Saturday, October 29, 2011

For Your Consideration

This chair.


I took my classes to the library for orientation this past week, and while I was there I took a look in their stacks and found some books on writing. One I didn't check out was about writing YA fiction and had been published in the 1960s. I flipped through it a bit and was amused to see a chapter on "What Not to Include." It went something like, "Of course you don't want to include any behavior that you don't want your readers to emulate." And I thought about most YA fiction, which even if the MC is squeaky clean, there are usually lots of bad behaviors in other characters. I mean, it's not realistic, is it? I do appreciate if those bad behaviors have consequences, the sort of consequences bad behavior can get you in the real world, but we're just not writing Nancy Drew anymore, are we?

One of the books I did take home-- Thanks, But This Isn't For Us by Jessica Page Morrell, an editor and writer. While some of the things she says aren't exactly revelations, some of them kinda are. The book is laid out so that you have chapters, then you have headings under that. For example, there's a chapter on beginnings. She gives some basic rules, the typical idea of a hook, etc. but then, THEN, she gives a section called "Deal Breakers" which gives the openings that editors and agents pretty much dread across the board. AND, she gives you examples. Then when she gets to the good ways to open a book, she also gives examples. I swear that section was really helpful and inspiring.

Definitely worth the read, even if you're more just skimming your favorite chapters for ideas or help in avoiding writing pitfalls.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This Week

I'm doing this amazing lesson plan right now, one that arcs the rest of the semester and ties things together and incorporates creative and higher learning skills, and... it feels good, but at the same time I so want to share it with my employers so they know that I'm worth a full time position. There's just no segue for that though. "Hey, department chair, lookit me!"

In other news, I've been grading like a madwoman. Just 14 more of this batch. Of course there are 35 waiting behind them, but I just collected those, so it's all good.

I love this time of year. It's fall. Halloween is just around the corner, and my birthday is in two weeks. Then it's Thanksgiving and Christmas!

I've been cutting back on Ambien. I don't want to become dependent or anything. My doc says that would take a lot longer than a month, but I may as well only use when I absolutely cannot get to sleep.

And I can't stop dreaming about all of the words in the air. Just put them into the right order and -- magic.

Friday, October 21, 2011


I have lost 10 lbs as of today. That's on the same scale at the same time of day, so it's for realz yo.

Why is my first impulse to celebrate with something like this:

But I'll be good.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Dying Arts of Planning and Revision

It's raining with a high of maybe 50 degrees here. I don't mind. I was honestly kind of sick of summer, ready for something clear and sharp. But my umbrella broke this morning, half of it was just hanging straight down, making me look like a deranged Mary Poppins. Then when I got inside and tried to close it, it really broke. Into the trash it goes. Hope it's not pouring when I leave here and have to walk to the back of the parking lot to my car...

I've been thinking about writing again. One thing that systematically surprises me each semester (though by now it surely shouldn't) is the fact that many of my students don't do a "first draft." They sit down at the computer, vomit words on the page with no forethought, planning, outlines, or revision-- and turn it in. Of course, I force them to bring a rough draft in to share with peers, but I often wonder how much good that really does. I hear a lot of "That sounded good to me" around my classroom, despite my instruction on how to critique each others' work.

I think it's the computer age. Not saying people didn't do it before-- but when you're sitting down to a typewriter, you write out your paper first. You don't want to worry about mistakes as you go when you're typing on one of those things. But with word processors, we can just toss thoughts up and revise as we go. Sounds good in theory, but works like crap in actual practice.

And for Pete's sake read it, just once. So many of the students I tutor will say "It's probably not very good, I haven't read it yet..." What? I'm not a proofreader or a copy editor-- those people make lots more money than I do. I help with organization, content, thesis statements, etc. They always give me a look like they don't think their paper is in need of that. They're pretty much always wrong.

So, I keep forcing them to do outlines ahead of time and share their rough drafts before turning in a final. And I still cringe when a student says "I don't need an outline. I just write it as I go."

Not in my class, buddy. Not in my class.

(Keep in mind, I'm addressing academic writing. I know in fiction, we don't all use outlines. But there's at least some planning ahead of time, and if you're serious about your work there are always revisions, usually extensive ones)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Customer Service

I like my customer service to be minimal at best. In fact, if I'm in a restaurant, bring my food, be polite, but don't stay at my table telling me stories. And if we're in a dress shop, I'll approach you if I have a question. That's not to say I don't want them to be kind or help me-- just on my terms, you know?

I mean I understand why they do it. I worked in customer service as a teen and college student, and I know that you're supposed to compliment their earrings or hair or sweater, whether you really think it looks good or not. That you always have to say "you want fries with that?" and tell clients how great they look in the store's clothes/jewelry/shoes. In fact, when I worked for Elder-Beerman, we were told that we had to approach a customer that entered our area within 5 seconds. The five second rule.

And it just seems like there are a lot of people out there who are pushy or over-friendly because they think it helps. It doesn't. When the guy at a local Mexican place got too friendly, I stopped going to the place. Which was a shame because I liked it. But even then, I wasn't safe--when my husband would go in without me to get us something to eat, the guy would say "I'm gonna make it real good for your wife" and wink. What? If my husband hadn't assured me that he watched them make it, I'd be worried he did something to my food.

Then there was the time my husband and I ran into him in a grocery store parking lot, and he recognized us. He said, "How'd you like that burrito I made you?" to my husband. No, seriously, that happened.

I know I sound like a horrible person right now. I don't mind smiling, saying thank you, being polite, I try to always be very polite to people I know and don't know. It's just those that overdo it, stay too long, make you feel uncomfortable.

End of the day, pushy doesn't work. At least not for me. And apparently not for most people since we recently found out that he was fired. My guess is one too many customers complained about his freaky-deaky ways.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is young adult literature worthy of your time?

Absolutely. But you may have to kiss a few frogs to get there. Of course that's true in adult literature too-- there is some serious crap out there in all of the genres.

Since this blog has essentially become a conversation between my friend and me, I'm writing my response to her blog (and our conversations via Skype) here. Not throwing down a gauntlet or arguing-- (maybe a little) but I honestly don't understand where she's coming from. Is it a snobby kind of thing?

But maybe you're just not a fan of the whole genre. I'm not a fan of romance. I admit I would literally die, stop breathing, if my book were somehow labeled as a romance. I don't think it's bad for anyone else, but if you're writing romance, you're probably a fan of the genre. So, it's all good.

My friend and I are at opposite ends of the poles here. I love the YA genre-- I love the readers. Looking at book sales and internet presence, they're more passionate than adult readers as a whole. They're more forgiving readers as a whole. And, while I do think they've given some crap too much of their time, they do give credence to the good stuff too. The cerebral as well as the solely entertaining stuff. If reading is an escape, YA is a wonderful door for that. Too many adult novels are too "real" for me. I want to escape "real," darn it. Occasionally one will be so lovely that it works anyway-- Wally Lamb, Steinbeck (though I only like some of his work), Amy Tan, Stephen King.

Is it because it's a fairly new genre? Used to be you had children's literature (maybe up to grade 8) and adult literature (everything else). I do remember a "teen" genre for a while there. I think they switched to young adult to include the early twenties.

But Tolkien is in the YA section in the bookstores; Lewis is too. Arguably some very tough literature, heavy prose. So... if the prose is high, the world created is complicated-- is it because it's so "pure" that it's in YA? Of course that's crap because there are lots relegated to adult that are devoid of sex or offensive language and tons of YA that are the opposite. Is it the subject matter that places it there? I'm asking because I don't know.

Also, how do you define YA? This is something I don't think has been articulated yet. I'm sure there are those that believe the audience is maybe 12-19. Anything out of the teens isn't the target audience. I've always believed it goes into the twenties. I can't remember where I saw that definition, but I guess it stuck.

And I have no nice, neat conclusion. Because it's a conversation that is ongoing and widespread, and I just don't have a final say.

Except where I myself am concerned-- to which I say I'd be honored to be next to Tolkien.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On editing, revisions, and just vomiting on paper

Because this is the way it is. But that doesn't mean I like it.

I am writing my first draft, and am already having a horrible time ignoring the editor in me. I mean, the editor will definitely come out when the time is right, but the time is all wrong right now. I get something down, and I like it, but my editor in his grizzled old man voice says "It wouldn't happen like that" or "This is a snooze fest." the kinds of things that should happen in rewrites, because writing in a vacuum, just locking yourself in a room with one page of work means it will develop and polish and change, but then that piece of work exists in a vacuum so completely removed from the rest of the work. It just makes more sense to get the whole thing down before I start taking it apart again.

I think this will be very hard for me. In fact, it already is. It's starting.

And I just want to add that I am writing this on total Ambien. Because I took the pill and was going to lie down, but then wanted to write this down. Writing it down may help me avoid that story-killing-edit-as-I-go thing I do.

Next time I'll write about how when I take Ambien, The words and pictures on my computer become 3D. I feel like I'm seeing farther into the screen to where the words started. Each template sort of separates.

I want stars and a reason to look up with you.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Writing an Hour a Day

I wrote my hour today. Here's one little snippet that I liked:

It’s not important where the magic came from; it came from wherever magic does. What is important is that it came. From the far, cold North and the warm, jungle South, bringing secrets from the East’s great wall and the West’s open plains; it swelled from the ocean’s floor, drifted through its waves and washed up on the shore, soaring toward Cherry Street where it met with the other magic and swirled in celebration. It came from all over like so many nail filings to a magnet, and when the wind died down, the magic settled, falling to the ground with the falling leaves. It rested among those leaves joined by a bottle cap, a penny, and the letter. It waited with these objects, part of the collection on the empty lot on Cherry Street in Findlay, Ohio.

Then one day, long after the leaves had come and gone again, and the magic had settled itself into the earth, quiet and waiting, men came with machines and hard hats and shouted commands. They dug up the earth, even as the magic chased itself deeper into her. And after several months had passed, a house stood.

Fun. My friend and I have promised to write one hour a day from now until December 1 with only Thanksgiving and Black Friday off. Here's to new beginnings and what they might bring.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Two days off back to back-- wut? Came down planning to fold clothes this morning, watch Project Runway and wait for the furnace repairman only to find that my husband folded the clothes last night/this morning! Hello!

I don't know if I have any favorites this season-- or I should say I have a couple of favorites. I enjoy the character interaction, but I think it's seeing what these people come up with/accomplish in two days' time that keeps me coming back. I find other people's creativity inspiring.

I have about 20 papers to grade, but I just collected them. So today I will grade all late/old work and get it all caught up. I am going to be smart just this once. Somehow having fewer to grade makes it easier to take in small chunks, which makes no sense but is nonetheless true.

I want to go to a haunted house! Like, soon. We'll see.

I just love the way the leaves fall here. I was walking through the campus last week and a kind of whirlwind came up, swirling falling leaves all around me. There are these total movie moments, and I get to live in them. I just need a soundtrack.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tired. Students who turn in a single paragraph for a three page essay with not one stitch of MLA formatting cannot complain when they fail.

They just... can't. Yet. They do.

Friday, October 7, 2011

One of the good ones

I had entirely too much fun today. Spent the day with my youngest. We walked to an animal shelter that's near our home to see the cats and kittens, ate lunch at Applebees, and headed to a local store to check out the Halloween decorations. Then I spent the evening watching a movie with Mike.

Bought an infinity scarf today-- 9.99 and free shipping! Got it in taupe and this one in blue.

Fantastic day!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Patterns, Reasoning, and Faith

I went back through my posts, and I found a pattern. It's a pattern of always having too many papers to grade and not being incredibly motivated to grade them. It's a pattern of doing a lot of them at the same time instead of spacing them out.

I don't think this pattern will change anytime soon, it's just one I noticed. Hmmm...

In other news, anytime I start to think God is removed from our daily lives, our little ideas, etc. I read Psalm 139 and return to the conviction that He sees it all, and more than that, He does care. Else David's a liar and not the man after His own heart.

I've decided to reread (or read for the first time? I honestly can't remember if I read it in high school or not) Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Lewis must have spent the majority of his time thinking on spiritual things and how they work together, how to present them to those who don't believe as well as those who have become complacent about their faith. I've heard it said that he is the thinking man's Christian, to which I say, I hope we all "think." Faith and reason are compatible.

The day is red, gold, and orange. Clear and bright. I love fall in Ohio.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

If I could

It was one of those dreams that I wanted to crawl back into, and it was all about you.

It's not important how the clues came together or what the people said in that fuzzy in between-- what is important is that he wasn't dead. And just as I had had to be the one to tell you he was gone in real life, in this dream, I was reconciled-- I was the one who got to tell you that it had all been a hoax, an elaborate hoax with dream hazy reasons that made sense in that world, and he was not gone at all. He was here, and he wanted to know us as he'd never had the chance to before.

I was crying in the dream. I was telling him, "We just want to know you, Grandpa." And then I was telling you, on a phone with a 1980s curly-Q cord, that he wanted to know us too.

And I would finally discuss Steinbeck with him and tell him he should have been a writer and a painter, along with his weekend auto-mechanic business. I would send my own words to him and hear his pause, see his hands on the table, flat and straight, as he told me what he thought of my sometimes too purple prose.

And you would finally understand where you came from, and why, especially why, you'd had to live without him for so long.

But I woke up. And even as I drifted to the surface, the waking-dream-me thought, "Maybe it's true!" even as I remembered his body in the coffin. Quiet. Cold. Final.

But not final for us. One day I will sit down with my grandfather and we will discuss all of the things I so longed to discuss on earth. I will hear his questions that aren't really questions, and he, he will hear me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On teaching

I love how organic teaching can be. You're sort of your own boss-- I mean, it has to work, you have to be educating, but you can decide how to best accomplish that. Today I feel like I came up with a creative, fun new project that will teach analysis and response while tapping into students' creativity. We're building this project together, collaboratively, and I'm excited to see the results.

In other news, I'm staying on my diet and drinking tons of water. I just need to get more sleep at night. I am not using a scale at home-- I'm only using my doctor's scale, which means I won't weigh again until October 21. I can't wait to knock her socks off!

I have wonderful and amazing ideas for blogging while I drive, but today they are just... not coming to me, now that I'm here and in front of the screen. I don't suppose writing while you drive would be a good thing.

P.S. Maybe it's being a mom and a teacher and having to repeat yourself all day long, but I do it. A lot. Notice the sentence above-- together, collaboratively. Feels kind of redundant.