✨IT’S ALL HAPPENING✨ 😭🥳😃🥂 What a dream come true to work with the incredible team at Abrams and editor Maggie Lehrman on my forthcoming YA novel THE VANISHING STATION! A heartfelt thank you to all the amazing friends and family in my life helping me along this writer journey (and especially to Mike for always putting up with my rambling ideas). Cheers to fierce girls, everyday magic and fighting for the people you love 💕 I can’t wait for you to meet Ruby and my magical underworld in the trains beneath San Francisco. There’s no way I would have gotten this book deal without my incredible agent Kerry Sparks (and Rebecca Rodd) at LGR literary agency to gracefully navigate the business world and champion my books. And finally, a shout out to my MUG writing group for their ever-insightful critique notes on the first draft of this project, as well as the Tin House YA Workshop for pairing me with a fabulous group of talented writers and mentor Nova Ren Suma, who all helped me fine-tune my first chapters. Stay tuned for The Vanishing Station in 2023…
Writers in the wild! After over a year cooped up during covid, my MUG writing group finally converged in Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierras for our own little writing retreat. Picture this: gorgeous lakes everywhere you turn, giant ponderosa pines outside our window, hunts for ice cream and icy cold rosé, and a trusty doggie (who put up with our Save the Cat chats). We even found Wild Willy’s natural hot springs, which thankfully was not as rowdy as it sounds (introverted writers, remember?). After Casey and Jenny flew back to Colorado, Taylor and I spent a couple extra days trying not to eat too much cinnamon ice cream (when really, there’s no such thing as too much) and hiking around Lake George, Twin Lakes, TJ Lake–while never once bumping into the 30 or so black bears who inhabit the Mammoth area.
You might ask, did you get any writing done on this writing retreat? Indeed! But after all our makeshift Zoom sessions this year, we all needed a gulp of fresh mountain air to refill our creative well. Casey and Jenny were drafting new manuscripts; Taylor and I were in revision mode; and even though Genevieve couldn’t make it in person, her Zoom presence sparked so many fun ideas. We dove into the craft books Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg and Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. Wild Mind was perfect for free-flowing creativity and inspiration, while Save the Cat was all about plot and structure and all the things I struggle most with. Casey also gave us a wildly insightful plot analysis of Six of Crows for those trying to pull off a heist and multiple POVs. For me, it was the perfect mix!
Check out some trip photos below, and I hope it sparks ideas on ways to refill your creative well! It’s been a long draining year, and you deserve it. Where will your next writing adventure take you?
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:
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!
“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!
What if you could rewrite your world every half century? Redesign the creatures, reassign the rulers, rewrite the book. And what if this magical book was an opera singer with a carousel dress of mythical creatures?
On the way there, I passed a line of children and parents dressed in their Sunday best while a green toad led them toward the carved doors lined in gold. Spiral after spiral of red velvet stairs led me to my red velvet seat in a balcony towering over the entire theater. Peering over the edge, I started to grumble about my lack of binoculars, until the orchestra thumped to life and a white feathered parrot-man boasted a long deep chord of sound. A chorus of hooded glowing women surrounded him along with goat-men on stilts, slithering creatures, and a woman with a massive carousel dress. Instead of whimsical unicorns and winged pegasus creatures, her dress was a carousel of pages twirling with the images of mythical creatures. She was the singing book of life in Enchantia—a book with the power to change the world every fifty years.
A small screen projected lyrics translated into Czech and English. For the most part, it was incredibly difficult to drag my eyes from the amazing stage sets, costumes, and dance performances. Sound became my guiding stick as the National Orchestra powered through every emotion and gesture. The giant marching drums, the slew of violins, cellos, flutes, and chimes, the surprise appearance of modern instruments. It was a classic quest story, and I didn’t need the words.
Like the children in the row in front of me, I propped my elbows along the railing and lurched toward the spectacle bellow. Evil bird-like creatures called Cockatrices stormed the stage with spears intent on rewriting themselves as the rules of Enchantia. Suddenly, a human woman in a white dress was plucked like a daisy from the orchestra as if the fourth wall never existed. Her name was Penelope. Immediately, the opera threw me into an Alice in Wonderland style adventure—a much needed fall into another world.
During four weeks of intense studying and teaching in Prague, I almost completely locked away reading and writing fiction simply because there wasn’t enough time or brainpower leftover. For a whole month, I’ve been re-learning English in a way natives never usually do, all while adjusting and adventuring in a foreign city. Too long has my mind been filled with the laws of grammar, the intricacies of phonology, the preciseness of vocabulary, and the mysteries of Czech language and culture. For me, literature and English language are incomplete without creativity. I needed to return to the Enchanted.
I followed Penelope, Parrot, and Toad on their quest to save the world and defeat the evil Cockatrices. They sang through perilous seas, swam with mermaids, fought werewolves, escaped dang dungeons, and jumped through mythological realms. The costumes and stage sets were clouds of imagination brought to life—flapping, glowing, slithering, spinning, splashing. Humans became creatures, and the audience became Penelope plucked from the orchestra stage. And then, when the red velvet curtains slid shut, I was still Penelope, eager to return to my Enchanted world of writing, eager to rewrite my own book.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.