Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Field Trip: The Museum of Bad Art

For spring break this year, my daughter asked if we could take a mother-daughter trip to Boston. Last year we did a road trip around New England, so we were in many places for a short time. Since I loved what little of the city I got to see, and there are far worse things a 21-year-old can be doing for spring break, I said okay.

Despite being dressed like Houstonians in the surprise snowstorm, we had a fabulous time and visited a different part of the city each day. One of our favorite things was something we didn't even know about until we stumbled upon it--The Museum of Bad Art. We decided to see a movie at the theater in Somerville, and since we had some time to kill, we headed to the basement to see what the MOBA was all about. We were not disappointed.

It's exactly what it sounds like. Ever been to a garage sale and seen a hideous and/or unintentionally funny painting? Or perhaps made something like that yourself? There's a home for such artwork. The museum is "dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms and in all its glory."

Here are a few highlights from our visit:

There were history lessons. Like this rendition of the Tiananmen Square protest:
I'd totally forgotten about the mariachi

And a tribute to our country's African-American presidents:

Presidents Obama, Beck, and Palmer

There were a couple of paintings inspired by famous works of art. The Mana Lisa, for example:

...and, uh, this:

I don't remember the name of this one, but let's call it "Girl With a Sunburn Crashing Van Gogh."

It's hard to pick a favorite, but I'm pretty sure mine is the ferret prostitute in a brothel:

I was a kit, I needed the money
So what's your favorite? There are many more paintings for your viewing pleasure at MOBA's website. It's a good reminder that art is pain.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Real-Life Writing Prompt: Carpool to Roswell

I mentioned in my last two posts that I attended the Kindling Words West retreat in Taos, New Mexico last week. I flew into Albuquerque with my buddy Crystal Allen, and we carpooled from there with Pam Bachorz since that would be more fun than the shuttle and it would allow us to stop at Trader Joe's for chocolate almonds and beverages.

While Crystal and I were waiting for Pam in the lobby of the car rental place, a woman approached us and asked if we were on our way to Roswell. If we were, she'd pay for half the car rental fee in exchange for a ride. She was visibly upset, like a chest-clutching, fighting back tears upset. Although that isn't where we were headed, of course we were intrigued. How does one just show up at a car rental lobby, suitcase in hand, looking to hitch a ride to Roswell? Apparently there's some giant new car rental tax the woman didn't know about, and her car for the week would cost more than her plane ticket had, and she was on her way to visit her mom. (No one else was flipping out about this tax, and ours wasn't that bad, so maybe it's something assessed if you don't reserve the car ahead of time. I'm not sure what the deal was with that).

Anyway, we started thinking about how this could be a fun story beginning. I know if we told thirty writers, "Strangers meet at a car rental desk and carpool to Roswell--go!" we'd get thirty completely different novels. Mine would a contemporary young adult novel with five different characters, each with a different reason they just had to get to Roswell, and their subplots would all become entwined somehow. Crystal was thinking of something more paranormal, in which the nice elderly couple offering a teenager a ride actually turns out to be aliens going to a reunion.

So, who would be in your carpool to Roswell, and why are they all going there? Why'd they show up at the same place without much of a plan?

Who knows, we might start a trend here. And in a few years we'll hear editors saying, "The market is saturated with novels in the Roswell sub-genre...".

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Found Poems

I mentioned in yesterday's Catching Up post that I'd write a little more about our poetry lessons from
Nikki Grimes at Kindling Words West, so here's some of what we learned in just one of our five workshops last week.

I had a hard time thinking poetically, so it's obviously something I need to work on more. "Found poems" were a little easier for me because I felt like I had something to work with--in the confines of an article instead of the whole English language.

To do a found poem, take an article, a book page, even a recipe or a product label, and select words and/or short phrases from it to make a poem. You won't add any other words, so all the words in your poem come from the original text. And use the words in the order they appear rather than going back and forth in an article.

Here's an example, to give you a better idea of what it looks like. The first text I worked with was an article about a girl who developed an app that prevents texting while driving, since she was worried about her own mom's habits. Doesn't sound very poetic, right?

First, some excerpts from the article, "Puppy Love:"

The way 11-year-old Victoria Walker describes how she worries about her mom, you'd think their roles were reversed. "She's really bad with texting and driving," Victoria says. "I tell her to stop when I'm with her...I just needed some peace of mind."
The sixth-grader...came up with an idea for an app that would literally hound distracted drivers to putting down their phones. ...
Victoria's app, called Rode Dog, basically allows friends and family to form a pack to protect one another. A GPS tracks pack members, alerting the group when one of them is using their phone while driving--and then unleashes a barrage of barks on the phone of the offending driver. Walker says she was inspired by her own dogs...that "bark their heads off whenever they sense danger."...

And here's my found poem, made from words in that article:

Worried reversed
Tell her to stop
Peace distracted
Putting down friends and family.
A pack,
Alerting the group,
Inspired by danger.

Here's another article, one that many of the workshop participants used, and it was interesting to hear such variety in our poems when the words all came from the same source. This is from a January 22, 2012 New York Times article, "Ready For the Worst, New York Gets First Major Snowfall:"

A powdery section of snow slid across the mid-Atlantic region and out toward sea on Saturday, making the season's first significant storm a less ferocious affair...
Yet memories of the crippling snowstorm in New York a year ago--followed by a blistering round of blame and recrimination--were fresh in the psyche of...residents of the region who readied themselves for the worst of winter's wrath. ...
Some New Yorkers saw the snow as a blessing, saying it had brightened winter's otherwise dry landscape.
"Finally, we're feeling winter,"...

I think so many people selected this article because it was so rich with strong words to mine for a poem. Here's the poem I made from the article:

Snow slid
Out toward sea
A ferocious affair
Memories, crippling, blistering
Fresh winter's wrath.

Or, a blessing
Brightened winter's
Dry landscape,

Some people call these "blackout poems," because one way to do these is to cross out most of the words of the original text with a black marker, leaving only the words that make up your poem.

I think it would be a fun activity for students to do, like with an article they've used for research or a photocopied page of a book they've been reading.

Or try found poems yourself if you've been wanting to write some poetry but have trouble getting started. Let me know how it works out for you!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Catching Up

It's been a long time since I've done a post, so let's catch up! Where in the world have I been and what have I been up to?

One reason I've been online less is that at the beginning of April I woke up with pain from my upper back to my hand that was so bad, the only comfortable position I could find was flat on my back with my arm raised. Not super-conducive to productivity. I'd had similar pain in the fall, but it came on more gradually then. Each time, it's happened after extended periods of writing, like if I'm really trying to get a project done. Which backfires, of course, if I'm then sidelined for weeks at a time with the nerd's version of a sports injury.

Thankfully it's gotten better, a little at a time, with rest, muscle relaxers, massage therapy, stretching, and seeing the chiropractor more often than my family. I have to remember now when I'm writing to take breaks more often, and it helps a lot to keep the computer at eye level. I think the worst thing I did was sit on the couch while looking down at the laptop for hours on end. So now I elevate it with a lap desk, and for times I'm working at my actual desk, I got this fancypants chair that has adjustable everything and costs a lot less than other ergonomic chairs. Also I'm using the dictation feature on the iPhone and the laptop when I can, especially for composing emails and texting. I'd love to be able to use it for drafting a story, but it's hard for me to dictate a story instead of typing or writing it by hand. I hope to get used to it with some practice so I can use it more often and give the arm a rest.

But the good news is I've finally finished drafting the next midgrade novel! It needs revising before it's editor-ready, but it feels great to have a good draft from beginning to end.

On to more happy news...

This little girl now lives at my house.

Not sure about these new people yet, but they seem nice

Her name is Holly and she's from Houston Cocker Spaniel Rescue. We took her in to foster her at first, but last time we said we'd "foster" a dog we kept her for the rest of her life, so I was pretty sure she was here to stay.

I mean, just look how she sleeps.

I even finalized the adoption after she chewed my MacBook cord in two. I'd say that's love.

She's very sweet, but quite the escape artist, so we do have to keep an eye on her. She got from our fenced-in back yard to the neighbors', squeezes through the cat door to get to the garage, and got from the enclosed play yard at doggie day care into the staff office. What could possibly be of interest in the office? I would love to know.

And in CHAINED news, I have some shiny new awards! The book received a South Asia Book Award honor, and the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for the Texas/Oklahoma region. I'm so honored about the recognition and to be in such amazing company with the other recipients.

Also, I have a new curriculum guide! Something I'd always thought I would get around to doing myself, but never did, so I decided to get the fabulous Debbie Gonzales to make one for me, and I'm so happy with the results.

Finally, I did some traveling recently, to the Kindling Words West retreat in Taos, New Mexico. It's a magical place where authors get a week to just focus on their work and talk to other authors about books and such. (And maybe a little shopping). We did have short workshops in the mornings, led by the awesome Nikki Grimes, but had the rest of the days to ourselves. Nikki's workshops were about poetry, which I've never really ventured into, but I know that what we learned from her will help my novel writing. I'd like to write a separate post about some of what I learned, so I'll save more of that for later this week.

Holly was really happy to see me when I got back, but she might have been happier about this bone o' bacon I gave her.

The bacon smile. I think a lot of us can relate.