Tag Archives: Katherine Paterson


LoonSong facilityThe autumn air, the stillness of the water, the cry of the loon. If you long for time away from your daily grind, for days nestled in a quiet spot with beautiful views and inspirational people, a time to write and think, dream and learn, come join us at LoonSong!

Be part of our inaugural retreat for children’s authors who are serious about their writing. Come listen to award-winning writers talk about their process; hear what’s happening in the children’s book market and network with people who can help you grow your career; join in discussions about craft and business; participate in informal critique groups; take time for yourself and your writing. All among the towering pines and graceful birches along the shores of Elbow Lake.

This retreat is for you! A rich smorgasbord. Select the options that meet your needs—lectures, small workshops, consultations—or retreat to your beautiful lodgings to write and dream.  Connect with an editor, an agent, marketers. Enjoy pontoon rides on the lake with your fellow writers. Gather around bonfires.

Check out the schedule and sign up today. LoonSong will give you what you need: time, expertise, and inspiration.

The place, Elbow Lake Lodge in the pristine Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota. The nearest town is Cook. Commercial shuttle service to Duluth is available from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport and LoonSong offers a shuttle from Duluth where you can begin to meet your fellow participants. Or you can arrive in your own car.

(I know when I’m considering travel to out-of-the-way places, before I can begin to dream I need to set aside any anxiety about getting there. We’ll take care of you!)

The faculty are writers Katherine Paterson, William Alexander, Kathi Appelt, Kekla Magoon, and me (Marion Dane Bauer).

Steve and Vicki Palmquist of Winding Oak will present on marketing and provide individual marketing consultations.

Rubin Pfeffer is our agent. (He happens to be my agent and he’s extraordinary.)  You can pitch your work to him in an individual session.

And now we can announce that we have an editor on board, Yolanda Scott, Editorial Director at Charlesbridge. As well as hearing her speak and having both Yolanda and Rubin present at readings, ten lucky folks to be chosen at random can have an individual consult with this exceptional editor. (Check the LoonSong website for details)

LoonSong is a collaboration with Vermont College of Fine Arts, so if you are interested in gathering information about the oldest and most prestigious MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults in the country, that will be available, too. All the writing faculty are connected with VCFA, Katherine on the Board of Trustees, the rest of us current or former faculty. And the retreat is designed by Debby Dahl Edwardson and Jane Buchanan, VCFA grads, and by me.

LoonSongLoonSong will be a boutique experience, intimate, nurturing, relaxing, inspiring. And there are a few spots still open.

Sign up and come join us, September 8th through the 12th, 2016. This will be the first of what we hope will be a long and rich tradition.

I would love to see you there!




LoonSongWriters need other writers. At every stage of a career.

The newbie dipping a toe into the icy water of agents and editors and contracts and marketing plans and publication.

The just-on-the-edge-of-success writer who has had one-too-many encouraging notes from editors and too few contracts in hand.

The mid-career pro who needs to step for a moment outside the isolation of the work, to create, connect, discover.

The long-time writer who simply wants to be with others who share the vision, to be renewed.

A couple of autumns ago, two Vermont College of Fine Arts alumni of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, Debby Dahl Edwardson and Jane Buchanan, and I, a retired faculty member from VCFA, gathered in Debby’s cabin on an island in a lake in northern Minnesota. We went there to dream of a retreat for writers for children and young adults, those just starting out and seeking information and encouragement and those long established and looking for a community of their peers. We knew that given a long weekend in this breathtaking wilderness we could nurture one another. And that is how LoonSong came into being.

Now the dream has come to fruition. The first LoonSong retreat will gather from September 8th through the 12th, 2016. It will have riches to offer for children’s and young-adult writers at every stage of their careers. And we will meet, not in a rustic island cabin, but in Elbow Lake Lodge, a gorgeous, lake-side resort.

Here are the outstanding faculty who have agreed to join us:

William Alexander writes science fiction and fantasy for middle grade audiences. His novels include the National Book Award-winning Goblin Secrets and the Eleanor Cameron Award-winning Ambassador.

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honor-winning, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award-winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, and many, many fun and rollicking picture books.

Kekla Magoon is the author of young adult novels including The Rock and the River, for which she received the ALA Coretta Scott King New Talent Award and an NAACP Image Award nomination, and X: A Novel, which was long-listed for the National Book Award in 2015. She also writes nonfiction on historical topics, including Today the World Is Watching You: The Little Rock Nine and the Fight for School Integration, 1957 and the forthcoming PANTHERS! The History and Legacy of the Black Panther Party in America.

Oh . . . and me. I’m on the faculty, too. (You can check my credentials if you like.)

And believe it or not, Katherine Paterson, our first National Ambassador for Children’s Literature, twice Newbery Medalist, named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress, will be our keynote speaker!

Extraordinary literary agent Rubin Pfeffer will be there, and since he’s my agent, I can promise that he is truly extraordinary.

An editor, yet to be named, probably someone who works with one of the faculty so you’ll be able to see them interact, will be there, too.

Vicki and Steve Palmquist of Winding Oak, the folks who manage this web site and market all my books and do the same for many other writers for young people, will be there to teach us about marketing and to give individual consultations.

Vermont College of Fine Arts is sponsoring the conference and those who are interested will have an opportunity to learn about VCFA’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, the oldest and most prestigious program in the country. (I’d say “in the world,” because it is that, but that would sound pretentious.)

You can come to learn from masters, to connect with your peers, and/or simply to retreat and write. You create your own experience. In addition to lectures and panels and workshops, writing prompts and consultations, there will be quiet space for writing. Oh, and I mustn’t forget to mention bonfires on the beach, pontoon rides on the lake and a whole wild world out there, beckoning.

This is truly a boutique program with room for fewer than forty participants, so check it out now. I’m guessing it’s going to fill fast.

I’d love to see you there!

In the Business of Enlarging Hearts

11_12AFranz Kafka said, “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? . . . we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

Many of us have had that kind of sadness in our lives. I certainly have. The frozen sea kind. Sadness that reaches so far down that for a time you quit feeling anything at all. And a book can certainly be the axe that cracks open that frozen sea, helps you feel the grief, helps you move through to the other side.

It is my belief, however, that literature is not only for breaking open our sadness as Kafka would seem to suggest. It is for deepening our experience of all life. It is for feeling . . . the tenderness of the human condition, the ridiculousness of it (just consider the mechanics of sex if you don’t find us ridiculous), the courage of everyday people in their everyday lives, our capacity to love . . . which leads, inevitably, to our capacity to suffer losses. We will each, finally, face the loss of ourselves if by some miracle we live so untouched a life as to endure no other.

Literature—all literature of any worth for any audience whatsoever—rises out of that caldron of human fear and joy and longing and loss. At its best, it prepares us to face—and to feel—all of it. A book can come after our experience to help us know where we’ve been, but it does its best and most powerful work opening us to our world when that world is new. Katherine Paterson has said, and I’m paraphrasing, If you give a child A Bridge to Terabithia after he has experienced death for the first time, you’re too late.

Stories aren’t meant as therapeutic tools to be administered in crisis. They are meant, rather, to crack open our hearts, little by little, to open us to the vulnerability of the human condition, to teach us to live.

Most children today don’t grow up in a village. They grow up in the walled prisons of homes, of schools. Their experience—except for what they get from the media, and it should give us pause to think what’s being piped inside those tight walls by the media—is insular, limited by the nuclear family and the few institutions that surround it. But books, lots of books, the right books and perhaps some of the “wrong” ones, too, can break down those walls and let the world in.

Books can enlarge hearts.

Another quote, this one from Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher: “If you can live with the sadness of human life . . . if you can be willing to feel fully and acknowledge continually your own sadness and the sadness of life, but at the same time not be drowned in it, because you also remember the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun, you experience balance and completeness . . .”

And literature, when it embraces both, experiences balance and completeness, too.

I have come to the point in my own reading life that I resent the writer’s power to bring characters to bad ends if that power is used purely for effect. I know an author can make me cry by killing off the character I love. That’s easy. . . much too easy. But what good are tears unless they are balanced by “the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun”?

If you are out there writing for young people, don’t be afraid of sadness. But don’t be afraid of the light, either. Sadness alone can shut us down. Tears and laughter in close embrace enlarge our hearts.

Let’s all be in the business of enlarging hearts.

The Sadness of Maturity

bk_rose160 It was a lyrical picture-book text.  The subject was spring.  And it bounced back because the editor found the tone, somehow, too sad. 

My agent was bemused, but when he passed the comment on to me, I understood.

An undercurrent of sadness often shows through in my writing.  There is, truth be told, an undercurrent of sadness in me.

I have never been a jolly type, even when I was a child.  I have always been thoughtful, even pensive.  I love to laugh–don’t we all?–but making others laugh is rarely my goal.  And I simply can’t write comedy.  When I try, the words on the page feel instantly false.  Or at least they feel inconsequential.  The writers I admire most deeply are the ones like Katherine Paterson who can make you laugh and then, in the next breath, make you cry. 

The laughter makes the tears more heartfelt.  The tears make the laughter more sweet.  How I would love to be able to do both!

I once heard someone refer to “the sadness of maturity,” and when I heard the phrase, I knew it was right.  Part of maturity is simply accepting the sadness we have all gathered throughout our lives. 

This time of year is always a challenging one for me.  My son died on February 9th, six years ago.  I’ve never been a believer in anniversaries, except as something to choose to celebrate.  And after Peter died, I saw no reason to renew my grief each year and didn’t expect to have it happen.

Oddly, I’ve discovered that the memory of the time of my son’s death seems to live in the cells of my body.  My body remembers even when I tell myself that this month, this day is no different than any other.  My very cells seem to grieve.

And my stories grieve, too.  Every time of year.  Peter’s death changed who I am.  How could it not change my stories? 

The first novel I wrote after my son’s death was The Very Little Princess.  I had presold the story to Stepping Stones, Random House, based on a brief description.  A tiny china doll comes to life and, upon seeing her own perfection in the dollhouse mirror, decides that, obviously, she is a princess.  The doll is equally certain that the not-nearly-so-perfect giantess looming over her is her servant.

A fun premise.  Right?  Except that in my hands it became a story of loss, a story of mortality.  By the end, the doll comes truly to life–becomes not just animated but flesh and blood, mortal–by learning to cry.  “I know this isn’t what you’re expecting,” I told the editor when I turned in the manuscript, “but in this season of loss, this is what I can do.”  She was brave to accept it.

Are tears a problem in stories for young people?  It depends, of course, on the age of the intended readers.  I have received a couple of furious letters from adults who thought this novella hurtful to their young readers.  And I understand.  The younger children are, the more protective we are . . . and need to be.  But on the other hand, we are not a culture that deals well with sad endings, whoever the audience may be.  And we can’t pretty up our children’s lives as if they lived in a Disney story.

Still . . . if I am ever jealous of another writer, it is of those who can write funny, especially those who can write funny and still say something important, still touch deep places in our hearts.

But I am who I am.  My life has been what it has been.  And there is no question, the sadness of maturity informs my work.  Even, apparently, when I’m exalting spring.