I find one of the great things to do is walk into a library and see what they’ve displayed as book suggestions. Mostly, what I love is the surprise. These books are almost always something interesting, quirky, something you hadn’t thought to read, or even ever heard about.
For writers, I think this is an essential endeavor. Reading widely, I’ve found, is so important. Putting yourself in the way of all kinds of ideas, people, modes of expression.
The library is where I find that. Mickey Spillane novels, nonfiction about municipal governance, biographies of some Japanese artist. I once read part of a book about the history of the word “Okay” because it was on display at my local library and the history of the word hadn’t occurred to me.
I don’t always finish these books – sometimes I take a brief excursion through them, is all.
But is it so worth it to stop in and see what’s on display!
My latest chance I took was on John Banville’s Time Pieces, which is an excellent piece of writing about Dublin, partly about his childhood, and some other stuff. I will finish that.
But I’m grateful that this community asset is available to me. So keep it up librarians, and many thanks for what you do!
Hey all — An invite to the presentation of a book that grew out a tremendously successful series of nonfiction writing workshops I gave to new writers at East L.A. Public Library.
The presentation of TELL YOUR TRUE TALE: East Los Angeles takes place this Saturday (April 26) at 2:30 pm, at the library, which is located at 4837 E 3rd St, (323-264-0155).
The volume is stunning for the mosaic of East L.A. it presents, as well as the variety and quality of the stories: A vet returning home from Vietnam; a janitor in Houston trying to find her children in Mexico; of braceros finding their way north and back home again; a man learning confidence as he woos a woman; a bus rider in Los Angeles; a mariachi singing for a heartbroken family on Christmas Eve.
All by folks who’d never published before: Andrew Ramirez, Celia Viramontes, Olivia Segura, Manuel Chaidez, Jacqueline Gonzalez, Joanne Mestaz, and Diego Renteria.
I call my workshops TELL YOUR TRUE TALE. They attempt to excavate new stories from unheard communities as they help new writers over the intimidating humps that keep them from realizing their writing dreams, and push them to start thinking like writers — all by mining the stories in their lives or those of people close to them.
Hope you all can make the presentation this Saturday, and pass along the word to others who might be interested.
For me, the overriding point, not touched on nearly enough in our education debate and media coverage, is how parenting and parental influence are simply determinant.
Compare this young man’s story to that of his roommate from Inglewood, whose mother bought him books and attended to his education at home, sent him to school prepared.
We have a school system, even when funded well, that is not set up to be, can never be, a kid’s lone teacher.
Apparently in this young man’s case, it was just that. So despite great work ethic and intentions, he arrives at college unarmed.
Parents must be teaching their kids from pre-school on. Otherwise the results are disastrous. But in our rush to blame institutions for every problem, this goes overlooked, I think.
This is at least one of LAUSD’s biggest challenges, if not the biggest. Thousands of kids show up every year with almost no parental help or preparation. Their exits in ninth or tenth grade are thus predictable.
So the principal contacted parents of the half of that year’s kindergarten class that was clearly already falling behind. They invite them to Saturday morning seminars to learn simple, cheap ways of teaching their kids at home.
One suggestion was t0 draw numbers in salt poured on cooking sheets and have the children do the same. Another was to ask a child in a supermarket the name of a certain letter or number.
This was so basic, the barest minimum. It was painful and frightening to see that so many parents were not even doing that. Some of them didn’t know what to do with their kids. As this was a school of children of Mexican immigrants, a good number of parents brought with them the feeling, imbued by the Mexican government, that education was the government’s job and that parents, particularly uneducated parents, had no role in their children’s learning.
But half of those the principal invited didn’t even show up.
Still, I thought of her when I read Kurt’s story. She had some answers, I think.
I’m in Portsmouth, in southern Ohio, a region that has taken a beating from so many corners in the last 30 years.
Farm crisis, factory jobs going overseas, and lately, the hyper-marketing of prescription painkillers, which led to the nation’s first pill mills (unscrupulous docs selling prescriptions like candy for cash).
That led, before many years had passed, to great amounts of addiction to Mexican black-tar heroin delivered by guys from the town of Xalisco, Nayarit — a massive and quiet epidemic, and what the book I’m working on is all about.
The heartland of America — who knew?
This area is showing a few signs of coming back. I just today had conversations with two women today who give me hope. But it’s slow and there’s a long way to go, for having fallen so far.
By the way, the pet store said the people by Red Belly Piranhas to raise in aquariums. They get about as big as a human hand.
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius probably wasn’t thinking about writing when he said this:
Do not disturb thyself by thinking of the whole of thy life. Let not thy thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles which thou mayest expect to befall thee: but on every occasion ask thyself, What is there in this which is intolerable and past bearing? For thou wilt be ashamed to confess. In the next place remember that neither the future nor the past pains thee, but only the present. But this is reduced to a very little, if thou only circumscribest it, and chidest thy mind, if it is unable to hold out against even this.
But I’ve always found a sentiment like this to be enormously helpful in writing. Breaking down a task into little bits, isolating them, then doing that one task, and not thinking about all you have to do to finish your project. Even if they’re not done in what would seem obvious chronological order, it’s better to focus on small, doable writing tasks.
When I’m on a larger writing project — as I am now, with a book I’m putting together on heroin and prescription painkillers, I usually spend a lot of time writing what I call “chunks.” Could be anecdotes, or stories shaped around a quote, or just observations or descriptions of a place or person — things that might well make it into the final draft of what I’m writing.
I was talking to a prison inmate the other day who wants to write a book about his life. I said, don’t set out to write a book. It’s like climbing a mountain. Try crossing the street — write a story from your childhood. Just one. then write another, maybe from adulthood. Next day, another. Never think you’re heading toward assembling a book. Pretty soon you’ll have a selection of pieces and can gather energy and encouragement from that.