Plinky 11 — Name a book that changed your life

Is it possible to fall in love with the characters in a book? The book itself?

I remember the day I met The Outsiders. It was check-out day in the school library day, sixth grade, and I needed a book. Mrs. Sprouse, our librarian, had combed the shelves for another horse novel, but there wasn’t one left I hadn’t read. I spotted a hardback with a white cover lying on its side on a shelf it didn’t belong on. I’m not sure why I was drawn to it. Maybe it chose me.


As soon I read the first page, I was mesmerized. It has shaped me as a teacher, as a writer, and as a human being.

Here’s my list of 11 Ways:

1. The main character Ponyboy Curtis spoke to me. He shared his thoughts and feelings with me. I knew where he was coming from. I knew what it was like to live on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. He was a good student—so was I. He saw the good in people—so did I. He was a dreamer who liked watching sunsets—so did I. I learned how to get “into” my reading as I made this connection.

2. Maybe Ponyboy became an extension of myself. I learned to see the good in me.

3. This book made me feel as no other book had ever done. My emotions ran the gamut. Ponyboy appealed to my rational side. He was a thinker, but his older brother Darry was a doer, who was too busy raising his younger brothers after their parents died than to sit and appreciate the beauty of sunsets the way Ponyboy did. Darry used to bake chocolate cakes for his brothers and keep them in the refrigerator. (To this day, that’s my favorite desert—and on those rare occasions when I treat myself to chocolate cake, I have to keep it in the refrigerator. )

4. I guess Darry reminded me of my father, always doing the responsible thing. I learned to appreciate the sacrifices my parents made for me.

5. I love people. I love all types of people. I love taking care of people. When I take care of people, I have purpose. The other characters made me long to take care of them. My heart ached for them:

  • Dallas (the thug who provoked the police with an unloaded gun and made them shoot him because he couldn’t carry the hurt he felt after Johnny died)
  • Johnny (the underdog, abused by his parents and tormented by the Socs, who risks his life to save the children and who encourages Ponyboy to “stay gold”)
  • M&M (the innocent little boy who later overdoses on LSD in a drug house and is never again the same)

6. As much as I identified with Ponyboy, it was Sodapop who tugged at my heart. Unlike Ponyboy, Sodapop dropped out of high school. There was no one to encourage him, no one to one to tell him to follow his passions.

I wanted to be the one.

He made me want to be an encourager. He did what he had to do to help support his family. He was good at working on cars, so he took a job at the gas station. Sodapop was always happy, always thinking of others. I think that’s why I fell in love with his character.

7. Throughout The Outsiders, Sodapop is the character who gets “drunk on just plain living”  and “understands everybody.” He wears his hair long, possesses dark brown eyes that are “dancing, recklessly laughing, and “can make you grin no matter what.” He is the peacemaker, the one who holds everything together in the family. Who wouldn’t be drawn to Sodapop? He helps all of us see the good.

8. Hmmm. Is it possible to take a character from your childhood with you to adulthood? I think the spirit of Sodapop shows up in some of my characters.

9. The Outsiders changed my life. Back then when I was in sixth grade, I didn’t understand how. I certainly didn’t understand why. But it made me want to read.

10. The Outsiders also made me to write, to “write real,” the way S.E. Hinton did. (She was only 16 when she wrote The Outsiders.)

11. Most importanly, once I finished the book, I refused to return it to the library, and I slept with it under my pillow each night. I carried it with me everywhere I went. It touched my heart so profoundly that I didn’t want to let it go.

I still don’t.

What book changed your life?

Plinky 11- How do I express my creativity?

It’s after midnight. I have school in the morning—only I can’t sleep. Too many thoughts swirl in my head.

Questions plus no answers equal no sleep.

Whenever I’m in this crazed state of mind, I usually have something I want to say—but can’t say. Some people call it writer’s block, but block isn’t the right word. Is there such a thing as writer distraction?  Writer paralysis? Writer confusion? Writer desperation?

Because I’m going to be up anyway—at least for a few more minutes, I thought I’d share with you a nifty little writing site that works for writers, teachers, and students. I’m a little of all those, so you know I like it.

It’s called Plinky, and it works like this. The administrators put up a new prompt each day, and members respond. Want to write something for your blog, but you just can’t come up with an idea? Visit Plinky. Read past prompts and answers from other members. You might just get inspired. I did.

I’m adding a new category to my blogs—Plinky 11, in honor of Plinky and 2011. Plinky prompts, and I provide 11 answers. Feel free to add your own thoughts. I’m using Sunday’s prompt.

What are your favorite ways to express your creativity?  (In addition to writing YA fiction and magazine articles)

  1. I listen to the radio, and I imagine whatever song is playing to be the theme music of the story I create in my mind. Even though my story is only for me, it’s still a form of creative expression. It’s like I’m creating my own little movie.
  2. I pick up my guitar and play a melody that’s always inspired by my emotions. Sometimes regret. Sometimes love. Sometimes hurt. Sometimes joy. Sometimes anger. Sometimes confusion. Sometimes praise for all God’s given me.
  3. When I can, I log whatever song lyrics come to mind into my computer. Someday I’ll piece them together like a quilt of feelings and create a song.
  4. I take pictures, especially anything that’s intriguing and mysterious like old barns, cemeteries, the silhouettes of trees against sunset skies, etc. I also like taking pictures of musicians. No surprise. Not to brag, but my Steven Curtis Chapman took first place at the fair—mullet and all. My picture of a sax player leaning against a tree in Jackson Square in New Orleans took second. Fun stuff.
  5. I look up random quotes on Quote Garden or and pick one to launch a story. Here’s one:  “Meeting you was fate, becoming your friend was a choice, but falling in love with you I had no control over.” This one could be a love song.
  6. I draw or doodle.
  7. I write poems—but they rarely rhyme.
  8. I write a note of appreciation in My Book of Blessings about someone in my life who has blessed me in a special way. This book is for me and God only.
  9. I sit down at my piano and improvise.
  10. I daydream and imagine “what if.”
  11. I stay up past midnight and write a blog as I wrestle with my thoughts.

How do you express your creativity?

Creative escapes–The Brew

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?  ~  J. B. Priestley

Owner Rebecca Magierski and DJ Tim Franks welcome you to The Brew.

There is nothing quite like the first snowfall of the season, especially when it happens on or near Christmas. Almost quite as nice is the first snowfall that sends children and teachers on their first break from school. There’s plenty of reading, writing, sledding, and Facebooking to be done on these legitimate days of leisure when we teachers and students can thumb our noses at our lessons and not get detention—or fired.

But after a few days of the white stuff, our infatuation fades away, and we long for what we Southerners were made for—t-shirts, flip flops, sunny skies, and water, H20, in its liquid form, definitely not the frozen stuff.

Sorry, folks. It’s still January. You’ll have to resort to Plan B for your creative escape. But I have an idea.

If you can brave the ice and the cold and make it to our town square, you’ll find a nifty little coffee shop that provides just the right amount of buzz—be it caffeine, creativity, or fun.

I’m talking about The Brew. It’s easy to find with plenty of free parking. Look for it next to The Saturday Independent and across from the Manchester Arts Center.

My students were the first to introduce me. “You’ve GOT to go,” they said. “This place is all YOU.”

They were right. It’s cozy. It’s quaint. And it’s quirky. I love it. Where else can you find DJ Tim Franks teaching line dancing on a Saturday night? Did I mention that there’s no cover charge—even when live music is in the house?

I’m an acoustic junkie. I can listen for hours. Hook me up with a night of music at the Blue Bird Café, and I’ll be your friend for life. The Listening Room in Nashville is also a great venue.

But Nashville is over an hour away. The Brew is just around the corner.

Songwriters Bard Fisher and James Bell perform at Brew's Alley.

I can tell you this. In the last month I’ve had the pleasure of hearing James Bell, Bard Fischer, and Stephenson Road. I’m hoping to catch Fairweather Friends soon. I’ve heard hundreds of top-rate musicians in my life time. These artists found on the Brew’s Alley stage rival many of those found on the Nashville stages.

Don't miss Stephenson Road's next performance at Brew's Alley.

Another reason why I’m keen on The Brew is that it is FAMILY oriented. All ages, young and old, are welcome. That means I won’t feel like some out of place fuddy duddy, and my eleven-year-old son won’t be carded at the door.

I hear Trivia and Karaoke nights pack the house. I’ll have to check them out.

So, yeah, there’s quite the buzz about the quality of entertainment and fun here, but let me tell you about the buzz I enjoy—COFFEE!

Call me a little frou-frou. I can take my coffee black if need be, but when I’m at The Brew I prefer coffee with my chocolate. That’s right. I like mochas. But Mr. Barista himself, Rance Solomon, will prepare your drink the way you like it. It’s delicious local fair trade coffee.

Like many of you, I’m trying to purge myself of this winter weight gain, so I go with skim milk and no whip topping. Hey, chocolate’s supposed to be good for you, right? If you ask me, my little coffee concoction is just the right health food. It satisfies my emotional needs.

The Brew is a coffee shop, not a café, and that’s the way Rebecca intended it. If your appetite is a little more than a drink but not quite a full meal, check out the pastries, the sandwiches, or the soups. As I said before, I’m watching my calorie intake, but should I decide to celebrate my success, I might be tempted to sneak a nibble of one of the delectable brownies.

I am a writer, and when I look for a creative escape, the key word for me is CREATIVE. I ventured out on one of our snow days—yes, it was an adventure. I almost slid into a ditch trying to get there, but thanks to a friendly driver who came along, took my keys, and drove my car up our ice-covered hill, I was able to make it, lap top unharmed.

I found a little table with a lamp and sat down to write. Creativity surrounded me, from the drawings on the wall to the hand-crafted pottery on the tables. And DJ Tim was on hand to loan me some head phones so that I could listen to music online via the FREE Internet access. (And thanks for introducing me to blues artist Gary Moore, Tim. Very cool.)

As I paid for my drink, I noticed another touch of local flavor. More music. Just to the right of the cash register is a basket of CDs, featuring homegrown talents, Trapper Haskins and the Bitter Swill, James Bell, Riley Jackson, and more.  

Call me anytime. I’ll be glad to meet you at The Brew.

All of your "Java Dreams" come true at The Brew.


For someone who absolutely hates being in the limelight, I sure did pick the wrong profession.

I am a teacher in a small town. I have taught for many, many, many years. Not only have I had almost every kid in the county in my class, I have also had his mama, his daddy, his sister, his cousin, and his next-door neighbor.

I’m not saying that teachers are treated like celebrities in a small town, but we tend to be “noticed.” It can be rather awkward at times, especially when shopping in the local Walmart.

I was once stalked in the local Walmart—in the underwear aisle. Now before you should think anything weird was going on, let me reassure you that my three stalkers, all students in my newspaper class, thought it funny to see their teacher in this part of the store. I think they were taking a bet on cotton or nylon. (This incident happened YEARS ago.)

I wouldn’t have known if one of them hadn’t confessed the next day. She was practically in tears, describing their devious acts of espionage.

How many times have other incidents like this happened?

The thought scares me. Needless to say, I’m quite cautious now. Even buying toilet paper in public makes me nervous.

You would think we’d get used to it. Everywhere we go, there they are, our students, our watchers. But it’s not all bad. Sometimes when you least expect it, these precious souls have a way of re-appearing, and we get to watch them.

Tonight I planned to head over to a neighboring town to catch my friends play music. One of my former students was in from college, and we thought we’d share a cup of coffee while she caught me up on her plans for her upcoming missionary work and current student teaching. But the place was packed—not a single place to sit.

So we decided to head to another venue known for its great live music. And sure enough, when I walked in the door, I saw familiar faces. But what caught my attention was the two performers. They were fantastic! I looked closer and realized I knew one of the two.

The performer who caught my eye was a former student and a very special friend of our family. I had known him for years. Quiet, unassuming, extremely witty, and multi-talented—these are just a few words that describe him.

I should also add extremely humble.

Up until this point, I wondered if he would ever get the recognition he deserved. An amazing musician from a multi-talented family, he always seemed content playing in the background.

But I always saw something more.

Tonight he took center stage. His voice rang strong and true. His fingers glided effortlessly along the neck of the guitar. Applause boomed after each of his songs. Call me sappy, but finally seeing him get the recognition he deserved brought tears to my eyes.

Our students watch us teachers. They see our every move, note our every mistake. And we teachers see our students. We see their flaws, and we see their potential for success.

Tonight I saw a soul shine. What better reward could a teacher receive?

A-mused again

Linus had his Great Pumpkin, but the good little children and their teachers have Mr. Flurry, who makes all their wishes come true.

Beware–it’s not your typical blog today….

Today is one of those magical days reserved only for kids—and teachers. It’s a snow day! Writers, take note. Even if you’re not in school,  don’t you deserve a play day? Your creativity grows with your experiences. Why not venture into my winter wonderland? Put away your laptops, revisions, and research. Let’s play.

There is one thing you have to know. You have to keep your eyes open to catch your muse. They’re everywhere, but you can only see them with a child’s eyes.

The Watcher

Take, for instance, The Watcher. He stands, waiting in the shadows…just like the next villian in your novel. Look closely. Does he resemble someone you know?

Danger lurks.

What you see isn’t always what you get

Perhaps your muses come in pairs. Is a love story brewing between your characters? Look closely. Don’t assume what you see is really what is really there. The snowman on the left is obviously Scottish. He’s wearing a kilt. And the lovely snowwoman on the right? She used to be a supermodel. And now you’re all set. Go write your romance.

Cold hands, warm hearts?

The Abominable Snowman

Looking for a muse that’s tall, dark, and handsome? How about we settle for tall? Few snowmen are dark. This one is kind of cute–in an abominable sort of way. Poor guy, always being referred to as loathsome. He’s not all bad, just misunderstood.

Clearly misunderstood


Maybe your muse is the romantic type. Picture the silhouette of a cowboy riding against a tequilla-colored sunset sky. Maybe the tragic hero in your next novel is a cowboy. Make him a gunslinger, and he’s even more desirable. He rides into town and runs into your reluctant heroine. She tries her best to guard her heart, but he has a quick draw and a deadly aim.  Bang! Shot through the heart. Who’s to blame?

He gives love a bad name.

Where’s Waldo?

And sometimes your muse will pop up out of the blue. Look closely. You may find him or her in the last place you expect. A cabinet to Narnia? A ceiling? A barber shop? Rome? One never knows.

He could be hiding anywhere.

Fantasy and sci-fi

Perhaps your creativity takes you to other worlds, even ones you create. There’s a muse for every occasion.

A little out of this world

Going cyberpunk
Keeping up with the trends? Look for a muse with attitude. How about going cyberpunk? It’s a little bit “high tech,” a little bit “low life.” Picture your story in a near-future dsytopian world, and you’re almost there. Let your muse guide you through a world of hackers and artificial intelligence.

Domo arigato, Mr. Robato

Everyone struggles

We’re coming to the close of our play day. Keep in mind, dear writer friend, we all struggle. The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. How many times have you made these excuses?

“But he  has a book deal.”
“She has an agent.”
“Her story has already won three contests.”
“This is her 25th novel.”

If you are a writer, you will always struggle. No writer has it easy. Even published writers. Don’t despair. There’s joy in the journey. You have to go out and grasp it. It will not come to you if you sit there and despair.

Need encouragement? Maybe your muse take the form of your best friend, critique partner, co-worker, teacher–the person who helps you believe in yourself.

Still searching for your muse? Let me introduce you to Grassy the Snowman. (I borrowed him from writer Jen Stephens. Check out her website if you want to know more about her blog and book series .)

He's a cousin to Frosty the Showman.

We are the champions!

All write, righters! Go to it. Grab hold of your muse and follow the plan God has set before you.

Go forth and conquer the page.

Angry muse

Tonight I sat down with my laptop and guitar and tried to write a song.

Couldn’t do it.

An angry muse came along and cursed my creativity and sent it slumbering—seems like it’s been a hundred years. The page is still blank, and the guitar sits in its stand.

There’s a craft to songwriting. Keeping the syllable count. Painting the picture. Conveying the emotion. Marrying the right lyrics to the right music. I know all this. I’ve listened. I’ve learned. I know what to do.

But I’m just not able to open the vault to let “it” out.  Whatever “it” is.

Sports columnist Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith once said this about writing: “There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Songwriters? I envy you. You don’t just open a vein. You open your soul.

I’m used to writing about other people. I ask the questions. They tell me the answers. I find their hearts and empty them on the page. Nobody cares what I think. Nobody cares what I feel. It’s somebody else’s story.

And when I write a chapter for my novel? It’s not me who’s doing the talking—it’s my characters.

But songwriters? In three minutes, you reveal something about yourselves through layers of your songs. The song may not be about you—but it’s a part of you.

Ever heard of urban explorers?

Urban explorers explore the off-limit parts of urban areas or industrial sites. Some people call it “building hacking” or “urban caving.” I call it cool. Those in the legal realm generally call it trespassing. Probably not a good idea to go urban exploring without permission.

Some of the coolest of the cool places I’d love to visit are the catacombs and transit tunnels under large cities. A lot of these, however, are blocked off, and people can’t get to them without a risk.

Songwriters are a lot like urban explorers. They venture beneath the surface. They find a way through when the passage is blocked, and they take a risk.

Kudos to you, my incredibly talented songwriting friends.

I think I’ll call it a night and get some sleep. But if you find the right words, wake me up.

Revenge of the psycho writer chick

I hope you don’t think of me as a ruthless taskmaster of a teacher. But looking back over my decades of teaching, I realized something sad. I make my students cry.

I don’t mean to. Please indulge me a moment to roll a mental video so that I can explain.

Picture an old school TV sitcom in which the main character, a girl, wears many disguises. Maybe she has overbooked the night with too dates lined up. She can’t make up her mind which one she likes best, so goes out with all of them at the same time and meets them at the corner grill.

She starts off with Date #1, Mr. Football Player, a guy who digs chicks who can talk an iso-blocking scheme and a corner blitz. She snuggles in her favorite oversized NCAA jacket and meets him at a table. She spends the next 15 minutes reliving last night’s game, play by play. She doesn’t have to talk because he’s forgotten she’s there. The guy comes up for air, and she excuses herself from the table and says she has to go to the little girls’ room.

She rushes in the door, throws the football jacket in a corner, and pulls a peace sign out of her pocket. She slips it over the psychedelic tie-dye shirt she’s been wearing under the jacket. She kicks off her shoes and slips on the flip flops tucked away in her backpack. She’s off to meet Date #2, Lyric Man.

He waits for her at a table on the patio under the stars. Coincidentally, he has his guitar with him. He always has his guitar with him. And together they write a song on an old napkin. Then he sings it to her. The emotion is too great, and she runs to the bathroom.

As soon as she enters, she slips on the jacket again. Changes shoes and digs through the backpack for her brother’s old laptop. Doesn’t matter what she wears as long as she has the computer. She searches the outer edges of the restaurant for the guy who’s wired—Captain Geek Squad.

There he is. He’s plugged in the only available outlet. Gotta save the battery. He’s not worried she’s late. He’s got Wi-Fi. She shows him her PC and says she’s thinking about converting. He weeps. Then he launches into a deep emotional discussion of the benefits of owning a Mac vs. PC. He talks until a friend texts him with a problem—the  blue screen of death. Captain Geek Squad has no other choice but to console his buddy, and she takes advantage of the situation and rushes to the bathroom.

You know what happens next. Our protagonist runs herself ragged switching from one date to another. She finally blows her cover when she wears her peace sign and tie-dye with the football player, hands Lyric Man the computer, and tells Captain Geek Squad she runs a Power I instead of Windows 7.

I can relate. But my identity crisis centers around writing.

When I’m a sociology teacher, I’m laid back, but I follow the rules. “Yes, start with a topic sentence so the reader knows what you’re talking about. How many sentences? Oh, I don’t know—maybe four or five. Whatever. Just do a good job of proving your opinion. State some facts.”

When I’m a junior English teacher, I preach writing assessment. “Five paragraphs! You can’t possibly write an essay without five paragraphs. Where’s your hook? You can’t score a 6 without your hook!”

When I become English teacher at large, I speak only in Shakespearean sonnets, and I turn up my nose at persons who split an infinitive or use a nominative case preposition where an objective case pronoun should go.

When I play college teacher, I’m become the Grim Reaper of Comma Usage. Instead of a scythe, I carry a red ink pen and yellow highlighter. Can’t you hear my eerie laughter as I spout off Little Brown’s comma rules? 25A, compound sentence! 25B, introductory elements! 25J, no unnecessary commas. NO UNNECESSARY COMMAS! Ba ha ha ha ha. (Evil laugh.)

When I merge from death mode and become a journalism teacher, I bury my attributes, one by one. And, by the way, no, we DON’T put a comma before the conjunction in a series of items.

And then I go home and write. And I cry, just like my students. I thought I was a pretty good writer until I tried something new—writing fiction. Writing is hard. It’s like a puzzle; all the pieces have to fit. There are rules. You can’t cut off the edges and force a piece to fit.

You can’t teach a person to become a good writer. You can only provide the opportunities.

Academic writing is easiest for me. I can’t remember ever failing at academic writing. In fact, a few days ago I ran wildly through the house, screaming with joy because I Googled my name and found a professor who praised one of my academic articles that appeared in a book that was published last year. I wrote the article decades ago. I’ve learned so much more since then.

But it hasn’t come easy. I write every day. I’ve learned that only a fool turns his or her head to wisdom. I glean wisdom from other writers who have paid their dues. It probably didn’t come easy for them either.

Yet a lot of my students think it should.

They tell me how stupid academic writing is, how it stifles their creativity. Their pride takes a major hit when I splash their paper with red ink and tell them to revise.

I’ve been there. It hurts. As I said, I thought I knew something about writing—until I started writing a novel.

My students offer excuses. “I just can’t write if I’m told what to write.” “I have to have a deadline.” “Academic writing isn’t writing. There are too many rules.” “I’d rather write songs or poems. I need to express myself.”

What my poor, sweet, innocent students don’t realize is that all writing has rules. All writing—except writing for personal blogs or journals. You can pretty much get away with anything that you allow yourself, but then you’re writing for an audience of one—yourself. (If you’re writing for an audience of One, God–that’s a different story.) Generally, we have a need to connect with other people, and we can do that with our writing. Our blog writing can turn into professional blog writing, a ministry, a launch pad to devotional writing, etc. But there are rules. The key to effective writing is discipline.

Creative writing sounds easy. Want to know a secret? Creative writing is the most difficult type of writing I’ve ever pursued in my life—both in writing novels and writing songs. I have a LONG way to go in songwriting. That’s a different story.

I make my students cry because I make them “toe the line.”

Conforming to a standard isn’t easy. I know. I’ve wanted to give up too. I’ve thrown things. I’ve said ugly words. (But I haven’t written them.) I have grown. I have gotten better.

I hold my students accountable—even if they cry—because, like me, I know they can do better too. I can’t give them the ability. They have to find it within themselves through opportunity, and opportunity comes with practice, practice, practice.

Sometimes they come to a writing opportunity wearing “the wrong attire”—similar to the girl with the three dates. It’s inevitable. They’re going to end up frazzled unless they can write to their audience. I can’t help them if they refuse to change. It’s foolish to argue with stubborn pride.

By now, you know I’m a conundrum—wacky one minute and OCD serious the next. But here’s one thing you should know. I let down my guard with a person who tells me the truth—somebody I can trust, somebody who tells me I need to “toe the line.” And I, the psycho writer chick, almost never let down my guard.

And dear student, if by chance, you read this. Know I am your biggest fan. I believe with all my heart you will make it—if only you don’t give up. I’ll cry with you if I you want me to. Let down your guard. Believe me when I tell you that you can do it. Together we can “toe the line.”