You probably think this is about you….

Naming characters, for some writers, is a complicated process. They want an original name for their original character. Perhaps they want something that describes strength and power, or maybe they want something that will tell a reader this person is a nerd. Maybe an old name, from their grandmother’s era, to say something about the character or their family.

For other writers, they log on to baby names and search through for the perfect one. The perfect one might be based on sound, consonants and vowels, rhyming, colors, meanings.

For me, sometimes, characters name themselves. The character develops and the name comes. For Our Gentle Sins, Jack’s name came to me like that. But some of the other characters were actually named for the students in the class that I mention in my acknowledgements. I was inspired by that class.

it was January 2017. The world was changing and people, some of my students, were afraid, others were angry. That semester, I was asked to teach the History of African American Literature. The students were expecting another teacher. When I walked in – they weren’t certain what to make of me or what this class might become.

I said – I love literature and we are here to learn together. If I say something or do something you don’t like – you tell me. Later, I was evaluated by our expert in African American Literature. He said, “never have I seen a class so open to talking about gender, race, culture – and being respectful about it!”

That was my rule – we don’t have to agree, but we should learn how to respectfully disagree.

It was a wonderful class.

Our Gentle Sins began just before the semester, I was so inspired that I would write before class as the students walked in and after class as they walked out. They asked me what I was working on – I told them. At one point, they asked me to read them a section. I agreed.

What I told them is that I’d been so inspired by the class that I’d named some of my characters after some of the names in class. Not after the students themselves because I didn’t match up characteristics between real person and student, just their names. They loved the idea.

Many, many times, I’ve had people think the story was about them or that the character was somehow inspired by them. I had, at least, one person (maybe more) stop talking to me because of a character name. I didn’t realize it right away. It was only when I looked back on our messages that I saw the dates and the topic – the story they were about to read. The name had NOTHING to do with them or the friend they believed the character to be named after. It was just a name and it felt right in that place.

The truth is – if I really disliked a person, I would never use their name, not for good guys or bad guys, not for the character who might die or a stray dog gracing the pages. Why would I want to be reminded of someone I disliked? The name might be similar – but it was never about them. It was a character.

Although my students appreciated I used some of their names, none of them felt I’d used them personally as the inspiration for the character.

Our Gentle Sins is about people finding their way in life – recovering from past mistakes. Aren’t we all?

Success Stories

I didn’t grow up with a lot of positive role models. There were not many (if any) people in our neighborhood who were looked up to as success stories.

I can see my neighbors, even now, from the concrete steps of our four unit blond brick building on S*** Avenue in Collinwood. Across the street, Francis. She had Lucille Ball red hair and sat on her porch from 9am to 9pm, beer in hand. Next door, a single mother who worked at a bar and brought work home with her – in all sorts of ways. Next to her, a retired old man who sat across from Francis with his own beer in hand. His wife, Goldie, was a sweet woman whose toes twisted around one another, feet mangled, she said from twenty years of high heeled waitressing. On the other side, a retired railroad worker, no patio, so he sat in his kitchen hand wrapped around a cold beer.

There were bars on every corner. T & M’s could be seen from the porch. Strangers and neighbors stumbling out with the music pouring onto the street.

The teenagers went to high school, married the boyfriends who beat them, and set up house on the next block. A few got away, I’m sure. But I can list many more who died young or ended up in prison. My teenage crushes are dead now. One was shot in the head, the other crushed under the wheels of a truck. I never got into drugs, thought those who smoked and drank acted silly, stupidly, dangerously. Girlfriends recall tales of waking up half naked, uncertain if anything happened. That wasn’t the memory – or lack of memory – I wanted.

Mostly, I felt limited. I felt outcast. I didn’t seem to belong with any particular crowd or group or gang. I wanted something more, something different, and I didn’t know where to turn. Getting out and getting away seemed the only answer for me. I didn’t know what might meet me beyond the borders of the familiar, but there was no safety and no options in the familiar.

Someone once said – it was very brave of you to travel across country on your own and start over alone. I hadn’t considered it was “brave.” I’d believed it was my only choice, my only chance. She offered, the world is a dangerous place for a young woman to do such a thing. Sometimes home is a dangerous place. Limiting yourself is dangerous. Not fulfilling your potential is dangerous. Living a life in which you’re completely unhappy is dangerous. Sometimes, saving yourself, however scary the unknown is, is your only choice.

 

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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