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?

Posted in books, workshops, writing, writing projects | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Spell Out Arizona

I enjoy being part of a critique group. The members are varied in writing experience, style, genre, and ability. One member can write musicals, another poetry, and still another short stories. We have novelists in our group too.

Despite our diversity, the one thing we have in common is the desire to improve our writing, and we know that constructive criticism from people we trust is helpful. No matter how uncomfortable it is to hear, there’s usually some truth in the “less-than-positive” remarks. As a quick example, a member once gently suggested that I find another term for minx when describing my granddaughter. Although I balked at first, her recommendation saved me from later embarrassment.

As G.M. Barlean reminds the reader in her book Build a Writing Team, critique groups are about suggestions, not compliments. That’s not to say that members don’t receive compliments. They do. But they probably aren’t the same gushing ones you might hear from your mother. From the Kindle edition of Barlean’s book, “You must go into a writing critique group with humility, ready to learn how to make your writing the best it can be. If you don’t have that mindset, don’t go—you’re not ready for critique. “ (Location 1674)

For those who are not quite ready for a critique group, Barlean shares information on generative writing groups whose purpose is to generate writing. Period. Some people are members of both groups at the same time, one to mingle with aspiring writers without threat or anxiety and the other, the critique group, to learn how to improve one’s own writing.

In a generative group, someone shares a prompt, and members write for fifteen to twenty minutes. Afterwards each person can (if desired) read her work and receive positive feedback. For example, members might comment on what’s powerful, funny, true about the piece. After everyone has a chance to write and share, they go home with a piece of writing that can be used in something they’re working on at that time or perhaps worked into a future short story, essay, or poem.

Sometimes it’s tough being in a critique group, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. For starters, developing a thick skin prepares the writer for the sometimes hateful, snarky, and snide remarks of some of the world’s readers. Some people are not going to like your work as much as you do and will be quick to say so. Also, group members can help you spot mistakes, let you know when the story drags, punch up your dialogue, and help you find more active verbs.

Off the top of my head (an overused cliché that people in my critique group would chastise me about), here are just a few things my group has commented on recently:

  • Spell out Arizona instead of using AZ
  • Find another word for minx.
  • Help us see the white ibis.
  • Use more active verbs instead of so many to be ones.
  • Consider deleting sentence about mosquitoes and flies.
  • Engage more of the senses. The reader needs to hear these birds, not just see them.

Are you part of a writing group? If so, which kind, and what do you like about it? If not, what are you waiting on? Without input from my group, I might never have learned that a minx is an impudent or flirtatious girl. 

Posted in generative writing groups, writing groups | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dr. Farmer, Myra, and DeWitt

One of the presenters at the recent Rock Hill Intensive Writing Workshop said she blogged every day. When I asked her how she did that AND continued to write her mysteries, she replied that sometimes she might just put a photograph or a quote because she believed that something should be there.

I agree in theory, but in practice, well, I’m not as focused.

Nevertheless, today I’m adding modified versions of two reviews I recently put on Amazon, one of a nonfiction book about a doctor who has devoted his adult life to improving the lives of people in Haiti and another of a novel that captured and held my attention until the last page.

I read Mountains Beyond Mountains a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed learning about Paul Farmer and others who have been working for decades to improve the health, well-being, and living conditions for people in Haiti, Peru, and Russia. A co-founder of Partners In Health, Dr. Farmer and his cohorts continue to give of their time, money, talents, and just about all of their resources to help ease the suffering of the poor, hungry, sick, imprisoned, and dying.

Until reading Tracy Kidder’s book, I didn’t know men like Farmer and his ilk existed. Someone asked me if he was a Christian, and I replied that he doesn’t talk much about his religious beliefs except for a frequent reference to the 40th verse in Matthew 25: “Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Farmer definitely walks the talk.

Mountains Beyond Mountains is the second of Kidder’s books that I have read, the first being Strength in What Remains….In both books, Kidder’s descriptions of Haiti, Cuba, NYC, Burundi, and several other locales are so realistic that the reader can see, hear, and smell the environments. He’s also a master at adding an encyclopedic array of facts while holding the reader’s interest. Although I knew economics and medicine were related, I now have a deeper understanding of the interplay between politics, poverty, wealth, and healthcare.

Never Change by Elizabeth Berg appealed to me on so many levels. On the surface, it’s a love story about Myra and Chip. But it’s also about love and connections between Dewitt, Diane, Marvelous, Mrs. Peters, Fitz, and a host of other interesting characters. All have been broken, and all are healing. Hemingway’s quote at the beginning of the book is perfect for what’s ahead: “The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places.”

The story line is basically boy meets girl. I say “basically” because there’s so much more than that. Woven into the plot are life issues like commitment, death, illness, disappointment, loss, fear, and love. Myra, the protagonist is a visiting nurse whose daily round takes her into the homes of a variety of people, including a drug dealer who’s healing from a gunshot wound and a fifteen-year-old unwed mother who’s fallen in love with her baby. And then there’s Chip Reardon.

The writing is magnificent. The scene descriptions are so amazing that I went back and read several of them twice—some thrice. And the character sketches are so good! And the dialogue—believable and funny with no wasted words. Berg is a master at using dialogue to move the action along and to allow the reader to actually feel “in the scene.”

I finished this book three days ago, and since then I’ve been thinking about the Chips and Myras and DeWitts and Graces in the world, all of them survivors in some way—just like the rest of us.

Posted in book reviews, books, reading, writers, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Poetry or Flash Fiction?

After a fun and informative day at Saturday’s Rock Hill Intensive Writing Workshop, those of us who attended from the midlands are psyched up and ready to plan our own workshop for this fall. Although we’re working on another anthology, we decided to publish a book every other year and to host a local workshop in 2015.

Our minds are abuzz with things to consider. Where and when will we host it, and how much should we charge for attendees? Although we’ve considered a couple of venues, this is something we’ll have to consider more carefully. Affordability, size, number of rooms, and ambience are all important considerations. We’ll provide boxed lunches and tons of good information, and the registration fee will be affordable for the leanest of purses.

The Rock Hill workshop had more sessions that we’re equipped to handle right now. Instead of an all-day intensive, we’re looking at a 9-1 time frame. There were twenty-four classes on topics ranging from story telling to flash fiction on Saturday. Novices, we’re looking at four, maybe six, classes. But what should our topics be? That pretty much depends on feedback we get from our possible “audience,” writers in Camden and surrounding areas.

I’m thinking of writers who are just getting started but need a little nudge and a few pointers. There are also people right around Camden, Bishopville, Wisacky, Sumter, Florence, Lugoff, Elgin, and Blythewood who are ready to publish and are looking for guidance on crafting the perfect query. Others want information on journaling, writing dialogue, or starting a family memoir.

With the understanding that we can’t provide answers to everyone’s questions, we’re beginning the process by asking Midlands writers what they’d like to know more about. If you want to know more about poetry, let us know. If you think you’d like to try your hand at flash fiction, we need to know that too. And what about self-publishing? That might be something to consider with those who are ready to get their work out into the world sooner than later.

Bottom line: We want to encourage people to take pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. In the words of Elie Wiesel, “God made man because He loves stories.” Ready to share yours?

If you live in the Midlands of SC and would like to learn more about SCWW (South Carolina Writers’ Workshop) and/or some topics on writing, please let me know either here on this blog or at jpbowers3@gmail.com. 

Posted in books, writing, writing workshops | Tagged , | Leave a comment

No Exclamation Marks!

I want to write fiction. Without exception, every person in my writing group has a better handle on this than I. Some have published novels with traditional publishers, and one author currently has her book, The Quaker Café, on sale at Wal-Mart. Don’t scoff, my friends. That’s quite an accomplishment!

Oops. I’ve been told to use exclamation points sparingly. Some writers say that one per book can be considered excessive. I’m in the learning stage and will soon learn to make things exciting and exclamatory without punctuation. Notice that I said “will soon learn” and not “hope to learn.” Writing fiction with no exclamation marks, a minimum of adverbs, and believable dialogue is going to happen.

On Saturday, six people from the Camden Chapter of SCWW attended the annual Rock Hill Writing Intensive Workshop, an event that merits rave reviews. Six concurrent sessions were held during four different time periods, and all were excellent. My biggest issue was deciding which to attend. Fortunately, since the four of us who rode together attended different classes (for the most part), we shared information and ideas on the way home.

Self-publishing is growing. A panel discussion with representatives from both sides of the house, traditional and “self,” was informative and interesting. One panelist, author of Big C, little ta-ta, needed her book by a certain date, and after learning that the traditional publishing route would take a year, she opted for CreateSpace. Her book was in her hands by the October deadline, and she had complete control over the price, design, cover, and layout.

When the author, Janet Kelleher, received her first copies, she noticed an error. In the Table of Contents, a chapter title was listed as “I Continue to Buy Green Bananas.” However, within the book itself the chapter was titled “I Continue to Buy Green Tomatoes.” Unperturbed, the author made the corrections, and within eighteen hours, the edited version was available for sale.

Can you tell that I’m a fan of CreateSpace? I’ve used it twice and have had wonderful experiences. However, at some point, I’m going to write a novel or novella and try to get an agent. Although she’s probably not aware of it, one writer said some magic words that I scribbled down to remember: There are a lot of agents out there. She, Vicki Lane, sent sixty query letters before she hit the jackpot, but once she did, her publishing career took off.

I met some gifted, helpful, and unique people in Rock Hill. I’d already read the work of a few of them, including Barbara Claypole White and Barbara Evers, and it was nice to meet them face-to-face.

  • I read Claypole White’s The In-Between Hour a couple of years ago and remembered being impressed with her scene descriptions. Saturday we chatted about how much we like the word “gloaming.”
  • Barbara Evers gave me a tip about how to change a memoir into fiction. She also taught me about using beats between dialogue.
  • Barbara Lawing held her class at rapt attention as she shared story-telling techniques. From her, I also learned about wrapping trees and barking squirrels.

I’ve heard/read that good readers make good writers. On Saturday, someone added a few more words. “Read, read, read,” she said, “and pay attention to how the author does it.” If I want to get started on writing fiction, I need to do a little research first. I’m reading Elizabeth Berg’s Never Change. Next in my queue in Jane Gari’s Losing the Dollhouse.

What’s on your list?

Posted in books, critique groups, writers, writing, writing workshops | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Students Top the List

I wish I could write fiction. I do, I do, I do. I learned a lot about how to do it at the Rock Hill Writing Intensive on Saturday and am excited about getting started. Nervous too. Still, the “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is as true as ever, and tonight I’m going to start a story about a gal named Lillie.

In the meantime, I’m sharing a little something about one of my favorite works, Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding in a Community College and Beyond. Although I published the book nearly two years ago, its message is as true as ever. Here are a few paragraphs lifted from the preface and introduction.

“I wrote this book for one reason, the desire to help students succeed during and after college. Of all the positive things about teaching, the students top the list. Working with people on the threshold of change is exciting, especially when they’re eager to learn.

“All of the teachers that I know feel the same way. Collectively, we could say to our students, ‘“You crack us up, make us laugh, and worry the heck out of us. You wake us up in the middle of the night as we ponder your statuses and wonder how we can best help you. We take pride in your successes and feel saddened by your shortcomings, disappointments, and failures.”’

“As a psychology instructor, I believe that learning and applying psychological concepts such as self-efficacy and positive reinforcement can improve a person’s life, and I KNOW that the application of the principles in this book will help the reader to be a more successful student and effective person.

“If you were a community college student standing before me, what would I say that might make a difference in your success? How can I convince you of the value of an education in helping you attain your goals? After assuring you that you have what it takes to make your dreams a reality, I’d elaborate on the following five points. I’d also emphasize the importance of being intentional, of asking yourself exactly what you want your life to be like and then being purposeful in making it happen.

  1. Think seriously about your unique gifts and interests. Then assess your aptitudes, interests, personality, and values before deciding on a college major.
  2. Realize the importance of education in achieving career and personal goals and then choose the right college and the right major to help you prepare for you career. 3. Talk to college personnel including an admissions counselor, academic advisor, and financial aid specialist about your plans.
  3. Learn and practice college survival strategies including class attendance, time management, and study skills.
  4. Apply some latent functions of education such as following life laws and managing stress.“

Between the introduction and the “final exam,” there’s an abundance of information on study skills, time management, financial aid, academic advisors, online classes, career choices, and personality assessment. Student quotes and testimonials are sprinkled throughout the book, thus making the content more meaningful to the reader.

If you’re a community college student, or if you know or aspire to be one, this little book will answer all your questions—probably even some you didn’t’ know you had. Available in print and electronic versions, check it out on Amazon.com.

Posted in books, college students, college success, community college students, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Since retiring from full-time employment, I’ve been able to fulfill a lot of “wishing and hoping” dreams from those crazy, busy days of working and raising children. While I loved that time period, the demands and expectations didn’t leave much leisure for reading.

Things are different now. I still stay engaged with goings-on, but I manage to read a little something from a book or two or three every day. Books and articles teach, inspire, delight, and motivate me. Some take me to other countries and cultures and introduce me to a motley group of fascinating people.

Although I don’t need much encouragement to read, learning that good readers make good writers gives me even more incentive. I like to call it “research.” Quick example. Somewhere along the line, I learned that a reader should be able to read the first page of a novel and gain a sense of what’s going on, who the principal players are, where the action is taking place, and the general mood of the scene. I also learned never to begin a book or story with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Not that I’m planning to write a novel—just sayin’.

Here’s brief update on this week’s reading and listening (on Audible):

According to Pat Conroy, “Tell me a story” are the most powerful ones in the English language. Whether you’re a Conroy fan or not, you must agree that he’s one of the most popular Southern writers. Are you? I ask that because he must have figured something out that I (we?) haven’t.

I’ve been listening to him read My Reading Life and have enjoyed it immensely. One of the things I was reminded of is that a writer must be true to his own voice. Thomas Wolf was one of his role models, not Ernest Hemingway. A wordsmith, he drives some people crazy with his verbosity. Another thing I’ve learned is that a serious writer has to write every day, not just when the spirit moves him.

I’m reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, a man whose work I’ve come to respect. In this book, Kidder writes of Dr. Paul Farmer, a doctor whose adult life has been devoted to improving the lives of Haitians, even risking death in his dedication. From Kidder, I’ve learned about the abject poverty of the people who live there and of the efforts of people like Farmer and organizations like Partners in Health to help them.

Farmer soon learned that typhoid, TB, AIDS, diarrheal disorders, and malaria were rampant, and “mortality among infants and juveniles was ‘”horrific.”’ Doctor, writer, ethnographer, and fundraiser, Paul Farmer is an extraordinary human being, and I’m awed by his zeal in helping the people of Haiti. Just think, I’d never had heard of him if I hadn’t opened Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains.

I have a couple of books in the queue too. The one that’s risen quickly to the top is a memoir by S. Jane Gari, a member of SCWW (South Carolina Writers Workshop). I read a chapter of her new book, Losing the Dollhouse, in The Petigru Review a couple of years ago and was so moved by it that I sought her out just so that I could meet the person who wrote such an honest and incredible story.

I’m reading for pleasure, insight, understanding, and yes, even fun. And I’m calling it research. What’s on your reading list?

Posted in books, reading, stories, tracy kidder, writing, writing life, writing tips | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Go Home, Miss Poe

IMG_0608

When an old friend discovered that I was thinking of writing a slim book about teaching, she sent me a text and the above picture.

Thought about you when I saw these hearts on the beach. The title of your new book for teachers should be It Is All About the Heart. I saw a presentation yesterday and they gave out rulers and talked about how we can retain more students if we just show we care more.

What advice would I include in a book for teachers, not a book that tells about the importance of curriculum planning and competency based instruction, but one that offers tips and suggestions for enjoying the profession? The first thing I’d probably say is that respect is a two-way street. Students are people too, and a haughty, arrogant attitude won’t work.

Here’s an old blog post that I’m thinking of including in a future book.

In one of my classes, we were discussing intelligence.  Is it more the product of nature or nurture? Are there things in the environment that can enhance intellectual abilities? If so, what are they? One of the bulleted items on power point was “Educational Experiences,” and when I asked the class to share something they thought might fit that description, I got several examples, none of which I was looking for.

I had expected the students to say standard things like reading to a child, taking him to a zoo, or engaging him in a two-way conversation. These students, however, interpreted educational experiences to be only those that took place inside of a school, specifically a classroom. I’m sorry to report that none of their examples were uplifting ones.

One young woman told of a teacher hitting her in the stomach with a ruler because she wouldn’t stop talking. Another shared how one of her teachers laughed at her when she couldn’t solve a math problem on the board, making her cry and instilling a lifelong fear of math and the teachers who teach it. Still another confessed that only now has he developed enough confidence to speak up in class IF called on. Otherwise, he keeps quiet.  His third grade teacher seemed to have selected him as her target for particularly scathing remarks that year.

Why don’t teachers like the ones who taught these students at an earlier time of their lives just pack their book bags and go home?????  There surely comes a moment when you know, “Uh oh, this is not for me,” and when that happens, walk out. Don’t wait for the bell to ring or the grading period to end. Just go. There are enough mean spirited people in the world without you adding to the problem.

My students’ comments reminded me of something I read in Same Kind of Different as Me.  Ron Hall, co-author and millionaire, gave an account of a shameful experience that occurred  when he and other schoolchildren had to bring urine samples to school for health screening purposes. He made the mistake of taking his sample to his teacher instead of to the school nurse.

The teacher, Miss Poe, marched the class to the playground and announced that little Ronnie wouldn’t be participating in recess. “Because he was stupid enough to bring his Dixie cup to the classroom instead of the nurse’s office, he will spend the next thirty minutes with his nose in a circle,” she said.

From the book: “Miss Poe then produced a fresh stick of chalk and scrawled on the redbrick school wall a circle approximately three inches above the spot where my nose would touch if I stood on flat feet. Humiliated, I slunk forward, hiked up on tiptoes, and stuck my nose on the wall….After fifteen minutes, my toes and calves cramped fiercely, and after twenty minutes, my tears washed the bottom half of Miss Poe’s circle right off the wall. With the strain of loathing peculiar to a child shamed, I hated Miss Poe for that. And as I grew older, I wished I could send her a message that I wasn’t stupid.”

Ron Hall is an exceptional person, smart and accomplished. He had the confidence and social skills to become a successful adult despite a crabby, bad-tempered teacher. Not all children are so fortunate. Go home, Miss Poe. We need teachers who care.

 

 

Posted in books, teaching, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Tell Me a Story

While walking this morning, I listened to Pat Conroy read My Reading Life on Audible. Part of today’s reading came from the chapter on Conroy’s high school English teacher and mentor, Gene Norris. The student and teacher began a lifelong friendship, and as his beloved friend lay dying in a hospital in Columbia, Conroy and Norris talked by phone each night. The conversations ended with Norris’ nightly request: “Tell me a story.”

 Over lunch today, I shared some gems from My Reading Life and then told my friend about a book I can’t stop thinking about.

 “Was it a good story?” she asked.

 “Yes, definitely,” and then after a moment, I added, “It was one good story after another.”

 She crossed her arms and leaned forward, giving me the go-ahead to continue.

 “The writing was compelling, but I don’t know exactly why. It was like the main character was talking right to me, and yet it was her granddaughter who wrote the book.”

 Here’s what I put about Maude on Amazon:

I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was that kept me turning the pages (sliding the screen of my Kindle) of this book, but whatever the X-factor was, it worked. I was drawn in by the first paragraph and kept reading until I’d read the author’s epilogue—twice.

 Maude is a biography/memoir of Maude Clayborn Connor Foley written by her granddaughter Donna Mabry. Although she never won any awards, garnered any accolades, or earned any degrees, Maude was a remarkable woman whose strength, determination, and hard work saw her through many vicissitudes of life.

 She outlived her two husbands and all but one of her five children; worked like the dickens from dawn to dusk and beyond to feed, clothe, and clean (even taking in boarders); was nearly killed more than once by her mother-in-law; left a hardscrabble existence in TN and went to Detroit, nearly starving along the way; struggled through the Depression and two world wars; tolerated a thankless, spoiled daughter-in-law who used her son; put up with a lazy husband and two sons who drank; and was on the scene when one of her daughters was unexpectedly killed late one night.

 Maude was a woman with a lot of pluck. Always praying for one thing or another (mainly her children, but also for patience and other virtues), Maude’s Holiness background remained important to her. At the end of her life, she found herself wondering about a lot of “what ifs.”

 Bottom line. Maude is a smoothly written story of a strong woman’s life as she navigates family and societal changes. She was not as important or influential as someone like, say Eleanor Roosevelt, but her biography is nonetheless a captivating one.

As I type this post, I keep thinking of how we all have stories. Our local writing group published an anthology of poems, stories, recipes based on our memories of family and special friends. At the end of the book, I added Elie Wiesel’s statement, “God made man because He loves stories.”

What’s your story? As Gene Norris said, “Tell me a story.”

Posted in anthologies, books, reading, stories, writing, writing groups | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Coming Along

 

Since this is supposed to be a reading and writing blog, it’s time to share a little something about what I’ve been reading and a little something about what I’ve been writing.

First, the reading. I totally buy into the adage that good readers make good writers, and I usually have at least two books going at any given time. Though it’s not always the case, one of the books is usually nonfiction and the other fiction. Right now my fiction choice is Maude by Donna Mabry. In truth, it’s a memoir that reads like historical fiction.

I’m spellbound by this novel, and I can’t figure out exactly why. I think it might have something to do with the author’s honesty and her unflinching look at life regardless of what the fates throw her way. Also fascinating to read are the historical events of the era based on Maude’s perspective. She tells of getting the right to vote and actually voting despite the strong discouragement of her husband.

Maude’s granddaughter wrote the book, but Maude’s voice tells the tale. She’s had very few happy moments in her life, and where I left off last night, the story looks like it’s about to get a lot more bleak. The Depression has hit, and with no money and no prospects, Maude and her husband head to Detroit in search of a better life. At first, Maude passionately declares that she will take in sewing to make enough money to save their house. But then, her husband reminds her that no one has money to pay her. Even the bank has closed.

Before I bought the book on Kindle, I read some of the reviews. Some were hateful, snide, and dismissive. Others were more positive and focused on Maude’s strength and perseverance. So far, I’m in the latter camp.

I’m also reading The Best American Spiritual Writing (2004) by Philip Zaleski (editor) and rereading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. The first book is one that I dip into whenever I need something soulful to ponder. This morning I read an article entitled “Judaism Beyond Words: Conclusion,” and was struck by these words about the problem of evil: “The central question is not why God hasn’t saved the world but why you haven’t.”

Blog experts advise staying within a 500-word limit per post, so it’s time to say a few words about writing. It’s coming along. As mentioned in an earlier post, my writing group agreed to begin submitting some tentative pieces for next year’s anthology, and yesterday we met to critique the recent submissions. My piece was “Spirit to Spirit, “ a story about the birth of one of my grandsons.

I knew I was in for a tough go of it when Doug gave me a look that said, “I hate to do this, but….” He said some nice things about the story, but he also pointed out some areas that needed tweaking: too many uses of was, not enough active voice, and some missing quotation marks. He did, however, like the use of dialogue, and so did a couple of other people. Somebody pronounced the story “compelling,” and another writer said it was powerful.

This afternoon, I’m feeling grateful for the ability to read. Reading continues to teach me so much about the world, people, animals, plants, religion, food preparation, health, philosophy, emotions, and even about myself. I’m also thankful for a group of writers and friends who hold me to a certain standard and won’t accept less than my best efforts.

 What’s your most current project in either reading or writing?

Posted in books, critique groups, reading, stories, Uncategorized, writers, writing, writing groups | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment