Friday, August 16, 2013

The Indie Intern - Procrastination

Being in a situation with loose supervision is problematic for me. For more than half of my life I’ve attended classes where I met with teachers several times a week. Beyond that I’ve always had parents and coaches and peers to push me. There was no real reason for me to develop a fool-proof way to self-motivate.

I suddenly have to rely on my own powers of self-discipline and responsibility. There is no one looking over my shoulder every day. This realization has been very important. It might be one of my biggest take-aways from this internship.

That doesn’t mean I’m doomed to middle-management or need to be supervised at all times; I need to be able to motivate myself so that I can have more effective autonomy.

The way I’ve done this is by creating “stations”. My home is where I relax. I have two part-time jobs so that I can earn a little cash while I become an adult, which is expensive nowadays. When I come home, I throw myself on the plushiest piece of furniture and see how long I can go without thinking. Naturally, this is hurdle I need to jump to get work done. 

But instead of making my entire home a place of dreaded work, I went about creating a new space. I realized that I don’t have a problem with working at my other jobs because I have a designated place to go. When I am there, I do my job.

My designated spaces for internship duties are my local library, coffee shops, and my desk. Instead of continuing to flounder, I identified my problems and found a solution that works for me. Now, when I need to do work but can’t find the motivation to do so at my desk at home, I muster the energy to pack up and leave the house.

Remaining productive is important to me. I want to write and make a comfortable living. These things do not go hand-in-hand. If I can’t write or work on personal projects, I can’t be happy. If I can’t do what is expected of me, I can’t be happy. We’ve all taken a look at what we need to accomplish and instantly felt bone tired, but we have all also felt the creeping depression that accompanies being unsatisfied.

I’m glad I’ve encountered this unexpected problem. Now I know how to better handle myself, and I can use that knowledge to make myself happier by applying it to my personal work in writing as well as my future professional goals.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chicago International Children's Film Festival

For the last five weeks I have hit the so-called expressway every afternoon and driven into Chicago to spend Wednesday evening viewing films from across the globe as a member of the Chicago International Children's Film Festival adult jury.

I have never read so many subtitled movies in such a short time.

I served on the jury team judging Animated Features, along with Aaron, Alan, Anna, Eleanor, Glenn, Isabelle, Leslye, Lynn and Natasha.

Together we viewed over four hundred minutes of animated films. As a young Adult author I really enjoyed checking out the screenwriting from around the world. There are a few I plan on going to see again during the Chicago International Children's Film Festival in the fall.

As a jury, we looked at a variety of genres. Some movies were meant for kids as young as 2, others for elementary, middle grade and high schoolers. We were charged with the near impossible task of whittling down the list to pick two.  We were called a jury, and jury we were, as we went over the films and deliberated, using various techniques to come up with the top ranked films. While some jurors had to say goodby to their personal favorites, in the end everyone felt pretty satisfied with our final selections.

Which two did we select?

You'll have to wait for the official announcement. And think about attending the 30th annual Chicago International Children's Film Festival October 25 - November 3, 2013, if you are in the Chicago area. Visit in the upcoming weeks for the complete schedule and festival highlights.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Empowering the Voice of the Black Male in Children’s and Teen Lit - NCAAL 2013

I spoke at the 8th National Conference of African American Librarians on August 8, 2013. The topic was Empowering the Voice of the Black Male in Children’s and Teen Lit. [Click here to read the YALSA Hub post about the conference] At one point we had a discussion on the role of non-fiction. One librarian spoke of a young man who only wanted to read about cars. Not fiction about cars or anything else. There was not a lot of time to talk about this issue during the 45 minute session, but I have some additional thoughts here.

First, reading non-fiction, manuals and magazines is reading and all reading will help with vocabulary growth, reading speed and comprehension. The Common Core empahsizes non-fiction for a reason.

However, fiction gives something non-fiction cannot. The right story in the right hands at the right time gives readers the feeling that someone understands them, that they are not alone. 
Here are some ideas that might help that young man, and others, take a second look at reading in general and fiction in particular.
  1. Short stories - quick reads that can help the reader regain a feeling of enjoyment in reading and a sense of mastery by finishing something quickly and easy.
  2. Books in verse. With most, readers can open it to almost any page and find a new verse, each of which can be considered it's own story about his relationships with parents and peers.
  3. Audio books. Listening can be a stepping stone. Hearing a story read can help kids return back to the younger days when they loved the idea of a story. Listening to stories read aloud is not just for preschoolers. I love my audio books!
  4. Better still, solicit male volunteers, teachers, staff, parents, community members, to read aloud to kids. A surprising number will say yes. With only ten you have a reader/role model each month. Help the boys see that reading is too a masculine activity, not something just for girls.  
  5. Poetry slams. I have found many boys interested in their own poetry/lyrics, and those of peers. I recently judged a poetry contest and gave a workshop on the use of  free verse to high school students. One young man in the workshop only because the teacher had the entire class come in perked up as he listened. By the end he came up to me as other students were filing out and told me he understood one of the poems. He also  said that while he hadn't entered the poetry contest this year, he was already planning for next year.
  6. Give them a book of their own, to keep. Kids who own a book are more likely to read it.
  7. Have them write, whatever they want, their own stories, or song lyrics, or instruction manuals. 
  8. My daughter's school not only had the kids write, they had the results bound and put int he school library for anyone to check out.
  9. Most of all, learn about the kid's issues, interests, problems and recommend a book to him or her that matches them.
"That's my life in that book." I have heard teen readers say that. When they see themselves, and their friends and family, they see the world, develop empathy, and come back for more.

These are my ideas. If you have any more, please add a comment and share them with others.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Indie Intern Returns

Hello, everyone. It’s been a while since my first blog post, so let’s get reacquainted. My name is Sean and I’m working as an intern for B.A. Binns this summer to learn more about the process of writing and publishing.

I’ve been mulling over what I should write about in this post for a while. I spun in my desk chair, I doodled, I stared out my window for inordinate amounts of time, and then I realized what to talk about: Procrastination.

Most of my work revolving around my internship and the class I’m taking to accompany it are both done remotely, meaning that I don’t get much one-on-one time with B.A. or my professor. This is a common position to be in for many jobs in publishing and writing, and it poses a few challenges that I haven’t encountered before.

Procrastinating is nothing new to you. Everyone deals with the feeling. You know that you should do something — you have to — yet you find yourself cleaning the bathtub and watching YouTube videos about how octopus brains function.

Sure, I tried to fight my lack of motivation with organization. I made schedules with allotted times for work and relaxation and there are a half-dozen to-do list themed post-its on the wall above my desk. These tactics did not improve my productivity. Instead they forced me to stare at my anxieties every time I sat down to try and complete something. So I stopped sitting down to try and complete things. Obviously that method doesn’t work very well for me.

I also tried to pep-talk myself. I’m not going to go into much detail because every example starts with me talking to my reflection and ends three hours later with me making another pot of coffee because coffee begets productivity.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review - Buried truth

Buried TruthBuried Truth by Brenda Maxfield

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hillary is a new girl in school, and Margaret, or Mags as her friends call her, quickly learns that Hillary is her enemy for some unknown reason. Mags is an outwardly cheerful girl who chases causes, like save the whales. She really likes Andrew, even though her best friend warns her away from him because everyone knows he’s a bad boy.
Mags thinks she sees something more in him, something that makes him more than just another cause. She wants to help him, even after he chooses Hillary over her. Hillary does more than just take Andrew. She repeatedly spoils Mags’ work, upstages her, and steals her best friend. In fact, Hillary so easily turns Mags’ friends against her that I was left wondering how close they had ever really been.
Mags doesn’t know how to fight back, because in spite of her cheerful exterior, she has her own inner demons. The story repeatedly goes over this problem of something in her past that is hurting her, without telling us what she had done.
“…my guilt had become an unrelenting monster, tearing at my mind and heart until sometimes I couldn’t breathe.”

By the time the reason for her guilt was revealed, I was expecting a mountain. Instead I found something that happened when she was eight, something that felt very typical of that age group. I didn’t get how it haunted her so badly for almost ten years. The long build-up over the horrible secret act that ended up feeling to minor made the ending fall flat for me.

I will say I found Hillary one of the more interesting characters in the book. She is intelligent, resourceful, a really good villain. I enjoyed waiting for her next move.

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Boy Book Review - Colin Fischer

Colin FischerColin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All I can say is I loved Colin, his style, the way he let me inside the life of a kid with Aspergers, and the way he handles crime solving and everyday stress. I sincerely hope this is the first of many books about him, his personal Watson, and the totally sinister Moriarty clone.
Colin can't interpret facial expressions without the aid of a cheat sheet. He's smart, gifted in many ways, but in some areas he understands less than a typical five-year-old.

When a gun goes off in the school cafeteria, he figures out that the shooter could not possibly be the prime suspect, Wayne, a boy who has bullied him since grammar school. Instead of taking the opportunity for revenge, Colin's only thought is to solve the crime and find the truth.

Most of all, I loved Colin's family, its nice to have loving parents who aren't trying to hinder the kid or villains in disguise. But that younger brother of his...he's as realistic as he is trouble.

I loved this enough to make it the star of my story on books featuring protagonists on the autism spectrum on the YALSA blog,

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Boy Book Review - Remember Dippy

Remember DippyRemember Dippy by Shirley Reva Vernick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thirteen year old Johnny has an unwanted summer job, helping his aunt care for his autistic cousin, Remember Dippy (and that is his real name thanks to weird parent).

During the course of the summer, fifteen-year-old Remember or Mem as Johnny calls him, joins in with the other neighborhood kids for fun and adventure and the mystery that is girls. Johnny narrates the story, and through his eyes we see how life with his cousin Mem changes both boys.

Mem shows that being autistic is no barrier to being a real friend. He saves an old man’s romance, a girl from being sent away, his cousin from a bully, and the bully from drowning. There is even the possibility of romance, for both boys.

This is a good book for anyone with an autistic family member. It would also be useful in classrooms to spark discussions on autism and what it means to be “normal.” It’s a true feel good book, and I hated to see it end.

I read a copy supplied by the publisher as part of my investigation of books featuring protagonists on the autism spectrum done for YALSA. You can catch the entire post and booklist at

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