The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Where YOU From?

        This week we began a poetry-writing unit. Our third graders are starting out with an "I am from..." poem. And since George Ella Lyon's is a classic, I thought I'd share it. (I would love for you to comment and write a line--or two or three or a stanza--about where you are from.)

Where I'm From

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.
I'm from fudge and eyeglasses,
          from Imogene and Alafair.
I'm from the know-it-alls
          and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I'm from He restoreth my soul
          with a cottonball lamb
          and ten verses I can say myself.
I'm from Artemus and Billie's Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
          to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.
Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments--
snapped before I budded --
leaf-fall from the family tree.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Power of Sharing

        On Saturday, I went to the St. Louis Writers Guild meeting. Several writers were sharing how to write nonfiction. They promised to share some interesting ideas... and they definitely delivered.

      Although I did a lot of zentangling (doodling) for part of the meeting, several of the authors inspired me. I was mainly there to listen to Gerry Mandel, because he's written a book on Charlie Chaplin. Unbeknownst to me, he has also written a man named Ron's "autobiography"--a man who was terminal with mesothelioma. 

      How did Gerry balance the known and the unknown (since he had never met Chaplin)? How did he handle the must-not-be-written-or-a-lawsuit-will-follow (since he was writing about family members and employers of Ron's who were still alive)?

     Gerry shared the following tidbits:

  • He wrote the "autobiography" in third person. That way, he could create composite characters and could condense some of the characters.
  • There is always one key thing (or event or relationship) that is central to a person's life. This of course will be a thread that runs through the entire piece.
  • Create some "fantasy scenes" which will allow you to get at the reality of a person. It will also be a way to get out of the rut and will ensure you change the rhythm of the story. For example, Gerry included a scene where Ron was in a bar, drinking root beer (Ron's favorite beverage) and talking to someone about religion (a major thread in Ron's life). Yes, you are writing about something that never really happened, but you're also getting at the true core of the person. 
  • If you're writing about a real people, show your manuscript to a lawyer before getting it published. Some of Gerry's best scenes in the book about Ron had to be deleted and watered-down. Apparently, Ron and his first wife had such violent fights, and if they had gone down in black and white the way they had really gone down, his ex-wife would have recognized herself and could have sued.
       I went to the meeting to get some ideas about how to proceed on my WIP (73,000 words long and some change so far) but what I got was an entirely different project idea.

      My half-sister has been bugging discussing with encouraging me to write down our mother's story. Our birth mother killed herself when she was still in her thirties. She surrendered two daughters at birth. She lost a third daughter in a court case when the little girl was seven. Two weeks after losing in court, my biological mother shot herself.

      I've resisted. Until now. Yesterday I realized that my sister and I can write a book together, and we can create some "fantasy scenes" to get at the parts of our mother that we do know about. My sister is thrilled. And we can each write from our own perspective, since we had very different families, despite beginning from the same mother.

      An added bonus:  Pat Wahler shared an idea that helped me a great deal, too. In a comment she left, Pat suggested I take a previous post and write the story for Chicken Soup for the Soul. I was so caught up in the experience, I hadn't even thought of that possibility (and usually, I'm all into taking life experiences and crafting them into Chicken Soup rejections submissions). I was wondering what in the world I would bring to critique group this week (I have several hot messes that aren't ready to share yet). Minutes after reading Pat's comment, I began a draft--a draft that I think will be ready to share on Wednesday.

     In this case, I was so fortunate to be the receiver instead of the giver. What have you "given" someone in the form of advice or help recently, or what have you received that was helpful? Grateful minds want to know. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Don't Get Stuck in a Rut

        This school year I am collaborating with Katie, a doctoral student. She and I team-teach three times a week. It's an interesting partnership. Both of us are navigating across unfamiliar terrain--we're working with a packaged writing "kit" in order for the students to improve their writing--and we're making modifications along the way so the students' work is as authentic as possible. 

         Our third graders got to the point this week (after writing several first drafts about several different story ideas) where they were ready to storyboard, write, revise and edit a story. Simple enough--my students do this every year.

        This year, however, Katie suggested the students go from the storyboard to the story via their laptops.

             You have got to be kidding me. What fresh not-heaven will this end up being? Their keyboarding skills will make them slower than molasses in January. This is ridiculous.

         "Sure, Katie. That sounds like a great idea."

               Bluck bluck bluck bluuuck. Okay, call me a chicken. So I shut my mouth and didn't express my doubts... so what? Perhaps it wouldn't be the total mess I thought it would be. 

         And as it happened, Katie had other work to do on Monday and Wednesday, so it was just me. I was tempted to email her and say, "I was thinking about it, and I believe the kids would make quicker progress if they write their stories down in their writing journals instead of hunting and pecking on keyboards. I hope you understand."

          But I didn't. And I am so glad...

          I will say for many of the students, the typing was slow-going. We worked on the stories for an hour or hour-and-a-half for three solid days. And although I'm well aware that the only way their keyboarding skills will get better is if they keyboard and keyboard and keyboard, I was more interested in their creative writing skills this week. The faster fingers could wait.

         Yesterday one of my students shared a mind-blowing story that she had written. She used a simile, even though that's not a craft strategy we've studied. She included some great internal dialogue. And for god's sake, she wrote an author's note. (She initially titled it "Credits" but after I explained what an author's note is, she changed what she called it.)

           At the end of the class, she asked, "I sure wish I could share my story sometime." Well, no time like the present. This usually-quiet kid proudly read her story to the rest of the class. Her classmates clapped for her. And when she was asked, "Was that a lot of hard work?" (Yes.) and "But aren't you proud of what you created?" (Yes. With a huge grin splitting her face in half.) it was such an exciting moment.

           Another girl's revision was going so much easier than if she had used a pencil and paper, because all she had to do was press enter a couple of times... she could separate a paragraph into smaller paragraphs... so she could then flesh out the story with more details.

               So today (or later this week) mix it up. Do something you do all the time--but do it differently. Be open to change. 

              (Don't be a chicken. Don't get stuck in a rut, And don't be a fool like Sioux.)

Monday, September 28, 2015

When I'm On My Knees

          How is scrubbing the toilet the same as writing? You'd be surprised how similar these two tasks are.

       Check out my guest post at The Muffin. You may never look at revising in the same way...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

232 and 265

          I just finished Lisa Ricard Claro's Love Built to Last. To say that I avoid romance novels like the plague is not too much of an exaggeration... and with good reason.

       Romance plots are predictable. There's an overabundance of fluff and froth. Too much tingling and shivering and blood rushing to man-bits and woman-bits. (I know, I know. That's not the right lingo. So sue Sioux.) And there are lots of other types of books I'd rather read--memoir... historical fiction... chick lit... books about polka music--just about anything other than romance novels.

      However, good writing is good writing. It transcends the genre. And Love Built to Last is well-crafted and has a plot that kept me turning the pages. So begrudgingly, I admit it: I read a romance novel and I liked it (to really butcher and paraphrase the old Katie Perry song)

       There's a rescued dog. That earns a gazillion points in my book. There's a few twists and turns. There's some unique plot components (the stuff that goes on with the desk is waaaay clever). I planned on finishing it up last night but ran out of time. However, I made sure I did this afternoon. (I could have either written a crappy draft for the WWWP's to critique, or I could have finished Love Built to Last. I made the right choice, believe me.)

          I loved that Lisa made us wait until the very end before we found out where the title came from. I loved that there were times when Lisa teased us. There were times when the characters found out something (Jack's "message," for example), but she made us wait.

       There's even tears. Two pages made my eyes well up.

             Damn you, Lisa Ricard Claro... You made me read a romance novel, you made me enjoy it, and you made me cry. 



Monday, September 21, 2015

Potatoes Plus Meat... and Even Some Great Gravy

       Okay, I am the first to proclaim, "I don't read romance." I love chick lit. I love historical fiction. I love books that defy categorization--they're not horror, but they're mighty creepy (like the novels that Joe Hill crafts). I especially love memoir.

        But romance novels? Those small paperbacks with the Fabio guy (shirt unbuttoned) and the woman with the heaving bosom (about to pop her shirt buttons) on the front cover? Those stories where the plot is always the same--just change the era and the color of the woman's hair?

        Nope. Can't stand 'em. Don't read 'em. Always pooh-poohing 'em.

        But I did say I'd read Lisa Ricard Claro's romance novel Love Built to Last. Lisa's a blogging friend, writes wonderful posts, and for quite a while chronicled her pathway to publishing. Not only did she get this book published, she snagged a three-book deal.

        That is way impressive.

         So to say I was intrigued is an understatement. Was I going to read Lisa's book and be less-than-thrilled (which is what I assumed was going to happen--the genre itself was going to guarantee it)? Or, was I going to read it and be impressed? (Since I am never ever wrong, this was not even a possibility--ha!)

         I have just barely started Love Built to Last. I've only read a third of the book so far... despite planning on reading it for quite a while.

          Why the delay in starting it? Unfortunately, this is a book I can't read before bed because as I drift into slumberland, I drool. The book inevitably falls to the floor in a helter-skelter manner. Books that I buy at Half-Price Books... that's okay if they get a whole series of crazily-folded pages or slobber stains pooled here and there. However, this is a book I wanted to stay in pristine shape. So I have to be in an upright position and not bone-tired when I pick it up.

        And when I did pick it up, I found the potatoes I figured I would. The little shivers down the spine. The blushed faces. The electricity when one hand first touches another. The fluff, the filler--the stuff that I knew I was going to find.

           (However, none of this is overdone. It's subtle. It's slipped in. It's done with a deft hand.)

        Okay, not a surprise. That's part of what defines romance. But in this novel I've found meat as well--stuff that truly brings satisfaction to the reader. Lisa Ricard Claro has taken parts of her own life and slipped them in seamlessly, causing me to nod my head knowingly and travel back to that time from my own life.

         For example, the Caleb character is watching his son play T-ball. He and his family end up laughing at an outfielder... an outfielder who is more concerned with picking dandelions than catching a fly ball. My husband and I would alternately shake with laughter and shake our heads when our son played T-ball. Da boy would pick his nose. He'd pick his butt. In the middle of an inning, our youngest once ran off the outfield to the bathroom... apparently full of pee-pee... without giving anybody a heads-up. Kicking dust was more crucial than being attentive to the game.

        And then there's gravy. Rich, perfectly-seasoned gravy. Well-crafted lines that are proof of the work that went into this novel. 

         In the first few lines, Claro writes of being reminded of a loss feeling "like an icy second skin." A few pages later, she writes about Maddie wearing a dress that shows off "through a miracle of design... more boobs per square inch than she'd ever possess." And I could continue...

         So, will I end up becoming a rabid romance novel reader? Most definitely not. Will I be glad to finish Love Built to Last? Yes, because that means I can savor the next two in the series... and when I finish the last line of Love Built to Last, I can find out what happens with Caleb and Maddie... 

        How about you? Have you read Love Built to Last? Do you enjoy reading romance novels? Heaving bosoms-avoiding minds want to know...