Virginia sunshine

If every kid in America went to a place like St. Paul’s School for Girls, our country would be just fine. Wow. Genuinely nice people, teachers who know and care deeply about their students, kids who respect themselves…. and a dance studio. I spoke to all the students in grades 8-12, and in the evening, I spoke to a mostly adult audience with Annie Young, who was the driving force behind the SPEAK movie.

This morning I took a cab, a train, another train, and another train to get to Virginia. (Public transportation is one of the things I miss out in the country.) The energetic and talented Linda Holtslander picked me up and gave me a drive through the Virginia countryside on a perfect fall day. Tomorrow I’ll be speaking in various places in Loudoun County, thanks to the public library system here.

Thanks to everyone who shared their work based on the hotel room writing prompt. It was very cool reading them.

Be sure to check out the new homepage at Theo Black, my Web God, just redid it for autumn. (Not only is this guy a genius, but he has great taste in women: his wife is one of my favorite authors, Holly Black. Read her books!)

Writing prompt, prompted by my neighbors in room 315

The plan was to be asleep by 9 and be up at 5am to write.

I hadn’t figured on the people who like to roam hotel corridors at all hours and talk about boring things RATHER LOUDLY. Oh, and SLAM DOORS. They woke me up so many times I lost count. (But thanks to several trusty alarms, I got up on time and jumped right back into the pages.)

They weren’t the only busy creatures last night. There is a baby in the room next to me. The kind of baby who is feeling a little stressed by the hotel and the LOUD PEOPLE and the price of gas and lack of affordable health care and itch of a damp diaper. The baby cried a lot. And some loving person talked to her and held her and played the flute to calm her down. So it was an interesting night’s sleep. And it gave me this writing prompt.

Imagine you are in a hotel room, alone. You can’t sleep because of the snatches of conversation and activity you hear in the hall and in the rooms next to yours, above you and below you. You find yourself looking out the peep hole, and pressing your ears to the walls for more details. (Don’t press your ears to the floor. The carpet looks a little skeevey.) Write down what you hear, and what you imagine is going on. Bonus points: turn your raw material into a poem or a short story.

Holed up with my imagination and some pens

I’m in a hotel somewhere near Baltimore. (The cab driver played NASCAR racer as he drove me from the airport so I kept my eyes closed so I really don’t know where I am.) Today starts work on the next revision of my WIP. The bones seem to be in place, the editor approves of what is there so far, now it’s time to layer in more action and reflection.

I’ll be at St. Paul’s School for Girls in Brooklandville, MD tomorrow, and in Loudoun County, VA schools and libraries on Thursday. I head home for a few days on Friday.

More later. Right now the pens are begging me to pick them up.

Home long enough to do laundry

Seriously. The laundry is going. I leave again in the morning, this time for a few days in Maryland and Virginia.

Thanks to everybody at FCTE for making my trip to Orlando so rewarding. And I need to say “hi” to Kayce who sat next to me at lunch, and Laura and Erin who sat next to me on the plane down to Florida. I hope you guys had a good weekend, too. (And yes, a private note to Erin’s English teacher – she really did meet me. How can I prove that? Because I read her piece about showboarding in Utah. I liked it a lot…. so did you. I saw the comments.)

I’ll try to post from the road this week, I promise. Before I go, a question from Brooklyn.

Jessica writes: … i read catalyst and i remember kate said that a senoir had tried to rape melinda does that mean no one found out that he really had raped her before school started? and it also said melinda pressed charges but andy didn’t go to jail would melinda be ok with the fact that he didn’t go to jail?

In my mind, he was charged with the second attack, the one in the closet. He was not charged with the rape that occurred nine months earlier. And no, Melinda, would not be happy with the fact that he did not go to jail. But you better believe that having found the strength to speak up, she will press charges immediately if anyone ever hurts her again. And so should all you guys out there reading this.

When a teacher assigns a creative writing project…

Max writes: I am in a GT class for Reading/English at school and today we learned that we have to participate in three different programs that involve using our creative writing skills. While I am very excited for this oppurtunity, I am also a little nervous. The due dates are October 25, 31,and November 2nd. To me, this is a very short time. I understand that a page or two is not that long, but I don’t know where to begin. Did you ever participate in writing events when you were younger? I looked in your biography and it just spoke of your interest in foreign cultures and the Haiku poem style. I was just wondering if there is more depth to it. And, would you maybe have some advice for rushing into a story and coming out with good work?

When I was in high school I wrote dreadful, depressed poetry for the school literary magazine and I was the editor of the sports page of the school newspaper. I had no plans on becoming an author, not even the faintest hint of an idea. And I never entered any contests or tried to have my work published or participated in any “writing events”. Make of that what you will.

No, you don’t have much time. In a way, that’s good. You don’t have time to be nervous! Sit down and start writing about how frustrated and anxious you are about all of this. Rant on the page. Complain, whine. Whatever you do – keep writing. (Give yourself a solid two hours for this – two hours without distraction or interruption.) Keep writing, writing, writing.

As you start pouring your heart on the page, other things will float out alongside the whining and complaining. It might be a detail about something the kid in the first row wore yesterday, or the smell of the pencil in your hand or the sound of the people in the apartment upstairs fighting again and how much you wish they would either yell loud enough that you could understand exactly what they’re saying or quiet down so you don’t hear anything at all, and what would it feel like to climb up the fire escape and sit outside their window and offer color commentary on their argument, like a sportscaster, except you would use a banana instead of a microphone. This would get you thinking about bananas and why we eat them and how far they have to travel to wind up in your cereal bowl and that sure is a lot of effort for seventy-nine cents a pound.

Anyway. If I got that assignment, that’s how I’d handle it. Pour out some raw drafts. Don’t think about what you’re going to write. Just write. Then you edit, but that’s the subject of another post.

I hope that helps.