Saturday, January 31, 2009

Greetings from Vermont!

Five of the Write Sisters are lucky to be attending the renown writers' (and illustrators') retreat, Kindling Words.

We arrived late Thursday afternoon and have been having a grand old time ever since! Besides writing, we've been attending thought-provoking sessions led by writer, Nancy Werlin, and illustrator, Mary Jane Begin.

Nancy Werlin

Discussions with others in the children's book biz take place continuously. It's been heavenly, topped off by the guardian angel of poetry--Ashley Bryan, who last night performed poems by Langston Hughes, Eloise Greenfield, Emily Dickinson, and others.

Something new this year has been joint poetry, painting, and drumming sessions that have taken us out of our comfort zone and delivered us in a zone of careless creativity!

I invite the other Sisters to elaborate on the whole experience.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Harold Pinter

I discovered Harold Pinter this month. Unfortunately, I only discovered him because he died. He passed away on Christmas Eve. He was a playwright, a screenwriter, actor, director, author, poet, and political activist, and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. If it had anything to do with words, it seems Harold Pinter did it. So far, I’ve only read his poetry, but I’m looking forward to reading his other work. Here’s one of my favorites.

After Lunch

And after noon the well-dressed creatures come
To sniff among the dead
And have their lunch

And all the many well-dressed creatures pluck
The swollen avocados from the dust
And stir the minestrone with stray bones

And after lunch
They loll and lounge about
Decanting claret in convenient skulls

Harold Pinter September 2002

Today's poetry Round-up is being hosted by
Adventures in Daily Living

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Women of . . . Wednesday -- Marilla Ricker

Of all the women I’ve profiled, Marilla Ricker is my favorite. She was a woman who knew what she wanted and went after it. Even as a child, she was a force to be reckoned with. She was born in 1840 in New Durham, NH, the second of four children. Her mother was a Baptist, her father a Freethinker. Marilla refused to go to church or say her prayers. “I will not kneel and pray, Hannah,” she told her mother, who she called by her first name.

At sixteen, Marilla was teaching school and was required to read to the students from the Bible every day. Marilla refused. When told it would mean losing her position, she went to school and told her students, “We will now read the startling and truthful account of Jonah whilst a sojourner in the sub-marine hotel.”

Marilla married John Ricker when she was twenty-three. He was fifty-six. He died five years later, leaving her an independently wealthy woman. The next year, Marilla attended the first meeting of the National Women’s Suffragette Association. When she returned, she tried to vote, but was turned away. Marilla protested. “ . . . so long as women are hanged under the laws, they should have a voice in making them,” she said. She also believed there was no point in asking men--her oppressors--for equal rights. Women had to do the work themselves. She said, “I have found that men will listen to all your arguments readily and then will go home and forget everything you have said.”

Marilla traveled to Europe to study with Freethinkers for a few years then returned to the US to study law in Washington, DC. She passed the bar and began working on cases that helped convicts and the poor. It’s said she never charged anyone for her work. When she returned to NH, the state would not allow a woman to practice law. She sued the state and won her case, giving women of NH the right to practice law.

From there, Marilla got involved in politics, and worked hard for the Republican Party. When McKinley became president, she applied to become Ambassador to Colombia, a position that normally went to a NH resident. Although she had supporters, she was still turned down. She was, after all, a woman. Still, it didn’t stop her. In 1910, at age 70, she announced her candidacy for Governor of NH.

“I’m running for Governor in order to get people in the habit of thinking as women as Governors . . . . People have to think about a thing for several centuries before they can get acclimated to the idea. I want to start the ball rolling.”

But Marilla wasn’t allowed to run. Only voters could run for office and Marilla could not vote. Still, she did get the ball rolling. In 1996, Jean Shaheen became the first female Governor of NH. It didn’t take centuries.

In August of 1920, when Marilla was 80 years old, the 19th amendment was passed giving women the right to vote. Marilla died three months later. No one knows if she ever cast a ballot, but I like to think she did.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mentor Monday--Conflict

Conflict, according to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (tenth edition) is the opposition of persons or forces that gives rise to the dramatic action in a drama or fiction. In other words, conflict is what makes things happen.

Conflict comes in all different shapes and sizes. It can be as minor as two people arguing over which movie to watch, or as major as saving/destroying the world. It can be between two individuals or factions, a person and the forces of nature, or a person and her emotions. The types of conflict you use will depend on the story you’re writing.

The main conflict is the catalyst for your story. It is what your hero is fighting against throughout the book. Voldemort wants Harry Potter dead. Harry Potter doesn’t want to die. Frodo wants to destroy the ring. Sauron wants it for himself and will do all in his power to get it. In a quieter, simpler story like The Higher Power of Lucky, the conflict is emotional. Lucky battles her fear of losing her guardian.

Minor conflicts are all the little troubles that take you from the beginning of your story to the end. They get in the way of the main character and prevent her from resolving the main conflict. In Harry Potter it’s Fluffy the three-headed dog, Filch, and the Death Eaters. In Lord of the Rings it’s Golem, the armies of Sauron, and the ring itself. In Lucky, it’s a dust storm.

The more complex the story, the more conflicts there will be, and while all stories can have physical, as well as emotional conflicts, a plot-driven story will lean toward the physical, and a character-driven story toward the emotional. Whichever are used, the minor ones are generally resolved within a chapter or two and usually lead to further complications, so that the first minor conflict (getting past Fluffy) leads to the second (landing in the clutches of a killer plant) which leads to the third (becoming trapped in a locked room full of flying keys) and on and on until the climax is reached and the main conflict is resolved.

To determine if conflict is working for you, list all the conflicts going on in your chapter one, then chapter two, and so one. (There may be one, none or several per chapter.) Beside each conflict, note if it was started, continued, or resolved. If started, which previous conflict did it derive from? If resolved, what new conflict does it lead to? When you’ve finished, you should have a trail of resolved conflicts that are all somehow connected.

If the trail is broken and/or you have unresolved conflicts, that’s a sign that you probably should go back and revise. Look for conflicts that go on too long. Can they be resolved sooner? Are unresolved conflicts really needed? Do they advance the plot or can your story do just as well without them? Find a way to connect the dots and, in the end, you’ll have a manuscript filled with conflict that will draw your reader in and keep them reading.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Poetry Friday--Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech

Hate That Cat is a novel written in poetry. It is the sequel to Creech's Love that Dog. Like the first book, it is the story of Jack who must write comments about the weekly poetry lesson in a classroom journal. Jack's teacher, Miss Stretchberry has followed her class to the next grade. Jack is happy about this fact because Miss Stretchberry "understands my brain."

The journal takes us through the school year as Jack sorts out his feelings about his dog's death, his fear of cats, and his love of words. Jack tries his hand at poetry, too, and we see him use his new-found writing skills as he attempts to mimic some of the master poets his teacher introduces to the class.

Teachers will find a year's worth of poetry lesson plans in this little novel. Creech has rounded up a nice collection of easy to read verses by some of our most respected writers such as:

This Is Just To Say
William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

And this one:

Love That Boy
By Walter Dean Myers

Love that boy,

like a rabbit loves to run
I said I love that boy
like a rabbit loves to run
Love to call him in the morning
love to call him“Hey there, son!”...

Unlike other recent novels written in poetry, like Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust, this book is not written in verse to set a tone or tell a story in a tight form. Jack does not always write in verse and we see Jack's work improve as he works through his lessons.

I listened to the audio version of the story and I highly recommend it. The narrator, Scott Wolf, does a fabulous job of putting us in Jack's head. And, at just slightly over an hour, it's a great way to entertain yourself while running errands.

This week's roundup is being hosted by Laura Salas:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Women of ...Wednesday: For My Granddaughter

I had planned to write about Marita Bonner today. She was a Harlem Renaissance writer. But I think I will save her for February: Black History Month. Instead I would like to write about a person who is nearly a woman: my granddaughter, Lexi.

I spent yesterday like many Americans: television on, watching and listening to every bit of trivia the broadcasters shared about the events surrounding Inauguration Day. As primarily a writer of non-fiction, I am a junkie for facts. And, having lived nearly 3 score years, I have had the privilege of witnessing some of the most amazing events of the 20th and 21st centuries. But yesterday, my thoughts often drifted to Lexi.

I already knew what the election of this president meant to her. Lexi is only twelve so she does not qualify as either a Republican or a Democrat. The election of Barack Obama to the presidency was not about politics to this child. It was about possibilities. Lexi watched a man, whose history mimics her own, rise to the top.

When my son met Lexi's mother, Lexi was about 18 months old. Her father, an African American, was not part of her life. When Lexi turned 6, my son married her mom. Like Obama, Lexi sees her white family more than her black family. I know this confused her even at age 6. While her parents honeymooned, we took a trip to Washington, D.C. to bring my youngest daughter back to college. It was a big change for a little girl from New Hampshire. There were many, many more black, brown, and tan faces in the D.C. crowd than are usually seen in our little state. At one point, Lexi sighed, spread her arm towards the crowd, and said to me, " I should live here with these people." It broke my heart to think that this much-loved little girl was already feeling like an outsider--years before the usual middle school traumas. I had not realized that a six-year-old was capable of thinking beyond her own little world.

I did my best to comfort her and say what I hoped were the right words: "All families are different. Family members don't always look the same..." I pointed out the difference between my blond blue-eyed son and brown haired, brown-eyed daughter. The daugher looked less like a born relative of my son and more like she belonged with Lexi. Did my words help? I don't know.

A few months ago, after the election, Lexi asked if I was glad Barack Obama had been elected. I told her I was pleased. She nodded and replied, almost in a whisper, "Me, too." I knew what those words meant. For Lexi and so many other children like her, Obama's election helped them feel less like an outsider and more like the loop that connects two strong chains of people.
What a great gift to a future Woman of Wednesday.

Lexi, at age six and a half.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mentor Monday: How to Critique a Manuscript--Your Own & Others

Usually, writers are devoted readers. As a result, we develop a sense of what constitutes good or successful writing. Sometimes, however, it's difficult to verbalize what it is about a story that brought about these feelings. We know we like a piece. We know it worked. If asked what made these positive feelings occur, we might say the characters spoke to us, the language was lively...or touching...or frightening.

When trying to critique someone else's work, we often have the same issues. There are lots of "parts" to a successful manuscript. Over the years, the Write Sisters have learned that by working together we generally can find ways to strengthen our work because each of us tends to look for particular details. I, for example, am always looking for tension in a story. Kathy is very good at getting us to cut unnecessary words and write tight. After year together, we found that we heard each other's voices and critiques while new pieces were being written. We also found it helpful to collect a list of critiquing tips. It became a checklist for reviewing a work-in-progress:

1. Does the opening grab you?

2. Are you aware, early in the story, what the protagonist's problem is?

3. Is the voice correct? (First person, third person, omniscient?)

4. Is the plot clear? Does every sentence move the story?

5. Are the characters appealing and realistic? (Even villains should have a good side!)

6. Can you visualize the setting?

7. Does the writer show, not tell?

8. Is the point of view consistent?

9. Is the grammar appropriate to the story? Appropriate for the target audience?

10. Is the writing tight?

11. Is the story chronological?

12. Are there too many confusing flashbacks?

13. Are the characters well-developed and clearly individuals?

14. Are the characters well-named? (not, e.g. James, Jane, Janice, etc.)

15. Is the language appropriate (not too much slang, dialect, etc.)

16. Are the descriptions too long?

17. Is there white space? (Varied paragraph lengths, dialogue, etc.)

18. Are the page-turns appropriate?

19. Is there tension? A climax?

20. Does the ending work?

21. Is there a market for the story?

Take any story you've written and go through the checklist. I guarantee you'll make improvements.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Poetry Friday: Ring out the old, Ring in the new

In the bitter cold of this week and the sense that our nation is entering a new era, a poem from the 1850s is spinning round my memory. People think of this as a Christmas carol (because of the bells, I suppose) but it’s more accurately a New Year’s carol. The verses are part of a longer work Tennyson wrote when he was struggling with the untimely death of a friend who was engaged to marry his sister.

Harboring no delusions that any transformation will be easy or that any human politician is the anointed savior, I offer this poem because it expresses my fervent hope for a society that embraces the notion of commonweal.

from In Memoriam
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night--
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new--,
Ring happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land--
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

This week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is being held at Karen Edmisten's Blog. Stop by!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Women of Wednesday: Women of Ambiguity

Clara Driscoll: Philanthropist, politician – and bigot?

I’ve been researching the women I’m writing about for Women of the Lone Star State (and an interesting group they are, too!). One in particular has me thinking about our work as historians and as writers for children, and the delicate line we sometimes walk.

Clara Driscoll, born in 1881, was the beautiful daughter of a multi-millionaire land baron and the wife of a diplomat (she eventually divorced him). She was a preservationist, a businesswoman, a politician and a philanthropist. She’s best known as the Savior of the Alamo. After working with the Daughters of Texas in their failed attempted to raise the funds to purchase the old mission building (before the owners built a hotel on the site) Clara wrote a check to cover the shortfall: $65,000, nearly 87% of the total price. She donated her lavish estate for an art museum, and when she died in 1945, left her considerable fortune to a Children’s Foundation.

Clara was also a writer, and through the magic of Google books I’ve been reading some of her work: a volume she wrote about the Alamo as part of her efforts to rally support for its preservation. Fiction and non-fiction, the pieces are very much a product of their time: redolent with adjectives and romantic in description of people and places. They are frequently variations on an odd theme: someone has taken religious vows after losing their beloved, but in some way the beloved returns to them. The stories also reveal Clara’s deep prejudice. She was fiercely proud of being a Texan, a common trait among the descendants of those early settlers. In her writing, all the Texans are proud, honorable Anglos. The Mexicans, however, are another matter. Whether the men are Santa Ana’s soldiers or fictional boyfriends, they are inevitably “swarthy,” violent, and amoral. The women are either wizened old crones or dark-skinned seƱoritas who long to run away with the blue-eyed Texan, but for fear of some dangerous Mexican man who lurks in the shadows, muttering.

What to do with people like Clara? Or Hannah Dustin, whom we conveniently avoided in the New Hampshire book by virtue of her having been included in They Paved the Way? Or any number of other heroes and heroines of history who exhibited attitudes and behaviors not acceptable in our time? I am passionate about not laundering history. Warts-and-all is the only honest approach, I suppose. And yet we do not want to hold up such prejudices as honorable or worthy of emulation! And, as we are writing for the educational market, it is essential that we remain on the pc side of the line, lest our books be rejected by those whose task it is to preview and select what their students will read.

Some years ago I was embroiled in an academic argument over Alice Dagliesh’s The Courage of Sarah Noble. The book won a Newbery in 1957 and remains a standard in many units on colonial life, but in today’s world it is often condemned for its depiction Sarah’s fear of the Indians (if it’s been a long time since you read the book, Sarah’s father leaves her with her friends, a Native family headed by Tall John, while he goes to collect her mother and siblings. It’s their enemies, the “Indians from the North,” whom Sarah fears, because she knows her friends are afraid of them. ) The book has also been condemned because Sarah and her family are afraid of wolves. Never mind that both fears are absolutely true of the settlers of the time (whether or not they were well-founded). Were Alice to have written in 2004 rather than fifty years earlier, the book would almost certainly not have gone to print.

This is the dilemma we face, and I don’t claim to have a one-size fits all answer. For Clara Driscoll, and for our book, it is simple enough to ignore her books, which are not the main part of her story. Hannah Dustin is different – leave out the conflict and violence and there is no story at all.

Real women, real people are always complex. Our challenge is to present the heroes of the past to the children of the present in such a way that maybe, just maybe, the future they inherit may be closer to that Dream articulated by Martin Luther King, Jr. – that one day his children would be judged not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

What do you think?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mentor Monday: The Dreaded Outline

Though some writers will tell you they never outline, chances are they actually do. An outline is an essential tool in building a story or a book. While this may be obvious for a lengthy piece of non-fiction, even a picture book or a novel needs a thoughtful structure. (If the piece is really short, the outline may reside only in the writer's head, but as a middle-aged memory-challenged writer, I strongly favor paper!)

Most of us think of outlines as those structured frames we learned to make in school: Roman numeral followed by capital letter followed by Arabic number, you can’t have an “a” unless you also have a “b,” no complete sentences allowed. Writers’ outlines seldom look like those, which is why some people don’t think of them as outlines at all.

Grow beyond the structure and you’ll discover an outline can not only help you organize your material but will show you interconnections and pathways you hadn’t considered, gaps you need to fill in and mountains to be leveled.

Your first outlines for a new project are likely to be sketchy skeletons. Your headings may be characters or episodes, a broad list of topics or questions you hope to answer. Under the headings you jot down what you know about each one, and how each will interact with the others. Leave lots of blank space: as your thoughts develop you’ll come back to fill in more information.

For my “Sports and Games” book my first headings were seven regions of the world. As I did my research and filled in under the headings, it rapidly became clear that some sections were much thinner than others. This let me know where I needed to increase my efforts, and warned me where I was going to have to trim.

As you begin to accumulate material you’ll create another kind of outline. Building the structure of this “chapter” outline goes along with the process of mapping your work in your mind. Will it move chronologically, geographically, or thematically? How will you transition from one section or chapter to the next? For this outline your headings may be possible opening sentences, bullets or titles. Under each heading you’ll note the scene, the characters, and the action you’ll be describing there. You’ll note what information you’ll be including, and may decide some things need to be introduced earlier or held until later to improve the flow or balance of the work. When you actually begin to write, you may find yourself writing the middle of the piece first, then the scene leading to the climax, circling around to fill in the blank places later. An outline allows you to do this: you don’t have to write the book or article in the order that your reader will read it.

Your outlining will continue as you begin to write - the outline and the manuscript will interact, each illuminating the other.

Eventually you’ll create a polished version of this outline to include in your proposal (when you may label it "synopsis"). It shows the editor that you’ve developed your ideas and know how you’re going to get from the beginning to the end without getting bogged down or sidetracked in the middle. For now, this outline is a working document. It should be very messy, because as you research, think and write, you’ll be adding new ideas and new information, moving material around to accommodate different approaches, and lopping off bits that turn out to be awkward or extraneous.

Think of your outline not as steel girders within the building of your creative work but as scaffolding erected alongside it. Scaffolding enables you to move around the work, hammering here and welding there. It lets you go back and forth between parts that aren’t yet connected. It lets you show someone else the structure of the building before it’s ready for them to come inside. Like scaffolding, your outline may be dismantled and reassembled multiple times before the work is finished. Eventually it will be removed completely. Yet without it the project would be more difficult, if not impossible.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

eCourt Connections

Imagine our surprise when Janet emailed us to let us know The Write Sisters' Women of Granite is featured in the NH State Judicial Branch's newsletter, eCourt Connections: An Online Newsletter for the New Hampshire Court Community, Fall/Winter 2008. NH Supreme Court Justice Linda Dalianis was one of the women profiled in our book, and it is obvious to the newsletter reader, that her peers are proud to see her there!

Right below the mention of Women of Granite, there is a piece on a winner of the "Marilla M. Ricker Achievement Award." Marilla M. Ricker was another one of the women profiled in our book. Perhaps Barbara will blog about her one day soon. Until then, I will include this short piece from an October 1, 1905 article in the Railroad Telegrapher (St. Louis, MO), which reports on Ricker's "demand" for the right to run for a seat in Congress, and quotes Marilla as saying,
In the Constitution of the United States, Article first, Section second, reads: "No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained the age of twenty-five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen."

It lies right there in a nutshell. I am twenty-five, a citizen of the United States and a citizen of New Hampshire, and if any one takes issue on the sentence, "he shall be chosen" I refer him to the criminal code of the United States. It says he shall be punished, and not a word about her; still, I've seen many women in prisons. Unless he can be construed to mean she, the punishment for treason is limited exclusively to males. Shall the word he include woman in one set of laws and exclude her in another? I want to go to Congress, and there are no laws to prevent it. Why shouldn't I be nominated and elected? I need votes—-nothing else!
Yay, Marilla! You go girl!


Friday, January 9, 2009

Poetry Friday--A Challenging Year Ahead!

I don't do New Year's resolutions. What I do is devise a challenge. Several years ago I challenged myself to write a haiku a day. It worked until sometime in August--8 months! Not bad. Last year I made the same challenge to myself. I don't even think I made it through the first two weeks. The difference between the two years? Habit. I stuck to the first challenge long enough for it to become a habit.

This year I have challenged myself to write a poem a day. It makes no difference what kind--children's, adult, haiku, free verse, etc.--almost anything will count! It's now day 9 and so far, so good. Another week or two and it will become a habit and I won't have to THINK about doing it, I'll just do it.

Do you want a challenge for yourself? If so, try to write everyday using the fabulous prompts at easystreet prompts. There you will find striking visuals and "random words and phrases" to get you started. If you don't want write on a daily basis, there are several weekly poetry challenges you can take:

  • Laura Salas has a Thursday challenge "15 Words or Less Poems," which I mentioned here before. I've been participating regularly for more than a year now. It's something I look forward to each Thursday morning before I go to work, and, it's one of the reasons I'm often late to work, too!

  • Tricia holds a Tuesday "Poetry Stretch" at The Miss Rumpius Effect. You can find the first "stretch" of 2009 here.

  • Every Saturday there's a prompt posted at Totally Optional Prompts. The latest challenge had to do with writing a sestina, quartina, or tritina.

  • Remember, you can do any of the above challenges without posting your work publicly. Write for yourself. The whole idea is to exercise your poetry muscles! If you don't like exercising at the gym, you do it at home, right?

    Here's the poem I wrote for yesterday's "15 Words or Less Poem" challenge:


    colloidal oatmeal
    vitamin E--
    salves, lotions,
    and creams.
    Nothing alleviates
    skin cracks...
    but spring.

    It was inspired by the photo Laura selected as a creativity starter, but really, it comes out of my personal battle with red, raw, hands! See what others created from the same prompt, here.

    Challenge yourself to make poetry a habit in 2009--write it, read it, celebrate it!

    This week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is being held at Picture Book of the Day.


    Wednesday, January 7, 2009

    Woman of...Wednesday, Oney Judge--Woman of Courage

    If you don't know the name Oney Judge, you may be surprised to find that she was a slave owned by none other than Martha Washington, wife of our first president.

    (When I was growing up, I didn't know that George Washington owned slaves. It's one of those facts that somehow never got mentioned.)

    Oney's story is probably typical of many slave women during the late 1700s--she was light skinned and therefore she became a house slave, rather than a field hand. According to Washington, she was "was brought up and treated more like a child than a servant."

    In 1796, this young woman gave up her "privileged" situation as Martha's personal slave and risked her life for freedom. Through the help of friends, she managed to walk away from the Washington home, hide, and then board a ship.

    I told her story in Women of Granite: 25 New Hampshire Women You Should Know. Why does her profile appear in a book of NH women? Because the ship she escaped on headed to Portsmouth, NH.

    It was a risky move. Slavery was still legal in NH at that time, but it was not widely practiced. As a matter of fact, census records after 1800, never showed more than 8 slaves (and sometimes none) in the entire state. Public opinion was definitely opposed to slavery.

    Washington wanted to have Oney captured and sent back to him. Ever concerned with public opinion, though, he instructed his representative,
    I do not mean however, by this request, that such violent measures should be used as would excite a mob or riot, which might be the case if she has adherents, or even uneasy Sensations in the Minds of well disposed Citizens...
    Despite several attempts Washington was ultimately unsuccessful. After a harrowing escape from Portsmouth, Oney spent the rest of her life in Greenland, NH. She lived in the poorest of circumstances until her death in 1848.

    Fifty years after her escape she was interviewed. The Rev. Benjamin Chase, in a letter to the editor of The Liberator wrote
    This woman is yet a slave. If Washington could have got her and her child, they were constitutionally his; and if Mrs. Washington's heirs were now to claim her, and take her before Judge Woodbury, and prove their title, he would be bound, upon his oath, to deliver her up to them.
    Imagine living for 50 years, not quite free, and always with the idea that you could be captured and sent back into slavery! Such a sad, sad, story.


    Monday, January 5, 2009

    Mentor Monday--Junk Words

    Here's a favorite quote by Mark Twain:
    Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

    Damned good advice as far as I'm concerned!

    VERY is what I call a JUNK WORD. It's not the only one, of course, here are a few more: JUST, EVEN, SO. Eliminate just these four words and your writing will be so much better. I guarantee you'll even feel better! (Yes, I know Twain used just in the quote above, but I'll bet he never overused the word or used it carelessly. A writer is allowed to use a junk word every once in a while. As in everything, moderation is the key.)

    The international/public affairs magazine The Economist, has an article on its website titled, "Unnecessary Words." The first word mentioned is VERY. The writer goes on to point out other words that don't do anything to get a writer's point across.

    Eliminating junk words is especially important for those who write for children. There's no sense in muddying a child's understanding of what you're trying to say!

    A good book for all writers to study is Write Tight: Say Exactly What You Mean with Precision and Power by William Brohaugh (Sourcebooks, 2007). It is well-written, witty, and eye-opening. At $14.95 it is worth every penny.

    I'm going to close with one more quote by Mark Twain,
    The more you explain it, the more I don't understand it.
    The guy was full of good advice!


    Friday, January 2, 2009

    Poetry Friday--Inspiration for the New Year

    Author Unknown

    The hen remarked to the mooley cow,
    As she cackled her daily lay,
    (That is, the hen cackled) "It's funny how
    I'm good for an egg a day.

    I'm a fool to do it, for what do I get?
    My food and my lodging. My!
    But the poodle gets that-he's the household pet,
    And he never has laid a single egg yet--
    Not even when eggs are high."

    The mooley cow remarked to the hen,
    As she masticated her cud,
    (That is, the cow did) "Well, what then?
    You quit, your name is mud.
    I'm good for eight gallons of milk each day,
    And I'm given my stable and grub;
    But the parrot gets that much, anyway,--
    All she can gobble--and what does she pay?
    Not a dribble of milk, the dub!
    But the hired man remarked to the pair,
    "You get all that's coming to you.
    The poodle does tricks, and the parrot can swear,
    Which is better than you can do.
    You're necessary, but what's the use
    Of bewailing your daily part?
    You're bourgeois--working's your only excuse;
    You can't do nothing but just produce--
    What them fellers does is ART!"

    The moral to this poem: Don't be "bourgeois." Go out and produce some art! It could make all the difference in the quality of your life.

    This week's Poetry Roundup is being hosted by A Year of Reading