Thursday, September 27, 2012

Poetry Friday--"Full of the Moon"

Tomorrow the moon will be full once again. With the air so crisply fall-like, it's a good time to be dancing by the light of the moon.
Full of the Moon
by Karla Kuskin

It's full of the moon
The dogs dance out
Through brush and bush and bramble.
They howl and yowl
And growl and prowl.
They amble, ramble, scramble.
They rush through brush.
They push through bush.
They yip and yap and hurr.
They lark around and bark around
With prickles in their fur.
They two-step in the meadow.
They polka on the lawn.
Tonight's the night
The dogs dance out
And chase their tails till dawn.
Join the dogs tomorrow and howl and yowl and dance! But now, head over to Paper Tigers for the Round-Up.

Photo by dogsbylori.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Women of Wednesday - Lilly Ledbetter

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law.  This law provided equal pay for equal work, that a woman who did the same job as a man, for the same amount of hours, was supposed to receive the same pay.  That was almost 50 years ago.  Yet today, in 2012, the average woman makes only about 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.  Why?  After all, if the law says a woman must be paid the same as a man, why don’t businesses abide by the law?
The answer is simple.  They don’t have to.  Anyone being underpaid—male or female—may feel they’re being discriminated against, but they can’t know unless they are aware of what their peers in a company are making, and we don’t share that kind of information with each other.  It’s considered taboo and inappropriate.  So, employers can pay employees whatever they want.  How will you ever know what you should be getting?
Lilly Ledbetter had the feeling she wasn’t being paid as well as her male counterparts.  One of her immediate supervisors even hinted at it, but Lilly never had any proof.  Shortly before she retired, someone slipped a scrap of paper into her mailbox at work with the names and salaries of some of her male counterparts on it.  It was all the proof she needed.


Lilly was born in Possum Trot, Alabama, in a home with no electricity or running water.  She grew up, got married, had two children, and worked as a manager at an accounting firm.  In 1979, she applied for a job at Goodyear in Gadsen, Alabama and was one of the first women hired there in a managerial position.  She ran the overnight shift.
This was 1979, a time when women were once more starting to speak up and speak out about their rights.  Many men, and even women, believed they should just be quiet, go home and take care of their husbands and children.  Women who were hired in predominantly male positions were often harassed and given a hard time in order to get them to quit.  Lilly faced this situation, but she didn't quit.  She did her job and did it well.  She got regular pay raises and, in 1996, received a Top Performance Award.

Throughout the years, Lilly believed she was not being paid what her male counterparts were, but it wasn’t until she was about to retire that she learned the truth.  Someone slipped a note, with names and numbers on it, into her work mailbox.  Lilly was making $3,727 a month.  Her lowest paid male counterpart was making over $4,000 a month, and her highest paid male counterpart was making over $5,000 a month.  And if one added up all that money over all those months and all those years, Lilly Ledbetter had been shortchanged a considerable sum.  Add to that the fact that all the money she didn’t receive affected her retirement fund, and the loss was even greater.
Lilly sued and won.  The jury awarded her approximately 3.5 million dollars.  Unfortunately, there was a cap in cases like hers, and the judge reduced her award to $360,000.  Then Goodyear appealed.  They said Lilly only had 180 days after that first discriminatory check was issued in which to file her claim.  Almost two decades had gone by.  The Statute of Limitations had run out.  The court agreed with Goodyear and Lilly’s award vanished into thin air. 

Lilly didn’t give up.  She took her case to the Supreme Court.  Lilly believed that she should have had 180 days after each and every discriminatory check in which to file her claim.  In a five to four decision, the court sided with Goodyear.  Lilly lost her case.
But something else happened that day.  One of the dissenters of that decision just happened to be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the only woman on the Supreme Court at the time, and a woman who had spent her early law years fighting for women’s rights.  She read her opinion from the bench, which basically called on Congress to change the law.

Lilly listened to what Justice Ginsberg had to say and acted on it.  She spoke out on radio shows and testified before congress.  She got the word out.  She didn’t have to.  Her case was over and she had lost.  She wasn’t going to gain anything by changing the law.  But her daughter would gain, and her granddaughters, and all the other women in the country who were being discriminated against, so she took her fight to congress, and in 2009, the first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which resets the 180 day deadline with each discriminatory check.
Lilly is now over 70 years old and lives in Jacksonville, Alabama.  She still speaks out to make women aware of their rights.   For a nice video put together by the Annenburg Foundation which gives more details about her and the law she fought for, click here.  And remember, equal pay for equal work is not an employer’s prerogative.  It’s the law.  Are you getting what you deserve?

For more on Lilly Ledbetter and the Fair Pay Act, see an earlier post by Diane Mayr.


Monday, September 24, 2012

The Joys of Writing

Pulling the spark, the idea,
the flint that lights the flame,
out of thin air.
Thinking through a plot,
outside in a lawn chair,
on a sunny day,
as the birds sing.
Typing ‘Chapter 1’
and contemplating the adventure.
Finding the perfect word,
            a killer opening sentence,
                        writing one damned good paragraph.
Walking away,
after a particularly productive day.
Getting so sucked into your world,
time disappears.
The roll, when words flow
from mind to fingers
with the ease
of breath.
Making it real,
creating a world and characters
who could truly exist.
Knowing it works,
knowing it’s good.
Reaching ‘the end,’
            and understanding
it’s just the beginning.
You’ve had your coffee, you’ve read your blogs, now go and be joyous.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Poetry Friday--Between Two Souls

I can't remember who recommended the book Between Two Souls: Conversations with Ryōkan by Mary Lou Kownacki, but, I in turn, am going to recommend it to you. This is from the introduction by Joan D. Chittister:
But when time and space come together--when what is learned here and now becomes an echo of the there and then--we call it wisdom. It becomes a measure of eternal truth. It transcends history and eclipses what is different in behalf of what is the same.

That's what happens in this book. Here two monastics, one a nineteenth-century Buddhist, the other a twenty-first century Roman Catholic Benedictine, become a sounding board for one another. The become the voice of eternity over time. They become a common call to us across the divide of time that warns us not to miss the moment, not to squander our souls.
And so we are introduced to the conversation that takes place in poems. Here's an example:
I walk about with my staff.
Old farmers spot me
And call me over for a drink.
We sit in the field
Using leaves for plates.
Pleasanty drunk and so happy
I drift off peacefully
Sprawled out on a paddy bank.


Mid autumn --
I rake leaves
In the front yard.
Neighborhood children call to me.
Soon we are jumping from
      Leaf pile to leaf pile.
I haven't felt this young
Since last year
Writing a good poem.
Exhausted, we lie in the leaves
And watch winter clouds take shape.

Moments in time captured. Moments that we, too, can have, if only we make a point of going outside, being among people, and letting go!

I hope you will look for a copy of Between Two Souls--and then, recommend it to a friend.

From here you should head over to No Water River where Renee is hosting the Round-Up.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mentor Monday: Research Reading

I'm on vacation this week, and with two trans-continental flights, I brought research in my carry-on – not materials about some specific subject, but a diverse collection of novels. How is this research? Well they're all historical fiction, middle-grade or young adult; so they are examples of the kind of book I'm currently revising. Most important, they were all published within the last decade.

You see, I love historical fiction. I read a ton of it as a kid – in fact, before I studied history at university, almost everything I knew about history, I learned from historical fiction (this is why I am so passionate about the accuracy of the background – setting and characterization as well as plot – in my historical fiction). But the fiction I was immersed in as a child and a young adult is OLD now (some of it was old then, truth be told). And as I said a month ago, what is being published today is quite different from what was being published then. So it is important to read more recently published books.

This is harder than it sounds. My local bookstore, awesome though it may be, can't possibly stock anything like a complete selection of ten years' worth of MG/YA historical fiction. So I was forced to (and grateful for) the internet.

To begin with, I did a search (using Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as publisher's sites and such sources as Verla Kay's bulletin board) and compiled a list of YA/MG's classified as historical fiction and published since 2001. And yes, that's more than 10 years. And it doesn't account for the fact that a book published in 2001 was probably sold y the author in 1998 or 1999. I even included a few that are widely acclaimed and still being reprinted even though they're a little older (Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever 1793*, for example). 

Then I went through and eliminated fantasy and magical realism, which in the post-Harry world, reduced my list dramatically. Much as I may enjoy historical fantasy (and I do) I think that my book does not compete with and also will not be helpfully informed by elements of magic. I also eliminated a few books that looked like self-published titles or those that were super-specialized (true stories based on family history and published by local history or university presses) because I am hoping to sell my manuscript to a trade publisher.

Next, I wanted to try and do this without spending too much money. This meant finding the books in my local library or the consortium to which my library belongs. My library is pretty good for a small town, but like every library these days, they're counting pennies. So only a few of the books on my list were on the shelves. A few more turned up scattered across the consortium. These form the first and second round of my research.

My next step will be to purchase a select few of those not available through my library, particularly some that have been published in 2010-2012. And I'm open to suggestions! Given my criteria, what would YOU recommend?

*and would someone explain to me why Fever is shelved in the YA section, even though my library does have some authors who have some books  "upstairs" (in YA) and others "downstairs" (with the MGs)?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Poetry Friday--"In an Abandoned Garden"

Wouldn't you love to have the day off today to ramble through a garden and then sit for a while to watch and listen as summer hurries toward its inevitable end? Or maybe, to simply sit and read a book? If you can't, let this poem stand in for you:
In an Abandoned Garden
by Han-Shan, translated by Burton Watson

My house is at the foot of the green cliff,
My garden, a jumble of weeds I no longer bother to mow.
New vines dangle in twisted strands
Over old rocks rising steep and high.
Monkeys make off with the mountain fruits,
The white heron crams his bill with fish from the pond,
While I, with a book or two of the immortals,
Read under the trees--mumble, mumble.
Ha! Wasn't the "mumble, mumble" a surprise!

There's a Round-Up being held at Random Noodling, hosted by yours truly. See you over there!

Arundel Castle (1905) picture courtesy Library of Congress. It's not a Chinese garden, and there are no monkeys, but I can well imagine a white heron, and a reader, can't you?


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Women of Wednesday: Victoria Arlen

As I write this the 2012 Paralympic Games are ending in London.  Over one thousand athletes competed in the games.  New Hampshire’s Victoria Arlen was one of them.

Victoria was born in September, 1994.  She has one older brother and two brothers who happened to have been born on the same day she was. As if being a triplet wasn’t interesting enough, Victoria can now also claim the title of Gold Medal Swimmer.  Still not impressive enough?  How about the fact that she only started competitive swimming a little over a year ago?  How about the fact that a few years before that she suffered from transverse myelitis, a disorder that turned  an eleven-year-old girl from active to comatose?

Once Victoria was diagnosed, treatment began but left her paralyzed from the waist down.  Therapy and learning how to play sled hockey built up her stamina.  Victoria decided she wanted to be able to swim again and began competing.

Victoria, the daughter of Jacqueline and Larry Arlen is a senior at Exeter High School. She is trying her hand at acting and modeling and continues to play sled hockey as well as tennis. She’s also looking at colleges.

At this year’s Paralympics, Victoria competed in five events including the 50 meter freestyle and the 100 meter breaststroke. She won gold in the 100 meter freestyle and 3 silver medals in the other events. 

British journalist Paul Kelso, writes in the United Kingdom’s The Telegraph: “…Arlen could even turn USA on to an event it largely ignores.”

He’s right.  We should pay more attention to the Paralympic Games—and especially to Victoria Arlen.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mentor Monday: The Semantics of Influence; The Influence of Semantics

Part of your job as a story writer is to make your reader feel certain attitudes towards the characters you create. This goal can be accomplished by the use, or the decision to not use, certain words or phrases. L. Frank Baum told us how to feel about witches by including certain descriptors in their names.  It was not merely Glinda but Glinda the Good Witch. And, you know what he called the other one. 

Examples of such word usage abound in our lives and it only takes a glance at the way media influences the public to get a taste of what you can accomplish in your own writing.

A Connecticut-based energy company wants to build a power line that would run from Canada through our home state of New Hampshire.  There are—as there always are—two opinions about this proposal. Whether the line is built depends on how the story is told and how the story is read.

To the Connecticut company, the power line is the hero of the story—the protagonist.  Like most protagonists Mr. Line is flawed.  In this case, his flaw is his need to cut down acres of forest in order to accomplish the greater good of providing cheaper, cleaner energy.  His story, when told in this way, goes something like this:

“The power line will create over one thousand jobs for New Hampshire and bring cheaper electricity to New England.”

Opponents to the project are primarily the folks in the northern part of New Hampshire. In the upper counties, there is little industry. A majority of the people “above the notches” as we say ‘round here, earn their living in tourism.  They see Mr. Line as the villain—the antagonist. They envision miles of beautiful forest land sliced up and destroyed and see visitors heading east to Maine or west to Vermont to get their fill of untouched scenery.  And, taking their vacation dollars with them. So, the Above-the-Notches folks might read the synopsis of Mr. Line’s story this way:

 “The power line will create over one thousand [temporary] jobs for[skilled workers brought to] New Hampshire and bring cheaper electricity to [Connecticut].      

By leaving out (or adding) just a few key words, the entire story has changed.

You’ve probably noticed the same thing in the media during this hectic election time. One or two words can change your opinion about just about any fact such as the following reported in several different outlets this week.  How do you feel after you read each version?
96,000 new jobs were created in August.

Only 96,000 jobs were created in August.

Just as the media writers can sway our opinions by adding or failing to mention certain words you, the novelist, have the same power over your child reader. You can also change the perception mid-story. J.K. Rowling teased her young readers about Professor Snape throughout 6 novels (Is he good?  Is he the enemy?) 

Great mystery novels have crimes committed by the character you least suspected.  The mystery writer leads you skillfully by the words he/she chooses.

So pick up your pencil.  Or your eraser.  Type.  Or delete.  Influence your reader.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Poetry Friday--Before I Die

Here's an untitled poem from For Paul and Other Poems, in Collected Works by Lorine Niedecker:
The death of my poor father
leaves debts
and two small houses.

To settle this estate
a thousand fees arise--
I enrich the law.

Before my own death is certified,
recorded, final judgement

taxes taxed
I shall own a book
of old Chinese poems

and binoculars
to probe the river

Simple wishes, hopefully obtained.

If you haven't viewed the "Before I Die" project of Candy Chang, be sure to visit it here. I'd like to think that most people's wishes can be fulfilled if they make an effort.

Katya is today's Round-Up host at Write. Sketch. Repeat.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Figurative Language, Part II - Allusion, Personification, and Hyperbole


Last time we looked at similes, metaphors and analogies, all ways in which to make your writing more memorable and vivid.  This time it’s personification, allusion and hyperbole. 


This is probably the easiest of the three because it’s simple to do, and just as easy for the reader to get.
Personification is simply giving life or human qualities to the inanimate.  When you turn a ship or a car into ‘She,’ that is personification.  When you talk about fate as Fate, that is personification.  The face of the cliff, her body of work, the eye of the storm, are all personification.  A few more examples –

Heaven cried tears of sadness.
The ship groaned.
Darkness devoured her mind.

Probably the only real problem that arises when using personification is using it too much.  Overuse can turn your work into purple prose.


 Allusion is alluding to – or referencing – something or someone in order to make a point quickly.  Rather than describe a character’s failure at something, you might, instead, say, it was his Waterloo.  Anyone familiar with Napoleon Bonaparte and the battle of Waterloo will know what you mean.  If you wrote, “He sang like Pavarotti,” the reader would get that your character had a great tenor voice.  It also brings to mind a certain image of who your character is.  If you wrote, “He sang like Steven Tyler,” an entirely different image and voice come to mind.  And in both cases, you don’t have to use a lot of explanation to describe your character’s singing voice.

The problem with using allusion, is that you have to keep your audience in mind.  The allusion doesn’t work if your reader doesn’t know what you’re talking about.  If I were writing middle grade fiction, none of the above allusions would work, except for, maybe, the Steven Tyler reference.  The odds are very good that middle-graders don’t know Waterloo or Pavarotti.  Some of them might know Steven Tyler.  So when you use allusion, try to allude to something or someone universal, things in popular culture that are also part of your reader’s world, and that almost everyone will recognize.

She was a Lyndsey Lohan in training.
The planes darkened the sky and it was 9/11 all over again. 
He was as thick as the last Harry Potter novel.

 Most people will get the meaning of those sentences without any further explanation.


 Hyperbole is just another word for exaggeration—overstatement and understatement.  It’s making a point by going too far, or not far enough.  Overstatement is simple, direct and most people get it.

I could eat a horse.
I’m all ears.
She was dead to the world.

The reader knows not to take these words literally.  They’re just over-exaggerations of a character’s hunger, interest, and fatigue.  You might use overstatement to show characterization or to emphasize a point you’re trying to make.

Understatement is a bit more subtle.  It’s generally saying something entirely opposite of what you mean.  Think sarcasm and irony.

Well, that was a party to remember.

What the character is really saying is that the party was a horrendous debacle, and the sooner it’s forgotten, the better.  So why not have the character say that?  You might, depending on who the character is and what you’re trying to convey.  A whiny character might go on and on about the disastrous party.  A more laid-back character might use the understatement, which could lighten the mood a bit, and show us she’s not easily frazzled.

A problem with understatement is that some people may not get it.  Be sure to include some context clues.  Let the reader know that Mary doesn’t like Sue before she tells Sue, “Nice skirt,” otherwise, they won’t get the fact that Mary really thinks Sue’s skirt is ugly and that she’s giving her a backhanded insult. 
If any of this feels the least bit intimidating, keep in mind that you’re probably already using all of these forms of figurative language in your writing.  We all do.  Take a look through any of your manuscripts and I’m sure you’ll find them. Now, instead of using them randomly, consider where you’re sticking them and why you’re sticking them there.  Use your words to do more than tell.  Paint some pictures, make your prose a bit more poetic, and take your writing to the next level.