The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam

Chapter 11 ~ A Disaster of Squirrels

Discussion ~ 
    Our author chooses an interesting collective noun to catch our attention for an eventful chapter.  Chipper is introduced as a major character with an interesting personality.  The BCMA has an important meeting, we get a lesson in comparative economics, and Chipper's wheel is analogized with the potter's wheel that we have previously discussed.  Once again, the story takes an interesting "detour" that opens new possibilities for plots to develop.

Writers' Workshop ~ 
    (1) In a key moment early in the chapter, Sonny decides he is finally ready to open Principles of Guided Missile Design, given to him by Miss Riley.  He desires to design a "more sophisticated nozzle" for his rockets to improve their performance.  Describe a time when you decided to improve the quality of your work on a project that you considered important.  What strategies did you use to enter a new phase of your production?  What resources did you use that you had previously overlooked?
    (2)  Homer drops into his room to give him a lesson on how to keep his pencil point a consistent width.  Sonny wonders what other lessons Homer could teach him "if only he took the time".  Recount a lesson that you were taught once by someone wiser.  Try to be as descriptive as possible about your conversation and the feelings you had about the advice you were receiving.  It will be better if you can recall advice that was cryptic or an outcome that was unexpected.
    (3)  Sonny is shocked when Quentin's dramatic discussion with him leads to the realization that his friends see him as "rich".  Think of a time when you suddenly discovered that someone had a very different view of you than you would have expected.  Recall how it felt to be judged differently than you normally judged yourself.
    (4)  Quentin ponders on collective terms, and Sonny decides that squirrels would be a "disaster".  What is a collection of squirrels actually called?  Think of at least 10 new collective terms that you think would be more appropriate than the terms usually used.

Freud's Couch ~ 
    (1)  Sonny adds several things to his list in this chapter.  What things do you think he is leaving out at this point?  What do you expect him to add in the near future?  What would be on your list?
    (2)  Elsie asks an astounding question in this chapter; "Why is it, I can't have at least one thing in my house I love?"  Though she is in obvious pain, the implications of her words are far-reaching and devastating.  Sonny is definitely hurt by these words, but has no response (nor, likely, would we).  Recall a time when someone you care about (or maybe yourself) uttered such a thing.  Try to be as descriptive as possible about the emotions and thoughts that were generated by those words.
    (3)  Sonny also has to "take the rap" for an incident that may have been beyond his control.  Do you think he is a responsible as everyone wants him to be?  He seems to have expected to get the blame, but do you think his expectation reached to this extent?
    (4)  Sonny finds self pity addictive, but insufficient to resolve his problems or soothe the accompanying sense of doom he has.  You have probably indulged in self pity at some point in your life.  Describe such a time, with emphasis on the elements above.  Did you find the tactic fulfilling?  Did it have unexpected side-effects or consequences?  Did it, in fact, resolve any problems or assuage your gloomy feelings?

Mountaineer Morality ~ 
    (1)  Elsie utters a sort of typical WV quote when she describes her squirrel running in his wheel, "Chipper might not be going anywhere, but he was getting there fast."  This plays on a certain type of mountain humor, in which the obvious is stated, then made to look as though it was better than it really was.  Perhaps you can think of similar statements that are commonly used in your home, or make up some of your own.
    (2)  Sonny refers to his "West Virginia stubborn streak" as though it were a genetic trait.  Is such a thing possible?  If not, why is it such a commonly used concept?  Around my house, the standing joke was to deny any stubbornness, regardless of the obvious circumstances.  We were "determined" or "serious" regarding issues, not stubborn.  Can personality traits be more common to certain geographic areas?  How do we explain their occurrence otherwise?

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