Five Score!

Somewhat to my surprise, I just realized that this is my hundredth blog entry. I began this blogover six years ago because I was writing my memoir, and every writing workshop and source insisted that published authors had to have a “platform.” I settled for my writing website [], an author page on Facebook, and this blog, forgoing other social media like Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram for now. I have no idea if my blog has brought me readers, and Tales Told Out of School has been out for over a year, but I still find myself blogging!

I’ve been a writer since grade school, when several of us were pulled from class to join a writing group that went on to publish mimeographed booklets with mustard yellow covers. My contribution of poems with forced rhyming makes me cringe now, but that experience kickstarted a lifetime habit. And my process of writing has changed so much over the years. I wrote my high school papers longhand, my college papers on a Smith Corona manual [one that I even took to Grenada on a family vacation so I could finish my honors thesis!], my lesson plans and handouts on a used IBM electric typewriter. We bought our first computer in 1981, an Apple II+, and spent a fortune on a word processing program that was WYSISYG [“what you see is what you get”]. Its complexity defeated me until Don built me a cheat sheet.

I went on to write dozens of professional articles and graduate school papers on the Apple II+, which we replaced with an Apple IIe a few years later, which became on the second in a long line of computers, laptops, and tablets. Writing at a keyboard allowed me to write almost as fast as I think, a huge leap forward.

When my school district bought Macs for teachers in exchange for our taking classes to learn how to use them, I wrote my first two books, Writing with Appleworks [1992] and Writing with Microsoft Works [1994]. Computers were still new in our school, and each book tackled all kinds of writing, teaching new computer skills at the relevant point in the writing process [i.e., teaching cut-and-paste during the revision process]. I’m proud of those books. Unfortunately, the textbook publishers favored by English Departments weren’t committed to writing with computers yet, so the now defunct Southwestern Publishing, a business-focused textbook publisher, did produce my book but lacked the English Department connections to get it sold. When they finally gave up and planned to destroy the warehoused copies, I begged them to give those books to needy schools and offered to forego my pittance of a royalty to save them, but I lost that battle.

But I kept writing articles and eventually got paid for professional development materials by the state of Illinois and then by TeacherMatch. Throughout my final years of teaching and the early years of my retirement, though, I longed to turn the teaching stories I used to tell at parties into a book. Hence my start in 2016, followed by the evolution of this blog. Tales Told Out of School: Lessons Learned by the Teacher launched fifteen months ago and is now also available on Kindle. That left me casting about for something to write.

My frustration over recent developments in education [censorship, micromanagement, book banning, etc.] led me to my first serious endeavor with fiction. My main character emerged of her own volition, keeping me awake at night as she told me her story. For the first time in all my decades, I didn’t need to turn to my personal experience to write. I’ve read that other authors have had a similar experience, but the compelling “aliveness” of a character is new to me. I find myself knowing another inciting event or bit of dialogue when I didn’t even know I was thinking about her. I’ve been taking classes and webinars on story structure and bringing characters to life, and now I am consumed by this story!

So someday – hopefully it won’t take another seven years – I’ll introduce you to Claire Peters and her experiences as a Texas transplant and teacher. However long it takes, I love getting to know her and researching the issues she has to face. I hope her story wont’ take another 100 blogs before it’s complete!

At Last!

I’ve been working on a serious blog entry for a week now, but the topic inflames me so strongly that it’s been hard to pull together. I will finish it and get it posted soon; today, though, I’m just going to write about last Sunday’s book launch.

Being a teacher always called to me; it was the second most important part of my life after family, and sometimes [when grades were due, when research papers piled up on my desk…], it even displaced family as a priority! Long before I finished teaching, I knew I wanted to capture the stories from my years in the classroom. I wanted them to be more permanent than mere dinner party storytelling.

It took me seven years and the support of a good writing group to really pull my stories together. It took my writing group to help me define my audience, and a specific member of my group to help me create the structure I ended up using. Often life got in the way, but I remained determined.   

When my first real copy arrived, I wept. I had already published two textbooks about writing with computers when they were new to schools along with dozens of articles. None of those compared to seeing this book in print. It’s so personal to me.

And on Sunday I had the privilege of seeing and hearing from former students, a blessing in its own right. Some I’ve been in touch with, so I was less surprised when they came or ordered the book from me. Others offered wondrous surprises. A young woman I hadn’t seen since her mid 90s graduation brought in her creative writing portfolio with my notes and grade of A+. I had encouraged her to submit one of the poems for the graduation program, and it was chosen. She told me on Sunday that that had been a turning point for her, that my encouragement and having her poem chosen had mattered so much. I had no idea… Other former students surprised me with flattering Facebook comments. That’s the thing about teaching — you often don’t know. 

I’m surprised at how many years have passed since I left the classroom for retirement, but my teaching experiences remain a fundamental part of my identity. I am so grateful for them and for the relationships that teaching allowed. I’ve finally told my “tales out of school,” and I know how lucky I’ve been.