Summer in Words

Writing Conference

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The solace of water

  Water is our birthplace. We need and love it. In a bathtub, or by a lake or at the sea, we go to it for rest, refreshment, and solace. “I’m going to the water,” people say when August comes and they crave a break. The sea is a democracy, so big it’s free of access, often a bus or subway ride away, a meritocracy, sin or swim, and yet a swallower of grief because of its boundless scale–beyond the horizon, the home of icebergs, islands. whales. ~ Edward Hoagland

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A few updates

I cannot believe how time is galloping by this spring, especially now that my garden is blooming and I’m watering daily again.  Did I mention that my bleeding heart bush has now commandeered a whole garden bed?

Here are a few updates and reminders:

Again, May 24th is the final date to receive the discounted room rate at the Hallmark Inn & Resort. The discount amounts up to $100 off per night per room. If you’re interested in sharing a room, there is both a male and female looking for a roomate for the weekend. Please contact Jessica or Mary immediately via the contact information here. Hallmark’s phone number is 1-888-448-4449

Also, if anyone is traveling down from Canada and has room for another passenger, please let me know.

Remember too to send in your manuscript for feedback by June 1 and be sure to state who you’d like to review it. If you live in Mexico and Canada, please send it me via an email attachment.

We will be also sending out a reminder about Out Loud. This event will happen on Saturday night and you’ll have a chance to read a work-in-progress to an audience, followed by brief feedback (and lots of applause.)

Finally, every year Summer in Words sponsors a raffle to support Write Around Portland. If you have any items (writer related would be great although wine and other goodies are welcome) please contact us.

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Introducing Randall Platt


Randall Platt is an award-winning writer of fiction for adults and young adults and for those who don’t own up to being either.

Q: How long have you been writing and when did you make your first sale? 

A: The first things I ever wrote were teleplays for popular TV westerns. All had a plumb, ripe, juicy, hammy role for a little girl. I was all of 11 and wanted to be an actress so badly that I wrote ‘next week’s episode’ and offered myself as the guest star. I actually mailed them and got nice ‘thank you for writing’ letters back from the studios. So I guess you could say I have been writing nearly my whole life. But I did not make my first sale until I had finally taught myself how to write …. 1991!

Q: What comes first for you, story or character?

A: Character, although I sure wish it was story. I am great with character and dialog but plotting is my weakness. It’s no coincide I don’t write mysteries!

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you and how do you get past it?

A: Deciding on what to write next. I have so many terrific ‘what ifs’ waiting in the wings. Great characters waiting for their chance to really come alive. Once I got past it by taping about a dozen story ideas to the wall and throwing a dart over my shoulder to see which was got picked!

Q: How do you push yourself to take risks as a writer?

A: It seems the older I get the riskier I allow myself to be. From dangerous settings to dangerous dialog. First drafts are always very dangerous for me. I will over-write knowing that, for me, it’s far easier to cut back than to add. 

A: Tell us something most writers would not know about you, but find interesting.

Q: That I make a soundtrack for each novel when I begin it. I fill my IPod with dozens of songs that evoke the time and the emotions of my work in progress. I listen to it constantly while working. By the time I am done with that book, I never want to hear ANY of those songs again!

Q: What do you do for fun besides write?

A: Writing is fun??? I didn’t get that memo! I am an internationally ranked handball player and play three times a week, if time allows. I also run, lift and bike. 

Q: Sushi or pasta?

A: Pasta!

Q: What books are on your night table?

A: My ‘night table’ is the CD player in my car. Having to read so much for research I find that my recreational reading time is limited to my driving time – which is a lot. Right now, I am on an autobiography kick.

Q:What comes next for you?

A: Looking forward to the 2012 release of another historical YA, LIBERTY JUSTICE JONES.


Talking with Emily Whitman

Emily Whitman used to dream of a time travel camp to the past. Now she travels to different worlds as the author of YA novels. Thanks to her journeys, she knows how to greet a Greek god, share her trencher at a medieval banquet, and launch a peregrine falcon into the wind. Emily’s debut novel, Radiant Darkness, was praised for its “originality and flair” by BCCB and was a #1 IndieBound Pick. Her new novel, Wildwing, is a time-travel tale of romance, mistaken identity, and the wisdom of following your heart.
A native of Boulder, Colorado, Emily attended Harvard and U.C. Berkeley. She has taught at the Pacific Northwest Children’s Book Conference, written for educational publishers, worked in library reference, and faced a room of sixty for toddler storytime. Her passions include cooking, travel, ancient stones and libraries. She lives with her family in Portland, Oregon.

She will be teaching Private Lies on Friday and Paring it Down to the Truth on Saturday.

 Q: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

A: That’s two different questions, so I’ll answer both. I first considered myself a writer the moment I could write. I was particularly proud of the fact that my poems rhymed and scanned; for a long time I felt this was more important than what they said. I won my high school creative writing award—I’ll never know if it was for my heart-wrenching sonnet cycle on breaking up with my boyfriend, or my pseudo-Broadway musical score featuring that timeless rhyme, “Every hen can keep her rooster hot, but my heart don’t need no booster shot.”

I first considered myself a writer who might actually get work out in the world about seven years ago. I’d left creative writing behind for a long stretch (academics, raising kids, working in libraries) and was dipping my toe back in the water. I took a class on writing personal memoir, joined a group of poets, and then started writing passages for educational publishers. That led to trying my hand at writing a novel, something I’d never expected to do.

Q: I realize that you write professionally, but have you always wanted to write fiction? What about the young adult audience and fantasy appeals to you? 

A: I went to my first writing conference thinking I’d write picture books or early readers (I was leading library storytimes at that point, so I knew the audience). Writing conferences can be transformative! This one led me to realize that the story that really interested me was the Greek myth of Persephone, daughter of the harvest goddess. In the myth she’s kidnapped by the lord of the underworld and forced to be his bride. I wondered what the story would look like if she were a strong young woman who fell in love and chose to run off to the underworld. That was a long way from a picture book! To tell the story that excited me, I had to start figuring out how to write a novel.

Why write for teens? Emotional honesty and intensity. High stakes—decisions really matter at that time in your life, and your protagonist’s decisions fuel your plot. There isn’t much extraneous material; even more than in most genres, every word needs to count. I could go on and on. It’s an exciting place to be writing right now, with great authors, vivid characters and passionate readers.

Q: Why did you choose time travel as a device in Wildwing?

A: Time travel let my heroine, Addy, completely reinvent herself. She goes from being a bastard maid, excluded and scorned, to being mistaken for the girl arriving to marry the lord of the castle. How does that change who she is inside, as well as outside? Can she scramble to learn enough about this foreign world to convince everyone she belongs? (I loved Shaun Tan’s graphic novel The Arrival for that sense of complete displacement.) Addy can finally see her place and options in her own time from a radically different perspective. I love the sudden shift, the displacement, both as a way to see what my character does and as a story element.

Q: Why did you choose a Greek myth (Persephone and Demeter) as the basis for Radiant Darkness?

A: I  wanted to write about the time when a girl is on the cusp of becoming a woman, when she’s breaking away from seeing herself as a child. There are all these complicated dynamics going on at once—relationships with friends, with the one you love, with your parents. That made me think of Persephone, the archetypal girl leaving childhood and her mother behind. Myths stay alive for thousands of years for a reason. There’s something fundamental and true at their heart. It’s slightly different for each of us, so we tell the story in our own way, but there’s a common core that gives it power.

What is your best tip for writers on how to build an alternate universe?

A: Use specific sense details to make it real, so your reader is seeing-smelling-touching-hearing-tasting it, falling so deep into the world you’ve created, it’s a jolt to look up from the page and leave it behind. That means the world you create needs to be consistent, so you’re never thrown out of the story-world by your conscious mind telling you something isn’t right.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you and how do you get past it?

A: Commitment! As in, committing myself to what kind of story this is going to be. I have a tendency to start something from many different angles. The trick for me is recognizing when the voice on the page is the right one, the alive one, and then just keep going with it. I’m really helped by deadlines, even if it’s just preparing five pages for a critique.

Q: What were your feelings when your first novel was accepted/when you first saw the cover?

A: The most fun was letting family and friends know. I remember a real shift in how I felt when I said, “I’m a writer.” Before, I’d felt tentative with the words, like I didn’t quite deserve the title; now it came much more easily. Looking back, though, I think I got similar boosts at many steps along this road: when I went to a conference with my first fifteen pages of the book and got positive feedback; when I decided to write a complete draft by the time that conference came the next year; when I had a critique with an editor who said he’d like to read more; when we both committed to the editing/revising process; when I held the book in my hand.

Q: What is your best advice for writers in 8 words or less.

A: Share writing with those who energize your work.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

A: Simultaneously admire and curse the cat for batting the mouse off the computer desk yet again. Walk down the hill for an espresso. Check in with my kids at college, my parents in Boulder, my sisters, my friends. Eat incredible bread from Little T or Ken’s. Spend altogether too much time on crosswords. Dream of places to travel when time and funds find themselves in happy alignment. Avoid housework.

Q: What books are on your nightstand?

A: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. Patti Smith’s Just Kids. Zombies vs. Unicorns. Saturday and Sunday NY Times Crosswords. The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing by Gigi Rosenberg. Entwined by Heather Dixon.

Q: What project are you working on next?

A: I tend to be a little secretive about my writing until it’s got a really firm root, so I’m going to respectfully decline to answer this at the moment. But stay tuned!