These are life lessons, people!

And survival skills too.

It was math class and my students were diligently working their way through some operations with positive and negative numbers. I was playing with the Sony e-book reader that my colleague, Mr. Techie, had dropped off for me to explore as I continue to dither about if and what type of e-book reader I want/need.

I answered a question, handed out a few ‘good jobs’ and a ‘get back to work’ as I paged through Techie’s book selections. He had Pride & Prejudice, so I gave him + 10 cool points. He had all the Meyers books, which just made me laugh.

And then I got to last page in his catalogue and gasped: “Schmidites. Writer’s notebooks. Front rug. Nooow!”

Did I mention it was math class? And that I didn’t even have my whole homeroom and that some of the kids didn’t even have writer’s notebooks? Whatever. It’s called problem-solving.

The kids assembled themselves on our sharing rug; they were full of anticipation and questions: “What’s up?” “What’s going on?”

“I have something important I need to teach you. Now. This might be the most important thing I teach you all year.”

“What is it?”

“Kiddos, get the lights. “

And then I began to read to them from: The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks.

“There’s no such thing as safe,” I read to them, “only safer.”

We read about forms of transmission: bites, an open wound exposed to the virus (this begged for the comment: “Oh, so the next time I get a papercut, I shouldn’t go rub it on the nearest zombie?”), or if a zombie explodes on you. We read about the timeline of the disease’s progression: starting with fever, eventually death, then reanimation.

And then math class was over. “Writer’s notebooks!” I announced as the rest of my homeroom stumbled back in, bleary-eyed and drained from pre-algebra. Come to think of it, they looked a little zombified until they read the buzz of excitement and ran for their notebooks.

After we’d read about how to evaluate your zombie killing weapon, how to protect your home & school, and the list of items to have on hand (our favorite: earplugs to block out zombie moans), I turned the lights on and shared their writing prompt: “In your notebook, respond to the following: Zombies, dangerous or not?”

They would’ve written all afternoon if I let them. Many of them will write all weekend and share their zombie stories on Monday.

I felt like this was a book I had to read. After all, zombies are attacking… or at least infiltrating. Prior to October I’d lived a zombie-free life.

Now…

  • There’s the Austen thing
  • Then there’s Generation Dead by Daniel Waters (Kiss of Life comes out in May). I read this book in one night in October. I gave it to a co-worker the next day and haven’t seen it again because it’s been passed from one reader to the next.
  • And what about Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry? This doesn’t come out until March 3rd, but I was lucky enough to read it early. You need to buy it on Tuesday (along with a copy of Brook’s book).

And who would have thought I’d plan on attending a zombie night – complete with zombie movies? Now that I’ve read the Zombie Survival Guide, I know I can handle it. (I hope). If you see me there, feel free to sit next to me. I’ll gladly keep you safe… until I run from the room screaming and crying for my mom.

Mad for Vlad: Part 2

“July? Seriously?” he asked me.

“Yes, bud, July,” I answered.

“Are you sure?” Because he’s an all-knowing sixth grader and I’m just the teacher, he needs to double-check this.

“Well, I went to Heather Brewer’s website and it says pretty clearly that Tenth Grade Bleeds comes out July 9th.” I can say this without even a trace of sarcasm because I’ve had five years of practice.

“Man! July? I won’t even be in your class then!”

“You’ll still be allowed to read it,” I assured him.

“I know – but then we can’t talk about it. Man.” Student hangs his head, sighs, heads back to his desk and picks up his reading response journal.

A few minutes later he’s popped back over to visit. “I thought of two things.”

“Okay.”

“Well, maybe she’ll write faster and it will be out sooner.”

“What’s the second thing?” I asked, not wanting to get into a whole discussion on the publishing industry.

“We can e-mail. But you have to promise to buy the book and read it.” He’s serious.

“Bud, did you think I wouldn’t buy the book and read it?”

“No, I know you will, but you need to buy it ON July 9th. Don’t make me wait this time.”

“Deal,” I agree and we shake.

So, on July 9th, do not call, text, e-mail or tweet at me. I’ve got a date with a vampire named Vlad and then an important e-mail to answer.

If, however, in the month since his elementary graduation, my dear reading buddy has become too 7th-grade-cool to e-mail his former teacher about books – then please call, text, e-mail AND tweet to cheer me up (and talk about the book!).

Mad for Vlad: Part 1

It’s Monday morning and I’m grinning and bouncing in the hallways waiting for my students to arrive. This is not my typical Monday-morning attitude and no, I haven’t had an extra cup of coffee. I’m impatiently-excited because I’ve finally gone out and bought the copy of Ninth Grade Slays that one of my students has been begging for for weeks.

I’d given him Eight Grade Bites by Heather Brewer and he’d read it in two days – “Where’s the sequel?”

“I don’t have it yet, bud,” I answered.

“When are you going to get it?”

“Um…” I mentally replayed the do-you-know-how-much-money-you’ve-spent-already-this-year-on-books conversation I’d had with Matt the night before.

“Um….” And-by-this-year-I-mean-this-year-2009-not-this-school-year. “Soon?”

And so started a refrain of: “Did you get it yet?”

It even became accusatory, “I don’t think you’re a real fan!”

So on Valentine’s Day when Husband took me to the bookstore and told me to pick out what I wanted, I knew that Ninth Grade Slays was going to be in the stack.

And that brings us back to my bouncing Monday. I read the book Valentine’s night (that’s the thanks poor Husband gets for his gesture – a super-romantic night of reading!) and had already strategically placed on my student’s desk so he’d see it first thing.

I was beaming like a two-year-old with a sticker when he walked down the hall. I met him at the door: “Good morning, buddy!”

And he was glowing too. “Good morning, Mrs. Schmidt. Did you have a good weekend?”

“I did, but we’ll share at class meeting,” I said, dismissing his attempts at a polite conversation because my gratification from seeing his face when he saw his desk was much more important. And since when was my buddy a morning person? He typically half-dozed until announcements came on. Why was he so cheerful? I shooed into the classroom so he could find his surprise.

I followed a few steps behind him: bounce, bounce, bounce. Ready to squeak and receive a loud THANK YOU!

And he walked right by his desk to his coat hook, oblivious but still smiling. Seriously? Does he mistake me for someone patient?

“Um, buddy?” I prompted, picking up the book and waiting for him to turn around after hanging his sweatshirt (this is 6th grade, we’re too cool for appropriate winter attire).

“Look what I got for you!”
Only, this wasn’t me speaking.
It was my buddy.

My student whirled around with his own copy of Ninth Grade Slays that he’d bought for me over the weekend.

I looked at what he was holding – he looked at what I was holding.

So now we’ve got two copies of Ninth Grade Slays (twice the Vlad love) and we’re rapidly recruiting new members into our fan club.

If you haven’t checked out this series yet, buddy and I encourage you to do so. But even though we have multiple copies now, you can’t borrow them – there’s a waiting list to read them.
You’ll have to get your own copy. Or better yet, buy someone else a copy – make his or her day by sharing the Vlad love.

Check back tomorrow for “Mad for Vlad: Part 2″

Pink Laptops & Puggles

At the beginning of each year I have my students draw and discuss their favorite place to write. They sketch a comfy chair in a sunny window, a shady hammock in their garden, they draw snacks and pets and squiggly notes to represent music. One girl drew her pink laptop. Pink! I want one – sorry, Huey, if I could trade you in for a pink version of you, you’d be history.

And every year I feel like a bit of a monster as I do this. Because I don’t have comfy chairs or shady hammocks. And while I can sometimes play music to inspire those that like writing to music, and sometimes have silence for those that like that, I’m not allowed to bring in the puggle pair (I’ve asked), and I don’t have pink laptops to give to each of them. (Pink! I wonder if I could paint Huey…)

So essentially I have my students draw their ideal and then respond with a “Too bad. Enjoy your wobbly desk and clicky pencil that ran out of lead.”

But isn’t the world like this as well?

I have an ideal writing place: a desk made out of refurbished antique door that’s situated in a giant picture window with an amazing view. It’s got wireless speakers and a printer, and a laptop that could only be more fabulous if it was PINK. There’s a window seat where the puggles wriggle in sunbeams, a wall that’s painted with whiteboard and even a inspirational sign that reads: “And they lived happily ever after” so that I remember how stories should end on the days I want to throw my not-pink laptop through the picture window.

But how often do I have time to take advantage of this writing space? Um, never. My writing is slotted in during fits and spurts. Insomniac attacks and while cooking dinner. Composed while running and typed while trying to watch the weather, carry on a phone conversation, and figure out what Biscotti’s sneaking off to do.

Writing happens while waiting at the doctor’s office, I type ideas on Petunia (my Blackberry – she’s pink), while on the elliptical trainer (you’d be impressed by my elliptical handwriting, it’s definitely improving!), writing happens while I’m showering, driving, teaching, reading… living.

So why do I teach this lesson year after year if I can’t match their drawings of the ideal? For the same reason that I keep writing even when I can’t get to my writing nook to do so. Writing is a part of life – it’s not something that occurs only during a designated timeslot or the magical forces of the universe combine to create perfect conditions.

And one of these days I’ll find the time to clear the laundry and dusty post-its off my writing nook and use it as it’s intended . . . Can’t complain though, because as I type this, watch the Oscars, answer parent e-mails, Twitter, and plan dinners for the week, I’ve also got a warm dozy puggle in my lap, a computer that’s great (even if it’s not pink), and a great soundtrack on I-tunes. Ideal? No. But absolutely satisfying all the same.

Round-up of Query Advice

Many of the agents I follow via twitter or through their blogs have been writing about queries lately. There’s been much discussion about how queries are multiplying like gremlins in the rain and they’ve held competitions to empty inboxes. (And I thought I was competitive… remind me never to challenge an agent to a game of dodgeball…)

A few points stood out to me this week and I thought I’d compile and share.

Style in the query is a must.
http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/ Jessica Faust, BookEnds Lit

I know that I fell into the trap of trying to make my query letter sound ‘professional and polished’ (which should really be read as ‘stodgy and dull’). I was worried that if my letter didn’t sound business-y enough, no one would take it seriously. The end result was a letter that was perfect to form, but that had no hint of my writing flavor. (What does my writing flavor taste like? A mix of Diet Coke, Sour Patch Kids, and Honeycomb – delicious!)

Don’t worry so much about your experience. The query is to sell your novel, not you.
http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/2009/02/more-story-less-you.html Nathan Bransford, Curtis Brown

Hooray! So the fact that my last publishing credit was in my college literary magazine isn’t going to hurt me? Thank you! I spend plenty of my day job reading and writing – but my experiences teaching sixth grade language arts – while amusing and patience-building – don’t exactly fit in with the rest of my query.

Buzzer words:
http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2009/02/what-not-to-say-part-87.html
Rachelle Gardner, Wordserve Literary

These are the opposite of buzzwords. These are words and phrases that lead to immediate rejection of a query. Using phrases like “literary blockbuster” and “hilarious; you’ll laugh out loud” are buzzer words. Your query letter should show your skill, not tell the agent how amazing you are. (Gah, the same thing I’m telling my 11-year-old students: show, don’t tell!)

Follow the submission guidelines:
http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2009/02/because-you-asked-for-it-compilation-of.html Colleen Lindsay, FinePrint Lit

It was shocking to hear that so many people didn’t bother to read the submission guidelines or type in a personalized greeting. Bad manners, people! What would your mother say?

I highly recommend following each of the blogs above. Any other publishing/agenting/editing blogs you recommend to me?

Happy Querying! Or at least as happy as this fingers-crossed-send-button-pressing-compulsive-e-mail-checking process can be.

Austen & Testosterone

Remember the bit on Sesame Street that started with the song: “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong?” And then they’d put up pictures of an umbrella, raindrops, rubber boots, and a pink flamingo lawn ornament and ask the audience to choose the misfit object.

If you mastered that tricky question, you’re ready to move on to this more challenging one: which of these things doesn’t belong: Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, Pemberley, the undead?

*Trick question*

Ha! I fooled you. They all belong. At least they do in the new novel co-authored by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Did you know that Miss Austen was still writing or that she’s developed an interest in the horror genre? I didn’t either. And for those of you who don’t have an interest in reading the novel (or having it read to you by the new Kindle), don’t worry – there’s a movie coming out as well. You can see Lizzy and Darcy battle the undead on the big screen soon enough.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies
Book: http://tinyurl.com/7r6t9q
Movie: http://tinyurl.com/aw34zh

While we’re at it, why not throw in some aliens? Who hasn’t read P&P and thought: Pemberly’s a great house and all, but it’s really lacking a few UFO’s and extraterrestrial threats? Fret no longer, Pride & Predator will be here soon enough.

Pride & Predator: http://tinyurl.com/d2j9r6

There’s a very clear reason for these mash-ups: men love Austen. Obviously. But they’ve been scared to reveal how much they pine for a good ball or worry about an entail or dowry. They worry that crying with Jane over Bingley won’t appear macho. Simple solution: add some testosterone in the form of zombies and aliens. Now they have the perfect excuse for standing and cheering when Lizzy and Darcy admit their mutual admiration: “What? Did you see that? They totally just destroyed that zombie.”

While they’re mutilating Pride & Prejudice, they might as well show Austen’s other books some machismo.

My suggestions:
Sense & Sensibility & Samurais
Northanger Androids
Emma: Attack of the Matchmaking Clones
Persuasion and Poltergeists
Documentary: The Impact of Global Warming on the Park at Mansfield

So what do I think? I re-read my Austen anthology cover to cover at least once a year, she was the topic of my undergrad thesis and when the Masterpiece Theater did their Sunday’s with Austen series last year, I promptly blocked off the next eight Sundays on my calendar.

… but, if the zombie or aliens would eat Kitty, then I wouldn’t mind so much. She seriously drives me nuts!

 

Top ten things I <3 <3 <3

Valentine’s day, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… but I’m stopping at 10, because then I need to get back to reading over my feedback group’s comments on FLASH.

In honor of <3 day, I decided to compose a list of the top ten things I love – at this moment – if you ask me tomorrow, you might get a few differences (especially if #1 has attempted to wash the basement floor with undiluted Mr. Clean again).

#1 – Husband! Today I received pink tulips (my favorite) and a card addressed to ‘his Sweet Catastrophe,’ which is a throwback reference to the song ‘Hurricane’ by Something Corporate, and an oddly appropriate nickname for his disaster-prone wife. Also, was brought to the local Indie bookstore and told to pick out ‘what I wanted.’ A shockingly dangerous statement to make. If I really purchased ‘what I wanted,’ we’d be living off tuna and Ramen for the next year. I did, however, buy Heather’ Brewer’s Ninth Grade Slays, Sara Zarr’s Sweetheart, and ordered A.S. King’s Dust of 100 Dogs, since it wasn’t in stock.

#2 – the Puggles. Biscotti is velociraptor-smart, but also fiercely loyal and snuggly. Bruschi *sigh* we have no memory of dropping him on his furry noggin as a puppy, but he’s definitely a remedial dog. That being said, he’s freakin’ adorable and the happiest thing with four legs and a tail. And his Elvis-lip underbite is enough to make me forgive when he steps in and knocks over his water bowl while drinking – again.

# 3- Family. They’re amazing – enough said.

# 4 – Friends. Ditto.

#5 – Writing. If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you know that writing is as essential as oxygen, sleep & caffeine. (Although, I often forgo sleep in order to have time to write).

#6 – Reading. My parents cheered when I learned to read at four – mostly because it was the only way to get me to sit still for more than three minutes – but by the time I was four and a half, they were begging me to put down the books and engage in the real world. They’re still begging. Sorry!

#7 – Foamed milk. I order my cappuccinos ‘extra dry,’ but really, that’s just to camouflage my weirdness. I’d rather just have a cup of warm, foamed milk – the coffee is completely optional. The caffeine at the bottom is a perk, however.

#8 – Running. When my ankle cooperates. It’s totally Jay Asher’s fault that I ended up back in PT for five months. If 13 Reasons Why on audiobook wasn’t so ridiculously amazing, I wouldn’t have upped my mileage from 4 to 6 within a week and ended up injured. (But the book was so good that it was almost worth it).

#9 – Kayaking. Preferably with #1 and #2. (#2 have the most-ridiculous-but-adorable life jackets with handles on top for when they inevitably fall overboard).

#10 – Twitter. Probably not really in my top 10, but I’m not letting myself sign on right now I work on FLASH edits, and I’m totally going through withdrawal. If you want to follow me there – I’ll be back soon, promise – my name is (creatively enough) TiffanySchmidt.

What are your top 10?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

If my teacher passes out, can we go home early?

Disclaimer:  I love my class.  I really do.  I am lucky to be the teacher of 26 of the most respectful, intelligent, curious, and creative 6th graders who have ever lived.  I wouldn’t trade them for anyone.  (Well, maybe for last year’s class of angels-disguised-as-students, but no one else).

Having said that, these creative young minds do very creative things with the English language.  Some of them are hilarious, like this line from a student’s narrative about the day his dog fell in the pool:

 “We quickly learned that Mocha was no Michael Phelps.”

Others, however, are not purposely funny, but hilarious all the same.

About the Great Depression:  “This was first America’s crisis, but soon became a nationwide problem.” (I think we need to review our geography…)  

About Teddy Roosevelt:  “After McKinley died, Teddy Roosevelt had to be president right away.  He was on a hiking trip with his family, so I’m not sure why they made him do it right away.”  (Seriously, couldn’t the American public at least wait until he finished his vacation?)

About Eco-friendly energy sources:  “Savannah Desert uses solar panels to cook her dinner.”  (Is she a good cook?  I’ll be right over!)

About Global Warming:  “You may be asking yourself, what are fossil fuels.  I’m pretty sure they’re dead animals that are burned as fuel.”  (Next time, wait until you’re really sure.  We are not scooping up road kill and burning it.)

About Diverticulitis: “Imagine your lower intestine breaking open and spilling toxic waste into the body.”  (No!  NO!  I do not want to imagine that. Take it back!)
 

In other disturbing-image news, the PowerPoint presentations that went along with these papers had me screaming:

Holy guacamole!  Where are the school’s image filters and firewalls?!

While the student who was researching Michael Phelps’s Olympic accomplishments (this was pre-scandal) couldn’t get any images, because his Olympic uniform is apparently “indecent apparel,” others were able to get much more disturbing photos.

The student whose topic was “How could the assassination of JFK have been prevented?” was able to get full-color autopsy photos.  (Side note: Whether in or out of school, why should these ever be available?) 

I’m sitting in that presentation, doing my smiley-encouraging-I’m-listening-you’re-doing-so-great nod when – WHAM-O  – slide change and I’m looking at something so gory that I may have screamed just a little.

*needs to take a typing break to compose self*

So, the autopsy photo comes up and my head immediately goes between my knees and I’m hyperventilating.  Boy, this kid was a champ (or oblivious, one or the other) because even though his teacher’s about to pass out, he kept right on presenting.  Picking up the e-marker and drawing all over who knows what (I was busy memorizing the stains on the industrial carpeting and trying not to vomit and add to them).  Kinda remember hearing: “I’m going to trace the path the bullet followed.  This used to be his temple…”  but then I blacked out a little bit.  This made assessing his conclusion a bit challenging. 

I love my class.  I really do.  Even if they make me queasy and dizzy. 

Today’s grade report
Students’ effort : A
Students’ unintentional humor quotient: A
School’s firewalls : F

 

 

 

 

Supremely green and jealous

I had planned to blog about all the wonderful and creative ways that my students interpreted the English language during today’s 8-hour presentation-fest (Anyone else for a gin and ‘photovol-tonic’? That’s apparently what fuels solar-powered cars while they’re saving the ‘o-zone’ – not to be confused with the x-zone, or y-zone). But in my post-presentation queasiness (more tomorrow), I left all of my notes in the classroom. So you’ll have to wait.

Besides, now that I’m no longer green as a result of some very graphic presentation content (another teaser – but you still have to wait until tomorrow), I’m even greener with envy.

Have you seen Maureen Johnson’s or Ally Carter’s blogs about what they’re doing this summer? (No? Well, no excuses! They’re available here: http://maureenjohnson.blogspot.com and here: http://www.allycarter.com/blog.html ) I’ll wait here patiently until you’re done.

Finished? Aren’t you feeling a little green too? This is even worse than when I read Ralph Fletcher’s account of his month at Yaddo. I want a Yaddo. I want an Irish Castle. I want rock star writer friends to go on retreaty, Irish vacations with!

Hmmm, I’m sounding a little whiney here.  How to redeem myself?  

Thinking . . .  thinking. . .

Today I helped a first grader with a bloody nose who was adorable, tearful, and lost on her way to the nurse!  There, have I restored my saintly teacher-writer persona?

( I still want an Irish castle . . . )

I guess my local coffee shop is a good plan B.
Maybe if I’m really nice, they’ll make me an Irish coffee while I sit there and write.  About castles. J

Class trip to Coraline

Yesterday I had a couple of firsts. It was my first time watching a movie from the very back row of the theater. It was also my first time watching a movie with a dozen 6th graders. Apparently, the movie theater is just like the bus: the last row is clearly the coolest.

I, apparently, also have a bit of a coolness factor (who knew?!) because while the parents were ordered to sit elsewhere, there was a bit of a fuss about who would get to sit next to me. And since both sides and the two seats in front of me were quickly commandeered, my poor husband had to sit three seats down with other the boys.

My class read Coraline together this fall, and I had offered to see the movie with them yesterday. Twelve current and former students, a handful of parents, and a few younger siblings showed up. “We’ll discuss the differences between the book and movie in class on Monday,” I said.

In sixth grade speak that roughly translates to: “We’ll discuss the differences and anything else that comes to mind, during the movie.” And they did.

A recap:

  • We missed our favorite scene: when Coraline calls the policeman
  • We love that the Jones are gardening writers who hate dirt
  • We wished the ending had been kept the same
  • We’re glad they didn’t include the part about the Other Father in the basement – it would have been too scary.
  • We’re not quite sold on Wybie. Coraline doesn’t need a sidekick.
  • That doll is as creepy as the buttons
  • That is not what we expected Miss Forcible to look like -yikes!
  • The cat’s voice was not as we pictured – he should sound snobbier
  • Mrs. Schmidt does a better job of singing the ‘twitchy, witchy song’ (although, I believe this comment was meant mockingly – hurumph!)

Their consensus: it was scary, but the book was scarier. Still…

The poor first grade sibling of one of my kiddos was scared straight out of her teensy, pink Ugg boots (or maybe they were just adhered to the spilt-soda-sticky floor), and had to be carried out of the theater by one of the moms.

The student to my right kept up a steady refrain of: “I’m so glad this isn’t 3-D,” “Imagine that in 3-D” and “OMG, I couldn’t handle this in 3-D.”

Another female student whispered down the row toward me: “Mrs. Schmidt, how are the boys? Are they scared too?”

I peeked down the row. They were sitting in a clump: leaned forward, chins in tense hands, eyes wide. Clearly terrified. (Disclaimer: husband was fine). I turned back to my questioner and saved their pre-teen egos: “They’re fine. Very brave.”

Three minutes later I reached over the seatbacks and squeezed the shoulders of the two students sitting in front of me – making them jump and squeal. Good times!

In the lobby (after we took our class photo) they recapped and decided that the movie was great, but the book was greater. Then again, when isn’t this the case?

On the way out the door I caught a wisp their conversation: “Man, I’ve got to get started on The Graveyard Book. I need to finish it before they make it into a movie. Do you think Mrs. Schmidt’ll come to that, too?”

Lessons learned: Back row = cool. Mrs. Schmidt = cool. Movies = less cool than books.

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