Wednesday, March 19, 2014

One That Trips Me

This came from a tumbler reference. I'm not sure whom to credit.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Everyone Has A Voice

Mossi White: Emigrated to America all by herself at the age of 19.
I will try to re-tell her story the best I can.

When Mossi was younger and still living in Norway, she attended a music class. The class was singing and the teacher stopped mid-song and announced, "Someone is not singing right." Self conscious thoughts raced through her head that it might be her; Mossi she lip-synced the rest of the song. When the teacher couldn't identify the off-note singer, he decided to have each student sing a solo. Mossi stood in terror waiting for her turn. She only sang two notes when the teacher stopped her and said, "You need to leave the class right now and go to the library. You can spend the rest of the class in the library and I will still give you full credit for the class."

Mossi never sang again and for the rest of her life, she lamented that she didn't have a voice--until one day as she sat on the podium as a guest speaker in front of 9 deaf women who sang. Beautifully. With their hands.  Their voice was different but each one had a voice and used it in the best way possible.  Mossi decided to always use her voice and she did. She was an advocate for education and has been a keynote speaker in almost 50 states and in several different countries. She taught her daughters to use their voice--two daughters are attorneys and another is a Doctor of Psychology.

As writers, we have a voice. And it's important to use that voice in the best way we know how. Beautifully. However that may be.

Preparation and the Earthworm

The lowly earthworm. Or at least you may think it is the lowly earthworm. To me, the earthworm is pure joy. 

On Friday, I spent a few hours in my garden beds preparing the soil for a great summer garden. And the first step to great vegetables is great soil.  But it actually started long before this Friday afternoon.

Last year, I added several new garden beds. I started with basic soil that was missing the good stuff-earthworms and other matter that makes it light and rich. I knew it would take a lot of work to make the soil rich. Because I had worked to do just that, I stood on the periphery of the new beds filled with anticipation.  I thrust the shovel into the soil and overturned chunks of earth again and again, hoping to find good soil.  And then, I hit the mother lode. A shovelful of earthworms! I broke into a smile and then crumbled the dirt between my fingers examining the organic matter that had housed these lovely creatures. Amidst the dirt, were chunks of vegetable and kitchen scraps, decomposed leaves and other green matter from last fall. And that is where it all began. Last fall. The wealth and richness in my garden soil began months and even years before.

Because I don't have any giant deciduous trees in my yard, I rake and collect the leaves from my neighbors' gardens. Their benefit is my benefit. I carry buckets and bags of leaves down to my garden and spread them over the soil. 

I also keep a small bucket in my kitchen to collect all the green refuse: bottoms of celery stalks, apple cores,  old lettuce. I dig holes in the garden soil and mix the kitchen matter. Over the winter, the kitchen scraps and the leaves decompose and create a rich environment for earth worms. 

Earthworms are so important because they aerate the soil. They turn clumpy, clay soil into light loam. They eat through the organic matter, process it and the castings they leave behind are the best soil conditioner.

Here's my takeaway: The fruit of my writing labor: earthworms in my soil, the work to bring them to my garden, began six months ago, even before then. And this is what I take away as a writer. Plopping in front of the computer and whipping out a novel in NanoWriMo fashion is the preparation necessary to the finished novel.  My life experiences, the choices I make, the adventures I dare, come before the great novel. 

So today, as I sit at "Women in Leadership" conference accompanied by four lovely seniors, it's not a waste of a Saturday morning and afternoon, it's preparing the soil, my mind for something great and yet unseen.

Lesson for you: Where are you today?

The Brugge Madonna

A couple of my students insisted I see the film "The Monuments Men." Art and WWII--I knew it would be a film to love. But there was an unexpected surprise. The Brugge Madonna, sculpted by Da Vinci, is an important sculpture in the film.  I had been to Brugge several years ago, and knew if there was a DaVinci in this small town, I had probably seen it. The story was familiar. After the film, I came home and searched my Brugge file and voila, I had seen the sculpture  and taken a photo. The sculpture was found in a tiny chapel on a side street in this small medieval town. And oh, what a lovely town.

The film was an important historical retelling. In MIMI LOST AND FOUND, the Mona Lisa is stored in the Lost and Found. I recently read that the Mona Lisa was moved 7 times to stay ahead of the art-hungry H....r (I really hate to mention his name). Sort of like saying Volde.....e.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

So Many Opportunities!

A great opportunity to submit your finished work for a middle grade novel:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Direct Copy and Paste From Writer's

I loved this post so much, I wanted to put it in a permanent place--
My thoughts: Funny thing: my sister had to write a business proposal today. I regularly edit for her. So I helped her write a first draft, but it was in my voice and she knew it had to have her emotional appeal.  In fact that's what she called it. My version was business like but she had the heart. I had just read this piece and her second draft sort of confirmed this. 
Thanks to the authors of this piece.
Do you know how to spot the difference between a good query letter and a fantastic query letter? This is going to sound trite, but the answer is: Ask your heart.
That’s right—the single most important thing that your query letter can do if you want to get a literary agent’s attention is create an emotional experience for the reader. You’ve got to make your reader feel. You’ve got to give him/her a reason to become emotionally invested in your tale.
For that reason, telling the bare facts of “what happens in the story” is not going to get your book a lot of attention. The book publishing industry is competitive. And when a literary agent is faced with two similar stories—one that is presented as a series of facts and one that offers an emotional experience—you can bet the literary agent is going to ask to see the book that gives him or her goose bumps.

So How Is A Writer Supposed To Create An Emotional Experience In A Query Letter Book Blurb?

Step One: Win us with your character. Unless we really care about your main character, it’s hard to become invested in the story. You don’t need an excessive amount of detail to demonstrate who your character is: A fewprecise descriptions that embody personality, strengths, and weaknesses should do the job. Bonus points if those descriptions hint at your character’s fatal flaw.
Step Two: Now that we care about the character, show us what that person has to lose. It’s human nature to have a big emotional response when a loved one faces a tough challenge. The same goes for great characters: We care about them because of their vulnerability. So show us just how much is at risk. Learn more about maximizing your main conflict.
Step Three: Choose the right words. As a writer, words are your medium. By choosing evocative words over dull words—and by choosing exciting phrases over flat ones—you can create a deeper sense of emotionality.
EXAMPLE 1: Our Hero hides in an underground bunker to escape terrorists. Townspeople begin flocking to the hideout, and this attracts attention and makes Our Hero the target of the terrorists who have found out where he is. He retreats into an underground tunnel system to get away.
This whole scene should feel like an intense action sequence. And yet all of the emotion of the moment is buried under dull word choices and muddled sentences. So let’s try again, except with a more emotional approach.
EXAMPLE 2: To escape the terrorists, Our Hero hides out in an earthen bunker—but his location is compromised when the people of Smithtown come banging on the hideout door, seeking safety for themselves and their loved ones. Now, Our Hero’s cover is blown—the terrorists know where he is.There’s no choice but to brave the dangerous underground tunnel system that extends out of the bunker. But with the enemy on to him, will he get out alive?
The first example is a rote description of the action: The second pulls us into the action, to experience it with him. We feel his fear.

The Bottom Line: You’ve Got To Make Readers Care

great query letter is not just a summary; it is an emotional experience that makes the reader want to know more. Literary agents may read dozens of query letters a day that don’t make their hearts race—but if your query letter makes them care about your sympathetic characters by exposing vulnerabilities, emphasizing risk, and choosing evocating words, then you might just have a winner.

Monday, February 3, 2014

"In the Classroom Column"

It was one o’clock in the morning when I was awakened by the sound of a howling dog—and again at three-thirty.
The next morning, in a different state of consciousness, I wondered if I really was awakened by a howling dog or if it was only a bad dream.
 I called my neighbor to confirm.
 “Were you awakened in the night by a howling dog?”
“Yes,” my neighbor answered in an irritated tone.
Just to be sure, I called another neighbor who also heard the howling dog. Yet, none of us were sure where the howling came from; we only knew it came from below. We live on the rim of a hillside overlooking a cul-de-sac of houses referred to as the bowl.
The bowl is known for its amazing acoustics and long before our homes were built, the bowl was used as a stadium for the rodeo and other events. When I stand in my backyard, I can hear clearly the conversations of my neighbors and they can hear mine. We’ve had some fun with this over the years. On the fourth of July, a visiting tenor and member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir stood on the deck and sang the Star Spangled Banner. My daughter played her violin on spring days when windows were open. Above the bowl, I have been entertained by heated baseball games among brothers and a drum concert from a talented percussionist.
Wonderful acoustics aside, it is a pernicious environment for a howling dog in the middle of the night.
The next evening, the howling started at eight o’clock and continued in fifteen-minute intervals. I started to not only worry about my impending sleep deprivation, but I also feared for a dog that might be in distress. I decided to get in my car and drive around the neighborhood.
On my way to the garage, I decided to first check my own backyard.
My step into the chilly night air coincided perfectly with the dog’s howl. I was startled by how close it sounded. I walked down a flight of stairs and opened the gate. There it was! The howling, frightened dog was in my own backyard. Fortunately, it was beagle I recognized.
A few phone calls later and the story emerged. Charlie, the offending beagle was missing for two days. Its owner had been searching the dog pounds, shelters, and the surrounding hills. The owner’s four children had been praying every night for Charlie’s return.
I think of my irritation because someone let his dog howl through the night. Then I think of the neighbor’s below my house, who knew where the all-night howling was coming from-my house! I think of their irritation, complaints and patience. Two days worry about someone else’s problem when it was really my own.
I have a good laugh because there is little else to do. But I keep hearing my sister repeat an old adage she is quite fond of, “Clean your own backyard before you clean mine, or in Biblical prose: And why beholdest thou the mote that is in they brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Quote of the Day

"I want to be around people like myself." My sister

There's a reason why my big sister Loraine made that statement and why I too want to be around her.
After two devastating deaths, a betrayal and the normal vicissitudes of life, Loraine has become a different and better person. And hopefully by hanging out with her and accompanying her on this ride, I too have become better. 
It's also why both of us understood so well the meaning of words I spoke to my class. A teacher stopped by my classroom and asked to see a certain student. He joined her in the hall but the door was left open. When the conversation started with the teacher saying, "I'm on the verge of a meltdown," every ear in the room perked up. Including mine. But I didn't want any of us to be the audience to this private exchange and I hurried over to shut the door. On my way back to my desk a student made a derogatory comment, to which I answered without thought: "Remember, a person's suffering is sacred."
It is sacred because it is what changes us and in the in-between, our behavior may not always be pretty, but it may be the very path we must take to be a better self.
And that is why my sister  wants to surround herself with people just like her--because she's learned that judgment or criticism is a burden and an evil taskmaster. And really, who wants to be a slave?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Through the Years!

Back in mid-December Emily sent a submission to "In the Classroom." Her now-essay was originally in bullet points and it needed some development. But her voice! It was adorable. I wrote her back and told her if she was willing to do some edits, I would love to include it. Her response was exuberant. A month later, several edits and 20 emails later, she's published and she's a paid writer. You can't imagine how excited she was!
What Emily doesn't know yet, was that her joy sustained me through a couple of sad days. Really, when I started thinking of myself, her optimism and her up-beat emails, sucked the sorrow right out of my thoughts and replaced them with a smile on my face. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Power of Story

My daughter came home this afternoon after sleeping cold on a friend's couch and waking at 6:00 a.m. to attend a film screening. She walked in the door and anxious to hear about the film,  I bombarded her with questions. She couldn't answer. At first. "If I talk about it, I'll just start crying."

I backed off and within five minutes she started to explain amidst  choke-ups and watery eyes.

"It was the most beautiful film I ever saw. It was perfection. So deep and meaningful. Every scene was perfection."

"How did the rest of the audience react?" I asked.

"Everyone in that audience cried at one point or another. There was a wait list of over 200 people and no one made it in."

It was the fifth showing of this film and the word had gotten around.

I love that collective energy of sitting in an audience and having an overwhelming emotional experience. As you leave the theatre, you look at everyone a little differently. You know if you started speaking with someone, you'd cry. The depth of your glances bring a connection of the shared human experience.

That's what happens with good prose too. Nothing unites us like a good story. It's why when we talk about the end of "The Book Thief," that we have a bond-we've had the same experience. We've been moved in the same way. It's why a ninth grade boy can admit he cried at the end of "The Book Thief," and I can nod at him with tears in my eyes and for one second in time-we have something in common.

It's why literature is so important.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sundance Film Festival Recommendation

The Green Prince. If you have a chance to see it, do. An exceptional movie of insight and hope.

The combination of creativity, intelligence and perseverance to make a documentary always amazes me.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Gail Nall Writes About Pitch Wars Mentees

Gail Nall is the author of forthcoming book DON'T FALL DOWN (Spring 2015). My time with her has been short but she's given me great insights into query and pitch writing and writing details that make a difference.

As an applicant for pitchwars, I had to choose Gail.  There were several authors I could have applied to, but I knew immediately she would be my top choice. Her education, her interest in history, her writing, her profession (she's an attorney), her mother-words. Her insight to all-things-writing is amazing. It has been a privilege to work with her.

Thank-you Gail.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Writer That Makes Me Proud

Each January, my school suspends regular classes to participate in an adventure (of sorts). Over the years, I have taken a group of students to Ecuador to build houses and swim with turtles in the Galapagos. I've studied Holocaust/genocide literature and visited the Museum of Tolerance and The Holocaust Memorial in Los Angeles. Last year, I taught a competitive writing class and this year, I'm in the midst of a seminar based on National Novel WRiting Month in November--only ours is JanoWriMo.

Winterim is a delight because only interested students sign up for the particular winterim. So, only serious writers signed up for JanoWRiMo. It's a dream come true knowing every single student is there because they want to write!

There's a synergy and our invited author-speakers understand this too.

Author Linda Bethers (Christmas Oranges-over 250,000 copies sold) brought a feeling into our classroom heretofore never felt, because the story of her book, its publication and how she spent her royalties is a story I will never forget. It's not my story to tell, but I want to at least represent the goodness that came from this author and her book.

Linda's book sold out 2000 copies in the first week. In the next two weeks it sold over 12, 000 copies.
At the time, Linda was working 3 jobs, driving a 17 year old car and her living room furniture was the plastic patio chairs one can buy for $7 at Wal-mart.  She started adding up her royalties and looked forward to that new couch she was going to buy (she is the second author I know who planned on buying a couch with royalties).  Royalty checks were supposed to come at the end of January--but they didn't quite make it and she expected a check in February. When her first royalty check came in February, life's circumstances had changed. And so had the need for her money.  Linda's sister-in-law, five years earlier, while carrying her first child, had been diagnosed with cancer. They didn't give her long to live, but the mother's desire to know her child sustained her for five years beyond her projected years. The month Linda received her royalty check was the month cancer caught up to her sister-in-law. Doctors gave her one month to live. Linda's brother had a compassionate employer who gave him time off-- without pay. Living room furniture seemed the least important need and Linda used her money to support her brother's family during this critical time. When Linda's sister-in-law passed away, she used the following royalty checks to pay for the burial.

Linda makes me proud to be a writer.
Ms. Bethers and Emily

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Death Coming Up the Hill by Chris Crowe--Release Date Fall 2014

I have come to believe that writing is laced with serendipity: the initial inception of an idea, the creation/writing and if the writing makes it to publication--another dose of serendipity.

A few years ago, I taught Chris Crowe's award winning book Mississippi Trial 1955. One of the more poignant moments was when students, before they knew the trial outcome, voted whether the defendants would be charged with murder or acquitted.  Most students thought the defendants would be found guilty.  When students learned they weren't, and when they showed their outrage, I cried. It's the only time in teaching that I've cried and it was in part because I was sick that day with an earache and was feeling extra sensitive--but the reason for crying WAS VALID. The book, though fiction, was an important document concerning racial injustice. I value the book and especially value my association with Christ Crowe as a mentor with the National Writing Project.
He graciously accepted an invite to speak to our writing winterim students.

After hearing Chris speak a few times, I have learned of the serendipity in his writing and his writing career. I look forward to Chris' new book Death Coming Up the Hill, and I marvel at the unique coincidences that infuse this book. First of all, the book is written in haiku--yes--every bit of prose in 5-7-5 pattern of an ancient art. Imagine the editing when he had to re-write, re-adjust to keep it haiku. But the lines, the word count, all strangely coincide with the events, numbers and details of a turbulent time in the United States' history. The book takes place during the Vietnam War. Each chapter coincides with the death count of the war.  I'm sure the author's notes will include the coincidences. 


Sunday, January 12, 2014

How Many Extra Sweatshirts Do You Have? Or Why I Love Teachers

 Aaron is a psychologist. He has loving parents, grew up in a stable home and counts his life as blessed. He's married, has a child and he and his wife are saving for their first home. Because money is tight, they decided to forego Christmas presents for each other. Christmas would be the new house.

Aaron works in a school for second through eighth graders, where children cannot function in a regular one-teacher classroom. The classes are small; eight students are paired with a teacher and an in-class helper.  Student rage and the consequential outbursts are common. Physical restraints are the norm.

 Clyde is an eighth grade boy who attends Aaron's school. He's been there since second grade when he was moved from a traditional classroom because of excessive bullying, hitting and desk-tossing outbursts. Cyde's move to the school coincided with his parents' breakup when each angry parent pitted him against the other, when the father pitted him against his brother, when his mother left him in the care of his non-working, angry, violent father.

In the two years that Aaron has worked with Clyde, he noted during the colder months, that everyday Clyde wore the same hand-me-down sweatshirt from his older brother.  Aaron noticed not only the smell and the ragged condition of the sweatshirt, but he noticed it because he loves sweatshirts. Because of this, his wife broke the Christmas gift rule when she found a beautifully made, extra comfy sweatshirt her husband would love.

When Aaron found the sweatshirt hidden in the trunk of the car, he knew it was his Christmas gift. He asked his wife's permission to use it for a different purpose. When he explained his desires, she too couldn't be happy if her husband chose to keep it.

On the last day of school before Christmas break, Aaron met with Clyde to say good-bye. Clyde hadn't been able to control his anger and was being sent to a tougher, tighter-controlled school for children with behavioral problems. It was yet again, another rough patch in Clyde's life. But before he said good-bye, Aaron handed Clyde a gift. Aaron explained how money was tight but he wanted Clyde to have this gift. This tough boy, kicked out of yet another school, opened his package and cried.