Thanks to the Fox, the Dog, and the Strict Teacher

I think the long-term objective of my high school typing teacher was, “Each student will be able to type a jillion words per minute by the end of the semester.” Sitting in a basement classroom filled with ancient typewriters, I viewed that teacher as a demanding taskmaster who had no life beyond the dimly lit room where she persistently attempted to squeeze from us at least one more word per minute.

The most important sentence to master in typing was, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” This sentence is significant for typing teachers because it includes all of the letters of the alphabet. So, each day while our brains notified our fingers concerning the locations of the letters on the keyboard, we raced against the clock to correctly complete repetitions of this sentence. When the teacher rang a bell to signal that we were to stop typing, all fingers had to instantly be in the air and visible. Trying to type one additional letter after the bell meant no credit, regardless of how many points had been earned minus that small infraction.

Some of my fellow classmates aspired to get by with the grade of  “C.” This was the lowest passing grade. Our high school did not recognize “D” as a grade.  I, on the other hand, was the uptight student striving each day to beat my own record. 

Many years have passed since taking high school typing, and I now have great appreciation for that class. In public places I sometimes see people using two index fingers to enter things on their computers. It is then that I’m reminded of the brown fox, the lazy dog, and the very strict teacher. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to type my novel, which contained 77, 322 words, with two fingers. 

Current educators often argue that drill inhibits creativity. I used many drills to learn useful skills (think cursive writing, multiplication tables, sight words) and I’m actually quite creative. At least that is my assessment.

Link to novel, Child of Desire

~ Clipart from Modiru &Clipground. com


Memories of a Great Storyteller

My dad recounted things that happened in his life with great flair. As a child I loved his stories and listened attentively to every detail of his amazing adventures. 

During his younger years, Dad planned to be a boxer and was actively pursuing that path. I’m extremely happy he chose a less brain-damaging career. It was because he had such a keen mind that he remembered things in detail, and he passed those memories on to his children in the form of remarkable stories.

During the Great Depression, Dad and Mom lived in Scott County, Virginia, near the Clinch River. I fell in love with that beautiful mountain area long before I ever visited there, and it was Dad’s stories that caused me to choose that unique place as the childhood home for the protagonist in Child of Desire. No matter how many times Dad told the same stories, I was always transported to that place where, along with him, I climbed the mountainside, fished on the Clinch River, and gathered and cracked black walnuts to take to market. I could visualize the swiftly flowing, muddy water when the river flooded and feel the possessiveness of the people as they protected their little community against outsiders, of which Dad was one.

The first person other than family who read and critiqued my novel asked me when she returned it if the story was about me. The answer to that question is no, but parts of the story are “as seen through Dad’s eyes.” The descriptions of the time and place and some incidents in my novel are retellings of stories I heard as a child.

I will forever be indebted to Dad for the stories around the dinner table and during family events. 

“What will the world miss if you don’t tell your story?”  ~ Author, Donald Miller


Becoming Peter Rabbit – and others

I purchase many new books. I know, it’s an addiction, but with a Kindle I don’t even have to get out of my jammies to shop. However, I blame a magazine review for one recent purchase. Once I read their published review, I needed to find out what a little boy knew about a murder. As is the way with addictions, I was helpless and out of control.

Reading has been a part of my life since my first memories and, if a story is well written, I’m soon experiencing the emotions and feelings of the characters. During my childhood, my mother read to me almost every night and one of my favorite stories was Peter Rabbit. As Mom read to me, I experienced the emotions of Peter, an adventuresome bunny, who just couldn’t seem to be good like his sisters. Even though I had heard the story many times, each time Peter had a close call with the angry farmer, my heart beat faster and I felt anxious about his safety.

I have to believe that Beatrix Potter, as she wrote, felt what that little bunny felt each time he was discovered by, and then slipped away from, the farmer. I believe that’s what made her such a great author.  

A while back I read Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and, as I read, I experienced the emotions of being in Hank Morgan’s life-threatening situations. It would be unimaginable that Twain remained distant from his characters. I think he had to “become” the people he wrote about in order to make them and their situations real to me.

I’ve heard writers say they can’t understand why they get questions from readers, such as: “Did you pattern the main character after your life?” or “Were things that happened in the story your experiences?” I think those questions can be answered with both “yes” and “no.” No, in that, in general, a character does not reflect the author’s personality nor are the experiences the author’s reality. Yes, because the author managed to crawl inside the skin of the protagonist and live as one with that character: thinking the thoughts, experiencing the emotions, and feeling the pain and joy as each scene unfolds on the pages of the book. 

I have concluded that when the heartbeat of the author and the heartbeat of the protagonist become one, the emotions and actions of the story become real and the reader of this “real” account is transported through time and circumstances to live inside the story.

While writing Child of Desireonly a select group of people was allowed to read my story. Reviewers received the manuscript along with instructions to be honest. My first readers were family. You would have to know our family and the security we have within the ranks in order to understand the brutal honesty from my nearest and dearest.  

Following circulation to kin, I expanded my readership to include trusted friends, critiques by members of my writing group, and, finally, I ventured out into the world of writing contests.

From each of my readers, I received helpful comments and beneficial evaluations, but there is one comment that I especially cherish. Via a phone call, the reader simply said, “I laughed and I cried.” It was then that I knew I had become one with my protagonist and the feelings she had were the feelings shared by my reader.

~ Image: Royal Mint Peter Rabbit coin