Monday, March 28, 2011

Humble Pie (Not My Favorite)

It looks like my Writing for the YA Market class through the University of Utah isn’t going to carry. I’m of mixed feelings about this.

Of course I’m disappointed. I hoped this full course would draw more interest than it has. And I feel sorry for the students who did sign up, a few of whom even contacted me to let me know how excited they were. If you are one of those who registered, I’m sorry the class isn’t going to happen. If I do something like this in the future, I certainly hope you get a chance and it proves worthwhile.

On the other hand, teaching this class on top of everything else I’m doing would have been tough. I’m having a hard time handling everything on my plate now, so adding that class would have had me about to my limits. All this wedding stuff isn’t like rabbits but bacteria: I swear, everything Amy and I need to do, once done, has self-replicated to give us another five items for the list. This is one less thing per week, plus the preparation of curriculum and responding to people’s writing. So that’s the bright side.

Mostly, I’m disappointed and a little confused that the class didn’t generate more interest. People have been asking me for the last few years whether I teach a class, often acting disappointed when I tell them no. When I finally agreed to do so, it didn’t get enough interest to carry. This makes me suspect I’m not going to do this again anytime in the near future. Not so much because I’m not interested; I just question others’ interest beyond mere words. Maybe I’ll need to gain more prominence before a class like this would be in real demand. The problem is, at that point it might not make sense for me to teach such a class for so little remuneration.

The end result is that I don’t know when I’ll agree to teach a full class again. Ah well. C’est la vie.


For those who don’t know, Amanda Hocking–self publishing queen—has signed with a national publisher. Here’s something on her reasoning as to why.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A List, as I Have No Time for a Post

Wrote 600 words of my novel this morning after 700 yesterday, which combine for 200 less than my daily target. But finished a chapter, so okay.

Have a rough work up of the article together, at least enough to get ideas from my coauthor, who should let me know if he regrets ever proposing this. Now to find a dozen more ways writing is like basketball.

Last night did a workshop for a chapter of the LUW and Alpine School District (I think that was the combination) to make up for missing a few Saturdays ago. Uber thank yous to Canda for giving me a second chance. Hope it was worth the wait.

Finalizing my curriculum for my Writing for the YA Market class through the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning Program. Hoping it carries, except the part of me that is going nuts from busyness, which hopes it doesn’t.

Finishing a workshop on voice and style. Do you know how to define them? I hope I do, as I’m doing a two hour presentation that claims so.

Need to do a little orientation on personal narrative for work. Some day. Preferably soon.

Still have a web site and blog, which I often forget.

Getting married in under two months. Being married, I think, will be great, but getting married is kind of a hassle.

Finished One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, a good book very well written and with rare quality voice. It was recommended by Sara Zarr, who knows what’s she’s talking about whenever she talks about anything. Am proud of myself. Read it. (And by this, I mean you should read it, not I have read it. Thought that too is true.)

I think I need to go shopping. Time for my next list.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Me and the IRA

Just got a call from Rick Walton. (Yes, the picture book writer who will one day soon conquer the world with his army of indebted authors.) Turns out that he's schedule to speak to the Jordan Council of the IRA at 4:30 today and may not make it, so I have volunteered to show up and help out. If he’s there, great, we’ll do just fine. If he isn’t, I’ll do my best to survive. We’ll be talking about teaching writing, teachers as writers, that kind of stuff. Should be fun.

With such late notice, I feel like I should have some special red phone or something that lights up when the call comes in.

One last thing: doesn’t IRA stand for the Irish Republican Army? Rick mentioned that, and now I’m thinking this might be one of the most interesting speaking engagements of my experience. We’ll see.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Its Own Punishment

If you wish to inflict a heartless and
malignant punishment upon a young person,
pledge him to keep a journal for a year.

—Mark Twain
lame old humorist and writer

Peace and joy. Certain young persons of Your Uncle Jerry’s acquaintance have alleged that a tone of gentle bitterness occasionally creeps into this blog. Bitter? Uncle Jerry? Nothing could be further from true. Your Uncle Jerry is not now, nor has he ever been, a lonely, rancid, and bitter, bitter old bachelor who wears the same longjohns all winter without changing. In fact, Uncle Jerry has two pair of longjohns, and changes them religiously just after Christmas.

Nor is Uncle Jerry an old man soured by a childhood of hardship and isolation. Not at all. Uncle Jerry’s childhood was a joyous one. Uncle Jerry’s foster family included him in all family activities, just as if he were one of the servants. Uncle Jerry is certainly not embittered by memories of the chores, the rags, the nights shivering in the barn, or the constant hazing by six older orphan boys.

If there was one cruelty inflicted by Uncle Jerry’s foster family, it was that, one winter, they encouraged Uncle Jerry to write.

After only two years of sixth grade, Uncle Jerry had begun to show some promise as a student. He was caught sometimes rhyming. On occasion he invented stories—stories of pirates or dragons or orphans who grew up to find themselves heirs to fortunes. This will never do, said Uncle Jerry’s foster family. Great believers in natural consequences, Uncle Jerry’s foster parents devised a scheme to teach him the danger of too much literacy. It was a scheme that Mark Twain himself would salute.

Each evening after chores, Bible study, and polishing the older boys’ shoes, Your Uncle Jerry was sent to sit alone at the hearth with charcoal and tablet. Write, said his parents. Write what you know. Write what happened today. Write your hopes and fears, your disappointments and your dreams. Fill the page, they said. Write. Only after you write, may you go to bed.

A heartless and malignant punishment indeed. Every night, exhausted from the day's labor and the older boys' playful tortures, Uncle Jerry faced that tablet. Write a page, they said. The ghastly emptiness of that page lay like a white desert Uncle Jerry must cross to reach the land of sleep.

Soon the page began to rise up in his mind during the day, hauntingly, so that he could hardly enjoy his chores or the humiliations of school without imagining what he might write about before bed. Accidentally turning to a blank leaf in a schoolbook, Uncle Jerry would flinch and sweat, and compulsively begin to fill it with verse. Hospital walls, train cars, toilet paper---every blank surface cried out to be covered with words.

Alas, the white cow in the barn.

But never mind about her. This cruel regimen, Camper, is the sole cause of what the nice doctor calls Uncle’s Jerry’s “difference.” So don't think it's bitterness, nor cynicism nor misanthropy (that means a hatred for ants, boy; look it up), nor any moral failing at all. What triggers Uncle Jerry’s unique twitches is actually quite simple.

Blancopapyriferaphobia: fear of the empty page.

Joy and peace.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Saint Canda of Alpine

Those worms in my gut have finally gone. Maybe I digested them, who knows. What facilitated this glorious comfort was the rescheduling of the workshop I missed on Saturday. (Yes, that’s passive voice. I wanted to draw out the revelation of the source of my relief as long as possible.) I’ll make it up to the writing students of this class on Wednesday, March 23rd at 7:00 p.m. at the Provo Library.

I have to thank Canda Mortensen, the Curriculum Director for the Alpine School District here in Utah. She’s been spearheading this from the beginning, and she very kindly arranged for me to make up my shame. In return, I think I will nominate her for Sainthood. What are the qualifications for that again? Don’t you have to have two miracles confirmed to you? Well, this certainly counts for her first. She’ll undoubtedly pull off the second any day now, so I may as well get the paperwork going.

Now she’ll just have to decide who to patron. How about Saint Canda, patron saint of the frazzle minded from weird family stuff?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Good Yesterday, Bad Today

Embarrassment feels a lot like a bunch of worms wriggling about in the gut, glutting themselves on the stomach until they are so engorged they all vomit. Yeah, that’s about how I feel.

Bad news first: I was a no show at a workshop today.

I can’t believe. I never skip out on an engagement. I’m never even late. I’m the guy who gets there half an hour early and always has to wait for the doors to open up at the location where I’m speaking. (Really, this is exactly what happened last night.) But this morning everything just went wrong. Long story short, I was supposed to be in American Fork this morning to do my Triple Duty Writing workshop for a joint class between the local school district and library, I believe. Complications (sorry, that’s the best I can offer here) kept me from ever even leaving my house. Even if they hadn’t, I had the starting time on my calendar a whole hour late! I screwed up this day even before it could on its own.

To top it off, I didn’t have a phone number to reach the organizers (where did all those e-mails go?) until I was already late and they e-mailed me. I profusely apologized and offered to reschedule when and where they wanted, this time doing the workshop without charge. Still, after doing all I can make up for this, those worms are crawling around inside me puking. It don’t feel great.

If you were one of the people expecting me to be in the Professional Development Center in American Fork this morning when I no-showed, I honestly beg your apology. I just couldn’t make it. If we’re able to reschedule, I promise to make up for my non-appearance.

Now that the bad’s out of the way, I can report the good: last night I was lucky enough to be one of several writers to spend time with kids at the Road Home in downtown Salt Lake. For those who don’t know, the Road Home is a shelter for the homeless that helps people transition back into self-sufficiency. It’s a great place. Well, last night along with fellow authors and friends Jennifer Nielsen, Kristen Chandler, Matthew Kirby, and Becky Hall, I had a chance to spend an hour with the kids. We had a plan going in. We really did.

This was the plan: we’d split into three stations and cycle the kids around every fifteen minutes or so from event to event. I was planning on doing word games on a white board with lots of different markers for the kids to use, Becky had Play Dough and lots of picture books for the little kids, Kris and Matt were going to do balloon tying, and Jen was going to roam about keeping order and helping us hit our marks.

This is what happened:…

I don’t recall. All I remember is kind of a blur of color and happy noises. The next thing I know, I’m searching the room for my markers and am shocked to the core that I find all eight—with their caps! Didn’t lose a thing.

It was crazy, swimming not to sink rather than to a set location or to win a race. But it was a lot of fun. All the kids got a bag of books to keep, and the Road Home got donated books from the authors as well as some toys for their play room. It was a great experience with some really good people chipping in.

So where does that leave me? Today, I feel horrible ab0ut missing the workshop in American Fork. Yesterday, I felt really good about doing what little I could to show those kids some attention, and if I get passed my own moping today, I still feel good about it. So that means…?

I don’t know.

But I am glad I had the chance to play with those kids yesterday with my friends and colleagues.

And I am sickened and remorseful that I missed the workshop today.

However those two things mix together, that’s how I am right now.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To Read or Not To Read

My first instinct is not. Always.

I don’t like readings. Never much have, and I suspect I never much will. It isn’t anything personal against the person reading, no commentary on the quality of their work or skill. I don’t like it when I do the reading. Perhaps even less. (Though when you get a bad reader or bad writing, that is always a very bad thing. When you get a bad reader of bad writing, that is, I’m pretty sure, represented by one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, it’s so nasty.)

But in the last two weeks I’ve had two positive experiences at public readings, which has me severely unsettled. I am not particularly fond of having my worldview challenged. But what happened is and cannot be denied. So I will do my best to deal with it.

Last… what was, it, Thursday?… I was Amy’s eye candy at a reading she attended for her creative nonfiction class taught by Kate Coles. (Yeah, that’s Utah State Poet Laureate Kate to you and me.) The reading was by Poet Jon Wilkens and Prose Writer/Poet Ander Monson. It was fun, which coming from me is HIGH praise. Both Wilkens and Monson were playful both in their poetry and with their delivery, which literally makes a good reading. They were talented both at writing and reading, which is also a must. As an added plus, my friend and SLCC instructor Brandon Alva did his master’s thesis under Ander Monson and was in the audience, which added a special dimension. It was a genuine good time, which kind of shook my comfort with and understanding of the universe.

Then today things really turned topsy turvy. I agreed to do a moderate (20-30 minute) reading with a little Q&A at the Dual Immersion Academy in Salt Lake. Believe it or not, it was my first ever public reading of GDC. Going in, you must understand that I’ve never seen a reading to kids of this age group (4th and 5th graders) go well. Never. Some authors have managed to pull of readings that weren’t catastrophic, and I’ve paid them great homage for the achievement. Most of the readings I’ve seen have been like slow motion car crashes—tragedy unfolding so slowly it manages to be boring. It’s just really hard to do a reading of any length for kids and to keep their attention. (Picture books work differently, by the way.)

So this morning my goal was not to have kids coming to fisticuffs on the floor out of sheer boredom. And you know what? It went well. I don’t mean I survived it. I mean well.

The kids were, all things considered, attentive for the entire reading.

They laughed numerous times; real, authentic laughter, not nervousness vomited out as a fake laugh.

At the end, they asked me to read more, even though time was up.

Then they asked a lot of questions, most of which were real questions they wanted answers to.

And when I left, they complained.

Add that together, and I can’t see any school of mathematics that allows me anything but a positive experience. Yeah, I know, how distressing is that? What am I left to believe in now that I doubt readings are just designed to suck?

Thanks to the Dual Immersion Academy, all the teachers, and especially the kids who attended. You guys were so awesome you’ve blown my mind a little bit, and I’m trying to regroup. Special thanks to Ms. Ramos, who spearheaded all this, and to my friend Anna, who got me in touch with the school. I want you all to know that I forgive you for upturning my nice little all-figured-out world.