28 June 2016

100 Steps

Thunder rumbling,
Clouds rolling in,
Breeze picking up;
Storm’s coming.

I can smell the rain, but the birds are still singing.

I am on day two of Teacher’s Write!, a 6 week online writing workshop. Today’s prompt was a quick write: walk 100 steps in the direction of your choice, stop and write about where you are, what you see, hear, smell and feel. Unfortunately, a storm is rolling in. The kind you can hear a long way off as it rumbles towards you, the breeze bringing the smell of rain. Sitting on the porch, I have the best vantage point. Weather maps say it will come from the west, straight across the lake. I hope the rain comes like a wall across the water; when you can see exactly where it is raining and where it isn’t.

If I could walk from here, I would direct my 100 steps towards Sherman’s. The once busy arcade, carousel, and Ferris wheel from fifteen years ago; go back further and there were other rides too, kiddie roller coasters, bumper cars. Now? I would see rusted metal, peeling paint, broken glass, evidence of a bygone era, a time when business thrived, though never really boomed; the summer months at least were good. I would hear geese squawking, traffic buzzing down 29A - but no one stopping. Maybe a loon would make a haunting call to its mate.

Sometimes I wonder how much I actually see of this place and how much is just memory. Are the carousel horses still there? Gathering dust, wood rotting, growing mold in the dampness. If I could take the 100 steps, I could peer in the stain glass windows and see for my self. Or would I just see it as I remember? The creaking wood, squeaking gears, deranged music playing over and over, $1 per ride, the smell of popcorn and ice cream from the concession.

I remember riding the Ferris wheel. Rising high, higher above the pavement, looking out over the lake, stopping, reversing directions, moving backwards, faster and faster.

I remember the lights, on the Ferris wheel and the carousel, old, bare bulbs blinking on and off.

I remember feeling the wind off the water. Canoeing from our beach to the dock at Sherman’s instead of walking, just because we could.

I remember saving my dollars in the months leading up to vacation just so I could ride the carousel and Ferris wheel as many times as I wanted.

I remember which horse was my favorite. A white one with flowing mane and tale, teal saddle.

I remember the year I saved my money, but it was closed.

Now it is empty. Boarded up against thieves and weather. It didn’t make enough money. But now there are no memories to make either.

The thunder is a constant rumble now. It hasn’t stopped for several minutes. This storm is going to be a doozy.

25 June 2016

'Empty-Calorie' Reading

    Every now and then as I am reading Young Adult Fiction, I come across a book I wish I had read when I was younger. When I finally read The Giver, I felt cheated that I hadn’t read it during my formative years. Yesterday I finished The Fog Diver by Joel Ross, and if it hadn’t been written in 2015, I would have felt the same way. 
    The Fog Diver describes a post-apocalyptic world where everyone travels by airships above the deadly Fog that covers the planet. Airships that are straight from a steam-punker’s dream; half blimp, half machine, with engines, valves and a pipe organ to steer it. All the markers of a perfect YA novel are there: danger, friends that stick closer than family, an evil villain and room for a sequel.
   I checked it out of the library, but forgot about it until got the reminder email that my books were due, today. I figured I’d be able to renew it, so didn’t take it with me. The librarian informed me someone has it on hold (good for them!). I bit my lip, trying to remember how long the book was, and said, ‘I think I can read it tonight’. She was sweet and reminded me I had a day of grace and that the library was closed on Sunday, so I could really have the weekend, as long as I returned it by Monday. Or, I could keep it till I’d finished and pay the .25 cents a day fine. “I’ll read it tonight,” I said with a smile. And I did. Well, almost. At 11pm I finally closed it, tantalizingly close to the finish. I was able to get the last few chapters read in the morning.
    It was fantastic, except...except that I’m not twelve anymore and I notice things. I notice what is there and what isn’t there. There was a lot of dialogue. The book is mostly dialogue, with no paragraphs of description. When there is non-dialogue description it is actually the thoughts of Chess, from whose point of view we see the world. When the author needs to give backstory he has a character ask a question and one or two other characters interrupt each other to give the story of why or where or how. It ends up feeling choppy, especially after the flowing, lyrical sentence I have been reading by E.B. White, L’engle, and Elizabeth George Speare. Do kids even know what good reading reads like anymore?
    I also ended up liking one of the supporting characters more than the main character. The book is written from Chess’ point of view, but Bea, the spunky ‘gearslinger’ who talks to the airship’s engines and treats her machines like people, ends up being the one my heart goes towards. The plot takes precedence over full-bodied characters. The characters are not fully fleshed out, but rather stereotypical (the mutineers who suddenly turn into our hero’s best friends).
    This novel has been nominated and shortlisted for a couple of awards including the Great Stone Face Award List, and I do feel that it is a good book. Perhaps it lands in the category of “empty-calorie” books. As Katherine Paterson writes in The Invisible Child,

            “We can’t snatch these empty-calorie books from our children’s hands, indeed, that would make them all the more desirable, but somehow we must make sure early on that they have books that will truly nourish them, that will enlarge their minds, that will prepare them to make wise and compassionate decisions when they are grown” (p. 94).

So don’t snatch this book away, snatch it for you child (or you!) and read it, in a sitting, in a day, in a week. It is good, like cake and ice-cream good. Just make sure you also read the 'meat and potatoes', something more substantial, something that will stretch your mind and fill you up with good writing.

Picture from www.amazon.com, cover art is copyrighted.

15 June 2016

Making A Start

By chance I picked up Katherine Paterson’s book The Invisible Child: On Reading and Writing Books for Children at the library. Isn’t that how all great book recommendations start? The best books are the ones you aren’t looking for, that you don’t know you even need to read. This is definitely on of them. The Invisible Child is a collection of speeches and talks that Paterson has given ranging from 1974 into the 2000s. It contains her Newbury and National Book Award speeches as well as a number of other talks from conferences. 

This book has been stirring me to read the books I was inspired by as an adolescent. What books captured my attention, my mind, my heart when I was nine or ten years old? So I have returned to the books I have kept since childhood. Faithfully packing and unpacking through several moves. Books I can not get rid of, no matter how many yard sales I have. It’s not that I have good memories of these books, no, these books are my memories. So I have been gobbling up the Newbury Award winners of my youth: Katherine Paterson, Margeurite Henry, Elizabeth Enright, Elizabeth George Speare. I am trying to learn from them. Study their style, rhythm, what makes their characters so relatable and memorable. What is the rhythm of their sentences? How does the story unfold? I want to learn from these masters, mentors, but without copying. Of course, I’m also enjoying just reading them.

As I re-read these cherished books, Katherine Paterson’s words ring true, “There is something so comforting about the beloved books of childhood. When the uncertainties of life assail us, they stand as healing verities, and we can return to them again and again. But only, of course, if someone helped us to find those books when we were very young” (95).

That’s what I want to write. A book that captures that young imagination and tells that shy, introverted child there is adventure out there, or at least in here, between the pages. Life may be a bit boring and monotonous, but you can escape into a book filled with adventure and new worlds.
So I have made a start. First by filling my head with rich words from amazing authors, then by actually writing down the stories that are running through my head. We shall see what adventure awaits...