Teaching Creative Writing to Middle Schoolers

Early in my career I spent several years teaching Creative Writing at the middle school level, and I loved it.

Don’t get me wrong: I love teaching Creative Writing at all levels from elementary school to published adults — and yes, I have and do teach it to all those age categories — because teaching Creative Writing is my jam almost as much as writing books is. (And some days, more so.)

Look, middle school is a rough time of life for pretty much everyone, even the kids who don’t show it. (Sometimes, especially them.) At that stage of development, a lot of us feel things really deeply. We absorb things readily, sometimes indiscriminately. We process the world around us through an intensified lens and at varying, different speeds. Life can be lived in the polar extremes.

This makes us, at that stage of life, primed for creative expression. Our minds and personalities have not yet grown out of the world of emotional metaphor, even if cognitively we struggle with abstractions.

Honestly, what better time to begin Creative Writing classes?

I’m thrilled to report there are still a few spots open in Writespace’s Up and Coming Writers of the World series, which begins on Sunday, February 5th and goes through April. This low-stress, ungraded, three-month series is geared toward middle school students and will be conducted on Zoom, so as long as you have an internet connection, you can take it from anywhere!

Here’s the format: on a Sunday afternoon at the start of each month, an author and teacher will guide students through an introductory class on a given genre (listed below), and then over the next four weeks, the students will work one-on-one with a mentor from the Creative Writing program at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts on their writing. There will be a reading at the end of the series.

Behold the schedule:
* February 5th — Introduction to Fiction, taught by Angélique Jamail (That’s me!!)
* March 5th — Introduction to Playwriting, taught by Kathryn Peterson (She’s great!!)
* April 2nd — Introduction to Poetry, taught by Angélique Jamail (Yay for National Poetry Month!!)

If you know any middle school-aged kids who have an interest in writing, consider signing them up for this program. It makes a great gift, and it’s also a way to tell those kids, in this very difficult landscape we call the world, I see you. You and your art and your ideas have value. Writespace’s classes are among the most affordable of any high-level instruction you can get, and they offer scholarships.

Click this link to register, but do it soon! We’ll see you there.

Monday Earworm: Crosby, Stills & Nash

You might be aware that David Crosby passed away last week. I cannot say I was ever a big fan of his work or of the bands he was in, although I don’t harbor any objections. (I was more focused on disco in the 70s than rock.) I often enjoy listening to their music because harmonizing, even if I don’t generally seek it out.

Anyway, a friend of mine in college introduced me to this song on a really eclectic mixtape he had made for me, and I really do like it. So enjoy. (And thanks, Mike Byers. I loved that tape.) 

 

Monday Earworm: Redbone

This song is at least as old as I am, but it keeps coming up everywhere. I mean, it is evergreen and guaranteed to put a person in a good mood every time it comes on, so — sure! Let’s have more of it.

This “official music video” for it is more recent, though, and an interesting take on the song, in a somewhat meta-narrative sort of way. You can also easily find video clips of Redbone playing the song live, which is also worth pursuing.

Fun fact: Redbone was the first Native American band to have a hit on the Billboard Top 100, with this song. It peaked at #5 and spent eighteen weeks in the Top 40.

Working With An Intern

I have been very lucky this month to have an intern working with me through our school’s career development program. His name is Bruce, and he’s learning to be an author — not just the writing part, which he already knows, but also all the other parts of the job. Writing, critique group, editing. Sending work out on submission. Professional development about the publishing industry. Research on marketing and also for a novel set in a historical setting. Networking with other authors and industry professionals. Writing on spec. And next week, we’ll be adding zine production, accounting, and the behind-the-scenes of how bookstores work. It’s a lot to pack into three weeks, and he’s doing great! It’s going well. And tomorrow, we have an author event!

Sci-fi author Adam Holt and I will be out at the Sawyer Yards Arts Market tomorrow, as we sometimes are, and of course Han and their art will be with us. Bruce is going to be out there, too, learning how to do an author event, so come by our booth and talk to him about his recent publications.

And just to show off some of the work he’s been doing lately, here’s one of the promotional graphics he made for the event.

created by Bruce Hurley

Adam and I will both be signing books, Han will be selling their art, and we’ll also have our available, including coveted back issues. You’ll also see my handmade poetry art cards and journals and perhaps some jewelry there, too, for as long as I can keep it in stock. (Those cards and journals always go fast!)

The Art Market at Sawyer Yards happens from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The address is 1502 Sawyer St. in Houston 77007. Here’s the link for more information. We hope to see you there!

 

Monday Earworm: Judith Owen

This is one of those standards that seems to be done differently by everyone I’ve ever heard do it, and so far, it’s always been great. My first time hearing this song was when I was in 8th grade, in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (That might be the case for most people my age.) In college I fell in love with Sinéad O’Connor’s very unexpected rendition, and recently I heard an interview on the radio with Judith Owen that included her version, this one. It’s jaunty and danceable and well worth a listen.

What’s your favorite version of this song? Tell us in the comments.

Enjoy!

2022 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level

Once again, because it is a popular follow-up to my annual Books I Read lists, I’m including a list of the category romance titles I read this past year and ranking them by heat level. For those who might be unfamiliar with that term, it essentially refers to the sensuality level or raciness of the story. There are several different technical, helpful guides and explanations for how to rate such things if you go looking for them online, but I’ll summarize the widely accepted definitions below.

Something to remember here: I’m not including any titles that could easily or more appropriately fit into a different genre, such as fantasy, even if those stories contain strong romantic subplots. This ranking list is strictly for titles that don’t really fit anywhere else.

Also, once again, I’m including an explanation of the usually accepted five heat levels within the romance genre. Again, these categories of romance have been well established for a while now, and these are the ranking guidelines I use. You can no doubt find other ways of ranking them or other descriptions of them, but these are the descriptions I go by, so please bear that in mind.

Here are the five levels of heat, in order, with very brief descriptions:

*  MILD — Sweet like a Hallmark Christmas movie, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend these titles to my adolescent children or even mature middle schoolers who were genuinely interested in the genre. In many examples of this heat level, the most titillating thing that happens might be kissing and the occasional cute innuendo.

*  MEDIUM — Generally equivalent to a PG-13 movie in that intimate situations or scenes are there, but they aren’t graphically described and won’t likely make people (who like the concept of kissing books) uncomfortable. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend books like these to high school students who genuinely liked YA romance. (Please note that not all titles in this heat level will be YA.)

*  HOT — Sometimes called steamy, sexy, or spicy, this level includes most category romance books and offers a wide range of description of intimate activity and the language used to describe it; the titles I’ve included here also represent a wide range within this heat level.

*  NUCLEAR — Expect graphic descriptions and possible forays beyond vanilla.

*  EROTIC (ROMANCE) — This heat level pushes boundaries, most definitely; the characters’ emotional journeys are lived through explicit sexual activity, but (unlike in erotica) the emotional journey and the external story still retain primacy — as does the all-important happy story ending.

And here are the titles I read this past year, ranked by me:

MILD:
None this past year, although if I were including other books from my reading list that didn’t fit exclusively into category romance, some of them would probably be here.

MEDIUM:
Cinder-Nanny by Sariah Wilson
Roommaid by Sariah Wilson
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

HOT:
Sleeper by Kayley Loring
Charmer by Kayley Loring
Trouble Maker by Kayley Loring
Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
All the Feels by Olivia Dade
The Love Interest by Kayley Loring
Munro by Kresley Cole *
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Good Vibrations by Kayley Loring
A Very Bossy Christmas by Kayley Loring
A Not So Meet Cute by Meghan Quinn
A Very Friendly Valentines Day by Kayley Loring
So Not Meant to Be by Meghan Quinn
Hello Darling by Kayley Loring
It Takes a Villa by Kilby Blades
The Reunion by Meghan Quinn
The One Night by Meghan Quinn
Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade

NUCLEAR:
Get Off Easy by Sara Brookes **
Switch It Up by Sara Brookes **
In the Rough by Sara Brookes **

EROTIC (ROMANCE):
Get Off Easy by Sara Brookes **
Switch It Up by Sara Brookes **
In the Rough by Sara Brookes **

* Munro by Kresley Cole is the latest installment in her Immortals After Dark series, which overall is most definitely in the nuclear category. However, Munro was published after quite a long hiatus from the rest of the series, and I don’t recall it having the same timbre as the previous books. Proceed with caution in case my memory is faulty.

** I suspect that with this trilogy by Sara Brookes, how a reader perceives the heat level is going to be largely determined by the individual reader’s experience and taste. All three books could fit into either or both heat levels.

Sappho’s Torque at the New Year’s Mark

Happy New Year! I hope your transition from 2022 to 2023 was a good one, and that the coming year holds only wonderful things for you.

It was a pretty great holiday season for us, on balance. Definitely not without its stressors and mixed emotional situations, but the actual holidays? They were actually wonderful. Incredibly, last week was the first time in almost six years that both my brothers and I were all in the same city at the same time! One of them lives in Austin and the other, in Hong Kong, and it was a delight — especially for our parents — to have us all home in Houston together.

photo by Joanne Kan

So from a personal standpoint, things have been pretty good.

In looking over my stats for the year, my blog remains most popular in North America and in English-speaking countries around the world. (Hardly surprising, since I write in English and am based in the US.) The series I run here tend to be highly popular, too, including Monday Earworms, Witchy Weekends in October, 12 Days of Holiday Music, and — the perennial favorite — the Poem-A-Day series every April for National Poetry Month. Look for those to continue in 2023.

This past year I performed some restructuring of the blog’s content, too, which is reflected in the tabs at the top of each page and the organization of content (both new and old). For example, I added pages where you could read excerpts from the books I have in print, here and here and here, and also galleries of some of the fun stuff I make, such as jewelry and poetry art cards. I continue to strive to make the blog a place where you can get to know me a bit online, to see some of the important parts of my life and my interests. And it also remains a more dynamic location for news about what’s going on here in Authorland.

My intention is to continue the blog for the foreseeable future. In 2023, look for more content, too, on my eco-friendly efforts, my writing projects, my classes you can take (more are on the docket for this year, including poetry, fiction, and now creative nonfiction!), and other stuff I love, among other things.

2022 Reading Year In Review

This year’s Books I Read list is the longest it has been since I started keeping track of it, by far. For instance, I came down with an illness at the start of the summer that had me unable to get out of bed for a solid week, and in that week I read ten books, which had been my previous goal for how many books to read over the summer. I plowed through them — I tend to read at a fairly quick pace — and then kept right on going.

This is a partial grouping of the books I read this past year. My Kindle is on the top of one of the piles because a lot of the books I read were on that. Also, some books aren’t pictured because I accidentally left them at school over the holidays. Oops.

This year, I found myself reading voraciously anything that put me in a good mood, because reasons. Therefore you will find a lot of books on this year’s list that are just really fun, including — but not limited to — laugh-out-loud romantic comedies (which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite genres).

I also dove into a bunch of series this year, so you’ll see a lot fewer individual authors on the list than book titles. The breadth of my reading diet was also, therefore, not as wide as I normally strive for. (I’ll do better next year.) One thing I found interesting is that some series were excellent all the way through, and some were…less consistent.

One thing I’m always curious about is how an author maintains a contiguous storyline over multiple books, especially since I’m working on a series like that myself. But I’m also interested to see how series set within the same “world” (whether it’s the real one or not) work when each book is a separate storyline but shares characters. (We see things like this quite often in category romance, where different characters play supporting roles in their friends’ stories and then get to have their own protagonistic moment in their own book. And yes, I’m working on a series like that, too, though not in the romance genre.)

Also, because I am sometimes a completist, if there’s a book I want to read that’s in the middle of a series, I will read the books that came before it first. (See also the note above about the two types of series I’m studying the mechanics of.)

As always, I’m leaving off my list the titles of any books I did not finish reading. Likewise the titles of any manuscripts I read which are not yet published. This year I am including, however, books I read which I had read before in a previous year. There are some titles I revisit, either because I love them or because I’m studying them for craft/genre reasons or because I’m teaching them.

See below the list for a partial breakdown of genres.

Sleeper by Kayley Loring
Charmer by Kayley Loring
The Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird
Trouble Maker by Kayley Loring
Bloodwarm by Taylor Byas
Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
All the Feels by Olivia Dade
The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
Still Mine by Jayne Pillemer
Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl
The Love Interest by Kayley Loring
Munro by Kresley Cole
Payback’s A Witch by Lana Harper
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Binti: Sacred Fire by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
Boogie Knights by Lisa Wheeler
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
Uncertain Resident by Tova Hinda Siegel
Tethered to Stars by Fady Joudah
Unbroken edited by Marieke Nijkamp
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Blood Countess by Lana Popović
Good Vibrations by Kayley Loring
A Very Bossy Christmas by Kayley Loring
The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
A Not So Meet Cute by Meghan Quinn
Shutter by Taylor Byas
The Author Wheel Quick Guide to Productive Writing Habits by G.C. Boris and M. Haskell
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
From Bad to Cursed by Lana Harper
A Very Friendly Valentines Day by Kayley Loring
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith
So Not Meant to Be by Meghan Quinn
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Hello Darling by Kayley Loring
Cinder-Nanny by Sariah Wilson
Get Off Easy by Sara Brookes
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Spellbreaker by Charlie N. Holmberg
Lady Mechanika Volume 1 by Joe Benitez
It Takes a Villa by Kilby Blades
Roommaid by Sariah Wilson
The Reunion by Meghan Quinn
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik
Switch It Up by Sara Brookes
The One Night by Meghan Quinn
In the Rough by Sara Brookes
The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton
The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton
Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade
The Two Rabbits and the Great Texas Freeze by Anna and Sophia Nguyen
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Sh*t My President Says by Shannon Wheeler
Original Love by Molly Peacock

And here is the promised, but brief, breakdown by genre — only broad strokes this year, though.

46 fiction titles
5 poetry titles
3 nonfiction titles
2 graphic novels/memoir
3 children’s books

As I do every year, I’m offering to give you my opinions, for what those are worth, on any of the books listed here. Just ask if you want to know. (Also, if you want to read my formal review of Kristen Bird’s The Night She Went Missing, click here to read my essay that was published by Literary Mama.)

At some point in the next week-ish, I will do my annual Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level list as well, since that seems to be very popular here on the blog.

So. What have you been reading? Anything you’d like to recommend? Have at it in the comments!

12 Days of Seasonal Songs to Soothe Your Soul (Day 12)

And here we are, at the end of this series for another year. Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that I’ve shared this song before. (I suspect at some point it will become as much a tradition as “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses.)

Not only do I love this song, but I also love this week. It’s about as low-pressure as my life gets. There’s still work to do and the house to clean, but everyone’s home and more relaxed than usual. The bustle of getting ready for Christmas in my large extended family has ended, and while I miss those traditions now that they’re over for another year, I’m looking forward to New Year’s Eve, and celebrating the new beginning that a new year naturally engenders.

When I was a child, the week between made me a little sad. My father used to tell me I had the “Christmas blues,” a melancholy kind of sorrow for the end of the holiday. (That was before I wised up and began insisting that my family actually do something fun every year for New Year’s Eve.)

Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick tell a funny story about this song, and in fact, about the album it’s on. They wanted to make a lucrative record and decided the way to do was to make a holiday collection in time for Christmas. But Coulton didn’t want to make any covers of established Christmas songs (especially the tired ones I started this series on my blog almost a decade ago to rebel against). He didn’t want to use the words “merry,” “cheer,” “joy,” etc. So they were left with the “darker” and more morose side of Christmas.

Except this album of all original songs isn’t “dark” or morose at all. (Well, unless you count a couple of songs that have a twistedly funny sense of humor.) One Christmas at a Time is actually one of my favorite holiday albums of all time, and the song I’m including today, one of my favorite tracks on it.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is completely aspirational for me. I have a moment to rest, a moment to do whatever the heck I want, and a moment to imagine the possibilities I will make of the coming new year. It’s lovely. Just like this song.