Guest Posts, How To, writing

Finding the Hook.

October 15, 2014
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By Lisa McElroy.

It turns out that, when you’re writing your first novel, finding a hook is crazy hard. How can you capture a reader’s interest in the first few pages? How can you make her relate to your characters? How can you reel her in, keeping her on the line, guiding her expertly into your net, all the while making her think it was her own idea?

It was my own career teaching writing that brought me to question what I really knew about the process.

Since 2001 – for almost all of what I perceive to be my adult life – I’ve been instructing students on the art of legal writing. To teach first year law students to write is to teach communication, the kind that future lawyers need to develop to represent clients, help them solve their problems, convince courts to rule in their favor. Legal writing is highly structured, nearly formulaic in some instances. But as many legal scholars have discussed, it is also storytelling of a very high degree. A good attorney must find a way to tell a client’s story that draws the reader in, holds her interest, and – most importantly – evokes sympathy and understanding for the client’s plight.

It’s a lot like writing a novel – or a novella, at the very least.

Every fall, when a new crop of students sits down in my classroom, eager to learn, I realize for what seems like the first time that legal writing is, while natural to me, overwhelmingly difficult for students who do not know the lingo or the structure or the strategy that make up a simple memo to the file, a motion for summary judgment. The rules – and a certainty about when to break the rules – are all brand new, mysterious, seemingly ungraspable.

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Gender & Sexuality, Guest Posts, Self Image

A First Grader’s Gender Identity.

October 14, 2014
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser.

“Hi, Avery,” I heard my daughter’s friend, Crystal call out earlier this summer. Clad in pink tank shirt and blue skirt, Avery’s hair cupped her chin. Avery waved, and turned back to the music. Crystal and my daughter continued through the farmers market.

Avery? Last summer, Avery was Henry—about to enter kindergarten, just like Crystal and my daughter. “As soon as Crystal learned about Henry’s transition, she instantly switched not just name but pronoun, and has never made a mistake,” Crystal’s mom reported.

I wasn’t entirely surprised. Very small kids pose big gender questions: “Can boys be princesses? Why do girls get babies in their bellies?” By age five, however certain they are that boys are one way and girls another, perhaps they remain closer to more fluid, flexible notions of gender.

A small child’s interest in clothes “meant” for the opposite gender—the boy in the tutu, the girl who rejects all dresses—often passes, a “phase” dictated by a sense of style or by preferred activities, such as dance or monkey bars. Classic picture books like Charlotte Zolotow’s William’s Doll and newer ones, like Ian and Sarah Hoffman’s Jacob’s New Dress endeavor to make such explorations amongst very young children accepted (and acceptable). This takes conscious effort. For example at my house, where three sons preceded the daughter, I didn’t need to buy her a baby doll: we already had three, along with trucks and train tracks.

But what happens when a child declares, like Avery did, a territory beyond mere experimentation? What if the child’s experience is an authentic transition? How does a school respond, and how do friends rally?

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Guest Posts, healing, storytelling

People You May Know.

October 12, 2014
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black By Teri Carter.

I carry a myth. In the myth, I am 36 years old, and I meet my father at my mother’s funeral. Or, rather, at her wake. It is the designated family hour from three until four p.m., the one quiet span when only close family gathers to see the dead. The viewing, they call it. My mother in her casket, the casket she chose. And there is my father, a bearded stranger, pacing between rows of metal folding chairs, viewing her.

I actually met my father around my 18th birthday. His mother lived in my town, and though I’d had little to no contact with her over the years, she’d sent me a card with money in it for my high school graduation and, in lieu of writing her a thank you note, I called. She was thrilled, she said, to hear from me, and I remember feeling her warmth through the phone, the idea of her grandmotherly embrace, and somewhere during that call she asked if I’d like to come for a visit to look at some family photos and I asked where my father was and I said it rather boldly like, “Do you know where Lee Roy is these days?” feeling all grown up at age 18 and out of high school, and she said he was living right there in town, “right up the road!” and would I like to meet him, maybe next Sunday, at her house?

But what happened then? What of the details? Did he arrive first or did I? Did we shake hands, hug, stand back, study? Did we share a meal, a laugh, a Coca Cola? How can I not recall? How does a girl not remember meeting her father, not remember hearing his voice, for the very first time? And yet, the edges, they are so watery.

I met my father at my mother’s funeral. We shook hands. He pulled a business card from his wallet and wrote his number on the back in blue, ballpoint ink. He said, “Call us next time you’re in town,” and as he walked away I wondered, who is us?

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Guest Posts, parenting, Special Needs

Before You Judge Me.

October 8, 2014
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By Rachel Pastiloff.

When you are out in the world, be it at a restaurant, grocery shopping, driving in traffic, or at the doctor’s office, and you see a child screaming and a mother losing her cool and grabbing that child by the arm and being stern: BE CAREFUL BEFORE YOU JUDGE THEM.

Be careful placing judgment upon others, for you know not what battles they are fighting.

Before you judge me, or anyone. Take a breath. Consider what you might not know. Look inward. Look outward. Whatever it is, realize this: you may never have any idea of someone else’s story, so judging them is a tricky business.

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Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

Emotional Body House.

October 7, 2014
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Kate Berlin.

I’ve been working on opening up my heart.

Literally.

I’ve been sitting with eyes closed at random places -the break room at work, the bathroom, at red lights and stop signs in the car- and whispering to myself “my heart is open, my heart is open.”

But all that’s really there is a heavy lump in my throat, because my heart isn’t anywhere near being open. Lately, my heart has been closed.

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When I think of my past experiences and emotions I like to envision a house, with rooms, and common areas, and a garden.

If you’d ask me a few years ago what that house looked like. I would describe it with little consideration, as nothing more than a shack. An abandoned structure, inside dark and dingy with boards blocking any view from anyone on the outside wanting to take a glimpse in.   Mildew, standing water, dried, withered, and flaking paint, rats, and the reeking stench of loneliness. Dust collecting on the windowsills and the baseboards, in the walls a termite infestation, gnawing away at the structure of the house. Each room filled with boxes, piled on top of each other, on top of furniture draped in cloth. Furniture that once served a purpose, that was colorful and comfortable, that sustained a living and brightened the home. The garden left untended, was muddy and overgrown filled with empty pots and dead plants. Weeds took over where once grew a meadow. And wasps took the place of butterflies. Continue Reading…

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