Creativity for English and Beyond

Sitting in my now regular car dealership service waiting room and watching rain through the two-story windows, I cherish how the pounding drops somewhat obscure the federally-funded tv morning cartoons…that no one is watching, by the way. Why would we? All six of the other customers waiting on their vehicles are at least forty years old and looking down and thumb-scrolling on their phones. 

And this is just one moment in time on a regular day…

What do we observe in the world around us: 

  • what is your overall world; and where, specifically, are you right now
  • perceive with all your God-given senses: the physical and the spiritual
  • collect, collect, collect

How do we synthesize/organize observations: 

  • let collected observations blend naturally
  • allow observations to separate instinctively 
  • see how else you can manipulate groupings

What are the methods to grow imaginations:

  • how could you add dialogue to the scene you observed
  • what physical senses would fit into or surprisingly change the situation
  • how else could you extend the scene beyond what you actually observed 

How do we utilize this imagination:

  • illustrate the scene in your mind
  • derive meaning and list the questions to ask and/or lessons to learn
  • create new scenes/stories/dialogue 

How do we translate all these findings/revelations/imagination into words:

  • compose a poem
  • write prose
  • take the meaning you extracted or created and find a way to deliver that message to others

This fall I am teaching a 12-week course at Lasting Impact to help activate and exercise this creative way of thinking called “Creativity for English and Beyond.” 

This course aims to fill in the gaps that many English programs leave. To think critically, effectively communicate, problem-solve, and experience life more fully, people must look through a new and wider lens.

During this unique course, students will participate in group discussions and activities. They will learn to engage the imagination and express creative thinking all while taking an extra dose of formal English language and literature instruction.

I am passionate about our weird and wonderful English language and creativity. In my life, I believe in venerating beauty, exploring imagination, and encouraging thought all for the greater glory of God. I would love to take a semester-long journey with you to get you excited about and equipped to experience the world of creativity.

Tamera Alexander and Historical Fiction (from 2011)

Tamera has published many books since I originally posted this, and they have been fantastic books. Read for yourself: Tamera Alexander books.

I’ve never been a big fan of “romance” novels or historical fiction, but I’ve found an author who not only captures my attention but runs away with my imagination.  My greatest attraction to and appreciation of Tamera Alexander’s novels (besides those virtuous, which makes them even more appealing, heroes!) is the boundless comfort she creates.

Alexander enraptures the reader’s senses with scenery of the rugged and challenging Colorado Territory actualizing natural beauty beyond measure.  The small remote town settings, complete with the boarding houses, sheriff’s office, general store, and all, make you feel like you’re strolling along the boardwalk. She skillfully develops characters who live through moments of physical pain, emotional and spiritual struggles, and heartbreak, but the spirit and tone of the book are never without God’s grace, hope, redemption, and healing.  

And Alexander knits all this setting and character development together with such an inviting and natural flow that the reader feels like a living part of this Colorado Territory life, not merely an outside observer.

I’m currently reading Within My Heart, and, in all honesty, I’m tearful that I’m at the end of the Timber Ridge Reflections series.  However, I devotedly await reading The Inheritance.  Hopefully, that will tide me over until Tamera Alexander’s upcoming release A Lasting Impression coming November 2011!

Author: Tamera Alexander
Fountain Creek Chronicles:
Rekindled / ISBN: 978-0-7642-0108-0
Revealed / ISBN: 978-0-7642-0109-7
Remembered / ISBN: 978-0-7642-0110-3
Timber Ridge Reflections:
From a Distance / ISBN: 978-0-7642-0389-3
Beyond This Moment / ISBN: 978-0-7642-0390-9
Within My Heart / ISBN: 978-0-7642-0391-6

and more books here!

Anna Quindlen (book review)

My husband read the dust cover synopsis of Anna Quindlen’s Every Last One when I was early in the book and asked, “So what’s the ‘shocking act of violence’?” Suddenly distressed, I couldn’t imagine anything out of the Latham family’s ordinary life changing. I was just enjoying the ride, watching their daily lives unfold.

You see, without fail, I read the synopsis on the dust cover of a library book or the back cover of a new purchase. Instantly (and subconsciously), I forget what it says. Maybe I want the story to reveal itself to me in its own way, not the predestined way it is being marketed to me. Maybe I’m just plain forgetful. Maybe there is some subconscious motive. Who knows?

Thanks to the novel’s stream of consciousness narration, I developed a soft spot in my heart for all the main characters: Alex (the popular, confident athlete), Max (the reclusive, mysterious musician), Ruby (the decidedly different, artsy writer), Glen (the all-around good guy and faithful husband), and Mary Beth (the mother, the voice of the book, and the heart of the family).

I had to take a moment (alright, more than a moment and a half a box of tissues) to emotionally process the “shocking act of violence.” Mentally, I ran through scenarios in my own family life… “What if…” or “How could…”  And there it is, the author had me so deeply involved I could intellectually and passionately intertwine my life with that of the characters.

As I rode the emotional waves created by way of the natural flow of the Mary Beth’s voice, I landed at the end of the book tired, hopeful, and ever more joyful to be living my life. Good read.

Every Last One
Author: Anna Quindlen 
Publication date: 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6574-5

Interview with Carla Stewart (from 2012)

I originally posted this in the Spring of 2012. What an honor to have had a chance to interview author Carla Stewart!

Carla Stewart’s writing reflects her passion for times gone by as depicted in her first highly-acclaimed novel, Chasing Lilacs, which was a 2011 Finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award and winner of the 2011 Best Fiction Book for the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. (OWFI). Awards since then include five-time Oklahoma Book Award Finalist, Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award, INSPY finalist, and each of her books has been a Pulpwood Queen Book Club selection.

Carla launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of being invited to attend Guidepost’s Writers Workshop in Rye, New York. Since then, her articles have appeared in GuidepostsAngels on EarthSaddle Baron, and Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine.

An Oklahoma native and graduate of OU, Carla enjoyed a career in nursing and raising her family. Now that their four sons are grown and they’ve become empty-nesters, she and her husband relish the occasional weekend getaway and delight in the adventures of their seven grandchildren.

Enjoy the book banter…

Denise: You once said, “Community is the best gift you can give yourself. Writing groups, conferences, critique partners – the human interaction keeps the solitary life of writing from feeling like you are alone…. Pay attention to what those who’ve walked before have to offer in craft and networking. For your writing, don’t be afraid of being unique.” You are well known in writing circles and have developed many author and professional friendships. With all these outside voices, how have you managed to cultivate your unique voice?

Carla: Oh my goodness. First, I’d have to say I’m very grateful for those who’ve helped me along on this writing journey. Every writer has a voice, whether they know it or not – it is the unique way you string words together and the tone you bring to the page. It’s your personality on the page, telling stories from your perspective. But the magic really happens when you let the characters’ voices come through. So part of my “voice” is choosing characters who resonate within me and letting them shine. Reading great books feeds my creativity – not trying to be like another author, but to write bigger stories, create more vivid word pictures, and step into uncomfortable waters. Turning off that critical editor in your head helps, too.  🙂

Denise: Your debut novel Chasing Lilacs is full of rich, deeply human characters. Do you have one to whom you feel most attached or one of whom you are most proud as a “person”?

Carla: Slim Wallace was far and away my favorite character. He’d been through a great loss and suffered estrangement from his family, and yet, he reached out to both Cly and Sammie in his own way – playing backgammon with them, not telling them what to do, and being an anchor for them. He’s the sort of person I wish I was. At one of the book clubs I attended, one sweet lady told me at least three times, “I sure did like Slim.” I do, too.

Denise: In Broken Wings you employed an unconventional narrative style, alternating first person story-telling between Mitzi and Brooke.  At the same time, you take your reader on an adventurous, emotional ride originating in 1935 St. Louis and floating beautifully back and forth through time and landing the reader in present day Tulsa. How did you marry this narrative style and this timeline so naturally?

Carla: I was very worried about how I was going to structure this book once I’d been contracted to write it!! I’d read other framed stories (Water for Elephants and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet) and loved how they had a story within a story. So that was my goal. I also wanted the historical thread to mirror what was going on in the lives of Mitzi and Brooke (crisis, friendship, complications, climax, etc.). I knew exactly what happened in the past so it was more crafting the contemporary story around that. Once I began writing, the words and chapters fit together perfectly like jigsaw puzzle pieces. That was not ME, but a divine touch. When I was finished, it needed some revision, of course, but I was astounded at the flow of the story and take no credit whatsoever for that.

One quick story about an unplanned character in Broken Wings. Mitzi was arriving at the Care Center one day, and a gentleman opened the door for her. Hadley stepped into the story and said, “Here I am.” I had not planned that and ended up falling in love with him sort of like I did Slim in Chasing Lilacs.

Denise: Your upcoming release Stardust (coming May 15, 2012) promises a story “of courage, forgiveness, and new beginnings.” This seems to be the theme of your novels, yet your first two books tell such different stories. How do you present this heart-of-the-book in a new way in Stardust?

Carla: Setting and era are huge for me – creating a story world so that this particular story could not have taken place anywhere else or at any other time. The bayou setting in Stardust was something new for me, but I made several trips to East Texas and took the riverboat ride down the bayou and asked the tour guide a lot of questions so I could portray an authentic setting. Having a “backdrop” also helps create a fresh story. In Chasing Lilacs, I used the way depressions and mental illness was treated in the fifties. In Broken Wings, the jazz culture of Tulsa. In Stardust, polio plays a big part of the story. Again, a lot of research to get the details right. Last, a good mix of characters. Every character in Stardust is unique and has a role in the story. Stardust was a joy to write from the day I got the idea until the last word was written. I hope readers love it as much as I do.

Denise: Your book covers: classy, clean, beautiful! How much artistic influence do you have on the cover art and overall presentation of your books?

Carla: I’m asked to submit my ideas and covers that I like. Truthfully, though, I’m glad to turn the cover art over to the design people and let them come up with something. So far, they’ve done a fantastic job. I’m in awe of how my books are vastly different and yet the covers have a cohesive feel that represents me and my brand – nostalgic heartfelt fiction. The team at FaithWords is incredible.

Denise: And, finally, what can you share about your current work in progress?

Carla: Sweet Dreams was turned in earlier this week. It’s set in 1962 and has two vastly different settings – an exclusive Southern charm school and an oil tycoon’s ranch – both in Texas. Here’s a short blurb.

Two close-knit cousins struggle to fit in at an exclusive Southern charm school, but when they both fall for the same handsome guy, their love for each other is tested. Patsy Cline sings “Crazy” on the radio while the worlds both inside and outside the halls of the charm school begin to crumble. Past secrets and family lies collide with the changing times. Sweet Dreams has a flawed cast of characters whose dreams have the power to take them to new heights or tear them all apart.

The Personification of a Wristwatch

In the film Stranger Than Fiction (2006), the personification of a wristwatch tickled me…

Concerning its owner Harold Crick, the “Taxman” (Will Ferrell), tying his tie, the wristwatch “thought the single Windsor made [Crick’s] neck look fat, but said nothing” for it wanted to be timely…well, it was only natural, right?

And when Crick was catching his morning commute bus, “his wristwatch would delight in the feeling of the crisp wind rushing over its face.”  Other mentions of the wristwatch’s character appear throughout the film, but the character never develops. How could it, really? Hmm…

Anyway, the watch gets it right in the face at the end, but I didn’t mind its tragic demise. The personification amused me, but the watch never had my heart.

A Bit Late to the Game (book review)

I know I’m a bit late to the game on this contemporary women’s fiction novel, but I give five stars to Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook because the story touched my heart.

The suffering involved in this beautiful story reveals (to a world that commonly and unfortunately links romance with Hollywood-hype) that true love, romantic love, grows via pain (emotional and/or physical). Sparks’s writing intertwines poetry, descriptions of nature, a fluid flashback narrative, and imperfect characters who (whether they know it or not) deeply trust that the human body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that marriage is a union of souls. I can feel the Catholic heart of this novel…even though I do not hear any overt evangelization. It is a beautiful love story.

(and, no, I did not see the movie…I enjoyed the book so much and did not want to undermine the reading experience.)

Side-note: I think the original book cover art (on all Sparks’s novels) accurately reveals the book more than the movie still-shot book cover version. (That being said, I understand and respect the marketing effort.)

“Joan of Arcadia”

I have professed it repeatedly…I’ll say it many times again…it is such a shame, a creative and spiritual loss to the television viewing masses, that creator and producer Barbara Hall’s “Joan of Arcadia” never made it past season two.

Throughout the series (insert sigh of exasperation over the truncated life of this message-filled show), one of my all-time favorite mother characters Helen Girardi (played by Mary Steenburgen) prays, hopes and emotionally and intellectually struggles with her Faith. During one of her initial trials with her maternal-optimism failing her lonely, aching heart, she walks by and then quickly returns to chat with (interrogate, actually) a Catholic priest, Father Ken Mallory (played by David Burke). Ah, Father Ken…a realistic portrayal of a gentle, knowledgeable, humble, compassionate, Faith-filled, insightful man…a great priest! How refreshing to see a Catholic priest on a TV show depicting a priest (or many priests!) that so many of us know and love in our own real lives.

Watch a few episodes of “Joan of Arcadia” and listen to the love and wisdom of God in Father Ken’s own words. I especially cherish his words to Helen (in the episode “death be not whatever”) when she is confiding in Father Ken that she has been meeting with him behind her husband’s back (Will Girardi, the chief of police and fallen away Catholic, played by Joe Mantegna):

Father Ken: “Helen, I think what you’re touching on here is you should be talking to your husband and you miss being able to do that.”

Helen: “But you don’t understand what kind of job he has, and it’s especially bad right now. I just can’t make it worse for him.”

Father Ken: “I’ve married a lot of people, and I remember the words. You’re depriving him of the privilege of living up to them.”

Helen: “Well…when you put it like that.”

What an affirmation of the holy vocation of marriage!

So, thank you, Barbara Hall for your gift of Joan: the clever and provocative script writing, and the deep, realistic, intriguing characters, such as the beloved Father Ken.

And let’s all remember to pray for vocations and for our priests. We need them…our world needs them!

An Honest Love Story (book review)

I found a new best friend! Well not really, but if we met in person, the moment could well be an instant sisterhood made in Heaven.

In Ree Drummond’s perfectly titled autobiography The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels – A Love Story, I passionately identified with her story…the messy emotional ups and downs of young womanhood… falling instantly and madly and deeply in love…getting hitched the old fashioned way (in an actual church)…and having that first baby girl.

Drummond’s relatable, comfortable style of writing draws her readers in to admire her life transform from a thoroughly-sure-of-her-destiny young woman who meets up with a life-changing man to a fiercely protective “Mama” who loves her husband even more because now he is “Daddy.”

Her descriptions are revealing, pictorial, and sometimes just downright palpable.

I always love an honest story, especially an honest love story…

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels – A Love Story
By Ree Drummond
Publication date: 2011
ISBN 978-0-06-199716-7

Carla Stewart’s Debut Novel: Way Back in 2010 (book review)

There are books I recommend because they are a “good read.” Then, there are a very few recently published books such as Carla Stewart’s Chasing Lilacs that surpass the entertainment category and help define authentic literary fiction. 

I don’t believe literary fiction is always a genre exclusive of all other genres.  However, Stewart’s Chasing Lilacs artfully focuses upon and searches deeply into character, psychology, and character psychology as well as style (rather than concentrating first and foremost on narrative and plot).

As you read through and experience Stewart’s composition, you discover room for interpretation and opportunities for self-definition.  The entertainment factor is a delightful bonus. At the risk of sounding overly academic, I dare say Chasing Lilacs is a timeless, beautiful exploration.  An amazing debut novel!

(And for those of you who know me, no, I don’t have a heart for this novel just because it’s set in Texas…but it didn’t hurt!)

Chasing Lilacs
Author: Carla Stewart
Pub. June 2010
ISBN: 9780446556552