Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Literary Vacation and a Writing tip.

A collection of short stories 
By Members of the Readers' Station

A warm and wonderful collection of short stories that will take you to a number of places. Enjoy your trip to the past and the future, and travel from the Taj Mahal to the Stars.

Question from the e-mail:  I'm taking my first actual class though years ago I attended a workshop you taught.  People keep saying, "Write what you know." But I'm a retired 10th grade teacher. I grew up in a small Southern town. Taught  in a small Southern town. Lived my whole life in a small Southern town. Beyond chaperoning a senior class on a trip to Europe, I have never traveled. Certainly, I have never done anything impressive. What can I ever write about?

Answer: First let me say, you also know what you can learn. Consider writers of historical fiction. They often have never lived in the times and places they portray, but they create them out of imagination, and the historical fact they have learned about through research.

Also, you have lived a lifetime of experiences. You were a teen, a college student, a young married woman, and possibly a working mother. You have experience with children: those you have taught, and quite likely your own. You know first hand through experience what young people are like.

You taught 10th graders, so you know what  high school is like. You can write books for teens. Yes, the fashion changes and the slang changes, and so on --- but human nature doesn't change. You have first-hand knowledge of how teens think and feel. Skip the slang, the attitude is the important part.

You grew up and lived in a small Southern town. Small towns are not all alike, but you know about neighborhood interactions, school-family interactions, church interactions, and depending on what other interests you may have had, you could have many other experiences.

That senior trip, for instance, could make a great background for a young or new adult novel --- told from a student's viewpoint, not the teacher's. All that takes is a little imagination. A bit of putting yourself in someone else's place and saying What if I was the student? What if I had a crush on a guy to whom I was invisible on the trip?

Take Pat Conroy for instance, since you both grew up in small Southern towns and trained and worked as teachers. His novels are third person, limited omniscient viewpoint. But they are still (loosely?) based on his own personal experiences.

Conroy wrote The Lords of Discipline about being a teenaged “cadet” in a strict, private, military school. Conroy attended The Citadel in his youth.

He wrote The Great Santini about a boy’s strained relationship with his domineering father. Conroy’s own father was quite a force in his life as he has publicly stated on more than one occasion.

He wrote The Prince of Tides about a Southern Writer whose poet sister attempted suicide. Conroy’s sister, a poet, has attempted suicide several times, a fact he has also discussed in TV and magazine interviews (research again).

He wrote Beach Music about an expatriate, American, writer who returns to the South in order to care for his mother while she is dying of cancer. Conroy (who often says  he lives in Rome, Italy, not Rome, Georgia!) wrote that book during and after the time he spent back in the USA caring for his mother in her final illness.

The only “non-fiction” (purported to be true) book Conroy ever wrote was The Water is Wide an account of his career as a schoolteacher on a barrier island off the coast of Carolina. The book served as a harsh indictment of the inequality of education for black and isolated children, and his protest about the differences ultimately cost Conroy his job as an educator.

But all Conroy's “fiction” still reflects his life experiences. And each fictional work has a different thrust. Not bad for a boy from a "small Southern town."

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