Posts Tagged ‘Blessen’

I believe that it is every artist’s right to determine what they create and not have that dictated to them.
Lisa Yee in A Rambling Rant on Race

I have been watching the Twitter frenzy on #WeNeedDiverseBooks closely because I wrote a diverse book. Blessen is a young bi-racial girl growing up in St. Martinville, Louisiana. She lives with her white mother and grandfather and discovers that her father is a black man. She builds a relationship with her black grandmother. One of my favorite scenes is when Mae Mae braids Blessen’s hair. Blessen’s white mother has never been able to fix her hair. My research on this scene happened when my friend who is black let me do her daughter’s hair. There were oils and conditioners and little barrettes. I loved learning about this scene with first hand experience.

For as long as I can remember, no one has ever done my hair. I’ve always just wrapped it up in a rubber band. Ella Mae works with her fingers, rubbing my scalp with oil that smells like the sweet olive tree. I breathe in and feel my shoulders relax as she massages my head and braids my hair into fine braids. She ties off each braid with a tiny rubber band…At this moment I forget that my daddy is gone and my momma is full of anger. At this moment, I am a blessing to Ella Mae. I am a blessing to my grandmother.

How can anyone say that a white woman cannot write with empathy about a black child? It never occurred to me that I couldn’t. Blessen came to me in a student. I see her again and again walking the halls of the schools where I teach. Like every child, she has her heartaches. She learns to love through the tragedies and losses she faces. I feel more than justified to have created her. She is part of me.

As Lisa Yee says, “We need diverse books because this generation of minority will grow up to be the majority.” Girls like Blessen will strengthen and enlighten our world, as she shows the world that it doesn’t matter what race you are on the inside. What matters is the strength of your character on the inside.

Blessen proof
Blessen can be found on Amazon.

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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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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

So you published a book, what now? The answer keeps coming to me as “write more.” After 471 free downloads from Kindle when Blessen was free for the 4th of July holiday, I wondered what it may mean for book sales. An author friend said, “Your readers will want more.” This is a tremendous burden. And terrifying! In an attempt to embrace this burden, I decided to do some chicken research.

In Blessen, her chicken Blue dies quickly, attacked by a hawk. In the next book, Sunshine, Blessen’s new life chicken, will not die, I promise. But that means I need to know more about the actual raising of chickens. In our household, we have had fish, cats, and dogs. No chickens. But my neighbors, Harvey and Opal Broussard, in their retirement are raising 6 hens.

As a young girl, Opal participated one year in 4-H. She got 50 chicks to raise. They were of the butchering variety. She didn’t name her chickens, but she cared for them. She fed them, kept their coop clean, and was committed to proper record keeping. She was ready for the Chicken of Tomorrow contest. All 50 of her chickens were ready to go to the LSU Ag Center, but for some reason that she does not remember today, they didn’t go. And sadly, one day when she returned home from school, her mother had butchered all 50 chickens and placed them in the freezer. Opal told her mother she would never again eat chicken out of the freezer.

Needless to say, Harvey and Opal’s brood of 6 hens are laying hens and will die of old age. They each have names and unique personalities. They are Stella, Rhoda, Lacey, Estelle (nicknamed “Big Mama”), Buffy, and Laura.

Opal told me that there is really a “pecking order.” In my opinion, Harvey is on the top rung. The chickens watch and follow him where ever he goes. Stella likes to be held, so she walked up to Harvey, pecked his shoe, and he gently wrapped his hands around her feathered breast and cradled her in his arms. I took this opportunity to pet her. How can I describe this softness? Softer than silk. Softer than my kitten’s fur. The softest thing I have ever felt.

Harvey was most concerned over his Austrolope hen, Laura. She was “broody.” Broody means she wants to nest on an egg. These hens usually lay daily, but there is no rooster around, so their eggs are unfertilized. Instinctual, however, they occasionally want a family of their own. This behavior can be detrimental to the broody hen. She wants to sit on the nest all day, no eating or drinking. Harvey being the careful papa would take Laura off the nest about 15 times a day and put her in a pool of water to cool her off and try to influence her to eat. She did not run around and cluck like the others. With tail feathers poofed out, she stopped and dug in one spot making a rumbling growl. She could not be satisfied until she could rest on her nest. Then here comes Harvey again. She was one miserable momma. I know how she feels.

Broody Laura

I learned a lot about raising chickens and think that at least one chapter may need to be dedicated to the subject. Do you think young readers will enjoy learning about taking care of chickens? Blessen and her author need a copy of Raising Chickens for Dummies.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Summer break was dubbed as “The Big Weekend” by my husband many years ago.  Yes, he was and is jealous of this break in routine, time-to-hang-out-and-do-nothing time of year.  I look forward to the summer slowed-down pace.  I can wake up a little later, drink my coffee a little slower, and stay in grubby clothes all day long.  But after a few days, this gets old.  So I am making a mental to-do list.

1. Lunch with a friend.  What a luxury!  I usually eat lunch in a rush in the teachers’ lounge or on the road from one school to another.  I never have the time to have a leisurely lunch with a friend.  I have some dates set already and relish in the idea of catching up with a few long losts.

2. Get organized:  Realistically, this will probably not happen, but I always put it on my list hoping that at least a little more organization will come my way.

3.  My “book tour”: This is another one of my husband’s tongue-in-cheek expressions, but I do have a few book signings scheduled and hope to schedule more.

4. Writing:  Many students and friends have asked me if Blessen will have a sequel.  I bought a book “The 90 Day Novel” by Alan Watt.  Why not give it a shot?  One thing that Blessen has taught me is to not be afraid to write.  It took me a long time to learn this.  I now have the courage that I longed for all my life.  I am feeling like a Nike athlete…”Just do it.”

5. Exercise: I’ve bought new walking shoes and sports socks.  I am ready for daily walking with Charlie and whoever may want to join us.  I am committing to 7 AM.

6. Teaching:  Two writing camps and an art camp will give me three weeks with kids.  I miss my students so much when we are out of school.  The camps are hard work and lots of fun.  There are still openings in all camps if you are interested.

7. Family:  I want to relish this time with my youngest daughter who will be leaving in September for graduate school in Chicago.  We have planned a family trip to Chicago at the end of June.  I’ve never been.  People tell me it’s a great city.

8.  Reading and Renewing:  One of the reasons God created summer break was for us teachers to remember why we became teachers.  I want to do some recreational reading, but I will also read a few professional books to renew my practice and to remember why I teach.

Happy Summer!

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