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Book Camp, Day 4

The children only ever want to make one of something. One draft of that essay. One attempt at putting sheets on the bed. One try of anything. They don’t appreciate the glory of allowing a disgusting first draft or the catharsis of getting to the final draft. They want to skip error and most definitely trial.

Baking

What if we made apple cookies? What if we made apple cookies from our own recipe? There are some things we’d need to figure out.

  • what elements are common in cookies
  • what ratios of elements are common
  • what differences are required in apple cookies

We’d also need to

  • work in small batches to avoid spoiling a big bunch and
  • keep excellent track of amounts and methods.

What if we make the perfect apple cookie but we don’t write down the recipe? The kids seemed to think we’d never exactly duplicate the blessed cookie again. I agree. And if we spend all our time drafting recipes but never actually try to make a cookie? As an eleven-year-old said, “We won’t eat cookies.” We’ll never even know if we could make the cookie.

But what if the recipe and cookies aren’t that great or are awful? The ten-year-old said we should give up, and a thirteen-year-old agreed that we should abandon the pursuit. Maybe that’s true if all we want is an experiment.

Many things in life will be more important than a cookie experiment, unless your job happens to be making new cookie recipes. And few of those things will be achieved in a one-and-done manner.

Hamilton

In Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda noted the evolution of the play over time. On page 16, note 2 says that the opening song was once a monologue by Aaron Burr. Note 11 on page 28 mentions a change due to the prohibitive cost of a sample, and the next note reveals the author took a year to write the verse that is his inner dialogue of death. And note 15 on page 30 references the meetings with others that helped a song’s ending emerge. Similar notes frame many pages, and I adore them.

It can be easy to think a creator’s path is both linear and quick: idea to drafting to product to insta-success. I’d venture to say this never happens. Ideas take time to percolate and grow. Drafts may be so many they eventually become unnumbered. Feedback changes the course of things. And unrelated work may intervene. Even when the work is complete, it needs other people to become successful. No one does it alone. And no success occurs overnight.

Writing

The children will not have a completed adaptation this week. That’s not the purpose of book camp. The purpose is to dig into the craft of making art so that the kids can go make art–try and fail, err and succeed, finish and percolate and grow–the rest of the year.

Eldest is writing a song from a scene. First is writing a narrative from a song. They are thirteen and can work more independently than the others. They are more sure in what they want to do, in what they enjoy doing. They are embracing their styles, but encouragement is vital at this moment.

Middling and Second are both eleven, and they have exceedingly disparate approaches to creative work. Second has changed her format or her conceit many times: narrative to poem, narrative to narrative but genderbent, narrative to narrative but genderbent with a twist, narrative to comic. Middling phoned it in. He basically printed the lyrics to a popular song and said, “and demons.” Today we all listened to the song and we made a game of finding the story, the problems, the characters, the spaces in between for embellishment.

Third. Well, Third is ten but wakes up in a brand new world every eight seconds. Keeping him on track is not the easiest. His favorite song in Hamilton is Non-Stop, and he decided to turn the song into a comic, which he insists on calling a graphic novel, though it’s rather brief. But he keeps forgetting what to do to move from one format to the other.

I began reading to them this week from my nearly polished novel. We finished today. Reading aloud is a terrific way to edit–you hear the rough patches and the inconsistencies. Their feedback has been phenomenal. Their questions, spot on. Either just what I hoped they’d ask or challenges for me to meet.

Because no matter where you are in the process, it’s still a process. Whether you’re ten or four times that or eight times. The joy must be in the process. If the joy and purpose are only in the product, you’ll learn sooner or later to buy your cookies at the store instead of making them, let alone making the recipe for them. True of cookies and true of books or songs or movies or musicals or any kind of art. Find some joy in the process, and hold on tightly.

Well Mannered Frivolity

Individual mini pizzas, followed by an apple-bacon pizza and a movie. Then snow cones and another movie. Because you only have one Thursday of book camp.

Apple-Bacon Pizza

  • 1 refrigerated pizza dough (or whatever you prefer)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
  • 4 oz diced canned tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 4 oz applesauce (we used the chunky homemade applesauce from earlier this week)
  • 2 ambrosia apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (or your favorite sweet apple)
  • cheese, shredded (we used a mix of provolone, gouda, and mozzarella)
  • 1 lb bacon
  1. Prepare the bacon. Slice the bacon into long, thin tendrils. Heat a deep pot over high heat. Drop in one bit of bacon. When it sizzles, turn down the heat to medium-low and allow the bacon to cook slowly until dark and curling. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Bacon will crisp as the oil drains.
  2. Prepare the first step of the refrigerated dough.
  3. In a small saucepan, heat the garlic for a few seconds. Add tomatoes. Bring to boil. Turn heat to medium-high. Add salt, seasonings, and applesauce. Cook five minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. On the partially cooked dough, spread the tomato-apple sauce. Line the top with apple slices. Cover with cheese. Sprinkle with bacon cordons.
  5. Return pizza to oven and cook according to dough directions.
  6. Remove from oven. Let sit two minutes. Slice and enjoy!
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Book Camp Uncategorized

Book Camp 2018: Day 1

‘Tis the most wonderful time of the year! Three boys, 13, 11, and 10–Eldest, Middling, and Third–two girls, 13 and 11–First and Second–and me. Quarantined in a house for a glorious week of creativity.

This year our book camp centers on adaptations, and we’re studying Hamilton!

What is Adaptation?

The kids told me adaptation occurs when a plant or an animal changes for to better live in its environment. They had examples and everything. Yay science!

We moved to a new kind of science: food. If we make ten pies, each is a pie. We begin with a crust and fill it with apples or blueberries, chocolate, peaches, or meat. We could fill it with all kinds of yummy goodies, bake it, and devour. And that’s a kind of adaptation: adapt the crust and filling to our tastes and our needs.

We can also adapt apples from pie to all kinds of other tasty treats: apple sauce, apple cake, apple streusel muffins, apple butter, apple cookies, apple cider, apple tart, apple anything. Today we baked apple streusel muffins, then apple cake, then apple pie. Meanwhile, we cooked apple sauce. And we looked at how different the products turned out. From the same basic ingredients, we made four products that are eaten somewhat differently, that vary in sweetness, that will invariable satisfy some palates but not others.

In any adaptation, ingredients may largely be the same. But how they appear, when they appear, and what exactly they do may be different. There may be flavors in one that don’t appear in the other. Some may need help rising while others don’t. One adaptation may take eighteen minutes and the other an hour and a half. And we, as bakers, must learn what our adaptations need.

Hamilton

While the muffins cooled and the cake baked, we turned our attention to Hamilton: the musical, the album, The Revolution, and the biography inspiring the play. All four tell the story of Alexander Hamilton. The musical play and the album are both delicious, but one satisfies both visual and audio appetites, while the other is only for audio consumption. Depending on when we see the musical play, the voices may be somewhat different than the ones pressed into our brains from listening to the album on repeat.

The Revolution gives us words but no music. Today, we played a couple of scenes reading the lines and forcing the music from our minds. The effect felt wholly different. So the book takes away something but also adds notations and background information we could not consume elsewhere.

The biography, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, offers a different taste altogether. It is more meal than dessert. It is more fact, and the musical with its sibling adaptations are historical fiction.

But Chernow and Miranda began from the same place: adapting source material. Chernow adapted research into a biography. Miranda adapted the biography into something else entirely. The album and The Revolution were natural, necessary adaptations from there.

How Do We Begin Adapting?

For the five young writers in the house, we need to distill so much baking and Hamiltoning into some tenets for adaptations.

  1. Hone the source materials down to its most basic elements.
    • Apples, sugar, butter, flour, etc.
    • Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Revolutionary War, etc.
  2. Mash bits together to make them fit your form.
    • Use loaf pans because you don’t own a bundt pan. Change the order of process through trial and error. Substitute ingredients to avoid allergies.
    • Combine events or reorder them for time, space, or cohesion. Assign actions to substantial characters because the audience already knows them.
  3. Add flavor.
    • Use sweet apples instead of tart or vice versa for a new experience.
    • Use hip hop and rap to tell the story.
  4. Use new ingredients outside the source material.
    • Add cardamom to your apple spice profile. Use really great butter instead of oil.
    • Add conversation no one could know. Thread in tidbits others raise, like “you’ll be back,” or vine and fig tree.

Brainstorming

The kids brainstormed their projects. What do they want to adapt this week? We’re keeping it tight: poem to story, scene to song, fairy tale to poem, or some other manageable task.

Watching an Adaptation

We talked about the similarities between comics and movies–visually and stylistically. And then we watched Spider-Man: Homecoming because it’s fun!

If you adapt something along with us this week, be sure to drop me a line.

Referenced Materials:

  1. Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  2. Hamilton: An American Musical, original soundtrack
  3. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
  4. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
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