Archive for August, 2012

Read other Slice of Life writers at The Two Writing Teachers

With all the stuff going on right now, there is no way I can make this Slice of Life post about one subject. Today, my head is spinning like the Tropical Storm/ Hurricane Isaac out in the Gulf ready to strike our state. Once again, we are in the path. We prepare by unplugging technology and putting trash bags over our classroom computers. We buy food and gas. We check with our relatives. As of this moment, my daughter in New Orleans has decided to stay. Hopefully, by the time you read this, she will be on her way home. For those of you outside of LA, we live in the arch of the boot two or so hours west of New Orleans. We will get wind and rain, lose some tree limbs, and the bayou will rise in the backyard. But our house is a fortress with a trusted generator named Sparky. We will be fine!

An afternoon chat with Coach Rhoades.

The other spin in my head is the sudden death of a friend, fellow teacher, Coach Brian Rhoades. Brian and his wife Eileen attended my book signing on Saturday night. They were all about supporting me in my new project. They talked to me about me, and now, Brian is gone. Shocked and sad, my heart goes out to Eileen, their children and grandchildren, and all of ESA’s faculty and students. He will be remembered for his kindness, humor, and love. What a terrible loss!

I was literally spinning Sunday night as Jeff and I attended the Lache Pas, a fundraiser for CODOFIL (Council for the Development oF French in Louisiana). What a huge success! The state funding for CODOFIL was cut by our governor by $100,000. So what does an Acadian community do? Have a party! We listened to Cajun jokes, danced the two-step and jitterbug to amazing bands, and ate fresh summer salad from Saint Street Inn. One thing that we love about our culture is the diversity. You have all kinds of people dancing with all kinds of people. I took a video that shows two little boys twirling around to the music.


So spinning I go into a hurricane remembering the kind smile of Coach Rhoades and the fine fun people of Acadiana who support our unique culture. No hurricane, especially Isaac, can destroy the strength of the people in Louisiana.

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On Friday Feedback with Gae Polisner, author of Pull of Gravity, the guest author was Caroline Star Rose who wrote May B. May B. is written in verse, like Love That Dog and Heartbeat by Sharon Creech, two of my favorite books. It was such a serendipitous stop. Like Caroline, I first wrote poetry. Only lately, the last 3 years with the work of Blessen, have I written fiction for young readers. So imagine my thrill to think about writing a young readers novel in verse.

I read all of Caroline’s advice about writing in verse. The two things that stood out most for me were 1) Each chapter or verse must be able to stand alone, and yet 2) Each verse must move the story along. I considered a book I had started ages ago and put aside. Now I think I have discovered the key that will open this old book to a new life–verse. So I tried it out. I posted one chapter that I had reworked into a verse. Before I even hung around long enough to get feedback, I was reworking more chapters until Friday night at 8 PM, I had 16 verses. I am hooked. The process has come alive for me.

I am posting the verse/chapter I posted on Friday Feedback. The main character, Jean, is writing letters to God because her best friend Simone has lymphoma. She is struggling with her own self-doubts as any 13-year-old would as well as the illness of her friend. Let me know what you think.

Dear God,
Simone’s hair,
soft and thick,
wavy blond curls I envy,
started falling today,
in handfuls she handed to me.
We looked in the mirror,
side by side.
My hair, short and bobbed,
looked shiny and healthy
next to her balding spots
appearing and frightening.
At the wig store, we had laughed
at the large lady drawling out
r-e-e-e-a-a-l hair,
The wigs are made with REAL hair!
I chose a wig, too,
I’ve always wanted long hair.
Simone handed me a lock.
It fell over my fingers.
I held it to my face,
so soft, so long,
so sad.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Dancing with Leon at Cafe des Amis.

Beginning with Zydeco Breakfast at Cafe des Amis, dancing and eating, to Bonne Terre Cottage in the afternoon, my birthday celebration was all about me.

My new friend (We only just connected this summer even though she’s been a friend of my husband since he was a child.) invited me to enjoy a writing retreat at her cottage inn in the country. I accepted her offer and invited some of my writing buddies to come along. For one reason or another, only one of them was able to come out to the cottage.

I had never been to my friend’s cottage before. When I walked up to the door, I immediately felt peace. Next to the steps was a huge sugar kettle goldfish pond. A large metal sign with a Louisiana scene held fast to the cottage wall. Once inside, I was greeted by a salvaged silver tray made into a chalkboard and saw “Happy Birthday Margaret!” My own book Blessen sat on the top of a stack of books on the coffee table. In a corner of the living room stood an easel with a stool, a perfect spot for my computer with a view of the yard outside. The backyard was scattered with various bird feeders and houses. Hummingbirds flew to the red liquid while cardinals perched at the bird feeder. Bluebirds are nesting in houses and sat on the fencing. Beyond in the pond surrounded by elephant ears and cattails, a great white egret flew in to a landing. What a gift this place was!

Blessen waits for me on the coffee table.

Solid cypress walls smelled like a summer camp cabin. Beautiful art intrigued and inspired me. Along with her writing journal, Kay brought some chilled Pinot Noir, and we snacked on goat cheese and crackers. We talked about the new school year, writing, and the cottage. Kay said, “I can’t believe the art here. I love it. Jen’s love of horses comes through.”

We could look out the window and see Jen’s two horses in the paddock. And inside a colorful painting of carousel horses. I told Jen her cottage was a poem, full of personal details that could be universally enjoyed. I could have stayed all day. And I did!

Kay wrote this poem about Bonne Terre Cottage:

With God’s Prayers

I see beauty
I see cypress crafted
with glass peeking out
to the porch with a red
hummingbird feeder
and a thirsty bird three feet from me.

I see Clementine Hunter dishes,
lime green fused glass,
a black rectangular record player,
a writing desk looking out to a backyard
barn of horses housed on the Bayou Teche.

I see beauty woven from life experiences.
I feel rebuilding, strength, the ground reassuring me
all will be well– I see a little boy
with curls
on a tricycle.
I feel beauty woven out of history.

Wisdom interlaced with authentic metal,
reworked stainless staircase,
and a vintage yellow telephone.

I am reminded to be
all of me, to embrace
what is
to be me.

View from the writing desk

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Read other Slice of Life writers at The Two Writing Teachers

Today is the first day back to school for teachers. Kids come on Friday. So naturally, I am thinking about how I can make a difference in my students’ lives this year. A lofty goal, I know, but I am all tuned in to Common Core and challenging students to be responsive readers. One of the ways students can respond to a text is to make a connection from one text to another.
While reading about Gabby Douglas this weekend in the USA Today, I felt a connection between the “significance” of her accomplishments to those of other African American sports heroes.

One of my favorite middle grade novelists is Christopher Paul Curtis. He wrote the Newbery winner, Bud, not Buddy, and Newbery Honor Book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963. Both are in my classroom library. His latest novel is The Mighty Miss Malone. Like his other novels, Miss Malone is set in historical context, the Great Depression. Deza’s family is struggling to make ends meet. Her father is injured and is unable to work. The town is all tuned in to the big fight starring Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber. I have to admit, I did not know that Joe Louis was a real hero until my husband told me about it. He looked up an article for me on ESPN.

I enjoyed reading about Joe Louis. One quote stood out for me. His son said, “What my father did was enable white America to think of him as an American, not as a black. By winning, he became white America’s first black hero.”

In The Mighty Miss Malone, Deza asks her father what “a credit to your race” means. He says that it has to do with intentions. What he points out to her is that someone who says that is probably not to be trusted.

Gabby Douglas said she didn’t think about being the first African-American to win the title. She didn’t, but others have, even so far as to argue about her hair. What century are we in, people? I think Gabby Douglas is a sports hero, like Joe Louis, as an American.

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Friday is feedback day at the Teachers Write virtual writing camp. I am now friends with Gae Polisner on Facebook. She is the author of Pull of Gravity, and she hosts the Friday Feedback on her blog. She gave me a heads up about today’s feedback theme, hooking your readers.

The best first line ever written was written by E.B. White in Charlotte’s Web which celebrates 100 years this year. “Where is Papa going with that ax?” Who could put down a book like that? You are invested in knowing what Papa is going to do with that ax.

Here is the first line of Blessen.

Blue is cackling something awful this morning. That’s how she tells me she laid an egg.”

In the Teachers Write Camp a few days ago, we were asked to find an object in our work that has significance. I decided that object would be an egg. Imagine my thrill at reading Kay Ryan’s poem Eggs in this week’s New Yorker. “We turn out as tippy as eggs.” I would love to use her poem as an epigraph for Sunshine. Because here lies the theme: We are tippy as eggs. We are fragile, and we must have love to nurture us and hold us together.

With all this to think about, beginnings, symbols, themes, and the gosh-darn-hard work of crafting a novel, I place here for you to see the possible beginning and end of Chapter one of Sunshine. Does it hook you? Are you ready for another Blessen adventure?

First part:

Sunshine flutters her feathers on my cheek. She doesn’t wriggle or cackle. She’s still and calm, letting me hold her close and feel the warmth of her down. And on her nest, shining like a diamond in the dust is a light blue egg, soft as the clouds above my head on this new day.

According to my momma, chickens don’t like to be held.

“Why you carry your chicken around like that all day, Blessen? Don’t you know chickens are born to roam, not be carried around like a baby doll?”

Last part

A.J. reaches down to gather up my hen. Surveying her like a sculpture, he turns her all the way around.

“This is a fine chicken you have. Guess who knows how to pick ‘em?”

I smile and say, “You have good taste in chicks.” A.J. lets out a loud laugh at the double meaning. Then he crows like a rooster.

“Have you met Tux?” I ask.

“Don’t know that I have. Who’s Tux?”

“Mae Mae’s stray kitty she rescued. He and Sunshine are working on becoming friends.”
“A chicken and a kitten, that’s an unlikely pair.”

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