Rubrics vs. Informational Interviews

 

May 17, 2016

Rubrics vs. Informational Interviews

Was it last week? I think maybe it was. My husband called to me upstairs, where I was working in our home office. He was telling me that he thought he had left his watch in the pocket of his jeans, along with some coins. He reassured himself that I always emptied pants’ pockets before I washed them.

I was staring at my computer screen, which had at least six different windows open. I was trying to get a handle on the curriculum I was putting together for the courses I am slotted to teach for next semester.

This past semester was my first semester teaching college, which has been a lifelong dream of mine. I enjoyed teaching my college students tremendously. I knew I needed to make changes to the curriculum. The students had requested detailed rubrics for each major assignment, instead of a broad, general one for the entire course.

While I appreciate the students’ desire to have detailed rubrics, and I have indeed created them for this next semester, part of me rebels against the idea. In a working environment, there is no rubric. Working in corporate world for over two decades has taught me that rubrics are useful only when actually used how they were designed and not slanted to be interpreted however those in charge wish them to be.

Frankly, I think informational interviews are more useful than rubrics. I have seen rubric be twisted too many times to believe in their usefulness.

To know how to interview a client or manager successfully is a skill I think I need to include in my curriculum for this coming fall. A true informational interview is an interview in which you are able to elicit information regarding a project, or topic of choice, to determine your next action step.

Unfortunately for my husband, I had already taken the step of washing his jeans with his watch inside. I tend not to check the pockets of jeans when I realize that one of the children has no pants to wear the following day, and I throw whatever dark clothes are in the laundry pile hurriedly into the washer.

Informational interviews are only useful if done before a project is complete, and if the person doing the interviewing is paying attention, or you will most likely end up with something rather worse than a non-working watch.

Eccentricities, or How to Write a Character

Eccentricities. Those odd things about you which make you, you.

I read a book entitled, Greg’s Microscope, an easy reader, when I was rather young. In the book, the main character, Greg, looked at slides with his microscope of salt, sugar, and pepper. Salt and sugar were crystals. Pepper looked like dirt. Why that little tidbit stuck with me, I don’t know. I do know that from that day on, I wouldn’t use black pepper.

In my twenties, when I really began to get into cooking, I eventually used white pepper, then later I used paprika. I still don’t use black pepper. (I do occasionally use cayenne, when I’m cooking a special dish for my husband, but I digress.)

When you create a character, maybe you saw someone doing something somewhere that made you think of a story, you have to add those odd little bits which make your character real. The contradictions which are human – growing up being taught one way, and deliberately going another is one example.

A dear friend of mine had stopped eating pasta with tomato sauce before we backpacked through Europe a few decades ago. Instead, she found her favorite dish in Italy – penne panne alla prosciutto – tubelike pasta with cream and ham.

For every trait your character has, you need to have a reason why your character does certain things, or doesn’t do certain things, for the character to be believable.

Think positive. Write on.

What inspires me – March 2015

What inspires me as a librarian.

Working with students inspires me to see how I can open the world for them. How can I convince them to take the next step in learning? I start with what they think they know, then I add another step, and another. We have to begin by building trust. With myself and each other. I add different perspectives. Our school is an international school. The world is about more than what you see in front of you. We study other cultures, other traditions. Then the students present me with their perspective of what they have learned.

What inspires me as a writer for my Salem Academy for Young Sorcerers series.

To create a new world. To straddle the lines between reality and magic. To create connections for the reader within the characters and within themselves. To play. To visualize dragons, see fantastical things happen, rejoice in the wonder of it all.

What inspires me as a writer for my A Spy is series.

Explosions and secret missions. Unraveling the mystery, the intrigue, the game with a sense of humor. Romance intertwined. To satisfyingly kill off the enemy, and maybe have him/her reappear again with a new face. To fight the good fight, and feel as if you’re making a difference in this world.

Believing in Fairy Tales

Once upon a time, we were taught to believe in fairy tales. Not the Disney version, with singing candelabras, nor any version where the bad guys were saved as well. There was something lovely about the good guys winning and the bad guys losing. Something to believe in which more than entertained, but gave us a sense of right and wrong.

We have reinvented fairy tales in so many ways. From Cinderella to Superman – we like to know that someone, somewhere, is having a happy ending. We have developed our fairy tales to let the bad guys become good ones, to send the message that redemption is possible.

We all make mistakes, some of them seem insurmountable. Fairy tales give us hope. They tell us that we, too, can climb the mountain, cross the raging river, or get out of bed on an increasingly wintry morning and go to work.

Someone posted a review of one of my romance novels, saying the author (me) still believed in fairy tales. I think she meant it as an insult.

I don’t believe that if you walk off into the sunset, your life will be automatically happily ever after. If you’re going to walk off into the sunset, I hope you know which way you’re headed, or you’re going to get lost. And cold. And hungry.

I do believe in hope. I believe in joy. Sometimes it’s provided for you, sometimes you have to make it yourself. I believe in possibilities. The ability to make your dreams come true, although sometimes you may not know what that looks like until your dreams stare you in the face.

You can live your life focusing on the negative. Everything you never wanted to do and had to do. Or, you can live your life focusing on the positive. You can find one pleasant bit which makes everything else slighter more tolerable. You can find your hope.

Peace is accepting your life for what it is, not what you think it should be. Hope is that little poof of what could be, what is possible. Temper your knowledge, your experience with kindness.

May peace be with you, within your heart, within your mind. May you have hope within your heart, within your soul.

How to write

Writing a story boils down to 5 main questions: Who, What, Where, Why, When?

In essence, that describes the three main parts of writing: characters, plot, and setting.

Step by step, you pick a character, you decide what you want your character to do (and how you want to get your character there), and you pick where you want your character to be.

All parts are essential to writing a story. It’s also best to take notes along the way so you don’t lose track of what you want to do.

I always begin with my character(s). My Who:

Your character needs to be able to stand in front of you, walk around, think, move, and act. To do. Your character needs certain unique characteristics, such as a dog who walks sideways, burps, and wants to eat broccoli. (If my father is reading this, he will recognize his dog. No, I’m not kidding, she really does all that.)

My What: Your plot. What does your character want to do? What is the goal? Is it to take a midnight stroll off a pier and drown? Is it to hike in the jungle? Is it to find a really good piece of broccoli to eat?

My Why: Plot and character. Why is your character floating out the window to a distant star? Why is a really good piece of broccoli important to eat? Why? What is your character’s motivation for doing what they are doing?

My Where, My When: Setting. Where and When is your character doing anything? You can’t go wrestle alligators if you are sitting at the North Pole.

Note to all: if you place your setting outside of a place you know well, RESEARCH is imperative!

If you want your setting to be your very own backyard in present day time, then you can pull upon your own experiences. If you want your characters to explore the Sahara Desert, you need to research what that would look like. You have to be able to explain to the reader what’s it like to physically be in the environment your character is in to make your story believable.

For example: what’s the weather like, is it hot or cold? When you walk, is it on water, sand, dirt, leaves? What does is physically feel like to be there?

All three – character, plot, setting – have to work together like a well-oiled piece of machinery to make your story work.

When you are stumped, you don’t know what your next sentence will be, this writing thing is insurmountable – go back to the basics. Writing becomes hard if you don’t know what your character will do in any given situation. Each situation leads you forward and progresses the plot.

I write character-driven novels. For me, I have to be true to my characters, or everything else falls apart. I do quite a bit of research for my settings. I always have in mind what I want my characters to do and what it will take in the story to get them to the resolution.

Mother, Daughter, Perspective

July 12, 2014

I was born a daughter to my parents, I am a mother to my children. Both are part of what makes up who I am.

My son told me about a dream he had the other night. He was waiting for my dad to pick him up from school, (which is unusual, but happens occasionally), when my mother walked down the hall. He told me he was astonished to see her (as she passed away last summer), and he gave her hug.

My son has grown a lot in the last year. I asked him how tall he was when he hugged her. He told me he was up to her eyes, which is the height he would be on her today, not a year ago. He told me she looked the same as she had a year ago.

When I’ve seen my mother in my dreams, she is younger, which is how I remember her.

She is still around me during the day, in things that I do, in things that I say. I remember her responses to me when I was an older child, and I find myself saying similar things to my children, in similar circumstances. I understand the responses better now that I am on the other side, and I sometimes try to explain to my children why I am frustrated with certain actions and reactions.

I strive to have my children grow up to be contributing members of society, to be kind and considerate, to accomplish what needs to be done as well as what they want to be done. To treat others, as well as themselves, with respect – adults as well as peers.

My son is at that age, that some of us still live in, of wanting the privileges which come with greater responsibility, yet unsure of wearing that mantle of the greater responsibility, and of hoping to convince someone else to do things for him.

He has a school trip coming up early next spring in which he will travel to another country. I have been pointing out to him when he goes to a friend’s house that if he chooses to eat poorly or forget to pack his clothes for the next day, those are his choices, and he has to live with them. (He did, in fact, forget his clothes once on a sleepover. No, I did not bring him a change of clothes; nor, did he ask me to.)

On his school trip, he will be away from home for a little over a week. I am pleased to see that he has been considering his choices a little more carefully recently. I hope it continues.

Modern Day Superheroes

January 23, 2014

Modern Day Superheroes

My car battery decided it had lived long enough last week and went to the great car battery place in the back of AAA’s truck. The kind roadside assistant person mentioned he loved his job because he was a modern day superhero.

I’ve given that a lot of thought over the last few days. I think he’s absolutely right. Who are your superheroes today?

The pediatrician who thought of running that one extra test on my son, which gave us enough information to decide if he needed surgery several years ago (which he did). The roadside assistant who removed my old, dead battery, and installed a brand new one that thankfully works. The alternative health care provider who told me I wasn’t crazy when no medical doctor could help my child, and gave me some options. The director of my children’s school, who has this amazing vision for learning. The volunteers who helped make our school possible – from those who volunteer a few hours to help spine books to those who contribute many hours in helping to paint walls, build desks, bring food, and everything else too numerous to name.

All these heroes have a few things in common. They care about some of the same things we do – our children, or ourselves, or someone else, or something else we care about. Common cause.

These people help give us answers to our questions, even if the answer is to do more research. They help us on our path.

Thank you.

Thursday’s Children – Inspired by Writing

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August 22, 2013 – Inspired by Writing

According to Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Kristina Perez, who have sponsored Thursday’s Children all this time, this is our last one. They have a new project which I will peek at after I complete this blog. I’m sure it’s wonderful, as they both are.

Regardless, I will still keep up writing a weekly blog. During this summer, it was one of those few bits upon which I could depend. When my world was seemingly imploding, I knew that on Thursdays I had to write an inspired by blog, which helped make the days better. When I wrote nothing else for weeks, I still wrote this blog.

Thank you.

I am officially back to writing. Only a day or two week, sometimes only a few hours here or there, stolen from other projects. It’s wonderful.

I’m working on The Salem Academy for Young Sorcerers, Book 5: Astronomical Twilight. I’m also working on another young adult book – Star Light, Faerie Light.

Writing always breathes new life into me. To be able to work in these new worlds and see where the characters want to explore is such a gift. I am so grateful for it.

I also have to say that I received the neatest fan letter yesterday from a darling 8 year old girl about how much she liked the first Salem Academy book, and how she was looking forward to reading the next one. When I read a handwritten letter like that, I know I have to be doing something right.
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Thursday’s Children – August 15, 2013: Inspired by Finding a Way Home

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Thursday’s Children – August 15, 2013

Inspired by Finding a Way Home

There has been so much rain here in Georgia this summer. I believe it’s because they keep cutting down trees and Mother Earth is crying. I know that sounds fanciful, but I still think that.

I’ve been crying this summer, too. I miss Mom every day. I know she’s here. I know as I can feel her with me. And, I miss her.

Everyone says that it becomes easier with time. I believe them. And, it doesn’t make it any less hard, but it’s nice to have hope.

She still sends us hearts in all shapes and sizes, and it makes us smile.

According to my religious tradition, my father and I went to services every Friday for the first four Fridays after Mom died to pray. On the back of one of the pamphlets the ushers handed us in those weeks was the phrase:

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

I love that saying. It’s beautiful and feels perfect for this far too long summer that I have spent crying for different reasons.

Mom was a seamstress. She had 3 different sewing machines. All of which my father tried to convince me to take home after she died. I don’t sew unless I have to. My sewing kit is from the dollar store and can fit in my purse. Mom’s sewing kit is an enormous box laden with everything a good seamstress needed.

I finally gave in (with a groan) and said I would take home one of her sewing machines, after my daughter told me that my mother had begun to teach her to sew on that one specific machine.

I was at such a loss at the end of May, because we had to leave the kids’ old elementary school. I knew their old school wasn’t right for them, but I didn’t know any other option. Until July, for it was then that we found MIS – Midtown International School – a perfect fit for the kids (and for me, I’m their new children’s librarian!).

My children had a playdate with the new friends they had made from their new school. As the mom (who happens to be the director of the school) was showing me their downstairs, I saw the phrase in script:

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Sitting on a table, a few feet from the phrase in script was a sewing machine – the same kind as the one my mom had been teaching my daughter on.

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe we are finding our way home.
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Thursday’s Children – August 8, 2013 – Inspired by Distraction

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August 8, 2013 – Inspired by Distraction

Distraction is often the better part of valor. This works with children, relatives, and even ourselves.

My father is a math person. He can do more math in his head than most people can do with a calculator. He taught himself by adding up columns of numbers when he was younger. His distraction point can be hearing that the lottery is up to 312 million dollars. He will, in his head and without a calculator, figure out how much each member of the family will get after taxes, keeping in mind that different members of the family get different amounts.

I have always been a writer. I would read a book or see a movie and mentally add what happened next. This summer, when everyone asked me what I was doing for me, to keep myself sane while my mother was in the hospital, I answered that I was mentally writing a book – creating characters, a plot, scenarios – that I never had to put on paper.

I am beginning to be ready to get back to the books I was writing before June, before my mother was sick, before my world had to stop, pause, adjust, and continue adjusting to what was needed, what was necessary, what was required.

The first day of school for my children is August 19th.

I have been inspired by distraction, as I needed them. It is time to move forward.
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