Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Secret Chew (How to Hide Gum in Class)

An Excerpt From the Award-Winning Tell-All
Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School

Lucy: Hiding gum in class is a specialized skill—as useful as multiplying or writing the five-paragraph essay.

CeCee: Why’s that, Luce?

Lucy: Because a lot of teachers get very worked up over the gum thing. We know—you’d think teachers have better things to expend their energy on, but for some reason, chewing gum on their watch gets many teachers’ undies in a bunch (scary visual alert). And, let’s face it—gum is necessary!

CeCee: It does alleviate stress and give you something to do in class while listening to coma-inducing subjects, such as photosynthesis and noun conjugation.

Lucy: Plus, there could be emergency circumstances—like you’re doing a lab with your crush and you have narsty mystery meat breath from lunch.

CeCee: An added bonus is that, if done correctly, chewing gum in class gives you that look of laid-back nonchalance.

Lucy: In other words, you look cool. The ultimate goal when chewing gum is to have your peers notice but not the teacher. When your peers notice, they’ll be secretly jealous and think you’re extra awesome for rebelling against the cardinal gum rule—unless you get caught, of course!

CeCee: Then, they’ll secretly gloat as you stagger over to the trashcan while your teacher screams like a banshee.

Lucy and CeCee: To avoid such a scenario, we recommend you practice chewing gum in your most clueless teacher’s class first while following these guidelines.

L&C’s How to Chew Gum on the Sly Tips 

1) Unwrap the gum and place in mouth before entering class. (This sounds like a big duh, but some people mindlessly unwrap their sweet treat right in front of the teacher—only to get busted seconds later.)

2) Chew quietly and stealthily by making your chews small and with your mouth shut! No big dramatic jaw movements. If the teacher’s back is turned, you may feel like chewing louder, cracking, or chomping on your gum, but don’t. You’re bound to forget to stop when the teacher turns around, and then game over! And remember—no matter how tempting it is, no bubbles!

3) If called on to answer a question, your chances of getting caught have just multiplied, but you have some options. You can:

slide the gum over to the back right or left side of your mouth and answer the question;

quickly cough or clear your throat, spit the gum in your hand, and put it back in after you answer the question; or

just swallow it.

4) Be warned that if you bungle any of the above, your teacher will surely confront you with “Are you chewing gum?” Some teachers will even go so far as to have you open your mouth and stick your tongue out. This desperate display of teacher authority is—of course—ridiculous, but then there are ridiculous teachers out there who think gum chewing is the ultimate violation.

Stuff You’ll Need:
Clueless teacher

Dear Diary ~
Arghhhhh! I was so excited about Josh’s note, I forgot 2 hide my gum and proceeded 2 blow a bubble right N the middle of Mr. Kragler’s slice-and-dice demonstration. I mean, what kinda sadist dissects innocent frogs anywayz? Mr. Kragler is obviously a kid and animal hater.

It’s just my luck that Josh finally wants 2 meet me face-2-face, and I get busted 4 gum! Now, I’m sitting N the stupid dean’s office with the other fixtures while Ms. Quinn calls my house. I already told her my parents R at work, but she doesn’t believe me. Now, she’s leaving a message about my habitual gum violations. How moronic!

So, what should I do? Maybe I should just run 4 it. But then, I’d get busted 4 sure. That Shakespeare dude was right. The course of true love never did run smooth. (Hey, Ms. Snow would be proud!) I know—I’ll write Josh a note declaring my love.

Hearts and twinkling tiaras,

Dear Josh ~

SS I couldn’t meet U third period. I totally got busted 4 chewing gum. How stupid is that? What U need 2 know is I am totally crushing on U 2! Some people (my BFF included) think you’re going out with Kandi Klass, but I happen 2 know U have better taste than that.

So, we should totally go out becuz I think you’re awesome! Call me tonight, babycakes!

Hearts and unicorns 4-eva,
285-8585 (cell)

(Note folded and sealed with Bonnie Bell Watermelon Pink Lip Smacker Star Glaze kiss)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

To Club or Not to Club

An Excerpt From the Award-Winning Tell-All
Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School

Lucy and CeCee: So, you put in a full day at school. Why should you stay after an extra two hours just to be in an extracurricular club? Actually, it turns out we both think clubs are supercool and totally worth the extra time (for different reasons, of course).

Why Clubs Are Cool by CeCee: Clubs are cool because you can hobnob with comrades who have common interests and goals. You can interact with your teachers outside of class and get to know them better. Also, you will come to establish quality traits like social responsibility and leadership skills. By joining a club and becoming involved, you feel more connected to the school community and become a “part” of things.

Why Clubs Are Cool by Lucy: You can meet guys. So, basically, there are three types of clubs: academic, athletic, and social. Some clubs require that you be voted in or try out—like student government or cheerleading—but most just require enthusiasm and willing attitude.

Typical Middle School Clubs:

Future Problem Solvers
Environmental club
Science olympiad
Spanish/French/German and other foreign language clubs
Sports (basketball, volleyball, softball, gymnastics, football, soccer, etc. )
Debate club
D&D (Dungeons and Dragons)
Student council/government
Dance troupe or drill team
Science fiction club
Book club
School newspaper

Personal Note from CeCee: Don’t shun the academic clubs. Case in point: My math skills and confidence were positively wretched in the sixth grade until I joined Mathcounts. Since then, my grades and test scores have totally improved. Don’t get me wrong—math will never be my favorite subject, but when our Mathcounts team competes against other schools and wins, it’s pure binomial bliss!

Madison Messenger
May Edition, Volume VII, Issue 5
Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

It’s time for a fashion face-off with this PTA lady. Why does Mrs. Linda Pringle think she can change the dress code policy at Madison Middle to require uniforms? Students need to express themselves. Everyone knows uniforms are not the great equalizer; they are the great oppressor! Not only that, but establishing a uniform policy is unconstitutional and violates freedom of speech. Also, where is Mrs. Pringle getting all this research claiming uniforms raise test scores? We have so very few rights as middle school students as it is. Why take away our right to fashion?

Dressed and Oppressed

Dear Dressed and Oppressed,

I certainly appreciate and understand your frustration. I like my fashion freedom, too! Unfortunately, if Mr. Payne, the PTA, and the Madison Heights School Board support the new uniform policy, it will most likely become a reality. That said, I will communicate your concerns and share them with the student body. Until then, flaunt your fashion freedom, and fight on!

Yours in label lust,
Cecelia E. Cruz, Editor in Chief

How to Start Your Own Club by Lucy 

I’ve decided to start my own club. It will be an environmental fashion club called the EFC. It’s a fab idea because: 1) it will be a diversion from the whole school uniform thing, and 2) it will make me superpopular.

As president of the EFC, I am quickly learning there are many things one must know before starting his or her own club:

Have at least three people in mind that can help you start the club. Otherwise, you might be viewed as just some weirdo loner with a cause.

Find a club advisor—hopefully a hip, cool teacher with some passion. In other
words, find a teacher who’s not just going to do it for the extra stipend but
can help recruit students and advise when necessary.

Run ideas by the principal and fill out all required forms, including the club
objective, costs, fund-raising, and so on. Tip: Explain to the principal how the club will raise test scores.

Advertise the club with eye-catching posters and homeroom announcements.

Have a set meeting place and agenda.

Serve cookies at meetings. Advertise the fact that cookies will be served.

Make cool club T-shirts to be worn on club days.

Stuff You'll Need:
Meeting place
Plan or club platform
Principal’s approval
Courage and confidence

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How NOT to be Noticed in Class

An Excerpt From the Award-Winning Tell-All
Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School

Lucy: Let’s face it. Sometimes, you’d rather not be called on in class.

CeCee: Yeah! Like when you forgot to read that last chapter in English.

Lucy: Or when you have a humungo zit, are laid up with lunch flu, or are just feeling oogly altogether.

Lucy and CeCee: Keeping a low profile takes a little skill, but with practice, you can be present, accounted for, and invisible.

L&C’s How to Go Incognito Tips
Align yourself perfectly with the person sitting in front of you. If sitting in the front row, pretend to take copious notes and/or have head in your textbook.

Hover over your assignment as if highly engaged. Look engrossed, and do not make eye contact with teachers. (They tend to call on students who look at them.) At the same time, nod your head periodically to show you’re paying attention. (Teachers also tend to call on students who are off task.)

A little trick is to answer one question at the beginning of class that’s a no-brainer. This way, your teacher has heard from you and won’t be compelled to call on you again.

Stuff You’ll Need:




Student in front of you

Dear C.C. ~
Whatup, girlie? Just sitting here making myself invisible N history. Did U get the take-home letter today N homeroom? I mean, I really want 2 die. Doesn’t my mother have anything better 2 do than 2 constantly ruin my social life? Kids are already starting 2 come up 2 me ready 2 have it out, and I just lie and say, “No relation.” Of course, no one seems 2 believe me. Some birthday I’m having! (Thanks 4 the balloons, by the way. I heart U!)
2 top off my birthday blues, Josh still hasn’t broken up with that bimbette, Kandi Klass. I just don’t get it. Does she have some kind of voodoo hold on him or something? Is he under hypnosis?
Anywayz, I hope U don’t mind me asking—but do U feel okay? U just seem kinda tired and worn out lately, and U never eat anything except those Twizzler Nibs. Just making sure you’re not turning N-2 one of those rib-counting chicks. Don’t get me wrong—U still look fly, and I love your new Mary Jane platforms. But just sayin’. U know I’m here if U want 2 talk about anything, right?

Hearts and daisy petals,

PS Not that I have 2 say anything, but please don’t publish anything about the uniform policy N the Madison Messenger. It’ll just get everyone all trippy and Kandi Klass & Co. is already sending me toxic hate vibes.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

Secret Thoughts After Reading Lucy’s Note

I don’t care if it’s her birthday or not—I think I might be seriously enraged with Lucy! First of all, what right does she have asking me not to publish something in the Madison Messenger? The uniform policy is serious school news, and she knows that! As editor, it is my duty is to observe, investigate, and report—all conflicts of interest aside. Sometimes, she’s dumber than a box of rocks!
And then, she has the audacity to inquire about my dietary proclivities. Maybe she should worry about herself for a change! What business is it of hers if I’m not eating? Frankly, she could stand to lose a few LBs! Maybe then she’d get a boyfriend. Speaking of—if I hear one more time about her fauxlationship with Josh Land, I think I’m going to lose it! It’s so irritating! But honestly—maybe this is about other things … I don’t usually get so peevish with Lucy, even when she’s acting like an ├╝berditz.
I wish I could talk to someone about my inner turmoil. I tried asking Cora about boys last night, but she only pretended to listen, and now that she’s made cheerleader, she’s way too preoccupied for anything else—most especially her dorky little sister.
Why is life soooo confusing? Where is the clarity? Where is my magical advisor?
Oh, moons of madness!


Friday, December 6, 2013

Passion for Fashion

An Excerpt From the Award-Winning Tell-All
Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School

Well, it's that time of year, when your parents, grandparents, and bizarro aunts and uncles will be asking what's on your wish list.  In other words, it's the perfect time to pursue your passion for fashion - right?

I’m as shy as they come, but when it comes to my day-to-day threads, I’m a bold, fearless fashionista. I guess you could classify my look as boho chic laced with a few punked-out accessories. I know, I know—it totally goes against the bespectacled nerd-girl concept, but that’s the brilliant thing about fashion—it expresses the wild child within and makes my gear buzzworthy! (I actually attribute my edgy trend tastes back to my Catholic school days when the required oxford blouse, plaid skirt, and rosary beads forced me to think outside the box.)

Now, the thing about fashion is you really don’t have to break the bank to be swank. Except for the occasional babysitting or tutoring job, I don’t have a big cash stash myself but still manage to throw together clever little ensembles. Sure, I shop at Abercrombie and Gap like the rest of the masses, but I also find a lot of spunky stuff (belts, purses, military jackets, etc.) at the Goodwill and other thrift stores. So yeah— it’s okay to get a little daring—especially when it comes to the trimmings. And yes, you’ll get an occasional eye roll or a mumbled snarl from the SMGs (Supermean Girls), but they’re probably just jealous because you’re rockin’ it and they’re not. After all, no one respects an Aberzombie clone who’s just following the trendies!

How to Rock It Hip Tips:
♥ Accessories rule
♥ Wear a pair of Chucks with a scarf
♥ Layers, layers, layers
♥ Try a low-slung, chunky belt
♥ Enhance any outfit with vintage jewelry and/or dangly chandelier earrings—love that stuffy Victorian bling!
♥ Mix and match colors and patterns—but sparingly
♥ Rock a mini with leggings and flats

Fashion Don’ts
I don’t believe in the fashion police, but there are a few no-no’s everyone should adhere to for the sake of mankind and world peace. In my honest and humble opinion, the following are universal fashion flubs (i.e., not a good look for anyone):

♥ Acid-washed jeans
♥ Ruffles
♥ Heels you can’t walk in
♥ Black lipstick
♥ Yellow
♥ Too-low lowriders
♥ Fishnet
♥ Shoulder pads
♥ Thong peek-a-boos
♥ Hairy legs with skirts or shorts

1) Stay clear of sheer
2) If it doesn’t fit, it’s gonna split
3) Too bright ain’t right
4) If you wear it, rock it!

As a bonus, I'm including my Back-to-School Shopping List:

1. Black leggings
2. Platforms in any color
3. Flared denim jeans
4. Black skinny jeans
5. Faux-leather tote
6. Mary Janes
7. Denim vest
8. Burgundy glam-punk blazer
9. Neon pink Chuck Taylors
10.  Strategically ripped vintage concert tees
11.  Gypsy broom skirt
12.  Chandelier and hoop earrings
13.  Lace-up combat boots
14.  Gold and silver bangles
15.  Purple knit beret
16.  Black trapeze dress
17.  Flannel tunic
18.  Granny cardigan

(The trick is to strike a balance between the trends and classics, sprinkled with your own personal touches.)

Scary Sitch: Know your fashion limits and the school dress code policy. Once, during my Catholic school days, I tied my white oxford into a navel-knot halter à la Britney Spears, got five demerits, three Hail Marys, and a lecture from Sister Eugenie on the virtues of modesty. Yikes!


Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...

This week I will read The Polar Express to my students.  I love how even my eighth graders sit all agog listening to Van Allsburg's tale of the old fashioned steam train taking children to the North Pole to meet the jolly red suited guy.

Here is a list of my favorite Christmas classics that never fail to get me in the holiday spirit.  As Christmas creeps closer, I wrap myself in my favorite cuddle blanket, pour some hot cocoa (the frothy kind, made with real milk, and bobbing marshmallows), and go back to a time when I, too believed.

All aboard...

1) A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

2) The Polar Express - Chris Van Allsburg

3) How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Dr. Seuss

4) "The Gift of the Magi" - O. Henry

5) The Nutcracker - E.T.A. Hoffman, illustrations by Maurice Sendak

6) The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - Barbara Robinson

7) The Christmas Box - Richard Paul Evans

8) The Night Before Christmas - Jan Brett

9) The Tailor of Gloucester - Beatrix Potter

10) The Father Christmas Letters - J.R.R. Tolkien

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The S.T.E.A.L. Wheel

Character.  It's what Story is made of.  We read in order to partake in the journey of the character, whether it be emotion, spiritual, moral, physical, or mental.  There are many types of characters: major, minor, dynamic, static, round, flat, stock, protagonist, antagonist, hero, anti-hero, foil, and the symbolic character.  Writing a fully developed, round character who evolves as a result of their journey takes a lot of backstory.  By contrast, a static, flat, or stock character is more of a filler who contributes to the evolution of the main character, but merely as an accessory.

Which brings me back to characterization.  Direct characterization is when the author TELLS the audience what the personality of the character is.  Indirect characterization is when the author SHOWS attributes that reveal the personality of the character.  Attributes that perhaps even the main character is unaware of.  When writing the backstory of a round character, I use the S.T.E.A.L. Wheel.  It's a practical little graphic organizer for any writer.

S.T.E.A.L. is the acronym for Speech, Thoughts, Effect on others, Action, and Looks.  Specifically:

Speech: What does the character say? How does the character speak?  What is revealed through the dialogue?  

Thoughts/Emotions: What is divulged through the character’s intimate thoughts? How does the character feel about the people and events unfolding around them?

Effect on Others: How does the character cause others to react?  What happens to others as a result of the character's reactions to things?  

Actions: What does the character do? How does the character behave?  What are the consequences of their reactions?  

Looks: What does the character look like head-to-toe?  How does the character dress?  What are distinguishing characteristics?  

I love the S.T.E.A.L. Wheel.  I use it when teaching and writing indirect characterization - because KNOWING your character is essential to WRITING character.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Thank You, Tampa Palms Elementary School!

I had the joy of visiting Tampa Palms Elementary School last Friday.  We had the best time talking about books, writing, and how to invent a character.  Thank you to the wonderful students and staff for making me feel so welcome!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

It's That Time of Year!!!

Halloween is my absolute favorite!  I love everything about it: the costumes, the candy, the thrills, and the chills!  Get your fear on this Halloween with the award-winning Cheerage Fearage, published by Wild Child Publishing.

Watch the trailer...if you dare...

Now available on Amazon:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Happy Punctuation Day - September 24th

It's Punctuation Day.  Celebrate well...and remember, commas save lives!!!

Let's eat, Grandma.
Let's eat Grandma. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Homage to the Short Story

            I love teaching the short story to my seventh graders.  We read YA classics in their literature anthology, like Langston Hughes’s “Thank You, M’am” and “Charles” by Shirley Jackson.  Of course the culminating highlight is Edgar Allan Poe’s riveting “The Tell Tale Heart.”  My students’ faces at the end of the story are priceless, and the impending class discussion goes something like this:

            “You mean the psycho guy buries the old dude alive?”
            “You mean the heart the he hears is his own?”
            “That’s tight, Ms. Dana!”
            “Sure is.  They don’t credit Edgar Allan Poe with Master of the Detective Story for nothing.  And did you know he married and fell in love with his thirteen year old cousin?”

            Never a dull moment when Poe is on the agenda…
As a genre, my students prefer short stories over poetry and the novel.  They appreciate the brevity and are bowled over by the dramatic denouement present in so many.  What I love is their exposure to unique voices, profound characters, and universal themes – all in one class period!
            If you forgot the thrill of the short story, are between novels, or just in a reading funk – check out or revisit these spine-tingling tales:

“Roman Fever” – Edith Wharton
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” – Ernest Hemingway
“The Necklace” – Guy de Maupassant
“Lamb to the Slaughter” – Roald Dahl
“The Dinner Party” – Mona Gardner
“The Tell-Tale Heart” – Edgar Allan Poe
“The Lottery” – Shirley Jackson
“The Monkey’s Paw” – W. W. Jacobs
“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The Gift of the Magi” – O. Henry

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Parent's Guide to Surviving (and Thriving) in Middle School

Back to school is right around the corner.  Only this time your child is entering middle school – that rite of passage where they will undergo academic, social, and developmental challenges like never before.  While your eager middle schooler is raring to go, you may be secretly asking yourself if you’re truly ready for this auspicious journey.  The answer is Yes!  With today’s challenges, middle school may seem like the new high school, but below are six tips on how to make the transition seamless for both you and your child.  Get your brave on and learn how to survive (and thrive) as a parent of a middle schooler…

6 Steps to Swinging Into Middle School With Ease

Prepare:  Middle school isn’t exactly The Hunger Games – but you will fare much better if you know the rules.  Procure a copy of the school’s handbook and read it, ideally with your child.  Be familiar with the school’s policies.  For instance, does the school have a dress code?  Is there a general class supplies list?  What is the protocol for absences, medications, cell phone usage, etc.?  Make sure to complete all emergency card information with several contacts and up-to-date phone numbers for easy communication.      

Volunteer:  Join the PTA, PTO, or Booster Club.  Introduce yourself to the principal, counselor, and teachers letting them know you are available to assist wherever needed. 
With school funding at a premium, some ways parents can help are volunteering in the computer lab, chaperoning field trips, selling concessions, leading a book club, or supervising dances.  If working with students one-on-one, be sure to check the district’s policy on parent volunteer fingerprinting and/or background checks.

Be a Study Buddy:  Check homework once a week or more if your child is struggling. Designate a study time and place free of distractions with adequate supplies, including pencils, paper, dictionary, and calculator.  Calendar long-term projects, and be available for assistance or hire a tutor if needed.  Many schools offer free after-the-bell tutoring programs or intervention services.  Encourage and teach time management and organization skills – before social networking, cell phone, and television time.

Communicate:  In elementary school, teachers call home if there is an academic issue, but in middle school the report card is often a parent’s first notification that their child is struggling.  To avoid Report Card Shock Syndrome and address problems early on, attend Back-to-School Night and all parent/teacher conferences.  Introduce yourself to your child’s teachers, provide email contact information, and let them know you want to work as a team.  In middle school, each teacher has their own way of posting homework, grading, and communicating with parents.  Ask for a copy of the class syllabus.  Communication is key to your child’s success.

Get Social:  Your child’s circle of friends will most likely be at the top of their priority list.  This is a good time to rally your own parental BFF’s, if nothing else for moral support.  In short, get to know the parents of your child’s friends.  Arrange a lunch to establish common norms for sleepovers, social networking, etc.  Discuss bullying and implementing appropriate safety precautions.  Talk over the school’s vision and what you can do as parents to make it the best place it can be.   

Be a Cheerleader:  As your child enters middle school, he or she will tackle academic, social, and peer related issues.  There will be laughter and there will be tears.  Let your child know that you are their greatest fan and support.  Encourage their strengths and interests with extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, band, and foreign language.  When a problem arises, be there to help but also just to listen.  At the end of the day, sometimes a tween just needs a sympathetic ear.  Middle school is a challenge, but never let your child forget that you are their ultimate BFF and secret cheerleader.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Back to School Author Book Signing

Join me Saturday, August 24th from 12-3 p.m. at Hastings Book Store in Murfreesburo, TN for a special Back to School Author Book Signing.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

To Book Club or Not to Book Club

I’ve never been a fan of the book club for one very good reason – I like to read what I want to read when I want to read it.  I’m kind of stubborn that way.  Perhaps it’s because I was an English major in college and then pursued a master’s in English Education.  The last thing I wanted in life was someone telling me what to read, when it was due, and to have some profound opinions about it justified by textual evidence and the author’s overall thesis.

And there were other reasons…what if everyone hated the book I choose?  Or there was some know-it-all literary blowhard who dominated the conversation?  Or I didn’t like the wine.  Or worse – what if they didn’t serve wine!?!?  

That was it.  After all, reading is a solitary pursuit and if I wanted to read the latest James Patterson in lieu of Pride and Prejudice, then that was my prerogative.  I didn't need to defend my literary choices.  Because frankly, they don’t always deserve defending.  (Secret Alert: I love the occasional detritus diversion as much as the next person!)  Problem solved - I was, am, and always will be anti-book club!  Until recently…

I picked up Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and devoured it.  It was a punch to the gut and I needed to talk to someone about it.  I wanted to pour over the discussion questions.  I wanted to revisit, discuss, and analyze this juicy, twisted marriage.  Nick and Amy were delicious characters that merited conversation.  Help!  I needed a book club and fast!  So after some looking around, I found one.  And I love my book club.  Here’s why…it’s a stress free zone for five simple reasons.

*We meet regularly while allowing enough time to actually finish the book.  Every six weeks is perfect.  Life is complicated and busy so we don’t persecute those who don’t finish.  It happens.  M.W.D.H. (Members Who Don’t Read) can still add to the discussion and stimulate conversation.

*We have enough members to make it interesting yet intimate.  Eight to ten is ideal and demographic diversity allows for richer discussion.  Mix it up with age, sex, experience, marital status, etc.  

*Book Choices – We take turns choosing the books.  It’s democratic and allows members the opportunity to read a variety of authors while being introduced to new ones.

*Hosting duties should be rotated and stress-free.  You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to pull off a successful book club.  Snacks and beverages should be yum but simple.  Note: It’s okay to serve store bought items if baking isn’t your bag.

*Assign/rotate the discussion leader role to those who feel comfortable acting in this capacity.  Some people don’t feel comfortable leading the discussion, and that’s okay.  Book club shouldn’t feel like a graduate course.      

You can’t beat a good read and good friends!  A book club is one of the best ways to converge these two treasures and rekindle your literary spirit.  Whether your book club likes romance, science fiction, or the latest crowd-pleaser – attend regularly, read, and participate with gusto!  After all, books and people who relish them allow our worlds to grow larger and our problems smaller.  A book club can open the door to new friendships and fresh ideas – so proceed with caution.  Remember what Louis May Alcott said, “She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Barnes & Noble Book Signing

Attention Lit Lovers - Please join me on Saturday, August 3rd from 1-3 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Hendersonville, TN.  A fun, free, family-friendly event...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Author Interview with Grant Kauffman

Today's interview spotlights author extraordinaire Grant Kauffman and his new novel, PROJECT 14:  THE LEGEND OF BEELZEBUB'S BLUFF.  Check out this amazing author and his latest book now available on Amazon...

Q)  When did you start writing?  What keeps you going?

A)  First of all, thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to participate in your blog. I’m honored. Also, congratulations to you, Kim, for the successes you’ve had. It’s exciting to see a fellow Lincoln native doing great things and I’m proud of you. Okay, onto the answers.
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Trying to write as a profession began a few years ago with my first book, 12 Rounds with the Devil, based on my two years of working in professional boxing. (Have not tried to get it published yet.) I have written countless short scripts for videos, songs, poems, screenplays, jokes on bathroom walls, just about everything. In my mid-twenties I discovered that I was a gifted storyteller. I used that skills in the world of video production for many years.  Sadly, I became a statistic in 2008 when the economy crushed my beloved video production company like a tiny goldfish cracker. I began my quest to write as a career not long after, when I discovered that corporate America didn’t have a need for an aging entrepreneur who’d been out of the work force for almost ten years. So, I am doing all I can to earn an honest living for my kids by using the skills I’ve been given.  What keeps me going is an easy one to answer—my kiddos. I have custody of three amazing children and being a single parent with a low-fat bank account and ever increasing financial needs keeps me going day after day.

Q)  What was your most encouraging moment as an author?

A)  There are two moments that stand out for me. Both occurred a few days after we completed the final edits on Project 14. The ebook had just gone live on Amazon and the paperback was being worked on. I shared the manuscript with some people and asked them to pass it on. A woman who I’d never met, who lived in Nevada contacted me to let me know that she sat down on a Saturday to read a couple of chapters. Ten hours later she was done with the book. She told me she hadn’t been that engrossed in a novel since Twilight. That was really a nice moment for me. The other one was when a neighbor told me that she went to read Salem’s Lot and couldn’t continue past the first few chapters because it wasn’t as entertaining as Project 14, which she had just finished reading. Those are the moments that validate the hard work. I especially loved the comments from the woman I didn’t know. A lot of times, as you know Kim, friends, family and neighbors will tell you your work is great even if they don’t think it is. When a stranger tells you, it makes it more real. Again, it serves as validation and it feels great.

Q)  What was your most discouraging moment as an author?

A)  The most discouraging moment is plural. There are many. The biggest theme of discouragement is the time involved in getting a novel written. It is a seemingly never ending process. The editing phase alone is a nightmare if you are a perfectionist like me. I’m so hard to please and Project 14 still has things I want to tweak each time I pick it up, so I had to stop looking at it. When you want to make a living at writing and time is of the essence, it can create a heaping boatload of discouragement that stays with you all day.  The other part that is frustrating is the self-promotion part of it. It is a very unnatural thing for me. I love to promote others but I’m not good at promoting myself. (Insert shameless plug here. Buy Project 14: The Legend of Beelzebub’s Bluff on today)  See? That hurt my fingers to type that. The discouraging part is getting people to read your work. A book is a time commitment and people are not in a huge hurry to read these days. It’s a very frustrating, yet exciting, time to be an author. So many possibilities with social media and all, but people have short attention spans so your work had better grab them from chapter one or else. Even if the work is solid, you still can’t force people to read a book and word of mouth is everything in the book world, so it is very, very discouraging when people who have the ability to help promote the book sit on it and don’t read it. Argh!

Q)  What’s your antidote to writer’s block?

A)  My entire life is writer’s block. Juggling the kiddos schedules with cooking, cleaning and laundry, eh, I got a headache just thinking about it. It’s really quite an extraordinary challenge to raise three kids alone and try to be a writer. Needless to say I get more done during the school year. What I have to do to counteract any form or writer’s block is get out of my house. I need to leave the comfort zone and go sit in the quiet room at a library. Sequester myself for a few hours and force the words out. They may not always be eloquent but at least I get the ideas on paper. I can always go back and flush them out later. The other thing I will do when I’m really at a standstill is go to the first showing of the day of a movie. (Only $5 for the first showing J) I can sit in a theater and just by watching the trailers I get inspired. Half of the time I say, “I can do better than that!” which gets me fired up to write. When the movie is good I just get fired up by solid storytelling. Again, it makes me want to get better. Also, once again, all I have to do is think about my kids and my tiny bank account and I get motivated real quick.

Q)  Describe the typical writing day:

A)  There are two seasons of writing for me. One when the kids are in school, the second is summer (or Christmas) vacation. During the school year, I’m up at 5:45, pack lunches, cook breakfast, get the kids to school then I do an absolutely crucial activity. I exercise. It might be a long walk or an hour at the gym but I have to do this to get my head right. It is during exercise that I begin to organize my writing day. What do I want to accomplish? How can I improve an existing chapter? Do I need to add any new chapters? Once I nestle my cans into my chair for the day, it’s all about focus. I try to write for several hours, stopping only for lunch or the occasional trip up to the school to deliver the thing one of my kids forgot that day. Grrrrrr.  I have a small daily window of seven hours to get my exercising and writing done. I have to be discipline. Once the kids are home from school I usually don’t get any time to write until they go to bed. By that time, I’m usually exhausted. However, I will write at night when I’m in the creative zone. I sure wish I could turn it on and off but I can’t. If the ideas are flowing, I’m pounding away at the keyboard. I do my best to get at least six hours of sleep. Then, the next day I do it all over again.  In the summer, it’s a crapshoot. I’m far less organized. I try to find time to write whenever time presents itself. It’s much more challenging this summer as I’m trying to promote Project 14. I have to be very discipline, which isn’t always easy, and divide my time among the business side of the book process, the creative side, have time for the kids and finally, make time for cleaning, cooking, laundry. Oh, there is that headache again!

Q)  From where do you draw your inspiration?

A)  I draw inspiration from life. For whatever reason my life has been a pretty wild ride. When people hear some of my real-life stories they are amazed. Sadly those experiences haven’t enriched my bank account but they have enriched me as a person which is far more important. (Unless you can’t pay your bills, then the fat bank account comes in handy.) I have been lucky enough to have run with many unusual packs of humans. I used to be a rap artist, I have owned small businesses, I worked in professional boxing for promoter Don King, worked with guys like Mike Tyson. I owned a video production company which allowed me to travel around this great nation of ours and meet a lot of different peeps from all walks of life. I’ve been crushed and smashed and smeared on the sidewalk by life yet here I am.  I find that hard times can serve as an extraordinary inspiration if you can rise above the mental challenges. Sometimes it can be hard to write and be creative in times of struggle. However, hard times help shape us. I figure that if I can rise above hard times and write a novel while raising three kids alone, then I can do about anything. Can’t even explain how I did it but I did. It’s all a blur at this point. When I sit and reflect on things I find it is pretty easy to draw inspiration from my life. I also love to watch people. I often look at someone and try to imagine what their life is like. That helps me stay creative. Great stories are about people. If a writer doesn’t have a grasp on people, they can’t develop strong characters that audiences can relate with. Without good characters, there is no story. So I do a lot of people watching, trying to understand as many ways of life as I can. Not sure that answer is a great one but it’s an honest one.

Q)  Tell us about your latest book:

A)  Project 14: The Legend of Beelzebub’s Bluff is a something I’m really proud of. Not to beat a dead horse, (Wow, that is a brutal saying when you see it on paper. Gross!) but my life has been very hard the past few years. Raising kids alone and not being able to find work has taken a toll on me. I finally just said to myself, “Self, it’s time to write this story you’ve been thinking about for so many years.” So, I sat down in September 2012 and did it.  Project 14 is really a tale of survival and perseverance. It’s a story of five kids who are on their annual camping trip with their respective fathers just outside of the hauntingly sleepy town of Henley, Texas. One early morning the boys sneak out for a fishing excursion on the river. They go downstream a bit too far and wind up in front of an ominous rock formation known to locals as Beelzebub’s Bluff. Soon the two girls show up—they’d been following the boys. All five kids end up getting caught in a devilish river current known as the Raven’s Claw and they are pulled down a small waterfall which drops inside the bluff.  They end up falling into a secret world, a place where two lost tribes of people now reside. They must stick together, figure out who to trust and find a way out amidst a world of strange people and creatures, and an evil dictator who has given the order that the children must not be allowed to leave alive. It’s a pretty exciting adventure story and none of what I just described has anything to do with why the book is called Project 14. People will have to read that on their own.
I guarantee that anyone who enjoy adventure stories will love this. It’s a story that gets better with each new section and stays exciting right up to the very last page. I’d sure be appreciative if people go to and buy the ebook or the paperback. It will be well worth the money. After all, the ebook is cheaper than two Grande lattes from Starbucks with sugar free vanilla and soy milk. The paperback is cheaper than those same two lattes with a slice of lemon pound cake with vanilla icing and a couple of those cake pops that I’ve never seen anyone order. Plus it lasts way longer! J

Q)  What author have you been most influenced by? 

A)  I would say the one author who has influenced me more than anyone over the years is Stephen King. I find him to be utterly brilliant at times, such as with 11/22/63. That has to be one of the best novels I’ve ever read. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves as being one of the great storytellers of our era, if not the best. He has had tremendous influence on our culture. He is someone I can always look to and say, ‘keep working cuz you’re not as good as that guy’. The other author I love and respect is Jodi Picoult. The Storyteller was one of the great books I’ve read in the past few years. She has such a masterful grasp of the written word and I find myself wanting to get better when I read her work. For me, that is what it is all about. Who makes me want to get better? Who challenges me as a storyteller? There are several others but King and Picoult are the top two for me.

Thank you, Grant!  It's been a pleasure having you - and you still manage to crack me up!  I just received my own autographed copy of Project 14 and can't wait to dive in.  Congratulations!!

Author Bio:
Grant Kauffman is the author of Project 14: The Legend of Beelzebub’s Bluff . Having worked in the television/video/film production industry for over 15 years, Grant possesses a wide range of skill sets, including writing, directing, producing and editing. Always the avid storyteller, Grant not only has a background in creative services, but also in promotions and public relations. He firmly believes in the enduring power of a well-told story to entertain people of all ages. He is currently working on a sequel to Project 14 and also has several other works in progress. He is a proud single father who raises his three children in McKinney, Texas, just north of Dallas.  Grant is an award-winning producer/director who founded a video and film production company in Denver in 2001. Prior to launching his video company, he served as a television producer for Don King Productions, helping produce such telecasts as Tyson-Holyfield I and II, the two most successful pay-per-view events in history for their respective broadcast dates. Grant also has worked as the director of video production for J.D. Edwards Software. He holds a BA in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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