Dear Young Writer

I think it is very helpful to find out how a person got into a particular career path because not every career has a one-size-fits-all pathway to success. What I mean is: it isn’t always as clear-cut as taking four years of science or history at college. You can take a major in drama and double that with a literature or English major, but that won’t guarantee you a staring role on Broadway. Writing isn’t like taking a nursing degree, passing national licensing boards and having employers beat a path to your door, offering you signing bonuses. On the other hand, almost every job out there, if you read the wish list of requirements, asks for “strong writing skills.” Writing influences and attracts people to you in whatever job you take—even engineering. Words aren’t just how we communicate with each other. Words form our thoughts; words influence people.

When I went back to college to build my writing skills, Hiram College had just introduced a writing major. On the other hand, most people in that program were double majors, combining it with something like journalism, English, information technology, etc. This was to protect students with an optional path that would get them that 9 to 5 job/paycheck while they write their books.

What originally interested me in writing a book?

Reading.

From the time I could read, and I didn’t learn till age 6 because Mother felt the school should teach me, I loved reading and I loved books. I walked to the library daily and took out as many books as they would give me at a time, read them that night, and returned them for more. Actually, once the school taught me to read I saw no real reason for school at all—they never once asked what I wanted to learn, and, being a child, I saw little use in what is called Core Curriculum. The library put me in charge of my own education, and, in my defense, Thomas Jefferson was self-educated as I was with a small amount of mentoring. Almost immediately I sat down and wrote twelve tall tales of my own childhood, my own book of fairy tales. I told my mother I wanted to write books for a living.

I find this early desire to write is fairly common amongst professional writers. When I told that story to the head of the English department at Kent State University, she rolled her eyes at me and said: “You’re an English major.”

My mother told me that writing wasn’t a practical way to make a living. She knew that because she was an English major, a history major, and qualified to teach French, German, and Latin as well. Well . . . jobs were scarce in the Great Depression. On the other hand, she was wise to turn down Kent State College’s advice that she major in poetry. People rarely hire poets. (KSU was Kent State College in 1930, and, yes, writing runs in the family.) The thing is, being a writer is who I am and what I do. So I shut up about it, but I went on writing—just a little more quietly.

What is this career really like?

Frustrating and lonely.

You live in your own mind and largely you work alone. My mind is too active and engaged to endure having others tell me what to do all day. I’ve got so many interests. Joining a local writer’s critique group, attending conferences where you meet editors and publishers and other writers can be important emotionally and from a business aspect. Still, nothing happens unless you spend time alone with your writing. Remember: books that can be written any time don’t get written. People will try to drag you away from your work, saying you can do that anytime. The trouble with writing is people think you are just sitting there reading and on the computer. If you don’t have a stack of contracts to fulfill, aren’t yet making money, they figure you’re not working. Don’t listen. Write daily; make it a habit that isn’t dependent on “being in the mood.” You won’t believe how much you can accomplish.

Then, you send out your work, your babies, and rejection slips are mostly what you receive. It hurts. It feels like somebody trampled all over your heart—unless a miracle happens and you are discovered early. The life of an artist is romantic on the outside, but tough on the inside. The people who stick with it are like me—you do it because that’s who you are. To be successful, you also need good business/networking skills/marketing skills. You’re a one-man/woman-band.

On the other hand, when a nice fat contract arrives, it’s a huge high. The first three won’t make much money, if any. BUT THEY ARE CREDENTIALS.

Read VERY carefully . . .. If you belong to a national writer’s organization like AWP or SCBWI, they have resources you can call on for advice. Sign nothing until you understand EVERYTHING.

What is the easiest or hardest part about writing a book?

As a teen, one of my mother’s friends asked where I got my ideas. Lots of people think to take some of your profits, should there be any, if they can say they gave you the idea.

Know this: ideas are on every bush.

Ideas are everywhere. If you sit for half an hour and brainstorm ideas, you may well have 50 to 100 of them. The work comes in developing the idea into a viable publish-worthy novel.

Most people, even if you gave them a ready written published novel to type, would quit by the time they had typed two or three chapters. (By the way, learn to type. You’ll be doing a lot of it.)

For me, the easiest part is editing a finished first, etc. draft. It’s like working and reworking a puzzle. The hardest part is getting that first draft down.

By the way: never mistake that first draft, no matter how polished, for the final draft. Lay it aside, let it breathe. Write something else. Go back to it in a few weeks or months. Think about it deeply. When you do that, I recommend you read and reread 179 Ways to Save a Novel by Peter Selgin. It’s a series of short essays. It’s best to read one essay before bed and let “the boys in the attic” mull it over in your sleep. In the morning you may have some great insights about your work.

Good writing is rewriting.

By the way, some people just sit down and write whatever comes to mind. Some do careful outlines. I’ve done a bit of both. The outliners take more time outlining and less time writing and rewriting. The people who just sit down and write do a horrendous amount of rewriting, piecing, and pasting. Neither is wrong, it’s about what works for you.

Non-fiction is easier to place with a publisher and easier to use the outlining method. Once you’ve done your research, you can piece the thing together and plow through the draft fairly easily. It took me about six months to research and write Abolitionists, Copperheads, and Colonizers in Hudson and the Western Reserve—which, by the way, is on the shelf at the Martin Luther King Library, the University of Virginia, Harvard, and has been given library binding at Oberlin College. Warning: it is a subject I’d read about for thirty years.

Because I do historical fiction, I also do a lot of research for that as well. Both my parents were history majors, so it does run in the family.

What tips would you offer to budding authors and writers?

Join a writer’s organization and local critique group.

Read books about writing and keep doing that. You can always learn something new.

I do recommend James Scott Bell’s How to Make a Living as a Writer. He has a lot of great craft books with simple clear advice. I can recommend also his book: Writing your Novel from the Middle because it simplifies novel structure and talks about the 14 scenes every novel must have.

Write daily.

Keep a diary. It’s good for ideas and starts the juices flowing.

Experiment composing while typing or using paper and pencil. See what works for you, but don’t get too attached to either. You should be able to write anywhere anytime.

Try writing on the porch, in your room, in a quiet place at the library, at Starbucks

Observe people, listen to how they talk. Look at how they dress and move.

Experience life. If you don’t do that your stories won’t ring true.

Never compare your work with someone else, but study their work to see what makes it tick. You can learn from them

Read the first couple of chapters of a book and try to write your own story in the ”style” of that writer. It may spark a whole new story.

Don’t be afraid of what people think of your work. A writer must be fearless and free to express themselves.

Fear of being yourself is where writers lose their voice. Having trouble finding your voice? Ditch the fear. Be brave.

Read your work over and over again—aloud. A book should read well in you head and flow off your tongue without tripping. If your reader trips, and has to go back and reread a paragraph several times, they may lay your book down, go make a cheese sandwich, and never return. (A purchasing editor/agent may do the same thing.) So read, read, read. Let it rest a couple of months and go back to read again. Use the speech software on the computer and have it read to you. You may find grammatical errors, you may find awkwardness you need to smooth out. Have a friend read it to you. (Warning: very few friends will do this.) Then let your critique group have it. They’ll find more that needs to be trimmed and polished.

Read what other people in your genre are writing.

Read great classic literature.

Read great poets.

Use spell checker, but remember it won’t find correctly spelled words that are in the wrong place.

Learn to accept criticism, but politely. If your whole critique group agrees, take note. If you disagree, remember: you are the artist; you own the work. In return: when you critique someone else’s work, start with what worked for you in the piece. That makes it easier for the person to hear what didn’t work for you.

Beg your parents to get you Scribner (writing software) for your computer to keep your projects together whether you are working on fiction or non-fiction. It will also help you with novel structure.

Don’t discount working with small publishers. They may not pay as much, but if your book really sells, all that matters is that the publisher has the capacity to make more to sell. They also may be more willing to give you a chance.

What do you enjoy the most about being a writer? Dislike the most?

I love printing out my manuscript and holding all those pages in my hand.

I dislike packaging them up and mailing them. It’s a chore. Wish I had a secretary to do it.


Could you describe the book writing, editing, and publishing process you went through?

Abolitionists, Copperheads, and Colonizers in Hudson and the Western Reserve was published by the History Press and has PAL status from SCBWI. That means it is appropriate reading level for young adults, grades 9-12.

My title was: The Passions of Emancipation, just so you know, and I like mine better because people didn’t ignore the emancipation of slaves here in America. From the beginning, as the constitution was being written, the matter was passionately argued and discussed.

Anyway, non-fiction can be easier to get published. You can sell a non-fiction book before you write it by putting in a book proposal to publishers. A writer friend of mine with the reputation to do it just picks up a phone to call editors he has worked with when he has something he wants to develop. In the beginning, however, you need to put in a proposal package. The requirements vary, but The History Press has an online form they ask you to fill out which makes everything easier.

Then you wait.

Months later I got a nice thick contract in the mail, which I signed and scribbled up where I disagreed. It may be appropriate to consult an attorney specializing in these things. You must completely understand the contract.

They pretty well accepted the manuscript (once I had it written) as it was because we’re dealing with facts and if you saw my bibliography, you’d understand why they trusted my scholarship. I was also in the groove fresh from college in regards to use of footnotes and formatting skills, and The History Press puts out an online guide as to house formatting preferences.

Pictures were another matter since I’m no photographer. My husband helped with that because the scanner my writer friend uses may work for him, but not for my work. (Photography classes in high school or college might also be useful.)

Once the photos were submitted with the manuscript the copy editor set up an appointment with me to spend a week on the editing. I had a good education at Hiram, and things went smoothly there.

Then publication: IKE! Public relations came into play.

Writers are actually shy people or crashing egotists. My more successful friend is an egotist and a great pr artist. That works because speaking engagements, giving seminars for money or grata is part of this game. Imagine how it felt to have my photo (I took it myself on my computer’s photo booth) on the cover of Hudson Life and The Hudson Hub! Think that’s exciting? I found it freaky. What if people thought I looked stupid?

Then I had to do a two-hour gig at the library about my book . . . waiting for some Ph.D. to complain about how I got the contract in the first place.

Have you any experience in public speaking? Using a microphone? I got some of that at church. Classes are available at college. Consider including this in your education electives. Drama classes may help not just your writing, but your public performance skills. People like to be entertained. Yes, and even engineers need to learn to use Powerpoint. Good writing/communication skills are essential to many professions. On the other hand, many of my professors at Vermont College of Fine Arts where I got my M.F.A. were uncomfortable with these tools and some of them have won Newberry Awards.

Above all, keep writing, say “yes” to your dreams.

 

 

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Librarians and Common Core

My mother was a brilliant reference librarian—even if I do say so myself. She taught me to cast my net wide, gather all I could before seeking to understand the solution to any research project. She taught me to read it all: pro, con, sweet, ignorant, incomplete, bigoted, essentially over my head, or just plain ugly. I was also allowed to read whatever I could and wanted to read. If it was in the library, I was allowed to read it. That’s what Mother said.

Tell that to the children’s librarian.

That lady had a different philosophy altogether. I was allowed to read the books on my shelf: first grade, second grade, etc. She made it clear I wasn’t to look to the right or to the left—no grazing allowed. No thinking, either. I, being of a suspicious turn of mind, wanted to know at once what this woman was keeping from me, and so, I decided that children’s literature obviously existed merely as training wheels designed to get me to the adult shelves. Naturally, I wanted out of her room and into the adult reading room as quickly as possible. As a result, I first read books like The Secret Garden as an adult.

But I digress.

I was very excited when I learned to read in first grade. (Surprisingly, my liberal librarian mother felt that teaching reading was something for professionals and refused to teach me herself.) By this time I knew my letters, and when I realized that the letters I knew spelled the words I already knew, I was reading immediately. Every day I was off to the little local library after school taking as many books home nightly as they would let me (6). I whipped through folklore and fairy tales, but when I started eyeing the 4th grade shelf, that’s where I got into trouble. At the time, I was supposed only to look at the third grade shelf, you see.

Personally, I don’t know how school systems decide a child is gifted. Nobody ever looked at me, and I have rarely been impressed by the intellects of straight A students. Down the road, I began to realize that grades had a lot to do with strong memorization skills, the love of core curriculum, and a thoroughly buttery attitude toward teachers. A mother who baked a lot of cookies helped. Mine baked for the family, not for the school. Of course, since I had no interest in any of the stuff that the teachers were spouting once they taught me to read, the truth is that we were both mutually ignoring each other, or, at least, having as little to do with each other as possible. Class size was an issue—I think there were over fifty in my first grade class. Frankly, I was too busy to deal much with teachers. I was only happy I wasn’t with the woman two classrooms down whose students were all losing their toilet training because she screamed all the time. Anyway, I had taken my own education on personally, and since nobody at school ever once asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, asked what I was interested in learning—British history and literature and creative writing—or, indeed, noticed I had a brain at all, I soon realized they were wasting my time. In fact, I was pretty angry about the way they took all day to teach what shouldn’t have taken more than two hours, due to the number of children in the room, to convey. Honestly, I could have been at the library or reading a book for all the good they were doing my education or getting me to my goal of being an author. Taking almost all my play time was unconscionable—and, no, I didn’t want to play sports, thank you! That’s not how I play.

Then came the day that really opened my world.

I was hiding behind the bookshelves in the young adult section with my hands on Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow. My nemesis, the children’s librarian, was on the hunt for me. I wasn’t allowed that book, and I knew it. Anyway, the adult reference librarian discovered me and wanted to know what the heck was going on. Why was I was hiding? I told him.

He was a little Hispanic fellow, whose name I’m ashamed to say I do not know. But, he solved my problem completely. He put the children’s librarian back in her bailiwick and offered to help me find the kind of books I wanted to read. Soon I was onto Agatha Christie, Earle Stanley Gardner, Helen McInnes, and Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Every week, I presented myself at his desk: “What do I read next? What do I read next?” He became my teacher, opening up the world of historical fiction to me. I began reading five hundred pages a week. And that pretty well opened up the world altogether.

The funny thing is that my future husband also knew this little librarian. Bill was reading physics and college chemistry textbooks—and fumbling around with core curriculum too. His teacher: that little Hispanic librarian. That fellow found him “Scientific American” and all sorts of college textbooks on chemistry and physics.

At least that lovely man knew a child with a brain when he saw one. I wonder how many children he guided into life? Just wish I could say thanks, but I think he knew how I felt. Now, I have a book of my own in the Library of Congress—and on the shelf at Harvard. I think my friend would be proud. So why can’t our school system drop this on size fits all education and learn to allow children to develop their minds? What is so hard about asking what a child is interesting in learning and becoming and helping them get there? The children aren’t the only ones missing out, our country is missing out on developing the next Steve Jobs, etc.

Personally, I think using grades and ACT/SAT scores to give preferment to a bunch of memorizers who don’t understand what they’ve memorized is just wrong. For one thing, they hide all the good teachers at college. For instance: my teachers felt I was hopeless in science and told my  mother not to send me into a science field. Now, I didn’t want to go either because I wanted to write, but Mom was determined for me to be trained in a practical job. Turned out I wasn’t bad at science at all–I’d just had incompetent teachers up until then. And I’ve finally learned how that came to be when a teacher friend of mine told me that she’d been assigned to teach physics, a class she had never taken herself. The school gave her a copy of the teacher’s textbook and said go forth and teach. How many unqualified teachers did I have giving me C’s in science? We may never know. But I’m figuring the identified as “gifted” students had the real teachers. How’s that for a dishonest system?

So, I say: go find yourselves a librarian. You’ll be much better off.

 

 

 

Juggling Projects

It should be no surprise that an author has many stories is progress. In fact, I have three novels in view of their final five chapters at the current moment, and one I need to start marketing. Anyway, my classmates from Vermont College of Fine Arts have their own Facebook Page, and one of our membership mentioned the idea of posting our projects on some huge excel sheet. The idea was to attract volunteers to critique each others’ works-in-process (WIP’s). Many writers talk about how important it is to have faithful volunteer readers—spouses being not generally recommended. Finding such people, in my experience, is almost impossible. Nobody took up the excel sheet suggestion—most of my colleagues are not just writing, but holding actual jobs—and there things stood until I mentioned that I was within five chapters of finishing a first draft and would like a friendly reader. My friend, Lyn Miller-Lachmann jumped at the opportunity because she was in the same place in her WIP. So we made a pact to finish by the end of January and swap.

Excellent!

Now, you have to understand: the first draft of a novel is the bare bones beginning of the story that will eventually be produced. This is why most people who think they want to write don’t. Too much typing! The first draft is hard enough work, especially if you write like I do, by constantly combing the words over and over again—reading aloud till you’re hoarse and having to wait for your voice to heal so you can start reading aloud again. Realizing it may take three to five more revisions of the entire document (and a similar amount of typing) before you have something you can show to agent or publisher can be stifling. If you keep going after that—you are a writer. If not . . . .

     Anyway, despite the interference of the birth of a second grandson, Christopher William, that little bit of encouragement from a colleague got me to the end of the first draft of my novel—The Letters of Jack Bull. This novel is meant to be the foundation of a Young Adult historical detective series showcasing a teenage brother and sister—young Mr. Edward Selwyn and his sister, Lady Dora Selwyn—both growing up in the English Regency. The year is 1811. “Ned” is on the threshold of adulthood and wants a voice in what is a thoroughly adult world. He has realized that the nation’s leaders read as many newspapers a day as they can get their hands on, and they pay particular attention to the editorial page. Getting his opinions published there is a close as the ordinary person can get to addressing the country’s leaders face to face (still is). His first letter to the editor is published. This forms a link between Ned and the editor of The Morning Chronicle that will prove useful later. Then, a home invasion by attic thieves and a body on the servants’ staircase during their cousin’s come-out ball sets my team of detectives, Ned and Dora, on the case. The project was helped by the fact that I was deeply immersed in reading a favorite novelist of mine, P.C. Doherty, who writes in entirely different periods of time. His eye for detail is amazing, however, and my own story began to flow with deeper layers than I’d ever produced. I finished on time; Lyn and I swapped.

A word: having someone share their WIP with you is a great privilege that should be undertaken with humility and a deep sense of the honor being offered. Creative energy is a delicate thing and should never be stepped on—unless you’re an agent/publisher and you have so much creative material to choose from that you have become insensible to budding authors’ feelings. In which case, a simple printed rejection is sufficient and kind.

Otherwise, one must start a critique with what worked for you, the things you like about the WIP, and go from there with concrete, positive suggestions. If you wish to retain your reader for future occasions: a combination of extreme care, thoughtfulness, and useful suggestions are required

The collaboration was a success. I thoroughly enjoyed Lyn’s story, which is set in Portugal, a place I know little about and was eager to experience. She made excellent suggestions about my project, and sent me back to my work, renewed and invigorated. She says I did the same for her.

More of that later.

The Global Nature of Slavery

The Global Nature of Slavery

 

I don’t know why I’m so fascinated with this topic, but I am. The deeper I research these things, the more widespread I find the practice of slavery, and there’s always more to learn. In fact, if Arthur Miller hadn’t already used the title, The Crucible, I would advocate a novel set in the Caribbean, and it wouldn’t be about hysterical colonists getting high on coca leaf.  It would be about the millions of lives ground to powder in Caribbean sugar mills. They poured in poor friendless people, worked them to death, and—yum—the sugar was good!

 

I picked up a book a while ago that was about the global history of slavery, and, believe me, it was a thick book. My impression of this topic is that a lot of people believe slavery was invented in America by the British. Not so. Slavery dates from about 3700 B.C—likely it goes further back, but records were passed down in oral form. Anyway, only about three million of the twelve million Africans sold into Slavery in the Americas were shipped on British ships. The rest were shipped on French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish ships. Nobody mentions the seventeen million Africans shipped into slavery in the Middle East around the same time. It’s funny how library systems stop at geographic/nationalistic borders and conceal so much without even trying. There was and is money in human trafficking. That’s right—it’s still going on—which is more important than anything.

Many peoples were shipped into the Caribbean. They came from all over—India, China, and the Pacific islands, not just Africa. Even once the trade was made illegal, traders found ways to conceal human cargo in hidden compartments of their ships.

 

England sold about half of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. In an era without birth control, people propagated like vermin. So naturally the obvious thing to do was to get some work out of them before they died, and it beat paying to feed them. Interestingly, the twenty-seven million Africans sold constituted a mere ten percent of their population, and about 20% of them earned their freedom, whereas indentured servants had a mere 2.5% survival rate no matter how long their contract. For many owners it was policy to work and starve these people to death the last six months of their contract. It was like getting out of jail. You were supposed to be given a suit of clothes, money, tools, and maybe a bit of land. Naturally owners felt that money was better spent purchasing a new indentured servant.

Immigrant Work Ethics

Child labor was essential to immigrant families’ survival. The U.S. government had demanded they sign a paper vowing never to ask for public support, or they would be deported. Thousands died of starvation rather than have that happen. Industrial accidents in the steel mills of Cleveland crippled or killed many Hungarian immigrants. The death toll was scandalous!  They spoke little English and were set to dangerous tasks without appropriate training. Worse, they worked such long hours and lived so frugally that those who survived the deprivations and industrial accidents quickly began accumulating money and property, which only added to the resentment of the native population. Within a single generation, their children made great progress in escaping the poverty traps of discrimination and lack of education. American industry was left once again to search for minimum wage laborers outside the borders of the United States.

            Grandma Egerer started training my father to work very young. She hated both sewing and housework. So the boys were taught to sweep and dust, sew on buttons, make beds, and prepare vegetables for cooking. Every morning she would hand my father a broom to sweep the front walk. Then, he and his little brother, Ernie, would find a dustrag in their hands so that they could dust and vacuum the living room. Grandma never made beds or changed them. That was the boys’ job, and she expected everything done well.

Hear Dad telling his story:           

It was our job, Ernie’s and mine, to do the dishes after supper. One night I would wash and Ernie would wipe. The next night we took turns. One night I just didn’t want to do the work. So I slopped dishes through the dishwater quickly, without really rinsing them off and put them in the dish rack for Ernie to dry. Mom came and checked them out. They were still dirty. So she took them out of the rack and put them back for me to wash again. I grumbled, and slopped them through again even faster than before. Mom wasn’t fooled. Back they came for me to do again. By this time my temper was up. One, two, three–they were back in the rack, still dirty. Mom was unmoved. Back they went a third time. Ernie was excused. By the time I got them really clean, I had to dry them by myself. I learned to do my chores right the first time.

The Value of Structure

When i started writing novels I was instructed to compile a novel workbook where everything from setting to character and themes were documented. There was a pocket in the back for all my voluminous research that was too big to fit there. So I gave up and graduated to a file cabinet. Nevertheless, this methodical method moved me from idea, to concept to premise with aplomb. It took me about four months to get the first draft down, and since all that structure lay beneath the words on my pages, my main chore was to clean things up to the best of my ability once I got to this point.

Then I was introduced to pantsing. I felt so accomplished. I began writing much better scenes, less clunky, more fleshed out–a whole new me. This was all very well and good, but at the end of that first draft, I began to seen structural flaws that required major surgery. Okay, I’m not afraid of hard work. I’d rather have something to edit and/or rewrite than be faced with a blank page. On the other hand, I began to feel that there was something inadequate about pantsing. I needed to lay that structural foundation before going off on tangents. You don’t build a house without a plan , without a foundation, but as a writer you don’t want to have all the trees stick out in your forest. You want those details to be there, yet you don’t want readers to trip over them.

Now I find myself going back in time using Scrivener to lay foundation, collect research in that virtual world, develop characters, design settings, work scene by scene. I don’t have that huge paper notebook I once had, but I want all the benefits of it. II want to do this without damaging the progress I’ve made as a writer, without sacrificing the freshness pantsing brings to my work.

Looking for a middle path . . .

The Write Stuff Writing Club

Last Thursday I had the privilege of addressing a writing group for kids at the local library. I’ve never done a 2-hour presentation before, so I was proud and happy to do this. A wonderful lady named Barbara Bos leads the group, aided by Librarian Laura. The group was for kids going into 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grades—so there was quite a range. Fortunately, before I went back to college for a Humanities and Fine Arts degree and my M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts, I was trained as a Dental Hygienist. Part of my training was in education. So I learned to create lesson plans and taught kids from kindergarten through high school.

 

I took one look around the room and figured out that the writing exercise I’d brought was perfect. My original plan to use more audience participation stuff was not. Good thing I came prepared. It took most of a week to do that, and I’d practiced until I was hoarse.

 

 

Anyway, I started by talking about my writer’s journey. It’s always good to hear how other writers became writers. I linked that topic in with my first agenda—the subject of storm writing. You might say I was talking about how to jumpstart/brainstorm yourself into a new story. I talked about the What-if formula. From there we graduated to a technique used by actors when they practice Improv. The “And, yes!” Formula, which means you listen and agree with some premise presented by your acting partner and add another piece to the story. It goes like this: what if you opened the door and the postman was there with a big box addressed to you? And, yes—it’s you’re birthday! And, yes—it’s from your dear Aunt Sally who lives in Australia. And, yes—the box is not only big, it’s got air holes and there are funny sounds coming out of it.

 

 

You get the idea. Rule three of storm writing is this: if this is true, what else is true. Here’s where the storm comes. Now you start asking all the questions you could possibly have about this story. Is my character a boy or a girl? How old is he/she? Where do they live? Do they have brother’s and sisters? Friends? Special problems? Like a grandparent living with the family? Autism?

 

 

They all did very well with this. I had a little Asian boy doing a pretty good updated version of the superman story. The second hour I read my new first chapter of my creative thesis, which I’m blogging about. They gave me great feedback. They like the fact that it is a story about true stories from a real life. They liked that the names are real and that the story comes from their own home area. They were a little confused about World War I. Okay, my generation knew about it because our parents had been there. So I went back to give a little better description on my first page. Besides, I should really have called it the Great War.

 

Then Barbara had them share with me the names of books they are currently reading.

Great stuff! I went home and ordered every one of those books for my summer reading.