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!