Rainy Days and Mondays

We’ve had quite the deluge here in South Carolina. Some people were hit much harder than others. Here on Brook Drive, we have water, power, dry floors, and reasonably clear streets. We have food too, and I’ve been practicing my culinary skills. Fortunately for us, we also have enough space to move about without bumping into each other 24/7.

Although I’m a little reluctant to admit this in view of so many others’ plights this afternoon, I’m going to risk the resentment, ire, and backlash to say that in some ways I’ve semi-enjoyed the days of being sequestered. If the roads were clear (and still there), I’d likely be traipsing off to Wal-Mart, meeting a friend for lunch, or setting out on an adventure of some sort.

As it is, however, I’m confined to the house for a bit and am determined not to harp on the horrid conditions or do what Albert Ellis refers to as “awfulizing.” It’s awful that bridges are out, homes are flooded, cars are floating, and people can’t get to work. It’s also awful that people are without power, water, and internet access. Some people have died. It’s all awful, and I don’t want to add my negativity to the already full slate of it.

That said, one of the things I’ve done to prevent cabin fever is read a lot and write a little. Yesterday I reread bits and pieces of A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically. Later today, I’ll likely write a review of it, but for now I just want to offer kudos for one of the best-written, most interesting, thought-provoking, humorous, serious, educational books I’ve read this year.

Somehow Jacobs, an agnostic, has written a book that discusses everything from polygamy to homosexuality and tithe paying to snake handling without being offensive or preachy. He reports interviews with rabbis, a Jehovah’s witness, an Amish man, fundamentalist Christians, red letter Christians, atheists, and dozens of other people, and he does so with respect. No one would be offended by this book, and every one (every open-minded one) would be better informed.

Another book I’ve revisited is An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine. The story of an older woman living in Beirut who spends her days translating books into Arabic, the novel reveals much about her beloved city and books too numerous to mention. Having worked in a bookstore for decades, the protagonist, Aaliya, has become quite learned and frequently refers to passages in books and their authors. She also mentions classical music that has moved her.

Reading the novel inspired and educated me. While reading about Aaliya’s life, I jotted down several titles, authors, and musical pieces that I plan to investigate. In fact, I’ve already begun listening to classical music playing softly in the background while reading. (Amazon Prime makes this easily possible.) There’s something profound on just about every page of Alameddine’s book. Here’s an example: “Literature gives me life, and life kills me. Well, life kills everyone.” And a page or two later, “Beginnings are pregnant with possibilities.”

Yes, Aaliya, you’re so right. The rest of the afternoon stretches out before me, pregnant with possibilities of things to experience. One of the things I realized while reading An Unnecessary Woman was that no matter how dire the situation around her, including bloodshed, bombings, attacks, and malice,Aaliya’s life went on as “normal.”

No one’s life in South Carolina is “normal” today, but like Aaliya, mine goes on. For this afternoon, I think I’ll start with tackling an ant invasion (small black ones) and then move on to some school work. After that, I’ll consider waxing a newly painted bookcase, and later, I’ll again check on my fellow South Carolinians.

Posted in A.J. Jacobs, Rabih Alameddine, reading, storms. books, writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

27 Buzzards

I got a rather cryptic message from one of my brothers yesterday. “27 buzzards” is all it said. Assuming there would be more to follow, I forgot about those old buzzards for a while and went back to recalling this past Saturday’s creative writing workshop in Camden.

Judging from our turnout, the happy faces, and several positive comments and emails, I think it was a successful event. After our local writing group meets to discuss its pluses and minuses next week, I might be singing another song, especially after looking over the evaluation forms that evening.

From today’s perspective, here’s what many seemed to like:

*The facility. Held at the downtown campus of Central Carolina Technical College, the building provided ample classroom space, up-to-date technology, and the perfect layout for moving about and for moments of conversation along the way.

*The setting in the heart of the city was perfect. Two out-of-owners stopped by Friday evening as we were setting up and asked for restaurant recommendations. We offered several in the downtown area, and they       opted for Sam Kendall’s located a skip and a hop from the campus.

*The food. We provided lunch prepared by The Everyday Gourmet, and most people seemed pleased with the three choices. While having veggie and gluten-free options might have added more satisfying options for some attendees, we had decided to abide by the KISS principle and Keep It Simple, Sweetheart. Throughout the day, we provided fruit, various breads, gluten-free crackers, granola bars and donuts.

*The classes and presenters. Although I haven’t seen the evaluations, the buzz in the hall was good, very good. And get this. A friend emailed me to say she had picked up something in the family history class that changed her life. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Because we felt that learning the craft was important, we chose to focus more on writing “first one word, then another” than on publishing. Telling stories, creating poems, writing memoirs and family histories, and revising one’s work were the topics of the four classes. The keynote speaker, Bob Strother, shared ideas about listening for the story and reminded the writers that stories are virtually everywhere.

*Panel discussion. During lunch, we had a panel discussion on topics ranging from publishing options to the value of critique groups. We were happy that participants had questions, and I particularly enjoyed the responses to inquiries about daily writing routines. One panelist, Kim Blum-Hyclak,  reminded the audience that even when she wasn’t sitting at the computer, she was still writing. Ideas can come while folding laundry and mixing salads.

*Helpful hints. Bob Strother talked about using prompts, and while  I’m familiar with this process, I’d never considered sharing a prompt with another person until Saturday. Each day someone shares a new prompt with a partner, and by day’s end they report back to each other with what they’ve written. Bob further suggested six-word stories, six-sentence stories, and a variety of other possibilities. There’s no judgment involved, just a way to get the muse mojo going.

Ah, 27 buzzards. Now I get it. That’s a prompt from my brother. Sounds like he got some valuable advice from the workshop. Now let’s see what I can do with his prompt. What would you do with 27 buzzards?

Posted in Camden Writers, family histories, memoir, writing, writing workshops | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Dreaming, Scheming, and Working

Tomorrow’s a big day for the Camden Writers. We’ve been working like Trojans for the past few months to plan a creative writing workshop, and our efforts will come to fruition tomorrow in beautiful historic Camden. The event will be held at the downtown campus of Central Carolina Techncial College, and after lunch we’ll adjourn to Books on Broad for a book signing and “meet and greet” with our three guest presenters—Bob Strother, Kim Blum-Hyclak, and Carla Damron.

Planning the event has reminded me of three things: the importance of teamwork, the abundance mentality, and the power of a dream.

Everyone in our local writing group played a part in this undertaking. Tasks involved contacting speakers, developing the agenda, planning lunch, creating postcards, handling registration, assembling gift baskets, purchasing supplies such as folders, and marketing the event. Those who weren’t as free to get involved in the preliminary jobs will make up for it tomorrow as we all work together to make the day meaningful to all present.

Looking at our lineup of presenters again this morning reminded me of Stephen Covey’s concept of the abundance mentality. There’s enough out there for everyone. We all own a piece of the pie, and just because someone seems to have a bigger wedge than you do, it doesn’t mean there’s not enough for you. There is. For instance, one of our speakers, Carla Damron, is a mystery novelist. I couldn’t write a mystery if my life depended on it, but I can write decent nonfiction pieces. She has a vivid imagination. I don’t, but it doesn’t mean there’s not a little sliver out there for me…for us.

Talent is abundant in the Carolinas. It resides not only within the speakers but also within beginning writers and writer wannabes. Some write poetry while others are wary of it—like me. I tell myself that I’m not creative enough to create a poem, that my mind doesn’t work that way, but who knows? After rubbing shoulders with Kim Blum-Hyclak, I might be able to spark a little poem.

Bob Strother, the keynote speaker, has won so many prizes and published so many stories (eighty) that some people might think, “Wow, what’s the use of trying when there’s someone like him on the scene?”  Instead think, “Wow, I know I can learn something from this writer about improving my story telling.”  It’s going to be hard to decide which of Bob’s books to buy from Books on Broad, but I’m leaning towards Shug’s Place.

Some of the Camden Writers will be presenting at the workshop too. Kathryn Etters Lovatt, Doug Wyant, and Myra Yeatts are sure to get everyone’s muse mojo going as they teach elements of story telling in “Story in a Box.” While these three are sharing tips on character development and dialogue, Brenda Remmes and Jane Gari will be teaching elements of writing family history and memoir, topics they’re both experienced in.

As I conclude this post and turn my thoughts even more towards tomorrow morning, I’m reminded of the power of an idea, a dream. After attending Rock Hill’s Intensive Writing Workshop a few times, I knew we could do something on a smaller scale. Once the seed was planted, there was no turning back. We knew there were people in and around Camden who wanted to know more about the craft of writing and wondered, “Is there anyone else out there?”

Tomorrow people with a desire to learn more about writing will have an opportunity to learn from those who are just a little farther along the path. It’s going to be an exciting, fun, educational happening, and just think: It’s taking place because a group of people with a dream worked together to share their enthusiasm for the written word.

Posted in Camden Writers, writing, Writing Workshop | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thankful for Asparagus

Since my son introduced me to the world of podcasts a few months ago, it’s become one of my favorite things to do while walking. I used to listen to my own thoughts, and then I discovered iTunes, and I couldn’t get enough of music, music, music. I tried Audible for a while too, but I’m too much of a tightwad to pay for the luxury of listening.

But those podcasts—wow! There’s something for everyone, and they’re free. My biggest challenge is in deciding what to listen to. Lately I’ve been going back and forth between Good Life Project, TEDTALKS, and Grammar Girl.

This morning I listened to an interview between Jonathan Fields and A. J. Jacobs on the Good Life Project podcast. I read Jacobs’ The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World a few years ago and was delighted to learn of his more recent books, The Year of Living Biblically and Drop Dead Healthy. Since I haven’t had the privilege of reading them yet, I’m sharing brief descriptions from Amazon.

(1) “A fascinating and timely exploration of religion and the Bible. A.J. Jacobs chronicles his hilarious and thoughtful year spent obeying―as literally as possible―the tenets of the Bible in The Year of Living Biblically….Jacobs’s extraordinary undertaking yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges.”

(2) Drop Dead Healthy is “…the truly hilarious story of one person’s quest to become the healthiest man in the world….The story of his transformation is not only brilliantly entertaining, but it just may be the healthiest book ever written.”

On the podcast, Fields asked Jacobs to share one thing he’d taken away from each of his books, something he’d learned from the projects. This is where the podcast got interesting to me and when I decided to buy both books.

From writing The Year of Living Biblically, Jacobs’ primary takeaway was the importance of practicing gratitude. Today he earnestly tries to concentrate on the dozens of things that are good and that go right each day instead of the few that don’t. For instance, he’s grateful when an elevator reaches its destination instead of plummeting to the basement. When Jacobs eats asparagus, he’s thankful for the farmer who grew it, the truck driver who brought it to the store, and person who sold it to him.

In his book on health, Jacobs researched all manner of healthy practices and gave them a try. At the end of the year, his #1 takeaway was the importance of movement. Movement of some type each day benefits both body and mind; it aids in thinking and boosts mood. In case anyone thinks of exercises as a self-indulgent activity, Jacobs adds that he does it not just for himself but also for those he loves. He wants to be around for his family.

I’m not sure whether I like the idea of reading these books because of the author’s diligence in researching them, his writing skills, or his sense of humor. It could even be because these topics are right up my alley. Having taught psychology for more years than I care to remember, I know the importance of gratitude and positive thinking on mood and behavior.

And don’t get me started on movement. In Human Growth and Development, the “E” word (exercise) is discussed in every unit except infancy. Its importance in handling stress, combating the blues, and lowering blood pressure crops up in discussions on health psychology, abnormal psychology, and therapy.

Disraeli’s was onto something when he said, “My idea of an agreeable person is a person who agrees with me.” I agree with Jacobs’ findings and am looking forward to reading these two books.

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Joe Mack, Cedar, and Maud

I do have some writing projects going on (really, I do), but I’m not prepared to share them today. Since, however, I want to keep my blog afloat, I’m adding some abbreviated book reviews on three recently read books.

The Last of the Breed, Louis L’Amour


A book doesn’t have to be classified as literary fiction to be thoroughly enjoyable, and this adventure-filled novel kept me reading late into the night.

An American, Major Joe Makatozi, is captured and imprisoned in Russia on the order of Colonel Arkady Zamatev. Before any questioning and possible torture could begin in earnest, however, Makatozi (Joe Mack) escapes from prison by catapulting himself over the wall with a pole. For months, he survives hunger, extreme cold, and hard physical trials as he literally plays hide and seek with his would-be captors. Major Joe is part Sioux Indian, and during his lonely trek towards freedom, the knowledge of his heritage gives him strength.

The novel is quite educational. Among other things, I now know more about the rivers, mountains, and towns of Russia and Siberia. It was interesting to read of American culture told from the perspective of Joe Mack as he talked to the Baronas; in fact, these passages were great reminders of how fortunate we are to go and do and have. Like me, most Americans are soft, and we need reminders of the courage and toughness of the Joe Macks in the world.

Life Without Water, Nancy Peacock


I enjoyed everything about this delightful little book, including the grey green cover and its snapshot of a huge home nestled beneath trees and two moons. A van is parked in the front yard, symbolic of the era (late 60’s and early 70’s) and of the characters’ vagabond lives.

Sara’s brother Jimmie is killed in Vietnam, thus changing the course of her life. Depressed and needy, she meets Sol at a party, a man who’s looking for the right person to be the mother of his child. Cedar is the child, and the story is told from her perspective.

Before Cedar’s birth, Sol and Sara find a three-story abandoned house in North Carolina, and they live there for four years. It’s the center of Sol’s drug operation and was dubbed Two Moons. Eventually Sara tires of Sol’s behavior, and one day she and Sara escape in the van. In Arizona, she meets Daniel, a man who invites them to live with him in his girlfriend’s house while she’s away for three months. When Sara and Cedar leave, he leaves with them, and back they go to Two Moons where other people, including Baby Roo and Topaz, enter their lives in a major way.

Through her scene descriptions, superb dialogue, and character sketches, the author reminds us of several truths, including Robert Frost’s “It goes on” response to a query about what he’d learned about life. Peacock also reminds the reader that one event can change the direction of one’s life and that people and their memories affect us even after they’re gone.

If you want to read a book that engages all your senses and touches your heart, sometimes in uncomfortable ways, read this book.

The End of the Pier, Martha Grimes


Rarely do I read a book in three days. This one, I did. A murder mystery with numerous psychological undertones, including a depressed mother suffering empty nest syndrome, the novel is a real page-turner.

Although I’m usually pretty good at figuring out whodunits, this one was a puzzler. The protagonist, Maud Chadwick, is a depressed, college-educated waitress at a small town diner who spends her nights sitting at the end of a pier watching the lively parties taking place across the lake. The local sheriff joins her each evening, and their dialogue reveals much of not only their personalities, but also those of the townspeople.

No spoilers except to say I never did figure out who the bad guy was. Read it and see if you do.

They say good readers make good writers, and I’m doing my fair share of reading this summer. What about you?

Posted in book reviews, louis l'amour, nancy peacock, readng | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

First One Word, Then Another

At least twice a month, something magical happens in Camden. That’s when the Camden Writers meet to critique one another’s work, share writing advice, and offer support. To say that I’ve learned a lot from this group is an understatement. Without them, I’d still be flagrantly using adverbs and overdoing what Mindy calls “Those Be Words.”

While we all enjoyed the social aspect of meeting with like-minded people, our group began to want something that would compel us to write and submit our work. We noticed that many of our entries centered on family, tradition, and the power of memory. Soon an idea was hatched to develop a communal document, and we published our first anthology, Serving Up Memory, in October 2014.

At one of the first meetings of 2015, one of our members suggested that we publish our collective work every other year and have a workshop in the intervening one. I could have hugged Ari Dickinson for that stroke of genius. Not only did it give all of us some breathing room, but it also provided an opportunity to tackle another project, one that would offer help, encouragement, and information to writers in South Carolina.

After months of planning, we have a date, a venue, and a splendid line up for our first Camden Writers’ Workshop. First One Word, Then Another will be held from 9:00 AM until 1:00 PM Saturday, September 26, 2015, on the downtown Camden campus of Central Carolina Technical College at 1125 Little Street. Late registration and a “mix and mingle” with light refreshments will take place at 8:30.

Two sets of concurrent one-hour sessions are scheduled. The first set includes Stories in a Box (Kathryn Etters Lovatt, Myra Yeatts, Douglas Wyant) and Family Histories and Memoirs (Brenda Bevan Remmes and S. Jane Gari). The second set includes Sparking Your Poem (Kim Blum-Hyclak) and From Stone to Gemstone: Revising, Editing, and Polishing Your Manuscript (Carla Damron).

We’re delighted that Bob Strother, who has published over eighty stories, will give the keynote address, Listening for the Story. Not only has he published eighty short stories in various magazines and literary journals, Bob is also the author of a collection of short stories, Scattered, Smothered, and Covered, and two novels, Shug’s Place and Burning Time. He’s won so many awards that enumerating them here is well nigh impossible.

 Lunch will be provided by one of Camden’s popular sandwich shops. During the latter part of lunch, a panel will discuss publishing options in Writing, Submitting, and Publishing. Book signings, drawings, and several informative handouts are also planned.

Mark September 26th on your calendar, Fellow Writers. And tell a friend about this workshop, too. Let’s all do our part to encourage others to write First One Word, Then Another.

For additional information on sessions, presenters, and registration information, please go to myscww.org and look for our “slider page.” 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Tip of the Iceberg

“Why don’t you write a book about teaching?” It was a fair question, just not one I was prepared to answer. I was in the middle of a question and answer period at the end of a book signing for Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding in a Community College and Beyond, and the query gave me pause for thought.

I must have looked a little dumbfounded because the person continued, “I was just curious because you’ve written a guide to help students be more successful, and you must have figured a few things out for teachers too.”

I have figured a few things out, but only a few. Despite decades of teaching two-year college students, I am still surprised, stumped, and sometimes stunned by student behavior and classroom situations. It’s not all about walking into the classroom and saying, “Hello, Everyone.” That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Still, if I had to offer advice, the first thing I’d probably say is that respect is a two-way street. Students are people too, and a haughty, arrogant attitude is not appropriate. Or no, on second thought, maybe my first advice would be in the form of a warning: Teaching is hard work. It demands physical energy, a flexible disposition, more than a modicum of enthusiasm, willingness to change, and (dare I say it?) love.

I’ve heard it said that those who can do, and those who cannot, teach. Whoever said that has never felt the magic of a classroom. What other profession can you enter that requires that you read, write, and share ideas? Plus, just when you get annoyed or frustrated with how things are going, suddenly the term is over, and after a few weeks, you get to start afresh. I can think of no other profession that allows so many new beginnings.

Somewhere along the line I came across some highfalutin material that included some great but boring teaching guidelines. It was strictly textbook stuff advising teachers to clarify abstract concepts and principles by providing students relevant, concrete examples; explicitly teach and encourage the development of cognitive skills that transcend memory, such as capacities for problem solving, analyzing, and synthesizing; and assess student learning continually and give timely feedback with correctives. See what I mean about the highfalutin part?

While this information was quite helpful it didn’t help me much with the pesky little problems of real students with real issues that prevented them from being in class on time, staying awake, and getting their work done in a timely manner. I could give timely feedback with correctives all the livelong day, but dealing with students as individuals with outside lives was challenging.

I’m in the dreaming/thinking/planning stage and am asking, What do I really want to accomplish and what’s the best way?

What I want to do is create a part memoir/part how-to book on teaching. There may be a little methodology, but the bulk of the book will be based on experience (mine and that of others who love the profession), backed up by research. I want to make it enjoyable to read without being frivolous, instructive without being pedantic.

Any advice you can offer about the teaching/learning equation would be welcome. As a teacher, what’s some advice you can share? As a student, past or current, what is something you wish your teachers would improve on?

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I Can Help You

In Kenneth Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager, the author’s guidelines include one minute goal setting followed by one minute praisings and one minute reprimands. The ideas were clearly stated and simple. Simple is good. The 1992 book was wildly popular, and its proponents still swear by its usefulness.

Right after I read The One Minute Manager, the college where I was employed purchased a video of Blanchard discussing his book. Everyone loved it, and instructors soon learned to reserve it weeks ahead of time if they planned to use it in management, business, or human relations classes. I showed it a few times myself, and I can still remember how entertaining, informative, and convincing Blanchard was.

Lately I can’t seem to get this video out of my mind. At the end, Dr. Blanchard says something like, “Don’t go away from this presentation thinking, “Well, that was interesting. I wonder what else is out there.”

Chuckling, he continued, “Don’t be like the person who falls off the side of a cliff, catches on to a limb, and holds on for dear life. Terrified, the person looks up and asks, “Is there anyone up there who can help me?”

“Yes, I can help you,” says a booming voice. “I will save you. All you have to do is let go.”

The man glanced down at the thousands of feet below him, and then he looked up towards the source of the voice. After a moment, he asks, “Is there anyone else up there?”

I knew exactly what Dr. Blanchard was talking about when he said there were always people looking for some “new and improved” theory that will save their lives or at least make things easier.

Is anyone out there familiar with Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding in a Community College and Beyond? Written by a two-year college instructor with 38 years of experience (yours truly), the book focuses on topics such as self-assessment, choosing the right college, classroom behavior, time management, study skills, and a myriad of other topics.

The challenge is to get people to read it and to follow the suggestions.

When a couple of students asked me what they could do to improve their grades, I remembered Blanchard’s image of the man hanging on for dear life, seeking an alternative answer. I suggested reading the material before coming to class, using the SQ3R study method, and taking the pre- and post-tests in the text. Simple ideas, right?

“But I don’t have time to do all of that. I have a job,” one student said. “Is there anything else I can do?”

“No, nothing else. But if you listen to what I’m telling you and follow through, I can guarantee that you’ll make it.” I replied.

“But I just don’t have that kind of time. Do I really need to read the textbook, or can I just go by the power point?” he continued, his classmate listening in hopes of a magic formula for success.

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” I said, saddened and frustrated. “The truth is that are no formulas or shortcuts for succeeding in college.”

Not hearing what they wanted to hear, the students left the classroom. If only they and their classmates would read and follow the simple guidelines in Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding a Community College and Beyond, they’d know the secret (?) to improving their grades in all classes, not just psychology.

Like the booming voice in Blanchard’s scenario, “I can help you.”

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Five Star Books

In an effort to be more attentive to this blog, I’m sharing a couple of recent reviews that I posted on Amazon. Though quite different from each other in theme and style, both of these books merit five stars.

Home Across the Road, Nancy Peacock

“This is the kind of novel that leaves the reader wondering, “How did the writer do this? How did she create such a believable, evocative, and soulful story about families who lived together and yet separately?” The Redd families, one black and one white, live across the road from each other, and both families’ lives are intimately and intricately tied to Roseberry, the plantation home of the white Redds.

“The story of several generations is told through the eyes and memory of China Redd, the oldest living of the black Redds. Weary of life, she lives in her small home across the road from what used to be a stately mansion and recalls days gone by and the people who lived them. Sadness, heartache, tragedy, and pain visit both sets of Redds throughout five generations, and China believes much of it to be associated with a pair of abalone earrings.

“Not only is Nancy Peacock a master storyteller, she is also a gifted scene creator. Among dozens of others, I enjoyed reading the description of the small, abandoned Tastee-Freez with its faded signs and the “cracked and tufted with weeds” parking lot. It was there that Jenny and Coyle met and where he described Roseberry and its grounds for her, using a stick to draw the back door “that China entered and exited every day.

“Smoothly written and powerful, this is a book whose characters and their stories stay with the reader.”

 Losing the Dollhouse, S. Jane Gari

“One of the many reasons I admire this book is because the author explores some of the most important attributes a human needs for surmounting life’s challenges: resilience, courage, and honesty.

 “Despite painful family issues, S. Jane Gari’s inner strength and hardiness helped her spring back from all of them, including divorce, cruelty, and molestation. As an adult reviewing her childhood and early adulthood, Gari takes a look at the events that shaped her and courageously writes about them in an honest, unflinching way. Almost right away I found myself thinking of a quote credited to Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

“Well-written and riveting, the book encourages the reader to examine his or her own life and the forces that have shaped it.”

Because of my desire to become a better writer, I’ve begun rereading some books about the craft, one of them being Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I had forgotten how good this book is, how delightfully written and engaging. Not really a how-to book, nonetheless Bird by Bird is filled with advice, experiences, and truth.

Here’s one of the truths I was thinking about over the weekend when I used research for a future book as an excuse to visit the South Carolina’s Low Country. It’s from the introduction:

“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”

You’ve got to love that! Life as it lurches by and tramps around–indeed.

What have you been reading lately? Please share.

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No More Excuses

This has been a unique week. Quite unusual, in fact. For the first time in thirty-five years, I have no classes to teach. Not one. Since my retirement three years ago, I’m now an adjunct whose employment depends on registration numbers. The full-timers get first dibs on classes, something I’ve known since the late 1970’s. It’s just that, well, it’s never happened to me.

I’m now looking at the next two months as a stress-free gift of time. Over the past several mornings, I’ve grown accustomed to NOT having to check emails or discussion posts. What this means is that I no longer have the excuse of school demands to keep me from pursuing other things, mainly writing.

This morning I came up with a list of tentative goals and am solemnly pledging commitment to them.

Three or four years ago I began working on a beach book. I had seen a small book in which the author took pictures of the sky with her cell phone and put them all in a book. Very little writing was involved, but there were dozens of pretty pictures of clouds and sky. I remember thinking, I could do that, and I started right away. Armed with a Blackberry, I took photos of beaches in North and South Carolina and matched them quotes, observations, and stories.

I was working, working, working and let the project slide. Yesterday I took a look at the manuscript and realized with a heavy heart I had missed the opportunity to publish that particular book. Pictures and comments were clearly linked to November 2011 to November 2012. Plus, the gimmick (all photos being taken with a cell phone within one year) wouldn’t work.

Ever the optimist, I think with some tweaking, I can still put together a nice book of beach photographs. In fact, with a few exceptions, every picture I’ve taken since that period is better than most in the original manuscript. And I’d like to think that my writing has improved, largely because of input from my writing group. By mid-July, I’m hoping you can see that book on Amazon.

I’ve also been dabbling with a combination memoir/how-to book on teaching. Light on methodology and heavy on experiences and recommendations, I hope to create something useful, informational, and fun for all aspiring teachers. I’m also hoping some colleagues, past and present, will toss in some ideas and experiences.

And then there’s the family history book I’ve been pondering for several months. I’m not sure why, but many senior citizens (I can say that now without cringing) feel that same urge. In any case, with a nudge from my sweet sis, I’m typing away. This project will probably take a bit longer since I’m including research from other family members, cemeteries, and archives.

That’s it for book ideas. Our local writing group, the Camden Chapter of SCWW (South Carolina Writers’ Workshop), is hosting a half-day writing workshop on Saturday, September 26. Don’t worry, football fans, that date won’t interfere with any Clemson/Carolina games. Although our planning has only recently gotten serious, we already know that it’s going to be a productive, fun, and rewarding day for both hosts and attendees. Mark your calendars for 9/26, Writers and Wannabe Writers.

Time to work on that beach book. What are you writing today?

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