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Monday, December 30, 2013

New Beginnings

            Soon comes the New Year. I’m looking forward and see great changes on the horizon, hopefully they will be for the better. The nature of change, though, is that it will only be different. Whether it’s for the better will remain to be seen. I can but hope and aspire to something grander.
            Sometimes that’s enough to shape things to come.

Friday, December 27, 2013

F3 Stocking Stuffers

            Christmas in the office was a small affair, consisting of a tree stuffed into the corner that barely fit—the affair was small, not the tree—decorated in full holiday regalia with a large star shining at the top.
            Only six gifts sat underneath that monstrous tree, two from each person in the office. We’d get to those at the end of the office day. The stockings, however, neatly lined up and firmly taped to the filing cabinets, bulged with their bounty, one each for myself, Jen, and Jessie. Jen had done her best to get a fourth stocking added for Nikki—Jen had tried to put up a high-heeled boot for Nikki, but I had told her this was strictly for office personnel.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Time Again

            Christmas is . . . well, it’s odd. I truly love the holiday. I have Christmas spirit. It’s why I wear the Santa hat for nearly a month every year. I love Christmas movies and Christmas music, but when the day is actually here, it seems a little on the empty side. There’s only a little family left here, and it’s a small affair that doesn’t permeate clear through the day. The upside being that we don’t have to put up with all the family shenanigans that can happen over the holidays.
            But the spirit doesn’t last either.
            I’ve found, though, that my Christmas spirit has been making its way into my writing. I’ve written two Christmas stories that are, without question, my favorite stories. I love the idea behind them, of bringing that Christmas magic to life in my stories, and I’m not talking about all the elves and literal Christmas magic (though there is some of that) but of people extending their reach to other people. Smiles and good feelings and a desire to help our fellow men.
            That, to me, is really Christmas.
            Time to work on another Christmas story.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Teaching Methods

            Over the summer I had the opportunity to go to Washington DC with my brother. I thoroughly enjoy chances to spend time with him as we don’t have the opportunity much. He’s also a professor, but in journalism.
            We spent a lot of hours talking about our jobs and teaching in general, but he said something to me which has stuck with me ever since. He was impressed by the creativity and level of work and thought I had put into my teaching methods, and that “I don’t know anyone that has put as much thought into teaching as you have,” which even counts all the tenured faculty at his prestigious university.
            While I take the compliment very highly, I’m left to wonder, now, why more don’t engage in such thought about teaching method?
            The obvious answer, for universities, is that research is the primary concern, but that doesn’t cover the community colleges, so what’s going on?

Friday, December 20, 2013

F3 Forging Life

            "Cannae sleep, lad?" Markun asked me.
            "No. Every time I close my eyes . . . you know."
            "Aye. It'll pass in time."
            "Wish I was so confident. I don't ever want to sleep again."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Quality Assurance

            A friend recently pointed me to a blog written by a teacher who is going through the same things I have been talking about; unfortunately, what is disturbing are the comments left on one of the posts, supposedly by other teachers.
            This makes me wonder if part of the problem, even a majority of the problem, are those who enter the teaching profession who are simply not suited to teaching, who don’t have the skills and drive to really do the job well. Whether this is on a personal level or a matter of never receiving the proper education to be versed in what goes into teaching I don’t know. Regardless, it points to a bad moon rising.
            I can well understand, after reading some of these comments, why there is a great concern over the quality of teachers. There should be some way to insure that teachers are truly qualified to do what they do, but I think that testing and other measure are not the proper way.
            I think a market solution is the answer. To that I mean that teachers should be paid more. If teachers were paid a higher salary, a better quality of people would naturally gravitate towards the profession and elevate to its proper place.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hash Marks

            Another semester down. On the one hand, they are marks of victory, of triumph. I have overcome, and the world is a better place for it. It is a badge of honor I can show to people, and I feel that I become a little bit better at the job the longer I’m at it.
            On the other hand, it feels like scratching a mark in a prison wall, and that is a horrible analogy to make with regards to teaching.
            I want to make it like the first feeling again. I want that feeling of triumph back instead of weary sigh of survival.
            I wish I had more ideas on how to bring that feeling back.

Friday, December 13, 2013

F3 Saying Goodbye

            I had drifted in and out of consciousness as Alistair and Markun brought me out of the dungeon. Only when they brought me out into the sun did I start to have any kind of real awareness again.
            They brought me to a small inn where an apple-cheeked matronly woman who smelled of pears fed me broth and spiced cider to nurse me back to health. Every time I woke, which was often as I didn't want to fall back into nightmares, someone sat in the room with me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cutting Back

            I’ve got to cut back on my assignments. I’m giving out too many in too short a time, and they’re taking their toll on me. Students, too, don’t take the time to truly understand what it is they’re doing and treat it more like a worksheet than as an essay that needs full contemplation.
            So I need to cut back in order to do more. The fewer assignments will carry more weight, and hopefully make a greater impact.
            However, the downside looms over me. Frequently the only way to get students to act is to make an assignment for them to do.
            I hate using a grade as a hammer.

            There’s got to be a better way.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Last Push

            This is the time of desperation, when students who have been teetering all semester give one last-ditch effort to make it. Unlike the movies and books, these last-ditch efforts aren’t successful most of the time.  I wish they were more often, but I think it’s a matter of panicking. The rush and desperation to get it done, with adrenaline and caffeine coursing through them, allows for far too many mistakes.
            Writing has ever been a discipline where the devil is in the details. Not only can one word make a difference, most of the time one word is all the difference.
            And I’m not the devil; I’m just the messenger.
            Shakespearean jobs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Friday, December 6, 2013

F3 Lost Hope

            The creature that fed on my memories, a bastellus, the lich boasted, finished feeding on me again. Each night was worse than the one before, and now I was down to almost no magic. All of the advanced learning was gone. Only the most basic lessons from Windy remained. I wouldn't surrender those memories, though. I couldn't.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Genre Dancing

            What’s in a genre? I could go Shakespearean with the rose thing, but this really is a serious question. How are they defined? Where do the lines blur? There has been a rash of genre combinations and crossovers lately. Whole new sections have risen in bookstores, claiming space from other genres. Other genres subdivide like cells undergoing meiosis.
Romance spawns off Dark Romance, or is it Paranormal Romance? Still others lump those in with Urban Fantasy, itself an offshoot of Fantasy, but now there is Epic Fantasy, which was originally simply Fantasy. And then Contemporary Fantasy. Does that include Urban Fantasy? Are the related?
            Where’s a Venn diagram of book genres when you need one?
            And let’s not get started on the young adult versions of all of these.

            Is it any wonder that trying to pick a genre to submit to an agent can become a headache?

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Busy November Done

            Even without the pressure of NaNoWriMo, Novembers are always busy for me. They are the month when my students’ big projects are due, and I have to grade them. Add into that my soon-to-be traditional foray to Boston for Crime Bake, and it becomes downright hectic.
            Oh, yeah, and Thanksgiving.
            But it’s over and done, now, and I feel like I’m on a nice, gentle downhill slope to the end of the semester.

            Time to get in some agent prep to submit the book.

Friday, November 29, 2013

F3 Surrendering Memories

            I didn't know what happened with the first two nightmares, but I knew on the third morning I woke up. The shadowy thing still stood over me, its finger-like tendril still embedded in my face as its head, which barely had a shape, sported what could only be called an evil smile in its open maw. On that morning, I realized it had stolen some of my memories.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Break Time

            The Thanksgiving Holiday marks the last break I will get this semester. It’s been rough, and I desperately need the time to recoup. I’ve been saying it all semester, and it’s still true. The semesters are getting tougher on me.
            Despite technological advancements, grading still takes too long. Students don’t understand, or worse, dismiss the instruction I give them, never bothering to read the feedback I give.
            Every teacher I see responds with the same weary sigh when asked “How’s it going?”
            Those sighs keep getting longer.
            So I will take this break as an opportunity to recharge sorely worn-out batteries, and to give thanks for the students who care.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Major Grading: Done!

            The final project has been graded. All that remains are a few short assignments and to give the students the opportunity to rewrite. It’s the last hurrah. I’m on the home stretch. I can use the Thanksgiving Break to really take a break.

Friday, November 22, 2013

F3 Rina's Rose

            Rina and I had shared blankets for a week, much to the relief of everyone else. Windy ended my lessons a little early each night, allowing more time for me and Rina. Markun gave us his blessing, though regretted he had no beer to make it official. Alistair smiled and made sure Rina and I spent the night's watch together, where we could talk and share before heading off to our blankets.
            I had never been happier in my life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dante's Gate

            “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” is one of the famous translations of the gate into Dante’s Hell. And I can’t help but think of teaching when it comes to this line. I see new teachers on the campus, I hear about people wanting to get a degree so they can teach, and I want to warn them away. I want them to know what I struggle with and see that the system as a whole is not improving. I want to tell them of my doubts about continuing on, about the types of students they will encounter, about an ever-shrinking job market with fewer and fewer opportunities to advance.
            I feel like a doomsayer and even a traitor. Teachers are supposed to always laud their profession. They are to throw themselves tirelessly, even thanklessly, into the profession because it is noble and for the benefit of society as whole, and it is worth any cost so long as we reach just one student.
            But there are practical considerations such as when teachers live below the poverty line, or when they put in their required hours but must also spend two to three times that—unpaid—in grading student work.

            Am I wrong to want to give warnings about the realities besetting this profession?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Attitude Towards Learning

            I don’t understand not wanting to learn. I just don’t. It baffles me. I can understand not having time to learn. I can’t understand choosing what to learn and when, but I can’t understand not wanting to learn at all. I don’t consider myself a super genius, but I like to think I’m a smart guy, and I have yet to truly shy away from any subject.
            On my own I have learned computer hardware, computer software, and a smattering of programming. I have learned how to repair cars, diagnose mechanical problems, and become proficient with common tools and disciplines to repair things around the house.
            I have learned chemistry, physics, astronomy, and geology, fascinated with the wonders that make up the universe.
            All of these are outside of my main interests of history and literature, but still I learn them because it’s interesting.
            My best friends are scientists and lawyers, and I pick their brains every chance I get. I don’t’ always understand the jargon, but the concepts are fascinating all the same. To think that the specific geometry of DNA has significance is awesome. To understand how an entire body of laws can hinge on one key phrase amazes. To see the complexities of what we take for granted every day on the news unfold in front of my eyes makes me smile.
            I love to learn.
            So I don’t understand students who don’t care about subjects. I don’t understand those who think that anything that they are not specifically interested in does not matter.
            What am I missing?

Friday, November 15, 2013

F3 Fire, Rain, Love

            The fire in the pit barely made a glow on the horizon. We had all taken turns to dig it down to prevent anyone from seeing, then we laid Faenoth's remains and belongings on the fire before setting it all ablaze. We couldn't trust that Lord Strahd's servants would leave Faenoth's body in peace, so we were forced to burn our comrade down to the very dust and scatter the ashes to the winds.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Back from Boston

            I thoroughly enjoy traveling, and especially going to writing conferences. There is always some difficulty in making the adjustment back to teaching after writing. Writers have a love and appreciation of words, of putting them together just so. A precise turn of phrase is a wonderful thing, and not just how it turns out in fiction. Properly constructed non-fiction stories and essays are just as beautiful.
            So when I come back and I see so many students who see language and writing as something to be avoided, something to be feared, my heart sinks. It’s heart to watch people trample on what you love.

            My only solace is that perhaps, just maybe, I can instill the love of writing and language in one student. It’s very rare that I get more than one, which is another sadness altogether.

Monday, November 11, 2013


            The poppy is not just a drug or a nod towards The Wizard of Oz--Poppies, poppies, poppies. The red poppy of Europe, in particular, holds special significance. Flanders Field was decimated by the war effort of World War I, but a year after the war ended, the poppies had returned, covering the damage done by what was then the greatest war the world had ever seen.
            It’s for that reason that the poppy has become a symbol of remembrance for the War. Both the American Legion and the British Royal Legion sell and distribute poppies to remember soldiers who have fallen in conflict.
            While the U.S. usually does such remembrance on Memorial Day in May, Europe celebrates Armistice Day, November 11th, and I think it’s appropriate that people do more than vaguely celebrate the return of solderis from the front lines, but remember, specifically, the conflict from which they returned.
            American history courses and textbooks frequently overlook the importance of World War I in favor of World War II and Vietnam. But I think that World War I deserves more remembrance. It was one of the most savage conflicts that ever existed as technology had outpaced strategy. No longer were formations of soldiers effective as machine guns could mow them down. Cavalry gave way to armored tanks. And we saw the debut of chemical warfare, submarines, and landmines. Trenches spread across Europe separated by tracts of land filled with the dead and strings of barbed wire to make sure they never escaped.
            This was a war where progress was measured in yards of ground captured when it wasn’t in feet.
            I urge everyone not to forget, and perhaps to wear a poppy, and tell the story of what happened nearly a century ago.

Friday, November 8, 2013

F3 The Last Song

            The mists gathered all around, damping the sound, but Markun, Alistair, Rina, Faenoth, Windaralin, and Virgil stood ready. Faenoth raised his staff, casting off light for us to see by, but it didn't have much effect on the mists.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Baked, not Broiled

            I’m off to Boston for my second Crimebake! Time to reunite with author friends, hobnob with agents, and enjoy the culture of writers. I absolutely loved the first Crimebake I attended, and I expect to do the same with this one.

Monday, November 4, 2013

NaNo No More?

            I’m on the fence about NaNoWriMo this year. My writing has been very sporadic as I’ve been working on other projects, so it’s just hard to get back into the swing of things, especially when it comes to writing 1667 words a day. What with a writing conference and the semester’s final projects coming due in just two weeks, I feel like I’m simply stretching myself too thin.
            At the same time, I need to write.
            So I’ve signed up for NaNo, but I’m not sure if I’m actually going to finish.

            Then again, I’m not sure I can let myself not at least try to finish.

Friday, November 1, 2013

F3 Feel the Mark

            The coin tumbled slowly across the backs of my knuckles before falling off my hand altogether.
            Rina shook her head. "No, you're just going through the motions, thinking mechanically. You need to feel it. It's an art, not a bunch of steps to go through."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


            As a writer, I wear a lot of masks. Tons of them, really. It’s not even limited to point of view characters. Characters develop their own quirks and so even when I’m wring one particular character’s POV, I have to take into account all of the mannerisms present from other characters present in the scene.

            For that reason, I like Halloween. I feel like the rest of the world finally gets a glimpse at what my everyday existence is like. I have a chance to—marginally—blend in with the rest of society.

Monday, October 28, 2013


            The longer I live, the more I start to explore other paths, other avenues of my personality and skills and how they all relate to one another. One of the essential truths I’ve discovered is that everything really is connected, you just need to change your perspective to find it.
            This became mostly true when I saw the connections between the life of a teacher and the life of a writer. Lessons from one skill and path applied to the other, with very little need to alter or translate the ideas.
            Though I didn’t really see it that way before, another facet has emerged, almost taking center-state in the last few months. Long unused skills at programming, at logical construction and computer language, have come back to cross the boundary between my hobby of technology to a tool that has become indispensable in teaching.
            I love finding these different facets and connecting them all together.

            I wonder what I’ll discover next.

Friday, October 25, 2013

F3 Masquerade

            I hated Halloween. Everything supernatural in the world would be out and about high on the extra power the day gave them. If I had any brains—which it was clear, I didn’t—I would be locked in my house behind consecration and armed to the teeth with silver and holy water.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


            In a conversation with a colleague, we talked about aspirations. We have them. We’re both attempting to become writers, we have achieved other aspirations with our education and careers, and we reach for more, constantly stretching ourselves.
            This is good. It’s right. It promotes growth. It’s active and creative.
            But what about a population that really doesn’t seem to aspire? What if the only goal is to become rich and lazy through the least amount of effort? What about a population that is completely passive in attempting to reach goals?

            The more I consider this, the more I’m grateful that I do aspire, and that I must do everything possible to not only continue reaching towards those aspirations, but to create new ones.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Online Viability

            I’m a big proponent of using technology as a tool. The internet is wonderful. Computers are amazing. Smartphones are useful. Like any tool, there is a right way and a right time for their use, and using them accordingly improves upon life in many ways, especially education.
            With that said, I’m reluctant to engage in teaching online. I know it’s the wave of the future. I know hundreds of higher education institutions sing their praises and offer thousands of courses and hundreds of degree programs all reached without setting foot outside one’s home.
            I feel there’s something essential, especially in the teaching of writing, in the personal connection that just can’t be replicated online yet. I conduct classes largely of group discussions which depend on the simultaneous participation of the entire class to generate the comments and questions necessary to bring out true insight.
            I’ve never articulated it this way before, but I think that the classroom environment, with so many people, is an attempt at trying to create inspiration. It works more often than you might think (Hey, Socrates knew what he was talking about) but it’s not something that can happen in online.
            The various discussion forums, audio casts, and video feeds don’t provide the same spark for inspiration.

            But part of me continues to wonder when I will break down and begin teaching online. Maybe there is a way to make that spark happen . . . there has to be, right?

Friday, October 18, 2013

F3 The Slide

            Calypso coasted towards the tunnel’s entrance as Flynn ordered the rest of her sails furled. The golden-walled tunnel of the Slide didn’t look menacing like other celestial anamolies. Astrophysicists still struggled to understand the exact nature of the Slide. They knew that the Slide had certain rules.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sanity Saving

            Through social networks and even a quick Google search it’s easy to find any number of humorous images depicting what happens to teachers as they teach. The calm, composed, and passionate teacher ends up frazzled, injured, and ready for a straightjacket by the end of the term.
            And every teacher agrees with such a depiction, though there is debate on whether it takes the entire term or just a couple of weeks for such a state to come to pass.
            I’ve launched, with the help of some colleagues, something of a new project that has the decided benefit of bleeding off stress and saving sanity.
            I’ve been questioning 1) whether to debut this project here or in its own place to be disconnected from my life as a writer, and 2) whether or not I truly have the time for yet another project amid so many others.

            I will say that this hobby project has been instrumental at saving our collective sanity, delaying the inevitable need for a straightjacket.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cause of the Distance

            I don’t know why I’m more distant this semester. I could easily talk about students, about the environment, about education in general. I could talk about how I’ve put more attention and importance on other projects (notably writing), but there’s still something else, something I can’t quite identify that keeps me at a distance this semester.

            I keep hoping that conversations with friends, mostly teacher friends, will help unearth the cause, but so far, they haven’t. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

F3 Asylum

She waited just outside the elevator. She stood taller than most Chinese women I had come across, nearly five eight and in silk slippers instead of the heels my more usual female companionship wore. She pulled blue-black hair over one ear to reveal a dangling earring.
A nervous gesture, just as she’s not making eye contact with me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Getting Immersed

            Most semesters I can motivate myself to engage and immerse myself in the teaching. I genuinely like teaching. I enjoy it when students understand concepts and begin to look at their world with a more critical viewpoint. I love seeing their eyes open when they truly understand. So it’s generally easy to start out motivated. What happens later is not the subject of this post.
            However, this semester has been tougher. I can’t quite do it. I feel like I’m going through the motions more. I’m at a distance, and part of me really likes the idea of being at that distance. I’m quickly able to rationalize it as necessary because I want to keep writing, but it’s also disturbing.
            I don’t want to turn into one of those apathetic professors I had in school. We all know the kind. They read out of the textbook or simply lectured the entire time without making eye contact with a single student. The ones where questions were, if not forbidden, strictly taboo as they broke the professor's pace.

            I’m not there yet. I know that, but how many slippery slopes until I am?

Monday, October 7, 2013


            In my syllabi, I put a quote by Bruce Lee: “Don’t fear failure. Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.” I love this quote. I love it because I live it all the time. I fail constantly. It’s just part of the game, part of life. But the reason I fail so often is because I am reaching. I am trying something new, trying to extend past my limits.
Past the boundaries, in those uncharted territories, there will be missteps. I will fail; often. And I’m fine with that because I know that it’s something great. Moreover, failure is not final. Failure is not the end of the journey, it’s not a cause to stop, but a message to try again because, eventually, I will not fail. I will overcome and master, turning that failure into success.

And then, after I pat myself on the back, take a bow, take a nap, I’ll get up and start it again. I’ve always got something new on the horizon to strive for.

Friday, October 4, 2013

F3 Peasant Justice

            The hat finished making its way to all the students. Alex pocketed the remainder of the slips of folded paper, replacing the peasant hat on his head.
            “Okay,” he picked up his pitchfork, “read your instructions and follow them.”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Travel Tips: Souvenirs

            Along with photos, I’ve started giving up on the practice of collecting souvenirs while I travel.  It’s not that I’m against souvenirs, or that I think they cost too much (which, in most cases, they do). It’s actually a far more practical consideration of space and weight. I tend to pack very densely to begin with, so I don’t have a lot of space for these items.
            I’ve also grown weary of the typical gift shop fare. Most places all seemed to be stocked with the same assortment of shirts, mugs, magnets, keychains, and other knick-knacks. It’s hard to find a souvenir that really speaks to me, something that will not just sit on a shelf collecting dust. Consequently, I don’t get much in the way of souvenirs, anymore.

            However, when I do find something I want, in today’s world of online commerce, it’s possible to get souvenirs from a vacation well after the vacation. I’ll use my phone’s camera to take a picture of what I want so I can buy it after I get back home.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Simple Photographic Composition

            I’m a big fan of black and white photography; I like the interplay between light and dark. So it’s not surprising that when I do decide to take a picture, despite my previous rant about taking pictures on vacation, I like ones that have strong elements of light and dark, such as this picture of the White House with the Washington Monument behind it.

Friday, September 27, 2013

F3 Mob Rules

            “See,” Alex said with a thick New Jersey accent, “yer all part of my outfit, my organization, just like Nicky and Pauly, here. He gestured to the two hulking men in black suits. Nicky gave a solemn nod while Pauly smiled at the room.
            “And since we’re all in this together, we gots to work together. We’ve got rules. That’s what makes for a happy family, after all. And family, family is important. And when something happens to the family, well, it’s sad for all of us. Nicky, Pauly.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Jason's Big Heist

            Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece is one of the more well-known stories. Told in the Argonautica and other stories, it chronicles a group of heroes sailing into parts unknown, braving monsters, facing perils, and doing many other questy things. However, what the stories don’t tell is that the whole thing is an elaborate heist.
While most heroic quests follow a group of people out for treasure and facing peril, Jason is out for a very specific treasure, one that already has an owner. Sure, he’s doing it in order to appease a king so he can prove his worth, but theft is theft.

Read the rest at

Monday, September 23, 2013


            I wrote last week about finishing things, about completing tasks to the best of my ability. Most of the time this is a very good thing, but there are times when it works against me.
            I had a job once where I had actually done too good of a job. My job was to catch mistakes, and I was good at it. Unfortunately, my ability to find mistakes and pass this feedback onto those responsible for fixing these mistakes cost time. Not my time. I was fast and efficient in my efforts, but the people who had to fix the mistakes became bogged down.
            I was instructed by superiors to start letting certain mistakes go. Obviously, my completionist nature rebelled against the idea, and I began to lose respect for the job. I began to not care and even resent the work. I didn’t remain at that job much longer.

            It’s just part of who I am. When I’m asked not to do the best job I can, when I see people who don’t care, it goes against my nature.

Friday, September 20, 2013

F3 Out of Time

           Isaac Reyes looked over the pile of material left from what used to be a patron of the theater. Isaac looked over the statements he had gotten from them while the crime unit did their thing. The scanners, no matter how advanced, still were as big as an autoincinerator can. Fairchild did his thing with the scanner while Isaac shook his head.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


            I’m a big believer in finishing things. I’ve completed multiple college degrees, many projects, and drafts of books. Being able to finish things is a very good trait for a writer to have. One of the most difficult aspects of writing is actually finishing a book. It’s easy to start one, but having the fortitutde to finish out is something else altogether.
            Whenever something goes unfinished, I feel an itch in my mind. Sometimes I can put off that itch for a time, but I will always, always come back to it and finish off, finally putting that itch to rest.
            Unfortunately, this same itch also means that I feel like the project, job, whatever, has to be completed to my satisfaction. I can’t do a half-ass job and be satisfied. Whatever I do, whatever the project, I have to give a full effort to the best of my ability.

            There are times, however, when this is not a good thing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Multiple Jobs

            I’ve described writing as a full-time, unpaid job (currently), which must be balanced against the teaching job, which pays. The problem, as I have written previously about, is that writing often gets subsumed by the teaching because of urgency.
            It took me two weeks of vacation on the other side of the country to try and recover my ability and desire to write instead of focusing so intently on teaching. Now that I have it, I don’t want to lose it. I realized just how much I missed writing.
            Part of this restoration of my writing has also led to me not as enthusiastic about teaching. I don’t want to go through the loss of writing again, so I’m naturally trepidatious about how far I go into teaching. I can’t afford to let myself be as distracted from writing again, but I also don’t want to do a disservice to my students.

            I need to find the balance.

Friday, September 13, 2013

F3 Leisurely Swim

From the sky I had no idea where to go. The trees obscured almost everything. I hopped off my cloud next to a stream about six feet across.
"Hello?" I ventured. The woods didn't respond, and muffled my voice. Moments later a head surfaced from the stream.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


            September 11th 2001 left an indelible mark on our nation. While undoubtedly New York suffered the most, I felt it more acutely in DC. With the number of federal buildings and museums in our nation’s Capital, nearly every place I went had metal detectors and security screenings. It became a regular thing to have to divest my pockets of everything and step through the metal detectors, which was the majority of the lines to get into places. I understand the necessity, but it’s yet another sad reminder of tragedy, and what the modern world is.

Monday, September 9, 2013

It's All in the Duds

It is said that “Clothes make the man,” but that may be true for some more than others. I’ve been thinking it over, and found a pattern when it comes to clothes in crime fiction. Detective characters stand out in the crowd. Usually their manner—curious, attentive to detail, driven, and intelligent—sets them apart, but there’s more than that. The way they dress is actually quite conspicuous.
            A deerstalker hat, a mantled coat, a snuffbox, and a pipe. Just from that brief description we come up with Sherlock Holmes. The hat alone is enough to name him. Throw in the pipe and he’s unmistakable.

            Read the rest at

Friday, September 6, 2013

F3 Little Pleasures

I walked in the arboretum enjoying the cool weather and light cloud cover. Most of the clouds we're cirrus, wispy and high up. Some were cumulus with just a hint of grey, a sure sign of the density and rain within.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Vacation Sans Pictures

            I own a (now obsolete) Nikon D70 camera. I’ve got a couple of lenses for it, and it’s a good, entry-level professional digital camera. The last time I used it was on my trip to NYC. I just haven’t felt the need to pack in the extra bulk and weight. More importantly, I found that I spent too much time trying to line up shots instead of enjoying where I was and what I saw. So I’ve toned back on my camera usage to the point of almost never using it. I’ve realized that in the digital world in which we live I can easily find pictures of what I see taken by other people. I only feel the need to take a picture if I’m going to be in it or it’s something unique that I want to preserve.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Necessity of Vegging Out

            On my trip to Boston, I didn’t set a strict agenda. Actually, I didn’t set an agenda at all. My intent was simple: rest, relaxation, and restoration. I would go out and see things as the fancy struck me, but only if it struck me. It gave me the necessary mental break to bring myself back. I focused a lot on writing and not thinking about teaching.
            It was necessary.

            I think I need to make sure I do it after every semester.

Friday, August 30, 2013

F3 Charybdis

            “We’re caught in a class 4 Dark Matter Eddy,” Ann yelled back at Flynn.
            “It wasn’t on the charts?” Flynn lurched into his station and pulled his harness on.
            “Time. To. Deal. With. That. Later,” she bit off each word, fighting with the helm.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Travel Tip 4

            Another reason why I’m fond of the carry-on only packing is the travel that must be done when I arrive. On a trip to NYC, I did carry-on only, but it was the full carry-on and a personal item, my backpack. Moving through the subway and then walking through the streets with this luggage was doable, but hardly ideal. I can’t imagine trying to move through a dense metropolis while toting large check-in bags behind me.
            I’ve since ditched dual carry-on and moved to a single backpack as my only luggage. I can fit nearly a week’s worth of clothing inside and still have room for my gadgets and other goods. I can hop off the plane, onto the subway, and blend in perfectly with the urban environment.

            Who needs roll around luggage?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Travel Tip 3

            The task of packing and unpacking is problematic. I’ve found, most of the time, that I can pack things tightly leaving home, but it’s more difficult to get things just so for the return trip. Also, unpacking becomes difficult and time consuming, something you don’t want to do after a long flight, car ride, whatever. For this I recommend a combination of the Eagle Creek Pack-it folders and Shelves-to-go. The latter makes it easy to pack and unpack in a moment’s notice, while the former gives the ability to compress and wrap up the shelving bundle to save even more space.

Friday, August 23, 2013

F3 Dark Days

            People filed in for the department meeting, the usual assortment of long faces combined with tired, though those looks changed to looks of bemusement and head shakes as Alex walked in. He look on the shabby side, his clothing wrinkled and his fake beard was long and scraggly, looking as if one of the members of ZZTop had been in a fight.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Travel Tip 2

            With all the restrictions on flying, now, I’ve been doing my best to make my packing more compact. My thoughts on this are simple. If I have only a carry-on I always know where it is. Also, I don’t have to worry about checked bag fees and waiting on the luggage carousel. With this idea comes one fact that is unavoidable: in order to limit the amount of luggage, do laundry. I’m fine with this. Many hotels have laundry facilities for guests to use, and if not, use the hotel sink, some hot water, and a little shampoo. The little time it takes for this chore pays off in the long-run with not needing to pack large bags of clothing.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back to the Grind

            The fall semester begins. A time of hope and disappointment, a time of triumph and sorrow. No matter which direction the semester goes for the students or for me, one thing is certain: it is a time of work. And not just a little work, it’s a grind. Slog through and churn out the work. Most of it is unpleasant, too. Hopefully I’ve found a way to make it a little easier.


Friday, August 16, 2013

F3 Lack of Automation

            Peter Flynn rubbed at his eyes as he stared at the pressure readout on the gauge in front of him. The numbers kept slowly climbing to the red zone. Flynn turned the valve, causing a great woosh in the nearby pipes. He waited until the numbers fell down through the yellow and into the low end of the green before restoring the valve to its original position.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


            After every vacation, there needs to be a period of recovery. It’s paradoxical when that which recharges us mentally, spiritually, and emotionally will drain us physically. The act of traveling itself takes its toll, but clearly the other restorative abilities of travel make it all worthwhile. At least when done right.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Vacation Over

            I have returned from my travails. It’s time to go reflect on what I’ve experienced, catalogue photos and experiences, and slowly come to accept the realization that my free days are coming to an end.

Friday, August 9, 2013

F3 That Life

            I first saw them when I had tailed a girl whose parents thought she was a vampire to the park. After convincing them she was just sneaking out to meet a boy, I came back to watch the couple on the park bench.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Travel Tip 1

            I’ve been doing more and more flying, and while there are tons of amazing blogs about travel tips out there, I’m going to suggest something small that has brought me a lot of comfort. Before you fly, especially on a long flight, put on a brand new pair of socks. Nothing beats the feeling of a brand new pair of cushy socks around your feet. They’ll make the flight just a little bit more enjoyable.

Monday, August 5, 2013

DC Bound

            My stint in Boston is up, and I’m headed to DC to join my brother. It’s gonna be awesome to be in the Capital with another history nerd.

Friday, August 2, 2013

F3 Phil

            I looked at the offerings and wasn’t impressed. Like most places, they rolled out the expensive stuff in an effort to impress me. But expensive isn’t the same as good. I needed a hat to last, and the expensive, exotic felts and ribbons wouldn’t do that. They clerks kept searching through their stock as I disregarded hat after hat without even trying it on. I even pointed out the reasons as they approached: brim too narrow, crown too high, wrong color, poor lining, bad leather in the band.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lack of Sci Fi

            I miss Star Trek. Not the movies, the various series. In fact I miss all of sci fi. Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, Firefly, and, what the heck, Babylon 5 are all gone. There is no more sci fi.

            But I have the solution. Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series. It’s heavy on space battles, and has just the right amount of dramatic tension. Since Game of Thrones is based on a series, why not a sci fi opera based on a set of books?

Monday, July 29, 2013


            I’ve gotten into the BBC show Ripper Street, which I think is a top-notch mystery and excellent history. The show’s setting sparked in me an idea exploited in Babylon 5, where Jack the Ripper makes an appearance in the future. I think an idea such as that, where historical figures, especially criminals, go missing is a fun way to bring the history to life.
            I’m not talking about the ultra-famous figures like Lincoln, Socrates, or Shakespeare, whose presence in history is documented and necessary. I like the idea of those figures who abruptly disappeared, who go missing, and all that remains is the mystery of them.

            I think it’s time I go finding just such figures from history to make an appearance in some of my works.

Friday, July 26, 2013

F3 Pawns

            In the world of the supernatural, Mystics like Tony were on top. They were kings. Vampires, witches, lycanthropes and others filled out the rest as queens, rooks, bishops, and knights. They all fought with one another on who was more powerful, but one thing was clear: human beings were the bottom. We were pawns in their games, little more than a source of entertainment and food.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Vacation Time

            My vacation time has been a long time coming. Teaching right after the spring semester meant no break at all. Even now my break is limited to just a few weeks, but I plan on making the most of it.

            Visiting friends in faraway places and just unwinding is what I’m about. Most of my prep work for the fall is already done, so I’m closing my brain to teaching for as long as I can.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Digital Toolbox

            My latest digital tools have focused on a new ribbon for Word to aid in my grading. I’ve been able to collate a large collection of macros that insert comments into what I grade, which has sped up my grading immensely.

            The next step is to put this in a form I can spread around. Maybe I can make some money off of it while helping other teachers. I’ve been having to stretch my brain to wrap around VBA and XML. So now I have the basics of Inform 7, VBA, XML, and a teensy bit of javascript. Whatever it takes to save time in the long run.

Friday, July 19, 2013

F3 Coin Toss

            I walked into Sean MacFinn’s Pub, the old-fashioned brass bell announcing my presence. The patrons who recognized me raised their pints as I approached the bar.
            “Well if’n it’s Donny Iver’s Son,” Sean said.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The End

            Writing “The End” after a finished manuscript is a sweet, sweet sensation. The euphoria of completing such a monumental undertaking is awesome. Likewise, the end of a school term is awesome.
Tomorrow marks the end of the summer sessions. I’m free!

Now, back to writing.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tech Projects

            It happened again. I come up with a tech project, associated with teaching, and I go at it for all I’m worth. It’s a bit of problem solving, learning, and mind-stretching that just sings to me.
Writing tugs at the same pieces of me in different ways, but when it comes to tech projects, I get the instant gratification. Writing is long-term, a slow game over weeks and months to wrangle a rough draft out, then polishing it into something more is more weeks and months.
Tech projects get me right away. A few minutes or few hours of working with some code or on a spreadsheet, and I’ve got something workable. In one week I took a loose collection of code and turned it into something I might be able to share with others. I might even be able to turn it into something commercial.
At the same time, I miss the long game. I want to get my writing back. I’m over halfway through the summer, and I haven’t gotten it back yet.

I need to work harder at the long game.

Friday, July 12, 2013

F3 Collections

            Superheroes collect souvenirs from their adventures. The Batcave, the Fortress of Solitude, Avengers Mansion, and the Baxter Building all are filled with various trophies from their adventures. They’re on display and serve as reminders of their triumphs and defeats (few of those). But me, I get stuck with a collection of stuff I don’t know what it does.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Target Audience

            I’ve been having trouble targeting an audience for my books. It’s very nebulous to me, but over time I’ve been gradually refining my target, which is fairly consistent across the board. Of course, part of my trouble has been the specific expectations that come with given genres, or maybe how those expectations have changed over the years.

Or perhaps it’s how I’ve changed as a reader. Either way I know that finding the right niche, the right target audience is very important, especially as it comes to submitting to agents.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Digitial Update

            To teach, to write, to do anything nowadays requires people to have at least some familiarity with technology. The more you have, generally the better you’re able to adapt to the changes that keep coming. It’s no longer optional. We must use technologies in our personal and professional lives.
            But it’s a hassle. There’s so much constantly changing that trying to keep ahead of the curve is a full-time job. I used to try and do it, but I learned long ago that I just couldn’t anymore. The best I can do is selectively focus on things I can adapt to my life. Even then I feel like I’m severely behind.
            But I have also learned that if I try to stop updating the tech I use, updating the tools I use, I might as well go back to the stone age.

            So I adapt. Now on my list, Visual Basic and introductory XML. Why? Because I can use it.

Friday, July 5, 2013

F3 Firestorm

            Volcanoes are not nice places. Sure, on TV they look cool with a red hot lava flow streaming down the side of the mountain, but up close it’s not so fun. I watched as Carl in bare feet, jetted up the slope. He literally jetted up with fire streaming out of his feet. He flew straight up the side of the caldera to where the sprays of lava spewed out in equal measure with chunks of red-hot rock.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A New Brain

            Igor! Fetch me a brain! Seriously, I have found the need for a new brain, or at least a new way for the old brain to think. I’ve been teaching so much recently that it has  become my default whenever there are spare moments. I find myself thinking “What do I need to do for teaching? What can I do to streamline things?” and I immediately begin looking into it.
            But enough is enough. Yes, I’m a teacher. But I’m also a writer. Writing often gets shuffled to the back because it doesn’t bring in the dough, but I need to get back into it. I need to change my default from teaching to writing.
            I need to redevelop my writing brain. It’s sat in the jar for too long. I need to take it out, blow out the cobwebs, and plant it firmly in my skull.

            More importantly, I need to make sure I never take it out again.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

One Down

            The first Summer session class has ended. Breathe. Breathe. Three weeks to go on the second one.
            Three weeks until freedom.
            Three weeks and I can finally get out of the sun-blasted state and some serious R&R.

            I can do this.

Friday, June 28, 2013

F3 Calling Mom

            Night had just rolled in. I had made all the preparations I could. All of the gear I dared take, much good it would do me, scattered across my desk in the office. I fast approached the point of no return. When I left, that would be it, I was committed.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


            Writing is a hard business. A lot of the time there is no guidance or direction on what to do to break into the business. The advice is generic most of the time such as “write a great story,” but that’s entirely subjective. Rejections are even less helpful with their language designed to cool writers out, and that’s just when we get them. More often than not, anymore, the only rejection we receive is no reply, which is completely unhelpful in every way.
            Still, I love writing. I want to be a writer. So I press on.

            I’m willing to take up alternate tactics. If I can’t do a surgical strike to break into the business, I’ll carpet bomb. A nicer way to say it is to say I’m diversifying. I’ll crank out many different stories until something makes it through the defensive lines.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Physical Stress

            The Spring semester was brutal in all respects (for reference it’s not just me, but every teacher I’ve spoken to at my own school and others). The worst of it came in the last few weeks when my back and hip began to act up again. At that moment, I knew I had to slow down and really take care. I even doubled up on seeing my chiropractor because I knew I didn’t want to strain my body any more than I had to.

            Since that time I’ve been able to get back on track, but I still worry. I hope to get in some good exercise over the summer in preparation for my vacation as I intend to do a lot of walking on my trip to the Northeast.

Friday, June 21, 2013

F3 Back on the Streets

            The old neighborhood looked pretty much the same as I remembered it. The market on the corner still sold fruits and vegetables as well as a few dry goods, though Prohibition had robbed the market of their wine. Neighborhood kids still played stickball in the streets. Everything about the town of Meridian was the same. Except for the name.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


            It happens after every semester. Teachers get hammered by all the students, all the grading, and we just need it all to end. We need the various breaks between semesters (and even in the middle of semesters) for necessary recharging.
            I have had no such break since the winter.
            My Spring Break was split between two campuses, each with a different schedule. The break after the the Spring semester evaporated into preparation for summer classes. And I feel like the lack of recharge is taking its toll on me.

            I’m not talking about teaching, though that is a factor, but my writing, what I want to focus on doing in my life has taken a backseat to the necessity of teaching. I need a recharge, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I know my writing can give me a spiritual recharge, presuming I have the mental component to get the writing done. There’s also the physical, which was a growing concern towards the end of the Spring semester.

Monday, June 17, 2013


            The publishing genres are tricky business. The standard genres aren’t so much of a problem. Romance, mystery, and science fiction aren’t that hard. It’s when we get into specific sub-genres and even cross-genres that it gets tricky. What’s the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal? Is an urban fantasy the same as a paranormal romance?  What about mystery and urban fantasy? Mystery and epic fantasy? Mystery and science fiction?
            Each genre comes with specific expectations of story, too, and what one person reads as one genre, another would say that it doesn’t belong in that genre.

            I have a couple of series that are clearly defined in their genres. But one, the one I believe to be my best, seems to be slipping through the definitions and can’t quite capture the right agent audience. I think, though, that it’s been my error, and I need to change my targeting towards a more specific genre, one that more correctly resonates with the heart of the story.

Friday, June 14, 2013

F3 Crossing

            The Whitmoor University pool had chunks of ice in it. It should being February before dawn. Students dressed in clothing barely adequate for the weather, as dictated by the assignment. They huddled together for warmth. Alex strode forth in white wig and tricorn hat.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Head Sink

            Along with the loss of time comes the loss of my headspace. Grading takes brain power and lots of it. After rounds of grading my brain cries out for a break. I need to be able to sit and down something that requires no thinking, usually in the form of mindless television. Guilty pleasure television at that consisting of sitcoms where I’m not required to really pay attention.

            The constant onslaught of grading makes it difficult to shift into a mode where I can write. With the errors and poor writing from students swimming in my head, I have little ability to write even though I have a desire—though diminished—to write. I’m hoping my new steps to speed up grading and keep my lessons prepared will alleviate the head sink.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Time Sink

            Ask any teacher what the hardest part of teaching is, and the answer that is most often number one is grading. It takes time. Loads of it. And for someone who teaches writing, there are no real shortcuts. I must read that essay and make comments on it. Computers can’t go it alone. It’s times like this that I wish to use a few choice colorful metaphors towards other departments for using Scantron tests that can be graded in the blink of an eye.
            The temptation is to knuckle under and simplify the grading structure to allow me to more rapidly mark a score. And it’s not like I can’t evaluate a piece of writing on the quick. I’m a fast enough and astute enough reader that I can quickly determine the grade an essay should get. It’s the explanations that take time. It’s pointing out the mistakes and how to correct them that eat up my time.

            There are definitely times where I would like to adopt the habit of literary agents to simply stop reading and reject what has been submitted to me with the same level of explanation that agents give. It would be so tempting to dash off a quick form letter to a student with the explanation that “I just didn’t fall in love with the essay.”

Friday, June 7, 2013

F3 Blood Seeds

            Seeds. They were tiny things, looking like stunted raisins more than anything else, but the botanist at DeGradi that looked at them had verified they were seeds of the Delphinium ajacis flower, with one exception. The seeds in front of me had a blood red hue to their outer coating.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Reclaiming Time

            Part of my efforts during the spring was spent developing quicker grading methods that didn’t sacrifice quality. I made real progress in that area, but can still tweak things a little more. I think, though, that these efforts will definitely pay off by allowing me more time to spend on projects outside of teaching, namely, writing.
            I’ve put writing off for too long, but now I feel a deep-seated need to get back into the swing of things. Here’s hoping I’ve reclaimed enough time to get it done.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Summer Underway

            Summer school has begun, and along with it comes an onslaught of new assignments to grade because the term takes 16 weeks of material and compresses it into 5 weeks. Anyone with the misconception that summer school is a cakewalk is sadly misinformed. The problem for me, of course, is that I’m already partially burned out from the regular semester. Two weeks of down time from the end of Spring to the beginning of summer is no break at all, really.
            I had to grade the previous semester’s work then begin preparations for the summer, which means I had no time at all for personal recovery. Sure, I get the occasional time to plunk myself in front of the TV and veg out, but it’s not enough. I feel mentally drained, or at least not refreshed to take on the next wave, and the only thing that will actually help with that is time.
            I’m also in the conundrum of not having done any serious writing in the past three months. My teaching took a lot out of me, forcing me to spend time creating content for classes instead of content for books. Fortunately, my summer classes already have all the content created. I don’t need to scramble to create new lessons, just give the ones I already have.

            But shifting back into a writing habit is not going to be easy. Those few times I’ve done it during the semester I’ve found myself somewhat refreshed, but I’m out of practice. I need to redevelop the habit so that I’m looking forward to the writing instead of treating it as something that must be done.

Friday, May 31, 2013

F3 Security Measures

            I learned a long time ago that there was no such thing as enough security. No matter how much I prepare, I would never be able to stop the people who wanted to get to  me. No, not thieves and would-be muggers. Not even home invasions. I deal with supernatural threats, and they’re not scared off by an alarm system, bars on the windows, or even a foot-thick sheet of titanium.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Conference Season

            The summer is when a writer’s (at least this one’s) fancy turns towards conferences. There are a lot of good conferences during the summer and fall that I itch to attend. But because my resources are limited, I have to choose carefully those conferences which I believe will do me the most good for my not-yet-budding career as a writer. I’m looking for conferences about craft, not conventions about fandom. I want to meet publishing professionals and fellow authors. I want to attend a conference dedicated to the genre(s) I write.
            It doesn’t take long for one conference name to swim to the top: Crimebake.
            Now, I wonder which agents are going to be there. Time to start researching them and their authors.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Criminal Language

            Criminal enterprises are dangerous, no, really, I heard that somewhere. The risks of the job, though, are part of the deal. Hardly a criminal would balk at the risk of getting arrested or a prison sentence. It’s a risk, always has been, always will be. The job itself isn’t the only risk, though. Criminals have a need to go about their work in secret, and the only thing worse than getting arrested on the job is to get arrested before the job.
            For that reason criminals have to hide what they’re about, but they still have to talk about it. Talking about a big heist or, worse, the need to kill someone is a quick way to tip off the police. If the cops don’t outright arrest someone for planning a crime, you can bet they’ll take steps to make sure that the crime goes down in their favor, ending with thieves and other criminals behind bars, or even in body bags.

Read the rest on

Friday, May 24, 2013

F3 Magic Potion

            Alchemy, the study of transmuting materials, most notably of attempting to turn lead into gold, was dangerous. The antique flask sat on the table in front of me. The glass was thick and imperfect with a dawb of lead on the side. Some kind of seal had been pressed into the metal, but I couldn’t make it out, now. Lines of brass emerged from the lead seal to wind their way around the neck of the glass all the way to the top.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Murder One

            Murder is old. We can’t call it the oldest profession simply because, well, it wasn’t really a profession when it was invented. There just weren’t enough people around, which becomes a problem later, as we’ll get into.
            Murder most foul, and it’s brother against brother. The incident with Cain and Abel is interesting for a lot of reasons. For one, this is the first generation. Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden, and their first two kids turn out like this. It’s not really fair to call it bad parenting, either; I mean they got 50% right. Not bad for a couple of kids freshly kicked out of Paradise, especially considering there are no parenting books yet.

Read the rest on

Monday, May 20, 2013

Summer School

Today marks the beginning of summer school. This is my first time teaching this summer. Condensing 16 weeks’ worth of learning into 5 weeks will be tough, but I think I’m up for it. Certainly some things have to go, but I feel that I’ve retained the core of what I need to.
After comparing my summer course to the regular semester, I feel like I’ve put it under the editing knife, chopping out everything that wasn’t needed. But if that’s the case, then why do I have it in there for the regular semester? I think that all of it is necessary, but the form has changed. During the regular semester the course is a novel. During summer, it’s more of a novella.
I think novella is the right choice because it’s that awkward length that, with a little push, could turn it into a novel. The length of summer classes feels awkward, unnatural, like there needs to be more, but there just isn’t any more. But what is there is a quick, intense read.

Friday, May 17, 2013

F3 First Day

            There really is only one chance to make a first impression. Professor Alex Henderson adjusted the bow tie of his tux. He checked his watch, then nodded. He went down the hall where students still filed into classrooms, giving him wide-eyed stares. When he got to his room, he pushed the play button on the presentation remote, starting the music.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Battle Stations

            Battle stations, Red Alert, Action Stations. Whatever the terminology, it’s a call to action, but in order to even get to the point of action, a certain amount of readiness is needed.  When I took over the classes for my colleague, my teaching load went up to 5 courses. This was a considerable load of classes, compounded by the fact that I had to play catch up for two of them by figuring out what they knew, what was scored, and what was left to do in the courses.
            A normal adjunct teaching load is 3 classes a semester, and I was nearly double that, plus the extra work of teaching classes in progress. I wouldn’t have been able to handle the new load if it weren’t from the fact that I had my own classes in-hand.
            I also tend to structure my classes in a way that makes the very end less eventful. I try to get all of the major projects done before the end, then offer a chance to rewrite if they wish. This makes the situation easier on me as all the major grading is completed before the end, and on the students as well who will be swamped with other projects.
            For me, this kind of structure and preparation is what keeps me at battle stations.

Monday, May 13, 2013


            During the semester a colleague at the college injured herself and was unable to continue teaching for the remainder of the semester. I stepped in to take over her classes, which has been a challenge, but more importantly, it got me thinking about what would happen if I fell into a similar situation.
            Would the teacher taking over my classes be able to do so smoothly?
            I like to think I’ve done a lot of preparation work for my courses. I have assignments established and made them available online. I am thorough in my calendar, and can usually remain on track. Still, this entire event has made me think I need to do a little more in the preparation department, not least of which because it makes my semester go more smoothly.

Friday, May 10, 2013

F3 Business Practices

            Three students quietly packed away beakers, flasks, graduated cylinders, and test tubes while another steady stream of students walked off with boxes packed full of the supplies. Professor Alex Henderson watched, smiling, from his vantage near the door to the supply room.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Appeal of the Heist

            Heists are a staple of the crime genre. Who doesn’t love stories like Ocean’s 11, The Italian Job, or even A Fish Called Wanda? But, unlike murder and other crimes, heists are crimes we can get behind. We actually cheer on the criminals in their attempt to rob people. But why is that? Why can we get behind a group of people out to rob, yet condemn the mugger?
            Heists are always against someone big and oppressive. Either some kind of large corporation or viciously wealthy individual is the target. We dislike the big bad corporations and the viciously wealthy because, well, they’re not us and their character is shown to be flawed in some way, much as Andy Garcia’s character in Ocean’s Eleven. He’s powerful, shows himself off to be a jerk, and has very little sense of humor. This last reason is enough to justify robbing him.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Rubrics and Organ Failure

            I talked about my House, M.D. marathon and diagnosing essays. All the parts connect, so a true diagnosis for a single cause is difficult. Rubrics present themselves as a way to accurately and speedily diagnose an essay, allowing the instructor to tick off gradations in select categories while seeming to make in-depth comments regarding the essay. The comments are supposed to allow a student to realize the specific errors, then go back and correct the incorrect writing habits, which produced the errors in the first place.
            I’ve never come across a rubric that could actually do this. The seemingly in-depth comments are too vague and generalized to offer specific guidance. This is the reality of rubrics as language applicable to a wide variety of situations and writing must be employed. Rubrics, by their very nature, must be generalized. The nature of a rubric itself also is to simply speed up the grading of essays, making them into the equivalent of an optical mark reader such as the sciences and mathematics enjoy.
            To me a rubric is the equivalent of saying “take it easy for a few days, don’t hurt yourself, and you’ll be fine,” all the while the patient is suffering from massive organ failure, but the doctor cannot be bothered to spend in-depth time truly diagnosing and offer specific advice to the patient.
Why is it acceptable to tick off marks on a rubric, slide some numbers around, and then come up with a grade? The advice isn’t really valid or even prescriptive. The generalized meanings of the comments don’t offer anything except adjectival differences between “employs an adequately-constructed argument” and “employs a well-constructed argument.” What’s the difference? What is the difference between an adequate argument and a poor one, or an insufficient one?
Rather than spend time and energy coming up with vague descriptors for a rubric, I would prefer to tailor my comments specifically to the writer and the writing, offering concrete examples using their writing on what they could do or what else they should consider. This makes my grading time much longer, but it usually means, for the students who want to improve, that they won’t undergo massive organ failure and flatline at the end of the semester.

Friday, May 3, 2013

F3 Bombing Run

            “All right. So, are we clear on how this is going to play out?” Professor Alex Henderson asked.
            They stood on top of the Physics building. The six story overlooked much of the campus, including the gymnasium and the pool.
            A hand went up in the gathered throng, nearly sixty students, and the professors’ wives.
            “Yes, Michael?”

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

End Times

The End Times

            Regular classes end very soon, and it couldn’t come soon enough. The semester has been, in a word, brutal. Every instructor I talk to shares the same stories about the difficulties faced. I’ve been so swamped with grading and teaching that I have barely given a thought to writing, much less done any actual writing this semester. Hopefully with the end of this semester, I can look at the post-game to figure out some better ways to go about things, and to save myself some time and sanity so I can do some writing.
            I wonder if IBM would let me borrow Watson for grading essays . . .

Monday, April 29, 2013

Warning: Virgins Bathing Ahead

            The Greek gods are kind of funny, and by that I’m not talking comedians. They do like jokes, but most of them tend to be the one-sided kind of funny where one thinks it’s funny, but the others are mightily ticked. When it’s between gods, not a whole lot happens. One might go complaining to Zeus, who never seems to spend much time on Olympus. If it was your job to settle disputes between the gods you might choose to be out of the office, too. Of course, what Zeus spends his time doing out of the office is a story for another time.
            When it comes to mortals, the jokes gods play are very seldom funny. Worse than that, the gods have a funny sense about pride. The absolute worst thing you can do to the Greek gods is to wound their pride. They take that personally. Worse, they won’t kill you. They’re fond of turning people into other things whether it be plants, animals, or insects. When you wound a god’s pride, expect to undergo a metamorphosis. There’s actually an entire collection of myth stories by the Roman poet Ovid called The Metamorphoses detailing these stories.


Friday, April 26, 2013

F3 Red 2

            They thought she was done. She was out of the woods, and Grandmother had moved far away. But now she’s back, and out for blood. Wolf blood. She doesn’t need the Woodsman to save her this time. Red Riding Hood is back, and her basket of goodies includes grenades, napalm, and one hell of a bad attitude. Coming this summer, Red 2.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Diagnosing Essays

            I’ve been watching a lot of House, M.D. of late. An entire marathon of all 8 seasons, actually. And one of the things that I love about the show is how integrated everything is. Certain diseases (and yes I’m aware that not all of the medicine is 100% accurate) that are explored on the show are not responsible for all the symptoms a particular patient has. The disease will cause the failure of a certain organ or system, and then that failing organ or system causes other problems, so it’s important to know that not all of the symptoms have a single cause.
            Essays are somewhat like this. Everything in an essay affects everything else. Very rarely is there only one thing wrong with an essay. I have yet to encounter an essay that has excellent support, but no claims. Nor is there one with excellent argumentation, but bad organization. There cannot be an essay with excellent argumentation and indecipherable grammar, either. So many components of an essay are integrated into a whole system that if one thing fails completely, the rest of it will fail as well. The failure of one organ affects another, and so on.
            This is one of the difficulties with teaching essay writing. It’s all connected like the human body, but one failure causes multiple failures. Only when all the components are working well does the essay work.
            Of course, getting there is trickier than it seems, and there’s no one way to teach students how to get there.
            And of course, because everything is connected, diagnosing the true problem is often difficult. Problems in logic hide behind organization. Problems with grammar can mask problems with argumentation. Lack of support can be caused by lack of logic. And so on.
            Unfortunately, much like House, a lot of what I do is experiment and test until I hit upon what a particular student’s condition is, then try and apply the correct prescription.
            It was a lot more fun on House.

Monday, April 22, 2013

(One of) The Thing(s) I Hate about Rubrics

            Rubrics are becoming an increased presence when it comes to college grading. There are rubric engines, software integrated into learning management systems, and instructors swapping rubrics like candy and Powerpoints.
            But they’re not for me. There are lots of reasons why, but I discovered another one. The various gradations in a category, say argument, for example, are too similar. They read like bad paraphrases of one another where one or two adjectives are swapped out. If one of my students gave me a paraphrase with only two adjectives changed for slight synonyms plucked from a thesaurus, the student would technically be guilty of plagiarism.
            More to the point, such changes ultimately convey nothing to the students. There’s no perceptible difference between a “well-developed claim” and a “fairly developed claim.” The descriptive phrases ultimately convey less than the raw point value associated with it, so why bother with the description.
            I think these descriptions make instructors feel better by giving them something to point to as justification for what ultimately is a gut instinct. Instead of simply saying that a given argument is 8/10, the rubric’s description gives cover or what is a teacher’s learned reaction and evaluation. Half of essay grading is instinctive, something that comes with practice, and ends up more art than science.
A skilled chef can take a slight taste of a dish, and know to add a whole range of ingredients in measurements that seem arbitrary until the finished dish is tasted. The chef had no way to articulate knowing how or why it needed X amount of an ingredient, just that it did. So many recipes actually have the insruction “season to taste,” based on experience and instinct.
I feel my time is much more wisely spent giving personal feedback to my students that apply directly to their work, hopefully giving them the experience and instinct needed to understand the grade I assign to them, rather than the generic comments associated with rubrics.
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