Random Thoughts

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

A Success!

The past two weeks my evening students were working on a WebQuest about famous Americans. It was pretty cumbersome because they have very limited computer skills, but it really ended up well.

I had them begin by choosing a person to read and write about.  They were supposedly able to spend an afternoon with the person and could ask them questions.  These are largely low intermediate students, so we spent time on writing questions before they set out to do their “interview” with the person. I had links to two sites with information on each of the people.

I changed the process of the WebQuest, only having them write the paragraphs in 3rd person as it took so long for them to find the information they wanted. I am totally fine with the single writing assignment.  Most of them write it by hand and then typed it up and then revised it — at least getting rid of red and green lines.  Those who were there every day and worked faster were able to really edit their work, but others had to settle for less than perfection.

Following the writing, they practiced reading what they had written and eventually recorded it. This was the most difficult part because none of them had ever tried to record their voices on a computer. Is took a couple tries for most of them to be happy with their final product, but in they end they were really proud of what they had done.

There are many things I would change about this project before I tried to do it again, but overall I am quite happy with it. The students worked hard to read and understand, to write and then fix their writing, to read as fluently as possible. They were engaged the whole time.

So even though I went home after class last night exhausted, I was really happy. That doesn’t happen every day!

I’m still around… somewhere!

My posting this month has been even worse than usual.  I am not sure why.  I feel really stressed by my classes that started in March.  I know that is at least part of it.  Just when I think I get one class on the right track, the other one is totally not where I think it should be to do what I have planned.  I get that one straightened out, and then the first one gives me problems again.  This is week 4 of an 8-week course, so this roller coaster won’t continue too much longer.  I don’t really see it ever getting easy, though.  The students are at too many different levels.  What is appropriate for my non-reading students doesn’t work well for my students who read but are afraid to speak.  It’s a challenge balancing everything out.  And most of the time I feel pretty good about what we are doing. But it takes a lot of thought and planning.

I also teach an online class that just started last week. I had to finish getting it ready and then deal with all the inevitable first week questions and uncertainties. I have been teaching this class for a long time, and it isn’t terribly time-consuming, but it is just one more thing to think about.  For some reason right now, anything that requires thought seems to keep me occupied far more than it should.

And my husband has been out of town for most of the last 6 weeks, working on a house we own but hope to sell some day.  That means he isn’t here to do all the tasks he usually does.  He is great about making my life super easy on the days I teach — when he is here.  I have really noticed his absence!  I think, too, that not having him here to counterbalance my work stress has been a big part of it. He isn’t here to remind me that I don’t need to worry about things as much as I have been.

There have been a lot of other extra activities this month, too.  Nothing bad, but just adding to my feeling of being over-extended.  I just can’t seem to focus on any subject long enough to feel like I have anything to say that is worth posting.

It all sounds pretty lame when I read it here.  Guess I need to stop making excuses and get back to writing!

March Reading

It wasn’t as good a month for reading as February was, but I am not complaining.

I read two non-fiction books:

  • there is no goat by Jennifer Dunham was the story of the fourteen months Dunham spent as a civilian working in Afghanistan. It was a good book.  She alludes to criticism she has received for the book, but I cannot criticize it. I thought she did a good job of showing what the culture is like. I have never lived in Afghanistan, but I have lived in many other countries. Dunham presented an unbiased view based on her experiences. Working with Afghanis as she did, she was in a position to learn a lot, and I am glad that she decided to share her experiences in this book.
  • 52 Ways to Get Unstuck by Chris Mandeville was a book of exercises to try when you are stuck in your writing. I tried a number of them as I was reading, and I can see their value. Mandeville shares the exercise and shares the experience she or another author had when they tried it with their own writing. I expect I will go back and look at this one again when I am working more on the second book my son and I are writing.

Mysteries and Thrillers:

  • Cold Call by Dean Wesley Smith was a good story. A group of retired police detectives works to solve the murder of a friend of one of them – the latest in a series of murders by a serial killer. The characters were interesting, and I really enjoyed reading about them. I know I will read more of this series.
  • Legend of War Creek by Randall Reneau is the fourth book in this series. I have read the third one but not the first two. This story, like the third one, was excellent. While some things happened that I object to, Reneau did what he had to do to move the series along.At least I hope there will be more books in the series. Brandon will be a different person in any future books, but I think he would still be worth reading about.
  • Terror Unleashed by Wesley Robert Lowe was a good book, but I was confused at times. There was a flashback that wasn’t clearly a flashback – at least not to me. Sometimes it seemed that there were little pieces of the story in Lowe’s mind that didn’t get transferred to the page. There was a lot of violence, but most of it wasn’t too bad. In spite of all that, I will be reading more about Noah Reid, the main character. I expect the subsequent ones will benefit from Lowe’s experience writing this book.

Speculative Fiction

  • Mageborn: The Blacksmith’s Son by Michael G. Manning was a very good book. I have been reading so many fantasy books lately, that I have seen the basic idea many times: child born to magical parents who die is raised by non-magical person but he ends up saving the day. This was an excellent story built on that basic premise. I will definitely read more in the series.
  • Ren of Atikala by David Adams was in a boxed series that I bought. I read it mostly because it was the next book after The Blacksmith’s Son. It involves races of people that live below the surface of the earth. Parts of it were a little confusing to me because they involved wandering around below ground, but overall it was a good story.
  • Magic of Thieves by C. Greenwood was another good book. It varies from the aforementioned storyline of a magical child raised by non-magical people in that the young heroine was raised by a band of thieves. It is a good story, the first in a series of 6 books. I plan to read more of them.
  • An Oath of Bothers by Morgan Rice was one of the more unhappy books in the series. We are getting close to the end, and things seem to be falling apart more than ever. But in spite of that, I loved the book. There are three more books to go before we reach the end, and I am trying to spread them out a little because I don’t want to be finished with the series. I have really loved it.

I read two books of historical fiction:

  • The Shopkeeper by James D. Best is part of an interesting series taking place in the West in the late 1800s.  The main character, Steve Dancy, sold a successful business and moved West with the idea of writing about his adventures. He has so many adventures, though, that he doesn’t seem to have been able to write about any of them by the end of this book. Dancy is not entirely a likable character, but he is interesting. As the blurb on Amazon says, “Steve Dancy tales. Honest Westerns. Filled with dishonest characters.”  There are five books in the series, and I hope to read them all.
  • Uneasy Spirits by M. Louisa Locke is another in a series I have been reading for some time. Set in San Francisco at the same time Steve Dancy is working in Nevada, this book tells the story of Annie Fuller’s detective work, investigating some fraudulent spiritualists. It is a great story. Annie Fuller and her friends are all totally likable. This is the second book in the series, so it takes place before the last one I read. That wasn’t a problem at all, though. I really recommend these books!

I listened to three audiobooks, all of them Dr. Who stories:

I liked all three very much. The Marian Conspiracy was probably my favorite because I really enjoy history, and this story had The Doctor traveling to England when Queen Mary was on the throne.

I thought I might get more reading done last month because I had a week of break from classes, but somehow or other that didn’t happen. Not that I did anything else, really. But I am happy with the reading I got done. Let’s see how April goes!

Update on the writing

It’s been a long time since I was brave enough to talk about my writing. Too long. But here I am to say that I think the first book is done and ready to go. We have to do one more read through, but it is all formatted and just waiting for the green light.

I am so happy about this. It has been too long.

Now, I just need to get the second book finished! It’s sitting at over 31,000 words, about a third done. Let’s see how it goes over the next few weeks.

February Reading – final batch of books

OK, now we finally get to the speculative fiction I read last month.

  • Special Offers by M.L. Ryan was a really fun book to read. There are ereaders with special offers, and then there is an ereader with special offers like Hailey Parrish got! She ordered an ereader because she wanted to get her book collection under control, but in the process of doing so, her life got more than a little crazy. This is the first book in the series, and I will probably end up getting the rest of them before too long.
  • A Land of Fire by Morgan Rice was #12 in the Sorcerer’s Ring series. I enjoyed it every bit as much as I did the previous books. I had thought the introduction of new characters would bother me, but they didn’t. I hope you will consider reading these books.
  • Out of Time: A Paranormal Romance by Monique Martin was one of the first ebooks I acquired, and for some reason I never read it until now. What a shame! I completely enjoyed the book, and I plan to read the other 8 that currently populate the series. I hope you will, too! As the title of the copy I bought says, it is a romance, but that is on;y part of the story. And it isn’t a romance in the bodice ripping vein. I loved it!
  • Bellwether by Connie Willis was everything that I could have hoped for in a book by Willis. I always expect to learn a lot from her stories, and I certainly learned a lot from this book. There is some explicit knowledge sharing since the book is about two research scientists, one of whom is investigating fads, but it is always just hilarious. I can always hear Ms. Willis saying these little tidbits, and I always laugh. As a matter of fact, I can hear her throughout this book. If you like Connie Willis, I think you will love this book. And if you don’t love Connie Willis, you should!
  • Concealed Power by K.J. Colt is the first in a series of four books. This one was filled with family intrigue, political intrigue, and a lot of action. The thing that stands out about this book is that the poor girl Adenine can never be sure of what is true. So the reader is always guessing. There are no clear bad and good guys in this book – except Adenine, who is the good guy. Everyone has their secrets. I want to read the others in this series before long. I really liked the story and Colt’s writing.
  • A Rule of Queens by Morgan Rice was yet another in this series. And it was very good. The new characters introduced in book 12 are now fully involved with the main story characters, and their fates are thrown together.  Four more books to read in the series. I can’t wait!

So that is it for February. I think March will be a good month for reading, too, but we’ll have to wait and see to know for sure.

More February reading

Back again to continue with my February reading.

Mysteries and Thrillers

  • Playing with Matches by Julie Hyzy was an OK read. Actually, I kind of liked it, but the basic premise bothered me a little.  The main character, Riley, does background checks for a dating service.  I guess I am just too old to see that as something real.  Aside from that, though, it was a good story.
  • Murder in Aix by Susan Kiernan-Lewis was a good story. I like Maggie and her French husband. I started late in the series, so I know I need to go back and get some of the story from early on.  I plan to do that, too. Having lived for many years in other countries, I can relate to Maggie’s struggles as an expat. By this point in the series, the worst of the struggles seem to be over, but she still has moments.  And that is real; it isn’t necessarily a smooth process. The mystery was very good, by the way!
  • A Trifle Dead by Livia Day was a fun read.  A very fun read! Tabitha Darling has inherited the police department as customers at her cafe due to family ties to the police force. They don’t really fit in with her vision of the cafe. And they are all very protective of her, to boot. They complicate her life in many ways! The mystery is a good one. Tabitha is an interesting character. I question some of her decisions, but maybe she’ll see the light before it’s too late.
  • To the Bone by Jeff Carson is another example of my inability to read series in order. (This is book 7 of the series.) Fortunately, the books stand alone extremely well, so I don’t feel like I was missing anything. Most of the characters involved in this story except for David Wolf and some of his fellow cops were individuals with less than sterling characters. Wolf is one of those believable characters who is good but not perfect, in charge and yet recognizing that there are some things he can’t control. I like this series a lot.
  • Murder in Nice by Susan Kiernan-Lewis is actually the next book in the series after Murder in Aix. I had more trouble with this book because Maggie did a lot of really stupid things. There was a lot of family drama that I wasn’t comfortable with but it probably wouldn’t bother anyone else. The story was very good. I would have bought the book just for the cover, but the story didn’t disappoint me at all.
  • The Geneva Decision by Seeley James was an excellent story. The characters seemed very real. I have no real knowledge of the world of high level security companies, but nothing here seemed to contradict what I would expect from what little I do know. Pia Sabel is a interesting person, a soccer star turned security company boss. While that might seem like a unlikely transition, it worked for me. Pia is obviously new to the position, and she is treated as such by those who now work for her. She makes some rookie mistakes but also makes some good decisions. Watching her try to figure out how to do her job was almost as interesting as the main story. I have purchased the second book in this series and will be reading it soon.
  • Crooked Man by Tony Dunbar was a great read. It was set in New Orleans, so that got my attention right away. Tubby, the main character, is a wonderful character. He isn’t a perfect man by any means, but he is a good one. The mystery kept me guessing long after I knew who had done what because there was still so much to get sorted out after that. This was the first book in what is now a series of 8. I am going to come back and spend some time with Tubby again.

Well, that is it for the mysteries and thrillers. I’ll be back to talk about the science fiction and fantasy books I read.

February Reading

I went crazy last month! Well, it might be better to say that I did a lot of reading last month to keep me from going crazy!

I read two non-fiction books last month:

  • Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman was an important book for me to read. I am sure I am not writing a blockbuster novel, but it can’t hurt to make it better using some of these techniques. He stresses the outlining and revision process.  He talks about creating big characters. And he gives plenty of examples so you are left with no doubt of what he is talking about.Reading the examples from “big” books, I saw that I could make my little book a lot better.
  • Writing Horses by Judith Tarr initially made me think that I should take out all reference to horses in my books, but after I finished reading, I realized that I just needed to be careful with what I write about them. And I really think I have been. But I am re-reading to manuscripts to be sure.  If you are writing something that includes horses as character, this book will prove highly beneficial.  In the same way that reading about the “jungles of Manzanillo” –  when I lived there and knew the closest thing to a jungle was a small nearby banana plantation – irritated me and took away from my enjoyment of the book (which I have long since forgotten, of course, except for my irritation with this obvious lack of research and understanding), gross errors in connection with horses will turn off a reader who is knowledgeable about horses. 

In historical fiction, I read only one book Their Golden Dreams by Willard Thompson. It was part of a series about California during the days of the gold rush. Unlike most stories set in this time and place, it was not really focused on the gold rush. Instead it gives insight into the politics of the time and the lives of the many different peoples who lived there. It was an engrossing story, and I really loved it. I feel like I learned a lot from the book, but I never felt I was being taught. It is the third book in the series. Now I have to see about getting the first two and reading them!

I listened to three audiobooks: all Dr. Who stories that I got through Humble Bundle. (These books are no longer available there, but you should check out the site if you aren’t familiar with it. They always have wonderful offerings.) I don’t have enough Dr. Who experience to talk about them as Dr. Who stories, but as stories, I liked them a lot.

I’ll be back later to tackle the other two categories: Mysteries and Thriller and Speculative Fiction.

 

 

Changes to my reading list

Well, I just remembered at least part of why I went from a genre reading list to a monthly one: some books are hard to pigeonhole!

I am currently reading Bellwether by Connie Willis. I love Willis’s writing, but I have picked this book up and set it down (figuratively, of course — it is on my ereader) a number of times. It had nothing to do with my interest or lack of interest in the book. It was because I couldn’t figure out how I would classify it once I finished it! I know — that’s a silly reason not to read a book, but it is honestly why I was putting off finishing this one.

So, I decided that I would combine science fiction and fantasy into speculative fiction. It is a better name for it anyway, I think. And I am totally comfortable with putting Bellwether in that category when I finish it — probably tomorrow!

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.

Fantasy

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!)

Audiobooks

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.

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