Monday, July 11, 2016

On visiting the Highlights Foundation for the first time... and my impressions of the Novel in Verse Workshop from May 2016

Some of you have been waiting patiently for this post. Sorry it took so long! I was a tad distracted (see my previous post).


Some of the cabins at the Highlights Foundation.
Mine was the second from the left.


How to sum up my first visit to the Highlights Foundation?

In one word: magical.

In many more words: The entire experience inspired me, from the first Saturday gathering of 14 strangers (twelve attendees plus two faculty members) over wine and cheese to the last goodbye hugs with all my new friends on Wednesday. I couldn't imagine a more caring, encouraging group with which to share my first Highlights workshop. I'm honored to have spent time with these talented and creative people (many of whom already have books published!). By the last day, we felt like a family. 

Yet I had a somewhat rocky start -- emails going astray for months, a cabin mix-up the day I arrived... There's always a story behind the story, right? Do you know what it's like to wander around a big rural campus in search of your name on a door, hoping to find it and not finding it? Agh!  

The lovely Jan Godown Annino (check out her wonderful blog) tried to help me solve my dilemma that first afternoon.  I'm afraid I was (unintentionally) a little short with her. I'm a timid driver and I'd just spent three and a half hours driving on unfamiliar highways. Not my favorite thing to do. So I was a wee bit cranky when I arrived, only to find someone else in what was supposed to be my cabin! Indeed, I almost felt Highlights didn't want me there. 

Silly, I know.

Of course, all was not lost. The indomitable Jo Lloyd took charge and put all things right, finding my name sign and canvas welcome bag (containing the schedule, among other papers), and assigning me to a different cabin, which worked out perfectly. I fell in love with Cabin 9 and it became my home for 4 nights. 



Cabin 9: my writing cabin and my sleeping, reading, and day-dreaming cabin



Inside Cabin 9: rustic but charming, and always quiet.


As we must do when confronted with unexpected situations, I adjusted my attitude and rediscovered my sense of humor (and I'm happy to say I became great friends with Jan Godown Annino!). That evening, I enjoyed meeting and getting to know all my talented fellow attendees, along with our fearless leaders, Kathy Erskine (author of the National Book Award-winning Mockingbird, and of Seeing Red, Badger Knight, and other novels, along with the upcoming verse novel Hidden Power) and Alma Fullerton (author of verse novels Libertad, which I reviewed hereBurn, In the Garage, and others). 

On the third day, we were joined by guest author Padma Venkatraman (I was excited to meet her because I'd already read all three of her novels, Climbing the Stairs, Island's End, and A Time to Dance). 

By that third day, I'd had conversations with every single attendee, even the reticent (and gifted) Ray, the only male in our group. Ray's powerful picture book in verse moved us all to tears when he finally read it out loud at Group Critique. 

Group critique every afternoon at 4 was followed by wine and cheese at 5:30 and then a delicious buffet dinner at the Barn. 

Getting ready for dinner


Wine and cheese time in the Barn!



The food at the Highlights Foundation is worth the price of the workshops. It's true! Always fresh, local, and delicious, and prepared by the most talented chefs you'll find. They even take into account your dietary restrictions and bring you a special plate if needed. I'm sorry I didn't think to take more photos of the generous buffets. This one below is a simple lunch. There were always plenty of salad and veggie choices as well as comfort foods like lasagna. Ingredients were identified (writing with chalk on the black tablecloth: ingenious!) so you could avoid known allergens.





Eating this wonderful food made us all feel healthy-- and quite spoiled! No cooking, no clean-up. It's a writer's dream. Highlights even provided snacks and coffee, tea, or soft drinks in the Barn at any hour of the day or night, though I was usually too full to consider it.

When the rain finally blew away, we could play in the word garden:


An attempt at poetry


or take a brisk evening walk, led by Kathy Erskine, a walk which helped jump-start my brain for more writing that night.







My writing desk and reading chair



Our mornings were filled with informative workshops held in the classroom corner of the Barn. My favorite moments were mostly visual. I will never forget Kathy Erskine crawling around on the Barn's hard stone floor to demonstrate how she got into her character's head in the medieval tale, The Badger Knight, when Adrian hid under a pew at Carlisle Cathedral. And Alma telling us how she got into her character by huddling in a snow drift for hours with no coat or shoes. Wow! Talk about dedication. 

After Padma joined us, she described binding up her leg for a day and trying to walk around. That was how she got inside her character in A Time to Dance, her moving verse novel about a dancer who loses one leg in an accident.

Our afternoons included plenty of free time to write. And write is what I did. Inspired by my one-on-ones with Alma and Kathy, I managed to write four new poems for my verse novel in the time I was there, and many more since I came home. From my one-on-ones and from comments in Group Critique, I learned that I need to flesh out the minor characters more and add some humor to what has turned out to be a serious MG contemporary novel.*

I came away with a renewed sense of purpose for my novel in verse and a sense of lasting camaraderie with an amazing group of people. I'm sorry I don't have people pictures, but check out the Highlights Foundation site (at least, for now) and you may catch a glimpse of our group.

If you've never attended a Highlights Foundation workshop, please keep it in mind for the future. It's a must for any writer. And they do have scholarships. Just ask!

Personally, I can't wait to go back.


*Oh, you thought I was going to tell you what my novel is about? Sorry! That will have to wait.




36 comments:

  1. I've heard great things about the Highlights workshops and your thoughts certainly summarized the experience nicely. I'm glad it was worth the trip, and I hope to take the same one some day.

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  2. So glad you had such a good experience. And I'm a timid driver too.

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    1. Oh, whew! Glad to hear I'm not the only one, Natalie.

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  3. What a tremendous experience! You have inspired me to look into Highlights Foundation.

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    1. Yay! Hope you find a workshop you and the Don will like. ;)

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  4. Lucky, lucky you! What an exciting conference with inspiring authors. I would have been in heaven meeting Padma and Kathy. I love their books. What a wonderful experience for you.

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    1. It was great getting to know them, and Alma.

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  5. Just read your bio. Didn't realize you had a brain aneurysm. I had an anoxic brain injury in 2004. Ended my PR career, and I began to reinvent myself in 2010 as a writer. See some similarities. I love what I'm doing now more than before.

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    1. I love what I'm doing too, Patricia. Sorry to hear you had an anoxic brain injury. Yes, we have something in common for sure.

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  6. I would love to teach on the faculty there some day!

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    1. That would be fun for you and your students, Dianne!

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  7. I've always wanted to attend one of these Highlights workshops. I love how you had so much time to focus and write and got to meet so many talented writers. I'm sure this experience has grown your writing in tremendous ways!

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    1. I wish I could go there every week, Jenni. It was that inspiring.

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  8. I have been to several workshops and retreats there and, yes, the word magical always comes up. It is a magical place. I haven't been there in a couple of years but am signed up for David L. Harrison's poetry workshop in August and happy to be going back. Glad you had such a great experience.

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    1. Yay, Rosi! So happy you're going back soon. Enjoy!

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  9. Sounds ideal, and that cabin looks like the perfect place to write! I've wondered what their workshops are like! I would love to go to one!

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    1. Hi Dawn! Nice to see you here again. Highlights is the perfect place to get some writing done. Hope you get to attend a workshop there someday.

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  10. One of these days . . . I've wanted to attend a workshop there for YEARS. My first editor at Highlights used to slip brochures for the workshops into our correspondence and hint that it would be fun to meet up. I was sorely tempted, mostly because I wanted to meet her. But I'm on the other side of the country, and flying is almost as expensive as their workshops. I'm glad you ended up having a wonderful experience.

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    1. There were people attending the Novel in Verse workshop from as far away as Florida and Idaho. But yes, of course you have to pay your own airfare. Maybe you could apply for a scholarship, Myrna, and then your only expense would be airfare. In any case, I hope you get to go there one day.

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  11. Wonderful review! I can't wait to go back someday!

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    1. Thanks! Me too, Linda. Hope we can see each other there again.

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  12. It sounds like a fun time! :) I wish I was old enough to go (I get the feeling that if there is daily adult beverage drinking times, I may or may not be too young ;) )

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    1. Ah, well, we didn't ALL drink wine, Erik. There was ice tea and soda on hand too! The adult beverages weren't the point, of course. More the camaraderie. But I wonder if you could attend when you're 18? Or definitely 21. It's something to keep in mind for the future! You're already a writer.

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  13. You have just launched what I think is a fabulous idea, This Kid Reviews Books.

    Joanne, how about letting Kent & Co. know that it might be fun for them to think about a week of Highlights workshops for up-and-coming younger authors?

    _jga

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    1. That's a fantastic idea, Jan! I will certainly mention it; I was about to email them a link to this post anyway. Good thinking!

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  14. Reading this made me nostaglic for being with you in The Barn & everyone, Joanne.
    I'm blushing with your kind words.
    (check is in the mail...)

    Can't wait to read more of your verses.

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    1. Ha ha ha, Jan! You're a kind person, and I'm so glad to have met you.

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  15. I'm so glad you had a great time, Joanne. I love to drive so if you want to go up for a non-workshop sometime I can take the wheel. I head there in two weeks. I'll be teaching so no writing time yet.

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    1. Yay, Nicole! That would be so much fun. Thanks. In the fall or next year, perhaps?

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  16. Definitely a magical place! Hooray for such a productive time!

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    1. Kate! I miss you! Thanks so much for stopping by.

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  17. "Magical" is a word I always use to describe Highlights Foundation workshops and also their Unworkshops. I have learned so much about the writing process and the publishing business. I also first met the woman who is now my editor at a workshop there. And I met wonderful people who are still great friends. Yes, magical.

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    1. That's wonderful, Kathy. How amazing that a person you met there is now your editor!

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  18. Sounds wonderful, Joanne! It is something I hope to do someday!

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