Writers' workshops are risky. I've always regretted attending the Brown Creative Writing Program in my twenties: if I'd spent the same money and time going to the island THEN I might be married to a sheep-farmer now, with children and grandchildren. Okay maybe not -- and I did find the island eventually -- but showing my work to a professor who wouldn't read children's books and borrowing thousands to do it were not a good use of time and money.
So, although I was thrilled to have been chosen, I was a little apprehensive about spending $1500 -- a lot of money to me -- on Picture Book Bootcamp: three and a half days with Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, and 9 other published writers, some famous, some not (links to the authors and their very different sites at right). I was more worried about the effect on me than the money -- at Brown, the other writers were a competitive bunch, and I left with an MFA but little else to show for my time there. (My fault, not the program's!)
What's said at Bootcamp stays at Bootcamp, that's one of the rules -- but I can say (I hope, tell me if this is breaking the rule) that before we came Jane joked that they had finished waving their magic wand over our manuscripts (we each sent two) and then "Wait, it's not that easy." But it WAS magical.
We laughed, cried when Jane and Heidi read aloud to us -- Owl Moon, You Nest Here With Me, Miss Rumphius, Letting Swift River Go were some of the books that set me off. And some of us almost cried when we had to leave.
For three and a half days, we had listened to each other as well as to Jane and Heidi -- and made no distinctions between those whose books had sold more and those whose had sold less -- and learned. I felt that I had never really understood what a picture book WAS before this weekend. We learned from the lectures, from the group crits, from the read-alouds, from the books Jane and Heidi had picked because we would learn from them and put in labelled bins for us. And of course we learned from our individual crits with Jane & written comments from Heidi. Those were the best comment/ crits I've ever had -- but they were just one part of the learning.
Jane and Heidi had said we would be treated like family as soon as we arrived, and we were: Heidi cooked for us and took care of us -- the whole time, we were enfolded in their support and inspiration -- and each others'. The whole time, we were enfolded in magic. And it's lasted.
If you don't believe in magic: being there was just plain FUN and everyone was nice to everyone else the whole time. As long as it's fun for them, Jane and Heidi will choose published writers to join them at the aptly named (except for the food)
BOOTCAMP: You start at 7 a.m. (or 6 if you want to walk with Jane!) and go until bedtime: talk about books and writing and publishing -- the art, the business; get and give crits; listen to lectures and picture books and read more picture books to yourself (from labeled bins of books Jane and Heidi have picked out for you). We were all exhausted by the end. But there is nothing bootcampy about the food -- Heidi and her helper Laura cooked meals from scratch (and local ingredients) which we ate all together at one long table, talking, talking, talking. Heidi asked questions beforehand about what we liked and didn't and even provided gluten-free alternatives for people like me.
Her only food rule was "Don't come on a diet!"
I'd go again if they'd let us -- next year it may cost a little more, but Picture Book Bootcamp is worth every penny. I came home feeling a new confidence, energy, and inspiration....and I think that -- like the support of my fellow-bootcampers -- will last. Thank you all!