Monthly Archives: June 2012

Don’t Mess With Mama Bear

Yesterday was a tough Mom day for me. Whatever shortcomings Pixar’s Brave might have, it nails one image perfectly–mothers are bears who protect their young.

This Mama Bear is in a fighting mood.

It started during pick up time at my childrens’ Christian Mother’s Day Out program. Standing outside my almost two-year-old son’s classroom, I waited just a moment before getting his attention to watch him dance and play with his friends. Another mother standing next to me complimented me on his plaid deck shoes (which are super cute). I told her he had picked them out himself and that he loves shoes. Her response? She looked at his shoes, looked at him dancing, and then looked at me and said:

“Uh oh. Better be careful or he might end up . . .”

When she didn’t finish, I started to ask, “Might end up what? Working in a shoe store? Doing the Safety Dance? In the Navy?”

But I didn’t. Because I knew what she meant. However, something in me wanted to force her to say it out loud, to make her actually say thatĀ  judgmental thing she was thinking about a toddler dancing in the bubbles. So I just raised my eyebrows and waited.

Instead of saying it, she went with something worse: she did a hand gesture. A stupid, early 80s making fun of Billy Crystal’s character on Soap hand gesture.

I actually felt the acid in the back of my throat to the extent that I truly believe I could have spit like that dinosaur in Jurassic Park. In some ways, I guess I did.

“He might end up denied basic civil rights and judged by small-minded hypocrites?” I asked her. Then I smiled. “I would hope that wouldn’t happen to anyone’s child, no matter who they are.”

She started to say something, but I got my kids and left.

On the drive home I heard my daughter unzip her lunch bag. Still angry about the encounter outside Alex’s classroom, I asked her why she didn’t eat her lunch again today. She gave me the same response she’s given me for the past two weeks: “I was full.”

Some back story–About three weeks ago Liliana asked me not to send her (vegan) meatballs in her lunch, even though they are her favorite. She said the boys in her class were making fun of her food by telling her it was gross and looked like poop. Her daddy and I talked to her about doing what she liked and ignoring people who make fun her. She and Daddy even practiced saying, “You don’t know, you’ve never tried it,” as a response to her lunchtime critics. She hadn’t mentioned it again, so we figured the situation had been resolved.

Sadly, it has not.

It turns out that Liliana has been telling me and her teacher that she is full each lunch hour and not even opening her lunch because she doesn’t want to listen to the boys tell her that her lunch is “gross’ and “looks like poop.” Now, I know that we have been a little hippie-dippy lately with our vegan ways, but it’s not like I’ve been sending her mung beans. Today, for example, she had a pretty normal looking sandwich: veggie turkey slices with rice cheese on wheat. If you aren’t familiar with vegan deli options, veggie turkey slices and rise cheese look like round lunch meat and Kraft cheese. There is no way these 5-year-old boys are the culinary experts to discern that her lunch is anything out of the ordinary. Other days I’ve sent her pasta, cream cheese pinwheels, and pita pockets. To go with it she usually has carrots, some sort of dried or fresh fruit, and, if we’ve been baking, a muffin or cookie. Yes, these things are vegan, but they look the same.

These boys are just being mean. Liliana, for those who don’t know her, isn’t a timid little girl. She stands up for herself and her friends. However, I think part of the issue is that the leader of the group is a little boy Liliana was best friends with from age two. They’ve played together, gone to each other’s birthday parties, and now, he has become her tormentor.

I’ve tried to explain that this sometimes happens with boys–they get silly and pretend they don’t like girls for a few years. She’s told them her taught line about not having tried it. She sits at a different table with little girls who are her friends. And yet, for two weeks she has been eating her lunch at 3:15 pm in the back of our car because she’s hungry and afraid to eat during lunch.

The compilation of these two events has spiraled me into a new realm of pissed off. In terms of Alex, what set me off about that mother is how easily she slipped into the role of judge. He’s a year old. He’s smart, funny, cute, and loving. He’s a great little guy. If my son is gay, my son is gay. If he’s not, he’s not. No lame stereotype she’s concocted is going to define him. The only reason I wouldn’t want him to be gay is because the world would be harder for him. We live in a country where normal is defined in a way that strips people of their rights and identities. As his mother, I want Alex to love who he wants to love and not be made to feel ashamed of it nor denied civil rights simply because he is being honest about who he is. Mothers like that judgmental mother will raise sons and daughters who think like they do. Which means one day another child–maybe my kid, maybe not–could be mocked and bullied for being different. That, to me, is not acceptable.

Liliana is another matter. It breaks my heart to watch her learn about cruelty. We want her to fight her own battles, to be strong and proud of who she is, but in this case that has been deflected. I’m going to talk to teachers and possibly the ringleader’s mother because a little girl should not be going through the day hungry due to mean children. It’s ridiculous.

I have had several conversations about motherhood over the years and have named several things that at one time or another seem like the hardest part: the isolation from other adults, the frustration of trying to teach them when you want to strangle them . . . the list goes on and on.

Right now, this feels like the hardest part. Watching the world work its meanness on my cubs is hard enough; knowing that I can’t act on my impulses to protect them in the way I want to tears at my heart. Instead of of one swiping blow that knocks out judgmental mothers and bratty little boys, I have to settle for warning growls and hard lessons for my cubs about standing up for yourself and not letting anyone make you feel bad about who you are.

That being said, if my warning growls get ignored again, this Mama Bear is going to draw blood.

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Practical Crafts: In Process

This week instead of making small projects that take a few hours, we’ve been working on a number of larger projects that take more time and patience. While they aren’t ready for the grand unveiling yet, I would like to share the inspiration for what we’re cooking up.

Liliana’s Room

My daughter will be starting Kindergarten in the fall and we have agreed to let her transition her room from the nursery decor to a big girl room. She’s been having a blast putting together projects from fabrics, recyclables, and other materials we’ve come across. These are a few of the things we’ve been tackling.

T-Shirt Rag Rug

This is inspired by one of my favorite Etsy Shops, One Great Thing, and the beautiful rag rug Cassi made. Sadly her rugs aren’t in my price range, but we have a ton of shirts and patience. Following these directions from Molly Kay Stoltz we are about halfway done with a fun and functional rug for Liliana’s room.

Bottle Cap Window Curtain

If you meet Liliana and are drinking something with a plastic bottle cap, she will try to steal your bottle cap for this window project.

Flower Canopy

Liliana loves the princess look of this flower canopy; I don’t like the price tag. We’re making one using lace, a basket, and paperclips.

In addition to these things, we’re busy making decorations for Alex’s 2nd birthday party. Check back next Thursday for directions and pictures on garlands, vegan cupcakes, and rocket favors.

XO,

A

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Mini Meditation: Travel Sized Piece of Mind

Meditation is one of those things that sounds easy enough when described but actually proves challenging, especially if you have a noisy mind, like mine. Even more difficult than quieting the internal noise can be finding a place and time where the external noise is minimal. As a mother of two young children, that place and time is like a place where it constantly rains and there are abundant trees: I know it exists but it’s so far removed from my circumstances it might as well be where the unicorns live.

A few weeks ago I was paging through The Holistic Herbal Directory, this little book I got in the clearance section of Barnes and Noble when I was in college. While I was actually looking for herbal remedies for fatigue, what I came across was far more valuable:

Simple meditation techniques can help calm the mind and may be performed at any time and anywhere: curl the corners of the mouth into a half-smile, focus on the smile, and breathe deeply four times. Repeat once or twice a day–wherever you happen to be.

It’s so simple it almost seems silly. However, I have found this basic activity centers me (even when my kinds are like wild animals). I love that the core of it is smiling. So many of us forget to to do that, especially for ourselves.

Take a moment to smile for yourself this week, Cakesters, and see how it feels.

XO

A

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The Long and Short of It

A professor of mine once asked if the short story format is, as many assert, dead. Certainly an argument can be made that it has outlived its usefulness.Obsolescence, however, is another matter entirely.

Short stories originated (as with most literature) in the oral tradition and were kept short so they could be remembered and passed down in pre-literate societies. Meeting Poe’s definition of a short story as something to be consumed in a single reading, short fiction evolved into it’s own beast, heavily influenced by the Americans, French, and Russians, Chekhov in particular. At its height, the format flourished because of a handful of publications and a large literate reading class. Some were self-contained; some, like Dickens, were serial publications of novel excerpts that eventually found themselves put together in a single volume. The upside of this type of publication is that working class readers could afford the small pieces and a tome, like say Bleak House, seemed more digestible when taken a piece at a time. As with modern night time soaps, the public keeps tuning in to find out what happens next. However, these works cannot truly be considered self-contained short prose, although it shows how the interests of the public fared.

Current society seems to have three places for short stories. First, there is the classroom where professors rely on the short format for enabling students to experience a large variety of movements and styles in a limited amount of time. I will admit that roughly 85% of my short story reading has been as a student or a teacher. Then there are the handful of true short story writers who still publish anthologies of just short stories to great acclaim. Writers like Annie Proulx, Tobias Wolff, and Lorrie Moore have continued to produce short works, albeit interspersed with long format offerings.

Finally, there is the world of aspiring writers. Google short story publications and the search will blow up. While for a time it appeared the short story would flicker out of existence with the passing of writers like Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver, the internet has provided a reprieve. There are literally hundreds of online and small press journals that publish short fiction. Literary, genre, flash, and even self-contained excerpts–there is a place for all of them. (Some people even publish their stories directly on their blogs, but the question of self-publication is something for another post.) From the writer’s point of view the appeal is obvious: a chance to submit work without an agent for possible publication. It’s another entry on the resume and an opportunity for more readers.

But is it? There is no question of the appeal of writing short fiction. It’s brevity lends itself to development of craft and editing skills while not crushing the writer with the weight of sustained narrative. My question is instead, who is the readership for short stories? Other writers? Students? Academics? Will there come a time when there will be no demand for the short stories we all write?

I don’t have solid answers for these questions, but I will say that I believe there will always be someone to read short stories. It will never be the dominate format or even particularly mainstream outside the classroom, but if it, along with its writers, continue to adapt, the legacy of short fiction should endure.

Take a moment and read William Boyd’s fascinating article on his take of the appeal of writing short narrative: “Brief Encounters.”

What about you, readers? Will short stories continue to be relevant? Are they relevant now? For those who write short stories, what draws you to that format?

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Practical Crafts: Tin Can Storage and Recycled Gifts

Tin Can Storage

The old storage system.

Unless you are one of those lucky women with a vintage vanity table ripe with little drawers for all your make up and treasures, or Carrie Bradshaw with a fabulous medicine cabinet for keeping your girlie necessities, you might, like me, find yourself with a storage problem. I am lucky enough to have my own counter top in our bathroom; however, that counter top has only one shallow drawer and a cabinet underneath (which is home to toilet paper). My girlie stuff, then, has been allocated to various organizers on the counter to make it readily accessible. Clutter ensued. Then I had children and putting make up within their reach has led to a number of mid-afternoon baths. Needing a new solution, I enlisted mini plastic drawers. These worked okay, although the kids still got into them. And it looked even more cluttered. I needed a solution.

Enter Tin Can Storage. This project is so easy, I hesitate to even call it a craft. It has taken care of the clutter, got the make up out of little fingers range, and made it easy for me to see and access my stuff. (I did have more make up that the storage allowed for–this forced me to go through my drawers, throw out expired stuff, and figure out what I really use. The less used stuff went with the old plastic drawers into the cabinet where I could still get to it, but it wasn’t taking up space.)

Materials:

6 or more tin cans, washed and sterilized with one end open (use a smooth edge can opener)

Hot glue

Drill or electric screw driver and screw OR large nail and hammer

Optional: Pretty paper, paint, fabric, or other decorations

Preparation:

  1. Make sure your cans are clean and dry. Figure out how you want the connected cans to look on the wall. You might do a row or staggered pairs. I did a sort of flower with one larger can in the middle and a number of smaller cans on the outside.
  2. Glue the cans together so that any touch sides are adhered. Make sure the closed ends of the cans are level so they will hang flat on the wall. Let dry.
  3. Pre-drill a small hole from the back of the cans. It will save you time and annoyance.

    Make a hole in the back of one of the central cans. You can do this (like I did) by using the electric screw driver through the back. Or take the large nail and drive it through the back of the can with the hammer to create one large hole.

  4. Adhere your cans to the wall (I just used a single screw through the hole I created).
  5. Store your stuff! In my case, I arranged my products clockwise in the order in which I use them. I love this because I can start at the top and work my way around in a quick, easy manner. If you have longer items, like brushes or pencils, you might tuck them in the cracks between cans to give them a nook to rest in.

The new storage system. Love!

A note on decorating: I was making this while my kids were working on one of the projects below, so I wasn’t really concerned with the aesthetic of my cans. However, you could certainly paint them one or many colors, wrap them individually in fabric or paper, or embellish them in a number of other ways. If you elect to do so, I would do it before gluing them together. Or if you don’t have time for that, you might follow my lead: I gave mine the Norma Desmond treatment by wrapping them in a leopard print scarf pinned with a vintage costume broach.

I love this solution and plan on creating other variations of it for storing things in my kids’ rooms and our craft area.

 

 

 

Recycled Gifts

We had several things going on this past weekend, including my mother’s birthday and Father’s Day. I found my 5-year-old digging through the recycling bin on Saturday morning because she wanted to make a present for her grandmama. So Saturday saw our creation of the Water Bottle Bouquet and Plastic Cookie container which led to Sunday’s creation of the Tin Can Wind Chime.

Our final product featuring four Water Bottle Flowers and two Easter Egg Flowers.

Water Bottle Bouquet

Materials:

Plastic Water Bottles

Craft Knife

Scissors

Paint

Large Buttons

Craft or hot glue

Chop sticks, twigs, or other thin, strong wood remnants (ours were pieces from a bamboo mat that is falling apart)

Tin can, one end open

Rock or other small weight

Optional: Ribbon, stickers, beads, etc. for embellishment

Preparation:

  1. Make sure the water bottles are clean and dry. Cut off the tops of the bottles (where the smooth part meets the textured part is best). Leave the lid on the bottle. Make cuts from the detached edge to the mouth of the bottle so that you have strips. These can be as wide as you like, depending on what size you want your petals. Bend the strips back to open the ‘flower.’
  2. Allow children to paint the petals. Painting on the outside will cause the petals to look shiny from the front. Painting on the inside will make them mat. Let dry.
  3. While the flower are drying, paint the sticks if desired and let dry. You might want to cut the sticks or find sticks of different heights to add more dimension to your bouquet.
  4. Decorate the can which will serve as the vase.
  5. Once the flowers are dry, glue large buttons on the inside of the bottle top (opposite the lid) to serve as the center. If you don’t have buttons, you could also use spare bottle caps or some other light, large round object. If desired, you may round the edges of the petals to make them more flower-like. My daughter didn’t want to do that, so we left them square.
  6. Glue the stems to the bottle cap on the back of the flower.
  7. Arrange the flowers in the vase as desired. Place the rock in the bottom of the can to balance the weight of the flowers.

Easter Egg Alternative: We end up with plastic Easter eggs coming out of ears every year, so we always have a few for projects (or snack containers). Instead of water bottle tops, you can use Easter Egg tops. Cut the strips around the egg, leaving about a one inch circle in the center. Bend the petals back. Allow the child to paint it and adhere the stems as noted above.

Carrot cake cookies!

Now what did we do with the bottoms of those plastic bottles? So glad you asked.

We filled them with vegan carrot cake cookies, slipped the open end of one into the other, closed it with duct tape, and added a ribbon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready for hanging!

Tin Can Wind Chime

For Father’s Day, Liliana and Alex took advantage of those tin can lids I had leftover from my storage project and created a wind chime (with some help).

Materials:

9 tin can lids

Small nail and hammer

20 paper clips

String

Optional: Paint

Preparation:

  1. Clean the lids and make sure there are no sharp edges. Place the nail at the top of a can lid and tap with the hammer until you have a small hole. Repeat with 7 of the 8 remaining lids.
  2. For lid number 8, tap 10 small hole around the edge of the lid. Eight of these will be for the chimes and two for the hanger, making this your base.
  3. Paint or decorate all lids as desired.
  4. Slip a paper clip into the hole in each lid. Put a paper clip in each hole in the base. Use a string to connect the base paperclips to the chime paper clips. You might try different lengths of string to give the appearance of levels. Do four on each side of the base, leaving two unattached paper clips across from each other.
  5. Connect the unattached paper clips to each other using string. You should now be ready to hang your wind chime!

Whew! We had a busy weekend! Next Thursday will bring more ideas for Practical Crafts, but please check back for other posts in the meantime.

XO

A

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Mama’s Happy Gift of Food

My fear of cooking is a strange animal. What some people find relaxing, I have always found stressful. Instincts? None. If I didn’t have what a recipe called for, I panicked.

Changing our eating over the past few months has changed the way I view cooking. Preparing food for my family is fun and easy. Vegan baking, especially, just makes sense to me. I use my growing collection of vegan cookbooks for inspiration but then adapt them to what I have in my kitchen.

The vegan experiment continues to be interesting. I find the more I cook with real ingredients, the less I want to use the fakes (soy cheese, soy burgers). My son’s perpetual runny nose as cleared up after over a year. Personally, my energy continues to escalate.

Monday afternoon my daughter and I were chatting about something or other (with a 5-year-old you never know) and she said, “Mommy, you should have a restaurant.” What should I call it, I asked her. She thought for a long minute and then said, “Mama’s Happy Gift of Food. And you could serve Happy Casserole every day.”

This made me feel so good about the changes we’ve made over the past few months. Below you will find my “Happy Casserole,” a dish my daughter asks me to make every day. Mix it up, make it your own. Please visit again on Thursday for a Super-Sized Practical Crafting including some gift ideas.

 

Happy Casserole (as named by my daughter)

Use whatever green vegetables you have on hand, fresh or frozen, if you prefer to peas and broccoli. I mix all the ingredients with my hands and let my kids help. Feel free to toss in a handful of your favorite savory seasonings. I used Italian Seasoning.

Ingredients:

Two 15 oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 onion, chopped

2 cups carrots, chopped

1 1/2 cup broccoli florets, chopped

1 1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup whole wheat Panko (or breadcrumbs)

3 TBS olive oil

1 cup vegetable broth

1 tsp salt

Cheese or rice/soy cheese (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Mash up chickpeas with a fork or potato masher until they have the consistency of lumpy mashed potatoes (about 2 minutes).
  3. Mix vegetables into chickpea mash. Add panko and mix, the oil and mix, and the vegetable broth and salt. Mix one last time.
  4. Press the mixture into a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes.

 

 

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Exit the Craftsman: A Tribute to Ray Bradbury

My apologies for this delayed post–last week became more hectic than I anticipated.

The passing of Ray Bradbury was a great loss for the literary world. In a previous post I had discussed the beauty of his essay “How to Keep and Feed a Muse.” For me, reading this text is one of my go to things for creative rejuvenation, like listening to Beck. Not to say there is any connection between these two, but for me I am deeply inspired by artists who love what they do and blend the lines of commercial with innovative.

One of the brilliant gifts Bradbury possessed was taking a often overlooked genre, Science Fiction, and elevating it to new heights, namely literature. I was in junior high when I read The Martian Chronicles. Never one for stories about other planets, I put off reading it until the night before it was due for class. That worked out in my favor because as soon as I started reading it, I couldn’t stop.

Shortly after Bradbury’s death was announced, author Christopher Moore posted a touching tribute on his Facebook Page. He praised the late author’s craft by saying, “Ray Bradbury made me aware of the art and craft of fiction, and soon thereafter I realized that I wanted to be that guy, the teller of stories. To this day, I will look to his stories for clues for how to better perform my craft.” Moore went on to share a story of hearing Bradbury speak for the first time at a writer’s conference in 1982, Bradbury’s “sort of, “isn’t it cool! isn’t it amazing!? aren’t we lucky!?” way of talking about writing.”

The last part of this nearly brought me to tears. Because we are lucky, so very lucky to be a part of this writing world. And we blessed to have had a voice and genius like Ray Bradbury. I leave you with a link to my favorite of his fiction writings, “The Green Morning.” Note how he plays with the conventional images of natural beauty and the Johnny Appleseed myth. Or just enjoy the beauty of his imagery.

Until next timeĀ  . . .

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Practical Crafts: Plastic Bottle Birdfeeder

We are lucky enough to have some beautiful wild birds that frequent our trees. This week we made a feeder for them. I saw a number of ways to do this on varying websites. We went simple and easy.

Materials:

1 plastic bottle with cap (we used an empty juice bottle)

Craft knife or something for punching holes

1 unsharpened pencil (you can use a dowel rod or wooden spoon as well)

1 piece of scratch paper

Bird food

Twine or wire

Optional: Paint, stickers, etc.

 

Preparation:

  1. Thoroughly wash out the bottle and lid and allow to air dry over night (this prevents leaving behind things that might spoil the birdseed).
  2. Optional: Allow your child to decorate the bottle with waterproof paint or stickers. Liliana went nuts with neon paint. Let dry.
  3. Using the craft knife, cut a hole big enough for the pencil to fit through two or three inches from the bottom of the bottle (depending on the size of your bottle). Cut a parallel hole on the opposite side of the bottle. Feed the pencil through the holes so that you have a little perch on each side of the bottle.
  4. Cut a hole about one inch above the perch. You want it to be big enough that the birds can fit their beaks in but not so big that the seed falls out. Repeat above the other perch.
  5. Using the piece of paper, create a funnel and fill the feeder with seed. Fasten the lid tightly.
  6. Wrap the twine or wire around the neck of the bottle, just under the cap. Secure it on both sides to make a handle.
  7. Hang your bird feeder!

*This picture shows the original yarn we used. However, I was afraid with our high winds that it wouldn’t hold. So we replaced it with twine.

 

This was a lovely weekend morning activity that my daughter was so proud of. Visit us again next Thursday to see what we’ve been crafting!

XO

A

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Seven Things to LIKE

I will admit that too much of my day is spent screwing around on Facebook. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it is the truth. One of the benefits is that there are a number of pages I LIKE that make each day a little brighter. Do yourself a favor and LIKE:

  1. George Takei–TheStar Trekguy. His daily posts crack me up and frequently find themselves shared.
  2. Our Pack, Inc.–A page for Pit Bull loves like myself frequently features adorable pictures of pitties snuggling and sleeping.
  3. Zoo Borns–Pictures of baby zoo animals. What is not to love about that?
  4. The Onion–As long as you know it’s not for real, it’s great for a socially relevant laugh.
  5. Natural Family Living–Geared toward moms, this is a great page with updates on raising green, healthy kids.
  6. Savvy Vegetarian–Constantly posting great looking recipes that can help answer the question of what’s for dinner.
  7. Moms Who Need Wine–Mothering humor for those of us who fail at perfection.

Happy Tuesday! See you Thursday for Practical Crafts.

XO

A

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Matters of Life and Death, Part 5 (Conclusion)

I present the conclusion of the exercise created by Melanie Rae Thon (with the help of Anna Deavere Smith and Natalie Goldberg). Excellent for memory work or bridging the gap from autobiographical to fiction writing. Please Parts 1-4.

Part 5: Endless Translations

For brave hearts! This final step is meant to help you burst through all the limits of your personal experience, to begin traveling in the space between the self and the other, to gain enough flexibility, compassion, and curiosity to move in both directions (i.e. to sometimes begin in your own experience, and sometimes begin by focusing your loving attention on people who seem strange or terrifying).

ENDLESS TRANSLATIONS

Now you have a fictionalized account of a true event. But maybe a weird thing happened. Maybe the fiction feels more true because you’ve changed the details or people in order to capture the emotional experience. This almost always happens for me. It’s the magic of making fiction.

It’s why I do it. I want to understand my people and their stories, and sometimes the simple “facts” get in the way.

If you still don’t think this is fictional enough, try telling the story from the point of view of another character in the piece. How do the facts change?

Try altering “yourself.” Imagine the same story happening in the life of someone of the opposite sex, or someone 10 years older or younger than yourself.

Or, if you want to be more radical, take the primary emotion (guilt, sorrow, rage) and chanceallexternal circumstances. Here’s an example: I once wrote a story, mostly autobiographical, about a girl who hates her grandmother. When the grandmother dies, the girl feels responsible. The primary emotion is guilt. Years later I wrote a story about a white woman who feels responsible for the death of a slave in 1858. My intimate understanding of guilt was one of many autobiographical sources I tapped to imagine this story.

There’s no limit to the possibilities of translation. A story that’s essentially sad can be written in a comic way. A funny story can become dangerous, even deadly. Keep exploring until you find the version you like best, the one that captures the story truth most vividly.

Experiment, have fun, enjoy your people. Writing is an adventure, a plunge into the unknown, a process of discovery. Take delight in the journey, and try not to worry too much about the goal.

Once again, all of these steps can be applied to fictional as autobiographical material! Every story requires some kind of research. The dramatic events in any character’s life are fused and transformed by what s/he remembers and what s/he creates through imagination.

This is not the only way to make fiction! Each writer must discover his or her own process. But this is one solid way to begin, and I offer it to you in the hopes that some of you will find it helpful (now, and in the years to come).

I first completed this process in graduate school, over the period of several weeks. At the time I had no story in mind to tell, so I really gave myself over to the exercise. Even now I return to the original writing I did during that first time. Since then I have repeated Thon’s exercise in parts and in its entirety. Every time is different, which is part of its value.

In terms of teaching, I have never used the entire process, start to finish. Instead I’ve done a stripped down version that captures the general idea. For the most part students respond well to it. We really focus on finding the grain of truth in the writing. You can create fantastical worlds, but they must have some core truth to them that will make readers care. By tapping into a truth they themselves have felt, they often carry that over into their writing. The main pitfalls are that they tend to tell instead of show, they often get too caught up in the facts, and/or they focus too much on telling the story and lose the emotion. However, these sore spots provide great teaching moments to help them improve.
Thanks to all of you who have read through this series. I truly hope it helps inspire you! Please visit again later this week for my tribute to Ray Bradbury.

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