Ayana Mathis: How I Write

"What is most important is psychological or soul understanding of characters. I’m not very concerned with what they look like so much as I am concerned with who they are on the deepest level."

Published: April 29, 2014
Article from http://www.writermag.com

Ayana Mathis’ national bestseller The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is so carefully and caringly crafted, it feels as if the story is being told for the first time even as it resonates with history, interiority and reflection. Mathis has a “gift for imbuing her characters’ stories with an epic dimension that recalls Toni Morrison’s writing, and her sense of time and place and family will remind some of Louise Erdrich, but her elastic voice is thoroughly her own – both lyrical and unsparing, meditative and visceral, and capable of giving the reader nearly complete access to her characters’ minds and hearts,” writes Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. The story belongs to Hattie Shepherd, who is swept north from Georgia and also swept into a complicated family world. Consider these lines about her relationship to her man: “He didn’t understand her. Some nights she lay curled on her side like a fist, and other nights they were on each other until dawn.” Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Hattie is her first book. We met up with her at the Miami Book Fair International.

Character: I’m not always entirely sure how characters arrive. It’s mysterious to me. The old thing that all writers say is that you’ve been having an overactive imagination forever. So I think I was probably in the habit as a little girl – I’m also an only child – of receiving visitations of some sort. I don’t mean that in a mystical way. I mean having an imagination that tended to invent people and hang out with them for a while. It’s a  grown-up version of imaginary friends.

What is most important is psychological or soul understanding of characters. I’m not very concerned with what they look like so much as I am concerned with who they are on the deepest level. When I was writing this book, I had a notion of a character – say Floyd. I knew he had an odd closeness with his mother that no one else did. I knew he was gay, that he was a musician and he was in a moment of deep conflict. From there, I wrote it out.

Dialogue: I think that also comes from being an only child, among other things. Only children spend a lot of time listening to adults talk and spend a lot of time inventing conversations. As I have gotten older and have been more aware of myself as a writer, I do eavesdrop on conversations on trains and buses. The other thing I do – which is not just for dialogue but for prose in general – is read aloud. You can hear when a conversation is tinny or when it begins to sound like “transcripted” speech as opposed to compressed dramatic speech.

Plot: I can’t outline. I can’t map. Plot comes directly out of character. Plot is difficult for me. If I had my druthers, I would have characters sitting in a room thinking thoughts and occasionally they’d have a conversation with each other. I understand that’s not how things work. Something needs to happen. I generally know three or four things that are loose. Not the mechanics, but a broad outline. Floyd for example: I knew he was going to meet somebody and not be able to continue that relationship. I wrote into that. Plot and character are completely linked for me, and I think they should be.

Research: What I did more than researching is fact-checking. Often when you’re writing, you will find you know a great deal about something or you have a sensibility of an era that you weren’t necessarily aware you did. But these reserves are called upon when you’re doing work that requires them. They make themselves available to you. I would think: ’46 Buick. Write the scene. And then go back – Was there a ’46 Buick? – and check up on myself.

Sentences and revision: First drafts are longhand. Sometimes the sentences come as they are. For first drafts, I tend to just write. I pretend I’m writing stream of consciousness, but I’m also crossing things out. Then the real refining happens when I type things into the computer. That’s when the messy sentence get cleaned up or changed or gotten rid of. I do read aloud a great deal, even when I do first drafts in my notebooks. I wrote poetry for a long time, and I still read poetry. Poetry can’t be reduced to a training ground for prose writers, but it trains your ear to be economic and precise, and to understand how powerful language is and what a wallop it packs.

Published: April 29, 2014
Article from http://www.writermag.com

Writer shows how comic books can be used in education

Writer gives lesson at Cary library

Published: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 11:40 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 11:42 p.m. CDT
By JOSEPH BUSTOS - jbustos@shawmedia.com
Article from http://www.nwherald.com

With pencil and on a white piece of paper, Owen Butler, of Cary, sketched a three-panel comic of Yoda in battle with a man.

Yoda won the light sabre fight in the 11-year-old’s comic strip.

The story was Owen’s creation, after a presentation by Palo Alto, Calif.-based comic book writer Josh Elder at the Cary Area Public Library, where Elder discussed how comics are created and how they can be useful in the classroom.

Owen’s favorite part of the presentation was when Elder described the process of creating a comic book, which includes a story outline, sketching out the pictures and adding color to the pages.

During the presentation, Elder showed the roughly 20 youngsters how simple shapes can be used to draw characters in a comic.

Elder drew Superman using a circle for the head, a rectangle for the body, lines for the arms and legs and a triangle for the cape.

“You can make a comic out of the simplest things,” Owen said.

During his presentation, Elder asked the kids, what are comics?

“Comics are graphic novels that are basically stories written with pictures and speech bubbles,” said 9-year-old Matthew Cotting, of Cary.

Elder also discussed on Tuesday how comic books encouraged him to read.

“I learned to read from comics, learned to love reading from comics. It opened up all the doorways to all subject areas to me,” Elder said. “Hooked on comics worked for me.”

Elder, a 2002 Northwestern University graduate, is a writer for DC Comics and has worked on Batman, Scribblenauts and Iron Man, and Mail Order Ninja, among others.

He is the founder of Reading with Pictures, which promotes the use of comic books in schools as part of the Common Core curriculum.

Reading with Pictures has created a series of short stories and lesson plans that are aligned with Common Core. The first series is aimed at late elementary school and early middle school students.

He hopes to have material for all grade levels in the future.

Elder said comics are helpful because they help engage students in a subject matter, especially for kids who won’t read anything else.

“The format is less intimidating or more interesting and you can put the same content, same material in two different ways, and they will engage with one of them, and not with the other,” Elder said. “You get them engaged, everything else is ... magnitudes simpler.”

Comics also help youngsters remember material better, he said.

“You can convey an enormously complex ideas in powerful ways in comics in ways prose cannot do by itself ... or text and images can’t do alone,” Elder said. “You put them together, you get more.”

Comics also help present material in a more efficient time frame than just a block of text, Elder said.

“We live in a world where we have to process information faster because there’s more information,” Elder said. “The rate of information growth is accelerating.”

JOSEPH BUSTOS - jbustos@shawmedia.com
Article from http://www.nwherald.com

Conservative Writer Desperately Needs Comprehensive Sex Education

Cathy Reisenwitz
DC-based writer and political commentator
Posted: 03/31/2014 5:48 pm EDT Updated: 03/31/2014 5:59 pm EDT From http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cathy-reisenwitz/

On the same day that Massachusetts recommends all sex education classes in the state include accurate information on contraception and STI prevention, a writer at conservative site Townhall.com has written a scarily inaccurate article entitled Hobby Lobby: Should Employers be Forced to Provide Abortifacients?

Perhaps with access to quality sex education, writer Rachel Alexander would know that none of the products covered by the ACA are abortifacients.

Alexander's very first sentence is untrue, "The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in the Hobby Lobby case, to decide whether a business that provides health-care insurance to its employees can be forced to include abortifacients in its coverage." In reality, no form of abortion is covered by the ACA. Only contraceptives are covered.

Not only are Rachel Alexander (and Hobby Lobby) ignorant of or lying about what the term abortifacient means, but they're also ignorant of or lying about how the contraceptives covered by the ACA work. For Alexander, Hobby Lobby, and anyone else who missed out on comprehensive sex education, an abortifacient causes an abortion. An abortion is the ending of a pregnancy. There are two generally accepted definitions of pregnancy. Some believe pregnancy happens as soon as an egg is fertilized. Some believe pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches itself to uterine lining.

Here's where things get misleading. Some people are fighting contraceptive usage by claiming that some forms of contraception prevent pregnancy by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting in uterine lining. This is false. No form of contraception works that way. All forms of contraception work primarily by preventing ovulation and fertilization. It's true that in theory, every form of birth control can fail to prevent fertilization and can interfere with implantation. But no form primarily works this way. In fact, no scientific evidence indicates that prevention of implantation actually results from the use of any of any form of contraception covered by the ACA.

How does the implant work? The "primary mechanism of action" is inhibiting ovulation. How do hormonal and non-hormonal IUDs work? They both keep sperm from reaching eggs. The claim that any form of contraceptive works primarily by keeping fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus does not stand up to any scientific scrutiny whatsoever. It is patently false.

Not only is Alexander misleading readers when it comes to the facts of the case, but she actually encourages women seeking abortions to look to the black market. "In today's Internet society, any woman can purchase dirt-cheap abortifacients online without a prescription." Sure, illegally. But there's always a coat hanger lying around, right?

She also does understand what abortifacient are made out of. Pregnant women "can also take an increased dosage of contraceptives to act as an abortifacient, since that is all abortifacients are." Well, no. Most are actually steroids.

Besides the fact that no one who is so incredibly, breathtakingly ignorant on contraception should be writing falsehoods about it for a major publication, the truth is that no one in America should be that so incredibly, breathtakingly ignorant on contraception. Learning how to prevent a pregnancy, even if you choose not to do it, is kind of a big deal.

Certainly, there are downsides to mandating sex education. Parental desire to shape their content and timing of their children's introduction to sexual health is understandable, and should be protected. However, one only has to look at Townhall.com to see the great need for better and more information on how pregnancy and contraception actually work.

Cathy Reisenwitz
DC-based writer and political commentator
Posted: 03/31/2014 5:48 pm EDT Updated: 03/31/2014 5:59 pm EDT From http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cathy-reisenwitz/