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Photos by Sandra Walker.2016conference24-2

Keynote speaker Carole DeSanti addresses the audience.

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Literary agents John Rudolph and Kirsten Carleton.

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The panel on The Craft of the Picture Book.

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2016conference9Left: Liz Bedell, moderator of the Truth and Lies memoir and autobiographical fiction panel, with morning speaker Lisa Papademetriou.

Below: Audience member chats with Truth and Lies panelist Jennifer Eremeeva.

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Two of the raffle winners.

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Thank you

thankyou2Thanks to everyone who made yesterday’s WriteAngles conference a success. Here are some photographs taken as the day began with participants visiting while they enjoyed a light continental breakfast in the Willits-Hallowell center.

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P.S. We are continuing to accept flash memoir contributions. Please take a look at the latest, by Diane Kane.

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melaniebrooksThe following interview was conducted by Liz Bedell, moderator of the Truth and Lies: Telling Our Stories in Memoir and Autobiographical Fiction panel at this year’s WriteAngles conference.

 

Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?

For as long as I can remember, story has been the tether that keeps me grounded in my world. I grew up with three brothers. As the only girl, I was just a little bit on the outside. Separate. We were a family of readers, and I learned to read early. I soon discovered that the land of books opened a space where I could connect to other girls like me. Find some sisters of my own. Actually belong. So, I read. A lot. I was drawn to series like Nancy Drew, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, and The Chronicles of Narnia that let me latch on to beloved characters and follow their lives beyond the borders of a single book. I went through a horse phase during my preteen years and read anything about horses I could get my hands on. I attached to particular authors – Beverly Cleary, Road Dahl, Judy Blume, Lois Duncan — and consumed everything they’d written. When I wasn’t reading, I was often imagining stories of my own. Intricate scenarios unfolded in my mind and built the platform for my play. Sometimes with friends, sometimes on my own, I became the fictional characters I loved so much, acting out their lives, continuing from where the books left off, developing my own sequels to their stories. I’d lay out the groundwork for a scene — details of setting, backstory, conflict, character, even wardrobe – before doing anything else. Without ever actually putting pencil to paper, I was learning to write. And without knowing how vital it would be down the road, all of this early reading was teaching me the comfort and companionship of words. I was a good writer in high school, but I never considered it as a career. I came from a family of medical professionals, so that path was on my radar. It wasn’t until college, when I took a creative nonfiction writing class — a class that offered me my first real exposure to the transformative power of giving words to experience – that I recognized writing was something I wanted to do. It took me twenty more years, though, to commit to it as a career.

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer? The most frustrating?

The most rewarding part is recognizing that the stories of my experiences have the power to connect to others, that they aren’t just about me. When a reader says, “Yes, me too!” I feel like maybe I’ve helped someone feel a little bit less alone, and that makes the risk of exposure that comes with the territory of writing nonfiction feel a little bit easier to bear.

What’s most frustrating is the ongoing self-doubt that lives inside me no matter how many stories I write, how many pieces I publish. I still feel like an imposter. I still sit in front of that blank computer screen wondering what makes me think that my words matter, that my experiences are so unique that they should end up on the page. It’s the battle I fight all the time.

Can you tell us about your forthcoming release?

WRITING HARD STORIES: CELEBRATED MEMOIRISTS WHO SHAPED ART FROM TRAUMA (to be published with Beacon Press on February 7, 2017) profiles my conversations with eighteen memoirists, including Andre Dubus III, Joan Wickersham, Mark Doty, Marianne Leone, Richard Hoffman, Edwidge Danticat, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Richard Blanco, Abigail Thomas, Sue Silverman, Kate Bornstein, Jerald Walker, and Kyoko Mori. I wanted to hear from them about the psychological journey of diving into their darkest of memories and what it felt like to put words to those experiences. These conversations are intended to encourage all writers as they work through their challenging stories. They also provide readers with intimate glimpses into the lives of the authors they love.

What inspired it?

When I began my MFA in creative nonfiction in January of 2013, I decided to start writing about a family story that I’d held very close for almost twenty years – living with the secret of my father’s HIV infection when, in 1985, he received tainted blood during open heart surgery. For the ten years before his death in 1995, I lived a hard silence that has had a lasting impact. Stepping into that experience was much more difficult than I’d anticipated. I was caught off guard by the emotional toll it took on me and often found myself paralyzed by it all. It led me to ask some painful questions: What does it take to write an honest memoir? And what happens to us when we embark on that journey? Would I be able to manage it? I decided to seek the guidance of other memoirists who’d done the hard work of shaping their hard experiences into memoirs in hopes of finding the courage to write my own.

You’re sitting on the Truth and Lies: Telling Our Stories in Memoir and Autobiographical Fiction panel at this year’s conference. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning?

The challenge for most memoirists is portraying our experiences as authentically as we can. Often, that forces us to walk a delicate line between what might be considered “factual” and what we consider the truth of our own stories. And sometimes those things feel contradictory. The questions we have to ask are: How do we capture the truth of our experiences and the legitimacy of our own memories without distorting the facts to the point where we are lying about what happened? And what actually constitutes a lie? For me, writing about experiences from my childhood has necessitated that I fill in some of the blurred edges that surround my memories. I’ve recreated dialogue that feels true to the events, but may not necessarily be the exact words spoken. I’ve described settings the way I remember them, but there’s no guarantee that I’ve gotten all of the details factually correct. But I’m confident that I’ve captured the emotional essence of the experiences. My hope is that our panel opens up a discussion with our audience about how to navigate those tricky areas of recreating the past as honestly as we can.

What are you working on now?

I am completing my memoir, A COMPLICATED GRIEF (working title), that explores how the ten years of keeping the secret of my father’s illness and the specter of disaster that inevitably loomed ahead defined my life. The complicated nature of his disease and the grief of his death have had an indelible impact on me. Writing my memoir is an attempt to understand that impact. My sense of self, my worldview, my faith, and my family are among the threads that weave this story together. I am in the process of completing the proposal for this book in hopes of putting it in the hands of my agent in the next month.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Writing is hard work. It challenges us to enter uncomfortable territory and face ourselves and our experiences honestly. Though the writing part tends to be solitary, dealing with the emotions it stirs up need not be. The more support we have from other writers along the way, the more we enter into dialogue about the writing journey with others who are traveling the same road, the less daunting the process becomes.

For more information, visit Melanie’s website. Her photo: Helen Peppe Photography.

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dianagordonThe following interview was conducted by Joan Axelrod-Contrada, moderator of the Are You Ready? Submitting to Literary Journals panel at this year’s WriteAngles conference.

 

Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?

I wrote as an early teenager. I remember a long extended poem, “Black Jack,” in rhymed couplets about the riderless horse that followed JFK’s caisson, empty boots turned backwards in the stirrups to indicate a fallen leader. Freshman year in college I took my first creative writing class and was the only student ready with material. I’d never had any work critiqued before, and the professor used my sonnet to prove that the sonnet was dead. I’d also written a quirky short story about a date where the boy confessed he was Jesus, and the professor said the author was psychotic – at least that’s what I heard. I knew that wasn’t true and only thought, alarmed, I’m going to flunk creative writing. So I dropped the course, and went on to have a music career that took all my time and artistic energies. Years later, when I returned to writing, I finally honored the fact I’d been creating sonnets and short stories on my own when I was so young, and finally affirmed the sonnet is not dead!

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer?

Re-reading and revision. That’s where a writer gets to marvel at what’s been created where nothing existed before, to enjoy what is, and then make it shine and bring it to its true self.

The most frustrating?

How hard it is to face the everydayness of the blank page.

Can you tell us about your latest release?

I’d like to tell you about what is poised, making the rounds in the hands of a wonderful agent at top publishing houses. Though no one has bitten yet, there has been a lot of praise. It’s a novel called GEOGRAPHY, about a family-less boy struggling to find home in the far northern islands of British Columbia in the 1960’s.

What inspired it?

The stories of men I’ve known who had difficult upbringings, foster care or abuse, and rather than blame their past, grew up to create the world as it should be. I started writing a composite account of their fictional childhoods, intending to write about heroes, but GEOGRAPHY became its own story.

You’re sitting on the Submitting to Literary Journals panel at this year’s conference. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning?

Submission is either daunting, if you haven’t done much of it, or odious, if you’ve done a lot. I know that as moderator it’s your hope that we give folks a leg up on the process. With special dispensation from the conference, I’m also sitting in on the afternoon panel called How To Stop Warding Off Poems and Learn to Love Them. Patricia Lee Lewis, Doug Anderson, and I will be talking about the difficult, obscure poems, how we’ve learned to enter them; we’ll be leading the group in a what we hope will be a revelatory experience with a short, difficult poem.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently juggling. Poems. 30 poems in November for The Center for New Americans. And the prequel to GEOGRAPHY set in Seattle 1925-1946, about the life of a prostitute – but whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably not like that. And a short story about a boy trying to get in between his mother and their neighbor as the adults are on the brink of an affair.

Where can we find you online?

I have a website for my editorial services. Or Google D M Gordon and Diana Gordon, (though there’s a Canadian Diana Gordon who writes poetry and paints).

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nailamoreiraThe following interview was conducted by Joan Axelrod-Contrada, moderator of the Submitting to Literary Journals panel at this year’s WriteAngles conference.

 

Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?

I’ve been a writer since childhood. I wrote my first poem when I was 8 years old. Some of my favorite ideas for stories still come from old notebooks that I kept throughout my childhood and teenage years.

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer?

The best moment in writing happens in the middle of the night when I’ve just written a Thing, and at least for that moment, it’s the Best Thing Ever. The high of that creative satisfaction is wonderful. I pace around the house until I’m calm enough to go back to sleep.

The most frustrating?

The most frustrating part is when the Best Thing Ever turns out to be the Worst Thing Ever when I look at it again the next morning. Fortunately, the pendulum usually swings to the middle eventually.

Can you tell us about your latest release?

My newest chapbook of poetry is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, release date still undetermined. It’s called WATER STREET and reflects on the tension between freedom and domesticity.

What inspired it?

I lived for some years in a beautiful studio apartment on Water Street, overlooking the Mill River. The light and solitude were amazing. I’m a birdwatcher and naturalist, with a doctorate in geology, so I have a deep attachment to the natural world. The minks, bats, frogs, spiders, and wasps that kept me company, as well as the plants and trees and the river itself, appear throughout the poetry, each time carrying along a symbolic tail.

You’re sitting on the Submitting to Literary Journals panel at this year’s conference. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning?

Among other things, I’ll be describing resources available to encourage writers to get their work submitted, in particular the Submissions and Revisions group I’m running as Writer in Residence at the Forbes Library. We gather around the same table to work on submissions and to gain confidence from each other’s presence.

What are you working on now?

I’m in process on a children’s book about a young girl who is a naturalist against the odds. I’m also working on a book of thematically related adult short stories.

Read more at Naila’s blog.

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lisaPapademetriouThis interview was conducted by Joan Axelrod-Contrada. Lisa will be our morning speaker and will conduct a workshop called Secrets of the Plot Goddess.

 

Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?

When I was in fifth grade, I had a sudden realization – the books I was reading were written by grown ups who wrote those novels, stories, and poems as their job. That was it. I knew that was what I wanted to do.

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer?

The most rewarding part of being a writer is those moments of flow – when you’re so absorbed in what you are doing that you lose yourself. Sometimes, when I look over what I have written, I don’t remember writing it, as if I have been channeling something beyond myself. That, to me, feels like a spiritual occurrence. It feels meaningful.

The most frustrating?

The only frustrating part is the publishing industry. I love my editors, my agent, the art directors, the marketers, my booking agent. All of the people I come into contact with in the industry are smart, talented, and passionate about books. But the business itself feels impenetrable and sometimes arbitrary.

Can you tell us about your latest release?

My next book (out in April 2017) is called APARTMENT 1986. It’s about a girl who – for various reasons having to do with family, friends, and school – decides to skip out on her fancy New York City private school for a week and, instead, visit the museums on the Upper East Side. She makes a friend and, as I like to say, shenanigans ensue. It’s very funny, but it also touches on some serious issues. But, mostly, it’s funny.

What inspired it?

I grew up in Houston, Texas, but when I was fourteen, my father got remarried and moved to the Upper East Side of New York City. He and my stepmother live a block from the Met. When I would come to visit as a teen, I always felt overwhelmed by the city and like a fish out of water. It’s a bit about that, and about other things that were happening in my family around that time. But it’s a novel – it’s not like my actual life at all.

You’re the morning speaker for WriteAngles. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning?

Hah! This question sounds like I might be planning a laser light show or surprise guest appearance by Taylor Swift! (And maybe I am . . .)

My talk is called Creativity Takes Courage, and I’m planning to talk about rejection, failure, fear, and how to handle it. The good thing about that topic is that if I totally blow the speech, I can use all of the advice in my talk right away.

You’re also presenting a workshop called Secrets of the Plot Goddess — How Destiny Drives Your Story. Tell us about that.

This is a workshop I designed for people who are more comfortable thinking about characters than plots. It’s a framework for imagining the plot as if it is a character with a specific desire line, as if it is making choices and taking action along with the protagonist.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new novel called THE DREAMWAY, which is about a girl whose brother is kidnapped by a Nightmare and taken into the underground subway system that powers our dreams. I’m also continuing to work on my grammar humor website, IvanaCorrectya.com, and on helping to develop and grow the low-residency Writing for Children and Young Adults Track of the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, where I’m on faculty. Our next 10-day residency is in Jamaica in January, so anyone who is considering getting a Master’s degree should check it out!

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spikethemixedupmonstersusanhoodThis interview was conducted by Samantha Hoffman, panel moderator for Writing for Children: The Craft of the Picture Book at this year’s WriteAngles conference.

 

What do you like most about writing for children?

I love the playfulness of children’s picture books, the music in the language, and the way the words and artwork weave together to something neither could accomplish alone.

Kids are often very passionate about the stories they read (or have read to them). Have you had any reactions from your young readers that stood out and stuck with you?

The most touching experience I ever had was when a severely autistic young boy spotted my book SPIKE, THE MIXED-UP MONSTER at a book festival. SPIKE is about a little-known salamander called an axolotl. Well, this boy knew all about axolotls! He started jumping up and down telling his grandmother about them. I’ll never forget the look of pure joy on his face (and hers) when she bought him the book.

Another incredible experience was when a classroom invited me to see an entire musical they had created around SPIKE. Kids are amazing!

You’ve written an impressive number of books (over 200!). Do you have any favorites?

Usually the one I’m working on at the moment!

You’ve also written very broadly — nonfiction, fiction, board books, easy readers, picture books — is there anything specific that you haven’t done yet that you would like to write someday?

ADA’S VIOLIN is my first nonfiction picture book and I’ve found that I love doing interviews and research. So I hope to do more of that. I’m also venturing into the whole new world of middle-grade fiction.

Speaking of middle-grade, how did the process of putting your upcoming middle grade book LIFEBOAT 12 together differ from how you approach your books for younger audiences?

Some of the process is not so different. Each book starts with a discovery or a new idea I’m passionate about. Then I do research, create a structure, focus on characters and plot, refine the language for clarity, emotion, and sound, and revise, revise, revise. When I’m done, I share the book with a writer’s group I’ve been with for seven years. Then I revise again!

Each genre has its own demands. Most picture books are 500-1000 words. So the author’s job is to boil the story down to its essence, carefully selecting evocative words that will inspire the illustrator to expand on the story, sometimes in ways the author never imagined. Here’s what’s difficult: while most people think picture book authors and illustrators collaborate very closely, you may never meet. So you have to write the best story you can, know when to stop talking, and then trust the illustrator to take it away!

Since most novels don’t have illustrations I’ve had to unlearn what I learned as a picture book author and elaborate on the pictures in my head. Currently, LIFEBOAT 12 is about 25,000 words geared to 8-13-year-olds, rather than my usual audience of 2-6-year-olds. And while I’m writing this little-known World War II story as historical fiction, I’m working hard to ensure that all the dates, events, and people named in the story are factual. There’s a tremendous amount of research behind it. I traveled to England last summer to interview some of the key characters and do research in the National Archives and British Library. I still have a lot to learn about the middle-grade genre, but I’m loving the process and the challenge!

One of your most recent books, ADA’S VIOLIN: THE STORY OF THE RECYCLED ORCHESTRA OF PARAGUAY, is about a real person, Ada Ríos. What drew you to her story?

adasviolinsusanhoodIt’s impossible not to fall in love with Ada and all the kids of the Recycled Orchestra. Growing up on a landfill in Paraguay, these children spent their days playing in broken glass, rusty metal, and toxic chemicals as their parents picked through the garbage looking for anything they could recycle and sell. But one day, an environmental technician named Favio Chávez had the brilliant idea to create musical instruments from the trash and provide music lessons. Using violins built from baking pans, cellos crafted from oil drums and flutes fashioned from drain pipes, Favio taught the kids to play Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach. Soon they formed an orchestra and are now touring the world. They recently played for the Pope!

I first heard about the orchestra on 60 Minutes and knew I wanted to share this extraordinary true tale with kids. Most of the press focused on Favio, but I wanted to tell the story from the point of view of a child in the orchestra. I interviewed first violinist Ada Ríos along with orchestra conductor Favio Chávez. Since then, they’ve been featured in a new documentary film called the Landfill Harmonic and profiled on NPR. Their story illuminates issues of poverty, pollution, and even climate change in a way that celebrates a can-do spirit and leaves a little Mozart in your heart.

You’ve had a very busy 2016, with the releases of LEAP AND BOUNCE, ADA’S VIOLIN, MISSION: BACK TO SCHOOL, and the soon-to-be-released THE FIX-IT MAN! Is there anything in the works for the future that you would like to tell readers about?

Yes, next spring I’m publishing my first book with Candlewick Press. It’s called DOUBLE TAKE and is written in rhyme with adorable retro art by Jay Fleck. My editor calls it a topsy-turvy funhouse about opposites, relative words, and point of view with a dollop of yin and yang for good measure. Then LIFEBOAT 12 launches in September, 2017 from Simon and Schuster.

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