Not Done Yet…

So this time last year, I was done with grad classes… at least until next summer.

But I’m not done…  I am enrolled in a Fall online course!

I originally planned to do an Independent Study with one of my teachers on Newbery Medal books.  The idea for the course was so well received that they decided to offer it as an entire course instead!

Here is our text list:

2011 Newbery Medal- Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool;
2011 Newbery Honor- One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
2010 Newbery Medal- When You Reach Me  by Rebecca Stead
2010  NewberyHonor- Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
2009 Newbery Medal-The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
2009 Newbery Honor- After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
2008 Newbery Medal- Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz
2008Newbery  Honor- Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
2007 Newbery Medal- Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
2007 Newbery Honor- Rules  by Cynthia Lord

Taking this online course is part of my master plan to devote more time to the things I love (and stop overwhelming myself with teaching duties).  Plus, once I’m done with this course I will have 24 credits towards my Masters.  WOO HOO!!!

Will have more details on the class in upcoming posts!

Time for laundry!  And some pizza!

Things I’ll miss… and things I won’t…

Things I’ll miss:

  • the mountains
  • the library
  • the rocking chairs
  • the writing community
  • my teachers
  • free printing
  • the church
  • the restaurant/bakery across the street
  • the wonderful writers I’ve met/reconnected with
Things I won’t miss:
  • the dorms
  • the shower
  • the assigned reading
  • writing critical papers
  • sitting in class for 9 hours straight
  • hanging out at Panera
  • staying up late to finish work

What I’ve Learned about Writing Summer ’11

It amazed me last summer how much I learned about myself as a writer.  Last summer I learned that writing exercises can blossom into full characters and book ideas.  I learned the magic of moving scenes around and the changes it can have on your narrative.  I learned how to read as a writer.  This summer I definitely grew too.

What I’ve learned in Summer ’11 about my writing:

  • I’m a better realistic fiction writer than I thought… or wanted to be.
  • I learned there are two threads in a narrative, emotional and action.  I’m pretty darn good at the action side, but sometimes neglect the emotional thread.
  • I’m pretty darn good at creating a plot skeleton in my first draft.  *pats back*
  • I’m not so good at deciding on a point-of-view and sticking to it.  *shakes head*
  • I’ve had a lot of experiences.  And those experiences are going to come out in my writing subconsciously.  It’s then my job to use them… and disguise them!  Because I’m not writing an autobiography.  I’m a fiction writer.
  • I’m not a wordy or verbose writer.  I’m precise.  And it’s totally okay if I don’t have long, elaborate descriptions.
  • Part of the reason I’m okay with not being wordy: Readers usually can’t remember more than three details when you’re describing something.  (Learned that in class last night.)  And I noticed that I tend to describe things in threes anyways.  So pick three GOOD details instead of describing every last little thing.
  • I can crank words out!!!  Never thought I’d write over 60 pages in such a short amount of time while also doing reading and critical analysis.  I have no more excuses over the school year.  I can make it happen.
I’m sure there’s more that I learned, but those are the biggies.
One thing I want to learn:

Is there a way to figure out your “word count for the day” when you’re revising?  (Like deleting whole paragraphs and writing new ones)  Without stopping to add and subtract constantly?

Would love to know!

Everything is coming together!

I feel much better since my last post.  All my assignments for class are coming together.

Goose Girl Adaptation aka Dead Horse Talking is now revised and ready for it’s final critique!  I had to work on fleshing out the relationship in the story and providing more closure at the end.  Summary of story: A childhood friendship is on its last leg as two teen girls grow apart, and a betrayal by one girl will be the last straw.

If you’re interested in reading, Dead Horse Talking, shoot me an e-mail at hughesblog.gmail.com

My second short story (after driving me a little crazy) is now ready to be revised.  I had a major brainstorming session and now know where I want to go with it.

For my YA Science Fiction class, I now finally have a paper topic.  I’m going to examine the female archetypal pattern of maiden to mother to crone in the character of Miranda in the YA post-apocalyptic novel, Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

For my Forms and Boundaries class, I’m going to do a short presentation on how graphic novels engage reluctant readers.  I will be using the texts Maus by Art Spiegelman and Malice by Chris Wooding.  I’ll do a whole blog post on my presentation info sometime next week!

And I’m seeing Harry Potter DH Pt2 tomorrow with my Mom and Brother.  Who are coming to visit!  Because they are awesome!  Woo hoo!

Week 3 Classes Part 2

Thursday classes went well:

Science Fiction

We discussed time travel book: Andre Norton’s Time Traders and Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time.  We didn’t get a chance to go to in depth with two books to discuss.  But the idea of time travel fascinates me, so that aspect was fun.

Still don’t know what my term paper will be on… really need to get on that.

Forms and Boundaries

We are working with novels in verse, and I did some practice poems to share for critique.  I had never even attempted to write any poetry or novel in verse, but it turned out to be a lot of fun!  And apparently I’m pretty good at it.  People liked part of my poem so much that they demanded to hear the whole thing!    Here’s the poem they liked (it was part of a series of 3 poems):

Dark purple lipstick
smeared
on a coffee thermos
on old stained teeth
She’s late
Strolling in
Like a furry brown sasquatch
Who still wears fur coats anyways?
At lunch
Food dribbles
Tuna
Vinegar
Oil
Olives
Onions
Artichoke hearts
The liquid lingers
at the bottom
of her clear tupperware.
The tupperware is lifted
and
slurped.

It was a character sketch. And the second poem shows my increasing frustration, and then the third shows a redemptive quality in the person and my change of heart.

Fantasy
I finally got critiqued!  And it went really well!
My teacher’s first words on my paper were, “This was lovely.”  Can’t even tell you how good that felt!
Overall, my classmates said they loved it.  They said it had great teen appeal, excellent pacing and flow.  They liked my connections to the original tale.  They liked my characterization and the setting.  They said my dialogue was strong and believable.
My teacher said I picked out the parts of the fairy tale that best suited my story.  And she said that my story could stand alone; you didn’t have to read the original tale for the story to work.
The big thing I have to go back and work on is defining the friendship between the two girls.  People commented that they couldn’t tell why the two girls were friends if they were so different.  The friendship is supposed to be in a state of disrepair, and the two girls are holding onto something that’s no longer there because of their past together and the convenience.  But that wasn’t totally clear, and I have to develop that.  I probably didn’t do a good job of establishing that because I didn’t know that’s where the story was headed when I started.
Encouragement is such a good thing for a writer.  I feel so validated.
Posts coming up this weekend:
-Inside Scoop on How Newbery Awards are Chosen
-Writing Tips and Tricks (featuring The Character Game)

Classes Week 3 Part 1

I can’t believe I’m already in the third week of classes!  Ahhh!  Life needs to slow down!

Science Fiction

Of my three classes, I’m not gonna lie, this one is currently the most frustrating.  The reading load is very heavy.  (I had to read five books for classes this week alone.)  This is my only non-creative class, so I have a hard time getting excited and geared up to go.  It’s first thing in the morning.  And I have no clue what I’m going to do my paper on.

In today’s class we discussed Robert Heinlein as one of the founders of YA science fiction.  We read Rocket Ship Galileo (his first book) and Have Space Suit–Will Travel (one of his last books).  Both books were about space travel.  Galileo was especially ridiculous because it involves Nazis on the moon.  But overall, I was pretty impressed with Heinlein as a writer and really enjoyed his books.  I’m too tired to go into more detail than that, if you want more details… ask me.

Forms and Boundaries

This week we are looking at novels in verse and examining Nikki Grimes’ Dark Sons and Karen Hesse’s Witness.  I especially loved Witness and wrote a fantastic forms analysis paper on how Hesse creates dynamic characters through undercutting and set-up.  Here’s my opening paragraph/thesis for my essay:

Karen Hesse is a master of creating dynamic characters in her verse novel Witness.  The reader observes Hesse’s wide cast of characters grow and develop over the course of the novel, especially the character of Leanora Sutter.  One way Hesse accomplishes creating a dynamic character is through undercutting.  The term undercutting is defined in Alexandria LaFaye’s The Primed Mind as “the depiction of emotion that shows the emotion and allows the reader to analyze it rather than leading the reader to a particular emotional conclusion through loaded language” (305).  Another method Hesse uses to show character growth is set-up.  LaFaye identifies three elements common in the set-up: backstory, foreshadowing, and revealing a character need (280).  The set-up fully prepares the reader for the change they will witness in the character at the story’s culmination.  In Hesse’s Witness, readers will observe Leanora change from hating white people to feeling empathy and respect for white people.

I really enjoyed writing this paper, which I can’t often say about writing essays.  I think what was so enjoyable about the process was I’m really analyzing the author’s craft and what makes their writing work, which is about as close as I can get to the creative process in an essay.  I still feel like I’m doing something to grow as a writer in doing this type of critical paper.

Fantasy

Today we briefly talked about point-of-view, which is a difficult thing to talk about because it is so case specific.  Different writers are comfortable writing in different POVs and different stories need to be told in different POVs based on the story’s content and goals.  I don’t know if I learned anything especially groundbreaking about POV tonight, but it was good to talk about.
We then critiqued four more stories.  Not mine.  I’m up on Thursday.  But it’s been kind of nice being an observer because I’ve now pinpointed the people in class whose opinions I will most value because their writing style is similar to mine or they have superior knowledge of the craft.
Again.  Totally exhausted.  Meeting with two teachers tomorrow.  One to discuss Underground Railroad stuff for a book I’m working on.  Another to talk about doing an online independent study with her this fall/spring.  I’m determined to keep up with my writing this year and not let it fall by the wayside when I return home and start teaching again.
Oh!  And tomorrow we have a guest speaker at night who serves on the panel that selects the Newbery winners each year!  I’m excited!  Should be super interesting!
Until tomorrow…

Week 2 Classes

I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing in scheduling my classes for 9am til 9pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I get brief breaks for meals, but I’m sitting in three 3 hour classes for a grand sitting time of 9 hours.  The first day of class wasn’t so bad because it was just going over the syllabus and easy stuff.  BUT MAN!  Tuesday left me a walking zombie.  Tuesday night, I went to buy ice cream and then just kind of stared into space for awhile.  I rested pretty much all day Wednesday and didn’t leave my bedroom til 2pm.  I did better on Thursday because I had rested and I knew what I was in for.  I also got lots of COFFEE.  Which helped a ton.  So…. I’m sorry I haven’t posted in awhile, but here is a brief synopsis of what I’ve been up to:
Science Fiction
This week we discussed books that came early in the development of the science fiction genre.
Tom Swift and his Motor-Cycle
Published in 1910, one of the first affordable hardback series.  Focused on mechanics, engineering, motors, and transportation.
I wasn’t too fond of this book while I was reading it.  The language and topics were very dated.  Most of the characters were flat stereotypes.  The plot was very predictable, but the character couldn’t see the threats and villains right in front of him (which became very annoying).
However, after discussion, I see some merits to the text.  These texts were written for a public that maybe didn’t read literature and so a lot of the explanation and stereotypes were necessary.  The books praised and glorified technology and innovation, which I think we need more of today.  We need more admiration and aspiration towards the sciences as opposed to other careers… athletes, actors, music.  The books also tried to set a morality and behavior standard.
I much preferred talking about Princess of Mars.
This book was much more fantastical and adventure driven than Tom Swift instead of a technology focus.  There were much more vivid descriptions and the characters were more fleshed out.
While we were discussing the book, I realized that the main character, John Carter, is the same name of the legendary hero in Terminator.  Which got me thinking about James Cameron movies, and I realized how many similarities there are between the book Princess of Mars and his films.  There are SO MANY similarities, so I searched around on the internet and found a blurb that James Cameron DID read Edgar Rice Burroughs as a kid.
I’m toying with the idea of writing a paper on Princess of Mars and James Cameron films.  Some similarities I would discuss:
  • John Carter as a Idealistic Time Traveling Hero
  • Romanticized Female Upper Class Figure
  • Humans vs Natives/Aliens
  • Social Class
  • World-Building
The last book we discussed, Skylark of Space, kind of blended Tom Swift and Princess of Mars in that it had the technological aspects but also had space adventure.  I found the book to be a little too heavy on the technical descriptions.  But the most interesting part of the book was there being two of everything: two heroes, two heroines, two villains.  That kind of thing interests me because a lot of what I write has multiple protagonists.
Forms and Boundaries
This week we focused on picture books, which isn’t really my area of expertise nor what I desire to write.  But I can still have an appreciation for picture books.  We looked at two books that break the rules of the picture book genre.  
The first book we looked at was Black and White.  This book turned out to be a post-modernist picture book where the story is told in non-linear time with an unreliable narrator.  Basically, the book has four different plot lines, but by then end of the book you are very confused as to how the plotlines are all the same story but the impossibility of them all being interconnected.  For example, there is one plotline that is on a toy train station, but it becomes clear that the parents were at this toy train station… and they are full-sized.  It’s all very mind-bending.  We talked about how a good picture book can be read over and over and still be appreciated.  This book can be read over and over at different ages and you will get something different out of it.
The next book we discussed is Zen Shorts by Jon Muth.  This book was genre bending in how it presents Asian Culture.  The books also makes great use of narrative gap where the author and illustrator leave it up to the reader to fill in what is happening between the unsaid moments in the story.  The story is about how a giant panda with an umbrella arrives in this family’s backyard.  Each of the three children go to visit the Panda and then play games and the Panda tells each of them an Asian folktale.  The book is very charming and I like how it exposes children to Asian culture.
Writing Fantasy
On Tuesday, we discussed and looked at story beginnings.  I love how well-prepared for class this teacher is.  She always has custom handouts for us and great activities planned.  This class, she had taken the first paragraphs of several novels and short stories and looked at what made them effective openings. We examined what information we learned about the characters and their setting.  It was a really good exercise in reading as a writer.
This teacher also thinks writing exercises are extremely important.  She compared it to bar exercises for a dancer or practicing lay-ups for a basketball player.  Doing writing exercises is creating and maintaining neural pathways in your brain.  The more you use the connections in your brain, the easier it will be to access them when you are actually writing.  Also working through different challenging exercises will help you troubleshoot problems you encounter in your writing.  It made total sense to me.  I loved the way she put it.  She recommended a book of writing exercises called Steering the Craft by Ursula K LeGuin, that I definitely plan on ordering.
Our next class we did a brief exercise/discussion about setting.  She emphasized that setting details should not be lengthy in children’s books.  Setting details should be carefully chosen.  The details should be enough to give a picture and convey the tone of the scene.  Kind of a less is more approach that I agree with.  (Though lengthy, detailed, gorgeous setting descriptions are fun to write)  She also said that if you’re going to spend a whole paragraph describing something, it better be important to the plot.  Time spent describing something should be directly proportional to how important it is to the story.
We also did the first four critiques of our short stories.  My piece won’t be up for critique until next Thursday.  So far, I’m very impressed with how the critiques have gone.  For the most part, I feel like my classmates have great feedback and constructive criticism.  However, my teacher is a spot-on critic.  Her feedback is insightful and I enjoy listening and learning from it even if it isn’t directly about my piece.  I’m so impressed with everything that comes out of her mouth.
Our next short story has to be from the point-of-view of a non-human.  It’s very open-ended.  Right now, I’m leaning towards writing from the point of view of an angel.  I have an idea for the plot, but it hits kind of close to home (teaching) and I’m not sure how I’m going to have it end because I don’t know the solution to this very real-world problem.  We’ll see.  I’m very much in the beginning stages at this point.
Have a book series / author blog post that I want to do, but will leave that til tomorrow.  So glad it’s the weekend!

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.”

http://www.libraryoftheearlymind.com/

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  🙂

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).

Summary:
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.

Positives:
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.

Criticism:
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.

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:

http://books.google.com/books?id=T14ZAAAAYAAJ&dq=lang%20the%20goose%20girl&pg=PA266#v=onepage&q&f=false

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!