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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Separated by a Common Language

I've immersed myself in the UK show Top Gear, and one of the things I've been truly noticing are the distinct differences between American English and British English. I'm not simply talking about vocabulary or the Oxford comma. I'm more interested in the colloquialisms, phrases, and syntactic patterns.
I'm absolutely fascinated by these phrases which do more to dictate how language is received more than specific words. I also think these phrases convey more than trying to phonetically reproduce an accent in print.
If I'm honest, I'd say phonetic accents in print are rubbish.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Back in April, I met Tom Leveen ( author of Party and Zero. He graciously agreed to visit my creative writing class at the end of the semester, and it was during that time that he made one of the most profound statements about writing dialogue. He developed his dialogue chops with his theater background.
When I write, everyone tells me my dialogue sounds and feels natural, and is one of my greatest strengths. I never had a clue as to why until Tom talked about his theater background.
I don't have a theater background.
But I do have a background in drama literature.
I've always loved plays, even in high school, and relished reading them, especially Shakespeare. My undergrad focus in literature was drama and Shakespeare. Three different Shakespeare classes and half a dozen other drama literature classes including modern drama, Renaissance drama, and restoration drama.
Tom was right that there's nothing on the page but dialogue. When you read drama, you are forced to rely only on those words.
But this has started me thinking (yes, always dangerous).
Are there other specializations of writing that develop generalized fiction writing skills?

Friday, October 26, 2012

F3 Tempest

"Prospero," Jack belched after chugging his beer.
"What?" I said.
"You asked about the most famous Storm Rider."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I've written mystery fantasy. I've written urban fantasy. I've written fantasy (though the less said about that particular work, the better). I've written a partial for a spy story (it may never see life outside of the drawer, but I still wrote it). I've begun a historical mystery. I'm about to begin a sci-fi space opera.
I can't help but wonder if I'm in too many genres. Will agents, publishers, and readers accept someone who writes so much scattered across the genre board? I know pen names can help, but those are short-lived in the age of social networking.
Of course, that's a conversation to have once I get an agent, so I guess I should shut up and get back to writing.
But part of me can't help but think about it from time to time.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Grading Process

I've talked about refining teaching and writing processes; now it's grading's turn. This one is tough. Ask any teacher, and the hardest thing about teaching is the mounds of grading that has to be done. It's daunting to say the least, and a big reason why I think rubrics are gaining popularity.
I've been playing with text expansion programs, checklist stamps, and changing up the assignments to make grading easier, yet still provide effective feedback. Some work, some don't. I'm still hoping to find something of a more silver bullet quality, but have yet to discover it short of IBM loaning out Watson to me. But I'll keep trying. Maybe some kind of macro combined with track changes. . . .

Friday, October 19, 2012

F3 Pursuit

"Report." Flynn said, despite knowing the situation.
He stood on the small bridge looking at the viewscreen. It was a far cry from his old ship's viewport with display overlay, but it sufficed. The solar and insterstellar winds collided in the shock, spraying charged particles everywhere.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


In teaching, I'm constantly refining what I do. What works, what doesn't, what can I try t make better, and what absolutely flops. It's all about making gradual improvements to how I approach the job. I'm constantly engaged in it, even during times when I'm not teaching.
I'm not nearly as robust when it comes to my writing process. I think it's largely because I have a lot of feedback when it comes to teaching. Writing is largely solitary, and even when you get in touch with other writers, often it's more about what was written instead of how the wring happens. I've struggled with finding what works, and it's an intensely personal process.
Little bouts of random experimentation are hard to evaluate, and inspiration regarding the process is slow in coming. One of the things that does work for me are my graphs, so I've continued that. Now I'm experimenting with the time I do my writing, and the results are opposite what I thought they would be.
Time to do some more experimentation.

Monday, October 15, 2012


When the semester begins, (even before that, really) teacher mode kicks in. My focus is on teaching, setting up classes, preparing assignments, and the dreaded grading. I still write. I've been trying very hard to make sure that writer mode stays on no matter what else is going on, but publishing mode, the part of me that is trying to find an agent and get published, gets pushed way into the background. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day. Sorting through the web, looking through the Writer's Market, following agents on Twitter, ends up being a lot of work. And it's work that I can do, but when teaching comes, I have to shift focus.
The only regret, and the thing I want to work on, is being able to switch modes more effortlessly. If I can figure out a way to go from teaching to publishing with less effort, I think I could fit at least a little of it into my semester.
Even then, publishing mode ends up encompassing a lot of smaller modes, like teaching does. Queries, social media, conferences, and the like are all parts of that mode, but require their own separate skills. Writing the book is the easy part of becoming a writer. But then, getting a degree is the easy part to being a teacher.

Friday, October 12, 2012

F3 Bar Fight

The Great Nebula Bar on Antares Station wasn't famous, wasn't that big, nor did it serve particularly good hooch. The 'shine tasted as if distilled through a cooling system, but it got its patrons plenty drunk after a couple of belts. Flynn worked on his second, trying to decide if the taste and future hangover were worth the intoxication, when a meaty paw grabbed his shoulder.
"You're that guy," the man belched degreasing solvent fumes—otherwise known as a Saturn Sidecar—in Flynn's face.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Rubrics have become the big thing in college essay grading. More and more colleges are advocating their use. Online tools are created, and whole departments are coming together to create them in an effort to standardized how writing is graded.
Here's where I get the hairy eyeball.
I hate rubrics. I can't stand them.
Here's the thing about rubrics, the categories never seem to be adequate. The gradations within those categories never seem to be adequate, either. I think that rubrics can artificially raise or lower the score of an essay. Every teacher has had to wrestle with whether a score goes up or down because the gradations just can't accurately measure every eventuality.
Why are they used and so popular?
I think the popularity of rubrics really comes from the ability to speed grading. Because of the categories and gradations, teachers can quickly assess an essay with almost Scantron speed. I have actually seen instructors move with that kind of speed through an essay. Moreover, many believe that the rubric gradations serve as specific comments and feedback. It is a quick, efficient form of grading, but I don't think the mechanization of grading is truly beneficial.
But I think certain things can be taken from rubrics to improve my slower, antiquated grading. I've been incorporating checklists of things that the students will need to be able to do, or else their grade receives a penalty, such as essay length, point of view, citation of sources, etc. I think this is a better way as I don't have to force abstract qualities (such as communicating ideas) into a rubric. I have a concrete means of determining score on objective measures. I'll continue to explore various options, including ways to make rubrics better, but for now I'm against using them.

Monday, October 8, 2012


I've always loved Halloween. It must appeal to the fiction writer in me. On a regular basis I assume the guise of other people, so donning a costume just adds to the authenticity of it all. While the physical is disguise is enjoyable, and makes things easier, it's the character I really like. Being able to flesh out personalities makes the whole experience all the better. Being able to interact with others who are likewise engaged in assuming other guises makes the whole night a giant work of escape fiction, where pirates clash swords with Jedi. Where monsters dine with politicians and celebrities.
What could be cooler?

Friday, October 5, 2012

F3 Solace

"This is what the ancient mariners on earth used to do." Captain Flynn said softly as he looked out the bridge window.
"Ain't it a kick?" Ann said from her position at the helm. "No engine. Just the sails to keep us going. Every move we make has to take the current into account."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Orchestra

I'm a big fan of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Not only are they superb artists at the rock opera, but they have managed to touch the soul of the holiday season. I first embraced them when I was at a real low point, and they've been a wonderful presence in my life ever since.
They're coming back with a new show, and I can't wait to see what they've got this year. It'll be the perfect capstone to the semester, too.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Policy Experiment

Well, it's time to report on the great policy experiment. In all three of my classes, I gave students the opportunity to create the policies for the course. I let them work in groups to brainstorm ideas, I circulated around answering questions and pointing out various circumstances and consequences, and provided them a sampling of policies that I have used.
It was really quite remarkable to see the process as they worked. Now, any teacher knows that students will always digress some when set to work in groups, but I must say they stayed on task remarkably well. The general discussion and debate was quite interesting as well.
The results, well, the results were staggering. All three courses, with only very minor adjustments, adopted the policies I gave them as examples. All the students found those policies to be fair and representative of what they wanted in a course, allowing for flexibility when needed, and rewarding effort above presence.
Best of all, the students are now conversant with the policies, and have taken an ownership in the class. As a result of my experiment, I will say that the policies I'm most comfortable with will continue to be part of the course, and the students are invested in the course, knowing that I respect them and the part they play in the learning experience.
This was a resounding success. Will it always be so? Probably not, but the results are such that I'm willing to continue the experiment on again next semester.
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