Missed a week

Missed a week? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Yeah, okay, I admit it. I could blame it on being sick, but I didn’t get sick until the middle of last week, so I don’t have much of an excuse. I wish I had a really recent update on my students, but I was out sick much of last week, so I don’t have their current numbers. The week before that, though, one class had a total of 35,000 words! Fantastic. I’m really excited to see what they have after this week of Thanksgiving break. It’ll be the last class period during NaNoWriMo, so really have to be done by that point, and they know it. Crossing my fingers.

I, while still underscoring for the official adult WriMo goal, am having my best NaNo year yet! I currently as of yesterday have just over 15,000 words, which is 60% of my 25k goal. Today and tomorrow are dedicated to writing, with Wednesday as a safety net. I plan to be done by Thanksgiving. It is a marvelous feeling to finish a book like that. To set a momentous goal and achieve it is a sensation that you carry with you. I love seeing it in my students. I love feeling it in me.

Now, on to random-doesn’t-actually-matter-just-thoughts-about-me-out-of-my-head stuff. This morning, I spent nearly an hour in Barnes & Noble waiting for the Jewelry store next door to open. I don’t usually have the time to just “hang out” in B&N, or any other bookstore, much to my chagrin. Got to tell you, I love it. I imagine finding my name on the shelf. I run my fingers tenderly across the leather spines. (Have you SEEN the new B&N Leatherbound Classics editions? Bibliogasm.) I touch the covers of treasured stories from my past, or of world-changing classics and there’s an electric charge that runs through me, connecting me with Captain Ahab, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dorian Gray, Shakespeare, Scheherazade, or HG Wells. It’s a world that I love being a part of. The power and joy of the written word, the very feel and pleasure of holding a good book.

I do enjoy having digital books, and I use Shaker (my iPod) to read on, but shopping in iTunes and downloading a pdf just doesn’t have that same experience. You can laugh. Apple and the Nook people certainly want you to, and make fun of that sentiment in their commercials, but the reality is it is true. I am not lighting torches and waving pitchforks over the coming of digital publishing; I think it’s awesome. Neither, however, am I using my old paperbacks for toilet paper. They can, and will, coexist. And I will indulge in both.

Now it’s time for me to get my name on one of them.

Day late and a few words short

This post is going up a day late because, well, life is just like that.

I had 3366 words at the end of last week, and I was excited about the forward progress. Then the weekend came and I had time to really sit down and talk through the project. I realized that i had made a mistake in my planning. Fixing it meant that I had to toss about 300 words of the labyrinth I had begun. (I saved it for later.) 300 words isn’t much, but that meant my word count was going backwards! Plus, I no longer had that planned labyrinth. I had to come up with something new. It was just a setback, not an ending, and I am pushing forward and will be successful.

My students, on the other hand… nearly knocked me over with their word counts! They each have a goal of 2,000 words. Most of them came back after the first week with quite respectable word counts. Some, however, really surprised me. I have two that were within 200 words of 2k, and several that passed the 50% mark! This may not be high word counts for the WriMos that are used to thousands a day, but for a class of Middle School students that may not have chosen the class and had no idea it included a project like this, these are great numbers. The best part is that when I asked if they were almost done with the story itself, I got answers like “No way, I’m still early in the Rising Action.” and “I just hit the Inciting Incident!”

Wonderful Time of Year

I won’t say it’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” but for me it comes pretty close. I get Halloween, when I can wear costumes without people laughing and pointing (except in a good way), and then stepping on the heels of it starts NaNoWriMo! It’s non-stop fun! (Yes, that’s me painting my daughter’s eyes black for her batgirl mask.)

Like last year, my classes are participating in NaNoWriMo, and I’ll be giving updates on them throughout the month. This time, I only have two classes of creative writing students, so they are going to target one total anthology.

This past summer, my family published the game manual for a table-top rpg that they’ve been designing and playing for about two decades called Elven Fire. (This is still on topic, trust me.) Labyrinths for the game, however, are always in constant demand. I’ve been writing labyrinths for the past year, both for family games, and for my school’s after school program. So I decided to use NaNoWriMo to write a set of labyrinths that I can then put out there for other people to use. The creator of the game is also using NaNoWriMo to write a book of labyrinths, so mine will be targeted for the GM-in-training (Game Master), so to speak.

tLike most things, This is more complicated than it sounds. I have to figure out what information inexperienced GMs need, and how to divide the complexities of the game between GM levels. Well, much like governments sometimes, I will drive ahead determinedly, despite being dreadfully uncertain of exactly where I am going!

If you are interested in getting a copy of the manual (labyrinths coming soon!), You can get it from CreateSpace or Amazon.com Check out the game’s history and such at www.elven-fire.com.

Gods of Justice Review: Identity Crises

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It’s an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn’t know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I’ll be reviewing them one story at a time in this “Gods of Justice Review series.”

***Warning: Spoilers on this one***

Identity Crises by Lisa Gail Green is the story of identical twin sisters who have more in common than either of them realize. One sister is the classically perfect kid: the best grades (Easily), the social butterfly, the shining extra curriculars, the boyfriends, and, to top it all off, super powers. The other, less fortunate sister, struggles to pass, never gets the guy she likes, feels awkward, and buries herself in video games and books at home.

As the story goes (that sounds so legendary), Leslie, the less-than-perfect, follows Miranda “Mir,” the more-than-you-could-ask-for, into the bad side of town at night to catch her doing something she shouldn’t. I like names to mean something, without being Pilgrim’s Progress level of allegorical. Green uses extremely subtle names for the twins that are not at first obvious. Leslie = less while Miranda, Mir = more. Very clever, though what mean parents they must have!

Naturally, Less catches More changing into her superhero costume in a back alley. Then she, in turn, gets caught in the back alley by More’s boyfriend (who Less loved first, of course). The boyfriend and Less leave the safety of the alley to watch the battle between SuperMore and the Big Bad Ugly guy, who is a tech villain. In the course of the battle, Mayhem, the villain, attacks an “innocent bystander” (naturally, he picks Less) and the boyfriend jumps in the way to save her. The boyfriend gets frozen, SuperMore takes a serious hit/injury, and Less shows that she’s braver and smarter than she thinks she is. Mayhem takes off with his new popsicle as hostage/collateral, and throws back a meeting time and place.

Less helps More back home, and More insists that Less must take her place and go rescue the boyfriend, as More is temporarily confined to bed until she heals. Less practices all day with the magical stone in the belt (source of powers) and argues with herself about whether or not she can pull this off,and be the hero.

I’m going to leave you in the dark about what happens to the boyfriend and the villain, but she does make a pretty good showing of herself as a hero, and the twins decide to both be SuperMore, as the better sister confesses that she always thought the other one was better, due to her “street smarts” and quick thinking.

Now that you have the summarized storyline, on to my review. In short, the plot/action of this story was very well done. The villain acted reasonably, while still being classically villainous. In fact, there’s one part, toward the end, where the villain is talking too much (they do that), and starts whining about how the hero’s not acting the way she is supposed to. He studied videos of her moves and style and spent hours fire-proofing his suit. Shut up and take it, whiney-butt, she’s taking you down. I loved that moment.

Some of the best foreshadowing in the action was during that initial scene where Less is watching SuperMore’s battle. Despite her self-deprecating, she thinks fast when she gets involved, and sees errors the sister is making, tricks the villain is laying, before anyone else does. It’s a good setup for her being successful later, and painted well. It makes me “buy-in” to the sister being good at it later, while defusing the bomb of the “instantly amazing superhero” that this could have been. A cape and a mask do not make you invincible. (They just make you look really cool!)

However, reviews, like coins, have two sides. What I didn’t like about the story, was in the characterization. Not that the characters aren’t good ones. I like the idea of Less-More twins, but the nature of the writing made the characters difficult to bring out. Let me explain. The problem with Flash Fiction (very short stories) is that there is very little in the way of resources to play with. With such limited word count, you have to develop the characters fast, and if you want to make the reader care about them, you don’t have much time to do it, because the climax is right around the corner. If you are working with deep, interesting characters, this makes it even harder. Green could have spent her entire word count just developing these twin sisters. Instead, she has to paint their entire lives and relationship as fast as she can in order to move the story forward. Thus, the characterizations come across a little rushed and heavy-handed. I think it would have been nice if they had either tried to show a little less depth, or lengthened the story to allow for smoother development.

The other thing that got me was the first person narrative. I actually have comments on both side for this. First, let me say that I’ve never been a fan of first person writing. My first impression is almost always “Why are you telling me this?” It hardly ever feels like an actual recounting of the events as experienced by the person telling them. I tend to avoid it myself. However, I did not at first even notice that it was first person, I was just reading. That’s a really good thing. Being first person, however, meant Less spent a lot of time telling me how great her sister was, and how pathetic she was. Telling is something said to be avoided in fiction anyway, and this just got a little tiring after a while. I once broke up with a girl for the same reason. Despite that, I did like Less, and really enjoyed her meeting with Mayhem.

In the end, the girls decide to share the identity of the Super Hero. (Is it split personality if you have two people sharing one personality instead of two personalities sharing one person?) Their resolution and disagreement over who is the better sister was a little too easy for me. Perhaps because of the first person narrative, we never got inside More’s head. I was rather hoping they would find a way to be super heroes together, but both being the same super hero has some interesting possibilities as well.

My summation: worth reading, I just wanted more of it to read.

You can find more about and from Lisa Gail Green at her website or on her blog. She’s also a delightful person to follow on Twitter.

The Rest of the Series:
The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom
Going My Own Way by Dayton Ward

My Teaching Materials: The Letter

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

The past couple of posts in this series have focused on spelling. My classes are graded in three areas: Prewriting, Writing, and Editing. Spelling falls under the editing category. This week, I thought I would jump over to the Writing category. The following is not so much a worksheet, as a model for them, to show how to add detail in order to “explode the moment,” as my district calls it. Beginning writers have a tendency to gloss over entire scenes, because they are used to watching them play out on television or in movies instead of reading through them. This, I believe, is the same reason they struggle so much with describing characters and setting: on the screen, it is never described, just shown.

The first one I show them is a short little paragraph that covers an entire scene. Below is the first version of The Letter.

The Letter

It was night. It was windy. The girl stood on the roof. A man walked up to her. He gave her a paper. Then the man jumped off. The girl read the paper and cried and threw the paper away.

This I show them on one screen. Even the kids can tell you it’s bad. Then I tell them I have another version, and ask them to see if they like it better. Reading the second one has every kid’s attention.

The Letter

It was a dark and stormy night. The wind howled around the corners of the street. Above the street, the wind and rain assaulted the rooftops.

On the roof stood a girl, wearing a dark trench coat with a hat pulled low over her eyes. Whether it was meant to keep out the rain, or hide her face wasn’t clear. She seemed to be waiting for someone. It must be an exceedingly serious reason to be out on a rooftop in such blustery wind and biting rain.

Suddenly, the rooftop door opened. The wind slammed it against the wall. The man standing in the doorway had long, stringy hair and a cruel-looking face. His countenance made the scar across one eye look almost cheerful. He stepped out onto the roof, leaving the old wooden door to slam and swing back and forth helplessly in the wind.

As he walked up to the girl in the broad-rimmed hat, he held out his right hand. Clenched in his fist was a paper envelope wrapped in plastic. She hesitated, but accepted the mysterious package. In a flash of lightning, she could just barely make out the address on the outside of the envelope.

She looked up to ask a question just as he stepped up onto the ledge. This was so startling that her question froze unvoiced in her throat. Then the man jumped.

“No!”

She stepped forward, but it was too late. He was gone, even more mysteriously than he came. She ripped open the envelope and held the letter in both hands to keep the wind from ripping it away. As she read, her sudden tears mixed with the pouring rain. She finished the letter and stood, frozen, shocked. Finally, she opened her fingers and let the wind take the hateful letter out of her life.

After reading this, I have to go through 5 minutes of questions about what happened to the two characters and what was in the letter. To which I have to shrug repeatedly, with a knowing smile. Then we discuss what made the two versions different. I go back to the first version and point out how every piece was turned into something larger. Practically every sentence in the first version became a paragraph in the next. “It was night. It was windy.” From those two sentences, we get a full paragraph of setting description in the second. The same with the next sentence about the girl, and so on.

At the end, I ask them to choose a piece of their writing that they feel matches the first version, and turn it into the second one. This has been a pretty effective lesson in the past; I look forward to trying it this year.

*********

Other posts in this series:
Land of Xanth
Thief & Chief
Key to Happyness

My Teaching Materials: Key to Happyness

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

This is the companion worksheet to Thief & Chief, which I posted last time. Before giving out either of these, we cover the rules that are included in them.

Name: _________________
Period:___ Date: _________

Please correct the following paragraph. These mistakes focus on the following rules: Changing Y to I, and Doubling the Final Consonant. Previously covered spelling rules may also be present. Each of the 25 errors is worth 4 points.

Their was one key to happyness in Jane’s life: she partyed. Parting was everything to her. It occupyed all of her free time and deli ghtted her and her freinds. There favorite place to party was a club that admited them even though they had not agged to 18 yet. They had made copyes of they’re driver‘s licenses and handded them over, smileing. The IDs claimmed the girls were 21. They had tryed to get into other clubs, but the bouncers stoped them at the door. One threatenned to call there parents! Jane finaly was geting to have a good time, when suddennly, she heard a bad sound: “Police. Everyone stay where you are!” They were takeing everyone’s IDs and puting them under arrest! When her parents came to get her, she was ashammed of what she had done.

*********

The first post in this series was Land of Xanth.
The second was Thief & Chief.

My Teaching Materials: Thief & Chief

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

I hand out sheets that detail a few spelling rules, and then cover them about two at a time. After covering the spelling rules, I give out a worksheet for homework that has a very short story or passage which targets those particular rules. The following little story targets three rules: i before e, dropping the final e, and the homophones there, their, and they’re. The students have to correct the errors for homework. There are 25 of them in this little story.

The Theif was rideing a stolen bicycle he had gotten from the Clown Cheif. The fameous Cheif had said that it was absolutly the safest ride in town. The clowns had decieved the theif, however. The bike was not the safest ride at all; it was a hopeless peice of junk. There idea of a joke was going to leave the theif sitting they’re on the side of the road. Although the theif beleived that it was a well-mad bike, the wheels were becomeing a problem. The rubber was wasteing away as he rode. Soon, he was sitting in the gutter, hopeing to recieve a bit of timly luck. Fortunatly, a nieghbor was driveing by at that very moment. They threw the bike into the trash and went looking for thier freinds the clowns.

You can find the first post in this series here. And no cheating!

My Teaching Materials: Xanth

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

This first one I usually give out the first week, and they mostly get credit for trying. However, it’s a fun way to judge how well they edit, their “wordsmith” level, and give them a peek at what is in store for them. I didn’t write this one, I borrowed the passage from Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, credited at the bottom.

Let’s see how many errors you can find! Leave your count in the comments. ;)

Name: ________________
Period:________________

Dor is a student in a land called Xanth, which is next door to a place called Mundania. His teacher asked him to write an essay about Xanth. Dor isn’t a good speller, so he got a “spelling bee” to help him. Thanks to the bee, nothing in his essay is misspelled, but he still didn’t get a very good grade. Can you do better than Dor? Find and correct all of Dor’s spelling mistakes. Here’s a hint: there are 52 of them!

The Land of Xanth
buy Door

Eye live inn the Land of Xanth, witch is dis-stinked from Mundania inn that their is magic inn Xanth and nun inn Mundania. Every won inn Xanth has his own magic talent; know to are the same. Sum khan conjure things, and others khan make a whole ore illusions ore khan sore threw the heir. Butt inn Mundania know won does magic, sew its very dull. They’re are knot any dragons their. Instead their are bare and hoarse and a grate many other monsters. Hour ruler is King Trent, whoo has rained four seventeen years. He transforms people two other creatures. Know won gets chaste hear; oui fair inn peace. My tail is dun.

From Centaur Aisle by Piers Anthony, p. 14

Writer’s Update

School is back in, and I now have a schedule of writing on Saturday mornings for 3 hours. My goal is Hero Games. That project has been mostly stalled since the beginning of the summer. Every time I start to attack it, something else comes up. Just this week, I got an email from Cliffhanger Books about another publisher, Damnation Books, that had put out a call for submissions for a corrupted superhero anthology.

Naturally, it caught my attention. I even happen to have an unfinished corrupted hero story buried in my archives. But, I told myself, I am supposed to be working on Hero Games. I know that story would need dusting off and polishing, at the very least. So, I took a glimpse at it, and it could certainly use some work. It also, however, is a pretty good story.

Thus, I get caught by this little dilemma: novel-in-progress, or anthology submission? Not to mention trying to maintain this blog, keep up with Twitter, read my blogroll, etc. etc. At least NaNoWriMo isn’t really until November, and I have time to plan for that during NaNoWriMo after school. (I have three students ready to write, so far!)

NaNo is November, the anthology due date is December, and Hero Games has no schedule but mine. So, for now, I go back to Hero Games until I can get it figured out.

I leave you this week with one thought: With so many irons in the fire, how does one find enough fuel?

Back to the Books

School has started again. Summer’s lazy (ha!) days are at an end, and pencils and papers once more begin. This, of course, means I’m suddenly swamped with all kinds of stuff, as I teach middle school Creative Writing and Theatre, sponsor after school programs (three, this year), and have to organize for the school plays, as well as NaNoWriMo.

I do intend to maintain my regular posts, but there are likely to be some teaching ones added in as well. We’ve only been back in school a week, but my students have already edited a passage of writing, made their first, basic character, and written a short piece of fiction.

The short piece of fiction was my favorite thus far. Here was the assignment: They were to write a short (half-page) bio about themselves for homework, due the next class day. The catch? Everything in it had to be lies, except their name. (Had to know to whom to give the grade!)

It was awesome. Their initial reaction to having to write a short bio was predictable: groans and disappointed expressions. The news that it was required to be packed full of lies, however, was met with a mixture of disbelief and delight.

The results were even better. In my classes, I have a popstar that hangs out with Nikki Manaje and Selena Gomez, a top secret rocket-maker (can’t tell you his name, it’s classified), a kid that got into a fight with Justin Bieber, a successful 32-yr old writer (25 books to his name, but not sure why he’s still in middle school!), and a Hollywood director.

All in all, this looks like it will be a fun year.