30 November 2010

The Power of Writing

This is utterly fascinating to me.

15-minute Writing Exercise closes the Gender Gap in University-level Physics

Think about the things that are important to you. Perhaps you care about creativity, family relationships, your career, or having a sense of humour. Pick two or three of these values and write a few sentences about why they are important to you. You have fifteen minutes. It could change your life.

This simple writing exercise may not seem like anything ground-breaking, but its effects speak for themselves. In a university physics class, Akira Miyake from the University of Colorado used it to close the gap between male and female performance. In the university’s physics course, men typically do better than women but Miyake’s study shows that this has nothing to do with innate ability. With nothing but his fifteen-minute exercise, performed twice at the beginning of the year, he virtually abolished the gender divide and allowed the female physicists to challenge their male peers.

Full Story

Seriously, this needs to be done at all universities, colleges, business, etc. Writing is such a powerful tool that is under-utilized.

24 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from the Word Nerds!

23 November 2010


Thanksgiving signs a couple of things in my head. Usually, it's the start of a busy season where I have too much to do, not enough time in which to do them, and add in the stress of travel and people, well, it's not so much fun.

This year, I'm forcing myself to think about the things I am thankful for. Not the normal "Family, friends, home" sort of things, but the things that truly make my life great. These aren't in any particular order and are mostly subject to how they popped out of my head:
  1. Playing video games with my kids
  2. Watching movies with my husband
  3. Books that delight
  4. Movies full of clever, witty writing
  5. Authors who share their writing stories
  6. How Thanksgiving starts the sprint to the finish line for the school semester
  7. Snuggley puppies on cold nights
  8. Once a year treats like pumpkin pie
What are you thankful for this year?

22 November 2010

Book Banter -- One Hit Wonder

Title: One Hit Wonder
Author: Charlie Carillo
Length: 372 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Mickey DeFalco was an 80s teen sensation with one hit song, "Summer Days."  But those days are long gone and now Mickey is pushing 40 and is a washed-up has-been. He returns to his parents' house outside of New York and tries to put his life back together. Also back in town is Lynn Mahoney, the girl who broke his heart and inspired his one hit song, enigmatic as ever, and Mickey tries to figure out her -- and himself in the process of finishing growing up.

Banter Points: Delightful. I picked up this book up for the cover art and I was happily surprised to read the story inside. Carillo writes believable, breezy characters and deals with the journey into middle age a funny and heart-warming read. The story was Nick-Hornsby-esque with that right mix of comedy and heartfelt scenes. Carillo also writes a great yarn, keeping the threads of a mystery alive at just the right time and giving Mickey the big reveal about his recent past at what otherwise would have been a low-point in the story.

Bummer Points: The end. Not at all what I was expecting and thought it sort of cheapened what otherwise was a great story.

Word Nerd Recommendation: A definite worthwhile read, especially for Hornsby fans or people who like smart/funny reads.

18 November 2010

It's all about the deadlines

I used to be a newspaper reporter. Deadlines were part of my daily existence.

It's a good thing deadlines and I get along because -- whoo-boy -- I am stacked behind deadlines from now till the end of the year.

In my job, I'm a fundraiser and write a lot of grants for that. This is a big season for grant applications and filing end-of-the-year reports about how we spent the money before we ask for more. On my dry erase board at work, I have 14 writing projects that need completed before Dec. 31. The deadlines on that board represent, roughly, a potential $1.1 million for Starfish Initiative. That's major money and that will make it possible for a lot of kids to stay on track to graduation.

In my personal writing, I'm waiting to hear back on some firm deadlines for writing I'm doing for Advent for my church. It's looking like those pieces will be published online so I'll post links when I can. But first, I have to finish them. Four pieces, one for each Sunday of Advent. I have one done, one in revisions, one being drafted and one needing started. Advent starts on Nov. 28. The done piece is the first one up and so on for the whole four-part series, but Advent is a lot closer than it appears.

And so, I'm spacing out my deadlines to make sure it all gets done on time. Writing in the morning before work. Writing at work gets fit in between meetings and I'm pacing out how to get projects due on the same day done. After work is revision time.

All together, the deadlines can be a little overwhelming. But, taken one at a time, it's totally doable.

I have noticed, I'm drinking more caffeine... What's your deadline fix? Or, how do you manage multiple projects at a time?

16 November 2010

Writing Inspiration

The blank page can be a terrifying thing to a writer. Between 250 and 400 words fit on a single page, depending on formatting preferences. Stringing together that many words in a cohesive manner can be daunting, impossible even.

Sometimes, the inspiration doesn't come.

Writing can be pulled painfully, word by word, from the author's brain. It may not make a difference to the reader how it happens, it all reads the same, right?

Writers need to put the creativity back in, to refill the well, so to speak.

I find inspiration in unconnected events. I try to read on a variety of topics, to listen to a variety of types of music and podcasts. I watch both documentaries and popular series (Chuck anyone? I love how the writers are torturing him this season.) It usually takes stepping away from whatever I'm working on and giving my brain the chance to connect the dots between the facts.

For example, I listened to a podcast about Frenemies, watched Chuck, listened to a bit of classic U2 from the Joshua tree album and the husband paused on WWF.

Hmmm...a pair of lovers, one an ex-wrestler, run into a frenemy that lead them to a small town where the streets have no names.

Okay, that might be a little corny, but it could be a great freewrite, character sketch or short story.

Where does your inspiration come from? Pull together your story, Keyser Söze style, and leave it in the comments.

15 November 2010

Book Banter -- Pirates of the Levant

Title: Pirates of the Levant (Captain Alatriste bk. 6)
Author: Arturo Perez-Reverte
Genre: Historical fiction
Length: 362 pages
Plot Basics: The enigmatic Captain Alatriste and his squire (and the story's narrator) Inigo are serving on a Spanish ship in the Mediterranean Sea. They are trying to capture what bounty they can from English or Turkish ships and live to tell about it. Inigo -- now having been through many adventures with the Captain and on the verge of adulthood -- is beginning to try out his independence and rebellion against his protector. When the ship they are on falls into a Turkish trap, Inigo and Alatriste must fight with all they have.
Banter Points: Since the story follows the chronological exploits of Inigo and Alatriste, it's neat to see Inigo start to assert himself (though not well pr with very good results). Inigo still is dragging the reader along in his unrequited love for Angelica Alquezar and that thread is, at this point, what's keeping the series holding together.
Bummer Points: Not my favorite of the Alatriste books. I had high hopes when the book opened and they were on a Spanish galley in the middle of a battle. But the book ends up in more battles and less political intrigue.
Word Nerd Recommendation: I hate to admit that I'm getting tired of Alatriste, but I am. The series started so well with Captain Alatriste and then Purity of Blood but the later ones just haven't matched the fun of those first few. If you're an Alatriste fan, sticking with it is probably good because Inigo hints a little at the future which could be some better stories, but on its own, Pirates isn't worth the whole series. 

12 November 2010

My Reading Goals

I have had reading goals in the past.

I've never tried to read more in a year; I have tried to read less. As in only one book a week. I almost made it in 2003, with 53 books, but it wasn't really the goal for that year.

In the past couple of years, I have tried to broaden the type of reading that I do. More early detectives stories or some other specific type of book. It doesn't always work. It is a perpetual goal to read more non-fiction. I always want to learn stuff but non-fiction books tend to be dry reading. Finding a good one is usually the goal.

But in 2011, I don't have a specific goal in mind. I have the Outlander series stocked-up. I would like to re-read that.

I read a Rex Stout novel last year and really enjoyed it. It would be good to go back and demolish those.

And then there is the never-ending TBR list of ideas that I get every where and pick through on occasion. Word Nerd has had several recommendations for over the years that I could finally get to, if I devote my reading to clearing out the list.

In college, I was a English Literature Major (great time, bad career choices). I'm pretty well-read when it come to early novels and the Victorian authors. I adore Jane Austen. The Russian greats? Not so interesting to me. Too much history that I don't know about and would miss the significance of given elements in the stories.

I don't have a goal. But now the idea is bouncing around in my head. Perhaps it will work out to something grand when it formulates.

11 November 2010

Book Banter -- Dracula in Love

Title: Dracula in Love
Author: Karen Essex
Genre: Literary fiction
Length: 368 pages
Plot Basics: What if the story of Dracula was told by Mina Murray Harker, instead of her husband? In a lush Victorian setting, Mina narrates her own story as she crosses the taboos of how women were supposed to be behave in her day as in Dracula-fashion, modern technologies and ideas clash with time period mores. Rather than being tormented by the vampire count, Mina is seduced by him in her dreams all the while trying to shield her good friend, Lucy, her husband Jonathan, and lastly herself, from the count's charms.

Banter Points: Brilliant. Sweeping. Breath-taking. Essex's journey into the social expectations of Victorian women through the telling of the Dracula story is genius. No longer is Dr. Von Helsinger the savior of the little company, but a scientist relying on what we now know as torturous methods to "cure" women of sexual desire. No longer is Count Dracula to be feared but heralded as Mina's potential rescuered from her life of civilized oppression. I also hadn't read a really good vampire novel in quite some time and Essex wrote a vampire love story where the vampire was both scary and sexy, a balance that's missed in many of the modern vampire tales.

Bummer Points: I read Stoker's Dracula a few years ago and I was bummed that I didn't remember the story very well to know when Essex was veering from the original, or interpreting events through Mina's lens.  (Actually, while reading, I kept seeing Hugh Jackman in his awful portrayal of Van Helsing which just didn't fit the Doctor Von Helsinger that Essex was writing).

Word Nerd Recommendation: I picked this book up off the new books shelf at the library, not sure what to expect. It's for sure going to be in my top 10 for the year. If you like old stories told in new settings, Dracula in Love is a great pick.

09 November 2010

Book Banter -- Outliers

Title: Outliers
Author: Malcom Gladwell
Genre: Non-fiction
Length: 309 pages
Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Oshkosh Public Library

Plot Basics: Is success a matter of chance and circumstance? Or is an individual able to achieve greatness through their own ability?

Banter Points: Gladwell examines what makes people great. His targets for review include Canadian hockey players, Bill Gates and The Beatles. While it isn't merely an accident of one's birth that propels them to greatness, it is not solely one's ability either.

Take, for example, the 10,000 hour rule. In order to be truly great at something, Gladwell proposes that one must put in 10,000 hours or more on the activity. The Beatles were great, but they got that way because they played 8 or more hours a day while they were living in Hamburg. All of that practice is what pushed them over the edge. Gladwell has other examples that the 10,000 hour rule applies to. Bill Gates and his programming abilities is one.

Gladwell also examines heritage and background for its impact on who a person becomes. A society or culture of honor can develop. The South is an especially great example of this. Insult a Northerner and he'll shrug it off to some extent. But a Southerner? He will take the insult personally and track you down to avenger his honor. Or his girlfriend's. Or his mother's. Several feuds in the South can be traced to this very trait.

Maxwell has excerpts from the book on his site, Gladwell dot com.

Bummer Points: It was a fascinating way to look at the rewards and structure of our society. And how our society is set-up for a maximum amount of resistance in so many ways. All of it has been unintentional and quite arbitrary but monumental nonetheless.

Stacie's Recommendation: Read and savor this title. While it easily could be read in a single session (or two), reading one chapter a day is a delightful way to change your thinking.

08 November 2010

2011 Reading Goals

I've been thinking about setting some reading list goals for myself for 2011. Only, I have no idea what those goals should be. Or, to be more accurate, I have too many ideas about what those goals could  be.

Is 2011 the year of catching up on all the books that I've bought or been lent by friends but have yet to read?

Is 2011 the year of the Russian masters? (I know, I know... rake me over the coals for having never read them... or better yet, blame my education.)

Is 2011 the year of "important books?" Classics that I feel like I should have read but never did (see above, and the education thing) and ones that I actually want to go back to (I'm talking about Graham Greene here.)

Is 2011 the year where I don't start any new series until I'm caught up on the backlists of the ones I'm already in (Harry Bosch, Jack Reacher, and more)?

Am I thinking about this too much?

I'm sort of thinking about the first one -- the catching up -- or the year of important books. (Sorry Tolstoy...)

I've got a few ideas in my head about "important books" that I've never read, but what would you put on that list?

05 November 2010

Stacie's October Bibliometer

October rocked as far as reading goes:
8 books
3,190 pages

Truth and confessions version: some of those titles were started in September. And I grouped all of my articles as a single title of 175 pages. When you read that many articles, it should count for something right?

Year to Date:
49 books
22,281 pages

Since I started keeping a list in 2001, I've read almost 370,000 pages. If I keep up that pace, I'll be able to pass 1,000,000 pages in 18 more years.

Real facts, just like you find under your Snapple lid.

04 November 2010

Book Banter -- Shadow of Betrayal

Title: Shadow of Betrayal (Jonathon Quinn bk. 3)
Author: Brett Battles
Genre: Thriller
Length: ~350 pages
Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Cleaner Jonathan Quinn made a deal with the shadowy organization The Office -- three jobs no questions and then he walks forever. He is hired for the first job to observe a meeting in Ireland... and if his services are needed it means the job has gone terribly wrong. A hidden assassin sets Quinn into motion along with his girlfriend Orlando and apprentice Nate as they track UN operative across the ocean. The chase leads them to a secret bunker in the California desert and embroiled in a terrorist conspiracy with an unthinkable delivery system for the weapons.

Banter Points: Quinn is a slick blend of James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher. (Is it something about this suave and deadly characters that they all have names that start with "J"?) This book was neat because in addition to Quinn's ruthless efficiency, you get a glimpse of his history (he's still got a family who wonders where he is) and his self-doubt over the injuries Nate sustained on their last job in Signapore. (That's the second book, The Deceived). The conspiracy he uncovers is creepy because it's so darn believable and it's horrific because of how they are planning to launch their next attack.

Bummer Points: It was a little tricky to keep up with all the players in this novel. Additionally, the POV switched around from Quinn to some of the other people (including the bad guys) and that's just one of those writing things that tends to make Word Nerd a little nuts.

Word Nerd Recommendation: A must-read for fans of the spy-thriller genre.

03 November 2010

Bethany's October Bibliometer

October was a pretty good reading month for me. Here's a look at the month's statistics:

October 2010
8 books
2535 pages
82 pages/day average

67 books
23465 pages total

During October, I also hit the 700th book in my list since I started keeping one. The 700th book was Diana Peterfreund's Tap & Gown. Glad the "honor" went to a fun title.

02 November 2010

Feedback on Writing

I'm in the midst of an MBA program. As one may well imagine, it's a large time commitment with lots of reading, analytical thinking and writing.

Some of my favorite things, right?

Except one of the classes where the bulk of the grade is based on writing isn't going so hot. In fact, my grade is progressively getting worse.

And it got me to thinking about the feedback I'm getting from the course instructor and what I am doing with it. Most of the comments I've received are to the effect that I am creative in my solutions but not incorporating the course material appropriately. The solutions have been appropriate and well-developed.

My confusion resulted from the appropriate and well-developed solutions, but not incorporating the course material. How is that possible? If the solution is appropriate, I must be hitting the course material, right?

Wrong. A kind classmate shared his paper which earned him an A-level grade. He directly quotes the text, incorporates stats, etc. The difference, as far as I can tell, is that I was applying the knowledge in my solution without direct relation and my classmate was rehashing the text's jargon.

Each approach is fine, unless you are relaying on a passing grade. Then you need to play the audience.

It's the same for publishing, right? Your novel/book/article/baby may really show off your writing skill and creative juices, but if it isn't what your audience is looking for, it's the rejection pile for you.

I'm off to re-write my next case analysis. A little less creativity and a little more blatant fact.

01 November 2010

Book Banter -- Don of the Dead

Title: Don of the Dead (Pepper Martin series bk. 1)
Author: Casey Daniels
Genre: chick lit/mystery
Length: 325 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Pepper Martin can see dead people -- in specific, a dead Mafia don buried in the famous Cleveland cemetary where she works as a tour guide. Augustino Scarpetti was gunned down almost a half-century earlier but now, he's got Pepper to figure out who put the hit out on him. Pepper, never forced to work before her investor father got convicted of financial crimes, doesn't want to play detective for Gus. But he keeps popping up at inopportune times -- like when she's flirting with Dr. Dan or Quinn the cop. Pepper's investigation leads her into the Mafia that still controls part of Cleveland, bring the FBI on her trail and keeps her dodging bullets to stop her from getting to the truth of the dead Don's death.

Banter Points: An absolutely entertaining, page-turning read. While the premise a little goofy, the book reads well as Pepper doesn't believe her new found ghost-seeing power and stumbles through conducting an investigation. Pepper is a spunky heroine with a hilarious internal monologue running through most of the story. The men -- Gus, Dan and Quinn -- were also great characters and I'm looking forward to seeing Dan and Quinn in subsequent stories. Dan definitely is not entirely the mild-mannered and bookish doctor he first appears as and Quinn is set-up to be the bad-boy cop. It has the feeling of the early Stephanie Plum-Joe Morelli - Ranger triangle and it'll be great to see how Daniels plays the relationships as the series moves forward.

Bummer Points: Occassionally, Daniels would get stuck on a descriptive phrase that became annoying to read over and over. For example, in a chapter when Pepper's being followed, she makes a comment no less than three times about how the people behind her weren't the Prize Patrol. While phrase that like was funny once, the book could have used a sharper editing eye in a few places like that to make sure that ideas didn't get overused.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Janet Evanovich fans for sure would love Pepper Martin as well as reader who like a well-crafted mystery. The story, as I described to my dad, is a "girl book" given the chick lit feel with Pepper's interest in the two male characters. If you're a girl looking for a fun read, you can't go wrong here.