Working with kids is the best and worst thing that's ever happened to me. Week One of teaching summer school is completed, and I'm accumulating stories.
We send books home with the kids, along with a reading log so we can know how much they read. One kid forgot his book at home. I'd donated a copy of Where the Clouds Catch Fire to the bookshelf, so I grabbed it for the kid to read.
He looked surprised--it was quite a bit thicker than most of the books we had. "I like the name," he said, pointing to my last name on the cover. "Just take out the 'a,' and it's Pizza."
Yes, we get that a lot, I wanted to tell him. But he didn't know I'd written it, so I just smiled and told him to read to Page 8. He didn't get that far. Everyone was in high spirits (in other words, they didn't want to listen) and we were playing math games before long. Afterwards, I made the unruly ones help me clean up, and I waited twenty minutes after closing time for my last student to get picked up.
Maybe I should just collect quotes from my students. They say the darndest things.
I've gotten "You're not a real teacher" and "Why don't you work at McDonald's?" from a couple of boys. I've gotten "You're boring" and "Why can't we do anything fun?" multiple times (I'm pretty sure all teachers do). But I've also heard the kids tell an assistant from another classroom "You're not our teacher!" when she stepped in to help control the noise level. They wrote on the whiteboard, "Miss Micalah's Class and no one else's!"
Perhaps my favorite quote is from a younger child who isn't in my classroom: "I hate B.M.! Do you know what that stands for? Bad Mondays!"
During the spring semester, one of my boys came in upset. "Caitlyn broke up with me!" he said (to his friend, not me). "I gave her everything! I gave her chocolate on Valentine's Day! And she left me for Daniel? He's a loser! He's never done anything for her!"
Dude. You're in fifth grade. Relax a bit, I'm out of high school and still single.
It's good to know how kids work when you're a writer. After all, you never know when you're going to have a character with a twelve-year-old sibling, or you need a random fifth-grader to say something snarky at the public pool. Working with kids is one of the best ways to figure out what they're like.
Using relatives is okay too, but you won't get a representative sample of the age group. You only get the people who are the same kind of weird as you. My little sister left for camp this afternoon. I was on my way out the door with someone waiting for me, and my sister tackled me and tossed me on our stair landing.
"Get in my suitcase," she said. "And if you don't, I'll break all your bones so you'll fit better."
"Sis, get off of me, I have to leave--"
"Get in my suitcase!"
I left. Unfortunately. And now she's gone to camp, without a broken-boned teacher in her backpack.
What's the darndest thing a kid has ever said to you? And what's your favorite science experiment to do with kids? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
“What are you doing here, old man?”
Lukas McCamden met the sailor’s gaze calmly. The pier rocked beneath them, the wind and the waves trying to push them into the choppy waters below. The steady rain danced on the ocean, sending dimples running across the crest of every wave. The noise was amplified as a gust of wind blew the raindrops diagonally.
“I’m here to meet the ship,” Lukas said.
“How’d you know we was coming?”
Lukas was steady. “I’ve my ways. I’d like to speak wi’ Sigmund.”
The sailor snorted. “Get off the pier, and he’ll meet you. We’ve got enough landlubbers about. You’re insufferable.”
Lukas returned the sailor’s sentiments. The pier creaked beneath his boots as he carefully made his way back to dry land, cautious not to slip on the rain-dampened wood. The rain had soaked through his cowl, scapular, and tunic; even his undershift stuck to his wet shoulders. The wind set a sharp ache in every bone he’d ever fractured. He wished for his cloak.
The ship was finally secured against the pier, and Lukas watched a young man as he ran, blond head ducked to the rain, towards dry land. He stumbled on the slick wood but caught himself before he fell. The metal tip of a hook peeked out of his left sleeve.
The young man’s head jerked up. “Lukas!” he exclaimed, running up to him and shaking his hand. “You’ll not believe all the Lord’s done in Hrafney!”
“The missionary trip went well, I take it?” Lukas asked.
“The chief himself was converted,” Sigmund said. “Seventy-eight salvations in total.”
“Seventy-eight?” Lukas repeated. Sigmund nodded, shivering as the wind blew through his slight frame, and Lukas wished again for his cloak. “God be praised, that’s good news! Now suppose we get out of the weather.”
Sigmund led him down the wood-paved street, every bit as slippery as the pier, to the tailor’s small longhouse near the center of town. “Of course. Remind me, though, I’ve got to tell you about a Scottish captain I met. He said he was a friend of Alynn’s father.”
Lukas glanced at Sigmund. He obviously didn’t know the magnitude of what he’d just said—glad instead to be on dry ground, anxious to see his wife for the first time in five weeks. “A Scotsman?” Lukas repeated.
“Judging by his accent, which doesn’t mean much. But he mentioned Alynn by name. Seemed rather concerned about the matter.” Sigmund once again ducked his head to the wind and quickened his pace. “Hrafney is sending a young man to study for the pastorate. I assumed you wouldn’t mind discipling him.”
“Not at all. I’ll be glad to meet him. What’s his name?”
“They haven’t decided who they’re sending. It’s either going to be the chief’s cousin or future brother-in-law.” Sigmund nearly ran the last four steps to the tailor’s house and rushed inside. Lukas heard the glad cries that only arise when a traveler is welcomed home—the shouting of names and the clapping of hands, the tears of a young wife who had never been apart from her husband before. It overpowered the din of the rain and the occasional clap of thunder.
And Lukas stayed outside, recalling the tales he’d been told of a Scottish sea captain, a friend of Alynn’s father.
I honestly have no idea why I forgot to post my blog yesterday.
I have an alarm on my phone that tells me to post my blog every Monday and Thursday. It goes off at 11:30 a.m. and yesterday, at 11:30 a.m., I was at the gym with my sister.
I'd had a heck of a time getting there. The thing about sisters, especially when they're 18 and almost 14, is that they don't always get along well. So we'd gotten in a bit of a scuff before we'd left, and when we were one intersection away from the gym, I heard a plop.
"Micalah, your car broke, and I didn't do it."
I stopped at a red light and glanced over. My sister was in the front passenger's seat, and at her feet was a plastic panel that had, a few seconds prior, been attached to my car. Long story short, we got it fixed. Probably not the way it was supposed to be fixed. But it's fixed nonetheless.
We got in the gym, and I told my sister that we had an hour before we need to leave. All I'd eaten for breakfast that day was a protein bar and a package of fruit snacks, so I wanted to be home in time for a decent lunch. Another argument ensued--my sister is going to participate in a 2-mile run at summer camp, and she wants to be in shape. Fair point, but don't argue with a hangry nerd who's already out of her comfort zone.
Then my alarm went off.
"Crap, it's Thursday," I said aloud, before silencing my alarm, opening my YouTube music app, and plugging in my earbuds. "I should write my blog when I get home."
Well, I got home, ate lunch, worked on getting Where the Clouds Catch Fire formatted for paperback on Amazon, had a chat with my dad, browsed Pinterest, and went to church for a worship team meeting.
Fast forward to today. I cleaned out my closet today and filled up two trash bags--one with clothes I want to get rid of, and another with actual trash. (Most of it was boxes I'd saved in case I had to return the thing that came in them.) I can actually shut my closet doors now. Anyway, Pinterest eats my soul again, I emerge two hours later for lunch, and then start making 100% sure that Where the Clouds Catch Fire is free from type-o's before I submit it.
Oh, and here's the proof I just got:
It has a matte cover, so it's super soft. I've been carrying it around with me, asking random people to touch it. I got it Wednesday, and I just sat and pet it for a while. After putting it on Instagram, of course. (Did I mention I have an Instagram? No? I'm the M.J. Piazza with a bunch of book stuff in my feed. You can't miss me.)
Anyway, I was editing, and I realized that Alynn is thirteen in the book. I was thirteen when I started writing the book. Now, my sister's thirteen, almost fourteen.
"Wouldn't that be such a cool thing to put on my blog?" I asked myself.
Oh, yeah. My blog. Thank God I remembered.
To be fair, I've had the past two weeks off work, so I've been pretty out of the loop recently. I woke up at 7:00 this morning for the first time in what feels like years, to prepare for Monday, when I have to be at work at 7:30. I already know I'm going to leave early and get myself coffee. There's a local chain that has something called a Mexican Mocha or something like that, and I ordered it once specifically because it doesn't taste like coffee. I don't like coffee. But I loved that Mexican Mocha.
What's the craziest reason you've ever forgotten to do something? And what's your favorite way to drink coffee? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Sorry for the late post. I had a friend stay over yesterday and you know what happens when two eighteen-year-olds have an afternoon to themselves. Anyway, over the next few weeks, I'll be posting bits and pieces of Where I Stand, the sequel to Where the Clouds Catch Fire! I'm excited too! So let's get going with the poem that opens Where I Stand...
While I stare in hope at the ocean,
My gaze set on water and stone,
I see naught but waves set in motion,
No person, for I am alone.
O speak, flaming sunset! O, what have you seen?
What visions to you have been shown?
Tell me the fate of the one who has been,
The person who left me alone.
Nothing tonight meets my vision,
My hope to the wolves has been thrown.
Tomorrow I'll repeat my mission,
With hope that I won't be alone.
One of the best parts of being a writer is getting feedback from your readers. I've had people smile and say that they enjoyed my book. I've had people say that they don't normally read action novels, but they still enjoyed Where the Clouds Catch Fire and finished it in two days. I've had people say that they couldn't think of any negative feedback to give me.
To be honest, I'll look at you strangely if you say you don't have any negative feedback, because no one's that good of a writer. Heck, I'd give negative feedback to Laura Ingalls Wilder if I could. (She over-describes outfits in my opinion, but that's the only thing wrong with the Little House series.) I'm grateful anyway, but you won't hurt my feelings if you point out that my Irish dialect is off or that my villain doesn't have a strong motivation.
I had a friend text me recently saying that she enjoyed Where the Clouds Catch Fire. She pointed out different things that she liked--how I personified the ocean, how I gave a sense of family--but then she pointed out something that I hadn't thought of before.
The symbolism of spoons.
For those of you who haven't read Where the Clouds Catch Fire (which is available on Amazon and under the "Purchase" tab above), one of the main characters, Lukas, does not eat with spoons. Whenever he eats oatmeal or soup (which are the staples of his diet), he simply drinks it straight out of the bowl. Protagonist Alynn spends most of the book trying to get him to change his ways, and by the end of the book, he's capable of using spoons. He still doesn't enjoy it. But if it makes him seem like a normal person, he'll do it.
I meant for it to be funny, not symbolic.
I've heard similar stories about people finding hidden meaning that wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. A Tumblr post mentioned a student who drew a fictional character without hands. The teacher took it to mean that the character felt helpless, while in reality, the student just couldn't draw hands.
I've mentioned in earlier blog posts that I'll accidentally throw a fact in a book that's historically accurate. Like that one time I put in a throwaway line that mentioned an Irish character making ham, before realizing that Irish people are apparently pretty good at making ham. But being unintentionally symbolic? That's new.
I don't quite know what my friend saw in the spoons. Adapting to new times and/or a new culture? The release of old ways so that the new can be welcomed? The appreciation of small things in life? Come to think of it, there are quite a few things that I could have meant. But I didn't mean any of them.
Don't get me wrong--I'm flattered that someone would think of my writing that way. I'm also comforted that I'm not the only one who goes crazy over little details. (I paused How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World the other day just so I could show everyone the ravens on the chief's chair that symbolized Hugin and Munin from Norse mythology.) Lord willing, when I move on from the Clouds Aflame series and start making other books, people like my friend will notice how they're all connected. I want to have a ruby cross necklace in all the books, and don't worry, Alynn will get her hands on it eventually.
What do you think the spoon symbolizes? Or what's your favorite observation from a book, movie, or TV show? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Best off among the ones who served,
Never left the Army Reserve,
But still you show your flags unfurled.
To Josh and Louis
You wake at night with terrors dark,
For what you've seen has left a mark,
I pray that peace may soon be yours.
Your body may disabled be,
I hope your spirit, though, is free,
(But if it is, I do not know.)
Who traded loving homes for rags,
To bless the ones who burn our flags,
I, for one, will always say
Today is my last day of work for two weeks! It's so enjoyable without the kids there. The grown-ups, or at least most of them, are friendly. There's no one to throw blueberries at the whiteboard, hit another kid, or tell me I should be working at McDonald's instead. Plus I get free food sometimes.
I've been having quite a time with selling books on Amazon. I've taken classes about Amazon ads, I've purchased software, I set up my Amazon author page. But sales have still been a bit slow. I know that my product isn't to blame. I've had several people give me feedback, and every single one of them has said they enjoy my book. I know that my marketing skills are lacking, but the ads should be at least paying for themselves.
And then I realized that my description was probably to blame.
If you meet me in real life, one of the first thing you'll notice about me is that I don't enjoy spending money. If it's free, I'm on it. If I have coupons or a gift card, I'll buy it. Otherwise...unless it's food, I'll usually do without, make it myself, or find it cheaper somewhere else. So that's why I was glad to get a $5 Kindle gift card, and even more glad to find a Kindle book about how to sell books on Amazon for $4.99.
Amazon still says I have a $0.01 credit on my account. They're adorable.
Reading that book has helped me, but I was also able to formulate my own conclusion about writing book descriptions. So if you, dear readers, are writers yourself, or if you just need to suck your children into a bedtime story, here's a bit of advice for you.
Set up what's normal for your character. And then destroy it.
The author of my new Kindle book pointed us to the Amazon description for The Girl on the Train, which was apparently wildly popular. I haven't read this book--I'm still suffering through C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength--but the Amazon description is pretty nifty.
One thing I didn't understand, though, is why the better half of the description focuses on the main character's daily commute to work and everything she sees on it. Why does it matter that she's made up her own names for the elderly couple she sees eating breakfast on their front porch every morning?
I don't know why it matters. But apparently, it works.
I followed the same formula when I rewrote my Amazon book description. I set up what was normal--not quite Alynn's backstory, but what her life is like before the events of the book start--and then I say that everything is going to change.
I only hint at what happens. After all, why read a book when you know what happens? This is why I admire Lemony Snickett and his passing references of bad things in his Series of Unfortunate Events--"If you don't like stories that involve large-fanged fish, prosthetic limbs with minds of their own, or toothpaste that tastes like burnt meatloaf, this book is not for you." (I made that up. But I wouldn't put it past Lemony Snickett to write about such things.)
So, to sum it up: set up what's normal, and then destroy it. Hint at what's to come, don't tell us outright. Heck, that sounds like a good way to outline a novel, too....
What's your favorite book description? Post it in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Look! The opened door,
Like Kirke's wardrobe to a magic world,
Sunlight gold on grass of green
That gives it such a lovely sheen.
Look! The window clear,
The sky is bold and full of cheer,
Pink and myriad shades of blue,
There's some red and purple, too--
The door is shut,
I'm called away.
My prison cell is beckoning.
I'm not sure when freedom will come for me,
But it will be after dark.
Fresh air, at least, never dies.
Hey, guys! Before I get started on today's blog, I want to remind everyone that we've got another book signing coming up this Saturday the (18th) from 10:30 to 3:00 at Kaboodles in Denison. TX. If you're in the area, I hope you can drop by!
Summer is almost here. My college classes, thank God, wrapped up last week, and now I just have a few more days of mayhem tutoring my middle-schoolers before I get a nice two-week break.
And then life goes back to hectic.
I'm teaching summer school.
The good news is, I'm getting paid for it. The bad news is, the kids don't like me and I can't get them to do much of anything. There are a few good moments when everything seems to look up. Like the time I got the kids to clean the entire classroom by bribing them with chips. Or when I got my test results in to see that many of my kids have improved drastically in some areas. Or the time they got upset at another teacher for telling them to stop playing monkey-in-the-middle and had an unexpected outburst of loyalty to me, their teacher.
And then there are the funny moments. I guess you just have to laugh when the kids tape your stapler shut, or when they throw blueberries on the whiteboard, or when one kid says something moderately embarrassing and turns red. One time, one kid distracted me while another stealthily stuck a piece of tape onto my pants. I don't know how long I walked around with a tail, but the kids got a laugh out of it.
There are a few sweet moments, too. When a kid is crying or not feeling well and I offer a hug, they normally refuse, but sometimes they accept. Those moments really make my day.
Unfortunately, the good, the funny, and the sweet are rare. It's mostly chaos.
If they were my own kids, things would be easier. I'd have the authority to swat them if they got out of line. Like the time they had a flat-out roasting session on me. Or even yesterday, when everyone said they were bored and couldn't wait for class to be over and were never coming back.
This is what hurts my heart, because I feel like I'm single-handedly making them hate education. I'm doing my best. I'm eighteen with no formal training, and middle schoolers are apparently the toughest class to teach. Some days, I've gotten in my car after a particularly harrowing day of work and just cried.
Actually, I take that back; I've had a very little bit of formal training. I once went to an A.C.E school, which is set up very differently from a normal school. The students are all in one room at their individual desks. They have little flags that they can raise if they need to leave their desks for any reason, or if they need help with a particular subject. One year, I finished my work two weeks early and decided to be a monitor--a person who goes around, checking on the people with raised flags, seeing what they need. After one day of monitoring, I was wiped out. It was at that moment I realized how much harder it is to teach than it is to learn.
Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. One of the kids from the neighboring class brought cupcakes to celebrate. I'm not sure if no one in my class was aware of it, or if they just decided I wasn't worth thanking. But then again, I've never really celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week either. Not with my mom, who taught me for ten years. Not with the teachers at the A.C.E. school. Not with my homeschool co-op leaders.
Teachers aren't the only ones with thankless jobs. Working in the food industry--or any service industry, for that matter--is tough and not well compensated for. People tend to take you for granted most of the time. You think it's tough dealing with customer service people? They probably have it worse. They're the ones who have to deal with everyone from the People of Walmart website.
This week, try thanking someone you normally wouldn't--a waitress, the clerk who helps you find a relocated item, a teacher, a janitor. It'll make their day, and maybe it'll help make yours a bit better, too. Who can you thank this week? And do you have any teaching tips? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
White, fair, breast of peach,
Coattails long and polished. Each
step of the dance you are performing
brings the beauty of a morning's
sunrise, with clouds of peach.
Wings spread, angel flying.
Your frame, like a phoenix never dying,
sails through sky like flags unfurled
or arrows from their bows. The world
is better through your flying.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.