MUG Writing Retreat: Mammoth Lakes

Writers in the wild! After over a year cooped up during covid, our 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?

Catch you next time, lovelies! 
XOXO Andrea

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Spring Mini Writing Retreat 2021

Though our initial plan—an extensive event in Texas—was derailed (again) by the pandemic, we made the most of Aleese’s visit to Santa Barbara. Reading and writing and mimosas with fresh-squeezed orange juice. Sunset on the upstairs deck with the ocean in the distance on one side and the mountains on the other. Speculative fiction discussions and a snoozy dog (who was very patient with all of our sitting and not-playing-with-her antics).

I’m feeling good about the progress I made brainstorming with my lovely CPs and rereading the full manuscript of my current WIP while taking notes on what I need to fix. Some parts of my MS feel like all they need is a bit of tweaking, while others feel like they need A LOT of work. I loved Joanna Ruth Meyer‘s vlog “How to Revise Your Novel (Without Breaking It)” at WriteOnCon this year, and I’m excited to use her suggestions. Who knew being a novelist would involve spreadsheets?

Back when I first decided to start writing seriously, I had a lot of friends who wanted to be supportive but also didn’t understand what pursuing a writing career takes.

“Come out with us,” they would say. “You can write some other time, right? You can write any time.” Over the years, I’ve learned to protect my writing time, to juggle it in when necessary, to choose between going out with friends and staying home to write. While this is just part of being a writer (lately made easier by all the Zooming), and I still enjoy adventures, I am infinitely grateful to have dear friends who are also writing buddies. People who also think reading is fun. People who want to socialize together and also write together. People I can talk shop with. People who push me to sit down and focus on my projects when the easy thing would be to avoid them for just one more day.

Here’s to next year in TX with the full crew!

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Tin House Workshop: Congrats, Andrea!

During my first short story class in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program many years ago, my instructor introduced us to the idea of literary journal tiers. Dealer’s choice, he said, whether to start at the top and work your way down, or vice versa. Weigh reputability with how much rejection you’re willing to take. The lowest tier might include online-only literary journals that haven’t been around long. Mid-tier includes print journals backed by universities. And top tier? The dream: places even the best writers are stoked to get into, such as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, McSweeney’s, and Tin House.

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The Tin House umbrella spans much more than the literary magazine, but all this to say that when Andrea told me she’d been accepted to a Tin House workshop, I was ecstatic.

“Have you heard of Tin House?” she wanted to know. Have I heard of Tin House?!

Andrea virtually attended the 2021 Tin House Fiction Workshop and studied with Nova Ren Suma (whose books have been in my TBR pile longer than I care to admit, but now of course have jumped to the top).

A wonderful thing about being in a writing group with people committed to growing their craft is the way they share what they learn. One of my favorite exercises Andrea brought back from her experience was a prompt about developing a Character Wound, something Nova defines as “emotional trauma from your character’s past that defines who they are today.” At JC’s suggestion, we tried reading aloud what we’d written—which can be a great exercise for revision as well as prep for giving readings (who isn’t terrified by those?).

Wishing Andrea a very belated congratulations, and thanks for propelling us along!

novaren.com

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JC Peterson’s New Author Website: Modern Rom-Coms for Bookish Readers

Have you seen author JC Peterson’s newly designed website? No, you haven’t? Go ahead, I’ll wait while you savor this decadent caramel sea salt cookie of an author’s website: www.jcpetersonwrites.com

Not only does it make me crave a cup of perfectly steeped Earl Gray tea, but it also captures JC Peterson’s voice in all the best ways. Her delightful sarcasm, her strong whip-smart girls, her love of modern day Pride & Prejudice romances. I’ve had the pleasure of reading JC’s chapters before her forthcoming novel BEING MARY BENNET will be published by HarperTeen in winter ’22, and let me tell you that her website does a marvelous job of setting up reader expectations. Behold:

copyright of JC Peterson

Believe me, this is no easy task (at least not for bookish writers like myself who wish the world would be satisfied with an endless stream of puppy pictures rather than make her pitch novels on Twitter). But, JC’s newly designed website taught me how important it is to know thyself–in the author sense. It reminded me how engaging and helpful it is for readers when you distill your unique author voice into curated text and illustrations. While scrolling, I wanted to chase down each little cookie crumb. It helped me get to know the real JC Peterson–author, mother, rom-com maven–and I hope you find her writing as delightful as I do!

PS: Add her forthcoming novel BEING MARY BENNET on Goodreads too

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Please Welcome New Member JC!

When I posted to the SCBWI Rocky Mountain critique match listing, I hoped we’d get queries from advanced, dedicated writers. As this group has developed over the years, some of my top requirements have become commitment, consistency, and quality. Of the applications we received, JC’s stood out. Her trial period has been smooth, and when I reached out to the rest of the group to see about making her membership official, agreement was hearty and unanimous.

I emailed: I think JC’s awesome and want her in.

from Aleese: I’m all in for JC! Let’s make it official! 

from Andrea: ABSOLUTELY YES to JC! No doubts!!

There you have it. We love her writing voice and style, and she’s already provided a ton of valuable feedback on our work. Check her out on Insta @jcpwrites and Twitter @JenC_P.

JC, welcome. We are thrilled to have you.

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The Serious Business of Writing

from the dreamy Insta of @aleeselin

Writer meetups are a crapshoot. You never know what kinds of people you might meet or if anyone will stick. If there will be any other serious writers, or if it’ll be mostly hobbyists and people who “always wanted to write a book.” I go for the energy that comes from being in a room full of people creating away, which makes my own words flow. If I happen to meet a real writing buddy, that’s a bonus. 

What makes a serious writer? I’ve met people at NaNo events who have “won” seven times. 350,000 words. That’s pretty serious. And yes, you need a passion for producing words. Requirement one? You must put the proverbial pen to paper. When I’m looking for critique partners, I also seek people who are dedicated to the craft long-term and want to share their work with the world. Serious writers know that revision IS writing, and writing is a business. 

Sure, raw talent and a background in literature and teaching don’t hurt. So when I met Aleese at a writing Meetup in Denver, it was love at first write. (That was terrible. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.) Let’s just say we clicked, and it has been a wonderful whirlwind of brainstorming, commiserating, and writing ever since. I’m thrilled to have her as a CP, member of MUG, hiking and writing buddy, and fellow serious writer. Not only has Aleese been juggling several novels and having to choose between revising current WIPs and the next shiny idea, as writers often do, but she’s also been hard at work developing her author website. And because it’s true, friends, that the business of writing involves social media, Aleese also has a beautifully curated Instagram (@aleeselin) full of a few of my favorite things: writing, nature, and food. (And the occasional cat.) 

They’re up. They’re gorgeous. Go check ’em out.


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Writing from the Armpit

A reflection on origin stories and literary craft

ORIGIN STORY

When I was in high school, I lived in Houston, Texas, the armpit of America. Only in Houston can you have 100% humidity, 100 degree weather, 100 AQI, and 100 minutes of rush hour traffic run together without meriting extraordinary comment from the locals.

While I guess I should’ve taken time to appreciate the humor in the absurdity of that city’s perpetual existence, back then, I wanted to take after the great romantic poets whose writing I adored, and whose lifestyles seemed to be even more worthy of admiration. They seemed to have everything I wanted. In their diaries and poetry, they told stories of pressing against the sharp edges of cliffs, and wandering through daffodil and marmot-filled vales, and stumbling into the sea spray of crashing waves. They watched lightning spill out over lakes and emerged from the experience radiant with literary genius.

Unfortunately, the most beautiful, fantastical sights I observed in my daily life were as follows:

– highly reflective puddles

– birds perched on telephones wires during sunset

– flower gardens (but only viewed from indoors, to avoid the mosquitoes)

– flawlessly applied eyeliner

It’s no wonder that a dearth of readily available, deeply provocative and beautiful moments in nature inspired me to become a fantasy author. After all, what’s more escapist than running off to an utterly different world?

The need to salvage even the most trace beauty from my surroundings is something I’ve taken with me wherever I’ve lived since–including definitively gorgeous locales such as Japan, Hawaii, and Colorado. As far as my writing process goes, the impact of my escapist origin story is firm, too: I typically begin crafting my stories by building a deep connection with my setting. The characters and the plot always follow from there, but it is the place that gives them power, and the beauty that I see there–especially when that beauty is escaping from ugliness.

In this way, art imitates life.

CRAFT

Nowadays, as a writer and full-time creative, I can’t stub my toe against a book, a movie, even a video game without spinning into literary critique mode: What kind of story did I just run into? I think; What kind of themes, plots, character arcs, and messages are being promised to me? How intentionally is the author folding all these things together in order to make the story rich and meaningful? 

This is not how I used to be.

The hyper-sharp skill set I gained from my teenage years, desperate to observe anything and everything that could bring me a glimmer of beauty and joy, now is my bane. When I read new books, seeking out beauty, I read everything like an editor. I pause to write notes when I notice how foreshadowing is being used to create a plot twist; I fall out of the story if the transition is too good as opposed to being too awkward.

Can writers appreciate the beauty in fiction and yet still find escape in it? In other words, can they consistently and completely compartmentalise that side of themselves?

Catherine Drinker Bowen tragically and wonderfully, said, “Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences every thing twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.”

What if striving after bettering our craft does stymie our escape through literature?

Perhaps this is why we need to keep writing, not reading—because we are not only writing our character’s way out of trouble, but we’re writing our own way out, as well.

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Humor – Catch 22

Let’s look at a novel you probably read in high school…

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Catch 22 is an antiwar novel published in 1961. Though it takes place in WW2, the novel is a satire of postwar America, which was at the time waging a bloody and stupid war in Korea.

Let’s look at chapter 1. We meet the protagonist, Yossarian, in the hospital, where he is heroically pretending to be sick to avoid doing his job.

https://www.npr.org/books/titles/141265969/catch-22#excerpt

  1. The novel has a reality that veers from horrifying to cartoonishly silly. Why do we accept it? How does he introduce this world, and its strange rules?
  2. Yossarian is a coward, in a war we culturally think of as heroic. Do we like him, regardless? Why?
  3. Do you use humor or satire in your work? How, and why? To lighten the mood, to make us like a certain character, to connect to the reader, etc.? How is Heller using it, here?
  4. This is a novel obsessed with paradoxes, in its characters, dialogue, plot, and even structure. Which ones stand out to you? What purpose do these paradoxes serve?

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“Medium Warp” by Mike Oliphant

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This week, we’re reading Mike Oliphant’s “Medium Warp: Excerpt’s of a Digital Consciousness,” which was recently published in Thin Air Magazine.  Full disclosure, Oliphant is a MUG alum, and it’s fantastic seeing his work out in the world! “Medium Warp” is a very experimental hybrid poetry/fiction piece, so take time to let the story sink in:
Also, Oliphant did an interview with Thin Air Magazine, which might help give context to his flash piece:
“Carmen Maria Machado dubbed herself a ‘form vampire,’ a title which very much resonates with me. Once I have a form in mind, that’s where research comes in. If I want to write a user agreement for the universe and everything in it, then I need to research what one looks like, what language it uses and why.”

 

  • What’s this story about? How does Oliphant use form to enhance content?
  • Humans will always tell stories. With the evolution of fiction in our digital/internet/coding world, how do you see stories presented in the future?
  • Did this hybrid piece give you any inspiration on ways to play with form in your own writing? Or possibly ideas for crossing boundaries between genres or other forms?

 

Mike Oliphant received his MFA at Western Washington University, and is Consulting Editor of the Bellingham Review. A portion of his collection Medium Warp was the recipient of the 2018 Gas Station Prize. He was a 2017 Pushcart Nominee and his short fiction and poetry are either forthcoming or have appeared in Isthmus, Psaltery & Lyre, IDK Magazine, Shooter Literary Magazine, NANO Fiction, and elsewhere.

 

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“Why Your Mother Can’t Drive” by Cinelle Barnes (For Aug 8 Meeting)

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“Why Your Mother Can’t Drive” is an essay written by Cinelle Barnes, a Filipino American writer. The Buzzfeed link on her website description reads: “Barnes explores why she does not drive… and explains how her past informs her present.”

Barnes is also author of Monsoon Mansion: A Memoir, which chronicles her experiences growing up in the Philippines, living in New York City as an undocumented immigrant, getting married, and completing her MFA.

1. In an interview with the Charleston City Paper, Barnes says she wants readers to feel like they’re “drowning a bit” when they read her book. Does she attempt this in her essay? Did you feel like drowning? How does she accomplish this?

2. The start of the essay is generic and can apply to any mother or any race and ethnicity. As the story progresses, she gives specifics and drops hints of her childhood trauma. Is this effective in keeping readers engaged? Starting generic and moving onto specifics?

3. What is the purpose of the refrain, “Your other can’t drive?” Does it help the rhythm and pacing of the story or does it get mundane?

4. Stories of trauma are hard to read. Was this hard to read? What made you finish it?

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