Category: writing parent

Special book review: Flesh and Bone by Jonathan Maberry

book review, guest blog, writing parent September 5, 2012

I’m a reader, a writer, and a mom. I love sharing my enthusiasm for reading and writing with my kids. Thankfully, both of my kids are readers and budding writers. Right now they love to write comic books and I can’t tell you how many notebooks we’ve gone through writing and illustrating the Pencil Wars or the Ninja Granny. When summer break started in June, I knew I would need to keep the momentum going for the entire summer.

One of the projects I decided to take on with my older son was reading a YA series with him and discussing it along with asking him to write about it. After a lot of searching and finding mostly female-centric books on the store shelves, we chose Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series. We were both excited to start the series, for different reasons. I met Mr. Maberry when he spoke to my graduate program at Seton Hill University and we actually read Patient Zero as an assigned reading for the program. I loved Mr. Maberry’s Joe Ledger books and I’m a zombie fan. Jacob was excited to read a story with a male protagonist after having read The Hunger Games, and he also loves monsters. I was sad to find there were only two books available, but we decided to not let it stop us.

Our copy. Jake read it first and I wasn’t sure he would give it to me.

A couple months ago I discovered the next installment in the Rot and Ruin series would be released in September. I contacted Mr. Maberry and explained my project with Jacob and my desire to do a blog series on the importance of giving boys strong protagonists, the gender gap in YA lit, the current popularity of dystopian fiction among the young adult crowd, and my appreciation of his books. He very graciously sent us an advanced reader copy of the third book in his Benny Imura series. Flesh and Bone chronicles the continued adventures of Benny and his crew.

Jake and I both agreed this book is a little different from the first two. Benny, Nyx, Chong, and Lilah have left the safe haven of Mountainside in search of other people and a clue as to whether or not civilization still exists. New characters appear in the great Rot and Ruin and a few old friends, as well. The repercussions human control disappearing are explored. The zombies are different, too, and the kids are left wondering if the infectious agent is mutating.

Mr. Maberry states in the author’s note that the book deals with grief, and it certainly does. There is a sense of loss throughout the book, and many major changes in the lives of the characters. The topic that drew my attention, however, is religion. This book is focused closely on religion and cult behavior. While no modern religion is targeted (e.g. Christianity or Islam), some older faiths are put in the spotlight along with a few elements of modern faiths. This gave Jake and I another topic of discussion and opened up a line communication between us that lead to good questions. I appreciate the way Mr. Maberry dealt with this topic. He shows the dangers of accepting authority without questioning and blind faith while still showing respect to faith in general. I do think Jake picked up on this, and it works very well in the story.

Here is Jacob’s take on Flesh and Bone (warning, he did use a spoiler or two):

Hello, I am Jacob Hopeman and I will be writing this review for Flesh and Bone from a young readers standpoint. I think it is the coolest thing to be able to read a book before its release.

Benny and his friends get back to their quest but are all still shaken up a little after Gameland. When they start moving, all of the zoms are different, faster. Some zoms are even smarter than before. And as they make their way through their quest, they find another force, not just the zoms, is trying to stop them. One word, they call themselves Reapers.

The Reapers startled me at first because they just kind of appeared and then someone was dead. I thought the Reapers were unexpected, but were a good twist to the story.

Benny was my favorite character because so much was going on with him. He was trying to be like Tom yet his friends thought he was pushing it a little too far. He was battling physically yet also mentally. He was fighting mentally for Tom and physically for his life.

One of the questions left at the end of Flesh and Bone is whether Chong actually live through the zombie virus he gets or will the people let him die. Another question left at the end is what the group will do next to survive and keep the world alive.
I, personally, liked the book. That is because it has a lot of twists and turns. Like when a zom bites Chong. Also I like it how Benny still kind of has Tom there so he doesn’t do anything dumb. I also think it was cool how they had Joe Ledger in the book because my mom says he’s really awesome.

I would recommend the book to a friend if they had read the other two otherwise you would be clueless about whats happening. I would definitely recommend the whole series. Go buy it!

P.S.: That zombie card is really cool. Thanks Mr. Maberry!  You’re the best!

I’m so glad I could share this great series with my son. I can’t wait for the younger son to be old enough to read it.

Thank you so much, Mr. Maberry, for writing a series that gets the young male readers reading with enthusiasm, and for being so kind to Jake and me.

Flesh and Bone is due for release on September 11, 2012 from Simon and Schuster. You can preorder this book, and get the entire series, from many online retailers, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Guest blog: The importance of choice in creating readers

genre fiction, guest blog, reading, writing life, writing parent August 29, 2012

One of the reasons I love Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series so much is that it provides choice for young male readers. In a bookstore filled with female protagonists, Maberry offers a cast of strong male protagonists alongside the strong females. Benny is so identifiable and Tom is a great role model.

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Sara Kajder. Sara has worked in both university settings and in grade schools, but has loved working with middle school learners. She has a background in English literature and received her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. Also important to this blog series, she’s the mom of two boys. As an educator and a parent, she understands the unique challenges in fostering interest in reading among the boys. In this guest blog she tackles the gender gap in literacy. As she points out, examining the choices that our kids are making in reading material is key to fostering their interest. Maberry’s books have been a great choice for us.

“I teach eighth grade English in a curriculum that is chock-full of the standard-faire… Grammar.  Vocabulary.  Etymology.  Writing.  And, oh yeah – reading.  Lots and lots of reading.  For some reason, this seems to be the area in which I receive the most “Bless your heart” comments when catching up with old friends or describing my work when meeting new ones.  This is followed by a nod of a head, a sigh, and the lament that “Those boys just don’t read…”

Looking across my summer reading list last night, some bits of that did look to be true.  In a randomly chosen class of 18 (with 12 boys and 6 girls), the female students out-read the boys by 3 books to 1.  According to their initial reflective writing, 3 of my 12 boys were gregarious readers with the other 9 quick to embrace the title of “non-reader.”  Their entries describing their reading were notably brief, as was their list of favorite authors, books re-read, and time, on average, spent reading each day.

Here’s the thing… None of this surprised me.  And, bigger – I, and loads of reading scholars and researchers, believe that a real literacy gap doesn’t exist.  Yes, some boys can take longer to learn how to read.  And, yes, significantly more boys than girls, especially adolescents, will label themselves non-readers.  However, given the opportunity to self-select titles from lists which understand their interests, my male students will rise – and quickly.  ALL readers become better readers by reading more, whether they are girls or boys.  I work hard as an English teacher to build reading communities in my classroom, so boys have the opportunity to recommend books to one another (as we all know that peer to peer connections are infinitely powerful).  My role is to support, to facilitate, to know students (and books) well enough to know what might ignite a particular fire in a reader, and to constantly seek out model readers with whom male students (and female ones, too) can see, question, hear, and emulate.

Readers who are skillful, passionate, habitual and critical grow from powerful interactions with texts that actually act on them.  My boys don’t usually get that from the now abundant female-protagonist, post-apocalyptic YAL that line the shelves of our local bookstore.  Their choices do fall into some of the patterns/myths that you’d expect – nonfiction abounds alongside graphic novels, science fiction, and the growing list of series about sports and adolescent athletes.   Independent (read: not on the school-approved list) choices this summer ranged from Conan-Doyle’s The Hounds of Baskerville to Meyers’ Fallen Angels to Lovecraft’s Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre.  They weren’t drawn to Sarah Dessden’s approach to writing about relationships, but they did connect with Walter Dean Myer’s work that does explore relationships between men across contexts ranging from scenes of combat to competition the soccer field.

We discussed their choices in class today, and the predominant message was one that centered on the power of choice.  Building life-long readers is about helping students to make smart choices about their reading.  Adult readers revel in our idiosyncrasies and expect the freedom of choice.  The boys in my classes need to do the same.  Students talked about making reading easy and inviting, which often means backing off of our expectation that all texts be “literature” and making room for alternative modes and media.  Even bigger, my students talked about time.  We live in a time that is marked by speed and an odd push to make sure that we schedule every second of our children’s time.  Malcolm Gladwell talks in Outliers about expertise as something that can only happen once we spend at least ten thousand hours engaged in a particular practice.  From school, most of my students head to at least two athletic practices (or a game) per evening, not counting the time needed for homework and other commitments like music and rehearsals.  Reading stamina is important. You can only get it by reading regularly and building the “muscle memory” that helps students identify what makes good writing work.   Summer seemed to provide the single space for the majority of my boys to slow, to pick up a book, and to get lost in story.

All readers deserve the opportunity to become better readers.  Choice, time, and stamina… I’ve written all three into a heading for my planning book for the term, and, just as importantly, I  have them saved as a prompt to remind me as a mother of two boys to foster growth in my own sons.  It’s amazing what we can learn from kids when we listen to their practices, their choices, and what they have to say.”

Many thanks to Dr. Kajder for taking the time to talk with us!

Book review: Dust and Decay by Jonathan Maberry

book review, guest blog, reading, writing parent August 15, 2012

I love to see my kids read. Creating a reader requires material that excites them, that keeps them interested. In today’s world of fast-paced video games and thirty-minute cartoons, this isn’t easy. Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series fits the bill and then some. It engages young male readers with a dystopian story of survival in a zombie wasteland, and fills a void left by many of the YA dystopian books on the shelves.

Last week I offered reviews of Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin from both myself and the target audience. Today I have similar reviews of the second installment in the Benny Imura series, Dust and Decay.

I loved the second book as much as the first. We return to our favorite characters, Benny, Nix, Tom, Chong, and Lilah as they prepare to leave Mountainside for good in search of an elusive vision they hope will lead them to more humans and some semblance of civilization. New characters join our merry band along the way, including a pair of 30-something surfer dudes who made me chuckle. I’m not sure the target demographic will appreciate J-Dog and Dr. Skillz the same way I do, but that’s okay. I always appreciate the kids’ movies that include humor for the adults, so this just added a little something for me. Sally Two-Knives became a solid favorite for me– a strong female character with a wry and wicked sense of humor.

The journey, which begins as a short test of their ability to survive in the great Rot and Ruin, quickly turns into the fight of their lives. A nightmare returns, a wicked place surfaces, and Benny and the crew must banish their demons once and for all. A price is paid, and we’re left wondering where our friends will go and how they will get there.

This book offered many of the same discussion opportunities with my son as the first. We talked about trust, since Benny and the crew find themselves in several situations in which they have to choose whether or not to trust someone they don’t know. We touched on personal responsibility even in the face of humiliation when one of our characters makes a choice that endangers the entire group. These are excellent discussion points for kids, and the subject matter helps to get boys talking.

Here’s our guest review for the day:

I am Jacob Hopeman and I’m back to write this review of Dust and Decay from a young readers standpoint.

Benny Imura, Nix Riley, Tom Imura, Lilah, and Chong want to leave the town and search for a jet that they had seen earlier. Also Gameland is back and working so they have to destroy it once and for all. Plus Charlie Pink Eye has come back to haunt them in a zombified form.

The book is different from Rot and Ruin because they don’t just go out and back in town. They want to leave town so they are always in danger and they are not just learning to fight, they have to use the skills Tom taught them.

Benny Imura is my favorite character again because in this book he takes a part time leadership role in my perspective. He also has to do most of the thinking because he isn’t the best fighter in the group anymore. He also leads them through a bunch of twists and turns. All of this I like a about a certain character.

I like the book because it has a definite amount of suspense like when the thousands of zombies come pouring down the hill right to where Benny is. Also because, like Rot and Ruin, Dust and Decay has happy and sad parts. Examples are: Sad: Lilah has been living alone on her wits for so many years and its kind of sad that she had to be alone. Or, Happy: they live through the giant zombie attack.

I would most certainly recommend it my friends because the book itself is a very good read.

PS: Thanks again, Mr. Maberry!

In the coming weeks we’ll feature two guest bloggers discussing both the recent popularity of dystopia fiction and the importance of creating young readers. We’re most excited to offer a prerelease review of the upcoming installment to the Rot and Ruin series, Flesh and Bone, due out on September 11, 2012.

Book review: Rot & Ruin by Jonathon Maberry

book review, genre fiction, guest blog, writing parent August 8, 2012

I have a love-hate relationship with post-apocalyptic novels. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road nearly left me undone. Colson Whitehead’s Zone One showed us the best and worst of people, but left me feeling rather hopeless. The basic struggles of humanity during or after a catastrophic event are heart-wrenching, telling, and can sometimes give a sense of hope in this strange world we occupy.

I love sharing books with my kids. Obviously, there are certain books that would be inappropriate to share, like the above mentioned examples, but I try to read the books they’re interested in so we can discuss them. My older son, Jacob, is twelve. We both read the Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy then went to the movie together to compare it to the book. Like any preteen boy, he likes strong protagonists, a good struggle, some suspense, and if the author can throw in a little violence and monsters, even better.

My son’s biggest gripe with The Hunger Games, and most young adult dystopian fiction, is the lack of a strong male protagonist. The Hunger Games is told from the perspective of Katniss, a girl, and while he enjoyed the story immensely, Jacob wished he’d been able to experience if from a male perspective as well. I guess it has something to do with the whole “girls have cooties” at this age thing.

Imagine my glee to see Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series, with a teenaged boy protagonist. I love Mr. Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, beginning with Patient Zero, but they’re not yet appropriate to share with Jacob. Zombies occupy a special place in my heart, and therefore also in the hearts of my kids. How many families discuss their theoretical zombie apocalypse plans over dinner? THIS ONE.

So when I saw the first book in Mr. Maberry’s series, Rot and Ruin, I grabbed it and the second, Dust and Decay, as well. I read both books before I let my son tackle them.

Before I read the book I wondered if it would be too graphic or violent for a twelve year old boy. Nope. I appreciate the restraint Mr. Maberry used with the violence and graphic descriptions, and also with the language. While there is a love interest, something most kids this age are acutely aware of, but may or may not actually be experiencing, there is no sex. Jacob commented after we watched The Hunger Games movie, “At least they left the sex out.” Mr. Maberry obviously understands what a young teen boy wants and does not want to read. I appreciate this.

I considered writing my own reviews of these fantastic books, saying things like the post-zombie-apocalyptic world in which main character Benny Imura experiences adolescence is believable and wonderful. The book starts out with a bang, describing the world in which the teens are struggling to grow and the new, different responsibilities and expectations. Maberry does his usual wonderful job of “showing, not telling” in many ways, including Benny’s job search. At age fifteen the kids are expected to find a job, work, contribute, not just exist any longer. This plot point both showed Rot and Ruin’s society and segued into a great discussion with Jacob about how easy his life is and how his main responsibility is his education. We discussed what he might do if he were in Benny’s shoes.

I would also say something like Benny’s character is so relatable and flawed as to allow an adolescent boy to identify and grow with him. I might also mention that Benny’s brother, Tom, is not just a fluff side character, but a strong male role model for boys who stands up to bullies and encourages Benny to understand the whys and hows of this new world and to not just survive but thrive and make a difference. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention Benny’s band of friends, Nix, Morgie, and Chong, and how their close bond allows them to experience a normal adolescence in an abnormal world. I might also be tempted to say that the way the group treats the outcast Lilah is a good lesson in inclusion and understanding others. The lessons taught in this book are invaluable, and they are all couched in an exciting, relatable story that appeals to boys, who generally have been left out of the YA dystopian craze.

But instead of saying all those things, I decided to let the target demographic speak for me. Here, in the words of the young reader, is my guest review:

Hello, I am Jacob Hopeman and I will be writing this review for Rot and Ruin so that there can be a teenagers view on the book.

Rot and Ruin is about a world of post-apocalyptic zombie breakout where people are struggling to survive. Rot and Ruin follows the story of a fifteen-year-old boy named Benny who is trying to find a job. He finds nothing interesting enough so he goes to work with his older brother Tom. Tom is working as a zombie killer. Benny expects the job to be boring. All he thinks his brother is doing is killing zombies ruthlessly for money. What he finds out is something very different.

My favorite character in the novel is Benny. In the beginning he thinks that when he starts as a zombie killer it’s going to be dull. The first time they go out to kill a zombie he sees that Tom is doing things nicely which is a new perspective for him. One group they see is just playing around killing them. Benny doesn’t seem to like it. When he sees what Tom does he finally understands and realizes there is more to his brother and to the world. So Benny as a character is interesting.

I liked Rot and Ruin because of its suspense. It’s basically like “Ohh, is he a zombie?” or “Ohh, is he dead?” at some points and nothing is ever safe. I like how it incorporated some adrenaline as well. All of those parts wanted to make me read the next page. Its emotion also really got me. There were definitely sad parts and definitely happy parts. Examples are when Benny first hears what Tom does. Another example is when Benny finds Tom alive and unbitten after a giant zombie attack.

I would definitely recommend this book to a friend that likes a little mystery and suspense. Also I would recommend it because it is just a good book. I think most of my friends would like this book.

Thank you for your time and consideration to this review. Thanks for everything, Mr. Maberry.

Friday Fuel: Life, air conditioning, and the Olympics

Friday Fuel, Uncategorized, writing life, writing parent July 27, 2012

I always have the best of intentions. I really do. I *think* about posting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

But somehow something gets in the way.

I have decided that my daily fiction word count must come before blogging. After all, if I’m not writing, what’s the point of a writing blog? I refuse to feel bad about missing a blog post because I’m getting my word count in for the day.

So, what’s been going on?

Well, I finished up a couple new short stories and have been submitting them. I submitted my novel to two publishers and received one really nice non-form rejection (seriously, this publisher told me she loved the character, but the book itself didn’t fit into their line… I actually expected it) and am still waiting on the other. I’m still tossing around the idea of what to do with my thesis novel. I’ve had a couple suggestions for some revisions, but it comes down to me deciding how I want to market it and making it fit my vision for the book.

One of my short stories will be available in a charity anthology due out soon, titled Hazard Yet Forward. I will be sure to provide a link to purchase the anthology when it comes out. It will be a major tome– with short stories from many of my SHU colleagues. The proofing copy I saw today comes in over 600 pages. The proceeds from the sale will go to aid a colleague of mine who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. You can see more at the Hazard Yet Forward blog.

My sprogs are home from school for the summer… well, they’ve been attending a summer day camp, but school’s out, and today is the last day of camp. My husband and I are taking motorcycle classes and should have our licenses next week. Oh yeah… now I can add “biker chick” to my tattooed label.

I also recently discovered that someone I greatly admire is a genuinely good person. I will be sharing this experience in greater detail through the month of August and into the first week of September. Keep an eye out here.

So here’s today’s Friday Fuel:

1. Write a letter to your favorite author and tell him or her how much you appreciate his or her work. Send it.

2. Your protagonist is moving into a semi-furnished apartment and finds a handgun in a dresser drawer. What does he do?

3. On this day in 1940, Bugs Bunny made his debut. Write a short story from the POV of someone seeing your favorite cartoon character for the first time.

4. Your character’s air conditioning broke and the weather forecast is for record high temps. Does this make your character happy or irate?

5. The Olympics opening ceremonies are tonight. If you could compete in an Olympic sport, which would it be?

Have a great weekend everyone! The Pittsburgh Symphony is performing the music from the video game Zelda this weekend, so I’m going and getting my geek on.

Friday Fuel: Sprogs and space flights

Friday Fuel, writing parent March 23, 2012

My heathens…. uh, sprogs… are on spring break. Why elementary and middle school kids deserve a two week spring break is utterly beyond me, but I know by the end of their break, I’m in desperate need of one. Yesterday I told them to get out and walk to a little park about two blocks from our house, desperate for a minute or two of peace.

I told my older son he could not take his bicycle, because the younger doesn’t ride well enough to keep up, and I don’t trust Elder to not abandon his little brother somewhere. I also told them to take a cell phone. My bad.

Not five minutes after they left, the texts began…

See the expression on her face? I saw it in the mirror.

THEM: THIS IS <ELDER> CAN I BEING MY BIKE DOWN

ME: NO

THEM: WHY NOT

ME: WE’VE ALREADY HAD THIS DISCUSSION

Three minutes later (and I verified this on my phone)…

THEM: MOM, CAN <ELDER> BRING HIS BIKE DOWN

ME: NO

THEM: WHY

ME: DON’T ASK ME AGAIN OR I’LL TELL YOU TO COME HOME

Six minutes later…

THEM: <ELDER> MADE ME DELETE A TEXT

ME: AND?

THEM: WHAT

ME: SO?

THEM: WHAT

And then the phone rang. I could hear them screaming at each other from two streets away. I answered the phone and tried to speak calmly to my younger son as he ranted about something his brother did, but when the conversation devolved into my elder son screaming at the phone that he hadn’t done whatever it was he was being accused of, I hung up. About thirty seconds later I saw them come around a corner, maybe 100 feet from where I was sitting on our patio. I heard this:

“<ELDER>, BE QUIET! I’M TALKING TO MOM! I CAN’T HEAR HER!”

So I yelled from the patio, “You can’t hear me because I hung up on you!” which, of course, led to shrieking and tears.

At least I get to end this spring break in Utah, just me and my husband. The World Horror Convention is in Salt Lake City from March 29 through April 1.

So here’s Friday’s slightly frazzled fuel:

1.    Consider the setting of your current work in progress. Where would be the best location to hide a body?
2.    On this day in 1965, NASA launched our first two-man space flight crew with Gus Grissom and John Young. Write a short story about this event from the POV of someone in a space colony looking back on the historic occasion.
3.    Choose a genre that you do not normally write in and write a flash fiction piece about a pen.
4.    Your protagonist gets an email from an old friend, someone they haven’t seen in years, asking for financial help. Does he or she do it?
5.    What would your protagonist’s favorite board game be?

Have a great weekend everyone! My mom will be coming out to stay with the sprogs for the tail end of their spring break. Pray for her.

Yes, that’s my kid

writing life, writing parent February 13, 2012

I have two boys, ages eight and eleven, in third and sixth grade respectively. One thing I’ve noticed about my kids since they started school is that they’re a little different than their peers. Oh, I know every child is different, trust me. The differences simply between my two are staggering, and they’ve been raised together in the same house, with the same parents.

I swear this isn't me.

What I’m talking about is the tendency of my children to turn a discussion to something that most people consider inappropriate for a child. My older one seems to have outgrown this a bit, or perhaps has just grown wise to the fact that when talks about poisons or murder he gets the hairy eyeball from any adult within earshot (except, of course, me). But the younger one… he seems to delight in the uncomfortable silences that inevitably follow a child’s off-hand remark about the most effective way to destroy a brain. I’ve come to understand I have to just send an email to his teacher at the beginning of every school year explaining what I do or I risk quite a barrage of questions come parent-teacher conference day. “Um, Mrs. Hopeman, are you aware that your son knows the proper dosage of belladonna to incapacitate an adult?”

I took him to a yearly check-up not too long ago. Apparently, doctors are now supposed to ask the kids if they feel safe in their home, if they wear a bike helmet when they ride, and if there are guns. My son, unable to simply give the poor woman a yes or no answer, pointed at me and said, in his best conspirator’s voice, “You should see her Glock.”

The icing on my questionable parenting cake was just a couple weeks ago when I had to write a warning email to his teacher explaining that it was most definitely my fault that he used the word “cadaver” in each and every spelling sentence.

Yes, that’s my kid.