Sunday, November 3, 2013

Everyone's a Writer!

Have a story idea you want to write? Ready to live this month in reckless literary abandon? Join me and participate in National Novel Writing Month! Endless resources for writers and educators with tips, workbooks, inspiration, and a great community of literary arts enthusiasts. There are also listings of event information about NaNoWriMo if you are craving for human interaction when writing. All kinds of writers meet at local libraries, bookstores, coffee shops, etc.

Feel like you don't have time to accomplish 50,000 words in a month, but you know you have a phenomenal best-selling, change-the-world type of idea? That's totally okay if you can't participate in NaNoWriMo this year, but what's not okay is to lose the ideas! Jot them down. Lots of prewriting and brainstorming tips if you follow my
fan page. You have something to say. It's worth writing them down for yourself.

Happy writing, everyone!

National Novel Writing Month Challenge: 50K Words in a Month!

This is the marathon of writing! Hello there, NaNoWriMo! Throw down 50K words with reckless literary abandon and get to the finish line. I'm going to do it. Why? Because I've done it before during the craziest time of my life, and it just seems fitting that I should do it again. Here's the sypnopsis:

LOOP 12 (Book #2 To Exit Renner series)

The sequel to Exit Renner, this novel takes readers on a journey to Otherwordliness with yet another transverse traveler looking for answers. Ghost Girl, who died in a car crash while driving to work, must travel through transverse planes to arrive at her "Rest in Peace" destination. But she is lost and distracted, still longing for something in this world that she has not yet quite understood.

From the few moments leading to her death to her afterlife, she encounters The Wanderer, an attractive free spirit in his midtwenties who was born from a wealthy family, but disdains materialism. The Wanderer, much to his family's disapproval, abandons everything to travel the world aimlessly with the hopes of finding the truth about anything. He has no written agenda. No set plans. Hardly any money now that he has given it all away, but he sets out to be content with his guitar on hand.

Instead of finding her own path, Ghost Girl follows The Wanderer's aimless roaming around the world. This is a classic tale of unrequited love, but she's dead, and he's still alive. Ghost Girl spends most of her energy sending him otherwordly messages to attract his attention. The trouble is that he doesn't seem to be receiving the message as truth. He continues to disregard them only as dreams or his imagination. No matter what part of the world he travels, he is stuck in a place where reality and illusion are always at play against each other.

Ghost Girl's husband, The Widower, is a misplaced soul. He is often misunderstood in a world bombarded with societal norms. He is left to raise two children, a boy and a girl, with very little resources. The girl shows signs of becoming an Outlier, an extremely successful person. After the death of her mother, The Prodigy develops a type of superpower in which her thoughts are manifested into reality. The Prodigy then vows revenge upon her mother's aunt, The Self Serving Shrew. As she plots the revenge, she then sees something beyond the ordinary. Discovering layers of truth hidden from her family's past, she soon realizes the real power she possesses that deeply connects her to her mother, Ghost Girl.

This is a tale of how the human condition navigates through heartbreak, relationships, tragedies, and accomplishments all the while conditioning themselves to balance their own minds that drift from subconsciousness to consciousness.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

To the Parents of My Former Students

Dear Parents,

You may have a son or daughter starting his/her freshman year of college this fall, or a child who finished 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade last semester adjusting to a different teacher when I left for a new job in public school midyear. You may have sent your son or daughter to the Irving Arts summer art camp where I was the writing instructor, or you may be a homeschooling parent who sent your child to one of my own creative writing camps at home. I just want to tell you something: I've been thinking of you. 

I remember the emails, the questions (endless questions), the conferences, the homework, the candid conversations, and yes, even the petty arguments (let's just call them disagreements) about these silly things called the "reading log" or the "math facts." Ugh. I'm sorry. If I had your child in my class during the early part of my teaching career, I'm sorry for all the homework I sent home in 4th grade. Why didn't I listen to you?!?

But this isn't an apology letter. This is a thank you letter. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to teach your children. Seriously. As much as I whine and stress about the prep time (every year, every class, whether it is for school or for camp, I sing the same whiny song - just ask my husband), I  remember just how much of a privilege it is to be able to see growth happen in front of me, and I take pride in it. I can say, "I helped that kid somehow. That's my work." Always in progress.

That picture you posted on Facebook of your sweet son with his cap, gown, and diploma? I wish him the very best. It is my hope that he accomplishes whatever he wants to do. The heartache you felt when you watched your daughter pack up boxes in her room to move into her dorm? There was a lump in my throat, too. That really amazing poem she wrote that got published? I was a crying mess! And don't even get me started about her commencement speech during her 8th grade graduation.

I am so completely amazed at the accomplishments that just keep coming. Are these really the same 3rd or 4th grade kids? The very same ones who may have picked their noses in class even if they thought nobody was looking (I won't name names, but they know who they are), the ones who freaked out because they stapled their vocabulary foldables on the wrong side of the paper, and the ones who silently recited a prayer called "Please, God, Help Me Remember My Multiplication Facts" before taking their Math Facts tests? Now they're doing really amazing, grown up things like driving, working their part-time jobs while keeping a full time student workload, doing their own laundry (I hope), traveling without their parents, and doing service oriented activities because they want to give back to the community. Those are my kids!!!

The best part about you being their parents is that you've kept in touch with me after all these years. You allowed your kids to keep in touch with me. Heck, you even allowed them to go to my house and babysit my little girl for a fraction of the cost of a regular babysitting gig just so I can have a nice date with my hubby. You continued to share your kids' lives with me. You supported me when I dreamed of publishing my children's books. You tuned in to watch me, excited and thrilled, when my 15 minutes of fame on NBC 5 happened. You came to my book signing with your kids, proud to show me how they've grown up to be the young adults I want my own children to become one day. You came back to show me. I'm grateful for that.You encouraged me. You took the time to tell me that I was doing it right. I needed to build that confidence to be the bold and brave teacher the kids need me to be to keep them engaged.

I want to thank you for sharing those wonderful moments. Remembering them really keeps me going. This is why I've been thinking of you lately. Please think of me, too, as I prepare for this new school year in my new school. I've only just completed one semester, but I really want to get to know the kids the very same way I got to know yours. Remind me to think about the important things. Remind me that I'm doing something that helps.

Mrs. Pulido

Photo by: Sov Chiv. Two of my original 3rd graders now college freshmen.
They just recently returned from a summer trip to Brazil for World Youth Day.
 Left: Jenna H. Right: Alex P. Middle: One of my favorite moms, Justine. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How To Motivate a Non-Reader Child to Read For Fun: No, It's Not Impossible!

I always feel humbled when I get asked for advice. This is probably because as the youngest sibling in a family of five kids (my oldest sibling is 17 years older than me, and the second youngest sibling is 9 years older than me), I often received unsolicited advice. So when I am asked, I'm flattered and humbled, but now as I get older, I try to age gracefully and be very careful not to sound preachy or be a "know-it-all."

Now when a Teacher Mom of four boys (the oldest has finished a bachelor's degree and now has his own career) asks me for advice, I stop dead in my tracks.

"I really don't know anything! I just write." I wanted to tell her.

But she did ask me a very important question that was near and dear to me. She asked about how to motivate a non-reader child to read for pleasure. The funny thing is, I was just going through a similar issue. I was so perplexed that my little girl didn't devour books as much as I did. It was easy for me to bond with my stepson Devyn because we both loved reading and storytelling. It was much different to foster reading for pleasure in my daughter Zoe, a kinesthetic learner, who is very active and athletic. She reads well and excels in school, but she just won't pick up a book and sit still for hours like Devyn and I would. I still try to come up of creative ways to get her to read without forcing her. I haven't given up just yet, and I am even more encouraged when I hear other moms go through a similar experience.

I asked for the Teacher Mom's permission to share our correspondence via Facebook chat because I know there are many moms out there who feel the same way. She was gracious enough to allow me to do so without having to change any names. Her name is Kim. She just celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary by going to the Rangers game with her husband because that's what they did on their first date. They brought along their four boys with them. This is what she asked me:

"Okay, Mrs. Pulido!! Help! We have the most non-reader on the planet! Cole starts books but loses interest so quickly. The only topic he wants to read is about sports! Unfortunately, those books, for the most part are NOT Accelerated Reader books! Any advice or recommendations? Do you have a "knock your socks off" novel suggestions for an incoming 6th grader?"

This is what I told her:

Hmm..I don't know about knock your socks off novels for Cole, but here are a few of fiction book suggestions for teen boys who love sports (I can't believe Cole is an incoming 6th grader?!):

1. Peak by Roland Smith (intellectual rebel kid who summits Mt. Everest with his long lost father)
2. Tangerine by Edward Bloor (outcast legally blind soccer player goalie who "sees" the true character of people and places; The setting is also very strange)
3. Novels by Walter Dean Myers such as Game and Monster - all sports themed fiction
To encourage non readers to develop a love of reading (can you believe it, my Zoe isn't all that into reading, either), we try to make it as relevant to them as possible. If he likes sports, then maybe fiction about sports would peak his interest in reading novels at higher level. 

Another thing: I wouldn't discourage Cole from reading nonfiction about sports if that's what interests him even though they're not Accelerated Reader books if it gets him to read. BUT!!! I would give him recommendations based on his interest so that we can get him reading above grade level novels. 

I also love reading aloud and reading with kids, even at middle school level. I find that when I read just a portion of it, it peaks their interest enough that they would want to read more on their own. This is so because I use the characters' choices and actions and pose "what if" open ended questions as conversation starters with them to get them relating to the story. Hence, the relevance. This is also a great way to teach life lessons through literature when you remind them that the choices characters make influence consequences, which then leads to wonderful discussions about their own moral values. 

I don't know if Cole would be open to having you as his mother read aloud a book to him, but I bet if you get an older brother to do it with him, he'd play along, and I can just imagine the four brothers debating about stuff together at home. LOVE! 

Active, athletic children who are gifted can't really sit still for long periods of time, so reading can get somewhat boring to them. Devyn and I can transport our entire beings into books and not even breathe or look up for a minute, but Zoe has to be moving around. I imagine Cole to be the same way. He's capable of reading well, but would rather not. Zoe also loves nonfiction (and not above grade level) books and would prefer lots of pictures over words.
I did finally get her to pick up Judy Blume books. I happened to mention that I had a friend from high school whose job was to read YA books and interview the authors for her articles. She was impressed by that, so she started scanning bookstores and libraries for Judy Blume books. 
It was trial and error. She knew during the summer if I ever take her out anywhere, we'd have to stop by a bookstore or the library for Mommy's happy place. She had no choice. HAHA.
I hope this helps! Good luck, and have a great new school year! Thanks so much for asking me for tips. You know how much I love this. 



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Top of the Class: 5 Rules that Show How Weight Management is Similar to Classroom Management and Motherhood

At one point in our motherhood lives, we've all questioned whether we made the right decision to stay at home for our kids or go to work. Endless conversations among friends and families about which is the better choice, which moms work the hardest, which supermoms keep their kitchen floors spotless, which moms wear those elastic waistband yoga pants and pretend they're work pants or pajama pants, and of course, the perpetual guilt about how our choices affect our children's lives.

I don't want to talk about that anymore. Stay at home moms, you're awesome! Working moms, you're awesome! I've felt guilty enough for everything related to motherhood that I'm done with those feelings. It's a waste of time.

I do want to talk about the life lessons I've learned from the job I've signed up for once I became a mother to Devyn many years ago. I've learned more from teaching than anywhere else. So much more. I've learned a lot about management.

"I don't know how you do it," is usually a phrase mothers tell each other. The real secret, though, is we already know how we do it. We MANAGE. And we manage well if we're able to get up every morning to do it over and over again. Mothers manage. Mothers manage multiple things at the same time. It's in our nature. It's also in our nature to question ourselves. Are we doing it right? The answer is: Yes, you are.

At a teacher training last week, I met a beautiful, young first-time teacher. We happened to strike up a conversation about weight loss, so we hit it off immediately. Yesterday she sent me a message that made me chuckle because it felt like we were already old friends:

"Oooh, Pia, I suck! I totally cheated on my diet this weekend."

She told me she had something delicious that was off plan, and explained to me that it used to be her favorite. Now it just made her sick and completely frustrated. Plus, two days of cheating added 4 lbs. to her weight gain. And on the same message she wrote:

"What should I expect in the classroom? What about discipline?"

Oh, girl......where do I begin? There's always something unexpected in the classroom. There's always something I can do better with classroom discipline.  There's always going to be temptation in the break room where someone is offering you a slice of pizza or taking orders for homemade tamales when all you really want to do is make 42 copies of your summative assessment. No amount of training can prepare any new or seasoned teacher for the stuff that happens in action. It's an amazing hot mess - just like motherhood.

My recent obsession in getting acquainted with my new school while maintaining my goal weight has taught me so much about management that I think I can add this skill in my resume now! I've worked too hard with my transformation to let go of myself due to stress eating. It's hard, but manageable. I often get frustrated, cry like a little brat, and get CRAY CRAY, but it's still manageable with the right amount of support. I've come to realize that my weight management rules are so similar to my own classroom management.

1. GOAL SETTING: We need to write down our goals everyday. We have objectives that we need to meet, and our students need to be aware of them so that they know what's expected of them. Same thing with weight management. Write down your goal for the day and be specific. Today my goal is to stay awake and make it to dance class. I think I can. I think I can.

2. UNDERSTAND CHOICES AND CONSEQUENCES: If you eat that slice of pizza for lunch, then understand that you already spent 200 calories for that one slice. It takes me about 15 (or maybe 30) veeery slow minutes on the elliptical to burn off 200 calories. If I don't burn it off with cardio, then I just might not be able to button my shorts. Is it worth it? Choices and consequences - you tell your kids that the choices they make affect consequences. Same for your body. I tell myself this over and over again when I find myself eating a whole bar of chocolates and then being unable to close the button on my jeans without producing a muffin top. I have to accept! I have a muffin top, but I also had a whole bar of Hershey's in one sitting. If you eat candy before dinner, then you'll be full and have to pretend that you're finishing your plate and sitting still at the dinner table. So fine, I accept! I will change! Choices and consequences, kids. If you choose this, then that will happen. Accept or change. If you're still frustrated, ask for help.

3. PLAN AHEAD: You're required to write weekly lesson plans so you and your appraiser know that you're meeting your objectives. It's part of your job. Do it for yourself. Write your meal and workout plans and check them off as you go. Be your own accountability partner.

4. TRACK PROGRESS/ACTIVITY: Just as you keep a notebook to remind yourself what you need to do in the classroom everyday, keep another one to remind yourself what you've eaten and what you've done for exercise daily. Write down improvements and setbacks. You'll soon notice a pattern in the behavior, and you'll be better equipped when you anticipate those changes.

5.  BREAK YOUR OWN RULES: It's okay if you break a rule. Forgive yourself. Forgive your students. Seriously, you won't have to go to detention. If you or your kids break any of these rules, go back to Rule #2, but be kind to them and to yourself. Be understanding. You'll do better next time. Why? Because you've been able to manage by creating a safe learning environment in your world that you can learn from failing.

So I wish you success, dear Beautiful,Young First-Time Teacher! Just as you've managed to raise your babies, you'll manage your classroom and your weight all at the same time. You're already doing it. I wish you a very accomplished school year. Don't hesitate to write to me because I'll also need your support as I go through the same thing. I'll be making choices again. I'll be suffering through consequences. I'll be making mistakes. But I'll be learning with you and the kids.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The WHY and the HOW of Teaching Picture Books for Complex Learning and Critical Thinking

When I worked for Fossil, a multi-brand watch, apparel, and accessories company as a web marketing coordinator in the ecommerce department many years ago, there was one corporate training that really made a lasting impression on me. It was led by a marketing executive who used Dr. Seuss' Oh the Place You'll Go! to engage worker bees like me to be inspired.

Back then, I was straight out of college and reliving scenes from Office Space. The cubicle life was unbearable. Think you hate meetings? Well, have you ever fallen asleep so much in them that you dropped your legal pad several times during a conference call? Yeah, that was me. I despised them! I was an English major, why should I care about sales reports? Why did I care about the fashion industry? It had nothing to do with my passion. Or so I thought.

The marketing executive reminded me with images from childhood memories that passion was everywhere. Who doesn't love Dr. Seuss? What about Dr. Seuss in a corporate meeting? Yes, please! That was my response. I woke up, picked up my legal pad, and listened. His delivery allowed me, a mere worker bee, to find wisdom and inspiration in everything- even in a meeting about selling brand watches. Marketing people are gifted in that way. They have the ability to get people excited about things many may tend to overlook. They would make excellent coaches and teachers if they ever get tired of getting paid a lot of money to do what they do. They should really switch to teaching.

Anyway, I actually listened to the training, had fun, and learned something. Imagine that! It was all in the delivery. The speaker demonstrated that learning can be both lighthearted and profound. Bringing Dr. Seuss to a corporate training did that for me. As I continue my career being an educator and a lifelong learner, I find that people of all ages everywhere are longing for that. They want to learn things that are authentic and real. Gifted and advanced learners are the ones most hungry for it.

Children's picture books promote a safe, relaxed learning environment for everyone, but in gifted and talented learners, the use of these books can foster critical thinking that may lead to solving their own problems like mine: boredom! If I was bored in meetings as an adult, I know the kids are bored in their classrooms listening to blahblahblahblahblah... Why not bring some fun childhood stuff like picture books to their learning environment like the way the Fossil marketing executive did for me?

At a teacher training last week, another skilled educator/trainer caught my attention by using picture books. It was a session called "Adding Rigor by Layering Texts." The purpose of the session was for teachers to learn how to use various texts, such as literary, informational, and even picture books for advanced learners to discover and grasp a concept. There are so many children's books out there that can introduce some really tough issues like the Holocaust or Jim Crow laws to help learners grasp those hard-to-teach concepts. Google a hot topic and add 'children's book' in your search and you'll find plenty of suggestions. I've used my own children's books that I've written to teach some important social development issues that need to be addressed. You'll see pictures and graphic organizers written with my favorite Sharpies and Post It notes, but here's a much clearer outline:

Book Example: Camilla the Chameleon (preorder in our site here.)

STEP 1: Use a bubble map to INTRODUCE AN UNDERLYING THEME in picture books, adding layers and complexity to the text. For example, in Camilla, the theme is about change and personal growth. Ask students what they think it means and share with the whole class.

STEP 2: Activate PRIOR KNOWLEDGE and GATHER RELEVANT/INTERESTING facts. Students list facts that they already know about chameleons and then do a quick web search for more relevant facts. This activity can be done as a whole class or small group presentations.

STEP 3: UNDERSTAND FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE in picture books by reminding them of the underlying theme and connect it with the story. For example, have students connect the metaphor of the chameleon with change and personal growth. Use a graphic organizer like the one pictured to map out a working definition (which can change over time and more discussions) of the theme's meaning, the genre and book description being used to teach the theme, and other notes and observations.

STEP 4: USE SOCRATIC SEMINAR method to discuss the following critical thinking questions:
a. What other organisms go through physical changes?
b. What changes do we (humans) go through - internally and externally?
c.  How do these changes affect our behavior and reactions?
d.  How are we like Camilla the Chameleon?
NOTE: These sample questions aim to drive students to understand that we need to anticipate changes in our lives to learn how to adapt. Adaptability is essential in survival and success.

STEP 5: READ THE BOOK ALOUD. Play the accompanying songs.

STEP 6: READER RESPONSE ACTIVITY: Repeat song, have students sing chorus, etc. Analyze story elements to monitor comprehension. Use whole group or small group activities  to do this and divide tasks for each group member such as Summarizer, Questioner, Clarifier, Predictor, etc. Give time to discuss or just let the story and song "sink in."

STEP 7: CULMINATING ACTIVITY: Assess what students learned by having them create or produce a reflection of what they learned about change and personal growth. Some sample ideas (taken from Fifty Alternatives to the Book Report by Diana Mitchell)
a.Word Collage: Make an artsy word collage to represent the theme of personal growth and change. Be able to explain your art by summarizing what you have learned.
b. Create a homepage: Select a character from the book and design a homepage for him/her, picking out appropriate backgrounds and creating information that would tell a viewer about your character.
c. Forum or text conversations: Imagine that your character has found other people to talk with while in a chatroom forum or in a text conversation. Construct the conversation based on your character.
d. Make music: Figure out how you would rewrite or recreate the songs. Add to the lyrics of the original song.
e. Have students propose their own project.

Have fun! Don't forget to lead them back to this adorable music video!
You Should Be Happy Being You

STEP 1: Use a bubble map to introduce the underlying theme of the picture book
STEP 2: List facts students already know and add facts from what they learned to activate prior knowledge and collect data.

STEP 3: Connect the underlying theme with the facts and data to help understand connotation, metaphor, and other uses of figurative language in literature by using the graphic organizer pictured above. Purple Post It will show the working definition of the theme (it can change over time and further discussions). Pink shows the genre and description of the book. The bottom Post It notes show other ideas, notes, and noticings/observations.
STEP 4: Some sample discussion questions to jumpstart the Socratic Seminar. 

Steps 5-7: Read aloud the book, play the accompanying song with lyrics via Youtube video You Should Be Happy Being You

Friday, August 2, 2013

Favorite Characters: Camilla The Chameleon

One of my favorite characters in my River of Imagination Book Series is Camilla the Chameleon. In this bold and colorful book, she invites readers to enter her magical world of transformation. Unlike regular chameleons who merely change colors, Camilla transforms into any shape she desires! I wrote this book over a decade ago when my little second grader Devyn (now entering his junior year of high school) came home with a DK Science book about lizards. We learned a few facts and created some "what if" questions together. It was then that we "met" Camilla through a science book.

Ten years later, Camilla is still showing us the power of transformation while remaining true to  character. I've recently lost 40 lbs. in the course of a year and a half through a diet program and exercise. Midway through my weightloss journey, I discovered that I wasn't doing this for the purpose of appearance as I first thought. I just wanted to be comfortable in my own skin. I was doing it to feel good about myself because I was testing my limit. How strong am I? How resilient? How goal-oriented? I've transformed my body, yes, but I have also transformed how I think. Man push-ups? From, "OMG, I can't," to "Let me just try three today and see how I do." I also know that just because I lost weight doesn't mean that I'm done with the work. Nope. Just getting started. I still have goals I need to meet to keep me going. To keep me alive.

Camilla shows readers how she developed a thicker skin when she is confronted with choosing her identity. Although she transforms into any shape she desires, there will always be a part of her that will remain the same. The real question Camilla considers isn't at all about which shape suits her best. It's more like, "Am I looking at my flaws, or am I looking for my strengths?" We all need to choose. We cannot be complacent. To the casual observer, Camilla is just another cute children's book about a cute little girl lizard. To the careful reader, the passionate educator, or the strong parent, Camilla empowers everyone (not just girls) to be ambitious, assertive, and individualistic without having to succumb to any cultural phenomenon.

I really love that my own little girl Zoe, who sings the theme song for the book's soundtrack, is learning her true value from Camilla's example. It's not her beauty. It's not all the standards of what a little girl should look like. It's not her niceness nor her politeness. It's her own discovery of truth. This summer, she discovered something while recording this song in the studio for the very first time. I don't know exactly what she discovered, but I know it was something important for her.

I love you, Zoe.
P.S. =  I can now do ten real push-ups everyday. That's quite a big accomplishment for me.

"You Should Be Happy Being You"
Lead vocals: Zoe Pulido; Harmony: Cecilia Salazar
Violin: Gregory Linzen
From the River of Imagination Book Series
Music and Lyrics by Michael Pulido

I'm changing
Uncomfortable in my own skin
When I can be anything
Strange how we're all different but still the same
Uncomfortable in our own skin

Even with all the magic in a wizard's hand
You'll see across the land
Grass is still green
And the skies are still blue

So if you're happy being me
You should be happy being you

In the midst of being who I am
Someone lied
Said the grass is greener
On the other side

But those thoughts I believe
To be untrue

So if I'm happy being me
You should be happy being you

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Creating Characters: How Do Their Thoughts Influence Their Choices?

In the middle of an ordinary life, there comes a time when one faces a decision that changes the course of that life forever. That window of a moment only lasts a few days or less. The choice that person makes dictates how his/her future will play out until they encounter another moment when another decision must be made. Ultimately, you can get to know someone (real or make-believe) in a very short time span because of this.

When establishing my characters for my story, I like to play around with their cognitive behavior and personality traits. What emotions preoccupy them and how do these feelings influence their choices? When I think about how they think, I can usually grasp an understanding of their biographical history and how their environment influences their emotions. This in turn, leads to their decision making process. After all, the choices that a person makes are what define their characters.

Let's play around with this theory a bit: I've been writing, re-writing, revisiting my first novel Exit Renner for years. The story centers around a character in her mid-twenties suffering from an entry-level career burnout and the mundane routine of "the system." Her youthful idealism from college is dying, and she feels trapped in the glass ceiling of the corporate world. She begins to consciously transport herself in different time warped planes and gets inside different people's spirits. She becomes a tea plantation owner at the turn of the century, a Buddhist monk, and a lottery winner of her future self. Each character she encounters plays a significant role in her own desires: power, spiritual wisdom, sexuality, and money. Although her bizarre space-time experiences allow her to escape from the mundane, she soon realizes that all roads and tranverse planes in the universe lead to only ONE PLACE (this answer is revealed only to the readers who  will actually ever read my novel - seriously, READ something, people).

So we'll call this character the Transverse Planes Traveler. She will have an actual name, but I haven't decided that yet. Instead of accepting the reality of life (working for at least forty years until retirement with almost very little satisfaction, raising a family during uncertain times, adapting to the routines that make one bitter and resentful, etc), she challenges it through her consciousness and subconsciousness. She "escapes" the world not so much with a decision-making moment in her ordinary life, but through a cognitive level of subconsciousness and consciousness blended together that heightens her awareness of parallel universes and tranverse planes. She begins to travel in and out of other beings, influencing them with their choices, and therefore changing the course of other characters' histories. So now I have a character who transitions into other characters. They will be the ones who will reveal the conflicts in the plot. They are the ones who will determine if they will use their feelings or logical reasoning to make their decisions. The choices determine their actions. Their actions will determine the course of the novel, so even though I have always struggled with the plot (which teachers always call the "meat" of the story), I don't sweat it as a writer. I always begin with the characters. They are the ones who will determine the plot. Not me (the writer).

I'll introduce you to another character favorite. Unlike the Transverse Planes Traveler who has been with me for over a decade, I just met this one recently. He is The Wanderer. He doesn't belong in my Exit Renner novel, but he belongs somewhere in this space-time traveling thing somehow. I don't know exactly how he belongs there yet, but that's okay. I'm still getting to know him. He has conventional good looks, but this isn't why I (as the writer) like him. Okay, maybe it's part of it, but not entirely. I am tempted to go into details in describing his looks, but I'm a little worried it will end up sounding like 50 Shades, which is not! No. Uh-uh. No.

But here's a sketch of what he looks like (let's giggle like schoolgirls for a bit): Naturally tanned all year round. Broad shoulders. Gorgeous abs with beautiful tattoos. His body tells a story in itself. He wears a crucifix around his neck that he keeps hidden around his white shirt. On the left part of his chest, a tattoo of Christ hanging on the cross surrounded by weeping women, one of them most likely is the Holy Mother of God. On the other side of his chest, a monstrous fire dragon attacking the snakes and on the lower left side of his abs, gentle angel doves flying gracefully around a rose over a defeated dragon.

Now back to our focus - the choices that characters make which dictate the plot. The Wanderer is a world traveler. He cannot settle down. His amazingly good looks have not provided him with good luck. He's always melancholic. Even his guitar strumming is depressing. To the casual observer, he is a bachelor not wanting to settle down. He can pack up his bags at any given time and set out to any adventure, whether it's sailing along the Mediterranean coast or volunteering in a poverty stricken school in Manila, he does not stay in one place nor does he establish any meaningful relationships for a long period of time. To the careful observer, though (in this case, the careful observer is the narrator in the story - the writer) he spends most of his days traveling in search for an aswer to a question he himself cannot begin to know how to ask. All he knows is the gravitational pull he feels to follow a path that leads him all over the world in search for an answer. He doesn't know the question, but he knows he's looking for the answer to it. He feels a strong sense of destiny.

One of these two characters will die. I don't know who and how. They will die, though. But before they do, readers will know that they have choices they will need to make within a very short timespan given a particular moment. Maybe the choices won't be obvious because of all the circumstances or events surrounding them. They seem to lack control, but that's not true at all. Their choices will dictate the events. They just have to find them and...CHOOSE!

The Tranverse Planes Traveler's path leads to already knowing the answer to her own question. The Wanderer doesn't even know he is asking a question. All he knows is what he feels, so he is "lost" in a world of infinite possibilities. This is what makes him depressed. Although he feels a strong sense of destiny, he has no sense of direction and therefore feels he cannot arrive at his destination. This is all determined through his cognitive process. I'm thinking about how he thinks. His thoughts will lead me to write what happens to him, and you better believe I'll be observing the people around me.

My next goal is to think of names for them. I've changed Transverse Planes Traveler's names several times already, and have not fully been satisfied with them. She's a girl who has always played by the rules. But a taste of the corporate world has left her resenting the rules, so I want her name to have a certain spunkiness but also let it be somewhat conventional. The Wanderer is new, and I'm okay with calling him that until I get to know him better.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Motherhood: Messing it Up With the Money Talk

After a decade of stepmotherhood to a son, age 15, and 8 years of motherhood to a daughter, I'm pretty sure I'm still messing it up. I'm pretty proud of them, though, in spite of the stuff I've messed up along the way, they're doing just fine.

Sometimes, there are things that come out of my mouth in front of my kids and I think, "Did I really just say that to them?" It happened yesterday. I'm a little embarrassed.

I had a conversation with my little girl about super powers. It started off the same way I would start my young writers' workshop classes: an open-ended question type of writing prompt that would allow them the opportunity to expand their thinking process without any restrictions. So I asked her, "If you could have any super power, what would it be?"

Her answer was simple yet profound, just as I would expect it to be from an incoming 3rd grader. "I want to understand the language of animals and translate it to humans."

She explained the logistics to me, saying that she alone would be able to read captions in the air when animals made sounds, which would then be formed into words that only she could see. She would then translate their language into ours so that humans and animals would have a better understanding of each other. I was satisfied with the answer and expected to move the conversation along to another topic if she wasn't already bored with talking to me. She took it a step further, though, and asked me what I would want if I could have any super power.

Without even batting an eyelash, I knew exactly what I wanted: "I would like for my thoughts to be manifested into reality."

A pause. "What?" She asked.

I clarified. "Well, let's say I wanted a mango shake. There's no mango in the house, and we have to get the blender out of the shelf. I'm too lazy to go to the store and buy mangoes only to come home and make it. But if I had that super power, all I'd have to do is to think about a mango shake, and ta-da, it's there! I can drink it!"

I was pretty optimistic that it was a really cool thing. I could think of a bunch of stuff I'd want! "Let's say I want to be at the beach instead of sitting here on the couch. I'll just think of Boracay or Florida, and poof! There I am!"

She wasn't satisfied with my answer. She came up with various scenarios in which I would encounter problems surrounding my super power. She said, "What if your power only lasted for a day and you had wished yourself into a far away place? How will you bring yourself back?"

Then I revealed something in my response that could have possibly marked the first time she became skeptical of her mother's opinions. I saw it in her eyes. I couldn't take it back. I said, "Well, if I only had the super power for one day, I'd make sure I would think of having a ridiculous amount of cash and turn it into reality so that I can have money in my possession. Money can get you out of most situations, except of course, death."

What the hell?!? Did I really just say that? The look on her face confirmed it. Much to my pleasant surprise (Thank you, God) she respectfully used her words and her independence to have a very thoughtful debate with me. "No, Mom, that's not true. Money can't get you out of greed. Having that much money can make you greedy."

Long pause. How do I respond to that? How can I teach her that there is a fine line between using money to benefit your life and other people's lives, and being addicted to the power that comes with it? How do I tell her that in this world, opportunities come so much more often when you have the money? Is that even true? Am I the one who has misplaced values about money? Too many questions. I had to be mom.

As a mother, I needed to understand her thought process. She is very strong minded. She is a decision maker. She is confident. I know I don't want to mess THAT part up. I also know she is still developing her youthful idealism. Her values. Her moral choices. She is defending the values she has been taught to the very person who taught her in the first place. That very person is now contradicting herself.

I then reassured her that her mother wasn't greedy. I told her that I wouldn't really wish for a "ridiculous amount of cash," but maybe a "very comfortable amount of cash so that we could sort out any issues and still have plenty left over to live a good life and help others."

She agreed that it was a "normal" desire to wish for that and clarified in her own way of expressing herself that there was a difference between a normal desire to have enough money to live comfortably vs. just desiring all the money in this world and keeping it to yourself while the others do not have any.

Whew. Good save, but then she asked, "How much money would be normal for you to want, Mom?"
Oh for the love! I don't know the answer!!! Stop asking me questions. I will never do writing prompts with her again.

It was a good question, though. I'm curious to know what other people's responses would be. "How much money do you want to make you stop wanting more?"

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam 3/13/13

Habemus Papam

Afternoon turned to evening

A bird sings

And with a puff of white smoke from the chimney

From  the Sistine Chapel,

1.2 billion of the faithful await.

White smoke

The only connection from the secret conclave

To the outside world –

Habemus Papam,

We welcome you, we wait.

The 226th pontiff of the Church,

We carry on the tradition of two thousand years,

We wait for you to wave from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

A people of many nations, we speak to you in our native tongue

Habemus Papam!