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This is the final post for National Poetry Month. Much thanks to all who have participated and those who have read.
A couple of weeks ago my father-in-law died and I went to Texas to be with my mother-in-law. The ashes were coming from California and it was going to take several days to have them shipped from Texas, so we settled down to write the obituary and to share stories of his long and colorful life. There was a continuous stream of people arriving with food, flowers, and good wishes.
I had to leave to return to work and go on a long-planned trip to Colorado to see my son and daughter in college there. As I was back in New Mexico packing, I received a phone call from my mother-in-law asking if I could recommend a short poem to print on the thank you notes she was planning to send. I told her I would take some books of poetry on my road trip and send her a selection.
I searched the shelves in my daughter’s old room, where all the books of poetry are kept. Tired and a little frazzled, I couldn’t seem to find anything but a collection by Walt Whitman. Not many short selections there.
The next morning, armed with coffee, my suitcase, and a book of poems about two inches thick, I recalled that Whitman had written an elegy to Abraham Lincoln upon his death. As my husband drove north on Interstate 25, I found the poem and excitedly typed the first stanza into my phone to send to my mother-in-law.
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring,
O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring, Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west, And thought of him I love.
From “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”
by Walt Whitman
After sending off the poem and returning numerous phone calls regarding the obituary, I breathed a great sigh of relief and opened a book I’d been meaning to read since Christmas, The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes. It was my son’s college text from his poetry class. I’d read a bit of it while he was home for Thanksgiving and wanted to read more, so I asked him for a copy for Christmas.
Because I knew he was a poor college student, I told him he could even give me the used copy from class. And that’s exactly what he did, he gave me a book tattered around the edges, filled with notes and bent back corners. An absolute treasure. Best of all, he included some holiday haiku he’d written. Here is one of them:
Bells jingle and ring. Tis the season to believe everyone can sing.
As we sped past the Rocky Mountains and I read my son ‘s haiku, I thought of the many times I’ve given poems printed on bookmarks as Christmas gifts, and I was reminded of how much poetry touches our everyday lives. I also thought of how often I have received poems as gifts and how many of those poems now hang on the walls of my home.
Poetry has been used throughout the centuries to express thanks, regret, sorrow, humor, love, and a host of other emotions. It is printed on cards and written on walls. It is tucked into books on little slips of paper.
But most of all, poetry is engraved on our hearts and imprinted in our minds so that even after reading a poem years or decades earlier, we can recall its lines.
My children’s book Living Green: A Turtle’s Quest for a Cleaner Planet began being published as a 5 part series in February, and will run through June in Jabberblabber Magazine. Based in Memphis, Tennessee, Jabberblabber is a print and online Earth Friendly magazine for kids available at all Walgreens in the Tri State area, as well as various other locations throughout the Mid-South. To read part 3/5 in the April issue, please click on the illustration below. Parts 1-3 are covered on pages 31 and 32.
The Southern Newspapers Publishers Association is offering several of my children’s stories to newspapers across the United States. The latest is my story titled The Hummingbird Who Chewed Bubblegum, which was published on March 18th. To read the stories, please click on the illustration below.
Use of any of the content on this website without permission is prohibited by federal law
I’ve been doing a lot of editing recently and have noticed a quirk that I’m totally guilty of. Instead of choosing one very strong image that says it all, writers don’t quite trust their readers to get it (a very common problem) and are dogpiling several related ideas into one sentence of description.
Looking at the buffet, she was so famished that she could swallow it all in one gulp, leaving nothing left, licking even the grease trap of the giant rotisserie oven clean.
Girl is hungry, we get it! (Side note: Don’t try and write examples on an empty stomach.) Here we have three images, one weak (leaving nothing left), one medium (swallow it all in one gulp) and one very strong and specific (the grease trap thing).
The reason I went a bit off the deep end with the final image is that it is unusual, descriptive, and teaches us a little bit about character while conveying the same information as the other two–not only is she hungry, but she’s a little grungy, and knows her way around a kitchen. There are people who just want the tenderloin steak, and then there are people who want the gristle and bones to gnaw clean. The strange way her mind goes to the drippy, fat-caked grease trap puts her firmly in the latter camp.
So pick one strong, specific image with potential emotional or characterizing undertones to it. Your aim isn’t to give a reader information as many times as possible, it’s to do it once, and ideally in a memorable way. Less is more. In fact, in writing, piling imagery onto one idea actually dilutes the effect instead of concentrating it.
If you’re an email marketer, and you should be, pay attention to what’s going on with the free email services and your subscriber lists.
The first to play havoc on their email customers is Yahoo.
Yahoo recently made a change to its DMARC ((Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) Policy, according to iContact.
What does this mean to you?
Well, maybe nothing, but if
“I remembered the day you were born, mostly because you were my first grandchild. I had been out of state for several weeks, traveling for my job. You were almost two months old before I finally got to hold you. You Mom had you all wrapped up in a pink blanket Grandma had made. I cried.
“The world was turning sour back in those days. Before you were born, I remember hearing of the occasional shooting, if that is the correct and proper way to define what was happening back then. I don’t remember much, not really, but I do recall that once or twice a year some disgruntled man, it was never a woman, would lash out at their family or co-workers, killing as many as he could. Most times, it was only a half dozen; even one was too many. But like everybody else, I had a life to live and I moved on.
“Columbine High School buried the most in the beginning. I remember that one because it shocked everybody, even me. Then there was a Baptist Church killing in Texas somewhere. There were others. The popular term that was spread around was that someone had gone postal. It was happening more and more.
“Of course, eventually, the big political killing of 2001 climbed to top. I guess you learned about those when you were growing up. While that was the worst, it was really impersonal for most Americans. Oh, we did get all fired up and blamed whomever and bickered between ourselves, but still, unless it happened to you, it was this far away massacre that was soon forgotten unless you went on a plane ride.
“The little ones got to me. Every couple of years you would hear of one. Then, just a year or so before you were born there was a whole litter of them. And it wasn’t just in the schools or at local factory. These crazies would go off the deep end and kill at home and then they would go to the mall or high school, all armed up with weapons they had stolen from their parents or grandparents. Sometimes they would plan the shooting for months, hoarding their ammo like it was food in a famine.
“I do remember one, the same year you were born in fact, where an Amish school was attacked by some asshole. He killed some kids and that one got to me cause you were so tiny, just a few months old and I remember holding you one day and fighting back the tears, wondering what I would do if someone came into your school and killed you and nobody was there to protect you.
“I don’t like guns, never had. My father had several, all rifles. I don’t remember seeing a revolver in the house growing up, just rifles. I did go hunting with my father when I was about fifteen. I got sick. Not from the hunt; hell, I was raised on a small farm and did my share of separating chickens from their heads. That never bothered me. I got sick from breathing the exhaust from my father’s old Willey Jeep. It was much older than I was and had rotting floorboards. I had to sit in the way back, over the exhaust pipe so the men could sit in the seats. I threw up a lot that morning.“I remember firing a 22 rifle in Scouts when I was about thirteen or so. I fired it maybe five times. Somewhere along the line, for who knows what reason, I just never felt an affinity with guns. I wasn’t against them mind you, just never had an interest.
“Then suddenly the shootings got closer to home. When you were about a year old, there was one in a mall, in the city. I think four or five were killed in that one. A couple of months later, a big one happened at a university in Virginia. By now, I was getting inured to it all.
“Then, when you were in kindergarten, another school shooting changed my mind. That was a terrible year, that year. Time after time, almost every month, somebody somewhere, a mall, a theater, a café, someone was shot to death. It was horrific. Then, there was this case in New York. Over two dozen children in a kindergarten class were murdered. They were your age. I snapped then, it was too much.
“I bought a handgun a few months later, a Smith and Wesson .40. I hate guns. I really do not like them. Still don’t like them. While I did not have nightmares of you being killed while dressed up as a ham in a school play or shopping for candy for Halloween, I worried, God how I worried. In my daytime I could see you lying on the floor at school, or on the grass in the park, dead because somebody went postal and I was not there to protect you. I felt helpless.
“So I got the handgun and a concealed weapon permit and practiced, practiced, practiced. I was never that good, but I wasn’t bad either.
“While I was practicing to protect you, I lost you. We all did. By the time you were in high school and I was getting better at shooting paper targets, you ran away. Your parents nearly bankrupt themselves trying to help you, but you would not be helped. By the time you were fifteen, you had seen more time in juvenile detention each year than at home.
“The world became crazy while you were gone. I suspect you knew more of it than I did. I gave up. I turned off the television finally and the radio. I didn’t read the newspapers any more. I canceled the Internet. I just read my books and wrote in my journal. I think the world got really bad the older I got.
“We lost track of you. You left home before you were eighteen and where you have been, I had no idea. Grandma died while you were gone. I don’t know if you knew that or not. I live alone now. I miss her something terrible. Your mother wants me to come live with her and your father, but I’m still able to take care of myself most of the time. I haven’t told them no. I haven’t said yes either. Now, I guess, they won’t have to worry about it.
“I’m old. I feel it every time I move. I am sitting here, on the driveway, in the dark. The concrete feels as cold as I do. My butt can’t take this kind of sitting anymore. A cop gently pulled my hands behind my back and put handcuffs around my wrists a few minutes ago. He apologized, said he hated doing it but times, such as they are, it was policy and I had to sit down. So I sat down on the driveway. I don’t care anymore. I’m not scared.
“You are still just inside the doorway. I can see your feet from here. The lights from the cop cars are dancing over the sheet they put over you. I can see the soles of your shoes. What am I going to say to your mother?
“I hate guns. I never wanted to pull mine on anyone. I never have had to. But when I heard someone at the door after I had gone to bed, trying to get it, I got scared. Whomever you were with must have put their shoulder to it and hit the door pretty hard. I don’t know. By the time the door tore from the hinges, I had the gun that I brought so many years ago to protect you and was aiming at the first person that came in.
"Now, I am sitting here, on the cold driveway, crying, wishing the cops would give me my gun back."
My great grandmother Julia's two sisters, Ernestine (Tina) on left and Carolina (Carol) on right. This was taken about 1915 when Carol was 15 and Tina 20.
The two girls (and a third sister, Marie) shared a mother with my great grandmother but she had a different (and unknown) father. By all accounts Julia was fairly close with her younger half siblings however, and my mother can recall visiting her great aunts in the 1950s.
I am still working on the lives of these women. I know that they married and had children but I believe Tina's daughter (and grandson) died of diphtheria in the early 1930s and I have seen allusions to Carol losing a child (a son) as well. There are still, so many things I do not know about my family.
But still - look at them here. This picture was made into a postcard and taken, from the stamp on the back, at Schaffers Studio on the Boardwalk in Midland Beach, Staten Island. These historic postcards from the beach really make it look quite charming; I'm glad the girls had such a good time.
Hi Everyone, This month, we've been having a great time celebrating our BlogiVERSEary by sharing audio and video clips of the TeachingAuthors reciting some of our favorite poems. If you missed any of them, here are the links one more time, in the order posted:
Our actual blogiversary is tomorrow, April 22. Believe it or not, we've been posting for FIVE years!
Our blogiversary giveaway runs through Wednesday, April 23, so if you haven't entered yet, be sure to do so on this blog post. And while our blogiversary celebration is coming to a close, the Poetry Month fun continues with JoAnn's weekly poetry-themed Wednesday Writing Workouts. JoAnn is also giving away copies of her terrific book, Write a Poem Step by Step on her blog.
Before publishing my last blog post, I double-checked with April regarding the formatting of her poem "How to Read a Poem Aloud," which I was sharing in my post. I was surprised to learn that she'd revised the poem since its first publication. Unfortunately, the news came after I'd already uploaded my recording of the original poem to SoundCloud and I didn't have time to re-record it before the post went live. I realized later that today's post was a great opportunity to share that revised version with you. I uploaded a new recording (email subscribers can listen to it here) and I copied the latest version of the poem below. If you want to compare the two, you can go back to my last post.
I'm hoping April will share with us her revision process, because, to be honest, I loved the poem the way it was. Of course, I like this version, too. J
How to Read a Poem Aloud (Revised Version) by April Halprin Wayland To begin, tell the poet’s name and the title to your friend. Savor every word— let each line shine.
Then— read it one more time. Now, take a breath— and sigh. Then think about the poet, at her desk, late at night, picking up her pen to write— and why.
Anyone can tell you that children love to giggle and laugh. Get them hooked on reading by introducing them to some pretty funny stories and hysterical antics. We'll have your little ones giggling along with Big Chickens Fly the Coop.
I'm a female writer in my thirties. My agent has just contacted me with a fantastic offer for my first two novels. I should be ecstatic, but there's an aspect of the book business these days that I perhaps willfully didn't think about until now, and I'm afraid it could foul the deal.
The proposed contract calls for a heavy schedule of interviews, book signings, and so on. I've only communicated with my agent by email and phone, and I keep a very low profile online, so neither she nor the publisher know that several years ago I was severely disfigured in an accident. I only feel comfortable revealing my face to a few close friends, family members, and doctors, and never leave my house without either a wide-brimmed hat and opaque black veil (which I prefer), or dark glasses, a surgical mask, and a wig (as I no longer have hair).
I'm perfectly willing to be photographed, do signings, etc. with my face covered. I'm equally willing to let a model/actress/intern of the publisher's choice stand in for me. How likely is it that the publisher won't accept either of these solutions? If I disclose this before signing the contract, might they withdraw their offer and go with a more photogenic writer? If I disclose it after signing, can they sue me or attempt to force me to reveal my face? Thank you for any guidance you can provide.
First let me say that the publisher and your agent love your writing and thus they are going to love your face.
However. I can appreciate that you are reluctant to have a public presence right now. It will take another couple years to understand that people who are cruel to you based solely on your appearance are idiots and fuck em.
The trick here is to talk to your agent NOW. Share your concerns. You will be instantly reassured because much publicity and marketing is done electronically these days, and you can choose whatever photo you wish to represent yourself.
In fact, there's a well-known agent who fancies herself a bit of a shark:
and uses that avatar for everything.
Perhaps you can be equally fierce:
I myself have begged fashionistas to re-embrace theburka; perhaps you will join my quest?
All levity aside: a publisher has no desire to cancel a contract for failure to show your face. Publishers are money-grubbing whores [as we all are] and cancelling a contract Does Not Make Money. Novels rarely require actual in-person promotion. Debut novels require the least. You'll be much more effective promoting yourself right now from behind your computer screen.
I recently received an email from the Fulda Library, part of the Plum Creek Library System in Minnesota... they asked permission to use one of my coloring pages for their "Friends of the Library Coloring Contest." "Of course!" I said. My images are especially for libraries and librarians to use without worry. And look at the happy results! Click the images to see them larger in a new window. Here are some of the colored pictures: (They used my 2009 Talk Like a Pirate image.) And here are the lucky winners! This makes me HAPPY!!!!
It is not surprising that Dido Twite is such an enduring heroine, her very survival was a piece of luck, or perhaps was even engendered by her own strongest character trait – she never gave up hope. Joan Aiken has admitted that she had imagined Dido drowning at the end of Black Hearts […]
How would you go about outlining [a trilogy]? Would you outline it as a whole or each book individually?
Awesome question! And obviously, everyone outlines/plans series differently, so I can only tell you how I plan a series. Hopefully that information is still helpful, though.
Step 1: Plan the first book.
If you want to see how I do that, you can read my series on it here. As your planning this book,decide if you can tell the whole story in a single book or if the story will need multiple books.
If you’re starting to realize that you’re definitely going to need multiple books, then it’s time for…
Step 2: How many books will you need?
To answer this question, we first need to figure out why you even think you’ll need multiple books. What is it about the story that makes you think you can’t contain it in a single volume? Write these reasons down.
So for example, I knew as soon as my WIP Screechers morphed into an epic fantasy series that I would need >1 book to tell the story. These were my reasons why:
Lots of POVs (like 8 in the first book alone), each with their own goals/motivations/growth.
Lots of places to visit. 2 continents + tons of cities/landscapes in each.
At least 3 romances, and romance always takes time to develop (I like slow burns!).
Lots of plots/subplots. There’s a missing sister, the screechers threat + origin mystery, an occupying army, a rebellion, a corrupt church, an ancient evil villain, and more. It all intertwines and will clearly take a lot of page space to wrap up…
Clearly I was going to need a ton of pages to cover all that! Now I just needed to decide how many books it might all add up to. To estimate HOW MANY books you’ll need, write down any sort of big events you have in mind. Where do those events naturally feel like happening? Or, where do certain character arcs or romances naturally feel like wrapping up?
While you’re doing that, take a look at other series in your genre. Do they tend to be trilogies? Do they tend to be long, interconnected series (e.g. Game of Thrones) or maybe long, standalone series (e.g. Hercule Poirot)? You can use the comparison titles as a guide for your own story.
Another important reason for looking at comp titles is because you want to make sure your series has structure. Consider how a trilogy follows a 3-act structure on a series-scale (e.g. Star Wars) while longer series tend to have less strict structure (though each book would have a strict structure, of course!). The key, of course, is to follow the well-known rising action scale, but to do it over the course of the whole series as well as in each book.
I ended up estimating 5 books for Screechers, and even though I only have a VERY hazy idea of what happens in those last 2 books (erm, war?), I’ve also read enough fantasy series to naturally know that 5 books feels like the right number to cover the scale of the story.
For a series, though, I tend to snowball WHILE I’m drafting the first book. Ideas will thunderbolt in the middle of a sentence, so I’ll scrolls down to my special Scrivener page and write down the idea while I have it. Those ideas might then grow into something more or just get cut as new ideas unfurl, but the point is that I take note of EVERYTHING.
So here’s an example of the ideas that I’ve been snowballing for book 2 in the Screecher series. This is a screencap of my Scrivener file:
Question marks denote I’m not feeling SUPER good about an idea…
This is just the beginning of the ideas for book 2–this list continues on for 6 pages. I have a TON of pretty specific ideas and snippets of dialogue since book 2 is in the nearby future in terms of plot, and it’s often on my mind while drafting.
Book 3, on the other hand…
Notice: shorter ideas that are also more vague.
My ideas for book 3 only continue for 2 pages, and they’re definitely skimpier than my book 2 ideas. BUT, they’re still more flushed-out than my books 4 & 5 ideas:
Notice these are SUPER vague and mostly questions.
As you can see, I don’t really know how everything will connect in book 4, but I DO have a general idea of some big plot points. As I write books 2 and 3, then my list for books 4 and 5 will get meatier.
And, by the time I finish book 1, I’ll have a very detailed/solid idea of what needs to happen in book 2. In fact, I’ll likely have a full outline all ready to go that will allow me to dive write in to drafting.
So there you have it: that’s how I plan a series! It’s very much like how I plan a book, just on a much larger, more general scale.
Susan Dennard is a reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of (now gluten-free) cookies. You can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog, twitter, or pinterest. Her Something Strange and Deadlyseries is now available from HarperTeen, and the Truthwitch series will launch from Tor in fall 2015.
Another special event for Earth Day: The Kindle and Nook eBook editions of Saving the Planet & Stuff are on sale this week for $.99. Kobo's not on sale simply because I couldn't work out how to change the price on the website. If that's a problem for anyone, let me know, and we'll try again.
On sale, all week.
And, remember, you can sign up for a chance to win a free copy of the eBook for Kindle, Nook, or Kobo through tomorrow, which is Earth Day.
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I love detective stories and began reading Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers novels are an early age. It is therefore not surprising that I was thrilled when today's picture book arrived in the mail. The cover alone got me hooked because there was a picture of a typewriter on it (love these machines), a mouse (love mouse-centric stories) and the mouse is a detective. What could be better!
Hermelin is a mouse who can read, and he lives in the attic of a house on Offley Street. Like many attics, this attic is full of stuff that people don’t want any more. There are stacks of boxes and books, and there is also a typewriter, which Hermelin has learned how to use.
One morning Hermelin walks past the Offley Street notice board and he sees that is covered with notices. Seven of the eight notices were written by people who have lost something. Imogen Splotts has lost her tedd bear, Captain Potts has lost his cat, and Emily, who lives in Hermelin’s house at No.33, has lost her notebook. Other residents have lost a bag, reading glasses, a goldfish, and a diamond bracelet.
Hermelin, who is a compassionate mouse, feels sorry for all these people who have lost something that is dear to them. They need help and he decides that he is the perfect person for the job.
Hermelin begins by looking for Mrs. Mattison’s lost handbag. Being a mouse who is very observant and who remembers what he sees, he soon finds the handbag in her fridge behind the lettuce. He then finds Dr. Parker’s glasses. Hermelin saw Dr. Parker wearing those same glasses just that morning and at the time she was reading a book, Medical Monthly. It turns out that the glasses are inside the book.
Every time he finds one of the missing objects Hermelin leaves the owner of the missing object a type-written note telling him or her where it is. Soon, Hermelin is a neighborhood hero and the people he has helped invite him to a party. They never imagine that their secretive little helper is a rodent.
After spending just a few seconds with Hermelin, readers will find that they have developed a sudden fondness for typing mice. He is such a funny, intelligent fellow that one cannot help oneself. His story is engrossing and beautifully illustrated, and readers will be delighted when they see how Hermelin gets a wonderful surprise.
“In Crimea, literally everything is imbued with our common history and pride. Here is ancient Chersonesus, where the holy Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of turning to Orthodoxy predetermined the shared cultural, moral, and civilizational foundation that unites the peoples of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. In Crimea are the graves of Russian soldiers, whose bravery brought Crimea in 1783 under Russian rule. Crimea is also Sevastopol, a city of legends and of great destinies, a fortress city, and birthplace of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Crimea is Balaklava and Kerch, Malakhov Kurgan and Sapun Ridge [major battle sites during the Crimean War and World War II]. Each one of these places is sacred for us, symbols of Russian military glory and unprecedented valor.”
No less revealing is his reflection on the relationships uniting the diverse peoples of Russia.
“Crimea is a unique fusion of the cultures and traditions of various peoples. In this, it resembles Russia as a whole, where over the centuries not a single ethnic group has disappeared. Russians and Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, and representatives of other nationalities have lived and worked side by side in Crimea, each retaining their own distinct identity, tradition, language, and faith.”
How Russians have often understood their history as an “empire” (though the word is no longer favored) pervades these words and Putin’s thinking.
History haunts arguments about what Putin thinks, how much further he might go, and what should be done. Some commentators focus on how Putin sees himself in history. The Republican chairman of the US House of Representative’s Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, told Meet the Press that “Mr. Putin…goes to bed at night thinking of Peter the Great and he wakes up thinking of Stalin.” The logical conclusion is that if we do not stop Putin “he is going to continue to take territory to fulfill what he believes is rightfully Russia.” Others think of historical analogies. The former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, for example, writing in the Washington Post, described Putin as “a partially comical imitation of Mussolini and a more menacing reminder of Hitler,” making the Crimea annexation, if West does not act, “similar to the two phases of Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland after Munich in 1938 and the final occupation of Prague and Czechoslovakia in early 1939.” Echoing these interpretations are scores of satirical images of Putin as Stalin and Hitler that have appeared at demonstrations and in social media (images of Putin as Peter the Great, more common once, are seen as too flatteringnow).
Putin himself has a lot to say about history in his 18 March 2014 speech. He points, as he often has, to the recent history of humiliation and insults suffered by Russia at the hands of “our western partners” who treat Russia not as “an independent, active participant in international affairs,” with “its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected,” but as a backward or dangerous nation to dismiss and “contain.” Worse, the Western powers seem to believe in their own “chosenness and exceptionalism, that they can decide the fate of the world, that they alone are always right.” Rulers since Peter the Great have been fighting for Russia to be respected and included, and generally along the same two fronts: proving that Russia deserves equal membership in the community of “civilized” nations through modernizing and Europeanizing reforms, and winning recognition through demonstrations of political and military might, “glory and valor” (in Putin’s phrase). That Russia was famously disgraced during the original Crimean War, revealing levels of economic and military backwardness that inspired a massive program of reform, and that Western commentators now are expressing surprised admiration at the advances in technique and command seen among the Russian army since it was last seen in the field in Georgia, is not only surely gratifying to Putin (who has made military modernization a priority) but part of an important story about nation and history.
Putin also has a lot to say about empire. In the nineteenth century, a theme in Russian thinking about empire was that Russians rule the diversity of its peoples not with self-interest and greed, like European colonialists, but with true Christian love, bringing their subjects “happiness and abundance,” in Michael Pogodin’s words. As Nicholas Danilevsky put it in 1871, Russia’s empire was “not built on the bones of trampled nations.” The Soviet version of this imperial utopianism was the famous “friendship of peoples” (druzhba narodov) of the USSR. Putin, we see, echoes this ideal. He also directs it against ethnic nationalisms that suppress minorities (above all, Russian speakers in Ukraine). Hence his warnings about the role of “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes, and anti-Semites” in the Ukrainian revolution, and his declaration that Crimea under Russian rule would have “three equal state languages: Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar,” in deliberate contrast to the decree of the post-Yanukovych Ukrainian parliament that Ukrainian would be the only official language of the country (later repealed).
Of course, the Russian empire and the Soviet Union were not harmonious multicultural paradises, nor is the Russian Federation, but the ideal is still an influence in Russian thinking and policy. At the same time, Putin contradicts this simple vision in worrisome ways. A good example is how he wavers in his March speech between defining Ukrainians as a separate “people” (narod, which also means “nation”) or as part of a larger Russian nation. Until the twentieth century, very few Russians believed that Ukrainians were a nation with their own history and language, and many still question this. Putin works both sides of this argument. On the one hand, he expresses great respect for the “fraternal Ukrainian people [narod],” their “national feelings,” and “the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state.” On the other hand, he argues that what has been happening in Ukraine “pains our hearts” because “we are not simply close neighbors but, as I have said many times already, we are truly one people [narod]. Kiev is the mother of Russian [russkie] cities. Ancient Rus is our common source and we cannot live without each other.”
Putin’s frequent use of the ethno-national term russkii for “Russian,” rather than the more political term rossiiskii, which includes everyone and anything under the Russian state, is important. Even more ominous are Putin’s suggestions about where such an understanding of history should lead. Reminding “Europeans, and especially Germans,” about how Russia “unequivocally supported the sincere, inexorable aspirations of the Germans for national unity,” he expects the West to “support the aspirations of the Russian [russkii] world, of historical Russia, to restore unity.” This suggests a vision, shaped by views of history, that goes beyond protecting minority Russian speakers in the “near-abroad.”
Putinism often tries to blend contradictory ideals—freedom and order, individual rights and the needs of state, multiethnic diversity and national unity. Dismissing these complexities as cynical masks does not help us develop reasoned responses to Putin. Most important, it does not help people in Russia working for greater freedom, rights, and justice, who are marginalized (and often repressed) when Russia feels under siege. “We have every reason to argue,” he warned in his March speech, “that the infamous policy of containing Russia, which was pursued in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, continues today. They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner.” Of course, Putin is not wrong to speak of Western arrogance toward Russia (though he is hardly a model of respect for international norms) nor to warn of the dangers of intolerant ethnic nationalism (though he looks the other way at Russia’s own “nationalists, neo-Nazis, and anti-Semites”). That he can be hypocritical and cynical does not mean his thinking and feelings are “empty,” much less that he has lost touch with reality or with the views of most Russians.
Mark D. Steinberg is Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author or editor of books on Russian popular culture, working-class poetry, the 1917 revolution, religion, and emotions. His most recent books are Petersburg Fin-de-Siecle (Yale University Press, 2011) and the eighth edition of A History of Russia, with the late Nicholas Riasanovsky, published by Oxford University Press in 2010. He is currently writing a history of the Russian Revolution.
I am researching the setting and background for a new novel, which I hope to set near Seattle, WA. I’m going there next month for a week and am trying to sort out what I need to know by the end of the week.
What I Need to Know
Sensory Details. I’ve written about the importance of vivid sensory details here, and here, and again, here. As a young writer, I heard over and over, “Show, Don’t Tell.” When I finally made that more specific–use vivid sensory details–my writing took off. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of great sensory details. I consider it the basic writing exercise for fiction.
That means, I need to walk around the proposed setting and be a fully-present human. I need to soak in the smells, tastes, sounds, sights and what it feels like to move around in this place. I remember a couple years ago, I was at a conference on Puget Sound and a salmon was swimming up a tiny stream. Thrashing, 3-foot long salmon, powerful tale, the smell of salt water and the bacon I was eating at a restaurant, the stream only 2 inches deep, the salmon like a Gulliver in Lilliputia.
When I write details, I don’t care about whole sentences. I’m just creating a word bank so that later, I can draw from the memory what I need. I also need to be able to extrapolate. If it’s like this on Bainbridge Island, would it also be like this in the San Juan Islands far north of there? I need specific enough, yet general enough details so that the story comes alive, but isn’t bogged down by details so specific that I can’t move around the area.
Port Townsend, WA. My husband took this photo when we were in the Seattle area a couple years ago for a sailing trip. Photographs are great research tools. Click to enlarge and see just how spectacular this photo really is. Copyright 2008, Dwight Pattison.
Facts. Oh, dear. There are so many facts that I need to know about the Seattle area. Volcanoes, Puget Sound, school system, boats and on and on. I can absorb lots of that just by visiting the area, but fortunately, I do have long-time residents who can vet the story for me after the first draft. I need to know enough to get the STORY right, and then details can be tweaked.
Logistics. Of course, this is another category of facts, but slightly different than what I meant earlier. For this, I need to know transportation details. How long does it take to go–walk, bike, drive a car, swim, take a ferry–from point A to point B. This is crucial to developing a reasonable time line. Part of this is understanding maps, of course, but mostly it’s about physically moving a person around the landscape.
Culture. Now, here’s a fuzzy one. What cultural elements will impact the story I am planning. Attitudes, beliefs, institutions, dialect/slang unique to the area, how people here DO something–so many subtle and not-so-subtle things need to be taken in (and again, vetted by long-time residents after the first draft).
Whether you create your setting from historical details, contemporary details or create a a fantasy world, this is a crucial step in creating a believable story.
How to get rid of the embarrassing yellow-flower weed in my front lawn. How to stop breaking my fingernails just when they've reached their prettiest. How to make my new-fangled pottery vases stand up straight. How to remain focused on what actually matters in life, even as I stare down petty worries and ricocheting fears of the unjust.
I also didn't know a thing about Wattpad—a free community in which readers can chat with writers—until my friends Sally Kim and Ali Presley of Chronicle Books whispered the news in my ear. There are all kinds of authors here, all kinds of books, all kinds of reading opportunities. And, like I said, it's free.
I am now, officially, a Wattpad-er, and here is my I don't even have a single follower yet Wattpad page. I'll be posting chapters of GOING OVER here over the next several weeks and interacting with any reader who sends a note or asks a question.
Take a look.
But also, while I have your attention, here is something wild: While exploring Wattpad on my own yesterday, I discovered this—a Wattpad story called Unrequited Love whose second chapter begins with words that this writer named Beth Kephart wrote.
Don't go into shock--but I actually have a proper post this week. A really good one, too. PROBABLY because I didn't write it. But hey, I had to be organized enough to get it all assembled and posted for you, so... it's progress, right?????
All kidding aside, I'm SO excited to share this most from the amazing Jonathan Auxier with you guys. Partially because he's super flippin' smart in it. But mostly because I'm a huge fan of his books, so it's always fun when I get to support them.
And so, without further ado, I give you: AFTER THE BOOK DEAL, by Jonathan Auxier:
The Internet is full of great advice about how to sell a book, but what about after the sale? When my first book came out, I found it was surprisingly hard to find answers to some basic questions. Like most authors, I learned most of the answers through trial and error. And so in anticipation of the launch of my new novel, The Night Gardener, I’ve decided to write down everything I learned so I don’t make the same mistakes twice!
AFTER THE BOOK DEAL is a month-long blog series detailing the twenty things I wish someone had told me before entering the exciting world of children’s publishing. Each weekday from now until MAY 20, I will be posting an article on a different blog. Follow along and please spread the word!
DAY ONE - Finding Your Tribe
Publishing is a slow process—usually taking more than a year between sale and publication. For a new author, desperate to see their book on a shelf, it can be an agonizing wait. But this delay is a good thing, because you need that time to prepare! This first week, I’ll be talking about the five things you need to do in the months before your book comes out.
The first thing any new author should do—and they should start as soon as possible—is find a community of friends within the book world. This can be easier said than done.
Right after selling Peter Nimble, I dedicated myself to learning all about the kidlit/YA community. I spent months reading every klidlit blog and website I could. The goal was simple: find my tribe. Even in a market as small as ours, there is a lot of diversity—some people love paranormal romance, some want to talk about education, some want to talk about public libraries, and some want to discuss old books (that would be me!). The more widely I read, the more I was able to determine which authors/bloggers/teachers/librarians shared my own interests and passion.
Your goal is not to determine a “target audience” or anything so cynical. Think of yourself as a new kid in school, scoping out the yard during recess, looking for friends. That last word is key: these people will be your friends. So look for people that you actually like and whose opinions and interests you respect.
So how do you turn these strangers into friends? Reaching out to virtual strangers can be daunting. The trick lies in nine simple words:
“Can I buy you lunch and pick your brain?”
The best way to learn about the industry is to talk to people who are in the industry. And the best way to talk to these people is to spend time with them in person and learn about their lives. When I entered the world of children’s publishing, I did just this. After meeting a few authors/bloggers/librarians who I admired, I made a point to seeking them out. If you’re not in the same city, then you’ll probably have to meet up with people at conferences and book festivals (which I’ll be discussing in week two!).
Please note that this is not about pitching your book. Your book shouldn’t even come up. This is about learning from people you like and respect. Just be a curious, courteous person who shares similar interests. Remember the kid in the schoolyard: you’re just trying to make friends, not win votes for class president.
I should mention that many of these librarians/bloggers/authors are likely too busy to sit down with complete strangers—that’s where being an avid reader of (and commenter on) blogs helps. If I want to meet someone who isn’t a blogger, my rule of thumb is first to make sure that I have at least two mutual acquaintances before reaching out. And once I’ve sat down with a person and had a good chat, I always end the conversation with the same question:
"Who would you recommend that I talk to next?"
This is a fairly painless way for a new friend to help you—it takes almost no time and gives you a reason to keep in touch with them. Hopefully, over the course of several months, you will build friendships that will live way beyond your book launch. Assuming you’re serious about being an author, this is a community you will share for the rest of your life.
That’s it for BEFORE THE BOOK DEAL! Tomorrow, I’ll be visiting the Novel Novice to discuss the tricky business of building a “public identity” that actually reflects who you are! Swing by and spread the word!
JONATHAN AUXIER writes strange stories for strange children. His new novel, The Night Gardener, hits bookstores this May. You can visit him online at www.TheScop.com where he blogs about children's books old and new.
See why I'm a huge fan of this guy? Such great advice. Thanks so much for sharing it with us, Jonathan.
And don't forget to check out these other MMGMs happening throughout the blogosphere:
- Michelle Mason is cheering for PARTNERS IN CRIME--with a GIVEAWAY! Click HERE for details.
- Barbara Watson is gushing about WHAT THE MOON SAID, with an ARC GIVEAWAY! Click HERE for all the fun.
- Mark Baker is spreading love for POACHED. Click HERE to read his feature!
- Katie Fitzgerald is feeling TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. Click HERE to see what she thought.
- Andrea Mack is drawn to THE AWESOME ALMOST 100% TRUE ADVENTURES OF MATT & CRAZ. Click HERE to see why.
- Susan Olson is on the edge of her seat for THE WELLS BEQUEST. Click HERE to see why.
- Rosi Hollinbeck is reviewing--AND GIVING AWAY--ICE DOGS. Click HERE for details.
- Rcubed is highlighting THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES OF FLORA & ULYSSES. Click HERE to see why.
- Sue Heavenrich has some earth day reading for you with LAST BUT NOT LEAST: LOLA GOING GREEN. Click HERE to learn more.
- Greg Pattridge wants you to TURN LEFT AT THE COW. Click HERE to see why.
- Daniel Johnston is giving a shoutout to FRINDLE. Click HERE to see his feature
- Suzanne Warr has chills for ODIN'S PROMISE. Click HERE to see why.
- Joanne Fritz always has an MMGM for you. Click HERE to see what she's talking about this week.
- The Mundie Moms are always part of the MMGM fun (YAY!). Click HERE to see their newest recommendations. And if you aren't also following their Mundie Kids site, get thee over THERE and check out all the awesome!
- The lovely Shannon O'Donnell always has an MMGM ready for you! Click HERE to see what she's featuring this week.
- Karen Yingling also always has some awesome MMGM recommendations for you. Click HERE to which ones she picked this time!
- Jennifer Rumberger always has an awesome MMGM feature on her blog. Click HERE to see what she's talking about this week.
- Pam Torres always has an MMGM up on her blog. Click HERE to see what she's spotlighting this week.
- Deb Marshall is a MMGM regular. Click HERE to see what she's featuring this week.
If you would like to join in the MMGM fun, all you have to do is blog about a middle grade book you love (contests, author interviews and whatnot also count--but are most definitely not required) and email me the title of the book you're featuring and a link to your blog at SWMessenger (at) hotmail (dot) com.(Make sure you put MMGM or Marvelous Middle Grade Monday in the subject line so it gets sorted accurately) You MUST email me your link by Sunday evening in order to be included in the list of links. (usually before 11pm PST is safe--but if I'm traveling it can vary. When in doubt, send early!)
If you miss the cutoff, you are welcome to add your link in the comments on this post so people can find you, but I will not have time to update the post. Same goes for typos/errors on my part. I do my best to build the links correctly, but sometimes deadline-brain gets the best of me, and I'm sorry if it does. For those wondering why I don't use a Linky-widget instead, it's a simple matter of internet safety. The only way I can ensure that all the links lead to safe, appropriate places for someone of any age is if I build them myself. It's not a perfect system, but it allows me to keep better control.
Thank you so much for being a part of this awesome meme, and spreading the middle grade love!
*Please note: these posts are not a reflection of my own opinions on the books featured. Each blogger is responsible for their own MMGM content and I do not pre-screen reviews ahead of time, nor do I control what books they choose. I simply assemble the list based on the links that are emailed to me.
Ideally, students would stop judging books by their covers and at least try to read what they are given. Yet more often than not, I am faced with the question, “How do I get students to love the amazing books I love, or at least tolerate the books we are assigned since they’re the only remaining ones in a full class set?”
Here’s how I handle this situation.
Well, first things first. I make sure students can read the book. Only when my students are able to fluently read the book (meaning the student does not have to look up more than 3 or 4 vocabulary words per page and can relate to you the basic plot after an individual reading) will they be able to take that comprehension into the next level of questioning and analysis. Granted, this happens most often with classics published for adults, but it can happen with trade books for children as well.
If the administration says, “Phooey to your research-based suggestion! Teach this work of literature — it will challenge the students to rise!” Then, I work to create two or three clear, attainable objectives for the book.
My students are not only 8th graders, but all of them come from a different language background and a little under 50% are still English Language Learners. I am not denying my students’ tenacity, but I also don’t want to set them up for defeat.
So, in order to tackle this beast, I focus on just three goals. I want students to (1) know and connect with the basic plot, (2) use the story to apply their skills to a specific element of literature, and (3) identify and connect story elements to whichever major themes I have for that book.
I know it feels oversimplified, but with these three goals, I am able to prune the extraneous. With stronger readers, I can assign deeper prompts connected to my three goals and with weaker readers, I can create cloze exercises [link to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloze_test], chapter summaries, and other supports to scaffold their mastery of these three goals. Anything outside these goals, I nix! Sure, I would love to hit every theme, motif, character motivation, and symbol in these novels — I’m a lit major! Yet, for my eighth graders, I know that the best way to have lasting impact — to get pieces to stick to their ribs — is not to spread the story shallow, but to give them tools to dig deep.
Some would argue that I am not doing the book justice, and I admit that it is a risk. Yet I am hoping that by creating manageable objectives for my students now, they will not be turned off by the books that they most likely will reencounter in their future education.
So now tell us, how do all of you handle this situation?