Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Writing Serial Killers

Everyone has them. The responsibilties and distractions that mean death to your writing life.

Unlike real serial killers, some of them are justifiable. But many are not. Either way, if you let them, they will sneak into your daily routines and effectively kill your writing life.

Here are a few of mine.

(1) My Family and Friends
These people are important to me, so they are allowed to kill my writing time, to a point. They deserve my attention and I am going to give it to them. (Love you guys.)

(2) Work
This is the beginning of my eighth year as a teacher. Education is more than a job to me, it is a passion. It is one of the ways I share myself and my spirit with the world. Just like my family, my students and co-workers deserve and will receive my attention. I was lucky to find a part time teaching position. This was a necessity for my sanity when I was in grad school. Now it gives me the opportunity to continue to focus attention on my writing life.

(3) Reading
All writers should also be readers. It's another way of studying your craft. For me, reading is also a form of stress relief. There is nothing like a quiet saturday spent in bed with a good book. Still, you can't allow reading to take up all of your spare time. You have to find the time, make the time, to write.

(4) Cleaning/ Organization
I have to admit, this only becomes a problem when I'm looking for a distraction. I wish my house was as clean as my best friend's is. Don't get me wrong, it's not a total disaster area, but it could use more regular attention. With that said, I work better in a clutter/distraction free environment. So, the time spent keeping my house/room in reasonable order helps me be a more consistent writer. (If it gets too crazy and I have a deadline, I usually escape to the local yogurt shop to get focused.)

(5) Television
As a story teller, I find myself drawn to television and movies becasue of their characters and story lines. Currently, my favorite show is "Doctor Who." I also love NCIS, Castle, Bones, and The Big Bang Theory. Everyone needs down time. That is what television is for me. Sometimes when I leave the house to write it's becasue I know that is the only way I won't get sucked into one of my shows.

(6) Social Media
During my second year of grad school, I became a bit addicted to Facebook. I was stressed and more than a little overwhelmed. Spending an hour on Facebook became a good way to distract myself and decompress. Still, I over did it a few times. At one point my sister even sent me a message because I was taking so many of those silly quizes and posting the results. I still spend time on Facebook, but now I scan it looking for articles to blog about.

Deciding to pursure the life of an writer/artist takes a serious commitment. There are people and things in your life that deserve your attention. Honor them. Respect them. But make sure you commit to your writing. It is your responsibility to find a blance. I know you can do.

Happy writing.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Banned Books Week Part 5: Cellar Door Books

It's not the best picture (I was sick that day) but here I am at Cellar Door Books defending Twilight

Banned Books Week Part 4: Two Sides to Every Debate

"You have to be brave enough to stand up for what you believe in."

When I was at church yesterday, a sweet woman shared this sentiment with the class. She was speaking about a parent in Riverside, Ca. Karen Krueger, recently requested that John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars be removed from her child’s middle school library, or be available for check out only with permission from a parent. (I kind of like that second idea. It could solve a lot of problems in the debate about banned books.)

I read John Green’s book over the summer and I enjoyed it. I actually finished it in one sitting while on a road trip to Mammoth. (Don’t worry. I wasn’t driving.) 

I didn’t have a problem with the book. But I am not a parent. 

The concerns about the book seem to be the use of crude language and the fact that the two main characters have sex. 

My copy of The Fault of Our Stars has been book-napped by a friend, so I can’t check this, but I don’t remember the sex scene being graphic. In fact, one of the reasons I love young adult novels is that they deal with difficult issues, but they do so in a way that is not graphic. (As you can tell from the title of this blog, I am religious. I don’t need, or want, to read a sex scene any more than Mrs. Krueger’s child needs to.)

There is little doubt in my mind that the woman who challenged The Fault of Our Stars did so for one reason: to protect her child, and others, from an example she considers to be inappropriate. 

I applaud her for being brave enough to stand up for what she believes. 

I want to follow her example and stand up for what I believe. 

Last week I said that I don’t believe in banning books. I stand by that statement. However, that does not mean I approve of every book out there. Nor does it mean I think every book out there should be easily available to every audience. 

The inspiration for this post, that sweet lady who spoke up in church yesterday, made me realize that I had neglected to address the other side of the argument: people who want to ban books. I intend to address that lapse now. 

As parents, guardians, and teachers, it is our responsibility to be educated about the books our children are reading. Twilight, the book I defended earlier in the week, portrays a relationship that would be unhealthy in the real world. 

Edward becomes overly protective and borderline abusive when he tries to prevent Bella from doing what she wants. He even goes so far as to set his sister on “guard duty” so Bella can’t leave. All, he claims, in the name of protecting Bella.

I won’t lie, this makes me uncomfortable. If I was Bella’s mother, I would be furious to learn that Edward was trying to control her and that he was using his physical strength to enforce his rules on my daughter. 

Still, I do not think the book/series needs to be banned. Rather, it needs to be discussed. 

Reading with your children, no matter the age, gives you the opportunity to connect with them. As controversial issues or inappropriate examples come up, you should take the opportunity to deepen your relationship with your child by discussing those issues as a family. 

In the case of Twilight, you have the opportunity to discuss what a healthy relationship looks like. In the case of The Fault of Our Stars, you have the opportunity to discuss appropriate language and guidelines about sexual intimacy. 

Remember, the purpose of fiction is not only to entertain, but to inform. When we study fiction we begin to better understand the world we live in.

Whenever people question Twilight because of Bella and Edward’s relationship, I can’t help wondering what Stephanie Meyer thinks about healthy relationships. I’ve read the series several times and I can’t help suspecting that Meyer has similar concerns about Edward’s behavior. Think about it. When Bella rebelled against Edward’s rules and “escaped” to see her best friend Jacob, we cheered. Stephanie Meyer is the one who helped Bella find a way to do this. Eventually, even Edward admitted that he was wrong. 

Most of the people who want to ban books are parents or caregivers who are worried about the influence such books could have on the rising generation, their children. They have a right to be concerned. And they have a right to stand up for their values and beliefs. 

I am hopeful that a middle ground can be reached.

Karen Krueger is right. There are some subjects that are simply not appropriate for young children. I can only assume our society agrees with this. Otherwise we would not need to assign ratings to TV shows, movies, and even video games. 

Perhaps we need to begin applying such rankings to books as well. Or, as Mrs. Krueger suggested, require parent permission before such books are made available to young children. 

Books are powerful. The debate about banning them is a testament to their power. They open our eyes to the world and influence our philosophies. As such, we have a right and a responsibility to question which books we will allow in our homes and which books we will allow our children to read and when. 

We do not, however, have the right to tell other people which books they should allow into their homes.  

I applaud Karen Krueger for standing up for her beliefs, for being brave enough to say: No. I do not want this book in my home, or in my child's hands.

I offer this challenge to everyone reading this post. 

Pick up a book. Read it. Start a conversation. 

Happy reading everyone. 

One Writer's Legacy Part 5

Moment 4: A Choice for the Future

Another influence in my life, one that significantly affected my career choices, even before I began the path to becoming a writer, was my love of education. A career in the field just seemed natural, although I must admit it took me a while to come to that conclusion. Now, thanks to the better understanding I have of the politics that are a part of the field, education has become a major theme in my writing.
I finished college in June of 2003, earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English. Unsure of exactly what I wanted to do, I moved temporarily to Poulsbo, Washington to visit my Aunt Lucy over the summer. She was very pregnant and needed some extra help because she had three other children to take care of and a belly the size of several large watermelons.
During my time at UCI, I had slipped into activities and classes connected with education. To make some spending money, I even worked part-time as a AVID tutor in the Newport Mesa Unified School District. I also volunteered for a community outreach program called Humanities Out There (HOT for short) that included visits to high school and elementary school classrooms with literature and creative writing activities. By the time I received my degree, I knew that education was a field I was seriously interested in.
After my visit to Washington in the summer, and a return trip for what would have been the fall quarter to help out some more after my aunt’s twins were born, I decided that I needed to look into becoming a preschool teacher. So, when I returned to Riverside, I started taking Early Childhood Education classes at the local community college. I also got another job as an AVID tutor to make money. Looking back now, I realize that I have always been conflicted, maybe confused is a better word, about the age of the students I want to work with. At this point in my career, I have worked with every age from infants to high school seniors. And now, thanks to my MFA degree, I am considering a future in postsecondary education.
In truth, the conflict is not about the age of my students, but more about the community goals of the class. Education is so much a part of who I am that I proudly describe myself as a life long learner. As I said before, an important part of life is that we continue to progress; education, both the formal and the informal kind, push me to keep progressing. However, teaching and taking arbitrary classes for arbitrary reasons does not appeal to me. It requires both the teacher and the students to force themselves into places they are not interested in exploring. I can recognize the fact that many valuable educational experiences will require serious self-discipline because the education we need is not always as fun or exciting as we would like it to be. But I believe that the true value in education is the self-reflection and personal growth that happens. Public education hopes to provide students with the critical and creative thinking experiences that will help them grow and reflect, but it is so regulated that statistical testing results and academic proficiency have become the only measuring posts. Creativity and critical thinking are only acknowledged at the highest levels and only if they match the expectations set forth by the government and test creators. The personal growth that is so valuable to the individual student, and that motivates them, can be lost in the drive to meet governmental expectations. This is true for almost every level of education and has pushed me to the point that I feel compelled to write about the flaws in a well intentioned, but somewhat broken system.
Still, I knew that education was where I belonged. It spoke to a part of my soul that wouldn’t and shouldn’t be ignored. Revelations tend to come to me slowly. Probably because of my stubbornness and tendency to be contrary. Many of my characters have a similar flaw, and it gets them into trouble quite regularly. Thankfully, Heavenly Father was patient with me. He knocked at my awareness for a while before I realized I needed to look into getting a teaching credential. I can still remember sitting on a bus in Poulsbo talking to a Professor who taught literature at the local community college. I was working at a Montessori Toddler Center at the time, and actually really enjoying myself. But my conversation with that professor helped me realize just how much I had missed talking about literature with grown ups. I love children, deeply, but a toddler just can’t tell you much about the theme of a book even if it is The Hungry Caterpillar. 
I stayed in Washington for a few more months before returning to California, but I didn’t start looking into a credential for a while. Instead I got another job as a preschool teacher. It was my stubbornness expressing itself.
My friends and family will laugh when they read this, but part of the reason I thought more seriously about getting a teaching credential was my desire for the freedom to run my own classroom. My best friend says I am a bit of a control freak, and I have to admit she is probably right. (That is another characteristic that I like to work into my characters.) I worked at that final preschool for only a few months before I began to feel trapped and a little bored. I didn’t like being an associate teacher, and even once I got the next position to be a lead teacher in my own classroom, I was annoyed with how many rules and guidelines they forced on me as I was planning my curriculum. I wanted to be left alone to make my own decisions, and I thought that completing a Multiple or Single Subject Credential would give me not only that freedom, but also more financial independence.
When I finally did make that final push, to get an English Credential, it was because I knew that Heavenly Father approved of my decision. I was sitting in the waiting room of the Redlands, CA Temple, reading my scriptures and looking at a large picture of the Savior when I suddenly just knew that it was the right decision. It is another one of those experiences that is hard to explain. It was like one moment I was holding my breath, stuck on a precipice or dangling in mid-air above all the options that were available for me. And the next moment I released the breath and all of the worries and concerns just fell away. I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew that it was the right thing for me to do.
I left the temple that night knowing that personal revelation is real and that I had received one. Just a few months later, in March of 2006, I began my first class in the credential program at the University of Redlands. I would be working toward a Single Subject Credential in English. A few months after that, in early August, I was working in my own classroom.
I am now in my seventh year with the Moreno Valley Unified School District. Not only has this profession helped me grow as an individual, but it has also inspired my writing, the focus of which is young adult literature. My thesis project is a novel set on a world where students have to survive and grow in an imperfect educational system.
Stay tuned for Part 6 of "One Writer's Legacy."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Banned Books Week Part 3: The Results

I had a great time last night at a Banned Books Celebration hosted by Cellar Door Books. I wish more of my friends could have been there. (Thanks for coming with me, Mom.)

Only one other person accepted Cellar Door's challenge to write a short essay (only a page) explaining why books, or a particular book, shouldn't be banned. I was happy to see that the second writer was a high school student. My own students did not take the challenge when I shared it with them, so I answered the challenge on their behalf.

We both had the opportunity to share our short essays. She wrote a very informed and throughtful response about the need to respect every individual's story/experience. Many books have been banned, or challenged, because they dealt with situations that made people uncomfortable. This bright, young teenager argued that individuals need to respect stories that depict other's experiences, even if those experiences are difficult to read about.

In appreciation of our efforts, we both received a free copy of one of the banned books. Thank you Cellar Door. I choose Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

I choose this book because over the summer, when I attended SCBWI's Summer Conference, I had to opportunity to hear a keynote presentation by Judy Blume. During her presentation, Mrs. Blume said the writing changed her life. She even went so far as to say that writing saved her live.

I have to agree with that sentiment. In many ways writing brought me back to life. It challenged and shaped my identity, and opened doors I would never have even considered looking for, let alone walking through.

For that reason, even though I don't agree with every book out there, I do not believe in banning books. I won't lie, there are a few that I would consider banning, and their are many that I would not let children read. However, because of my respect for the writing process I do not agree with banning books.

It is up to us, as individuals, and as parents/guardians, to carefuly consider what books we choose to bring into our homes.

Happy Banned Books Week and happy reading.

Friday, September 26, 2014

SCBWI Profile

I was stuck at home today because I was too sick to go to work. Despite this, I have tried to be productive.

I just finished updating my profile on SCBWI. Check it out here.

Talent is Overrated: Day 1

Oh my goodness, I can't believe how much fun last night was. It was day one of my CSUSB sponsored workshop "Talent is Overrated." Teaching creative writing is soo much fun. And teaching adults is so different than what I'm used to, and amazing. Thank you to all of the participants for your genuine participation last night. Meeting you was great and I can't wait to get to know all of you.

Forgive me, I have to reminisce for a moment. It's only been three and a half months since I graduated from my MFA program. Going back to CSUSB was a little like coming home. I spent two years of my life there and they were unforgettable.

The workshop is being held in my favorite room at CSUSB. 40005 on the fourth floor of the Pfau Library. I spent countless hours there working on homework, my novel, and just relaxing before class. One of the reasons I loved it so much is the beautiful mountain view behind the entire wall of windows.

I guess one lesson I learned from that library is the importance of having a place to go and write. Not everyone needs this, but it has been helpful to my process. Just as I needed to dedicate my time to writing, I had to dedicate a space to writing. My time at grad school is over, so I've had to find a new place to write. Sometimes I meet a friend/s at Sweet Frog (a frozen yogurt shop) or Starbucks. Other times I hide away in my room. On the rare occasion when my house is empty, I work at a table downstairs in the living room. 

Everyone's process is different. As you begin, or refocus your own writing practice, consider what you need to do to help you succeed. Maybe you need to make regular appointments for writing, either by yourself or with a friend. 

Do whatever it takes. Remember, only YOU can decide that you are a writer. So make the decision and start living the life you've always wanted.

Banned Books Week Part 2: Challange Accepted

When Cellar Door Books challenged it's customers to write defenses for banned books, my first instinct was not to write about Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. But then someone made a comment that implied the book was unworhty and undefendable. I tried to get one of my high school creative writing students to write a defense, but they weren't interested. Unfortunately, my contradictory nature had been nudged, and I had to nudge back.

So, here it is. My defence of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight

Why It's Ok To Like/Love Twilight

I have a confession to make. I love the Twilight Series. I won't tell you what team I'm on, but I will admit to being a Stephanie Meyer fan. This is not a popular sentiment, especially for a writer straight out of an MFA program, but Twilight is the book I open on my iPad more than any other. (Don’t worry, I read a lot of other books too. Twilight is just my go to e-book. Most of my other reading involves paper books.) 

I know that the Twilight series has received a lot criticism. I agree with some of it, specifically how stalker like and controlling Edward becomes. Despite this criticism, I genuinely enjoy the series. I have a few suspicions about why these imperfections don’t stop me from reading.

First, it helped me find common ground with my students. I picked up the book in the first place because I had countless students use the series for outside reading projects. Any such books immediately make my list of books to read. 

Second, Stephanie Meyer is simply a good story teller. Someone can be a great writer and never sell a book because they aren’t a good story teller. In contrast to that, a great story teller can sell lots of books even if they aren’t a great writer. Stephanie Meyer is a good writer, but more importantly, she is a great story teller. Her sales record proves that. Her millions of fans prove that Bella’s story is interesting. 

Third, (and this is the reason I think the series shouldn’t be banned) the themes in the novels touch on eternal truths. Yes, you read that right. The Twilight series touches on eternal truths. 

I have always believed that truth can be found in fiction, good fiction, fiction that speaks to someone to the point that they will return to a story and it’s characters over and over again. There are several truths that I believe are touched on in Stephanie Meyer’s series. 

A: The importance of and the strength required when resisting temptations. Think about it, Bella practically throws herself at Edward, but he refuses to have sex until they are married. If anything else, that should appeal to the religious criticisms aimed at the series. Then there is the very interesting fact that a pack of vampires are refusing to feed on humans. If that is not a stellar example of resisting a temptation, I don’t know what is. 

B: The idea that we shouldn’t be too self critical. Edward believes that he is damned, that his soul is past the point of saving. While this question is never concretely answered (it can’t be since Bella and Edward survive) it does become clear that Edward begins to accept himself and to recognize his good side.

C: The importance of taking responsibility for our decisions. Throughout the series Bella refuses to put her father in danger. She risks her own life and refuses to leave a dangerous situation until he is protected. 

D: The importance of stewardship. The Cullen clan and Jacob’s pack put their lives at risk to protect others. They take care of their family in dangerous and difficult situations. That is a lesson more people need to learn.

E: The need for acceptance. Vampires and Werewolves become friends, become family. Enough said. 
So, read the Twilight series, or don’t. The choice is yours. But don’t tell me it shouldn’t be read. If you are worried that Bella’s relationship is unhealthy, then talk to your child about what a healthy relationship actually looks like. 

Now it's time for me to issue my own challenge. What is your favorite banned book? Tell me about it, and tell me why it should be read. 

One Writer's Legacy Part 4

Moment 3: A Failing Heart

It surprises me even now to think about how soon after my own baptism I would be relying on the faith I had so recently discovered. I can only thank Heavenly Father for the knowledge He had lead me to, and the strength He gave me to endure the difficult trials to come.
There were three truths I learned as I took the missionary discussions that made me know, in my heart, that I should join the church. First, that God is our Heavenly Father. Second, that God loves us and so He continues to speak to us through modern and personal revelation. Third, that families are forever. These truths have helped to sustain me through countless trials and fears. The last truth, especially, has been hovering in my mind ever since the end of my sophomore year of college. The year that mortality and the fragility of the human body made its presence known to me in a very personal way. 
The sacredness of the family unit is a truth that lingers in my head with every character I create, and with each choice they face. When I sit in front of my computer, or with a journal in hand to write a story, the narrator’s family is always an important part of that fictional world, just as my own family has played a vital role in mine.
Like many others before me, I have learned just how life-changing an early morning phone call can be. At most points in the day, the appearance of a name on the screen of your cell phone is a testimony to your importance to the world, or at least to someone else in it, but at 5 A.M. the two second trill can feel like a death sentence.
The first call of that kind that I experienced happened in May of 2001. I’m not sure who called me that morning, but I do remember that it came quite early. The exact hour eludes me, but I know it was well before the time I had planned on waking up that morning. After a brief complaint about the hour, the message was delivered. My breath slipped away from me. It settled deep in my stomach alongside the information that had been relayed. Dad was in the hospital.
When I put the phone down, I didn’t know what to do. I could already feel the panic rising in my chest, but I didn’t have time for that. Somehow, I don’t completely know how, I was able to force myself to throw on some clothes and grab my purse. Thankfully I had my own car at that point, a gift from my parents for my previous birthday, so I was able to drive myself home. It was the longest forty-five minute car ride I have ever experienced.
Even then, we sat by his side for several fearful hours before we were given more news. The three of us, Mom, Stephanie and I, were huddled in the corner of Dad’s intensive care room when a doctor finally breezed in and confirmed what we already suspected. He had suffered a heart attack, and quite a large one. I believe the word massive was used more than once. Not long after that first announcement the same doctor came back in to inform us that Dad would have to have quintuple bypass surgery. Five arteries were so blocked that vessels from his arms and legs would have to be used to divert the blood along a different path to the heart. By the end of that hospital stay, the first of several, my father looked like a stick figure. He had scar lines up his stomach, both arms and both of his legs.
It’s hard to articulate what such moments feel like. It’s as if your heart stops beating and your lungs stop taking in air. You don’t know what to say, or even what to think and your heart is literally aching with fear. You have to tell yourself what to do with each moment: when to breathe, when to eat, when to sleep. But if you’re anything like me, telling yourself to do something doesn’t always work.
In addition to all of the overwhelming fears, everything else is intensified because there is nothing you can do to fix it. The beeps of the machines pound in your head, the shallow breaths of your loved one flood through your ears, the small errands you are sent on become life sustaining, and at the end of the day, all you can do is collapse on your bed in exhaustion. You want to help in any way you can, but you have to wait patiently on the sidelines and rely on the help of others.
That experience is one of the reasons I write about strong characters. I want them to be stronger than I feel in such moments, to act the way I want to act. These characters still have fears and anxiety, they still feel the panic and the loss, they might even lash out to those who are trying to help them, but they are able to overcome their feelings and work to make things better. When I lived through such challenging situations, I felt as if I wasn’t doing enough. So, I want my characters to do all that they can, or to struggle the way I do when there is nothing to be done.
Thankfully my father survived that heart attack and the major surgery that followed it. My knowledge of the gospel has helped me to endure that and other trials in my life. I truly believe that one’s family is their most important blessing and responsibility. This belief, this knowledge that families are forever, and my desire to share it, leads me to write about characters whose experiences help them to see just how valuable and precious their families are.
Stay turned for Part 5 of "One Writer's Journey."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Banned Books Week Part 1: The Challenge

My local independent book store, Cellar Door Books, isssued a challenge to their customers in honor of Banned Books Week.

I encouraged the high school students in my creative writing club to accept this challenge, especially because a few of their favorite YA books were on the list: The Hunger Games, The Fault of Our Stars, and the Twilight series.

None of them have taken the challenge. So, I stepped up. And earned a free book in the process.

I am a bit contrary in nature. So, when one of the employees said she would like to see some one successfully defend Twilight, it was impossible in her opinion, the challenge stayed in my head.

Stayed turned to read my defense of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. I will post it tomorrow.

Talent is Overrated Workshop

Tonight I will lead part 1 of a workshop series titled "Talent is Overrated." The workshop is being funded by CSUSB, Poets and Writers, and Inlandia. It is happening thanks to the grant writing efforts of Jill Vassilakos-Long, a librarian at CSUSB's Pfau Library.
Thank you, Jill, for all of your hard work making this workshop a reality. I can't wait to meet the participants tonight and to get writing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

SCBWI's Redlands Schmooze

Saturday morning I attended the local SCBWI Schmooze in Redlands. It was soo much fun. A Schmooze is basically an excuse for children's book writers (and illustrators) to get together to talk about writing and share their work. The lady who runs the Schmooze in Redlands is Marilyn Donahue. Check out this article about her that appeared in the Press Enterprise.

At this month's meeting, Marilyn spoke briefly about the benefit of making a storyboard. My takeaway was the power of visuals. The storyboard she shared is for one of her current projects, a novel that follows characters from the present and the past. As you can see from this early versions of her storyboard, her poor characters experience both highs and lows. One point she made is the importance of those lows. A character/story would be pretty boring if nothing scary/dangerous/tragic ever happened.

Thanks for some great advice, Marilyn. I can't wait until next month's meeting. I'll be sure to remember that I have to torture my characters a little.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Should You Be Writing Right Now???

This picture is all over the internet. When I looked it up on Google images so I could share a photo credit, there were probably a dozen places I could use. I'm not sure who made it originally, but they obviously hit a nerve. 

If you think you should be writing, you should be writing. If you don't think you should be writing, you should still be writing.

Go write.


I am currently in the 8th year of my teaching career and I love it more every year (I'll tell you more about why later). Still, it is not without challenges. Many of the trials teachers face show themselves in elements they just don't have control over. 

I was reminded of this recently when a friend posted the above picture on Facebook. The picture itself is great. It shows one of her student's very successful tests: he got an A. The sad part came in the written part of her post. Here is what she said.

"He worked so hard to get an A on our test, then tossed it in the trash. When I asked why he replied his parents don't care. So sad!! I told him I cared and that I was proud he's improving and becoming more dedicated to his education. #breaksmyheart." 

This story breaks my heart too. 

I don't know what is going on in this students home's (there are always two sides to every story), but it hurts to think any child might think their parent/s don't care. 

I guess I wanted to share this as a reminder to all the teachers I know that they can make a difference in the lives of their students. 

Feldheym Inlandia Workshop

The workshop I'm am leading for Inlandia starts today. Come and join us at the Feldheym Library at 3:30.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Health Benefits of Writing

I've always considered writing to be a theraputic practice. Journaling about the many questions and concerns that I face helps me process my feelings before I make a decision. Today I came upon an article on Facebook that discussed the health benefits of writing. I had to share it with you. Check it out at the link beneath the picture. 

After you read it, tell me how has writing helped you?

One Writer's Legacy Part 3

Moment 2: A Question of Faith

My rational brain told me that I was on this earth for a reason. I didn’t know what that reason was and I wanted an answer. The world offered, and still does, so many answers to the question why. But I wanted more than just someone’s subjective opinion. I wanted a true answer, an eternal answer, something I could rely on for the rest of my life.
My first year of college was great. I loved my classes, my new friends, and my independence. I knew UC Irvine was where I was supposed to be, but I sensed that something was missing. There was an answer circling around me, hovering over my head like a bird. I could hear the faint beating of its wing, and see a flash of color out of the corner of my eye. Unfortunately, whenever I turned to look, it disappeared. The answer was waiting for me, but I hadn’t asked the question yet. And truthfully, I wasn’t even sure how.
By the end of my first year of college I realized I wasn’t going to find the answers I was looking for, or the question, within the walls of a university. I have a very high respect for higher learning and education; I wouldn’t be pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree if I didn’t; I wouldn’t be a teacher if I didn’t. I truly believe that there are vast amounts of valuable information available to those willing to sit through a formal education. Still, despite my youth, I knew the answer I was looking for was, in one way or another, different from the answers typically offered by institutions of higher education. Hints of it floated through the literature I was soaking in with each class, through universal themes and dynamic characters who grew with each new conflict, but the clear and straightforward answer I needed was still hidden in the ether.
With the start of college I had entered the realm of my adult life. I was the one who had to make sure I got up in time for class, even the ones that started at 8 am. I was the one who had to make sure I completed my homework and was ready for my exams. I had to be responsible for myself in a way that was new and exciting. I no longer had to sat at the child’s table for family gatherings, and I no longer had to do what my parents said just because they told me to. But with adult life and with those adult responsibilities came thoughts and questions that I had never had before.
On some level I was asking myself what the purpose of my life was going to be. I knew and trusted in my decision to study English, but I still wondered what I would do with that degree, and what I would do with myself after it was completed. When I finally did ask myself that elusive question, I realized that it wasn’t a matter of what I was going to do with my life, but what I was supposed to do with my life.
I don’t remember exactly how I spent the first summer, but by the time the fall quarter arrived again I had an idea about where I needed to go. Growing up, I had gotten a taste of something deeper, and I was interested in learning more. All throughout my childhood, my grandmother had been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church. She would take me and my sister to church with her and read scriptures with us. She even started a tradition of giving every grandchild a full set of scriptures on their eighth birthday, the age of accountability according to Latter Day Saint Doctrine.
My sister and I were not baptized at eight like many of our cousins had been. Our parents wanted us to choose which church to belong to. They respected the faith of my grandmother and other family members, but they thought that my sister and I should decide what we wanted to believe when we were older. I had attended a variety of church activities, but it wasn’t until I became a young adult that I began to seriously reflect on the teachings of the church.
When my first year of college ended, I found myself turning inward to search for a better understanding of why I was here. Naturally, I thought about religion. While not a member of the Latter Day Saint faith, most of my experience with religion was connected to that church. I could remember feeling hints about that elusive “something” with each activity or family prayer. I probably would have found my way to the church eventually, but the process was sped up for two reasons. The first was my twin sister, Stephanie, and the second was a coworker at a new job.
Thanks to the influence of an aunt, my sister decided to join the church. Stephanie was baptized some time in the summer or early fall of our sophomore year of college. When I attended her baptism, I began to feel that she had found part of the answer to the questions I had been asking myself.
Then, shortly after Stephanie’s baptism, I started a job as a hostess at Mimi’s Restaurant. On the first day I met a young woman who was a member of the church and who attended the local branch for UCI students. I can’t even remember her name anymore, it was so long ago, but thanks to her I knew where to go, and thanks to my sister I knew that I wanted to go. I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ on December 2nd, 2000. It was a decision that dramatically changed the course of my life and is one that I will never regret.
Stay turned for Part 4 of "One Writer's Legacy."

Friday, September 19, 2014

One Writer's Legacy Part 2

Moment 1: Trusting in the Story
I began college in September of 1999, and I was about as excited as an eighteen year old could get. I had developed the feeling of being “over” high school rather early and liked to joke that I had senioritis as a junior. So by the time graduation arrived I was eagerly awaiting the transition to college.
I didn’t move too terribly far away, but I did move. I left my hometown of Riverside, California to become an Anteater at the University of California, Irvine. I realize that the distance between these two cities may seem insignificant to many, but for me it was perfect. I would be living in the dorms and able to have a life of my own, but still be close enough to go home on the weekends if I wanted to, and without too much difficulty despite my lack of transportation. Unlike some, I had no desire to run away from my family and escape to a college on the other side of the country. But I was determined to go to school in a different city. It actually surprised me how many of my high school classmates chose to go to the local community college or UC Riverside, but I suppose there were a variety of reasons for such a choice. For me, staying that close to home would have felt stifling. I needed to breathe different air and UC Irvine gave me the opportunity to do just that. It also didn’t hurt that it was less than five miles from the beach.
When I filled out my college entrance applications the year before, I’d left my major undeclared. Choosing the focus of the next four years of my life seemed too daunting in the middle of my final year of high school. I wasn’t confident that I knew which degree could keep me interested for the four years of college, and my lifetime after that. As a child, I dreamt of becoming a doctor, but I just couldn’t make myself check off the box that said PreMed. Something about it just didn’t feel right anymore. By the time school started in the fall, I knew there was only one major that made sense for me. Before the end of orientation week, I had started the process of making my own declaration. I, Andrea Fingerson, was an English Major.
It was a declaration that was met with a lot of raised eyebrows and questioning stares from my extended family. At the time, my older cousin - the first in our generation to go to college - was at Stanford preparing for Med School. That was a degree to be proud of, a future to be excited about. But what was little Andy going to do with an English Major?
My family wasn’t critical, just confused and maybe a little concerned. I know that they wanted what was best for me and were worried about the kind of financial prospects I would have with an English degree. But I was confident.
Once I had escaped the confines of high school, once summer had taken over and the dust of adolescence had washed away, I kept coming back to all of the stories I had read growing up. From Little Women to The Box Car Children, I had spent countless hours in my childhood and adolescence with my nose in a book. The world of the written word was a marvelous place, and I wanted to spend time there.
I can even remember the first time my eyes came across something slightly scandalous within the written word. It happened at the end of eighth grade. I was lounging in the back of my science classroom with a mystery book in my hand. My teacher, a nerdy scientist if ever there was one, was sitting behind his desk while the rest of the class finished an assignment and kept randomly popping up to offer help to anyone who needed it. I was a bit of a nerd myself, still am, and I had already finished my work for the day, so I retreated into the book resting at the bottom of my backpack. I can’t even remember its title, or author, or where it came from. But I can remember the flush of red that seeped into my cheeks as my eyes rushed past the words. They weren’t terribly scandalous, especially not by today’s standards, but it was the first time I had read anything like it.
Now, as I look back I realize that stories were always a part of my life; a celebrated part that deserved revisiting. Every year I find myself scanning my bookshelf for Little Women and I don’t know how many times I’ve read each of Jane Austen’s deliciously romantic novels. I think the idea of writing was hidden somewhere in the back of my head, or deep in my heart, I don’t know. I just knew that I was fascinated with all the stories the world had to offer. I loved reading and I loved thinking about what I read. English was a way for me to explore the hidden meaning within the story, the message that was waiting to be understood. Maybe that was the real reason I decided to be an English major. Maybe I knew, even as a naive eighteen year old college freshmen, that some of the most important questions, the ones that would guide my life, could be revealed in the pages of a book.
Stay turned for part 3 or "One Writer's Legacy

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Create by President Uchtdorf

This is probably my favorite Mormon Message. Whenever I watch it I feel the inspiration to write and the wonderful reminder that Heavenly Father blessed me with this talent for a reason. I hope the video inspires you too.

Monday, September 15, 2014

One Writer's Legacy Part 1

In June of this year I graduated from CSUSB (California State University of San Bernardino) with a Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with a focus on Fiction. Wow, that was a mouthful. I'm glad I didn't have to say it out loud.

The two years of that program were challenging, but life changing. I can appreciate them now that I have had a summer to recover, and I know I will never forget them.

I am already re-editing the young adult novel that was my thesis project, so I can't share it yet, but the other part of my thesis was a "Statement of Purpose." This was a piece where the MFA students were challenged to explain why they write.

I thought a nice way to introduce myself would be to share that Statement of Purpose. It is a bit long, so I am just going to share a little bit at a time. I will keep the same title so you know which posts come from the Statement of Purpose.

Ok, here is the introduction. 

One Writer’s Legacy

Human beings have an innate need to define themselves and their circumstances, a desire to understand who they are and what they are doing in this life. This drive pushes us to question everything, from the trivial activities that fill our days to the very reason for our existence. We wake up each morning to the roar of the alarm, we put on the uniforms of our professions, we prepare ourselves for all of the many tasks and responsibilities that make up the busyness of life, and then we walk out our doors and enter the world. On some level, we are working to make it through the day, to find enjoyment; but deep in our minds and in our hearts, we are searching for and hoping to better understand our eternal purpose.
As a young adult, still in college, I began the search for my life’s purpose. More than a decade has passed since then and in that time I have discovered eternal truths that guide my decision making, and by consequence, my writing. In sincerity, I know that I have only reached this point, where I can call myself a writer, because of these truths. Consequently, I look forward to and seek out the lessons that life has to teach us, to teach me. There is much that I have to learn, but I believe, I know, that much of the value in life is centered around personal growth. As I think back over the events that have led me to this point, to a place where I must explain my purpose as a writer, I realize that each of these events have been pivotal moments. Moments that have come together to shape my identity, and to give me an internal, and an eternal, sense of purpose.
In order to explain the purpose that now guides not only my life, but my writing, I must explain the truths I have learned, the truths that are the very foundation of the written work that I wish to share with the world. And in order to do that I must seriously reflect on my life and memories, on the moments that have made me Me.
Stay turned for Part 2 of "One Writer's Legacy."

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Image via spiritualboosters

Another plan I have for this blog is to issue challenges to my readers. I don't know about you, but I feel bored if I'm not working toward something. Goals and challenges help me move forward and feel like I am progressing. A few years ago I challenged myself to start writing again. My life hasn't been the same since. 

Here is today's challenge. Give it a try. Who knows how it will impact your life. 

What is something you have always wanted to do but have been putting off for a long time? Go and do it, then share your experience. 

Story Time

Image via Lorena Garcia

A few years ago I began the creeping journey that was my entrance into the world of writing. I took a few creative writing classes, organized a critique group, and started going to readings. I even went so far as to enroll in an MFA program.  (Go Coyotes!) 

Immediately, and repeatedly, the importance of author platform was pressed upon me by basically everyone. I am, however, too contrary by nature to listen when so many people give me the same piece of advice. 

So, instead of starting a blog, or signing up for Twitter, I spent the next few years developing my craft and attempting to survive grad school while teaching. Not a bad decision all things considered. At that time in my life I was too new to the field and too busy to add to the endless list of tasks I needed to complete. 

It wasn't until recently, that I decided the time to tackle the obstacle that is the author platform had finally arrived. Unfortunately, this understanding came with the realization that I have absolutely no idea how to create an author platform. 

Two things helped pushed me past the nervousness of beginning. Make that three. 

The first bit of encouragement appeared in August when I attended SCBWI's Annual Summer Conference in LA. For those who don't know, SCBWI stands for "Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators." During the conference I sat in on a presentation about social media by Greg Pincus. My biggest take away from this was that calming fact that I do not have to be a social media expert to have an author platform. He also assured me (and the rest of the audience, but who cares about them) that I should not be overwhelmed with the process, but that I should make it fun. So, here’s to having fun.

The second piece of encouragement is due to the support of my writing group. As I sit here writing this first post, I am surrounded, literally, by three fellow writers. We decided to have an Author Platform Potluck Party, and we’ve spent the last few hours working and motivating each other. Thank you ladies. Cheers to all of the hard work.

The third bit of encouragement came from a blog by Joe Bunting that I just finished reading. The information he provided in a post titled “What Fiction Author’s Really Need To Know About Their Platform,” has helped me focus my goals for the blog. In his post, Joe offered this definition: “your platform is the authority, trust, and attention given to you from a group of people.” He also very firmly suggested that writers need to “share” their stories. 

So, that is my goal, to share my stories with you. Stories about what I have experienced as a writer, a teacher, and a child of God. Stories about the artists and educators I have met and the lessons they have taught me. 
Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to share some of my creative work with you, but mostly I will share the “stories” that have made me who I am. 

So, welcome to the blog. Happy reading.