Saturday, August 29, 2015

Like Butter Scraped Over Too Much Bread

Oh…wow…it’s been months since my last post! Believe me, I’m still writing…I just haven’t been writing here. The truth is, I’ve spread myself a little thin lately, or as Bilbo Baggins says, “Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread”—such a foodie, that Hobbit.

So let’s see, besides teaching and marriage…or my marriage to teaching…or my being married to a teacher…or all of the above, and all good…I’ve been building followers and recruiting writers for our school’s Advanced Placement Club blog:

The blog is a support site for our students with college aspirations, a hub of insights linking them to information on AP courses, colleges, careers, admission tests, financial aid, scholarships, etc. Because the site features a new guest blog every week from school staff, students, and alumni, as well as local professionals and community activists…I stay pretty busy recruiting new writers, editing, and publishing, and so on. Occasionally, I’ll contribute.

Apparently, our students aren’t the only ones reading the blog. Toward the end of the school year, I was contacted by Zócalo Public Square—an organization best described as a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism—and asked to contribute an article. I sent the first draft in just before leaving on vacation and followed up with a few edits and small revisions from the hotel room.  Zócalo published the article, “When PeerPressure Is a Good Thing,” on their website in July, and since they are syndicated, our local newspaper picked it up and published it (pretty dang cool!). And just last week, I googled myself (don’t tell me you’ve never done it), and discovered that had picked it up as well (double dang cool!). The editors at Zócalo are awesome, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to write for them again.

And…wait for it, wait for it…I finished the sequel to The Revenge Artist! I’m calling it Evelyn Illustrated. It picks up just weeks after the first book left off. So far, only my editors have read it, and both ladies give it the thumbs up—way up.

I’m not sure when anyone else will get to read it though, since the publishers of book #1 went out of business this past April, and I had hoped they were going to publish book #2. My goal right now is to find a new publisher for The Revenge Artist that will want to invest in the series (I’m pretty sure I have at least one more Evelyn Hernandez story in me). For the moment though, both books are in libro limbo, waiting for the right publisher to take a chance on them. Yes, as the Tom Petty song goes, “the wai…ai…ting is the har…dest part,” but since school is going to keep me way too busy to have any time to obsess over it—it’s all good.

That’s because I firmly believe teaching makes me a better writer, and writing makes me a better teacher. I can’t imagine doing one without the other. Case in point: A couple of days ago, one of my students told me she started reading my book. She was only on chapter two, she said, but it was really good so far. I was curious as to where she got her copy, considering it’s no longer available. It turns out it belongs to a friend of hers who also happens to be a former student of mine who graduated about eight years ago. She told me her name, and it took me a moment, but I clearly remembered her: very tall, always smiling, big dimples. What is she doing now, I asked. She graduated with a degree in English and now she's working on her masters in literature, my student said, and...she’s also a writer.

And that, folks…is exactly the kind of fuel that keeps me going.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dear Google, Please Help Me with This Poem

The other day in class, we were examining Stevie Smith’s poem, “Not Waving but Drowning.” The students presenting the poem asked the class, “Who do you turn to when in need?” Some named friends, others named their parents or family members, someone said, “God,” and then someone else said, “Google."

I had to chuckle at that, as did many of the students, but the more I thought about it, the more the comment struck me as extremely appropriate…maybe even profound.

Who do we turn to when in need? Well, I guess that depends on the form of need. In the poem, the speaker says, “Nobody heard him, the dead man,” suggesting that if only someone had known he was in trouble he might still be alive. But then the dead man himself speaks up, “I was much further out than you thought / And not waving but drowning.” I was crying for help all along, he says, but no one was paying attention. The students found that they could easily apply this idea to their own experiences. They talked about the need to listen to others, to really pay attention to the warning signs of depression, desperation, or self-destruction.  As we continued to analyze the poem we had a very rewarding conversation about friendship and our responsibility to each other…especially in this age of social media where genuine communication is never a sure thing.

Afterward though, the Google comment continued to nag at me.

Where do our students turn for help when they need to understand something? Yes, some ask friends or family, some even pray, but most seek the World Wide Web for answers, and they turn to a search engine, most likely Google, for guidance. Only Google doesn’t give answers or guidance, it only gives information—lots and lots of information, instantaneously. More information than any one person could possibly read or view in a lifetime—but no help with what to do with it.

Whenever I am looking on the Internet for ideas to help me teach literature, I find the most incredible resources…and I am constantly reminded that we as teachers are not the gatekeepers of knowledge. There is nothing about English literature—or science, or math, or history, or music, or whatever—that only we know, that only we can impart to our students. The world is full of knowledge and ideas and information…and it’s all right there on the Internet for the taking. Yes, it can be hard to find sometimes among all the other misleading (and dangerous) cries for profit and attention, but it’s out there.

In fact, the way technology is progressing, it seems that teachers, as we know them, will no longer be necessary. With the right mix of learning apps, instructional videos, work sheets, and work models, it seems a custom learning plan can be created to fit just about any child’s needs. It seems…but it would be missing one very important thing: guidance. The one thing teachers have that cannot be replaced is their ability to provide guidance.

In the end, our job is not to give students our knowledge, but to guide students to acquire their own…to help them become independent learners, self-teachers. But there is the misconception that because today’s youth are technologically fluent—they were raised on the Internet and instinctively know their way around it—that they are intuitively capable of making sense, evaluating, and drawing conclusions from the vast amounts of information to be found there…they are not.

When I was in high school, research meant an entire day in the city library, trolling through the index cards, roaming the isles with your Dewy-Decimal map, and hauling book after book back to a table where you would then try to narrow the number down to a manageable stack you could realistically check out and carry home. If what you needed was in a reference book then you had to take your notes on the spot because those couldn’t be checked out. And sure you could always make copies…if the coin-operated machine was working and the ten-cents a pop didn’t leave you without money for the bus ride home.

No matter what you want to tell yourself, information-wise, those were not the good old days. And if acquiring that information wasn’t difficult enough, reading, comprehending, evaluating, and attempting to draw some conclusions from it was even more challenging. Can you imagine telling a 1980’s teen that for their American History research paper they had at their disposal the combined print, film, and audio contents of every library in every city and school in America, including the Library of Congress (and the rest of the world for that matter)…the idea would be unfathomable!  

Those, however, are exactly the informational resources available to our students today…and they need help making sense of it all. Whether it be the complex issues surrounding a historical occasion or a current event…the persuasive appeals of an advertisement or the cultural values reinforced in a particular film…or whether it be evaluating a complex piece of literature or a crisis in their own lives…students need our guidance to learn the tools and techniques to help make sense of it all. 

I’m so very proud of my students. Even though I try my best to provide that needed guidance, I know in their desperation they may at times turn to that vast unmonitored ocean of information, not for help with their own understanding, but for a quick fix…to “borrow” someone else’s ideas, someone else’s conclusions…to pretend (even with themselves) that they got there on their own, and that they could get there on their own again. I know my students could have easily “googled” an “academic support” site like where they might have found such ready insight as: “When you get past the swimming metaphor of the poem, you'll find that the kind of isolation it describes is eerily familiar. After all, the world of social media works the same way.” But they didn’t; they got there—and maybe even further—on their own.

On that day at least, when class ended and they all waved goodbye to me as they walked out the door…I knew they really were just waving and not drowning.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Revenge Artist is now in PRINT!

Okay all you bibliophiles…it’s finally here!

TheRevenge Artist is now available in touchable, bendable, lendable (smell-able?), hardcopy!

Get it now, direct from the publisher: Lycaon Press.

When you’ve finished reading it (or if you already have), make sure to check out my website for some free stuff (while supplies last).

Front and Back Covers:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Guest Blog: Author Interview

Hey All!

I’m a guest on Dana’s YA Bookpile. Come on by and check me out.
 Meet Philip Hoy, author of The Revenge Artist

Dana Wright asked me for my top five movies of all time…and I just couldn’t answer.

Five! Only five? Why not ten? Why stop at ten? What would it matter anyway? If the list was for one hundred, there could still only be one movie in the number one spot…only one movie could be number one?

How could I commit to one movie? That’s like one meal, one shirt, one tie, one book, one wasn’t fair!

So I panicked…and gave her six.

She also asked me if I were a cookie, what kind would I be.

…just one?