JaniceHeck

My Time to Write, but The Cats have The Last Meow!

Archive for the category “Nonfiction Books”

NaBloPoMO 11. Orange is the New Black

NaBloPoMo_November_smallREAdingMy friend Karen handed me this New York Times bestseller last week, and I read it in a day. So, I will combine a NaBloPoMo and a It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post.

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman.

Piper Kerman, a 1993 Smith graduate with no life plan, no goals, seemed happiest working in restaurants, bars, and 001nightclubs. So after graduation, while her colleagues went off to graduate school, jobs, and suburbia, she chose to hang around with a few colorful, if somewhat unsavory, characters.

She linked up with Nora, a here-again, gone-again lesbian, who threw money around by the fistful, coddling,  cuddling, and pampering Piper in a self-indulgent lifestyle: money, travel, nightclubs, restaurants, clothes, spas. Until one day, Nora, who was getting deeper and deeper into criminal activities, demanded that Piper carry a drug-money filled suitcase on an international flight to Paris. Piper realized then that her bill for all the extravagant living had come due.

The reality of her criminal life and life-style nagged at her conscience, so back in New York City after months abroad, she bailed out and broke all ties with Nora, prevailing on old friends in San Francisco to help her regain normalcy in her life.

With a somewhat unusual job, infomercial production, Piper settled into routines in San Francisco, found new friends, a boyfriend, and started to breathe easier. But with life’s twists and turns, she and Larry ended up back in New York in 1998, where the always anticipated and feared knock on the door came.

Arrested and indicted for drug smuggling and money laundering,  Piper was assisted by her rich daddy’s lawyer through the criminal proceedings. Piper spent six years under federal supervision while the authorities built their case against the leader of their gang, then was sentenced to fifteen months in federal prison to be served at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut.

The rest of the book is about her life in prison (chapter 3 to 18), the friends she made, the coping strategies she used, and practical job skills she learned.

Kerman tells her story in a matter-of-fact sort of way, without heavy emotion, using vignettes of events that occur as she counts out the days and months and seasons of her sentence.

She has roommates, but they are not the ivy-league type she has been used to. Still, she manages to be something of an out-of-place prima donna given that she gets the New York Times delivered to her cell and receives tons of mail, books, and visits from Larry, her family, and friends. Surprisingly, she is not taunted by other inmates, as she otherwise tries to be a good girl, keeping away from troublemakers while serving out her sentence.

Orange is the New Black is a fast, easy-to-read book, without a lot of complexity. While Kerman describes emotional situations, the book is not overwhelmingly emotional. In fact, tense situations blow over quickly, with little or no aftermath. Even the outrageously embarrassing situations, the strip searches for example, seem to be handled with aplomb.

My favorite part of the book is page 150 where she gives the recipe for Prison Cheesecake. I will never eat cheesecake again without remembering this very special recipe. I will never use this recipe, but I will definitely remember it.

Bon appetit! Oh, I mean you’ll like, but not love, the book. It does have some interesting tales to tell. But it ends on the date Kerman gets out of prison. Period. Just like that. The End. I had hoped for a bit more of a reflection on learnings and setting of goals for a new life. Oh well, maybe that will come in another book.

Writers at Play: The Lucky 7 Meme

I mentioned in an earlier blog (They Laughed When I Started to Twitter) that writers have fun tweeting and blogging. Of course, sometimes these distractions keep us from doing what we should be doing.  Or maybe we just, plain and simple, procrastinate. Whatever.

The Lucky 7 Meme is one good example of the fun we have. Well,  Elaine Smothers (www.elainesmothers.wordpress.com) calls the Lucky 7 Meme a zombie virus, but no matter. And though this is supposed to be lucky, my personal Writer Troll thought otherwise. (Read more about the Writer Troll on Myndi Shafer’s blog- www.myndishafer.wordpress.com.) With the Troll’s help, WordPress hiccupped and produced seven non-identical draft versions of this post on my dashboard! Lucky me. I had to sort through the unlucky seven to find the latest version. Fooled him though. I found it.

Special thanks to Judythe Morgan (www.judythewriter.wordpress.com)  for the Lucky 7 Meme nomination!

Here are the game rules for Lucky 7 Meme:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP.

2. Go to line 7.

3. Copy the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.

4. If your WIP doesn’t have 77 pages, you can post 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs from page 7.

5. Tag 7 other writers and let them know.

So far in the Lucky 7 Meme event, I have read well-written, attention-getting excerpts from novels of my writer friends. But alas, I do not write crime novels, murder mysteries, historical fiction, memoirs,  romance, westerns, YA, or kidlit.

I write nonfiction about (are you ready for this?) teaching writing and grammar to struggling and unmotivated students! How’s that for excitement, mystery, intrique, danger, romance, inspiration, or whatever?

Yes, I teach students with learning disabilities, behavior and emotional problems, and even drug and alcohol problems. Some of these students are high school dropouts. Some have zero or less interest in education and routinely challenge the purpose behind assignments. “Why do we have to do this?”  Others don’t mind writing; it’s the revising and editing they don’t like.

Some want to take the GED (General Educational Development-high school equvalency test), and for this they must write an essay and complete a multiple-choice test on writing conventions. They must also take tests in reading, math, science, and social studies. By the time they get ready to take the GED, they know they need help!

The pages of my WIP are not numbered yet. Rather I have them in chapters printed out in notebooks. Here is an excerpt that comes from page 7. The working title is Grammar You Can See: Strategies for Helping Struggling and Unmotivated Students. My sister, Judie Rush, my biggest fan and director of a local GED program, keeps bugging me about when “The Book” will be finished, but I manage to avoid commitment each time she asks. One of these days, I promise. But right now I have to break up this nasty argument between the Lucky 7 Meme and my Writer Troll. Why can’t they get along?

***

“Noun? What’s a noun?”  Paul asks.

Paul, a thirty-year-old high school dropout, drifted through elementary and junior high, then quit high school at his first opportunity. Now, as an adult with young children of his own, he is determined to give himself (and his children) a better life, so he has enrolled in a school district-sponsored GED prep program that’s hidden in the dimly-lit basement of the local library. He meets almost daily with twenty or more dropouts (some teens, some adults in their 20s, 30s, or 40s, and one in his 60s!) to work individually or in small groups on basic reading, writing, and math skills.

Some of these students come voluntarily, eager to improve their skills, to advance their educational and professional goals, and to obtain better paying jobs. Others attend because they must: the local judicial court system and social welfare services require their attendance. Regardless of their reason for joining the GED program, these students works quietly and independently, making gradual, but steady improvement in their academic performance–a total contrast to the time they admit they wasted in high school.

The GED writing test is a major hurdle for Paul whose simple, bare-bones paragraphs have so many sentence fragments, run-ons, verb tense agreement errors, and misspellings that his good ideas get lost in the jumble. To make matters worse, he has no interest in revising any of his work. “One and done” is his motto. And the multiple-choice questions related to writing conventions? Forget it!

***

Now to name seven other Lucky Memers:

M. J. Monaghan      www.mjmonaghan.com

Linda Adams          www.Linda-Adams.com

Helen McMullin    www.conantstation.com

S. J. Driscoll             http://sjdriscoll.com

Emmie Mears          http://emmiemears.com

Jacqui Talbot              www.justjacqui2.com

Lanita Bradley Boyd     http://lanitaboyd.com

Have fun meeting these bloggers. I have already enjoyed reading their blogs!

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