Sunday, June 26, 2011

Conference Pt 2, American Girl, and Veg Offering @ Panera

Yesterday was the last day of the conference and I attended two sessions.  The first session I was really excited about.  It was called "Children Marked by Death" and was going to discuss several books I had read: Unwind, Graveyard Book, Harry Potter.

I didn't end up going to that session because, stupid me, I wrote down the wrong room number.  If I hadn't been sitting smack dab in the middle of the room where it would have been disruptive and rude of me to leave, I would have left.  I was especially sad because I could hear the applause and laughter in the correct room which was on the other side of a thin wall.

One of the three speeches interested me though.  It was about American Girl and how the company's emphasis on clothes and accessories detracts from the more serious issues in the books.  For example, in one of the Samantha books, Samantha goes to the African American part of town in search of her seamstress, Jessie.  Samantha is shocked by how different this part of town is: crowded, old, poor.  When she returns home, Samantha describes how much comfort she feels in putting on her soft, white, ruffled nightgown and climbing under the covers of her beautiful bed with her doll, Lydia.  The speaker argued that the clothing and accessories serve to distract girls from the real issue and are what girls remember instead.

I could see the speaker's points.  But I think the American Girl series and products have so much to offer.  I think the values of the series far outweigh many other play/toy options for girls that age.  The history, morality, and focus on appreciating girlhood (not rushing into being a teenager, make-up, boys, etc.) make American Girl a refreshing option in today's society.

They are opening an American Girl Store in Tysons Corner Mall, and there was an article about the American Girl series in the Washington Post.  The series is celebrating its 25th Anniversary, and I'm very happy to see that the company is still going strong.  Though I don't agree with their decision to retire the classic dolls.  (Samantha, Felicity, Kirsten are all retired.)

The other conference session I attended yesterday was about "Teachers as Writers."  There was a panel of writers who were also teachers.  They spoke about the challenges of balancing teaching and writing, how both jobs require a similar kind of creative energy.  That is a huge struggle for me.  Teaching drains me in every way: physically, mentally, emotionally.  Teaching also saps a lot of creative energy.  To come up with consistently engaging and unique lessons drains me of creative energy.  The panel spoke about how they often feel drained of creativity from their day job teaching and ways they recharge so they have energy for their writing.

I've had talks with several people who care about me, and how I need to do a better job of balancing my work (teaching) and my personal life.  I give way too much of myself to teaching, and it has to stop.  Next year, I already have plans in place so that I take more time for myself.  I am going to take an online course with a teacher I love.  I am signing up for writing conferences throughout the year, which will also be opportunities to travel and get away.  Traveling always helps me to refocus my life and realize there's more to life than my classroom.  Plus, I think when I'm happier, I treat my students better.  Not that I'm even a "mean" teacher, but I noticed this year that when I was stressed, I had less patience and was more likely to snap at a kid when I don't mean to.

And finally, Panera has a vegetarian sandwich!!!  They've had their Tomato/Mozz panini for awhile, but that's really their only offering in terms of veggie stuff.

I don't remember seeing the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich on their menu, and I ate so much Panera last year that I am pretty sure I know their menu offerings by heart.  So I'm pretty sure this sandwich is new, and I tried it today.  Delicious!

On their yummy tomato basil bread: feta cheese crumbles, cilantro hummus, black pepper, salt, green leaf lettuce, red onions, fresh tomatoes, fresh cucumber, and zesty peppadew piquant peppers.  A very hearty vegetarian sandwich with a spicy kick on truly scrumptious bread.  I'm a fan.

Now, if Panera would just make a grilled eggplant panini...  I would be a happy girl.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Conference and Library of an Early Mind

This week my grad school is hosting a conference, and I got free admission by being an on-call tech help person today.  I really only had to solve 2-3 problems: not knowing the password to log in (though it was posted), switching between diplays, and switching from PC to Mac (the girl even brought her own dongle).  Pretty easy tech day considering it saved me a couple hundred bucks!

Here's a list of some topics of speeches that I got to listen to:

"Kick-Ass Slayers and Teen Terminators: Recent Trends in Lethal Little Girls"
"Girls on Fire: Gender, Authority and the Female Child-Warrior"
"Dystopic Epiphanies and Kierkegaardian Disallusion: An Exploration of the Average vs. Exceptional Hero in Feed and The Giver"
"Demystifying the Illusion of an Adultless World--Forty Years of Fearing the Children in Science Fiction"
"Like, Vampires? A Study of American Teen Slang in Young Adult Fantasy Literature"
"M.T. Anderson's Feed and the Linguistic Situation of Tomorrow"
"Young Adult Fantasy in a Visual Age: The Book Trailer as a Gateway to the Written Word"
"Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley and the Journey to Womanhood in the Harry Potter Series"
"Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Lois Lowry's and Suzanne Collins's Dystopian Trilogies"
"Media Drives Revolt: Ways Rebels Use Media Throughout Literature from Historical Fiction Through Futuristic Fantasy"
"Youth Rebellion, Dystopic Fiction, Identity Crisis"

Some summary points:

  • Hunger Games was by far the most popular topic.  I am sick of listening to people talk about Hunger Games.
  • Violent girl heroines is an emerging theme in popular culture.
  • I really enjoyed the session on book trailers.  Super interesting and different.  And the girl highlighted Maggie Steifvater's book trailers, which I completely agree are innovative and exceptional.
  • The one session on Harry Potter was packed and fun despite the fact that two of the three speakers were no shows.  The session turned into a discussion of female characters in Harry Potter.  And I subconsciously gave this one girl a really dirty look... I brought up Pottermore and JKR's announcement, and the girl said, "She didn't even really announce anything.  Basically it's just a Potter version of World of Warcraft."  RAWR!  JKR said NOTHING about an online GAMING experience.  She said online READING experience.  And she said safe for people of all ages.  And she mentioned eBooks.  And addittional Potter World content from her.  NOTHING that would even make you think WoW.  Hence my dirty look that made her wither in her seat.  Dumb chick.  RAWR!
I also got to go to a free screening of this awesome documentary film called Library of the Early Mind.  Sooooooo amazing.  I want to buy it.

Summary taken from the film's Facebook page:

"An exploration of the art and impact of children’s literature on our kids, our culture, and ourselves. From the first stories we hear told to us, to those childhood heroes who stay with us for a lifetime, the impact on our culture runs deeper than what we might expect. Featuring nearly 40 prominent authors, artists, and critics."

LOVE  LOVE  LOVE!!!  You can watch a trailer on the website.

And in final news, I finished the first draft of my short story due on Wednesday.
Word Count: 3,850
Page Count: 16 pages

I might sound like an over-achiever because I accomplished this so far ahead of time, but I still have three novels and two picture books to read.  And a journal entry to do.  I just did the fun stuff first  :)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Initial Thoughts on Princess of Mars

I call these posts "Initial Thoughts" because sometimes after class discussion, my opinions and perceptions of the books change.  I'll usually do a follow-up post after class with my final opinion of the book (changed or not).

John Carter is a cowboy running from violent indians when he discovers a cave and has a sort of "out-of-body experience" that takes him to Mars.  He becomes a great warrior on Mars, falls in love with a Martian princess, and brings peace to the alien planet.

Despite the total cheesiness, I found myself smiling and enjoying the book once I got into it.  But hey, I like the original Star Trek series.  You can't get more cheesy than that.  Burroughs does some great world building and his messages about love, friendship, and kindness are strong.

Lots of plausibility issues.  The first third of the book is very heavy on description with little plot or character development.  The language of the book is too formal and would not survive in the current YA market.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Word Count Wednesday 6/22/11

I know I skipped Word Count Wednesday last week (it would have been zero words), but it was one of those weeks where life took precedence over writing.

I am now at grad school, and in just two short days I've written...

2,515 words  ^_^

The atmosphere here is so conducive to writing and being creative.  I could not be happier.

I'm working on a short story for one of my classes.  The assignment is to create an original short story based on the fairy tale "The Goose Girl."  We read Andrew Lang's version from The Blue Fairy Book.  It's free domain, and here's a link to the text should you wish to read it:

The element of the fairy tale that I'm focusing on is the maid who steals the princess's role and goes to meet the prince instead.  Except I'm giving it a VERY modern twist.  Hint: Think girl groupies of a rock band.  I'm pretty positive no one will go in this direction and I love all the allusions to the original story that I'm able to slip into the modern setting.  So fun!

I have 4 novels and 2 picture books to read by next Tuesday... so I need to go get reading.  I pretty much need to finish a book a day.  Yikes!  I'm almost done with Princess of Mars, and will post my initial thoughts on that book tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Classes x3

I had a whole whopping 9 hours of class today, so this is quite a lengthy post.  Feel free to skip around, read it in sections, or whatever.

Here chronicles my first day of class:

Young Adult Science Fiction

Was pretty much what I expected from a first class.  Went over the syllabus, talked broadly about the topic of science fiction (its definition and its roots).  Will have to write a 2500-4000 word research paper, and I personally started brainstorming topic ideas.

  • Comparing Neal Shusterman's Unwind to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
  • Games in Literature (Ender's Game, Interstellar Pig, Jumanji, Harry Potter)
  • YA dystopian literature as a metaphor for adult's view of a dark future with a hopeful ending
I'm guessing games in literature has probably been done before, so that's probably not the most original topic idea.  I'd prefer to write about something that hasn't been done before.  It means less research reading, and I like the opportunity to have original ideas.

Forms and Boundaries

This was probably the class I was most excited about.  The book list is very contemporary and interesting, which made me hopeful.  The professor also has a good reputation.

Post Class:  Still think this class will be awesome.  Essentially, we're going to be examining HOW an author wrote what they wrote.  Breaking down form and structure.  Reading as a writer.  We'll also be looking at how authors broke the rules of their genre.  I thought I would grow a lot by taking this class and I definitely think I will.

The class held my attention the whole time because there was stuff for us to DO.  She brought samples for us to analyze the form.  Learned some new words.  The teacher also slips in and out of silly accents as she's speaking.

We have to do one presentation on something we want to do in our own writing, find an author who does it well, and break down how they do it in their writing.  Very worthwhile assignment.

We also have to do two short critical papers that are forms analyses.  However, she said the first one would not be graded because she said she didn't think it was fair to grade us on this type of analysis right off the bat since we haven't done it before.  Very fair.

Since I'm taking this as a creative course, I also have to do two creative assignments where I practice writing in one of the forms we are studying.  But she just wants it to be a rough attempt, not a masterpiece.  Again, fair.

The forms we are studying are: Picture Book, Poetry, Collage/Scrapbook, Graphic Novel, YA

So while this class will be a lot of work and stretching me, I also think she's being very reasonable in her demands.

Writing Fantasy

The teacher of this course isn't a regular member of the faculty, so I didn't really know what to expect.  The verdict:  I am pleasantly surprised.

The reason I use the word surprised is I was a little wary of signing up for a class on writing fantasy.  It is a genre I enjoy reading, but I wouldn't classify myself as a high fantasy writer.  More like I just enjoy throwing in made-up stuff, not creating whole new fantastic worlds.  I was wary because I thought perhaps it would be too much fantasy for me.

But the teacher is very knowledgeable about the craft of writing, has a well laid out plan for how the coursework will be organized, and I agree with a lot of her viewpoints on writing already.

Our first assignment is to write a rough draft of a short story inspired by the fairy tale "Goose Girl."  I have a rough idea already, but it was hard for me initially because I have read Shannon Hale's book Goose Girl which is a retelling of the same fairy tale.  So while the teacher was trying to pick an obscure fairy tale that would leave us with lots of questions, I felt like I already knew the story in depth from Shannon Hale's lovely version.

We will be doing a ton of critiquing in this class.  Each of us will be writing two short stories and we will be critiquing 4 works per class period, and there's twelve of us.  I'm not a math person, but in 6 weeks, that sounds like a lot of critiquing!

Well, nine hours of class today kind of wore me out, and I have assignments, reading, and conference prep to look forward to.  Let's just say my iCal is looking pretty packed!  I think I need some tea.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Packing, Packing, Unpacking

The last three days have been LONG.  Packed up my classroom, packed a car full of stuff to take to graduate school, and unpacked a two car loads (one brought, one bought).  I want to say I slept soundly last night, but instead I was so excited to be here and start classes that I woke up practically every hour thinking: I'm here!  This is nice!  I want to go to class!  I want to write in the library!

No internet access right now due to some glitch on campus with Macs not being able to connect to the WiFi.  I came to Panera to log on briefly (I needed dates and times of all these meetings I have to go to... which were e-mailed to me... go figure).

I should have a long post coming up telling all about my first day of classes.  :)

And the internet being down might be a good thing... no Facebook to distract me from reading and writing!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Word Count Wednesday 6/8/11

Word Count: 253 words

I hate my life right now.

Is the school year over yet?

I have 6 days left to teach, but am working 15 hour days to get everything done before I leave for grad school.  Will be the happiest person in the whole entire world on June 19.

The End.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Countdown Tip

My home page is iGoogle, which allows me to have all these lovely little gadgets.

I love the countdown gadget the most because it lets me countdown the days to awesome things like vacations, last day of school, Deathly Hallows...

But I've also discovered a fantastic other use for it.  I'm inputting important conference registration dates and grant application dates.  For example, there's a local conference that fills up quickly in the fall, so I put in the registration date, and now I can keep track of how many days until I can start checking of registration info (still 87 days to go).  There's also a grant I want to apply for through SCBWI, but I can't submit the application til February, so I put in a countdown for that too.

And yes, I could just do this on a calendar or in a planner.  But I'm not terribly good at using either.  I try.  I use my computer every single day.  I figured this was an excellent way to keep these dates in my sphere of attention.

Anyone else struggle with keeping track of dates?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Purchases

I ordered some books about writing today that were recommended by SCBWI.

Yes!  You Can Write Children's Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Career by Nancy Saunders

I heard this book is an excellent resource in helping writers learn how to freelance and create a reliable income.  SCBWI recommends it and it has rave reviews on Amazon.

I'm excited to see what this book has to offer.  I don't consider myself business savvy, and I want to start educating myself.  (Another thing I'd like to know more about is Web Design, if anyone has any great books to recommend, drop me a comment!)

The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom

Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres to read, but I could definitely use some tips on writing it.

This book also comes highly recommended by SCBWI.

I'm hoping to find some techniques to help organize research and tips on adding world-building details.

The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine

Another book recommended in the latest issue of SCBWI (notice a pattern?)

I've registered for TWO creative courses this summer, and know I'll be doing a lot of critiquing.  I genuinely enjoy giving feedback and editing.  I have some practice, but it's something I'd like to develop and strengthen.

And maybe if I work well with people in my classes and provide helpful feedback, I'll gain some more writer buddies/critique partners.

I'll definitely review the books and share a tip or two after I read them!
Any good writing books you recommend?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cool Pen

I have a thing for owls.  I don't really know where it came from, but I've been collecting owl stuff for awhile.

I recently bought a pink owl pen that I'm kind of in love with:

It's pink!

The owl is so cute!

It writes cleanly!

And the company that makes these pens is very environmentally conscious.  They call their pens "Seven Year Pens" because supposedly they can write 1.7 meters a day for 7 years.  While I think I write much more than that in a day and therefore my pen won't last that long, I am pretty happy that I will have this cute pen around for awhile!

They have other cute designs, too!

I like the feather, ice cream, glasses, and mustache!  The "NEED COFFEE" one is funny, but I'm not a fan of skulls.

If you want to check out these cool pens:

(Note: I did not pay $7.50 for my pen.  The prices on their website are much higher.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Word Count Wednesday 6/1/11

I didn't post last week because I was on VACATION.  It was glorious.  I didn't take my laptop because taking a laptop through airport security is a pain-in-the-***.  And I always get super scared that my laptop will be damaged in some way when I travel.  I figured I could borrow my mom's laptop when I needed to check something, and I'd be too busy working on my tan to work on anything else.  :P

So my word count for the last 2 weeks is pretty abysmal at 902 words.  I was too busy writing sub plans, packing, waiting at the airport, lying on the beach, eating seafood, and doing all those lovely traveling type tasks.

I'm going to make an effort to get in 3,000-4,000 words in the next three weeks, but it may be tough.  In three weeks I leave for grad school.

Before then I must:
  • Pack up my classroom at school (which is a hot mess)
  • 4th quarter assessments and report card grades
  • Write sub plans for last week of school
  • Plan two activities for our Asian Culture Day at school
  • Read 17 more books for grad school (HA!  Already know this isn't gonna happen!)
  • Pack for grad school
All these enormous tasks must be completed in addition to all the normal tasks (eat, sleep, work, etc.)

But I have to stay sane and do something for myself each day, so I will find time to write.  It's IMPORTANT.

I read two books for grad school while at the beach.  Initial book reviews are below.

Initial Thoughts on Interstellar Pig

Really did not expect to like this book as much as I did!

A cross between Jumanji and Men in Black? Sixteen year old Barney is on a boring vacation with his parents, but his trip gets more exciting when he learns of a ghost story, meets his strange visiting neighbors, and plays the board game "Interstellar Pig."

Writing flows smoothly. Well-paced. Intriguing plot. The board game is fun and clearly described. Characters were interesting and likable. Funny.

Really the only thing holding me back from giving it a five is that it's not really my typical read and this book won't go down in the all-time favorites. But I really, really liked it. Just probably won't re-read it ever. Would definitely recommend it to people though.

Initial Thoughts on Isis Light

A girl who has lived on a planet all by herself must deal with settlers suddenly arriving and changing the home she has always known. 

Liked it more than I thought I would. But I'd heard a girl speak about the book... so I knew the big secret twist ahead of time. I might have liked it better if I hadn't. The setting was vivid. The characters were pretty well-developed. 

Multiple times I thought the author's word choice was awkward. The relationship between Orlen and Mark wasn't developed thoroughly. The plot was predictable in parts. I didn't particularly like the ending because it wasn't hopeful or uplifting; no real resolution, just running away from the conflict.