Thoughts From the Morning Commute – Finding Othello

Last night I was looking at the list of authors who would be attending the LA Times Festival of Books event, just to see who else would be there. I am still very excited as this will be the first time I participate in this event. As I browsed the list, I realized a name I sincerely hoped to see was not there. The missing name is Othello Bach.

Othello was my first writing teacher, and I remember her classes as the best, especially for the novice writer. Othello always cut right to the heart of the matter when critiquing the work, and I learned more of the writing craft from her than from anyone else so far. To this day as I am working on a piece, the valuable lessons I learned under her tutelage come flooding back to mind. The two most important lessons I learned, although I learned many, were to attack the wasiness of the work, and to read the work out loud.

I had written the majority of Misfit McCabe, and anxiety gripped me as I approached the classroom for the first time. Would my writing be found dreadful, or did I actually have a glimmer of what it takes to be an author? Mortified when I found out the structure of the class was to hand in two pages each week to be read aloud by an objective reader, and then the class would critique, followed by Othello’s summing up. I hadn’t even mastered attempting to read my writing out loud to myself when no one else was even in the house, let alone hearing someone else read it in front of a room full of strangers. My stomach twisted with apprehension as the time for my work to be read aloud crawled closer. Then, it happened. Barbara read the first few words of Chapter 1 of Misfit McCabe. I think my heart stopped beating for a moment. Then it went into overdrive as the blood rushed to my face. I couldn’t look toward the front of the room, I couldn’t look at the other people in the room. My eyes were glued to the desktop, and if the floor could have opened up and swallowed me on the spot, I would have gone thankfully.

Thus began my writing education under Othello Bach. Funnily enough, it turns out that we once lived on the same street when I was a young child. Since her name didn’t make the LA Times Book Festival author list, I began to wonder where she was and whether she was still writing or not. That’s where the internet turns out to be a wonderful thing. I popped her name into Google and immediately found her website. Now the pastor of a small church in Kokomo, IN, she also writes an opinion column for the Kokomo Tribune.

My favorite of her books has to be Whoever Heard of a Fird? which is a delightful tale of a young fird, part fish, part bird who is looking for a herd of fird. A children’s book which explores the concepts of individuality, prejudice, tenacity, hope, and acceptance in a fun spirited manner. The audio cassette includes catchy tunes and the narration by Joel Grey is superb. If you have never read this story, and happen across one of the books, it is well worth your while. This is a story I wish could be put back into circulation. I taught preschool at the time this came out, and all of the kids loved it.

When looking up her body of work on Amazon, I noticed that after she left teaching the adult ed courses at Cypress, she wrote a book to continue to help aspiring authors, How to Write a Great Story: A Fiction Writer’s Handbook. This is one that I will definitely pick up. Reading the preview took me straight back to the classroom, and while I had the benefit of having Othello teach me, among others, in person, I’m sure there are some gems between the covers that would help me to improve my writing even today. I feel that I will never reach a point where I will stop learning to improve my craft. And that is as it should be.

PS – While I felt embarrassed beyond belief at having my work read out loud during that first class, the feedback was positive with a few suggestions as to minor tweaks that could be made.

LK Griffie
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5 Comments on “Thoughts From the Morning Commute – Finding Othello”

  1. Great story! I still remember my first writing class and my first poetry class in college. I learned so much from reading out loud and getting feedback from others.

    1. Thanks. I think the early lessons tend to stick with us longer for some reason. Maybe because everything is so new and more is being learned at the time. Later on in life, we learn little bits here and there, and while they are valuable, since it is in little bits instead of big chunks, it seems less of an impact.

      I have ordered the writing book and eagerly await its delivery.

  2. I hope belated congratulations on Misfit McCabe–and all of your accomplishments–is better late than never. Sooo….CONGRATULATIONS, MS. GARDNER-GRIFFIE! I’m delighted to see your success! I also thank you for the kind words on your blog about your first writing teacher. I actually do have a new book coming out next month — a pre-teen novel called Snigglefuzzle. You’ll find it on my newly constructed website The site is still being worked on… adding a few buttons here and there, but you may be able to pull it up. If you ever searched for Whoever Heard of a Fird, you probably saw that it has become a collectible, some days costing upwards of $300. That book, and seven others were “lost” when (then) Harper and Row acquired Caedmon, the little publisher who originally printed eight of my kid’s books. (Most of which are way overpriced “collectibles.” I tried for 19 years to get the rights back, and finally did, after 19-1/2 years! So I WILL be trying to find a new publisher for Fird. I have a video posted on Youtube, listed as “5-minute Fird video”. Maybe I’ll be able to use that to jumpstart interest in republishing. And yes, I was a minister for 10 years… wrote for a couple of newspapers (radically liberal for Indiana!) and stopped that a couple of years ago in order to return fulltime to children’s books. Now… question… my I use a line in your blog to promote How to Write a Great Story? I’m also going to have writing lessons on my site for children, and I’d like to use a quote from you to promote the book. Again, many thanks for your kind words.

    1. Othello,

      Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. What a bright spot for my day. I love the title Sniggle-Fuzz and can’t wait to see it when it launches next month. I am delighted you have gone back to writing as you do have such a gift.
      You absolutely may take a quote from my blog, it will be an honor.

      I’ll be on the look out for the Fird video and I do hope you republish. I have a 3 year old niece who would be delighted with the story, and I’ve been wishing I could get it for her.

      LK Gardner-Griffie

  3. Pingback: 5 Minute Fird Video

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