Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Create your Own Writing Retreat

Western Catskills Writing Gang
I've been to excellent writing retreats and conferences. There's Squaw Valley on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, there are multiple ones along coastal California and Southhampton conference out on Long Island. There's a popular one put on by the Highlights Foundation in PA during the summer. Basically, writing communities pop up in places where swimming or nature walks abound.

Some of my favorite ones are homegrown. For years I've attended a retreat on Cape Cod with good friends. Coffee on the morning porch, then a bit of exercise, then writing on the same wraparound porch--all afternoon until words swim in one's head and pages unfold on laptop screens. Then it's a bracing swim in the ocean, and a dinner of tacos or chicken burgers, followed by evening readings.
I couldn't get to the Cape retreat this year because I was invited to teach creative writing in Greece. Boo hoo, right? I wasn't complaining, except, when I came home and settled in, it felt as if something big was missing.
My awesome Summer Seminars in Greece writing students
strike a Zen-ish pose
And then came the July from h**l, where the gas to the entire building was shut off because there was a leak and people called Con Ed instead of the super. I had minor surgery (Went well and I'm great, thanks) and I was unable to shower. We also had a huge thunderstorm and the drains clogged and flooded, and... you get the picture. During all of this I developed writers' block, which I've never, ever had. And I kept wondering, was it from all of the calamity?

Cape Cod Writers' Coffee
No. Not really. My real problem was that I missed that infusion of writerly energy that comes from good friends sitting on a porch together and writing all afternoon and spurring each other on. I missed the war stories over coffee, and the shared tales of triumph too.

So, I decided to create my own writers' retreat after the fact; at my place in the Catskills, with some very good writer buddies. It was perfect weather--pre-September fall at 65 degrees, sun in a teal sky. We sat outside in the tall yard grass and wrote all afternoon. At night, we cooked together, and then read the Tarot for each other. We also played a fun dictionary game, and another where you sing songs that use certain words. Writers' games.

There was talk of angsty obstacles overcome, of strengths and fears. All of the stuff that binds people together and helps us face whatever, whenever. I'm unstuck, I'm writing again, and the best thing? We've already reserved a three-day weekend for a winter version of the retreat. Writing by a crackling fire with hot chocolate in hand. And breaks for snowy playtime. Yup.

Mr & Mrs Snow with their
two snow boys
Is everything.
How do you replenish your writing spirit?   

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ai Weiwei, on artist & society, plus a clarification of a confusing Kindle topic

I saw the Ai Weiwei film by Alison Klayman last night called Never Sorry. Ai Weiwei, a powerhouse conceptual artist from Beijing was silenced and under a sort of gag order since authorities in Shanghai built him a studio, and then singlehandedly dismantled it with bulldozers! Go figure. In 2011, he went through 81 days in secret isolation for no reason that made sense. And before this, police broke into his hotel room in the middle of the night and beat his head so badly that he developed swelling of the brain, which required surgery. Why? Perhaps it had something to do with him designing the Beijing Olympics "Bird's Nest" stadium, and then protesting the Olympics, after he realized that many houses would be torn down and many people displaced in the process. It also could have been the government's embarrassment at Weiwei documenting the devastating earthquake in 2008, which killed thousands of school children in Sichuan province, that the government tried to cover up.

Up until this time, Weiwei documented all of his art on Twitter, and he is a real proponent of the Net as a truly democratic form of communication. His art is irreverent, such as painting the Coca Cola logo over vases of antiquity, or covering the Tate Modern gallery in millions and millions of sunflower seeds that were actually fake, hand-painted seeds.

Hearing him talk about art and life is truly inspiring and he refreshed my own vision of the creative life and all it entails. For someone to persist against so many odds, and prevail is sobering yet uplifting. Here is an interview Weiwei gave for the Guardian.
You can also follow his news on his Facebook page and on twitter at #AWWNeverSorry.

His beautiful Zodiac heads were on exhibition here in New York and Los Angeles last year. Steven Little, the curator of the LA exhibition had this to say about them: "Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads are a multi-layered meditation on political power, the nature of time, and the often tormented relationship between China and the West, at the same time calling into question the arbitrary nature of such concepts as national treasure."

On a publishing note, author Donna Galanti posted this link to Moira Roger's helpful article about Kindle Lending Library vs Lending Kindle Books, a normally confusing topic that many would love clarification on!

What do you think the responsibility of an author or artist to his or her audience? To herself? To the world?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Alligators Overhead! The Launch of C Lee McKenzie's new middle grade adventure

Today, Idea City helps celebrate the launch of our own C. Lee McKenzie’s middle grade novel, Alligators Overhead! Great cover, huh? Here's a story synopsis:

Alligators, witches and a spooky mansion aren't your average neighbors. Unless you live at the edge of the Ornofree Swamp in the backwater town of Hadleyville. The town's bad boy, Pete Riley, may only be twelve, but he's up to his eyeballs in big trouble, and this time he isn't the cause. This time the trouble arrives when a legendary hundred-year-old mansion materializes next door and the Ornofree alligators declare war to save their swamp from bulldozers. Things only get worse when Pete's guardian aunt and several of her close friends vanish while trying to restore order using outdated witchcraft. Now Pete must find the witches and stop the war. He might stand a chance if his one friend, Weasel, sticks with him, but even then, they may not have what it takes.

Where to buy Alligators Overhead:
Amazon Kindle, B&N, Amazon Author Page

Where to find C. Lee online:
Facebook Page
To follow her other tour stops and read interviews click here.