Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Looking for Giants

When I taught first grade I used to introduce our plant unit with a picture book called, Jasper's Beanstalk. It's a short story about an impatient cat who plants a beanstalk and ends up Looking for giants. This week, as I put the finishing touches on the revisions suggested by my beta readers, I found myself Looking for giants. The giant reference I needed was just for one line, yet, as a writer, we know that every line matters. 

In my research I discovered several stories about real life giants three of which I found interesting and thought you would, too. Most of these giants suffered from Acromegaly a serious condition that occurs when the body produces too much of the hormones that control growth. Today, we are able to treat Acromegaly through drugs, radiation or surgery, but one hundred years ago no one understood the disease, let alone how to treat it. If there had been a treatment, we may never have heard of Anna Haining Bates, Jane Bunford, or Zhan Shi Chai.

anna haining bates

Anna (1846 – 1888) was one of thirteen children and came into the world weighing eighteen pounds. By the time she was seventeen, she had reached her full height of 7 feet 5 ½ inches and weighed around three-hundred and fifty pounds. Like many with her affliction, Anna supported herself through touring with the circus. Anna's show consisted of her putting a tape measure around her waist and then doing the same to a lady from the audience. The tape would go around the average woman's waist three times. While touring Anna met her husband and fellow giant Martin Van Buren Bates. The Bates had two children, a stillborn daughter and a son who only lived for eleven hours, but until 1955 held the Guinness world record for the largest baby born in recorded history.
Image result for Anna Haining Bates
The husband and wife team retired from touring in 1880 with Anna passing in her sleep eight years later. When her husband requested a coffin from Cleveland, they assumed the measurements they received were a mistake and sent a standard sized coffin instead. After being assured by Martin that he knew his wife's measurements and yes, she actually existed, a proper coffin was sent three days later.

Jane “Jinny” Bunford (1895-1922)
Jane started life as a normal child in Bartley Green, a suburb of Birmingham, England, but a fall from her bike and subsequent head injury is believed to have damaged her pituitary gland. Jane grew until she reached somewhere between 7’11”, and 7’8”. 

Unlike most who suffered with this affliction, Jane avoided the circus tours choosing instead to work in the Cadbury factory in her home town of Bunford. Due to her lack of life on the circus, no photographs of her have ever been seen by or shown to the general public.  Jane, kind and gentle in demeanor, never married, but often watched neighborhood children.

Like many with hyperactive pituitary glands, Jane Bunford, died young. Guinness listed her as the tallest woman ever born. She also had the record for the longest hair; her auburn mane hung to a height of over eight feet.

zhan shi chai
Zhan Shichai (1841-1893)
Zhan Shichai, whose stage name was Chang Woo Gow, toured the world as Chang the Chinese Giant. His height was claimed to be over 8 feet. Zhan left China in 1865 to travel to London where he appeared on stage, later travelling around Europe, the US, and Australia. Zhan was educated in various countries ultimately learning to speak ten languages. While touring in America, he earned a salary of $500 a month, that's about $10,000 in today's dollars.

After the death of Kin Foo, the Chinese wife who accompanied Zhan from China, he married Catherine Santley, a Liverpudlian whom he met in Sydney, Australia. They had two children: Edwin, born in 1877 in Shanghai, and Ernest, born in 1879 in Paris.

In 1878, Zhan, like Anna, retired from the stage but unlike most of the other giants of his day, lived to see his fiftieth birthday.

Had you heard of real life giants before? Discovered interesting facts while researching one line in your ms? Wished finding the words to make that one line work wasn't so hard? As for the giants line that kick started this entire theme, it got cut. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Recently, I was at a schmooze and was informed that behind acting, writing is the second most competitive field. As an unpublished writer, this was not exciting news. 

Years ago when I set out to pursue a career as a writer, a dream I've had since elementary school, I never imagined such stiff competition but alas, it is what it is. I'm sure the mega-successes of the Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Divergent series has many weekend writers dusting off those old manuscripts and practicing their acceptance speeches. But what most burgeoning writers, present company included, don't realize is that good writing is hard work that requires imagination and passion—and then more hard work. Yes, anyone can get the words down on the page, but a good writer not only gets them on the page, they make you feel like every word on that page belongs on that page, in that exact place, as does all the words before it and all the words after it. They make you feel like you are a part of the story, living and breathing every moment with the characters. They make you forget the trials and tribulations of your life and allow you to go on an adventure that when it's over, you long for more. They do all that and they make it look easy, hence the over-crowding of a field that is anything but easy. 

As a writer, and lover of the written word, I encourage every one who dreams of being a writer to pursue that dream, however, before you do, I recommend  you heed the advice of these great authors— because writing isn't for cowards.
  1. If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. Dorothy Parker   
  2. I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.Harper Lee   
  3. If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.William Zinsser  
  4. You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.Jack London
  5. The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can't deal with this you needn't apply.Will Self
  6. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King 
  7. You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.Will Self 
  8. The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’Helen Simpson
If you still want to write after reading the above advice, pat yourself on the back, and take this bit of advice from Neil Gaiman,

Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you. ― Neil Gaiman

Are you a writer? What was the catalyst that pushed you forward? Did you know writing was as crowded a field as acting? Have you finished your acceptance speech?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Do you know what holiday it is this week? No, not Valentine's Day, that's not until Saturday, the holiday I'm talking about is celebrated today, February 11th. Today is NATIONAL DON’T CRY OVER SPILLED MILK DAY!

February 11th, NATIONAL DON’T CRY OVER SPILLED MILK DAY, is a day to celebrate the positive things in life.  To find the silver lining in every cloud. To look on the bright side of things and then carry that positive attitude with you every day after.

The idiom, Don’t cry over spilled milk means don’t worry about something that has already happened and can’t be changed.  If you have spilled a glass of milk, you can’t un-spill it or try to scoop it up and put it back in the glass. (I suppose you can, but do you really want to?) Your best bet is to clean it up and not dwell on the accident. Life is full of unexpected and unplanned things, finding something positive in all things can often make them easier to handle. It's not as easy as Bobby McFerrin makes it look in his video, Don't Worry Be Happy, but it's a start.

If you do spill your milk, why not take some direction from Charles G. Shaw's book, It Looked Like Spilt Milk and see what you see. Maybe you'll find something that puts a smile on your face.

How are you celebrating NATIONAL DON’T CRY OVER SPILLED MILK DAY? Do you make a habit of trying to find the positive things in your daily activities? Cry over spilled milk? I never cry over spilled milk since it could have been worse, it could have been spilled coffee!

P.S. Since I won't be back until next Wednesday...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

For sixty more minutes on the West Coast, it's still the first Wednesday of the month time for another IWSG post where we writers help each other deal with our insecurities. A warm thank you to Ninja Captain, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and his team of Ninjas, for providing writer's a safe and supportive format to speak openly, and without fear, about the insecurities that come with the craft of writing. Be sure to check out the IWSG Facebook page where writers can garner support more than once a month.

Every once in awhile I like to step back from reflecting on my own insecurities and assure myself that these feelings are shared by many much greater and far more successful than myself. In reading this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.  Do the thing you think you cannot do. I decided to delve into her insecurities and fears to gain understanding as to what she faced before she became the legend we know as First Lady of the World.

Several years ago I read a beautiful picture book about Mrs. Roosevelt and gained new insight about this former first lady. Here was a woman who battled depression due to the loss of her parents and brother at a young age, spent the first decade of her marriage under the thumb of an overbearing Mother-in-law (who not only insisted the newlywed couple live next door to them, but had sliding doors built between the townhouses for complete access), and a cheating husband who only stayed with her to please his mother.

Despite all this Mrs. Roosevelt went on to become a beloved first lady and a force to be reckoned with in the Civil Rights Movement. In comparing my life to hers I think I can find the strength to look fear in the face and as she instructs, do the thing I think I cannot do.

Eleanor Roosevelt was raised in a privileged but stern Victorian household, with an affectionate but mostly absent father and a critical mother who made fun of her daughter's looks. Alone and lonely for much of her childhood, Eleanor found solace in books and in the life of her lively and independent mind. Her intellectual gifts and compassionate heart won her the admiration of many friends -- and the love of her future husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Can you look fear in the face? How did you respond? Did you do that thing you thought you couldn't do? 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The 27th Letter of the Alphabet

Did you know that at one time the alphabet actually had 27 letters? Up until a few weeks ago, I didn't. What was that 27th letter? It was the ampersand (&). Although we still use the ampersand today, it's no longer regarded as a letter in the alphabet, it's been reclassified as an abbreviation or punctuation. 

In the 1800's when children recited the alphabet they ended with X,Y,Z, and per se, and. Per se actually means by itself,  so what the children were actually saying is X,Y,Z, and by itself and. Over time, and per se and, said quickly over and over resulted in new word: ampersand. 

After learning how and per se and became ampersand, I wonder if L,M,N,O,P will one day be it's own word, too.

Did you know the alphabet once had 27 letters? Are you a fan of the ampersand? Can you see LMNOP becoming an everyday word?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

“Serious art is born from serious play.” ― Julia Cameron

I'm taking the advice of Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, and having some serious play this week. Of course, I brought my revisions with me, so it's not really serious play, but it is play. I'll be back next week to see what you've been up to. Until then, scroll down and check out what I'm doing.

Here's where we're staying. It really is that pretty.

But, I'm not doing this...

Or this...

Or even this...

However, I am doing this...

...and this...

...a lot of this...

...and of course, this... 

I am, after all, working on revisions.

Are you working on any revisions? Taking time for serious play? Reading The Artist's Way? If so, how do you make time to play?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Happy Wednesday! It's time for my Book of the Month post where I highlight a random book that I've enjoyed at some point in my life. It may be an award winner, or just a winner to me, but I'll share my thoughts and would love to hear yours.

This month's book is We Were Liars by E. Lockhartwhich I read as part of my monthly Adults Who Read Y.A book club. Upon my initial read of the book I was not a fan. I hated the ending. The characters sounded like spoiled rich brats, which they are, who did a horrible thing because they didn't get what they wanted. Upon my second read, where I read it as a writer instead of a parent trying not to raise spoiled brats, (no worries about the rich part, I am a writer) I appreciated the book much more. During the second read I studied the craft, the creation of the characters, and their emotions. I studied the story. It was after this second read I was able to see We Were Liars for what it is... brilliance!

In our group discussion we dissected the art of lying and the facades we create everyday through the art of simple lies. We examined how normal looks within each of us and how, at times, we are all liars.  Prior to reading We Were Liars, I was not familiar with E. Lockhart's work, but I am now and look forward to reading her other books for both enjoyment and craft. 

New York Times Bestseller

"Haunting, sophisticated . . . a novel so twisty and well-told that it will appeal to older readers as well as to adolescents."--Wall Street Journal
"A rich, stunning summer mystery with a sharp twist that will leave you dying to talk about the book with a pal or ten."

"Thrilling, beautiful, and blisteringly smart, We Were Liars is utterly unforgettable." - John Green, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars
"You’re going to want to remember the title. Liars details the summers of a girl who harbors a dark secret, and delivers a satisfying, but shocking twist ending."
- Breia Brissey, Entertainment Weekly
Are you a fan of E. Lockhart? Have you read any of her books for craft? Speaking of craft, how do you improve yours? Do you read in your genre? Study Robert McKee's Story or Blake Snyder's Save the Cat?