Monday, July 29, 2013

YA Book club: The Westing Game

Hooray for the YA book club, brainchild of Tracey Neithercott.

This month's selection was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. What a cool book. I loved the premise-- a huge mystery slash puzzle. Sixteen people are called in to hear the final Will of the millionaire Sam Westing. Someone is accused of being Westing's murderer, and the sixteen potential heirs must use clues to figure out just who is responsible.

I love a good mystery, and part of what mesmerizes me in a good mystery is having the author take you along for the ride but being able to TRUST the author to do it well. I hate when a mystery is poorly planned and the reader either figures it out too early or can tell that the author fudged the results. There is nothing worse, in my book.

Well, the Westing Game by Ellen Raskin passed my test with flying colors. It was an incredibly elaborate mystery that kept me guessing in the most enjoyable way. I did not figure it out early-- I didn't figure it out at all. The few things I could put together were only a small part of the bigger, more elaborate plot.

When the mystery finally culminated at the end it was TOTALLY satisfying, believable, and logical.

I can't recommend this book enough. If you haven't read The Westing Game check it out!

Check out Tracey's blog to find out what the other YA book club members thought of The Westing Game. Then join in-- everyone's welcome!

Have you read The Westing Game? What did you think?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What's up: Ready. Set. Create!

You can find a version of this post also at The Kindness Project.

This week I am participating in a creativity boot camp at my University.

Oh. My. Goodness.

It has been incredible.

Universities struggle to engender creativity among students, especially when so much of the educational system requires traditional tests, assessments, and the like. Yet, companies and employers say that they yearn for creative thinkers when they are trying to fill positions.

In this boot camp we've been learning about different schools of thoughts on creativity, what can help us and our students become more creative, and how to incorporate creative thinking and projects into courses and across the curriculum.

It has been so freaking fun! The folks taking part are enthusiastic, talented people creative in all kinds of different ways (not just artists of all sorts, but folks from administration, marketing, economics, mathematics, engineering, and linguistics). They are incredibly inspiring.

The leader is the talented Steven J. Tepper of Vanderbilt, who runs a center there on creativity, enterprise, and policy.

I'll give you the scoop and catch up on Ready. Set. Write! as well as What's Up Wednesday next week!

Until then, have a productive and CREATIVE week!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What's Up, Wednesday?

Hey Wednesday, what's up? 

Are you back again already? Where is this summer going?
It seems to be flying by!

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly meme, started by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk, that helps readers and writers touch base with blog friends and let them know what's up. Join by visiting their blogs and signing in on the widget.

What I'm Reading
It has been several weeks, so there's a lot to catch up on. I've been reading a lot of non-fiction!

I'm still working through Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. Still dense with material and still fascinating!

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink-- I received this as an ARC and have not been able to put it down. It's nonfiction, and about the purported cases of euthanasia that happened post-Katrina at Memorial hospital in New Orleans. It is an amazing read. It's one of those that's so good I can't decide who to share it with first! 

In thinking about how to re-write my bug-girl book STUNG, I've read two books on forensic entomology A Fly for the Prosecution by Lee Goff and Corpse by Jessica Snyder Sachs. I'll leave it at that. 

For the family read-aloud we finished Eva Ibottson's Which Witch-- we all loved it. Then we realized we'd never finished The Prisoner of Azkaban, so we finished that and started up on The Goblet of Fire. 

Finally, I read Looking for Alibrandi, by the admirable Melina Marchetta. I love everything she does, and this fab tale about an Aussie girl dealing with life, school, and family was no different. 

What I'm Writing
The boys are now in their second week of camp and having a blast. I have been sitting tight and methodically going through my tenure packet. It is unbelievably nit-picky work. I am basically arguing for, and presenting documentation to show, that I should keep my job. It's hard not feel like I'm on trial at times. 
I spent all of yesterday printing, organizing, and preparing this box. 

It holds a copy of every student evaluation I've ever had, everything I've published, and then documentation of all sorts of things like class projects, syllabi, student letters, colleague letters, reports, grants I've applied for, events I've managed, the list seems endless.  

But the work is paying off and I feel like it's coming along. Here are my R.S.W. stats.
Tenure packet (71% complete). I feel like I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. 
Mina Takes the Sky (9% complete)
Thirst (9% complete)
Stung (12% complete)

Last update
Tenure packet (32% complete) 
Thirst (12% complete)
Stung (0% complete)

Notice anything different there? Yes, I have a new manuscript listed. And that's tied in to my super secret news. I've been querying MINA since the spring. In mid-April a couple of agents asked for fulls and partials. One in particular asked for a full, got back to me about it immediately, and asked if she could have an exclusive on it while she made notes and gave suggestions. A few other folks still had it at the time but I said I would not query it with anyone new. So, we've been going back and forth with it (edits and rewrites) since then. 

I am so thrilled to be getting feedback and input from someone who I feel really "gets" the story and wants to make it better. Having been down this road before, I'm not making any assumptions about where it will lead. I'm simply trying to appreciate the input and enjoy the advice. She is so helpful, thorough, and talented that I am just thrilled to have the input. I can say that after only three months I've had more rounds of revisions and FAR more feedback and comments than I ever had with the agent I worked with before for nine months.

On the fourth of July this lovely agent sent me some new feedback, and it has moved to the top of the Ready. Set. Write. queue. I'm hoping to kick that manuscript up a notch. I'll keep you posted on the results!

What Inspires Me Right Now
I have some friends who are great at supporting new artists-- their home is filled with cool and amazing work they've found on etsy and other places. Every time I visit, I see this in their bathroom and think, "I love that!" So I finally took my phone into the bathroom with me at took a photo to share. 

What to Focus On: Happy

Not everything is happy, but happy is what we should focus on. 

And now--  what's up with you?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Regrets: What's Up Wednesday

Regrets in the sense that I regret I didn't post last week and doubly regret that I can't post today!

I am swamped!

My boys are in camp now (this is day three) but I'm still crawling out from under a pile of work.

I've also gotten a super-secret assignment that has pushed its way to the top of my to-do list.

So... I thought it wise to wait one more week before participating in What's Up Wednesday and updating for Ready. Set. Write.

For all of you still cranking out that awesome work and slaying those goals-- YAAAAY!

I'm thinking of you and your hard work as I plug away at my own goals over here.

Happy Wednesday!

See you next week!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Intelligent Kindness: Choosing a charity that's worth your donation

I'm also posting this today at The Kindness Project.

It seems simple.

But it turns out to be complicated.

I'd like to think we live in the kind of world where good-intentioned people could donate money to a cause that's important to them and that money would actually go to the people in need.

Unfortunately, it doesn't take much of a google search to find that this is not the case.

A little investigating shows that not all charitable organizations are worth your hard-earned dime.

The Tampa Bay Times (TBT) and the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) have produced a series of stories on the worst charities in America. It made my stomach turn.

There's the family that has worked together on a network of Cancer charities, and have in the past raked in over 250 million dollars in funds, only to net out a mere $400,000 in payments to cancer patients.

The TBT and CIR wrote one story about charities that earn far more for corporate fundraising machines than they do for the people they claim to help.

A third story describes how a lack of regulation and low penalties keep offending charities in operation.

Another example of the muddy waters of donations and giving is Breast Cancer Action's Think Before you Pink campaign, which fights against "pinkwashing". Pinkwashing is when a group promotes a pink-ribbon campaign while also producing a product that is cancer-causing. Or when a group gives the impression that a portion of the sales of any pink-ribbon product will go to a cancer foundation, when this is not the case. Check out their website

So, what's a kind person to do?

Here's a quick guide to finding the BEST charities and avoiding the WORST.

First-- be wary of what you hear through "the grapevine". I know what you're thinking. You're rolling your eyes and saying, "Katharine, it's not 1999. I know that most of the emails forwards I get from Great Aunt Edna are rubbish."And I hear you--- but those kind of stories/urban legends are persistent. My go-to source for determining the veracity of any email forward is Here's a page they have that gets to the bottom of those pesky confusing forwards from Aunt Edna.

Now you're thinking-- "But wait, Katharine, you're telling me to not trust what I hear through the grapevine... but reading about this on a blog is kind of like hearing it 'through the grapevine'".

I agree.

Don't take my word for it. 

Here are some tools that can give you the information YOU need to decide what charity is right for you.

The Tampa Bay Times and Center for Investigative Reporting have several tools as a part of their series, including a database of the charities that have received disciplinary action from state regulators, and a page for reporting questionable charities.

My favorite tool is Charity Navigator. They provide consistent information about charitable organizations, including financial metrics, transparency, and accountability. The only problem I've ever run into on their site is that small, local groups aren't typically included.

Though I haven't used it myself, the Guidestar system allows charities to update their own information and thereby "share" it with the public.

Pro Publica has a non-profit page where you can explore the tax records of these groups.

In addition, the Better Business Bureau has created the Wise Giving Alliance which can lead to a seal of approval from the BBB for a charity. That being said, the charity has to OPT IN to the program and also PAYS for the seal (if and when they meet the requirements). That gives me a bit of an icky feeling, but I guess that's the way the Better Business Bureau works?

Use these tools to explore how to make the most of your donations!

What about you? Have you had especially great or horrid interactions with a charity or non-profit? What has been your experience?