Drafting

I have set myself the goal of writing a story; actually taking an idea all the way through the writing process.  I’m getting good at capturing moments and blogging about them, but I haven’t really pushed myself to craft a story.  I’ve looked through and selected an entry from my notebook, done some oral rehearsal and planning, and now I have started a draft.  This is what we ask our kids to do, and I think it’s critical that I experience this work as a writer and teacher.

So….here’s what I have so far.  It’s a start, but there is lots of work to be done!

No Tears for Pogo

Until the age of ten, life had treated me well.  My parents, sister, dog, and I lived in a nice house with a nice yard on a nice street in the same town where my parents had been raised and my grandparents still lived. My sister and I walked to the nearby elementary school, had Sunday lunches with one set of grandparents and Thursday dinners with the other.  Summers included days at the beach and week-long vacations on Block Island.  And then, one evening during my tenth year, everything changed.

My sister and I had been up and down the street twice calling and looking. We were in the back woods walking up toward the Bernstein’s house when we heard my dad yelling, “Come on, girls.  We can continue our search when we get back from the train station, but we have to get in the car now so we are not late picking up your mother!”

This had been the way the week had been going since our dog Pogo went missing three days before.  Christina and I would walk home from school, looking along the way and calling out Pogo’s name.  Like a group of carolers, the gang of kids we walked home with would sing out, “Pogo…Come here you big little puppy!  Come on, pup.  Come out wherever you are! Pogo…Come here you big little puppy…..” Then Christina and I would walk up and down our road, continuing to call out for Pogo. Dad would sometimes drive us around the neighborhood, windows open, all of us calling and looking, looking and calling. But so far, nothing.  

Pogo had never gone missing.  He was a ten year old bassett hound, and big for his breed.  My parents had purchased him the year I was born, so I considered him to be my dog. After all, we were the same age, and had been through almost all of the same experiences. His typical day included eating breakfast and then laying across the road in the sunshine until he would feel the vibration of a car that was coming down the hill. He would get up, stretch his long body, and lumber to the side of the road.  Once the car had passed, Pogo would return to his original spot on the road, possibly moving a bit if the sun had changed position. In those days, there were no leashes or invisible fences, and nobody seemed to care whether or not dogs were wandering around the neighborhood.  In the evenings, Pogo would eat again and then, in the winter, spread himself out in front of the burning fireplace so that Christina and I could lay our heads on his long belly and rest by the fire. He was, without question, the best dog ever. And then, one day, he just didn’t come home.

Stay tuned for the rest of the draft and LOTS of revision work!!  If you have any feedback, please bring it on.

 

Major Cooking Fail

I love Thanksgiving.  It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite days of the year.  It’s really such a simple holiday.  We just gather our family around a bunch of tables decorated by our daughters and filled with food, and we eat, drink, laugh, and talk (OK, and often have an argument or two about the political situation.  This year is sure to be no exception.) for hours upon hours. What could be easier than that?  We usually have about 20-30 people. Everyone brings a dish, and/or helps with the preparation, serving, and even the clean up.  That’s just how our family rolls.

But every year, at about this time, I start to get stressed.  Have we organized everything? Does everyone know what they are bringing?  Did we tell Aunt Mary what time we were serving?  Do we have all of the ingredients we need to make everything?  Are the beds made?  Have we pumped the septic tank (a critical event when having 25 people in an old house for a long weekend)?  So, I make lists and create schedules.  This year is no exception.  My schedule for tonight read like this:

-clean sheets and make beds

-bake cornbread for stuffing

-make short ribs for dinner on Tuesday (the first of the group arrives)

-buy birthday cards for the two family members with November birthdays

-bake birthday cake for Wednesday

So as 4 o’clock arrived, I started cleaning and cooking.  I put on some music and settled in to my routine.  Everything was going according to schedule.  The sheets were rolling around in the dryer, the cornbread was cooking, and the short ribs were braised. I put together the casserole, layering onions, carrots, tomatoes, and beef broth in the large old pot.  The recipe called for bringing the casserole to a boil before placing it in the oven for 3 hours, so I placed the pot on the burner and went to my desk to write the birthday cards.  That’s when the horrible popping and cracking sounds split the silence. I ran to the burner and picked up the old casserole, only to have the top portion of the pot come up in my hands, while the bottom stayed on the burner.  The contents of Tuesday’s dinner cascaded into the burners, down the front of the stove, and onto the floor. Carrots, onions, plum tomatoes, and short ribs of beef were everywhere.

So much for that schedule!

 

 

 

 

Story Writing, Step 2

I’ve set myself a goal of writing a story. I’m very good at making entries in my notebook (or on my blog), and revising them a bit to make them public, but I rarely move beyond that to the hard work of crafting a story.   I’m using the ideas in Writing Radar by Jack Gantos to guide my work.  Last week I made a list of action and emotion words to get me ready to write.

I selected a few words off my list:

Action Words:  Parent, Sister, Dog, Scars

Emotion Words: Stunned, Embarrassed, Confused

This week I’ve been trying to take the next step.  We teach our students about the importance of oral rehearsal, so I’ve been trying to take entries that have some promise and rehearse them as stories.  One idea that I’ve been playing around with is the story of the day my father informed me that my dog, Pogo (the cutest Bassett Hound ever), had been found dead after many long days of searching and hoping.  Pogo had been my dog since the day I was born.  When I heard of his death, I was stunned.  I know I was devastated, but for some reason I couldn’t cry.  I was horrified at myself.  I thought something was terribly wrong with me. Of course it didn’t help that my younger sister bawled her eyes out for hours.

I’ve been trying to craft this experience into a story. I’ve been trying (as Gantos suggests) to write more often, to use story structure to organize my piece, and to use action and emotion throughout.  It’s been fun, but ever so challenging. As hard as I’ve been working, the piece just isn’t turning into anything good. I need help. I’ve decided to do one of the other things we ask kids to do; turn to a mentor.  As I was looking through some of my favorite stories, I came upon The Last Kiss by Ralph Fletcher.  This, I thought, is the way I want my Pogo story to feel.  So I’m going to spend this week using my mentor text to improve and inspire my story.

Let’s see what I can come up with  by next week.

Writing Advice from Jack Gantos

I love to write.  I even dream of having some writing published one day.  I recently read Writing Radar by Jack Gantos, a book filled with advice for narrative writers.  Jack talks about keeping a notebook, structuring stories, revising (many times and with multiple lenses), and making sure you have good writing habits.  After reading this book, it occurred to me that I don’t write stories.  I write entries.  I write “slices of life,” but I don’t ever work to craft a story.  So….I thought I would make a goal for myself.  I’m going to keep a notebook of story ideas and then try to craft and revise a story.

One piece of advice that Jack suggests is to make a list of key words that lead to ideas for action and emotion in a story as a way to get some story ideas. That is where I’ve decided to begin, so here it goes:

Key Words That Lead to Ideas for Action in a Story:

Siblings

Family

Friends

Secrets

Vacations

Things I shouldn’t have done (but did anyway)

Reading

Traveling

Scars

Phobias

Bad Habits

Arguments

Key Words That Lead to Ideas for Emotion in a Story

Shocked

Embarrassed

Disappointed

Loved

Helpless

Amused

Awkward

Curious

Elated

Anxious

Frustrated

I’m not sure where this will take me, but at least I’ve taken a step.