Monday, March 03, 2008

A Weekend with Richard Peck

Richard Peck is a treasure. I hadn't realized that until this weekend. Sure, I respected him as an author, and I admired his work. Who wouldn't respect a man who created the hilarious character of Grandma Dowdel and won both a Newbery Honor and Medal for her? But the reason I signed up for SCBWI-Illinois' weekend writing retreat facilitated by Richard Peck was not because of Grandma Dowdel. It was because of one of my critique partners, Carol Grannick. Carol is a Richard Peck uber-fan. She reads and re-reads his books all the time. She thinks of Richard the way I think of Judy Blume. And so I had to go. Our whole critique group had to go. And what a weekend we had! Here are just a few of the gems Richard gave us:

On craft...


  • If you see an adverb, shoot.

  • Delete 'There was' at the beginning of your sentences.

  • Remove 'as if' from your manuscript.

  • The middle of the novel is either rising of falling. There are no plateaus. Make it high - like a circus tent pole.

  • The first page of your book is its table of contents. All the clues and plot elements should be there.
On process...

  • Stand up and act out your scenes.

  • When you're stuck, go back and retype a page from before. Edit it. Remove the adverbs. Cut twenty more words. Whatever you do, don't leave the desk.

  • At the end, throw away the first chapter. Rewrite it.

  • Finally, examine your opening line. Is it the best you can do?

On being a writer...


  • Writing fiction is the struggle to give life a shape.

  • Childhood is a jungle, not a garden.

  • We're writers. We can inhabit other people's space.

  • Nobody a writer loves is ever dead.

Richard also surprised and honored us by reading a chapter from his work-in-progress, and believe it or not, it is a new book featuring Grandma Dowdel! What a treat!

I will forevermore hear Richard's encouraging, yet discerning, voice in my head as I write. (I can hear him now, but I keep telling myself this is just a blog, it doesn't have to be perfect!)


Here is Carol presenting Richard with a Grandma Dowdel for President campaign button!





And here's our critique group at dinner Saturday night.


Jenny Meyerhoff, Carol Grannick


Me, and Ellen Reagan

1 comment:

Jim D said...

Brenda,
Couldn't see the pictures on Livejournal, but I can here.

They're great!

Jim D