#FirstLineFriday

It’s finally Friday. For whatever reason, this week has seemed incredibly long to me, and last weekend, when I learned about #FirstLineFriday from fellow blogger, Diedra Alexander, feels very far away.

Either way, it’s Friday now, and below you will find my first line.

You can participate, too. Here’s how:

  1. Create a post on your blog titled #FirstLineFriday, hashtag and all.
  2. Explain the rules like I’m doing now.
  3. Post the first one or two sentences of a potential work, a work-in-progress, or a completed or published story you wrote.
  4. Ask your readers for feedback, and encourage them to try #FirstLineFriday on their own blogs.

Here’s my #FirstLineFriday, from my novel-in-progress, Goodbye For Now. Feedback welcomed, appreciated, and hoped for!

James and Scott Wilder stood panting at the end of the breakwater. They had climbed over the railing on the harbor side and were perched precariously on the boulders that sloped down to the water, leaning as far as they could over the bright blue railing.

What do you think? Would you read more, or would you put my book down? Are you intrigued, or bored? I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, suggestions, and questions.

 

 

 

A New Pathway to Publication: Kazabo

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The first James River Writers Writing Show I attended took place in March. The focus was blogging.

I love the Get Your Word On e-mail newsletter put out by my local writing organization, James River Writers. I learn so much every time I read it, and last night was no exception. Not only was I reminded of the upcoming Writing Show, Editing for Impact, near the end of the month, but I also learned the Annual Poetry Festival and Conference, put on by  The Poetry Society of Virginia, is next weekend. I plan to take advantage of both of these events, and a third: Kazabo.com. I had never heard of Kazabo Publishing until I read about them in Get Your Word On less than twenty-four hours ago, but I am sure glad I know about them now! The site has resources for new authors, established authors, and readers–something for everyone!

If you are a reader, you can visit Kazabo.com and fill out a profile. As soon as a book or author that they think you will enjoy emerges, they’ll notify you.

Kazabo has a phenomenal program in the works for emerging authors, as well. As an emerging author, you can send them your book. They will then send you five books to review. You have a certain amount of time to turn in your review of each book, and after you have done so, your own book will be reviewed. Beyond that step, one of two things can happen: either they will seek you out for a publishing contract (!) or they won’t–but you will still have several reviews of your work, and from there, you can revise it, and potentially try again. Even if your work is not selected for publication, the feedback would be invaluable for future success. For more information on how to get involved, check out their FAQs.

As for me, I have already completed my New Author Registration (it was super quick and easy), and just as soon as I finish revising draft three of Goodbye For Now, I plan to send it in! It’s a win-win: I get to read several new books and help other aspiring authors, receive unbiased feedback on my own work, and maybe even see my novel published.

If you know of any aspiring authors, please share this information with them by sharing this post on your social media sites, or otherwise sending them to my blog!

 

 

Accept vs. Except

In the honors English class I teach right now, we are working on writing college essays in preparation for the students’ college application process next fall. As I stood at the front of the computer lab this afternoon, listening to the gentle tap of fingertips on keys, I overheard and subsequently entered into a conversation with two of my students. The first, a young man, was reading off a list of notable alumni from the college to which he plans to apply in the fall. Presuming he was thus engaged for lack of motivation to actually write his application essay, which consisted of a very broad prompt (basically: write a personal statement of 500 words), I suggested that instead of wasting precious writing time perusing a list, he should consider writing an essay about how he wanted to be added to the college’s notable alumni list–and all the things he planned to be notable for.

“So…for working at McDonald’s?” he quipped (he actually wants to be a nurse).

Matching his tone, I offered, “Well, everyone likes a burger.”

“Right,” he said. “Except me.”

At least, that’s what I heard him say. And so did his classmate beside him.

“What?!” she cried with incredulity, ripping her eyes from her computer screen. “You don’t like burgers?”

He looked at her for a moment, confused.

“Yes, I do,” he said.

“But you just said you don’t.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. Mrs. Creasey said everyone likes a burger and you said, ‘Except me.'”

“No! I meant accept me–like, let me come to your college,” the young man explained.

The young woman and I laughed, and she added, “See, that’s why the English language is so difficult: you have ‘accept’ and you have ‘except,’ and they sound just the same.”

And in this particular context, they both made sense–but the use of one over the other completely changed the meaning of the statement. In most cases, we can easily discern what the speaker means based on the context, but this is an example of a circumstance when that was not the case–when seeing the word spelled out would have greatly assisted in ascertaining its meaning (if, that is, you know how to spell it regarding its intended use).

When spelled as “accept,” the verb means to allow or admit in, to welcome, or to gain. When spelled as “except,” it means to exclude, bar, or leave out. A memory trick might be to remember that “accept” with an “a” is a synonym for “allow” and “admit,” which also begin with “a.” “Except” with “ex” is synonymous with “exclude,” also spelled with “ex.”

A ccept Ex cept
A dmit Ex clude

These words can, of course, also functions as nouns. To change “except” into a noun, add the ending “-ion” for “exception.” To change “accept” into a noun, add the ending “-ance” for “acceptance.” My student, then, might not be the exception to my everyone-loves-a-burger rule, but he definitely wants to gain acceptance into college.

 

 

Summer 2016 To-Read List

For students, bus drivers, and teachers across the country, spring break has come and gone, Memorial Day is just around the corner, and summer break is cresting over the horizon. We can all comfortably begin our official days-until-summer countdown. For those of us who love to read, but rarely find time during the school year (unless, of course, you count student essays, research papers, journal entries, essay tests, etc.), this is also the time to begin officially making our Summer To-Read lists. To be honest, I’m hesitant to publish this just yet, as it will inevitably grow, but you’ll just have to keep your eyes open for addenda as I learn of more must-reads for the summer. Here’s my list as it stands now:

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, Rinker Buck

Why I Want to Read It:

I have to admit that I’m cheating just a bit with this one, as it’s actually the last book I started reading at the end of last summer. September caught me unprepared, and I hadn’t finished reading. Between the start of the school year and now, I think I’ve managed to turn something like a mere 12 pages. First and foremost, I intend to return to this neglected nonfiction work by author Rinker Buck, whose writing chronicles his trip tracing the original Oregon Trail across the prairie in a covered wagon pulled by three mules with his ornery but helpful brother and his brother’s Jack Russel Terrier, Olive Oyl.

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 The plan: kick off my Summer 2016 To-Read List with a book that I never got to finish last summer, Runker Buck’s The Oregon Trail.

My interest was initially piqued because of my position as a high school English teacher, my primary course being American literature. In addition to my professional interest in this memoir of the American spirit, the review reminded me of one my favorite author’s works, John Steinbeck‘s Travels with Charley: In Search of America. Both books feature men traveling the country by unorthodox means, Steinbeck in his jalopy named Rocinante, alluding to Don Quixote’s horse, and Buck in a covered wagon. Both men are on a quest, in search of something they perhaps do not even know they want to find. Both books detail the historical, physical, and societal landscapes of America. And both books, of course, include a dog, the terrier Olive Oyl in the case of Buck, and the standard poodle Charley in the case of Steinbeck.

I was also interested because for a five-year period during my childhood, I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I have, on numerous occasions, visited the Oregon Trail ruts, Plymouth Rock, and Fort Laramie.

So far, I have learned an incredible amount about history, the American landscape, society, mules, the mechanics of covered wagons, and the particulars of wagon travel. The book has proven not only entertaining, but educational, informative, and thought-provoking. I am eager to read the pages the school year temporarily stole from me.

How I Heard of It:

I read a review in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Read an excerpt from the book and highlights from a 2015 interview with the author on NPR here.

2666, by Roberto Bolano

Why I want to read it:

A few summers ago, I read Salman Rushdie‘s novel Midnight’s Children. I enjoyed it so thoroughly, that still I find myself often ruminating over its pages, though I have long ago returned them to the local library’s shelf. I conducted an extremely thorough and analytical reading of this particular book, as I wanted to use it as an example for the literature portfolio assignment I planned to assign to the upcoming year’s honors English students (more on that in a future post). My careful study of the book made it even more impressive and enoyable. Bolano’s 2666 sounds reminiscent of Midnight’s Children, as well as one of my other favorites, John Steinbeck‘s East of Eden.

How I heard of it:

Almost every morning on my way to work and almost every afternoon on my way home, I listen to NPR. Two of my most beloved programs are Fresh Air and All Things Considered. During a recent broadcast, I heard a story about a stage adaptation for 2666, and the complex characters, plot that spans continents, and its impressive 900 pages (I love a good, long book) immediately mandated I add this to my Summer 2016 To-Read list.

Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, by Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak

Why I want to read it:

When I was in first grade, my family moved across the country from Michigan to Wyoming with the help of my maternal grandparents, who assisted my mom in driving our family, which included four of us children, across the mid-west and west to our new semiarid prairie home. At one particular rest stop somewhere along the way, my little brother and I were horrified at what we saw on the other side of the fence from the rest area. Several cows were placidly grazing near the bloody dead body of an apparently trampled-to-death turkey. Traumatized, we went running across the rest area parking lot to fill our family in on the gruesome details of what the deceptively docile cows had done to the innocent bird. My grandfather calmly followed us back to the scene of the crime, where he pointed to a wobbly

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Tomorrow’s Table seems a timely read when homegrown produce, farmers markets, and organic foods are all the rage.

calf nearby, its mother gently licking its slick coat. The cows had not trampled a turkey. What we interpreted as a brutally stomped turkey was actually the placenta and after-birth of a mother and her newborn calf. My grandfather gently explained everything, and from then on, I grew up knowing I could ask my grandpa anything–anything–about animals or plants, and he would know the answer. (This was also true of sports trivia, but that’s another story.)

Driving down the road and see an unfamiliar crop? Grandma will know what it is.

How can you tell if it’s going to rain all day? Grandpa knew that, too. It had something to do with the birds coming out and the cows standing (or was it not standing?) under trees.

He even helped my parents hand-build a horse fence encompassing six acres of pasture after we had lived in Wyoming a couple years.

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My greenhouse, where throughout the winter, various flowers, fruits, and vegetables survived, and where I started watermelon and pepper seedlings for the spring.

Two years ago, I began to follow, albeit it with much smaller shoes, in his footsteps. I planted two cucumber and one zucchini plant directly into the dirt at my back fence line. Despite my husband’s skepticism, they grew and flourished and stocked us with more vegetables than we could eat alone. The following year, we started our own raised bed garden, and experienced success with grape tomatoes, watermelon, sweet pepper, carrots, lettuce, corn, cilantro, and strawberries. This fall, we just went right on ahead and built a greenhouse, where all winter long pineapples, grape tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries, along with some flowers, thrived. This year, we have expanded our garden by two raised beds and have added egg plant, squash, some varieties of tomatoes, and broccoli to our menu.

But my interest in agriculture and homegrown food is only one reason I am interested in this book.

Another is that I am currently taking a certification course to become a life coach, and this book seems as though it could help me become a more informed life coach in the area of nutrition, as well as stewardship, responsibility, and overall well-being.

Finally, a third reason this book fascinates me is the fact that shortly after I picked it up, one of my dual enrollment students began writing a research paper on GMOs. I loaned her the book, believing it might help her in her study. It did, and the quotes, facts, and statistics I read in her paper, attributed to this book, were enthralling.

How I heard of it:

Earlier this spring, I was proctoring a standardized test in our school’s library. As I pace around and monitor students’ test-taking, I also read the occasional book jacket. As I walked near our librarian’s desk, I noticed this book sitting on the top of a stack. Each summer, she and a few other teachers at our school lead a sort of scientific nonfiction book discussion club, and I inquired if this was the book they had chosen for this summer. It wasn’t, but it had been in the running, and she offered it up to me. Of course I wasn’t going to turn away a free book on a topic of interest to me, so I took advantage of her offer.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Why I want to read it:

Because it is absolutely shameful that, as an English teacher, I haven’t yet. And because I have never, ever met someone who has read it and not loved it.

How I heard of it:

Who hasn’t heard of it?

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee

Why I want to read it:

Yes, I realize that as an English teacher, I should be absolutely ashamed to admit that I have yet to read this book. But aside from my burning embarrassment every time a colleague wants to discuss it, the polarizing effect of this book fascinates me. I have met very literary people who have been absolutely disappointed, particularly with the character of Atticus Finch, and equally literary people who have been absolutely delighted. I am eager to read it and make my own judgements.

How I heard of it:

Honestly, I have heard so much about this book for such a long time, I couldn’t tell you when I first heard of it.

The Curtain, by Milan Kundera

Why I want to read it:

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I hope my reading of The Curtain will make me a better reader, writer, and teacher.

This book is a nonfiction work that explores writing fiction. I believe it could help me become a more adept reader, as well as a more skilled writer. I cannot wait to see what I will learn. I am hopeful for moments enlightenment and epiphany like the ones I experienced several times in my undergraduate English courses at Michigan State University.

How I heard of it:

Earlier this spring, my husband and I spent a weekend with my parents at their river house. I happened into my parents’ room for something, and found this book on the edge of the bathtub.

Word of the Week: Toady

One of the elements of the honors English class I teach is a vocabulary program we refer to as Wordly Wise (the name of the book we use). Although the word “toady” does not appear as one of my students’ words to study,  it does appear as an answer choice on a section of one of their quizzes–and they never know what it means. To be quite honest, when the first student ever to ask me about it raised her hand a few years ago, I wasn’t familiar with it either, and had to look it up. While I am more than familiar with the word now, and very accustomed to explaining its meaning to puzzled students each and every semester, I have yet to really use it in my own writing or daily conversation, though I often use many of its more commonly heard synonyms. Featuring it as this week’s Word of the Week is my effort to employ it more often, as well.

While “toady,” at least to me, seems as though it should function as an adjective, it is in fact a noun and a verb. When used as a noun, “toady” is synonymous with words like “sycophant,” “flatterer,” and “doormat.” In other words, a toady is a brownnoser. When used as a verb, “to toady” means to grovel, flatter, or suck up.

According to Merriam-Webster, you shouldn’t feel but so foolish if, before this post, you weren’t familiar with the word “toady;” it falls in the bottom 50% of word popularity. One of its synonyms–the one, in fact that my students must pair with “toady,” “sycophant,” is in the bottom 40%–but the top 1% of look-ups. And, just for fun, let’s throwback to last week: “perse” is in the bottom 30% of word popularity.

What does all that mean? Well, it means, of course, that by adding these words to your vocabulary, you are securing your place at the top of the linguistic-ability ladder. And you are empowered to write and speak more precisely.

 

 

Take Heart Again, Pick up your Pen. Write On…

The chair where J.K. Rowling sat as she penned her famous Harry Potter series recently sold at auction for $394,000–so it might seem hard to believe that she was rejected by between nine and twelve publishers, and took roughly five years to find someone willing to publish her books, which have all found acclaim, and been made into major motion pictures.

William Golding‘s Lord of the Flies, now a staple in classrooms across the country, was rejected twenty or twenty-one (depending on the source) times before its eventual publication.

In 1856, one critic wrote of Walt Whitman‘s Leaves of Grass: “Mr. Whitman thinks, however, he would like to turn and live awhile with the animals. Well, one’s associates should certainly be determined according to one’s tastes.” This comment’s status as something of an ad hominem makes it no less scathing. In no uncertain terms, a review in The Saturday Review also disparages Whitman’s work: “If the Leaves of Grass should come into anybody’s possession, our advice is to throw them instantly behind the fire.”

But can you imagine if these writers had simply given up? Had said to themselves, “Well, I guess everyone’s right. I’m a failure. Might as well throw in the towel. I can’t take one more rejection letter or nasty review”?  What literary genius the world would have been deprived of! How many people would perhaps never have discovered their latent love for reading without Rowling’s Harry Potter series? What would the canon of American literature be without Walt Whitman?

Truly, writers must be some of the most persistent and resilient personalities in the wide universe. What other hobby or profession asks of one to pour her heart out, only to face rejection after rejection in pursuit of the dream, in which she must maintain an everlasting confidence?

And you must, dear writer, maintain that everlasting confidence, that inextinguishable faith, as the writers before you have done.

In his poem “A Psalm of Life,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writes:

Lives of great men all remind us

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Follow the footprints great authors have left “on the sands of time” for you. Pick up your pen, “take heart again,” and write on.

      We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

      Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

      Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

      Seeing may take heart again.

When we think of our most beloved and admired authors, we often think only of what we can see: their beautiful book covers, the critical acclaim, their books made into blockbuster movies, the TV and radio interviews. In short, we are aware of their success and their fame. Rarely do we think about what it took for them to get there.

When you feel discouraged, disparaged, or disappointed because you have once again failed to finish draft two, because someone has told you your story isn’t good enough, or because you have once again gotten a thanks-but-no-thanks from an agent or publisher, think about the writers who never gave up–but could have. Longfellow describes the footprints they have left for you to follow. So “take heart again,” pick up your pen, and keep writing. Your readers are waiting.

Sources:

[Unknown]. “Leaves of Grass.” 15 March 1856. The Walt Whitman Archive. Gen. ed. Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. Accessed 31 March 2016. <http://www.whitmanarchive.org&gt;.

[Unknown]. “[Review of Leaves of Grass (1855)].” 18 February 1856. The Walt Whitman Archive. Gen. ed. Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. Accessed 30 March 2016. <http://www.whitmanarchive.org&gt;.

Writing Prompt: What is your quest?

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The dogs of Mind the Dog always seem to be on a quest. Every walk is an adventure. In this shot, they are venturing their way through the woods to the sound side of the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Every time I walk with my dogs, they seem to be on some kind of quest. I usually don’t know what it is, but they seem to, and about a week or so ago, when my honors students and I were about halfway through Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, we discussed how one way to define Janie’s quest is: self-discovery through true love. Because it was Friday Journal Day (every Friday, my students get the first ten minutes of class to write in their journals), we followed this brief discussion with the journal topic:

What is your quest?

So, today, write about your own quest. What have you set out to accomplish, in your writing life or otherwise? I’d love to read about it in your comments on this post. Get creative. Write away.

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Above is the scene the dogs and I found as the woods opened up to the water.

Word of the Week: Perse

I remember when, in third grade, I learned the word “conservatory,” a simile for “greenhouse,” and how proud I felt when a line of “big kids” paraded quietly past our third-grade classroom just as my teacher was announcing to us that the next word we were to spell on our spelling test was “conservatory.” Those big kids, I was sure, must be so impressed walking by our classroom of little third graders only to find we could spell, say, and use a word as impressive as “conservatory.” Though I now know those big kids probably didn’t even pay attention to what my teacher was saying as they headed down the hall to gym or lunch or art or various other elementary school destinations, I still savor the memory of that moment, and the pride I felt at having learned a new word.

I remember when, in fifth or sixth grade, I read the word “alabaster” in one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea books. I believe one of the characters was described as having had “an alabaster brow.” I’m not sure why that word and that phrasing made such an impression on me, but it did, and I immediately internalized the word and began using it in my own writing.

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Above, the dogs of “Mind the Dog” chase gulls on the beach at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, beside a sea that is not quite perse, this week’s Word of the Week.

Now, despite having earned a Bachelor’s degree with a minor in English and a Master’s degree with a concentration in Creative Writing; despite teaching high school English for the last ten years; despite reading as many novels as I can squeeze into every summer; despite participating in writing workshops and conferences on a regular basis–I haven’t had this memorable an experience of acquiring and internalizing a new word in years. More and more I find myself struggling for the most precise word to say whatever it is I want to say. And more and more often, the struggle is real–and in vain. I end up settling for the same old repertoire of words I have employed for decades.

I miss the invigorating feeling of accomplishment and mastery I feel when I have expanded my vocabulary–not to mention the fact that someone experiencing this sensation has just gained the ability to better express his or her thoughts, emotions, and experiences. The larger your vocabulary, the more exactly you can say what you mean, and the more fine-tuned your written and spoken communications will be.

In an effort to rekindle my seemingly latent ability to employ new words, I have decided to institute a Word of Week–an assignment for myself, and hopefully a way for you to grow your vocabulary alongside mine. Each week (I’ll aim for each week…), I will randomly open the dictionary and point to a word until my finger lands on an unfamiliar one, or I will feature a new word I have recently come across.

Our first-ever Word of the Week is:

perse: adjective; a dark grayish blue color, approaching indigo

I happened upon this word while Googling “pursed,” a verb that appears in the novel I am working on. In a moment of paranoia and second-guessing, I wondered if maybe it was actually spelled “persed” when used in the context I had in mind, though I didn’t even know if “perse” would be a verb or an adjective (or if it even existed in the English language at all). My search revealed to me two things:

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“After all, ‘blue’ is as likely to mean the aquamarine of postcard-perfect Caribbean as it is to mean the navy of an ocean at sunset or the cerulean of the sky just before dawn.” The photo above, illustrating “the aquamarine of postcard-perfect Caribbean” was taken in Key West, Florida.
  1. I was correct in my original use of “pursed” and
  2. “Perse” is actually a word, an adjective that is essentially a synonym for indigo.

Now, if I want to more precisely express that the “blue wash of water was here and there interrupted by flashes of blinding white waves, impossible to tell apart from bobbing gulls, except for their abbreviated existence,” I can replace “blue” with “perse.” After all, “blue” is as likely to mean the aquamarine of the postcard-perfect Caribbean as it is to mean the navy of an ocean at sunset or the cerulean of the sky just before dawn. In learning of the existence of “perse,” and employing it in my writing, I can more perfectly describe a color that I might otherwise just have labeled a “dark, grayish blue.”

I have been linguistically empowered.