Support an Influential Creative Writing High School Program

An influential high school creative writing program is in jeopardy.

Remember when I reminisced about the great writing program I was a part of in high school?

Let me break it down here.

The high school I went to in northern Virginia hosted a program called the Center for Fine and Performing Arts (CFPA). There were different concentrations students would apply to be in to pursue intensive studies in: theatre, visual arts, dance, music technology (in my day it was TV productions), instrumental music, vocal music, and creative writing.

I was a part of the creative writing program. That meant that for all four years of high school, all of my available electives went to creative writing classes, focusing on the basics, to publication, to short stories, scripts, poetry, and nonfiction.

This program was instrumental in developing who I am as a person and the things I have done since then. I have always loved to read, but it was that program that I learned the love to write. It was because of that program that I maintained a GPA sufficient to get into college, led to a great job during my college years, which arguably has led to the jobs I’ve had post-grad.

I was not the only person to have reaped such great benefits from this program. The list is too long to get into, but each of us that were in that program was moved to different heights. For some it was the very thing that kept them in school, for others it illuminated different career paths.

Specifically, with creative writing, there is such a wide application of this art form. We learned how to read and write critically, to express ourselves both succinctly (though I know I fail at that sometimes) and intelligently.

I write about this today because this program is in jeopardy. The CFPA is moving to a new high school (which I’m indifferent about it, as long as it exists somewhere in the county and is open to kids across the county). The issue here is the discontinuation of the creative writing concentration. The school board has decided that creative writing is either not a sufficient art form to maintain its place in the program, or perhaps it boils down to root cause of mostly everything: $$$

One of my old classmates has started a very successful petition that has garnered support from authors Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and Jacqueline Carey. If you feel that creative writing should remain part of this program in its intensive form, please consider signing this petition. The petition will be presented to the school board on October 17th.

To read even more about the importance of this program, here’s a great post from one of my former teachers.

Thanks for your support of the arts!


Calvert’s Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

15783514The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Published: June 18th, 2013 by William Morrow Books
Format/Source: Purchased hardcover
Genre: Fantasy


Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.


The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a very unique book. At times it feels like a children’s story, but the narrative is punctuated by mature thoughts and insights periodically. I found that the writing style of an adult retelling a childhood memory very pleasant, as it mimicked how I would do the same.

The Ocean is a very short book. Not quite what I would call a novel, but longer than a short story. It made a nice bathtub book. In that short span, Gaiman drew me into the world of the main character, who remains unnamed, as he recalls a childhood memory previously forgotten. I found myself begging for more detail on the Hempstocks and their lives, but was ultimately denied. That is not to say that the book was disappointing. On the contrary, I found it to be the sort that stays with you after it’s done. The kind of story that leaves a hole in you chest, that prompts you to sit and reflect before you continue on with your life.

All in all, I have absolutely no complaints or criticisms. A full twenty-four hours later I am still in the afterglow of this fantastic novel.

My rating: 5/5


New Contributor: Introducing Calvert!

I’m so excited to announce a new contributor to Playing Jokers! Calvert is another book lover who I know personally through my sorority and university. She is very eager to join the Playing Jokers community. Expect to see posts and reviews by her in the future! So, please make her feel welcome! – Michelle name is Calvert, and I am one of the new additions to Playing Jokers! I am a student in the DC area pursuing a Chemistry major with a double minor in Forensic Science and French.

Like Michelle I was raised without much television, in fact the only programs I watched with any frequency were on Animal Planet! However, I was encouraged to read whatever and whenever I wanted. I was such a speedy and voracious reader that eventually my mother gave up on actually buying me books, and instead would just let me sit in the bookstore. After a few hours I would have quite a pile of finished books.

I find reading is a great escape from the weight of the world. As much as I enjoy spending time with friends, there is nothing I enjoy more than curling up with a good book.

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Types of books I read:
I gravitate mostly towards fantasy, science fiction, and thrillers/mysteries. I will read just about anything though. The only two genres that I just don’t like at all are political and romance.

Reviewing Style:
When I review I take into consideration grammar/general writing level, plot construction and resolution, character development, and my level of enjoyment. But ultimately it is subjective.

mini surveyDo you have a preference between physical books or ebooks?

I definitely prefer physical books. There is just something about the experience that is so satisfying, it engages all of your senses. Plus you don’t have to worry about it running out of power. I do have an e-reader app on my iPad though, but I find that I rarely use it.

What are your favorite authors, or in other words, your must-buy authors?

This is a hard question for me, but I would have to say Neil Gaiman (for the darker fiction), Terry Pratchett and Piers Anthony (for the fantasy that really spoofs the genre), Edgar Allen Poe (the only poetry I actually enjoy), and J.R.R. Tolkein and George R.R. Martin (though both can sometimes lose me with their longwinded nature).

What was your favorite book assigned in school?

I actually have two, and they were both assigned in 4th grade: The Phantom Tollbooth and The Hobbit.

Which book do you have strong feelings about (really hate or really love, or anything in between and sideways)?

I don’t really have books I hate. I have ones I didn’t enjoy or couldn’t finish and I have authors that I refuse to read, but I would never go so far as to say hate. Currently I really love the Song of Ice and Fire books, even though sometimes they get a little too involved in the politics and forget the fantasy aspects. Good Omens is also one that I tend to recommend. I love the dark humor.

How many books are on your ‘to read’ list?

I honestly don’t even know. I don’t have an actual list, I tend to just look around till I find a book that catches my eye. Sometimes I do stumble upon something that I’ve heard about and grab it, but it’s definitely more of a spontaneous choice.

Do you have a preference between short books or long books?

I loooooooove long books. I don’t want my books to feel like an episode of a tv show, I want to be drawn into the world and devastated when I’m kicked out.

What book are you looking forward to reading the most?

This goes back to the reading list question; I really don’t choose the book ahead of time. However, I do want to read the newest Gaiman book The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and am eagerly awaiting the next SoIaF novel to be published.