Marc Simon tomorrow

Hi everyone,

I’m back from Pennsylvania and New York, tired but pleased. I got to bed late so here I am moving slowly but surely this morning. And my first item of business is to bring you Marc Simon as this week’s Featured Guest.

Marc just graduated from high school, the same one from which I graduated in 1955. Whew! Marc is a talented young man and among his many gifts is that of writing. This year he received the largest scholarship given by Writers Hall of Fame. Last week you met Kay Logsdon and earlier you met Jean Stringam, both of whom donated funds to support Writer’s Hall of Fame scholarship program. When I offered to feature Kay, she suggested instead that I introduce Marc on my blog. As a result, I featured Kay and am now turning to Marc.

I asked Marc for a bio and here’s what he provided. Tomorrow you’ll see his picture and responses to questions. Mark it down for Marc.

At the end of this past May I graduated from Central High School as an International Baccalaureate Diploma Candidate. I went to Central for seven years total, as I was apart of the Middle Years Scholars Program from 6th to 8th grade.

I joined the journalism program my freshman year and worked as a reporter for the Central High Times (Central’s newspaper), and throughout my sophomore year I served as sports editor. The summer after my sophomore year I was accepted into and attended the Missouri Scholars Academy on the University of Missouri campus.

For my junior and senior years I served as Editor-in-Chief of the Central High Times and converted the publication into a newsmagazine. During the summer between my two years as Editor-in-Chief, I attended the Aspen Ideas Festival as one of twelve Bezos Scholars selected from around the nation (the Bezos Scholarship Program, stemming from the Bezos Family Foundation). The Aspen Ideas Festival brings together myriad experts from various artistic, scientific, educational, political, and entrepreneurial fields every year to engage in discourse and debate, and the whole thing boils down to a lavish celebration of intellectualism and, per the titular suggestion, the generation of ideas. I lunched with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, had coffee with Alan Greenspan, listened to Bill Gates discuss education, chatted with Tobias Wolff, and, through a multitude of other similar experiences, had my mind just about boggled.

When I’m not in school or editing or writing, I play piano and tennis competitively. I played number one on Central’s tennis team and qualified to the state tournament all four years in high school. This coming fall I’ll be headed to New York University as a scholar in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where I plant to pursue a career in writing and soak up all the culture N.Y.C. has to offer.


Off to Orlando

Hi everyone,

Today is a travel day. I leave this morning for IRA and am looking forward to seeing many friends there. Tomorrow I’ll participate in an all day institute called TEACHING READING THROUGH POETRY: THE PHONICS, FLUENCY, COMPREHENSION, AND MOTIVATION CONNECTION. This event will be co-chaired by Tim Rasinski and Alicia McCartney

Topic titles are, “How to turn Kids Into Poetry Readers (and Writers) (by making it fun!);” “Why Poetry to Teach Phonics?” “Why Poetry to Teach Reading Fluency?” “Poems for Multiple Voices — Performing and Writing;” “Poetry from the Voice of the Child;” “What Do You Do When Kids Memorize Their Poems?” “Putting Poetry at the Heart of the Classroom;” and “Putting it All Together: How Poetry Fits into the Whole Reading Curriculum.” I’ll try to take good notes and share some highlights when I get back to work.

My thanks to all the outstanding people who have appeared as my Featured Guests in recent weeks. When I have more time, I’ll repost their pictures and give links to their appearances. For now I’ll be content to list their names and the dates they were my guests. You can find them this way but I’ll try to make it easier later.

March 25, Hans Wilhelm
April 1, Kelly Milner Halls
April 8, Robin Brickman
April 15, Janet Wong
April 22, Jane Kurtz
April 29, Lois Ruby
May 6, Jean Stringam

A number of people are at work on their articles or responses so the coming weeks will certainly carry on the tradition.

Don’t forget, the word of the month is PROMISE.


Jean Stringam today

Hi everyone,

Today I’m pleased to introduce my Featured Guest, Jean Stringam. I’m always happy when I can present someone who lives in my own community. Springfield’s population is slightly over 150,000 and the city serves a surrounding area of more than 200,000. It stands to reason that we have a number of talented writers in our midst and you are about to meet one of them. ( )

Hello, Jean, and welcome to my blog. My first question:

What originally attracted you to writing and what keeps you writing now?

Thanks, David. I’m attracted to writing because I can be anybody anywhere at any time in any world just by thinking it. I’ve written all my life and put my stories in a drawer, told myself I’d think about publishing them later when I was truly wise. The world was full of things to learn and I needed to learn them all!

That changed for me a few years ago when I experienced a sudden health event—the kind that gave me 20% survival odds. In a few moments invincibility had dissolved and life had become an uncertain matter. I knew I wanted to leave something good behind me when I left this world. Whether or not I was wise enough to publish yet, I couldn’t say, but I knew I couldn’t afford to wait any longer to try. Everything I had to say needed to be said NOW.

At age fourteen I confessed to my best friend that I wanted to be a writer and marry a photographer who worked for National Geographic Magazine so we could travel all over the world together and be this amazing wise couple together. Didn’t marry the photographer. Maybe he’s still out there somewhere . . . but did I get to the other part? The question sometimes runs across the ceiling before I sleep at night.

How would you describe your approach to creating strong stories?

Conflict. When I was younger I was so desperate to avoid conflict in all parts of my life that it nearly broke my heart to put my characters through anything really difficult. Now I say, Bring it on! Well, at least for my characters’ sake. I don’t know who they are until something miserable happens to them and I see how they handle it.

Who is reading over your shoulder as you write?

I used to have a strong image of the wonderful woman I wanted to be, and she hovered around in a most distracting way. But in the muddle of living I seem to have lost sight of that idealized person. She’s not invited to return.

Do you maintain a regular writing schedule? How do you protect your writing time?

My bliss is to wake up at 6 AM and write until noon. Then I like to trundle off to the university where I’m a professor and spend the afternoon meeting with really interested students for all kinds of fascinating discussions about children’s and young adult literature.

The actuality is something less than that! There’s the matter of grading and discussion prep and committee work and the most time consuming thing of all – social networking.

Where do you hope to see your career take you in the future?

• The Cousin Cycle is contemporary realism, and the first two books are published now: The Hoarders (June 2010, for readers 9-12) and Balance (April 2011, for readers 10-14). The Regrets Tree (YA) and Tell Me (YA) are yet to be published.

All four books were written before I sent the first one to a publisher—and that first publisher sent me a contract. So I was very lucky.

• I’ve also written several picture books that seem to delight the children I’ve tried them out on.

• Right now I’m finishing the third book in a fantasy trilogy about the Calgary Stampede.

• I love writing songs. Lyrics are a fascinating kind of poetry to explore and I love catching the melodies that swirl around in the ether. So far I’ve given my compositions piano accompaniment. BTW, a few days ago I put a little lullaby on my blog for visitors to download. I’ve also written some Christmas readers theatre with music, and songs for various characters in my stories.

Would you like to share a sample of your work and explain how you set it up?

The Cousin Cycle involves one year in the lives of an extended family of cousins and each novel is a stand-alone text. Many events are singular to the protagonist of the particular book, but a number of family events connect the characters to the year and to each other. This raises the matter of the unreliable narrator, since one person can only see a narrow slice of the totality of an event. It’s fun for a reader to piece together the clues as to who got it right.

The third book in the Cousin Cycle, The Regrets Tree, has sixteen-year-old Bill for a protagonist and will appeal to the YA reader. He has to deal with sex and violence, but more than that, it’s a story of what he loves, who he loves, and why he loves. I’ll give you a sneak-peak preview of a few pages from the first chapter!

I told my dad no. That’s not how I said it, to begin with at least. I try to be diplomatic where I can. But I did say, no. For two months I said no every time he brought it up. I said no when he was driving me up here. And if he calls tonight to find out how my summer job is turning out, I’ll say “It’s fine, Dad. Thanks.” And if he asks me for the hundredth time if I wouldn’t rather be working at a job with a future, getting to know how a law office works—his—I’ll say, “Thanks for the offer, Dad. No. No, I don’t want to work in your law office this summer.” If he insists and puts on his scare-ya-ta-hell lawyer voice, I’ll even say, “The guys on the road crew are great. Yeah, I’m having fun. Good food. Nice sturdy bunks. It’s the job I was meant for—at least for three months of a long, hot summer, Dad,” and he’ll say goodnight with a little respect, maybe, tell Mom not to fidget and go to sleep.

So how much of all that is a lie and how much is the truth? That’s a question that takes more time to sort out than it used to. Other years I could answer “Is your bed made?” with either yes or no. “Have you finished your homework?” Yes/No. “Are Howie and Devon staying for supper?” Yes/No. Simple. Now I have to decide if making my bed means pulling the sheets and blanket back to air the mattress out or if it means tucking them smooth and tight around the edges for a generic look. Does my homework include learning the chapter we’re going to study the next day or just the work we’ve been assigned? Howie and Devon are always on my mind, so if I stay for supper, does it de facto mean they’re also with me? Nothing’s simple anymore.

I guess I’m having fun, depending on the definition of fun you choose. The guys on this road crew might be okay, I can’t really tell yet. It’s been strictly business with them. Since my friend Devon came to work up here with me this summer, I haven’t really pursued other friendship possibilities. I guess the bunk house food is good compared to what I’d cook if I were on my own. The bunks? Well, it’s true they’re sturdy.

I’ll give my dad this. When he finally got it through his head that I didn’t want his office job, that I wanted to do out-of-doors physical work this summer, he called a few friends to find out who was hiring for a road construction crew. He let me know in time to apply for an opening as a flag-man, well, flag-person (the crew over at Mudd Flats hired several girls). This crew—my crew—on Mudd Mountain is all male. That’s good for me this summer. Three women in my life last year wrenched things around so bad for me it’s like I want to take some time off from life. I’d disappear if I could, but I’ve made the decision I’ll never take that route.

If I’m telling no lies here, three women is a partial count, because I had to think through everything I know about the three most important men in my life, too: My dad and my two best friends, Howie and Devon. I’ll never be the same, that’s for sure. People say, “You have to grow up some time.” That’s true, as far as it goes. But I think it was pretty harsh to learn what you need to know about being an adult in a few months of one disaster after the next.

If I could have chosen how to have my head sliced into slivers, my psyche stirred into a mash, and my heart splintered into fragments, maybe a year per event would have been reasonable. First big disaster: age 16—fallibility of the parental units. Second big disaster: age 17—care-giver tragedy. Third big disaster: age 18—loved and lost. Fourth big disaster: age 19—best friends . . . how should I put this . . . best friends spin off . . .? Give me four years to do all that and I’d be twenty years old and ready to hit the adult world, tough and calculated.

I’ve got five minutes to hit the road, tough and traffic-savvy. Grab my sign. I actually like my steel-toed shoes. It’s plain satisfying to lace them up all the way. Dad’s never owned a pair in his life. And I like my hard hat. I plan to wear a red bandana hanging down from it that I keep wet against dust and insects. Maybe a beard would help. Wonder if I’d have enough growth to look good. I shave all the time, but still, I’m not really sure what to count on.

If dad comes driving up in the traffic—not that he has much business driving up Mudd Mountain—would he recognize me as his working-class son? I’m the same height as my dad, I have the same cheekbones as his (but my mom’s eyes), same dark curly hair as him, same shirt size, same . . . well . . . for all that, I don’t think like him, and he’ll have to get used to it.

To be honest, it still surprises me I don’t. I never planned on disagreeing with him on so much. I always figured he was dead-on when it came to people, moral obligations, right/wrong, seeing things through, getting to the bottom of an issue—all that kind of thing. He was my North Star, my beacon light in the murky world of middle school. Not that I’m saying he’s any kind of a fallen angel, it’s just that you can get to the same right places from different directions. And I’ve got a different direction to take.

Jean, it has been a pleasure. Comments anyone? They are always appreciated.


Jean Stringam tomorrow

Hi everyone,

Tomorrow I want you to meet someone. Her name is Jean Stringam and she teaches at Missouri State University here in Springfield.

Jean Stringam grew up in Alberta, Canada, taking three of her five degrees there, and remembers wonderful days riding horses, back-packing, and skiing with her family in the Canadian Rockies. Now that she lives far away from her five children and five sisters, located on both sides of the 49th parallel, she spends a lot of time travelling to see them. When they get together they love to make music, attend live theatre, and hear each other’s tales.

Nowadays she’s either teaching for her university in Missouri or, better yet, she’s teaching for them in a foreign country such as China or England. She loves to travel. If she had her way, she would visit every country in the world including all the oceans, rivers, forests, and jungles. Whenever anyone asks her where home is, she thinks about all the people she has loved. If she could get them all together in one wonderful, happy pile, that would be home. You can visit her at .