Nashville Madcap Retreat: Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop

I’m going mad.

New job, new apartment, new manuscript. I’ve hardly had a minute to catch up and reflect. Over the years, my blog has been my mini-museum of life-changing writing retreats and milestones. I finally have enough of a breather to reflect on an incredible writing retreat I attended in March 2018. Holy cow, has it really been three months?

At the Madcap Writing Cross-Culturally Retreat in Nashville, Tennessee, I had the unbelievable opportunity to delve deep into writing with authors Laurie Halse Anderson, Marie Lu, Dhonielle Clayton, Zoraida Córdova, Tessa Gratton, S. Jae-Jones, Sarah Nicole Lemon, and Natalie C. Parker.   Stop.   Go back, read that lineup again. I couldn’t ask for a more talented, fierce, and diverse set of YA authors to learn from. And the fact was, they were all very open about how they’re still learning how to write respectfully and authentically across cultures. It made for the kind of retreat that broke down walls and opened up windows into new perspectives.

Not only were the faculty stellar, but the cohort of writers came from all over the US from all different backgrounds. It was inspiring to see such a range of perspectives in the mini-mansion tucked away in the Tennessee woods. And we slept in bunk beds. And I ate more grilled cheese than I have in way too long. I don’t want to make this sound like a fairy tale (okay, it was seriously a fairy tale); however, at the same time, we all dug deep into our own uncomfortable truths surrounding race, privilege, sexism, respect, and authenticity. These are generally topics people try to avoid around the dinner table. It was heartening to come together to talk about these issues in our own writing (and in the overall publishing industry) without heated arguments or defensiveness. It was an open conversation. And I learn so so much. I’m still in processing-mode, so I know there will be follow-up posts. But for now:

 

madcap retreat group photo

 

 

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#madcaprt #yalit #amwriting

The Mugsters in Seattle

Twice a year, my writing group (aka the Mugsters) throws our own writing retreat. This year, we chose Seattle because Mike started his MFA program in Washington, and most of my writing group lives in Southern California where we’ve forgotten the feel of rain clouds, and we’re all a little leery about that mysterious liquid falling from the sky.

The four of us rented a quirky house on Airbnb in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle. We chugged Tin Umbrella coffee (aptly titled “Chase Your Dreams” blend), we meandered through a bookstore/brewery/restaurant called Third Place Books (brilliant idea!), we met up with other writing friends in Seattle, and we were ambushed by Tilly cat, the apparent feline homeowner of our little house. We maybe wrote a little. The thing is, our “writing retreat” has always been a way for us to connect beyond our manuscripts and our blinking computer screens. We come together to laugh and commiserate and inspire and fling ideas around like the lucky little tribe we’ve become.

We’re still puzzled by the mysterious liquid falling from the sky, but unfortunately it did not follow us home.

Mugsters group photo

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YA Winner of the SCBWI Los Angeles Writer’s Day 2016 Contest!

SCBWI LA Writers Day 2016 YA Winner

When I showed up at the SCBWI LA Writer’s Day 2016 conference, my biggest worry was beating Los Angeles traffic in time to catch a seat and a sip of coffee before the editors, authors, and agents began their talk. I had no idea I’d win an award for my YA work-in-progress titled Blanca and the Ruins! Fortunately, I was decked out in my orange stripy dress (now forever my lucky dress) and cowboy boots when they called me on stage. Of course, they didn’t announce my name first. Instead they led with my story, and all I could think while I was sitting in the audience was–oh my god–I hope that’s mine! Very surreal moment. Thank you SCBWI for this amazing opportunity!


Here’s what the judges said:

“Sparkling with humor and a strong sense of place, Blanca and the Ruins is the first-place winner about a fiery and passionate young woman living in San Francisco. Blanca is determined not to inherit the family curse of becoming a nurse. She wants to pursue her artistic passion, but when she sneaks out to draw one night in Dolores Park, she crosses paths with a bleeding boy who needs her help. Once he gets hold of her hand neither of them is able to let go, and Blanca’s life takes the turn she has been resisting. Writer Andrea Ellickson leaves us wondering what will end in ruins – Blanca’s future or her dreams?”


Also, I won a copy of The Rattling Wall, an LA based literary journal with gorgeous gruesome cover art by Kristina Collantes. (Did I mention lucky orange dress?) Can’t wait to crack open the pages!

The Rattling Wall SCBWI

#scbwi
#lawd16
#mswl

“Writing on the Edge” with Jillian Lauren

For five days at the AROHO Retreat, a successful author, poet, or playwright mentored small groups of students. My mentor was Jillian Lauren, author of the memoir Some Girls: My Life in a Harem and the novel Pretty. She’s also a talented spoken word storyteller for The Moth, and an overall rockin’ lady.

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Our small group sessions focused on “Writing on the Edge.” How do you make all the atrocities you see in the news everyday still seem fresh and engaging? How do you write about sex, drugs, and rock & roll without sounding like a cliché?

Jillian shared some insightful tips. Forget about shocking topics. It’s all about the ride the narrator takes you on. And how the narrator takes you on that ride.

Your narrator should:

  • Have an authentic and powerful voice. Easy, right?
  • Inspire empathy in the reader.
  • Share experiences that are relatable. Or somehow make them relatable.
  • Convey an organizing insight. What revelation will the reader walk away with when the pages are done?
  • Have a specific way of observing/interpreting life and show that in every scene and detail.

We read excerpts from Permanent Midnight, The Kiss, and You Got to Burn to Shine, and examined how the author accomplished this. She gave us a fantastic arsenal of writing book recommendations like Writing from the Body, The Tools, and Writing Down the Bones.

Jillian also led us through yoga, meditation, and writing freewrites so that we could dive into our own bodies and the hidden parts of our minds. A couple of her prompts kept me up writing late into the night with only moths for company.

"Writing on the Edge" Group with Jillian Lauren at Abiquiu Lake (Photo Credit: Rachel Schwerin)

“Writing on the Edge” Group with Jillian Lauren at Abiquiu Lake (Photo Credit: Rachel Schwerin)

In one particularly difficult session, we explored our “Shadow” selves—a Carl Jung archetype that is the worst part of ourselves. It’s everything that we don’t want the world to see. As you can imagine, it was agonizing to conjure up this image and translate it to the page. But, in order to write on the edge, we have to connect to this part of ourselves.

During our farewell sessions, we burned notes to our Shadows, massaged them into red clay shapes, and spent a day at Abiquiu Lake jumping in, Shadows and all. In the cool waves and on the scorching rock slabs, the wind pestered us for secrets waiting for release. We told them true.

The World is My Bedroom: Insights from the 2013 AROHO Writing Retreat

Rustic adobe casitas tucked into the stunning Ghost Ranch landscape

A Room of Her Own: adobe casitas tucked into the stunning Ghost Ranch landscape

Even though we shared rustic adobe cells with roommates at the 2013 A Room of Her Own (AROHO) Writing Retreat, the week-long oasis in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico gave us new insight into the idea of a room of one’s own.

Let’s face facts, there are things you would do in your own bedroom that you wouldn’t dare do anywhere else. Practice a tutorial on the latest twerking dance move. Examine the birthmark inconveniently placed under your right butt cheek. Perfect the special blend of awe, excitement, and humbleness when they announce your Noble Prize in Literature. “Talk” to the ever persistent characters in your novel.

You know, the usual.

But at the AROHO writing retreat, over one hundred women were able to dive into the deep dark of writing as well as the bright blinding inspiration. We were able to take our art seriously and hilariously while supporting an entire community of talented writers. With full days of “dessert delights,” “mind stretches,” author readings, midday siestas, and wine buzzed receptions, we connected with every sort of writer. Throw purple feathers out of your bra; talk to the muses in your haunted house mind; meditate to the place where That Which Cannot Be Written hides; or just gaze at the 360 degree landscape that takes your breath away at every angle. As a teenager, I pinned art and photographs all over my walls as portals into the surreal landscape of my mind. Ghost Ranch’s red rock canyons, dusty trails, and natural grandeur were a surreal Georgia O’Keeffe painting made real.

View from the top of Chimney Rock, overlooking the area surrounding Ghost Ranch

View from the top of Chimney Rock, overlooking the area surrounding Ghost Ranch

The world became my bedroom. And my bedroom became the world.

Now, stay on track; keep your head out of sexy time and pajamas. When I say “bedroom,” I’m talking space, openness, and inspiration. I’m talking freedom to be exposed only as you would in your own room. Instead of the isolation and imagination that writers tend to work in, we shared a space to explore new ideas and connections.

Over the next few blog posts, I will share my revelations from every day of the retreat as Janet Fitch, Jillian Lauren, Evie Shockley, Ellen McLaughlin, Diane Gilliam, Mary Johnson, Bhanu Kapil and many many other talented writers guided me. Join me for pillow talk sessions in a room that’s all our own.

AROHO's Inspiration: Virginia Woolf and the Generations of Women Writers to Come After Her

AROHO’s Inspiration: Virginia Woolf and the generations of writers to come after her