Friday, July 14, 2006

Poems of the Passion

About ten years ago I was trying to decide what kind of Easter program I wanted to produce at church.  The play I was working on wasn’t ready and I needed something fast.  Then I thought, what if I took my poems about the passion and turned them into dramatic readings?  That’s exactly what I did and the result was fantastic. 


After the performance I began shopping the program around.  National Drama Service liked it and contracted me for it.  I was excited, because the payment was larger than anything I had received up to that time.  Unfortunately, the editor was over-ruled on the program and it was cut from the final printing.  The powers-that-be decided it was too hard to present dramatic poems.  But since I was already contracted, I received the full payment, plus five complimentary copies of the issue that the program didn’t appear in.  Well, their bad decision was my good fortune.


Another publishing company wanted to program, but couldn’t fit it in to their publications that year and asked me to resubmit if I didn’t find another publisher.  Well, I found another publisher.  Meriwether Publishing liked the program and published it.  I was contracted for the work and I was on a royalty payment plan that maxed out at a certain amount of money.  I maxed out in three years.  In some ways I thought the contract was unfair because I was only making 10% of the proceeds and if I was making money, then they were making money.  But it was also a foot in the door and the beginning of what I hope will be a long relationship.  The editor said that they always gave new writers that contract because they were taking the chance.  Hopefully, our future contracts will be a win-win situation.  But how can I complain?  Two companies paid me for the work.




Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Gift for the Giver

For many years I had received the National Drama Service through the church.  It would come in a packet along with things for the music department.  I liked reading the skits in NDS and sometimes using them in our own productions.  So, I knew their style and the types of works they liked to publish. 


I had the idea for “A Gift for the Giver” written down in my journal and sat down to write it specifically for NDS.  I sent it out ot them and it was accepted for publication.  This was proof that a writer should know the publication before sending a work. 


I was glad for the sale, but when I received a copy of the booklet in which my skit appeared, there was an editing change made to the skit that I didn’t like.  A line was changed so it would be proper English, but people don’t talk in proper English and the line change sounded very stiff.  I thought it stuck out like a sore thumb, but maybe others didn’t notice it.


Anyway, it was my first paid work and that was great.  I even have a picture of the check!





Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Victorian Culture vs Wonderland Culture

Victorian Culture vs. Wonderland Culture


When I went back to get my graduate degree to teach secondary English, I had to take a lot of English classes.  It didn’t seem to matter that I already had an English degree.  So, I sat in classes with students much younger than me and aced the classes because I had already developed the skill they were trying to teach. 


Well, one of the classes I had to take was Introduction to English Studies.  As part of the class we read Alice in Wonderland.  We had to write a critical essay on it and my essay compared the Victorian culture to the Wonderland culture.  I got an A on the paper and was later asked if the professor could use it as a student example in her writing textbook.  Of course, I said yes.


I was promised a copy of the book, but I never got one.  I didn’t see that professor until one day when I was in the English office talking about the doctorate program.  I asked her if she had used my essay and she said no, that she ended up going with another essay.  That was fine with me – no big deal.


Then one day I “googled” myself and found my name listed on some college syllabi.  Come to find out, the essay had been used and classes were reading and discussing my essay.  I looked the book up on and ordered a used one for three dollars.  I was proud to find my essay in it.  But it was a sweet satisfaction, because I was a little aggravated at the comments the professor had about the essay.  She picked at some little things that she shouldn’t have and tried to pull some examples of “what not to do” out of the essay, when she should have used it as an example of “what to do.”  Others who read the comments and essay felt like she was really pulling to try and find something to say about the paper.  I guess she forgot the footnote that said the essay received an A and that I had aced her class.  But why should she remember that when she didn’t remember to send me a complimentary copy?  And she didn’t thank me in the acknowledgements, even though she did everyone else who had an essay appear in the book.


I am grateful that the essay was used and that I can list it in my writing credits.  But there are also some lessons to learn from this experience.  One, I need to follow through when I promise something to someone, especially a student.  Also, if I ever promise complimentary copies to someone, then I need to be sure that person gets a copy.  And lastly, if I’m going to acknowledge people’s help, I don’t want to leave someone off.




Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Story Behind: "Billyball: Home Sweet Home"

Every story has a story.  As writers, we know that stories take on a life of their own, but once the writer completes the story and begins shipping it out to publishers, the story begins a journey that’s all its own.  And although the experiences are unique to the writer, I believe most writers will find a lot of similarities to certain aspects.  For the next few entries, I’m going to talk about the stories I’ve published.


Billyball:  Home Sweet Home


I actually wrote this story as part of a writing workshop at the library in Somerset when I was in high school.  I was too young for the adult workshop, and really felt old for the kid workshop, but I knew I wanted to be a writer and stuck it out anyway.  Karen Koger was on a fellowship from the state of Kentucky and was teaching the class.  Years later I picked up her collection of short stories at a store and was glad to read her work.


It was the summer I turned fifteen and I remember sitting on the beach in Clearwater, Florida while on vacation and trying to think about my story.  I tried to capture the beach scene, but my heart was back home, so the story developed about a man giving up a baseball career to come home and care for the family.


The story was a hit with the kids in the workshop, but it was still lacking.  I filed it away until in college when I used it for a writer’s workshop class, where it was critiqued.  It was pretty much ripped apart by the adults in the class.  In my mind there were two keys things wrong with the story.


First of all, I had only just begun my formal writing training.  I hadn’t taken a literature class that actually made sense.  This was my first fiction writing class.  Of course, I didn’t have all of this symbolism in the story.  I barely knew what symbolism was, much less how to use it effectively in fiction.  On a side note, the seriousness of that workshop led me to write Parlor of Mistaken Identities, which was categorized by the teacher as being absurd.  I just wanted to see if the arrogant students could pull something fancy out of a slapstick story.  They couldn’t find anything of literary worth in it, so I guess I succeeded in my attempt.  But I did get a nice compliment in the fact that the story kept them laughing throughout, which isn’t easy to do.  So, I guess I actually accomplished both goals.


The second reason why the story failed was the stakes.  For one, the climate of baseball changed between the mid-80’s when I originally wrote the story and the early 90’s when the story was work-shopped.  Players were making a lot more money and the decision of staying in baseball or going home to save the farm wasn’t really a choice.  Baseball was paying so much that Billy, the main character, could have played and saved the farm.  I also didn’t pull out that connection between Billy and the land he grew up on.  It worked for Margaret Mitchell, but not for me at that point in life.


So, the story went through the revision process, with updates to the 90’s and the second critique was done by the professor who thought the story came off well.  I sent it in for publication in our school literary magazine and it was selected for publication.  It only received an honorable mention in the short story contest.  That kind of aggravated me, because here I was with the dream of being a writer and I couldn’t even place in my college writing contest.  But now I see it as a stepping stone.  I learned so much from that point to the end of my degree and the learning hasn’t stopped.