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A blog about writing

I’ve let this blog lapse for many months due to lack of focus. Babystepstowriting started as a practice blog, a place for me to be writing while I was teaching writing. I published prompts we did in class, or followed prompts online, or sometimes wrote about daily life.

However, I’ve learned over the years from other bloggers, that what works best is a consistent theme or purpose.

Therefore this blog will more closely reflect its name, and babystepstowriting will be about all things writing. I’ll share what I’m learning, reading, and writing. I’ll also gather resources to help other writers. Together we can learn and grow in our practice.

Starting with what my writing life looks like lately:

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I finally finished Stephen King‘s On Writing and highly recommend it. Ironically, I have been unable to get through a Stephen King book – horror isn’t really my style. However, no one can argue that he has mastered the craft and his genre. The book is equal parts autobiography and sound writing advice from creating the discipline to believable characters to careful editing and much more.

Another part of my practice lately has been longhand writing. I used to love nothing more than to grab a notebook and my favorite pens (two things I always seem to buy whether I need them or not) and write and write and write. I’ve been using the daily prompts from Sarah Salecky and Story Is a State of Mind.

And finally, after all these years of longing for an MFA, I’M GOING BACK TO SCHOOL!! This fall I’ll be taking the Story Intensive Course from The Story Is a State of Mind School. I’ve had such wonderful feedback and support already and can’t wait to delve into the program.

What does your writing life look like? Leave me a comment below 🙂

Happy writing!

 

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Go Set A Watchman

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I’ve been dragging my feet writing this post and just as I suspected, the hype, hoopla, and reviews of Go Set A Watchman have settled down, if not gone away altogether. As they should.

Imagine if Universal Studios got their hands on one of Steven Spielberg’s 8mm teenage attempts at filmmaking. Now imagine if they took one of those movies, burned it to DVD, and sold it as “Steven Spielberg’s Lost Movie.” I’m not sure it would sell well. I’m pretty sure it was never intended for public viewing. Maybe some die-hard fans or curiosity seekers would buy, but most of us would continue to enjoy the massive body of quality work he already has out there.

Harper Lee and her original publisher never intended Go Set A Watchman to see the light of day. It was a rejected draft, that inspired and eventually became To Kill A Mockingbird. Unfortunately, Harper Lee didn’t have anything else out there. She became this elusive, mysterious person living under the guidance and protection of her close relatives. The world wanted more.

Harper Lee’s sister, Alice Lee – an Alabama lawyer, took care of most of her legal affairs. She passed away in November of 2014. On 3 February 2015, Harper Collins announced they had acquired the manuscript and the rights to publish Go Set A Watchman.

Despite the reports that Harper Lee was thrilled to have her book published, I can’t shake the feeling that a wrong was done.

These are the reservations I carried with me as I read the novel. Since I distrusted the acquisition of the draft and motivation for publishing, I was also less inclined to believe that the publisher left the manuscript as they found it. Therefore, it is hard to review or comment on a novel surrounded by so many questions.

I can only share my impressions….

~ At times it reads like fan-fiction. (My first reaction when Hank, who was never mentioned in TKAM, shows up as Scout’s love interest.)

~ There were discrepancies in some details that indicated a need for more editing such as: references to the house they grew up in, and the time-frame of Cal’s departure from the household. (this would support the claim that they published it “as is”)

~ I don’t “buy” Scout as Jean Louise. I’ve read other reviewers who claim that the character reads exactly as they would have expected Scout to be as a grown-up, because it was just like her. That is precisely the problem. How many of us act just like our 6,7,8 year old self? I certainly expect Jean Louise to have the spunk and personality of Scout, but so often in the book, she acts like a petulant child, rather than a mature young woman.

~ It tries too hard to be a racially controversial novel with Jean Louise/Harper Lee constantly moralizing to the readers. TKAM reported life, as it happened, through the eyes of a child. We heard and saw the clear message and injustice in the world without petulant speeches.

All this being said…am I glad I read it? Absolutely.

In the author/publishing world this book was the biggest news of the year, and I choose to be relevant. And…despite my complaints, there were parts where I lost myself in the story and fully enjoyed Harper Lee’s prose.

Even as Go Set A Watchman falls off the bestseller lists and turns up on dusty shelves in used bookstores, it has given us an invaluable glimpse into the life and work of a writer. We have seen what usually remains hidden…the first envisioning, the first ideas, the first completed draft of a novel that through many revisions and reworkings became the Pulitzer prize winning book To Kill A Mockingbird.

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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Nostalgia and Harper Lee

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What makes me imagine my grandmom’s orange shag living room and fold-out sofa bed every time I smell bacon cooking, or idealize my childhood in an economically depressed lakes community, or continue to ride my gram’s 1970’s Huffy beach cruiser even though it can’t possibly keep up with my husband’s Fuji 10-speed?

Nostalgia.

It is this same nostalgia that caused us to generate record breaking pre-sales and flock to bookstores to buy our own copy of Go Set A Watchman. 

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Like many of you, I can remember my first encounter with To Kill A Mockingbird. Unlike what I preach to my students, my first exposure was the movie, not the book. I remember lounging in a chair in my parents room, curled up into some odd pretzel shape that only small children can manage, watching on their small black and white tv. I’m sure in modern parenting philosophies, I was much too young to be exposed to such harsh truth, (as it states on the film poster.) Ironically, I was Scout’s age.

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Three vivid scenes played in my young imagination for years after: the courtroom scene with formidable but kind Atticus and scared, confused Mayella Ewell; Scout running through the woods in the ham costume while being chased; and Scout realizing that Boo (Arthur) Radley was standing behind the door. I probably couldn’t have told you where these scenes originated until I read the book in my early teens. Then it all came back to me as if I was curled up in the chair all over again. For this reason the book and the movie are one in my mind. I can’t watch the movie without hearing Harper Lee’s beautiful narrative prose, and I can’t read the book without imagining Gregory Peck and Mary Badham – much credit due to Robert Mulligan (director) and Horton Foote (screenplay).

To Kill A Mockingbird will continue to be a classic that introduced a strong, admirable, father figure teaching his children the harsh realities of life. Scout and Jem learn that truth and law don’t always win when prejudice exists. (A lesson we are still learning today.) In the middle of learning life lessons, Harper Lee masterfully depicts children living, playing, imagining, and growing up in small town America.

From the reviews that I’ve read, Go Set a Watchman seeks to undo some of this by having a more jaded, older Scout (Jean Louise) return to find Atticus isn’t quite as admirable as we all thought while she continues to process her childhood memories through her grown-up perceptions.

Reviewers have not been kind. In The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik calls it a “failure of a novel” and says it would never have been published without the popularity of To Kill a Mockingbird. While The New York Times reports that people in Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama are divided on the new book. Some are skeptical of its origins and Lee’s blessing of its publication. Others are concerned that the Atticus portrayed in the new novel more closely resembles the racist white men of the time than the fair-minded lawyer of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Yet despite all of this, we will still buy it. We will still read it. Why? Nostalgia. We want to revisit that small town with Jean Louise and see what has happened since we left it. We want to immerse ourselves once again into Harper Lee’s descriptive detail and frank assessment  of human character. We want, against all odds, to recapture the moment of our first encounter with To Kill a Mockingbird in order to understand why it left such an impression.

As I open my copy of Harper Lee’s new/old book, I will try to remember that nostalgia is a feeling anchored in the past. A visit to my childhood home, though eye-opening seen through the understanding of an adult, does not alter the feelings or memories associated with it. So it will be with Go Set a Watchman. The success or failure of this novel should in no way diminish the fondness we carry for To Kill a Mockingbird.

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P.S. I will post a review once I’ve finished reading.

P.P.S. Over the next few years, I fully expect an abundance of books and articles discussing the questionable origins and publication of Go Set a Watchman. If Harper Lee would grant me an interview…I would write one. 😉

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Wildflowers Photography

Here is my latest article: Soul of an Artist

If you haven’t heard of Joy Prouty and Wildflowers photography, your life is not complete. Click the link, read the article, follow her blog, find her on instagram…She is a true artist and a lovely person.

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Photos by Kielen Simons

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Valentine’s Day – After 20 Years

I heard someone say recently that Valentine’s Day is for rookies…those who need help and a shove in the romance department. The longer you love one person, the more you realize that true love is steady, true love is committed, and true romance can be subtle.

What does Valentine’s Day look like after 20 years of marriage? 

It looks like a familiar morning – coffee made and brought up to enjoy in bed before facing the day

It looks like being pulled from coffee time by a child coughing and calling for mom

It looks like roaming the aisles of home depot to fix all that has quit in our ten-year-old house

It looks like a quick stop at the grocery to pick up candy hearts for the kids…and maybe some for us

It looks like teamwork as he stays home with a sick child while I take another child for some one-on-one time

It looks like a text saying, “I’m happy to make dinner…and clean up”

It looks like a chilled bottle of Prosecco

It looks like a quiet night in with a movie after the kids are in bed

It looks like climbing into bed and finding a red envelope on my pillow with his unmistakable handwriting

and knowing beyond all doubt that we are one and will be until our parting breath.

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Posted by on February 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Modern House-wifery

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My dishwasher died this week. It set off my PTSD caused by growing up in a family of eight without a dishwasher much of the time. Because of the piles of dishes created by eight people on a regular basis, and the late night dishwashing marathons to catch up, I have a serious attachment to my dishwasher. Not only that, I have a scientific method for loading it.

The science is this: the dishes that remain to be hand washed after the dishwasher is loaded is in direct proportion to my level of happiness. Therefore, everything that can be, is crammed into the dishwasher.

My husband does not agree with my theory…other than the happiness part. He seems to think that if you overload a dishwasher, the items don’t get clean enough. I have a scientific solution for that as well…run it again.

I seriously try to avoid hand washing dishes.at.all.cost.

But something strange has happened. As the kids and I (and the husband) have been hand washing dishes all week, I’ve found it rather pleasant at times. Something about my hands in the warm water, the smell of the soap, and chatting with one of my daughters while she dries the dishes has awakened a strange domestic feeling in me. It’s time spent together that wouldn’t normally happen. The rhythmic motion and running water is relaxing, and let’s face it, hard work is rewarding.

So maybe I won’t be in such a rush to get my dishwasher fixed. I’ll enjoy these moments of working together like our ancestors did without the modern convenience of a dishwasher. Although If my husband reads this, I may deny it. 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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New Year, New You?

I love all of the advertising and personal betterment goals this time of year. I’ve been invited to join countless Facebook challenges, and everywhere I look is a discounted gym membership or diet program. It makes sense, to be health conscious after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s feasting, but if I haven’t disciplined myself towards these resolutions already in life, Jan 1, 20whatever will not be the magic date.

Last year, I wrote a post titled I make No Resolutions and I stand by that…mostly. I guess to be completely honest, I make private resolutions. Rarely do I need to wait until January to find areas to improve, but I suppose the New Year feels like a fresh start. So I set my reading goals, my writing goals, my fitness goals, my spiritual goals, and my family goals, but rarely share them with anyone. They aren’t resolutions. They are goals.

As I see the years tick by faster and faster, I realize that in order to make forward progress there needs to be constant evaluation and goal setting. In my teens, it was easy to see where I would be in ten years…college, then job, maybe family. In my 20’s and early 30’s I was raising young children. Now, where I am in ten years depends very much on the goals I set now. My family is growing up, and before I know it my primary responsibilities will be moving out and setting their own goals — one always hopes.

So as I head into 2015, I will not resolve to never eat sugar again, hit the gym every day, or never raise my voice…resolutions I know will be broken before January 3rd. But I will set goals to read more, write more, pray more, and love my family more knowing that these are achievable daily decisions that not only improve my life, but the lives of those I hold most dear. When New Year’s eve 2015 rolls around and I reflect back on the year, I know the time will not have been wasted.

I wish the same for you.

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Posted by on January 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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