June 27:  Short Story Day

One of the most iconic and most anthologized short stories ever written is set on this day.  The story is Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”

The date is established in the story’s opening line:

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.

ShirleyJack.jpgWhile the story’s opening sentence paints a calm, serene picture, the events of the story soon turn dark and even horrifying as the reader discovers why the residents of an unidentified small American village have gathered.  In an annual rite, the villagers draw lots to determine which one of them will be stoned to death.

Soon after the story was published in the June 26, 1948 edition of the New Yorker, a deluge of letters arrived expressing the shock and bewilderment of its readers.  In fact, “The Lottery” sparked more letters to the New Yorker than any work of fiction it ever published.  Some of the readers were critical — including some who cancelled their subscriptions — but most were simply confused by the story, wanting an explanation of its meaning (1).

On July 22, 1948, nearly one month after the story’s publication, Jackson wrote to the San Francisco Chronicle, giving a brief explanation of the story’s meaning:

Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives (2).

The day and month of the story’s setting are noteworthy.  June 27th has significance dating back to the Roman calendar as the first day of summer.  It was known as Initium Aestatis or the Feast of Aestas, the Roman Goddess of summer (3).  

But perhaps more noteworthy in determining the meaning of “The Lottery” is the year of its publication:  1948.  In her take on the meaning of the story, Ruth Franklin, biographer of Shirley Jackson, explains why it makes sense that a story like this would emerge three years after one of history’s darkest and most brutal wars — World War II:

[“The Lottery”] anticipates the way we would come to understand the twentieth century’s unique lessons about the capacity of ordinary citizens to do evil—from the Nazi camp bureaucracy, to the Communist societies that depended on the betrayal of neighbor by neighbor and the experiments by the psychologists Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo demonstrating how little is required to induce strangers to turn against each other. In 1948, with the fresh horrors of the Second World War barely receding into memory and the Red Scare just beginning, it is no wonder that the story’s first readers reacted so vehemently to this ugly glimpse of their own faces in the mirror, even if they did not realize exactly what they were looking at (4).

Today’s Challenge:  Short Story Almanac
If you were to write a short story that takes place on a specific day and month, what would it be and why?  Write the opening paragraph of a short story that takes place on a specific day and month.  (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  I frankly confess to being completely baffled by Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery.’ Will you please send us a brief explanation before my husband and I scratch right through our scalps trying to fathom it?  –Miriam Friend in a letter to the editor of The New Yorker.

 

1- http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-lottery-letters

2-http://northbennington.org/jackson.html

3-http://www.thaliatook.com/OGOD/aestas.html

4-http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-lottery-letters

June 26:  Personal Pronoun Day

On this date in 1963, John Lennon and Paul McCartney began composing the song “She Loves You.”  They began on their tour bus, continued work in their hotel room in Newcastle, and finished the following day at the home of Paul’s father in Liverpool.

First US release (Swan 4152)When they finished the song, John and Paul played it for Paul’s father Jim McCartney.  His response was:  “That’s very nice son, but there’s enough of these Americanisms around. Couldn’t you sing ‘She loves you, yes, yes, yes!’?”  (1).

In his biography of Paul McCartney entitled Many Years From Now, Barry Miles quotes Paul, discussing the song’s grammar:

“It was again a she, you, me, I, personal preposition song. I suppose the most interesting thing about it was that it was a message song, it was someone bringing a message. It wasn’t us any more, it was moving off the ‘I love you, girl’ or ‘Love me do’, it was a third person, which was a shift away. ‘I saw her, and she said to me, to tell you, that she loves you, so there’s a little distance we managed to put in it which was quite interesting.”

Of course, Paul should have said personal pronoun, not preposition.

For more on the Beatles and pronouns, check out the following article:  I Me Mine:  The Beatles and Their Pronouns.

When it comes to rock songs and pronouns, who can forget the Grammar Rock Pronoun song?  It tells just about everything you need to know about pronouns and why we use them:

Today’s Challenge:  Grammar Rock
What are some examples of your favorite songs that have pronouns in their titles?  Create a list of your top 5 favorite songs with pronouns in their titles.  Include the artist and a brief explanation of why you like the song.  If you are a Beatles fan you might list the following examples:  “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I, Me, Mine,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.  –Lyrics from I Am the Walrus

Sources:

1 – http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/she-loves-you/

 

June 20:  Hot and Cold Running Idioms Day

Today is the anniversary of an important date in the history of communications. On this date in 1963 in Geneva, Switzerland, the United States and the Soviet Union signed what was called the “Hot Line Agreement,” which established a direct communication link between the two superpowers.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, it became abundantly clear that without prompt, direct communication between the heads of state in the East and the West, tragic miscommunication leading to nuclear war might result. During the 1962 exercise in brinkmanship, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev were forced to use intermediaries in their communications.

The Hot Line Agreement was the first bilateral agreement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and the first step in recognizing that cooler heads should prevail when it comes to the Cold War maneuvering of the nuclear powers (1).

It was the Soviet Union that first proposed the hotline in 1954. The word hot line first appeared in print in 1955, and the word brinkmanship, meaning the art of advancing to the very brink of war but not engaging in it, first appeared in 1956 (2).

Probably the most famous demonstration of the red phone comes to us via Hollywood rather than the history books. In the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, President Merkin Muffley, played by Peter Sellers, struggles to tell Soviet Premier Kissoff that an insane American general has ordered a nuclear bombing mission on Russia.

President Merkin Muffley: . . . Now then, Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb… The Bomb, Dmitri… The hydrogen bomb!… Well now, what happened is… ah… one of our base commanders, he had a sort of… well, he went a little funny in the head… you know… just a little… funny. And, ah… he went and did a silly thing… Well, I’ll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes… to attack your country… Ah… Well, let me finish, Dmitri… Let me finish, Dmitri… Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?… Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dmitri?… Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello?… Of course I like to speak to you!… Of course I like to say hello!… Not now, but anytime, Dmitri. I’m just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened… It’s a friendly call. Of course it’s a friendly call… Listen, if it wasn’t friendly… you probably wouldn’t have even got it . . . .

Today’s Challenge: Hot ‘N’ Cold
Below are descriptions of expressions that contain either the word hot or cold. Given the number of words in each expression along with a description, see if you can name the phrase:

  1. Four words: Newly printed; sensational and exciting.
  2. Two words: Immediate, complete withdrawal from something, especially an addictive substance.
  3. Two words: Trouble or difficulty.
  4. Two words: Retreat from an undertaking; lose one’s nerve.
  5. Two words: Deliberate disregard, slight, or snub.
  6. Four words: Extremely angry.
  7. Four words: In a position of extreme stress, as when subjected to harsh criticism.
  8. Five words: To cause one to shiver from fright or horror.

What are more examples of common expression or idioms in English that feature the words “hot” or “cold”?  Use one of these expressions as a launching pad for an original composition.  Use the idiom as your title, and write at least 250 words. (Common Core Writing 2/3 Expository/Narrative)

Quote of the Day: Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything. -Billy Graham

Answers: 1. Hot off the presses 2. Cold turkey 3. Hot water 4. Cold feet 5. Cold shoulder 6. Hot under the collar 7. In the hot seat 8. Make one’s blood run cold.

1 – United States Department of State. Memorandum of Understanding Between The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communication Link

2- Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

3 – Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

June 19:  Create a Monster Day

Today marks the anniversary of one history’s most remarkable meeting of literary minds. On the night of June 19, 1816, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Byron’s doctor and travel companion Dr. John Polidori met in a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

Frankenstein 1818 edition title page.jpgInspired no doubt by the unseasonably stormy weather of that summer, caused by the eruption of Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, the group gathered to read aloud from a collection of German ghost stories, called The Fantasmagoriana. These stories inspired Lord Byron to challenge each person in the group to compose a ghost story (1).

One might guess that the two established poets Byron and Shelley would battle for first place in the contest; however, it was the two members of the party without literary reputation who rose to the challenge, each creating a monster that would change literature forever.

The English Doctor, John Polidori, wrote what has come to be called the first vampire tale, a short story called “The Vampyre,” published in 1819. Although his story is not widely read today, it predates other stories in the vampire genre and is seen as the inspiration of the masters of the form: Sheridan le Fanu, Edgar Allen Poe, and, of course, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula (2).

As far as the overall winner of the contest, based on the criteria of both influence and creativity, the award must go to Mary Shelley, whose contribution to the contest later became her novel Frankenstein (1818). In her introduction to Frankenstein, Mary credits a conversation between Byron and her husband, Shelley, as the inspiration for her story. She listened attentively as the two poets discussed Darwin’s discoveries and as they speculated about whether or not the secret of life could be found and whether or not a human corpse could be reanimated.

That evening the seeds of the poets’ conversation germinated in Mary’s mind, producing a vivid nightmare that gave her the story that would captivate readers and moviegoers for generations. In her introduction to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley describes what she saw in her nightmare:

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to make the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handiwork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade, that this thing which had received such imperfect animation would subside into dead matter, and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench forever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.

As a result of Byron’s challenge, on this one faithful day, two unique literary monsters were born.

Famous Monsters of Book Land

Long before Shelley and Polidori created their monsters, other monsters filled the pages of ancient myth. See if you can match up each monster below with its appropriate description. Then, challenge your family or a group of friends to create their own horror stories and monsters.

  1. Grendal
  2. Cyclopes
  3. Minotaur
  4. Cerberus
  5. Hydra
  6. Sphinx
  7. Harpies
  8. Medusa

A. The many-headed snake that Hercules defeated in one of his labors.

B. The monster that Beowulf fought and killed in the Old English epic.

C. The creature with a bull’s head and a man’s body that was confined in the Labyrinth until it was killed by Theseus.

D. The Gorgon who had snakes for hair and turned anyone who looked at her into stone. She was killed by Perseus.

E. The monster with the wings and claws of a vulture and the head and body of a woman.

F. The winged monster with a woman’s head and a lion’s body. It challenged travelers with a riddle and killed them when they failed to solve it. It killed itself when Oedipus finally solved its riddle.

G. The three-headed dog who guards the entrance to Hades.

H. The race of one-eyed giants who made thunderbolts for Zeus.

Today’s Challenge:  A Dark and Stormy Story
What would make a good setting for a horror story?  How might you create tension and suspense at the very beginning of a scary story?  Write the opening paragraph of a tale of horror.  Start your tale with a specific setting, and use the kind of specific description that creates a mood that is appropriate to a horror story.  For inspiration, read the first paragraph of a Stephen King story or novel. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: Everyone thinks I’m a horrible person, but I’m really not. In fact, I have the heart of a child, and I keep it in a jar on my desk. -Stephen King

Answer: 1. B 2. H 3. C 4. G 5. A 6. F 7. E 8. D

1 – Woodbridge, Kim. “The Summer of 1816.

2 – John Polidori & The Vampyre Byron

 

June 10:  Historical Anecdote Day

On this day in 323 BC an ancient king and an ancient philosopher died.

Alexander the Great mosaic.jpgThe king was Alexander the Great, the Macedonian general who conquered most of the ancient world.  As a youth, Alexander was tutored by the philosopher Aristotle, and his favorite author was Homer.  Legend says that he slept with a copy of the Iliad and a dagger under his pillow.  After earning his first military victory at the age 18, Alexander fought for the next 15 years with an undefeated record in battle.  When Alexander realized there were no more worlds to conquer, he wept.

The ancient philosopher was Diogenes the Cynic.  Diogenes believed in living a life free of conventions and constraints.  He eschewed possessions and famously made his home in a large discarded clay jar.  He once owned a wooden cup, but discarded one day when he witnessed a young boy using his cupped bare hands to drink water.  Diogenes was known to walk through the marketplace in the middle of the day carrying a lighted lamp.  When asked why he carried the lamp and inspected the faces of those he met, Diogenes answered, “I am trying to find a man.”

Although these two men died in separate parts of the world — Alexander in Babylon and Diogenes in Corinth — the two men are connected in cultural memory through one of history’s best known anecdotes.

The story goes that the young Alexander once made a visit to Diogenes’ hometown of Corinth.  Everyone flocked to catch a glimpse of the great leader, to hear him speak, and to gain his favor — everyone that is but Diogenes.  Since Diogenes did not come to see him, Alexander determined to make a personal visit to see the philosopher.  Accompanied by a throng of admirers, Alexander approached Diogenes’ home, the large barrel-shaped jar.  Diogenes did not greet the young conqueror; in fact, he didn’t even stand.  Instead, he simply sat up on one elbow.  After a short period of awkward silence, Alexander asked:  “Diogenes, is there anything I can do for you?”

“Yes,” Diogenes replied, “Stand to one side.  You’re blocking the sunlight.”  

The crowd was hushed and amazed at Diogenes’ insolence, but Alexander was unphased.  He simply turned away and said quietly, “If I were not Alexander, I should be Diogenes.”

More than one ancient biographer wrote that Alexander and Diogenes died on the same day, June 10, 323 BC.  The exact cause of the two men’s deaths is not exactly clear.  Although it might be expected that the warrior Alexander died in battle, no such report exists.  Instead accounts of his death conflict.  Some say he died of poisoning, others of malaria or typhoid fever.  Only 32 years of age at his death, Alexander’s body was submerged in a vat of honey to stave of decay.

As for the death of Diogenes, there are also conflicting accounts.  One account claims he simply held his breath, another claims he became ill after eating raw octopus, and still another claims he died of infection from a dog bite.

This last possibility is especially ironic, considering that Diogenes’ creed of Cynicism means “doggishness.”  In his History of Cynicism, the scholar R. Dudley explains why the Cynics embraced a dog’s life:

There are four reasons why the Cynics are so named. First because of the indifference of their way of life, for they make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads. The second reason is that the dog is a shameless animal, and they make a cult of shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it. The third reason is that the dog is a good guard, and they guard the tenets of their philosophy. The fourth reason is that the dog is a discriminating animal which can distinguish between its friends and enemies. So do they recognize as friends those who are suited to philosophy, and receive them kindly, while those unfitted they drive away, like dogs, by barking at them.

Today’s Challenge:  From History to Story
Who are some great historical figures you would like to know more about?  What are some specific stories that include one or more of these individual?  Brainstorm a list of historical figures who are of interest to you.  Do a bit of research to discover an anecdote about one of them.  Tell the story of a single specific incident using your own words. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam—and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer barrel?  -Hamlet in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Tragedy of the Prince of Denmark

 

June 5:  Bedtime Story Day

Today is the birthday of Rick Riordan, the bestselling author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  An award winning author of mysteries for adults, Riordan’s great success as a children’s author began at the bedside of his oldest son.  When his son requested a bedtime story from Greek Mythology, Riordan, a former middle school teacher, was more than willing to share some stories about gods and heroes.  Riordan’s major breakthrough happened when he ran out of material.  His son asked him to make up some new stories with the same characters.

The Lightning Thief cover.jpgIn addition to the familiar characters from Greek mythology, there is one conspicuously new character:  Percy Jackson, a 12-year old demigod with dyslexia and ADHD.

A 2007 study entitled “Reading Across the Nation” found that under half of parents surveyed in the U.S. read every day to their children.  The study tracked results by state.  The highest scoring state was Vermont, where 67% of respondents claimed to read to children daily; the lowest scoring state was Mississippi with 38%.

The results of the “Reading Across the Nation” study are distressing.  The nightly bedtime story ritual is more than just a time for preparing children to sleep; it’s an essential part of preparing them for a lifetime of literacy.  The study’s authors state the following:

Reading aloud is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading. Early language skills, the foundation for later reading ability, are based primarily on language exposure and human interaction – parents and other adults talking to young children. The more words parents use when speaking to an eight-month-old infant, the greater the size of the child’s vocabulary at age three (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Tell Me a Story
Which mythological characters do you think have the most dramatic stories?  Brainstorm some memorable characters from mythology.  Research their background and stories.  Then, using your own words, tell a single story about your featured character aimed at a young audience.  Remember to include the essential story elements, such as dialogue, setting, conflict, climax, and resolution.  (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quote of the Day:  A nation that does not read much does not know much. And a nation that does not know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box, and the voting booth. And those decisions ultimately affect the entire nation…the literate and illiterate. -Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook

1 -Biography – Rick Riordan.

https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/authors/rick-riordan/

2 –http://www.reachoutandread.org/FileRepository/RORChartbook.pdf

June 4: Repetition for Effect Day

On this date in 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons and the British people.  France had fallen to Nazi Germany, but all was not lost:  over 300,000 allied soldiers had been successfully evacuated from Dunkirk.  Churchill’s purpose in this speech was to buoy the spirits of the British people.  Europe had fallen, but the British Empire would not give up and would not go down without a fight.

In the final paragraph, or preoration, of his speech, Churchill unleashed one of history’s most dramatic finishes:

We shall fight on the seas and oceans,

 we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,

 we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.

We shall fight on the beaches,

 we shall fight on the landing grounds,

 we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,

 we shall fight in the hills;

 we shall never surrender . . . .

There’s a fine line between repetition and redundancy, but as demonstrated by Churchill, when employed at the right time and at the right place, repetition can create the kind of dramatic emphasis that rolls and resonates like ocean waves repeatedly crashing on the rocky shore.  Churchill, a master of rhetoric, knew what he was doing.  He knew just when and just where to employ this echo effect for maximum impact.

Another element of Churchill’s mastery is his use of succinct, simple language.  As he explains in his “Scaffolding of Rhetoric,” published when he was 23 years old:

The shorter words of a language are usually the more ancient. Their meaning is more ingrained in the national character and they appeal with greater force to simple understandings than words recently introduced from the Latin and the Greek. All the speeches of great English rhetoricians–except when addressing highly cultured audiences–display an uniform preference for short, homely words of common usage–so long as such words can fully express their thoughts and feelings….

Today’s Challenge:  You Can Say That Again
Some of the best known sayings, expressions, titles, and aphorisms in the English language use repetition for effect:

No pain, no gain

First come, first served

United we stand, divided we fall

Put up or shut up

Never Say Never Again

What are some examples of great quotations that repeat at least one significant word?  What would you say is the best thing ever said with repetition?  Read the quotations below as examples; then, research a quotation that you think is particularly well stated.  In addition to presenting the quotation and the name of the speaker, explain why you like the quotation based on both what it says and how it says it.

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. -William Shakespeare

There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why. -William Barclay

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. -Ellen Parr

When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him . -Thomas Szasz

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. -Martin Luther King Jr.

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. -Albert Einstein

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Today’s Quotation:  Repetition is based on body rhythms, so we identify with the heartbeat, or with walking, or with breathing. -Karlheinz Stockhausen

February 1:  From News to Novel Day

Robinson Crusoe 1719 1st edition.jpgOn this date we celebrate two influential works of fiction, both influenced by actual events. The first was Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), a novel based on the real-life castaway Alexander Selkirk, who was rescued on this date in 1709.  

A black cover depicting a woman swimming and a shark coming towards her from below. Atop the cover is written "Peter Benchley", "Jaws" and "A Novel".The second work of fiction is the novel Jaws by Peter Benchley, published on this date in 1974.  The idea for the book, Benchley’s first novel, began ten years earlier in 1964 when Benchley read a news story about a 4,550 pound Great White shark caught off the beaches of Long Island, New York. The brief news story sparked Benchley’s imagination:  “And I thought right then ‘What if one of these things came round and wouldn’t go away?’” (1).

The true story behind the fictional Robinson Crusoe begins in 1704.  Alexander Selkirk was a Sailing Master aboard the Cinque Ports, an English frigate fighting with Spanish vessels off the coast of South America.  When the captain of the Cinque Ports stopped at a desert island to re-stock supplies of fresh water, Selkirk refused to get back on board due to the ship’s less than seaworthy condition.  When the Cinque Ports left him behind, Selkirk hoped to quickly flag down another ship. This, however, was a more difficult task than he imagined.

Selkirk spent the next four years alone on the island, surviving primarily by hunting and eating goats, which were in plentiful supply on the island.  Unfortunately for Selkirk, rats were also in plentiful supply.  They would gnaw at his clothes and his feet as he tried to sleep.  To solve this problem, Selkirk domesticated several cats he found on the island, employing them to keep his campsite rat-free.

Finally on February 1, 1709, Selkirk was rescued when two British ships spotted his signal fire. When the landing party came ashore, they were astonished by Selkirk’s appearance:  he looked like a wild man dressed from head to toe in goat skins.

In 1713 an account of Selkirk’s ordeal was published, and six years later, influenced by Selkirk’s adventures, Daniel Defoe published his novel Robinson Crusoe*.  Defoe’s book went on to become one of the most widely read books in history and is recognized today as the first work of realistic fiction.  Selkirk and Defoe also influenced world geography; in 1966 Mas a Tierra, the Pacific island which Selkirk inhabited for four years and four months, was renamed Robinson Crusoe.  A separate island, 100 miles west, has been renamed Alejandro Selkirk (2).

Like Defoe’s novel, the story of Jaws also follows an interesting path from fact to fiction.  The novel’s author Peter Benchley was working as a journalist in 1971 when he had lunch with a publisher from Doubleday.  They discussed Benchley’s book ideas which were all non-fiction.  At the end of the meeting the publisher asked Benchley, who had never written fiction, if he had any ideas for a novel.  At that point Benchley remembered the 1964 news story about the colossal shark caught off of Long Island.  He told the publisher,  “I want to tell the story of a Great White shark that marauds the beaches of a resort town and provokes a moral crisis.”

When Jaws was published on February 1, 1974, it made Benchley one of the most successful first-time novelists of all time.  The book spent 44 months on the New York Times bestseller list and sold over 20 million copies.  Benchley went on to co-write the screenplay for the book’s wildly successful film version; today the film Jaws, directed by Steven Spielberg, is recognized as the movie that invented the summer blockbuster.

Today’s Challenge:  All the Fiction That’s Fit to Print

What story from today’s newspaper could you adapt for a short story?  Select a story from a recent newspaper, and use the facts from the true story to spark your imagination.  Generate a central conflict from the true story that might be used in a fictional story, such as an individual fighting to survive alone on a desert island or a town struggling to survive attacks from a killer shark. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth. -Albert Camus

*The complete original title of Defoe’s novel is:  The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.

1-http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3400291.stm

2-http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/scottishhistory/europe/oddities_europe.shtml

 

January 21:  Novel First Lines Day

Today is the anniversary of the publication of the first novel in America, The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature.  When the book was first released in 1789, it was published anonymously.  Later, however, William Hill Brown, a 24 year-old Bostonian, came forward to claim authorship.

Although the novel is not remembered today for its literary excellence, it is characteristic of it time.  Reflecting a popular 18th century literary device, the novel was epistolary, that is, its story is told via letters between characters.  The novel involves an illicit love triangle and is written as a cautionary tale.  Some speculate that Brown published his novel anonymously because the details of his plot were based on actual events in the lives of his Boston neighbors.

Although there are certainly examples of long fiction that might be called novels before the 1700s, it was the 18th century that launched the popularity of this “new form” of extended narrative, best exemplified by the works of English writers Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding.

Today’s Challenge:  Blackjack Sentences

How can you captivate a reader by writing a 21-word opening sentence of a short story or novel?  To celebrate America’s first novel, your task is to craft a novel first line for a story that is exactly 21 words.  Think about a narrative hook that will grab your reader.  

Here’s an example:

At 7:10 am that Monday morning, Bill awoke to the choking sound of his cat, Hamlet, vomiting violently on his pillow.

There is nothing magical about 21 words, but writing to an exact word count will force you to pay attention to the impact of each word you write. It will also force you to pay careful attention as you revise and edit.  When you write the first draft of your sentence, don’t worry about word count.  Get some ideas and details down on paper first.  Then go back and revise, making every word count — up to exactly 21 (no more, no fewer).

The sentences below are some examples of opening sentences from American novels.  They are not 21 words, but they will give you a flavor for the ways different novelists have opened their works:

You may now felicitate me — I have had an interview with the charmer I informed you of. -William Hill Brown, The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature.  (1789)

I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. —Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.  -Jane Austen

1-http://mentalfloss.com/article/74019/7-fascinating-facts-about-first-american-novel

 

 

January 6: Personification Day

Today is the birthday of American writer and poet Carl Sandburg, who was born on this day in 1878 in Galesburg, Illinois.

Photograph of SandburgThe son of Swedish immigrants, Sandbury left school at the age of thirteen to work odd jobs to help support his family.  In 1898 he volunteered to travel to Puerto Rico where he served with the 6th Illinois Infantry during the Spanish-American War.  After the war he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, but dropped out after just two weeks after failing a mathematics and grammar exam (1).  Returning to his hometown in Illinois, Sandburg enrolled in Lombard College.  At Lombard he honed his skills as a writer of both prose and poetry, and after college he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he worked as an advertising writer and a journalist.

Sandburg achieved unprecedented success as a writer of both biography and poetry.  His great work of prose was his biography of Abraham Lincoln, an exhaustively detailed six-volume work that took him 30 years to research and complete.  Not only did he win the Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for his stellar writing, he was also invited to address a joint session of Congress on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth on February 12, 1959.  This was the first time a private citizen was allowed to make such and address (2).

Before he began his biography of Lincoln, Sandburg established himself as a great poet, winning the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1919.  Writing in free verse, Sandburg’s poems captured the essence of industrial America.  

Perhaps his best known poem Chicago begins:

HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders . . .

One of the primary rhetorical devices at work here is personification.  Sandburg does not just describe the city, he brings it to life, giving it job titles, such as “Tool Maker,” and human characteristics, such as “brawling,” and even human anatomy, such as “Big Shoulders.”

Personification is figurative language used in either poetry or prose that describes a non-human thing or idea using human characteristics.  As Sandburg demonstrates, the simple secret of personification is selecting the right words to animate the inanimate.  The key parts of speech for personification are adjectives, nouns, verbs, and pronouns:

-Adjectives like thoughtful or honest or sneaky;

-Verbs like smile or sings or snores;

-Nouns like nose or hands or feet;

-Pronouns like I, she, or they.

In the following poem, Sandburg personifies the grass.  Notice how he brings the grass alive by giving it not just a first person voice, but also a job to do:

GRASS

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work–
         I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:
         What place is this?
         Where are we now?

         I am the grass.

         Let me work.

Today’s Challenge:  I Am the Homework, I Make You Sweat
What are some everyday objects that you might bring to life using personification?  If these things had a voice, what would they say?  Using “Grass” as a model, select your own everyday non-human topic and use personification to give it a first person voice, writing at least 100 words of either poetry or prose.  Imagine what it would say and what it would say about its job.  Your tone may be serious or silly.

Possible Topics:  alarm clock, coffee cup, textbook, guitar, bicycle, paper clip, pencil, car, microwave, baseball

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Carl Sandburg was more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. He was America. -President Lyndon B. Johnson

1- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sandburg

2-poetry foundation