Monday, August 27, 2012

Random Thoughts for Stormy Monday

Or maybe this can be Stormy Thoughts for a Random Monday?

I live near Tampa, and right now Isaac is sitting out in the Gulf of Mexico kicking up the wind around my house, but no longer a threat really. Not that I'm one of those people who panics over hurricanes and tropical storms anyway. I actually love the feel of hurricane weather. For those of you who have never been in a hurricane, yes, you can feel it in the air. At least I can. And it is so relaxing. The kind of thing that soothes me and makes me want to just chill in front of movies all day while the wind blows and the rain drips....

Of course, I probably won't get to do that today.

And that's not what the post is about anyway.

I'm feeling rather random today. Haven't posted in a while. Too much to do. We're working in our yard A LOT. Right now I am sore from head to toe after spending all Saturday morning planting border grass around a big flower bed in my side yard. Beastie 2 helped, too, but she's not sore because, well, she's not 42 and she's a lot shorter than me and doesn't have to bend and kneel as far as I do to reach the ground :P.

The night before the yard work, I stayed up chatting online with my publisher, the Irish Kiwi extraordaire, as she uploaded Seeking Unseen to the printer! Which means, we ought to be right on track for our release. It is a scary moment. It is so final. And I am always panicked that we missed something major. That there will be bizarre random typos. Or some huge factual error. That I called a character by the wrong name somewhere. The possibilities are endless!

And lo and behold, after it was sent, I DID find one error. But I'm not going to sweat it. It doesn't affect the story one bit, and if anything I may use it as a contest or something...a challenge for my readers to find it :).

Random side bit: Check out the article about the release of Seeking Unseen in a local paper over here. CLICK and "turn" to page 6-7.

Another thing that has been keeping me busy is the Creative Writing class I'm teaching to a group of homeschool teens at our local Homeschool Resource Center. This is a first for me. I've spoken multiple times at writers groups and a couple of book clubs, and once at the library. But those were either "this is me and my book" talks or single lectures on a specific topic. The CW class is an hour a week for eight weeks. I'm finding that my initial nervousness is quickly waning, and excitement is totally taking its place. I think that when the class is over, despite being happy to have some free time returned, I'll really miss teaching! My students are AWESOME.

Another interview to check out when you have time. Keven Newsome asked me some rather unique questions for his new "5 for Friday" interview feature: CLICK.

Some final randomness:

I watched Pan's Labyrinth for the first time last night. That movie has some of the freakiest imagery I have ever seen. Great story, though! Loved it, but eesh.

On September 1st, BBC America is running a Doctor Who marathon. From midnight to 7am, there will be all kinds of specials, and then from 7am on they are showing ALL the episodes, in order, from Season 6. At 9pm, the first episode of Season 7 airs. I am so excited I could freaking BUST. And yes, I have warned the family that I am NOT LEAVING THE COUCH for the entire day that day.

End of Randomness. Happy Monday, folks! :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Give Them the Box First

Today's society is all about thinking out of the box. I do love that. Really, truly, I do. But for crying out loud, you can't think out of the box if you don't know where the dang box is.

I worked for a while at Sylvan Learning Center, and one of the things that drove me nuts was the textbooks the kids brought in from school. I taught mostly upper level math and reading, and that meant helping kids with their homework and such on top of doing the Sylvan curriculum with them.

First of all, the Sylvan stuff was awesome. The program really worked. The idea was to find the gaps in the child's foundation of skills and fill them in before trying to build on top of them. Teach them phonics before reading comprehension. Teach them addition before learning how to work equations. In other words--teaching the old-fashioned way. The way it was done when *I* was in school.

What I saw, though, while working at Sylvan, were kids coming in, feeling like failures because in school they were being pushed to do things they were not prepared for. 

NOTE--I did NOT say they were not smart enough. I did NOT say they were not skilled enough. I did NOT say they weren't old enough. I said they weren't prepared

And that, my friends, is not the students' fault.

What happens is that kids are being forced to understand abstract concepts about topics which they have not been given the basic building blocks. For example, I had two students who were taking the same geometry class, and they were both failing. I asked to see their textbook. These kids were being asked for the derivation of certain theorems and such without being taught the component pieces first. They were being taught concepts, without being taught the equations and basic steps of solving them first.

I told those two to put away their school textbooks. I pulled out an old 1980's textbook--pretty much like the one I used in high school--and taught them from that one. They both made B's on their next exam.

Kids need to be taught the basics first. They need to be shown, step by step, how to go through a process. They need to see it in action, and then they can take it beyond the borders.

My husband and I were discussing this the other day. I said it's like handing a kid a screw and a screwdriver when the kid has never seen one before and expecting them to know instinctivey how to use it. Doesn't the end of the screwdriver obviously go in the slot on the screw? Don't those threads make it obvious that the screw needs to turn? 

Oh, and not only are they expected to know how to turn the screw, they are being asked to come up with novel uses for it! Or new, inventive ways to turn the screw!

No, sorry--they need old-fashioned practice. Probably with a hammer and nail first, to be honest. Show them what a nail does, show them what a screw does, show them why one is used in one instance and one in another. Show them how to use both first. Show them the traditional way. SHOW THEM THE BOX. And then take that first step outside the box WITH them so they have a hand to hold while they traverse that unfamiliar territory before setting them off on their own.

Ironically, you will likely find that the child takes off on their own much more quickly. When someone feels equipped, they aren't as afraid of failure. But our kids aren't growing up feeling equipped. 

Now, before you jump all over me and say, "Little Miss Homeschooler is blaming the teachers," let me say this:

TEACHERS are probably the most aware of this problem. Teachers in the public school system and being forced into corners all over the place. Their students have to pass tests in order for the schools to be funded. They have no say in what textbooks they have to teach from. This is not generally their fault either. So don't shake that finger at me. I have the utmost respect for public school teachers.

My beef is with the system itself, with the textbook writers--probably the same people who design Barbie clothes--you know, the ones who make skinny little sleeves and expect kids to get those sleeves over splayed plastic fingers....

Anyway, not sure where this rant came from. But I will make one last statement--that it applies to many things other than school. I can't tell you how many times people I know have complained that they took a new job and got no training. Or they were handed a training manual that read like stereo instructions.

And writing. I believe in rule-breaking with writing. But ya know what--you need to learn the rules FIRST and then you can find the right way to break them. Learn the box. Measure its dimensions. Memorize all its angles and such, and then step out of it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Picture Paranoia

This is what I may have on my blog from now on
--how boring, right?
I've been reading article after article lately about the legality if using pictures you find on Google as part of blog posts. To be honest, I never gave it much thought in my early days of blogging. I pretty much assumed that if I found a picture on Google it was put "out there" by someone who knew darn well the internet was accessed by everyone and the image could be snagged. I still tried for the most part to not use images that looked like someone painted it or whatever--as in "real" art that would be up for sale somewhere in its original format. But clip art and such? Fair game. And some photos seem plenty generic and commercial. I tend to look for images that show up on multiple blogs, used inside posts the way I intend to. I never use photos that come from people's DeviantArt pages or Flickr or as a permanent image on their blog or site.

But seems like I can't get online without reading about someone getting sued by an artist or photographer for using a photo on a blog.

I have my opinion about this.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and we do need to respect the works of others. I sure wouldn't want someone posting one of my short stories on their blog without my permission. Granted, if they want to link to one that is legitimately published online then I'm all for it! And even taking a sample of my writing and posting it on their blog with due credit and a link back to my sites....go for it. That's free advertising for me!

If someone posted my entire novel online in a format where people can read the whole thing for free--or even worse they're charging for it and I get no royalties--well, no way. Illegal to the bone.

However, I don't see my drawings the same way. I tend to think of drawings I post online as "at my own risk"--something someone could conceivably steal although I hope that no one would try to actually sell my work as their own and if they use it on a blog they'd give me credit.

To me, the drawings I put up online are the free samples in a way. My work that you would find on Zazzle is different, of course, but then those images are on the Zazzle site, watermarked and protected by Zazzle, and I don't post them in their full format anywhere!

I suppose the issue is that now photographers and artists are using websites to sell their work, and many sites have images they have paid for as part of their web design without the artist's name necessarily mentioned. And with all these photo sharing places, there's just too much stuff out there.

What I do not get, though, is how an artist has time to sit and search online for photos that are being misused. I mean, say someone picks a photo of a cat, saves it to their hard drive, and uploads it to their blog...Is the artist/photographer going to sit online for days on end searching through zillions of online cat photos in an attempt to *possibly* find one of theirs being used improperly? I sure don't sit online trying to find my images. What a time-waster. Is this a result of our country becoming so lawsuit happy? That an artist would spend more time searching for misused images than actually working on their art, just so they can sue someone?

Anyway, regardless, I'm beginning to think better safe than sorry. And over the next however-long-it-takes, I'm probably going to go through my blog and take out any images I think could possibly be a copyright issue. I doubt I'll replace them, though. Too much trouble. I will, of course, leave all of my personal photos, all book cover images (sorry, those are fair game and come with the territory of being reviewed), and anything that to me looks like a super-generic clip-art piece (yellow "rating" stars and smiley faces and such). I also think that photos from movies aren't a concern. (Like Disney gives a flying flip if you use a movie still in a blog post-again, free advertising I'd say.)

So, there you have it. Expect my blogs to be a little less visual from now on, except for book reviews and posts with my own photos. (Sorry, istock and other photo websites, I'm not paying your membership fees.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Seeking Unseen Cover Reveal...Again?

Yesterday, I revealed my cover for Seeking Unseen on my other site*. I couldn't do it here because I had already committed to feature my awesome publisher, Grace Bridges, in a blog tour. But today...

Isn't it gorgeous???

The husband and wife team of Keven Newsome and DeAnna Newsome of Newsome Creative did the cover work. Keven will gladly admit that most of the work was done by De. She is amazing. She came up with the coolest solutions to some of the unique problems with executing such a design.

In other words, I came up with this crazy concept of an old leather journal that has a glowing butterfly sitting on it. Right, you say. That's perfectly normal. Trust me, it's very relevant to the story. But I wasn't sure we'd be able to DO it. But thanks to a team of creative nerds--DeAnna and Keven, of course, experienced input from Grace Bridges, and my own oddball thinking, we did it! We really did it!

And, yes, the book is still due out September 1st. And, yes, I'll have the prologue and first chapters posted soon.

*What other site? you ask. Here, go see for yourself.

And just because, here are two other book covers this awesome team of artists put together:

I Am Ocilla by Diane Graham

And Star of Justice by Robynn Tolbert

See why I asked them to do mine?

Finding Angel was mainly the master work of Grace and me: me doing the drawing and her doing the everything else. But Grace does SO much "everything else" I took this as a win-win--a little break for her and a chance to hog some Newsome talent for myself :).

Anyway, I am so happy with the final cover. My hands are itching to hold a copy, though! Soon....soon...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Grace Bridges, Author of Faith Awakened

Most of you know I'm published by Splashdown Books, which is an indie publishing house owned by a Space Kiwi named Grace Bridges. Did you know she's a writer, too? An amazing one, at that....

How did you get started writing fiction?

When I was nine, my Nana gave me a hardbound notebook. It looked like a real book, so I thought I had better write one in it. I started by carefully numbering all the pages in the bottom corners. Then my Dad started me off with a generic story prompt “Zebra” which I managed to spin into a long-running illustrated science fiction tale alternating between infantile cops-n-robbers in space and ripping off recently-viewed movies.

How do you incorporate themes and purpose into your work, or do you?

Not deliberately. I feel these things need to be organic. Story must come first. You can have a great story and a fun read without a theme, but a themed story can be pretty lame sometimes. If a theme suggests itself then I am happy to exploit it and increase its power, but I won’t add an artificial one just for the sake of it.

How would you summarize your style of writing?

Literary-influenced, deeply personal, descriptive, and characterised by evocative vignettes.

Find Grace:

Info on Faith Awakened

Ireland as it has never been seen before - in a future where hope is hard to come by. Mariah, living in the dark time after the advent of a one world government, seeks the light in the underground Fellowship of the Awakened. Shortly afterwards, nearly the whole earth is silenced, and she struggles through the shock with a handful of survivors. Yet the danger has not passed away entirely, and they are forced to fight for their lives using an untested technology.

Faith, too, grows up in Ireland, but it has little in common with the homeland Mariah knew. Sometimes she thinks her life is perfect, asking herself, "If this is a dream, when am I going to wake up?" Other times it seems repetitive and monotonous. She experiences much to delight her, but also suffers from inexplicable bouts of amnesia that rob her of the past again and again. Seeking answers, she travels much in the free world, where disappointments and successes vie for the upper hand until she finally finds fulfillment in spite of all her disasters.

One of the trailers from the Faith Awakened campaign of 2007 (filmed in Germany):

Blog Tour Sites:

R. L. Copple:
Diane M. Graham:
Paul Baines:
Keven Newsome:

Friday, August 10, 2012

For Lack of a Better Topic: Here, Read These Books, They Are Awesome!

I haven't reviewed a book on here in a while, but I've read some pretty awesome ones lately. So, I'm gonna share a few with ya.

Cinder, by Mariss Meyer

This book caught me off-guard. I had seen the cover all over the place online, but the bright red high-heel shoe totally turned me off. Bleh. Romance. Not another "girl in pretty dress cover"--no, worse, a pretty shoe :P. But I was at the library one day and happened to find it on the shelf with some other featured YA books. I noticed, for the first time, the "bones" in the leg. Hm. They are metal....

Snagged the book, started reading, thought to myself, "Ugh, Cinderella as cyborg..." and nearly gave up. But then Peony gets the plague and as one Amazon reviewer said, "That's when the (stuff) hits the fan." Does it ever! After that point, I could NOT put this book down. It's SO much more than the story of Cinderella. It takes such different turns. And it is SO NOT prissy little girl goes after prince. The romance is there, but not at all gushy-kissy. Cinder turns out to be pretty kick-butt.

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

I admit, this is another I almost gave up on at first. I got this copy through Amazon vine, but I'd have bought it anyway based solely on that lovely cover! At first, though, the story is rather slow. Very well written, but so much information! So many characters, all this detailed world-building....I began to think the story would never get going.

There were moments when I felt like the author was trying to write like Patrick Rothfuss, but not quite hitting the mark. If you have read The Name of the Wind, you know what I mean. All that detail, so much about music and the little things of life--but he makes it all so fascinating it's addictive. This wasn't quite there. At first.

Then it found the groove, and I began seeing it as the YA dragon-book version of The Name of the Wind in earnest. The details and the intricate world and the characters began to truly breath. It turned into one of those books where I was dreading the end because it meant I couldn't read more.

Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma

What took me so long to read this novel??? I read this author's MG novel, Dani Noir, ages ago and adored it. I've probably mentioned that book on this blog at least three times!

(Quick aside--the cover I have pictured here is the old cover. I put it up because it is so pretty. If you click on the link above, though, it will take you to Amazon and the new cover, which is cool too and probably more suited to the mood of the book.)

What I loved about this book is the same thing I loved about Dani Noir. Voice. This author has VOICE. And the voices of the two books could not be more different. Dani Noir is fun and snarky, and Imaginary Girls is deep, haunting, and dark. This author is one of those who could write a story about a girl going to Walmart and shopping for pantyhose and I'd slurp up every word and beg for more. But rest assured, Imaginary Girls is not a story of the mundane. It's got magic (sort of?) and obsession, and twists and turns. OK, I've read them both...time for her to publish another book! Now!!!!!

Sorry :). I've picked up quite a few not-so-great books lately, too, and I'm ready for another amazing one :P.

Anyway, let's go for one more....

The Dragon's Tooth, by N.D. Wilson

Yep, let's give a guy author a spot today. This one is YA, but it'd be great for Middle Grade fans, too. Think Fablehaven. Think Percy Jackson.

The book did have a rocky start imho, because the details came so fast and, well, abstractly. It felt like it was written by and/or for someone with ADHD. But I've noticed that is kinda common among MG/YA novels written by men. They are geared for 11-yr-old and up boys, I think, which means the kind of mind that can't remember dirty clothes go in the hamper but can memorize the names and stats of 827 Pokemon characters in about four minutes.

But the book has some really unique and cool magical stuff in it, lots of action, strange and interesting characters, really evil bad guys, some twisty plot stuff....adventure. Coolness. And you won't be lost if the beginning is a little foggy for you--it clears up very nicely after just a couple of chapters and the rest of the book is a great ride!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Where I've Been and What's Next

Trying to get back into the groove of things this week. I've been gone for the past TWO weekends. First, I went to visit my BFF in Tennessee. We have known each other since kindergarten. She has watched me go from little girl to teenie-bopper to punk-rocker to grunge-industrial to work-out obsessed to college science nerd to married with kids....most of it long distance since she moved right after high school graduation. She was also the very first one to know about me writing Finding Angel (even before my husband, yep), and she was my first beta-reader. And a dang good one--because she loves me enough to tell me the truth!

Here we are, right before I left to come back home. Beastie 2 traveled with me, so she took the photo. I think I may have a professional photographer on my hands, if she's this good at taking pics at nine years old:

 She also took pics of Barbi's many cats....

The gray and white one is Shakespeare. Yes, if you have read Finding Angel you will recognize him :). And the other is his brother, Yankee Doodle. I have a feeling he's going to appear in a book somewhere, too. He's....unique. ;)

This is Mia. She liked to hang out in the guest room with me :).

And this is Macey Grace, who was Beastie 2's favorite:

And here is Beastie 2, after the trip, in the airport, when we found out we would be stuck there for a few hours because our flight was delayed due to weather....

Funny how the real pout becomes a silly pout when Mommy's trying to get a picture of the real one ;).

A few chaotic days at home, and then the family turned and headed to St. Pete Beach for the weekend, to spend some time with other friends:

That was the view outside our seventh floor hotel room.

And this is Beastie 2 and her friend, who I found out wants to be a writer. How cool is that? She skateboards, too, and I got to see a video of her doing her thing. Cool kid :).

And here is Beatie 1 (on the left) with his bud. This was pretty much the view of them most of the weekend:

He's going to be so mad at me for posting that picture, but it was about the only one I could catch of him. They were either in the water or noses in their Nintendo DSs. 

And now we are back home. It is time to get our homeschooling rolling again. (Can you hear the kids in the background boo-hissing?) And time for me to get back to editing the sequel to Keven Newsome's next book in the Winter series. So far, it's a great story! Not that I am the least bit surprised. If you have not read Winter, well, what's the hold-up????

As for my writing, I've taken these last couple of weeks off completely. My brain was nearly fried from all the editing, after finishing Seeking Unseen and rewriting so much of it! Much-needed break. Updates on that project should be coming up soon. Still hoping to make a Sept 1st release, but I have a feeling it will be a bit late. Not much to finish, but we do it RIGHT at Splashdown, not rushed, so just hang on a little bit longer...