What Montessori preschool can teach writers

By Sarah on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dm-set/4200811849/in/photolist-7pdg1v-2ypHSZ-8UAq75-32XiWd-5Gx1EU-2P9Ar-5zQHdK-88bcH2-6nNaux-yydrT-7eayiM-7VYwkw-bU8tvD-65Hr71-wV6BX-uB2EP-8jQNkE-5F5bYW-7QvHBP-7cVYcw-6oq848-odH41A-smYey9-fjgbGT-dDihnT-8vU

It’s partway through your morning work time, and here are your symptoms: brain on ice (or scattered), lethargy (or restlessness), total aversion to the work on your desk. You’re frustrated with yourself; it’s not time·to be tired yet. You’re not even sleep deprived, so what is going on?

I say “you,” but of course I really mean “me.” The above is what invariably happens to me around 10 or 10:30 when I’m trying to power through an academic article or a frustrating fiction task. I used to take this feeling as a sign that I needed a break, but wait a minute: I already take a 5 minute break every half hour. On other days, sometimes I’d decide that the fatigue meant that I just wouldn’t be able to accomplish all the writing I’d hoped to and would simply have to switch to a zombie task

But at some point during our older son’s journey through Montessori early education, I learned about the notion of “false fatigue,” which one Montessori guide describes this way: 

Beware of misinterpreting the restlessness that is common an hour or so into the morning. Montessori tells us that the children are simply in search of their “maximum interest.” One could easily conclude that the children are not able to continue working. It would be a mistake to gather the group at this point, though our observations might indicate that just such an action is necessary to avoid chaos. Montessori tells us that the child’s “great work” occurs in the second half of the morning. If we resist the urge to interfere during the agitation of false fatigue, we will find the children returning to activity, choosing more challenging work, and becoming deeply absorbed in it.

 Thanks to the notion, I’ve gotten better at embracing my inner preschooler and toughing out the mid-morning false fatigue. I might even have a couple (or six) sticky notes over my desk cautioning me against such things as false fatigue. Because, hey, I don’t want to miss the chance to accomplish my day’s “great work.”

So there you go. Get your Montessorian act on.

 

Ten Things That Happened Last Year (with photos to account for my absence)

I’ve been away from the blog for a good while now. I’ve gotten the occasional blogging fix over at www.latinosinkidlit.com, but I’ve missed having my own space for mulling over ideas big, little, and in between. The life of the mind sometimes produces nuggets of insight and inquiry that need somewhere to go but don’t fit into my fiction or academic work or teaching. Which is why I’m back and looking forward to offering a post here every week or so.

Now, where have I been? Here’s an account of what’s been going on (in reverse chronological order because, well, why not?):

(1) Release of Out of Darkness in September 2015

(2) Blog tour for Out of Darkness in August 2015

(3) Baby Ethan Andrés born on June 10, 2015

(4) Finishing Out of Darkness in January 2015

(5) Start of new job teaching world lit at The Ohio State University in August 2014

(6) Moving the whole family to Columbus, Ohio

(7) Dissertation defense and completion of PhD in summer 2014

(8) Two-person job search in fall of 2013

(9) Joining up with rockstar writers and Latin@ literacy advocates to form www.latinosinkidlit.com

(10) Writing the dissertation from 2013-2014

Yes, I realize that my list includes two events from the future, but I’m doing work for them now, so I figure that they should count. Also I wanted to put as much space between myself and the nightmare stress fest of writing the dissertation and looking for jobs. But it’s over now! I can laugh about it (sometimes). 

 

A few photos to document these adventures:

This family photo was taken when Ethan Andrés was five days old. Arnulfo and Liam Miguel (now 5 years old) are rockstars in the baby soothing business (not to mention their incredible sense of style).

Out of Darkness is almost here! Thanks to my editor Andrew Karre for his phenomenal editing (we talk about that and more in this Cynsations post), to the Lerner designers for the cover, and to my family for endless patience during the four years I spent writing this book. And woohoo!: starred reviews in School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews. Fingers crossed that there will be more stars as additional reviews come out.

During my first semester at OSU I gave a talk to highlight my current academic research on cruelty in literature. Right now my position is just for three years and not tenure-track, but we’re hoping that will change.

This is the house we bought right in the middle of Columbus. It’s 6 minutes from campus and in a historic area called Clintonville known for its friendly neighbors. Liam Miguel has made tons of friends, including a buddy who lives across the alley and will go to the same kindergarten in the fall. When they want to get together, they do the following: Liam Miguel climbs the tree in our back yard, August goes to the top of his play house, and somebody calls out, “Tell your mom to text my mom.”

 

This is our map tracking potential jobs for each of us to help us see where we had options. We looked all over the country for jobs. We both had good leads, but the challenge was hitting on a place that offered opportunities for each of us. OSU was the winner!

 

… and back in the fall of 2013, author Cindy Rodriguez invited me to help her found a website that focuses on children’s and YA lit by and/or about Latin@s. Latin@s in Kid Lit is what we created. Since we got started, we’ve expanded our list of contributors and become visible as a source for reviews and suggestions for selecting and teaching Latin@ kid lit. We also post on issues of importance to the Latin@ community and its allies. Here are some of the posts I’ve written for LKL.

Colorful Genius

http://www.flickr.com/photos/polifemus/561986434/in/photolist-zMYjT-caJMbL-aekyMV-5GmTEk-5CiAKj-REjZh-7pZpeG-9ozK8V-5GmTzt-hWqmoG-eAkay3-nrp4xL-3hkZTN-fUJMJG-4EztSw-5RiGwC-4wcD8n-7nrdVB-7mGajF-7D7LvS-c6o5Mh-aHGSme-9F1WMk-7zASJD-6iPtJR-segEJ-orUKZr-arxCAh-

Check this post at Latin@s in Kid Lit out. Patrick Flores-Scott makes a case for creating a diverse YA/kid’s publishing version of the Hollywood Black List, a vetted collection of best screenplays that haven’t yet been purchased. The concept is genius. It’s an industry-wide notion that could expand what we’re beginning to do with the Pitch Fiesta: create visibility for folks who haven’t (yet) had success navigating the paths into publishing. I think the next question is: what would it take to make something like this happen? Could we get YALSA, for example, to put committee power behind it? I might throw this post at my agent and editor–both rockstars who’ve had success with diverse titles–and ask them to comment on the idea.

If you’ve wondered where the heck I’ve been these last months, well… let’s say that while I was away, two Pérez PhDs got finished (mine and my husband’s), a move to Columbus, Ohio, happened, and we started new jobs at The Ohio State University. Kind of a lot. I do plan to be back here with my own thoughts, shouts, and murmurs, but a lot of my blogging energy has been channeled to Latin@s in Kid Lit, where I blog regularly.

The Road to Publishing: One Take on Working with a (Rock Star) Editor

Some of what my revision has looked like working with Andrew.

In articles and blog posts about breaking into the world of publishing, the lion’s share of attention goes to the writing craft, getting an agent, and securing a book deal. But what happens after those hurdles have been jumped? What can writers expect from their editors once the deal is sealed? And what will editors expect from writers?

For my take on what it’s been like to work with rock star editor Andrew Karre, check out the rest of this post over at Latin@s in Kid Lit. Later this week, Latin@s in Kid Lit will post an interview with Andrew, so be sure to stop by for that as well. And while you’re there, why not sign up for the fabulous book giveaway and check out our 2014 reading challenge?

12-Book Giveaway from Latin@s in Kid Lit

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kalexanderson/6564547955

Don’t miss out! The blog Latin@s in Kid Lit is running a 12-day giveaway with a whole heap of amazing books (ahem, mine are in there, too)! Check out all the details here, and happy reading.

Dishing up (and about) Latino/a Kid Lit

Gorgeous collage sent to me by a rockstar librarian after an author visit in the Chicago area last week.

You need to read more Latin@ lit. I need to read more Latin@ lit. EVERYBODY needs to read more Latin@ lit. We need to see it, hear about it, debate it, and celebrate it with as much energy as possible. And that’s why I’ve partnered with awesome authors Cindy Rodriguez, Lila Quintero Weaver, Zoraida Córdova, and Stephanie Guerra to launch Latin@ Kid Lit, a joint blog and resource center for literature for, about, or by Latin@s.

In fact, I’m over there this week talking about why Latin@ Kid Lit matters to me. Check out the post. Or, if you need a picture instead of 1000 words, see above.

 

 

Rock & Roll YA Fans, Take Note: ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? Hits Shelves

Macmillan USA

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I loved Jordan Sonnenblick’s Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie and After Ever After. I don’t often connect to–or think about–middle grade books for even a fraction of the time that these books held my head and my heart.

Any new book from Jordan is reason enough for excitement, but I’m especially stoked for the release date of Are You Experienced? because it’s squarely in the world of YA and sounds pretty fantastic. Here’s a bit ripped from the fabulous Kirkus review of the book:

When 15-year-old Rich Barber travels back in time from 2014 to the 1969 Woodstock festival, he encounters the ’60s, including his teenage father….  Together, they witness Woodstock’s free love, rampant drug use and incredible music. When Rich learns his father had abusive parents, he’s determined to “meet Jimi Hendrix, save [his] uncle and change [his] father’s future.” Alternating his first-person narration between past and present, Rich proves a sensitive, insightful and humorous 21st-century guide to the hippie generation’s most iconic event. This provocative, personal peek at legendary Woodstock rocks.

Provocative, eh? And folks, do notice that this latest book of Jordan’s is coming out with Feiwel & Friends, which I take to mean that it may have a bit more of an edge than what Jordan’s been able to get away with at Scholastic in the past. (Then again, maybe not everyone is trying to see what they can get away with!)

This book looks to be a fabulous pick for libraries, classrooms–and the music-loving teens in your world. So head to your favorite local bookseller to snag Are You Experienced? I’ve just put an order in for it at our library, and I’ll report back once I get my hands on it! Until then, you can snack on this excerpt courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

Now Go Write: Lies and Truths with Your Character

Leo Reynolds: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/213108466/

A party game as a writing exercise? Why not! Get to know one of your characters better—or invent one out of the blue—by forcing him or her to play two truths and a lie. If you’ve never played this party game, it goes like this. You offer three statements about yourself, two of which are true and one of which is false. The object (for others) is to identify the lie. For example:

(1) At 7, I chose the bedroom farthest away from the street because I was afraid of being tempted to sneak out of the house when I was older.

(2) At 15, I entered a photography competition with an image entitled, “Hangin’ like a Hose.”

(3) At 18, I got my first ticket in Austin, TX, for a curfew violation at Mt. Bonnell Park.

(FYI for the nosy: My deception is revealed here.)

This exercise can teach you a lot about your character. There are the truths themselves, which can force you to think about out-of-the-ordinary qualities of your character. But there’s also the particularity of how your character plays. What’s her strategy? Does she hope to shock and share titillating revelations, or is she trying to get through the game while sharing as little information as possible?

Next, see if you can’t slip your character’s lie into a scene.

How to Use Your Zombie Hours

Drew Mackie: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kidicarus222/

This is about how colorful and lively I feel during my zombie hours.

Zombie hours. We all have them. You know, that stretch of time when you feel about as vibrant and intelligent and insightful as a stick figure of a sleepwalking corpse. You dream of napping under your desk. You eat chocolate chips by the handful. Your five-minute Twitter break turns into a forty-five minute Twitter break.

For me, the zombie hours most often strike midmorning if I’m sleep-deprived or in early afternoon on a normal day. Sometimes I can turn the zombie hours into good hours by granting myself a 10-minute nap, taking a brisk walk, or brewing some tea. I recommend trying these solutions first.

Okay, you tried that, and you are still struggling to remember how to spell your own name and biting your tongue to stay awake. Do you just give up? Are you done being productive today?

My trick at this point is to go to my zombie task list. This is the set of jobs on any number of current projects (creative, academic, personal or otherwise) that require very little creativity or intellect but nevertheless need to be done at some time. Instead of feeling crappy about the fact that I am not producing as much as I’d like on the day’s “real” task, I give one of my future selves a gift of time by taking care of some boring task now so that I won’t have to waste productive time on it later. Some of the items on my zombie task list:

(1) Format bibliography for Silva paper

(2) Look up articles on glossaries in YA fiction

(3) Find swim lesson options for Liam

(4) Organize file cabinet

(5) Follow up on articles that have been submitted for over 3 months

(6) Check for emails that I haven’t answered

(7) Laundry

Sometimes by embracing your limited capacities during the zombie hours, you can still get a task done. Often, sometime toward the end of the zombie job, I realize that I’m feeling a little more alert, and I can go back to “real” work. Other times, I’m still little better than an animated corpse, and so I keep working my way down the zombie task list.

So there. Put your zombie hours to work. 

Writing lesson from Liam’s yellow pages

These are just a few of the yellow-painted sheets my son has brought home from school during the last two weeks.

I’m not talking about the phone directory. I’m talking about what my son brings home, without fail, from his Montessori preschool each day: a small rectangular piece of white paper completely covered with yellow paint.

The first few days he brought home the yellow page, I thought it was cute. Then it started to seem a little weird. Liam’s school has this slightly big-brother feature of a one-way mirror that lets you observe your child in his or her classroom (not that that factored into my ideas for The Knife and a Butterfly, ahem…). So we watched and saw that painting the white page yellow was the first thing that our son did every day. Not the only thing, mind you. But the first thing. A first thing that inevitably opened onto many other tasks which changed from day to day. 

It seems that this yellow page is a kind of starting ritual for our son, something he does to settle himself into being at school. And it’s pretty damn smart, actually. I’m thinking maybe that I need to start painting a page yellow at the start of each day as a way of saying to myself, here we go, let’s get down to writing, you’ve got some shit to accomplish. Maybe not literally painting a page yellow, but establishing a ritual and preserving it’s definitive significance: Now I Am At Work.

He’s a smart guy, our Liam.

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All materials © 2017 Ashley Hope Pérez. Author website by Websy Daisy.