Tag Archives: connecticut

Yale Writers’ Conference (part 1)…..

When I decided that I actually am a “for-real” writer, I ordered The New Yorker because in order to be a “for-real” writer one must read The New Yorker. Right? R.I.G.H.T.

Flipping through the pages kind of felt like my 8-year-old-self wearing my mother’s high heeled shoes, mink stole, droopy pearl earrings, and possibly my grandmother’s satin opera gloves. But then I saw it–an ad for the Yale Writers’ Conference. I might have even giggled. It certainly sounded marvelous but I hesitated, thinking “Yale? Who are you kidding?”

Ultimately I thought, “Why not!”

I showed the ad to my husband. When he didn’t laugh, I took it as a sign that the universe was pushing my newly established writer-self out of the nest to test out my pencil wings.

So, I applied with the beginnings of my novel in progress “The Alligator Purse.” While I waited for a response, I reminded myself to breathe. And then I waited and waited, for what seemed like a really long time. Forever really. (That might have been a by-product of the watched in-box never boils syndrome. Maybe. Okay, probably.)

When the email came inviting me to attend, I was beside myself–proud, disbelieving, believing, and more than a little nervous. I mean, it’s Yale. What were they thinking letting me in but thank you Jesus, they let me in!

So if you have any of that self-doubt, erase it now. Right now. The Yale Writers’ Conference is so welcoming. They accept 140 people each year. So that’s 140 chances for them to say yes to you. And please know that you do not have to be an established rock star writer to attend. You do have to submit a quality writing sample that is polished and then re-polished. And then polished five more times. But, there is plenty of room for those who are early in their writing career. Please understand that this doesn’t mean there isn’t talent at the conference – there is and a lot of it! People who invest in their writing generally take honing their craft very seriously. (Remember I said to polish your submission! And then polish it again. And then one five more times.)

Terence Hawkins (with his trusted sidekick Victoria Rinkerman who is nothing short of amazing herself) is the man behind the magic that is the Yale Writers’ Conference. He is a writer himself and is eager to help all of us succeed.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 08, 2014-12

Here are a few things that are good to know:

The less expensive option is to stay in the dorms. The un-air conditioned dorms. When I was in college, I lived at home so I actually loved staying in the dorms. But they aren’t fancy and if you are used to your own bathroom and A/C, you should know that the dorms do not equal the Ritz Carlton. You should also know, however, that most people stay in the dorms and that it is fun to be there. (So it’s really a positive masquerading as a negative.)

The dorms are gorgeous (from the outside ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_255And they really aren’t terrible on the inside…

2013_June_16_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_576

Session I is ten days. That’s a long time to be away from work and family (possibly another positive masquerading. I guess that depends on your job and family. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). Session II is shorter if you really like your family and/or your job.

The rest is all up side.

Did I mention the conference is at Yale? Yes, “the” Yale that you’ve heard so much about. It’s magical to walk the streets of New Haven in the spring.

For ten days, you will talk and learn about writing with some very talented/committed/enthusiastic writers and instructors. You won’t wash any dishes or drive a car. If you pack enough clothes, you won’t have to do laundry. Someone will cook breakfast and lunch for you buffet-style. (Dinner is not included but New Haven has tons of fabulous places to eat.) You might not even watch tv. It’s heavenly. You’ll meet in large sessions to hear amazing guest speakers and you’ll meet in groups of ten to workshop each others writing. You’ll even get to attend one master class workshop with a guest speaker of your choosing (This is why it’s smart to apply early. The earlier you get accepted, the more choices you have.)

You will eat, sleep, and breathe writing for ten days. Ahhhhh.

In effort not to keep you reading this post for hours on end, I’m consolidating my experiences from two years into one post. (I’ve been to Yale for the past two years and the only reason I’m not applying this year is that my son is graduating from high school around the same time as the conference.) That means I won’t be able to tell you every fabulous thing about the conference, but here is some of what I learned…

From Richard Selzer (Mortal Lessons)

  • Don’t be timid: you can say in writing things you would never say aloud.
  • And don’t be afraid to tell lies: they give writing a vivid complexion.

2013_June_10_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_46

From Kevin Wilson (The Family Fang)

  • Writing is a muscle you have to exercise and you have to change up your routine to keep it all moving.
  • When building a story, instead of starting with a tree and adding ornaments to it, start with an ornament and build a tree to support it.
  • You might be the worst writer in the world, but if you write, at least you’ll have evidence to attest to that fact.

2013_June_11_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_79

From Deborah Treisman (Fiction Editor, The New Yorker)
She was asked “what makes a story stand out.” She answered that you just know it when you see it. She looks at the story’s ambition–what it’s trying to do–and figures out if it’s doing it.

2013_June_12_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_135From Z. Z. Packer (Drinking Coffee Elsewhere)

  • Give the reader an image to start with. Then you can put that image into action: you can create symbolism with the image.
  • The readers want to see a journey with obstacles that add up to something. What the character wants will give them motivation–look at the “lack” behind that want. What will the want satisfy?
  • If you want to read a terrific article by Z. Z. Packer on writing short stories, click here.

2013_June_13_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_200

From Joe McGinniss (who sadly lost his battle with cancer this past year)

  • Especially in non-fiction, you are going to make people angry.
  • However, the worst thing is no reaction at all.

2013_June_13_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_182

From Tom Perotta (Nine Inches)
Get the story going before you give backstory.

2013_June_14_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_209From Susan Orlean (Orchid Thief, Rin Tin Tin)

  • People can be made to care about things that seem ordinary.
  • Ultimately we end up writing to ourselves.

2013_June_18_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_754From Sybil Baker (Into this World)

  • Short stories are almost always based on desire and characters are often responsible for their own problems.
  • Raise the stakes for your character on her original desire, rather than adding in new desires.
  • Dialogue is more interesting when characters are disagreeing or at least not agreeing.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 09, 2014-9

From Chuck Klosterman (I Wear the Black Hat)

  • You want the reader to be engaged with the text, themselves, and the world.
  • The first chapter makes an assertion that gets carried through the book. It’s important for the reader to get to know who she’s going to spend the next 250 pages with.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 10, 2014-12From Rob Spillman (Tin House)

  • When he reads a submission, he wants to forget he’s an editor and remember that he’s a reader.
  • The writer should establish authority in the first 300 words. Writers can do that through language, forward momentum in the story, stakes for the characters, and story questions.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 10, 2014-41

From Colum McCann (TransAtlantic)

  • Write what you want to know. You do not have to write what you already know.
  • There’s no true distinction between fiction or non-fiction: it’s all story-telling.
  • Beginnings are hard because they can go in so many directions, but the ending should be the one thing that has to happen.
  • Life is deeper than Google: you might have to go to the library.
  • It’s all shit, until it isn’t.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 12, 2014-4

From Clarence Page (Chicago Tribune, McLaughlin Group)

  • Be courageous and be persistent.
  • Some stories will work: some won’t. So what.
  • There is someone out there waiting for your story.

IMG_20140613_170323

From Rick Moody (The Four Fingers of Death: A Novel)

  • Rethink abstraction: it’s better to be fully grounded in things and scenes and people.
  • Use all five senses–remember smell is most closely linked to memory.
  • Read all of your work out loud, to someone else and your mistakes will be more obvious.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 14, 2014-10

Okay, I don’t know about you but I’m tired. So, I’ll be back later with more. (You can read Part 2 here.) Come back soon for Yale Part II. And you missed the other workshops I’ve written about, you can read those

Tin House Winter Workshop

Woodbridge Writers Retreat

 

And then there were two……….

India ignited a travel fire in us. So, we decided to travel to Houston to see the NCAA Final Four Basketball games.

The conversation started like this…..

Me: Maybe we could take Bear to the Final Four games for his birthday. You know the games are on his actual birthday.
Hubby: Really? I (yes, “I”, not Bear) would love that! But do you really think the girls would enjoy it? Maybe I should just take Bear.
Me: Maybe I should just take Bear.
Hubby: We should all go.
Me: Look at how smart you are!

Yeah for us! And my older brother who we dragged along with.

We arrived in Houston to find this little Bball court ready for some action.

Happy to oblige, the kids took their Uncle on while hubby picked up the car. Bring it.

And what kind of car did we rent? Well, we were in Texas, my friend. So we honored that by getting a big honking gas guzzling Yukon. Yes, that was a silly question!

We headed out at the crack o dawn on Saturday morning, which got us to Houston around lunch time. Hunrgy? Well, when in Houston, you are supposed to eat BBQ.

We found this little nugget of a restaurant called Pappa’s. All the food was served cafeteria style. Now you’re talking down home cookin!

I had the lunch of champions.

Oh, yeah. They served pit bbq too. This is the pork.

Then on to the games at Reliant Stadium.

There were tons of activities around the perimeter of the stadium so we got there a little bit early to get a fabulous parking spot to partake of the fun and spend way too much on t-shirts (which my rock star brother generously gifted everyone).

Bear got a long sleeved shirt so he did not put his on. And I, well being brilliant, I didn’t think I wanted a shirt. That is until I saw how cute Flower’s shirt was. Then I decided, “maybe I will get one.” Yeah. Me and my bright ideas.

I waited in line for about half an hour to find out that they only had smalls left. The sales lady was trying to be helpful and said, “don’t worry, honey, they stretch.” And, yes, I did tell her that wasn’t exactly a selling point. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

My hubby and my bro apparently have similar tastes. Which is lucky for me because it means they both have a high tolerance for a whole lot of me. But it also makes them dorks. Tweedlebro and Tweedlehubby….

But they did not have the most attention-grabbing outfits on. There were some doosies! I didn’t take any pictures making fun of people because I am not a big fan of the “People of Walmart” pictures. (I am a huge fan of Walmart and probably harbor an inner fear that it might one day be me. Yikes.) But these two made me smile.

As we walked toward the stadium, we saw tons of people working. I couldn’t help but feel bad for them that they might not ever get inside to see the games. But this guy was not to be swayed by that – he was listening in.

Of course, the real excitement did not begin until we got inside with 78,000 of our closest friends. This was the view from our seats. Yep, good job hubby!

I walked down closer to the court to get some pictures and I got to meet Lee Todd, Jr., the President of the University of Kentucky.

What’s that, you say? How did I know who is was? Well, the entire student section stood up and applauded for him and serenaded him when he walked in and stood right beside me. Thinking that probably wasn’t for me, I said, “Well, you must be someone special.”

The lady walking with him (who turned out to be his assistant) said, “Oh he is. He’s the President of UK.” And then tons of people came over to get a picture with him. I told him it was a real treat to be standing there to see the students response to him and that it made me want my kids to consider Kentucky as a school. Really, it was quite something! I got to meet his daughter too. She was delightful.

Then, I remembered I was there to see basketball and not to make new friends. So I took a few pictures ofย  Butler and VCU warming up.

And then my dear friend called me and told me that she had seen Jim Larranaga (George Mason’s coach) on a pregame show. She wanted a picture. And I was on it!

I asked the security guard (the one who incidentally told me that there was no way he could let me take my son on the court to get a birthday picture) if he had seen the coach. He had not. He was proving to do his job very well and, all the while, not being helpful to me at all.

Then he started telling people to clear the path. My camera perked up. Something exciting was about to happen. No kidding.

Former President George Bush, Sr., and his bride Barbara Bush rode in on a golf cart. Right. In. Front. Of. Me. And. My. Camera.

I blew him a big kiss and told him it was amazing to be right there. No matter what your politics, it is an absolute honor to be so close to a former President of the United States. He feigned blushing at my kiss, held his hands to his heart, and smiled. What a gentleman!

Then I nearly got knocked over when this woman from Kentucky came bounding down the stairs. Apparently, her brother used to be some state something or other and used to work for Mr. Bush. She actually asked the Secret Service agent if she could say hello. He said no. (Shocking.) Then I whispered, “Well now, I voted for him and I have seen him on tv, can I say hello?” He smiled and said no ma’am.

It was then I realized I might not ever make it on to the actual court. Hmpf.

I went back to my seat. And the games began with the most beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner with soldiers holding a ginormous flag. Yolanda Adams sang the national anthem and boy does she have a voice! It was fabulouso!

And then my hubby spotted Jim Larranaga. He was sitting about 15 rows in front of us. Seriously. How lucky is that? So I went down and introduced myself as a Mason grad and babbled away about being so happy he stayed at Mason after taking the team all the way to the Final Four a few years ago and how lucky Mason was to have him for a coach. He was so kind and generous with his time. I told him I was sorry to bother him – I knew he was here to watch the game – it was just such an honor. And he said, “Don’t apologize. It’s nice to meet you too.” Honestly. So charming.

We took a picture.

Then later in the game, I was walking back up the steps from taking more pictures. And Mr. Larranaga was talking to some more fans. And he points to me and says, “she’s a Mason grad.” Wow.

Then I motioned for my brother to come down and meet him. Hubby was embarrassed, but my brother has more years in of putting up with me and just plays along. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

Angel came down the stairs with my brother and the Coach was so delightful with her. He introduced himself as the George Mason coach and bent down and shook her hand. I said, “oh she knows exactly who you are! She was at the GMU v. JMU game.” He asked her if she liked the band. I love this man!

Anywho, I finally thanked him for his graciousness and promised to leave him alone. ๐Ÿ˜Ž The only thing I wish I had told him was that in my pool, Mason would have been in the Final Four. No, that didn’t work out so well. But I am a big, big, big Mason fan and you have to keep the faith!

You probably know how the Butler v. VCU game ended. But just in case…

Next up was UConn and Kentucky. We were sitting in the Kentucky section which could have been problematic because I have UConn winning it all. But the fans were nice and forgave me my transgression.

I had to go back down toward the court one more time to get some more warm-up pictures.

The night was just an amazing night but it was high energy. Angel got a little tired and managed to squeeze in a little catnap.

She slept until one of the Kentucky players made a fabulous 3 point shot and the crowd went nuts. If I had been filming her, we would have totally won America’s Funniest Videos.

You probably also know that the game was a nail-biter.ย  UConn won. Unfortunately 78,000 of us were planning on leaving the stadium at the exact same time, so I did not get a picture of that scoreboard.