Monthly Archives: December 2011

Writing Ideas

I think I come up with ideas for writing and short stories in the strangest ways. More often then not, I’ll be doing some mundane chore, like washing the dishes, and suddenly I’ll get my “story face,” and then my siblings and my parents know not to bother me because I’ll be shut away in my room with my notebook and computer. I usually free write a story idea by hand in my notebook and then if I like it enough, I’ll type it out.

When I’m at school, there’s a long driveway I have to walk up and down to get to and from the stables after my horseback riding class. I got my most recent story idea while I was walking back to my dorm near the end of the semester. I got another idea just this afternoon when I was walking my cocker spaniel on this frozen-over field at the end of my street. The outer suburbs of Philadelphia is probably the best place to live and write. We have very intense seasonal changes, extremely cold winters, extremely hot summers, and snow. I love the winter and fall months because of how colorful it gets and how the people look.

My college offers a creative writing grant that I’m planning to take advantage of this summer, where I could go anywhere I want to and write. It’s a way of immersing oneself into the setting and culture of stories. I really would like to travel to the West Coast, probably Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, or Idaho and stay on a dude ranch to write about life in the mountain country and horse people. Or maybe if I want to do something cheaper I’ll go to Port Carbon, a small old coal country in central Pennsylvania to stay with my grandparents and write about life and setting there. My grandparents have lived in the same house for almost sixty years and have all kinds of stories they can tell me about that I could fictionalize. I’m very excited to gather more information about my writing ideas and see what I can do with my creative writing major.


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“Do you want to be a writer, or not?” SEMINAR on Broadway

So my parents tell me they never know what to get me for Christmas and this year was apparently the most difficult. I was intending to see the play “Seminar” with some friends earlier in the year, but the plan went awry when some stuff was planned out of sync. Well, apparently my mom liked the idea of me going to see a play and looked into it. She found it interesting and bought us two tickets to see  it the day after Christmas and gave me the ticket for Christmas. I was shocked but happy she got them. So, now for a review of “Seminar.”

I was a theatre person at one time, but that has since come and gone. I feel like every little kid wants to be an actor at some point in life. I tried out some theatre classes for kids when I was in elementary school, but quickly found I sucked at acting, which is okay with me. Anyway, I’m not really into theatre anymore, but “Seminar” is about writing seminars, which I have taken many of and can definitely sit down for a laugh about.

In the play, Alan Rickman plays Leonard, a fiction writing professor who charges $5,000 for students to take his once-a-week writing seminar, and lives to trash his student’s writing. Though his comments are rude and seem to be illegal to say in a classroom setting, he offers the students an incredible lesson on the inside. The character reminded me very much of the Crazy Writer from Hell, my high school creative writing teacher, who did trash students work, but had so much more to offer students if they just took the time to listen to her. That is exactly what happens with Leonard and his students in the play. Once the students finally set aside their dislike for Leonard, they open a variety of writing opportunities for themselves. One finally writes a new piece. One finally shows thousands of pages he’s been hiding in his writing desk. One exhibits his skills as a talented writer nobody knew about. They also have to cope with their differences as people and sort out their own personal dramas to achieve what they want most: to be good writers.

My favorite part about the play was that the air about the characters was consistently snappy and sometimes even hostile, especially when Leonard was in the scene, but they all came to appreciate Leonard and each other in the end. Although they never admit it, they all appreciate Leonard in the end. If you ask me, “Seminar” isn’t just about writing; it’s a comedic portrayal of life’s hardships and  what you have to do to get through them, from taking shit to opening up to your peers. I highly recommend anyone, writer or non-writer, to see Alan Rickman in “Seminar.”


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Letter from Christopher Paolini: “What is your favorite book of all time?”

In my sophomore year of high school, I had an assignment to write to a famous person and ask them if there was a book they read in their childhood that they particularly enjoyed. I chose Christopher Paolini because he was my favorite author at the time, and why would an author not respond to something like that?

Here is his letter.

November 12, 2007

Dear Megan,

One of my favorite books is “Dune,” by Frank Herbert: In an ancient galactic empire, people warp space and time with the help of spice. Battles, prophecy, giant sand worms, and fearsome villains clash between it’s covers. It’s one of the greatest adventure/hero/coming-of-age epics and the only book I’ve read more then five times…although “Ender’s Game,” by Orson Scott Card, and “A Wizard of Earthsea,” by Ursula K. LeGuin, are close seconds. You should read those too. And after that, “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madelein L’Engle; then “Magician,” by Raymond E. Feist; then “Hatchet,” by Gary Paulson; then “Mossflower,” by Brian Jacques; and then…why stop? Keep going!

May your swords stay sharp!

Christopher Paolini, Author of “Eragon” and “Eldest”

Of all the books he mentioned, I like “Hatchet” and “Mossflower” very much. “Mossflower,” now that I think about it, might be my favorite fantasy novel of all time, because it has animals, not humans. I tried to read “Dune,” but found it excruciatingly boring, so boring that I don’t even know what it was about. He sums it up pretty well, but the opening scene is like “WTF?” Maybe sometime I’ll try it again. Hopefully, becoming an English teacher will mean my swords have stayed sharp by his standards. That might be the best fantasy-nerd line ever written. He also mailed me a picture of himself reading “Dune” (scared you for a minute there, huh?) and a drawing of a decorated sword with my name on the blade. Real smooth, Prince Charming.


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Christopher Paolini: Back on the Shelves

I’ve always liked the fantasy genre of fiction and I’ve always enjoyed Christopher Paolini’s “Inheritance” series. I’ve had the pleasure of personally meeting Christopher as well as contacting him through his publishing agency. He’s a very funny and loyal guy, and even a little flirty at times.

First, a little history. Christopher Paolini wrote the first draft of “Eragon” when he was fifteen years old. His family read it and liked it, and they agreed to self-publish it for him. After five years, the book was on the shelves, and Christopher was already working on the second book, “Eldest” which I attended a book release speech and party for at the Free Library of Philadelphia in the summer of 2006, which is where I met him for the first time. I waited in the book signing line for about two hours, and finally his security guard (I want a security guard when I write a best-seller!) handed him my book. He saw the post-it with my name on it and said, “Megan…that’s such a beautiful name! May I use it in a book?” After I felt my face cool down a little, I gave him my permission, although frankly I haven’t seen my name in any of his books. He told me to have a wonderful night and I was swept away by the crowd. Though a small conversation, it was very meaningful to a young fan.

Anyone else who’s an “Eragon” fan probably felt the same way I did when word got out about “Inheritance,” the fourth book in the series following brave Dragon Rider Eragon and his dragon, Saphira. I felt like the buzz for the book died out because Christopher took too long to write this book. Being a fiction writing student, I have some sympathy for him, as I know how difficult it is to write fiction. But as a fan, I’m quite angered with him for making me wait.

I pre-ordered “Inheritance” as an Ebook on my first generation Nook from Barnes & Noble. I know, first generation right? Sooo outdated. Whatever, I love my half- touch- screen little E-Reader friend. It’s better than that joke the Kindle. (A keyboard? Really? This is the 21st century!)

Back to Christopher, my Ebook downloaded to my Nook automatically the day it was released. I just opened it (because I lost my Nook charger) and was happy to see that a synopsis of “Eragon,” “Eldest,” and “Brisingr,” the first three in the series, was present. I think this is Christopher’s little way of showing us that he’s sincerely sorry he took so long to write this book, and was so preoccupied with his life as a kid in his early-middle twenties. In case any fan forgot, “brisingr” is the first magic term Eragon learns from Brom, and it means “fire.”

In a separate post, I will talk about the second time I contacted Christopher through his publishing agency, Random House Publishing. I will say his agent wasn’t thrilled with a sixteen-year-old trying to contact him, while he was in the middle of writing “Brisingr.”

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Old Time Entertainment: “My Favorite Husband”

As I said in introducing my blog, I really like classic forms of entertainment, especially from the 1900’s. One aspect of old time entertainment I think should be brought back is old time radio. Yes. That’s right. Radio. Before it was all about the latest music and advertising and talk shows, there were actual shows, just like TV shows, broadcasted on the radio. Talented writers wrote scripts and created characters for these performances, and some very well known actors and actresses voiced these characters.

Thanks to the beauty of the Internet, I came across, almost accidentally, an old time radio comedy show entitled “My Favorite Husband,” which aired from 1948-1951. I listened to one episode and quickly fell in love with the series. The show served as a pioneer series for the beloved TV show, “I Love Lucy,” with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The main character in “My Favorite Husband,’ Liz Cooper, is voiced by Lucille Ball with co-star Richard Denning, as her husband, George Cooper. Other voice actors featured on the show are Gale Gordon, Bea Benaderet, Ruth Perrott, Frank Nelson, and Eleanor Audley, among others. The show lets the audience listen to the hardships and situations that arise in life and marriage among these two, from Liz’s sensitivity and overall wackiness,to George’s working-man, headstrong seriousness. The show itself, when introduced on the air, is described as “two people who live together, and like it.” If anything, “My Favorite Husband” shows us all what it means to embrace your fun side, surround yourself with the people you care about, and life is really just one big laugh.

Lucy, who’s 100th birthday was this year, in early August, without a doubt, is beloved by many people born in the middle to late 1900’s, even some children born in the 90’s (such as myself) have enjoyed Lucy’s comedic acting skills. Her death on April 26, 1989, was a tragedy to people worldwide. A news reporter even filmed a man getting out of his car in the middle of the road just to touch Lucy’s star in the pavement in Hollywood. In “My Favorite Husband,” she does a fabulous job of depending on her voice to give us her signature funny personality that she and her character share.

Final words, “My Favorite Husband” was the beginning of what would lead the world to love Lucy. DVD’s of “I Love Lucy” have some selected episodes of “My Favorite Husband” on them, and they can also be heard as MP3’s on and, as well as Youtube.

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Learning with Renee

The first time I taught was at a literacy council in Chester, PA. This organization was geared towards adults who were illiterate, could not speak English, disabled, or wanted to start over. One of my classmates’ mothers was a chairperson in this organization, and she told me that once I turned 18, I could volunteer as a literacy teacher for an illiterate adult. Obviously, I was ecstatic. 18 years old and I could get my first shot at teaching? It sounded too good to be true.

When my 18th birthday came and went, I called the woman who ran the organization, informing her that I was a high school senior who wanted to be a teacher in their Adult Basic Education program. She said she was delighted that someone so young wanted to help out, and gave me the date and time for the mandatory 10 hours of training I would need to complete to be certified in ABE. I thanked her, hung up the phone, and jumped in my car to do a dry run to the location of training so I’d know exactly where to go.

Literacy training was eye opening. When I entered the room where my session was, I saw about 15 people sitting at the tables. The average age of the group was about 65. They probably thought I was someone’s grandchild they were forced to bring! I sheepishly slipped inside and found a folder with my name on it, and took a seat next to a kind looking man with thin grey hair and thick wire glasses, who spoke with a creak in his voice. His name was Andrew, and he had just retired the past year from his job of 42 years as a banker. We worked together in role-playing teacher and student to learn the methods of teaching adults.

At the close of the last day of training, I watched my classmates get packets of information on their students and textbooks they would need to work with them. Instead of a packet, I got a piece of paper that simply stated that I had successfully completed training. I asked them why this was, and they told me that I could not commit to six months of teaching because  had to go away to college. Therefore, I couldn’t be matched with a student.

I thought my one chance to try teaching was foiled, but then I got a call the next day from a woman named Gwen, who was a GED English teacher at the council. She told me she heard about my situation, and she wanted to give me a chance to teach. She had a GED student named Renee, a 26 year old woman who was developmentally disabled, and never attended high school. Gwen proceeded to ask me, would I be interested in teaching her one on one? I almost screamed “YES!”

I walked into the council the next week and the volunteer coordinator led me into a classroom to introduce me to Renee. She was a tall, skinny, African-American girl (she looked much younger than 26), with short frizzy hair and large dark welts and scars on her face. It looked like she’d been in a fire. But she smiled hugely, showing me big white crooked teeth, and kindly asked me if I was her new teacher. I told her yes, almost teary with joy, and she came forward and hugged me. She smelled like old coffee and cigarettes, but I didn’t mind. I had my student.

For four months, I worked with Renee, helping her with comprehension, definitions, spelling, and learning new words. It was tiring work to try to teach someone who really should have learned all of this twenty years ago. But I kept good patience and didn’t rush her. There were days when she wouldn’t have single answer correct on her homework, and I would spend our entire lesson going over it with her. There were times when she had every answer correct and we would fly through the next exercise. There was one time where she told me she wanted to write a letter to her brother, who lived in New York. She was worried he would see that she couldn’t spell, and think she hadn’t gone back to school. I told her we could meet up at a special time and write the letter together, so he would see that she had made improvement in her literacy skills, which she most definitely had.

There’s nothing more gratifying then when you know your student is benefitting from you. I haven’t seen Renee since then, but I’m hoping to return to apply my new knowledge in the field of teaching, and see my first student again.

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The Crazy Writer from Hell

So I’m sure people wonder what drives us writers ot be writers and teachers to be teachers. Well, it all starts with a role model. My writing role model and my teaching role model are two different people.

The first day of my creative writing class, which I took in my senior year of high school, only because I couldn’t get it before then, I met a woman who looked to be a sweet old lady, but was treated to a rude awakening when I gave her my first piece of writing. It was a sonnet that I wrote in about 45 minutes. I handed it to her, sweating bullets, as I’d been warned by others that this teacher was cruel toward students’ work and lived to torment and  belittle any budding author. She looked at the poem for a second, and then ripped it up, right in front of me.

I was devastated. I almost refused to go to class the next day. But I decided that a cranky old writing teacher wasn’t going to ruin my love of the subject. So, I came back the next day, walked up to her in the beginning of class, and told her she could rip up everything I gave her, but I was going to stay and learn to write whether she liked it or not. I put on my best face of resistance and waited for her to come at me with a rude remark, but instead she smiled kindly, and said “That’s the kind of motivation I’m looking for.”

From that moment on, I worked intensely for her and showed her everything I wrote, good or bad. She would flat out tell me that she hated a piece, or that she liked it, and ultimately what she thought I was best at writing. I told her I always wanted to write tragedies and dystopian pieces, as I like tragic literature and depressing stories. She told me I should write comedy. I have written mostly comical pieces up to now, but hopefully over the years I’ll become skilled enough in storytelling that I can write a dark tragic story.

When I graduated, she made me a bracelet out of rolled paper beads she had bought from Africa. I still almost never take that thing off. I feel my writing is best when I wear it, I keep the essence of the Crazy Writer from Hell on my right hand at all times. I also wear it whenever I’m student teaching, my hope that a student will ask me about it, and then I can tell them about the amazing teacher who made me cry the first time I met her. People are full of surprises.


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