Three Stories I Wrote Yesterday ….

Some days, the stories just unfold.

Yesterday, I wrote four 25-word stories and I really liked three of them. The fourth was, OK, but not great. Interestingly enough, two of the stories were directly inspired by tweets in my Twitter stream. I read what two of my friends (Bill Ferriter, @plugusin; and Brian Fay, @brianfay) posted, caught a glimpse of a story and wrote it out. The third story just came out of nowhere, but it turns out to be the one I like best of all.

First of all, Bill was posting some thoughts about using a Livescribe pen, which is a nifty transcription tool that can create podcasts from writing and more. So, I wondered, what if the pen didn’t do what it was supposed to do, but did something a little … odd (I may have had Twilight Zone in my mind.)


She realized the Livescribe Pen was writing something other than the transcription. It dawned on her then what was happening.

Then, later, Brian was writing about using his wife’s computer. He has been experimenting with the new Google Chrome netbook, which is entirely cloud based, and he was noting how odd it now felt to be living off the desktop instead of in the browser. I like the double meaning of cookies here, and wished I could have played off that a bit more. The constraints of the story didn’t allow that.


Near the bookmarks, inside the cache & just out of reach of the cookies, she made a little nest & went to live in her browser.

But the story I really thought I nailed was this next one. I think an NPR story about Wikipedia I listened to the other day was still rolling around in my mind. And I had this idea of connecting a wiki to tattoos, for some reason (I can’t remember the connection I was thinking of now, so I guess it doesn’t really matter). With 25-word stories, remember, it is all about what is not being said, and trying to get a little “kicker” in there. It’s difficult to pull off. I think I did it with this one that, in just a few words, says all you need to know about this relationship. I think the word “tartly,” which I added only in the last moment, makes all the difference in the world here, don’t you?

“What if my body and spirit are nothing but a living wiki,” he wondered. She replied tartly, “You’d have a lot of edits.”

Peace (in the hint fiction),

PS — The story I didn’t like so much, even though it hit closer to home?

The taxi rolled up, on schedule. Their eyes never left the cell phones. They opened the door. “Home?” “Duh. Of course, dad.”

Edublog Challenge: Deconstructing an Effective Blog Post

The most recent challenge with the Edublog Teacher Challenge is to find a blog post that we admire and write about it. I am choosing one particular post by my NWP friend, Andrea Zellner, entitled “A Community of Readers.” I am hoping she won’t mind me deconstructing her post a bit. (Actually, she just tweeted her OK. )

Andrea begins this particular blog post with a recent news item (Kindle sharing of ebooks and the reaction that the move has received) and then branches off into how we develop our community of readers that we can turn to for advice, suggestions and feedback. Finally, she ends by asking us, her readers, to write about their own reading community and its value.

What I like here is that her wedge issue — reading and technology — became a stepping stone for something larger — how people read and how reading remains important to our lives, even with the transformative qualities of technology.  She also nicely addresses her own mixed feelings about ebooks and physical books. And then, she reminds us that technology has the potential to expand our reading community (via Goodreads, social networking, etc.) in interesting ways, although this technology should supplements and not replace our reading communities.

I love this bit from her post:

Reading, after all, is a solitary experience. Yet we yearn, especially after reading something profound and transformative, to turn around and thrust the book into the hands of those we know.  “Read this,” we implore.  We can’t contain ourselves. — Andrea Zellner

She also quotes from other sources, and provides valuable links. These are important elements to a good blog post because I can travel ahead or stay behind, whatever I want. I sort of wish more readers had responded to her (maybe you will? Go ahead.) and hope that that will still happen. She posed a question that is open-ended enough to spark comments and discussion, with no real time limit. (The limit? Exposure to more readers.)

In the end, she had me thinking and wondering. Yes, reading is solitary in the act of reading but the desire to share what we have read, and to find like-minded readers (and maybe, not so like-minded readers) is a powerful urge that most readers have. Technology and social media can be part of that community building, but I agree with her final thoughts about physical books being precious in their own special way, in part because they are something we can put into someone else’s hands and hope for a similar rich experience.

I realize now that I am doing the same here, passing her blog post along to you. So, maybe I am conflicted about it, too. That’s OK, as long I keep reflecting on it.

Peace (in the post),

Book Review: Hint Fiction

For a few months now, I have been writing 25-word stories and posting them to Twitter as part of the #25wordstory hashtag. I’ve been enjoying the experiences of this flash/quick fiction and more folks are now also writing and posting their stories, too. I recently picked up this book — Hint Fiction, edited by Robert Smartwood — and found it to a truly lovely little tome about small stories. Smartwood called 25 word stories “hint fiction” because the stories are designed to merely point to, or hint at, larger stories that are not being said.

“… a story of twenty-five words or fewer can have as much impact as a story of twenty-five hundred words or longer,” Smartwood writes in the introduction, later adding: “It’s my belief that the length of the story does not determine the credentials of the writer.”

Smartwood put out a call for these hint fiction stories and was overwhelmed by the response (from published and non-published writers), so this book represents just the tip of the iceberg of folks writing these pieces. There are plenty of great stories in here, such as:

The Strict Professor
by John Minichillo

A card in the mailbox: “Withdrawal: student deceased.” She remembers the name, the only essay in the stack she’ll really read.


The Return
By Joe R. Landsale

They buried him deep. Again.


Noah’s Daughter
By Shanna Germain

“Can’t you count I said two of each. This ” — he shook the squirming fluff of black and white in front of her — “is three.”


By Stuart Dybek

Broke and desperate, I kidnap myself. Ransom notes were sent to interested parties. Later, I sent hair and fingernails, too. They insisted on an ear.

Tell me you don’t get a kick out those. The book contains dozens more.

Sure, on one level, they are quick read. But most will make you pause and think, and wonder about what is going on just outside your field of vision. I notice how the use of titles here (as opposed to on Twitter, where space is a real issue) makes a difference for some of these stories. Here, most titles are part of the story, and if you miss the title, you may miss the story. That’s interesting — how important the title is.

Peace (in more than my 25 words),

Puppets on Display

We’re gearing up for puppet play performances next week, as we invite preschool through second grade classes to our classroom to view the original puppet plays. The snow day we had yesterday messes up my schedule (of course), which is usually to videotape the plays before the performances. But we need today as a full day of rehearsal and tomorrow is a half-day with students (for PD afternoon), and Monday is a holiday. Tuesday and Wednesday are our days of performing. The clock is ticking.

Most groups are doing fine. I think this year’s addition of recording Radio Play versions with audacity worked well because it gave them multiple chances to read through their play before going behind the puppet theater itself.

I love the puppets that they make because the kids go a little crazy with it and that often leads to creative ideas. I took a few pictures the other day and wanted to share them out. Most of the work on the puppets is done with my art teacher colleague, Leslie, and then they finish up in my classroom (which becomes so messy it drives me crazy, but I have to keep my frustration with feathers, felt, string and whatever in check. I know they are in the act of creating, and the room will be cleaned eventually.(

Student Puppets
Student Puppets
Student Puppets

Peace (in the puppetry),

A Writing Experiment: Connect the Dots

I am one of those readers who enjoys the biographies of writers who have contributed to a book collection. I am always curious, and when the editors (and writers) have fun with the genre of mini-bio (is it a genre?), such as with The Best American Non-Required Reading series, I get a chuckle. The other day, I was finishing up a collection called Hint Fiction (25 word stories), and the bios were pretty amusing. One even mentioned that he was writing a story of bios in the back of books.

So, that had me thinking. What would that look like?

Here’ s what I came up with. I had a good time writing it, trying to work some common threads across the piece and also explaining what it is, as part of the piece itself. I hope it amuses you, if only slightly.

Connect the Dots:A Story of Contributors
A story of parts by Kevin Hodgson

Tucker Abbott went to school in Florencedale, Arizona, but he swears he was never with a woman until his 27th birthday. He even took a lie detector test a few years ago to prove it. He denies that he was on sedatives at the time of the test. He writes short stories in his spare time, usually at night when he ends his shift with the Styrofoam Packing Plant, where his job is to sort out defective packing noodles. You can find his work at He has been known to break the tips off pencils at the bank while waiting in line. It’s a habit that he can’t explain.

Crystal Allistair was once accused of theft. She swears she didn’t do it, but the bracelet still fits like a charm, even 20 years later. When she’s not writing editorials about cruelty-to-animal issues (such as Michael Vick’s illegal dog fighting scandal) for her local newspapers, including The Tempe Tempest Online News, she stacks rocks in rivers as sculptures. Her nemesis is a kid named Ralph, who likes to knock the sculptures down as soon as she puts them up. It drives her crazy. She lives alone with her dog, Charlie, who appeared on her doorstep one day. She denies any charges of dog-snatching and Charlie the dog backs her up on it.

Samantha Beam was the editor of her high school newspaper in a small town in Arizona, managed her high school drama club and basketball team, received an English Degree from an online college and is now unemployed. Actually, she has never been employed. She spends her days writing flash fiction on Twitter, hoping she can get the attention of a publisher. In her spare time, which is most of the time, she sells stolen jewelry on the streets of nearby Tempe, Arizona. It’s a living.

Stewart Chase lives in California but spends part of the year in Alaska, working aboard a fish trawler. He’s one of the “hook men.” It usually takes him at least a week of scrubbing to get rid of the smell, but the money is good. Cats seem to like him. His latest play is entitled “In the Net” and it tells the story of three childhood friends who lose track of each other but then reconnect years later, only to deeply regret it. The moral is to let the past lie dormant, for god’s sake. The play is dubbed a cyberthriller-romance-downer. He is now launching a crowdsourcing venture to raise enough money to produce the play. Go to to donate via paypal, and get your name on the playbill.

Caitlin Meade grew up in a small town in Arizona, but had to leave due to an unfortunate incident that embarassed her family. She now lives in California with her mildy-gifted son, Curt, who is old enough by now to have left home but hasn’t. She is an independent filmmaker, and you can find her work at Previews of her latest film are available for download at a reasonable price. Any resemblance to actual people in her past is very intentional. If you recognize the person in the film, please call them and guilt him into child support payments. Curt needs new video games.

Paul Mutterer writes stories about his life’s adventures on Chinese Restaurant napkins, and then sells them on ebay. Surprisingly, he makes a pretty good living at it. He began this kind of writing while in juvenile jail, where had been sent as a teenager after being falsely accused of theft. He never really got back on track after that experience and still wonders how he got fingered for that crime. His parents still shake their heads and wonder about “what happened to that boy.” His parents figure prominently in his Chinese napkin stories.

Thomas Pearl has created more online spaces than you can shake a stick at. Really. It has become a sort of obsessive hobby of his. His latest venture — Six Degrees — uses a complex algorithm that invites people together as writers based on the faintest of past connections. The writers don’t even know they know each other and they only have a vague sense of the connections. Once a year, he published a book by the writers who are connected. This book is one of those. He is now working on another site called Ripples that extends a single musical note out to multiple compositions. He’s already bored with that, so, who knows what he’ll be doing next. In his spare time, he buys odd pieces of writing off ebay and then burns them in his fireplace. He has often been accused of having a bit too much money, technical expertise and free time. He doesn’t deny it.

Philbert Yoog has written five short novels about a dog that has gone missing. He really loved that dog and now suspects someone may have taken it, perhaps for those dog fighting rings he reads about in his newspaper. His replacement dog, Grendal, isn’t half the dog his old dog was. His latest story is entitled “In the Time of Charlie” and it is a bit too sad to even read. Even for him, and he wrote it. You can find it at If you want.

Chance Zilk once won first place in an ice sculpturing contest in Fairbanks, Alaska. His design of a Defective Human Genome was “delicate, intricate and oddly beautiful,” according to the judges.He enjoyed destroying it afterwards. He is sorry for also destroying the second place sculpture of Atlas holding up the World, but things got out of control, quickly. His $10,000 prize has allowed him time to pursue one of his life’s passions: acting. Now all he needs is a play or movie. He can’t wait much longer. The money is running out.

Peace (in the bio),

Haiti, a year later

It’s been a year since the earthquake ravaged Haiti. And still, so many people there are without homes and living in dangerous conditions. It’s difficult event to fathom. I know a group from our church has been trying to get to Haiti with some relief efforts for the past few months, but weather conditions and political violence have delayed that effort. Which means the people who need help the most are not likely getting it.

Last year, when the earthquake hit and I was hit hard emotionally by the images of the destruction, I wrote and shared this original song at a concert we organized at my school. A year later, the song still seems to touch a nerve with me.

I Fall Apart

Peace (and help to those in need),

What My Students Are Reading

We moved into an independent reading unit this week, and as my students sat around in a circle yesterday and shared their titles and the first sentence of the book (as a teaser), I made notes of the titles that they had chosen for themselves. I have read about half of them, and know about 25 percent more of them, but a few of the books have not come into my radar before.

The books I had not heard of before include:

  • The Secret Society of the Crystal Ball
  • Soul Surfer
  • Dewey the Library Cat
  • Shiver
  • You Wish

My goal is to put this list of books up in the room (and also, at our class blog site) as a resource for all four of my classes, for times when they are in the process of choosing a book to read.

I could not help but notice a few classics on the list:

  • The War of the Worlds
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Treasure Island
  • The Phantom Tollbooth
  • White Fang

Wordle seemed an apt way to highlight the book titles.

Peace (in the books),

Considering the National Day on Writing

I’ve agreed to be on a task force with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) to brainstorm and coordinate more outreach efforts for the third annual National Day on Writing that takes place this coming fall. This week, we will have our first phone conference and our coordinator sent along some interesting data to help guide our thoughts. This data (most of which comes from the 2009 Day on Writing, as the most recent 2010 data is still being sifted) comes from the National Day on Writing Online Gallery.

At the Gallery:

  • There are 29,058 submissions have been published (that’s impressive, isn’t it?);
  • There are 3017 galleries (including 2994 local galleries — such as teachers and schools — and 23 partner galleries — such as larger organizations like the National Writing Project that partner up for the project);
  • The majority of published work is student work, from school-based assignments (In 2009, there were more than 10,000 writers from the age range of 13 to 22 while there were about 2,000 writers from ages 30 to 60);
  • (For 2009’s Day on Writing) most of the writing was done with a word processor (11,000 pieces) while only a few used multimedia (137 used video and 11 used audio). I’d be interested to see if these numbers started to shift in 2010;
  • Most of the writing came under traditional genres (short stories, poetry, etc.);
  • Very few galleries were represented from organizations outside of schools and education (ie, community groups);
  • There are plenty of empty galleries that folks set up but never used.

As I mull over what I can bring to the conversation, I was thinking:

  • I love the concept of capturing writing in all of its glory and power and beauty through a National Day on Writing, particularly the emphasis on daily writing that we do without thinking about it;
  • I wish the online Gallery website were easier to navigate and easier to use. There seem to be too many data point questions to get to the actual submission page (but that data yields information like what I just shared);
  • It drove me crazy that I could not  “embed” media (such as a digital story, or an audio file) right into my submission page. Everything had to be linked to another place outside of the Gallery. I think it is fair to say that most people will not follow those links, but they would watch or listen if they could do it right there on the Gallery page itself. Does the Gallery infrastructure allow for this?
  • The look and feel of the Gallery site is, as one friend put it, like a throwback site from the 90s. I don’t know anything about the resources that are available to NCTE but it seems like the site itself could use a little more oomph.
  • I’m not all that crazy about the homepage design. It is a large library and while I love and adore libraries, it is not quite the message of 21st Century that we want to send. At least, the image should have some technology component along with the stacks of books. Most libraries have made that transition.
  • Given the day of interactions between readers and writers, isn’t there a way to allow for comments on writing? (this may not be within the mission of the effort, though, and the question of moderation would surely come into play).
  • There must be a better way to search through the Gallery — can we create a “Stumble Upon” style of navigation for the site, I wonder. Or a “Surprise Me” feature? I’d like that.
  • If teachers like me are using the Day on Writing to celebrate writing, are students buying in? or is it just another writing assignment? And how can we tell? (We can’t.)
  • I wonder if people even come back to the Gallery to read during the rest of the year? I’ll ask about that kind of data. My guess is that folks submit writing, publish to the site but don’t do all that much reading. The danger is an empty space of writing, right?
  • It would be nice to have a writing showcase are at the Gallery — right on the homepage — for a variety of different kinds of work. That might invite more folks in to look around.
  • How can we best use the tools of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to encourage, invite and promote the National Day on Writing? This is an area that I will be thinking most deeply upon.
  • How can we promote the idea of the Day on Writing to groups not directly affiliated with schools? I am thinking of YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Scouts, etc., who might find the initiative valuable but either don’t know about it or know how to access it. This might be a “branding issue,” too, if this effort seems to be only school-based.

I’m really looking for ideas from any of you, dear readers, about how to improve the Day on Writing and the Gallery experiences. If you have thoughts, I would love to hear them. Just write me a comment here and I will be sure to add them into the conversations this week.

Peace (in the writing),

An Audio Interview with my Blog

I am keeping an eye on the Teacher Blogging Challenge now underway with Edublogs and saw this post by Ann, asking advanced bloggers to be reflective on their blogs. One of the options was an interview with your blog, which struck me as fun and odd (something I can’t resist).

So, here I go, and I included an audio version, giving “voice” to my blog with some effects to separate the interview from the interviewee.

Listen to the “interview”

1. Good morning. Are you always up this early? I’m always up. I’m a blog.

2.  True. Well, I hope you don’t mind that I am going to drink my coffee while we chat. Now, your name is Kevin’s Meandering Mind. Can you give me the lowdown on your name? Certainly. When Kevin created me, he didn’t really know what he was going to write about. He knew that teaching would be part of it, and writing. But he figured that music and some other areas that he is interested in would also come into play. That led to the meandering.

3. And meander it does. I’m surprised you have any faithful readers. Do you worry that covering a wide range of topics might be, well, confusing for the reader? It is a potential issue but I think Kevin often writes for himself, as much for an audience, and he has some faith that readers can come along with him. If not, they can make that choice. But I am grateful for readers who come around on a regular basis, particularly those who make comments and leave notes.

4. Do you encourage comments? Of course! I’m a blog! Comments from readers are what we crave. Of course, I have my trusty spam filter, too, so not all comments come to my attention. I really don’t need new shoes or desire to send money to someone on the other side of the world. Not that I have money.

5. So, your blog does not generate revenue with advertisements? No. We don’t do that. In fact, Kevin pays to keep ads off of me. Some of my cousins out there do have advertising tattoos, but I would rather do without them. And Kevin agrees.

6. So, why does Kevin write on you? He writes because he is a writer, and he has found that our partnership — him, the writer, and me, the blog — gives him a chance to explore, compose and connect with others like him in the world. He’s been writing for years, but never quite like this. I think I opened up a door for him that will be difficult to shut. Plus, he often uses me to explore sites and technology that he is considering for his classroom.

7. You’re some sort of techno-guinea pig? That’s a harsh way to put it, pal. But I suppose it’s something like that. I don’t mind. It’s what I do.

8. How long have you been around? More than six years. Can you believe that? Kevin started me up after a week-long technology retreat with the National Writing Project. A friend of his who had been blogging (and still does, I should add) in Washington DC urged him to start a blog. In fact, he had already been doing blogging with his students. But I was his first push into a personal blog. It’s been a nice partnership.

9. What advice do you have for all of those new blogs out there? I’d say find a niche, but you know, I never really have. So, instead, I’d suggest you find a voice. Establish a voice and project your thoughts into the world.

10. It’s been nice chatting with you. Any last thoughts? It’s been a pleasure. Kindly take that coffee cup off the mouse pad, would you? I don’t want you to leave any lasting impressions with the interview.

Peace (in the conversations),

Thinking: Mentor Texts and Digital Composition

My friend, Franki Sibberson, has me thinking about mentor texts and how they can be used in the classroom for digital composition with students. She has me thinking because we are part of a group trying to pull together a proposal for the NCTE Conference in November, with a focus on elementary levels.

And since I was already doing this thinking, I figured I would adapt that same idea for a session I will be doing next fall for the New England Reading Association around New Literacies. The idea of using some “mentor texts” that can provide examples, and inspiration, to students who are working with digital tools for composition seems more important than ever, given where we are in the development of technology in learning environments (relatively early in that stage, I would say).

So, I’ve wracking my brain a bit, thinking of how I have done this without really naming it as “mentor texts” all that often. Here are some of the things that I came up with:

  • When we launch into our Digital Science Picture Book Project, I always turn to The Magic School Bus series for help. If you look closely at the original series of books (and even some of the Scholastic series), the various levels of text and information going on all over the place — the paper multimodal-ism — you realize quite quickly how layered it is. And for our digital books, which uses digital tools to layer in animation and information and a fictional story, the Magic School Bus books provide a perfect launching point, particularly because of the array of other non-book materials that followed the books: video games and television shows, etc. Here, the concept of science told through story with a sense of humor is a great mentor text. (See my work around Digital Picture Books at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website.)
  • Last year, I decided I really wanted to have my students write a challenging story that brought the reader into the fold. I had them create Make Your Own Ending stories, using a wiki, in which stories would branch off in various directions for the reader through the use of hyperlinks. The mentor text we used to demonstrate this was one of the Make Your Own Ending novels (which are now being revamped and re-issued, I see). We also talked about some of the Goosebumps series that did the same thing, often through the use of Second Person Narrative (which was a lesson plan within the project, and great way to talk about Second Person). I also recently reviewed a graphic novel series that does the same approach, combining narrative text with graphic text, with the reader making choices on which way to go. (See my website about making Make Your Own Ending stories in the classroom).
  • Making stopmotion movies is very engaging for students, but they often need a sense of how long and how meticulous one needs to be to produce a quality video. Therefore, we often turn to the creators of Wallace and Gromit, watching some of their short videos (and noticing how polished they become over the years) and then, I show them a neat behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit feature film as a mentor “text.” From there, they film and publish stopmotion movies (usually, with a literary theme) to the Longfellow Ten collaborative website.  (See my Making Stopmotion Movies)
  • An Exquisite Corpse Story is a collaborative venture in which one person begins a story, and another adds to it, and then it gets passed along. (The Folding Story activity that I have written about recently is a small version of the Exquisite Corpse). Last year, we turned to a website that featured a year’s worth of well-known authors (at the Read.Gov website) whose task was to write a new chapter to a story every other week. Although we did not last the year, my students followed the story closely for about three months, and were writing right alongside the published authors, too. We even podcasted a Voicethread of a chapter as written by students. This mentor text, which unfolded for us online, then led to a collaborative story project in which we used a wiki for writing. That activity was strictly voluntary, but they had the Exquisite Corpse saga (in all of its strange glory) in the back of their minds. (see the Voicethread podcast).

And I expect to keep thinking …

Peace (in the sharing),