Writer vs Reader Mode

I think I’ve said this before, but I’m the kind of person who has trouble being both a writer and a reader at the same time.  Usually, I switch between the two roles in a cycle.  For a few months I’m a writer, and I can’t concentrate enough to read ANYTHING because my brain is so full of my stories and characters and all I want to do for 20 hours of every day is sit at my computer and write.  And then, suddenly, I get total brain-block, and I can’t write a thing, and I start reading non-stop.

For the last couple months I’ve been pretty securely in writer-mode.  I got a decent amount of work done on two different WIPs, which makes me very happy, but I was really hoping I could keep it up right to the beginning of the Fall semester.  But for the past week and a half I haven’t been able to write much of anything.  Sometimes if I push and push and push, I could stay in writer-mode a little longer.  But I think writer-mode is now officially over.  Unfortunately.

So, I guess we’re on to reader-mode.  I read A Work In Progress in like a day and a half.  And now I’ve started Open Heart by Emlyn Chand (which I’d PLANNED to read and review near the beginning of the summer, but like I said, I was in WRITER-mode).  I guess it’s good to be in reader-mode since I’ll be doing so much reading for my Fall courses, although it’ll be frustrating that I won’t be reading all my fun stuff, but school-related stuff instead.  And, of course, I know from too much experience that I won’t be getting ANY writing done once the semester starts either.  But oh well.

Does anyone else do this?  Cycle through writer and reader modes?  Or is it just me?  Because it’s a little frustrating, and I’m more than a little jealous of people who can do both at the same time: write in the morning and read in the evening, etc.  I wish I could do that.  *sigh*

In other news, I’m playing with the idea of starting a Tumblr blog.  I had started to watch a lot of Tumblr blogs without having an account, and just collecting them in my browser bookmarks.  And over the last couple months I’ve started following even more, making it hard to keep track of them in bookmarks.  So I figured I might as well start a Tumblr account so that I could keep track of them all.  But now that I have the account, I’m thinking why not start a Tumblr blog?  It would be fun to have something where I can just post images or short comments and things like that, without worrying about making sure a post is long enough and well-written.  I’m playing around with Tumblr right now, trying to get a feel for how it works (it’s taking a little getting used to), but I’ll let you know if/when I get a Tumblr blog up and running.

Any opinions on Tumblr blogs?  Anyone have one?  Now that I have the account, I’m looking to add a ton to my Follow list!  They’re just so much fun!  :D

Okay, folks, that’s all for now.  I hope everyone has a good weekend, and I’ll see you all later!

Busy Summer Is Busy

As you all may have been able to guess by now, I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy this summer.  But you guys don’t even know the half of it!  Between taking vacation at Yellowstone for five days, going to three concerts (Snow Patrol in May, Legend of Zelda Symphony, and then the Chicago/Doobie Brothers concert in July), and having dinner with famous people, and reading as much as I can manage, I’ve also been hard at work.

School never completely ends for those in graduate school.  There are always things you need to do (or at least SHOULD do) during the summer.  For me, this has included mainly getting more involved with extracurricular/service activities.  I’ve mentioned on this blog before that the English graduate students at UH have been in the process of developing and promoting both a yearly Graduate Student Conference and an academic literature journal called Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature.  While I did some work this past school year to help out with both, I decided that this upcoming year I wanted to be even more involved.  And I managed to get myself nominated as an Assistant Editor to the journal as well as Head of the Publicity Committee for the Conference.  And the work has already begun, especially for the latter.  I’ve spent the last few weeks creating contact lists for every Humanities/Liberal Arts College Dean, English Dept Chair, and Graduate Director/Advisor, for every university in Texas so that we can start sending out personalized invites to both present at and attend the conference.  I still need to make a list for all the community colleges in the Houston area.  And THEN I need to move on to the universities in Louisiana.  In the meantime, the Chief Editor of Plaza is working on the CFP for the journal, and I’m helping out with that.

At the same time, I had made plans last semester to make some serious changes to my syllabus for the coming semester, which I have now started work on.  After having done a lot of research on the benefits and practical applications for using blogging in a First-Year Writing course, I’ve decided to implement it in my classroom.  So I’m trying to work out a concrete plan for how and why I want my students to use blogging as a learning tool and as a way to open the classroom out into a more public space.  I’ve also submitted an abstract for a presentation based on all this research to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, along with two fellow grad students I’m doing a panel with.  It’ll be late August before we find out if our panel abstract was accepted to the conference (which isn’t until next March), at which point we’ll have to get hard to work actually writing the presentations.

AND THEN, throughout the whole summer, in between everything else, I’ve been writing.  A lot.  I started out writing the second draft of Midnight’s Knife, which I made some decent progress on until about three or four weeks ago, when I was hijacked by a new story idea that has completely consumed my brain lately.  It’s going to be a strange one, I can tell…  I actually have the basic premise for an entire series of stories, but this first one is a sort of science fiction detective story.  It’s a kind of mix of X-Files, X-Men, and Sherlock Holmes, with a large helping of human drama about a veteran with PTSD laced through it.  Yeah, if that sounds insane to you, you’re not alone.  It sounds insane to me too, and I’m so excited about it!  I’ve been living inside my main character’s head practically non-stop for two weeks now.

I have a month left until the Fall semester starts, so I’m trying very hard not to waste a minute of it.  We’ll see how much more writing I can get done before school-work takes over.

Also, I’m trying to finish reading Dominant Race by Elisa Nuckle – it’s a novella, and it really wouldn’t take me that long to read, except that I’ve been so busy the last week or so I just haven’t had the opportunity to sit down a finish it! – but hopefully you can expect a review on that on Friday.  And then I’ve agreed to review another novel, a literary fiction called A Work in Progress, which I’m planning (cross your fingers) to post on Aug 3rd.

Okay, folks, that’s all from me for now.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll catch you all on Friday.

Blog Update

Hey there, folks! As you can probably tell, I’ve made just a few changes to the blog.  Mostly cosmetic.  Just to give you a quick rundown:

I changed the theme to Twenty Eleven, because I was looking for something more streamlined and also more versatile.  I changed the header image.  I still love the other image, which was done by my friend Denny (whose website, Insanesoft, is over there in the Links list), but I decided I wanted something that better reflected me personally and the wide range of topics I tend to ramble about on this blog, so my great great friend, Nathan Wilson, kindly agreed to create this new header image for free (I tried to pay him, but of course he wouldn’t let me).

I’ve slightly updated the “About” page, and added a new page that contains a list (a short one) of the few articles and things I’ve had published so far.  Hopefully that list will continue to grow over the next couple years.  *fingers crossed*

I also streamlined the categories I used, and went through EVERY SINGLE POST to update both the categories and tags.  And I’ve added a category drop down list to the sidebar.

The next thing I need to do is update the blogroll.  I feel bad because there are a number of blogs I follow that have not made it onto the blogroll (I haven’t updated the thing in months and months!), but that’s next on the agenda and hopefully I’ll get to it this weekend.

I hope you like the new look to the blog.  I haven’t made too many changes in terms of content.  I’ll still be rambling about all the things I have been.  However, as you may have noticed over the last couple months, I’m not really holding myself to that 3 posts a week schedule I tried so hard to keep up with last year.  With my schedule, it was simply untenable.  So, if you all don’t mind too much, I’m just going to go with the flow for now.  I will post as often as I can (and I know it’s been a week now, sorry), but I’ll post when I actually have something interesting to share and some energy to share, as well.  I’m not going to force it right now.  Quite frankly, between school work and teaching, working on rewrites for Midnight’s Knife, the blog, and myriad other things I’m involved in, I’ve lost a lot of my energy.  So I’m trying to find a way to make this work for me, in a way that will allow to keep up both my energy and my interest, and hopefully, therefore, keep things interesting for you as well.

Hopefully, I’ll have something new posted in the next few days.  Thanks for sticking around as long as you have, and have a great rest of the week!

And Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Program

A Letter from Your Host:

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I saw you last!  I’ve been gone far too long, and for that apologize.  As my previous posts have made clear, this past semester nearly did me in.  I’m rather disappointed with myself, actually.  During the Fall semester I managed to keep mostly on top of my blogging despite my PhD study and teaching, but for some reason I just could not do it this semester.  In my defense, it has been universally agreed among my fellow English grad students at UH that this semester was especially heinous for some reason we can’t identify.  For some reason the workload, the time-crunch, the number of things going wrong, the stress, were all WAY worse than usual.  Bad juju. Gypsy curse.  Karma biting us in the ass.  I have no idea.

Anyway, the semester officially ended for me a week ago.  I wrapped up three papers (I got an A- on one which I am particularly bitter – an A- is grad work is about equivalent with a B-, maybe even a C, in undergrad work, and I know for a fact that the prof simply did not AGREE with my argument).  I graded an enormous stack of freshman papers, and turned in my grades to the department.

The same day I turned in my grades, my mother graduated, receiving an Master of Science degree in Technology Projects Management, with a focus in Future Studies (pictures of which I have been forbidden to put online because my mother is paranoid about the internet, despite – or because of – being a computer programmer/engineer).

That was two Fridays ago.

I have spent the last week wrapping up a last bit of work as part of the editing staff of University of Houston English Department’s literature journal Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature.  It’s our second year doing the journal, so we’re still getting the hang of things, but we’re pretty proud of it.  It is free and (as far as I know) you don’t need an account to view it, so please feel free to take a look.  It showcases the work of my fellow graduate students, and is affiliated with the graduate student conference I mentioned early in the semester.

I also spent the last week with my mother, who took a week off her day-job to celebrate graduating and get a little bit of a vacation.  We’ve been up to a lot this past week, and it’s too much to cover in one post so I’m spreading some of the fun out over the next few days to stretch my blogging-muscles and get back into the swing of things.

Besides spending a lot of money at the mall as a belated birthday present to myself (my birthday was May 6th, right in the middle of finals, so I didn’t have much chance to celebrate), there were several highlights: a trip to Brenham, TX where Blue Bell ice-cream is made, my mother’s birthday (which was May 18th), and seeing the Irish alternative rock band Snow Patrol in concert (but more on all of that tomorrow, and probably Wednesday).

I have a lot of plans for this summer that I’ll probably be sharing with you as well.  I intend to start revising Midnight’s Knife, the novel I wrote a first-draft of last summer.  I want to start practicing the piano again (I say this every summer, and I always do for a while before it falls away again).  my mother bought me a fantastic painter’s easel for my birthday and I’m going to start drawing (again) and painting (which will be a bit new, despite a little experience from high school).  I have an ENORMOUS stack of books I want to read (I started Hunger Games – FINALLY – on Friday afternoon, and finished it on Saturday night).  And I’ll be doing a bit of traveling as well.

On top of that, I am planning to sit down and build a new syllabus/curriculum for my freshman writing course, which will incorporate a lot of student-blogging.  I was not at all happy with my performance as a teacher this semester.  I mean, I was admittedly extremely busy with PhD stuff, and I still did okay by my students – I didn’t completely slack off or anything.  But I had much more trouble this semester staying on top of things, and keeping my students engaged.  I firmly believe that what I do is important, but that only remains true if I do a good job, put serious effort energy into it, and I did not do as good a job as I could have this semester.  That’s going to change in the Fall.

I also have some ideas for ways I want to change-up the blog.  And I’ll be frank, that’s not so much for the benefit of you, my readers, as it is for my benefit.  To keep myself moving, to keep myself interested, to find a focus or a rhythm or whatever that will work for me, and will hopefully make it possible for me to keep this up through the Fall semester when things have gone upside-down-wacko again.  I’m fiddling with some ideas/plans, and I’m waiting on one major component before these changes will begin to take shape.  But I’ll keep you in formed about that.

In the meantime, I hope I didn’t lose too many of you during my extended absence, and I hope I can keep you entertained over the summer at the very least.  I’ll see you tomorrow!

Sincerely,

Amanda

Kind Blogger Friends Make for a Good Week

Over the last couple weeks, I have received a number of awards and prizes from a variety of wonderful bloggers, and I wanted to make sure to thank them all.  So let’s go through these:

Jill from The Cinquecento Project awarded me the Liebster Blog Award, coming from the German word “lieb” meaning “dear,” “good,” or “kind.”  Thank you so much, Jill!

The Liebster Blog Award is for bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. It is a peer award, bestowed by a blogger who recognizes worthwhile content when she reads it, or when he follows it.  I actually have more than 200 followers by now, but Jill was kind enough to give me the award so I will do my best to spread the love.  The hard part will be finding bloggers among my favorites who have fewer than 200 followers.  Actually, half the time I can’t even FIND how many followers they have, so I’m just gonna have to go with the blogs I love.

The rules of this award are simple:

1) Copy and paste the award onto your blog

2) Thank the person who gave you the award and link to their blog

3) Choose five other bloggers to give the award to, post them here and let them know via their comments

4) By spreading the love, hope that readers/other bloggers will “pay it forward”

And so, I would like to spread the love to the follow blogs:

Jess Witkin’s The Happiness Project: Jess is always cheerful and supportive, her blog posts are fun, and she always has something interesting to say.

The Bibliophile’s Corner by Ashley Prince: Ashley posts fantastic book reviews, great top 10 lists, and she’s participating in an INSANE number of reading challenges this year.

Elisa Knuckle’s blog: Elisa blogs about a variety of fun things that come up in her life, and she’s working on a few different writing projects.  She always leaves kind and enthusiastic comments, and also kindly awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award (which I’ll get to in just a minute).

Marcy Kennedy and Lisa Hall-Wilson, the Girls with Pens: These two lovely ladies offer up great advice for writers of all kinds, and are enormously supportive as well.  I simply love their useful posts.

Lucid Dreams and Saturn Skies by Andrew Kincaid: Andrew’s blog is the home of all things creepy and scary, with posts about horror books and movies, creepy paranormal tales, and links to his own short stories.  Also, the blog title is just cool.

There are some more blogs I could come up with, but they have already received the Liebster Blog Award (a few of them several times), so I’ll just leave it at this.

Next, (as I mentioned) Elisa Knuckle awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award.  Thank you very much, Elisa!  (Go check out her blog, folks!)   The rules of this award are that you must post 7 facts about yourself, and send the award along to other bloggers.  However, as I have already received the Versatile Blogger Award twice before, and I have sent it along to as many bloggers as I could possibly think of, I will simple give you 7 more facts about myself, and move on.

7 Facts:

1)     I am absolutely mind-numbingly terrified of spiders.  Seriously, I can’t look at them on tv, when I see one at home and I can’t even get close enough to it to kill it, I have nightmares about them.  *shudder*  I just can’t handle them!

2)     I LOVE roller coasters.  I’m obsessed with them.  They are AMAZING.  One of my goals into ride ever roller coaster in the United States.

3)     I have read the book Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede AT LEAST 50 times.  Possibly more.  That book and Pride and Prejudice are my two biggest comfort books.  Whenever I get really depressed, I read Mairelon the Magician.  Whenever I finish reading a really heavy, intense, involved book or series, I read Mairelon the Magician to “clean my palette,” so to speak.  Every summer, I take a couple days to re-read Mairelon the Magician.  See a pattern here?  Yeah, I’m obsessed… I know it.

4)     I’m an anime geek.  I don’t watch quite as much anime or read as manga as I did in high school and during my undergrad, but I will always love them.  I have spent more money than I care to admit on anime, manga, posters, t-shirts, figurines, etc.

5)     I have four cats and a dog.  Well, technically the dog and one of the cats belong to my brother, but we all live in the same house, and they all keep my on my toes.  It is NOT easy to take care of four cats, especially since 1 of them is 15 yrs old (he’s my old man and my baby all wrapped up in one), one is a coward, and the other two DON’T get along.  Also, the dog’s an idiot…

6)     I buy WAY too much clothing.  Yes, I am one of those women who just can’t stop buying clothes.  I’m not as bad as my aunt (take my word for it), and I only buy what I can actually afford (without credit cards, I might add), but I still have more than will fit in my rather large closet.  It’s a problem. *sigh*

7)     One of my biggest guilty pleasures is watching all the HGTV interior designs shows AND Say Yes to the Dress on TLC.  I love interior design, architecture, color designs, etc.  Someday, I really want to design and decorate my own house (though that isn’t likely to happen).  And as for Say Yes to the Dress… well, it’s just addictive.

Lastly, I’ve won a couple different prizes recently.  First, on The Happiness Project, Jess Witkin’s ran a contest for predicting the Academy Awards a couple weekends ago.  I got the most right, and won some movie-related prizes.  And, as part of the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge that Emlyn Chand is hosting, I won the February random comment prize, and won an amazon gift card and a signed copy of Emlyn Chand’s excellent YA novel Farsighted.

Okay, I think that brings me up to date!  The semester is still keeping me crazy-busy, but next week is spring break, so hopefully I’ll have some free time on my hands to post a couple times.

Until then, take care everyone!

My First Scathing Review: The Priest and the Peaches

My First Scathing Review: The Priest and the Peaches

So, here’s the next book for the 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge.  It just came out in December, but I’d planned to read it over Winter break, and just now got around to it.  Boy, do I regret that…

Title: The Priest and the Peaches

Author: Larry Peterson

Release Date: December 2011

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Publisher: Tribute Books

Where I Got It: received an ebook copy from publisher in exchange for honest review

Score: 1 out of 5

The Priest and the Peaches has a premise with potential: set in the Bronx in the mid-1960s, in the story of five orphaned children who try to pick up the pieces after their alcoholic father dies (3 years after their mother and grandmother had died), leaving them with almost no one to turn to.  Except the local priest.   Throughout, the children see various “signs” that they take to be messages from their father, reminding them how he wants them to live their lives, with the basic motto of L-Y-N: “Love Your Neighbor.”  In the meantime, they must deal with pushy relatives, and busy-bodies who think the younger children should be split up and put into foster care.

This book tries to convey an uplifting message of hope and love and sticking-together-through-thick-and-thin, and all that fun stuff.  It is also heavily influenced by Catholicism (not a problem in and of itself as I am, myself, Catholic).

But.

But.  I couldn’t finish this book.  I couldn’t do it.  I got about 1/3 of the way through by sheer will power, having wanted to give up after the 3 chapter.  I don’t believe this has ever happened to me before, and I feel bad about it, but I honestly could not get through this book.  And I’ve been trying to for THREE WEEKS.  It is simply badly and amateurishly written.

There are many problems with this book.  The writing is stilted and clumsy, with awkward (sometimes flat-out incorrect) use of punctuation, that makes it difficult to decipher a sentence.  The dialogue is extremely awkward.  In several places it was just bad, and wholly unbelievable.  There is far too much head-hopping: in just the first few pages (and I mean pages on my Kindle, not even book-sized pages), we get a look inside Joanie, Teddy, Dancer, and a random doctor.  By the end of the 3rd chapter we’ve also jumped into Sarah’s head, Scratch’s head, and the Priest’s head.  I wanted to shake the author and tell him to PICK a perspective and STICK with it!  There was also a lot of really bad attempts of humor that were so forced and so NOT-funny, that I physically cringed on several occasions.

Worse yet, and by far the most annoying part, was the amount of info-dumping.  In Chapter 6 I made a note to myself: “oh look, info dump number 1 million!”  Obviously, a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  This book comes down to a series of badly-written info-dumps broken up with bits of badly-written dialogue.  I’m sorry, but I’m not kidding.  Rather than letting the characters grow, letting the readers slip into the world like slipping into a pool, the author simply keeps dumping buckets of water over ours heads: Look, here’s the entire life history of this character!  A couple pages later: look, here’s the entire life history of THIS character and this one isn’t even a main character, he’s a walk-on, walk-off drunk the dead father knew from a bar, but I’m going to tell you his whole life story anyway!  On and on and on.

On top of that, the narration telegraphs all over the place where the reader should be getting a message, or what should be foreshadowing, or “look, this is an ironic tie-in!” with things like: “they were about to find out how much they did not know…” and “little did they know that…” and “he would come to regret that choice in time…”  And these things are ALL OVER THE PLACE.

I kept going, hoping it would get better.  Hoping it would pick up.  Hoping the plot and/or characters would be interesting enough to keep me going.  But no.  A little over a third of the way through, and barely anything of note has happened, the characters are still just as flat and obvious as they were on the first page (the eldest brother who takes charge, the eldest sister who’s been playing mother for the last three years, etc, etc, etc).  I’m sorry, but if you’re a third of the way through a book and nothing has happened (excepting the father’s death right at the very beginning), well, then you’ve got a problem.

I tried, folks, I REALLY TRIED to give this book a chance.  I hate giving scathing reviews, and this is actually the first time I’ve had to do it, but I HAD to do it.  To be honest with myself, with the author, and with all of you, my readers who might have lynched me if I’d sugar-coated this review, and you went out and read the book and hated me for it.

So, in a nutshell, save yourself some pain and frustration, and don’t read this book.  If you’d rather see for yourself, you can find the book on Goodreads.

Four Webcomic “Shorts” You Really Must See

Four Webcomic “Shorts” You Really Must See

I don’t read as many webcomics as some people do (I just don’t have the time), but I love the ones I do read, and I follow them religiously.  My favorites are in the Links list on the right side, for those who are curious.

I didn’t occur to me at first that along with the usual sort of webcomics, which are formatted as either strips or pages and which update on a regular basis, you could also have webcomic “shorts.”  A sort of short one-short story in comic form.  Then one friend introduced me to “Our Blood-Stained Roof” by Ryan A., and I was cured of my ignorance.  Now, I love webcomic shorts, especially those that are unique in style, and tell intriguing and strange stories.  It takes a lot of talent to both plan/write the story and to do the drawing/painting as well.

Here are four webcomic shorts that I absolutely love, and think you’ll enjoy too.  I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t give you any sort of summary for these (some of them would be kind of hard to describe anyway).  Just take my word for it: they’re wonderful.

“Our Blood-Stained Roof”

by Ryan Andrews

“Nothing Is Forgotten”

by Ryan Andrews

“Darkness”

By Boulet

“The Roller Blades of Suleimaniya”

by Sarah Glidden

I hope you enjoy them.  Please tell me what you think, and if you know of any good webcomics “shorts,” please feel free to share them!