Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012>2011

2011 was a great year. Challenging, but great.

Here's to 2012! It's going to be great. I know it's going to be amazing. I know it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Alone at the Library

I'm working today. It's a ghost town. Aside from blogging and completing a few tasks that need to be taken care of before the students return next week, I'm shelving books and exploring the library.

Archived magazines.
Picture books.
The reference section on US History.
Biographies.
Global studies.
Cooking.

There are so many treasures to find. It's nice to be alone with time to search. I have a policy on days like this: Shelve a book, grab the one to the right and take a look. How else would I learn how they made the costumes for the original version of An American in Paris?


Just Finished: 101 Places Not to See Before You Die by Catherine Price
Currently Reading: Lyddie by Katherine Paterson
Up Next: Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Concussions

I have a great memory. Really solid. I'm not the Rain Man or anything, but I remember things many people don't. The strange part is, my memory used to be a lot better and, at another point in my life, a heck of a lot worse.

You may be confused. Let me go back.

Somewhere around 6th or 7th grade, I became very frustrated with school. I found most of my classes to be boring. I could remember the subject matter by listening in class and doing a little reading. I didn't like doing my homework. I could ace the tests without it. I was fine with this, but my parents and teachers weren't. My teachers tried to get me to realize that homework assignments were building up my study habits for the future. They were important. I still didn't really buy in. I had my memory to rely on.

As I got older and entered more challenging schools with much more demanding workloads, something else happened, too. Hockey was becoming much more physical, and I started playing football. I was taking serious hits. Many to the head. By my second year in college, I was finally able to admit that I was struggling mentally. My brain wasn't the same. Several concussions had clearly zapped my memory and made it harder for me to concentrate in class. It was difficult.

Fast forward a couple more years, through college and a stint in minor pro hockey. More contact. More head shots. A couple more concussions. That put me almost half-way to 30 with mush for brains. At least compared to what they were.

That was 2007, a very important year for three reasons. I stopped playing competitive hockey, I got engaged and married to my lovely wife, and I decided to write. I decided to really write. I decided to become a writer. With mush for brains.

Next, something amazing happened. My brain started working again. I was teaching, engaging with students on a daily basis. I was writing, trying my best to get my first novel-length story out of my system. And, I was resting my head. No more hits. It appeared that I got out of hockey at just the right time. Concussions are strange beasts. One attack too many, and it can be all over. I was lucky. The beast didn't claim me.

This fall, I started to feel really good about myself. Really strong. Some of my old, nagging sports injuries had died down, and I was getting the itch to play hockey again. I was communicating back and forth with a local single-A team, ready to fill in if they needed an extra guy due to injuries or suspensions. Then, another piece of luck struck me. The team folded. They went bankrupt right in the middle of the season. Done.

Why was that lucky for me you ask? Well, remember that beast named Concussion a couple paragraphs above? He's not a good guy. One more visit from him, and I could've been a vegetable. It sounds drastic, but it's true. You never know what the next concussion might bring. It's serious. I know for a fact that if I took another big hit that sent me back to feeling the way I did in the early to mid 2000's, I would never be able to write books. It just wouldn't happen. I wouldn't physically be able to do it.

Is it hard to swallow that I'm probably still good enough to play hockey at that level? Yes. It is hard. Part of me wants it. I feel good. I know I could play. But a much bigger part of me now knows what I could lose if I tried it: Everything. And that's just too much to risk.


For more info about concussions in hockey, please read this great article by Hall of Famer Ken Dryden: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7352942/waiting-science

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Break

I've finished another semester at VCFA. Hooray! What's amazing is that I'm learning things that I didn't even realize I didn't know. I'm able to look at a piece of writing (mine or otherwise), pinpoint what is and isn't working, and use that to inform future projects. I'm learning how to better articulate my ideas, and I'm learning to catch my mistakes before I even put them on the page. After all, a more skilled first draft leads to more focused learning and revision.

So, now I'm taking a little break. I'm still writing and reading, but I won't have any assignments due until February, when my thesis draft deadlines start to spring up. I'm very much looking forward to my next residency in mid January. I learn so much when I'm on campus, and I enjoy being with my great classmates. I miss them. It's hard to only converse through message boards and e-mail with people that you're sharing an experience with.

In more exciting news, I should be getting my next workshop packet to read this week. I can't wait. It's always so much fun to see what everyone else is writing. They are all so talented, and I'm lucky to be a part of such a wonderful community.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What's happening at the library?

I'm working at a high school library. Last week, we were going over some statistics that I thought would be interesting to share.

Top Titles This Year:

1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
3)Mockingjay by Susanne Collins
4)Crank by Ellen Hopkins
5)Graceling by Kristen Cashore
6)The Death Cure by James Dashner
7)Identical by Ellen Hopkins
8)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
9)The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
10)Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Many of the above authors' other books also get checked out, making them some of our students' favorite writers. Other favorite authors include: Michael Grant, Anthony Horowitz, Kody Keplinger, Stephen King, Christoher Paolini, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Rick Riordan, Veronica Roth, and Scott Westerfeld. And, thanks to my suggestions, M.T. Anderson, Ernest Cline, Alan Cumyn, and Neil Gaiman are climbing the charts.

Top Patrons This Year:
1)Junior Male
2)Freshman Female
3)Sophomore Female
4)Freshman Female
5)Senior Male
6)Freshman Female
7)Freshman Female
8)Sophomore Male
9)Sophomore Female
10)Freshman Female

The next five are all underclass females, but there are seven guys from #'s 16-25. I think it's a pretty good mix. It's interesting that there are no upperclass females in the top 40.

note: I only included fiction and nonfiction books when ranking top patrons. There are other students that check out textbooks, calculators, etc. that are using the library on a daily basis, but I wanted to focus on creative writing checkouts on this blog.

Monday, December 5, 2011

haiku for you

sticks and gloves and pucks

a frozen pond at twilight

blades slicing through ice

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words?


At least.

How bout an entire novel.

Pictures can give us inspiration. They can make us say where, who, why, how, or what if.

Where does this tunnel lead? Where did it come from? Who built it? What's its purpose? Why is someone in it taking a photo? Who took the photo? How did they get there? What is the history behind the situation?

What if this tunnel leads to something dangerous? What if there's an adventure on the other end? What if the people who created this tunnel and the surrounding village suddenly vanished hundreds of years ago?

There's the story...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thesis

That's a scary word isn't it. Maybe I should have said, THESIS (boom thunder lightning).

I have to write a critical thesis next semester. I have a lot of ideas, which sounds like a good thing, but it can also be confusing. How do I decide what to write about? I honestly may throw all of my ideas into a hat and pick out the winner.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Telling Stories

My love for writing began long before I started writing words down with a purpose. In fact, it began way before I even liked to read. My love for writing began with my obsession for oral storytelling. For as long as I can remember, spoken stories, especially if told well, have been one of my favorite things. They really bring me back to my childhood. Maybe it was because my sister and I liked to ask a lot of questions, or maybe our family just liked to share? I’m not sure, but whatever the reason, people around me were always talking about their experiences: my grandfather’s adventures as a struggling teenager during the depression; my dad’s travels through Europe when he was playing professional hockey in Germany; my mom’s resilience after my grandfather's heart attack; my neighbor’s old cars; my grandmother going to teacher's college. You get the idea.

These stories were amazing, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I didn’t care that I had heard the one about the stolen bike a dozen times, I still craved my grandfather’s passion each time he told it. Passion. Isn't that what storytelling is all about...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nerdy Athlete or Athletic Nerd



My wife and I joke about this all the time. Which one am I?

On the surface, most people that know me would probably say I'm a Nerdy Athlete. I mean, I played college and minor professional hockey, right? I coached hockey at the college level. I was a starter on a New England championship high school football team. I played organized lacrosse, baseball, soccer, and basketball. Even badminton.

However, I also check TORn daily. I know the names of the sons of Feanor. One of my cats is named after a dragon. I taught an 80's pop culture elective. I quote conversations between Jack O'Neill and Teal'c on a regular basis. When I hear the name Starbuck, I don't think of coffee. I write books for children and teens. And, I just read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and absolutely can't stop thinking about it.

From this day forward, I'm proud to finally be able to admit that I'm an Athletic Nerd and not the other way around.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Gentlemen

In my current work in progress, one of the scenes contains a speech by a politician. The information given in the speech is essential to the story moving forward. The other characters and the reader need to hear what the politician has to say. As the writer, the difficult part is keeping the scene interesting. It could easily turn into a sort of info-dump. I don’t want to get into the situation where I am simply using the speech to get the information to the reader. That is boring and unimaginative, and my readers will no doubt see right through it. I set out to find an example novel that I could learn from. Gentlemen by Michael Northrop became that book.

In Gentlemen, the scene that I looked at was not a speech, but a lecture in a high school classroom. The situation was the same, however. The teacher in the classroom, Mr. Haberman, is speaking about the book War and Peace. The students – including the point of view character – and the reader need this information in order to move forward in the story. To keep the scene interesting, Northrop uses a balance of character interactions and internal monologue to keep the point of view character and the reader engaged in the information that is being disseminated.

I'm now trying to find that line in my own writing. What is too much information? There really is no correct answer, as different readers will tolerate different levels of information being given to them. I guess I just need to figure out what seems authentic. I'm going to continue studying techniques used in books like Gentlemen in order to improve.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Powerful Sentences

One sentence can make or break a story for many readers. I'm no different. I have decided to like or dislike quite a number of books based on one sentence that either yanks me in further or pushes me away. These sentences can come in many different forms. They can be short or long. They can appear at the beginning of a book or at the end. They can be simple and blunt or exquisitely detailed with imagery and metaphors.

When great sentences come at the beginnings of books, they often let the reader know that we are about to be taken to a completely different world. In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, the story begins with, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." OK, something is living in a hole in the ground, and it's called a hobbit. I'm intrigued. In M.T. Anderson's Feed, Titus, our narrator and point of view character, begins by saying, "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck." It's a simple sentence, spelled out in the language that we currently use, but he's talking about hanging out on the moon. Awesome. These sentences give us just a glimpse of the worlds we will encounter, but they create an excitement that helps the reader jump out of the starting gate.

However, sentences can do much more than create excitement for interesting new worlds. A sentence can also give us a great deal of information. It can set the tone for the entire story. It can clue us in to how the narrator or characters think and feel. It can give us the knowledge we need moving forward, so that we will be able to infer and empathize, or not, right along with the storyteller.

I'm trying to open up my senses. I'm trying to delve deeper, both in my writing and my critical reading, to see just how powerful a single sentence can be. Then, hopefully, I'll be able to write my own.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Links Finale and Thank Yous

A final link for the month: Write at Your Own Risk. It's a blog written by members of the faculty in my program at VCFA. Last week, Laura Kvasnosky talked about her writing roots. She discussed the first teacher that really inspired her. Mary Quattlebaum continued the theme by thanking some of her teachers, as well as some of her favorite authors. Really anybody that has inspired her to write.

In that vein, I'd like to thank some teachers and authors for inspiring me.

Matt Christopher. Thank you for pumping out a gazillion books about sports. I enjoyed them all.

Ms. O'Donnell - 7th grade social studies. Thank you for recognizing a bored student and challenging me.

Mrs. Hogan - 8th grade English. Thank you for making me feel that what I had to say mattered, and thank you for introducing me to Earthsea.

Lois Lowry. Thank you for writing books that the 12 year-old me wasn't supposed to like, but did.

Mr. Jeff Connor - too many positions to list. Thank you for sharing your passion for storytelling.

Mr. Larue Renfrew - Youth hockey coach. Thank you for showing me that hard work pays off.

Mr. Kirk Koenigsbauer - 9th grade history. Thank you for teaching with the real world in mind, rather than just the textbook.

Mr. Rodney Mclain - 10th and 12th grade history. Thank you for making learning fun.

J.R.R. Tolkien. Thank you for letting me get lost in your stories.

Dr. Scott Fields - college English and writing. Thank you for helping me understand that all words are powerful.

Neil Gaiman and M.T. Anderson. Thank you for continuing to force my mind to try and keep up.

To my VCFA classmates. Thank you for sharing in this experience and for all of your collective energy.

To my family, both sides. Thank you for understanding my passions, and thank you for supporting me, no matter what.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Links!

I'm at least neck deep in my next packet for school. Maybe chin or nose deep. Due date is November 1st. Yay! School is fun! Right?

I wanted to share a couple of interesting links:

Great article by VCFA alum, Lauren Myracle, about being un-nominated for the National Book Award. If you don't know the story, this is a must read. It's mind-boggling and heartbreaking.

I was having a discussion with a student in the library the other day about typos in books. Here's a post from Rick Riordan's blog talking about that very phenomenon.


Just Finished: Tilt by Alan Cumyn (And I would like to say that this is one of the most amazing books I have ever read)
Reading: Trapped by Marc Aronson
Up Next: Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stickers!




This month, it's all about the simple pleasures in life.

It may not be the most manly thing for me to admit, but I really don't care. I love stickers!

I think it all started with Pizza Hut's Book-It program that I participated in when I was in elementary school. It was pretty simple. They fed you pizza for reading books. If I read a book and presented a small book report to my class, I got a star-sticker for my special Book-It button. Five books equals five star-stickers equals a free personal pan pizza. The nine year-old me was sold. Instantly. I was flying through books, earning stickers, and stuffing my face with pizza.

Hockey stickers came next. I loved fun stickers found in vending machines or packs of hockey cards, not to mention decal stickers for helmets and other gear. I would always take the extra decal stickers, so that I could decorate my room and possessions with them. My number of choice as a kid was 19 for Steve Yzerman, my hockey idol. Needless to say, I think I'm still finding things with 19 stickers on them every time I go through old boxes of junk, ah stuff.

Now that I'm working in a library and trying to write my own books, stickers and talk of stickers are everywhere. I couldn't get away from them if I tried. It's always, 'look at how many stickers are on that book,' or, 'I don't think that book deserved three stickers.' They're in my face all day. When we get shipments from the Junior Library Guild, they send us gold stickers to put on their Premier Selections. My coworkers have caught on to my passion for stickers, so they save that part for me. It's so fun putting them on the books. It makes my day. A couple of weeks ago, I even got to put stickers on two VCFA faculty books: Bronxwood by Coe Booth and Tilt by Alan Cumyn. That was sweet.

If a book I wrote ever got a sticker, I may spontaneously combust. Maybe I should actually get a book published first. Maybe I should get back to work...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pumpkins!

I love to carve pumpkins. Here's some that my friends and family and I did last year at our Harvest Party:





.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Back at it...

It's nice to be back. I didn't plan on being away as long as I was but, you know, life happens sometimes.

The flood situation forced all kinds of changes on us that we hadn't planned. It has been a very stressful time. Many days, unfortunately, my writing and my school work have been forced to play second, third, or eighty-seventh fiddle to the myriad of other things that I've been forced to deal with. Life has started to take a normal shape again and, after we move into our new place next weekend, I'm looking forward to settling into a routine.

I'm not gonna lie. It's been challenging. There have been a lot of late, sleepless nights spent working or, more times than not, trying to work without being able to focus. My mind has felt like it's been pulling a sled across Alaska or something. A few times, I've even thought about packing it in, giving up, taking a semester off. Thankfully, I'm past that point. I know I can make it. I turned in a packet of assignments at the end of last week, and I think I was able to produce some quality work. Phew!

Moving forward in my studies, I'm focusing on more micro-level writing techniques. I'm searching for sentence and paragraph level hotspots --things that work for me, things that don't, and why. I'm looking at inference and foreshadowing. I'm trying to learn how to subtly show my reader something big about a character, rather than coming right out and describing it in detail to them.

I think I'm making strides. They might be little, tiny centipede strides, but I still think I'm making them.

Just finished: The house in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, pictures by Beth Krommes
Currently reading: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Up next: How I live Now by Meg Rosoff

Friday, September 23, 2011

A change in the air...

The leaves are starting to change. The air has gotten much more crisp -- the kind that seeps into your bones. Football season is in full swing. I could hear the grunting, the whistles, and the crunching of shoulder pads as I walked to my car today. I didn't need to look at the field. I played. All of the images were in my head, hanging out in some back corner of my brain. I smiled. Not because of the football scenes playing out behind my eyes, though. I smiled because football means summer is now fall, and fall means that, somewhere, people are starting to lace up their skates. They're taping their sticks, tightening up their chin-straps. Somewhere, a kid is running onto to the ice like he just got introduced at the NHL all-star game. He doesn't know any better. He and the sport are still deeply in love. They've never had a fight. Not even a spat.

What a great feeling...


Just Finished: Nothing by Janne Teller
Reading: Gentlemen by Michael Northrop
Up Next: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Trying to do the "HARD" writing.

I work in a high school library. Last week, one of the students -- I think he's a junior -- brought back a book he'd checked out the day before. When someone brings back a book the next day, they either loved it and read it deep into the wee hours of the night, or they couldn't stand it, it didn't work for them, they read a bit and put it down. One of my colleagues asked this particular student which it was. All night reading, or not for him?

He smiled.

"Definitely an all-nighter," he said. "It was easy reading. Hard writing is easy reading. Hard reading means easy writing." He dashed off to find another volume to consume.

I just stared at him as he walked away. Wow. Either that kid pulled that comment out of his you-know-where, he heard that from somebody else, or he really has it figured out. Maybe it's a combo of the three, but that comment really hit me. HARD.

He's right, of course. The harder one works at the craft of writing, the easier it will be for our future readers to enjoy our words. I need to pour all that I have into my manuscripts so that a reader can one day stay up all night, rifling through the pages, never once questioning the amazing ride that I'm taking him on.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering

If my blog is what it says it is - A glimpse inside my life and writing by Peter Patrick Langella - then who would I be if I didn't share my story from 9/11/01.

It was the first day of class my senior year at boarding school in Massachusetts. I had just finished an amazing preseason football training camp and a class camping trip/retreat. Our football team was looking good. We were returning almost all of our starters from the previous year, and we had Patriots legend John Hannah helping out as a volunteer coach. I was one of the leaders in my dorm, trusted to be in charge of an entire floor of sophomores. I was also being pretty heavily recruited by a lot of great schools to play hockey in college. I had a lot of options. I barely had a care in the world.

I went to history class in one of the small rooms at the rear of our student center, the French Building. On the way out, I headed for the main student area. I was on my way to the snack bar to buy a bagel. I was joking around with a friend. The first thing I noticed was the silence. The French Building was never silent. There was a huge TV in the corner to my right. I realized everybody was staring at it. The first plane had already crashed. The tower was billowing smoke. Someone behind me laughed. They didn't mean it in a bad way. They just didn't know how to react. None of us did. This kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen to us, on our home soil.

Some of my classmates were from NYC. One girl screamed. Others were on their phones, trying to get a hold of their families. I was frozen, silent like most of the crowd. It felt like we were watching a movie. It couldn't be real. When the second plane crashed, we knew it was. I can't remember one word that any of the news reporters were saying. I wasn't listening. I could only watch. The rest of my senses were numb. I don't know how long I watched for. I don't remember who was standing next to me. I don't know what I was wearing. I only know what it felt like when I saw the towers collapse. It was as if I was completely frozen in time. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't move. I was completely stuck in place, lifeless. When all of the feeling began to seep back in, the fear started to take over.

I rushed outside, stood in the shade of the large oak tree, and called my mom. The first thought that entered my mind was that I didn't want to enter the military. I told her that I didn't want to. West Point was recruiting me to play hockey, and they had quite a recruiting pitch. The package they could offer was unmatchable: a full scholarship plus military per diem and benefits starting right away. No only would I not have to pay for college, they were actually going to pay me to go to school there and play hockey. But, as soon as I saw that tower fall, I knew that was no longer an option. As far as I was concerned, I didn't care if I never talked to those nice men from West Point ever again.

I knew our country. I knew that we would fight. I knew that young soldiers would die. And, I knew that I didn't want to be part of it. My mom tried to calm me down. She said she loved me. She said that I didn't have to do anything I didn't want to do. I cried.

I don't think I knew anyone who died that day, but I feel deeply for the affected families of victims and responders. I have had many friends serve overseas since 9/11. Two of them died in action. Most made it home in one piece. Some are still over there, wherever there may be. I think of them often, and I'm thinking of them tonight.

I don't regret my choice. Military service was not for me. I chose to serve future generations in another way. I chose to write. I hope I can make the most of my opportunity.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How to Respond

What do you do when a personal and community hardship, a new job, writer's block, a crisis of confidence, and a VCFA packet all come together to create the week from hell?

Dive right in!

Or maybe it's more like walking the plank...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Help for Vermonters

http://www.vtirenefund.org/

http://www.vtresponse.com/

http://www.wcax.com/story/15384177/how-you-can-help-vt-irene-victims

Irene



Vermont has been ravaged by Irene's flooding. Many homes have been washed away. Others are filled with debris. Roads are destroyed.

For my wife and I, the horror started around 11:00 AM last Sunday. As the rain kept coming, harder and harder by the minute, the now roaring stream parallel to our driveway clogged the nearest culvert with rocks and clay. We then heard an enormous SNAP! as the water broke through the bridge and poured over the road. Further up the hillside, the stream threatened to break through the bank, which would have sent it straight toward the house. Luckily, it broke the other direction, swallowing up the road along its new path. All we could do was watch as the stream and the river below continued to rise throughout the day. We held each other that night, trying to sleep, the sounds of churning rocks and boulders and breaking trees echoing in the darkness.

On Monday, we took in the scene. We couldn't believe what it looked like outside our house. A pile of rubble blocked our driveway. Our road was a riverbed to the left, a gaping hole to the right. Trees and rocks littered the ground in all directions. We thought we had it bad. The power was out, and there's no cell service at the house, so I decided to walk down the road to a cell-zone, over two miles away. At least, I thought I would walk down the road. I ended up bushwhacking through the hillsides to avoid the ravines that now stood where the road used to be. The road was gone. Sure, little stretches remained, but not many. Our neighbor's barn was missing, swallowed up by the re-routed river. Further down, a cottage was gone, swept away as the river claimed the path that the road used to take. I came to one spot with no outlet, the river taking over everything. I scurried across a downed tree acting as a bridge over the water. I met some more people, gawking in disbelief at the destruction. An elderly woman gave me her son's phone number, hoping that I might be able to call if I found service. I continued through the wooded hillsides, avoiding the mess of debris and power lines below at river/old road level. I met up with more people at the next ravine. A house was missing. There wasn't even a trace that it had been there. I continued on. Another blocked path. Another tree-bridge across the river. I finally reached cell phone range.

I called our families. The entire state was in the same situation. I was completely shell-shocked. Vermont had become a legitimate disaster zone. It was an eerie feeling, really. Things like this happen around the country and the world all the time, but nothing can prepare you for what it feels like to join that list. It's like a slap in the face that aches and aches and aches until the pain starts to take over.

I hiked back to our house. I tried to explain to my wife what had happened, but you can't explain that type of destruction. We decided to hike out. We each packed a bag and set off. We retraced my path. I took her into the hills. I took her across the downed trees. I pushed her in ways that I never should have. The path was too hard. It was more than a hike, it was a survival journey, and we weren't prepared for it. After walking for hours, we turned back, needing another plan. After all, the main road was gone too. We'd learned that. Our entire town was isolated from the rest of the state. Nobody in, nobody out.



We spent that evening and all of Tuesday meeting with people on our road. We talked about supplies, who had what for food, generators, water, etc. We were meeting some of these folks for the first time. Many of them were elderly couples, and they all were extremely generous. It always amazes how people can come together during a crisis. One couple had a generator and satellite internet, so they were able to send e-mail updates to all of our families. That was a huge help. At least our parents knew that we were still safe.

Luckily, we had another outlet.

On Wednesday, we decided to hike out of our road in the other direction, through an old logging area, to the intersection with the Appalachian Trail. The Inn at Long Trail was our destination. The wonderful people there were taking in anyone who could get there. We loaded our packs with as much as we could possibly carry. Thankfully, we own nice hiking boots and trekking poles, which really saved us along our route. Again, we had to bushwhack around a couple of ravines where the road used to be. We reached the AT and headed into the mountains. It was a difficult hike, especially since we were carrying heavier packs than we had ever hiked with before. As we made our descent toward Killington, the air was filled with strange noises. Helicopters buzzing overhead. Beepers and rotors of work trucks and heavy machinery. When we finally reached the road, my wife flagged down the first car we saw. The couple was confused, not really sure if we were telling the truth or not. They had heard our governor say on TV that no one was still isolated. He was wrong. Who knows how many people were still in the same situation as our neighbors? At least the people with the car were nice enough to give us a ride to the Inn.



The people at the Inn at Long Trail were so gracious. They gave us a room and a great meal, and they wouldn't let us pay for anything. It was the same for a half-dozen other couples that had managed to get there. We then called some of the emergency numbers from some of the surrounding towns, trying to share information and organize. I think our information helped plan a Red Cross drop-off closer to our still-isolated neighbors. People didn't realize that so many elderly couples lived on our road.

On Thursday, one of the Inn employees allowed us to join her as she evacuated out of the area. All of the roads were closed for repairs, but the emergency personnel agreed to open Route 4 toward Woodstock for an hour. It was a dangerous trip. The road was rarely fully-intact. Sometimes we were in the right lane, sometimes the left, and sometimes we were straddling the double-yellow. The entire area was devastated. Houses buried in mud, farms covered in rubble, bridges missing, and foul dust everywhere. The truth of what had happened was finally setting in. I was sick to my stomach, dizzy.



We met our parents at a gas station along the route. It was emotional to say the least, but it didn't last long. Now that we were outside, we immediately sprang to work. We made calls to more emergency personnel, bought a couple of shopping cart loads of supplies (food, water, baby wipes and formula), and we brought it to one of the relief stations. We then visited with fire and rescue workers, sharing more information. We were interviewed by a reporter from the Associated Press, voicing our extreme disappointment that some elected officials were downplaying the severity of the situation. We then e-mailed and called more people, trying to keep awareness high.

Today, I feel weird. I know that's a generic term, but I don't have a word for this sensation. I feel lucky to be safe, but, at the same time, utterly helpless. We may not be able to access our cars or belongings by road until after winter. It's that bad. Our cats are still stuck there. We put out a heap of food. We're planning to hike back in to get them in the coming days. We can't get back in the way we came out right now, and there aren't enough roads intact to get close from the other direction yet.

I guess all we can do is keep advocating for our neighbors and help others that we can reach. I'm heading to a flooded housing development to clean up debris.

That's all for now. Much, much more someday.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Materials to set the proper mood...




One of my writing projects is a novel about life and hockey in greater Boston that takes place in 1970. Now, I know a great deal about hockey. It's not that difficult to write convincing action scenes on the ice. I also know about greater Boston -- probably more than most outsiders due to the fact that I grew up playing hockey there and went to high school there. But, it is a completely different thing to write about these topics in a different time period. I've had to find sources, materials.

A great source has been my dad. He was living and playing hockey in that time, and he was only about an hour outside of Boston. He knows what it feels like to watch Bobby Orr play. He remembers what it was like to run around a neighborhood. He knows which things boys cared about and which they didn't. He was a high school student during the Vietnam War and then he enlisted in the Army, so he has been on both sides of that equation. His stories throughout my life have been a huge help.

To get me in the mood for writing, I've been trying to immerse myself in materials that my main character would have been reading. I've been exploring newspapers from the era, copies of The Hockey News and Sports Illustrated, novels, and instructional books; anything that has to do with hockey. I found a great book in the library I just started working at called Power Hockey by former NHLers Don Awrey and Ken Hodge. It wasn't published until 1975, but it is eactly the type of book that my main character would read through every night before bed. Awrey and Hodge also played together on the Bruins that my character watched, so that's a bonus.

Time to write...

Just finished: Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
Currently reading: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Up next: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

Friday, August 19, 2011

Librarian

I just started a new job. I'm working as a librarian at a high school. So far, these are my two favorite parts of the job:

1) I get to create displays where I am able to showcase VCFA faculty/alums/students over other authors. Gotta keep it in the family.


2) I get to use ink stamps. Today, I was impersonating the guy from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Backstory or not to Backstory?

It's a hard task for a writer to maintain the forward motion of a novel. We want to keep the reader in suspense with our lightning-fast plotting and scene structures, but we also want the reader to have all of the information necessary to fully grasp the story. When information is given in a way that slows the plot and takes the reader out of the action, a “pause button violation” has occurred (PBV taken from Tim Wynne-Jones' website). He says, “Think of watching an episode of a TV series for the first time with an ardent fan who has control of the zapper and every time a character appears on the screen, your friend pushes the pause button and explains to you who this guy is.”

There are a lot of ways in which an author can commit a “pause button violation.” Many pause the action to inform the reader about a particular setting, an overly intricate and distracting description of a room or a landscape. Some writers pause to describe the way a character looks, pointing out each and every ultra-specific detail about their features or clothing. However, the largest “pause button violations” are committed through long passages of backstory. Lengthy backstory slows the plot, distracts the reader, and makes the viewpoint characters seem less authentic than they would be otherwise. Less backstory means a more believable narrative.

I'm currently trying to include large amounts of backstory in my own work without slowing the pace. As I said, it's a difficult task.

Just finished: Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Currently reading: Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
Up next: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman


VCFA Blog Initiative Still Moving Along...

My classmate Tim Martin is featured at On beyond Words and Pictures here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Expectations and Comfort Zones

I'm currently finalizing my first packet of work for my second VCFA semester. It's the first time my new advisor will see my work. Obviously, I have no idea exactly what she will be thinking as she receives the work. We talked at the residency, and I understand her expectations, but they are still different expectations than my last advisor. Those expectations are intimidating. Not a ton, but still, it's always hard to leave an area of comfort (an entire first semester with an advisor I worked well with) and move to something new.

During the residency, many people talked about our own individual writing voices. It seems to be a fairly universal view in both the VCFA and greater writing communities that staying true to our own voice is paramount. So, new expectations or not, I guess all I can do is write to the best of my ability and that has to be good enough.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Revision

There's revision and then there's REVISION.

revision is going over your writing and making it better. You correct all the grammar mistakes and awkward sentences. You try to fill up glaring plot holes. You change a few things that just don't work.

revision is good. But that's the problem. You writing will only be that - good - if you simply revise.

REVISION is a completely different process all together. REVISION takes you to a place that I don't think most people are ready to go with there writing. I know that I would never have been able to go there if I hadn't enrolled at VCFA. While REVISING, you question everything. Every scene. Every page. Every word. Every word needs to be right. Every scene needs to matter. I'd heard things like that before, but I never believed it. Now I do.

I spent the last two days REVISING. I just crossed a huge ridge-line, and the view looks amazing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

VCFA Blog Initiative Pt. 3

Vermont College of Fine Arts' Blog Initiative is still rolling. My post about writer's block is featured this week On Beyond Words and Pictures, the blog of journalist/writer/artist Megan Frances.

Back from Vacation

Back from vacation in Maine. We ended up seeing three (actually more like THREE!!!!) bald eagles. Amazing.

I did a lot of reading. Author Walter Dean Myers (who spoke at the last VCFA residency) said that by reading, we are "doing mental push-ups." My brain must be getting fairly jacked. However, it's a challenge to "read like a writer" while on vacation. By that I mean that it's hard to read a book for more than just the pure joy. As a writing student, I have to use the books I read to inform my own writing. A technique that a given writer uses may help me figure out an aspect of my own piece, or, more frequently, I will see something that either intrigues or confuses me, and I will write an essay for school on that topic.

For example, I'm currently thinking about books that feature an unlikable main character. How does an author keep the reader's interest when the main character seems to have no redeemable qualities? I'm not sure, that's why I'm planning to write an essay about it. Immersing myself in a topic for an assignment helps me to form an opinion and reach a better understanding.

Reading List:
Just finished: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Currently reading: Gold Rush by Chris Lynch
Up next: Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lucky Day

Today has been a great day! A lucky day!

I'm on vacation in Millbridge, Maine right now. It's way up there, over an hour north of Baa-haa-baa (Bar Harbor). This afternoon while kayaking, we saw a wild BALD EAGLE! It was amazing. We thought we saw it float into a group of trees on a small, uninhabited island. We rounded the next bend and there it was, perched on the top of an ancient pine. It checked us out for a minute or two before it took flight, soaring over the islands to the open ocean and the horizon to the east. We watched it soar and soar and soar until it faded into the clouds. What a sight! I will never forget that.

As if that wasn't enough, I beat my wife in Scrabble tonight. She has probably won the last 150 games we've played against each other. No joke. No exaggerating. She's amazing at the game. It was nice to win. Maybe I'll win again in a couple of years.

Finally, I'm reading Beyond Lucky by VCFA grad Sarah Aronson. It's a soccer story and, so far, I'm loving the main character and his authentic voice. Looking forward to finishing before bed!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Residency Over, Back to Work

My second residency in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts ended yesterday. I now begin my second semester. I'll be working with Jane Kurtz.

I plan to post more about how it feels to be a part of the VCFA community, but it's hard. It's a cliche, but it's really nearly impossible to put it into words. I'm very thankful to my family for providing me with so many opportunities along the way, making it possible for me to up up where I am. I'd also like to thank my wife, Jesse, for everything that she is. Jesse, thank you for encouraging me to dream!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cynsations!

Today, my post about my writing routine is being featured on Cynsations, the amazing blog/kidlit advocacy site created by former VCFA faculty member Cynthia Leitich Smith. View the homepage of the site here and, if your visiting after some time has gone by, view my specific post here.

This blog initiative has been such a great project, and being featured on Cynsations is an amazing way to bring my residency to a close.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's Grrrrrrrreat!

Can't you just see Tony the Tiger pumping his fist into the air. I used to love that guy.

My residency is going super. Too busy and intricate to even really discuss right now. VCFA is the most amazing school/community I could imagine.

I served as a reporter for yesterday's events over at Through The Tollbooth, an amazing writing craft blog run by VCFA alums. You can view my post here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

So it begins...

I head in for residency this afternoon. Leading a hike for those interested tomorrow morning. Trying to get mentally prepared for the amazing onslaught of writerly knowledge that it about to take over my brain.

p.s. I'm anxious over who my next advisor will be.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Writing My Way into a Routine

My second residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts is only a few days away. As I prepare, I've been thinking a lot about these first few months.

During my first residency, I kept hearing the word “routine.” I knew they were talking to me. I was disorganized, and I needed to create a routine around my writing. I needed to figure out where and when I produced my best work and, hopefully, that would lead to some consistency.

I started with mornings. I told myself that I would write first thing each morning at the kitchen table. Strike One. Life got in the way. I then tried late-nights, reverting back to my old college ways. Strike Two. I realized I’m not really a night person. Next up were early evenings; a nice block of time before my wife got off work. Strike Three. I had too much energy. I couldn’t focus most days. My quest for a routine ended in a strike-out.

But then I realized there are no strike-outs when it comes to writing. There are no right or wrong times and places to write. Coming to terms with this was the solution to the problem. The routine I found is more of a mindset than a time and place. I’m never going to be someone who writes at 7:00 a.m. each morning in the breakfast nook, and that’s ok. I’ve gained consistency through the realization that as long as I’m writing each day, it doesn’t matter for me.

A minimum of 1,000 new words per day. That’s my routine. It doesn’t matter if it happens at dawn in my kitchen, or at midnight on the moon, as long as I get to that 1,000. The words can be for my work-in-progress, school essays, random tangents and exercises, or a letter to my wife's grandmother. It doesn’t matter. Finding my routine was just about figuring out exactly how I work, and now that I have, here's to the future...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Workshop Packet

I'm reading through the workshop packet for my upcoming VCFA residency. What an amazing group of writers that I have the pleasure to be part of!

After only one semester in this program, I am a much more skilled reader. I am able to dissect a given piece of writing's strengths and weaknesses, and I have learned to articulate my suggestions and criticisms to better help the writer. "Reading Like A Writer" as Francine Prose and many others say is definitely a learned skill that has informed my own writing for the better. By being able to appropriately dissect a group of words in others' work, I can now revise my own work with much more clarity and objectiveness.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad!



Here is my father, Paul Langella, playing for the Zweibr├╝cken Warriors (U.S. Forces Europe) of the International Cup League while he was stationed in Germany during the early seventies. I would have liked to play that guy in a game of one-on-one. Most accounts say that I had more skill, but it's no secret that he was tougher. Maybe I'll write a story about us meeting on the ice, both in our primes.

Happy Birthday, Dad! Thanks for everything!

VCFA Blog Initiative Pt.2


As promised, my post about writer's block is being hosted today by recent VCFA graduate and Montpelier native Pam Watts over at her blog, Strong in the Broken Places.

The entire VCFA blog initiative schedule (as it stands right now) has been complied and posted by my classmate, Ingrid Sundberg, at her blog, Ingrid's Notes.

It is definitely worth checking out all of the posts and poking around all of the different blogs. There are a great deal of creative people out there with very impressive thoughts to share!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Printing

I'm printing out my workshop packet. Very exciting. Close to 200 pages of amazing writing from 12 fabulous writers. It should be a glorious afternoon of reading, dissecting, and thinking. Can I get any other feel-good adjectives in one paragraph?

Monday, June 27, 2011

The In-Between...

It's a hard place to exist in. I've been done with my semester for a couple of weeks, but my next residency is still a couple of weeks away.

I have found that producing quality work has been difficult. The sense of urgency is gone, and I have reached a bit of a plateau. Its time to follow my own advice and create something new. I'm going to write a new little story this afternoon just for fun; just to create.

What will it be about?

I have no idea and that excites me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

VCFA Blog Initiative

I am joining several other students/alums at Vermont College of Fine Arts by participating in a blog initiative this summer. We have each produced a couple of blog posts that are being picked up by other blogs about writing and/or children's literature. Our posts will allow the regular blog writers to take a little bit of a vacation, and the goal is to draw attention to the wonderful program we have at VCFA.

I will update this space with more information as it becomes available. I have included one of my posts below that will be appearing on several blogs in the next couple of months. I will link to them on the appropriate days.


Working Through Writer’s Block

As a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts, one of the most challenging requirements that my classmates and I face is the dreaded deadline. Each month we must submit a ‘packet’ of work that contains a reflection letter, essays, revised and new creative work, bibliographies, and exercises. You name it, and we probably have to do it. It’s intense. We have to consistently produce quality work at a torrid pace. So, you ask, what happens when writer’s block sets in?

First, if you never get writer’s block, please stop reading this immediately and go do whatever it is that you do when you’re not procrastinating or trying to figure things out. This is not for you.

Okay, now that we got those guys out of here, let’s get back to business. Writer’s block is a blessing, not a curse. That’s right. Even for grad students with deadlines. It provides us with valuable time to clear our minds, and it gives us ample opportunities to formulate future plans. So, when writer’s block hits, don’t try to fight through it at any cost. Don’t try to force yourself to write just for the sake of writing.

Relax. Take a break. Recharge.

Here are some things that work for me:

- Get away from the computer. I happen to live in the hills of Vermont, so I usually go for a walk, a hike, or a run in the middle nowhere. The solitude is great for thinking. Before long, ideas for my current work-in-progress always spring into my head. I think it’s because my brain no longer feels captive to the keyboard. There’s no pressure. The same reaction can work in a city. Find a place that you love to be. Go there. Let your subconscious take over.

- Immerse yourself in the creativity of others. Go to concerts, art shows and exhibits, farmers’ markets, museums of any kind, lectures, sporting events, etc. Insert unnamed event or activity here. People are amazing, and they’re all around us. I find that just being close to talented individuals or the things they create gets me going. It makes me think about my own creations. It makes me want to race back to the computer. Creativity is contagious.

- Start a completely new project. Maybe there's an idea that has been swirling around in your head for years? Write a chapter. Maybe there’s a short story contest that you’ve always wanted to enter? Do it. Write it. When you return to your previous work you’ll be refreshed and ready to go.

- Read. Read something for pure pleasure. Throw off your reading-like-a-writer-hat and just enjoy. Get lost in the story, regardless of style or genre. Let it take you to that place that only great books can find. I guarantee you’ll come across some useful ideas while your visiting.

I count myself very lucky to be part of the VCFA writing community; a place where things like introspection and exploration of any kind are encouraged. I could even write my next essay about writer’s block and how it affects me. It’ll have to wait though. I have a packet due in a few days, and I’m feeling a bit cloudy. Nothing like a run in the Green Mountains to clear the mind.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Tale of the Tape


My first semester is over. It has been a truly remarkable experience. I have grown as a writer in ways that I never thought possible in five short months. As always I'd like to thank my wife, Jesse, for supporting me while I chase my writing dreams, and I would like to thank my first advisor, Laura Kvasnosky, for creating such a great learning environment for me this term.

I thought that I would fill you in on the amount of work I have done this semester.

I have read 81 (Yowzaa!) books, including:

39 Novels
30 Picture Books
7 Writing Craft Books
4 Graphic Novels
and
1 Short Story Collection

I submitted 321 (Yowzaa Again!) pages of written work.
These pages included letters to my advisor, essays, picture books, short stories, memoir vignettes, and pages and pages of new and revised work on a novel. The novel is still very much a work-in-progress, but I now have over 100 revised pages that I feel good about. I think the story has a bright future.

Just thinking about that has made me a bit tired. Time to get some lunch before I get back to work.

p.s. I just checked the date from last term, and I should be getting my new workshop packet any day now. I'm excited about the piece I submitted this time, and I'm even more excited to dive into the other submissions.

p.p.s. Go Tim Thomas!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

!

Semester Over. I'm going to be a huge rebel tomorrow. I'm not going to read for even one second. Not even one.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rounding the Final Bend

My final semester work is due next week. After that, I have to compile my term's reading and writing to turn into the office at school. I should have some interesting stats to pass on about my progress.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Event

I've been thinking about the point in a story that makes you decide that you love it, or not. Sometimes it might happen on the 1st page, while other times it might be on the 400th, and no matter how many other little things happen during the tale, you can look to that one scene - The Event - that makes or breaks the story for you. I'm reading Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, and I just the read a sentence that made me love the book. Just one sentence. Isn't it amazing that only a few words can have that effect. I think so, and even though I don't know how the story ends, I will love the book no matter what because of The Event.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Learning Styles and Reading

This is a topic that came up with my current VCFA advisor based on an essay I wrote.

Although their are many different smaller sub-groups, most people can agree on three major learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.

According to a resource I found online here, when reading:

Auditory learners will identify with anything that they can repeat aloud, or images that evoke sounds or noises that they can relate to their own experiences.

Visual learners are attracted to written or spoken language rich in imagery. This one is pretty self-explanatory.

and Kinesthetic learners learn by doing.

In my essay, I argued that Kinesthetic learners could get quite a lot from reading books that take them through a process. 1st person present tense is ideal for these readers. Something that makes them feel in the action.

My advisor wasn't so sure. I'm not so sure anymore either. Are there any books that are right for kinesthetic learners?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Are Happy Endings Always Better?

There is a case for happy endings. They're everywhere.

Sometimes, even I pick up one novel over another because I am looking for the predictable ending it will give me. Loads of genre fiction is like this. I might read a police procedural to catch the bad guys with the protagonist, or I might read a piece of high fantasy because I know that my warriors will defeat the forces of darkness. Most story arcs need a resolution. It is necessary to give the reader a chance to digest the subject matter. The peaceful closure at the end of these stories mentioned above makes me feel good because in general, this type of resolution works.

But, while happy endings as resolutions help create a smooth and easily-understandable novel, I think that an open-ended, uncomfortable finish can be more attractive to the reader in that it leaves us wanting something more. I'm searching for those right now. Something that makes me think.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Colloquialisms

The subject of colloquialisms came up on the 'writing craft' section of the Vermont College student message board. Most people agree that using too many slang terms can distract the reader, but it all about finding a - and here's that word again - balance.

For instance, a character in my story might be from Medford, MA, in which case they would say something like this:

"Yorhh rootin' foh the Shahks against the B's? Ah yoo seerious, kid? Yoo bettah take it down a notch befoh yoo get smothahd."

That's just a quick example, and other terms could be used to make it even more confusing for an outsider. Some would say that the above sentence is completely unbelievable, but is this any better:

I walked into the rink with my Sharks hat on. Gino spotted me right away. "You're rooting for the Sharks against the B's," he said, his think Boston accent in full force. "Are you serious, kid? You better take it down a notch before you get smothered."

Some would say, yes, the second example is a million times better, but is it really? Would the first person narrator really stop to acknowledge that someone he clearly knows has a thick Boston accent. Probably not. It would just be normal.

You see, a lot goes into these decisions. Who's narrating and in what tense? What's the context? How far along is the story? etc.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Drizzle

Rainy days are wonderful for reading.

Just bought two brand new releases from some VCFA grads:

Flutter by Erin E. Moulton

Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith


note: Erin actually grow up a mile or two from my wife, and she got married at the same place that we did. Hopefully I can someday add published author to our list of connections.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Oh Yea!


Yep, I'm even saying it in that annoying Macho Man voice. Packet Four is in the books. Only one more to go before I get a little break prior to the next residency.

<------- I'm flying high!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Dreams

Dream Control. It's something that I've realized can be done. I'm working on it, and I'm getting better at it. I don't mean that I can lay down at night, think about something, and then make myself dream about it, but rather that I can sometimes stay in that weird place between waking and dreaming. In that place, I am sometimes able to steer the actions of the dream, thought, adventure, whatever you want to call it. This is an exceptional tool for my writing as I tend to dream up ideas and characters. To be able to be apart of that and have some stake in what is happening is an amazing thing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Character Tags

I just finished The House With a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs. His protagonist, Lewis, is a boy that cries any time he is insulted/scolded. It was somewhat annoying, but it did serve as a consistent character tag.

My advisor wanted to us to think about character tags anyway, so here is a quick list of things that might be cool to use in future stories:

- A teenage boy that only wears argyle socks.

- An old man that wears his hat backwards.

- A young girl that carries around a tape recorder.

- A small child that relates everything that happens in her life to scenes from movies released prior to WWII.

- A boy with a deep, deep voice and a fierce handshake.

- A girl that walks her pet rabbit around town on a leash, as if it were a dog.

- A teenage boy that works out as much as possible. He's been known to drop down for a push-up set standing in line for a sandwich.

- A girl that gives everyone a nickname as soon as she meets them.

- A man that counts every step he takes on his left hand. If you look close enough, you'll see his fingers moving.

Friday, April 29, 2011


I just readThe Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. I absolutely loved it. It was just a fun book. Sometimes you need books like this. I laughed out loud several times due to the random Star Wars-themed jokes and sketches scattered throughout the text.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Point of View

Choosing a POV for a given project is quite difficult.

When my protagonist is a teenager, I tend to use the 1st person. Teen protagonists are usually read by teens, so the first person POV allows the reader to become intimately involved with the thoughts and emotions of the character. Teens also have a million thoughts in their head, so the 1st person narration allows that jumbled mess of ideas to be displayed on the page.

When my character is younger, or when I'm telling a historical story, I like the 3rd person POV. Younger readers don't care as much about the inner workings of the mind, and young characters shouldn't really be able to articulate themselves that well anyway. The 3rd person helps maintain that distance. When I read a Middle Grade story with 1st person narration, I'm usually negatively distracted by all of the details. For me, it's just not believable that a 10-12 year-old would have such a firm grasp on their thoughts and emotions.

It's raining. Time to curl up with the cats and read!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Smiles

On many mornings, I drive past a kid in a wheel chair waiting for the bus. He's probably 12. He is ALWAYS smiling. His joy is absolutely contagious, and I just wanted to pass it on. Have a great day!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Graphic Novels



I've been trying to read as many graphic novels as I can lately. It's so interesting to see the different ways writers/artists can choose to tell a story. I read a few adaptations of some of H.G. Wells' classics that were filled with the real words from the stories. It was cool to see the pictures supporting them. In contrast, Shaun Tan's The Arrival has no words. One of my classmates, Tim Martin, compared it to watching a silent movie. Stunning visuals.

Pictured to the left is American Born Chinese by Gene Yang.

For more graphic novel choices, check out my classmate Ingrid Sundberg's blog post here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Balance in Historical Fiction

Historical fiction can be both educational and entertaining. As a former junior high history teacher, I know how valuable historical fiction as a secondary source can be as an educational tool. In my Colonial American History class for 7th graders, we read Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes as an accompaniment to our unit on the Revolutionary War. The students enjoyed reading the story a great deal. It was a break from reading the textbook and other primary source materials, and looking at the era through the eyes of a boy their age gave the students something for them to relate to. It was much easier for my students to empathize with Johnny than larger than life figures like Paul Revere or George Washington. The kids thought that Forbes made the story very believable, but as a writer, I know that it is a hard genre to write in.

It's hard because of balance. Historical fiction requires a great deal of research, so some writers may want to pack in as much info and details as possible to convince the reader that the story is authentic. Finding that balance is something that I'm working in with my current story. Too many details will bore the reader, yet too little will make them weary of the accuracy. There's not necessarily a right answer, so it's something I'm really trying to figure out.

I wish I had Yoda in my corner saying things like, "Ehmmm, balance, yes!"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rest


Took a nice little rest from work the last few days to visit Jesse's semi-adopted sister in New Jersey. Here's a picture of me with my psedo-niece, Midori.

Back to writing!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

More History/Cultural Reads


Here's a few more titles that would make great cross-curriculum assignments:

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy. Wonderful glimpse into the culture of Afghanistan through the eyes of a girl with a cleft lip during the earlier stages of America's presence there.

The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson. Follows a family during the mid-90's conflict in Kosovo and their emigration to Vermont.

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka. A Japanese family is removed from their home, along with thousands of others, and placed in an interment camp during WWII. Another resource on this topic is a Fort Minor song titled, "Kenji."

Please see the previous post for info about M.T. Anderson's amazing books set before and during the Revolutionary War.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An Alternate View of History



I'm in the middle of reading the second volume (the first volume is pictured) of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson. Although it is written in 18th century English that may be a bit hard for all teens to fully comprehend, I feel that it is a must read for any classes studying the Revolutionary War. If an English class was also studying 18th century literature at the same time, it would make for an amazing cross-curriculum assignment.
I don't want to give too much away for anyone that may want to read it, but I will say that it makes the reader question the motives behind the American rebellion. Anytime a light can be shone on the 'other side' of a given situation in order to educate, it's a great thing in my opinion.
It's a beautiful day today, and so, inspired by the book, I'll say, "Ye Gods, rejoice and be merry."

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Library Check-in

I thought that I would check in with some of my latest library observations.

Section that I see the most books being checked out from: Audio Books (for traditional books number one would be children's fiction, yay!)

Thing I see people doing on the public computers most: Playing online games (shopping online would be number two).

Question most often asked of the librarians at the reference desk: How do I get to the basement?

My favorite spot to sit: next to a window on the second floor (my old favorite seems to always attract someone that smells like cigarettes in the nearest chair).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bull Dance

Just like Happy Gilmore, today I'm doing the bull dance, feeling the flow, working it. The writing flow that is.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Excess

I was in Boston this weekend.

I was appalled by some of the things I saw: Partying girls trying to take their clothes off in an elevator, people being dropped off at clubs in stretch Hummers and Escalades, and cars blocking an ambulance so they wouldn't lose their parking space.

Really? I mean, I thought I was in a bad teen movie or something. In a way it made me happy because it just solidified the fact that the choices I've made in life are right for me, but...

..a huge part of me was sad. Very sad. I'm in no position to tell anyone how to have a good time or what to spend their money on, but stretch Hummers? People are still doing that? In the world we live in? How do some people not realize how inappropriate that is?

This isn't a time for blissful ignorance. The excess I saw in Boston made me sick.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hockey and Pizza

Taking the night off from anything that has to do with my MFA program. Watching the Final Four online and eating pizza.

Simple pleasures. Go good guys!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Conflict of Interest

Just wanted to discuss something.

While in school, I'm supposed to be churning out all kinds of new material, right? And then I have to think about and revise all of that new material several times until it's polished, right?

So, what am I supposed to do with all of the new material I've been creating, like the cool picture books I've now got?

It seems to me that learning can take a backseat for a couple of days while I try to get a couple of these little stories published. The way I see it, even just going through the process of submitting them is a positive for the future. The more experience I have dealing with the industry, the better, right?

Right.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Snow

It snowed again. I thought that we might be getting lucky with signs of spring, but... no.

A positive is that the white blanket covering this old dirt road makes for an extremely relaxing setting for reading and writing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vacation


Well, not really a vacation, but it sure feels like it to have the load that was Packet Two off my shoulders. I think the final tally was 67 pages worth of creative work, essays, and bibliographies. Definitely intense.

I just want to take a quick second to thank that beautiful woman you see hanging over my shoulder for supporting me while I work through this program. I could not have made it this far without her.

Jesse = SuperWife

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Two Thumbs Up!


The jury is in on Lupica. Two thumbs up for Million-Dollar Throw. The Big Field was pretty good as well.

I will admit that at first I didn't like the book on the left. I thought it was cheesy. I didn't think the things that were happening to the main character were believable. Then Mr. Lupica brought everything together and made me cry. That's right, cry. Because of that, I'm sold.

If you want a sports tearjerker, look no further.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lupica

After becoming reacquainted with Matt Christopher's classic sports books, I am now reading the novels by Mike Lupica.

His book jacket says that, "Mr. Lupica has carved out a niche as the sporting world's finest storyteller."

This jury is still out.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Best Time for Writing?

I'm trying to figure out what my writing process actually is.

Should I have a set time for writing each day. Should I always write at 5:30am for exactly 2 hours? Should I write at 4pm for 90 minutes? Should I sit there until I have written 1,000 or 2,000 words? Should I aim to finish a particular scene? Or am I at my best at 10pm-2pm?

These are all questions I am struggling with.

Who knows, maybe I will always have no process at all. Maybe I'm just a write-whenever-it-doesn't-really-matter type of guy.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Snow

Snowed in today.

I'm looking out the window down the snowy dirt road. The trees are all blanketed in snow, their branches sagging from its weight. I can just make out the brook, tiny specks of water visible in the mass of snow and ice. The bird-feeder is covered in snow. The sun is reflecting off the snow, creating a strange sense of brightness.

Jealous of my setting?

Might as well do some writing...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Grind

Not too much to report.

I received the response for my first big packet submission to VCFA, and the comments were great. Very thorough. I have done some things really well, and I have a great deal to continue working on.

Now I'm just plugging away at more reading and writing. It's a fun process to be completely immersed in all this.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ice?

I'm also skating again tomorrow. I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment.

Respect for Matt Christopher again

In her lecture at the winter residency, Jane Kurtz (one of my faculty members at VCFA) explained to the audience that the notion of surprise and originality needs to be considered from the perspective of the reader.

She said that while adults, especially writing students and faculty and those in the publishing world, will think that an idea is too “predictable,” a young reader may find that idea to be completely fresh and relatable to his or her own experiences.

Sports author Matt Christopher does an exceptional job of creating stories that are entertaining, but also have a clear, easy to relate to problem that the protagonist must go through in order to grow as a character.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Packet One

I just submitted my first big assignment for VCFA. All in all, about 50 pages worth of stuff: a letter, an autobiography, an annotated bibliography of all the books I've read, two essays, a picture book draft, and an excerpt from a middle grade novel. Wow, it doesn't look like much when it's written in one sentence like that, but I've really been busting my butt.

Off to do more reading. The next packet is less than a month away!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Finally

I finally got my computer back today from those wonderful people at Apple. Now I have to get down to business and finalize my first packet assignment that is due on Tuesday. Typey, type, type...

On a different note, what is going on with the boys in black and gold? Are the Big Bad Bruins back?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Montreal

Jesse and I are spending a couple of nights in Montreal. We love this city. It always makes you feel a little Euro, which is nice.

Last night, we walked around, checked out a few shops and went out to dinner. The people working at every place we entered greeted us not only with a "bonjour," but with complete French phrases. They thought we were locals! This is huge. It's never happened to us before, and we were proud to fit in.

Heading to the old port for some crepes this morning. Yum.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hockey

Okay, I admit it. I'm a fraud. I spent a couple posts talking about how I hadn't been skating and all that, and now I've gone and broken my promise again. I played in a pick-up game this morning with a group of guys I used to play with. It was great. I had tons of fun, and I actually played pretty well, too.

Went to the Norwich-Middlebury game last night. 4-4 tie.

Now it's off to watch Norwich-Williams. This is a tough one. The school I played for against the players I coached just last year. I guess I'm rooting for Norwich, but I hope it's close.

Friday, February 4, 2011

YEA!!!


I'm at the library today.

I was nervous walking in because some lady has been sitting in my favorite seat lately. I know the seat is open to anyone, but I've always been very particular about having one place to sit. My classmates at the residency even caught on and gave me a bit of a hard time. I guess I sat in the same seat for nearly every lecture. Anyway, this particular lady is in the same room at the lib looking at me right now. She wants this seat! HA! The way I see it, it's all about the simple things in life. If a little seat is going to make my day, then yay for me.

I have included a picture of my 2nd favorite seat to the left. Yes, it's a big gray hand from the kids section. I've been sitting in it reading Matt Christopher books. One of the librarians has been staring at me like I have nine heads.

In unrelated news, a friend has turned me on to a French Canadian band called Le Vent du Nord (The Wind of the North). Awesome fiddle and beat. I don't understand a lot of the words, but they're so good it doesn't matter. Ta-Ta for now.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Struggling

Wow.

I'm not sure what it is, but I'm really stuggling coming up with new writing right now. Maybe it's a little bit of fear. My writing is not just for me now. It's headed to a great writer as an assignment. That's stressful.

I was looking through my residency notes and I found a great quote from faculty member Coe Booth:

"Don't fight it, just write it."

So, I'm going to use that as my motivation moving forward today. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Crazy Day

Drove to Boston in a snowstorm with Jesse to get her Passport. It should take <3hrs to get there. It took 4 on the way there and 6 on the way back. Yes, 6! I also forgot how crazy Mass. drivers are. After today, I won't soon forget again.

My computer is busted and in the shop. It was eating chargers. I'm freaking out because I have so much on there that I need in order to finish my school assignments. I have important stuff backed up, but I guess I took things like bookmarked research sites and saved internet history for granted.

Now I can't sleep. Ugh.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Subaru


I'm checking in today from a Subaru dealership. Our Forester is getting detailed. It is going to take a while, so I'm charging through some reading. I've been destroying Matt Christopher books. It's amazing how short these things are. You don't realize it when you're young.

<------- The Hockey Machine has always been one of my all-time favorites.

I'm now reading The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson. It was last year's Vermont Reads book, and I never got to it. It's great so far.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pumped

Ok, so I just finished the super large residency evaluation form, which means that my semester can officially begin. It was really hanging over me mentally.

So, here it is. This semester - which is the next five months - I will:
-Create a rough draft of a middle grade novel about hockey.
-Read 50-75 books depending on how many picture books are in there.
-Write 10 critical essays based off my reading and research.
-Write 5 Picture Books, one per month.
-Explore memoir if I have any extra time. Note: I hope I do because I have a really great idea.


Way harder than playing hockey. That was easy.

I am also very happy to announce that this semester I will be working with the amazing Laura Kvasnosky. Check out her website: http://www.lmkbooks.com/
She illustrates all of her own work, and her story, Zelda and Ivy: The Runaways, was chosen as the 2007 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award recipient.

- Per ala.org: "The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year."

Not too shabby, eh?

I would always like to say that my residency experience was simply amazing. The program really is second to none. I can't wait to go again in July, and I wish all my new writer buddies the best semester possible.