A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Other Side of Send

I'm going to take a moment away from my Trek log and take a brief foray into the world of writing and what's going on in my life.

I have spent the last two weeks wresting with a wonderful, but at the same time stressful problem. In sending out queries, (letters seeking representation for my novel), I received multiple offers of representation from literary agents. (Awesome to the point where I can hardly believe it!) But this put me in kind of a unique position as a writer. Generally (and believe me, I've been there) a writer sends out queries and receives rejections. And because a rejection is the response more times than not, writers are often critical of the query process and of agents in general. (Again, I've been there.) We like to point to lists of books with multiple rejections that went on to be bestsellers and/or award winners as evidence that the query system is flawed.

We send out our babies, our darlings, our blood sweat and tears, only to be rejected with a polite form e-mail and no explanation why except "not the right fit" or "don't feel strong enough about this project". We have visions of agents cackling over their computer and hitting "send" to rejection after rejection--heartlessly destroying our dreams of publication. My experience this week has taught me that this is not the case. (At least not always the case, Miss Snark comes to mind...)

While I was trying to make my choice, I spent a lot of time exchanging calls and e-mails with literary agents. Guess what I discovered? The agents on the other end of that send button are not cackling, not bent on destroying dreams, and not even snarky. (At least not always.) What I found was four wonderful people who love reading and writing and yes, even writers. They have a tough job, not only do they have to (on a daily basis) reject people's hopes and dreams, but they work for hours with no guarantee of getting paid anything for their time. (Okay, writers can relate to that part.)

In all honesty, I would have loved to work with any of the agents I talked to. I spent many days and sleepless nights agonizing over my choice. They are ALL very good at what they do. They are all personable and NICE (gasp). They all had good things to say about my writing and had wonderful ideas about how to improve it.

But I couldn't have all of them. (I wish I could.) I had to choose one. After much studying, agonizing, discussions, and prayers, I made my choice. When the time came for me to hit "send" to reject the offers of the other three, I was physically sick. Being able to reject an agent wasn’t quite the dream I thought it might be, even after all the rejections I had received. Hitting send felt like closing the door on three friendships and working relationships I know I would have enjoyed.

So after hitting send, I sat down and cried. (Yes, I would make a terrible literary agent.)

I like all of the agents I talked to. I would recommend any of them to a friend looking for an agent. The authors that they work with had great things to say about them.

Ultimately, I’m happy with my choice. I won’t announce the name of my agent (WOW! it feels so cool to say that) until the contract is signed. Then I'll celebrate.

To the other wonderful agents who read, enjoyed, and wanted to represent my work, THANK YOU! I wish you the best in everything.

To my fellow writers struggling and hoping for that “yes”, keep working, keep improving your writing and keep querying! You can do it. I have faith in you. And thanks to my experience, I have faith in the people on the other side of the “send” button.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Trek Day Two--Big Bertha, Angry Mobs, and Fish (And Walking)

While the rest of the teenaged world slumbered, our Trekkers were up at the crack of dawn, (6:30,) and getting ready to roll. Breakfast had to be made, tents taken down, carts packed, and lunch--day one of fry bread--needed to be ready for the day ahead. Some common camp occurrences--braiding hair, reading scriptures, prayers, one last trip to the outhouses, oh, and an exploding lighter. (Apparently leaving a lighter on a hot metal sheet is a BAD idea.)

With carts packed a little more securely (experience helps) the Trekkers were ready to set off. They hadn't gone far when the day's first decision had to be made: an off-road trail that cut a few miles off the day's trekking, or stick to the main road for a longer, but easier route. Being the tough and adventuresome teenagers that they are, they took the carts for a bit of off-road, four, (or um), two-wheeling.

Getting the carts off the road provided a challenge, the trail was rough, but the biggest challenge was yet to come.

BIG BERTHA--a hill so named because, well, because she was BIG--steep, winding, rocky, and narrow. Somehow the group had to get 17 loaded handcarts up this hill, or turn around, re-trace their steps, and go back to the road. Scouts from every family and company hiked to the top to check it out. A council was held. The youth decided they would continue up the hill and they came up with a unique plan to get to the top.

UNITY--that's the thing that impressed me the most about this group, even over the two previous Treks I've been on. The plan they decided on was a relay of sorts. Each company had a designated piece of the hill, marked off by their company colors. (See Day One's post, the group was divided into three companies of about 50 kids, red, yellow, and blue.) At the transition point the carts were handed off from one group to the next. Using this plan every company took a role in getting every cart up the hill. On previous Treks the kids had worked together by company only so one group of pullers had to take a cart the entire way to the top.

Did it work?

Absolutely. I have never seen a group of Trekkers get up Big Bertha so fast. All able-bodied young men and young women pulled carts, switched off, and helped each other. Those who didn't feel like they could pull up the hill brought water for the pullers, cheered them on, and moved the carts out of the way at the top. (NOTE: The pictures do not do justice to how long or steep this hill was.)

UNITY--so strong it made me want to cry. NONE of the adult leaders helped pull the carts or suggested this plan. It was all the kids. What a lesson! Working together, relying on each other, they accomplished their goal, and they did it in record time. We had one casualty--toes crushed under a cart--but that valiant Trekker was loaded into a cart to continue the journey with the others.

Big Bertha conquered, the Trekkers got a much deserved rest--about 30 minutes--before they trekked onward and upward, and upward and upward and upward. (It was a long climb.) Hot, dry, dusty, muscles tired from Big Bertha--still they climbed.

A grassy, shady hill, and lunch (fry bread, peanut butter, jam and honey) brought a much-needed rest. They ate and then curled up under the trees (too tired to worry about dirt or bugs), laid down weary bodies, and drifted off into...



An angry mob from the other side of the woods, shouting "Get out Mormons!" "We don't want any of your kind here!"

Again, reminiscent of what the early Mormon pioneers had to endure. A few moments peace and then run off by an angry mob.

Chased from their grassy resting place the journey resumed. And they walked and walked and walked (uphill this time)...you get the picture.

Finally they left the trail and went into anther meadow and after about a mile of off-roading through a little woods until they had reached...

(Which of course meant camp for the night.)

No mosquitoes (or at least less mosquitoes) in this camp, more wind and more dust, but an incredible view of the mountains. As they set up camp for the second night, hungry stomachs turned thoughts to...


But like most things on Trek, there was a surprise in store and dinner wasn't going to be an easy task. Before it could be prepared the families had a "stewardship" talk. The kids were told that they have a stewardship over the land--the plants, animals, water, air--everything that makes up our earth. (You could say they were going green.) They learned that while all of these things are for our use, we have a sacred trust not to over-use or abuse this beautiful earth that God has given us. They heard stories about early pioneers, chastised by their leaders for over-hunting or wasting their resources.

Then the interesting part began.

Fish and fishing are common in the Northwest, so many of the Trekkers had already had experience catching and cleaning their own supper. For others...lets just say they had a lesson about where meat really comes from.

The fish had already been caught, but cleaning was another story.

Amidst the blood and gore that cleaning a fish creates, there was one kid who passed out, (and a lot of gross-out moments and facial expressions). Although not everyone took the "opportunity" to clean a fish, by the end everyone had learned a lesson in stewardship, fish anatomy, and had gained a greater appreciation for fast foods and grocery stores.

After dinner, the Trekkers settled in for the night, but three riders appeared on the horizon. This time they brought good news, mail from home--Pony Express style instead of internet.

By the time they crawled into their sleeping bags, most of the Trekkers were so tired that even the howling winds, howling coyotes, and rumors of a bear siting couldn't keep them awake.

Day Two Comments--What did you learn from conquering Big Bertha? What did you learn about your own strength and unity. What about stewardship and where our food comes from? What was your favorite moment of day two?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Youth Trek--Day One

***Note all the pictures for the Trek posts were taken by my fellow Trek paparazzi (and beloved husband), David Wolf, who is an AMAZING photographer, check out his website!***

Suppose you take 150 kids, aged 14-18, make them leave behind their cell phones, iPods, Xboxes, internet service, (and yes, even make-up and deodorant), dress up in clothing from the 1800's, divide them into "families" with people they may or may not know, and then tell them they have to load all of their gear into a handcart, and push it around a mountain in heat and dust for four days?

Crazy, right? No teenager in their right mind would do that.


Members of the Lacey Washington Stake from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (Mormons) did just that. Not only did they survive, they grew, they learned, and most of them actually loved it!

This was my third Youth Trek serving as the "fly on the wall," the paparazzi, or officially trek videographer. "Trek" is a reenactment of what many of these kids' pioneer ancestors were forced to do when they were driven from their homes in Illinois because of religious persecution. The Mormon Pioneers had to push handcarts from Illinois to what is now the Salt Lake Valley. Trek is a link to their past, but more than that its preparation for the future. It's hard and hot and dusty and smelly, but it teaches them that they can do hard things, they can rely on each other, and they can rely on their Father in Heaven.

The Trekkers started day one--fresh faced, eager, nervous, and clean. Fresh-faced and eager stayed around for pretty much the whole trip. Clean was one of the first casualties due to dust and sweat.

At registration the trekkers were assigned a "company" (red, yellow, or blue) and given a bandanna with that color. After a few "get to know you games" and lunch, they had to pack all of their belongings (albeit meager, after a strict pack check), dutch ovens and other means for cooking, sleeping bags and tents into one handcart per family. A family consisted of a volunteer adult couple (Ma and Pa) and 7-10 of the teenagers.

Its always fun to watch the kids pack their carts on the first day. The Ma and Pa have been instructed (yest there is such a thing as Ma and Pa training) to stand back and let the kids pack the carts. Securing everyone's gear with ropes and tarp to the handcart provides an interesting challenge. The load can't hang over the sides or the back and it has to be balanced to make it easy to pull. They don't usually get it right the first time, so I saw lopsided loads, wide loads, and loads with saggy behinds.

Once the carts were packed, then the real fun began, and by fun I mean walking. They walked, and walked, and walked, and walked, and when they were done with that they walked some more. Devoid of any other means of communication (aka texting) they talked to each other. (Novel idea, but it worked!)

A couple of miles in they were met by a group of women who begged the Trekkers to take their babies with them--the orphan trail. Each family received at least one baby (dolls weighted to feel more a real baby) some had twins. The babies came with names and instructions about how to take care of them. (Think egg, doll or flour sack assignment in "Life Skills" Classes.) In this case if the baby was mishandled it was pronounced dead and the whole company had to stop for a funeral.

After a good long time of walking (and pushing and pulling) the Trekkers stopped for some activities at Gnat Flats. Trust was a big issue during a bridge building exercise. One Trekker walked across boards held between members of their family. Team work was needed to "walk" a giant triangle across the meadow with one Trekker standing inside.

By the time they left Gnat Flats and walked and walked and walked and walked (you get the idea), they were getting pretty tired and very hungry. They were happy to find out that the next stop brought a chance for food--at a price. One family member was picked to go hunting (target shooting) with a black powder rifle. If the family sharp-shooter hit the target the family got jerky, otherwise...(okay they all got jerky and dried apples anyway, but most of them hit the target.)

After more walking (I sense a theme here,) three men arrived on horseback with a message from the U.S. government. This part of the Trek was another reenactment of The Mormon Battalion--a group 500 Mormon men who were asked to leave their families and enlist in the U.S. Army during the Mexican war in 1846. As with the original Mormon Battalion, all of the men of the group went with the Battalion and the women were left to pull alone up a long steep hill. The ladies stepped up to plate and with courage and determination (and help from a few "angels" scattered along the path) made it up to the top of the hill before the men were released from the "Mormon Battalion."

They walked some more (that may have been the most realistic part of the Trek, a lot of walking), and finally reached camp for the night. But even then there was no rest for the weary. Tents had to be put up and the carts had to be unloaded. This points out one of my favorite lessons of Trek--everybody is needed. Whether you are pushing and pulling a cart or setting up camp, every single member of the family has to contribute. If one person is sick, or hurt or just lazy, the whole family suffers.

Nightfall brought stew, rest for tired bodies and, oh yeah, mosquitoes! Luckily one of the modern convinces they were allowed to bring was mosquito repellent. It helped keep the less determined bugs at bay. (Not completely away, but a bit less thick.)

With the buzzing of mosquitoes, snoring of new family members, and coyotes singing a sweet and (hopefully) distant lullaby, the first day of Trek drew to a close.

I will post more about the rest of Trek soon. There was so much going on I need to take it one day at a time. In the meantime I want to hear your comments. If you went on Trek, tell me what was your favorite part of day one? If you didn't go on Trek feel free to put in your two cents about what you think of the idea of Trek and what makes 150 teenagers do something like this. (And don't say they do it to meet members of the opposite sex. I told one of my son's friends he could go on Trek and meet girls. His reply was, "that's still not worth it.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer in Wonderland

When you ask a kid “what are you doing this summer?” you’ll probably get answers like going on vacation, camping, swimming, or just hanging out. If you ask a kid that question and get an answer like celebrating my unbirthday, having tea with a guy in a big hat, or playing Simon Says with a murderous queen and a bunch of cards, you might think they’ve been out in the sun too long or that they’ve been eating off the wrong side of the mushroom. Or it might just be that they’re involved in summer drama.

Last year Bretschneider and Kirkwood Musical Productions debut summer performance of "Aladdin" was a hit and a lot of fun for the kids involved. This year they’re set to do it again with Disney’s "Alice in Wonderland".

I got to visit “Wonderland” (for now, a dance studio on the east side of Olympia). I saw “Alice” shrink and grow, I saw a pompous dodo bird directing a host of goldfish, mermaids, and lobsters in a caucus race, and I saw a group of kids aged 6-15 having a great time.

It isn’t all adventures in Wonderland. There’s a lot of hard work—learning lines, songs, and dance steps. Sometimes (okay often) the studio is hot. And sometimes (okay often) there’s a lot of waiting around and being quiet while other people are doing their parts. It’s an ambitious project—a full-scale musical complete with song and dance numbers, costumes, and sets ready to go on in about four weeks. (Not to mention wrangling more than 40 kids aged 6-15). If what I saw today is any indication, this will be another fun and amazing production.

Anyone who is familiar with the Disney version of “Alice in Wonderland” will recognize the songs, the characters, and many of the scenes. The Mad Hatter is there, the white rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, a caterpillar and twin boys, one of which may (or may not) be named Dum. You’ll see my favorite character, the Cheshire Cat in triplicate and several versions of Alice, from small to tall.

Mark your calendars now for a fun night of family entertainment. “Alice in Wonderland” will be performed at the Timberline high school theater in Lacey, (6120 Mullen Road Southeast) and will run July 22nd, and 23rd and 29th and 30th. There will be a matinee performance each day from 10-11:15 and an evening performance from 7-8:15. Tickets at the door are $7 for individuals and $25 for a family. Advance and group tickets are being sold by cast members for $5 for an individual and $20 for a family. You can contact me through this blog or Elizabeth Bretschneider at ehbretsc@comcast.net for more information.