Going Behind The Fence-Year One

In January 2016, I started volunteering with Truth Be Told to learn to be a facilitator in a women’s prison. Every week, I drove two hours with Carol Waid to Gatesville to the Lane Murray Unit where we led an amazing group of women in a series of classes: Talk To Me Writing, Discovery and Living Deeper and Freer. It was a beautiful progression. First, they told the stories of what led to incarceration in Talk To Me. Then they wrote about the women they want to become in the Discovery. Finally,  they learned how to source their own wisdom every day through Living Deeper and Freer. Throughout that year, I kept a kind of journal of quotes and perceptions. Here are a few of them.

“I’m 49. I’ve been in and out of prison since I was fifteen. I want to be in this program because someday I’m going to get out and I know people will judge me for being in here. I want to be able to tell my story without feeling bad, you know, ashamed.” January 28, 2016

“When I was little, my daddy beat me a lot. If I cried, he beat me harder. At my trial, everyone said I showed no remorse. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how.” February 4, 2016

If you were facing your first lockdown, what would you imagine? Shackles? Chains? One inmate, after living through her first one, came to class so elated to find it wasn’t as bad as she imagined. She spent the two weeks reading her bible, finding solace in those pages and thinking about the goodness of humanity. Her conclusion after her two week study? “God Don’t Make No Junk.” April 8, 2016

“There are two ways for me to look at the time I’m in prison: One is all the time I’m here is a big waste and I have to wait around ’til I get out before I can live again. The other is God set me down here because before I got here, I couldn’t go nowhere without a half gallon of vodka in the back of my car. God set me down here before I killed someone so that I could use this time to be a better person before I go out in the world again.” April 22, 2016

Today we did a guided meditation with the women to get them in touch with their inner, wiser selves. Then they wrote letters from these wiser selves to their younger selves. Afterwards, one woman shared, “If I had been able to hear this wiser me just once, if I’d known she was inside me, I wouldn’t be here.” April  28, 2016

“Last night was a night of deep talking.  One woman said, “I’ve lived among people a long time. Fifteen years in prison. This is the first time I’ve felt community. This is the first time I’ve understood community.” August 12, 2016

“My youngest was three years old when I got put in here. He’s 20 now. He came to see me for the first time last month and promised that he would come see me again. And he did. Last week. God has me. He knows right where I am. I have to keep trusting. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” August 28, 2016

At the beginning of class, we ask this question: What are you present to? It helps everyone get centered. “I am present to how I have changed. I had the shell of an armadillo when I first came to this class. I hated everyone. My mother gave me away to my grandmother when I was six weeks old and I was abused all the time by my uncles. I dropped out of school in the 8th grade. Since I’ve been in here, I got my GED, my Associates Degree and now I’m taking university classes from Texas A&M. I feel excited about my life. My heart has softened so much. I may never get out of here but I’m going to make something of myself.” December 1, 2016

This week was graduation. We only knew the titles of their pieces. We did not know what they would say. One by one by one, they stood tall and shared themselves with the audience. What was amazing to me was how they talked about their crimes. They owned them as something they had done; not who they are. They weren’t ashamed. Regretful, yes. But not ashamed. And because shame didn’t hang on them, their intelligence, their hearts, their innate beauty shined in a way I hadn’t ever seen. In an environment which can often cruel and mean, they stood tall in their worthiness. On my knees. Grateful. Awed.   December 10, 2016

And that was just the first year…To be continued…

 

November Book Launches-Austin

Hey There Friends,

I’m reorienting my social media presence (less FaceBook), and, once a month on my blog, I will post about all the book launches in my community of book writing pals. Yes, there are a lot more book launches in the bookish town of Austin but I am noting the ones of people I know and love.

So here they are:

On Saturday, November 2 at 2pm, at the Lark & Owl Booksellers in Georgetown, PJ Hoover is launching her newest book Hidden Code. PJ is a fabulous storyteller and writes these middle grade adventure novels that kids seem to gobble up.

On Sunday, November 3 at 2pm, at BookPeople in the heart of Austin, Cate Berry is launching her hilarious counting picture book, Chicken Break. This book makes me want to have babies all over again. Well sorta.

And because I love this video of Chicken Break, I’m sharing it here:

Okay, friends, keep reading and have fun.

Lindsey

Co-Teaching at the Amazing Highlights Foundation

On October 24-26, I get to do three very special things. 1) Teach at Highlights. 2) With my mentor, friend, colleague Kathi Appelt. 3) And meet Sona Charaipotra who will be teaching with us.

If you have never been to Highlights, hie thee hither. This is a magic place to commune with words and writers. It is beautiful. It is quiet. It serves yummy food and the accommodations are so sweet.

Kathi Appelt is an extraordinary human, writer, teacher, poet. It has been my privilege to know her for many years and I love her intelligent compassionate heart and how she brings all of it to the page whether it is hers or yours.

Sona Charaipotra…I am so looking forward to meeting Sona and coming to know how she teaches and thinks and writes.

What, you ask, are we teaching? Unlocking the form and genre of your story. And what is that? Well, please eavesdrop on this conversation between Kathi and me as we talk about the creation of this class. And then join us. It will be a wonderful weekend. There are only two slots left!

Highlights Foundation Campus

L2: Kathi, what would we say is the idea behind this workshop?

KA: First off, we wanted to do something that would be valuable for any writer in any genre.  So, when the notion of  “any genre” entered into the conversation, we realized that there were plenty of things to talk about—character, structure, voice, etc.  However, in general, those topics are widely covered.  But what about form?

I first studied form as a graduate student when I picked up a copy of Susanne Langer’s book, Feeling and Form. That was where I began to think of the form of a story as a kind of “cup” that holds the content.  Sort of like a frame, but more like a container. The shape of the container, the way it falls out on the page, all of that impacts the story itself.  But it also does something a little more mysterious: if the story is in the correct form, it actually gives rise to feeling/emotions. The form, in other words, serves as a subtext.  So, for me, I wanted to invite participants to take a story and actually try it out in different forms–poetry, short story, script, etc.–to see what happens.

Thinking about form naturally led to consideration of genres–picture books, young adult, middle grade, nonfiction–to study the ways that the content impacts the form.

So, what we’ll be doing then is looking at (1) the ways that form gives rise to feeling, and (2) the ways that content informs the structure.

I know it sounds a bit abstract, and at a certain level it will be.  But on another level it’s all about experimentation, and looking below the surface of the story itself, while at the same time recognizing that the surface is part of the story too.

It’s going to be very cool.

KA: So now my question to you. Fortunately you—master of the short story, writer of plays, essays, articles, television/film scripts, and brilliant teacher—agreed to co-lead with me. Because of your own experience in writing across genres and forms, what are your hopes and goals for the workshop?

LL: My hope for the workshop is for participants to take a manuscript or even a section of a manuscript, one that is rebuffing their efforts to go deeper, and crack open that stuck place so the story can pulse again.

I know we’ve both had the experience when we are starting a story that it could go in a zillion different directions. It feels wild and exciting. With each word, choice and page, the story starts to set. Sometimes, it loses its juice. The story becomes one thing after another. How do we look at that story and allow ourselves permission to shake it up, turn it upside and find a form that supports the energy of the story?

It is a marvelous time for storytelling right now. I feel like we are in a golden age of rule breaking and genre bending. And I think readers are terrifically sophisticated. I would love for writers in this workshop to bring a draft of a story or an idea of a story and walk away with a big permission slip to tell that story in a form that gives the writer and the story more vitality and energy.

Back to you, my dear friend, how are we going to accomplish that not very small feat? What kinds of cracking tools will we use to assist these dear writers in finding the form that supports and breathes life into their stories?

KA:  One of the most important cracking tools (I love that image, by the way) is taking a good look at some excellent work by our peers.  Some titles that I hope we can discuss, and that we recommend workshoppers consider before they arrive are:

WHAT I LEAVE BEHIND, by Alison McGhee.

LONG WAY DOWN, by Jason Reynolds

BROWN GIRL DREAMING, by Jacquelyn Woodson

COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION, by Deborah Wiles

LIPS TOUCH, THREE TIMES, by Laini Taylor

SHOUT, by Laurie Halse Anderson

VINCENT AND THEO: THE VAN GOGH BROTHERS, by Deborah Heiligman

JUMPED, by Rita Williams Garcia

Of course, everyone should read EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN, by Lindsey!

I realize, looking at that list that those are all largely YA titles—a mix of fiction and nonfiction, written in prose, poetry, graphics.  Do you have titles for the younger set that you recommend?  I’m thinking a series, like Debbie Michiko Florence’s “Jasmine Toguchi” would be fun to consider.  What else, oh sage of Story?  What else?

LL: I think some of the best crackers are George Saunders for short story (“Tenth of December” and “Victory Lap”) and Kari Anne Holt for middle grade (RHYME SCHEMER). And let’s not forget the “Baby Mouse” books by Jennifer and Matthew Holmes for graphic novels.  I also think reading poetry and examining scene work in television and film can fire the imagination and serve the writer to think outside conventional form and push us to look at what form will serve the story and bring that subtext alive.

Because this is a weekend workshop, I’d love to ask our participants to do focused readings, which we can dig into together at Highlights. But I would also like to provide the time and space for them to crack open their own work and share it. Not just once. But two or three times so they can get a sense of how changing form might serve their story. What do you think?

KA:  Yes! We’ll do some close reading, some re-rendering, and some fun experimentation, so that when all of us leave, we’ll have some new ways of looking at our stories.  We will have done some cracking!

I love it. So I hope that all of our participants will get their hands on at least some of the above-mentioned titles, gather up some of their own works-in-progress, or at least an idea that they want to explore, and then we’ll all “jump write in.”

Any final words?

LL: Only this…So, my eavesdropping friends, join us. Bring us your stuck, your weary, your hard-worn pages and let’s rediscover the pulse that drew you to the page. Let’s crack your manuscript open, put it in different forms and see what happens. See you on October 24.

 

 

 

A New Class

In Mid-August, I was lucky enough to be in Berlin at the Bahnhof Hamburger Museum where I saw an exhibit of Jack Whitten’s work. It was mostly his mosaic works and, to be honest, they captivated me. This is a piece called Flying High: Betty Carter.

From a distance, it looked like a wonderful homage to this jazz singer. But as I stepped closer and closer, I said, “This is how I write. Bits. Intricate bits. Stuck together. To tell a bigger story.” That when I conceived of this new class: Writing In Mosaic

Each week, I will give the class an overarching, big picture word or phrase or theme (e.g. The First Kiss). We will write for a short time about that big thing, exploring it, turning it over, examining it. The idea is to warm to the big piece and find your proximity to it. Then in a series of five, ten, fifteen minutes prompts over our time together, I will lead you inside the pieces that make up the whole. Each smaller piece will be more intimate, more focused but they will shed light on the bigger subject from a different angle or perspective. In a way, we will be like archeologists exploring a site, going in close, dusting off an artifact then stepping back and exploring another section, another bit of the civilization within the world of the word, phrase or theme.

My thought is to sharpen our craft muscles by looking and looking again, using all our senses to shape a different kind of whole.

Will we read aloud? Yes. Although not every time and not all the time.

Do you have to share? No but yes. Hearing your work out loud is beautiful.

Will I have all the classes planned? I will certainly have the first two planned with an eye on the rest of them BUT I like hearing back from you about what’s working. If there is a word, phrase or theme that you want me to shape a class around, I would love to hear it.

Why writing in mosaic? Hmmm…I believe that readers and viewers are more sophisticated than ever today so I think that stripping away the connective tissue between moments is dynamic and exciting. That is mosaic. It doesn’t mean we don’t explore a quotidian habit or moment, but we don’t necessarily need to explore the trek downstairs to get to the kitchen table. Our readers will take the leap with us.

My first novel Evidence of Things Not Seen was written in mosaic. I am in the middle of revising a middle grade novel. Though it is a more traditional structure, my guiding principle (in the form of a post-it on my computer) during the first draft was: write the scene you know you need. That draft was a series of juicy, detailed scenes with bits of connective tissue. It gave me lots of details and insight into the characters. My second draft was going through and anchoring in the motivations of the main character. Now I am working on deepening the logic and consequence of each thread through the book. All of which is to say, every thing we create demands its own process but the ability to write sharp clear and detailed moments whether you are writing novels, poems, short story or memoirs, will be a well-used tool in your craft tool box.

The class begins on Tuesday, September 24 and will meet every other week from 6-8:30 until December 3. The class will be held at 2004 Goodrich Avenue. Cost $240 There are only two spots left.

Join us. I’ll leave you with one more close up of Jack Whitten’s work.

Bittersweet

I was in NewOrleans during Tropical Storm Barry, pressing my little nose against shuttered shops and restaurants all weekend when the prompt “bittersweet” popped into my mailbox. I noodled with ideas and images of being stuck inside a storm and outside taped and sandbagged stores. Nothing worked. Then this morning, I learned a dear friend’s mom is crossing over and this poem came…

BITTERSWEET

When you call hospice for me
When the care becomes less urgent
When we are waiting instead of hoping
Pull up a chair
Lots of chairs
Bring the loved ones round
All of them
And talk, let the words drift over me
Let them settle on my hair
And in my nose
Offer me a sip of ginger ale
Every now and again
With chipped ice floating in it
But please keep talking
Don’t leave the room
Not even for chores
Bring the laundry straight from the dryer
Fold it on top of me
And keep talking
I want the sound of your voice to be the last thing I let go of

Lindsey Lane,
July 17, 2019