Deadly Ever After

Archive for the tag “getting started writing”

Julie Gets To Be A First Grader: What Your Kids Are Capable Of Learning

TODAY’S BREW: Cinnamon Pecan. Sounds fancy, right? IT IS.

By Julie

I don’t even know where to start with how awesome this is.

Yesterday I spent a half hour talking to my son Bennett’s class about being an author, editing and revising. As if that isn’t cool enough, it wasn’t just like “bring your mom to school day.” This is actually in my first grader’s curriculum right now.

There is so much awesome about this, I can’t handle it. First off, what I love is that my son’s school is in the lowest income neighborhood in Plymouth, arguably and yet they have the most forward thinking curriculum I’ve ever heard of. It’s the most multicultural school in our large town as well. It’s also such a small neighborhood school that there aren’t even any busses that go to it; walking school only. So, all of our families, from different backgrounds, some of which don’t even speak the same language, feel like family. The teachers walk the kids into school in the morning, and dismiss them one at a time in the afternoon. Every teacher, no matter what the grade knows the names of our kids. It’s this intimacy that has helped make this advanced curriculum so successful so far, I think.

Bennett’s first grade teacher, Mrs. Albert, shares my amazement at the complexity of this curriculum. The kids are learning to not only write creatively, but are being taught to edit. The fact that “editing and revising” are words they know just flabberghasts me. They understand the importance of going back over your work to look for places to add more detail and to remove extra words and phrases that don’t contribute to the text. While it excites me to have Ben be even more a part of my writing process in this way, I can see the big picture enough to know that this is a lesson that means more in his life than just about writing. I have to think that this careful attention to detail about the written word is going to help these kids really think about what they say in life in general. To think harder about the quality of person they put out there.

After editing and revising their work for these points, the kids then exchange their work for proofreading. They’re learning that an outside opinion of their creative work and another point of view on something that’s personal to them is valuable. It’s much different than when I was their age and would write to be judged by the teacher on whether or not it was good enough. This gains them the approval of their peers, encourages openness about feelings and opinions, causes them to accept one another’s interests and open their minds to new ideas. When I was a kid I was overprotective of my writing, hid it from view, never shared it and thought for sure I would be openly ridiculed for what I  liked. If I’d had this kind of support from school, I don’t think that would have happened.

All in all, the point of teaching the kids about editing, revising, and getting feedback is so that by the time they go into second, third and fourth grade, they hand in quality work. That they own their creative process enough to not need the correction of simple things. This will translate into every aspect of their lives when it’s supported at home, I feel.

Also, THOSE KIDS THINK I’M AWESOME AND I LOVE THAT.

To be able to field questions about how I come up with my ideas and listen to how they come up with their own fiction was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. One little girl told me about how she sometimes pictures dragons with her when she gets ready for school, and she’s writing about it in her diary. I got to tell that kid she just made up an urban fantasy story just like I do. (She then turned to Bennett and said, “We definitely need a playdate. Your mom’s cool.”) Telling them how I edit and revise, how Ben sees me do it at home, and how I’m doing the same thing that they do was so much fun. They’re doing the same thing as me and I write books. Which means they can write books.

I got to tell them about how Kristen and I would pass a notebook back and forth when were not so much older than them, and how we’d write a line of a story one after another, making a whole story together. Now we still do it, and we both write books, and we love to get each other’s feedback. I had no idea it would become such a monumental part of my life now, make me so much me. They asked me if I know a lot of authors, and I had the extreme pleasure of saying, “yes, I do.” They thought that was amazing. I think it’s pretty amazing, too.  

Something that wasn’t even anywhere on my radar at their age was the publishing process. These kids GET IT. Weird as hell. One kid asked me if a company published my first book or if I did it. I got to tell him that  a company published mine, but that anybody that practices what they’re doing right now can self-publish a book, do the whole thing from the ground up. Anyone can be an author. What an amazing thing to be able to tell a bunch of bright eyed kids filled with creativity and love of getting feedback from their peers. I love that not a one of those kids was too shy to talk about what they write about, the things that they find exciting to read. That fear of acceptance was nowhere in the room. I love it more than I can say.

And when one little girl told me how when she’s in karate class, she imagines she’s in a book about karate class, I got to tell her that there was karate in my book, too. EVERY KID GASPED LIKE IT WAS THE COOLEST THING THEY EVER HEARD. So, mostly I feel like a rock star right about now.

It’s important to me to point out that the entire country is irritated by the cutting of programs in schools. I get it. But what we don’t look for often enough is the ability to integrate what we find missing in our school curriculum into the current curriculum. (Yeah, you do have a say in it, folks. It isn’t just about being on the PTA.) Not to mention, never in my life did I imagine that my seven year old would be learning about editing and revising. It’s not something I ever thought was missing from his education, but now that it’s there I see how incredible it will be for his class. Look outside the box, parents, and think of what might be beneficial to your kids that can be implemented in your school. Suggest it. Offer to go in and help out with it. Anyone can do this. When you show your kids that anyone can introduce something new and help, it makes them believe they can do it, too, and it shows them that you care enough to support them in it. It’s a little bit of “quit your bitching and make lemonade” philosophy. Being progressive is about losing some of the old and creating some of the new.

Yeah, I learned that from editing and revising.

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So I Wrote a Book….About Vampires

Telling people you have written a novel is sort of like telling people you have done some terrible thing.  Or at least, that is how we felt when we started mentioning this to people, that we were embarking on a life journey and all.  For two people who are fantastic at hiding their innermost feelings under guise of humor and ability to do it all, we both felt very exposed when telling people something we are so serious about.  Then, once you have told everyone who you know is going to be super critical that you have done this thing, and said critical people ask what kind of book it is, we then feel a weird sense of alienation when we say “vampires.”

I usually start this when someone asks me what I have been up to.  I say, “I wrote a book.  First of three, actually.”  And when they inevitably say, “oh, wow, what’s it about?” I will say, “vampires.  Is there anything else to read or write about?”  Kristen tends to lump it in with the plot.  “I created a vampire rock band in Las Vegas.”

I told my mom like I was telling her I went food shopping.  “I wrote a book.  It’s a big one.  Took me years.”  The response was something to the affect of “that’s nice honey.  What are the kids doing?”

I told the teachers at the preschool I work at the other night at our end of school year celebration.  (Kristen gave it to me as an assignment.)  That was easy….my son’s teacher said that she has yet another book to write, and I told her “guess what? I just did that.”  Come to find out, by the way, pretty much everyone on earth reads vampire books, whether or not they work with small children.  Kristen told a good friend starting with, “I need to tell you about something…”  Her response was, “I thought you were going to tell me you were a crossdresser or something.  I totally want to read your book!”   We can’t wait to have her read it, since she is actually good friends with a lot Kristen’s rock star (and groupie) inspirations.

Kristen even has a hard time even writing this blog, because she can’t take putting out something so personal. It’s even stranger for Kristen since she makes her living as an artist.  Even though makeup can be more technical, it’s still a very subjective career and she roll with the punches of feedback and constructive criticism. We both decided that writing a book seems like something people you don’t know do.  It is not something that you hear every day.  And most of the people we have told had absolutely no idea we were doing it, and yet, we see them on a regular basis.  (I do realize that when people ask what I’m doing lately, I should tell them sooner.  Such as, “well, I started to work on a novel,” rather than “Remember when I had that baby?  Right around then, I started to work on a novel.”  Decreases shock value.)

Generally, Kristen and I end all of our writing sessions telling ourselves and each other that there is no reason why we shouldn’t be shouting this from the rooftops.  You are into what you are into.  Be proud of it.  We are leaders, not followers, most would agree.  And we are never the types to commit to something that doesn’t have purpose, or that isn’t worth our time.  We both want to be people that are not afraid to throw ourselves into our imaginations, and be non-conformists.  Be yourself, even if it doesn’t pay well.  We forge roads, we don’t just walk on them.  And with that said, next time  I tell someone that I have written a novel, it will be without biting my fingernails or twirling my hair.  Kristen will do it without rolling her eyes.  Major accomplishments should be treated as major.

I Can’t Work Under These Conditions!!

Today’s Brew:  French Vanilla for Kristen, Hazelnut for Julie’s Hazelnut kick.

Here is an account of what most of our early (and late) writing adventures.  Kristen has texted Julie early in the day to say she is effing stuck and needs help.  Julie gets managerial.

Enter, stage right, Captain Bill’s summer rental on the beach, where Kristen is staying.  Julie is toting a White Stripes tote bag full of notebooks and a laptop, as well as the laundry of a small family.

Kristen:  Wanna put laundry on first?

Julie:  Yes.  Let’s get that over with, then you can make me some coffee.

Kristen (as we walk down the dangerous spiral stairs):  You know where the coffee is.

Julie:  I am a guest in this house.

Kristen:  I want you to feel at home.

Julie:  I don’t want to feel at home.  I have too much to do at home.  I want to feel like a guest.  Make me some coffee.  Please.

Kristen makes the coffee.  Julie requests use of the half and half she keeps here so she does not have to drink soy milk.

Julie:  So what’s the issue?

Kristen:  I don’t know.  Read what I wrote.

Julie reads what Kristen writes.  Julie gives Kristen some fabulous ideas.

(switch today’s brew to Godiva Cinnamon Gingerbread Truffle)

Then this happens….

Julie:  (moves away from laptop) Okay, go!

Kristen:  Now?  I can’t write like that.

Julie:  You asked me to help you fix it so….

Kristen: But I can’t just write when you say “go!”

Julie: Then why did you ask me to come over?

Kristen:  To help me.  I don’t know…I have to walk around, get a cookie or something.  What are we watching?

Julie puts on Storage Wars.

Kristen:  Oh my God, not that!

Julie:  (insert anything here about old people TV, such as Chronicle or Wheel of Fortune)

Julie:  Fine, I’ll do the laundry.

Inspiration strikes Kristen and something fabulous gets written.

Fried Fish, Cupcakes, and Jager Girls: Our Humble Writing Beginnings

Today’s brew:  chocolate coffee

(We apologize for the delay in this post, Kristen’s house was struck was by lightning.  Yeah, really.  Thankfully, it didn’t catch on fire but hot fireman did come just in case they had to save the day. But the phone and internet is fried. So, the moral of this story is, no internet for you, Kristen!)

The Undead Duo’s First Writing Adventure:

One summer night we set up with a plan to write.  We met in our native downtown Plymouth.  Yes, that Plymouth that you might have gone to on your 4th grade field trip and left sorely disappointed after viewing the Plymouth Rock.  Our life is that field trip, but we like it here.  We had notebooks in hand, well in bag, and were ready to go!  But first, we needed to fuel ourselves with fish and chips.

We sat on a bench overlooking the harbor under the setting sun and scoffed down our fish and chips.  We contemplated Cupcake Charlies, but decided beer would be more fitting in the near future.  We brainstormed and shot off at the mouth about our ideas how to bring Kristen’s characters to life.  (Julie’s had already been in deep workings on her own).  We had always traded stories and made up scenarios from way back, so this was a natural joint juncture.

However, beer was crucial.  Beer is more Julie’s thing.  Kristen is a girly drink aficionado.  This time felt a little more personal and intimidating to bring these characters to life.  We walked up to the British pub and sat all by our twosies at a table upstairs where we would have utter privacy (and because this was a British pub, it is “privacy” with a short “i”.).

This worked for a while and we instantly reverted to our original writing format, each of us writing a paragraph and then giving the notebook to the other one to add to it.  (Actually, that is what we are doing right now.  Go us, old school and internetless!)

OK, so you will never, ever see that early introduction to Callie’s life.  Why? Because it was wretchedly awful.  But more about that in another post.  At least that first session was a jumpoff to get the story going.

We weren’t alone for long.  Our privacy (short “i”) was eventually interrupted by a couple on a date.  Not a big deal.  Then a middle-aged bachelorette party invaded our room.  They were inevitably followed by some forty-year old career drunkards.  Now that it was a party, the scantily clad Jager girls joined us to really shake things up.  The career drunkards were flittering back and forth between trying to hook up with the bachelorettes and leering inappropriately at the Jager girls.  And man, did we feel dumb drinking and writing with the Saturday night bar hoopla in full swing.

The Jager girl, possibly looking for an escape from the creepy old drunk guys hitting on her, suddenly put us on the spot to explain what we were writing.  It was too soon.  We weren’t ready for that.  We’d only had two beers each.  She may have given us some lovely promotional parting gifts for making us so uncomfortable.

At that point decided to call it a night.  We only got that one wretched chapter done, and man, we were proud.  We felt like we’d come up with some really solid material.  Like I said before, you will never see it, but it gave us a place to work from.

And so it began.  And we committed.  We vowed to find more appropriate places to write.  Julie had read somewhere that only 30% of novels that are started get finished.  Let us give that other 70% a tip:  write with someone else who will challenge you and motivate you.  Have fish and chips to really set the stage.  Hold each other accountable, every week, and talk every day.  Have someone help you by confirming that your creation is worth something.  And then just turn your back on Jager shots and middle-aged career drunkards.

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