Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why Lexiles matter to independent writers and publishers

TL,DR: An explanation of Lexile Measures and how to receive an official Lexile measure for your books to help get them into school libraries.

In the ghastly domain of the real world, I work at a public school. I’m also a huge fan of independent presses and the work they do outside the lines of traditional publishing. Enough so that I believe whole-heartedly that one of the paths to instilling a love of literature in the youth, especially those that are bored to tears with what they are force-fed in their classes, is by providing them access to books by indie presses. That means getting copies of those books into school libraries.

The problem is that more and more school libraries require a registered Lexile score for every book they have available and many owners of small presses that I talk to do not know what this is or how to get it set up. In fact, I’ve had this conversation with enough writers and publishers that I decided to put this together to (hopefully) make it easier on everyone involved.

What the heck is a Lexile measure?

Essentially, it is a metric of how complicated a text is. The specifics of the formula are proprietary and owned by Metametrics, but basically seem to boil down to a combination of average sentence length (in words) and average word length (in syllables).

Why do schools care about Lexiles?

Lexiles are a handy tool in assessing the reading level of a student and can be tied to reading progress in accordance to the Common Core standards. It also allows for somewhat easier pairing of students with level-appropriate texts. Granted, this does not take into account how complicated the ideas within a given text are, only how complicated the words and their arrangement are (The Hunger Games actually has a higher Lexile measure than Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle). It does, however, provide a measurable tool to show progress in student reading ability. Given that teacher pay is increasingly tied to measurable growth, I’m sure you can see why so many schools buy into it.

What this means for your book?

Pure and simple, being able to provide a Lexile score gives a school library an extra reason to carry your book. Heck, it allows teachers the option of assigning your book for in class reading because they can then include it on the data they are likely required to provide to their bosses.

How do I get a Lexile measure?

This is where that whole “proprietary formula” thing becomes a bit of a pain in the ass. The only option I am aware of is to go through Metametrics. The details can be found at Lexile Framework site The good news is that most electronic texts only cost $30 and this is a one-time cost. The bad news is that you can’t comparison shop or estimate it on your own.

I will admit to a bit of bias when I try to push publishers and authors to get this done, but it is purely because I want to be able to give the kids I work with access to some of the best damn writing out there and this is another way for me to do that. Also, I think it would be cool as hell if we started showing how much genre fiction actually matches up to official literary works.


Nota bene: I don’t work for Metametrics and don’t profit by supporting their company. In all honesty, I think it sucks that this is not a publicly available tool and that the richness available in literature is reduced to an oversimplified number. All the same, I have to accept the world I live in and the expectations of my profession and use them to affect some form of actual learning in the students.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

RIP Tom Piccirilli

On Saturday, July 11, Tom Piccirilli died.
A Lower Deep

I remember stumbling on A Lower Deep back in 2001. It sat on a shelf in the book section of Kroger, that fucking harlequin staring me down like I owed it money. I remember being drawn in by the smooth, morose lyrical prose down into the depths of this weird ass necromancer and his snarky demonic familiar. I remember finding, among the copious buckets of blood and sex and scabby demons from every level of hell, an intense tale of love, loss and obsession. There was no turning back for me, even after I made the mistake of reading Dark Father.
Even Tom said to stay away from this one.
Even Tom said never to read this one.
Over my years writing reviews, I’ve been known to occasionally fawn over Piccirilli’s work. Some have accused me of being rather fanboyish, others (myself included in this last list) of riding his nuts. There’s a reason for this. While I’m neither arrogant or psychotic enough to believe he was writing directly to me, there are several times that works of his came out saying precisely what I needed to hear in precisely the way I needed to hear it to be able to hold on. To be able to deal with occurrences in my life I didn’t think I could deal with. I wouldn’t be the person I am if not for his work.
Last Kind

To every person out there who has ever ranted at me about the stupidity of genre fiction or that it only serves as violent and prurient wish fulfillment, this is why I politely ask you to fuck off.
Coffin Blues

His writing covered everything from erotica to horror to crime to gothic and even a couple of amazing goddam westerns. He could be linear, literal and sledgehammer brutal with his words or dance across the page with lyrical density. Some of his stories, especially the crime ones, were very straight forward. Then there were the weird ones where he really let the crazy come out and play. Those ones still mess with my head. Yet, there was always a core of raw, brutal honesty. That undefinable sense that no one else on the planet could have written this and that every bit of him was bleeding out onto the page.

I don’t know the man. I never had the chance to meet him, though he did respond to a few of my reviews and was always kind when I emailed him my latest bit of fanboyish squee, but I feel like, through his writing, I grew to know the piece of himself that he shared with the world. Hell, I still have a hard time picturing him without his old pug, Criswell, which used to feature heavily in his website those long days ago.
My condolences go out to his many friends in the writing community and especially to his wife, who fought tooth and nail with him throughout his battle with cancer yet always took a moment out to let his fans know what was going on.


Fuckin Pic, Man. Farewell.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Shock Totem Monthly Weekend-Long Challenge

Date: September 18-20
Prompt posted: Friday, 8pm EST
Story due: Saturday, 8PM EST
Comments and voting due: Sunday, 8pm EST

We are tossing things up a bit over at the Shock Totem Flash Challenge. We will continue the bi-weekly one hour challenge, but we are also adding in a monthly Weekend-long challenge. For this one, you will have 24 hours to submit your story.

This is a “prompted” challenge, meaning your story must be based on the prompt, which will be revealed just before 8 PM EST on Friday. The challenge takes place on the Shock Totem forum, so you’ll need an account if you want to participate.

Heads up: The Shock Totem Writer’s Workshop (the humble home wherein the flash challenge page of the forum is nestled) does not appear unless you are logged in. This is to protect any stories posted from appearing as published. Many people end up turning stories started on the flash challenge into publishable works and we don’t want to mess that up for anyone.

The purpose of the challenge is to force you, the writer, to clear your mind of all distractions and write a complete 1,000-word-or-less story within the allotted time. You’ll have to not only write the story, but also edit it, and then post it by 8 PM EST on Saturday.

For those interested, here are the rules:

1. All stories should be complete, written and posted within 24 hours, and can be anywhere from one sentence to 1,000 words in length.

2. You may choose to write your story in any genre.

3. Your story must be built around the restrictions—words, themes, photo prompts, word limits, etc.—provided by the Flashmaster at the beginning of the challenge.

4. Once the participants’ work is posted, the voting and comment session begins and continues until all votes are in. Time limit for voting will be determined on the spot, depending on how many people finish the challenge.

5. The winner becomes Flashmaster and hosts the next contest.

And that’s it. Simple and fun.

So go to the forum, sign up and kick people in the face with the force of your raw verbiage.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Millennicon is nearly upon us.

March is here, oh dear droogies, and with it comes Millennicon. This con is always a treat for me. The atmosphere is pretty loose, the people are quite friendly and I always have a good time.

Here is what you have to look forward to, if you join me:
Laura Resnick is the Guest of Honor. Laura is not just a hell of a writer, but a damn cool person as well. Down to earth but serious as hell about her work. I’d be fine just hanging out with her the whole time. Also, Tim Waggoner is there and he is always great.

The Winton Woods Headcases (a student writing group for the Winton Woods District) will be doing a reading at 11am on Saturday. First off, these are teenagers who are so dedicated to their writing that they are willing to get up before noon on a Saturday. If that ain’t amazing, I don’t know what is. Plus, you will get to hear stories about cool things like children who kill for teeth and Old ladies who fight dragons over a toaster. It’ll be pretty cool.

Also, I’ll be there. During the open ceremonies, you can see me with my fellow Headcases as we receive this year’s HAL award. I’m dern proud of that. Also, I’ll be talking Walking Dead and relationships at 11pm. And I am running a workshop on taking that BIG IDEA and turning it into a story someone would actually want to read on Saturday at 2pm.

It’s gonna be a fun time. You should come and buy me a beer. Or let me buy you a beer. Or just talk about dorky shit. Whatever.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

When paying back just ain't good enough

Warning: I’m going to start off whining and bitching, but it goes somewhere good. Please ride it out and indulge a fool.

I’m not going to spell it all out for the world, but 2014 was a shitty year for me and mine. Emotionally and financially devastating. As much as we all love the heartwarming message of Christmas specials, that financial shit was what really kicked our asses. 

In the course of this and through the aftermath, I realized how many amazing people I know. People that propped us up and helped us through with moral support, open arms and more open wallets than I have any reason to feel worthy of. Some of this from people I have never met in person. I’ve made no bones of it in the past, but it bears restating: I know some fucking wonderful people.

We could not have made it through this crap without them. 

It wasn’t just the money that pulled us through, though that sure as fuck was needed. It wasn’t just the people who screamed along with us, or the hugs, or the beer, even if we really needed those as well. It was the knowledge that people cared.

None of us can change the world, but we can each make it a bit better for someone. Sometimes it’s lending a hand, sometimes an ear, sometimes that twenty bucks I was going to use for something pretty for myself. I have a suggested opportunity below to help someone in need, but don’t feel limited to that. I’m sure there is someone you know that could use an outstretched hand. It can make a world of difference.

Help a Veteran and his Family recover from a house fire. (from this point on, nobody is allowed to say anything mean about mother-in-laws)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Another update on context

Well, fuck.

Seriously. Dammit, people.

So, some stupid shit happenedat context and officials dealt with it in a stupid manner. And it pissed off a lot of people, myself included, who said they would not attend the convention. Then, there appeared to be hope. A new Con-Com made up of people that would actually try to help congoers feel comfortable and secure at the convention.

You get the point. Context is done, for me. I’m sad, because this was my first real convention and it has meant much to me over the years. I have met new people, built friendships and learned a shit-ton and been given the opportunity to act like a total dork with people who understand.
There will be other conventions, but none will feel the same for me as Context once did.

Fucking people, man.