July has been an eventful month on the road for this usual homebody. Here's the travelogue (with pictures!):
Montego Bay, Jamaica. Spent a week with some teens from my church youth group on a mission trip to Jamaica, visiting several orphanages, a home for troubled teen girls, a home for kids with special needs and an AIDS/elderly hospice.
Jamaica, of course, is a gorgeous country with a horribly depressed economy. We saw some of the worst of the worst ... many of these folks had nothing and no one, and frankly, no real prospects for improving their situation. Yet, many of them were the most faith-filled and hopeful people I've ever met.
Coming from a country whose entire ethos is built on the idea that "if you work hard, you can achieve your goals," it is hard to imagine living someplace where that might not be the case. (Actually -- dare I say it? -- as a writer, it's slightly less hard to imagine.) In any case, I came away inspired by all those we met, and also by the teens in our group, who took to each new group we visited like otters to water. Their infectious, joyful spirit drew in the little ones and older folks alike.
I forgot my camera for this trip (ridiculous, aren't I?) ... but my roommate was kind enough to share her photos. Here's a shot of me with a little sweetheart in one of the orphanages, who managed to boost her already substantial cuteness factor even higher wearing my shades:
Dewey Beach, Delaware. A few days after my return from Jamaica, Joe and I headed to up to the Bottle and Cork in Dewey Beach to see The Clarks, a fantastic concert at a fun venue. I went to school with those guys, and it's great to see them lo these many years hence still playing together, better than ever.
The Clarks have a huge and loyal following in Western PA and have achieved some minor national successes, including playing on Letterman once and having a few songs used in popular movies, but they've never had that breakout hit that might have launched them onto the national scene. They're as good as or better than any world-famous band out there, though, IMO. If you've never heard of them, I encourage you to check out their Web site at clarksonline.com. (Warning, the site starts playing music as soon as it comes up, so if you're reading this in the library or with a sleeping baby on your lap, you may want to check it out later.)
BTW, The Clarks were opening for Sister Hazel, best known for the song "All for You," which you can check out here. For all I know, Sister Hazel probably has some other hits as well, as the crowd did seem to greet a few of their other songs with great enthusiasm, but being a tad out of today's music scene, I only recognized the one. They were a lot of fun, though frankly I think The Clarks were even better.
Forgot my camera once again, but here is a shot from Joe's camera:
If you look carefully, you can see Clarks lead singer Scott Blasey behind Joe and bass player Greg Joseph (a.k.a. "Chief") behind me. If this shot looks a little PhotoShopped ... well, it is, but only because I was trying to lighten the background so you could see those guys. I didn't paste our heads in there or anything. (Promise!)
Westminster, Maryland. Finally, yesterday I drove up to beautiful McDaniel College for the MD/DE/WV SCBWI conference. The highlight for me was Cynthia Lord's presentation on "The Pluses and Perils of Writing What You Know." In my continuing struggle to bring more depth to my writing, I found Cindy's thoughts on digging into one's own experiences for more emotion and setting details most helpful.
Thank goodness I brought my copy of Rules up with me, because the conference booksellers sold out of them early on. Having Cindy sign what is one of my all-time favorite middle-grade books was a thrill, and even better was when she said she recognized my name from the Verla Kay Blue Boards. Cynthia Lord "knows" me? Cool!
Also wonderful was the breakout session I attended where Aimee Friedman discussed life as a YA author and Scholastic editor. Her level of productivity is both amazing and inspiring. Like me, Aimee works full time at a job that requires a lot of writing/editing/general wordsmithing; she edits her work as she goes, much to her own dismay; and she found that her first manuscript came easily while subsequent works have been much harder. Now, there's someone I can relate to! Sometimes I put so much pressure on myself to produce that I end up accomplishing nothing. Aimee's advice to "do what you can" and give yourself the time you need gave me a sense of freedom that can only result in more, better writing.
Aimee also did a critique of the first couple of chapters of my YA work in progress. She was extremely encouraging and gave me some (much needed!) direction. A wonderful, sweet person, who also did me the honor of signing a copy of her latest book, which I am very much looking forward to reading.
I did remember my camera for this event (woo hoo!) and so here is our panel of distinguished presenters:
Seated from left to right: Cynthia Lord, Clarion editor Lynn Polvino, Aimee Friedman, Greenwillow editor Martha Mihalik, author Jen Bryant and agent Linda Pratt. Standing at the podium is moderator extraordinaire and McDaniel professor Mona Kerby.