a writer's journey as a reader

Historically speaking, dancing, writing…

When I received my manuscript comments  I was a bit taken by one particular sentence from the agent. She seemed to hesitate at reading about a family who had traditional roles: women in the kitchen, menfolk working outside. She didn’t think it would be readily accepted. Maybe I hadn’t emphasized in my pitch that the setting is 1860s gold rush era or maybe she missed that point. Back then, women and men did function in traditional roles. Yes, we like those Annie Oakley stories, where someone steps out and does some gender bending, yet history is chock full of regular people in regularly expected roles.

I shelf my manuscript comments, but then another historical noticeable comes up on my radar.

Instead of deleting the email, I decide to take up the offer of teaching a trial rhetorical analysis lesson with Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams”–yes, it was indeed a hit with my students. What proved interesting was the backlash Swift received for marketing a perceived colonialism video since the cast and crew were about 99% white on location in Africa. And here I thought she was channeling Elizabeth Taylor ala 1950s.

Once again historically the setting details were correct in that whites dominated the fifties Hollywood scene and the video would not look quite right having a multi-ethnic set.

Another recent creative endeavor got me thinking that we are becoming either enlightened to the point of oversensitivity or we’re becoming very confused. I refer to Hamilton the musical. The cast is anything goes in terms of ethnicity. And I have no problem with casting for ability rather than color, yet I see this reluctance towards accepting history as it really was. Are we uncomfortable with defined roles as they were set down in the history books?


This loose interpretation of roles has even drifted into ballroom dancing, very traditionally gender coded: men lead, women follow. A recent TedTalk revealed this is changing into what is called “liquid lead,” which I can relate to since I never know what I’m doing when dancing and end up inadvertently leading. The most fascinating implications at stake as women now have the option of taking the lead when on the floor. Except–I don’t think scenes like this would be the same…



As a writer I am aware of trends and it’s worrisome that to write a story set in a time period where men were men and the women women, makes the publishing powers uncomfortable. Do I have to ignore history to radically shape it to fit modern audiences? Does a character have to chose an alternate path to deserve notice?

What are your thoughts, readers? Are we dissatisfied with history enough to change it to reflect our contemporary concerns in all artistic endeavors–from stories to musicals to even dancing?

Reading Challenge Update

I nearly doubled my Good Reads Challenge goal and with the year starting to approach closer to the  deadline I have been wondering if I overreached my ability to meet it. A bit of hubris snuck in with my page turning, I suppose.

Well, those good folks at Good Reads have been quietly watching my progress and sent me an encouragrment:


2016 Reading Challenge

Hi Cricket,

The end of the year is fast approaching—let’s check in on your 2016 Reading Challenge.Congrats, you’re ahead of schedule!

You’ve read 86 of 101 books. (85% complete)


Pages Read




Average Rating

I just might make my 2016 Reading Challenge after all. With some quick calculations and the Good Reads Count Down calendar, I have 15 more books to go in 77 days. Can she really and truly make it?

Anyone rooting for me?

Hey–I’m open to suggestions. Click on the link above and check out my titles. See one missing you think I just absolutely must have? I actually get most of my reading suggestions from my blogster Book Boosters.

Anyone else in the midst of a reading challenge ?

Paper or Plastic?

“I would rather have a hard copy, if that’s okay.” This is from a new AP recruit wanting the summer reading text How to read Literature Like a Professor in book format rather than the PDF version I found on-line. Curious, I asked why. Her response? She had difficulty connecting with the on-screen type. Not what I expected from eyes way younger than mine. I, of course spout off about how much I prefer hard copies to e-copies as well because of my need to connect sensory-wise and as I’m talking, I’m flipping pages and smelling them and listening to them and when I finally notice my student nodding and edging toward the door, like she’d really like to leave because I’m a looney lady (more than one student has commented on me being a bit crazy), I hand over the book and wish her a great summer.

I am a looney lady when it comes to books–hence the Book Booster thing I do. Books aren’t just a pasttime or a channel of information, they are an introduction. Ahem, a new quote from moi:

A book in hand is a friendship in the making.

Beyond making a new friend, there is joy, a celebration of the senses holding a book in hand. I’m talking honest to goodness REAL paper-in-hand book. I do so enjoy paper, maybe that’s why I always answer “paper” instead of “plastic” at the store. Perhaps it’s because paper comes from trees and trees come from the earth and holding a book bound in paper produces more connection to the world around me.  I have little or no sensory connection to my plastic e-reader even though it’s a book in hand.  Oh oh–I feel the looney lady coming on and before I go on about trees, books and their connection to the world and mankind, here is my list of reasons for preferring a book of paper when reading:

1. Smell: that inky pungency stimulates my imagination to anticipation

2. Hearing: the flip-swish of pages signifies my involvement and commitment and helps me to further escape

3. Taste: no, I don’t lick the book, but reading a paper book whets my appetite for setting aside time to open up the pages to fall into another time, another place, another person’s story

4. Touch: there has got to be a study out there concerning the connection between the tactile aspect of reading and brain synapse when communing with a book–I am so much more involved when I am holding the book instead of just listening to it by audio or thumbing up a new screen. Think about this: glass does not conduct electricity, which means no synapse boost. Plus, when I see my book lying on the bed, table, chair it beckons me to pick it up, so there must be a some kind of magnetism involved.

5. Visual: perhaps the most notable because of the cover has all those colors and interesting bits to feed my eyes and mind, and then, of course, there all those illustrations and photographs and drawings sometimes waiting inside.

I’ve shown this video before, yet it definitely illustrates the visual appeal of books.

Reading is definitely a sensory experience for me.  What about you?  Paper or plastic?

September Reading Round Up

Now that school is up and running my life, I’ve noticed a downturn in my reading. It’s difficult to cozy up with a book when a set of papers is calling from down in the depths of my carry all: “Grade me.” Guilt has a persistent voice.

Here are the slim highlights of last month:

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend 

I had hopes of really liking it and saved it for my last hurrah Labor Day weekend read. It began with great promise with its unusual beginning of naïve Swedish tourist, a funeral, and a quirky smalltown. The premise that a good book solves a multitude of problems sweetened the deal. All went well until mushy middle syndrome overtook the plot. I finished it, but my amore had definitely lessened by the last chapter.

Running out of means to find DE Stevenson novels, which are not as readily available as hoped, I’ve turned to another former favorite: Mary Stewart. Our library has several of her titles. They are quite the study in character, red herrings, and setting. Here’s one title I especially enjoyed:

My Brother Michael


Reminiscent of her Moon Spinners, which also is a Disney movie with Haley Mills–highly recommend.

Greek scenery, really bad guys, wonderful good guys, lots of action, hints of romance. Perfect weekend read.

I Capture the Castle


 Smith of 101 Dalmations fame has quite a following for this little gem. It quietly sneaks up and embraces the reader with his odd litttle charm.  A family  comprised of distinctly creative individuals have fallen from a once prosperous lifestyle into despairing poverty. This seems like an juxtaposed statement since they do live in a castle, after all. Their surroundings reflect their wealth of spirit, not their income.

Odd, lovable family, hilarious hijinks, misunderstandings, memorable characters, the perfect ending. A book which sets my faith into the fact that some of the really good reads come from another era.


Both my sophomores and seniors are in the midst of studying poetry. I like poetry. Lots.

Image result for i like poetry tshirt

image: zazzle

However, I understand the deeper truth in the popular saying:

Truth is like poetry..most people hate poetry.

I suppose this statement is saying truth is found in poetry, yet while most people desire the truth, they really don’t want to hear it. Connect this epiphany to poetry. If poetry represents truth, then people don’t want to hear or read poetry.

Welcome to my world.

(Most of) my students don’t want to hear, read, and most of all, study poetry. I make them anyway. Yes, I’m that kind of teacher.

I do try to make it a bit more fun, (after all I did dress up like Mary Poppins for homecoming week) by adding clips and such that discuss the importance of poetry or I present poetry in an paradigm shifting way.

Do you know that if you write poetry you could become a famous award winning writer?

Beyond analyzing and writing responses to poetry, I have students create their own poetry. Here is a mini-poetry workshop from my Creative Writing I files:

1.Pick a word or short phrase for the first line
2.Add a word or phrase to it for the second line
3.Take the ending line to create the consecutive lines, adding a new word or phrase each time until poem reaches a satisfactory conclusion.

In the garden there is a tree.
And in that tree is thinking spot.
And in that thinking spot are my daydreams.
And in my daydreams are pathways.
And on those pathways are choices to make.
And from those choices to make I will decide.
And from those decisions will become my destiny.

And from that destiny I will live my life.

And I will live my life always dreaming, always thinking.
I am thankful for trees.

I have
I have a
I have a nap
I have a nap hiding
I have a nap hiding in
I have a nap hiding in my
I have a nap hiding in my backpocket
I have a nap hiding in my backpocket and
It found me.

Take any word or concept or topic and define through a mix or poetical flow and concrete definition to better understand what it is all about, especially on a personal level.

Grammar is the spine
Of prose and all we know
That is called language,
Which can be spoken
Or written down.
And all those nouns
And verbs
And prepositions
And modifiers that often dangle
And nominative clauses that
Sometimes tangle
Our understanding
Are the vertebrae.

And without our vertebrae
There would be not enough spine
To stand us up.

So it is with language.


All of us carry secrets.  Some should stay hidden and some can be released. Secrets Revealed poems help ease the burden of confession in a light-hearted manner.  Secrets can be real (“I ate the last piece of cake and blamed it on my cousin Bobbie”) to creative (“I am Captain America’s favorite niece”)

Chocolate Cake Ache
It’s said secrets nestle in our stomach like tasty morsels,
yet, I don’t think that can be said for stolen chocolate cake.

For there it sat like a lump,
like a great big chocolate bump
of guilt.

Oh, it was tasty: fork-licking, hit-the-spot, lick-my-lips, glad-I-ate-it tasty,
until the realization settled down on top of that confectionary indiscretion.

“The last piece?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe Bobbie.”
“Yeah, I think she did.”

For undisclosed penance I passed on dessert that night.
And I do like tapioca pudding.

“Sure, Bobbie—you can have mine.”

Unexpressed confession, even though it is rerouted through unexplained acts
of sudden generosity,
does not relieve the ache of stolen chocolate cake.

This I know.

This is a poem of exploring matters contained within, or underneath, or beyond something everyday, or even unexplained.  Choose something to explore and decide which direction of discovery to investigate: will it be to dive inside to see what makes it tick, or will it be a burrowing sense of exploration where layers are removed and examined, or does the exploration go beyond known boundaries?

Inside all poems
Is a question
And inside this question
Is a quest

The poet rides out

on a journey to find
the meaning
or an answer–
or maybe to hear
an echo of reply
from one who seeks
an answer to the
same question quest.

is not a place I like to be
places especially not chosen
would be:

underneath our house–
dank earth of spider habitat
bug haven and perhaps where
the neighbor’s cat did hide and done died.

No, not under the house.

Not under the sea either–
All fishiness, and no way to breathe.
Sharks and stingrays and eels—oh, my…

And thanks, but no for caves.

In fact, anywhere it’s dark.
Dark is underneath and where the light
Cannot be–

You’ll not find me.


The idea is to write with imagery and detail in a way that it places the reader in that particular moment of time.  Actual photographs can be chosen for inspiration as can a reflective moment.  Employing the senses, playing with figurative language such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, internal rhyme can help create a moment rich with remembrance.

The crowd swelled, receded, and swirled
Around you

Yet you did not pay heed

To the push and jostle
Of the nameless faces.

Anticipation’s scent lingered in the air.

Shuffle and adjustment of frustration, excitement
Mingled and settled
As the one face in a million became spotlighted
As he traversed the passenger-smoothed steps

Into your arms.

Lost and Found Lists

As a Book Booster I am always looking forward to my next book. I might be in the middle of a page-turner, yet I am anticipating starting a new one. Voracious reading habits are difficult to taper. A Book Booster’s motto: a book in hand is almost as wonderful as the next two queuing on the list. You can see it has disadvantages towards t-shirt and coffee mugs availability potential.

Some people maintain a physical TBR with a stack or two of titles awaiting their turn. Living in a little house and being a confirmed Tidy, piles of books to be read offends my need for visual order. Besides all those unread books would whisper to me as I passed them everyday: read me, read me, read me. The guilt and desire of setting those words to their intended task would cause me to get absolutely nothing else done. I would become a confirmed book lady, but at least the neighbors wouldn’t have reasonable grounds for complaint. Books don’t meow and smell.

morguefile image: I read. I read. I red.

My solution is the a tech-smart list. I began adding titles in the Notes section on my iPhone about three years ago. Quite handy for visits to the library. Pop open the screen, scroll down the list, check what’s available, check it out, and check it off the list. The list grew to include all sorts of delicious titles waiting to be devoured: classics meaning to get to, bestsellers, recommendations, research needs, why-nots. Oh, it was lovely.

Yes, past tense. Did you know there is no retrieve for deleting a notes item? And no, I did not have it seeded in a Cloud. And no, I did not realize I had deleted The List. By stuffing my phone in my back pocket without clicking it off, the possibility of why I shouldn’t do this came too late. Yes. This realization came after realizing this is what had happened. The List is cyber gone.

Lesson learned: valuable information, such as TBRs should not be kept in such a flimsy format.

Yes, devastation ensued. There are no Hallmark sympathy cards for deceased TBR lists. Chocolate does make for a decent condolence though.

There is a upside to this sad sharing. I discovered an unrealized TBR.

All this time I had unknowingly been creating an impressive TBR in my Good Reads account every time I clicked “Want to read.” Delight replaced despair. There were over a hundred entries, some from my old list, but many, many new ones. In color, with access to info and reviews. The upgrade was akin to going from enjoying M&Ms to savoring a Linder 70% dark cocoa content bar of chocolate.

If Good Reads goes down we are all in deep yogurt and will be concerned with much more than which book to read next.

What’s your TBR list look like?

Are you a book stacker or a list maker?

August Reading Round Up

Whilst wrapping up my last two weeks of summer break I dove into a variety of books, ranging from a balcony sun fun page turner to a couple of mistrials to a classroom textbook.

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

Image result for nine coaches waiting

Mary Stewart knows how to rock a mystery romance. We have castles, Machiavellian types, Byronic heroes, and of course, a plucky heroine. Fun read. Just the page turner I needed.

Noah’s Compass and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

Image result for noah's compassImage result for dinner at the homesick restaurant

Having had Anne Tyler on my TBR list for some time I thought I would give her a trial run, in hopes of finding a new author. Didn’t happen. Both books featured characters that I found so pathetic I could not muster empathy in any way or hope to. I grimaced my way through both. Dysfunctional families are not my idea of a relaxing time. Not one character in either book had a shred of normalcy. If you are a Tyler fan, let me know if there is another book on the shelf worth  trying.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Image result for blink gladwell

Gladwell seems to be a buzzword when it comes to paradigm shifting. Teaching AP Language for the first time means I need to look into and at non-fiction in a different way. Blink definitely got me thinking about I think and I think I will consider it as a textbook for the class.

Now that school is underway my leisure reading is slowed down miserably. I have set my GoodReads Challenge at 101 this year and I’m just at the 80% range. We’ll see if I can squeeze in some time in the next couple of months.


Bard 400: Shakespeare Club

The continuance of celebrating the 400 year passing of Shakespeare continues–I hope it just keeps continuing.

My mission this month is to convince high school students to join my Students for Shakespeare Club. I’m doing this not only because I want students to know the amazingness of Billy Bard, I’m also promoting the club because I don’t want to lose $400.

You see many years ago a batch of drama students formed the Students for Shakespeare Club so they could perform the Scottish play at the town’s local theatre. It was a success. Money was generated from tickets, the students graduated, and the club somewhat languished until it became the starting point for sponsoring the yearly Shakesperience drama production. Long story short: it’s well known on campus how much I like Shakespeare, so it wasn’t too difficult to convince me to take on the task of scheduling the annual play. So what’s with the $400?

Basically if a club does not use its funds it loses them–they get dispersed to other clubs. At least that’s what I understand. If I can get a few students dropping by my classroom now and then to learn Shakespeare stuff, like stage fighting, tossing out insults, arranging a flash mob, playing around with scenes, I think I’ll be safe.

Here’s my promo for the morning announcements. It was a hit.

At the homecoming carnival I provided the game of “Thou Art” which involved selecting a slip from three available baskets in order to form a personal Shakespearean compliment.  Such as: THOU ART A…


It was a hit. As a thanks for playing, participants got Smarties for becoming smarter about the Bard. Candy is always a hit.

I managed to sign up six students. I’m in business. Should I go for  stage fighting for the first meeting? Image result for stage fighting moves

Or a (maybe not so politically charged) flash mob scene?

POM: September

I thought it’s time for one of my own poems. Sky is extremely important to me. I need blue skies to function properly. Often summer begins with that blah gray overcast that has hints of promise, as if a blue sky day is hiding under its canvas.

A gesso sky

replaced the

forecast of partly 


The day remained 

blank with possibilities.

Yet, none pursued.


even oppressed,

by the sky’s indecision,

I laze through the day.

A splash of blue sky

cautiously peeps out,

rendering the pale absence,

and then the wan is replaced …


This artist captures well the aspect of gesso sky. 

Summer in, Summer Out

I began summer in the place I’m ending summer with a reverse visit switch–the same folk, different locale. 

Starting my break  with GiGi duty (grandma) proved an auspicious start to summer. After a week of reading Narnia, scoping out Portland’s playgrounds, tromping in summer rain, and frolicking in a water park I reloaded the car and headed for a self-imposed writer’s retreat, by borrowing my mom’s condo. I managed to get some solid work done on my authors and their cats manuscript.

Situated in my hometown, Mom’s condo is old (built in 1966) yet boasts amenities such as a pool and a large private balcony overlooking a tree lined creek. Veddy nice.

Quiet? Mostly, except for the occasional boomers who like to meet up in the community service parking lot next door after hours and their rap music bass rattles the sliding glass doors. Or the garbage truck on Tuesdsys at 5 a.m.

Peaceful is a better word. Most of the time it’s peaceful here. No constant interruptions of the trains, fairground events, traffic patterns, and ongoing construction behind our house, just a day’s drive away. The condo is perfect for decompressing.

I usually don’t need too much R&R after the school year ends. This year though… *sigh* It’d been one of those years where I wondered if it’s time I should retire. However, a rest up of two weeks in June and I was back planning lessons for the upcoming year. 

July spent at home with the Hubs,  I have the condo to myself after a visit my mom, who came up from Arizona to see the family, and to escape 114 degrees as well. She left, I stayed, thinking the peacefulness encountered at summer’s start would greet me once again.

I’m not quite finding it.

It must have something to do with the anticipation of school starting. Instead of reading books lounging at on the balcony in solitude, I’m polishing lesson plans. Instead of reveling in the quiet respite, I’m trying to persuade the Hubs to drop projects (even though I would really like the fact that the garage is being tidied, and the kitchen painted) and to pop in the truck and pop over. “Are you lonely?” he inquires. “Not at all,” I reply.

I believe I’m restless.

Well, dinner with my boyos and a weekend visit with my girlies and summer will be done.

It’s funny how different June can be from August in the same place.

A June donut even tastes different than an August donut.

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