What About YA?

Photo by Harriet Russell, property of NPR

About a week ago, NPR published their list of the top 100 Young Adult (YA) books. When they did, my twitter feed exploded with tweets from various authors and literary publishers over some questions that arose from this year’s list.

For those who aren’t familiar with the list, here’s a little how it works.  This year there were 235 books in the running.  100 were chosen by public voters, not a committee.  Since the list is made up of books and not authors, an author can get more than one book in the top 100.  Also, the list is not comprised of books from 2011-2012 only.  Rather, it consists of the top 100 YA books in time.  Any book that is suited for YA audiences can make it, regardless of publishing date and genre.  For further clarification, don’t limit YA strictly to teen audiences, but rather for the 13-23 ish age range.  The Harry Potter series took the number 1 slot followed by The Hunger Games.  To Kill a Mockingbird was third.  Popular authors represented are Robin McKinley, Sarah Dessen, J. R.R. Tolkien, Tamora Pierce, John Knowles, and Stephanie Meyers, to name a few.

Now, based on the list and the discussions/debates surrounding the list, I’ve developed a few questions for you, the readers.  Please, leave at least 1 comment answering at least 1 question, leaving a thought, or writing a question of your own.  Next week, I’ll write a follow up blog discussing the answers as well as some of my own thoughts.

1. What is the place and role of MODERN YA books?  Note: the word modern as used here means books written within the past 15 years or so.  This does not include books like To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, LOTR, etc.  It does include books like Harry Potter, Twilight, 13 Reasons Why, etc…

2. There has been some discussion on the fact that many of the top 100 books have a female author.  Does this make a difference?  Is there a reason behind it?  Should/how can this change?

3.  What are some pros and cons for YA books, especially modern YA books, in and out of the classroom?  (Ex. PRO: Encourages reading.  CON: Simplistic in style.)

Remember, comment and include at least 1 answer, thought, or question.

Memories Alive

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words; however, my experience is that most of the words are meaningless adjectives by themselves:  it is only when the thousand words are strung together in coherent sentences that they attempt to explain the picture.   And when these sentences are strung together, they create a memory.  So, it is memory that truly brings life to a picture; it is memory that tells the tale of why that moment in time was captured.

Neptune, Virginia Beach

I am looking down at a picture of my first trip to Virginia.  My dad and I are on the waterfront in Virginia Beach posing by a gigantic statue of King Triton, also known as Poseidon.  In the picture my hair is blowing and I am wearing my letter jacket and two layers of clothes.  These pictures only capture one-second snapshots of my adventure.

By itself  the words I can use to describe it are cold, windy, ocean, statue, but when I recall that day I remember the awe I felt as the birds constantly hovered above me, noisily waiting for me to throw them my last remnants of fries.  The wind was sharp and cutting, blowing salty ocean spray into our uncovered faces.  I remember jumping and laughing as I tried to touch the oncoming waves with just the tips of my fingers, hoping not to get soaked.  I can hear my dad complain about the cold while all I wanted to do was stay at the ocean’s edge staring off into space.

I desperately wanted to see dolphins playing in the horizon.  I wanted my dad to realize that our trip was not a waste of time.   The dolphins, I thought, would help him over his disappointment in driving ten hours for a restaurant that had closed years ago.  However, the dolphins never showed, but King Triton did.  A towering piece of art, the statue both intrigued and enthralled our imagination.  It was absolutely wonderful.  We left both happy and content.

Memory is the key to life; pictures and words are just the tools used to record memories.   Because as time goes by memory fades and is sometimes lost all together, pictures and word stories are vital in preserving memories.  My mother has no memory of a complete 18 month time period.   She can remember childhood friends and stories and songs, but her memory for a year and a half years is completely empty.  Not even a picture can help her remember those days because there is no basis on which to establish a mental connection.

That is how I know that memory is the key to remembrance.  Pictures say nothing, they know nothing.   Capturing the outward façade only they cannot express the joy or sorrow that lies underneath lying eyes.  They cannot tell the tale of the day.  Only memory can.  And through that memory, word stories.

As writers we have a powerful tool that many people do not possess.  We have the ability to capture memories and bring them to life for people.  The best biographies and the best histories are not the ones that clearly convey fact after fact.  No! Rather, the best ones are those that can transport the past moment into the present, evoking all of the sweetness and amazement or all of the tenseness and bitterness that existed at that time.

Scrapbooks are nice.  They are helpful for reminding us of our past.  But, written documentation of those moments is so much more powerful, so much more poignant, and so much more necessary for preserving and sharing memories.  You have within you the words to take a memory and bring it to life.

Aurora shooting victims. This picture belongs to The Hollywood Gossip, and this blog and its writers claim no ownership.

Two weeks ago I referenced a news article on the Aurora shooting.  I had seen pictures of the crime scene and had heard the news reports online and had felt disgusted, but it wasn’t until I read this news article that I truly felt the pain and sadness of the situation.  That’s because words hold memories, and memories hold power.  This memory is not mine.  I had no connection to it in any way.  But, as author Brady Dennis described the emotional turmoil, the confused and hurting thoughts of one of the victims, I was able to connect.

“But then he felt the molten buckshot of a shotgun blast pierce his neck and face. His left arm went limp. He collapsed onto the floor in front of his seat as chaos unfolded around him. As he lay bleeding, Barton heard the sounds of the movie yield to more primal sounds of terror. The screams of the wounded and dying.”

This is a memory.

Because It’s Still the Month of July and I Can…In Honor of 1776

John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence, showing the five-man committee in charge of drafting the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776 as it presents its work to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

In his commencing sentence, Jefferson uses the phrase “one people” to describe the citizens of the soon to be United States.  While not everyone in the colonies supported the war, a majority of them recognized the need for separation.  As a result, they came together in unity; they were “one people.”

Today, United States’ citizens can no longer claim to be “one people.”  Americans, who emigrated in order to promote freedom of choice and later individuality, have let their actions turn and expand so much, that freedom and individuality has begun to decline. This descent can be seen in the school systems which promote conformity.  As most public school products can attest, the standardized tests have limited the quality and intensity of the education experience.  By focusing and demanding that all students follow the same guidelines and curriculum, the test-makers and deciders limit the potential for individual thinking and responsibility.

The decline in freedom can also be seen in the new laws of tolerance which end up limiting free speech rather than protecting it.   So many people complain about hate speech whether it be due to racism, religion or homosexuals.  And while hate speech of any type is wrong, by declaring it illegal, the government takes upon itself the role of moral dictator.  As history shows, dictators with too much power (which is the definition of dictator), rule by their own finite, arbitrary notions.  If our country was founded on the basis that all people have a “separate and equal station,” then why should the government limit the freedoms, declaring some people’s opinions to be unequal?

Furthermore, within the constitution, notice the specific use of “mankind” and “people.”  The Founding Fathers recognized that man’s place existed above the animal kingdom.  Being different from the animals, being gifted with the ability to vocally speak, understand, analyze, express and act on our thoughts and emotions gives humans a special, elevated status.  Mankind has this status because of  “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  When any other finite creation (whether it be gold, trees or animals) rises above mankind’s status and value, then an unhealthy imbalance occurs.

Being “one people” does not mean that everyone has to be the same.  As already noted, the Founding Fathers encouraged freedom.  Rather, the phrase means that the people can unite together on specific interests, hopes and themes.  Despite the differences, these citizens have the ability to focus on the common connecting thread of freedom that unites them.  Without this thread what is the purpose of a continuing to call ourselves a free people.  If US citizens continue to allow the government to take away the freedom which makes us equal, then what right do the people have to call themselves citizens of the United States of America?  If we are still a country, then we should still be A people.


IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton

the ART of writing

Look at the title above.  The title of this blog post is the same as that of Tobias’ blog for one simple reason: to remind us that writing is ART.

ART.  For anyone who has kept up with my past posts, you know how much I love that word.  art. Art.  ART.  In all of its forms, mediums, styles.  ART!  I could sing that word all day.  Roll the “r” off the tongue.  “arrrrt.”   Bite into the “a.”  “Art.”  Caress the “t” at the end.  “art…”

No matter how you say it, the word is magical.  One three letter word encompasses such a huge part of life.  Everything from movies, media, video games, advertising, fine art, sculpture, theatre, live art, literature, and more.  It’s all art.  But, here is something for you to chew on.

True or false: Some art is better than others?  

I’m sure most of you answered yes.  If you are like me, you would much rather see a Picasso rather than a contemporary piece with three black lines on it or one of those you think your two year old could draw.  Or, you would much rather read Charles Dickens, J.K. Rowling, Juliet Marillier, or Edgar Allen Poe rather than some cheesy harlequin or the latest self-published book on Barnes & Noble that is littered with grammatical mistakes and plot holes as large as the Grand Canyon.

But, here’s the main question.

Does the quality of art affect the status of a piece as art?

Hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago, this piece by Piet Mondrian is titled Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red, and Gray.
Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh is currently hanging in the Modern Museum of Art New York

These two pieces use the same basic colors, are both famous artworks hanging in galleries, and are both representative of their time.  So, leaving aside the art history classes about representation of line, form, symbolism, etc is it fair to say that one of them is art and one of them is not?

The answer: It doesn’t matter if it is fair or not; our minds instinctively do it anyways.  

And, here’s the thing.  Readers will do the same to your work.  Yes, on a basic level, your writing can be classified as “art” because it has a title, a string of paragraphs held loosely together with lines of words that make some semblance of sense.  But, at the end of the day, would you rather be known as a Van Gogh or a Piet?  (Disclaimer: instinct aside, I do have respect for Piet in a art theory type of way, but let’s face it, his work does tend to make me think that my two year old nephew could produce something of equal or greater interest and quality.)

So, what does it take to become a Van Gogh?

1.  Practice. All art, regardless of medium, genre, etc requires practice.  Thus Tobias’ challenges.  Think of all the great authors and painters who were apprentices, who studied under masters.  Their apprenticeships were their practice runs, similar to internships today.

2. Criticism.  Whether we like it or not, every piece needs to be critiqued.  Many times we miss when our work is crap.  We invest so much of ourselves into our babies that we cannot see the flaws, and it hurts to be told that they exist.  But, that is the only way to improve.  That being said, even with critiques, we should still be true to ourselves, and not all criticism is good criticism.

3. Faith and persistence.   Rejection is part of the art game.  It is going to come, and come, and come.  And just when you think you are drowning, you will be hit with 10 foot tidal wave to keep you under.  But, if you keep on practicing and keep trying to improve your work, then eventually, someone will hand you a floating device.  And maybe, just maybe, by the time you swim yourself to shore using every last resource of breath and muscle you possess, someone just may label you a Van Gogh.

All pictures are from Mark Harden’s Artchive at http://artchive.com/.  A most fabulous site.

Felix and the Big Noise

Once upon a time, there lived little mouse named Felix.  Felix was a very adventuresome mouse.  He lived on an island miles from a great big land.

Felix had lots of friends on the island, including Mrs. Beetley and her husband Mr. Beetley,. Carrie the parrot, Franzzz the snake.  Every day, Felix would run here and skip there, visiting all of his friends.  They had grand parties with seaweed shakes, goldenrod pastries, and banana kabobs.  Felix loved his life, and he loved his friends very much.

But there was one thing that made Felix sad.  Once a year, the same day every year, Felix heard a great noise in the sky that was different from the normal noises of his life.  This noise was loud, very loud, and it scared poor Felix.

The first time Felix heard the noise, he thought the world was going to end.  He was just a little mouse, and didn’t know much about the world yet.  He ran here and there, under this rock then that rock trying to save himself.  But when the noise stopped, he was still alive, and his island was unchanged.

The next year, Felix heard the noise again and ran to hide under his bed.  He was old enough now to know the world would not end, but he still did not like the big, loud noises.  The leaves on his bed helped to block out the sound.

Now, Felix was a brave three-year old mouse.  He knew the noise was coming tomorrow, and he wanted to prepare for it.  He wanted to know what it was.  So, he woke up early in the morning and went to the Beetley’s house.

“Mr. Beetley, you’re smart and old.  Do you know what the big noise in the sky is.”  Felix asked Mr. Beetley.

“Why Felix, I may be smart and old, but I am also very, very small.  Much smaller than you.  I cannot even see the sky.”

Feeling disappointed, Felix ran over to Franzz’s favorite tree.

“Franzz.  Franzz. Are you up there?  I have a question for you.” Felix yelled up to the tree.

“Whazzzz do you need, Feeeelixzzz?” Franzz asked as he slithered down the trunk.

“What is the big noise in the sky? I hear it every year at this time.  But I don’t know what it is.  You can see high into the sky.  But I can’t and neither can the Beetleys.  Do you know what it is?”

“Yessssss,  I do know.  The big noise comes from big lightssss in the sky.  On this day every year, hundreds of new starssss are born. They make big lightsss and big noizzzzze.”

“Stars?” Felix asked.  “I like the stars.  But why don’t they make loud noises every night?”

“Do not trouble me anymore, young Felixzzz.  I am hungry and must hunt.  Good bye.”  And with this, Franzzz slithered back up the tree and away from Felix.

Now, Felix was more confused than ever.  Stars?  Then, he remembered that Carrie flew to lots of strange places.  She knew lots and lots of things.  Surely, she would know why the stars would make such a big noise one.

“Carrie.  Carrie.  I’m glad I found you.  Do you know why the stars make such a big noise one night a year?”

“The stars?” Carrie asked.  “The stars don’t make noises.  They are silent.”  Carrie replied.

“But, Franz said that hundreds of stars are born on this day every year.  That’s where the noise comes from.”

Carrie looked at poor, confused Felix and laughed.  “Felix, have you ever looked at the sky on July 4th, the night of the loud noise?”

“No,” Felix admitted.  “I’ve always been too . . . too scared.  The noises frighten me, and I hide.”  Felix looked down at his paws, embarrassed to admit that he was scared.

“Well, on this day every year the humans from the big land next to us set off big lights that fly high into the sky.  The lights are red, green, blue, yellow, and purple.  They fly into different pictures.  They also make a big noise.”  Carrie patiently explained to Felix.

“But, why do they send lights into the air?  Can’t they see the light of the moon and stars?”  Felix continued to question.

“Yes, yes they can.  But these are special lights.  These are happy lights.  A long time ago, many, many humans died so that their families could be happy.  These lights help them remember those people.”

“Really?  I wish I could see the lights.  Maybe then the sound wouldn’t scare me.”  Felix looked up at the sky, then down at his paws again.  He knew where the sound came from now and why.  But, he wouldn’t be able to see the lights, for the side of the island closest to the big land was covered with trees.

Carrie felt badly for Felix.  “Felix, would you like me to take you to see the lights?”

“Really?  Really?  You could take me?”  Felix jumped up and down in excitement.  “The lights! The lights! I get to see the lights!!”

“Yes, yes.  Calm down.  Meet me here tomorrow at dusk, and I will take you to see the lights.”

Felix was very excited the rest of the day and the next.  He kept singing “The lights! The lights! I get to see the lights!! The lights! The lights! I get to see the lights!!”  All of his friends were very happy for him.

At dusk on the 4th of July, Felix ran to the spot where he promised to meet Carrie.  Right on time, Carrie flew down to meet him. “Ok Felix, hop on my back.  Be careful though.”

Felix climbed onto Carrie’s back and held on gently with his front paws.  Carrie carefully flew higher and higher.  She flew to the very top of the island’s light house right as the first light went “POP!”  Felix jumped down and watched in amazement.

Purple lights! Green lights!  Swirls and Circles!  “POP. POP. POPPOP. POPPOPPOPPOP. POPPOPPOPPOPPOPPOP!”  The lights went off again and again.   Felix was so amazed by the lights, that he barely noticed the sound.

That night Felix was very happy, and he had very happy dreams.  In it, he saw the lights continue to swirl and pop and fly high into the air.  Now he knew where the lights came from and why, and he was no longer scared.  In fact, he couldn’t wait for the next July 4th.

J-ing with Style

My focus today is on that dreaded “J” word. The one that is often mocked and ridiculed. Sometimes it goes by the even more sissified word that begins with… a “D.” That’s right, today’s topic is on journaling.

As kids we are often encouraged to journal, or write in a diary, by our parents in teachers. As adults, we are often encouraged to journal by our shrinks. But, what makes us hesitate to write out our lives and our thoughts in a book? Why do we make fun of those who do? I’ll admit, for the longest time I was one of those who publicly scorned journals, and yet secretly attempted to keep one. But, I was HORRIBLE at it. I never had the discipline to write in one daily. And then I would feel guilty and stop. And then I would feel guilty about stopping and begin again. Vicious circle repeat.

Nowadays, almost everyone is a journaler whether they know it or not. It’s called blogging. Whether you blog about your life, your political aspirations and opinions, or your favorite recipes, you are journaling. And that’s what has allowed me to come out and proudly proclaim to you today, I JOURNAL. I even have a physical journal. I first really started journaling while I lived in Russia. Then, when I arrived back in the States, I kept at it. But, it’s different for me now than it used to be for two simple reasons.

1) A journal doesn’t have to be a “Dear Diary” experience. From the beginning of my recent journal adventure I cast away with they typical cliche of writing down only what you did. My journal is small enough that I can carry it with me anywhere. As a result, it has become my “miscellaneous, catch-all drawer” if you will. Any random thought that pops into my head that I want to remember to dwell on later goes in. Any story idea, art idea, etc. If I have four lines of something that resembles a poem, it goes in. This means my journal is more closely a reflection of me than any “Today, I went to the store” entry could be. Especially, when you consider the random sketches and half sentences that have been collected in there.

2) When I do write about my day, I throw out the cliche. Think of it this way. If you were a historian, or even a random reader, who found your diary 50 years from now, would you rather read “Today I went to the store.” Or “Today I found out that the Fred Meyer store is what occurs when Wal Mart and JC Penny have a love child that exploded.” The same basic information is conveyed, but the latter has a little extra spice.

Essentially, it’s as if you were making a story out of your life. And, if you want people to read it, you have to make the brand “YOU,” not “Generic.” It can also serve as good practice for writing stories, and you can switch perspectives for even more practice. Write about your life in first person. Then do another entry from third person.

“All great writers begin with a good leather binding and a respectable title.” James Barrie in Finding Neverland

As an example, I will give you a peek into my journal.
A good friend of mine and I were discussing Thanksgiving last night. One of the statements he made resonated with me. Basically, he was iffy about the whole holiday, as it was just another excuse for people to gorge themselves under the pretense of “family togetherness.”

And it made me think of my family. My whole extended Robinson clan of a family. Every Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, my mom’s side gets together and – celebrates. That means two grandparents, one great-aunt (who acts like a 50 year old), eight parents, eleven grandchildren, and an assortment of friends and significant others all gather into one three bedroom house to “enjoy” each other’s company.

Now, looking at it and the amount of food consumed by this clan of twenty-two plus people, it may be easy to group us into the category of superficial Thanksgiving-ers. But I don’t think that would be true. Now, I’ve never really celebrated Thanksgiving with any other family (well, I did celebrate it with my aunt-in-laws family once), so I don’t know how others celebrate holidays, but this is a little how ours goes.

One by one, the families trickle in. My memaw is already in the kitchen, her foster bedroom during these holiday days, and the house is filled with the aroma of freshly-baked, homemade rolls. A batch of fresh dough is sitting on the counter, because she knows that my aunts and uncles can’t pass by without taking a pinch.

The women congregate in the front living room and in the kitchen while the guys crowd around the tv in the den. Football is on. The Cowboys. And, even though most of the family has drifted away from their Cowboy-obsessed phase, it’s still football. Their boos, catcalls, and cheers can be heard down the block. Well, at least my brother’s voice can.

The grandkids have split themselves up, roaming about the house, sneaking into the kitchen for pre-feast bites, talking with aunts, cheering or booing the cowboys, facebook stalking their friends, inviting old friends over. We do it all.

“Dinner. Everyone gather round. Cassandra, go round up the guys.” My Memaw’s proclamation is like a magnet, attracting the family to her (or at least to the food in her hands). We gather round, hold hands, and then . . . “Ohhhhhhhhh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…” Yes, we break into song. Yes, my family is very patriotic, but the tradition of singing the “Star Spangled Banner” before our great meal actually has nothing to do with that. It started several years ago as a joke. I’m sure it happened because the boys were watching football, and the national anthem got stuck in their head. Still, whatever the reason, before we pray, we sing the anthem (usually loud and out-of tune).

We then bless the meal, fill our plates, and recreate Darwin’s theory of Survival of the Fittest: The quickest get a seat, the losers get the floor (or a really uncomfortable, small, black chair). We go around and state our thanks as is “traditional” Thanksgiving behavior, but after that we talk. And we talk. And we talk some more.
Then, after the food has begun trickling its way down our digestive courses, the music begins. With four pianists and a whole horde of singers in the family (and a grandmother who doesn’t take no for an answer), the singing can last for a while. A long while. Days even.

Now, my family isn’t perfect by any means, and we do have our arguments, our petty differences, our annoyances, but we’ve been given a great gift. We have two parents/grandparents that have made it their life mission to make sure that they keep the family together. And because we all love them, and we deep down we really love each other, we get together. We catch up. We celebrate the love that has filled this house for over twenty years of family togetherness.

Writer’s Block Unleashed

This post is more or less a continuance of Selayna’s post  on musical inspiration.  I too have some go-to pieces that get the knots of writer’s block into a nice curvy line again.  However, I also have a few other tricks I use for inspiration.  Now, when you are in the midst of writer’s block on one particular piece, sometimes the trick isn’t to figure out what comes next.  Sometimes you just need to let your imagination flow in another direction on another, completely different piece.  Then, when you go back, you have fresh eyes.  So, to start with, let’s look at:


Here, I will post a few of my favorite songs that get the juices leaking, flowing, and rolling.  However, instead of me telling you how I use them, I want you to come up with a brief scene, scenario, or the random thoughts that come into your mind based on the mood it puts you in.

Bach/Break from August Rush

The Wandering Kind by Josh Groban

No Good Deed from Wicked the Broadway Musical

Permanent by David Cook

Now: Onto Play

In my previous posts Tableaux Art and Re-evaluating your Environment for Art, I discussed the benefits of using your surroundings for inspiration.  Now, I’m going to take that a step further and say, BECOME part of your surroundings.  Interact with them.  PLAY with them.  If you watch a kid at the playground, you will find that they can spend hours entertaining themselves.  They come up with stories in their heads and act them out.  One of the most famous things for kids to do is “play house.”  Now, they also “play cheerleader,” play “pirates,” play “ninjas,” etc.  As adults, we tend to grow out of “play” (LARPers not included).  And, as a result, our imaginations tend to suffer.  Combine their playtime with the fact that kids “say the darndest things” and you have yourself a winner.

So, what I am suggesting is that you find time to play.  If your imagination is a little rusty, then find a kid to play with (in a non-creepy way, of course).  Babysit your friends’ kid(s) for the night.  Play with your own kid.  Accompany a friend and their kid to the park.  Volunteer at a church nursery.  Then, after your playtime, record some of the stories told, the words said, the thoughts and facial expressions that popped into your head and on your face.  Believe me, it will be worth it.

J.M. Barrie: What did you think?
Peter Llewelyn Davies: It’s about our summer together, isn’t it?
J.M. Barrie: It is.
Peter Llewelyn Davies: About all of us.
J.M. Barrie: That’s right. You like it?
Peter Llewelyn Davies: It’s magical. Thank you.
J.M. Barrie: No, thank you. Thank you, Peter.
From Finding Neverland

And finally: ART

Below are two paintings that I absolutely love.  Your challenge is to use them to come up with 1 sentence for


Plot in the immediate sense (what are they doing in the picture):

Plot in the broader sense (what came before and after):


At the Moulin Rouge: Two Women Waltzing by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
Two Girlfriends by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

Tribute to Freedom Chic Part 4: A Conversation with Time

This is our last tribute post to Cassandra Clifton.  We will miss her, and wish her all the best.  Hopefully next week we should have a post from a new author (…as long as she gets me the draft on time…).

There are times in everyone’s life when one moment changes everything. Many times we ignore this moment and condescendingly pass over it, deeming it too insignificant to spare it thought. And yet, these moments, small as they seem, change everything.

If I could have a talk with Time, I would probably spend my time alternating between yelling at him and begging him. As for his part, Time would respond with a mixture of paternal advice/concern/amusement (after all, he’s not called Father Time for nothing) and a slight air of condescending philosophical jargon. I mean, what can you expect from the guy who lived through Socrates, Aristotle, and Nietzsche?

Me: Do you have any idea how much you trouble you’ve caused me? Really, would a little warning be too much to ask for?

Time: My dear girl, as much as the thought that you are in trouble grieves me, what would have changed if I had given you warning. Yes, you may have evaded trouble for now, but your entire life would have taken a different path.

Me: That’s the point! I want my life to take a different path. Please, turn back time and let me get off this dead end road.

Time: And, where exactly would you get off. Any single point will result in a complete restructuring of not only your life, but of you. Could you really pinpoint one specific second that you would change compared to another specific moment?

Me: Of course I can? I’m not talking about a second here, just one decision I should have said no to.

Time: Ahhh, I see. But, in all respects, why go back to that specific decision? Why not go back to before you were forced to choose; why not go back to your life before you got “caught up” in these affairs? And if that’s the case, why not go back to the time before that? Can you remember single moments, single decisions in each of these points that led you to the next phase?

Me: Single moments going back to the time before the time? Are you crazy? How could anyone understand what you’re talking about, let alone remember a moment of a time before a time.

Time: As I thought. And that is my point. There in a way, every second in a mortal’s life is a significant turning point. Every second can be a defining moment. Such being the case, one moment runs into the next moment, blurring the lines of significance.

See, any of these spots on your timeline could keep you from making your decision. But, you must realize what you will be giving up if you go back to any of these single moments. Friends you met will disappear. All other decisions you have made, whether good or bad will be forgotten. In fact, they will not exist. None of the things you have done in your life since that point will exist. This will, in turn, change the very nature of you. Are you willing to change you in order to undo one insignificantly significant moment?

Me: Oh, just forget it. I should have known better than to talk to a mythological figure designed to symbolize man’s need for control of his situation. I think I’ll go find Santa Claus. At least he has presents and a jolly laugh.

Unfortunately, not even the entirety of Santa’s magic could solve my problem. And, Father Time was right, even if our conversation only took place in the deranged recesses of my mind. How could I pinpoint only one spot on my timeline to reverse?

God, how could I have let Father Time mess with my head? I was perfectly content to let him take me back in time to that one point, and now I can’t even decide which point would be best. That’s the thing with mythological figments of your imagination. They are there because you dreamed them up out of a need, but inevitably, they go around changing your entire belief system until they have you convinced that they dreamed you up, and your entire life is dependent upon them.

Tribute to Freedom Chic Week 3

This is one of the first posts that Cassandra ever wrote for the blog, and a very good one.  You can also look forward to a new quest post from her this weekend:

Anyone who proudly claims to be a reader is often asked the question, “What is your favorite book?”  Me, I scoff at this question.  One book?  Are you serious?  Anyone who claims to be a reader and can definitely answer that book without disclaimers has a nose that is about four inches long, at least.  I can hardly narrow down the books I’ve read to just one; however, I have created categories.  Favorite author: Lousia May Alcott.  Favorite book (at least in top three): Jane Eyre.  Favorite literary character: Scarlett O’Hara.

What? You exclaim in surprise (at least you may exclaim in surprise if you are familiar with the above siren.  Why that greedy, spoiled brat?  Well, you have every right to label her names.  However, out of all the characters I have read, and believe me, I have read through hundreds and hundreds of character portrayals, Scarlett stands out above them all.

Margret Mitchell created a masterpiece in Scarlett.  And maybe my tendency to value the underdog makes me biased, but I do believe that Scarlett is a seriously misunderstood person.  Most readers can easily see why she’s so annoying, frustrating, [insert any other negative adjective here], etc.  But, many readers pass by the genius that is her character, the qualities that make her absolutely fantastic as a protagonist.

Undoubtedly, Scarlett’s primary traits make her a self-serving, manipulative, ignorant, bitchy liar who seduces other women’s (including her sister’s) significant others out of jealousy and greed.  However, these vary traits are what make her stand out.  Scarlett is the character readers love to hate because she is so humanly human.   From a non-sociopathic human’s perspective, she does everything wrong and for the wrong reasons.  And, she doesn’t care who she hurts.  What makes everything worse is that throughout the book her development backslides, and she gets worse, not better.

Now, for any writer who has been trained in character development, these things seem like definitive grade F.  I mean almost no character growth occurs, and what’s there is negative.  So, what we are given at first sight is a protagonsit who annoys readers to no end.  A female who is so shallow that any conflict that occurs is superficial, such as petty jealousy and love affairs.  So how does Margret pull off an A character with so many F qualities?

The simple answer is that she combines them all and spins them in such a way that gives them depth as a whole.  When you single out the specific personality traits and qualities that define Scarlett, they are all extremely negative.  Yet, she is not a dark, conflicted protagonist like Anna Karenina or Harry Potter.  She is just flighty and shallow.  Still, she possesses something that draws the reader in, whether or not they want to be drawn in.

First, Margret’s focus on Scarlett’s flaws: While her multiple flaws do make her a favorite hated character, they also make her real.  Here is a woman who is so messed up, she literally only has one friend.  She burns her bridges left and right.  In fact, because of her own selfish actions, her second husband ends up being killed trying to defend her honor (or her purported honor at least).  Compared to her, everyone except Hitler, Stalin, Bin Laden, and Hussein look like saints.  Mother Theresa is a certifiable angel.  We like ourselves better because of her.  And we laugh because she is so foolishly demented.

But, there’s more.  And here is what a lot of people miss.  While Scarlett herself is ridiculously shallow, her character is deep.  The psychology that Margret includes as she writes this story of the antebellum south and reconstruction period is incredibly intense, but it is also so subtly written into the story that it is hard to miss.  Look deeper into who Scarlett is and what makes her her.   Look at the history of the time period in which Scarlett was reared.

Yes, she is greedy beyond measure, but much of that greed is driven by fear.  “As God as my witness, I will never go hungry again.”  This is one of the most famous lines from that atrocious movie based off of the book, but it says everything.  Much of what Scarlett does is because she is afraid.  She is afraid of being left alone.  She is afraid of starving.  However, due to her forceful personality, that fear is often hidden.

Additionally, through her actions, it can be surmised that she holds some things, like honor, family, tradition, and pride above money.  Yes, Scarlett is selfish, but look at what she does for her family.  She maintains them without grudging or denying them the money.  She works them hard to keep them alive, but she works herself harder than anyone else proving that her character is made of more than party dresses.  Often times she did the very things she thought silly or foolish because it meant holding up the family reputation.  It meant following tradition.  It meant she would be accepted.

True, Scarlett steals other girls’ men, but she was born into a competitive atmosphere with both her sisters and her goals.  During this time period women had the primary goal of attracting a husband capable of taking care of the woman in lifestyle similar to or above their normal standing.  To do this, they often had to compete.  Scarlett was good at competing.  It was part of her nature.  However, what wasn’t in her nature was being docile, a quality often admired in women during this time period.  What adds to this is her mother Ellen, Scarlett’s gentle guiding force and role model.  Scarlett’s passionate temperament starkly contrasts with her mother’s mild graces, yet Scarlett desperately longs to be the lady her mother was.  So, this creates a character whose personality is at odds with the primary goal foisted upon her since birth.

So, what does Scarlett have to do with writing?  Essentially two things.  One, in creating a character everyone loves to dump on, Margret created a character everyone remembers.  Really, it’s hard to forget her.  This infamous vixen stands out of the crowd of classic female character types such as Elizabeth Bennett, Fanny Price, Jane Eyre, and Juliet.

Secondly, everything that Margret did to create Scarlett’s character is a brilliant form of the clichéd writing rule “Show, don’t tell.”  While Scarlett’s monologues go on and on about frivolous topics, her actions, deep down, show the reader a different Scarlett entirely.  For example, Margret’s description of her states clearly that Scarlett believes education is useless.  However, Scarlett’s character is clearly adept at math and business.  Usually, contradictions within books draw ridicule; however Margret uses her contradictions to draw interest.  They are purposeful and subtle enough create intrigue within the frustration.  And this makes it hard to bury Margret Mitchell’s masterpiece among the coffins containing characters such as the ever-thinking Bella Swan, the suicidal adulteress Anna Karenina, the tormented Harry Potter, the separated lovers Catherine and Heathcliff, or even the conniving, match-making mother of Elizabeth Bennet.

*Note, while Rhett Butler undoubtedly had a huge impact on Scarlett’s character, the very fact that an entire book can be written about their relationship made it necessary for me to leave him out of this analysis in order to not short the importance of their influences upon one another.

The Best of Freedomchic Part 1

Well, Cassandra (freedomchic) is leaving us and moving on to better things.  She may be back from time to time with the random post, but she will no longer be a regular contributor to the blog.  I want to express my deepest thanks to her for her contributions, and wish her all the best in her future endeavors! To honor her contributions to the blog I’m going to be reposting some of her best posts over the next few weeks!  So, today: Imagery Through Metaphors – Predator

I’ve talked quite a bit in previous posts about imagery.  This could be because it is one of my favorite literary techniques.  To me imagery, more than any other tool, brings a story to life.  Think of the movie Pleasantville.  You can have a story with an interesting plot, good dialogue, personable characters, etc.  But, without imagery, the story stays in black and white.  Imagery is color – it adds life and vitality.

One of the best ways to add imagery is through metaphors.   While metaphors are common and most commonly associated with poems, they are exceedingly useful in other literary forms.  When writing an expository essay or even a staid research paper, imagery still has a place.   An extended metaphor is especially handy as it keeps the paper on topic.  As you weave a metaphor in and out of a paper, you keep the paper focused and the reader attentive.

Metaphors themselves come in many different forms (don’t expect me to list them all).  Simply put though, there’s the straightforth “She’s a diamond in the rough” to the aforementioned extended metaphor (think Donne’s “No Man is an Island” or Shakespeare’s “All the World’s a Stage”).  Metaphors can be explicit or implicit.  However, the main goal of any metaphor is that, by the end of the metaphor or paper, the metaphor is clear and enhances the point.  One important thing to keep in mind though is that while metaphors should be original (keep away from the cliches as much as possible) they do need to make sense to more than just you.  If in doubt, test it out on a friend, teacher, co-writer, etc.

The following poem uses an extended metaphor with an implicit analogy.  Although the metaphor never comes out and declares itself a specific bird of prey (although the title comes close), throughout the poem, the analogy gets stronger and more developed.


Depression dips its cold, dark wings
Into the nearby souls of those
Who battle with multiple sorrows and foes
And leave this world and all it brings

Its sinister nature leaves no choice
And once its dark depravity sinks
One merely exists, nevermore to think
It takes away all mind and voice

Its victims, now strangers to all
Who once knew such joy and such life
Have now been replaced by wallowing strife
Which drones out the love and peace which calls

Attached to the mind, one it becomes
With sharpened claws it takes a firm hold
Preying on fears and worries, it leaves one cold
A testament to the darkness from which it comes

This bird of night sneaks in despite
All attempts to thwart its roaming
As greasy and oily it slips through the combing
And gathers newborn speed and height

Once it attacks there is no amending
Its progress is inevitable, an imminent binding
For its talons sink deeper and the poison is spreading
It goes for the kill, to keep the soul from living