Teaching Creative Writing to Middle Schoolers

Early in my career I spent several years teaching Creative Writing at the middle school level, and I loved it.

Don’t get me wrong: I love teaching Creative Writing at all levels from elementary school to published adults — and yes, I have and do teach it to all those age categories — because teaching Creative Writing is my jam almost as much as writing books is. (And some days, more so.)

Look, middle school is a rough time of life for pretty much everyone, even the kids who don’t show it. (Sometimes, especially them.) At that stage of development, a lot of us feel things really deeply. We absorb things readily, sometimes indiscriminately. We process the world around us through an intensified lens and at varying, different speeds. Life can be lived in the polar extremes.

This makes us, at that stage of life, primed for creative expression. Our minds and personalities have not yet grown out of the world of emotional metaphor, even if cognitively we struggle with abstractions.

Honestly, what better time to begin Creative Writing classes?

I’m thrilled to report there are still a few spots open in Writespace’s Up and Coming Writers of the World series, which begins on Sunday, February 5th and goes through April. This low-stress, ungraded, three-month series is geared toward middle school students and will be conducted on Zoom, so as long as you have an internet connection, you can take it from anywhere!

Here’s the format: on a Sunday afternoon at the start of each month, an author and teacher will guide students through an introductory class on a given genre (listed below), and then over the next four weeks, the students will work one-on-one with a mentor from the Creative Writing program at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts on their writing. There will be a reading at the end of the series.

Behold the schedule:
* February 5th — Introduction to Fiction, taught by Angélique Jamail (That’s me!!)
* March 5th — Introduction to Playwriting, taught by Kathryn Peterson (She’s great!!)
* April 2nd — Introduction to Poetry, taught by Angélique Jamail (Yay for National Poetry Month!!)

If you know any middle school-aged kids who have an interest in writing, consider signing them up for this program. It makes a great gift, and it’s also a way to tell those kids, in this very difficult landscape we call the world, I see you. You and your art and your ideas have value. Writespace’s classes are among the most affordable of any high-level instruction you can get, and they offer scholarships.

Click this link to register, but do it soon! We’ll see you there.

Authors Are Small Businesses, Too

Hello! Here in the U.S. (and perhaps other places too?) today is Small Business Saturday, one of a series of themed commerce days that launch us from Thanksgiving into the full brunt of the Christmas Shopping Season. It is what it is.

That said, did you know that authors are, in and of themselves, small businesses? Small business owners, I suppose would be more grammatically accurate (if not practically so), but the point is that we are entrepreneurs as well as artists. That is a big part of the job of being an author. Not everyone likes it. It’s not the art form we signed up for. But again, it is what it is.

If you are looking for a delightful stocking stuffer (“Take two, they’re small!”) or gift for someone who enjoys reading, you might consider one of my books. As of now, we have no supply chain problems. (Yay!) You can order directly from me (send an email to forest.of.diamonds@gmail.com) and I can ship it to you usually within 1-2 days, or you can order from any bookseller (online or brick-and-mortar).

At the moment, I have four titles available:

Finis. (fiction, Book 1 of the Animal Affinities Series) — Click here to read the first two chapters.

Homecoming (fiction, Book 2 of the Animal Affinities Series) — Click here to read the first two chapters.

The Sharp Edges of Water (poetry) — Click here to read a poem from the collection.

The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood (international anthology of writing and artwork for which I am one of the lead contributors)

I’m happy to sign books and get them to you ASAP. (You will pay shipping.) If you order them before December 15th, there’s a much better chance you’ll have them in time for Christmas, if that’s your thing.

Leave a comment here on this blog post or email me at forest.of.diamonds@gmail.com to order them from me directly, but again, you can get all three of my own titles just about anywhere. (If a bookstore is out of stock, have them order it from Ingram.) The Milk of Female Kindness is available through me directly or through Amazon.

Thank you for supporting your local indies!

Fond Regards, Marcus Sedgwick

I was astounded and saddened yesterday to learn of the death of Marcus Sedgwick.

For those of you who didn’t know of him, he was a celebrated author with a list of accolades as long as a swan’s stretched neck. I did not know him well — and in fact spent only one afternoon with him several years ago — but he made a distinct impression on me, enough that learning of his unexpected passing gobsmacked my day.

Many of you are aware I teach Creative Writing at a prestigious high school. One benefit of my program is that we bring in a lot of excellent authors to work with our students, and I met Marcus when he was touring in the US to promote his novel Saint Death and visited my school. We had a lunch and book signing, and then he came in to work specifically with just my high school students. The lunch and signing were pleasant and lovely, and he was pleasant and lovely, but the real impression he made on me happened afterward, in the brief open time between the lunch and my class arriving.

Our librarian and the local bookseller who was sponsoring his visit and one of the parent volunteers escorted him to my classroom, where I was alone and preparing for the next session. He was a youngish man, I thought — in fact only a few years older than I am — but he was walking slowly, with a cane. Our librarian had alluded to some “health concerns,” but I didn’t know what they were. But Marcus was cheerful with a charming British cadence in his voice, gentle and kind in the way that everyone who has mentioned him over the last two days has said. As he sat in a desk at the front of the room, the ladies escorting him said, “It was nice to meet you today. Angélique, he’s all yours!” Then they disappeared from my doorway, and I realized we had almost twenty minutes to fill before my students came in. The small talk lasted about two minutes.

Then I asked if he would like a cup of tea. His face brightened. “You have tea? I would love one, thank you.” I brought over the box of teas I keep in my classroom (several varieties, all high quality brands, because I love tea and don’t see how anyone makes it through a work day without it) so he could select the kind he wanted. (He chose a mint/tarragon blend with no cream or sugar.) Then I left briefly to make the tea while he pulled his presentation up on his computer.

Even after making sure all the technology worked and everything was in order, we still had some time left before my students arrived. That’s when he turned to me and said, “I understand you’re an author, too. What do you write?”

Reader, I was stunned.

It would be a logical assumption to believe that at a school like mine, the person teaching Creative Writing would be an author. In fact, quite a few of our English teachers are also authors. In fact, quite a few of our faculty in other departments are also authors. And by most metrics outside of the school where I teach, I am considered a successful author.

But among all of the dozens upon dozens of authors I’ve had visit my students over the years, he is almost the only one ever to ask me if and what I write. I felt seen in a way I didn’t realize I hadn’t been before. There are countless ways in which I am sometimes invisible to the people around me, but on that day, I was not, and the comfort of that feeling, like a sliver of light, has never left me.

So seeing the news yesterday was kind of tough. I wish the warmest feelings of comfort to his family and friends, whose loss is no doubt immense. May their memories of Marcus bring them peace.

 

 

The New Issue of SONIC CHIHUAHUA Is Here!

The latest issue of my zine, Sonic Chihuahua, has dropped. (Get excited!)

If you’re in the Houston area on Saturday, November 12th, you can get this and many of the still-available back issues at Zine Fest Houston, where I will once again be a featured zinester. (I’ll also have my books and stationery available for sale that day.) Click the link for all the details. (Note: I will be there until only about 4:30 p.m. due to another show that evening. Busy day!)

Here’s is the official Table of Contents for the new issue:

* The Pep Rally I Cannot Forget
* NeriSiren’s Coffee Grotto
* pumpkin cream cheese muffins (seriously!)
* convo with renaissance man Olen Rambow
* voting information
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* fiction and art

Fabulous changes are coming in the year ahead. (Get excited again!)

See the official Sonic Chihuahua page here for submission guidelines and subscription rates. Woot!

Monday Earworm: The Proclaimers

Tomorrow begins NaNoWriMo! Woo-hoo!!

I have to tell you, I have never completed the NaNoWriMo in November. I love the concept dearly, but I have to believe that whoever thought writing 50,000 words in 30 days during a month which includes a major holiday was never a schoolteacher or anyone with a day job. I mean, come on.

And yet, people do it! (The slew of horribly rushed and minimally edited self-published ebooks every January is proof, amirite?)

And sometimes the NaNoWriMo yields extraordinarily wonderful results. (See also: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which was reputedly her NaNoWriMo project for three years.) So yes, people do it.

But I do not. With my familial and employment obligations, it would be utter madness for me even to try. But I heartily cheer on those who do! Genuinely! I am in awe and significant envy of those who have the ability to “win” NaNoWriMo in November. I just can’t manage that myself — at least, not at this precise time.

But I do still, sort of, participate. I make the commitment to just write something every day in November. Maybe it’s a blog post or a scene or a revision to a chapter in a novel I’m already working on, or maybe it’s something else like a poem or a flash story or a micro-essay, but I do it. And I will again this year. I’m working on an R&R of one novel and drafting another, so those are my more pressing manuscript projects. (But they are not my only ones, so I’ve got plenty to work on in case I get stuck on or finish those — both unlikely circumstances at this point, though knock on wood.)

But my earworm today is going to help us get pumped up for NaNoWriMo! Yes, it is! Do you know why??

I present to you The Proclaimers.

A Quick Reminder About Two Fiction Workshops Coming Up (Just A Few Seats Still Open)

Hello! I hope you’re enjoying this very busy week. (Well, it’s busy for me, but maybe you’re just having a nice week? I hope so.)

This is a very quick note about, as the title of this post suggests, two fiction workshops I’m teaching over the next couple of weekends. Both are three-hour jaunts on a Saturday, conducted via Zoom, and both are classes I’ve taught before and which were super fun so we brought them back! These are generative workshops which include a balanced mix of instruction, writing time, sharing (which is optional), and feedback. We pack all of that into three hours (with a little break in the middle), and the workshops are appropriate for anyone interested in writing fiction. As of yesterday, there were seats available in both classes.

BUILDING A STORY WITH CHARACTER (Writespace)
Saturday, September 24th, 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

WRITING FICTION: GOTHIC STORY ELEMENTS (Writespace)
Saturday, October 1st, 1:00-4:00 p.m.

Click this link to be taken to my new CLASSES page here on the blog to learn more about these workshops and to register.

Thanks!

Monday Earworm: Fiona Apple, Summer Debrief, and Newsy Bits

Hello! I hope your cultural summer has come to a delightful close and that you’re excited for fall. Tonight’s post is going to do triple duty because it’s been that kind of summer over here. I don’t know whether to be glad it’s finally over or what! I’m going to tell you all about it, but first, let me start us off with a lovely tune to get us in a very mellow September mood. Then read on…

 

So, this summer. Goodness gracious.

I never realized how much I depended on my summer holidays — the poolside barbecues, getting together with family and friends. Even during the first year of the pandemic, we still managed to have socially distanced, masked-up, teensy-tiny outdoor get-togethers with my parents and brother. It was something. And like I said, I had no idea how much I relied upon those events to set the cycles and rhythms of my year until I couldn’t have any. This year, I didn’t get to participate in Memorial Day because the day before, I came down with covid. July 4th was canceled because my oldest had it. And last week, my son came down with it, followed by Dear Husband. So no fun Labor Day weekend festivities, alas. And I find myself focusing on the loss of the traditions because, frankly, in my house we’re all vaccinated and boosted and so for us, so far, covid has not been tragic KNOCK ON WOOD. (DH isn’t well yet. Hopefully soon, though! He does seem to be slowly on the mend.)

I found myself going through a lot of feels about it all this summer, though, all this sickness. Quite the range of emotions. There were so many things that got canceled, besides just the backyard fun. Vacations, projects, even some extra-curricular activities. All of them just pre-empted. And I had to do some real internal investigation into my mindset about how I approach summer break in the first place.

I inherited a stunning, even shocking, work ethic. I won’t say it’s the healthiest thing I could have learned — in fact, it conclusively is not — but here we are. And I was thinking of summer break not as a real break, but as a chance to cram in all the work that I have to put off the other ten months of the year while I’m working sixty to seventy hours a week teaching. This was, needless to say, bonkers. I’d been coming back to school every August at a deficit already because how on earth could I ever fit in All The Things (and by “Things” I mostly mean work, usually including but not limited to writing a new book) that I told myself at the end of May I would?

I needed a reset, and I rather unwillingly got one. It took me a while to formulate a good attitude (or semblance of one) about it. I came to recognize, by the time I went back to school last month, that I need to not think of June and July as a marathon to some accomplishments finish line. I need to think of them as a break. Yes, get some stuff done: there will always be house projects I want to tackle and books to write. But also? Freakin’ relax. Do these that make me happy.

So here, in no particular order, are some things I *did* get done (yes, I’ll be working on new ways to cast that) over the summer that made me happy:

  • I made some crucial updates to my website, including adding in some newer reviews of my books. The site as a whole is still not exactly where I want it to be, but web design is not my super power, so this will have to do for now. (Feel free to send along suggestions for improvement.)
  • I made some crucial updates to the blog here, too! Most notably, I restructured the pages, and now I have dedicated pages for my zine Sonic Chihuahua, the classes I’m teaching, and my hobbies — including the jewelry I make. (If you click on the Hobbies tab above, you’ll see some other features there, too, and more will be added to this section as time goes on.)

(Side note for shameless self-promotion, because writers have to make a living, too: The poetry class I’m teaching for Grackle & Grackle this month has sold out, but you can still jump into my two one-off fiction workshops coming up in a few weeks, offered by Writespace and back by popular demand! They’ll be on Zoom, so you can join us from anywhere. The first is a three-hour generative class on building character-driven stories using a blend of literary analysis, pop culture, and narrative craft, happening on September 24th. The second is a three-hour generative class on writing Gothic fiction, happening on October 1st. Click here for more details and to register!)

  • I read lots of books. Like, lots of them. The first week I was sick with covid, I read literally ten. And while I also read the things I needed to in preparation for the school year, I also gave myself permission to read plenty of books that just flat-out made me happy. Fun books, funny books. That was crucial, especially while I was sick. (You’ll see the epic list at my Year in Reading round-up come January.)
  • I also did a fair bit of writing. In addition to getting out two new issues of Sonic Chihuahua, I did a full-scale edit of a novel which is currently out on submission, and made real progress on the novel I’m currently drafting. Did I do enough writing? I never do (Can you hear that old mindset creeping back in?), but I moved the needle forward, and that’s what matters this time around (And there’s the new mindset; I’m still breaking it in).
  • Some of my work was published this summer. I had two poems come out in A Fire To Light Our Tongues: Texas Writers on Spirituality, and my essay reviewing Kristen Bird’s The Night She Went Missing was published by Literary Mama.
  • I made two baby blankets for new babies in my life. Both new babies live far away, and so I haven’t met them yet, but I can’t wait to give them snuggles!

blanket for Valerie
blanket for Rosie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • I rekindled my love for the card game Solitaire. (As in with actual cards, not on a screen.) I played it all the time when I was growing up, and I played it a lot again when I got sick at the beginning of the summer and had to isolate. I found that it brought me a sense of inner calm that worked better for me even than formal meditation. So then I kept using the game as a way to soothe myself during times of stress or fatigue, and it worked beautifully. The game requires just enough strategy to distract me from whatever might be causing me anxiety — or even eyestrain — and relies on just enough luck for me to not care too much about whether I win or lose. 

I have much to be thankful for, orneriness about my dashed summer plans aside. Not least of those is my relatively good health now KNOCK ON WOOD AGAIN. So I’ll sign off for the moment, with the intention that I’ll get back to more regular blog posts around here in the new season. Such is the plan.

Be well!

Monday Earworm — And A Reading Tomorrow Night!!

So apparently there was this show called Live From Daryl’s House, that was just Daryl Hall at his house jamming with a bunch of famous people or something? I didn’t see the show, didn’t even know about it, but I always enjoyed Hall and Oates’ music back in the day (and not gonna lie, still do), and then I came across this clip from that aforementioned series with Daryl Hall and Cee Lo Green and a band performing “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” and it’s pretty great. Very relaxed, very funky, very jammy. So here, now you can enjoy it, too!

OH, and also! Tomorrow night I’m going to be the featured poet at the Cobalt Café reading. The last time I was the featured reader at Cobalt was in the late 90s, when I was living in Los Angeles. Because that’s where Cobalt is. But I’m not in L.A. right now, and won’t be tomorrow, either, because their reading series is now online! Yay!

Wonderful poet, founder of PoetrySuperHighway, and all-around purveyor of and advocate for poetry Rick Lupert is still running the show. I’ll be reading, and there will also be an open mic. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Los Angeles time. If you’re on the west coast, great! Tune in with or after your dinner? But for those of you in the central time zone (like me), that will be 9:30 p.m. (And doing the math from there, mountain time is 8:30 pm. and eastern time is 10:30 p.m.) I hope you can tune in and enjoy the reading with us — and maybe read one of your own poems if you have some? (The reading will be over Zoom, so be sure to register with your actual name so Rick will let you in from the waiting room. Go to this event page to get the Zoom link.)

So now that the shameless promotion portion of this post is out of the way, here’s some music for you. Enjoy!

I Had A Review Published In Literary Mama!

So today the new issue of Literary Mama came out, and it includes a review I wrote for Kristen Bird’s debut novel, The Night She Went Missing.

Literary Mama is one of the oldest literary journals featuring the work of writer-mothers in existence. Every issue features poetry, reviews, profiles, fiction, and non-fiction. 

In case you’d like to check it out — and I so hope that you will — here is the link to my review of Bird’s excellent novel. Please feel free to share it widely.

And while you’re over at Literary Mama’s site, be sure to read the whole issue. It’s filled with excellent work, as always!

 

A FIRE TO LIGHT OUR TONGUES

Hello! I have some very exciting news! Two of my poems, “Magdalen” and “Epiphany,” have just been published in A Fire to Light Our Tongues: Texas Writers on Spirituality. This anthology had a long road to publication.

It began before covid times and one of the women fiercely behind the project actually passed away before she could see the book in print. But it is out now, and filled with poetry on the ever-shifting nature of spirituality and how we interact with it, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Other poets featured in this book include Naomi Shihab Nye, Rich Levy, Robin Davidson, Robert Okaji, and Kevin Prufer, just to name a few. The anthology contains two parts, “Pandemic Time” and “Contraries,” and within “Contraries” are the following themed sections:
Belief and Doubt
Good and Evil
Love and Hope
Known and Unknown
Truth and Beauty
Joy and Gratitude

This is a beautiful book, and I hope you’ll give it a look. You can even get it, at least for a time, at a 20% discount with the code “TCU20” at this link to TAMU Press. (Don’t use the quotation marks when you put the code in.)

I’m seriously excited about this. We’ve waited a few years for this book to finally come out, and it has definitely been worth the wait!