Monday, May 26, 2014

Blog train contribution!

Joining a blog train courtesy of Melissa Duclos, one of my many and numerous online writing friends, who in this day and age are as real as any of my in-person writing friends.

The blog train's purpose is to get writers (and publications in some cases!) talking about what we're working on and our process for writing (or publishing.)

So without further ado, let me let you in a little bit on my process and what's on deck for me in what I hope is going to be a very productive summer.

What am I working on?
I write science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers, but I have also been working on my freelance portfolio lately. I've got a new piece up at BookTrib.com about how to not be a junk food vegetarian, and will likely have a few more articles in the coming months. I plan to pitch something to a few big publications, more on that after I succeed.

But in fiction, my main goals for the summer are to just *finish* several things that have been in-process for far too long. First up is my Middle Grade scifi adventure story ADRIFT, about what happens when a young teen and her two siblings find themselves alone on the family spaceship when pirates attack. Next will be the book I've been working on for an age that really needs a sequel, but first I need to release this one as it's been too long. It's called A STAR TO LEAD ME and of all the things I've written lately, it's the one I'm most excited by. It's a scifi novel for Middle Grade readers set on a colony ship where all people age 13 and above suddenly fall into a coma-like sleep, unable to be roused. The main character (a spunky 12 year old whose birthday is in a few days) has to figure out how to control the ship and the kids aboard lest the spaceship meet certain doom.

So you know, your average everyday space-faring fun and games. :D

How does my work/writing differ from others in the genre?
I'd say the biggest thing I'm doing that's different from other writers is using space as a setting for middle grade books without making them silly aliens-ate-my-homework kinds of things. Not that there's anything wrong with aliens eating my homework, just that it's not the only thing I like about science fiction. Honestly, my favorite books when I was a teen reader were Heinlein and Asimov space adventure tales. I am writing to fill a void I see in the genre/age range, as the dystopian trend has taken hold in YA and regular science fiction set in space in middle grade books is somewhat unusual.


Why do I write what I do?
Ah, I touched on this in the previous answer, but mainly I write these kinds of books because they're the kinds of books I want to read. I go into more details here.

How does my writing process work?
I am a burst writer. I've finally come to terms with that, even though it's taken years. Most writing advice you hear talks about setting a daily habit. I love daily habits, it's the only way I know where my keys are because I have a daily habit of storing them in the "key place" as soon as I walk in the door each day. But daily habits for writing work for me only in bursts, not ongoing. I kick myself about the lack of a daily habit at times like this. But here in the clutches of the last days of school for my 2 school-aged children it's surprising that I'm together enough to be wearing pants most days. The number of performances, concerts, end of year parties, recognition banquets, awards ceremonies, and other general hullabaloo is astonishing. A daily writing habit isn't practical nor is it an achievable goal for me at this time. Instead I'm focusing my energy on the upcoming summer with a looser-than-usual schedule and many goals.

In my burst phases, my writing process is generally to get my word count in as early in the day as possible, which is usually at or before noon. I'm not an early riser by any stretch of the imagination. I type blazingly fast, so I can usually knock out 2000 words in an hour or so, as long as I know what the story I'm writing is about. It's another thing I kick myself about, as I should be able to produce so much more than I do because I type so fast. I have a family, though, and that's first in every list I make, so I try to put that self-pressure aside. There will be time aplenty to write uninterrupted when the kids leave for college, which will be shockingly soon.


Now, on to my friends, who I am very interested to hear from about their works in progress and writing  methods.

First up is the lovely and talented Nina Niskanen, who  is a software engineer, writer and blogger from the beautiful Helsinki, Finland. She is way too excitable about science, space exploration, Disney, and mythology. Consequently she likes to write science fiction and fantasy in which women do awesome things, often in space or Finland. Nina's online evil lair of glitter is at ninaniskanen.com







Next is Trina Marie Phillips, who I know from the shared writing blog The Prosers that we both contribute to.

And last is TBD - I'm waiting to hear from a few folks I've asked to tag but didn't want to ambush with a blog train request!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Now available for purchase - SNOW WHITE AND THE ASSASSIN'S GUILD! (Kindle only)

Now available for purchase - my short story SNOW WHITE AND THE ASSASSIN'S GUILD!

I wrote this short story during a workshop I took with Mary Robinette Kowal called Writing on the Fast Track (I highly recommend the workshop! It was conducted via online google+ hangouts, small number of classmates, we did exercises and critiqued each other's work from week to week, and otherwise just had a ball. It helped me refine my ability to write short stories.)

The story blurb:
Snow White is frustrated in her role as an assassin in the king and queen's service. As the third princess, it is her duty to help clean up the messes in the kingdom, the Enchanted Forest in particular. But what Snow White really wants to do is sing! Can she remake herself while still remaining in service to the crown or will she have to leave to pursue her dreams?

And the unbelievably gorgeous cover:

Buy it now from Amazon for 99c! Kindle-only at this time, until I get the chance to make the .epub versions… ;)

If you do read it, please consider writing a review or at least giving it a rating, it helps us independent authors so much! Thanks. XOXO


Friday, March 21, 2014

COVER REVEAL! Snow White and the Assassin's Guild

Check out my beautiful cover for my upcoming short story, SNOW WHITE AND THE ASSASSIN'S GUILD


I'm so thrilled with the design, from Delilah Stephans Design. Absolutely beautiful. Thanks so much! Story goes on sale on Saturday, March 22, 2014.


Monday, March 17, 2014

High Tech Language Arts - 5th grade - Lesson summary

Taught a lesson about short-form storytelling in High Tech Language Arts class today for 5th graders. Included the inimitable John Wiswell's Alligators By Twitter story, which I became of fan of before it was even published, having been on the editing staff at Flash Fiction Online magazine since its inception. (caution: some curse words present. With John's permission I modified them for my lesson.) 


And then to finish blowing their minds, I told the 5th graders about 6 Word Stories. 


You could have heard a pin drop when I finished, "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." 


Each child is now working on their own short-form story using Sarah Prineas' The Magic Thief as inspiration. 


It is very difficult to tell who is enjoying this more, me or the students...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Girls invent the neatest things!

I am continually amazed at the wonderful content the A Mighty Girl team comes up with, curating from all over the web but also adding in links to resources and additional information. They've become one of my primary go-to sources for great stories about girls doing awesome things all over the globe.

This latest story of theirs is no exception. Girls from Zagreb, Croatia, have invented a teddy bear embedded with sensors that can be given to children in the hospital. When the children interact with the teddy bear, it records vital signs and sends them wirelessly to smartphones or computers nearby. A small task that for many children can be very scary or uncomfortable instantly becomes just a simple interaction with a toy. What a great way to harness technology AND innovation!

Be sure to head over to A Mighty Girl to read more about it, and to like their FB page, you won't be disappointed!



Friday, January 10, 2014

Dear World -- about kids and science

Dear World: I want you to know that the effort required to get children, in particular girls, interested in science is really rather basic. Engage with them. Talk to them like they are real people instead of very small idiots, and answer their questions. Even using humor is fine, as the Australians have done (those Aussies are good at humor.) Just engage. Please. Our future depends on this. Love, me.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

LEGO robotics and girls and awesomeness

This past fall I had the opportunity to coach a LEGO Robotics team through the FIRST LEGO League, aka FLL. In short, it was *awesome.*

I coached a team of 7 girls, all Girl Scouts with the Girls Scouts of Northern IL, all fourth grade students at Da Vinci Academy in Elgin, IL. The Girl Scouts of Northern IL had received a generous grant from the Motorola Solutions Foundation to sponsor this kind of STEM activity for girls (please tell me you know what STEM stands for. Please? Okay, I'll tell you *again* -- Science Technology Engineering Math. Sometimes you'll see it with an "A" for arts added, to make it STEAM. It's a shorthand way of referring to these kinds of sciency techy mathy things, particularly as it relates to kids.) The girls' school, Da Vinci Academy, provided us the space for meetings and opportunities for mentoring from the experienced FLL Coaches who coached two Da Vinci middle school teams this year.

FLL is a great organization - you should read about their mission and goals. A quick overview/summary that in no way does the organization justice is that they want to get kids (ages 9-14 in the US/Canada/Mexico. Ages 9-16 globally) excited about science and technology.

Hey wait a minute. *I* want to get kids excited about science and technology! That's why I write science fiction for kids. This is what we call a win-win. Wintastic. Wincredible. Windelicious.

At some point I'd love to delve into the details of this great team of fourth graders and their enthusiasm and excitement as we went through the process of learning what the competition required and how to program the robot.

For today, though, I'll share the really fun and really exciting part that happened after the dust had settled, after the competition had completed, after the girls had the opportunity to present their skit in front of a crowd of 400 or more at the regional competition. (!!!)


The exciting thing was when we were invited by Kim Moldovsky, The Maker Mom, to appear on WGN - TV (a local Chicago TV station with wide syndication to other markets. Where else would you find your reruns of The Jeffersons and Family Ties and broadcasts of the Cubs?) during National Robotics Week. Here is Kim's post after our shared appearance.

The studio was small, so we brought two of our seven girls. They did a fantastic job, though they also learned a bit about how fast time passes on television. And how sometimes you don't get a chance to say what you meant/wanted to/say anything at all. And about how the robot doesn't always do what you want it to (in fact, this plagued the girls during the competition, too. Learning to handle the frustration with grace is, to me, one of the better lessons the girls learned through their participation in FIRST LEGO League.) And a special bonus, the girls got to watch the news anchors do the newscast, and discovered that the cameras that shoot the news anchors at their desks are all ROBOTS!


So please enjoy this clip, and if you have any questions about robotics in general, the FLL in particular, girl scouts, awesome girls, coaching a group of kids on a science/tech kind of endeavor, or anything, ask in the comments! Thanks, and enjoy!



Monday, January 30, 2012

Media and Design Club for Kids Meeting 2

Media and Design Club for Kids
Meeting 2

Activity 1: Door Investigation
Activity Objective: Evaluate design choices by touring the school and counting the different types of door styles we encounter.

Discussion: This was a hands-on exercise where we walked around the whole school and noted and counted the different door designs we saw. I had the kids bring notepaper and pencils so they could keep track. Some drew the doors, some wrote down descriptions of key features. Before too long we had amassed a list of 30 different door types in our very small school!

This gave rise to the opportunity to talk about design features and constraints. For instance, most of the classroom doors have a hydraulic arm on the top, in addition to hinges. We talked about how at a school, one of the most important features of any design is going to need to be safety, so the hydraulics were used as a safety feature to keep doors from slamming. At home, where usage is much lower, we don't generally have these kinds of features.

We discussed design variations, too. We noted several classifications of doors - the "bathroom door" type, which has no window, and came in several varieties (with lever handle, push bar), the "classroom door" which has a skinny window and aforementioned hydraulics. The "School door" which is all glass. I began introducing the design concept of "affordances" - wherein certain styles of design afford certain uses. A pushbar on a door affords pushing, a pull handle affords pulling. This is a concept we'll come back to as we move into different styles of design, as it is particularly relevant in information design of computer systems and webpages.

Activity 2: Business Card Investigation
Activity Objective: Translate some of the concepts of design to the world of business cards.

Assignment: I handed out business card magnets (conveniently stolen from my own garage door where business card magnets go to retire and pass a quiet existence.) One by one I asked the kids to bring their magnet up to the whiteboard, place it with the others, and then talk about what kinds of information was on their business card and what they thought some of the reasons or rationale behind the design of the card were.

Discussion: I was absolutely astonished at how even the 3rd and 4th grade students could talk about things like the use of color on a business card and friendly graphics in an attempt to convey a warm, welcoming storefront, or the way a pizza place used a photograph of pizza with a checkered table cloth and raw materials in the background to show they used fresh ingredients. We also talked about other design concepts like boldface, larger fonts, and the use of whitespace to separate key areas of information on a card. The kids got a kick out of the fact that on some business cards, the "whitespace" wasn't white at all, but yellow or blue like the rest of the business card.

We will revisit this concept using some ideas from another blog about design that I found called Bluemoon web design. Using this as a resource and our business card exercise as a reference, I'll start introducing the general design vocabulary of things like Line, Form, Texture, Value, as well as big picture design concepts of balance, movement, repetition, etc. This is the exciting part, I love introducing this whole world to these kids, each time I tell them something new or give them a word to describe something they observed (e.g., "whitespace") their faces light up and I can practically watch the gears turning as they start asking questions about other examples, firing off comparisons and anti-examples too. Fabulous!

Activity 3: Draw your own business card
Activity Objective: Apply the ideas discussed to your own design, having to make tradeoffs in how you use space, what information you give priority to, etc.

Assignment: Using the ideas we discussed with existing business cards, make your own business card for any made up (or real) business. Dog walker, web designer, secret agent, whatever you like.

Discussion: We ran out of time so we will take a look at business card designs at the next session and discuss the tradeoffs people made.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Media And Design Club: Meeting 1

I've started a Media and Design Club for students at my children's school. It's an idea that started out of a desire to get the kids involved with the creation of the school yearbook, which has previously been done by parent volunteers who are more time-constrained this year than usual. 

Rather than just doing a "Yearbook Club" though, I wanted to aim a little broader. We have a lot of time before the school yearbook needs to be completed (I am starting the club the first week in January that we're back in school.) I also have this not-too-secret goal to help kids understand what careers in technology look like beyond just the stereotype of the geek (male) programmer. 

So the idea with the Media and Design club is that we will talk about various elements of media - audio, video, writing, as well as design. Why are things designed the way they are? Why do things in the world or online work the way they do? 

This is the first in a series of writeups of our Media and Design Club meetings. I encourage you to steal these ideas wholesale (like Austin Kleon recommends in his blog post Steal Like an Artist) for your own Media and Design Club (which, for the record, we're calling the MAD club, which amuses me to no end.) Any questions? Hit me up by email or write in the comments. 

Meeting 1:
Activity 1:
Activity Question: How do we sort and categorize information?
Materials: plastic baggies filled with objects that are similar but not necessarily the same. Throw in some zingers. I used:
- A bag of coins from around the world
- A bag of US Quarters from many states/years. There were some duplicates
- Paperclips, some large, small, some plastic-wrapped, some funny shaped
- Buttons, many shapes, many numbers of holes, many colors 
 
The idea is to give the kids a group of objects that are *hard* to categorize. Where there are tricky calls to make. Does the large white plastic paper clip go with large paperclips or the colorful ones? Does the coin from Ireland go with the coin from England or with other silver ones? 

Assignment: Take these objects and organize them however you like. In 3 minutes (it took more like 2) be prepared to talk about your organization choices and how you decided to organize things the way you did. 
 
Activity Objective: Understand there are many ways to categorize things. Many different "indexing keys." 

After this activity, we talked about the many ways we could organize a big batch of photos taken over the course of the school year - by date, by event, by who is in them, by class. 

Discussion: For the Yearbook, we are going to need to sort and organize photographs into some way that lets us easily find images we want. How should we organize them? What are some ways we could organize the photos? 
The kids brainstormed and came up with this list as possible ways to organize potential Yearbook photos:
- Field Trips
- Cool Projects
- Sports
- Clubs
- Grades - class pictures, etc.
- Social events - Fall Festival, Pi Day, Spirit Day
- Auction (fundraisers)
- Holidays

How do the decisions we make about organizing things change when the objects are virtual like digital pictures? 

Activity 2:
Activity Question: What would be useful to know about this object?
Materials: A number of odd household objects. I used:
a knitting mushroom
a set of wooden nesting dolls
A knife/fork/spoon camping tool set
A USB extension cord

Discussion: Kids came up with many questions to ask/answer about the objects. Examples:
Where was it made?
What is it made of/what materials were used to create it?
Does it have any symbolic significance?
What is its function?
What's inside?
What's written in/on it?
How it looks
What color is it

Activity Objective: Understand the role of "metadata" - the information about the information, as I explained the concept to the kids. Understand how the function of an object is influenced by its design and vice-versa. How something is designed influences how we can use it.  
Think about how things are designed all around you. Chairs are a certain height, pencils a certain length. Why? 

Activity 3:
Activity Question/assignment: Design an alarm clock with only two buttons
Give students 5 minutes and a plain piece of paper to design an alarm clock with only two buttons. I erred on the side of giving them very little information, I wanted to see what directions they went with the assignment rather than guiding them to consider all the functions an alarm clock can perform and figuring out how to map those functions to only two buttons.

Activity Objective: Start to understand the idea of requirements for an object or function. Start to understand design constraints. 
 
Discussion: The kids came up with some creative ideas1 My own child spent time trying to explore a rube-goldberg type of sledgehammer/stone design to the single-use alarm clock (since it would be destroyed after one use.) Another came up with a solution that involved dials and toggles, in addition to buttons. Interesting expansion of the design because the spec didn't limit the use of dials or toggle switches. One incorporated a pie-in-the-face wakeup solution, focused much more on the end result versus the mechanics of getting the current time and wakeup time set.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

How I wrote a novel in 20 minutes a day (and you can, too!)

I just wrote "the end" today on my middle-grade science fiction novel. I wrote it over the course of forty days, with a short break in the middle to finish a novelette that was burning on me (so forty non-consecutive days.)

I'm somewhat astonished with this fact, as it didn't feel hard. I've written four National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo) novels, and they all felt hard. Hard to find the time, hard to catch up when I fell behind, hard to stay on top of, a race to the finish.

True, this one was shorter. It's complete at 44k words. It'll possibly grow to 50k words in edits, but that's the absolute max and I'm comfortable with that length. As a middle-grade novel, it's aimed at 3rd - 8th graders, kids aged 9 - 14. 44k = about 176 regular pages, which is a nice length. Of course since I'm indie publishing my work on ebook platforms these days, it's however many pages show up on the ebook reader.

But I'm convinced there were some easy tricks in the way I've been writing this summer and I'm here to tell you that you, too can write a book in twenty minutes a day. Here are my tips/suggestions/lessons learned:


1. Increase your typing speed.  
By hook or by crook, you need to get to where your hands can somewhat keep up with your brain. This is important. This is an investment in your future. This is worth your time. Take typing tutor programs online, practice typing in things from the newspaper or favorite novels (it's actually a great way to learn about writing, to type in another writer's work and feel it play out under your own fingers.) Set aside 15 minutes a day every day to practice and you'll find yourself writing speedily before long. Google typing tutors or typing test to find some options, like this site.

When I was 8 my family got our first personal computer, and my mom encouraged us all to learn to touch-type, teaching us about home keys, loading the typing tutor software (which because the computer was such a novelty was extremely motivating for us as it gave us more computer time!) I will forever be grateful to her for this encouragement, as I can now clock north of 80 wpm when I'm trying hard (and looking to perform well on a speed test) and can comfortably average 50 wpm when in that awesome "writing flow."


2. Know what you want to write...approximately.
If you're an outliner, go ahead and invest the time in your outline ahead of time (otherwise the whole 20 mins a day will be busted.) I'm more of a seat-of-the-pants writer. I have a general idea of what I want to write, the main themes I want to play with, the first set of main characters, etc., but I don't over plan. Over planning has never worked well for me.

3. Aim to end each writing session on a hook. 
Because of the kind of writing I was doing (middle grade) I could comfortably write about 1000 words/day, and that's a comfortable chapter length (4-5 pages.) By the end of a writing session, I worked toward building to some kind of hook, conflict, or something else exciting, so as to entice the reader to turn the page to read the next chapter. This is one of those general lessons you'll hear in writing all the time, but the big bonus it played out for with me was that it gave me something to fix/resolve/solve the next day in my next writing session! Can't emphasize enough how important that was for me.

4. Set (and keep) daily goals.  
Some kind of daily goal helped me tremendously. In my case, it was the use of the site 750words.com. I've talked about that site before, but the general premise is that you write 3 (250 words per) pages each day. "Morning pages" which turned out to be another of my tips (get your word count in early in the day, that way if you have more time for writing later in the day you're just creating gravy!) Because the number was low, because I type fast, I knew I could manage 750 words a day, at my average clocking along 50 wpm rate, that's fifteen minutes, sometimes less if I was really trucking. I might not have an hour a day to write right now, but I can spend fifteen minutes doing something that feeds my soul. (Arguments for giving more time to writing are put aside during kids-home-no-activities-scheduled-summers. They won't be young forever.)

Look, I know writing is hard. The old adage "Just stare at your computer til your forehead bleeds" is true for most of us writers at some point or another in our writing journey. But what I have discovered in the course of this summer project is that sometimes what's hard about writing are all the trappings I put in the way that make it hard. Not the actual writing, the writing part is easy (right? Because otherwise why on earth would we torture ourselves so?)

Come on, if you're a tortured writer perhaps that's because you either think you should be or want that for yourself. Me, I write because it's a joyous experience when the words flow or I re-read something I wrote a different day and realize it's not half bad. And as my bio says, I write for all the geeky young women out there because I have their stories to tell.

So no more complaining that I don't have time to write. I wrote a freaking novel in forty days writing only about twenty minutes a day. I wrote a chapter at a time. I ended each writing session on a hook. I gave myself daily goals, and they were SMALL approachable goals. I had a vague idea of where I wanted to go. And I wrote.

Now it's to you - can you write a novel in twenty minutes a day? If you're writing other genres, other styles, you might need to write more days. If your typing speed is still growing, you might need to write thirty minutes to get the same output, forty perhaps. But can you do it? I did, and I'm astonished that I did. So now I think I might try to do it again and make sure it's not a fluke!