The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Getting Your Peeps Together

        As a writer, it's important to get together with my writing critique friends. I'm lucky. I am part of two groups, I go on at least one writing retreat every year, and I have some long-distance writing colleagues who help me out from time to time.

My son, husband, daughter and granddaughter...
My husband played Santa at a Masonic Christmas party.

       However, even more important than writing get-togethers is gatherings of family and friends. If we spent all of our time hunched over our laptops, tapping away, we wouldn't have anything to write about. Life--and living life--primes the pump. It fills the well. It gives us fodder to write about and it gives us time to reflect on our writing.

      I hope that 2016 is the best year ever for you. Some of us have new struggles to deal with. Some of us have had new issues rear their heads in 2015 and are still working them through. Some of us have scary things to consider (for me: retiring from public school in May and finding a private school job). However, obstacles make us stronger--if we survive them--and oftentimes we find we have more inner strength to draw from than we knew we had.

      Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2015

What's in Her Pocket?

        I once read that if you know a character well--a character you've created--you should be able to list what they have in their pocket (or purse or wallet).

        For sure, you should write a character and make it so fleshed out that you know their gestures, their quirks, their likes and dislikes.

        And what goes without saying:  the reader should also know the character as well as you do. It can't just be in your head. It has to be down on paper as well...

          As I'm working on my WIP, I hope my characters are becoming well-developed. I hope the reader--if there ever will be a reader of my WIP--ends up caring for my characters.

         Speaking of characters--my son is a character. A really quirky character. A character that I know all too well. (After all, he is responsible for most of the gray patches in my hair.) He's musically talented, a voracious reader, a god in his niece's eyes and a 2nd year med student. Which is why this story might make you shudder... 

       On Christmas we were enjoying a couple of varieties of wine. A moscato and a cranberry wine. Ian went into my mother-in-law's kitchen to open a new bottle, and came back with a full bottle of cranberry wine. He acted like nothing odd had happened. Unfortunately for him, someone had witnessed what transpired... and was eager to share the story.

       It seems that my son had an unusually easy time with the corkscrew. That sometimes reluctant cork popped out like it was on a kamikaze mission was nonexistent. 

      There was no cork. It was a screw-top bottle (nothing but the most high-falutin' libations at our family gatherings). We did make sure there were no bits of metal in the wine, shook our heads at da boy, and took several photos for blackmail posterity. (We're hoping he can soon crack open a person's chest with more knowledge than he can open a bottle of wine.)

     And to let my many three followers in on what I did last week, here's a photographic clue. I gift-wrapped books at Half-Price Books, and Radar prostituted himself for donations to Love a Golden Rescue. That pesky pup would roll over on his back and accept belly rubs for a buck a crack. If you'd like to help us get more stray goldens from Istanbul (we're getting 6-8 more in April), click on Love a Golden's link, then click on the airplane.

       Is there a photo of you that is brought out occasionally when some levity is needed? Please share... 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

For Lisa, I Will Be an Employer of Ladies of the Evening


         Lisa Ricard Claro has launched her own writing and editing business. Ricard Writing & Editing offers a variety of services at various levels.

          Do you have a HM (hot mess) of a WIP? Are you in desperate need of help when it comes to your manuscript? Have you begged for an objective pair of eyes, but are suspicious your writing friends are being kind telling white lies hitting the opium pipe failing to be honest when they respond to your work?

          Yes? Then Lisa is the answer to your problem. Not only will she help you with your manuscript, she'll also craft a book blurb, a query letter or (shudder) a synopsis.

          If you've read any of Lisa's work--her short stories or her novel (her 2nd novel is coming out in January)--you know what a gifted writer she is. If you've ever read her comments on other people's blogs, or her replies to comments on her blog, then you know what a deft touch she has with humor and encouragement, along with how in tune she is with each individual writer she encounters.

        Since Friday, I've been camped out at Half Price Books. I'm wrapping gifts for Love a Golden Rescue. It's my favorite bookstore. (And they're coming to Atlanta, for you folks in Georgia). Each HPB location has a huge assortment of used books, records (33 rpm's, baby!), movies, comic books, CD's, and even videotapes (what are those?). They will literally buy anything except yesterday's newspaper. Old People magazines? They'll buy them. Your beloved Bee Gees concert videotape? They'll buy it but might snicker over the images of the brothers Gibb in feathered hair and leisure suits once you've left the building. They also have new books, but with way-cheaper prices than their competitors.

        What book or magazine do you have that you might be reluctant--because of the guffaw effect you might cause--to take to a used book store? And since I won't be posting until next Monday, have a wonderful Christmas (if you celebrate Christmas). Eat an extra piece of pie for me...



Sunday, December 13, 2015

Doggone! It's Time for a Few Lessons

       On Saturday, Radar (our 75-pound baby boy) had his picture taken with Santa at Purina.

       After the photo was taken, I connected the experience with a few writerly things and since I'm always badgering willing to share any tidbits I happen upon, here goes:
  • Don't be afraid to ask for what you want from your writer friends. If you need just a read-through, to see if they connect with the story, ask. If you need help with the ending, request they really hone in on the end. (I was 2nd in line, and saw that the example photos they had on display took in the whole holiday backdrop, with the dog and Santa a bit small. I asked--nicely--if they could get a close-up of Santa and our dog. They were glad to oblige.)
  • Use any trick or prop you have handy in order to get the job done. Do you work well with music? Play it while you write. Do you write better with a cat curled up on your lap? Beg them to take a nap there. Do you write more when there's a candle burning? Light one up. (There was a plastic hamburger they had for dog photos, but the family before us needed it. The little boy kept turning away from the camera, and I said, "I think you need the hamburger for him," and they squeaked it and got the boy's attention.)
(By the way, did you know there is a squeaky toy app for phones, which means you can attract your dog's attention--to the phone--while you're taking the picture? It really works.)

  • Rearrange things if necessary. If you had what you thought was a great beginning--so funny and so sharp--but it doesn't go with the tone of your story, you have to put that lead somewhere else... no matter how much it hurts. If you have some great writing as part of the piece, and it's part of the story but not part of that story, you're going to have to delete it, no matter how horrible it is to subtract from your word count instead of adding to it. (The photos were supposed to be taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus sitting on the bench, with the dog and/or kid in-between them. I said to Mrs. Claus, "I know you're important, Mrs. Claus, but would you mind standing up for a moment so Radar can get onto the bench and sit next to Santa?" She happily obliged.)
        And now, here's the photo:

      And before anyone says anything, I must explain. I know Radar looks like a big, fat barrel-of-a-dog, but he really isn't fat. The camera adds 10 pounds... or didn't you know that?

What have you learned about writing or life from the holidays?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Poem... On Your Bookshelf

      My teaching partner got me on the trail of these: book spine poems. How much fun. Imagine--having the lines of a poem already written. All you have to do is pull some books off your bookshelf.

      Granted, the added punctuation is mine, along with the "and" but the rest wrote itself. (And that is so rare--when your lines just come flying at you with little or no effort.)

The Things They Carried:
Prayers for Sale,
A Thousand Splendid Suns,
The Yellow Birds
The Unknown Errors of Our Lives

        Now your mission (if you choose to accept it AND if you're old enough to remember the opening bit of every "Mission: Impossible" show) Create a book spine poem. Have fun with it. After all, this poem will be almost effortless...

Monday, December 7, 2015

Troublesome Timothy

         This Saturday I spent the night with my granddaughter. Her parents never go out--just the two of them--so this was a real treat.

        On the agenda: 
  • do some fused glass (using a microwave oven kiln)
  • make some chocolate goodies for Riley's mom (bake brownies, then crumble them up. Add a 1/3-1/2 cup of Nutella, and a splash of kahlua or vanilla. Roll into balls. You can then roll them in cocoa or sprinkles or crushed nuts, but it's not necessary)
  • eat dinner (or those brownie things)
  • watch a movie (or two)
  • entertain my granddaughter with my ability to fall asleep in a sitting straight-up position repeatedly
  • make my granddaughter laugh with my snorting-myself-awake skills
       After she went to sleep, I had a secret thing to do--do something with her Elf on a Shelf, named Timothy. Apparently this Elf is a way to get revenge on your kids, because the first year, and during the first few days in December, it's fun. They alternate with who is responsible for making sure Timothy has the chance to get into some mischief. 

       But after the first year, or on the 24 day of keeping up with that prankster elf, parents are getting into fistfights. 

        "It's your turn with that %$#@ elf."
        "I'm too tired. And besides, I've run out of ideas. YOU do it."
        "Go, and do something with that elf."

Last night, Timothy slipped into a giant vase-like bottle.
What is that next to him?
(The opening looks huge, but my arm is a bit fat, and I almost got it stuck as I dropped Timothy
into the bottle. THAT would have been like an episode of "I Love Lucy.")

Here's a close-up. Timothy was eating some of
Riley's Cheezits in the middle of the night.
The nerve of him! Riley told me that no matter
how much aggravation he causes, he always has a smile on his face...

          We got everything accomplished. In fact, I was a true over-achiever when it came to the last two things on the agenda.

        However, as I read for a few minutes before falling asleep a little after one o'clock in the morning at a reasonable bedtime for a nine-year old, I came upon a solution for a pesky problem I was having with my WIP. 

        I wasn't fretting over it. It just came to me.

        Agatha Christie said, "The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes," and I'd have to agree. When our brain is not engaged--or so we think-- it is engaged. The cogs turn without our prodding. Things surface.

          So, if you have a grandchild and would like to get back for all the gray hair their parents caused you, it's not too late for "Elf on a Shelf."

           And if you're revising/drafting/puzzling over a piece, do something that is off-track (like washing the dishes or walking the dog) and maybe... just maybe... you will get back on track in no time...


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Shakespeare and Me

       Every year, since I read Donna chronicling her "wins and losses" when it comes to publishing, I've bought a cheap planner and kept track of my submissions. The first year or two, I even did the same--in January, for each submission, I noted whether it had been rejected, accepted, or whether the jury was still out.

      Now, I just use the planner to not always note when I've submitted something, so I don't look l like an idiot and resubmit it to the same publisher.

      This year I decided to go with a humorous planner. 

      Every week, there is a humorous version of a movie script, a book, a play or a TV show--a version that cries out for revision.

       Here is one example:


All:  Double, double, toil and trouble
          fire burn and cauldron bubble

Second Witch:  Fillet a fenny snake
                                  In the cauldron boil and bake
                                  Eye of newt and a touch
                                  of cinnamon
                                  A pinch of sugar, now stir
                                  it quick again.

       It reminds me of my Tuesday night writing group--the one that meets in a bar/restaurant. I had brought a piece about various critique groups I have belonged to over the years, and in it I noted that because of the WWWPs (my current "main" writing group) I had gotten some things published in anthologies and was 79,000 into a manuscript.

       One of the women looked with admiration at me. "That many words! That's really good." Then she saw the dubious expression on my face and said, "Isn't it?"

       I replied, "Yeah, unless the 79,000 words are sh*tty... and then it's just a big pile of poop... or a doorstop."

       Because it's better to proclaim something publicly so my friends can call me out and embarrass me when I fall flat on my face encourage me, I am going to set a goal:  by the end of February 2016 I will have finished this version of my manuscript. I think hope it's a doable goal. After that, I hope to have some time to look at it as a whole piece, and see what still needs to be done to it.

      I also hope it's not an even bigger pile of poop by then...

      Do you have a pile of poop that you're hiding away? Tell us about it. This ain't no scratch and sniff blog, so you have nothing to fear...

       And here's my attempt at a poem that's 60 words (or less) for Mama Zen's challenge. (It's 53 words long, not including the title.)

Circus Girl Smokes While Rehearsing Her Stunts; Nina Leen, 1949

I Know... Do You?

Shaddup and don't even bother.
I know already.
These cancer sticks'll kill me.

But hey!
Dangling above these
popcorn-eating chumps
hangin' by just some cheap rope...
well, that ain't safe, 

But hey!
Don't my rear end
look good
upside-down like this?

Or didn't you think 
I knew
that you 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Give Thanks

       Well, Thanksgiving is over. The turkey was not stuffed, but I was. The holiday is over... done... fini and even though I was fortunate to have five days off in a row, that string of leisure time is over... tomorrow, it's back to work.

        Everyone is thankful for their family (the family members who are not crazy and unmedicated). Everybody is thankful for their friends (again, the ones who have a semi-consistent grip on sanity and/or they've found the right combination of drugs). Everyone is thankful for their health, their home, the life they've carved out.

        I thought I would try to think of some of the things that I'm thankful for--the type of things that don't usually get mentioned...

* Ginger beer only comes in regular-sized bottles.
      This ginger-flavored soda (similar to root beer, but quite distinctively different) comes in a 12.7 oz. bottles. If they came in 2-liter versions, I'd be swigging on it all day long. (And if it DOES come in jumbo-sized bottles, please do NOT tell me.)

     Sometimes, size does matter...

* Erica Jong has a brand-new book out.

      Her Fear of Flying came out many decades ago. I've only read 50 or so pages of Fear of Dying, so it's too early to proclaim my love or indifference. However, so far I'm enjoying it.

* I haven't managed to screw up my flash drive yet.

  This looks just like the one that has my WIP on it (just shy of 80,000 words so far) except the cap of mine has a part of it broken off. There have been some moments of panic. Like the time I thought it had gone through the washing machine. The time that I thought it was lost--really lost. The other (several) times I thought it was lost. I'm very careful to make sure it's safe to eject before I yank it out (I learned that the hard way a long time ago) and I know I'm a dinosaur for even using a flash drive these days. (Yeah, I know I should put it on the horizon or the cloud or the atmosphere or whatever it's called. But hey! You! Get offa my cloud.) But that's what I am--a lumbering, almost-extinct creature with arms that are often too short and ineffectual.

Probably soon (after another near-catastrophe) I'll make it into a google doc so it's always safe... no matter what kind of crazy mess I create. But not today.

That's all I got right now. Three is pathetic--barely even warrants the title "list"--but that's it for now. Which means you can add to the list. Leave a comment. Tell me what you're thankful for--other than the traditional Norman Rockwell answers, that is...


Friday, November 27, 2015

The Dread of the Dead

is when you're dead,
and no one cares.

No one mourns.
No one glances back.
No one wears black.
No one cries--not even a bit.
No one gives a shit
that you're gone.

That you've passed through life,
and brought no laughter,
made no one more strong,
done nothing but wrong...

That is dread.

No friends, 
no family,
no photos to speak of the you
that once was--

to vanish without making
even a temporary ripple...

that's dread. 

This was written right off the cuff, and it shows. However, I was intrigued by Mama Zen's poem, followed the link, and Shazam! It led back to Shay and her poetry prompt. Perhaps my wretched mess will prod someone else to try it... and soar.

Last night my family spent most of the evening debating over the existence of God/a soul, the meaning of life and other serious and somber topics, so Mama Zen's poem was an easy segue into this POS poem...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

It's in My Head

         On Tuesday I met with my rather new writing critique group. You know, the one that meets in a private writing room at a bar/grill... The group that eats fried chicken and taco salads (me) and drinks buckets of beer (not me). The group that fascinates the bar regulars and makes them curious-er and 
curious-er (me wonders why).

         One of the writers shared a western short story they had written. As we talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the piece, they spoke of some tidbits about the major characters... tidbits that were not evident in the story.

It's in your head... but it's not down on paper. 

        It made me think of the thick skin we have to have as writers. When our writing is sucky, we have to be able to hear and listen to constructive criticism. When our writing friends' writing is sucky, we have to be brave enough to tell them.

       What was a time when you had to say something difficult (or had to listen to something difficult) as a writer?

        And if you're in the St. Louis/St. Charles area this evening, stop by the Spencer Road Library (427 Spencer Road). From 6-8, there will be 105 authors and illustrators in attendance. Blog friends of mine, like Donna Volkenannt, Pat Wahler, Robin Tidwell, Marcia Gaye and others will be there. It's a fun evening every year.  

        And Sioux-on-a-Stick will be there (if I can dig her up). She's not as wild as COAS, but she does pull the occasional prank.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Friends... and France

      On Thursday (11/19), there will 100 local authors gathering together at the Spencer Road library. This fun event will run from 6-8 in the evening, and there will even be refreshments. (Yum!)

      Some of my writing friends and acquaintances will be there. Donna Volkenannt. Pat Wahler. Doyle Suit. Robin Tidwell. Marcia Gaye. Sheree Nielsen.

      This is not my first year going, and even though I don't sell many books, it's the connections that I enjoy... the camaraderie we share... the encouragement that's thrown my way--that's why I keep coming back to this event. It's writing friends--all over the world--who ensure that I keep writing.

       Which makes me think of my friends and family in France. The France I know is far from Paris, far from any big city. And yet, still, I am saddened.

      This is the France I know...

My sister, daughter and granddaughter... hiking
surrounded by the Pyrenees

I've never been to Paris (except the airport). All I know of France is beach towns, tiny villages, and a few largish cities (Pau, Bordeaux and Toulouse).

However, I've always found France to be a country full of people who are passionate in their conversations and their appreciation of life. Their priorities aren't all askew. They protect their past as they continue to move forward.

To see their country attacked... It's reason for all of us to stop and hug and reach out and think. 



Thursday, November 12, 2015

I Won't Never Be Wearin' No Meat Dress... But I'm Still Ga-Ga

       I just got news this week that my sister--far away in France--is going to be a grandmother. Her oldest daughter is due in May.

This is the four of us girls, on a hike under the shadow of the Pyrenees,
on our trip there this past July.

My granddaughter is now 9. Although I was pleased when I heard the news from my daughter that she was pregnant, I had no idea how ga-ga I would go over being a grammy.

For that little girl I would commit a felony. For that little girl, I am writing a novel to chronicle something that she experienced. For that little girl, I paint my toe nails and try to wear shoes other-than-Crocs on an occasional basis. (As far as the shoes, I cannot say I'm always successful...)

What experience has happened to you that brought about unexpected results? A ga-ga grammy wants to know... 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Embrace the Messy

This is one of my favorite photos of Radar. It captures him in his favorite state. Just finished from running in the mud and the rain, he's messy... and completely content.

        Writing is messy as well. Sometimes you leave a trail of muck behind after writing and revising. And what's left on the page is golden. Sometimes you think you're in a groove but in reality, you've mucked things up royally.

        What things do you like to do that are messy? 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Writers' Room

         I meet with my writing group twice a month--on the first and third Wednesday. The WWWPs are the best at critique, in my opinion.

      Recently, however, I became chair of a "teachers-as-writers" group. In past years, this group set up writing marathons, writing retreats, and so on. However, the only thing that really gets teachers writing is writing... and writing... and writing.

       So, several of us formed a writing critique group, and now on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday we meet. (That means I'm in a critique group four nights a month. Yikes!)

       There had been lots of discussion back and forth. What day? What time? And where? 

      One of the teachers has a connection with a bar and grill called Fergie's. (Her dad owns the place.)  She claimed there was a private room that would probably be available. After double-checking, she reported that the private room was free, and we could have it for the perfect price. (I told you it was free. "Free" is a teacher's favorite phrase, second only to "snow day.") 

       This past Tuesday was our third time meeting. The funny thing is, the bar's regulars (and all the people there are regulars, it seems) along with the staff, are quite curious about what goes on behind our closed door. They ask the owner lots of questions. They interrogated us when we left tonight. The waitresses--more than one--kept coming in with offers that made me suspicious.

           "Is that salt too coarsely ground for you?"
           "Would you like me to wipe the water spots off your utensils?"
           "Would you like me to peel your grapes?" 

       When I left on Tuesday, I told the owner, "I think you could make some extra money. Install a two-way mirror, and charge people to listen in on what we're doing." The group that was sitting with him got quite enthusiastic about the idea.

       I have a feeling that what they think is going on in the private writers' room is a whole lot more exciting than the reality of it. But it is amusing...

       What do they think is going on in the writers room?


Monday, November 2, 2015

Shoving Ahead

        With every  piece,
        write, write, write.
        There'll be some crap,
        write, write, write.
        And a time to revise... sometime later.
        A time to edit, a time to reread.
        A time to delete, a time to scrap.
        A time to rewrite, a time to share.
        A time to refuse to share... I swear it is pure poop. (My apologies to Pete Seeger, The Byrds and Peter, Paul and Mary.)

        It took me until this evening, but I did manage to get 3,000 more words shoved out. I'm getting over some bumpy plot parts, and perhaps I can set another goal this week or this next weekend, and achieve it or at least part of it.

        We'll see.

        What do you plan on accomplishing this week?

         I'm leaving you with a George Ezra video. The video itself is silly (I think) but I love his voice. He's so young but sounds like a middle-aged man (again, that's my opinion).

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Goals or Ghouls?

      This weekend I'm setting a goal for myself. Between Friday night and Sunday morning, I plan on adding 3,000 words to my WIP.

       More importantly, I want to make some real progress when it comes to the plot. I have a couple of different storylines going, and moving forward with both of them would make me a happier writer. (The rest of the world might hope I never finish it. I get that. ;)

       Last Friday I wrote at a local coffeehouse. For a little longer than 3 hours I wrote. I set a word count goal, and wouldn't leave until I'd accomplished it.  (Thankfully, I got there--to my word-count goal-- a whole 10 minutes before they closed for the afternoon.)

        Are goals good things or horrid things--things that you avoid? Sometimes we set goals for ourselves and then beat ourselves up when we don't attain them. Sometimes those unattained goals haunt us. Doesn't that set us back even further?

       And if you have some tricks when it comes to goals, let us know. Procrastinating minds want to know...

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sometimes You Just Need a Foxhole to Hunker Down Into

       This past Friday I was off work. Well, it was well-earned day off. It wasn't like I was playing hooky or anything like that. I had worked an extra 107 7 hours last week, meeting with parents during parent-teacher conference week, and this was considered "comp time."

       However, I worked on my day off work. I met with my teaching partner until close to noon. We planned. Then I headed to a coffeehouse (The Corner Coffeehouse in Ferguson) with my laptop in hand, and I wrote.

        I wrote despite a group of senior citizen men who were having a raucously-good time in the middle of the shop.

       I wrote despite a woman sitting in the booth behind me who intrigued me. She was coloring-in an intricate coloring page. Had she heard of zentangles? I really wanted to lean around the back of my booth and ask her, but since I didn't want to be disturbed with what I was doing, I wasn't going to bother her.

       I wrote despite being the last person left in the shop when it was just about to close and despite me feeling like the lone employee left was itchin' to get me out of there.

       Howboutchoo? What have you done lately despite... ?


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Brushing Off the Rust

       I met with some writer friends on Tuesday. Some of them haven't written anything--outside of the writing they do for their students--in years and years and years.

       They're feeling mighty rusty.

       One of the writers (Jen) brought a book along--A Death, Nine Stories by Aronson. She spoke of how distinctive each chapter was. It's written (I think) by two authors, but it seemed to Jen that nine different writers were responsible for it.

       That got us talking. Some of us laughed like hyenas over the thought of doing NaNoWriMo. Some of us are going to be cleaning up a poopy NaNoWriMo project from many years ago. And some of us are nervous about even dipping our toes into writing--it's been that long.

       But Aronson's book got us thinking of ways to collaborate... a collaboration that will help us brush off the dust.

        When we meet next, we're going to bring some prompts. We're going to bring our laptops/our fancy journals/our tattered composition books and we're going to try finding some event or idea that we can write about... from four different perspectives. It's intriguing. And it is certainly something I've never done before.

        Have you ever collaborated with another writer or artist? What was the experience like? And... would you ever do it again?


Monday, October 19, 2015

From Turkey to America... With Love

     On Friday I went on a road-trip with three other Love a Golden volunteers. We drove to Chicago to get three golden retrievers who had flown in from Istanbul.

This is Truman, who's 7. He's already learned some English,
like "treat" and "good sit."

     It was an experience that made us all teary-eyed. If you click on the below link, my three followers (plus Skittles) can get a sneak-peek at a video that hasn't been shared with the rest of the world yet.

     It's only five minutes (and five seconds).

From Turkey to America... With Love

Friday, October 16, 2015

William Carlos Williams All Whacked-Out

       This is just to say
       I'm sorry I haven't posted recently.

       I realize 
          (that I'm not even close to as talented as William Carlos Williams)
          that my three now two followers were most likely
       or out-of-their-mind-with-worry
       when they didn't hear from me
       on Monday or Thursday.

       Forgive me.
       The pile of report cards
       I was buried under
       was so deliciously late
       and such a hot mess
       that I couldn't resist say "no."
       (And believe me, I tried.)         

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...