Monday, December 1, 2014

Ten Christmas Gifts You Should Never Give A Writer... Or Should You?

Last year around Christmas, Writer's Relief published a blog called 10 Holiday Gifts You Should Never Give A Writer (which I promptly changed to Christmas Gifts... Come on, people, if you're offended, get over it) and it got me thinking...

Should we REALLY avoid these gifts? Let's take a look.

#1 - Novel by a Celebrity

Specifically, "Snooki - A Shore Thing"

Writer's Relief's Logic: Don't give a writer the gift of a novel that didn't even have to try to get on the best seller's list. 

My Logic: Personally, I'd have a TON of fun trying to figure out who ghostwrote this book... Because I don't think Snooki has enough brain cells to formulate a sentence on paper. Or, if she actually DID write the book, it'd be fun to take a red pen to it... then send it to her bleeding red ink. ;)

#2 - A Box of Crayons

Image Via ecycler.com

Writer's Relief's Logic: "Nothing says to a writer 'your writing lacks maturity' like a box of crayons." 

My Logic: I love crayons. They're amazing, magical, and nostalgic. If someone gave me crayons, my first question would be, "Do you have any paper?" 

Frankly, a lot of authors I know, especially in the sci fi and fantasy world, are artists too, mainly because it helps us to visualize our novels and characters better if we have art to complement the writing. And what better challenge could you have then to try and draw your main character in CRAYON? That's awesome.

#3 - Typewriter

Writer's Relief's Logic: Typewriters simply don't give writers the tools needed for writing in the 21st Century.

My Logic: Okay, okay, okay. I admit. This ISN'T a good tool for writers these days. 

HOWEVER



Typewriters, especially OLD typewriters, are totally awesome. I have one just like this one in the picture which I bought from an eBay auction for $115. The carriage needs some work and I need a new ink ribbon, but other than that, it's in near perfect condition. And there's literally DOZENS of typewriter repair shops in my city. DOZENS. 

And what writer wouldn't want to take the time to write the first page of their novel on an old typewriter and put it on display in their house? That's the best kind of decoration there is!

#4 - Framed copy of the writer's first rejection letter.

Writer's Relief's Logic: "Unless your writer friend is motivated by this kind of thing, not a good idea!" 

My Logic: I haven't gotten any rejection letters since I don't plan to query (self publish FTW). Yeah, I have one rejection from a contest, but that's not really the same thing. 

But... I have a fun idea for rejection letters.

Take each rejection and either the letterhead or logo of the company or agent that rejected you and make a huge collage... and eventually, when you get that magical "YES!" paste it in the middle, making it look like the "yes" is blasting away all the "nos." 

So, yes. A framed rejection letter would look just fine in the bathroom... next to my collage of rejection destruction. 

#5 - Bottle of Invisible Ink

Writer's Relief Logic: Writers, even dense ones, will be insulted by this gift.

My Logic: Why? Invisible ink is awesome! Heck, next year for Christmas, send said friend a Christmas card writing in invisible ink! It'll be like you're a SPY! =D

#6 - A sign that reads "Don't Quit Your Job." 

Writer's Relief's Logic: Bad, bad, bad, bad.

My Logic: MY job is to teach and write. I don't WANT to quit my job. So a nice reminder isn't a bad thing. 

I'll put that sign in the bathroom as well. 

#7 - 
Image Via Writer's Relief
Writer's Relief's Logic: See above.

My Logic: o_0 Is there any logic to this gift? Fail.

#8 - Sweatshirt reading "Will Read For Food." 

Writer's Relief's Logic: Bad, bad, bad, bad.

My Logic: If I could get paid to just read all day, heck, I'd do it. 

#9 - 
Image Via Writer's Relief

Writer's Relief's Logic: See Above.

My Logic: You see an insulting gift, I see next year's White Elephant contributions. 

#10 - A Bumper Sticker that reads: 

Image Via Writer's Relief

Writer's Relief's Logic: The book was better.

My logic: The book is ALWAYS better. 

What gifts would you hate to receive as a writer? 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!



My husbands amazing looking turkey
Honestly, I'd rather spend this post complaining about some teaching and writing related things that are bothering me... but that's not the way to go about things. I need to be positive. So, instead, to keep my mind off the things I'm frustrated with with teaching and writing, I'm going to mention all the things I'm thankful for with teaching and writing.

 1 - I'm thankful that I teach at CBU

I know I won't be working at CBU forever, and I know that CBU isn't the only school I'll ever work at, but I absolutely love it right now. I love being able to integrate faith into my teaching. I love that we don't deal with office politics. I love that all the teachers' MAIN GOAL is to help the students succeed. I love my coworkers and my students. I love how much freedom I have in my teaching.

It's an amazing place to be.

2 - I'm thankful for my students.

Yes, sometimes they annoy me, but my students are seriously the best in the world. They put up with my colds and my disorganized teaching. They put up with my weirdness. They generally work hard and they love to talk to me about their successes.

3 - I'm thankful for Blackboard.

We don't thank our teaching tools enough. I know a few teachers hate Blackboard, but I LOVE it. I love how easy it is to upload. I love that I can have students upload assignments online and I can grade each of them ONLINE without having to download or print the assignment. We save paper, time, and for me, weight (Carrying assignments is hard!).

They keep my grades in order too, and it makes it easy to keep track of grades. Blackboard, you're awesome.

And now, writing.

1 - I'm thankful for MSWord.

My writer friends are probably going -GASP- you like WORD?!?

Yes. I like Word. 

I know there's a lot of people out there that praise writing programs like Scrivner (blah) or Open Office (also blah) but I like Word. It's familiar. It's easy to use. And guess what? You CAN easily make an ebook out of Word documents. There's free tutorials all over the internet to show you how.

Say what you want about other programs, but I love Word. =D

2 - I'm thankful for my amazing cover artist and fantastic editor.

Omni being a weirdo
Seriously, my cover artist is amazing. I mean, LOOK at that cover! I could never have done anything like that myself. The best part is that logo. Awesome.

I also love WHO my cover artist is. Omni helped me write the original story and create several of the original characters. Who better to have for my cover artist.

And of course, I can't forget my awesome editor.

I didn't post a picture, because I'm not sure how Mark would feel about it, but he's done so many amazing things with my story. I've done previews with several editors before and most of them made me feel somewhat uncomfortable (not the people - you guys are awesome. But the edits didn't sit well with me).

Mark's edits, however, are completely fantastic. I get GIDDY reading his suggestions and my creative wheels turn better and faster after looking at his work. My novel is going to be AMAZING because of all the stuff he's doing for me. You're awesome, Mark. =D

3 - I'm thankful for my community.

Image courtesy of Crazy Mandi from WANA Commons

I have two major writing communities I'm a part of. #MyWana, and Iron Sharpening Iron. We're strong groups and we do a great job of lifting each other up. We exchange book for beta reading. We share each others novels. We INVEST in each other. It's awesome.

I also have amazing friends in the writing world, including Kessie Carroll, Andrea Fingerson, and Jess E. Owen. Not to mention those on Facebook and Twitter who have been great supporters and friends as I work on writing.

So that's what I'm thankful for. Of course there's others, like my family, friends, kitties, and of course God, that kind of thing, but I think I needed something specific today. =)

What are you thankful for? =)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014 - Author Life

Since it's NaNoWriMo this month, and since I've chosen to actually DO it again this year, I thought I'd share some of my past year's stats for NaNo.

I'm a Five Time NaNoWriMo participant and a four time winner. There have been a few times when I've signed up for a novel (and two attempts with my master's thesis) but I never actually wrote anything, so I didn't bother counting those.

My first attempt was in November of 2010. I didn't quite make it, but I got close! I'm finishing up the "final touches" of that NaNo novel now and hope to publish it soon. =D

And here's some stats from my previous years!

As you can see, MOST years I'm fairly consistent, but sometimes I will fall off for a few days and have to really marathon things to get back up again.

The first year I fell off because that was the year my Uncle Rick died... We spent a lot of time with my Aunt Debbie around that time and I just didn't feel the desire to write so much anymore.

But the following summer I finished the first draft of The Stolen Defender, then called The Island, and have spent the last three years perfecting the novel and my craft. It's amazing what having a first draft can do!

As for the other four, THREE of them will need full rewrites. I wasn't a big outliner back then, so I didn't have a clear direction for ANY of those books. Silver Guardian is especially bad and Drifter, then called The Second Island, hardly touched on the plot in all 50,000 words.

Target of Eons, however, has a much clearer plotline. It will need a LOT of rewriting, but it has enough good stuff that it's not a total loss.

I will hopefully be in the right place in my life to retackle Summoned in next year's Camp NaNoWriMo,but in the meantime... it's tackling Drifter.

Wish me luck!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Halloween Tricks and Treats - Teacher Life

Hello everyone! Happy November! And Happy National Novel Writing Month! Guess what? 

That's right! I'm a participant this year! YAY!

But first, time for some Halloween Shenanigans. This year, Halloween fell on a teaching day, so I went all out and made it a fun day for my students.

First of all, I made everyone Harry Potter wands. It's quite an involved process that took the better part of two weeks to put together. You can learn all about the process here.

The longest and hardest part is filling the wands. After rolling the things, the instructions say to fill it with hot glue. But that took way too much time, so we stuffed them with tissue instead and just plugged either side of the wand with glue.

Here's what the tips looked like.


Here's the base for the wands. Most of them came out nice and skinny, but I had to make 66 of them (OMG) so some of them got skewed as I got tired.

All 66 wands prepped, decorated, and ready for painting. Thankfully the painting process was very simple. The spray paint came first for a nice base coat.

Most of the wands got sprayed with brown, but I also did several in metallic gold and silver. Then the "artistic" part. The distressing. To do this, I watered down some black paint. Then I painted on the parts of the wands that had the hot glue decorations. After that, you simply wipe the paint up and down the wand for a nice wood looking effect. And you get these!

Not a bad look! The directions on Instructables suggests painting gold and silver on the hot glue parts, but with 66 wands, I just didn't have the time. They still came out nice though. Here's all 66 laid out all pretty.

You can see some of the gold and silver ones scattered throughout the wands in there.

To really add to the effect, I dressed up as a Harry Potter character this year for Halloween. Meet Professor Rachel Mcgonagall.

The costume was a blast to put together. And I had a real wooden wand, courtesy of Alivan's Wands.
Go check them out. They have amazing things. XD

Ready to hand out wands to some brand new magic students! The wands were amazing. My students snatched them up like crazy.

I got some pictures with my students as well.

Yes, that is all of us pointing Harry Potter wands at the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Apparently the Ghostbusters just needed to call some Aurors or something.

That day was especially fun because I got to try out a new teaching tool - Xbox. Rather than have my students read a bunch of boring evaluation papers, I'm changing it up a bit by having them practice evaluation in the classroom. So I fired up Soul Calibur and Split Second and let the students take turns racing and fighting each other on the Big Screen. They then took the time to fill out an evaluation sheet and will report their findings in a Reflective Journal. We'll see how the results are with their journals, but they loved playing the games. Even those that never played games got into it.

So that was my Halloween. And now time for some brand new NaNoWriMo shenanigans!

How was your Halloween?


Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Flash Fiction - Shush



Happy Halloween everyone! Today I have a short flash fiction piece to share with you. I originally submitted this to a flash fiction contest a while back. Sadly, it did not win. 

But I use it with my students all the time. Muahahaha. 

So now, I give you, a creepy tale. 


Shush

Aeryn tripped and landed face first in the grass outside the library. She got up, spat, wiped her knees clean, then continued running.
How could she forget that research paper?
She burst through the door of the Tomas Rivera library and slid along the sleek floor to the front desk.
“Can I help you?” the red-haired receptionist smiled.
“…British literature?” Aeryn squeaked.
“Level seven.”
“Thanks.”
Why were there so many stairs?! Her vigor dropped by the time she reached the seventh floor.
“Finally!” she screamed. She opened the door.
Ten other students stared at her. If looks could kill.
“Sorry.” She hid herself in the library stacks.
Finally. The British lit section. Aeryn looked up at the clock on the wall.
Alright, Aeryn, she thought. It’s 8AM. You have one day to write a twenty page research paper. Fifteen sources. MLA format. You can do it.
She glanced at the wall and caught a glimpse of the library’s hours. Good. They were open until 11PM. If she stayed at the library all day… if she skipped lunch… That should be plenty of time.
Time to get to work.
Hours fell upon hours. Six sources by lunchtime. She grabbed a Twinkie from the machine downstairs. By five she had thirteen sources and fourteen pages written. Perhaps this was possible after all.
Just need two more sources. Just six more pages.
She took to the stacks again. Two sources should be a piece of cake.
Six o’clock came around. Then seven. Then ten. Still nothing. How hard can it be to find two sources?!
Aeryn sat on the hard floor near a stack of books. She glanced at the clock and bit her lip. 30 more minutes. She just needed two sources. She could finish the last few pages at home. She opened her book.
The words melded together. Her eyes drooped.
She shook her head violently. She couldn’t sleep now! She was so close! She turned back to the book.
“Shh!”
Aeryn woke with a start. She groaned. What the hell happened?
“Shh!”
Aeryn blinked rapidly. Why was it so dark? Where was she? She stood up.
Crash! She jumped. A book lay at her feet. She was still in the library. The book in her lap fell. The lights were all out.
Wait… The lights were out? Damn! She fell asleep! The library closed! She pulled out her phone. 2AM? Her other sources! How could she get her paper done now?
She shoved her phone back in her pocket. Gotta get out of here. Gotta to get home. She stepped toward the hallway.
“Shh!”
Aeryn froze. Was someone here?
“Hello?”
“Shh! Shh! Shh! Shh!” The hissing hushes echoed in her brain. She held her hands over her ears. Ow!
“Is someone there?” she called.
“Shh-shh-shh-shh-shh-shh-shh--” the shushes multiplied. Her ears rung. What was that?
“Stop it!” she shouted. The shushes grew. “SHH-SHH-SHH--”
Fffftttllll-slam! Something fell. What was that?
“SHH!”
What the hell was going on here? She had to get out. She took a step toward the hall.
“SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH--”
“Stop it, stop it, stop it!” Aeryn screamed. She bolted toward the door of the elevator.
Ffftttlll-thump! Was that a book? The hissing amplified. Aeryn looked around. There was no book on the floor.
Ffftttlll-bang! Another amplified hiss. Another empty hallway. Where were these books falling?
“SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH--”
“Go away!” Aeryn screamed. Her heart pounded in her chest. Her head felt heavy and bloated. Her feet refused to move.
The elevator. It was so close. She could make it. She could escape.
Ffftttlll-smash! Something collided with Aeryn’s face. She clawed at it. She gasped. Yank!  She grabbed the object and threw it to the ground.
Moby Dick stared up at her. What the hell?
The book shook. Aeryn stepped back. It shook again. Harder… harder…
SLAM! The book crashed into Aeryn’s leg.
“Ow!” She shook her leg. “Leggo!”
Frankenstein fell. The Monk fell. They vibrated, leapt to life and latched on to Aeryn’s leg. She fell to one knee. How could books be so heavy?!
She pulled at the books. She ripped their pages. They refused to let her go.
Hamlet fell. It latched on to her arm. She pulled hard. “Help! Someone help!”
“SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH--”
“No, no, no, no!” Her breath came in ragged gasps. The weight on her leg pulled at her.
How could books be so heavy?
Wuthering Heights. Dracula. Ethan Frome. They stuck to her. Her arms weighed down. Her legs. Her torso. Her chest. She fell to the floor. Books weighed on her.
That insistent shushing.
She couldn’t see the elevator through her tears. Only her face remained.
“…Help.”
Her body moved. They pulled her. Pulled her harder. Harder. The elevator disappeared.
“SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH-SHH…”
Fahrenheit 451.
Help...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Bittersweet Graduation - Author Life

So the wonderful month of November and the beauty that is NaNoWriMo starts in just a few days.

But a few years ago, I thought I didn't need NaNoWriMo anymore. I thought I'd share my feelings about it in a Throwback Thursday post. Enjoy.

________________________________________________

So... This NaNoWriMo was not very successful. We have three more days before Camp NaNoWriMo is finished and I'm nowhere near my word count.

But you know what? That's okay. NaNo got me started on a novel. I outlined a novel. It got me started on a short story too.

The problem is, as I move through the story, I can sometimes see fundamental problems with it. For example, this short story I'm writing kept getting stuck. It seemed like the story had too much word vomit and not enough story in it. So revamped it in the middle of NaNoWriMo and lost over half my words. Then it got stuck again and I revamped it again. By that point, I was 10,000 words behind NaNoWriMo.

And that's when I realized I don't need NaNo anymore.

The first time I ever tackled NaNoWriMo, it was because I was stuck. I had redone the opening of my first novel probably fifteen times and never got beyond the first ten pages. Then I discovered NaNoWriMo and I wrote for it. Several years later, I had the first drafts of my first five novels.

But now I'm learning how to set aside time for writing on my own. I'm learning how to recognize snags and how to revamp to avoid those snags. I'm learning how to edit as I go without hurting my manuscript.

I've graduated from NaNoWriMo. I no longer need it to force myself to work on a draft.

It's a bittersweet graduation.

I'm eternally grateful for all NaNoWriMo has done for me. Without it, I never would be looking at possible publication. But at the same time, I doubt I'll be using it again. I don't need to. I've got other methods now.

So, NaNoWriMo, please don't take it personally. You've been great to me. But I need to move on.

And trust me, it's not you. It's me.

____________________________________________________

Ironically, now I'm intending to do NaNoWriMo this year. o_o Apparently I still need discipline!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Crossing Worlds - Author Life

Image courtesy of Sam Mulqueen
http://sumopiggy.deviantart.com/

I live in two worlds.

The Academic World is my job. The Academic World likes to analyze and pick apart and dissect literature pieces. The see symbolism in the simplest sentence. They find meaning in the smallest bit of dialogue. They even invent theories in order to help them see these bits of meaning in literature.

The World of the Author is my hobby (or "jobby" as my mother in law calls it). The World of the Author likes to write. They like to make meaningful characters. They like to make powerful plots and delicious dialogue. They like to write, write, write, then edit, edit, edit.

These worlds are only vaguely aware of each other. The Academic World knows that the author exists, somewhere in the depth of the books they analyze. The World of the Author knows the academic exists, and some even write their novels to please the academic over the Reader.

But somehow, as the worlds move in their little microcosms, they clash.

The Academic Wold likes to pretend it's full of really smart people, so they use big words and complex, made up theories to make their existence mean something. They don't like to be told their theories are incorrect, so when someone has the guts to point out an incorrect theory, the academic makes a new theory to fix the old one. Or sometimes they make a theory to make the other person's objection illegitimate.

This is especially common in the Modern Academic World. Theories like Deconstructivism (breaking down novels into their component parts and ripping everything to oblivion.) Narratology (taking popular words like "story" and changing it to "fabula" and basically trying to make the story into a math problem)  or The Author is Dead (which suggests that the author's intentions in writing the story is completely unimportant to the reader's interpretation, which basically gives the reader the ability to analyze the novel however they want without thinking about what the author intended) thrive in this world.

The World of the Author fought over these strange interpretations. They fought with the Academics. They fought with their publishers. They fought with themselves.

The fight with themselves created warring factions.

So now we have a dilemma. We have clashing worlds.

We have two types of novels.

METAPHOR FIRST

The first type is the novel written for symbolism and metaphor first, and story second. It's the kind of novel written specifically for the academic. Novels that have an "agenda" if you will. They are trying to prove a point, make a statement, make you think, but rarely are they trying to tell a story. Such novels include:

- The Lord of the Flies
- The Great Gatsby
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
- Ulysses
- The Stranger
- The Thin Red Line
- Pretty much anything you were supposed to read in high school.

Typically, the novels are so heavy set in symbolism and metaphor that it's really hard to get into the story. Every new piece of symbolism makes you think OUTSIDE the story, and therefore it's impossible to stay IN the story. It draws you away from plot. These are the Naked Emperors.

STORY FIRST

The second type of novel is written for story first and symbolism second. These are novels written specifically for readers. For people that love a good story. For those who read for character development, plot, good dialogue, and good character voice. It's for those who read to get lost in a new world. Such novels include:

- Jurassic Park
- Patriot Games
- Catch 22
- The Testing
- Twilight (ugh)
- The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
- Pretty much anything you've read by your own choice and not by your English teacher's insistence.

The first set of books are the kind of books that English professors love to talk about, but don't always recognize as Naked Emperors.

The second set of books is for those who just love to read and aren't looking for a real thought provoker. (Though one could argue that any of these books could have deeper meaning. The deeper meaning just doesn't take the place of the story).

So how do we stop these warring factions? How do we stop the hate between Academics and Authors? Symbolism books and Story books?

MAGIC BOOKS

Some magic books cross both into the World of the Author and the Academic World and make everyone happy. These are usually books that start as Story First/Symbolism Second, but end up with major and important symbolism anyway. It's the kind of story where the symbolism doesn't take away from the story - it makes it BETTER. Such stories include:

- The Lord of the Rings
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- The Hunger Games
- Frankenstein
- Dracula
- Of Mice and Men
- Divergent
- The Summer King Chronicles
- Harry Potter
- Their Eyes were Watching God
- Pretty much anything your English teacher insisted you read, but you still read by your own choice because you LIKED it.

These are the novels of Crossing Worlds. These are the novels you aren't afraid to tell your author friends AND your academic friends that you read it. These are the novels where you can read it for fun one week and write a great academic paper about it the next week.

These are the novels that keep me safe in both worlds. So while the Academic World and the World of the Author don't always see eye to eye, they can agree that this is good literature.

These are the books that, as authors ourselves, we should strive for.

What books do you consider magic books?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Emperor is Naked - Academic World

Wow, another new blog topic! The Academic World.

Hoo boy. 

For those of you who don't know, I'm a teacher. Specifically, a University professor of English. It's a day job that I absolutely love and it's something that I feel can really make a difference in people's lives. Every year I get students who say they absolutely hate English, but they leave my class loving it because I make it fun with hilarious stories, Veggie Tales, Top Gear, movies, video games, and interesting challenges. 

Plus, it's a great way to promote my stories. I use my flash fiction and short stories in lessons every year. My flash fiction horror story "Shush" is a particular favorite. I'll share it with you guys around Halloween. XD 

Since I'm a University professor, I'm smack dab in the middle of the academic world. I've done research, submitted papers, presented at academic conferences, and wrote a Master's thesis looking at the "Foreign Other" in three novels - Jurassic Park, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Frankenstein - in an effort to show that science fiction emerged from gothic literature, since the two genres share a lot of themes and agendas.

Just a small sampling of the myriad of sources I had for that thesis. Yes, you do see a Halo book embedded in there.

Wow, that was the most academic thing I've ever said here. I promise not to bore you with that academic nonsense too much. 

Anyways, since I spent years on the academic side of writing and analyzing, I'll admit... I've become a bit bitter. Academics tend to overanalyze things and I've met many of them that were simply out of touch with reality. A lot of academic driven writing is the same way. 

Let me show you what I mean.

When I was young, before high school, I loved reading. Mom homeschooled us, so we had a lot of spare time for reading. I ate books up like cheese crackers.

Then I got to high school. By that point, my father had passed away and Mom was going back to school to get a job to support us. We didn't have the time or the ability to homeschool for high school, so I went to a public high school. 

Within the first year, I started losing my love of reading. 

When I was reading on my own, I read a lot of fantasy, sci fi, and YA books. Generally books that are fun, clean, and dramatic. 

When I read books for school, I had to read books like The Great Gatsby, The Lord of the Flies, and The Stranger. Books with lots of symbolism, sex, violence, unredeemable characters, and often no morals. And we were expected to read and analyze and write papers and ENJOY the books, because they were "important literary examples." 

But why are all the "important literary examples" riddled with sex, drugs, rape, violence, and all the nonsense we already see in the news every day? 

It seems like "good" literary examples would rather talk about the problems with a vice rather than the goodness of a virtue. 

Look at Harry Potter. Yes, there is death, destruction, hate, racism, and all kind of dark themes. But the central characters display good, moral virtues, so that becomes the central theme of the story.

Now let's look at The Great Gatsby. There's a lot of those dark themes mixed in there, as well as classism and sex. But there are no redeemable characters in Gatsby. All of the characters, even the dull narrator, are driven by vices, not virtues.

Gatsby, suspected of getting his vast amounts of money through illegal means, wants Daisy, a married woman, and she does consent to a degree (adultery). Tom is extremely violent and abusive toward Daisy and Gatsby, he's having an affair, and then he murders and covers it up. Even Nick has his issues. He's so passive that he basically just lets everyone do their thing and watches them ruin their lives. 

Yes, I know, we need flawed characters to have really great story telling. But Harry is flawed too. He gets angry and acts stupidly. He gets mad at his friends and doesn't know how to handle his parents death. But he RISES ABOVE these flaws and his virtues, not his vices, define who he is. In Gatsby, all the characters are defined by vices, not virtues. 

Much of the same is true in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Frankenstein, The Lord of the Flies, The Stranger, and many other stories we're supposed to read in high school and as academics. 

Why is this? Why do we find people defined by vices rather than virtues more interesting in the Academic World? 

I've developed a theory. It's called the Emperor is Naked theory. 

You should all know the story of the Emperor's New Clothes. 

No, not this guy...

(Image Via disney.wikia.com)
The story of the Emperor's New Clothes is very simple. A king who loves clothes is visited by two tailors, claiming that they can make the most amazing clothes in the world. They ask for gold and jewels and silk and all kinds of expensive material to put into this outfit, which the king happily gives. 

But when the king sees the work in progress, there's nothing there. But the tailors say there is. Their excuse? "Only smart people can see this wonderful outfit!"

So the king, his advisers, and his subjects all pretend to see the clothing. Who wants to be called stupid because you can't see the gorgeous clothing? 

Eventually the "outfit" is complete. The king announces that only smart people can see this outfit and he parades down the street butt naked, thinking he's wearing the clothes. No one says any different because no one wants to be called dumb. 

But as he goes down the parade, a child runs out, points to the king, and shouts "The Emperor is naked!" Suddenly everyone realizes they've been fooled and there ARE no magical clothes. Meanwhile the "tailors" escape with all the expensive material they've been given.

In other words, we pretend something is amazing and literary and WORTH something because we don't want to be called stupid. The Great Gatsby, in my opinion, is a Naked Emperor. We talk about how wonderful a book it is, but really, we just don't want to look stupid in the eyes of the academic world or in the World of Analysis.

Now before everyone freaks out and attacks me for bashing their favorite literary book, hear me out. Yes, we can learn things from these books. Yes, you can learn analysis and critical thinking from The Great Gatsby.

But can't you learn a lot of things from Harry Potter too? Why do we put Gatsby on a high pedestal as academics, but shun Harry Potter because it's "young adult" and "genre fiction" and "not literary"?

What's a better way to learn morals, critical thinking, symbolism, and how to live - by reading books on the problems of vices, or reading books about the blessings of virtues?

Recently my church has been talking about a well known phrase. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But the phrase didn't used to be like that. It used to be "Don't do to others as you don't want them to do to you." But Jesus turned it around. He changed it from the absence of a vice to the presence of a virtue.

The absence of a vice is not the same thing as the presence of a virtue. Likewise, the problems of a vice is not the same thing as the blessings of a virtue. You don't learn the same things in both cases.

So yes, I sound bitter. I sound cranky. But after all my time in the academic world of sex, drugs, violence, rape, and other nasty vices taking center stage, you can't blame me.

What do you guys think? Are there books that you'd consider Naked Emperors? Are there any stories you've had to read where you just wondered why we considered them "high literature"? Do you disagree with me? Leave a comment below! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Student Dialogue Exercises - Teacher Life

Geez, I'm just coming up with all kinds of new tags this week, aren't I?

This week explore the world of teaching with a student sample exercise. For their autobiography papers, I have students practice a little creative writing exercises. Part of that is practicing dialogue. Their assignment? Write a short story using only dialogue. I encourage them to use conflict of some kind.

Most of the time my students come up with short stories about characters arguing over who's turn it is to do dinner or what movie they should go to, but this time... this time a student made ME a character. And it was absolutely hilarious.

So, with his permission, I'm going to share that story with you today. Enjoy!



"A 500 word essay on nothing but dialogue! How am I supposed to do that?"
"Yes, Isaiah. What’s so hard about that?"
"But why would you assign us such work, Mrs. Meenan?"
"We've been over this a thousand times, Isaiah. You’re the student and I'm the teacher, so you do whatever work I assign for you."
"Okay lady, do you know who I am? I am a very important man in the country that I come from. Actually, I am the next in line for the throne, behind 37 of my brothers, but that's beside the point. The point is, I should be able to kick back in my seat and get the best possible grade a person of my position deserves."
"Ooo, look here, Mr. Big Shot Fancy Pants comes from the middle of Nobody Cares! I have no idea why you would join the space math program just to get a passing grade, but you better open your eyes and see that I'm no pushover. I was the first UFC women’s champion of the featherweight division, so if I need to, I could kick your little rear end back to the No Good Stinking Desert you came from so fast you'll need to button your girly skinny jeans at the knees!"
"Look, I don't want to cause trouble, but if need be, then I will get my father down here to Riverside to set you straight and trust me when I say that you won’t like the punishment you get for messing with my family. I suggest you take you kickboxing self back to your desk and put a passing grade into that computer of yours and I'll be on my way."
"Do you even come to this school? I checked your records and it shows no trace of a Prince Isaiah ever even enrolling to CBU."
"Are you not listening to the words coming out of my mouth? I come from the wealthiest family the world has ever known. College acceptance means nothing to me. My mother always said it is better to accept yourself than to have a school’s acceptance."
"So what you're telling me is, you are not even a student here at CBU, but just some guy who walked in off the street and is now trying to do my job and get a free grade? Let me tell you a little something about education. A quality education is earned by hard work, studying, sleepless nights, and ramen noodles. So before you want to walk in here like you own the place think about this; are you ready to give up most of your social life and spend thousands of dollars just to get a job that will pay back your student loans on hopefully ten years?"
"I need to tell you something Mrs. Meenan."
"What is it, Isaiah?"
"You're on a prank show called Prank the Professor! You should have seen the look on your face!"

"Mr. Leyva, now this is a 500 word essay worth 100 points."

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Advent of Fall - Meenanful Life

I love Autumn. Joe and I got married in autumn. I love pumpkins (and fresh made pumpkin pie!) and gourds, and leaves, and apple cider, and cool weather, and all the wonderful things that come with fall.

So when fall comes around, I celebrate with some crazy decorations.

A lot of our decorations come from wedding. We went to dozens of stores gathering up all the decorations we could to make our fall wedding really FEEL like fall.

Which, in California, is not an easy feat.

Ha ha, "feet"

Our collection of fall decorations include several fall leaf garlands, three bags of loose leaves, three mum bouquets, and about 25 small pumpkins with various garnishes. Putting them up all over the house reminds me of that wonderful day nearly two years ago when I walked down to meet Joe as my husband for the first time. =)

So let's see how the decorations came out this year!





















Oh yeah. It's a good day.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chronocrime - Book Review

Hooray for another book review! Let's do a good one since our last book review wasn't so much fun...

Today we're looking at Chronocrime by K. M. Carroll, book two of the Spacetime Legacy.


You can buy this book on Amazon here

Summary

Indal, chronomancer and werewolf, has been in exile for six months, and survived everything the desert could throw at him. 

Now he has to survive multi-world gangsters. 

His friends, Carda and Michelle, drag him home and present him with Michelle's corpse--sent back in time from the near future. But Indal's efforts to check out the timeline reveals that the corpse is a killer construct, out to murder them all. 
While trying to discover who sent it, Indal stumbles into a crime ring of smugglers, blind alchemists, magic-stealing elves, and breakdancing gravity mages. They want him and his friends dead. 

Because plans are in motion to that will shake the entire multiverse. And only Indal and his friends can stop them.

If you haven't already, make sure you read the first book, Storm Chase and read my review on that one before you read through this one (SPOILERS!)

Okay, so as I mentioned, this is a sequel, and sequels always have to really punch up the events of the first book in order to be successful. 

This book achieves this perfectly. 

We start with Indal, a character from the previous book who, due to an unfortunate accident, has been "spliced" with a monstrous wolf like creature called a garwaf. This splice effectively makes Indal a werewolf. Because of the fear this world has for spliced individuals, Indal has been exiled to Phoenix Arizona hundreds of years in the past. 

Six months of exile has drastically changed Indal and it shows. He's constantly fighting between being human and acting like an animal. It makes for an interesting character. 

Carroll is excellent at setting up tension and drama in her books. We're constantly wondering if the characters are gonna come out okay and also, what the future holds for them even if they DO come out okay. Her writing style is well done too. Dialogue is very believable and she does a great job setting up scenes which you can really smell, feel, and see. 

And the climax is amazing. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. This is one of those books that stays with you throughout the whole day. Like, I was disappointed when things like LIFE got in the way of me reading it. Even when I was teaching or grading papers, I was thinking about what was gonna happen next in the book. 

There are a FEW little negatives. There are a few places where the author has some typos, and there are one or two logic holes, though I can't remember hardly anything of it, so obviously it didn't put a damper on my reading! 

So yeah, go out and get the new book today! 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright - Game Review

Image Via ign.com
What? GAME review? Am I on the right blog? 

That's right, game review. Yes, you're on the right blog. Today we're adding a new section to the Defender Logs - Game reviews.

But Rachel, games don't have anything to do with writing! D=

Untrue! Good games, especially the games I enjoy, have great stories. So while we're exploring the game play and the graphics and the music, we'll also look at character development, plot development, and world building. Is that acceptable?

Pfft, fine.

Okay then. Let's get started!

Awesome fanart by Itou Mari of DeviantART
 Today we're looking at Professor Layton Vs. Phoenix Wright (or Ace Attorney, if you play in a different country). It's a crossover game, which Capcom tends to do often, and it stars two of Japan's biggest handheld stars, Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright.

Both Layton's and Wright's individual games are heavily story based and are often known as "visual novels." The player does not do much in the way of playing. They make choices and follow a story. 

I've never played a Layton game before, but I've played every Phoenix Wright game that's been localized (including the Miles Edgeworth spin off games) so I'll be making a lot of comparisons between Wright games and this game.

In this game, Phoenix Wright visits London, Professor Layton's home, and the two get caught up with their "sidekicks" in a world of witches, witch trials, puzzles, and magic. The game takes place in Labyrinthia, a town ruled by the Storyteller, a man who predicts events by writing Stories for the people of the town. And all his stories come true. 

The town is portrayed as a medieval town, complete with knights, mistrals , and old fashioned bread baking.

Let's take a look at their combo game.

Image Via Wired.com
GAMEPLAY 
Layton vs. Wright relies heavily on Layton's game style. In the Ace Attorney games, the player runs through the game in a first person setting, usually through Phoenix's POV. Phoenix is rarely visible during most of the game, except during trials.

In this game, the player takes an omniscient POV, and all character interactions take place watching from basically a third person POV. Place-to-place movement is more similar to Layton's style, and there are hintcoins and hidden puzzles to find, which, again, comes from Layton's game, not Wright's. It's honestly refreshing to see Phoenix in cutscenes and discussions when we so rarely see his face in his own games.

Puzzles and Layton-style investigation takes precedence throughout most of the game. The puzzles are very fun and rarely frustrating and the music is calm enough that players won't tire of it after hearing it again and again while puzzle solving.

Wright's gameplay style comes up a lot more in the trial sections of the game, however, even these are done differently than a normal Ace Attorney game. Since the game's setting is in medieval times, modern day forensics can't be used in the courtroom whereas forensics are frequently used in typical Phoenix Wright games.

Also, whereas most Wright games would have Wright cross examining one witness at a time, in this game, Wright can cross examine any number of witnesses at once - a late trial has Wright examining ten witnesses at a time. This opens up new ways to find information and contradictions in cross examinations, including using other witness's testimonies. The changes are refreshing and it was fun to try something unusual to Phoenix's normal games.

Image Via Gamespot.com
MUSIC
If there's one thing that Japanese games really excel in, it's music. Phoenix Wright games already have amazing music, but the remixed music and the new original music in this game really takes the cake.

One of my favorite songs is the main menu song that plays when the game first opens. It's a sad minor key song with just a hint of the drama that's to come. Add the witch trial courts and fire from the title screen and you really get a good understanding of what the game is about.

Image Via Kotaku.com


GRAPHICS
The game's graphics are a combination of 3D sprites and anime cutscenes. The 3D sprites are visually appealing, and, for most Phoenix Wright fans, it's the first time we've seen Phoenix in full 3D. The 3D character models move smoother and more realistically than Phoenix's old pixel sprites, so the characters feel more real.

There are times when the sprites are reused to the point where they get dull and you can often guess what sprites will be used for which emotion or event, but the heavy emotional scenes, such as witch banishment, magic crimes, and the occasional fight scenes are often done in anime cut scenes, which keeps the emotion and tension high. The anime scenes aren't bogged down by a set number of limited sprites, so we get a lot of emotion in these scenes.

Puzzle sprites are often in "chibi" form, and all four main characters look adorable in these forms. Plus, it's fun to see Wright in Layton's animation style. Sadly, while the artbook has pictures of Layton on Phoenix's art style, we don't get to see this version in game.

Side character designs leap back and forth between Wright's more realistic style and Layton's more cartoony style. Important side characters, such as Inquisitor Barnham, Lady Darklaw, The Storyteller, and Espella, are done in Wright's style, whereas the townsfolk, usually the witnesses to whatever crime, are done in Layton's style. The two styles mix surprisingly well, though when you put Phoenix and Layton next to each other, it's obviously not a perfect match. Phoenix is taller than Layton, but Layton's head is bigger, so they clash a bit.

And now... on to the story bits.

CHARACTERS
Okay, I have to start this one out with some description.

In Japanese games, especially novel games and JRPGs, characters generally fall into obvious stereotypes. The perky girl, the angry shop owner, the crazy cat lady, that kind of thing. Usually this falls on minor characters, but major characters still get a bit of that side too. They aren't as well rounded as, say, Ezio from Assassin's Creed, or Cortana from Halo.

But this is not necessarily a weakness. Main characters are still well rounded, but they fall into broader categories than other characters might.

Phoenix Wright is one example. Phoenix is a passionate, kind man, with a small sarcastic streak in him, and loyal to a fault. He has a strange relationship with luck. He's got both bad luck and good luck at the same time. In one game, he falls forty feet into a raging river known for killing people and comes out with only a bad cold. In another, he gets hit by a car and sent sailing through the air, but only sprains his ankle on the fall. His luck follows him in the courtroom too, and he often wins by the skin of his teeth on pure luck.

While I don't know much about Layton's typical games, he's much the same way. A professor of archaeology by trade, Layton's major characterization comes from the fact that he is a proper English gentleman, something he often reminds the players of. Many of his actions, including defending the weak, standing up for justice, and trying to discover the truth of things comes from this characterization.

We get to see both characters in actions that aren't common for them in this game however. Layton fights knights head on with a sword and Phoenix tackles a knight to the ground trying to protect a friend. Both of them are desperate to find the truth behind the magic crimes, but neither wants to see a witch burn for such a crime and they try to fight back.

Phoenix especially acts out of his normal character at times. While Phoenix knows how to be loud about things (Objection!) he rarely gets seriously angry or seriously sad. He hits both extremes in this game because of dark event that takes place.

In other words, we get to see these quiet Japanese characters be bad asses. It's pretty fun and it allows them to be a little more rounded than normal. These are characters that you can really come to love. You care about what happens to them.

The only character I don't care for much is Espella. She has a streak of Mary Sue in her. Phoenix and Layton risk everything to help her, despite the fact that they just barely met her and don't know much about her. She's fairly helpless and probably couldn't get on without either Phoenix's or Layton's help. It doesn't help that she's the title character and pretty much everything revolves around her, but eh, if you focus on Layton and Phoenix then it's not that big a deal.



STORYLINE
Lordy. The storyline is very complex (as is most novel style games) and has a whopper of an ending.

Typical Phoenix Wright games, and really, typical Japanese novel style games, are very episodic. They'll often connect the episodes to a degree, but generally each episode is self contained. With Phoenix Wright games, the episodes typically start with investigations, then go to court, then investigations, then court and so on. Usually a court date ends the episode.

This game has "chapters" but like a good novel, the chapters blend together and don't follow the episodic formula. Everything connects to everything else. There are minor witch trials that lead to the larger witch problem, but each trial leads to the bigger picture.

One thing the game is very good at is dropping hints about the actual truth behind the world they're in, while at the same time letting the player fall into the world of the game and take it on its own terms. Characters die and you believe it. People come back to life and you believe it. Everything fits in the world of the game.

As an author, I've always been impressed with Phoenix Wright storylines, and this game is no different. Phoenix storylines lack plot holes and logic holes. COMPLETELY. Everything fits perfectly with everything else. Yes, sometimes you get ridiculous ideas (like the old wives' tale that pepper can be used to make someone sneeze being an important part of a court case) but generally speaking, the storyline is perfect. And it has to be to make things make sense. And this game does a great job of making everything make sense.

And the twist ending is quite a mind blow.

So there you have it! This is probably one of the most enjoyable Phoenix Wright games I've played in a while and I highly recommend it. I give this game...

9/10

Go out and buy a copy today! 

(All images are official game images, unless otherwise stated. None of these images belong to me).