Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Humor in Homeschooling

I have homeschooled my children off and on since my oldest could recognize letters at two years of age. Sometimes it has gone very smoothly, and other times it has been quite rocky. Right now I am committed to it because the local and middle high schools just aren’t rigorous enough for my academic standards. My second daughter, nicknamed affectionately the Booge (don’t try to figure out why, I gave it to her and even I don’t know), is finishing seventh grade. She is a delightful child in many ways, with just enough age appropriate rebellion to add a strand or two of gray to my hair. The Booge is not enamored with the boxed curriculum that we use, and recently she displayed both her feelings and her cleverness with the execution of one of her writing assignments, which I am posting with her permission. The assignment’s directions were to write a sequence of events paragraph of 150 words or more, using the given topic sentence, which is the first one below.

                Monk the Monkey

Of all the spectacular performances at the circus, the antics of Monk the Monkey were the most amusing. To start off his act, he quietly crawled out of his cage before running around in circles and yelling so loud, he almost yelled off everyone’s heads. Next, he took some grenades and started to juggle them. They weren’t lit. Then, the ringmaster gave him some daggers and he started swallowing them whole. He cut himself many times. After that, Monk jumped on the back of a nearby clown, and started to hit him quite hard; he almost knocked the poor clown unconscious. Finally, at the end of the act, Monk motioned for everyone to quiet down. The orchestra started a drum roll.  Every act in the circus came out and counted to five. Then Monk exploded. It was quite funny; I laughed really hard, especially when I saw a bawling kid in the front row that had been blasted with monkey guts. So if the circus comes to town, visit Monk the monkey, the funniest monkey who ever exploded.

I am almost tempted to change her nickname to Monk in honor of her creativity. What grade would you give this monkey?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Does Bella Swan Get a Bad Rap?

A while back I came across an article linking feminine characters from Twilight and The Hunger Games to the political trends of their publication dates. Due to their wild success and vast differences, comparison and contrasts are inevitable between the books and their characters. Click here to see the original article. The author, Gregory J. Helmstetter, argues that Katniss is a better role model for teens because she is a strong, independent character. That may be true, but I think Bella is getting a bad rap.

Teenage girls (and women) love both characters because they embody our fears and our hopes. When we are weak and unable to cope, we want someone in our corner protecting us, especially if he's as perfect as Edward seems to be. We all hope we could summon the inner strength to be the one that does the saving when needed, to be capable of not giving up when life is blatantly unfair. I don't think politics has anything to do with either character’s popularity, but rather it is a matter of the author creating characters that speak to the essence of feminine desires.
Is Katniss really a better role model? For feminists reading the first book in each series, undoubtedly Katniss is closer to their ideal. She is the dominant character, who saves the weaker and nobler Peeta. Bella is the feminine version of Peeta, loving with a persistence that refuses to give in, even though she is the weak one. Ultimately, as Bella’s story develops through the Twilight series, she grows stronger despite her fears and weakness. Her strength becomes manifested as a shield capable of protecting her loved ones from certain destruction.
The power of love is a strong message, as are the hidden strengths of frailty. Where feminists go wrong is in losing sight of the paradox that femininity has embodied throughout the ages: a deep capacity to love and nurture makes the weaker sex more powerful than the man with the club by reminding him of what everyone wants—not dominance, love. That's not a bad message for youth by any standard.

Friday, May 17, 2013

My Love/Hate Relationship with AutoCrit

In my quest to polish up my MS and be ready to query, I decided to check out, a website I saw recommended several times on the ABNA discussion boards. Probably many of you have heard about it and used it yourself, but for newer writers, or writers just starting to explore tips on the internet, this website is designed to be a tool for editing your drafts.

I completed my MS years ago, and then life got in the way of pursuing publication. A few months ago, I dusted it off and did an editing pass, then had a critique partner review it. During this time, I have spent waaay too much time on the internet looking for advice on getting published, while somehow managing to write 30,000 words of my WIP. The net result is that I have learned quite a bit about the publishing process, and the seemingly impossible odds of getting an agent and/or publisher to print my novel. Apparently, the key is lots of luck and good writing. I can’t do anything about the luck, but I can keep polishing the writing. If I had extra money lying around I would hire a professional editor, but with four daughters, chances are I will never have the funds for that.

A subscription to AutoCrit is actually very reasonable and allows access to all the features, though you can run 500 words through the wizard and get limited feedback for free. I decided to subscribe, and ran my prologue and first chapter through the wizard. The results were reassuring and dismaying at the same time. While I am pleased not to have a problem with clich├ęs or redundancies and pacing is good, the overused words are a killer. More distressing is the fact that my MS needs to be simplified for my audience. So, I am revising, one chapter at a time. But, in the long run, the book will be better, and I just might land an agent and sell the book.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Revisiting a tearjerker on Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day! In keeping with the theme of today, I thought of Robert Munsch's Love You Forever.
This is one children’s book I noticed sold almost 400,000 copies in paperback in 2012 according to Publisher’s Weekly. (See here.) I am absolutely positive its continued popularity isn’t due to kids, but to the effect this PB has on parents and/or grandparents. When my children were young, they would select Love You Forever as a bedtime story specifically to see Mom bawl because I could not read it to them without breaking down. No other read aloud ever had that affect on me, but even now just thinking of it I tear up. My copy has long since disappeared as my kids are tweens and teens now, but I imagine non-parents might be baffled at my reaction as I recall the simplicity of the words. In fact, the repetitive nature of the story, while common to PB’s, might annoy some adults. The killer here is the poignant love of a mother for her child being returned in full by the child as mom grows old and dependent, and for me the repetition emphasizes the strength of that love in a gut-wrenching way. If you have young children and haven’t read it, put Love You Forever on your read aloud list, but have the tissues handy.
Want to check it out? See here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Writer's Voice entry

The Princess Who Was Not query
Two girls, born a day apart in the kingdom of Arga twelve years ago, have fallen victim to an innocent deception with unintended consequences. The tiny princess Arlan is spirited away to the desert to save her life, but tragedy strikes, delaying her return. Raised as the princess, adventuresome Lilia loses her secure identity when the queen reveals her impending physical transformation into a Flyer.
The king hoped to save Arga from war with a betrothal, but Lilia’s transformation and Arlan’s frailty seem destined to thwart his plans. Together, the girls decide to secretly obtain a miracle that will save Arga.  The risks are great, if they don’t get caught first.  Their mission takes them upriver to a country patrolled by fearsome, gigantic birds and across hostile mountains.  Unlikely kidnappers and a deadly swamp threaten not just their quest, but their very survival. 

Both girls stretch themselves to the limit as they try to save the country they love while finding their place in the world. The Princess Who Was Not is a completed MG fantasy of 46,000 words about friendship and overcoming obstacles.  It appeals to readers who like Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda.
The Princess Who Was Not excerpt
“You are not my daughter.” Queen Lanah’s soft voice trembled, so difficult did she find the task of undoing her deception. She spoke to the girl believed to be the Princess Arlan. The two sat alone in the queen’s private chamber not long after the princess had celebrated her twelfth birthday.
“What did you say, Mother?” Confusion passed over the girl’s face. Was this some cruel joke? Surely not, for the Queen was a kind and gentle woman.
“Dear child, I love you truly as though you were indeed my own daughter, but the time has come for me to tell you the truth. I cannot keep it from you any longer. Soon it will be obvious that you are not my child. Now that King Galen is considering a marriage alliance with Rangul, it is imperative I stop hiding this.”
Any thought that perhaps her mother was playing an uncharacteristic joke on her died when the bewildered girl fixed her eyes on the pain-filled face of the queen. All her life, she had been reared in the castle of Arga City as the only, and deeply cherished, offspring of King Galen and Queen Lanah, rulers of Arga. Now she watched Lanah with a stillness born of her royal training and waited for the queen to continue. Deep within her mind she considered the consequences of the queen’s words, torn between panic and disbelief.
“Always I have called you Mother. If I am not your daughter, whose am I?"