How I Came up with the Idea for Developing Minds
In 2009, I finished writing a novel based on my experiences living in Mexico for about five months after I graduated college. I was severely depressed and had a lot of dark thoughts, but something about Mexico seeped inside me and made me chose life. When I finished writing the novel, I thought I’d said what I’d wanted to say about life and my experiences with it. But, in July of 2012, I took a road trip to Big Sur, and on the ride up the Pacific Coast Highway, I got to thinking about my experiences teaching at an at-risk middle school in Miami in 2007—and the personal, professional, and creative growths I had there—and realized the story wasn’t over. I started writing it almost immediately after I got back to San Diego, and finished the first draft in about a month. DEVELOPING MINDS is a sort of a loosely-linked sequel to the Mexican novel, UNDERSTANDING THE ALACRAN, and it shows the protagonist’s growth while trying to fit into society after returning from Mexico. My intention with DEVELOPING MINDS wasn’t to demonize teachers or the public school system—I simply wanted to show a portrait of these as true to my experiences with them as possible, while showing how these experiences affected the main character’s maturation and eventual transformation as a writer.
DEVELOPING MINDS is more a coming-of-age story than it is a story about teachers and teaching. But while the focus is on the protagonist’s growth, I did want to raise awareness for some of the issues plaguing the American public school system, because they’re important for people to see and because I felt there were some parallels between these issues and those affecting the protagonist’s development. Some of these issues include assessing labels to complex things which reduce them into easily-classifiable stereotypes, ignoring child abuse/neglect even when it’s painfully obvious, pushing kids to master subjects/tasks when they don’t have the requisite skills to do so and calling them failures when they don’t achieve… On top of telling my story, with DEVELOPING MINDS I wanted to do two things: 1. Give readers a realistic portrait of what’s really going on in America’s public schools without exaggerating or romanticizing anything, 2. Challenge readers to think about the obstacles that may be blocking their own development on a personal, professional, and creative level.
DEVELOPING MINDS: AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY follows a group of recent college graduates who struggle with feelings of alienation and their addictions as they try to survive a year of teaching at two dysfunctional Miami public schools.
A poetic and insightful coming-of-age novel, DEVELOPING MINDS is centered on 24-year-old Luke Entelechy, an aspiring writer who sees his creative output suffer when he begins teaching at one of Miami's most challenging middle schools. As the year progresses, however, Luke begins to relate to the neglect and abuse his students suffer, and is faced with a haunting decision: continue to let his dark past destroy him, or rise above the struggle to realize his potential as an artist and a real human being.
Equal parts disturbing and humorous, DEVELOPING MINDS offers a brutally honest look at the American public school system and the extreme measures many teachers take to cope with working in it.
Jonathan LaPoma is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, songwriter, and poet from Buffalo, NY. In 2005, he received a BA in history and a secondary education credential from the State University of New York at Geneseo, and he traveled extensively throughout the United States and Mexico after graduating. These experiences have become the inspiration for much of his writing, which often explores themes of alienation and misery as human constructions that can be overcome through self-understanding and the acceptance of suffering. His five feature-length screenplays have won over 40 awards/honors at various international screenwriting competitions, and his novel DEVELOPING MINDS: AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY is a finalist in the 2015 Stargazer Literary Prizes for best Visionary and Metaphysical Fiction. He lives in San Diego and teaches at a public secondary school.
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We joined the herd and sat somewhere in back. Some far-too-energetic young woman, who probably had a horrible childhood she never left, was hopping around onstage trying to contrive spirit as some ‘80s pop crap blasted from speakers behind her. She was nearly out of breath, punctuating her performance with “Yeah”s and “Super”s. The music soon stopped, and she stepped to the mic. “Congratulations to all of you for being where you are. You now join the wonderful family that is the MPSD.”
“Yeah, the dysfunctional family,” said the brunette sitting beside Billy.
“And we’re their bastard children,” Billy said.
“I really hope that woman isn’t the mother,” I said. “She fucking scares me.”
The bitch onstage was smiling like a goddamned idiot.
The brunette held out her hand. “The name’s Abbi. I just got sentenced to West Miami High.”
“Hey, my school’s the feeder to yours!” I said, with far too much enthusiasm. I hung my head.
“Yeah, and my school’s the feeder to Dade County Corrections,” she said.
Billy let out a loud snort. Several people turned around to see where it came from. I started chuckling.
Some crazy, old woman stumbled onto the stage, and the cheerleader passed her the mic. The woman spared no time in upping the day’s level of insanity. “Hello, my name is Sandy Frankles, and I’m the Deputy Superintendent of the Miami Public Schools District, and I want to say that I’m appalled by the likes of your filthy people slandering our dear Superintendent’s name. Dana Canterbury never misappropriated any funds and to suggest that her recent purchase of a yacht in any way hurt our children makes you a damned fool—” The cheerleader came back out and yanked the mic away from Ms. Frankles. Her words were amplified through the speakers. “Sandy . . . SANDY, this is the new teacher orientation, not a press conference. Get it together!”
Ms. Frankles, who may have been drunk, took back the mic. “I’m sorry, I mistook you all for something you weren’t. Fear not, for I have the ability to change gears quickly, and I will deliver you a wonderful introduction. That is, after all, what they’re paying me for—”
“Yeah, too much!” yelled a heckler.
Ms. Frankles pointed indiscriminately into the crowd. “I wouldn’t take a red cent that wasn’t mine! Show yourself, you coward!”
The cheerleader grabbed the mic away from Ms. Frankles and started ushering her from the stage. “Okay, okay, Sandy, I think we’ve got enough from you today.”
But Sandy wasn’t going quietly. She kept pumping her fists and threatening she’d show us all!
“What the hell was that about?” I said.
“I don’t know, but it can’t be good for business,” Billy said.
I scanned the crowd, but no one seemed fazed by what had just happened. People were texting, sleeping, reading books, and one woman was even crocheting a blanket. Perhaps this was just another day in Paradise . . .
October 11 – Introduction at VBT Café Blog
October 11 – Spotlight at CA Milson's Blog
October 12 – Spotlight at BookLoverCircumspect4
October 13 – Spotlight at She Really Said It
October 16 – Spotlight at Cassandra M's Place
October 19 – Guest Blogging at Bellevue Book Reviews
October 26 – Guest Blogging at My Book Tour
October 28 – Spotlight at Avenue Books
October28 – Spotlight at Infinite House Of Books
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October 31 – Guest Blogging at Lori's Reading Corner
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