For those who are looking for a critique service for their stories, should take a look at ‘Rate your story’, where published writers read and rate your story.
In 2016, they have changed their membership. You can read more about them at this site
For those who are looking for a critique service for their stories, should take a look at ‘Rate your story’, where published writers read and rate your story.
In 2016, they have changed their membership. You can read more about them at this site
The 5th Annual Holiday Contest!
I’m participating in Susanna Leonard Hill’s holiday contest: Write a children’s story, 350 words maximum, beginning with any version of “Rocking around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop.
Here is my entry, 350 words including the title.
Frolicking around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop, the young librarian didn’t notice that something unusual was going on at the children’s section.
Small bright flashes of light flickered and three fictional characters emerged from their book. They were Cat, Ballerina and Cowboy.
Ballerina stretched herself and said, “I’ve been dreaming of residing in his breast pocket. I want to be with him all day long.”
She wasn’t going to waste any time and strutted to him. Cowboy threw a lasso at her and pulled her back.
“Are you crazy. You can’t show yourself to him.”
“Why not?” Ballerina demanded.
“He’ll freak out. That’s what humans do when they hear fictional characters talking to them,” Cowboy replied.
Cat left to inspect the party. When he returned Cowboy and Ballerina were still fighting.
“Stop arguing. We should be having fun and enjoying the party. We only have till midnight before the fairy calls us in,” Cat intervened.
“ We can’t risk that anyone sees us and catches us. She can’t sit in his pocket. Tell her,” Cowboy said.
“You’re a bore,” Ballerina complained.
Cat bristled and arched his back. They stopped fighting.
He led them to the party and said, “Look.”
All party guests were slightly drunk and having a very good time. “He’ll probably think that his imagination has gone wild and that a beautiful fictional character has magically appeared,” Cat said.
“If you’re in danger, I’ll have to shoot him or anyone else for the matter,” Cowboy said and played with his gun.
They decided to have fun and to watch over each other.
“Don’t miss the switch at midnight or you’ll be stuck here. Watch that clock over there carefully,” Cat said.
Cat ran off to catch himself some salmon toast. Cowboy hid near the smoking director and threw his lasso at his cigar.
Ballerina climbed into the Christmas tree and tried to jump into the librarians’ pocket.
They didn’t know that a real cat had been watching them and had other plans for them.
I don’t really have a well-established writing habit. I write whenever I feel the urge to do so, often in the evening when it’s quiet and life has slowed down. You could say I’m kind of a nocturnal writer as the night easily draws me in.
I would like to have a more consistent daily writing habit and I hope that this writing challenge will help me foster that, even though that I started late and I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
I need my physical space to be clean, quiet and have everything at hand.
I used to write in a small rather cold room with no beautiful view. I felt cooped up and uninspired. I needed space to breath, think and let my wandering mind loose.
I changed my settings to the living room where it’s more spacious, warm, cosy and the view is better. I’ve got a lovely view at the sky and at some trees.
The change in scenery and amount of space worked well for me. I feel comfortable where I write now. Everything is at hand and I can work whenever I want to. That’s why I prefer to write at home.
But if I owned a laptop, I would certainly write once in a few weeks in a coffee shop for a short time and see how it affects my writing.
I tried a few times writing in public places with my notebook and pen, but it didn’t work well for the story I was working on. It was a great experience though to jot down characters and get some brainstorming done.
Once, I was in a funk and needed a change of scenery. I bought a round-about train ticket, which gives you the opportunity to travel for one day anywhere you want in the country, and had my notebook with me.
My goal was to get inspiration and write whatever emerged. I can’t remember if I had written much, but I do know that the journey was interesting and fun. I hopped on and off in several train stations and enjoyed watching the scenery and the people it occupied.
I dream about writing in exuberant and inspiring cities as Paris, New York, Rome and London. I think that any place there is fodder for my creativity. Until then, I keep pounding away at my PC and view at the sky.
The greatest regret I have is that, early in my career, I showed myself such cruelty for not having accomplished anything significant. I spent so much time trying to write, but was paralyzed by how behind I felt. Many years later I realized that if I had written only a couple of pages a day, I would’ve written 500 pages at the end of a year (and that’s not even working weekends). Any contribution you make on a daily basis is fantastic. I still happen to write almost everything at once, but I now cut myself slack on all of the thinking and procrastination time I use. I know that it’s all part of my creative process.
Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men
Excerpt from Getting There: A Book of Mentors, by Gillian Zoe Segal
I remember vividly the day of your cremation. It was a slightly windy late summer day. Dressed in a blue flocked skirt and white shirt, as a very young girl, I entered with my family into the building and was immediately struck by the buzzing gossips. Everyone seemed to have spun their own tale about your sudden death.
I remember being scared to see you as I had never seen a dead person before. After bolstering up some courage, I peeked into the coffin. At first, I was shocked and backed away. My aunt pushed me back to the coffin and ordered me to take a good look at you.
“That’s where bad girls end,” she stated hatefully. “Listen to your parent and you won’t end up like her.” You know, this aunt is still mean. I wish she were gone and you were still alive.
I forced myself to take a long look at you. I secretly touched your cold swollen face. You were lying there so quietly, dressed in bride’s clothing. People said your face was swollen because of the poison you had taken in.
I still can’t wrap my head around your suicide. Why did you do it? You had just graduated and you had a bright future ahead. You were my role model, the first woman in our family to be graduated from pharmacy. You showed your professional skills as you brewed your own suicide drink. I don’t know what was going on in your head and life. No one knows. I wish you had someone to talk to. I wish someone had stopped you. I wish you were here now.
I often think about how life would have been if you hadn’t killed yourself. I would probably have visited your children’s graduation by now. We would hang out. I would call you for advice and listen to your stories. I want you to know that you’ve always been on my mind and in my heart. Even if you left life too early, you made an impact on me. You were my inspiration to follow my path. You were even once the subject of a story contest. I didn’t win, but I didn’t care. I wanted to give you a voice, something that you probably didn’t have back then. I’m a grown woman now. I graduated, but you weren’t there. I want you to know that I’m doing okay and I hope to meet you in an afterlife. I’ve got tons to tell you.
The picture is from artist Danielle Feliciano, 2011, who made it for her Kickstarter project ‘Unlocking the right brain’ to gather money to letter pressing a work book on creative visual thinking. The picture is a creative representation of the expertise creative thinking. Most people agree that creative thinking is an important skill, in business as well as in the personal realm, to succeed in life. But what is creative thinking? I like to go with this definition.
“Specific thought processes which improve the ability to be creative. Being in an optimal state of mind for generating new ideas. To think deliberately in ways that improve the likelihood of new thoughts occurring. To maximize the ability of the brain to think of new ideas. The ability to think of original, diverse and elaborate ideas. A series of mental actions which produce changes and developments of thought. The process of exploring multiple avenues of actions or thoughts.” 1
In this definition, these aspects of creative thinking stand out: thought process, creative, generating, and new ideas. Some people are experts in creative thinking and others have mastered it themselves. Some great examples of the latter are Steve Jobs, Leonardo Da Vinci and J.K. Rowling. Some great teachers in creative thinking are Edward de Bono, Michael J. Gelb and Steven Pressfield.
Creative thinking is an intangible thought process that takes place in the brains and this picture displays that very well, in the centre of the picture stands the left and right brains, and each side of the brains are surrounded by other things.
The picture shows at the outer side of the left brain hand drawings of a ruler, a chess piece, a bee and part of a honey structure, a pen, some mechanic component. The bee has been magnified to make it notable. The proportions of the items are quite similar, none of them really stands out nor pushes the other to the background, which proof that they are all relevant. These items aren’t just drawn as an embellishment of the brain. Each of them represent a function of the left brain. The ruler depicts linear thinking, the chess piece stands for logic and judgment, the bee represents science and research, the honey structure reflects logical thought and the mechanic components depicts analytical thinking.
At the outer side of the right brain, flowers, a green bird, a man’s head, musical notes, a brush, a needle, a ball and something that resembles a pearl necklace have been drawn. Compared to the items at the left side of the brain, these items are a bit bigger. This may suggest that the focus of this painting is on the right side of the brain, the side where most people think that creative thinking takes place. The brush stands for art, the musical notes represent music, the green bird depicts the big view, the overview, the pearl stands for pattern comprehension, the two flowers depict spatial awareness, the head stands for holistic thought, the ball for flow of thought and process, and the needle shows the ability to find a solution for something difficult. From all the items at the right side, the bird, the head and the ball are proportionally bigger than the rest. A possible reason may be that those objects symbolized the qualities that the artist needed in the daunting process of creating her book.
This image reinforces the common thought that creative thinking takes place in the right brain, which functions are holistic thought, spatial awareness, intuition, creativity, art and music. The left brain functions are logic, analytic thought, language, reading, writing and science. The idea that creative thinking takes place in the right brain is old news, as mentioned in the online post ‘The real neuroscience of creativity’ by Scott Kaufman, who writes that according to the latest findings, “Creativity doesn’t involve a single brain region or single side of the brain.” The picture has divided the functions of both brains, as explained before, by focusing more on the functions of the right brain. The picture, however, acknowledges the importance of both brains by showing them in equal proportion. Scott Kaufman says, “..the entire creative process– from preparation to incubation to illumination to verification–consists of many interacting cognitive processes (both conscious and unconscious) and emotions.
Depending on the stage of the creative process, and what you’re actually attempting to create, different brain regions are recruited to handle the task.” Three large-scale networks are involved in the neuroscience of creativity, those are, the executive attention network, the imagination network, and the salience network. Depending on the stage of the creative process, these networks are activated and may work together to get a job done. The image lacks to show which brain regions are recruited in the entire creative process, how they interact together and thereby doesn’t visually depict the entire creative process.
The core idea is that the entire whole brain is involved in the creative process, the way depends on the stage of the creative process. This raises the question how one can effectively use both brains to get the most out of creative thinking.
1 Brainstorming.co.Uk. Infinite Innovations Ltd. Web. 3 November 2014
Kaufman, Scott Barry. “The real science of creativity, Scientific American.” Scientific American. Scientific American, Inc. 19 August, 2013. Web. 3 November 2014
Americans are constantly reminded of the contradictions concerning the meaning and impact of race.
We can as a nation claim progress as it pertains to race. After all, a majority of American voters have twice elected President Barack Obama to the most powerful office in the world.
Yet, for as much progress as we have made there is as much work to be done. The recent killings by police of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York remind us how race shapes the often hostile relationship between law enforcement and some communities. Racist comments by several NBA owners remind us that some remain polluted by the foolish belief in the fundamental superiority and inferiority…
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Integration may be the law of the land, but most of the books children see are all white.
— Nancy Larrick, “The All-White World of Children’s Books,” The Saturday Review, September 1965
Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?
— Walter Dean Myers, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?,” The New York Times, March 2014
Some shocking facts: of the 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, only 93 were about black people, 34 about Native Americans, 69 about Asians and 57 about Latinos (people from South America)
— Emily Drabble, “Why are we holding a diversity in children’s book week,” Web. The Guardian, October 2014
Nearly fifty years later, the issue of diversity in children’s book is still pressing. The only positive development in this period is the expansion of diversity into inclusion of racial, ethnic, cultural, gender and (lower) social class representation. This post focuses primarily on inclusion of other races and ethnicities because their omission is most palpable.
Life shows that the demographics of the US has changed and is still changing. About 40 percent of public school students nationwide are black and Latino, yet, the disparity of their representation in children’s books is egregious. CCBC, The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, says, “..the total number of books about people of color—regardless of quality, regardless of accuracy or authenticity—was less than eight percent of the total number of titles we received.”
For the past twenty eight years, CCBC has been documenting the number of children’s books they receive annually by and about people of color. In 2012, CCBC received approximately 3,600 books in 2012. Of those,
• 119 books had significant African or African American content
• 68 books were by Black authors and/or illustrators
• 22 books had American Indian themes, topics, or characters
• 6 books were by American Indian authors and/or illustrators
• 76 books had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content
• 83 books were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage
• 54 books had significant Latino content
• 59 books were by Latino authors and/or illustrators
Lee & Low Books, an independent children’s book publisher focusing on diversity provides the next image which shows the tremendous diversity gap in children’s books.
These numbers are shocking. It is frustrating that little progress has been made while the world is continuing changing. There are several reasons to vote for diversity in children’s books. The world is a diverse place, yet, this diverse world isn’t depicted in the world of children’s books. Through books we educate and form children, and, if children only get to see a selected part of the world, we set them up to view and experience life through a partial lens in which white kids and their lives are being perceived as normal, the default state, and everything else is deviant, not normal. . Rudine Sims Bishop, professor emerita of The Ohio State University, frames the problem with the metaphor of “mirror” and “window” books. She says, “All children need both. Too often children of color and the poor have window books into a mostly white and middle- and-upper-class world.” Children are highly formed by what they see, read, hear and experience in their formative years. It’s important that they value the world as it is, which is a highly diverse place, and learn to appreciate the differences and learn to see the sameness in people. If we don’t teach children that, they will see the world from a place of me is normal, and otherness is not normal.
Also, by excluding people, whether it is because of their race, gender, social class, religion, ethnicity, disability, we dehumanize them and rob them of their existence. The far-reaching effects of dehumanizing people shows off in daily life. When Dean Meyers did research on his book ‘Monster’, he talked a white lawyer who defended poor clients who said that getting witnesses for the defendants was not as difficult as it sometimes appeared on television. “The trouble,” he said, “is to humanize my clients in the eyes of a jury. To make them think of this defendant as a human beings and not just one of ‘them.’
Books transmit values about people, about society and about life. If we exclude people, we transmit the message they are not worthy and not part of this society, which has harms the self-esteem of those unrepresented. Another negative effect of under representation is that it feeds daily racism. Unconsciously, people rely on what they see and read, and take that for reality. When I was a student twenty years ago, my colleague students harassed me with racial questions over and over again. They couldn’t believe that an Indian woman was intelligent and studied. I didn’t fit their limited preconceived notions about other people and obviously they hadn’t read about or experienced people like me before. If non-white people and their lives don’t exist in books, people can’t take notice of them. A diverse range of people need to be depicted in children’s books but inclusion alone is not enough. The way people are depicted is also important. In books, black people are often misrepresented and victimized as if their entire life is surrounded by struggle and overcoming racism. People live full lives and want to be presented fully.
Studies show the value of reading to the child’s development, especially in their formative years. The article in Huffingpost, Why More Diversity in Children’s Literature Is Absolutely Necessary, describes the value of reading to children, “These shared positive interactions help foster a secure attachment relationship between parents and children, and research shows the importance of these high quality parent-child relationships to both the developing brain and later academic and social outcomes.” If the disparity gap and badly representation discourages non-white parents to read to their children, we rob their children of shared positive connections.
Already in the late 70s and the early 80s, researchers found that good readers make connections to themselves and their community. The disparity gap causes children of other races and ethnicities who can’t mirror themselves in books to read less, consequently, causing them to make less connections.
It is clear that the lack diversity in children’s books impacts negatively the lives of underrepresented children. Society doesn’t need more research to proof why. More attention needs to be focused on the solution side. The question rises what can be done to improve the situation.
Ellen Oh, YA author and former entertainment lawyer, wasn’t going to wait any longer. She launched a campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks to push the discussion forward. Luckily, many people showed they cared, too, however, not enough to change the publishing industry. In the sixties, publishers were said to cater to the need of the white audience. Nowadays, publisher still fear that they won’t make money with diverse books. They have been proven wrong with ‘Monster’ by Dean Myers and other books. Unfortunately, they are reluctant and probably catering the majority of readers that don’t want equal representation yet. There is a play of economic powers that keeps the misbalance alive. The shift will probably take place next generation when nearly half of the US population will be non-white and their economic forces can’t be ignored.
There are things that can be done right now to press the matter ahead. Writers and authors need to do some self-reflection. Many of the current writers don’t include non-white characters in their story let alone have them as main character. When I took part in a children’s writing course, the teacher asked the members what stopped them from writing about non-white characters and why they didn’t have any non-white characters as the protagonist of the story. Someone said bluntly that they didn’t know such persons, others claimed they didn’t feel compelled to it and others said they didn’t know how to write those characters, being white, they felt more comfortable to write about white characters. The latter corresponds with what an attendee of a writer’s conference, a middle aged white woman, declared. According to her, writers write what they know about and since most writers are white, they write about their own life and what they encounter. Seemingly, their personal world isn’t much diverse. In daily life, I socialize with non-whites as well as whites which enables me to write about a diverse cast. If writers really want to, they can, after proper research, write about people and cultures outside their personal circle. Willingness is the key.
While the children’s literature branch is a tough nut to crack, a slight progress on inclusion is being made in comics and on certain TV channels. Issa Rae started writing and producing her own web series ‘The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl’ when she didn’t see young people like her in regular media in characters and stories she grew up with. With her successful web series she created her own niche. I believe this effect may, as long as economic powers don’t shift, carry over to publishing and people will eventually grab onto self-publishing diverse books, probably in co-operation with editors, illustrators and other writers. In publishing children’s books, the most expensive costs are illustrations. If people can find a good solution for that, it is bound that self-publishing will take off fast. The teacher of my writing course encouraged writers to start drawing their own illustrations. Hopefully, children’s literature doesn’t have to wait another five decades before change will occur. After all, an inclusive world is a much better place to live in, for everyone.
Frank Bass. White Share of U.S. “Population Drops to Historic Low”. Bloomberg. 2013. Web. 31 October 2014
Emily Drabble, “Why are we holding a diversity in children’s book week,” Web. The Guardian, October 2014
K.T. Horning. “I see white people”. CCBlogC. 2013. Web. 31 October, 2014
Kathleen T. Horning, Merri V. Lindgren, and Megan Schliesman. “A Few Observations on Publishing in 2012”. CCBC. 2013. Web. 31 October 31, 2014
Nancy Larrick, “The All-White World of Children’s Books,” The Saturday Review, September 1965
Lee & Low Books. 2014. Web. 31 October, 2014
Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words pumpkin, broomstick, and creak (Writing Prompt)
It was a dark gloomy October night.
Creaking sounds woke up little Damini.
She slipped out of bed and tiptoed to the window.
Outside, a black cat on a broomstick and a pumpkin,
dangling below it, whooshed by.
“Ohhhh..I wish I could fly with you,” Damini whispered.
The black cat had heard her wish and turned to pick her up.
Little happy Damini sprung onto the broomstick.
“Where do you want to go, little miss?” the black cat asked.
“To the moon and the stars,” Damini replied.
In a twinkling, they reached the moon and enjoyed the starry October night
You step into an acquaintance’s house for the first time, and discover that everything — from the furniture, to the books, to the art on the wall — is identical to your home. What happens next? (Daily writing prompt)
The door swung open and Idaya, an acquaintance, invited me in.
“I had been waiting for you,’ she smiled, prancing to the living room. I hadn’t the faintest idea why she had invited me as we had only met a few times at a mutual friend’s party. When I stepped into the living room, my eyes widened. I stared around, surprised. Everything was a copy of my living room.
“Do you like it?” Idaya asked, “I had it recently redecorated.”
“It’s like my own home,” I said and touched the books on the shelf, reading some titles.
“Even the books are the same. Why?” I asked. Idaya looked at me not knowing what I meant. “How did you get the same stuff as I have?”
“Oh dear, don’t be ridiculous. This is my stuff. I’ve bought it in the shops. I’ve had those books for ages.” I shook my head in disbelief and felt weird.
Stammering, I asked her, ”Why did you invite me?”
“I wanted to get to know you better. I’ve heard we share the same passions and I thought we should meet.” Idaya acted normally. She took my hand and ushered me out of the living room. “I want you to see the rest of the house.”
My jaw dropped when I saw my bedroom in her house. Everything was the same, from the covers to the paint on the wall. She had even the same brush on her vanity. I picked up the brush, turned it to see it had the same logo as my brush. My stomach was in turmoil. I felt sick and wanted to throw up.
“Is something wrong?” Idaya asked. I rushed to the bathroom and threw up. In the background, the sound of the doorbell rang. Idaya excused herself to open the door, “That must be my husband.”
I pinched myself hard to make sure I wasn’t having a bad dream. I looked up into the mirror, my face revealed my confusion. Moment later, reflected in the mirror, I saw Idaya and her husband stepping into the bath room, both smiling and holding each other like lovers do. I was shocked, spun around and hold my finger out at her. Before I could speak, she said, “This is my husband, Navin.”
I freaked out and shouted at her, “You’ve stolen my husband and my life. He’s mine. His name is Pratab.”
Idaya laughed it off, “Don’t be silly. This is my husband.” I felt like I had entered twilight zone.
“You wicked witch,” I murmured before I went into another dimension where everything was blank. I heard laughter in the background.
Next thing I knew, I woke up in a mental hospital, confused. I saw Idaya and my husband at her side talking to a doctor. She turned her face, smiling, she sauntered towards me. Something wicked oozed out of her. I wanted to run away from her but I was bound. “Get away from me,” I whispered. She put her hand on my head, leaned in and hissed, “You’re life is mine.” As she walked away, she flashed her false smile, and showed her true nature for a minuscule second. I saw her face changing in an alien and screamed my lungs out till the doctor sedated me. “She stole my life,” I murmured before I went into an unconscious state.