Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How to use BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA in the Classroom

I will be part of a panel this weekend for the Washington Library Media Association (WLMA) where we authors present ideas on how our books can be used in the classroom. THE WEATHER IS NOT WILLING TO COOPERATE, SO I AM UNABLE TO MAKE AN APPEARANCE. HOWEVER, I WILL OFFER A DRAWING FOR A FREE COPY OF MY BOOK . WLMA MEMBERS PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT ON MY TWITTER https://twitter.com/LauraMoewriter, Use the hashtag #WLMABWN . AT THE END OF THIS WEEK I WILL ANNOUNCE A LUCKY WINNER

Here is one idea.

Steps to Writing an Ode/Laura Moe

Select a person, place, or thing you like a lot or care about.  Brainstorm by following these steps: (Remind kids to keep it PG.)
In my example of a thing I use coffee.

Write 5 phrases describing how your item makes you feel, and why you feel this way.
            I like coffee because it gives me energy, coffee smells good, coffee is warm, etc.

Write 5 phrases describing the unique qualities of your subject

Coffee is strong, dark, liquid, portable, etc.

Why is your subject important to you? Why do you adore or admire it so much?
            Coffee is important because it wakes me up, makes my mornings better, helps me face the day

Now Revise by:

-Crossing out lines or phrases where words are repeated or are too similar

-Joining some of your phrases to create lines
-Adding more feeling to meaningless or figurative language to flat lines
-Picking a good opening line
-Ordering the lines into the best sequence
-Choosing an ending line that sums up your feelings for the object. Here is MY poem:

Ode to Coffee

It swims
dark as coal
warm as summer
in my cup.
The aroma beckons,
wakens me
on black, icy dawns
as it takes the chill
from my soul
and melts the edge
off my morning meanness.
Coffee is like a gentle symphony
whose crescendo rises slowly
as if pushing up the sun with one hand.
Laura Moe, 2009

Time: 40-45 minutes.
Students may choose to revise poems as homework or in class the next day.
Standards met: Personification, Language development skills. Teacher note: Introduce this lesson by using some odes by Pablo Neruda. “Ode to a Tomato,” Ode to Laziness,””Ode to Summer,” and “Ode to a watermelon,” are favorites with MS and grades 9-10. Point out how Neruda uses simple diction yet juxtaposes and arranges the lines to engage readers. Kids who read will like “Ode to a Book.” If kids are stumped, suggest write an ode to a favorite food, pet(s), car, bedroom, phone, computer, TV show, movie, friend(s), or store.

Peden, Margaret Sayers, tr., Selected Odes of Pablo Neruda, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1990.

Tarn, Nathaniel, ed., Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems. Houghton Mifflin, New York: 1970.Happy Writing.

Students who enjoyed John Green's Looking For Alaska or Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell will also enjoy this book.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Crimes of Syntax

photo Alice K. Boatwright

I don’t know everything; in fact, sometimes I know nothing. Over the weekend I presented at the Write on the Sound Conference, a three day writer’s conference housed in a venue with a spectacular view of Puget Sound. My session was titled “Crimes of Syntax and How to Fix Them.” In my talk I used examples of my own wretched early-draft sentences for my YA novel-in-progress to demonstrate how revision strengthens the work. I gave the audience a brief background of my narrator, 19 year-old Michael, and his 18 year-old girlfriend Shelly. The participants agreed my revised syntax improved in each example. Then I showed them the following gem:


I think of Theo and Shelly alone in his apartment tonight. Those two have a history. She chose me, but she also said “this is where the heroine sets the hero free.” Does she want to be free of me? Are we just wandering atoms that attached, and will now disengage? Will she wait faithfully like Penelope, as I, Odysseus, drift alone at sea for the next five weeks?

I remarked the sentences in this are overwrought and melodramatic, and shared my revision:

My despair deepens when I imagine Theo and Shelly alone together for the next two days. Will they revisit their history? She had told me “this is where the heroine sets the hero free.” Does she want to be free of me? Are we like a rocket vaulting into space only to later split into separate components?

I clicked on a side by side comparison of the two, believing I had vastly improved my sentences. One woman raised her hand, and said, “If you were writing through an adult voice, this would be true, but your character is a teenage boy; his thinking at this critical juncture would be overwrought and melodramatic.”

I drew a quick breath and grabbed my chin. Holy crap, she was right. Why had that not occurred to me? Others chimed in, saying the melodrama added a touch of humor. One young man said the rocket image didn’t work nearly as well as the atoms, and they all agreed Michael would likely think of Odysseus given that he’s literary. Another woman suggested what may have bothered me about the original passage was the paragraph length and she suggested a spot where I could make a paragraph break.

As much as I wanted them to now rewrite my entire novel, it was ten minutes before lunch and I still had twenty more slides to show, so we had to move on. But my audience reminded me of a few things:

Years of writing, even having critical success, doesn't mean your next book is going to come more easily. In fact, it may be more difficult because you are competing with your best self.

Sometimes we grow too close to our stories to make critical judgments; we need a community of trusted early writer-readers who will provide objective criticism.

At a writer’s conference one’s audience consists of writers with varying skill levels. Even though I have more degrees than a thermometer, I always learn something new, or relearn something I already knew when I attend workshops, and often I learn these things from other participants rather than instructors. Students inadvertently teach if the teacher is willing to listen.

Which version do you prefer? My original, the revision, or something in between?

Happy Writing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The editor at my publishing house rejected my sequel to BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA; she said it lacked tension and not enough was at stake. When one works on a manuscript for two years, and tinkers through several drafts, this news can be devastating, and it calls for a night of wine and whine. Yet my editor was absolutely right. The tension and high stakes for the story were in there, but they were buried under 20,000 words worth of back-story.

I reread my book as an editor might, and asked Elizabeth, and she and I concurred on where I should start the story. As Les Edgerton says in Hooked The story begins at the inciting incident. It just took me 20,000 to show the reader where the good stuff was going to happen.

Just because I’ve written a semi truck’s worth of stuff doesn't mean I will remember my bad writing habits. Writing is like dating: you date the same damaged person over and over and try to save them, until one day, you finally acknowledge half of the problem is you. I get in my own way as a writer by clinging to my measly back-story as if the story will rush over a waterfall without it.

Admittedly, this is the highest number I’ve words I’ve incised from a single manuscript. Did the story fall apart? No. In fact, the liposuction helped give it a smoother shape. I’ve since added in 24,000 additional words, but these words are muscles, not fat. Around 8,000 of those words are reworked as flashback scenes from the 20,000 that fell to the cutting room floor, but most of the new material drives the reader deeper into Michael’s struggle. In THE LANGUAGE OF THE SON the stakes are clearer and the conflict apparent right away. It's a much better book.

So my next step is back to the soul crushing stage of of querying agents, accumulating rejections, and meanwhile writing book three of placing Michael in yet more peril.
Spoiler alert: Michael will be in this city:

Monday, August 15, 2016

Good Neighbors Tear Down Fences

(The old living room)

Moving across the country alone is a leap toward Mars. My friends, my routines and even my standard of living were left behind. Ohio is a relatively cheap place to live, but I was headed to Seattle, now in the top ten of most expensive places to live in the US.

(The new living room)

Shortly after I arrived I purchased a one bedroom condo for almost the same price for which I sold my three bedroom house on half an acre. I traded the comfort of an attached garage, washer and dryer, and well manicured lawns for outdoor parking, coin-op laundry and a view of the parking lot in the front and a senior trailer court in the back. But I knew ahead of time I was trading comfort for culture. Plus, I’m close to the Pacific Ocean.

One strange phenomenon is nobody in my neighborhood knew my name. There was no chance of running into someone saying, “Hey, Moe, how’s it going?” at the grocery store, or waving at a friend as they drove by during a walk. Back in Ohio I knew enough people I frequently ran into friends, neighbors and students, and my social life was fairly busy.

Luckily for me some of my family and a couple of friends live in the area, so I was not totally isolated. I was also proactive in obtaining my library card and finding a book discussion group. I tried on a couple of writer’s groups, but nothing seemed to fit. Initially my social life revolved around friends I’d made in two book clubs. I maintained a parking-lot-greeting acquaintance with my immediate neighbors, but didn’t “know” anyone in my complex.

This gave me a lot of time to write.

In order for me to do laundry and pick up my mail I need to wander through a labyrinth of narrow, shrub sidewalks behind several ground floor residents’ patios. During the winter rain drizzled almost daily and very few neighbors ventured outdoors. As the weather warmed up early in spring I met Robin, who spends a lot of time tending the lovely flowers extending way beyond the boundary of her single patio. When I first looked at my condo, I commented to my realtor that the grounds were nicely landscaped. It turns out the section I remarked on was largely due to Robin, and she and I conversed frequently whenever I walked by her place.

One afternoon I was trekking back from my mailbox. My friend Leslie was driving up for the weekend from Portland and I expected her any minute. I said hello to Robin, and she introduced me to Frankie, who lived across the courtyard. (It turns out Frankie had also contributed much of the interesting landscape in the complex.) I remarked I had a friend coming from out of town and wondered where we should eat. They recommended a neighborhood restaurant I hadn’t heard of which featured a 5.99 steak and egg breakfast served all day.

Have you ever watched the Love Boat? It’s a terrible show from the 70’s about a cruise ship, and every episode ends in a predictably outcome. But there’s a character on the show, the ‘social director,’ whose job it was to make sure everyone had a good time. Frankie is our condo social director. Shortly after meeting him, if I was doing laundry or walking to my mailbox, he’d wave me over to meet another neighbor. Soon, I was regularly invited to barbecues at Frankie’s and met even more neighbors and friends of Robin and Frankie’s. Since then I’ve dined out, gone to the movies and bowled with some of these folks, and I occasionally run into my new friends and acquaintances at the nearby grocery.
(My little social animal)

Writers tend to hole up behind our keyboards and pages, yet man is a social animals, so it’s good to go outside. Breaking bread, discussing books, and sharing movies with people helps me feel part of a place. I’ll always feel part of Zanesville Ohio, and vice versa, yet I have a second “family” here in  my new home, too.

Writing  prompt: What makes you feel at home?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Authors on the Air

My imaginary friends and I are on the air.... yes, I sound like a wackadoodle when I talk about my characters, but other fiction writers get it. We stay strange so you have something to read.


Happy Listening!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Revenge of the Bad Sentences

I’m revising a draft, 7th draft to be exact, which means examining the details on the sentence level. The initial edit phase was more developmental, where I fleshed out scenes and moved things around. By the sixth draft I performed major surgery, extracted a few teeth, sucked out the fat (erroneous back story) and the manuscript is now thinner. At this point I’m stumbling my way line by line through myriad band sentences. Like this little gem:

Peri hands me a napkin and wipes her own hands.

What do I mean here? On what does Peri wipe her hands? Her dress? The grass? The back of her hand?

On the surface this sentence looks complete. It has a subject (Peri) a verb (hands) and an object (me.) The problem lies in the second half of the sentence. The subject is still Peri, the verb is wipes, but the object (her own hands)is too vague.

When I wrote it I pictured her using her own napkin, but I didn't mention this to the reader. It was clear as dry inside my head. Unfortunately most of you are not mind readers.

This is not the worst sentence I’ve ever written. Likely it’s this one from an early draft of my MFA thesis:

A seedless fruit, Columbus discovered pineapple on one of his many voyages.

What do I mean here? What am I implying? This gem gave one of my first readers quite a howl. I’m sure he still uses it as a slide in a lecture on bad sentences.

We all write them. Some of us are just better, or worse at it.

There’s even a contest for the worst opening line of a story.

Have fun creating your band sentences. Feel free to share some in the comment section.

Happy Writing.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What is this thing called dog? by Pablo the Cat

I’m a cat. Cats are not known to work and play with others. Occasionally I will deign to express affection toward the human because she feeds me, cleans my bathroom, and provides a warm lap. I even let her sleep in my enormous bed every night. So why-oh-why did she bring this large spotted animal home with her?

This thing called Luna has been here before with another human who resembles my human. But the creature left with this other human when their time was up. But yesterday my human brought this barking canine into my lair. This dog tried to kiss me when, smelling of the beach and rain, burst through the door. The critter went around my apartment and started sniffing everything, and she planted kisses on MY human, who not only talked to her in the same tones she uses with me, but had the nerve to call this thing “sweetheart.”

Yo. Human! I’M your sweetheart!  How long is this thing called dog staying?

I invent a new game called Snub the Human. Problem is she doesn’t seem to notice. She’s tossing a toy back and forth with the dog.

I miss out on nuzzles and petting. Drat! It’s hard to be a cat.

I stare out the window until dark. The human sits on the couch to watch that show where they sing Soft Kitty warm kitty. Her lap does look inviting. The large canine creature is snoring on her dog bed, so I leap onto my human. I lap her thighs hard with my tail to express discontent. She strokes my fur and calls me “precious angel.”

Suddenly our peace is broken. Luna jumps up and barks at the front door. It’s just Fred the neighbor.

After dark the dog whines. The human asks, “do you need to pee pee?” I envy that she gets to go outside. But not tonight. Haha. It’s raining. I can pee and poop in my climate controlled box. The dog comes back inside soaking wet.

But then my human gives her a rub down with a towel. I see her sneaking the dog a treat.

it’s finally bedtime, where I allow the human inside the kingdom of the queen sized bed.  I wait for her to snap off all the lights and tuck her feet under the covers. I climb the blanket covered legs to settle in for a nap when out of nowhere the dog has the nerve to jump on MY bed and cuddle up against MY human. And my human allows it!

How long is this thing staying?

This is as close as I’m getting..that book between us will protect me.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Feeling the Love, and I Don't Need a Map

My plane touches down late at night, or early in the morning to be exact. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been back to Ohio after moving to the Seattle area. It’s familiar yet strange simultaneously.  At the car rental the desk clerk asked if I needed GPA. “No, I used to live around here,” I reply.

It feels nice to sit behind wheel and know where I’m going.

The next day, or rather later the same day, I drive east to Zanesville, the city I left behind last June. My first stop is to the public library where I had copies of my books sent. When I see the multiple boxes, I immediately know I ordered too many. The more books I ordered the larger my discount. But how would I get the ones that don't sell back to Washington? I head to Staples to mail two of the boxes back, canceling my discount.

I lunch with old friends, where we fall into conversation as if I’d never left. Next I am interviewed by the local newspaper (see link at the end of this post.). I had sent Jennifer an ARC, and it helped she had read my novel.

I need to go to the Dollar Store to buy some mouse and deodorant, but stop by Starbucks on a whim. As I chat with a familiar barista, a voice behind me shouts, “Don't serve that woman in here!” I turn, and my friend Myra is laughing behind me. She buys my coffee, and we sit and chat. The unusual thing here is she’s not surrounded by books and papers, and my laptop is in the trunk of my car.

I dine with another friend, and later, we meet up with my old book discussion group.
On Friday, I was supposed to give a presentation, but it was cancelled due to AP testing, so I’m relieved to have free time to spend with friends. The weekend breezes by with meals and coffee with old friends, signing books for many who pre-ordered copies. (My friend Cindy S and I correct a crime of punctuation.)

On Monday I crash the semi annual meeting of library training. Trish, the facilitator, knew I planned to stop by, but she didn't tell my colleagues. I step inide and it seems they are on break. I spot Becky, my former assistant, at a front table. I approach and indicate the empty chair next to her. “Is this seat taken?” I ask. She doesn't look up immediately, but when she sees me she breaks into a groin and we hug. We end up having a three hour lunch before I head to Columbus for my first official book signing.

There’s a critical scene in BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA that takes place in The Book Loft, where my reading is being held. I had a small but appreciative audience, including a couple of fold chums I had not seen in person in twenty years. (Yeah, this pic didn't save right.

Tuesday morning I meet with yet another friend before heading to Maysville High school to talk with students, reconnect with former colleagues, and sign books. My friends Myra and Cindy had arranged a nice luncheon for a couple of classes. Here I am with a couple of fans.

The last stop on my whirlwind Ohio tour is the John Mcintire Library in downtown Zanesville. The turnout is excellent, with the audience comprising of friends and former students and colleagues. (This photo of Jackie Kaser and I shows up correctly in my files, but not here, so you have to tilt your head to the right. )

I spend the night in Columbus because I have an early flight. I leave Ohio again with mixed emotions. It’s as if I belong in two places now, yet I’ve always felt at home in the world. Maybe a life of living on the move enables me find comfort where I set my hat.

I’m back in Washington now, where I make my home. Pablo is glad to see me. Usually he ignores me as a cat is wont to do, but he’s been at my side since I walked in and dumped my bags yesterday afternoon.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Who’s Watching the Kids?

As I dressed for a downtown event I felt nervous. Not because I had to face Seattle traffic; I was taking the bus. And not because I had not been to The Women’s University Club before; I Googled the directions. What elevated my nerves was I was meeting my editor, bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard, for the first time. I’d met plenty of famous writers before at countless workshops and conferences. But even though Jackie and I had physically not met, we knew one another through our writing, and that kind of intimacy has higher stakes.

I was greeted by several of the club members, all pleasant and friendly, and I felt immediately at home. The Women’s University Club was founded in 1914 “to form a closer union of university women in order to promote outstanding educational, cultural, and social activities.” It’s housed in a beautiful brick building with elegant decor.

After being invited to a cup of coffee, I followed two members downstairs where the reading was to take place. Within a couple of minutes Jackie arrived, we hugged, and started chatting like old friends. Knowing a person through his or her writing is a similar to picking up an old friendship with someone you haven’t seen in years; you’ve already established common ground on a deep level and you know where to fill the gaps. She was easy company.

Jackie autographed books, chatted with club members, and began her talk. Jackie told us a couple of stories about how her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, and her current novel, Two If By Sea came to be. After her first novel came out twenty years ago, she received a couple of phone messages from Oprah Winfrey. She ignored them, believing they were from a friend playing a prank. Luckily Jackie answered Oprah’s third call, agreed to be a guest on the show, and propelled her writing career.

She also discussed balancing being an author, going on book tours, and editing the Merit Press, a YA imprint of FW Media. After she read a passage, Jackie’s friend and fellow writer Martha Brockenbough joined her in a lively dialogue about women and our place in the literary canon. Both authors made the point that when they tour, someone from the audience invariably asks, “who is watching your children when you travel?” Jackie and Martha agreed nobody ever asks a male author the same question.

Why does a writer’s gender matter? Jackie and Martha pointed out that for women writers there’s a belief that we should stick to romance and “chick lit” topics. There’s a perception that female authors can’t successfully write about politics and war, or as Martha referred to as “dick lit.”

Women in literature have historically taken a back seat to men, with their work often designated as “chick lit.” Some writers, such as George Eliot and James, Tiptree, JR., hid their gender through a pseudonym, and contemporary authors J.K. Rowling and J.A. Jance, use gender-less initials. But are stories limited by gender? Why should an author’s sex determine what kind of story he or she should tell?

I’m grateful that Jackie and the team at Merit Press did not hold my gender against me and chose to publish my book. Because my novel has a male protagonist I considered using a pseudonym or initials because clearly, I’m not an eighteen year-old boy. Yet the book isn’t about me; I’m just a channel for these imaginary friends’ voices.

Happy Writing.