Sometimes Is Always

Snoopy -- Sometimes a Great WriterI think every writer has moments of inspiration, moments of exciting creativity when the story or the characters take over. The writer might feel as if the words are being dictated. Of course that will be only the first stop for those words, that creativity. Every great writer wants whatever is put on paper the first time to be the final version, but that only happens sometimes. Very often much of what ‘fell’ onto the paper is going to be rewritten and reshaped. In the end those ‘sometimes’ when the words come so fast end up in the same place as the words that have to be extracted from the writer’s mind.

‘Sometimes’ is really all the time and speed is merely a momentary perception


Review: Black Dog

cover - 'Black Dog' by Levi PinfoldSometimes our imaginations make our fears bigger than they actually are. That’s what happens in Levi Pinfold’s ‘Black Dog.’

A black dog shows up on a snowy morning in front of the Hope family house. One by one each family member – father, mother, and the older children – look out the windows and see the dog which seems to grow with each sighting. Mr. Hope calls the police and tells them it’s as big as a tiger. For Mrs. Hope it’s as big as an elephant. As the dog continues growing and is as large as the two-story house when the whole family, with one exception, go into hiding, cringing beneath the covers.

The exception is “the youngest member of the Hope family, called Small (for short).” Small Hope (I love that name and image) goes outside to confront the black dog who appears to be huge. Showing no fear the child leads taunts the dog to chase her saying, “You can’t follow where I go, unless you shrink, or don’t you know?” As the two run the dog shrinks until it is the size of a small terrier.

Black dog is a remarkable story about being courageous and facing fear. You don’t have to be big to be brave. Size doesn’t matter.

The illustrations are special, not just because they almost tell the story by themselves, but because just like day-to-day life, they have secrets that no one notices.

The Joy of Reading a Picture Book

Every time I pick up a picture book I relive the joy of being a child.

Reading a picture book is very different from reading an adult book. With almost any book other child and bookthan a Picture book (any book where there are many pictures and they are as important to the book as the words are). When I pick up an adult book I am most interested in the story (or stories) inside. It is the text that is most important.

When I pick up a picture book, it is the book I am most interested in. The entire book is the experience, not just the story. That is not to say that the story is unimportant, of course it is. A poor story usually means only one reading and loneliness on a shelf. But picking up a picture book means pondering the title, examining the jacket – both sides, then the cover, the inside flaps, and every single page thoroughly and if it’s a good book that will be done over and over again.

Every good picture book has at least three stories. There is the book itself and the child’s reaction to it, the feel of the book, its weight, its size, its paper, its colors and how the child feels about having the book in hand. Parents often despair when their child damages a book, colors in it, chews on it, tears or crumples pages in it. For a child, though, that’s part of the fun. A book is to be enjoyed, completely  in every way that it can be enjoyed. I think that’s the goal of life for a child and their books help them fulfill that goal.

Then there’s the story told by the pictures, all the pictures – cover to cover. Sometimes each picture tells another story. Sometimes a picture might have more than one story to tell. Each picture deserves careful examination. That’s why a child will often stop the person who is reading a book from turning a page – the pictures are still being read. Sometimes the pictures are so compelling that words are not needed. A picture is worth a thousand words can be especially true in a picture book.

Then, of course, there is the text. The text is often the most important part of the book for an adult, because it’s the story that attracts an adult. I like to think the text is the most important part of a picture book for children, too. I like to think it’s the part of the book that causes the child to return to it, but it’s not. It’s the part of the book that can cause a child not to return, but it could be any of the three elements of a picture book – the book, the pictures, the text – that causes a child to want that particular book to be read again and again.

If you can step back into your childhood. If you can bring out that inner child and pick up a good picture book, you’ll have so much fun, fun that you might not have had for years.

Playing Dodge the Raindrops

<blockquote><em>This is an exercise where I thake the first line of a book and start writing. The goal is to write a complete scene.</em></blockquote>

The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day.**rain drops

We really, really wanted to play ‘Dodge the Raindrops.’ It’s one of our favorite games. The rain has to be just trickling, usually that’s when it starts or when it ends. We had the boards all ready. We had our rain coats and hats. It was raining too hard, though. It rained all day and didn’t stop until the next day when we were in school. I was taking a geography test when I looked out the window and saw the sun shining.

I didn’t make up the raindrop game. My brother’s friend, Eddie, taught us how to play. It’s easy. When the first drop falls we run outside, holding our boards over our heads. The boards are pieces of cardboard wrapped in paper to show the raindrops. We have to run to the corner, touch the light post and run back home, twice; round one and round two.

The game is hardest when it’s windy because it’s tricky keeping the cardboard flat. Dropping the board or running more than two steps without it being flat right over your head means you have to go back to the beginning and start over. Also, if the cardboard gets blown sideways you’re in even more trouble, because there will probably be raindrops on both sides of the board when you start round two. Round two is just flipping the board over and running to the stop light and back to the garage again.

When we’re finished we count all the raindrops on each board. If it’s not raining heavy yet, we put new paper on and do it again. Every now and then we get to play three or four times.

When it really starts raining we go inside and mom fixes us a treat, cookies or ice cream or something. The winner is the one with the fewest raindrops. I think the winner should be the person with the most dry space on the board, but nobody has figured out how to measure the dry space yet.

Sometimes when we play the rain turns into a real gusher before we even finish the second round. That’s when it’s the most fun we usually all end up in the garage soaking wet and laughing. If anyone still has a dry spot on their cardboard, they automatically get to be the winner. The winner always gets an extra cookie or scoop of ice cream. That’s why we wanted to play so much. Mom made pecan chocolate chip cookies, which she hardly ever makes. If we’re lucky it will rain again Saturday before the cookies are all gone.

** The first line of The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

There Are Dreams and Nightmares and…

Dream!Most people have dreams, some have two or three a night. I hardly ever dream. Maybe I sleep too soundly, maybe I just don’t c are.

When I was ten years old I was waking up just about every night in the middle of a nightmare. The night after I had a particularly scary nightmare I decided to try stopping the nightmares. I fell asleep saying over and over, “I will not dream anymore.” That worked. Not only did I stop having nightmares, I had almost no dreams at all. Now, I know that’s not true, at least that’s what the dream scientists tell us. According to them, everybody dreams. Some people, like me, just don’t remember them. However, about ten years ago I started occasionally remembering my dreams, about once or twice a month.

Some people have fairly exciting, often quite scary dreams. Mine, however, are always rather mundane. Once in a while I dream about one or more of the dogs I’ve had over the years. Usually, though, they’re not quite as much fun.

This is the kind of thing I usually dream about: last night I dreamed about the bathroom, the shower specifically. Someone, a woman, I no longer remember who, maybe my mom, was trying to get the soap scum off my shower walls. She got most of it, but there were a couple pretty obvious bands of it that marred the otherwise shiny walls.

I went and rummaged through my cleaning supplies and found one ‘guaranteed’ to remove soap scum. It might have worked on TV, but it didn’t work in my dream bathroom. The dream ended when I left to find a paint scraper.

See, exciting. Now, I think for most people who have interesting dreams that dream would have continued. They would have encountered a monster of some kind – a dinosaur, the thing from ‘Alien,’ King-Kong – who would have been guarding the paint scraper. A battle and chase would have ensued. Maybe the paint scraper would have been liberated, maybe the chase would have led to a hardware store, maybe to a factory where they make paint scrapers, maybe to a supply closet at the White House. The dream would have become more and more exciting or frightening.

Tomorrow, maybe I’ll tell you about the dream I had about the time I made a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. Oh, and then there’s the one about the coffee. I’m sure you’ll want to hear about that one.

Is it Enough

Eyeore Quote by A.A. MilneThis is about the way I feel when I finish most of my first drafts.

On the one hand I think I’ve got a good story, on the other I know it’s not much of a tale… yet.

I know I’m attached to it, otherwise I wouldn’t have finished the first draft. I’ve got a drawer-full of ideas and not-yet-finished stories. So far I haven’t been attached to them enough to finish them. Once that first draft is finished, though, there’s something real to go on. It might not be much, but it can be. The entire story is there. It just needs to be groomed, be washed, combed, dried, and have that bow attached to it.

Prompt: There Was an Old Woman

older woman readingPicture this: An older woman is washing the dishes, or reading, or gardening, or just sitting on her front porch, or…whatever you like.

She sees a child doing something which triggers a memory of her own childhood. Perhaps it is what the child is doing that triggers the memory, perhaps it is where the child happens to be, perhaps it is simply the child.

Write a story about this.