I love a Southern summer. Yes, it gets warm, but the heat is far better for me than our cold, wet winters. As a youngster, I used to dream about snow and cold. I read books on Arctic camping, and researched the Native Americans who lived in the Arctic and SubArctic. My short story, “Ghost Fires,” is a story set in Canada, in the land of the Cree, and is a result of an idea and my research. That story won first place in the Hemingway Short Story Competition a few years back. But I digress–back to the topic of summer.
The South is so alive in summer–and I love everthing about it. I have memories of hot, muggy, July nights, lying in bed next to my little brother at my grandmother’s house in Ivanhoe, Texas, listening to the small oscillating fan, to the owls, whipoorwhills, and other nightbirds. I remember looking up at that sky, blanketed with all the stars I couldn’t see in Dallas. Maybe it’s these memories that make me love the summer. Perhaps it’s because summer is when I get a short vacation away from teaching apathetic kids and task-master administrators. I do know that my writing always experiences a great surge of energy in the summer. I think that’s the main reason I like summer–I can give my writing more attention. I can travel (if I have any money) and research and read. I love to sit out on my patio with coffee in the morning and iced tea in the evening and read, write, or just sit and daydream. I lived in northern states twice in my life–four years in northeast PA and two years in White Plains, NY. Those were good times, and I was fortunate to be around a lot of good people, and I learned much, but I missed the South. A few years ago, a good friend gave me Willie Morris’s, North, Towards Home. It was a good read. I guess many Southerners have moved north and adjusted, but I don’t think I could ever live anywhere but the South.
I recentlly discovered a technique, probably others have used it, of teaching students how to write original poetry. You choose a song you like, and you write a poem that follows that song’s rythym and rhyme scheme and tone if possible. It seems to work, at least for me. After I did this, I thought about how many great songs have used previously written melodies. The Irish were quite fond of doing this, I know. Just an idea, and I hope it helps.
School is officially out. It takes me a few days to slip out of the numbness teaching high school inflicts. I spent today doing chores, work on house and yard, etc. Tomorrow I should be ready to attack my writing in a fury.
This next week is my last week of high school. If you’re wondering what the last week of high school is like, here’s a description of the rural high school where I teach in Bastrop, Louisiana.
We had 7th period final exam last Friday. I had one excemption due to high scores on the GEE test we take here. All the others took it, and amazingly all passed it. Monday, we have 1st and 2nd period exams; Tuesday, 3rd and 4th; Wednesday, 5th and 6th. That’s the first half of the day. After the kids leave at lunch, we work in our rooms, grade exams, and average grades. Thursday and Friday are work days for teachers with meetings and taking care of our check-0ut list, many of those tasks are moving rocks. These make the myth of Sisyphus very relevant to teachers. School is starting earlier (again). We have to show up on the 8th of August. That leaves a 10 week summer. Three of those weeks I’ll be in workshops: An AP course so I can teach gifted AP, and two gifted symposiums. I am scheduled to teach two night classes at the community college here, and I hope for another at ULM where I did adjunct work for 11 years before I was a Katrina victim due to budget cuts. I’ll be tired, but teachers are usually tired anyway, and it’s better to be tired with a little money, than tired without it. Like the Bible says in Ecclesiastes, “Money answers all things.” (It really does say that).
The remaining weeks I intend to write every day, travel some, take care of the chores and family matters that have been neglected through the school year. Seven weeks of free time sounds like a lot, but since, like most teachers in Louisiana, I’m a nine-month employee, there’s not a lot of money to do much. However, I like having the extra time to do a push on my writing. I intend to finish my Western this summer. I’m about thirty thousand words into it now. I also need to do some more short stories, more poems, enter some writing contests, and organize my writing area. I have a few thousand books, and I need to organize the piles and shelves. I also need to throw away a mountain of paper. I know I should have been more disciplined and gone through them as I went along, but it seems I was always in a time bind. I intend to do better next year.
Every teacher should keep a running log of the things students say. I’ve enjoyed the various lists of students’ bloopers I’ve read, but I could add my own. Additionally, there are some things students say that are revelatory of not only ignorance, but perhaps some deeper problems. For example, at the end of each six weeks, and especially towards the end of the year, students who have been, to use an euphemism, “less than diligent,” approach me and say, “Is there anything I can do for extra points?” Many teachers buckle and think up some quick assignment, and the quality of the work is often less than what SHOULD have been submitted onl time, and the student ends up passing. I tell them student, “Why should I do extra work now because you didn’t do your work then? That doesn’t seem fair to me.”
I might consider giving a student who did his/her work on time some extra work to raise their grade, but to offer “makekup” work as a quick escape plan–no that’s not fair to student or teacher. I intend to do some more writing and thinking on this topic.
I’m in a Scot’s Irish band. I play guitar, and sing a little (basically to let the lead singer rest). We call ourselves Angus Doubhghal; those two names are for two Scottish heroes. I’ve written a couple of original songs for us, and intend to write more. We’re playing at the Riverboat Festival in Columbia, LA, this Sat. If you want a pic of us in our kilts, write me, firstname.lastname@example.org. Wish us luck.
Marketing one’s book(s) is only one aspect of the author’s business. Yes, with a POD publisher, you do have to work hard, but even with the more “traditional” publisher (which are becoming more and more untraditional) you must work hard to promote your work. Booklocker has been so good to me–better royalties than many “traditional” publishers. I’ve made a form for bookstores (will be glad to send it to you if you email me, email@example.com) and I’m trying to pack in a busy summer doing signings and readings. More on this later.
I know it sounds pathetic, but I’m actually counting down the days of school left. I’m a tired, frazzled teacher.
Every year about this time I tell myself this will be my year–for some reason I think of years as beginning with the school term instead of Jan. I have an AP certification workshop to attend this summer, and a Gifted symposium to attend–that will be two weeks of my summer shot. Nevertheless, I had a good summer for writing last year, and intend to do the same this year. School also will be beginning at 8:30 instead of 7:30 next year, so I can finally get back into the writing routine that works best for me–writing two hours every day first thing. Since Bastrop is 25 miles away, I must get up at 5 AM just to get to work on time at 7:00. Yep, I think next year is THE year.
Last week I obtained a table at the Louisiana Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It also turned out that I was asked to be the featured speaker. It seems their plans for a speaker had fallen through at the last minute. I made some sales, and got some good publicity for m book.
Monday, I drove to El Dorado. Arkansas, after school and did a reading. I read “The Taking of Jim Limber.” That story always seems to work well, and it also unsettles people to know that it is based on a real historical incident. I also approached two library systems and one independent bookstore to set up signings.
This Saturday, I drove to Savannah, TN where some other Southern patriots had gathered to raise money for a Confederate monument. I stopped at five stores along the way. You get the idea. I gave them a discount form I use for them to order books and went through my “buy back” policy. Lots of work to do in this brutal business.
I intend to use this blog as a record of how I market my new book, Stories of the Confederate South. Perhaps my stories will help you with your own marketing. Since I have such a targeted (though huge) Southern market, I’m going to Leesville, LA, this weekend for the State Convention of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I’ve negotiated a table, and I think sales will be pretty good. I can also use this as an opportunity to do some pre-publicity for my children’s book that Pelican is publishing. I’m also doing a reading next Monday night in Eldorado, Arkansas. So, off to pack. Be back Sunday.
At Bastrop High School, a rural school here in Northeast Louisiana, I teach two classes of gifted high school English, two classes of honors English, and two classes of “regular” students. There’s only fourteen school days left this year. I know because one of my students made a countdown calendar on one of the chalkboards and has been counting down for us. I’m ready for the summer. This will be only the second summer I’ve managed to have “off” in my eleven years of teaching. All the other summers were either spent going to school fulltime or working odd jobs trying to make ends meet, or a combination of both. I cringe when I hear people talk of teachers having all that time off, and I have a conniption fit when I hear talk of year-round school.
First of all, at least here in Louisiana, teachers are nine month employees. That means we’re paid for nine months, and that salary is stretched out over twelve months. I’m not sure where Louisiana ranks now in teacher pay, I just know we’re close to the bottom. I know the money’s not enough to make a dignified living. This is why so many teachers have to moonlight. And many moonlight year-round. I do. I edit books, play in a Scot-Irish band, and try to sell the books I write. And some summers, I’ve done carpenter work, worked for Waste Management, worked in a funeral home, and a score of other odd jobs. (If you want some interesting writing ideas, make a list of all the jobs you’ve ever had.)
Regarding summer: In the face of tougher teacher standards, teachers need the summer to take university courses. Of course, I realize many go to school year-round. Some attend university classes at night, even if they have worked all day with the brain-numbing tasks related to teaching. Then they take care of their family and homes, get all the papers graded (trivia question: how long does it take to read and grade a class set of 25 essays?), and finish all the assignments for their college class. They return to school the next day, try to do a decent job teaching, and do their best to somehow manage to move all the rocks (busy work) that politicians and administrators mandate be moved. Pardon the rant. I’m tired today. Maybe that’s why I’m venting. But maybe I gave you something to think about as well.