Every Picture Tells a Story

Students have given photography permisson

Students have given photography permission

Last August, Deborah Marshall, of Warrior Arts Alliance and Missouri Humanities Council, asked me to lead a workshop for veterans with PTSD at the Jefferson Barracks VA Hospital, in St. Louis.  I have to admit, I had a wonderful time teaching the importance of the photography role in writing, to the veterans.

This October, I was fortunate to lead two more workshops, titled “Every Picture Tells a Story” at the same location.

In the first class, I talked about capturing images on film as a child.  I built a pinhole camera way back then, and I’ve been taking pictures ever since. When I first picked up the pen, I found that photography helped me recreate the feeling of being ‘in the moment’, sort of like I traveled back in time.

Though freelance contracts, I’d find myself photographing a particular location or event – people, beaches, meadows, and even food.  This aided in story development.  The pictures helped me fill in the blanks and recap memories.

I shared a slideshow of photos from my travel assignments from AAA Travel and Missouri Life with the students, and expressed what each photo meant to me.

I stressed the importance of ‘show, don’t tell’, and how we need to tap all of our senses, thoughts and feelings when telling a story.  I urged the students to snap photos of anything – people’s actions, the sunlight on a rose, the soulfulness in a dog’s eyes. They could always go back and write about the images later.

I read from Anne Lamott’s bird by bird, the Polaroids chapter, and relayed the relevance of  ‘the big picture.’  During their first writing assignment in class, my hubby projected a photo on the computer monitor.  With written instructions, I asked the students to convey in writing what they were feeling and doing, the time of day, the season – all the little details pertinent to showing, not telling.

When the exercise was over, the students offered to share stories aloud.  I was amazed by the many interpretations just one photo could convey.  And I was proud.

We discussed the rules of writing, and writing tips.  Then I distributed another exercise, on overuse of words.  We applied this to a second writing exercise.

Once again, I was overjoyed by their answers and creativity.  They got it.  They truly got it.

I distributed a homework exercise in the form of an essay I’d written, accompanied by hubby’s photo of a ten-foot Caribbean reef shark, and asked them to highlight colorful descriptions throughout the essay that created visual images in their mind.  We’d discuss next week.

I looked at the clock, and realized two hours had flown by.  As I packed up my papers, computer, and class aids, the veterans shuffled past hubby and me on their way out the door.  They said they planned on coming back to class next week, eager to learn something new.

On the way to the car, one of the woman approached me and said, “You’re a great facilitator; can’t wait to see you again.  You made class fun.”

Funny thing.  I’d never thought about myself in that way.

So when Rita from the VA left me a voice mail stating most of the students were returning for the second class, I decided to create a new syllabus for “Every Picture Tells a Story – Part Two.”

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post and what we talked about…

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Author Spotlight – Mary Horner – “Strengthen your Nonfiction Writing”

Our guest author today is Mary Horner, author of “Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing”.

Those leaving a comment on my blog about Mary’s interview will be entered in a book giveaway of  “Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing.”  I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday March 13.

Not only is Mary a talented writer and teacher, she is also a wonderful friend.  So without further hesitation – Mary Horner.

Question – I understand you’re an award winning journalist who teaches communications at St. Charles Community College in St. Peters, and St. Louis Community College in Wildwood, Missouri. What compelled you to become a teacher?

I was a writer first, but I believe that most writers are teachers by the nature of the work. It seemed like a natural progression, and teaching has helped me understand the importance of knowing your audience, and that there are many different perspectives. What I consider a simple statement may have different meanings to different people. I try to be as clear as possible, but it’s always a challenge. Teaching has helped me learn how to defend my decisions and work, and keeps me on my toes. There’s nothing like immediate reactions.

Question – When did you first fall in love with writing?

In the sixth grade, when I won first place in an essay contest sponsored by the St. Charles City-County Library District titled “What the library means to me.” My (better-at-math) friend won second place, so it gave me a sense that writing was a valuable skill. I attended the awards ceremony and had to read it out loud to a group that went beyond my classmates, including grown-ups and everything! Heady stuff for a sixth grader!

Question – What inspired you to write Strengthen Your Non-fiction Writing? What would you like readers to take away from your book?

I actually started writing it as advice to a friend who needed to write an article, and I kept thinking of more and more information! I think that’s why it has a casual, friendly tone that makes it easy to read. I wanted it be the opposite of the books that make writing sound harder than it has to be.

What I’d like them to take away from the book the idea that although I believe writing is both an art and a craft, there are many ways to improve your writing using simple techniques. I wanted this to be a resource that readers could use immediately to solve some of their writing dilemmas.

Question – What advice do you have for new writers?

Never give up. Your writing has value in ways you may not yet realize.

Question – Mary, we all know you’re a wonderful teacher and a published author, but what great novel do you have in the works?

I’m working on a book I wrote several years ago about a young woman’s fight to save a historic mansion. The story as I’ve written it seems disjointed, so I’m trying to make it the protagonist’s story without going off on tangents. I have a tendency to tell everyone’s back story.

Question – And finally, as Anne Lamott once said in her book “bird’ by bird” (I ask this in all my authors interviews), it’s important to have a moral position in life.  What is your moral position?

There is no “they.” There’s only “us.”

___________

Wow! Great interview Mary. Thank you for sharing.

You can learn more about Mary on her blog writRteachR where she discusses all things editorial, including writing, publishing, authors and books. Also, follow the publishing process for “Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing,” a new book by Mary Horner.

Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing is on facebook!Mary Horner copy

 

The winner of the book giveaway “Strengthen your Nonfiction Writing” is Kim.

Kim I’ll be emailing you to confirm your win.

Mary will need your physical address to mail the book.

Congratulations and thanks for commenting!

Author Spotlight – Five Questions – Sandra Carrington-Smith

Hi friends,

Hopefully I am starting a new trend on blog – author inteviews.  Sandra Carrington-Smith agreed to be the first!  Sandra’s dedication and perseverance as a writer is inspiring.

Please feel free to leave a comment on this blog post, or follow my blog.  While you’re here, check out the other posts and pages on inspirational messages of travel, nature, friends and family.

Okay, Sandra, let’s get started!

Question –   In your opinion, what does it take to be a good writer?

I believe there are several factors that play into becoming a good writer. For one thing, you must enjoy writing for the sheer sake of it, and whether you think that you will have one reader or a million, the quality of the books you produce must be exceptional. It is also important to develop a tough skin and remain open to constructive criticism, but it is equally vital to understand that you can’t please everybody. Finally, your passion must bleed through your words, so you should focus on writing around topics that you would choose for your own reading pleasure.

Question –  As Anne Lamott once said in “bird by bird’, it is important to have a moral position no matter what you do in life. What is your moral position?

My moral position is a simple one…I apply the Golden Rule to everything I do in life. Writing and networking are no exception.

Question –  Take us through Sandra’s day of self-discipline as a writer.

My days are pretty standard, since aside from writing, I am also raising children and running a household. I usually network and do a little marketing first thing in the morning, before the children wake up or after they leave for school. The rest of the day is almost completely absorbed by mundane tasks, but as soon as everyone goes to bed, that’s when I put on my writing cap and dive into my stories. The timing is flexible and depending on the kids’ schedules. During the summer, when they are out of school, I write all night and sleep in the next morning. When they are in school, I go to bed earlier, but then use the time when they are gone to write. On average, I write about three or four hours every day.

Question  –  Any quick tips for new writers?

An easy one: Don’t give up! Ever. If writing is your passion, there is a door, somewhere, that will lead you to the right place. The business of writing has changed a lot, and new writers have a plethora of new tools at their disposal they can use to get their work out there.

Question  – When did you first fall in love with writing?

My love for the written word goes all the way back to my teenage years, when I first started writing poetry. When I moved to a different country, I thought I had left all that behind, since I didn’t think I would ever write in a foreign language. Thankfully, time proved me wrong, the language barriers were overcome, and my old love for writing surfaced anew.

Thanks Sandra for a great interview!

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Sandra Carrington-Smith is an Italian-born author who relocated to the United States in the late 80’s after marrying a US soldier who was serving overseas.

Although writing was Sandra’s deepest passion since childhood, her dream of becoming a published author had to be placed on hold for several years. Moving to a new country provided several challenges, the biggest one being the language barrier she encountered when she first arrived.

In order to become fully integrated, Sandra tapped into her love for reading, and over time her vocabulary grew extensively.

She gave birth to three children and devoted most of her time to raising a family. By the time she was in her late 30’s, Sandra decided to revisit her old passion for writing, and penned a novel of paranormal suspense, The Book of Obeah, followed by a self-improvement book, Housekeeping for the Soul: A Practical Guide to Restoring Your Inner Sanctuary. Both titles were sold to the same publisher and released in 2010, and The Book of Obeah went on to win an international book award.

Currently, Sandra is working on two new novels: The Rosaries (the sequel of The Book of Obeah) and Shadows of a Tuscan Moon. Killer in Sight (A Tom Lackey Mystery) was released in June 2012. Sandra Carrington-Smith lives in Raleigh, NC, with her husband, children and three cats.