The Battleground Ground Louisiana series that I will be the facilitator for in Winnsboro, Louisiana, begins in Ferbruary. One of the books I’ll be using is When the Devil Came Down to Dixie: Ben Butler in New Orleans, written by Chester G. Hearn. General Butler is one of the most vilified individuals in the Civil War. He is known as a brazen opportunist, a bungling administrator, and a cruel despot. The Southern women of New Orleans particularly disliked him, and he and his Federal officers were met with insults, spit, and even dumped chamber pots from balcony windows. Women who played piano would only play rebel tunes when a Yankee passed their house. Butler was incensed, so he issued the infamous Order 28, which read:
As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.
This decree only worsened the feelings of New Orleans women for him and his staff in occupied New Orleans. As Hearn correctly points out, in the South, nothing was more sacred than the honor of a woman. Photographs of Butler were distributed through the city and pasted to the bottom of tinkle-pots. You can see a photograph of one of these chamber pots here: http://www3.flickr.com/photos/deepfriedkudzu/sets/72057594060734949/.
Butler well deserved the nickname given him: Beast Butler.
I love quotations, and I found a good one by one of the better emperors of the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius. He said: A person’s life is dyed with the color of his imagination—Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180).
I find this an apt quotation for writers, teachers, and the gifted students I instruct. Our imagination truly colors our world. Just think about it—our imagination is connected to our Muse, to our inventions, our discoveries, and our world view. I have found in my own creative writing that the better my imagination (my own inner theatre) the richer and more exciting my writing will be. One web site I found that dealt with imagination said it well: What we imagine with faith and feeling comes into being. Imagination can be nurtured or crushed.
While I don’t want my students to become like Espinosa in Borges’ “The Gospel According to Mark,” about a man with an undirected intelligence, neither do I want their creative, exploratory urges dampened or stifled. Reflecting on this quotation by Marcus Aurelius (and I do intend to read his Twelve Meditations someday) made me realize the importance of my own imagination to my creative writing. The daily grind of working in our salt mines, the cares and necessities of life, the responsibilities to care for others that we cannot avoid—these demons can drain the energy that imagination must feed upon.
Tonight, I was the guest speaker for the 7th annual Lee-Jackson Banquet of the J.J. Alfred A. Mouton Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The theme was “Our Southern Heroes, ” so my speech was centered on Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as such. Before I delivered my speech, I played my guitar and sang some Southern tunes. After the speech, I sold and autographed copies of my book, Stories of the Confederate South. It was not a great night for sales, but it was not a bad one either. The banquet was held at the Steamboat Warehouse Restaurant in Washington, Louisiana. (A city rich in history!)
Overall, I was pleased and thought the evening worth my time and effort. The food was great, and I had an attentive aned receptive audience. What more could a speaker want? If you’d like a copy of my speech, I’ll be happy to send it to you as a Word attachment. Just write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and request it. Pardon this short entry, but it’s late (2:00 A.M.) and I still need to write a poem before going to sleep.
As a 7th and 8th grade gifted reading teacher and in high school as well, I introduce my students to a fine young adult novel, Walkabout, written by James Vance Marshall. It is a fine book to use to teach my students about Australian and Aborigine cultures. The book is generally well-received by the students, a sign to me that the book has dynamics that work with young readers. I teach the book as part of an Australian unit, integrating geography, history, unique vocabulary, botany, and wildlife. The book helps students think about the issue of survival in a hostile environment. If you are a reading or English teacher, this is a book you can center their studies around in a unit, one that will teach them more than they intended to learn. If you would like a list of the projects I assign in this unit, or of a test I’ve prepared for the book, I’ll be happy to email it to you. Write me at email@example.com.
I’ve just finished reading a collection of short fiction entitled, Miami Noir, edited by Les Standiford. Sixteen excellent fiction writers contributed their stories, all set in Miami. It is part of the Akashic Books Noir Series, and reading this one stirred a desire to read the others in the series. I think I’ll move on to the Dublin Noir collection next. You can see all the titles in this series here: http://www.akashicbooks.com/noirseries.htm.
I discovered this book on John Dufresne’s blog. Dufresne is a favorite writer of mine. I found it well worth my time. As Standiford points out, “Miami is fertile territory for writers who write well and truly of crime and violence and of the dark side of the human condition.” Quoting Hugo, he says the city is the natural place for writers on the edge. As always, when I read good fiction, I learned more than I intended to. There are so many wonderful phrases in the collection, but here are a couple that particularly caught my fancy:
In “Noir Boudoir” by Lynne Barrett, the narrator says, “Here, I got interested in life’s cast-off paper, and started to buy and sell and learn the worth of the worthless” (294).
John Bond’s narrator in “T-Bird” says, “Poker players make fast decisions, always on incomplete information . . .” (242).
If you like good fiction, I would recommend this collection.
I found a great article by Charles Murray, entitled “Aztecs vx. Greeks,” relating to gifted children and the importance of a rigorous course of instruction for them. You can find that article here: http://opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110009541. I love teaching my gifted students, but some of them are what could be categorized as “underachieving” gifted students. The article inspired me as a teacher, caused me to think again on the importance of what I’m trying to do as a gifted teacher, and gave me ideas for my own instruction. I read through the article with my students. I may have them write a personal essay on the topic as well. I like the article so much that I think next year I’ll start my classes with it. If you teach gifted students or if you have a gifted child, you should take a look at the article.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I wanted to write some more about the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend. In this one, I wanted to focus on the authors I met whose books I found interesting. (Like I don’t already have a long enough reading list!)
All of these authors were witty, intense, and extremely interesting. I met Michael Morris, author of The King of Florabama (a very famous honky tonk); Elizabeth Crook, author of The Night Journal; Carolyn Turgeron, author of Rain Village, DC Stanfa, author of The Art of Table Dancing: Escapades of of an Irreverant Woman; Susan Reinhardt, author of Not Tonight Honey, Wait Until I’m a Size Six; Ruth Francisco, author of The Secret Memoirs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; and Margaret Sartor, author of Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Sex, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970’s. Everyone in Monroe who is a reader has read her book, since it was set in our own beloved city. I also finally met David Marion Wilkinson, author of Not Between Brothers. I had talked to Wilkinson on the phone a few years ago, and he guided me in my research somewhat by steering me toward how to obtain a couple of Comanche dictionaries. He was also very encouraging. I like successful writers like him who are generous and encouraging to aspiring writers like myself.
There were other writers I met during this packed weekend, but I spent the most time with these. I only wish I could have weekends like this more often.
I just returned from Kathy Patrick’s Girlfriend Weekend, held at the Marshall, a historic and restored hotel in Marshall, Texas. Kathy, who has been a friend for a few years now, was kind enough to invite me and allow me to promote my newest book, Stories of the Confederate South. Truly, this was one of the best weekends of my life. I’m going to have a few entries on this event, but in short summary: I met many of the coolest authors I’ve ever met; made a list of books to read, a list probably longer than I can get to in the next year; made new friends, ran into old friends, set up future speaking and reading engagements, and learned much about writing.
Saturday, the first full day of the conference, I sold and signed books from my assigned table and heard many fine writer speeches from where I was sitting. While in my corner, I met many of the Pulp Wood Queens, some of whom remembered me from my first visit to Kathy Patrick’s Girlfriend Weekend a few years ago. That night, I went to the Pulpwood Queen’s “Hair Ball.” It was a costume affair held at Marshall Visual Arts Center, and of course I went as a Confederate soldier. I was very fortunate: A most beautiful girl was there in a Southern Belle dress, and of course, as I was the only Confederate soldier present, we danced together. Lucky me! I’ll post the link so you can see the photos taken of the ball. Those who came to the ball really got into the theme: “The Pulpwood Queens Go Hollywood.” Some really funny and some really eye-popping sexy costumes (including the Scarlet I danced with) were seen.
This was a great event–promoting authors, promoting literacy, promoting books, and greatly inspiring to me as a writer. The Dallas Morning News, Southern Living, the Marshall News Messenger, and many other media were there. If only I could attend something like this every week. Life would be good.
As a writer I’ve learned –sometimes the hard way–that spelling is important. The gifted students I teach often don’t think spelling is important in the picture of creation, and maybe they’re right on that. Yet, I do try to stress the importance of spelling correctly, especially in the editing process.
As a writer, misspelled words come back to haunt you. I met one writer, whose first book had a major misspelling in the first sentence on the first page. It was an embarassment to be sure. I appreciate my friends who read my work–some of them are real spelling Nazis. If it’s misspelled, they will catch it. Most of my spelling errors are committed because of haste, others occur because I have learned a word incorrectly initially.
As an editor of beginning novelists and book writers, a huge portion of my editing time is spent in catching their spelling errors. That means I must refer to the dictionary often, for though I have a more than adequate vocabulary, I have not memorized the spellings of the million plus words in the English language. As a writer, I have also learned to not rely much at all on spell check.
I just read an article on the American Partisan site about the importance of spelling. You can find that article here: http://www.americanpartisan.com/desk/style_guide/spelling/1.htm The writer points out that bad spelling reflects badly on writer and publisher alike. There are many sites devoted to spelling. One is http://www.yourdictionary.com/library/misspelled.html which lists the top hundred misspelled words.
I’m testing my students on spelling this week. I gave them the test first, we graded it, then they study the words they missed (or guessed at). A couple of days later, we have the same test for real. Those students who attack the task of learning spelling through repetition (I encourage writing a word 10 more times) and through memorization seem to do better than those who rely on phonics. Mnemonics are also helpful to the diligent student determined to improve his or her spelling.
If you want to think more of this matter, go to http://www.zaner-bloser.com/html/SPsupport1.html which is entitled “Five Questions Teachers Ask About Spelling.”
I’ve been thinking of writing horror a good bit. More than once, when I’ve talked to students about writing horror, the topic of their fear of clowns arises. The technical word for this phobia is coulrophobia. The word, as well as many articles on the topic of “why” we are frightened of clowns is all over the net. I found one really good article on the topic of coulrophobia at this link: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-col2.htm
Go there and learn why we fear the funny face. Writers in the genre of horror must understand why we fear the clown.