What Felons Don’t Know – Writing

courtesy Wikipedia

courtesy Wikipedia

I always find it amazing how little the felons know whom I teach. English. Standard, edited English. I teach medium- and minimum-security level males in a prison of some 500 inmates in a facility in Wisconsin. Close to one-half of those inmates attend the prison school to chase down their G.E.D.‘s. I’ve done this for over fifteen years, the longest I’ve held a continuous position at any job.

True, I have two study hall hours and one section of lower level civics, but my remaining three sections remain my bread and butter, that-which-I-was-hired-for reading and writing. I love the latter two best, especially writing.

Having no experience in standard public schools, I can only guess as to why so few men come ill prepared for some of the most basic writing standards. Subject/verb agreement, random capitalization, never ending and period-less sentences, apostrophes thrown in at random before final S‘s, atrocious spelling, and almost universal cluelessness towards quotation marks–these are among the numerous problems nearly all men face towards writing competency.

Yet even some items of a more fundamental level (I would have guessed!) cannot be taken for granted. The choice of A as in “a car” versus An as in “an elephant”–this must be taught! The personal pronoun I ? This must be brought to men’s notice as a constantly capitalized form. Those are two egregious examples. More basics than those two abound in the men’s ignorance.

What has happened in the public schools? That question may be unfair. My students admit to having some memory of these school basics when I question them. But most of these men must write so very little (and care nothing for how they appear in print when they do write, as in a letter home) that expansion–let alone implementation–of any writing skills is next to never on their radar screens. So I do know the woeful state of their skills when each arrives and starts the long trek towards competency.

Nor are these deficits limited to race or region. White men from small towns of middle age, some who have run businesses (construction, plumbing, electrical wiring) are as likely to be ignorant of English basics as a black young man from inner Milwaukee–likewise the black man of collegiate experience or the Hispanic man with broad bilingual (spoken) ability.

I don’t know how or where to place blame, so I don’t. The decline is general and across demography. Perhaps my even questioning public schools as I have done above is unfair to those schools. The culture of writing seems to be in decline, at least among the rarefied men who drag themselves into my classes. Those schools and educators, too, are fighting the same valiant but discouraging battle.

Then too, fellow bloggers, we may be the exception as all who aspire to write have always been. We care at least to some extent about how our writing appears. We have audience; we want to shine. I wonder if prison teachers of, say, the 1940’s would have shared my sentiments almost verbatim?

courtesy swap.mag.co.uk

courtesy swap.mag.co.uk

Worst Blogger Award

"Worst Blog"

“Worst Blog”

Does someone promote a “Worst Blogger” award? I wonder if I would be a nominee, should it be created, at least according to a few common sense criteria.

  1. Must be trying to be active. That is, a writer who blogs infrequently or next to never (which I suspect would include many who start but drop the practice out of boredom or distraction) would not be eligible.
  2. Must aspire in some way, any way. This excludes writers aspiring to offend, for such a person may draw like-minded haters to his or her material. That’s success on its own terms, so such a blog would be out. Also, a writer taking on arcane and specialized material (“My Fascination with Carpet Fibers”) would still be able to merit some worth. Such ephemeral pursuits exhibit a fascinating charm, so most such writers would be out of consideration.
  3. Add your own…

To the Free Downloaders

From “Sleep Hygiene” by Dr. Tony Eldridge

I almost wrote “let-me-down freeloaders.”

Is it too much to ask or nudge people I’ve known to have downloaded my e-book “Ready or Not” to at least rate it?

I am new at this, obviously, so perhaps I ask a naive question. I am fairly certain that most haven’t even gotten around to reading it yet, let alone finishing it. (And how can that be urged? I think it is impossible without loss of tact.) We writers wish anyone with our work is breaking his or her neck to read and savor our material–hardly a truth.

Here and there at work I’ve mentioned this to those who acknowledged taking advantage of the free download (lightly but sincerely). Yet naught happens.

Do I post to my Facebook page and reiterate what must be obvious? Perhaps I am too polite.

Or perhaps a more ominous question needs to be addressed: is the book actually not very good?


Slowly Moving


On the e-publishing of Ready or Not.

Sales: The illustration summarizes them. Downloads: 9 sales, 105 downloads (free promotion).

Reviews: Three wonderful ones here.

Lesson: Don’t depend on give-aways promoted to relatives, friends, and co-workers to garner much in the way of on-line interest. For that matter, don’t expect the same to be in any hurry to actually read the book! I have confirmation of only three people who have done so. (Thanks, reviewers!)

Action: Begin to market the book to agents who accept digital portions. Thanks to leads provided by author Wendy L. Callahan, I have a plentiful list of above-board agents available at AAR, or The Association of Authors’ Representatives. The process is begun.

New Mothers: Is this how you Feel?

Having birthed a book, I love it so. It rests on Amazon’s e-shelves, fully formed, as prenatally prepared as I could muster as a man. I assume it is healthy, but I worry. And shall I always?

Already consigned to public review, my babe has been pulled from me–for my rest–to be viewed in the maternity ward. I want passers-by to notice my child, my child, and not any other. But the baby’s a baby to anyone else. Do they know its potential, its heroic destiny knit from my womb?

Consign it to eternity and let man and God be its judge. Yet I will always love it for being with me for so long, swimming, enlarging, kicking, and birthing.

Were you worth the pain, sweet book? Yes; I love you no matter what this fallen world may do with you.

(Look at the little darling: isn't it cute?)

Born 10/04/2012 to Todd Ehlers

Much appreciated post: “How Truth Works (and How it Fails) in Fiction,” in three parts

From the blog the living notebook

How Truth Works (and How it Fails) in Fiction, Part I. An excellent treatise on the traits of realism and its uncomfortable symbiosis to creative writing.

Fiction writers will recognize the tension between the autobiographical (disguised as fiction) and the imaginative creativity to entertain a reader.


What may have been the toughest problem I had with this story was how to thread traditional values through so much mire and daunting material. It came up over and again, and yet, perhaps nodding towards my literary hero Theodore Dreiser, I realized I had to stick to the truth as I knew it, as I’ve known it, and where I knew it would have to go.

Curtesy http://sistercarrieclareowens.wordpress.com/

Theodore Dreiser