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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Writing Prompt: Recurring Dream Images

By Marilyn Friedman and Alana Saltz

We had an awesome YA fiction panel last Friday! In case you missed it, we'll share some of the great advice Francesca Lia Block, Lauren Strasnick, and Robin Benway gave us. They agreed that in order to be successful as an author you need to be tenacious and assured us that everyone has their own unique path to publication. The best thing to do is to keep learning, keep writing, and keep submitting. Yes, ma'am, that's what we're going to do!

Speaking of continuing to write and learn, if you're interested in writing your own YA novel, check out our Character Collage class this Saturday. Award-winning author Sherri L. Smith (5 published YA novels, Washington Post Book of Year, ALA Best Books) helps you define your main characters, put them inharrowing situations, and differentiate your dialogue. You'll walk away with a few stellar scenes and a character bible to guide you in making strong plot choices!

For those of you who want to start with a more bite sized writing project, we have a fantastic Flash Fiction course this Sunday, May 5. Award-winning writer and fab teacher Merrill Feitell (Iowa Award for Short Fiction, Glimmer Train) will help you write a terrific short story in 1000 words or less! There’s a huge market for publishing flash fiction right now.

Meet Alana Saltz, WP Event Manager!
And we don't know about you, but we're really excited for our second Writers With Drinks event tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 8pm at the Blind Barber in Culver City. It's a great chance to make new writer friends and network with editors. The Blind Barber will even be offering literary-themed drink and grilled cheese specials just for us!

Below are the latest class offerings, followed by a free writing prompt! We're giving you one last chance to be entered into the March/April contest for a free class. What are you waiting for?

April/May Events:
 Classes Starting May 1 -6:
Other Classes:

Creative Writing/Multi-Genre
Journalism/Web Writing
Writing For Actors

What image shows up in your dreams? A phone sandwich?

Writing Prompt:
Dreams can be a great source of inspiration for your writing. Often, something in a dream can spark an idea for a character, a plot, or even a piece of flash fiction. In honor of our classes this weekend, we're going to help you get started on an idea for your next YA novel or short story.

Make a list of three recurring dream images you have (e.g. a door that is too small for its frame, being on stage in your underwear). Pick one. Now add a sensory detail (smell, taste, sound, touch). Now write for 10 minutes. Start by describing the image and then go into your dream or the dream of your character and make sure to use that sensory detail!

Both Alana and I both have the same recurring dream where we're trying to make a phone call, but something goes wrong, and we can't dial the number. Sometimes the phone doesn't have a keypad, or sometimes we can't get the right numbers to come up. Alana even once had a dream where she tried to make a phone call on a piece of bread. So that's what's she's going to write about!

Write about a recurring dream you've had. Don't forget to share the results of your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class! This is your last chance to enter the March/April contest, and you have until midnight tonight to submit your response. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Writing Prompt: Stupid Things You Did As A Teen

By Marilyn Friedman

It was so busy at Writing Pad last week! On Thursday night, we had a full house at our Short Story Panel with Ben Loory, Mary Otis, and Amelia Gray. It was such an inspiring event! One of my favorite moments was when Ben Loory said that when he submits a story for publication, he tries to remind himself that a rejection letter only means that he's one step closer to getting published. I really admire his positive attitude and will try to remember that when sending out my own work. I'm not going to lie. It's going to be tough!

On Friday, Brian Finkelstein, Courtney Kocak, Juanita Mantz, Kris Crenwledge, and Molly Fite rocked the house at our Storytelling Essay Showcase. Their essays were so funny and moving! What is that I hear? My dear, there's no need to be jealous that you weren't the one dazzling the audience last Friday! You too can learn how to craft a gripping story and perform it flawlessly without notes next Thurs., May 2nd with Brian at Storytelling Bootcamp. He'll teach you how to improv like a pro, have spot-on timing, and seamlessly weave in callbacks while unearthing a new story that you didn't even know was there. Soon, you'll impress even the crankiest judges at The Moth. The last section of this class sold out--so hurry!

Then on Saturday, I got a really bad cold so I missed the LA Times Book Fair and most of the luxurious weekend of writing I'd planned for myself. Boo! But I'm finally recovered after a lot of soup, tea and rest.

Now that I've returned to the land of the fully functioning, I want to invite you to join me this Friday night at Growing Up, Finding Love, Letting Go: Exploring The YA Novel. This event features successful YA novelists Francesca Lia Block (30+ published YA novels incl. “Dangerous Angels” series), Lauren Strasnick (“Nothing Like You”, ALA Quick Pick), Robin Benway (“The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June”, Publisher Weekly’s Starred Reviews), and will be moderated by award-winning children's book writer Antonio Sacre ("My Name Is Cool", CA Readers Book Collections for School Libraries).

Award-winning novelist Francesca Lia Block
Learn how to create believable tales of teenage angst loved by readers of all ages! YA is the hot new genre so it's worth revisiting those painful teenage memories. Besides, the event is only $5 and includes snacks and sangria. The writing prompt at the bottom of this post is inspired by this event.

Below are the latest class offerings, followed by a free writing prompt! It's the last prompt of the month so share a story to be entered into the March/April contest for a free class.

April/May Events:
 Classes Starting May 1 -6:
Emmy-nominated writer and Moth host Brian Finkelstein

Other Classes:

Creative Writing/Multi-Genre
Journalism/Web Writing
Writing For Actors

Writing Prompt:
In honor of our young adult fiction literary panel coming up this week, I wanted to help you to start channeling your inner teenager. Make a list of three stupid things you did as a teenager or kid (or that your fictional character did). Pick one. Now include a sensory detail (e.g. smell, taste, sound, touch). Now write about the stupid thing you did for 10 minutes, making sure to include the sensory detail.

I grew up in a really strict household so I was pretty much a goody two shoes, but I did once take my mother's precious Chrysler Le Baron without her permission to have lunch with a friend. I landed myself in huge trouble because I got caught. How? I overheated the car and was about an hour late picking my Mom up at work. I couldn't call her because this was before the age of cell phones. She was livid. What did you do that you wish you hadn't?

Tell us about a time you did something stupid as a teen or kid. Don't forget to share the results of your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class! It's the last prompt for the March/April comment contest!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing Prompt: Errbody's Getting Tipsy!

By Marilyn Friedman

Thank you to everyone who came out to Writers With Drinks at Tony's Downtown Saloon last Tuesday night! Libations and conversation flowed freely, and it was a smashing success. In fact, today's writing prompt (at the bottom of the post) was inspired by our recent soiree.

If you're looking for more literary inspiration, be sure to check out Writing Pad's short story panel this Thursday, April 18th from 8pm to 9:30 pm, Strange, Comic, Beautiful, and Sad: Reinventing the Short Story with award-winning authors Ben Loory (New Yorker, Best American Short Stories), Mary Otis (Tin House, Best American Short Stories), and Amelia Gray (McSweeney’s, Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize). Learn how to create powerful tales that linger in your readers’ mind and get advice on how to publish both short fiction and story collections. Hope you can join us. It's only $5 and includes snacks and sangria!

And we just added a few new classes to kick off your May writing practice. Do you have a great idea for a memoir? Let bestselling author Brett Paesel show you how to transform your real life stories into lively drama in True Tales: Writing A Compelling Past on Sat., May 4th. Or are you dying to get an essay published in a magazine or newspaper? On Sun., May 5th published essayist Annabelle Gurwitch (More, Marie Claire) will help you to push an essay to the finish line in Personal Essay Punch Up. She'll help you uncover opportunities in your writing and reach surprising revelations. Her feedback and editing methods will blow your mind!

Below are the latest class offerings, followed by a free writing prompt!

April/May Events:
Creative Writing/Multi-Genre
Journalism/Web Writing
Writing For Actors

Writing Prompt:
Sometimes buzzed turns tipsy turns seriously drunk and that's when all bets are off. Write about the first time you or a character got drunk (or a memorable time you got drunk). Before you set off to write:
1. Write down two details about your experience that will show us that your character is drunk (e.g. the room was spinning, all of a sudden, my cheek was on the cold tile floor).
2. Write down a sensory detail that was part of the experience (e.g. smell, taste, sound, touch)

Now write for 10 minutes about this experience without explicitly telling us that your character is drunk. Show us that he or she is drunk by the things he or she is feeling or seeing. Make sure to include a sensory detail (e.g. smell, taste, sound, touch).  

Tell us about your (or a character's) first experience with inebriation. Don't forget to share the results of your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Writing Prompt: Favorite Place To De-stress

By Marilyn Friedman

Sometimes, amidst the never-ending to-do lists and carting myself from Writing Pad East to Writing Pad West in bumper to bumper traffic, I have a moment of clarity and realize, "I NEED TO GET THE HELL OUT OF THIS CITY FOR A MINUTE!"

The passion and creativity of LA is frenetic and contagious, but even the strongest motors need a rest from time to time. Jeff and I just got back from a lovely weekend in the mountains of Idyllwild, one of my favorite places to escape to in Southern California, and that's the inspiration for today's writing prompt (at the bottom of this post).

Also, if you don't have time to do get out of LA this week, you can at least escape from your computer screen for a few hours with us this Tues. night at Writers With Drinks at Tony's Downtown Saloon! It's free, and it's a great way to network with editors and other writers. Tony's and Pizzanista will be offering special literary drinks and pizza slice deals just for us. Hope to see you there.

Below are are the latest class options as well as a free writing prompt. Enjoy! 

April Events:
Creative Writing/Multi-Genre
Journalism/Web Writing
Writing For Actors

Writing Prompt:
Where do you go when the 24-7 connectivity and bill paying and paper pushing take their toll on the primitive part of your brain? How do you unwind? With summer fast approaching, sometimes an afternoon of hiking in the outdoors will erase a week's worth of f-bombs behind the wheel on the 405.

Make a list of three places you go to (or have gone to) to escape the stress of life. Pick one. Write down a sensory detail (smell, taste, sound, touch). Now write for 10 minutes about this place and something that happened there (or an ode to this place), making sure to include the sensory detail. When you are finished, post your story in the comments of this blog!

Where do you go to melt the stress away? Don't forget to share the results of your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Character Creation with Award-winning Author Sherri L. Smith

Whether you want to write the next Twilight or the next Great American Novel, there is an art to creating multi-faceted characters that will draw your readers in from page 1, and Writing Pad has just the author to teach you how.

Sherri L. Smith is the author of five YA novels. The latest, Orleans, hit shelves in early 2013. She is also the author of the award-winning novels Lucy the Giant, Sparrow, Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet, and the California Book Awards Gold Medalist Flygirl, which the Washington Post named best book of the year. Flygirl is also a selection on 14 state reading lists. Lucy the Giant won the ALA Best Books for Young People, the ALA Amelia Bloomer Selection, NY Public Library Book For the Teen Age, Junior Library Guild Selection, Cleveland Public Library Celebrate with Books Selection, Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year, and was a Book Sense 76 pick. Sparrow was a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age selection and a 2009 Louisiana Young Readers' Choice Award Nominee. Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet was a Florida Sunshine State Young Reader Award nominee. Sherri has also written for Bart Simpsons Comics and The Simpsons London Times Sunday Strip.

We sat down with Sherri to get the 411 on how she spins such successful yarns.

You're the author of five novels. Tell us how your process has been refined from book #1 to #5. 

That’s a great question. I’d say my process is mostly the same, except I’ve come to accept it over the course of several books and years. When I started my first novel, I really hadn’t grasped the idea of multiple themes fitting into one story. I was still in a short story mentality. Thankfully, writing that first book taught me much of what I needed to know in order to finish it. After the second book, I recognized my methodology—including the bits of down time that some might call writer’s block. For me it’s a period of germination, when ideas take root and start to grow. The biggest challenge has been learning what to do “in the meantime.” And not beat myself up about the dramatic pause that sometimes crops up between ideas and drafts. Usually something great is waiting on the other end.

Where did you get the inspiration for your new book Orleans, set in post-apocalyptic New Orleans?

The idea for Orleans came from my experience evacuating my mother from New Orleans after Katrina. It was a harrowing time and it took a week to finally get her out. At some point during that week, I read an article about local gangs protecting their neighborhoods when law enforcement had fled the city, which lead me to the idea of tribes. There was a lot of talk of racism in the way the storm was handled––remember Mayor Nagin’s “Chocolate City” comment?––which led me to think of other ways a society could be segregated. In the case of Orleans, it’s by blood type for medical reasons. With all these ideas stewing, one day the main character, Fen, started speaking to me, telling her story. And Orleans was officially born. . .

What would you say is the common thread in your books?

All of my books are about identity and family. From Lucy the Giant to Orleans, my protagonists are struggling to come into their own and find their place in the world. You might call it a coming of age, but that implies a very youth-centric focus. In my experience, we are always continually coming of age, learning to go from infant to child to young adult to adult, spouse, parent, grandparent, senior citizen. Life takes constant adjustment and it’s a lonely journey without loved ones to share it with. That’s the core I always come back to when I write.

Give us a little preview of your upcoming Writing Pad class on drawing story from character and crafting strong heroines. Where do you start when you sit down to work on a new book?

I think it’s going to be an interesting class. I’m hoping we can play with characters, bringing them into the real world. I plan on doing a little character dating, creating online profiles. I also hope to rummage around in the characters’ attics and have students bring in a prized possession, or a guilty pleasure. You can learn a lot from a person’s favorite blanket/pillow/outfit/photo. Why should character building be any different?

When I start to work on a new book, I usually have an image in mind. I’m an outline-based writer (some people just put pen to paper and go). I like to plan my road trip before I start driving. So, with that inciting image as a destination point, I’ll write an outline that gets me there and past it. I’ll check my outline for proper rising action, turning points and climax, and then I start writing. 

You have a BFA in Film and Broadcast Journalism and an MS in Business Administration. What brought you to writing?

I’ve been a writer since I was a little kid. The film degree actually came out of my love of writing. I wanted to learn how to tell a story visually. The MSBA was intended to bolster my film degree. At the time, I wanted to be a producer. I saw that as the best way to make stories happen in the film world. As a result, I worked in film and then animation for several years before cutting out all of the middle men and getting back to basics—just me, an idea, and a blank page.

When you get writer's block, how do you bust out of a slump?

I really hate the term writer’s block. I don’t think it’s possible to simply run out of ideas. It’s more a matter of getting in the way of the best idea. So, when I hit that “dramatic pause” as I said earlier, I take a break. I sleep. Dreaming is a great way to unlock the ideas. I also keep writing, even if it’s junk. And I read a lot. Grab a book, a comicbook, go see movies. Watch TV. Listen to music. Listen to the radio. Somewhere, someone will say the thing you need to hear. I firmly believe the Universe wants you to tell the story. The story wants to be told. It will find a way to come through you. You just have to be open to it, and kind to yourself in the meantime.

Being kind to yourself––so simple, yet so hard for us writers. Thank you so much for sharing your time and wisdom with us, Sherri.

If you want to learn how to craft compelling characters from a pro, the Writing Pad is hosting YA Character Collage: Crafting Your Story from the Outside In with Sherri on May 4th. Sign up today and you'll have your characters singing in no time!

Meet Amy Pengra: A Writing Pad Success Story

As a student, Amy Pengra made full use of Writing Pad as her playground. After taking class with Marilyn Friedman, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, and then performing at Christine Schoewald's personal essay show, Amy landed her piece in the pages of Marie Claire. Her freelance career is off and running and she took some time to tell us about the journey.

Your pathway to publishing your Marie Claire piece was due in part to several Writing Pad instructors. What was the trajectory?

I first worked on a messy draft of my essay “The List” with Marilyn, aka Mrs. Writing Pad, during the 2011 WP retreat in Ojai. She gave me great notes, but for a myriad of reasons I just wasn’t ready to tell that story. I put it away for a while and then dusted it off in one of the three or four (who’s counting?) essay classes I took with Taffy. At the time I was working full-time, so taking classes with assignments kept me on task with my writing. Otherwise, I collapsed in front of the television. 

With Taffy’s sage advice and support I finally elevated the story and hit send. I chose the NY Times Modern Love column where it was rejected, but the note I received was complimentary and encouraging. Around that time I ran into Christine Schoenwald who was a fellow student with me in one of Taffy’s classes (and also a WP instructor). She told me about her spoken word show Pinata where people read essays aloud. I submitted "The List" and later read it on stage. Between Christine’s notes, the experience, and audience feedback, I made yet another edit and then sent it to Marie Claire who bought it pretty quickly. A long and winding trajectory indeed. Moral: sometimes it takes a couple years to tell (and sell) a story. And sometimes it takes a Writing Pad village!

What was your publishing experience prior to landing this piece and how has it changed since? 

I published a short story back in the 90's (remember those?) in a small pub called FATE. Reading it now makes me want to run away and change my name, but at the time I was thrilled. So thrilled in fact, that I took a 16-year publishing break to work in marketing. But I still wrote on the side.

In 2009 I read my essay “First Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” at Spark on Rose, another spoken word show in LA, and then later submitted it to an essay contest. It was ultimately selected and was published in an essay anthology titled “Fits, Starts & Matters of the Heart: True Stories of Love, Loss and Everything in Between,” which I also titled (they had a naming contest as well). Being selected was incredibly exciting and rewarding. And that affirmation reignited my passion for writing and swinging for the publishing fences.

Last fall I left LA (and the job) to focus on writing and freelancing. Two months after making that decision, I sold the story to Marie Claire and have sold three other stories since then: one to xoJane, which came out this week, and two other travel stories to a Canadian website called TravelMindset. I also have a few others in the hopper and continue to fill my essay/pitch pipeline per the TBA Gospel!

What are your essay writing tips for women's magazines?

Find your strength and use it. This goes for essay and idea pitches. I often use humor and wordplay to make titles and pitches interesting to the editor since I know they’re inundated. Even if the idea/essay turns out to be a bust, I figure at least they’ll be entertained before passing. Plus, I try to talk to them in a casual manner – a tone that shows my personality – because that’s also more interesting than a note that sounds too formal or one that’s been cut and pasted 900 times. Also, be sure to check your impatience and sensitivity at the door. Selling an essay can take a lot of time and often includes multiple rejections. You have to keep your chin up and be willing to keep hitting send. Semi-pro tip: tough skinned persistence pays off. 

Thanks, Amy! That's a great mantra.

If you want your freelance career to take off like Amy's, Taffy Brodesser-Akner can set you off on the right foot. She's already helped 26 students get published! Writing Pad has several classes with Taffy this Spring/Summer: