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The Write Time: Feeding your Writing Needs Over the Holidays

Welcome to the 2015 Holiday Season … and Launch Day!TWT_WebCov

Today is the release of the second edition of The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, published by Open Books Press out of Bloomington, IN. Since it initially released, it has been used as a teaching tool in dozens of high schools and colleges. Of equal importance, it sits on the shelves of writers ranging from multiple book authors to those writing for fun. Now, we’ve brought in 20 new exercises, as well as fresh photos and a new foreword, to go with the other 346 exercises in the book.

For me, the beauty of this book is its diversity and variety. Since I was young, I’ve kept journals, with the specific intent of writing about something different every day. I believe that diverse writing, along with good reading, observation and life experience, builds our voices and fluency as writers faster than anything. When my book or editing clients say, “You can write about anything! How do you do that?” my answer is the same: “By many years of writing about different things and experimenting daily.”

That is why I created The Write Time — to present a sweeping approach to writing about the subjects that interest you, and trying new forms in the process. Between that, the stories embedded within the exercises, motivational and creativity quotes from authors and brilliant minds, and listings of 125 dynamic writing websites, I’m confident in stating that The Write Time goes well beyond typical writing prompts and exercise books. In fact, you won’t find another that offers such a rich experience.2015-12-01 06.23.33 2015-12-01 06.24.09

For The Write Time, I cobbled together writing exercises developed from the past 15 years of teaching at conferences, high schools, retreats and colleges, gave them stories, and brought them together. Every genre and type of writing is covered, from fiction to essay, songwriting to poetry, fantasy to literary narrative non-fiction. Whether you journal, write poetry or songs, novels or essays, short stories or major papers, The Write Time will be a valuable asset.

The other thing — you’ll never have writer’s block again. All you need to do is open the book to the date, or any random page, and it won’t take long for your words to flow. “It serves as a invocation to come sit at the shore of new creativity, take up your ink-cup, drink plentifully, and be refreshed by the waters of a new day, all intentionally assembled by a fellow writer, reader and lover of literature,” wrote Andres Torres, advanced placement teacher at Minooka (IL) Community High School, in the Foreword.

The Write Time is available through all bookstores, Amazon.com, online booksellers, and on the Open Books site. Or, if you’d like an autographed copy for a holiday gift for yourself, or writers among family and friends, contact me and we’ll get one to you.

Finally, to whet your taste buds, the exercise for December 1:

All complete stories arrive at resolution. We entered the story with characters departing from an opening situation. We followed them as they made their way through the world you created for them, enjoying the motives, conflicts, twists, surprises, realizations, discoveries, complications and sub-plots along the way.

Now, we’re ready for resolution. How will your story end?

Write the ending to your story — no matter where you are right now. The resolution can lead to either a predictable, surprising, or twist ending; your call. Whatever the case, make the ending solid and convincing. Refine it over and over. Then, use it as a compass to guide you through the rest of the story.

(Please let us know how you like The Write Time by reviewing it on Amazon and Goodreads).

 

 

 

 

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Ancient Greece & Apollo Come to Life: Interview with Author AK Patch

What happens when  two modern-day, married professors fall into Ancient Greece through a portal, experience their lives as a page-burner of adventures and harrowing escapes that forges them into hero figures – all at the behest of the Greek God Apollo and his deep concern for the direction of our world today?

PAD cover lo-res

The answer to that rather long-winded question forms Passage at Delphi, the new novel by San Diego-based author A.K. Patch. Passage at Delphi went on sale today worldwide, and is available on online booksellers, Amazon.com, Kindle, bn.com and through all bookstores.

Seven years in the making, Passage at Delphi tackles enough historical, topical and character-driven real estate to open a small state. Flip the pages and you find: protagonists Lauren and Zack Fletcher racing through intrigue, romance and adventure; narrow escapes from predatory hands; their experiences with gods, kings and legendary military rulers; time travel in both directions – from present-to-past and past-to-present; exquisite Ancient Greek landscapes seen and lived through young 21st century professors; a new view of the famous “300” Spartans war against the Persians; and a climactic final scene. All is orchestrated by Apollo, the God of Prophecy, as part of a master plan that reveals itself as Passage at Delphi progresses.

Says the Midwest Book Review of Passage at Delphi: “In presenting action spread out over three different times and characters that intersect, Passage at Delphi creates a fast-paced and challenging story line that places readers at the crux of understanding choices and their wide-reaching consequences makes it a force to be reckoned with: a novel that involves even the most experienced reader of historical fiction, mythology fantasy, and adventure.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of all, Passage at Delphi has the Big Three of great novels – memorable characters, strong story, and plenty of entertainment and enlightenment. It is smart, gritty and dedicated to its details – much like its author, a retired career Naval officer who has been fascinated with Ancient Greece and ancient military tactics since he was a child.

Now, in the first part of a two-part interview, A.K. Patch talks more about the historical adventure thriller that is already garnering strong praise.

WORD JOURNEYS: First of all, Dr. Patch, Passage at Delphi is a very ambitious project, a compelling blend of deep history and crafty fiction writing – a magnum opus in many ways. How long have you been working on it?

A.K. PATCH: PASSAGE has been in progress for seven years now. I’ve been in no rush to publish it and it has become far more interesting and involved plot. I’ll never have writer’s block. The story just comes out. I occasionally write the story in my head while I’m jogging.

WJ: You wrap the story around a pair of university professors from California who travel to their beloved Greece on an archaeological dig – only to be transported back in time, as intended by the Greek god Apollo. Could you discuss the protagonists a bit more?

AP: Apollo chooses Zack and Lauren because they have the qualities he desires. They have the potential to survive his gauntlet of hero training, but are guaranteed nothing. Apollo’s goal is to save western culture from a devastating collapse. Thereby, the United States must be secured, or the western world will crumble. His heroes must be American, physically able to endure what he has planned, and knowledgeable of the ancient times in which they are tossed into. Even more so, Zack and Lauren are connected to The Professor in Athens. That is how Apollo found them. They fit his requirements.

The Greek God Apollo, the plot orchestrator in "Passage at Delphi"

The Greek God Apollo, the plot orchestrator in “Passage at Delphi”

AP: Lauren, like a lot of women, has the capability to rise to the occasion. She has the temperance of a military upbringing. I have personal experience with military dependents and their silent endurance of multiple deployments, low pay, and the ever-present possibility that their loved one is not coming home. Their dedication and sacrifice should be more celebrated by our nation.  Lauren is not so completely hardened, though. She doesn’t realize her strength, and fears separation from Zack. She will endure many physical and psychological battles.

I have asked women what they think they do better than men. One compelling answer is that they multi-task better. Juggling family and career is no picnic. Zack has a lot to learn. He has not had to struggle. He lives under the umbrella of safety that the United States provides to him. What happens to any of us when our umbrellas are pulled and the full force of the storm hits us?

WJ: No good historical action-thriller with a romantic twist can thrive without an antagonist – and Passage at Delphi has a most memorable one in Bessus, the Persian commander who threatens and harangues Zack and especially Lauren throughout the story. Can you tell us how you created such a menacing character, and why?

AP: Bessus represents evil, but would not most ancient warriors act in the manner he does? There are no terms of chivalry, no mercies extended. That is true today also. One aspect of Bessus I might mention is that he has suffered and struggled, and in his mind, cruelty and domination is survival. A monster such as Bessus is not all evil. He yearns for his son, to hold onto his hard-won gains back in Bactria (modern-day Afghanistan). He was betrayed by his mother and her people, seriously enough that you can hold a grain of sympathy for him. Even though he transposes his brand of malice to the modern day, evil, greed, and malevolence can come in many forms. It doesn’t just hold a two-headed axe. It can wear a three-piece suit with cufflinks and plot domination of markets, too.

The Temple of Delphi, the centerpiece of the novel, where Lauren and Zack are pulled through the portal.

The Temple of Delphi, the centerpiece of the novel, where Lauren and Zack are pulled through the portal.

WJ: How did this gritty, elaborate story originate for you?

AP: PASSAGE originated as a vehicle to bring the Battle of Thermopylae to the attention of readers. The Greeks of that time were presented with a horrific decision of submitting to slavery or fighting the overwhelming power and wealth of The Persian Empire. I find the Persian Wars period fascinating, and it could be considered a climactic event in the development and survival of Western culture. The questions may soon come to be: are we living in such pivotal times? And what may we have to do to survive and pass our way of life to succeeding generations?

WJ: How do you feel people today are connected to the Ancient Greeks themselves in order to arrive at this correlation you’ve formed as a major plot point?

AP: The ancient Greeks might be called our distant grandparents. Their significant advancements in philosophy, mathematics, architecture, art, sculpture, and playwriting are a solid foundation of our western culture. Ultimately, they gave birth to democracy and more so, fought to the death to defend their way of life, allowing those advances in human spirit to be passed to us.

WJ: Can you elaborate?

AP: Sure. When freedom was largely unknown in the ancient world, when kings and despots ruled the lives of populations, a hardscrabble group of Greek city-states on the western edge of the great empires of the east forged a society. As it turned out, that society made a lasting impact on the future generations of the west – and the east, for that matter. We look to Athenian democracy as our crucible of freedom, but it was not inclusive. Only male citizens of wealth and military training were allowed to vote. It is a kernel of what we have today, but an amazing development for the time. Our enlightened founding Fathers declared equality for all, but that didn’t happen for some time.

WJ: What endeared you to the history of Ancient Greece and its relevance in today’s world?

AP: I loved Hercules movies and some of the other big Sword and Sandal Classics of the 50’s and 60’s. Cleopatra, Spartacus, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, and my ultimate favorite, The Three Hundred Spartans from 1962.  Without video in those days, you would see a movie once and then wait years to see it again. Torturous, if it was a movie that made a big impact on you!

I have been entranced with ancient history for so long that a lot of the events and settings are second nature to me. I did dig deeper into authors and texts regarding life in those times. I especially respect author and educator Edith Hamilton and her works. When I develop plot twists, then I’m looking for an unusual aspect of ancient life to add substance.

(Part Two will be published on Wednesday, Nov. 27)

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Twists & Turns of a Mystery Author: Part 2 of Interview with Claudia Whitsitt

This is Part 2 of our interview with Claudia Whitsitt, the author of mysteries Intimacy Issues, Identity Issues and The Wrong Guy, all based on real-life experiences. Claudia’s taut writing and captivating story lines have made her a fan favorite of a lot of readers the past two years. In this interview, she talks about how she developed a narrative voice that turns every day life into an event, laced with equal parts humor and seriousness – and then converted it into mysteries with more twists and turns than Six Flags.

READ PART 1 OF THE CLAUDIA WHITSITT INTERVIEW

Claudia’s latest work, Intimacy Issues, released on April 28, but this is a woman on a mission. After 37 years as a schoolteacher, specializing in Special Education, Claudia retired in June. She wrote four novels (Two of Me) in the past three years while teaching full-time. One can only imagine what we’re in for now from this delightful, engaging tour de force. Speaking of which, her next novel, Two of Me, is being prepped for publication in the next several months.Claudia Whitsitt copy

Word Journeys: What do you enjoy most about writing fiction?

Claudia Whitsitt: I love storytelling. In the classroom, it was one of my favorite things. I’d tell my students, “I’m going to tell you a story.” Their ears would perk up, they’d take a collective lean forward, and I had them in the palm of my hands. An electricity takes over when you tell or hear a good story. I love that element of writing fiction. When the story and the characters take over and lead me down an undiscovered path, the adrenalin rush is amazing, and oh so satisfying.

WJ: What about the mystery intrigues you so much? Why does it play so well into both your personality and the way you write?

CW: I grew up in the “olden days”. We had a 12-inch black and white television, which the seven of us crowded around to watch The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights. Reading provided me with some alone time. Mostly, I picked up mysteries. I’ve always loved solving puzzles. With five brothers and no sisters, it seemed like a good skill to develop, as they were always cooking up some kind of scheme! While I wasn’t always successful at figuring out what they were up to, I was quite accomplished at guessing what would happen next in the mystery I was reading. I took great pride in putting the pieces together.

READ THE OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE FOR IDENTITY ISSUES

IDENTITY ISSUES COVER copyWJ: Your main character in Identity Issues, Samantha Stitsill, has been a crowd favorite since she was first released to the reading public. I could see you writing a series around her. What about Samantha made it so much fun for you to write her character?

CW: Samantha has a fiery spirit. When I sit down to write, her voice flows through my fingertips. She’s smart and sassy, and she has a comeback for everything. I give myself over to her. I trust myself with her. She trusts me, too. Sometimes I disagree with her, but she’s strong and stubborn. It’s very difficult for me to change her mind after she’s made a decision. I love her. I think she feels the same way about me.

WJ: A question from one converted academic writer to another: How did you move beyond critical, objective writing? Did you practice journaling, writing exercises, etc.? Or were you able to make the shift in the course of writing the story?

CW: I welcome the opportunity to divert my writing from thought-based to emotion-based and from objective to subjective, but I need coaxing at times. Because my life is so full (CRAZY), it’s often difficult to transition. Journaling and free writes have helped me enormously. I’ll put my fingers on the keyboard, or better yet, pen to paper, and let the words flow. That, and listening to music, opens my soul to the depths required for novel writing.

WJ: How did you develop your taut, humor-laced writing voice? Did that come from what you intimacy issuesread, or through finding the novelist within yourself and trusting how it flowed out?

CW: Good question. I grew up in a sarcastic household. I have five younger brothers. FIVE! There was teasing and joking in our household 24/7. I carried that caustic nature into adulthood, so much so that people don’t always know how to take me. As a result, I’ve learned to be more careful about what I say, but my inner dialogue is fast and furious. I tend to be critical, so it was essential that I learned to temper that in the classroom. When an acerbic comment slipped out like, “Seriously, dude. You’re going to talk when I’m teaching?” my students enjoyed it. They’ve always considered me “nice” and “sweet”, so I guess I haven’t damaged too many psyches.

The tautness in my writing comes from juggling so much in my real life. I’m quick to cut to the chase because I don’t ever have “extra” time, and I’ve always viewed my life as a “to-do” list. There isn’t much wiggle room, so this part of my personality comes through in my voice. I’ve even been accused of jumping ahead, writing the second paragraph before the first. Hmm.

WJ: Humor really enhances a book, doesn’t it? I find it works great to provide levity after, or in the midst of, deadly serious scenes. Plus, most of us use humor for any number of reasons. How do you see it?

CW: Humor is a healthy release and a welcome coping mechanism in times of strife. It’s a natural defense, and a very helpful tool in surviving life’s body slams, or controlling a tenable situation. The funniest people are those who’ve suffered great pain in their lives. They look at life in a way that allows them to survive those wicked blows, and say, “Go ahead, Life. What else have you got? Give it to me. ‘Cuz I can throw it right back at ‘ya!”

The Wrong Guy Cover!!WJ: Who were your favorite authors growing up? Who are they now? And which authors did you promote to your kids?

CW: Growing up, I was a huge Nancy Drew fan. I hid under the covers with a flashlight and read into the wee hours of the morning. Hence, I became a mystery writer.  My high school years were all about discovery. I loved the classics. The Scarlet Letter. Catcher in the Rye. And anything by Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald. For years, Holden Caulfield held the honor of being “my favorite character”. Then, D.H. Lawrence and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Nuff said. One of my favorite passages is when Holden Caulfield says:

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

Raising kids, I read to them each night. Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, and Shel Silverstein were the top requests at bedtime during those twenty years.

For a while, I read mostly Michael Connelly, Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, and Janet Evanovich. Quick, easy reads for a busy mom. Then Anita Shreve, Elizabeth Berg, and Anna Quindlen. To this day, Fortune’s Rocks, by Anita Shreve, is my favorite book.

WJ: What gives you the greatest satisfaction as an author?

I’m in my element when I’m writing. Losing sense of time and place and becoming immersed in my characters and story gives me untold joy. Having someone read my work and enjoy it is rewarding, too. It’s nice to know readers care about my characters as much as I do!

WJ: Finally, what is the most surprising thing someone said to you about your books, or your writing, at a book signing?

CW: I’d met a gentleman at a book signing at Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago shortly after my first mystery, The Wrong Guy, was released. He read the book, sent me a creepy email about the parts he would have changed (all related to the sex scenes, and very graphic, of course), then had the nerve to show up at Printers Row the following year.

When he saw a man standing behind me, he had the nerve to ask, “Who’s he?”

“My husband,” I answered.

He was indignant. “What’s he doing here?”

Wish I hadn’t been so darned naïve and nice the year before. (It does make for a good story idea though…writer stalked by reader! Scary!)

ALSO VISIT THE 366WRITING BLOG!

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15 Common Points Between Writing & Running Marathons (part 2)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the conclusion of my two-part series that compares 15 points in common between the writing process – particularly book and extensive projects – and running marathons. Actually, it’s 18 points in common, but who’s counting?)

“The race begins at 20 miles”: Years ago, a friend, journalist and veteran marathoner said this to me. While most people might crash and burn at 20 miles (or before), serious marathon racers dig in the final 10K. So it is with book writing. The last leg is often the hardest. You’re tired, you’ve lived with the subject for months or years, and you want to be finished. But this is the most vital part of the book, next to the first chapter. Focus more intently than ever, tap emotional and creative reserves, and power through to the finish.

Enjoy the solitude: If ever four groups of people know and understand solitude better than the rest of the population, they would be runners, writers, artists and monks. We spend countless hours alone with our words. Enjoy the quiet time; enjoy the ideal atmosphere it provides you to create, think deeply, and work. Not everyone gets this chance. Ask someone who works in a cubicle or workstation all day. The material percolates in solitude. The more you can enjoy it and immerse in it, the more you can produce – and the more cohesive it will be.

Push the hills: One of the best road racing strategies is to push hills hard – and then surge for 30 meters or so at the top. All authors know there are many uphill climbs in the long course of writing a book – struggles with scenes, characters, getting the right information, fluid narrative description, etc. Some days, we feel like we can write anything; on others, our sentences feel like back roads clunkers. We all hit them; we all wonder how we’re going to get to the top. The answer: one word at a time. Push past the obstacles, while holding to the greater vision for your work. Write hard to keep the momentum going.

Increase focus as the race progresses: The same thing has happened in every marathon I’ve raced. For the first eight miles or so, runners talk to each other, compare strategies, talk about favorite runs they’ve ever taken, maybe shoot photos of the crowd (if they carry smartphones, which many do — not me!) and truly enjoy being out there. For the next eight miles, the focus tightens, paces become locked in, and the talking lessens. For the final ten miles, there is very little talking and very deep focus. Good authors take us deeper and deeper into their stories, a reflection of their increased focus as they deliver the goods. Focus, focus, focus.

Don’t hit too many aid stations: One of the myths (and, actually, physical dangers) of long races is that it is important to drink at every aid station. NOT SO. When I run marathons, I only drink six times – roughly once every 4½ miles. Everyone has their number, but point is: don’t take too many breaks. This applies directly to writing. Momentum and rhythm are everything; when you’re on a roll, stay on it. If you must, take only small breaks when writing books to recharge, but never more than a week or two. Long breaks are a no-no, unless you’re between drafts.

There will be pain: To borrow from a surfwear manufacturer’s 1980s ad campaign, Every marathoner knows the feeling. It starts at about 15 miles, hits fully at 18 to 20 miles, and envelops you the final 6 miles. PAIN. We know it’s coming when we toe the starting line, but we know how to handle it – by reaching down and taking the race one stride at a time. Likewise, book writing can be (and often is) emotionally painful and mentally taxing, especially tell-all memoirs and novels with characters exhibiting emotions that grab you from the page. When you read scenes like this, you know the writer is feeling it. Embrace the pain, and turn it into your ally. Use it to drive more deeply within yourself, opening new thresholds of possibility for your writing – and greater perspective as a person. The more you can work with writing pain in all its forms, the more deeply touched readers will be.

Head down; one step at a time: This extends from the last comment. I ran the 2009 Boston Marathon with moderate plantar fasciitis. In other words, the last five miles were hell. However, I nearly held my earlier race pace because I pulled my cap over my eyes like I was in the ‘hood, looked down at my toes, and took it one step at a time. That’s exactly how I write books; by adopting that technique, I’ve gone from being a good starter to a good finisher. Keep your head down and write one chapter at a time, one paragraph at a time – and one sentence at a time. This approach becomes especially important when revising and self-editing, when you make sure every word fits and every word counts.

Finish strong: One of the best ways to ensure good race results is to finish strong in each training run, picking up the pace at the end. Likewise with book writing. Good final chapters sew up the story or subject, and leave readers feeling: a) like they want more; b) wholly satisfied; or c) Googling you for more books, or for more perspectives based upon the great book you have given them. Reach down and give it everything you’ve got in the last chapter – just like a good racer.

Celebrate!: When we finish something as monumental as a book, or a marathon, it’s time to celebrate! Then take at least a week off from writing of any kind … your batteries will definitely need to be recharged.

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The Man Who Made Poetry Cool Again: A Few Words with Billy Collins

How many of us remember learning poetry in high school? Quick: name one poem that you studied.

Now that I have stumped most everyone, I confess: I was lucky to have two teachers who loved the lyrical word. One (Tom Robertson), freed a bunch of freshmen from their cluelessness by bringing in rock music lyrics and records, and going over them for a month, before returning us to our regularly scheduled program: the dead poets collecting dust in our literature textbooks. It worked. The other (Dr. Bev Bosak), gave me the job of co-editing the Carlsbad High School literary journal, Spindrift. I’ve been writing poetry since, along with newspaper, magazine and web journalism, fiction and non-fiction books, along with a lot of editing and ghostwriting.

Former Poet Laureate of the US and bestselling poet Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

Former Poet Laureate of the US and bestselling poet Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

Most of us weren’t so lucky. We caught up on sleep or gossip, got our weekend party schedule together, or played folded paper football or, as the century turned, with our cellphones while our teachers tried to analyze and interpret the poems of long-dead poets who, as Billy Collins says, “lived on a different verbal planet.”

Then Collins, the nation’s most popular and one of its most beloved poets, came along to make poetry cool. Cool for who? Us? Our parents? Librarians? The neighborhood bookworms?

No: for high school students nationwide. Seriously. When he was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003, Collins developed the Poetry 180 program, which changed the face of how teachers taught poetry and students learned it. All of a sudden, kids not only read works from poets who were still alive – but, in some cases, just a little bit older than themselves.

“After becoming Poet Laureate, I immediately thought of what an awful time I had in high school,” Collins recalled during an exclusive interview for The Hummingbird Review I conducted earlier in the week, while he was in San Diego for a reading at Point Loma Nazarene University. “If you wanted to get beaten up in the parking lot, announcing you’re a poet would be a shortcut to that. Also in high school, the poems that were taught were hundreds of years old. I wanted to present poetry that would be cool, because being cool is the objective of high school – and it continues to this day.”

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Experience it they did. The Poetry 180 program was the biggest thing to happen to contemporary poetry entering American schools since the Beat Generation. Featuring very contemporary poets of all ages  like Jane Kenyon (“The Blue Bowl”), Ron Koertge (“Do You Have Any Advice For Those Of Us Just Starting Out”), Laurel Blossom (“Radio”), Geraldine Connolly (“The Summer I Was Sixteen”), and Daisy Fried (“She Didn’t Mean To Do It”), the two print anthologies have sold a quarter-million copies. The website that started it all (http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/) has received millions of visits. Not only did reading poetry become cool for students, but so did writing it. Last time I visited my Twitter feed, I was following more than 1,000 literary and poetry journals, most started in the last five years, and most run by young adults. I would bet nearly all of them have benefitted from Poetry 180.

“It actually works, much to my surprise,” Collins said. “All these teachers said, ‘It changed how I teach. It changed my students’ whole idea of what poetry was. They like it.’ They ask, ‘Where’s the poem for the day?’ They remind the teacher, ‘Give us one of those poems.’”

Collections such as Picnic, Lightning, Sailing Around the Room, The Trouble With Poetry and Ballistics make Collins the most-read poet today. He’s transcended the niche of hard-core poetry readers, in largecollins2 part thanks to three events: appearances on NPR and A Prairie Home Companion, followed by his appointment as the Poet Laureate of the United States.

“That was kind of a booster rocket on this whole thing,” he says.” All these things oddly fell into place. Believe me, world poetry domination was not my objective here!”

Collins’ humorous take on the world – including himself – has added to the persona of Poetry 180. Not only does he give poetry a sense of present-day coolness, but he’s also one of those very cool people you love to hang around with as they pass through their 70s, dispensing wisdom and great humor, often in the same sentence. His poems convey the same feeling, finding extraordinary perceptions in ordinary moments, yet coming across with a simplicity that draws people in for what has become an enduring relationship with his words.

Which is exactly why he created Poetry 180 – to keep kids coming back for more, for the rest of their lives.

(You can read a full-length interview and profile on Billy Collins in The Hummingbird Review, which will be on sale in April.)

collins-plnu

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It’s Time for NaNoWriMo!

What will you be writing for NaNoWriMo?

After nearly a year-long wait, NaNoWriMo has finally arrived. National Novel Writing Month used to be another convenient literary designation on the calendar where librarians, bookstore owners and people in the literary world paid a little special attention to the novel — like they do in April with National Poetry Month. 

However, a few years ago, someone came up with the crafty idea of giving National Novel Writing Month a clever acronym and a community-based

The month of November is a great time to dive deep and write a novel — or any kind of book.

website, designed to help writers actually spend the month of November writing a novel.

The result has been extraordinary: the advent of NaNoWriMo. Beginning Thursday, Nov. 1, more than 1 million writers — along with many college and high school writing programs, community writing groups and professional writers clubs — will log on to their personal pages on www.nanowrimo.org and take the wordsmith’s challenge: to write at least 50,000 words in one month.

I’m going to be among them. While my effort won’t necessarily be fiction — it will be the start of my memoir, working title Do I Have a Story For You! —  I’m just as pumped up as everyone else. During this month, I will spend a couple hours per day (or more, on some days) writing out the stories for my memoir, while also chatting with and supporting other writers in my NaNoWriMo support group. My goal will be to write about 2,000 words per day, to get to that magical 50,000 word mark. And I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it.

It sounds daunting to write 50,000 words in one month. If you’re soloing, it can be very daunting. Which leads to the beauty of NaNoWriMo: while you’re cranking out your novel, memoir or story, so are more than a million others. There is a group energy and consciousness that, I swear, you can feel. Everyone is elevating everyone else. For a golden month, we’re not the only writers engaged in the solitary act of writing a book. I sure felt it last year, when I jumped into the fray very late (because of teaching duties) and still put out the first 20,000 words of my novel-in-progress, Open Mic Night at Boccaccio’s, in the last 10 days of NaNoWriMo.

In 2011, more than 3 billion words were recorded on NaNoWriMo’s official count, which is drawn from the individual daily word count updates of each participant. That’s a lot of stories, a lot of minds stretching out to produce their works. Several of my writing support group partners started and finished entire novels; others really got into it and wrote 14 to 16 hours per day.

Do you have a story you want to write? Do you want to try this out? I sure hope so; NaNoWriMo is an absolute blast. Log onto the website, fill out your profile and a few words about your desired story — or collection of short stories — and be ready to log on Thursday and write, write, write. And let us know how you did!

 

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The Champion’s Way As Coaches, Educators, and Role Models

On Friday, opening day of the London Summer Olympics, I began what I hope will be a long run of speaking engagements for The Champion’s Way, the book that I co-wrote with swim fitness expert and former U.S. Ski Team conditioning coach Dr. Steve Victorson.  I spoke at a Lion’s Club luncheon in Union County, where I coached cross-country for three seasons with success athletically and academically, as our boys and girls honors students regularly qualified for individual and team bids to the state championships.

I began by reviewing the central tenets of The Champion’s Way – the 11 distinctive characteristics common to all great champions, and how they apply to any and every endeavor in life once we recognize our inherent potential. However, given recent events at Penn State, and the complete perversion of an influential adult’s role in a young person’s life that occurred under the long shadow of the football program for many years, my talk turned to a simple question: what more can we do, as educators, coaches, community and business leaders, parents and caring adults, to bring out the best in young people and also to bolster their self-esteem and focus on excellence?

The answer to this question begins by understanding the relationship between athletics, academics, the community and the student-athlete – and the responsibility coaches, educators and adult citizens have to students, both in shepherding them toward adulthood and in helping them identify their potential greatness. In my opinion, our responsibility begins with two questions: What can I do to bring out the best in this young man or woman – whatever that latent talent might be? And how can I integrate my life experience, victories achieved and lessons learned with the sport or curriculum at hand in a way that impassions and motivates one to strive for excellence, whether at sports, music, art, mathematics or small engine repair?

Everyone is potentially great at something. What is it? That’s the 64-million dollar question. It wracks many of us throughout our adult lives as we seek greater meaning and purpose. What is that special niche, whether God-given or self-developed, where we can make a unique imprint on the world and benefit others the most? Here’s a follow-up: who showed you how to identify latent potential in yourself, and develop it with a focused eye on excellence? Chances are, the face of an old teacher, coach, pastor, parent or other concerned adult will pop up in your mind. It’s a question that smart parents, educators, counselors and coaches help their children, students and athletes ask and answer.

It’s one thing to ask a young person what inspires and motivates them. It’s another to help them develop that latent skill, talent or passion. That’s where our other responsibility comes in: commitment to drawing out that ability. And showing young people how to translate that focus, drive, perseverance, skill and effort to every activity in their lives.

For my part, I always try to recognize the first flash of potential. It might come as an accident; it might only last 30 seconds. However, if I’m doing my job, if I’m truly committed to helping a boy or girl identify, understand and commit themselves to excellence, then it is my duty to recognize the first signs. I’ve seen some wonderfully revelatory moments on the sports field and in the classroom. As the young people involved know, off we went to the races from that moment forward, whether it was running intervals to increase speed or learning to write strong personal narrative.

Want to make a difference in a young person’s life in an unforgettable way? Be the one who recognizes the inherent greatness and potential within them, and shows them ways to develop it. Be the one whose mantra for all young people is, “To facilitate a lifelong love of learning,” or “To facilitate a drive to be the best, to put 110% effort and purpose into every activity.”

This is the sweet spot of coaching or educating. It is also what we are supposed to do as guides to help our young people prepare for purpose-filled adulthood. When we can approach students or athletes like this, committing ourselves solely to helping them develop their fullest talent and skills, then we, too, are bringing excellence to our jobs.

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