My friend Ruth Culham has written many fine books but one of my favorites is THE WRITING THIEF. It’s about how we improve our own writing by paying attention to the excellent writing of others. Ruth says, “I am always on the hunt for mentor texts, and because I’m a reader and a writer, I find great stuff.” Then she gives us a brilliant book filled with examples and narrative about how to profit from the expertise of the best writers out there.
At the moment I’m rereading SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS, A SEARCH FOR WHO WE ARE, a book by astrophysicist Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan, a novelist and Secretary of the Federation of American Scientists. You don’t know who wrote what because they both write prose at the highest level. But I want to share an example of my “theft” and ask you to post some of your own examples of prose by others that have made you sit back and say, “Wow!”
Here is the Sagon/Druyan voice explaining the difficulties of organic forms dealing with oxygen, on page 121-122. “Now oxygen is a peculiar molecule. We breath it, depend on it, die without it, and so naturally have a good opinion of it. . . . But as a blazing log or a burning coal reminds us, oxygen is dangerous. Given a little encouragement, it can vandalize the intricate, painstakingly evolved structure of organic matter . . . . Oxygen is a poison for organic molecules and doubtless was poisonous to the beings of the ancient Earth. . . . . Either you adapted to the oxygen, or you hid from it, or you died. Many died. Some reconciled themselves to live underground, or in marine muds, or in other environments where the deadly oxygen could not reach.”
Their subject here is usually presented straight forwardly as so many facts. But Sagan/Druyan bothered to give us a lesson on how facts can be brought to life, how something that happened in the mists of ancient time can seem relevant, understandable, and worth reading about.
The floor is open. Who has inspired you?
As you know from my whining lately, I’ve been filing and recording. This inevitably leads to leaping down rabbit holes and coming up an hour later wondering where the time went. One such side trip resulted in rediscovering this picture. In 2009 we held a conference in Springfield that I dubbed Pie in the Sky. After a day’s work the speakers assembled at our house for a meal and refreshments. It was a great experience and beneficial to area teachers who would normally have to attend a national conference to meet and learn from these headliners. They are, from left to right, Ruth Culham, Lester Laminack, Aileen Wheaton, Laura Robb, Evan Robb, Sandy, and Mary Jo Fresch.
Good times and good memories. There is something to be said for filing after all!
BULLETIN: Linda Baie tried to leave a comment on the IRA site and said it’s not working. Each time you type in the code, it’s rejected. I just tried twice and had the same results. I sent a note to the editor and hopefully the problem will be cleared up soon. I’ll let you know when it is. Thanks for your patience.
Remember when I got shut out of the Google Hangout with Ruth Culham, Kate Messner, Lisa Yee, and Varian Johnson? The link I was provided would not work that evening even though it had worked the night before when we rehearsed. I gave up trying when there were only 15 minutes left in the program. Next day I was invited to post my own list of suggested mentor texts on the IRA blog, so I did. And now it’s posted. If you’re interested, here’s the link.
Some of you know that when the night came for Ruth Culham’s Google Hangout hosted by International Reading Association, my link failed me and I was never able to join the rest of the group to participate in the show. Talk about bummed out!
As a follow-up though, the moderator for IRA, Jayme Gravell, talked with IRA editor April Hall, and they invited me to send along my suggestions for mentor texts to add to their blog post. I thought it was quite gracious of them and I accepted. Here’s the link so you can see what has already been posted. Mine should come along before long.
My question to you is, do you use mentor texts yourself and, if so, what sources would you recommend? The floor is open.
The other day I told you about the upcoming Google Hangout with Ruth Culham and four panelist authors. This is a reminder that the event is coming up next week on Tuesday night. We’ll have a rehearsal Monday night and then stand by for fun the following evening.
I hope you’ll hang out with us and tell anyone you know who might be interested to come too. It’s free and I like the topic of using mentor texts.
It’ll stream live on the IRA YouTube channel. The link is: http://www.reading.org/YouTube. When we’re finished it will be saved on the IRA YouTube page so people who couldn’t join us live will be able to watch it at their convenience.