Category Archives: Maggie Jane’s Ramblings

Confession of the Nerdy Novelist

Unwind Annotation

Neal Shusterman’s Unwind is the ultimate dystopian genre piece of modern times. His twisted concept of where a life begins, ends, or continues to live over time is warped and wonderful. He raises the hairs on the back of the necks of his reader’s as they delve deeper into the issues post the second civil war.  I’ve now read it multiple times, and each time I find new literary author moves used by Shusterman which absolute fascinate me.

Sadly, each of these marks and stickies are a trade mark of my reading and processing. With the recent transition over to digital forms my annotation obsession continues. I often go back to those annotations as I’m getting ready to read a new work by an author I’ve read before or rereading a piece I’ve loved. It is a nerdy confession to admit. I like to annotate and reflect on those author’s craft maneuvers which really up the ante on why I enjoy a book. This also helps me as a writer develop a voice, showing detail, or maybe dialectical dialogue sections I’ve struggled with. There are multiple works I’ve read 5, 7, possibly 10 times to process each crafty move unveiling the plot right under my nose. I may not be the highest level grammarian, not my favorite part of English, but hot diggity if I can’t dissect and pull out all those subtleties in the literary structures development! Confession session over and now I’m off to read and write!

The Value of Writing a Review


Over the last several months I made the conscious effort to start writing reviews of all the works I read. Coming up with this decision wasn’t without a long thought out plan. Deciding to write reviews cultivated out of hours of thinking about what I expect out of myself as a writer, what I expect of myself as a reader, and what I expect from the folks who intentionally choose to read my works.

As a writer the purpose of composing a piece is formed out of two roads. The first being to formulate your thoughts about a prompt or idea and conveying the message to an intended audience. I often write short pieces to share with my national writing group for growing as an educator, and also practicing certain author’s craft structures I’m working on. They are really my sounding board for improving small areas of my writing. We’ve all been together for almost two years discovering how to grow as writers and formulate ways to teach those ideas to students. The second road and purpose for writing is to get these people who wake me in the middle of the night, and talk to me during important meetings, out of my head and onto the paper. These people, settings, action pieces, and all sorts of other goodies, which roll around in my mind, relax more when I write often. This is where I check what I write in longer works and test out my ideas on my betas. I love the positive feedback, but I also crave the constructive criticism from them. This constant connection loop of write, edit, review, revise, edit more, and so forth is the end game when the betas finally come back with a “Oh My God, I need more. What’s next? Hurry up, I don’t care if it is perfect, I need to know.” These feedback loops help me grow as a writer.

As a reader I enjoy the result of someone’s hard work and sharing in the fruits of their labor. Years ago there were so few outlets to express to an author how much you enjoyed their work. The red tape it took to get a letter through was mind-boggling. If an author traveled for signings it was difficult to advertise where they might be and when. With the internet and social media the entire world of the writer-reader, reader-writer relationship transformed. Ultimately, there are infinite ways to show an author how much you enjoy their work, and maybe some ways to show an author things which would make their craft better. We teach the feedback loop in the classroom but often forget how important they are in the real world.

This brings me to why, as an inspired novelist, I feel a deep connection with writing reviews for the things I’ve read. I want to celebrate with the author’s I’ve read. I want them to gain more readership because this allows them to continue writing, which in turn keeps me reading. I also want them to know that somehow their voices, which were screaming to get out of their head, conveyed a message, which touched me in some way. The purpose of publishing a work is to share. If you don’t know people are enjoying your work then what is the real point of bringing a work out of the saved file bank? I save constructive criticisms for personal notes or instant messaging with an author (which I rarely read something that I feel compelled to write a negative about). No author intends to publish something terrible. Too many hours exist in a day to waste intentional time writing crappy works. My two big criticisms usually fall in mechanical structures or a rushed ending. Besides those issues, there is value in everyone’s work, which needs celebrated and enjoyed by more readership.  Therefore as a writer and reader I whole heartedly committed myself to making the effort to write and share, as well as read and review. Everybody should get a chance to read a work and if one little review I write prompts someone I know to pick it up and dive right in, then I’ve done my job to help make the reading-writing, writing-reading continuum travel full circle.

Promote Young Readers

Book ClubALL

Five years ago my partner teacher and I decided we needed to do more for our students. One of the ways we chose to up the anti was by designing a trimester book club. Sounds easy enough, pick four books for every student to select a work, they read it, then attend a lunch time discussion.  The discussions are facilitated by teachers across campus and disciplines. The fictional works switch after two years, while the non-fiction works change as needed.

When we began the Hunger Games trilogy caught the eye of many of our non-reading students. It progressed to adding in the Mortal Instruments, by Cassandra Claire, first three selections, and on to the Divergent trilogy, by Veronica Roth, and James Dashner’s hit trilogy The Maze Runner.  This year we start off with Marie Lu’s Legend series and Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children Series. Intermixed are the non-fiction reads 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens (Sean Covey), Please Stop Laughing at me (Jodee Blanco), Soul Surfer (Bethany Hamilton), Imperfect:An Improbable Life (Jim Abbott), A Long Way Gone:Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Ishmail Beah), and I Am Malala (Malala Yousafzai). Each of the non-ficitonal texts was chosen as stepping stones to get kids thinking. First getting them thinking closer to home. They need to begin thinking about themselves by  first organizing their lives or maybe learning how to deal with bullying. Then they need to learn how to overcome life’s challenges. Finally, getting them to think on a global scale. Each work is picked as a deliberate piece to add some culture to their world. Since we have kids for two years they have multiple opportunities to each these works.

Three years ago my partner moved away and left me with the book discussion pilot. It has grown and continues to be a focus for bringing students around to the idea that reading can be fun and interesting when you have other people to discuss the works with. I have also been able to secure funding for adding ten copies of each work to our school library. Each year I only change out one work which helps spread the budget a little better.  This little slice of independent choice has helped build a culture of readers. Students like the idea that they earn some extra credit tickets by participation in the school wide discussion and they see teachers of all disciplines participating in the talking portion.  Our usual participation rate is about 150 students out of our total population of about 850. This is not too bad considering our population is over 50% socio-economically disadvantaged students.

Of course,  most of these have a movie or some media piece attached but the bottom line is kids are being exposed to the idea of coming together to discuss and expand on ideas by their merit. This is actually by design so the books do not look so out dated. Research shows the literacy connection between reading, writing, and discussion is vital for developing strong connections for students to grow and become more productive in the world.  I know I usually review the romance genre, but I think there is value in a wide variety of genre’s being read and maybe something here might spark you or a child you know to jump on the reading bandwagon!

Life’s Journey


Last year I attended a five week national writing project.  Once a week we were asked to bring things in and then given thirty minutes to write to a specified prompt question based off the item we brought. This little piece was my thirty minute composition based on the picture included. It’s raw, from the heart, and caused tears when I had to read it aloud in front of my writing group.  It is actually the piece which got me thinking about writing something full length. It isn’t so much that it is a perfectly written piece, but it is the fact through so many of life’s experiences a tale is hidden to be told. As I patiently await the official first round edits, I figured I’d share the humble beginnings of where this journey was born. Yes, this is actually one of the photos the kids took, right after the boys sat in the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil pose.  The girls pushed them when they realized they were goofing around, and our photographer caught it perfectly. Their grandparents actually picked that photo as one of their favorites!

MJS 2015 Life’s Journey

Hit it and Quit it!

From the mid 1990’s to 2010ish the foundation of culture began changing. As industrialization faded, an the new millennials moved forward, the old adage of “hitting it and quitting it” became the tag line and behavior of most folks.

During the industrial revolution people spent time performing repeated actions in order to master their craft. This was evident in schools, assembly lines, agriculture, and most institutionalized activities. The “Mad Men” era brought about a new aggressive way of selling the goods, so to speak, but still the process of do, rinse, repeat was still dominating the worlds motivation for success.

Bring on the changes which slowly crept through the early 2000 as the 21st century breathed down the necks of the new generation. No longer were kids trapped by brick and mortar, they made friends from all over the world through chat rooms, social media, video games, and a plethora of new mediums encroaching upon their lives. This new generation is willing to try things once and immediately change course when instant gratification is not achieved. They have learned to quickly navigate ideas at their finger tip resources  and dig deeper for immediate answers. While this infatuation for the immediate gratification leaves them more time for exploring new things, it also leaves them at times with massive holes in their foundational skills.

These massive holes need patched and it takes time buttoning up those puzzle pieces. With so many things readily available to people it is time to remind them about slowing down, taking a breath, and really focusing on the important things. Here is my list of those things we’ve forgotten to value and cherish:

1. Family – it is too easy to get up in our pocket technology and  forget to unplug the outside world, and focus time on the core that still supports us during the good and bad times.

2. Friends – Tried and true friends should never be left in the dust, as social media makes us feel like we are checking in, it is not a true gauge of understanding the deep down embraces we need for keeping relationships alive.  Try actually making a phone call or a face to face meet up time. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel with true human interaction. Shoot even a facetime or skype is better than just reading a thread all the time!

3. Get involved in your children’s lives – Make sure you support your children and their dreams, not yours. If they choose to go hit a bucket of balls and perform repeated practice to get better, make the time to be there. Support their educational needs – don’t let technology do your job. You need to read to them, speak with them, show interest in what happens to them during their day. Let them see the fun side of you. This way when you do need to discipline they realize you will always love them. Because the fine line between being taught how to be a good person, showing how to be carefree and fun, and having enough self control to know when to work and when to play is a tough line a parent must teach them.

4. Give your career a chance before quitting. Money does not always buy happiness and happiness is not always equated with money, although I’d like to try have no financial worries for a week or two, just to test it out! This analogy is true of the new 21st century young adult. They are the first generation not mainly driven by the corporate money monster. They are willing to try new jobs and learn new tasks if they are unhappy. But they occasionally make too many snap decisions without allowing any dust to settle causing more long lasting effects than they could foresee.

Some skills of the new generation need harnessed and expanded, others need reevaluated and reworked. The repeated practice over time method is not necessarily terrible,and the “hit it and quit it” is not always bad and either; the try once and change course to find a new solution method is a twist for both of these practices.  However, the bottom line is we need to exercise moderation and tolerance while we all learn how to manage in this quickly changing world, keeping in mind not to forget about the four foundational puzzle pieces at any given time.

Unconditional Love

Once you’ve looked into the eyes of your offspring, there is no going back to life as you knew it. The emotional roller coaster which you now embark on has no breaks, no pauses, and no re-dos. This does not mean you cannot change the direction of a bad path, but you can never jump off the roller coaster and forget about it.

Many years ago I embarked on this journey myself and never a day goes by where my little flock is not the first thing on my mind each day. Although our relationship has changed over time, a day never passes where I dismiss my chicks. When they are hurt, I am hurt. When they are confused, I am confused. When they are excited, I am excited. When they have success, I have success. All of the components which comprise our relationships keep growing, and each stage has its rewards.

The moment I looked down into his big blue eyes, almost two decades ago, I fell deeply in love. My husband and I both died a thousand deaths while he grew in my belly. Several tense moments geared us up for the impending birth, but nothing prepared us for the true adventure. The first unwavering eye contact, moments after he took his first breaths, unraveled our hearts and opened us to a whole new world. We repeated this process two more times and each initial connection warmed our hearts even more.

Now with those blue eyes living outside of our four walls, we still create time each day to hold our foundation together. He willingly reciprocates, which only reinforces this ever changing relationship. As my brown eyed boy gets ready to venture away from our nest, in a few weeks, my heart again begins cracking. This only opens up a new space for the ever changing relationship we are developing. While I know I will repeat this process a third time, in a few years, it never makes it easier.

The reality of each of these little chicks fledging their way into the next phase is exciting though. Watching them learn how to manage time, grocery shop, make a meal, and even fall in love acts as a new reminder of the solid foundation we provided for them. Each step taken delicately and successfully rewards us with the affirmation “we did something right”. We also stand with arms wide open when they fall down and need a pick me up.

I didn’t realize how much our foundation meant until a few a days ago when the blue eyed boy sent a text. In his simple words, I shed a tear, and knew he needed to come home for a recharge. His simple words “I miss you guys” opening up my arms again. Now, in a few hours, he will arrive home, and once again I will gaze into those baby blues. Falling deeper for the little boy, who is now evolving into a man of his own.

Breaking the Rules

It takes a tremendous amount of time learning a task, and attacking it from different angles in order to perfect the job. People do not begin with the perfect set of skills, they are learned over time. No matter what the skill is it needs to be a learned behavior, through multiple repetitious follow ups. Once the rules are known, and the mastery achieved, then, and only then, my the rules be broken.

Presently, the breaking of rules seeps in, raised above my head, and shakes its fist as representation of my arch enemy. Breaking into writing for the reading audience is much more difficult than it appears. Academic writing requires a specialized vernacular, structure, and focus. These skills I’ve mastered over my academic career, with a certain amount of success. However, writing for a novel breaks most of the structured rules of academic writing, which is in direct contrast with my rehearsed muscle memory of writing. Using slang (a no, no in academic form), deliberately committing the felonious run-on or fragmenting (on purpose for goodness sakes), oh and the kicker of all mother load rules to break… using the contraction or starting a sentence with a conjunction.  Better turn now and rinse your mouth out with soap for that crime.

This brings me to the dilemmas of the day, as I progress on my own infancy of novel writing. I am learning to use new muscles. Understanding the masses and their delicate palate for reading certain works and genres is the key to success of a work. Obviously, the word choices and plot developments depend on the fundamental comprehension of these big issues. So, here I sit in my infancy, still dependent on my own readings, suggestions from beta groups, and handing my work over to professionals for a needle ripping tear apart and suggestions for reworking things. However, to build oneself within a new task requires the research, repetition, and revisions necessary to breathe a work to life successfully.

For the record this is an easy concept to preach to students or one’s own offspring. Teaching kids how to learn the academic rules of writing for their next AP, IB, SAT, ACT or other standardized test is easy when you are the guide and cheerleader. Conveying the importance of learning all aspects of your sport including maintenance and respect for the venues build the character of the athlete, along with those long hard hours of physical and mental exhaustion practicing and playing on the field or court. So, here I go, breaking the rules, ready to prepare my own field for this new style and taking the ups and downs with a grain of salt!

Taking a leap of Faith

The movers and shakers throughout history outwardly appear to have missed the developmental line for acquiring the emotion known as fear or failure. Many live their whole lives free spirited, able, and willing to jump into the next new trend, or better yet pave their own path. This nostalgic behavior built men and women like Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ronald Reagan, Mother Theresa, Margaret Thatcher, and so many more. I however, joined in that line of fear and failure and must have asked for a double scoop. I’ve lived my life safe, erred on the side of caution, and with little willingness to tempt fates. But not anymore, I have willing joined those who jump into new pools, swim around, and then change course as things happen. A small bit inside sweats in the corner, as this change shatters all those things I’ve habitually shied away from to avoid jumping into a new pool. Nope, today I did it! I’m willingly swimming around in the next big pool. Today I get a little dirty. Today I embark anew. Today I take the leap of faith.

Patience, Who Really Has Them?

In a world where we now hurry up and wait, it is often difficult for many to sit back and watch things unfold. The internet, the largest innovative disrupter in history, changed the face of the world. From conducting business and customer relations to education and food services, every factor of the world changed in a flash. The need for business men to travel for weeks at a time became less and less, as skype, facetime, Google hangout, and a plethora of digital media service companies made it possible to conduct serious meeting all in a moments notice in front of a computer screen. Customer relations firms set up camp and reduced the need for companies to have internal employees, as the the digital world opened up the international business of training customer service reps. We all know the frustrations of hearing the delayed voices on the calls or typing in the customer service IM windows, but never the less the world changed. Of course food services changed and fewer jobs were needed in the food services industry because with the touch of a hand on a screen timers could be set, orders could be taken, and meals delivered by fewer employees. The face of education changed with the internet as research could be completed at the stroke of one’s finger tips, rather than laborious hours in the library. The internet brought about this need and hunger for immediate gratification reducing the patience of the people as a whole.

This refusal to be patience is interwoven in everyday life. From day one babies are given toys which have some sort of action reaction button. A mobile which lights up or plays music upon their voice activation. A sword with a button which makes the swoosh noise as they swing away. Even better, a toothbrush which plays sounds for three minutes to time them while brushing their gritty little teeth. As adults, we wait patiently for the release day of venue tickets, and press the buttons immediately upon the box office opening, to get our chance at the next latest and greatest activity. We build our next vehicle online and email a salesperson before stepping on the car lot for our purchase. Even applying for jobs has turned into digital prescreening before any interview takes place.  Even sixteen year olds applying to McDonalds’s must apply online and hope for a callback. Gone are the days of face to face meetings. Each of these situations breeds an anxiety and lack of patience because while we feel in control behind the computer the hurry up and wait game drives into our very core.

This brings me to my present situation. I have always played it safe. I studied Sunday through Thursday in college. I let loose only on Friday and Saturday, unless something pressing in my academic career put things off. I began teaching and poured my heart and soul into lesson and unit design, because back in the day we were all pioneers testing out new limits before the innovative disputer changed the face of education. Working in video production and post production for twenty years between teaching gigs, we wrote scripts and contracts and patiently waited for clients to respond back. We did not have the luxury of email for many years and this slowed the pace down a bit. Arriving back at teaching, and being tech savoy, I am the innovative disrupter in my school. I lose patience with those who stay behind in the 19th and 20th centuries of educational paradigms. It blows my mind when a teacher wastes more resources printing then the library of congress. However, I have no choices but to bite my lip, and slowly creep in, changing the ideas, similar to the Gates and Jobs in a world with stubborn heel trenchers.

This ramble began because I too suffer some loss with the changing of the guard, with regards to my new chosen path. My deepest admiration goes out to the frontiers before me in this indie author’s world. I know just enough to make myself dangerous and not enough which kills the process. This journey began exactly one year ago when I completed my Masters program. My children, grown enough to be helpful, needed less from me. My husband taking on two new business partnerships, and me, sitting and wondering what do I do next? I had ideas swirling around in my head and was involved in a national writing project associated with my teaching job. My writing group encouraged me to write my first work. While I am grateful to everyone, I completed the piece over about seven months and it sits on the back burner, until now. I have come to my crossroads, and the waterfall is pounding down upon me, as I figure out my road less traveled. Reflecting this morning, and sending out more emails and IM’s to well respected folks on my path and new journey, I recognize the need for regaining my patience and remembering this waterfall will continue pouring down, even when I am gathering myself together. Patience needs to be the foremost characteristic I take with me on this new road.

The True Roots in Romance

Reflecting upon the most influential writers over time and what genres brought them the most audiences, the romance division tops the charts. Authors such as Andreas Capellanus in his work The Art of Courtley Love, distributed  in the late 1100’s, brought about the ideas of what made love and sex worthy. According to Capellanuse, “Love is an inborn suffering proceeding from the sight and immoderate thought upon the beauty of the other sex, for which cause above all other things one wishes to embrace the other and, by common assent, in this embrace to fulfill the commandments of love. . . .” Capellanuse’s work drew many criticism’s in the early years, as sex was exclusively private and men dominated over women making his work appear too outlandish to be true. The ever influential Shakespeare wove in sex to his works in every which way possible. He stretched the power of his lexicon and made inferences which pushed the barriers of acceptability. For goodness sakes his reference to suckling thine testicles is blatant in  A Mid Summer Nights Dream, “My cherry lips have often kissed thy stones, Thy stones with lime and hair knit up in thee.” Shakespeare also references the battle for the oral pleasures in A Taming of a Shew, “What, with my tongue in your tail.”  The point of this boils down to critics of the modern day romance genre suggesting author’s push the limits.

Critics believe that authors, such as Anne Rice and Erica James, jumped the shark. Being aware of innovating disrupters suggests they merely reawakened the genre which already had strength and long living roots. Multiple writers join in the pool each day. Some are still breaking out of their shells while others have developed deep rooted fandom. Each of these authors belongs to a fraternity (or sorority of you play the feminist game) which is so ingrained in the soil it is time to stop the negative view of the genre and enjoy the ride. 

The book burners and and parent groups horrified and shocked at the selections picked by schools need to actually read a few of these works themselves. Works such as the Handmaids Tale or Jane Eyre all introduce some sort of romance and relationship intimacy. Even the suggested Young Adult novels which are pushed as rewards for reading begin our youth on the journey of romance. Works by. Cassandra Claire even push the limits by writing in characters off the heterosexual path. The bottom line is they are all good works which have served to expose readers to a wholesome organic body of literature which does include the taboo of sex. Why fight what has been swirling around in the world for centuries? 

The time has come to recognize most works subtly introduce some sort  of intimacy and carnal desires. Readers and writers alike need to know when to call the shots and read what they enjoy, without a pointed finger or negative push back. Bottom line romance is here to stay and the choice of each individual flatlined at just how sexy can you take it?