I have two young friends who are in quandaries about their directions in life. One is beginning her junior year at a small liberal arts college, the other just opted out of law school following orientation. E is questioning her major in art (photography) and G is wondering "now what?!"
I'm on the side of following their passions. With the caveat that they may encounter detours along the way, and they should be open to unanticipated routes toward their goals.
In reading news articles about folks coping with the current recession, I came upon reference to "survival jobs." Folks who made more money than I ever did have had to lower their expectations of finding a new job at their former pay range -- so they've "settled" for jobs with which they could survive until the economy recovers and they can resume their former careers. How amusing. It seems that I had 30 years of "survival jobs" with the State of Oregon. They paid the rent and enabled me to own a horse, but were by no means a career. I managed to apply my love of and skills in writing in all the jobs I held, but the topics and projects were of someone else's choosing.
I graduated from college in a different society than my young friends have today. Yes "Women's Lib" was underway, but real life expectations were that young women would work until they married, at which time they would probably continue working until children came along. Most women didn't have careers. They had jobs. The jobs were "survival" until Mr. Right came along and then supplemented Mr. Right's salary. There wasn't much mention as to what happened if Mr. Right never appeared...which is my case.
I think my two friends deserve better than "survival jobs" for the next 30-40 years. They are starting their lives in a society that more readily accepts young women on a career path of their own. I'm rooting for them to go for the gold.
Now, they might have to settle for survival jobs for a few years while they get their careers off and running. And they should be aware that no matter what career they follow, it will have less than desirable aspects. Quite often, the newbies are expected to begin with the undesirable duties. They need to decide if the end goal is worth the early scud work.
They also need to know that life is full of changes. A decision made at age 20-something doesn't necessarily lock them in for the remainder of their lives. We never know what's down the road. A college degree in one area doesn't necessarily mean that's what one will be doing for the remainder of one's life, if at all. People's lives veer off into all kinds of unexpected directions.
My father always told me that an education teaches one how to learn. A liberal arts degree exposes one to a variety of subjects -- a good, general, all-around education that prepares the student for whatever may come. I applied my BA in English to fish and wildlife management for 24 years. I knew nothing about raising fish or hunting and trapping when I started. But I was capable of learning enough about these topics to write about them in a manner that was scientifically accurate yet understandable to a lay audience.
My 30 years of state employment also exposed me to statutes and rules. I spent six years applying statute, rule, and legal opinions to an appeals process. My initial research and draft of the agency stance had the potential to (and did on a couple of occasions) go to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
Now, nothing in my liberal arts education was specific to science or law, yet I was able to apply my education to jobs in both of these arenas. Was my BA in English a waste of money because my degree wasn't a "job title?" I don't think so. It prepared me to apply my knowledge and skills in any direction I chose to go.
So...I'm willing to be a sounding board, cheerleader, or whatever E and G need to aid them in the pursuit of their passions. Or just be one person they know is on their side.
E and G are smart and resourceful young ladies. They will be successful no matter what careers they pursue. Success as defined by each of them.
Sure, it's scary to step out into the world as an adult and leave behind the structure of school. There's the financial pressure to repay school loans and earn a livable wage. There's the fear of starting out in the wrong direction. But I have confidence that E will do well as a photographer -- heck, she isn't even out of school yet and she's already had "jobs" taking senior pictures and wedding photos! And I'm sure G will come up with a career that suits her interests and skills as well as allows for riding time.
Decisions. Very intimidating at the beginning of one's life. And surprising at mid-life when you look back at where they brought you.
My last two rides I've worked Phantom on "GO." I've also gone back to alternating my posting diagonal every 5-6 strides when I begin trot work. What I really need are several treatments with the chiropractor, but....
Phantom (like Kiyara did) tries to anticipate what will be asked of him and becomes tense in the process. Plus, his initial canters are all bunched up (once I ride through his inclination to crossfire!). So I decided to set aside our work on connection and lateral work to focus on forward.
Afterall -- no roundness and connection without "GO."
I audited a Jack LeGoff clinic years ago where he gave a fabulous visual to explain roundness. He held up a dressage whip parallel to the ground to represent the horse's back and explained that we need to establish drive from the horse's hindquarters (rear wheel drive, so to speak). LeGoff then placed his hand at the lash end of the whip as he "drove the horse forward" and when the whip met the resisting hand it formed an arch. The "horse's back" rounded. Roundness and connection come from the back forward, not front to back.
Years later, Trainer Cathi put her riding students through "GO" exercises. Without throwing away the front end, we worked on getting our horses moving off our legs. Forward, forward, forward. Once our horses were working with cadence and pace, we initiated soft contact. Lo and behold, we began getting "beach ball" rides. Our horses rounded beneath us until it felt like we were sitting on beach balls -- while still energetically striding forward.
So I figured it wouldn't hurt to revisit "GO." Plus, alternating posting diagonals helps center me in the saddle. A chiropractic treatment would get me even more balanced in my seat bones!
Worked inside on Wednesday, but today we worked in our new outdoor arena. Lots of forward walk while chatting with Genevieve on Zorro, then trot, trot, trot. "Pay not attention to that traffic cone in the corner or the pigs on the other side of the manure pile!" Trot on!
After three days spent in the most uncomfortable chairs in the known universe, it was great to get back to the barn. The Barn Bunch seemed to have scattered this past weekend: me to the writers conference, Genevieve to California, Trainer Tracey to the Region IV show, Kim to an open house at the opposite end of the metro area, etc. I'm sure there were other outings I'm not even aware of. So...it was great to catch up on news.
By the way, I have to brag about scoring big at the conference. Genevieve is a fan of Irene Radford, author of the Dragon Nimbus series and other fantasy and science fiction books. I took advantage of the opportunity to get a personalized autograph by Ms. Radford on a book to give to Genevieve. Couldn't pass it up!
Anyway...back to the barn. We have two new kittens at the barn who arrived at nine weeks of age. Brothers Mufasa and Scar are, as to be expected at 10-11 weeks of age, lively characters and into everything. Of course I didn't have my camera with me today to capture them playing with the lash of my longe whip, climbing in and out of my helmet, and playing with Phantom's tail.
Phantom's tail just touches the ground and was too tempting for Mufasa. While Phantom stood calmly in the cross ties, one hind leg cocked, Mufasa began batting at the end of his tail. Then the kitten stood up on his hind legs to grab at the tail. Phantom didn't move a muscle. He knew the kitten was back there, but didn't even swish his tail. Scar joined in the fun and soon both cats were batting and grabbing at the tail. When Mufasa tackled Phantom's supporting hind leg, I decided it was time to get out of there before tiny little claws wore out Phantom's patience.
I had to give the Goober Boy a kiss. What a cool horse to let the kittens play with his tail!
My butt is sore, I have a headache, and I feel like my brain is going to explode from all the information jammed into it. Post-conference daze.
I wandered about a little more today: Point of Narration (PON) vs. Point of View (POV), Charlotte Cook; "Ideation" - The Development of an "Idea" into a "Story," Larry Brooks; How to Market Your Book to Tweens, Dale Basye; and The Mystery of Voice, Eric Witchey.
Most of us understand what Point of View (POV) means -- first person "I", third person "he, she, or it," etc. Charlotte Cook, president of KOMENAR Publishing, added Point of Narration (PON) to our writing vocabulary. PON is basically where the writer is "standing" in the scene while telling the story. It's the character who is telling the story. POV is the distance from the character narrating the story. The story can be told by an all-knowing Narrator from outside of the scene, but Ms. Cook believes First Person or Close Third Person from within the scene brings more immediacy to the story. The story is filtered through the Narrator, therefore, the details presented in the story tell the reader how the Narrator views and moves around in his or her world and therefore reveals character.
Larry Brooks has developed what he calls the "Six Core Competencies" of a publishable story. The four "Elements" include: Concept, Character, Sequence, and Theme. Scene Construction and Writing Voice are the methods of "Executing" the Elements. Larry has developed his story architecture based on Syd Fields' Screenplay -- the three-act structure for story telling. I've attended Larry's sessions before and have found his information profoundly helpful. Today he focused on fully examining Concept, Character, Theme, and Sequence -- all four of which must be fully developed in a good story. Concept is the "What if?" germ of the idea. Character is obvious. Theme is the "moral landscape the story is exploring," and sequence is the "this happens, then this happens" aspect of the idea. An idea will be sparked in one or more of these Elements, like "what if the Titanic is raised from the ocean floor?" But for the idea to truly become a story, all four Elements must be examined.
Dale Basye is the author of Heck, Where the Bad Kids Go. He is another WWC success story, having pitched his story to an editor from Random House during the conference a few years ago. He got a two book deal out of it, and has since made a deal for two more books in the series. Dale explained that "Tweens" are generally 8-12 years old. They are irreverent, rebellious and aspire to be teens -- or their idea of what a teen is. Teens (12-18) of course, aspire to become adults and leaving behind the angst of being a teenager. It was Dale's experience that the publishing house did a good job of publicizing his books and getting them widely distributed, but provided little in the way of marketing. We've been hearing this for years -- authors should be prepared to do their own marketing. Since today's Tweens are tech savvy ("native speakers" so to say), he suggested vehicles for reaching potential readers and gave advice on how to approach Tweens. They are experts at detecting BS, so be genuine and never condescending.
I enjoyed Eric Witchey's Saturday session so much that I attended his session on Voice today. I'm glad I did, since he had a detailed handout that covered much of what he addressed over the three days. Eric said there are four "voices" in a story: the writer's, the reader's, the narrator's, and the character's. The writer's voice is that one we listen to every day in our head that mumbles and grumbles throughout our lives. The reader's voice is his or her own internal voice. The author has no control over these voices, but should be aware of their existence. What the writer can manipulate are the voices of the narrator and characters. Eric also indicated that the perception of the story world and events will be filtered by the narrator. The narrator's voice will reveal education, social class, etc. All the choices the author makes about the "locus" of the narrator and the perception of the characters is all part of manipulating the prose to create the desired effect in the reader. In other words, writers mess with people's minds! (hee hee)
I had to laugh. Per usual, different experts had apparently conflicting advice for authors. The story narrator must be one of the characters vs. The story narrator can be distant and omniscient . Sheesh! Just like attending riding clinics. You appreciate the knowledge and skills of the expert, absorb as much information as you can, determine what works for you and your horse, and set aside what doesn't. So I end up with a blending of expertise that works for me and my horse at that time and place until I'm ready to absorb and apply the next stage of knowledge. I use the same process at the writing conference.
Anyway -- it is affirming, and energizing, and enjoyable to spend a weekend surrounded by people who share my passion for words and stories.
Today I mixed it up some and got outside the Children's/YA track a couple of times: Blood, Roses & Mosquitoes: Writing with Details, Jessica Morrell; Hitting the Sweet Spot in Middle Grade and YA, Jennifer Mattson; Dr. Frankenstein's Character Laboratory, Craig English & James Rapson; The ABCs of Saleable Fiction, Eric Witchey.
Jessica Morrell is a developmental editor and a Willamette Writers gem. She contributes a column to the monthly WW newsletter, she has a monthly on-line newsletter of her own (The Writing Life), and has several how-to books in print. Per usual, I learned a lot about selecting and using details. Per Jessica, selecting the right details "proves" that the fictional events are happening.Don't bloat the story or book with details, but sprinkle them throughout so the reader will experience the story along with the characters.
Jennifer Mattson is an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, a groundbreaker in representing children's writers exclusively. They do everything from picture books to YA. It's always good to hear from an agent or editor what they look for, and what raises red flags. Jennifer was most helpful in clarifying the distinctions between Middle Grade (ages 10-14) and Young Adult (14-16) novels, such as content, style, etc. She, too, mentioned creating a sensory experience to put the young reader into the story. Lucky for me, Jennifer is seeking fantasy novels and "subculture" stories about "unfamiliar" worlds (could that include the horse show world?!).
Craig English and James Rapson discussed a couple of methods to assist in character development. Not just appearance and favorite baseball team, but the personality of the characters. Selecting traits that will make for an interesting story and make the reader develop empathy for the characters. We participated in listing "masculine" and "feminine" traits and discussed "hardwiring" versus cultural roles -- and doing a switcheroo to create an interesting character. They also apply Attachment Theory to assist with the development of the character's coping mechanism to protect his or her vulnerabilities. Put the character in a sticky situation and see how she or he responds!
Eric Witchey's session was the highlight of the day for me. He imparted extremely useful information in an entertaining manner and had everyone engaged in the process. The ABCs were: Agenda, Backstory, Conflict, and Setting. Every character in every scene has his or her own agenda, whether it's solving the murder or delivering the pizza. Conflict is created when these agendas run up against each other. Backstory helps make the story seem real because the characters have lived lives prior to the opening of the story that have shaped the person they are. And how the character relates to the setting reveals their personality. The character's response to conflict reveals who they are, as well as how important his or her agenda is.
Each session helps place the pieces into the puzzle.
I met a student from Linfield College (my alma mater) attending the conference. We compared profs, dorms, and majors. That was great fun. I also took advantage of the author signings to get a book or two personalized.
Approximately 800 people will attend the conference over it's three-day run. The Saturday luncheon for the WW Conference is the largest meal that the Portland Airport Sheraton serves all year! Hey! Writing is hard work!! We need brain food. :-)
This is one of the most fantastic writers' organizations in the country. Regardless of what you write (fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, graphic novels, plays, etc.) it has you covered.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the conference. The organization is slightly older. This year's conference theme is abundance and financial success. WW members have, all totaled, made millions of dollars writing. It can happen to any one of us. Jean Auel and her success with Clan of the Cave Bear is only one example and she is the conference "poster child" of sorts, having found her literary agent at the conference.
I spent today in the Children's/YA track: Navigating the Current Children's Book Market, Ginger Clark (Curtis Brown, Ltd.); Great Characters, Great Plots, Parts I and II, Anne Warren Smith, and Novel Shortcuts, Laura Whitcomb.
I didn't really glean much new information from the first session. However, I did hear that editors are seeking more "urban fantasy" (read as teen vampires a la Twilight). But then, a few years ago boy wizards were all the rage.
Anne Warren Smith broke down her two-part session into character development and plotting. Each person has their own method for creating characters, and I've already got several checklists and forms to use for this exercise that I picked up from books and conferences. So I didn't really acquire much new information from Part I, but Part II added a slant on plot development that I will fold into my current Mixmaster process.
Even though the information might not be new -- just a different angle on the same old advice can make a lightbulb go off. I've had similar experiences with riding lessons/clinics. So Ms. Smith spoke to complications and resolution. As they say, put your protagonist in trouble -- and then make it worse! But she made us connect the resolution to the complications. And even suggested working backwards. If you know the resolution, that can help you create the complications that the character must overcome to reach the satisfying resolution. And wouldn't you know, while discussing plot Ms. Smith added some new insights on character development.
Anyway...even though I've attended many plotting sessions over the years, I still pick up useful information that will help me build a novel.
Last year I attended Laura Whitcomb's session on Shortcut to the Scene and at that time learned her book, Novel Shortcuts, had just been issued. So I bought her book and incorporated many of her ideas into my novel development/writing process. I've cobbled together my plot framework from several books and conference sessions. Laura's "shortcuts" have helped tremendously in building the novel on the framework.
Even though I've read her book, it's always good to hear the process directly from the author. Laura's session reminded me of suggestions from her book that I'd forgotten, and clarified some of her procedures.
Creating a good novel isn't easy. Obviously. Otherwise, everyone would do it.
One of the best thing about the weekend is spending time with other writers. Like attending a horse show. With this group of folks, I don't have to explain anything. We all speak the same jargon, we all get it. You are among your tribe.
Well, I guess my Arabians come by it naturally. Not only were they desert war horses, but also camp guardians.
As such, Phantom (like my mare) is very aware of changes in his environment. He's not as flighty as was Kiyara, but he still notices.
For example, the railroad ties around our new outdoor arena. Yes...one look at the corners marked by wooden ties with traffic cones, and he was: "What's that?! That wasn't there before!" So we made the rounds, since each corner needed to be examined individually -- not to mention the planters set between ties.
What a goober!
But we did a little trot work outside to finish our day. The sand footing makes the horses work a little harder and focus a little more because of the extra effort. Looking forward to cooler fall days spent outside on our new footing.