Friday, January 22, 2010

If you can read this...

If you can read this thank a teacher. If you can read it in English, thank a soldier.

We've seen this bumper stickers, but how many of us actually think about its meaning?

According to the US Department of labor, 50% of unemployed Americans are functionally illiterate. And according to the National Right to Read Foundation, 42 million adults can't read at all while 50 million can't read above a fourth grade reading level. Even more troubling is the fact that 20% of high school seniors will graduate functionally illiterate.


So, who's to blame for the rise in illiteracy in a country filled with so many opportunities for success? Parents? Teachers? The government?

Perhaps, we can blame standardized testing.

I graduated in 1978, but I remember essay questions and writing research papers. I remember actually learning in school because teachers were allowed to educate and not just teach end of grade tests. But mostly, I remember three very special teachers who taught me to love reading and writing.

My eighth grade teacher, Miss Patricia Black, taught language arts. Once, she asked us to use our spelling words in a fictional story. The story was supposed to be about three pages long. Mine filled a spiral notebook. And my love for writing was born.

Long after the writing assignment was over, I continued to write. I filled page after page in spiral notebooks that year and later burned them in the fireplace so my sisters wouldn't find them, read them and make fun of me. I remember my dad's irritation when he found charred spiral rings in the ashes every time he cleaned out the fireplace.

Then in high school, Mrs. Joy B. Averette taught me the importance of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. I loved the creativity of writing, but I didn't like proof-reading or using a dictionary. But Mrs. Averette gave two grades in class. One for creativity and one for mechanics. I usually got an "A" for creativity but a "C" for mechanics.

Mrs. Averette stayed on my case constantly, lecturing me about my sloppy writing habits and my failure to use available resources, like a dictionary. Eventually, her lectures paid off, but it took years--and the computer--for me to develop the anal habits I have today.

Then there was Mrs. Marguerite Stem. Her husband was author and poet, Thad Stem.

Besides teaching the classics, Mrs. Stem took a creative approach to literature. For Christmas, she put us in groups and as a group, had us re-write the birth story in modern slang. For another assignment, she allowed us to choose books from popular fiction so we could later discuss the categories of books and how they differed from literary writing. I chose a historical romance and my love of reading was born.

The most important thing I learned from Miss Black, Mrs. Averette, and Mrs. Stem was this: If you can read and read well, you can learn anything.

So, I thank three very special teachers that I can read. And I thank the American soldier for my ability to read it in English.

Governments might declare war, but it is the soldier who carries out the order, putting his or her life on the line to protect this great nation--a nation that has been at war for one reason or another since before it was a country.

The first documented war in 1675 was between the British colonists and the Wampanoags, the Nimpucks, and the Narragansett Indians. It lasted about a year. Then thirteen years later, our ancestors were fighting again, this time, with the French.

Even before America was America, this country has gone to war, on average, approximately every 11.26 years--sometimes fighting more than one war at a time. Between 1759 and 1761 The French and Indian War overlapped the Cherokee War. And in 1813-1814, the War of 1812 (1812-1815) overlapped the Creek War.

Sadly, the longest expanse of peacetime in this country since the first English settlement in Jamestown in 1607, was the 33 years between the Civil War and The Spanish American War. (1865-1898)The longest period of peace before then was a period between 1713 and 1744, the time between Queen Anne's War with France and King George's War.

Since 1898, the longest period of peace America has known was the 22 years between the "War to End all Wars" and WWII.

But it is still the American soldier who protects us from enemies, both foreign and domestic.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Organization-What Organization?

I know I’ve mentioned my anal retentive qualities before. There are times when I know I’m OCD. I’m practical and punctual. And on the surface, I’m organized and detail oriented. I make lists all the time. Lists I usually misplace or lose. And if you look beneath the surface, you’ll see I’m not the left brained thinker I appear to be.

My cabinets and closets are cluttered. My office is a mess, though I try to organize. Then I find myself unable to throw anything away for fear I might need it later. I’m not a hoarder, but I have stacks of research folders in stacking trays, and I’m not even sure what the folders contain because I have no system for identifying the information. I just write on the folders with a Sharpie and chunk it in the tray.

I also have stacks of note cards stuffed in drawers and ideas scribbled on Post-it-Notes. If an idea comes to me, I write it down so I won’t forget it, but I don’t stop what I’m doing or take the time to organize the information.

I’m impetuous and imaginative, which is a good thing for a writer, but it leaves my office a mess. And sometimes, it’s weeks before I get around to cleaning up the clutter left behind from a week of inspired writing—or a week of goofing off on the computer while ideas percolate in my brain. But I guess that’s the right side of my brain at work, the part responsible for creativity and imagination. It’s also the part of the brain that apparently hinders me from being overly organized and allows me to make excuses and blame neuropsychology for the mess in my office.

That creative side of me has always been disorganized, but I’m trying to improve. Before I joined my local chapter of RWA, I wrote by the seat of my pants and spent more time revising than I did writing. Now, I plot out my stories first before sitting down at the computer. I even purchased a writing program, called Write It Now that allows me to write an outline, character descriptions, an overview of each chapter before I begin writing. That way, I can see potential flaws in logic and areas of weak motivation and conflict before I get to the notorious sagging middle.

I’m hoping the new software will help as I write the sequel to OUT OF THE DARKNESS. So far, it’s shown me my original idea for the sequel isn’t going to work. Last week, I trashed the six chapters I’d written and am pretty much starting over. I have a great blurb written and I’m working on the outline before putting fingers to keyboard.

Trashing six chapters was tough, but getting to the middle of a book and realizing you have no where to go is even tougher. Had I still been writing by the seat of my pants, I would have struggled through until the end, making changes as I went and forcing things to fit, and then revising when I reached the end. And the revisions would have been extensive.

So my best advice on organization is to organize first before starting to write. As for office clutter, maybe it’s just a sign of a right-brain dominant person with a highly evolved imagination hard at work on something creative.

And what about self-promotion? Well, I suck at it. Until OUT OF THE DARKNESS
is released May 28, 2010 and I figure something else out, this is it. Blogging. And my shameless promotion of my webpage, which I will beg you to check out now.