10 things not to say to an agent

Okay, I’ve reached the minimum of 50 blog posts required to call myself a “serious” blogger and post my link on CWC-BB’s web site. So to celebrate, my 51st post is short and sweet.

For a good laugh, I recommend reading “Ten things you shouldn’t say to an agent” by Jon Bigg. 


My addition:

 “I know you’re going to love my novel because my mom and my wife loved it.”

What would you add to the list?

How much time will you spend on a book that isn’t great?

Is it a certain page number, like 100, or a certain fraction, like a 1/4th of the book? How long will you continue to read a book that you’re not really enjoying that much?

I used to be one of those people who kept reading because I ‘d already invested hours into something and hated to feel like it was all wasted time. Which is pretty silly since generally after I’d finished, it would be even more wasted time.

So now I’m willing to give up on a book without finishing. I thought about setting a 50-page limit, since if I’m not hooked by then, it’s probably not going to happen.

But some books are longer than others, so it seems unfair to compare 50 pages of a middle-grade novel to say, something by David Foster Wallace or  Jonathan Franzen. (For Freedom, I read past page 100 before cutting my losses, just to give it a fair proportional shake.)  It’s not poorly written—I just didn’t care about any of the characters. And really, do you want to spend time with people you don’t care about?

I just returned T.C. Boyle’s When the Killing’s Done back to the library. It wasn’t bad, but I realized that I wasn’t that excited to get back to it. So I cut my losses around page 70.

I’m getting ruthless.

But life is too short and there are too many great books out there to read ones that are just okay.

So how long will you read a book that isn’t satisfying?

A Star Trek analogy and a giant pencil—what more could I ask for?

Today: Part two of “Writer coaches really do make connections”

When I tapped Ma’ayan on the shoulder to come with me, he was finishing up a two-foot-long  construction paper pencil with the words Thank you!! on it. It was carefully crafted down to the rounded pink eraser end.

He had done most of his paper but was having trouble printing it out. After a few unsuccessful attempts, we abandoned the printer and headed to the coaching room, talking as we walked about what he still had left to do.

Incredibly bright and charming, Ma’ayan engaged me in conversation about the essence of his I-Search project, which was fascinating as a concept—the title being “Why I Can’t Do an I-Search Paper.” I realize that someone who didn’t know him might think it was a scam of some sort, or at the very least, an excuse.

But it was the reality of a person with ADHD who is learning about and adapting to his condition while analyzing the raw data that make up his days and distilling  all of it into a cohesive project that he could present and turn in for a grade.

He used an apt, if complicated, Star Trek analogy to express the way he gets things done, fully admitting that there are down sides. I was impressed with how well he knew himself at an age when most adolescents are struggling with the concept of identity.

And once again I was struck by how much I benefit from the writer coach relationship. I hope my 8th graders get as much out of it as I do.

A great aspect of this program is that it is mostly run by volunteers, so it’s inexpensive. But it’s not free, and it has to scrounge for funds like any nonprofit does. Even small donations go a long way toward providing every 8th grader in Berkeley schools a writer coach. I know funds are tight, and I’ve certainly cut back on my charitable donations. But this is a cause where I can see results, and that is so satisfying.

I have to admit—I selfishly want the program to continue partially because I love going to Martin Luther King Middle School on Tuesday mornings to see my kids and help them with their writing.

If you want to donate, click here: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/writercoach-connection/rwat

Writer coaches really do make connections

My last Writer Coach session of this school year was this week. Coaches brought snacks to share with the 8th graders they’ve been coaching all year, and the 8th graders gave us thank you cards.  

Of course it was also our last day to work with the kids on their biggest project of the year—the I-Search paper. Beforehand we learned that most of the kids had finished, but a few still needed actual tutoring. We would know which ones had not yet handed theirs in by their names on the chalkboard.

Three of the six names on the board were my kids. So while most of the coaches would be eating brownies and strawberries and celebrating with their 8th graders, I would be cramming as much writing help as I could into my 25 minutes with each student.

But we still had fun.

Raul told me the latest story he’d heard about steroid use (the topic of his paper) while I desperately tried to figure out which of the many sections of his project I could best help him with in the short time allotted. Then he handed me the card he’d made for me. It read:

Thank you, Tanya Grove, for being my writer coach. I will thank you with a hug.

Then he opened his arms,  flashed his big smile,  and delivered the promised hug. Right then I knew we wouldn’t finish his I-Search paper, but I also knew it would be okay. We got a few paragraphs written, and I gave him a rough outline for a third one that I hoped he could write on his own.

After he loaded up his snack plate, I accompanied him back to his classroom, and we said goodbye.

I hope I see him again one day and see who he grows up to be.

Sofia with the beautiful eyes had missed a lot of school due to mono, so she had been granted an extension on her I-Search, relieving some of the pressure.  She shared what she had so far, and I helped her divide page-long blocks of text into paragraphs.

It seemed petty, though, to quibble over mechanics when she was portraying the very real situation of a father forcing his 14-year-old daughter into prostitution.

She handed me a construction paper card that thanked all the people who had coached her that year.

Ideally, a writer coach is assigned the same three students for the year per class, so relationships and trust can develop. One of my students moved to Sweden in April, so for the last three sessions, I subbed in for absent writer coaches. Apparently Sofia never really had a regular writer coach—she had just been shuffled around to whoever had a slot open.

But she still had a thank you card ready for whichever coach would be helping her that day.

I’m glad that I could be there for her that day.

If you are interested in supporting the Writer Coach Connection program, (which is part of the Community Alliance for Learning), just click on this link.  http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/writercoach-connection/rwat

Part 2 tomorrow!

Teacher appreciation and hugs go a long way

Some time ago, prompted by the retirement of my college French professor, I suggested that everyone think back to beloved teachers in their past and take a moment to appreciate them in some way.

Then last Sunday I attended a reunion at the school where I used to teach. Kids who are about to graduate from high school and their parents were invited to visit with former teachers and each other back at the K-8 they left behind four years earlier.

These were my second graders back in the 2000–01 school year, the year my own daughter was in second grade there as well. So this is a class I knew not only as a teacher but as a fellow parent.


I’ve seen some of my former students in the intervening years because they’re either still in touch with my daughter or they attend Berkeley High where I occasionally volunteer. But it was great seeing all of them in a group together. And I especially enjoyed getting reacquainted with them now that they’re so grown up.

The whole event was  fun, but one moment stood out. As Adam embraced me, he told me how glad he was to see me there and that I was a great teacher. (Give me a hanky—I’m about to tear up all over again…)

That one statement made my whole week, maybe my whole summer.

Of course Adam was always a sensitive guy who spoke his mind. Plus, his mom is a teacher, so he probably has a little more insight to teachers than most kids. But he had also taken on the role of teacher in the Mosaic program, so he knew a little bit of what it was like to be on the other side.

Still, it was so thoughtful of this now-grown man (with a beard!) to let me know he appreciated me ten years ago.

Of course, when I think of Adam, I remember the adorable little barking boy who pretended to be a dog during recess. I just feel lucky that I got to see that transformation from puppy to man.

Test tube burgers: answer to world food shortage?

test tubes New Yorker‘s science writer Michael Specter visited laboratories in the Netherlands and North Carolina to find out about the latest development in solving the world food shortage—in vitro meat.

Right now it’s only at the stage where there are millions of cells in a petri dish, which apparently translates to a veal cutlet the size of one contact lens. It sort of takes tapas and small portions to a whole new level. 

Because of  practical issues, scientists are still far from building the tissue required to create a porterhouse steak, but Specter says it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could be consuming test-tube burgers in less than ten years. (I’m assuming they won’t have to actually be in the shape of test tubes because then they would be more like hot dogs.)

This is a win/win. Animal rights activists will be happy that animals will no longer be raised for food, and I won’t have to feel guilty about the carbon footprint I leave behind by eating a bacon cheeseburger. (Although I suppose it doesn’t free me from such issues as cholesterol…)

Currently the world has enough land to grow all the food we need. The catch is that much of that land is not owned by those planning to grow food. And even if all that land were available for crops, it is likely that soon there will not be enough water to grow the crops. (I heard this on NPR’s Fresh Air, so it must be true.)

Most of the world’s production of grain goes to feeding livestock, which is a huge drain on our resources. Petri dishes never get hungry. Yet another reason why in vitro meat is such a great idea.

hamburgerOf course in the end it will all come down to taste. If you order a New York steak and get something that tastes like that barbecue tempeh your vegetarian friends talked you into trying, then it’s a bust.

But I’m willing to try it, especially if I can get fries on the side.


Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are really not the subjects of this post

Lady GagaI attended two workshops in two days that focused on writing for the web. I learned some lingo—frontloading, keywords, sticky, SEO (search engine optimization), and got tips on how to increase the traffic on my blog.

Can’t. Cover. It. All. In. One. Post.

For one thing, posts are supposed to be short and snappy, and I was practically in overload by the end of the second workshop. So today I will focus on one piece of information I learned—you can’t fool the good people at Google.

Apparently in an attempt to get around the system, bloggers have tried to trick search engines into bringing traffic their way, figuring they are automated and therefore can be outsmarted. But this is Google we’re talking about, not Rosie the maid on the Jetsons. Like Santa, Google can see you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, knows when you’ve been good and bad, so blog honestly for goodness’ sake!

Because celebrities get more than their fair share of traffic on this worldwide web, bloggers would randomly throw in the names of celebrities like Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga, hoping that poor adolescents googling their favorite pop stars would accidentally get rerouted to their blog on knitting or antiques or political commentary. And then those bloggers could brag about their stats which they could then parlay into advertising dollars, and boom—they’re blogging millionaires!

Or not.

A blog is supposed to have followers who visit your web site because you have something to offer them, not because you lured them there with the promise of juicy Justin Bieber gossip and then hit them with your thoughts on wooden knitting needles vs. metal ones.

You can put an outrageous photo of Lady Gaga at the top of your post—and really, what other kinds are there?—but if all it does is bring misdirected fans to your blog for a millisecond before they realize they’ve been duped, what have you really accomplished? You don’t have any more true followers, and you’ve used an adorable, innocent boy in your web of deception.

So, just think: WWJD? (What would Justin do?)