Monthly Archives: March 2013

Today’s 5 things Friday post counts down my top 5 songs that get me ready to rumble.

Part of being “ unplugged ,” you might recall, is doing work wholly distraction-free. There’s plenty of research on what’s called “state-dependent learning,” where the consciousness in which you learn material is the state in which you should test. As in: if you study with music on, you should take the test with music on. A 1969 scientific study even found that when people learn information while intoxicated, they will remember it better while intoxicated. (It’s definitely worth noting that grades are better for those who study, and test, sober.)

That being said, though: sometimes, I need to pregame for my workday. When I eat breakfast, or give myself a 15-minute break before going into a major writing frenzy, I boot up some music that does one of two things: , or inspires me.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

5. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, “Home.”

(Side note: this song was the background to our wedding Same Day Edit, shot by Leonard Hasemann and his team of professionals through Cinematic Wedding Story.)

4. R. Kelly’s “Remix to Ignition.” Brings me right back to high school.

3. Jamie Cullum, “Please Don’t Stop the Music” (original released by Rihanna). This version is so much better.

2. Elton John, “Your Song.” (I’ve loved this song forever – which made this moment of my life that much more surreal.) I also love all covers of this song.

1. Beyoncé, “Love on Top.” Instant feel-good. Maybe it’s the 90s choreo; perhaps it’s Bey’s Sasha Fierce-flawless face. Either way, this one’s going to stick around.

BONUS: Mentioning 90s choreo and NOT including Backstreet Boys: “I Want it That Way” is probably illegal. So, here.

What are some songs that you just can’t quit? Let me know in the comments!

My family used to have a great-aunt Helen, who was – and is – a sort of legend. She died when she was 102, never married, swore, was an incredible racist, drove from Albany to Boston on the regular until she was 98, drank straight scotch, and travelled all over the world. It came as no surprise when we cleaned out her home (that she hadn’t been in for seven years) that we found all sorts of gems – like grocery receipts, still in the drawer since 1941.

She also kept track of her travels in mini-diaries – there are about two dozen of these things. I have one of them.

This one kicks off just days after she turned 29, aboard her first cruise.

The SS Munargo ship: Helen’s first entry

Upon further research , the S.S. Munargo later become a WWII-era hospital ship named Thistle , and was soon “scrapped” after the war. This is interesting, because the love of Helen’s life (who sent her boxes of love letters, all of which she kept) returned from the war as an insane man.

So now, while we’re in the middle of moving, I’ve come across all of MY old diaries and journals. They are hilarious, über-revealing, and embarrassing. I also have all of my old junior high notes, so if you ever sent me one, I’m lookin’ at you.

My first one is that unlocked ballet diary; the most recent, the purple one beneath all the others.

Memory gold.

I apparently began journaling at age 8, as you can see below.

Just turned 8. Jen and I were already hounding you then, brother.

I have no idea how I’ve kept all of these. Spoiler alert: they actually have been in a sealed bag underneath our bed for the last 4 years. I’ve re-hidden them, though, so don’t go snooping like I apparently did way back in ’93.

Someday, I hope to assemble all of Helen’s diaries, and create either a biography or a fictional story about her. I use my own to jog my memory of being a kid. What about you? Did you keep a diary when you were younger? Apparently, even then, I was already a writer.

This afternoon, a Time Magazine headline caught my eye: “A High School Where Students are the Teachers,” by Alexandra Sifferlin. One part of my brain snorted derisively, while the other was instantaneously jealous.

And then I read her brilliant article, and was hooked. Upon further research, I found that journalist/social entrepreneur champion Charles Tsai spent a week with what’s known as the “ Independence Project ,” which is a school-within-a-school located just 2.5 hours away from me: Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Downtown Great Barrington. By Anc516 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Basically, how it works is as follows:

Half of their time: Each student currently in the program (approximately 10) come up with a deep question every Monday. This question relates back to one of the core subjects they’re studying. They spend the week researching it, and give well-thought presentations that thoroughly explore the topic to one another. (The week Charles Tsai spent with them featured subjects like unexplained mysteries, Crime and Punishment , and HIV/AIDs in South Africa.)

The other half: the students embark on a semester-long “individual endeavor” that demonstrates “effort, learning, and a mastery of skills” (Tsai video). The week Tsai spent with them, he uncovered some of their results: learning to play the piano, writing a novel, and composing a mockumentary. In the age of film/TV like The Office , Parks and Recreation , Modern Family , and even Borat, this becomes quite the worthy endeavor.

No quizzes, no grades, no set classes, and, as Tsai notes, “most of the time, no teachers in the classroom.” There are faculty advisors, and advocates like principal Marianne Young and guidance counselor Mike Powell.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This must be the best high school ever. (Although I do think that there should be perhaps a self-test each week, but that’s just me.)

I’m not surprised about what they’ve found to be benefits: accommodating all kinds of learners, teaching students how to be creative and resourceful, and promoting a group dynamic. Self-directed learning isn’t a new phenomenon, yet this level of dedication – and risk – is entirely unique.

Its creator, Sam Levin, is now a sophomore at the University of Oxford.

When I got out of college, I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but also a professor. In my way? I was 21 and only beginning to publish. And while luck would have it that I wound up becoming a professor at a community college the very next year, I knew I needed to consider teaching at a high school first. I took the MTELs and became certified to teach grades 9-12 English in Massachusetts.

And never did.

My friend Jen and I at our second graduation together.

Today, teachers have to deal with the nightmare that is state testing (hello, MCAS). Teachers have very specific standards to meet. They have IEP plans to fill out for students who have learning difficulties or need help in other ways. They have parent-teacher night. Did I mention MCAS? I subbed in a city school system for five years, and I know that teachers are teaching to the test .

This is not good for our future.

In his 1978 essay “College Pressures,” author William Zinsser wrote about a similar phenomenon. Zinsser writes:
“Mainly I try to remind them that the road ahead is a long one and that it will have more unexpected turns than they think. There will be plenty of time to change jobs, change careers, change whole attitudes and approaches. They don’t want to hear such liberating news. They want a map — right now — that they can follow unswervingly to career security, financial security, social security and, presumably, a prepaid grave. What I wish for all students is some release from the clammy grip of the future. I wish them a chance to savor each segment of their education as an experience in itself and not as a grim preparation for the next step. I wish them the right to experiment, to trip and fall, to learn that defeat is as instructive as victory and is not the end of the world.” ( Full text here .)

That’s the philosophy I’ve adopted not only for myself, but also for my college classes. For the last couple of years, my composition students wrote an essay on this very essay. For my really low-level courses, which often includes English as a second language or people who did not graduate from high school in an orthodox way, I challenged them to complete their own version of an “Individual Endeavor.” The assignment: Learn how to do something you’ve never done before, and then write about it. One soccer player turned in an essay on how to bake a cake. A single mother learned how to play the acoustic guitar. It was one of my favorite assignments I’ve ever given out.

I didn’t like math in high school. It was boring. But I was good at it, and I never had to take it in college, thanks to the credits I received from the AP test. I’m still good at it. I remember the Pythagorean theorem, and I still call March 14 Pi Day. Without looking, I can tell you that a mole, in chemistry, utilizes the equation 6.022 x 10^23.

I don’t use any of that. The internet balances my checkbook. I don’t feel “educated” because of that.

These students are going to have a huge upper hand in the world someday. This, my friends, is an enriched educational experience, and it’s one we should strive to have available in every school that we can.

This is a great equation, though.

What about you? What question would you have liked to explore in high school? What lessons might you have liked to learn?

This post explores nostalgia, its connection to our 5 senses, TV commercials about chocolate, and even Andrew Jenks. If that’s not a hook, I don’t know what is.

Let me preface this by saying: I don’t watch much TV, but I’m not above sitting with reruns of Friends while I wait for my nighttime tea / sleep aid to take effect. It was in this manner that I stumbled upon Andrew Jenks’s new show, World of Jenks .

This show is making me an emotional disaster.

When I was 16, I didn’t cry when I blew out my ACL and my meniscus while skiing. I walked, furious, one mile down a snowy mountain with emergency personnel trailing me warily. I didn’t even cry at my grandmother’s funeral, which is probably an enormous red flag for other reasons.

But this show has so far made me: A) believe I have hip cancer, B) second-guess myself, C) laugh and choke up AT THE SAME TIME ,  D) research professional contortionists, and E) wish I was an activist for Oakland, California’s Measure Y program (Boston zip code aside). I’m even attracted to Jenks himself. Especially after they showed these pictures of him lying to Men’s Health about doing 50 pull-ups every time he goes to the bathroom. How tall are you, anyway?

By Melissaterry via Wikimedia Commons – the only picture I could find to use under the Creative Commons license.

How is this show doing this to me? It’s attacking all of my senses, which every good writer should do, as Kristen Lamb mentioned on her blog recently. It has to be a really delicate balance, though — too many blocky and unique descriptions will make readers go running.

Sight is the sense on which too many writers rely. He looked; she saw. Yawn.
Touch is unique. I try to think about what something feels like, or what words I’d use to describe something. Including seamless tactile descriptions is not my strong point.
Taste isn’t always easy to relate, but when it’s done well, your reader will literally be able to taste what you’re describing. I always think of the sour candy (Warheads?) that felt like I was putting a penny on the nerves in the back of my tongue. That candy was so sour that it used to make my ears hurt.
Sound: Music, natural sounds, a house settling, and, perhaps most notably, silence — all of these will make your setting come to life.
Smell is the most “nostalgic” of the senses. Olfactory glands can store information right into your brain, a phenomenon cleverly called “olfactory nostalgia.” You know what Thanksgiving smells like; you know what rain smells like. The scent of my mother’s spaghetti sauce takes me right back to being a child.

Perhaps it’s the senses, then, that influences what we r . Hearing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” puts me at my first-ever slow dance in 7th grade, as does the scent of Coolwater perfume. The senses link right in with our sense of nostalgia.

Definition of “nostalgia” from the Oxford Dictionaries.

TV execs know to pray on your sense of nostalgia, too. Most relevant, right now, is the age-old Cadbury audition.

an obviously non-HD TV pic, snapped from the Cadbury Commercial

And at Christmas, the first time this commercial comes on, everyone I’ve ever observed has stopped to watch it with a half-smile on their face before bemoaning that the holidays come earlier every year, that Christmas decorations are in stores in September, etc.

Hershey’s holiday commercial. Too old for HD.

And every August, this one comes parading through homes…

The dreaded/beloved back-to-school TV commercial by Staples.

Aside from essentially zero production costs, these commercials are relying on one thing: your basic nostalgia.

What about books? I reread three every year: A Widow for One Year by John Irving, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

So… what makes you nostalgic? What do you reread, rewatch, or replay? What commercials or TV shows prey upon your emotions? Writers: what senses do you find successful, and which do you wrestle?

100 word story: writing challenge

I’ve been a kind of hot mess lately when it comes to free time. So one thing I’ve been doing, aside from reading Lois Lowry’s final novel in The Giver quartet, Son , is reading micro stories. In college, I was introduced to Micro Fiction , a compilation of tiny melodramas edited by Jerome Stern. All these years later, it still has a place on my boring desk.

The bible of tiny stories.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that proper revision takes forever. And as I sit and strike through all the adverbs and useless words in my novel, I sometimes crave producing something new. I have my next novel semi-planned in my head, but if I embarked on that future disaster, I’d never get this one finished.

So, I thought about creating a 100-word story in one sitting (which Boston Literary Magazine calls a “Drabble”). And then I saw that they have a 50-word story feature, too (a “Dribble”), so I immediately jumped on that train. Twice the challenge.

Warning! Self-promo, here: I heard back from friendly editor Robin Stratton very quickly. The result is “Reunion,” which was published in the Spring issue of Boston Literary Magazine .

I challenge you, as I dared my students, to give a 100-word story a try. I actually upped the ante even more by giving them 5% of the content: I gave them 5 words that they had to include. I find this to be a great way to get ideas churning when you have empty-brain syndrome. So, here’s the scoop: try your hand at writing a 100-word story that contains the words “blue,” “glass,” “clang,” “shirt,” and “desire.”

I challenged myself to complete it (with 5 different words) too. I’ll send mine over to anyone who requests it. It’s currently out for submission, so I’m choosing not to publicly share.

The rules:

  • You must use all of the words.
  • Titles do not count in the final word count.
  • Your story shouldn’t have an ambiguous ending. It can’t be a paragraph that should be tied up in a later chapter, in other words. It also shouldn’t be just an image. It should do what every good novel does, and tell a story.
  • Your story has to be exactly 100 words—not 99 or 101.

Good luck. I’d love to see what you come up with in the comments section!

5 things friday, special edition: dance

“When are you going to get a real job?”

I’m sorry. Does this not look like the product of a “real job” to you?

I am always polite when I get this question, although I do seethe inside. My husband always cringes when he hears it being asked of me. I respond with a smile that is definitely a little too wide.

Today’s special edition post goes out to all of my dance students, and fellow faculty.

If I’m being fair, in comparison to the majority of my friends, family, and peers, my “work life” might be categorized as being very much that of an artist. I both adore and resent this concept, because I am neither painting canvases nor am I starving or chain-smoking. And because I do a lot of working from home, I can go to the gym at 9 a.m., or 3 p.m., if I want to. I can schedule a doctor’s appointment right in the middle of the day. That doesn’t mean I don’t work my tail off, though; I’ve got a full plate between instructing online creative writing and English classes, choreographing dance, teaching it at a wonderful studio, and trying to launch my author career. I am most grateful that I’ve been able to strike this balance, because it affords me the opportunity to keep pursing the things that make me who I am.

At the risk of sounding self-important, one of the most vital and rewarding parts of my life comes in one particular position: that of being a role model. And I wouldn’t quit that “job” for anything.

And so, for a special 5 things Friday: here are 5 things that I want all of my dance students to know.

5. Humility
I went to college with a girl who went to a local studio right here in Massachusetts. She would go to dance after school and her instructor would pinch her midsection through her leotard and ask her if she ate a cheeseburger before coming. Most dancers were shocked I kept in touch with my old teachers. Other ones mentioned the anxiety disorders that they developed as a result of their time spent in the studio.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big believer in health and fitness. I run races. I lift weights. But promoting body image issues is not the lesson I want my dancers to learn. I choose to lead by example. I want them to clap for other teams. I want them to be great people first, and unbelievable dancers second. I want them to kill it onstage, and most of the time, they do.

photo credit: Steve Basara

4. Charity
If my students are anything like me and my other dance teacher friends, it’ll probably take them until their college years to realize what kinds of lessons dance instills. Confidence, public speaking, and teamwork can become second nature to those with great training. We also raise money for Relay For Life (our goal this year is $10,000) and work together as a studio to . We’re beginning to think about benefit shows. Connecting performing with helping others is a real-world lesson.

3. Honesty
Above all, our competition students are a team. We want to win. Our dancers are talented, but we don’t win every time. No studio is going to take home everything every time they go to a competition. The way that so many of these competitions are structured now fosters the “everybody wins” mentality , and that’s the wrong lesson to teach to kids. As choreographers, we want a great score just as much — if not more — as our students do.

Our girls always have fun onstage at awards. They joke, laugh, and dance together as a team. It is one of our favorite things to watch.

But what lesson I really want my students to learn is honesty. Because “winning” when you’re the only team in a category, or because you’re entered at the wrong age or level… that’s not winning.

36 dancers, 1 stage. This is winning. photo credit: Steve Basara

2. Accountability, or: You get back what you put into it.
I want them to know that I found success as a dancer in college because of the background I had at Dance Express . Non-dancers probably will not understand this, but I grew up in a school that teaches tricks only after technique. We foster the most positive environment that we can. We motivate. We encourage. We might yell — okay, we do yell — but we do not act like Abby from Dance Moms. I think. (Disclaimer: I have never seen an episode of this show.) It takes more than hours of work inside the studio to become the best that you can possibly be. This relates back to being honest with your work, too. Have you put in as much as you possibly could have?

photo by Ariel Mandeville, digital file held by J. F. Smith

photo by Nicole Chan; digital file held by J. F. Smith

1. Friendship and teamwork can go hand in hand .
Our team of teachers cares about the students first. I find joy in their successes, whether or not it’s through dance. I think back on my own experiences. I am who I am today because of my childhood role models, who have taken on a blended friend/mentor/boss role in my life now. The second phone call I made, at 2 a.m. on a Monday night after the police came to my childhood home when my father died, was to one of these very people. How many other people can count themselves so lucky as to have had role models like this?

Some of the best friends I’ve ever made have been through dance. I love seeing how strong my students’ friendships are.

You know that saying about how you can’t choose your family? Here, you can. I did. We are a family, which is why our alumni come back, year after year.

When you’re onstage this weekend, girls, think about this stuff. And throw that “dance like no one’s watching” mantra out the window. We’re all watching you, and we’re proud.

25 deep questions for friends, foes, and characters.

A couple of years ago, some of our friends started drinking too much, not eating enough, and playing the deep questions game. Questions like “Did your parents like you or your brother more?” and “What was your favorite thing to do as a child?” revealed the disappointments (“my parents liked both of my siblings more than me, and still do”) and eternal mysteries (“birdwatching”).

Which one is the birdwatcher?

There’s almost nothing more fascinating than getting to know another person. All kinds of opportunities for this arise — heading to college, starting a job, moving to a different town, meeting new relationship possibility. (These ones are the most fascinating.)

Learning about new people ultimately makes you evaluate whether or not you want to be friends with them. First impressions count for our invented characters and for our real-people lives alike. For example, read the mere title of this article and tell me how you could possibly want to get to know that person, let alone be friends with her. On the other hand, watching this video immediately makes me (and every other female twenty-or-thirty-something out there) want to be friends with Jennifer Lawrence. I don’t want to be friends with Winter’s Bone Ree, because she’s too hardcore and would make me feel inadequate, and Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook is too crazy. The actress behind the madness, on the other hand, would totally get me. (The odds of me tripping in an Academy Awards dress are likewise quite high. Her likeability factor exploded in that moment.)

image by Tom Sorensen, via Wikimedia Commons

In my classes, I follow a similar path by forcing my students to participate in freewriting exercises , where they have to write blindly about whatever topic I put up on the board. I’ve read, peeping Tom-style, about addictions, deaths, wishes, hopes, and dreams of many students. One time, two married students in my class were even having an affair with each other , which led me to direct any and all future freewriting questions into learning more about said affair until the semester culminated in a disappointing unanswered ending.

Image via Public Domain.

One great piece of advice I got in grad school was to come up with a list of questions to answer for every character. This is background information – some of which you’ll show or tell, some of which you won’t. These details need to motivate, drive, encourage, and direct your character throughout the piece. Consequentially, I answer these questions with as much attention as I gave my AOL member profile in junior high.

For the non-writers in the crowd: adapt these into a this voyeuristic newlywed-driven game with a significant other or good friend. Memorize a couple for your next date. See what you can answer about yourself or each other, because thanks to the internet, we’re all egotistical at heart. Another use: when one of my friends gets married, my other friends and I come up with a list of questions to ask their husband-to-be in order to see how much they know about their lady loves. Give that a try, bridesmaids.

Here are 25 Questions to answer about your character, “C.”
(The 3 questions in bold at the end are the ones that need to be of particular interest to writers.)

  1. What unique words describe C’s physical appearance?
  2. How old is C?
  3. What does C eat for breakfast?
  4. What does C’s immediate family tree look like, in one sentence?
  5. List 3 words that encompass C’s childhood.
  6. What minor phobias does C have?
  7. Write a one-sentence summary of C’s romantic timeline.
  8. How long has C been friends with his/her best friend?
  9. What does C do for a living?
  10. Does C enjoy this occupation?
  11. Does C have any mental illnesses?
  12. What’s the furthest distance that C has ever traveled from home?
  13. Was, is, or will C be popular in high school? Why or why not?
  14. Who is C’s celebrity crush?
  15. Describe C’s ideal Saturday.
  16. What does C regret?
  17. What’s the most traumatic thing that happened to C during adulthood?
  18. Politics: yes or no? Red or blue?
  19. What does C admire in other people ?
  20. If C made a grand statement about the world and/or his/her worldview, then what might C say?
  21. What’s the most annoying thing about C?
  22. What is the most redeeming quality about C?
  23. What’s the most traumatic thing that happened to C during his/her formative years?
  24. What frightens or threatens C the most?
  25. What does C want more than anything else in the world?

caffeine, and other addictions

A year ago, my lovely doc told me to quit drinking caffeine because it can affect Crohn’s disease (which I have). “I don’t drink coffee, tea, or soda, and I don’t like hot drinks,” I replied, my smug and near-snobby tone a well-honed product of my years spent as a teenage girl.

Then, three things happened. These three things intermingled with my sporadic insomnia and genetically addictive personality . (Which can be both good and bad, for the record: it’s easy for me to develop a habit, like setting alarms for writing and drinking spinach smoothies every morning, but then I also panic when I A) don’t go to the gym, B) open a new container of Nutella, or C) accidentally overindulge on French wines or vodka.)

A portion of my daily breakfast – a blend of spinach, water, 5 frozen strawberries, and 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries. This was my St. Patrick’s edition.

The three things that damned my caffeine intake:

  1. I quit – ok, cut back – on my 5 Hour Energy dependency.
  2. I increased the hours I spend working at home.
  3. I went to Europe.

“We won’t be able to sit in cafés in Paris and drink coffee together,” my new husband says to me while we’re boarding the flight to go to on our honeymoon. He actually sighed after saying that and looked away.

Me, grumpy and trying not to act cranky at 8 a.m. Paris time. Attempting to last a full day without sleeping after a redeye from Boston. (I do not know the woman in the background.)

My trainer says that you can do anything you don’t like for 15 seconds. I like this philosophy a lot. You say to yourself, “I can do anything for 15 seconds,” latch on to the mental state, and stay there. Then, you can get blood drawn, fit in a couple of push-ups while your arms are burning, pretend to act interested in a boring conversation, sprint at the end of your run, and even touch raw chicken… only for 15 seconds. Then you’re done.

Which is how I came to drink espresso. It’s so little that my hot drink distaste is over, with about 15 seconds of discomfort.

Back in the States, I decided to apply my newfound dependency to cold beverages. I read this article about the benefits of green tea, which is mild enough for me to drink. Coupled with my insane jealousy of people who cart Starbucks around like second cell phones (which has been developing for approximately 10 years), I settled on the Tazo Zen brand of tea, which basically tastes like mildly minty water. I believe I am very lucky I’m not a decade older, because then I’d definitely have a cigarette habit. The D.A.R.E. program must have diminished the sexy “cigarettes are cool” vibe effectively enough.

And then, like a true addict, I needed more.

Single shot of espresso, trente iced green tea.

For the last month, I’ve found myself holding my nose and chugging three cups (!) of hot coffee per day , before brewing two to four mugs of tea that I ice down and consume over the next several hours, while writing and working. And I have no idea . Is this a lot? A little? Aren’t I supposed to get a headache at some point? Is it magically helping me get more work done, or is this my imagination? I’d drink espresso, but I’m pretty sure those machines are expensive, right?

Thought I might get some responses after @BostonMo threw me an RT. Maybe they thought I was joking.

visual versus verbatim

The movie-versus-book debate is a pretty old question, by now. What people fail to recognize is how they’re united by one particular element: storytelling.

Everyone has a friend or family member who is a terrible storyteller.  The story takes about a year and a half to unfold, falls back in on itself faster than The Time Traveler’s Wife (I love that book, by the way), and ends up being far less funny and/or significant than it seemed it would be.

The first time I really considered the book vs. movie concept was in fourth grade, when Little Women came out. My mom said that I couldn’t see it because I hadn’t read the book yet. I promised I would. I did. And then I could only picture Winona Ryder as Jo. Book ruined.

Alcott, via Wikimedia Commons

Without further ado, here are 4 visuals that I prefer over their written counterparts.

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
(novel by Ken Kesey, movie directed by Miloš Forman)

Take a book about psychological experiences in an institution and the human brain, then add Jack Nicholson to it. What do you get? Five Academy Awards. (And one of my all-time favorite characters: Nurse Ratched.)

By J. Troha, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Fight Club
(book by Chuck Palahniuk, film by David Fincher)

I’m disappointed in myself about this, but I always find wading through Palahniuk’s prose difficult . My attention span flies out the window faster than my resolve not to drink on weeknights every time I sit down with one of his novels. The movie, on the other hand, is pretty entertaining, and has become something of a cult classic.

image taken by GlobalAdventureSpecialist via flickr Creative Commons

2. The Sookie Stackhouse series
(series written by Charlaine Harris, TV series created by Alan Ball)

Harris’s protagonist is stuck in a different era. The True Blood series, on the other hand, is TV gold, and a major reason why I’m cool with Sunday nights in the summertime.

Sookie Stackhouse as played by Anna Paquin. image via myspaces flickr

1. Forrest Gump
(novel by Winston Groom, movie directed by Robert Zemeckis)

This was the most life-changing movie of all time for me. Ironically, it occurred the same year as the Little Woman fiasco. The book as some weird scenes – Forrest gets caught up with some cannibals for four years, and pals around with an ape named Sue for a while. This movie has taught me more about writing than most books. It also has spawned a feverish devotion to anything Tom Hanks that’s lasted a lifetime. Hanks is my movie John Irving.

image by Donna Lou Morgan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

0. If Empire Records was a book, the movie would be better. ”where are they now” update from Buzzfeed is the best thing I’ve read in a long time.

Agree? Disagree? What are some of yours?

on typos, self-publishing, and a book bite

Typos are a part of life. And they drive me insane.

The fact that I’m slightly a head case is pretty well documented, but very few people have viewed my career insanity firsthand. Wrestling with my desire to be a perfectionist makes me wince every time I find one of my own typos.

Spelling things wrong can be cute, of course…

Written by my flower girl. I love the “have a nice life” sentiment. I still hope I chose the rite one.

Or they can be so hit-you-over-the-head wrong that they become laughable.

Joam might be more popular than Joan one of these days. Who knows? (Also, I’m not a doctor, and that’s no longer my last name.)

Which brings me to my next subject. There are so many advocates for self-publishing now, which is vastly different than even three years ago, when I was finishing up my MFA. I’m not completely cemented on this idea yet, but I have to say that I’m not the biggest fan of self-publishing.

I think that one of the biggest mistakes people make is sending out stuff before it’s ready. This goes for both traditional and self-publishing. With the option to become internet famous at nearly everyone’s fingertips, people jump the gun and too frequently submit things for review that aren’t ready to be submitted.

I can almost always figure out if I’m reading something that has been self-published because of the number of typos. Imagine how bad it is for a publishing company to edit release a book, only to have it be littered with bad writing … let alone dozens of typos. When an author self-publishes something that hasn’t been completely gutted, they’re doing the same thing to their very own brand, right?

Typos are like what my husband and his idiot friends call “go home stains.” They ruin a great outfit.

A serious go-home stain.

The biggest piece of advice for my students is always to read their work out loud. When I was finishing up my master’s thesis, I read the entire 215-page piece out loud. Paragraph by paragraph; page by page.

Let’s be honest. It was the worst.

It was also by far and away what made the piece more successful.

When something is:

  • a New York Times and USA Today bestselling book
  • on the Amazon “top paid” list for three weeks
  • listed quite cheaply online
  • rated at 4.5 stars by over 500 people
  • discovered at 2 a.m. when I can’t sleep

I might buy it. Which is the case with Wait For You by J. Lynn. And then I might read things like this:

“‘Excuse me?’ Jacob almost knocked over his pyramid of awesome. ‘I’m hot.’
Cam frowned. ‘So I am.’” [sic]

Don’t get me wrong. I am not this novel’s ideal reader. This story has so many elements of a decent novel: a character who deals with something difficult AND makes a transformation. It also has a few colorful, and yet clichéd characters. There’s episodes of sexual tension, which based on books like Fifty Shades of Grey , are capable of luring in millions of readers. (Sidebar: I didn’t like that one, either.) This one is geared toward young adults – actual young adults though, as in college-aged people, rather than the YA fiction that’s out there now.

I’d grade it a C-. Read it if you like romances, but not if typos drive you up the wall.