Saturday, November 26, 2011

And... The Second Proof Copy Is Now Ordered

After two weeks of scraping little bits of time to hunt out all the little spacing errors left over from formatting issues in the book, I finally submitted a new PDF of Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire to create space.  They approved it this morning, with this odd little note that the type face on the spine was too large.  I find this odd indeed, as I didn't do anything to the cover PDF and didn't even resubmit it.  If the cover was okay last time and the number of pages in the book has not changed, why is the spine size different this time???  Weird.
At any rate, I have now ordered a second proof copy, which I hope will be error-free so that I can soon actually have the POD up for sale.
What's my next step?  As soon as I get a minute this week, I'll be off to my favorite silk screen printing company to talk to them about t-shirts and bookmarks and buttons (oh my!).  At that point, we can start a few contests, both at school and here on the blog.  (Oh, and goodreads, too.  I can give away a copy on goodreads.  That seems to be a pretty popular way to get word out about books.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

What's Been Your Weirdest Writing Inspiration?

I finally found a few moments tonight to have a look at my Nerissa MacKay WIP after two months without even touching it, and I realized I need to make it longer than I originally intended.  I had scribbled a note to myself about adding in two more conflicts, and tonight I decided to flesh those out into at least longer notes.  My inspirations ended up coming from the Monster High Ghoulia Yelps doll

and a playlist that includes songs by The Beatles, ABBA, Justin Bieber, Bj√∂rk, Nellie McKay, Olivia Newton-John, The Supremes, Survivor, and Sting.  (Yeah, I have eclectic music tastes.)  In fact, the doll photo suggested an entire new character, and the arrangement of the playlist suggested the rough outline of a scene or maybe even a chapter.
And yet I'm laughing at the absurdity of this combination even as I type.  But, of course, the entire plot of Half-Vampire was originally suggested by a golf glove and reflexive pronouns, so I guess this isn't too bizarre.  Still.....
Have any of you used writing inspirations weirder than these?

Goals For Black Friday

1. Finish making the edits on Half-Vampire (I found several mistakes in the proof copy and used this as a chance for ONE MORE edit of the book) and submit the new PDF.
2. Grade at least 6 tests for each class.
3. Clean the bathroom and living room.
4. Take down Thanksgiving decorations and put up Christmas decorations.
5. AVOID ALL RETAIL ESTABLISHMENTS OF ANY KIND, INCLUDING DRIVING ANYWHERE NEAR THEIR PARKING LOTS.

I did my Christmas shopping last week.  In my pajamas.  Online.  There were no parking hassles.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Bard And Medicine

I am a HUGE Shakespeare fan; I've read so many biographies and studies of his works and taken so many university classes on him that it's hard to remember all of them.  Hence, this yahoo news article today amused and pleased me a good deal:


Doctors should read up on Shakespeare, according to an unusual medical study that says the Bard was exceptionally skilled at spotting psychosomatic symptoms.
Kenneth Heaton, a doctor at the University of Bristol in western England, trawled through all 42 of Shakespeare's major works and 46 genre-matched works by contemporaries.
He found Shakespeare stood out for his ability to link physical symptoms and mental distress.
Vertigo, giddiness or dizziness is expressed by five male characters in the throes of emotional disturbance, in "The Taming of the Shrew", "Romeo and Juliet", "Henry VI Part 1", "Cymbeline", and "Troilus and Cressida".
Eleven instances of breathlessness linked to extreme emotions are found in "Two Gentlemen of Verona", "The Rape of Lucrece", "Venus and Adonis" and "Troilus and Cressida".
Grief or distress is conveyed through symptoms of fatigue in "Hamlet", "The Merchant of Venice", "As You Like It", "Richard II" and "Henry IV Part 2".
Disturbed hearing at a time of mental crisis crops up in "King Lear", "Richard II" and "King John".
Meanwhile, coldness and faintness, emblematic of deep shock, occur in "Romeo and Juliet", "Julius Caesar", "Richard III" and elsewhere.
"Shakespeare's perception that numbness and enhanced sensation can have a psychological origin seems not to have been shared by his contemporaries, none of whom included such phenomena in the works examined," Heaton observes.
Shakespeare can help doctors today who face patients whose physical state masks underlying emotional problems, he suggests.
"Many doctors are reluctant to attribute physical symptoms to emotional disturbance, and this results in delayed diagnosis, overinvestigation, and inappropriate treatment," Heaton points out.
"They could learn to be better doctors by studying Shakespeare. This is important because the so-called functional symptoms are the leading cause of general practitioner visits and of referrals to specialists."
The study appears on Wednesday in a British publication, the Journal of Medical Humanities.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Six Countries Today

This is still a very new blog, so it doesn't get more than 50 hits a day just yet.  But today we set a new record for this blog: visitors from 6 different countries: the US, Japan, Russia (I get views from Russia every single day on this blog.  Hi there to whoever you Russians are!  Thanks for dropping by.  Leave a comment sometime.), Canada, Germany, and the UK.
Not a bad round up for such a new little blog.  :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nostalgic For A Time When Guys Dressed Neatly (Or The Hardy Boys And The Case Of The Disappearing Personal Neatness Standards)

Once upon a time I had a personal blog that combined my writing, my travel, and everything else.  It got anywhere from 200 to 750 hits a day and had a few really popular posts.
Tonight I glanced over some old posts from this now-defunct and offline blog and found one that I recall well. I'd like to re-post it here, as I think it's worth leaving for the public (and it had had hundreds of hits before the blog went offline).
Before I begin, please note that I did not take any of the photos in this post.  They are either pulled from yahoo images or else pics of pics from my old yearbooks.
So, from October of 2010, I give you this post:

I can't even recall now why I did it, but about 10 days ago, I requested from the local library the DVDs of the first season of the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew shows from the 1970s.  I've made it through about 3 episodes of the Hardy Boys now (while I exercise), and I keep thinking how nice every man in the whole thing looks -- in spite of the stupid six-inch collars.  Every single time I've watched part of an episode this week, I've thought the same thing.  So I asked myself, "Is this just because you once had a major crush on Shaun Cassidy?"  So, in the most surreal event of my week, I found Shaun Cassidy clips on youtube and watched a few.  (Bizarre beyond words to watch something where the songs don't even exist yet in digitized format but are on youtube.  Really, these clips were made before any ordinary person even had a VCR.)  But that was more than 3 decades ago, and now I keep thinking how nice ALL the men in the shows look.  It had to be something else.
Finally it occurred to me that it was how the men dressed: neatly, with pants that fit them, shirts tucked in, and colors, patterns, and textures that matched each other.




Young men don't dress that way now, and they haven't for years.
Just look at this: all of them are wearing pants that fit and clothes that match!  Amazing!





They look nice.  Yet if I were to show this to boys I teach, they would automatically announce the guys looked gay -- because apparently, today, only gay young men are allowed to dress nicely.
It wasn't always this way.  I went to high school in the early 80s when you were either prep, punk, or urban surfer.  Most kids were prep.  And prep was neat and tidy.



Okay, so this is a picture of a picture.  I couldn't find any decent, REAL 80s pics of teens on the web, so I pulled out old yearbooks.  Notice how these kids are all wearing pants that fit them?
But it wasn't just when kids dressed up for photo day.  No, ordinary candids reveal that it was normal to have nice, tidy clothing on -- even for the boys.

These are guys waiting to register for classes at the beginning of the year.  (Yes, that's a shadow of grass.  I had to take my yearbook outside to get enough light to snap these.  Deal with it.)
Here's the winter carnival -- a bunch of ordinary guys out messing around in the snow.  But their pants fit them and their shirts are tucked in.  Look!  Their shoes are even tied!!  (Okay, I had to put this picture in because I had the crush of all crushes on that Latino boy on the far right.  Oh, be still, my beating heart!  He was a sweetie. )
And here's one where they're all dressed up and still looking nice, not wild.

So what happened?
Well, the late 80s brought us this guy:

And suddenly every boy wanted to wear hammerpants.
They were hideous but apparently comfortable.  I hoped the style would soon pass into something else.  It did, but unfortunately, it was the gangster look.  And for more than a decade I have looked at teenage boys who dressed like this: (or tried to anyway -- we keep rope at school to make kids tie up their pants when they "don't have" belts)
Shirts untucked, pants four sizes too large and hanging with the crotch near the knees, shoes mostly untied -- the boys slop around like this.  They also wear silky basketball shorts so loose and long they look like skirts, or else plaid Bermuda shorts with striped polo shirts.  They wear plaid shirts over printed tees and huge, baggy hoodies.  It is a rare boy indeed who ever wears a sweater to school.  And the only time they tuck their shirts in is when they're wearing dress clothes for game days.  (All teams at our school have the team members dress up on game days.)
Could it get much worse?  Ah, yes.
The last two years have brought the skater look to our school.  Now only most of the boys wear pants too big; the other group wears pants too small.  Skin-tight jeans, often in bright colors, and too small to fit over the bum are what these boys favor.  The crotch of their pants is now at mid-thigh, making it hard to walk normally (heaven only knows how they skate in these things.).  It's new.  It's emo.  It's just as ugly as everything else has been for over 2 decades.
Please, oh ye gods of fashion!

I'll even take the massive collars and the flared pant bottoms.  Just give us men who dress neatly again!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

My First Book Talk

Last week I had my first "official" book group with students.  Until this point, everything had been in a classroom setting with kids asking me questions about my books, but this was fairly formal.
Our school has a Kindle club for kids who've met various requirements through the school library.  One of the books on the kids' Kindles is Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire.  Our school's English department head is in charge of getting the kids together twice a month and discussing their books with them.  And this time, they'd chosen to read Half-Vampire.  It was a last-minute switch, really.  She'd forgotten to write up some discussion questions, and it was really easier for her to offer to monitor my seventh-graders who were taking one of those weekly government-mandated standardized tests in a computer lab than to write up questions.  And, obviously, I could think up discussion questions about my own book without a whole lot of effort.  Besides-- standardized tests vs. munching treats and discussing vampires: where would you rather be?  Duh.
I learned a few things from the perspectives of these kids (good readers who weren't afraid to speak their minds).  The ninth-grade girls all thought Eric was immature.  The eighth-grade boys didn't think so at all.  (I smiled at this.)  One eighth-grade boy was so pleased that Eric was so easy to understand; it had never occurred to him that Eric speaks just like the kids at our school, since that's the kid speech wherein I am most fluent.
That same boy was dying to know where I'd gotten the idea for the telekinesis.  That was something I hadn't thought about in years, so it made me laugh to tell him the truth.  When I was just barely beginning the book -- handwritten in a Mead spiral-bound notebook -- all my ninth-graders were very into giving me suggestions.  A boy named Eric (on whom the fictional Eric's looks are indeed based) was a TA for the French teacher during my consultation period (a time for meetings, lesson prep, and grading papers).  One day during this consultation period I was sitting at my desk, grading tests, when he, wearing a TA pass, came into the room, slapped his hand down on my desk, leaned over to look me straight in the eye, and -- without any kind of lead-in, said, "I want telekinesis!"
I nodded and said, "Yeah, we can do that."
And he left the room.
That was it.
The kids listening in the library last week thought that was hilarious, but it was the truth.  To this day, I do not know what prompted that boy to demand that power for his fictional and much-altered alter-ego, but that's how it happened.
I know a fair amount of authors write on their blogs that they fear public speaking and/or school visits, and some authors don't have a clue how to talk to kids.  (There is a local author of some fame who used to make a lot of grade school visits in the valley.  My students unanimously agree that he came across as unbelievably arrogant and dislikable.)  Obviously, I have neither of these problems.  I hope sometime to be able to talk to kids who are not at my own school about my books, but that will have to wait for a future date.  :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What I'd Like To See As A REAL Book Challenge

I follow a lot of book review/author/agent blogs, and I'm finding that book challenges seem to be "in" right now.  We have challenges to read a certain number of books during the year, challenges to read dystopias, challenges to read indie books, challenges to read debut authors.
These are all fine, but they seem to be mostly (the indie books excepted here) perpetuating already over-done things.  Folks, the YA book market is GLUTTED with dystopias right now, and more than half the new books I see have strong romantic themes and are geared for girls.  It seems the message everyone is sending kids right now is that you either have to read romance or destruction.  Yes, there are some exceptions: Shelter by Harlan Corben was a good, old-fashioned boys' spy/thriller. Plain Kate by Erin Bow was fantasy without a hint of romance in it.
Here's the challenge I'd like to see: If you're an author, try writing something that's not a dystopia or a romance if you're writing for YA.  Try showing friendships instead of romance, or try showing that teen romance rarely ever works out (because it usually doesn't).  Try some unrequited love.  And how about a mystery or a historical book instead of more dystopia?  If you're a reader, how about finding and promoting good YA fiction that doesn't follow what everyone else is doing?
Sure, yeah, it's easy for me to say this.  After all, Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire is a boys' book that's not about romance or dystopia.  I'm sort of promoting my own book.
But the reader and teacher sides of me (rather than the writer portion) are getting bogged down by sameness in YA.  I'd really, really like to see more fresh stuff rather than dystopia ad infinitum and yet even more books wherein some girl tries to choose between the good-but-boring boy and the rebel-without-a-clue boy.  (Oh, look!  I just summed up the entire plot of Matched! And Enclave!)  Let's shake things up a bit.  How about a boy who has to choose among 3 girls and who lives in a utopia but can't stand the monotony of the place?  How about a historical thriller or an alternate history that does not involve dystopia?  How about a modernized version of an alien invasion? Something fresh?  Something different?
Now, I'd don't have scads of followers at the moment, and this blog still only gets 30 or fewer hits on most days.  But if you're a reader or a writer of YA fiction and you see this, will you take my challenge and either create or promote something different in 2012?  Yes, I'm going to do it myself and keep working on my WIP, The (Dis)appearance of Nerissa MacKay, making sure it does not develop into a predictable romance (girl decides between two boys), and it's most certainly not a dystopia!  And I promise to keep hunting for good YA that's not dystopia or romance.
Is anyone else up for this challenge?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Proof Copy Came Today!!!

Today I worked 12 hours: teaching, coaching academic team, then doing hair and make up for the school play.  I was exhausted.  But there waiting for me at home was the package from Create Space!!!!
Yeehaw!
I felt like doing Snoopy's suppertime dance.  After all, I've worked on this book for eight long years, and now I FINALLY get to hold a printed copy in my hands!!!  Wow.  So unbelievably cool.
My family said it was "nice."
Sigh.
I've gazed at its glory for 15 minutes straight, and they call it "nice."  Not quite sharing my excitement, eh?
Fine.  I can get my students psyched up about it tomorrow.  They'll think it's cool.
In the meantime, I think I'll have to put it next to the alarm clock so it'll be there for me to check that it's real when I wake up in the morning.  :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

I Just Know There's A Book Waiting To Be Written From This....

It's no secret that authors pull ideas from real life -- and often that real life is some news event.  Even Charles Brockden Brown, who I believe may very well have been America's first novelist, got his idea for Wieland from a newspaper article about a real man who, rather like Andrea Yates a decade ago, thought that God had told him to kill all his children.
Less horrific but still an awesome idea for a novel is this little article I pulled from a yahoo news article this morning:


MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's Interior Ministry says police have arrested a man who kept 29 mummified bodies at his apartment and dressed them up like dolls.
Ministry spokesman Valery Gribakin said Monday that the suspect from the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod dug up the bodies at several cemeteries in the region. The man, whose identity was withheld, dressed them in clothes dug up from the graves.
Gribakin said that the suspect is a historian who has authored several books. He said the arrest followed a police probe into the desecration of graves in the region, which was initially blamed on extremist groups. Nizhny Novgorod is located about 250 miles (400 kilometers) east of Moscow.
Russian media reports quoted police as saying that the man only had selected the remains of young women for his grisly collection.



Oh yeah.  This is definitely a novel in the making.  But I don't know if I'm the one who's going to write it or not.
But then again, it's sort of "A Rose For Emily," isn't it?  Maybe this is really just life imitating art.  Thoughts, anyone?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Holy Hantavirus, Batman!

Today (in the snow) I had to shut off the sprinkling system for the winter.  Unfortunately, when I took a screwdriver to pry off the lid of one of the automatic system control boxes, I found it filled the brim with acorns, peanut shells, snail shells, dead leaves, and one small rat looking up at me in a very irritated manner, since I'd just removed the roof of his house.
I know I should've stabbed the thing with the screwdriver, but I just couldn't.  I felt kind of bad for the little guy (understanding how Robert Burns once felt when he plowed over that mouse's nest -- however, Burns immortalized the mouse with a poem, and I'm just writing a blog post).  I sighed and went to get a bandana to cover my mouth, a small gardening trowel, a dust pan, and my oldest garden gloves (since I was going to throw them away after using them to dig through a rat's nest).  But when I returned, the little bugger was STILL there.  I had to poke him at with the screwdriver before he finally fled!
I then had a good 20 minutes of digging (with a miserable headache on top of everything else) to get all that stuff out of the sprinkler control box.  And afterwards, I had to spray all the tools and the box down with Lysol (which probably doesn't kill viruses anyway, but it made me feel a bit better), put out rat poison in the box and all around the bushes, and remove every single item of clothing (even my coat) and put them through the laundry in hopes of killing the virus.
And my main question here is, "If my neighbor's cat is in my yard all the time anyway, why the heck isn't he doing his job?!!!"
Unfortunately, it's probably going to be just my luck to have the rat eat the poison and then crawl back into the sprinkler box to die, instead of dying under a bush someplace where I won't have to dig him out and risk viral contamination again.
Oddly enough, though, in spite of the danger, rats just don't scare me the way spiders do.  Maybe if I had to deal with huge sewer rats it'd be different, but this thing was small, only a little bigger than a gerbil.  I've had way bigger rats than that before.  (Fortunately, none have ever gotten into the house.  Knock on wood.)

A Bit Of Irony

Earlier this week I read a blogpost by someone giving advice to aspiring writers on how to use better verb choices.  The post ended with this:

And there's always revisions.




Um.  Sorry, but I don't take writing advice on verbs from someone who doesn't know the basics of subject/verb congruency or who doesn't proofread her own posts, especially when she's mentioning revision.
The post did, however, give me a good laugh for the morning.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Goodreads

I joined Goodreads tonight.
I ranked 748 books in one sitting, and I feel like I've just barely scratched the surface.  I wonder how many thousands of books I've read in my life.  I certainly feel fortunate to have had access to so many!
I am also pleased with the wide variety that I'm finding even in this cursory first search.  I'm ranking everything from Hobbes' Leviathan to Westerfeld's Leviathan to Calvin and Hobbes.
Are any of you on Goodreads?  I'd love to become a "friend" there as well -- as soon as I figure out how.  :)

Update: okay, my list is now at 968 books ranked, and that's all I'm going to do for tonight.  :P

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Organizing My Books

Today I happened to glance at an tee-shirt advertised in one of the plethora of catalogs that have arrived by mail in the last couple of weeks.  The shirt read: I have CDO; it's like OCD, but the letters are in the right order.
I smiled and then remembered how many people I've heard say that they alphabetize their spices.  I don't.  That would drive me nuts.  I put like kinds of spices together because that makes sense to me.
Then I recalled seeing some decorating article on yahoo a few weeks ago that talked about organizing one's books by color for visual effect.  My thought was that if one does that, then no one will read the books.  But perhaps I'm wrong.  Does anyone actually know people who organize their books by color?
I do know that there are many people who organize their home libraries rather like the fiction sections of most American libraries and alphabetize them by author's last name.  I can understand that, but I could never do it.
My books are grouped by type, on different shelves, in different rooms.  For example, my vast array of travel books takes up the top two shelves of my living room bookcase -- and they're organized east to west, with China on one end and Oregon on the other, because that makes sense to me and I can find the book I want quickly that way.  (Scotland gets a whole shelf to itself, as there are just so many books.)
My Harry Potter books, on the other hand, are organized chronologically, with the American editions first and then the UK editions afterwards, on a shelf in the guest bedroom.  Underneath them and to the right is the entire John Rebus series by Ian Rankin, in chronological order, but -- since I only own one copy of each of these -- the US and UK editions are together.  I'm not sure why Harry Potter and John Rebus have to be on the same bookcase for me, but they do.  It would really bug me to separate them.  It may be because I began reading the Rebus books while I was waiting for HP 6 to come out while I was living in Scotland.  And, after all, both Rowling and Rankin do live within a few blocks of each other in Edinburgh.  That may be it; I'm not sure.  But I AM sure that I have to have those two series in their proper places.
Actually, there's an emotional connection for me with each book and where I put it.  When I buy a book, I always know where it belongs in my system.
So, I organize my books by type and by my emotional connections to them.  How do you organize your home libraries?  Or do you organize them at all?