Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Authors: Reviewing Reviews – 2 of 3, Reviewing the Reviewers


In my last Author’s blog, I presented to very different reviews of the same book. The book was my first published novel, Traveler’s HOT L – The Time Traveler’s Resort. Here’s the link to that blog if you’d like to review or read it before continuing.
This article is part two of the three-part series. It’s titled, Authors: Reviewing Reviews – 2 of 3, Reviewing the Reviewers. Keep reading, and you’ll find out why.
What follows is a dissection of each review in turn. I removed pieces of the review and comment on each. The post ends with a section titled, Comments and Conclusion.

Booklife Review: 10/1/14
A rundown hotel hides a HOT L (Harmonious Overlap of Time Location), a nexus for time travel, in a series of stories that lack the execution to deliver on the premise. Debut novelist Downing’s conceptual framework is ambitious, sending readers into a medieval historical, two crime stories, and the book’s own alternate-universe sequel, but there’s nothing new in these familiar settings. PI Phil Mamba tries to catch a murderous politician in his past and inevitably ends up altering the future; no one believes the boy who says that his dolls can speak when, of course, they can. By the time Jesus is referred to as a temporal anomaly, it’s all too much, especially given how often explanations of theory and verbose descriptions (“he spoke with tenderness tinged with resignation”) slow the narrative. The recurring characters who direct the HOT L lack personality, limited to droll remarks and clichés such as “smooth the now-wrinkled time fabric.” Nearly every opportunity to treat these concepts originally has been missed. (BookLife)
Dissection: [Note. I wrote what follows as a “dissection” two weeks after that review was published. It still reflects my feelings quite well. See the comments/conclusion at the end of this post.]
My first reaction was disappointment. I can’t imagine anyone not being disappointed after receiving what is, essentially, a dismissal of a project of theirs.
Everyone is entitled to her/his opinion. This individual clearly does not like my style of writing. That’s fair—it is, after all, an opinion.
However, I am now somewhere between perplexed with and angry at some of what is written—because some of it is wrong.
Points.
No one ever goes back and does anything to change the future. Both Mamba and Michael restore the original timelines. This is more than a technicality. No future is altered. This is a point of angriness.
In Battle, three individuals are described as having disappeared from the timeline before Rose goes missing. Jesus disappears from the timeline. He’s never referred to as a temporal anomaly. It is the Ascension that is referenced. His presence on Earth is never questioned. A second point of angriness.
I think this is wrong. Most reader comment on the originality of the ideas. Specifically missing from the statement in the review is any mention of:
·      The method of travel. Ripples, DNA stimulus,
·      The fact that only specific items travel. No artifacts in either direction, consequences for taking artifacts.
·      The fact that travelers return to original timeline with a real time lapse for the time they miss in nearly all cases.
·      The fact that they don’t know how this all began. The premise of DNA Trek.
Collectively, these comprise my third point of angriness.
I disagree. Each character has a unique personality that is reinforced in every story. Chronos is a bit of a tease. Eternity is a literalist. Epoch is a legalist. Tempus is learning how to co-exist with humanity. However, this is now my opinion. It is a point of perplexity.
I guess the bottom line is still disappointment. But now, that disappointment is the lack of content integrity of the review. Much of what is written is a misrepresentation of the book.

Review by TimeTravelNexus <This is not the complete review. The selection illustrates what I want to emphasize. This entire Amazon review is available at https://goo.gl/pE9bmL. The full-length review is on the TimeTravelNexus website: https://goo.gl/BJAazz. I think you’ll find that this selection is balanced in its content.>
…No, there's no missing "E" to make "hotel" - the "HOT L" is the "Harmonious Overlap of Time Location" and is the backbone of the brilliant time travel mechanism which is described most fully in the first short story. The following stories refer back to this - and even build upon it in some cases.
Time is described as a fabric which consists of interweaving threads and which can fold over itself.  Time can also be considered as a pool which suffers ripples.  Such imagery is used fully and allows for some wonderful reasoning behind why (and how) characters travel in time. It's one of the best descriptors of time that I've read and is definitely the high point of this collection!
Three of the eight stories really incorporated the time travel element well  - the first with an explanation, another with a time travel tourist, and a third with its 'discovery' and development…
Time travel, or the link to the HOT L, in the other five stories seemed to me to be rather tenuous, or superfluous. For example, by casting a character back in time for a second shot at something which could just as easily have been covered in the first version of the time line [sic] in the narrative, or by tacking it onto the end of a story which would have been just fine without it.

Dissection: [Note. I wrote what follows as a “dissection” of this review for this post, five months after it was published.]
My first reaction was, “Wow! This reviewer gets it!” It’s obvious that he read this book focusing on the time travel aspect. He goes into detail about every story.
I was pleased to read this. Following this review, I did a written Q/A interview for a companion website https://www.time2timetravel.com/tag/cr-downing/ where I explained the development of the ideas behind the stories.
I agree. J I have problems with most time-travel processes. In most cases, the travelers come and go without ever being “gone.” In addition, materials and devices from the past and the future flit back and forth without little or no restriction in function. There are no checks and balances involved in the process. None of those “problems exist” in my time travel mechanism.
I agree here, mostly. Most readers are unaware that all the stories were not originally time travel stories. Three of the stories could not exist without the time travel component, although the amount of time travel that is described in Michael Casey O’Brien is minimal. Million-Dollar Mistake originally ended with a “storm” sending the counterfeiters back in time as a form of unexpected justice. Although I tweaked that time travel method, it’s always been time travel story to me.
I agree. The remaining stories were massaged to include a time travel component because I needed stories for the book. I added the time travel element to the other stories in what I felt was an adequate amount. This reviewer, who has a broad understanding of the elements of a time travel story, saw through my ruse. However, readers of my book who aren’t diehard sci-fi lovers like the variety in story format and genre. Many continued reading the other books in the series because of that.

Comments and Conclusion
If you’re going to do a review of a book,
  1. you should have some “feel” for the genre. The Booklife reviewer seems to have limited understanding of Sci-Fi as a genre and less for time travel as a sub-genre. If it’s not “your” genre, decline the assignment.
  2. please check the “facts” you print about that book. There is no reason to include something as being in the book when it is not in the book.
  3. please read the book; don’t just scan it. If you didn’t read the entire book, say so. Explain why you started scanning. Don’t write about what you didn’t read.

 For me, the “take away” from this blog is to check out your reviewing service—if you can—before you ask for a review. Some of the reviewing services can be a bit more “be glad we agreed to review your self-published book” than “we’ll do our best to match genre interest in our reviewer to your genre.”

I’ll be writing about reviews you pay for two weeks from now.


Next – Review$ by “Professionals”

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I'd appreciate your feedback!


Email me at: chuckdowningauthor@gmail.com

Monday, March 20, 2017

Almanac: Back to School Nights-A Teacher's Perspective


I’m not sure when the concept of “Back to School Night” began. While the event is known as “Open House” in some areas, the principle is the same, regardless of the title.

  • School gets out early one day. Late September is a common time for the event. I’ve taught where there was a “Spring Open House” as well. More about that below.
  • Teachers prepare to meet with parents in the evening.
  • Parents come “back to school” during an “open house” at the school.
  • In most instances, at least part of the evening involves parents mimicking their child’s day in an abbreviated format. Middle and High Schools commonly reduce the length of the class periods to around 10-minutes. 
  • Parents start the room of their child’s first class, listen to a presentation of some sort by the teacher, then try to find the next classroom in the schedule within the time designated as the “passing period.”

There are variations on this theme, but this is the most common schedule I experienced in my 31-years of high school teaching.

Assuming the “most common” schedule is in place, teachers have 10-minutes or so to discuss curriculum, discipline plan, and grading scale. Fortunately, that wasn’t a time for parents to ask questions about their students’ grades.

Below are the actual Powerpoint slides I used during my final three Back to School Nights at Great Oak High School.

I started with “Pre-AP Biology, Dr. Downing” on the screen. The first mouse click brought the banana snake to the screen. I began,

“I am Dr. Chuck Downing. I’ve been doing this a long time. I graduated from San Diego State University with High Honors in Biological Science and began teaching high school as the last T-Rex collapsed from hunger and died. I taught science for 23-years at Monte Vista High School in San Diego County and was full-time faculty and Point Loma Nazarene University in Teacher Education for 8-years. I taught at least one biology lab every semester in addition to my Teacher Education course load. I’ve been at Great Oak since we opened in the fall of 2004.”

It took me the entire ten minutes to complete this presentation. I left no time for questions. I had a sign-up form at the back of the room for parents who wanted to schedule a conference. I found that most parents had the same concerns. Since my presentation address those concerns, I had to schedule few parent conferences.

Score!

For the first few years at Great Oak, Back to School Nights—note the plural—were on the days that the first student report cards were released each semester. There was no time for an in-class presentation. Teachers sat at tables arranged along the outer wall of the gymnasium.

Parents, who’d just picked up their students’ report cards, lined up in front of a teacher they wanted to “talk with.” After talking to one teacher, they could move on to another table.

For five semesters I was the teacher with the longest lines of parents. Twice they had to shut off the lights in the gym to get parents in my line to speed up the process.

Most parents were “concerned” about their child’s grade. The fact that less than one-third of the semester was complete—there was plenty of time left to get any grade—failed to sway some. I explained, over and over and over and OVER that this class was unlike any their student had in middle school. The expectation was that students would learn thinking and problem-solving strategies along with science content.

I knew what I said was true. I’d been teaching the same way since 1973.

Parental line-up nights were most unpleasant experiences.

On the flip side, the best Spring Open House ever was at Great Oak.

We were teaching Global Science, a hybrid science class for 9th-graders. The course connected biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science principles with an imaginary trip to six locations around the world. It was different and intriguing. Here’s a sample assessment piece.

Global Science Semester 1 Final
Investigation and Experimentation Section

Igor is the lab assistant for Dr. Frank N. Stein. Dr. Frank, as his friends call him, is working on a new project. Igor’s job is to sort the stored body parts in Dr. Frank’s lab and put them in order on the shelves.

Igor likes this kind of job. Below is a table showing how many of each body part Igor sorted.

Hour
Legs
Feet
Toes
Arms
Hands
Fingers
Ribs
Vertebrae
1
10
26
12
29
5
62
14
57
2
14
21
20
26
8
55
20
49
3
16
18
25
22
18
49
22
41
4
20
14
28
18
20
42
30
33
5
30
10
35
14
22
38
36
28
6
31
9
41
12
30
33
41
22
7
33
8
44
10
35
25
49
19
8
40
5
52
8
46
15
54
12
9
?
?
?
?
?
?
?
?
Make a graph of this data for the body part you are assigned. Be sure to follow ALL THE RULES OF GRAPHING.

Questions.
1.             What body part was assigned to you?
2.             Define: Independent Variable.
3.             What is the Independent Variable for your graph?
4.             Define: Dependent Variable.
5.             What is the Dependent Variable for your graph?
6.             What is the range of your body part data?
After you are done making your graph, answer these questions.
Assume that Igor took his lunch break after his fourth hour of work and could have stopped after 8 hours. Dr. Frank offered him one hour of overtime. Igor took the offer.
7.             Based on your graph, how many of your body part would you predict Igor will sort and store during his hour of overtime work (hour 9)?
8.             Explain how you used your graph to determine your answer to question #7.
9.             Write an explanation for why your think the number of your body part sorted and stored changed every hour.
10.         Would you do Igor’s job? Why or why not?

Once students understood the concept, the vast majority bought into it.

Not so the parents.

“Why isn’t my child taking biology?” was the most common question. No matter what answer was given, parents didn’t really care. Even if they didn’t like their high school biology class, or if they did poorly, their experience of that single-content class was “the right way to teach science.”

My Ph.D. research was on teaching the way described above. I know it is at least as effective as single-content courses. Students in “integrated science classes” learn content and how that content fits into the grand scheme of the field of scientific endeavor.

The year the school announced the Spring Open House would be a showcase for incoming 9th graders, I proposed that we seize the opportunity for parents and their students to see what Global Science and the rest of our huge selection of science course offerings were about.

Aside. For most of my 8-years at Great Oak there, were 18 full-time science teachers in our department. Over 75% of the student body took at least one more year of science than is required for graduation by the state of California. In addition to Global Science, we offered two levels of biology, AP Biology, chemistry, AP Chemistry, physics, AP Physics, anatomy and physiology, marine biology, AP Environmental Science, and forensic lab techniques. We also offered a complete list of International Baccalaureate offerings in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.
There was a lot of content to show off. End of Aside.

There are four ENORMOUS lab rooms at Great Oak. Capacity in those labs is 86. We grouped courses by main content title in each lab. We recruited students to come and do some form of activity during their 30-minute volunteer block. Interest students and parents wandered at their own pace. 

Some current Great Oak students/parents came to preview the offerings.

These were the best uses of Open House time I ever experienced.


Next Almanac: Back to School Nights – My memories as a student

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