Periodically! #9: The Lost Seasons Edition

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Well, well, well. I’ll bet my followers thought I must have fallen off the edge of the world. (Pretty damned close.) The last Periodically! was released in February. Friends, that was a good five months ago. Let’s just refer to this black hole of nothingness as the Lost Season (as in Lost Weekend…only much, much longer).

In the blur that was the Spring (that wasn’t – we here in Michigan were hosed again with cold and snow until the end of May), several things happened: people died, people sickened, people were institutionalized, people adopted a homeless Detroit chihuahua, people bought a second home (heretofore renamed Money Pit), people bought another home (heretofore renamed Minor Money Pit), people dumped tons of money into the Pits and their adult children, people sprint-planted a vegetable garden, people applied to an art contest, and people readied to enter the Ann Arbor Art Fair while working a full time job (business is b-o-o-m-i-n-g!). Some people actually wrote for a hot minute.

Now this Person will take a break and fly to San Francisco for a long weekend and eat decadent food and search for sea glass. It’s not running away from home, but it’s the next best thing.

Outdoor Updates: The Guerrilla Urban Garden

The wacky spring wreaked havoc on my fruit trees. They blossomed, then we had a frost. This means NO cherries and precious few pears, so if you were expecting a hand-crafted cherry tart or pear preserves, not this year.

The potatoes, on the other hand, are none the worse for wear, but they are underground for the most part, so they managed to survive the snow. My first planting is nearly ready to harvest (that’s what four weeks of hot weather will do for you).

We’ve eaten our first peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and blueberries. The backyard is a jungle of edibles.

What I most enjoy from vegetable gardening (besides the eats!) is that working the soil bonds you to Nature. There are many analogies to the writing perspective as well. Gardeners take seed; add water, light, and fertilizer; tend by weeding and warding off pests; and finally reap the reward at the end of the season. Writers take a small idea; expound it by adding characters and plot; work the literary landscape until it makes sense; and finally reap the reward at the end of the story.

On Writing

Ever hunker down on your Twitter feed looking for inspiration? Ever buy all the writing reference books Amazon offers during that dry spell when you can’t seem to scratch out your grocery list? Yes, I’ve been there, mining golden nuggets, for inspiration and education. But here is a very good article on looking for and perhaps not taking advice. There is such a thing. It’s called a grain of salt. (I know. Funny coming from me, who is always looking for writing references online. See more below.)

Your brain is a muscle, and if you don’t exercise it, it will get flabby. So in the spirit of mental gymnastics, Book Baby’s article on using your TV and movie time as devices in your own writing make a lot of sense. My husband and I actually did this a lot with our kids, in pointing out the “bad” guy, the struggles of the “good” guy, and what the projected ending might be. (Now that our kids are grown, he just likes to guess the ending sometime within the first ten minutes. He’s usually right, dammit!)

Is it really stylish when YOU do it? Probably not. That’s why reading this (gently) ass-kicking blog post on the rules of writing (which can be broken – sometimes) can serve as a wake-up call for those of us writers that might be a tad full of ourselves.

Read Lately

One thing I do is write scenes in a real notebook. (By hand. In pencil.) I’ve taken classes with Christina Katz and this is a very easy way to commit to prompts on a daily basis. The summer I started doing these prompts, I would write different scenes with the same characters. I’m putting these together in a novel about random strangers who meet in San Francisco in 1978.

I started the sequence of scenes during modern times, but I liked the idea of a lack of modern conveniences like cell phones and online banking for this story. My characters weren’t easily traced, meaning they had time before they could be found out (and therefore, time for the story to be told). In some ways, 1978 wasn’t that long ago, but in others it’s light years in the past. Placing the setting of a story four decades ago makes for some interesting challenges. Most of my reading time in the last few months has been devoted to research, which might sound dry, but is actually quite compelling.

The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge is one such book. Since the Golden Gate Bridge and suicidal souls figure prominently in my story, I thought this should be a fine reference, and it is. Besides providing a wealth of statistical data, John Bateson also interviewed survivors including family members and those who lived.

No foray into Bridge jumpers would be complete without diving (sorry, pun not intended) into Cracked Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, by Kevin Hines. He miraculously survived his drop from the Golden Gate too.

Ten Years that Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978 by Chris Carlsson helped me to define the mood and tone of City. However, I happened upon the biggest bonanza of paraphernalia through my Twitter feed, when SF Gate posted this breathtaking photo essay.

Movies

I don’t go to them anymore (too expensive, too crowded, I’d rather be comfortable in my own house, thank you), but I do have a Netflix account. Here are a few movies I found to be entertaining. Keep in mind that my mentions might have sustained some terrible reviews along the way, which is why I don’t read reviews until after I’ve seen the movie/read the book/dined at the restaurant/etc.

The Fundamentals of Caring: it’s a Netflix original movie. Honestly, I’m starting to like Netflix originals. They did a kick-ass job with House of Cards, right?

Life is about a Life magazine photojournalist who finagles a way to cover James Dean just before Dean scored his role in East of Eden. Overlook Robert Pattinson as the journalist, because he still looks like a Twilight vampire to me, but Dane Dehaan as James Dean…WOW.

The Do-Over, (another Netflix original) but I’m a sucker for Adam Sandler. Yes, even his terrible movies hold an appeal to me.

Question of the Issue

What is your preferred method of reading? Are you digital only? Or do you like the smell and heft of a bound edition? Mix and match?

I personally love a nice hard-cover, particularly if it’s signed by the author – and if signed by one of my favorites, I’m in heaven – but I admit to reading books on my iPhone. I haven’t picked up a magazine in a doctor’s office in years. For traveling, it’s paperbacks all the way (same entertainment, slightly less poundage), and I’ll leave them in airport waiting areas or at friend’s houses just to share the love.

Quote of the Issue

The idea is to write it so that people hear it & it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart. ~Maya Angelou

Here’s the real action: check it out.

Find me on Facebook! I’ll friend anyone. Ask anyone. I even approve the weird guys from another country who IM me to ask about my life but clearly have never read my profile.

I’m a Goodreads author! Honest to God. Ask me a question, I’ll be happy to answer. Even if it’s a *stupid* question. (Or a questionable question. Those are the best kind.)

Follow me on Twitter! I’m not sure I have anything wonderful to say. I will say that I follow some interesting people. I can’t believe I can say this, but a few interesting people follow me, too. Twitter: the cyber cocktail party – alcohol not necessary.

I do have an Instagram. I’ve had it for a long time. Be forewarned, I take a lot of photos of food, either what I’ve made or my restaurant choices. My Instagram is also littered with photos of dogs and cats.

I’m also on Pinterest! Rarely, but I do hit up the boards every now and again.

With any luck, I will see you next month.


Periodically!, PO Box 207, Royal Oak, Michigan 48068

 

 

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Periodically! #7 – Late December Mayhem

cropped-periodically3.jpgYes, I know I’m early. That’s because last month I was late. 🙂

Write News

Now that the winter solstice is over and the days are getting longer (finally), I may be able to get back to editing. Oh, I had the best of intentions while I’d spent ten days in Colorado; I’d schlepped my notes, my computer, and my reference books with me, but I just couldn’t. For one thing, I couldn’t get my butt out of bed most mornings! And the weather was clear – most days. I slept like the proverbial hibernating bear. Normally when I’m traveling, I remain on “Michigan time” and am up at 4 a.m. Not this trip. Plus, I rather enjoyed the time with my dad. There are six of us kids, many grandkids, and great-grandkids, so it was nice to have him all to myself.

Once home, with the hectic holidays upon us, I couldn’t get anything done. It’s Christmas Eve as I write this (I’m at work, which is deader than a door nail), and my intention is to write more, starting this minute! Let’s see if I can make it past today.

Interesting Articles

Myths about publishing – we all know about these. It’s a new world out there, folks! We are not tied to tradition!

A blog post that hits close to home – knowing you’re a writer when you’re young, getting caught up the Real Life, and coming back to writing. Once a writer, always a writer. 🙂

CamMi Pham implores us not to date a man who reads.

If you are a writer and not hooked up to Medium, you certainly should be! In addition to being a great writing reference, there are also some very good writers contributing. (I’m ashamed to say that I have been ignoring Medium lately, but I’m in the midst of getting back on track.)

And here’s a great post/interview on self-publishing.

Reading This Month

I participate in the Leon and Lulu Books and Authors event in October. It’s not just a good place to show off your little babies (books), it’s also a great place to meet other local authors. There are more than I ever expected. This year, I picked up Searching for Nannie B by Nancy Owen Nelson (whose table was right across from mine – lovely woman). Memoir is not my usual read, but I really fell in love with Nancy’s story of her hardly-spoken-about grandmother who died while giving birth to Nancy’s mother. I’ve attempted to reconstruct my own genealogy, and I know it can be a daunting task. Most of Nancy’s family lives in the Huntsville, Alabama area, and as I have friends there, I could recognize many of the places she writes about.

On my iPhone, I’m reading The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan. Due to be released in January 2016, this is a humorous take on one woman’s life questions after she gives up a successful career to marry and have children. (Who hasn’t been in that boat?) I love the author’s voice; it’s real and women who have been in a similar situation can totally relate.

On the way back from dad-sitting in Colorado earlier this month, I read A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton. I loved this book! The perfect mix of a Japanese woman who spent most of her life grieving after her town, Nagasaki, was bombed and the redemption and self-forgiveness she finally finds. While the author is not Japanese, she captured the nuances of the culture perfectly.

Musical Notes

While this edition of Periodically! will come out after Christmas, here’s a sad little song you might want to listen to. Eleven years ago when my kids were still under the family roof, they discovered this gem in a Christmas song book, decided to learn it, and performed it at the Rochester Conservatory Christmas recital. (The recital had the director on piano, daughter singing, but the family has been known to spontaneously combust into song.) I have videotape of this performance somewhere. They could never finish the song without bursting into laughter (actually, my husband and I couldn’t help but laugh too – I know, we are twisted for finding such obscene pleasure in the fate of a poor, little boy), and the video shows it. (I really have to get my videos converted into DVDs…but that’s another story.)

🙂

Question of the Month

Do you participate in the dreaded New Year resolution? I have to admit, I only make writerly resolutions.  Who cares about my weight? I’m heading into six decades and even I don’t care anymore. My 2016 resolution is to write at least one page (by hand) or for 20 minutes (by computer) each day. I might set up a private blog to track my efforts. I’ve been known to be a slacker.

Quote of the Month

Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story, there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature. ~Vladimir Nabokov


 

Here’s the real action: check it out.

Find me on Facebook! I’ll friend anyone. Ask anyone. I even approve the weird guys from another country who IM me to ask about my life but clearly have never read my profile.

I’m a Goodreads author! Honest to God. Ask me a question, I’ll be happy to answer. Even if it’s a *stupid* question. (Or a questionable question. Those are the best kind.)

Follow me on Twitter! I’m not sure I have anything wonderful to say. I will say that I follow some interesting people. I can’t believe I can say this, but a few interesting people follow me, too. Twitter: the cyber cocktail party – alcohol not necessary.

I’m also on Pinterest! Rarely, but I do hit up the boards every now and again.


Periodically!, PO Box 207, Royal Oak, Michigan 48068

 

Periodically! – #4 – Time For Fall

cropped-periodically3.jpgSeptember. Now that was a fast month! One day it’s 90 degrees, the next day you awaken to 50 degree weather and automatically reach for the nearest sweatshirt. Because of the brief thirty days and the nearly overnight change in climate, September whizzes by faster than, let’s say February, when you can’t wait for March’s lion’s roar.

Good God. February.

While I shake off that shivery promise of a future, I’ll update you as to what’s been going on in my world.

Write News:

This month saw my Editor for Life return an edit for Virtually Yours Forever, meaning I really should get off my butt and start editing. With the day job and personal family issues to deal with over the summer, I stood back from making any serious changes. I’m now glad I waited until I saw what he said at the end. This is going to take some major thought. I wish I could say the novel will be ready for prime time by the end of the year, but it could take longer. (Damn it.)

However, I’m in the process of coming out with a print version of Virtually Yours. I plan on using the copies in giveaways for the new book.

Can I share with you my feelings about the whole self-publishing scenario? If you’re an artist like I consider myself to be, the entire technical aspect can be daunting. I’m one of those learners who can’t do it by reading. I have to learn by doing. And yes, I realize that it’s the operator. I don’t understand templates and megapixels and the Internet. Remember, it took me at least eight months to learn WordPress! And I couldn’t figure out Twitter for the longest time. If you don’t make the application stupidly easy, I’m lost.

Oh! I have been invited back to the Leon and Lulu Books and Authors Event, to be held on Sunday, October 25, 2015 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you’re in Southeastern Michigan, plan to stop by. Meet local authors, and visit the store, which is an experience in itself.

The Guerrilla Urban Garden:

It’s been all-out war between me and the rodents. The squirrels won the battle of the pear tree. Despite my constant tending, my squirrel prevention measures – including bagging the pears, mothballs, shiny, noisy things in the tree, and a Boston terrier on premise, I ended up with NO pears this year. (I really want to hurt someone over this.) I managed to salvage enough cherries from the tree (first time ever!) to make two tarts. DEE-licious.

The potatoes, however, have been a banner crop this year, probably because we had so much rain early in the season. I also mulched with coconut mulch, and that seemed to repel just about everything. Sweet potatoes – just digging these up now. (I planted them in my flower containers, where they trail nicely.) YUM! You can grow sweet potatoes in Michigan, but they need direct, hot sunlight.

Of course, the Swiss chard and hot peppers have been going crazy! No pomegranates this year, but the fig tree is bearing.

Not bad for a person who doesn’t weed much after June. 🙂

Interesting Articles:

Here’s one in defense of light reads. Personally speaking, I don’t know how people can read the same genre all the time. If I want something deep, I’ll reach for it three out of four times, but sometimes I want something light and fluffy and fun. Likewise, I don’t write in one genre either. Not all writing has to be “literary” – whatever that means. Good writing is good writing and makes for good reading. In that same vein, you can really learn a lot from other genres.

And here’s a good article from RachelintheOC about censoring your writing. If you don’t follow her, you should; she posts a wealth of great info online about writing, relationships, and social media.

I’m not against the use of adverbs (obviously!), but when in doubt, a strong verb works just as well.

Music:

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, my husband and I have been watching reruns of The Wonder Years. This has prompted my husband to drag out his old sheet music from the time. I’ve been listening to him pound out classics like Burt Bacharach, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and of course, the Beatles. I’m probably prejudiced, but I think the best music came out of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, that sacred space between Top 40 bubblegum and disco.

Read this Month:

When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold S. Kushner. A friend suggested this book as a possible way for a family member to get through rough times. In reading it, though, I realized this is a gold mine of information for me to use in a novel I’ve been toying with since last summer. As a writer, you have to realize that there are other experiences out there beyond your own. It’s difficult to put yourself into another person’s shoes and write about an alternate experience convincingly. (My problem is all my characters act like me and sound like me.)

Quote of the Month:

Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet. ~Anonymous

Have a great month!


Here’s the real action: check it out.

Find me on Facebook! I’ll friend anyone. Ask anyone. I even approve the weird guys from another country who IM me to ask about my life but clearly have never read my profile.

I’m a Goodreads author! Honest to God. Ask me a question, I’ll be happy to answer. Even if it’s a *stupid* question. (Or a questionable question. Those are the best kind.)

Follow me on Twitter! I’m not sure I have anything wonderful to say. I will say that I follow some interesting people. I can’t believe I can say this, but a few interesting people follow me, too. Twitter: the cyber cocktail party – alcohol not necessary.

I’m also on Pinterest! Rarely, but I do hit up the boards every now and again.


Periodically!, PO Box 207, Royal Oak, Michigan 48068

Why I Am NOT Participating in NaNoWriMo

Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which starts November 1 and ends November 30. If you’re a procrastinating writer like me, you need every cattle prod or device out there to kick you into the writing mode.

This is not to say I don’t enjoy writing. OF COURSE, I enjoy writing. But having other responsibilities, what ends up being short shrifted is my writing time. This year, there’s been other factors as well. Family members in dire health. Business in flux. An incredibly Bummer Summer which resulted in lots of rain, an extraordinary flash flood, and resulting damage, which of course, takes me away from pleasurable activities and instead has me planning out construction worker schedules.

Here is why I love me the NaNo… It’s an extremely useful tool. Just like jumping on a treadmill exercises your body, jumping head first into the waters of NaNoWriMo exercises your brain. It introduces you to keeping a schedule. It gives you a not unreasonable goal of 50K words in 30 days. There’s a camaraderie of fellow writers, across the internet and across town, that cannot be beat.

I’ve participated in NaNo many times. In fact, because of it, I managed to complete three manuscripts that turned out (with much editing and fine tuning) to be decent novels. (Still in the editing phase on two of them.)

Last year, I tried it for a week, and then decided that editing the work I’d been suffering over since 2007 (Finding Cadence) had to take precedence over any new material. So I put that idea aside. For later. I like the story, I just can’t have three completed novels in various states of disrepair hanging over my head like a black cloud.

This year, my problems are much the same. I’ve been toying with Virtually Yours Forever (completed during NaNo a few years ago) for… well, forever. It’s time to clean up this tale of moms, the internet, and high intrigue and get this story nailed down and move on to the next project.

I can no longer tell myself that I’ll write more when I retire from this business. The sad truth is that I might have to work until I die. But I’m also a writer, and I’m not going to sacrifice my art for outside influences.

Not anymore.

So to all you writers out there who are participating in NaNoWriMo – Bravo! or Brava! Keep pushing on. I’m there with you in spirit, and I hope will have my edit complete by November 30.

 

My First Books and Authors Event

Yesterday, I attended my first Books and Authors Event at Leon and Lulu‘s in Clawson, Michigan. This store is trendy, hip, and sells everything from jewelry to clothing to furniture to toys. It’s one of my favorites, as my husband can tell you from our VISA bill.

I can’t even believe I went through the event; hell, I can’t believe I filled out the application. And then sent it in! And then was selected as a participant! As you might know, I’m rather lackadaisical about selling my work. (I’m also rather lackadaisical about writing – sometimes.) But, I’ve been in a slump since summer, so I’ve signed up for writing prompts, classes, and have committed to (somewhat) weekly Skype conversations with my editor to sort of kick start my juices. So I figured, might as well throw this event on the pile.

I had NO IDEA what to expect at this event. NONE. I had hoped to sell a few books, get my name out there. As with everything new that I do, I was petrified. And as with everything, in order to get rid of the petrification, one must dive in head first.

Leon and Lulu’s does a fabulous job of making all 50 of us authors feel comfortable. They provide food, coffee, water, even hot dogs! The friendliness relieved some of the sting. 🙂 After being shown my table, I set up.

booksandauthors

We had an hour after that to look around. While all of the authors were from Michigan, amazingly many of them were from Royal Oak. I found I was speaking with authors who were neighbors!

Some had many titles to choose from. Some, like me, had the one physical book, and the eBook. Some were traditionally published; many more were self-published. Most of the books were for children, picture and chapter books, many were mysteries, there were some non-fiction, and just a few novels.

If you’ve ever been to Leon and Lulu’s, you’ll know that walking into the store is a total assault on your senses. Bright colors, things hanging from everywhere. Add to that 50 authors and their many books, and even I was shell shocked. It was a long day, but it’s what I needed. Suddenly, I’m energized to get that manuscript out and start editing in earnest. I sold a few books, handed out a ton of business cards for those who wanted to buy the book in eBook format (one woman did it from her phone while chatting with me!), and made a few new author friends. I enjoyed it so much, I’ll definitely do it next year.

The only thing is, I need to have another book for next year.

Better get to work.

Editing: The Cut the Dead Wood Out Edition

Anyone who knows me (and probably a lot of people who don’t) and who has been listening to me bitch over the last month and a half has probably known that I’ve been armpit deep into a major edit.

Writers, here is the down lo: Editing a manuscript is not easy. Editing a first manuscript is enough to make you tear your eyeballs out with your jaggedly fingernailed hands (jagged because who has time for a manicure when there’s so much to do?) and throw said peepers across the kitchen and into the compost bowl. Your eyes will belong with the slugs and the fruit flies after a gazillion hours of cut and paste, semi-and-major plot shifts, and more cut, cut, cutting.

Obviously, it’s my feeling that my story is good. This story is my life, on more than one level. If I’d thought it was a stupid story, a horrible story, or a meager attempt, I would have cut my losses and erased all 175K words from my hard drive the weekend after attending my first writers conference. (In San Francisco. In 2009.) That weekend was an eyeball-opener, when I learned that what I thought was complete was so far from it, I might well have started from scratch. But you know me, hard-headed. I have a burning need to complete this novel to my satisfaction. And I would not have invested in critique groups, in associations, in conference fees, in online classes, in reference books, in following authors or studying (stalking) agents, or in editing services if I thought the book wasn’t worth it. (Let’s not add all those boxes of hair color to that fire. I have children I can blame my gray hair on.) No, I would have given up on fiction and continued my path as a wag and food snob and travel reviewer, with occasional forays into opinion pieces.

I still love food and travel, and I have plenty of opinions, but I made the choice to write a N-O-V-E-L. Writing fiction is an awesome choice, one fraught with pitfalls, one full of responsibility, and certainly not one taken lightly.

Editing is like trimming a tree. I personally subscribe to the Sukiya  or Japanese style of pruning. I try to get as close to the tree trunk as possible. I might sit under it or inside. I study whether the branches cross. I snip away anything that does, or any growth that might point down. Unlike Western gardeners, who whip out their electric trimmers and hack from the outside, I trim from within.

You know what they say, cut the dead wood out, new growth will take off.

Now that the major plot shift hurdle has been achieved, I’m back on the path of not-so-major editing. You know, tightening up my sentences, Things have been going swimmingly, at least the last few days. But in case you don’t get enough advice as to how to edit, here are a few tips that have worked for me.

1. Back story – do you need it? I thought I needed mine. After the twenty-fifth edit (or thereabouts), I realized why I wrote it in. Back story is comforting to a writer. It supports the reason for the character’s being in the writer’s mind. Other that that, you really don’t need it. The reader doesn’t need it. The reader first wants to be let in on your world. Your character must be sympathetic enough for the reader to want read on. Later on you can explain your character’s motivation by using the back story. LATER ON. I’m now in the process of eliminating all references to back story in the first part of my book. I plan on introducing some of it in the second and third parts. Where it belongs.

2. Passive verbs. Was, is, weak verbs, take them out. Change the sentence structure so that your verbs are meaty. You’re not going to eliminate all of those passive verbs, but you can definitely remove a ton.

3. Adverbs, adjectives – No, no, and no. In this current run through, I can see – clearly – too many descriptors. I’m taking out all that are unnecessary.

and finally…

4. Dialogue. It’s a good idea to read OUT LOUD your dialogue. I’ve done it several times already, but this last trip down the editing lane, I realized the speech of the son was rather stilted. Excellent grammar and good English, but not how a 20-year-old would speak. Even the socialite wouldn’t quite speak the way I had her speaking.

Keep in mind that I’m no expert and am only a student of the written word. And while the book’s not perfect – yet – I think I’ll still bask in the glow of my modest achievements.

Readers: Are They the Exception or the Norm?

The one thing I enjoy about the San Francisco Writers Conference are the contests. Yes, I enter, and yes, I’ve had mixed results, but that’s the whole point. How will you know if you’ll win or not unless you try? I’m also impressed that they hold a similar contest for high school students. Even though I don’t currently have any high school students, I was once one – a long, long time ago.

I have, in fact, told stories as long as I can remember. I like to draw, so many of my tales were illustrated. I had a wild imagination, one so off the beaten path, that in 7th grade I was expelled from Catholic school because of a rather racy short story I wrote that got passed around until it landed in the hands of Sister Mary Ruler-Slapper. (I can laugh about it now, but my mother didn’t speak to me for three months.) It was so bad, I was not only banished, but so were my siblings.

My shortcomings were not in writing, they were in speaking, which is why I never said a word during debate class. However, I read voraciously, skipping right over anything age appropriate and going straight to the classics. The “harder” the book, the more I wanted to tackle it. Book reports: in 4th grade I wrote nearly 30 of them, for extra credit and because I loved to read. That’s more books read than there are weeks of school.

In my junior year of high school, I decided to enter the city-wide Junior League Creative Writing Contest. Okay, so the city was Colorado Springs and not the Big Apple, but it was a big deal to me. My short story was a dystopian, future set tale of a broken down world and one man’s love for a priceless antique chair. I dug it out of the basement about a year ago and typed it — it was TERRIBLE. How did I win Second Place?

I have no idea.

Now I am old(er), and starting to sound like my dad. I am concerned about the reading abilities of our children. I deal with teenagers all the time in my Day Job, and I had two children. As a writer, I’m fearful for these new readers, my potential audience. Many of them can’t read because they were taught some cockamamie theory when in kindergarten. I’m surprised my son can read at all, because at the time, “inventive” spelling was all the rage. He was encouraged (by the school) to spell words however he wanted to. On the other hand, I, as the mean mom, would make him write his spelling words twenty times and then grill him in mock tests. (What can I say? I’m half-Japanese.)

Other kids are dyslexic or have ADD. This would be my daughter. She would read out loud perfectly, but would write out of context or not retain one iota of information. That’s because her mind was thinking about something else – it’s always thinking about something else. She doesn’t enjoy reading, and the only way I could get her to ‘read’ Harry Potter books was to buy the accompanying audio books so she could read along while listening.

My children didn’t grow up deprived; we read to both, all of the time. We supplemented what they were learning in school (had to, even though they went to private schools). We could afford books and I bought plenty. Yet, I believe that neither one (for whatever reason) could read to my ability in 7th grade.

Sure, kids these days read, and the popularity of the Hunger Games and the mad YA market are testament to that. But my own kids have been in “reading” classes where they watch the movies the books were made from – not exactly reading.

I live in the Detroit area, and the city schools have notoriously low graduation rates. Many of the kids I see come through here can barely write their names. Some can’t spell or pronounce the streets they live on. They can read abbreviated text messages, but have no idea how to read a book for the enjoyment of it. Suburban kids might fare a little better, but the standards are still mediocre. Some kids (and adults) these days want to do the least amount of work, to just do enough to get by.

I place advertising in school newspapers, partly because I am a product of several school newspapers (junior high, high school, and college), and partly because I like to read what the current crop of kids are writing. Most of the writing is good, witty, relevant. However, one by one, I am seeing school newspapers being dropped as a class. One advisor told me it was not just the money, but the school spends a good deal of time trying to get test scores up, so they drop the classes that don’t apply to the state test, like newspapers, wood shop, home ec, etc.

The result is kids who can’t create because they aren’t given the chance, and not given the chance, can’t improve their minds. I don’t know if what I’m seeing on a day to day basis is an anomaly, or if it’s a trend. The other question that lingers is if these are writers of the future, what will become of books? What will become of opinion, or art?

That’s why when I see articulate, intelligent teenage writers at the San Francisco Writers Conference pick up their awards and get recognized for excellence, it quickens my heart, if only temporarily.

I still have my fingers crossed.