This week has been pretty hectic, so today I just uploaded a vlog to tell you what I've been up to, what I hope to be up to, and a thanks for all of those that have been there for me as this opportunity to write has emerged. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wVJnuyG6sE]
This isn't a normal blog entry, but I had to put this out there: my novel, PUP, is the NOOK Daily Find at www.barnesandnoble.com today! You can get an e-book version of the novel for just $1.99 today. If you need something to make you laugh, cry, or shake your head in amazement, it is a great purchase. Pass it on!
Just wanted to say that the first round of testing is going on at my school, so I don't have a lot of time for writing or blogging this week. That's always a bit frustrating. However, I will leave you with this reminder for the week: persistence! In all things that you do, keep at it. You may never quite reach the goal that you set out for yourself, but if you give up quickly, then you will miss the journey. The end is not what is important. The journey is what makes us who we are.
For any of you parents out there, I know that you can relate to this. Should you take time away from being (child's name)'s Parent and be You for a while? When? What can you do? Is it fair to your family? Well, I'd say this blogger describes the situation better than I, and I know that we can all relate to it!
I have had some people tell me before that they like spring cleaning. I never allow myself to turn my back on those individuals. They scare me. However, there is some spring cleaning that you, as a writer, might want to consider that could actually benefit you in ways that you never considered. Check it out![youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQeMuv2aM_Q]
I write the following as the personal opinion of a citizen. I'm very conscientious about not criticizing things in my profession. However, my wife asked me about something today that suddenly made me realize that I needed to say something. I realized that I needed to speak as a citizen, parent, and educator about something that everyone knows, but that so many with the ability to change things have ignored. Testing is killing teaching. Testing is killing creativity. Testing is killing a love of learning. Yet, sadly, testing isn't going anywhere.
My wife asked me if I knew about some sort of international recognition day that had to do with creativity. To be honest, it wasn't something that would have been likely to come up in my middle school class. It sounded like something that would have been used in younger grades. However, after she asked me, I realized how little creativity I have been making use of in my class over the past several years. It isn't that my class is intentionally unimaginative. What has become the problem is that the results of the high-stakes testing towards the end of the year has come to be so important that creating lessons that don't conform to what is likely to be on the tests hurts my students, my school, and myself. When your student's ability to take part in certain classes, or your school's reputation, or your own income or job security are based largely on the results of a single test, you don't dare to try and do anything outside of the realm of specifications for that test. This results in almost robotic adherence to exactly what you see on practice test questions or the precise words of the standards. The wiggle room is gone.
There are lots of political footballs and buzzwords that have dealt with this topic. Sometimes the number of tests are attacked. Other times, people try to blame new sets of standards like Common Core. Still others say that teachers are spoiled or lazy and just don't want to be held accountable in their job. The truth is that none of these are the true problem. Cutting down on how many tests or practice tests is certainly useful, but it doesn't get rid of the end-all be-all importance placed on the test results. Common Core isn't to blame. Teachers have always had to teach from a set of standards, and those standards have never been able to please everyone. After fifteen years in the profession, I can say that any true teacher that I have worked with has never complained about true, reliable accountability for their work. That brings us back to the weight placed on testing and the changes that it has brought to the classroom.
At this point, some of you may be asking what you can do about it. Well, there have been a few things that I have seen that are counterproductive. If you are a parent, trying to "opt out" of testing won't change things. In many places it isn't an option and it doesn't send the right message to the people that can actually change things. If you are a teacher, trying to publicly point out the problems with testing won't work either. It just looks like employees complaining about their job. The difference can be made by showing that we care long before the tests are put on the desks of the student.
We must get involved early. It starts with elections. Teachers and administrators do not make the tests or give them the weight that they do. Elected and appointed officials are the ones that make the difference. Some of this is done at the national level, but most of the decisions come from the local and state level. Study, get involved, and vote intelligently. After election day, stay involved. Standards, bills involving education, and even the textbooks used in the schools are all open to public discussion. Get involved in those discussions. Something that has happened with educators, parents, and even officials is that they don't point out the problems with a situation until after it has already been discussed, voted on, and approved. The old horse is already out of the barn when we try to close the gate.
I want to start being creative in my assignments again. I want my students to start being able to use their inherent creativity to enjoy learning more. I want the students to stop feeling the crushing stress that becomes a normal part of their day in the spring. I know that I'm not alone in this. We must act intelligently to bring a love of learning back into the schools and into our students' lives.
A while back, I found some soaking wet socks in my son's bathroom. A few days later, I found six soaking wet socks hidden in his bedroom. I asked him what was going on. "I had a dream once about a monster attacking people. I've been showering in my socks so that I can throw them at him to chase him off." Of course, my response to this was, "Son, you are ruining your socks because of an imaginary situation that is never going to happen." At least, that was what I said out loud. In my mind, I was thinking How can I possibly incorporate this into my next book?
On any given day, my cat goes also-freaking-lutely insane. For no apparent reason, she will run sprints all throughout the house. She seems to be attacking bugs that no one else can see. She howls late at night at nothing. She figures out precisely where you intend to sit and decides that is the very place that she intends to nap. I suppose that it shouldn't surprise me that my son loves the cat almost to the point of obsession.
The thing about both of these individuals, my son and the cat, is that they live a lot of their lives in their own imaginations. It's something that can make each day very difficult for those around them as people that don't live in their worlds try to figure out what is going on. However, for my son and the cat, it is a perfectly equitable arrangement, and why shouldn't it be? They might live in their own worlds, but everyone there knows them. The imagination is where they find peace, joy, excitement, and whatever else they are seeking at the moment. Who should deny that?
The truth is that I tend to benefit from it as well. Of course I work to make certain that my son can interact and function in the world. That is my job as his father. However, he as well as the cat, remind me how to make use of my own imagination. They help remind me how to find some of the more simple joys in life that cannot be discovered on a television screen or computer monitor. As a teacher, he reminds me of the youth that I interact with daily, even if that youth left me (chronologically) a while ago. As a writer, he brings me to a place in my imagination that helps me to create the universes needed for a good story to be told.
If you are a writer, or someone that just needs a smile, consider things from the point of view of a child, or even look at the world as a cat. If neither are an option, then think of the last time that you wanted to say, "What the crap was that?" You would be amazed at the direction that this can lead you in.
I remember trying to start my first novel when I was younger. It was unbelievably overwhelming. Coming up with a story idea was easy. Trying to come up with all of the characters, setting up the universe in which the story takes place, giving background, and all of the other details just seemed like more than I could handle at the time. If this seems to be your situation, I have an idea for something that can get you started on your road to developing your skills as a writer. That's this week's vlog topic. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1Twi0SsDVU]
Today is Valentines Day. A day when many are enjoying expressions of the love of their significant other, or they are expressing their feeling for someone that they have long desired. Of course, there are also those that dread this day and see it as nothing more than a reminder that they are single. Most amusing among these people are the husbands that have failed to buy a Valentines Day gift for their wife. I remember watching a sitcom back in the 90's where men were fighting tooth and nail to get their hands on the last card and box of chocolates in the store. It was pretty funny. Well, I have a confession to make. I haven't bought a Valentines Gift for my wife in several year. I'm still alive and still married. Imagine that! Now don't misunderstand me. I have always been big on Valentines Day. I used to get roses or other flowers for all of my female friends in high school because I didn't think that any lady should be without a flower on Valentines Day. Yes, I gave my girlfriend more than I gave my friends. I tried to be creative every Valentines. This continued into my marriage. I was always trying to come up with something unforgettable each year. It started to become a rather expensive and stressful endeavor, especially since my wife felt the need to try and match my creativity. Then one year, and I don't quite remember when that was, we both started asking ourselves, "Why?"
It would be easy to start thinking that the romance has gone out of my marriage. After all, I have been married now for over fifteen years, we are parents, both of us work full time, and Netflix and chill for us actually means that we watch Netflix and relax. Add in the fact that we don't get each other Valentine's Day gifts and it's easy to think that we are just going through the motions. However, you have to take a look at the other 364 days in the year to see that this isn't true. I never miss the chance to tell her that I love her. We snuggle together on the couch every night. We are constantly holding hands. One of the reasons that we have stopped getting each other gifts (we often do not give Christmas gifts to each other either) is so that we can save money to go on trips as a family and have fun together in new ways. I can honestly say that I haven't missed the Valentine's gifts. I recognize the love that is there for me every day.
Now, if you happen to be someone that enjoys Valentine's Day, be my guest. I'm not trying to rain on your parade. Have a great time. However, if you chose not to give a gift this year, make certain that you have expressed your love every other day this year. What better Valentine's gift could anyone ever hope to get?
Persistence can be an absolute necessity for all steps of writing. Where does it come in and why is it important? That is my message in this week's vlog.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixJqPMY_X9k]
A character from one of my favorite shows once said, "We've done the impossible, and that makes us mighty!" Some of the most enjoyable stories and movies that we ever experience deal with a character that is overcoming major challenges. There is something uplifting about cheering on the underdog. Maybe it gives us a feeling of accomplishment to see that someone else can achieve what seems impossible. Of course, cheering on the underdog and being the underdog are two very different things. Do you get that feeling of accomplishment when you are the one having to face the challenges, or do you get a feeling of dread at what might happen if you can't overcome the odds? Most of my writing centers around fish-out-of-water, underutilized and disrespected characters. The usually don't recognize their own potential until they reach some new height, be it on purpose or on accident. Either way, the achieve what would have seemed impossible just a chapter before. I actually smile as I write, revise, or re-read some of those characters accomplishments. It can provide a sense of divine justice. The person most deserving receives the rewards. How can you not love that?
Of course, reality is a lot different from fiction. Many of us face challenges every day. Maybe it is a child whose behavior is slow to change. Maybe it is a job that is trying your patience. Maybe it is the difficulty of getting your finances in order. Maybe it is something as simple as the weather not cooperating with what you have planned. These are usually the challenges that don't make it into books, movies, or television shows. For all of the obsession that people have with reality television, it rarely deals with true reality. When was the last time that there was a show that followed one of its characters for two hours while they tried to figure out why their checkbook won't balance? How about an episode that centers on trying to figure out how you are going to get supper cooked, your child tucked in, your take-home work finished, and still have time to watch the show that you have been waiting all week for? Even Seinfeld, the show that famously claimed to be about nothing, never focused on the every day challenges that most people face. Why not?
My theory as to why we don't see shows, movies, or books that deal with these everyday challenges is because we all already have to. These challenges can stretch us to our limits. We don't want to see them again because we will either be reminded of how difficult it had been to take care of, or we will see a different approach that we had not considered and be angry because it is too late to change it. This is one of the reasons that I don't watch reality television. I watch television to get away from reality. I'm sure that most people would agree that they read or watch television and movies to try and forget about the challenges that they feel may have cursed their days.
Of course, in the end, are these daily challenges really curses or blessings in disguise? Well, I would venture to say that they are both. The challenges stretch us to our limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. It's easy to see that as a curse. However, they also keep us moving forward in our lives, accomplishing the tasks necessary to be the people that we need to be for those that depend on us. That makes them a blessing in disguise. Of course, that disguise is so well done, that we hardly ever see it. That is why we seek out the underdog stories. They motivate us to keep pushing forward in the hopes that we, too, will do the impossible. So, you keep pushing your way through that daily grind (as will I), and I'll try to help provide that underdog motivation to keep us going. I figure that combining those two things will go a long way towards making us mighty!
I had the pleasure of getting to be there when my best friends became parents recently. I have watched over the last few days as the things that they think are important have changed. It is a great lesson in life as well as a great lesson for writing. Watch my vlog to see why.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8xoJv5wVBY]
I hope that everyone is doing well despite the weather. Also, if anyone is interested in follow-up stories to the one I posted last week, I can post them a little bit later. The other day I was reading a story about how often pictures get photoshopped. It occurred to me that we often do the same thing with our writing. I promise, it will make sense when you watch the vlog.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNQWnF6MJzg]
I'm back with a vlog today. Today I was thinking about the most basic concept that is present in every day of our lives- the passage of time. The question is, do we remember that constant companion of time in our writing? [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLOXyaaxf1o]
I thought that I might do a little something different today. I found an old story that I wrote, and I figured that I would put it up here for your entertainment and opinion. Of course, this story was written over a decade ago, so my style has (I feel) improved greatly since, but if you have a few minutes and want to feel better about yourself (because you aren't the main character), then here is an old story of mine that was the beginning of a series I wrote for my friends centered around the character Norman Blackberry:
No Luck, No Chance, No Problem By: Christopher Slater
Copyright 2000 Norman Blackberry was always excited about new opportunities. He was especially excited about new opportunities in places where people didn’t know him. Norman was always trying to escape his reputation. He wasn’t mean. In fact, he was one of the most polite people you could meet. He wasn’t stupid. He was salutatorian at his graduation. If there was one word for Norman’s reputation, it would be unlucky. Norman never tried to find problems. They always seemed to find him. He stopped going to watch his high school’s football team after lightning struck the bleachers he was sitting on. He was not hurt, but the city banned him from the stadium as a health hazard. He was the first patient in recorded history to get food poisoning from a cracker. He also set the record for most number of broken bones suffered in one year of gym class. Events like this had been occurring all of his life. Because of this, no one wanted to be around Norman. Looking around at the small community college campus, Norman was hoping that would soon change. There were lots of people here that didn’t know about his perpetual bad luck, so there was a chance that he might be able to turn his reputation around. As he walked towards one of the buildings, he dreamed of what life might be like if it were just a little different. He pictured a large group of friends hanging on his every word as he told stories about his many adventures. He imagined a lovely girlfriend who thought the world of him. He imagined his confident walk as he went into classes where everyone hoped he would be there. He imagined that the door was open when it really wasn’t. Norman smacked into the closed door, bounced off of it, and rolled back down the steps. As luck would have it, most of the students were standing outside of the building, socializing before their first class. The roar of laughter was deafening. Norman tried to laugh it off, but he knew no one was fooled. He gathered up his books, gave a shy wave to the applauding crowd, and walk back up the stairs. He stood at the door for a moment, trying to figure out how to open it when his hands were full of books. The people coming out of the building were not so patient. One flung the door open, hitting Norman, causing him to roll down the steps again, this time with a bloody nose. Norman missed his first college class because of his trip to the clinic. Much to his surprise, his nose wasn’t broken. The nurse’s hand was broken, though. It happened when Norman set his books down. He hadn’t even known she was sitting there. He was already banned from the clinic. His next class wasn’t until after lunch, so he decided to take a trip to the cafeteria and try to get through it without injury. Norman was almost successful in his attempt to eat lunch without incident. He went to the Subway in the food court and bought a meatball sub. It had always been one of his favorites. He very carefully carried his meal to the table, managing not to trip or spill any of his drink. He sat down, rather proud of himself. He ate his meal with a ravenous hunger. It had been a long morning and he was very hungry. When he had finished the foot long sub he was surprised to realize that he was still hungry. He had never eaten two subs at one meal, but he decided that he might as well eat rather than have a rumbling stomach in class. He stood up to go purchase another sandwich and heard an odd thumping noise. He chose to ignore it and headed towards the counter. The first sign that something was wrong came when people started giving him strange looks. Norman knew from long experience what would come next. Sure enough, there started to be a few giggles, then outright laughter. Norman looked down to see that his shirt and pants were covered in red marinara sauce. He looked back over at the table and saw several meatballs on the floor. The reason that the sandwich had not filled him up was because half of the meatballs had fallen out of the sandwich and into his lap. Embarrassed, but refusing to show it, Norman continued to walk towards the counter. People were looking at him and laughing as he walked by. Norman just kept walking until something unusual caught his eye. There was one young lady sitting at a table nearby. She was tall and slender, with long, dark hair. She had striking brown eyes that seemed to sparkle when she looked at him. She was one of the prettiest ladies Norman had ever seen. On top of it all, she wasn’t laughing at him. She was looking right at him and smiling. Something in her face didn’t make him think she was amused. It seemed more like she was smiling to encourage him. Norman could do nothing but stare. Something about the young lady had truly captured him. It would have been better if he had stopped walking while he stared at her. Instead, he ended up walking into the counter at the Subway. This brought a new round of laughter and a groan of pain from Norman. He looked back at the lady that had entranced him, but she and her friends were on their way out the door. “What can I do for you?” asked the worker at the register. “One meatball sub please,” Norman replied. The worker grinned mischievously. “You want a fresh one or do you want us to just scrape that one off of your shirt?”
Norman went back to his car before his next class. He grabbed a jacket and buttoned it up to hide some of the stain. It worked for the most part, but the temperature was in the upper nineties and the jacket was a warm one. Norman had probably sweat off five pounds by the time he entered a classroom. His face was read and his shirt was soaked. Now he couldn’t take off the jacket because of his sweat-stained shirt. It was like a never ending cycle for him. Norman found a desk, sat down, and looked around. He continued to look around several more times. Something there didn’t seem quite right. Suddenly, it hit him. “I’m surrounded by nerds!” he exclaimed, not quite realizing he had said it out loud. Everyone with taped glasses and a pocket protector turned towards him with a scowl. He shrank down in his seat until he hoped he was invisible. Eventually the other students turned back around and continued their debate on who the best captain was on Star Trek. The professor finally arrived. He looked like he fit right in with his students. Tall, thin, and with glasses so thick that NASA had offered to buy them from him, he stepped up to the front of the room and growled “Q’aplah!” Everyone in the room answered in kind, except Norman. He just sat there, wondering what in the world was going on. For once, he didn’t feel like the biggest geek in the room.
It had taken twenty minutes for Norman to realize that he was not in his psychology class. In fact, he was sitting in on one of the stranger courses offered at the school: Speaking Klingon for Beginners. He had to have one of the other students explain to him that it was a made up language for the Star Trek shows and movies. He had gotten up to leave and was ridiculed with names like qu’ahom and patakh. He couldn’t decide whether to be insulted or not. After checking his schedule, Norman realized that he had gone into the correct room number, but in the incorrect building. He finally found the correct building and classroom. He was already half an hour late, so when he opened the door, all eyes turned towards him, including a pair of sparkling brown eyes. Norman stopped in his tracks. The young lady from the food court was sitting in class with the same smile, looking at him. He could swear that her smile was speaking to him. You’ll be fine, it said. Just give it time. As he stood in the doorway, staring, he heard a new round of laughter. It took him a moment to tear his attention away from those eyes. Then he became a little more aware of the world around him. He had the distinct feeling that someone was behind him. He could hear them breathing. He could feel them staring at the back of his head. Worst of all, he could smell them. It wasn’t a horrible smell. In fact, it was very familiar. The scent of ivory soap mixed with corn oil from cooking. Never in his life had he wanted that smell to be anywhere other than here. He slowly turned around. It was like waking up to a nightmare come true. Behind him stood none other than his mother. Normally when he had this nightmare, Norman was standing in front of the class in his underwear. He couldn’t help but check to make sure he still had all of his clothes on. Thankfully, he did. But then the nightmare returned when his mother reached up and hugged him, loudly proclaiming “Oh, my little boy is in college! I can’t believe it! You are just growing up so fast!” Norman managed to squirm out of his mother’s grasp. No one in the class was making a sound. It was as if they were all too shocked to believe that this level of embarrassment could really happen to an eighteen year old. “Honey, I just stopped by to remind you that you promised to run by the grocery store and pick up some milk. All right, I will admit it. It was just an excuse so that I could come by and see my sweet boy on his first day of college.” Then, in the final act of social death, she reached up and pinched his cheeks. “Now you just go on in there with all your little friends and have a good time.” Norman’s mother walked away, still emitting that high pitched squeal of delight that mother’s are known for. Norman made his way to an unoccupied seat, not daring to look towards the girl with the brown eyes. He was certain that even she would not be able to encourage him after something like that. The class was still in shocked silence as he got out a paper and pen to take notes. Even the professor seemed surprised. Finally, after a full minute of the loudest silence Norman had ever heard, the professor continued his lecture. “So, as I was saying, class…the classic case of an overprotective parent is usually characterized by behavior like…well…like that!”
Even Norman had to admit that he was glad when the first day of college was over. It had been rough even by his standards. He didn’t look forward to going home and seeing his mom. He could never quite bring himself to tell her how much she had embarrassed him. He knew that it would devastate her. Still, if she showed up again, he thought he might exit through the nearest window, no matter what floor he was on. If there was a silver lining to the very dark cloud that was his college reputation, it was the lady with the brown eyes. Norman could not stop thinking about her. It wasn’t just because she was beautiful. Norman wasn’t that shallow. It was because of the look that she had given him several times that day. She wasn’t looking down at him. She wasn’t laughing at him. She wasn’t trying to pretend he didn’t exist. She wasn’t even trying pretend that she didn’t see him fall over in his chair (that happened shortly before the psychology class was dismissed.) She knew that he had messed up, but she smiled anyways. Whenever he saw that, Norman was almost able to forget how clumsy and unlucky he was. Almost. Before he made it home, Norman made a decision. He was going to try and meet that young lady. In fact, he almost felt confident enough to ask her out. That was a major leap for Norman. He had not been out on any dates. Most people were scared to be in the same zip code as him, much less have any sort of social contact with him. It was amazing how long rumors of him spreading chicken pox to his entire fourth grade class had stuck with him. Most girls were afraid to get into the same vehicle as Norman for fear that something might explode or some illness will be spread, and they will be part of it because they were near Norman Blackberry. Despite these problems, Norman thought that it might be worth trying to ask this young lady out. She looked like she might understand. She might be forgiving. She might give him the time of day. Norman said all of these thoughts out loud. He was in the habit of talking to himself, especially when driving around. He came to a stop sign and hit the breaks. They squealed a little, but Norman didn’t notice. He was still carrying on his one man conversation. People crossing the street in front of his car kept looking at him, wondering if he had a small headset or if he really was just talking to himself. Norman paid them no mind. If he had, he would have seen the brown-eyed lady walk in front of his car and smile warmly at him. He also would have known that she wasn’t all the way across when he hit the gas and started driving again. He ran over her foot, breaking three toes. He never knew it and didn’t even stop.
College can pass by pretty quickly. Before he even knew it, a month had passed by and Norman had still not spoken to the brown-eyed lady. He had discovered her name. Vanessa. Vanessa Humphries. He only had one class with her, so he only saw her on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In fact, the next time that he saw her, she was on crutches. He didn’t know why but he hoped she was all right. When he saw her talking with a group of friends outside of the Humanities Building, he tried to walk up and talk to her. When he approached, one of Vanessa’s friends saw him coming and shrieked. The others picked up Vanessa’s books and hustled her away. He wasn’t certain, but he thought he heard Vanessa yelling something about it not being his fault. This scenario continued until almost October. Still, things were looking up for Norman. He had convinced his mother to never visit the school again. He had learned to pack extra napkins to prevent ruining his clothes. He had even learned a little Klingon to be able to converse with the nerds. His psychology class was going especially well. No matter what disorder they were learning about, Norman seemed to be aware of a good example. It was often things that he saw in people around him. Many of the students whispered that it proved how he could drive people nuts. The professor had taken a liking to him until he asked Norman to come to the front of the class one day to demonstrate multiple personality disorder. Norman was only too happy to oblige. Norman leaned casually on the chalkboard, not realizing it was reversible. The chalkboard spun around suddenly, knocking Norman off balance and smashing into the professor’s head. The professor still showed a wonderful demonstration of multiple personality disorder: first was Confused Man, followed by Speechless Man, followed by Angry Man. He was about to introduce Norman to Violent Man when the bell rang. Norman beat a hasty retreat out of the classroom. He was down six flights of stairs before he knew it, and, realizing he was out of breath, he sat down in the lobby to rest. When he heard the elevator ding, he looked up without thinking. Still hobbling, but at least without crutches, Vanessa stepped out and headed for the door. She didn’t see Norman in the lobby. Norman watched as she left, still unable to understand why he couldn’t get her out of his mind. Did she really understand him? How could she? They’d never met. Surely she couldn’t understand what it was like to be the first person sent to the hospital after being attacked by a large-mouth bass. Who could, except Norman? Norman slowly got up and walked towards the outside door. He stepped out and looked around. The leaves were turning. The colors were beautiful. Someone was sitting on the campus lawn playing a guitar softly. There were workers going around the campus gathering leaves to put into large, wheeled trash cans. They all seemed to be so happy. And then there was Vanessa. She had hobbled a pretty good distance, but Norman could still see her. Then, to his surprise, Vanessa turned around. She looked right at him and smiled. It was that same encouraging smile that he had seen before that seemed to make her eyes shine. At first, Norman couldn’t believe that she was looking at him. He turned around to see if anyone was behind him that she was trying to smile at, but there wasn’t. When he turned back around, Vanessa was still looking at him. She gave him a little wave, and then continued to walk across campus. Norman was in a state of complete and utter bliss. She had waved at him. He was happy to the point of being manic. He was suddenly on top of the world. All of the accidents, broken bones, lightening strikes, animal attacks, and poor clothing choices that had ever affected him didn’t matter any more. In a fit of recklessness, Norman hopped up on the rail of the steps and started to slide down. He was grinning from ear to ear. That feeling of complete joy is probably what kept him from really thinking his actions through. The stairs leading out of the Humanities Building were steep. So was the railing. Norman was giddy when he first started sliding down the rails, but that giddiness quickly changed to terror as he picked up speed uncontrollably. Norman let out a little squeal before he reached the bottom of the rail, because he saw where he was heading. At the bottom of the rail was one of the large wheeled trash cans the workers were using to collect leaves. With no way to stop, Norman closed his eyes as he flew off the rail and landed in the trash can, neatly folded in half with both his arms and legs sticking out of the top of the can. The trash can began rolling with the momentum that Norman had picked up. Norman had absolutely no control over where it was going. It proceeded along the sidewalk and down a hill. Picking up speed, Norman began to realize not only the danger he was in, but the danger to others. He started to hear people yelling at each other to get out of the way. He felt a bump and then heard what sounded like a squirrel moaning. A few students even threw trash into the can as it sped by. Norman was pretty sure that whatever good fortune he had built up was being flushed right down the drain. This became even more clear when he head someone yell “Vanessa! Get out of the way!” Vanessa turned around just in time for the trashcan to crash into her. Vanessa, the trash can, and Norman fell over in a tangle of arms, legs, books, leaves, paper wads, and two empty Coke cans. It took Norman a few seconds to gather himself. He was dizzy and in pain. When he looked beside him and saw Vanessa lying on the sidewalk, that pain tripled. He immediately stood up and started muttering apologies. “I’m so sorry! I couldn’t stop! Are you all right? Are you hurt? Are you single? I mean…are you all right?” It took a moment, but Vanessa slowly sat up. She looked up and saw a very nervous Norman stretching out his hand to help her up. Despite the throbbing in her foot and the scratch on her head, this made her smile. She accepted Normans outstretched hand and pulled herself up. It was the first time that Norman had really gotten to look at he up close. She was taller than he was, with dark black hair that cascaded halfway down her back. She was wearing a pair of wrangler jeans and boots. Norman stared at her for a moment, then realized he was staring. He mumbled something about helping her and bent over to pick up her things. He started reaching for her books and noticed where she had dropped a hat. A cowgirl hat. He picked it up, more out of curiosity than anything. Vanessa reached over to take it from him, lightly brushing his fingers when she did. Norman had to fight against passing out he became so light-headed. Vanessa put the hat on and Norman almost passed out again. He had never been bug on the whole country look, but it worked perfectly with Vanessa. Realizing that he was staring again, Norman started to stammer. “I’m….uh…my name is…uh…what’s my name again?” Vanessa laughed lightly. “Hello, Norman. My name is Vanessa.” She held out her hand for him to shake. Before he even knew what he was doing, Norman took Vanessa’s hand and kissed it. As soon as he realized what he had done, Norman dropped Vanessa’s hand and lifted his head up, prepared to be slapped. When no slap was forthcoming, he opened his eyes and looked at Vanessa. She was blushing. Norman knew that he needed to say something, but he wasn’t sure what. “I…uh….well…what was my name again?” Vanessa smiled that smile once again. “I have been wanting to talk to you for so long, but I never seemed to find the opportunity. I was wondering if you might be available on Friday night for a date?” Norman heard the words, but it took him a minute to realize that he wasn’t the one saying them. In fact, Vanessa was asking him out. Vanessa seemed to know that there was no way that Norman would be able to answer. The chances that he could put together a syllable, much less an entire sentence, were pretty much nil. She wrote her address and phone number on a small piece of paper. She placed it in his hand and whispered as she walked past. “Pick me up at seven, please.” Norman never knew that she had left. The shock had been too much for him. A few second after she had walked by Norman finally passed out, falling back into the trash can and continuing to roll, much like Norman, to destinations unknown.
I've gone through editorial notes before. I've gone through my writing and corrected grammar or bits and pieces of things so that they sounded better. What I have not had to do before is go back and really rewrite something that I've already completed. I have to tell you that it's kicking my butt![youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZyakYUT7xs]
This week I was thinking about...well, a lot more serious subjects than maybe I should during the holiday season. Regardless, I realized that there is a growing segment of the population that is often not included in writing as well as television and movies. We are doing that segment and ourselves a disservice by not including characters that truly represent them.. Of course I haven't really included these characters either (at least not on purpose), so I am going back in my work-in-progress and changing that. You may want to consider that as well.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMkSqT0eL9o]
I was working with some students in the creative writing class I sometimes teach, and I asked them to write a family story. Some of the most enjoyable stories that I tell are about family members and family events, and I wanted to have the students try the same thing. I have only gotten to hear a couple of the stories, but I noticed something in the ones that I did hear that got me to thinking about many of the things that I have read and why some of those things haven't grabbed me the way that other stories have: some writers have forgotten one of the basic lessons about a story. I'm sure that many of you have drudged your way through English class because you had to. Even writers have to push themselves through it sometimes. Don't take offense, English teachers. It is true of every class. I teach history and I had to drag myself through several history classes. However, there is a lesson from the class that we shouldn't forget, and that was the basic outline of a story. There should be an introduction, there should be conflict, there should be a climax, and then the resolution and conclusion of the story. This sounds pretty obvious, but you would be surprised at how often this doesn't happen.
There are all sorts of reasons why writers might not use this formula. Perhaps they are trying a new approach and see the novelty as a form of artistic expression. Maybe they are writing non-fiction and don't think that there should be a climax to it. Perhaps they didn't really look at the story after they wrote it, but instead recorded as almost a free flow of thought. Whatever the reason, I see this happen, and most of the time it doesn't work. Artistic expression only works if others can understand what you are doing and why. Don't get me wrong. I still like to see people experiment, but if I can't figure out their goal at the end, I may not give their next work a try. Unless you are writing a reference book, a non-fiction story still needs to captivate its audience, and having a climax helps to do that. Free flow of thought can work, but most of the time an audience wants to have that buildup of anticipation that leads to the climax. Otherwise, it's like listening to that relative that loves to pull you aside to tell you things at the holiday gathering but never seems to get to the point.
Long story short, go back to the basics. Look at your writing and see if, in some way, it follows the traditional model. You have to have that anticipation, and you have to have that climax. It's like the shiny object that grabs everyone's attention and says "Look at me! Shiny object! I'm a shiny object!" We know how well those work in real life. Why shouldn't they work in our writing?
There seems to be something important missing from a lot of books these days. It is the same thing that writers claim is destroying the book industry, and yet they make extensive use of it themselves. Its technology. This week I ask why aren't you putting tech in your story?[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jW2w9gNFk8U]