Friday, October 28, 2011

Maturity is Eating Your Vegetables

** This presumes you're the kind of person who doesn't like vegetables. I'm not that kind of person. I rather like most vegetables. But it's a metaphor. Just go with it. **

When you're a little kid (who doesn't like vegetables), your parents know you should eat veggies, but you don't care. You don't care that they're good for you. You don't care about those wonderful vitamins and all they can do for you. You don't care about the nasty things that can happen if you have a deficiency of those vitamins. You only care about how marshmallows and popsicles are better than asparagus and broccoli, just because they are.

Our parents bribe, cajole, and threaten us so we eat our carrots and Brussels sprouts. At some point, though, we accept that we really can't live on Pop Rocks and root beer. We really ought to eat those things that came out of dirt. Once we open our minds to them, we may even find they're not so bad.

This is one of many cool things about teaching teenagers—and no, I'm not really talking about diet and nutrition.

With the ages I teach—and particularly because I've stuck with many students over several years—I get to see a lot of them making transitions to self-aware maturity. The kid who used to blow off everything academic starting to take things more seriously, even looking back and saying he wished he'd buckled down earlier so he could've learned more. The girl who voluntarily comes in during lunch for extra help, even though we both know she'd rather be chatting with friends than torturing herself with math.

I don't get to see the transition for all of them. Some come to me with a very grounded worldview already in place. Some leave my class still thinking life will be a party—they'll put it together later ... or maybe not. (I'm pretty sure some on-paper adults are still patently immature.) But when I do see it, it's very cool.

A current example: If you recall, I teach deaf kids. That means they all have IEPs (Individualized Education Plans, required for any kid with special ed services). This month has been IEP season at my school, so we sit down for a meeting with each kid (and a parent or two) and discuss where they're at, where they want to go, and what they need to do to get there.

Most teenagers are counting down the days to graduation. "Come June of (name-the-year), I'm outta here!" My students are generally no different. Technically, though, they can stay with us until the year they turn twenty-two. Most shudder at the thought.

But then some of them take a realistic look at their goals. Maybe they want to go to college, and they look at their reading and writing levels. Not good enough ... but right in a range where an extra year of high school, really working on it, could make the difference. And they say, "Yeah, I think I should learn more so I'm ready, because college is hard."

That's not just going for the carrots—that's reaching for a big scoop of the whole vegetable medley.

I love that moment.

And I'll keep trying my best to make those veggies tasty.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Coming Soon! - WAE Network

Okay, this looks potentially cool. A social network for writers, agents, and editors. Check it out.

Coming Soon! - WAE Network

Monday, October 17, 2011

Avoiding Authorial Convenience

This is something that's bugged me forever.

When you're reading along and something happens that makes you think, "Oh, Author, you totally wedged that in just because it's convenient to the direction you want the plot to go in. Lame!"

Don't get me wrong. We all do it. We all contrive events to shape the story. I've even discussed the joys of throwing wrenches into the works, just to mess with my characters. The problem is when the reader can tell that's what you're doing.

So, how to avoid? I think one key is consistency. If you get halfway through the rough draft and decide making Character X your MC's brother (plus he knew it all along, but kept it secret) is going to solve all your problems, great. But realize you're going to have to go back through and reshape Character X's early behavior. Not enough to give it completely away if it's a big twist, but enough that looking back, the reader can say, "Oh, yes, I see now!" (Foreshadowing/Hinting vs. Telegraphing ... have I done a post on that yet? No? Hmm, I probably should.)

When things come out of nowhere—even when there's nothing in the text to explicitly preclude them—it's just annoying. As a reader, it makes me feel like I'm being jerked around. I don't like that feeling.

What if the twist or turn comes in a later book in a series, though? What if earlier books are already published, thus establishing "canon"? That's trickier. I guess all you can do is try your best to make character and plot choices that are reasonably organic to what's already set in stone.

This is one of those things that I'm right on top of as a reader (and a hyper-critical one at that), but worry that I don't know how to avoid/spot/fix in my own writing. So if anyone has other thoughts or suggestions on how to prevent your readers from rolling their eyes, please—let's hear them!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reading Spree: Conquering the TBR Mountain

Last week, on a whim, I made a little poster and put it up in my classroom. It's my TBR (To Be Read) Mountain. There are seventeen books on it, and my stated goal is to finish them all before the end of 2011.

Yeah. Seventeen of them. During the school year. And while working on writing stuff at the same time.

Good thing I'm a fast reader. Double-good thing I have a full week off at Thanksgiving.

I posted it so my students could see me setting reading goals, and they'll be able to watch my progress as I note the date I complete each book on the poster. Hopefully it'll be a fun little side thing to talk about in class ... y'know, other than common denominators, derivatives, and quadratic functions.

While I'm at it, I might as well make my goals even more public, so here's the list and the little bit of progress so far (in no particular order other than the order my brain remembers them since I'm not at school):

  1. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness—finished 9/30
  2. Goliath by Scott Westerfeld—finished 10/5
  3. The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey
  4. The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey
  5. Everlost by Neal Shusterman
  6. Everwild by Neal Shusterman
  7. Everfound by Neal Shusterman
  8. The Death Cure by James Dashner
  9. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan—finished 10/13
  10. The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan—finished 10/17
  11. Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon
  12. Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts
  13. The Slayer Chronicles: First Kill by Heather Brewer
  14. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie—finished 10/10
  15. Crossed by Ally Condie
  16. Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick—finished 10/7
  17. Possession by Elana Johnson

And really, I'm just impressed that I remembered all 17 titles.

We'll see how this goes.

Do you guys have any reading goals?