Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mentor Monday - It Takes a Thief

You’ve heard it before. There are only three plots. Man against man, man against nature, and man against himself.

But wait. There is another theory. The two plot theory. A stranger comes to town. The hero leaves town.

And if you’ve been around long enough, you’ve probably even heard the one plot theory. The hero wants something and will do anything to get it.

Regardless of which theory you believe, I think we can all agree that no matter what we write, it has already been done in some way, shape or form. So what’s a writer to do?


Yes, I’m advocating theft. Steal an old story and give it a new spin. But don’t just steal any old thing. Steal from the best. Think about timeless stories that have been around forever, stories that are read by one generation after another. Those are the stories to steal.

How many versions of A Christmas Carol have you seen? West Side Story is clearly Romeo and Juliet, and The Lion King a thinly disguised Hamlet. And Frank Herbert’s Dune? It looks an awful lot like the story of Moses to me.

As a children’s writer, you might take another look at Charlotte’s Web. Turn the animals into teens, blend in your twisted take on life, and you have an angst filled YA. Take Lord of the Flies, mix in some great humor, and a dark tale becomes a hilarious adventure story. Move the Little House on the Prairie to a distant planet and you have a sci-fi series.

If you do it well, no one will ever know you stole your idea because your story will be vastly different from the original. Why? Because hopefully, you’ve added your own experiences, your own take on life, and your own personality into the characters and events of your story. All that should remain of the original is that small kernel of truth that everyone relates to, that touches your heart or causes you to think, that turns your story into the next ‘classic.’

So pick a plot. A timeless plot. Twist it, bend it, shape it - mold it into something fresh and new. And remember the words of the French film-maker, Jean-Luc Godard.

“It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.”

Sunday Sharing--Yet One More Place to Do a Search

Google, as we all know, is usually the first search engine we go to in researching a topic. For many people, it's the only search engine they use.

How about trying a different search engine for a change? One I came across is called JURN. JURN is
A curated academic search-engine,indexing 3,163 free ejournals in the arts & humanities.
You can search it the same way you search Google using some of the hints mentioned in the past two "Sunday Sharing" posts.

Try JURN with a topic you've searched using Google and see if you don't find a whole other avenue of research to explore!


Friday, June 26, 2009

Poetry Friday: What's a "suppet?"

Even though I write most of my own curriculum, I'm always on the lookout for things I can use. In pulling together and organizing my curriculum for this coming school year I came across the poem Mary by Walter de la Mare. My 4 and 5-year old students recite a number of poems each year at our spring concert. This year they did Emily Dickinson's A Bird, Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, and Ridiculous Rose by Shel Silverstein. I'm adding Mary to our roster of poems.


by Walter de la Mare

Mary! Mary! Mary!
Come to the dairy, please!
Give me some butter to spread on my bread,
Give me a morsel of cheese.
The cows in the meadow are chewing the cud,
Some of them deep in the stream --
Give me a suppet of curds and whey,
Or a wee little bowl of cream!
It's half a week since breakfast,
And cook won't spare a crumb;
Fol-di-diddle-O, starve I shall,
Unless, you dear, you come!
A hungry wolf's inside me,
Though I wouldn't for world's just tease:
Mary! Mary! Mary!
Come to the dairy, please!

It's almost tailor-made for my classroom. Kids love interesting language, and they love puzzles. "Suppet" is both. Is it a bowl? A snack? A variant of "supper?" And how often do you get to say Fol-di-diddle-O? The melodramatic starving business/hungry wolf is so 4-years old, as is the tone of urgency and immediacy. Most 4-year olds I know who want something want it NOW!

The best connection, however, is the name. Mary. I have a rat terrier named Mary who visits my classroom from time to time and is practically a celebrity as far as my students are concerned. In fact, one of my students (who also happens to be my nephew) made up a little rhyme about Mary, which all the kids say when she visits.

Mary, Mary make you a fairy. (by Arthur Murphy)

This week's Poetry Friday is being hosted by Kelly Herrold at Crossover.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Women of Wednesday: Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was Grace Curtis's best friend. Grace was born the fourth of eleven children nearly 90 years ago in Beverly, Massachusetts. Within a year or so of her birth the fifth child arrived, followed not long thereafter by the sixth. In a family of that size, babies don't stay babies very long.

Although Grace wasn't talking, she potty-trained at a reasonable age and managed to blend in with her growing sibling group. She loved music, and often sat on her mother's lap while Lydia played the piano and sang songs with the family. Soon, Grace was picking out tunes on the piano and singing nonsense lyrics. Her favorite song was Everybody Works But Father, much to the delight of her father, Carl, who called her Plucky.

As the years ticked by it became abundantly clear that Grace was enormously challenged by the simplest things. Nevertheless, it was still a huge shock when the doctors declared Grace profoundly retarded. With the babies still coming, there was nothing to do but put her in The Walter E. Fernald State School in Waltham.

Formerly known as the Massachusetts School for Idiotic Children, Fernald was a snake pit. Still, it was the best alternative at the time. In fact, Carl and Lydia had a hell of a time getting Grace admitted. After much string pulling by a well-connected Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (for which the family is still grateful) that Gothic horror show opened up for Grace. She was placed in Fernald shortly before the birth of my mother in 1927.

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, at just about the same time, another family struggled with a daughter's intellectual disability. The Kennedy family had power, wealth and resources that the Curtis family could only dream of. Although disabled in much the same way as Grace, Rosemary Kennedy would live a protected and secure life. The Kennedys would see to that. Nobody would ever pull all their 12-year old daughter's teeth because she bit an abusive attendant. Rosemary wouldn't carry scars on her back from whippings received at the hands of her guardians, either.

Christ only knows what other abuses and indignities Grace suffered at the hands of her keepers. She certainly couldn't tell. She and thousands of other "idiotic children" were voiceless, powerless, and invisible to society. This is where Eunice Kennedy Shriver comes into Grace's picture.

Eunice may have been Rosemary's baby sister, but she was also her biggest advocate, protector and best friend. Eunice watched out for Rosemary and made sure she was included in the swirl of activities surrounding the Kennedy family. When Rosemary's disability became such that she had to be institutionalized, Eunice could easily have taken her place among the idle rich. Instead, she threw herself into service of others.

She became a social worker and worked with women prisoners in West Virginia and juvenile offenders in Chicago. Eunice was the driving force behind everything her brother, President John F. Kennedy, did for people with intellectual disabilities. Eunice became Grace's voice.

Things started really turning around at Fernald in the early '70s, thanks to people like Eunice Kennedy Shriver. In fact, if you were to drive onto the Fernald campus today, the first building you'd pass is the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center. Special Olympics, which Eunice founded in 1968, brought unimagined joy to Fernald residents, including Grace.

Grace is still a Fernald resident. Despite the brutal years, Fernald is Grace's home. These days, it's a much happier place, in spite of Governor Deval Patrick's attempts to close it down and place the residents in community homes. What a colossal tragedy that would be for Grace and the other "lifers" who are finally living dignified, fulfilling lives in the only home they've ever known.

Grace is now receiving hospice care, and hopefully will be reuniting with her mother and father very soon. I'd like to think that when she does, her back will be smooth and her mouth full of pearly whites.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mentor Monday: Why It Works -- Reading Critically

If you want your writing to sing like Pavarotti, you have to read what you write. I'm not talking about proofreading what you've written, I'm talking about reading within your chosen genre. I've been teaching preschool and accumulating picture books for the last 29 years. Even though I have close to a thousand picture books in my personal collection, I still hit the library or bookstore a few times a month just to read picture books. I'm always on the lookout for books to add to my collection, which doubles as my preschool's library. When Rain Falls written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Constance R. Bergum is my latest purchase.

I initially picked this book up to examine for two reasons. I'm always looking for good read-alouds for story time, and I knew the picture on the cover would speak to my little students. The subject matter, too, would be great for a rainy day story time. Right off the bat I had a visually appealing book with a terrific subject.

The story started in the end papers, with an illustration of a girl and boy in a pastoral setting flying a kite, oblivious to the storm approaching from behind. A page turn to the title page found the children turning to face the storm. The next page turn pictured the children fleeing, holding the kite umbrella-like and laughing as they raced for shelter. Before even reading a word, I was drawn into the story.

The actual text started, "Inside clouds, water droplets budge and bump, crash and clump. The drops grow larger and larger, heavier and heavier until they fall to the earth." Fantastic! I had a science lesson wrapped in a lushly-illustrated story. I read through the rest of the book to see if it was teachy-preachy, which would have been the kiss of death for me. It wasn't, but I did have one little problem, which I'll talk about later. It didn't keep me from buying the book, however. Little problem aside, I knew I had a keeper.

The real test of this book still lay ahead. Would it pass muster with my students? I'm a pretty good judge of what my students will and will not like, and I was sure they'd give this the thumbs up. I must say I was surprised when I read it to them. They didn't like it. They loved it. I read it in all 3 classes I teach, and without exception it was a huge hit. It took looking at it through my students' eyes for me to realize exactly how appealing this book is to preschoolers.

My students range in age from young 3s to almost 6, and that book caught the attention of every last child. Why? Number one, the subject matter is familiar. Children have a frame of reference for rain. Extend that frame of reference to give them an aha moment, and you've got a winner. The aha moment here is that there are animals out there sheltering from the storm. People aren't the only ones who want to get out of the rain. Melissa took something familiar and gave her young readers something new to think about.

Number two, it gives jumping off places for discussion and further exploration. It takes us up into a beehive and down inside an ants' nest. We're left wondering if a spider's carefully built web will survive the storm.

Number three, it creates delicious tension. At one point, a raindrop knocks a ladybug off a flower. "The insect bounces into the air and then tumbles to the ground."

That prompted one of my 4-year old boys to shout, "Did he die?!" He was completely invested in that ladybug.

Which brings me to point number four. It gives the reader something to care about. The children wanted to know what the author wanted to tell them.

Like I said earlier, I only had one problem with the book. As the story unfolds, the reader moves through what appears to be the kite-flying children's world. We start out in their neighborhood where the kids take shelter in a house while the reader moves to the forest, which felt like an extension of the neighborhood. We see squirrels, chickadees, hawks, deer, and foxes, then it's on to a field filled with wildflowers and backyard-type insects. Nothing too exotic here. From there we head over to a wetland with cattails, turtles, whirligig beetles, sparrows and ducks. We could practically walk back to the neighborhood from here.

The next page turn finds us in the desert. Whoa! I've been taken completely out of the story. Where the heck did that rattlesnake come from, to say nothing of the cactus, tarantula, elf owl and spadefoot toad. How did we get geographically so far removed from the kite-flying kids? I understand that Melissa is showing rain in a variety of habitats, but trying to cram as many habitats as possible into one story felt a tad forced. Those kite-flying kids anchor the story in one place, and I found the move to the desert jarring and unnecessary.

It didn't bother my students in the least, probably because they have a limited geographical frame of reference. Or maybe because they're still at an age where magical thinking is the norm (Santa, the tooth fairy, etc.) that moving from mallards to tarantulas was no big deal. It also didn't bother the editor at Peachtree, so it's quite possible it's just a "thing" for me.

That said, it's still a fantastic book and a great example of top-notch creative nonfiction. In fact, it would make a terrific read in the Northeast today where the rain seems to be a permanent resident.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Sharing--More Google Hints

Here are a few more little Google hints that I didn't know about until I attended a workshop a few weeks back. Not all of them are spectacular, but most could come in handy every once in a while.

Say your computer clock is off, and you want to know the correct time. In the Google search box type "time." At the top of the results will be your local time and the time in several cities. Say it's 1:46 pm Saturday where you are, and you're looking to call a friend in another part of the world, but you're not sure what time it is there, type "time:city name." For example, you type in "time:bangkok" and find it's 12:46 am Sunday, perhaps a little too late to be calling, unless your friend likes to party on the weekend!

Same thing goes with the weather. I type in "weather" and get the weather for my general area, New Hampshire. If I type in "weather:03079" I get the weather for my town in NH.

You can check out a movie by typing in "movie:film name" and bring up sites related to a particular film. I'm not crazy about this feature though, I'd rather go to Internet Movie Database, which I have on my bookmark toolbar because I use it so frequently. But, try it for yourself, you may like it. I do like getting movie times for my local theaters by typing in "movie times" (no colon here). The first time you do this, you may have to put in your zip code. You can change the location to check listings in other areas.

The last thing I'll show you today has to do with music. Say you want to learn more about the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Type in "music:squirrel nut zippers." The first thing showing is "Artists-All Artists Shown," and under it is Squirrel Nut Zippers. Click on it and it brings you to another page that lists albums. On the left you can click on "Show Summary" to get a listing of all the tracks on the group's albums. Also on the left is the group's website and other links to photos, etc.

Perhaps you already knew all this, but if not, the above mentioned searches, and more, are explained by Google here. You will notice that I use a colon in my searches above, but Google doesn't. In some cases it makes a difference, but in others it doesn't. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Poetry Friday: From "The Grand Canyon"

I've never seen the Grand Canyon. In a couple of weeks I will be there, looking over the edge, legs most likely feeling like rubber, but heart and mind awed by the imposing view. I searched for a poem that would prepare me. Here is an excerpt from a poem by Jean Garrigue. I felt the entire poem a bit long for this venue but the middle was just what I was searching for. Excuse me while I go practice pronouncing violaceous, mirlitons, and rachitic...

The Grand Canyon
Jean Garrigue

…when I came to the edge and looked over:
violaceous, vermillion
great frontal reefs, buttes,
cliffs of rufous and ocher angles,
promontories, projections, jutments, outjuttings
and gnarled mirlitons, so it seemed
twisting up out of depth beyond depth
gnarled like the juniper tree
rachitic with wind I hung on to
as the raven’s wing, glassy in the light of its black,
slid over me

there at the edge of this maw, gash
deepest in the world that a river has made
through an upwarp in the earth’s crust,
thickets of tens of thousands of gorges eaten out
by freezing and thawing, tempests, waterspouts,
squalls and falls of the river
with its boulders, pebbles, silt and sand sawing down
through the great cake of geologic time,
eight layers laid bare,
the total effect creating what geometrical effect
in a rocky silence so clear
a bird’s voice, even a boy’s
is sponged out, sucked up by this stillness
stinging, overpowering the ear,
pure condition of the original echoing soundlessness
this voluminous wrung resonance
welling up out of the handiwork
of the demiurge wrestling down there
in an infinity of imperceptible events…

To read the whole poem, go to:

This week's Poetry Friday roundup is being hosted by Carol Wilcox at Carol's Corner.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Women of...Wednesday: Tribute to Elizabeth Yates

What inspired you to want to write for kids? For me, it was reading Amos Fortune: Free Man by Elizabeth Yates with my 4th graders. After reading the novel, I knew I wanted to be able to make historical figures come alive as Miss Yates did.

There were steps to the process. First, I had to convince myself I could be a writer. Then, I had to start writing, and keep writing--a lot. Eventually I sold my first book. That year, my middle child was a fifth grader. His teaching team arranged a field trip to Peterborough, NH. They would meet and talk with Elizabeth Yates and then hike through Shieling Forest, the woods Yates and her husband had purchased and given to the state of New Hampshire. I volunteered to chaperone. I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to meet my inspiration.

Miss Yates was wonderful with the kids. I got to thank her for writing the book that had helped me choose my next career and we posed together for a picture. She autographed my copy of Amos Fortune. I was so excited to tell her that I'd just sold my first book. When it was published, I sent her a copy and a thank you note for the kind words she shared in the inscription she'd written. She invited me to visit her.

By this time, Miss Yates had moved to a retirement community in Concord. She lived in a lovely little condo and kept tomato plants by her back door. The neighbors, she said, were wonderful and knew not to disturb her in the morning because that was her writing time. She was well into her 80s and still devoted her mornings to writing! I will never forget the visit. Some years later, when she passed away, I attended her memorial. Turns out there were many, many people like me who had been inspired by and encouraged by Elizabeth Yates. The woman who had no children of her own had nurtured hundreds.

Last year, I got to return the favor in a way. I wrote her profile for Women of Granite: 25 NH Women You Should Know so that others would remember her. It was a pleasure to do so.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mentor Monday: My Deep Dark Secret

My name is Muriel and I'm a Twilight-aholic. I know what you're saying. You think you know someone... Then you learn something about them you wish you'd never heard...

Stephen King led me to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. He was quoted as saying something like, "The difference between Stepahine Meyer and J.K. Rowling is that J.K. Rowling knows how to write." I was intrigued. I would be giving a workshop on analyzing manuscripts and so I thought, if King was right, Twilight might be a good example of what not to do. A friend lent me the book on CD and, as I listened, I did find myself getting thrown out of the story by some of the writing. However, you can't take good notes when you're riding around in your car listening to a recording. So, I bought the book.

I read it again, Post-it page markers in hand, so I could mark what I perceived as weaknesses. I found a lot of them. Twilight began to look like a college student's text before the final exam. Dozens of orange Post-its floated from the edges of the pages.

So what bugged me? Meyer's preface has a dynamite opening: "I'd never given much thought to how I would die... The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me."

If this is the climax of the story, wow! What kid wouldn't want to read on? But...

The first chapter takes us back to the beginning of the plot. This is a love story. Meyer has taken the familiar nice-girl-falls-for-bad-boy plot to a new level. The Bad Boy is a vampire. A complicated vampire. A GOOD vampire. And our heroine is the only one who knows about this duality.

Eventually, following the dilemmas that only this sort of romance can cause, our heroine, Bella, faces death. But the author never brings us back to that moment on page one. The circle is never completed. I felt that the preface was tacked on after the rest of the book had been written.

The young lovers are compelling characters. I believe this is why Megan Tingley, the editor, might have seen promise in this book. Meyer didn't do as well with her minor characters. They spend a great deal of plot time in the high school cafeteria, staring into space. We learn little about their personalities and yet they all become integral to the climax of the story.

What bugged me the most, however, was the out-of-date style of much of the dialogue. It's perfectly sensible to make a 100 year old vampire speak like it's still 1918. Bella, however, does not sound like a modern teenager. Granted, she's a gifted student, but I've known lots of gifted students and they did not act like walking doctoral candidates. Meyer also makes the beginner mistake of trying too hard with her attributions. Here's an example:

"He's been too modest, actually," I corrected.
"Well, play for her," Esme encouraged.
"You just said showing off was rude," he objected.
"There are exceptions to every rule," she replied."
"I'd like to hear you play," I volunteered.

This whole sequence would have been a lot smoother if the invisible word "said" had been used or some other actions had been included. Here's how I might have fixed this section:

"He's been too modest, actually," I said.
Esme pushed Edward towards the piano. "Well, play for her," she said.
Edward grinned. "You just said showing off was rude."
Esme rolled her eyes. "There are exceptions to every rule."
"I'd like to hear you play," I said.

I don't blame Meyer for these weaknesses. She was a newbie with this title and the next 3 books show that she took critique and worked with it. Megan Tingley shouldn't have let these things go by. When we write for kids, we want to model good technique. The Twilight series is so popular, that I worry that young readers will emulate some of the style issues in the first book. Teachers may not be able to address these issues in class because the books deal with vampires and some conservative parents will not want them used in a classroom setting. It's up to us and our editors to give kids well-written books.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Sharing--Narrowing Your Search

When doing a Google search, there are several ways you can narrow your search.

The first, is to put your search term in quotes. For instance, let's do a search on hot air balloons. When I did the search without the quotation marks, I got 4,680,000 results. With the quotation marks, 1,040,000 results. I've already narrowed my search down significantly.

Now suppose you want to search only educational sites because you're looking for more scholarly information. Put your search in like this "hot air balloons" site:edu. Doing the search this way ended up with 5,000 results (remember, though, edu also will bring up elementary school websites, which may not be what you're looking for). You can search government sites by using site:gov (5,180 results), or organizational sites, like museums, clubs, and organizations, by using site:org (49,500 results). Of course, if you're simply looking to buy a hot air balloon, you can narrow your search to only commercial sites by adding site:com to your search term (621,000 results).

Have fun!


Friday, June 12, 2009

Poetry Friday--City I Love

On the cover of City I Love (2009) is a determined looking, brown dog who you know is going places. You open the picture book collection of poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins to find a world map on the endpapers. On the map are labeled 18 cities, from San Francisco to Tokyo. An illustration on the dedication page shows the dog at JFK International Airport-- on his way.

Within the book are 18 poems, one for each of the cities. Each poem celebrates a different aspect of city life--hydrants, skyscrapers being constructed, city lights, etc. The dog is seen as an participant in each city's activities. In the end you find the traveler back in Manhattan.

The poems are kid-friendly and are paired nicely with the illustrations of Marcellus Hall. Combined, they make a delightful package and would be good for classroom use, especially the sturdy of world cultures and poetry (this, from "From the Ground" would a fine example to teach alliteration: balance on beams/dangle on derricks/glide on girders).

This is my favorite is a short poem about a carved horse.


Merry-go-round horse

This week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is being hosted at Critique de Mr. Chompchomp.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Women of...Wednesday--Sarah Remond

Just last week, in looking for information on another woman, I came across the name of Sarah Parker Remond (1826-1894). Had I known about her before, I would certainly have suggested that she be included in Women of the Bay State: 25 Massachusetts Women You Should Know.

Here's something she wrote in 1861 about an early experience in her hometown of Salem, MA:
One morning, about an hour before the usual time for dismissing pupils, the teacher informed us that we would no longer be permitted to attend the school, that he had received orders from the committee to give us this information, and added, "I wish to accompany you home, as I wish to converse with your parents upon the matter." Some of the pupils seemed indignant, and two expressed much sympathy. I had no words for any one; I only wept bitter tears, then, in a few minutes, I thought of the great injustice practised upon me, and longed for some power to help me to crush those who thus robbed me of my personal rights.

Years have elapsed since this occurred, but the memory of it is as fresh as ever in my mind. We had been expelled from the school on the sole ground of our complexion.
Sarah Remond was a black child, who not only did not forget, but she went on to be a fighter for justice. In 1853, after being thrown out of an opera house in Boston and being assaulted by the police, she sued for damages and won $500! She became a noted anti-slavery lecturer and went to England where she was well-received. In her 40s she entered medical school in Florence, Italy, became a doctor, and went on to practice medicine for more than 20 years! What a woman!


Monday, June 8, 2009

Mentor Monday--Animals Can Do the Strangest Things!

Some stories simply have to be told with animal characters. Why? Because the plot involves actions that are deemed too silly or too dangerous for a "real" child. For instance, you can't have a human preschooler cross a busy city street without an adult, but, you can have a little talking cat do it. Or, you wouldn't have a human child mistaking a beach ball for a seagull's egg, but you can have a silly monkey do so.

Think about the Frank Asch books with Bear. The endearing little character hears the moon talk to him in Happy Birthday, Moon, he plays hide-and-seek with the moon and worries when it doesn't come out from behind a cloud in Moongame, Bear makes popcorn ON A STOVE in Popcorn, and he takes a rocket ship to the moon so that he can taste it in Mooncake. Try any of those story lines with a human character and you'll be thrown right out on your ear!


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunday Sharing--DOAJ

It's sometimes difficult to find magazine and journal articles from the comfort of your home if you don't have access to databases through a public library or college/university account. I recently came across DOAJ: Directory of Open Access Journals. Of course, it's not going to have everything you may need in your next research project, but, according to the site, it does have
free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals. We aim to cover all subjects and languages. There are now 4216 journals in the directory. Currently 1542 journals are searchable at article level.
Click here for an expanded subject listing of the journals covered. At the very least, it's worth a look!


Friday, June 5, 2009

Bob Dylan: Thunder on the Mountain

I wasn't a big Bob Dylan fan as a youngster, but I'm a big one now -- especially of his later works on Modern Times. Here are the lyrics to my favorite song on the album, a rockin' bit of brilliance from a great poet. It loses something in the reading, so I think it's far better to listen to it -- you can check it out at where all his songs are featured.

Thunder on the mountain, and there's fires on the moon
A ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon
Today's the day, where I'm gonna grab my trombone and blow
Well, there's hot stuff here and it's everywhere I go

I was thinking about Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying
When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line
I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be
I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee

Feel like my soul is beginning to expand
Look into my heart and you will sort of understand
You brought me here, now you're trying to turn me away
The writing on the wall, come read it, come see what it does say

Thunder on the mountain, rolling like a drum
Going to sleep over there, that's where the music is coming from
I don't need any guide, I already know the way
Remember this, I'm your servant both night and day

The pistols are popping and the power is down
I'd like to try something but I'm so far from town
The sun keeps shining and the North Wind keeps picking up speed
Gonna forget about myself for a while, gonna go out and see what others need

I've been sitting down studying the art of love
I think it will fit me like a glove
I want some real good woman to do just what I say
Everybody got to wonder what's the matter with this cruel world today

Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I'll stand beside my King
I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I'll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman's church, said my religious vows
As I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows

I've got the pork chops, she's got the pie
She ain't no angel and neither am I
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams

Thunder on the mountain heavy as can be
Mean old twister bearing down on me
All the ladies in Washington scrambling to get out of town
Looks like something bad is going to happen, better roll your airplane down

Everybody going and I want to go too
Don't wanna take a chance with somebody new
I did all I could, I did it right there and then
I've already confessed, no need to confess again

Gonna make a lot of money, gonna go up North
I'll plant and I'll harvest what the earth brings forth
The hammer's on the table, the pitchfork's on the shelf
For the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Women of Wednesday: Bobbie Sandoz

I love oral histories, and I love women who fly, especially those who flew in the early days. I tend to write their profiles for our Women of . . . series.

Roberta Boyd Sandoz Leveaux will likely never be featured in one of our books, but her story is as compelling as some of the bigger na
mes in women's aviation. She flew for the British ATA -- the Air Transport Auxiliary. Early in their war involvement, the Brits realized they'd need to press all able-bodied pilots into service (much earlier than the US considered it during its involvement.)

The Brits hired Jackie Cochran to recruit women pilots. This is a story in itself, and has been covered elsewhere.

The website where I found Bobbie Sandoz's oral history is an important project. This is In The First Person's description of the creators' project:

In the First Person
is a landmark index to English language personal narratives, including letters, diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, and oral histories. Working with archives, repositories, publishers, and individuals we've indexed first person narratives from hundreds of published volumes—those that are publicly available on the Web and those that are held by repositories and archives around the world. Our intent is to make it possible to find and explore the voices of more than 300,000 individuals.


WRIGHT: Today is March 25, 2000. This oral history is being conducted with Roberta Boyd Sandoz Leveaux.

Our topic today is her career in aviation that started many years ago. We would like for you to tell us, how did you get interested in aviation?

LEVEAUX: As a child, we up in the northeast corner of the state of Washington, we were on a migration flyway for geese. I had a fascination for geese flying in a wonderful formation in the sky. As a little kid, I remember hearing my mother say to my father, as I sat outside in my wagon waiting for the geese to come, "Do you think she's all right?" [Laughter]

I wasn't much for dolls, but I was fascinated with the sky, I guess. Do you know what a barnstormer is? Well, one came to the little town of Marcus, Washington, which is now under water because of the Grand Coulee Dam. Landed in a farmer's field, and we heard about it. I think I was a nag. Mother said, "No," and my father took me in secret. I was ten years old. The family story is, I asked the pilot so many questions, he gave me another ride. I saw the roof of my own house, saw my schoolhouse. Until the eighth grade, I rode a horse to school. The barn was larger than the schoolhouse. So it was a real country setting.

(the beautiful flying geese picture is from -- kenny42952)

But I kept that flight in mind, and being an only child and kind of a tomboy, very closely restrained, so when I got out of college, took my farthest away job offer, which was in San Francisco [California] and nearly starved to death spending my social work salary on flying time. Eventually the man who was teaching me—flying time then, if you can believe it, was five, six dollars an hour. Isn't that something? He recommended me to a civilian pilot training program. It was a group of ten, and they allowed one woman per program, and I was that gal.

It was wonderful training. It really saved my life a couple of times when I was in England. I took the second course, as well, which was aerobatics, which convinced me an airplane can be recovered from just about any old position.

I worked for a farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, as he had a lot of extended holdings. Elmer von Gom [phonetic]. Gosh, I haven't thought in sixty years. We landed on roadways in his fields. Sometime in there, I think just after civilian pilot training, I invested in a Porterfield Tandem, small 65-horsepower, with a partner who was a mechanic. Our deal was, I was to teach him to fly, and he was to keep the airplane in shape. It was a good deal.

After von Gom, I worked for a construction company. Actually, we had quite a forewarning of the Second World War. It was called CT&WP Stover of Claremont, California. I was the pilot for their estimator. They were building airfields in California, military airfields. It must have been late 1940. Pearl Harbor wasn't until the seventh of December, so we were certainly preparing. Meantime, having grown up on the Canadian border, I was very impressed with the English people in Canada.

You know, starry-eyed teenager, I thought, "Oh, aren't they wonderful. Don't they sound terrific." So I wanted to go help England fight their war, win their war, which started—you won't remember, but it started in September '39. So I made myself ridiculous by writing to the British Air Ministry and the RAF [Royal Air Force], and really didn't get any response until one from Canada, who told me to get in touch with Jacqueline Cochran. That would have been about October or November '41.

Eventually, I got a telegram from her. Those were the days when you received a telegram, you sat down before you opened it. Telegrams were a couple of lines, usually bad news. Well, in Cochran style, this was a page and a half. [Laughter] The stuff that really thrilled you, and there was the word "secret" in there. I wish I had a copy to show you. "Do not contact the press." Really undercover stuff.

(You can see Jackie Cochran in the photo to the right -- JB)

We eventually got in touch. She came out to Fresno to interview me. I didn't like her very much in the beginning. I had thought this lady is from New York and she's rich. I never dressed up very much, but I made a big effort, never wore much makeup, but made a big effort, and I think I must have looked like a floozy. [Laughter] But she was very hard on me. Said, "This is not a glamorous job. You're going to be cold. You're going to be hungry." Kind of abrasive.

WRIGHT: What did she tell you that you would be doing? Did she explain it fully?

LEVEAUX: Ferrying aircraft for the Royal Air Force. In the Battle of Britain in 1940, they lost, oh, I think over half of their pilots and the aircraft. Jackie had heard, I think it was someone called Harris, from the British Air Ministry, talking to Congress, and he was trying to arrange training in this country for British pilots and asking for volunteers. The sentence that really turned Jackie on was, "We are so desperate for pilots, we are even trying an experimental group of ten women." Ten British women were flying trainers at that time.

So she got herself to England and made arrangements to bring, it was some grand number like fifty qualified pilots, and, of course, there weren't that many. But I was one of that group. The British sent a check pilot to Montreal [Quebec, Canada], and we went to Montreal. Some of the most qualified people, I think, didn't go to England, which is a shame. But those were openly chauvinist days, and if you argued with a check pilot, that was considered inability to fly, I guess. I shouldn't—that's off the record. [Laughter]

But some good people didn't go, certainly much more qualified than I, more hours than I had, which was kind of sad. Anyway, we went in small groups of two, three, four. Someone asked why. The answer was, so you won't all be lost at once.

(the photo at the right shows some of the
British ATA pilots - JB)

The North Atlantic was very treacherous. This was early 1941, and I went with three other girls from St. John, New Brunswick, in a small Norwegian freighter. It went not in convoy, because it had a few knots faster than the known U-boat speed at that time.

To read the rest of her fascinating history, go to

Monday, June 1, 2009

Mentor Monday: Dangerous Dog Exercise

The object is to pick a noun and an adjective that goes with it.
Write fast. Don't use either the adjective or the noun in the description.

Use as much sensual detail as possible, and aim for the tone you
want to achieve by avoiding the usual words you'd use.

Dangerous Dog

The fur cinder block of his head rested on paws
that curved outward -- with claws like
a grizzly.
He hadn't seen me yet.

The crest of the eyebrows moved as his eyes flicked
back and forth. Up the street. Down the street.

Ten yards away, a robin landed on hard-packed dirt
that bristled with tufts of grass. The eyes stopped
their flicking -- the back and forth
and his fur rose one hair at a time until I could
feel the rumble of his growl through
the soles of my shoes.

The sensible bird lifted over the fence
and away. The brute settled back down
to resume his vigil.


Waiting for me.

The dog responds: Hey, don't look at me. It was just a part time gig. She asked me to pose as the
tough guy and all. Well, how could I refuse a writer? Especially with the economy being like it is, and me laid off and everything. Besides that, I've never really acted before, though I'd always wanted to try it. I figured it'd maybe be my big break. Like maybe that Cesar guy would want me on his show. Or maybe Larry King. You never know where opportunity will knock.