Silent, Not Silent

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I was going to say I’ve been largely silent in the last weeks, a post here and there, but I don’t want my lack of posting to be confused with silence about what is happening in the world these days.

I am left speechless at the horror of this year, of this last month, of these last days. But not silent. Not neutral.

To compound the coronavirus horrors, my only refuge – as with all of you – my house was invaded, my dog got skunked and brought the smell into the house.

Stay with me here….  this grows.

If you are unfamiliar with the smell save for passing a kill on a country road, the smell leaches into everything in a matter of moments. It’s not a matter of opening the windows to release the odor. The smell is thick, it has claws. It sticks around. Even with fans going, windows open, it lingers in corners.

The spray is an oil type substance that is embedded into my dog’s fur. The skunking is meant to do harm; therefore, it causes burning of the eyes, rash on the skin, nausea. And it is not easily scrubbed out.

I don’t only mean the dog. I was sick for days.

Now, let’s add to that a passing of a friend.

Layer that with the death of George Floyd. This hurts me because it hurts my friends, my students, my family. The brutality Floyd experienced is the brutality people of color experience EVERY DAY!

Top it with the protests, which would have been peaceful except for the agitators who want to use the protests as a front, to cause problems, and commit crimes.

So add looting and violence, the armed national guards, police, and curfews.

Do not take my silence as a neutral position. I am horrified.

Racism is that skunking. It is meant to do harm. It is an odor not released by opening a window. Racism is a stink that has claws, it has bite. It is a sickening, stinging, lingering presence. And it needs to be scrubbed out of the system entirely.

And the scrubbing needs to begin at the top.

 

I am an educator. I teach. One of the classes I have taught is The History of African American Literature. For the next few weeks, my posts will center around what I have learned and what I teach my students about communication, history, and growth.

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Sending loving and healing thoughts to all.

 

October means it’s Poe-aween!

Sorry – I get a little childish around this time of year.

October is my favorite month (besides January – mine and Poe’s birthdays!)

I LOVE HALLOWEEN & I LOVE POE

This year, the 170th anniversary of Poe’s death. This is not necessarily a good reason to like October, but it is part of what makes October so memorable.

Edgar_Allan_Poe_daguerreotype_cropSo… 170 years ago, Edgar Allan Poe visited some friends at a pub, saw a doctor who suggested he not travel, then boarded a train, forgetting his trunk, mistakenly left with the Doctor’s cane, to pick up his “dear Mother,” Maria Clemm. She was to come and live with him and his new fiance, Elmira Royster Shelton.

The rest, we know, is surrounded in mystery. I was interviewed in June regarding my thoughts of what happened. Thank you to the members of Super News Live.

 

 

Since the publication of my book Eddy, I’ve read at the Poe Museum at his birthday celebration and published a few other books. This year, I’ve scheduled a number of readings and signings for October in honor of my love for autumn, halloween, and Poe.

Come and see me if you can.

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3 Things Writers Hate About You (jk)

You don’t have to be a psychic to know there are things writers have in common. Some love them, some hate them. But, if you’re a writer and they haven’t happened to you yet, they will!

  1. Every writer runs into multiple people who, upon find out they’re a writer, says, “I have this story I want to write…” the conversation then progresses in a few ways. The person will tell them they’re story, will ask them to write it for them (for free), or will suddenly be afraid their story will be stolen.
  2. Every writer has someone ask them for free copies. Writers get a limited number of copies, unless, of course, they are Stephen King or someone like that. And sometimes the copies aren’t exactly free.
  3. Almost every writer who has a social media account has had some amateur plug their own book on the writer’s page by dropping a link, comparing it, or other. This is rude, distasteful, and will not win the person friends. I’ve deleted and blocked people who’ve done that.

Now, given this is my page – I’ll plug my own book – released this week. Get it here!

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Release Day

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These might be some of the best stories I’ve ever written – even if I do say so myself.

Malcom Gladwell has a theory – it takes 10,000 hours to perfect one’s craft. Well, I think, perhaps I’ve hit 50,000, maybe 100,000.

Beyond that – one learns, one grows wiser with age; hopefully, that is what you’ll read in these stories. Wisdom. Empathy. Healing.

Available now. on amazon and kindle. 

Find out how to throw a psychic a surprise party.

How Your Book Becomes a Finalist…

The Lone Escapist (1st  Illustration) - Copy - Copy.JPGAs a writing community, I believe we need to help one another. There doesn’t need to be a competition or an unfriendly or unhealthy antagonism between us. We are people who share a love of the written word, a desire to share our stories.

When one of my writer friends introduced me to one of her writer friends, I was happy to join and jump in to help.

I had the honor of helping Dan Rhys bring The Lone Escapist to publication life.

When I heard he’d become a finalist in the Chanticleer Awards, I knew his book would be a great success.

It’s a detective, sort of mystery, sort of noir of old. I think Hitchcock would have loved it.  The baser of our human needs and selves sometimes win out and cause us larger problems. Where exactly was Kelton when a school shooting took place in his very own classroom?

Wracked with guilt, he wants to find the shooter himself.

Released just this week – the writing is tight and the topic is contemporary – The Lone Escapist is available on kindle and in print. Audiobook to follow.

How do you get your book to become a finalist? to win an award? – Read Dan’s and find out!

 

Memory as Writing Fodder

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Someone posted this and a flood of memories came rushing back.

Some years ago. I remember a boy in class erased his grades, his parents signed it, and he returned it with grades changed back to the original. The teacher thought embarrassing people in front of class was part of proper punishment. I felt bad for him. He obviously had problems and it seemed she picked on him all the time. His name was Danny, a small, skinny boy with dark hair. In today’s schools, he’d be heavily labeled and receive the help he needed. However, then, it seemed his parents were at a loss as to what to do and the teacher didn’t help the situation by her repeated calls home and repeated screaming at him in the classroom. (The students in class actually did not make fun of Danny. As I recall, most tried to befriend him.)

Many of the people I grew up with didn’t make it to adulthood, others ended up in prison. Gunshots, bombs, and even threats of poisoned darts surrounded us.

I think I recall Danny’s family moving away. I hope Danny survived and went on to do great things.

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Memory is rich in writing fodder, all you have to do is mine it, add a few twists, and you have a story people can relate to.

It doesn’t have to be your story. You can finish someone else’s story: Perhaps Danny grew up, got married, had three daughters and is CEO of his own company. He might be one of the original advocates for children with special needs. He’s helped thousands, remembering his own pain and problems in a classroom where the students showed more compassion than the teacher.

Teaching Poetry

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“In high school your teacher made you analyze a poem and then told you that you were wrong, correct?”

Applause. Nods. Agreement.

If at all possible, stop doing this to students. That is why so many people dislike poetry. They feel it’s too hard to understand and when they try, they are told they are wrong.

In my class, I allow students to choose which poems they want to read. Then I ask why they chose those poems. They all have their own reasons, looking for something interesting, the shorter the better, some element they can relate too.  And I ask them what they got out of it.

Not what it meant. Not to analyze it. What did you get out of it? No wrong answers, no judgement.

My students have told me that I’ve allowed them to love poetry, to appreciate it for whatever they feel it adds to their lives.

We go over the elements, the possible meanings; but, mostly, I just want them to love poetry again. And it works.

I’ve taken away the fear of being wrong, of being stupid, and gave them the sheer enjoyment of language.

Deeper meaning will come – at their own pace – and when/if they want it to.

Writer Wednesday: Faux Deadlines

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My students, and other writers, often tell me that deadlines and time limits are the only things that inspire them. That last minute of the clock ticking down puts the pressure on enough to force them to write, and they swear better writing comes out of them.

Although I think there’s some truth to this, overall teachers and editors agree this isn’t the best form of writing.

However, what if we forced ourselves under faux deadlines?deadline1

I’m suggesting you create your own deadlines.  Some writers enforce rules for their writing, like they must produce five pages a day or a thousand words, etc. But if you feel you write best under deadlines, the pressure cooker ready to pop, then do that. Or do it for an experiment, for fun.

There are programs you can download (or are on your computer, so I discovered on mine) which will shut your wifi off for a certain amount of time. While I don’t think many of us could comfortably go wireless for an hour or hours at a time, I suggest you do fifteen minutes. Give yourself a challenge and free write for 15 minutes. After that fifteen minutes, if you want to keep going do so, but I’ll suggest another challenge – stop, read over what you wrote and pick out a really good idea or line, and then start another freewrite – maybe turn your wifi off or turn a timer on…  for whatever amount of time..

deadlineSet a timer or an alarm on your watch or cell phone for five or six minutes and write whatever comes to mind. If you can’t think of anything, then use one work to start. The word I use in my classes is “movies.” Perhaps you could use “love”, “news”, “dog.” Any word will actually do. Don’t worry about what you’re writing or where it’s actually going – just write and if at the end of five minutes all you have is a freewrite about rover doing his business on the neighbor’s lawn, then you haven’t wasted that much time. Do it again.

Speaking of wasted time, consider all the time we stand in lines doing nothing except checking email or social media. Next time you’re in line at starbucks or waiting at the doctor’s office, use your phone to brainstorm an idea. If you’re stuck, take an idea from whatever’s around you.

No excuses. Give yourself a deadline. Write ANYTHING in order to shake something loose.

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Not Writing is Not an Option: Rethinking Writer’s Block

I’ve been under the impression that writer’s block was actually procrastination; however, someone wrote recently “whoever doesn’t believe in writer’s block has never experienced the sheer frustration it can cause.”

This, and the comments that followed, made me reconsider my position on writer’s block.

Experts state that very few people actually experience the psychological issues that cause real writer’s block. That statement, and my observations of procrastination in action, have lead me to believe that most people who say they suffer from writer’s block aren’t actually suffering from deep mental disturbances but of more common problems that plague us all – distractions.

However, the advice this person received caused me to pause:

“Drink heavily.”

“Don’t force yourself to write, it’ll come.”

These seemed the least helpful. While I know there’s a stereotype that follows artists and writers – the best ones suffer, and suffer from addiction in many forms. I doubt very seriously whether getting drunk will help the person. And, if you don’t write at all, how will anything come?

Other advice went something like this:

“Just write.”

To which one person wrote a long response about the ridiculousness of this answer. I, however, disagree. When asked by my students “what if you get stuck on a part?” I answered, I go on to a different part, or I write something else. I usually have more than one project going at the same time. I know some writers don’t do this, and I understand their reasoning. At this point, it works for me.

“Go for a walk, do yoga, meditate.”

This is actually pretty good advice. Studies show going for a walk or exercise in any form can feed creativity. Yoga is meant to calm the energy in the body so one can focus and/or meditate.

Others said, “listen to music” or “write a character study.”

This could help. While writing one novel, I listened to blues and jazz to help me give the character depth and personality.

Finally, someone asked the person who’d posted they had writer’s block and needed a solution: “What’s bothering you?”

Now, that’s a damn good question. Most of my writer’s procrastination comes when some thing is bothering me.

The person’s answer was different than I expected.

“I can’t make the story go where I want it to go.”

OOOOHHHHH!

This is a whole different type of problem. I learned writing in two ways. One method was to write a formulaic story with beginning, middle, and the end in mind. Use an outline and stick to it. And I can do this. But it’s no fun for me. The second way I learned was to just write and see where the story wants to go or needs to go. Most of my writing comes this way. It’s natural, it’s organic, it’s unforced; maybe that’s why it flows.

Think of how much power water has. Human-made streams run over their banks, create their own pathways; in one way or another, they defy the path man made. Think of how much concrete and lead it takes to build a retaining wall to create a dam, and still they must have holes or release valves. How many still end up crumbling, breaking, or overflowing?

That’s what writing should be.

Ideas and words should flow. Let them live. Trust them. Trust yourself.

If they are dammed up, forced into an unreasonable plot or direction, then I can understand that type of writer’s block.

The advice offered for that was: “write the end, and work backward,” and “move on to another scene.”

This should probably work if the plot of the story is strong and the elements are all in place. However, the person maybe be stuck because a needed plot point is absent.

Before any solutions can be offered, the type of “block” the writer is facing must be addressed.  Is it really, “I’m stuck,” or is it “I’m distracted”? If there’s a phone in front of you, and facebook, twitter, or your blog open while you’re writing – that’s probably writer’s distraction. If the writer is stuck at a plot point, at a character arc, I’d suggest to meditate on it, sleep with it, think about it until it works itself out, but I also suggest skip ahead, write another scene, write that scene/character you tell yourself you’ll never use.

See – it’s still writing. NOT WRITING IS NOT AN OPTION. No one ever got better at something by NOT doing it. No one ever finished a project by not doing it. No one ever became successful by stopping what they were doing.

 

 

Best advice for new writers?

READ!

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Seems pretty commonsense, right?  I don’t understand when students or writers say they don’t read.

I think it’s common knowledge that reading helps you gain knowledge. Some of the most intelligent and sensitive people I know are not (or not only) college graduates, but are readers.

One faculty member said, how do writers who don’t read know what came before them. If you’re a writer, you should know who and what came before you. Whether or not you agree with them, like them, admire them, writers needs to be aware of the talent, the styles, the accepted and the outcasts who made literature what it is today.

One writer said – it ruins her style to read other writers.  What is her style and how did she come up with idea of style if she hasn’t read other writers?

Numerous articles and books cite findings and research that state readers are more empathetic, understand human motivations, reactions, and emotions, than non-readers. How do you write an authentic character not having an understanding of these basic things?

Intelligence – so many people like to cite those people who didn’t finish college. (I did another blog about this.) But they read! They worked! They learned their craft prior to becoming successful.

We read not only for these things, but to form our own opinions, to be able to think critically about the world around us, to continue to grow and understand the world around us.

I mean, yeah, definitely, you can stay stuck in your little narrow world. Good luck with that. With the world of self-publishing, you can still publish something and call yourself a writer, too.

BUT – what have you learned? what can you pass on?

Our purpose lies in more than publishing and calling ourselves writers. Our purpose is to spread knowledge, add to the conversation of literature, to become better people than we are so we can positively affect others.

Have you heard that old saying, “Hard work won’t kill you, but why take chances”?

Well, a good book won’t kill ya, take the plunge.

BTW – Author Interview – Leonard Foster took time to interview me for his blog. Thanks, Leonard!