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?
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.
Ruth Culham is often referred to as The Trait Lady for her years of research, publishing, teaching, and lecturing about the traits of good writing. She just returned from a series of meetings and workshops in Abu Dhabi. It’s a pleasure to help announce the publication of Ruth’s newest work, THE WRITING THIEF, which will officially be introduced by its publisher, International Reading Association, in New Orleans this weekend.
Word spreads fast among Ruth’s followers so the book is already into its second printing based on advance orders. Here’s a quote borrowed from the Internet: “Students learn more about reading and writing when we use mentor texts to explore how writing works. Within this book, you’ll discover more than 90 excellent mentor texts along with straightforward activities that can help you teach the traits of writing across the informational, narrative, and argument modes.
“Ruth presents exceptional examples of children’s literature and everyday texts, organized around the key qualities of the writing traits, that can give your students clear, enjoyable examples of good writing—which they can then pinch and pilfer as models for their own writing.
“Chapters also include brief essays from favorite writing thieves—Lester Laminack, David L. Harrison, Lisa Yee, Nicola Davies, Ralph Fletcher, Toni Buzzeo, and Lola Schaefer—detailing the reading that has influenced their own writing.”
For more about Ruth, click here. http://www.culhamwriting.com
Way to go, Ruth! I’m delighted to be in your latest book. Here’s to another great success!