cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

A Bit About (perceived) Failure


 I sometimes get frustrated about the process of becoming published. Or more to the point the lack of actual progress.

I thought when I got my first story published by Highlights, which earned me their Author of the Month award, and having same story selected as the title-lead for a Boyds Mill Press anthology, I was well on the way. Twenty-five years later I am still waiting for that stand-alone published book, that sought after accomplishment to become a reality. 

When I get yet another rejection notice or (worse) no notice at all, I wonder if that  indelible moment of “Kirkus reviewed it, Amazon carries it, found it at Barnes and Nobles moment” will actually happen. It’s not fame so much as leaving a noticable contribution. *sigh* It’s taking ever so long, and I might be collecting social security before I ever start collecting any royalty checks.

I take solace in the fact that Laura Wilder didn’t start publishing until she was past fifty. That helps. Coming across this poem that deals with failure, helps even more:

August in Waterton, Alberta
by Bill Holm

Above me, wind does its best

to blow leaves off

the aspen tree a month too soon.

No use wind. All you succeed

in doing is making music, the noise

of failure growing beautiful.

 

a typewriter at the Smithsonian. American History. Museum–it reminds to look and think about the writing process

 
So–failure, the winds of defeat, no longer  blow as noisily, the rattling of branches mocking my defeat, nay instead the sound is merely the tapping  of the conductor’s baton warming the orchestra’s performance.

Reading Challenge #44: Go Set a Watchman


‘Go Set a Watchman’ will land at No. 1 on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list. (Photo: Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

BEWARE: UNINTENDED SPOILERS AHEAD

No matter your opinion about Harper Lee’s “latest” novel, here are some stats from USA Today that can’t be ignored:

  • Publisher HarperCollins says more than 1.1 million copies of Watchman have sold so far in print, e-book and audio formats (the audio is read by Reese Witherspoon), making it the fastest-selling book in company history.
  • Barnes & Noble says Watchman‘s first-day sales surpassed that of any other adult trade fiction title, including Dan Brown’s 2009 novel The Lost Symbol, the previous record holder. B&N said it expects Watchman to be its best-selling book of 2015. (B&N declined to provide sales figures.)
  • At Amazon, Watchman has been the No. 1 best-seller in print since its release, and is also No. 1 on the Kindle Best Sellers list. (Amazon updates its lists hourly.)

I have been following most of the media blitz on Lee’s novel, ever since the hint that a second novel was “found.” I say most, simply because saturation was reached around June. I am a devoted To Kill a Mockingbird fan, who not only reads the novel once a year (or tries to), but teaches it most enthusiastically to ninth graders (when assigned that grade), so mention of another Lee novel definitely set my little heart pitter-pat.

And then the barrage of concerns floated about in the Net:

  • it was found after Lee’s sister Alice passed away
  • Lee resides in an assisted living home, having suffered a stroke, and suffering from hearing loss and macular degeneration gives speculative thought how coherent she really is
  • lawyers, editors, publishers are not in absolute agreement in exactly how the manuscript was found
  • many longtime residents, friends, and others who know Harper Lee were concerned enough about her being possibly coerced into consent that an elder abuse complaint was filed
  • not too many of my fellow Book Boosters have blogged reviews about the book

A lot of deep hmmm-ing took place over the subsequent months as I anticipated the novel’s well-awaited debut. I kept tabs on most of the articles and opinions that surfaced, although, as stated, saturation did preclude any deep dwelling, especially as speculative opinion was fast becoming redundant.

I deliberated continually of whether or not I would read the novel. My inner dilemmas ping-ponged accordingly:

  • why risk ruining the high opinion of TKAM?
  • why not risk it?–there will forever be the wanting to know.
  • read it and determine an opinion before others ruin the reading experience.
  • why should I let others sway since they usually don’t?

And so it went, until finally in June I called up the local library and asked to be put on the waiting list. I figured it would be December before it would be my turn. I received the book two days after it became available. Okay, just because it’s on hold doesn’t mean I have to read it. As I checked it out I noticed no other date stamps.

“I’m the first one to read it!”

“We ordered a stack of them. You’re the first to read this one.” Okay, Earth to special patron status. But at least it was in my hand. I asked my library kindreds if they had read the book.

“I had it in hand, and decided not to.” A non-com shrug from the other librarian. Great. I’m really in quandary now. Then again, who knows when I will read it once school starts. Summer is my reading season. Once school starts it’s back to reading essays.

Watchman stayed on my shelf for three days before I actually started it. A conversation with a fellow TKAMer teacher prompted me to actually open the book.

“There is a chapter that will take your breath away.”

“Which chapter?”

“You’ll know it when you see it.”

I started the book at 4:30 pm and finished it by 9:30 am. I did stop to sleep. Barely. And yes, the chapter mentioned did take my breath away. I knew it when I saw it.

So, as I read Watchman I jotted down notes:

  • For those who believed Harper Lee’s gift to the literary world, actually world in general, was a one-shot wonder–then this novel proves them wrong. Lee is an amazing craftsman, especially if this was a draft and not a final manuscript.
  • this novel stands on its own merit
  • the shadows of TKAM flit about the periphery, yet are only fireflies of reminiscence and are not needed to provide the illumination to the contents of Maycomb
  • Lee’s writerly brilliance shines in mundane moments, such as the Coffee episode, where she compares the bits of conversational banter to the scales of a piano as she played hostess with refreshments
  • Lee totally had me scrambling on more than one vocabulary word and allusion reference: Asquithian? Arriviste? Childe Rostand?
  • Highlight passages include:
    • “Although it was four hours away, she could hear her aunt’s sniff of disapproval.” (in reference to wearing slacks instead of a dress when arriving to Maycomb)
    • Uncle Jack’s explanation of the Civil War as related to the bubbling pot of politics and social norms being upsided in the South during the fifties/sixties

And this brings me to the SPOILER ALERT

  • There are issues that are still relevant fifty years later which aren’t being fully understood.

Here goes:

Being a Northern girl by way of the Pacific Northwest I am clueless about the South, and from time to time have to get edumacated by the MEPA, who was raised in the South during the fifties and sixties. He doesn’t read TKAM or The Help–he lived it.

One of the biggest concerns about Watchman: Atticus is portrayed as a racist.

This is where I heartily disagree. At one point, Jean Louise, follows her father and almost-fiance into a Council meeting. It’s just short of a Ku Klux Klan gathering. Jean Louise is physically sick that the two men who are most significant in her current life are lapping up racial rantings. Her world is shaken and she just about wipes her feet of Maycomb to leave her childhood home forever. Uncle Jack sets her straight with his quick synopsis of why the South went to war.

The book is powerful in its advocacy of accepting, not just tolerating, people for being people. Jean Louise is so disillusioned by what she sees as her father being a hypocrite she can’t abide looking at him in the face. She realizes she was raised to be color blind, she sees someone, not their race. Powerful stuff.

When she finally has her showdown with her father, she verbally berates him for undoing all that she has learned from him. She upbraids Henry, her hopeful fiance, as well. What she learns, and what Lee provides us, is a peek behind the curtain when it comes to Southern way of thinking. Atticus states he attended a KKK meeting because he wanted to know who was behind the sheets. Henry says he can do more good if he garners the trust of the people who know him. Maycomb is Maycomb. Basically what is being said is the time-honored strategy of getting inside the system to change the system. While it appears as racism to Jean Louise, it’s really savvy coping strategy. 

The MEPA reiterated Henry’s explanation to Jean Louise: to live in a Southern town means getting along with the town, even if comes across as being in alignment with their opinions.

When reading all the negative reactions to the book, I think readers are missing that point. Atticus is not a racist; he is a realist. He sees what the South is and where it needs to go and how it will get there. He still believes in justice, he still believes in equality–he believes in waiting. He is still Atticus. He hasn’t changed. Jean Louise has, and she acknowledges that painful discovery.

Overall, I am impressed with Watchman. It’s a stand alone novel, and I can’t help wonder what would have happened if it had been released earlier, about fifty years earlier. I have thoughts on that, and might expand on what just might be a conspiracy theory.

If you are on the fence about reading Watchman, I suggest you jump down and get a copy and read it for yourself. If you have read it, I hope you will dialogue with me.

Do you believe Atticus comes across as a racist, or is he actually a realist?

It’s Howdy Doodle Time


I finally possess a Mike Allegra doodle. It’s a dandy doodle. I’ve been working on a cow joke book (for heifer and heifer, it seems), and figured the best way to get it published is to have it illustrated. I almost had a publisher, but part of the package was providing an illustrator. Well, that opportunity evaporated, so I am still trying to market my herd of cow jokes. Possibilities are looking better since I now have a sample doodle and a willing illustrator–now I need to find a willing publisher.

Kids love jokes and riddles. I know. I have an eight year grand kiddo who loves telling me the same knock knock banana/orange jokes (you know the one). If banana jokes are funny, cow jokes are dairy funny, it’s finding an editor or agent who thinks so as well. Now that I am equipped with my doodle I feel more confident venturing forth in my quest for publication, and feel it won’t be udder folly this next go round.

I claim the joke. Mike Allegra claims the artwork. You decide who is the more talented.

What do you call a cow who is a thief?
A Hamburglar!

Okay, maybe the doodle is better than the joke. Now that I have Mike’s doodle to accompany my submission I am feeling this book will become a published winner–it might just become outstanding in its field.

Yes, you too, can gain this confidence with your very own Allegra Doodle. I suggest you secure one sooner than later. Since I have yet to win one through his ever popular doodle contests, I have sought other avenues, and if you are unable to get your entry slip drawn, and need an Allegra doodle in your life, then I suggest you contact him.  And, yes, his talent goes beyond cows.

BONUS: there is dairy funny pun-off happening between Sarah W and I. Mike wants to know who the winner will be. It would behoove you to take a look at our witticisms–look in the comments section.

BookMarks 


You know you are a book nerd when you start collecting photos and misc tidbits about books. Here a few I found cluttering up my files:

  Do you know the French have a word specific to their country addressing booksellers? I came across the word Bouquinistes in a review and became intrigued. The photo and info are both from Wikipedia.
Bouquinistes are small bookstores in Paris, on each side of the River Seine. They are green boxes made ​​of wood. They were classified as a World Heritage Site in 1991. The word bouquinistes is used only in Paris. The word comes from bouquin, book in French slang.

Gluten-free is the new buzz in product promotion. I spotted a sign signifying a snack as being gluten-free: an apple? Really. I did have to stop and click when I came across this sign in a used books store display window: 

 
Another slice of book interest, a Kindle ad in a magazine: 

 
Have you come across a free library tucked away somewhere expected? I discovered this one situated in a quiet little neighborhood. It looked child-centered. How fun it would to be a kid and check for new books or exchange ones out! 

   
What about you, dear readers–any fun, interesting, wonderful noteworthy bookish bits to share?

‘Tis No Place Like Home


I learned through my Washington DC trip that seven days of Hamlet makes one weak. *ka-boom* Seriously, between the humidity, challenging schedule, walking briskly everywhere, and trying to eat healthily on a restaurant diet, I was glad to return home. I am ever so glad to have experienced Summer Academy, yet Dorothy got it right when she told Auntie Em, “Oh, there’s no place like home.” I freely admit to being a creature of known comforts such as my closet, refrigerator, and favorite health food store. 

Before I move on to my next big event of this summer–an AP Conference (no planes or time zones involved), I want to close out my Hamlet KWL chart: my What I Know, What I Want to Know, What I Learned.

What I Know

  • I already knew Hamlet was my favorite Shakespeare play, hence the  incentive to apply to the Folger Summer Academy.
  • Once I accepted, I knew there was going to be some personal discomfort ranging from dipping into the savings account to flying all by my lonesome and finding my way around megatropolis east coast city.
  • I knew I would would be pushed out of my social comfort zone. Gregarious hermits tend to exhibit coping problems at intensive social events.

What I Still Need To a Know

  • I still need to figure out how to assimilate all the wealth of information into my curriculum.
  • I need to know how I can return to the Folger Institute without having to fly there.
  • I would like to know how I can express my enthusiasm and wonder of Shakespeare to not only my students, but also to my friends and family, without appearing as a crazy English teacher. I am terming myself as a Bardinator, someone who appreciates Shakespeare to the point of edginess.

What I Learned–that’s a blog entry unto itself

  • I learned I get crazy before a big trip, worrying and anticipating about details that become trivial and insignificant in the grand plan.
  • I painfully learned when it comes to packing–go for the wheeled suitcase. The weight of a strapped bag increases significantly with each change of planes.
  • I can learn to adapt to most situations.
  • I also learned hotel pillows are never as comfortable as the ones at home.
  • I continually learn about selecting common sense over fashion sense, especially when walking in the rain.
  • I also continually learn that meeting new people and exchanging ideas is an integral component of a fulfilling life.

 For your viewing enjoyment–a wee bit of our Hamlet week: 
NOTE: thanks to the absolutely incredible staff at both the Folger Education Center and at the Folger Library for their hospitality, expertise, generosity, and impartation of how thrilling it is to live and breathe Shakespeare.

Cricket’s Hamlet Adventure: Last Day–Flights and Angels


All really great things come to an end. Today was the last day of the Summer Academy. The day consisted of presenting our projects and acting out our scenes. What amazing projects the talented  participants  provided! They ranged from exploring the historical context of the ghost to women playing Hamlet (Sarah Bernhardt) to studying how Hamlet has been visually represented in old illustrations–and so much in between. I am humbled to have been part of this cavalcade of ingenuity. Since these 29 teachers are from all parts of the continental US, you  can rest assured quality education is still very much and profoundly around.

The second highlight involved performing. We only had two practices but some people managed to memorize their lines! Our group was assigned Act Five and we stylized it as a cocktail party. Hamlet played some melancholy blues on the stage piano and when Laertes walked into the party they fought with the cocktail swords. It brought down the house. I played my Horatio a bit too heartfelt. In retrospect, I would have camped it up considering my BFF was basically a lush and tended towards rash actions with deterimental consequences. 

What was really cool was the fact that we acted on America’s first Shakespearean stage.  Yup, my first and last stage Bard play appearance (maybe) took place on an authentic stage. The film crew did not return, which took a lot of pressure off our already ramped up nervousness.

Last events included food, fun, and fellowship–the best parts of the day.

Tomorrow I head back to (still) hot (but not muggy) Northwest. 

See ya around, DC. The rest will be a much anticipated silence from the continual hum of a great city. 

twice a day I passed the Capitol–wow!

Trivia: Folger broke tradition and kept the reliefs low so that people could see them. Each represents a Shakespearean play.

Cricket’s Hamlet Aventure: Day Six–Reading Room Remiss


Today was our last day in the reading room. The Folger Reading Room is the heartbeat of the Folger Shakespeare Library. This is where one goes to seek information, conduct research, and revel in past history. Yes, the majority of the collection is centered around Shakespeare, yet the library contains other information that relates to Shakespeare such as politics or manners for the time period.

I couldn’t help but notice the regulars that spend ALL day researching. I imagine we disrupted their mojo a bit this week as we whispered and bustled about in our scant time among the stacks. I asked one gentleman what his project concerned, expecting some dry thesis point about act three of Richard III. Nope. He was working on an Irish murder mystery that took place in medieval times and has been gathering background on law, setting, etc. His notebooks were overflowing. I wasn’t clear if he was gathering the material with the intent of writing a novel. I kind of hoped I was witnessing a renowned writer at work. We were unable to continue our conversation as I had to hustle back to Hamlet School. Here are a few memories of the Reading Room:

 

so much to learn in such little time

  

on the left is a “snake” which holds the page down –it’s a lead string

  

as Hamlet said so well:”Words,words,words”

  

plus drawings that bring it into better focus

  

the interior is richly Tudored and the stained glass at the end is Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man

 
I will definitely miss the Reading Room. Tea Time was served promptly at 3 o’clock every day. Cheerio!

Cricket’s Hamlet Adventure: Day Five–it’s reigning wonder and frightening


Aah–midpoint. Two more days to go and I graduate from Hamlet school. I just gotta polish up my project and present it and practice our group scene and perform it. The wonder (at least part of it) and the frightening is due to the film crew returning on Friday to film our presentations and performances. Forsooth!  

I believe this is the Supreme Court building which is in the neighborhood of the Folger Library

 One of the lesson cappers we use is “I observed…” For example:

  • I observed there are some shoes that definitely cannot be worn in the rain
  • And I observed when necessity calls for walking barefoot in the rain it’s lovely that DC neighborhood sidewalks are primarily brick

I finally managed to get into the LoC reading room.My Intention was to locate my Marvin Composes a Tea Highlights anthology and snap a photo of it; however, NO photographs are allowed in the RR. I was content looking at my LoC call number on the screen with the LoC RR in the background.

The LoC bookstore actually had more people in it than the RR. I could have spent HOURS deciding whst to buy. Alas, I had to hurry and get back to Folgering since I snuck away on my lunch break. I snagged a few buttons, yet wished for more time and a larger suitcase. Really, really cool stuff beckoned from the shelves. Okay-I’ve just talked myself into going back. Good thing I have leftovers from dinner because I will be skipping lunch again.

All my adventuring after hours has caught up to me and I am determined to go to bed before midnight tonight. I even slept in until 8 am today! *gasp*

“Perchance to sleep, to dream–ay there’s the rub.”            

Cricket’s Hamlet Adventure: Day Four–LOC, Death by Folger, and Abe


Waking up at 3 a.m. either means I am not adjusting well to the time difference or I am so excited about another day of Shakespeare I can’t wait to get going. It’s probably both. Today was especially exceptional. 

I did manage to go back to sleep after working on my lesson plan that is due on Friday, but I still woke up early. The problem is museums and such don’t open until 10 a.m. and Folgerizing begins at 9 a.m. I did manage to get 15 minutes of looky-looking at the Library of Congress. Here–ooh with me: 

outside entrance

  

ceiling

  

stairs leading up to gallery overlooking reading room

 
Amazing, eh? I applied for my reading card on-line and needed to pick it up. Unfortunately, that was at the Madison building across the street and I was now out of time. Nicholas Cage made it look way too easy popping into the LOC to check out

books during his National Treasure stint. I’m determined to spend more time there. I guess I’m foregoing lunch tomorrow at the corner bistro.

Other highlights of the day:

  • Handling rare books and diving into further Shakespeare research.
  • Practicing for our upcoming group scene–I dibbsed Horatio for Act Five, Scene Five. I have always appreciated Horatio’s quiet dedication to Hamlet.
  • Learning how to sword fight from a Shakespearan actor, and we were all filmed for an upcoming documentary highlighting the Folger Academy.
  • We then received lines and “died” on the Folger Library lawn.
  • I couldn’t end the day so easily, so I roused myself and trotted off to the Lincoln Memorial. I would probably still be walking if I hadn’t come across a DC bike rack. I rented the bike for the very reasonable amount of $8.00 for 24 hours and trekked down the path. At 9:30 at night it was teeming with tours, families, and people of all ages and walks of life. I can’t imagine what it must be like during the day. 

The Lincoln Memorial was a prime directive on my touristy checklist. When I finally got up the steps I got the wobbly little smile and that welling of tears that comes with being reunited with a dear friend. Abraham Lincoln’s memorial is beyond description. His presence is both comforting and mesmerizing. I wanted to hang out for awhile to absorb and reflect but energy, darkness, finding my way home all pressed upon me. Here are the pics: 

    
 
I did arrive back to the hotel safely, although a bit drenched with the effects of humidity. When it’s 84 degrees at 10 pm, you can imagine day temps are a bit overwhelming.

So this Hamlet quote is devoted to the DC Bike folk:

“For this relief much thanks.”

Cricket’s Hamlet Adventure: 3rd Day–of Words and Rarities


Hamlet School began today.

Up at 6:30 am I quickly rustled up a yogurt cup over at Union Station and trotted over to Folger’s with several members of our Hamlet crew. We hoped we would remember together how to find our way there. If all walked in late we couldn’t get mass detention, right?

A very full day. I will say this–reflecting upon my years of teaching Hamlet, I know I could have taught it better. That’s one reason I applied to Folger’s Hamlet Summer Academy, to learn how to engage my students. Plus, Hamlet is THE favorite of all Shakespeare’s plays. After today, I could go home today fulfilled. I picked up so many tips and ideas I might have to teach Hamlet in the fall instead of spring I’m looking so forward to revamping my unit.

After a morning of focusing on the words and ways to enliven the interest of our students, we traipsed off the  Folger Library. This is no ordinary library. In order to access the reference material we had to apply to become readers (ahem–scholars) and then receive photo IDs. No books leave the room. It’s all about Shakespeare–and then some.  

 We were taken down to a special viewing of rare books, including a First Folio, and the lease for Shakespeare’s house, meaning I touched an artifact that the Bard handled. *tingles* For a Bardinator that’s cool stuff. If you’re aren’t a Bardinator, this might not be so impresssive. 

The afternoon involved reading lines, scenes, and eventually the play. Yes, it was a long day. I wonder how our students would fare if school consisted of 12 hour days?

I bid adieu to the remains of the day, exhausted, but still hoping to see more of the sights. My body tired, my mind is whirling from all the Hamletting done today. 

“O, there had been throwing about of brains.”

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