My aunt throws an awesome Halloween party every year, and this year the Rish clan decided to coordinate our costumes. My mom found the t-shirts, and my brother got one of those makeup kits that creates rotting skin and oozing wounds. We all met up at my sister’s house and had a blast zombie-fying ourselves.
Normally I’m pretty much the homebody type, but during the month of November, the Charleston area is hoppin’ with happenings that are forcing me to break my hermit-like habits. Since these events might be of interest to fellow local storytellers (both writers and filmmakers), I wanted to share them here.
It’s finally Friday! And according to my agenda that means it’s Film Friday where I share a short animated film that tells its story without a single word of dialog. With today’s letter being F, I’m pleased to present The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (TFFBOMML), which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film this year. At fifteen minutes, it’s on the long side for a short, but if you love books – reading them and/or writing them – then you really should watch this delightful film at some point.
Today’s regularly scheduled Tweet Tales Tuesday is interrupted by an important announcement:
Y’all, when I first heard about YALLFest coming to Charleston, I was downright giddy about the chance to hear so many illustrious YA authors speak in one place. Even better, I wouldn’t have to spend a single cent – not only were the events free, but since it was happening in my backyard, I didn’t have to pony up for travel expenses. And now that it’s over, I’m still amazed that I got such a whopping dose of inspiration for FREE - always a bonus element of awesomeness for a penny pincher like me.
On Saturday morning, with butterflies doing excited swoops in my stomach, I puttered down the road to Charleston. Now even though I technically knew this was a young adult book festival, during the months of anticipation, the event had morphed into a writers’ conference in my head, so I was a little confused when I walked into the room and half the audience was middle school students. Since the first panel featured the middle grade authors Pseudonymous Bosch, Kaleb Nation, Lisa Brown and Adele Griffin, the room was filled with fans so excited to see them, they were practically dancing in their chairs. After doing the ‘duh’ forehead smack, I readjusted my expectations, and the day became less about learning about the craft of writing and more about being inspired by these amazing authors. Just watching the kids lean forward in their seats, delightedly drinking in every word from their author idols, made me even more determined to be on a similar panel one day.
The day was packed with interesting panels with fun titles like: Fangs Among Friends; Demons, Witches, and Casters, Oh My!; and Reality Bites. And the authors were so entertaining – not only were they funny, but they offered great tidbits of advice. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to read more of their books before the festival. I’ve been so bad about reading in the last few years, and my resolve to read-n-feed has sadly sputtered (I smell a New Year’s resolution!). But looking on the bright side, I finally figured out what to put on my Christmas list, since it is now overflowing with titles from the YALLFest authors like Carrie Ryan, David Levithan, Sarah Rees Brennan, Heather Brewer, and Beth Revis, and too many others to name (click here for the full list of YALLFest authors and be sure to add them to your reading list). I’m practically drooling in anticipation of reading all of them, especially Katie Crouch's The Magnolia League, since it features hoodoo magic like my current short film High Heels and Hoodoo.
As inspiring as listening to the authors was, my favorite part was sharing the day with old and new writing friends. It was so cool having my writer friends from different parts of my life coming together in one place to talk about writing and YA books. Kathleen Fox, Lisa Downey, and Jillian Gregory Utley were there from my local writing group. I was able to get reacquainted with Kami Kinard and Rebecca Petruck, two talented and fun writers I met at a SCBWI writing conference. I also had the chance to catch up with Rebecca Enzor, Mina Mahal, and Sarah Turpin Leyland, local writer friends from NaNoWriMo. I also ran into Leah Rhyne, a friend from my old job at Blackbuad, who I only found out was a fellow writer after I quit to write. I also got to meet new writer friends like Debra Rook. It was great to have a chance to connect with other writers when it’s usually such a solitary activity. I have faith that these talented ladies will end up on similar panels some day, and I just hope I’m lucky enough to be sitting up there with them!
Were you able to attend the YALLFest? If so, what was the best part for you? If not, have you been to a writing event lately that inspired you? And could I possible fit any more links in a single blog post?
** mild spoilers ahead **
Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new girl at school. Soon the two become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, appears. Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on Phoebe – but a dangerous hold, for she begins to question her feelings about her best friend and, worse, about herself.
Soon she'll discover the shocking, fantastical truth about Ryland and Mallory, and about an age-old debt they expect Phoebe to pay. Will she be strong enough to resist? Will she be special enough to save herself?
Writing for young adults is tricky: we are supposed to have our characters grow and change so they can reach their goals, but at the same time we have avoid any whiff of teaching the reader a lesson, since teens have super sensitive BS meters. In Extraordinary, Nancy sidesteps this issue by actually focusing on the lesson, but in a way that integrates so well into the plot it doesn’t feel preachy.
The ‘moral of the story’ is that Phoebe must discover she is extraordinary just by being who she is. That’s important for all teens to realize (adults too!), but it can seem like something cheesy your grandma tells you while pinching your cheeks. Instead of trying to disguise this wisdom under layers of story, Nancy makes it the actual plot – I mean, even the title itself basically lays it out there for you. But because Nancy creates a flawed character we can sympathize with, even while yelling at her in frustration, Phoebe’s journey feels natural rather than forced to teach us a lesson.
There is a scene were Phoebe explains to Ryland that because parents lavish their babies with love just because they are cute and little, even though all babies are cute and little, this convinces them of their own specialness, so even when life tries to teach them that they aren’t extraordinary, they can never completely believe it. She says, “It’s probably why the human race survives.” This really hit home with me: even many years removed from my teen insecurities, I can feel plain and ordinary. And attempting to get published really intensifies those feelings – there are so many talented writers out there that I constantly question whether my writing is special enough to stand out. But reading that scene made me realize that even if the world never thinks I’m special for my writing, my family and friends love reading my stories, and that’s something to be proud of and cherish.
So in my first session of learning something about writing from the books I read, the writing itself ends up not be the biggest lesson for me. In admiring how daringly Nancy weaves the moral into her plot, I actually take the lesson to heart and believe that my writing can be extraordinary.
If you’ve read Extraordinary, what did you think? Have you read any books recently that gave you a boost you didn’t even know you needed?
I’ve always loved to read. My nose was constantly stuck in a book, even when I was supposed to be doing other things (usually sleeping). But when I started getting serious about writing, I pretty much stopped reading. It’s not something I consciously decided, it just gradually happened. I think part of it was that my mind was always in edit mode, which sucked the fun out of reading; so I gradually turned to other ways to enjoy stories (my beloved boob tube), where I could give that part of my brain a break.
The irony is I should now be reading more than ever. That’s the one standard piece of advice most authors give to newbies: read a lot both within and outside of your genre.
So I’m resolving here and now to do better – I’m going to Read-n-Feed. I’ll read more books to feed the monster in me always hungry for stories. And I’ll think about what I’ve read to nourish the writing beast in me always hungry for more knowledge. And to keep myself accountable, I’m going to report back here on the blog. I’ll share what I’ve learned from reading a particular book that I can apply to my own writing. It might be a new technique or a superb example that serves as a reminder of a tried-and-true rule or maybe even a ‘what not to do’ lesson. Hopefully these “key takeaways” (forgive me, I spent ten years in corporate software development!) will strengthen my writing and be helpful to any other writers who stop by.
So how do other writers out there Read-n-Feed? Do you analyze as you go? Or are you able to turn off the writer side of your brain and just enjoy the ride? If so, do you later think about what did and didn’t work?
Babblings of a Boob Tube Junkie
I’m a writer and filmmaker exploring the magic of stories. I’ve always loved to read and watch television and movies, and now I'm creating my own stories via YA novels, short stories, screenplays, and even short films. I’m also an animal lover with a menagerie of pets; and, yes, I’m one of those people who puts party hats on their dogs and makes them “cakes” for their birthdays.
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My Short Films
If a cat predicted your death, how would it change your life?
A greedy party girl is so determined to get what she wants that she employs the dangerous magic of a Gullah root doctor.
Blogging from A to Z Challenge