Tuesday, May 31, 2011

WisCon Panel: The Future of School

This was the first panel I attended. I chose it not only because my son will be starting school next year, but also to get ideas on how to approach education in science fiction. These comments are my interpretation of what was said at the panel; hopefully I didn't omit anything important.

Different cultures view teachers differently (some revere teacher)

85% of students like individualized learning from a computer; 15% prefer traditional method

Students may be afraid of making mistakes in front of teacher

Learning through play (video games, roleplaying)

Playing lays foundation for abstract thinking later

Roleplaying reduces fear of failure

Some kids may disrupt entire classroom (critical mass of a-holes)

Need to start early (preschool)

Kids need to learn proper behavior

Technological changes aren’t enough; we need to change the school culture

Need to learn how to learn

Kids need to learn that subjects aren’t just about memorizing, but learning concepts

Need to present a variety of things to make kids figure out abstract connections

Need to make concepts live for the students

What are the barriers to making change?

No Child Left Behind: a great idea, but impossible to hold every child to the same standard

How can you make a computer work for every child when they learn in different ways? (Some are visual learners, others are audio, and some are even tactile)

School districts can be inflexible; expect all children to do exactly the same thing at the same age (they’re willing to hold kids back, but not willing to let kids advance)

Where are students headed after K-12?

How do we measure ourselves when standardized tests aren’t the way to go?

“We’re not against innovation, but why can’t you innovate the same way as everyone else?” (This was spoken by a school district to a teacher and was my favorite line at the convention)

Lecture material may be online; students may be expected to review the lectures on their own and come to class to solve problems in groups

What about making wikis a Facebook app?

Ebmoto—Facebook for schools (this may not be the right name)

Do we need a transition course from high school into college?

Children need to learn how to seek out what they need to learn; they need to be whole-learner people

What should our education system be preparing students to do after they’re done with school?

Should all students be trained to go to college, or should we be training them to be plumbers too?

Students who don’t want to go to college feel like second-class citizens

We need to give students options

Students go to college to get a job, not to learn how to think and develop social skills and communicate an international world

Kids need strength of self to figure out what they want to do and just do it

Given the increase in knowledge and the changes in the job market, we can’t train students for a particular job when it might no longer exist when they grow up

The terminal math/science class—all high school students need math/science literacy so they can evaluate what they learn on the news

Quick WisCon Recap

Well, another year, another WisCon. Here's a very quick rundown of how my WisCon went. Even though it's Tuesday, I'll use more than ten words. ;)

After I spent most of Friday packing and prepping, we left mid-afternoon and arrived at the hotel around six. Traffic was much better than I'd expected. We had dinner at Cosi, and I took Alex swimming afterward (this didn't last long). I was too tired to even go to parties that night.

Saturday morning, we visited the Farmer's Market. Although Alex quickly wanted to go back to the hotel, he kept pointing out the Capitol building. However, he refused to go to the childcare room, saying he was scared of the older kids that had been in the room earlier. Eugene wound up watching him during the con while I was attending panels. I volunteered at the BroadUniverse table after we returned from the Farmer's Market; in the afternoon, I attended three panels. I did stop by the parties that night, but I didn't see any of my friends.

Sunday was busy; I attended five panels, including the 8:30 one. I also won a pen at the BroadUniverse party, where they were holding readings and drawings on the half hour. It's a good thing I won the first prize, because I wouldn't have been around later in the evening!

Monday was Alex's fourth birthday. We celebrated by taking him to Vilas Park Zoo (where he wanted another toy zoo train identical to the one we bought him last year) and Ella's Deli (where he mostly played with the zoo train.) On the way back home, we stopped by my parents' house for a while. However, we had an unpleasant surprise when we came home: a couple of inches standing water in the basement. We think it was most likely due to heavy storms and power outages over the weekend. My husband will have to stay home from work today to clean up.

Over the next few days, I plan to write up my panel notes and post them here. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: Thinking Positive

For this round, Michelle asks us to

Be positive! Name some of the positive aspects of your writing --- be it a compliment from a mentor, friend or crit partner to anything special you learned concerning your writing skills.

As usual, Kat posted before me, and Kate comes next.

Sometimes it's hard to recognize the strengths in one's writing. Even if I feel an aspect of my writing works well in one story, I might immediately think of other parts of the story that don't work as well. We're so focused on improvement that sometimes we downplay the things that don't need improving. That's why I feel it's important to offer praise as well as suggestions whenever I critique a story.

Last month, one of my crit partners reviewed all of Twinned Universes for me. She said she really enjoyed it and found it hard to put down. She also felt my characters were complex and well drawn. I worked very hard on those parts of the story, and I'm pleased to see that my effort paid off, at least for one reader.

As for other writing strengths, my style isn't poetic, but it does the job. I know the mechanics of writing and try to make sure my work flows as well as possible before showing it to someone else.

Sometimes I feel that as I get closer to putting my work out in the world, the more critical of it I become. It's important to remind yourself that your words are worth sharing with others. While I can't expect all readers to enjoy every aspect of my stories, I hope that the overall experience will be positive. And to help us look on the bright side, here's a little song you may know:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Science of the Week 5/27/11

Here's what I found interesting this week:

Posture and mental illness

Teaching algae to make fuel

Student finds universe's missing mass

What doesn't kill the human brain makes it stronger

Precision-tinted lenses offer real migraine relief

Hormone level predicts end of fertility in women

Autism changes molecular structure of brain

I hope everyone has a good weekend! Tomorrow I'll be posting my entry for the Blog Chain. I may also blog about WisCon, though I'm not sure how much time I'll have during the convention. If I don't, then I'll write up a full report for Tuesday.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Indie Books

I thought I'd continue the discussion from yesterday by focusing on indie or self-published books. Have you read any self-published books? If yes, what did you think of their quality? If not, why not? What would entice you to read a self-published book?

For my part, yes, I've read self-published books. Just as with traditionally published books, they've varied in quality. I'd say more, but my son just woke up, so I'll turn it over to you for comments.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

For the Readers

Rachelle Gardner posted something very interesting yesterday. Instead of looking at the changes in the publishing industry from a writer's perspective, she asked what effect it would have on readers. She concludes that the recent rise in self-publishing benefits authors more than readers, since readers have to wade through even bigger piles of books to find the ones they want to read. She asked what everyone involved in the publishing industry (from writers and editors to agents and booksellers) could do to best serve the interests of readers. You can read the post and the comments (one of them is mine) here.

Although I'm a writer, I'm also a reader. (I think you have to be a reader first before you can be a writer.) Have changes in the publishing industry affected you as a reader? If so, how? What sorts of changes would you like to see that would improve your reading experience?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

WisCon Prep

It's been a very busy weekend for me. Saturday we drove up to Wisconsin for a friend's wedding, and on Sunday we held Alex's birthday party. Now that that's over, I can focus on this coming weekend, the wonderful weekend of WisCon.

I've lost track of how many times I've been to WisCon. These days, since I'm attending with my family, preparing for WisCon is more complicated than it used to be. Here are some things I do to prepare for the writing aspect of the con:

Check out the schedule and start trying to decide which panels to attend
Make sure I have business cards in my purse
Review the list of attending authors and see if I have any books I'd like to get autographed
Finish reading books by some of the authors. I read the two that I could get on the Kindle, but the paper book was mislaid for a few days. It's time to get back to it.
Find out who else I know is going so we can make arrangements to meet.

Here are some other things I need to do to prepare:

Check if Alex is registered for the child care program. Last year he wasn't, although I'm sure I requested child care when I bought my own membership.
See if we can get a refrigerator in our room, so we can buy more things at the Farmer's Market and store leftovers/food for Alex in our room.
Contact our Madison friends so we can get together.

Closer to our trip, I'll take care of some other last-minute details.

Is anyone else planning on attending WisCon or other conventions this year? Do you go by yourself or with your family? What is your preparation like?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Science of the Week 5/20/11

I only found a few links to share this week....

Solar product captures up to 95% of light energy

Paraplegic man stands, steps with assistance, and moves his legs

I guess this will be a good weekend to get out and enjoy yourself. We're going to a friend's wedding tomorrow, and on Sunday we're having Alex's birthday party. It should be a busy time! See you on Monday!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Contest Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered the contests last week. It's finally time to announce the winners.

Everyone who commented on Cindy Borgne's interview last week was eligible to win a free copy of her book Vallar. This means Stephen Tremp, Elizabeth Mueller, Madeleine, and Bluebell Books are all winners! (I'm not sure if Bluebell Books is a single person or a blog with multiple authors. In the interest of fairness, I think Bluebell Books should only get one copy.)

The winner of the query critique is Trisha!

And finally, the winner of the chapter critique is Sierra!

Congratulations to all the winners! Please e-mail me at sandraATsandraulbrichDOTcom to claim your prize.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Just a Reminder....

That the 300 Followers Contest ends tonight! I'd love to see more entries, no matter if you're a long-time follower or just found the site. Please enter at the original post.

Winners will be announced tomorrow.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Blog Recommendations

Blogger ate the Science of the Week post I had scheduled for Friday. Luckily, I was able to recover this post I had scheduled for today. I came across two blogs last week that are useful for writers, particularly science fiction/fantasy writers.

If you'd like to learn more about the business side of writing, I recommend Kristine Kathryn Rusch's website. She writes in several different genres (mystery, romance, and science fiction/fantasy) under two other pen names. You can find her complete bibliography here if you'd like to see her work. However, she also has a business blog which can be found here. She has some eye-opening, must-read articles about the publishing industry and how it's changing. I particularly recommend "Advocates, Addendums, and Sneaks, Oh My!"I don't know if her experiences are representative of the industry, but all I can say is let the writer beware.

If you'd like to learn more about other cultures, hop on over to TalkToYoUniverse. They have a special culture section where writers from all over the world share everyday habits of the cultures where they live. For example, a recent post discussed bathing practices in Japan. They are looking for contributors too. You can find more information on this page.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: Against All Odds

Laura wants to know What keeps you going (either trying to get an agent or to get published or finish that WIP that's kicking your butt) when you know the odds are stacked way against you?

Kat posted before me, and Kate comes next.

Those of you who've been following me for a while know I like 80s music in addition to the Beatles, so I thought Phil Collins could provide us with some music for this post:

When I first read Laura's question, my immediate answer was "Stubbornness." I say sometimes that I'm as stubborn as I'm short. I tell my husband this is a good thing, because otherwise I wouldn't have waited so long for him to propose. I'm not only a Taurus (notorious for being stubborn), but according to the book The Secret Language of Birthdays, I was born on the Day of Steadfastness:

Apr.28 people are capable of using their physical , emotional or psychological presence in an imposing, if not intimidating way. Among the most determined people of the whole year, they will not give up once they have embarked on a project or a course of action. Against great odds, seemingly contrary to their best interests and that of those closest to them, they will hold out , no matter how persuasive or commanding their opponents may be. The drive to manifest their position is powerful, and what they stand for not easily forsaken.

You have been warned. ;)

Of course, even stubbornness may not be enough to get published, especially when looking at the statistics of how many queries get rejected by agents, how agents can't sell every book they represent, and by how few books earn out their advances. There are much easier ways to find fame and fortune than by writing books. But they're not the main reasons I write (though I wouldn't turn them down, at least the fortune part). I write to connect with others and find the people who get or grok me. Such connections and people are priceless. The struggle to find them will make success much sweeter when it arrives, whether I have a single reader or millions.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

300 Followers Contest!

During the A-Z Challenge last month, I reached the 300 (and more!) followers milestone. Thank you all very much for your support! To celebrate, I'd like to hold a contest. However, I'm not the only one offering prizes this time. Cindy Borgne and Nicole Zoltack have also generously donated prizes. Here's what's available:

Cindy: Five free copies of her novel, Vallar

Nicole: A free query critique

Me: A choice of either a $20 gift card to Barnes and Noble or a first chapter (up to 20 pages) critique

I've critiqued over 800 chapters/short stories as part of the Online Writing Workshop for SF, Fantasy, and Horror. When you include critiques I've done in person at workshops and cons and through snail-mail and e-mail, the total is probably close to a thousand, if not more. I read the whole chapter first, then go back and add line comments. I try to be helpfully honest; I explain what works or doesn't work for me and offer revision suggestions if appropriate. Depending on the level of critique desired, I can also review punctuation. The critique will be done within one month after I receive the chapter.

If you're interested in any or all of these prizes, leave a comment on this post indicating which ones you'd like to win. Comments must be posted by midnight CDT Wednesday, May 18. Winners will be chosen randomly. For an extra entry, blog or tweet this contest and leave the link in the comments section. You may comment once with your prize preferences and a second time to post your link, but further comments will not be considered for the contest. (If you have questions about this contest, feel free to post them.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Author Interview: Cindy Borgne

I'm fortunate to have two author interviews this week. Today I'm interviewing Cindy Borgne. Her novel Vallar is now available as an e-book, and she has a story in the forthcoming Strange Desires 2 anthology. Thanks for stopping by, Cindy!

Sandra: Please tell us about yourself.

Cindy: I’m from Macomb, Michigan. I’ve been writing since I’ve been about fourteen. Then on and off for many years in between raising two children. It’s been within the last seven years that I’ve become determined to stick with it. I write mostly science fiction and fantasy. I’ve been a stay at home mom for several years, but I’ve had a few day jobs such as web-designer, freelance editor, computer instructor, and I was once a payroll clerk for a school district.

Sandra: What drew you to writing science fiction and fantasy?

Cindy: I like settings that take you to new and exciting places. I also enjoy experimenting with new ideas.

Sandra: How did you get the inspiration for Vallar?

Cindy: It was a combination of two things. In the story, the main character Ian, has the ability to foresee the future. So I put him in him a situation where he uses his ability for the wrong reasons, but he doesn’t realize it at first because he’s being manipulated. When he doesn’t realize it, he has to get away from the people using him for their own greed. The second reason is in the beginning of the story Ian sees himself with a girl he’s never met. I enjoyed experimenting with his desire to be with her based on a vision. It’s also is a forbidden type of love, and I had fun writing it.

Sandra: What is Vallar about?

Cindy: The blurb explains it best.

Sixteen-year-old Ian Connors works for Marscorp, using his psychic ability to give the organization an advantage over other groups angling for control of the embattled planet. The people of Earth have abandoned the colonies of Mars due to a dwindling of their own resources. The leaders of Marscorp believe that by pooling the planets assets, they will be able to gain enough power to force their way back to Earth.

Ian's job is to use his visions to locate smaller organizations in order to plunder their valuables and incorporate their masses. But a disturbing vision and a horrible loss cause Ian to doubt his loyalties to a corrupt, dictatorial admiral.

Unwilling to be a pawn in the Admiral's dangerous game, Ian must find a way to escape and protect a girl he sees himself with in the future. His only hope may lie with a new organization known as Vallar - an alliance of rebel organizations willing to fight for their survival.

Sandra: Can you tell us about your forthcoming novelette “TransShifter”?

Cindy: When I was writing it, some odd ideas came to me that made it more challenging to write, but it also made for an unusual story. Here is a summary:

Earth is nothing more than a playground for shapeshifters Adelya and Eskton. They like to play a game where they compete with each other by becoming humans or animals. Whoever gives up and converts back into shifter form first loses. Adelya has never beat Eskton, but she refuses to give up. Eskton desires harder assignments and sets a new goal. They both become soldiers in a combat situation. Adelya poses as a male soldier wanting the advantage of the stronger sex.

She becomes close friends with Chad who shows her that there is more to being human than she has realized. Chad's courage and compassion causes her to take on human emotions, and she falls in love with him. How can she tell him she's not a man or even human?

Sandra: How did you find the publisher for your novelette?

Cindy: I did a search on a website called Duotrope.

Sandra: How do your experiences of self-publishing and traditional publishing compare and contrast?

Cindy: With self-publishing you have control of the product, which is a big plus. Also, it doesn’t take as long to get your book out there. The down-fall is that you have to do all of them marketing, however, even when traditionally published you are involved in the marketing. Not everyone is open minded about self-publishing. They automatically assume it’s not good without even looking further who this author might be. Which reminds me that I have even came across someone who has had novels on the NY times bestsellers list and she is now self-publishing them herself in e-format because they have gone out of print.

Sandra: Who are your favorite authors and why do you admire them?

Cindy: Orson Scott Card for his characterization. Frank Herbert for his world building. Connie Willis because she is a woman who writes science fiction and has won many awards.

Sandra: You won an Honorable Mention from Writer’s Digest in 2006; could you tell us about your award-winning story and what it was like participating in the contest?

Cindy: The story is only about 1100 words long. It’s inspirational fiction, however, it’s based on something that happens in real life. I don’t usually write inspirational fiction, but the story started from a writing prompt and ended up coming out that way. It’s so short it’s hard to say much about without giving it away, but it is available free on my website in many e-formats. It’s a fun, short read.

Sandra: What other writing projects are you currently working on?

Cindy: I want to finish a sequel to Vallar. Plus I would like to write a fantasy/historical novel set in the mid 1700’s.

Sandra: What’s one of the goals you hope to achieve with your writing?

Cindy: To have several books published, and to keep improving my stories.

Sandra: What’s something people wouldn’t be able to guess about you just by looking at you?

Cindy: I look like your ordinary mom, but I’m actually a geek that writes science fiction.

You can learn more about Cindy at her website and her blog. She has graciously offered five free copies of Vallar to readers of this blog. If you're interested, please comment on this post by midnight CDT Friday, May 13. I will select five winners at random and announce them next week.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Author Interview: Nicole Zoltack

Hi, everyone! I'm back from my blogging break with some exciting things planned for this week. For some time, I've been considering hosting author interviews on this blog. This week, I'm interviewing not just one, but two authors. Today I'll be talking to Nicole Zoltack from Where Fantasy and Love Take Flight. The final book in her Kingdom of Arnhem series, Champion of Valor, came out on May 1st. This is one stop on her blog tour; please visit her own blog for a complete list of stops.

Sandra: Please tell us about yourself.

I'm a writer, a reader, a blogger, a reviewer, an editor, a wife, and a mother (not in that order!) I write fantasy/paranormal, romance, historical, horror, books from toddlers to young adults and adults, picture books, novels, short stories, and flash pieces. I read just about everything I can get my hands on. I love what I do and every aspect of my life. My family means everything. I'm obsessed with the Middle Ages. I think that pretty much covers everything.

Sandra: You write in several different genres. What are your favorite ones to write? What’s the most unusual combination of genres you’ve written?

Nicole: I love to write anything that involves something beyond the ordinary - so anything with a fantasy or paranormal flavor, whether it's set in today's world or a more medieval type of setting. The most unusually combination of genres? I wrote a horror short story for kids that I have yet to find a home for.

Sandra: What’s it like being both an editor and a writer? Is it hard for you to mentally switch gears?

Nicole: It's great to be both an editor and a writer. I love to help authors make their stories shine and to make it the best it can be. It also teaches me what works and what doesn't, so being an editor helps me as a writer. It's not hard to mentally switch gears anymore. I find that even when I read for pleasure, I tend to edit then too. Turning off my internal editor has been a problem lately.

Sandra: Can you tell us about the Kingdom of Arnhem series, particularly about your forthcoming book, Champion of Valor?

Nicole: The Kingdom of Arnhem series is about the final war between Arnhem and Speica. Set in an alternative medieval fantasy world, it's a fantasy romance series for young adults and adults.

Book I - Woman of Honor is about a young girl who wants to become a knight. Aislinn is willing to give up everything for the kingdom of Arnhem - her childhood, her life, even her heart. No matter the pain it brings.

Book II - Knight of Glory. Geoffrey leaves Arnhem to find her allies for the war against Speica and finds secrets, lies, and rumors that could tip the war in Speica's favor. He also finds himself torn between two very different and mysterious ladies.

Book III - Champion of Valor. Selliki loves the mage Gabrael but she is a selkie and love has never treated her race kindly when they love someone from the land. The final war between Speica and Arnhem is threatening the entire world. Lucifer has aligned himself with Speica and wants nothing less than to bring about the Apocalypse before its time. Only one kingdom will prevail; that is, if the world doesn't end.

Sandra: What inspired you to write the Kingdom of Arnhem series? Did you come up with an idea for one book first and then the sequels, or did you conceive of the entire story all at once?

Nicole: I was inspired to write the Kingdom of Arnhem series when I discovered through my research that there had been female knights in the Middle Ages. I immediately pictured a young girl asking her king to become a knight, citing the other female knights. And the idea for Woman of Honor was formed.

I knew as I wrote Woman of Honor that there was so much more here than just one story. While writing Knight of Glory, I realized that the focus of the series was on the war between Speica and Arnhem, and I knew then that the series would be a trilogy, so no I didn't conceive the entire overall storyline at once.

There are more stories I want to write set in this world - some before the series, some after. This is one world that has so many stories yet to be told.

Sandra: What inspired your interest in medieval history?

Nicole: I've always loved the ideas of knight and chivalry and honor. I know that not all knights were good, that many burned down towns and stole from commoners and all of the disease and hardships the medieval people faced. But there is something so magical about the romanticized visions of that time period. The sense that men would do anything for their women, that love was the highest call, that's what I love most about the Middle Ages.

Sandra: What types of research have you done for your stories? Can you share with us something unusual you learned from your research?

I obviously have done a lot of research into the Middle Ages, but I also do research into different fantasy creatures. I love to discover new to me mythological creatures. Before writing Knight of Glory, I hadn't know that there were different types of trolls, nor that mound trolls were called haugtrolds. I hadn't known about the Kelpie until then.

Something unusual? Going back to the trolls, I went toward Scandinavia legends to create my troll race. These trolls look more like humans than other trolls, and the women are always impeccably dressed. I also learned that there was such a thing as a wind-troll, so I combined the two to form my race. My trolls could dance on the wind and fly.

Sandra: If you were living in medieval times, what role would you like to occupy and why?

Nicole: Great question! Let me think…I wouldn't want to be a commoner, but I wouldn't want to be royalty either. I guess a noble then. However, I wouldn't mind trying to be a female knight!

Sandra: Who are your favorite authors and why do you admire them?

Nicole: Oh so many! I love JRR Tolkien - his world-building skills are unparalleled. I love JK Rowling. Harry Potter was epic. Loved how the characters grew throughout the series, and how obvious it was despite the story being told strictly from Harry's POV. I also loved the C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia have always been a fun series to read, and I loved how he focused on the same family and their adventures in a fantasy world.

Sandra: What other writing projects are you currently working on?

So many! I'm revising an urban fantasy and a fantasy YA, both I would like to shop to agents. I'm also working on the next few short stories in my What You See is What You Get series. This paranormal YA series from Echelon Press is six short stories, about Ana who discovers that a veiled mist separates our world from the paranormal one, a mist that one few people can see beyond. Ana is one such seer.

Sandra: What’s one of the goals you hope to achieve with your writing?

Nicole: I hope to one day get an agent and to have my books sold in bookstores across the world. But on a smaller scale, I just hope to entertain my readers, and to become a better writer with each book or short story that I write.

Sandra: What’s something people wouldn’t be able to guess about you just by looking at you?

Nicole: I may be small (I'm just shy of 5 foot) but I'm no pushover!

Be sure to leave a comment to be entered to win some signed post cards and magnets. Each comment during the Champion of Valor Blog Tour gives you an entry for the grand prize: a copy of the entire Kingdom of Arnhem trilogy - Woman of Honor, Knight of Glory, and Champion of Valor.

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