls (after an appropriate donation). I didn’t know until after that this treat is only available for a very short period of time when the maple sap starts to run.

The second first for me? I read my work out loud in public. Sure, I’ve read out loud to family and friends and during critique group meetings, but I’ve never read to a group of mostly strangers. Fortunately, the reading was scheduled on Saturday night – the second night of the retreat, so I had a chance to meet a lot of the other attendees and felt like I was in a supportive environment. Just before my turn to read, I wasn’t feeling too nervous (just the appropriate amount of nervous, I suppose), but when I walked to the podium, I made a conscious effort not to look up at the audience of 35. I read – and wow! What a heady experience to read my words out loud and to hear the reaction as I read (laughter in all the right places)! Even better was sitting down and being able to enjoy and listen to the other attendees read their work out loud – I was inspired and entranced by all the talent in the room!

And now for my main take-aways from the presentations – I’m being mindful of copyright, I hope, and just giving a brief line about the main thing I took away from each talk. Each presenter gave an hour long, riveting and inspiring talk.  I was so thrilled to hear what they had to share!

Julie Berry – “Mind the Gap” – What are the obstacles that block you from what you are and what you aspire to be. It’s an interesting way to look at my career path. I’m giving a lot of thought to this!

Cynthia Leitich Smith – World building is key, setting is the springboard for world building. Even realistic fiction needs world building. This made me think about my settings in my stories more critically. How well do I really know the world my character inhabits? How much detail is there and what details are crucial to my story?

Lauren Myracle – TELL YOUR STORY! She said a lot of wonderful things, but that was the big take-away for me. Tell the story you want to tell, the one you need to tell.

Andrea Tompa (editor at Candlewick Press) – Make sure the backstory serves the story. And one more thing, don’t focus on theme during the first draft – use revision to do that.

I also had a critique with Andrea Tompa and let me just say, OMG, she is truly brilliant and she made me look at my story in a whole new light. (This is a WIP I put away almost 5 years ago.) I can’t wait to get back to it!

I am so happy I went to this retreat! And I hope to go back again next year! Maybe I’ll see you there!

7 responses »

  1. First heard about sugar on snow in the Laura Ingalls Wilder cookbook and then after reading Kate Messner’s book and reviewing it. I’m very curious to try it someday. Glad you had a great time at the retreat. Good to see you with Cindy and Cynthia especially. 🙂

      • Yes, I’ve tried their cupcakes — went to their first location years ago, but not the new place because the lines are always too long. It’s mind boggling how they started with just a small shop and by word of mouth got more and more popular– now they’ve got several shops in major cities plus a TV show plus books. 🙂 Their chocolate ganache is my favorite.

  2. Thanks for this, Deb. I definitely want to try the sugar on snow!

    I am so glad you read to the group – I do think that’s an amazing experience. Hard to convey without experiencing it.

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