Finding Fiction in Your Own Backyard

Finding Fiction in Your Own Backyard

I’m getting excited about the upcoming Harriette Austin Writers Conference, July 22 – 23, 2011, at the Georgia Center on the University of Georgia campus. My session there, “Finding Fiction in Your Own Backyard,” will be on Saturday, July 23, 10 – 11 am. I’ve presented this same workshop many times. Most recently, I taught “Finding Fiction” at the OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Georgia). Last summer, I flew to Frederick, Maryland, and presented “Finding Fiction,” at the MD/DE/WV region of SCBWI summer conference. OLLI is an organization for retired folks and SCBWI is an organization for writers of children’s literature. So, of course, this workshop is suitable for writers of books and stories for children and young adults, and also for writers of fiction for adults. One difference between previous presentations of Finding Fiction and the one I’ll do at the HAWC, is the length. I usually have l l/2 hours, but the version coming up in a few days will only be an hour long. Most writers will agree that condensing, tightening, and editing are good words, whether they’re connected with workshops or manuscripts.

Listen up. I’m going to tell you a secret. The three handouts for my “Finding Fiction in Your Own Backyard,” are already posted on my website. They’re in PDF format and you’re welcome to take a look and to print out a copy. But remember, the handouts are only a part of my workshop. I hope you’ll consider attending the workshop for the rest. If you’re interested in doing this, go register for the Harriette Austin Writers Conference here.

In addition to my workshop, there are other presenters and sessions that might be of interest to writers of children’s literature. Author Evelyn Coleman will be there, sharing her expertise and experience in the children’s book writing field and in the mystery genre. Mary Kole, an agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency, an agency that is consistently ranked #1 in juvenile sales in Publishers Marketplace, also will talk about children’s books. For writers in other genres, there is an excellent group of presenters, including authors like Terry Kay and Judy Iakvou, editors, and other agents. For more information on presenters, go here.

Okay. Enough said for now. Back to working on my upcoming HAWC workshop. If you have questions, email me or post a comment here. Otherwise, I hope to see you at the Harriette Austin Writers Conference July 23.


Fail As Fast As You Can

Fail As Fast As You Can

Ask any successful creative person you know about failure and chances are they will tell you about rooms papered with rejection slips, countless paintings they painted over, or songs that went nowhere. For most of us, a long road of failure is the path we must take to reach the published novel, the award-winning watercolor, the signature song.

In the Athens, Georgia area, where I (used to) live, Fail As Fast As You Can, or FAFAYC, is the name of a new program for children that teaches concepts such as creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship through fun classes in art, music, dance and foreign languages. Recently, I had a chance to interview the founder, Alexandru Muresan.

Donny: First, why did you pick the name, “Fail As Fast As You Can” for your program? I know creative projects involve many tries and failures, such as the numerous rewrites most authors must do before producing a publishable manuscript, and the many submissions we make to find the one editor or agent who says yes. But I am curious about your selection of FAFAYC as the name of your organization.

Alex: You basically guessed the reason for the name. Everyone fails at some point in their lives, but those who understand that failing is a good thing (as long as you learn from it, and never give up) become successful early on.

Donny: What led you to organize FAFAYC?

Alex: I wanted to create a company that would offer lessons to people; lessons that you’ve always wanted to take and things you’ve always wanted to learn, but never had a chance. In developing the idea, I realized children need exposure to such skills, classes and activities more than anyone else, since they have their whole lives ahead of them. I want every child to know what art is, how important it is to be creative and enjoy your work.

Donny: Tell me more about yourself and others who are involved in the organization.

Alex: I was born in Romania and moved to the US when I was 15. I competed internationally in ballroom dance growing up and continued dancing with an aerial contemporary company throughout college. I recently graduated from UGA with a BBA in Economics and a minor in Dance. I’ve been teaching dance at the University Recreational Sports Center for a couple of years. I started this company on January 1, 2011. I do everything myself, however I also have a very supportive set of instructors, all of them students at UGA. They are very talented and keep the FAFAYC program going. My girlfriend, Taisa, is getting her masters in Professional School Counseling at UGA and she helps me understand children better and is also the photographer for the company.

Donny: Who participates in your classes?

Alex: Right now, we have 11 kids enrolled in the program, and we just started May 2011. We hope to grow to 50 this fall, and expand to Atlanta next year. We’ve gotten a lot of comments and positive responses from particpants and members of the community.

Donny: Tell me about the July 29, 2011 FAFAYC picnic at Sandy Creek Park.

Alex: The picnic is open to the public. It starts at 4 and will end around 8 PM. We are hoping to get a nice group of kids, parents, artists and people interested in helping out, or just having a good time. We’ll have food, drinks, music, raffles, and a good time getting to know everyone. There will be some demos, some skill-building and most of the FAFAYC members and staff will be there.

Donny: Anything else you want readers to know about FAFAYC?

Alex: We’re launching a new product soon called FAFAYC Center. What this means is that we will offer the whole program including instructors, curriculum and materials to daycare centers, schools, and offices as an after-school/add-on program to enhance their ability to share the arts with their children. We’re really excited about this. We plan to expand our reach and once we get to 50 kids, we’ll strive to open new locations in other cities, as well as helping local communities that have no access to the arts. I urge all your readers to come meet us at the Sandy Creek Picnic and to join our FB group, and check out our website:

For more information about the FAFAYC, contact Alex via email: or phone: (478) 919-7323.

From Gone With The Wind to Gone From These Woods

From Gone With The Wind to Gone From These Woods

“Wanna go to a movie?” My grandmother Myrt asked one hot summer day of my childhood. Our Athens movie theaters, The Palace (a parking garage is there now), and the Georgia Theater (newly rebuilt after a devastating fire) were the only air conditioned places I knew back in the late 1950s, when Myrt issued her invitation. So of course I said yes, and climbed into my grandmother’s hot 1950s Ford for the ride up Lexington Road, into town, having no idea as the wind through the open car windows whipped my dark hair into a new, wild hairdo, that I was about to meet Gone With the Wind.
I’d never been to a four-hour movie before. Squirming in my seat next to Myrt, I felt special to be part of such a grown up activity. This wasn’t a kiddie movie, like I saw at the Palace Theater on Saturday mornings. These larger than life men and women were grownups and just being there that day, watching them dramatize Margaret Mitchell’s grown up book, made me feel grown up. So I tried to follow the story. But somewhere along the way, I fell asleep. When I awoke, it was intermission and then there was more movie. A lot more. I fell asleep again, waking up in time to see Bonnie Blue bite the dust. Back home, in my grandmother’s living room, she proudly showed me the GWTW book and boasted that she’d read every page and planned to read it all again. It’s the only book I ever remember her telling me she’d read.

Later on, I read the book, too, and admired every word, even the ones that seemed, well, extra in my teen aged mind. Sometime during my teen aged years, my aunt Judith and I (she’s only three years older than me, so we were more like sisters) visited Stone Mountain Park with my other grandparents (Judith’s parents). We met Butterfly McQueen there. The real “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies, Miz Scarlett, Butterfly McQueen. As I listened to her sweet, distinctive voice talk about the historic home she was leading us through, I had a flashback to the cool Georgia Theater and the larger-than-life Prissy character on the screen and I wished I hadn’t fallen asleep.

Flash forward, from the 1950s to 2007. My new editor, Michelle Poploff, of Random House, is talking to me about titles for my debut children’s middle grade novel. Why do we need a new title? I wondered. I liked my title, D-Man, my protagonist’s superhero nickname, given to him by Uncle Clay. I went into great detail, explaining why I had chosen D-Man as the title and what it meant to Daniel and the story, and to me.

“How about Mouse Creek Road?” Michelle suggested. There is a Mouse Creek Road in my book, named after the road with the same name that runs through Cleveland, Tennessee, where my mother lives. But my book wasn’t about Mouse Creek Road. It was about Daniel, or D-Man, as his uncle called him.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Well, then, let’s go with Gone From These Woods. The words are right in the book. And . . . ” As Michelle talked on about why Gone From These Woods was a good title for my novel, I found myself back in that cool Athens Theater again. Sitting next to my grandmother, trying to pay attention to the story on the big screen, admiring Butterfly and Hattie and Rhett and Scarlet and Melanie and all the other bigger-than-life characters and the magnificent, romantic story unfolding before me. Gone With the Wind. Gone From These Woods. Somehow, it seemed sacrilegious to call my book by a title so similar to Margaret Mitchell’s book. Was this even legal, I wondered? I knew you couldn’t copyright a title, but . . .

My book, Gone From These Woods, was published in 2009 by Random House and reissued as a Yearling paperback in 2011. My grandmother died long before I sold my first book, so she never even knew I was a novelist, much less that I’d someday hear one of those “Yankees” from New York tell me why Gone From These Woods was the perfect name for my book. Michelle didn’t tell me, but I suspect that she must have met GWTW in a dark, cool movie theater of her childhood, too, or maybe she met Scarlett, Rhett and company in the pages of the book.

I take in my movie theater movies these days at the Carmike on Lexington Road with daughter Jenny. It’s always cold in there, and warm, too, as I bask in the company of family, just as I did so long ago, sitting in the Georgia Theater with Myrt. And, yes, I still fall asleep, even during great movies like GWTW and anything Harry Potter. Some things never change.

Margaret Mitchell

Margaret Mitchell

Fans of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind are celebrating the book’s 75th anniversary in 2011. My book will be two in August (the published version – I first began writing GFTW around 2005 and carried the idea for the book for many more years). Now, when I hear the title, Gone From These Woods, I remember Margaret Mitchell’s book, proudly displayed in my grandmother’s house, and I feel the cool air of the theater and hear the voices and see the character’s faces on the big screen. My book isn’t a movie (yet), and it’s not nearly as big, in any way, as Margaret’s Mitchell’s classic. But both books are southern and written by southern authors. I’m proud to have the privilege to carry on the tradition and proud to have a book title that reminds me of the book my grandmother loved.

Happy 75th anniversary, Gone With the Wind! And thanks, Margaret Mitchell. What a gift you gave the world.


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