Sunday, April 03, 2011

An Interview With ElementaryHistoryTeacher

Occasionally a former student or a young friend will contact me and want to interview me about my writing. Recently a young friend had an assignment to complete and during the process of answering his questions I decided I would share the answers here.

1. What stirred your ambition to be a writer, specifically non-fiction?

I always enjoyed writing essays, research reports, and term papers in school. I know that is very unusual, but the truth is the truth. I don’t write non-fiction the way most folks do. I have to infuse something of myself – my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions – into the piece. Many of my postings and articles contain bits and pieces from my personal life or real situations that have happened in the classroom. Relating a bunch of facts to people can be boring. Using facts and making a parallel to something personal seems to draw others in because the process enables them to open their own doors and make connections to the content.

I was fortunate to have a wonderful teacher by the name of Cleo Hudson at Woodward Academy in College Park, Georgia. While in her class I wrote all sorts of things including fiction. I still have all of my assignments and have looked at them from time to time. Let’s just say I have a formula that is comfortable for me now, and I’m smart enough to stick to it. Fiction is so foreign to me it would be like a right handed person trying to hold a fork with their left hand. Mrs. Hudson was very encouraging, however, and one piece of advice she gave me holds true now……write what you know.

2. Even though you write non-fiction, have you ever written fiction?

I wrote a terrible story of fiction in high school about a very wealthy family. The plot involved a drug overdose, and Mrs. Hudson had me conduct all sorts of research regarding drug interactions. I had to learn how to write exchanges during conversations in such a way the reader could keep up. Mrs. Hudson’s lessons have paid off sometimes at History Is Elementary when I have included a conversation between students and myself.

3. Have you ever sent any work to a publisher? If so, whom?

I sent a couple of short stories to a few magazines. It was required in the class I was taking, and I received the expected rejection notices. I still have them somewhere in a scrapbook.

I’m currently 75 percent complete with a book titled, 1620 Days: My Walk through an American Classroom regarding the nine years I taught fourth and fifth grades. Each chapter parallels a historical focus along with some sort of situation in my classroom. The book also hits on educational reform issues. The content is very similar to my postings at History Is Elementary.

I plan to publish the book myself first unless a publisher knocks on my door. Do you know one? :)

4. Even if you haven't sent anything to a publisher, surely someone has reviewed your work? How do you handle negative criticism?

My work is reviewed all the time online by readers who post comments. My post Oh, I love to Tell the Story is a good example regarding reader comments.

Recently my Patch column received a negative comment. Someone accused me of whitewashing history. Here is the link….you can see how I handed it.

I agonize most over historical accuracy. Do I have my facts straight? Are they clear to the reader? I have to have my facts straight or someone will let me know. When I’m wrong I admit it. I try to thank everyone for their comments, but there are many history bullies out there who like to throw their knowledge around and post a comment just to see their own writing online. Still, I love the blog process because you can have a conversation with so many people across the country and the world. As a teacher it helped me to see my issues in the classroom were the similar to other teachers.

5. How has being a writer affected aspects of your life, particularly social, spiritual, and familial?

Apparently when I’m in top form I can put a word or two together. I praise God for that gift, and I try to improve upon it when I can.

I find that people are usually interested to discover I’m a writer/educator even if history is not their thing. It’s a great conversation starter.

I believe my family is used to seeing stacks of research materials and things to do around my chair. They realize it is just something Mom has to do, and they like the fact that every now and then I include them in a particular piece, but only in a positive way.

6. Are you a writer who sets personal deadlines, or is your work "done when it's done?"

I’m terrible at deadlines. I let other things get in my way, and I don’t consistently work at it like a job. I know what I should be doing, but I don’t do it. My book should be finished, but it’s been a challenging year for my personal life. I’m paid to write my column for the Douglasville Patch page. So far, I’ve met every deadline, but I agonize over every submission.

I enjoy writing for my blogs because I’m in control. I can publish when I wish. I can write what I want when I want. I feel I have more creativity because I write when something moves me to write and update the site.

7. Is there anything that helps you concentrate on your work and get past writer's block (I.E. music, some idiosyncrasy, etc.)?

Since I stick mainly to history topics I do find that if I stay immersed in history publications online and off I stay motivated. Sometimes when I don’t like the way a piece is going I step away from it for a bit. I rest and read it with fresh eyes. Amazingly, I can see a conversation thread on Facebook or a friend’s link to something and that will inspire me in some way. My most recent piece at the history blog titled A Message to Garcia started with a friend’s posting on Facebook.

8. Who are you biggest inspirations and literary influences?

Mark Twain is a favorite and the historian, Shelby Foote. Winston Groom is a favorite. My best loved local writer is Ferrol Sams. I used to read his book Christmas Gift! aloud to my fifth graders. It’s a wonderful look at life in Georgia during the Depression…..and you can’t be an Atlanta gal without appreciating the work of Ludlow Porch, Lewis Grizzard, and Celestine Sibley.

9. Not every writer has a big break like J.K. Rowling or Christopher Paolini, and every writer at some point cannot make a living simply off writing alone. How do you compensate for this?

I take freelance assignments when I can. This summer I wrote a lesson plan for this website, and I am having such fun learning all about Douglasville history with my Patch column, Every Now and Then. I have a few advertisements on my blogs, but I’m far from supporting myself. I have a great family that lets me take a seat at the table, and my husband owns his own business. I admire anyone who can manage to make writing their sole income source.

10. I know from personal experience that every writer wants to give up at some point. What keeps you going?

Rabid determination is the only way I know how to describe it. I have had all sorts of challenges since I started History Is Elementary and Georgia on My Mind.

My mother passed away after a very lengthy illness, I had two major surgeries five months apart, a long recovery, and other issues that have challenged my love of writing. I think I keep going because I denied it for so long. It wasn’t until 2006 that I picked up my pen and started writing seriously. I simply feel the need to do it, and as an educator I feel I can reach a much broader audience online.


corsidimemoria said...

Like what you wrote.
A life for writing and learning with passion.Beautifull.
For published your book they are a lot of companies online that you can publish with little money.
Even in the eBook version or normal book. Have you ever thought?
Good luck for your work.
Training, transferring your knowledge are noble and important.

JR said...

The pending book sounds like it will be a fascinating read. Tell me... what does "1620 Days" represent? To a casual reader, it might not resonate. Is it something to which an average person can relate?

College Papers said...

for me its been a great historical time to read your blogs one by one.