Lake Houses and Community

Retreat Instagram

Gold leaves danced on the brisk air and dropped into the lake, drawing rings in the reflected sunrise…

I just spent the weekend at a writing retreat in rural Illinois. It was beautiful, quiet, and serene (everything that Los Angeles is not). It was a much needed break from the honking of traffic and the rush of urban life.

This retreat was also filled with the most important writers in the world. The most important writers in the world to me.

This group of writers aren’t published (yet), they aren’t fancy speakers and teachers (yet), they’re my friends. They’re VCFA Dystropians, and the life long support system I created at graduate school. These are the most important people in my writing life, and I’m not sure I would keep writing without them.

Dystropian Retreat

I could gush and gush and gush about this weekend… the inspiration, the laughter, the food, the writing time, but…

My amazing friend, Ellar Cooper, has already summed up the weekend with words of such beauty and grace, I would simply mar the experience by trying to say it any other way. So, please read her awesome blog post, Emboldened, about the importance of community and sharing.

We all need a writing community!


Designing Principle #4: Community

DP 2_Community

Some stories are not about a single protagonist. Sometimes a group or community becomes the larger focus. Using a community as a designing principle is the fourth category in this series.

Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Struasser explores the complexity of a school shooting and could have been told from POV of the shooter, or a friend of the shooter, or a teacher. Instead Struasser lets an entire community tell this story: friends, parents, teachers, students, etc. In so doing, a portrait of the shooters and the events is constructed by the reader through snippets, interviews, and emails. The structure unveils the fragmentation and chaos of the event itself, and how hard it is to find a single truth of an event or person.

Helen Frost’s verse novel Keesha’s House also creates a portrait of a community, but in a different way. The story follows eight protagonists who become homeless.  Each character has his or her own arc, and is given one poem per chapter with which to tell his or her story. Frost’s creates unity between these eight individual stories with the use of a wheel chapter structure. At the core of each chapter is a theme, for example: “Why I can’t live at home,” and each poem of that chapter touches upon the theme in a way that is specific to each character. This structure unites an entire community of abandoned children.

Is your story about a community or ensemble of people? How might you use this to influence the structure of your story?

Up Next: Designing Principle #5 – Parallel Stories and Myth

Want to know more about designing principles? Try these links:

June 2010 Kidlit Events In Los Angeles

The following kidlit book signings and events will be taking place in the LA area in the month of June, 2010. Go kids books!

Saturday June, 12th:

10:30 am: Author Francesca Lia Block reads her Picture Book House of Dolls at Children’s Book World. Located at: 10580 1/2 West Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90064

1:00 pm: Illustrator Sarajo Frieden presents and signs Noonie’s Masterpiece at 1pm at Vroman’s Bookstore. Located at: 695 E. Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, California 91101

Sunday June, 20th:

2:oo pm: YA Book Club Meeting at Skylight Books. The club will be discussing The Evolution of Calpurina Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. Contact Cecil at for more info. Located at: 1818 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027

Wednesday June, 24th:

7:30 pm: Students from John Marshall Highschool read from their 826LA-published book You Never Forget How to Ride a Bike at Skylight Books. Located at: 1818 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027

If you are aware of other events in the month of June, please share!!

May the Four C’s Be With You: An Editor’s Strategies for Hard Times

Vice president of publishing at Clarion books, Dinah Stevenson, shares her strategies for success during hard economic times:


Everyone sees and defines creativity differently. Creativity is imagination, it is the ability to make stuff up. “Creativity is an essential strategy for a writer.” Creativity is something you do – like going on vacation, it is a process. Creativity is an endless journey to self awareness. Write something only you could write, based on your journey into the wilderness, and drawn from your well. However, creativity and making art are two different processes.


Craft is the making of art. This is a visible and tangible thing. This is the writing. This is what the reader experiences, and is aware of. Craft guides and directs, it is part of consciousness. Craft is what makes an artist’s ideas digestible and delicious. Refuse to settle for the “almost right” word. Everything on the page, from the loneliest punctuation mark matters! Ask yourself if you have made the best possible choices. Craft is the result of what one does not what one is.


Be a part of this community! Share, mentor, critique! Join groups like SCBWI. Create a common experience and move away from the loneliness and the isolation. Always read, and keep reading.


The last C should be filled in by you – pick something that is a treat, a reward. Remind yourself that you are doing a difficult job and reward yourself. Chocolate is her personal reward, but you should pick your own.

Dinah Stevenson is the vice president of publishing at Clarion books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing. She has been at Clarion since 1989. Mrs. Stevenson shared the above information at the 2009 SCBWI Los Angeles Conference.