Ghosts, Ghoulies, and Story-Telling in the Night

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I had the good fortune this past Tuesday to have been asked by one of my First-Year Writing students at Lehigh University to tell ghost-stories at an event at a student dormitory. This young lady is a Gryphon, or Resident Advisor, and she organized an evening of food and scary stories for her charges. I usually tell ghost stories in my classes around Halloween, so I welcomed the opportunity.

I arrived at the appointed time, and we began at 6 P.M. The event was held in a common’s area, and approximately 50-60 students attended. I also have to say that my student, the Gryphon, did an excellent job with the organization of the occasion.

In addition to teaching and writing, I also love story-telling and have begun recently to consider building this highly enjoyable activity into a small business. That is still to be determined, but this evening went very well.

I began with a reading of the first chapter of my novel Maledicus: Investigative Paranormal Socity Book I. It is the horror novel, which I have mentioned before in my posts. I was curious to see how a group of college aged young people would respond to it, because the protagonists are in their late sixties, around their grandparents’ ages. They all seemed to enjoy it and gave positive feedback.

I then moved on to telling some of the ghost stories I have collected both from my family and from my personal experience. Unlike what many would expect of such tales, these were, on the whole, about friendly ghosts. The one that was the most effective was about a visitation from my deceased father both to my nephew, with whom he was very close and to me, while riding as a passenger in a car. Both happened within about 5-10 minutes of each other. The students looked engaged.

I ended with a ghost story I had written to take place immediately next to their dormitory. I had about two hours between my last class and this event, so sitting outside of Drown Hall (yes, that is the name of the English Department Building at Lehigh University), I wrote “The Mountain Man and the Hill” about a man in the 1700s before the University existed who vanished just outside their dorm. Now, I did make a mistake after reading this story to them. I admitted I had written it instead of maintaining the tale was true. Some of the students had believed it completely. I should have maintained a level of ambiguity about it.

I had a wonderful time, and I am grateful to my student and all those in attendance for the opportunity to tell ghost stories!

I anticipate being able to use these stories in the future to hold such events again.

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Making Progress

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I am moving along faster than I expected on my work on the second draft of my post-apocalyptic novel. I am now almost two-thirds of the way through this revision, which has been full of cutting, changing, revising, and writing new chapters. I am excited, though, about the movement of the story.

I believe that I have the through line of the narrative established, at least in my mind, if not yet fully developed on paper. I hope that I am using a logical sequence of events, working primarily on the classical paradigm of story-telling, with exposition, character development, many complications, climax and resolution. I keep thinking of the Mark Twain quotation, “Put your characters up a tree, and throw stones at them.” I believe this has been used by many writers, but the earliest attribution I have heard was from Twain.

It sounds so basic when I say it like that. Of course, it is definitely neither easy nor is it simple. I have been struggling with trying to make sure that I am showing the characters as I see them, so that the readers will also be able to form an image of them, at least resembling what I intend them to be.

I also want to be sure that the characters, none of them, are one-dimensional. I am trying to create fully realized, well-rounded characters with depth and true emotional quality, although I suppose I will only know if I have succeeded when others read it and give feedback to me. I hope to have a few people read it when I complete this draft later this year.

If I continue my present rate of revision, I might have this draft complete towards the end of November. If so, I will give it to readers then and move on to another project, probably the academic book on an Irish playwright. More on that to come later.

Happy revising!

Reading List

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I had the good fortune this week of delivering a talk at the Muhlenberg College Board of Associates Meeting on the topic of Great Books.  I spoke with the audience for about 20-25 minutes about what I consider to be great books and why they matter. The main argument I made about the importance of books is that they connect us as people.  I am an unreserved humanist; I believe that human beings have the power to improve themselves, that education is crucial to develop of an informed  society, and that books allow readers to experience the worlds of others.

The audience was one of professionals from many fields but very few English Literature majors; however, their interest in reading and books was heartening for me.  They wanted to hear suggestions about what books I would recommend.

In my classes, I sometimes do something I call — Chuck’s recommended readings.  I ask the students to write the title and author and then tell them that what they do with that information is entirely up to them.  Since several of the attendees of this talk asked for further suggestions, I decided to put together a list, very abbreviated I admit, of books I would recommend.  Some of them I consider among the best and most important books ever written, and some I simply found to be wonderful and entertaining.

Now, the list:

Doc Chuck’s Recommended Readings
Agee, James and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits.

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451.

Brown, Larry. Fay.

Cervantes, Miguel De. Don Quixote.

Delaney, Frank. Ireland.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities.

Doyle, Roddy. A Star Called Henry.

Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose.

Gaiman, Neil. American Gods.

Grass, Günter. The Tin Drum.

Helprin, Mark. A Soldier of the Great War.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . The Pacific and Other Stories.

Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom The Bell Tolls.

Homer. The Iliad.

. . . . . . . The Odyssey.

King, Stephen. Hearts In Atlantis.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . The Stand.

Lee, Harper.  To Kill A Mockingbird.

Poe, Edgar Allan.  Complete Works.

Rice, Anne. Interview With the Vampire.

Rowling, J. K. The entire Harry Potter series.

Shakespeare, William. The Collected Works.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Zafon, Carlos Ruiz. The Shadow of the Wind.

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief.

I am certain there are many books I have forgotten to mention.  This is neither intended to be all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be authoritarian.  I hope that someone may find a book or books from this list, read them, and enjoy them.

Happy reading!bookshelvesmagic

Revision, Revision, Revision!

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When I teach my First Year Writing English classes, one of the points that I emphasize heavily is the need for writers to revise their work. Many beginning college students assume that writing should appear magically finished and correct after the first draft, an assumption that I attempt to dispel quickly. I speak of how the word itself—revise—mean “to re-see, to re-imagine, and then to act on that re-viewing of the draft.” Included in their revision process is the use of peer evaluation of their drafts, in which they read and respond to each other’s work under my guidance. I have to say how proud they make me as a teacher, because most students take this work seriously and improve their writing as a result. With my first year students, I generally have them do 3-4 drafts of each paper before submitting it for a grade.

I thought of this process as I worked on the second draft of my future history novel, and I realized the enormity of work ahead. Like my students, as I read and considered the first draft of this novel, I recognized so many points that need to be evaluated and rewritten.

The first major task I had to complete was ordering the chapters into the proper sequence, which was especially challenging because I always draft all my writing by hand on legal pads. This first draft was a pile of tablets sitting next to my desk.

Then I started to examine each chapter to decide if it was needed or not. Some would be cut and some would stay. Then, I began the actual act of rewriting those remaining chapters, using the assumption that everything can be redone and improved. As I worked on this revision, I realized that there were also missing pieces, so I constantly noted where I needed to develop sections and where new chapters should be included.

At this point, I am approximately one third of the way through the second draft of this novel. I hope that I can complete it, the 2nd draft, by the end of this year. Then I will put it aside for a few weeks before reading it again and beginning work on the 3rd draft. At this point, I then ask several trusted people to read the text and give me unflinching critiques, an absolutely crucial part of the process.

In my academic side of writing, I am currently gathering material for an idea that is still in the very beginning stages as well as beginning work on an academic book that I will base on part of my Ph.D. dissertation. I will speak of this more during a later post.