Thursday, October 31, 2013

Joy of Parenting?

For eight weeks I've been a "Parent" to a sixteen year old chinese exchange student. My sister and I thought it would be a good idea to host a young, ambitious, teenager who would excel in highschool and enroll in Yale or Harvard after graduation. We had expectations. What looks good on paper never is the same as real life. We quickly learned all a teenage boy wants is food and fast internet.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Writing Advice from C.S. Lewis

Writing advice from C. S. Lewis to a young woman he mentored....

C.S. Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963) was a novelist, poet, academic and essayist, and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. To most readers though, he is best known as the creator of The Chronicles of Narnia which he wrote between 1949 and 1954. This seven-part fantasy series endeared him to millions of readers around the world, and resulted in him receiving thousands of letters, particularly from young fans.
It is said that nearly every morning Lewis spent at least an hour reading the mail he received and crafting thoughtful and detailed replies. A selection of these replies are gathered together in the beautiful collection C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Children, edited by Lyle W. Dorset and Marjorie Lamp Mead and first published in 1985.
In one of these replies Lewis shared some very practical writing advice with an aspiring young American writer named Joan Lancaster.
The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
[26 June 1956]
Dear Joan–
Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v.[ery] well. That is, you describe the place & the people and the night and the feeling of it all, very well — but not the thing itself — the setting but not the jewel. And no wonder! Wordsworth often does just the same. His Prelude (you’re bound to read it about 10 years hence. Don’t try it now, or you’ll only spoil it for later reading) is full of moments in which everything except the thing itself is described. If you become a writer you’ll be trying to describe the thing all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, come near to getting it across.
About amn’t Iaren’t I and am I not, of course there are no right or wrong answers about language in the sense in which there are right and wrong answers in Arithmetic. “Good English” is whatever educated people talk; so that what is good in one place or time would not be so in another. Amn’t was good 50 years ago in the North of Ireland where I was brought up, but bad in Southern England. Aren’t I w[oul]d have been hideously bad in Ireland but very good in England. And of course I just don’t know which (if either) is good in modern Florida. Don’t take any notice of teachers and textbooks in such matters. Nor of logic. It is good to say “more than one passenger was hurt,” although more than one equals at least two and therefore logically the verb ought to be plural were not singular was! What really matters is:–
1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.”
5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v.[ery] well. I hope you’ll like your new home.
With love,
C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

You've Never Read a First Draft

Brendan Mathews, a writing and literature instructor at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and his piece for Ploughshares....

Tales from the Barn

Weston Magazine Group has published my essay, Tales from the Barn, in their Train of Thought column on page 24.  It's out now in Tribeca Magazine, Hampton's Magazine, Alpine Magazine and Weston Magazine.

Chicken Soup for the Soul....Just Us Girls

Out in November, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Just Us Girls with my story, My Ohio Friends.  I sent this piece in almost two years ago.  It never hurts to put your writing out and then move on.  Sometimes you get a wonderful surprise.

Whatever the other shore is....Get There!

It's it's past bring this blog up to date.  It's shame on me for letting it slip since having this blog was my idea.  I kneel in repentance but am on my feet again to go forward with making this blog a place where our Writer's Group can express themselves though writing.

Let's make this a spot to explore our stories....use it as a way to find different means of creative expression...whether it's turning a piece of memoir into fiction...using the blog to try out a story...any story..maybe.only in dialogue....or perhaps in verse...or any way in which our writing might be different than what we've been used to.  Let's get creative.

I've been inspired by so much of what I've read this summer....essays, written in unusual and engaging ways.... and fiction which has taken me to places I've never considered going....and I've been inspired these past few days by the endurance swimmer, Diana Nyad who at 64 swam 110 miles from Havana to Key West.  Her fifth attempt...she didn't give up and I'll use her quote....

"Whatever the other shore is....Get There!"

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Spring's Kind Words

The writing class I taught, which began in the dark of the winter winds, has concluded in the twilight of the much welcomed spring. Three women, all with their own agendas, their own goals, came together and thoughtfully, and with extreme humor, lifted each other to a place, which I believe, never occurred to them they would go. At least not in the beginning.

The individuality which expresses itself in writing is a constant amazement to me. Thank goodness it always surprises me how the right words, the collective thought, conveys a new way of looking at a situation or an idea, which may appear, at first, mundane or irrelevant. For me, this provides hope. It’s a reminder each new day may start off with a pearly haze over the sun, but in the same way the jet stream alters the atmosphere, by evening, events not possibly imaged, have transformed lives and directions. This happens every day...all over the world. 

Good writing takes you on the same trip. Reading the first words, ready to be sent off to one place and then, quite startlingly, when reaching the end of a piece, you discover you’ve arrived on a beach you never knew existed. Someone’s thoughtful introspect of words well chosen has the same effect. Said with kindness, it only takes a minute, a few seconds, to impart a positive change. Whether written or spoken.  I saw it take place on the last night of our class and it made me want to come back for more.