Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

The world didn't end last week, and I'm about to graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts with my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults after two intense years of work and study. Sounds like 2013 is starting off just right!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Senseless

The news of another mass shooting has me reeling. I don't want to make a speech. I don't want to rant. So I'll just quote a very wise soul. He's talking about a different situation, but it fits:

"Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage."

- Gandalf in The Hobbit (movie)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Books

It's interesting. Very interesting. The more I become part of this world of writing and reading and books, the more I realize how many books I haven't read. As my "have read" list gets bigger and bigger, my "to read" list gets bigger as well. That doesn't make sense, of course, in a finite and mathematical sort of way, but it is true in an inside-my-soul-feeling sort of way. It's really the best possible problem to have, and now that I don't need to turn in any more packets, I can read or write whatever and whenever I want.

Ah, liberation!

Just Finished: Mindblind by Jennifer Roy
Currently Reading: Goblin Secrets by William Alexander
Up Next: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Strange times...

I turned in my last packet of work as a VCFA student the other day. I'm done. Yes, I do have some end of semester materials to compile and turn in, and I have a reading and a lecture to prepare for at the January graduating residency, and of course I have to participate in graduation, but, virtually, I'm done. I have no more packets. No more amazing faculty members are waiting to critique my work.

I'm on my own again.

Meaning writing on my own. But it's not the same as before. Not at all. Now, I have an arsenal of vocab and techniques and skills to help me move forward. Now, I have a troupe of writing Dystropians by my side. This alone is nothing like that alone, where I had no idea what I was doing, yet thought I did. This alone is much more exciting.



Currently Reading: Nothing!!!!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Latest article:

http://d3hockey.com/columns/a-players-perspective/12-13/121102-solutions

Where does the time go?

I turned 30 last week. And it's weird because while I'm the same person I've always been in a great number of ways, I'm also very different. Different in good ways. I'm proud of who I am, what I do, and where I'm heading. I have huge goals and even bigger dreams, but I'm also content. That makes me feel special. I have an amazing wife and family. I have friends with big, supportive hearts. I have so many ideas that my mind feels like it might burst sometimes. I'm happy to be me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A little gig...

I actually have a writing gig. It's for a growing hockey website called D3hockey.com

I'm going to do a bi-weekly column, and it's pretty cool because I can write about basically anything I want. Obviously it will pertain to hockey, but I'll get ideas as things come up during the season and just run with them. Should be fun.

My first piece is up, and it serves as a bit of an intro:

http://d3hockey.com/columns/a-players-perspective/2012-13

We'll see if I can do better next time. Gotta watch those typos!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Terrific

I've written before about how a single scene or passage or even word can pull a story together for me. My Book of Life by Angel by VCFA alum and faculty member Martine Leavitt is the latest on my reading list to accomplish this. With one word! The book is so haunting and so beautifully written as an entire package, but this one particular scene -- one word! -- will stay with me for a long time.






Just Finished: My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt
Currently Reading: Stealing Air by Trent Reedy (also VCFA)
Up Next: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger



Friday, October 12, 2012

Fear

It can really paralyze you sometimes. It's weird, too, because the more I learn and the better I think my writing gets, the more the fear starts to set in. The fear of not being in school and not having faculty advisors to help me out when I'm stuck. Not that getting published is everything because I'm not writing just to get published. I'm really not. But I would like to get published. I would like people to read all of the things I'm writing. And that's the scariest part, right? Spending so much time trying to improve and worrying that it might never be good enough...

That's also the fun part, I know. Trying to reach that goal no matter how far of a stretch it is. Rocky Balboa once said that fear should be your best friend. You can keep him in your corner and use him to motivate you. I'll try.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Refreshed

It feels good to be back writing on the blog. I've been very busy at work, and I was away for a bit at my sister's wedding, and I've been completely immersed in my book, trying my absolute hardest to make it as good as possible. I only have three months left as student at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and that makes me both excited and anxious. Excited because I've learned so much, and I feel somewhat ready to be writing on my own again, but anxious because I'm not quite ready to leave Hogwarts yet. It's such a magical (pun intended) place, and it has become a part of me, deep, deep down in my soul. I'm also not ready to not see all of my classmates regularly because they really are the most caring and supportive and energetic group I've ever been associated with. I'm very lucky in that regard.

On a side note, I played Galaga today at a pizza place. It was awesome. I also went to my favorite bookstore and put all of the VCFA alum and faculty books face out, and that was awesome as well!


Just Finished: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
Currently Reading: Son by Lois Lowry
Up Next: A Step From Heaven by An Na

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sorry...

for the lack of posts lately. I've been in Siberia in training. Revising my book. Working on stuff for my VCFA graduate lecture. Here's a video clip of me getting down to business.



Monday, August 27, 2012

One Moment

I write a great deal about writing and hockey. My new love and my old one. And I've also been working on some personal essays for a possible vignette project. In one of them, I think I stumbled across the exact moment when writing became more important than hockey.

Here it is:


In March of 2007, I was at the tail end of my first and only year as a member of the Huntsville Havoc, a minor professional ice hockey team based in northern Alabama, living out a smaller version of my wildest childhood dreams. Picture Bull Durham on skates and that was us.

In one of my last games, we were playing at home against our biggest rival, the Knoxville (TN) IceBears. They were first in the standings and notorious for their physical style of play. We were leading by two or three goals toward the end of the first period, and our fans were rocking.

That's when it happened. One of their players wrapped the puck around the boards. It skittered into open space. I planted my feet from my defensive position and bolted for the puck, determined to beat my man, collect it, and transition to offense. I was so focused on my man I didn’t notice that Knoxville’s largest forward, #7 Rob Flynn, was
going to reach the puck first. I couldn’t turn back. I had already committed. It’s one of the first rules that young defensemen are taught at hockey clinics: “If you pinch up, get the puck or hit the man. Both cannot get by you!” The rule was part of me by that point. I couldn’t have ignored it even if I’d wanted to. I knew I wasn’t going to get the puck, so I had to hit the man.

Flynn didn’t see me, either. His head was down, making sure he had full control of the puck. I bent my knees low as I charged toward him, reaching top speed. He turned up ice, lifting his head to find me blocking his path. I exploded up into him, my shoulder connecting dead center with his chest, a perfectly formed bodycheck. Flynn flew backward, his legs ending up above my head as he sailed to the ice with a grunt and a thud.

The crowd erupted into cheer. I was not known as a hitter. I was all speed and finesse and technical passing. The check on Flynn was by far the biggest I had ever thrown in my hockey-playing life. In fact, it surprised me. I had no idea that I could hit with such force.

The play soon ended up back in my defensive zone. I regrouped and had just poked the puck off their centerman’s stick and passed it up to my left wing when I caught a flash of blue and orange in my peripheral vision. It was Rob Flynn’s giant gloved hand. He grabbed me by the side of my helmet. He gripped my whole head like I was nothing more than a beach ball. He tugged me toward him the slightest bit before shoving with all his might, sending my head crashing against the Plexiglas that circles the rink. I bounced off and hit the ice, my vision flashing red and gray, my mind moving in and out of slow motion. I lay on the ice, blurry. Flynn reached down and pounded my face against the cold sheet, laughing. I somehow managed to get up and hobble to the bench for a line change.

I don’t know if I decided right then, struggling in pain on the bench in front seven thousand spectators, trying to hide my glassy eyes from the training staff, or not. But if it wasn’t right then, it was very soon after. I was done playing competitive ice hockey. It was time to give up on my childhood dreams and live out ones I'd formed in college. It was time for me to start writing.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

THE END

Time to do a celebration dance...





Okay, I'm back. Time to rethink the beginning. Don't you just love revision?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fail not Fatal

As you know, I set a deadline to finish my book: 8/15. It came and went yesterday. Still not finished. I figured out some things about 3/4 of the way through that I had to go back and fix before I could move forward and finish.

Oh well.

That's the best part about goals -- you can reach some and not others, but you can always make new ones.

By the end of next week, THE END will be on my page.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Occupation: Who cares? ------ Passion: Writing

My friend and classmate Jeff Schill recently wrote where he tries to find out if he is actually a writer or not. Check it out here.

Did you read it? Good.

I've often had the same thoughts. As I've said on here many, many times, it's pretty easy to doubt yourself. But let me tell you something: I am a writer, and I just had a day for the ages to prove it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Why? JG and JA, that's why.

Writing is hard. It's not like you can just sit down at the computer and pump out bestsellers. Writing is really hard. Writing and revising and writing some more, trying to write the best book possible. I think it's just natural to doubt myself. To ask myself, why am I doing this?

Well, why? It's hard.

Because (1) I love it. It's the best challenge I've ever faced, and (2) I read books that make me say, wow, I wish I can make someone feel like that when they close my book someday.

So, thank you, VCFA, for helping me rise to the challenge, and thank you, John Green and Jay Asher, for wiping the floor with my emotions.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Busy Weekend

Family Reunion - Check

Father-in-Law's Birthday - Check

Volunteer at Memorial Bike Race - Check

Stack Wood - Check

Become Olympic Super Fan Like Always - Check

Write - Ahh! Doesn't the world know I have a (self-imposed) deadline to meet?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Staying Focused

When it comes to writing, I'm someone who always needs a side project. I'll take breaks from the novel I'm working on to write some hockey poems or a short story. Sometimes, I even write the opening pages to one of the many stories that's floating around in my head. This can be a positive thing. It means I'm staying fresh, challenging myself creatively.

But, it also means that I've been working on so many things that I haven't finished anything in quite a while.

Well, you heard it heard here first: I will not work on anything else until I finish my novel. I'm focusing on one project, and I'm going to finish this draft of my book by hook or by crook. Soon, too. I'm trying to write THE END before I head back to work on August 15th.

There. I just gave myself a nice little (HUGE!!!!!) deadline.

Wish me luck...


Just Finished: The Night She Disappeared by April Henry
Currently Reading: A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
Up Next: Shine by Lauren Myracle

Sunday, July 22, 2012

It's the Final Countdown!

You can hear the music, don't make me sing.

I'm back from residency and beginning my final semester at VCFA. It's crazy how fast the time has gone. I know I've been saying that a lot, but I can't help it. It seems like I was just starting out only a few months ago, not 18 months ago. People I didn't even know existed at the New Year in 2011, I now consider some of my closest friends. And this all happens through a low-res format. Just another piece of magic that can only take place at VCFA.

So now I need to develop a survey about boys and reading, gather the results, and present my findings and suggestions to the community in January, and I need to produce what the faculty deems to be a publishable book by Thanksgiving Day. Yes, that's when it's due. No big deal, right? Actually, it's not. I just have to trust myself and write my story.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Blogging from Residency

Once again, my classmates and I are blogging about our VCFA experiences over at Through The Tollbooth. My specific post is here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I wonder a lot of things, and these are some of the things I wonder:

On NHL Free Agency Day, why do I refresh my computer fifty million times to see all the new deals? I could just check once at the end of the day. Why?

How come new cars don't allow you to adjust the bass anymore? If I want to blow my speakers that's my business.

What would the world be like if Facebook was never created? Better?

How is it possible that I start my final semester at VCFA next week? Time doesn't fly. It travels at Maximum Warp. Engage!

Why am I always the one to move to the side on an overcrowded path or sidewalk?

What would I do if paper books didn't exist? That's too depressing to think about much longer.






Saturday, June 30, 2012

Natural Disasters

My heart goes out to those suffering from the fires in CO and other natural disasters around the country.

It brings all of those flood memories from last year back to the surface. I don't have too much to say about it. I know I can donate, and I will, but I just wish I could help more. Whenever these things happen, I wish we could all help.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Motivation

It's easy to be motivated as a student. I have assignments to complete and deadlines to meet.

However, my next semester doesn't start up for a couple of more weeks, and it's times like this where I worry a little about what happens after I graduate in January. It's easy to just sit back and think, oh, I'll write tomorrow or I'll get a bunch done over the weekend. The hard part is getting after it on a daily basis when there isn't a deadline tapping on your shoulder.

So I've been setting little deadlines for myself -- giving myself little assignments. It might be to write a thousand words today, or it might be to revise two chapters that I worked on last week. Just something to make me feel a bit of pressure. Pressure's a good thing, at least for me, and it makes me focus and work harder.


Just Finished: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Currently Reading: The Apothecary by Maile Maloy
Up next: DeadEnd in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Childhood Dreams

I teared up on Monday night. Just like I did last year, and they year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that. Do I need to keep going?

I couldn't help it. When the Stanley Cup gets raised above an NHL player's head, all of the memories and dreams from my childhood come flooding back to me. It's as if, just for the tinniest instant, the dream is alive again. For just a moment, I'm ten or eleven, watching the celebration unfold and planning what my day with the cup will be like when I win it in 10-20 years.

I'm okay with tearing up. Especially when it's because I got lost in childhood memories. It's good for my writing. My current main character dreams of winning the cup just like I did. He lives and breaths hockey. It's practically all he thinks about. I've been trying to delve deeper into his head, but it's hard sometimes. Sometimes you need a moment like Monday night to transport you to a different time and place. A place where a kid's dreams mean everything to him, and he loves a game unconditionally. I try to sit in those moments and take them in. harvest the emotions. The longer I stay there, the easier it is when my fingers hit the keyboard.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Creating Character

My dad has always loved The Lord of the Rings. All of Tolkien's writing, really, but especially dealings with Middle-earth. Of course, when I was old enough, he got me hooked as well. One of our favorite things is to read the appendices to The Return of the King. Those, along with the Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales and other of his works, create a background for, and a history of, the worlds and characters that we enjoy so much.

This month, I started to create a history for the main character of my current work-in-progress at my advisor's urging. Now, I didn't create a Tolkien-like history. He came up with a history of an entire world, after all. What I did was create a series of vignettes that tell the history of my character and his family. Good times, bad times, and a bunch of things in between. This way, when I go through the story to revise or create new scenes to move the novel forward, I have a much better idea of how my character will act or feel because I now have a wealth of his past experiences to draw from.

We use our experiences to inform our decisions. Why shouldn't we do the same for our characters. It has been such a great experience that I honestly don't think I'll be able to write a story in the future without doing a character history exercise first. It's just better this way.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Workshop

It's that time of year again. Workshop submissions for my next VCFA residency were due last week. Now I have to wait a few weeks until I get my next group assignment and reading packet. I love the reading packets. I love seeing what all of my ultra-talented schoolmates have been writing. It's amazing how each piece in the reading packet is so different from the rest. We all have so many good ideas and are  skilled in our own unique ways.

I remember writing in this space before I entered the program. I had never really participated in a workshop before, and I wondered what it would be like. That was before I ever thought about the term "reading like a writer." I was reading that first workshop packet as a fan, assessing whether I liked something, or not. I was not yet ready to assess whether a given piece of writing worked or not and for what reasons. Slowly, I've joined this crazy "reading like a writer"land where I'm able to participate in a back and forth with other writers in a meaningful and constructive way. It's hard to grasp the fact that it's only been a year and a half. In some ways I feel like I've always felt this way because of the intensive study, so it's weird to reflect on how far I've come.


Just Finished: Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Currently Reading: The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney
Up Next: Messenger by Lois Lowry

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Thrill of Writing


My next VCFA workshop deadline is approaching, and I really wanted to create something new. I felt like the other pieces I have -- especially the beginnings which work best for workshop -- wouldn't really benefit from the experience. I'm either too happy with how they work right now, or I know they're too jumbled to be fixable at this point.

So, I took the last few days and created something new. Non-linear realistic fiction. Not usually what I write. And it was thrilling. It still is. I'm excited about the project. And that's how I know that this is all worth it after a year and half in school for writing. It's still fun.

After essays and essays and revisions and revisions and a critical thesis and character exercises that have made me want to pull out all my hair at one time or another, I still love writing. I can't not write, and that's refreshing.


Just Finished: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Currently Reading: Holes by Louis Sachar
Up Next: Tracing Stars by Erin E. Moulton

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Author Photos

 They're awesome! Especially the ones from the 80's and early 90's. James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, and Tom Clancy have a few legendary poses.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Revision Time

I'm finished with my critical thesis. Hooray!

I analyzed how writers craft engaging sports scenes for young readers. I started my paper with a bare-bones hockey scene that lacks emotion and is full of way too much sport-specific language. Throughout the thesis, I redraft the scene five or six times, trying to incorporate different techniques I learned while researching. I tried to pinpoint exactly what makes certain scenes successful, and I kept revising my hockey scene until I turned it into a scene I could be proud of.

I won't bore you with my entire thesis, but I will post the original and final scenes here, which serve as the opening and conclusion for my paper. Read them with writing craft in mind. Think about what makes the final scene better than the original.


Original

David deked past his checker with a slight toe-drag, digging his feet into the ice as he crossed over to his left, the puck cupped neatly on his backhand. He drove wide, heading for the bottom of the face-off circle. Another defender lunged at him with a sweep-check, cutting off his lane to the net. He swung his hips around, pivoting onto his forehand, head up, looking for an open teammate.

James made a cut from the left point toward the slot, finding a patch of open ice, lifting his stick to signal for the puck. David caught James' gaze and sent a pass directly onto his tape. James collected the pass and flung a shot toward goal in one motion. The puck sailed on net, slipping past the opposing goalie's outstretched blocker. Score!

David skated over and gave James a fist-pound with his glove as the rest of their teammates mauled him from behind. Their celebratory pile moved behind the net and against the glass. Their team had the lead, 3-2, with only three minutes left the third period. They skated as a unit to the bench for a line change, their coach showering praise in their direction.



Final



David flew past the Hawks’ defender with a quick shift of the puck, reaching top speed as he headed deep into the offensive zone on his weak side.
He looked toward the goal. He needed to make something happen. Someone needed to make a play. Why not me?
            He shifted his weight, waiting. Patience. Patience.
            Another defender lunged at him, sweeping his stick back and forth. David's lane to the net was blocked. Red shirts everywhere.
            He curled onto his strong side, lifting his head up, looking for a white shirt. A friendly shirt. C'mon, c'mon. Someone make a move. Make a move, quick.
            "Here, here." James cut free from his defensive position, finding a patch of open ice in front of the net. "Davy!" He shook his stick up and down, giving David a target.
            Just me and you. David looked his defender off and slid a pass directly onto the blade of James' stick, the black puck meeting the white grip of the tape.
            James fired a shot toward goal. Fast. Fluid. It sailed high on net. The goalie stretched…
            Too slow. The puck slipped into the top left-hand corner, colliding with the mesh of the net.
            "Yes!" David stabbed his stick in the air. Yes! He skated to James. They bumped fists. The rest of their teammates mauled them from behind, everybody slapping hands and patting heads.
            "Way to go."
            "Nice finish, boys."
            "We got this."
            We do got this. We have this.
            They took the lead, 3-2. Only a couple minutes left. David led the charge back to the bench for a breather. The home crowd started chanting. Cowbells and whistles echoed off the domed ceiling. Does it get any better?
            The second line took their place on the ice. David sat on the bench next to James. Can’t relax. Not yet. More work to do.
            As if reading his mind, Coach Hines appeared behind them, handing James a water bottle, patting David on the shoulder. "Don't get too comfortable, boys. I'm gonna need your line back out there to finish this thing off."
            David took a breath, sweat dripping off the tip of his nose. He looked at the time clock. A minute and a half. Ninety seconds till we’re champions.
            He already knew where they could hang the banner. That blank spot on the wall above the concession stand. Up near the window where his dad stood. Front and center for all to see. We got this.
            He wanted it. He needed to get back on the ice. Sitting on the bench was like torture. The seconds seemed like hours. He bumped his fist against his leg as each second passed.
            Tick.
            Bump.
            Tick.
            We got this!


Monday, May 7, 2012

Never

Sometimes I finish a book, and I say, "Wow, I'll never be a published writer."

Jumped by VCFA faculty member Rita Williams-Garcia made me feel this way. It was just too amazing. The way it deals with perceptions -- of ourselves and of those around us -- just blew me away. The voices of the different girls depicted were so real and distinct, I found myself reading certain passages over and over again just to live in their descriptions a little longer.

It's a feeling that only the best books can give me, and it's addicting. It's fun to come across a piece of writing that's so fresh, it makes me feel like I could never have created it. It also makes me want to produce the best writing I can, so that maybe someday someone might feel the same way about something I've written.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Stuff I'm thinking about

Hockey playoffs: Most exciting sport to watch. It's not even close.

Character names: What is it about some characters that you never forget their names? Does it have more to do with them being a memorable character, or is there a certain musicality to some names that sinks into our memories more easily?

It's pizza night!

Genealogy: I'm in the middle of researching my ancestors. My wife's too. It's addicting to find new little tidbits. For example, my paternal grandfather was a very successful ice cream salesman for a national company. I'd always heard stories about how he started at the bottom and worked his way up the chain of command. Now I have proof. Census records told me that he began as a truck washer at the ice cream plant. Amazing.

New projects: How many writing projects should I have on the go at one time? A lot.   




Saturday, April 21, 2012

Writing as Therapy

When I was a kid, I don't think I was ever really stressed. I had a great life. Whether or not I was going to win that evening's street hockey game was probably my biggest concern.

As a teenager, more pressing concerns (or at least they felt pressing at the time) came into my life. I would usually turn to sports as my outlet. My practices and games were a place where I could be myself and release negative energy in a positive way. I don't mean that I would necessarily lash out at my opponents -- I was a mostly clean and sportsmanlike player -- but I did play contact sports, and I was able to be aggressive without it being a problem in my non-sports life.

When I first started writing, I did it because I liked it. I had some stories to tell, and it was a fun process to challenge myself and get the words on the page. I never really thought about the calming effect it was having on my daily stress levels until I realized that I couldn't not write. It no longer only makes me happy, it is an integral part of my life. Sending words through my brain and fingers onto the computer creates a giant release. After writing, I feel so calm. It's as if all of the characters in my head hashed out any issues I might've been having for me.

Obviously, some things in life are more stressful and worrisome than others, and big things will still be there once I stop typing. But, because of the frame of mind writing puts me in, they always seem so much smaller.

Some people do yoga. I write (type).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Going for Gold


I talk a lot about surrounding myself with creativity in order to become a better writer. Being around the best makes you want to be your best, no matter what their discipline is.

My wife and I had the unique experience of being able to attend seven games of the Women's World Ice Hockey Championships, including all of the games in the medal round. It was being held at the University of Vermont, which is walking distance from my apartment. How cool is that? How many people can say that they were able to walk to World Championship events? Not many, and I count myself extremely lucky.

Canada beat the US in overtime in the gold medal game, which wasn't the result I was hoping for, but it was a great game to attend. Canada is very tough and resilient, and the US plays one of the most exciting finesse games I've ever seen. Their speed, positioning, and passing were a joy to watch. They play the way I think hockey should be played: with skill. they aren't concerned with the fighting and cheap shots that are far too prevalent in much of the men's game at all levels. This pure playing of the sport was refreshing. And these women aren't making millions of dollars. They are simply playing for the love of the sport, living out their childhood dreams. It's awesome.

What a positive energy boost. It'll stick with me for quite some time.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Finish That Book!

I was in charge of my school message board's weekly craft discussion and posted something nearly identical to this:


Over the last six months or so I've been coming across more and more instances of people saying that they aren't finishing books. The reasons are varied: hollow story, predictable outcomes, annoying characters, you name it.

The same goes for skimming. During a faculty lecture in January we were asked to see a show of hands of readers that skim. Half the room put their arms up. Others talked at dinner about how they were afraid to put theirs up, only to be caught off guard by how many did. It seems the majority of the community was guilty.

The point of the discussion is coming soon.

Most of us would agree that it is often easier to pinpoint what doesn't work in a given piece of writing. When something is strong, we sometimes just "know," but when it's "weak" we can chop it up and dissect it and discuss it until we're blue in the face. And that's mostly a good thing. My lectures, workshops, and advisor interactions are making me a more informed reader and giving me a better vocabulary to articulate my ideas.

But, all of that leaves me wondering two things:

1) Why do so many readers stop before the end? How do we know that these "weak" aspects of a book are actually going to turn out that way if we never even reach that part of the story. Shouldn't we be reading entire novels to take in as many pieces of the puzzle as we can in order to learn more? Sure, we might like some books less than others, but that doesn't mean that we can't learn something from every whole product. What good can possibly come from putting a book down?

Which leads to...

2) How can we turn this into a positive? How can we take these things that infuriate us so much about some books and learn from them in a proactive and productive way? Rather than stopping or throwing the book across the room, how can we flip the switch on these stories and figure out how to avoid the same mistakes?

I try to read every book until the end, and I try to take something from every book. I'll admit it's really hard sometimes, but I think it's important that we try.

How can we help each other with this? How can we use every book we read to our advantage. How can we learn from the negatives to turn them into positives?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sometimes you just don't have much to say...

because your brain is overloaded with critical thesis and novel revisions. Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

More Poetry Madness!

I've made it to the Elite Eight of the poetry bracket. It's an epic word battle -- titillate vs. warbled. May the best poem win!

And, don't forget to check out all the action at Think Kid, Think!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hectic Week


I'll give you a run-down.

- The latest draft of my thesis was due. It's going really well, and I think I'm nearing the end thanks to the support of my wonderful advisor, Shelley Tanaka. But, it's still stressful trying to create the best product I can. I'm learning from it, and it can only help my creative work moving forward.

- The students at the school I work at were crazy this week. It's sort of understandable considering we had record temperatures around here -- 80's in March! Some students, though, don't think that our library should have any rules. They decided to takes pictures of me and one of my colleagues and paste them up on the doors. Our heads were superimposed on the bodies of superheroes like The Hulk and Iron Man. I was The Hulk. The poster said something like, "I rule the library - Hulk SMASH!"

- I've been participating in a March Madness Poetry Competition at thinkkidthink.com. It's been fun, and I've won two rounds to get into the round of 16. There are some amazing poems being written on the site, and I'm just happy to be included. You can vote for your favorite poems to win HERE.

- Finally, my men's league hockey team has been making a run in our league playoffs after a disappointing end to our season. The next game is tomorrow night, and I'm feeling pretty good. I hope we win. More hockey is always a good thing. More skating!


Just Finished: The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman and Illustrators.
Currently Reading: Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson
Up Next: A Wind in the Door by Madeline L'Engle

Saturday, March 17, 2012

I just don't see e-books completely taking over...

I was at my favorite independent bookstore yesterday, and it's pretty clear that people aren't ready to be free of physical books just yet.

People were discussing books with each other and the store staff. Everyone was checking out the displays, flipping through new books and reading the jackets/looking for any pictures or fun facts. I was doing the same. I like to pick the books up, almost just to feel the weight of them. It's an odd sensation, but it's a real one and anyone who loves books probably knows what I'm taking about.

In the children's section, parents and older siblings were reading to a few little kids, and older kids (including me) were racing around the shelves, picking books up, putting books back, picking books up... you get the idea. The atmosphere was just awesome. All positive and all awe.

You just can't get that sense of community with an e-reader. Ironically, it's not as interactive. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-e-reader. Some people love them and that's fine, I just don't think they are going to take over as fast as many people think. The feeling that a physical book can give you is just too strong.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Poetry Madness

Sticking with the poetry theme this month, I'm participating in a fun event called MADNESS! 2012, a children's poetry tournament at Ed DeCaria's Think kid, Think! website. There are 64 writers participating, and it's set up in a bracket just like the NCAA basketball championships.

Ed organized the brackets through a random numbers program, and I got a #16 seed, which means that I will be given one of the hardest words that I must include in the short poem I write.

A poem wins by garnering more votes than the poem it is matched up with. Anyone who visits the site can vote. The voting window for my 1st round match-up begins on Thursday (3/15) @ 8:00 am.

It should be fun! Who knows, maybe I'll even win a round or two!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rejected Hockey Poem

During an exercise at my last VCFA residency, I began writing a poem about skating. The only guideline for the exercise was something like, 'go to a silent place and do something there.' Skating on a pond immediately popped into my head. I wrote a small little draft and shared what I wrote with the group I was with. They seemed to like it. I really liked it. So, I made a few different drafts and submitted the poem (along with a few others) to a sports poetry anthology. I really didn't know what to expect. I'd never submitted any poetry to anything in my life. None. I got an e-mail response the other day:

REJECTED

But, I still really like my poem about skating on a pond, and I thought, you know what, I have a blog! Accepted! I can publish myself on this one.

Here ya go:


MY POND

Hips engaged
Knees bent, yet rigid
Strong
Energy flowing to my toes
Pushing off
Blades cutting the ice
Arms churning
Legs grinding
Back and forth
In and out
Back and forth
In and out
The breeze against my face
Up my nose
My breath creating an icy fog
No coach yelling, “Skate! Skate Skate!”
Just the rhythm of my blades
Slicing
Faster and faster
Faster and faster
Back and forth
In and out
Back and forth
In and out
Faster and faster
Until I
STOP
Spraying ice into the wind
My wake the only blemish on a sheet of glass
My pond

Friday, March 2, 2012

I want to run with Atreyu!


One of my favorite movies as a kid was The Neverending Story. Awesome. I loved almost everything about it. When I think back on it, I remember the way Bastian skipped his classes, hiding out in the attic of his school for an entire day because he just had to finish the book. He had to get to the end. Nothing else mattered. He was completely gripped.

The last two books I've read made me feel this way. I just wanted to run and hide until I finished them. No work. No writing. No sleeping. Just reading. They had me, and I loved it.

Thank you, Jenny Hubbard, for Paper Covers Rock, and thank you, Laini Taylor, for Lips Touch, Three Times.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Two Frustrations

1) Radio programs rarely talk about children's literature. Wake up! Most of that so called "literary" adult stuff is completely unrelatable to the majority of people.

2) I live in Vermont and most librarians and booksellers have no idea what a powerhouse VCFA is. Read the book jackets. Read the acknowledgements. Don't just order the starred reviews and put them on the shelf!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Wind of the North


Sounds cold doesn't it? Sounds like it's going to sweep in and knock you off your feet. Sounds like it's going to be something that stays with you long after it's gone. That chill.

Le Vent du Nord (French for The Wind of the North or The North Wind) is one of my favorite bands. I finally got to see them live. And let me tell you, they live up to the hype their name evokes. They swoop in from Quebec, dazzle you with their traditional-Celtic-French-folk-newage-footstomping music, fill you with massive amounts of creative energy, and then swoop away again, leaving you in a daze that lasts for days and days and days. And days. A daze for days and days.

I often talk about surrounding myself with creativity in order to be more creative, and it just becomes more evident all the time. When I watch a magnificent and original band play I can't help but want to create myself. I can't play the fiddle like Olivier Demers, but I have stories to tell just like he does, so I write because that's what I do.

Sure, sometimes I leave one of these shows thinking, wow, I'll never be as good at what I'm doing as they are at what they're doing, but it goes away fairly quick. I'm learning that those insecurities can be harnessed into motivation. Why can't I be as good? Who says? Just me? No problem. Just write. That's all. Just type the words out. Read. Type more words. Think. Put the effort in. It's not about signing a 12 book deal. Success comes in many different ways, and I can be as good as I want to be, and I want to be great.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lots of Pages to Write

The first draft of my thesis statement:

In sports scenes, specifically those centered around ice hockey, writers use verb and word choice, dialogue, internal monologue, sensory details, and varying sentence structures to intensify the emotional connection between the reader and the main character/s, allowing the reader to focus on the emotional core of the story rather than the action sequences and technical language of the sport.

Awesome.

But...

So what?

How to turn that into an argument, that is the question. Any tips would be appreciated.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Full Speed Ahead

I love the little things in life. I appreciate them. Every afternoon when I get home, my cats roll around on the floor and purr as I put away my coat. I love that. They make me feel like I'm a king. Without fail during a rough day, like she has ESP or something, my wife will send me a timely email or text, just something simple that completely turns my day around. Her timing is scary-good. I love that. Last night, we went to see a special showing of Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen. Before the movie, two elementary school students got up in front of the audience with their saxophone and trumpet and played the Indiana Jones theme song. It was brilliant. It took guts for them to play in front of such a big, unfamiliar crowd. I loved it. Those kids are awesome.

Time to use all the joy those little things give and finish this thesis draft!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Practice Makes...?


Not perfect. At least that's what Mark Gerry (my high school football coach) said. He told us that practice doesn't make perfect, "practice makes permanent." I happen to agree with him. Nothing is perfect. Sure, if you practice over and over again you'll improve at whatever you're doing, but if you practice without passion you'll never be as good as you could have been. The sloppy practice will become permanent, just like Coach Gerry said.

I just read Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Peña (new faculty member at VCFA I might add). It's about basketball. The main character is good. Real good. He plays ball all the time. It got me thinking about Coach Gerry and practice. Basketball players can play anytime they want. There are hoops everywhere. All you need is a ball and you can work on your shot all day and all night if you really wanted to. It's a sweet deal. I never got to do that with hockey. And I played a ton. Way more than most of my teammates, especially when I was a kid. I mean, yea, I could rollerblade and play street hockey, and I could shoot pucks against the garage, but I couldn't really play. You couldn't skate. You need a rink for that. And ice time is expensive. I played every chance I could get though. Even pick-up games 4-5 times a week in the summer at the local rink. It still wasn't enough. You hear stories about guys from northern Canada playing on the pond for many many more months than I could. They lived it. That's all they did up there. They were just like basketball players. I always envied that about them.

I feel lucky that writing is something I get to do anywhere, anytime. All I have to do is pull out my little notepad and jot down some ideas. I can read amazing books to help inform my own creations as well. I can analyze why a given piece of literature works or why it doesn't. I can think about my stories while I'm at school shelving books. I can spend most of my day in Writerland, not just the time I spend tapping away at the keys. I finally feel like a basketball player. I get to practice with passion, so I can make those skills more permanent.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Three R's

Reading, Researching, and Relaxing

Thesis draft deadlines are fast approaching. I'm going to be reading and researching most of the day. It's a must. I need to find a few more articles to inform my thesis. I'm not sure if I'll use them or not, but I feel like I need more information. I need to know more before I can really start pumping out some pages.

However, taking a little time to relax is key. You can't stare at a computer screen for the whole day. I might go watch a hockey game. I might go for a nice walk. The sun's out, and a little bit of sunshine can go a long way when your fingers hit the keyboard again.


Just Finished: Iceman by Chris Lynch
Currently Reading: Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Peña
Up Next: Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Positive Energy

When I was playing and coaching hockey, I was much more concentrated on fundamental skills and creativity than I was with all of the new systems out there that make players conform. I felt that by taking away a player's creativity, a coach was also taking away a bit of that player's confidence with it. And, no confidence = no positive energy moving forward. Pretty simple. It happens way to often in the hockey world. They want to break you down before they try to build you up. But what if they break you down too far? They don't think about that. If it doesn't work out, they'll just go find another player that will work for them.

Thankfully, VCFA is NOT like this at all.

I've just returned from yet another amazing residency, and I have so much (SO MUCH) positive energy moving forward. It's really hard to describe. No one there tries to break you down. No one tries to make you conform to the norm. All of the faculty and students are praised as individuals and treated as equals. Our workshops groups are amazing. We critique each other's work, and all of us have an equal voice, from the award winning faculty members to the students who have already been published to the veteran students to the newer students, all the way to the newest students that have never been part of a critique group before.

Where have you ever been where that has happened? I hope you can answer that you've been lots of places like that, but I haven't. I have never experienced anything like this. VCFA is a life changing experience. I'm getting all pumped up just typing these words. The positive energy is filling up my entire being. Time to open my word doc. Time to crank out some pages...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Blogs, Blogs, Blogs!

My VCFA residency is in full swing. It's such an amazing whirlwind of an experience.

My classmates and I are blogging about our adventures over at Through The Tollbooth, a great site run by VC alums.

Direct link to my post here.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

'Twas the night before residency
and all through the house
not a creature was stirring
not even my cat