Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmatic

I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this homeschooling business. I barely have time to breathe, much less blog or write novels!

However, I am reading, writing, and doing ‘rithmatic, so I thought I could give you all a little update.

Reading: classic Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout. A Bookbub ad for a discounted two book package got me hooked.

I’m also reading A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

I recommend both, though with the caveat that Nero Wolfe has more than a few outdated race stereotypes. The series had it’s start in the1930s so it’s to be expected, in a way. But, in my opinion at least, Stout seems to take the stereotype and make it something the bad guys think as opposed to his more liberal minded detective. Also, there are one or two mild bad words per book. So not perfect, but great reads for anyone who loves classic detective fiction.

DarkStormy FINAL 200x300 Reading, Writing, and RithmaticWriting: Dark and Stormy: A Tillgiven Romantic Mystery. I promise I haven’t stopped working on Jane’s series, but I am determined to get at least two Tillgiven books out to get the series off to a good start. I love the world of the Tillgiven Bibelskola I am creating and love going back to my own Bible school year in my imagination. Dark and Stormy is a classic winter murder mystery in the style of a country house tale like Poirot or Marple enjoyed. I am dreaming it will be done by Christmas, God’s will be done! If anyone is interested in being a beta reader for it (reading an early copy to give feedback before it is published) please leave a comment on this post!

Plain Jane five has already been started, as I mentioned many moons ago, and will be finished, I am hoping, by early Spring.

‘Rithmatic: Never my strongest subject! But it is my daughter Lucy-the-homeschooled-kid’s, strongest. So we finally got ourselves an account at Khan academy where in about three hours of work she blew through her third grade materials. She has only watched one video (negative #’s) but has managed to move up through the assignments all the way to some pre-algebra. She’s 8. Khan academy is just for “fun.” It helps me see what she is capable of, and fills her required time. Core Curriculum standards  require something like an hour of math a day. It takes her five to ten minutes to do all of the suggested problems in her third grade math book. We had to do something to try and fill up the time! I hear that homeschool families tend to do their required work, no matter how little time it takes, and then do fun stuff, but this kid likes math and is good at it, so we might as well fill the time with that, since she thinks it is kind of fun.

So that’s it for the Three R’s. I’m hoping that I can strike a better balance in the coming months to get my stories written faster. I miss having books to publish!

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Christmas Cash Giveaway!

MegaChristmasGiveaway 1024x428 Christmas Cash Giveaway!

If you are anything like me, you could use a little help at Christmas time. From travel plans to the way that stuff always breaks when you are planning on spending $$ on fun stuff, there’s no time like right now for needing extra cash!

There is a big list of simple things to do to get raffle entries, from subscribing to author newsletters (like mine) to sharing your hair horror stories!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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All Isaac Daniels Wanted was Quiet Year Teaching the Bible in Sweden…

 

HardtoFind FINAL 682x1024 All Isaac Daniels Wanted was  Quiet Year Teaching the Bible in Sweden...

Twenty-four year old Isaac Daniels had only been in charge of Tillgiven Bible School for a few days when he managed to lose the pretty girl with the big green eyes, her crazy sister, and his boss’s diabetic nephew.

Nineteen-year old Dani Honeywell wants to stop her crazy sister from eloping with the stranger she met on the train. Dani would love to have Isaac’s company on her cross-Europe hunt, but if she has to go it alone, she will—and she won’t let Isaac stop her.

Hard to Find is a cozy and romantic mystery told from the point of view of Professor Isaac Daniels, the popular male lead from Hilton’s Good, Clean Murder, and Dani Honeywell, his new love interest, an impulsive 19 year old unschooled girl, ready to conquer the world.

Hard to Find is live pretty much everywhere now!
Amazon

iTunes

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords (for all other reading formats)

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For Fans of Isaac Daniels

I have not abandoned him! He is the star of the new Tillgiven Romantic Mystery Series which will debut sometime in the next two weeks. (I’m starting the final edits today.)

If you have been on team-Isaac all along, and feel as though I have done him wrong, by giving the girl to that rascal Jake, please comment here, on the blog, and I will give you Hard to Find, Isaac’s first new adventure, for free.  After all, even though Jake managed to woo Jane away, I have an abiding love for the character I designed to be like my own sweet husband.

Hard to Find Final cover 196x300 For Fans of Isaac Daniels

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Some thoughts about Education and Stuff #4

If I had put my foot down and made both kids switch to the half time school/half time homeschool program it would have worked better. I can’t know it would have, but I think it would have. For one, the three of us could have continued Spanish more easily…Norah is fluent, Lucy is close, and they can keep me from teaching them terrible errors. Norah would have learned how to spell in English (points for her fifth grade teacher, though. She has real spelling lists and real spelling tests!)

The half time co-op school is almost my idea of the perfect school. Much more time at home with the girl(s.) Much less time spent doing the school’s bidding on my time. So next year, I can bring my kid home with me and it will all be totally awesome.

Except my eldest wants to audition for the arts academy for Jr. High and High School.

This is my husband’s dream for her, too. He has very few strongly held beliefs about education, extracurricular stuff, or really, life in general. He’s easy going, in other words, which I love. But he dearly wants them both to go to the arts academy. The school is nationally ranked for best schools ever, so I don’t blame him. As a talented cartoonist/woodworker/strings player, an education with an arts focus really resonates with him. (Get it? Get it? Strings musician? Resonates?)

When the girls were babies we lived in a kind of rough part of town (a college friend literally did not believe we lived there because we weren’t tough enough. Apart from the exploding house, it wasn’t too bad! Plus, a house exploded in our “safe neighborhood” too. And no cops were ever shot in our “rough” neighborhood which sets it apart from our “safe” one.)  And we used to walk around with our babies in strollers dreaming about the future. Our grocery store was just over the hill, in the most-expensive-neighborhood-in-town, right by the arts academy. Daniel said, even back then, that he wished and hoped that someday our little girls would trudge up that hill to school, carying their instruments and portfolios, hanging out with the mopey artsy kids.

So now that we have a 10 year old who is passionate about her clarinet, Elvis impersonating, slap stick comedy (acting it, not just watching it) and all visual arts, it would be actively cruel to both her and her father to say, “No. You cannot audition for the school nationally recognized for awesomeness where you can pursue your passions and talents. I am going to teach you at home instead.”

I want to say that. But I think I would be wrong.

So…do I keep the other one lonely at home with no one to compete against for the next three years?

I don’t know.

Maybe?

It’s hard to get into the arts academy. It’s part audition, part scholastic achievement, and part zip code (or is that school boundary?) based lottery. Even if she was the BEST of the BEST applicants, if her name did not get drawn from the good candidates  in her boundary, she would not get in.

So where does she go if she doesn’t get into the arts academy?

I don’t know. There are both too many, and too few, options. God knows which one is supposed to happen (or if one is supposed to. He might be cool with all of the options. I won’t know if he doesn’t show me!)

And this is the one flaw in the greatness of school options. How on earth do you pick?
Do I let the homeschooled kid go back to school so she can become more fluent in Spanish, have the chance to be on her student council (she could have started that this year) join the free school band like her sister did, be a safety guard to learn responsibility and serve others, and both be driven by the other students and help drive them? Where she can be a light to some friends who don’t know Jesus yet, and be sharpened by/sharpen those who do?

Or do we keep her here, where she can do gymnastics which she had declared is her lifelong passion (this week) play piano, learn to program computers, and generally, hang out with me, bored to tears when her work is done and mine isn’t. (Yes, I have to work, even when she is home. There is no way on the planet earth I can do it all if I don’t ever work on a Tuesday, Thursday,  Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. I can take one or two of those days off, but not all of them.)

I am massively rambling right now. I know. I am far from coherent, far from conclusive, and truly torn. Because both options rock and both stink. And each kid has her own set of options that stink and rock. And each kid has her own future and her own dreams. And each parent (just me and my husband, praise God!) has their own set of hopes, dreams, and priorities that we bring to the decision making process.

Man. I hope the next time I am inspired to ramble and rant I will pick something more fun like House Hunting. This pondering the future of my kids and the many ways I can screw them up is painful!

Well, homeschool recess (Just Dance, Disney) is over, so I had better go enjoy one of the truly great parts about homeschooling: chilling with my kiddo.

 

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Some thoughts about Education and Stuff #3

“Why on Earth,” you ask as you nibble a donut and sip your coffee (Oh! I hope you are doing that. I would totally be doing that right now) “did you let your ‘more vulnerable child’ go back to that bad place?” (Points to you for using my previous words against me!)

To start with, the two of the people responsible for most of my discontent left. That goes a long way towards solving the problems I was having. (Bad teacher is gone and so is elitist school psych.)

And when discussing the educational options available to my kids, my eldest child said, “Mom, this is my fifth grade year. I believe I should finish what I started, and that transitioning to homeschool makes more sense at the end of this year, when my friends and I will all split up to go to different middle schools anyway.”

That was a lot of wisdom from a little kid, and I couldn’t say no.

In addition to that, a few years ago I hired a wonderful private tutor to work with her over the summer. They strengthened all of her weak areas and explained that most likely she will do great for the rest of elementary, but might run into trouble around seventh grade when the curriculum would make another kind of conceptual leap.

The tutor was right. Norah’s weakest area only grew stronger in the last two years, until there were times when she was the top of her class, last year. She still needed to have her directions written down, and stuff like that, which she wasn’t getting, but overall, she was not failing. So I feel confident that keeping her there, minus the two characters who made the situation toughest, plus her increased ability, will work out.

But her little sister wanted to try the half-time school. I asked and asked and asked, because I was pretty sure that being homeschooled alone would stink. But she was adamant. She wanted it.

But I was right.

Said child isn’t hampered by any learning issues, has no real weak areas, is wildly competitive and strongly motivated by peers, and would have continued in her language immersion school. So being at home means she is desperately lonely, half the reason that work is fun for her is gone (beating someone else,) and she is going to lose her second language since she was only in the program through second grade.

It also means we have time to add gymnastics to her fun activities, piano lessons (which I teach. Those things would break the bank!) computer programming, and whatever else we feel like (she has toyed with French. And lots of English spelling since one of the things Spanish Immersion School doesn’t do well is English Spelling.)

But like private school, homeschooling a singleton (or one of several kids) is not for the middle of the middle class. You can either pay for a million fun things like gymnastics and music lessons, or save for college. Up to you, the empowered parent.

I know that many homeschool moms are seething right now, because the internet is full of fun stuff to do for free with your homeschool kid.

All of the fun stuff to do for free is much MORE fun if you have four kids. (Don’t get me started on that. I BEGGED for four kids. If I had had four kids we might just have homeschooled from the start. But then, I probably wouldn’t also be a writer. So, as always, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.)

Before I go to write a second post I want the homeschool parents who might be reading this to know one important thing: I am loving teaching my kid. I LOVE having her home with me more. I love the work we are doing, and I dearly wish that she wasn’t mostly miserable about it. I heave been told it takes anywhere from 3 months to 3 years for kids to adjust to homeschooling. I am not passionate enough about it to make her suffer in misery for 3 years. I might be up to the 3 month adjustment period, though.

But…there are more thoughts on education rumbling around in my brain, so I will go write another post.

 

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Some thoughts about Education and Stuff #2

Common Core.

It’s not evil in its essence.

In a world where a  parent’s ability to feed, shelter, clothe, and send their kids to theater hinges on finding work wherever they can, kids have to move. It is not bad for the fabric of our society for those kids to find the same educational standards and expectations at whatever school they end up in, no matter where it is located.

But anything can be made evil in practice.

Everyone seems to have their own reason to hate Common Core (IT’S DIFFERENT! seems to be the one that unifies all points of view.)

The one I find laughable is that centralizing education decisions at the national level will somehow take power away from parents. Anyone with kids knows that parents have the least power of all.

Except for my friend who put her youngest in school so she could pursue a degree. She had homeschooled her first and told me, “I told the teachers we weren’t going to do any homework because I don’t want to do it.”

Okaaaay then! I wish I had her spine. I would have said the same thing.

Did you know there are laws to protect kids with learning disabilities but there is jargon in place to protect educators from being put through the extra effort of meeting the needs of those kids? It’s true. If you don’t know the code words, you can’t get help. And if you DO know the code words, they will still say no. As the school psych said to me one day, “If you insist on a 520 meeting, I have to give it to you, but if we have it I will tell them that I do not recommend a 520 for your child, and you won’t get it.” Well then. That put me in may place and set my kid up for a craptastic year with the narcissist who felt that letting her have written directions for her work was a bother.

Common Core doesn’t take any power away from parents because parents don’t have any power in the first place.

The only real power is money. But we all knew that.

If I had enough money the kids could go to private school where a non-government entity would have more control over my child’s education than I had. If I had little enough money my child would get free tutoring to help her in areas she struggles. Because I have “enough” money, the school psych told me we were an “economically advantaged family” and “economically advantaged families always overreact.” When I called him on this, and the 520 statement, and when he said he thought my student was “just lazy” he denied it all. I vowed to never have another private meeting with him again, and that I would not communicate with him in any form but writing after that AND when he retired last year I rejoiced. More than once he made me swear in my head. And possibly, once or twice, over coffee, out loud.

What’s to fear about Common Core? Not much, because if you aren’t already afraid, you aren’t paying attention.

If you are wondering why I don’t live in a cabin in the woods somewhere education my kids on my own like a good libertarian conspiracy theorist, you’ll just have to read the next post.

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Some thoughts about Education and Stuff

Anyone who followed me on Facebook last year knows I had some serious thoughts about Education and Stuff (stuff being: Who gave that person a teacher’s license and why on Earth did they also give that person a classroom full of children?!)

Those…thoughts…led to a crisis of faith-in-the-system that ultimately led me to let the more vulnerable child go back to the lion’s den and keep the hardier, more adaptive kid home with me (half time.) This was about as far from an ideal solution as possible, and has, in the two weeks it has been active, created more than one really awkward moment for me. (Two. Two awkward moments, which is definitely more than one.)

Awkward moment number one was running into the teacher that inspired me to keep said daughter home. (The one who is actually home rather than the one who ought to be.) She is SUPER nice. I really like her. But her class was big, and my kid doesn’t create a lot of trouble when she is done with her work, so she let my kid sit around class most of the day, every day (I wasn’t there, so that was how it looked, and what the teacher told me.) I figured I could do better than that. (I don’t know that I was right. After all, said kid is “journaling” right now while I type this.) It was awkward because I have been forthright about the reason I switched schooling options. I felt like my smart kid should be doing more work. There is no way that can’t feel personal to the teacher, though I don’t want it to. But I also want a Pegasus to fly down and bring me a Grande Americana with Cream and that’s not going to happen either.

Awkward moment number two was staring in the tear-stained face of my highly social child who just wanted to go back to real school, please. I did give her the choice to stay home last year, and staying home, while she was at the tail end of a long boring year at school sounded great. Staying home while her sister got to go back to school and see all of their friends stunk.

Awkward moments aside, the one who is “at home” goes to school two days a week. Real public school with 20 or so kids in class and a real public school teacher. I love public school. I love the mix of kids and backgrounds and families. I love the diversity of opinion. I think meeting people who haven’t ever gone to church–and have even been told that God’s not real–is good for Christian kids. Makes them think. Makes them pray and read their Bible. Plus, most of the kids and moms I know at the school are Christians, so, even in my “least churched part of the country” neck of the woods we Jesus-Folk are still the dominant religion.

I think education options are brilliant. I want every mom to have lots of choices. But I also have an ideal picture of “normal” school in my head.

So, keep in mind that I think homeschooling, part time homeschooling, alternative language schooling, co-op schooling, charter schooling, online schooling, religious education and “other” (so long as “other” isn’t Jihad School) are great and necessary options for our crazy world.

But “Normal School” should be different.

How so, Traci?

It should not be so darn long.

I think most of us stay at home and work at home mom’s agree that the looooong days of school exist for families with no parent in the house after school. Our school also has before and after school care, so, you know, shorten the “real school” day and extend the babysitting to accommodate me, please.

I want school to not start before 9 because I don’t like to rip my kids out of bed half asleep to get them ready for school. Kids need sleep (and so do I.) I turn the light out on my kids at 8, so I am not asking the great and powerful Oz in charge of school to accommodate my bad parenting. I’m asking him to accommodate my good parenting.

I want school to not last longer than 1 because I like my kids. I want to see them! Right now, the kid in normal school goes to school from 8:30 to 2:50, and then Monday has dance, Tuesday has theater, Wednesday has AWANA, Thursday has band, and every other Friday has Girl Scouts. I DO think all of that is actually necessary because it is what makes life fun and entertaining and teaches them stuff I actually want them to know. (Except in the case of Girl Scouts which just makes them sell cookies, but does let them go to camp.)

If school ended at 1 we would have time to do all the homework that gets sent home before we head out to do the stuff we actually like.

And speaking of homework, a lot of my friends have said, over the years, that I was already homeschooling the kids anyway since every spare minute at home was spent doing homework. So, if we are doing hours of homework every night (keep in mind my kids are both in elementary school still!) then why do they have to be in the classroom every waking minute? I know that a ton of time is spent lining them up and then sitting them down and then feeding them, but if I have to teach them half of what they are learning anyway, I want to do it on the school’s time–not on mine!

I think that a 9 am-1 pm school would have solved all of my frustrations with school last year. Get the kids home, love them a bit, sit them down and work, then play, then run off to our extracurricular stuff.

But that is far from my only thought on education, so I will do what I’ve been doing, and move on to another post.

 

 

 

 

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The Fourth Post about Careers and Stuff

Can you carve a successful career for yourself in the writing biz without mentors?

Maybe, but why would you want to? It’s like asking if you can build a house without crew. Some people get rich quick, but most people take a few years to build up a library of books and to learn how to make those books sell. Why make that process slower than it needs to be?

Since this is really just a series of my thoughts on the business, with a focus on mentors and who to follow, I can stray from my earlier points now.

If you want to just write, just write! If you want to write slowly and carefully creating one great book a year, do it! If you want to have ten books ready before you publish anything–awesome!

But when you decide it is time to publish something, I suggest getting to know other writers. Find people who are already at the place you want to get to, and find out how they got there. Read their blogs, read their posts on forums, read their books even, if you want to. And learn how to take what they did and repeat it. Not the books, obviously, because that would be plagerism. But the success.

Why not? I don’t see any good reason to go at it alone.

Picture publishing like an orchard during the harvest. There are readers out there, up in the trees, and there are writers who can help you get your books to those readers. If you just go into the orchard and start throwing your books around, or worse, go into the orchard and stand in the corner, holding your book to your chest, your odds of finding the readers up in the tree branches are not very good at all.

If you are a writer and you liked these last several posts and think, “$70k a year sounds nice. How did Traci do it?” I have shared all of that on my “publishing how-to” page. Just click that tab on the top of the blog there, and read through it all. Or ask questions in the comments, that works, too.

I don’t know that I make a great mentor myself, since I just echo people who are far more successful than I am, but I tend to be happy to answer questions, and happy to share tips and resources.

But you know, if you can’t think of anyone better, everything I know about the industry is just a click away.

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The Third Post about Careers and Stuff

So, you are getting involved. You are posting. You are asking questions and answering questions. You are reading posts carefully. But, how do you know who sells books? You will have to do a little detective work. Some people make it easy by having links to their books in their signatures. Other people make it harder by only dropping small hints. I am going to sound very mercenary, but as you consider advice you need to know if the advice works, so hunt for their books. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever buy their books and leave nasty reviews. If you do that, I won’t be your friend. That is mean. Don’t leave good ones either, because it’s not very professional. Just study their books and how they sell, because that’s smart. It is of utter and utmost importance that you know if the person giving you advice has any reason to believe this advice works.

A funny thing happens when you really get involved places. People see you. They can tell you are serious about what you do, and they begin to care about you. It’s funny and wonderful. And sometimes the people you hope will mentor you step up and invest in your career for reals. Writers who are serious business people love to meet other writers who are serious business people.

But sometimes this means that people you like, but who don’t have a philosophy that matches yours, will step up and offer to be your mentor–they will desire to take you under their wings and make something of your career.

When I have let that happen, it has always been a disaster.

At bare minium a mentor needs to be two things:

1. Successful in what you are trying to be successful at. (I have both marketing mentors and writing mentors. I want to learn to write from the best and learn to sell from the best.)

2. Philosophically in line with what you believe. If you are completely opposed to free books because you believe in the core of your being that giving books away free will destroy the literary world as we know it, I am the wrong mentor for you. If you believe that it is better to maximize royalties per book than to sell books at 99 cents just to move a lot of numbers, a 99 cent best seller is the wrong mentor for you.

Do you see what I am saying? A successful writer could easily be the wrong mentor for you, no matter how many books they sell, because what they do and what they stand for doesn’t fit you. Even if they are good people and you have become their friends.

As I said, the times I have agreed to hitch my wagon to a writer who was not working in the same direction I was working in, it has failed. I have lost money because I wasted my time. I could have been writing more books to follow my plan, but I strayed instead and it cost me. Sometimes we have to live and learn, but if you were to take one piece of advice from this post it would be to be very picky about whose advice you take.

One easy, harmless example from my own life has to do with pricing. In the early days most of the really successful authors I knew wrote sci-fi. One of them was very adamant that all books should be priced at $5 or higher, because to do anything else is foolish. Rather than believe in the research I had done on my genre and it’s best sellers, I followed his advice and had my books at $5 for about a year. Considering the # of books I sell now, verses what I sold then: that was a bad idea–I lost sales an money listening to someone who didn’t understand my genre or have the facts at hand that I have now.

The price example is far from the only time that I let someone distract me from my goals because they were successful at something and wanted to make me a star. In each and every case, it has not worked. When I pick a mentor after carefully getting to know people, seeing that their methods work consistently and match my philosophy about the industry, my work improves and my income grows.

I no longer let myself be led by people who are not already going in my direction, even if they are great friends, good people, and very successful at what they do.
So, here are our points to this point.

Point 1: Go places writers go, and get to know them.

Point 2: Find writers whose philosophy you admire, who also sell books, and get to know them. (If you are an introvert, I supposed that could mean just follow their posts and blogs closely. I prefer actually befriending people.)

Point 3: People may well pop up and promise to make you a star. Don’t blindly follow them. Pick your own mentors based on your own wisdom.

 

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