The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Out of the Womb in Camouflage"

        I've been buried under report cards and end-of-the-school year paperwork for the past week--still am--but I had to wish everyone a happy Memorial Day.

       In the middle of the night when I was hunched over my laptop, writing comments on 27 report cards, I saw a short feature on a veteran. He had loved the camaraderie of the military so much, he signed up for a second tour of duty. During that second tour, he got his leg blown off. When asked if he knew then what he knew now, would he do it again, he replied, "In a heartbeat."

       He later said, "I think I came out of the womb in camouflage." He received a Purple Heart from President Obama. He's now busy putting his life together...

      In two days my son is leaving for an air force base. He's finished his first year of med school; it's the military's nickel (millions of nickels?) that's paying his tuition. Beginning on the 28th of May, he has four weeks of officer training. When he's finished, he'll serve for four years to pay the country back.

      On this holiday I'm thinking of my dad, who served and wanted to be sent overseas. Unfortunately for him (but perhaps fortunately for me?) he blew out his knee playing basketball and never left a U.S. base. 

      I'm thinking of that veteran who is now adjusting to life with a new leg.

      And I'm thinking of my son...

      Happy Memorial Day!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Slipping into a Writer's Style

       More than a decade ago, I joined the Gateway Writing Project. It's the St. Louis site--part of the National Writing Project--and teaches teachers to become confident writers and teaches them how to teach writing. It was a life-changing summer.

      One of the things we did (and it still amazes me) was an activity that required us to slip into the skin of a writer and write like them. (This brilliance was delivered by Dr. Jane Zeni.) Some teachers were given a Kurt Vonnegut passage. Some were given a Jane Austen passage. I don't remember the other authors that were included. I only know it made each of us closely examine an author's style. The rhythm of their writing. The way they use punctuation. Their word choice.

      After we felt we were familiar with our author's style, we were asked to insert three different sentences into the passage, and if we matched their style well, it would appear as if it were a single, seamless piece. Of course, we hoped that the other educators would not be able to sniff out the impostor insertions.

       If you could write like anyone, who would it be, and why? 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

It's All Fodder

      This past Sunday my daughter, granddaughter and I traveled 3 hours (each way) to Kirksville to see my son. He's in med school there.

       I've written a number of stories about "Da Boy" some of which have been published in various anthologies.

        With our son, there is no shortage of stories...

        We got to enjoy a late lunch/early dinner at Macon's best restaurant and meet his girlfriend. Over the meal, we entertained her with retelling some of his antics.

        For instance:

  • My boy took advantage of a "special" senior skip day--in the fall--that was held for just his friends. He expected me to believe him.
  • Our son refused to get his hair cut or use a hair net for marching band. His hair was too long to be hidden under his hat. His solution: have the girls in the marching band put his hair into dozens of tiny pigtails, using pink and purple and green rubber bands. To make the matter even more comical, this was during marching band camp, and it was also the day that yearbook pictures were being taken. In the yearbook is a portrait of our boy looking quite, uh, unusual... 
  • Our child, so excited that it was almost the end of his junior year of high school (on the second-to-last day before summer break), turned himself into a human bowling ball and slid across the cafeteria. He slammed into a garbage can, causing it to tip over. He got suspended--the end of the school year came quicker than he had originally thought--and had to take some finals early.
       And there was the time when we had to rent a Speedo swimsuit for him while in France. He was under the impression we had bought the suit--new--for him to wear, since it was required for the water park. Ooops. That was one of the many stories I didn't have time to tell. It'll have to wait until next time...

McDonald's was NOT where we dined. We ate at AJ's, but I had to turn
so the sun was at my back when I took the photo... and there are the golden arches
filling up the background. What an incredible photographer I am... ;)

       When you have kids, you not only get gray hair and wrinkles and an ever-increasing waistline because of them and an addiction to chocolate, you also get fodder for stories.

        How do your kids react when you tell (or write) stories about them? A talkative mom wants to know.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Need for Speed

        A few weeks ago I was heading to the airport. It wasn't even the crack of chicken yet. I had a 6 a.m. flight, and was told to get there 90 minutes before the flight, so there I was, on a mostly empty highway a little before 4:30 in the morning.

        Fortunately, I had just gotten onto the highway not even a minute earlier. Otherwise, I might have gotten to an even faster speed. Unfortunately Bruno Mars and "Uptown Funk" had just come on the radio. My right foot mashed down on the accelerator as I danced in my seat and rocked my head back and forth to the insanely contagious beat.

        Were those disco lights, to add to mood? No, they were a police car's flashing lights. While talking to me, the officer saw my suitcase, asked me if I was worried about missing my flight (as he tried to figure out why I was going 78 in a 60). No, I wasn't worried about getting to the airport too late, I told him honestly, but I also didn't tell him the whole truth.

        "Officer, a really good song came on--Uptown Funk--and I couldn't help myself."

         Now when "smoother than a fresh dry Skippy" comes on, my foot instinctively eases off the gas pedal.

         What song makes you groove (and possibly speed) when you're driving? A woman who's $86 poorer wants to know...


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Happy Mother's Day (Early)

          If you're interested in reading what I was like as a kid, check out my story in the May issue of Sasee. I was a wild child for most of my teenaged years. Luckily, my parents didn't give up on me (and give me away). "The Blessings of Being Chosen" pays homage to my mother.

       Also, Cathy C. Hall has a story there in Sasee as well. It's a sweet story. It's a story that most girls can identify with, and what happens in the last quarter of the story is what many girls would hope for. 

       And if there is a Listen to Your Mother show in your hometown/city, it's probably this Saturday. I would highly recommend it. I will be in the audience at the St. Louis show on Saturday afternoon. Our school librarian, Dr. Jenny Gray, is one of the performers. She came last year, heard me perform, and with just a tad of encouragement, submitted, auditioned and was accepted for this year's show. I'm really excited for her. She's had a blast (just like I knew she would).

This is a picture of my birth mother (Imogene) and my half-sister.
Note Imogene's forehead that goes on for miles and miles.
Sometimes DNA plays cruel jokes on us...

This is a picture of my mom. She was a stay-at-home mother
for most of my years growing up. My brother and I had stuff like homemade frosting smeared
onto graham crackers as an after school snack. Is it any wonder I now have a butt
as wide as a semi-tractor trailer truck?

               If you're lucky enough to have your mother still with you, have a great day on Sunday. And if you're like me---and you've lost your mother---fill your day with the family you do have. (I'll be traveling to Kirksville with my daughter and granddaughter to see my son. It's going to be a full, fun-filled day.)

            And if you want to have a good cry, if you want to be moved, if you want to read a poignant piece so you can be transported to a time in your past, read Lisa Ricard Claro's story about her mother. I didn't plan on tears welling up at five something in the morning, but Lisa took me there.

            What is one of your most favorite "mom" memories? And if you weren't close to your mom, how about a wonderful grandma memory?

Monday, May 4, 2015

What's Important in a Cover?

        On May 2, Catherine Rankovic spoke to the St. Louis Writers Guild. Her topic? Book covers.

      Here are some informational tidbits she shared during her talk:

  • The title should be in the top third of the book cover. Second in importance is the image that will capture readers' eyes. Third in ranking is the author's name. According to Rankovic, the author should be humble and thrilled that their name is on a book, so it should be much smaller than the title. (Unless, of course, you're James-freakin' Patterson or Stephen King. If that's the case, emblazon away in four-inch high lettering.)
  • The title should be able to be read from 12 feet away, and because it's the Amazon era, your book cover should still be distinct and recognizable when it's shrunk to thumbnail-size. Script typefaces should not be used in the title, and serif typefaces (as opposed to sans serif) increase the readability. (I didn't know those little "tails" on letters made the text easier to read. Did you?)
  • There are colors to avoid when considering a background color for the cover: purple, gray, blue-green, babypoop yellow, along with any other color that is the same hue as a bodily fluid. (And for years I've been dreaming of my book cover being the color of bile! Maybe she's wrong...)
  •  Leave your face off the cover. Leave yours and your relatives' artwork off the cover. Leave any ambiguous image off the cover. If a prospective reader has to study the cover to figure out what the image is (What is that?), that tends to turn people off.
  • Effective cover designs make clear what the book is about and stirs up feelings.

            Here are some covers I think work, based on what Rankovic said on Saturday:

Of course, if we were as popular and prolific as
George R. R. Martin, our name would take top billing.
The text is easy to read, it has the notation "#1 New York
Times Bestselling Author," and the image is easy to understand.
This ain't no contemporary tale, and cool-looking swords are involved...

Martin's best book, in my opinion, is Fevre Dream. It's spectacular!

This cover works--for me--because the title is in the upper third/half (which
is prime real estate as far as book covers), the text is easy to read, and the image
makes it clear--this is not a contemporary novel, and it has to do something
with African American maids in the 1940's or 50's...The "teaser" above the title
intrigues me. Change begins with a whisper. That line stirs up feelings.
What kind of change? Who's doing the whispering? In the end, will they be
successful? That book cover would have made me buy the book, if I hadn't
already been swept up the frenzy surrounding the novel...
Perhaps Catherine Rankovic would not agree with me, but this
cover is an effective one, from my perspective.
The text is easy to read, the watery letters intrigue me (What is this novel about?)
and the cover includes an endorsement from the New York Times. (And I was thinking
a blurb from my daughter or best friend would do the trick. Oh well...) The author's
name is intriguing as well. (What is it with these odd names for writers? said Sioux.)