Yes, This Will Be On the Test

Writing, Reading, Laughing

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking Back

As I sit making THE list for writing projects I hope to tackle in 2012, I can’t help but reflect on the profound influences that have left indelible marks on the emotional landscape of my life.

As writers, I believe the living script of our existence is the treasure chest from where we summon the seeds of creativity that bud and blossom in our stories. We report, invent, and metamorphosize moments, feelings, and events that have profoundly touched us.

As I wave farewell to 2011, here is a list of 11 notches on my consciousness, in no particular order.

Standing outside in the front yard with my brothers when the men first landed on the moon and swearing we could see them in the binoculars.

Seeing my parents cry when John F. Kennedy was shot.

Watching WIZARD OF OZ for the first time on a color TV and freaking out because the Wicked Witch was green.

1968 – Viet Nam, the soldier on my POW bracelet never came home. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. being assassinated.

Two perfect children.

The Berlin Wall coming down.

Losing my brother and too many friends to the villainy of AIDS.

Beloved books: Peter Pan, The Three Musketeers, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Gone With the Wind, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

Star Wars, because Luke Skywalker and I were facing our destinies in the same year. He as a Jedi, me in college.

Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Mammoth Caves, Grand Teton, Crater Lake, Grand Canyon National Parks, and New England in October.

Drop drills in elementary school, preparing for a nuclear attack.

What memories are etched in your minds?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Geekmas

I am a Star Wars geek and proud of it. 

I wore my "Silent Night, Jedi Night" t-shirt to work this week. 

I have been playing my "Christmas in the Stars" CD constantly since Thanksgiving.

This year, a new holiday miracle has brightened my geeky life. 

Go check out Anthony Herrera's other Star Wars snowflake designs.

Anthony, you sir are a true Jedi.

May the force be with you all this holiday.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Testing Insanity

I think we can all agree that the No Child Left Behind guidelines are crazy. How can we say that by a certain year ALL children will reach an idealized level of proficiency no matter what their challenges? 

What about the child in special education?

What about the second language learner?

What about the child who has an unstable home life?

What about the child who isn't developmentally ready to master a concept?

Does a 10 year old REALLY have to identify present and past participles by name? How can they face the world without knowing the chemical formula for photosynthesis and cellular respiration before their 11th birthday? If you think I'm kidding, check the California State Standards.

I am all for teacher accountability, if it is realistic and dignifies the educator. I am all for state standards that serve as a guideline/checklist for what a child in a given grade needs to learn.

I am vehemently opposed to a one day snapshot - the annual standardized tests - that defines a student's proficiency as a learner.

Here is an article by Marion Brady that I'm urging you to read. I guarantee it will fire you up.
When An Adult Took Standardized Tests Forced on Kids

A disturbing trend in education has developed (past participle). One where teachers are being forced to "teach to the test" or their job may be at stake. 

I have been an educator for over twenty-five years and I am sorry to say this trend/reality is leaching (present participle) the joy out of teaching. 

To all my brothers and sisters in education:
You matter
You are heroes
Hold on to the joy

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Summer Has Frozen

Peter Pan has Neverland. Frodo has the Shire. Scarlett has Tara. All places that inspire, anchor, and refuel the core of one's being.

As artists we need a magical space where we can tap into our creative potential and feel renewed. Some find it intrinsically through means of self-talk or music. Others, myself included, are replenished by externals such as special places.

The number one locale that guarantees a rush of writing energy for my soul is the beach, especially the wintertime seaside.

Give me hair-straightening fog, a wind that bites my cheek, air charged with saltiness, and the silky, cold sand. I could sit for hours filling notebooks as seagulls pick at forgotten lunches, and waves tease the shoreline.

Summer has frozen, but my mind bubbles with the fire of a thousand ideas. 

Where is your inspiration fueling station?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

View From the 5th Grade Trenches - November 2011 - Saving Redwind

I just finished reading SAVING REDWIND, A WALLPAPER ADVENTURE by Kris Yankee aloud to my class and we are HOOKED.

I'm always on the hunt for new middle grade "boy" books and SAVING REDWIND hits the bullseye. Both the boys and the girls in my class went crazy for this story.  

All eleven-year-old Nick Stevenson wants is an adventure like his dad's. Oh, and for the creepy ceiling in his bedroom to stop storming and spinning. When he's asked to save a world that exists inside his bedroom's wallpaper, Nick thinks he's found his very own adventure. But he has no idea it will involve talking rocks, dream stealing birds, and becoming friends with wizards. Can Nick save Redwind and his new friends before his mom calls him home for hockey practice?

Here are some questions and comments from the 5th Grade Trenches...

Why did you call the monsters Krogs? Maya
Where did you get the idea for SAVING REDWIND? Myles/Vanessa E./Clarissa/Tameem
How did you come up with the strange names? Ben
When will there be more Redwind adventures? (This was the #1 question)

The final battle was exciting. (This was the #1 comment)
I'm still pumped thinking about the ending. Mariah
Loved all the different character personalities. Cayze
It was heart warming. Megan
I loved the details. I felt like I was right there in Redwind. Katie
Loved the humor in the story. Skyeler

Thank you, Kris Yankee for taking us all through the wallpaper.

photo credit

This blog will resume its regular program schedule on Wednesday, December 7, 2011. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Teacher/Writer Interface

First of all, thank you all for your patience. I've been a crummy blogger lately. Two words... report cards. I'll be back to blog visitin' this week.
Do you ever find yourself grumbling about the way your "day job" interferes with your writing life? I know I do. Last week I had to smack myself upside the head and lay out all the ways teaching 5th grade, my day job, is actually a benefit to my writing. Here are some of the perks:

  • Exposure to AMAZING kid lit.  - From the Allie Finkle Books (Thank You, Meg Cabot) through Donald Zinkoff in LOSER (Thank you, Jerry Spinelli), I languish in delicious middle grade stories and a myriad of different voices.
  • Getting kids jazzed about books - I'm handing out the Hobbit like candy. I want them to read it before the movie comes out.
  • Interacting with our school librarian - We chat about trends and recommend titles to one another.
  • Daily living with a kid POV on the world - Yes, these people have a whole different mind set.
  • Discussing lit. with my fellow teachers - "Ah Ha" moments abound when we talk about the different approaches to kid/literature interaction.
  • Teaching grammar - Need I say more. Some days I get as much out of a lesson as the kids.
  • Critical Thinking and Literary Analysis - Practicing this on a daily basis using the solid gold writing of others shines up my own work.

How does your "day job" interface with your writing?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Do Take That Tone With Me...

Tone and voice are two important traits of writing that can sometime be illusive. One of the best ways I've found to give my T and V a shot in the arm is turning to the wit of others.

Ready for giggles and inspiration?

Hop over to Miss Cellania website. It is an ongoing party fraught with delicious posts sharing quotes, insults, and a plethora of other humorous posts that sing with voice and tone. 

Dive in for some entertaining research to find yummy personality shadings and tidbits to add to those NaNo characters, being born even as we speak, by enjoying the quick wit of some interesting folk.

Here’s a sneak peek from the WHEN INSULTS HAD CLASS post.

I never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure. – Clarence Darrow

I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.Mark Twain

I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend…if you have one.George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second…if there is oneWinston Churchill, in response

He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends. - Oscar Wilde

Hop over to Miss Cellania and search quotes and insults. Enjoy.

Where do you go for your cyberspace laughs?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

OPEN MINDS by Susan Kaye Quinn

Welcome to the launch party of the young adult novel, OPEN MINDS, the first installment of the Mindjacker Trilogy by Susan Kaye Quinn.

The most dynamic use of line in a composition is one that rapidly changes direction. OPEN MINDS grabbed me and took me on a ride filled with unexpected switchbacks, climbs, and straight drops.

I was taken by the world of OPEN MINDS that blends the familiar landscape of today’s life with controversial technological advances that may be waiting for us in the future. Susan Kaye Quinn keeps us rooted in the physical world we know, but projects a fascinating path for the evolution of the human mind. The story presents a hypothesis for where our brains may be headed which is both mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time.

Kira and her supporting cast sing with authentic teen voices. They navigate their ordeals with the perfect adolescent blend of arrogance, impulsivity, and insecurity.

Bravo, Susan for taking us on adventure where the stakes rise with every turn, and no thought has a safe place to hide.

When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.
Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden world of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy) by Susan Kaye Quinn is available in e-book (Amazon US (also UK, France and Germany), Barnes & Noble, Smashwords) and print (Amazon, Createspace, also autographed copies available from the author).

Susan Kaye Quinn is giving away an Open Books/Open Minds t-shirt, mug, and some fun wristbands to celebrate the Virtual Launch Party of Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy)! (Check out the prizes here.)

Three ways to enter (you can have multiple entries):
1)      Leave a comment here or at the Virtual Launch Party post
2)      Tweet (with tag #keepingOPENMINDS)
Example: When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep. #keepingOPENMINDS @susankayequinn #SF #YA avail NOW
Example: Celebrate the launch of OPEN MINDS by @susankayequinn #keepingOPENMINDS #SciFi #paranormal #YA avail NOW

3)     Facebook (tag @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn)
Example: Celebrate the launch of paranormal/SF novel OPEN MINDS by @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn for a chance to win Open Books/Open Minds prizes!


Bethany Kaczmarek Open Minds
Joanna Marple (from France!) - 10/28
Adam Heine (from Thailand!) - 10/31
Heather McCorkle (Indie Elite Blog)
Heather McCorkle (her blog)
S.B. Stuart-Laing (from Glasgow Scotland!)

The Story of Open Minds (linked posts)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

View From the 5th Grade Trenches - October 2011 - I'd Like to Read About...

The kids in my class are reading maniacs. They have accepted our principal's challenge to read 30 books each between August and June. 

When I asked what kind of books they'd like to see, here's what they told me:

I'd like to read a book about...
...a homeless boy who builds something that will be passed on for generations
...a soldier who finds an abandoned bunker filled with robots
...a frog named Andy who goes on a space adventure to Venus and meets an alien named Moe
...a modern kid lost in prehistoric times
...a talent show
...a fifth grader who solves the mystery of bank robbery in his town
...a girl who explores the Costa Rican forest
...Santa Claus and a leprechaun who are stuck in Halloween 
...a funny story about the gold rush
...a fifth grader who falls off a cruise ship and gets stranded on an island
...a fifth grade boy who loses his sports ability when he makes fun of a witch in Las Vegas

Okay all you MG authors. Get writing. Can you say, "NaNo?"

If you write it, they will come.

photo credit

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

And the Beauty Queen is...

...Vicki Tremper

Congratulations to a gal who swears in French while she's doing the Argentine tango. Does it get better than that? I don't think so.

Vicki - Prepare to laugh until your stomach cramps.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Celebrating BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray

Here goes my very first blog contest, and I’m totally nervous. Does my hair look OK? Is there anything in my teeth? Does my butt look big in this post? I need to be pretty.


I am an audiobook nut, especially when the author is the one reading the story. BEAUTY QUEENS is hands down my best ride through an audiobook EVER! I was laughing so hard at Libba Bray’s narration that I got lost in Fresno for over an hour on my way back from Yosemite. This hilarious story is well worth the mileage and confusion.

Libba’s performance is one of a kind and takes this brilliant comedic romp to a whole new level. At the SCBWI-LA conference I had the privilege of meeting Libba, and she graciously 
re-enacted a few lines from my favorite character in the book, Tiara. That memory is now my happy place.

BEAUTY QUEENS is more than a snort-laugh inducing treat. It also shares the journey of the girls as they discover who they truly are. Great message for our teens. Thank you Libba for this story that is sparkly gold with a chocolate center.

Laugh with me if you will by watching this BEAUTY QUEENS VIDEO starring Libba Bray herself.


 Pretty Prize – A copy of BEAUTY QUEENS autographed by Libba Bray.

*Throws Confetti, blows a bugle, and marches around the room with a baton*

Many of the contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant share a Fun Fact page with us in the book. Here’s mine:

Name: Leslie S. Rose
State: The voices tell me I’m normal.
Age: Old enough to be stalked by AARP.
Height: 2 inches shorter than my dream of 5’6”
Weight: In pounds or stones?
Hair: What day is it? Okay, blonde.
Eyes: The paint chip from Home Depot says cinder block blue - so pretty
Best Feature: My Star Wars memorabilia collection

Fun Facts About Me
  • ·      I have a titanium hip, but magnets don’t stick to me so what's the point in having it?
  • ·      I used to be able to do a back bend, grab my ankles and walk. If only the Corporation had invented Cirque du Soleil back then.
  • ·      Once a Shetland pony bit me.

Leave a comment below telling all of us a Fun Fact about you. Comments must be in by midnight EST on Monday, October 24th. The winner will be drawn at random and announced starting October 25th on each of the celebrating blogs. Don't forget to leave your email. My apology to the international blogging community, but this is a US only contest.

Go to the BEAUTY QUEENS posts on the blog links of my awesome (and pretty) writing buds below to share more fun facts and earn two more chances to win our fabulous prize. You can earn an entry for your comment on each of the three celebrating blogs.

Stay pretty.

Audible. com on BEAUTY QUEENS:
The 50 contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner. What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program - or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan - or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Designing a Character: Using Texture

Texture connects us directly with our senses of sight and touch.  Discovering the feel of hard vs. soft, smooth vs. rough, or shiny vs. dull, gives us information about the world, through our fingers and eyes.  As a general perception, we are drawn to soft, smooth, and shiny, while hard, dull, and rough aren’t always as desirable. 

How does imposing texture add dimension to your character?  Do you want them to be appealing, or dangerous?  Is their texture deceptive to their true nature, or an affirmation of who they really are?  Every character has an exterior and interior landscape.  Are these layers of their texture contrasting or complementary?  Do your character’s textures come out in touchable form, such as clothing, or are they reflected in speech, action, and expression?                          

Back to Harry Potter for a peek at texture.  I see Voldemort as a black charred core, surrounded by a slick metallic coating, covered in gashes with knife-sharp edges.  

Be a texture seeker.  Mentally sculpt your character with materials that reveal them.  See what nuances you may discover.   

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Designing a Character: Using Color Schemes

Individual colors each have their own subjective emotional impact, but start putting them together and you can create dramatic, sympathetic, or powerful structures.  Assign your characters colors and then play with combining them into scenes to create discord, harmony, mystery, or chaos.   

Monochromatic – This is when you take a single color and add either black or white to it.  Think of it as the shadings of your character.  Your protagonist might start out their journey as a primary blue until the obstacles they face darken them into a more mysterious midnight shade.  On the other hand, a character may lose burdens and lighten into a powder or sky blue, moving closer to the white end of the spectrum.

Triads – Play colors like chords on the piano, three notes of different hues.  The color triad of red, yellow, and orange stimulates appetite.  Think about the color scheme of many fast food restaurants.  These three colors are also high value, suggesting energy and vitality.  I imagine three teen friends on an adventure when I think of this triad. (Probably all boys, stopping to eat often at fast food restaurants)

The triad black, white, and red radiates power, and may suggest villainy.  Picture the flag of Hitler’s Third Reich.  

Complimentary – Colors in opposite positions on the color wheel work against each other in dynamic harmony, red/green, orange/ blue, yellow/purple.  Complimentary schemes may signal conflict between characters.  Picture a romantic entanglement where opposites attract and join for an exciting relationship.

Analogous – Any neighboring colors on the color wheel – ex: purple/magenta/red or blue/turquoise/green.  You feel them fading in to one another and getting along.  An analogous scheme may signify the calm family life of a character before their quest/problem throws their life into turmoil.  At journey’s end analogous colors reflect the happy well-balanced land to which a hero returns in triumph after slaying literal or figurative dragons. 

Go check out Color Scheme Designer and play with color combos of your own.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Designing a Character: Using Light-Direction

When you visualize a scene, reveal your characters with light.  Illuminating people differently will project their qualities.  In particular, changing the direction from where a light originates can model a figure in a variety of ways, each creating a unique specific effect.

FRONT LIGHT: Car headlights.  No secrets.  Let it all hang out.  Projects a huge shadow behind.  Character revealed.

BACK LIGHT(Directly or offset to one side)/DOWNLIGHT(Straight from above): Sunlight/Moonlight/Streetlight.  Separates the character from their surroundings.  Allows them to pop out and be distinct.  No one melts into the scenery.

UPLIGHT: Unnatural direction.  Burning sewer grate.  Candle under the chin.  Creepy.  Monstrous.  Beware the up-lit character.  

SIDELIGHT: Room lamps.  Sunrise/Sunset.  Adds dimension.  Fills out the form of your character.  Depth, complexity.  Brings out the folds in their clothing. Used strongly in dance.

What direction of light is catching your characters? Are you playing with cast shadows or internal shadows?

photo credits