Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fiction Adiction

Hello, my name is Kate and I'm a compulsive listener. I really think this might be an adiction, and I'm just waiting for my friends and family to step in and do some sort of intervension. A few weeks ago I actually read/listened to 2.5 books in one day. In the month of September, I read or listened to 19 books. I listened to at total of 14 audio books, I read 4 books on my kindle, and I managed to read one book on actual paper. Here is a list of all the books I "read" in September along with a quick review.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson - Memoir - A funny and heartwarming story of growing up in the 1950's. Basically the exact opposite of Mad Men.

The Queen on Babble by Meg Cabot - Chick-Lit - A sometimes humerous tale of a world class blabbermouth. This book is much more R rated than Meg Cabot's YA novels.

Heartsick by Chealsea Cain - Thriller - I'm normally not a huge fan of serial killers, but I really enjoyed reading Chealsea's description of Portland. The setting was almost like a character.

Sweetheart by Chealsea Cain - Thriller - More serial killer fun in PDX. My biggest complaint is that Chealsea described the Fremont Bridge as ugly at one point. That is my favorite Portland Bridge, I'm even semi-friends with the engineer that built it. I'm a little bit offended.

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen - YA - An oddly hopeful story about abandoment and child abuse. I really like Sarah Dessen and recomend all of her books.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen - YA - Slow to start and at times gut renching. Has a graphic rape scene that may be more than some teens want to read. But it deals with a very serious issue in an honest and positive way.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen - YA - More light hearted than many of Sarah Dessen's books, this one is about griefing and self discovery.

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen - YA - I would say read all of Sarah Dessen's books except this one. It is about domestic violence and was really more than even I could handle. It may be to much for a lot of teens.

The Misfits by James Howe - YA - A funny story with a quirky voice. I enjoyed this look at slightly more normal tweens.

Dramarama by E. Lockhart - YA - A comp title to the YA novel I recently wrote also about theater freeks at summer camp. I liked Dramarama but hope that my novel has more universal appeal. Dramarama is taylored more exclusivily to a theater freek audience.

Gossamer by Lois Lowery - Childrens/Paranormal - When I was ten Anistatia Krupnick was my favorite character, I still love Lois Lowery and like the way she does paranormal. This book is about dream givers.

1491 by Charles C. Mann - Non-Fiction - Once upon a time I was an anthropology major. I wrote my thesis on the colaps of the bronze age, but have to admit I found the appocoliptic nature of the small pox epidemic on Native American's equally fasinating. How maniacal is it that I love learning about the extinction of civilizations.

The Secrete Order of the Gumm Steet Girls by Elise Primavera - Childrens - A whimsical sequil to The Wizard of Oz, where Dorthy's desendet and her friends have to fight off the Wicked Witch of the Wests sister for control of the rubby slippers.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman - Childrens/Paranormal - Not as gripping as I would have liked. An interesting story but I always felt a bit detached.

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman - Childrens/Paranormal - I felt the introduction of Will really got the story going. I enjoyed this book more than the first in the series.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman - Childrens/Paranormal - Clear religious theme that is anti-christian. May offend some readers, but I enjoyed the new spin on a 5000 year old story.

The Fountainhead by Any Rand - Drama - It is about an architect, which is almost a structural engineer, so I liked it. But it did drag a bit in some parts.

Story of a Girl by Sarah Zarr - YA - This story does a good job of showing the consiquences of making stupid mistakes as a teenager. It was honest and believable, and a little bit sad.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin - YA/Paranormal - An intersting view of the afterlife. The prolog is told from the POV of a dog. I really liked that and was a bit sad to find that the rest of the novel was told by a human.

Joke of the Day

During the French Revolution a priest, a lawyer, and an engineer were all sentanced to exicution by gillatine. The priest was brought to the gillatine first, the exicutioner released the handle and the knife fell a few inches before catching in the air. The priest exclaimed, “It is a sign from God, proving that I am innocent.” The people all accepted this miricule and the priest was released unharmed.

Next the lawyer was brought to the gillatine. Again the blade stopped in midair. The lawyer proclaimed, “Justice has been served. Clearly I am an innocent man.”

Finally the engineer approached the gillatine. For a third time, the blade failed to fall sparing the man’s head. He looked up at the apperatous and said, “I could fix this for you.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

Local Nature

Last night I went to watch the swifts at Chatman. For readers that live outside of Portland, let me explain. There are a couple thousands swifts that live in the old chimmy at Chatmen Elementry school in NW Portland every fall as a month long stop on their migratory pattern. The thousands of tiny birds leave the chimny each morning to hunt individually. Then each night just before sunset they return to the chimny and fly down the smoke stack into their nests. The thousands of birds fill the sky and circle around looking like a tornato. It is an impressive view that tends to draw large crouds. I think there were just as many people there to see the birds last night as their were birds.

But the really exciting thing wasn't the thousands of swifts, it was the one falcon. The falcon arrived when there were a few hundred swifts in the sky. He perched on the top of the chimny, blocking the swifts path to their nightly home. One swift flew to close to the falcon and snatched it out of the air. The crouds of people watching went wild. The swifts became more hesitent and none got to close to the top of the chimny.

Then when the sun was nearly set and the swifts numbers had reached the thousands, the falcon rose and prepared his attack. He flew up and pulled a second swift out of the sky. Amazingly, the other tiny birds fought back. A hundred or so swifts flocked together and charged at the falcon, chasing him away from the chimny. The falcon flew off and the swifts began to funnel into the safety of the chimny. When about two thirds of the swifts had made it inside the falcon swooped back in and caught a third swift. This time the swifts didn't fight back, they just continued to fly into the chimny hoping he had his nights fill and they would be safe.

It was really neat to see. It felt a lot like watching a nature program on the Discovery Channel. But instead of seeing a lion attack a gazzel, it was just birds flying around a local elementry school. But I'm still glad that I went and watched it. Cities often feel so paved over, I'm glad I got to see a little preditor/prey action in my own backyard last night.

Joke of the Day
A group of engineers get together and debate what kind of engineer God must have been.
The mechanical engineer states that God must have been a mechanical engineer because the tendon and muscular system that drive the body seem so much like pulleys and levers.
Next the chemical engineer says that God must have been a chemical engineer because of the chemical elements involved in all the homones in the brain and glands.
The electrical engineer then claims that God must have been an electrical engineer because the nervise system is just like a large electrical system.
Finally the civil engineer explains that God had to be a civil engineer. Because only a civil engineer would run a sewer through a playground.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

His Dark Material

I recently listened to the "His Dark Materials" series by Philip Pullman. I never watched "The Golden Compass". It didn't get all that good of reviews, but enough people said "the book is better than the movie" that I figured I'd give the book a try. My guess is that the movie was pretty bad, because I did really like the book all that much. "The Golden Compass" was entertaining enough, but I never really saw the point of it, the characters were interesting but I couldn't tell where to story was going and I never really cared if it got there or not. Most childrens parinormal series are overwellmingly gripping, but after finishing book one I was only mildly curious about book two.

I did eventuall get around to listening to books two and three. Oddly, I enjoyed them a lot more than book one. All of book one takes place in the same universe (which isn't this one), but in the later books the characters move freely between universes and often visit this Earth. So the story made more sense. But the thing that I found most striking about it was its blatent religious comentary, something that was more suttle in book one and practacly crammed down the readers throat by book three. The crazy thing is that these books are very anti-establishment. Not to be a total spoiler, but a 12 year old girl actually kills God. Why didn't I know about this before. Not that I watch the 700 Club or anything, but one would think the religious right would be banning these books and burning them in the street. How did I not hear about this beautiful heathenism?

I don't want to go into detail about my own personal belief system. But in general I think asking questions is the best way to come to enlightnement, so I always appreciate stories that force people to think about their own beliefs. I don't like to be preched at, in person or in literature, but I like it when assumptions are reexamined and I am pushed to think more seriously about my own thoughts and beliefs. So in the end, I liked "His Dark Materials". While it is religious in theme, it is really more closely tied to Milton than Moses. It's very "Pardise Lost" esque, with God as the master villian, the snake as bearor of wisdom, and Eve as the great salvation. Praise the Lord for original sin.

Even if masses of people aren't swarming to book stores to buy "His Dark Materials", my guess is that most people do like to have their beliefs called into question. How else do we learn and grow? And why else would Dan Brown be such a literary super star? I haven't actually read "The Lost Symbol" yet, but I have read "The Davinci Code" and "Angles and Demons" so I'm fairly certain I know all of the major plot points. The only thing I don't know yet is all the hidden corruption inside the Free Maisens. And after learnign that Jesus had a kid and that God's hand created the Big Bang, well how could I not want to read "The Lost Symbol". I'm such a slacker to have not read it yet. It's been out for more than a week now. Why have I been wasting all my time reading books about devil children out to save the world?

Joke of the Day

What do you get when you cross an elephant with a mountain climber?

Nothing, you can't cross anything with a scaler.

A Joking Matter

According to Google Analytics, about 20% of the people who view this blog find it by googling the words “Dyslexia Jokes” and then viewing the similarely named post that I made on June 15th. Well, if it is jokes you people want, it is jokes you shall recieve.

I have desided to start posting a “joke of the day” at the end of each of my normal blog postings. I will likely continue to only blog 2 or 3 times a week, so there wont really be a joke every day, but I’m calling it that anyway. I do have to confess that I listed pretty much every single dyslexia joke that I know it that earlier post, so I’m going to have to repeat them if I want to list more dyslexia jokes. I’ll start though by sharing a few engineering jokes, math jokes, ect. I figure as long as I’m making fun of myself it probably doesn’t matter to much what aspect of my personality I’m poking fun at.

So to begin. Here is my favoirte engineering joke.

What is the difference between an extroverted engineer and an introverted engineer?

An extroverted engineer looks at the other persons shoes while talking to them.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Life Long Condition

I am cognisant of my dyslexia primarily because I am blogging about it on a regular basis. But by in large, I don’t think of myself as learning dysabled very often. When I was a kid, a lot of the time I felt like there was a giant D on my forhead. Everyone knew that I was dyslexia, and there was no way to hide it. Somehow being the captain of the mathleates and failing to learn the spelling of my own name until my senior year of high school made me unique enough to catch people’s attention. Even if I spent all of elementry school coming up with complicated stratagies to excel in school without ever reading anything, I did eventually learn my ABC’s. I know how to read now, and often feel somewhat cured. Like I used to be dyslexic, but now I’m at least relatively normal.

I was in this mind set when my husband noticed an add for free testing for adults with dyslexia in the newspaper a few months ago. He jokingly suggested that I go get tested. Of course I didn’t go. I had enough diacnostic tests in elementry school and didn’t feel the need to sit through more now. Still a part of me wondered if I would come up positive on a dyslexia exam now. I read all the time, I write whole books, I’m done being disabled right? My husband actually laughed out loud at this assessment, and then went on to prove to me how far from over being dyslexic I am.

His first exibit was the grocery list tacked to our refrigerator door. Apparently, letus, orenges, and cheeze aren’t real foods. These words may show up on second graders spelling lists, but at age 30 I still don’t know how to spell them. Not cured.

After reminding me of my bad spelling he asked me to read the news paper article out loud to him. I couldn’t do it. I read books all the time and I think of myself as literate, but I almost never read outloud. It was oddly sad, hearing myself stumble over each word – short words – that I had to carefully sound out and then go back and reread when I realized two words later that I had misspoke.

What am I going to do when I have kids? How am I going to read them bedtime stories? I guess I could just play audio books in their bedrooms all night every night. Or maybe I’ll just force myself to memorize all their favorite picture books, so I can resite to them at bedtime instead of reading. Or maybe my kids will be dyslexic too, and I’ll just stumble allong and give them choppy bedtime stories that are painful to listen to, but hopefully inspiring at the same time. Because even if I can’t spell “letus” and I have to sound out the word “the”, I rairly feel disabled. I love to read, and write, and I don’t care if I’ll never do either well. At least I can limp along, and for a long time I never thought that would happen.

Friday, September 18, 2009

This Blog is Approved for All Audiences

Recently a lot of people have been blogging about rating systems for books, similar to those put on movies, TV shows, video games, ect. There is a part of me that cringes at the idea of this. I mean can you imagine kids getting carded at the library. Hello 1984. Another argument against a book rating system is that anything that is read has to be imagined by the readers. So if a little kid accedently read some erotica, it wouldn’t be like they were watching porn, they simply wouldn’t understand what they were reading and therefore wouldn’t see anything in their minds eye.

This people have to understand what they are reading in order to be effected by it idea tends to break down once kids get old enough to actually be able to read most adult content books. Teenagers know what sex and drugs are even if they are vergins who have never even taken a sip of beer. These are the readers who could probably get the most out of a book rating system. Because YA books tend to really run the gontlet content wise.

Since I am writing YA, I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately, and let me tell you it really runs the gontlet as far as content goes. Some books written for young readers are trashy. It doesn’t matter if they are G rated and involve no bad language and build to an errotic hand holding scene, or if they are 100% smut they are still frivalous tales ment to entertain not to enlighten. But lets face it, sometimes people want to be entertained, even young people. So many of these trashy teen novels are very populare.

Other books are extreamly compelling and address real issues that children and teenagers face in very read and powerful ways. In the past month alone I have read books (written for teenagers or children) that have dealt with the topics of rape, drug use, child abuse, death of a parent, concentual sex, friendship, abandoment, death of a friend, eating disorders, war, sexual orientation, family relationships, alcohol addiction, and more. I think that kids should read these books, because they are good books. And if a kid is being abused having access to a book about child abuse is probably a great thing. Or if a kid is feeling pressured to become sexually active reading about the complications of sex might help them make a more informed desision about their own future. But if somebody wants a G rated happy story 300 pages all about grieving the death of a best friend might not be the best thing for them to read.

Granted slapping a PG-13 rating on the back of a book isn’t going to let someone know if they are getting “Gossip Girl” or “Just Listen”. The first being a fun and frivialous book that happens to include sex, drugs, and generally wild teenagers, the later being a very serious story that includes a graphic rape scene about 3/4 of the way thorugh the story. But at least they will know they aren’t getting “The Princes Diary’s” which is definately rated G.

So what do you think? Should books have rating systems similar to other media forms, or should people be alloud to judge for themselves the value of what they are reading?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Am I Crazy?

I think it is common for people to ask "am I crazy to be doing this?" Especially when taking risks. Like, am I crazy to spend years writing a novel that may never be published? But I've never honestly wondered that. I've never questioned the validity of my actions. I only question the sanity of my mind.

I don't think I'm mentally ill, 'cause I don't think I'm sick. I'm just me, and sometimes I do wonder if I'm crazy. I don't ask, "am I crazy for wasting so much time writing?" Instead I wonder, "do all these voiced in my head meen I'm scitofrenic?" I tell myself I'm not nuts often enough that for the most part I believe it. The world has a lot of authors, and they all hear their characters speaking to them. I'm not pscytso, I'm just creative. But then I think, Emily Dickonsin was pscytso so how thin is the line between crazy and crative?

When I look at my family it doesn't reassure me, mainly because when compaired to most of them I'm normal. My uncle Dick was definately crazy. The level of his sanity was never even something worth questioning, clearly the guy was completely insain. He was also an inovative artist that developed a whole new medium. He's been dead for less than a year and there is already an art history book being written about him. He was crazy like Vangouh was crazy, an excentric artist, an insain genius. And it kind of scares me that I see so much of myself in him, or him in me, or whatever.

Dick wasn't ever certified or anything, he was an annonomis crazy I guess. But one of my cousins is certifed. When she was officially diocnosed with OCD and a few other disorders she happily announced, "have you heard the family gossip? I'm crazy." We all knew she was before the doctors made it official, and it simply became a family joke. The certified among the certifiable.

I don't think I'm OCD, not to the point where I could ever be diocnosed with it or anything. But I do have enough crazy traits that when watching TV shows like MONK or movies like AS GOOD AS IT GETS, its a little to easy to see traces of myself in the characters. I'm not 100% crazy, but a lot of the time I feel like I fall farther down the crazy scale than someone who is truly normal. I know that I have a lot of learning disablities and what not, and sometimes I wonder if maybe that is why I'm kind of crazy. Like it's all related and once one part of the brain goes haywire everything gets screwed up. What ever the reason, lately I've been wondering, am I crazy?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Short Attention Span Vacation

My father is the most hyper active person I know. When you look the word ADHD up in the dictionary, you will probably find a picture of my dad. Given his limited attention span and boundless energy, my family has mastered the art of marathon paced vacations. When my parents go to a museaum it is always the same routeen. My dad runs through the entire museam as fast as he can while my mom exams the contents of the opening exibit. Once he has seen everything, my dad comes back and tells my mom which exibits are best. My mom then goes and inspects my dad’s recomendations, while my dad does two or three more laps around the museaum.

I have never actually sprinted though a gallery of fine art, but I do tend to pack a lot into my travels. I like looking at everything, I just refuse to read plaques and signs, so it doesn’t take me as long to take everything in. This past weekend, I didn’t go to any museaums, but I did have a proper short attention span vacation. I went camping on the coast of the Straight of Janifuca on Washington’s Olympic ponisela. The campground I stayed at was very beautiful, my camp site was right on the water. But I did a lot more than just sit around in my tent during the 48 hours I was away from home.

In one weekend I: attended a wooden boat show in Port Townsend, wandered the tourist strip of both Port Townsend and Port Angeles, toured a lighthouse, hiked along the top of Huricane Ridge in Olympics National Park, hiked along the shores of Cresent Lake in Olympics National Park, drove through the town of Forks, failed to see any vampires, and walked along the beach of both the Pacific Ocean and the Straight of Jan Defuca. It was a fun weekend. I was traveling alone with my husband, but I have a feeling if I had invited my parents my dad would have approved.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Always Read the Directions

It turns out, sometimes not reading directions is a very bad thing. I do know how to read, really I do. I read whole books on a very regular basis. But directions, not so much. Maybe it was just an excuse that I made up for myself when I was younger and unable to read, but I have always felt like reading directions was cheeting. Like if I couldn’t figure out how something worked without reading the directions, I didn’t deserve to have it. But lately my failure to read directions has been coming back to bite me.

Just last week, I was attempting to install a new program on my computer and it wouldn’t work. So I made my husband come and fix it for me. Since he designs electronics for his job my minor program instalation errors were clearly something he could handle. I messed around with the program for a good hour before giving up and calling him in. It took him all of 5 minutes to solve my problem. Then he said, “When the error message pops up on the screen, it’s a good idea to read it. It usually tells you exactly what you need to do.” But of course, I’m me, and never read error messages. I’m sure I looked at it. I just somehow failed to realize it was telling me the solution to my problem, not just that I had a problem.

But my most resent failure to read directions is much much worse. I’m mildly nervous about blogging about it, just because I hate to admit to the masses how huge of a moron I am. But since this is supposed to be a blog about dyslexia, and I’m sure that my being a non-reader is the sorce of this problem, I’ll admit the truth. I filled out the wrong PE licensing application.

Let me step back and explain. I’m a structural engineer for my day job. Engineering has a residency type of program, kind of similar to medison. Which makes sense, cause nobody wants to drive over a bridge someone designed a week after they graduated from college. So to be an engineer a person first has to graduate from an acredited engineering school. They can take the FE (fundimental engineer exam) up to 6 months before graduation. Once someone passes the FE they become and EIT (engineer in trainging) which meens they are aloud to work on engineering projects, but someone else has to check their work before anything they design goes to construction.

After completing four years of work experience as an EIT, a person can then take the PE (professional engineer exam). Once someone passes the PE, they recieve a stamp that can be put on construction drawings making them legal to build. If a building collapses or something leading to lawsuits, the person whose stamp is on the construction drawing is the person held liable. The PE exam is offered twice a year, in April and October.

I thought that I had signed up to take the exam in October. I did fill out a bunch of paperwork, and get all the references I needed from PE’s that I work under, and all that jazz. I mailed it all in with the application fee back in June and thought that I was squared away. Then yesturday the Engineers Exameners Board called me and informed me that I filled out the wrong application. Somehow, I filled out the application for people who are already licenced in some other state and are just trying to get resoprosity. So now they have to transfer all my application information to the April 2010 exam.

Obviously, I feel seriously stupid. I could have sworn that I read all the fine print on the application. I at least thought I filled in all the required boxes. But clearly I didn’t. And now I have to wait six more months before I can get licenced. Lately I’ve been thinking of myself as fairly with it, but clearly I’m more than a bit disabled. How can I be so stupid? Being an illiterate author sounds kind of novel, but let me tell you being an illiterate engineer isn't such a good thing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Famous Dyslexics

When I was first dicnosed with dyslexia, at age eight, I was imediately told that I wasn’t alone. Somehow being told I was exactly like my brother, father, and crazy uncle wasn’t overly comforting. So my mom produced a list of famous dyslexic. 22 years later, I still remember how I felt that first day hearing the names on that list. I suddenly felt like I belonged. There were so many talented people in the world, who had used their ability to think in a different way than the norm to accomplish wonderful and amazing things. If Thomas Edison could invent the light bulb, Pablo Picoso could create artistic masterpieces, and Hans Christian Anderson could dream up all the stories my mom read me at bedtime, surely I could survive third grade. So here is a current list of noteworthy dyslexics. If your name also belongs on this list, feel free to do something fabulous and get yourself noticed. And remember, thinking outside the box is always a good thing, so stop trying to find your way inside.

*Please note, I pulled these names from other lists and did not do any direct research into the evidence supporting claims that all the people listed below are in fact dyslexic. Many historical figures are often attributed with many conditions that they may or may not have had, so if other lists do not confirm all the listed names, please accept my appologies.

Ansel Adams (photographer)
Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert)
Muhammad Ali (boxer)
Hans Christian Anderson (author)
Harry Anderson (actor)
David Bailey (photographer)
Ann Bancroft (arctic explorer)
Alexander Grand Bell (inventor of telephone)
Harry Belafonte (actor)
Robert Benton (screenwriter/director)
Jeanne Betancourt (author)
Orlando Bloom (actor)
Richard Branson (founder of Virgin Enterprises)
John Britten (motorcylce engineer)
Erin Brockovich (investigator)
Stephan Cannell (TV writer/novelist)
John T Chambers (CEO of Cisco Systems)
Cher (singer)
Agatha Christie (author)
Winston Churchill (British Prime Minster)
John Corrigan (author)
Tom Cruise (actor/Pope of outer space)
Pierre Curie (scientist/1903 Nobel Prize winner)
Harvey Cushing (surgeon)
Leonardo da Vinci (artist/inventor/general overachiever)
Walt Disney (filmmaker/dream creator)
Thomas Edison (inventor of light bulb)
Albert Einstein (scientist/all around smarty pants)
Richard Elliott (artist/my crazy uncle)
Fred Epstein (neurosurgeon)
Michael Faraday (scientist/electo magnatism pioneer)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (author)
Fannie Flagg (author)
Gustave Flaubert (author/playwrite)
Dave Foley (actor)
Henry Ford (car maker)
Fred Friendly (former CBS News president)
Danny Glover (actor)
Whoopi Goldberg (actor)
Duncan Goodhew (Olympic swimmer)
Terry Goodkind (author)
King Carl XVI Gustaf (Swedish King)
Susan Hampshire (actor)
Michael Heseltine (British politician)
William Hewlett (co-founder of Hewlett-Packard)
Tommy Hilfiger (clothing designer)
Anthony Hopkins (actor)
Jack Horner (paleontologist)
John Irving (author)
Andrew Jackson (7th US President)
Soren Kragh Jacobsen (filmmaker)
Thomas Jefferson (3rd US President)
Bruce Jenner (Olympic decathlon gold medalist)
Magic Johnson (basketball player)
Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (general)
John F. Kennedy (35th US President)
Nigel Kennedy (violinist/singer)
Kiera Knightly (actor)
John Lennon (Beatle/musical diaty)
Jay Leno (actor/comedian)
Brad Little (Broadway actor/singer)
Greg Louganis (Olympic diver)
Paul MacCready (aronotical engineer/engineer of the century)
Archer Martin (scientist/1952 Nobel Laureate)
James Clerk Maxwell (scientist/equation maker)
Bob May (golfer)
Craig McCaw (founder of McCaw Cellular)
O.D. McKee (founder of McKee Foods)
David Neeleman (CEO of jetBlue Airways)
Gavin Newsom (San Francisco mayor)
Edward James Olmos (actor)
Paul J. Orfalea (founder of Kinko’s)
Diamond Dallas Page (world wrestling champion)
George Patton (general)
Pablo Picasso (artist)
Edgar Allen Poe (poet/author)
Patricia Polacco (author)
Robert Rauschenberg (artist)
Steve Redgrave (Olympic gold medalist, rowing)
Keanu Reeves (actor)
Nelson Rockefeller (US Vise President)
Auguste Rodin (sculptor)
Nolan Ryan (baseball pitcher)
Rex Ryan (coach)
Charles Schwab (investor)
Kate Scott (blogger extrodinare/soon to be famous author)
John R. Skoyles (brain researcher)
Tom Smothers (comidian/singer)
Jackie Stewart (race car driver)
Nicolai Tesla (inventor/engineer)
Billy Bob Thorton (actor/director)
Robert Toth (artist)
Ted Turner (entertainment mogul)
Jorn Utzon (architect)
Jules Verne (author)
Victor Villasenor (author)
George Washington (1st US President)
Bob Weir (Grateful Dead guitarist)
Paul Wellstone (US Senator)
Willard Wigan (sculptor)
Roger W. Wilkins (head of Pulitzer Prize Board)
Robin Williams (actor/comidian)
Woodrow Wilson (28th US President)
Henry Winkler (actor)
F.W. Woolworth (founder of Foot Locker)
W.B. Yeats (poet)
Loretta Young (actor)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Writing Education

Fall has arrived, all the kids are going back to school, and President Oboma is talking about taking personal responsibility for education. Welcome to September. All this educational energy is making me think about my own continued learning. When I grow up, I want to be a writer (it doesn’t matter that I’m already a fully grown engineer). So I have been attempting to master the craft of writing.

I know several wannabe writers who have MFA’s in creative writing. Fortunately, I know enough successful authors without MFA’s to keep me from running out and earning another degree. It’s not like I’m uneducated or anything, its just that classes like Steel Design, Principals of Concrete, and Soil Mechanics don’t have much to do with creative writing.

Most self taught writers learn by reading. There are a ton of “how to write” books on the market. I’ve read a couple of them (exactly 2), but didn’t find them overly helpful. Being told to avoid clich├ęs like the plague, use adjectives sparingly, and not to write a passive voice, really doesn’t improve the quality of a story. It just gives new writers a list of rules to follow so the can madlibs out an unoriginal tale.

Still, I have taught myself to write by reading, or more accurately listening. I think the best way to learn how to write a book, is to read a book or a lot of books. In the 30 years I’ve been alive, I’ve probably read somewhere between 200 and 300 books. I know this number is discustingly small, but I didn’t learn how to read until I was like 20, so cut me some slack. I have also listened to at least 10 times that many books, maybe as many as 20 times. And that is why I know how to write. I know stories. I’ve listened to thousands and thousands of stories in my life, and I understand how they fit together without needing to read a check list of beginning writing to dos.

I have an aquantence who recently decided to become a playwrite. This happened after she had spent several decades working as a screen writer. She has written many made-for-TV movies, and even got an Emmy nomination once. The lady can write. But the silver screen is different than the stage. So when she crossed over to playwrite, she started reading. She set a goal for herself to read 100 plays in 100 days. After day 100, she extended her goal to reading 500 plays in 500 days. She tries to downplay this accomplishment by saying that plays are short and only take like 2 hours to read, and writing is her day job so she’s got time.

But I don’t think this action should be down played. I think it is the only way to go. Obama is right. We as American’s need to take control of our own educations. Sure that means kids need to do their own homework and teens need to not drop out. But it also means that writers need to read. All of a sudden the fact that I read 3 books over labor day weekend doesn’t feel lazy at all.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fiction Vaccation

This summer I took a trip to Colorado to visit relatives and I went on several camping trips, but for the most part my vaccationing happened in my own mind. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day I read 30 books. Or more accurately, I read two paper books, and read six books on my Kindle, and I listened to 22 audio books. Here is a quick review of all 30 books.

The Hitchkier’s Guild to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – SciFi – I found this book entertaining enough, but don’t feel the need to join its cult following.

Persuasion by Jane Austin – Classic – Got to love 200 year old chick-lit.

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte – Classic – This book is very slow moving and it had little pay off at the end. I don’t recomend it.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown – Thriller – Fast pased and gripping, but almost identical plot and layout as Deviti Code. Unless your a huge Dan Brown fan, there is no reason to read more than one of his books.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson – Non-Fiction – A must read for every nerd or people who wants to sound smart at coctail parties. A cliff notes of all scientific disaplines.

Avalon High by Meg Cabot – Young Adult – I really enjoyed this modern remake of King Aurtor. It made me think about a classic tale in a new way.

Sleepaway Girls by Jen Calonita – Young Adult – Not nearly as good as the YA book set at a summer camp that I just wrote. This book is very G rated and the characters are all very one dementional, but I’m sure I would have loved it when I was a tween.

Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark – Mystery – I guessed the right killerJ The story has enough twists and turns to keep it entertaining.

When it Happens by Susane Colasanti – Young Adult – The duel 1st person POV works well. The characters are properly complex and the story progresses nicely, though predicably.

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen – Young Adult – I loved this book and look forward to reading the rest of Sarah Dessen’s books. The characters are all complex and believable and deal with real issues faced by teens. I highly recomend this book for children and adults alike.

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans – Drama – A good story, but at times slow moving. Good but not great.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch – Drama – Very thought provoking, and protrayed difficult situations in an honest manner. Could have been shorter, overly literary with extranious descriptions.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – Non-Fiction – Typical Gladwell doctrine, makes you think and clearly well reserched, but I didn’t really come away learning anything new.

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham – Drama – Interesting characters and premis, but I would have preferred more conflict.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – Memoir – Extreamly depressing, this book gave me nightmeres. Tragically it is non-fictions. I’m glad that I know about reality, I just wish it wasn’t real.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – SciFi – Deserves to be a classic, still a poinent protrale of human nature and possibility. If you weren’t assigned to read his in HS English class, you should read it now.

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux – Drama – An entertaining story with a nice ballance of mystery, intreage, and complex characters. Entertaining even if when not performed on Broadway.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer – Young Adult/Paranormal – A best seller for a reason, very gripping. Entertaining for wemon 13-40 (as opposed to the strict 13-18) but still not for everyone.

New Moon by Stephanie Meyer – Young Adult/Paranormal – Not quite as good as Twilight, but the story is so gripping it is still impossible to put down.

Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer – Young Adult/Paranormal – A good final battle (was originally meant to be final installment), continues to grip the readers.

Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer – Young Adult/Paranormal – If you loved the first three books, you will love this one too, but it contains vertually no real conflict and is basically just a 750 page happy ending.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin – Non-Fiction – Fasinating story. I’m glad Greg Mortenson exists and I hope that his work continues to florish. An honost protral of middle eastern culture and politics.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – Drama – This book is extreamly well written and deserves all the literary praise it has recieved, but it is still a bit difficult to stomach a novel told from the POV of a pedifile.

Evermore by Alyson Noel – Young Adult/Paranormal – Clearly trying to ride in Twilights wake, but I found Ever’s character more likable that Bella’s. So if you love YA Paranormal, this book is worth reading.

Blue Moon by Alyson Noel – Young Adult/Paranormal – A major step down from the first book in the series. I liked Evermore enough that I still plan on reading the 3rd book when it comes out in November, but the protagonist became extreamly stupid in this book and I started hating her.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult – Drama – Interesting characters and a unique premiss. I loved the first 90% of the book. Unfortunately the ending is HORRIBLE.

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan – Children’s/Fantasy – The final installment in the Percy Jackson series. I highly recomend reading all 5 books. A fun adventure story based in Greek Mythology but set in moddern NYC.

Othello by William Shakespeare – Classic – It’s Shakespeare, how much more do I need to say. Interesting look at race and deseption. I hope to believe that we have evolved enough that this tragety couldn’t happen today.

Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet – Memoir – Very interesting life story of an Autistic Savant. This is a “comp title” to the memoir I’m currently writing. But I will never teach myself Icelandic in a week.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Young Adult/Historical Fiction – Interesting look at WW2, told from the POV of death. Every thoughtful teen/tween should read this book.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Next Twilight

Literary agent and blogger extrodinare Nathan Bransford recently ran a pole on his blog asking the genre of his many writing followers works in progress. Out of the 2476 voters, 40% were either fantasy, paranormal, or science fiction. I know that J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer are two of the wealthist writers in the world, but obviously more than 60% of the books sold take place in reality. So this pole made me very glad I’ve never attempted to write fanticy. Still, I like to read the stuff.

Since Quitage captivated the worlds attention before Vampires playing baseball, I’ll talk about Harry first. There is a reason millions of businessmen sat on trains reading a kids book, and it has very little to do with the natural draw of a lightning shaped scar. J.K. Rowling is an extreamly talented writer. It’s so easy to fall into the world of Hogwarts on the very first page, and very difficult to put the story down – even when reaching the end of a 700+ page volume. I know that hundreds of years from now, Rowling’s words will be just as imortal as Tolken’s and Lewis’s. Because with writing that good, it’s impossible not to believe in house elves and hippogriffs.

Even if Harry is the best childhood mythical savior of our time, he isn’t the only one. I expect the next searies to leap out of the children’s section and into the hands of middle aged commuters will be Percy Jackson and the Olympians. I read all five books in the series last winter and loved them. Percy isn’t a wizard, he’s a demi-god – the half blooded son of Posidon and a mortal mother. I like the fact that Rick Riordan’s mythical world is based in mythology, and educates at the same time as it entertains. And when I saw a preview for “The Lightning Theif” at the latest Harry Potter movie, I was thrilled to know Percy would soon be posed to reach a wider audience. But even if Riodan’s books are very good, some of the best books I’ve read this year, he will never be the next Tolken. He may sell tens of millions of copies of his books and entertain the masses, but centuries from now Harry is the hero that people will remember, not Percy.

Then there is Bella Swan. Stephanie Meyer is defiantely a gifted writer and the ever growing world wide vampire obsession is based more on the quality of her writing than the human need to fantasize about blood suckers. But here is the think about Twilight. I have never met anyone who has read the books and hasn’t admitted to getting sucked into them. Everyone I know that has read them, read them all without taking a breath and then longed for more when the reached the last page, often going back and starting again at the beginning even though they knew how the story would end. But more than half of the people I know who have read the Twilight series have later admitted that they didn’t really like them. I know, this is a complete oxymoron, but it’s the truth. Rationally, Twilight isn’t a very good book. Bella Swan is seriously annoying, and stories so overtold it almost seems comical on later inspection. But somehow, it still captivates in an almost hypnotic way. I have no idea how Stephanie Meyer does it, but I’m sure their isn’t an author alive that doesn’t wish they could grab readers the way she can.

There are a lot of YA paranormal series on the market right now, and it is impossible to know which one will make the next big splash. But my current vote is for Evermore by Alyson Noel. Because while Percy Jackson can never truly become Harry Potter, I think Ever can kick Bella’s behind. The Cullen’s are the interesting part of the Twilight series, not Bella Swan, and I honestly think if Edward could hear Bella’s thoughs he would have lost interest imediately, ‘cause she is seriously shallow.

Evermore is a series told from the point of view of a 16 year old clarvoiant psycic who sees dead people and hears people’s thoughts. Naturally, this freeks her out and she has enough anxgth and self loathing to keep her believable even if she is supernatural. But Damen is the one guy who’s thoughts she can’t hear. He’s also super hot and lusted after by every girl in Ever’s school. But unlike Edward reaction to Bella, Ever doesn’t stalk Deman and fall head over heals in love. She is seriously freeked out by him, knowing that while she is by no means normal, her inability to hear him makes him even more abnormal, and mildly tarifying. So this new series is Twilight esque, but also has an interesting protagonist – as opposed to a cliche damsel in destress just waiting for a Vampire to come in and rescue her. And the fact that I stayed up until 2:00 am last night reading the first book in the Evermore series is enough for me to comfidantly claim, the story is very gripping.

So if you like yourself a good teenage paranormal adventure, I recomend checking out Evermore.