Monday, December 22, 2008

FCAT - The New 'F' Word

I recently had a conference at my son's high school to go over his IEP and find out why he's failing. I asked why only one of his teachers had called me - the week before grades went in - to tell me he was going to fail if he didn't pass the exam. Out of seven teachers, four of whom knew he had a 'D' or 'F', I got only one call and that one was too late in coming.

After expressing my displeasure, you know what I was told? "In all fairness to them, they have a lot on them this year because of the FCAT."

WHAT?

For those of you unfamiliar with the FCAT, allow me to explain. The FCAT is the year end student assessment test. It is supposed to measure student success in meeting educational goals throughout the year. Under the Jeb Bush administration, it was implemented to replace the California Achievement Test and has been used ever since.

Theoretically a more thorough assessment instrument, implementation of the FCAT has done more to ruin the education system in Florida than any other single event. Teachers no longer have the flexibility to lead their students through the lessons at a comfortable pace. They can't work at the speed of the students. Instead, they have to push to cover 'X' amount of information prior to FCAT. They are now, in effect, teaching the test.

What happens to students like my son who are struggling to keep up? They get further behind and fall through the cracks because the teachers are too busy to help them.

As a parent, this angers and saddens me. It angers me because no test should put so much pressure on every student, teacher and school in the state. The kids are terrified of it. The teachers talk about it in whispers like it's a dirty word. Administrators wield it like a sword above the heads of their staff because funding depends on scores.

I used to teach high school. I know the pressure teachers are under for their students to succeed. Even with upwards of 30 students (36 in one class when they all bothered to show up), I was expected to track individual progress. I was required, by mid-quarter, to notify parents of their child's impending failure. Not a week before grades went in.

I didn't have e-mail, it didn't exist. I didn't have a computer program to help me with my grades, planning or paperwork. Yet I had the same expectations for student success as teachers do now. So, when I get the explanation, "...because of the FCAT", do I have any sympathy at all? No!
The sympathy just about died after my son nearly failed the 9th grade. It suffered further when he nearly failed 10th. It's totally dead now and that one sentence killed it. There is no hope for resurrection or resuscitation. It is completely, totally and irrevocably gone.

Because of the FCAT, my child cannot be successful. Because of the FCAT, I am in the untenable position between a rock and a hard place, trying to decide what's best for him and how to get him through the next year and a half of school. Because of the FCAT, teachers struggle to keep afloat, juggle their paperwork and teach their students. However, I will not accept that because of the FCAT, the teacher has no time to call me. Try to feed that line to someone else, because I'm not buying it.

I invite comments both pro and con, but no profanity please. I reserve the right to edit or delete inappropriate posts.

Monday, December 01, 2008

In the Midst of Madness

Finding time to write is something every author deals with. Some of us have more time to devote to it than others, but still find that life intrudes. I just spent the month of November taking the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. While it's invigorating to test my writing abilities, it also tests my patience.

For those of you who have never heard of NaNoWriMo, I'll explain. The participants make the personal commitment to write a 50,000 word novel beginning November 1st and ending November 30th at midnight. There are no money prizes, no one reads the novel but you, it doesn't even have to be perfect, it just has to be done. For this, you get a caffeine addiction, sleep deprivation, frazzled nerves, numb fingers, a nifty little logo to put on your web site, a printable certificate and the satisfaction of knowing that despite everything, you persevered!

It's amazing how quickly life intrudes when I set a goal like this for myself. Everyone in the household becomes "needy", particularly my twelve year old son. Things he could do for himself suddenly take on far more importance, meaning that Mom has to get up and take care of it. The phone becomes my enemy. I can go for weeks at a time when the phone won't ring, but once the November challenge begins, it rings all the time. I'm not being paranoid, I kept track! The week before NaNo began, I had a total of five phone calls in a week - one of which was for me. As of November 1st, I had at least that many a day - and most of them for me.

Meals are another thing that interfere. Deciding what to fix becomes a major decision that I usually leave to the last minute. Grocery shopping becomes a task that eats into my writing time, irritating me further. When I get home, the actual preparation is the most annoying because it's accompanied by complaints about the meal.

NaNoWriMo is not the only time that these things are problematic, I simply use that as an example. During any given day, the precious moments I have to get the ideas out of my head and into written form, are limited. I don't know about other authors, but my family fails to recognize that what I am doing is actually "work". To them, it's Mom sitting at the computer - again. Old hat, since ninety percent of my free time is at the computer. If I'm not writing, I'm reading what I wrote and editing it with a mixture of brutality and care. The words, "I'm working", don't make much of an impression on three hungry boys.

Somehow, in the midst of all this madness, I find enough time to get things done. The precious words get faithfully added to the text even as my eyes cross and my head hits the keyboard. Life, though it interferes, is what I draw from to fill my books with lively conversation, anecdotes and action. So, though I may resent the interruptions, I welcome them, because it shows me that I am a part of life, not set apart - and that is truly a writer's richest resource.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Name that Character!

This post was inspired by a post on the Second Wind Word Press page, by Pat Bertram. In it, she talks about how a character name shows a lot about the character. I started this as a comment to her, but it got too long, so I moved it here. Dellani


I believe a name tells a lot about a character. One can be as obvious as “Young Goodman Brown” or as subtle as Duncan Chandler. The reason I cite the latter as an example is because he is one of my characters whose name represents two distinct facets of his personality. Duncan means “Dark Warrior”. He is the son of the protagonist, himself a dark warrior (both in aspect and action). Duncan is looked upon as a warrior, the next generation. Chandler means “Light Bringer”. The reason I chose this name is because he is also looked upon as the new hope, the one to fight the darkness and evil that threaten.

That got me interested in a few other names that I’ve used in the same series:


Matilda (Duncan’s mother) “Fierce in Battle”

Wilhelm (his father) “Determined Protector”


Marcus (his paternal uncle) “Of Mars - Warlike”

Rebbecca (Marc’s wife) “Enchantingly Beautiful”


Benjamin (his older brother) “Of the Right Hand”

Emmelia (Ben’s wife and Chairman of the Board of the Mining Guild) “Work”


Except for Duncan’s name, which I looked up and chose carefully, all these names were given by chance. But looking at their personalities, the names fit them incredibly well. Matilda, his mother, is a warrior and as fierce as her husband in a battle. Wil protects his family, friends, and those who fight with him. Marc is also a true warrior and his wife, Rebbecca, is beautiful. Ben is his father’s right hand, his wife Emmelia is one of the hardest working women in the galaxy.
My readers will probably never know the meanings behind the names, nor why I find them significant, but I found it an interesting way of fleshing them out.

I Did It Again!

I finished my second NaNoWriMo novel! I had the word count fairly early on, but I wasn't sure I'd finish. With being sick last week as well as having a two week deadline on novel revisions, I didn't know if I would get it done, but I did! YEAH! As my daughter says, "The deserves a woo." WOO!

If you aren't familiar with NaNoWriMo, check this site: www.nanowrimo.org and discover the fun of writing a complete novel in the month of November!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Write it Right or Yes, Virginia, Mechanics Count

When I was a child, I couldn't spell. I'm still spelling impaired and love spell check above any of the other features of my word processing program. I am, however, glad I have a good background in punctuation, because word processors are woefully inadequate there. Rule of thumb, if Word corrects your punctuation, it is probably wrong. Second rule of thumb: If you rely on Word to correct your punctuation, you need a lot of help.

I can remember saying to my mother, "But they know what I mean! Why is it wrong?" Because it is, genius. It simply is. There are rules and conventions in spelling and punctuation that we have come to expect. When they aren't there, they interfere with the message we are trying to convey. I don't remember my mother's exact words, but that is the essence of what she told me.

As a high school A.P. English teacher, I got a lot of that same attitude. My students could not see the importance of spelling, neatness and punctuation until their essays came back covered in so much red ink they looked like they'd been slaughtered by Attila the Hun. I couldn't seem to stress enough, mechanics matter!

Spelling is one of the most ignored conventions in writing. Of course, with the onset of massive text messaging, we ignore spelling completely and go to how it sounds. Abbreviations, typing it in quickly, getting the message to the other party fast - all this becomes more important than saying it right. If you send me a text message, I'm likely to send back the reply "???" Sorry, I don't speak gibberish. Look it up. Dictionary.com is free.

The second most ignored convention is comma placement. Commas crop up in all the wrong places, but get left out of all the spots they belong in. Certain commas are expected. When using direct address, use a comma. "Brad, look at that!" Or "Look at that, Brad!" The comma is there to let the reader know that the comment is addressed to Brad. The speaker is not saying "Look at that brad." He or she wants Brad to look at something.

Another anticipated and neglected comma is the one used to separate items in a list. "The big, black, ugly, smelly, dirty, nasty dog ran over and jumped on me." While on occasion, one may dispense with commas to separate, it's not considered a good idea. If the list is very long, as in the sample sentence, the commas have to be there. They just have to, that's why!

Commas before the word 'and', can be debated until the cows come home. Many will tell you that comma is a must. Others will tell you that it's completely unnecessary and redundant. Choose a method, side with one team or the other and be consistent.

I realize that sometimes the creative juices flow and the urge to get something down now is very compelling. We all go through manic writing phases . We hammer away at the keys and stay up half the night to get the story down. I understand this well. However, putting aside mechanics for speed is not a good idea. Figuring that you can go back later and neaten it up is fine in theory, but not in practice. It is impossible to read through and get all the errors on your own. Sometimes you can bribe a friend or two to look over something you've written. I guarantee if it's too terrible, they will get tired of it and quit. So, pay attention to the mechanics as you go. It makes less of a mess later and won't take so long to neaten up. Finishing isn't as important as getting it right as you go.

What's the point of this article? Am I trying to make people feel bad or insult their intelligence?
No. I am pointing out that each error we make as writers damages our credibility. Make your work as easy to comprehend as possible. Don't interfere with your message by carelessness.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A New Experience

I am having a new experience. Thus far, fairly positive, but we'll see how it progresses. Inspired by some of my Second Wind friends, I decided to put together a book promotional video. It's not come very far, a handful of pictures only - though I have figured out how to make them fade in and out, etc. I also found music!

I went to one site that my friend Suzette used, but didn't find what I needed there, so I followed a link to Jimmy G's page and found exactly what I wanted! My book, "Indian Summer", is set in 1730 in Spanish occupied Florida and I needed something with real Spanish flair. Jimmy had just the thing. It's a song called "Confrontacion Espanola". There was a lot of beautiful music there. I linger quite awhile enjoying the moods he created.

Now my only difficulty is making a video worthy of the music. It's going to take me awhile to finish, but at least I've got the music covered with Jimmy's site. When I put together other trailers, I'll go back and visit him again. In fact, I'll probably just go back just to listen.

To check out Jimmy G's great music, go to: http://jimmyg.us/Home/tabid/54/Default.aspx

Friday, September 12, 2008

What is Writing Like For You?

Pat Bertram, my guest blogger, blogs about writing at Bertram's Blog.

For me, writing is like the world's longest crossword puzzle, one that takes a year to complete. I like playing with words, finding their rhythm, and getting them to behave the way I want. I like being able to take those words and create ideas, characters, and emotions. Amazing when you think about it, how we can juggle twenty-six symbols in different ways to create words, sentences, paragraphs, worlds. And what one person writes, another can read.

For others, writing is like a mythic journey into self, other lands, other minds. It is like archeology, like exorcising demons, like channeling, like performance, like a faucet. It is like having an adventure. It is uniquely human, and it brings out the divine in us. It is breathing, a compulsion, a necessity, a reason for living, an obsession, a fun pastime. It is exhilarating and frustrating. It is liberating. And it is like comfort food, chocolate, and cherries. It is like magic.
For you, writing is like . . .

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Indian Summer" Excerpt

The following is an excerpt from "Indian Summer", an historical romance - for sale now at Second Wind Publishing.

The first rays of sun rose above the ocean, setting the waves afire. I gazed out my window, watching the town of St. Augustine awake. Sounds from the kitchen below blended with the calling of the men on the docks and the soldiers at the fort.
Tradesmen opened shops as women called to one another from their houses. Carpenters and stonecutters continued repairing the walls and buildings after the latest British attack. Seagulls called raucously along the shore waiting for whatever scraps got thrown to them, fighting over the merest, insignificant crumb. All these were comfortable sounds, mingling together into a familiar morning melody.
As my bedroom faces the ocean and hence the rising sun, I wake early, before any of my family, enjoying these last quiet moments. Yawning and stretching deliciously, I dressed and sat at my desk to compose a letter to my grandmother in England. I had not written anything but the date, 15 February, 1739, when the door to my room flew back connecting sharply with the wall, thus announcing the arrival of my little brother, the pest.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Day Has Arrived!

The long awaited day has finally arrived!

My book, Indian Summer, is up for purchase at the following address. It is listed under the pseudonym Dellani Oakes. http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/oakes.html The page is fairly newly up, so there may be glitches or typos, etc. Please bear with us. Right now there are issues with Pay Pal and Yahoo, so it will only allow the purchase of one book at a time, however, that will be resolved soon.

Besides my own, there are some incredible books represented. Please share the website with your friends and family and support the poor, starving authors (like me). Look for more books to be added in the following weeks. My next contribution will be my sci-fi/ romance The Lone Wolf due to be out this fall.

They are running a special right now, so you'll want to check it out soon! I can't wait to order a few myself! Thanks for sharing the site and thank you for your support!
Dellani

Saturday, May 03, 2008

"Indian Summer" - An Historical Romance

In the spring of 1739, Gabriella Deza stands poised on the verge of womanhood. A product of her guarded upbringing, she is naive in the ways of love until dashing Manuel Enriques declares his love for her.

Quite by accident, Gabriella uncovers a plot hatched by a British spy. Armed with her information, Manuel embarks on a dangerous mission to entrap the spy and save the fort from capture by the British. Unfortunately, Gabriella herself is caught in the trap and kidnapped. Join Gabriella and Manuel as they embark on a voyage of intrigue and espionage. Will it tear them apart? Or will their blossoming love bind them together?

Visit Second Wind Publishing to find out more about "Indian Summer". http://www.secondwindpublishing.com

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My husband and I have played an online role playing game called "Horizons" for several years. For fun I entered a scary story contest for the Fall Festival a few years ago. My story won an award and is used every year now as part of the festival.
Reebdoog's Tale
"I’ve a tale to tell will set your blood cold just to hear it!" The inebriated dwarf tipped back in his chair, puffing a foul smelling cigar. "Tain’t your run o’ the mill tale neither, but one as will chill ye to the bone!" He leaned in blowing acrid smoke in my direction. "It’s true! I seen it with me own two eyes, I have!
"Just a mite of a lad I were then, an’ no taller than yer knee. Da had been teaching me the finer points of brewing." He nodded solemnly. "Ma, she’d been after me to learn me letters, but I’d a far better head for brewing than I had for reading. How some ever... Da sent me to Dalimond to chat up the folk there, for twas rumored as there were a secret recipe for brewing rye to make a fine, smooth whiskey.
"Well! I got there and spoke first to that Pedro feller who buys and sells. He told me many things, but bid me caution. ‘Mind now,’ says he, ‘ you don’t go poking into the basement under the house with the runes. There be a secret door there under the stairs. Takes ye places as ye don’t want to be going.’
"Well, I laughed my bony arse off at the man, scoffing and making rude noises as I went. I wandered the town a wee bit, stopping to have a sip or two of Da’s best brew, and fell in with bad companions. They told me as they knew where the secret brew were kept. As they’d took a liking to me, they’d show it."
He gestured to the barmaid to refill his mug. Satisfied, he tipped back again, taking a long pull on his pint. He wiped the foam from his bristling, red mustache and continued.
"Well, I were in sad and sorry shape by then. Pedro done told me not to go to the house with the runes, but where do you suppose we ended up? They dragged me inside, past the kitchen, to the stairs. There in the corner, they opened a secret door.
"Slowly, slowly I walked in and the door swung shut behind me with a thump. Took a moment for my eyes to fix on what I were seeing. Twas at that moment I saw the worst sight of my life! I shudder now remembering! It were lined floor to rafters with kegs. They was stark empty and scrubbed clean! Why must have been dozens of them! And there in the midst of it all, a crew of humans whistling, singing and hosing them out! They took soap to 'em! Perfectly innocent kegs, they were, and these folk scraping around in them like they was mucking out stables!
"I ran hell bent to the nearest tavern, flung myself on a stool and ordered a pint. You know what they give me? A clean mug and watered down ale! Just goes to show, you can’t trust humans!"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wow! I did it again!!


I just got my story back from the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. Another Honorable Mention for my story, "Fiddlestix"!!! That's my second one. The first was for my story "Fractured". I'm very excited to get a second award. My goal is to keep trying until I get first place!

For more about this contest, visit: http://www.writersofthefuture.com/

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I am very proud to announce that I was awarded an Honorable Mention for my story "Fractured", in L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future contest!

For more information about this contest, use this link! http://www.writersofthefuture.com/
Handy Sites for Writers
Here are the sites I listed in my article for the WBWWS newsletter.
These are just a few of the websites I regularly use. Many of my research sites are geared toward specific stories, so I haven't included them.
Knowing the right way to search is as important as using a good search engine. I mostly succeed through trial and error, though I notice I'm better at research than my husband or any of my children. Perhaps it's that edge of tenacity (stubbornness) that is pervasive in my personality. Maybe after all the research I've done, I am better by habit. I haven't figured it out, nor have I any useful tips for folks who are bad at it. But I'll think about it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

So You Want to Name a Character

Finally sitting down to write that novel? Let’s assume you’ve chosen your genre, point of view, narrative style and all those other things that you have to decide before setting pen to paper. (Or fingers to keys). Now comes the fun part – maybe. Naming the characters. There are different methods of approach here, and excuse me if I leave some of them out. I use a variety of methods, but I know I haven’t discovered them all.
First, you can make the name tell something about the character. For example "Young Goodman Brown," by Nathaniel Hawthorne gives us a fair description of the main character before we turn the first page. However, you might not want to get that concrete in your description.
Another way to name is to pick names of people you know who sort of seem to fit. The only problem with this is, they may read the book and not like the character. You’ve just lost a fan. Probably not the best method. I’ve known people who randomly chose names from the phone book and used them. Also, not the best method.
I’ve used a lot of baby name books or web sites. These are incredibly useful. You can search for meanings of names, names from certain nationalities, starting with a particular letter, number of letters, the list of search filters is practically endless. Do a random web search for baby names and you will come up with a wide variety of sites.

When writing sci-fi, quite often I find myself needing an alien sounding name. Nothing "Earthly" works, so I’m stuck with making something up. While this might sound easy, it really isn’t. I like names that sound vaguely alien in nature, but aren’t so incredibly complicated to pronounce that my readers eyes will boil. It drives me crazy reading a book with complicated names. The worst faults are those who add a lot of unnecessary punctuation. Do you think we need "Ban’Kay-at-ah’wan"? What am I supposed to do on those dashes and apostrophes, swallow my tongue? Think too, when you are typing that all important name, how many times you will have to type it before the novel ends. I don’t think I could face it. It’s easy to fall into this pattern, but it is far better to make easily pronounceable names.

How to find the ideal alien name, preferably one that isn’t unpronounceable and jaw breaking? Fantasy name generators are great for this. Again, a random web search can be invaluable. I have also used mundane things, rearranged the letters a tad and come up with some amazingly interesting names. After wracking my brain for an important alien, a glance at a shop window solved the problem. I used part of the business name in reverse, and came up with an amazing moniker! Another name was provided by rearranging the letters in the maker of my van, "Telorvech".

I got the name of a planet from a telemarketer. English was not her primary language, and it took several minutes to determine that she wasn’t calling from some obscure third world country. She was, in fact, calling from Bank One. However, it sounded like "Ban-qwan", which later became "Bankaywan".

Once names have been decided upon, write them down and arrange them alphabetically
with a brief description of each character. This is quite helpful keeping track, especially of minor characters. How often have I gone back to a minor flunky only to say to myself, "Was his name Fred, Fritz or Frank?" And how frustrating to realize that I’ve named not one but two minor flunkies with the same name. Of course it’s entirely possible to have two men in opposite ends of the galaxy both named Frank, but why do it to yourself or your readers?

I try to keep names short, or give nicknames to character names I will be typing a lot. I just named a character Adrianna. I really wish I’d chosen something a tad shorter, but somehow the name Adrianna Hasselhoff seemed to fit. It’s her name now, and she won’t give it up, so I’m stuck with it. My main character in my sci-fi series is named Wilhelm Van Lipsig. His name immediately got shortened to Wil and there it’s stayed. I’ve noticed a trend as I write this article. Reviewing my character names, I find that the men often have shorter names than the women.
For the men: Wil, Ben, Marc, Frank, Kael, Stan, Brock, Brodie.
For the women: Matilda, Adrianna, Escascia, Ariella, Tselanna, Ysilvalov, Ssylvenia, Savannah.
I wonder why I do that. It certainly makes more work for me than if I named them things like Meg, Tina or Penny.
Avoid naming your main characters with similar sounding names. It is terribly confusing
for readers. I have a series of fantasy books I enjoy reading, but at least three main characters have names beginning with "K", three have names beginning with "S" and the hero’s wife, a queen, has a name so similar to that of her country, it gets mind boggling quickly. I know how difficult it can be to keep everyone straight, particularly when a novel begins to develop sub-plots.
The more I write, the more I find myself adhering to the "KISS" rule. (Keep It Simple, Sweetie). The more complicated I make it for myself now, the more exhausted I will be when I finish the book.

Undiscovered by Dellani Oakes

Kent Griswald is a high powered movie executive known for his micro-managing and aggressive supervision of a movie from beginning to end....