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2014 cay_webbanner

Announcing the Salt Cay Writers Retreat Merit Scholarship Contest

Oct 20-25, 2014 | Salt Cay, Bahamas

Did you know that William Styron put the finishing touches on Sophie’s Choice while vacationing on Salt Cay, Bahamas? Or that Anne Morrow Lindbergh worked on Gift From The Sea on Salt Cay as well?

Now you too can practice your craft on this beautiful private Bahamian island. While the Salt Cay Writers Retreat curriculum is particularly suited for advanced fiction writers, memorists, and narrative non-fiction writers, any author who wishes to take their writing to the next level is welcome to join us for a memorable week of writing and instruction October 20-25.

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The winner of the Salt Cay Writers Retreat Merit Scholarship Contest will be invited to attend the Salt Cay Writers Retreat with all program and tuition fees covered (travel and retreat hotel accommodations are not included).

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The contest will be judged by a well-qualified anonymous panel of publishing professionals including retreat faculty. More information at: www.saltcaywritersretreat.com

Entry deadline: April 1, 2014

Winner announced: April 15, 2014

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To enter, send your writing sample as an attachment to submissions@saltcaywritersretreat.com.

Maximum 15 pages. Your writing sample may be from a work in progress or from a published work, including essays and short stories. All materials should be in 12pt Times New Roman. Pages should be double-spaced, with one-inch margins. Please use the following file name format: TITLE OF BOOK-Salt Cay Writers Retreat Scholarship Contest. .doc or .rtf formats only, please.

Be sure to include your name and contact information in the email with your submission.

There is no fee to enter this scholarship contest; however, please remember that the scholarship covers tuition fees only; travel and hotel costs are the responsibility of the scholarship winner.

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2014 Salt Cay Writers Retreat Faculty:

Lorenzo Carcaterra, #1 New York Times bestselling author

David Ebershoff, #1 international bestselling author; Executive Editor, Random House

Robert Goolrick, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jacquelyn Mitchard, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Téa Obreht, National Book Award finalist and winner of the Orange Prize

Erin Harris, Folio Literary Management

Jeff Kleinman, Founder, Folio Literary Management

Jill Marr, Sandra Dijkstra Agency

Erin Niumata, Senior Vice President, Folio Literary Management

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“The SCWR was a life-changing experience I will never forget. The faculty was just superb across the board, especially the authors who were wise and gifted teachers. I appreciated how accessible, generous, and helpful everyone was. I was at a place in my writing career where I was ready for tools to take my work to the next level. I found this at the SCWR and so much more. Thank you all!” – 2013 Salt Cay Writers Retreat student

Questions? Email Salt Cay Writers Retreat administrators Karen Dionne or Christopher Graham at: admin@saltcaywritersretreat.com. You may also telephone Chris at 732-267-6449.

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Karen and Chris are co-founders of the online writers community Backspace, and have directed the highly respected Backspace Writers Conferences held in New York City for the past 9 years.

 

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Question of the Month: Where You Write

by Susan Henderson on February 3, 2014

Tell me about where you like to do your writing.

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Many of you know that my favorite place to “write” is on long walks. I leave the house with a question or scene in mind, and I walk until I have an answer or have figured out a crucial incident or relationship in the book. Once this happens, I grab my phone and talk the scene into my voice memo. My best ideas happen when I’m outside, walking fast.

Alas, in this weather, I have to do my writing inside with my butt in a chair. I feel restless and caged sitting in one place, but  I do love my writing space, and that helps me stay put. My office is inside my garage and decorated completely differently from my home. It’s girlie and playful with vibrant colors to wake up my senses and remind me to enjoy the process. The quilt and painting and pillow are from my mom, the typewriter was my grandmother’s, and the little angel was given to me by a friend after I ran this blog post.

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The other walls are bulletin boards, where I tack up my work when I’m stuck or need a different perspective. Sometimes I pin the chapters I’m working on to the boards and look forward to seeing more and more cork as I finish them. I write at the big wooden table that Mr. H and I ate our meals at when we were first married, and there’s an elliptical machine by one of the windows, which isn’t pretty but is necessary for clearing my head.

So that’s my space, and now I’d love to hear about yours.

Next month, I’ll talk about how the revision’s going. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while—I have a lot to say—but didn’t want to slow my momentum by taking the time for it just yet.

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So that’s it for this month. A few thank you’s before I go… to The Never Dusty BookshelfSmashwords, and The Robbing Mind Podcast for kind thoughts about my book, to everyone who has “liked” my author page and participated in the discussions over there. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate my time with you! Also, if you have an extra two minutes in your day, my friend, Amy Wallen, started a fantastic new blog called Living the Better Half. I hope you’ll check it out!

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Question of the Month: The Journey

by Susan Henderson on November 4, 2013

Tell me about your journey as a writer, whether it’s your journey toward publication or you’ve set that goal aside so you can better enjoy the process of creating.

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Writers often approach me for help in getting published. The conversation goes something like this (I’m going to put it in music- rather than book-terms to give the conversation a little clarity): “Hi there! Thanks for accepting my FaceBook friend request two seconds ago! I’ve never actually read your blog or listened to your album, but I notice you belong to the record company I want to belong to, so here goes. I’ve been playing guitar in my bedroom for two years and have written several things I call songs which have never been workshopped. I would like to put out an album immediately and need your help. Thanks so much! And if you offer me any kind of help that isn’t about personally introducing me to your agent or publisher, I just want you to know I’m going to tell everyone you’re an asshole. Okay, get back to me right away!”

Do you get these, too? I’m sorry if you do.

Not all the requests come with this sense of ego and entitlement. Some ask for help in the loveliest, most humble ways, but the hope is the same: Can you tell me that my writing is ready, that it’s beautiful and engaging and important, that it can be published without any more hard work, that there’s a shortcut in this business, that I won’t feel the pain and humiliation of finding out I’ve written something that no one wants to read?

I wish I could answer, Yes. I wish this process could be easy and painless. But the truth is, it’s not. The above photo shows three decades of my work—a poem here, an essay there—and quite the ratio of rejection slips to publications.

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I once had the confidence shown in those letters I get. In third grade, I declared in an autobiography assignment that I wanted to be a poet when I grew up. I said the same, and more forcefully, in seventh grade. In high school, I was the poetry editor of our school’s literary magazine. In my senior year, I interviewed President Reagan’s Press Secretary, Jim Brady, at the White House. Later that same year, I was chosen along with one other student to study with the Poet Laureate of Virginia. When I was an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon, I won an Academy of American Poets Prize and money from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette for an essay I wrote. I was twenty years old and assumed the trajectory in this field went upward, but I still had so much to learn, and it would be almost two decades after that poetry award before I started feeling like I knew what I was doing.

For me, being a writer has looked something like this: writing poems, flash fiction, short stories, essays, novels, and throwing away the bulk of them; workshopping my own and other people’s stories; taking and teaching classes; entering and judging contests; going to readings as both a reader and a spectator; attending and speaking at conferences; blogging; editing at a literary magazine; editing book-length manuscripts; writing book reviews; interviewing authors and publishers; receiving and delivering rejections; writing for anthologies that never ended up being published; writing for magazines that no longer exist; writing blurbs and then getting bumped by bigger authors; and most importantly, reading; always reading.

In short, what I’ve learned is that…

  • a writer is forever a student.
  • shitty first drafts are what take you down the path to a great finish.
  • nips and tucks do not constitute a real edit.
  • rather than trying to pump life into an old story or an already-published book, it’s better to focus on writing something new.
  • it helps to take breaks on the weekend.
  • it’s possible to write and also live a full life in the present world.
  • grit and endurance matter.
  • the secret to that grit and endurance is being part of a creative community.

If we judge our journeys by rejection slips and publications, we’re likely to view ourselves as failures. But in all likelihood, our journeys have taught us about ourselves and the world, developed our empathy and our writing ability, sparked imagination and wonder. There is more to this life we’ve chosen than a book deal. Writers are my favorite people, not because of their publications, but because they are observing, recording, analyzing, and transforming all they see and experience.

I’m going to leave you with a few hopeful thoughts: Harper Lee only wrote one book (To Kill a Mockingbird). E. Annie Proulx published her first novel (Postcards) when she was 57, Frank McCourt published his first (Angela’s Ashes) at 66, and so did Karl Marlantes, who worked on his (Matterhorn) for 33 years.

You still have time to tell your stories.

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By the way,  if you should ever need some company or inspiration as you write and try to sell your manuscript, I wrote about my journey of publishing UP FROM THE BLUE at the links below. Sometimes the road to success looks suspiciously like constant failure:

We Want a Turn

When Patience is Required

How a Book Can Save a Kid

Places That Capture Us

A 30-Year-Old Letter Arrives

Temporary Ecstacy: The First Book Deal

Career Day

Unraveling the Sweater

Who Owns Our Truths?

Riding the Rollercoaster

Time for Waltzing

Rejected but Not Defeated

A Community of Misfits

LitPark’s Guide to Finding a Literary Agent

LitPark’s Guide to What Happens after You Sign with a Literary Agent

LitPark’s Guide to What Happens after Your Book Has Sold

The Truth about Blurbs

Writer Retreats: My Experience at Squaw Valley

The TNB Self-Interview

UP FROM THE BLUE is here!

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Question of the Month: Focus

by Susan Henderson on October 7, 2013

How do you keep your focus and momentum on long projects?

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This is a picture of how the new book is coming along. (I’m big into bulletin boards!) Each weekday (because I’ve learned to take weekends off), I pick one chapter or theme or knot to tackle. I do many of my edits while hiking, talking my ideas into the voice memo on my phone, because my #1 motivator is getting outside and moving. And no matter whether my edits for the day are great or terrible, I always move on to something new the next day because my #2 motivator is seeing progress.

If this looks especially tidy or easy to you, that’s because I’m sharing only the tiniest glimpse of my writing process. Right now my energy is directed at these book edits. But sometime I’ll share more of the chaotic and nerve-wracking aspects of writing and revising, how some days it’s like untangling necklaces and other days it’s like blowing things up and seeing what survives among the ashes.

Okay, your turn. What tricks and motivators do you use to stay sharp, creative, and productive?

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Many thank you’s this month: To Jamie Ford for mentioning my book in the Barnes & Noble Review! I hope you’ll check out his latest, Songs of Willow Frost… #11 in this week’s New York Times Best Seller list. To The Book Blogger and Read A Book for writing nice reviews of the Dutch translation of my book. To Jessica Vealitzek for listing my book as one of her favorites of the year. And to Corey Mesler for placing my blurb of his newest book right under one of my great writing heroes:

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Thank you to Cathrine, who took this picture in a Norwegian bookstore:

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 And I’ll end with this: My husband’s band, Bad Mary, just released its first video. Now you can see some of the fine people who jam in my basement each week…

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Question of the Month: Endings and Beginnings

by Susan Henderson on September 1, 2013

Tell me about an ending for you that was also a beginning. What was that moment, how did it impact you emotionally, and what did you discover about that moment over time?

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Last weekend, Mr. H and I dropped off our oldest son at college.

The week before the move, I would spontaneously burst into tears. Is this the last brownie mix I’m going to buy until Thanksgiving break? Is this the last load of laundry I’ll wash for him? When will I hear him play the piano again?

In those last days, he and his girlfriend would hold each other, playing sad sad music. All I felt was the impending goodbye and how loved he is here. As he packed, choosing what to take and what to leave behind, it was so clear that I view him differently than he views himself. He packed his Zappa posters and soldering gun, his keyboard and his graphing calculator, but for me, he is not just the 17-year-old going off to college. He is also the little boy who’d climb into my bed after a nightmare and run through the house with a dish towel pinned to the back of his shirt. When he was finished packing, he left behind so many things that are still a part of how I see him—the teddy bear he used to sleep with, the catapults and Lego he built, the this-and-that he made from paper and all kinds of etcetera.

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But here’s a truth about this creative boy I raised: a lot of things he most wanted to do with his free time were not things any of the rest of us could do with him. He has made many amazing friends over the years but when he engaged in his deepest passions, he was always alone with them. When he applied to M.I.T., understanding the near-impossible chances of getting in, it was because it was the one school we visited where he sensed he’d find like souls.

And so we set off for Boston with the car stuffed to the roof and feeling the heaviness for what I believed was going to be a sad day. And then we arrived on campus and saw this… chop saws and piles of wood set out for the meet-and-greet.

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And this…

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Also, his dorm allows cats!

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The idea of leaving him in this place didn’t feel so much like the ending I’d anticipated, but rather leaving him in a community where he will finally, finally be deeply understood and nurtured. These are his people. These are his passions. And more than anything, as we drove home, I just felt happy for him.

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Our home is different without him. I’m used to hearing the piano. I miss him plugging his iPod into my car. I’m not used to the empty bed in the morning where he usually sleeps in with the cat curled up beside him. Sometimes I’ll pass a stack of records he left behind or come across something in his handwriting or accidentally set an extra plate at dinner, and the tears come again. Not constant, just now and then, the feeling of how much I enjoyed having him here.

Endings. Beginnings. And knowing when I see him next, there will be something new about him, a transformation that’s only possible to make by going away.

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Thank you for the nice mention my book at  The Kindness of Strangers and Frequency. And thank you to the talented Heather Fowler who interviewed me over at Fictionaut.

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