Teaching Children Character Building Concepts: An Interview with Author Gretchen Burman

Who is Gretchen Burman?

My name is Gretchen Burman, mother of two amazing girls and wife to a fabulous and supportive husband.  When I was pregnant ten years ago, I was freaking out thinking how I would raise capably, caring and happy children.  What did I need to proactively and reactively teach them so they could be their best self?

I created a list of guiding principles called, The 12 Cs, to be my parenting checklist and provide my family with a common language to help us navigate life’s ups and downs.  Through the years, I expanded The 12 Cs to include positive self-talk and mindset skills.  Science supports the benefits of this powerful life skill and I use the characters Green Glory and Red Rant from my book, The Adventures of Ooga and Zeeta, to help children understand the power of their inner voice so they can be mentally strong and self-compassionate.  

After years of witnessing the positive effects and extensive research, I am now sharing my passion and learnings with other adults and children through my book, assemblies and workshops. 

What inspired you to write The Adventures of Ooga and Zeeta?

My now 10-year-old daughter, Payton, inspired me to write the book about 5 years ago.  Her imaginary friends are Ooga and Zeeta and I thought it would be so special to bring them to life through stories for each of The 12 Cs.  She is my muse.  For each story, Ooga or Zeeta start by thinking with their Red Rant inner voice.  Then they decide to change their self-talk/mindset to think with their Green Glory inner voice.  It shows children how they, too can navigate through real life situations, think for themselves and be prepared to handle whatever life throws at them.  

The book is a teaching tool designed to be read by children and adults together, offering a communication tool to open up dialogue and foster conversations.

What book made you realize you wanted to be a writer?

It wasn’t a specific book that made me realize I wanted to be a writer.  It was more that I wanted to share the consistent vocabulary of The 12 Cs, Green Glory and Red Rant with other children and families who were looking for a kid-friendly way to teach these character concepts and positive self-talk/mindset skills.

Do you have any quirky writing rituals or odd sources of writing inspiration?

The source for my stories are from my daughters.  I write down situations where we use The 12 Cs, Green Glory and Red Rant to help us navigate through obstacles.  I keep a notebook handy for these opportunities and then I type them in the computer so they are secure for when I write my blogs and next book.

What is the most famous book you’ve never read?

Harry Potter

How is the writer’s life you’re living different than the one you imagined?

I never imagined I would be a writer.  Writing was never a strength of mine so it didn’t occurred to me to write a book until a teacher friend of mine loved The 12 Cs and thought it would be great to share the concepts with other adults.  

After publishing the book, I wanted to get the book to as many kids and adults as possible.  I now go around to schools and teach thousands of kids about The 12 Cs, Green Glory and Red Rant through assemblies and workshops.  It has been incredibly rewarding to do something that I am so passionate about.  I truly believe in what I’m teaching and think children will benefit today and in their future.  It’s also super cool when you meet someone who has read your book and shares success stories of how the book has positively impacted them and their family.  When readers give you examples of how their kids changed from Red Rant to Green Glory.  So empowering and meaningful that my characters are helping others.

If you could build a super-author consisting of three, living or deceased, authors who would you pick and why?

Carol Dweck – her research has opened the door for new thinking and giving people power over their own lives.

Dan Brown – I love his stories and can never put his books down.  

James S. Hirsch – Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter – I love the strength of the characters and how they brought out so many emotions for me.  I love how a few amazing people helped and positively changed a man’s life with their actions.

Of your invented characters, who would you like to meet for lunch? Why?

Definitely Green Glory!  I would love to hear how it pushes away Red Rant when it’s bullying it.  What works and what doesn’t work to keep Red Rant quiet.

What are you currently working on that’s got you excited?

I am presenting at elementary school assemblies introducing The 12 Cs, Green Glory and Red Rant to students and faculty.  The assembly uses role plays to act out the characters in my book, Green Glory and Red Rant via The 12 Cs.  The goal is for students to leave empowered with new communication tools to help them successfully navigate life’s ups and downs.

Where can we find your books?

The Adventures of Ooga and Zeeta is available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and many other on-line distributors.

Connect with Gretchen on the following social media links:

I would like to thank Gretchen for sharing her thoughts and time with Write on Fight on.


Thanks for reading and since you’re here…

… I have two small favors to ask…

  1. Please check out the author’s social media accounts and help promote the their work.
  2. If you know a published author, I would love to promote their work and feature them on Write on Fight on. Please be awesome and share this post with them. If interested, I can be reached at…writeonfighton@gmail.com.

Be well,

Jay

Compassion vs. Cruelty: Why You Should Read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

This afternoon, sometime before dinner, you will turn on the evening news.

A suited-man seated behind a desk welcomes you.

“Good evening.”

Then, without warning, he launches into a blitzkrieg of stories:

Murder, mudslides, deadly carnival rides, Constitutional decay, children trapped in hot cars and how North Korea is stockpiling nuclear warheads like canned goods before finally, mercifully, the fine-suited man looks at you, smiles and says, “We’ll be right back with more news at 4.”

A little unnerved, you linger by the TV, catching your breath, hoping that when the fine-suited man returns, he returns with lighter news.

But he doesn’t.

There’s a tractor-trailer stuffed with dead Mexicans in Texas,  a love-triangle gone wrong in a central Pennsylvania and OJ Simpson was just granted parole in Nevada.

You shake your head and hold your stomach and wonder, while listening to your children play in other room, if the world is purging itself of compassion like its been purging itself of fossil fuels for all these years.

Eleven years ago Cormac McCarthy published The Road.

Meet with immediate praise, The Road won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, scored a sacred spot on Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club that same year and in 2008 Entertainment Weekly named The Road  the most important book of the last 25 years.

 

The Premise

The Road is a parable that narrates the harrowing journey of a father and son as they move cautiously through a post-apocalyptic America.

It’s “cold enough to crack stones”, gray snow falls from a gray sky, the man-made world has been charred and destroyed and food is achingly scarce. So scarce, people have resorted to cannibalism.

At 1:17 the clocks stopped. Followed by “a long shear of light and then a series of low concussions” then everything turned to ash.

McCarthy never reveals the origin of the cataclysm because the novel is not concerned with how the world came to ruins.

It’s concerned about the state of morality in a post-apocalyptic world.

And the father, who is unnamed to highlight the universality of the book, is crossed, like we are, as he attempts to raise his child to be decent and civil in an indecent and uncivilized world.

Son: We wouldn’t ever eat anybody, would we?
Father: No. Of course not.
Even if we were starving?
We’re starving now.
No matter what.
No. No matter what.
Because we’re the good guys.
Yes.
And we’re carrying the fire.
And we’re carrying the fire. Yes.

Why am I such a fan?

Aside from McCathy’s breathtaking prose, which teeter on the edge of absolute poetry,

“Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”

The Road forces its characters and its readers to weigh the costs of both compassion and cruelty.

That moral divide of, “Do I dehumanize others for my own survival?”

The cannibals have resorted to dehumanization to fill their stomachs with food. Yet in doing so, they are selfishly killing humanity’s chances of survival.

McCarthy parallels such selfish cruelty with the father’s heroic attempts to teach his son why compassion, more than cruelty, is necessary for humanity’s survival.

Compassion, like cruelty is a human instinct. Take the French philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle, who recently died while saving two children from drowning.

Two children she did not know.

Cruelty is the easier of the two instincts.

Compassion requires more patience, more commitment. Compassion requires selflessness, a smothering of your own ego to quell the burdens of others so that they may heal and reciprocate such compassion to others.

And, based on the closing pages of the book, it’s the reciprocation of compassion that will renew the world.

The Road as a Guide to Parenting

You have my whole heart. You always did. You’re the best guy. You always were.”

You will never find The Road waiting on the shelves in the Parenting section of a bookstore. But beyond the terse, dystopian, survival story it’s about how to raise a child in the bleakest of hours.

Read the dedication page.

McCarthy dedicates The Road to his then 7 year old son John Francis.

In his interview with Oprah, McCarthy calls his son the coauthor of the book. Because many of the conversations in the book were based on real conversations McCarthy had with his own son.

McCarthy has said that The Road is everything he wants to teach his son about growing up, about life, about being “a good guy.”

The father continually tells his son, that no matter what, “You must carry the fire.”

Yes, the fire is literal–the boy needs the fire for warmth and to cook but fire is metaphorical for compassion and love.

Because, the father believes it’s the fire that will spring the boy’s survival.

And I couldn’t agree more.

As a parent of nine years, I’m starting to understand the weight of both my words and actions of my children.

I’m starting to understand that my words and actions are etched in their soft walls, like cave drawings, artifacts, maps that offer understanding and direction to the world that lurks outside.

It’s a terrifying thought to entertain– but the foundation of their little ideology is built upon what I say and do.

The Road’s Call to Action

The Road isn’t about the apocalypse. It’s about love. It’s about having the courage to be decent in indecent times.

It may seem that compassion is an outdated practice yet The Road argues compassion is as primal as cruelty. That compassion, not cruelty, will restore order to the fallen world.

The Road is bleak. It will test your spirit. It will make you question the fate of humanity.

But so will the evening news.

Be well,

Jay

Another Successful College Essay Writing Camp!

 

During the week of July 17th, I facilitated the Write on Fight on College Essay Camp for a great group of rising 12th grade students.

Throughout the week we learned:

  • Why writers should brainstorm like Vin Diesel… Fast &Furious
  • Why, as writers, should always create more content then we actually need
  • How to destroy writer’s block
  • Why writers should always consider the reader’s feelings
  • How to write a scene of conflict
  • How to be a self-aware writer
  • How to captivate your reader with effective verbs
  • How to properly and effectively break the rules of grammar
  • How to become a ruthless editor of your own work
  • How to effectively organize our writing
  • How to write like a storyteller

The next camp is August 7-11. Limited spaces are available.

If you live in or around the central New Jersey area and would like help crafting an effective college essay as well as learning important writing and editing strategies before another school year begins…contact me at writeonfighton@gmail.com

Writing to Motivate: An Interview with Author Joan Ramirez

Joan Ramirez’s book, Jamie is Autistic, Learning in a Special Way, was inspired by the many special learners that she has taught as a Special Education teacher.
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She lives in New Jersey and has an M.S. in Journalism, an M.S. in English as a Second Language, and an M.S. in Elementary/Special Education. She is also a published photographer and has traveled worldwide to give workshops in photojournalism.
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Her book, Let it Go,Let it Flow Leadership published by Motivational Press, has motivated managers of all levels to advance in their organizations. Her book, Go for It Leadership Handbook for All Students by Audible.com is still motivating high school students in Europe to go for it.
I would like to welcome and thank Joan for sharing her thoughts and time with Write on Fight on.

How long have you been writing? 

My first article was published when I was nine.

What book made you realize you wanted to be a writer?

To Kill a Mockingbird inspired me to write.

Do you have any quirky writing rituals or odd sources of writing inspiration?

My dear friend, Isabelle Holland, who wrote The Man Without a Face, is my inspiration.

Why do you write? 

I write to motivate, to inspire, and to entertain with thought-provoking stories.  

 If you could build a super-author consisting of three, living or deceased, authors who would you pick and why?

Isabelle Holland, Marilyn Henderson, and Robin Hathaway–three women who went before their time.

What author would you like to meet for lunch? Why?

I would like to meet Charles Dickens for lunch and pick his brain.What are you currently working on that’s got you excited?

What are you working on now? What are you excited about?

I’m working on the fragrance novel and will be working on a suspense set in Brazil. Every book I write gets me excited.

Joan’s books can be found on Amazon.com.

You can connect with Joan on Facebook


Thanks for reading and since you’re here…

… I have two small favors to ask…

  1. Please check out the author’s social media accounts and help promote the their work.
  2. If you know a published author, I would love to promote their work and feature them on Write on Fight on. Please be awesome and share this post with them. If interested, I can be reached at…writeonfighton@gmail.com.

Be well,

Jay

Crossing the Line: The Birth of a Delusional Parent

It’s July and I’m standing along a sun-splashed sideline watching my son embroiled in a heated little league baseball game, sweating.

Chase’s team mans the field. There’s a runner on first base.

Two outs.

They are losing 6-4.

Chase is playing second base. He’s got a pair of black socks pulled above his calves, his gray baseball pants are loose in the thighs and tighten just below the knee caps. He’s wearing eye black and with his hat pulled low he looks like he just stepped out of the baseball cards I collected when I was a kid.

A baseball field has two foul lines.

A white chalk line that begins at the batter’s box, runs straight through the first and third base bags and dead ends deep in the outfield fence.

The line is to help umpires and players know if the ball is fair or foul.

The line is also to keep parents out.

 

Parents like me, spongy and creaky kneed, patrol sidelines.

We watch our children and urge and instruct and curse and twist and tense and believe our body language has magical powers to spell the plays unfolding on the field before us.

As a teacher and former coach, I’ve witnessed parents living vicariously though their children. Stepping sideways out of their own lives and into the lives of their children. Driving their children like shiny new cars to run down their lost dreams.

But there’s danger in such joy rides.

I’ve seen children limp through adolescence hating those things once loved because parents crossed a line, because parents got too close, because parents exploited their child’s ability hoping to recover dusty trophies from the past.

It’s something I swore I’d never do.

There’s an aluminum pop.

It’s a quick bouncer up the middle.

Chase springs to his right, dives, extends left arm and the baseball disappears and the heat rises as if Medford, New Jersey tilted closer to the sun and the right field chalk line dissolves and I’m playing second base and there’s a quick bouncer up the middle and I react, faster then I’ve reacted in years because my body feels fast and strong like a new Corvette and I dive and extend my left arm and the baseball disappears in my glove, its weight cradled in my palm and I land on my stomach and the dirt funnels up my nose and I reach in the glove and with a back-hand toss watch the ball arch into the July sky and land safely in the shortstop’s glove who is standing firmly on second base.

The crowd explodes.

Three outs.

I spring to my feet, dirty and smiling.  I just defied gravity.  I just made eyes pop. I just made mouths say wow. I just did what big leaguers on baseball cards do for a living.

The shortstop slaps his glove across my back as if to say, “Atta boy!”

The coach barrels out of the dugout, crosses the foul line clapping and cheering and announces, “That’s a big league play, son!”

And it was. It was awesome.

And I didn’t do any of it.

My son did. It was all Chase.

I just poured his Frosted Flakes, tied his cleats and drove him Medford, New Jersey.

In the sudden swell of excitement, a line had been crossed.

A line I swore I’d never cross.

Between innings as parents reapplied suntan lotion, as the opposing team littered the field and Chase’s team traded gloves for bats and it unnerved me to learn how quickly self-awareness strikes out.  How in the snap of one play I let my mind cross into his body. How quickly delusional parents are born.

Like wading through soup I pushed to nearby shade, wiped my forehead, exhaled and acknowledged that I was hot and a little bothered.

Be well,

Jay

 

“I wanted to write something that brought people together.” An Interview with Author Lisa Colozza Cocca

Lisa Colozza Cocca is the author of PROVIDENCE, a YA novel from SimonPulse/ an imprint of Simon and Schuster, and numerous school and library titles, as well as textbooks, workbooks, and classroom kits.

She grew up in Cohoes, New York and moved to New Jersey after college. Lisa works fulltime as a freelance writer and editor in educational publishing. Lisa loves her family, friends, reading, writing, and Saturday nights.  PROVIDENCE, her debut novel, was the 2014 all-community read for the Morristown Book Festival.

I would like to welcome and thank Lisa for sharing her thoughts and time with Write on Fight on.


 How long have you been writing?

I started writing in high school, but I stopped for quite a while when I was raising young children. I began writing again with an eye toward publication about 15+ years ago.

What book made you realize you wanted to be a writer

It actually wasn’t a book – it was a job, or more precisely the people I got to know because of the job. I had always recognized that reading was an intensely personal experience. There could be ten people in a room reading the same book and each could get something different out of the story based on what background experience they brought into the story.

When I started working as a school librarian, I came to realize how those individual experiences with the same title could also draw people together. Through discussion each reader could come away with a deeper understanding of what they read and a deeper understanding of each other. That was when I knew I wanted to write. I wanted to write something that made people think or feel and want to share those thoughts and feelings with others. I wanted to write something that brought people together.

Do you have any quirky writing rituals or odd sources of writing inspiration?

Quirky is in the eyes of the beholder. I usually work at my desktop, but if I’m stuck on something, I sometimes transfer whatever I’m working on to my laptop and go to a different part of the house to work. A change in surroundings can help poke my brain. Also, if I’m having difficulty figuring how to work something out, I close my eyes and picture the story as a movie. I listen to what the character’s say, watch how they move etc. As to inspiration, for me writing inspiration comes from life.

Sometimes it’s an interesting news story, more often it is an interesting person I come upon. I am a seasoned people watcher. I love to study how people react in situations – their facial expression, body language, and interaction with the environment or others around them. I try to imagine why the person reacted a particular way and how that experience might have changed the course of events.

What is the most famous book you’ve never read?

Moby Dick

How is the writer’s life you’re living different than the one you imagined?

I was unprepared for the marketing demands and the expectations of others. On the plus side, I’ve met so many wonderful authors and made a few new real friends among them. This is a true gift when I’m trying to navigate through some difficult situation. I’ve also been challenged to do things that don’t come easily to me.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to speak at the NYC Public Library – a mecca for writers. That was something I never imagined myself doing. I was very excited when I thought I was going to be presenting in the safety of a panel discussion. When I realized I would be alone on the stage and needed to be funny, panic washed over me. I was certain I couldn’t be funny on demand and particularly in front of an auditorium filled with people. In the end, despite my inner terror, it went well and I lived to tell about it. As an added bonus, that experience made other speaking engagements seem easy by comparison!

If you could build a super-author consisting of three, living or deceased, authors who would you pick and why?

I would start with EL Konigsburg and her novels for grades 6 and up. I admire the way she always respected the intelligence of her readers and appreciated their ability for compassion. Her novels make readers think and feel and connect with the world. I would add Lois Lowry, another power house of a writer. I admire her creativity, and like Konigsburg, her ability to tap into the humanity of her readers. Thirdly, I would add some Jerry Spinelli. His ability to be both funny and serious is a gift. And like Konigsburg and Lowry, Spinelli consistently constructs characters that readers can find a piece of themselves in.

Of your invented characters, who would you like to meet for lunch? Why?

That’s a tough one. If I can only choose one, I’d like to have lunch with Becky (Providence) to let her know she can move forward in life without having to let go of the best of her past and that she is more capable than she realizes.

What are you currently working on that’s got you excited?

I’ve been working on a couple YA novels, but needed to take a break from them. I switched over to a cozy mystery and am thoroughly enjoying writing it.

Where can we find your books?

You can find my books in libraries (even as far away as Australia and Singapore!), bookstores, and online bookstores. You can find me at book festivals, libraries, and schools throughout the year and online at:

www.lisacolozzacocca.com  (website)

Contact Lisa at:

info@lisacolozzacocca.com  (e-mail)

facebook.com/lisacolozzacocca

@mynameislisa27 (Twitter)


Thanks for reading and since you’re here…

… I have two small favors to ask…

  1. Please check out the author’s social media accounts and help promote the their work.
  2. If you know a published author, I would love to promote their work and feature them on Write on Fight on. Please be awesome and share this post with them. If interested, I can be reached at…writeonfighton@gmail.com.

Be well,

Jay

It’s called “The Alchemist” and you should read it.

If I could have a conversation with my 30 year old self it would go like this:

“It’s called The Alchemist and you should read it.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re 30.  Because you’re foolish. Because you’re playing it safe. Because you think time is your friend. You yearn for the wrong things. You make half-hearted choices. You feel obligated to adopt people’s opinions as your truth because you desperately fear rejection. You want to live the easy life and expect hard-won rewards. You take too much for granted. You’ve failed to understand that all choices, even the small ones, ripple with consequence and even choosing not to choose has consequences. You should read The Alchemist because you’re going to father two more children and you’re going to invest your money into grad school then you’re going to get sick, chronically sick, a sickness will break you physically, test you spiritually and on a cold December day you’ll wring your hands and look into the soft eyes of your children and shut your laptop and dropout of grad school and be more lost then you’ve ever been and it’s only then, as you wade through some of the most draining, exhausting, terrifying hours, days, weeks, months, years that you will learn that discomfort and pain are necessary for growth. That your scars, those jagged stories, knitted with conflict which tattoo your limbs and your internal organs are signs, are omens from a higher power that give your life meaning and purpose.”

My 30 year old self looks down, kicks dust for awhile and as if talking to his toes, “What’s the book again?”

“The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.”

The silence balloons into something big and palpable between us.

30 year old self turns up his eyes, offers that familiar, coy smile only found in photo albums now. He’s young and thin and clueless.

“So this Alchemist book…”, he crosses his arms and leans his shoulders back, “… can I get the Sparknotes.”

The Alchemist is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

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Written by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, the anniversary edition is prefaced with Coelho describing how The Alchemist sold only 1 copy in the first week, how it took 6 months for a second copy to sell (both copies were bought by the same person!) to selling more then 65 million copies and translated into 80 different languages, a Guinness Record for most translated book by a living author.

The premise of The Alchemist is simple: A poor sheep herder, Santiago, decides to sell his flock to go questing across the Arabic dessert for a treasure supposedly located near the pyramids of Egypt.

Of course, what he learns about himself, about life and happiness and love and truth on the journey are more valuable then any extravagant treasure he could find.

Why am I such a fan?

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Because Coelho implores a very simple, parabolic style to tell Santiago’s story, which is essentially the story of humankind.

It’s about decision making.

It’s about following your dreams.

It’s choosing to live a life that gives your heart and soul meaning and purpose.

It’s about finding your true self or as Coelho calls it “Personal Legend”

Making a decision, taking action is really hard.

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I always thought the older, more mature I got the easier decision making would be. Not true. In fact, I’m learning the older you get the more things         (money, children, health, job security) there are, the harder decisions become.

As adults, we so fear being wrong. We yearn for the right decision. We foolishly think the right decision will unlock this magical, unicorn life that we dream of.

The Alchemist argues that we can live a good life by avoiding decision making and risk taking.

We can earn money, own a house, raise a family, make friends and host parties. We can have all the magazine comforts of a “good life”. However, the “good life” will always fall short of the one we imagine for ourselves.

This “good life”, the cautious life will always prevent us from achieving our Personal Legend.

And this “good life” will gnaw us, dog us, press us and leave us with a hollow heart that beats and beats and beats as we stagger through a desert life, a life that mercifully ends with our inevitable death.

The Alchemist reminds us it’s the easy path, the lighted and well-worn path that has been traversed by so many souls is the far more dangerous path than the mysterious, unblazoned path.

5 More Takeaways

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  • Every human learns of their destiny as a child. As a child we play, we embrace our passions, however we age and the world’s opinions infiltrate our heart and we abandon our destiny and replace what we really want with what other people want or us.
  • We must be aware of signs/omens. They offer clarity and direction.
  • Our choices have consequences that stretch beyond our knowledge and our life time.
  • Our destiny, our ultimate goal requires endless suffering.
  • Suffering for our destiny is better/more heroic/more rewarding/more badass then living a safe life.

5 Favorite Quotes… (pictures from my book to prove I actually read it and didn’t opt for Sparknotes this time)

The Alchemist’s Call to Action

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Life is a noisy ride. Whether we’re ready for it or not, we will hear everyone’s opinions about ourselves.

If we adopt what other’s think of us as our truths, we will come to hate ourselves. We will live, as the American quote machine Henry David Thoreau described, “a life of quiet desperation.”

The Alchemist’s simple narrative style amplifies the books simple message, no matter the noise, no matter the costs–follow your destiny.

It’s a simple message, one we once understood yet we aged, got comfortable, we vilified change and life’s simple message got twisted in something incredibly complicated.

Be well,

Jay