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Amanda Hart Miller

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“The Fishing Lesson” Unveiling and My Visit to Fountaindale Elementary School

 

I’ve had such fun with “The Fishing Lesson” book! On September 20th, the beautiful sculpture was unveiled at City Park, and I was honored to present the Mayor with a copy of the book. Here’s the boys and me by the statue, as well as a pic of me with talented sculptor and illustrator Paul Rhymer.

 

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Then the following week I visited Fountaindale Elementary to talk to the first graders…

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…and the second graders about how to write a story. Thanks for scheduling my visit, Mr. Bassler and Mrs. Leard!!

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Unveiling of the City Park Bear Sculpture on Saturday @ 11:00 — first 50 kids get a free book!

I’m so excited that the “Fishing Lesson” sculpture will be officially unveiled this Saturday @ 11:00 AM during the Fallfest at Hagerstown City Park! I’ll be presenting the book to Mayor Gysberts shortly after 11:00, and the first 50 kids at the events will receive a free copy of the book I wrote, Paul Rhymer illustrated, and Terri Fleetwood laid-out. The books were also distributed to all first-graders in Washington County, MD, and they will be on sale at the Washington County Arts Council and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. All proceeds go toward the fund to bring more public art to the area.

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There will be many activities at City Park during Fallfest on Saturday, so please come out and join us!

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Visiting Author Day at Mercersburg Elementary

I visited Mercersburg Elementary School yesterday as their 2014 Visiting Author. The kids and I had an amazing time! I’m hoping to visit schools like this more often. So much fun!

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I think this is me reacting to a girl’s confession that the annoying thing her little brother does is bite her in her sleep. Yup, that would be pretty annoying.
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Look at this kid’s smile! How cute!
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The kids were so smart. They already knew about plot and could explain rising action, climax, and resolution.
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What? All of you like video games? No way! This is shocking.
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Photo op at the end. I like it that some of the kids called me “Mrs Author.”
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The kids asked me great questions, too, like why and when I started to write, how long it takes me to write a book, if I ever make mistakes when I write, and whether I’ve ever been to the flower shop by City Park.
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Sometimes the kids would be ecstatic to answer, but then they’d forget what they had to say. I feel that way in meetings sometimes, too.

Two Exciting Opportunities Resulting from Self-Publishing

SuperDylan and the Night Horse is out! Also this month, I’ve received some other exciting book news.

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SuperDylan and the Night Horse, the sequel to SuperDylan and the Powers of Just Right, would make a fun, educational stocking stuffer for students in 1st-5th grade. This book follows six-year-old Dylan as he learns that he and his family will be moving and he’ll have to make new friends.  He starts having nightmares, but with a little advice from his sister, Dylan learns something wonderful about his own abilities. This book teaches imagination, creativity, and self-confidence.

I’ve also recently become involved in two other exciting projects.

I was asked to write a children’s book to accompany a sculpture to be built in the City Park lake here in Hagerstown, Maryland.

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The sculpture is being created by Paul Rhymer, also the artist who created the watercolor above. The sculpture will show a mama bear teaching her cub to fish, and my accompanying story underscores the importance of self-sustainability, lifelong teaching and learning, and the parent-child relationship. I wrote the book a few weeks ago and was proud to serve on a team that asked the City Council for funding last week. We were awarded our whole request, and we’ll be able to print and distribute the book to 5,000 local school children, along with lesson plans and information about the sculpture, which will be unveiled later in 2014. This is another fantastic opportunity, and one I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for the Washington County Arts Council.

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The Washington County Arts Council has been very supportive of my SuperDylan book, which they sell at their Gallery. Mary Anne Burke, Executive Director of the Arts Council, said she immediately thought of me as the perfect local author to join the team involved in this exciting “Fishing Lesson” project. Thanks, Mary Anne!

I was also asked to be the 2014 visiting author at Mercersburg Elementary School in Pennsylvania.

I’ll be visiting the school in January, reading SuperDylan and the Powers of Just Right to students, talking a little about the writing process, and then answering student questions. The school is purchasing a signed book for every student in the school. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to share the book with others and interact with the kids while doing something I love. I can’t wait! Thanks to Michele Poacelli for recommending me!

Neither of these opportunities would have presented themselves if I wouldn’t have self-published the SuperDylan books. I’d probably still be waiting to hear back from agents and the manuscripts would have been stuck in a folder on my computer. I’m thrilled about both these projects, proud to live in such a supportive community, and glad I can debut the Night Horse along with these two pieces of fantastic news!

The Collaborative Process of Creating a Children’s Book — from inspiration, through drafting and sketching, to final text files and computerized illustrations

My brother and I had lots of laughs while collaborating on SuperDylan and the Powers of Just Right.

Click here to view the Herald Mail interview about our process.

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Have you ever been involved in a collaborative creative project? How’d it go for you?

Tell us a little bit about your collaborative experiences and be entered in a raffle for a free copy of SuperDylan and the Powers of Just Right!

Post-Workshop: What To Do with All the Great Feedback You Get

I was recently asked what I do with all the great feedback I get from my fellow workshop students in the fiction writing program at Hopkins. It’s such a great question, isn’t it? I’m in this fantastic program, with incredibly talented writers, and I’m supposed to be using their feedback to hone my skills and produce high-quality stories. But at the end of each workshop session, I’m usually leaving with 20 pages of typed, single-spaced feedback, all of it from different perspectives and sometimes giving contradictory advice.

Here are some of my thoughts, but I’m hoping others might share their ideas and insight from their own workshop experiences, too.

I try to look at workshop like I’d look at any other discussion or dialogue, real or fictional. There’s text and there’s subtext. The text (both written and verbal) is extremely helpful, but for every part of text, there’s a whole iceberg of subtext underneath, and that subtext is just as helpful, if not more helpful. The way in which people make comments can sometimes be even more important to me than whether someone lists three aspects to be improved or four aspects. If people are drawn to adamantly defend their position on a character, that says they care and I’m onto something. If people are drawn to look for far-out interpretations, it means I’m being too subtle and I pulled them out of the story by making it a puzzle to solve rather than a story to enjoy. If every single person in the workshop understands every single element in the story, it probably means I’ve made everything too obvious. But these are all usually communicated more in subtext than in text. Or so it seems to me.

People might have a problem with something on page 9, but sometimes I know the cogs of the story enough to know that why they are having that problem on page 9 is because I messed up on page 5 and didn’t include what I should’ve included. If everyone agrees wholeheartedly (but somewhat robotically) about how a character ticks, they may be saying this as a good thing about the story, but I might realize that the character is too easy to figure out, and then it’s really easy to sway those feelings on the next draft, with only 20 or so additional words.

The subtext is important to me. Not that I don’t like the text itself. The combination is crucial. Without the text, it’s like the iceberg is completely submerged and I’m totally blind. That’s why any and all feedback is helpful to me.

Or, to use another analogy, it’s like most people in the audience at your magic show can tell you when they’ve seen the card you were trying to hide, and some people might be able to suggest that it’s the angle of your hand that’s screwing up the trick, but it’s only the person that knows the trick and has practiced the trick that can tell you the real problem: that you pause in the middle of your banter at exactly the wrong moment and you draw attention to your thumb knuckle, which needs to be tucked more tightly by being drawn closer to the first knuckle of your pinky. In short, there are different levels of advice; the broad advice (85% of my audience can see I’m screwing up) is very helpful, but that deep advice about the thumb position and banter is a gem.

I try out most of the advice I get from workshop, whether those suggestions are based on text or subtext. I consider the advice and see if I can objectively figure out how that change would affect my story. Sometimes it’s easy to imagine because I’ve already tried it in previous drafts and I know it didn’t work. If I can’t imagine it, I almost always try it, treating it like a writing exercise. I save multiple drafts and think about “trying something out” rather than “changing my story” because I can always go back to the original file if the change doesn’t work. Worst case scenario, at least I’ve still learned a new technique. If the advice is something I really find myself balking at because I can’t imagine it at all, I try to remember that I’m being pig-headed and make myself try it. Sometimes the ones I can’t initially imagine at all are the ones that end up working the best.

Thoughts?

Where You At, Language? (Part 1 of 3)

It’s almost impossible not to notice text-speak clumsily butting its way into other modes of conversation. I often hear people say “LOL” and “WTF?”; I mean, they SAY it. They SAY double-u-tee-eff. This amuses me, since the abbreviation takes longer to say than the original.

I’m less amused about the current tragic state of the apostrophe. And I’m not talking about tricky stuff, like being able to smoothly show that Sara Jones and her entire family own a mailbox. I’m talking about sentences like:

My grandmothers house is brick.

Or…

The executive start’s the meeting at 11:00.

Gahhh! No!

The apostrophe is dying, and people are trying to revive it by placing it as the penultimate character in every word that ends in an “s.” It’s one thing to forget an apostrophe, but the second example shows a basic lack of understanding about apostrophes.

I can’t help wonder what English will look like in another 50 years. Maybe Taylor Mali has a point in Speak with Conviction. Maybe we’ll be even more afraid to make declarative sentences. Maybe we’ll just use question marks as our only form of punctuation. Like, you know?

The executive start?s the meeting at 11:00.

Yes, that looks better, doesn’t it? I mean, it makes as much sense as the version with the apostrophe, doesn’t it?

But if we look at language as an ever-changing entity, maybe we don’t have to feel as doomsday about this. We hold precious what we know, but possibly, as we gripe about what texting is doing to our language, we are oversimplifying what’s happening.

In Troilus and Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer writes:

Ye knowe eek, that in forme of speche is chaunge

With-inne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho

That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge

Us thinketh hem; and yet they spake hem so,

And spedde as wel in love as men now do; (Part II, lines 22-26)

 

This is exactly the type of smooth-talking language you hear out in the singles clubs, right?

The translation? Chaucer’s basically saying that, back in ancient Greece, which is the setting for Troilus and Criseyde, men used some pretty crazy words to hit on their ladies.

In Modern English, the passage reads:

Remember in the forms of speech comes change
Within a thousand years, and words that then
Were well esteemed, seem foolish now and strange;
And yet they spoke them so, time and again,
And thrived in love as well as any men (translation by George Philip Krapp)

I love this. Since we know he was very aware of the protean aspects of language, I picture him fully realizing the irony this excerpt would hold for future readers. Chaucer’s language, which we now call Middle English, is so archaic to us that we need a translator. Chaucer helped birth a language that later became archaic, but I wonder if he would be primarily saddened or fascinated by what happened to his little baby as he sent it out of the nest to make its own path in the world. His language isn’t dead; it has just changed, a lot.

Over the next few posts, I want to talk about what Peter Elbow and Jennifer Egan have to say about language. But even more, I’d like to hear what you have to say about language. Is English decaying? What do you expect of English in the next 50 years? If you anticipate its decay, do you see any silver lining?

 

 

 

“What We Talk About When We Begin to Drink Vodka, Smoke Weed, and Hide in Closets” by Sarah Lum at Literary8

If you’ve read any of Best American Short Stories (BASS) 2012, you’ll most likely enjoy the blog at Literary 8, which features a new review of a BASS story every day for the next month. Some of the reviews are both funny and insightful.

Today’s review by Sarah Lum, “What We Talk About When We Begin to Drink Vodka, Smoke Weed, and Hide in Closets” is of Nathan Englander’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” which is based, in part, on Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

So… there’s a lot of talking, about a lot of things. Check out the blog for a variety of different voices as 8 readers review 4 BASS stories each. Good stuff.

 

80/20 Rule in Creative Writing

A friend recently told me about the 80/20 rule, and how it applies to what people often mistake for talent.

It takes 20% of your effort to reach 80% of your true potential, but it takes 80% of your effort to reach that last 20% of your potential.

Think about it for a minute. It’s so true, right? The initial learning curve is steep, but that plateau is a bitch. It just goes on and on, with little change in altitude.

 

So, if you happen to be mired in the guck of creativity right now, maybe that’s because you’ve passed the first stage and moved onto the second.

And… if you put enough soul-blood into your work, hopefully someday you’ll be lucky enough to have people jealously scoff at your natural born “talent.”

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