Posts Tagged writing tips

STEM Tuesday –Community Science – Writing Tips & Resources

The community bit to science is often the ignored, undervalued piece of the scientific process. Collective knowledge needs to be collected and then dispersed among the collective.

Totally confusing, right? 

Well, it is if you think about science as we’ve been generally taught…as a static thing. We’ve been ingrained to think of science as only a rather dull series of steps. How many times have you had to list the steps of the SCIENTIFIC METHOD on a test? I wish I had a dollar for every time I did!

  • Observation
  • Discovery
  • Hypothesis
  • Test
  • Conclude
  • Communicate

Sarah Greenwood, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

But science is so much more than just a few memorized steps in a process. What has often been overshadowed in science is the “aliveness” of science. We too often think about science as an individual or small group activity of people isolated in a laboratory, office, or at a site going about their business. We think of science as static. The same misconception holds true for technology, engineering, and mathematics. Lifeless and mundane egghead stuff.

But STEM is so much more. It’s vibrant and alive! It’s all around us. It affects all of us. Science is a tool we use to explain the world around us. Technology, engineering, and mathematics are the tools we use to help science define our world and then manipulate it. And STEM needs you

As much as science affects the community, community affects science. Whether it’s an individual or group participating in a scientific study to collect data points for a research group or science information being presented to a population, the community plays a vital role.

It’s TEAMWORK!

What better way to learn and appreciate science than by participating in science? Shared experience. Now, that’s the value of community science. With many eyes, bodies, and brains at work, the more alive the science is. Community science spreads the load in both directions. It helps cover the necessary ground to turn an unknown into a known by gathering and then distributing the information.

Within the realm of community science, there is a multitude of opportunities covering just about any interest. From open code sourcing software to bird counts, to data analysis, to at-home CRISPR gene-editing, there’s something for everyone. Find your particular jam and give it a shot.

Community Science for the win!

  • Teamwork
  • Spread the load
  • Cover the ground
  • Gather the information

Teamwork makes the dream work!

 

Mount Rainier NPS, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiast, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training-related topics at  www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at  www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64 and Instagram at @mikehays64.

 


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s version of the O.O.L.F.(Out of Left Field) Files provides resources to get involved in community science projects. 

Looking for a community science project? Check out these resources!

The one and only Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count!

CRISPR at Home – Gene editing for anyone!

The Cornell Ornithology Lab

 


The F.A.R.T. Diaries #1: Top Secret! No Kids Allowed!~ An Interview with Peter Bakalian

Welcome to my interview with author Peter Bakalian and his hilariously clever middle grade book The F.A.R.T. Diaries #1: Top Secret! No Kids Allowed! I’m sure the title has you as curious as it did me. So let’s jump right in and see what this diary is all about.

The Book

The F.A.R.T. DIARIES #1: Top Secret! No Kids Allowed! by Peter Bakalian

Publisher: Aladdin

Released: May 3, 2022

When a young teen discovers a top-secret parenting manual, it’s kids versus grown-ups in this kooky, illustrated middle grade thriller with nonstop, seat-of-your-pants action that will delight fans of Jarrett Lerner and Stuart Gibbs.

When a tween boy [Codename: Furious Popcorn] picks up what he thinks is a cookbook and finds a diabolical parenting manual, his world turns upside down. The Ultimate Guide to Hacking Your Kids was written by an organization called F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens), a secret society of grizzled parents whose origins date back to antiquity.

FP is determined to get to the bottom of this, but when he begins investigating F.A.R.T., the manual goes missing, his parents deny knowing anything about any kind of book, and–maybe strangest of all–kids at school start listening to their parents and teachers. What kid would ever do that?

F.A.R.T. proves to be more than just some gassy acronym and parental rules and regulations when FP and the Only Onlys, his best friends since preschool, discover F.A.R.T.’s grand plan: a brain modem that can turn kids into well-behaved zombies!

This wacky crew has no choice but to find out who’s behind the nefarious organization and save young people the world over from total F.A.R.T. domination!

“A laugh out loud outrageous adventure with likeable characters and an engaging storyline. I loved the obstacles, the fast pace, and the unique skill set each character brought to the group.”   –  Meagan Marie, Goodreads 

Interview🎙️

Hi Peter! We are thrilled you’ve stopped by the Mixed-Up Files to share this fun middle grade book. Let’s start with the obvious – Humor. It’s a huge element throughout the story. And it’s not just humor, but some quirky and witty humor such as the characters having coded names. How did you come up with such an ingenious idea and title?

Thank you for the word “ingenious.” I’ve heard other adjectives!

Haha! I’m sure.

F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens) is about a secret organization of frustrated parents whose mission is to keep kids confused and obedient. It’s been around since ancient times. All parents know about it. F.A.R.T. publishes a parenting manual that’s chock full of dirty tricks, advertisements for insane products and services. No kid is ever supposed to see it, until one does.

The idea came about when I was young parent and I heard a commercial for a manual that promised a perfectly obedient child within 30 minutes or less. I was ready to empty my savings account for it until I realized that it would become useless once my son caught on to the 30 minute secret. Anyway, I realized that this 30 minute manual was hype, but it got me thinking – what if a manual like that really existed and a kid found it?.

Surely this will get MGers to think about it’s possibility.

As for the book title, I tried a lot of acronyms but F.A.R.T. was the silliest so it won. The original title of the book was HOW TO RAISE YOUR ROTTEN KIDS UNTIL THEY’RE READY FOR JAIL.  A little harsh, yes? Anyway, the folks at Aladdin suggested putting F.A.R.T. on the cover and I’m glad they did.

I loved the silly! I’m sure young readers will, too.

If a secretly coded description of F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens) was found on the back of a cereal box, what would a middle grade reader see? Same middle grader reader’s parents/guardians see?

Now, THAT’S ingenious.

😊 Aw . . . thank you.

Hmm, I think you could print anything you wanted under the words NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION. No kid would ever read it. Does anyone? If they did they’d probably never buy the cereal. I was going to suggest something diabolical with Alpha-Bits cereal, but they discontinued making it last year, which means that all our domestic cereals are illiterate.

Haha! Good point.

I’m afraid I’ll have to kick this problem over to the folks in F.A.R.T. RESEARCH. Incidentally, cereal plays a pivotal role in the second book of this trilogy.

Visuals👓

How did the illustrations influence the text? Did you change anything once the illustrations were added?

The illustrations and text were conceived simultaneously. Basically, I’d have an idea like a camera that prevented kids from pulling a photobomb – you know, making a weird face just as you took their picture. I wrote the copy quite seriously even though it was ridiculous (e.g.: The camera would shoot 40 gallons of compressed water at the kid if it sensed an incoming photobomb.).

See, that is genius and super funny!

At the same time, I’d Photoshop stock images to support this idea, as if it were an article from Consumer Reports.  I’ve spent a number of years producing and writing animation where text and images were conceived hand in hand, so I tend to think that way.

The book also contains interactive graphics on some pages. Were those after-thoughts or did you write scenes on purpose to include them?

At its heart, F.A.R.T. is a mystery story, so the graphics included clues and details that were essential. They were always meant to be there. Personally, I love when a book rewards me with seemingly hidden details. When I was a kid, Mad Magazine would include tiny sketches of guys having a fist fight or a duel in the page margins. I’d think I was the only one who saw it, but of course everyone did.

(PS: Readers – the graphics are very cool and interactive. I agree with Peter. They were essential.)

Excerpt📖

Let’s break in for a moment to share a teeny excerpt from F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens).

Diary 1: Ride at Your Own Risk DIARY 1 RIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK
The guys who run amusement parks won’t tell you this, but all the really good rides have a secret exit just before you get on them. It’s true. They call it a “Chicken Hatch,” and it’s for people who lose their nerve at the last minute.

Me, I think it’s wrong to call people “chicken” because they don’t want to vompedo their lunch on some roller coaster. That’s why I’m offering you a chance to exit this diary right now.

I’m serious. I’ve kept this journal in case something should happen to me, but the detours and trapdoors that follow could easily scramble your eggs. But before you leave, consider this: F.A.R.T. wants you to take this exit.

Yes, you heard that right—F.A.R.T. They want you to laugh at their ridiculous name and go back to eating your cornflakes because you’re not supposed to know anything about them. Not you or your friends or any kids anywhere.

Now, if you’re still with me, ask yourself this question:
ARE YOUR PARENTS SUDDENLY SMARTER?
I mean a lot smarter. Do they always find your hiding places for junk food, like the Pringles can you disguised as a fire extinguisher or the cake frosting you use for toothpaste? Have they recently discovered that you’ve rigged the thermometer in the medicine chest to read 10,000 degrees when you want a sick day, or put Meow Mix on your veggies so your cat will eat them?

How about you? Has a change come over you at school? Do you high-five your teacher when she pulls a pop quiz, remind substitute teachers that homework is due, or tell fellow students, You only hurt yourself when you forge a bathroom pass? Sound familiar?

And riddle yourself this: When your parents go to a PTO meeting, where do they really go? IS there a PTO? Have you ever been to a meeting? Of course not.

Like you, I ignored these warning signs until I stumbled onto the truth. It was a bizarre truth that made sense of it all, but none of my so-called friends could believe it. If you must know, they laughed at me. The fools!

What I needed were people who could grasp the incredible. People I could trust. And I needed them now.

That was when I called THE ONLY ONLYS.

I loved the ONLY ONLYS!

Story Charm✨

All humor aside, this story challenges the relationship between parent and child. What collective message and/or lesson do you hope readers of all ages will take away after reading F.A.R.T.? (Is it too obvious that I like typing your title?)

I used to think: Raising a kid will be easy because I was a kid, once.  Then, this kid enters your life and you realize that all the stuff that worked on you as kid doesn’t work because YOUR KID ISN’T YOU.  Naturally, you look for answers from other parents and manuals and a boatload of experts – it’s a whole industry – and again you discover that nothing works quite the way you thought it would. The F.A.R.T. Manual is a parody of all it. The message, I guess, is that you’re raising an individual, not a Mini-Me.

BTW, I like typing F.A.R.T., too. I have it on speed type so it pops up whenever I type an “f” followed by a period. Unfortunately, I forget to turn this feature off and it has sneaked into some of my business correspondence with troubling consequences.

Too, funny! *Note: to clarify, while writing up the interview I shared with Peter how much I liked writing F.A.R.T.

Why will MG readers relate to the group of young characters you’ve created?

Well, I hope they do. Our four characters’ initial bond was that they are all only children – hence they call themselves the Only Onlys – but that becomes less important.  I think what makes them relatable is that they fuss and fight among themselves, but they like each other very much. That was important to me. We all have relationships like that. I’ve also noticed that comedy ensembles – even those that beat each other up for most of the story – are always loyal to each other in the end, and that seems essential to the genre.

Author Insights👀

What was the most challenging part of writing this story? Easiest?

I’m not confident enough to start writing and see where it takes me. I believe Stephen King does that but – surprise! – I’m not Stephen King. Or Burger King. I began as a television writer.  No producer wants to hear that you wrote yourself into a corner when the show starts shooting tomorrow, so I outline and outline. The easiest part – or the more enjoyable part – is the dialogue I get to write for my characters.

And IMHO – because I’ve read the book – the dialog is fantastic! I really enjoyed that part.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for middle grade literature today?

More people are fighting for the real estate between kids’ ears than ever before, so an author must be a willing marketer and understand new information channels.  The challenge is to do this responsibly.  I’m climbing that learning curve right now and it’s fascinating.

Writer’s Corner📑

Fun fact: What does your creative/writing space look like?

I love being surrounded by everything I could possibly need, like a surgeon. You can see it at Peterbakalian.com for free! My desk fits perfectly in an alcove because I purchased a beautiful dining room table at an estate sale and sawed off the ends to make it fit. Ah, the things we do for art.

From your vast experience, what are the three top traits an aspiring writer should focus on honing?

I’m a first time novelist, so “vast” may not apply. In any case, it reminds me of the joke: There are four ingredients to writing a successful novel, but nobody knows what they are.  But since you asked, people often say “Write what you know,” but I’d suggest writing what you like. You’ll research it for pleasure and your enthusiasm may rub off on the reader.  Second, protect your writing time from interruptions. You’ll win no popularity contests, but it’s essential. Lastly, there are A LOT of books on how to write by some very successful writers. I enjoyed them all, especially learning that they wrestle with the same doubts that we all do. They tend to say the same things about conflict, action, etc, but they may save you from rookie mistakes that will cost you time, which is the most precious thing you have.

What next creative adventure might be on the horizon for you?

There are two more books in the F.A.R.T. trilogy, so that’s my horizon for now. I am truly grateful for the opportunity.

That’s great! I’m sure readers will be anxiously waiting for those books.

About the Author

Peter Bakalian

After starting as an intern at Walt Disney Studios, Peter Bakalian joined the production team for Rankin/Bass’s ThunderCats and later earned Emmy recognition for his writing on Curious George. He was also nominated along with Suzanne Collins for Best Animated Screenplay by the Writers Guild of America for the Fox musical special Santa, Baby! which he also produced. His work has also appeared on the BBC series Big & Small and Scholastic’s Clifford’s Puppy Days. F.A.R.T. is his first novel. He lives in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. You can find Peter on his Website & on LinkedIn.

 

Thank you for sharing yourself and your work with our readers and writers. All the best to you!

Feel free to share your thoughts with Peter about his book. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you! And if you’d like to check out another illustrated middle grade book, hop over to this Link!

Writing Mojo: Tips for Getting Off Hiatus

I don’t know about you, but my writing mojo has been on hiatus for the past few years. I want to be writing and coming up with creative idea after idea, but I haven’t had the focus and motivation to make it happen as much as I’d like. I’ve been hearing similar things from writers I know.

What’s the issue? I think collectively there’s just been too much to worry about. On top of typical life issues, the pandemic has consumed our thoughts, added additional stress to the logistics of our lives, and resulted in social separation that’s left people with a dwindling well of inspiration. But things are changing, life is changing, and writing mojo doesn’t just disappear . . . it hangs on, waiting to return.

Many of us have been doing what we can the past few years to keep that spark going—Zoom writer’s groups and other virtual meetings. And now we can do more and more out in the world. So, what has been working for writers? Here are some tips from myself and a few MUF bloggers on filling up your creative well and getting back to your writing self again.

Tip #1. Get out there, get physical, get lost.

Writers spend too much time in their heads. And if worry is filling it, there’s not much room for much else. One way to make some space for inspiration is to get out of your head and into nature. Walking has always been healing  and inspiring to me. I like to get lost for a while, occupy my mind on the route ahead, and focus on my surroundings. I notice life a little better and my head clears so that it can wander. Trying another kind of art helps too, one that is more physical than writing. I’ve been trying some macrame lately and getting out into the garden. It opens up the writing part of my mind. When it can wander, new writing ideas have space to wiggle in.

Tip #2. Connect with community again.

If you’ve been avoiding book and writing events for a while, like many of us have, start venturing out again. Being with others in the writing community is such an inspiration. Volunteering to help with book-related events can help spark that excitement us writers have about what it is we love. There are likely many outdoor events in your community now that the weather is nicer. See what you feel good about attending and then start connecting again. Or start a book-related event yourself—maybe a free children’s book table at your local farmer’s market. Talk with people about children’s books. See how books affect their lives.

Tip #3. Follow a writer’s program on your own or with a group of writers.

A friend of mine mentioned The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron the other day. If you haven’t heard of it, it contains exercises, activities, and prompts to cultivate your creativity. Having a structured method to explore creativity may be the right way for you to get back on track with writing.


MUF blogger Dorian Cirrone
also had some thoughts on what’s been keeping her writing mojo alive:

Two things have kept me writing during the pandemic. The first has been reading. During these past couple of years, I’ve become a voracious reader of suspense fiction in order to escape reality. And with each book I’ve read, I’ve gotten ideas on how to enhance my own writing, which is always exciting to me.

The other thing that has kept me going is watching webinars on writing. I’m amazed at how many fantastic free or low-cost webinars and videos are available to writers. I know a lot of people have webinar fatigue, but I’ve found many that have been inspiring. Here are a few sites to explore:

 

MUF blogger Heather Murphy Capps offered these thoughts on what motivates and inspires her:

It’s been such an up and down time for writing during this upside down time in our lives … and I have loved reading about other ways of filling the creative well. Here’s what usually gets me excited to write or try out new ideas:

  1. Read the newspaper! I know—that seems counterproductive given the dumpster fire of a world we’re living in. But I want to remind everyone that there’s more to the paper besides the front page. Scientists are discovering black holes, advice columnists are still advising people on how to deal with families and friends, sports teams are still doing amazing things—especially local small teams and high school sports.
  2. Listen to the radio! Listen to MOTH radio and StoryCorps on Fridays on NPR. If you’re like me, you will inevitably cry (!!) but you will also be rejuvenated listening to stories of real people and they often spark ideas about what your fictional people might do or want or think.
  3. Watch bad television! I love watching television, I’ll admit it. And one of the benefits from television is it allows me to turn off my analytical brain and just feel or react … which often spurs ideas. I am not often a person who does subtitles or artsy television— I like it, but I find that serialized drama is a great way to just relax my brain. And then the ideas come, which is a beautiful thing.
  4. Finally, and I know people say this all the time, but I do definitely think that getting into quiet and nature is a foolproof way to spur creativity again. Being quiet and observing beauty and not being required to interact with the world ALWAYS helps free up my brain.

 

Hope these ideas help get you off your writing hiatus. It’s still a work in progress for me, but I’m trying. What’s worked for you? Please share some of your tips in the comments below!