We’re Screwed

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Recently I was having a conversation about school with Noodge 1. He’s a junior in high school. This is the year that counts. Harder classes. The grades colleges focus on.Blah, blah, blah. But I’m concerned. Always have been. Kids today don’t know how to write well.

I teach creative writing classes to students of all ages. I was also an adjunct professor a few years back. I’ve published three novels. I know a little bit about writing. As a mother and a teacher, I’m shocked at how little time schools spend on grammar and sentence structure. Not to mention, idea development and cohesive thinking. I know you’re going to say it’s the aptitude test and the schools don’t have time. I don’t care. They need to.

While Noodge and I were talking he mentioned his friend who was writing a paper for history class. An AP history class. That stands for Advanced Placement. Those AP classes can mean possible college credit. Noodge’s friend needed to draw a conclusion in his writing. That’s fine. No worries so far. Until the young man stumbled for the correct word.

What did he write, you ask? He said, “We were screwed.” Yes, ladies and gents. Screwed. The young man could not, did not know how, to come up with a synonym for screwed in a paper that should be college level. Don’t be mistaken, this was not dialogue. Screwed was the only word he knew. And obviously he doesn’t know what a thesaurus is.

Who let this child down? Was it pure laziness? Perhaps. Or is it something more? Are we so busy worrying about The Tests that we side step what’s important? How are these kids going to get their point across in the real world?

Or is the problem that schools squash the love of reading and reading is the best way to build vocabulary. Our high school has implemented a new philosophy in their English department. Allow the students to choose books they want to read. Revolutionary! And about time, I’d say. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a need to read the classics. Charles Dickens is one of my favorite authors and if it wasn’t for high school I don’t know when I would’ve found him, but if my only exposure to reading had been Canterbury Tales I’d be washing cars for a living instead of writing. I’ll tell you that. Chaucer is not on my list of top ten favorites. No offense to Mr. Chaucer.

I wonder what the history teacher said to Noodge’s friend. Did the teacher pull this boy aside and explain there are better ways to say, “We’re screwed.” Or did the teacher just take points off. Or maybe the teacher laughed and gave him extra credit. It’s all in the perspective, I suppose.

If I had been the teacher, I would’ve pulled the young man aside and asked him to come up with something better. I would’ve challenged him to use that big brain of his. No short cuts, no easy way outs.

Our kids need to know how to write well developed, thoughtful sentences. They need to know a paragraph holds one idea at a time. It isn’t necessary to repeat themselves in every paragraph to make a point and please don’t start each new idea with “Then.” Stay away from the verb “to be.” And for the love of all things holy, you cannot create a theme in a piece of writing by copying another author’s style.

It isn’t easy to teach writing or anything for that matter. I do blame The Tests for short changing our kids and I blame those that push those tests for selfishly motivated reasons. Let’s go back to the old way of doing things. Everything old isn’t bad and everything new isn’t great.

Because if the younger generation can’t write a lousy paper for history class, then you bet we’re screwed.




Editing Tip Tuesday

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It’s all in the details.

Recently, I was asked a question by a prespective client. How do you write the conflict if you don’t know the details?

She meant details like crashing a computer program. Or let’s say your character needs to set a barn on fire or your character drives a race car. The problem is you don’t know how to do any of those things. How do you write the scene without this knowledge? How can you create conflict?


In a first draft, you can write whatever you want because no one should ever see your first draft. So, if you don’t know how to crash a computer program, but you know your character needs to in order to stop someone, get caught by someone else or save the day, all you have to write in that first draft is CRASHES COMPUTER PROGRAM. I do recommend using caps. When you go back through for edits the caps will instantly remind you that you need to further investigate.

Don’t let your lack of knowledge slow your progress. It’s important to keep moving forward. Get the words on the page. You can go back and fix things later. It’s not important in the first draft to know how to set the barn on fire. It’s just important to see it burn.

If you’re having trouble creating any conflict to put your characters in, then you need to spend more time getting to know their backstory. If you don’t know your characters, you won’t know what kind of decisions they’re going to make, what would give them that sick feeling in their bellies and what makes them twitch. Similarly, we want to know what would make them happy so they have a goal for the story. But remember, don’t give them that goal until the end.

Any questions?


Editing Tip Tuesday

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World Building

One of the things I loved about writing fantasy novels was I got to make up the entire world. All the rules of the world were determined by me. I didn’t have to worry about where Route 80 intersected with Route 66 (if that even happens, see?) My world didn’t function within the laws of the real world. It was very freeing. And scary at the same time. The rule of thumb when creating a fantasy world is; whatever rules you make up have to be consistent throughout the book. You can’t change the rules to suit the needs of the scene. In my series, the three main characters can’t do magic. The world around them is magical. When I placed them into difficult situations, they had to use their smarts to get out of it. Magic was reserved to the creatures that lived in the world I created. Unfair odds? Maybe. But my characters learned a lot about themselves along the way.

Here are some things to think about when creating your own world:

  • Climate
  • Terrain
  • Money
  • Educational system
  • Technology Level
  • Transportation
  • Rights and privileges
  • Crime and its punishment
  • Government
  • Values
  • Good vs Evil
  • Right and wrong
  • What is worth living for?
  • Add your own rules for your world. The sky is the limit!

Any questions?

Is Back to School Night Worth It?

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It’s that time of the year again. Back to School Night. How many of you go? And those of you that don’t. You’re probably the smart ones. I mean, what can  a teacher really tell you in ten minutes? It’s kind of like conferences. They are completely worthless. If your child is doing well, the school doesn’t recommend you come in for a conference. Who needs to take up time telling Mommy that little Johnny is an A student, right? But if your child is having trouble a ten minute conference isn’t enough time to discuss the problem and figure out a solution. Oh, we weren’t supposed to figure out a solution? It was just a ten minute vent session (usually for the teacher.) “Why does your son drop his apple sauce on the floor?” Yes, I had a first grade teacher ask me that about Noodge 1.

But back to Back to School Night. The main reason I go is because the teachers give themselves away during their presentation. I can put money down on what kind of teacher my kid is going to have. (Let’s just say because you’re a teacher and stand in front of group and talk all day doesn’t make you Robert DeNiro or Meryl Streep. You get me?)

Some teachers you can tell right away are going to be fantastic. They say things like, “I love what I do. I can’t believe how lucky I am to teach Social Studies.” They have creative ideas on how to present material. They tell you they have extra hours for tutorial (high school level) or they pushed their principal to allow something new that particular year. Their energy is high, their cheeks are rosy, and their aura is glowing.

Then we have the others. Noodge 2’s first grade teacher on Back to School Night: “If you have a daughter and she has long hair you should pull it back because hair is distracting.” From the woman who has no children. And she made sure to let everyone know she hated messes. Can you guess what kind of a year that was?

Or the teacher who insisted the folders matched the notebooks because she color coordinated her clothing to her hangers. She also wanted us to provide her with tennis balls because she didn’t like the noise the chairs made when pushed back from the desks. (Tennis balls cut in half and placed under the legs stops that noise in case you’re wondering.) All that information was revealed on Back to School Night. This teacher said to me on the day before spring break: “Enjoy your spring break…oh wait…you won’t. You’ll have your kids.” Yes, she really said that. I knew on BTSN she was going to be a pill.

Another reason I go is because I want my kids to know I care about their school experience. It’s another opportunity to show them I’m involved, I’m present. It’s why I chaperoned when I could, volunteered for class mother, school library, and Girl Scout troop leader. It’s why the Coffee King coached years of Little League and Rec basketball. And sadly, my BTS nights are winding down. They will get tucked away in the memory file for pulling out when I want to visit them. BTSN allows me to hang on to their childhood for just one more night.

No, you aren’t going to learn a whole lot about the class in those silly ten minutes. It’s not a time to question the teacher about your child’s progress. Our high school is so large I’m not even entirely sure the teacher realized my kid is the class this early in the year, but I won’t miss it because in fewer years than I like to think about my babies won’t have a BTSN. Their public school education will be a thing of the past. I hope they will remember how I went when I could’ve done so many other things and they will think about it with a warm feeling knowing their mom loved them.

BTSN is worth it to me.

Editing Tip Tuesday

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Ask the editor.

I thought I’d open the floor to you, my writer friends. How can I help you improve your writing? Are you working on anything that’s driving you nuts? Not sure where to begin? Is your middle sagging? Raise your hand and shout it out. I want to help you.

If you’re not a writer, but want to know some deep dark secret authors know about how to make you turn the page, ask. Don’t be shy. Authors don’t judge. Well, they usually judge themselves against every other author whose book is selling better, but that shouldn’t worry you. Go ahead, ask.

Editing Tip Tuesday on Wednesday

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Life happens.

I let a Tuesday go by without offering an editing tip. Sorry about that. I remembered at 4 am that it was Wednesday and I hadn’t blogged.

I decided that would be my tip. Life happens. Don’t beat yourself up. We all have goals. Daily writing goals, blog posts, newsletters, social media expectations, deadlines. We plan and plan. Then life has a hearty laugh at our expense.

That’s been my whole week. Two sick kids. My work schedule for Monday took a turn when my son came down with a stomach bug minutes before the bus came. Put the brakes on and reroute. Because it’s not just my writing and editing I have to think about. There’s the food shopping, the house cleaning, the dog, doctor’s appointments and the health forms the high school requires incoming Freshman to submit for continued admittance. Not as simple as that sounds, believe me. I live in New Jersey. This state loves its regulations.

The other kid caught the bad cold knocking her school mates on their butts and now she’s home too. Deep breath. I can still juggle it all. Right?

Probably not, which is partly why I missed my own deadline.

This post might not be full of technical information to make your novel better, but knowing its okay to shift gears and start over goes a long way. I’m giving you permission. Go ahead, take that deep breath, walk around the neighborhood, drink that glass of scotch. Your writing will wait for you.

When I was writing my third novel in my middle grade series, Welcome To Skull Mountain, I struggled with the plot the whole way through. I sent the book to my editor and even with her suggestions the story didn’t feel right. I ditched the entire novel and started over. Life happens. The story is better for it.


Don’t fight it. Today might not turn out the way you planned. Just keep going. Don’t give up. If you don’t make your goals today, there will be tomorrow and maybe those scenes will better than you thought. Or find small snippets of time, like waiting in the doctor’s office or waiting for your kid’s dance class to end, to jot a few sentences down. You might get closer to your word count than you thought.

I’m shifting my goals today. A blog post. More pages in the novel, but I won’t be typing “The End” today. There isn’t enough time. My son returned to school and he needs to be picked up at the end of the day. It’s also Back To School Night. Can’t forget about dinner……

Life happens.

What is Your Fetish?

“Hello, my name is Stacey. I have a handbag fetish.” There. I said it. It’s my first step to recovery. But who really wants to recover from loving handbags? I’m not hurting anyone. Why should I stop? Of course, it’s not just in the loving. It’s in the buying. I own 30 bags of all different sizes, shapes and colors. Those bags do not include luggage, canvas totes, beach bags (3 I used to live at the shore, remember), duffel bags, backpacks, computer bags (2) or lunch boxes. (I just bought a really cute lunch box that looks like a satchel with black and pink stripes.)

Cute, right?

I have never given away a handbag I have owned. Unlike clothes, books, comforters, and furniture, which I have donated when they no longer served me, but have plenty of life left to help someone else. I can’t part with my bags. I have the very first Coach bag I ever owned bought for me as a birthday gift from the Coffee King 25 years ago. I can’t get rid of it. One it’s a Coach bag. Two it was bought for me by my super cute then boyfriend. Handbags, baby, are romantic.

Just yesterday, I was in Kohl’s buying a birthday present for my ninety-year-old grandmother. I swung by the handbag department and found a really cute bag with lots of pockets. I love a bag with lots of pockets. Do you know how much organizing I can do with all those pockets? And it had a pouch that pulled out for separate use. Fun! I refrained from buying. Handbags were not my goal. I bought my gift and went home.

Only to keep thinking about that bag. How useful it would be when I attend a writer’s conference next month. Not that I needed it, mind you. I have bags for that. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I looked at the bag online just to make sure I still liked it. The bag was on sale and I had two coupons.  Someone told me once, ask myself “Do you love it?” when making a purchase. If you can’t say yes, don’t buy it. By 7:30 last night I was back in Kohl’s.

Handbags have been around since the 1500s. Men and women used them because clothes hadn’t been made with pockets yet. By the end of the 16th century, and the invention of pockets, bags were mostly used by women from then on. You can learn more about handbags at The Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam. Can you believe there is a museum for handbags? Guess what’s on my bucket list!

The things that we like and don’t like really define who we are. It’s no surprise I like something where I can put things. I like wicker boxes and baskets. I love cubbies, built ins, and my jewelry box that has two levels stacked together, the top one with lots of different square sized cut outs to hold necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. It also came with a travel size box with multiple compartments. Everything in its place. To me, that means peace.

So, I can’t attempt treatment for my handbag fetish because handbags are the treatment for my compulsion to organize. Clutter gives me anxiety. Ask my family. They hear me yell.

In my current manuscript, my main character is a woman fondly referred to as “Miss Hospital Corners.” I bet she likes handbags too. I never asked her and she never told me, but I’d take a guess and say yes to that one. Should I give her a few?

What is the one thing you can’t live without? Can’t pass up? What does it say most about you?