Friday, September 29, 2017

Banned Books & Censorship

For Banned Books week, I went to a reading held at the Rock Island Library. I got there in time to hear excerpts from Harry Potter, Judy Blume, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (in Middle English), and for the end with an essay by Harlan Ellison. It was another great evening honoring the right to read without limitations.

It wasn’t until the next morning that it occurred to me how important the role of censorship played in getting my sons to start reading in earnest on their own.

It started with Gary Paulsen’s Winterdance. I’d heard about it from my mother-in-law. I read it, loved it, and wanted my kids, my teenaged boys, to experience what I thought were the funniest parts. It was an adult book, so I figured I’d just read to them those parts and get out before they got too bored. I called them into the youngest’s bedroom, sat on the floor, and read out loud the part where Paulsen describes the first time he had his sled dogs out for a training run. He ends up being drug behind the makeshift rig so fast that the matches in his back pocket ignite. (I had a hard time not laughing.) On a night-time training run, the sled team ran into a skunk. Let’s say you don’t try to pull a skunk out of a dog’s mouth by the tail. (Still funny.) I read those pages out loud to them and left it at that. I was surprised when they each had to read the whole book.

Since that went well, I tried reading an entire book out loud—Jurassic Park. I was worried about some scenes being too graphicly scary, and wanted to avoid the cannibals all together, so I left them out of my reading. They read those edited parts for themselves. Censoring seemed like waving a red cape at a bull.

My husband did a similar thing with Catch-22. After he was done, the boys took turns reading the whole book.

In my opinion, for my family at least, censorship became a great tool to get reluctant readers interested enough to find out what they were missing by, you know, reading. 

My grown sons still read, each to his own tastes, and they've done well by it. They're interesting people to talk to.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Editing, Editing

I’ve been in full contest mode for the past few weeks. First was the Ghost Tales Contest sponsored as a fundraiser for the Colonel Davenport House. For that, I wrote up a story, from a young adult point of view, about a family ghost. I spent 3 days going over and over it: refining; switching words, and sentences, around; basically, trying to make the most of my 1,000-word allotment. I got it done with 913 words, and submitted early. I had other things to do.

One those “other” things turned out to be the River City Reader Short Fiction Contest. This one was more difficult. Made so because a prompt had to be incorporated into the story. This year’s selections were all quotes from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. There was a nice variety of sage and witty words from the master. None of which spoke to me. Until, that is, my fourth reading of the list. Something clicked and one of the quotes seemed perfect for a piece I’d already written for a book club meeting. The story was both real and a satire for an author whose work I really enjoyed. The trouble was my story clocked in at 978 words and I would only be allowed 300 words for my entry.


It seemed like an impossible task. There was only to do: try and see what I could come up with.

Reading the story again, I copied and pasted key paragraphs and dialog into a new document. 700 words.

I began cutting into the paragraphs and eliminating whole sentences wherever I could. The ones not directly involving the true essence of the story arc. Cute stuff. 600 words.

More cutting of cute stuff. Miscellaneous funny business. Nonsense dialog. (You’d have to know something of Jenny Lawson’s books & blog.) 500 words.

Now, came the serious rearranging of the remaining elements into a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. 400 words.

So close to the goal of 300 words. It was time to get RUTHLESS.

A last-ditch, late-night push. 290 words. That was WITH the quote. (The quote wouldn’t be counted, but we were encouraged to be conservative.)

However, my story left a bit to be desired when I read it again the next morning. Time for the extra dose of fine tuning: choosing the exact words to use, pruning the wrong words here and there, and shifting things around so they made the most sense for the plot. Even coming up with a better ending. Everything was done as a balancing act. If I added something here, something there had to be shortened. 290 words.

After another day of effort, and I still had 290 words with a coherent story that was true to the original theme and mood.

With the approval from my favorite Beta reader, I submitted the story early. (Contest deadline: 5 pm CDT Oct 10)

Subtracting the 17 words of the quote, that wouldn’t be counted, that gave me a final total count of 273 words out of the starting 978. I had achieved a 72-percent word reduction with my editing binge. I considered having cocktails for lunch.

For more information about the River City Short Fiction Contest:

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Million-Dollar Photo

A recent article in the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus by Lisa Hammer reported that the Village of Bishop Hill will receive close to 2 million dollars with a grant and a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the water system.

This help has been sorely needed for a long time. I know because I, along with many others, have been taking photographs of the tower over those years. I’ve taken pictures of the tenacious black squirrel that tried living up there. I’ve witnessed the leaks it caused and the many others. Photographing the resulting icicles in each consecutive winter became a thing to do. It all led up to the winter of 2006. By December the ice build-up around the base of the old wooden tower was massive. A couple of metal struts were bending. There was real concern about one of the legs giving out. The only company the village could get to work on the tower couldn’t come until January. The Bishop Hill volunteer firemen were asked to help get the ice off the tower.

It all came together on Dec. 12th. The firemen were out in force with the new ladder truck and ready to do battle with the giant icicle that weighed an estimated 11 tons. I stood in the crowd that had gathered across the street. I kept my small camera safe and warm in my pocket waiting for the perfect moment for the best shot of the action. Thirty minutes, and some cold toes, later, I got my photo.

My little camera was what one photographer called a “happy snappy.” It wasn’t big or complex, quite the opposite, but it did the job. I sent the result to Doug Boock, the editor of Galva News. It made the front page of that week’s edition. It was also used for a year-end montage. What I didn’t know at the time was that Boock submitted it for two awards with the Illinois Press Association.

That following Sep. I went to the awards ceremony in Springfield and got to bring home a very nice first-place plaque for feature photograph. The office got the plaque. I got photos of me and my big moment.

Lorali Heintzelman, area specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was quoted as saying, “Not that we needed that [the photo of ice dangling from the tower], we had documentation, but a picture tells 1,000 words.”

I’m hoping that she was referring to my photograph and not one of the many others that were taken that day. Because I’d love to say that I had taken a million-dollar photo. 

I will probably never find out. In the meantime, it was still nice to go back, find those pictures, and relive a bit of my past in Bishop Hill.

Link to Lisa Hammer's article:

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Guest Posting

For this week's blog I wrote about a recent experience that was still nagging at me. It was accepted as a guest blog post for YourMoneyPage, a website filled with financial calculators and useful information. 

Follow this link to read about my $4.90 pen: