This has been an amazing week. I have LOVED conducting these interviews and introducing you to writers “on the brink.” (the good kind…no precipices here!!)
Today, for my last interview of the week, please welcome Cindy Faughnan to the booth. Cindy is a good friend and my co-founder and organizer of the Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College.
So first, tell us a little about yourself and your writing life. How long have you been writing?
I can’t really remember not writing. Since the day my second grade teacher read my story “Marie’s Little Man” to the class, I’ve thought of myself as a writer. Sometimes more successfully than others! In seventh grade, I filled notebooks (and I mean filled—when the notebook was filled, the story was done.) with stories featuring my glass dog collection and the characters from Star Trek (separate notebooks! The glass dogs never met Captain Kirk or Spock.)
In high school I wrote a murder mystery novella that had an actual ending (not just the end of the notebook). I still remember where I was and the day that I finished. I wrote (and illustrated!) a few picture books and wrote a series of short stories in the years that followed. I was afraid to try another novel for a long time.
About ten years ago, as my two children grew up and gave me a little more free time, I decided it was time to get serious about writing again. I needed some recertification credits, so decided to take a correspondence course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. As I became braver, I signed up for the novel writing course.
Finally, bravest of all, I applied and was accepted to Vermont College of Fine Arts in the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program. It was the best experience I’ve ever had. The instructors are smart and helpful, my classmates are wonderful, and the learning that happens in lectures, workshops, and sitting in the dorm is amazing. The total immersion for the ten days of residency really does something for the writing soul.
Since Vermont College, I have revised (multiple times) the two manuscripts I wrote in the program and begun a new one. I have kept up with writing almost every day and keep in touch with many people I met in the program.
Is there a book that has changed the way you look at writing?
There are lots of books that changed the way I look at writing. I think most books do in some way. Sometimes it’s just noticing the way an author said something or how she made a character move out of a room. Or maybe it’s how a difficult topic was handled or something technical such as thoughts in italics or quotation marks. Then there are the things that surprise me and make me go back to figure out how it was done.
That is so true. Sometimes, when I’m reading, I have to stop and admire what the writer has done with words. What advice can you offer to other aspiring writers?
A lot. Read all kinds of things—different genres, books for different ages, magazines, newspapers, websites. Start noticing who publishes the books you read. Talk to other people about what you read. The best thing to do is find someone else who has read the book—another writer or a librarian. I talk with my youth librarians in both my school and town libraries all the time. And the workers at the town bookstore. Sometimes they call me when they’ve read a new book they think we should discuss. Build that kind of relationship with other readers.
So smart! And fun.
Write every day. It doesn’t have to be much. It doesn’t have to be on your current project (although if you really want to finish something, it helps to work on the same thing every day.)
Figure out what works for you for a goal and stick with it. Maybe it’s fifteen minutes a day or a certain word count. I make a really small word count (200 words) for myself every day. Even when work has been awful, dinner took more energy than I had left, and my eyes feel like they’re slamming shut, I can manage 200 words. I’ve written the first drafts of two complete novels that way. Whatever you choose to do, don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work every day. Adjust and stay positive.
This week, we’ve talked a lot about writing schedules and the writing habit. It sounds crazy, but even if you only have five minutes a day, it will work.
Find a writing buddy or two or three to check in with.
It helps keep you honest, and if you’re lucky the buddy can give you great feedback. Plus it gives you someone to talk to who understands what you’re going through or what it means to wait six months for a response or that you’re excited about a “nice” rejection. I belong to three different groups—one in person group that meets once a month, one online critique group that critiques a different person each week, and a small personal group that checks in every day. I don’t know what I’d do without each one of them.
Get involved. Join SCBWI and help out with local events. I’ve helped several times at the New England conference. And our retreat is amazing! We’ve been lucky to organize it.
Yes it is!! I agree! (Email either one of us if you want to know more!)
Being involved is a great way to meet new people, to network, and to continue learning about the craft of writing. Networking can open up opportunities.
And, did I say read? Really, I think it’s the most important thing you can do.
Tell us about your current project.
I am working on an upper middle grade story. SHELDON is the story of seventh grader Sheldon Barkley who is tired of being picked on. He devises the perfect plan to thwart his tormentors: he will write a threatening note in the bathroom and make sure it is blamed on the worst culprit. Events don’t work out quite that nicely, and Sheldon winds up getting caught and suspended. When another bomb threat appears, the administration is quick to pin the blame on Sheldon even though he is innocent. Sheldon realizes that he has lost the trust of the principal, teachers, and even his dad. His dad sends him away to his aunt’s house in Texas where he must deal with his crusty aunt, his burly truck-driver cousin, and the neighbor girl, Tina, who makes the Energizer bunny look calm. These three characters help him to gain the wisdom to deal with his dad and teach him to respect himself.
Sheldon moved closer to his open locker and made his body as small as possible. Another inch and he would be inside. He could fit. He was probably the only kid in the whole seventh grade who would fit. If he climbed inside, maybe he could hide until the halls cleared. Maybe he could miss Travis this one time. He moved some books inside the locker and pretended that he needed something.
The press of people lightened as students left the hall for their classes. Sheldon picked up his geography text and notebook. He carefully closed his locker door.
And froze. Behind the door Travis leaned against the lockers.
Sheldon looked up and down the hallway for a teacher. Two kids from his class hurried by. They glanced at him and looked away.
Travis wasn’t alone. Michael and Colin stood nearby. Travis held out his hand. “Sheldon, got a pen?”
“Sure.” Sheldon turned back to his locker and fumbled with the combination. It was hard to keep the numbers hidden from the prying eyes behind him.
Finally he got it opened. He dug through the pile of notebooks and loose papers until he found a pen.
“Here,” he said, keeping one hand on the pile in his locker so it didn’t spill out onto the floor.
Travis looked up and down the hallway. A few groups of students still talked and laughed. He looked at the pen in Sheldon’s hand, then hit it across the hall.
Thanks for wrapping up my week, Cindy. I LOVE this new beginning....and I know we will all be reading more about Sheldon soon!!!
And thanks to everyone who read and chimed in this week.
CELEBRATE the process....
READ. And WRITE. Every day. That's the life!!