Lyle Lovett sings a song with the refrain, “Up in Indiana where the tall corn grows”, and he could have been talking of Muncie. Located about an hour northeast of Indianapolis, Muncie is the home of Ball State University and more importantly the annual Midwest Writers Workshop, which is where the “once upon a time” comes in.
Once upon a time, in 1973 to be exact, a dedicated and determined group of people, including author Dorothy Hamilton and Dr. Earl Conn of Ball State, came up with the germ of an idea for a writers’ conference to be held at the University. This conference was to develop, educate, and encourage authors in the craft of writing. They got the community involved, and MWW was born. Over the years people left the committee, joined the committee, and volunteered to help in any way possible. As a result this workshop, small by choice and sold out early this year, is one of the best in the country. It is certainly the best I’ve attended.
There’s still an aura of fairy tale magic at Midwest Writers Workshop. Where else can a first time attendee and an established author sit at a table over coffee and talk about everything from ideas to first drafts to agent pitches and query letters, share memories that are good, funny, and sometimes not either but remain as a learning experience. The instructors are shining stars, whether they write thrillers, mysteries, memoirs, history or self-help; there is something and someone for every attendee. And they’re accessible. Find an author or agent in the Conservatory or Assembly Hall or corridor and they’re happy to spend a minute or two (oftentimes more) answering a question or listening to an idea. That’s why they come. (Just don’t stalk them in the bathroom or interrupt one of their scheduled pitch sessions…not the right thing to do) Oh…and if there’s an author there who found their own fairy tale at a previous MWW? He or she is always willing and happy to check a pitch, look at a page or two, or simply cheer you on as you head through the Perilous Forest of Pitches and Queries to reach your own happy ending.
These days, the fairy tale also includes learning how to publish in what Jane Friedman calls “The Brave New World”, and features Social Media Tutoring with some of Ball State’s best…the resident Geek Squad. Don’t know how to work a blog? Set up an appointment. Worried about your platform? Talk to someone who can steer you through the basics. Not sure about e-publishing? There are people who are willing, able and, most important, patient. Ask me. I know.
Did I mention food and fellowship? Lots and lots of that as well. But you must be brave. Walk up to someone, say hello and ask what he or she writes. Agents don’t bite (as a shy person it took me a while to digest that fact) and neither do the author-instructors. If you have any qualms, start with Kelsey Timmerman, one of the funniest and laid-back authors I’ve ever met. He found his dream there.
The three days loom large when you walk into the Conservatory
at the Alumni Center and see a crowd of strangers, but suddenly it’s the evening of the third day, the last toast has been made and award been given, and it’s time to say goodbye and pack for the trip home. Time flies…the days are long and full of the craft of writing. Whether your fairy tale has come true, or whether you’ve simply had some guidance to move you along the path, the experience is one you won’t forget.
Take a chance. The ride is always worth the risk.
The science of Physics baffles me. According to Sheldon Cooper, television’s quintessential Thursday night physicist, “the term ‘physics’ comes from the Greek ‘physika’…meaning life. It started on a warm summer night in Greece…” In fact, The Big Bang Theory has made Physics and comedy almost synonymous for a lot of people, including me. On a good day, I get the basics, but I didn’t take it in high school, opted for chemistry in college only because I had to choose a science, and could not recite the Table of Elements to save my life. Other things excite me more.
So, what does this have to do with pandas? In this particular post, it has everything to do with pandas. Specifically marching pandas, dancing pandas and a shaman panda that goes by the name of Walt. Last week I stepped out of my reading comfort zone on the recommendation of a very good friend and opened up a new YA (young adult or teen) novel entitled The Theory of Everything, written by Kari Luna. I do love recommendations that pan out– that give me nuggets of gold and a chance to laugh, get a little teary-eyed and learn something new while I enjoy a well-written story.
Sophie Sophia is different from your average teenager. She loves ‘80’s music, makes her own unique fashions, and doesn’t fit in with any crowd. She’s her own person, with a secret she doesn’t care to share. Her father, a well-known physicist, eccentric and fun, has periodically vanished. He always comes back with stories and plans. Until one day he doesn’t. Oh and he sees things other people don’t see. One day, Sophie discovers she shares this trait. And it frightens her because it frightened her mom, who doesn’t want to talk about her father or his abilities. He’s gone. Sophie should just enjoy being a teenager. It doesn’t help that her mom keeps moving her around the country, finally ending up in Illinois. So, Sophie keeps her secret until one day in Physics class she makes an unexpected friend named Finn and soon after sees a band of marching pandas led by a panda who tells her he is her shaman, sent to guide her. His name is Walt and he keeps telling her about her ‘path’. This path includes those unexpected an inconvenient ‘events’ by which Sophie is being blindsided. Walt calls them ‘traveling’. He also seems to know all about her father and his special ability. So, after a bit more ‘traveling’, and her friend Finn’s theory that the string theory of physics can help her understand why she has these things happen to her, Sophie decides to find her father and go back to New York where everything unraveled in the first place.
As someone who has watched vampires and paranormal rule on the shelves of the Teen Fiction section of my Barnes & Noble for a long time, I think this story is a refreshing change. The character is a normal teen who sees herself as different…don’t we all, no matter what our ages? She has a secret that she doesn’t care to share. Until…one day she meets a friend named Finn who not only believes her but believes in her…enough so that she can actually meet another boy who wants to go out with her…oh yes, there’s a bit of romance here. And it works.
You don’t have to be a teenager to enjoy this story. After all, we were all teens once, no matter how wonderful or difficult those years were. I promise you’ll get caught up in Sophie’s quest. So, read The Theory of Everything. And then give it to or buy it for a friend, a teen you know, or the local library. Because, physics can explain everything.
There’s a mini-spider dangling in front of my desktop screen. It seems confused as to which way to go, dropping down, moving back up, and staying still for a moment before landing on a box of checks. Its dilemma is no greater than mine….since spiders bite, and I don’t want to be bitten, AND it is small enough that it might just disappear altogether and attack later, what do I do? On one hand, I am mesmerized by the little guy’s determination to get somewhere, anywhere, by the means of his tiny thread. On the other hand…well, do I smash his travel dreams to bits by smashing him, thereby saving myself from a possible bite at some future date? Or do I put a glass over him and somehow transport him outside where he can spin a web?
Such is the gravity of my Monday dilemma. Well, that and meat loaf. The entrée not the singer. When I was much younger, my mom used to make meat loaf for dinner maybe once a month. It was an economical way to feed us and provided leftovers for sandwiches. I never really asked what went into it, although I suspect it was a mixture of beef, pork, and veal; the various meats portioned out and packaged by the butcher. Homemade gravy and mashed potatoes and it was a meal.
Fast forward to the present. I made meat loaf yesterday for our Sunday dinner. No veal. (Don’t get me started on that subject please). No pork either unless I feel adventurous and then only a little for flavor. My version of the dish is ground chuck, possibly a little ground round, and other traditional ingredients, egg, tomato sauce, etc. Nothing fancy or gourmet, just a free form loaf topped with a bit of A1 and baked in the oven.
Who knew it could be so expensive? Ground beef was a staple of our early married life. It was less than $.90 a pound, and you could put it in everything from spaghetti to burgers to sloppy joes or Mexican Rice to…well…meat loaf. Today it ranks up there with boneless pork chops, skinless chicken breasts and brisket in price per pound, sometimes more depending on the fat content. So why go through all the trouble? Why not just buy a nice steak? My husband will tell you. Leftovers. There is nothing better than meat loaf unless it’s a meat loaf sandwich slathered with mayonnaise. I can’t see it.
As far as my little eight-legged friend goes, I’ve put him in a holding pattern under a juice glass… he was there last time I looked anyway…and I’ll transport him to the yard in a minute. I have no doubts his spidey-sense will get him to where he belongs.
PS. One dilemma I don’t have right now is what to read. First on the list is Alan Furst’s Spies of Warsaw, followed by Susan Macneal’s His Majesty’s Hope. Have a wonderful Holiday week!