Thursday, December 10, 2009

Around the Internet

Happy holidays! A quick post to keep us aware of the Internet is trying to tell us:

My colleagues and friends over at Jacksonville University's writing blog had a great and quick post about using sources in college papers. The summary:

1. Books written by a subject's expert
2. Newspaper articles
3. Online references from credible databases
Don't use:
1. Wiki-pedia
Hopefully, most collegiate writers know this already. Although, I think it's worth noting that blogs have become increasingly credible sources -- assuming the author is well-known or considered an authority.

Also, continuing a theme I've espoused here and here, I would like to point out a recent interview on the Writer's Digest website. The article, which interviews acclaimed author Mitch Albom (Tuesdays With Morrie), focuses around the idea of story-telling. Here's perhaps the best part:
Albom claims [writing successfully across genres] takes just one skill: storytelling. “I always tell people I learned to be a writer at the kitchen table,” he says. “We had a big family. You got to tell a story for about two seconds, and if you were boring, someone else just started talking right over you.” This ability to interest others in his characters—fictional or real—is central to every word he writes.
What's interesting about Albom is how he not only writes memoirs -- which naturally allow for story-telling -- but he also writes novels, screen adaptations, and has "maintained an active sportswriting career." That's a pretty impressive feet.

-Bradley Woodrum

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Perfect Punctuation: The Incredible Indelible Dash

Punctuation, for many — many — writers, represents a reprehensible beast, a monster with which grade school teachers tortured us, an entity of pure enmity — a featureless creature of ambiguous utility. Why do we need to learn this — asked we — Can't people still understand it without that comma?

If this is you, then behold: the em dash — the great weapon of Emily Dickinson's (right) affection, the very needle-tool of James Joyce's yarn spool!

Em dashes — which are the width of the letter 'm' and not found on your keyboard — "are used to set off or emphasize the content enclosed within dashes or the content that follows a dash," according to Purdue's excellent OWL site. In this definition, note carefully the uncertain term "to set off." This definition rightly implies that the dash — our mysterious friend — is capable of many things:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Telling Stories, Part 2

The Scientific Assignment

Some worry their paper is inappropriate for story-telling; perhaps their professor doesn't want to see "I" or "we." Well, in my opinion, that simply affects the degree of story telling. Consider (the aforementioned) Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded, among others. He writes about economics -- one of the most dreaded subjects of all students and bookworms alike -- yet his books are bestsellers and easy reads. How does he do that? Well, great researching, for one, but also, he tells stories. He doesn't just inform me: "America is capable of innovating in high tech, green industries." No, he tells me the story of a plant in Pennsylvania that has just built a super-efficient train engine. He quotes some workers, he describes (briefly) the little town they call home -- and, in doing so, he shows me that, indeed, America is capable of innovating in high tech, green industries.

Of course, in papers presenting research and/or recent findings in a scientific field, story-telling plays a much smaller role. It must give homage to statistical evidence and quantitative results. However, the explaining of these findings -- the claims or conclusions -- requires story telling.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Telling Stories, Part 1

The Common Assignment

What is the secret to writing well? The answer is simple. Tell stories.
From academia to poetry, from Economics 440 to English 101, from Thomas Friedman to Mark Twain, the key to writing well -- the key to making an audience care about the words written -- is telling stories. Don't tell me something was this or is that! Tell me about someone who lived like this or about a people who fought for that!

Every couple of weeks, a great story-teller comes to the Writing Center for help. They don't realize they're great story-tellers, but they can't help it -- they simply are. Most people -- believe it or not -- are at least good story-tellers. They can decently describe their favorite movie; they can tell me why they left their previous job. When I ask them how their day has been, they might roll their eyes and snarl out a few details -- what an effective display! They're telling a story with more than just words! They make me feel their pain or their excitement quickly and efficiently!

Yet, when it comes to writing a paper for class, their ability to describe and narrate disappears like a baseball into the thick ivy of Wrigley Field. It happens to all of us, at times, when sitting in front of some boring assignment. Suddenly, our voices change into a cold, robotic droning. And our eyes! They glow a dull blue as the automaton inside us begins take over. Our skin morphing into metal, we inform the world in the most boring way about the topic at hand:

"These days, culture is very important," the us-robot beeps. "Culture is the tool with which people record their heritage and maintain their identity. Author X viewed her culture as an essential element in her personal development."

I don't know how others feel, but I -- honestly -- fell asleep twice while writing that excerpt! Imagine how professors feel as they read dozens of these papers in a row! Let's do them a favor -- and do our grades a favor! -- and tell stories!

"Culture is sweet tea resting in a sweating glass at the edge of the pool," a living me writes. "Culture is my whole family, dressed in blue, huddled around our glowing TV, watching football. Culture, to author X, was different food and different rituals than it is to me -- but to her and to me, it was and is home, and necessary."

In this non-robot version, notice how real that glass of tea seems -- how it maybe leads some to conclude I'm from the south -- and how it shows a real person behind the writing. In other words, I'm giving the reader more information and in a way so that the reader will remember it also!

Too often students don't think their lives can relate to the sometimes fantastic, sometimes terrible, lives of the authors they read. This perspective is, as scientists say, "hogwash." We must realize that our lives are interesting. The details we notice, the things the happen to us, and the things we do -- they are all unique to us! They all provide perspective and a frame within which we can understand these amazing or awe-inspiring authors. If I grew up in a small Florida town and never did anything spectacular, then I'm unique in that I never did anything spectacular! -- and unique in that I don't understand why people from New Jersey drink "wooder" instead of "water," and that I didn't know what a genuine fall season was like, and that people could get excited about soccer, so on.

The key, therefore, is realizing the relationship between oneself and the subject matter. If I must write about Plato, I will imagine my life applied to his creeds. If I must write about Asian cultures, I will compare my own routines and habits to theirs. If I must talk about language barriers, I will write about my most recent trip to McDonald's -- simple and basic stories unique to me make the work more appealing!

Up next: "Telling Stories in Scientific and Academic Writing"

-Bradley Woodrum

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thoughts on how to begin a paper

It is one of the most difficult parts about writing. I can imagine you sitting there, stunned, addled, and frowning frustratingly at the blinking line that seems to taunt your endeavor. The blank white nothingness presented in front of you seems exceedingly daunting as the deadline draws near. Eventually, you realize from your heavy eyelids that you have yet to get any sleep and the sun seems to be peeking above the horizon outside. It is difficult to just beginning a piece, be it creative or academic. Either way you seems to find themselves constricted by a lack of words, or thoughts, or a concrete thesis. But, you must not forget it is just the intro. Write anything! Leave yourself time to fiddle with your brain. Look at the white screen as an opportunity not a choir, "All that blank space to put whatever I have on my mind." I know what your thinking, and I do it too. You wait till the very last second that it is due to even begin to convey the thoughts you have on the topic. It may work for you, but you leave yourself no room for error. The more time you allow yourself to conjure ideas about the subject, the more likely it will be cohesive, precise, and fully developed. Give yourself the room to breathe easy. The best way to do so is to set yourself a strict schedule and see to it that you follow it verbatim--No slacking off me!

Again, just write anything down at first, let your brain work out the subject its way. That way you can get the muck, pointless material out of the way and be able to focus on the subject particularly. After a few pages of your opinions, experiences, or outside facts that you obtain you should be able to see a pattern. In the long run, after the horrid points are dismantled (don't feel bad, we all write nonsense sometimes), meaningless words removed, and unusually phrasings altered, you will be able to create a solid academic paper. Hurray! So give yourself time to get the crap out so within it the golden ideas will shine. Don't get stuck hating the blinking line, it has enough problems as it is.

-Mario Perez

Friday, November 6, 2009

Flash Fiction Contest Winner- Receives Prize

Dustin M. Flickinger (staff tutor) presents Tara Baldridge, Flash-Fiction Contest Winner, with one of her prizes, a gift card to Barnes and Noble. Check back soon for updates on when you can hear Tara on our Podcast and on WRBC, Roosevelt's Radio Station! Read her winning entry in the post below...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Flash Fiction Contest Winner!

Congratulations to Tara Baldridge, winner of the Writing Center's first Halloween Flash-Fiction contest. Tara is a Graduate student here at Roosevelt and is working on her MFA in Fiction. In addition to being published in this blog along with the 2nd and 3rd place pieces, she will read her story on Roosevelt's own WRBC radio station, her story will be part of our official podcast, and she'll receive a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble. Congratulations Tara! Now, on to her story... (the 2nd and 3rd place pieces follow)

Grand Prize Winner:

Collection Night
by Tara Baldridge

I sold my soul on a night like this. The night I found my brown-black mutt of a dog, Sarah. Rail thin and needy, her warm body leans heavily against my cracked leather boots as we sit tucked behind a row of ghoulish jack-o-lanterns. The leering eyes of the disfigured pumpkins hide us from the parade of tiny costumed children skipping merrily down the sidewalk. We make out the taller, leaner bodies of adults among them and study each form for the slightest recognition. I fantasize that we are protected by the pitch black of the porch and the worn out scarecrow thrown hastily on the concrete stairs. Sarah and I are satisfied that no one will make the turn into our walkway, unless they want more than candy.

At the edge of the silence, I hear the once inaudible ticks of the ancient grandfather clock. I am still surprised at how it grows louder as the years pass. For twenty years, it loomed at the top of the stairs without a sound and I was able to forget its presence. Another twenty and the soft sound of the intermittent ticks slithered along my eardrums like a whispered secret. Ten more and I was unable to ignore the witchcraft. Sarah watched as I ripped open the clock, spilled its mechanical entrails along the hallway. And, still, the sound echoed throughout the house. Now, even as it stands empty, the chipped mahogany yells its reminder of fate--a redline to Hades.

Moonlight hits the trees and cobwebs of mist hover among the leaning, leafless limbs. The night air is heavy with fog. It chokes the air and suffocates the wind, so that each sound, each movement, each childish scream is magnified without the background noise of a rustling breeze. I reach down and touch Sarah’s back. Through the long, matted hair, I feel the vibration of her throaty growl. When she sits up and walks toward the banister, we both look out at nothing. There is nothing there. But, Sarah throws her head back, opens her mouth in a long howl that reminds me of a werewolf. And, I imagine that when I am called to turn, she may become something else, something sinister. As quickly as she starts, she stops. The voice that comes through the new silence is ghastly, “Thomas...” it says, “time’s up.”

2nd Place
Alternative Lifestyles
By Margaret Schoenherr

Trick or Treat,” screamed three children as they traipsed past jack-o-lantern faced pumpkins towards the large oaken door. A young, trim woman appeared at the door in black cobweb-print tights, long black dress, and a redlined cape double-knotted at the throat -- a commercialized play at witchcraft.

He wrapped his hand around the steering wheel rubbing it between his thumb and forefinger.

“Oh aren’t you scary?” she mused, placing candy in the werewolf’s bag, “and look at this ghastly zombie. Nice entrails on your shirt there James.”

As the children scattered, he slithered his tongue over the coin in his mouth. It had been a lovely find hidden away in his grandfather’s clock. On the front was pictured Aphrodite, goddess of lust and beauty, while the reverse bore the image of Hades, god of the underworld. He liked the way the dirty silver tasted as it clicked against the back of his teeth.

Placing the coin in his pocket, he lifted the empty delivery box from the passenger seat of the van.

He thought she looked a little like a scarecrow gyrating beneath him as she fought for breath, her skin turning a little bluer with the escape of each raspy choking noise. As he walked out, he laughed absently at a joke he had once heard about the scarecrow needing a brain, the tinman a heart, and Dorothy a basement.

“I’m home,” he called up the beige carpeted staircase as his wife came around the corner in a seductive angel costume. As they made love, he fanaticized about cobweb print tights and wondered if his wife would outlive him.

3rd Place
The Witching Hour
by Keryn Stewart

“It’s like witchcraft” Marah told me as the grandfather clock struck thirteen. “It only does it in October too.”
I had never been in her house before but I already wanted to head back home; I was just afraid she’d tell everyone at school I was a scarecrow, but I had fantasized for too long about those blood red lips to give up on my chance. Anyway, if I left now I would have to walk though her garden again, and it was so full of spiders and over grown plants that I didn’t think I could make it alone. So, I plucked a stray cobweb out of my hair, choked back my fear, and slithered closer to her on the couch.
“It’s kind of spooky, are you scared?” I reached for her hand but she pulled away from me and laughed.
“Oh no, my uncle is a werewolf, I love this time of year. The Jack-O-Lanterns smiling, the entrails and egg soup my mom makes, and of course the pumpkin pie!”
I shuddered. No girl, no matter how cute and mysterious is worth entrails and egg soup I decided as I bit back a scream.
“What about your family?” She asked, “Do you have any fun traditions?”
“We don’t celebrated Halloween,” I blurted out before I could stop myself. She must have thought that I was an idiot.
“That’s terrible!” Marah replied before inching closer and whispering, “Do you want to go to the graveyard and look for the door to Hades? It’s my favorite game to play on All Hallow’s Eve.”
I swallowed hard. For the first time I saw her ghastly smile for what it was as she leaned closer to me. Her skin was stretched tight over her face and her eyes looked like they had sunk into her head.
“What are you?” I asked as she wrapped her hand around my arm and pressed her lips to mine. Last week I would have told you that Marah might have been a bit strange, but she was the hottest girl I knew, but now tasting her cold lips as I stared into her crimson eyes I was regretting the short trip on the redline which brought me here.
“It’s like witchcraft,” she whispered pressing her lips to mine, and I think she was right.

We had tons of amazing entries and selecting a winner was very difficult. Thanks to all who participated and make sure to check back here for details about when and where you can hear Tara read her piece! Don't forget to stop by the Writing Center in AUD 650 for help on all your writing assignments, spooky or otherwise.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Flash-Fiction Contest!

The Writing Center is holding its first Flash-Fiction Contest!

Each entry must not exceed 400 words. No poetry or nonfiction will be accepted. Only current Roosevelt students and RU Community members may submit their work. Each entry must contain ALL of the following words: (you may use any form/tense)

Grandfather Clock

How to Submit: Bring in a copy of your story to AUD 650 or email it as a “.doc” file to The subject line should read: Flash-Fiction Submission.

Prizes: The winning story will be recorded as a Writing Center Podcast, it will be published on the Writing Center Blog, and you’ll have a chance to read it live on Roosevelt’s WRBC radio station. Additionally, the winner will receive a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble.

Deadline: Monday, October 26, 2009

Winner Announced: Thursday, October 29, 2009