Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolution Writing Endeavor AKA My Blood Oath of Vow-iness and Doom

Typically, I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. I tend to forget about my sacred vows by January 12th. Seriously, January 12…as far as I get. And that’s a log time for me.
But this year, in honor of starting this blog and hopefully continuing to write it, I’m going to try taking The Vow again. As any vow taker, I’m a little bit nervous about committing. Turns out that little educational program I started last year takes some time. Nonetheless, I shall be queen of reckless and oh-so-dangerous living by venturing forward with my blood oath of doom.

For 2009, my goals will be the following:

• Write seven pages of something (anything!) each week
• Make two submissions (to some publication or agent, any publication or agent!) each week
• Read one children’s book (to then be reviewed on this blog) each week

To keep me honest, I’ll be posting Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Reports each week.

If I don’t meet with my resolutions on a given week, I will have to face a punishment suggested by YOU, my readers (what readers? If there are readers, feel free to post punishment suggestions whenever and keep in mind, I have veto rights).

So, if there is anyone (readers? Hello? You out there? Is there an echo in the internet?) willing to join me in making a writing resolution feel free. Also, if you have non-writerly resolutions, feel free to post them (Commenters? Hello?) in the comments section.

P.S. In terms of the blood oath vow of doom, it starts NOW!!!!!! My first two submissions and seven pages will have to be done by Monday morning or else....  

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Moore, P. (2007). Hero. New York: Hyperion.  


Hero tells the story of Thom, the athletic son of a disgraced superhero. While learning about his past, his superpower and embracing his own homosexuality while making some friends, Thom develops into a superhero.

The fact that Thom is homosexual is central to Moore’s narrative. It may be empowering for many teens to read a superhero story from the perspective of a homosexual teen who must struggle for acceptance from his father and community. While homosexual characters have been given a presence in superhero comics and other superhero narratives, they historically have appeared at the periphery, as secondary characters. Thom’s voice is central and engaging, as well as honest and does not avoid any topics relevant to his sexuality or growth as a character. The narrative also considers issues of race, class, discrimination and living in a single-parent household.

Strong secondary characters and subtle humor strengthen the narrative and help to make it relatable.

I really enjoyed this book. But then, I do love me my superheroes. (You hear that, Wolverine? Call me!)

Complicating a students’ reading of the text is the fact that some key descriptions are excluded (such as superheroes’ uniforms) as well as the fact that the passage of time over the summer that the story is set during is not always properly addressed.

Activities to do with the book:

Teachers could discuss issues of acceptance, exclusion and homosexuality with students. Also teachers could address the distinctions among a hero, victim and villain, as well as how narrative can serve to empower writers and readers. Also, students could do reflective journal writing about the text or create their own endings to the story
As a class, students could create a superhero—determine his or her struggles, strengths, etc.

Favorite Quotes:

“I never thought I’d have a story worth telling, at least not one about me. I always knew I was different, but until I discovered I had my own story, I never thought I was anything special” (p. 1).

“What in his life made him take this turn to wear gaudy tights, take steroids, and rob banks? Maybe he just needed better opportunities, maybe he just needed someone why believed in him—” (p. 164-165).

“Well, there may be no ‘I’ in team, but apparently there’s a real big one in ‘Kevin.’” (p. 173).

“Everyone in the world should have at least one moment in their lifetime when an entire crowd of people cheers them on for something, one moment to feel exceptional, one moment that lets you know you really do mean something in the universe” (p. 191).

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Basye, D.E. (2008). Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go. New York: Random House.


Heck follows the well-named Milton, his pet ferret and his goth sister, Marlo on their journey through the first level of Heck after their deaths in the first chapter. The book is humorous and Basye creates an interesting and detailed world in his first novel. The book’s subject is entertaining and would be attractive to reluctant readers, especially kids who chuckle at or make fart jokes.

Basye’s version of Heck has some similarities to the movie Beetlejuice’s version of the underworld in that bureaucracy is perceived as one of the great evils. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Basye implies bureaucracy is evil, not me. If I hadn’t fallen in love with children’s literature so early, I totally would have become a bureaucrat. You hear that bureaucracy? Please don’t lose my social security number)

Much of the book feels like an extensive inside joke, filled with references to the works of Donne, Dante, Milton etc. Fallowing Dante’s example, Basye’s version of Heck includes nine levels and real deceased people portrayed as the teachers in Heck’s school. If the students do not have knowledge of Watergate or the killings of Lizzie Borden then a number of the jokes will escape them. But at the same time, many teachers would probably be unwilling to formally teach Heck, since it assumes life after death, the existence of souls, a Judeo-Christian worldview, and includes a lot of gross details and descriptions.  

While geared toward middle grade students, if I were to teach this book, it would be to high school student and only in I was conducting a parent-approved extensive examination of the portrayal of Hell in literature and other media first.

Of course, Heck (like so many other books) is being turned into a series. All I have to say is that if I’m expected to read nine books to discover how Milton and Marlo find peace and/or escape Heck, I’ll declare that I have discovered my own, personal, hated circle of Heck.

Activities to do with the book:

Discuss fun topics like the way Hell (or Heck) is portrayed by different authors and in different media. The book also lends itself to discuss the lives of some of the real people who are featured as teachers in Heck, including Lizzie Borden, Typhoid Mary, former president Richard Nixon, etc. This book could also be used to discuss the nature of death and loss.
Students could also make illustrations or dioramas of what Heck looks like or they could create their own versions of Heck. Which behaviors cause a person to go to Heck? What are the punishments for those behaviors?

Favorite Quotes:


“So I’m facing eternal…darnation…for a tube of kiwi-cantaloupe lip gloss?” (p. 25).

“Just because you cease to be doesn’t mean you cease to learn” (p. 77).

“This was simply a case of mind over fecal matter” (p. 133).

“It was joy with an edge. Happiness with a hunger to it, an appetite that ached, that could never be filled. It crackled all around him, making him itchy and agitated” (p. 168).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Note on Submitting Manuscripts

I was somewhat good (but not completely good--never completely good) and sent out a submission to a publisher this week.  I chose the publisher because I had actually read several of their books and loved them all.  The books actually had similar themes to my own story.

Why did I do this?  Because I'd run out of applicable publishers in the long lists given in Writer's Market.  You know, those long lists of publishers and agents that include descriptions of the genre and market they publish for.  Those long lists of publishers and agents that I would have to pretend to be familiar with and enthusiastic about in my cover letters.

Well for once I am enthusiastic about a publisher.  I look forward to receiving my rejection.

Friday, December 26, 2008

REVIEW: Paper Towns

Green, J. (2008). Paper Towns. New York: Dutton Books.


Paper Towns was pretty much what I had come to expect from author John Green: Quirky characters, humorous dialogue, endearing deeper meanings and thin, white, teen boys seeking some aspect of a particular girl.

Green’s narrator, Quentin, spends a lot of the novel ruminating on how he sees others, particularly his long-time neighbor, recent partner in pranks, and runaway love interest, Margo Roth Spiegelman, the most popular girl at their high school. The book extends out into questioning if a person can ever truly know another and looks at how complicated people are.
While Green’s writing still manages to make me laugh out loud fairly regularly, I did find that the dialogue-heavy ending did pain me a little as I read. It felt a little too meaningful, too sentimental. But then, the end of high school and high school friendships, with all the changes, uncertainties and leavings are often just that. This would be a good final book for a teacher to share with graduating seniors.

There is an extensive scene in the novel that involves underage drinking. Quentin remains sober and is witness to the humorous antics of his drunken schoolmates while waiting to act as their designated driver. The scene confirms the conclusion I learned as a teen: Alcohol is much more entertaining when you’re not the one consuming too much of it.

Activities to do with the book:

Read the works of literature and poetry mentioned throughout the novel (including Moby Dick, The Bell Jar, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman). As a project, have students grow grass in clear pots so they can see the extent of the root structure. Do reflective journal writing. Discuss the characterizations of the characters and the way people are characterized in our minds. Discuss the treatment of race, class, the act of leaving, etc.

Oh, and of course, you can ask students why the book was published with two different covers and ask which of them they prefer.
I myself tend toward the unsmiling, moody, blue cover of angst. But that is me.

Favorite Quotes:

“I shaved this morning for precisely that reason. I was like, ‘Well, you never know when someone is going to clamp down on your calf and try to suck out the snake poison’” (p. 75).
-This is also when I tell myself when I’ve avoided shaving my legs for too long. Margo and I are so alike—or is it just my perception of the world that we’re alike, hmm?
“No, I love you. Not like a sister loves a brother or like a friend loves a friend. I love you like a really drunk guy loves the best girl ever” (p. 187).
“They’d given me a minivan. They could have picked any car, and they picked a minivan. A minivan. O God of Vehicular Justice, why dost thou mock me? Minivan, you albatross around my neck! You mark of Cain! You wretched beast of high ceilings and few horsepower!” (p. 232).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Peters, J.A. (2004). Luna. New York: Little, Brown and Company.


As an author, Peters has previously explored the experiences of gay and lesbian teens, providing a voice to readers who often feel marginalized. Luna is no different. A finalist for a National Book Award, the novel is told through the perspective of the younger sister of a teenage girl who was born in the body of a boy. Most of Regan’s life revolves around protecting Liam/Luna’s secret. Her world begins to change when she meets her new lab partner and love interest in chemistry class and when Luna decides to transition and achieve her dream of becoming a woman.

Peters does a wonderful job of showing the very ordinary moments of relationships as well as some of the most difficult moments. Luna is a good first step into a discussion of the transgendered experience and of gender roles. It includes both academic and commonly used vocabulary about gender expectations to open up a dialogue.  

The story itself feels very real and brings the reader into Regan and Luna’s perspectives. Regan’s sarcastic sense of humor and her interactions with her love interest, Chris, save the text from being too much of an emotional struggle for its readers, but does show how challenging it can be to support and keep the secret of a transgendered loved one.

The dreams and the goals of people are central to this story. Luna struggles to achieve her dream, while Regan struggles to learn what her dream is.

A number of other young adult issues are also present at the periphery of the novel. Most notable among these is drug use. It is implied throughout the text that Regan and Luna’s mother relies upon the use of pills, while working and avoiding issues she has with her family.
The ending of Luna does not feel conclusive, but leaves open for discussion what happens to its characters.

Activities to do with the book:

Discuss gender roles and expectations, the experience of being transgendered or the loved one of a transgendered person, sexual reassignment surgery, drug use, secrets, motherhood, fatherhood, raves, ‘the American dream’, family, dreams or goals, first dates, cheating, bullying, etc. The book also lends itself to reflection and journal writing. Students could be assigned to write an epilogue for the novel or the first chapter of a continuation.

Favorite Quotes:

“I knew now what my life was about: Waiting for guys to change their clothes” (p. 157).

“The lab experiment today was called Stoichiometry. Great. I couldn’t even pronounce the title” (p. 200).

“This was a calculation I’d need to know later in life, when I began my career as a high school dropout” (p. 200).

“I cried for her.
I cried for me.
I cried for a world that wouldn’t let her be” (p. 211).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Progress Report on My Self-Imposed Retreat

Well, I finally began to go a little crazy from my isolation last night.

I did, however, actually type a whole page of new story content (before the craziness set in).

In other news, due to approaching storms, my parents may come into town tonight instead of tomorrow.  This means any more progress on my stories will have to wait due to the pressing need to make it seem like I live like a human--with organized clean clothes, shiny dishes, dirt free floors, etc.

On the plus side, while my retreat is ending, I still have over a week left in my break.  I'm sure I'll make more progress surrounded by new and more interesting distractions.  Right.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

REVIEW: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

Sanderson, B. (2007). Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. New York: Scholastic Inc.

ISBN: 0439925525

After receiving a bag of sand from his long-lost family and being told he must leave his current foster family, Alcatraz goes on a wild adventure in which he must defeat the powerful evil librarians who control our culture. This novel, best for ten to thirteen-year-olds, includes enough humor and plot twists to engage and entertain its readers.

While many might think this book is best used solely to entertain, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians makes direct addresses to the reader that address cultural differences between the “hushlands” and the “free kingdoms” that will allow many students to view their own culture in a new way. The book also questions what is a hero. It turns a person’s typically negative perceived tendencies such as being late or breaking almost anything one comes into contact with into the character’s greatest gift or power.

One of my few cautions about this book is the prevalence of guns. While considered ‘impractical’ and ‘primitive’ by several of the characters, guns are still used often and without serious consequence throughout the story.

The book is also a meta-narrative in which Alcatraz mentions the way he has chosen to structure the story. This could contribute to a lesson on creating tension in a narrative, language choices in literature, literary techniques such as foreshadowing, and could encourage readers to write their own stories.

The story includes a lot of quirks—characters named for prison, talking dinosaurs and rutabaga. It also makes references to other children’s books, including the Harry Potter series and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Overall, this is a fun and fast-paced book that makes for an amusing and engaging read. And of course, it’s being turned into a series.

Activities to do with the book:

Teach about the nature of culture, the philosophies of Plato, power, heroes, etc. Also could incorporate into a lesson of how glass is manufactured.

Favorite Quotes:

“So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians” (p. 1).

“Would any decent, kindhearted individual become a writer? Of course not” (p. 167).

Page 308 (I’ll say no more about that).

“That man, however, is a fantasy writer, and is therefore prone to useless bouts of delusion in literary form” (p. 309).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Progress Report on My Writing


-Two notecards scribbled with scene ideas.

-Zero actual pages written


...I did stuff of some sort.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

REVIEW: The White Darkness

McCaughrean, G. (2007). The White Darkness. New York: HarperTempest.

ISBN: 0060890355

This Printz award winner was first published in England in 2005 by British author Geraldine McCaughrean. This beautiful and challenging read takes readers and fourteen-year-old Simone on an unexpected and arduous odyssey to Antarctica. The 373 page novel features wonderful characterizations, from the masterfully depicted insanity of one character, to the betrayal of a love interest and then to the well-researched portrayal of the historic figure of Captain Oates as an imagined friend and coping mechanism.

The novel features references to Greek myths, historic facts and some works of literature that McCaughrean has delved into before in her previous writings.

This book is challenging not only due to its use of vocabulary, but also because of the dangerous quest na├»ve Simone is recruited to make. About midway through my reading of the book, I found myself asking, “Is it over yet? Please let this end.” but at the same time, I did not want it to end.

Activities to do with the book:

Research projects on Antarctica, Antarctic explorers, paranoia, coping mechanisms, antibiotics, pollution, Symmes’s Theory etc.

Dramatic inquiry with visiting the Antarctic.

Favorite Quotes:

“I have been in love with Titus Oates for quote a while now—which is ridiculous, since he’s been dead for ninety years. But look at it this way. In ninety years I’ll be dead, too, and then the age difference won’t matter” (p. 1).

“I’m planning on being older in a year or two” (p. 363).

A Plan, No Man, A Way

For the next week I'm entering a self-imposed writer's retreat in my living room. Cheapest retreat ever.

Write or go crazy!  (Or both!)


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