Journey to Quebec City

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Moon Rising Over St. Lawrence River from the Boardwalk

When I was living across the river from Kingston, Ontario, I enjoyed taking the ferry over to Canada for a day trip of shopping and good eating. Later, when I moved further east, Ottawa became a destination, and then Montreal. Over the years, Quebec City remained “too far” away. But this week I’ve overcome “too far” and am being rewarded with the beauty of the city and the friendly welcome of its people. We arrived before dark, but just, and had the pleasure of watching the moon rise over the St. Lawrence River.

Picture This: Diversity in Children’s Books 2018 Infographic

Writers, editors, publishers, book buyers – there is so much work to do.

Sarah Park Dahlen, Ph.D.

In 2016, we published the infographicDiversity in Children’s Books 2015.” It went viral and was discussed on Twitter, in Facebook groups, published in books and journals, and presented at countless conferences.

Today we present to you an updated infographic, “Diversity in Children’s Books 2018.

DiversityInChildrensBooks2018_f_8.5x11Link to JPG & PDF files: Diversity in Children’s Books 2018 – Dropbox Folder
Full citation: Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/

Released for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0 license). You are free to use this infographic in any…

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On Teaching Writing

I always feel a tiny bit of “why’d I ever say I’d do this?” when I first start a class. Like many writers, I’m more comfortable with a book than with a room full of people.  But it is always worthwhile if the room full of people are writers. And despite the disclaimers of “I’m not a writer,” I hear as a class starts, by the end of the first session, we are all writers. As a writer who is also a teacher, it doesn’t get any better.

The SOAR writing class I taught this spring confirmed for me, again, my faith in two conditions that will help writing break out in a group: time to write and time to share that writing and get audience response. Long ago a colleague taught me, “If you want something from your students, teach it to them.” Following his wisdom, whenever I teach writing, I teach how to respond to a piece of writing in a way that encourages the writer to keep writing and entirely avoids false praise.

Getting a response from a reader is such an important element of the process of crafting a well written piece that I am very specific in how students can respond to each other. I limit feedback to these two observations: “I noticed . . “.   and, “I wonder . . . ”  Just that, and it works.  There’s no room for false praise because the only praise that fits with those two sentence starters is the praise that the writing got my attention in some way, and it got me thinking and wondering.

Another ‘rule’ I impose on my students is that as we’re learning this approach to feedback, the writer doesn’t get to respond verbally. Why do I do that? Because I want the writer to listen to the feedback and process it – mentally and in their writing. I don’t want them to ‘answer’ the feedback, but to use it to consider its value to them and to think about whether to return to the piece and implement something that the feedback made them want to explore.

No doubt I’ll teach other writing classes. For the moment I’m happy to refocus my creative self on my own writing, and I’m back to devoting more time to working on my novel, Lucky.

“Secrets of Good Writing”

‘We are two classes into our three session SOAR class, “Secrets of Good Writing.” Below is a list of the books I’ve mentioned so far along with the reasons I mentioned them. You’ll see that I’ve got a big section on writing morning pages under the Artist’s Way listing: that one strategy moved my own craft forward in unexpected ways, and I highly recommend it.

As a writing coach, I often advise “just write.” This advise is pretty ubiquitous – everyone from Nanci Atwell to Stephen King offers it in one form or another. Basically, if you don’t know what to write, write that: “I don’t know what to write.” (Something will come to you, grab it and write it down.) As Natalie Goldberg says in her book, Writing Down the Bones, keep your hand moving across the page. Goldberg has 5 more rules to this kind of writing, but I find that students do well starting with just that one – keep writing. That said, Writing Down the Bones is a classic for a reason, and I love introducing people to it – for people across the age spectrum, this book can serve as a revelation on how to break away from the “shoulds” about writing that can hamper actually getting words on the page.

Here are the books I mentioned, and why I mentioned them:

Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr. Doerr’s first book, published when she was 74. It is beautifully written and a very encouraging example of what people can do in their older years.

Solitude: A Return to the Self  by Anthony Storr.  Published in 1988, this book helped strengthen the persistent myth that writers (and other artists) are loners. I like to point out that Storr thanks eight people for helping him with the book – must be he didn’t spend all his time alone.

Starting from Scratch by Rita Mae Brown  (author of Rubyfruit Jungle) One of the key (and unusual) messages Brown has about writing is that writing is a physical activity, and our craft of writing benefits from our paying attention to our body’s needs.  In fact, her first chapter is titled: “The Beginning of All Literature: Your Body.” So, roll those shoulders, take a good belly breathe, and get to work. Getting tired? Try a short walk and a glass of water. And, if you’d like to get a good scolding about the evils of sugar and/or enthusiastic coaching on the benefits of studying Latin, this is the book for you!

The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman

Friedman is a kind but firm guide to what it takes to make money at writing. Even if you don’t care two hoots for making money, she is so articulate on the page that reading her words is a pleasure. Here is a line from her book that I particularly like to share, “One of the great secrets to building the writing life you want is to pursue a vision that is truly yours, rather than someone else’s expectation . . . “

Check out her website – especially her blogs and her book recommendations. Here’s a link to her recommendations. I’ve ordered two of them – some of these books are probably available through libraries.   https://www.janefriedman.com/best-books-on-writing/

3 a.m. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley  I haven’t read this book, in fact I just found out about it on Jane Friedman’s website.  At least my writer who wakes up at 3:00 a.m. knows she’s got company when those great ideas come to her during the night.  

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – I learned about the idea of writing a set amount every day from this book. The book offers daily things to do to empower the creative self. I made it about half way through the book: I’m not sure if anyone actually makes it all the way through. I stopped because I felt I could set out on my own and didn’t need the book anymore. (Not needing the book anymore is, I think, a recommendation for the book – all our teachers should be so effective that we don’t need them anymore!)

Cameron calls her version of daily writing, “Morning pages.” The key element of the method is writing daily for a set number of pages — longhand (she suggests, and I have used, 3 pages). Doing this moved my writing forward more than any other thing I have done over the half century I’ve been putting words to page. It also helped me stop paying attention to things that didn’t deserve my time: if I got super annoyed with someone, I’d just think – I’ll write about it tomorrow. But when tomorrow came, whatever it was just wasn’t that interesting anymore.

If you want to give morning pages a try:

Just write – write about anything, just keep going. .

Doing these pages in the morning will get your day started one way, but if you find you’d rather do them another time – go ahead, look for and do whatever works for you. I do find that writing them out longhand generates a different level of engagement with the words, and I recommend trying that method – even if you usually much prefer to type. Here are some arguments against longhand and my answer for them:

a) It will slow me down.

That’s actually okay: your brain will learn to not race ahead of your ability to get the words down.  

b) My handwriting starts out bad and gets worse over the course of the three pages.

That’s okay. Why? Because you never need to go back and reread these pages. I get my student’s point about not wanting more journals to pile up – if that describes you, too, you can try this: write the pages and shred them, or crumple them for fire starters, or put them with newspapers to use for mulch in the garden. The words serve your purpose when they land on the page. You don’t need to keep them. You are working to develop the connection between your brain and your getting words on the page.

c) It will take too long.

Fair enough. Divide the time you do have between handwritten and type written.  For example, you could try writing 1 page out longhand and then setting that aside and continuing on with the computer. Besides saving you time, this experiment might help you determine if there really is a difference for you between writing long hand and typing.

d) I really don’t like the idea.

This is the best reason of all to not do. (That’s not a typo – just don’t bother with it. It really is your work on your craft, and you are the best judge of what will work for you.)

All rules, hints, and other advice aside, a writer is someone who writes. It really is as simple as that.

For Valentine’s Day

I love photographing insects and spiders and discovering details I didn’t see until I opened the photographs on my computer – the lovely striped abdomen of the Drone Fly, the butterscotch color of the Deer Fly, the slim white line that etches the outline of Sehirus cinctus, the White-margined Burrower Beetle.

drone-fly.jpg  deer-fly.jpg      white-margined-burrower-beetle.jpg         

I love the sense of wonder when I realize that what I have seen and photographed is a grasshopper laying eggs, a wasp with her long, slender ovipositor slid into a blossom’s bosom.

wasp ovitpositing

I love discovering a crab spider on the yellow petal on which I saw and photographed a Jagged Ambush Bug: in successive frames they edge closer, then edge away.

jagged-ambush-and-crab-spider-eudora-watson.jpg

I love the names of insects – the scientific names I would stumble over if I tried to say them aloud, but which somersault on my mind’s tongue with joy: Agelenopsis, Araneus trifolium, Neoscona Arabesque, Ellychnia corrusca, Reduvius personatus,  Lygaeus kalmia, Podisus placidus, Stiretrus anchorago, Herpyllus ecclesiasticus. predatory stink bug e watson

And the common names: Grass spider, Shamrock and Arabesque Orbweavers, Winter Firefly, Small Milkweed Bug, Masked Hunter, Predatory Stink Bug, Anchor Stink Bug, Eastern Parson Spider.

14 spotted ladybug e watsonI love the practicality of the names that describe their appearance: Three-lined Potato Beetle, Tortoise Beetle, Fourteen-spotted Lady, Thinlegged Wolf Spider, White Admiral, Painted Lady, Pearly-eye, Zebra Caterpillar Moth, Twice-stabbed Stink Bug.

And I love the names that describe Long bodied cellar spidertheir behaviors: Tumbling Flower Beetle, Jumping Spider, Fungus-eating Lady, Cobweb Spider, Rose Chafer, Oil Blister Beetle, Sharpshooter. And the names that do both: Milkweed Longhorns, Dot-tailed Whiteface Skimmer, Four-spotted Skimmer, Longbodied Cellar Spider.

hummingbird moth_ e watson

And I love this world of wonders in which the Lady Bug is not a bug but a beetle; in which the nymph of the Masked Hunter covers itself in dust and lint and patrols our sheets and pillows for bedbugs; in which the hummingbird is,  in fact, a moth.

 

Book Review: The Awakening & Selected Stories by Kate Chopin

The sidewalk outside NYC’s largest public library building is embedded with plaques such as this one in honor of Kate Chopin. Stopping to read them as I walk along may make me look like a tourist, taking photographs of them definitely does. But surely their purpose is to encourage lingering and contemplation . . . and so I linger, contemplate, and take a photograph.

At home, the 1981 Modern Library version of a selection of Chopin’s work waits by our bedside, our current nighttime read-aloud. Within that volume, the strong wings of Chopin’s words guide us along the inroads of mind, heart, and body. Kate Chopin’s stories are peopled with those who act from deep motivations, and very often they pause to consider the nature and source of their emotions.

The stories are short, well-paced, and thought provoking, making this volume a wonderful read-aloud for adults – and worthy of a book club. The introduction by literary critic Nina Baym offers valuable historical context, and the glossary of terms helps fill in where context clues don’t seem to be enough.

If you pick up this volume and the first two stories lead you to believe that all will end with a lovely sweetness, keep reading. These two stories, “Love on the Bon-Dieu” and “Beyond the Bayou” will begin to teach you how to read Chopin’s stories, but they do not reveal the full arc of human potential that Chopin explores. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Two Good Dogs

Apparently, given how many books she’s written, I’ve come late to the game of reading Susan Wilson’s work. Yesterday, I was browsing library shelves, wondering how I was going to find a comparable title for my own novel, when I saw the word “dog” and pulled Two Good Dogs from the shelf. I skimmed the back cover and the beginning of the front flap copy and plucked The Dog Who Danced from the shelf as well.

At home I settled in with the more recent book first. A few pages into 2GD, I wasn’t optimistic. The writing itself was more than adequate, but the pace at which plot lines came at me was daunting. I don’t need a slow-poke start, but I was too clearly reminded of novels that rocket along in this way all the way to the end, throwing characters and complications in right up to the last chapter. I was looking for a book to relax with, not keep up with. I was very glad, then, when the story line settled down. The world-building had done the job, and I could relax as the story unfolded.

There are complications of modern life to be had here: teenage addiction, dog-fighting and dog rescue, parent-child wrangling, economic woes. So this isn’t a sappy book. But there is the reassuring sense that things will turn out all right: a big dose of realism meets an equally big dose of good fortune. Is that escapism? Probably, but in a world that is going, as my grandmother might have said, “To hell in a hand basket,” I, for one, can use the break. I’m 14 chapters into the book, and I’m glad to keep going.

Recommended.