The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I'm an Old Dog...

      I began teaching during the chalkboard days. When I switched school districts after 9 years of teaching, there was a dry-erase board bolted on top of a blackboard. I almost put in a written request to have the dry-erase board removed.


      Now, dry-erase boards are old-school. Smartboards are the thing. And even though they occasionally act up in ways that chalkboards never did, I enjoy working with the new technology.

      Last week I got 5 new chromebooks. I already had 3 desktops. Sometime in early January, I will be getting 16 new chromebooks. (I have 27 students so it's still not 1:1 as far as technology is concerned.)

       And so the paradigm shifts yet again. I'll be doing more things without paper (which is a good thing) but also with my own low-tech skills (which is a hilarious thing).

         Do you consider yourself an old dog or a new one? What sort of things are you trying or planning on trying soon? Bumbling minds want to know...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Are You a Digger?

       The other day I let our puppy Radar out. (He's almost 9 months old.) Five minutes later, I open the door to let him in, I look out, and I panic. The way he's splayed out in the yard, it's obvious something terrible has happened.

       One of his legs was gone! Had he broken a leg galloping across the yard?  Had he fallen in a horrible way?

        No. In those brief five minutes, he had dug such a deep hole, one of his front legs was completely buried in the canyon he was working on.

He tries to look  innocent, but his brain is always working on a scheme...

        What do you dig for? Radar is so determined, he not only digs with his paws, he also uses his nose.  What are you feverishly working on--physically, mentally or emotionally?

         (And do you need a foundation dug? I have a one-canine construction crew that's available for hire...He works for treats and petting.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Fine Farewell

       I have trouble--most of the time--with endings. When I'm writing short memoir pieces, I usually don't put enough oompf in at the end... Without the help of my critique partners, my presents would be sent off wrapped up, but no ribbons and bows to really make them alluring.

       So it was with sadness when I watched the last episode of the last season of Sons of Anarchy this week. Would the ending be satisfying?

       What's that you say? You've never watched it? You don't have any idea what it's about?

        Think The Sopranos on motorcycles. With better-looking guys. And better writing...

This is Charlie Hunnam, the star of Sons of Anarchy. Hunnam was originally chosen
for the starring male role in Fifty Shades of Grey but luckily bowed out before it was too late...

        Kurt Sutter (the creator and head writer and minor character) is one crazy guy, and his wife Katey Sagal (as Gemma) is a universe away from her work on Married With Children. The characters were incredibly flawed, the things they grappled with--at their core--were things we all could relate to and the connections they had with each other were ones we all understood.

        The last moments finished up the series the only way it could be finished. Lots of brutal (but justified) acts. Lots of sacrifices. Lots of joy in uniting the past with the present.

         The good thing about my WIP which may end up being my FWIP--my forever work in progress--is I know exactly how it's going to end. Now, if I can only add 40,000 words to the 35,000 I currently have, so I can get to that ending.

        How about you? How are you with endings? What are some of your favorite movie or television series endings?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

David Berner--Guest Post

The publishing world is basically the Wild West these days. There are myriad ways to get your stories out there, but some ways are better than others, like some parts of the west were wilder than others. Even the self-publishing route has several levels of involvement for the independent author, depending on the money you want to spend and the risks you want to take. And of course the entire e-book approach has put another spin on the process. Some writers have said they see this new world of publishing as a threat somehow to the art of storytelling. I don’t see it that way. I think this day and age might be the best time to be an author in the history of the written word.

 There is no doubt traditional publishers are no longer risk takers. Some of the small presses might be to some extent, and I applaud them for this. But so many of the great books of the 20th century, if they were being submitted to publishers today, would not be published traditionally. Traditional publishers–the big publishing houses–are not taking the chances they once did with authors. Do you think a big name publisher would publish a book like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road today? I doubt it.

However, if it were written in 2014, Jack might have self-published it, put it out as an e-book, sold it on Amazon at the holidays for 99-cents. I don’t believe that’s diminishing art as some might argue; I think it’s democratizing art.

My memoir, Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons (Dream of Things. 2014) did not start out as a book-length story. It began as a series of small, short essays about being a father and a few early versions of specific parts were published in small, independent journals, some online as stand-alone essays. What an opportunity! These kinds of outlets for authors didn’t exist just a few years ago. Some might argue that you can’t make any money publishing in those journals. Maybe not, but it is a way to get your work out there, to offer your stories to a new and motivated audience and reader.

My first book, Accidental Lessons was published by what is now commonly called a hybrid publisher. They did everything like a traditional publisher, but asked me to contribute to some of the initial expense. All in all, the publisher was essentially a traditional publisher and handled the book’s release quite well. Any Road Will Take You There was initially self-published, but not after first hiring an agent who believed in the work and then a year of more than 30 rejections, 20 of those labeled by my agent as “good rejections,” meaning the traditional publishers loved the story, loved the writing, but couldn’t take it on for one reason or another, far too many reasons to list here. I got restless and published on my own.

A few months after the book was released, Mike O’Mary and Dream of Things publishing in Chicago came to me with an offer. Mike liked the book and wanted to re-publish it under his press, plus he also said he was fond of a collection of essays I was working on and thought he could take on that project, too. I couldn’t pass up the chance to get both projects out to readers under Dream of Things. Plus, I knew Mike, loved Dream of Things’ other books, and knew this small press was a class act, putting out strong stories and great voices. 

If you write and are looking for a way to get your stories out there, take time to explore all the many options. Look hard at each one and invest time to study and investigate the platforms. Don’t rely on or get stuck in the old world process of finding an agent, submitting to traditional publishers, and waiting around until they decide whether you are worthy. Take your own steps, but do it with the knowledge and understanding that you must be an advocate for your own work. Hire a good editor if you’re self-publishing. This is essential. Everyone needs an editor. And if you are going the hybrid route, read the fine print. Some hybrid publishers are wonderful; some are shady. And if you decide on the traditional route and a publisher shows interest, understand that they may wish to make a lot of changes to your work to fit their needs. If that’s okay with you, fine. But I would suggest being absolutely certain of how you feel about this. And through the process, do not ignore the small presses. They are generally writer-friendly, will give you a big hug when you need it, and they understand the artistic process. Dream of Things is one of those wonderful small presses. It will take some work, but you can find one that fits your style, needs, and your comfort level with any level of risk taking. I did, and I’m happy, honored, and grateful.

In the best tradition of the great American memoir, "Any Road Will Take You There" is honest, unflinching, and tender. A middle-age father takes the reader on a five-thousand-mile road trip, the one he always wished he’d taken as a young man. Recently divorced and uncertain of the future, he rereads the iconic road story - Jack Kerouac’s "On the Road" - and along with his two sons and his best friend, heads for the highway to rekindle his spirit. However, a family secret turns the cross-country journey into an unexpected examination of his role as a father, and compels him to look to the past and the fathers who came before him to find contentment and clarity, and celebrate the struggles and triumphs of being a dad.

Monday, December 8, 2014

White Space

         Yes, Lisa, I did miss out on posting on Thursday. I know. I feel badly, because I had marvelous intentions (as I walk down that paved road to not-heaven) but was busy with some Christmas craftwork that had to be ready by Friday--the Friday that just flew by.

         What was Sioux busy with, as she trotted around in her Crocs and neglected to post? 

  • gluing 1,476 little jokes and snide remarks into each of 4 date books
  • creating 158 pieces of hand-crafted stationary that will get used up in--at the most--4 days because the recipient sends out dozens of hand-written letters every day
  • sleeping around with a couple of hairy, hunky blondes (okay, they are indeed hairy and there were probably hunks of leaves and... well, other things--hanging from their legs and tails. And they most definitely are blonde. My husband was out of town, so I had a few nights of golden retrievers gone wild.)
  • making fudge for a gift (okay, that only takes 5 minutes, but when I scrape the bowl clean--straight from the spatula and into my mouth, the calories last a lifetime)

       More importantly than what I missed out on delivering was what I missed out on receiving. So yesterday afternoon I busily read up on my favorite blogs...right after I saw an episode of "Well Read" on PBS, and got all jazzed up.

        Anthony Doerr, with his book All the Light We Cannot See, was on. It sounds like an interesting novel. However, it was how he came up with the title and something in particular he said that got me hyped.

         He said he was in a train, and when it went through a long tunnel, one of the passengers got quite incensed because they no longer had use of their phone. (Duh!) This guy cursed and kept hitting his phone, to no avail. Doerr thought to himself what a miracle it was to be able to communicate, via a system of towers, and what an incredible (unseen) power it was. (He said it much more lyrically and intelligently.) He came up with the title from that encounter. So, what can we learn from that? Be open. You never know when you'll get a title or a first line or some dialogue or a bit of inspiration from what's going on around you.

         Then he slung off a line that hit when it ricocheted back at me, so I've (again) screwed up the wording. Doerr said something like, "White space is a gift to readers." I like the white space. I like super short paragraphs (a super short sentence that stands by itself.) I like mixing it up with a few dense paragraphs and then some dialogue, and then back to the dense paragraphs. In my WIP, I've broken up the writing into little chapters/scenes, with accompanying snarky or pointed or poignant titles (but not like formal chapters... if this piece-that-is-one-of-Dante's-circles-of-hell ever sees the light of day, there for sure won't be a table of contents. White space is ultra-important to poets, but storytellers and novelists should be mindful of it as well.

          Because it's all about the space, 'bout the space, 'bout the space, no lyin'...(Sorry--I couldn't resist. Now is that song in your head for a while?)


Monday, December 1, 2014

The Good, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

          I'll do the bad first. Several individuals broke into our school last week and stole a bunch of ipads. My school is the closest one to the rioting and looting and burning that has been going on in Ferguson.
         One of the good things that happened is one our neighbors saw the stealing taking place. He drove to the National Guard station to alert them. Some of the electronics have already been recovered. I don't know if the thieves were apprehended. What I do know is this man risked his life doing the right thing. (The guys doing the stealing were quite visibly armed.) This hero was appalled, saying, "They're taking away from our kids." That is truly low...

       One other good thing is I began a couple of projects with for some laptops. Both projects got fully funded, due to the generosity of people all over the world. (I even had a couple of donations from Sweden!)

      And now for the truly ugly. For those who have a weak stomach, avert your eyes. For those who have a delicate constitution, close this tab immediately. For those who are easily disgusted, unfollow me... now.

        (Don't say I didn't warn you.)

        What's that you say? You're wondering if that's a trick of light or a tear in the Croc? It's a tear. There are also some permanent stains the camera could not capture. (And they claim to be the kind of shoes you can hose off and they're good to go. I have a mind to sue 'em.) Don't Crocs have straps, you ask? Yes, but Foley (who only gnaws on MY shoes) chewed one of the straps off, so I cut off the other one. As horrible as the sight of these shoes are, the real horrifying thing is this:  I still wear these shoes out in public. (Hey! I figure the bottom of my pants covers--for the most part--the tear and the stains. And they're soooo comfortable.)

       Today the gods have smiled on me. Sleet has come. The cancellation of school has come. As Martha used to say, "It's a good thing."