One of my favorite things about my book is one of the most subtle. It's something that the vast majority of readers will likely not even notice. But it means a lot to me.
When I read a book, I always read the dedications and wonder about the human story behind the dedication. I wonder about what actions and emotional currents shaped those words. It's very much like an iceberg with just the smallest tip showing.
Now that I'm publishing a book, I realize how significant, how carefully considered and chosen they are. A book is an intensely personal thing for an author, a sort of incarnation of the spirit and mind and heart--at least for me--and the dedication is meant to be a gift. That may sound trite or cliche, but it's deeply felt and honestly true--again, at least in my case.
I thought a lot about to whom I wanted to dedicate my book. One choice was obvious. My wife, Meredith. For almost eighteen years now, she has been my best friend and closest companion. I love her more than I can say. However, Meredith is a deeply private person and does not like being the subject of blogs. So, I'll leave it at that and talk about the other dedication.
The Harding Academy Class of 2010. My beloved 8th graders are graduating and leaving. I will miss them keenly and am not too proud to admit I get choked up when I think about it.
Their association with my book began when they were in sixth grade. I was refining and rewriting the manuscript while watching this group out at recess. They started asking me about what I was working on. Pretty soon they started wanting to be in the book. None of the characters are based on them, but several of their names showed up in the names of minor characters.
But there's a lot more. This group of students is unique and I love them deeply. On multiple occasions, they have been the way that God touched my heart when I needed it. This year, they have helped me immensely. I began the year at a bleak and low point, emotionally and professionally. My confidence as a teacher had ebbed to almost nothing. I was deeply hurt and frustrated with some developments the prior year. In fact, but for the economy, I would have tried to find another job.
I may write about this in more detail another time. For now, suffice it to say that these kids took a battered and bruised heart and soul and filled it with joy. They helped me remember why I wanted to teach and what the rewards are. Their exuberance has energized me and their cheerful, optimistic, unabashed affection has recharged my spirit. It's like teaching a grade full of Labrador puppies.
The last song we sang at our last concert was "We Go Together" from Grease. That's a nice end-of-the-year song for graduating students. That's part of what the dedication refers to--lyrics from that song. I thought about writing "Rama-lama-lama-kading-a-da-ding-a-dong" but that seemed unwieldy.
The "LBS" refers to their class motto, which they established at the beginning of the year. "Look back and smile"--a reminder they came up with to make the most of their 8th grade year and make the choices that would yield memories that would make them smile.
I think they've accomplished that goal. I hope so. They've been successful in theatre and music and sports and student government and everything else. They've also been incredibly supportive of and kind to each other. There is one thing I know for sure, though. Whatever their memories may be, I will always look and smile when I think of them. And that is great gift they have given me.
Thank you, Class of 2010! I love you guys.
Student looking at me today: "Dr. Bell, why did you make your hair all gray like that?"
Me: "Uh, I didn't do anything to my hair. That's how it is."
Student: "Oh. Forget I said anything."
After school today, I taught some voice lessons. I do this almost every day of the week. It's a helpful supplement to our family income and it's an enjoyable chance to work with a student in a more focused way than I am able to when I am teaching a class.
One of my students today was so excited because a friend had taught her how to play "Heart and Soul" on the piano. She wanted to show me and while I watched her, I noticed the look of sheer delight and joy on her face. She sincerely found great joy in what she was doing.
That's one of the reasons I teach--because I like to see those moments when the joy of understanding or comprehension flashes on a face.
Learning, especially in the areas I teach, should be joyful. It should be exciting.
Here's the paradox, though, and the great dilemma. True joy comes only when something has been mastered or understood. And this understanding comes only after practice and work. This often requires nagging and reminding and disciplining. If I let my students do only what they want, they will experience a lot of mediocrity, but no real joy.
So, for my students to experience the joy, I have to be strict with them sometimes. I have to push them and coax them and correct them. Sometimes this seems to take the joy out of it.
As a teacher, then I face these questions: how do I balance rigor and joy? Strictness and fun? Discovery and exploration with practice and precision? These are especially relevant when dealing with middle school students.
It's the same for parents, I think. I don't claim that these thoughts are original or novel. Just what I'm thinking about at the moment.
Are there larger implications here? Something this might tell us about the nature of God and why He does some of the things He does?
So, today I'm posting Chapter Three (probably the last one I'll post). It's about one of my favorite characters in the book, Eula Mae MacDougal. Eula Mae is an older sister in the ward--a widow who struggles with health problems.
She's a fairly recent convert and is not from the city where the story takes place. She is lonely and struggles in many ways, inside and out.
Eula was one of the characters who emerged most clearly when I first conceived of the story. She's incredibly real to me--and at the same time, she's not based on anyone I've known. Maybe that's the reason. Ironically, most people who read the book say, "I know her! She lives in my ward."
Eula is interesting to me because she is the one character who suffers from things over which she has absolutely no control. The other characters, to some degree at least, all have a small amount of choice or agency. Eula really has no choices or options. Writing her chapters always tugged at my heartstrings, and I like to think I'm a little more compassionate for having written about her.
I hope you enjoy Chapter Three!
I know, I know. I say I'll post on Mondays and Thursdays. But Lara's comment on my last post about authenticity and Heidi's post about writing her bio gave me an idea.
Let's play a game, shall we?
Here are the rules. Imagine you are an author and have to write the biography for your book. Write the most glowing bio you can about yourself. Then, if you are truly brave, write the opposite kind about the same aspects of your life.
Rules: 1) You can tweak and nudge the truth, but not totally fabricate 2) You can't say mean things about anyone else and don't beat up on yourself too badly. Keep it lighthearted.
Come on, all you lurkers! Join the fun. Be anonymous if you want, but do come and play.
Braden spends his life teaching, singing, directing, and writing. Known by his students and readers for his warm and loving style, he uses a unique combination of gentle encouragement and a keen sense of humor to motivate and inspire. A devoted gardener and teacher, he spends his time in and out of the classroom encouraging young things to grow and take root and to reach for the sky. He brings this gentle warmth to his writing, adding a keen eye for human foibles to a generous heart and an ear for natural dialogue.
Braden spends most of his time trying to give up Dr. Pepper, which is one of the great passions of his life. His office is a colossal mess and makes his boss twitch. He has received far more rejection letters than contracts for his writing and can often be found fighting a bad attitude, with varying degrees of effort, sometimes waving a white flag as vigorously as he can. He is an active member of his church, which prevents him from articulating the things he sometimes thinks about other drivers on the road.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
Genre: YA Paranormal
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Please don't steal my words! Whatever I lack as a writer, it's still one of the few skills I have.
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