Monthly Archives: May 2014

Learning from the Masters

I grew up on the tail end of science fictions “Golden Age,” a time when writers were more philosophers, scientists, and theorists than people intent on creating entertainment. Most novels focused on scientific principles and how those related to men and conflict.

Even though “soft” sci fi stories were few and far between, there were authors who were consummate masters: Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, H. Beam Piper and Ray Bradbury.

My personal favorites are still: The Beast Master by Andre Norton; Have Space Suit Will Travel by Robert Heinlein; Four Day Planet and Lone Star Planet by H. Beam Piper; and Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed by Ray Bradbury. No matter how many times I re-read these books, they never lose their freshness and appeal.

What have I learned from these great storytellers? First, world building doesn’t have to be included in the story. Heinlein’s Have Space Suit Will Travel gives little information about Earth during the story’s time setting. It simply wasn’t important. Details on even the Mother Thing’s planet are skimpy and irrelevant.

Second, elaborate character background needs to remain in the author’s head, not in the story. The hero of Lone Star Planet is simply explained as part of a government agency relegated to a backwater world as discipline for too much “free thinking.” All the nuances and details of his past life are immaterial. It is how he reacts to situations and responds to the challenge that make the story intriguing.

Finally, the story itself must be entertaining and compelling. Readers seek similarities, points of reference that are at once familiar and different.  What connects readers to the hero in The Beast Master are ties to the past, familiar scenes of farming and ranching. What grounds us in the story are the similarities with a few simple brushstrokes, like Chinese line painting. The white spaces, not the lines, define the subject. The conflict and action which drives the story are powerful and potent when found in the most basic needs: belonging, home, family, what defines us, what really matters. Once a writer has found these things, the story unfolds naturally and all the accouterments such as details, setting, dialogue become embellishments, like jewels on the hilt of a sword or decorations in a home.

Stories of ordinary people facing ordinary life in an extraordinary way, this is the stuff of legends.






Tribute to Teachers

School is nearly out for the summer and at the conclusion of my second year of teaching, I have an even deeper appreciation for teachers.

Growing up in rural Oklahoma I was one of the weird kids–one who actually liked school. School was a refuge, a place I could soak up knowledge like thirsty ground, a place of sanctuary where teachers appreciated my love of learning. I didn’t like school for the social interaction (didn’t have any) or because I wasn’t picked on (back then smart girls got picked on a lot). I liked school because I had access to books and teachers who cared

So this blog is dedicated to some of those educators who took the time to encourage, inspire, and ignite my imagination:

Mrs. Bailey (1st grade) — you taught me life isn’t fair and I have to be responsible for myself

Mrs. Matheson (4th grade) — you provided so many interesting field trips and showed me there was a larger world out there

Mrs. Martin (5th grade science) — you introduced me to the exciting world of science and began a lifelong passion for all things scientific

My 6th grade English teacher — although I can’t recall your name, I do recall those wonderful Fridays when you read to us and took us exploring in so many new worlds

Mr. Gardner (8th grade science) — who issued a challenge I never backed down from

Mrs. Duke (High School English) — You taught me a writer’s duty is to write and are directly responsible for every book I’ve written. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Mrs. Moore (High School English) — You provided the impetus to study journalism through our mimeographed high school paper. Thanks for helping me realize my dream of being a newspaper editor.

Mr. Jameson (high school assistant principal) — You believed in me and gave me opportunities to advance. You taught me to love and understand that history is more than just names and places and dates on the pages of a book.

Mrs. Grant — thank you for all the hours in the library, making me feel at home, and teaching me the mechanics of books; as well as fueling my love for all things written.

Mr. Lovelace (college journalism professor) — you refined my ethics as a journalist and helped me believe in myself as a writer

Dr. Rader (college professor) — You introduced me to so many different cultures and showed me Africa is a continent, not a country.

Mrs. Cressup, Mrs. Maynard, and Mrs. Penifold. Thank you for your patience in teaching me to read music, sing and play the piano and organ. Your gifts did not make a world famous musician, but they did give me the skills to train others in faraway places. There is one young man who is a music leader in Ecuador whose early training in music came as a direct result of the things you taught me. Your gifts inspired him to study music at the university. Thank you for the gift that keeps on giving.

Finally, Coilla Smith, my AVID colleague, who taught me that being a teacher is more than just imparting knowledge. Your passion, enthusiasm, and compassion taught me more about teaching than any college degree could.







Top 10 Reasons Why I Like Texas

10. The stars

9. The wide, open spaces

8. Foxes in the front yard, badgers and turkeys in the backyard

7. Mesquite and blue bonnets

6. Family values

5. The night sky

4. Tex-Mex food

3. Teenagers who say “ma’am” and “sir”

2. Did I mention, the awesome spectacular stars?

1. The super friendly, I’ve-got-your-back, come-on-in-and-sit-a-spell, how-can-I-help, we’re-all-family-here people

Echoes of the Past

Hearing about a historical event has a tendency to reduce pivotal moments to a mere collection of dates, places, and unemotional facts. For the more imaginative, there might be a faint echo of sentiment, generated by our sense of humanity; yet, the true impact is lost in the dim reach of years.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has always been a part of American history. Hearing the history from the American side, I still wondered, “Why two bombs?” “Why bomb civilian targets at all?”

But it wasn’t until this week, when a photo on Muzu-chan’s Gate to Japan caught my attention, that I began researching the photos of the destruction that befell Nagasaki and Hiroshima. As amazed as I was at the recovery of these two cities (in many ways more advanced than anything in the U.S.), researching photos of the past horrified me.

Why haven’t any of the photos ever been shown in the U.S.? It seems it would have been a perfect opportunity for those preaching the need to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. More than that, however, such photos would have created a huge ocean of compassion for the Japanese people and acted as a deterrent to using nuclear weapons on any nation again.

Maybe the sheer gruesomeness of the photos was deemed “inappropriate” for school children. But if the Japanese could live with these photos, shouldn’t we?

As a schoolgirl, my heart went out to the families devastated by the atomic bombs. As an adult, my heart continues to go out to the nation harmed long ago and my admiration soars for a people who overcame in such a tremendous display of creativity and ingenuity.



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