Dec 1, 2013

Entering Christmas

It's December 1st - Meteorological first day of winter, though we wait until the 21st for the astronomical 'shortest' day as the sun's position hits the lowest point for the northern hemisphere. But here in the USA, we don't often think of entering December, or even approaching the Winter Solstice, so precious a sign to all civilizations before enclosed homes with easily accessed warming devices. We are entering Christmas.

As a nation of all the religions in the world, worshipping in general the same Lord in so many creative ways, with or without Jesus Christ in our beliefs, December is filled with celebration:
Al Hijra, Ashura, St Nicholas Day, Bodhi Day, Hanukkah, Virgin of Guadalupe, Santa Lucia Day, Los Posadas, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa. If we are conscious of the souls of all mankind, we can give thanks and praise nearly every other day.

And if we consider the rotten state of affairs in some countries, our own included, it's nice to know we'll be receiving thanks and praises along the way----all in proportion to those we give.

Let's enter Christmas with song in our hearts, love in our souls, and our eyes on each and every hungry sparrow.

Sep 8, 2013

Time to Shape Up for Teaching My Last Year

Ready for this?  The number-one reason agents pass on requesting a full manuscript after reading the opening chapters is this: the story does not have a forward-moving plot. (Kristin Nelson)
I agree, but I live with a much more important connection: IMO the number-one reason that students tune out of a class is this: the lesson does not have a forward-moving plot!
If ENGAGEMENT and ASSOCIATION to the CHARACTERS work for stories and novels, these strategies should be every teacher's tour de force in preparing lesson plans.  Tour de force: a feat or display of strength, skill, or ingenuity
So this year, of all years, my swansong, my curtain call, I pledge to be forward-moving, to be forward in planning, forward in triggering questions, forward in formative assessments--not so swift to judge and move on. Thanks to Kristin Nelson
If you're a teacher or a writer, or just curious, check her out at     The article about catching the reader in a vise grip is toward the bottom of the posting.

Jun 19, 2013

A Cheer, A Toast to Libba Bray - pajamas and all.

Yes - it's the summer of 2013 and a year has passed since the 4 day, 38 person wedding celebration complete with midnight dancing, hot air balloon wishes floating into the night sky, a second line through the house just before dawn, and more crayfish and hot peppers than we could eat.

I can't tell you I've been good -- but another year in the 9th grade is over and I am planning and writing again. This is the research leg of imagining a new cast of characters in a new situation older than mankind. Girl runs, boy runs, parents chase, and a little magic happens. Somehow it's never that simple, is it.

Today Libba Bray posted a rant against Writer's Despair that made the share upon share rounds on FB.

If you're a writer, read it. Just click and read it right now. Then take a deep breath and let a smile bring a little joy back into your eyes. This is the rant we all want to claim. I want that voice. I want to find that humor within me, and face it, we all want the time to step back and despair in agony so sublime as to have a book stretching and growing, expanding its ribs, filling its lungs, poking fists and feet against the embrace of safety. I guess the freedom to write whatever and whenever we want is too safe for us. Writers who are persecuted must make every moment hot and clear, to the point or woven in allegory--and do it in secret. We may not all be published, but we are not persecuted here in America. And yet, I believe Safety is the little killer (of adventure and curiosity, of world-making and self-reliance) not Fear, as we learned decades ago in DUNE.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me." Frank Herbert

Don't play it safe; don't expect your characters to come to life without your paying the ferryman an exorbitant fee in sweat and tears.

My comment to a reader on Libba Bray's blog sums up my confidence that one day there's nothing and then, there is a turning, a new thought, an un-jinxing charm, that will allow you to devise the plot your heart wants to find.....

[from the comment] I've read ‘Driven to Distraction’, consulted with a counselor at my junior high where I teach, and figured out that mild adult ADD is no different from an excess of passion and intent that transcends the ‘whatever’ attitude of so many people today. I too outline and actually lay the pages down and forget where I left them. Then I write 3-4 opening scenes so I can consciously, a few days later, rip one up and throw it away……and a week or so later, do it again, until I am forced to go on with the story because there is no opening scene anymore. I've eaten it. It's deep within my mind now-all the variations. When I want any part of this written and rewritten set of events, they're standing around, waiting to see if one or the other will fit. The reward is that I am not leaning on them, not worshiping how smoothly the hook was thrust forward, not hungering for someone to read it on the spot so I can hear the praises that surely would follow.

This linear  thinking and planning allows me to get along the trail, albeit slowly. I love this blog. I love this entry. (just in case you skipped it earlier!)

Libba, you’re not ADD. Writers who can do Victorian so flawlessly aren’t ADD. They’re simply smothering in runaway talent for storytelling. You’re being corralled by format – try throwing that out the window. Then sit down and write a long conversation with nothing in between for 20 pages. Let the characters take you for a long walk. [end comment]

Folks - I am not a consistent blog writer. I am more of a hawk scanning for a laugh on FB. I can't find anyone on my Twitter account that I personally know. And lately I pinned some nifty recipes on Pinterest and can't find them again.  But I know that getting started on a book and later, restarted is hard. Here's how it seems to work: Creativity Profiles
(i) Incubate (Long-term Development)
(ii) Imagine (Breakthrough Ideas)
(iii) Improve (Incremental Adjustments)
(iv) Invest (Short-term Goals)
For all of us who have days-weeks-ages of block, of distress, of starting over, I say
         Go out and walk around the block talking to yourself in character conversations.
         And eat more protein.
         And take a super complex B-vitamin daily.
         And suck it up with a chocolate kiss at least once an hour.

         Your brain runs on sugar.

Apr 14, 2012

Time Flies

I'm sure there are a zillion ways to say, "What happened to the last two-four-eight years?"  But while time was flying by and I was pushing the litany of physics and chemisty, a sheaf of new poems were written and a short story was published in VOICES, the winter 2011 issue. These are my milestones, of a sort.
On the other hand, I am about to see the daughter of my heart embrace her new life as a wife and independent consultant in New Orleans. She and Greg are both so independent, that my own solitary life seems lackluster in comparison.

It's been a busy last year or three, and I hope to be more focused in 2012. Writing is such joy, such challenge, and I refuse to lose as much time during the next eight years.

Nov 17, 2011

These are some of my favorite things -- at the moment.

Try Louise Penny for characters you can't believe aren't walking through your own streets. What a combination, reading Louise Penny and watching Paul McCartney and Billy Joel on PBS. Thank God, I'm so far from being single-minded! "Let It Be" sung by the Master, played by the Piano Man. Heaven.

I just bought: 'Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Three Pines Mysteries)' by Louise Penny. And all six of the next novels. They leave me breathless with wonder.

As we move closer to the finals of our semester of physics, being filled with wonder during NaNoWriMo is worth every moment of lost sleep. I love this writer and her characters and her plots which are woven like double -layered crocheted afghans. I almost feel as if I could turn the book over and read more of the same story from other points of view or find myself embroiled in one of the twists.

And then there's the occasion of the music in the background. Divine.

You should be so lucky!

Jan 16, 2011

Leaves across the road


I found this little poem, little string of thoughts, on the blog of my friend, Jo Lightfoot, the Everyday Poet. And instantly, I was reminded of an incident that I experience every year.

Nothing can halt its coming. No one can change the sadness it brings. Sadness that begins with a down-turned lip and prickly tears that are quickly blinked away. Time and repetition does not lessen its impact.

I live with leaves, with brown and black, with rosy, yellow, and white. Occasionally I am pleased to find a red one in the bunch, but they are quiet and sometimes hidden by their subtle coloring. All year long, I search among the leaves to find the secrets they possess. The golden essence of life and knowledge, of love and ambition. By early spring, I am recognizing the layers on layers of their beings.

      As I write, my characters are like leaves. Their colors and   shapes are waiting for me find the painting to which they belong. I suspect it’s going to be one I’ve loved for a lifetime, perhaps, something like Autumn Leaves by Georgia O’Keeffe. But my characters, like ordinary leaves, begin to take on individual personalities, and by midnight, I am typing as fast as I can, like running down hill and you can’t stop.
My daily leaves are my science students with all their disguises, fears, and desires. By this time each year, they are blooming, pulling out of the mass of fallen colors and beginning to march the halls with their own pace and style. They are the finest characters who ever tripped across a page of anything we’ve written.

Then it happens. Like throbbing colors of leaves fade from red and orange and yellow and rust to grey, my carefully trained students begin crumbling. They aren’t actually going to follow every rule, nor are they planning to go in the directions I aim them. Suddenly the day will come and my roomful of leaves, my handful of autumn, will rush through the door, carried by a strong gust of wind, and school will be out for summer. They’ll be gone and the building will fall silent and hollow. With my heart aching, I’ll let the covers of my laptop fall silently together. Being finished, even with a draft in need of more loving care, is a blessing.

Oct 10, 2010

The Best Engineers Play with Toys

Electric hugs to Patricia Wiles and the participants at the MidSouth SCBWI conference who contributed hundreds of books for schools in need. The responses were celebrations of reading.
     "I delivered 147 board and picture books, donated by the conference attendees, to the special ed classes at West Broadway Elementary on Friday Oct. 1," wrote Patricia to the MidSouth group. "The teachers were so excited! One wrote this to me in an e-mail: It's Christmas on Broadway!! "
     "It gets better ... after receiving two more boxes of books in the mail, on Wednesday, Oct. 6, I delivered 400 books from our conference attendees and other SCBWI friends to Alternate Day Treatment, AKA the school without a library. Well, it has one now -- thanks to you!!!!! The kids SWARMED the boxes! They picked up books and asked me about them. Some asked me if there were books by specific authors, which authors signed their books, or if there were books in particular genres. One saw books by a certain author in the stack and spoke of how he'd read several in the series, and did we have any more of his books? This was all so sweet ... especially as I thought of the people (none of you, of course) who had said to me, "Those kids probably don't know how to read anyway," and "Those kids have computers. They don't need books."
        Nashville readers will learn about the donations from MidSouth and friends in the newspaper this weekend. Could there be any more delightful celebration for us who love reading to hear?

But sometimes the connecting of child to book hits a snag. Also within the blogging of writers came this week a note concerning parents who push their children to read only at a challenging or "age appropriate" level and are anxious about children who want to go back to picture books. Teachers also fall in this category of reading coach, pushing reading to learn as the goal of class time reading. Many writers sent in tales of their own reading habits as well as those of the children who now occupy the households. Words are words, characters are warm-blooded role models, no matter how they are drawn, and situations that thrill or delight, that invoke giggles or trembles are just life in a teaspoon.

It's like jokes about space travel: objects may be farther away than they seem to be.

Don't we all remember "Don't judge a book by its cover."

As readers and writers, I suspect we all agree, "What you see isn't necessarily what the child is getting."

I fear those parents and teachers who restrict reading to "appropriate age" only have forgotten the delight in conquering. When a hummer has conquered the lyrics, she sings. When a reader has conquered a story, he makes up his own dialogue with the characters. When an older reader returns to picture books, or from "real age appropriate" books to chapter books, it's like re-tasting the icing on the cupcake; all comfortable, reassuring, familiar, and yes, a sweet memory of the other many times the book has shared its magic.

Knowing the outcome means rewriting it in the imagination, perhaps dreaming of different illustrations, even adding or deleting characters. Heaven knows, we see picture books, myths, and fairy tales retold over and over in movies. Of course that goes on in the colorful minds of children "reading down." Where would we be without artists like Disney and all his cartooning loonies who went back to picture books and made us the dreamers we are?

Perhaps parents and others who would restrict book choices don't realize that the best engineers play with toys. Simple things make clear to us the structure, the flow of energy, the dependency of parts, and the grace of design versus function. Reading is just another way to engineer our minds, to be creative, to be emotionally safe or challenged by choice, to control our universe for awhile--before all the rest comes crashing in. How curious I am to see if anyone has ever asked the child to rewrite the ending, to tell what the story means to him, or to pick up crayons or brushes and paint a scene in the story that the illustrator left out. Now wouldn't these activities 'tell a story.'

I hope children whose parents are worried about 'age appropriate' reading keep right on exploring the old and the new. The fact that they are making choices and building their own mental libraries tells me they're growing at a phenomenal rate. For teachers and parents, it's time to reassess the restrictions and remember reading is an adventure that takes us all far far away.

Sep 18, 2010

You've got blood on your hands once you kill somebody!

The moment was tense; my peace of mind in a dangerous condition. A Seer would have to be present to detect the evidence. But I knew. I knew I was guilty--a character I really really really wanted to keep was killed off with one tap of my index finger. The highlighted area of the page blinked out, into the ethernet forever. Never to be seen again.
I stand by my decision...with luck the mystery will be stronger and the plot tighter, but the character was driving the story. My MC was struggling to keep up; his sweet nature, his old-fashioned manners falling to the side of the road whenever this guy came into a scene. He HAD to go. And he was so wicked, so evil, that most of my readers refused to go farther than the first full scene. He frightened could I send him out to middle graders? So I done it. He's gone. finis.

Now comes the weird part.  .  .
I went hunting, like a good blogger, for a picture, an image of a typist with bloody fingers. All in good fun.
And Lordy, Lordy! There is a whole genre of sick minds posting bloody hands and fingers on the Images files. They even have t-shirts! There's a dozen re-tellings of the Bloody Fingers camping out in a tent story. There's also an APP for the Iphone with spinning knives and your fingers dodging them in tighter and tighter circles. And amazing enough, a recipe for Bloody Fingers to eat. Who knew?

Bloody Fingers for Kids

1 pack blanched white whole almonds
red food coloring
egg - beaten with a fork
As many as you need: Frozen fully cooked breaded chicken strips

Pre-heat the oven.
Dye the almonds. Glue them to the chicken strips with egg.
Arrange them on a cooking sheet and toast until ready.
Serve with drizzles of very red (Prego) basic pizza sauce, it's thicker than spaghetti sauce.

And last, but not least (as they say) can send your friends and loved ones a Bloody Finger email. Like that's something they'll cherish for a long long time to come?

I'm closing the door on this revelation and getting back to work.

Sep 4, 2010

Dorrie and the Magic Elixir

What would I do without Chuck Sambuchino and Nathan Bransford and their digests? Or Deborah Halverson and Darcy Pattison for a tidbit a day? Or wonderful challenges from writers like Ms. Snark whom I adore. They are my writing buddies in absentia. My back-up crew unpaid save by admiration. They cheer us on and redirect us when we ramble,
just like Dorrie kept an eye on her Mother as the battle continued against the machinations of Wink, the rotten lizardly Wizard.

We all begin as little witches with an adoloescent knowledge of writing skills garnered from the books we've read and oh Lordy, we do read. We read everything from memoirs of people we've never heard of to junk mail to dreams of worlds beyound the Van Allen belts to steamy close encounters to blogs. And we leap, schemes and plots in hand, into the writing world like daughters and sons of Calliope, aware of all the baby spells we've learned and intrigued by the adult spells we hunger to perfect.

I look upon the advice so freely offered online from writers, editors, and agents as secrets to the Power. And I am studying the Big Book of Magic Spells as hard as I can.

Jun 20, 2010

A Bird's Eye View of your WIP, just what your editor ordered!

One of the latest hints we've heard about analyzing your WIP involves copying your whole book on tiny pages so you could color code where the plot turns occur, the character shifts begin and end, the surprise of complications, and how far along in the manuscript certain facts are revealed, etc.

Check out Tim Koch's personal discovery.
A bit of trivia for you: a 90000-word story fits on 15 11x17 pages at 6 point and 6 columns. LOL

He's using LEGER size paper. It's worth having around if you have kids because it's 'poster' size to a 4-5 year old. One ream lasts forever. Tim Koch is the author of two fierce YA novels about young adults running from mind/body control in a futuristic inner/outer space in the universe and the voodoo that teens hoodoo so well. This is a great way to see the energy flow of a whole book.....and it takes only 15 pages. And a place to hang it on the wall or a bulletin board so you can really see it with a bird's eye view.

Don't try to read the fine print, SEE the transitions and hum the rhythm.