Tag Archives: school

Self-Imposed Deadlines

I just graduated from Rowan University with my Master of Arts degree in Writing. I’ve been in school since Spring of 2012, after going back finally after a long leave of absence. Being in school for so long meant that I always had deadlines and structure imposed upon me by the school. This was especially handy when working on the sequels to Manifestation, two of which were written as part of my school projects (I got A’s on both).

I’ve been trying for awhile to work on revisions for Contamination, the second volume of Arcana Revived. Since this one wasn’t something I was working on for school, there have been times that I had to find the balance between working on revisions on my own time and working on school work. Since the school work had deadlines imposed upon me by my teachers, it usually got the higher priority. Now that school is over, I’m putting Contamination above everything else.

The problem is, now I’m the only one creating my deadlines.

I just missed a self-imposed deadline last week. I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through my third draft of Contamination. I have some notes and feedback from critique partners, and I’m going to be getting more feedback from my Rowan classmates, since we’re keeping in touch and we will be continuing to work together on our writing projects as time goes on. But none of them can force me to stick to a deadline. I’ve got to handle that on my own.

Working through depression makes meeting a deadline a lot harder. I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, and it’s been particularly bad over the last few weeks. Part of the problem is that I’ve left school and as a result I’ve left the structure of my class schedule. I’m also only employed part time at the moment while I look for a more permanent position somewhere in the publishing field. As a result, I’m spending a lot of time at home, alone, with nothing but my thoughts, my writing, a stack of books, and the Metroid Prime Trilogy.

All in all, it’s been a struggle to meet my personal goals. I’m pretty sure it’ll improve once I’m back in a regular work schedule. When I’m home alone everyday, there’s an extreme lack of structure to my daily routine. This makes it easy to lose track of time and end up spending twelve hours straight trying to restore the Light of Aether to the Luminoth homeworld.But when I have a regular work schedule, it’s a lot easier to work my writing and revising schedule around it, such as by setting aside a couple of hours after I get home from work each night. I need that routine, and once I get into the groove again, my writing and revising process will improve greatly (and hopefully so will my blogging schedule, since I really need to get back into a three day a week blogging routine).

In the meantime, I’m going to keep plugging away as best I can. And if you’re a fan of my first book, I promise I’ll have the second one on its way before long.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

Faking Like You Know What You’re Doing

People really seem to think I have any idea what I’m talking about.

Today I was at work in the Rowan University Writing Center, where I work as a writing tutor. One of the other tutors was with a student who needed help with a cover letter for his resume. The tutor was offering advice on how to clean up the grammar and keep the cover letter focused, to make sure that it says what it needs to in a quick, clear, concise manner. The idea is to remember that whoever is reading the cover letter has read dozens if not hundreds of others like it, so you want to get what you need to say out quick before you lose their interest and they move on to the next one.

At one point, the other tutor asked the other tutors (including me) for clarification on some point he was making. My honest response was, “I have no idea how to write a cover letter.”

His immediate response was, “Dude, you wrote a book. You can do anything.”

This is true. It is also completely false.

It’s true that I wrote a book. Though that certainly doesn’t make me qualified to write something like a one page cover letter. In fact, most authors I know tend to struggle with cover letters when they are pitching their books to agents. A cover letter is a completely different type of monster than a novel. It’s like writing in a different genre. You don’t use any of the flowery prose that might make a novel more beautiful, you don’t have hundreds of pages to work with, and you don’t get to fictionalize anything you want. Sure, you can be creative in your presentation, but a cover letter is ultimately about making a pitch, hooking someone’s interest, and getting them to give you a chance. This applies equally whether it’s a cover letter for an agent who you want to give your novel a chance, or a cover letter for your resume for an employer you want to give you a chance.

Sure, I’ve written cover letters before. I wrote one to get my current job, and I’m sure to have to write another one soon when I need to get a new job at the end of the school year. I’ve read an entire book on how to write effective cover letters. I’ve taken classes at Rowan that included how to write a cover letter as part of the program. Theoretically, I should know how to write an effective cover letter.

But really, I’m just making it all up as I go along.

I do this with a lot of things. Some of my Rowan classmates complain that I’m “so far ahead” in our graduate thesis work, because I wrote mine during NaNoWriMo last year. But I feel like I’m behind some of them since they already have more established careers than I do, or at least know what kind of jobs they plan to pursue after graduation. They act like my ability to write a lot of words in a short period of time is an enviable skill, when I am more worried about the focus and dedication it takes to turn those words into a completed product. They tell me I’ll have an “easy semester” because I’m done the first draft of my thesis, when in truth I have two novels I need to revise this spring. Usually, I just keep my mouth shut because I’m not sure how to say “I’ve got a lot more work to do than you realize” without it sounding rude.

Maybe there’ll come a point where things are easier and I’m not constantly feeling overwhelmed by work and to-do lists. But I doubt it. That’s how life tends to be, after all. For the time being, I’ll be content to get my next novel revised, find a full time job in the writing field, and work on paying off my student loans.

Hopefully no one figures out that I’m faking it all.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

New Year, Three Weeks Late

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed an extreme lack of blog posts lately. I blame a combination of depression, unemployment, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (not necessarily in that order).

Today is the first day of the new semester at Rowan University. The last semester before I get my master’s degree. After a month off, I really need to be back in school. I find I don’t do well without some sort of schedule or routine to keep me in check. The result is lots of lazing around, playing video games, and not doing any work on my revisions. Feel free to berate me about that last one in order to get me back on track.

It also leads to quite a few days where I say “I should write a blog post today,” then I end up not writing one. Mostly because it’s hard to find inspiration in a bag of Doritos and a Final Fantasy marathon. Those things are, however, chock full of calories and ennui.

On an up note, I’ve been talking to several people this past week who told me they finished Manifestation. Tock seems to be a fan favorite. I suppose that’s what happens when I take a cross between Kaylee and Agatha Heterodyne and give her flashy magic powers and a bad attitude. She’s quite neat.

I suppose that about covers what I’ve been up to. Hopefully today will be the real start of the new year for me. Though I do still have a princess to track down in FFIX, so I may be otherwise occupied.

Staring

mani_promoClick here to read Chapter 1: Magic, or here to read Chapter 2: Manifestation, or here to read Chapter 3: Distraction. Here you can read the fourth sample chapter of my debut novel, Manifestation, an urban fantasy adventure that explores the revival of magic and mystery in a world that is unprepared for the changes arcane powers will bring. Available in paperback and ebook.

 

Chapter 4: Staring

 

 

Gabby woke up in the hospital with a hard knot of pain in her stomach and a pounding headache. The room was dark but the light coming in from the hallway through the open door burned Gabby’s eyes and made her wince. Her mom sat in a chair across the room. When Gabby shifted in the bed and tried to sit up, her mom got up and crossed over to her. She stood at the side of the bed and stared down at Gabby with her lips pressed together. Gabby stared back, and the look on her mom’s face made her wish that she hadn’t woken up.

Gabby didn’t say anything at first. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t have any explanation for what she’d done. She hadn’t even thought it through. Though maybe, she thought, her mom would listen now. She lay there in the bed and waited for her mom to ask her if she was okay, or what had happened to push her to such an act.

Her mom shook her head, her eyes wet with tears. “What is wrong with you?” she asked.

“Mom?”

“How could you do something like this?” Mom asked. She waved her hands at the plastic tubes and wires Gabby was hooked up to. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done to your family? How scared we were? Your father and Anthony both had to leave work and Frankie is missing class right now because we’re all down here worried about you! How could you do this to us? To your family?”

Gabby stared at her mom, mute. She clenched her teeth together. She wanted to yell, to ask her mom why she should care about what she’d done to them when no one had asked what happened to her. But she didn’t. She turned away from her mom, shifting in the bed as best as she could with tubes up her nose and an IV stuck in her arm.

“Just leave me alone,” she said.

* * *

The baby was crying.

The baby was always crying.

Gabby went about her morning routine, getting dressed in silence, except for the sound of the baby’s cries drifting up from downstairs. In the weeks since he’d been born, the weeks since Gabby came home from having her stomach pumped, it seemed like the baby never stopped crying and her headache never went away.

She clenched her teeth and rubbed at her temples. Dante wailed even louder. She responded to the wails by throwing her hairbrush against the vanity so hard she nearly cracked the mirror. She was sick of the constant noise, and sometimes really wished the little brat was just gone.

“Five minutes, Gabriella,” her mother called out as she passed by her door. “And don’t forget, you’re coming straight home after school. You have an appointment with Dr. Caldwell at five.” Gabby didn’t bother to answer. There was no reason to. It would be her third appointment with the psychiatrist, and she expected it to be as much of a waste of time as the first two had been. She sat and tied her shoes with harsh, tight yanks of the laces. “Gabriella?” Mom snapped, stepping back and peering through the door at her. Gabby stood up and checked herself in the mirror, fixing her hair. She didn’t even glance at her mom. After a moment, her mother sighed and gave up, then turned away and headed downstairs, leaving her daughter alone with her own reflection.

She stared at her mirror image for a long moment. She’d buttoned her blouse wrong. She huffed and started redoing the buttons. She kept messing up the simplest tasks lately. Not only was Dante’s crying interfering with her concentration, but her head felt like it was being crushed under a mountain of stone. Ever since she got back from the hospital, she’d been feeling pressure in her skull. The weight she felt pressing against her head nearly drove her to tears. It got worse with the constant wailing coming from down the hall.

She dried her eyes before the tears started to fall, then headed downstairs. As she stomped down the steps the baby cried louder. “Can’t you make him stop crying?” she snapped at Adrianna. Her sister glared at her, rocking little Dante in one arm and rubbing her head with the opposite hand. Adrianna had been experiencing frequent dizzy spells and migraines ever since Dante had been born, and they’d been growing steadily worse. The medication her doctor had prescribed didn’t seem to be helping any. Gabby didn’t have anything to take for her own headaches; she hadn’t told her parents about the pressure on her skull, since doing so would mean bringing up what she had tried to do to herself.

She’d tried more than once to tell them what happened, but her mother’s attitude about the whole situation made talking to her impossible. The constant badgering and demands for answers had made it too difficult for Gabby to explain what had really happened. Instead of telling her parents the truth, she ended up yelling and arguing with them, and accusing them of not being there when she needed them. Her dad had told her that if she couldn’t talk to them, she should tell the psychiatrist instead. But Gabby didn’t know if she could trust Dr. Caldwell, either.

Gabby headed out the door without another word to anyone in her family. She’d given up on talking to them. All the yelling and attempts to grab attention hadn’t gotten her anything except for being grounded ever since she’d gotten out of the hospital. Knowing that she was being punished for being a victim made it that much harder for her to open up to her parents. Her protests hadn’t gotten the grounding lifted, nor had they gotten her out of the weekly appointments with the psychiatrist. Appointments which usually involved her sitting there and staring at the wall while the doctor tried to get her to talk.

She rode the bus to school without saying a word to anyone. She had no friends left in school since Callia had graduated the year before. Plus now that Callia had moved away for her internship, Gabby never saw her. Her school day was boring, as always. Gabby spent more time writing in her diary than paying attention to the lessons. Math, science, and history bored her to tears, and she had no interest whatsoever in social studies or current events. Her literature class was about the only one that held any interest for her, and even that didn’t seem to draw much motivation from her anymore. As if that weren’t bad enough, she spent the whole day feeling like there was a chain wrapped around her head. The pressure on her skull never seemed to go away, and it drove her to constant distraction.

During gym class that day, as soon as she finished changing in the locker room, Gabby hurried off to find peace and quiet. She skipped running track, and instead hid herself under the bleachers. She leaned against the metal supports and closed her eyes, taking a deep, shuddering breath. She despised gym class. She was no good at running, she hated the uniform sweats and t-shirts they had to wear, and she hated getting changed in the locker room. Not that she had that much reason to be ashamed of her own body; she had nice curves and was very well-developed. She’d blossomed quite early in life, just like her sister. But she thought she needed to lose weight and she couldn’t help comparing her chubby body to the skinny girls with perfect legs and no flab.

She slid down to the ground and buried her face in her hands. It was quiet under the shadows of the bleachers. She had solitude, which she both loved and hated. She didn’t want to be around anyone else anymore, and she didn’t have any friends. Not since Callia left. But being alone with her thoughts brought bad memories back. Memories of things she hadn’t shared with anyone. She had never told her parents why she took all the pills that day. She hadn’t told them how she’d felt wrong ever since. Most days her head throbbed like it was caught in a vice, though it wasn’t a painful throbbing. Just a weight. Pressure.

“Palladino!” a voice called out to her. She moaned and rubbed her hands over her eyes, trying to push past the pressure she felt mounting on her skull. She’d started crying again without even realizing it. “Get your sorry ass out here and run some laps.” Gabby got up, bloodshot blue eyes staring at the gym teacher, wishing she had the nerve to tell her off. She sighed and headed onto the track, then jogged along until she started to run out of breath. It didn’t take long at all before she had to stop from fatigue.

As she came around to the far side of the track, she found her classmate Erica and her boyfriend Charlie hiding behind the second set of bleachers. Her footsteps slowed as she watched them making out. Charlie’s hands roamed over the teen girl’s body, and Gabby wondered what that would be like . . .

“What are you staring at?” Erica snapped when she saw her. “Get lost!” Charlie turned to look at her, a dangerous look in his dark eyes. He was on the football team and built like a tank. Gabby thought he was on steroids or something; every time she saw him, he seemed to be sweating, angry, and aggressive. He stared her down with a vein throbbing in his forehead, and Gabby backed away. Her head pounded and the pressure in her skull built up. The more the pressure built up in her head, the tighter Charlie’s grip on his girlfriend seemed to get.

She watched Charlie for a long moment as she backed away, until Erica smacked his arm and yelped, “Ow! You’re hurting me.” He turned back to his girlfriend and stepped back, letting go.

“Sorry,” he muttered, “I didn’t mean to.” He looked her over with apparent confusion, then glanced at Gabby as if it were somehow her fault. Erica rubbed her waist where he’d been holding her a little too tight. Charlie mumbled another apology, then glared at Gabby again, as if she were doing something wrong by just standing there watching.

Gabby hurried along. She didn’t want to be involved in anything going on between them. When she glanced back, she saw Charlie’s eyes were still fixed on her.

When class was over and she was back in the locker room, she kept her head down and quickly got changed back into her regular clothes. She didn’t like spending much time changing; being in the locker room always made her uncomfortable. She glanced down the aisle between the lockers at Erica and a group of the more popular girls she was friends with. They were all tall and nicely figured, and few of them were cheerleaders. Most of them had perfect, tanned skin, unlike Gabby with her pale skin and freckles. They were all much skinnier than Gabby, who had a more developed chest, more curves, and more flab around her hips and waist. She tried to keep her eyes to herself as she pulled on her shirt and jeans, then leaned over to tie her sneakers.

She glanced back down at the other girls again. She stared for a long moment when one blonde girl, still in her underwear, bent over to pick something up. The girl’s panties were riding up a little, revealing a glimpse of soft flesh. Gabby felt warm. One of the girls pointed at her and laughed, and the others joined in. She tried not to hear their taunts as she quickly pulled her shoes on, grabbed her backpack, and fled.

She ran around the back of the gym, and almost ran headfirst into a group of rough-looking students. There were about half a dozen of them, all dressed in black and smoking cigarettes. One of the oldest, a tall, mean-looking boy named Rick, was playing with a cigarette lighter, passing the flame under his palm as if to prove how tough he was.

Gabby skidded to a halt and they looked up at her, then started snickering at the tears falling from her eyes. Gabby’s heart pounded and her face reddened. The laughter grew louder and Gabby’s head started to spin. The laughter from the girls in the locker room rang in her ears, echoed by the laughter of the boys outside. It made her feel dizzy with shame. The pressure around her skull built up. She turned to run away, but then Rick shouted, “What the . . . holy shit!”

Gabby looked up and saw the grass between her and the boys had caught on fire. Several of the boys dropped their cigarettes and the flames spread. Rick stomped at the flames, then looked up at Gabby with his face scrunched up in pain. Her heart pounded and her face went pale. The flames rose and spread into the shrubs alongside the building. Gabby squealed and backed away. She’d never seen a fire move so fast before.

Shouts came from around the corner. Rick turned to flee with the other boys. Gabby stood there in shock, staring at the flames as they rose up the side of the building. Then a teacher came around the corner with a fire extinguisher, and Gabby fled the scene, hoping she wouldn’t be blamed for the fire the boys had started.

The fire alarm was pulled, the students were evacuated out to the football field. The fire hadn’t spread much farther after Gabby fled the scene, but it had gotten out of control enough that the fire department had to come put it out. The students were led away to make sure no one was hurt. Most of the kids were enjoying the break from classes, mingling in small groups of friends. Eventually the principal announced that everyone would be sent home early for the day and most of the kids cheered. The school buses lined up near the football field and the students were slowly herded in that direction.

Gabby kept her head down as she walked to her bus. Most of them ignored her, anyway. She walked by students chatting with their friends, boys and girls embracing in corners and under the bleachers, and others making plans for after school. She didn’t have anything fun or social to do after school; she’d been forced to quit the school play as part of her punishment, and she wasn’t involved in anything else.

She bumped into someone on her way past, and he yelled and shoved her away. “Ow! Watch it,” he yelled. He clutched at his stomach and glared at her. His face paled and he let out a groan as he rubbed his stomach where she’d bumped him, though she’d barely touched him. “Stupid dyke.”

Gabby stared at him. Her eyes started to burn, and she breathed in sharply through her nose. Why did he have to call her that? She didn’t even know him. He was a transfer student, Jacob-something. He was a goth kid in a leather jacket and with a weird haircut. He held his stomach as if he was sick. He stared at her, sweating. She glanced around and saw everyone else was staring at her too. Her face reddened. Jacob turned and walked away, holding his stomach as though he was about to throw up.

She heard a voice from the side mutter, “Such a freak . . . I swear, she’s always staring at me in the locker room.”

Gabby blushed and lowered her head. Rick and a few of the other seniors were pointing at her and laughing. Some of the other students shook their heads and turned away. The only one who didn’t seem to be laughing was the foreign exchange student, Minori. She gave Gabby a kind smile, but that made her feel worse. She’d never shown Minori any kindness in return. Minori had grown up attending a mission in Tsuchan, and the other students teased her for being a religious freak. Gabby had always been very strong in her religious beliefs as well. She thought maybe she and Minori could have been friends.

Minori gave Gabby a shy little wave. Gabby turned away, afraid to return the friendly gesture and risk being mocked even more for hanging around the exchange student. She hurried in the opposite direction, trying to avoid any more attention.

She made her way around the football team’s equipment building and ran across Erica and Charlie again. They were pressed up against the side of the building, kissing, while the athlete’s hands slid up his girlfriend’s skirt. Gabby stood off a short distance away, trying not to stare, but wondering what it would be like to touch a girl like that. She wasn’t paying much attention to anything going on around her. That is, until she heard Charlie’s voice snap, “What the hell are you staring at?”

“I wasn’t—!” she said, then cut off when she saw he wasn’t even looking at her. He was glaring at the new kid, Jacob. Jacob was staring at Erica, and not even trying to hide it. Gabby looked up at Erica and frowned. There was an odd look on the blonde girl’s face.

“Hey,” Charlie shouted, stepping over towards the new kid. “I asked you a question, freak!” A crowd started to gather around as Charlie advanced on Jacob. A few kids cheered and hollered in anticipation of a fight.

“Fuck off,” the new kid snapped. Gabby held still and watched with a growing sense of dread. The crowd pushed her forward, while many of the students shouted and egged the two boys on. When she got closer she saw a vein in Charlie’s neck bulging and his face turning red. She stared and held her breath. He didn’t just look angry. He looked like he was about to explode. His fists were clenched and he gritted his teeth so hard she thought they might crack.

“What’d you say to me?” Charlie screamed.

The new kid stepped closer. His face was pale, and his eyes had the unfocused, bloodshot look of someone who was high. He would have to be to mouth off to someone twice his size. “I said fuck off. He kept looking past Charlie’s shoulder, over at Erica, who was still leaning against the wall. She hadn’t moved from that spot. Her eyes were locked right on Jacob’s, unblinking. Jacob’s eyes traced over her body and she squirmed under his gaze.

The crowd pressed in closer. Some of the students chanted, “Hit him, hit him!” Gabby looked around, wondering how long it would take a teacher to realize what was going on. Even if one came, it didn’t seem like they would get there in time to break up the inevitable fight.

Before anyone could stop it, the pounding started. Fists flew, and Gabby thought she saw the new kid pull a knife, though it was hard to be sure with all the confusion and the cheering that went on around her. Her heart pounded, and bodies pressed against her from all sides. Her head ached, the pressure building up, and she felt closed in from all sides by the mass of flesh all around her. She screamed and tried to push herself back. She felt trapped, and surrounded without control. She pushed against the students around her, but they all shoved inward, and her small voice was lost among the cheering and chanting.

When the teachers finally showed up to pull the students apart, both Charlie and Jacob were on the ground, unconscious. Erica stood off to the side. Her face was blank and her eyes dull with shock as she watched the teachers attend to her boyfriend who lay on the ground. She rubbed at her temples and leaned against the building as though she was dizzy.

Someone pulled out a phone to call for help. One of the teachers knelt next to the boys to check on them. Jacob was bloody and bruised, but Charlie didn’t seem to have a mark on him. Gabby stepped closer, and the pressure around her skull tightened. She had trouble focusing her vision. She looked down at Charlie as the teacher searched him for injuries, but found none. The only strange thing about him was the way the veins in his neck and forehead bulged and throbbed. Gabby’s heart pounded, and she could have sworn that the throbbing in Charlie’s veins matched the rhythm of her own pulse.

Chapter 5: Therapy


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Fieldnotes and Practice Research

As I’ve mentioned a few times lately, I’m currently doing research into racism, sports, and Native American culture. As part of this research, in the near future I have plans to visit a Native American Museum in Delaware (which, unfortunately, isn’t open weekdays until April) and the Native American Voices exhibit at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia (which I will hopefully be visiting this coming Thursday, March 13th, if all goes according to plan). While visiting these museums, I plan to collect as much information as I can, including talking to any experts I might encounter who can share more than what is seen in the exhibits.

In preparation for this, I’ve engaged in some practice field research, taking notes and studying the “culture” of a local bookstore. Alongside my classmates and fellow researchers, I observed a variety of individuals and their interactions. My goal was to capture as much about the moment as possible so that it could later be recreated as a written scene.

This is the first of three “practice research” blog posts where I’ll be compiling the results. Below are pictures of the hand-scrawled fieldnotes I recorded at the bookstore, along with typed translations of my poor handwriting and more complete descriptions in full sentences. There will also be a post dedicated to composing a full scene based on these notes, and then a third dedicated to making a more vivid description of an individual from the bookstore in an attempt to capture and relay their image.

  • Cash Registers:Bookstore Fieldnotes (1)
  • The cashier wears a black sweatshirt, a scarf, glasses, and a small frown. When I first saw her, it seemed strange that she wasn’t wearing any kind of uniform or nametag. If she hadn’t been behind the register, I wouldn’t have known she was a bookstore employee.
  • She sits behind the register, her eyes down on the table before her. She seems to be reading, texting, or doing something else with her smartphone.
  • When a customer approaches she rings him up without saying much, bags his purchase, says “Thanks,” and then returns to her phone before he has even left the store.
  • One of my fellow researchers approaches and engages her in conversation.Bookstore Fieldnotes (2)
  • The cashier says she can tell us about what really goes on in the bookstore. Her first remark is that the store is cold. She gestures to the windows behind her and says, “These windows are not insulated.” She also explains that the windows in the manager’s office are insulated, and complains about the unfairness of that.
  • When we ask, she confirms that the cold (especially with the register being right next to the door) is why she is wearing a sweatshirt and scarf.
  • She then begins telling us about what it’s like to work here. “I’ve been here so long,” she says. “I’ve worked here so long. Each semester gets worse.”
  • She begins complaining about the college students who come to the bookstore and asks, “How do these kids get into college? Do you not know when we return books?”
  • She tells us about an example of a student who bought a $200 textbook before class started, who clearly didn’t read the directions. The bookstore puts a sticker on the books including the latest date that returns are accepted, and telling students not to unwrap the plastic-wrapped books (which include sets of multiple books and sometimes additional CD-roms) until they’re sure if they’re the right ones. Some, she explains, end up with the wrong books or end up dropping the class, but then find they cannot return the book sets that have been opened.
  • She then tells us that even though the bookstore offered an additional extension of nearly two weeks, students still came in after the deadline.Bookstore Fieldnotes (3)
  • A sign right above the cash register reads “Last day for returns is 1-27-14.”
  • Despite this, she says that some kids came in as late as February 9th and said “I wanna return my book,” then they “get an attitude” when she tells them they’re past the deadline for returns.
  • She also says, “It’s not even the kids – it’s the parents.” She tells a story about a student who brought their parents down to the bookstore to try to argue about the return, in one case even when the Bookstore Fieldnotes (4)book was supposed to be returned last semester.
  • She concludes, laughing, that “Students have no common sense.”

Writer’s Workshops

Since I’ve spent the last several years attending writing classes at Rowan University, I’ve been involved in a lot of writer’s workshops. Depending on the type of class, they can be managed differently from one situation to another. No matter what the case, however, they take a certain amount of thick skin.

In some classes, we do small group workshops. In these scenarios, your story is usually read by three people, who offer you feedback in the form of both notes and small group discussion. This is usually a relatively painless procedure, but can offer a lot of valuable advice.

The other type of workshop I usually go through is one where the entire class reads your story. Then, instead of getting verbal feedback in a small discussion, the entire class discusses your work, usually for about 45 minutes. This can be a lot more difficult, though arguably it is also more valuable.

I went through a workshop session this week for my Fiction Writing class. Since it’s a graduate class, the workshop consisted of more than a dozen experienced writers, all of whom are working on their master’s degrees. Now, I’ve been one of the critiquers in these workshops plenty of times (and I’ve critiqued and discussed four stories by four of my classmates so far just this semester). But being the one in the “hot seat” is always difficult.

It’s definitely important to bring your thick skin and leave your ego at the door. Fortunately, my classmates all know how to be positive and constructive (especially since they all know THEY will be in the hot seat soon enough). Still, even when the environment is a positive one, it can be difficult to spend 45 minutes listening to a group of people point out all the flaws in your story (doubly so since the writer isn’t allowed to speak until the very end).

In preparation for the workshop, I had my story reviewed by a few friends on Twitter, so I could polish out some of the basic issues ahead of time. I got good feedback on the story. It’s another short story in the Arcana Revived series, this time focusing on Callia Gainsborough and Minori Tsujino (both of whom are major supporting characters in the series, but characters who don’t often get their own time in the spotlight).

Based on the feedback I received from the first group, I cleaned up the basic grammatical errors, polished up the details, and made sure the story was clean and well-composed. That meant that there (in theory) wasn’t much for the workshop group to say about basic issued of grammar, description, and other “surface level” stuff. As a result, they focused more on greater structural issues, like character development, scene order, and world building.

Based on the feedback I received, I’ll be able to develop the story further and address the issues that were raised. Many of them stemmed specifically from the fact that this was a standalone story that is part of a larger work. Callia in particular is a character with a lot of history in the overall series, most of which wasn’t addressed in this short piece. This led to a lot of questions from the readers. So part of what I need to do is make sure to add in enough of those details to address the key questions, so that the story can function just fine as a solo piece. It’s a bit of a different way of looking at things, since I’m used to writing novels more than short stories. More than half of the questions that were raised wouldn’t have been issues if this story was just one chapter in the novels. The questions would be answered earlier or later in the novels, in other chapters. But to be a standalone piece, the story needs to hold itself up without the reader having knowledge of the other works.

The good part is that a lot of the general feedback was positive. Several people told me that they liked the writing, that the description was clear, and that the characters were interesting. So I take that as a good sign. I have the basics down. I have something that people will be interested in. I just need to take all of the feedback and use it to address the flaws in order to make the overall story stronger. So I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. Taking that into consideration, the workshop was clearly valuable. I wouldn’t have known which issues needed to be addressed if not for the feedback from my classmates.

Even if being in the hot seat was hard to do.

No Time

I’ve mostly given up on making any decent progress with anything until the end of the semester. Every time I start to get caught up on school work, something else gets added on. I am just treading water to stay on top of it all now.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, though, for a few reasons:

1. Of the 12 textbooks I’m supposed to read this semester, 7 are done, finished, over with, an 8th is optional for an assignment I’ve found out I won’t have to do (basically it was extra credit I do NOT need), and the 9th and 10th I’m halfway through. That leaves only two more to read front to back, and one of them is short.
2. One of my classes was only half the semester long. It’s done now. I have two TINY things to finish for that class and submit online to have my obligations met. If I can do those over spring break, that’s over.
3. Another “class” is a single assignment in the form of a semester-long project that I haven’t started yet. BUT if I just get some free time, I can bang it out uber fast and easy cause it’s nothing I consider complicated. It’s just been one of those, “Nope, don’t have time for this” type of things.
4. Once these things are all done, there shouldn’t be anything ELSE to interfere with my revisions. 

So… Here’s hoping?