Monday, January 28, 2008

Kindling Words 2008

I’m leaving Vermont at the end of another Kindling Words. The hugs and kisses have been exchanged, the promises made, the connections that lie between us as writers reinforced, spun into tensile strength. It’s a web that extends from Tucson to Texas to New York City, from Iowa and Chicago to Florida and Atlanta. One of the blessings of the Internet is that we can find our kindred, wherever they are. But sometimes we just have to meet face to face.
For those of you who don’t know, Kindling Words is a conference/retreat for published writers, illustrators, and editors, where the focus is on craft and renewal. It’s a kind of cult ritual, an orgy of fellowship, a revival meeting (complete with spirituals sung about a bonfire) that heals and energizes. And lest you think we spent the whole time singing “Kumbaya,” our goddess presenters were Laurie Halse Anderson, (writers) Vera Williams (illustrators) and Cecile Goyette (editors).
Laurie spoke about the smack-down match between character and plot. We concluded that the relationship between character and plot is less a battle than an erotic, tangled embrace that births story (author fans self rapidly).
Laurie also hosted a lunchtime “white space” session on her “five-year plan,” subtitled (by me) Beyond Romance—How to Keep Body and Soul Together as a Full time Writer. It was practical advice for anyone who wants to make a living as a writer. I was especially impressed by her inclusion of volunteering and what she called “family drama” time in her plan for living.
I’m such a fan girl, and participants in the conference are so generous with their time. I attended Jane Yolen’s informal session on whether and how to find an agent, not because I am looking for an agent (hi, Christopher!), but because I just wanted to hang out in Jane’s room. Of course, I couldn’t help learning a lot from the plain-spoken Jane.
As important as the formal presentations is the opportunity to learn from true peers. They’ve often already solved the problems I’m wrestling with—even something as simple as how to resist the siren call of the Internet when you’re on deadline. Probably one of the most important lessons of KW is that there is no one right way to do things.
Some writers begin the writing process with character. Others with plot. Usually we start with the element we’re most comfortable with.
Some of us revise as we go along. Others of us vomit on the page, writing in a white heat until the bones of the story are down. Some of us love revision. Newbury-winner and keynote speaker Linda Sue Park said that writing is revision.
Speaking of Linda Sue, emblematic of this diversity of technique was the smack-down battle between Laurie and Linda. They disagreed on almost everything—and both are gifted, productive, genius writers.
On Saturday afternoon, the nine editors attending (including my own Arianne Lewin!) graciously answered our questions in a roundtable. More plain speech. As in any kind of therapy, first we have to be honest with each other.
That night, twenty geniuses shared their souls in five-minute increments during the candlelight readings. Themes ranged from incest to faeries to badger parenthood. Formats ranged from brilliant picture book rhymes to Green poetry to YA novel. At one point a choir of dissonant frogs emerged from the audience. It was that kind of night.
And, finally, the bonfire of wishes and dreams. We sang camp songs, folk songs, antiwar ballads, and show tunes. There is something elemental and primitive about assembling around a fire. It forges a connection that can carry us as missionaries into a world that sometimes seems bent on stomping on our souls.
I mean, I sang harmony with Gregory Maguire and actually felt in context.
Finally, we cast our prayers and dreams into the fire, watching the flames exhale them toward the stars, hoping to catch the ear of God.

I could write a whole blog of thank yous. Thank you to the mystic healer Alison James, who streams magic, to the wise Tanya Lee Stone, to Marnie Brooks, who called down blessings from the top of the stairs, to the always generous Nancy Werlin, to wise counselors Martha Levine, Mikki Knudsen, Laurie Calkhoven, and many others unnamed. Thanks to everyone who helped this happen.


Stacy Whitman said...

It was great to meet you! Looking forward to reading Warrior Heir.

Stacy (

Mrs. Duncan said...

Ms. Chima,

I am a middle school teacher in the Vista Unified School District. I LOVED your books, and have shared them with many of my students. ;-) The feeling is mutual; you're awesome!

We are involved in a recommended read program , partnering with Barnes and Noble. My kids read and review books, and Barnes and Noble display the recommendations in the store. Lately, we have added ARC books to our program, which we read and time our reviews for the release date of the book. We review Young Adult and Young Reader books, and our reviews are up all year long.

Would you consider my students to read an ARC of Dragon Heir ? We would be honored [and excited] to promote your book.

Let me know... I can answer any and all questions for you.

Beth Duncan