Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Next Big Thing

So, I've been tagged in The Next Big Thing by Ashley Benning, which apparently is a chain-letter for bloggers to discuss the book they're writing.

What is the working title of your book?
Lost in the Shadows

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Years ago I read an article in the LA Times about how many missing persons there are in Alaska. Not only do they get lost in all that wilderness but sometimes people go there to "lose themselves" on purpose – sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally. Being a long-time fan of creepy ghost stories I wondered: what if there was something contributing to disappearances?

What genre does your book fall under?
Ahh, I hate to think of it as "horror" because so many of those books are completely over the top. (Slasher movies like Nightmare on Elm Street were popular when I was a teenager but I preferred a good ghost story like Poltergeist.) I think I'll go with "paranormal thriller" for genre.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
No idea – can't even manage to think that far ahead.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
After the death of his wife, Jack moves to Alaska to escape his grief and run a small lodge in the woods near Juneau only to find something malevolent about the forest.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Hopefully represented by an agency, of course, but I'm seeing a lot of self-publishing success stories.  If all else fails I might just serialize it on my blog.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Well, I've been working on it for over 8 years now, and just started the first major re-write this last summer (I guess that's what happens when you have a full-time job/life). Although I had originally envisioned "Jack" as a late 20-something I'm considering changing him to a teenager (after all, YA is what I generally read) and I think it might work better that way, but I've decided to try to finish it "as is" first (I must be a little OCD because I can't stand leaving things unfinished).

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Maybe Dean Koontz in some of his cleaner books. Definitely not Stephen King – although I think he's an amazing writer (loved The Dark Half), I found his books often trashy and to have a very mean undercurrent to them (especially Needful Things).

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
A very unpleasant job reminded me that as a kid I always thought of myself (in the back of my mind) as being a writer when I grew up. (I guess I haven't grown up yet – and I don't mean that in a childish way.)

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
In researching for the story I actually found numerous parallels to what I had made up in old legends and cultures around the world.

(I'm sending these questions to Jon Jagard.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Plant Parenthood

I've never really cared for tomatoes, which is unfortunate because I end up having to pick them out of the salads Jamie makes (she insists on putting them in). But what if I could find a tomato I actually liked? There are way more varieties out there than what you can buy in stores and they're fairly easy to grow. Possibly there's one I might like?

But maybe the more important question is: why don't I like them? I mean, besides the fact that they're mushy and taste too acidic or bitter or gross or something. Whatever it is, I just don't like them. I never really have. And what about you? Is there some vegetable you don't like, but wish you did? Maybe peas, or green beans, or brussels spouts, or broccoli? Why, and what is it you don't like about it? Maybe you could find a variety you like that you could grow in your own garden.

But if you couldn't, would you think it was fun to try to develop a better tasting (or whatever your criteria is) vegetable on your own? After all, gardeners who came before us didn't wait for seed companies to do it for them - they did it themselves. Why can't we?

That's the idea behind Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's & Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving by Carol Deppe. After Janisse Ray's book The Seed Underground fell flat for me, I stumbled across this one. Deppe tells of a teenager in northern Idaho named Glenn Drowns who wanted a watermelon – not a store-bought one – but a home grown watermelon. The problem was that the growing season was too short in Idaho. But when he learned about hybridization in a high school biology class, he got the idea of cross-pollinating plants with the hope of getting a watermelon that would ripen in his shortened season. And in only 4 years of gardening he developed 'Blacktail Mountain,' an early-ripening watermelon. And ordinary gardeners like you and me are doing the same thing with potatoes and peas and other veggies, and it doesn't have to be limited to taste or how early it produces – it's up you you and me.

(Incidentally, did you see the recent study about organic foods? Researchers looked at over 200 studies and found no clear health benefit. Pesticide residues were slightly lower, but they were low either way. The main benefits they found were mostly environmental. See articles on Yahoo and NPR.)

The place to start is with varieties that already do well in your particular area and Deppe not only talks about where to find plant material and how to conduct your own simple trials, she also explains plant genetics in a fairly easy to understand way. Another book that might be useful is Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth. It's a reference book that explains how to pollinate and save seeds from all different kinds of vegetables.

But in all honesty I'm not really interested enough in a better-tasting tomato to breed my own. Right now I only have time for a few plants here and there, and this fall/winter I'm trying parsnips and purple carrots, as well as a few other things like snap peas and lettuce. Still, it sounds interesting and like it could be fun, so when I get a little more time and more familiar with what's already out there – and better at growing those things – maybe I'll think about it again.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

"We are but your children..."

One hit wonders – that's the stuff a lot of great new wave music was made of. Not that there's anything wrong with that – you don't have to bother buying the whole album only to find out the only song you really like was the one you heard on the radio. "Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)" was the only hit for Icicle Works in the US although they had several in the UK (where the title of this song was reversed). I looked up the videos to a couple of the others but didn't care for them. Speaking of which, what's with all the leaves blowing around in the video? (It made me wonder if they got leaves in their mouths while singing.)

Anyway, I looked up the lyrics but they don't make much sense (just like most pop music, I guess) so I have no idea what the song is about (if anything). But I just love how the song sounds – especially the drums, fast paced and kind of frantic (maybe the blowing leaves portrayed a frantic-ness?). Of course, that seems to be my reason for most of my favorite music – it just sounds good! Kind of hard to argue with that, right?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Not just for my teacher friends

I used to know a lot of smart people – until the election heated up, anyway. Now I get emails and see posts on Facebook about candidates with obviously questionable "facts." I'm not talking about the stuff that is clearly just meant to be funny. I'm talking about the stuff that makes outrageous claims and distorts what was actually said. It ought to be obvious that candidates will say things that fudge the truth (or worse) just because they're desperate to win. That doesn't mean we have to be fools about it! If something sounds too crazy to be true, it's probably not true. But forwarding it without checking first only annoys your friends and can cause them to unfriend you.

Phew! I just had to get that off my chest.

But speaking of how to know what is true, I recently read When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education by Daniel T. Willingham. The book is specifically aimed at educators (teachers and administrators, but parents, too) who might be considering "educational software, games, workbooks or other programs" which claim to be "based on the latest research." While some of these products may be based on actual research, many are not. But how can you tell? Willingham discusses the history of science and the role it plays in persuading us and appealing to our biases (especially the "confirmation bias" where we look for "evidence" that supports what we already believe and discard what doesn't support it). Ultimately he outlines and explains four steps:
  • Strip it and Flip it. Strip the claim down to its essentials and promises: "If I do X, then there is a Y percent chance that Z will happen."
  • Trace it. Should you take statements by "authorities" at face value?
  • Analyze it. What evidence is offered? Is there any scientific evidence (from reliable studies) that support or refute the claims?
  • Should you do it? And how will you measure results, or when do you call it quits?
It's a rather straightforward process that can weed out a lot of programs and help you find (and understand) the kind of research for making better-informed decisions. And while it's geared more toward eduation professionals it's also written plainly enough that parents can use the same processes. I picked it up hoping it could apply to other areas where science is touted, like the breathless claims about climate change, for instance. Such issues are certainly beyond the scope of this book, but I think Willingham's method is a good place to start and can be applied in more areas than just education. But the main idea is to get people thinking for themselves and not be misled by emotional appeals or psuedo-science.

But when it comes to politics – GOOD LUCK! (I received this book from Amazon Vine.)