The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Well-Crafted Phrase

        I admit it. I'm a sucker for a great line. 

        I once went to a writing conference (Write to Learn, in Missouri) and fell in love with Rick Bragg.  He was touting his book All Over But the Shoutin'.  The images he created, black ink on white pages, made me swoon.  The affair continued for quite a few years, through his next two memoirs and his collection of newspaper columns. 

        Unfortunately, the affair was one-sided.  I adored his writing.  He never read any of mine..

         I am reading the book Peaches and Cream by W.E. Mueller.  The stories range from crime stories to humorous ones, and even poignant ones.  Here are some of the lines that really hit me:

"It was on the cusp of run-down..."
(part of the depiction of a neighborhood)

"Then his hand dropped from the doorknob and swept to his mouth..."
(Can't you see that old man?  This is a great example of "show, don't tell.")

"Charlie mentally prepares his usual spiel, feeling the rye pinch his stomach, the cheese coming around again in the heat."
(great rhythm, and again, showing---not telling)

           I do  love a well-crafted line... 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Writing-Math Connection

        Because a school day is packed with academic requirements, and there is not enough time to accomplish everything, we have to "double dip" and sometimes even triple dip---we have to integrate writing with math, and science with social studies, and so on.

        Tomorrow I go back to work officially.  I had a marathon session over the weekend, and spent some time yesterday---most of the day---unpacking boxes and trying to figure out the best configuation of the desks and bookcases.

        As I'm moving furniture here, then there, and back to here, my mind is trying to sort out the puzzle of how I can do the best job I can with my students.

         I found a couple of  math sites that might be helpful.  I also remembered a poetry activity that can easily be used in math to help students deepen their understanding.

Articles and Activities

      As I was thinking about activities that would engage the students, I remembered "Two Voice" poems.  These are poems that are meant to be read aloud by two students/performers.  They highlight the differences as well as the similarities between people, objects, books, characters in a story, etc.  Check these books below (there's even a math one):

Here is a rough version (hey, I'm writing it right now, off the top of my head) so that you get the idea.  The lines off to the left and right are said by the performers---one takes the left lines, the other student takes the right lines.  The lines that are in the middle are said in unison by both of the students.  (And remember when you are gauging me on your Lame-O Meter, I teach third grade---what is lame to middle-schoolers is fun to third graders.)


       Subtraction and Addition---Opposites Attract

                     I am addition

                                                                                                                               And I am subtraction

                                                         We are opposites, yet we're friends

                   I use the plus sign         

                                                                                                                           Of course, I use the minus sign

                 I start with smaller numbers
                and end up with a bigger number

                                                                                                                     While I start with a bigger number
                                                                                                                      and end up with a smaller number

                                                         And even though we're very different,
                                                         we stick together, like when you go to the store.

               When you buy a bunch of stuff,
               the cashier adds all the things together
               (which is called the sum or total)

                                                                                                                    Then the cashier subtracts  the total 
                                                                                                                    from the money you have, 
                                                                                                                    and you get some money back,
                                                                                                                  (which is called the difference or the change back) 

                                 We are great friends---we're addition and subtraction!

        This kind of poem works well whenever the two "subjects" are opposite.  It can be ideas or activities--good vs. evil, talking vs. listening---as well.

        I would love to hear from teachers who try a two-voice poem in their classroom...Did it work?  What did your students think of it?  What are some obstacles you had to contend with?




Help! Please!

       Two pleas for assistance...  I know I have a very slow learning curve.  I just realized yesterday, after looking at someone's blog and noting that they gave credit for the flickr photo they used, that I had been merrily adding images on my blog, failing each time to give credit to the artist. (I was proud of that accomplishment:  being able to browse for and then place the photo in my blog without a weirdly-placed white "frame."  I can't get rid of the frame yet, but at least it's centered around the picture now.)

      Here's where I need the help. 1) I love the comments. It's proof that someone's actually reading the drivel I write.  But I cannot figure out how to program a little note like "Thanks for your comment," by the place where comments are posted.  I've yahoo-ed it, to no avail. Could anyone tell me in simple, easy-to-understand steps?

2)  Check out Donna's blog  She is asking for movies about writing (which I would like to learn about as well. ) I know the movie Once (might be a stretch) and Stranger Than Fiction and Sideways (which I know is a stretch, and might be objectional to some).  But what others are there?

Cynthia Rylant---I Feel Great Hatred for You

        I would include a photo of Rylant so that you would recognize her and could then spit in her face but alas, I could not find one on flickr.  So, you will just have to stalk her and hunt her down like a wild animal at some writer's conference...

       This is one of her books I use just about every year to teach writing craft to my third graders:

      Many years ago I went to the "Write to Learn" conference in Missouri.  Katie Wood Ray  spoke (the main reason why I was lured there).   Her book, Wondrous Words is such a classroom bible to me, I've loaned it out to someone and don't really need it, because her lessons are so fused to my being.  (And if you're the one I loaned it to, please return it. You've had it plenty long!)

      Anyway, back to frothing at the mouth...

       Katie recounted that she had a chance to interview Rylant.  Katie loves the work of Cythia Rylant, bubbles effusively over her books, and was eager to learn how Rylant revises, what her writing process is like, how she drafts, and so on.  I can imagine Katie Wood Ray sitting there, holding her breath, waiting for the heavens to open up and the beautiful light rays to shine down...It would be like God speaking.

      And this is what Rylant said:

I don't really revise. I guess I'm lucky...The words come out right the first time.

       I hate you, Cynthia Rylant...


What AM I Going to Do About It?

          After receiving two helpful comments to my post yesterday---helpful in different ways---a few things hit me in the head with a loud thunk.

          One, I have no idea what a "meme" is, but I imagine if I type in "meme" and search, I will find out.  (That was just a minor knock on the noggin...)  But, it led to a larger one, that if we force ourselves to engage in little writing "exercises" on a regular basis and sometimes stray from our comfort zone, it will stretch our skills.

           A writer named RK thought it was perplexing that someone who wants to be a writer does not write...It's not that I don't write; I'm just extremely clever and creative when it comes to ways to avoid writing.  (That reminds me of a story a high school teacher told me.  She was relaying that students are paying for a service/program that "corrupts" their disc. This allows them to seemingly turn in a paper on time via the disc, but when the teacher tries to read it and cannot, it buys the students a couple of days to actually write/finish the paper.  If they would use all that energy and ingenuity for good instead of evil, these students could get their work in on time.)

         If I used all the time to write instead of making excuses and psychic predictions ("No one will like this," "I'll never get an editor to look at this.") I might actually get something published.

          A large blow to my head happened when I brought back to the surface (because I've thought about it before, but quickly shove it back down) the idea that it's much safer to wonder than it is to know.  It's much more comfortable to speculate what response an editor would have to your work, than to really know via a rejection letter.

           For example, I have a picture book that I liken to (with great delusions of grandeur) Cynthia Rylant's picture books.  These are some of my favorite ones:

        I loftily compare this story to Rylant's because it's not like the picture books I grew up with (five or so decades ago).  I've carefully worked on the craft of the story---the variety of sentence lengths, the similes, and so on.  I use the above picture books in my third grade classroom as well as in workshops I do with college students and fellow teachers---the books are that well written.  (In my next post I will tell you why I hate Cynthia Rylant as a person...)

           Anyway, I became emotionally connected to this story I wrote, several different response groups have read it, and has been "finished" (I know, a piece is never "finished") for probably at least 2 years. I think it's fairly polished.  And for 2 years I've wondered why it isn't published.  And that's because I have not sent it off.

          As long as I keep it that way, I don't have to face rejection, I can ignore the glaring light of reality, I can speculate what it would be like if...

          Various goals I've set have not worked:  By the beginning of the new year, I will have sent it off....By the end of the summer, I will have...It'll be in the mail to an editor by...

            So, RK, this is what I'm going to do about it.  I have a query letter written (it's also been written, and waiting, for 2 years).  I have a publishing house that---logically---I should begin with, because my story is kind of like a bookend for another one of their books.

             Give me a month.  In fact, give me a little less than a month to get off my butt and do something about it.  By September 1, send me note and hopefully, I will be able to say, "The eagle has flown" or "The chicken has left the coop" or some other coded phrase that says, "I've sent it off."  (Which leads to the biggest blow to my head:  RK is from India, a country where some of my favorite books and movies and documentaries come from.  How cool is that?  In another continent far, far away, from a culture that is very different than mine, one writer reaches out to another writer...)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

NOT Living the Writer's Life

          For many years I have dreamed of being a published author.  I've sent off a few things, have my first rejection letter framed (which is really a letter, and quite lengthy for what it is), had one of my pieces included in a collection of stories about rescued Golden Retrievers, but I can't go to Borders and find a book with my name on the spine. So I'm still chasing that dream...

           Do I write on a daily basis?  No, not unless blogging counts.

           Am I writing queries and sending off work?  No (and that might explain why I'm still waiting to be published).

photo by mrjoro

           Do I make writing a priority in my life?  No.  Watching television and reading and knitting have slurped up my summer.  I could try and make the excuse that I don't have time to write, but I do.  I do have time to write.

            A few years ago a writing friend of mine moved to Austin.  She is the type of writer who has x-ray vision; she can see right through a piece and discover what it needs in order to improve.

              Since we would regularly bounce pieces back and forth during the polishing process, we began a short-lived, long-distance "contest" of sorts to keep our writing momentum going.  The idea was one of us would come up with a word or phrase, and that word/phrase would have to appear in the story or poem.

              It was short-lived, since only one or two stories resulted from the idea. We kind of let it fade after two rounds. However, the story I wrote that involved a swizzle stick wasn't half bad.

                Writing about a predetermined object stretches you as a writer.  Try it.  Partner with a friend or two, and after one of you comes up with an object, begin writing... (And if anyone out there has some great object ideas---like swizzle stick----that could be used as a springboard for writing, send them my way.)


Monday, August 2, 2010

A Deceptive Book Cover (or I am Such a Snotbox Sometimes)

            I admit it.  I am prone to making snap judgements about people, and sometimes I hang onto them for quite a while.  (I have a friend who is much more open and receptive, and she just shakes her head at me, to no avail.)  Usually when people are a bit uppity, or are in love with the sound of their voice, or...there's a myriad of reasons why I will squint my eyes and determine they are worthy of only my snarky, gossipy comments...And like most women, I will crouch down and wait---for days or weeks or months---for a juicy tidbit about them, which proves I was correct about them.

            There have been occasions when I am in a group of writers, and looking around, I wonder what kind of writers they are.  I observe the way they carry themselves, I listen to the jokes they make, I examine what they do while other writers are sharing, and I speculate.  And invariably, with writers, I am always wrong.

            Because of course they open their mouths and make some incredibly on-the-mark comment about a colleague's piece, or they read from their own work, and it blows me over.  And just like I am the first one to admit that the only way I could make it as an exotic dancer was if people paid me to put my clothes back on,  I am also the first to admit that my initial determination was wrong.

              I once worked with a student in our creative writing camp.  He came on the first day of camp with bright orange hair (as orange as the skin of a tangerine) and a hoodie pulled up, which covered most of his face.  I was inwardly groaning over the prospect of working for three weeks with this young man.

           But he was gifted. And I would have missed out on his gifts if I had stuck with my initial judgement and continued to mentally dismiss him

            Young boys who look like they are gang members...Women who look like they are ditzy bobbleheads...People who look like they're right out of a Ma and Pa Kettle movie...All they have to do is speak a few words, and your misconceptions come tumbling down on top of you. 



Sunday, August 1, 2010

Saturday Slugdom...Now, Saturday Writers

         Sometimes a gift from a friend is a slab of fudge.  Sometimes it's a great book or even the title of a great book.  And sometimes, a gift from a friend involves work.  But it's good work...

         Months and months ago, I went to a conference in Portland, Oregon with a friend.  She very kindly agreed to share a hotel room with me, which is a testament to her generosity, since I snore louder than any other human being snores.  (I have a spouse and parents and several friends and a whole boy scout troop that will testify and support this claim.)

        This friend mentioned a group she meets with on a monthly basis called "Saturday Writers."  For whatever reason, I kind of let it go in one ear and out the other.

         Last month I began a blog.  Why? 

1) My butt had become a permanent part of the couch, and one can only knit so many scarves---a la Madame DeFarge---before the fingers cramp up, so I needed something else constructive to do while I watched marathon sessions of Top Chef and Project Runway  and The Closer as I wait for Sons of Anarchy to return on September 7...

2) When it comes to technology, I am a nimrod.  (Okay, Queen Nimrod.  Only a couple of years ago, I discovered what right click does...It opens up a whole new world, and the sad thing is that I found it accidentally.)  I figured, if I am on the computer setting up a blog, as I navigated and added "gadgets," I could add a few things to my toolbelt...And I have.  

3)  I love to write. The revision process, seeing a piece that, initially, has a stench about it, but eventually evolves into something that's not half-bad, the constructive criticism---I revel in it.  Writing, and being around fellow writers, jazzes me.  It makes me squeal with excitement (although I try to only squeal silently---a menopausal blob squealing is not very attractive).

       During my blogging, this same friend reminded me of the Saturday Writers, because she had a link to them (or was a follower; I can't remember which).  A little lightbulb lit up, connecting that link with our conversation months ago.

       The point to this rambling post (You mean there's a point to all this digression?) is that yesterday I went to the meeting of  the Saturday Writers (they meet on the last Saturday of each month in St. Peters, Missouri). I joined.  I enjoyed (hearing the writing that was shared).  And although I know it is going to involve work, it's work that I embrace and revel in and need to do...

         There will be more postings about my experience yesterday, because there's many ways I'm talking the talk but not even getting close to walking the walk when it comes to living the writer's life.  Yesterday also reminded me that one should never judge a book by its cover (more writing fodder).  And I am excited because they have a "hot" writing contest this month, and I have a story that involves sweat and sweltering heat...