Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book and Movie Reviews

Lana and I watched Inglorious Basterds and both thought it was way too long. I know Tarantino often includes two separate story lines in his movies and this was the same. Unfortunately, I didn’t think they meshed well in this case. I later watched Jennifer’s Body myself, a horror movie. It wasn’t the greatest story ever told but far better than Inglorious Basterds. I enjoyed it enough to watch some scenes over.

I read When Gods Die by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor) and enjoyed it much. This is the second in the Sebastian St. Cyr regency mystery series. The first in the series was What Angels Fear and it wowed me with great atmosphere. The second one really got me caught up in the characters. I also read Brom’s The Devil’s Rose, referred to as an illustrated novel. It’s a short novel, about some souls escaped from Hell and another doomed soul who is hunting them. I enjoyed it pretty well and liked the art a lot. I’ll probably try another by him.

I read Red Moon and Black Mountain by Joy Chant and found it beautifully written, although I wasn’t caught up in the plot as much as I wanted to be. I’m also still reading King’s Nightmares and Dreamscapes, a short story collection. There are some good ones in it, but quite a few tales seem a bit overly long and slow to me. Not sure why I’m finding a lot of King’s stuff to be slow these days. Maybe my attention span is really starting to go.

As for writing, I could have been doing more. I’m afraid I’ve been a bit lazy. My writing got a nice mention on The Cimmerian Blog, though. Much appreciation to Miguel Martins.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

When Cliché Rears Its Head

Clichés are clichés for a reason. They’re often the first thing that occurs to a writer when he or she sits down to tell a story. You reach for a word or phrase and what leaps out at you is the thing you’ve heard a hundred times before. It comes so easily that you hardly notice it. It sounds right because your ear has been bludgeoned too often with it before.

Defeating cliché requires constant vigilance. No one is immune. Recently, I was told by an editor that my phrase, “a thought punched her” should be changed because thoughts can’t literally punch. This is true, of course, but the editor’s suggested replacement was “a thought struck her.” I’m sure “struck” seemed better to the editor because of how common it is.

And so we come to my latest faux pas. In my critique group today, someone commented about the “cornflower blue eyes” of one of my female characters. I laughed because I thought they were making a joke. Then I realized I had indeed described the woman’s eyes as “cornflower blue.” And I had no idea.

Looks like I’m due for another pass through this manuscript.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Writing Class on Style: APA Style That Is:

Today in Writing class we focused on APA Style, which is the set of rules developed by the American Psychological Association for presenting a paper to psychology journals. We require all our classroom papers to be turned in using this style, to prepare the students if they go on to a graduate program in psychology.

APA style is pretty boring to discuss, but it’s one of those apprenticeship things that psychology majors need to learn. When I was in undergraduate school at Arkansas Tech University, back in the early 1980s, we weren’t required to use APA style. I didn’t learn it and, as a result, the first paper I turned in for a graduate school class came back with a “D” on it. The teacher told me the content was worth an “A” but that APA style was part of the requirement and it was on the syllabus, in the fine print. Indeed it was, and that was the last time I made that mistake. I got hold of a manual, the 3rd edition, I think, and learned the style on my own.

We’re on the 6th edition of the style manual these days, and it’s four times as thick as it used to be, partly because of the need to talk about electronic and online sources. I tell the students that they don’t have to memorize APA style but they need to memorize where and how to look up the answers to questions they have about the style. And, I tell them they need to take it seriously.

About five years back in a Physiological Psych class, I had the students do an APA style paper and I got one paper turned in at the end of the year that had completely ignored the requirement. I’d been much more directive about it than that first graduate professor had been for me. I not only put in the syllabus in bold, underlined print, and called attention to it all of the first week, but I covered the basic style information in class and stated, very clearly and loudly, at least five times during the semester, that their paper had to be APA style. The paper in question was a “B” paper but ended up with a “D” because of the style issue. The student came in to complain. I asked him if he’d paid attention to the syllabus and he said, “Yes, “but….” I asked him if he’d heard me say time and time again that APA style was required, and he gave me a, “Yes, but….” I asked him if he hadn’t heard me say numerous times that I was going to take off points if the paper wasn’t in APA style, and he said, “Yes, but I didn’t think you meant it.”

I meant it!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saints in the Superbowl

Most folks probably know the outcome already but I can't help but talk about it. For the first time in their HISTORY, the Saints won the NFC Championship and are going to the Super Bowl. They had to beat the Vikings with a field goal in overtime to do it.

The Vikings played a hell of a game and outplayed the Saints in yardage gained. But they suffered with turnovers, both interceptions and fumbles. Some were sloppy ball handling but the Saints defense caused a few of them as well.

One thing the Saints did well was pressure and hit Bret Favre all night long. He took a beating and you know he's a tough guy to be able to walk after that one. Neither team gave up on this one. They fought until the end.

Brees had more time to throw but he and his receivers didn't connect as easily as in the past. The Saints offense definitely wasn't hitting on all cylinders. The Saints also got more than their usual share of penalties. I thought there were a few bad calls against the Saints, but we also got a couple of calls that went for us as well so I figure it leveled out pretty well.

Overall, I'm just very proud of the team and they way they fought through this year. As people have been saying, this ain't yo mamma's Saints. I'm not even thinking about the Super Bowl. Not yet!

Friday, January 22, 2010


My peeve this week is unnecessary work!

My work week is usually pretty busy, and perhaps because we were off on Monday, this week has been particularly hectic. Other than simply reading through 5 pages of my novel and making some minor corrections to it, I haven’t written a word in three days. I’ve not been able to get through more than about a 100 pages in the books I’m reading. Even at night, I’ve been doing school work.

So, when I’m backed up like that, the arrival of unnecessary work really chaps. Here’s some examples.


A: I had an IRB (research) proposal to approve, one among many, and I finished reading over it and wrote the approval letter last night. This morning I mailed the approval letter. Not 10 minutes later an email request came in from the researcher to change something in the project. The approval letter that I spent time constructing is now a waste. I have to do another one. Between receiving the first proposal and the new changes, 2 days passed. Couldn’t the researcher have put a little more thought into their first effort so that one letter would have sufficed?

B: I got a proposal from a researcher at another university who requested that I accelerate my normal approval process because they had already bought their airplane ticket to come to Xavier to collect the data. Because they were asking for approval via email rather than by sending me a hard copy, I had to write a contract for our review. I’m required by law to keep hard copies of all submissions and I don’t want to spend my own money printing out hundreds of pages of material. So, I spelled out how I could help them under certain conditions. Two days later I get an email from them saying they were no longer applying to Xavier for approval at present. They’d discovered that they needed IRB approval from their own university first. Time writing contract = wasted. Couldn’t they have checked their procedures for how to do their own research first?


A: One writing group I’m a member of is a critique group. We email our material to a listserv and then print it out on our own for consideration at the next meeting. I sent some stuff in for a review. The day before our meeting, I get an email from one of the members asking me to resend. Now, everything we send to the listserv goes into the archives, and is probably in this individual’s personal email somewhere anyway. But because they didn’t print it out when it came through, they probably lost the email with the attachment somewhere in their inbox. Rather than taking the time to find it, or digging through the archives, they just decided to ask me to take a few minutes to resend. This individual is retired, btw. I’m not.

B: This has happened several times in the past and happened again this week. Someone submits a piece for review. I dutifully print it out, read, make my comments in preparation for our meeting. And then I get a second email a few days later with a “revision” of the previously submitted piece, usually with a note saying: “please ignore the first version you received and respond to the new version.”


Thanks for letting me rant!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Today in Writing Class

Today in my Writing in Psychology class I went over five habits that novice writers should strive to develop. These are:

1. Make time for writing: With the emphasis on the "make." Finding time is hard. We're all busy folks. But making time involves getting to know your daily schedule and then carving out a piece to consistently use for writing or writing related chores (like thinking and planning).

2. Look up things you have a question about: Consistently, and immediately, look up new words that you come across in your reading. Look up the answers to when you should use "to" or "too," or "Lay or Lie." I suggested they start a "problem" file in their notebook or on computer that provides the answers to those questions they frequently struggle with.

3. Do multiple drafts of everything: I tell them, assume when you finish your first draft that it isn't good enough to hand in. Rewriting is the key for most writers to be able to produce publishable, or grade-worthy written work.

4. Use writing to challenge yourself: Take different approaches with different papers. Stretch your skills. Take risks. Treat writing as a muscle that needs exercising.

5. Read: I tell 'em that good readers are good writers, and that the more they read the better they'll write.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saints Win! & Face Book

Whoooo Hoooo! The Saints pretty much decimated the Cardinals to win their first playoff game of the season. I’m ecstatic. The game started out dangerously. The Cardinal’s running back, Hightower, broke for a touchdown on the very first play from scrimmage. But this Saints team isn’t gonna roll over for anyone. They scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to take a lead that they never gave up. The Cardinals did score a second touchdown to close the gap to 21 to 14, but after that it was all Saints for a final score of 45 to 14. The player of the game was Reggie Bush, who ran smash mouth football in the first half and had over 200 all purpose yards, including a rushing touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown. Next week we’ll play for the NFC championship against either the Cowboys or the Vikings. GO SAINTS!

In other news, our Department Chair created a Face Book account for our department, though I’m not exactly sure why, and I had to join in order to see it. I’ve been intending to join Face Book for quite a while anyway, so this was as good of an excuse as any to set up a page. I think it’ll actually be more convenient to post albums of pictures than it would be to load those to the blog. If you’re on Face Book then friend me. If you want to see my page it’s here.

I’m still trying to take weekends off of blogging and I’m not going to “replace” that with Face Book. I don’t plan to spend lots of time there. I have too many writing projects that I want to complete. But I will try to keep a regular presence since it will help me make contact with folks that I don’t see on the blog. Already I’ve connected to quite a few of my old high school colleagues who are not regular bloggers.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reading: Online Versus Offline

Recently, Writtenwyrd pointed out that there is a lot of great material on writing on the net. Blogs, of course, but also articles all over the place on characterization, punctuation, grammar, style, voice, common errors, etc. I read quite a few writing related blogs and have checked out lots of online essays, but there is an issue. And I wonder if it’s just me, just a matter of experience and training, and if the younger generations will find this issue trivial.

The issue is that I, personally, don’t feel like I read at the same depth when I’m reading online as I do when I’m offline. Almost everything about being online is faster paced to me, and that includes reading. When I’m into a printed book, I often stop and think about what I’ve just read, or stop to visualize what is happening. I almost never do that when I’m reading online. I feel like I need to get the material and move on.

I think about this in relationship to my students. Most of them don’t read enough, certainly, but more and more of what they are reading is indeed online. And I wonder if they are handicapping themselves even further in the development of that reading practice we liked to call “Critical Reading,” where there is a big evaluation component.

But maybe it’s just a matter of practice and experience. I grew up reading print, of course. To me, that is still, in a sense, “real” reading. Will students who grow up reading online develop the same relationship with that media as those of us who grew up with print developed?

Do you find yourself reading faster and shallower online? Does reading on an ereader make any difference? When I sit down with my Kindle, I read much like I do with a regular printed book. But that’s not true on the computer as I surf the net. I wonder how much of this to bring up with my students. Maybe I’ll try to get them into a discussion of it. But I need to do some more thinking on the topic myself. How about you?


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Writing Class

Classes began yesterday. Today, though, is my first class in Writing in Psychology. I’ve talked about this class before in my blog, close to a year ago. I only teach it every other semester. This year, for the first time, we’ll be using our own book as the text, Writing in Psychology: A Guidebook. I’m looking forward to that, although this year may be a challenge since I have thirty students registered for the class.

On the first class day in Writing I traditionally spend a fair amount of time talking about the kind of reference books that the students need. Specific to this class is the need for the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, although many will already have this since it is required in a course they take earlier.

Other books are more general. I stress the need for a good dictionary. I personally recommend the Oxford American Dictionary, which is the largest paperback dictionary available. It’s almost 30 years old now and won’t have some of the newest techie terms in our language, but the students already know those anyway. What they don’t always know are the “affects” and “effects” and other problem words like that. I also tell them they should have a thesaurus, and I use Webster’s New World Thesaurus, which I’ve modified over the years by adding words. These days, dictionaries and thesauruses are available online and we have links in our textbook to some online sources.

Although everyone needs a dictionary, and maybe even a thesaurus, anyone who is going to take writing seriously needs some other books as well. I recommend a book on grammar. I use The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Shertzer. I also recommend three other books: Harry Shaw’s Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions, William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, and The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Zinsser’s book is my favorite book on writing and I try to reread it at least every couple of years.

For those of you who are interested in writing, what books would you recommend to a new writer? Or an old one? I’m always on the lookout for new finds.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Sure Sign of the Apocalypse

I do believe I’ve seen it all now. We’ve got free Showtime so I was flipping through the movie channels last night to see what was on. I watched the remake of Day of the Dead, and Wes Craven Presents: Dracula II: Ascension, which were mildly entertaining.

Then I discovered an offering called One-Eyed Monster. And I realized that western civilization is done, finished, kaput. Although I missed the first two-thirds of this cinema masterpiece, the premise is this: a group of porn stars, including Ron Jeremy, are up in the mountains filming a porno. An alien comes to earth and possesses Ron Jeremy’s penis. It tears its way off Ron’s body and proceeds to hunt down and “F” to death the other members of the cast and crew. Two individuals do survive, including the actress Amber Benson (although one has to wonder whether her acting career will do the same). The survivors are saved by an aging porn star who sacrifices herself to the alien penis.

Less you think this movie was just an excuse to show porn, there was actually no porn at all. At least in the last third. Well, we did get to see a large plastic object that was supposed to be Ron Jeremy’s penis. Other than that, everyone was fully clothed and even the porn star’s sacrifice at the end involved no more than some suggestive moaning.

Will the world still be here when I wake up in the morning? I suppose we’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ll also leave you with the following image, from a different movie. I have no idea if it's real or not, but it probably should be. Given the existence of One-Eyed Monster, nothing is too out there to be real.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Before civilization, humans lived to two basic rhythms, day and night, and the seasons. Civilization, especially technological civilization, has changed that dramatically. We aren’t tied to the sun anymore, nor to the soil. Our lives have taken on different rhythms.

For most of my life, I’ve lived to the rhythm of school, first as a student, then as a teacher. Most folks finished their schooling and moved into the relatively standard five day a week, 52 week a year rhythm. I never did. I became part of a sub-tribe within the population, the school tribe.

The other day, Lana and I were going to town and she told me to avoid taking a specific road because it was around 3:00 and the school kids would be getting out. I had to remind her that school was out for Christmas. She works at the library, and though they certainly don’t have the same workload every day of the year, their loads are much more regular than those the school tribe deals with.

For roughly the past three weeks, the school tribe’s rhythm has slowed way down. In some cases it probably came to a standstill. I did a very little school work over the Christmas break, but only because of the Human Subjects committee that I chair. Other than that, I got up when I wanted, went to bed when I wanted, and worked only on personal choices, like my writing.

Then came yesterday. For the school tribe, our rhythm often goes from zero to sixty in one day. Yesterday, we started our semester. Classes won’t be in session until next week, but we faculty started yesterday, and today is registration. As an analogy, it feels like I pulled out of my nice country driveway onto the interstate and had to be at 70 MPH when my wheels touched the pavement. Except for a few blips for such things as Mardi Gras and Easter, we’ll be at that speed most of the way through until May, when things will drop to zero again.

I like the school rhythm. I’m used to it. I’ve adjusted my writing around it. I suppose if I lived to a different rhythm I would have adjusted. But it’s not easy to imagine just how that would have played out.

Do you ever think of the rhythm you live to? Would another rhythm be better? Or worse?

Here's a video about Rhythm: From the Scorpions!
Rhythm of Love

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


I just read Stephen King’s introduction to Nightmares & Dreamscapes and he had something to say about imagination that really resonated with me. He was talking about his childhood, and here are his words:

“I knew even then, you see, that there were people in the world—-too many of them actually—-whose imaginative senses were either numb or completely deadened, and who lived in a mental state akin to color-blindness. I always felt sorry for them, never dreaming (at last then) that many of these unimaginative types either pitied me or held me in contempt…”

I wasn’t quite as observant as King when I was a kid. It never occurred to me then that anyone could lack imagination. My own imagination kept me company 24 hours a day. Every moment was magic. The sky filled itself with battleships and pirate galleons; the woods were populated with living shadows, both human and inhuman. Even at night my imagination never slept. There were nightmares sometimes, but always my dreams were vivid, intense, otherworldly. I couldn’t understand why others laughed at such “fancies.” Didn’t they have the same experiences?

What I did know, though, was that I was laughed at, pitied, and held in contempt by many when I shared the thoughts and ideas that excited me. I was told many times that I read too much, that I needed to get my head out of the clouds, that I needed to pay attention to the ground instead of the sky, that I was wasting my life away daydreaming. When I was little, it hurt. I began to develop an inferiority complex. When everyone is telling you that you’re going about life all wrong, you often begin to believe them. Fortunately, I realized in time that they were the ones who were doing it all wrong.

I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I’d given in to the criticisms. I may not be a great success by any stretch of the ‘imagination,’ but I never have to suffer from boredom. And I often think that I’ve actually lived many lives instead of just the one. I’ve lived in the Old West, lived on other planets. I’ve known heroes and villains, monstrous aliens and gentle ones. I’ve explored across time. All of that inside a couple of pounds of spongy pinkish matter.

When Josh was little I actively tried to cultivate his imagination. Yes, it meant he had a few bad dreams. But I hope he’ll realize over time what a true gift a good imagination is. I think he does. Whenever a child's imagination is stifled, the human race comes a little closer to extinction.

Now I think I’m going to go daydream. The sky is blue, the woods are dark. And there are worlds within worlds.

Art copywrite (c) The incomparable Lana Gramlich, whose imagination I greatly admire.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Blogging into the New Year

Something’s got to give. At least a little. I enjoy visiting and commenting on blogs and there’s a tremendous amount of good writing and good material out there. I’ve discovered lots of wonderful writers and thinkers in the blogosphere. But my Google Reader is feeding me close to a hundred posts a day and I’ve been finding myself spending at least an hour a day, and often more, in visiting blogs and commenting. I’ve just got to cut back on some of that in 2010. For my sanity and for my own writing.

I’m not quitting. You’ll still see me around almost as much. But I’m going to try a couple of things and see if it helps. First, I’m going to start taking off blogging on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday. And on holidays. That’s when I can get some back to back hours in on my own writing. (And I've got a couple of major projects I'd like to finish this year.) When I come back on Mondays, however, I probably won’t be able to catch up on everything that has passed and will have to be pretty selective.

Second, I know a lot of folks put up multiple posts a day. A lot of times this is very good material, but I’m going to force myself to only comment on one post a day. I want to make sure I get around to as many different folks as possible. Third, I’m just going to be more conservative in my commenting. I like touching bases with everyone every day, but I can tell I’m not going to be able to keep that up much longer. And sometimes posts are mostly informational and don’t really need my comments. Don’t think this doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate all your efforts.

As for my own posting, I’m probably going to continue posting only every other day or every third day, and I hope in 2010 to get back to posting more substantive material. If I cut back on other aspects of blogging I should have more time to write quality posts myself. I feel like I fell off a bit on that toward the end of last year.

So here’s looking forward to another great year of blogging. Happy 2010!