A Breather

Today was kind of a recovery day from a series of busy and intense days. It doesn’t help that I seem to be coming down with a cold which my kids so generously shared with me. I did get some school done with Jasper and I pulled out the materials I’ll need in order to get my outfit done for Realm Makers. At least I really hope I’ll get it done. I’m leaving a week from today.

I also got some knitting and writing done. Real thrilling day! My headache and I are going to bed!

 

Nota Bene

All day, I’ve felt a blog post coming on. To be specific, I have felt increasingly motivated to post about note taking. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I spent the weekend taking notes and have now started typing them up.

Note taking is a skill that I think is often overlooked in education today. When I was in high school, I thought I was a good note taker–and compared to many others, I was. When my friend Jim was my American History teacher in high school, I took pages and pages of notes in every single one of his class hours, because we were tested on the lectures and the book, and there was no overlap. My friends often borrowed my notes because they were so complete.

However, if I had known then what I know now, my note taking would have been even more effective and less exhausting. Note taking is one of the things I teach, because I find that often the students who come to me have never learned anything about taking notes. They start off learning to write “key word” outlines, where they can pick only three words from each sentence of a short paragraph to help them remember the meaning.

Later, they learn to take their “key words” from concepts or ideas. Then we move on to multi-source notes for research essays. They learn to organize their notes by topic, not by source, so they know right away if they have enough notes about each topic covered in their essay.

Finally, they learn to take dendrite notes, sometimes referred to as “tree and branch.” I did not learn this type of note-taking until I started teaching Excellence in Writing materials and got their “Advanced Communication” DVD series. It is worth the price just for the note taking instruction. This system is incredibly efficient and it  automatically organizes the material for you as you jot things down. Here are the notes I took during one of the sessions I attended this weekend:

7-18-15 social media notes

Now of course, I can leave them that way and they are easy to follow. However, I find that my understanding and grasp of the material increases if I type the notes up and lay them out in a more traditional, linear way. Here’s what those exact same notes look like after I typed them:

7-28-15 social media outline

My freshman year of college, I had to take a class in college survival skills that included the importance of note taking, although they didn’t really show us how to do it. Our professor was an incredible man who had emigrated from Europe as a young adult, and had maintained a straight “A” average in college while working a full time job. His secret? He took notes in every class and then typed them up the same evening, no matter how tired he was.

The act of typing up your notes helps you to organize and review the information a second time, which makes it more likely that you’ll remember it. Plus, if everything is still fresh in your mind, you’ll be able to remember and add details that you didn’t have time to write down earlier. After typing up his notes every night, my professor would set them aside until time to study for a test. All he had to do was read through his well-organized notes to remind himself of the material.

By typing up my notes from the conference, I like to think I am doing a better job of internalizing all that great new information that I was exposed to. Note taking is a very useful lifelong skill! Go forth and take notes!

Pop Quiz

This morning, I thought I’d have a somewhat leisurely day working on critiques and grading papers (I sent my manuscript out last night). Sipping my tea, I suddenly remembered that this week is the deadline for my accreditation renewal with the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Yikes!

I have been teaching their materials for fourteen years, but never got accredited until they published my Story Quest curriculum. They require that their authors be accredited with their materials. So, my accreditation was up for renewal, and I actually got an extension because of my surgery. The primary requirement is to watch/listen to six hours of continuing education, so that’s one of the things I did last week.

The only thing left to do, I thought, was to fill out the online form and pay the fee. Well, guess what? The renewal form turned out to be a quiz. I had to list the materials I had listened to, and then I had to come up with three helpful things I had learned from each of the three sessions. I did all the listening last week, before getting my brain completely stuffed full in Dallas! My note taking had been minimal at best, because like I said, I have been teaching this stuff for so long. It was kind of like walking into class thinking you’re going to watch a video, only to find out you’re taking a test instead.

I spent the entire morning trying to recall all the stuff I had heard, what had been in each session, and what I had thought was helpful. I had to re-listen to some of it. Finally, I had worked through the entire form/quiz and then I pressed the submit button and my entire application vanished into the void! I asked for help (they have an online chat option) and it turns out that even though I had clicked on the link in the email they sent me, I had not signed in to their website so all my work was gone forever. Grrr!

I began the laborious process of doing it all over again, only this time I typed everything up in a word document, just to be on the safe side. I got everything entered back into the form, after signing in of course, and when I pressed submit guess what happened? The same thing! This time it seems that I took too long to fill the thing out because I took a break to eat lunch.

Gnashing my teeth, I started over again for the third time and did not allow anything to break my focus until I pushed submit again and it actually worked. Then I could finally go out grocery shopping so my family would have something to eat for supper!

Evaluation

I guess I should report on the second day of the conference. I was thankful it started a little later than the first day, but 8:30 is still plenty early for me to be functional enough to absorb information and take coherent notes!  My first session was the final Kevin J. Anderson class, on how to be more productive as a writer. It was excellent! And he should know–he’s written over 120 books.

Later in the morning we had a keynote address from a very inspiring speaker–Shilo Harris, who suffered severe injuries while on duty in Iraq. His heart to minister to fellow veterans is very moving. And I love his sense of humor! He wore his “Spock” ears to speak to our group. I bought his book and one of the things his assistant asked each person in line was if they were a veteran or had family who had been in the service. So I mentioned that I had two brothers who were veterans and when he signed my book, he wrote this:

7-27-15 Shilo autograph page

At lunchtime I was joined by a fellow attendee–the one and only actual conversation I had with anyone at the conference. It was a little amusing. We write in the same genre, so I was thinking that we had some common ground there, but then the conversation turned to the subject of travel and our common ground evaporated. She hates to travel, has never been on a plane, and has only left Texas twice in her life–to visit relatives in a neighboring state. I, of course, have done a lot of traveling in the past and would be on the move perpetually if I could afford it! I think we both walked away from the table trying to wrap our minds around the weirdness of the other person. I cannot fathom how anyone would not want to see the whole world!

The reason the topic of travel had come up was that I was going to a class on travel writing after lunch. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I enjoyed it, and it was the one and only class of the whole conference where I got to sit at a table and take notes in comfort.

I alarmed a woman in the restroom on the sixth floor when I refilled my water bottle from the tap. “They have water available in the lobby,” she said. “I know,” I said, “but I don’t want to go all the way down to the lobby just to fill my water bottle.” She gave me the most horrified look you can imagine, and muttered something about the safety of tap water. Have we really reached the point where some people think only bottled water is okay to drink?

I fell asleep in my next class, which also wasn’t at all what I expected, so after that I sat out and just did some reading and knitting. Yes, of course I had knitting with me!

The final period of the day was devoted to the query “gong show.” It was a brutal but very entertaining and instructive event. During the previous two days, anyone who wanted to could submit their (anonymous) query letter for the gong show. There were six agents on stage, all with access to mallets and gongs. The rest of the agents were in the front row of the audience, and they also had a gong.

7-26-15 gong show

There was an MC and a man with a wonderful voice who read the queries. He would start reading, and the agents had to ring the gong as soon as he reached the point in the query where they would have stopped reading. Once three gongs had rung, the reading stopped and the MC would ask the agents why they would have rejected that query.

I estimate they got through about 30 queries in an hour. Only one made it through unscathed.  The most common “gong” offense was being too wordy. Agents have very short attention spans. If you can’t hook them in five sentences, you’ve lost them. It was very educational. I know it must have been hard for some of the people who submitted their queries to hear those gongs ringing–often during the first sentence! But they also got to hear the reason, so hopefully they will be able to craft a better query in the future.

That was the final event of the conference, so I walked out into the heat and Walter picked me up and we drove home, stopping for supper on the way. It was good to get home!

Now I feel I should say some words about why I went to this particular conference and whether I feel I achieved my objectives. In the past, I have attended the huge ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference three times. It is very expensive. I am not sorry I went, and I learned a great deal from going. However, one of the things I learned was that I did not fit in with that crowd. I write in a very unpopular genre (unpopular for them) and there was very little acknowledgment that writers like me even existed. I had thought that the ACFW people would be “my people,” but they were not. I made one good friend from that experience, and for that I am very thankful.

I also went (and will go again) to Realm Makers, the delicious wall-to-wall nerdfest for Christian speculative fiction writers. Those people definitely are “my people,” though I didn’t make any new friends there either. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t go to conferences expecting to make friends! Hoping, yes, but no expectations.

What I began to suspect after going to seven Christian writers’ conferences, was that I do not write Christian fiction. (I actually suspected this before I ever went to single conference.) I am a Christian who writes fiction, and some of my characters share my faith, but the stories I write are not about faith. I just try to tell a good story. What this means, in effect, is that for several years I have been knocking on the wrong doors.

So, I signed up for the DFW Writers’ Conference because it was a general market conference. I wanted to see how I’d do. I wanted to see if it was a better fit for me. And . . . it was. It was an excellent conference. It was not, as some people had hinted it might be, full of profanity and booze. The speakers were pros who are successful in their careers and who know how to communicate what makes them successful without resorting to vulgar language.

Since this was a new experience for me, I had a LOT more anxiety going in and literally almost made myself sick. Now I know that if I go again, and I hope I will, there is nothing to fear. As you know, my verbal pitch went well and I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to not be judged on whether or not my story was “Christian” enough. And, by the way, probably close to half the agents present handle manuscripts in my genre, so if the one I spoke to ends up not making an offer, I have other choices.

Speaking of genre, that was another refreshing thing. There were, I’d guess, about 200 attendees at this conference. Instead of having some three-quarters of them be romance writers, there was a wild mix of just about everything. Lots of speculative fiction writers like myself, mystery and suspense writers, historical fiction writers, non-fiction writers, literary fiction writers–all of it. It was like a breath of fresh air. I’m so glad I went.

 

 

Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him

Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him

Thomas Kelly

Praise the Savior, ye who know Him!
Who can tell how much we owe Him?
Gladly let us render to Him
All we are and have.

Jesus is the Name that charms us,
He for conflict fits and arms us;
Nothing moves and nothing harms us
While we trust in Him.

Trust in Him, ye saints, forever,
He is faithful, changing never;
Neither force nor guile can sever
Those He loves from Him.

Keep us, Lord, O keep us cleaving
To Thyself, and still believing,
Till the hour of our receiving
Promised joys with Thee.

Then we shall be where we would be,
Then we shall be what we should be,
Things that are not now, nor could be,
Soon shall be our own.

 

Ten Minutes of Caffeine and Adrenaline

This morning I had to be at the conference to register at 7:30. After a very restless night, it was hard to get up and iron my skirt and then go eat breakfast so we could get there in time. The conference is being held in a theater, which is nice in some ways, but I sorely miss having a table to sit at and take notes on! Tomorrow I will not even bother taking my AlphaSmart.

My agent appointment was at 10:00 this morning, so I was there ten minutes early as specified. This was the shortest appointment I’ve ever had. Most conferences I’ve been to give you fifteen minutes, but here we had ten minutes and they requested that it all be verbal–no handing the agent any paper.

I had had a big cup of tea before leaving the hotel, but I had some more caffeine before my appointment just to make sure I wouldn’t be tongue tied. Once I have absorbed a certain amount of caffeine, you can’t shut me up!

Anyway, my appointment was with an agent that from his description on the website seemed like he might be open to my kind of book. When you have only ten minutes, there is no time for small talk. You just have to jump right into your pitch. By that time I had enough caffeine and adrenaline in me that talking was not a problem. I felt like I was babbling. I just kept plowing ahead telling him about my story, and at first I had no idea how he was taking it.

Then he started asking questions. For every question, I had an immediate answer (to be honest, I could probably have answered just about any question in the world at that point). The more I told him about the story and the more questions I answered, the more he smiled. He really liked the story! So, he asked me to send the full manuscript to his assistant as soon as possible.

Then, the bell rang, and we shook hands and I had to get out of there. That is about as well as a ten-minute pitch session can go. So please be praying that if the agency is “right” for me, they’ll like my book!

It took me quite a while to stop shaking and gather my thoughts. All the classes I attended today were excellent. I especially enjoyed the ones taught by Keven J. Anderson. Look him up if you don’t know who he is!

By the end of the day, my brain was full and possibly overflowing. I was kind of sorry to miss the evening reception, but we had made plans to drive to the north side of town and have supper with our friend Susan. She went to a lot of trouble to make a lovely gluten-free meal and it was so good to get to visit with her.

Thank goodness tomorrow I don’t have to be in class quite so early! And by the way, my worries about wardrobe were unfounded. Sartorial style ran the gamut from shorts and flip-flops to business attire to full-out steampunk cosplay. My feet almost died from wearing shoes all day. Tomorrow it’s going to be flip-flops for me!

In the Big D

Walter and Jasper did their yard jobs today, while I stayed home and packed. The guys got back mid afternoon, so after Walter had a shower, we were able to leave in the 100 degree temperatures to drive to Dallas. It was a hot ride.

When we got here, we discovered that there was an alternative to the hotel’s expensive parking, so Walter dropped me off and then got a parking spot across the street.

Tonight was our night to have our official anniversary dinner. After seeing the parking situation here (we are in the heart of downtown), we decided to try for a restaurant within walking distance. Cortana (on my phone) had several helpful suggestions, but the one that grabbed our attention was a Moroccan restaurant just down the road.

7-24-15 Medina

It was very small and intimate, and the service was excellent. The food was to die for. I loved how the waiter assumed that we would share everything we ordered, so everything came with two forks or spoons! We had two different but delicious fish dishes, and I was so excited they actually had a dessert I could eat–fresh berries with just a touch of cinnamon-flavored whipped cream. I also had a glass of classic Moroccan mint tea. Walter had a mango mousse cake, and yes, it was divine.

As we finished our meal, the owner came over to introduce himself. “This is not my place,” he said. “This is your place.” Then he showered me with flattery and kissed my hand. It was a wonderful meal. Definitely a huge splurge for us, but you only get to celebrate your 34th anniversary once, and we did have a gift that helped pay for it.

Parting Shot:

7-24-15 fountain

The restaurant overlooked this lovely fountain.

In Which Jasper Fails a Test

This is last night’s entry, which I couldn’t post because I couldn’t get on the internet.

Thanks to a headache, today was not as productive as I had hoped. Still, I got some revising done and updated my one-sheets for the conference, even though I am not likely to need them. Today, after a week of asking, I finally got help with scheduling my agent appointment. This conference only gives you 10 minutes and it’s supposed to be all verbal. I’m gonna die. The only good thing is that my appointment is Saturday morning, which means I can get it out of the way and still have time to recover and get something out of the conference.

I also did school with Jasper and then buzzed all his hair off. It’s been driving us both crazy! And Walter, who had the day off, did all kinds of helpful things in the house and yard, including replacing the inside door handle on the passenger side of the car. The driver’s side handle has had to be replaced multiple times, but the one on the passenger side broke off for the first time several months ago. This meant that if you were sitting in that seat, you either had to wait for someone to open the door from the outside, or roll the window down so you could do it yourself. How luxurious to have a handle again!

This afternoon I took Lucy on a quick errand and then Jasper and I went to a bee keepers meeting. This is a new one that has started up just a ten-minute drive from our house. We sat near the back, where I could quietly knit during the meeting. Soon a rather garrulous and very Texan young man sat down beside Jasper. He joked and chatted with Jasper, telling him that he was going to nominate Jasper to be president of this new bee keepers club.

They were getting along famously until the man asked the question. The question he asked is, “What’s your favorite football team?” I cringed, because I knew it was not going to end well. “Do you mean American football or soccer?” asked Jasper politely. “Real football,” said the man. “Not that sissy soccer game.” Poor Jasper dug himself in even deeper. “I don’t know. I’ve never even seen a football game.” The man was literally speechless. No doubt he wondered if he had somehow been magically transported away from the state of Texas. What kind of Texas boy would grow up without even watching a single football game? I was just grateful that no occasion arose wherein I’d have to admit that I not only raised a boy who doesn’t know a thing about football, but I also don’t drink iced tea or carry a huge handbag!

 

About Watch Batteries and a Message

If you know me well, you know that I have not been able to wear a wristwatch for years, thanks to my metal sensitivity. Instead, I have worn a succession of pendant watches, which I keep on a beaded necklace that won’t irritate my neck. The problem is that sooner or later, the battery runs down, and since I can’t find a place that will replace the battery, I end up getting yet another inexpensive pendant watch.

My most recent watch was my very very favorite of all the ones I have had. The dial was clear and easy to read and upside down so I had only to glance down to see the time. I loved it. A couple of weeks ago, though, the battery died. I was very sad. I didn’t want to have to get a new watch.

Yesterday, when I was at Walmart, I asked the girl at the jewelry counter if she could possibly replace my watch battery, and I got the “no” I have always got at every store I’ve ever inquired at. This time, though, she had an alternate suggestion. She told me she was quite sure I could get the battery replaced at the Interstate Battery place down the road.

Now I had been to that place and I thought it was all about car batteries, but I figured it was worth a try. This morning I got five of my dead pendant watches and went up to Interstate Battery. It turns out they were quite happy to replace the batteries for me. (Watch batteries, by the way, are not cheap.) Two of the employees went to work and after a wait during which I was sorely tempted by the flashlight display, they called me over. They had replaced all the batteries, but two of the watches did not work even with a new battery, so I only had three out of the five in working order. My “favorite,” alas, was not one of the three.

Well, at least I had three working timepieces to choose from, right? The funny thing was, when I checked the two dead ones, one had started working again! Not the one I really wanted, but that meant I was up to four functional timepieces. That should keep me on time this weekend when I’m at the conference.

And yes, I do have a cell phone that also functions as a clock. I just am not a fan of having to take out my phone and turn it on and be all obvious about it every time I want to check the time!

This afternoon Lucy talked me into going to Walmart and buying a little wading pool for the dogs. They didn’t seem all that excited about getting into it, but they have been drinking from it a lot!

Spencer, meanwhile, took the first three days of this week off from work so that he could work on something–a message which he had agreed to present in church tonight, not just for the youth group but for the adults too. Since adults were invited, I of course decided to go and Lucy and Jasper came with me.

Spencer played on the worship team and then after the youth pastor gave a brief introduction, he spoke. He did a good job! His theme was that as Christians we should be steadfast people of integrity. He made some good points and backed them up with Scripture.

After he finished, he prayed, and then almost everyone in the audience stood up and surrounded him and prayed for him as he “graduates” from youth group and moves on to adult life. I am so glad he has such supportive Christian friends.

Lucy and Jasper and I came home and made a late pancake supper just in time for Walter to eat when he got home from work.

Tomorrow is my last full day to get ready!

Parting Shot:

7-22-15 Spencer preaching

I used my phone camera to get one quick snap of Spencer.

Released

Today I went grocery shopping and prepared for and taught a class. I also worked on stuff for the conference, started a new knitting project, and listened to two audio seminars.

Also today, my Aunt Marcia died. It wasn’t unexpected, though I guess part of me hoped she’d make it to the weekend so I’d be able to visit her one last time. I have so many mixed feelings at the moment. I was never close to my aunt, and in fact as a kid I was afraid of her. She and my uncle were missionaries in Guatemala, while of course my family was on the other side of the ocean in Africa.

Although she and my uncle lived in Dallas for the last part of their lives, I saw them rarely. It wasn’t until my uncle died a little over a year and a half ago that I began making an effort to spend time with my aunt, because I was the only relative living within easy driving distance (about two hours). I didn’t want her to feel that she’d been abandoned or that her family didn’t care about her.

The first few visits were at least somewhat gratifying. She recognized me and lit up with excitement when I walked into the room. She was eager to tell everyone that I was “family.” Our conversations were sometimes kind of amusing due to her tenuous grip on reality, but I knew she enjoyed my visits, even if she didn’t remember them afterwards.

Late last year, however, she was hospitalized and after that I guess a combination of meds and worsening dementia made visits much more difficult. The last time I saw her, in late April, she could not really carry on a conversation, and when she spoke, it was in a monotone. Now, she has been reunited with my uncle, to whom she was devoted, and no doubt has met her great-granddaughter Everly for the first time. There was nothing left to bind her to this earth, so for her sake, I am glad for her release. Please pray for my cousins as they have decisions to make in the coming days.

Parting Shot:

10-19-09 Uncle Ron & Aunt Marcia - Copy

My Aunt Marcia and Uncle Ron six years ago when I stopped in for a visit. Notice they wore matching shirts on purpose!