To all of you who live in and around Flint, Michigan:
My daughter is involved in an amazing new project. This is a letter she recently sent:
First off: Please forgive this super long message! But seeing as we don’t know each other, I thought a real introduction was in order!
I’m Jen Plants, the Carl Djerassi Playwriting Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I teach writing for the theatre and performance studies. My specialities include documentary theatre and the way ideas about race are performed in America, and I’m hoping my next project will be a documentary work of theatre about the Flint water crisis.
I’ll be in Flint December 15-18, and I’d welcome the opportunity to sit down and hear your story.
I was born and raised in Michigan. I went to public schools in Grand Blanc, and I got my career start early at the Flint Youth Theatre. Ultimately, the artistic director of Flint Community Theatre encouraged me to go to college to study theatre, and the rest, well, is history. Flint is a city I love, and its people and places made me who I am today.
I make nonfiction theatre based on real life issues and events. My most recent work, No Feedback, is about the forms of discrimination that lead to genocides. It premiered in London in May and is continuing development for a European tour this summer.
I’ve been following the recent water crisis in Flint with alarm. The ongoing story of Flint needs to be told and repeated and remembered throughout the nation. The people of Flint have truth to speak to power–theirs is a story of global implications.
I’m interested in the voices of those citizens on the frontlines–the individual stories that can too easily get lost in the historical record of events–and I hope that the core of my work will be taken from personal interviews.
Interview-based theatre has covered a huge variety of subjects from Hurricane Katrina to those exonerated from death row sentences. This kind of play preserves the voices of the people who are most impacted by an event, and most importantly, through performance, it gives others a present-tense experience that invites both empathy and action.
I can meet just about any time from the afternoon of Tuesday, December 15 through the morning of December 18. I can also make just about any location work–I’d welcome the chance to buy you a cup of coffee (or bring you some donuts from Donna’s.)
My goal is simply this: to use art and the power of live theatre to tell your stories–Flint’s story.
Any questions? Just ask!
Hopeful that we can meet and talk soon,
I thought this would be easy. The Writing Process Blog Tour asks us to post answers to four simple questions about how we write. Simple but surprisingly complex questions.
Thanks to Barbara Evers for tagging me in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Barbara is an author, public speaker, and corporate trainer. Her first interest listed on her blog is giraffes, and she says she knows how to communicate with animals. aneclecticmuse.blogspot.com/ I met Barbara through the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop. The SCWW is a fine organization for writers of all abilities and genres. I’ve found much satisfaction in being part of this group and found a supportive network of kindred spirits.
What am I working on?
I’ve gravitated from novels to children’s books. A few years ago I resurrected a story I had written decades ago along with its crayon pictures. It was about a frog who lived in a pond. The end. Not much of a plot and certainly no conflict. I applied what I learned from writer friends and at SCWW Writers’ Conferences and came up with a plausible story: A brave frog faces the danger in the pond to get medicine for his mother. Then I Photoshopped the old drawings, combined them with some of my digital backgrounds and self-published Hubert Little’s Great Adventure.
Quite by accident I discovered a wonderful digital artist (she is Blackberry Ink Photography on Facebook) who agreed to do illustrations for Meena Mouse’s Perfect Raspberry. It’s a picture book for children up to five that teaches responsibility. Meena Mouse eats the last raspberry without permission, then disobeys the rules and treks into the dark, dangerous forest to find a raspberry. She has a magical encounter, but must find her own way home. Carrie A. Pearson carriepearsonbooks.com/ said the story is sweet, and the illustrations are luminous.
We’re now working on the next Meena Mouse book: Meena Mouse’s Perfectly Awful Day. Meena goes to school and learns to share. The title is a twist on the word awe-ful. The manuscript is ready to go to the illustrator.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I want this story and the ones to come to invite children into Meena’s world. She is a small creature in a big world, just as children are. She is sweet and innocent and the makes mistakes all children make. But she learns the lesson of responsibility without actually using the word. I hope children identify with Meena and learn along with her.
Activities and tips for parents and teachers are available on my website.
Why do I write what I do?
Writing for children is not easy. It’s as difficult and almost as time-consuming as writing a novel. But the reward of seeing youngsters enthralled by the story and captivated by the illustrations is beyond measure.
Young children like stories. They don’t listen or read them to learn some profound idea, or discover some inner truth. But they do learn subtle lessons from stories.
Since picture books have so few words, every one counts. The text hints at plot and character development, while the illustrations illuminate the finer nuances. Deborah Gagnon’s illustrations bring Meena to life and show her place in a far bigger world. Meena learns to be responsible for her actions, just as children must.
How does your writing process work:
I write every day on my laptop. I truly believe if I stare at a blank screen long enough, some muse will take pity on me. The Muses must like me because I always have too many ideas. Ideas are everywhere and constant. I once told someone I wish they’d stop. Not really.
My mind always looks for the story in an incident. My granddaughter started school in London, UK. She was hesitant about making friends and finding her place in a school in a different country. Until a little girl said she would teach her to hang upside-down on the bars. Friendship was born, and school wasn’t frightening at all. That incident will be in the next Meena book.
I’ve never been a morning person. I work best in the afternoon. Wherever I go, I carry a little notebook in which I take notes. Mornings I answer emails, run errands or read. When I play golf I find magical places in the trees, or a fairy home in a mushroom. Ideas come easier when I’m not focused and trying to make them gel. Evenings I watch TV and knit. I don’t usually watch the commercials, so when they come on, I knit on automatic and chase story ideas.
It was from this I got two ideas: Meena goes to school and learns to share, and knitting Meena Mouse. I found a Meena look-a-like pattern which I purchased and adapted. I thought the first one I knit was too small, so I made another, larger one. My six-year-old granddaughter has dibs on the little one. I’m using the other for promotions.
Follow the tour next week, June 29, with the following authors:
David Griffin is a storyteller and essayist. He is retired from a career in corporate education and communications, and lives near the ocean in South Carolina with his wife and her dog. Dave writes the popular blog Monk In The Cellar, now a novel by the same name. He publishes a book of stories and essays each year that are well received by those who like to think a little deeper … but not too deep … about life.
Alan Thompson practiced law for the past forty years, primarily in Atlanta, Georgia. His civil trial work extended to dozens of jurisdictions throughout the United States, Australia and England, and he contributed to several professional journals and treatises dealing with his particular area of expertise, construction law.
He began writing seriously in 2008, and his first novel,A Hollow Cup, was published in 2011. The Black Owls was released in September, 2013, followed by The Kingfishers, and his latest book, Gods and Lesser Men,is now available. He and his wife Barbie have two sons, one a lawyer in Salt Lake City, the other a Navy helicopter pilot currently stationed in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Now retired to Georgetown, South Carolina, Alan plays an occasional round of bad golf, and he and his bride can sometimes be found having a late-afternoon cocktail or glass of wine at the beach.
My mother told me this story about an aunt of hers.
In the 1870s northern Michigan was forested wilderness. My mother’s maternal grandfather, a French Canadian, logged old growth trees, cashing in on the bountiful harvest of lumber that build the Midwest.
One of Mom’s aunts, about three years old, wandered away from the camp. Everybody, even the lumberjacks searched until long after dark, but did not find her. As is usual in northern Michigan in the early summer, there was a frost that night. The parents gave up hope and thought they would never see their child again.
Next morning, the little girl ran from the forest, alive and well. When asked how she kept warm, she told everybody a gray lady helped her by giving her berries to eat and covering her with leaves and pine needles to keep warm.
Nobody that fit the description lived in the area. All who heard the story attributed it to the child’s imagination.
That became Meena Mouse’s Perfect Raspberry. It’s a children’s story for ages three to eight that teaches the importance of responsibility.