Friday, February 25, 2011

We Interrupt This Program

I had a different post planned for today, but this morning I saw this:

and I had to share it.

Before my children were born I taught seventh and eighth graders. I quit teaching to stay home with my new baby, but it was with mixed emotions. There were days when I LOVED my job, and there were days when all the hassles made teaching a miserable experience. As with any profession, there are those who do their job wonderfully and with passion, and then there are those who are counting the days to retirement and making everyone around them unhappy in the meantime. I wanted to be an inspiring teacher, pushing my students to push themselves. Somedays it worked. Somedays it felt like train wreck, and I took it very hard.

Several years later I'm still undecided about it. Teaching is difficult work, and it's hard to have your game on everyday. This video sparked a positive response in me. It reminded me of so many things I loved about teaching. I wanted to yell "Yes! That's what I'm talking about!" If I ever go back to the classroom, I'll be sure to watch this again (and again, especially on the tough days)!

The author of this poem is Taylor Mali. He has been a classroom teacher, and is still a teaching advocate. He is also heavily involved with poetry slams. He has several videos on YouTube of his poetry slam performances. (Be warned, some are a little racier than others.) I really enjoyed What Teachers Make and Miracle Workers.

(What? You don't know what a poetry slam is? A slam is a poetry reading competition. The poems that do the best at a slam are the ones that the audience "gets" after a single reading. Forget the flowery language and abstract thought. These send the message home immediately, just like the one above.)

To all the teachers out there and to all the advocates that make them feel appreciated, I thank you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to Become a Fire Fighter in a Small Town

You just show up.

(Okay, so there’s a little more to it than that.)

Since moving back to the hometown an old friend has been asking Chevy (my hubby) to join the volunteer fire fighters. Last week he called to invite him to the monthly meeting, which had already started. Chevy politely declined, putting him off another month.

When he hung up the phone he said, “I would kind of like to go. They’re down to fourteen volunteers.”

He wasn’t asking permission, but I think he was hoping I would encourage him to jump in. So I did. He rushed out the door without looking back.

About an hour later he returned, with a shocked and amused expression. (Yes, apparently you can be shocked and amused at the same time.) He looked at me and said, “I’m in.”

“Just like that?” I asked, skeptical.

“Yep. They looked pretty happy to see me. I told them I was just there to check it out. They didn’t even ask. They just voted me in.” He smiled. “I’ve already got my gear, too.”

I started to laugh. “You mean your jacket and pants? Seriously?”

He smiled even bigger. “Boots, too. I got Gomez’s old stuff.”

(Let me explain here that this is my hometown, and it’s tiny. My high school class had 34. While I don’t claim to know everyone, I do know most of the names and most of the faces, even if I don’t always get them matched up. I have never heard of Gomez. I wouldn’t forget that name. In a town this small, it’s a name that stands out.)

So I asked, “Who’s Gomez?”

“I don’t know, but I asked them what happened to him. They said I didn’t want to know.” Chevy laughed, knowing that he had found a group of guys that could take it and dish it out as well as he could.

He went on to tell me how a young pup showed him all the trucks after the meeting, and demonstrated how to use them. I’m not sure because I wasn’t there, but it sounded like this little town has five fire trucks. I’d bet ten dollars that only three of them work.

Since then Chevy has filled out his paperwork, gotten his radio (which is sitting safely on top of the refrigerator because it has a bright red button that attracts children but also pages the entire department), and is now waiting for a background check to clear before he goes out on his first call.

Despite all the snow we’ve had lately, we are under a high fire danger this week. Oh, the anticipation!!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Every Writer Needs


Imagine if you didn't give yourself a headache trying to remember that awesome scene you came up with while in the shower. My brain would thank me for it. Wouldn't yours?

On another note, has anyone else thought today was Wednesday? Or is it just me? This snow has messed up my internal calendar!

Friday, February 4, 2011

My First Webinar!

We're on our fourth consecutive snow day. That's about two too many for me. And guess what? It's SNOWING AGAIN. We're on our way to an additional four inches on top of the eight we got Tuesday. Ick.

But enough about the weather. Yesterday I got to do something FUN. I listened to Mary Kole's webinar titled Publish Your Children's or Teen Fiction in Today's Market. I had never participated in a webinar before. It's basically watching a power point presentation while listening to a lecture, all online. There's even a side box where you can submit questions. Mary had about ten minutes to answer a few questions during the webinar, but will answer all questions submitted in a follow up email. How cool is that?

I'm not going to try to rehash everything she said, but two things really hit home for me. (Okay, there were more than two, but I don't want to sit here and type all day.) The first thing she emphasized was the importance of critique partners. Get your work critiqued, and critique for others! I confess I haven't done this yet. I guess I've been secretly afraid that once I get another writer to critique my work I'll get a note back simply saying, "Don't quit your day job. Ever." I know I need to take the plunge and get it over with. Yikes.

Another thing Mary talked about was what separates hopefuls from published authors. She listed character, voice, and authority as being the key differences. Characters should be a mirror and a window for the reader. Characters are what makes a reader care. They are the portal to the story. Voice is a hard one to explain, but she suggested we read our work out loud. Does it sound dry or clunky? Like a business memo? Too adult? Then there is authority. I admit this one threw me at first. We must have authority and confidence in our writing. When our writing is good, the reader won't notice. Our writing must be seamless. We have to know what we're doing. I confess I don't always know what I'm doing. Some days it feels like I don't have a clue. But I'm learning. I'm getting there.

I hope all of you are getting there, too.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Beat Sheet

Most of you probably follow Elana. Several weeks ago she blogged about a book called Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It's a book about screenwriting, but it helped Elana figure out the problem with the first chapter of her novel.

Eureka! I ordered the book immediately, because I LOATHE my first chapter. My opening scene just feels wrong. It feels hokey, like I'm trying to jump in the middle of a BIG scene and falling flat.

The book tells us there are 15 beats in a screenplay, and describes each one. I think my opening scene better fits Beat 4, The Catalyst. I never let the reader get a glimpse of my MC's normal life, showing what she wants. (Rather, what she thinks she wants.) I also didn't introduce any of the other characters, which the book says should happen in Beat 3, The Set Up. I think I need to go back and write a new first chapter, hopefully one that hooks the reader AND helps the reader to care about the MC.

So, now I've been wondering about the rest of my novel. How alike are the beats of a movie and a novel? I've been debating whether or not my novel should fit into Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet. Or am I completely overthinking it?

Are you familiar with the Beat Sheet? If so, how closely aligned with it do you think a novel should be?

Also, Elle Strauss blogged about this book yesterday! She filled us in on how the book teaches you to write a logline. I loved this part of the book. It's a great resource for creating your logline, and Elle has it broken down for us. Check her out if you haven't already!