The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Four Reasons to Slow Down... and Stop



         This was what the sky looked one early morning. I got out of my car and instead of heading into my school building, I looked in a different direction... and saw this sunrise. (I know my photography skills are laughable but it was a gorgeous sky.) The beautiful colors reminded me of one reason to stop occasionally:

You might miss something if you insist on always charging forward. The middle school boys had a big-deal basketball game on Saturday, part of a 52nd annual tournament my school hosts. Our team was behind by 20 points. They were younger and smaller than the other team and our basket had a lid on it.

I stepped out of the gym and into the hall to talk to a few parents. While I was gone, the game ended, and the boys had closed the gap to the point they were only 6 points behind. I'd missed it! (They have their second game tonight, and you can be sure I won't leave the gym for a single minute--not until the final buzzer sounds.)

You won't get to hear a story--it'll be gone forever. Yesterday I was in a bit of a rush to get to a meeting by 4. A student wanted to talk after school. That was cool--I still had plenty of time. But when I walked out, I saw a family that lives close to the school. They were out on their porch. I walked up their steps, meaning to just chat for a minute, and ended up talking for almost thirty minutes. In that short time, they asked, "What's the story behind your name?" (and I told them), they shared how mental illness has touched their family, I shared how it's touched mine... and if I hadn't stopped by, I would have missed out on feeling that sense of kinship.

You won't laugh as much. Savoring a joke, or responding with humor instead of frustration--that usually takes a bit more time. Definitely, however, the extra time is worth it.

Your belly won't get rubbed as much. Whoops. This one, I learned from Lizzie. Lizzie is a tripod who lives in my school's neighborhood. Usually she's on a walk when I'm getting out of my car, and I get to pet her. Lizzie knows what's important. As her mom is trying to coax her into continuing the walk, Lizzie knows it's more important to flop down into the grass and roll over so I can rub her tummy. Sometimes she decides to just lie down on the ground for a while and feel the breeze. Wouldn't life be more pleasant if we all lived life more like Lizzie?

And if you want to hear about the writing things I've learned from a television show I love, go here

And how about you? What have you seen or enjoyed lately, that you would have missed out on if you'd rushed by it?






Friday, February 24, 2017

A Phone Call, an Audition and Back-of-the-Book Blurb Friday #49

This week I had an incredible encounter on the phone.

For months (literally) I have been emailing and calling a man who works at the National Museum of African American History in D.C. His grandfather typed up a 10-page first person document of a bit of our history that we've swept under the rug for almost a century. I've seen the cover page on the internet:  its yellowed pages and faded ink taunt me.

This man's voicemail box quickly filled up; I could no longer leave a message. My emails remained unanswered.

Yesterday I called during my prep period, figuring it would be another bit of momentary frustration. Miracle of miracles, he answered.

We spoke. Since he has donated his grandfather's document to the museum, there are several of his colleagues who would love access to it. He said he would check with the curator, he suggested some books, and I was left encouraged... and hopeful.

And the audition? I got an email this week--I am one of the 30 writers chosen to audition for the Listen to Your Mother St. Louis Show. Three of my writing critique partners--Linda O'Connell, Lynn Obermoeller and Kim Lehnhoff--also made the cut. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all four of us make it.

And now, onto book blurb fun...

Look at the photo below. That is the cover of your book. You choose the genre. A time travel tale, where a fun-loving group of hooligans try to reenact Thelma and Louise's trip? A how-to book explaining how to refold travel maps?  You decide.

Write an enticing blurb--150 words or less. (The title doesn't count in the word count.) Blurbs are those enticing bits that prod you into buying the book. Sometimes they're on the back cover of the book. Sometimes they're on the inside front cover. What they always try to do is lure you into purchasing the book.

Lisa Ricard Claro was the original brain behind this project. She's got her own editing business. She's gotten a multi-novel publishing deal... and now that those three books are out, she's working on more. Check out her site. You'll enjoy her posts and you'll learn something.

Include your blurb in a blog post. Include a link to this post. Also, link your post to Mr. Linky. Mr. Linky is easy. If you've never done it, you'll be impressed with how simple he is. And then, check out the other blurb(s). It's interesting to see the different directions writers take, given the same photo.

Here's the book cover and the blurb:

photo by pixabay


Back in Time… Into the Darkness

Because of technology, amazing things now happened.
The iphone 27 has time-traveling capabilities. With a swift swipe, the camera captures what the person--or the scene--looked like decades ago.
A couple wants to remember what they looked like on their wedding day fifty years ago? Just aim the phone their way, and there the bride and groom would be, their unwrinkled faces smiling in the screen.
A family wants to recall what their family neighborhood looked like when they moved in ten years ago? An easy feat with the new phone.
The police are even using them to recreate--with 100% accuracy--a crime scene. There’s no need for security cameras now. Just make the correct time setting, point and shoot… and they can see who did the shooting.
But now the phone’s being used for sinister purposes… it’s being used to do heinous things. And there seems to be no stopping it... (150 words)


And for those writers who like to work ahead and toil on their reviews (like you, Val), here is the photo (from Pixabay) for next week:






Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Random Autobiography

My students wrote random autobiographies a couple of weeks ago. On Friday the kids had a writing buffet, which meant they got to read several of the poems written by their classmates, after which they commented on them via written feedback. Their poems were mind-blowing. For most of them, it was their best writing so far.

In case you've never written a random autobiography, here are the rules:

  • The way you order/organize your memories should be random. The moments in your life should come zinging out at the reader, in an unpredictable, willy-nilly order (not chronological). 
  • The piece usually ends up a free verse poem.
  • Other than those uptight, rigid rules... there are no rules.

Below is a poem I wrote as a model for them.



When I was four, I loved dogs so much,
when I got a bad staph infection
and we had to give all my stuffed animals
and our dog Duchess away,
I cried.

For years…

For years I’d look out my bedroom window
and yearn for another dog...

until
we got
another dog,
and
we named her Lady.

After that, my crying for a dog stopped,
and I’ve had a dog ever since.

Sledding down the hill when I was 10,
I loved dodging the trees
as I flew like a rocket.
Snow in my boots,
my mittens caked with ice and muddied snow,
I’d sled for hours.

The danger was part of the fun.

Riding a bike when I was 12,
I’d think about riding with no hands.
I wanted to be just like the cool kids,
with their hands up in the air
while they coasted down the street.
I’d lift my hands off the handlebars
for just a second
until scared,
I’d grab them again
and hold on tight.

There were some dangers I dared to do.
Others, I was too chicken to even try.

When I was nine I spent a whole day in a cave.
Sliding down clay-slick hills,
crawling through cramped spaces,
exploring the cool pools of water.
That night, my mom threw away the clothes
I’d worn in the cave.
The reddish-brown stains had become permanent,
a reminder of my underground fun.

When I was 6, I took a tour at Bonfils Elementary
on my first day of 1st grade.
The teacher said to our class,
as we stood in the hall,
“Here is the lavatory.”
My eyes got as round and big as pie plates.
A science lab!
A place to do experiments!
I was antsy with excitement,
until I learned that lavatory
was just another word for a bathroom.

When I was 8,
I went up and down my street
on my skates.
The key hung on a dingy, frayed shoelace
around my neck.
After I took the skates off,
I could still feel the vibration,
my feet thrumming over the cracked sidewalk
even though the skates were put away
in the closet.

Skating made me feel free…

When I was four my grandfather spanked me.
It was the first and only time.
I didn’t listen to him,
didn’t use the fudgsicle wrapper
to catch the drips,
and he got mad.

My hard head got me into lots of trouble.

I could also write about learning to ride a bike
when I was 7
and getting into an accident.
I could share how I once had a 12-foot pet
boa constrictor wrapped around me when I was four…
which made me fall in love with snakes.
I could also write about my first airplane trip to Ohio,
by myself,
when I was 12,
and my aunt and uncle got the date screwed up
and forgot to pick me up.

But no,
I think I’ll save that for another poem...

How about you? What memory or memories would you include in a random autobiography?

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Class Bake-Off and Back-of-the-Book Blurb # 48

Did you know you can melt Tootsie Rolls? Did you know you can incorporate a homemade applesauce into brownies, along with cayenne pepper and lemons, in a tasty way? Did you know that seven kids + 1 blender + 1 food processor + a lot of weird ingredients = a great deal of fun?

This week during homeroom, our middle-schoolers had their first bake-off. They decided on making mug brownies (brownies made in coffee mugs in the microwave) and decided on the strange additions (cayenne pepper, apples and citrus fruit) along with Tootsie Rolls, Twix bars, chocolate chip cookies and pretzels. It was a blast to see them working together in two groups, and at end, watching the flurry of activity as their time ran out. Honestly, I thought apples would taste horrible with brownies but one of the groups made a homemade applesauce and the flavors melded well with the brownies.

Teamwork. Creativity. Problem-solving. Risk-taking. We had it all on Wednesday... And now onto book blurb stuff.

Look at the photo below. That is the cover of your book. You choose the genre. A time travel tale, where a fun-loving group of hooligans try to reenact Thelma and Louise's trip? A how-to book explaining how to refold travel maps?  You decide.

Write an enticing blurb--150 words or less. (The title doesn't count in the word count.) Blurbs are those enticing bits that prod you into buying the book. Sometimes they're on the back cover of the book. Sometimes they're on the inside front cover. What they always try to do is lure you into purchasing the book.

Lisa Ricard Claro was the original brain behind this project. She's got her own editing business. She's gotten a multi-novel publishing deal... and now that those three books are out, she's working on more. Check out her site. You'll enjoy her posts and you'll learn something.

Include your blurb in a blog post. Include a link to this post. Also, link your post to Mr. Linky. Mr. Linky is easy. If you've never done it, you'll be impressed with how simple he is. And then, check out the other blurb(s). It's interesting to see the different directions writers take, given the same photo.

Here's the book cover and the blurb:

photo by pixabay


The Re-Education of Harold

“Honey, you’re built like a ‘57 Chevy. Solid. Dependable. Big in all the right spots.”
“Sweetie, you’ve been up and down the block a bunch of times. I like that.”
“Madge, you’re like a fine wine. If I wait any longer, you’re gonna turn to vinegar, so it’s time to pop the cork and enjoy life right now.”
Harold and Madge were neighbors. Harold was 78 and never married. When he moved a year ago, he started taking walks every morning. The first time he passed up Madge, swinging in her front yard, he simply nodded a greeting. Soon, he got brazen enough to walk across Madge’s yard for daily chats.
Harold thinks he’s a smooth talker. He thinks he’s romancing Madge. But a man who’s been single for that many years… well, surely he’s set in his ways. Right? Can Harold ever be taught how to treat a woman? (150 words)


And for Val and anyone else who wants the next week's photo ahead of time, here it is:

photo by pixabay






Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Brevity is Next to Godliness

According to the internet (and we all know that the internet never peddles alternative facts to people and calls them the truth), Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote a lengthy letter to a friend. He finished it with a PS: "I am very sorry for sending you such a long letter but I did not find enough time to write a shorter one."

Writing succinctly does take more time than meandering all around the story as we beat around the bush, develop diarrhea of the keyboard and beat dead horses. Sometimes, writing even requires--shudder--that we delete some of our work.

Yep. That's right. Sometimes as writers we have to deconstruct. We find ourselves deleting words, lines or (horror!) pages... and it's frustrating.

Now, when I do NaNoWriMo, I try to delete as little as possible. All I'm focused on with NaNo is getting to the 50,000-word finish line.  I know my WIP's a pile of steaming poop, this first draft, and since I already know it's going to need loads of revision, I keep most of the word count intact.

There are times we have to cut a part we find particularly clever:  it doesn't mesh with the rest of the tone.  We have to slash a word here and a few words there, since we're over the word limit. We're gonna have to trash a whole page because the dialogue is deadly dull... and we put our heads in our hands and moan, since that means we're going to have to rewrite it... and it might be the third or fourth crack at that particular scene.


photo by pixabay

I love this construction sign because it makes me think of shoveling "stuff." There are times when I'm writing... and I feel like I have a shovel in my hand instead of a pen. 

What kind of revision tricks do you have up your sleeve?  Shoveling minds want to know...

Friday, February 10, 2017

Radar's Got a Brand New Bed, The Luck of the Irish and Back-of-the-Book Blurb # 47


Radar is getting used to sleeping on a dog bed instead of a crate that takes up half our familyroom is ginormous. Don't worry about the change of bedding. He's still the king. (And speaking of his royal highness, if you live in the St. Louis area and go to Half Price Books in U City, they're having a pet photo contest. Radar is # 19 and voting goes on until Feb. 13.)





It's not St. Patrick's Day yet, but leprechauns have been working their magic. We just got word yesterday that St. James the Greater School will be open next year. (That doesn't necessarily mean I will have a job last year, as registration packets will have to be returned, enrollment numbers will have to be studied, etc. However, it is 100% marvelous news for the students.)


And now... book blurb business.

Look at the photo below. That is the cover of your book. You choose the genre. A time travel tale, where a fun-loving group of hooligans try to reenact Thelma and Louise's trip? A how-to book explaining how to refold travel maps?  You decide.

Write an enticing blurb--150 words or less. (The title doesn't count in the word count.) Blurbs are those enticing bits that prod you into buying the book. Sometimes they're on the back cover of the book. Sometimes they're on the inside front cover. What they always try to do is lure you into purchasing the book.

Lisa Ricard Claro was the original creator of this project. She's a dog and cat lover. She's a pro editor. She's gotten a multi-novel publishing deal... and now that those three books are out, she's working on more. Check out her site. You won't regret becoming a follower.

Include your blurb in a blog post. Include a link to this post. Also, ink your post to Mr. Linky. Mr. Linky is easy. If you've never done it, you'll be impressed with how simple he is. And then, check out the other blurb(s). It's interesting to see the different directions writers take, given the same photo.

Here's the book cover and the blurb:


Maggie Mortensen?

Maggie knew he was there. Close. Somewhere.

Viggo was hiding from her, holed up in Jefferson City. In past years, she’d stalked him when he filmed movies. Deep in her heart, she knew he’d fall for her… if only they ran into each other. But each time she got close, he slipped away. Wily. Elusive.

Viggo was on the brink of getting a restraining order on Maggie.

Or was he simply playing hard to get?

Now he was living an ordinary life smack dab in the middle of the Midwest. Viggo was just a couple of hours away… just a short roadtrip away.

Her husband, tired of seeing Hidalgo and Northern Promises and Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time, helps Maggie plan her trip.

Will Maggie’s husband ever have to set eyes on Aragorn again? Will Maggie and Viggo finally get together? Or will Maggie’s plan prove tragic? (150 words)


And if you want to work on your blurb for next week, here's next week's photo:

photo by pixabay.com