Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Looking Back and Looking Ahead by Anya Novikov
After I read Little Women for the first time at age eight, I knew someday I’d be a writer.
Indeed, I got by-lines and awards writing for the high school newspaper. I co-edited the senior yearbook. Got excellent grades on college term papers but . . . I can confess it now:
Only when I took on a position teaching Freshmen English did I really understand how to write. Breaking it down, stripping it to the bone for fourteen-year olds finally brought me comprehension. Honed my own understanding, and resurrected my own skills. I mean, I knew how to get it right. I just hadn’t understood why.
Along with the students, I drew spider diagrams for pre-writing. Helped them with their rough drafts--required to be handwritten. Yapped endlessly about the No-No List. (“Do not use second person; its/it’s are not the same thing, nor are there/their/they’re. Use semi-colons sparing if at all. Don’t use ‘the end’ because your conclusion statement should BE the end. Bleh bleh bleh.)
Oh, and we had a dictionary unit. They learned how to check spelling and definitions in the grubby class set of thirty Merriam-Websters.
Most of all, we worked on uncovering their “voice.”
Then the big kahuna: a typed final copy. Oh, yes, I started out in the days of the dinosaur: the typewriter.
Technology hit us all over the heads quick, though, and I can’t deny embracing The Computer and Word Processing myself. No more messy white-outs. No more re-typing a whole page because another phrase or word would work better.
No more endless drafts because you could firm up the rough draft in Word. Save it. Fix it...
No more...shall I admit it? Yes, I use Merriam-Webster online. I fix it with a fast click when little red squiggles dance underneath a glob of letters . . .
Yet I rather yearned for the Old Days when Raymond, a dear, C-plus/B-minus student turned in a wondrous paper I had to fail. I knew him, his skills. His voice. It just wasn’t his work.
Tearfully, he vowed the work was his own.
To impress me, he’d hit “Synonyms” to find bigger, fancier words whenever he could. (Such explained his use of magnanimous.) And yes, I accepted his re-write.
And technology bit in other ways. Later on, I double-checked a boy’s college-admission personal statement. He gushed about his eagerness to attend Pepperoni University.
(Spell Check doesn’t know Pepperdine.)
One last area I hoped I hammered home to those legions of rapt students: The comma. “Of course there are rules, but when in doubt, leave it out. Put one in if you read your sentence out loud and naturally pause. Always use a comma after an introductory clause or phrase.”
Bleh bleh bleh.
Anyway, in the recent past, working with editors now and reading voraciously, I’m finding the comma is leading a different life. Why is it now so acceptable to smush introductory clauses and phrases into the main sentence without the comma?
Why is the final comma in a series so ignored? Grrr. I guess I’m just too old school.
Just today, I read an article on an animal shelter fund-raiser where “the food will be prepared by professional chefs, and dogs and cats from the shelter.”
Obviously not written by one of my former students. ☺
Anyway, those days I spent back in “high school” also inspired my first-ever Young Adult romance, The Circle Girls: Once Upon a Witch, recently released and part of the launch of a brand-new line, Watershed Books.
You see, in addition to freshman, I also taught American Literature to Juniors, and the Salem Witch Trial unit was always their favorite. Somehow, someday, I knew that grim time in history would gel into a story suitable both for teens and their parents. It isn’t about witchcraft at all — nor were the trials in 1692. It’s about finger-pointing, bullying, refusing to take personal responsibility. And I loved writing every word of it, used SpellCheck and synonyms . . . and made certain I got those commas right!
Since I write Western romance both inspirational and secular under another name, I must admit I wonder what the future holds for Anya (my pen name). Will my love of American history and literature continue to worm its way onto the page?
Will those good and evil prep-school kids have more adventures? Learn more lessons? Do I retain enough of my high school “voice” to write another?
I don’t know. But so far, it’s been a good ride. Or should I say, write?
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It’s about finger-pointing, bullying, refusing to take personal responsibility. Click to Tweet
"Pepperoni University," because Spell Check doesn't know Pepperdine. Click to Tweet
Most of all, we worked on uncovering their “voice.” Click to Tweet
Connect with Anya:
The Circle Girls: Once Upon a Witch
God will give you blood to drink . . . An ordinary teenager finds out what witch-hunting is all about—in her own everyday world.
When Deliverance “Delli” Willis, an ordinary, almost-sixteen-year-old, finds herself dreaming wild dreams, she’s amazed when some of the stuff appears during her classroom unit on the Salem Witch Trials: When a dream girl of 1692, who shares Deliverance’s name, finds herself entranced by a mysterious man in the woods, Delli finds a new neighbor walking through her family avocado grove.
Eager to share the handsome newcomer with her circle of friends, she doesn’t realize the danger of someone unique entering the closed loop. Fingers point, jealousies surge, lies are cast, sides taken—and people are out for blood. It’s a modern-day witch-hunt that collides with 1692 in ways Delli never dreamed.
It will take lessons from her dreamscape and a stand against bullies to tighten Delli’s faith in our omnipresent God.
For more information about The Circle Girls, click here. Or check out my review of her book here.