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Great Moments in Writing For Real 


Wanaka class by Bob Simpson - 1

Ah, the pleasures of teaching writing. There are so many high moments; here are but three …

Two come from Wanaka, the bottom of New Zealand and pretty much the bottom of the world. One is from San Francisco, the center of the known universe.

Moment One

The shyest member of class is Tracey Morrow, a florist in town. She’s never published, never even showed anyone her writing. After class, I call her aside and tell — not ask, tell — her she’s presenting tomorrow morn. She clearly doesn’t want to. The next morn, I can see her hands are shaking. “C’mon Tracey,” I say, “Your turn.”

She reads an essay on duck hunting. Maybe that doesn’t sound a promising topic, but she turns the tale of first day of duck season into a family portrait — a portrait painted by a master artist. When she finishes, the class breaks into loud and sustained applause. I say, “This is ready for publication now.” Someone else says, “First day of duck season is this weekend.” Another student, Tess Wethey, says, “I know the editor of New Zealand’s weekend magazine.”  I say, “Get her on the phone. Now. Tracey, Tess is your new agent. And best friend. Go!”

Three days later, Tracey’s story is read by more than a million New Zealanders. Three years later, I still get chills when I think of her reading it to the class.

Moment Two

Another class member, Helen Herbert, has also never published. In her long life, she’s written a novel but never shown it to pretty much anyone except her closest friend … and one British publisher, whom I immediately spot as a scam artist. He’s after her money, not her book. I tell her to save her money — a lot of money — and look at Smashwords instead.

I just heard from Helen. Now she’s published two novels, seen them on bookstore shelves, even been reviewed in the Wanaka paper. Oh, and the reviewer, who was full of praise for the book, suggested it would make a wonderful TV series.

Moment Three

Almost everyone who takes Writing For Real is an adult. But in our most recent class, at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Valley Library, a pair of young sisters walked in, sat down, and tried to stay hidden from the teacher’s eye. Never works. I prodded them a bit, and they became active —shy but active — class members. Last week I heard from one of the sisters. She wrote,

Hi Jules,
This is Ileana writing to you from San Francisco.
I am presently enrolled in a junior journalism class in my high school; it is an amazing class and I already had a chance to be a reporter/press representative for our school paper couple weeks ago, on the occasion of the 75th Lincoln HS Anniversary!
This English class is demanding, and we have to keep reading books of a variety of themes; for example,our class’s latest assignment is to read and comment on a book of our preference, and since you have free review copies, I wonder if I could read your new e-book TAKE ME HOME.

The housing market here doesn’t show any sign of “normalizing” and because another course of my senior year is Economics, I believe the topic you discuss is going to be totally relevant for both of my classes.
Wish this mail finds Effin and you enjoying your travels. Please keep us posted. I enjoyed the minimovie trail—specially the chubby baby!

Are there more?
So many more. Writing is my great pleasure. Teaching writing is another great pleasure. And moments like these are the height of that pleasure.

— jules


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