Monday, April 20, 2009

I Break for Poetry

Blossoms, like snow, drift
and blow on the roof next door--
spring's fragrant blizzard.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Evolution of Rejection

Admit it. You've done the same thing--licked your finger and swiped it across a signature on a rejection letter to see if the the ink smeared, to see if the editor really did put pen to paper to sign. Or was it just another form letter that sounded more personal.

Through the years, I've noticed a steady progression in the quality of rejection. First came the post cards paper-clipped to the cover letter I had so painstakingly typed. Next was the form letter that bore an unsmearable signature. How thrilling to finally get a rejection that brandished a personal note scribbled at an angle across the bottom. . . one that passed the spit-finger test! The most recent rejection letter was all personal and encouraging, saying, "Our middle-grade list is full right now, but I have no doubt that you will find a market for this manuscript." That's progress.

Through the years, I've noticed a steady progression in the quality, determination, and intensity of my own efforts, seeking always to hone my skills. I recently joined a critique group through ACFW, and that has made a difference that even the members of my local writers' group, Southern Indiana Writers' Salon, have noticed. I will continue writing and honing, looking forward to the day when I receive that first acceptance.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Never Let Good Research Languish

I have been a professional storyteller for nearly a quarter of a century. My most popular programs are historical, and each one was funded in part through a grant or a commission. In order to develop a reputation for historical accuracy and an authentic persona, I do all I can to thoroughly research the time periods, just as I do for my writing, poring over original documents and books, interviewing others who have expertise on the subject, visiting some sites where the events happened, studying the clothing and other everyday details of the period, sewing the attire from authentic fabrics, and purchasing any necessary accoutrements.

I say all of that, not to impress the reader with my dedication and research skills, but to emphasize that much goes into developing a new historical program. What a shame it would be to allow all of that effort to languish, once the performance script is written. By the time the show premieres, I have gained a certain expertise on my subject and have acquired a small library, to boot.

The logical extension for this writer is to write a middle-grade fiction book that uses the body of research already gathered. (Of course, questions arise that send me off on new trails, so the research never really ends until the manuscript is finished.) For example, my first storytelling persona was "Jack's Mama," still a favorite among clients. As JM, I portray a pioneer mountain woman and tell stories from the oral tradition of the southern Appalachians. Through a Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship, I was able to spend a month wandering through the mountains, gathering stories, studying the dialect, and talking with the people about their lives. I used that knowledge and experience in the writing of Up the Rutted Road, my first book manuscript, currently undergoing a revision.

Four years ago, Storytelling Arts of Indiana awarded me the Frank Basile Emerging Stories Fellowship to develop Abigail Gray: Living under the Drinking Gourd, a program about the Underground Railroad. My second novel manuscript, The Second Cellar, this one for upper middle graders, is a historical fantasy that involves the Underground Railroad. I have written just over 100 pages on it. Here I go, recycling research again!

Recognizing that every perfect gift comes from the Lord, I thank Him for these opportunities. He allowed me to receive an Individual Artist's Project fellowship from the Indiana Arts Commission/National Endowment for the Arts to begin this second manuscript. They liked the idea, as did an editor who critiqued the proposal at a writers' conference.

Even as I revise one manuscript and write a second, I am thinking about how I can recycle the research I did for a storytelling performance about the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War and another about the Great Depression because one should never, ever let good research languish.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mystery of the Misplaced Modifier

One of my favorite Writer's Digest columns is "The Sentence Sleuth," where I notice that the writer Bonnie Trenga has written a book entitled The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier. While I would love to read the book, I'm not sure I dare. You see, misplaced modifiers have a peculiar effect on me, one that has caused me great embarrassment through the years.

In my college freshman English class, the professor distributed a sheet of examples. Naturally, I began perusing it before everyone had a copy, so I had a head start on the humor.

It all started with a smile that progressed to a quiet snort and on to a chorkle. By the time the professor had gotten through the third sentence<>

I flashed a furtive glance around the room, only to discover that I was the only one thus affected. Again, I made eye contact with the professor. She raised one eyebrow, and I lost all control. I rushed out of the room and down the hall to the nearest restroom. Once inside the security of that room with its stainless steel stalls and porcelain lavatories, I doubled over with laughter, likely frightening a student exiting a stall.

"Misplaced modifiers!" I tried to blurt. She gave me that same deer-caught-in-the-headlights look I'd received from my classmates and hurried toward the door. "You know!" I called after her. "Dangling participles..." She was gone. Without washing her hands.

Eventually, I regained some semblance of composure. Making my way back to the classroom, I stood outside the door, just out of sight, listening, testing my resolve. The professor peeked around the door at me.

"Are you okay?" she asked, broadening her smile. "You can come back in, if you like." I lost it, again, and returned to the sanctuary of the restroom.

When class was over, I hurried to the classroom to apologize profusely to the professor. "Are you an English major?" she said. I told her that I was. "I thought so. You had to be. Did you notice that you were the only one so affected?" I nodded. "They didn't get it. They didn't see what the sentences actually were saying."

If sentences with misplaced modifiers make you laugh, you can stop reading here, unless you're a glutton for punishment. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read on.

A misplaced modifier is a word, clause, or phrase that is separated from that which it modifies (or describes), making it seem to modify a word, clause, or phrase not intended. Here are a few examples:

On the way home, Karen found a gold man's watch. [Oh, really? I'd like to know where she found that gold man. Or could it be that she found a man's gold watch?]

The child ate a cold dish of cereal for breakfast. [Poor kid. He likely would have preferred a dish of cold cereal.]

We ate the lunch that we had brought slowly. [Does the writer mean that it took a long time for them to get their lunch to the place where they ate it? Or does she mean We ate slowly the lunch we had brought or Slowly, we ate the lunch that we had brought?]

After being fingerprinted, the officer put the prisoner in the cell. [So they're fingerprinting officers now, before putting the prisoner in a cell. Hmmm....]

Perhaps you now understand why my reading of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier could prove fatal to me.