~"Up the Down Staircase" and "Lean against the Wind" created from Scraps of Paper~
Up the Down Staircase and Lean against the Wind: derived from scraps of paper.
The 1965, Up the Down Staircase,is a humorous novel written by Bel Kaufman. The main character is Sylvia Barrett, a young idealistic (aren’t they all?) teacher who hopes that her students will love Chaucer and become serious writers under her guidance. She becomes discouraged over the course of the turbulent first year and gradually decides that perhaps she wasn’t cut out to teach. She is overcome with the indifference of the students, the bureaucracy and the incompetence of her colleagues. However, her mind is changed when she realizes that she did have an impact upon her students.
The plot is advanced with office memos, notes that ended up in the trash, lesson plans, suggestion box scraps, and letters from friends in college. For some this may sound like an odd way to write a novel, however the readers apparently liked it and it was turned into a play that is popular in schools and a movie starring Sandy Dennis and Jean Stapleton. A quick check of the ratings for both the novel and the movie indicate that it is popular to this day.
Scraps of Paper....
My own novel, Lean against the Wind began in much the same manner as I kept the scraps of paper that accumulate when one becomes a teacher. I remember one bulletin in which I was asked if I would care to apply to become an astronaut and teach a lesson in space. I envisioned the publicity that would surround the winner—the cameras, the reporters and the general hoopla that would follow. As I read the application form and could see the direction of the questions, it became clear. I was not what they were looking for.
Nope—I would be a publicist nightmare! I was a successful business man, played in musical groups on the weekend, and was an entrepreneur on a grand scale. Akkkk! No, they wanted someone who taught school—the end. And special ed. students did not photograph that well. Launch a controversial special ed. teacher into space. Yeah— and don’t come back!
I tossed the application into the wastebasket. It did cross my mind that the spacecraft could blow up on the launching pad. So much for being the winner in that little educational experience! *
Nope--not a great writer in '85
This was the kind of thing that made it into my first draft back in 1985. It was a conglomeration of bulletins and scraps that I dragged home and then kept a diary on the occurrences of each day. I did fictionalize it and sent it off to a professional reader service and they were not impressed. I received a kind report that indicated that it had promise, but there were so many problems with it that it would need to be rewritten from stem to stern. I wasn’t really a writer and felt that few people would be interested in the daily life of a teacher, even if well written.
Over the years, I did read Up the Down Staircase and To Sir, With Love and could see that they were well received. Up the Down Staircase was very similar to my hodgepodge of notes. However, I really didn’t care for it that much and never took the time to compare it with my own manuscript that was sitting in a warehouse.
A Quarter of a Century passes....
Twenty-five years later, I wanted to write some pieces for the HUB community and I knew there was a treasure trove of little stories that would make good short stories. Tiny Tim, Big Jim, Ben and others came to life in fiction form and very quickly I was receiving accolades from the HUB community.
It was time to take a look at the entire manuscript. Could there be a story there—something that would make a coherent novel? I had written three novels and felt I was beginning to blossom. Special needs characters had found their way into my previous manuscripts. I was worn out from all the writing and told myself I wasn’t gong to write another novel until I had some success with the others.
However, I began revising, rearranging, and rewriting, and soon I was engulfed in the project. I told myself that the process would need to go smoothly or I would abandon it. In several days I had ten thousand words and around twenty thousand by the end of the first week. That was encouragement enough and I told myself that I would not set a goal of making it a full ninety thousand words. There would be no filler material. Cut to the chase—get the words down to the bare bones.
Yes, this would be much better than Up the Down Staircase. It was like taking Up the Down Staircase to the next level as though it were a screenplay. Bits and pieces of the memos would still be there however that would not be the focus. By using a more traditional format, I could bring the characters to life and make it an experience for the reader that would be memorable.
Was I successful? Apparently so—readers thus far give it a five star rating. I suppose there will be critics who will downgrade it for one reason or another. It will be difficult to criticize it as everything is based upon real events—faction. Much of the dialog is totally real in the conversations, the meetings, the memos—yep—all took place. It was based upon a lifetime of experiences, and a little embellishment, and then condensed into a two year period. Tiny, Big Jim and the rest of the gang will live forever within the pages. Will anyone write a screenplay? It will be a fairly easy task; however it would take some doing to find actors who can do justice to the characters.
*Christa McAuliffe died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster 1986.