Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sesame Street and the very, very, very odd sentence

One thing my family can agree on: You CANNOT watch TV with me. Or movies, either. I'm one of those people who takes what they see on TV and includes narrative. It's not something like Mysterious Science Theater 3000, but more like a running commentary on what I am seeing.

For example, one day as my daughter was watching an episode of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, I made the comment of how kids cannot survive in outer space without a spacesuit when Jimmy and his friends built rockets out of theme park rides and flew into outer space to save their parents.

On another occasion, when we saw a TV commercial advertising yogurt that has labels which try to teach kids the alphabet, I started ranting and raving about how the letter "K" could not possibly be for "karate teacher." According to my rant, the proper word is sensei. "Just say 'karate'!" I fumed.

My daughter learned two things that day. 1: A karate teacher is called a sensei. And 2: Never, ever try to convince Mommy that "K" is for "karate teacher." Ever.

As it is, last night, I was watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Gates McFadden's character, Dr. Crusher, had a mysterious patient who finally awoke from his coma. That was the good news. The bad news was that he couldn't remember his name, where he came from or anything about what happened that caused him to end up in sickbay. Of course, this lead into a commercial break, where I promptly shrugged my shoulders and said, "Maybe it's a temporary thing."

I bring all of this up because, sometimes, I look for an opportunity to teach my kids things when it comes to TV. Sure, I like to poke fun at what we see some of the time, or elaborate on just WHY a particular commercial was "so dumb." (And I'm not the only person in my extended family who does this. My father cracked jokes at movies he watched all the time, and some of my siblings would offer funny lines of dialogue for those suspenseful moments of silence in TV shows and movies. It's a family affair, I guess.)

Sometimes, I also take what I see on TV shows and commercials to teach my oldest child something about writing. The other day, for example, I was on the couch with my children, watching Sesame Street. At one point, the Muppets Elmo and Lulu asked a little boy to write out their story. The title of the story? "The Princess with the Very, Very, Very Long Hair." Ugh.

I rolled my eyes, looked at my daughter and said, "You know, you don't need to say 'very, very, very long hair.' Just say very long hair! And show people how long her hair is by saying something like 'her hair was so long, it reached down to her feet' or 'her hair grew past her feet.'"

I don't think that this left much of an impression on her. She just nodded then continued to watch the program. But, hey, at least I tried. It's Sesame Street, not Writing Lessons for Children.

Maybe I'll just stick to jokes from now on.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hooray for getting up at 5 a.m.!

Because I am a writing parent, getting up early in the morning to get stuff done is a necessity. I don't get up so early just to have the coveted "me time," though I do find time to pray and read while enjoying my first cup of coffee. I also use it to get things done for my writing projects. And this morning, did I ever get things done!

In the span of just 4 hours, I managed to:

  • Find a beta reader for my children's book manuscript (this is the revised version and even though I felt that draft was final, I still wanted to find some readers just to be sure there are no hard words for children. One parent I asked is enlisting her THREE children to read it -- HOORAY! -- and my daughter, age 8, will read it, too).

  • Find a beta reader for the chapters I wrote for the Revisions book, on revising short fiction

  • Take care of business related to an article I sold (woot!)

  • Fix up and submit the two extra chapters requested by publisher for the Praying book

  • Reconnect with sources for the next volume to follow Spook City

I also got caught up on emails and, on the nonwriting side of things, scheduled an appointment for a tour of a preschool I am planning to enroll my youngest child in (*sobs* MY BABY!!!).

Overall, I am happy with what I have managed to accomplish this morning. The children did wake up early, as well -- my oldest, shortly after I did, and my youngest while I was working on fixing up those chapters -- but they have been playing all morning, as well as watching TV and eating breakfast, so I still managed to have a productive morning. I look forward to seeing what will come about from everything I've managed to accomplish so far. And now to use any extra free time I have available today for writing!

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Short fiction week

You know how it is, when you've put together the best-laid plans, yet something else happens? As a writer, this happens with me a lot. I try to plan out my week to include time spent working on my various projects going on: Books (usually more than one), book reviews, the occasional SIGNews article, freelancing, editing/revising and research. I try to plan it all out but, sometimes, life plans it out for me.

That's exactly what happened this week. I became immersed in everything related to short fiction: Writing, revising, researching and submitting short stories. Even finding markets for short stories. This ended up being provident, since this week, I was also focused on typing up the chapters I'd written for the section of my Revisions book on revising short fiction. So, in a way, I could "practice what I preached" as far as what the chapters covered. On days I didn't write, revise or submit short stories (and, actually, that was just one day out of the week, because I changed my mind about submitting a short story because I decided it needed more work), I read short stories as well as articles on the writing and revising of short stories.

Of the 6 short stories I sent out, 5 were accepted. I am still waiting to hear back on one other short story. I am ecstatic about this acceptance rate. These stories were accepted for publication in various anthologies, and while I think it is fun to do the anthology thing, I know I must challenge myself to take the next step: Getting short stories published in magazines. I have had only one short story published in one magazine and one short story published in one E-Magazine. I have received rejections from one magazine in particular I tried to break into. I need to try some others and see how that works out. Before that can happen, however, I must finish and polish the remaining short stories that I have, if not write up some other ones. That will take time.

As mentioned, I did get some acceptances this week, which I am very grateful for. I could NOT believe my luck! And I just felt so exhilarated when the editor accepting my stories commented that I am a "gifted storyteller." (Don't worry, I won't let that go to my head. It was so nice for someone to say that to me!) One of the stories accepted is one which I wrote many years ago. I gave it a complete rewrite, tailoring it specifically for a particular anthology's theme, and I am happy it will now see print. Another story is one of several I spent a whole week writing. That's right: For one week, I did nothing but write short stories. The ones which I felt were ready to submit are the ones I revised and sent off. The others...need a little more tinkering.

But that brings up an important point. We writers DO need to spend time just writing whatever strikes us. If it's a story, write it. If it's a poem, write it. It may not be perfect right now, and we may not have a market to submit it to right now, but the important thing to do is JUST WRITE IT. Get that story out of your head and onto paper. Write that article, write that poem. Chances are good a market will come along for that piece later, and all you'll have to do is pull it up, give it a good edit/revision, and send it off.

It worked for me. It can work for you, too.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Big words for small readers

Lately, I have been working on the revisions for my children's book, The Yellow Rose. I gave it a complete rewrite, though some fragmentary lines from the original are in the story. I was satisfied with the new version, yet, because I knew it was a children's book (for the age 8-12 crowd), I wanted to get feedback from a child.

My oldest child is almost 9, so I asked her to give it a read.

I was concerned she might have trouble understanding what was happening in the story but, instead, she ended up being confused over some of the words. The following is the list of words she needed a definition for:


I was surprised she didn't know the meaning of the word "ashore," on account of the popular children's song, "Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore." But, there it was.

I wrote down these words and discussed with her an alternative word that might be easier for children to understand.

Also, another thing I was concerned about it the name "Schmidt." I thought it would be too hard for her to read, but it wasn't. (Perhaps she has known someone with this last name?) Nevertheless, I am still leaning towards changing that name to something simpler.

I'm glad I got her feedback on the story and will work on fixing the words she didn't understand. Even though I'm not a gardener, and not involved in any kind of gardening (yet!), I feel that a book about a rose should have some aspects of gardening which should be emphasized in the story. I'll just have to make sure it is done in a way that a child can understand.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A different kind of book research

Not too long ago, I got an idea for a nonfiction book. This idea actually came to me after I was going through a publisher's page and checking out a series he was doing. The books had titles that started with "Devoted to..." and the following books had been published so far: Devoted to Economizing, Devoted to Traveling, Devoted to Writing, Devoted to Cooking, Devoted to Quilting, Devoted to Fishing and Devoted to Trucking. My friend and fellow writer, Jen Nipps, even did one of those books: Devoted to Creating. When I saw all that, I thought it was a nifty idea! I liked a series with such a title theme, and I started to think, Gosh, it sure would be nice if I could do one, too. Well, Devoted to Writing was already taken, so I thought maybe I missed that boat. How wrong I turned out to be.

After some time passed, I was struck with an idea for a Devoted book to do. It seemed like the perfect kind of book to write! I went through all the other books first, however, because I was worried that this particular book might not have an appropriate theme. But after reading the book excerpts and seeing that, yes, this theme COULD work, I decided to proceed. But, even still, I thought I would just wait to write this book. Give that idea some time to grow. Research it for a year or two. (I've got so many other projects on my plate, as it is! I'm burying myself in books!)

I started to flesh out my idea some more. Figure out what the chapters would cover. With that done, I set about doing research. I had to see if such a book has already been done. Unfortunately, I am not able to buy every single book out there on this topic, though I have bought one so far. In the old days, I used to do that. Buy tons of books on topics I was writing about (as I did with Druidism when I wrote November's Child). But the cost of books has gone up since then and I'm no longer as financially capable of such an expense as before. These days, I do what I can -- relying on the library, bookstore, Google Book Search and Amazon's "Look Inside" feature (these last two options are limited but at least they give me a good enough idea of what those books are about and what they cover. Thank goodness they include the entire Table of Contents!) I've been going through various books on this topic and I still managed to figure out how to make my book different. A plus is that many of the Devoted books had personal stories related to the topic, and I knew I could certainly write my own for this topic.

At that point, I felt confident enough in my abilities to write this book. I still wanted to wait to tackle this project, but before I knew it, I started writing it! Something just told me that NOW is the time for this book. So I sent an email before I proceeded further. Just to see if the publisher was open to accepting proposals for these books. He replied that he certainly was, and reminded me of what I needed to include.

Part of my writing routine has involved researching this book, but this week, that research has taken on another turn. My research has been limited to getting the proposal ready to go and spiffying up my sample chapter. I'm just about done and look forward to sending it all off.

From there, who knows what will happen? If he rejects it, I'll have to give it a new title and send it to a different publisher. But if he accepts my proposal, then I look forward to continuing with this project and eventually seeing it in print. I'll manage to juggle it along with my other projects somehow.

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