Monday, April 29, 2013

A Risk Worth Taking?

The other day my daughter stated, "Whoa! Listen to this. When someone appears in your dreams, it's because that person misses you!." She asked if I thought this was true. After all, it had been tweeted from @MindBlowingFacts (or some such account on Twitter). "Does the world really work like that? Does that kind of energy between people exist?" Her blue eyes were wide with hope.

Wouldn't it be nice to believe that? Wouldn't it be even nicer, if it were true? Not knowing if her declaration was rooted in a new-found crush or a renewed interest in someone from her past, and not wanting to influence any possible actions on her part that might lead to some unrequited declarations of love, I opted to answer with a left-brained approach.

First of all, I told her, if you're dreaming of someone, then most likely, it is because either YOU'RE the one that misses them, or you have unfinished business, or you have a mind that tends to wander. There is absolutely no way of knowing or proving if it is also because they miss you, unless you want to explore that possibility by sounding like a crazy person when you ask them. Second of all, dreams happen all the time, but not all of them hold much meaning. For example, the other night I dreamed about a bag of Hostess powdered donuts. Yes, Hostess Donuts. They were sitting on a small round table in front of me. And an old friend in the dream was asking me if I wanted one. I am quite certain that while I miss those bite-sized powdered donuts from Hostess, it is doubtful that they were thinking of me. Even more doubtful that the old friend had any interest in my dietary preferences or inclinations at 3am.

But my daughter can be relentless. And she wasn't impressed by my donut dream. A couple hours later she said, "Guess what, Mom. Here is another Mind Blowing Fact. If you are thinking about someone all the time, then there is an 80% chance that the other person is thinking about you, too." With a laugh, she asked me what I thought about THIS tweet -- another one from her Go-To Source for Advice on Life on Twitter.

Looking at her, I wanted to proceed with my answer carefully. With some 40+ years behind me, and some 40+ years yet to be lived by her, I wondered whom she might be thinking about. If her crush were being returned. If there were any way of finding out if this Tweeted Fact might be true.

At first, I didn't have an answer to her second question. Was it likely that the main reason you thought of one person incessantly was due to the fact that they were also thinking of you? Was fate so sadistic that two people such as this would go on thinking of each other throughout the rest of their lives, being left with the other only in their thoughts? Or would one eventually break the silence and embrace the irrationality of their obsession by trying to bridge the gap and reach out? The writer in me voiced, Sounds like a great story for fiction!

As I said before, I wondered if I could shield her from the disappointment that sometimes follows from taking risks?

No. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't. In the end, my answer was simply this. "Anything is possible." Boring, I know. And not earth-shattering in any way. But I hoped it was general enough to help her nudge open the door to opportunity, if that was what she wanted. After all, I do want her take some risks. Some risks do lead to rewards.

As writers, we force our characters to take risks all the time. Should life be any different? IS life any different? In the end, I suppose not. Because in the end, fiction is written around characters that live through situations that readers can relate to; and characters face risks that readers should ultimately understand.

Does life have risk? I hope so. Although realistically, I hope it's the least foolish ones that gain our attention. Which begs the question, Where is the risk in that?

On that, all I can say is, I have absolutely no idea. I'm hoping that my daughter's Twitter friend will have the answer. And that she will be forging blissfully through life, happy with the risks she's taking on her own.

What do you think? Where lie the limits to the power of the mind? Where lie the limits to risk?

Monday, April 8, 2013

More on Classroom Visits

As a teacher, I have the benefit of being able to understand both sides of an author visit. In today's economic environment where schools have tighter budgets and fewer teaching days, providing an author visit that meets and exceeds expectations is more crucial than ever before. It's not enough to simply think that carrying the title of "I''m an author," and waving your books is all you'll need to bring your audience to their knees in rapt attention. And in today's multi-media, multi-tasking world, unless you are a professional storyteller, the reality is that being just yourself by yourself probably won't be enough. Plus, it may not be enough to entice an invitation in the first place.

So, how do garner those invitations? Here are a few ideas.

1) Identify your target audience. i.e., what grades would you like to visit? What age do you write for? What group size would you like to speak to? You'll want to specify this in your contact materials.

2) Identify the genre that your books fall into, and identify some of the other books/authors that will you be talking about in your presentation (aside from your own). Some schools are leary of bringing in authors that view school visits simply as a means to sell books. Your visit should go beyond this goal and include an obvious agenda of wanting to inspire young readers and writers as a whole, coupled with the realization that not every student will be a fan of your genre and writing style (and that's okay).

3) Identify the core curriculum that your presentation supports. Exploring your state's core curriculum can help you identify how your presentation will supplement educational requirements. For example, my book, Little Red Riding Hood, Into the Forest Again, which is a fractured fairy/folktale, fits in with the 3rd grade language arts program that strives to cover fables, folktales and story structure. Therefore, part of my presentation includes having the students identify the elements that make my book a fractured folktale. A google search of Core Curriculum for your state will bring you to web sites where this information is available. An example is shown here (Scroll down to page 11 in the pdf to see where the curriculum gets into specifics.)

4) Provide a suggested schedule that is streamlined, specific, and succinct. For example, if the heart of your presentation is 20 minutes, follow it with 10 minutes allotted for questions and/or a writing exercise.

5) Keep the duration of your program age-appropriate. For example, it's difficult for some kindergartners to keep their attention glued to the reading of even one story; so these types of visits will be shorter and more engaged. Actually, engagement for any age-group is a must, but for kindergartners, allow no more than 5 minutes to read your story, followed by 3 minutes for questions, and then 10 minutes, if class time allows for coloring a related picture or putting together a story puzzle. Judy Torres, author of Duck, Duck, Moose and other picture book titles, follows the reading of her story with a sing-a-long, where she teaches the students a simple repeating and rhyming song that centers on her book and its characters.

6) Incorporate multimedia. This could include an accompanying power point or book trailer, even if it's not your own, to highlight a discussion on plot elements or theme, for example. Again, use of everything, including multimedia, should be used as an educational tool, not simply a sales pitch.

7) Above all, don't forget to find connections with the students you are visiting. Use student volunteers to help show specific concepts, such as demonstrating or acting out certain characteristics that the students would then need to put into words in an interesting way. Ask them what they like to read and write. Ask them who their favorite characters are and why. Plant the seeds for discussion and do a little digging, if you have to, with your own questions to get them thinking about writing style and the infinite varieties that are published.

Showing an interest in the students around you, rather than showcasing only your own work, is the greatest gift you can bring into a classroom setting. The best outcome will be that your inspiration will set the students moving forward with giant moon-steps as they pursue, develop, and share their own stories.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Fixing Up Fridays with Indie Music, an Indie Book, and Darn Good Food

My daughter brought an acoustic version of Neyo's "Let Me Love You" to my attention today, which we found covered by a lot of different artists on YouTube. Here is one my favorites that combines two songs together: "Let Me Love You" by Neyo and "Diamonds" by Rihanna. Can't go wrong with this one! It's sung by Indie Artist Maria Zouroudis.

As for the week's latest book suggestion, I'm not much of a romance reader, but I have been lured into buying a few titles lately for my Kindle. Here is one that I am about to dive into: Sand Dollar by Indie Author Sebastian Cole.  Basically, boy meets his soul-mate girl, but circumstances keep them apart. The boy is introduced to us on his death bed, yet, we don't know if his life ever brought him back to that soul mate girl, whom he could never stop thinking about. Could be an interesting read! It's earned an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.

Now for the food.

I can't promise that it is anything very good for you, other than the wee bits of vitamin C provided in the form of lemon zest. But if you like sponge cake with a bit more heft, this may be the treat for you:
Railroad Cakes.

This recipe is taken from my latest cookbook: From Rivets and Rails, Recipes of a Railroad Boarding House Cookbook, which is based on the cookery journal written by my great grandmother, Elizabeth Shade Kennedy. She ran a boarding house for railroad workers on the NY and Pennsylvania Railroad line. If you'd like to learn more about the connections between American cooking from the early 1900s and the expansion of the American railroads, I highly recommend you grab a copy of my cookbook! Chef John Malik at the Huffington Post book reviews says, "It’s a delightful slice of Americana and a glimpse into the life of a hard working cook at a time in our country’s history when self-sufficiency was a matter of life and death."

Railroad Cakes

1 cup white sugar
1 cup flour (or more to make batter thick like cookie dough)
3 eggs
butter, the size of an egg
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
zest of 1 lemon
a little milk (as in a smidgen, or drop, (not much!) )

Mix these up and bake at 350 degrees until done. Since these cakes were meant to be individual cakes that were commonly purchased from vendors at the railway stations, I baked them in small tart pans. This recipe gave six 4-inch cakes. Delish!