Saturday, February 21, 2015

Kickstarter!

I’ll admit it. I’ve been slacking off on the writing side of my life. Granted, I took on a job last autumn as a college English teacher and much of my time and creative energy has been spent on creating lesson plans and grading papers. (The first few years of teaching are the hardest, so I’ve been told because you have to create everything from scratch.)

I felt I needed something to kick me in the pants to get writing and promoting again. After all, stories are never done, only due. After looking at several options, I thought, “Why not try a Kickstarter?” I, personally, have backed a couple of projects—I’ve seen how successful they can be.

If you’ve not heard of a Kickstarter before, here are the basics: You create a campaign where you try to reach a certain dollar amount in donations during a certain period of time. (Usually 30 days.) As the creator of the campaign, you can offer rewards for certain donation amounts. For example, anyone who donates $25 to my Kickstarter will receive an autographed copy of one of my previous books.

My Kickstarter begins on Feb 21, 2015 and will run for 30 days. The goal is $3,000. A list of rewards for donating are found on the website.

For a full list of rewards, please visit this link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/187246227/howler-king-novel-project


Thank you all for your time and support!  

Friday, February 13, 2015

A day in the life of a substitute teacher (no problem)

While I’m not teaching English at JCC, I will be a substitute teacher time and again, mainly at high schools. It’s actually a pretty nice deal. For the most part, I sub for English teachers. It’s a win-win. The teacher gets a day off, and usually I have time during class to grade papers, or prep for my next college class, or even work on my next book—and I get paid to do so. Granted, the students come first when I’m subbing, but in all honesty, I do have time to work on other projects as I’m watching over them.

Most days are pretty straight forward. I have my assignment the night before. I arrive at the school a half-an-hour before school starts (usually 6:55 AM for high schools), I visit the main office to find out what room I’m teaching in, and then I try to find it; the whole time I’m trying to look like I know where I’m going.

What makes this a challenge is that most of the high schools I sub at have the same design—almost. The main buildings are exactly alike, but some are reversed. And just about every school uses a different numbering system for their classrooms. What might be room 2721 in one school could be 2317 in a different school.

Once I arrive at the classroom, the real fun begins. Teachers are supposed to have clear lesson plans set up for the day, telling me what I should have the students do at any given time. Most of the teachers do an excellent job providing this information, but once in a while I’ll show up and there will be a sticky note on the teacher’s desk with the words, “Sub: show movie to class.” Then I need to figure out which movie and how to play it. That’s when I usually pop into the classroom next door and ask another teacher for help.

95% (or so) of the time, things run smoothly. Then there are days like the one I experienced recently.

When I arrived at the school that morning, I got my assignment from the front office and went up to the third floor where I would be teaching. There are four periods during the day, and the teacher I was subbing for had first period planning. Still, I went to the room to make sure I knew what I was doing for the rest of the day.

The teacher had a nice binder with specific instructions. The only hitch was that there was a single paper of the worksheet. On it was a sticky note which read “make copies.” Because I had arrived early, I headed over to the teacher’s workshop area. The door was locked and no one was inside. No problem. I had time. I could do it during the planning period.

Upon returning to the classroom, there was another teacher there. She looked surprised to see me. I explained who I was, and she became even more perplexed.

“We’re doing PSAT testing today in this room for the first three hours,” she told me. “Go down to room 3228 to find out where you should be for the rest of the day.” No problem. I took the binder the teacher left for me and off I went to 3228.

The room was filled with teachers, each grabbing their testing materials and going off to rooms they didn’t normally teach in. When it was my turn, I explained who I was subbing for. The lady in charge frowned at me. “Subs can’t give the test. Let me check.” She flipped through her notes, and then after finding the information she was looking for, said, “The teacher you are subbing for was not assigned to give out a test. Go to the sub office to see where they need you.” No problem.

I descend the stairs, back to the first floor. When I arrived at the sub office, the sweet lady in charge of subs was a bit freaked out. Two of the other subs hadn’t shown up yet, in addition, she wasn’t sure where to send me because it turns out my second period class would be taking the PSAT, so I didn’t have classes for first or second period. No problem. I brought my laptop with me and I could work on things in the media center. At that moment, the teacher I was filling in for showed up—just briefly. She told me that she forgot to make copies of the worksheet. I have the worksheet with me, so she scooted off and made copies while I waited for the sub coordinator to figure out what to do with me.

Since two of the other subs hadn’t shown, the sub coordinator asked if I would cover one of those classes instead. No problem. She was about to send me to cover In School Suspension when that sub arrived—five minutes before class started. I dodged a bit of a bullet there. That meant I’d be asked to cover for the other missing teacher: a girls’ gym class. Slight problem, since I was wearing a shirt and tie, but I’d manage.

I arrived at the main gym, only to find it locked. On the door was a note telling the students to get dressed and then meet by the small gym. No problem. I pretend I know where the small gym was located, and then found it soon enough. There was another gym teacher standing in the hallway. She was nice enough, and it turned out she was the other gym teacher. Because of testing, they were combining all the gym classes into one big class. She expressed some concern because that was a lot of students in a small area—and it was raining outside, so we had to stay inside. I asked her, “What do you need me to do?” She answered, “Help make sure no one gets into a fight or gets hurt.” No problem.

However, just after the students came out of the dressing room and were headed to the gym, the sub who was missing arrived. I was off the hook. No longer with a class to teach, I headed back to the sub office. She didn’t have anything for me to do at that moment, so I offered to go to the media center and hang out—that way they know where to find me if they needed me. The sub secretary agreed.

It was a great plan, until I arrived at the media center. It was off limits because they were using it to test for the PSAT. The nice lady at the desk suggested I go to the teacher’s workroom instead. No problem.

Before going back up to the third floor, I remembered that the workroom was locked. Instead, I went back to the sub secretary and asked if I could get a key. She graciously supplied me with one.

Back up to the third floor I trekked. At this time, classes had started and so the hallways were quiet. With key in hand, I went to unlock the workroom, only to find that the door was slightly ajar. I entered, picked a seat, and set up my laptop to begin working. In the corner was a vending machine which sold soda. One of the options was Sunkist—a drink I like and hadn’t had in a long time. I dug out a dollar bill from my wallet, put it in the machine. I pressed the button for Sunkist, and a Pepsi came out instead. Uh. No problem. Yeah. No problem.

Five minute later, another nice lady entered the room. “Are you the sub that doesn’t have anything to do at this time?” she asked. I almost told her I had plenty to do, but instead I answered, “That’s me. What can I help you with?”

“We need your help in the other wing. Head over there and find a teacher standing in the hallway. She’ll fill you in.” I replied, “Sure. No problem.”

I packed up my stuff, and headed to find this mysterious teacher. I found her easily enough. “Oh good,” she said. “We’re doing PSAT testing and need someone to be on that side of the hallway to make sure students aren’t leaving the room to cheat.” No problem.

She got me a chair and I placed it next to a power outlet so I could plug in my laptop. It then occurred to me to ask how long we’d be there. The answer? “About three hours.” Three hours? Yeah, ok. No problem.

It wasn’t three hours. After an hour-and-a-half, another lady approached. “We need you to go downstairs to the cafeteria. There’s going to be a sprinkle of students who need to be watched over.”

Unsure how many students made up a “sprinkle,” I packed up my stuff again and headed back downstairs. In the cafeteria there were two sets of students. One was an English IV honors class which had a rather dynamic teacher. The second set were a bunch of students who looked like they would rather be anywhere else in the world aside from school. Without any specific instructions, I told the second set of students, “Ok. You may work on other homework. You may listen to music if you have headphones. You may talk quietly with other students. What you may not do is be a disruption or do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical.” This statement was met with blank stares.

Ninety minutes later, the class was dismissed and I booked it upstairs to the third floor, again, to teach a class that started in five minutes. The students shuffled like zombies—they were the ones who had just taken the PSAT. Class started ten minutes later than it should have because all the testing hadn’t been completed.

For third period, the students were assigned to complete a study guide on Oedipus. The challenge was that this class had “B” lunch—meaning that the class was divided into two sections: half before and half after lunch. In addition, third and fourth periods were already shortened because the test was longer than normal first and second periods. I gave the students the handout and explained what we were doing. Most of them just sat there and stared at the paper, realizing that they were going to lunch in just a few minutes. Lunch arrived about fifteen minutes later, and suddenly the zombies came back to life. The room cleared out quickly as they headed downstairs to the cafeteria.

For half-an-hour I had a moment to relax and eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich my wife made me that morning.

The students returned, refreshed. I got them refocused on the task of completing the worksheet. I told the students I would not be collecting the worksheet at the end of the day. When one student asked why, I answered, “Bring the worksheets to class tomorrow. If I collect them, some of you will insist to your teacher that you gave me your paper and that I lost them. We’re not playing that game.”

The last period of the day rolled around. The lesson plan was easy: the students were supposed to read a story out of their books and answer questions. The challenge? The story was a section from Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare. These freshman students struggled with reading English in general, so Shakespeare was like a foreign language. I spent the rest of the class helping them with the questions and explaining what they were reading. Several of them expressed their gratitude for my help. My response? “No problem.”

At last, the dismissal bell rang. The school day was over. I went to the front office to return the key I borrowed. The sub coordinator asked me, “How was your day?” I smiled at her and answered, “Fantastic.”

She looks relieved. “Oh, good. Testing days can be so tricky.” I wish her a nice day. As I turned to leave, she asked me, “Oh, Mr. Morgan. Are you available next Wednesday?”

I paused for just a moment before responding, “Sure. No problem.”



Friday, January 30, 2015

Playing in the mud

A little boy wanted to go outside to play. It had been raining for two days, keeping him cooped up inside. When the sun finally came out, he asked his mommy if he could go play. She responded, “You can, but stay out of the mud. Your aunt is coming over for dinner tonight.”

Delighted that he was finally free to get out of the house, the little boy rushed outside. Not long after, he came across his friends. They were making mud pies—and it looked like a lot of fun. But then he remembered what his mommy had said. He didn’t want to get muddy. After thinking for a moment, he came up with a solution.

The boy sat at the edge of the muddy area and watched. Every once in a while, his friends would ask for help, or tell him it would be okay if he only used his hands—after all, his hands were easy enough to clean before dinner.

Throughout the afternoon, the boy stayed on the edge, never fully going in. At the same time, he reached in with his hands, scooped up the mud, and pushed it around to make it form mud pies. No matter how hard he tried, the mud pies did not turn out quite the way he wanted, and his hands got muddier than he thought they would become.

With the sun starting to set, the little boy heard his mother call him for dinner. He stood, said goodbye to his friends, and rushed home. Instead of going inside, he went to the garden hose to wash off his hands.

The mud from his hands got on the faucet as he turned it on. Still, the clean, clear water came out the end of the hose. Knowing he was already late for dinner, the boy cleaned off his hands the best he could, and then went inside.

When his mother saw him, she gasped. The boy wasn’t sure why until he looked down and noticed that despite his best efforts, small spots of mud had splattered on his clothes.

“You played in the mud, didn’t you?” she asked.

“But I didn’t. Not really. I just sat on the edge and reached in with my hands. And I cleaned them off? See?” He showed her his hands. While they were mostly clean, there was dirt under his fingernails.

The mother then knelt down and looked the little boy in the eye. In a soft tone, she said, “Sweetheart, the best way to stay clean is to keep away from the mud the best you can.”

I’ve been thinking about this parable a lot recently. There is so much in the world which is negative. Every time I pull up the latest news stories, there is account after account of all the bad that is happening in the world.

When I worked in the TV news industry, over the course of the years, I realized that focusing on the negative all the time was impacting me personally. I was becoming a negative person—focusing a lot on all the little things that I thought were wrong, and in the process, losing sight on the important good things in life.

I found that when I got home from work, I would focus on all the little, negative things: the kids left a mess in the basement, dinner was late, there were clothes that needed to be folded on the bed—and so on and so on. Never mind that my wife was actually a superstar and home all day with our four young daughters. I was losing sight of all the wonderful things in my life because I was focusing my attention on the wrong things.

Even though I’ve left the TV world behind, and I’ve worked hard to focus on the positive things in life, I can still get bogged down time and again with some negative aspect which affects my whole mood.

I’ve learned that while my family isn’t perfect, there is a lot to love about them. They make me happy. Sure, there are things that come up which can cause stress, or even make me question certain things, but I found that if I focus too much on these elements, I’m missing out on the bigger, more wonderful blessings I have.

And it makes sense. After all, how long would my marriage last if all I did was look for faults in my wife? (Granted, she’s remarkable and it would really take some effort to find faults. She is human, though, and humans are not perfect.) Even if I could force my wife to change things I thought were “wrong,” unless I changed from focusing on the negative, I would constantly be unhappy.

Yes, sometimes bad things happen; I’ll get some mud on me. But I’ve learned that that happens less often if I stay away from the mud pit.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Words have power

“I love you” are powerful words. So are “once upon a time” and “the end.” If you were to change just one word in those phrases, the meaning can shift dramatically. “I hate you” means something quite different than “I love you.”

The meaning of a singular word can be very powerful. Take for example when I worked in banking. Our leaders would call us each day and we, as managers, would have to “commit” to a certain number of items sold that day—like checking accounts, savings accounts, loans, and so on. Seriously.

I really struggled with this approach because I have always tried to be the type of person who does what he says he will do. The word “commitment” can be defined as “a promise to do or give something.” To me, I can commit to do things which I can control—like washing my hands after using the bathroom. But how could I honestly promise to open a checking account for someone I had yet to meet? I couldn’t. What I could do is promise to talk to everyone about checking account options and invite them to open an account. But could I force them to do it? No. Pressure them? Yes.

At the end of the day, we would have to report on how we did. If I said we didn’t open the amount of checking accounts I “committed” to in the morning, my boss would then phrase it as, “But you committed to opening more! Why didn’t you?”

See where this is headed? It became an ethical issue—all because of a singular word.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with another word. This one? “Assignment.”

As a college English teacher, I have a goal each semester: To give meaningful assignments which help the students learn and discover. I am not a fan of “busy work.” Because I’m the teacher, I have the authority to give assignments which the students need to fulfill to earn credit for the class.

Some students complain about the work load. My response? “You signed up for this class, and these assignments are part of the class.”

However, just because I have a position of authority does not give me the right to assign whatever I want. I can’t assign students to wash my car, or bring me lunch each day. In the end, each student has the right to choose which assignments to do. The tough part for a student is standing up and saying, “I’m not doing that assignment because I didn’t agree to do that. Just because you are the teacher, and have authority, doesn’t mean you have the right to make any assignments you want.”

To be fair to teachers, many of them have good intentions, but overreach with their authority. I understand that. We’re all human. We make mistakes. Sometimes we can really want to do something good, and still make mistakes.

For example, my students are required to write four major papers over the course of the semester. The hardest of the papers (in my opinion) is the argumentative paper because it requires at least three credible sources and needs to be at least three pages long.

I could, instead, give them the assignment to write a 30 page paper with at least 50 credible sources. After all, more is better, right? But that wouldn’t be effective to freshmen taking their first college English class.

My issue with the word “assignment” comes from one of its definitions: “a specified task or amount of work assigned or undertaken as if assigned by authority.”

In other aspects of my life, I’ve been receiving more “assignments” from those in a position of authority. While I have no doubt that their intentions are good, the challenge comes from the fact that the nature of the context in which these assignments are given can be somewhat at odds with free will.

Let me use a metaphor: I agree to work for a company where I am allowed to work from home. I agree to perform certain tasks within a certain time, yet I have the freedom of completing these tasks when and where I choose. 

Now, let’s say someone in authority somewhere up the chain of command decides something specific needs to be done at a certain time and at a certain place. Because they have authority, they give me an “assignment” to do it as they want it done.

Perhaps the work is something I would be doing anyway, and most likely willingly, because I agreed to work for that company—with the understanding the job let me choose. If that choice is taken away, then part of the fundamental aspect of the job has changed.

Maybe it is human nature, or maybe it is just me, but being forced to do something, even if that something is good, isn’t nearly as rewarding as deciding as an individual to perform an action on their own because it is the right thing to do.

I’m sure in a few years I’ll find another word with which I’ll take an issue. Perhaps it is an occupational hazard of being a writer and an English teacher.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

One author, different audiences

I’ve come to something of a dilemma when it comes to my writing. I’m keenly aware of my intended audience with each work I compose. In doing so, I’ve come to realize that my audience is different for each book. The problem this creates is that not everyone who reads one of my books may enjoy all of them.

Let me explain.

I am of the firm belief that if a writer is bored when they are writing, the work will be boring to read. At different points in my life, what interests me (as a writer) changes. For better or worse, I don’t believe I could churn out book after book that would fit in my Bariwon series. That’s one reason I wrote The Mirror of the Soul between books two and three of that series. At the time, I was more interested in that story than any others.

And then I went down a completely different path and wrote two books in first person. These books (Wall of Faith and Bring Down the Rain) were more simplistic in approach, both in the language used as well as the method in storytelling.

Whereas my other books used third person, and the stories unfolded through various points of view, my last two were more linear in nature—things happened in a specific order as told by one character.

This is perhaps over generalizing, but reading a book with multiple characters and told from more than one point of view requires more from the reader. They actually have to pay attention.

In a recent review of one of my books, the reader wrote, “I could not wrap my mind around what was happening.” Keep in mind that a different review of the same book stated, “This is a great allegorical tale of depth and a critical understanding of the human condition that transcends time and space.”

I could become discouraged and elect to keep my writing more simplistic so that I don’t confuse people who aren’t willing to invest the time or energy in understanding what is going on. This is what I’m struggling with at the moment. One of the books I’m working on uses more complex language and concepts. While I’m writing, a little voice inside my head keeps telling me, “The people who liked Wall of Faith and Bring Down the Rain won’t get this.”


And then I remind myself, “I’m not writing it for them. I’m writing it for the people who enjoy this kind of story.”

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Content of their character

One of my heroes is Martin Luther King, Jr. Here is a person who saw an injustice, and acted. It wasn’t easy for him or his family, and in the end he lost his life for what he believed in. I think one of the best ways to sum up what he fought for is reflected in this quote from his famous, “I have a dream” speech:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Though much has changed since he spoke those words, we, in America, are not living in that nation—and it isn’t only one group’s fault.

During recent events, I’ve been dismayed time and time again when news reports open with “a person with a certain colored skin did this to a person with different colored skin.” To me, that’s in direct conflict to what Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted. By including race as part of the act, I believe this actually propagates racism.

To be clear, I think there is a difference between being proud of one’s culture and showing honor to one’s ancestors, and racism.

Here’s a definition of racism that helps prove this point (notice the part I put in italics): “Racism: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”

I’ve had the chance to meet and work with people from all sorts of different cultural backgrounds and beliefs, including those who are similar to my own. Without question, many of the people I’ve met were awesome. They were good people who acted nicely towards others. And then, there were those who were jerks. Interestingly enough, I’ve never found the jerks to be isolated to a certain race or belief system.

Yet there are those who identify themselves as members of a certain race who feel like they are being treated unjustly, and often for good reason.

However, what would Martin Luther King, Jr. say to those who react to perceived injustice with violence and hatred? What does it say about a person’s character when they burn down businesses because they feel their race has been slighted? What does it say about a person who doesn’t promote an individual because of the color of their skin?


What does it say about you?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Angels from their Realms of Story

I’m delighted to announce that my short story “Winter Wonderland” has been included in an anthology of Christmas stories, just in time for the season!

This is the third in a series of anthologies where there are 25 stories—one for each day in December leading up to Christmas.

What makes this really cool is that each story is based on a Christmas Carol. I’ve been fortune enough to participate in each of the three releases.

This year, I chose the song “Winter Wonderland” and had a lot of fun with it.

What makes this anthology really special is that the proceeds go to charity!

The book is available in both print and ebook formats. Clickhere for more information.


And Merry Christmas!