Friday, April 30, 2010

The Cool Kids

I recently read “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult. It’s a courtroom drama about the aftermath of a school shooting. Naturally popularity and bullying were both major themes in the novel. I also tend to read a lot of YA, and based upon these books it’s easy to assume that every single teen in the world desprately wants to be popular. And if you’re not popular, well then you probably hate yourself enough to contimplate things like mass murder.

But now, thinking back, I can’t even remember who the popular kids at my high school were. And I certainly never wanted to be friends with them. I do remember in junior high one of the super cool boys asking me out in the middle of class. I was an uber dork and it was probably supposed to be some sort of prank. But when I turned him down, I was being honest. I really didn’t want anything to do with that guy. In fact, I spent a lot of my teen years actively trying to be unpopular.

I was a “smart kid”. I took all honors and AP classes and participated in enough extra caricular activities to ensure a properly well rounded college application. All of my friends were equally achedmically motivated, many of them going on to Ivy League schools. My cluster of friends didn’t include many cheerleaders or football players, but I did sit at the same lunch table as the student body president and the yearbook editor.

I had a fairly large group of friends, but I didn’t really like all that many of them. The constant pressure to succeed combined with standard teen angst made most of my friends extreamly shallow and superficial. They all seemed so fake, it drove me crazy. Now looking back, I guess it’s possible that I may have really enjoyed getting to know some of the other kids at my high school. But at the time, I assumed everyone else was worse. My friends were the “smart kids” the “nerds”. Surely the jocks and cheerleaders would be infinitely more caddy, right?

Now that I’m an adult, I like my friends. I’ve always been a social person, and have a lot of friends that I hang out with on a regular basis. They were all dorks in high school who grew up to be well educated successful adults. But they aren’t shallow and superficial anymore, they’re just people with interesting thoughts whom I enjoy talking to. I recently took an informal pole of my adult friends. Very few of them have anything more than a vague memory of who the “cool kids” were at their high schools. Most of them assume they were teased or bullied a little, but nobody had any memories scaring enough to stick.

So maybe the old addage is true. The nerds do grow up to be happy adults, and the popular kids grow up to long for their high school days of success. So where does that put YA literature? Peer pressure, angsiety about fitting in, and bullying are all real issues that teens deal with. So completely removing them from fictional media would be disingenuous. But not every teen wants to be popular, I never did. And none of my current friends ever did either.

So what about you? Can you remember who the cool kids were at your high school? If one of them talked to you in the halls, would it have made your day? Or would you have hidden in fear? Or would you have simply not cared?

Joke of the Day
A dyslexic kid asked his mom if he could go to McDonalds for dinner. His mom said, “Sure, but you have to spell in before we go.”

The kid thought about it for a minute before replying, “I changed my mind. Can we go to KFC instead.”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Modern Tragity

If you read my query letter that I posted yesturday, you know that I recently wrote a "very loose" adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. When I finished it, I thought about trying to do a series of other Shakespeare adaptations. One of the first plays I looked into was Othello. I quickly decided that Othello was way to depressing, and I just started writing non-Shakespeare inspired stories.

But I went and saw a production of Othello over at Portland's Artist Reportory theater earlier this week, and it made me think again about how this classic tale could resinate in modern society. I like to believe that American's aren't all that racist anymore. I'm sure there are still bigots hiding out, but society at large attempts to be color blind. We have an African American president, so a mixxed race love story wouldn't have to be tragic.

But what if Othello was muslum? In the post-911 American there is a lot of aprehension towards people of middle-eastern discent. And given the recent Arizona law, it seems like even a Hispanic ethicity could inspire tragity. It seems that Shakespeares works really are timeless. In the past 400 years have we made any progress at all? Or will we always be ready to accuse that which we don't understand?

Joke of the Day
Why were the early days of history called the dark ages?
Because there were so many knights.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Query Letter

So I've gotten to the point where I need to send out my next round of query letters. I think that my letter is pretty good. But getting feedback from other writers can't hurt. So here it is. After reading this letter, would you request a manuscrip? If not, what should I do to improve these 264 words of pleading?

Dear Agent,

CAMP LIFE is 58,000 word YA novel. It is a loose adaptation of ROMEO AND JULIET set at a high school summer camp.

Jocelyn Davis is an insecure young woman who is cast as Juliet in the camp play, even though the only part she wants to play is popular. Hunter Richman is a fervently worshiped athlete who spontaneously decides to cast away his jersey for the part of Romeo simply because he thinks the girl playing Juliet is cute. Jocelyn and Hunter developed a close friendship on stage, which complicates their lives off stage.

As Hunter and Jocelyn begin to enter one another’s worlds, Jocelyn befriends the camps mean girls, and Hunter forms an unlikely friendship with Bradley, an openly gay teenager playing the part of Fryer Laurence. When one of Hunter’s old friends starts picking on Bradley, Hunter comes to Bradley’s defense. As a result, Hunter is both physically assaulted and publicly humiliated. In order to extinguish rumors regarding his sexual orientation, Hunter starts dating Jocelyn.

Being Hunter’s girlfriend elevates Jocelyn to the top of the social totem pole. When Jocelyn realizes one of her new friends has a serious eating disorder, she begins to question her values and realizes sometimes it’s important to stop acting. But what tragedy exists in a reality where teenagers admit their real feelings? When the final curtain falls, can Hunter and Jocelyn ever hope for a happily ever after?

CAMP LIFE is my first novel. I hope you will be able to work with me to bring it to publication.

Katherine Elliott Scott

Joke of the Day
How do you know if there's an elephant in your refrigerator?
There are footprints in the jello.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Little Oregon History

I’m now in the research faze of book one of a time-traveling MG series I’m planning to write. I’m planning on having the first book by set 800 years back in time among the Ancestrial Puebloans, around the four corners area. Unfortunately, I live in Oregon, not Colorado. And I wont be able to head to the Southwest until June. So in the mean time, I’m entertaining myself by traveling around Oregon.

Last weekend I went camping at Champoeg State Park. While the park does have several miles of bike paths, and a tranquil oak grove next to the river, it’s primary function is historical landmark. In case you didn’t grow up in Oregon, and didn’t learn about Champoeg in 3rd grade, I’ll fill you in on the details.

On May 2nd, 1843, 102 men (approximately 50% of all adult white males living in the Oregon Territory at the time) gathered in Champoeg. At this gathering, the men discussed the need for a more unified government. Many fir traders were settling and taking up farming, and families were beginning to move into the area. Some semblance of law needed to govern these early settlers.

So the men voted. Should they stay under the gerisdiction of the Hudson Bay Company, and the British crown, or should they form a new provincial government and become a territory of the United States of America. The vote was 52 to 50 in favor of joining the US. After the vote, a deligation was sent to bring word of the decision to Washington. Three years later, on June 15, 1846, the US signed the Oregon Treaty with the UK officially making the Oregon Territory a part of the United States.

I’m not currently planning to expand the Champoeg story out into a full volume in my time traveling series. Still I can’t help but revel in the reality that if just two men had voted differently at that gathering 167 years ago, I may now be Canadian. Isn’t history fasinating.

Joke of the Day
What do Alexander the Great and Kermit the Frog have in common?
The same middle name.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Great Outside

I don’t particularely enjoy doing yard work. But I do love spending time outdoors. There is something about being in nature that revitalizes me the way nothing else can. Maybe a part of my body remembers my hunter/gatherer ruits. Because I always feel the most human when I’m surrounded by wilderness.

Last weekend I went camping. It was a totally last minute plan, and I ended up just heading to a state park 30 miles away from my house. Even if the local wasn’t very exotic, I still slipped into a tranquil state the second I stepped into the woods.

The more time I spend outside, the less I want to live inside. Everytime I go camping, I find myself yerning to stay there forever and simply write off city life completely. The funny thing is that, once upon a time I did live out of a backpack. My first job out of college was “wilderness guild”. There were a lot of things about that job that I loved, and that I’ve missed every day since I quit.

But I did quit that job. Seven months of life in a tent was all I could handle, then I moved back to the city and returned to school to become a civil engineer. I went from living with the trees and animals to designing and building cities. I remember feeling really lonely when I spent all my time hidden in the mountains. And I do have a lot of friends in my city life. I guess I’ll just have to be content with the knowledge that next weekend can bring with it another journey outside.

Joke of the Day
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. After a plesent day of hiking in the woods, they settled down in their sleeping bags. Holmes woke in the night and nudged his friend awake. “Watson, look up and tell me what you see.”

Watson blinked awake. “I see a fantastic panorama of coutless stars.”

“And what does that tell you?” Holmes asked.

Watson pondered for a moment. “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meterologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tommorow.”

“That may all be true,” said Holmes. “But it also tells us that someone stole our tent.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

Plugged In or Tuned Out

I’m not a ludite. I have a blog, obviously I use the internet. Still I’m shocked at how plugged in our society has become. I have a cell phone, that can make and recieve calls. That’s pretty much the only thing it can do. Having an iPhone or a blackberry might be nice, but cell coverage that includes internet is really expensive. I can’t bring myself to pay an additional $70 per month just so I can check facebook on my phone.

I do have a facebook account. But since it isn’t on my phone, I only check in once every week or two. I also have three email accounts. I check all of those anywhere from 2-5 times per day. One of them is gmail, so everytime I check that account I also open my g-reader to catch up on all the blogs that I follow. I spend anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes of each day reading emails, blogs, and occationally facebook.

This seems like enough for me. The other 23 hours of each day, I’m just out living my life. Maybe if I lived in a very remote area and depended upon the internet to provide all my human contact, I’d spend more time plugged in. But I’d probably want a real life of my own there too.

Maybe I am behind the times, because I can’t even begin to comprehend why people would want to spend 10 hours per day on twitter. Still I always find it sad when I hear people say they are going to unplug for a day or worse an hour. Seriously people, there is a whole wide amazing world out there. And disconnecting long enough to go see it shouldn’t feel like a chore.

Joke of the Day
You know technology has taken over your life, if you rotate your screen savers more frequently than your automobile tires.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

An Example of How to Make Bad Art

Last night I saw “Mike’s Incredable Indian Adventure” at Portland Center Stage. I normally don’t like to give bad reviews, but to be completely honest, the play wasn’t great. Even if I didn’t love the production, I did empathise with the story.

Here is the basic premise. A wannabe actor/director/producer grew up with a silver spoon shoved up his ass and never made any meaningful art for himself. He didn’t even manage to make any unmeaningful art. He basically just wasted a lot of time. Then he was invited to direct a Neil Simon musical in India. The producer was sleezy and it was obvious that the show would be horrible. So the guy agreed to direct the play and then hired a friend to film the entire thing, thinking he’d make a documentary fill about putting on a really bad play in India.

The play in India was really bad, but when he got home and watched the footage, he realized that the film footage was even worse. There was no theme to the documentary, no point at all really, just a lot of craptastic footage. So he started interviewing people and trying to learn about the rolls of America and India in the new global economy and frame his story somehow that way. That just gave him lots more footage, but still no real point. Then after 10 years of failing to pull a documentary out of all his footage, he decided to make a play. The play that I watched last night.

It was a play about a film about a play. And it really had absolutely no point. I felt like I wasted an evening watching it. But much more than that, I feel like this guy wasted a decade making it. I may not be a wannabe actor/director/producer, but I am a wannabe writer. I understand the way people can get caught up in an idea and stay caught up in it long after the project has lost its potential. So please, fellow writers and creative types, don’t be like Mike. If you have a craptastic idea, give yourself a couple of months to try and make it into something. But if it continually spirals further and further into pointlessness, learn to say goodbye and get yourself a new idea.

Joke of the Day
How do you shoot a purple elephant?
With a purple elephant gun.
How do you shoot a white elephant?
Hold it's trunk until it turns purple, then shoot it with a purple elephant gun.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why Censorship is Bad

The debate of what is appropriate in childrens and YA novels started the day the first child picked up a book and it will likely never end. Everyone has their own opinion of what is acceptable for kids and what isn’t. But what happens to the kids that are subjected to censorship? What kind of worrped view of reality to they develope?

This is a true story of a conversataion I once had with a kid I used to babysit. The kid was ten years old, was home schooled, and was not alloud to read Harry Potter for religious reasons. His entire life was censored.

One day I was babysitting said kid and he saw a group of totally harmless perfectly normal teenagers. He then turned to me and said, “Those are really bad kids. I heard them say bad words. It’s a slippery slope and that type of behavior leads to things like watching R rated movies. If my friend was here, I’d get my bb-gun and teach those kids a lesson.”

Yes that’s right. This extreamly sheltered kid thought that watching R rated movies was the worst activity imaginable, but shooting people that’s just good clean fun. Seriously people, just let your kids read Harry Potter. A well rounded view of the world has to be better than staulking kids with bb-guns just cause they were over heard saying sh*#?t.

Joke of the Day
What's black and white with 16 wheels?
A zebra on rollerskates.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dreaming of Tomorrow

I LOVE planning things that will never happen. Many of the stories that I write have at least one character a lot like me. This is because most stories in my head begin as daydreams about my own future. I did this a lot as a kid. When I was a teenager, I would daydream about my own kids and what they would act like as teenagers.

When I was seriously dating my now husband, but not yet engaged, I planned about a million different weddings. Our actually wedding was awsome, and almost completely organized in my head by the time he bothered to get me a ring. Right now I’m daydreaming about two things. One that will happen, and one that wont.

I’m dreaming about winning the Powerball, cause it’s now over $200,000. I love that it only costs $1 to dream. And in all honesty, dreaming about finding ways to spend $200,000 is probably a lot more fun than actually winning. Sure getting up and going to work everyday isn’t “fun” it’s “work”. But being that rich would probably make a person feel very isolated and alone.

I’m also dreaming about going on vaccation. I’m thinking about all the kick ass vaccations I would take if I did win Powerball. But I’m also thinking about the vaccation I am planning for this summer. I’m going on a three week, six thousand mile, road trip. My husbands college reunion is in NY, and we live in OR. So we decided we are going to drive there. AWESOME. There are so many national parks between OR and NY, which ones should we stop at? Where is the worlds largest ball of twine? Can we visit that too?

Planning this vaccation isn’t a new hobby for me. I’ve planned a lot of vaccations that I’ve never been on. In some ways I think I enjoy planning vaccations even more than being on vaccation. Sometimes I’ll even start reading guild books and plotting non-existant travels in my mind while I’m on vaccation. I’m crazy, I know, but all these plans have made me very good at geography.

Joke of the Day
Two men got out of their cars after they collided at an intersection. One took a flask from his pocket and said to the other, "Here, maybe you'd like a nip to calm your nerves." "Thanks," he said, and took a long pull from the container. "Here, you have one, too," he added, handing back the whiskey. "Well, I'd rather not," said the first. "At least not until after the police have been here."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Listen Up - Part 5

This week is all things audio. I’ve already talked about my early ruse to memorize books in order to trick people into thinking I could read. I’ve talked about my discovery of audiobooks and how they completely redefined my childhood. I’ve talked about how I listened to my text books on fast forward during college. And I’ve talked about my eight year audio book fast after I graduated from college during which time I forced myself to learn to read.

But onto the present. I really hate silence. That’s not true, sometimes when it’s really truly quiet I love it. I love getting lost in my own head and inventing new worlds to entertain myself. I love making up stories and filling the silence in my head with my own words. What I hate is white noise. I’m so used to listening to everything around me, that things like buzzing lights and whirring fans often make me wonder if I might be a little bit autistic on top of being a lot dyslexic.

I have a very very hard time focusing on “life” without something in my ears. So I’m plugged into my iPod about 12 hours a day. I listen on the way to work. I listen while I’m at work. I listen on the way home. I listen while at home. There are about 5000 songs on my iPod, and lot of the time I listen to those. But I also listen to audiobooks.

People have a hard time believing me when I tell them that I comprehend audiobooks while also dealing with every other detail of my life. But I do. I remember listening to books-on-tape before bed as a kid and memorizing the last word I heard before I fell asleep. I would rewind the next day and find the exact word where I fell asleep so I’d know where to restart the tape. I’m just a good listener. So yeah. In the past year, I’ve listened to about 150 books. I don’t think I could recite any of them back to you. I gave up on the whole memorizing books thing shortly after getting diaconosed with dyslexia. But I could definitely tell you all the minor details of the plots.

I concider myself very lucky. I was introduced to audiobooks very young. And I was never alloud to believe that being dyslexic would stop me from achieving all my goals. I have had nothing but achedemic success. As an adult, I have succeeded in my carrer, developing a reputation as having a strong attention to detail and the ability to keep large amounts of data organized in my head.

I’ve never thought of myself as stupid. And I know learning disabilities don’t have anything to do with intelligence. But I really don’t think I’m all that “smart” either. I’m just a really good listener. If I’d learned how to read in first grade like a normal person, maybe I’d be better at zoning out and selective listening. But I’ve never been normal, and I probably never will be. In the long run, dyslexia hasn’t been much of a disability at all. Cause I can read now. Even my spelling is improving. And you probably can’t listen nearly as well as I can.

Joke of the Day
What's another word for syninim?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Listen Up - Part 4

This week is all things audio. I’ve already talked about my early ruse to memorize books in order to trick people into thinking I could read. I’ve talked about my discovery of audiobooks and how they completely redefined my childhood. And I’ve talked about how I listened to my text books on fast forward during college. So what happened when I graduated from college? Shockingly, I quit RFB&D. I decided to stop listening.

I went totally cold turkey. No audio books period. I didn’t have proffessors expecting me to read 100 pages by tommorrow. If I wanted to read a book for fun, I could suck it up and read it. I’m glad that I forced myself to do this. By the time I graduated from college I’d listened to thousands of audio books and had a very deep seeded love of literature. So I finally bit the bullet and truly forced myself to learn how to read.

But what were my ears supposed to do while I was reading. I’d been plugged into audio books for my entire life. I’d trained myself to not simple hear, but actually memorize texts rattled off on fast forward. I couldn’t just turn my ears off. They were to keyed into everything around me.

The first thing I did was find NPR. I needed to hear words, to dedicate a section of my brain to memorizing facts at the same time as I was busy doing differential equations. Oh yeah, did I mension that one year after I graduate from college I went back to college. My first degree was in anthropology. My second was in civil engineering. I didn’t have RFB&D to help me out in engineering school, so I didn’t bother reading any of those text books. I just listened in class and flipped through my text books for example problems while doing my homework.

On top of considering all things, I also started listening to a lot more music. There are currently 5000 songs on my iPod. It’s not like I hated music before that. I had a couple hundred CD’s back before MP3s became the rage. But once the audio books went dead, I found the silence overwellming. So I filled it with any sound I could find.

Eventually I gave up. Just over a year ago I put an end to my audio books ban. I haven’t re-upped my RFB&D membership. Instead I’ve found Library’s 2 Go. Library audiobooks downloaded directly to my iPod. Can someone say awesome. Yeah, there is a reason I’ve listened to about 150 books in the past year. But I’ll talk more about that tommorow.

Joke of the Day
What does Santa call his wife on his tax return?
A Dependent Clause.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Listen Up - Part 3

This week I’m talking about all things audio. I’ve already talked about my early ruse to memorize books in order to trick people into thinking I could read. And I’ve talked about my discovery of audiobooks and how they completely redefined my childhood. But the audio world didn’t really open up for me until I found RFB&D (Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic). I’m not sure exactly when the decition was made to lump dyslexic people in with blind people in the world of audio books for the disabled, but I love whoever made that decree.

The thing that separates RFB&D from other audio book distributors is textbooks. As a member of RFB&D, I was able to get any book with and ISBN # on tape, including text books. So I guess I should go back and talk about text books before I found RFB&D.

When I was a kid, my mom’s reading rule was pretty simple. She would read absolutely anything alloud to my brother or I that we asked. This consisted of all our textbooks (elementary school, junior high, and high school). Since she wasn’t in class with us, she would fain confusion at all the complicated parts and ask us to explain the text to her. Somehow she managed to always ask about the topics that later showed up on tests and quizzes. Did I mension my mom was a teacher?

But there was one catch. My mom cut us off at the end of junior year. She wouldn’t be going with us to college, so for senior year we had to be on our own. Somehow, my brother survived this edict. He read all his text books during his senior year, then he managed to read all his text books in college while double majoring in philosophy and poli-sci. He didn’t break down and join RFB&D until the reading in law school became to much for him to handle.

Not me. I joined RFB&D during my sophomore year of high school (when my brother was a senior). Just watching him try to read his own history book gave me heart palpitations. I definately needed an audio alternative. And it was revolutionary. The audio textbooks didn’t talk back like my mom. And the special RFB&D tape recorder had variying speeds so I could listen to my AP Physicis book at Alvin & the Chipmonks speed. And I could do fun things like play video games at the same time.

Obviously, by the time I made it to college, I could perfectly comprehend text books on fast forward while simoltaniously beating Super Mario Brothers. I may have been a good listener back in elementary school. But high speed text books elevated my listening skills to a whole new level. I’m sure I learned things in my actual classes, but I think above everything else, the sharpest skill I came away with was my ability to listen. Memorizing lectures without taking notes was a piece of cake after all those Nintendo enhanced homework sessions.

When I graduated and stepped out into the literate adult world, my piss pour reading skills were such an afterthought they didn’t even matter. I could listen better than anybody! But I’ll wait until tomorrow to tell you about that.

Joke of the Day
How many letters are there in the alphabet?
24, because E.T. went home.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Listen Up - Part 2

This week I’m talking about all things audio. Yesturday, I wrote about my listening habits before I was diacnosed with dyslexia. Now I’ll talk about how I listened post diacnosis.

So I was diacnosed with dyslexia at age 8. Then at age 9, my family moved. I think I wasted most of my time in third and forth grade climbing trees and hecking the neighbor kids. But the thing I remember most clearly about my families move shortly before my 10th birthday, was my discovery of audiobooks.

It took me a while to make friends at my new school. So I had a lot of free time on my hands. Fortunately, my new house was only a couple blocks away from the public library. I may have undergone a couple hundred hours of private tutoring by then. But that just meant I was starting to get down letter combonations like ch and th and all that fun stuff. I was still years away from picking up a good book and actually reading it. So my parents showed me which shelf in the library held all the audio books.

I fell in love immediately. I would go to the library two or three times a week to check out more books-on-tape. Since I couldn’t read the dust jackets, there was no way for me to know which books I would enjoy. So I decided to just listen to them all. I worked through the audio section systematically, checking out each audiobook in alphabetical order. It took me about six years. But by my sophmore year of high school, I’d listen to every single audiobook the Lake Oswego Public Library had to offer.

During that six years of hard core listenage, I also managed to graduate from tutoring. That happened when I was 12. At that point in time I knew everything there was to know about phonix and could sound things out well enough to survive. Meaning I could sound things out well enough to read the assignments on the board, or to write myself a note and then read it again later. I read about as well as the average second grader. But I didn’t read books. Why would I want to do that? I was listening to an average of 200 books a year. Who had time to read amidst all that listening? Certainly not me.

Joke of the Day
Dyslexics of the world UNTIE.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Listen Up - Part 1

Even though this is supposed to be a blog about dyslexia, it seems to mainly be a blog about all the books I read. That may seem odd, after all dyslexic’s aren’t supposed to read. But I am very good at listening, and often listen to five or six audio books per week. I’ve mentioned listening and audio books in past posts. But I’ve never really blogged in detail about the act of listening. This is mainly because I have a lot to say on the subject. So I’ve decided to dedicate this entire week to the topic of listening. Here we go…

I am a very audiotory person. The things I hear have a much larger impact on my thinking and understanding than the things I see. Sometimes, I almost feel blind. Not that I can’t see. But that I hear like a blind person. I see things with my ears. To me, noises matter – a lot. This isn’t because I have vission problems. I am nearsited, but wearing glasses has never felt like a dysablity, it’s more of an excessory. No, my sensitivity to sound is definitely linked to my late onset literacy.

If I had learned how to read when I was six like a normal person, I would have developed normal listening habits. But I didn’t learn how to read in first grade. And when all my friends were busy memorizing their ABC’s, I was busy memorizing absolutely everything I heard. I was so desprate to stay afloat without reading, that I forced my ears into overdrive. Now as a fully literate adult, that can and does read on a regular basis, I’m still incapable of turning off my ears.

I was diacnosed with dyslexia at the beginning of third grade. This may sound relatively early, many people make it into high school or even adulthood before getting diacnosed. But I’m actually amazed that I tricked people for that long. My older brother was also diacnosed at the beginning of third grade (when I was just starting first grade). At the time, my parents were told that dyslexia is genetic and there was a very good chance their daughter was also dyslexic.

So what do I remember about the beginning of first grade? I remember all the discussions about whether or not I should skip straight to second. NOBODY knew that I couldn’t read. My father, brother, and several extended family members are all dyslexic. Dyslexia was on everyones raydar. And I had them all fooled into thinking I was some kind of child prodigy or something. It’s so crazy, I often find myself questioning my own memories.

But this is one thing I do remember. I always listened very carefully. I listened to everything, but especially books. My mom read me a lot of stories as a kid, and I memorized all of them. I didn’t just know the words. I knew when to turn the pages, and even how fast to track my finger across the squiggly lines. So why couldn’t I properly identify all 26 letters in the alphabet at the start of third grade?

This is another thing I remember. I didn’t want anyone to know. Now, it seems like admitting to my kindergarden and first grade teachers that I couldn’t understand anything they were saying would have been a good idea. But back then, my inability to read was my deepest darkest secret. I had to fake it. I had to keep the myth alive. I had to let everyone believe that I could read. And the only way to do that, was to listen. So I did. I listened so hard and so long that I couldn’t stop. It’s no wonder I listened to eight audio books last week. But more about that tommorrow.

Joke of the Day

A biology teacher begins his lecture, "Today we are going to talk about DNA."

A dyslexic student in the second row gets a confused look on his face. The teacher notices his expression and asks, "Jimmy, do you have a question?"

"No," says the student. "I just can't figure out what the National Dyslexia Association has to do with biology."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Returning to Normalcy

Today is the last day of my furlough. I'm heading back to work on Monday. It's funny, when I first found out that I was going to have two weeks off work, I had all these plans to write 24/7. The problem with that plan was that I'm currently at the research stage, not the writing stage, of my next project.

I did do some research. But for the most part, I was just really board for the first couple of days. It's been a typical Portland spring, lots and lots of rain. So I couldn't even go outside and enjoy myself. All I was doing was reading dull non-fiction books, and kids books. A lot of the kids books that I read were good, but I'm obviously not the intendend audience. So they didn't help much with the whole not feeling board thing.

Then this week, I just started reading really good books. I didn't really do anything at all. I barely found time to fold the laundry, and I really should vacum. But I read several wonderful books that engaged my mind and made me happy that I didn't have to get off the couch and head into work.

I am glad that I'm heading back to work next week. Cause I like getting paid, and it is good to have social interaction with people who aren't imaginary from time to time. But still, this fortnight of unemployment hasn't been to bad.

Here is a list of all the books I read (or listened to) in my two weeks off. In case you are curious, I recomend Juliet Naked, After, A Dirty Job, and Changeless. The rest were okay, but most of them lose their appeal once a person graduates from elementry school.

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
The Anasazi Culture at Mesa Verde by Sabrina Crewe & Dale Anderson
Amber Brown is Not a Crayon by Paula Danzinger
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry
Wingfield by Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello & Stephen Colbert
Sandstone Spine: Seeking the Anasazi by David Roberts
The Magic Tree House Series (Books 1-4) by Mary Pope Osborne
After by Amy Efaw
The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Anasazi: Ancient People of the Rock by Donald G Pike
Changeless by Gail Carriger

Okay, 19 books in 13 days is just sick and wrong. Even if more than half of these books are for children. I definately need to go back to work!

Joke of the Day
What do you get when you cross a librarian with a lawyer?
You get all the information you want, but you can't understand it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The kindle edition of Changeless by Gail Carriger was just released today. If I wanted to read it in paper, I could have rushed over to B&N and bought it a week and a half ago. But alas, I preordered the Kindle edition on Amazon and didn't think I needed a paper and electronic version of the same book. So I'm only one chapter into Carriger's latest adventure. But since Changeless is a sequil to Soulless, I figured I'd have today's blog post be a review of the first book in the Parasol Protectorate series - Soulless.

Title: Soulless
Author: Gail Carriger
Series: The Parasol Protectorate
Genre: Steampunk
My Rating: 4.5 stars
Back of Book Description: Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire -- and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

My Review: For the most part I enjoy reading Paranormal and Fantacy. I'm a fan of Harry Potter, Bella Swan, Artimas Fowl, and several other kids that have fallen into sorts with the supernatural. The first time one of these stories comes out it seems fresh and exciting and new. Then before you know it there are a million and one YA books about lusty vampires and they all seem exactly the same.

Soulless, is refreshingly new and different from other Paranormal stories currently flooding the market. For one thing, none of the characters are kids. Alexia, the herroin, is in her late 20's. Also the story takes place in Victorian London, not a modern high school. One thing that I really enjoyed about the world of Soulless is that everyone knows there are Vampires and Werewolves and Ghosts milling about. Given their long lifespans, many supernaturals have achieved great wealth and hold prominate positions both in London Society and in Her Magesties government.

Apparently, the abillity to survive a transformation from regulare human to supernatural being requires an abbundance of soul. While some artists and actors have great excesses of soul, other people have none at all. Alexia is one of the petrenatural, soulless beings. This puts her at odds with the supernatural forces and gets her into many thrilling scrapes along the way.

On top of all the exciting supernatural creatures, and a few mad scientists with crazy steam powered inventions, this book is also full of Victorian charm. Alexia is likely to be far more shocked by a poorly selected hat than a rogue vampire attempting come in for a drink. But enough about that, I really must get back to my reading. So far, I'm enjoying book 2 in the series just as much as I liked book one. And I can't wait to see what happens next.

Joke of the Day
Three vampires went into a bar and sat down.
THe barmaid came over to take their orders. "And what would you gentelmen like tonight?"
The first vampire said, "I'll have a mug of blood."
The second vampire said, "I'll have a mug of blood."
The third vampire shook his head at his companions and said, "I'll have a glass of plasma."
The barmaid wrote down each order, went to the bar and called to the bartender, "Two bloods and a blood light."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


The retirement home where my grandmother lives has been hit be a bad flu epidemic. So many old people are sick there, that the county health department has put the entire retirement complex on quarenteen. No outside visitors are alloud into the building, and all residence are confined to their own rooms. No interaction with other residences is alloud. This has been going on for several weeks and it will be at least one more week before the quarenteen is lifted (longer if anyone else gets sick).

Naturally, all the residences are going a bit batty with bordom. What 90 year old wants to be put in solitary confinement just because their neighbor has the sniffles? My grandmother is in remarkably good spirits. When I talked to her yesturday, she explained that she has been reading a lot. She then went on to tell me about all the great books she has read in her recent weeks of retirement home prison.

I don't have the health department dictating my travel or stopping me from engaging in face to face contact with other human beings. But I still understand how boring life can get sometimes. The crappy state of the economy makes travel to exotic lands more difficult. And sometimes the face to face people around me don't have all that much of interest to say. So I appreciate my grandmothers understanding. It doesn't matter if we are locked in by a thretening disease, or empty bank account, or a mundane life, escape is always as easy as opening the pages of a good book.

Right now I'm treating myself to a vacation to Christopher Moore's "Dirty Jobs". It's great to get away and hang out with the merchent of death.

Joke of the Day
If all the smokers in the world were laid end-to-end around the world, three-quarters of them would drown.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cutting the Soul Out of a Story

I listen to A LOT of audiobooks. And there is nothing I hate more than an abridgement. As a matter of principle, I refuse to listen to abridged books. What erks me, is when there is a book I'm interested it that is only available as an abridgement. Why are people going through the effort of recording audiobooks, and then only bothering to record half the story? I don't understand. Who listens to these abridged books? Why do people feel the need to make them?

My loathing of abridged audiobooks is somewhat related to my dislike of movie adaptations of books. I don't have much of a problem with people watching a story as opposed to reading a story. For example, watching a well made film of Hamlet or Romeo & Juliet could quite possibly be a truer and more rewarding experience than simply reading Shakespheare's words. The reason for this is quite obvious. Shakespheare intended for his works to be performed, and no good film crew would dare to cut anything.

It's the cutting that I hate. Most stories are orginally penned in prose not dialog and stage direction. That means, any film adaptation has to select which parts of the story to tell on the screen. And only very short books can be told in their entirety in a two or three hour film. So in addition to determining how to create a set that matches the imagary the prose bring to mind, film makers must also determine which scenes to cut from the story entirely.

The Harry Potter films are an example of well made film adaptations. The cinemetagraphy is beautiful, and does a good job of bringing the world of Hogwarts to life in a manner similar to that which would be imagined while reading the story. Also the movies closely track the books and do not intentionally stray from the written storyline. I have read all the books multiple times, and have seen all the movies which have been released. My husband, on the other hand, has watched the movies but he has not read the books. In the car ride home after watching one of the movies, my husband inevitably starts asking me tons of questions. "Ok, who was that character?" "Now where did that come from?" "What was Harry talking about when he said...?"

I don't have any problem answering these questions. And after I do answer them, the film begins to make sense for my husband. What he's doing is pulling all the information that was cut from the films out of me, instead of pulling it out of the book itself. So if someone were to watch the Harry Potter movies without reading the books or interviewing someone who had read the books, the story wouldn't make complete sense. It would be the same as listening to an abridged audiobook. It would be comperable to reading "cliftnotes" and not bothering to read the story at all. The major plot points might be there, but the original richness of the story would have been lost. Cutting, and abridging always steels a part of the story that the original author and publisher felt was necessary. Cutting and abridging almost universily makes stories worse.

So I was plesently surprized when I recently watched and loved the new "Alice and Wonderland" movie. It's not a remake of Lewis Carrolls masterpiece. It doesn't cut and paste dialog from the book into a film. It doesn't attempt to smash a beloved story into a two hour film. Instead it takes all the wonderful richness of that beloved classic, and then respins it into an entirely new and entirely different story. The key idea behind the film is that Alice visited Wonderland and had all the adventures described in Carrol's book at the age of seven. Then 13 years later at the age of 20, she visits Wonderland again. Many of the characters are the same, but their needs and modivations have changed. Alice has grown and experienced new things. This new film isn't a attempted remake of a novel, which is dombed to pail in comparison to the original. Instead, this film is an unwritten sequil, which is able to enhance the original story without destroying it. So even though, I normally hate film adaptations of books. I recommend watching "Alice in Wonderland."

Joke of the Day
A famous Viking explorer returned home from a voyage and found his name missing from the town register. His wife insited on complaining to the local civic official who appologized saying, "I must have taken Lief off my census."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Travel Writing

I just finished reading "Sandstone Spine: Seaking the Anasazi" by David Roberts. It is a narrated account of three adventurist enthusiusts 18 day trek over Comb Ridge - 100+ mile rock ridge in Norther Arizona/Southern Utah. I read it, because on the trek the climbers came across many Anasazi ruins and the accounts of the history of the people who built the ruins, their place in history, the relationship between the various sites, and the original Anglos that discovered the sites all compaired to the text in archologic journals. The only difference is that having the archeology sprinkled between hard core rock climbing anticdotes made the overall read more engaging.

But I expect there aren't that many people busy researching the Anasazi who enjoy reading rock climbing adventures. So this book made we wonder about the overall market for travel writing. Doing a quick count, I have 35 travel books on the shelf in the room I'm currently sitting in. But these books are all published by people like Lonely Planet, National Geographic, and AAA. They are guild books designed to aid in actul travel, and fall into an entirely different genre than travel memoir.

I like Bill Bryson's travel memoir books, "A Walk in the Woods" and "In the Sunburned Country". But I think that mainly has to do with my liking Bill Bryson. Despite it's blockbuster status, I really didn't like "Eat Pray Love" all that much. "Sandstone Spine" was the first book by David Roberts that I read, and I don't have any plans to run out and devour the rest of his works.

From reading "Sandstone Spine" I gaged that in addition to writing several full length travel/adventure memoirs, he has also done a lot of writing for magazines like "Outdoor" and "Climbing". This makes a lot more sence to me. Die hards can read a few thousand words about cool artifacts that require hard core rock climbing prowis to view and before you know it, they've booked a trip to Southern Utah.

Similar travel memoir works well in periodicals about yatching, or deep sea diving, or wine tasting, or what ever. But when I reading full length books like "Eat Pray Love" I find myself thinking, if I spent a year in Italy, India, and Indonesia, I wouldn't have wasted all my time doing that. Why don't you tell me about the good stuff? Oh wait, that's right. You never bothered to look at the good stuff.

So what do you think? Is travel/memoir a viable genre? Am I not giving it a fair shot? What travel/memoirs have you read that have inspired you?

Joke of the Day
A man and his wife were driving across the country and were nearing a town spelled Kissimee. They noted the strange spelling and tried to figure how to pronounce it - KISS-a-me; kis-A-me; kis-a-ME. They grew more perplexed as they drove into the town.
Since they were hungry, they pulled into a place to get something to eat. At the counter, the man said to the waitress: "My wife and I can't seem to be able to figure out how to pronounce this place. Will you tell me where we are and say it very slowly so that I can understand."
The waitress looked at him and said: "Buuurrrgerrr Kiiiinnnng."

Friday, April 2, 2010

One Week Down

Well I've survived my first week on furlough. I feel like I haven't acomplished anything. I went to the beach and the art museaum. I took my little sister to the children's museaum. I helped my brother move. I went for a hike in forest park. I went to the library and started more seriously researching the ancestrial pobleaons for my upcoming book. Plus I listened to five audio books.

That might sound like a lot. And I know that if I'd been working I wouldn't have gone to the beach of helped my brother move. But I still feel like I normally accomplish more in a week outside of work than I've managed to accomplished this week with absolutely nothing to do.

I have one more week of furlough (unless my boss decides to extend it). I'm hoping that next week I'll get a little more done.

Joke of the Day
Blond jokes are always short so men can understand them.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

March Madness (literary style)

The mental shift from writing YA to writing MG, means that the books I read for market research are now a lot shorter. As a result, not counting non-fiction books I read for research, in March I listened to 23 audio books. I read two books on my kindle. And I read two books on paper, for a grand total of 27 books. Below is a short discription of each.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – YA – A powerful story about a girls battle with anorexia, told in a haunting voice. See longer review here.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray – YA – A very funny tale about a boy with mad cow disease who goes off on a crazy adventure in search of a magic cure.

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson – Travel/Memoir – The more of Bill Bryson’s books I read, the more I find myself wishing I knew him. His books are all so witty and funny in a way that makes me want to drink a few beers with the author (but not necessarily venture into the outback alone).

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – MG – A heart warming classic that is almost enough to make a person eager to do yard work on a spring day.

Soulless by Gail Carriger – Steampunk – This is a very funny story filled with vampires, wearwolves, ghosts, and abominations, and of course of a fair dosage of stonch Victorian manners too.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy and Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Cater – YA – The second & third books in the Galiger Girl series are just as filled with exciting girl spy’s as the first. The books are completely unbelievable in a fun way that will surely make the imaginations of tween girls reel with excitement.

Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie – Mystery – Unlike most Agatha Christie novel’s the dead body didn’t show up until almost 2/3rds of the way into the story. Instead all the suspects and there motives were observed before anyone died. This didn’t make it any easier for me to pick the correct killer.

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary – MG – A beloved classic for a reason. See longer review here.

The Hunger Games & Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – YA/SciFi – A gripping though sometimes troubling story about a brave young girl put in a horrific situation. See longer review here.

Amber Brown is Not a Crayon by Paula Danzinger – MG – A fun story about a spunky third grader. This book wasn’t published until I was in high school, so I missed it as a child, but found it an enjoyable form of market research now.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke – MG/Fantacy – An exciting story about story books that can be read to life, with the unfortunate result that fictious villans magically pop into reality.

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen – YA/Historical – This book is basically Gossip Girl set in the 1890’s. It’s characters are pretensious and callow, but still entertaining.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith – Steampunk – It’s about what I expected, Austin’s classic filled with brain eating zombies. I enjoyed it, but haven’t yet felt the need to run out and buy Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby – Drama – A reclusive former singer songwriter, an obsessed fan, and a relatively normal 39 year old woman all caught in a bazaar love triangle. What isn’t to love?

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont – Writing – I’d heard all the useful tips in this book before. In general, I’ve found that I rarely enjoy reading “how to write” books. I’ve never been all that interested in reading the directions on anything. It feels to much like cheating, and I’m having fun figuring out how to write novels without too many how to books to distract me.

The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart – YA – This book was better than I thought it would be based on the title, but it still wasn’t anything overly exciting. I’m starting to get sick of YA romances, so I guess it’s good I’ve decided to switch to writing MG books, so I can read them for a while instead.

The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry – MG/Historical – This tale set in 1910 about a nine year olds unlikely friendship with a developmently disabled boy sheds a touching light on historic thoughts about mental health and disability.

Lamb by Christopher Moore – Comedy – The gospel according to Biff is just as funny as it is sacreligious. See longer review here.

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry – MG – This story about an eleven year old boys struggle to help his grandparents keep his family’s range afloat when his parents are off fighting in Iraq is both timely and powerful. I fell in love with the characters and often cried even when Brother had the strength to keep himself composed.

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt – YA – This is a powerful story about an adopted teen’s reunion with her birth mother. It questions definitions of family and shows great love without any annoying lustfilled romance.

Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott – YA – A alcholoic teen comes out of rehab and tries to pull her life together and accept the reality of the death of her best friend who died while driving drunk just before Amy went into rehab.

Barrel Fever by David Sedaris – Comedy – I am a big fan of David Sedaris, but I think I like his later stuff better than this early work.

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare – MG/Historic – This book won the 1984 Newbery Award for a reason. It is one of the best stories I’ve read in a long time. I doesn’t matter if you are ten or eighty, this story about a young white settler who is schooled in the ways of the forest by a Native American boy during the summer of 1768 is worth reading.

Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten – YA – I love the voice of this character. The story was told in a charming and funny way. But the story itself wasn’t as delightful as the storytelling.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin – YA – When a 16 year old girl hits her head and forgets everything that happened to her in the past five years she begins to question everything about herself and who she is. Who are her friends? And how shallow was she? This YA book examines the peculare lives of teens in a way that stands above many other YA novels.

Joke of the Day
A kindergarten teacher asked the children just before she escorted them to the library, "And why is it necessary to be quiet in the Library?"
A girl smiled and said, "Because people are sleeping."