Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I love it when a lesson comes together

Today I was introducing the idea that interpreting poetry is heavily based in the personal experience and knowledge of the reader.  I wanted my students to have a strong grasp on perspective and how it influences how we look at things. So I found several Escher pictures online ( and one by one (via the usual various cables, a computer, an overhead projector and a screen) presented them to my students.  We talked about each one and tried to switch back and forth to see the different images. 

I particularly like this lesson because the students get excited about seeing things in a different way.  Later when we start examining poetry and the students have different viewpoints on meaning and imagery, I can remind them of these Escher prints and how we each saw different images at first, but ultimately, they all drew together a similar idea about what was happening in the print.  They learned for this brief moment to appreciate the different viewpoints of each student and to realize those differences increase their understanding.

So today my students enjoyed a great lesson. It was one of those I wish my principal could have been present to see on those days when he is there to evaluate my teaching.  Aw well, there will be other great days when a lesson comes together and feels like I produced magic.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday prompt

Imagine the sky a different color.  In fact, split it right down the middle.  To the left the loveliest color in your imaginative arsenal and to the right the most frightening color.  Choose one of these questions to get you rolling along in your writing.  1.  Who would live under such a sky?  2.  What could make the sky look like this?  3.  These are the colors you were expecting to see.  What would seeing pale blue do to your psyche?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kenny Rogers, the First Edition and my writing

I remember when I first starting thinking about writing my book In Times Passed.  I worked at a factory and was a product grader.  I would pull off the line anything that didn't meet quality requirements.  Doesn't take much thought or intelligence, just good automaton-like reflexes. I would listen to music, day dream, write letters in my head while my eyes registered flaws and my hands reached out and grabbed, flipped and dropped the item into the correct bin based on the type of flaw.

Then a song came on the radio by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, "I just dropped in (to see what condition my condition was in)." As I listened, the story of a man who found a means to travel in time started playing out in my mind.  I liked the image of him "dropping in to see what condition [his] condition was in."  And it was there that the idea for my book came from. I actually didn't start writing it for several months. Each night at work, I would run the story through my mind again and again, working out the characters, problems he would run into, who his friends were, where and when it was all happening.  And every once in a while, that song would play on the radio again and refresh the images in my mind.  So finally I sat down and began writing out the story.

The book has evolved a lot since then, changing, repeatedly edited, redrafted, etc. I thought of it as the book I was learning to write on, though I had written two other books before I began it.  It seemed to be the one I most wanted to make work.  I went on to write a sequel for it and then a third and fourth, thinking all the time that one of them would be good enough to get published.  But I never really made the effort to publish.  Oh, I did some half-hearted efforts:  I sent the manuscript to a contest once and a synopsis of it to a publisher another time.  Nothing came of it.  I've redrafted it several times since then.

So here we are in the digital age.  I can self-publish via and see if someone can enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed thinking of it, writing it and redrafting it.  When I think of that book, it reminds me of the days in the factory and how much it made the time go by for me.  And I still think of it as the book I learned to write on.  And I think each one since has been an improvement. a step forward in the skill of story telling.  So it isn't the best book out there.  I hope one day, someone will call it an early Gibbs, the one to read to get a sense of where I started. Where one can "just drop in to see what condition my condition was in."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday prompt

Frequently description starts wide then slowly narrows down.  In this prompt, start narrow, as tight into an object as you can; then move out, not just on the image but on the crux of the story as well. 

My example: The ridged metal round, a green stripe accenting it, was crimped tightly to the multi-flattened sides of the yellow painted wood length, the soft pink and black-stained eraser at one end a contrast to the sharp point of lead at the other.  The nearly new pencil lay in crystal sands, the rounded edge of a footprint holding it partially elevated and at an angle just so that it appeared to be an arrow pointing out the glimmering edge of a gold watch's dialed face peaking up where the big toe of a dainty foot had pressed.  And Gina would remember that gesture of coincidence as the beginning, the glimmer of melting ice, in a very cold case.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How I made my book trailer

I thought that since I just finished  the improved version of my book trailer, that I should talk about what I used to put it together.  The main programs (Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere) should be no surprise.  The pictures were standard digital images I took with a simple digital camera.  I opened them up in Photoshop and worked them into what I wanted for the video.  My nerg box is actually a picture I modified of a large safe.  There are no real nerg box prototypes for me to take pictures of, so the safe was a great replacement.  Another picture I took, which was of a wooded area with a path, was also easy to modify in Photoshop.  The path actually led up to a lake shore, but that is not an image needed for my book. I erased the unnecessary water feature which worked out nicely in the video.

I then used Adobe's Premiere Pro video software to set up my video.  I uploaded it to my list of media the pictures I had modified, and some animated backdrops and royalty free music (I'll mention those sources later in this blog).  From that point on it was just a matter of entering titling, video and audio transitions, though I did have to modify one of my animated backdrops. It was actually blue, but I wanted to have a  pale white, rather murky movement going on in the background because my character travels in time, and the process takes him through a place between future and past that is rather like a bright foggy day where nothing is clearly visible.  This modification was not hard to do. Using a feature called fast color corrector under video effects, I was able to remove the blue tint and raise the intensity of the brightness.  Dropping in my media by layers and resizing a few pictures was the last of the easy parts.  Preparing the titling was the most challenging.  I had to come up with what I wanted my viewer to read, but also select text size, placement, font, animation and color.  I worked on titling the most because I wasn't sure what sizes and fonts would support my story, and I didn't want them to upstage it either.  My most important tool ended up being my daughter.   After awhile I would get too immersed in the process and just couldn't step back far enough to get it an unbiased look.  I would have her watch and tell me what she thought needed more visual work, and then I would go at it again.

My source for the music and animated backdrops was Digital Juice. A person can find all sorts of useful items at their site, from backdrops to motion design elements, such as snow falling, frames, and revealers. They are priced reasonably and well done. They also have music useful for every genre imaginable.  The packages include some with variety and well as music under a single genre. So you could order music that is space age in style, country, jazz or inspiring, etc.   What makes the music selections so great is that they are provided in various lengths that usually run in 15 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute and full length (anywhere from three minutes to a bit over four). Having the different lengths already cut to fit make selecting music easier, though selecting the piece for the mood I wanted definitely took time.  I ended up choosing four or five, dropping them into my media list and trying each one out with the visuals I had laid out out on the timeline in Premiere.

Now I had all this available to me because my husband and I had been involved in videography for a few years, and we kept our equipment and software after we got out of the business.  I won't say that authors need to purchase all these items to make a good trailer, but if you think you are going to be making several trailers over time, these particular software programs and animations do offer advantages.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday prompt

How about a miracle?  What if Sally just found herself knee deep in an overflowing toilet while the dog is barking crazily at something and is on the verge of being winded.  In ten minutes a young couple will be coming by to see her house, which she needs to sell in record time. What miracle would save her?  When she answers the door, she finds the young couple waiting, the husband dressed in a local plumbing company's uniform.  That's a miracle, but what is that dog still barking about?

Jump off from this scenario or imagine your own troubles a-coming and the character needs a miracle setup.   Then come up with the miraculous happening that is going to fix the immediate problem but still leave the character with other things to take care of.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Those darn book trailers

I have been working on making a book trailer for my novel In Times Passed. This has not been an easy process. I have pretty much everything I need to produce one except a clear idea of how to put across just the right amount of information to create interest in buying the book and understanding of what the novel is about. I have received some feedback from other writers/readers/trailer viewers/etc. at Goodreads, and this has been helpful.  But again it comes down to me making the necessary changes. I posted my first version on YouTube, at Smashwords on my book page, at Goodreads on my author page and for a short time on this blog.

After considering editing my trailer, I sat down and wrote out the book's plot in the simplest terms. I thought that this would help me get an idea of what is essential and what I need to leave out. Definitely helped to use the most basic of tools: the plot line.

So I ended up with this brief draft:  
It's the year 2275 and Brent Garrett has been living off privilege for more than 24 years; however, recently it's been leaving him dissatisfied.  But it is hard to complain.  

Raised at Meredith Complex, he knows he is expected to add to his orderly and secluded society.  He has yet to contribute anything.  Then he receives a prototype Nerg box and modifies it on a whim with startling results.  Now he has a time machine.  With a means to leave his frustrations behind (or is it ahead of him?), he travels back in time to 1979, part impulse and part destiny.  He meets Miranda Jenkins who offers him a new life, one he'll have to work for. And it's satisfying.  

Living the life of the common man has its benefits and its flaws.  Some flaws can shred a heart. For a man with time at his fingertips, running away is a tempting option.  

So that is where I am now. I think I have the text.  Next I have to work on the video.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday fiction prompt

Write in first person about the beginning of history for a species.  Find the voice of the tribe's oral historian and have him or her share the tribe's beginnings to either a formal or informal audience. Focus on establishing a voice for the speaker and putting across the mythology the group reveres.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When I can't sleep, I read. When I read, I can sleep.

I love to read.  I can do it anywhere.  Long ago,when my parents would get into an argument, I would pick up a book and start reading. The sound of them would just disappear.  I would dive into the story, think about the characters and what was happening to them, or read a really great line over and over, twisting it about with thought-filled hands to examine it from all angles.  Hours would pass, and I would close the book to find I was so hungry I was nauseous. I had left the place behind while I read, a transcendentalist, my body snugged into a chair that looked out over my neighbor's driveway, my mind in some other space.

Reading was essential. In many ways, it is still the same kind of essential it was when I was a child and later a teenager.  If I cannot sleep, which happens fairly often, all I need do is pick up a book.  Maybe I can't sleep because I am thinking too much, lesson planning or planning a field trip or going over a conversation that just won't quit my mind. Whatever it is that is keeping me awake disappears when I read.  It is as if my mind narrows to just this one thing, the story I am reading.  It fills the space between my ears.  Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes later, I can turn off my Sony reader, roll over and shortly I am asleep. When I read, I throw everything out and leave room only for the story.  I don't actively examine the details; I take them in, spread  them out for reflection.  It is a leisurely flow of reading and understanding, putting things together without effort.  When I put the book down, that meditative flow stays and rolls me right into sleep.

If I didn't read, I would remain awake for hours.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday weekly prompt

Remember a childhood friend or enemy. What stood out as a trait unique to that child?  Consider what has become of him or her based on that trait remaining true.  I had a friend named Marsha for a short time in second grade.  I say short because she did not let any of her friends have other friends.  So I might imagine that she is busy now running the adult lives of her children since she probably lost her husband when he could not stand being smothered any longer.  Or perhaps she translated her controlling ways into a successful Wall Street business but is now charged with insider trading.  Pick someone you did not maintain contact with and haven't heard about -- that way you have plenty of room for imagining.  You might want to change names for your character if you plan on publishing when you are done.