Nonfiction Is Alive! 

Nonfiction is alive at Willagillespie Elementary in Eugene. It was a great time meeting with the kids there yesterday and talking with them about real writing. I shared my interests and curiosities, and I learned about theirs. Kids of all ages have wonder about the world around us; nonfiction helps address those wonders and find the the answers to our many questions.

We ran a contest to rename "nonfiction," since it is such a negative and generally goofy term. Two winners emerged: the upper grade winner entered the word "realalistic" and the primary grade winner was "true real." Both interesting takes on the genre. And both, I might add, are better words than "nonfiction."

I am hoping the students I met with yesterday will continue to pursue their interests and questions through nonfiction, and that they will share what they find as well as their real life experiences with others through writing. We write because we have something to say. Everyone, no matter the age, has something to say!

[ add comment ]   |  permalink  |  related link
Still nonfictioning 
Work marches on for the nonfiction book. We are fine-tuning the tools (since the book is called The Readers'/Writers' Toolbox, activities are referred to as tools) and creating templates and gathering samples to include. There will be three sections of the book, focusing on three grade levels: K-2, 3-5, and 6-8. Each section will contain both reading and writing tools.

Hopefully, this book will help make it easier to include nonfiction in classrooms. After all, nonfiction reading and writing is done far more than fiction in the real world. Shouldn't we be training kids how to deal with it? Of course!
(sorry about the repetition of this thought; do you think I care about this?)

p.s. I am still rolling other books ideas around in my head. What to develop, what to write, what to market. I'll share some of them next time.

[ 1 comment ] ( 3 views )   |  permalink  |  related link
Sunny (?) San Diego 
Before heading south I had a chance to work with some fifth graders at Creslane Elementary School in Creswell. Mrs. Robertson's class has been reading biographies and then will write their own versions for younger readers. They wanted me to share my experiences writing the Abigail Scott Duniway book. I had a great time there and am excited to return to see their finished products.

The San Diego trip was off the map! Lots of driving and plenty of fun. We drove the length of California, from stately Mount Shasta in the north, through the food-rich San Joaquin Valley,along the coastline, and into lush San Diego, where we experienced a combination of sun, clouds, and yes, even rain. We attended the semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic (Japan beat Korea) as well as a college game (San Diego State vs BYU), during which we saw Stephan Strasburg, probably the #1 draft pick, mow down the batters with his blazing fastball. All was not baseball, though. We spent an afternoon at the Wild Animal Park, where we saw lions, rhinos, water buffalo, giraffes, elephants, gorillas, meerkats...okay, you get the picture. We also took in the Model Railroading Museum with its miles of train tracks in displays so realistic you'd think you were Gulliver.

The best part of the trip was seeing my son Tyler, who lives and works in La Jolla, on the outskirts of San Diego. It's been since last May that I saw him and, although we talk on the phone and e-mail regularly, those are no substitutes for seeing him in person. He's off to Thailand in a few weeks, but will be coming to Eugene at the end of June. I'm looking forward to it.

[ add comment ]   |  permalink  |  related link
Cold Day in March 
Daylight Savings today, and it should be a preview of spring, right? Wrong! Today's the temperature hovered in the 30s and it even snowed a few times. Fortunately, I had already returned home from my bike ride when the white stuff fell. Let me add: COLD bike ride.

And the book? Yes, it proceeds on, bit by bit. I'm closing out the primary section: now I have to work on examples for the tools and refine the words. Barry is working on the grades 3-5 section, which he will be done with in a few weeks. It's been helpful to focus attention on this project. Well, there's other things I've been workng on too: designing an online class, preparing for an upcoming author visit, and working on the two classes I'll be doing in June, one in Portland and one in Eugene.

I think I'm ready for a break, and next week I'll be taking one: a trip south to visit my son in San Diego (hopefully, sunny San Diego). There will be a visit to the Wild Animal Park and to Petco Park to see a World Baseball Classic game. I'm hoping for Japan against Cuba.
We shall see...

[ add comment ]   |  permalink  |  related link
Carrying On 
The work continues on the nonfiction book. I am currently focused on writing activities and strategies - we call them tools - for teaching nonfiction to kids in the early grades (K-2). This is a challenge for me because it's been a while since I've taught at that level. Fortunately, I have been able to work in a variety of primary classrooms to try out the tools.

It's so important to introduce nonfiction early to address the curiosity kids have about the world. Too often, nonfiction reading and writing takes a backseat to fiction. This book will encourage teachers to utilize "real" books and "real" writing, and it will provide them with tools to do it.

Co-authoring a book has its challenges. Barry Lane, with whom I am creating this book, lives in Vermont; I live in Oregon. So, obviously we don't get together much. Fortunately, technology helps us communicate. Each week we have a Skype meeting, which is a way to make phone calls from computer to computer. It's easy and free and allows us to keep our hands free to find papers, take notes, or drink tea. Pretty slick.

[ add comment ]   |  permalink  |  related link
Another Tack 

I was headed off, downwind, testing the sails on the screenwriting direction. Then I get an e-mail from a friend with whom I have been writing a book about teaching nonfiction reading and writing. The work has been going on a few years now, and the project has been put on hold various times for various reasons. But now it looks like the time is ripe to complete the book and launch it into the world. So now it's time to focus my attention on that project for a few months so that it can get finished. Changing directions, especially when you are sailing downwind, is not always easy, but in this case I think it's the best course of action.

Will I return to explore the craft of screenplay? There are no certainties when it comes to writing, but I like to think I will. I have written down my premise and tucked it neatly away in my screenwriting workbook for another day. In the meantime, every movie I watch I will be preparing for that day.

[ add comment ]   |  permalink  |  related link
Oh! Happy Day! 
Couldn't resist a comment on this day. It is an historic day, not only because we have inaugurated our first president of color but because of the hope he represents in the face of all our nation's crises. Obama's election buoyed my faith in fellow citizens who have looked beyond the color of a person's skin to the content of his or her character, spirit, and wisdom. With this new leadership, and with the help of all Americans, young and old, I am certain we can meet the challenges that face us.

My faith renewed in our politcal system, I may even do some writing about it. I have a couple book ideas, one about presidents and the other about the White House, that have been hiding in my files for awhile. Maybe it's time to do something about that.

[ add comment ]   |  permalink  |  related link
Back East 
Just returned from a memorable journey to the east coast. It was a work-related conference that drew me, but there was more. Much more. The conference was in New York City, which is a place unto itself. There's nothing like it: its sights, sounds, smells, people. "Skyscraper National Park," as Kurt Vonnegut put it. Forget about the horizon; you won't find it. I didn't see a blade of grass either in the four days I spent there. But the city has a richness, a texture that is so unique that it is a writer's dream. It's all about details, which is what we love to observe: the piles of garbage bags that line the streets, the competing car horns, the streams of people, the music of many languages, the hum that goes on all night, the sidewalks, the asphalt.

Inspiration abounds in that place, and I gratefully received all I could get. Of particular interest was the Museum of Modern Art, where I got to experience works of some of my favorite artists - Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet - and a Broadway play - Wicked - that was entertaining and creative.

How will these experiences translate into my writing? Who knows? What I do know is that they have reinforced my interest in creating, and they have enhanced my life. That's plenty.

On my trip east I was also able to visit the area in New Jersey - Hunterdon County - where I did my early growing up: years 1 to 18. I am fortunate to have some longtime friends from high school, with whom I visited. We had a great time sharing stories, both true and exaggerated, from our past.

Another highlight was visting the house I consider my home as a kid. Thanks to the generous family living there, I was able to walk around inside the house, traveling back in time fifty years to when I lived there. Sure it looks different now, but I was able to find parts of the house - the front door, stairway, trimwork, door hardware - that I remember when I lived there. Family stories bubbled up like a spring and I was floating in memories. I still am...

[ add comment ]   |  permalink  |  related link
Happy New Year! 
Another year is almost in the bag, and it's time to look ahead. It's also time to take a stretch.

My stretch during this holiday break is to work on a screenplay. Yep, you heard right. A story for the screen. What's this, you may ask, have to do with real things, nonfiction, REAL WRITING?
Absolutely nothing!

Call it a break, a hobby, a crazy whim. Whatever. It's a way to switch gears, a way to expand my mind. Think of writing like exercise; if all you do is run, riding a bike or swimming can be a fun alternative for a bit. The challenge is you use different muscles, so you can easily get fatigued.

Same with writing. Writing fiction is a different exercise than nonfiction, my usual pursuit. What's so fun about fiction is that you can make things up as you go. Facts take a backseat. Imagination takes the wheel. But driving for very long is very exhausting (I have to stop by the side of the road often).

I have no expectations about this project, and don't even know if I'll complete it. We'll just have to see. In the meantime, I'm continuing to market my finished works, trying to find them good homes.

Have a happy, healthy New Year! Try stretching yourself; who knows what might result.

[ add comment ]   |  permalink  |  related link
Class Visit 
Had a great visit with a local class of seventh graders recently: Mrs. Smith's class at Prairie Mountain School in Eugene. They were reading my Personal Tour of Monticello book. I talked with them about writing in general, and why people write ("Because we all have something to SAY!") and then we chatted about the book. I took in some of the resources I used in researching the book.

I had forgotten how research-heavy that series of books was. The purpose of that whole series (How It Was) was to take readers on on "tour" through the eyes of the people who lived, worked, and visited the places. To do that well, I wanted to include lots of details (e.g. what was Jefferson's routine during the day, how nails were made step-by-step, what kinds of games TJ's grandchildren played, what they ate for dinner, and on and on). Fortunately, I was able to get lots of research assistance. The staff at Monticello was VERY helpful, and they sent me piles of articles and papers. Colonial Williamsburg sent me a video of how nails were made, and even samples at stages of creation.

My visit was a reminder of how much I enjoyed working on that book and sharing the wonders of that fabulous place (That's what I wanted to say). I was very pleased with how the book turned out, but I would have preferred the traditional exterior shot of Monticello on the cover rather than a shot of the interior. Too bad I didn't have any voice in that decision. Maybe I will when I'm rich and famous! Don't hold your breath, though...

[ add comment ]   |  permalink  |  related link

Back Next