Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cynthia Leitich Smith at Alamosa

Cynthia Leitich Smith
Wednesday, March 7 several SCBWI-New Mexico members and friends gathered at Alamosa books to chat with New York Times Bestseller, Cynthia Leitich Smith, about her Tantalize series. In this photo she is holding Tantalize: Kieren's Story, a graphic novel written from the point of view of the werewolf love interest of Tantalize heroine,Quincie Morris.

I took the book to school the next day to show to our secretary who happened to have a purchase order specifically for graphic novels. The book was sitting on my desk when one of my students walked in, recognized the cover, and said that his mother had recently purchased Tantalize: Kieren's Story for her boyfriend. It's nice to know that Cynthia's books are popular with adults as well as teens.

In addition to writing full time, conducting school visits, and teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Cynthia maintains one of the industries leading blogs, Cynsations, where educators and professional writers find invaluable tips about the writing profession. One of the main questions people wanted to know was how Cynthia manages her time and juggles her many writing commitments. Cynthia suggested writing blog articles in advance and then scheduling them to post on a regular basis. She does this and it enables her to have articles posting even when she is out of town. She also recommended multi-tasking whenever possible. Her husband, Greg Leitich Smith, children's author, lawyer, and handyman extraordinaire, built her a treadmill desk so she may write and walk at the same time.

Another topic for the evening was rewrite strategies. One of the most fascinating techniques that Cynthia employs is to write a first draft and then completely destroy it, erasing it from the computer memory and getting rid of any other stored versions. She then starts over from the beginning. Her belief is that this practice tightens story structure and allows her to easily get rid of things that don't belong. When asked if she is ever tempted to go dumpster diving for the USB or CD version she's thrown away, she said she believes meaningful material will rise up again.

It was inspirational to me to know that even author's of Cynthia's caliber throw away great amounts of their work. Though I've never had the nerve to toss out an entire manuscript, I have certainly deleted dozens of pages at a sitting. I am currently working on a complex fantasy that employs elements of time travel and archaeological discovery. I've thrown away over a hundred pages and written numerous scenes multiple times before feeling satisfied with them. It helps to know that sometimes this is just part of the process. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dead Rapper Rap

If your school is like mine, then your primary focus right now is one of two things, either SPRING BREAK or SBA testing. You may not be spending much time talking about stories or poems at the moment, unless it's to explore the types of literary devices that might be found in the SBA, or to practice skills (like skimming and scanning) that are related to the SBA, or to learn how to become a whiz at answering multiple choice questions of the sort that might be found on the SBA.

But don't despair. Something exciting awaits you at the end of SBA.

April is poetry month.

You might not think you have time to explore poetry, and yet poetry offers more literary bang for your buck than just about any other form. Consider the story poems that not only offer a complete plot in one to two pages, but also explore literary devices like metaphor, simile, and personification.

Consider some of these great story poems:

"The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes
"Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Thayer
"The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe

While writing my upcoming verse novel, Forget Me Not (Simon Forget Me NotPulse, October 2012), I took the poetic structure of "The Raven" and wrote a story poem about the rapper, 2Pac, showing up in a class as the substitute teacher. The poem is found below at the end of this post.
If you live in the Albuquerque Metro Area, you may interested to know that I will be at Alamosa Books with Caroline Starr Rose, to bring a free workshop to students, teachers, and writers on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 2pm. Winners of a special poetry contest will be announced at that time. Poems may be submitted to Alamosa until April 10th at 8p.m. The elementary school in the Albuquerque area with the most submissions will win a free author visit by Caroline, and the secondary school with the most submissions will when a free author visit by me.

If you are not in the Albuquerque area, they may still enter to win a cool poster containing the poem by finding at least four of the eight 2Pac song titles hidden in the poem below. If you email a list of the titles to Alamosa, you will automatically be enterred in a drawing. For more information visit Alamosa Books.
Here is the poem:
DEAD RAPPER RAP by Carolee Dean (from the Paranormal Verse Novel, Forget Me Not- coming October 2012 from Simon Pulse)

Once upon a Friday morning, almost all the class was snoring.
Our teacher left a vocab worksheet for a sub who was a bore.
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
followed by a man's voice rapping, rapping lines I'd heard before.
"I'm Skandalouz," the voice he muttered, rapping at the classroom door.
"Open up, or I'll kick in this door."

Ah, distinctly, I remember, it was a bleak day in September.
Dude told the sub he came to send her to a class on the second floor.
She grabbed her books and packed her bag, running past the man in black.
And then I saw it was 2Pac, standing at the classroom door.
"All eyez on me," yelled the man, standing on the cold tile floor.
"I'm your new sub, Mr. Shakur.

"I'm here to wake you from your dreaming, give your simple lives some meaning."
He smiled at us, his white teeth gleaming, then he pointed at the door.
"If you're thinking about jetting, don't want to get caught here abetting
someone who'll have you forgetting what the h--- this class is for.
If you get out now, I won't detain you, block you, trap you, or restrain your
exit." No one touched the door.

"Ah, I see you've all decided to listen to your uninvited
guest get down. I must confide that I've got a special treat in store.
Forgive me if my words are cryptic. Guess I'm just 2Pacalyptic.
Get off your butts, we're gonna kick it, like you've never kicked before."
And soon he had the whole class rapping and break-dancing on the floor.
Dancing on the classroom floor.

He rolled his sleeves and there I saw it, a tattoo of a black bird on his
arm, and then I heard the haunted whisper of the raven's words:
"Keep ya heads up, no regrets, don't know if heaven's got a ghetto,  
but only God can judge what debt you'll have to pay forevermore.
He don't care if you scream and shout, 'cause big G knows there's no way out.
Once you've crossed the line-you're down, and you won't be getting up no more.
Hope you' re open to suggestion, 'cause there only is one question
left. I'm pretty sure you've guessed it. Heard it many times before."
Ah, distinctly, I remember, it was a bleak day in September,
when I heard the raven whisper    
"What are you willing 2 die 4?"  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Having a Meltdown?

The following is an excerpt of our Spellbinders interview with author and scientist, Fred Bortz. To read the rest of the article and to find out how to win books by Fred, visit Spellbinders

When the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami struck Japan, my first reaction was that the tragedy could have been so much worse. Japan was remarkably well-prepared for large earthquakes and tsunamis, and its toll of dead and missing, though large, was less than a tenth of the losses in the 2005 tsunami in Indonesia and the Haitian earthquake of 2010. But soon word came that the tsunami had washed out key backup generators at the Fukushima Dai'ichi power plant and that multiple meltdowns were possible.

Because I had written a chapter ("Fission with Melted Rods") about nuclear reactor meltdowns in my 1995 book Catastrophe! Great Engineering Failure--and Success (W. H. Freeman, Scientific American Books for Young Readers,, I knew that the same political arguments that followed the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents were likely to arise after Fukushima, and they would probably get much louder.

In Catastrophe!, I predicted that my readers would have to make difficult political choices about nuclear power as adults. I noted that as time passed, reactor technology would improve, while the need for electricity would grow. I didn't specifically mention that nuclear energy doesn't produce greenhouse gases, but I was aware that global warming was likely to become a major concern and would be an argument in favor of going nuclear. I was right on target with that analysis.

Now the big question from Fukushima, which is still being argued about, is what the events teach us about the necessity for and possibility of building safe nuclear power. The economic cost and societal impact on Japan are still being evaluated. So are questions of whether the meltdowns were preventable and how likely a similar event would be with new standards and technology. These questions will need time and careful analysis to be answered. To read the rest of Fred's interview go to Spellbinders. You can also check out our other articles from the newsletter/blog designed to help educators and authors inspire lifelong reading.