Writing how-to

On Writing History

One time in high school, long before there were album crafting weekends, I decided to enclose a History paper in a collage based album of news items that covered all events in my term paper. No one else in the class did anything but fold their papers on the vertical, as was required, and hand it in, but mine was different. It couldn’t be folded or all the sequins and guns might fall out. Most importantly, though, my paper was very over the top creative for a History term paper, and I was pretty sure it would be well received. I wanted my A, my first one ever, I needed an A, I practically breathed A.

You see, I was a paper rebel. While these days kids pen hate notes and threaten to kill classmates, I instead couldn’t write anything that wasn’t different, creative, or a little bit crazy, as if my life depended on it. I guess you could say I’d overdosed on creative juices, and there was no going back. Although I was reputed in our school to be the best writer, that didn’t help when I had to buckle down and write fact, dates, truth in British history, and recite in order which king came first versus which king still ruled.

As a freshman, having come from a city public school, I didn’t even know what a term paper was, much less an exam. We didn’t have them in public schools. Quizzes, yes, but no way to test students at the end of each semester to see what they’d learned. In addition, having transferred from a public school where I’d struggled to fit in the round hole that most other fellow students fit in quite nicely, by the time I got to junior year, learning, memorizing and testing was still a slippery slope. Joining literary club and becoming editor of the school newspaper earned me respect, and allowed a creative outlet to an otherwise structured school life. There was still a difference between me and my classmates. They did nothing but compete for higher grades, while I, once the dummy in grade nine, cared as much, all the while keeping my persona of not giving a damn. I could fool them, but my inner turmoil continued unabated.

Public school did not prepare me for studying, for reading every page of every book versus buying a Cliff book instead. As for foreign languages, I’d come from a pre civil rights integration era. All students and teachers were white. Even the janitor was white. Other than Latin classes for seniors, no one spoke foreign languages. So, in a queer sense of filling students’ lives with color, at the new school, we read about the wars of Spartacus, Greek mythology, the slaying of slaves in Roman times, spent half a year on the American Revolution, and quickly advanced to the  Civil War. Since I only spent four years in high school, not counting the year I repeated, we studied the same history courses twice. Recently, I’ve done a lot of research into war for a book I’m writing, but I do lament the fact that I never got to study WW I & II, or lose myself in the profiles of George Patton or Winston Churchill, both colorful characters my husband often quotes.

A far as the grade I earned in History class for my illustrated character analysis of Abraham Lincoln and his ideals, I had the required amount of footnotes, the required amount of bibliographies, used a typewriter to express my thoughts and facts, I merely earned a B+. Concerning the illustrations. the teacher said, “I admire a student who goes the extra mile when presenting an important paper such as this term paper. But if I’m not mistaken, you learned cutting and pasting in first grade. I’m not amused. Your historical collage dates are out of order. However, since your artistic addition must have taken you a good extra four hours to assemble, I’ve added a plus symbol to your grade. Next time, complete only the assignment as requested. Extra credit will be allowed after a discussion with me only.” It wasn’t a real dressing down, but she was wise to clue me on what life after high school. I dropped in and out of college frequently, and her emphasis on doing required research was important. As an author, it’s so easy to get caught in half truths by doing a half assed job of checking your facts. I’m sure plenty of my classmates were clapping each other on their backs when they heard the class writer earned a mere B+ as her grade. But what they didn’t know was that right then and there was how I decided to go fiction as my genre writing. That term paper was my divining rod. That Spring, I won the school’s prestigious Jean F. Fulton Memorial Price for Creative Writing for mimicking O’Henry’s style of writing. I was so proud!  It was not the A I so desperately desired, but it was the next best thing.

Here’s the funniest ending of all. Nowadays, I will read nonfiction, of my choosing, of course, but I greatly admire nonfiction, biographical and autobiographical writers for their tenacity in keeping facts straight. It’s hard work, and if you’re a creative nonfiction writer, you have to keep facts straight in-between your creative plot writing.

History teachers, or at least the ones who taught me, were on the boring side. They’d get all excited talking about George Washington and neglect to inform us things like he had wooden teeth, and fooled around on Martha. Richard III was gay, and because of it, half his kingdom acted as his bodyguards so the intolerant French didn’t have him drawn and quartered. In addition to teaching kids history, there should be a course about historical theories. Wasn’t Patton’s death an inside job performed by fellow officers who hated him? It’s been debated that JFK was killed by the CIA, hired by the American government, as punishment for the Bay of Pigs. And, Hilary Clinton, who’s running now, was supposed to be president for the past 8 years instead of Obama. He was supposed to lose back in 2008 due to his inexperience. But the powers that be,. i.e., his Muslim friends here and abroad, put him in the White House first.

And, finally, last I heard, Obama isn’t stepping down in 2016. He’s going to pronounce himself King and move his entire village to D.C. , and appoint Hillary to run it. What does it matter? After all, it takes a village to raise a child. Read all about it in Hillary’s book, available on Amazon. in her world, lies are fact and fact are lies.




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