Posted in Poetry, Writing

How to Name a Lit Journal

I recently spent some time submitting poems in the hopes that 2018 might bring a few more acceptances my way. (2017 was a little quiet, in that respect.) While researching various publications, it occurred to me that there’s a pretty standard code for naming a lit journal. Just take an emotion or a color, add a bird or a plant, tack on a publication type, and… voilà! You’re ready for submissions.

Let’s try it, shall we?

Create your own literary journal using the chart below:

HowToNameALitJournal

 

My literary journal would be called… Morose Penguin Review.

I have to admit, that’s pretty awesome. 🙂

What’s yours? Share the name of your new lit journal in the comments.

Posted in Halloween, Writing

Comfort in the Dark

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[What follows is an anecdote from my experience at the Books with Bite workshop at the Highlights Foundation earlier this month. However, it is also the personal narrative I’m writing with my seventh graders (because I like to multitask). The story is true, but some details regarding other participants and the events they shared have been changed to protect anonymity.]

Comfort in the Dark

When I was little and I got scared during the night, I pulled the covers over my head and squeezed my eyes shut, hoping if I didn’t see the ghost or monster, it couldn’t get me. I guess it worked because I’m still here. No monster ever succeeded.

Now, though, I’m all grown up, and nighttime terrors are a thing of the past. Right?

Maybe not.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a workshop in Pennsylvania with a group of horror writers. I stayed by myself in a small cabin at the edge of the woods with no TV, no internet, and very little cell service. The cabin was cute and cozy during the day, with the windows open and the sunlight streaming in, but at night my cozy cabin became pretty creepy. One evening in particular it showed its sinister side.

The third night of the workshop was “ghost story night.” The other ten writers and I sat in the living room of the meeting house, lounging on comfy couches, sipping cups of coffee or wine, and taking turns telling ghost stories. Only, these weren’t neatly cased in the safety of “fiction.” These stories were true. And they were eerie.

One woman told a heart-wrenching tale about seeing her father’s ghost after experiencing a terrible accident. That one left most of the room in tears. Another woman described a puff of smoke with eyes that used to follow her around her grandparents’ house when she was a child. She didn’t know until she was an adult that the smoke followed her younger brother too.

Some of the stories were funny, some were sad, and some were hard to believe even though the speaker swore they were true, but all of them sent shivers down my spine. Then someone brought up the fact that most supernatural experiences happen between three and four o’clock in the morning, and suddenly the room was abuzz with people saying they wake up at exactly 3:00AM every night. I stayed quiet, but my mind drifted to the night before, when I’d been roused from sleep to see the numbers of my cabin’s alarm clock glowing 3:03. My spine shivered again.

Before long, it was 10:00PM, and the ghost stories were over. It was time to go back to my cabin. In the dark. Alone.

The excitement of the evening and the coffee coursing through my veins kept me up for a couple more hours. First, I sat on the porch writing in my journal and listening to the coyotes howl in the hills. Then I snuggled under the quilt of my tiny bed and read a ghost story (which, in retrospect, was probably not a good idea). Finally, just after midnight, I fell asleep.

At some point in the middle of the night, I became aware that I was screaming. The reason for my screams wasn’t apparent. I just knew that I was terrified of something, and I was screaming. With effort, I managed to wake myself up from this vague nightmare. Then, suddenly, I felt a hand softly stroke my head, running its fingers gently down my ponytail. The gesture was kind, soothing. It seemed to say, Shh, shh. There ‘s nothing to be afraid of, which would have been comforting if I hadn’t been ALONE IN MY CABIN.

At this point, I jerked awake again, for real this time. But, even though my brain was now conscious and every cell of my body was on high alert, I didn’t open my eyes. I did NOT want to see whatever was in that room with me, be it ghost or monster or scary shadow or even just the alarm clock flashing 3:00AM. I did not want to see anything to make my heart pound harder that it already was. I refused to look.

Instead, I pulled the quilt over my head so that not a single inch of me was exposed to the night, and I squeezed my eyes shut until I fell asleep, fretfully, once more.

Then the morning came. Sunlight streamed through my windows. There were good friends and good coffee waiting for me at breakfast, and I felt happy, relieved, and a little curious about what I’d experienced during the night.

One thing I did not feel was childish. After all, you’re never too old to be scared. The night will always be dark, but eventually the morning will come, and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you escaped the monster once more.

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DON’T FORGET– IF YOU COMMENT ON THIS MONTH’S POSTS OR SHARE THEM ON SOCIAL MEDIA, YOU’LL BE ENTERED IN MY OCTOBER GIVEAWAY!

 

Posted in Writing

My Cabin in the Woods: 5 Days at the Highlights Foundation

When most people hear Highlights, they think of colorful magazines strewn across end tables at doctors’ offices. They think of “Find It” pictures and Goofus & Gallant. They think of stories for children. But there is much more to the Highlights Foundation than just their seventy-year literary legacy, and I got a small taste of it last weekend at the Books with Bite workshop.

My trip began with a tour of Highlights and Boyds Mills Press in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, just a few miles away from the retreat center. It was interesting to learn that the magazine, which was started in 1946, is still a family business. The current CEO (only the third the company has had) is the great-grandson of the founders. I met him later at the “barn,” the large meeting house which serves as dining hall, living room, and workshop space. He wore suspenders and told jokes over breakfast. He and the other Highlights staff were always around, sharing meals with us and asking if there was anything they could do to make our stay better.

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I have to admit, this little welcome packet gave me the heebie jeebies. Luckily, I didn’t need to use it.

But what could we ask for? The retreat center—composed of the “barn,” the farmhouse, the lodge, and over a dozen cabins, all perched on the edge of beautiful woods with hiking trails—is quiet and serene. Writers have the space they need to think or work independently, while also having plenty of opportunity to converse with other attendees about ideas, craft, industry, or just chat about the weather, which was pretty perfect in early October. The place is large enough to house multiple groups at a time, and some workshops overlap, which means there are always new faces to meet at lunch or by the fireplace after dinner. During my five-day stay, I met picture book authors, illustrators, and nature writers. My friends and I were the only horror writers in the bunch, which automatically made us the “creepy kids.” It didn’t help that we accidentally left our brainstorming board up during dinner. Oops.

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Can you pick MY nightmares off this board?

Speaking of dinner, you would not believe how good the food is at this place. Seriously. Writers (and teachers for that matter) are not people used to being pampered, so when the website said all meals were included, I expected a Days Inn-style breakfast, a ten-foot sub for lunch, and pizza for dinner. I was wrong. The Highlights retreat center has amazing and accommodating chefs who prepare spreads of fresh, creative, delicious food three times a day. Four if you count the appetizers before dinner. (And why wouldn’t you? They were scrumptious.) I have no photos of the food because I was too busy eating to take pictures, but trust me, it was phenomenal. All of it. Every meal. I still have the three extra pounds I came home with to prove it. SO. GOOD.

Having never been to any other Highlights workshops (yet) I can’t say what each one is like, but the Books with Bite workshop, led by Nova Ren Suma and Micol Ostow, provided a nice balance of critiquing, discussion, and down time (for writing, hiking, or napping—I did some of each). Most of us arrived Wednesday afternoon, got a tour, settled in, and then met for dinner. Sunday was breakfast, a final meeting, and departures. But the three days in between all followed the same schedule. Here’s how it went:

A Day In the Life of a Horror Writer

  • 8:00-9:00AM – Walk from cabin to barn to drink coffee, eat delicious food, and chat with other attendees
  • 9:30-Noon – Workshop (Our group had nine participants, so we discussed three writers’ pages per day.)
  • Noon -1:00PM – Eat delicious food and chat with other attendees
  • 1:00-5:30PM – Free time to write, read, hike, nap, or talk to other writers (There was an optional writing prompt session for an hour during this time. This was also when one-on-one conferences took place between attendees and their mentors.)
  • 5:30-6:00PM – Appetizers and drinks on the patio
  • 6:00-7:00PM – Eat delicious food and chat with other attendees (On the first day, I also had the pleasure of meeting Denise Fleming, whose picture book workshop was ending. The Highlights staff made a beautiful speech about her and named a scholarship in her honor. Then they gave all guests copies of one of her books, which she signed.)
  • 7:30-9:00PM(ish) – Meet for discussion topics/readings/ghost stories (The ghost stories night was particularly interesting and inspired a strange nightmare/spooky experience which I’ll write about later.)
  • 9:00PM-morning – Free time to sit by the fire, write, sleep, or read horror stories on the porch while listening to the coyotes howl (Can you guess which ones I usually chose?)
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Photo from the Word Garden

As I said before, I don’t know how Books with Bite compares to other workshops, but I was impressed by how present and approachable our mentors were. Nova and Micol not only critiqued our pages, led our workshops, and facilitated our discussions, they also ate every meal with us, joined us for writing prompts and sharing, and offered feedback and advice about everything related to writing. It was wonderful being in such capable, creative, kind hands.

Nova and Micol were incredible, and their expertise and insight were invaluable. However, I found out you can also plan your own retreat at Highlights, where you work at your own pace without the aid of a mentor. It’s called an “unworkshop,” and I met several writers and illustrators who were there for that purpose. They were spending a few days in the lodge or the cabins, either individually or as a group, working on projects while soaking up the Highlights ambience. Hmm… sounds nice.

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What Did I Get Out of My Highlights Experience?

I got:

  • Great feedback on my manuscript
  • A new vision for the end of my novel
  • 20 pages of notes
  • 15 books to add to my reading list
  • 10 new friends
  • Connections with writers from around the country
  • Rest and relaxation
  • A boost of energy and inspiration
  • One spooky experience

So the only question I have is… who wants to plan an unworkshop with me???

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Don’t forget– If you comment on this month’s posts or share them on social media (and tag me), you’ll be entered in my OCTOBER GIVEAWAY!