At the Outdoor Fish Market

Today’s quick write came from Alicia Williams asking us to “get it right” as we write a quick scene with conflict regarding gender, race, religion or something. 

Amma grabbed the fish by the tail and lifted it a bit off the ice, smelling in deeply. She laid it down and looked directly into its eyes. The moss colored, speckled walleye felt firm and fresh. Amma adjusted her scarf, making sure it covered her black waves.

“Are you going to buy that?” the man in the white tee shirt asked.

“She’s just used to checking to make sure it’s fresh,” said Rina.

“It is,” said the fisherman, rolling his eyes.

“When you catch it?” Amma wanted confirmation. She glared into the mouth, noticing the razor sharp teeth on the fish.

“This morning, of course. The lake’s right down the road. You aren’t in Afghanistan anymore, lady.”

“She knows where she is, but she’s new to buying fish in Wisconsin,” said Rina.

“I’ve never been to Afghanistan,” Amma whispered to Rina. 

My, God, why does she wear that head scarf when she’s out? thought Rina. Most Catholics don’t even cover their heads in church any longer, even in Goa. She seems to wear it more and more the older she gets.

“I’ll take your fish, young man. And by the way, I’m American, with scarf or without,” said Amma, with unusual confidence.

A Wondrous Puddle

Leah Henderson had a great quick write today. It gave a very quick and simple prompt and asked us to describe the scene using 3 or more senses. It really got me working today.

A wondrous puddle is hidden in the Bermuda grass most of the year. Who would have thought there was magic in that small bald patch of yard? The section where the grass can’t grow has the approximate diameter of a large kiddy pool, but the comparison ends there. There is nothing tame about this piece of earth when the rains come.

Unfortunately, Mom never let them flood it with the hose. Otherwise they could have enjoyed mud baths all summer long, mud baths that were simultaneously exhilarating and restful. Mud baths that put grit in their teeth, long-lasting cakes under their fingernails, and the smell of magic in their nostrils. Instead, these girls were forced to pray for rain.

On this day, monsoon winds come. Dust is in the air. Finally, raindrops the size of 50-cent pieces land on the deck around the pool and on the edge of the back porch. And, hooray, they are also noticeable in the sticky caliche soil near the orange tree. The girls watch from the French door windows, willing the drops to keep falling. Please not another false rain alert is their unspoken prayer. So often the muddy drops end as a vain attempt to wash the dirt out of the sky, a tease of petrichor that they could feel and smell even in the house. More often than not, in Phoenix, the summer rains stop not only before they wash the dust out of the air, but well before they fully wet sidewalks or muddy the hopeful spot in the yard.

This time, though, it’s different. The magic is working. Not just pitter patter. These drops are thunk thunk thunking on the roof, ping ping pinging on the tin cover of the A/C unit in the yard, and quietly invading the dry soil around the orange tree. It is a real monsoon rain. Finally. The season came late this year, but today rain will win the battle to uncover the wondrous mud puddle.

The Thing with Joy

Today Jo, in the Monday morning warm up, challenged us to help our main character find joy in a scene “without using over-used or predictable words or phrases.” Since this morning warm up goes with the mini lesson on Kate’s blog, I thought I would cheat and do a two-for-one special.

I loved this suggestion by Kat Yeh today for the Monday mini lesson in Teachers Write. She told us to experiment with giving our main character a Thing or more than one. Something they are passionate and obsessed over — poetry, recipes, jellyfish, reading A Wrinkle in Time were some of the examples she gave. Hopefully it will be something meaningful to push the plot forward as well.

In one scene I’ve given Bailey a passion about noticing the moon phases, but that was only because of another Teachers Write lesson.

Is he really passionate about the moon? Does it move the plot forward? Probably not.

What would help him to be obsessed about? Making stuff perhaps, which is another plan. He does make a model of the Mars Curiosity. How could that move the plot along? Something to think about.

Anyway, I’m not sure of the answers to those questions yet, but I did write a bit today. Hopefully it shows joy in Bailey doing his thing with cardboard and his dad.

After dinner, Bailey brought out the cardboard cartons he and his mom had collected. Small to large, paperboard and corrugated. He laid them out in order of size–one tiny jewelry box, three Life cereal boxes (his favorite), four Xerox paper boxes with lids, and one jumbo Pampers box. Bailey could work a good box like a bear in Yellowstone works a locked cooler.  The challenge of unlocking the power and creativity in a cardboard box gave Bailey a thrill.

Bailey’s room had more cardboard and duct tape than it had store-bought furniture. He had a headboard made with “tie-dye” painted cardboard, a model of the Spirit of St. Louis inits fawn-colored glory hung from the ceiling, and a frame with cutout cardboard fish adorned the perimeter of his fish tank.

He never did tell his mom that the folding chair she had been looking for is actually serving as the base for his cardboard armchair. It was safe from discovery because the metal chair was completely encased in cardboard and a roll of duct tape. It took another three rolls of rainbow duct tape to cover the cushions.

Now, dinner was finished, Dad was home and ready to work on the model, and Bailey was itching to get going.

“Dad, will you get the glue sticks? Mom had them in a bag from Michael’s. I’ll get the glue gun.”

“OK, Mo, I’m going.”

“Do you want some chips? We can make a little snack tray before we get started. I’ll get some juice.”

“And some Oreos?”

“Yes, Oreos! What else do we need? I have the papers you printed out with the pictures of the Curiosity. Do you have the x-acto knife, Dad? Will you bring it? And extra blades.”

“OK, OK, slow down, Champ, I can hardly keep up with you.”

“I just can’t wait to figure out how to create the Rover, Dad. Thank you for coming home tonight to help me.”

Reflection, Week #3

I am losing steam in Teachers Write–that’s not exactly the metaphor. I’m spending a good deal of my days this month reading and writing–some of it blog posts, but writing and reading, nonetheless.

However, I’m realizing all I don’t know about perspective, point of view, and constructing a plot. It’s humbling and hard, but I’m glad because everything I learn will just make me a better teacher.

On today’s reflection Jen gave some great helps for leading children in a free write. Check out today’s reflection post on her blog: Teach Mentor Texts.

Peak – I added an undeveloped part of my story to the Friday Feedback post and got some lovely, though difficult, feedback from three authors.  My before and after are not that different, but slowly I’m figuring some things out.

Pit – I didn’t add any significant scenes or character development to my story.

Goal – I want to go out strong this last week of Teachers Write, so I need to just write–at least 3000 words. I want to keep practicing point of view and perspective. I think I might switch to first person narrative of the main characters–maybe three different characters each in a new chapter (ala Wonder). It seems to me that would be easier than third person narrator voice. I don’t know if that’s true, though! Also, I don’t know if it’s a cop out. Should I just do my best writing third person and try to tell it in third person from the perspective of a certain character??? Really, I have no hope for publishing this. At my stage in fiction writing, I am just trying to get a story I can use with my students on some level and better be able to help them write fiction.

Friday Feedback

Gae Polisner’s blog That Wee Bit Heap featured guest author Amy Fellner Dominy and Nate Evans, picture book writer, on her Friday’s Feedback post.

It was really late at night here in Bahrain when I decided, after a busy day, to participate. I had missed the last two weeks, so I read Amy’s excerpt about Grace and left my comments. Then I clipped a bit from my measly story about Bailey:
An excerpt from my middle grade novel – (Scott hasn’t been a character in this book, but he was a boy from last year who had moved to another school.)

“Scott died last night at home. It was unexpected,” Mrs. Clayton, the principal, just started this class meeting letting it all out. Well, not all of it. She did not explain how he died. She stopped and stammered a bit. Then stopped. She was finished talking.

Ms. R. spoke up to help. “Well, we thought it would be good to remember Scott today and let anyone who wanted to talk about him. What do you remember about him?” Ms. R asked. “I didn’t know Scott much because I was new last year, but I do remember seeing him in the hallway.”

“Everyone hated him,” wailed Debra. She vomited it out, so explosively, it made everyone stop and take an extra breath. Debra had never showed any emotion. Why is she crying? most of them wondered. She surely hated him the most of all.

“Well, maybe not everyone,” said Lisa. “He was Bailey’s friend.”

Everyone looked at Bailey’s empty chair. “Hey, where’s Bailey?” said Marco loudly.

“He didn’t come today, nitwit. Didn’t you even notice?” answered Ralph, who was sitting next to Marco.

“No more nitwits,” whispered Lisa.

You can read the feedback that I received from Gae, Betsy, and Amy here, but in a nutshell, here were some of their advice:

  • Perspective – I guess it’s becoming clear I have no idea how to do this. I need more work on how to do this.
  • Point of view – I’ve been writing it in third person–limited, multiple or omniscient? I have no idea!
  • Not so many different dialogue tags
  • Be more realistic and not hyperbolic in Debra’s actions.

I did some reading about point of view and perspective. Mostly what I learn is how much I don’t know about writing! This was a helpful article from NY Book Editors.

On Saturday, I decided to spend some time listening to their specific suggestions and trying to improve it.  (I’m still unclear on perspective and who knows what’s happening in my third person narrative!) Here is the second version after just a little more work:

“Scott died last night at home. It was unexpected,” Mrs. Clayton, the principal, just started this class meeting letting it all out, but she did not explain how he died. She stopped and stammered a bit, then continued.  “Well, we thought it would be good to remember Scott today and let anyone who wanted to talk about him. What do you remember about him?”

The sixth graders were mostly quiet. A few started crying softly. Others who had seen it on Facebook last night nodded their heads softly.

“I didn’t know Scott much because I was new last year, but I do remember seeing him in the hallway. He was a shy boy, wasn’t he?”  said Ms. R.

“Everyone hated him,” blurted Debra. There was an audible gasp as many of the students in unison took a quick gulp of air. Debra hardly ever talked aloud, much less  so passionately. She began weeping, sniffing, and couldn’t stop, though she seemed to be trying to contain her sobs. Why is she crying? most of them wondered. She surely hated him the most of all.

“Well, not everyone,” said Lisa. “He was Bailey’s friend.”

Everyone looked at Bailey’s empty chair. “Hey, where’s Bailey?” said Marco loudly.

“He didn’t come today, nitwit. Didn’t you even notice?” said Ralph.

“No more nitwits,” said Lisa, under her breath to no one in particular.

Whew! This is tough. How many more versions will it take to at least make a nice story for my students? 

A Day in the Life of Me

The Quick Write today was from Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. She offered a useful exercise of writing everything you did and noticed in a 24-hour period. I sat down this evening to do the activity, asking my husband what I did yesterday. He said, “As usual, you sat right there and worked on your computer.”

“Oh, shoot, is that right? That’s going to be boring to write about,” as I contemplated skipping yesterday. “What did we have for dinner?”

“Oh, no, yesterday was the day we ate alone. You weren’t here.”

Oh, yes. What a short memory I have. Yesterday was the day I spent at a friend’s house. I did and noticed a lot of things. Too much for this assignment today, but I’ll outline it and focus on a few things I noticed, starting with the end and going backwards. (Thanks to Maureen’s suggestion – because I have the same brain issue.)

10:30 to Midnight – Watched too many YouTube videos about politics. “OK, Denise,” I say, slapping the phone out of my hand and turning it off. I finally went to the small bundle my husband left for me on the back of the sofa–pajama shirt, toothbrush and mouthpiece (for grinding of teeth protection). I should start wearing that mouth guard when I watch politics.

10:30 – Finished editing a cover letter for a friend and sent it back.

10:00ish I stopped editing and grabbed my book. I was almost finished, so I took the time to read the sweet ending to Scat by Carl Hiaasen.

9:00 Began working on editing a cover letter for a friend. I noticed that I have a lot of distractions. I did not spend an hour editing, but I had too many tabs opened on my computer, too many text messages to read and answer, too many mostly digital distractions.

7:00 Dinner on the sofa – stuffed zucchini, Lebanese style, I brought back from my friend’s. I noticed that my friend is one of the most generous and hospitable persons I know. She would not stop feeding me and checking to be sure I was all right.

6:35 – arrived home after a lot of traffic – On the way home I noticed the sunset was looking beautiful along the sea. Even though it was wretchedly hot, I stopped for a bit and a photo.

At the sea. I didn’t stay, just took this picture…the temperature today: 95F, 80% humidity, feels like 134F.

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5:15 – on the road with friend’s teens to drop them off at laser tag

4:30 – granola bar and yogurt snack with another large glass of water

2:00 – 5:00 – relaxed and visited with friends. Took a picture of A with the cat for my picture of the day.

Summer lounging. #leisure #cy365 #t365project #jjaproject

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11:30-2:00 – helped tutor some students – I noticed so very much, but that’s for another forum.

11:00-11:30 – helped line up stuffed grape leaves in the pan and figure out how to weigh them down because she didn’t have her regular stone that she uses. She had lent it to a friend. I noticed I had absolutely no schema for making stuffed grape leaves.

10:30 – 11:00 – ate an amazing breakfast, fit for a king. I noticed it was probably three times the calories I needed and would normally eat for breakfast.

I ate almost everything shown in this picture, plus bread! She barely touched it.

10:00 – drove to my sweet friend’s house. I started going the wrong direction, so I had to figure out how to go a different way. I noticed I managed without GPS or too much stress.

7:00 got up and enjoyed a leisurely morning. Drank tea. Read the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea in the Bible. Watched too much political news. Replied to some blog post comments. I notice I am easily distracted and have a hard time finishing one thing at a time.

The Moon

Today’s Quick Write is from Martha Brockenbrough. She gave good advice to help avoid the clichéd full moon in your stories. Look up a date such as your MC’s birthday or any other important date on a moon phase calendar. She gave this resource from Stardate to check the phase and here’s another I found at MoonPage.com.

July 15, 2017

Bailey’s Dad had been in the hospital for five days now. Each day Bailey and his mom sat in the hospital room and watched their hope of him coming home slip away. At night as they walked to the car, Bailey watched the moon do the same. He was interested in the moon phases since his teacher read Horrible Harry Goes to the Moon to his fourth grade class. He always seemed to know when the moon would rise and set and he tried to estimate how much of the moon was left (or how much it had grown each day in a waxing moon.)

Tonight’s moon was partially hidden behind the sparse leaves of the ailing red maple. “I’m guessing the moon is about 60% now,” Bailey said to his mom.

“What?” asked Mom.

“It’s waning, Mom. The moon was full when Dad came to the hospital. Now, it’s getting smaller.”

“Oh, yeah, OK,” Mom said distractedly.

“Mom, do you think Dad will ever come home?”

Mini Lesson with Margaret Powell

Today’s Monday Mini Lesson is thanks to Margaret Powell.

Here is my writing as a result of the research I did on Olympian James Carter using YouTube, Wikipedia and the USATF website.

Ms. R. asked for one more person to share their biography report before recess.

Bailey raised his hand. “I chose to do a bio poem about James Carter,” said Bailey with smooth confidence. “Shall I read it now, Ms. R?”

“Yes, Bailey, that will be great,” she said.

“OK, here it is…

James
Strong, quick, determined, overcoming
Father of Taleya and Tamere
Whose friends call him Slash
Who loves sprints, hurdles, jumps, relays
Who feels lucky to have conquered Myasthenia Gravis at age 12
Who fears MG could come back
Who is a three time U.S. Champion and two time Olympic finalist
Who wants to help others win the gold in track and field
Born in Baltimore, lives in Durham, NC
Carter

After he finished, he asked his classmates, “Any questions?”
Hands raised around the room. Bailey called on the children one at a time.
Do you like track and field?
“Kind of.”
Is his nickname Slash?
“Yeah.”
Why did you want to study James Carter?
“Because he has MG and he’s Lisa’s dad’s cousin.”
What is MG?
“Myasthenia gravis”
What is your sathinny gravies?
“It’s myasthenia gravis. It’s an autoimmune disease that makes people have weak muscles and other stuff.”
Why did you want to do your bio poem about that disease?
“Actually, I have MG and I don’t really know if James is afraid it will come back.”

Bailey was enjoying explaining all about MG to his captive audience, and it seemed that Ms. R. let her usual three-question limit come and go. “Some other famous people who have myasthenia gravis are Sir Laurence Olivier, Karl Malden, Christopher Robin Milne, and Aristotle Onassis.”

Who are they?

“I don’t know all of them, but they are famous for something or another–acting or being rich. Do you remember Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh. Yeah, that’s him; he had it too. Did you notice all those names are guys?” explained Bailey. “Women and girls can get MG, but I don’t know any.”

“Hey, Slash, good report,” said Debra on her way out the door. Bailey smiled.

Reflection, Week 2

I love the cartonera project Jennifer Laffin writes about at today’s reflection post at Jen Vincent‘s Teach Mentor Text blog. I will definitely bring it to my colleagues in Bahrain. In June I pulled off a last minute author’s day just with my grade 5 students who had written novels this year. However, every minute of the experience, I knew we had to do something bigger and broader next year. This may be it. Thank you again to Jennifer for the inspiration.

Here’s how I did this week regarding my goals: I wrote 3000/4000 words. One thing I did that was not a stated goal was to tackle the first step in developing my characters and scenes. I organized what I had written so far into a sort of outline. I made a table of contents of probable chapters and I just cut and pasted all the short scenes I have been writing into the proper chapters. That helped me know where to start writing.

The pit of the week was I skipped half the days of writing. Sad!

The peak was Mike Jung’s comment on my short snippet I left on his quick write assignment this week. He asked me a lot of questions that I didn’t know the answers to. It reminded me that I have to get out of my head and onto the paper who these characters are and what they are doing. Another peak is I ordered Mike’s book Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities.

Those questions Mike asked lead me to my goal for this week, which will be the same as last week. A few thousand words developing characters and scenes and answering Mike’s and others’ questions. I need to stop writing random 3 paragraph passages and do the work of writing whole chapters for this very rough first draft.

Quick Write with Mike Jung

Today’s quick write is from Mike Jung. He’s challenged us to create scene in a health care waiting room.

Bailey sat on his hands, with his feet jiggling rapidly on the tile floor. The red stiff chairs in the waiting room were formed to some large generic body type, not Bailey’s. The back of his fingers were in pain where they were pinched between him and the red plastic. Bailey stared straight ahead, out the door, past the peaceful paintings, down the corridor toward the nurse’s station. Where is Mom? he thought. She should have been here by now.

That morning he was sure everything would be all right. Mom said, “Hey, Mo, don’t worry, OK? Remember what the doctor said–he saw signs of improvement yesterday. Let’s just go with that.”

But after school Mom called him at home and told him to meet her here at the hospital. The nurse in the suit told him to wait here until his mom came. Where is she? Bailey pulled the dry skin off his lower lip, flinched, then licked the droplet of blood that formed. He bit his lower lip and looked up at the ceiling, willing away the tears.