Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Thanks to Scarlett Van Dijk for tagging me in the Next Big Thing Blog Hop.

1: What is the working title of your book(s)?
My newest book is called The Feathered Serpent. I'd estimate that I still have three more chapters to write and then plenty of revising and editing on that WIP. My first book is called The Ghost, The Golem, and The General, and it's a collection of reader's theater plays for young adults.  
2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
I got the ideas for both my books while I was teaching 8th grade English in a poverty-stricken, heavily minority middle school in the Dallas Independent School District. The students I taught loved fantasy books like the Percy Jackson series, yet those same books almost never had a black or Hispanic main character. So I decided to write an urban fantasy novel with a black hero, who's named after one of my favorite students.
I wrote my first book of reader's theater plays, because I wanted plays to use in class. My students were often extremely reluctant to read, and many flat out refused to read material from their textbooks. So I wrote my own reader's theater plays (which help students develop fluency, vocabulary, etc.) based on stories I thought they might be interested in, like La Llorona. The best teaching days I had were the days when I had a new play for the kids to read--it kept them engaged like nothing else. 
3: What genre does your book come under?
My newest book is a Young Adult Urban Fantasy, and my first one is a set of reader's theater plays, mostly based on folktales.
4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Drevon Summers--Jaden Smith
Mariam Summers--Amandla Stenberg or Quvenzhane Wallis
Ms. Laveau--Michelle Hurst
Daddy Saturday--Mos Def, Terrence Howard, or Ludacris
5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Drevon Summers must use his new-found spirit powers to rescue his little sister from an evil voodoo sorcerer
6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
My books aren't published yet--once they're ready, I intend to submit them to literary agents and publishers first. If that doesn't work out, I'll self-publish.
7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I started the first draft of my novel this past September, and I hope to finish it soon (I had a baby in June, so I've been busy with other things lately!). 
8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I think it's comparable to the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson books.
9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My eighth grade students--I hope this book will inspire them to read more, and show them that they can be the heroes in their own lives.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Since so much fantasy is based on Celtic/European folklore and history, I thought it'd be interesting to explore more North American sources for magic, like Mayan myths and Haitian voodoo. The book also depicts some gritty situations, like human trafficking and drug abuse, via magical realism.

Continuing the Next Big Thing Blog Hop on the blogs of my fellow writers:

Grace Wagner


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Music Lessons for Children with Disabilities

Early in my career, I took a job teaching piano lessons to autistic children. It was a huge challenge, and I often had to adjust my expectations and my methods for any success. Yet, I was also surprised at how much even severely disabled children could achieve in music. Even non-verbal students could learn to play simple songs on the piano. Scientists have long documented the positive effects that music has on the brain--children who learn music have better spatial, verbal, mathematical skills. Other research has shown that playing music can ease symptoms of patients with brain disorders such as Parkinson's or Tourette's syndromes. Based on these studies and others, it seems there's evidence that music lessons might help students with disabilities such as autism or other developmental disorders.

I've also had several violin students on the autism spectrum (although they were usually only mild to moderately effected). I found that music lessons, especially in group classes, often helped these students with coordination and social skills, in addition to the intellectual benefits. It's important for teachers to integrate the autistic students into the class, instead of isolating them.

In particular, I enjoyed having students play together in chamber groups, such as duets, trios, or quartets. Smaller groups allow students to interact, but are often less intimidating for autistic students than a large class. There are many useful ensemble books that have multiple levels, which is very helpful for any struggling students. I liked using the Strings Extraordinaire series because the first book in this series has several pieces where the second violin part is all open strings. That's valuable for students who have difficulty with fingerings, as many disabled children do. One of my autistic violinists loved the fact that he could play with the other students, even though he hadn't mastered the left hand yet.

I've also found that music lessons benefit children with ADHD. Music helps to develop the executive functions of a child's brain, which helps them learn to control their attention span and focus their minds on a task. Many professional level musicians I know struggled with ADHD as children, yet they learned to focus intensely on their musical practice. As a teacher, one of the first things I do with very young child is work on focus exercises, and I'm amazed at how this training can help them learn to pay attention and calm their minds (focus exercises are often similar to meditation).

Of course, certain types of music or instruments might be better suited for students with different disabilities. For example, vocal music classes might help students develop their voices and speaking abilities. Wind instruments can help students develop good breath control (useful for children who have asthma). Percussion instruments might be a good choice for students who have deafness (like Evelyn Glennie). Strings instruments can be very challenging, but provide a good opportunity to build ensemble skills and manual dexterity. Children might want to try a couple of different instruments or classes to see what works best for them. Remember that a compassionate and well trained music teacher can help a disabled student with appropriate accommodations or at least recommend a good instrument or class.

Many famous musicians have disabilities, including Itzak Perlman on violin (he suffered from paralysis from polio), Andrea Bocelli (he's blind), and Evelyn Glennie (deafness). These musicians show that people with disabilities often have enormous musical talent, and can be highly successful performers. Yet, it's important to understand that even if a child does not have the drive, desire, or ability to become a famous musician, learning music can still teach them valuable skills. Every child, including one with a disability, has his or her own unique gifts, and music can help them develop those gifts.

Update: For anyone interested in how adults with disabilities can benefit from musical training, check out this article on "the healing power of death metal" for severely injured Iraq veterans.

Update: I found a website by Daniela Clapp, a woman who's teaching her daughter, who has down syndrome, to play piano. Another lovely example of how music is for every child!

Update: Here's my list of great resources for teaching music to children with disabilities.

Related articles on Violin/Viola Teaching:

Suzuki Method--a Violin Teacher's Perspective

Suzuki Philosophy: Every Child Has Talent

Suzuki Techniques--Listening is the key

Violin Life Lessons

Inspiring Practice

Practicing Violin Effectively

Great Apps for Musicians

Excellent Supplemental Books for Suzuki Violin and Viola Students

Suzuki Method for Adult Students

For Parents: How to Support your Child's Music Practice and Development

Overcoming Performance Anxiety: How to Help Music Students Prepare for Recitals, Auditions, and other Performances

Seven Ways to Develop Listening and Aural Skills in Music Students

Persistence--The Most Important Aspect of Talent

Pascale Method for Violin--A Review

More Apps for Musicians and Music Students

Classical Music Isn't Dying--It's in a Recession

A Wicked Kind of Dark--Book Blast and Cover Reveal

Author Jonathan K. Benton

Jonathan Benton always wanted to write books, having won first place in a short story competition when he was ten. Inspired by writes such as Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, Jonathan first discovered the crossover genre of literary/fantasy while reading Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Jonathan grew up in New Zealand, dreaming of travelling to London and finally making the pilgrimage in his mid-twenties. Returning from England, he settled in Australia, the country he now calls home, and decided to take his writing seriously.

A Wicked Kind of Dark

Robert Duncan no longer believes in magic. A mysterious call about a blood moon, however, leads him back to the magical world of his childhood and to Luthien, the beautiful girl with flame-coloured hair, who he loved and lost.

As Robert unravels the secrets of his childhood, darkness enters his life and an ancient evil awakens. To have any chance of defeating the dark forces that would destroy two worlds, Robert must find Luthien before the rise of the blood moon. He must, once more, believe in magic …

A Wicked Kind of Dark mixes vast and spectacular fantasy landscapes with gritty urban reality. A must-read for people of all ages who believe in the power of imagination, and the importance of never losing touch with your inner child.

Giveaway Details
$10 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash
Open Internationally
Ends 8/15/13

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer http://iamareader.com and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

*An additional $10 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash is available to anyone who shares this giveaway on their blog.  See link in the rafflecopter form.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Get Hold of Yourself and Your Writing! Guest Post by maia

Training and control of oneself and one's conduct, usually for personal improvement.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2011

So, you want to be a writer? Consider yourself one of millions. Everyone and his/her cousin seems to think they’ve got a bestselling novel inside them somewhere and all they need to do is “write it down.” Then they actually do sit down and start putting words on paper or computer. That’s when reality hits and why writing sites are always flooded with threads from “nooriterguy” and “hemingwaydeux” and “gunnabefamus” like:
How do you guys find time to write?”
Why can’t I stop overwriting everything?”
Need tips on how to finish a story!”
What’s the best way to avoid using clichés?”
and so on.
        Which makes more seasoned writers on the site have to keep repeating themselves over and over and over again, handing out the same answers/advice in thread after thread, since the newbies don’t bother to do a site search and find the scores of clone threads others of their ilk have already put up on the topics, before starting yet another new one.
       I dare say it’s too much to hope this article might at least slow down the procession of repeats, but I’ll put it out here for the one or two of you it could enlighten. Here’s the thing...
      The one “must-have” (besides a modicum of talent and good writing skills) that no would-be writer can possibly succeed without is that thing defined at the top of this article. How do “serious” writers find time to write? They make themselves find time. That’s how. Why can’t the pleaders for a magic cure stop over-writing everything? Because they don’t make themselves stop doing it. That’s why. What can starters of scores of stories and books do, to actually finish one? They can force themselves to keep writing one until they finish it, not let themselves start anything new till they’ve finished something old. That’s what. How can you avoid using clichés? Make yourself stop! That’s how.
      All it takes is self-discipline, a trait that so few who want to be writers bother using if they have it, or acquiring, if they don’t. Why? What’s so hard about making a decision to do or not do something that won’t hurt and can do you good? I fear it may be connected to the fact that so many people underestimate the difficulty of creative work.
      Whatever the cause, I’m here to tell you all that if you want to succeed as a writer or anything, you’ll have to pound a good portion of self-discipline into it. Or wake it up, if it’s been there all along and you ignored it.

PS: Offering tips for how to go about acquiring and keeping self-discipline operational is beyond me, since I was blessedly cursed with it from birth, apparently. So, if anyone has any, please leave them in the comments! 

maïa (no capital ‘m’ & no last name) is a writer, mentor, writing services provider and practicing philosopher who has lived in and visited too many parts of the world to count, over the past four decades. She now lives in Oregon, makes her writings available to all free of charge, on her site and as e-books, while helping writers on writing websites and privately, by email.

E-mail is welcome: maia3maia@hotmail.com
Visit maïa’s website: www.saysmom.com
Professional writing services: http://www.saysmom.com/maia/services.asp

Saturday, July 13, 2013

To My Newborn and Family

Like many pregnant women, I spent much of my pregnancy reading parenting books, blogs, and articles. I took classes on breastfeeding, car seats, and childbirth. I learned a lot from some of these things. Yet, for all this there was one thing I wasn't prepared for--how wonderful newborns are. How beautiful your baby is when you first see her. How soft and smooth her skin is. How it feels to kiss her sweet face.

It's difficult sometimes--my husband and I only get a few hours' sleep at a time, and having a surprise c-section really knocked me off my feet. But we love her so much, and I'm so grateful to have her in my life. I love her so much as a baby I wish she'd stay that way, but I also can't wait to see her grow up.

I'm also grateful to all our friends and family, who've gone out of their way to help our new family.

Anwen's grandparents (Don, Debbie, and Kris, pictured above) have helped us enormously, and given her so much love and affection. It warmed my heart to see how happy she made them, and how beautifully they welcomed her into the world. After my surprise c-section, we ended up needing a lot more help at home than we'd expected. Anwen's grandmas, Kris and Debbie, stayed with us to help take care of the baby and help out.

My sister, Vanessa, has been a wonderful aunt. She gave us some really adorable decorations for Anwen's nursery, and she was one of the first people to visit Anwen in the hospital. I know that she and Anwen will be great friends as our baby grows up.

Our friends Chris, Tony, Stephen, Kailyn, Candelaria, James, and Chase helped us move into our new apartment when I was nearly eight months pregnant. It's a wonderful, powerful thing to have friends in your life who'll help you with onerous things like moving:)

Finally, I'm so grateful for my husband, David. 

He's been a great daddy to Anwen, and very supportive to me. He's been deeply involved with every part of childcare, and I'm so happy that our daughter with grow up with two loving, attached parents.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bringing Home Our Kitties

My husband and I now have two wonderful cats, Lynx and Mead. This is the story of how we brought them home. Lynx is a Maine Coon mix who once belonged to one of my husband's best friends. She found him in a box on the side of the road with three other kittens, and took them all home. After a while, she found homes for the other cats, but she kept Lynx for around eight years. But she had to move in with her parents and they had two dogs. Her parents didn't want a cat, and she was afraid poor Lynx would be miserable around so many dogs, so she asked David if I might want her cat (we weren't married then). I said yes--I'd always wanted a Maine Coon, and I knew he needed a good home. These pictures are from the day I first got him.

He was a little nervous at first, so he buried his head in my arm. He still does that when he's scared. It took a little adjusting when he first arrived at my apartment. He cried, especially at night, and hid in my cupboards. But shortly after I brought him home, we had a huge snowstorm. It got cold, and Lynx sat at the edge of my bed crying. He wouldn't hop up there by himself, so I picked him up and put him under the covers with me. He slept in my arms like a teddy bear. After that, I think we really bonded.

Fluffy belly! Lynx has tons of fluffy fur. It's adorable and soft, but unfortunately he gets lots of hairballs, and of course it's very hot in Texas most of the year. David and I decided to try shaving him. It did not go well. Still, he doesn't look too bad shaved, and he eventually forgave us.

We'd talked about getting another cat after we got married. I'd started working long hours, and Lynx got so lonely he'd be desperate for attention when we got home. David decided to take advantage of Lynx's willingness to do almost anything for attention, so he bought him a squirrel costume to wear. One day, when I was working late at a job I hated, David sent me these pictures to cheer me up.

We decided that if Lynx was lonely enough to wear a squirrel costume for attention, maybe he needed another cat to keep him company. I know you think that cats are all totally solitary, and that  they don't like being around other cats, but let me assure you that with Lynx, that's not true. I looked around the internet for another Maine Coon, but we found our next kitty by chance at a Dallas Cat Lady adoption event at PetSmart.  This is our first glimpse of Orange Crush, soon to be renamed Mead.

He was sweet, gentle, and adorable. I knew he'd be great for us when I saw a little girl carrying him around the store like a doll--he didn't even scratch her. He'd been a street cat, so he was still pretty skinny when we took him home.

Mead made himself right at home! He was so affectionate we called him the purr monster. He's so laid back lets us do things like put in our Moby Wrap and our Baby Bjorn.

We kept Mead and Lynx separated for all of one day. There was one incident of hissing, and then they were friends. They play with each other, and lick each others' ears. I'm lucky to have such loving cats.

Recently, we brought home our newborn daughter, Anwen Elara. Lynx got pretty jealous towards the end of my pregnancy, and he started acting out. I was really frustrated, since no new mother wants to deal with an angry cat. I turned to google, and discovered a product called feliway. It seemed to calm Lynx down, and he's been behaving again. He's even gotten over some of his fear of our sweet baby.  

Feliway comes in a spray or a plug-in. I bought the plug-in, and it's worked great for Lynx's issues.