Sunday, July 12, 2009

On the Road (to Chautauqua)

After some minor fiascos trying to get a suitable digital camera to post pictures on this blog while I'm at the Highlights workshop (1st camera wasn't Mac compatible though the guy said it would be, 2nd one had rechargable battery that needed 5 hours to charge before use)

I finally arrived in a rainstorm yesterday (Sat.) afternoon.

Judy Burke managing editor for Highlights magazine gave me a quick orientation, then I unpacked at my quaint boarding house, The Vera.

Next door is the stately Athenaeum Hotel where we had our opening night banquet.

It was pretty hot and humid in the Athenaeum dining room but the food was delicious: shrimp and crab appetizers, raspberry vinagrete salad, roast beef and salmon over rice, and cheesecake.

I was fortunate to sit at a table with the guest speaker, Donna Jo Napoli and her charming husband Barry, a law professor who doubles as Donna Jo's agent. (FYI Donna Jo is much prettier in person than this photo from the internet).

Ms. Napoli's speech was inspiring and entertaining. Her soft-spoken manner fooled you into thinking she was a softee. Until she broke-up the crowd with an anecdote about how she would drop on the floor and cry whenever she received one of her countless rejection letters (during the 14 years she was trying to get published) only to be encouraged by her young son who patted her and said, "Those ***holes." Donna Jo says, "Go ahead and cry, BUT you must get up and come back for more."

She began with a great quote from Richard Peck (who wrote the wonderful A Long Way From Chicago) who said: "We write by the light of every story we ever read"

Then Ms. Napoli advised, "You must have have big ears and thick skin." Listen to all your readers (even if it's something you don't want to hear). The reader is never wrong. He is sometimes stupid, but if the reader thinks your hero is 14 and he's actually 10, you need to figure out what made the reader think that and fix it. She reminded everyone that no one is going to publish you because "they want to be nice to you". It's a business. They want to make money.

Finally she stressed the point that Art is hard work. It doesn't flow out of anyone without incredible effort and discipline and craft. Nothing of value -- art, a house, etc. -- is created without hard work.

(Countdown: Only two days until my book hits bookstores!)

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