Friday, December 28, 2012

End Of The Year e-Giveaway!

Okay, I tried this over the Black Friday weekend, and no one cared.
Let's try again.
It's that between-the-holidays letdown time.  How about a gift for yourself now?  Or how about a gift for a kid?  A gift that doesn't require any shopping on your part or any battling snow and slush for a parking spot?  Then I have a contest for you!  Both Half-Vampire e-books and a song.  (Remember, if you win this to gift to a kid, said teenager does not have to have an e-reader; there are free kindle apps for phones.  Most of my students like to read on their itty-bitty phone screens.)

Here's what the winner will get:

3) An MP3 download of Eric's (that's the protagonist of both books, if you didn't already know that) favorite Scott Joplin song, "Maple Leaf Rag."  (The song's very important in H-V Family.)
You must have an Amazon account and you must be willing to give me the e-mail address associated with that account if you want your prizes.  I will delete all your personal information after I send the prizes.  (If you're under 13, you must have your parent enter for you.  If you are 13-18, please have your parents' permission before you enter.  I am not responsible for computer or website glitches.)

Okay, that's the business end of it.  Are you ready to enter?  Go for it!

UPDATE ON 12/29/12:  People, I am a school teacher.  I LOATHE CHEATERS!!!  I've already checked rafflecopter and removed FIVE people's entries because they CHEATED.  Look, folks, I can check pinterest and twitter and goodreads and my blog to see if you're actually following.  And if you enter the contest saying you follow but you're lying, I DELETE you.  (And I'm seriously tempted to publish names.  Honestly, this disgusts me.  How hard is it to click a follow button?)
Enter honestly.  If you don't, you won't win.  Period.  I will delete all lying entries.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Lasagna: The Recipe

I've had at least one person arrive at my blog every day for the last 2 weeks after searching for "Christmas Lasagna."  I had no idea last year that this post would be so popular.  I've even had a couple of e-mail requests for recipes.
Thus, without further ado, here's my recipe for Christmas Lasagna.  (Do keep in mind that I'm not one of those people who measures everything exactly -- unless I'm making something finicky.  Lasagna is not finicky.)  (Also, this is not true lasagna, as I find working with true lasagna noodles to be irritating.  This is fake lasagna or lasagna casserole.  It's much easier.)

Pre-assembly (can be done the day before):
1) Cook about 16 oz. of your favorite macaroni and drain.
2) Mix 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. of freshly ground turkey breast with 1 to 2 teaspoons of Penzey's breakfast sausage seasoning.  Then cook, chopping up the meat into bite-sized chunks, and drain.
3) Thaw and squeeze until nearly dry about 16 oz. of frozen spinach.
4) Mix 16 oz. of low-fat ricotta cheese with about 12 oz. of non-fat cottage cheese.  Season with garlic, Penzey's pizza seasoning, and Penzey's black and red.  (Add extra dried red peppers if you like it hot.)

To assemble:
1) Take a hefty 9"x 13" baking pan (the one I prefer is about 3" deep) and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
2) Then cover the bottom with cooked macaroni -- no more than 1/2 an inch deep or the rest of the ingredients won't fit.
3) Layer the cooked turkey sausage over the macaroni.
4) Distribute blobs of the ricotta mixture evenly over the meat and macaroni. (You don't need to smooth it out; it will expand and melt as it cooks.)
5) Distribute the spinach over the top of the ricotta mixture.
6) Carefully pour 16 oz. of your favorite spaghetti sauce over the top of all, smoothing carefully with a spoon to cover the entire casserole.
7) Cut thin slices of sharp cheddar cheese and place on top of the sauce.
8) Refrigerate (covered) until ready to cook.

To cook:
I have an older oven, but I find that baking this at 325 F. for 45 minutes to an hour is about right.  If you have a newer, hotter oven -- especially if it's a convection oven -- cooking times may vary.  Just keep checking on it.  It's done when the top cheese is melty and when everything is gooey in the center.

Serve with a veggie tray and dips or a tossed salad.

Note: This can be made vegetarian (not vegan).  Simply either delete the turkey altogether or use cooked, seasoned TVP for a meat flavor.  (Don't use tofu.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays

May this season find you with your chin up, your back to the weather, and your nose aglow for new horizons.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

My Before-The-New-Year Goals

Ideally, I'm going to clean the house, grade 3 classes' worth of tests, finish a second draft of The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay, and get another revision done for another proof copy of Becoming Brigid so I can get it out to a copy editor (English teacher or other well-trained, English-doused friend) in January.  We'll see how it goes.
But I have finished 2 chapters of Brigid editing in 2 days so far.  And I fixed the vacuum.  That's a good start.

In other news, Sam at Falling Books is planning to post a review of All in the Half-Vampire Family and host a giveaway in the new year.  And Brigid Kemmerer has offered to do an interview with me as well.  :)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Best Limerick Of The Year

So, I usually teach poetry in November and December.  And to help my advanced 9th graders get a better grip on meter, I have them spend about half an hour writing limericks one day.  This lesson never fails to be a big hit.  Really -- silly, insulting poems with an annoying beat -- what more could they want?
Of course, I have to tell them that for school purposes, there limericks must be no worse than a PG13 rating.  This usually draws groans from the class.  And every year, I follow up those groans with the same joke: "This means, of course, that you may NOT write the famously unfinished limerick, 'There once was a girl from Nantucket.'"  Inevitably, there is about a 3 second pause while they all work through the possible rhymes for Nantucket, and then the laugh really loud and spring into action, determined to write a poem that cuts as close to the edge as possible without actually breaking the rules.
It's awesome.

But this year had an added twist, for one girl (an exceptionally bright one, I might add, as you can guess from the words of her limerick) handed me this delightful little bit of limerickery:

There once was a girl from Nantucket
Who told all the men they could chuck it.
The men, yes, those men,
Those embarrassing men --
Fools, next to the girl from Nantucket.

Supreme win on this one, I think.
I put a gold star on her forehead (the ultimate honor of humor in my classroom).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rules And Punishments For Wet, Crowded Parking Lots In December

I had to go to both the post office and the grocery store today, and, after fighting a wide variety of neanderthals and peasants, I have developed this list.

Rule #1: No one who doesn't actually need a handicapped spot shall be allowed to use said handicapped spot, even if the car in question has a handicapped sticker or license plate.  Offenders shall be chained to a wheelchair or a walker for a week to see how it feels.

Rule #2: Anyone who stands in an empty parking spot, yakking away to a friend, while forcing cars to idle waiting to get into a spot and then shouts cusswords at the drivers who dare to beep a horn at them shall be rolled in slush until soaked then left outside without a key for a period of not more than 2 hours.

Rule #3: Absurdly large SUVs and pickup trucks that fill up parking spaces clear to the yellow lines shall not be allowed at this time of year.  Violators shall have their vehicles redecorated by toddlers who have been provided with Disney-themed stickers.

Rule #4: Anyone who parks at an angle in order to prevent other cars from parking in spots next to them, thus taking three parking spaces for themselves, shall have photos of their license plates posted on Facebook and their home addresses given to 8th graders who have been provided with eggs.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Steampunk Stuff

I love steampunk, but I've had kind of a hard time finding steampunk books I really, really love.
I love Gail Carriger's Soulless series, but there's an awful lot of paranormal distracting the steampunk.  And, of course, it's not suitable for junior high school readers, so I can't put it in school.
I read Kenneth Oppel's Airborn and really liked it, but it's really more action/adventure than steampunk.  Still, it's good, and I've got it on my reading lists.  And the man writes very well.
And then there's his This Dark Endeavor and Such Wicked Intent, supposedly steampunk.  But, although I enjoyed both books very much, I found them more about alchemy than steam.  Besides, they're prequels to Frankenstein, which was written in 1816 in Switzerland, not really Victorian London-y at all.
And I was so excited for Tiffany Trent's The Unnaturalists, but it was almost ALL about magic and romance, and I felt the book had been mislabeled by those who held it up as steampunk.  It was really more of a fantasy book set in a museum in Victorian London.
I was underwhelmed by Kady Cross's The Girl in the Steel Corset, which had some fun steampunk elements in it but never once made me care about the characters.
Of course, there is the masterful writer Philip Reeve and his Fever Crumb series.  Definitely steampunk.  So very well done.  But everything I've ever read by this guy is so dark and depressing.
So, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series is great.  I love it.  It's good for guys and girls.  It promotes feminism, it has action and adventure, it's set at the right time period, and it's all steampunk/alternate history and no magic.  Phew.  That's one really safe option for the junior high.
I also fell in love with Lev AC Rosen's All Men Of Genius.  It's totally steampunk.  It's a Shakespeare parody.  It's feminist.  It's action/adventure + romance.  AND it has Oscar the swearing rabbit.  But it's definitely high school material.  Sex is referred to waaaay too often for this to be in a junior high.
And then there was The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron.  It was sort of steampunk.  It had, you  know, clocks and things.  But to me it felt like a story for young children, like a Santa Claus-in-his-village story.

But then we come to this:

The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress.
This was awesome.
It has feminism in which the women are not only independent, but in which they realize that being independent doesn't necessarily mean sleeping with every possible guy.  It also has women working together to solve problems instead of working against each other to get a guy or else undermine each other.  The only downside is that they're all pretty, which is depressing.  I felt that instead of having them all be Charlie's Angels, at least one of them should have been ordinary-looking.
It is steampunk.  No magic, no paranormal.  Just Victorian London, inventions, explosions, and really cool weapons.
It's funny.  Okay, sometimes it's a bit cartoony.  And the secondary villain was really obvious from the start.  But it was still funny.
It's action/adventure.  Murder, explosions, Jack the Ripper spin-offs, Jeckyll and Hyde philosophy, underground tunnels, Burke and Hare references, and a parrot that's almost as much fun as Rosen's Oscar the rabbit.  (But not quite.)
And it's clean.  I can put it on my school lists.
Yeah, I think I'm in love.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review of Thirds, part of Bonded, by Michelle Davidson Argyle

Having read Michelle's self-published version of Cinders when it first came out, and having heard her read part of Scales at a reading at The King's English, I opted to read Thirds as the first one of this new trilogy.
I must say that I had never even heard of the Grimm Brothers' original tale, "One Eye, Two Eyes, Three Eyes," before, so I liked that Michelle had selected something so relatively unknown.
Her writing is beautiful; it flows like music.  She creates a world of forests and freezing rains, of gardens and magic, of elves and humans so well that it all seems logical here.  Really, if one enjoys fairy tales, Thirds should be read solely for the beauty of it.
Traditionally, fairy tales, however, reward the good characters and punish the bad, which is both predictable and satisfying.  Michelle departs abruptly from this, which I find both refreshing and disturbing at the same time.
At the end of Thirds, Issina's (the protagonist) horrifically abusive mother and sisters are forgiven of their torture of her.  She finds she needs their power to access her own, and she is assured that they love her in spite of all they have done to her.
As a plot twist, this is unexpected and fun.  But as a philosophy, it's harmful.  (Her family beats her, starves her, and heaps emotional harm upon her for 16 years; this is NOT love.)  Thus, I was both intrigued and repelled by the end of the tale.  (Note: Issina has a lot of victim mentality after a lifetime of abuse, so it might not have been in keeping with her character for her to extract revenge on her tormentors, but she might have just left them to start a fresh new life and heal herself.  In the Grimms' version of this tale, for example, Two-Eyes, the abused protagonist, does not harm her family, but she is able to leave them behind and go off with a handsome, rich knight who marries her.  Years later, her nasty sisters have been punished by fate and are reduced to being beggars.  Since they've learned their lesson, Two-Eyes treats them kindly, but she now has power over them and they cannot hurt her anymore.)  At any rate, it is interesting and unusual, although I certainly wouldn't recommend the tale to anyone who would internalize the sentiment without thinking deeply about it.
However, to anyone who can analyze this idea as part of writing instead of taking it to heart as words to live by, I would suggest this book, for, as I mentioned above, it is beautifully written.  Thus, simply put: This book is a big YES for critical thinkers who love beautiful writing and fairy tales.  It's a big NO for anyone who seriously believed that Edward Cullen would have made a good boyfriend.

As soon as I can finish my TBR pile from the library and read a couple of other books needed for school, I'll read more of this trilogy of novellas.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

In Which My Four-Year-Old Neighbor "Helps" Me Decorate The Tree

I was still in a bathrobe this morning and pulling out Christmas decorations when there was a pounding on my front door.  Recognizing the vigor and height of the sound as belonging to the efforts of my most frequent visitor, 4-year-old O. from next door, I opened the door in spite of my attire.  O. was there with his mom J., who had run over to ask me the first name of a neighbor so she could address a gift properly.  O., of course, came right into the house and went straight for the Christmas decorations.
"Who are those stockings for? What are these?  What's this?  A gingerbread man!  I want a gingerbread man! Can I hang this one?  Where's the star?  What do you put on top of your tree?  We put a star.  Where's your star?  Why is it Harry Potter?  We have a STAR.  Can I hang up Harry Potter?  Why not?  Can I hang this one?  What's this?  Can I hang this one?  I wanna hang THAT one!"
Actually, it was not at all unlike working with a roomful of 7th graders; the stream of questions isn't all that much different.
And now the decorations are placed on the tree -- all of them on the branches that hang at eye level to a 4-year-old  (except for Harry Potter on his broom and reaching for the snitch, which is in its proper place at the top).
O. got the gingerbread man he coveted (as I had put it in the pile to give away anyway), and, in a few minutes, I'm going to go and move most of the decorations onto the upper limbs.  O. will never notice.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Random Thoughts For A Friday Night

1) Last night I had a very vivid dream wherein I was renovating a really amazing old lighthouse to be my new living quarters ...... in Utah.
Yeah, it made sense in the dream.

2) My favorite misspelled word of the day comes from a 7th grader's poetry test.  While trying to identify some personification in a poem by Tennyson, a girl wrote, "Ring out, wild berries, and let him die!"
(In case you're not an English major, the poem is called "Ring Out, Wild Bells.")

3) My favorite bit of language cleverness for today comes from one of my ESL (English as a second language) students.  We've been working on words having to do with climate, seasons, and weather.  She was supposed to be describing a cartoon picture of a snowstorm, and, not quite recalling how to say, "It is snowing," she came up with "It is raining snow."  I liked it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Technical Difficulties -- Solved!

I've been thinking/talking about getting an iPad Mini for awhile now.  I don't really need one, as I need a real keyboard to write novels and blog and such.  But I want one.  (Yeah, I know: first-world problems.  Definitely.)
Well, apparently my MacBook laptop (yes, the one that had both the hard drive AND the external hard drive crash at the same time in late August of 2011) got jealous about this possible newcomer.  So last night the laptop went into a coma.  Seriously, I put it to sleep and it wouldn't wake up.  Period.
Fearing it had passed away peacefully in its sleep, I packed it up -- along with my new external hard drive -- and (after school today) took it to my favorite Simply Mac store (formerly MacDocs) on State Street.
And they were amazing.  Again.
The tech guy fixed it in about an hour, didn't charge me, AND gave me a free upgrade on some computer innards (I actually can't figure out what they are-- more memory?  They're labeled in GBs, so that's memory, isn't it???) that had been pulled out of a new computer when a customer upgraded.  Wow.
So OF COURSE I did my iPad shopping right then and there.  The tech guy was sales, too, and he actually LISTENED to what I wanted to do with an iPad instead of just pushing me to buy the most expensive model.  (As it is, I'm going with the middle version on everything.)  Then I picked out a case, a cord to connect my camera, and some apple-scented Apple cleaning spray (gotta love that).
The exact model I wanted wasn't available in white, so it's on order, and I don't pay for it until it comes in.  But tonight I'm happily typing on my blessedly functional laptop (which I really didn't want to replace) and pleased to know that I'm using some leftover birthday money to buy my Christmas present -- early.
Stay tuned.  Next week I'll no doubt be raving about my iPad.  :)

Monday, December 3, 2012

What Do You Think Of This Method Of Promoting Books?

Recently our school had an assembly that was promoted by the PTA.  It turned out to be highly controversial among both students and teachers, so I'd like to know what you think.
Here's what happened:
A local author -- fairly well-known and prolific -- apparently decided that a good way to promote his new YA book was to hire a spokesman from a well-known, wealthy family and to pay this spokesman to give assemblies to Utah schools with target-audience aged kids.  The schools were not to be charged.  The assembly was to be advertised with the author's name and book name, not indicating that the author himself would not be present.  The assemblies were to include a small set-up (not at all expensive, just the sorts of plastic buzzers offered for school games) quiz-show game with questions from several books by different authors and using promotional materials from the featured author's books as prizes.  But the main part of the one-hour assembly, done both before and after the game, was the promotion of the author and the new book by the spokesman of the famous family name.

The staff members and students who were in favor of this assembly had the following positive points to mention:
1) It was FREE.
2) It promoted reading.
3) The author and book promoted were squeaky clean.
4) It was FREE.
5) The game involved about 10 kids from the audience, giving them a chance to shine.
6.) It was FREE!!!!
7) The author is fantastic, local, and has wonderful books.
8) The questions for the game show game from two other popular books besides the promoted author's book.
9) Large numbers of kids visited the school library that day, and the promoted author's books were very popular among the kids who checked books out.
10) IT WAS FREE!!!!

The staff members and students who were not pleased by this assembly had the following negative comments to mention:
1) There was much twisted use of advertising going on (such as the facts that kids were led to believe the author would be there and then he wasn't, and that statistics and stories used to promote the book and the author either were like comparing oranges to Oldsmobiles or else had crucial parts of the info omitted).
2) Many of the kids had trouble processing the difference between stories about the author and stories of the successes of the famously-named spokesman.
3) The spokesman repeatedly mentioned connections between himself, the author, and a highly controversial political figure.
4)  The books and the author aren't all that great.
5) The book being promoted and other promotional materials (posters, pens) were offered for SALE afterwards, and the entire assembly resembled a long commercial rather than a get-to-know-the-author affair.
6) No parts of the book were actually read to the kids during the promotion parts of the assembly; the questions during the game were for those who'd already read the books, not geared toward making kids want to read more.

So, let's remove the political issues and pretend that the spokesman didn't use twisted statistics.  Let's just say it's any author of YA fiction who chooses to use a famously-named local person to promote her/his books in assemblies in local schools.  So, instead of showing up herself/himself and talking to a group of school-selected kids who have already expressed interest in the author/book (which is how most school visits are done by authors), someone else does the talking, the writing process is not mentioned at all, and the whole school goes to the assembly, whether or not the kids have an interest in this particular book or author, but the author or publisher pays for the whole thing and the schools are not charged.
What do you think?

Teachers and librarians, is this a good thing for your schools?  Is this an easy way to promote reading, or does it become a commercial?  If more kids read afterwards, does it matter if it was a commercial?  Does it matter if it's good book or just an okay book?  What about making the whole school see it?  Using a spokesperson who is not an author or affiliated with writing or publishing?

Writers, would you want to promote your book this way?  Branding is the in thing.  Would it help or hurt you to hire a famous name not associated with writing to promote your YA books?  But if it's only local schools, would you want to be there in person?  What if it's schools out of your area?  Would that make a difference?  What message does this send out about you as a YA writer: that you're so into your work that you need to hire others to do the advertising or that you don't care about your readers other than that they buy your book?

Readers, what do you think about it?  Would you want to go to a free event that had a member of a locally famous family promoting a book?  Hey, it's free, after all.  Or do you think the whole thing is strange and that if the author is local anyway s/he should show up to her/his own events?