Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hither and Yon with Books

I grew up all over the world. Literally. I had what I think was a very normal childhood, with two loving parents and as much stability you can have when you're moved from school to school in the middle of the year. In no way was I harmed by this nomadic educational experience. In fact, I was probably turned into a voracious reader as a result. We read, as a family, books about where we were traveling so we'd know what to see, what to expect, and how to get along in that culture. And of course, books went with us on our long car/plane/boat rides. Much of what I learned came from seeing foreign places, museums, and living where the common language wasn't English, and books always paved the way first.

I'll never forget reading Mary Renault's The Bull from the Sea series (Theseus as hero!), then seeing Crete in person. Or reading about the cedars of Lebanon, and then getting to go to college there. Uriah the Hittite came alive when I saw Hittite ruins in Turkey. The Wisteria Covered Porch, a Turkish novel, limned a sense of Istanbul that was picture-perfect when I got there.

Even if you never leave your own town, you can experience life as a true international traveler. Let books take you there.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dorchester Publishing's Dishonesty

Everyone needs to boycott Dorchester/Leisure books. I say this with the deepest regret, since Leisure published many of my favorite Western authors, but the publisher is now treating its authors like chattel.

Please read author Brian Keene's web site. You'll get a thorough explanation of how Dorchester is publishing and selling books without paying the authors, and has been doing so for quite a while now.

Also, avoid Avalon books. They too treat authors as if they're hired help (and the pay doesn't top $1000, which you only get if you're very lucky), and the books belong to the publisher in perpetuity. They never supply sales or royalty records, or any accounting for sales to authors. If you want more information, contact me directly through this blog.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

County School Budgets

I know I'm on a tear these days, but I simply can't stand injustice. The Board of Supervisors rep for my district presented the county's proposed budget (which isn't going to change, no matter how many objections are received from constituents). It has cut school funding from approximately $79 million in 2009 (I believe that's the correct date, it may be earlier) to about $41 million for the next fiscal year. And the Board of Supervisors is proud of this figure.

Who are they kidding? The county is filled with kids going to school in portable trailers because of severe overcrowding in old, decrepit brick and mortar buildings, teachers who have to buy their own supplies, and schools that couldn't function without volunteers who have replaced the school reading specialists and librarians, as well as classroom assistants. Computers for the kids are old and outdated, running ancient software. These children will not succeed in the future because we aren't giving them to tools to do so.

Wonder why the U.S. has fallen in the world standings of science and math proficiency? It doesn't help that teachers must teach to the test, the Standards of Learning. (Let's learn what to regurgitate for the exam, boys and girls, forget about critical and creative thinking.) It also doesn't help that the learning environment is less than ideal. (Gee, the girls' bathroom on the fourth grade hall hasn't been open for over a month because we don't have the money to fix it.) It doesn't promote a better learning environment, either, when class sizes grow to over 30 pupils because we can't hire enough teachers to keep them smaller.

My children were fortunate to have a private education in a nurturing environment where they were taught not only how to learn, but how to think. They didn't need to worry about outdated textbooks or not having what they needed to excel. I get so angry when I think of all the promising children out there who have to make do with less, and then even less, because the Board of Supervisors can't see the fallacy of their position on the school budget.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Virginia Tech moves on because it costs too much?

Virginia Tech, site of the most horrific school tragedy since Kent State in the Vietnam War era, has decided it has had enough of remembering the deaths of the 32 students who were killed four years ago. Since I have a child finishing her degree there now, I haven't forgotten. And I won't.

While I'm not one to dwell on the past, I can only imagine how the parents and survivors felt when notified that they will no longer be guests of the university at any remembrance services or events. (Oh, and classes will not be held on the anniversary date from now on.) The president, Charles Steger, announced that the approximately $10,000 cost is too high for the Ischool to bear.

Who has lost sight of what matters here? Charles Steger earns annually $732,064, eighth high in the nation, I believe. Gee, do you think it would kill him to take a $10,000 pay cut and allow these survivors and parents to do what feels right for themselves and the Tech community? Outrageous. The president of Virginia Tech has shown time and again that he's out of touch with the true sentiments of the Tech family, as it truly is.

Charles Steger has got to go. Now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Short Video from Darlington

It's short. It's loud. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Darlington: Rookie Drivers and Writers

We trekked to South Carolina, out in the middle of nowhere, to a place called Darlington, to see the truck race last Saturday night. Given how far the track is from pretty much anywhere with a hotel, the crowd was amazing. While the stands were nowhere near full, they were shakin' and cheering, and filled with more bodies than we'd expected to find. The squished seats were about as bad as during a Sprint Cup race.

Once again, a Cup driver in great equipment wins a lower tiered race. Kasey Kahne took the checkered flag, and the nice thing about it was, he seemed genuinely thrilled. But does this make it right? On one hand, the experienced drivers can teach a few tricks to the newbies, like Johanna Long. But at what cost? The young rookie drivers starting out generally don't have great equipment or sponsors with deep pockets, and a run into the safer barrier pretty much kills their day. I understand there's no way Nascar can tell a driver he/she can't run a race in any of the series (unless there's a legal reason, such as drug use, or lack of experience at a tough track like Talladega), but it seems as if there's no safe place for young drivers to learn their trade as long as the upper echelons of the talent pool, with their money behind them, splash in the smaller puddles and then take home all the rubber duckies. (Mixed metaphor, I know, I know!)

It's like the business situation for newer writers these days. Once upon a time, a publisher would take time to bring along a promising young author, working with each successive book to build a fan base and improve the published product. Not anymore. Didn't hit it big with your first book? Good-bye, and don't bother to submit to us ever again. Where can young writers learn about publishing except from the actual doing of it?

Perhaps ebooks will be the savior of promising new writers who have been shunned by the money people in their New York high rises for whom the bottom line, not the nurturing of talent, is the only goal. I sure hope so.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


Where does a writer get her ideas? Everywhere. A snatch of a conversation, an article in the newspaper (pinned to the board in the office is a whole wall of them!), a history book (oh my, history, yes!), or a memory. A hint of a song, a scent in the breeze, a new place. Travel awakens the creative juices like nothing except a quiet day at the beach, parked under an umbrella far from the cocoanut-scented crowds. Music can trigger a scene (Sting's Desert Rose), as can food. How often does a meal remind you of a gathering of fascinating friends, a romantic date, a miserable moment? Every moment of an everyday life adds to the creative well, into which you can dip whenever you want.

I knew a writer who said his ideas all came from the time before he hit 21. Since he was well beyond that age, I thought how sad it was that he felt his creativity ended so soon. Every day brings me something new, something I can mull and let steep in my head until I need it. Sometimes it's how an oak leaf clings to a branch day after day, or the way the moon shadows that same oak tree at midnight. I've been told I'm a visual writer, and I can see why. I "see" the scenes I write as they play out in my head like a slide show. Guess that comes from being an art history major in college - and memorizing millions of slides of works of art for identification purposes.

Writers pay attention, and that's the real secret behind where writers get their ideas.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

YA Heroes

The Eagle (from the Rosemary Sutcliffe book, The Eagle of the Ninth), and I am Number Four, are both interesting movies derived from YA books. Never having read the book upon which Number Four is based, I can't compare the movie to it, but I noticed a common thread in these films. They both have heroes. Honest-to-goodness heroes who embark on the classic hero's journey, as defined by Joseph Campbell.

They may be a bit dense at times, have a rocky road to gain the knowledge they need to complete their journeys, and in Number Four, the journey is just beginning at the end of the movie. Obviously, sequels have been planned. These heroes are brave, willing to sacrifice self for the greater good, and loyal, all characteristics necessary to the hero's make-up. I'm impressed and willing to journey with them down their difficult roads.

Where are the heroes in movies made for the adult audience? The Social Network is a good movie, but there are no heroes. No journey into the inner cave. No stand for honor and the greater good. The George Clooney movie about the assassin - The American - had nothing heroic going for it. So he kills people and wants out. Then he kills some more. Big deal. Have adults lost the capacity to recognize a hero?

I don't think so. The audience for both The Eagle and I am Number Four was predominately adult. Not younger adults, but folks who've already raised their kids. That tells me the films and books without heroes aren't speaking to that generation. No wonder I'm reading more and more YA these days. They, more than the "adult" fare, provde me with a hero's journey.