Sunday, April 30, 2017

Summer Approaches

It is April 30th... Tomorrow May begins, and in three weeks time I will be finished with spring semester, 2017. The year has flown by quickly, which is nice because there's nothing sweeter than summer vacation. But I also feel as though many creative opportunities has blown by as well. I still have not learned how to manage my time well, at least not during the school year. Maybe I'll never learn.

As I mentioned last week, things have been busy, in a very good way. My eldest daughter has chosen her college. My youngest daughter is kicking butt and taking names in her two college courses (math and history). My wife is continuing to build her career as a health coach. And I'm doing what I do best -- talking to students about literature and creative writing.  We've been working hard, I believe, and for the most part I think we've been having a good time.

My blogging projects (the daily themes) have temporarily fallen to the wayside, and it seems that whenever I work on my book the words come painfully slow. Yet, I am not beating myself up too much for the lack of productivity. In fact, I've been thinking about the Big Picture today.

When I was walking the dogs across the green belt near our home, the sublime beauty of the day, the profound pleasure of just being alive, suddenly overwhelmed me. If you already know me well then you probably know that this happens a lot for me. I have no shortage of "stop and smell the roses" moments. I've taught the book "Tuesdays with Morrie" too many times not to feel immensely grateful every single day.

But gratitude aside, I still find ways to grumble and feel self-pity, and it's almost always in regard to my writing career. I'm never satisfied.

But today, as I was walking the dogs I was thinking "I'm 45 years old. If I am lucky, half my life is over... And if my luck is average, then odds are I only have 30 good years left." Maybe I have a lot more, maybe I have a lot less. You might think that these thoughts are depressing, but they aren't...

Because this means I have 45 amazing years locked in the canister of time. There are many mistakes and regrets in those decades, but the vast majority of those years are filled with joy, love, and laughter. And I've told a few stories along the way, and a couple of them might outlive me.

That's a pretty darn good feeling. I hope it stays a while.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Word Count Wednesday - April 26th, 2017

What Am I Working On?

I hit the pause button on both the play and the novel... Instead I am working on a chapter book about squirrels. This makes me look rather flaky... but I think the change happened because I always want my agent to have something out in the Publishing World, and currently it seems that the KinderDragon submissions have resulted in a series of very nice "no thank yous."

Word Count: 1500

How Do I Feel About the Process?

If I can finish this picture book (about 10,000 words), I will feel excellent. But if I don't finish it by the first week of summer vacation, I will be very annoyed with myself because that will mean that an entire semester flew by without me finishing a project.

What Am I Reading?

Some awesome new stories by my Creative Writing students.

Monday, April 24, 2017

My Daughter is an Anteater

Wish I had more time to blog about what's been going on... but here's the quick version.

My daughter has chosen her college: UC Irvine!!!

More later!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Word Count Wednesday -- April 19th, 2017

What Have I Been Working On?

I have had more free time lately, but I'm still not getting back to work on my novel or the play. I've gotten distracted by a children's book idea.

Here's the thing. It takes a LONG time to write a full-length play and an EVEN LONGER TIME to write a novel. But a picture book can be conceived and created in less than a week. So, it's very tempting to forgo the big uncertain projects and return to my comfort zone: the Picture Book.

So that's what I've been doing. Haven't finished anything new, but I've had several good ideas and just as many false starts.

Word Count: 1200

How Do I Feel About the Process?

Mixed feelings. I'm trying to write more stories from a child's perspective -- and it's proving more challenging than I'd imagined. I used to be good at this POV... Where's my inner child when I need him most???

What Am I Reading? 

Speaking of my inner child... I've been reading old Spider Man comics.

Also... I am about halfway through Stephen King's Eyes of the Dragon.

What Am I Watching?

I recently binge-watched two seasons of Better Call Saul. I have to say, I loved returning to the world of Breaking Bad -- and I never imagined I would have such sympathy for a low-life lawyer named Jimmy McGill.

The Reviews Are In!

Kind words about our new book from Kirkus Reviews:

"...Exuberant illustrations, emphasizing aqueous blues and greens..."

"...Instructive on several levels—and good, wet fun!"

It's funny -- months ago I was telling myself that I am going to be the kind of author that doesn't pay attention to what the critics say. But then, as soon as I heard that a review came out, I rushed to Google to find it. I couldn't help myself. Perhaps I'll try to be the kind of author who doesn't bother reading what they say about me on Goodreads... But who am I kidding?

I'm grateful that Kirkus likes the book! And I'm especially glad that the article rightfully praises Micha Archer's beautiful artwork.

Read the complete review...

Saturday, April 15, 2017

"Recalculating Route"

On Thursday I graded a whole mess of papers. It was the last batch until Finals Week. That means from now until May 12th I won't have any papers to grade, which means I can return my attention to creative projects.

But I didn't get any writing done yesterday (Friday). Part of that is because we spent much of the day packing for the weekend. Then in the late afternoon we drove out to Palm Desert. That's right, I'm at COACHELLA! (But we're not hear for a concert, we're visiting the Grandparents.) But the other reason I didn't jump back into writing is that I wanted to take a moment to reflect on where I am going as a writer.

Sometimes I feel like I am just throwing random stuff on the wall to see if it sticks. And sometimes I feel like my goals are very focused (such as the year I spent writing Duck Town).

Sometimes my goal as a writer is simply to make people laugh. Then, there are projects that are very personal -- and these are the ones I write without the expectation of the work ever making it to publication.

But sometimes I become overwhelmed with a thirst for success... I want so badly to impress publishers and editors that the my creativity dries up, and the only words that come tell stories that are trite and cliche -- I become too eager to please.

Whenever I go down this path, I eventually realize that it doesn't lead to anything of artistic value (or monetary value for that matter -- I'm not talented enough to be a sell-out).

When we were driving to the desert, we took a detour to avoid a patch of traffic. Whenever we do this, our GPS device starts to say, in her patient robotic voice, "Recalculating Route." How many times, as a writer, have I said this to myself?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Word Count Wednesday - April 12, 2017

What Am I Working On?

Wish I had something more inspiring to say, or at least something I could brag about... But instead it's merely been a week of grading essays.

Word Count: ZERO

How Do I Feel About the Process?

I lost the novel's momentum. Hopefully once these papers are graded, I'll be able to return my energy to my creative projects.

What Am I Reading?

Lots and lots if essays... For English 1A and 1B. I finished all the Malcolm Gladwell essays and now I am moving on to the Poetry Essays.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Home Stretch

Not ashamed to say that I am counting the days until summer vacation. (36, for those of us keeping track.)

This has been a wonderful semester, one that I am not in a hurry to see end. I am blessed with very productive and insightful students. In fact, my English 1B students are some of the most diligent pupils in recent memory. Just about all of them are keeping up with the reading.

And it goes without saying that I am loving my Creative Writing class.  Hopefully I'll teach this course again in the not too distant future -- but that won't be happening this fall. Instead, I'll be teaching the world premiere of our Drama Studies course, so that will be fun too.

Anyway, despite loving this particular semester, I am looking forward to returning my focus to my creative projects. Summer is when I make my best stuff, and hopefully Summer 2017 won't let me down.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Resolution Check-In: April Edition

As you may know, if you read this blog, I am trying to keep tabs on my New Year's Resolution. My brain is a bit mushy right now because I've been grading essays all the live long day, but I'll do my best to be reflective.

1) Take More Photos (at least two pictures a week)

If I was part of the Selfie-Generation, taking pics would be second nature. But for me, I have to keep reminding myself about this one. It does help that I adopted my wife's iPhone 4. I just check, and it looks like I took a total of 69 snapshots in March.

It helps that we went to several cool places, including the touring production of Fun Home, the Universal Studios park -- complete with Hogwarts, Vasquez Rocks, and Disneyland. So, I am still keeping up with this resolution. I guess I should start posting more photos on the blog -- but as I mentioned before, the quality isn't great.

(By the way, I'm already off to a good start for April's quota. Mackenzie and I went out of state to visit colleges, and I took a bunch of photos.)

ACHIEVEMENT: 25% Complete

2) Write / Sell a New Picture Book

Holy cow! Big news on this front. I haven't signed a contract, so it's not official... but it looks like my agent sold Picture Book #5!!!!

When I can post specifics, I will certainly do so. But for now, let me say that this book sale was very unexpected. It's a book that I wrote a while ago (not the one that was most recently sent). The publisher had it for a long time, and after several months they decided to go for it. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson: Whoo-hoo!

Again, things can always fall apart... but for now we are going to consider this:


3) Generate idea for next big project (Complete 25% of it)

I have been adding to my middle grade novel off-and-on. In part because I let life (and essays) get in the way. In part, because I'm still trying to figure out who these characters are... and what the exact plot will be. It sounds kinda sloppy, right? But I am confident that I will eventually create a novel that I am proud of... whether or not publishers will want it is a completely different issue.

So, I believe I have added another ten pages... Which means I need 80 more to reach my goal. I am curious to see how things turn out next month, because I have slowed down this week. I am switching back into Picture Book writing mode, at least for a little while.

ACHIEVEMENT: 20% Complete.

4) Work on a creative project with my daughters (YouTube video and/or Podcast) 

Emily and I were chatting about this, and I discussed the motivation of Youtubers. What draws them to this medium? Is it something that we want to pursue? If so, why?

Part of me wants to try to have this type of social media presence, but it might simply be motivated out of a desire for fame/recognition -- a way to try to create attention to myself as an author. And the more I think about that, the more it seems that my energies might be better spent actually writing instead of trying to brand myself as the John Green of the Picture Book World. (Although now that I've written that phrase, that does sound pretty awesome.)

In related news, Emily has been improving her ukelele and songwriting skills, so I think some Youtube posts might be arriving on her channel. (After she makes a channel.) Maybe I'll shift my focus and just concentrate on helping her film whatever she wants to film.


5) Show my appreciation more often / strengthen relationships and communication. 

I am very lame at this aspect of my resolutions. And that's kind of a surprise to me. I had considered myself a naturally empathetic person who is anxious to reach out and connect with his fellow human. However, based upon this month's results, I am a selfish hermit.

I don't think I made any progress on my list of folks. Let's hope I get this percentage up next month.


6) Lose ten pounds. 

Yep. I'm still good with this one. But I did eat a sausage sandwich, complete with a large coke, so perhaps if I were to weigh myself I'd discover that I gained it all back. (I'm not stepping on that scale!)


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Word Count Wednesday - April 5th, 2017

What Am I Working On?

This week I have been plotting and world building, not to mention developing character bibles for my middle grade novel.

Word Count: 1020 words (all of it outlining, no prose)

How Do I Feel About the Process?

Good -- but I just received a fresh batch of essays to grade, so it will be about two weeks until I can return my concentration to creative writing.

What am I Reading?

Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

The Wisdom of Jim Carey

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Book Sale!!!!! & a Book Giveaway Contest!!!

For a limited time only, grab top notch middle grade books at their lowest prices ever, including AWARD WINNING TITLES, like The Storytellers and Ennara and the Fallen Druid! Also, one lucky winner will receive a bundle of 5 of the titles listed below! Scroll down to enter. But hurry! The giveaway ends on April 10th!!!

THE ROCK OF IVANORE (Book I: The Celestine Chronicles)
by Laurisa White Reyes
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook)

The annual Great Quest is about to be announced in Quendel, a task that will determine the future of Marcus and the other boys from the village who are coming of age. The wizard Zyll commands them to find the Rock of Ivanore, but he doesn’t tell them what the Rock is exactly or where it can be found. Marcus must reach deep within himself to develop new powers of magic and find the strength to survive the wild lands and fierce enemies he encounters as he searches for the illusive Rock. If he succeeds, he will live a life of honor; if he fails, he will live a life of menial labor in shame. With more twists and turns than a labyrinth, and a story in which nothing is at it seems, this tale of deception and discovery keeps readers in suspense until the end.

THE LAST ENCHANTER (Book II: The Celestine Chronicles)
by Laurisa White Reyes
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook)

Months have passed since Marcus and Kelvin succeeded in their quest to find the Rock of Ivanore. Kelvin is living as royalty in Dokur, and Marcus is studying magic with Zyll. When Fredric is murdered and Kelvin becomes king, Zyll and Marcus head for Dokur in hopes of protecting Kelvin from meeting the same fate, though it quickly becomes apparent that none of them are safe, and Marcus has had disturbing visions of Zyll's death. With the help of his old friends Clovis and Bryn, joined by new friend Lael, a feisty girl in search of her mother, Marcus uncovers a powerful secret that will change the course of his life forever.

2016 Spark Award Winner
for Best Non-Traditional Middle Grade Book 
by Laurisa White Reyes
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook)

12-year-old Elena Barrios' father has AIDS, a new disease in 1992 with a 100% fatality rate. Rather than face certain ridicule and ostracism, Elena tells her friends anything but the truth, fabricating stories about him being a writer and researcher. But the reality is Elena resents her father’s illness and can’t face the fact that he is dying.

When she is befriended by an older black woman named Ang who tells stories about her own father and the history of prejudice against African Americans in the years before the civil rights movement, Elena is transported into these stories, allowing her to experience them first hand. With Ang's help, Elena discovers the value of every individual, but will that be enough to help her say good-bye to the person she values the most?

2013 Moonbeam Silver Medalist
for Best Preteen Book
by Angela Shelley
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook) / $5.00 (print)

Ennara has always been told she'd have legendary magic when she grew up, but she felt like the most normal girl in the world...
Until one night when she is attacked by a shadowy demon on her farmstead. Suddenly, Ennara is thrust into a world of magic, alchemy, and monsters, and she is charged with a quest to find an ancient sword that can end the shadowy curse--just as it ended the Fallen Druid centuries ago. To succeed, Ennara must confront pirates, servants of the Fallen Druid, and those who would use her magic for their own ends. In the end, she must learn to rely on the strengths of her friends and herself, and the deepest truths of life in the world of medieval Lan.

by Wade Bradford
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook) / $12.55 (print) 

Connor's summer is off to a rough start: the camp bus almost crashes, his cabin mates don't trust him, and the girls on the other side of the camp constantly outsmart him. But when he and his friends Tasha, Parker, and Kimberly investigate the mystery surrounding the "Ghost of Dead Billy," they begin a hilarious adventure that is worlds away from your typical campfire story.

by Terry Deighton
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook)/$5.99 (print)

Henry Johnson has a best friend, a crush, a life-long enemy, and no idea his life is a science project.
Then other people’s thoughts start popping into his head. He thinks he’s going crazy until he discovers he’s one of several kids with genetically modified abilities, including the school bully. To find out how they got tweaked, Henry faces betrayal, his parent’s abduction by a greedy scientist, and becoming frenemies with the bully. Can the Tweaks use their new abilities to avoid the greedy scientist on their trail?

Books 2, 3 and 4
by Dorine White

[Book 1: THE EMERALD RING is available HERE]

Sale Price: .99 cent (ebook) / $7.99 (print) 

Welcome to New Orleans, home of Mardi Gras, jazz music, and voodoo. 8th grader Melanie Belaforte is home for Spring break and itching for excitement. Late one night she discovers a hidden chamber and a secret journal in her deceased Aunt Florence’s bedroom. The diary contains the writings of a mad woman, along with vague clues to the whereabouts of a ruby necklace that once belonged to Cleopatra. The ruby bestows upon the wearer the power to hear other people’s thoughts- even the thoughts of the dead! And so the hunt begins. Melanie, her best friend Sybil, and a haunting specter unravel clues that take them from crumbling graveyards, to the busy streets of the French Quarter, and then into murky swamps, all to find the prize. But they need to watch out, because a murderous cult is matching them step for step, and they won’t give up, ever.

Sale Price: .99 cent (ebook) / $7.99 (print)

The world knows it as a cartoon with dancing teacups and broomsticks. To twelve year old Claire La Fleur, it is family history, and the power behind Belle’s mirror is real. Every ten years her family gathers to see if the mirror will awaken, and for the last two hundred years it has slept. This time, Claire’s touch awakens the magic within the diamond looking glass, a direct portal to the past and a way to communicate with Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Egypt. The lure of power brings with it many perils, and a betrayal close to home thrusts Claire into a treacherous underworld. To protect the mirror, she travels into the Louvre museum in the dark of night, searches abandoned subway tunnels, and walks the catacombs of the dead.

Sale Price: .99 cent (ebook) / $7.99 (print) 

Travel with past heroes and a new adventurer to the historical romps of London and the scorching sands of Alexandria. Fourteen-year-old Akmir, raised from birth to sacrifice everything in the pursuit of Cleopatra’s magic gemstones, holds within his hands the secret location of the fifth and final mystic gem: the blue sapphire. His quest leads him to England, where four other gemstone searchers: Sara, Melanie, Kainu and Claire, are on the hunt. A pawn of the Roman Brotherhood, Akmir must choose his own path, whether to follow in his father’s brutal footsteps or stay true to his mother’s Egyptian heritage. Clues, puzzles, and danger rule the day. What will happen when the power of all five gemstones are brought together? This is a battle for life and death, and only one side can win.

by LeAnn Mathis

Franklin dreams of a life with equality, but thinks it will never happen. When he transfers to a new school and meets Maddie, he realizes he has access to more power than he thought. It's the 60s and time to make some changes.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Epic World Building

This semester, my Creative Writing class and I have been discussing the differences between Plotters and Pantzers. Plotters do tons of outlining, character bibles, notecard arranging, story charting... Sometimes they do all of that before they even begin chapter one... And sometimes that Plotting happens in stages.

Pantzers write by the seat of their pants, and they discover the story and characters along the way. Sometimes the author has a destination in mind; sometimes they just follow where the characters take them.

More and more, I enjoy being a Pantzer. I wasn't always that way. When I write screenplays, I had a solid outline for each project. but I don't know that it really worked well for me. After all, how many screenplays have I sold? (Answer: Zero.)

There are other terms for Plotters and Pantzsers. Ellen Hopkins spke to the class via Google Hangouts last week, and she thinks of ut as being an Architect versus being a Gardener. Great metaphors! (Leave it to Ellen to be all poetic and genius like!)

I think I'm about thirty pages into my novel. I don't know the exact page count because I have been typing most of it on my Ipad. (Don't worry, I've been emailing each chaoter to myself as a back up.) So far, writing by the seat of my pants has paid off. but now it's time to put on my Plotter hat. I thought I would simply start by writing an outline of each of the characters in this family. I started by trying to create a character bible for a relatively minor character, the Grandmother. Outlining her character led to many other questions, relevant to the plot, and before you know it, I'm outlining some pretty cosmic and philosophic aspects of this imaginary world I'm building.

It's rather epic, actually. It makes me think of how much fun Tolkein must have had building a vast imaginary universe. Let's hope I don't get lost for too long, caught up in my own little world.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Jet Lag and Children's Lit

My eldest daughter and I are touring a couple colleges this weekend. On Thursday, we flew from Burbank to Daytona Beach (with a fuel stop in Albequerque and a tranfer in NYC). During the flight I had foolishly hoped that I would get some writing done; however, I lacked inspiration, and it didn't help that I was sitting between two people. Mackenzie was in the same situation in the row behind me. It was a crowded flight out to New York. And when I got sleepy, since it was a red-eye flight, I couldn't fall asleep. My neck is sore just thinking about that flight!

But we arrived on Friday morning, and we spent the first day exploring the campus -- which is amazing, by the way. I don't know which school my daughter will ultimately choose, but for anyone who wants to join the aerospace industry, this is the place to get your foot in the door.

While Mackenzie sat in on a couple classes (Aerospace Physiology & Turbine Rock Engines) I tinkered with new ideas for a children's picture book. Because I was so exhausted, keep in mind we stayed up all night long, I would start outlining ideas and then begin to doze off right where I sat. I would stumble into weird dreamy thoughts, often about the objects around me. For example, I was thinking of a story about a little boy who desperately wants to win a trophy because his sister wins trophies all of the time. (You know, a standard picture book plot, right?) Then, my mind would wander, and I would think things like, "Then the little boy gets trapped in a plasma chamber and his sister must use her engineering skills to save his life."

So, my writer's brain was simultaneously imaginative and useless!

Now that we're well rested, today is much more fun. We toured the campus, talked with some incredible students and faculty, and now we're relaxing back out our hotel. I might go do some writing down by the swimming pool. I better enjoy this Florida weather because tomorrow morning we journey to Nebraska.

Stay tuned!