Friday, October 29, 2010

Just One Little Vote


Inevitably it comes up in every class I teach, every semester.

Does my vote count?

Students and I usually spend a good half-hour debating the idea, and I listen to their frustrations about politics and the American political system.

In the US right now it is nearly impossible to escape the impending election. I have never appreciated the DVR's ability to fast-forward through commercials as I do now.

Every television show is inundated with political ads, public radio has interviewed every candidate under the sun, commercial radio fills my ears with ads not only for my state, but for those bordering us to the North, South, and West.

It's no wonder we suffer from voter burnout. Americans are considered "election-happy" compared to the rest of the world. We vote more often, for more races, and more positions (every single candidate), than is typical in other countries.

The media portrays a world where most races are done deals, and focuses only on the "close" races. Early and absentee voting aside, election day hasn't even happened, and we're told the results.

It's no wonder we feel like one little vote doesn't matter.

When I talk to my students, I tell them that technically this may be true. In a country of 200 million plus people of voting age, one vote is a drop in a very large bucket.

But I also tell them that it's the IDEA that one vote doesn't count that is toxic.

One single vote may not.

But when 100 million people believe "one vote doesn't count", it makes an incredible difference. In off-year elections since 1974, voter turnout has hovered between 30-40%.

In a system where lobbyists from EVERY side influence our elected officials, it is critical that we use the MOST POWERFUL TOOL WE HAVE.

Our one little vote.

Tea Party, Coffee Party, Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, or Rent is Too Damn High Party-- it doesn't matter.

From your neighborhood Political Scientist, VOTE on Tuesday.




Just vote.


And, after you vote-- enter my contest, y'all.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Second Contest! Woot!



I have been wanting to spread some more blog love because I enjoyed my first contest so much.

My first contest was about sharing something I love (books, to be precise) and this is, too-- but not books this time, but stationery.


I have a long and close relationship with the stationery arts. Not only am I a bona fide printmaker, but my mom's business is supplying invitations to everyone in our small town.
I also love letters, and I presume many of you do, too-- and I was a stamp collector (massive nerd alert!!!). I am no longer a card-carrying stamp collector, but I would be if I had the time and space for it.

I love letters, I love the paper they're written on, the envelopes that hold them, and the stamps that grace their top-right corners.
So my gift to the LUCKY winner will be one box of 8 letter-pressed cards from the uber-talented people at Little Lark.
Feast your eyes on some of their designs (just a few are pictured here).


What do you need to do to enter?

+1 for being a follower
+1 for tweeting
+1 for sharing the contest in a blog entry or a sidebar
+1 for commenting below about stationery, robots, gnomes, birds, bikes, wolves, horses, or stamps.

Open INTERNATIONALLY. If they won't ship to you, I will.

You pick the design of choice (and they're so amazing, they offer a buffet of gorgeous envelope colors).


5 additional FORTUNATE entrants will be sent the Little Lark button that they like best. OMG. SOOOO cute.

Contest runs through November 22nd. Just in time for all of your post-American-Thanksgiving writing needs.







Road Trip Wednesday: Best book of October

My reading fell to a personal low in October. I have been engulfed in and by my work. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but I wasn't able to do a lot of extra reading.

This month I read Feed by MT Anderson, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, and Notes from the Teenage Underground by Simone Howell. Click the links for the reviews of each.

My top pick is Feed.



All three books were strong in very different ways, but Feed is the one I thought about most after, the one that stuck with me. Just to make it easier for you to understand why, I copied and pasted my review below.


Tiny synopsis: Titus and his friends love to have fun. Their life in a futuristic version of America revolves around their feeds- a kind of internet hookup in their brains. Their feeds can solve all their problems by helping them pick out just the right thing to buy, or the right place to go, or the newest way to fix their hair. Titus meets home-schooled Violet on a moon holiday and for the first time begins to think about the world he's living in.

Wow. My tiny synopsis does not do this justice. This book is amazing. I have been reading so much lately. Sometimes I feel like I start a book and a prototype starts to emerge pretty quickly. I am not the first person to say there are only about 7 story ideas out there, that just get reconfigured by writers in new ways over time. I can certainly see how my own work is derivative.

This book felt totally fresh to me. The world was stunningly creative. Mesmerizing. Also, this book approaches a lot of social issues like the environment (so double-yay from me there), education, global corporate domination, land use, consumerism, etc. The world-building is clever and fascinating. At the same time, some of the personal connections are warm, tender, and true.

I highly recommend it.

Join the crew at the YA Highway to find out everyone's favorite book of October.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Review: Notes from the Teenage Underground


I heard about this book on a blog (maybe Inkcrush, because it's awesome, and Aussie, like so many of her recs). It has been sitting on my bedside table for weeks. Now that the semester is well underway my reading time has plummeted. Finally, though, I was able to start this little jewel last week.

Mini-synopsis: Gem and her two closest friends Lo and Mira don't care what you think of them. They only care about being different, making a little trouble and a lot of fun. They decide on a summer plan to do something extraordinary: but they don't quite agree what that should be.

Gem is set on making a film, and the more she is drawn into the creative process, the less she feels like playing games with Lo and Mira. She feels she's pulling apart from them, but isn't quite sure how to be herself, by herself.

Add in a hippie mom, and overzealous school counselor, a missing dad who sends haiku, Andy Warhol*, Germaine Greer and a few video store employees.

All I can say is: Voice.

This book is my go-to example for voice now.

It is so different from anything I would write, but the voice just erupted from each page, and the characters were stunning. I loved the lingo of cynical high school girls, and so want to use "sucker peers" in a conversation, but nobody would get it.

It was a compelling read, and though I worried about Gem sometimes (I often worry about a young female protagonist) she proved intelligent, clever, and talented. I was rooting for her so hard, and so happy with the Gem she turned out to be in the end.



* I really really love Andy Warhol. I once bought an Andy Warhol daybook and though it was something like 12 years old I still used it as my calendar for a year. All the days and dates were mismatched, and I still used it.

It was filled with incredible quotes that kept me laughing. One I can only paraphrase because I somehow can't find it on the web.


Beautiful people are always late because they know you'll wait for them. Then when they're late, they are nice and apologetic, which makes them more beautiful.


and this lovely number:
"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it."



Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday

This week's question: What are your comp titles? In writing a query letter or seeking an agent, how would you describe your work to them by likening it to other books?


Nancy Drew meets Hoot by Carl Hiassen, meets The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch.

Nancy Drew because I think if you have a young girl solving mysteries, you have to give props to her. I remember feeling so bummed out when I learned there was no Carolyn Keene, but instead a series of ghostwriters. Though in retrospect it does make sense considering the formulaic, canned writing style. Still, ND made me think a mystery was ALWAYS just around the corner, and I LOVED that feeling. It continues to inspire me.

Hoot because it involves kids solving a mystery with some environmental elements. Though I can't pretend my characters are anywhere near the BIG, brassy, kooky characters that populate a Hiassen book.

The Highest Tide does not include a traditional mystery, but it is about a kid who loves nature who is trying to figure out who he is.

Take all three, stir them up a little, add something unique that could only come from me, set it in the sun to dry, and you should have some approximation of The Extraordinary Life of the Insect Collector.

A young girl who is trying to figure out her place in the world, who loves observing nature, and gets thrust into a mystery she feels she has to solve.

Check out the other responses at the YA Highway site.

Read Jess' interview of me for the Before They Were Published series here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Interview at Jess' blog

I was asked by Jess of Jest Kept Secret for an interview as a part of her "Before They Were Published" Series.
Head over to her blog to check it out!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Advice



Many receive advice, few profit by it.

Publilius Syrus





Great advice for newbie writers by Georgia McBride that I found on the Nancy Coffee Literary blog.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Book review: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen


Tiny synopsis: On paper Annabelle is the ideal high school student. So much so that the local department store cast her as the it-girl in their back-to-school campaign. But in real life, Annabelle feels anything but ideal. Whether it's dealing with family drama, or a former best friend that hates her, her defense mechanism is to keep it all inside. Until she can't anymore.

This is the second SD book I've read and I am really digging on her style. I like that her characters are authentic and have real problems, but are not necessarily having a lot of drama just for the sake of drama. She does an incredible job with making teenage life serious, and teenagers' problems serious, without going overboard.
I think this is key because teenager's problems ARE serious to them, and I like the sense of respect she has for this.

She is also completely dead-on in terms of characters and description. In my first draft some of my characters were distinct, and a few were suffering from "background character template" issues. I never get the sense that SD has this problem-- every character is clear-cut, well-developed, holistic, and distinct.

I'm envious, but also hoping I learn something from reading her.

I enjoyed this book, and recommend it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Making sausage [or] Will I ever write again?


I started writing my first book last January during winter break -- a quiet moment in the University calendar when I had three glorious weeks out of school but with kids IN school. Ahhh.

I did all the things I usually do as a professor, except teaching. So, only planning, research, applying for grants and all of that. Because I could work from home with no commute, I saved a ton of time and had ample moments to write.

Then I returned to work for the Spring semester which blurred past in a matter of months. Before long it was summer, and while I had a TON of research and planning and so forth on my plate-- again, I could work from home and squeeze writing time into my less-busy evenings and weekends.

Now the Fall semester is chugging along and I have not written FOR WEEKS. I will inch ahead in my work, thinking I can write on weekends and at night, only to find I have to grade/answer emails/deal with work stuff... and the time just disappears. Again and again.

I planned to send a new-and-improved MS to Erinn and Holly at the end of August for beta-reading. Then it was the end of September, and I am not sure I can convince myself anymore that it will happen before the end of October.

We're still in October, right? Please tell me it's not already November.

I don't want to feel like this thing that's supposed to be a joyful and creative enterprise is another source of stress. I'm fine with it being work. I want to work at it. I want it to be a finely-honed craft. But I don't want it to overwhelm me. Yet I apply time-lines to my writing and decide it has to be "done" by a certain point. Then feel bad when it isn't.

Do you do this? Do you struggle with your self-imposed deadlines?

This weekend we're making sausage.

Seriously. Some friends from Louisiana have asked us to participate in a boudin party. It's definitely going to be a blast-- drinking beer and making sausage from scratch with people you adore.

There must be an analogy in here somewhere, right? Taking bits and bobs and with hard work and delicate spices churning them into something delicious and savory.

I'm not sure that was it, but maybe after the boudin party I will be able to craft a better one.

Or at least give myself the freedom to take time, not rush things, and appreciate what I can do, instead of what I can't.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Book Review: Feed by MT Anderson


Tiny synopsis: Titus and his friends love to have fun. Their life in a futuristic version of America revolves around their feeds- a kind of internet hookup in their brains. Their feeds can solve all their problems by helping them pick out just the right thing to buy, or the right place to go, or the newest way to fix their hair. Titus meets home-schooled Violet on a moon holiday and for the first time begins to think about the world he's living in.

Wow. My tiny synopsis does not do this justice. This book is amazing. I have been reading so much lately. Sometimes I feel like I start a book and a prototype starts to emerge pretty quickly. I am not the first person to say there are only about 7 story ideas out there, that just get reconfigured by writers in new ways over time. I can certainly see how my own work is derivative-- it's part Nancy Drew, part Carl Hiassen, and I hope before I am done with it, a bit of Jim Lynch thrown in.

This book felt totally fresh to me. The world was stunningly creative. Mesmerizing. Also, this book approaches a lot of social issues like the environment (so double-yay from me there), education, global corporate domination, land use, consumerism, etc. The world-building is clever and fascinating. At the same time, some of the personal connections are warm, tender, and true.

I highly recommend it.