Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Having a Game Plan

What am I reading now?  Also Known As (Robin Benway)

Annnd . . . what do I think so far?  When you pick your first lock at the age of 4 and the first name you write is a forgery of someone else's, you're a spy. At least  Maggie, a 16 year old daughter of two spies (that specialize in languages and hacking), who has 12 identities in passports and spends only enough time in a city to finish a job, until she gets her own assignment, is. Now she has to enroll in high school and get to know Jesse Oliver before his dad reveals her family, and other spies who work for the Collective, publicly, placing them all in danger!

I really enjoyed this book. I think a lot of teens will like it too! ENJOY!

Characters' Game Plans

Coaches don't go into a game without thinking about which plays to run, which team members to use in a scoring or assisting roles and which opponents to guard and in what way by whom. So I was thinking how the same thing could give the scenes we write more focus and impact. What if, in designing scenes, Deanna and I do the same thing?

We always ask what motivates our characters--what do they want and what lengths will they go to to get it? But we've considered this as the scenes unfold, wondering what does the character wants in this scene. The conflict designed to move the plot along might not be within the overall plan the character would experience. We have utilized this on the whole-story level, but not enough on the scene-level.

If we reconsider how to develop the scenes from a coaching perspective, I think I'd like to try having a "play book" for my characters set out and see the conflict that arises from the intersection of those plays, looking closely at offense and defense. Isn't that how it is in real life--like--I have this goal. My first step (play) is to do this. Then this. And finally this. Our characters would think the same way. *epiphany*

Yeah, what if?
I think I'll do that.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Books used in the classroom

What am I reading now?  School Spirits (Rachel Hawkins)
Annnd . . . what do I think so far? This is a spin-off from the Hex Hall series, following Izzy Brannick, who is now 15 and gets her first assignment at a high school--not a cool paranormal one--the regular kind, well except that it is haunted. Throw in a love spell and things get interesting.

It's a fun story for a first book in a series. I'd like to see the storyline get more complex, and I really didn't care for the ending, not that it was bad or anything, I was just like, "Huh? Really?" Enough of the story was good that I'll read the next in the series though. I see a lot of possibilities for interactions with Torrin--hope it goes that way!

Books Used in the Classroom

"Word carpentry is like any other kind of carpentry: you must build your sentences smoothly." ~Anatole France

Because I work as a literacy specialist, I often get asked why some books get used in classrooms while others don't. One of the reasons is that publishers and teachers have different criteria for what makes a good book. There are a lot of current books that do get used in classrooms, but many, many more that don't.

Publishers put out books hoping for a broad consumer base, possibly leading to many books that are not complex in text structures or sentence structures so readers of varying proficiency can access them. Often the message and story in those books are good for recreational reading, but not useful for instruction for how to become a better reader.

There is a new emphasis on developing the understanding of underlying structures of the language in the new Common Core State Standards for schools in the US. As an educator, I love the new curriculum! The fact is, to meet these standards, many teacher look toward books published in the past or in the UK because the level of sentence, vocabulary and concept complexity is more challenging for students and fits the curriculum better. It isn't just about story grammar or sentence grammar, but about how an author constructs emotion, tension and inference through using the chosen language structures. 

The books I love to read feel like music in my brain. The words are combined in a complex way that moves me into the meaning and feeling the author is creating. What can I teach from complex sentence construction? Appositives, participles, absolutes, prepositions, openers, subject-verb splits, parts of speech ... the list goes on, but here are some examples of sentences I could use:

Ally Condie, Matched
"His lips move silently, and I know what he says: the words of a poem that only two people in the world know.”

Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass
"In the garden, the Captain of the Guard stared up at the young woman's balcony, watching as she waltzed alone, lost in her dreams."

Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races
"Finn, valiant soul that he is, vanishes, leaving me to it."

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Style means the right word..."

What am I reading now?  Elemental #1, #2, #3 (Brigid Kemmerer)



(yup--got an ARC)

Annnd . . . what do I think so far?  The series revolves around 4 brothers, the Merrick brothers, orphaned when their parents fought for the right for them to live. They are all Elementals, each landing directly on a point for Earth (Michael--oldest and the legal guardian of his younger brothers), Air (Nick--the good one, a twin), Fire (Gabriel--bad boy hot-head, twin) and Water (Chris--the youngest). When an Elemental lands on a point, they are extremely powerful, think devastate a city with an outburst. These characters would make a great tv series!
      I've finished books 1 and 2, almost done with 3 and I like the family dynamics, seems real for young men trying to raise themselves. Their favorite word begins with F, so if that bothers you, don't read these. If it doesn't, you're in for a crazy ride, action packed page-turner. I do have some reservations about the series though. It seems like authors get all caught up in the "war" in paranormal (and dystopian) books and turn them into blood bath video games. Book 3 seems to be going there. I'll probably stop this series at book 3 although a 4 & 5 are listed on Goodreads. Book 2 was my definite favorite of the group.

Quote on Writing...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Making a Love Match

What am I reading now? My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century (Rachel Harris)
Annd . . . what do I think so far?  Buy it--Buy it now!

     Nothing can be worse for Cat than the plans her evil-step-mother-to-be has in mind. She's throwing her a party. Not just any party, but a sweet sixteen extravaganza! Complete with hundreds of guests and MTV cameras roaming the event.

What do you mean you don't get it?

      Cat spends her time trying not to be noticed or recognized. Too much of her life is public because of her famous parents--well, more because of her movie star diva (in every sense of the word) mom than her behind-the camera movie director dad. Her mother left when she was just 5, and has produced one scandal after another that Cat hides from. She is into art, especially the Italian Renaissance, not the social life Hollywood offers.
    While site-seeing in Florence, Italy, she stops at a gypsy's tent (tea leaves, chanting, and candlelit shadows) and is thrown back in time, five centuries back to an ancestor's home and family. Yup, real gypsy with real time-travel mojo skills.  Long story short, she falls in love but not with the man she is supposed to marry, who is creepy and nearly old enough to be her father, ewwww. She had to find a way back to her own time--quick!

Making a Love Match

Maybe there are stories out there that don't have at least a love-subplot, but I'll probably never buy one. This basic human need, looking for that special person who complements your unique life, struggling to find a balance between each other's desires, sharing the deepest intimacies, is the core of creating societies and families. Ahhh.
      So how do we know then, as authors, when we throw two characters together that they will have a spark that ignites love or war?
      For love, just like in real life, the couple needs to have similarities and difference. Something brings them together; love of music, sports fans, life's goals. But they are not so much alike to be boring to each other. His strengths complement her needs, just as hers will do likewise for him. They have enough differences too to maintain their own identities--that keeps the other partner discovering over and over new facets to admire.

A couple of examples...
Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy
Similarities: They both value family highly and are fiercely loyal to them. They were peers, though Darcy believed her family to be beneath him. Differences: He is used to having people fall all over him but he keeps strict protection over his private life. She is self-assured, outspoken and witty. He needs to learn to put others needs without getting something in return. He wants to be loved without judgment. She needs to be loved for herself and not held to the collective judgement against her family's actions.
= Love Match

Beauty and the Beast 
Similarities: Both are ostracized from the community, though he's a litter further out being under a magical spell that makes him less than human. Each will sacrifice their own lives to save someone they love. Powerful--his is physical and hers is from her heart Differences: He is ugly. She is beautiful. He is stagnant in his life. She is vibrant with insatiable curiosity. He needs to be reminded how to love, really love, not just need someone. He needs to find his own vulnerability. She needs someone who needs her but also recognizes her strengths. She wants to direct her own life.
= Love Match

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Skinny Fresh Jumble-berry Pie

What am I reading now?  The Secret (Taryn A. Taylor)

Annnd . . . what do I think so far?  Seventeen-year-old Delanie Hart has a past she wants to keep hidden. Moving to a new state and attending a new high school seems to be just the thing — until she accidentally sees a mark exactly like her own. When the people she is running from come after her, Lanie is left with a choice — give up what she wants or save her friends.

Here's the book trailer:

April's recipe is for Skinny, Fresh Jumble-berry pie that is lower on carbs than many.

And here are the secret ingredients.
It's easy. Begin with a purchased graham cracker crust.
Make a glaze for the berries:
Mix together 1 package (the kind that usually makes 2-quarts of drink) of Raspberry Lemonade Crystal Light, 1 cup water, and 2 tablespoons corn starch. Boil and let it thicken. Chill and stir now and again until it reaches room temperature.

Meanwhile, Mix together 2 cups nonfat milk and 2 packages instant (sugar free, fat free) white chocolate pudding mix. Pour into the crust and chill this too.

Cut up 8 large strawberries and stir together with 1/2 cup of each: blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Mix into the cooled glaze and spoon atop the pudding. Chill again until you serve.