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Back to School Again

Clicking Our Heels: Who Influenced Us to Become Writers

Clicking Our Heels: People Who Influenced Us
to Become Writers

Writers often say they write because they
must and observe that writing is a solitary activity, but we wondered if
somewhere along the line, who, if any person, played a large role in the
various Stiletto Gang members becoming writers.

Sparkle Abbey:

Mary Lee Woods: My mother was my
greatest influence in my becoming a writer. She read often and widely and
instilled a love of reading in me. When I picture her, from when I was small until
just before her death at 92, she was often curled up with a book. And most
likely a mystery. She was an Agatha Christie fan, but also loved many
contemporary mystery authors and always looked forward to a new book from Dick
Francis. One of my favorite childhood memories is our weekly trips to the
public library to browse the stacks and to pick up books for the week. It was
there that I discovered Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and ultimately Mary Stewart
and Phyllis Whitney. The love of a good story eventually led me to the desire
to try my had at writing.

Anita Carter: Probably my husband. He
pushed me and encouraged me to do it. He’s my biggest cheerleader.

Kay Kendall: I cannot point to one
person who influenced me to become a writer—of fiction, that is. I can tell you
who I should’ve paid attention to much sooner, and that is my own mother.
Because she said writing was my gift, she kept wanting me to study journalism
in college. I wouldn’t listen to her, and probably her pushing kept me away
from that major. But I wanted to learn so much in the liberal arts curriculum,
so I don’t regret doing that, but I do regret coming so late to a fiction
writing career. The book world was so much healthier earlier.

Juliana Aragon Fatula: Mrs. Durbin my
junior high English teacher. I learned from her because I

respected her. She
gave me the gift of loving reading.

J.M. Phillippe: Mrs. Smisko, my fifth
and sixth grade teacher, who used to always nominate me for writing rewards. I
had vague ideas of wanting to be a writer before tha, but my time with her
really cemented the idea in my head.

Linda Rodriguez: Probably Charles
Dickens. I read A Tale of Two Cities
when I was eight years old and fell in love with the way a writer could bring a
whole world to life. I knew I wanted to do that myself.

Dru Ann Love: As I’m not a writer, my mother
showed me the love of reading.

A.B. Plum: Miss Adah E. Peckenpaugh, my
high school English teacher for four years. She taught me grammar and vocabulary
and instilled the idea that I could write well – including everything from
essays, to short stories, and personal letters. 
Remember those?

T.K. Thorne: Definitely my Granny. She
read to me as a child, introducing me to the wonder of words and stories.

Shari Randall: So many teachers have
been wonderfully supportive of my writing, but there was a moment when I was
working at my hometown newspaper that really turned a lightbulb on for me and
made me think of myself as a writer. I started out as the newsroom assistant,
typing articles for some of the reporters (yes, it was eons ago) and writing
wedding announcements (“Grace Episcopal was the setting for the afternoon
wedding of …” you get the drift). A few weeks after I started, the owner of the
paper needed someone to write a feature about modern weddings for an
advertising supplement. After my story ran, several of those hardboiled
reporters came over, shook my hand, and said it was the best thing that had
ever run in the paper. I remember being stunned. These guys lived to bust each
others’ chops and they’d busted mine plenty, so their words struck a chord.

Bethany Maines: My college roommate and
long-time friend (and fellow Stiletto Blogger) J.M. Phillippe really inspired
me to actually turn my hobby into a serious passion. She walked me through the idea
of writing long form and has constantly helped me improve skills. Her impact on
my writing cannot be overestimated.

Judy Penz Sheluk: My husband, Mike. He
bought me a creative writing course for my birthday about 15 years ago and
said, “It’s time for you to follow your dream.” He’s still my first beta
reader, and biggest believer.

Debra H. Goldstein: My father taught me
to love words and the beauty of expression.

Today, I Met an Author by Debra H. Goldstein

Today, I Met an Author by Debra H. Goldstein
Today, I met an author. Physically, she was petite, but her words packed a solid punch.  The holiday tale she read me was well crafted – it had a defined beginning, middle, and end and contained two interesting and unexpected twists. The characters were simple, but well drawn and names like Elfy and Santa served to enhance the story.  Even though the author’s spelling and punctuation, especially forgetting to use quotation marks, was distracting, the use of dialogue and narrative was effectively balanced.  Best of all, many of the story’s pages contained cartoon like illustrations that allowed poorer readers to follow the story.  What I read might be called a rough short story, but I expect we’ll be seeing more polished offerings from this author in the future.  After all, she only is a second grader.

I was in her classroom to discuss Chanukah and to answer questions about being a judge and a mystery writer.  The children I spoke to were all wonderful – active, bright, and engaged.  Their outfits reflected their personalities and the fact that they probably all now chose their own clothing for school. Some of the boys sported red Alabama hoodies, there was a lone LSU t-shirt, and one girl had sparkles on her shirt, jeans, and sneakers.

After I talked about mystery writing, the teacher requested me to discuss ways to get around writer’s block.  I told the students they could journal or write a few lines about something they observed in their respective lives and that maybe, one day in the future, one of their notes would become the basis for a story.  We role-played taking a simple observation and fashioning it into something more.  With the give and take of the class, my speaking time went by quickly.

I was packing up my Chanukah props when the teacher asked if I would listen to a student’s story. “Of course,” I replied.  I cringed at the request especially when I realized the would-be author reminded me of Luna in the Harry Potter books. Throughout my talk, the child had never cracked a smile.  Her clothing was a mishmash consisting of old tennis shoes with pink laces, striped blue and grey leggings covered by a green frilly skirt that only stayed on because of its tight elastic waistband, and a flowered grey and green shirt. She looked from her teacher to me and back to her encouraging teacher.  Then, her long blonde curls dusting her shoulders, she glided from the story circle to her desk.

She came back with a blue cloth-covered journal. We pulled two second grade chairs next to each

other and then head bent, finger under each word, she slowly read to me. When she finished, she glanced at me and then stared at her journal.  Neither she nor I said anything for a moment. I don’t know if it was fear or simply shyness that kept her silent.  Me? I was blown away.

I found my tongue and praised her work by making comments about how it was structurally better than many stories written by adults.  I pointed out how well she had developed high and low points that worked as act changes that successfully moved the story forward and I told her repeatedly how mature the final resolution was.  As I spoke, she visibly relaxed. When she was slipping the book back into her desk, I thought I saw the sliver of a smile when I told her to “keep writing.  I look forward to reading more of your work.  You have the gift.”

She may never write another story, but I hope she does because today, I met an author.

A Teacher Affects Eternity*

Carolyn Rosenberg was my first grade teacher. What do I remember? She was pleasingly plump, white haired, and at least 120 years old. Of course, in retrospect, she was probably still in her 50s, if that.

The rest is a pleasant blur. While I don’t remember any specific lessons, I’m fairly certain that she taught me to read. But what I recall with vivid clarity is that I felt safe. Mrs. Rosenberg made school a haven. In her classroom, nobody’s feelings ever got hurt; you never felt foolish, stupid, or silly. I loved being in her class. By the time I became a mother, I hoped that each of my kids would find a Mrs. Rosenberg in their school careers.

Our local school board just announced teacher layoffs – including several who have tenure. It’s yet another reflection that times are still tough (despite the glimmers of hope that are being touted). I shouldn’t be surprised, but of course, I am. Good teachers are the key to society’s future. They can be transformative. I still remember Miss Thompson, my eighth grade English teacher. She made me believe that I could be a writer. Her encouragement set me on a career path that may not always have been lucrative, but has always been fulfilling.

John F. Kennedy once said: Modern cynics and skeptics… see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.

Ain’t it the truth.

I’m the daughter of one of those great teachers. My mother taught high school business classes, and then switched to teaching adult education. Her work continued outside the classroom. She taught more than technical skills. She worked tirelessly to place each of her students and the rewards were more than a paycheck – for them and for her. She was building character and confidence. As Mastercard would tell you: Priceless.

I know that layoffs of teachers is probably inevitable. It’s heartbreaking when they are good teachers. On the other hand, I can name a few teachers who should have been laid off years ago — even if the economy were booming.

Please share your memories of teachers who made a difference in your life.

Evelyn David

*This quote is from educator Henry Brooks Adams, who was also a member of the political Adams family

All Hail Teachers!

I promised I would come back to the topic of teachers—a topic about which I’m passionate—and here I am.

I’m talking about why I’ll never be a teacher. And why you shouldn’t be one either, unless you identify with the information below.

My protagonist, Alison Bergeron, is a teacher. And I’m married to a teacher. An experienced, dedicated, innovative, effective seventh-grade homeroom teacher, who also happens to specialize in teaching French. Nobody, besides all of us here at Chateau Barbieri, sees what he does when he’s not in the classroom: grading papers, planning classes, calling parents, responding to emails from colleagues. Nobody sees him get up at five o’clock in the morning so that he can catch the 6:18 a.m. train so that he can be at his desk by 7:45 to drink his one cup of coffee before students arrive. And nobody sees him get off the train at 6:00 at night because his school day is eight hours long and ends after four.

No—what people see is a man who is off for two weeks at the end of March, has a few extra days off around the holidays because he’s on a private school schedule, a man who takes his class to Cape Cod for a seafaring, science adventure every fall, and a man who takes over the lion’s share of the parenting duties in the summer, dropping the kids off at their various camps and activities while his wife slaves away in an un-air conditioned attic (that’s a choice, by the way. I like the heat. It keeps me “hungry.” And it’s a better climate for my shoes, which I keep stashed next to me. At least that’s what I tell myself.)

People’s reaction to seeing him around? “I should be a teacher. That’s some schedule you’ve got!”

Yes, go ahead. Be a teacher. Good luck with that.

To me, that’s like saying to your dentist, “Wow! You’ve got all of this neat oral hygiene equipment AND you make a lot of money? I should be a dentist!” Or to the local police officer, “You mean you can drive fast whenever you want? And wear a sexy gun belt dripping with weapons? And you won’t get a ticket for talking on your cell phone while in the car? I think I’LL be a cop! It sounds fun!”

You know what teaching is? It’s a calling. You don’t wake up one day and decide to teach, you teach because it’s the only thing you ever wanted to do or thought that you’d be good at. You teach because you love kids, want to see them grow and learn, and help them find their own path. You teach because you love learning and want to pass that on to your students.

Which is why I work in an attic, by myself, all day long.

Why, you ask? What about the summers off? What about the extra three days around Christmas? Here’s the god’s honest truth: I don’t like the kids in mass quantity part, and am menze menze (I apologize to my Italian friends for bad spelling) on the learning part (although I would love to learn how to make my own California rolls…and pole dance). But I’m grateful to, and astounded by, the people who want to do it.

Two of my best friends are also teachers—one teaches four-year-olds at a preschool and the other teaches high school students who have various learning difficulties, two very different types of teaching positions. And while they have their bad days—someone eats too much play-doh and hurls in the classroom, or someone can’t figure out how to write an essay in under three days flat and the SAT’s are around the corner—both are committed, dedicated, and professional above all. I admire and respect them and even if there were not another person on the planet and they needed a sub for the day would I say, “Hey, I’ll fill in for you! Sounds like fun!” I’d rather have a colonoscopy than get in front of a class of kids. Because you know what? I’d be really, really bad at it.

I was born to make up stories about women who can’t keep their noses out of police investigations, not to spend the days with a bunch of kids who can’t keep their noses out of their own armpits.

I wonder, sometimes, why Alison Bergeron—my protagonist and aforementioned nosy sleuth—is a teacher. Is it an homage to the profession? Or, does it just allow me to fill her days with interesting and slightly off-beat characters? Because if you’ve been on a college campus, in a middle school, or even around a bunch of elementary-school children, you know that the halls of academia are filled with characters. But whatever it is, she’s a teacher, she’s smart as hell, and she also has the summers off, which allows her extra time to play Nancy Drew.

So, here’s to our teachers who are specialized, trained, passionate, committed, and teaching our kids. Respect what they do. Thank them occasionally. And never, never say, on a hot summer day, “Hey—that’s some schedule you’ve got. I should teach!”

Not unless you want to be hit in the face with a flying eraser.

Maggie Barbieri