MARTHA ALDERSON PUT STORY STRUCTURE ON MY DINING ROOM TABLE

I didn’t begin my life thinking that I would be a writer. I was always much too busy for that. But after my kids left home, I began to write some small articles for newsletters and I found myself keeping a journal. I felt empty with everyone gone and it gave me comfort to commit my thoughts to paper. Over the years, my urge to write kept growing. I started writing stories for my friends and they encouraged me to write more. The idea of writing a book seemingly started without my consent but the words kept waking me up at night. Writing was taking hold of me.

As I struggled to make sense of my bedside notes, I learned of a writers’ group at Wayne State University’s Institute of Gerontology, called “Adventurous Writers.” It was there that I began to learn the trade: developing a theme, learning how to plot a story, the elements of the hero’s journey, and the importance of through-lines. After the basics are in place, you top it off with a “hook,” a cherry on top of an ice cream sunday, something to immediately capture the readers’ interest so they can’t put it down.

We studied many different approaches for mastering story structure. My favorite book that taught me how to write was The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Alderson (Adams Media, 2011).  In the text were diagrams of plots illustrating elements of the universal story, prescribing how many pages should be devoted to the beginning of the story, exactly what page should end the beginning and when to move the story upwards in intensity towards the crisis. Once your hero is over the hump and just when you thought everything was going well, she is thwarted by another barrier, the climax, which quickly unfolds into the resolution. All stories follow this same plot structure. Think about it when you are watching a movie or your favorite TV show.

As I took hold of the ideas in Anderson’s text, I dutifully made a trip to the butcher at Eastern Market and tried to explain why I needed a long piece of butcher paper. The butcher looked puzzled but he gave me the paper. I started my plot-planning on the dining room table, minimizing our eating space to my husband’s chagrin. I used red sticky notes for hot emotional scenes, blue for the cooler transitions, and yellow for the lessons I was learning. As the story grew more involved, i needed more space and I moved to the to the living room floor, blocking access to our front windows and my husband’s favorite easy chair. After a spousal chat, I withdrew to the wall next to my computer but the story moved on.

My confrontation with the archbishop was my first chosen hook, but as my story evolved and I worked to get its elements in the proper places, the archbishop got replaced with J. Edgar Hoover’s counter-intelligence program, COINTELPRO. You will want to meet the characters in my upcoming book:

What My Left Hand Was Doing:

Lessons from a Grassroots Activist

by Joann Castle

Coming soon: Click “follow” at the top of this page for updates on publication.

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PEOPLE ASK ME WHY I WRITE IN MY GENRE

#Sylvia Hubbard always asks her new Motown Writers, “What is your genre?” As a novice writer, when I first heard her say that, I didn’t know what she meant. But I soon learned that books are divided into categories called genres. You may notice this when you visit your library or your favorite book store. My genre is called “historical narrative.” This simply means that I write about history in a story form.

“You tell good stories,” a friend commented. “Why don’t you write fiction?” Because I’m an activist and I can’t stop feeling that every moment of my life should matter in the quest for a better world. I write in my genre because I want my work to contribute in some small way to inspiring others to think about the world in new ways.

I am also an anthropologist, trained to see that we are all products of our cultural outlooks, our belief systems, our social structures, our rulers, the trappings of our times and our access to resources. I see the world in broad strokes encompassing many cultures, societies and nations. This is where I draw my outlook on life. This is work I love.

This is the perspective I use in my new book: WHAT MY LEFT HAND WAS DOING: Lessons from a Grassroots Activist, (a Detroit Memoir). We all start our lives viewing ourselves through a certain lens, usually stemming from our family and our childhood experiences. Yet as we grow and learn, we begin to expand our vision and open our view to understanding the experiences of others. We are fortunate today, to be living in a time that is forcing us to come to grips with reality of life in the United States, the challenges to our democracy and our relations with the outside world.

We must not allow ourselves to become isolated at a time when we need community more than ever before. I hope you will find pivotal intergenerational lessons learned in my story that can be applied to the new historical struggle emerging from our young and spirited upcoming social activists. Listen to their narrative. They hold our future in their hands.

Coming soon: What My Left Hand Was Doing: Lessons from a Grassroots Activist. Then start your own discussions.

Click “follow” at the top of this page for updates on publication.

WHAT HAPPENED TO COLLABORATION AND COALITION BUILDING?

Control, Conflict and Change Book Club Discussion. Photo by Ken Castle, 1971. Copyright 2017.

I’m an activist, I can’t stop. I’ve been pursuing social justice issues for fifty years. I’ve been an organizer as well as a foot soldier in many stages of the social justice movement and feeling good about my skills. But over the last few years as I’ve begun to write about my experiences, I’ve faced a new problem in my life, a wall of anguish about my ability to master the challenges of social media, when all I want to do is communicate with my readers.

I  can see the good in social media. Activists all over the country have harnessed its power to spontaneously express outrage and get people on the streets to protest our social ills. It has changed our social conversation and has clearly brought issues of race and white supremacy in our country into timely focus for broader discussion. But where is that discussion occurring?

There is a quote from Alan Kay that resonates with me, “The best way to protect the future is to invent it. 

If we want social change, we need to create the educational opportunities, the collaboration and coalition building necessary for a better tomorrow.

Here are my problems with social media as a foundation:

  1. Social media encourages isolation.
  2. Social media has reduced our social interactions to like, comment, share, tweets and retweets or simply post a photo. Living life in the social media fast-lane robs us of the poetry and warmth of human communication. To solve our social issues, we need to talk.
  3. Social media can speak falsehood or truth. Our right to know the truth is one of our most precious democratic values.
  4. My friends and cohorts text often. Yes, we accomplish a lot of work but I regret the loss of the sound of their voices.
  5. The depth of post-9/11 surveillance may never be totally known to us but anyone who uses a credit card, a smart phone or signs-on to social media is already under surveillance.

It’s time to get together and talk.

Check out my new book: What My Left Hand Was Doing: Lessons from a Grassroots Activist and start your own discussions.

Click “follow” at the top of this page for updates on publication.

GRIEVING AND LEGACIES

I’m grieving right now. At the moment my pain is who I am. For forty-five years, Mike Hamlin was my confidant, my lover, my husband, and my best friend. In that sense, I have nothing to complain about. I was so fortunate to be loved by Mike who was both a committed black labor activist and a devoted family man. Mike gave me everything in life that mattered. As a mutual friend told me recently, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

I am desperately working to finish my book which is a tribute to Mike, our love for each other and for those who give their hearts to the struggle for social justice. My story takes place in Detroit during the tumultuous years of the 60s and 70s, but it is more–in that I seek parallels in our current period and offer lessons learned on how to avoid mistakes we made in the past.

Mike was a big supporter of my decision to use the written word as a medium for reflecting on our history. He was also my first-line proofreader, which led to many hours of mutual reflection on the period and what it means today. Our long discussions revealed many facets of the intense aspects of being in a movement. I learned, and he learned many details of our experiences during this period that in our busy lives, we had never discussed before.

Now you can read about it in my UPCOMING BOOK:

What My Left Hand Was Doing: Lessons from a Grassroots Activist

       by Joann Castle

Includes an Activist’s Survival Guide.

COMING IN FALL 2017: “Follow” my blog to get the latest details.

MOTHER FOUND AT THE HENRY FORD

Ken Car Mother FoundYou all know the slogan. All Michigander’s do: “You haven’t lived until you…” followed by some Michigan international destination like “Greenfield Village”. It was always easy to gauge how well you know the state by these monikers. When they changed the name of Greenfield Village to “The Henry Ford,” I was totally lost. But now, for a very personal reason, I’m getting found again.

You see, I’m the mother of seven children. They are all equally precious to me. Every once in a while, one of my children will do something publically noted that gives me permission to boast a bit about their contribution to the world. This time, the evidence can be found at Greenfield Village… Oops, excuse me, I mean, The Henry Ford.

My oldest son, Ken, is a mechanical engineer. He grew up the kind of kid who couldn’t keep his hands out from under the hood. I think his first word was ‘car’ which soon grew into ‘car racing’. Currently, Ken is Vice-President of an Ann-Arbor company that makes prototypes and tests parts for transportation and motorsports.

A few years ago, Ken joined a team competing for the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, a $10 million competition aimed at advancing technology for more fuel-efficient vehicles. More than 111 teams from all over the world worked to build a car that achieved 100 miles per gallon or the energy equivalent.

Ken’s company developed the engine for Edison2, winner of the Mainstream class of the Automotive X-PRIZE with its 100+ MPG car of the future – Very Light Car. This car is on permanent display in the Henry Ford Museum Automotive Exhibit at (Yes, I’ve got it now) The Henry Ford.  Take a look next time you visit: Edison2 – the Very Light Car.

Won’t you join us on our journey, click ‘follow’ on this website and we will keep you updated on our adventures.

VIOLA LIUZZO LOVED HER CHILDREN ENOUGH TO FIGHT FOR A BETTER WORLD

On Sunday, April 12th, Mike and I had the honor and the privilege of meeting the children of civil rights martyr, Viola Liuzzo. Viola’s tragic death in Selma, Alabama in 1965 was the event that brought me into the civil rights movement.  In many ways, Viola was like me, a local white woman raised Catholic, with five small children. She was an empathic woman with a big heart and when the call went out to support those brutally assaulted as they marched for voting rights, Viola headed to Alabama

On March 25th, as Viola was shuttling marchers back to Selma, she was murdered on the highway by members of the Ku Klux Klan. In the car, was an FBI informant who later bragged about the killing. The FBI went on to smear Viola’s name and attempt to destroy her family.  Somehow, I felt a kinship with Viola and I understood why she was compelled to go to Selma. In a sense, that week in 1965, I stepped into the movement to take her place.

Mike Viola Liuzzo's children

Mike with Viola Liuzzo’s children.

This month, in Detroit, Viola’s family was given a hero’s welcome on the 50th anniversary of her death. She was posthumously awarded a degree at Wayne State University where she was a student. Among the many events in her honor, was a Morris Dees lecture at Wayne State Law School, a tribute at Macomb Community College, and a celebration of her life at the Unitarian Church on Wayne State’s Campus. A park near her home in Northwest Detroit was re-dedicated in her honor.

Mike and I are grateful for the opportunity to converse with four of her children. It has been a difficult road for them as they struggled to vindicate their mother’s image from slander by the FBI. “She prepared us,” their daughter Mary told us. “It was the way she raised us.” “Thank you, Mom. You loved us enough to fight for a better world.”

Please click  ‘follow’ on this website and join Mike and I on our journey.

Personal Histories in the Struggle for Justice.

A MOTHER’S BATTLE AGAINST INJUSTICE

Against the Tide Books is dedicated to publication of historical narratives that others can learn from. That is the goal of my new book. The work is directed at young mothers of social conscience, seeking to give them confidence and change the way they think about their role in the broader world that their children will inherit.

In the spring of 1967, I moved my family from the suburbs into the city to expose my children to a real world environment and teach them about social responsibility. We arrived just a few weeks before the 1967 civil disturbance and we became deeply involved in the movement for black self-determination that followed.

By 1969, I was working with Michael Hamlin, a leader in the movement for black workers power. Mike and I developed an idea for a book club that would bring blacksJoann CCC and whites together in a multiracial educational forum geared to developing the support of whites for the black struggle. Three hundred and fifty people showed up for the first meeting.

My oldest son, Ken, recently came up with this photo of the Control, Conflict and Change book club, April 1971, at Central Methodist Church in Downtown Detroit.

My new book is finished. Watch for my story of these turbulent and rewarding years.   Between Two Worlds: A Mother’s Battle Against Injustice by Joann Castle. Follow my journey as I work to get the book published.

Click ‘follow’ on this website and join us on our journey.