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Friday, December 23, 2011

Scratch This Off My Bucket List

     A few weeks back, I attended a writing group that I've been part of since at least the early 2000s. Not much had been happening in my writing life recently, short of getting used to my new editor's management and communication preferences at Reading Today.  I had started a new novel, but even this work was going slowly. And while I was still in the "infatuation" period, it wasn't anything I felt comfortable talking about just yet.
     Nothing traumatic. Nothing terribly exciting. Just the daily grind. Add to that the dull, dreary, continual rainy weather we'd been having, and you can guess my general outlook.
    I left the meeting a little early that evening, as I had much to do the next day and was hoping to get a good night's sleep. When I arrived home, my wife told me I needed to check my email. Kent Brown from Highlights for Children had called and asked for me. When he found out I wasn't home, he asked if my email was still the same, and then said he'd contact me there. I didn't have anything out to Highlights at this time, so I assumed it was about something of mine they'd previously published. If you're a writer, you may think getting a call like this would set off the adrenaline pump. But if you've have ever worked with Highlights for Children, you know that personal contact is the norm, not the exception. They really do run their operation differently.
    My email did have a note from Kent -- one I wasn't expecting. Kent wanted to know if I'd be interested in being part of the Founders Workshop faculty for one of the session. Needless to say, I had to read that line 4 or 5 times before it actually registered what he was asking.
   Of course, once I'd whooped and hollered, hugged my wife, kids, dog (and one cat, the other would have caused a bigger scene than I was making), I emailed back with a definitive YES!
   I've since learned Patti Lee Gauch is heading up the workshop with Robert J. Blake, Jillian Sullivan, with special guests Joy Cowley and Peter Jacobi. What an incredible line-up! And quite humbling to consider that my name is among theirs for this workshop. There's still a part of me that thinks I'm attending, not facilitating.
  I'd been to the Chautauqua Workshop (2004) in New York and a Founders Workshop in Honesdale, PA(2007). Both were amazing experiences, professionally and personally. I'd made friends, contacts, and eventually got my Reading Today position because Pat Broderick, my mentor at Chautauqua, happened to know my love of books AND the editor of this periodical. I made lasting friendships, and many of these people have gone on to publish their work in various venues. Some have even won national awards. In addition to this, I've had the privilege of working with Highlights for Children on two articles, and I couldn't have asked for better treatment.
  So it's no wonder I had "Be a part of the Chautauqua or Founders Workshops faculty some day" on my bucket list. I wanted to know what it was like to be on the "other side." What I didn't think was that it would come so soon. While my books have been to a few acquisition meetings, and my writing gets personal responses from editors, I'm still chasing that elusive book contract. "Some day," I kept telling myself, "I"ll get that contract, and maybe, just maybe, I'll give Kent a hint that I'm always available as a last minute sub -- just in case."
  It turns out, someone else was bending his ear about me, and he was listening. In June 2012, I'll be able to cross this off my bucket list.
  The class is called Master's Class in Fiction Writing for Children and Young Adults. It's one of three new workshops offered at the Honesdale location in lieu of Chautauqua. The Foundation has built its own facilities and lodging on Myer family homestead and will be able to offer the same outstanding workshops there at a more manageable cost to the participants. 
  I strongly encourage anyone who has ever considered trying one of these workshops to go for it. There scholarships funds available, if cost is an issue.
  You won't regret your decision. It is definitely worth it.

 Personal attention. These workshops are intensive, but the amount of one-on-one time you get with so many professionals in your field is amazing. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, you are with the faculty. These people make themselves available to you all through the day. Just one lunch listening to Patti Lee Gauch talk about writing is worth more than the cost of the whole conference. Believe me. I've seen her in action.

Great workshops no matter what level you are on. From beginners to intermediates, to experienced writers, these workshops offer something for everyone. The workshops cover all aspects of writing from plot, to character, to revision, to marketing. It's all there, and you can tailor it to your needs.

Critiques. You get a formal critique with a one-on-one conference, but there are so many opportunities throughout the workshop to get informal advice and share your work with other attendees.

Great keynotes.  Since this is new, I don't know exactly how this will work, but I've seen these people talk to a large group. It's always a treat.

Meet the Highlights and Boyds Mills Staff. The offices are just a few miles down the road. I'm sure they'll be stopping in. They wouldn't  pass up a chance at Marcia's cooking. (see below).

Build contacts/make friends. No one leaves without at least one email address, phone number, address, or Facebook friend. There's something magical that happens at these workshops. Perhaps it's a shared purpose, or maybe it's the sharing of writing and meals. Whatever it is, many of these relationships last well beyond the week you are there. 

The food. No, seriously. If Marcia is cooking, you're in for a treat.

The price. It's a steal, really.
     1. Consider what you pay for a "day" workshop. It really isn't a whole day, is it?. Often it's over at 2 or 3
          p. m. When Highlights says it's a full day, they mean it. Multiply that by 7, because it's a full week, not
          just one day.
     2. Add to that lodging for the week. What would you pay for a hotel room for a whole week?
     3  Food. That's included. We're not talking box lunches with a meager turkey sandwich, some
         macaroni salad, and soggy cookie . These are meals prepared by a real chef. A week's worth of meals.
         How much would that cost?
     4. Critiques. Most conferences charge extra for this. Here, it's included.
     5. Access to faculty. Most conferences shield the guest speakers/keynotes from attendees. Here, that
         won't happen. You get access to them all day long. Formally and informally. This in itself is priceless.
     6. The unexpected. Kent Brown and the Highlights Foundation crowd always throw in a surprise or two.
         They're always invaluable and memorable. 

      While the Highlights Foundation (or any writing organization for that matter) can't promise you that you'll be published, I'd be willing to bet their percentages of former attendees who have done so is quite high. There are many people from the year I attended who are now published. I suspect it's because serious writers know they need education to go along with talent. But I also suspect it's because these serious writers get the opportunity to work with seasoned professionals in the field and learn to avoid many of the pitfalls that writers make on the journey. Maybe it's time for you to take that next step too. I've never regretted my decision to attend either workshop. And it's paid off for me, once again. I get to cross this off my bucket list.

Needless to say, once everything sank in, the adrenaline pump went into overdrive that night. A good night's sleep was out of the question -- but I'm not complaining. Not one bit.

Keep writing.


  1. Dave, you will be a great addition to the line-up. And you're right. It is an awesome experience. A value, even if you pay full price!

  2. Melanie here! I enjoyed this piece, please email me--I have a question about your blog. MelanieLBowen[at]gmail[dot]com

  3. Dave, thanks so much for this post. I read it in January and have just returned from my first Founder's Workshop at the Highlights Foundation. Actually, that's not true. I haven't returned yet; I'm still in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre airport.

    The experience was amazing. I hope I can thank you for this post in person at Bookaholics on Tuesday!