Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Writing Wisdom

I love to read what other writers have to say about writing. Their words can be inspiring, amusing, and even educational. Here are some more quotes from my collection:

"Writing a novel is like making love, but it's also like having a tooth pulled. [And] sometimes it's like making love while having a tooth pulled."  Dean Koontz

"You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better."  Maxim Gorky

"I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." Douglas Adams

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."  Richard Bach

"I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries."    Stephen King

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Last Real Christmas

I was too old, I suppose ‑‑ especially by today's standards. Still, I believed. I ignored the other kids' claims about Santa Claus. I thought putting up the Christmas tree was a pleasure, not a chore. When I did have chores, I sang Christmas carols to pass the time. I refused to think of the holidays as anything less than magical.
On Christmas Eve, a sprinkling of snow dusted everything, proving me right. Snow for Christmas! Not so much that Grandma couldn't come over for Christmas dinner tomorrow ‑‑ just enough. Everything sparkled when the streetlights came on. Just before I went to bed, a flock of birds flew away north to give Santa one last report on good boys and girls.
That Christmas Eve, I wore my watch to bed, eager for it to read six o'clock, the earliest time we were allowed to get up. Long after my little sister fell asleep, I lay awake, dreaming. For a while, I knelt in my bed and looked out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of reindeer in the sky. Then when it seemed it must be nearly morning, I pulled up my pajama sleeve and looked at my watch in the glow from the streetlights.
Nine o'clock!
It would be hours and hours till morning!
The watch was still ticking, so I decided it must be running slow. I set it ahead fifteen minutes to compensate, then tried to sleep again.
The next time I checked, it was only nine‑thirty! Obviously, something was seriously wrong with that watch. Again I set it ahead a bit to make up for its slowness.
I don't know how many times I reset my watch that night. Now and then, between my attempts to control time and make Christmas come faster, I nodded off. Once I woke to the sound of what I was sure had been prancing hooves. Another time, as I drifted out of sleep, I thought I caught a whiff of pipe smoke.
Finally, my watch read six o'clock. I slipped out of bed and into my robe and crept out to the living room to turn on the Christmas tree. The mounds of colorful packages, the sparkle of the tree, the quiet magic of the morning made the torture of waiting seem worthwhile.
My parents found me snuggled on the couch, just taking it all in. Of course, they shooed me back to bed since it was only three o'clock in the morning!
It didn't matter. I slept well till my sister pounced on my bed and shook me awake. She was right to be excited, I thought: something beautiful awaited her.
            I think that was the last of the real Christmases:  the Christmases where the tree was like something out of a fairy tale and the wrapping paper covered happiness and hints of magic were everywhere. Eventually, I could no longer deny the truths and practicalities of the holidays.
Still ‑‑ I love a Christmas tree, the secrets of packages, the gathering of family. There's still a bit of magic in every Christmas.
And I don't have to turn back the clock to capture it.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Building Self-esteem -- The Real Thing!

     Someone I don’t want to know has just revealed sordid personal details I did not need to hear. Not only do I know the sad story, so do millions of other viewers. A studio audience member stands and intones knowingly, "Honey, you need to get some self-esteem."
     I scream and consider changing channels. (I don’t switch because I want to know how things come out, but I think about it really, really seriously.)
     "Self-esteem" has become America’s buzzword. It’s thrown around on talk shows, in magazine articles, and at school as if it’s something you could order by catalog. ("Hey, my self-esteem came today! Now get out of my house you lying, cheating, scum-sucker!")
     It’s just not that easy!
     So if you can’t give your children self-esteem in a gift-wrapped box, how can you help them learn to love and respect themselves?

l) Don’t try to buy self-esteem.
     Rewards, when handled appropriately, can be a big help in teaching a child. Unfortunately, they can also suck all the self-esteem-building value out of anything.
     You probably know parents who reward their children all the time for doing almost nothing. I once had a student who received six different-colored pairs of canvas high-tops in less than a month. Each time his parents were rewarding him for something relatively minor, like passing his spelling test (he could have made A’s!) or picking his clothes up off the bedroom floor. As you might guess, he was a demanding child who was always milking his parents for bigger and better rewards for doing less and less.
     Misused rewards cheapen the value of what a child has done. The teacher who gives her students candy for every little thing they do takes the emphasis away from the value of learning and the satisfaction of a job done well. The parents of Shoe Boy taught him that schoolwork, doing chores, and the like were terrible things that a person would do only if bribed -- not things that had any use or could give him any satisfaction.
     How do you use rewards effectively? Always keep in mind: a reward should be as intangible as it can be and still work. It’s surprising how much kids will do for rewards like praise, a special personal time with a parent, a chance to call Grandma and brag, and the like. (Try it!) When a child needs a tangible reward -- and be very sure he does -- keep it as small as you can. (Often something like a sticker or a checkmark on a chart will do.) Always accompany the reward with comments about the value of the child’s behavior:
     "That studying really paid off! You’re learning how to spell better and better!"
     "You’ll be able to do your math more quickly now that you know your facts."
     "Your room looks so neat! It makes it nice just to come in here and talk with you."

2) Make ‘em wait.
     I tell my husband that I know I would be truly happy if only I had a refrigerator that made crushed ice. I sigh and say, "Then I would want for nothing."
    I know that easy access to crushed ice will not give meaning to my life, but kids don’t understand things like that. They think that this toy, that video game, all those high-top sneakers are necessary to their happiness. They must go to the park, ride a rollercoaster, see Grandpa, or die! And whatever they want, they want it now!
     Instant gratification is, well, gratifying, but only for an instant. The child who too often gets what he wants right when he wants it never really feels good about himself. How can he when all he does is futilely chase after that perfect toy, perfect place, perfect activity that will make him happy? The thrill of instant gratification lasts just a moment. True happiness will only come from things that are worth waiting for, like a job done well or following through on a difficult decision.
     Loving parents can find it hard to say, "No," or even "Not now," but it’s actually good for kids to have to wait for what they want. Yes, you will buy them fast food again some day -- but not today. And maybe they’ll get that new video game later -- for their birthday. You’ll see how they like the red high-tops awhile before you spring for the blue ones.
     And maybe in fifteen years, I’ll get a refrigerator that makes crushed ice!

3) Challenge them.
     As a teacher, I had children bounce off the ceiling with joy at the prospect of an art project only to have them whining and quitting three minutes into it. I prodded, encouraged, insisted, urged, and pushed until they finished. When they did, they were so proud of their work. Week after week, we went through the same scenario before they began to understand the pride of working on something and carrying through till the end.
     You see, real self-esteem cannot come from doing something too easy. I am not proud of how well I know my math facts --it’ll take more of a challenge than that for me to think highly of myself. And for your child to be proud of himself, he has to accomplish something challenging.
     "Challenging" does not mean "frustrating." A challenge is making your child reach--just a little bit. For example, read aloud books that are just a little too hard for your child to read himself. Give him a model that’s just a little bit more complicated than the ones he’s been doing. Add just one more responsibility to his weekly chores. (He does do chores, doesn’t he?) Challenges like these keep him growing and learning and let him build real pride of accomplishment.

4) Teach respect.
     If your child is going to respect himself, he has to know what respect is. He learns that by learning to respect others. In the olden days we showed respect with manners. We believed that everyone deserved to be treated with courtesy, especially parents.
     From time to time, parents try to engage other adults in conversation. Their children, having an amazing radar that immediately tells them when they are no longer the center of attention, interrupt with vital information like "A leaf fell off that tree!" If corrected, these children can learn not to interrupt people who are talking. If not corrected, they will prevent their parents from having a decent adult conversation for the next twenty years.
     Children aren’t born with a manners gene that makes them automatically respect the rights of others. They have to be taught that other people should be treated in a thoughtful way. We do not interrupt. We do not take what’s not ours. We do not insult. We do not hurt others. Teaching these lessons is a tough, dirty job!
     On a trip to Eureka Springs, a little boy bopped me in the leg with some kind of stuffed critter on a stick. His mother had a perfect opportunity to teach him that we don’t hit people with our toys -- it is wrong. Her response: "Watch out! You’ll break your toy."
     Of course, the kid did care more about his toy than some strange woman in a sunflower hat. His mother’s appeal to his natural selfish instincts probably worked well enough that he didn’t bop anybody else all day. However, he also didn’t learn anything about respecting others because his mother didn’t....

5) Aim for a higher level of consciousness.
     Just like you can’t make a seed grow, you can’t force a kid to mature. You have to work with kids as they are. However, you can help your child mature by keeping in mind that higher level of self-esteem you’re working for.
     When your child is having a screaming-meemie fit in the store, all you can do is take him out. Later you can explain how you won’t let him act like that in the store because you know he’s a big boy and big boys don’t act that way. When he throws a toy, you may put it away awhile as punishment, but be sure to talk about how Mommy and Daddy work hard for the money that buys his toys and he must take care of them. When he hits a strange woman with a toy, you might keep him from doing it again by appealing to his own selfish interests, but you also might stop and apologize -- and insist that he do so, too.
     Tie the higher moral lesson in with the action you take. At the moment, the kid might just be learning that kicking the dog gets him a time-out in a kitchen chair, but as you talk again and again (not meaning on and on!) about principles like not hurting others, he begins to understand. He learns what it means to be a moral and worthy person. When he does the right thing, he feels good about himself -- he builds his self-esteem. Not one based on bribes or instant gratification or easy accomplishments or any of his own selfish wants, but real self-esteem.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Readers Theatre: Shortcut to Dramatic Success

     Just think of what could go wrong if your students put on a public performance!
     Go ahead. I’ll wait….

     Did you imagine the awkward silence that hangs in the air when someone forgets his lines?
     Maybe you visualized a catastrophic set collapse? Or a time-sensitive prop that breaks at the very second it’s needed?
     Perhaps a long-buried memory of some costuming trauma broke into your consciousness? Ripped seams? Dropped pants? Disintegrating turbans?
     Or did you envision the director’s worst nightmare – the absent actor! Oh, the horror!
     Now take a deep breath and read on to find out about the cure for all these problems: readers theatre!

What is readers theatre?

     In readers theatre, actors keep their scripts and read their lines instead of memorizing them. Costumes, sets, props, and even movement are not needed. Kids can just sit there and read!

What’s so great about readers theatre?

     Since the actors always have their scripts right in front of them, there’s a lot less pressure in readers theatre. The constant worry that someone’s going to forget a line is gone! Kids can feel more confident about performing well – and they can handle “bigger” roles than they thought possible.
     Needing less rehearsal to put together a production is another benefit of readers theatre. You don’t have to keep practicing until you’ve pounded the lines into everybody’s heads! And you don’t need to spend time blocking out movements and rehearsing them over and over. Usually, the actors just sit quietly on chairs or stools until it’s time to read their parts. If you want to get fancy, you can have the actors put their backs to the audience when they’re not reading and turn around when they are.
     And let’s face it: the extras like costumes, sets, and props add a lot of hard work to a production. They can cause problems, too, when they malfunction, break, or disappear. Leaving them out of your readers theatre production means you’ll be ready for a public performance more quickly – and things are likely to run more smoothly.
     And if your star is absent? No big deal! Somebody else can simply read the part. Having someone understudy big roles just in case is a good idea, but the show can still go on even if you don’t do that.

But props are fun! And costumes are cute! And isn’t all that sitting around kind of boring?

     Remember – we’re talking about a shortcut here. Readers theatre can get you to a successful performance quickly. Without all the extras, your rehearsals can focus on good expression, authentic emotion, and realistic portrayals. So a readers theatre production is anything but boring!
     However, the extras are fun so you may want to use traditional readers theatre to get started and change things up later. After a few productions, you and your students might be ready to add some movements, costumes, props, or sets to their performances. You may even work into doing “regular” theatre, dropping scripts and memorizing lines. But don’t feel you have to make a big production out of your theatre program. Keep things as simple as you like – and as fun as you can!

For more about theatre in the classroom visit http://www.dianarjenkins.bravehost.com.

And here are some readers theatre collections I wrote:

     These humorous readers theatre scripts offer real-life settings and contemporary characters. Each play pokes gentle fun at annoying traits, school-based dilemmas, or the embarrassing moments that are part of growing up. With resolutions that emphasize creative solutions, humor, or cleverness, these plays work to improve language arts skills. (Grades 4 to 8)

     This collection of humorous, contemporary plays is organized around special times of year such as holidays, the first day of school, a snow day, etc. Teachers can find an appropriate readers theatre script at almost any time with this valuable resource, and kids will have fun improving their language arts skills as they perform these plays. (Grades 6 to 8) 

     Twelve humorous readers theater scripts engage and entertain students in fourth through eighth grades. The book includes a play for every month of the year. Each script features a contemporary kid in a real-life situation—and a saint who helps him or her solve the problem! (Grades 4 to 8)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Intriguing Ebook Mystery For Kids!

The Carousel Ghost is a compelling mystery and ghost tale as well as a relatable and realistic story about friendship. Young readers will enjoy the amusement park setting, the great characters (both live and...well...not), the creepiness, and the twists and turns of this well-constructed mystery. Ms. Pelleschi keeps the story moving along so well that it's hard to put down - even for an adult reader. The main character's efforts to deal with changing relationships in her life are authentic and moving. Highly recommended! Get it here!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Weather With Wow!

This exciting new book about weather presents a wealth of information using well-written and intriguing text, amazing photos, easy-to-understand illustrations and charts, and fun fold-out pages. The author's explanations of weather concepts and phenomena are clear and informative but never "textbooky." She makes sure that readers develop not only a good understanding of the subject matter but also an appreciation for the wonders of weather. This is a fascinating book with a format that encourages kids to explore, think, examine, and return later for more. You can get this great book here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A New Halloween Favorite!

This delightful holiday story is bound to become a perennial favorite. Avery's Pumpkin by Tam Cassidy is a wonderful read-aloud for home or school as well as a great book for kids to read independently. There's lots of Halloween fun in this story, but the author also "sneaks" in some real substance. What does it mean to be a "winner"? How do families love each other despite their differences? What really matters in life? Kids will enjoy Avery's story now and each October for years to come. Get this ebook here.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hitting the Funny Bone

     Kids love funny stories.
     So do editors! They know that funny stories make reading fun for their readers, even the kids with poor skills or little motivation. They understand that humor makes age-old themes seem fresh. And they appreciate how moral lessons become more palatable and less preachy when served up with some laughter.
      How can you give editors what they’re looking for? Just write something funny.
      If only it were that simple! Writing humor is serious business – and more difficult than most people realize. No one can tell you how to write a funny story, but here are a few practical suggestions for getting humor into what you write.

1) Make your main character interact with a "little" kid. In a children’s story, a "little" kid is anybody younger than your readers. From the lofty reaches of your readers’ greater maturity and experience, a little kid’s mistakes, character flaws, and reactions are terribly funny. A further element of humor comes in with your main character’s frustrations dealing with the little kid. The Fudge books by Judy Blume are, of course, masterpieces in the use of this method, but it works well in short stories, too.
     For example, the humor in my story, "Horse Fever," (My Friend, February, 2001) comes from both little sister Ruthie’s belief that she can grow up to be a horse and big sister Amber’s difficulties convincing her of the truth. In the following scene, Amber tries to use a book about horses to get Ruthie to understand reality:

     When we came to a picture of a colt, I said, "Why is that horse so little?"
     "Because," Ruthie said, "it’s a baby horse."
     "And one day it’ll be a grown-up horse, right?"
     "Unless is wants to be a efelant," she said.
     "A what?"
     "Efelant! You know, with a long nose!"
     "Ruthie!" I cried. "A baby horse isn’t going to grow up to be an elephant!"
     "You’re probably right," she said thoughtfully. "Being a horse is the best thing. I bet that baby horse doesn’t want to change."
     "It can’t change!" I shouted.
     "Amber," said Ruthie very seriously. "The baby horse has to decide for itself."

2) Let your main character dig himself a nice, deep hole. Whatever wrong thing the main character is doing, don’t let him get caught too quickly. Build humor by allowing him to succeed awhile, making ridiculous excuses, and fooling himself (but not your readers) that he’s going to keep getting away with things.
     For example, in my play "Would I Lie to You?" (Just Deal With It! Funny Readers Theatre for Life’s Not-So-Funny Moments, Teacher Ideas Press, 2004) the main character tells big stories to impress the other kids. Of course, they eventually realize that she’s lying, and she loses everybody’s trust. Pretty deep hole, huh? But the main character digs herself in even further by pretending to be her own twin sister in order to get a fresh start! This situation provided lots of opportunities for funny interactions between the girl and the other characters before she had to do the right thing and ‘fess up.

3) Annoy your main character. If you want to really crack up your readers, bug the heck out of the main character while he deals with his troubles. For example, a story about a kid whose parents send her to summer camp even though she hates the outdoors has great potential for humor. But the story becomes even funnier if she has to partner up with someone who’s a camping fanatic. That secondary character can drive her nuts by relishing everything she detests!
     A lot of funny things could happen in a story about an only child staying with a swarm of cousins, especially if the main character has a hard time adjusting to being around so many people. However, more humor might develop if the cousins live in a teeny house where the main character has to share a barracks-like bedroom and one little bathroom. The extra layer of aggravation could push the humor over the edge from amusing to hilarious.

4) Write in first person. In a third-person story, you can report what your main character is thinking and feeling, but you can’t flavor the whole story with the character’s attitude. Compare these two examples, written about the same incident:

     For the next week, Sophie’s brothers hid in their room, working on their Christmas gifts for her. They often borrowed art supplies from Sophie. And they told her that she would never guess what they were making. The boys were excited about their gifts, but Sophie didn’t expect to be impressed by anything they made.

     Over the next week, the boys acted so-o-o secretive about the gifts they were making for me. They kept borrowing things like crayons and markers and other supplies. And they kept saying "mysterious’ stuff like, "You’ll never guess what I’m making, Sophie!" Like they could be making anything good with old tissue boxes and cardboard!
("A Handmade Christmas," My Friend, December, 2001)

     The second sample has a more humorous tone because every sentence is filtered through Sophie. Her underwhelming enthusiasm for her brothers’ homemade gifts couldn’t be clearer. Her attitude makes this paragraph funny – and sets the stage for later laughs when Sophie’s gifts are even worse than she expected.

5) Use a funny event from real life as the seed for a story. The humorous anecdotes that people tell you...the family stories that crack everyone up...the embarrassing moments that eventually become cocktail party stories...Don’t write about them just as they happened. Almost NEVER does a real-life event make a good story when told factually. However, a funny happening can inspire a funny story.
     For example, my grandfather visited my parents the night before their first Thanksgiving together. When he found they didn’t have the money for a feast, he insisted on buying them a turkey. The store had closed just before they arrived, but Grandpa got my parents their dinner by flapping his elbows and gobbling loudly until the store workers cracked up, reopened the store, and sold him a turkey.
In my family, we always laughed when my dad told that tale, and I often thought I might write about it. The problem was: it made a nice anecdote, but there wasn’t really a whole story there.
     Eventually I realized that I could just use the incident as an inspiration. I wrote a story (and later a play) about a boy whose grandfather moves in and does all kinds of embarrassing things. ("My Roommate - Grandpa!" story - Pockets, May, 1993; play - Just Deal With It! Funny Readers Theatre for Life’s Not-So-Funny Moments, Teacher Ideas Press, 2004.) When the family’s financial troubles keep the boy from having the special feast he wants for his birthday, his grandfather does my grandfather’s turkey act with the same results. The real-life incident became the pivotal moment that showed the main character the love behind Grandpa’s antics.

6) Remember that the humor isn’t the point. Sure, kids enjoy reading funny stories, but a good story doesn’t just make readers laugh. A good story makes them think and feel. Setting out to "write a funny story" without any purpose or direction usually won’t work. The story doesn’t hold together well, and the humor often falls flat because it doesn’t have a real point. Before you write, decide what you want your readers to get out of your story. If you can communicate those ideas and feelings through humor, then go ahead and write a funny story. If not, stick to a more serious style. Editors need good stories of all kinds!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Getting motivated to write

Maybe you’ve heard the story about Michelangelo and the block of marble that would one day be his statue of David. Some important guy – a prince or something – heard that Michelangelo hadn’t done anything with the marble even though he’d had it for months. The man went to see about this himself and found the artist just standing there, staring at the huge block of stone. “What are you doing?” asked the visitor.

Michelangelo replied, “I’m working.”

I imagine Michelangelo was thinking, planning, visualizing, dreaming up and rejecting ideas, preparing himself to create. He really was working!

A lot of a writer’s work is invisible, too, because it goes on inside the mind. But too many times we tell ourselves we’re doing the Michelangelo thing when we’re really just stalling around. Writing is tough. It’s hard to start writing. It’s hard to keep writing. It’s hard to rewrite as much as you should.

Here are some ideas for getting and staying motivated. You’ll have to figure out what works for you, but hopefully one or more of these suggestions will help!

Set a reasonable goal.Okay, everybody tries setting goals. The problem is that most writers set pie-in the-sky goals that are just too hard to meet. (Like you’re going to get up a four in the morning every day and work on your novel!) You need to set a goal you can actually achieve. And if you really have trouble getting yourself to write, make your goal so easy that you’d feel ashamed to miss it. That way you’ll get somewhere with your writing even if it is just a little at a time – and you can feel proud when you overachieve!

Lose the not-worth-it attitude.It’s wonderful to have a whole hour, a whole afternoon, a whole day to write. (I was so happy when I was able to quit teaching and write!) But usually real life doesn’t allow that. It’s easy to feel there’s no point in even trying to write when you have tight time limits. Why, you’ll barely get started! And you certainly won’t get very far! And the end is nowhere in sight! Why bother? But even though it’s slow and inefficient, writing in little pieces can really work. Eventually you’ll write a whole something. Keep waiting until you have plenty of time, and you’ll eventually write…nothing whatsoever.

Work on several projects at a time.
It seems counterintuitive, but working on several pieces of writing at once can be easier than concentrating on just one. When you have a single writing project, hitting a snag can stop you cold. You sit there for ages, unable to decide what to write next, getting more and more discouraged until you finally quit, never to return to the computer until you’ve worked through the problem, which, face it, could take months. But if you keep several projects in the works, you can set aside a piece that’s not working and move on to something else. And something else if you have problems with that piece. Having several projects also makes it easier to start writing because you have a choice of possible projects.

Make the job fit.To keep yourself working for all of your valuable writing period, match your writing tasks to your personality and energy level. If you’re someone who works best when you’re fresh then start writing as soon as you hit your desk. Don’t squander your most productive time on checking your email, printing address labels, doing research, and the like. You can turn to those tasks later when you’re getting tired. Having some easier jobs at that time can keep you from quitting early. If you’re someone who needs to settle in a bit first, then go ahead and do some of those jobs. Just be sure to watch the clock so you don’t piddle away your time.

When you’re wrestling with a story, taking a moment away can really help. You can do that by setting the story aside and working on another writing project. (See #3.) Doing something unrelated to writing can help, too, so you might just step away from your desk for a few minutes, get a cup of coffee, sit on your deck awhile, or walk the dog. But be careful – and honest with yourself. If a certain activity tends to lead you into the temptation of just quitting for the day, don’t even start it. Substitute a less tempting activity and set a time limit for it.
You can keep your writing energy up over time by refreshing yourself with some nonverbal activities. Art classes, hobbies, and sports give you a break from all those words, words, words so you can come back to writing feeling renewed and open to new ideas.

Join a critique group.Getting together regularly with other writers is one of the most motivating things you can do. Reading other people’s work inspires you to write yourself. The support you get from writing friends keeps you going. Other writers’ suggestions help you improve your work which makes you want to write more. And needing material for your meetings encourages you to write on a routine schedule.

End with a jumpstart.
When you reach the end of one writing session, set things up so it’ll be easier to get started next time. Some writers stop in the middle of something – an exciting scene, an interesting dialogue, or even a sentence! I sometimes jot a few notes about where I’m planning to go next: a few words about plot, a snippet of possible dialogue, a question. If you’re using some kind of outline, check off what you’ve finished. Even just straightening up your desk and setting out what you need next time can help you get a good start.

Be nice to yourself.You’re trying to do something really hard so cut yourself some slack. Gag that critical inner voice, and take joy in what you’ve written. Write as much as you can but don’t hate yourself if that darn stupid real life gets in the way. When you can’t write, let your mind imagine, dream, plan, and prepare what you’ll write next. Who knows? You might be working on your masterpiece!

For more about writing, visit http://www.dianarjenkins.bravehost.com

Friday, August 23, 2013

Invisible Again!

A romantic evening. A trendy restaurant dripping with ambiance. A unique and tasty meal. A cup of coffee would really top things off.
When the waitress comes to clear our dishes, we'll ask for the coffee. And maybe a slice of something sinful.
We wait.
The waitress is not coming to clear the table. She's not even bringing our check. We try to catch her eye as she passes, but she walks by without a glance. We signal to her as she turns from another table, but she does not notice. Even a loud "Excuse me!" does not attract her attention.
I look at him. He looks at me.
"It's happening again," he says.
"Yes," I say. "Once more we've become . . . INVISIBLE!"
Fortunately, invisible people can see each other ‑‑ they needn't feel alone in their plight. When we're invisible, my guy and I discuss the shrinking size of our server's gratuity. If we remain invisible too long, we leave an invisible tip!
Restaurants seem to be the worst place for invisibility. (Is it something in the food?) We once ate a delicious lunch in the garden courtyard of a Santa Fe restaurant. At first, we did not realize we had become invisible. When we ran out of tea and had to suck ice cubes to combat the spicy food, we knew it had happened again. We would have tried the usual things to get our waiter's attention, but he had disappeared as soon as he served the food, though once I may have glimpsed him from afar.
When we went to the hostess to complain about the poor service and to get our check, she explained everything. "The computer is down," she said.
I suppose our waiter was some kind of hologram.
Invisibility must be contagious. I spread it to a friend when we went out to lunch one day. We became invisible as soon as the waitress brought our food. Then two men at another table became invisible, too. And right before our eyes, it happened to a young couple at a third table ‑‑ they were sucking ice cubes between bites of nachos.
The only visible person in the room was the waitress's friend. The waitress stood at her table and chatted like they were at a slumber party, oblivious to glares, hand signals, or any other attempts to get her attention. When the two men resorted to banging their silverware on the metal lamp above their table, she did look in their direction and narrow her eyes as if she thought she saw something. Then she shook her head and went back to her conversation.
Invisibility can strike at other places besides restaurants. A typical scenario: I wait at a cash register, intending to buy a small part for a big item I bought at this very establishment. The salesman is with another customer, one who may buy a big, expensive item – perhaps even the very item I bought. It will take this customer at least twenty minutes to decide whether to make this major purchase.
Here is an opportunity for the salesman to show how the store believes in good service after the sale. Does he take advantage of this situation, impressing a potential customer and keeping an old one? No‑‑once again, I am . . . INVISIBLE. The salesman could see me just fine when I was thinking about spending a lot of money, but the smallness of my current purchase has shrunk me into nothingness.
It doesn't always happen that way. In fact, the service industries serve well most of the time. But I become invisible too often these days.
I only hope all the good salespeople, servers, and clerks don't catch what I've got!

(originally published in Laf!)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Read Along with Highlights

Did you know that Highlights for Children offers online audio/read-along versions of many stories? I didn't either, but I think it's a great idea! Here's one of my stories as an example, but be sure to check them all out!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Saints Said It!

"There is nothing good that does not meet with opposition, and it should not be valued any less because it encounters objections." Those words of wisdom come from Saint Vincent de Paul, pictured above.  For more inspirational quotes from the saints, check out my new Facebook page Saints Said It. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Blog Hop!


Last week my writer friend Peggy Archer invited me to participate in a blog hop interview. She sent me some interview questions to answer (see below). Then I'm supposed to tag three other writers to answer questions, too. Check out Peggy's answers to the questions on her blog, posted  July 2. Feel free to leave her a comment, and tell her I sent you!
Here are my answers:

What are you working on right now?
I'm finishing up Tackling Tough Topics with Faith and Fiction, a unique resource book for adults who work with young teens. The book is designed to help teachers and parents introduce sensitive topics and guide kids in using their faith when facing tough challenges. (The topics really are tough to talk about: pornography, modesty, substance abuse, cyberbullying, materialism, dishonesty, etc.) Each chapter includes a relatable story about the topic as well as helpful material like background information, a suggested activity, discussion questions, and scripture references. Pauline Books and Media will be releasing the book next spring. 

Why do you write what you do?
I was a teacher for many years, and I look at writing for kids as another way to teach. I particularly like writing fiction because it doesn't just tell young readers what they should do. Stories draw kids in and show them how to apply values to "real life."

How does your writing process work?
Very slowly! I decide where I'm going – what the main character's journey is – but it takes me a good while and a lot of rewriting to figure out how he/she is getting there.

What is the hardest part about writing?
Rewriting and rewriting and rewriting on and on and on until the story is the best I can make it. (See above.) If I'm not sick of a story, then I haven't worked on it enough! It's tough, but when a story is finished…aah! What a great feeling!
Thanks for the tag, Peggy! Check out Peggy's answers on her blog.
Now I'm tagging the following three children's authors. Be sure to check out their blog posts on these dates:
Posting on Monday, July 15: Virginia Wright
Posting on Wednesday, July 17: Donna Shepherd
Posting on Friday, July 19: Sherry Ellis

Monday, June 24, 2013

Saints Said It!

"No one heals himself by wounding another." Those words of wisdom come from Saint Ambrose, pictured above. For more inspirational quotes from the saints, check out my new Facebook page Saints Said It.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Writing is a pain!

You know you've felt the same way sometimes. And so have many other fine and discriminating minds! I love collecting quotes -- especially ones about writing. Below are some of my favorites about the pain of writing. Do you have any to share?

How to start a novel: First thing, defrost the refrigerator. (Ernest Hemingway)

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. (Gene Fowler)

Good stories are not written. They are rewritten. (Phyllis Whitney)

I only write when I'm inspired, and I make sure I'm inspired every morning at 9 a.m.
(Peter DeVries)

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. (Pablo Picasso -- Hey, it applies to writing, too.)

Dear Editor
Why do you keep sending my stories back? You're supposed to print them and make me rich and famous. What is it with you?  (Snoopy)

Friday, February 15, 2013

How to Argue Until You Lose

1)     The louder you say something, the truer it is.
Sometimes you have to really turn up the volume to get people to listen to reason. If LOUD isn’t convincing enough, try LOUDER! Soon you’ll drown out any feeble attempts the other person is making to explain his opinion. So you win, right?
2)     Don’t let anyone else utter a complete sentence.
There’s no point in wasting your time listening to the other person say stupid things that aren’t going to change your mind anyway. After only a few words you’ll be able to tell how weak the other person’s ideas are, so just go ahead and cut off the lame arguments right away. This is actually the efficient way to do things as it makes more time for you to talk.
3) Anything worth saying is worth repeating. Anything worth saying is worth repeating. Even though you are right, some people will not believe you until you express your point of view enough times. You may have to repeat your opinion over and over for incredibly long periods of time before the other person gives in, so don’t get discouraged. Just keep repeating your idea for as long as it takes – preferably in exactly the same words each time. You’re right, aren’t you, so why should you have to explain yourself?
4) Go with your guts.
What you feel is really all that matters. Don’t be swayed away from your opinion by so-called “reasons.” Ignore any talk about possible “problems.” Under no circumstances let yourself be persuaded to “think things through.” You know how you’re feeling in your heart, and you certainly don’t need to confuse things by getting your head involved.
     5) Point out personal flaws.
Rest assured that whoever is disagreeing with you has plenty of them! If someone will not come over to the correct opinion – yours! – then make comments about that person’s weight, hair, clothing, face, family, etc. This may not convince him, but at least you can feel superior about not having all those weaknesses.
     See, arguing is easy! Just follow a few simple rules, and you’ll never have to listen to reason, respect anyone else’s point of view, justify your actions, or change any of your opinions. And as long as you don’t have to do those things, then you can’t lose, can you?
     Can you?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

6 Tips for Writing Kids' Plays

If you write for children, don't limit yourself to traditional fiction. Use your story-telling skills to create plays kids will love. Here are a few suggestions about how to do it:
1)     Be realistic. Your script probably won't be performed on Broadway or turned into a blockbuster movie. Avoid special effects, amazing stunts, or anything else that can't be accomplished by ordinary kids. Keep costumes, sets, and props to a minimum. Writing in the readers theatre format is one of the best ways to create a play that's simple to stage but exciting in content.
2)     Use an adjustable cast.  Of course, you want to follow publishers' guidelines about size of cast and number of female/male roles. But you can make your play adaptable to various situations by building in some casting flexibility. When possible, include group characters like "Other Students" or "Rest of Student Council." Use some unisex names for characters or double up on titles, such as "Aunt/Uncle" or "Mr./Ms." Adding a narrator provides a large  and handy gender neutral part.

3)     Spread the glory around. Not only is it difficult for one kid to carry most of a play, it's just no fun. All the actors want to have their moment – and their parents expect to see it. Instead of letting your main character do all the talking, distribute lines among a number of roles. If you use group characters (see #2), give them lines that allow for adlibs so everyone gets to say something. For example:
             Other Students: What? Are you kidding? I don't believe it! (Etc.)
           And most importantly, give secondary characters interesting personalities and some problems of their own – that makes them fun to play and entertaining to watch.

4)     Make sure your dialogue rings true. Some characters need to sound pompous, old-fashioned, affected, formal, or otherwise theatrical. Those parts are usually easy to write! Creating realistic dialogue for contemporary young characters can be much more challenging. Real kids don't speak lyrically, reciting over-their-heads vocabulary with perfect grammar. They use contractions and slang, start new sentences without finishing old ones, and interrupt each other. Listen to kids talk to get an idea of how to recreate their conversations, read your dialogue out loud with a critical ear, and polish, polish, polish. Nothing is more essential to a good play than well-written dialogue!  

5)     Step outside the box. Today's kids are used to media that breaks boundaries. They've experienced actors who speak directly to the camera, characters who "know" they're in a television program, and games that allow almost-real interaction. So don’t be afraid to experiment a little with your play! Let the narrator express personal opinions about what's happening onstage. Allow your main character to argue with the narrator. Place a heckler in the audience or bring an audience member on stage. This kind of creativity works especially well in humorous scripts, but it can also add emotional impact to serious plays.

6)     Tell a story. Despite its different format, a play is still a story – and you want to make it a good one! Create a relatable main character, give him/her a problem worth caring about, go through a complete story arc, end up with a good lesson that's not too heavy-handed, etc., etc., just as you would when writing a kids' story or book. This doesn't just apply to serious drama – funny plays need to be well-written, too! Skits constructed of nothing but jokes, gags, and one-liners can be fun, but they're not really satisfying to audiences, young performers, or the adults who work with kids. Make your script meaningful, as well as entertaining. That's the kind of play that gets published and performed!