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.