Thursday, June 13, 2013

New Blog Address!

Though this blog and blogger has served me well, I have moved over to the Wordpress neighborhood.  Though you are still welcome to check out the posts here, it's not necessary because I've moved them all over to the new place!  Yes, all the old posts you love are there at the new blog too.  So please come on over and say hi!

http://nancyschoellkopf.wordpress.com/

Thanks, I'll see you there--n

Friday, June 7, 2013

Upcoming Move

Dear Friends and Friendly Readers,

I'm planning a move!  Or actually I'm planning to move my blog.  Angel Cat and I will stay here in River Park, but my blog will soon be moving to Wordpress where I hear the summer weather is mild, the view spectacular, and it's easier for readers to post comments.  Guess I'll find out soon enough.  In the meantime, I'm taking a short break from posting until the new one is up and running.  Getting set up is a little more complicated in the Wordpress neighborhood, but it should be worth the effort.  I will keep you all posted.  Until then, stay cool, and lay low till the heat wave passes!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Teaching Years


I’ve been posting pieces about my writing these past few weeks, and let me be honest here:  that’s been easy.  Writing is most often a solitary pursuit.  If I’m not enjoying myself as I’m writing, I’ve got nobody to blame but myself.

When I look back at my teaching career, my feelings are varied and complex.  Schools are ever-dynamic places.  Special education teachers are at the center of a wheel with spokes that reach out to include parents, principals, special education administrators, and support staff like speech therapists, occupational therapists, adapted physical education specialists, physical therapists, adapted technology specialists, school psychologists—gee, am I leaving anybody out? 

Well, of course, there are the instructional assistants.  Most special education classes are assigned at least one or two full time aides.  In other words, as a teacher I generally had one or two other adults with me and the kids nearly all the time.  These people are tremendously important.  If you get along well with them, your workday is pleasant, your lesson plans run smoothly, the kids are happy, and life is good.  If you don’t get along with them, life is hell.  That’s all.  It’s hell; trust me on this.

Also I can’t forget custodians, secretaries, cafeteria workers and noon duty playground supervisors.  There may even be after school program teachers and aides.

You see, when your students need extra help and extra supervision everywhere they go, a teacher’s got to grease the wheels by fostering friendliness wherever she goes.  On this front, some days I did better than others.  But for a very shy introvert like myself, some days it was damn hard.

But I can honestly say that being with the kids was a joy.  Not every day, and not all day—but most of the time, we had fun.  I couldn’t have done it for so long if we didn’t.  More next week.

How do you feel about your job?  Is it a joy or a burden or something in between?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Writing the Amherst Way


A few weeks ago I had the privilege of writing in a workshop with Pat Schneider, the author of Writing Alone and with Others, and the recently released How the Light Gets In:  Writing as a Spiritual Practice.
        
Pat developed a workshop method of writing together in community, which came to be the Amherst Writers and Artists Method.  Pat says the method is “nothing but common sense and kindness.  But we’re so short of that today that we require a ‘method.’”

It’s really pretty simple.  We get together to write.  The leader gives a “prompt.”  It may be a word, a phrase, a quote, a photo or other form of visual art, an object or a guided visualization.  The prompt is not an assignment, but a jumping off point to get each writer started.  We can write about the prompt or write about something else.  Often the prompt will get us started, and then lead us down a path where the real story lies.

After we finish writing, we share.  No one is required to read, but most of us do—especially if we’ve been writing together for a while.  Since we’re sharing brand new baby writing, only positive feedback is given.  No one is allowed to be harsh to vulnerable new writing.  But the feedback is helpful.  It focuses on what is strong and what we remember, i.e. what stands out. 

One more rule:  we pretend that all writing is fictional.  If written in the first person, listeners will refer to the speaker as “the narrator,” rather than assuming that the author is writing a tell-all memoir. 

I love this rule!!  Decades ago, in the first writing group I joined after college, the narcissistic drama was thick.  Someone would read a poem or story and people would blurt, “Oh, my husband (or boyfriend or partner) does that too!—blah, blah, blah. . ..”  The writing would be forgotten as everyone began gabbing about her own problems.  Such a relief now to write with people who want to focus on writing!

But despite this seeming restriction, the Amherst method is often therapeutic.  The creation of a safe space and the promise of anonymity allow the writer to dig deep and share hard truths.

At our workshop last month, Pat described writing as a version of the hero’s journey.  She said when we dig deep to confront our fears, we will come to a cave and confront a metaphorical dragon.  Know that the dragon is guarding a treasure, but realize this:  the dragon is guarding the treasure not FROM us, but FOR us.

You may have guessed that Pat lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, but there is a very active chapter of Amherst Writers and Artists here in Sacramento and northern California.  For more info, check out this link:

http://awasacramento.com/Home_Page.html

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Next Big Thing!


Thanks to my friend June Gillam for “tagging” me to promote The Next Big Thing!  In June’s latest blog post she wrote about her upcoming thriller, House of Dads. 

http://junegillam.com/2013/04/24/the-next-big-thing-blog-tag/

Now it’s my turn to tell you all about my novel.

What is the title of your book?

Welcome Stranger

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Years ago (or maybe I should say Once Upon a Time) while on a field trip with my special education class, one of my students--a Hmong boy born in a refugee camp in Thailand—struck up a conversation with a homeless man sitting at the Regional Transit bus stop on L Street near Downtown Plaza.  I was so touched by the man’s patience and humor as he spoke with this child and me that I began writing about him as soon as I got home that night.  The episode became a poem, then a short story, and now a novel.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction.

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Amy Adams has the range to play a woman who is intelligent yet na├»ve, so she’d be my first choice for protagonist Cassandra Apple.  Cassandra’s love, Harvey Random, is a combination of Eli Stone’s sweetness and Sherlock Holmes’ quirky intensity, so Jonny Lee Miller (who’s played both characters in recent TV dramas) would do well as my novel’s male lead.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Shy special education teacher Cassandra Apple falls in love with the gregarious, ivy-league educated yet homeless Harvey Random.  (Not your typical Rom-Com!)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m currently shopping Welcome Stranger, seeking representation.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Since this was my first novel, and I wasn’t sure what I was doing, the first draft took approximately 24 years and 5 months.  Subsequently, I’ve learned to whip out 50,000- word first drafts in 30 days or less every November during National Novel Writing Month, i.e. Nanowrimo.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I would humbly liken my work to the novels of Sue Monk Kidd and Anne Lamott, who both write stories featuring strong female protagonists and spiritual (though not necessarily religious) themes.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It has been a dream of mine since high school to write novels, and I am very grateful to see my first book manifest.  I must give credit to my late mother who was always my biggest supporter.  I have a wonderful circle of friends and fellow writers who have also encouraged me.  The insights of my friend and spiritual guide, Craig, have also offered me amazing inspirations for my writing.  Finally I would be remiss if I did not mention HC, who has been the perfect muse—annoyingly elusive yet enchanting—lo, these many seasons.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Welcome Stranger explores issues such as homelessness, mental illness, emotional abuse, and the state of our public education system.  But at its core, it is the story of Cassandra’s spiritual journey.  Harvey becomes Cassandra's lover, but he is also the holy fool who leads her to a greater understanding of her own soul. 


And now it’s time for me to tag a wonderful writer, friend and mentor, John Crandall.  You can find John at




http://poethealing.deviantart.com/


Friday, April 26, 2013

The Flint Girls Go To A Fire

One more poem as we near the end of National Poetry Month.  I wrote this rather prosey poem about my Mother and her family twenty-something years ago.  I just came across it again, and decided to publish it here.  I think it's a fun story--at least that was always my intend.  I remember my Mom being a little embarrassed that I said my Dad wasn't a good Catholic.  It's a long story.  Let's just say he was a good-enough Catholic, and so am I. 

Here's the poem.  Enjoy!

The Flint Girls Go To a Fire

My aunt Eleanore had a muskrat fur coat.

My aunt Ruth had a skirt that revealed her knees.
She wore it with platform shoes.
They went to speakeasies
on the Sacramento River during prohibition.
They sat on wooden stools at squat wooden tables
and drank gin.  “We weren’t scared,”
Ruth said.  “We were having fun.”

My grandfather made beer in the basement.
He was of English descent
but my Irish grandmother
would not admit this.
She called him “a Yankee.”
He converted to Catholicism
and was an usher at 9 am Sunday Mass
at St. Francis.
Bishop Armstrong like him.
My grandmother gave the nuns
pink divinity and whiskey for Christmas.
She and my grandfather had four daughters.
They lived in a brick house
across the street from McKinley Park.
There was a road through the middle of the park.
The road was lined with palm trees.

When my mother was ten
she sat on the front porch one Saturday night
with her older sisters Grace and Ruth.
Ma and Pa had gone to the double feature
at the Alhambra.
The theater gave everyone a blue china plate
with the price of adult admission.
Next week they would give out tea cups.

From the front porch of the brick house
my mother saw blue black smoke
billowing into the southwest twilight sky.

“The theater is over there!” declared Ruth.
She was seventeen and knew how to drive a car.
She hastened my aunt Grace and my mother,
whom everyone called “Baby,”
into the red and white chevy
and they sped between the palm trees
through the park.
They turned in front of the theater;
but there was no fire there.
So they followed the smoke
ten blocks down and ten blocks over.
There were police officers
in sweaty blue uniforms
at 20th and W
waving the cars away from the fire.
One of the police officers was the brother
of a boy Ruth went to school with.
“We want to see the fire,” Ruth told him.
He agreed to let them through.
“Not yet!” she said.
she drove to the snack bar
next to the Senator Hotel
on L Street
and bought buttered popcorn
in red and white striped sacks.
She drove back through the police lines
and parked the chevy at the corner
of 19th and W Streets.
The three girls sat in the front seat
eating popcorn and watching
orange flames lick the wooden frame
of the Bethel Temple Christian Church.

My grandmother played the organ at Sunday mass.
At home she played ragtime on a baby grand piano.
She gave bridge parties and served
ham and pickle sandwiches
and high balls.
On summer evenings
my grandfather walked
to the drug store with a tin bucket
and they filled the bucket
with chocolate ice cream.
Some nights the family
piled into the red and white chevy
and drove over the bridge
across the American River
past the trellised hops
to the asparagus fields.
They drove between the irrigated rows
and felt the breeze
blowing cool across the wet ferns.

After my mother graduated from Business College
She worked in a building on N Street
across the street from the State Capitol.
A state policeman picked flowers for her
from the Capitol rose garden.
He presented them to her
as she walked through the park
with her friend Mary.
Mary and my mother ate lunch
at Weinstock’s counter on 12th Street.
On Fridays they ate fish at Robert’s.

My mother learned to knit casting string onto #2 yellow
Ticondaroga pencils.
Her friend Doris taught her and Mary
on a coffee break.
Mary later became my godmother
but they learned to knit
before my mother met my father.
My father was in Germany
at the Battle of the Bulge.
My mother stood in line on K Street
an hour and 15 minutes
to buy a 2 pound box
Sugar was rationed during World War II.
But there was always ice cream
at the USO dances.
My mother and Grace volunteered
at the soda fountain.
The USO had a spring form dance floor.
My mother wore cat’s eye glasses
and open toed shoes.

Grace met the man she would marry
when he was stationed at McClellan Air Force Base.
He was from Montana.
He was a good Catholic.
My mother did not meet my father
until after the was  over.
He was not a good Catholic
but Ma and Pa liked him anyway.
My mother stopped accepting
flowers from the state policeman.

My father liked to watch
the Sacramento Solons play
at Edmunds’ Field.
Julius, who owned
a Men’s Clothing Store on K Street,
had box seats.
He gave my father the tickets
when he wasn’t using them.
My father took my mother
and her nieces and nephews
to the game.

Before my mother got married
she went to Europe
with her friends Mary and Olwen.
They sailed from New York to London
on the Queen Elizabeth.
They were gone three months.
They went to Lourdes and the Vatican.
My mother bought rosaries
that were blessed by the pope
and gave them to her sisters
and brothers-in-law and her nieces
and her nephews.
She also brought back water
from St. Bernadette’s grotto.
My grandmother would put a teaspoon of it
in her coffee every morning
at breakfast.

When my mother married my father
they built a house in the south elbow
of the American River on land
that was once apricot and peach orchards.
And so I chose to be born into this family.
They lived on the flood plain,
in a state of grace.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Encounters with Psychopaths


The other night in my writing group I got starting writing about a woman I worked with many years ago.  I am convinced that this woman was a psychopath.  I’ve tried to write about this woman before, but I always stopped midstream because it was upsetting to think back to this time in my life.  The other night was different, maybe because I was in the safety of the writing circle, with my friends there to support me.

Later I thought, well, I’ve gotten a good start on a personal essay here, maybe I can do it, maybe I can finish this piece.  But then I asked myself:  what’s my point?  What do I want to say?  I don’t want this to be a mere anecdote, so what’s my story?

I can write the story of my year with this woman in such a way so that it sounds outrageously funny.  So what?  The reality is that I was miserable working with her.  I knew she was making up lies about me, but there was nothing I could do about it.  I couldn’t prove anything.  I went to administrators and they were sympathetic.  They actually agreed with me.  I thought they were going to do something.  But they didn’t do anything.  It’s years later and she’s still there, still working with children and their parents.  I was just grateful that the contract I was working under allowed me to ask for a transfer and (at the beginning of the new school year) the district was required to give me that transfer.  If I’d had to stay and work with this woman for another year, I would have resigned.

What is the story here?  I wish I could say something healing, but I have no such wisdom.  I wish I’d handled it better, but—as a therapist friend taught me to chant—I did the best I could with the knowledge I had.  What should we do when we encounter a person like this?  Splash water in her face and hope she melts?

My heart goes out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath.  I offer prayers for everyone, including the alleged perpetrators and their families. Good wishes and prayers as well to the people of West, Texas, who also endured devastating losses this week.


Friday, April 12, 2013

My Writing Practice


I realized early on that if I was going to be a poet, a notoriously underpaid and underappreciated profession, then I would need a second income—or to be more accurate—an income.

On the flip side, I also realized, as so many artists, writers and musicians have before me, that to practice an art while holding a full time job demands dedication and discipline.  A flair for efficient scheduling also comes in handy.

A regular daily writing practice has been essential for me over the years.  Sure, there have been times that I couldn’t manage it, but I always came back.

What follows is a journal entry I wrote nearly twenty years ago.  It expresses succinctly why a regular practice has been so important to me.

A writer on writing:

For a long time I didn’t want to do anything but write.  I took a job as a teacher’s aide, but when asked, I said I was a writer.
                 
Every morning I pulled myself from bed in pre-dawn darkness, dressed quickly, and wolfed down a cold breakfast.  I huddled in front of the apartment’s lone gas heater, notebook and pen in hand.  Scribble, scribble.  Gray cat flicking his tail at my hip.  Scribble.  My roommates were up and out to work within a half hour but my pre-work ritual was leisurely and long.  I was a poet and on some mornings it came together and I proved it on the page.
        
In my 20s I was persistent and prolific, published in small local journals and two national anthologies.  I read before handful audiences in bookstores and coffee houses.  I dressed in silk tunics, embroidered jackets and Chinese slippers I bought in thrift stores.  I had fun and a confidence in my art that came from hard work and experience.

HA!

I didn’t make a conscious decision to stop writing.  What I did decide was to go back to school to earn my teaching credentials.  Suddenly I had less time and I thought this was the problem.  It wasn’t.  The problem was the world inside my head changed.  But I didn’t notice.  I was too busy to notice.  All I noticed was this:  when I made the time to write I couldn’t write.

A few weeks ago I began again my daily practice.  I have my own house now, old with chipping plaster, and two mortgages.  I subscribe to a morning newspaper and I have inherited my mother’s generational habit of reading the obituaries before I drink my orange juice.  I forego the rest of the newspaper, give my teeth a cursory brush and floss, then blow-dry my hair.

The house has central heating but it is still too cold for me in the morning.  I grab my notebook, my medium point Bic and I huddle in front of a heating vent.  Scribble, scribble.  Rejoice and be glad!  It’s come back! 
        
What I had forgotten was not the AM hour between a blank page and a heating duct.  What I’d forgotten was the grace of the day that followed.  The words, images, metaphors, and similes rushing at you like trees and billboards and green and white highway signs.  You can stop and grab one, turn it over in your head, contemplate it easily.  Or you can let them rush past; it’s okay!—you can do that.  They’re flashing lights and colors, pretty to glance at, but then you can move on.  There will always be more.  Tomorrow morning when you pick up your pen, there will be more.

So I am realizing, once again, that language is more than words popping into my head or out of my mouth. Language is the house I live in.  It’s my country, my flag, my religion.  It’s my frayed wool blanket, vanilla-colored, with satin ribbon binding the edge.  It’s familiarity; it’s comfort.  It’s a pair of glasses I perch on my nose so I can see the room I’m entering.  It is a steady narration observing, describing, analyzing.  It’s the voice that explains me to me.



Fellow writers:  please tell me about your process and your practice.  Musicians and artists:  how do you keep your creative life alive and kicking?  And are there folks out there who wish they could develop the time and energy to practice an art or a hobby or whatever?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Welcome to April! It's National Poetry Month!


I started writing poetry nearly forty years ago, when I was in college.  I started getting published when I was in my 20s, learning to make my way in the world outside my parents’ house.  My poetry and I were young together.

Poetry for me was short, intense and immediate, like youth.  As I became more settled in life so my poetry did too:  it became longer, rounder, fuller, heavier, more filled with story, until it couldn’t be contained anymore.  Finally it stretched itself out and became a novel.  That’s what I’m focusing on now—writing novels.  But I want forever to be a poet who writes novels.  I want poetry to claim me.  I want poetry to find me worthy.

When I first started writing poetry I wrote without form.  I wrote what came out of my hand, without concern for rhyme or meter.  People often told me that my poetry painted beautiful pictures but the truth is I’m not much good at visualization.  I often find the visual too stimulating, too overwhelming.  I’ve always been an auditory learner.  When I’m writing I choose words because I like the way they sound, I like their rhythm.  Even in free verse, it’s about the sound to me.  It’s about the music.

So let’s post poems this month!  Please share your poems with me.

Here’s a poem I wrote many years ago.  It was published in the anthology, Unlacing:  Ten Irish American Women Poets, edited by Patricia Monaghan (Fireweed Press, 1987).

How to Find the Muse

Think about the sky.

It’s a new blue tablecloth
and a big hipped woman
has carelessly dribbled
gobs of whipped cream
all over it.

There she has set down
an orange bowl.
Smell cinnamon and coriander
as you scoop
spicy carrots
and squash from the bowl
to your mouth.
Bite into a raw cucumber
to cool the fiery curry
on your tongue.

Now drum your fingertips
on the table.
Listen to a jazz quartet.
Tap your feet
on a black and white
tiled floor.
When she starts to sing
those torchy blues
press your lips together
and hum
until you taste sweetened cream
spilling from the sky.


Click on the comments space and share a poem, either one of your own, or one you love!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter Musing



 Earlier this week I read over the first draft of my latest novel that I wrote during National Novel Writing Month this past November.  I had completely forgotten that I had created a character who was a former priest from Argentina.  For random reasons during the slap dash of the first draft I made him a Franciscan, but I named him Ignacio after the founder of the Jesuits.

In case anyone missed it, this struck me in a Twilight Zone kind of way because the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals recently elected a new pope:  a Jesuit from Argentina who chose to give himself the name Francis after the founder of the Franciscans.

I know!  Weird, huh?

Truth be told, this kind of thing has happened to me before.  A few years ago I wrote a novel in which the main character, Samantha, becomes pregnant with twins.  One of the embryos implants in the uterus like it’s supposed to, but the other one implants in a Fallopian tube, which causes big problems.  We writers like to create big fictional problems, tension, drama and conflict.  It’s what we’re taught to do.  I didn’t even know if this weird twin problem was medically possible, but when you’re writing a first draft you just go with it.  You worry about so-called reality later.

A few months later I went to consult with a co-worker about a student, but when I stepped into her office she was on the phone.  I started to back out but she waved me in. She was just hanging up.  She told me she’d been talking to her father about her sister who had just had surgery for something called a heterotopic pregnancy.  Come to find out what was happening to my friend’s sister was the exact scenario I had created for Samantha just a few weeks earlier.  Her sister had to have one of her Fallopian tubes removed—just as Samantha did.  The other embryo eventually grew into a healthy baby and she gave birth a few months later—just as fictional Samantha did.

When my friend told me about her sister’s experience, I said, “Oh, that happened to the main character in my novel,” as if I was telling her about a secret sister of my own.  I certainly didn’t intend this, but I guess it sounded a little “been there, done that.”  My friend looked surprised.  “The doctors told my sister they’d all heard of this condition, but it was so rare that none of them ever thought he would see it in his career.”

I was stunned.  No, I did not feel that I had caused it, and I did not feel that I had predicted it.  However, it did seem somewhat beyond coincidence.

These synchronous twists started, I guess, with a poem I wrote after I visited Ireland with my family in 1985.  I love Celtic mythology and I bought several books of fables when I was in Dublin.  When I came home I wrote poetry based on a few of the stories.  Some of the poems were published in my chapbook Life on the Flood Plain, (Butterfly Tree Publications 1987) others were included in the anthology Unlacing:  Ten Irish-American Women Poets, edited by Patricia Monaghan (Fireweed Press, 1987).

One poem imagined Finn MacUail, a hero of Irish legend, as a prophet who has a vision of “the troubles” yet to come.  As we writers know, a vivid scene needs colorful, specific details, so I wrote that Finn saw a “bomb explode in an Omagh shop.”  I used the town of Omagh because family legend has it that is where my great-grandfather Bernard Moss was born.  I didn’t worry about accuracy.  I made the foolish assumption that most towns in Northern Ireland had seen their share of bombs.

Well, I was wrong.

It was thirteen years after I wrote the poem, but a car bomb did explode in Omagh’s main market place in August 1998.  It made international news because the carnage was so horrific:  twenty-nine people where killed, 220 people where injured.  The bomb was set by an IRA splinter group that was opposed to the peace process agreements in which both sides had pledged a commitment to non-violence.  Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, and tourists were all among the victims of the blast.  It was the single worst terrorist act in Northern Irish history.

Again—I did not feel responsible, and I did not feel like a prophet.  But I felt funny about it.  What can I say?  I don’t know what any of it means.  There have been a lot of these little “coincidences” over the years, but these were the most dramatic.

A few years ago I wanted to write about my poem and the subsequent Omagh incident, but I couldn’t remember exactly when it happened, so I went on-line to do a little research.  As I was reading the entry on Wikipedia, I realized that this explosion happened just a few days after I had met (for the second time) a man who would become my lover and companion.  We’re not together anymore but our relationship was very important to me.  We met the first time when I was with my special education students on a field trip.  His interaction with my students—who all had severe disabilities—was so kind that it touched my heart.  So I went home that evening and wrote a poem about him.  I didn’t expect to ever see him again, but a few months later he came to my door.  He wanted to meet the person who had carved the Buddhist chant in the sidewalk outside my house.  I recognized him and—once he got over the fact that it was this eclectic Catholic woman who wrote the chant, and not a Buddhist elder-- we fell in love.  I always felt that my poem had somehow summoned him.

Easter reminds us that magic is possible.  If a man today claimed to have come back to life three days after being declared dead, we probably wouldn’t believe it.  We’d assume it was some kind of a scam.  It would be easy to explain away Jesus’ resurrection too.  Maybe he wasn’t actually dead.  After all, they didn’t have all that electronic equipment to monitor brain waves and heart beats two thousand years ago.  The soldiers thought he was dead, so they didn’t break his legs.  Maybe he actually survived and his followers were able to revive him.

Or maybe he died, but his followers told such a convincing story and they got enough people to believe it and the next thing they knew they had the Catholic Church.  Maybe they should have thought a little harder before they went through with that!

Or maybe it happened just the way the Gospels say it happened.  Anything is possible.  In fact I believe everything is possible.  I believe that God manifests him and herself in whatever way each person will understand, as Jews and Muslims, Catholics and Evangelicals, as Pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, and so much more.  God may come to you as the sunrise or a blue scrub jay or your pet dog or cat.  She is in every human face you will see today.  And sometimes, quite often, God likes to remind me that she comes to me in my writing.  I’m blessed that way. 







Post Script:  since this piece was about coincidences, I have to note that I was surprised when I googled the Omagh bombing (again just to get a few facts straight) to find that just last week two men were found responsible for the bombing, in a civil suit brought by families of the victims.   No one was ever tried in criminal court for the explosion, but these two men were members of the now-defunct group, the “Real Irish Republican Army,” and the court found overwhelming evidence to connect them with the events of that day.  For more info, here’s a link:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/mar/20/two-liable-omagh-bombing




Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Writing Life


I want to share some books that have enriched my writing over the years.  I would recommend these books to all writers.  And for teachers of writing—no matter how young your students—these books may also be helpful. 

FOR HELP WITH PROCESS AND INSPIRATION

Writing the Natural Way, by Gabriele Lusser Rico
         This book was ground breaking for me in the early 80s.  Rico’s techniques helped me get past the right brain/inner critic to the deeper left brain/inner poet.  That first week I couldn’t write fast enough.  I was scribbling poems on paper napkins in the cafeteria while I supervised my students at lunch!  Later I learned to pace myself. 

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
         Another amazing eye-opener from the 80s on giving yourself permission to pick up a pen and keep your hand moving, to write free and uncensored from any inner critics.  Natalie Goldberg is a legend now.  Read her!

Writing as a Way of Healing, by Louise DeSalvo
         This book is less celebrated, but was equally influential in the development of my writing and my psyche.  I was reading it years ago when I had an argument with my then-companion (a not infrequent occurrence).  The next day I told friends about this argument, but I made it sound cute and funny.  Everybody laughed.  I thought, “I should write this up:  it’s cute and funny.”
But because I was reading this book I did something I’d never done before:  I wrote what really happened.  I allowed myself to write about how dark and shameful it was.  It wasn’t cute and funny anymore:  it was incredibly powerful.  I didn’t show it to anyone:  I do have boundaries, which is why I write mainly fiction now.  But after this book, my writing was never the same.

FOR HELP WITH CONSTRUCTION

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, by Linda N. Edelstein
         The name says it all.  This is a fun book filled with little quirks and habits that will help lift your characters out of one- dimensional-land into the realm of living breathing human beings.

Story Structure Architect, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
         Character development is one of my strengths, but coming up with a plot used to intimidate me.  This book has alleviated my apprehensions.  It briefly outlines dozens of plots--you fill in the blanks to make the story uniquely yours.  It has been invaluable to me in the plotting of my novels.

The work of Pat Schneider and the Amherst Writers and Artists Institute has also been a great influence on me.  I will be writing about them in a future post.

My writing has always been inseparable from my spirituality.  I have garnered strength from the writing of Pema Chodron, Clarrissa Pinkola Estes, Anne Lamott, and Carolyn Myss.  More on these and other inspiring writers in subsequent posts.

Please tell me about your favorite writers and artists.  Who has influenced you?