For those of you who were unaware or unable to attend the book launch for my debut novel, Valerie’s Vow, yesterday I have decided to post my short speech and the page numbers of the readings I did. We sold over half of the books we had ordered and had around 60 guests at the event. For a debut novel, I call that a success.
Here is the transcript of my speech:
Speech for Book Signing
As most of you know, school is getting ready to start for me, so like all teachers I am getting ready for school this week. In preparation for class, I pulled up a PowerPoint that I use to teach my seniors. In this presentation, I have my students participate in a reflective exercise in which they state what their number one goal is. As any good teacher knows, you need to give your students a good example of a goal—for the past 4 or 5 years since I’ve been teaching seniors I’ve used the same goal: publish a book. And that’s when it hit me. OMG! I have to change my PowerPoint and find a new number one goal, because though it may have taken a while, I have realized that goal at last. And I want to thank all of you for your support and for being here. It means more to me than you know, whether you read the book or not, that you’re here today celebrating this achievement with me.
The novel itself does have story behind it, so I’ll give you a quick rundown for those who don’t know it.
This is the product of NaNo—which is National Novel Writing month. Now that being said, yes I did write a lot of it during the month of November, but that’s kind of an understatement because the idea had been bouncing in my brain for a couple of months before and in October I outlined the novel—but in order to have it ‘count’ as my NaNo book 50,000 words of the novel were written during the month of November alone, which, as it turns out, was exactly when I needed to be writing this novel. As many of you are aware, a good friend of mine, of many of us, passed away in November. It is to her that I dedicated this novel and in a lot of ways the novel is an homage to her amazing legacy as seen through the friendship of Valerie, the main character, and Beth, her friend who has passed away.
That being said, I want to stress that I am not Valerie and Sarah is not Beth. Both Valerie and Beth are fictional characters but as with all fiction there are echoes of reality as an honor to her memory and my friendship with her and others in my life.
The first passage I want to read is a flashback. Valerie is thinking about the first time she ever met Beth and what/why that friendship is so valuable to her [read page 2-4].
The second passage is very emotional for me and the main character, Valerie. She’s had a pretty rough holiday—the first without her friend, and it didn’t go well, so she’s a bet unstable when one of the love interests pops in for an unexpected visit and the result is a bit explosive. [read page 105-108]
The final passage is the vow and what drives Valerie psychologically through the story. It’s told as a flashback and I’ll only read part of it for you [read page 154-155]
So now you’ve had a little taste. Do you have any questions?
A brief Q & A period followed with many great questions and many thanks to those who have supported me throughout this process. As I continue to move forward with writing, and hopefully publishing and selling more books, I would just like to say just how blessed I feel to be a part of a community of people who are so excited to see a co-worker, friend, sister, daughter, nice, grandaughter, and ultimately, a writer succeed.
If you haven’t purchased a copy of Valerie’s Vow, you can do so at…
Every story comes with a trace of other stories it could have been.
This is a truism, a statement from our discussions this summer that really struck me hard. Not only did this statement sum up what we discussed in our class sessions, but it also came in a moment where I was preparing to publish a novel and I was struggling, as I read through it, with some self-esteem issues about how it would be received in the public. Let’s be honest, I’m still struggling with that, but riding on the tail skirt of this statement has helped me come to terms with where I can and will go next with writing, and to some degree what I love about the process of writing itself.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love a good story. I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb begging to be a part of a great story (ask my parents and the doctors—I made quite an entrance with the cord wrapped around my neck and trying to be a Smurf instead of a human. I don’t recommend this to any babies out there). By the time I was able to talk, I was begging to be told stories—I have the fondest memories of my mother reading me bedtimes stories from longer novels even when I was a toddler—Hop on Pop just wasn’t enough for me. But I didn’t stop there. I began to live in a world with these stories, sometimes pretending that the characters were real and sometimes making up new endings, or sequels. For a large part of middle school, Jo March was among my very best friends and I would sometimes ask myself what would Jo do in this situation? It wasn’t enough for me to just read the story; I had to be a part of it.
Which I guess is a tell-tale sign that you are born to tell your own stories, because you can see the traces of stories within the stories that you love so well. I remember asking questions about the stories like “What do you think happened to Susan in America after her whole family was whisked off to the Narnia/Heaven at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia?” It broke my heart to think that Susan was the only one left on Earth—having lost her whole family in one fell swoop. Not that Susan was my favorite character, but no one deserves to be alone. And at the end, she was utterly alone. There is a story in there, one I wish had been told, but one I’m also terrified of. Now I know Susan is just a character and she’s not real, but she represents millions of people who are real, and not every story has a happy ending when it is told to its ending—if there is ever really an ending at all.
For that matter, traces of other stories are never limited to just endings. One event can change the course of an entire story and if an author had chosen to write it another way, then the story would reveal other truths about characters than what we are currently privy to. For example, what if Pip had succeeded in getting Magwitch out of England? That is an entirely different story with great potential for…something?
The point is, stories are like life. Full of moments. Moments where decisions are made and people are molded from the events that happen in their lives. Each day we get up and we have the potential to change our story solely by making new decisions, meeting new people, or accepting new challenges. Or not doing any of that. Because just like stories we are full of potential stories that may or may not get told.
So as I’m preparing my novel, I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of stories bursting forth from the one story I’ve told and that’s not a bad thing. When I’m satisfied with what I’ve written, then I might as well stop writing altogether, because there will never be an end to the whispered stories that come in and out of what is and isn’t told. And that is actually quite lovely.
I walked 2 miles…uphill to class today. It was beautiful. And when I got there, what I learned was even more wonderful.
We live in a world of abundance. Everywhere you turn there is excess to the point of grotesqueness. But this is not a new thing. Lack of resources has rarely been a true problem in our society or world. It is the distribution of resources and the generosity (or lack thereof) found within a society that has caused most of our problems.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. This is some kind of call for government reform. Some kind of socialist advocacy. But it’s not. Let me tell you why.
Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has deep roots, having been influenced heavily by Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present and a previous work by Dickens in the Pickwick Papers entitled “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton”. What we learn from these two works is that A Christmas Carol is not just a fairy tale, it is a text that mimics the abundance of our world showing the best of the best and the worst of the worst. It is this world of superabundance that shows us that you can afford to be charitable. NOT the government, but YOU.
If we look at ”Captains of Industry” a rhetorical selection from Past and Present we see the influences of Carlyle’s ideas on Dickens more fantastical story. In the Victorian era there is a constant fear of rebellion, particularly as a response to the French Revolution having occurred at the end of the 1700s. According to Carlyle, the problems in our society results from isolation, idleness and mammonism, the unholy trinity.
Isolation is a type of wretchedness that keeps us from interacting with our society turning us into savages.
Idleness leaves people soulless. When you rob people of work, you are taking away their humanity.
Mammonism is a worship of money based on Carlyle’s idea of the Cash Nexus; the concept that the only thing binding us together is money—but as a society we need more than money. Otherwise our soullessness becomes permanent and contagious.
Carlyle explicitly says that the problems in our society particularly with the oppressed and the poor—those in want—cannot be fixed by the government. Instead it is a call to personal responsibility for the captains of industry to break the trance and become more aware of the problem. As he says,
“ Ye shall reduce them to order, begin reducing them. To order, to just subordination; noble in loyalty in return for noble guidance. Their souls are driven neigh mad; let yours be sane and ever saner. Not as a bewildered bewildering mob; but as a firm regimented mass, with real captains over them, will these men march any more. All human interests, combined with human endeavors, and social growths in this world, have, at a certain stage of their development, required organizing: and Work, the grandest of human interests, does now require it” (272).
He tells them to be nice! To treat their employees better and as a result a new kind of wholes can be achieved. It seems like common sense, but if it was so common—then why are there so many adaptations of A Christmas Carol teaching the same basic premise over and over again?
Which brings us back to Dickens. Most people are familiar with A Christmas Carol for a reason; because the text is recognizable and acceptable to most of our societal values. The lessons it teaches us are fast—thus bringing us once again to the abundance concept. Today in our NEH seminar I learned many things about the text from many shifting perspectives, but as a writer the most important lesson is what I leaned about how Scrooge teaches us how to show students the value of reading and what it can do for them. Like Scrooge we see things in novels and literature but we can’t interact with them. Novelists and writers are responsible for pointing us to certain things in our past, present and future and helping us to see how we approach and thus change the world. If we learn to read in the right way, we will be a better people because novelists are like the ghosts showing us how to change our futures before it is too late. This is why words, writing and reading is so powerful in our society.
So A Christmas Carol isn’t just about Scrooge or Christmas, but a lesson I how and why we read because it is a lesson in how and why we see things and what it does for us. If we learn this lesson properly we will learn how to change the world. Because the real lesson from Dickens and Carlyle is that we should be helping each other, not relying on the government (or other people) to fix problems that we should all be personally responsible for.
And that’s why I write. I want to help change the world.
The NEH grant I received is a terrific opportunity not only for professional growth but for personal growth as well. For those of you who are unaware of what NEH opportunities for summer enrichment are, you should check it out at http://www.neh.gov/divisions/education/summer-programs. As a nationally funded program, NEH grants are always in danger of being cut, but there are many reasons why summer enrichment and educational opportunities are so important for teachers, especially at the K-12 level. I won’t get on my soapbox about this; I could talk for hours. What I will do is share some of our discussions and my experiences so that you can see for yourself that I’m not just on vacation in Santa Cruz.
The program I was accepted to be a part of is entitled Great Adaptations: Dickens in Literature and Film (See the program website here https://sites.google.com/site/nehdickens2014/). Before arriving in Santa Cruz it was expected that all participants (16) have the 2 primary texts read: Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, both Dickens novels are what we refer to as the originary texts. Over the course of the next 4 weeks we will be discussing not only the core texts, but their evolutionary process in how they are adapted culturally, historically and contextually all of which will culminate in a final project which we will submit to our seminar director by September. By collaborating with a diverse group of teachers from across the nation I am able to compare ideas, incorporate strategies and brainstorm critical thinking strategies that not only help me reach my students, but also help me dig inside myself to become a better more focused educator, rejuvenated in the fall (which is vital in a profession that is under a constant barrage of internal and external negative energy).
Upon arrival I settled into my house. I am lucky enough to be staying off campus. At first I was nervous about being isolated from other seminar participants, but then I realized how fortunate I was because I have two unique roommates broadening my experience as a whole. Maggie is my landlord and she is a writing professor at a local college in Santa Cruz and Jennifer is a junior as UCSC. Jennifer has unique insight into what it is like to be a college student on this campus and has given me lots of advice on how/where/when to go places around town and the campus. She is working on campus this summer with a group of middle school students, girls, who the engineering program has designed a camp to intrigue and attract a more diverse range of applicants to their program. I look forward to more discussions with her and Maggie as the summer progresses as they are both separate from my program they give me a break from the academia and keep me firmly grounded in the “real world” of the here and now.
The house I’m living in is surrounded by walking trails that are beautiful. There is a pond behind the house that is very low right now because the area is in the third year of a summer drought. This places a strain on the local ecosystem (which is filled with wildlife! I cannot even count how many deer I have seen on campus and they let you get so close it is a little frightening. And don’t get me started about the Mountain Lion signs all around the place and “what to do if you see a ML”. My favorite part is that it ends with: “And people have successfully fought off mountain lions with their bare hands.” As our tour guide said today (who kind of looked like Zach Morris, I’m not going to lie), it’s only a little comforting to know that I can punch a mountain lion in the face and hopefully win…um…yeah…FORTUNATELY that seems to be unlikely. SO we’re going to go with no mountain lion sightings this trip.
The campus itself has, in addition to the wildlife, given be a broader appreciation for local produce and farming. This campus has a sustainable farm and only about 50% of the land is used so that it can sustain much of its own produce. I wish that more places could be like that. Each week the campus sets up a farmers market at the base of campus to benefit the interns and farm and about 23% of the campus dining is supplied by the on campus farm and agricultural school. I find that to be amazing, not only because they choose to do it, but also in extreme whether challenges, such as draught conditions, they still make it work. Commitment is key.
Which brings me back to our coursework. Being committed to our study here is vital which is why I am so excited to be here to learn. One of the things we discussed today was the concept of adaptation. There are many ways to adapt a work: From x to y, of x for y, of x through y, of x beyond y. Each of these are done for different purposes and different audiences, different contexts and different cultures. When we begin our discussion of the adaptations, we have to keep all of that contextual information in mind not only when discussing the originary, but also the adaption and how that helps us with shifting perspective. Often when we look at adaptations in a class we ask our students to compare and contrast which leads them to only one conclusion: one is better than the other; they’re alike but they’re different. That is not the type of critical thinking we really want from our students. We don’t just want them to compare and contrast we want them to look at the purpose behind the choices authors, directors, and creators make when adapting a work for those different ideas. That’s where the deep thinking occurs.
This reminds me of what a student said to me earlier this year: “Ms. Carmichael, you’ve completely ruined movies for me.” “Oh?” I responded. “Yes, I can’t just watch anything anymore. I’m always looking for meaning.” I laughed and said, “Then I’m doing my job!” I want students to look at more things this way, not just movies but every text they read they need to look for intention. If we had more people in our world thinking critically on a regular basis, decisions would be a lot wiser.
Which is the point of the seminar. I love that we will be looking at just that. Here are a list of questions the participants posed for the rest of our discussions over the four weeks and I look forward to hearing what will be said and discussed:
1) How does the idea of authorship work as an obstacle to adaptation? (intentionality and ownership)
2) How might we begin with the adaptation before the orginary text?
3) Why are we afraid of “losing the text”?
4) How can the multiple versions coexist?
5) Do we even read the orginary text? (adaptation in lieu of rather than in conjunction with)
6) How does success of an adaptation or desire to produce, adapt and reflect cultural values?
7) What are we wanting to give our students? (cultural skills)
8) What are we teaching alongside these texts—how does curriculum fit together?
9) How can we engage students in a conversation about adaptation?
10) Why do we feel we must choose the “best” adaptation?
As I continue with this program, I am excited to learn not only from my colleagues and roommates but also, hopefully, from others too. This is a broad topic and one that applies not only to literature of Dickens but to the culture at large especially to the writing culture. As a writer I see the value in adaptation, not only studying and reading adaptations but even to a degree incorporating it in your own work sometimes which is why people write books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or Emma, Mr. Knightly and Chili-Slaw Dogs. We truly do live in the ‘culture of the copy’ as Hillel Schwartz says. But is that such a bad thing?
When I last posted, I was on step 5 of the writing challenge. I proceeded to finish the fifteen days, but to be honest 15 days is not enough time to ‘master’ anything, let alone good writing habits, so I am continuing with each one and picking a focus as I go along. On Goins’ blog, he lists the rest of the habits as:
For this week I am going to focus on steal, start and build. These three ideas go hand in hand for many reasons and all of them help to improve writing on a basic level.
Stealing is valuable advice. We spend so much time and energy trying to be original, trying to stand out, trying to be non-conformists and radicalists that we forget what Solomon so clearly states in the Bible:
“What has been will be again,/ What has been done will be done again; /there is nothing new under the sun./ Is there anything of which one can say, / “Look! This is something new”?/ It was here already, long ago;/ It was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10).
Even if you don’t believe in the Bible as truth (as I do), most scholars agree that Biblical texts contain wisdom and this is evidenced in this passage. Great teachers don’t reinvent the wheel or try to do it all on their own. You learn that the first day you step in a classroom. Even before the students arrive, you collaborate with your colleagues, because if you don’t you have immediately set yourself up for failure. John Donne said it best:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or if thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
No man or woman is an island so it’s important to ‘steal’—if you can get past the connotations of the word and understand what that means for an artist. This doesn’t give an artist freedom to plagiarize—why would any artist want to do that? What it does give the artist license to do is to “scoop up all the little pieces of inspiration” and then curate them (Goins). It’s like taking a dozen smashed teacups—all originals into themselves—and creating a picture frame from the shattered pieces. You create something new by using the ideas and inspirations all around you. You must “meld together pieces of the chaotic mess we call life” and end up with a new creation (Goins).
Then you start. And no one starts pretty, you start where you are. For the vast majority of us, it’s a pretty ugly place. For gold to be purified, it must first go through the refining fire. So waiting for the “perfect” moment or the perfect idea won’t work. Perfection doesn’t exist. You must start where you are and make it beautiful as a part of the refining process.
Once you’ve started, then you can build it. But this takes dedication. I have been keeping up with my word counts daily as a way to discipline myself to write more. Each day I record how much I have written either on a novel or blogging so I can have accountability for what I do. This is how I build my writing habits. Establishing a habit isn’t easier, if it was I doubt it would be worth doing. I have found that this works for me, but only if I can have a tangible result. The more I write, the more progress I see with my writing—but I can’t expect it all to be beautiful. If I did, I might as well quit now.
Writing is what you make it for yourself. You can write for relaxation, for fun, for entertainment. The main difference between writing and being a Writer is once you claim the title, you claim a new perspective and it is that new perspective that will make all the difference in your prospective ideas.