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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Retreat Scholarship Prompt and Rules: Fall in the High Desert

By Amy Robinson and Marilyn Friedman

Are you a broke writer who needs a break from the stress of the city? How does a relaxing mini-vacation at the Writing Pad High Desert Retreat sound? Spend a weekend filled with fantastic writing classes, gourmet food, top-notch instructors, and supportive classmates, all set in a beautiful high desert spa. A full scholarship ($815 value) will be granted to one lucky writer to attend our luxurious retreat on October 21-23! All you have to do is enter our writing contest. All rules are below.

Our last scholarship winner, Jim Gillett, got the essay that he worked on at the retreat published in Spirit Magazine, Southwest Airlines' in-flight publication.  You should be next!

Don't be intimidated--apply for the scholarship. You can do it! Good luck! :)

These are the rules that you must follow to apply for the scholarship. Note: Anyone can respond to the prompt and be entered into the August/September contest (we're going to extend the deadline thru Oct. 6th for August/September) for a free writing class!

1. Post 1 writing sample only (that applies to the prompt below) in the comments of this blog AND email a copy to NO LATER than Thursday, October 6 at 10 a.m. Your sample should be a maximum of 5 normal sized paragraphs.  For poems, the limit would be 5 stanzas maximum or if the poem only has 1 long stanza, it should not be longer than 1 page, double spaced with 12 point font.  For short stories, even short lines of dialogue count as a paragraph.  Remember, the shorter your piece is, the better (but it should still be a complete story or a complete poem).

2. Also email proof of current or long-term economic hardship to NO LATER than Thursday, October 6 at 10 a.m. (Ex. Bank statements, letter demonstrating that you have been laid off from your job, etc.) Feel free to also summarize your situation in the email, but send the back up as well. This will be kept completely confidential.

3. Writing submissions can be in any form (poetry, short story, dialogue, fiction, non-fiction, a rant, etc.) but must follow the paragraph limit and apply to the writing prompt below.

4. The contest will be judged by the following esteemed writers (see the next blog entry for their bios): Antoine Wilson, Janelle Brown, Joe Donnelly and Pamela Ribon. The contest winner will be announced by Tuesday, October 11.

Writing Prompt: October in Joshua Tree is the perfect time of year to visit the high desert.  It is warm during the day and cool at night.  Therefore, we were inspired to create this writing prompt:

Write about your favorite fall memory.  Make a list of 5 things/memories that come to mind when I say the word “fall.”  Pick one and add a sensory detail to it (smell, taste, sound, touch, sight). Note: this does not have to be a true story and can be in any form (poetry, short story, dialogue, fiction, non-fiction, a rant, etc.).  For a chance at the scholarship spot, also email your writing sample and proof of current or long-term economic hardship to, following the instructions above.

Fall makes Marilyn think of apples and apple picking.  Here is an example of a lovely fall poem by former poet laureate Ted Kooser to inspire you.  We have also pasted another poem about apple picking by Robert Frost in the comments of this blog to help get your creative juices flowing.  Good luck!

I liked how the starry blue lid
of that saucepan lifted and puffed,
then settled back on a thin
hotpad of steam, and the way
her kitchen filled with the warm
wet breath of apples, as if all
the apples were talking at once,
as if they'd come cold and sour
from chores in the orchard,
and were trying to shoulder in
close to the fire. She was too busy
to put in her two cent's worth
talking to apples. Squeezing
her dentures with wrinkly lips,
she had to jingle and stack
the bright brass coins of the lids
and thoughtfully count out
the red rubber rings, then hold
each jar, to see if it was clean,
to a window that looked out
through her back yard into Iowa.
And with every third or fourth jar
she wiped steam from her glasses,
using the hem of her apron,
printed with tiny red sailboats
that dipped along with leaf-green
banners snapping, under puffs
of pale applesauce clouds
scented with cinnamon and cloves,
the only boats under sail
for at least two thousand miles

~ Ted Kooser

Comment on this blog! Write about your favorite memory of autumn. Even if you are not applying for the scholarship, comment! You could win a free class at Writing Pad!

Meet Our Judges for the Joshua Tree High Desert Retreat Scholarship!

By Lizzie Vance

We are proud to introduce our esteemed judges for the High Desert Retreat scholarship contest. These impressive writers will determine whose writing submission will win the full scholarship to the retreat (an $815 value). Behold our marvelous and impartial panel of judges (drum roll please)!

About Antoine Wilson:
Antoine Wilson’s first novel, "The Interloper," was published by Other Press in May 2007, and his new novel, "Panorama City," is forthcoming in Fall 2012. He is a contributing editor of the literary quarterly A Public Space, and his work has also appeared in The Paris Review, StoryQuarterly, and Best New American Voices. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and recipient of a Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin. He has also taught creative writing at Iowa, Wisconsin, CSU Long Beach, UC San Diego, and UCLA Extension. You can find more information about him here.
About Janelle Brown:
Janelle Brown is the author of the novel "This Is Where We Live." Her debut novel, "All We Ever Wanted Was Everything," was a national best-seller and named one of the best books of 2008 by Library Journal. A novelist, essayist and journalist, her writing appears regularly in The New York Times, Vogue, Elle, Wired, Self, The Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. Previously, she spent five years as a senior writer at Salon. In the 1990’s, she was also the editor and co-founder of Maxi, an irreverent (and now, long-gone) women's pop culture magazine. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. You can find more information about her here.

About Joe Donnelly:
Joe Donnelly is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies. Joe was the deputy editor of the L.A. Weekly from 2002 to 2008. Before that, Donnelly was the arts editor of New Times Los Angeles and editor in chief of the seminal Los Angeles pop-culture magazine Bikini. Along with Laurie Ochoa, Joe founded Slake Los Angeles, the bestselling quarterly journal quarterly reader devoted to the endangered arts of narrative journalism, polished essays, memoir, fiction, poetry, and profiles.

About Pamela Ribon:
Pamela Ribon has written on several network television shows, most notably the Emmy Award-winning Samantha Who?. A national best-selling author, Pamela has adapted her popular novels for both film and television. She is a recent contributor, where her novel, "Going in Circles," was selected as an Book Club pick. Pamela is also the author of "Why Girls Are Weird" and "Why Moms are Weird."  She’s known as a pioneer in the blogging world with her successful website, which has been spotlighted for Lifetime Achievement from the Weblog Awards. Her stage work has been showcased at the HBO US Comedy Arts Festival and she created the accidental international scandal known as "Call Us Crazy: The Anne Heche Monologues.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

April/May and June/July Comment Contest Winners

by Amy Robinson

Autumn is finally here, but don't let the change in seasons cool off your writing practice. Check out our exciting fall classes and events:

So You Want To Be A Writer? (Wed. p.m.'s, Sat a.m's, in Sept. and Oct., Online in Oct.)
Finishing School (Wed. p.m.'s, Sat a.m's in Sept. and Oct.)
Get Your Webisode On (Sun. p.m.'s in Oct.)
From Snoozeville to Sizzletown: Crafting a Page Turner (10/20)

And now, for the announcements that you have been waiting for. The April/May comment contest winner is Marissa Engel!

Marisa's favorite place to write is "at the airport during a layover since I'm either just completing or about to embark on some adventure. . ."  You can read her fantastic story here:

Also, our June/July comment contest winner is Amy Vorpahl!
When I asked Amy what inspires her to write she said, "Inspiration almost always comes from strong emotions I have toward either people, environments, situations, or events or any and all of the above!" You can read Amy's winning, and very touching, story here:

Great job, Marissa and Amy! You each win a free class at Writing Pad!

There is still time for you to enter the comment contest for August/September. So what are you waiting for?We are really enjoying your stories. Keep it up, folks!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Naked and Drunk Writing with Highly Acclaimed Writer and Teacher Adair Lara

By Sophia Kercher

This week, I spoke with the award-winning author, journalist, and teacher Adair Lara.  Lara is known to bare it all.  She strips down to the deeply personal in her memoir Hold Me Close, Let me Go and in Naked, Drunk, and Writing, a guide to crafting memoirs and personal essays.

The writing coach is also known for not letting her students shy away from getting personal in their writing.  Furthermore, she gives her students the tools they need for publishing success.  95% of her students have been published; their work have been featured in magazines and newspapers including the New York Times, Smithsonian, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Self, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Vanity Fair—not to mention the dozens of memoirs and novels that were incubated in her classes.

Adair will be bringing her expertise to Writing Pad’s Joshua Tree High Desert Retreat.  You can study with her Oct. 21-22 at the picturesque 29 Palms Inn. To sign up/for more information, contact or call 323-333-2954.  Until then, Adair has generously shared some great advice on writing and getting published:

1.    People think that writing a memoir or personal essay is a magical thing-- it’s not.  It can be taught.  Lara’s workshops teach a practical structure for how to write an essay or put together a memoir.  They also leave room for exploring what style or genre of writing is for you; whether it’s writing humorous pieces, long-form or short-form. “I have my students write everything to see what fits them best.”

2.    Some of the best writing comes from sitting down and writing for 15 minutes. Lara says: “I often assign instant writing prompts. The idea is as soon as you get the prompt you have to write your entire story in 15 minutes.”  Adair will be will be leading retreat attendees through fun, generative prompts like these in Joshua Tree.

3.  A writing habit leads to being published. To start, Lara says to "apply part A (butt) to part b (chair)."  Then she advises that you write every day, stick to a writing schedule, disconnect yourself from email and the internet when you are writing, utilize writing partners, take classes, and attend retreats to improve your craft and give yourself the structure you need to finish your writing projects.  This method has worked for her and her students.

4.   Writing is about how human beings change. Lara loves helping her students delve into and write about the turning points of their lives which lead to compelling stories on the page.

5.    Intensive writing workshops like the Writing Pad High Desert Retreat often lead to long-lasting friendships. Lara says: “You put a room full of intelligent people who are really being honest about their lives in their writing and you can see how bonding will develop. . . I’ve seen thousands of writing friendships begin like this."

6.  Getting naked sells. Lara, finally, explains, “Lots of readers have said that they bought my book because of the title.”

Don't forget to sign up for the High Desert Retreat for your chance to study with Adair. I can't wait to see you in Joshua Tree this October!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Writing Prompt - Getting Nostalgic About The 80's

By Sophia Kercher

Do you remember a time when boom boxes were awesome, cellphones didn't plague the ears of society, and being a stalker didn't involve Facebook? We do and it was called the 80's! The decade that conjures up tales of PacMan, shoulder pads, and Michael Jackson jackets. Did you wear a terrible poofy gown to prom? Did you lust after Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Was "tubular," "gnarly," or "gag me with a spoon" part of your vocab? Or maybe you fell for Michael J. Fox and his smooth skateboarding skills in Back To The Future? Get nostalgic with us at our upcoming event this Sunday night!

And keep your pen moving with our exciting line-up of fall classes:

So You Want To Be A Writer? (Wed. p.m.'s, Sat a.m's, in Sept. and Oct., Online in Oct.)
Finishing School (Wed. p.m.'s, Sat a.m's in Sept. and Oct.)
Get Your Webisode On (Sun. p.m.'s in Oct.)
Short and Sweet 4 Wk (Tues. p.m.'s in Oct.)
From Snoozeville to Sizzletown: Crafting a Page Turner (10/20)

Writing Prompt:
Make two lists. For the first list, write down ten of your favorite things from the 80's including fashion trends, music, and movies. Consider items that you wore (remember those rad acid jeans?), photographs of your crazy Aunt Sue's hot pink sweater dress, or your mom's boxy work blazers.  Don't forget to include your favorite Madonna song and Star Wars movie! Pick one of the items from your list and add a sensory detail to it (smell, taste, sound, touch). Then write a story, poem, or scene about it, including the sensory detail. Write for 10 minutes, then post your write in the comments of this blog!

For example
: In high school I watched Sixteen Candles on loop with my best friend Merril. We were convinced that the movie's Jake Ryan was the perfect man. We shouted, "We love you Jake!" at the television whenever he walked into a scene. To this day, I compare all of my boyfriends with the 80's dreamboat (sigh!). What memories of 80's pop culture or style make you smile?

Comment on this blog! Write about your favorite thing from the 80's (fashion items, movies, music, etc.). Post your 10 minute write in the comments, and you could win a free class!

How I Finished my Book at The Writing Pad Retreat

by Amy Robinson

Ojai Writing Pad Retreat in a gorgeous craftsman home
My carpool of three women drove to the Writing Pad Retreat in the misty Ojai mountains on a cool Friday afternoon. As we pulled up to the beautiful, eco-lodge property, I could feel the work and city stress start to drain away.  Recent heavy rains had brought every tree and plant to a vibrant green and the scent of pine and lavender filled the air.  

Once inside I settled down with a cup of tea next to a cozy fire, got out my notebook and readied myself for the Friday bonus class. While we waited, I met a few of my retreat-mates including Jim Gillett, winner of the Writing Pad scholarship to attend the retreat. (Jim has since sold the piece he wrote at the retreat to Spirit, the Southwest Airline in-flight magazine which will be published in October. Congrats, Jim!)
Adel's famous chilaquiles!

Thaisa Frank, author of Heideger’s Glasses and Finding Your Writer's Voice, was Friday’s featured teacher. She led two fun writing exercises and taught us the difference between an anecdote and a story.  After an amazing breakfast of chilaquiles the next morning, I took class with NPR news anchor, Alex Cohen, author of Down and Derby: The Insider's Guide to Roller Derby. Alex talked about keeping writing straightforward and led us through cool exercises to help us interview our characters.

After a yummy lunch, several of us went on an imagination-charging hike into Ojai National Forest, which surrounded the property. We carefully hopped across the babbling river, it was swollen from all the recent rains and charged about a mile into the beautiful Ojai wilderness.

Saturday afternoon was free-writing time and time for one-on-one consultations. The lodge had ample space for everyone. I grabbed a blanket, my laptop, a freshly baked snicker-doodle cookie that made the house smell like Christmas and planted myself in an Adirondack chair on a patio overlooking the river. Glancing though my notes from that morning’s class, I realized that I could use a piece of what I had written in Alex Cohen’s class in my book.  My memoir about cancer and loss was in first draft form and had yet to find an ending.  I had been struggling with it for several months until this moment.  With only the swirl of the river and the trees brushing against each other in the wind as a soundtrack, I lost myself in my story and the ending to my book grew on the screen.

Good times!
My one-on-one meeting with Marilyn Friedman, Writing Pad Founder,was next. I had submitted ten pages of my book for her to review before the retreat. She gave me a lot of postive feedback as well as many helpful suggestions. In particular, she said that I should add a few flashback sequences between myself and my Dad into the book to help the reader get to know the characters through specific scenes. Before I knew it, the sun was setting, the steaks were being grilled, my book had its final chapter, and I had a list of helpful suggestions for making the next draft of my book more complex and compelling! I hit the save button and went to dinner.  Wine flowed, we made s'mores, and several of my retreat-mates, who I had just met yesterday, told stories, laughed loudly, and became my writing family. 
Delicious frittatas

The next morning, after amazing caramel baked French toast (I had 2 helpings, but don’t tell anybody. . .) we headed off to our final class with Marilyn. My class in the advanced track had an assignment to read a piece we had worked on at the retreat for balanced feedback. Since the Writing Pad rule is: what we read and write stays in the group, I can’t give you specifics, but MAN there was so much amazing writing! I shared the ending to my book, which I’d crafted and edited the day before. I felt so supported! Also, someone in the group asked me a question about the ending which later helped me expand and deepen what I had written.

I was so sad to leave Ojai. I came away with some terrific, new friends, some new writing tools, a full belly, and a finished book. I can’t wait for the High Desert Retreat, so I can get away from my daily hubbub with a bunch of writers and award-wining instructors, and get my creativity on!

Monday, September 19, 2011

High Desert Retreat Scholarship Contest!

By Lizzie Vance

Are you so busy struggling to make ends meet that you don’t have time to finish your book or screenplay? Would you love to treat yourself to a luxurious mini-vacation and a dedicated block of time to get away from it all, complete a writing project, or kick-start a regular writing practice?  Do you dream of studying with award-winning writers and literary agents who can help you get your work published? If you feel like writers’ retreats are a fantasy that would require cash to rain from the sky, you may be in luck!

Beautiful Joshua Tree National Park
Writing Pad is holding a scholarship contest to fund one talented but broke writer’s admission to our High Desert Retreat (an $815 value!).  The retreat will be held at the fabulous 29 Palms Inn in tranquil Joshua Tree, CA from October 21-23rd.

Writing Pad’s retreats have helped many, many writers create, polish, and publish written material that may otherwise never have been born. Jim Gillett, the March retreat scholarship winner, for instance, was inspired by a writing exercise at the Ojai retreat.  He wrote a draft of an essay at the retreat that will be published in Southwest’s Spirit magazine in October!  This kind of serendipity may be at your fingertips… so what have you got to lose?

Writers Toasting Their Literary Productivity
at Last Year's High Desert Retreat--
Enter the contest, and this could be you!
This year, the contest will be judged by the incredible Antoine Wilson author of The Interloper, as well as Panorama City, which will be released later this year, the impressive Joe Donnelly, award-winning journalist, former deputy editor of the L.A. Weekly, and cofounder of Slake Los Angeles, and the amazing Janelle Brown, journalist and author of the best-selling novels This Is Where We Live and All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.  One other judge will be announced later this week, so stay tuned! Here is the how the contest works:

On September 29th, the contest will begin on this blog. If you’d like to enter, you will post a short essay, story, poem, or scene (3-5 paragraphs maximum) in response to the contest writing prompt and email it to along with proof of current or long-term economic hardship (ex. bank statements, letter demonstrating that you have been laid off from your job, etc.). Contest entries should be posted and emailed NO LATER than Thursday, October 6 at 10 a.m. The winner will be announced on October 11th.

They say that money doesn’t grow on trees; but in this case, if you win the contest, it just might!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Back to the Future's Bob Gale Inspires Our 80s Reading List

By Sophia Kercher
Before Michael J. Fox was crowned teen idol of the 1980s, before leg warmers, teased hair-dos and acid washed jeans were de rigueur for every teenage girl—Bob Gale was just another struggling comedy writer looking for a lucky break. It wasn’t until the soon-to-be creator of the Back to The Future trilogy stumbled upon his dad’s yearbook that he came up with the story of what would eventually catapult him into the top of the Hollywood A-List.

Michael J Fox and Bob Gale (circa 1984)
Gale is speaking at Writing Pad on Sunday Sept. 25th at 7:30 pm where he’ll shed light on breaking into Hollywood, delivering the killer pitch, and writing the perfect screenplay.  Bob will be interviewed by producer Tom McNulty ("Date Night"). RSVP for this foray into literary time travel, only 4 spots left! DeLorean is optional. 
In honor of the talk Writing Pad has compiled a 1980s inspired reading list to prep you. (Don't worry we won’t tell anyone if you listen to Madonna’s Material Girl while turning the pages.)

80s Reads:
Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis He wrote and published this when he was still in college while the rest of you were playing beer pong.

Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney It’s so good, it’s like doing drugs—but you don’t have to put anything up your nose.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, Douglas Adams Your ticket to the future.
Slaves of New York, Tama Janowitz Prostitutes, saints, and seers, oh my! This one is recommended by our instructor Taffy Brodesser-Akner.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flag We return to Fried Green Tomatoes for the recipes included in the book.
The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy Read with a box of tissues on hand.
Neuromancer, William Gibson Take a moment to revel at the neon design on this sci-fi book's cover.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon Who doesn’t love to read a coming of age story about questioning one’s sexuality? Also the opening paragraph will blow you away, promise.

Writing Prompt - Weird Stuff

By Amy Robinson

What did you do on your summer vacation? Did you fall in love with a Russian author from the late 1800's like Marilyn did on her trip to Russia? Did your elderly neighbor take to sunning himself in a pink Speedo? Turn the weird things you've witnessed into a 10 minute play on Tues. Sept. 20th for 10 Minutes in Heaven: Cook Up a 10 Minute Play with award-winning playwright, Aaron Henne! Click "Buy Now" on our website to enroll in our classes before they are all full!

So You Want To Be A Writer? (Wed. p.m.'s, Sat a.m's, in Sept. and Oct., Online in Oct.)
Finishing School (Wed. p.m.'s, Sat a.m's in Sept. and Oct.)
Get Your Webisode On (Sun. p.m.'s in Oct.)
Short and Sweet 4 Wk (Tues. p.m.'s in Oct.)

Writing Prompt: Make a list of 3 of the weirdest experiences or people that have crossed your path. Pick one and add a sensory detail to it (smell, taste, sound, touch). Then write a story, poem, or scene about that item, including the sensory detail. Write for 10 minutes, then post your write in the comments of this blog!

For example, I'm going to write about my 7th grade history teacher, who used to store his gum behind his ear for later. What weirdness surrounds you?

Comment on this blog! Write about something weird that you have seen or a weird person that you've met. If you post your 10 minute write in the comments, you could win a free class!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Joshua Tree High Desert Retreat Recipe

By Sophia Kercher/Rachael Narins

Picture this: you've escaped to the desert to explore the stark beauty of Joshua Tree. You are picnicking by the pool with a cocktail in hand, enjoying a picturesque landscape and the company of fellow creatives. While sampling a cool, minty salad, don't be surprised if the reflection in the pool offers you a glimpse into your future as the next Hemmingway. Writing Pad's High Desert Retreat can help make this dream come true. This weekend get-a-way offers all day writing workshops and one-on-one consultations with award-winning writers and literary agents who will help you coax your words onto the page and hone your craft. Last year’s retreat-goers still talk about how much they accomplished and the cool respite of al fresco evenings with delicious, gourmet food and new friends.

Don’t wait to set your writing goals higher. Sign up by calling 323-333-2954 or email to sign up before it is full. Only 2 spots left!

And to tide you over until October, our Retreat Co-Executive Chef, Rachael Narins of Chicks with Knives has been gracious enough to share her refreshing salad recipe so you can get a taste of the retreat in your own kitchen.

Zucchini and Mint Salad - From Chicks with Knives (Serves 4)
The zest of citrus, fresh mint, and crisp zucchinis currently at the peak of their season combine to cool down a desert day and replenish your energy. The results are delicious, vegan, and gluten free so everyone can enjoy.
8 small zucchini, sliced thin
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
Sprinkle salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Fill a bowl with ice water, add the zucchini and refrigerate for two hours. Drain and dry well. Arrange the slices on a serving plate.

In a small bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Pour dressing over the zucchini and serve immediately!

If that didn't make you lick your lips in anticipation, then check out Rachael's sumptuous sample dinner menu for the retreat. We’ve heard whispers that after this meal, folks have been known to write poems devoted to autumn vegetables—or at the very least be inspired by the vibrant colors of their dinner before them!

Sample Dinner Menu for High Desert Retreat
Autumn Salad of Persimmon, Asian Pear and Spanish Chorizo
Grilled Pumpkin with Chickpeas and Parsley Dressing
Whole Roasted Free-Range Chicken with High Desert Lemony Carrots
Double Fudge Chunk Brownies with Fresh Churned Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

We can’t wait to excavate your inner-Hemmingway and sip margaritas poolside with you at the retreat!