Technical writers or non fiction writers scribble to pay the bills and for the love of the analytical or the exercise of truth or deception.

Fiction authors write to illuminate their world or escape it.

Whichever kind of writer, it's all about staying alive and helping or entertaining others.

The Writing Life

Like most writers, I have a love of reading and the power of words. When I was younger, I read everything I could get my hands on, but I don’t consider myself well read. I consumed books like a starved person, so quickly I hardly knew what I had read. By some strange process of osmosis, I learned from everything I read, but I cannot give you an erudite discussion of characters, plots, or authors. I can only tell you it’s lodged some where in the core of my being and informs my writing.

In addition to reading, I’ve spent a life time writing---from that first elementary school composition to my college days when I studied French literature and wrote explications de texte. Along the way, I fell into technical writing--to put food on the table and pay bills. In the 90s, I had the good fortune to take a dialog class with Sol Stein, former owner of Stein & Day publishers in New York and a prolific author. That led to his California-based writers’ group, Chapter One. It was a rigorous, ego-bruising experience, but I was intent on learning everything I could about fiction writing. A few years ago, I also had the good fortune to study with another writer, Louella Nelson, an experienced romance writer and teacher of fiction writing. She provided a different perspective and balance to my writing.

My novel, DREAMING OF LAUGHING HAWK, a mainstream, Sixties era novel, is available on Amazon in print and ebook (also available in Canada, Europe, Japan, and Brazil). Download a free sample. If you like it, I hope you'll download the book and post a review on Amazon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Monster or Muse

I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing since I was a child. Reading was magical; writing was making magic.
When I encountered Miss Schmidt in a high school English class, I had no idea what a lasting impression she would make on me. The rest of my life I dreamed of dancing on her grave.

In the 60s when hemlines were growing shorter and shorter, Miss Schmidt’s baggy, gray skirts almost reached to her ankles. She was tall and lanky with short, frizzy red hair and watery blue eyes that anxiously darted from one thing to another. The rumor was that Miss Schmidt had a nervous breakdown, most likely due to us high school students. For all I know, she was in her late 30s, but she looked and acted like she was a 60-year old crank.

I was a good enough student. Miss Schmidt gave me an A for nearly every little ditty I dashed off for her class. In truth, they were pathetic. One day I decided that if she could give me an A for no effort on my part, I would show her I could write a real story, something that would knock her socks off. Such intoxicating arrogance.

So for my next writing assignment, I spent the whole weekend working on a story about a cold-hearted doctor who had to learn about love in order to connect with his patients and the rest of the world. That’s all I remember about the story. I wrote it over and over again. It had to be perfect. It had to amaze Miss Schmidt and blast her out of her craziness. At the end of three days of writing, I read my story and said “Damn, this is good.” I felt in my bones that I had really stretched myself and accomplished something I was truly proud of.

So the next week I turned in my paper with the rest of my fellow students and waited anxiously for the paper to be graded. Unfortunately, I was ill the day the graded papers were returned. Actually, it was probably a stroke of luck. When I returned to school, one of my classmates asked what I had written about —“because you always write weird stuff.” Miss Schmidt had given someone an F.

I imagined her standing in front of the class that day I was absent. Her beady little eyes would be darting around the classroom. She would clutch at her long skirt as she often did when she was agitated and her mouth would be a thin, straight mean line across her face. According to my classmates, she had plenty to say about my masterpiece. “The person who wrote this assignment is guilty of plagiarism. I know for a fact that this student is not intelligent enough to have written this by herself. She surely copied it word for word from some literary magazine. Plagiarism deserves an F.”

I was glad I missed the public flogging. It was bad enough that everyone had already figured out that I was the one who got the F. On the day I returned, I trotted up to the black board after class, my heart pounding in my chest, and asked her why she had given me an F. She smiled and continued to clean the black board. When I assured her that I had not copied anything, she burst out laughing (I think it must have been the first time I ever heard her laugh.). I insisted I had written the paper myself. She continued to laugh, and pointed out that I had two run-on sentences and she would not raise my grade. It’s seems strange to me now that she never inquired about the literary genius who produced the two run-on sentences that I supposedly copied.

The rest of the semester, I went back to writing the nonsense she thought was worthy of an A despite my limited intelligence. It was stuff I could barely stand to write, but that would get me out of her class for good. I never forgot the humiliation, but I never stopped trying to write the perfect story. Perhaps I should thank Miss Schmidt for the inspiration—trying to knock her socks off and all, but I still dream of dancing on her grave one day.

Other posts:
Childhood Vignette
Laughing Hawk

3 comments:

  1. And I'll bet Miss Schmidt never wrote with a Frindle either!!!! Now, did she???

    (Ref: "Frindle" by Andrew Clements)

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  2. Well, you learn something new everyday. I hadn't heard of the Frindle story. Very cool.

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  3. In "Frindle", Nick's teacher loved the dictionary and Nick made up a word, "frindle" to substitute for the word, "pen", to please his teacher.
    Scheherazade mentioned on the phone last evening, Dolores Jane Umbridge, the
    ultra-hated "defense against the dark arts" teacher in the "Harry Potter" series, as also coming to mind as unbending and unwilling to allow the students the "freedom" to practice the needed defences, only to read about them.
    In today's world where children in most schools come from all imaginable walks of life, the lack of flexability is a huge mistake. Being rigid is out the door and don't let the door hit "rigidity" in the behind on the way out either!!! Polly.

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