God Is In the Details…


This week's thesis journey was straight research. 

Alan's comment on last week's blog got me to thinking. 


Alan's mention of Kurt Vonnegut reminded me of this book that I've had sitting on my shelf for the longest. Now, I never actually read it. It was recommended by Dr. Mary Ann Riley at a professional development workshop. (I love her by the way. Any PD she's teaching I want to be there front and center!) At this workshop she was teaching teachers how to teach students to be better readers and writers and at some point she mentioned this book. And I immediately went on Amazon and ordered it.  

Anyway, I cracked open this book, started flipping around until I found a section that I felt was a great starting point for the things I needed to focus on in my writing. I landed on Chapter Eight titled Details. During our Google Hangout chat with Barbara, we talked about writing techniques and tips. In order to be a good writer, one who has honed and perfected their craft you have to study great writing. So, before I select and read my mentor texts with the lens of learning the craft. I decided to see what Francine Prose had to say about good writing. 

I was one page into the chapter when cracked open my highlight. Prose says a friend told her, "...God is really in the details." This stopped me in my tracks. I started thinking about photos. What makes a good photo. It is the details the parts of the image that the camera has captured and allows us to stare upon it with adoration. And some of the best images, with the best lighting isn't usually created by man. It is the natural light, created by God that hits just right creating the perfect...detail. 

Thinking about a photo made me reconsider how I read books. What details and images do I remember? Prose goes on to say, "Details are what persuade us that someone is telling the truth-- a fact that every liar knows instinctively and too well." (196) 

One of my favorite quotes about reading was said by Mason Cooley, "Reading gives us somewhere to go when we have to stay where we are." I truly believe that this is done through the details and the images that the author so skillfully creates in our minds. When I go back and revise my manuscript I have to remember and look for moments when I do this. The lack of considering the importance of these details could have a huge impact on my story as a whole. 

Prose asserts, "Details aren't only the building blocks with which a story is put together, they're also clues to something deeper, keys not merely to our subconscious but to our historical moment." (207)


Considering the big picture of what I plan to achieve or accomplish with my manuscript that notion is everything to me. I have consider my audience for my novel and what I want Misunderstood to impart on them what message am I sending them, what Easter eggs am I leaving behind in my details. 

This chapter opened my eyes to what I need to do as a writer. It was very educational to put on that hat and look at literary moves as a author and not just as an analytical reader of literature. I am going to look for more texts to read on the craft of writing. I think it is important to start my research journey here because this will make it easier when I move into writing the my research piece where I take a deeper dive into my questions. 

Why Fiction?

Why do humans need stories? 

Why Misunderstood?

How does my work fit amount the books that inspire me? Should it? 

I was begin to consider one of my questions, why fiction. This video on the Future of Storytelling was very insightful and it provided some science data as to how storytelling affects our brain. 




So yes, God is in the details and my job as a writer, is to figure out how to make each detail count. 

Griffia Website

Hello all!  This isn’t an actual blog post; I just needed to share this awesome artifact that’s going to make parts of my research so much easier:  the official Griffia website!  It’s still in the process of being completed/polished, but there’s already a wealth of information on it.  One can learn about the universe, the species, gameplay, lexis, the moderators, and more.  You can bet your butt I’m going to be citing the heck out of this site!  I’m so excited!

Now the Real Work Begins

Photo: Twitter @Jarredamato

These books are my inspiration. 

Now, I have to admit that I haven't read all of them. In fact, I've only read two of them and yet, I have all of them in my collection. Sitting on top of my bookshelf staring at me, patiently waiting to be cracked open and read. The reason I haven't read these books is well, totally work related. Yea, I blame it all on my job. It sounds really lame, but it is true. I want nothing more than to read and occasionally binge watch This is Us. But well, the way my life and responsibilities are set up... that is just not in the cards. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Like I said, these books are my inspiration. Last week we had the pleasure to video chat with Barbara Ganley @bgblogging. Alan was there too, but Barbara's feedback and input was amazing.  I couldn't write down my notes fast enough. She said so many "quotable" things that I just couldn't keep up.


Barbara said this is her favorite quote about writing, 

"There are three rules to writing the novel, unfortunately, no one knows what they are." 

I kept reading this over and over again. The rules of writing, what I think or know them to be really don't matter. The writing is what matters. The words that you put on a blank screen matter. It doesn't even matter if everything that you write is crap as long as you're writing. Every single thing Barbara said resonated with me. I felt like she was speaking only to me. Everything she was saying I needed to hear. Even though I didn't want her to stop talking, there was a part of me that wanted to end the call and jump right into writing. I didn't of course. Not that day but next day I did steal some moment to write. The conversation was just as good. 

I walked away from the conversation realizing that I had some reading to do. Reading not only for pleasure but for research too. Which brings me back to those books. They are truly are inspiration. Those books are written by some of the best authors in the game right now. I use their books to teach my students about good writing and good storytelling.

But this time when I'm reading, I have to look at them from a different perspective. More than just being good books. I need to go back with a pen and mark up the text looking for moments when the author is showing and not telling. 

How does the author create imagery to bring the reader into the story? 

I need to pay attention to these writing nuances to help me in my own writing while simultaneously thinking about my thesis project.

Yes, part of my thesis work will be my own completed novel. But the other aspect will be where I explore these questions: 

Why Fiction?

Why do humans need stories? 

Why Misunderstood?

How does my work fit amoung the books that inspire me? Should it? 

Before I read a single page from any of those books, This week, I chose to start my research by watching a book. I watched this TedTalk by Grace Lin a while back and I thought it was a good place to start my research. This time I watched it with this question in mind, why fiction? Why fiction with characters that represent myself and the children that I teach? 



Triumphant Return

Hello, and thank you, to everyone who has shown an interest in my research!  I’m back, and I owe you all an apology for falling off the face of the Earth a few months ago.  I had some major health issues last semester that forced me to take a medical leave of absence, which I’ll get into soon.  What’s important, though, is that I am feeling better now, and I am back on the thesis horse (it neighs in footnotes).  I have managed to get into this semester’s thesis seminar class, and I am stoked to continue working on my research.

Allow me to get real for a moment.

I have a bit of fear talking about this subject, as it may make me seem less desirable as a professional in my future career.  Some people might feel like I won’t make a reliable professor, and they’re entitled to that opinion, as much as it might pain me.  I feel it is worth talking about, however, as like it or not, it is a part of me, and I am not going to feel ashamed.  I’m the one who gets to decide if my issues make me unfit for academia, not anyone else, and this is my way of saying to the academic community “Yes, I have these challenges, and yes, I am still a competent scholar and educator.  Deal with it.”

Since the age of about 17 I have struggled with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Major Depression.  It has affected every facet of my life, and last semester’s leave of absence was due to a severe flare-up, or relapse, or whatever you want to call it, of my symptoms.  This was caused by the stress of grad school, and the fact that the medications I had been taking for years had lost their efficacy (yes, that’s a thing that happens).  During my absence, I went into an acute partial hospital program, where I received intensive group and individual therapy, and medication management. I continue to see my therapist on a weekly basis, and my psychiatrist on a monthly basis.  That is something I will need to do perhaps indefinitely.  I need to structure my life around this sort of routine care so I don’t wind up in crisis again.  I get into trouble when I stop participating in routine mental health care because I feel as if I have somehow “outgrown” my mental illnesses, or that I am “too smart” to be feeling the way I do.  OCD has nothing to do with maturity; it has nothing to do with willpower, or intelligence.  And neither does Depression.  To think/act otherwise is like someone trying to force their way out of Type 1 Diabetes by claiming they’re too adult to go into a hypoglycemic coma.  I am still able to achieve and succeed; I just have to be careful about how I do it, and I must be aware of things that make me vulnerable to my mind’s irrational self-cruelty.

I’ll get off my soapbox now, and I thank you all for hanging with me through that little speech.  A lot of that was important for me to verbalize, even if it may not seem directly relevant to my research.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

During my recovery process I was able to continue doing some informal research on closed species communities.  In fact, becoming a more active participant in the Griffia community was a big part of my healing.  It’s amazing how therapeutic the features of participatory cultures can be when one is tackling serious mental health struggles.  According to Jenkins (2009) these features are as follows:

  1. Relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  2. Strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
  3. Some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
  4. Members believe that their contributions matter
  5. Members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created)

Now allow me to explain how each of these features was beneficial to me.

  1. The low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement allowed me to participate in the Griffia community without pressure or guilt.  Some days I didn’t feel like logging in at all; my mind just wasn’t in the right place to do much of anything.  Other days I was able to make a quick piece of art work or enter a simple event, like a raffle or game of chance.  I never felt like I had to do anything special to earn the right to participate or be heard.  I knew that whatever I did was enough, and that helped me to rebuild my creative identity and self-esteem.
  2. The strong support for creating and sharing made me feel like I had something to offer.  Part of Depression is feeling like one is worthless or a disappointment.  It was harder to feel that way when what artwork I was able to post received favorites and positive comments from people all over the world.
  3. The informal mentorship aspect made me feel like I was continuing to learn and achieve.  There were some prompts I did where the creator of the Griffia species allowed community members to use her personal characters.  They were grateful and encouraging to those who made art of said characters, myself included.  To earn praise from someone I admired at a time when I felt unworthy of praise really meant a lot.
  4. I definitely believed that my contributions mattered.  Around December I began making random gift art for others in the community, and it made me feel like I was helping others instead of just receiving help.  Yeah, they were just drawings, but they made people happy.  Instead of feeling like I was taking, taking, taking, as is common when one is receiving health care, I felt like I was able to give and make somebody’s day just a little brighter.
  5. I felt my social connections with other members of the community begin to strengthen the more I participated.  I began to recognize certain names and characters, and that allowed me to feel more grounded and in-control of that part of my net life.  Gaining better control of that one part of my life gave me the momentum and confidence to take control of other, more important, parts of my life.

These effects might be subjective and limited only to me, but I doubt it.  It actually makes me really curious about any other research that might exist that examines the connection between participatory cultures and mental health recovery…  I may look into that…

Some other stuff I thought was cool:

Firstly, I learned about a Tumblr blog that exists specifically to highlight and react to “drama” that occurs in CS communities.  I think this blog will be very useful for me when it comes time to discuss opposing viewpoints.  I may think CS communities are the best things since sliced bread, but a lot of other people don’t.  By reading through the criticisms posted at this massively-multi-authored blog, I can get a better sense of the negatives people find within CS communities.

Secondly, there is this.  A lot of events and activities in the Griffia community rely on a Random Number Generator (RNG) to determine results.  In light of this, a lot of community members began to jokingly pray to the RNG gods whenever they entered raffles, or other similar activities.

RNJesus

Presumably drawing on this community-wide joke, the creator of Griffia actually made a personified representation of the Random Number Generator into a diety for their fantasy world.  I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty damn cool!  It’s a great example of member participation influencing the story of a species/world, and one of the things that excites me so much about these communities.

And there you have it.

My return to research blogging has been a bit all-over-the-place, from mental health to Random Number Generators, but it still feels great to be back.  I will begin posting here more regularly as I continue my work.

Once again, thank you all for sticking with me.  I will do my best to make you proud with this thesis.

 

 

 

 

It All Started With a Book

The Road to Misunderstood 



Last year in one of Dr. Zamora's class fellow grad student Richonda told me about a book called The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and it changed my life. Now, I've always been an avid reader. And since I've become a middle school teacher I've become addicted to YA (young adult)  novels. They are my new favorite obsession.

Every single time I get my hands on my a book that I know will make my students want to read I cannot wait to get it into the hands of students. The Hate U Give aka THUG is that book.


Since I have found books like Dear Martin, The Miseducation of Margot Sanchez and I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter -- each of these titles I have purchased and given to my students. The largest purchase came from Donors Choose. And I am telling you. I cannot keep these books in my library longer than a day.


After I finished reading this book I wanted more. I wanted to read more like it. In my quest I realized that I wanted to write one like it. I had a THUG type story inside of me. I always have. I dabbled in writing before. But none of my stories kept me away or motivated me like the story I am working on for my grad thesis titled, Misunderstood. Growing up in Newark, NJ and now teaching there has inspired me to want to share their stories with the world. My students deserve to read books where they see themselves represented. More importantly, I am writing the books that I wished I had as a child.

In my writing of this novel I know that I have a lot of research to do. The first is figuring out the lane that my book needs to be in. Why does it matter? What space will it occupy in the world? Interestingly enough my research started with Twitter and the hashtag #weneeddiversebooks. I took this as my call to action as an author. I have stories to tell.


Below you will find a synopsis of my novel....

Fifteen-year old MYA ANDREWS’ life has never been easy. When her grandmother, BIG MA dies the summer before her junior year, it is yet another disadvantage added to her life.

Not your average girl from the hood, Mya is no slouch in school. In fact, she prides herself on being a straight A student. She’s determined to succeed in spite of having suffered so much loss. Each loss drives Mya’s dream of going to college to become a doctor-- fulfilling a promise she’d made to Big Ma.

Big Ma’s death leaves Mya with two very heavy burdens to bear; Big Ma’s gift of sight and KEVIN the father she’d never met showing up to take her away. Kevin rips her away her from the only family and friends she’s ever known in Newark, NJ to live in Millburn--an upper middle class Jersey suburb. Mya is forced to forge a bond with her father, his wife and their kids.

Mya’s visions are unpredictable at first. They give her insight into the past and glimpses of the future. But she doesn’t foresee the unexpected course that lies ahead. The first casualty of Mya’s move is her relationships with her best friend TAMIKA. 

While attending a cookout in her old neighborhood, a possible gang related shooting pops off. Tamika’s brother is killed and Tamika is injured. Word gets out that Mya’s father is leading the investigation. Mya’s friends including Tamika turn on her.  Mya is branded a snitch all over social media and ostracized by everyone.

Adding insult to injury, Mya has to learn to navigate her way through a new school where she’s clearly an outsider. Junior class president, self-proclaimed genius and overall jerk AUSTIN LUCKETT ensures that she doesn’t earn a spot on the school’s Academic Olympic team.

Eventually, Mya learns to trust the one person she distrusts the most-- her dad. Austin’s loses his spot as captain of the Academic Olympic team. Mya steps into his spot proving all of her Millburn High haters wrong.

In the end, Mya realizes that moving doesn’t destroy her identity-- it adds another layer to who she’s always been.