Monthly Archives: April 2005

The Classics

I fell out of love with English classes my freshman year. I’m sure the sweet teacher didn’t mean for it to happen. It’s just we were reading Jack London’s Call of the Wild. Instead of letting us read and engaging us in discussion, the teacher said she didn’t want to worry us too much on that first REAL book; therefore, she’d grace us with reading the book aloud.
At 14 I’d read plenty of real books. And although that teacher had a great soothing southern voice, I had a problem with the way she read the story.
I loved London’s words, the way he structured sentences, the entire idea of The Call and The Wild and what exactly they were.
The teacher might have had the same questions. I don’t know. She lost me with her first instruction. “Ladies and gentlemen, please take out your pencils and proceed to draw a line through all curse words you see.”
Even at that age I knew there was something wrong with the instruction.
Today I can’t tell you how many lines were drawn through curse words in that class. But I can tell you how many weren’t in my books.
I didn’t cross out anything. And I think I might have let a few curses slip with my friends just to see their reactions.
While the teacher enthralled the class with her oral interpretation of that classic, I read the literary great The Karate Kid. I had a thing for Ralph Machio. 🙂
I graduated to those great Silhouette young adult romances and P.S., I Love You. And by senior year I was enjoying my mom’s Desires. I wasn’t reading classics. In fact, after that first REAL book, I didn’t read another required assignment until Sophomore Lit. with Dr. Campbell at Midwestern State. The first classic I read then was The Last Picture Show. It enthralled me, and so did our discussions about McMurtry, our regional literature, the themes of the story and what makes a book a classic.
I lost six years of reading books with universal themes, amazing language, incredible characters. I didn’t even read the Brontes or Austen. But I sure loved the hundreds of Harlequin Presents I read. My high school librarian subscribed to the line and she knew I’d be there to check them out one at a time until I’d read them all.
I’m sure that Freshman English teacher would have explained that they weren’t real books. I would’ve have given her a pencil and asked what she felt needed to be crossed out.
I love the classics. Heart of Darkness is my favorite. But I love genre fiction too. In fact, I love it more. It’s the pulse of the time we live in.
The thing is, we don’t know what will stand the test of time. Hawthorne wrote for the masses. Rowling does today. Three years ago they used Harry Potter as one of the selections for the Literary Criticism test in Texas. Austen’s books are straight up romance. McMurtry sat down and penned a few novels about his home town, a town 30 minutes from the one I grew up in. Only time will tell what books make the cut to become the classics of their time. I’m sure the literati of my generation would disagree, but that’s okay. I love so many of the romances I’ve read over the last few years. Barbara Samuel’s The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue, Deborah Smith’s Stone Flower Garden or On Bear Mountain are a couple that come to mind that might last a lifetime or three. But it’s okay if they don’t.
What’s not okay is that at 14 I was told the books I’d read weren’t real. That real books (who cares what they were!) were destroyed with pencils and a teacher on a mission to rid the world of “words that might offend”. That I lost six years of reading books I might have liked if I hadn’t been turned off early on.
I hope my students embrace all forms of literature, genre fiction, “literature”, and the classics. And I hope my daughter never has a teacher who knows just how to take a great book and destroy it.

Memories

Back in the day…
Rebellion was my middle name. It wasn’t fun, but I sure did wrap the emotion around my shoulders and shove it in my mother’s face every chance I got. Not my dad’s. Just my mom’s. I don’t know if it’s because I’d heard the stories of my dad’s youth and didn’t want him to relive those days or if it was just because my mom spent more time at home. Probably the latter.
Somehow we made it through those rough teen years.
But for some reason that tug of rebellion stuck with me. I can’t count the number of times my mother’s been on the phone with me, simply discussing, and I’ve turned it into an argument. Usually the topic deals with religion. Sometimes it’s Harry Potter. 🙂
She thinks he’s all about real witchcraft, I think he’s fun and fiction. (Just like the prince in my last book.}
Now that I’m closing in on the upper 30s something’s shifted. I don’t want to debate. I can’t change her mind about the stuff we disagree on and she can’t change mine.
And that’s okay.
There. I said it.
My mother does not have to live and breathe by the word of her eldest. She can have her own opinions, her own beliefs, her own code of conduct.
And just because we’re different doesn’t mean I’m going to burn in Hell. 🙂
What exactly does all this have to do with my writing?
It goes way back. For the last five years I’ve avoided writing an inspirational romance simply because my mother begged me to write one. In my mind, her request was tantamount to embarrassment of my other work. Silly, but then it takes a gal who’s buried her head in books for years a while sometimes to figure out real life.
My new work is an inspirational, but it’s different from most I’ve read. We’ll see where it goes. Today in the shower another idea popped in my brain. Another inspirational. Both are dark, gritty books. But I’m going to have a good time writing them. And then I’m going to go back and write the inspirational I avoided writing for five years just because my 18-yr-old self from long ago kept whispering that I didn’t really want to write a book about God when I wasn’t even sure what I thought about God. Not that I didn’t like Him or appreciate Him, but that I didn’t get Him. Silly me. There was nothing really to get. I just had to accept that He’s there and go on about my business.
I wish I would’ve figured all this out 18 years ago, but I didn’t. Since I can’t change the past, I’m going to let it go.
And tonight when I write, I’m going to say a quick thanks to my mom and God.

Word Power

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

How many years have we heard that statement, even said it, all the while knowing it for the complete falsehood it is?
Words have incredible power. They can evoke emotion to such extent that wars explode. The can slice and dice a person in minutes. They can destroy or motivate.
Words last.
I tell my students all the time to remember: you can say I’m sorry, but it doesn’t erase whatever was said. Those words are out there in the air doing their best to interfere.
The same way a simple “good job” or “you’re cool” or even an “I like your hair” can lift someone up.

Speaking of words…
I’m working on a novel right now that I hope will have an impact on readers. It’s emotional and it touches on issues we sometimes like to forget and it’s personal in a way I hadn’t really planned on. It’s spiritual and gritty. It deals with the themes of redemption, shame, and forgiveness.
I hope those words I write will last. But I know, if I’m lucky and the manuscript hits the right desk and sparkles with energy and proves to be an innovative new plot or my voice hits that chord inside an editor that sings YES! when she reads a book she loves-and it gets published-someone will read it and hate it.
And that someone could post on the Internet how much they hate the book and all the reasons why. And I’m sure I’ll hate the review and I’ll hurt inside and call my CPs and rant and rave about how they {reviewers} “just don’t get me!”
But hopefully I’ll remember the review, just like the rejections that have come before, isn’t really personal at all. It’s just someone’s opinion of my book, not her opinion of me.
As a reader I love reviews. I used to write them for my local newspaper. But for the same reason people are critical of reviews right now, I quit.
I refused to review bad books. I wouldn’t lie and write good reviews about bad books, but I only sent in reviews of books I loved. Several people thanked me for the recommendations and some even discovered they actually liked romance. Deborah Smith’s Stone Flower Garden especially found a place in the heart of several “I don’t read romance” converts.
But I couldn’t bring myself to put in print how a plot was fatally flawed or characters were one dimensional or narrative and dialogue seemed padded to extend the book’s length. In the back of my mind I always had some reviewer demon screaming: it’s just your opinion. Your mother (sister, grandma, aunt, dad, the old lady next door) will love this book. That variety is what makes the romance world go ’round.
I applaud sites like AAR where romances are reviewed with honesty. I love Mrs. Giggles, although I can see that changing if I’m ever published. 🙂
One of my CP’s, Brava author Karen Kelley, reads her reviews and tries to learn from the negative ones. She says sometimes a reviewer will point out a problem she hadn’t even thought of and she sets out to fix that problem in her next work. That’ll be my goal one day, I hope.

Drive

What is it that keeps me sending out query after query, partial after partial, full after full and even revision after revision?
What keeps me sitting at a computer working on a story, creating people, hoping they’re real enough?
I don’t exactly know the answer to those questions. It’d be easy enough to stop. I could read the hours away instead of write them away.
But I can’t. There’s this burning need to share my stories with others. And maybe there’s a desire to see the dream realized. I just can’t stop. Even when I take breaks from writing, stories spring to life in my mind. I read a newspaper and start thinking what if….Or I read a book and fall so in love with the words I can’t stand it and I HAVE to get my own words out on paper.
You’d think this drive to be published would wither over time. That rejections would add up until finally I quit torturing myself. 🙂
But that’s not the case. I keep writing new books, hopefully learning from the old ones. And the rejections just make me more determined.
I guess if I hated creating stories, playing God in a way, I could give up easily. But I don’t hate it. I love it. I love it the way I loved Barbies and paper dolls as a kid. I crave it the way I craved an Easy Bake oven. I never got the oven. I hope I get the book on a shelf with my name on the spine. It’s not guaranteed I will. But I’m not going to stop. Not anytime soon anyway.

The Battle of Little Big Living Room

I sat in dh’s chair, the chair that’s a tad too big, but super comfy and next to the remote. Somewhere in the back of mind is the crazy idea I should be cleaning house. Don’t ask where the idea comes from as I have NO earthly idea. Instead I keep flipping channels. Soaps. QVC. Home & Garden. Ah… here we go. NYPD Blue. Back in the day when Jimmy Smitz and Kim Dalaney were smoking up the sceen.
One Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper and a scrumptious healthy soup lunch later I’m settling in for the love scene at the end of the show. Can we say chemistry?
Just as they’re getting to the good part a sparkle catches my eye.
I investigate.
A half full bag of Hershey’s Kisses, sitting beside my husband’s chair, waiting patiently to be eaten.
I ignore them and turn back to the TV. It’s a diaper commercial. 😦
The Kisses keep sparkling in their red and silver wrappers and I keep ignoring them at the same time I wonder what kind of super powers my darling dear possesses.
Another Diet Coke later and the love scene’s over. It’s on to Law and Order.
And I figure, what the heck. What’s one Kiss?
15 Kisses later the bag’s no longer half full. It’s pretty much empty. I know, I know. A half full bag of Kisses is not gone after 15. Who’s counting?
I’m blaming this on NYPD Blue. It was the love scene.

GH mail

I got my Golden Heart scores in the mail. They stunk.
And you know what? That’s okay.
I keep reading all these messages from people talking about how they ranked in the top quarter or bottom half and people are really upset about this and all I can think, is whoa people, save the rejection stings for real rejection.
I love the Golden Heart contest. It gives all the unpubs like me a chance to get their work out there, competing against thousands of other hopefuls. Those that final have the chance to get their entire manuscript in front of an editor. And lots of people sell those books. Attending the awards ceremony is fabulous. And every year I don’t enter I kick myself because I’ve given up any opportunity to be on that stage in that pretty dress saying thank you to my chapter (RRRW), my CPs (the Bad Girls Critique Group), and super cool authors Shelley Bradley and Sylvia McDaniels for their unwavering faith in my future success.
The only reason I enter is to final. So far I’ve been 100% unsuccessful.
But that’s okay.
When my scores came in, I cringed for exactly three seconds. And then I put them back in their envelope and put the envelope in the trash. It’s not that I don’t care about what other writers think about my work. It’s just that it really DOESN’T matter what other writers think about my work. Editors matter. One day, an agent will matter. MY CPs matter. Once I’m published, my readers will matter.
I hope that’s a healthy way to look at the GH.
It’s an opportunity like no other.
It’s an exciting contest with great value if you final. And it’s a BLAST to hang out on message boards the day the finalist calls go out. It hurts a little when you do’t get the call, but it’s just so amazing to read the stories of those who do get the call, it makes it okay.
The big thing is the GH is a contest. Some finalists don’t sell. The key to being published isn’t a contest. the key to publishing is writing. And then getting that work out there.
Just my opinion.

On to State

Austin’s calling. For the first time in five years, one of my kids is competing at state. It’s going to be interesting. 🙂
I’m going to pre-plan the trip and the food because this weekend, although a ton of fun, was HORRENDOUS on the calorie counting. I ate and ate and ate. I ran too, but sill, all that food was uncool. It started with the idea that chocolate fixes everything. It’s a motto I live by, but I’m not usually surrounded by quite so much of the stuff.
Cool: I tried on size 12 Gap jeans. Now, I don’t begin to fit in them. They’re probably 10 pounds away at least. BUT, I was able to put them on. I haven’t been able to put on a size twelve in 15 years. That’s pretty amazing.
About as amazing as how many people say I can stop losing weight now. My goal is 30 more pounds. I figure I’ll be around a size 10. The idea of a size 10 makes me one happy camper.
I just want my BMI to read normal. RIght now it’s overweight. That’s GREAT since it started out at obese, but still!
I did my part today to defeat my chocoholic tendencies. Actually, I was a lazy bum most of the day. I was tired and cranky and determined to get my sleep in, and since I was cranky, DH didn’t bug me. 🙂
BUT tonight I ran for 45 minutes. It was glorious. I’ve never really gone running before. In fact, anytime my friends went running and asked me to tag along, I laughed. I tend to fall a lot. Walking and talking at the same time is a sure fire way for me to end up on my butt. But walking tonight wasn’t going to cut it. I just can’t build up the great cardio power or sweat by walking. So I decided to run. It was hard at first, but it got easier over time. It’s definitely addictive. I like the elliptical better, but running will work in a fix.
And the collest thing about running: It sort of frees the brain. I was running, thinking about how strange it was that I was running and suddenly everything was just a little bit brighter, a little bit cooler. I was able to think about what just might be my new favorite book of all time: The Secret Life of Bees. The book is just amazing. It does with language and story and emotion what I hope to one day do. WOW! It’s awesome beyond belief.

On the News: I just heard one of my former students was picked up in the NFL draft. This kid was the most incredible student. He was determined like no other. I’ll never forget sitting in a meeting with him, his mother, his counselor and another counselor. They (the counselors) were trying to talk him out of taking Latin. They told him it was too hard. That he’d run the risk of failing and if he failed, he wouldn’t play football. I was stunned! Most kids would’ve changed their schedule and gone on about their business. Not this kid. He looked at those counselors and politely informed them he was taking Latin and he was going to pass it. His mother told them he was taking Latin and that was that. The counselors weren’t happy, but they didn’t have a choice. They signed him up for Latin.
The thing is, this kid was supposed to be one of the “slow” learners. If red groups would’ve still been around, he would’ve been in the red group even though he didn’t belong there at all. I knew that from day one. The kid had a heart like I’ve never seen. He was a gentle giant who worked and worked and worked at his studies, determined to go to college and make something of himself. His counselors were angry that I talked to his mother before the conference and told her that in my opinion her son could succeed at anything he wanted to succeed at. Perseverance is 1000 times more important than intelligence. How many naturally smart people are sitting around talking about how smart they are but not doing much?
Anyway, turns out the kid wanted to take Latin because he’d heard it would help him on his SATs. He passed Latin. And he had the SAT’s to get into Baylor. And now he’s on to the NFL. That’s special.
I love my job. But sometimes public education drives me nuts. How many other kids have been pushed out of Latin? How many don’t have that strong mother who will sit across from the people who are supposed to be the professionals and tell them under no circumstances will their son be railroaded OUT of getting an education? How many others are told, take the easy way because it’s better for you?
It’s a scary thing to think about. Chances are the counselors have completely forgotten about that meeting over the kid’s schedule the spring between his sophomore and junior year in high school. I hope he hasn’t. And I hope he’ll share his story with others. He had a dream. The dream was a college education. Now he’s got that and the NFL. Wow.

An experiment

Yesterday as I talked about my love for language I realized I hadn’t written poetry in years. Today while working hall duty I decided to try a little free verse just to see if I could capture the rhythm of language. I have no idea if that poetry would touch a place in a reader’s heart. But I do know, it touched a place in mine. I wrote page after page of a journal type exposition that captured the flavor of that poem. I don’t have the words with me today, but I’ll post them later just to remind myself and maybe show others how a simple exercise with words, a word play of sorts, can inspire so much more.
There’s so much more to the craft of writing than writing. But the writing is the most important part.

*I’m in San Angelo this weekend with a group of awesome kids. We’re competing at the academic regional competition tomorrow. DD is competing in headline writing and I’m so excited.
This trip has marked a huge change in our relationship. I don’t know if it was earning the spot to compete at regional by winning at district or if it’s just a little maturity, but for the first time she’s hanging out with her friends and waving bye to me. I should simply be proud that she’s growing up, but I guess I’m selfish. It hurts a little. It’s just another part of motherhood I’m learning. I bet the lessons never really end.

Love Affair

I fell in love with words a long time ago. I’m lucky enough to share that love with others in the classroom. I hope to one day share that love with readers who buy my books. 🙂
Every year I give a writing workshop at the state journalism conference. I tell a room full of students what it was like to be me in high school: afraid to talk, in love with books and writing, falling in love with news, finding a way to communicate without talking. I look into their eyes and I know they understand exactly where I’m coming from. Back then I thought I was all alone. Today I know that’s not the case.
Sort of like my love affair with poetry. A love affair I almost missed out on because so many of my teachers started the poetry unit out with, “I’m sorry kids, I know you’re going to hate this, but we have to cover it because of the essential elements. blah, blah, blah.”
I didn’t realize I liked poetry until college, and then I thought I only liked the Victorian age. (Slow learner. See former post on ability grouping and my solo red group moments)
All that changed over time though. I took a poetry class and fell in love with a million different poets and their works. William Carlos Williams and his celebration of life even in the little things is my favorite. Andre Breton in his Always for the First Time describes love in such detail, succinctly, honestly, emotionally, I fall in love again or yearn for that feeling every time I speak the words.
Through my love of poetry, I’ve discovered a deeper appreciation for words. The word explicate is my favorite. It just explodes in your mouth when you say it. It’s harsh and soft and full all at once. It’s a word that just makes me happy.
And telling students about that favorite word makes them happy. They see they’re not alone with their love of words. They laugh, but they get it too.
That love of language, its nuances, its fullness, can only help me become a better writer.
I hope by sharing that love, I help my students become better writers too.

WIP

I restarted my WIP tonight. I’m almost afraid to put that in writing because the last time I did I slammed into a wall of my own creation.
I’m participating in a BIAW challenge. Hopefully it’ll help.
I had to start, delete, restart and delete for thirty minutes before I could go on, but once I found the rhythm I was looking for, I couldn’t seem to stop. It was glorious.
This book is different from anything else I’ve written because it does have an internal beat. It’s a family drama and I’m trying to make sure the two main characters have definite voice. I think this journal has helped with that tremendously!
I’m also working to ensure there’s story questions to both main characters’ stories and that those questions intertwine with the theme. So far it’s working. One part of me keeps saying to forget all that technical stuff, but another part of me is loving the challenge. It’s very different for me. Usually I sit at the keyboard and wait for the magic to hit or plug through until I’ve got my time in. This time, I have a synopsis, so I know the relationship turning points as well as several key plot elements. As I write I go back and tweak the technicals. It’s almost like I’m putting one of those giant two thousand piece puzzles together. Surprisingly, it’s fun.
I’ve never been a fan of the whole write the synopsis first club. For this book, it’s working! I wrote the synopsis a couple weeks ago and scenes have been percolating. I think I like this!
Recently I’ve seen several changes in submission guidelines for different houses. One is that editors are encouraging Query and Synopsis first, sometimes with a partial. I don’t think I could just query without part of the book written. But once I have three chapters, I’m going to start the submission process with this book. I think. By the time I get through chapter three, I could change my mind. 🙂