How a writer thinks mid-book…

For some reason, I always talk to myself as “we” in my own head.


As in, “Okay, we have four things to get done this weekend.” Or, “All right, we can’t beat ourselves up for not getting anything done this past weekend.” Which leads to, “Wow, my wife is really mad at us for not getting squat taken care of like we had promised this weekend.” Perhaps I am schitzo? Perhaps only the other half of me is? Who knows?


Yet, as I move towards the halfway point of the new YA novel I am writing, I begin my day with a small personal journal entry of, “Okay, we have 2,500 words to write in the next three days.”


This is how I measure my efforts as an author. Eat the elephant one bite at a time and chunk big projects down to small, more manageable goals. Quality, of course, matters a ton but at this stage of the writing process, forward progress is gold. During the inevitable re-write (s) I will deal with the exactness of scenes, characters, conflict, details, plot and so on. But getting all of those details spot on “right” can bog me down right now… and become like a siren to the rocks which will forever tempt me away from the bigger task at hand: completing the project.


2,500 words in 3 days is not really a lot for me, btw. (At least, personally, that is.) For some writers this might represents two weeks worth of work.)  My goal yesterday was 4,000 words in 4 days but I nailed 1,500 in one day’s work yesterday so the target was a bit revised… but still placed firmly in my sights.


Email, twitter, FB and even blogging all have to take a back seat to MAKING FORWARD PROGRESS.


That’s how we writers think mid-book.


Note: I file this one under the category of “Yet another lesson that, as a student in school, I was never actually taught by a teacher in school.”

A funny for people who like words

For people who like words, this certainly is worth a few moments… just so funny (and clever!). 



The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

The Washington Post has also published  the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to  supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners  are:

1. Coffee, n. The person upon  whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by  discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate, v.  To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4.  Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5.  Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.

6. Negligent, adj. Absent  mindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7.  Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n.  Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence, n.    Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a  steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding  hairline.

11. Testicle, n. A humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by  proctologists.

13. Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with  Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after  death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16.  Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish  men

One of our own is National Teacher of the Year

In case you missed it, an ELA teacher has just been named NATIONAL TEACHER OF THE YEAR. Her name is Rebecca Mieliwocki and she teaches 7th grade English in Burbank, California.


Ain’t no doubt that Rebecca rocks. However, unlike so many other things American, this isn’t really a competition of “who is the best teacher” because such a contest would be silly and run counter to the spirit of the profession. The National (and State) Teacher of the Year Programs are designed to recognize what educators do each day and shine a positive light on a challenging and very often under-appreciated job. Rebecca is an ambassador. She’s an emissary of English.


And how cool is it that she’ll be on the road all of next year traveling the nation advocating for kids, literacy, schools and so on?


Congrats, Rebecca! It’s nice to have a teacher make the news for the right reasons. I am sure you’ll do us all proud.

A note to aspiring writers

For the first 15 years of my life as a teacher I secretly aspired to be a published author. This is a post for anyone who might have the same lurking dreams.


I was inspired to write this post today because yesterday, how do I say this… yet another new book of mine hit the shelves. (Not to be flippant – or arrogant – but I have two books slated for release this year, one book for next year, and two – perhaps three more – in my sights for 2014. But this one is my first children’s picture book with Disney. The title: DADDIES DO IT DIFFERENT. It’s quite special to me. (Though admittedly, they all are.)


Basically, it’s a comedy with heart, a dad book based on the premise of, “Hey Mommy does it this way but when Daddy does it, he can’t help but do it different.” It’s kind of a Father’s Day read for those with young kids but getting it out early enough so that it can find some traction in the market before June 17 (Father’s Day) is the plan.


Anyway, I am very proud of this book. Also, I am very grateful. Fact is, I almost never became “an ink stained wretch.” (But for the grace of God, in more ways than I’ll ever confess.)


One thing I think the publication of this book proves, though, is that in order to become an author, one has to be willing to strike out a zillion times rather than not swing the bat. I spent a lot of years not swinging the bat. (And I now regret SO MANY of those days.)


The following T.H. Palmer poem was ingrained in me when I was a young boy and as a growing adult, I actually bought into the underlying premise… and that, I believe, has made all the difference (to pilfer from yet another poet). Never underestimate the value of one great ELA lesson to the entire life of a kid, that’s the moral here.


Try Try Again

by T. H. Palmer

‘Tis a lesson you should heed,
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try again;

Then your courage should appear,
For if you will persevere,
You will conquer, never fear
Try, try again;

Once or twice, though you should fail,
If you would at last prevail,
Try, try again;

If we strive, ’tis no disgrace
Though we do not win the race;
What should you do in the case?
Try, try again

If you find your task is hard,
Time will bring you your reward,
Try, try again

All that other folks can do,
Why, with patience, should not you?
Only keep this rule in view:
Try, try again.




What’s funny is that I spoke to my literary agent yesterday (in regards to a separate project) and when I asked him how his afternoon was going, he informed me that he was feeling a bit down because he had a few novels “out” but they’d been rejected by a variety of publishers as of late.


I, grateful for my own lot, paused. “Sheesh, I’ve been there,” I thought. “Virtually every writer I know has been there.”


But the difference between celebrating “yet another book” hitting the shelves and writhing away in frustration (something I did for at least a decade) was the simple, unswerving commitment to “try, try again.” I am not sure talent has as much to do with it as people think. (Read enough books – especially bestsellers – and I am sure you’ll agree.) But fortitude, unreasonable dedication, refusal to succumb to doubts, setbacks, rejections and naysayers is why a book like DADDIES DO IT DIFFERENT is now available nationwide today.


Will it win a Caldecott? Hey, love to think so but in a way, do I really care? This book is dedicated to my daughter, sort of a nod to a daddy’s love. Ask me if there is anything more rewarding in this world than being able to accomplish that.


Aspiring writers, try, try again. And God’s speed to you.


Common Core: Kan U Speel IT ouut pleeze?

The Common Core ELA standards lay out a pretty clear, if ambitious, picture of what a student ought to be able to do (and know) at a variety of demarcation points along the K-12 educational scale.


A question I have is (and I am wondering if anyone else has this question), “What foundational literacy skills are pre-requisite to entering K in order to be well-prepared to meet the demands of Common core?”


After all, a host of presuppositions have been made about the skills a student will own before they enter kindergarten but where are they illuminated?


Without this guideline, parents are just throwing darts in the dark.


We know what CC expects kids to be able to do by the end of K, 1, 2 and so on but what do they need to know before K in order to be able to meet these aims by the end of K?


The answer is most certainly not, “Uhm, nothing… just send your kids as is?”


Yet, why does CC make inferences about these foundations instead of identifying them clearly for us?


  • Too much work to do so?
  • An oversight which no one really considered when they were locked in the think tank?
  • Too little expertise owned by the authors of CC at the primary level?


We’re already hearing lots of criticism about how little attention seems to have been paid to the cognitive development of primary learners whereas a whole lotta expertise seems evident in the secondary expectations. To wit, here’s a piece of an argument written by Joanne Yatvin:


“…I could not see many elementary school children of any background or ability meeting the standards at the grades designated. In my view, as a former elementary teacher and principal, the standards overestimate the intellectual, physiological, and emotional development of young children, asking them to think analytically as they read or write, extract subtle meanings from a text, and make fine distinctions within and across texts. Such deliberative and intensive behaviors are not supported by the research on child development, nor are they expected anywhere else in children’s lives today.”


People are asking where the research is. I am willing to grant the authors of CC the latitude that they actually do have the research in their back pockets – not that I have yet seen it – because, hey, if you don’t, my goodness are you in for a karmic journey across the rack of teacher wrath and public humiliation. I mean it’s not like ALL OF AMERICA is watching. And if it turns out that you showed up to this game without all your ducks in order thinking that you’d just be able to pull the wool over all our eyes, well… I’ll save that for future blog fodder.


Me, I am curious about the skills you very much infer as needing to be owned by a kindergartener before you actually enter K.


Common Core: Kan U Speel IT ouut pleeze?

Common Core: The Coming Cavernous Gap

Sorry I haven’t been blogging much as of late. My wife is due within the next 2 weeks for baby #2 (another girl), it was Spring Break (can you say, “Pass the suntan lotion?”) and I won the lotto (but decided to remain humbly anonymous).


Now, to the subject at hand…


A few issues are getting ready to bubble up over which the CCSSO really has little to no control. And yet, these issues are gonna play an immense role in the ultimate success and/or failure of Common Core’s literacy’s ambitions.


I am speaking of the cavernous gap about to be experienced in terms of reading readiness for kids entering kindergarten.


That’s right kindergarten. K is about to move from the place where all are welcomed to the place where all are “identified” (and tracked, I wonder?).


See, as a result of CC amplifying the literacy expectations at the upper levels of secondary education (text complexity being the buzzword of the day; goodbye differentiation, I assume) there is a “push down” effect which has arisen in the elementary grades (for more complex text, of course. And Informational text, too… more on that in another blog.) As a result, the primary grades are feeling the tidal force of the CC ELA standards and guess who now has to carry more water on the reading and writing front?


Kindergartners. But the thing is, the education of a kindergarten kid rests tremendously on the shoulders of… drumroll please… the parents.


Do they know this? Are they aware of this? Are they taking steps to elevate their kids literacy skills BEFORE they enroll their students in the magical world of K?


Uhm, I have a feeling some people have missed the Common Core memo.


To wit, CC expects 2nd graders to be able to…


RF.2.4. Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    • Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
    • Read grade-level text orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression.
    • Use context to confirm or self-correct word recognition and understanding, rereading as necessary.

And CC expects also 1st graders to…


RF.1.4. Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    • Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
    • Read grade-level text orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression.

Which means that, in the backwards planning model of College and Career Readiness, CC expects kindergarteners to…


RF.K.4. Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.


A noble goal indeed. And being that my daughter (#1) will be entering Kindergarten this year, I have done a ton of work to prepare her academic soil. But I’m an educator so I understand about phonemes and CVC’s and sight words.


Yet, isn’t the general American perception that K is a place where you go to “learn to read”? I mean don’t lay persons/parents send their kids to school to learn sight words, phonemic awareness and decoding? But Common Core expects kindergarteners to be able to “count syllables”. (Look it up.) Sure, that’s by the end of the year but right now parents are sending their kids to K without having absolutely ensured their children understand things such as “the T makes a Tuh sound”.


And, not to call out anyone, but parents who are not very literate themselves kinda have this issue of not being able to raise literate kids themselves. If K now expects kids to come to the first day with certain abilities and the kids do not have those certain abilities, they are behind the proverbial 8-ball before they have even grabbed a freakin’ crayon.


Of course, what’s going to happen is that crayons will be determined to be an unacceptable methodological approach towards educating tomorrow’s leaders so recess will be cancelled, fingerpainting will be determined non-beneficial and books like The Cat in the Hat will be replaced by text which explain How to Stitch a Hat.


Expectations have been raised across the board with Common Core, but there is a cavernous gap (as often determined by socio-economic status) framing literacy levels in the U.S. today and unless someone sends an email to a few million Americans, we are lookin’ at one heck of a monster issue.



Student assemblies prove something. (I just don’t know what.)

I am on a bit of a blog kick as of late which have all been connected to the same opening line: “When I enter the schools of other teachers wearing my hat of “YA author” to do student assemblies, I am treated to a rare vantage point.”

Today, I want to talk about my aspiration to particularly reach boy readers when I do student assemblies. And my constant wondering of not being exactly sure why so many folks are stumped by the question of, “How do you get a teen boy to read?”

The answer is fairly simple. It’s not rocket science. The answer is… drumroll please… GIVE THEM SOMETHING THEY WANT TO READ!

Here’s a picture of me the other day in South Texas, near the border, at a Title 1 school with a 100% Latino population. (Note: This school had all the challenges: LEP kids, low SES kids, budget cuts, state threats for low test score performance, blah, blah, blah.)

After my assembly at least 50 boys asked for a book. That’s not hyperbole. And being that the school didn’t have but 1 or 2 copies of my books (note: HOMEBOYZ is perennially the title which kids most want to read but since it’s part of a trilogy, it’s kind of like a gateway drug to other books – mine as well as titles by a host of other wonderful authors) these students were bummed.

Like genuinely bummed. I mean, we made sure to bring a few copies to give away but I can only carry like 3 with me when I travel and once I signed those and gave them away, they turned on their VP and clamored for the guy to “hook ‘em up with some books”.

When’s the last time you’ve seen throngs of teenage males seriously asking for books to read?

Fact is, it happens all over America all the time. Problem is, it doesn’t happen enough. Often, we see it in pockets. (Makes me think I need to plug Kelly Gallagher’s READICIDE right now… a great title which explains a ton and will spare me from having to too deeply plumb the topic of why schools are killing reading. Because schools are killing the love of reading. Generally speaking, that is. In other ways though, schools are doing more to promote a love of reading than any other institution in the nation. It’s a complex issue.)

The picture was taken when I was getting ready to leave and a group of guys sabotaged me and, instead of returning to class as they were supposed to do, they insisted that I take a pic with them “as proof”.

Being that I had to get to the airport, and I was also being invited to a Project X type party they were going to be throwing this coming weekend (Dude, you gotta come. It’s gonna be SICK!), I didn’t get to follow up on the notion of “as proof of what”.

  • As proof that a group of teen boys actually like to read?
  • As proof that the stereotypes about kids like them in this part of Texas weren’t fair or accurate?
  • As proof that they got to meet a real live author from California? (My, what low standards right?)

Getting to visit a campus such as this as an author offers proof of many things. I’m just not entirely sure of what.