May 22, 2013
Yes, it's true! My North Dakota alphabet book is now a musical!
Well, not a Broadway musical, mind you, but it was "performed" by a group of kindergarten students at Rita Murphy Elementary in Bismarck last week, and I was asked to narrate.
The musical's title was a takeoff from my children's alphabet book, "P is for Peace Garden."
To make full use of the day and my travels, I was invited to give an author presentation to the school's fourth-graders, who have been studying about North Dakota, and therefore were well-equipped to absorb what I had to share.
They were fabulous, and, I hear, had quite a discussion in their classroom afterward about writing. Apparently the visit with the real-life writer/author inspired them. That brings me great joy.
The question that caught me most off guard: "What does it feel like to be a famous author?" Next surprising: "What's your favorite football team?" You gotta love it!
When I shared that I wasn't a famous author, someone asked if I've met any famous authors. I remembered Jerry Spinelli, but forgot all about Kate DiCamillo and Tomie dePaola.
There were many others, too, and I didn't hear the typical question, "Where do you get your ideas?" even once!
One of my favorite moments was when a group of fourth-grade girls came up to me after my talk, surrounded me in a half-circle, looked at each other and said, "Ready?" like a group of cheerleaders before a cheer, and then, all at once, charged at me with a hug! That set me off on the right foot.
I also visited a school where my mom works as a volunteer.
I kept it simple and just read to them, mainly, and talked a little about the book business.
Afternoon and evening sessions included the performances of "P is for Peace Garden."
As narrator, I'd read a few pages, then pause in marked spots so that the kids could sing a song that corresponded in some way with the subject matter. For example, after reading the "T" page ("Theodore Roosevelt, 'Teddy,' is the T guy who touted this state, that turned him toward the presidency, he treasured our Badlands great") the kids sang, "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around..." And for the "H heads Home Runs and Hits" page, they sang, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," complete with a verse done through kazoos.
It was a clever mingling of book and song that the music teacher thought up because of her love of music and words, and because kids in her school seem to be captivated and motivated by books. She said "P is for Peace Garden" was a perfect title to incorporate into this year's spring musical.
What a fabulous day, which ended with a book signing that sold out. It felt like a culmination of many things coming together in my own life -- my love for music, words, children, and learning and in the city of my roots (Bismarck is where my parents met, and the school was named after one of my mother's former teachers).
On the way to the afternoon session, we drove past this guy, and I can't help but think that maybe the title of my book should have been, "P is for Pheasant!" Ah well. Perhaps there's room for a sequel.
May 15, 2013
This is what it's all about, really.
Having a chance to bring your words to the ones for whom you've written them.
When those readers are young, it's a special delight, because they are open books (pun intended), ready and eager to hear what you have to share.
I've been a little busy this week preparing for an author visit in Bismarck. Though I've been to quite a few places around the state with my North Dakota alphabet book, "P is for Peace Garden," this will be my first book visit to the capital city itself.
And it's a special joy since Bismarck is, in essence, the city of my rooting. It's where some of my great-grandparents lived, and my grandparents raised my mother, and where she met my father, and, well, that's how I eventually made my way into the world.
Because of my necessary preparations, my post will be short today. I just wanted you to know what's up and share that I'll be reporting more next week after the visit.
This visit also will be like no others I've done in that it's going to include, along with my usual presentation, a special performance of words from my book by kindergarten students from the school, Rita Murphy Elementary.
Oh, and if that's not cool enough, they've asked me to narrate the production. I can't wait to see how this all goes down. What a thrill to be part of something like this -- a first that I know of.
Finally, a fun trivia fact. My mother was instructed years ago by Rita Murphy herself. What a coming home of many sorts this trip will be.
And I'll be bringing along my 4th grader, who was percolating within me the same time as this book.
It's all good, folks, and I'm happy to be a writer in North Dakota. There's no place else on earth I'd rather be right now, nor any other occupation I'd rather have. It's a gift, and I am unwrapping it as carefully as I can, savoring every bit of it.
Please come back next week to hear more!
Peace to you!
May 8, 2013
As a contributing writer for our local daily newspaper, I'm a bit out of the loop. Unlike last year at this time, I don't have a desk in the middle of a busy newsroom, I miss all those fun company events and competitions, and I'm no longer privy to the buzz of the business.
There are other negatives, too. It's hard setting up a photo shoot when I can't see the photographers' schedules and emails to and from my editor can become voluminous at times. But all in all, writing from my home office suits me well. I seem to function better even as an independent than if I were back being a more integral part of things; especially with all the mothering needs still before me.
Nevertheless, I am still part of things. My writing appears alongside those with whom I used to hang on a daily basis, even though I no longer see them at the pop machine every morning. This became apparent to me this weekend when I opened the Sunday paper and learned The Forum has won an impressive inaugural award for being "Best of the Dakotas," out of both South and North.
I almost wasn't expecting to find my name among the many, but indeed, there it was in the "S" section.
As I go out and about, I sometimes hear complaints about our newspaper. Every community newspaper for which I've worked, in fact, has been the bearer of negative comments. And yet we provide a valuable service to the community. Even news that might be unsettling to us tells us something about the people with whom we work and live. There's much to be gotten through knowing what's going on in one's surroundings.
I'm happy and proud to be among the many talented people at our daily. I can attest to the fact that this is an extremely hard-working crew. The newspaper life is not easy. It can take a toll on those who work hard day in and day out to deliver the stories that help us know one another better. But we are blessed to have such a paper, locally owned and driven. Not every community does.
Congratulations, Forum. I'm proud of you and glad to be a part of the team!
May 1, 2013
I'm a huge proponent of retreats. In the past, I've shared how important it is for busy mothers to take time away from the chaos to nourish themselves. It's difficult to do but worth every stolen moment.
Sometimes, though, getting away really is impossible. Pregnancy, family crises, traveling spouses or having young ones at home can make even a weekend jaunt to a retreat house seem an unlikely dream. And yet, isn't it true we need a renewed perspective in such times more than ever?
There's always a Plan B, and today I'm going to share about one I've stumbled upon through the newest book from my friend Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle.
"Catholic Mom's Cafe" is a book filled with snippets that serve as 5-minute retreats for each day of the year. These shouldn't replace the larger retreat you deserve, but will help you get by in the meantime.
For me, this book was perfectly timed. Over Lent I dedicated the first hour of my morning to prayer, which included a book that involved 40 days of spiritual reflection. I really came to look forward to this time each morning when I would be fed with Scripture and reflection, quotes from a saint, and would be prompted to say a formal prayer as well, like the Our Father. But when the 40 days were up, I'd reached the end of the book. Disappointment crept in.
Then Donna-Marie's book arrived in the mail: problem solved!
In the introduction, Donna-Marie calls motherhood a "miraculous vocation" and promises her book will help us savor all of our "beautiful and blessed motherly moments."
But she's real about the miracle, noting that sometimes, it comes through the simple fact that we've managed to make it through the day! Donna-Marie wants to lighten the load we mothers carry, and to do that, she offers what she calls "daily vitamins" to energize and help the reader find the faith, hope and love needed to be the mom God wants us to be each day of the year.
Each entry includes the following sections: Ponder (readings from Scripture and other sources), Offer (an easy activity or idea), Pray (suggested prayers matching the daily theme) and Savor (something small to help carry us through the day).
Autographed copies can be purchased through Donna-Marie's website, as well as through Our Sunday Visitor, or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local Catholic bookstore. She's also got a blog dedicated to the book and a television series patterned after it here. Finally, you can connect with Donna-Marie and her book through Facebook here.
Happy pondering, offering, praying and savoring!
Peace Garden Writer
April 24, 2013
[Originally printed in The Forum newspaper Saturday, April 20; reprinted with permission.]
Judaism on the prairie: Jews in Fargo-Moorhead adapt to unique challenges
By Roxane B. Salonen, The Forum
“Mine went one way on my dad’s side, and another way with question marks on my mom’s side,” Frances explained. “My mom didn’t know anything about her dad except his name.”
Sadly, the broken branches tell of the tragic consequences of war.
Frances’ mother, Elaine, was born in 1940 Poland, just months after Adolf Hitler’s German army invaded the country. Two years later, the situation had gotten so dire that her parents, Chana and Yitzchak, made a desperate decision.
“She was one of the ‘hidden children,’ ” Frances explained. “They took her to a Catholic family who lived on a farm and had no children.”
While Elaine, 2, was quietly being cared for by strangers, family members including her parents, grandparents and aunts were murdered. An uncle eventually found her and, when she was 10, brought her to the United States to live with a great-aunt.
“Think of what her parents sacrificed,” Frances said. “Can you imagine giving up your baby to save her?”
But life wasn’t easy for Elaine even after moving to America. Later, she poured herself into her children, raising them in the Jewish tradition and reminding Frances and her siblings how good they had it with warm meals and nice clothes.
“My mom is a Holocaust survivor, and when you grow up with that you have an even stronger sense of who you are, where you’ve come from,” Frances said. “And you don’t want the Jewish people to end, because if they do, Hitler would have won.”
Frances, a retired pediatrician, now brings honor to her family’s history by pouring energy into her kids – Rena, 7, Forrest, 10, and Isaac, 12 – teaching them the ways of being Jewish, as well as through instructing other children in Hebrew at Temple Beth El, Fargo.
|Fran Weintraub teaches beginning Hebrew at Temple Beth El in Fargo. Weintraub’s mother survived the Holocaust, which has played a role in her commitment to Judaism. (Carrie Snyder / The Forum)|
With her children being the only Jewish students in their classes at school here, Frances said it’s especially important they have a good experience of Jewish life at the temple. To help make it so, she raised her hand immediately upon learning the temple’s annual Purim carnival was without an organizer and planned it herself.
Jewish in North Dakota
While at medical school at Southern Illinois University, Frances experienced many of the students from rural areas perceiving her being Jewish as “something to talk about.” She said she even once had to listen uncomfortably to an anti-Semitic joke.
But North Dakota has had none of that, she added. It’s more the logistical things that can complicate living life as a Jew on the prairie.
For example, food can be hard to access, especially for special seasons like Passover and Hanukkah, or the temple’s upcoming annual gourmet brunch, which typically serves around 700. She relies on online shopping and her mother, who ships food from Illinois. “If not for the Internet, she’d just have to send a bigger package,” Frances said, shrugging.
The family has found other ways of working around the inconvenience, too, like stopping in larger cities while on vacation to pick up bulk boxes of candles for Shabbat.
Abby Gold of Moorhead, a temple board member, grew up in Brookline, Mass., in an area speckled with Irish and Jewish residents. She said people here have been generally respectful of her being Jewish, though she admitted to occasional frustration.
For example, Christians have tried to convert her kids at school. “My son doesn’t want to be proselytized to, but he has been by his friends,” she said. “It’s really important to have school be a place where kids can feel safe, and not feel like they have to defend who they are.”
Her temple comrade, Wendy Gordon of Fargo, said she hasn’t experienced that, but did while growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Atlanta, where her Baptist friends tried valiantly to “save” her from damnation.
“They’d say, ‘Because you’re Jewish, you’re going to hell.’ But we don’t even have that concept,” Wendy explained. “It was touching because I knew they really cared, but it wasn’t something I could understand not coming from their belief system.”
It can be hard for many non-Jews to understand Judaism, Wendy said, since it’s based primarily on what one does in this life, and is less dogmatic than some religions.
“Getting a straight answer to anything is hard in Judaism,” she said, because much is debated for years without firm conclusions. “And we don’t discuss the afterlife at all. There’s no real answer to that question. My sense of it has been that we just don’t know.”
As a point of clarification, Frances said that faith, while a big word in Christianity, isn’t emphasized so much in the Jewish tradition. “It’s really more that if you study things to help you become a good person, there will be peace on earth,” she said. “We’re trying to do good things and heal the world.”
April 17, 2013
For the past week or so, I've been sharing posts on Facebook related to the Kermit Gosnell trial.
This story has caught my attention for two reasons. One, because it's horrific and touches on a topic that has been stirring me for a couple decades now. Two, because I was in disbelief it wasn't being covered by many mainstream media outlets.
We live in America, a country that heralds the freedom of the press and the need to shine light on that which is hidden. And yet, so much silence. Why?
Yesterday, Marc Lamont Hill of the HuffPost Live said this:
“For what it’s worth, I do think that those of us on the left have made a decision not to cover this trial because we worry that it’ll compromise abortion rights. Whether you agree with abortion or not, I do think there’s a direct connection between the media’s failure to cover this and our own political commitments on the left. I think it’s a bad idea, I think it’s dangerous, but I think that’s the way it is.”
Normally I tackle faith issues on Friday, so why this on Writing Wednesday? Because it's the writer in me that is most disappointed in how this all went down, and how so much of the media failed to do its job in shining a light on this atrocity.
Thankfully, more attention has been garnered now, and some apologies even have been made. But while we're making up for lost time, I think it's time to self-reflect. We can't not report on something because of the above-mentioned reason -- because we are afraid of what it might do for our cause. What is more important? A cause or truth? I would say that causes informed by truth are the most important of all. But a cause that shirks truth is dangerous.
So today I'm doing what little I can do as a citizen and communicator. I'm shining a light on Gosnell and hoping that rather than looking away and saying, "Oh, that's just gross. I don't want to watch/read that," you'll take a look and see what's been going on behind closed doors.
Now that more of the mainstream media is waking up and owning up, I'm willing to move past the poor judgment and move on. We all deserve a pass or two. We're all imperfect together. But let's also move on together. Let's not, now, minimize this trial and let it go before we've had a chance to truly absorb its implications. Let's give it its due. Let's allow it to tell us something that might be hard to see, but that can free us once we know it. Not just those on the right or those on the left, but all of humanity.
All is not lost. We can still learn from Gosnell. And to me, that learning starts now, by being honest about it and not being afraid of exposing injustice.
We owe it to the women who were maimed, and to the babies who thought they'd seen light only for that light to be snuffed out and life extinguished before they'd had a chance to look into their mother's eyes.
The only way I can think to end such a post is with a prayer (thus faith does enter in now...):
God bless all involved in this tragedy. Have mercy on our wounded world. Give us eyes to see and hearts to feel and words to share to help us learn and heal.
If you're wondering where go from here, this video, 3801 Lancaster, is a worthwhile place to start. Simcha Fischer also wrote a reflection that brings much information regarding this case to light.
April 10, 2013
A few months back, a writer friend brought forward some thoughtful advice after an email group in which we're both involved had produced some questions. Specifically, the discussion surrounded what to do when we're approached by other writers seeking insight, and how to balance that out with our own writing needs and constraints.
Since this has been happening more and more recently, I thought now would be a good time to bring Judith's advice here.
|Author Judith Dupre'|
Judith's first piece of advice?
"Go a bookstore and look at all books that relate to your own book idea/genre," she says. "Start a list of publishers who publish books like yours. Make a list of, and read, books that cover similar content."
She warns writers to "not make the fatal mistake of thinking that it is better to present a book idea that no one else has ever written in the history of civilization," because it is an immediate turnoff to publishers.
"They want to know that your book is just like the DaVinci Code with a little Jonathan Franzen thrown in for good measure," Judith says.
Secondly, she says, "Find other writers." Specifically, join a writing group, attend readings in your area, track writers’ blogs. "Writers know other writers. Immerse yourself in that world and you’ll soon have buddies with whom you can talk shop (agents, editors, publishers, advances, etc)."
The third suggestion: Consider hiring a developmental editor to go through your proposal and point out where it needs to be strengthened.
Fourth and final, for now: "Get an agent." Start by reading book acknowledgments in books similar to yours. "Invariably, authors thank their agents. Make your initial agent contact list from this data," Judith says, strongly encouraging the agent route.
For nonfiction, she adds that "in order to attract an agent, you’ll need to develop a one-page succinct book description, a 2-5-page proposal and at least one sample chapter, possibly more."
My words: By now, you're realizing (if you don't know it already) that birthing a book is no small task, and takes a great deal of perseverance and belief in the work you want to bring to light. But I can attest to the fact that when you've moved through the process to the point of seeing your book in print, and when you hear from others whose lives have been bettered because of it, you'll know it's been worth the trouble.
For more good stuff from Judith, visit her website.