My Mission Statement

I write to serve, to unite, to educate. I write to share literature and flesh out ideas that may be of interest to others. I write to document an emotion, experience, or a blip in time. My mission is to write in such a way that the reader is reminded that we can find humor in all situations. It's one of the great blessings of life.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Last Day at Chautauqua Highlights Writers Workshop

Friday at Chautauqua2
Here’s the thing about Chautauqua, the thing that grabs ahold of you and doesn’t let go. The people. The passion. The calling. The faculty was so fantastic: Rich Wallace, Suzanne Bloom, Patty Lee Gauch, Mary Casanova, Susan Beckhorn Williams, Eileen and Jerry Spinelli, and many more.
I went to Chautauqua wanting to be the kind of writers they are, but I left Chautauqua wanting to be the kind of people they are.
And then there’s Kent Brown who pulls out all the stops, together with his family, to create this amazing environment. How DARE I write anything but my best? How DARE I NOT apply every drop of all I learned? There’s an unspoken feeling that someone thinks we’re worthy of all this training, that we’ve got the stuff. What an incredible feeling.
This week I’ve gone from saying and thinking “IF I get published” to “WHEN I get published” . I want to do it for Patty, Jerry, Eileen, Mary, Judy, Suzanne and everyone else. It’s a response to Clay Winters saying, “I dare you. Send something to me. I will read it personally,” and I will because I’m so impressed with Clay’s CHARACTER that there’s nothing I want more than to be a part of Boyds Mill. I’ll submit and submit and submit because Jerry Spinelli said it’s the biggest sin a writer can commit, to print your story and leave it on the coffee table. I can’t NOT do this. It’s a small thing I can do to thank them.
Okay today has been good. First of all, Randi Rivers gave another state of the market, getting published kind of talk. Good, helpful, but still premature for me, I think.
Next, Mary Casanova gave an AMAZING talk on writing historical fiction. Here are a few talking points.
1. Travel to where your story is set. Touch, feel, smell, see the setting. Take pictures and journal everything.
2. Visit museums. Talk to experts and buy books for additional expertise about a place and time. Introduce yourself and collect cards from people who may be able to answer questions that come up when you get home.
3. Back at your desk, play music from the region, the era, eat the food, get yourself in the spirit of the region.
4. Start writing. Once you start your story, you’ll learn more about what you need to learn.
Remember: You can’t become an expert on 16th century France, but you can become an expert within the perameters of your book.

Quote from someone, sorry, I can’t remember who, “Evoke …not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”

Remember: Consider what is at stake for your character.

Mary Casanova is awesome. She’s so sweet and open and encouraging. Her presentations were very good, well-organized and full of meat. Check out her site at

Then, Patty Gauch did a session on Fantasy. Now any of you who know me, know I’m no fantasy-writer, at least not yet (ha), but Patty is such a gifted teacher. I couldn’t miss it.

Lots of diagrams, etc. that are really too difficult to share here, and she always reads a TON from novels as examples, so just a few points.

Low Fantasy vs. High Fantasy

Fantasy begins with a CALL TO ADVENTURE, then the hero confronts his superego three times for three different reasons, and ultimately he must displace the old guard (the king, etc.) in order to make room for the new, young regime (himself) Once he’s passed the three initial tests, he descends into the ‘belly of the whale’, womblike in that he must now face himself and pass that, ultimate, test. In the end, he prevails and then uses his newly earned power to give back to his community.

Power is remembering each of your character’s special characteristics and recalling them throughout the book. Those characteristics MUST be elemental, attached and familiar to our world. Read Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Shannon Hale, Ursula LeGuin, especially WIZARD OF URSEE, the chapter entitled “The Open Sea”.

Whew! The very last session. Then I ran back to my room to check on my Floyd Cooper original (I hadn’t seen it in hours, and I was dying to look at it AGAIN) and jump up and down with my friends some more about going to lunch at Patty’s.

Then back to the Hall of Christ where we watched a slide show of the week and some of the faculty said a few words in closing, and just like that, it was OVER!

The closing banquet was later on tonight where we took pictures, got our last books signed, reviewed travel arrangements, etc. It’s mind-blowing to me the growth in a week. I’m actually a bit weepy about it.

It is the most incredible experience and I’ve wanted to badly to share it with you, but I know, sadly, that I’ve not done it justice through these postings. It’s impossible to GET if you’re not there. But that’s a good thing, actually, because that’s part of what makes it special, sacred, and precious. Now I’m rambling, but writing friends, let me leave you with a final point about Chautauqua—go.

Thanks for listening. As I type all this up, I’m on the airplane, the last leg of my flight. I can’t wait to see my family. I wonder if I can possibly describe this trip to anyone. Perhaps I shouldn’t even try although a part of me thinks that my suitcase full of signed books and Floyd Cooper’s artwork will convey a bit of the magic for me.


alison said...

I'm so glad you had such a great experience at the conference. I have moments in my life that I KNOW were life-changing, and I'll remember for ever. This is one of yours. I can't wait to read your new book WHEN it's published. WELCOME HOME! I'm glad you're back.

Dorothy said...

Donna, we couldn't have asked for a better or more exciting report on your wonderful experiences at Chataugua. Thank you so much for telling us not only highlights of what they said, but about the people you met. I can't imagine sitting at the table with Jerry Spinelli, or eating lunch at Pat Gauch's home. But, at least I had second best, a friend's 'from the heart' breathless words about it all. Wonderful. Makes me wonder if you couldn't write travelogues to sell.

I must tell you, I not only discovered I own a book by Floyd Cooper (and Jane Yolen), I just finished a Jane Yolen historical that was dedicated to her editor, Pat Gauch. I liked the book so well, I'm reading it again and taking notes on its set-up so I can follow the pattern--maybe. What a kick it would be to have a chance to talk to an auther or editor about one of their books, as you were with Jerry Spinnelli. Also, the words from Gauch on fantasy were so good for me right now. Wow. Want to chew them up and swallow them, but maybe if I print them and carry them in my pocket, that might help me with my fairies.

Again, thanks for sharing your oned in a lifetime experience with your bloggerites. Have a good homecoming.

Isabel by Donna Jones Koppelman

Isabel by Donna Jones Koppelman

Major Bear at the Grove Park Inn by Donna Jones Koppelman

Major Bear at the Grove Park Inn by Donna Jones Koppelman