Walking Out: A Teacher’s Perspective


Tomorrow morning I’ll join many of my colleagues in voting yes to walk off my job as a teacher on April 2nd. It’s a vote that comes with a lot of anger, a lot of concern for my students, and a lot of fear for my own future.

Today our district superintendent laid out what will happen in terms of our salaries if this walkout drags on for an extended period. It isn’t pretty, folks. In terms of salary, there’s a cutoff date and if the walkout goes beyond that, teachers won’t get 1/6 of their annual salary. Typically, that means two months’ pay at the end of June. With Oklahoma teachers being the lowest paid in the nation, it isn’t hard to guess that most of us do not have the savings to survive a summer without a paycheck.

If the Oklahoma Legislature refuses to raise the GPT to fund teacher pay raises and return the money taken from education over the past several years, many teachers will be forced to take other jobs or leave the state as the walkout continues. It’s something that’s already happening way too often, but it’s one thing to limp along with a little money and another thing to suddenly face a total lack of income (except for the 2nd and 3rd jobs many of us already have). Oklahoma’s GPT, by the way, is the lowest in the region, about half of Texas’ GPT … Texas, where teachers earn about $20,000 per year more than in Oklahoma. It’s not going to hurt the big oil companies to pay more taxes for drilling here.

Salary issues aside, what about the students? Will my students miss out on taking their Advanced Placement tests in May? If teachers are out for a while, will the students be adequately prepared for those tests? What about the kids who rely on school for two meals a day? The ones who need a teacher or counselor to turn to when home life is bad? What about sports? Band and choir concerts? Prom? Graduation? Can parents afford to pay more for childcare when school isn’t in session? What trouble might bored teenagers find with extra time out of class?

One of our state representatives has already said the teacher walkout is “extortion.” The students Rep. Coody said this to responded well, hitting several important issues, such as unqualified people teaching our students as qualified teachers flee the profession or the state, the lack of supplies, overcrowded classrooms, etc. The students understand we are not abandoning them. They work every day with books missing covers and pages, watching YouTube videos of science experiments because they don’t have lab supplies to actually do the experiments, and trying to get the most from their class periods when there are 35+ students in a room designed to hold 25. Our students support us. They know we’re not the greedy people the legislators are already making us out to be.

Already the Oklahoma lawmakers are acting to punish teachers with recent bills passed through committees. In one instance, violent students who have assaulted teachers will be allowed to return to school, putting teachers, staff, and their fellow students in danger. HB 3539 seeks to eliminate minimum teacher salaries and annual step increases under the guise of allowing districts to compete for the best teachers. However, districts can already pay more than the state minimum, so in reality the bill simply gives districts a reason to do away with step increases, which typically are about $200 per year. Another bill limits the time period teachers can look for employment in other districts, threatening to revoke teaching certificates if teachers resign after June 15.

Hopefully the parents — the Oklahoma voters — understand all this. Hopefully they will join teachers on April 2nd at the State Capitol. Hopefully they will call their representatives and senators and demand that lawmakers give teachers their first pay raise in 10 years and restore education funding.

Failure to act together as a state right now will likely mean a very long-term failure as our education system continues to crumble and Oklahoma students fall further and further behind their peers in our country.

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Signing with Hartwood Publishing


This post may ramble a bit as I explain the situation, so let me just summarize everything right up front. I’ve signed a contract with Hartwood Publishing letting them publish my novel Bold Bounty, an historical romance that has ties to my Werewolf Saga.

Okay, now for the details …

I learned of  Hartwood Publishing by reading Gordon L. Rottman‘s novels The Hardest Ride and Ride Harder. I enjoyed both of them. They’re western novels, and the first one made The USA Today bestseller list. I’m about halfway through my second western novel, so I thought I’d see if Rottman’s publisher might be a company I’d consider for Badger’s Bend when it’s finished. To my surprise, Hartwood requires that all stories have a strong romantic element, which Rottman’s books do, though I didn’t consider them romance books. Badger’s Bend has a romantic subplot, but like I said, it’s only half finished and isn’t even the project I’m working on at the moment. But I was intrigued by the company and recently finished a round of edits on Bold Bounty, so I thought I’d dangle that worm out there and see if there was any interest. There was.

So, a little about Bold Bounty. The novel was originally written at about the same time I was writing Shara. I finished it before I started college, so that was about 1997 or so. In 2001 it took third place for Historical Romance in the annual Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. contest. At the time, it was a straight historical romance about a Welsh noblewoman captured by Vikings and given to the son of their chief as a potential wife. The woman, Morwen, was betrothed to a cruel French marquis, and that was the conflict.

Then along came Douglas Summers. Mr. Summers was a British werewolf friend of Josef Ulrik who had a very short appearance in Ulrik. Although he died quickly, Summers stuck in my head because of his role in The Pack as an historian. I created “The Halden Cache: A History of the Foundation Stone, and Translation of the Accompanying Text” and attributed Nag Hammadi-inspired document to Summers. In this fictional document, Summers relates how Bjorn Halden came to be a member of The Pack and how Bjorn held meetings of many members of The Pack every 10 years. Bjorn is the son of the Viking chieftain in Bold Bounty. See how it all starts to tie together? For the story of Bold Bounty, Bjorn is NOT a werewolf. The series title for these romance-heavy novels tied to The Werewolf Saga (yes, there are more than one) is The Werewolf Saga Apocryphal Tales. Honestly, Murdered by Human Wolves and Call to the Hunt should both be part of this series, but whatever.

So, why Hartwood Publishing instead of MoonHowler Press? Frankly, I’m hoping for more money. Rottman making the USA Today bestseller list made me think Hartwood must know something about marketing, which is seriously my weakest point. Also, I’m not so good at cover design. I think I’ve done a few decent covers with stock images, but overall, they’re pretty basic. Sales. MoonHowler Press books just aren’t moving. Is it the self-publishing stigma? My lack of skill marketing? Are the books not very good? I don’t know. Even the free e-books don’t generate enough reviews for me to find out what people do and don’t like. I’m hoping working with what seems to be a reputable smaller press will help me gain exposure. I never thought I’d work with another small press I’m not in control of, but I look forward to seeing what Hardwood Publishing will do with Bold Bounty.

And yeah, I know … romance. Publishing a romance next, a western novel this past summer. Where’s the horror? I dunno. But here’s a shocker … the book I’m currently working on is a contemporary romance without any supernatural elements whatsoever.

Review: Take Me with You


Take Me with You
Take Me with You by Catherine Ryan Hyde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Early on, I was thinking this was going to be a 5-star book. But the second half just didn’t hold up to the promise of the beginning. That being said, I did thoroughly enjoy the story despite some issues with it.

August is a high school science teacher and a recovering alcoholic. He lost his 19-year-old son to a drunk driver sometime before the book begins. Every summer he takes his RV out on the road to explore national parks and such. As the story opens, his rig has been towed to a little shop where the mechanic offers him the repair for free … if August will agree to take, Wes, the mechanic’s, two young sons with him for the summer while Wes serves another jail sentence for, you guessed it, DUI. August agrees, and the road trip begins.

I loved this part of the book. I mean, I was wondering how I could get copies of this book to use in my AP Literature class. But then things just didn’t keep building like I hoped. I expected more symbolism, a stronger theme, etc. There is a theme that I’d love to teach, about how we have to live our lives, letting the benefit outweigh the risk and accepting that sometimes bad things will happen no matter how many precautions we take. But, things like Henry running away was just glossed over after the incident. I expected more when August and his ex-wife met. And then there was the eight-year jump in time and the continuation of an emotional attachment with very little shown to sustain it during that time.

One thing I have to note is about the scene where the RV breaks down and Seth has to go for a water pump. There was no discussion about the core charge/refund for the old pump. Sorry. I guess it’s a minor thing, but with all the going back and forth and concern over money and getting the wrong part first, I just expected there to be something said about it.

I’m walking too close to the line with major spoilers. It’s a good book. In fact, I talked myself up from 3 stars to 4 as I wrote this review. It didn’t live up to the potential I saw for it in the beginning, but I certainly did enjoy it and recommend it.

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Review: A Man Called Ove


A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across A Man Called Ove while browsing Audible.com, not looking for anything in particular. The reviews were good, so I gave it a try. I’m glad I did. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s a strong character study about an old Swedish curmudgeon who learns to love before it’s too late.

Ove has always been a man of few words, like his father before him. He worked hard until he was told to retire, and now all he has to keep him going is making sure his unruly neighbors are following all the rules of their neighborhood association, something Ove helped establish before he was deposed as the leader of that by his former friend Rune, who now suffers Alzheimer’s. When a lanky man, his head-strong Iranian wife, and their two daughters move in next door, and an almost-hairless beat-up cat decides to adopt Ove, well, his life has to change. For instance, he can’t seem to find the time to kill himself to join his wife in the afterlife.

The book made me smile several times. Fredrik Backman had Ove determine a lot about people by the cars they drove. That was kind of nice, but not being very familiar with Saabs and Volvos, it didn’t mean a whole lot to me. I assume it would be like me driving a Ford and thinking Chevy people are defective.

By far, my favorite character was Parvenah, the Iranian neighbor. She caught on to what Ove was up to and, instead of confronting him about it, did what a smart woman who understands people would do. That’s really the strength of this book, the interaction between the characters and how they understand and relate to one another.

I had a little trouble with the ending. The bit with the journalist and the others confronting the man in the white shirt was, I thought, a little too coincidental. But really, it wasn’t enough to spoil a very good story.

The audio was extremely well done, too.

It’s a really good book. I recommend it.

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3 New Books for June


I’ve been busy since school let out less than a month ago. I’ve edited two books and published them, plus one more. All of them are outside my usual genre. Now it’s time to promote them and try to convince you to buy them.

First up is A Light Beyond. This is one I imagined several years ago, when I still had an agent who didn’t really believe in me. He shot the idea down, but it wouldn’t leave me. I wrote the book last semester, putting down a little over 50,000 words in a pretty short time for me during a school year. This is the story of Robert Prince, who meets an older woman when he’s 13 and falls in love with her. He has a friend who is a bully and a home life that is less than good.

Structurally, I tried something different with this short novel (or long novella). Each chapter is from a different stage of Robert’s life. We begin in a Cincinnati subway tunnel, where he’s been severely beaten. We then move to the summer of 1978, when he’s 13 and meets Alia, the older woman down the street. The third stage stretches over a much longer period of time, beginning when he’s about 18 and concluding with the chapter that reveals why he’s in the subway at age 51. Every third chapter goes back to one of these stages of his life.

For the few who are interested, there is a lot of nostalgia in this book for me. The chapters with young Robert are set on the street where I grew up and characters visit real places like Longfellow Junior High School, Bob’s Cone Corner, Hendrie House Buffet, etc. There really was a woman living in the house described who a “frenemy” of mine insisted was a hooker. Like Robert, I spent a lot of summer afternoons working puzzles, playing board games, and reading. But pretty much all the major plot elements are fiction.

A Light Beyond is available in both paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app.

This next book is pretty special to me. My first genre love was for the Western, though it was more for movies than books. I’d wanted to write a Western novel for many years, but frankly, was afraid to branch out. The research seemed intimidating, too. And yeah, that same agent who dissed A Light Beyond didn’t want anything to do with Orphan when I proposed it to him.

This one is also told from three perspectives, but it’s three different characters. First is Ramsay, a wanted man just trying to get west, away from his old life and all the disappointments it held. When he catches a man cheating at cards in a small east Kansas town, the man pulls a gun and Ramsay has to kill him. This leads the man’s nephew, Jack, to decide that Ramsay is now responsible for him, so he tags along. Back in Chicago, Les finds out his lover isn’t who she claimed to be, and she’s pregnant. If he wants to maintain his relationship with her, he must leave his job as a packinghouse foreman and use his old Pinkerton skills to track down a meat baron’s missing grandson. Eventually, Ramsay, Jack, Les, the grandson, and a bounty hunter all meet up. There’s some shooting.

About the only other thing I can say about this one is that it’s dedicated to the memory of Johnny Quarles, Johnny lived in my hometown when his first novel, Brack, came out in about 1988 or so. I was about 22. Surprisingly for my introverted self, I picked up the phone and called him shortly after his book came out and found him to be a warm, helpful man with a wonderful family. He gave me a lot of good advice and let me interview him for various newsletters and such. In the early days of the Internet he even paid me to create and maintain his first Web site. My character, Ramsay Quarles, takes his name from Johnny and Johnny’s character Brack Ramsay. I hope my book is a worthy tribute to a great man.

Orphan is available as both a paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app. The audio version is in production at the moment.

The third book I released this month is a really old manuscript. I’m talking like 25 years old. Songbird was written when my wife was pregnant with our first child. We never asked to learn the gender of our kids before they were born, preferring to be surprised. I know, that’s unthinkable today with all the elaborate gender reveal parties, but … whatever. We knew if we had a boy he’d be named Alexander and if we had a girl she’d be Rebecca. So the songbird of the story is named Becca and the wandering sailor who rescues her from the Trolls is Zander.

As you may have guessed, this is a children’s fairy story. Becca trades her freedom to save her village and she’s locked up in the Troll king’s Fang Tower, where she has to sing every time a Troll rings a bell. Zander hears her one day and vows to rescue her, but the Troll king’s ransom requires that Zander find the legendary land of Farin and bring back Queen Roshell’s wedding ring. Can he do it before the Troll king forces Becca to marry him? Well, it’s a fairy tale, so you can probably guess the answer to that one. It’s a chapter book, so I guess the target audience here is probably grades 3 to 8. The font is bigger than normal, so the page count is higher than the word count would suggest.

You’ll find several homages to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander in this one.

Songbird is available in both paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app.

Thanks for sticking with me!

 

Review: Flowers for Algernon


Flowers for Algernon
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Somewhere, sometime, somebody failed me. How is it I had never read Flowers for Algernon until now? Even my youngest kids say they read it in eighth grade, and they almost never read anything.

I make my AP Literature seniors do a tapestry of books they’ve read at the end of the year. A lot of them had Keyes’ novel on their tapestries. Then, Flowers for Algernon played an important role in Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything. So, it was like Fate decided it was time I read this novel. I’m glad I finally did.

This is the story of Charly Gordon, a mentally retarded man who undergoes experimental surgery and in the course of a couple of months becomes a genius smarter than the university professors who operated on him. Now there are two Charlies. The old one, innocent, kind, naive, and mentally handicapped, and the new one, arrogant, immature, violent, but brilliant. And there’s a running clock when Charly finds the flaw in the professors’ experiment.

That’s the plot. The real story is about what it means to be human. The professors see Charly as a lab specimen. Charly’s old “friends” see him as a buffoon there for their entertainment. Charly, meanwhile, who only wanted to be smart before the operation, struggles to reconcile the person he was with the person he is … and the person he’s becoming.

This is a wonderful, but very sad novel. It’s a book that will make you look at yourself, your attitude, and question what is important in your life.

I listened to this as an audio book. Jeff Woodman did a brilliant job. As retarded Charly struggled with spelling, I thought at first I was missing out by not seeing the text, but Woodman’s narration more than made up for anything I might have missed by not reading the words myself.

I highly recommend this book, either in print or audio.

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Review: West Texas Kill


West Texas Kill
West Texas Kill by Johnny D. Boggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

West Texas Kill was pretty good, but certainly isn’t Johnny D. Boggs’ best novel. The structure is well done, with most chapters ending in a cliffhanger. The pace is non-stop action. The characters, though, were just lacking. The only one I really liked was Moses.

Boggs doesn’t let the story drag with too much historical detail, but he has enough real place names, real situations like tired horses, slow travel, empty guns, to keep it gritty and realistic. No one just uses a gun. Boggs is always very specific about the brand and caliber of the weapons being used.

I guess my biggest problem with the book is simply that it was pretty predictable. That notwithstanding, I enjoyed the ride quite a bit.

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