Friday, August 29, 2008

“I’ll show you my artifacts if you show me yours!”

That was one of the last things I said to fellow NC author, Joyce Hostetter, on Wednesday afternoon after a day of planning our upcoming workshop at NCCAT. Joyce got into the theme of an archeological dig as she brainstormed off my reproducible "Mining Your Lives" from Teaching the Story. Thinking about how adult authors can "dig" into their own experiences to springboard into their writing, led us to an entire week's theme of digging, exploring, and finally, at the end, sharing "artifacts" (their written creations from the week) with one another. Is There a Children's Book in You? will be a week complete with time to "Voice Your Character," "Dig Into Problems," "Discover a Setting," and "Explore a Mood."

We had spent the morning at the Gaston County Library collaborating on our upcoming workshop for NWRESA, Using Life Experiences to Pump Up Your Writing. Joyce bounced off of my "Exercise Muscle Words" worksheet, played with the wrestling metaphor, and decided that each segment of the day would be labeled "Rounds." We're expecting the day to be a "knock out" for NC teachers who live in the northwest portion of our state.

This is the joy and fun of collaboration. As we laughed and bounced ideas off of one another, we thought of things that we might not have considered working on our own. For example, I would not have thought of posing with a statue outside the library. Joyce, as you can see in this picture, is a natural "let's think outside this box" person. Score a point for adults, as well as students, benefiting from the unexpected surprises of collaboration.

Remember the story about the blind men with the elephant? In this Asian tale, each man describes the same animal in a totally different fashion depending on his perspective. Check out Joyce's blog about our day together and discover how two authors can write about the same event in a totally different fashion. Hmmm…sounds like a good lesson plan for any grade teacher!

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Day @ the Races

Magnificent gleaming horses galloping at top speed, a clear blue day, rainbows of silks pouffing out in the windstream of the race—what more could a Southern girl from North Carolina want from her day at the Saratoga Race Course in New York?

A win would have been nice, but it wasn't in the cards. Or should I say, don't bet on it? Once again, I'm talking about idioms.

How do phrases like "a head start" or "to hit one's stride" come into our language? If you're really curious, check out this Sports Idioms for Track and Field for some interesting history of words and phrases such as "the inside track" or "a dark horse." They've become as much a part of our normal speech as the "ponies" are a part of the racing industry. (Stick with me on this one. The point will become clear, I promise.)

Yesterday I watched as calm, older horses called "ponies" pranced in step alongside the racing horses to calm them before a race. They were the unsung heroes who led the mares and geldings into the starting gate, and then faded into the background even before the announcer yelled, "And, they're off!"

No glory for them, their work was complete. This is not unlike a good idiom. Almost unseen unless you're on the lookout for one, an idiom does its job of amplifying the message a writer is communicating, and then quietly sinks into the background.

Meanwhile, here's a picture of me squeezed between my nephew and my mother, along with my brother and sister-in-law at the Saratoga Springs track. The youngest member of the party was the big winner of the day—pulling in a hefty $7.70 for one $2 bet. And here's a picture of the horse I should have bet on, but didn't.

So, has this blog been a hands-down winner? It's anyone's call.

Remember, if you need a book on idioms, check out Maupin House's books: Idioms for Aliens and Exploring Idioms.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Gone to the Dogs- For Real

After bugging my husband Creighton for more years than I can count, he finally gave up and gave in. Meet Gypsy, part cattle dog, part yellow lab, my new writing buddy and the newest addition to the Baldwin family. She will unequivocally be hanging out with me while I write and most definitely will approve of anything that comes out of my computer. So nice to have that kind of audience, don't you agree? But apparently, I'm not the only one in the family who will be enjoying her. I love how Lydia crawled into her crate to show her it was a good place to hang out!

Gypsy also has the distinction of being the first dog who made it onto the Maupin House blog. Check this out!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Piecing the Puzzle Together

This week I interviewed Jack Claiborne; an author and former sports writer for the Charlotte Observer. He grew up in the Elizabeth neighborhood of Charlotte (which just so happens to be the place Anna Marie Dinsmore, the main character in my young adult novel will have spent time). He was eloquent in his descriptions of people and places; his memories roamed over his childhood pastimes of going in and out of soldiers' tents bivouacked outside the Armory just before WWII to hearing his principal at Elizabeth Elementary ring the bell at the beginning and end of each day. By the way, that bell just happens to be the one that now rings at UNCC for commencement.

Since I met Jack at UNCC, afterwards I went upstairs to the Special Collections room of the Atkins Library and browsed old Charlotte Country Club magazines, shmoozed with the librarians, and read the Charlotte City Club By Laws from 1952. (This one was interesting: "No lady or group of ladies will be admitted to the dining room unless escorted"). As I was randomly flipping through the South Carolina encyclopedia, I stumbled upon the Laurens Glass manufacturing plant which was the first suppliers of Coca-Cola bottles. Why is that note-worthy? Charlotte just happens to have been home to the first Coca-Cola bottling plant in the Carolinas. For those of you reading this blog who know of my interest and love of glass, rest assured that I'll tie these tidbits into my story.

You know you're a research hound when perusing old country club magazines and hearing random stories about the time period you're researching excite you. Sort of feels as good as finding the right piece to complete the outline of a puzzle. It all fits together.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Her Own Place

As background for my own work-in-progress, I decided to listen to Dori Sanders' second novel, Her Own Place. I was looking for a greater understanding of what life was like for rural African American women in the second half of the 20th century and I was not disappointed. Sanders, who is well known for her first novel Clover, grew up in Filbert, SC, a tiny community in York County, near Rock Hill, SC and not far from Charlotte, NC. Since her family operates one of the oldest African-American farms in the region, (her father, a former sharecropper, bought the land around 1915) she is well-equipped with stories. I enjoyed listening to the book but was distracted by the author going in and out of different character's point of views. Now that I'm thinking of writing a novel, I think about things like that!

It seemed to me that one of Sanders' goals was to show the changes that occurred in South Carolina from about 1930-1990. As a result, there are some stories which are told in greater depth than others. Although the reader hears the protagonist's (Mae Lee Barnes) struggles throughout her life, I felt an emotional detachment from Mae Lee and would have preferred to have been more hooked into such obviously difficult events like raising her five children without her husband's support. The span of years that is covered, the lack of transition between events, and my lack of emotional involvement as a reader, makes the book read more like a memoir than a novel. As such, it was interesting to me and would be worthy of reading for others interested in this time and place in American history.

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Story in Your Own Backyard

About five miles from where I live is the lovely historical neighborhood of Myers Park. That doesn't exactly qualify as my "backyard" does it? But when my friend and fellow author, Joyce Moyer Hostetter, relayed that her editor, Carolyn Yoder, encourages writers to dig for stories that are figuratively in their own backyards, I decided that Myers Park would qualify for me. Joyce, by the way, first heard that advice at a Highlights Founders Workshop and turned around and wrote BLUE, a novel which is the story of the polio epidemic in Joyce's hometown of Hickory, NC. Obviously, Carolyn's advice paid off for Joyce and I hope that it will pay off for me too!

As I mentioned in my "That's the way it was" post, I have been interviewing a variety of people and hearing their stories about Charlotte. I drive around and look at my hometown for the last 22 years with new eyes. Which home were here 60+ years ago? Which roads, businesses, and homes didn't exist? Instead of the homes along the main roads that lead out of town, what did the farms look like? What happened to Briar Creek that Mr. James Ross (pictured here) used to play in? What happened to Henderson Dance Studio where Liz Medearis (another interviewee) used to go for dance lessons? What happened to the armory where Liz and her teenage friends used to go to and listen to Count Basie?

For every question I answer, a new one pops up. But like a huge jigsaw puzzle, I am finding pieces that eventually I hope to fit together into a young adult novel. Meanwhile, I am having fun as I discover the story of Anna Marie Dinsmore, my fourteen-year-old protagonist who just moved in with her Myers Park grandparents after her father left to serve in Korea. Stay tuned, and you'll hear the story as she tells it to me. After all, this is her story, and I just happen to live in her backyard.

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THE NIGHT WAR: A MG Historical Novel Review

  By now you should have received an email from my new website about my review of THE NIGHT WAR by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. (It'll com...