Tuesday, October 30, 2007

So, You Want to Be a Writer

Over the years I am frequently asked questions about being a writer.  What’s it like being a writer?  How do you do it? How can I get into it? Can you make a living at it?
677452_red_pencils_14 Here goes.  Remember, these comments are my personal approach to being a writer.  There is no rule book to follow; this is just the way I do it.
1)    Did you like reading and research and writing papers in school and college?  If you did, then you have a leg up for being a writer.  You need to do a lot of reading, traveling, and research on your subject whether you are going to write a novel or non-fiction.  Surround yourself with books, pictures, anything that relates to your subject whether it be a boat model, a picture of the Himalayan mountains you trekked in, your favorite wine, a tanka from Nepal, or a plate of sand from some beach you like. Live your subject.  I don’t listen to music while writing, but you might want to find out about the music of the region, time period, style(s). Try the food, if it’s from an exotic place.  Search newspapers, Google, Amazon for articles, books, etc.  Most of all, enjoy it.
Writing2)    Fasten on an idea or concept like a leech.  Make it yours; become your subject. Try it out; taste it.  Throw it away; pick it up again.  Is it for you?  Do you really want to spend a part of your life living with this? Don’t talk too much about it to other people; but do listen to people who know something about your subject.
a)    Now choose a title for your book, and then b) write a two (2-3) sentence Gist of what the book is about. You can practice this by taking a favorite book like Hemingway’s FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS and reducing it to  a 2-3 sentence gist. Remember that the Gist is NOT the story; it’s what the story is about.  It’s good practice; try several books.
Write down as many titles as you want. You can always change it. Try it on your tongue. Swirl it around like a fine vintage in a good glass.  Print it out in bold and put it in the middle of the page. Do you like it? 
529092_notes_on_wood_4 4)    Now it’s time to throw the dart.  That is if you have done all of the above (of course you can skip all of the above; it’s up to you and you alone.) MAKE AN OUTLINE. A CHAPTER BY CHAPTER OUTLINE. The description of the chapter can be as little as four or five lines or as large as you want it to be.  This process can and should take a long time—months, many months.  This is the blueprint, the DNA, the navigation chart, the heart of the matter.  Change it . Re-do it. Throw it away.  Embrace it. Deep six the whole g-damned project.  Go sell insurance.  Writing is for the birds!!!!!  Join the circus. Do anything but be a writer.
Enough for now.  This is part one of a three (3) part entry.  I hope you hate it!!!!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

This Just In

Just in from Jim Becket, close friend, filmmaker, writer, former world class ski racer, Harvard trained lawyer who never practiced, world traveler etc.    Thanks,  Jim 
I am sitting in my house in Ojai, California, a village some fifteen miles from the Pacific Ocean in a bowl of mountains.  The 1930’s movie Shangri La was shot here, a novel and movie about an earthly paradise.  As I look out my window it’s snowing.
Greenland2A few weeks ago I was in Greenland where it wasn’t snowing.  Global warming is a reality there.  The   current ecological devastation of our planet has drastically affected the traditional way of life of the native Inuit people.  Like other indigenous peoples, they adapted very effectively over the centuries to their environment.  In that barren ice-covered universe they lived by hunting and fishing.  But with the melting, it’s no longer safe to venture out with their dogs and sleds as some hunters never come back.  The ice sheet is pocked now with moulins which are pools in the ice which go down thousands of feet.  A lake has formed under the ice sheet which lubricates the movement of glaciers toward the sea.  The Ilillussat glacier (photo) is moving at nearly three meters a day.  Last year it moved 15 kilometers, the year before 8.  It’s believed that the iceberg which sank the Titantic came from this ice field. The Arctic temperature has risen some eight degrees Fahrenheit, the largest change on the planet.  And as the melting increases pouring water into the ocean, the sea level is rising.

Greenland3 The Inuit’s diet was essentially blubber, blubber from seals and polar bears, and that’s part of the sad story.  Toxic pollution from the developed countries to the south comes by wind and ocean current.  (They can even detect pesticide’s used in India that have ridden the world’s ocean transmission belt,)  These chemicals first affect the plankton and then the poison works its way up the food chain until when it’s in the fat of mammals like polar bears and seals, it is one million times the toxicity.  So this has had a very negative effect on public health.  Pregnant woman, nursing mothers, children, have been warned not to consume blubber which before provided a healthy diet for these people.  It’s not only disease, birth defects, but there have been observed particularly in Arctic Siberia that girl babies are being born at twice the rate of males.

The native peoples like natives elsewhere were harshly treated by their colonial masters, in this case the Danish, forcibly converted to Christianity and the rest of the familiar story.  All food now has to be imported and obesity has become an issue.  Suicide is also the highest in the world and there are those who hold that this brusque forcible change in their way of life is one of the causes.

So here are a people who had absolutely no responsibility in what has befallen them.  It has come from outside, from us.
FireBack to Ojai.  I forgot to mention it’s snowing ash.  I can’t see the mountains of this paradise as the brown smoke obscures them.  Southern California and the Western United States are on fire.   Global warming.  Here the temperature has risen one degree but that’s enough with drought and Santa Ana winds gusting up to eighty miles an hour.  All of this is unprecedented, twenty years ago a 100,000 acre fire was extraordinary.  Today 500,000 acre fires are all too common.  And in states like Arizona, it’s estimated half of the burnt areas will never come back as the heat was so intense the seeds below were destroyed.

If you don’t ‘believe’ in global warming, come here or go to Greenland.  We’ve passed what’s called the mitigation stage, it’s now adaption.  In Southern Greenland they’ll be able to grow some crops.  And the Arctic mineral rush is on as the ice recedes.  And I just learned from a Greenlander, that they’ve discovered oil in Greenland.  So that will provide more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, more global warming.  But hey maybe they’ll be able to grow tomatoes, while in Southern California we can import them as we move north with our last harvested date crop.

                                                                                                                                                            ~Jim Beckett

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

China Redux

800pxchinageography Here is an exchange between my friend Jim Wallace living in Rwanda and me last week.  Please jump in with information, views, comments. There is a lot of "China bashing" going on. Recent articles in the Economist, The NYTIMES, and Foreign Affairs come to mind.  Is it sheer xenophobia on our part or is there are larger geo-political strategy at work.  Maybe it's just envy.  ~ R. A. M.

I listen to BBC and Deutsche Welle radio here in Rwanda and can't decide which is better. Both are excellent. Both have featured long reports on China with lots of interviews from Pentagon types and their counterparts in China.

Looks like the next arms race is on, just in time for Iain and your grandchildren. This cold war I doubt will turn out with an economically worn China conceding gracefully to the US, as the USSR did. Or as Britain did during and after the second world war. My impression is that the US will not go quietly into that good night. Damn.

Wowy, man, China is ramping up a military space program to trump ours. and they are preparing a modern blue water navy with carriers and nuke-armed subs.

They have 980 missile sites aimed at Taiwan should that rogue territory decide to go free. The US, as you know, is committed by treaty to defend it and when Clinton sent two aircraft carriers to the Taiwan Strait in his tenure in the 90s, China stopped its sword rattling. Now it has missiles and modern subs in the area. It's consolidating its unwieldy army and modernizing weapons control and smart bombs for its air force.

It says its burgeoning blue-water navy is to protect its trade shipping, doesn't trust the Pax Americana with its bases in Japan, Korea, and the Philippines--or Australia and New Z .
I wouldn't either.

This mighty new kid on the block has to get respect and will do everything to get it. The US is weakened by commitments in the Middle East (Iraq and Afganistan) and by Russia's opposition to new bases and missile shields in East Europe, not to mention its natural aging process. Its top dog has yellowing teeth and some white whiskers on its muzzle.

That navy is to ensure that China's new oil depot abuilding in Pakistan's coast and China's massive trade in raw materials from Africa will have clear sailing through the Strait of Malacca, its only clear-water route to its homeland. The US will block that passage during war and China is planning a sufficient force to unblock it.

What a war, says Iain. It will immediately involve Japan, the Koreas, Australia-NZ, and Russia, besides the principals, either by treaty or because they are in the line of fire. All his thoughts, admiringly seconded by his old man.

What will start it? Not the murder of Archduke Ferdinand and his young wife this time, huh? Or the Dali Lama's spirit. It may be over Taiwan, which a powerful China, vying for top dog superpower spot, will not hesitate to do battle for. And Taiwan is not going to forget about its freedom that has carried it so far to date, a freedom it wants to authenticate more and more to judge from recent news.

If war, not in your time or mine, most likely, but who knows.
Jim   Kigali, Rwanda

What a good thoughtful piece!
Chinesedragonred      However, I remain confident that China has no grand extra-territorial schemes of a military nature up its ample sleeves. First, historically China in its five thousand plus years of history has not been adventurous on a military level---with the exception of what is now Vietnam.  Its incursion into Korea was also limited and strategic. China is huge as a land mass and in its population. It dominates the South East Asian area, and it is looked up to for guidance and aid.  China with its central leadership has embraced market capitalism  ( Deng Shao Ping) and is competing aggressively in the globalized  world economy.  Military adventurism  is simply not in their interest.   Money and competition for markets are far more powerful weapons. Their military is and has been a major part of  their need to be protective of their homeland and  to absorb the huge labor pool that otherwise would be unemployed, posing significant societal problems that could lead to internal strife and discord.
     However, the US is often bellicose, and our defensive posture re Taiwan could produce an unwanted result --  warfare.  Let us not forget Russia. It too could cause problems. We should not ignore Japan; China hasn't.  Nanking and other outrages on Mainland China in the Second World War remain as deep wounds, debts unpaid. Serendipitous events—unintended consequences—can result in war.
     You are right that China needs oil and is pursuing it in the Middle East.  Its relations with Africa are growing, although their approach seems to be more colonial than simply trade oriented. Pollution, air and water are huge realities. China is aggressively seeking help in developing alternative energies such as wind power, but its burgeoning economy is fueled by soft coal, oil and gas. The demand for motor scooters, motorcycles, and cars is growing. Global warming is exacerbated by this carbon-based fuel.
Chinesedragonyellow5large     There is a wonderful book --- one of the Chinese classics--called THREE KINGDOMS that is worth reading; it examines China during a long internal warring period. Give it a read if you can.
     As for China owning and continuing to buy US debt, I would be worried.  On one hand they, China, can't afford to dump our debt due to a weak dollar and their dependence on the US importing Chinese goods; but--- and a big BUT this is---  China probably has a strategy to slowly sever its ties to the US and establish its economic hegemony in Europe and Asia over time.  Their military is a bulwark against militarism directed at them, an issue of pride, and a necessity in this dangerous world.
     We should look at population figures for the US and China and compare energy consumption per capita.  It is measured in calories, and you will find it quite enlightening, I believe.  Google will help.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Special Feature

Eight Ways to Help Get Kids to Read, Redux
A few entries back, I posted eight quick ways to bring reading to the next generation, and now thanks to the marvels of technology, that list is available as DOWNLOADABLE PDF! Download it now, and get your kids reading.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Five Percent! That's All!

235200_ballot What I’m talking about is the presidential primary system in our country.  It gets about FIVE PERCENT of the voting population involved in selecting the candidates for nomination.  The winner of the primary in your state then gets the votes from his or her party to go to the nominating convention for the candidate for the president of the United States of America. If you get enough votes from the primaries then you get to be the candidate for your party. ONLY FIVE PERCENT OF US CAN DETERMINE WHO IS A CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT!!!!
Well, that’ the way it works.  Are we all apathetic?  Is the system broken.  Don’t we as a nation care?  Is it self-selecting elitism?  So, do You want to give that power to only 5 % of the people?
Who are these people who “run” for office anyway? Can’t seem to tell much from the press and the TV shows.  We should ALL go to the primaries and PUT the feet of these candidates to the fire.
P.S.  I’m one of the guilty ones! Mea Culpa!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Stick Season

Rain IT RAINED HARD THE OTHER DAY---FOR MANY HOURS.  The weather turned sharply cold, and the wind and rain stripped the trees. The ground is now a carpet of reds and yellows and browns.  Under the white pines there is a golden carpet of pine needles.  The clouds are angry and fast moving.  There is the sound of chain saws and the smell of wood smoke. I haven’t given up wearing shorts –not until snow stays on the ground.  But a heavy sweater is a comfort. 
     There is something special about fall—darkness comes early, a fire in the fireplace, butternut squash roasted with maple syrup, cheese made by local farmers. It’s early days yet. Winter will be long as it always is, but global warming is changing things.  We get snow later, the frost isn’t that deep in the ground, the big lake doesn’t always freeze over.  Some birds that used to leave winter over.
     How much of earth warming is our own fault?  Lots, I think.  Can it be stopped?  I hope.  Will we do it?  Will China and India?  Not unless we lead the way.  Thank you Al gore. If only…………

Friday, October 12, 2007

Poetry From Afar

TWO FRIENDS OF MINE LIVE IN AFRICA.  Jim Wallace and his son Iain, 13 years old, live in Kigali, Rwanda.
Rwmap They have been there since May. Jim works teaching English, and Iain goes to the local school. They live with a Rwandan family and share the life of the Rwandans.  This is a country with a tragic history of bloody, genocidal conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis, two different tribes who fell upon each other with savagery.  Now this amazing country is healing these devastating wounds and building a strong economy   based on the rule of law and the freedom of the press and speech.  Amazingly, the foreign aid money that goes to Rwanda is actually spent on the programs for which it is intended.  That is rare in developing countries.  I applaud their  bravery to give up a comfortable life in Vermont and give of themselves to these Rwandan people. 
Iain wrote two poems which he sent to me, and I am posting them on my blog because they are so good!  I suggest that you do a Google or Wikipedia search for Rwanda and then go to GoogleEarth to look at the country.  Put on your seven league boots and travel.

Arctic to Tropic
by Iain Wallace

Soft snow falls lightly. My cheeks a rosy red. Pines, burdened with the evermore intense weight of snow on their branches. Weighing, testing, to see how strong they really are. Near frozen on these frigid alpine slopes. I walk putting one foot in front of the other, feeling my frostbitten toes more and more painfully with each step, effort, and breath.
I look down the steep mountain slope, coated with a taiga to the very bottom, sliced through by an icy white river.
Sweat, pouring, soaking my shirt. Heat, humidity. Intense, overwhelming. A sheer intensity of deep dark green. Trees rising from the soily floor, touching the sky. The constant hum of cicadas. A bird chirping, through the thick tropical haze. I hear the constant pitter patter of rain, no, the constant deafening sound of rain. I see huge roots have been wrenched from their earthy home by merciless storms.
"I wrote these poems in French class and revised them in math and physics." 
                                ~Iain Wallace, Kigali, Rwanda   10.10.07

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Eight Ways To Help Kids Read

Eight Ways To Help Kids Read

Because Choose Your Own Adventure has helped so many kids learn to read, I am often asked for my list of reading tips.  I thought I would devote today's blog to the topic.  Here's my list:
Eight Ways to Help Kids CHOOSE to Read
Routine: Make reading out loud to your children a part of every day life. Read together as part of your bedtime routine and other quiet, family times.

xpeditions: Go to the bookstore and library just for fun. Let your kids pick out their own books or other reading choices. Suggest a section of the library they’ve never used before.

Act on it: Be a reader yourself. Let your kids see you reading. Show them the ways in which reading is an important part of your life. Keep books, magazines and newspapers all over your house.

Discuss what you read: Talking about reading helps kids remember the ideas and events found while reading and connect them to their own lives.
Make up word games: Can you rhyme every sentence? Can you answer every question with a question? Use written clues for treasure hunts. Write secret notes. Play with language in conversation and in writing.
Options: Let kids choose to read without judging their choices, even comic books.
Reorganize: Make your bookshelves bigger and better than your television set. Put books in every room—even the bathroom.
Explore: Discover new authors and new kinds of reading with your kids. Track down poems, hunt for historical novels, seize science fiction. There’s a whole world of important ideas out there. Go for it!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

YOU and the Secret Knowledge

819849_gossipI hope that you realize just how important you and what you are doing is.  Kids are the future of our world, an obvious statement but never more true.  You are their guide, and you are the transmitter of the Secret Knowledge.
What? you might ask is the Secret Knowledge?  It is everything that we have learned on this planet: how to make fire, what herbs to eat and what plants are poisonous, how to hunt, and how to plant, and how to speak and write, and count.  How to develop a system of laws, how to write poetry, and create an algorithm; how to promote health, and how to take care of our planet.
This Secret Knowledge is what you pass on to kids every day that you are in the classroom or at home and with every idea that you share with them. You are both custodians and advance guards of the Secret Knowledge.
614682_90998327_2 As a kids’ author I am careful never to write down to kids them. I make some of the tools for you to help them develop one of the most powerful of all skills: reading and comprehension.   I say one advisedly: the others of course are writing and arithmetic.  These are the fabled Three R’s.  Without them civilization would retreat into a dark and even more confused time.
So, how and where? you ask, does CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE® play a role in this offering of the Secret Knowledge?
These books constitute a stealth reading development program utilizing the power of game theory where role-playing and decision making combine to active involvement and participation.
Kids read these CHOOSE books because THEY are the hero of the story, the pilot in command, the surgeon at the operating table, the famous mountain climber, detective, scientist. They count!  Their individual choices lead to different endings--- as many as 120 permutations in each book.   Imagination is unleashed, ego becomes involved, participation is unavoidable.
TheendWhen you ask your class how many have read the book ( a CHOOSE book) you will be amazed at how many hands shoot up.  Remember, a kid can get to THE END in just 8 or 10 pages.  Then ask WHY YOU made a certain decision. For example in ESCAPE, a book about the conflict between fascist forces and rebels fighting for democracy YOU the reader are the leader of a team deep in enemy territory.  Here is an excerpt:
At that very moment there is a knock at the door—a loud knock! Mimla raises a finger to her lips. Haven cringes in the corner. Everyone looks at YOU.
         If you tell them to run for it through the back door of the house, turn to page 40.
         If you tell them to prepare to defend themselves, turn to page 29.
Now the discussion begins.  These are real issues, real decisions, but without the risks of the real world.  This is role-playing ; this is game theory at work ; this is simulation.  It is values clarification.  It is gut wrenching humanness at.  It is not movies , nor TV, nor computer games. It is people  -- kids and teachers - reaching out and testing and trying and thinking and deciding.  CHOOSE books are an active experience.
768110_library On top of all this most books have substantive information about the world. It is limited, allowing adventure to drive the story, but it can stimulate kids to follow up on the subjects.  MYSTERY OF THE MAYA  talks about the rapid and mysterious decline of the once-brilliant Mayan civilization.  THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN give a glimpse into the worlds highest mountains and their glaciers as well as the Buddhist culture of Nepal.  The MYSTERY of URA SENKE (renamed CUP OF DEATH) puts a spotlight on a culture where a tea ceremony is very important. TROUBLE ON PLANET EARTH deals with the limits of fossil fuel.  Driven by adventure, these CHOOSE books are also full of information.
Kids in grades 4-7 are the perfect age for these adventures.  These kids are on the threshold of adolescence, and they are anxious to be treated as adults.   CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE does just that.
So, enjoy the books.  The kids will.  Don’t forget YOU are the keepers of the Secret Knowledge.
R. A Montgomery aka Ray

Monday, October 1, 2007

Have You Ever Studied Latin?

I did in school years ago.
Puella, puellae --  Girl , girls Romantombstone
Hoc facto --- this having been done  (ablative absolute—what is an ablative absolute?)
Alia iacta est --- The die is cast –Caesar at the Rubicon
Et Tu Brute?  --  Oh, what fateful words
They say it’s a dead language; did you know that there are many languages today that are either dead or dying?  English as a lingua franca seems to be taking over.
What’s in a language?  The images of past and present with a  hope towards the future. The beauty or tragedy of a culture and its peoples.
Rhythm, sounds, passion, emotion.  Words can be like drum beats.  They can be like arrows.  They can be like gifts.
So, thank you Latinum.  In omnia paratus.