April Is National Poetry Month: “What Will Your Verse Be?”
Posted by Anne Greenawalt at 3:00 AM
I am a fiction writer and an academic scholar, and wouldn’t use the term “poet” to label myself, but I do use poetry to make my prose pop.
Every April – National Poetry Month – for the past three or four years, I have (tried) to participate in Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem-A-Day Challenge, which is to write a poem based on a prompt every day of the month.
I say I have “tried” because I usually end up missing a few days (OK, sometimes an entire week), but even if I just try to write a handful of poems during the month, I see a vast improvement in the literary quality of my prose. It challenges me to think differently about language.
I encourage all of you – even those of you who do not identify as “poets” – to do something poetry-related this April. Here are some suggestions:
“Get your short stories published,” they tell you in creative writing programs, in workshops, on blog posts and in lectures. We all hear this over and over again, but nobody ever told me how to do this; and when I asked, all I ever received were vague answers that mostly involved pounding the pavement such as, make connections, befriend editors, network, and get yourself out there (my favorite). Huh?
Six years later I’d published thirty short stories in a wide variety of literary magazines in six different countries and had received seven international award nominations, and guess what? I didn’t do any of those things. I could hardly network living in Israel where the first language is not English, which severely limits my ability to reach out to English speaking writers and English language publications—at least in person.
Is there an English-speaking writers’ community in Israel? Of course. Is it large? No. And it’s often stratified along religious, geographical and political lines, the way it is anywhere in the world.
Besides, I only enrolled in my creative writing master’s degree when I was two months pregnant with my fourth child (yes, I was lucky enough to attend a university that offered maternity leave and was pro-baby and pro-nursing). This means on a practical level, I had four children under the age of seven, two of whom were allergic to half the foods in the supermarket.
I could hardly get to the shower let alone get to any networking arenas. In addition to this, like many families with small children we can’t afford a home in the heart of the city, so I live in a very suburban community, hardly a magnet for literary publishers and magazine editors.
So, what’s an unpublished writer/full-time-mother to do? Get on the internet, that’s what, and that was in 2006 when the net was in its infancy. So if it was doable then, it’s absolutely doable today.
So what’s my take on it? Here are four takes:
1. Take yourself seriously. If you don’t, nobody else will. For me it meant dedicating two hours a day to researching publishing options (the most time consuming of all), emailing queries, perfecting cover letters, reworking stories that were repeatedly rejected, but with comments from editors about what worked for them. My list could go on, but the grease for this wheel is to believe in yourself and your goals. And yes, sometimes I did it one-handed nursing a baby; other times I thanked God for that battery-operated swing. Yes, it’s worth the investment.
2. Take criticism. I am amazed to this day when I meet aspiring writers who cannot take criticism. Don’t just take it, seek it out! Seek out really tough, word shredding, confetti-making criticism from someone published whom you respect and admire and who believes in you (preferably not someone related to you.)
3. Take rejection. That’s right, just take it. Don’t let it crush you or deter you from your goal. Think about why you were rejected. Did you try to get published in one of the top ten most prestigious magazines in the USA? Did you send a light-hearted piece to a publication that advertises itself as edgy and experimental? Learn what you can. Don’t ignore it or you’ll repeat the mistakes and move on.
4. Take action. I’ve wanted the dishes done thousands of times, but this left me three choices: wash them, sweet talk someone else into it, or stock up on throw-away plates and cups. In all cases, wanting got me nowhere. Make yourself an action list and there’s no one-size-fits-all. I used to fulfill a quota of five queries a day which came to 25 queries a week (given the weekend, come on you deserve a break!). My reasoning was at 100 queries a month, statistically, I was bound to progress and I did. Find an action plan that works for you and stick with it.
Many of you might be thinking, I can’t raise young children, work, and get published. If you work full or part-time on top of mothering, numbers 1,2,3 apply, but you still need to take action, just cut it down to a size that fits. Send out one query a week, you’ll still be eight queries down the road in only two months. Remember what a wise pediatrician once told me: women can have it all, just not all at the same time.
Canadian Gila Green moved to Israel in 1994. Her novel King of the Classwas released in April 2013 by Now or Never Publishing in Vancouver. Her stories and articles appear in tens of literary magazines in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Israel, and Hong Kong. Her collection, White Zion, is a finalist for the Doris Bakwin Award and her work has been short-listed for WordSmitten's TenTen Fiction Contest, the Walrus Literary Award, the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Award and the Ha'aretz Short Fiction Award. Gila has an MA in Creative Writing and an undergraduate journalism and English literature degree.
Why do we writers have so much trouble getting the words and story from our heads to the paper? Wait, you're not sure if you have this problem? Well, read this scenario and see if this has ever happened to you!
Esmerelda, a published author of short stories and essays, is working on her first novel, and she takes it to her critique group for the first time. She is very excited to receive their feedback, and they give positive comments about the concept, the opening page, and maybe even the dreamy hero. But there are also a lot of questions. Why did the heroine react in a certain way? What happened after the lights went out? Where did the dog come from?
At first, Esmerelda thinks that something has happened to her critique group. They must have lost their minds or barely read her work. The heroine grew angry because her sister continues to take advantage of her good nature. That is right on page 3 at the top. And when the lights went out? She heard a noise coming from the kitchen, which scared her to go on the balcony and see the hero for the first time. It's right there on page 12. The dog? That cutie came from the Humane Society where she volunteers on Sunday mornings--see page 15.
Her critique group members are smiling at her, and the bravest of the bunch says: "Um, Esme, none of those facts are actually on the page."
Esmerelda snatches her manuscript from the grasp of her critique group member and scans the pages, turning red from embarrassment. "Well, I THOUGHT I put those things in there. I mean, they were in my head."
I bet now you're nodding along with Esmerelda. How does this happen to us? How does this happen EVEN after we've had success with previously published work? I bet if we could interview J. K. Rowling, she would admit that it happens to her, too.
As writers, we see our story world in our heads so clearly and know exactly how our characters would react in a situation. But we have to create that picture for our readers, too. They don't have our story world in their heads. They need to be shown the world and our characters, so they understand the plot and motivation of the characters.
This is hard! We all know what happens if we overdo it in this department. We get complaints that our pacing is slow or that we are talking down to our reader. This is the importance of a good critique group or trusted beta readers. You can be the most careful writer, in my opinion, and STILL suffer from the "I thought it was on the page" syndrome. It's okay. It's natural. It's part of the job, but find some readers--whether you are going to be self-publishing or seeking traditional publication--to make sure that you fix this problem the best you can before your book is on the shelf.
Food Spoils and Encouragement Never Goes out of Style
Posted by Crystal Otto at 12:01 AM
As a mom, I’ve been bombarded with advice and commentary from well-meaning friends, family, and strangers. After baby number two was born, I started hearing “you’ve got your hands full” and now with four children, I hear that line more often. There’s also the occasional “you know you’re going to spoil that baby,” “crying is good for her,” “she has to learn sometime,” and “if you didn’t carry her all the time, she’d sleep through the night.” I can’t think of another time in life when advice and commentary is so abundant. Parenting is a tough job, and I’ve come to realize that those commenting are well meaning. Those comments however do not fit in the category of warm and fuzzy, especially when you are sleep deprived and feeling inadequate. The takeaway from these experiences has left me with a lesson I hope to remember as I age out of the new mom phase of life. That lesson is: Encouragement Never Goes out of Style.
Twenty years from now, I will forget about the extra laundry, the spit up in my hair, the frustration with breast feeding, and the overwhelming self-doubt. I will hopefully look at a new mom and tell her how great she looks instead of commenting about how full her hands are or how much time she hasn’t got. When I am invited to visit a new mom, I will call ahead offering to bring drugstore and grocery items so she doesn’t have to leave home (or get out of her bathrobe). When I arrive, I will bear meals ready to pop in the oven and instead of offering to hold the new baby, I will fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, and vacuum. I’ll assure her about baby’s weight, compliment her on what a great job she is doing, and not once will I contradict her parenting style.
I have chosen to raise my family using ‘Attachment Parenting’ methods, but I do not think the other methods are wrong or other mothers are making mistakes. I have chosen a parenting style that works best with our family. I babywear, cloth diaper, and don’t use formula. This doesn’t make me right and you wrong. I don’t want to hear how carrying my baby is going to spoil her. She doesn’t always smell magical, but she’s never smelled like that Tupperware container of molding broccoli…now that broccoli…that’s spoiled! My baby is not.
Andre with Crystal
If I want to strike up a conversation with a new mother, I will ask how old her baby is instead of if he or she sleeps through the night (because if you don’t know…most of us are up every hour or two and when you ask if our littles are sleeping through the night we basically want to kick you in the knee caps because you have just implied we must be doing something wrong because we are just thankful when they sleep long enough to let us shower and shave a partial leg). I will tell her how cute her baby is or I’ll offer to carry something for her instead of stating “You’ve got your hands full.”
I can’t change the well-meaning comments that sometimes cut like a dagger. For now I just smile
politely. These sleep deprived, showerless days are really just a small part of life as we know it. They’ll be behind us soon enough. We will remember the giggles, the chubby baby thighs, and friends who dropped by with coffee and kind words. We won’t remember the frustration, self-doubt, or the 3am feedings that left us too exhausted to find matching socks. Hopefully we will remember how it felt to be encouraged by friends, family and strangers and we will pass along that warm fuzzy feeling instead of the advice and commentary.
Thanks for listening, but now it’s your turn! What is the nicest thing someone did for you when you were a new parent? What are some ideas you can pass along to those of us hoping to visit a new parent? AND/OR What is the oddest thing someone said to you about your parenting?
Crystal is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 7, Andre 6, Breccan 16 months, and Delphine 1 month), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, and over 200 Holsteins. You can find Crystal blogging and reviewing books and all sorts of other stuff at: http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/
Special thanks for Olivia Brey of Oh! Photography for the great photos you see above as well as for her friendship, special delivery coffee, and warm meals that have warmed the heart of this entire family!
I’ve been thinking about how loosely we use abstract words like love, happiness, and truth as if they had concrete, observable meaning. I tend to revolt from using love to close my email or other exchanges unless I really feel love for the person I’m corresponding with. It bothers me when people sign their correspondence “love” without considering whether or not the emotion really applies to the recipient. Maybe you feel loving towards someone on most days, but not every day. Isn’t it deceitful to say “love” if you aren’t feeling it at the moment? Wouldn’t such a response seem confusing? It leads the reader to believe that the writer actually has such strong feelings, that somehow we’re part of the writer’s inner circle. Often that isn’t true.
Or even if one is part of the writer’s inner circle, it doesn’t mean that person actually is feeling love for the recipient. It just becomes a reflexive action: Love, Lily. Love, Hilda. Love, Anyone.
My concern is that these words then become meaningless, and once words no longer match what they are supposed to express, there’s not only a breakdown in communication but also a collapse of the word’s integrity. How can one use the word love again with any sincerity if it’s been used casually, with people one doesn’t really feeling toward.
So what’s my problem with happiness? We have a tendency to assume that if we use happy to describe someone’s feelings, we’ve said it all. That person must be happy. Therefore, there’s no need to look further or question what might actually be going on. Happiness is a nebulous state. I’m never sure when I’m happy or not because there are so many varieties of that emotional construct. One person’s happiness could be another person’s delusion or manic behavior.
When someone is really high, either from drugs or because something positive has happened in that person’s life, we generally say “that person is so happy.” Yet the individual may be in a state that has nothing to do with what I might equate with happiness—a sense of well being: all is right with my world at the moment and I need nothing else to make myself feel better. But the person we describe as “so happy” because he/she is claiming that condition could be depressed and using happiness as a cover for his/her real emotional level.
Okay, I sound like a Grinch, but I hate lies, either intentional or unintentional. I make them. My friends make them. It seems part of being human to lie at times. But the more it happens between friends and myself, the less I trust either them or me. And that’s the truth. But, again, what is truth? And how do we know it when it happens? If someone is accustomed to not telling the truth, then we’re caught up again in that dishonest web of deceit, where we claim one thing while really feeling another.
* * *
Lily Iona MacKenzie has published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and memoir in over 140 American and Canadian venues. The recent issue of Notes Magazine featured her as the spotlight author, showcasing her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Fling, one of her novels, will be published in July 2015. Bone Songs, another novel, will be published in 2016. Her poetry collection All This was published in 2011. She also teaches writing at the University of San Francisco, is vice-president of USF's part-time faculty union, paints, and travels widely with her husband. Visit her blog at: http://lilyionamackenzie.wordpress.com.
Would you like to participate inFriday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
No, I’m not talking about my writing ability (I hope, anyway!) I’m talking about the fact that once again, I’ve pulled out my spring clothing to discover that I obviously had my “butt in the chair” just a little too much this winter.
I’ve known it was coming. I would get on the scale occasionally and notice an extra pound here and there. I’d say to myself “I’ll be sure to get back to the gym this week.” Weeks turned into months, and one really bad chest cold that lasted three weeks in February, and before I knew it, I can’t hide behind baggy sweaters and leggings any more.
So this week I’ve decided to embark on a new project, in addition to my writing. And that project is me. I go through this every few years, when I somehow forget that I no longer have the metabolism of a 16-year-old. (Note to 16-year-old Renee: I am so sorry I didn’t appreciate you when I had the chance!)
Here are the steps I’ve already taken:
I’m increasing my water intake. While the Keurig was the best Christmas present I’ve ever received, I blame it for keeping me from drinking the copious amounts of water throughout the day like I used to. So this week, I’m back to refilling my water bottle three or four times a day, while throwing in some extra slices of lemon for good measure. I’ve been in the bathroom a lot, but I’m feeling good.
I’m decreasing my coffee intake. Because of the aforementioned Keurig, I’ve been drinking my two normal cups of coffee from the pot and then making myself coffee from K-cups one or two times in the afternoon. I love my coffee with a lot of cream and sugar, which adds up to a whole lot of extra calories. I’m now sticking to only two cups of coffee in the morning to kick-start my day and drinking a cup of hot tea with only a teaspoon of honey in the afternoon.
I’m doing my best to ditch the comfort/convenience food. Because I’ve been so busy with work the past few months, I’ve fallen into a rut of eating out a lot, gravitating towards the carbs at lunch and dinner and letting the vegetables in the refrigerator rot. I’ve also let my sweet tooth get the best of me. I’ve already hit up the grocery store and am minding my portions, eating only fruits, vegetables, or nuts for snacks in between meals, and cooking more at home. Tonight, my family had tacos and refried beans that I made and I settled for a tossed salad and a baked potato.
I’m exercising again. Luckily I have two dogs that I walk twice a day, but the walks we’ve been taking haven't been enough to combat all the extra calories I’ve been consuming. In addition to the walks, I’ve worked out every day this week, and while I’m sore and tired, I already feel my energy levels picking up. I am planning to get back to the gym tomorrow, but in the past few days I’ve kept my workouts small and manageable at home with strength training exercises and jogging.
Have you fallen into an unfit rut because of work, deadlines, or a big project? How do you bust out of it?
Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer who also works as a blog tour manager for WOW! Women on Writing. Right now she’s still looking for a few hosts for D.A. Russell’s book Lifting the Curtain: The Disgrace We Call Urban High School Education and Scott Keen’s MG/YA fantasy novel Scar of the Downers. Email her at renee [at] wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for more information.
Procrastination: Not Writing When You Need to Write
Posted by Sue Bradford Edwards at 1:00 AM
This past week I had a deadline – my first chapter and a book outline due on Friday. You might think that I spent all week doing nothing but writing.
Monday, I wrote my to-do list for the week, updated the church blog, e-mailed my students, went to the library and had lunch. Then, I worked on chapter 1. I finished a draft by about 11:00 pm.
Tuesday, as I was checking Facebook, a message popped up. The high school needed me! I started my book outline, and then worked at school for three hours. Returning home, I had lunch (3 squares are vital!) and worked on the outline. I had a draft by about 10:30 pm.
I met my deadline with a few hours to spare in spite of my procrastinating. To overcome procrastination I have to know why I’m doing it. Most often, it is one of these four reasons.
Route not charted. Sometimes I’m not sure where I’m going with a piece of writing. If I’m writing a personal essay, it could be that the experience is too new and I need to process it first. Or maybe my editor wasn’t specific enough with the parameters of the assignment. In fiction, I need to know where the story is going. To overcome this type of procrastination, I need to make some decisions or talk to my editor.
Lost my way. If I’m well into a piece and then start to procrastinate, it’s often because I’ve taken a wrong turn. Either I’ve gone off topic in my nonfiction or wrote a fictional scene with my protagonist acting out of character. If I know more-or-less where the story is going and something feels off, this is often the problem. I need to spot where I made the mistake, and then I can fix things and move forward.
Too spacy to write. Writing is hard work so I may lack the energy to write. Have I taken a day off in the past week? If I’m on deadline, I may not have time to take a whole day off but I need to recharge my creative batteries. Sometimes I walk or knit. Choir practice helps. So does going out with my family or friends. After I’ve recharged, writing will once again be possible.
I don’t want to write it. Some topics or scenes, though necessary, are brutal to write. I’m working on a book called “Black Lives Matter.” My knee jerk reaction was “Of course they matter!” Still, racism and social inequality are hard to write about without standing on a soap box.
While I’m working on this, I’m going to have to guard against procrastination, keep my goal in sight and keep my creative batteries charged so that I can keep moving forward.
Whether you want to form a relationship with your blog audience, those that visit your website, your twitter followers, or even readers of your book, you need one key element.
What is it? That's what I'm blogging about over at FireText. And I'll give you a hint: it starts with empathy.
Today I'm specifically giving examples of how to use this method as it relates to texting and connecting with your customers through an SMS limit of 160 characters, but it's a technique that works well for just about anyone who wants to connect on a deeper level with their readers.
I just got a gig blogging for various businesses and sites about topics related to writing, marketing, and making money with writing, which is fantastic because I get to stay in my niche and help out other audiences that I normally wouldn't reach. I'll share more about this gig later, but in the meantime, check out my post: Creating a Deep Connection with Your Customers Through Text.
And if you've used empathy as a way to connect with your readers, I'd love to hear about it!
Interview with Meena Radhakrishnan: Summer 2014 Flash Fiction Runner Up
Posted by Anne Greenawalt at 3:00 AM
Meena lives with her husband, Rakesh and her 3 boys in Thousand Oaks, CA. A busy full-time mother of three, Meena is a voracious reader, writer, dreamer and volunteer who is very passionate about giving back to her community. Writing has been an integral part of her life, ever since her youth and has been a powerful instrument that has helped her stay in touch with her inner-most feelings.
If you haven't done so already, check out Meena's award winning story, "The Funeral," and return here for a chat with the author.
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Summer 2014 Flash Fiction Contest! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write this particular story?
Meena: I remember, even as a child, I always worshipped many of our freedom fighters and leaders who fought for, and won independence for our nation. They were my heroes. I continued to carry this sense of deep love and respect for India and her non-violent struggle for freedom, even as I moved across continents to settle down in the United States. This story is historical fiction based on the life of India’s former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who had to give up her ‘foreign’ clothes, as part of the freedom struggle when Mahatma Gandhi called for a boycott on all foreign goods.
WOW: What a great premise and original idea for a flash fiction story! What do you enjoy the most and/or the least about writing?
Meena: I enjoy the sense of self-expression and fulfillment that writing provides. I love the moments when I am inspired, the ideas, thoughts and words flow in harmony, and come together on paper (or the processor). It is one of the most beautiful and thrilling experiences. The Funeral is one such story that was drawn from a deep sense of inspiration and pride when I reflected on India’s non-violent struggle for freedom.
It is hard to find inspiration when I am bogged down with the mundane day to day responsibilities that comes with caring for three boys, and raising a family, other than other obligations. When I don’t find that inspiration within me, then the urge to write sadly dies a natural death. That is my frustration, as I let sometimes days pass without writing.
WOW: I think many other writers and aspiring writers can relate to that. I know I can! Do you have any tips for balancing your life as a writer, mother of three, and work in the community?
Meena: I wish someone would give me tips on balancing my life! However, I find that balancing the various roles we play is like learning to ride a bicycle. We lean to the right, then to the left, totter around a bit, but slowly the balance happens. Similarly, we tend to focus on one role over the other at times, but the very awareness that we need balance eventually brings it to our life.
WOW: Thank you for that insight. If you could have dinner with one author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Meena: This is a tough question. There are too many authors I would like to have dinner with! I am afraid I have to choose at least two! I would like to have a dinner with Wayne Dyer and Immaculée Ilibagiza. Wayne Dyer’s books and writings has been my constant companion over the years, has inspired me to live my life, and take up writing in the first place as my calling. Immaculée’s powerful autobiography, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst Rwandan Holocaust, left an indelible impression on me on how faith, forgiveness and compassion can not only heal ourselves but our world as well.
WOW: Wonderful, inspiring choices! What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?
Meena: I have been recently leaning into spiritual writings. I am currently reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. I have embarked on a journey to discover my inner self, and like my writing, this book, I know, is going to be a powerful tool to help me in this quest.
WOW: Good luck with your quest! Anything else you’d like to add?
Meena: I am extremely grateful to WOW! for encouraging writers like me to keep writing, no matter what! And I can’t thank you enough, for because of all your encouragement, I have decided to write more every day. Thank You! to everyone at WOW! for all your support and inspiration. It means a lot to new writers like me.
WOW: You are welcome! And thank you for your thoughtful answers. Happy writing!
Lifting the Curtain on Education Blog Tour and interview with D.A. Russell
Posted by Renee Roberson at 2:30 AM
& giveaway contest!
The 2nd edition of the acclaimed look at today's failed education system--with dozens of teacher submissions from across the USA and nine new chapters.
Both KIRKUS and CLARION praise this important book "...from the unique perspective of a classroom teacher" that shows the real problems that have destroyed the education of our children.
Few parents or legislators have any chance of seeing the real state of education in our urban schools. It is a shameful disaster--unlike anything that we, as parents, experienced just 15-20 years ago. The real problems stay largely unseen, because career DoE bureaucrats and school administration are extremely good at hiding their failed policies behind the curtain of the school entryway.
In Lifting the Curtain: The Disgrace We Call Urban High School Education, Russell provides a detailed look at urban high school education from inside the classroom, including three years of research, and the first ever major survey of what students and teachers think of the educational system. If we want a real solution for our children, then for once we must focus on the real problems, the ones carefully hidden behind the educational curtain.
Book Giveaway Contest:
To win a copy of Lifting the Curtain, please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes this Friday, March 27 at 12:00 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!
About the Author:
D. A. Russell has spent the last ten years as a math teacher in one of the urban high schools that is the subject of Lifting the Curtain. He is an honors graduate of Dartmouth College, and has his master's degree from Simon School, where he was valedictorian of his class. Russell is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He has two children that he treasures, and four grandchildren. His son is a police officer who served in the US Army in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star for valor. His daughter is a lawyer and his most passionate fan and honorary literary agent. Russell has a passion for children that dominates his life. He has taught and coached children for decades. Few things are more important in Russell's view than to cherish the children who are our real treasures in this world. He is a contributor for education matters to the Huffington Post, and runs a personal blog at: LiftingTheCurtainOnEducation.wordpress.com dedicated to letting teacher voices be heard in the real problems with education.
WOW: This tour is for the 2nd edition of Lifting the Curtain. Can you tell us a little about what all is included in the new edition and how you pulled it all together (and in a relatively short time period, too!)
Don: It’s funny when you write a 2nd edition of a non-fiction book, and then look back at the 1st. I don’t know if it is like this for all authors, but suddenly the original seems to be lacking so many things you wish you had said, or had said better! Within just a few months of publication, I started getting so much great feedback from teachers all over the country that I knew I had to start the eight-month process of writing the 2nd edition.
Most of all, I wanted the 2nd edition to include the passages from many more teachers. All the 1st edition content was still solid, but 60,000 blog visitors and followers, and thousands of posts on the LTC Facebook page, taught me two things that cried out for a new edition:
There were thousands of teacher voices that needed to be heard, and someone needed to provide a platform for them. So I sought out the best teacher passages from dozens of teachers, all across the country, to include in the new edition. These teacher voices added so much to the book!
There were several additional topics that deserved better coverage – loss of electives, rise in homeschooling, and the charter school fiasco are good examples. Nine new chapters and 100 added pages let me go into depth on these critical issues.
WOW:When did you first get the idea for this book?
Don: Four years ago I was listening to my favorite local talk radio show in Boston on my way to work. The host, someone I respected greatly even though I often differed with some of her views, cracked a joke during a discussion about yet another problem in the Boston schools. She said that to solve all the problems in education, “…just shoot all the teachers.”
A light bulb went off! I realized that if someone of her insights and caliber had a major blind spot about what actually was causing the education crisis, then there was no hope to fix the real problems. That very night I started to write a book I planned to call “Just Shoot all the Teachers.” The Sandy Hook tragedy occurred just a month before the 1st edition was to be released – so what had been a tongue-in-cheek title immediately became a terrible title for a book. Ironically, the replacement title: “Lifting the Curtain” turned out to be a much better one.
WOW:Can you give us an overview of the methodology behind this book, where you surveyed students and teachers? Were a lot of sources nervous about giving their opinions at first?
Don: There is nothing I more underestimated, as an author, than the effort and time needed to do a responsible job of research. And that admission is coming from an honors graduate of an Ivy League math program heavy in statistics and econometrics. It took more than three years, with my evenings and weekends spent in interviews at small restaurants and even park benches!
I knew I needed hard data from other teachers, and students, if I was to really capture what was happening in schools. We hear tons from people outside the classroom, but rarely hear anything from those inside. So I dusted off my old statistics and econometrics skills from back in the day, and designed a research project that ended up taking three years. A total of 760 students and teachers were the basis for the research chapter in the book. Almost all of the interviews were concentrated in 19 urban high schools in 15 Massachusetts cities.
The hardest part was getting the teacher input. Teachers are so often bullied by administrators if they speak out, that even anonymous participation is seen as a risk. For more than half of the teacher interviews, the teacher asked me to fill out the questionnaire based upon their answers, so that they could say “…I never filled out a questionnaire” if asked. Even for the dozens of passages by teachers added to the 2nd edition, most were either by “Anonymous” or just be “Claire L.” for the same reason. The teachers wanted to participate, knew their voices were critical to fixing things, but (rightfully) feared the retaliation of their principal if their participation was known.
WOW: I find this so sad!, but I can understand their fear, unfortunately. One of the sections in the book is called “Teachers – Today’s Vietnam Veterans.” Can you give us a little more insight into this observation?
Don: When 46% of all new teachers now quit the profession entirely in the first five years, and when the annual loss of teachers is 20% and rising due to early retirements and experienced teachers leaving, then it is pretty obvious that there is something far worse happening than just the usual excuses of “bad funding and bad teachers.” The real reason is burnout when the joy of trying to teach children is crushed by today’s educational system.
Sadly, few people would have any chance to realize this, but the parallels between today’s teachers and the Vietnam vets of a half century ago are astounding. The reason? The devastating impact on a person when blamed for things far out of your control about something central to your life.
The Vietnam vets back in the 1960s and 1970s were children, largely drafted without choice, called to fight a war by their government. When they returned, they were scorned and blamed for the conflict by people with no concept of what these vets had just lived through, and how little they could do about the war itself. Unlike today, when a vet returning from a war can still be honored even by those who abhor the war he/she was in, the Vietnam vet was reviled.
Today’s teacher has become the scapegoat for all the failures in education. We are charged with not teaching the full core curricula at the same time an average of 35 minutes is taken from every one of our classes for non-teaching duties. We are blamed for not motivating children at the same time inept mandates by career DoE bureaucrats directly undermine student motivation. We are blamed for children graduating without college-ready skills even though our failing grades for those same students were overridden by a school administrator more concerned about protecting his position than teaching children. And in all this, we work in an environment of bullying, cronyism and intimidation by unqualified school administrators that is a prime reason a staggering 46% of new teachers quit the profession in the first five years.
WOW:What were some of the main concerns about the students you surveyed (i.e. not being challenged enough, too much homework, etc.)?
Don: The student portion of the survey was both the most discouraging, and the most rewarding part of the whole process. The discouraging part was seeing how accurately they recognized many of the worst problems in education, and had been impacted by the inept mandates that have stolen a good education from a generation of children. The rewarding part was confirming something I saw every day in my own classrooms – these children wanted a challenge and to earn a good education.
The negative finding were sobering. Children average just 1.5 hours per week of homework. 51% of teachers allow do-overs or make-up tests if the child fails (a destructive impact on motivation forced on teachers by administrators who do not want their performance and graduation records to slip.) 20% of children copy homework. 29% of children do not care what grade they get as long as they pass.
But those negatives were countered by the majority of children who still want to learn and be challenged. One of my favorite student comments from the survey was: Worst thing about school: “The lack of work that is given. Personally I rather (sic) be challenged than given a free pass.”
WOW:Why did you choose to focus the book on challenges found in urban schools rather than rural or suburban? Is it because of your own teaching background?
Don: This was my biggest error in my thinking about education when I started the research leading up to writing the book. My thinking was colored by my own positive experiences in suburban and rural schools as a child, and as a parent. So I made what turned out to be a totally incorrect assumption that urban high schools were “different.”
Classroom teachers from around the country set me straight on that, starting within days of the first edition being published. In thousands of Facebook and blog posts, plus hundreds of emails, I would guesstimate that around a third of them said the exact same issue existed in both suburban and rural schools, and were down to the elementary school level as well. Several of the best teacher passages in the 2nd edition are from elementary and rural teachers. . .
WOW:You recently had a very exciting appearance on a nationwide call-in radio show in Boston. What was that experience like?
Don: That radio show was both exciting and very encouraging! The number of callers and passion in their voices was amazing! I was a fairly atypical guest – since a topic as “dry” as education would rarely be seen as a hot item. For that reason, I was initially scheduled to be on for just the first hour. However, when host Dan Rea saw every phone line lit up for the entire visit, and heard the passion in the voices of teachers, students and parents nationwide, he cancelled the follow-up show and kept me there an additional hour to handle all the calls. As well, host Rea so appreciated the views of all the callers that I’ve been invited back for a follow-up show to be scheduled.
The show (Dan Rea, WBZ Boston) is recognized as the 7th largest in the country, reaching millions of listeners in 30-plus states. But the word had clearly spread, and listeners outside the coverage area were also streaming the show live via the WBZ website.
The voices heard were powerful – and without exception all wanted to see better education for our children. I was not surprised to hear that from all the classroom teachers who called in, but was taken aback by the same passion and intensity in the students and parents who called in. It was the first time in this whole process – of trying to get parents and legislators to see the real problems that have destroyed the education of our children – that I started to believe we could begin to really fix things.
WOW: What has been the response from the book so far? Are you mostly hearing from educators who agree with all that you discuss in the book or do you find yourself responding to parents and administrators as well?
Don: This is the big disappointment so far. The support from classroom teachers, parents, and students has been amazing – but the administrators, legislators, state and national unions, and bureaucrats are content with the status quo and have largely ignored my efforts, and those of dozens of others like me.
These groups benefit from the inane mantra that the issues in education are only due to “bad funding, bad unions, bad children, and bad teachers.” This lets the state and national unions focus on PAC functions to get more funding, even though the local unions are crying out for real help for the real issues, and even though nine of the eleven fixes we need require less funding, not more. The legislators find it easy to trade funding for donations, and just kick the can down the road. Career DoE bureaucrats, with lifetime positions and no accountability for their actions, continue to put our mandates requiring skills and training they have never received. And administrators remain silent – content to force teachers to pass failing students, and to replace electives and music with test preparation classes, in order to protect their graduation rates.
The silence of the legislators is heartbreaking. I mailed out copies of the book to 50 Massachusetts legislators last fall and received zero replies to the initial mailing or follow-up efforts. This winter, three Massachusetts legislators at a local town meeting requested information about mandates that hurt education, and at the request of classroom teachers at the meeting received information and book copies – zero response after the initial request. Similar efforts with the state teacher’s union have been ignored, at the same time they forge forward on supporting candidates who will pledge to increase spending on education – despite the fact that education now averages 25% of state budgets, and all the trillions we have spent the past 15 years have led to a major decline in education.
But, I still have hope. Slowly, a handful of bloggers and “troublemakers” like me are dedicating everything we can do to getting the real story out so we can fix education. Progress to date is in baby steps. But even an Olympic champion sprinter once was a toddler!
Thursday, April 9 @ My Final 40 Days
The author of Lifting the Curtain shares how children are losing precious time in schools that could be devoted to electives and arts. http://www.myfinalfortydays.com/
Friday, April 10 @ Selling Books
D.A. Russell shares his publishing experience with Lifting the Curtain in this interview with Cathy Stucker. http://www.sellingbooks.com
Monday, April 13 @ Lisa Haselton's Reviews and Interviews
D.A. Russell discusses the methodology behind putting together the second edition of Lifting the Curtain in an interview with Lisa Haselton. http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com Wednesday, April 15 @ Atlas Educational
Self-proclaimed "Rogue Educator" Lisa Swaboda shares her experiences with one of the topics in Lifting the Curtain, bullying and intimidation by school administrators. https://atlaseducational.wordpress.com
Friday, April 17 @ The New Book Review
Stop by for a review of the 2nd edition of Lifting the Curtain: The Disgrace We Call Urban High School Education. http://thenewbookreview.blogspot.com
We have a few more dates left in Don's tour, so if you'd like to join us contact Renee (renee[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com).
Enter to win a copy of Lifting the Curtain by D.A. Russell! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget THIS Friday, March 27th!
So you want a quick critique of a short story, or you’re fed up with the latest round of rejections on your essay. But your critique group’s out of commission or your favorite go-to writer friend/critiquer-extrordinaire is tied up with other business. What you need is a fast and objective critique, but how do you find one?
You could try Fiverr. That’s what the folks there are all about: a five-dollar, let-us-help-you-fast deal.
You’ll have to sign up for Fiverr (it’s free and easy) before you can take a look around. But once you’re in, you’ll find all kinds of writers willing to give you a five-dollar critique on anything from picture books to adult fiction, from fantasy to romance, from a poem to a college paper.
You might find an editor or an agent, a publisher or a multi-published author, all of them willing to share their writing services. And as long as you keep your expectations reasonable—after all, you’re only paying five dollars—you’ll find a bargain as well as good feedback.
Fiverr has a system that makes it easy to find that bargain, too. When a person signs up to offer services, he or she gives credentials. Plus, you can look for high ratings and read a seller’s reviews when you’re just starting out in order to get a sure bang for your buck. Later, you can try newer sellers who might not have built up ratings yet but are just as serviceable for a basic gig.
And there are other services besides critique that a writer might find beneficial at Fiverr. Maybe you’re looking for a new website banner, a professional press release, or a crowdfunding campaign. Or maybe you’re like me and don’t realize you need something until you come across a clever posting that grabs your eye. (A frog puppet? That sings? Awesome!)
I mean, it’s only five dollars, right?
On the flip side, you might want to look into offering your services on Fiverr. Do you have excellent editing skills? A keen eye for finding what’s missing in a pitch? Can you whip up graphics, draw a cartoon? If you have a skill, chances are good that someone out there wants it—and will pay five bucks for it.
My only caution to you is that you need to be fast. I don’t mean with your turnaround of services (though that’s recommended if you want good ratings) but with your ability to provide the service. For example, if you’re spending an hour to critique 1,000 words for five dollars, then that’s not a deal for you. But if you can dash off a relatively insightful critique in fifteen minutes or so, then it might be worth your investment of time and effort.
I haven’t had a chance to use Fiverr yet; I researched the site, then found myself swamped with work. But I know a couple excellent writers who offer their services and enjoy the payout. (Note: Fiverr makes a commission from each gig so you don’t make five dollars. But you will be paid promptly.)
So how about you? Have you tried Fiverr—or do you think it’s a gig you’d like to try? A penny for your thoughts!
"Every poem is unique but each reflects the universal in human experience, the aspiration for creativity that crosses all boundaries and borders, of time as well as space, in the constant affirmation of humanity as a single family."
Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO
Today, March 21, is World Poetry Day as designated by no less than the United Nations. That got me thinking about poetry in my life. At first I didn't think there was much. I am not a poet (OK, there those sappy love poems when I was teenager). But as I began thinking about my life poetry began popping up all over. As kids, my mom would answer our whiney protests of "Why?" to any chores with a bit of Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade"
Theirs not to make reply,
theirs not to reason why.
Theirs but to do or die.
A habit that I carried to a new generation when I had children. When we were kids, one of the books my little brother (he's 40) wanted people to read over and over and over again was a book of poetry...well, one poem in it especially: "Slithery Dee" by Shel Silverstein. It's the poetry version of a Goosebumps book. My English teacher for my senior year in high school would randomly quote Poe's Annabel Lee in class -- quite random since we were studying science fiction! My husband loves Robert Frost while I (perhaps because I did most of the book reading with our children) lean toward Shel Silverstein.
Why do we non-poets inject bits of poetry into our everyday lives? Perhaps because it gives us a chance to be dramatic, if only for a verse or two.
To commemorate World Poetry Day why not share a favorite poem, poet or poetry story with us? Tell us about your inner poet! Or tweet about it at #WOWpoetry.
At some point, one must say, “It’s finished.” I have punched the Publish button at Createspace. Edith going to have to go it on her own from now on.
I’ve edited, re-read line-for-line and had friends point out typos. I’ve done some new formatting, centered the little trees at the beginning of chapters, and consistently double-spaced when the scenes change.
I’ve researched the large number of anachronisms that snuck into the first drafts. AIDs in 1974? Bubble tea in the early 90’s? All gone. Jake’s Crawfish is still in the book. Actually, so is bubble tea, inaccurate but fun to read about. Tarantino has replaced HBO as an incentive for Edith to say a certain uncouth word a few times, after research indicated he didn’t shrink at using the word over one hundred times in an early 1990’s film.
I reviewed the timeline of my story and changed my characters’ ages by two years so that Edith could get through high school before she had to get married, which made her son as little younger than I wanted, but I changed that, too.
The most shocking changes I had to make were to words that over the almost-three hundred pages of the book I had repeated so often I wondered if a cog were loose somewhere in my brain. When I noticed a repetition of the word “swallow,” (several of my characters like their wine), I typed it into the “Search in Document” space on the Word page. A side column appeared and told me that I had used the word thirty-some times, once or twice a chapter. Not always drinking. Edith swallowed her words; the noise in the room swallowed her; she couldn’t swallow a story being told her, a fog swallowed the neighborhood. Of course, a certain amount of wine and alcohol also got swallowed. I asked for synonyms from my wordy husband: “gulped, sipped, filled his mouth, drained,” he advised. “And maybe you should change the whole sentence to some other action, ‘like closed his eyes.’” I knew I had used that phrase pretty often too. It took me a day to get down to about ten irreplaceable swallows.
Several other verbs made themselves known for the same reason. “Touch,” for one; “turned,” for another. "Nodded," for a third. Then I was relieved to realize this flaw was not senility–related. I recalled that in my first unpublished novel, a teenager shrugged at least twice in each chapter and I could come up with no other description of that action. And the little grade school kids in the same book smiled so often their cheeks quivered all day.
I apparently have some sort of repetition tic that emerges when I’m at my computer trying to make a story go into words.
I wonder if Annie Dillard or Alice Munro or Cheryl Strayed spend much time with the “Search in Document” space. Or, perhaps they hire a good editor, like all of the books on writing advise us would-be authors. I will too, maybe, on the next story, now that I’m finished with Edith.
* * *
After years of wifing, mothering, teaching, counseling, friending and cleaning house, with writing as a buffer between these layers of her days, Jo Barney is finally able to write almost full time. Although she still cleans the house and wifes a little, her essays and short stories have found places in literary magazines and other publications. She also has published three novels, the latest being EDITH.
Her stories, essays, and novels all reflect her observations of women’s lives and the people who inhabit them: the children, husbands, parents, friends, strangers who happen by and change everything.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
Just How Fast Can You Write an Article? (7 tips on how to speed up your blogging time)
Posted by MP at 1:00 AM
by Karen Cioffi
I don't know about you, but I can take a while to write an article, usually an hour and then some. Even if I have an idea, I still try to add extra value into the article by doing a bit of research and getting 'social proof' to back up what I'm saying.
A number of bloggers / marketers say they can write an article in 20 minutes. I’ve heard this said a number of times. Supposedly, 20-30 minutes is average for them.
Mulling it over, I came up with 7 tips to speed up your blog writing, while still keeping it optimized.
Tip #1 Keep a list of ideas (and information)
I’ve been keeping lists for years. And, with information permeating every nook and cranny of the internet, there’s never a lack of new ideas.
For quick research, keep files with links to articles on specific topics that you come across.
Tip #2 Use keywords
While you need to use keywords, don’t go crazy researching them. If you’re in a rush, just think of what you’d use to search for the topic you’re writing on.
Tip #3 Use bullet and numbered points
People love list articles. They’re easy to read and quick to scan.
In regard to writing time, using numbered points helps you organize your thoughts and content. This makes for quicker writing.
Tip #4 – Add graphics
Yes, you need graphics. As with Tip #1, keep a file of graphics you can use as the occasion arises. I have separate folders with images, targeted video codes, and so on.
Adding graphics may add some time to your article, but it’s time well spent.
Tip #5 Editing time
This writing task is a must. Your writing is a reflection of you and your skills – make them shine.
Tip #6 The article length
Word count is a conflicting theory. There are many bloggers who say to give the reader more value with longer pieces of 1000 words or more. Others say to keep it around 400 or 500 words.
I’m in the middle. I say write the article as it comes out for your own blog.
If you’re trying to cut down on writing time, keep it shorter.
Tip #7 End it when it’s ended
Once you write and edit the piece, end it. Don’t keep going over it. This is one of my trouble spots. I’ll keep adding to it or tweaking it one way or another. This is just a waste of time. Don’t do it.
What strategies do you use to speed up your writing time?
Karen Cioffi is a former accountant who is now a multi-award-winning author, ghostwriter, freelance writer, editor, and author-writer online platform marketing instructor. She founded and manages Writers on the Move (a marketing group), and presents online writing and marketing workshops and webinars.
Karen has published 12 writing and marketing eBooks, the most recent, Article Marketing: Increase Website Traffic with Properly Formatted and Search Engine Optimized Content.
In addition to this, Karen’s website, Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing, was named Writer’s Digest Website of the Week, June 25, 2012.
Meet Kathy Steinemann, Summer 2014 Flash Fiction Runner Up
Posted by Renee Roberson at 4:00 AM
Today we are excited to introduce Kathy Steinemann, whose clever flash fiction entry "The Hitchhiker" placed as a Runner Up in the Summer 2014 Flash Fiction Contest.
Read her story here and come back for some inspiring writing advice from Kathy.
Kathy was thrilled to hear that her story made the Top 10 list. She would like to thank Women on Writing for creating this contest. She has always enjoyed writing. As a young child, she scribbled poems and stories. During her teens, she won public-speaking and writing awards, and she contributed to her school newspaper. Her career has taken varying directions, including positions as editor of a small-town paper, computer-network administrator, and webmaster. She has also worked on projects in commercial art and cartooning.
This piece reflects her love of speculative fiction.
Please visit her website, KathySteinemann.com, for a complete list of her publications.
WOW: Your story, "The Hitchhiker," is a haunting tale that contains elements of speculative fiction. What works of speculative fiction have inspired you the most?
Kathy: Rod Serling’s Night Gallery series pops into my mind, as well as the short stories of Fredric Brown. Ray Bradbury has influenced me over the years too.
Anyone who ever watched The Twilight Zone will understand Rod Serling’s unique perspective. He could take everyday events and twist them until you saw ghosts in corners when you tried to sleep at night.
Fredric Brown was a master of the short story, providing unusual twist endings that left readers surprised, amused, puzzled—or a combination of those emotions. I wish he had written more.
Ray Bradbury’s unconventional outlook on life produced unforgettable classics such as The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451. For those unfamiliar with his work, Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales provides excellent examples of his short fiction.
WOW: With your background in journalism, do you ever find inspiration for your fiction from stories in the headlines?
Kathy: All the time.
Byron wrote, “'Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction.” He was right. In fact, I have taken ideas from the headlines and added a paranormal element to make the stories more convincing.
Who would ever believe that a man could be trapped at the bottom of the ocean in an overturned boat and be found alive after more than three days? But if readers think the man was saved by a time warp, they can accept it as believable fiction.
WOW: You are active on social media, which is an important part of an author's platform these days. Do you have any tips for finding new followers on Twitter and Facebook and finding engaging content to share with them?
Make interest lists. Then share content from those lists.
If someone retweets or shares, return the favor.
If a friend or follower e-mails you, respond immediately.
Share your Twitter and Facebook links in every e-mail, newsletter, book, literary journal, and on your website.
But beware! An author can spend too much time on social media. Restrict yourself to a certain number of minutes daily, then get back to what you love: writing.
WOW: I am impressed by the varied list of published books under your belt. How do you juggle and prioritize all your different writing projects?
Kathy: I keep lists and tick things off as I do them. My house, car, cell phone, and purse are filled with reminders and story ideas. I maintain a routine, but it’s not an iron-clad schedule that I can’t break. Adhering to the same routine every day can make for a humdrum existence. I like to vary the time and order of tasks. The little changes help to spark creativity.
The important thing is to write. Every day.
WOW: Do you have any tips about writing flash fiction for our readers?
Kathy: Flash fiction, by definition, is short. Ironically, my comments about flash will be the longest part of this interview.
Just because a piece is flash fiction doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have a beginning, middle, and end. The end might be open, but it should be discernable. For example, in “Hitchhiker”, I let readers decide whether Dianne is an alien hunter or just a deluded woman.
Sit down and write your story. Don’t worry about repetition, descriptions, and moments of brilliance. Then go through it, removing everything that doesn’t further your plot—especially clichés and flowery writing that could be classified as purple prose.
Keep your paragraphs short. Huge blocks of text are difficult for readers to follow, especially on electronic devices.
Only add descriptions where they push your story forward. Do you have enough room to describe textures, colors, scents, sounds, and feelings? Insert if appropriate. Descriptive writing tends to slow a plot. Use that to your advantage when you want to provide a break in action or give the reader time to absorb what you’ve written to that point.
After your first rewrites, put the piece away for a few days—or at least for a few hours—before you revise further. Read it out loud. If your tongue stumbles over difficult phrasing or you lose your breath before you finish a sentence, change it.
Then put the story away again before final revisions.
At some point, you have to stop revising, or you can lose the soul of a piece.