Saturday, January 29, 2011

Short Story Review: "Nothingness" by Draven Ames

Over the last few months, friend and fellow writer Draven Ames has made an impressive entrance into the online writing community. Through his philosophical blogs, successful short stories, and appreciation of fine literature, Draven has landed a name for himself as an up-and-coming author of horror not to be taken lightly. SNM Horror Magazine recently awarded Draven’s short story Nothingness the first place title in their January Story of the Month contest.

Before proceeding, please know this is the first review I am posting on my blog and by no means have any idea what I’m doing. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and admit that such a task is by no means a strength. However, I was honored when Draven presented me with this request, and since he was kind enough to pretend my opinion actually mattered, I’m putting my best foot forward and trying to do his story justice.

From the first sentence, Draven’s words establish the eerie tone carried throughout the narrative. Readers are introduced to John and Jennifer, a mysterious married couple cleaning out the mansion of John’s deceased father. When Jennifer discovers a disturbing story secured inside an old shoebox, Draven sucks readers into the dark, suspenseful plot he has flawlessly created.

The story spirals rapidly as each new segment presents twists and turns the reader doesn’t expect. Baked inside the layers, one will discover a series of philosophical prompts left open for interpretation. Aside from being a gifted storyteller, Draven has a knack for laying the foundation for meaningful discussion. His recurrent use of symbolism allows readers to take a captivating tale and relate it to controversial elements in contemporary society. Whether we all walk away with the same message, Draven has embedded the framework for a meaningful analysis that prompts higher order thinking while viewing issues from multiple perspectives.

Draven Ames has trademarked a style that is truly his own. His sharp, concise writing reveals a voice we have not heard before. Through his consistent use of vivid imagery and sensory details, Draven allows Nothingness to be read as though one is playing a movie inside his or her head. Line by line, we are able to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch the situations experienced by his characters as though we ourselves are a bystander in the story.

Nothingness is a fast paced tale that captivates readers forcing us to crave solutions. The conclusion is one I found simultaneously satisfying yet unsettling – and I loved that. As far as I’m concerned, the mark of a talented author lies in his ability to force my brain to dwell on the story long after reading the final word. Draven has accomplished this and so much more in his piece, and I look forward to seeing what the future has to offer this talented individual and exceptional friend.

Draven is a rising talent worth getting to know.  You can follow him on Twitter, visit his blog, or friend him on Facebook.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What's cooking, good looking?

Greetings, friends!  I'm pleased to announce I'm all shoveled out and blogging live from my local Borders while enjoying the wonders of caffeine, a delicacy I had to forgo yesterday on account of being snowed in without any coffee.

Lesson learned; it will not be happening again.

As I sit here waiting for the sore back to kick in and the hand cramps to subside, I thought I'd share the current happenings of some fellow writers.

1.  If you have about five seconds to spare, I highly recommend heading over to the site of my literary hero JM Tohline and voting for your favorite 6 word story.  Now, seeing as I really want to win the prize, a free advanced copy of his debut novel The Great Lenore, I will only SUGGEST voting for me.  Should you choose to honor this suggestion, you would do so by selecting the fifth (and last) entry on the right sidebar which is tagged @ImPaulJoseph.

HOWEVER, because I am running against truly awesome people, like my hometown gal Christine Marie, my buddy and cohort The Weed, and the always entertaining Ara Grigorian, I would be happy if you voted for any of us.  It's all in good fun.  Of course, while you're over there, you should take a second and check out JM's site, learn a bit about his book, and keep in mind it will be available for pre-order next month.  Just sayin'...

2.  It's been an exciting week for YA novelist Karsten Knight.  His debut Wildfire hits bookstores July 26, 2011.  However, if you are like me and a zillion other impatient readers, you can follow this link to preview the first chapter, courtesy of Simon and Schuster. If When you realize how excited you are to read the entire book, you can follow this link and enter the sweepstakes to win an advanced copy.  And if I might add, I've found Karsten's vlogs to be highly entertaining while providing a glimpse into the daily life of a professional writer.  The guy's got personality, so head on over and take a gander.

3.  Fellow writer Jason Messina (Surf the Gasp) has completed the ultimate accomplishment and released his inspirational book 101 Ways To Get High Without Drugs.  It's currently on sale for a reduced price, and you can read the first chapter for free here.  If you get a chance, help spread the word.

4.  After the success of his Music Blogfest earlier this week, Alex J. Cavanaugh wasted no time promoting the next big event headed for Blogosphere.  The A to Z Blogging Challenge takes place this April, and the organizers are shooting for a minimum of 300 participants.  You can visit his site to join Alex, myself and the other 87 participants already registered.  Check out his blog for more details on this event.

5.  Finally, my brilliant buddy Michael shared a great post this morning in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  As a former history teacher, I was ecstatic to see someone not only know what today was, but also take a moment to spread a critical message.  The Holocaust was one of those "special" topics I personally inserted into my previous seventh grade curriculum.  Too many kids entered my doors in September having never heard the term; those who had were often misinformed.  I decided when they left me in June, they would all know exactly what happened.  They did. 

As always, this is an insightful post that offers perspective while reiterating the importance of empathy.  We must remember no life is more valuable than any other, and that remaining silent about things that matter is equivalent to performing inhumane actions ourselves.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

WW Featured Writer: Austin James

"I love both fiction and non-fiction (especially non-fiction that relates to history). But I prefer to write fiction because fiction is the act of creation. Anything you imagine exists and happens on the pages you write. And the best part is, whatever you create comes entirely from the writer.
While someone else might have had a similar idea, the words you use to reflect that idea are unique to you."

~Austin James

He's a writer, a reader, and a blogger.  He's also pretty darn brilliant if I have anything to say about it.  Inspired by the great minds of James Joyce and Edgar Allan Poe, Austin James is one I guarantee has much to offer this world.  A true multi-tasker, this motivated and ambitious individual is known to take on a number of projects simultaneously.  Currently, he is developing an online literary magazine and editing a collection of short stories, all while diligently pursuing his second young adult novel.

Man; I can't even finish my first one!

Austin's a witty, insightful guy who caught my attention blogging about useful topics for aspiring writers.  To me, visiting his blog is like taking an interactive online course in writing and publication.  And the best part is, I don't have to cough up $600 per credit like I did for graduate school. 

Since ringing in 2011, I have joined him for meaningful discussions related to self-publishing, authors with agendas, and developing platforms.  His blog is discussion-oriented; it's a place for people to come together, share views, and learn from one another.  And despite choosing debatable topics, both sides of the argument are always equally presented.

It wasn't that long ago I discovered Austin on Twitter.  Pleased to find a fellow male writer in the same age bracket, I knew he would be a great person to network with.  I was right.  Austin's beyond friendly and works diligently at supporting his fellow writers.  He's a guy with a dream who believes in building relationships along the way, a quality I always find admirable in anyone I meet.  Austin doesn't play for Team Me; instead, he chooses to ride with Team We

I've been impressed by Austin's diverse interests and unique background.  Reading and writing aside, he has strong views and knowledge related to politics, education, and history, and knows enough facts to share informed, educated opinion when discussing contemporary issues.  He remains well-read and chooses to stay updated with current events, particularly those relevant to writing and publication, all of which he shares with his readers.

Austin's blog is one I highly recommend for aspiring writers, particularly those serious about pursuing professional publication.  Whether you agree with him or not, he discusses the topics we need to be thinking about while providing a forum for to swap knowledge and exchange tips.  Furthermore, if the mood ever strikes for a meaningful, intellectual conversation - you know, when the cast of Jersey Shore has dropped your IQ another 10 points and you need a quick brain booster before its gone for good - Austin would be your man. 

Most importantly, he's a good guy with a kind soul. He truly enjoys networking and interacting with readers and writers alike.  So, if you feel like betting today, go bet on Austin.  Reach out, introduce yourself, and make a new friend.  You won't be disappointed.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Top Ten Countdown: Music Blogfest

And this was bloody flipping HARD!

Happy Monday!  And what an exciting Monday it is.  What's that?  How can a Monday be exciting?  Well, normally I would say it can't, but today I'm participating in my very first Blogfest and counting down my ten favorite songs of all time.  A special thank you goes out to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing this event.

I'm sure you can imagine how complicated I found composing such a list.  I will not swear my list is perfect - I'm not running out to carve it into cement or get it tattooed on my back.  What I will say is I spent a lot of time considering my selections, and each song I've chosen is one that inspires me in some capacity.  Some  are part of a significant memory; others remind me of a time in my life I occasionally long for.  Each ignites an emotional response, whether that be a smile, chills, or tears.  And as far as I'm concerned, that's the best evidence of an excellent song.

My list is designed with the following things in mind:
  1. My eclectic taste
  2. My strong appreciation for history and culture
  3. The memory/memories associated with a particular song
  4. The ability of the song to inspire me
  5. The meaning of the lyrics
  6. My attempt to create a list most unlike any other in this Blogfest
So, here it is.  Drum roll please.  Ten of my all time favorite songs:

10.  Silhouettes on the Shade (The Rays, 1957) I love the oldies and I love the Malt Shop era.  In fact, when teaching a lesson on the 1950s, I used to turn my classroom into a malt shop - decorations, costumes, music, and ice cream sundaes.  The kids sat in "booths" while filling in a "menu."  "Servers" came around to take their sundae order and I even conned another teacher into live musical performances.  ANYWAY, this is one of my favorites from that era.  I love the harmonies and how their voices blend.  And I love how the song screams history.

9.  Whatever You Imagine (Whitney Houston, from the movie The Pagemaster, 1994)  Go ahead, laugh.  Are you done yet?  Fine, thirty more seconds....I'll wait.....

Seriously, this song captures everything I believe about reading and books - that by selecting the perfect one, your imagination takes you into another world, whether it be one of fantasy, adventure, or horror.  I used this movie to kickoff my literacy promotion unit with my students, showing them their is a book out their for everyone, and the characters come to life in your head.  Now, this song speaks to me as a writer.  I imagine myself as an author, and these lyrics remind me whatever I imagine can become a reality.

8.  Viva La Vida (Coldplay, 2008) One of the most successful songs by one of my favorite groups, I'm drawn to this song because of the strong string section and percussion, as well as its message of "Long Live Life."  Viva contains numerous historical and Christian references and I've always found Chris Martin to be one of the most brilliant contemporary artists/songwriters.

7.  Dream On (Aerosmith, 1973) An awesome power ballad.  Just plain awesome.  To me, this song is about the hunger to be somebody - to follow the path that will lead us to our dreams, and to continue dreaming until that moment comes true. 

6.  Let It Be (The Beatles, 1970) A song that reminds me everything is going to be alright.  And we all need that at times.  The lyrics tell me to release my problems, worries, sorrows, and burdens, and to simply, let them be

5.  Living On A Prayer (Bon Jovi, 1986) Bon Jovi is clearly my favorite rock band.  Ever.  His greatest hits album is a frequently played album in my car, and I could have included many of his hits on my list today.  However, aside from being my favorite, I do feel like I'm living on a prayer these days.  Trying to do something I always wanted to do.  AND, I believe I'm halfway there.  The bulk of my first draft is behind me, and as far as I'm concerned, that's the hardest part.  I'm much more of an editing kinda guy.

4.  21 Guns (GreenDay, 2009) I know what I'm fighting for.  There are a lot of interpretations, but for me, this song means surrendering yourself to the chaos surrounding you.  I've applied that concept to surrendering myself to the situations beyond my control.  My guns are down and I'm moving on.  It took time to get to this point, but so far, 2011 has been a giant step in the right direction.

3.  Hallelujah (Rufus Wainwright, 2006) Do I need to say anything further?  The song gives me chills.  It ignites feelings of hope, faith, and accomplishment.  I'll take that deal.

2.  The Boxer (Simon and Garfunkel, 1968) The fighter still remains, and I am a fighter.  This song embodies perseverance and overcoming loneliness and poverty.  As a writer, I find perseverance to be the key.

1.  Lightning Crashes (Live, 1995) Yet again, I could have picked any Live song, so I went with the one that introduced me to my all time favorite band.  They've been with me since seventh grade - pulled me through some tough moments in high school, my student teaching experience, my first classroom, and now, take part in my quest for publication.  This particular song is beautiful; it symbolizes the transference of life.  In the video, one family mourns the loss of a loved one while another welcomes their newest addition.  To me, that is an amazing concept; it lends itself to so many further analytical elements, and that's why I love it.  I find this group to be unbelievably awesome - the messages they send through their lyrics have touched me deeper than any other musical artist.  Their impact has been invaluable.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hug A Teen; Save A Life

I apologize for publishing this post so late, especially one this serious in nature.  I know my day contained the same twenty-four hours as it did for all of you, but somehow time escaped me.  And not for productive reasons, either.

If it is alright with you, I respectfully request permission to slip back into my former teacher role for the duration of today's post.  Not that teacher's are the only people who could benefit from this information, but because it was an issue so close to my heart during the years spent in my classroom.  So, as you read my thoughts today, please keep in mind I have four years classroom experience (not much, I know) as well as a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Education.

Back in October, I blogged about bullying.  According to the stats tab, it was my first successful post (excluding giveaways) and continues drawing in readers from different parts of the world.  I'm not going to reiterate what I've already stated.  If you've been with me, you know how I feel about the issue.  If you take a second to click the bullying tabs at the top of this site, you'll gain a better idea of why.

Towards the end of my third year in teaching, I had an opportunity that forever changed my life.  My district invited Mr. John Halligan to speak with our students about Ryan, his youngest child who tragically ended his life at the age of thirteen .  I will never forget sitting through that presentation.

One year after that assembly, Mr. Halligan visited the school district where I currently reside.  Wanting to learn more, I ventured into the cold, rainy night and listened once again.  But this time it was different.  The second presentation I attended was for adults only, and I was able to hear (and read) certain details deemed inappropriate for middle schoolers.  I left that evening with a heavier heart then the year before.

Why do I bring this up?  Earlier this week, I received an e-mail linking a disturbing article and learned two teenagers, in separate incidents, recently committed suicide.  A tear released itself from my left eye and traveled down my cheek as I stared at their pictures - images revealing young individuals filled with promise and potential.  I couldn't take it.

As I investigated the cases further, I discovered a third incident where a 15 year-old shot himself inside a high school bathroom around the same time.  What the heck is going on?????

Please know these cases are still being investigated.  Details are limited and it will be a matter of time before all pieces are put together.  Naturally, the bullying card is being played, and I'm sure it has its place to a certain extent.  But nothing is certain as of now, so I'm not going to speculate.

What I do know is this: Teenagers do not kill themselves because they are happy.  They do not end their life because things are going according to plan, nor do they do it to escape a hard test or get out of a homework assignment.  This behavior is prompted from serious psychological problems, most likely undiagnosed, including unhappiness, depression, and feelings of inadequacy. 

It absolutely must stop.

From my experience, I do not believe teens fully comprehend what it means to commit suicide.  They are not capable of looking beyond the here and now, and because of that, fail to recognize the permanent result of this decision.  I think some view it as taking a long nap; they'll be removed from life for a few days, and when they return, things will be better.  They have not reached an age or maturity level to fully grasp the concept.

Furthermore, it is hard for kids to come clean with their problems.  I hate to say it, but reporitng bullying often makes the situation worse.  Once the school gets involved, the kid will be branded a snitch before the initial conversation is even finished.  Like it or not, that presents an entirely new set of problems.

Few people, if any, would describeteens as rational.  They are known to act on impulse - to live in the moment and not think about consequences.  We've all been there.  So, when a teen decides to end their life, have they thought it over, or are they acting in the heat of a moment?  Many kids blow hot and cold.  I often wonder if they were to take a nap and sleep off the bad mood, would they still feel suicidal after waking up?  Unfortunately, we can't study something that never happened in the first place.

Such situations prompt a lot of finger pointing - at parents, at school systems, at friends and innocent bystanders.  I'm not going to do that.  I think schools need to step it up, but that is an entirely different issue I probably shouldn't get into.  This post is long enough.

I share this information because I'm going to be honest - there is no simple solution to the problem.  The reality is, it is far more complex and incorporates more variables than most realize. 

My heart continues to bleed for the families of these children and the lives that were lost.  A number of people, myself included, have made it a mission to spread awareness.  But, as the death count rises, it becomes clear that approach is not enough.  I feel I should be doing more, but what more can people be doing?

So, readers, what are your thoughts?  How do we come together as a society to tackle this escalating problem?  How do we create a culture where kids feel safe and loved?  How do we teach about empathy and spread the message of kindness? How do we teach troubled teens to choose LIFE?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

By the way, I apologize for any incoherent thoughts or mechanical issues in this post.  You see what time it was posted; it's been a looooong day!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

WW Featured Writer: L.K. Gardner - Griffie

"I write YA because I have to."
L.K. Gardner-Griffie

She is everyone's favorite cheerleader.  Captain of the Varsity Squad at Twitter High, L.K. Gardner-Griffie never passes an opportunity to support her fellow writers.  Without fail, she is consistently among the first to crank out her #WW and #FF mentions, and she never excludes a soul.  She RT's posts, helps her colleagues, and visits blogs regularly.  It's a wonder she has time left to get any writing done.

I discovered L.K. on Twitter earlier this fall through a RT posted by a mutual follower.  In her message, L.K. announced she just completed the first draft of yet another MG novel, and for a brief second, I wanted to jump inside my computer screen and joke that nobody likes a bragger.  Of course I didn't mean that; it wasn't like that at all.  I was just angry at myself for feeling like the only soul on the universe who couldn't crank out a completed first draft of anything.  I got over it.

In typical stalker fashion, I clicked on her profile and began investigating the mystery woman sporting the pink hoodie.  After learning she is the award winning YA novelist of Misfit McCabe and Nowhere Feels Like Home, a series many of my former seventh graders were familiar with, I decided I was too beneath her to send a message.  So instead, I simply returned to stalking.

I checked out her web site, read more about her, and discovered her first novel attempt was completed at age nine.  And the more I read, the more I realized L.K. was not one of "those" authors - you know the type.  So I figured, what the heck?  We have plenty of mutual followers; she must be friendly.  I'll send a congratulatory message on the new manuscript. 

Twenty seconds later, I had a response.  Another second passed and I had a new friend.

Despite having experienced the success many of us dream of, L.K. is a dedicated mentor and friend within the writing community.  She is filled with advice, support, and encouragement; she believes in the potential of everyone and is the first to respond to anyone plagued with doubt or seeking motivation.  L.K. assures everyone they can (and will) succeed.

My west coast companion and I have shared many conversations since "meeting."  Recently, she passed a link to an interview she completed with Blog Talk Radio.  The information she shared was beyond helpful.  I always enjoy listening to other writers discuss their process; I enjoy it more when I identify similarities between our approaches.  It helps me feel on the track.

Much like myself, L.K. acknowledges her characters are in fact real people; she is simply the only person able to speak with them directly.  "It's like we share a brain," she explained when questioned about her relationship with Kate, the protagonist in the Misfit McCabe series.  And although she commented that might sound weird to some, I knew exactly what she meant.

Throughout the past few months, I have greatly appreciated the support L.K. sends my way.  But, more importantly, I appreciate her friendship.  As writers, we spend many hours sitting in solitude, removed from socialization, and even fresh air.  Knowing good people are out there comforts me during times of loneliness.  Whenever I'm irritated, anxious, or flat out disgusted with the writing process, L.K. is always a tweet away. 

I encourage my readers to take a moment and tweet something in L.K.'s direction.  She's a great contact to have and knows what it's like to wear the shoes of an aspiring writer dreaming for a break.  Get to know this amazing person.  You will not be sorry.

L.K.'s books are available in both paper and electronic format and can be purchased here.  Be sure to check out the trailer for Misfit McCabe below.

Monday, January 17, 2011

And now for some afternoon announcements...

Boys basketball practice has been canceled and will meet again on Wednesday. 

Okay, okay.  Corny; I know.  Moving on.

Happy Monday!  In honor of MLK Jr. Day, this post is being written on behalf of other people.

There are some exciting things taking place on the Internet this week.  My buddy Josh (aka The Weed) is hosting his 100 Follower Giveaway.  Even though your participation reduces my chance of snatching that $25 gift card to The Cheesecake Factory, Josh is good people so you should visit his blog and see what he's about.

Alex J. Cavanaugh is hosting a music blogfest on January 24th.  Bloggers from all over the world, including myself, will be counting down their top ten favorite songs of all time.  If you are a music junkie like me, this is bound to be an enjoyable experience to take part in - Bloggers own VH1 special!  I. Am. PUMPED!!

If you have yet to discover the talent that is Draven Ames, what the heck are you waiting for???  Draven is an incredibly gifted writer who has introduced horror to a new voice.  He has taken the Internet by storm with his philosophical blog posts and offers a wealth of knowledge to aspiring writers like myself.  His short story Nothingness was recently awarded the first place prize and can be read online via SNM Horror Magazine.  If you get a chance, stop by and read his piece.  You won't be disappointed.

If you are a fan of dark fantasy, allow me to suggest Soul Born by Kevin James Breaux.  Kevin and I are from the same stomping ground.  We actually graduated from the same high school, though not at the same time.  Despite never meeting in person, I can tell you he is a friendly, helpful, respectable person.  In one conversation, he gave me so many resources.  I'm excited to read his work.

And finally, my hero and pal JM Tohline is hosting his last Twitter contest to win an advanced copy of his debut novel The Great Lenore.  I'll be sitting down to read it the day it hits bookstores in June, so anyone who has a chance to read it sooner should take advantage of the opportunity.  I just have this feeling his book will teach me things I never expected to learn.

In other news, I finally got to see Black Swan yesterday, and other then that, I have no idea what to say.  I'm still processing the movie; I think it's one I may need to see again to decipher all the undertones I most likely missed.  What I will say is the acting was phenomenal, the storyline was different, and I love Mila Kunis - but that last one started long before I saw this movie.  Just sayin'...

And finally, congratulations to all the winners of the 2010 Golden Globes.  I love award shows; I find them inspiring.  People spend their lives chasing certain dreams, and even though my dream is a different kind of art, it is an art nonetheless.  I enjoy watching others being honored for their work. 

Favorite quote from the ceremony: the man from Glee who said, "I want to thank public school teachers.  You don't get paid like it, but you really are doing the most important work in America."  Salary component aside, on behalf of my former co-workers, I appreciated that comment.  Those words should not go unheard - I won't say any more.

I leave you with a quote stated by the man of the day:

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." ~ MLK Jr.

Just something to ponder.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Who you calling a stylish blogger?

Thanks to both Quinn and Alex for honoring me with my very first blog award.  And, thank you even more for helping take care of my latest post.  It doesn't get much easier. 

I'm not typically a fan of talking about myself, but I do think it's fun to share some interesting tidbits every now and then.  So, today's post is going to be one of those "all in good fun" posts.  If you're looking for something deeper, feel free to move on.

To accept this award I have to:

1. Thank and link back to the person who nominated you for the award. (CHECK)
2. Share seven things about myself.
3. Pass the award on to ten recently discovered bloggers. Contact them and let them know they have been nominated.

Alright; here goes nothing:

1.  My favorite childhood TV show was Kids Incorporated.  Yes, I'm serious.  You wanna make something of it???

2.  I was born in Long Island, NY.  At the age of seven, my family moved to Louisville, KY where I remained until the conclusion of my ninth grade year.  I consider it my hometown, as I spent the majority of my childhood in that location.  To this day, I believe Louisville is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and for this reason, I selected it as the setting for my first W.I.P.  Although I can't speak for the entire southern region, I am offended by the stereotypes people hold of Louisville.  It's far more metropolitan then people care to realize.  And I don't really care for the jokes, either. 

3.  Despite being from Louisville, I am a hardcore Kentucky Wildcats fan.  Just sayin'...

4.  I like to eat.  A LOT.  I blame the Italian DNA.  One of my favorite things to do is go out and try different restaurants.  I have a huge weakness for wings.  And chips, dips, nachos, and ice cream.  Generally speaking, I prefer "snack foods" to sweets.  But if you hand me a container of ice cream, I'll eat the entire carton.  I'm not even sure I would need a spoon.

5.  In high school, the only book I read in its entirety was Catcher in the Rye.  All the required books sucked.  Ten years later, they continue to suck for others.  I'll be blogging about curriculum reform in the near future.

6. About four months after graduating from college, I won $1000 from a radio station in a "Pay Your Bills" contest.  It was one of those situations where I was bored at work, signed up online, and never thought I would win.  The DJ would call names over the air, and the winner would have ten minutes to call the station and claim their prize.  At the age of 22, I'm sure they selected me for the 6AM hour under the assumption I would be sleeping and never hear the announcement.  What they didn't know was I had just received my first teaching gig and had already been up a good half-hour. 

The interesting thing was, I barely listened to the radio while I got ready.  I'm one of those guys who sleeps until the last second possible and rushes myself out the door.  It just so happened that, for whatever reason, I was up on time that day.  I was beyond nervous when I called in because I didn't want to be embarrassed on the air.  Thankfully, it wasn't that bad, and I payed off my VISA balance of $950!

7.  Here's a weird one for ya!  I become unbelievably uncomfortable when things are fiercely blowing around in my presence.  No lie.  I can't watch balloons blowing in the air when they are tied to a mailbox.  I can't watch wind chimes dangling from a tree branch.  And I could never hang my tassels from my rear view mirror because it would drive me crazy when they started flopping around.  I know - I don't get it either.  This has just been one of those odd things that makes me shiver.    I'm not afraid of it; it just makes me uncomfortable.  I find it unsettling.  I assume it's linked to my perfectionism or OCD when it comes to organization, but I really don't know. 

Alright, now I'm supposed to pass this on to ten recently discovered bloggers.  Well, I don't really have ten recently discovered bloggers, and those I do have already received this award.  But, I promised I wouldn't cop out on my first award, so I'm passing it to some people outside my main network if that's okay. 

1.  Courtney @ It's Only 90 Days
2.  Diana @ Diana Writes
3.  Michelle and Anton @ Alalune

Have a great weekend, all!


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

WW Featured Writer: Michael D. Lockhart

"I don't want to win - I just want to run."
Michael David Lockhart

Greetings, friends!

I'm excited to welcome you to the first post for, what I hope will become, a Wednesday tradition on my blog.  I can't promise it will be every Wednesday, and I can't promise it will necessarily be the focus of an entire post, but I'm going to do my best.  Wish me luck.

I was thinking of ways to give back to my readers.  As a token of gratitude for the advice, tips, and encouragement you all offer, I thought the least I could do is return the favor in a meaningful way.  During my teaching career, I was always recognizing students with awards or nominating them for different things, so this kind of thing is in my blood.  I got to thinking that since Wednesday is #WritingWednesday / #WW on Twitter (you follow me, right?), I could pick a fellow writer each week to acknowledge on my blog.  My own elaborated #WW mention if you will.

So that's just what I'm going to do.  Starting now.

For my first post, I wanted to acknowledge someone never before tagged in my blog - you know, to keep it interesting.  And since the first name that came to mind was perfect, this week I've selected my fellow writing friend Michael D. Lockhart.

Oh, it's important to know I don't give out half-hearted compliments.  When I choose to recognize someone for making a certain impact, they truly deserve it.

Michael's blog was one of the first I discovered when I joined this online culture.  I can vividly remember coming across his site, reading his most recent post, and thinking: Holy Crap! I'm not nearly smart enough to be reading this.  See, Michael is a knowledgeable and insightful guy.  He's also philosophical, which I like.  I just don't always comprehend what he's talking about (my fault - not his).

But, despite my intellectual shortage, I hit "follow" and started keeping up with his posts.  I had too - he seemed like such an interesting dude.

Shortly after, I began following Michael on Twitter.  At the time, I was also new there and had only attracted a handful of followers.  So, I have to admit, I was a tad surprised when he returned the follow.  I mean, I had no business being followed by someone so superior, did I?  But, believe it or not, he actually responded to some of my tweets, and I got to know more about this interesting person with a great deal to offer.

Michael's approach to writing is best summarized in his statement, "process is more than results."  Yet, as he outlined in his post November, he finished his fantasy manuscript after beginning the first draft fourteen years ago.  Perseverance? I'll say.  And despite his humble personality, I am rooting for him to break out and share his words with the world.  Readers will certainly benefit.

I keep a (private) Twitter list called, "Guys who would actually have been nice to me in HS" and he was one of the first to be included.  I'm sure I don't need to go into the background of why I have that kind of list - use your imagination.  It's just so refreshing to know not everyone is a d-bag.  It gives me hope for mankind.

This post is already longer than what I planned (Anyone shocked??  Didn't think so...), so let me just summarize what I've learned about my virtual colleague since we met:
  1. He is highly intelligent; one of the most brilliant minds on the web.
  2. He's philosophical and has strong opinions which he supports with - get this - LOGIC! Michael explores the controversial issues impeding society, such as banning books.  I appreciate his commentary on significant current events such as the recent shooting of a U.S. Senator.  His posts are thoughtful and leave you learning something new; they're never a waste of time.
  3. He is an outstanding writer.
  4. His family is extremely important to him (check out the posts he's written about his mom - I'm told they can make a mother melt...)
  5. He is passionate, ambitious, and motivated.
  6. He's friendly, encouraging, and supportive.
When I told Michael I chose him for this post,he mentioned he had no idea what he did to deserve the honor.  I explained it was simple: he's cool.  See, to me, "cool" refers to a genuinely nice person - someone who is friendly, respectful, and considerate. Those are the character traits that impress me.  Perhaps I've been subjected to too much unkindness in my life, but I genuinely appreciate nice people in the world. 

I swear I'm finishing up, but I have one more thing to add.  I'm one of those people who really grabs and holds on tightly to the words of other people.  I really enjoyed Michael's post the last twenty minutes.  In our brief correspondence that sparked from that post, he sent a  powerful statement in my direction.  We've all had moments when someone tells us what we need to hear.  I'm young; I have lots to learn. And sometimes, it helps knowing someone out there gets it; that there is more than one way to accomplish a dream. 

In his facebook biography, Michael states he hopes to one day make a difference.  I know that means on a grander scale, but I thought you should know that you have, in some way, already succeeded.  Thanks for your words, thank you for your knowledge, and most importantly, thanks for your friendship.

To quote his own comment sent to me a while back, "Cheers, Brudda!"

Oh, and since I'm pretty sure it was Michael's link to this song that got it stuck in my head, I figured I'd share it here.  Great lyrics; truly inspiring.  Enjoy.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Top Ten On The Tenth: Writing Distractions


So I realize my monthly top ten list is never one of my most popular posts, but I enjoy doing them and will continue to do so.  As much as I enjoy learning from my fellow bloggers, I enjoy learning about them also.  And I think it's important for my readers to know a tad about me, too.  This way, you can call me a geek or nerd with complete confidence; no need to simply assume. :)

This month's top ten list reveals my most frequent writing distractions.  I enrolled myself in a personal "Writing Boot Camp" beginning New Years Day.  And even though I have stuck to my schedule, my productivity is still something to be desired.

Why's that?

My Top Ten Worst Writing Distractions

1.  My Blog.  It's official; I'm addicted.  I love this thing.  I'm a fan of engaging in conversations and hearing from others.  And I love the people I'm meeting.  Seriously; you all rock!  I'd say I prefer your company to people I know in real life, but then I might offend the people I know in real life, right?  Hmmm.  I started this blog in May - Mother's Day to be exact.  When I woke up, it wasn't on my list of things to do - just sort of happened.  It was a slow start, but now I'm moving in the right direction.  I appreciate the support, encouragement, and friendship beyond words (are writers allowed to say "beyond words?").  Well, in all sincerity, I have met some of the nicest people, and I genuinely look forward to our correspondence.  Thank you for joining me on my journey.  I currently have a friend designing a new layout.  I'm planning a sweet contest for the new launch, as well as thinking up something for my 100 Followers Giveaway.  So, start looking forward to chances to win cool prizes.  Also, I'm planning to begin special #WW and #FF shout-outs on my blog.  At the conclusion of each post, I'll acknowledge and link a fellow writer (Wednesdays) or recommend a blog to follow (Fridays).  I like supporting my friends, and I like being a nice guy.

2.  Twitter.  I avoided that site like the plague; I wanted nothing to do with it.  I finally joined, decided I didn't like it, and canceled my account.  I repeated this process three times.  Finally, in the middle of August, I sucked it up, and now, like my blog, I love it.  It feels good to be connected to other writers.  Honestly, it's so much better than a writing group that meets the same night every week - in the same place with the same people.  Twitter allows constant communication with all sorts of people, and I have to say, the writing community is phenomenal.  It was never my expectation to be welcomed and supported.  Again, I appreciate the companionship.

3.  Facebook. Until a few months ago, this would have been first on the list.  I guess it's good to be moving in a different direction, but I do enjoy the site.  Having moved a few times and worked at a number of jobs, it's nice to have such an easy way of keeping in touch with people.

4.  The Bloody "Day Job." I can't complain much.  I work part-time a few days each week.  Some have it much worse (though better paychecks, I'm sure.)  I just hate having to stop what I'm working on to get there.  And I hate my annoying commute, but that is another story.

5.  Words With Friends. It's a fun little game, isn't it?  It has benefits: I learn new words, it keeps my brain active, and it makes me pay attention to spelling.  Not to mention, there are very few people who can beat me.  That's always fun.  What's that?  You think you can?  Go ahead; look me up and give it a shot.  My username is PAUL14210.  Should you succeed, I'll announce it in a blog post.

6.  The GymI have this thing with working out.  I exercise Monday - Friday with no exceptions.  It's a good thing; it clears my head, and some of my best ideas come in the middle of cardiovascular exercise.  Unfortunately, I have days where it's harder to fit in.  I don't like feeling guilty skipping it, and I don't like feeling guilty for going either. 

7.  E-mail.  As my writing connections grow, I'm starting to have real conversations with writers around the glove.  They fascinate me.  I'm thrilled that people would value my opinion - that I'm someone others would converse with.  Again, I'm learning so much, and is learning not one of the most valuable things in life?

8.  Eating. I love food.  So, when I actually forget to eat, you know something is off.  But seriously, it gets in the way of my writing.  I'm told I have to eat to survive, so I do.  Though sometimes it really puts a cramp in my agenda.  Thank God for take-out.

9.  Reading.  I hardly read these days, but when I do, I'm sucked in.  I'll spend with a book and feel like ten minutes have passed.  Reading is notorious for letting time slip away.

10.  Sleeping.  Notice this is last on the list.  That's because I rarely sleep.  When I try, it doesn't work because I'm thinking about my manuscript, worrying about my characters, or writing my next blog post in my head.  Of course we have to sleep, so at some point, I'll pass out.  Don't get me wrong - I love love LOVE sleeping.  But sometimes, as I watch my "To Do" list expand and my progress dwindle, it seems like a real waste of time.

So, how about you friends and readers?  What is your worst writing distraction?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thou Shall Not Tamper With Published Literature

On airplanes, passengers caught tampering with the lavatory smoke detector can be fined up to $2000.  Why?  Well, it's illegal for one, but it is also a safety hazard that could potentially jeopardize the well-being of everyone else on board.

So, my question is, how much should Mr. Alan be fined for tampering with what is considered one of American literature's greatest novels?  Because altering this text is a "perspective hazard" that could potentially jeopardize the knowledge and education of future generations.

Literature is an artifact, and artifacts, are elements of culture.  They are objects created by humans to depict social norms accepted by a society.  When referring to artifacts such as Huck Finn - artifacts that have become a legacy; artifacts that educate generations about a time long before their existence; artifacts that will deliver a message long after we are no longer - it is vital to preserve these objects in their original form.  The way intended by their inventor; the way that captures the truth. 
History is ugly.  Our world has been no stranger to segregation, discrimination, and injustice.  We've hung those suspected of witchcraft, gassed those who attend Temple, and "hunted" for Communists.  And in 2011, the road to equality continues.

If we do not report these trends correctly, how is the future to know any different?

Mark Twain's novel depicts an era where people were misguided.  They believed skin color provided a plethora of knowledge, when in fact, it shared nothing about talent or character.  And during that time, groups of people were referred to by certain words.  Derogatory words, yes, but they were the words used nevertheless.

The article I've linked states the new version of this novel replaces the n word with "slave."

May I?

According to, the first word is defined as an extremely disparaging and offensive term (slang) to identify a person considered to be contemptible, ignorant, and inferior.  Contrarily, a slave is a person who is viewed as being the property of another; someone who has been captured against their will and placed under the domination of another party.

It's hardly the same thing.

In my opinion as an educator, a writer, and a human, this entire debacle is an attempt to rewrite history.  We can not and should not sugarcoat the ugliness that preceded us.  It is an insult to those who suffered. 

What we can do is learn.  Every crappy situation conceals a lesson to be uncovered.  And that is exactly why Huck Finn should remain in its original, appropriate, and historically accurate form.

If someone is offended by the dialogue Mark Twain used, I say GOOD!!!! Be offended.  Be very offended.  It's an offensive term.  Think.  Empathize.  React.  Make a conscious decision to end the hate.  Learn from the past; refuse to allow history to repeat itself.  Isn't learning one of the best tools for progress?

Any thoughts on this?  Am I missing something?  Where do we draw the lines of censorship?  Is this simply a stepping stone to an even larger problem?  Chime in; I love discussion.

Wishing you all a weekend blessed with inspiration and productivity.

Oh, and just a little FYI: As a reader, I'm not exactly a Huck Finn kind of guy.  Take that for what it's worth...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What's On My Bookshelf for 2011?

I've never been a fan of January.  It's a pretty dull month, no?  No holidays; no upcoming events to look forward to.  I guess February is pretty much the same.  The days are short; the air is cold.  Brutally cold.  I hate bundling up to leave the house.  I hate dressing in layers to sleep through the night.  I hate the threat of snow that lingers above, taunting its plan to interfere with my nonexistent social life.

As far as I'm concerned, the only thing winter is good for is enjoying a large highly caffeinated beverage while sitting in a comfortable chair in my favorite bookstore - which is most likely going out of business, but that's for another post.  Thankfully, Christmas falls in the winter, which means I have plenty of gift cards to support my coffee and reading habit.

For the sake of my WIP, I've had to limit my reading time to avoid neglecting my writing.  If I'm digging a book, I'll have no problem vacationing in that author's literary world, only to later realize hours (or days) have passed and I have yet to write a word. 

At the same time, it has been way too long since I've escaped my own world.  So, to kickoff a new year, I'm setting a goal I can easily attain: a book a month.  Of course when summer hits, I'll read five books a month, so this is strictly a temporary benchmark to get me back in the swing of things.

As of now, I have mapped out the titles I plan exploring this year.  Of course, I always take suggestions, and love reading with other people.  It's rare I get to engage in intellectual conversations these days, but if a book has what I'm looking for, I'll have a lot to say.  If any of my fellow YA readers plan on tackling one of these, let me know.  We'll discuss!

My 2011 Reading List

1.  Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver) <--suggested by my co-worker who wants us to read it together.  I will not lie; I was turned off by the "girly" cover, but the book jacket saved my curiosity.  Oh, and Jay Asher blurbed about it, and his opinion is gold.

2.  Carter Finally Gets It (Brent Crawford) <---a comical, easy, laid back story that claims it will hook me.  If it delivers as advertised, it will be a good light-hearted choice before tackling....

3.  The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) <--- I'm disappointed I haven't read this yet.  That's all I'm going to say.

4.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson (John Green and David Levithan) <--- I just bought this the other day.  I had a 50% coupon and $5.00 in Borders Bucks, but the shelves were pretty much bare. I'm a huge John Green fan, and I figured, hey, for a hardback to cost $3.81 with tax, I'll give it a try.  And I've never read a YA novel written by two authors, so I'll be curious to see how that worked out.

5.  After (Francine Prose) <--- I'm interested in this novel because it deals with the aftermath of a nearby school shooting.  When I started teaching, this was never even a thought that crossed my mind.  After participating in my first mandatory drill for professional staff, it became my biggest career-related fear.

6.  Wintergirls (Laurie Halse Anderson) <--- One of the few titles I have yet to crack open from my former neighbor, who of course I did not discover until after she moved away.  Figures, right?!  I've tried to forget that she spoke at my high school and I never knew about it.  I've also tried forgetting that her oldest daughter and my brother were friends through the school paper, and he never once said, "Oh, hey, you know that book in your hand? My friend's mother wrote that..."

7.  The Life of Pi (Yann Martel) <--- I've been told by many to read this book, including one of my high school history teachers.  I have high expectations for this piece, and I'm aware it doesn't kick off with a bang.  Since I know that, I should be okay.  I'm told the final third of this book is amazing.

8.  Jay's Journal (Beatrice Sparks - Editor) <--- I happened to see this in Borders recently.  My initial thought was: Wow, this has the tendency to be really bad.  But, it should be a quick read, and I'm curious about the perspective it will offer.  Besides, I can tell it's the type of story kids will be into, and since it lacks vampires and zombies, there is a good chance I would recommend it.

9.  I Am The Messenger (Markus Zusak) <--- a good friend has told me to read this on more than one occasion.  I'm thinking I'll finally get to it this year.  I think most people know the feeling of having little to be proud of, whether it's something we experienced or are currently going through.  I'm thinking I'll be able to relate to this character, and hopefully, learn some new things that will adjust my train of thought.

10. The Virgin Suicides (Jeffrey Eugenides) <--- another recommendation from a friend that has intrigued me to the point where I must learn what this book is all about.

**The final two are debut novels from two very talented authors.  Both are being released this summer.  I'm PUMPED!!!

11. Wildefire (Karsten Knight) <--- Karsten is a young, emerging author who I discovered based on the recommendation of a fellow blogger.  (Sorry, I don't remember who, or else I would tag you...)  He continues to impress me with his vlogs and contributions to the YA Rebels.  Karsten is a highly entertaining, versatile, all around cool dude.

12. The Great Lenore (JM Tohline) <--- This novel actually falls under the category of literary fiction, which is the genre I visit when I realize I'm an adult and should explore works geared for an older audience.  I've dubbed this guy, without his knowledge or permission, my literary hero.  JM has accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time, and if I were to place a bet, I'd bet on him.  That's right; you heard it here first: JM is going places.  He is one of the most insightful, knowledgeable, and respectful writers I've stumbled upon, and most importantly, he is a kind soul who has gone out of his way to encourage and support my passion.  His blog has become my favorite on the web; I continue to walk away with something new.  It's like taking an online course in writing and publishing.  I will read anything this guy writes.

How about you?  Anything good on the reading list this year???

Monday, January 3, 2011

Don't Want To Work Today?

Happy 2011!  Although I genuinely enjoy the season, I'm relieved the holidays are behind us.  I awoke early this morning, fully motivated, raring to go.


Actually, I hit the snooze button four times, showered until the hot water stopped beating my skin red, and dragged myself out the door.  Yes, that sounds more like it.

With the most wonderful time of the year behind us, I'm hoping the muscle tension is starting to ease and we have all enjoyed a good night's sleep.  My original plan was to repost the de-stressers I shared in September, but my mood has called for a slight change of plans.

I don't wanna work; I just wanna type on the board all day....

Saturday morning, I returned to my manuscript.  I would have hoped a nine-day vacation would have built up some excess creativity just waiting to shoot out.  Sadly, that was not the case. 

It seems my mind is still stuck in the very same spot.  I'm just not liking anything.

The good news is, I am motivated to move forward and excited to follow the new routine I've established for myself; a routine that focuses around writing instead of the other way around.

Now if only the part-time job didn't interfere...

I know many of us are in the same boat.  Our schedules face interruptions that, although inconvenient, are necessary - at least if we plan to stay out of the red.

I don't hate my job; I just find certain days, more energy is required to steer the car to the office.  So today, I'm sharing my energy in hopes someone else can appreciate it.



The worst jobs in the world 4

The worst jobs in the world 3

Happy Monday,