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Using Our Words: Write on the Red Cedar 2017

I am so glad I was able to experience this year's Write on the Red Cedar conference by the Capital City Writers Association! It happened at the perfect time for me--just after a short break from writing (while collecting reactions by beta readers) and one day after my daughter's sixth birthday party. The conference capped a stressful time for me and gave me an almost magical boost of inspiration and confidence.

Why I Desperately Needed This Conference
It has been an exhausting, but healing, weekend. A day of excellent writing workshops in inspiring company just after a successful birthday party (defined as being adorable and thoroughly enjoyed by the three little ones in attendance) has lifted me out of the funk I've been in through the holidays. There's just something about the rise of hate crimes and popular Nazi rebranding that seems to be driving everyone to distraction lately! My last few posts have been a timeline of my recent outrages, from the political to the personal.

First thing's first! Partying with the future rulers of the world.

The stage for this rage was set early in my life, and it's come to a head this winter. Ever since I set out to reject the conservative, authoritarian values of my Catholic upbringing as a teenager--and then found a career promoting a socially progressive community as a young graduate student--I have felt pinched between a rock and a hard place: on the one side, the patriarchy, which told me I must always be feminine and keep to traditionally female spheres of life (because as a woman, I'm not worthy of "masculine" traits or aspirations) and on the other side, a narrow-minded subset of feminism, which told me I must always embody more masculine traits and work to occupy traditionally male spheres of life (because as a woman, I had a right and a duty to seize my share of the patriarchal pie).

Neither of these social agendas provided a safe place for my own primal feminine desires. Both devalued my lifelong goals to have and prioritize a family, and to write women's fiction--the patriarchy by telling me such activities should come "naturally" to a woman, should not take effort, and should not require or deserve any formal support--that mothering should be as easy as breathing to me (or so I should pretend), and that writing fiction, for a woman, should be nothing more than an enjoyable hobby. On the other side, that hard streak of oversimplified feminism has been telling me I should have more important things to do than care for my little girl and write fairy tale books.

I choose to blame "the patriarchy" and "oversimplified feminism" rather than individual people, because I truly believe that we are all affected by the system of patriarchy we live in, in ways we are not always aware of. Some of us struggle to justify it upon the backs of women; some of us struggle to fight it upon the backs of women; and some of us are more intentionally self-aware. And I'll leave it at that.

The Capital City Writers Association is managed and run by an all-female team (supported by husbands and friends of any gender), and Write on the Red Cedar attracts a majority of women attendees. In the company of these fantastically talented and successful authors and industry leaders, I feel that the importance of family is understood, and that women's writing for women is truly valued.  This is a place where nobody makes snarky comments about how no one will take me seriously if I'm wearing those shoes. (Here's a secret I've learned many times: Crusty matriarchs openly despise high heels, and crusty patriarchs openly despise sensible loafers. You can't win.) At Write on the Red Cedar, I can be comfortable in my chosen lifestyle, identity, and whatever the heck I chose to wear, because this community is here to celebrate and support an industry of majority female readers and writers, of all genres and styles.

Conference organizers, guests, and attendees: I am so grateful for you! You all made me feel warm and fired up and inspired. Thank you.

What I Learned at the Conference
Hollywood script guru Michael Hauge headlined this conference, and I had the immense pleasure of starting the day with his workshop "Crafting Powerful Scenes."

Mr. Hauge is one of those professionals who radiates love of his craft. He has made a big name for himself helping to create major hits like I Am Legend, but he's no P.T. Barnum looking to part the next fool with his money. Mr. Hauge is here to create stories that move the human heart. One of the first things he stated to us was that a storyteller's first goal in each scene must be to elicit emotion. Even in works meant to inspire or persuade, it is essential to make the audience (or reader) care about the characters first. That is the most effective way to hold someone's attention and open them to considering an idea.

Mr. Hauge embodied that principle as he gave his presentation. His personal stories (of, say, meeting Will Smith) were engaging, warm, inspiring, and even humble--a charming quality in someone so commercially successful.

He went on to present some complex topics and a lot of nitty-gritty detail about the construction of scenes in a way that was not only engaging but easy to understand. I gained a new level of clarity about the "magic" touches that can fine-tune the emotional pitch of a scene.

Mr. Hauge offers some of his advice and video clips of his presentations on his website,

I went on to sit in on excellent workshops on working effectively from home, plotting, branding, and editing. But the greatest overall lesson I took away from the conference was the power of being in the presence of so many people filled with the passions and skills that I share or wish to emulate. If you are a writer who has never been to a conference like this, it is worth the time and expense. WOTRC gives me a productivity boost every year that lasts for months afterward.

The Most Absurd Compliment I Received at the Conference
Did I mention I'm fed up with the overbearing patriarchy and the condescending matriarchy and people's comments about my shoes? At Write on the Red Cedar, I feel so joyful and affirmed that I can take pleasure in people's comments about my personal appearance. I don't feel judged or suspicious of a backhanded criticism. This year, I went to the conference without any makeup on (except, OK, concealer on a zit), in ridiculous stilettos that give me foot cramps if I walk in them too long.

And for the second time in my life, someone came up and told me--emphatically--that I look just like their favorite telenovela villainess, Petra on Jane the Virgin. I find this absurdly flattering.


Yael Grobglas

Ummmm, okay! She can definitely play me in the telenovela of my life.

It is funny how other people can see us in a much more flattering light than we see ourselves. It's true that other people have the power to crush our dreams with inappropriate criticism. And it's also true that other people have the power to build us up... with inappropriate compliments! For writers, who work alone for long years without pay or formal recognition, and who can be our own harshest critics, it is essential for us to find a supportive community to get our hearts in the right place so we can learn how to improve our craft.

Thank you, fairy godsisters of the Capital City Writers Association! Once again, you've sent me home a happier mommy, a prettier-feeling wife, and a more confident and motivated writer. Just like magic!


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