Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Love Guest Post - The Power of Books Revealed

In a recent post I discussed my predilection for twitter chats for writers. Not only are they a great use of online time, but they are also a great place to meet fellow writers. During one such chat (#ufchat - Urban Fiction Chat), I crossed paths with Elyssa Kirkham (@ElyssaJK on Twitter) who blogs about creative writing, reading and making handmade books on Handmade Library. Elyssa read some of the previous book love posts and was inspired to share her own story with us. Here, in her own words, is a wonderful story of book love at its best by Elyssa Kirkham. I am sure you will enjoy this one!

It took a while to think of Where the Red Fern Grows as my first book love, because there were many books I loved as a child. I cottoned on to stories early on. Mine is a family of readers, and as number six of seven siblings, I benefited from the collective reading habits of not only my parents, but my older siblings, as well.

By the time I started school, I was ready and desperate to read. I came home from school on the first day of first grade, and dramatically accused my mother of being a liar: "You said I would learn how to read in first grade. We didn't even talk about reading!" Nonetheless, I quickly picked up on it and was soon a precocious reader. I filled bored hours with books — Grimm's fairy tales and everything by Roald Dahl. I loved books and their simple companionship, but —

I hadn't yet discovered just how powerful they could be.

This realization came in third grade. For reading time, our class was divided into groups of different reading levels that read their own books. Towards the end of the year, our group read Where the Red Fern Grows. It was a challenge, but I was pulled in by the story of a boy who worked hard to earn his coon dogs. I was caught up watching their skill in coon hunting grow, along with their love for each other. I learned with them, triumphed with them and cheered them on.

And then we reached the inevitable climax.

My group was in class, reading it together, on the edge of our seats as Big Dan and Little Ann fought and defeated a mountain lion to protect their master. We bit our nails down as Billy carried Big Dan home and tended to his wounds. We begged Little Ann to snap out of it, to get better. And when they both died, our group erupted into sobs and sniffles.

This, of course, earned us some odd looks from the other groups. Why were we crying? Were we really crying over a book? They didn't understand it, and I was overwhelmed. Up to this point, I don't think any story had moved me in the same way, had made me care so much about the characters, and then had put it all at stake.

After finishing the book, it occupied my little brain for weeks afterwards. It was perhaps the first time that I had read something that so obviously didn't have a happy ending. It was the first time that I realized that books could be more than fun, silly entertainment or encyclopedic tomes of information.

Books could be sad, but still so very good.

I'm not sure Where the Red Fern Grows was the first book I loved, but it was the first book that broke my heart. And yet I still loved it — even after sobbing through class reading period over the loss of Big Dan and Little Ann. Reading Where the Red Fern Grows was the first time a book had had such a deep effect on me. 

It broke my heart and I couldn't hold that against the book, because I was glad for the story. It had taught me about faith, love, devotion, selflessness, loss and grief, and it left me a better person for it. I wouldn't have taken a minute of it back. And that's sort of what true love is about — isn't it?

As Billy said, "You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.”

I would like to thank Elyssa, again, for participating in the Rivera Runs Through It Book Love Series and I hope you take the time to get to know her a bit better either through twitter chatter or by checking out her blog.

In the meantime, has Elyssa's post sparked any memories for you?
Do you remember the first book where you had such an emotional response?
How about any group reading experiences like Elyssa had with her class?

Finally, if you feel like YOU are ready to share your own first book love, e-mail me

Sunday, April 29, 2012

ROW80 - Goals Accomplished and Things To Do

I feel like I have sailed to new heights today. Two things on my eternal to-do list were crossed off all within one 24 hour period. One of them, quite surprisingly, is one of my ROW80 goals that has been dragging along in the dirt beside me, largely ignored, while I continued trekking through my life. Today I finally went to go meet the Staten Island Writers group! That's right, ladies and gentlemen, I sat down, face to face with live human writers and talked about writing! And, I plan on going back for the next meeting!

Look at me. All grown up.

My other fantastic accomplishment today was "hiking" the Pink trail in the Staten Island Greenbelt (that's where the cool picture is from). I put "hiking" in quotes because the pink trail isn't much of a hike (if it was, I'd probably be in traction right now instead of comfortably writing to you with nothing more than a headache); it's more like a walk around the block, if you lived in the middle of the woods. It's all flat, with a nice trail carved out for you. The "challenges" in the walk come from a slightly swampy section and the ticks that felt free to jump from the trees onto my hand and my husband's head! (Strangely, the two dogs came out tick-free!)

Getting back to my writing and reading life,
  • I am happy to say I posted my first short story, Prove It!, for the #52Stories Writing Challenge and I have gotten a bunch of feedback on it, but now I'm hard at work developig story number two!
  • I am learning tons about my own writing from my online writing workshop on critiquing through SavvyAuthors.
  • I am on target to finish a number of books for my Goodreads reading challenge by the end of April, and
  • I am working on a new book club for the Word of the Nerd website that I am very excited about!
So, as usual, lots of things are getting done and even more are coming! I hope all of my fellow ROWers had as wonderful day as I did and are making headway in their own personal goals.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Short Story - Prove It!

The following post is my first contribution to the #52stories writing challenge where I have committed to writing one short story per week for an entire year. This post will be longer than my typical posts because this is not flash fiction, it is a full short story. I hope, in the next year to explore all different genres and storytelling styles. For now, I present to you my first short story: "Prove It!" Please let me know in the comments what you think of it! 
My days rolled out pretty much the same: wake up with some coffee, put the TV on for some background noise and begin the search. At first the search was for a job in what I was trained to do, then it was just any job, then, ultimately, I was on a quest for opportunities of any kind. Unemployment is hell. You start to question what you can offer the world, what your place is, even who you are. I imagine I don’t have to tell you, chances are you know someone who is unemployed these days, right? The real problem for me, however, began with that background TV.
I’m not into those Hollywood gossip shows, talk shows, soap operas or the court room shows that turn out to be ten times worse than anything any of those other shows can dish; I keep tuned on the game shows. My logic is at least I’m learning something. I’d search the infinite options of televised entertainment before me and I’d always have the TV tuned to Jeopardy!, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Cash Cab, and any other trivia-type show I could find.
My friends started to get wind of this and started called me “Professor U” - the “U” is for “unemployed” - they’re real gems. Anyway, they realized an easy way to get me out to socialize without worrying too much about cost would be to gather at Murray’s Tavern for Thursday's Trivia night. We’d have a blast, I’d get out, and, as the weeks went on our team was winning the night - which meant Murray would pick up our tab - more and more.
One Thursday, after a couple weeks in a row of winning, when I went up to Murray to take my picture for the wall of “Murray’s Brain Pains,” Murray planted the seed for my inevitable doom as he wrapped his burly arm around my shoulders, “You know, Professor, you really need to find a real game show to steal money from; you might actually be able to come back and pay for some grub, then!” He laughed his boisterous, nicotine-damaged laugh, snapped the ancient Polaroid camera, and captured the half-smiling face of a young man who felt he might have finally stumbled upon an opportunity.

From that night on, I split my search time each day between job hunting and game show opportunities. It was difficult since I lived on the East Coast and most of the big shows were filmed in California, but I started entering online sweepstakes to win trips to “sunny California” figuring, if I ever won, I'd call the studios directly upon hearing the news. This was all starting weeks before my unemployment checks were going to be cut off, so my desperation was hitting a fever pitch. It was time for me to start selling my stuff.

I hit up eBay,, and even Amazon while I still had some money to pay for the shipping of items. An ex-girlfriend of mine had set me up with an Etsy store the year before for my t-shirt designs, so I started spreading the word about that again. It may not be the equivalent of what the US Department of Labor was forking over to help me in my time of need, but maybe PayPal could provide some source of steady income, however paltry it would be. Leaving it in PayPal, I could let it add up until the time came where I would need it.
I felt like my life was slowly shifting from the tangible world of reality into the slippery streams of cyberspace. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet and all of its convenience, but things were beginning to feel less real. More people knew me as “ProfessorU,” which was my username for almost all sites I encountered, than by my real name. I wondered how many people bothered to look at the tiny pic of me on various sites to see what I truly looked like and how many just made up their own “ProfessorU” picture. I just kept dreaming more and more of making it on to some big time game show so everyone could finally see the real me on TV, or via the Internet, and say, “That’s the ProfessorU guy I’m always talking to. That’s who he really is!”
It’s really funny to me now that I thought I was losing my identity back then. I had friends I saw every Thursday night after their job. I had an apartment where I paid rent and utilities. I had everything I needed to say, “Here I am world! This is who I am!” I could have even made a video, uploaded it to YouTube saying that exact thing. Dammit: I had a driver’s license.

After a week or so of selling old comic books, movies, video games and consoles online, I had found myself visiting the PayPal site quite frequently to check my balance. It was really all about the money until an ad banner caught my eye, “Are You Ready for the Game Show Made IN and FOR the 21st Century? Click HERE for PROVE IT!” I swore it was a typo. Didn’t they mean “Click here to prove it!”? Embarrassed for them, and unable to ignore a game show opportunity, I clicked the banner.
As we ready ourselves to embark upon the second decade of the 21st Century, one has to ask themselves: When will we start playing the games our technology now allows?  With the advent of the Internet, every man has become a researcher, self-educator and trivia buff in his own right. With social media, every man has the ability to quarter off his own fifteen minutes of fame and legions of followers in all areas of expertise.

Do you think you can show us who YOU are?


For $10 million
Join the conversation:
LIKE our FB page
Follow #ProveIT on Twitter
Subscribe to r/ProveIT on Reddit

I couldn’t resist. I had garnered a decent Twitter following and trivia had been my thing, so I delved further. The website had nothing more than a sign-up page for more information. I blindly dove in; what could I lose, right? When I reached Twitter, Facebook and Reddit I learned that the announcement was only hours old, and the details were sparse. 

There were hundreds of webcrawlers discussing one major topic: What is Prove It? After a couple of hours the forums, chats and trends all started blowing up with various theories - Skype-A-Friend, Wander Through Wikis, and Choose Your Device were just three of the most popular ways people imagined  there would be a game show with a 21st Century twist. The thinking was you would have to prove your answers to various trivia questions with the use of 21st Century tech. The more I read about it, the more I loved it.

By Thursday night, I was obsessed. I went out to Murray’s asking everyone what their theories on Prove It! were. “Oh man, is that the thing you’ve been putting up all over your Facebook page? Sorry, Man, I didn’t get to look at that yet. You know, I’m still blocked at work and I don’t even want to see a computer when I get home.” Nods of consent from all around the table as the conversation shifted to the horrors of working life. The disconnect I had felt when I first got my pink slip suddenly came vividly back to life; I fiddled with my prepaid phone until the game began and filled the new role my closest friends had given me, Professor Unemployed.

We won that night, but I didn’t feel like celebrating until I got home. In my Inbox was an e-mail from the producers of Prove It! Saying I was approved to be among the first round of contestants in their New York filming of the show. The e-mail directed me to a website where I was taken through the final application process: submitting my PayPal information for direct deposit winnings, agreeing to their “Terms and Conditions” and electronically signing their “Privacy Statement” where, among other things, I agreed to be filmed and have my likeness used in future promotion of Prove It! for as long as the game remained viable. 

I did my duty like the Digital Native I am, born and raised in and among “OK” and “Agree” buttons flashing on my computer screen after thousands of minuscule words meant to be read and digested carefully: I scrolled and clicked. I skimmed. I read leading sentences. I skipped the major legalese. I didn’t call my legal aide friend to see if she could elucidate any of what I was clicking away. I didn’t print a copy to read before turning back to my computer to click. I just clicked. 

I was excited. This was my opportunity after all, right? This is exactly what I had been waiting for. I was going to be on a game show. I was going to win 10 million dollars. 

I called my best friend the next morning. I should have known what kind of response I was going to get. 

“What show?” a half distracted query.
Prove It! The one I told you guys about last night. It’s new.”
“Oh… right… the Facebook thing…”
The “Facebook thing” terminology was stinging more than I liked. My greatest excitement was amounting to nothing more than an annoying status update to my closest friends. I suspected the tapping keys in the background had little to do with finding out more about my latest venture and more to do with my friend’s work in front of him.

“Yeah, man… the ‘Facebook thing.’ Look, you sound busy. I just wanted to let you know I was going up to win ten million dollars. I guess I’ll see you at Murray’s or something,” I hung up without a goodbye. 

It was a game show. I had been selected among the thousands of others who had entered to be a contestant. I needed the money and I needed something to do. The freedom and flexibility of unemployment got old real fast. The prize money was nothing to sneeze at either, but, in the end, I just wanted to feel like all my time searching for something actually panned out.

“What a dump,” Benny, the other contestant, said.

“Is it?” The studio was sparse. It had the feel of an empty warehouse with a slipshod makeover. That should have been my first sign something was amiss, but I had never been to a television studio before. 

“Dude, this is a worse set up than my high school’s stage at our local access station back in the nineties. I hope these yokels can actually pay up on the winnings.”

“Oh yeah, that would be the worst,” famous last words.

We left all of our belongings in a locker behind the stage before filming. Benny put up a fight, but I didn’t see the harm. They said the tech would damage our phones and wipe out our credit cards.
At each of our separate podiums was a laptop and a microphone. The game began typically enough, with  Benny and I battling it out to see who could buzz in first with the correct answer to Gary Sneler’s trivia questions. This went on for about twenty minutes and I was really destroying Benny. So far there had been no 21st Century twist to the game, no use of our laptops or tech of any sort. I was happy I was winning, but I was still guarded.

Then Gary grabbed his ear as though he just received a message from the producers. I imagined it was a cue for a commercial break or smarmy small talk with the contestants. I was ready with the story of my name “Professor U” and how Murray of Murray’s Tavern inspired me to become a game show contestant. Instead, Gary smiled and said, “OK contestants, it’s time for our 21st century check in. Using podium laptops, log into your PayPal accounts to ensure your winnings are feeding right in.”

Logging into PayPal was an exercise in muscle memory for me and my hands. That’s why I was shocked when the red words came up saying something had gone wrong. I typed my information slower a second time, taking special care to double check before clicking the yellow button. 

That username does not exist. 

 I was struck dumb. I was snapped from my daze when I heard Benny curse under his breath. I looked over and saw in him the distress I felt.

“Is there a problem, gentlemen?” came Gary Sneler’s oily voice paired with a toothy grin.

“Yeah, Gary, there’s a problem,” Benny sounded like he was seconds away from ripping Gary’s smile off his face. “Why don’t you explain what’s going on?” 

“Gentlemen, you have been hacked. You’re identities have been stolen. Your wallets, cell phones and all personal effects were released before coming on this stage and have been destroyed. You know who you are, now it’s time to PROVE IT!” and with those last two words the lights spun, the music blared, the podiums were rolled back, office chairs rolled in and portable office stations including a laptop, a printer and a phone. If this was the intro to the game show, I can only imagine what my face looked like, because Benny’s can best be described as murderous.

“Is this the game?” Benny asked. To be honest, I was stunned silent. 

“It is what each of you signed up for, yes,” Gary slimed again, “In fact, there is a copy of the disclosure agreement you electronically signed under the laptops on your desk.”

Benny, still standing, grabbed the contract, and said, “Aw, this is bull.” I just sat down and turned the laptop on. I knew they had me. And really… did it matter? Legal or not, these guys hacked my life and I needed its pathetic-ness back. It was all I had.

I started looking up all of the phone numbers of the credit cards I owned and picked up the phone. 

In a haze behind thoughts of who I should call, what my plan of attack should be and how I would ensure I wouldn’t lose what little savings I had, I heard Gary’s voice boom toward Benny, “Contestant B, it looks like A is getting a head start!” To which he responded, “Fuck you, Gary. I’m calling a lawyer.”

“Go ahead. We have plenty of copies of the disclosure agreement.”  

I dialed the phone, surprised by the numbers my fingers selected as they danced on the dial.
“Alduino, how can I help you?” a bored voice answered.

"Hey, Eric."
“Nick is that you?”
“Yeah, Eric, can’t tell you how glad I am that you said my name.”
“Nick, what’s wrong, are you OK?”
“Not really. Remember that ‘Facebook thing’?”
“Your game show, Prove It! Sure. Hey isn’t that today?” I was surprised to hear the excitement in my best friend's voice.
“Yeah well, I’m not sure I’m gonna win. You think I can stay at your place for a bit?”
“Nick, you know you’re always an honorary Alduino! I gave you the key for a damn reason.”
“Yeah, but I think I need you and the gang to help me get my whole life back... I kind of screwed up big time.”

"Nick. whatever you need. We've been wanting to help."

"Thanks, Eric."
“Shut up. I expect to see you when I get home.”
“Yeah alright, I’ll see you later, you maniac,” I hung up before I let my emotions get the better of me.
I closed the laptop in front of me and, smiling, stood up to leave.
“Contestant A, you look pretty pleased with yourself,” the spotlights turned on me, blinding me, “You’ve been pretty quick witted with our trivia, are you just as masterful with rebuilding your life?” His voice was booming and excited. I think he was really hoping I had done it. I smiled right at him when he continued, “Contestant A, are you ready to PROVE who you are?”
“Sorry, Gary, no need. I’m going someplace where I don’t have to,” I disconnected the mic on my shirt and stepped around the makeshift office and walked right out of the television studio.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Twitter Hashtags and Chats for Writers [StoryDam]

Story Dam
Over at the StoryDam website, I've been sharing my experiences with social media and writing with the community. This week I shared what I have learned about Twitter Hashtags and Chats for Writers. There is a lot of information out there, so it is my hope to provide an introduction. If you, too, are wondering what hashtags and chats are out there to support your in your writing life, here's a peek at what I shared.
Twitter Logo

In my last StoryDam post, I discussed Where Facebook Fits in a Writer’s Life, then, as a community, we discussed it via Twitter. The irony was not lost on me, at all. The results of our discussion were not surprising to me either: many of our community members stated that Twitter was where they had most of their writing friends. This is the case for me as well. In fact,all of my current writing life inspirations emanated from my time on Twitter.

First of all, the current creative team behind StoryDam met on Twitter and has yet to meet in real life! Secondly, I found out about a regular writing opportunity and became part of the writing staff for Word of the Nerd on Twitter. Finally, most recently, a fellow Twitter writing buddy turned me on to an awesome writing challenge that we, and now a number of fellow Twitter-writers, are going to tackle starting this week: one short story per week for one year.

If those three things were all that Twitter had given me in my time connected, it would already be worth every minute, but that is just the highlight reel. However, when I first got my twitter account I didn’t know where to begin. I wrote lines of 140 characters or less and wondered, “Who’s reading this?” In my mind I would play Pink Floyd’s IsThere Anybody Out There? over and over again. That was, of course, until I learned the power of the hashtag and, in turn, Twitter chats.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Writing Challenge - 52 Stories

Two days ago, while scrolling through my twitter feed, I caught a glimpse of the following tweet by a new online writing friend Erica Cresswell:

I thought to myself, that's a pretty great idea.

A little while later, Erica sent me a tweet just seeing how I was doing and we starting talking about her challenge. As the conversation continued, I realized I was getting more and more excited about this idea. I was saying things like, "I should do that," then the reality of, "I've got nothing to lose" hit until finally...

And that was it, I added a new challenge and goal to my list for my writing life: I will write one story per week for one full year. I figured, with Erica by my side and our twitter pact of committing to this challenge, I could do this.

I was inspired. I was ready. I even had a short story for the week that I could work on to get going already.

And then twitter happened... 

If you are a twitter user, then you may have an idea of what I am talking about. You see, while Erica and I are having a conversation, all of our followers can see it. So, just as we were settled upon moving on to write, the questions started pouring in:
  • Is this a new thing?
  • Can I join?
  • What's the word count goal?
  • What's the accountability?
  • Are there prompts?
...and on and on and on. It was amazing! I don't think either one of us expected it. However, here we are, two days later, using the #52stories hashtag to communicate on Twitter with a nice little group of people who are joining this challenge.

The rules?

Really, we have none. Anyone can join (how could we stop you?!). Our goal is to write. If we put a limit on word counts so that the stories are blog-friendly, then those participants who are looking for print publication will be left out. We don't have prompts because we have ideas of our own that we are willing to explore for the moment. When we do need them, well, StoryDam has a prompt every week, and one of our participants, Greg W. (@HauntedAxiom), has been tweeting prompts he comes up with using the #52stories hashtag.

As for accountability, we are in the process of selecting a day of the week where we will post our stories online, but we have also been keeping each other updated through and through via Twitter. Erica said she finished her story last night and I finished my first draft.

Honestly, it really is quite exciting. It isn't taking away from editing my novel or my concrit class on SavvyAuthors. When it comes down to it, this is what I should be doing with my time, anyway. So it's back to the editing table for me!

I hope everyone in Round 2 of ROW80 has had the blessing of such inspiration in their week as well. Click Here to check out how my fellow ROW-ers are doing with their current writing goals!

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

The following post is taken directly from my hand-printed Reader's Journal. I will be sharing these reflections each week on the Rivera Runs Through It blog. The date at the end of each post is the date of the original writing, which is typically the date I completed the book. The reflections are short, but represent my initial reactions to a book, a brief summary of the book or the questions it raised for me at the time. I hope you enjoy this segment in my blog and feel free to comment on what you read here.

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Book 4 of The Chronicles of Narnia. It was nice to have to have Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy back in Narnia. They were called back by Su's magic horn to help Caspian bring Narnia back to its old enchantment. It had been ruined by hundreds (maybe thousands) of years being ruled by humans that did not believe in Aslan. The ending alludes to a possible return for Lucy and Edmund, but the time in Narnia has now ended for Peter and Susan - they are too old. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Dated: 12/07/03

In the book I am currently reading (Story Engineering by Larry Brooks) the author says that C.S. Lewis books "made no bones about selling you on worldview." While I find that to be inherently true, as a Catholic myself, I did not feel at any point during reading that these books were propaganda or selling me on anything. 
My question to fellow readers of The Chronicles of Narnia is, did you?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Book Love of The Moment - Math and Writing Unite

Since we have no book love interview this week, I thought I'd share my current book love with you. I am midway through a fascinating learning experience that came to me by way of Reddit. Yes, you read that correctly, I got a book from a website! Back in February, I signed up for the RedditGifts Book Exchange, a Secret Santa type of game that you play with strangers on the Internet, only this one is all about books. The person who sent my books found out I was a writer and, although she said she had no experience in the matter whatsoever, picked out three awesome books on writing for me. Right now I'm reading the first of the books she bought me, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and it is literally the perfect book about writing for me there could be!

I'm a math chick. I know I've mentioned this before. I spent twelve years teaching the subject and an entire college career studying it. The thing is, I love Mathematics. I love the patterns in it; I love the truth in it; I love the way all of Nature seems to be built around it. Mathematics is seen by many as this exceedingly formulaic, boring and stagnant subject, but what it is, when you can see all it touches is beauty and art.

I am also a writer. This you have come to know, and I've mentioned this before as well. I've spent a lifetime steeping myself in stories. I read them; I told them; I wrote some of them down. What I always saw was the beauty and the art in each of the stories, but I believed that beneath it all,






Perhaps this is the inner mathematician striving to make sense of every beautiful thing she comes in contact with. I don't know. What I do know, however, is that Larry Brooks is bringing this pattern to light for me. He is not stripping away the art or the beauty that lies within the worlds our words create, he is simply showing me their underpinnings. He is showing me the math behind the natural world of the story.

In introducing this structure that he argues is present in all stories and screenplays, Brooks discusses the resistance he often runs into from writers who argue this type of thinking is too formulaic. Brooks says he is not instructing the reader how they should write the story - you can still be a pantser, if you like to just let things flow; or be a plotter if you'd rather plan ahead - either way, there is a structure, a core that lies beneath the story no matter which approach you take.

I can not fully express to you how closely this rides to discussions in math education. The argument rallies on over whether mathematics should be taught procedurally (this is akin to our plotting writers - set up the rules ahead of time, then dive in) or through problem solving and discovery (like our pantsers, problems solvers dive in, start working, make mistakes, start over, make discoveries along the way and unearth the rules for mathematics as the problems are solved). Whichever teaching technique is employed, the mathematics at its core remains the same.

There is so much in this book that simply makes sense to me and, I believe, will make me a much better writer as a whole. When I have completed it I will be sure to write a thorough book review discussing Brooks' thesis in full. For today, I simply wanted to share with you my most current book love experience. The book that has currently enthralled me and pulled in my conscious and subconscious thoughts toward it. While I am reading these days, with pen and notebook in hand, I am thinking of stories, of structures, patterns, architecture and the beauty that they all create. It's a wonderful read and I just wanted to let you know!

Writers: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Math Minds: Do you think math is best taught procedurally or through problems solving?
Readers: Do you believe there is an inherent structure in all stories you read? Why or why not? 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Writing A Novel - Now I Understand

Until recently, the thought of seeing the deleted scenes from a finished movie meant only one thing to me: lots of laughs! I would look to these clips for the bloopers, the pranks, the sneak peeks of the actors I admired behaving out of character and maybe, just maybe, a little more like themselves. It was with this expectation that I entered into viewing the deleted scenes of The Muppets about a month ago. I was not ready for the incredible writer's "A-Ha! Moment" I would receive from watching all that did not make it into one of my favorite movies of 2011.

It goes without saying that many of the scenes were funny and that some were bloopers (human and muppet alike!), however, having sat through every single scene on the "Play All" feature right after watching the full length film, I was surprised by how many of the scenes had nothing to do with the movie at all! Let me rephrase that, they could have had something to do with the movie, but not the way it turned out. These scenes were not just cut from the film, their omission either resulted in, or from, a major rewrite of the script.


I know, I know, you're reading this and saying, "Duh, Nicole! What's the big deal?!"

The big deal is that it was that Muppet moment, for some reason, that my rose-tinted glasses were finally smashed. Slowly some thoughts crept into the corners of my mind,  
When Jason Segel and Nick Stoller wrote "The Muppets," they didn't think it was perfect, was the first thought...

Then slowly (sometimes I'm a bit dense...), They must've looked at it and thought that the only way it could be fixed was if they rewrote pieces...

And then here's where the BIG connect comes in, I bet if I rewrite pieces of my novel I can fix it!
Having read Stephen King, Anne Lamott and Marion Roach Smith's books on writing since finishing my first draft, as well as being a part of writing communities and chatting it up with numerous new writing friends, this is a fact I knew, but (I can now see) did not understand. There is an enormous gap between knowing something and understanding something; I am incredibly grateful that I have finally bridged it.

Here is what I understand: 
  • I understand that it is not my weakness as a writer or my amateur status in this role that accounts for the state my novel is in; it is the fact that it has not been cared for since first being splashed on the page.
  • I understand that getting the story out is only part of the work and that the other part, the editing part, is much more than correcting typos, spelling, grammar and fluidity of sentences.
  • I understand that I will have to "kill my darlings" even though there is no death scene in my novel, nor shall there be cause for one.
  • I understand that writing is an art, in the same way my teaching was: a beautiful, fun effortless-looking output from countless unspoken sleepless nights spent researching, creating, rewriting, perfecting but filled with giddy excitement every step of the way.
  • I understand that I am new to this, that I am learning, but I can do this.
I'm looking forward to the weeks ahead. While I've been extra sick as of late (thank you very much stealthy kidney stone no one asked for!), I am hoping the worst of it is behind me and that I can bumble back to my sloth-like existence of pseudo-healthy (two chronic diseases I can handle!) and truly hit the books. I'm taking part in a Savvy Authors online workshop on constructive criticism that I hope will help me in my own writing as well as my participation in the StoryDam community. It should be fun (read: *absolutely terrifying*) to share some of my chapters with people in my class to get constructive criticism on them: WISH ME LUCK!

Hoping everyone else in ROW80 is doing well with their writing goals this round.

Monday, April 16, 2012

JK Rowling Confirms Work on Harry Potter Encyclopedia

Remember encyclopedias? They were giant books - or a series of books - that magically held the answers to nearly every question you could ask. There were descriptions, pictures, maps and references if you wanted to learn more. They seem to be going away now that we have the Internet, but our need for them is not gone, at least not in all cases: enter the avid Harry Potter fan.
JK ROwling Official Portrait
Who is this "avid Harry Potter fan"? This is the person - age, race, gender, and ethnicity is of no consequence - who devoured the seven books written about Harry and his magical world by JK Rowling. This person saw every Harry Potter film, possibly even at its midnight release. This fan either already has or is in the process of obtaining their Pottermore username as you are reading these very words. This dedicated soul, who closed the pages of Rowling's books, but never really ever let their imagination wander too far from Platform 9 3/4, may even write some Harry Potter fan fiction pieces of their own. In short, the "avid Harry Potter fan" is that person who has an insatiable appetite for all that JKR brought to life in her more than 1 million words about Harry.

And "insatiable" means only one thing... they need more.

For a long time JK Rowling has been hounded by questions about developing an exhaustive encyclopedia containing references to magical creatures, lands, laws, people... well, all of the stuff you would see in a regular encyclopedia, only this one referencing nothing but the magical world in the Harry Potter series. In her Pottercast interview in December 2007, she had this to say:
"Yeah. Would it be okay if that's ten years? [No one laughed.] No, listen, I absolutely intend to do it, but I can't pretend that I'm in a hurry right now. It's gonna be a hell of a lot of work. But I have - I've kept everything and I know where things are and yeah, at some point I will get myself together and do it."
I'm not sure if that's the moment she realized how desperately her fans wanted this work, but when she said she planned to do it, she wasn't kidding. Along with a myriad of other fantastic announcements this Spring coming from the Rowling camp like eBook and digital audio versions of the Harry Potter series, the release date of her new adult novel The Casual Vacancy, and the opening of Pottermore to the general public, we have official encyclopedia news!
Tucked away in the "FAQs & Rumours" section of, Rowling addresses the simply stated question "What about the Harry Potter Encyclopaedia?" here is her answer:
For a long time I have been promising an encyclopaedia of Harry’s world, and I have started work on this now – some of it forms the new content in Pottermore. It is likely to be a time-consuming job, but when finished I shall donate all royalties to charity.
It's not done. There is no date for release. However, what we have here is confirmation, from JK Rowling, herself, that the book is in motion. In the meantime, my fellow Potterheads, take to the Internet, grab your Harry Potter books and meet me in Pottermore! I'm PumpkinElm207 and I'm not saying that I'm an avid Harry Potter fan or anything, but I am happy to say that I'm not just a muggle anymore.

Have you been anxiously awaiting this work from JKR?
Are you more excited about this book, or JKR's "The Casual Vacancy"?

This story is also shared

Book Love Found in The Palm of His Hand

Two weeks ago I took Morgan Dragonwillow up on an offer to join her, Tui Snider and Susan Silver in teaming up to take on a fantastic online writing community called StoryDam. It has been a wild ride ever since and the one thing I love most of all is, of course, meeting the community of writers that come to StoryDam for inspiration, collaboration and support. One of the first members I met in the first #StoryDam twitter chat I participated in was Dorian Carr Jr.

At that time, Dorian was calling himself an "aspiring writer" even though, when you visit his blog, DJ's Cave of Darkness, you will find excerpts of his current work in progress, A Vampire's Search for a Heart. When I saw this, I immediately sent Dorian a message telling him to drop the "aspiring" and to recognize that, whether he was ready to admit it or not, at the age of 18 he was already a writer! He agreed and we've been twitter buddies ever since.

So, can you guess what happened next? I'm getting predictable at this point... I went ahead and asked him my question - you know the one - What was your first book love? Dorian's first book love and his method of reading it were both new ones for me, so this interview was quite enlightening.

Around a year ago Dorian was browsing the Amazon Kindle Store on his iPod and found a title that intrigued him; it was Heku by T.M. Nielson. Although he wasn't much of a reader - in his words he said, "I felt like reading was the worst thing in the entire world" - he decided to download this fantasy vampire romance book to check it out.

For Dorian, it was the genre and the unique title that initially grabbed his attention. Here's a brief description of the book, from Amazon, to give you the idea:
Chevalier has never been told no. For thousands of years he’s sat on the Equites Council, ruling body of his heku faction, and for thousands of years his every order has been followed immediately and without question. One of the most important rules of the heku, is that no one is to feed from unwilling donors. Following a tip that a young mortal woman is being brutally attacked by his own kind, he seeks her out and immediately begins to experience unnatural feelings for the woman.
According to Dorian, "After reading this book and series [nine books], I felt like reading was my life."  If that's not the truest sign of a first book love, I don't know what is.

As a point of curiosity I asked Dorian whether he had his own Kindle or if he was using a family one when he made his wonderful discovery. That's when he surprised me, he told me he downloaded all nine books to his iPod! I found this fascinating and my eyes teared when reading this confession. In fact, in my shock, I had to ensure I understood what Dorian had told me...

Admittedly, yes... that surprised me a bit, but I told Dorian I had read parts of books on my iPhone in desperate times, but never a whole book, or a whole series. Then he had one more response to floor me:

THIRTY books in the palm of his hand! WOW! I'm a techie, but I guess I'm not a tiny-techie these days, what amazing times we live in. Wondering if my exclusion from the tiny-tech idea was a sign of my age, I asked Dorian if many of his friends read books this way, his response may be familiar to some of you life long book lovers out there:

They'll come around, Dorian, they just haven't found their first book love yet!

While Heku and the entire series by T.M. Nielson will forever be remembered by Dorian as his first true book love, he's had at least two more that he shared with me: Being Human by Patricia Lynne and Rae Wilder Series by Penelope Fletcher.

I am so happy that Dorian decided to share his book love story with me us this week. He has given me an entirely different perspective of the various views our stories continue to come in, which also reminded me of this great cartoon from the New York Times a couple of weeks back entitled "The Book of the Future":

Well, whatever way you find your stories this week - in a handheld device, in an eReader, via audiobook, on your desktop, or in a good old fashioned book - enjoy your reading!

So what IS your preferred method of reading a story?
Are you an iPod/iPhone/handheld reader?
Are you a lone reader amongst your friends? 
Feel free to email me when you're ready 
to share your own Book Love Story

Thursday, April 12, 2012

JK Rowling's New Book Title and Website Revealed

Five months and fifteen days.

That's how long we'll have to wait. The announcement has been made, the website has come back to life and we have a title:

Ladies and Gentlemen, JK Rowling's new book will be entitled The Casual Vacancy!

It will be released on September 27, 2012 and the description so far has me itching to read:
When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.
 JKR fans know that she is a master at world building as she whisked us all away to the magical world existing parallel to our own in the Harry Potter series, and with this description of The Casual Vacancy, it seems she is at it again. Already the community of Pagford seems to drip out of the words and into my psyche begging to explored completely to figure out just what is going on over there?!

As the announcement of this book makes it way around the world wide web, it is exciting to also note that JK Rowling's website has also come back to life. When you visit you will first be asked to select the language you wish to explore in:

Once you do so, you will be carried along JK Rowling's timeline, which you can explore backwards reading stories about Pottermore, The Casual Vacancy, various important public appearances of JKR, notes about the different stages of the Harry Potter saga and important dates in JKR's personal life. It is a nice journey through the history of JK Rowling, as we know her so far. However, to the keen eye, there are light-handed scribbles in the background along the journey.
  • Are these clues from JKR herself? 
  • Are they about Pottermore's release to the public? 
  • Do they have to do with the upcoming plot of The Casual Vacancy
  • Did I read one that said, "Tomorrow 2pm"?? 
Well, one thing is for sure: in the three different times I opened the website, the background scribblings have changed and I have lost the little math problem that was plastered all over it the first time I opened it! So watch out web-savvy readers! It looks as though JK Rowling has lots to offer once again from her Internet presence. I'm not sure what it all means, but I'm sure happy that I have a brand new Rowling read to look forward to!

Are you looking forward to JK Rowling's new book?
Is the description of the book in line with what you had anticipated from hr first adult book release?
Will you investigate looking for clues about the new title or other JKR announcements?

This story was also shared on Word of the Nerd.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

The following post is taken directly from my hand-printed Reader's Journal. I will be sharing these reflections each week on the Rivera Runs Through It blog. The date at the end of each post is the date of the original writing, which is typically the date I completed the book. The reflections are short, but represent my initial reactions to a book, a brief summary of the book or the questions it raised for me at the time. I hope you enjoy this segment in my blog and feel free to comment on what you read here.

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

Book 3 of The Chronicles of Narnia. It is curious that the Chronicles are not stories of succession, but instead overlap one another. This story takes place during the same time as The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, but refers very little to that story. Th characters are on a quest to find Narnia to free themselves from their lives, but know very little of the free land. Aslan shows up again and seems to be the only constant in these tales besides Narnia itself. I am intrigued by the parallels between Aslan and Christ in all the books.

Dated: 11/30/03

I believe the sequence of the Chronicles of Narnia is different than the sequence in which the books were originally published, when something like this occurs do you prefer to read books in the order in which they were published, or in the chronological order of the story being told? Why?

Monday, April 9, 2012

First Book Love Of A Girl Named Michael

I've been following A Girl Named Michael for quite a while now. She has two blogs, and when I saw the second was called A Girl Named Michael Reads a Book, I knew that she would be a great person to join the Rivera Runs Through It Book Love Series. She was immediately excited by the project and quickly responded with the following, wonderful story of her first book love. Here's her story...

Hi My name is Michael and I love books. I write about books over at  A Girl Named Michael Reads a Book. I have another blog but its not about books so who cares.

When Nicole asked me to write about my first book love...I was excited to share and immediately knew what experience I wanted to share.

What was my first book love?

Wow that's a great question. First I have to say I have always like books. At a young age my mom taught me that books were special we weren’t to write in them or color in them and we had to treat them careful so the pages don't get torn. I have very clear memories of having books always in my life, I even remember the day I got my first library card. But I didn't fall in love with books until I was much older.

That may have been an exaggeration. I was 10 and in the 5th grade at the time but I felt so very very mature at the time. I and had saved up all my money to buy a book from the book order form the school sends home with the kids. For reasons I can't remember I had decided I needed to buy a book with my very own money. I saved up every penny, nickle and dime I could find, earn or weasel out of people

When my teacher handed out the order forms I very carefully looked at every book and read the brief description. Then I saw it...Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. A book about sister who’s father was off fighting a war. I clearly remember thinking I have 2 sisters (my youngest was just months old), it could be like our life. I went home counted up all my change and turned my order form in the next day.

I was so excited the day it arrived. Remember those days when your teacher would have a big box and would start pulling out the books and organizing them. Then walk over to you and give you your books. It was like Christmas at school. I remember very clearly Mr. Whitaker bringing the book to me, I didn’t often get books because my single working mom couldn’t afford to get me any but this time Mr. Whitaker was walking to my desk. He handed me my book looked at me and said I think you will like this book. I was so excited I immediately got out a pen and wrote my name all along the edge. I didn’t want anyone to think it was there book.

That night after I was suppose to be going to bed I started to read my new book. (I always thought I was sneaky back then staying up past bed time but my mom recently made a comment that let me know she knew how late I was up.)

I was instantly hooked. Over the next month I read the book with every page I fell more in love with the characters and the time. Depending on what was going on I identified with each of the sisters and developed my first book crush on Laurie (Laurence). Because of this book I have had a life long love affair with historical fiction and history.

26 years later I still have the book and I reread it every couple years.

And because I took a “chance” on this book and I loved it, I often take chances on other books. I will randomly pick a book of the book shelf at the library knowing that it might turn out to be my next book love.

And that is all that matters when it comes to books. Finding your next book love.

Getting book deliveries in school were truly some of the most exciting days I can remember in elementary school! I would like to thank Michael for sharing her story with us and for reminding me of those fun times. It really was just like Christmas at school - well put!
Did you ever buy books from school sales such as these? 
What about saving up money to buy your own book; do you remember the first book you ever bought for yourself? 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Realizing This is My Cocoon to Eat

It occurred to me this week that I am stuck. Just like a butterfly in a cocoon, I have made it through the beginning stages of my metamorphosis, then wrapped myself up really tight and secure for the final transformation and have been unable to budge since.

To become a butterfly, there are four stages of life. First there is an egg, then the larva (what I typically call the caterpillar), the chrysallis (the cocoon) and then, finally, there is a butterfly.
Writing can be looked at in the same four stage process. We begin with an idea, which, much like an egg, has the potential for life if protected and handled with care. Then there is the outpouring of the idea, which Anne Lamott calls "the shitty first draft" and which Marion Roach Smith calls "the vomit draft," whoever you talk to it's icky, sticky and not unlike a caterpillar; it eats everything in sight, it's alive, but only beautiful to those who have unique vision; it is unfinished. After the outpouring comes the hardest work of all - the true metamorphosis - the editing phase. At this point of writing it is often advised that you pack away your work, let it be for a while and then return to tear it asunder. I can't help but think of that caterpillar sleeping in that cocoon, hidden from the world and then eating his way out of the cocoon bit by bit just to see the light of day again.

But when he does, he is something beautiful, something majestic and he can fly. This is the same thing with my writing. It will fly once it gets out of its cocoon.

The only problem is it seems I was waiting for help. Have you ever read the story of the butterfly who received help with getting out of his cocoon? He never finished developing. He couldn't fly. It is heartbreaking.

So, for Round 2 of ROW 80, I have one simple goal: I must edit my novel. I must take the time necessary to transform it from caterpillar to butterfly. Will I be done by the end of this round? I have no idea, but if I am not don't you dare try to pull me out of this cocoon before I am done!

Click here to support the rest of the writers in Round 2 of ROW80.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The following post is taken directly from my hand-printed Reader's Journal. I will be sharing these reflections each week on the Rivera Runs Through It blog. The date at the end of each post is the date of the original writing, which is typically the date I completed the book. The reflections are short, but represent my initial reactions to a book, a brief summary of the book or the questions it raised for me at the time. I hope you enjoy this segment in my blog and feel free to comment on what you read here.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Book two of The Chronicles of Narnia surprisingly takes place many years after book one. An enchanted wardrobe opens the gates to Narnia once again to four unsuspecting children. It is an adventurous tale of good versus evil and delves into more of the magic of Narnia, Aslan and the Witch. I was struck by the unique ending to this book and am now officially hooked on the Chronicles! My only complaint is the constant change of leads.


How do you feel about book series where the protagonists change from book to book?
For readers of this book, did you read the entire Narnia series? Why/why not?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss

There are two sides to every story. We know that's true in real life, particularly when we are arguing with someone, but how often do we forget its validity in fiction? Well, perhaps it is not so much that we forget it when reading a work of fiction, maybe it's just that we know it's moot to be curious about such things when it is our protagonist we should be concerned about and his/her perspective of the world. As we read our novels, we can hope that a chapter or two may be devoted to the perspective of another of the characters we have become invested in. Some authors come back to tales told in a second book and bring the audience a whole new perspective. However, never in my experience as a reader has anyone done what Theodora Goss has done in her magnificent romantic tale The Thorn and the Blossom published by Quirk Books.

The story of The Thorn and the Blossom is that of a chance meeting of Evelyn Morgan and Brendan Thorne in a village bookstore in a small town in the beautiful Cornwall, England. The two fall in love while sharing the story of a medieval romance that happened in that very town. It seems, however,  as the story unfolds that Evelyn and Brendan may be doomed to the same fate of the cursed lovers in the tale. It is equally romantic, heart-breaking and mysterious, but above all is its unique delivery.

In The Thorn and the Blossom you get exactly what you ever wanted from every romance novel novel you've ever read; you get to answer that itching question, "What was he/she thinking?" when the romantic interest didn't reciprocate in the way you thought made sense, or when he/she lashed out in a way that seemed out of character. You can do this because once you have finished reading the story, in other words, once you reach "The End," you will find that you are actually right back at the beginning of the story, from the other protagonist's perspective. This book does not only tell two sides of of a story[ it physically embodies it. The book is in an accordion-fold binding, so that the story can be stretched out from end to end with Evelyn's story on one side and Brendan's etched on the other! I feel this is something best seen, than described, so I am happy to say that there is a book trailer that gives you a brief glimpse of this beautiful artifact:

First of all, the story within is engaging, and, after reading both tales there is a sense of greater understanding that may have been lost with merely one side of this story. This is a well-crafted story and I love it for that. However, before I even read it, I knew I must have it. The idea is just so artistically complete - "A Two-Sided Love Story" both in telling and in presentation. Beautiful! A book-lovers must-own, as far as I am concerned.

What was the last beautiful book you purchased (or was purchased for you)?
Are you a fan of two-sided stories, or do you prefer to have your own interpretation of the "missing" side to the stories you read?
If there were any one part of your life that you wish could be written as a two-sided story just like this one, what would it be and who would be on the other side? 
***READERS OF The Thorn and the Blossom!! Whose story did you read first?***