Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Memorial Day Writers Project

Thoughts and musings for Memorial Day on the bravery and value veterans bring to our lives! Thank you for your service!

From 2011 through 2014 I was involved in a Creative Writing MFA Program through the University of New Orleans. It was a low residency program, so it was online during the school year and then each summer we’d get together for a month-long residency abroad.

The flexibility of this program was one of the best things about it. As a result, it attracted a diverse student population. People of all ages, from all over the country, with entirely different life experiences were amongst my classmates.

It’s amazing how fast you get to know a person once you read their writing. Who needs small talk and ice breakers when you’re immediately reading a person’s inner-most thoughts and experiences? Fiction or not– there are always traces of the author’s real life and personality on that page.

Hurricane survival, divorces, medical issues, motherhood– we glimpsed it all through the words on the page. But the experiences that really stood out for me were the ones shared by military veteran classmates.

There were some of the expected heroic moments in action pieces and examinations of mortality. But there were other truly surprising reflective stories about human emotions, commonalities in cultures, and appreciation of the small things in life.

One of my favorite pieces was about the smell of rain in the air (petrichor, it is apparently called). The piece was absolutely beautiful and surprisingly peaceful for the haunting setting of a soldier on patrol in Afghanistan.

I was raised with two veteran grandfathers in my family. One who never spoke about his military experience, and one whose stories became family legend. I think this is a common classification amongst veterans– those who cope by burying and those who cope by sharing.

The Memorial Day Writers project originated from a group of the latter. A trio of Vietnam veterans created an annual assembly of veterans who wanted to create beauty from their catharsis. Every year they gather by the Vietnam monument and share song lyrics, poetry, and stories.

I admire the bravery of these men and women. Not only for their service, but also their willingness to lay themselves bare and create something beautiful from their pain.

So on this Memorial Day- I thank you veterans. I thank those who sacrificed their lives for us. I thank you all for your service. And for those who have returned, I thank you for the many ways you enrich us daily from your experiences.

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Grammar- Should We Be Teaching It?

Grammar- Should We Be Teaching It?

Why Schools Feel It Is Not Necessary.

Grammar- Should We Be Teaching It?

Somewhere in the last twenty years schools decided to stop teaching grammar. This was not really discussed or debated– it just happened. Why?

The main argument has been a shift in educational philosophy. Instead of previous generations, where the focus was on rote learning and memorization and worksheets, new philosophies sing the praises of critical thinking and hands on learning. In theory, this is great. Critical thinking skills are necessary across the board and will set children up for success in life and in the workplace. But are these philosophies missing something?

Current Grammar Curriculums

If you look at most public school primary grade curriculums there is a hole in grammar fundamentals. The approach is that students will learn these skills as they go. Teachers will use grading rubrics touching on punctuation and basic grammar principles as a scale to teach as necessary. But does this work? What happens when no one teaches the basic principles of the English language? Will a foundation ever be laid if students never learn the basic rules?

Arguments abound from high schools, colleges and superiors in the workplace saying no, students have not picked up these fundamentals. Today’s recent graduates including those with university degrees, seem to be unable to construct a simple declarative sentence, either orally or in writing. They cannot spell common, everyday words. Basic grammar and punctuation appear to be a complete mystery to recent generations.

Do We Need to Understand Grammar?

But is this a problem? Many would still argue no, that with technology capabilities what they are, it is no longer necessary to understand grammar ourselves. It is true that most writing is done on computers and tablets now. Most students no longer even carry notebooks and pencils to school. But should we rely on spell and grammar check for everything? Is it even entirely accurate?

The flawed approach to this argument is computers will never replace the conversational tone of human beings. In theory, grammar and spell check will pick up basic level mistakes, but will it ever replace the true understanding of sentence structure? Or possibly capture the beauty and fluency of the English language? 

Computers can also never replace the use of grammar understanding when it comes to our conversational interactions. Much like the cashier who can no longer make change on their own, our reliance on technology impairs our own intelligence and skillset to connect.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Are we sacrificing by losing our fundamental understanding of the English language?


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Is Self Publishing Worth It?

Is Self Publishing Worth It?

Why Self Publishing was Worth It for Me-

In December of 2020, I officially submitted my completed manuscript to an editor. One MFA, ten years, two kids and I finally turned my manuscript baby into my first published novel! I knew the next six months would be rough, going through rounds of edits, formatting, publishing, marketing, learning the ropes of everything myself as I went. All while still balancing real life with a day job and family and in the midst of a pandemic. But I knew it was going to happen, I was getting published! This knowledge and certainty is why self publishing is worth it. I have autonomy.

Understanding you HAVE a Choice-

As I begin my author blog, I’ve been thinking about what I want that to look like. One of the things I want is for this to be a place where I’m transparent about the indie author journey and what goes on behind the scenes. The reason for that is I’m publishing this way as a conscious choice and I want others to understand that choice. Both as readers and also as other writers contemplating self publishing for themselves. I’m aware there is still a stigma attached to self publishing. But, I’m hoping by lifting this curtain, I can help alleviate some of those negative associations and help others understand why self publishing is worth it.

Like most other English majors and MFA grads, I always assumed traditional publishing was the only route worthy of considering. Self published authors were sell outs who couldn’t hack it with the publishing industry, right? So, I put in my dues. I joined the Writer’s Guilds and attended conferences. I listened to the agent/editor panels and furiously took notes about what they were looking for, what it would take to get past the gatekeepers. I even paid to have my manuscript reviewed by agents and editors. But after awhile, I started to question why.

I knew plenty of writers. Extremely talented writers, sitting on amazing manuscripts, waiting for their chance to come. They sent out endless pitch letters just praying to be accepted. I even knew writers who HAD been picked up by agents only to have the process take years till publication. And then they were still responsible for all the marketing themselves and only claiming about 30% of each sale. I heard repeated over and over that writers don’t go in it for the money, it’s for the love of the art, right? But in this digital age where anyone with a voice and an internet connection can build a following should that really still be the case?

Making the Choice to Self Publish-

Yes, there are still self published authors who give credence to the hack stigmas. But there are also extremely talented, big name authors out there who either began their careers by self publishing or who are now leaving their traditional publishing houses to voluntarily self publish moving forward. Some examples include Andy Weir, Margaret Atwood, Kwame Alexander and even Stephen King. Why? Because it makes more financial sense! And gives an author complete independence and authority over their work.

As a society we applaud entrepreneurs and small business owners. So, I think it’s time that we encourage and support authorpreneurs as well. I look forward to sharing this journey with you and I hope I encourage others to share their own work as well!