Sunday, August 09, 2009

Awesome Austin Writers workshop, '09

Awesome Austin Writers, The Outsiders, top row: Brian Yansky, Donna Bowman Bratton, Patrick Swayze Bottom row: Shana Burg, Debbie Gonzales, Don Tate

I'm pumped! Yesterday I attended the Awesome Austin Writers workshop, along with 20 other published and near-published children's and YA authors. The event was hosted in the beautiful home of Austin SCBWI founder Meredith Davis (think: Beverly Hills meets Lake Austin).

The day-long critique session kicked off with a tasty breakfast, but then it was down to business. We split up into four groups of five people. My group: The Outsiders. There were also Frogs and Toads, Wild Things and Ramonas! Cool? I'm sorry I don't have pictures to post. I carried my camera with me but didn't feel comfortable snapping pictures, everyone knowing they'd end up right here on my blog.

Two months before the workshop, each writer submitted 10 pages of a work in progress and each team was given copies. We spent almost an hour critiquing each person's work. It was a definite growing experience for me because I was forced to read different genres that, typically, I avoid. Like sci-fi. If a book even looks sci-fi I won't pick it up. But Brian submitted a sci-fi manuscript, and I read it and enjoyed it. I even realized one idea I've been kicking around might be considered sci-fi.

Between critiques we had group discussions on various topics ranging from social networking to speaking events -- when and when not give free appearances.

As far as I could recall, I was the only art-guy-author there. But I felt welcomed, and I value the feedback I received.

I submitted a 1,200 word picture book biography, which included an authors note and an afterward. Without giving away my story, here's what I learned:

My subject has a compelling story that can be told from many angles. Unfortunately, I chose every angle. I'll need to focus a bit.

Although most biographies are told in chronological order, I don't have to begin telling my story at the beginning.

I'm a "but" man, apparently. I used the word "but" 16 times in a 1,200 word manuscript. I'll need to work on that.

Even though I don't know how it smelled or felt or tasted in the 1800s, I can assume it smelled and felt and tasted the same as it does today. I need to use more sensory details to bring the story alive.

I saved the passion for my afterward. Everyone seemed moved by my authors note and the afterward. So I'll need to figure a way to weave in some of that passion into the story itself.

The day ended with a first-page reading. Most everyone submitted one half of the first page of a work in progress, which was read out loud. Originally I'd planned to submit a humorous, rhyming picture book I've been working on. But I shied away from that, knowing most other submissions would be YA or middle-grade chapter books. I'm glad I made that decision.

At the last minute, I dug out one particular picture book manuscript that I really, really love, but hasn't sold yet after two years. I think it's a story that would have sold with no problem a few years ago. But things have changed. So I decided to rewrite it as a chapter book (ages 4-5-6). I stayed up late the night before rewriting the first page. And everyone laughed! In all the right places! It was great!


Alison said...

Hilarious Outsiders photo! It was a great day and I enjoyed talking to you (though I know I was rambling...blame my lack of sleep). Good luck with all your manuscripts and school visits!

PJ Hoover said...

Your first page rocked! And you are killing me with the photo! Now I feel compelled to do the same for the Wild Things!
Great seeing you yesterday, Don!

Debbie said...

Hey, Pony Boy!

It was a treat to get to be in your workshop, pal. And yes, you did have a butt-load of buts in your fantastic manuscript. BUT I still loved it!

All the best,


brian yansky said...

Hilarious photo. It was great to be in the Outsiders with you. So much fun and everyone's comments have helped a lot.

Jennifer said...

No buts about it, you are extremely talented at both writing and illustrating (and photo-doctoring, apparently). Great seeing you!

Stay gold, Pony Boy. Stay gold.