Writers Talk Shop, Novel, and Conference
Commentary by conference attendees
A Conversation Between Rae Bryant and Michael Neff
With a Humanities/classical literature background and several years corralling teenagers in the public maze, Rae Bryant decided to actually do and leave the classroom. Having worked with highly gifted mainstream and emotional support youth for over ten years and seeing the conformity often pressed upon them, she wants to engage young readers on an intellectually appealing level with a subtle charm and humor by tapping into their natural precociousness, mythological curiosities and coming of age concerns. In other words, she wants to write successful YA fantasy fiction. Can she do it? We believe so!
Through Algonkian Ficklestick's improved dramatically. It's as if the conference and the workshop group opened a new line of creativity within me. My premise, now better refined, took added form and shape. Characters now speak and move. I can feel the conflict in my gut and the prose voices a wit that provokes and entertains. The workshop not only improved my manuscript, it improved my writing—and the best part—I had a blast!
- Rae Bryant
MN: What made you want to write this particular YA fantasy novel?
RB: My children were going through an intensely stressful time over a year ago. Being a mom, I wanted to fix everything. Ultimately I realized, as all parents do, that kids know more than adults, and they must learn their most important lessons on their own. So, I quietly accepted my position and turned covert operative seeking to provide them a resource. I wanted my own words and experience to help guide them, not just a Ph.D. this and Masters of Social Work that. With a literature and teaching background, I did the only appropriate thing and wrote. And it was here that Ficklestick's came to be.
When I was young, reading YA novels helped me to connect with others on a deeper level. I could find a quiet place and ponder the world's weight without the direct intensity of peer pressures. In this venue, I realized that it's okay to feel all that children feel. I could be me, no one else, just me, and feel alright about it. Where YA themes often center upon children striving to be what they consider more, there are many children that actually mask their own abilities in order to fit in. Seeing my own children in a difficult situation and undermining their own strengths was all the muse I needed. I created a character that I hoped would help them feel good about themselves as the bright and capable beings that they are.
MN: I love the title of your novel. What's the story about?
RB: Ficklestick's Fantastic Adventures: The Mask of Agamemnon is a Jane Eyre meets Huckleberry Finn adventure in a late nineteenth century Lewis/Pullman setting. Madelyn Ficklestick, a precocious six year old, suffers a great loss. Taken in by her eccentric uncle, Madelyn moves to Merlewood Manor and finds a new life with adventure of magical proportion. Now twelve years old and imaginatively gifted, Madelyn sneaks into her Uncle's basement laboratory and finds the golden Mask of Agamemnon. She loses the mask to an unlikely thief and embarks on a dangerous journey through a dark, whimsical land located in her own backyard. Here Madelyn meets Malic and his clan of warrior fairies. Together they form a quest to retrieve the golden mask before their elusive enemy, Prometheus, may conjure its magic. Madelyn faces covert nymphs and reanimated Fae before ultimately facing her darkest fear of all. Madelyn seeks to regain the mask in time before its power is unleashed. A power capable of destroying all the Madelyn holds dear.
MN: What made you choose to attend the Algonkian writers conference?
RB: After completing the first draft of Ficklestick's , I wanted professional guidance and a community of writers to help me marinate the work. It was important to me as a first time novelist to seek feedback before finalizing the intricacies. By retaining a sense of early process malleability, I was able to really hear criticisms and then incorporate skills learned. Algonkian provided the perfect setting. Your conference offered just the right feedback to not only clarify my plot points, but also to open my creativity. I left the workshop feeling good about the work itself, about the direction I received, and the direction I was going.
MN: Do you feel the novel is improved as a result?
RB: Through Algonkian Ficklestick's improved dramatically. It's as if the conference and the workshop group opened a new line of creativity within me. My premise, now better refined, took added form and shape. Characters now speak and move. I can feel the conflict in my gut and the prose voices a wit that provokes and entertains. The workshop not only improved my manuscript, it improved my writing—and the best part—I had a blast!
MN: What did you find most effective about the pitch sessions in New York and/or at Algonkian? (e.g., in terms of practicing for the session, novel revision, pitching itself, and learning about the market, etc.)
RB: The pitch sessions at Algonkian took the Buddhist principle to a new level—face the fear and the fear loses face. Practicing for the pitch lightened the anxiety of trying to impress. Now, after having the experience, I'm editing my manuscript with greater confidence and direction focusing on areas of obvious interest, marketability and promotion without losing authenticity.
MN: What did you find most effective about the Algonkian approach as a whole?
RB: Algonkian fostered a community of kindred, and the muses were with us. We enjoyed versatility in both excerpts and exercises; studied authors and stylistic voices from across the spectrum. We left with a sense of importance. What more could one ask for? Writing is so personal. It can often be a scary prospect. The opportunity to enjoy our craft, enjoy each other and gain constructive criticism made the entire experience truly addictive.
MN: How would you compare Algonkian to other writer conferences?
RB: My alternate experiences were all collegiate led by professors steeped in academics. Algonkian outlined the specifics of real world writing while giving classic comparatives—the best of both worlds. The ugly truth of it is that Henry James would have a harder time publishing in today's market. Although we still love and admire his works, we need to know the current market and the contemporary reader's mind.
MN: Where does the novel go from here?
RB: Ficklestick's is nearing the end of its creation. Madelyn, the protagonist, is real in the most linguistic sense of the word. The Fae are still in process but they have a firm foundational structure with thematic and active relevance to Madelyn's character. When I started Madelyn Ficklestick's story, I fell in love with her precocious spirit and wrote her nonstop. I wanted to give her life. Now, after a year of watching her grow, I can really no longer claim responsibility. Madelyn seems to be writing her own way through the novel. I suspect that she'll be done within a few months, but then again, she may have other plans.
About the interviewer:
Michael Neff is the creator and director of WebdelSol.Com and the Algonkian Writer Conferences.
Web del Sol/Algonkian Workshops
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Washington, D.C. 20006
info (at) algonkianconferences.com