Random Thoughts

about reading, writing, teaching and anything else that interests me

Learning from others

As I opened WordPress tonight and began reading, I came across a post by Allison K Williams called Turns Out the Problem was Me. In the post she describes the process of discovering that her memoir wasn’t as good as she had thought it was. It is a great post, and I hope you will read it.

After ten years and 96,000 words, Ms Williams realized that she would never be able to publish the book.  Her reaction was probably a lot more sane than mine would have been:

And boy, it sucks to realize that ten years of work wasn’t enough…

I have been having that same thought about the book my son and I have been working on off and on for about 7 years now. The more I read about writing, the more flaws I see in that first book.  (I am still telling myself that the second one, which is at about 31,000 so far is much better!)  As I try to decide whether or not it is worth trying to “fix” the first one, this post brought me some insight that I think I needed.

Williams says that in spite of what might be seen as a failure, she has really come out ahead. She says:

 I still won.

I won the ability to write a whole book–now I know I can. … I won finding out people liked the underlying story, that when workshop teachers and guest writers asked me about the topic of the book they got excited, that somewhere in that 96K is a set of facts worth sharing in some way. I won building a writing habit and sitting down every day alone or with a writer friend and living a life that feels like a writer’s life. … I won being able to step back and look at my work with a critical eye and say, “close but no cigar,” and next time I’ll know it faster. I won knowing that failure isn’t death, or even death to my career.

And that is what I needed to hear, I think. The ability to write a whole book – even a not very good one – is something not everyone has. I have learned so much from the process of writing that book, and no one can ever take that from me.

And there really is no reason why we can’t restructure this book and make it a better book and then publish it. We haven’t burned any bridges with it yet.

But even if we don’t, even if we never publish this or any other book, we have written an 81,000 word novel. I am proud of that fact. But, as Williams, says,

Next project, here I come.

January reading, part 3

OK, back for the last installment.


These were both good books. As I have said before, they are easy to read — something that I cannot say about all fantasy books.  I have hesitated to read book 12 in the series because it introduces new characters, and I am kind of partial to the ones I already know, but I think I will start on it here soon anyway.  I really cannot recommend this series too highly. Please consider reading it if you are even remotely interested in fantasy.

 Historical Fiction

  • The Sword of the Ronin by Travis Heermann was a book I got because it was presented as accurately depicting life in 13th century Japan. I read it as more research for the novels. It was good. And from what I know, I think the author did a good job.  The book contained some fantasy elements, mythological creatures. It made me feel pretty good about our books. But research aside, I enjoyed the book. It was a pretty well-told story.  It is the second book in a trilogy.
  • Song at Dawn by Jean Gill was another good story. It takes place in 12th century Europe.  I loved this book.  There was mystery, intrigue, romance, and a lot of history. This is the first in a series of three books, I believe. I hope to read them all.  (I just bought the second one, so prepare to read about it here next month!)


Again, more research. These audiobooks from Librivox gave me a lot of good insight and details that I have been able to include in the books my son and I are writing.  I found the books fascinating.

So that’s it for January. I’ve already finished 2 books this month, so I am off to a good start. Check back in a month to see how it went.

January reading, part 2

Well, class went pretty well, and I am back to continue with my reading list for last month.

Mysteries and Thrillers:

  • The Clue by Carolyn Wells is a very old book, but that didn’t detract from the story. Wells was a very good writer! It was a good mystery without all the extra stuff that is so common in today’s mysteries.
  • Eleven by Carolyn Arnold is the story of a new FBI agent who has his hands full with a wife who calls him at work, a former girlfriend who works with him every day, a boss who seems determined to see him fail and a killer who seems to have targeted him. It was a good story and kept my interest. I am not sure I liked the FBI agent, though; he seemed a little whiny.
  • Waist Deep by Frank Zafiro is a great book. Stefan Kopriva used to be a cop, but that was a long time ago. He is down on his luck until an old school acquaintance asks him to investigate the disappearance of his daughter. I highly recommend this book!

Science Fiction

  • Parley by Jamie McFarlane is the third book in this series but the first one I have read. That lack of background knowledge was not a problem, though. The story was a good one and there was just enough mention of past events to make the present understandable. I will read more of these books.
  • Dark Space, #1 by Jasper T. Scott was another good book. There were lots of twists and turns, more than there are in some scifi books.  On Amazon it is listed as being for grades 6-12, but it didn’t read that way at all to me. I really enjoyed it. The only problem I had with it was my fault; I started reading it and Parley at the same time. I got really confused! Two space operas at the same time was too much to keep straight!
  • Second Star by Dana Stabenow was a great story. I think part of why I liked it so much is that the main character is 41 years old. She has the emotions and experiences and life of an almost middle-aged woman. For me as a past middle-aged woman, it was fun. I think too many of the books I read are about people in their 20s and 30s. Nothing wrong with that, but a different perspective is sometimes nice. Of course, people in this world live to be over a hundred, so 41 is not middle age there! This book is much better than it sounds from my description here. I hope you will give it a try.

I really enjoyed these science fiction books. I don’t think I have ever read three in one month before! I used to focus primarily on mysteries, but I find science fiction and fantasy are much more interesting to me these days. I think part of it may be the somewhat happier endings; people die, but it is usually only the  bad guy. I don’t know. We’ll see how this plays out in February!

OK, it’s getting late and I have to get up early tomorrow. I still have three categories to cover. I’ll try to get them done in the next day or two.

January Reading

Lots of reading in January.  Let’s start with the non-fiction:

  • Writing to the Point by Algis Budrys was an interesting book, but it didn’t really work for me. I am not sure why. I think it wasn’t as useful to me now as I am trying to get these books finished as it would have been if I was ready to publish.  His advice about not needing an agent, for example, was good, but it isn’t where I am at now.
  • Schooled: How the System Breaks Teachers by Dalton Jackson was a very frightening but very accurate picture of teaching today — at least at the high school level. I wish people who are not in the classroom every day would read it because it would give them a much better picture of what teachers are up against. This isn’t the usual anti-testing rant (which I would agree with, too!) but rather more working with parents and teachers. While I never really had the kinds of negative experiences he did on my last job, the potential is always there. It is, I think, especially dangerous for men.
  • Jump Start Your Novel by Mark Teppo was a writing book that really spoke to me where I am right now. It is about outlining for non-outliners, about getting your ideas for a book down on paper so you can start to write it. I tried his method with the second book I am working on, and I was amazed by ow it made me look at things differently. I was confused about who the story is really about, and now I’m not.  I am 30,000 words into the story, but this method helped me see it all more clearly. I tried the method retroactively on the first book, and I was happy to see that it worked pretty well, that the story I wrote fits his pattern.  There was a little confusion in one spot, and I recognized that this is the part of the book that I am still not really happy with, so I now have some ideas of how to fix it.

I have to go to work now, so I will come back to this later to cover the other categories of books.

The ups and downs of Adult ESL

My students are all adults. Most of them work full-time jobs and have families in addition to trying to improve their English. Attendance is always an issue. Most come when they can, but they aren’t always able to come. So it makes forward progress tricky. This semester, which we are three weeks into, is a perfect example. Especially in my night class.

I wrote earlier about how this class was too advanced for the lessons I use in the morning. I thought and read and finally came up with a new approach for that class. Last Monday when I planned to start it, I was disappointed to see that only two out of five students came to class. And, of course, they weren’t the two who most needed a different approach. So I quickly rethought everything and decided to go with the morning class plan for them, with the understanding that I might have to revise that plan if the others came on Tuesday.

Class on Monday went well. I had four students on Tuesday, including one of the really advanced ones. I stuck with the morning class plan, and it went pretty well.  I talked to the advanced student, and she was OK with it. She is able to help the others and does so quite willingly.  As we are doing a lot of writing, she is able to see where some of her weaknesses are, so it is useful for her. On Wednesday again it was just the two from Monday. We continued with the morning lesson and it went very well. They were amazed by how quickly the time went.

I say that I used the morning class lesson with this group, but that is only partially true. I adapted it. Because the students write the texts we read, the texts are different. The grammar points that come out of them are different. The oral reading and pronunciation activities are different because of the different sizes of the groups and their differing needs. I try to make it as appropriate for whoever in in class that night as I can.

But I have finally come to realize that these two women are the core of that class. They come almost every night, no matter what. They are the ones I need to concern myself with most. I can adapt for the others when they come, but I should not have to adapt the lesson for these two every night. They deserve to have a lesson that is truly appropriate for them. And that is what I am determined to give them — to the best of my ability.

Of course, as I write this on Saturday night, I know full well that the make up of the class next week may be quite different. I may have to reevaluate — again!  This drives me crazy sometimes, but it is also what I love about my classes. They keep me on my toes. I have to be creative and flexible. I complain sometimes, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way.


A good problem

I have been teaching two adult ESL classes since August, and I guess I have gotten lazy. The morning class is billed as Beginning and the evening as Mixed Level, but in reality they have both been intermediate, with the morning class being low intermediate and the evening class high intermediate. Life was pretty easy. I did one basic plan and used it, with modifications, in both classes. It worked pretty well. As the semester wore on, those modifications became easier and easier as I knew my students.

This semester, though, I find myself in a very different situation. My morning class, still ostensibly a beginning class, only has one beginning level student, with the rest being intermediates. This class will work fine with the way I was running class last semester. My evening class, however, is something totally new. I have intermediates and advanced students. I even have a couple who are almost proficient in English but want to work on their writing and oral fluency. In this class, what I did last semester is not going to work.

This week, for example, we got through almost everything I had planned for three days of class in two. (Fortunately, I had next week planned, so I will just start on that work early!) This is great — but it means I have to rethink the semester. I knew I was going to have to beef up the reading and writing we do in that class, but I think I may have to make bigger changes.  Last night, for example, we worked on sentence stress as we read a text we had written on Monday. They didn’t have any trouble with it at all. The pronunciation work I do in the other class will be unnecessary for most of these students.

I am glad that our classes are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It gives me several days to figure this out. I am excited to have the challenge, but a little worried, too.  We’ll have to see what I come up with.

Back to work!

It is back to work today. Classes don’t start until next week, but we have registration today and tomorrow.

As usual, I have some mixed feelings about this. Part of me hated to get up this morning and get ready to leave the house. But once I got there, it was fun. I am really lucky in that I love teaching and love the students I work with. My colleagues are great. So I guess it is just laziness that makes it hard to go back.

But regardless of how I feel about it or the reason for those feelings, I am off and running again! By this time next week I will be really happy that I am. It’s just hard those first few days back!

December Reading

I thought about writing this post yesterday, but I had this fantasy that I would finish another book before midnight. But I didn’t. Oh well…

I only finished one short non-fiction book last month: Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing by Dean Wesley Smith. I wrote earlier about the effects it had on my writing, and I am happy to report that I am still going strong with that. I am still not sure why this book had the power to get me going, but I am really glad that it did.

The only short story I read was “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster. It was actually a very good story.  I have not read much by him, but I think I will now.

I didn’t travel much by myself last month, so I only finished one audiobook: Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn. I am amazed at how many little ideas for the books that I got from it. I downloaded the free Kindle edition, too, so I could refer to it as I am writing.

Most of my reading this month was novels, of course.  I read quite a few!

Working Stiff by Kevin J. Anderson is a great collection of the cases of Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. If the premise appeals to you, I promise you’ll love the book!

Deadly Games by Lindsay Buroker is the third Emperor’s Edge book.  Not sure why it took me so long to read this one. I loved it. Buroker is one of my favorite authors.

A Dangerous Road by Kris Nelscott was undoubtedly the best book I read last month. It is historical fiction / mystery.  Set in Memphis in 1968, it gave me more insight into the sanitation workers’s strike than I had as an 18 year-old living in Illinois. And the mystery itself was fascinating. I want to read more in this series.

Huckleberry Fiend by Julie Smith was the second Paul McDonald book by Smith. As I said when I wrote about the first book, I am not as crazy about this character as I am about her other characters. The book was good, though.

The Dante Connection by Estelle Ryan was another excellent book. I love the main character, Genevieve Lenard. She is smart. She is socially challenged but manager to gather a loyal group of people around her as she solves the mysteries. There are 8 books in this series, and I hope to read them all.

Queen of Starlight by Jessa Slade was more romance than science fiction, but it had enough of both to keep my interest. I am not usually a reader of romance, but this had a really good story that kept me reading.  That being said, I probably won’t seek out the other books in the series. Not because they won’t be good — I am sure they will be — but because it just isn’t my genre.

A Grant of Arms and A Sky of Spells by Morgan Rice were the next two in the Sorcerer’s Ring series, and I am still loving it. The characters are growing and developing as they move through their very well-written adventures. I am definitely going to read this entire series.

Slow Curve on the Coquihalla by R.E. Donald is actually the first book in this series about a former Mountie who has become a truck driver. I read book 2 in the series, Ice on the Grapevine, in September. These are good books, interesting mysteries. This one was a little more obvious to me than Ice had been, so it means that the third and fourth books in the series will probably be even better! I know I am going to read them.

A Cutthroat Business by Jenna Bennett was a cute story. Well, maybe cute isn’t the right word. There is a lot of murder and mayhem, but it takes place off camera so it doesn’t really detract from the cuteness of the story. I admit I knew who the bad guy was early, but it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of it. And it was nice to be proven right at the end! I am going to read more in this series, I’m sure.

So it was a good month for reading.  Let’s see how this month goes!


Update on the writing

I am happy to report that I have been busy working on the novels. My son and I worked out some details that we needed to in the first book, and while I am waiting for him to complete the final fight scene, I am back to work on the second book.  I have actually written over 8000 words in just over a week.

I have to credit one of the books I read this month, Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing by Dean Wesley Smith, with encouraging me to really get going on this again.  He breaks the writing of a novel down into words per day and days to completion. If you write 250 words a day, about 15 minutes a day, you’ll write a book in a year. That seemed real attainable to me. and it got me going.

He goes on to say

Oh, my, if I worked really, really hard and managed to get 30 minutes of writing in per day, I could finish two novels in a year.

Thirty minutes. That’s all it takes. So I have been trying to write for at least 30 minutes a day, every day. And it has been great.

I find myself getting stuck from time to time, not sure where the story is going. I then open my journal and start exploring the possibilities. Or I get up and take a break to think it through. But I come back to it. And so far it is working.

I am also learning to write scenes out of order with this book. I don’t know why I didn’t do it before — except by accident when I realized something I had already written didn’t really belong where it was. I am a pretty linear person, but this non-linear approach is making the writing easier.

This book has really opened my eyes about a lot of things. I recommend it to anyone who has gotten bogged down in their writing.

I am truly excited about writing again. And that makes me very happy.

End of the semester

Well, my classes are over for the semester.  I want to do some work to revamp the classes for next semester, but I am still just in the “thinking about it” stage.

I am pretty happy with my classes as they were, but since most of my students will be returning, I can’t just recycle them.  I still want to follow EnglishBanana‘s You are the Coursebook method, but I need to build in some reading strategy instruction, too.

I’ll let it roll around in my mind for a few more days.  Then I will get out my journal and start writing some of the ideas down.  I would like to have it all worked out before the first of the year because registration starts on January 4th.

But in the meantime, I am also going to enjoy a little down time!

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