Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday Ramblings (on Sunday)

This week has been a day behind kind of week.  And a week when I realized there's no way I can blog more than twice a week.  So High School Tuesdays now are going to an every other Tuesday format and starting this Thursday, I'll unveil "Memories of High School You" interviews with blogosphere writer friends.  It should be fun!

I finished revisions on Marks of a Horseman, my future-past-post-apocolyptic-fantasy-horse-girl-adventure mash up.  It's sent on to beta readers with the hopes of quickly sending it on to my agent.  Some of you may remember me writing about the fact that I was working on something, eek, commercial.  Well, this is it.  I'm having a little bit of trouble not getting exciting for the what if's - definitely some dreaming involved.

I also spent the week reading Chime - recommended for its voice and world building.  It's one of the first books I haven't finished all the way through in a long time.  I put it on the list to the left because I did manage to get almost all the way to the end, then skimmed to uncover what happened.  It's not that I didn't like it.  I did.  Franny Billingsley's use of language is exquisite - but it's not a snappy read.  I found I had to work at it.  Maybe because I wanted to taste every morsel, but like a too rich piece of cake, sometimes you just can't eat the last few bites.  There are sentences I had to reread and savor.  But the story got lost sometimes in the gurgle and slurp of her swamp.  Maybe it's my lack of sophistication, but I think, like my preference for clean-lined clothing and sturdy cars, the frills of those adjectives took me out of the action.  Funny how genius is not always where you want to hang out.  And I do think the book is genius - just not my total cup of tea.  I'm washing it down with a reread of The Hunger Games.

What about you?  How do you react when a book doesn't live up the expectations you've been led to believe?  Do you finish it - all the way to the bitter end?

Please stop back on Thursday when I will unveil my "Memories of High School You" interviews.  The first interview will be with one of my #wipmadness partners from Twitter:  Lori Parker.

Have a fabulous writing week!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

High School Tuesday (on Wednesday)

This week, in Art II, we've been working on a project about Gothic art - we've talked about how in history, Gothic Art was religious in nature and highlighted both the darkness and light of humanity.

I asked the students to come up with two lists - good and evil.  It follows.

Good                 Evil

Boyfriends                                           Divorce

Friends                                                  Love
Food                                                      Night
Family                                                  Death
Girlfriends                                            Depression
Animals (Pets)                                     Mental Illness
Roosters                                              Bad Health
The mall                                               Family
Love                                                     Frenemies
Roller coasters                                   Pain
Swimming                                            Loneliness
Sunshine                                              Heart Ache
Money                                                   Racism
Sleeping                                                Fighting
Church                                                  Inner Demons
Music                                                           Money

This list struck me, because the good list had so much to do with exterior, where as the evil list was all about the interior.  As a writer, this just reminded me that YA novels really should be about that interior world - so many more questions there.

Word of the Day:  B.A. - acronym for Bad Ass - which can mean awesome, amazing, tough, hardcore, as in "He is so B.A." or "That song is so B.A."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Held Hostage in Hunting Season

Every year, from early September till mid-December we are held hostage.  Properties on every side of our little 14 acre burb are used by deer hunters.

Now, here's my PC public service announcement, many hunters are great ecologists and even environmentalists, many actually count on the meat for their winter pantry, but there are just as many who are a teensy bit rude and irresponsible.

Unfortunately we dealt with one of the latter this week.

My partner and son came home Thursday and saw a doe fallen next to the creek.  At first glance they thought she was dead.  At second glance they saw she was still breathing, with a wounding bullet shot to the back.  Horrors.

We are all animal people.  Heart-aching animal people.  So seeing a beautiful doe fallen in your yard, left to suffer, is just, well, no fun.  My son called a buddy.  The buddy brought his dad, rifle in hand, and my son watched while they let her go, misery eased.

The dad said she'd been shot from above, someone in a tree stand.  Why didn't they track her?  Too lazy to crawl their fat bottoms down and man up?  That'd be my guess.  We have a hunch who did it - only one neighbor uses a stand.  So we called, all polite like, wouldn't they like to come get her and use the meat.  But, oh no, their freezers were full.

So, in the night, sweet doe was ravaged by dogs and coyotes.  Someone stopped and cut off her tail.  And we were left to clean up the mess.  To apologize for the brutality of a hunter who didn't finish what he started and to burn her body on a pyre of fall leaves and locust logs.

Good night sweet doe.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

High School Tuesday (This one's R rated)

So as I've mentioned before, I teach in the buckle of the Bible belt.  Lots of wonderful devout folks around here.  And like me, some who are deeply faithful but not so churchy, and certainly a few who are firm doubters or firm unbelievers.  But I'm a firm believer in to each his own.

My kids have a word for the super devout.  It's a new kind of superhero - the Super Christian.  Every time I hear a student say it, I envision a Bible carrying, cape wearing, psalm spouting wonderkid with the ability to fast track you to heaven or hell or into your next incarnation.

In this morning's class, one of my Super Christian superhero kids was busy making clay demons and dragons - wild looking critters with flair and terror.  My super smart senior girl with a wit so dry it will sap all the moisture from a humid room said to me:

"J.Ro, do you know why religion is like a penis?"

"Um, no, future president, I don't."

"Because, it's okay to have one.  It's even okay to be proud of it.  But for God's sake, don't try and shove it down my throat."

There you have it.  From the mouths of just over the limit, eighteen year old babes.

Word of the Day:  Super Christian:  A new kind of super hero, one who can set you on the path to redemption with a well-placed word, or send you on the path to hades with some well-placed gossip.  Depending on who you are, this is a species to be adored or feared.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What Doodling leads to...character development

In a particularly brain-intensive (aka boring) workshop I sketched four of my main characters from Marks of a Horseman on post-it notes.

May I introduce Roan, my protagonist.  Ledger (who's better looking than this sketch), her brother. Slight and Phillipa.....

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

High School Tuesday

So I  teach in a teensy rural county in the heart of Appalachia.  The movie, Deliverance, has gained a reputation for a reason, but the thing is these teens 'round here know of their celebrated reputation.  Just like in other social stratosphere, there's a level to hillbilly-ism.  Though of course, only they can call each other hillbillies.

The thriving metropolis, the county seat, is where the city kids live (yep, about all 3000 residents, so maybe 50 teenagers?), then there are the suburbs, and then there's BillyJoe town (name changed to protect the innocent).  This little berg is on the farthest edge of the county, home to not much besides 4-wheelers, black bears, moonshines stills, and meth labs.

I have two adorable girls from BillyJoe town  in my Art I class.  This morning they got into a long conversation about being from BillyJoe town.  (Picture two adorable sophomore cheerleader types that could plop down into any high school in the country - well except for the conversation that follows)

"Yep, you know they say we're all married to our cousins out there."
"I know, and some of it's true."
"Well yeah, maybe way back."
"Oh come on, you know our trees ain't got much fork."
"No, can't get much shade from our family trees."


"Do you know Bobby Joe (name changed)?"
"Yeah, why?"
"Cause he's for real, legit in-bred."
"Yes really, legit in-bred, like his daddy's his uncle or some shit."
"Does he have like a third arm?"
"No.  Does that really happen?"

So here's your vocabulary word for the day:

Legit In-Bred - a term used by Appalachian teens to go a step beyond kissing cousins. (Gross!)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Realizing you have an inner writer

Yesterday I was driving along the river on my way to work and the light was amazing.  Sort of hazy and creamy - and it made me think of forest fires and fall (which is definitely here) and then I found myself thinking, how would I write this light?  Then I started looking around and quizzing myself on how I would write other things I saw on my commute.

With people, it's characterization and suddenly I'm guilty of the thing that has always bugged me about my over-effusive actress neighbor (Oh my God!  You shave your legs?  I had no idea! - she said this to a friend of mine that she had somehow perceived as more of a granola - it didn't fit her characterization of this friend as "character.")  I notice the quirks, the anomalies, the things that don't fit in stereotypical jigsaw puzzles.  (Like my ginger-haired, snake bite pierced Art II kid who also happens to be a straight A student that gets upset if marked tardy, even when tardy).

Eavesdropping - yep, guilty.  But not so much the words as the rhythm of speech, the cadence, and well okay, honest truth, dialogue, too.

So what are your tells?  What marks you as a writer?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

High School Tuesday (or why hs students are tricky)

"Ms. J.Ro do you smoke pot?"

"Ms. J.Ro have you ever smoked pot?"

"Ms. J.Ro were you a partier?"

"Have you ever tried Kahlua?"

"What's your favorite beer?"

"Ms. J.Ro do you think this looks like an acid trip?"

Daily reality as the high school art teacher.  Perhaps it's my frizzy hair or the slightly rumpled look of my clothing.  Maybe it's the propensity to say Dude, or No way, or Right.  Teachers who are not stick figures get pushed, tested, questioned.  Cause, you know, teens are like, checking the boundaries you know, feeling out adulthood in the safe confinement of their high school.

I've managed to evade these questions - alcohol questions I say, "Come back and talk to me when you're 21, then we can discuss liquor flavors."   Drugs, are a little trickier.  Because - they know I went to more than 10 Dead shows.  But whatever my past, my present is that I don't and I can't condone it.

But they find ways to blow your cover.  Like today, when a student made a cute little chicken that I immediately recognized as a pipe and called him on it.  Well, let's just say there was much speculation on how Ms. J.Ro figured that out.  Do you think they'll believe it was because there's a great big art teacher catalog in the sky with a page entitled - ALL THE WAYS YOUR STUDENTS WILL TRY TO GET CONTRABAND PAST YOU INTO THE CERAMICS KILN - will they?

Word for the Day:  Hoodie - As in a sweatshirt with a hood, a mating symbol, a symbol of ownership, something that cannot be passed freely from your boyfriend to another girl or vice-versa without the serious risk of a hair-tearing fight.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Creative Mind - Where Ideas come from

I had a conversation on Friday with a student who showed me her senior project video.  She'd choreographed the big cheer/dance number for homecoming.  

"Where did you get the inspiration?" I asked.

She smiled and told me she was getting nothing from the Homecoming theme song but found this other song and one 8-beat step popped in her head.  That step ended up being the middle of her number.  From there she worked to the end, then backtracked to the beginning.  She said she could picture it in her head.  The routine was flawless and she managed to teach it successfully to the whole squad.

My partner works with found materials and scrap yard iron to make beautiful sculpture.  Random bits of metal speak to her when she walks through her studio, telling her what they want to become.  Things that look like garbage become horses or birds or leaning figures.  Inanimate objects are imbued with personality.

Writing is like this, too.  Often you hear of writers who have ideas come fully formed in dreams (think Twilight) or they hear some snippet on the news that spurs the idea or a friend throws out a single sentence (Beauty Queens).  'What if' questions generate story lines, as do overheard conversations or memories of childhood.

My current project, the post-apocolyptic horse girl story, came about with all this talk of the end of the world.  I started thinking what if the world ended today.  I live way down a very crooked mountain road and I imagined all the possible road crumblings and bridge fallings.  Then I said to myself, well I have horses, at least that's something.  The story took off from there and grew legs and hooves of its own.

The creative mind is an endless fascination.  That these solid bodies can disappear into crevices of our mind and pull forth song, story, art, and dance is, to me, the main gift of being human.

Where do you find your inspiration?