Okay, okay so I missed another event due to my high society, jet setting lifestyle. Did you think Prince Harry was going to just undress himself? Luckily, Jill Cozza Turner, one of the most talented freelancers I know was on hand to take notes on our August Writers’ Workshop with Tracey Baptiste. Jill is an Emmy Award-winning writer whose credits include silly, heartfelt shows like Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and Jungle Junction and shows that are more meaty on the curriculum like Word World and Little Einsteins. She recently finished writing for Sprout’s upcoming series The Chica Show and is working on her first original picture book. Let’s give a warm Muppet show welcome for Jill Turner!
I signed up for the “Unconventional Heroes” writers’ workshop with Tracey Baptiste hoping I’d get some inspiration for my own projects. Little did I know that Melinda would ask me to write a guest blog about it! I’ve got some big shoes to fill, but here goes:
I knew I was going to like Tracey the minute she kicked off her shoes and began her presentation. I should give her husband some credit too as he set up her projection equipment while everyone around the table introduced themselves.
Tracey started by discussing her background in Trinidad where she lived until she was 15. Trinidad has a very rich folklore with characters that are similar to the fairy tale characters we Americans have grown up with, but in Trinidad the characters are much more present and very macabre. For instance, we have mermaids, but they have Mama D’Leau. This is a creature with a human torso and a snake’s tail. I was pretty creeped out as she described it, but Tracey relieved my fears by assuring us that if we ever come across one we simply take off our left shoe then tip-toe backwards until we are home safe in our beds. Yet another unexpected writers’ workshop surprise: we got survival tips!
Another interesting (read: horrifying) creature in Trinidad folklore is the Douen. It’s a leprechaun-type being with backwards feet that listens to your mom call your name then mimics her voice to lure you into a forest where they GET YOU. Yeah, that’s right. We got the cute little guy on the Lucky Charms box and Tracey had to worry that when her mother called out to her it might actually be a monster trying to kill her in the woods. No wonder she’s a writer!
As I listened to her stories it was pretty obvious where her creativity comes from.
Tracey talked about how Trinidad honors literature – especially authors from Trinidad and that made her think, “I can do that!” (despite the fact that she was failing English class at the time). Obviously she turned that around because she went to NYU and got a Bachelor’s in Literature and a Masters in Elementary Education. She taught for a while but found that it left her no time to do her own writing so she left teaching and got a job at McGraw Hill as an editor and there she learned what kind of writing she enjoyed.
She told us that she got the inspiration for her novel, “Angel’s Grace” when she saw a picture of a girl with a mark on her head. She began thinking about a story where a girl has an unusual birthmark and meets someone else with the same birthmark.
She wrote the first two chapters and sent them to her agent while she was on maternity leave with her first child. The agent found some interest in the book and asked for more chapters. Despite the fact that writing with an infant on your lap is no easy task (trust me, I can vouch for that) she finished the book and once it was published it made the list of 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing. This was the point where I was thinking, “That’s incredible. Now explain how exactly you did that.”
Tracey talked about how she likes to use index cards to organize her thoughts and her husband added that there are notebooks all over her house so she always has a place to write down an idea. I’m reading Anne Lamott’s book, “Bird by Bird” (thank you, Becky and Melinda for the recommendation) and she also uses index cards so I think there might be something to this technique…
Once Tracey went completely freelance she went on to write biographies for young adults. The best tip and guideline she gave for anyone wanting to write non-fiction was to verify everything. “If your mother says she loves you, find a second source.” She also said the key to writing biographies is to find the theme or thread.
Tracey is currently working on new fiction and writes a blog called “Knitting with Pencils.” (http://www.traceybaptiste.com/) She also started a company called Fairy Godauthor that helps others elevate their writing as well as assists them in the submission process which can be extremely confusing for someone who’s never done it before. This woman is BUSY!
However in her spare time (the italics means I’m being sarcastic, if you hadn’t guessed it yet) she likes to search the web for creepy, weird images and then makes fictional covers of the books she hasn’t written yet. Once such image that someone sent her was a picture of these amazing boots*:
She’s currently working on a story called Goat Girl so if anyone can find out how to purchase these boots for Tracey you should send her a tweet or message her on Facebook.
I was so glad to be a part of this workshop. I could relate to how Tracey balances family life and freelancing and I appreciated how candid she was about her writing process. I was also inspired to think more about my childhood and background and all the interesting people and stories I could use in my own writing – even if my childhood folklore had mostly happy endings and Prince Charmings instead of one-hoofed devil women trying to steal my soul.
*Special thanks to Sandy Damashek and Corey Nacsenzi for the photos!
Melinda here again. The next writers’ workshop blog will be about the freelancers’ panel that Jill and I participated in. Instead of tooting my own horn and recapping the event, I invite you all (both of you) who read this blog (Thanks Mom, Dad) to write in any burning questions you have about being a freelancer and I’ll try to answer them. If not, I’m just going to write about writing in my pajamas. Which no, I’m not doing now but maybe I was when I started writing this. You’ll never know. Unless you ask. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or use the comment section. That’s what it’s there for!