Extra reading help for my second grader

Last year, I wrote a blog about my son attending a daily tutoring session called RAP, which stands for Reading Acceleration Program which is designed for children struggling with reading.

He was chosen for tutoring because he scored low on fluency (the speed in which he reads) on his Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI) test. Last year, he was closer to 40 words per minute when based on his grade level, he should be reading 60 words per minute.

Open bookNow before his teacher decided he needed RAP, I had no clue his reading wasn’t up to par. He is our first child, so we had no one to compare him with and his reading grade was an 89, so we weren’t concerned. After about three months of attending RAP for thirty minutes each day (and doing daily RAP homework, which consisted of reading a short book and doing two other exercise), Jase reached the goal set for him and was dismissed from RAP.

When he stared second grade, I was not surprised to find out he had been assigned to RAP again. Jase has never loved reading. At our first parent-teacher conference in October, when I mentioned his lack of liking to read, his teacher assured me that when he found the type of book he likes to read, he would probably take off.

Well, here it is four months later, and I have checked out a variety of books – mysteries, dog stories, space stories, poetry – and nothing really excites him. I think he sees reading as a chore. I definitely think my husband might be a bad influence here since he doesn’t like to read either. I, on the other hand, love to read. I read the newspaper every day, read books and magazine and the kids see me doing it all the time. But the appeal has never rubbed off on Jase.

Again this year, the need for RAP comes from his fluency rate. At the beginning of the year, he was tested at 45 words per minute. By mid-year, he only improved to 48 words per minute when they say he should be at 75 words per minute.

At our parent-teacher conference last month, we talked extensively about Jase and reading. He is currently reading at a K level, and typically, they want second graders at the M level before the end of the school year. I think this is one of the things I find the hardest – finding books that are his level and are not too easy or too hard.

We talked about ways to improve his reading such as pre-reading a section to look for words that he doesn’t know. Explaining the words and their pronunciation is supposed to help him not have the interrupted flow of reading, which leads to poorer comprehension.

Jase has a tendency to switch words around in the sentence, leave out words or even add words that are not on the page. Her advice was to let him self-correct rather than letting us correct him.

Her other suggestions were to record him reading so he can play it back and hear it for himself. She suggested the app Chatter Kids as one that allows you to record 30 second blurbs to play back using other people’s images as the ones talking. So imagine your child’s voice coming from George Washington or Hans Solo.

And of course, the last suggestion was to have him reread the books because with familiarity, he will begin to pick up speed.

I hope that these techniques will improve Jase’s reading. I know he may never love reading, but it is an essential skill that he needs to master. We will keep working on it throughout the school year and hopefully through the summer break too. I’m envisioning many trips to the library and used book store this summer!

Today’s Featured Author: Kathryn Lively

Today I welcome Kathryn Lively to my blog as we discuss being an author and her latest book, Killing the Kordovas.


Where were you born and where do you call home?

I am originally from Jacksonville, Florida, arguably one of the candidates for “birthplace of Southern Rock” (two of Molly Hatchet attended my high school, and bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers have history here). I lived there for half my life, and now make my home in Southeastern Virginia. I’m never far from the sea.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

People who know me, those who’ve read my books, would say yes. The two mysteries in my rock and roll series (Rock Deadly, Rock Til You Drop) reflect a bit of my weird sense of humor and ability to recall pop trivia, and my mystery Pithed was inspired by my father’s experiences as a teacher. Friends say in my latest, Killing the Kordovas, they can “see me” in there, so I suppose that’s possible.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

I am working on something different for a special call from a publisher. This is a sweet romance, something I haven’t done in a while, about two people who meet up at a sci-fi convention. It’s a little bit Big Bang Theory, and a bit Three’s Company. We’ll see how it turns out.

What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing)

The best advice came from an English professor in college, who said if you love to write…write! Simple as that. I try to follow that advice daily. The worst came from my first publisher, who is no longer in business (for good reason). She once chastised me for promoting my book, saying that the publisher should handle that. Of course, the publisher did nothing to help, then later chastised me for not doing enough to self-promote!

Authors, you have to sell yourself. Never believe that you cannot promote your work.

How do you conceive your plot ideas?

My ideas come from the strangest places. I wish I could accurately describe the process, but more often than not it happens from spontaneous thoughts or events. A mystery I wrote under a pen name came about after reading the story of the theft of Charlie Chaplin’s corpse, and Rock Deadly came about after attending a convention for Rush (the band) fans.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

It depends on the book. For a mystery, I do some plotting to make sure everything makes sense throughout the story. There needs to be structure in order to keep the reader guessing. Some books, like my current work in progress, happen in a more casual flow.

Please tell us about your current release.

Killing the Kordovas is the story of an author, frustrated by her stalled career, who cons her way into ghosting a novel for a reality TV star. She’s sick of talentless “celebutantes” getting all the breaks and loosely plans some kind of vengeance as she works, but soon the universe avenges her anger in a series of odd, tragic circumstances.

What inspired you to write this book?

I sometimes call my book the anti-Fifty Shades, because the mania over that book sort of inspired me to write this dark humor piece. I was inspired to write the stand-up comic aspect of the story after watching a few comedy specials (Louis CK, Jim Norton, etc.), and the publishing aspect just absorbing the experiences of fellow authors.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

Well, with a book that features a celebrity family named Kordova, who are all on TV, I think you can guess their real-life counterparts.  I could say there’s a bit of me in the lead character Danni, too.

Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?

We own a blue recliner, where I sit with my laptop daily. I find it’s become more of a challenge to write on the fly, but if ever we get rid of that chair I will eventually adapt and find another place.

What book are you reading right now?

I just started The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. I’ve not read any of the works in this series, and I stopped Stephanie Plum somewhere around nine or ten, so I’m interested to see if this is any good.

If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?

I wish I had the chance to have met Dick Francis. I’ve read nearly all of his mysteries and I wanted to let him know how he influenced. There’s still time, though, to meet Carrie Fisher. Postcards From the Edge cracked me up and helped me decide that I want to write with great humor.

Book Blurb

KillingtheKordovas200WARNING: This book contains rough language, spoilers for a possible sequel to Judy Blume’s Blubber, suggested lyrics for the theme to Sanford and Son, and one very mixed-up romance author.

Words come easily to writer Danni Hewitt. If only success did the same. The news of America’s latest reality sweetheart inking a major book deal sends Danni spiraling into depression, to the point where the idea of soothing her jealousy with a murderous rampage appeals to her.

Of course, this requires getting close enough to Krystal Kordova and her family to draw blood, something Danni achieves when she manages to land a job as Krystal’s ghostwriter.

Is the pen deadlier than the sword? Stick with Danni and find out.

About the Author

Kathryn Lively is an award-winning writer and editor, Slytherin, Big Bang Theorist, and Rush (the band) fan. She is an EPIC Award nominee and winner and has edited EPIC Award nominated titles for Phaze Books, Whiskey Creek Press, and FrancisIsidore ePress. She loves chocolate and British crisps and is still searching for a good US dealer of Japanese Kit Kat bars.

You can find out more about Kathryn on her website or blog. And don’t forget to follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

You can purchase Killing the Kordovas on Amazon.


The benefits of being a journalist-trained author

Way before I became an author, I was a journalist. I have my bachelors in Journalism (minored in Economics). Granted it has now been many years since I held a job in journalism, but I have written for my high school newspaper, my college newspaper (as well as being news editor), a daily newspaper and a weekly one – all while living in New  Mexico.

There are many similarities with being a journalist and an author. Obviously, both professions center around words – in my case the written word. Being wordy is never a good thing with either job. To be a journalist, you need to be concise because you are limited with space. As an author, you should be making every word count. It should move the story forward and not just fill up some sort of word count goal.

In journalism, you learn to always answer who, what, where, when, why and how (known as the five Ws and an H). It is the same with being an author.

Who is your story about? (characters)

What happens to him or her? (plot)

Where and when does the action take place? (setting)

Why do these things happen and how does the protagonist react? (plot)

As a side note, my husband’s favorite question is why. He likes to know the motivation behind each character’s actions. And he doesn’t take “Because I need that to happen” as a reason.

While there are similarities, there are some key differences. The main one is that fiction authors deal with stuff they make up with their imagination. This is highly frowned upon for a journalist. Ideally, news stories should be based on facts and represent all sides of an issue.

The writing style is also different. Journalists are supposed to write in an inverted pyramid style. This means the most important facts appear first (in the lead sentence) and less important or supporting facts come later. The reason for this style is that when editors cut a story, they don’t have to revise anything. They can simply cut off the end of the news story without fear of removing important details.

Novel writing, on the other hand, has important facts interwoven throughout the story. There would be no reason to read the whole story if everything was given away in the first paragraph or even the first chapter.

In the end, I think having a journalism background has helped me. Journalism teaches you to question everything. It teaches you to research and write with brevity – you learn to get the most out of just a few words. With my love for fantasy and my imagination, these skills hopefully enhance my storytelling.

Searching for that hard to find gift

Lexie’s birthday was coming up and all she could think about was getting an Elsa doll from the movie Frozen. We saw the movie Thanksgiving weekend, and miraculously, she didn’t ask for anything from Frozen for Christmas.

However, by January after listening to the soundtrack almost non-stop, Lexie was on a major Frozen kick. She loves Elsa. And because I have been on the Disboards planning our Walt Disney World trip, I knew that Elsa merchandise was nearly impossible to find.

As soon as she batted those beautiful baby blues at me and declared that this was what she wanted most for her birthday, I started looking online – Amazon, Walmart, Toys R Us, and Target. And just as I feared, everyone was “out of stock” – or in the case of Amazon, they wanted four times what the item normally sold for.

I then went to the stores – and I mean A LOT of stores – looking for ANY Elsa toy. Every time I could find Anna dolls but not Elsa. You could find Anna dresses but not Elsa. Even with the Anna stuff, some of it was hard to find such as just a plain “Barbie” type doll. (I snagged one when I did find it – as well as an Elsa dress that I finally found at Target.)

dogs and birthday present 3Now I didn’t want to be waiting until the last minute and be scrambling to find her presents. Instead, I went the other way. I really worried about it too soon. I looked on E-bay and there were several toys on there for bidding. But in my mind, I was thinking if I wait too long, they could disappear from E-bay as well. So I began to occasionally bid on one or two dolls, always keeping my bids in a range that I thought was reasonable for the item. (I am NOT paying two to three times what the item is worth, but an extra $5 is not unreasonable.)

So I ended up paying $35 for a toy that would have been sold in the store for $30 normally. That doesn’t sound so bad, but then you have shipping of $8. Now it is $13 more than what it would be if I found it in the store.

Then a week after the item arrived (and still two weeks before Lexie’s birthday), I was in a store and just happened to look in the toy section. There was the exact doll that I had bought! There wasn’t much I could do about it now. I had already paid more for the item. As my husband keeps reminding me – just think of how happy Lexie will be when she opens that gift.

Still it annoys me that I rushed into ordering one rather than waiting. But I was concerned about not getting the doll for Lexie. Would she have survived without it? Of course. But to see her face light up – it was totally worth it.

It is one of those situations where if I didn’t order it, then it would have been my luck that I COULDN’T find it in the stores. The items are gone so fast. People are snatching them off the shelves not just for their kids, but so they can make money off other people on E-bay. Basically, if you see something on the shelves, and it is a popular toy – buy it. Don’t hesitate. (I did this when I found a bed comforter with Anna and Elsa on it. Lexie loved it!)

So did I learn my lesson? Will I hold off purchasing something my kids want at a higher price? Well, I might hold off another week or two next time, but I still will be trying my hardest to get them what they want. Yes, they are spoiled that way.

This is the third in a three-part birthday series. The first was about birthdays that fall during a holiday or vacation, and last week was about waiting for RSVPs

Today’s Featured Author: AJ Harmon

Today I have contemporary romance author AJ Harmon on my blog. She recently released her First Class novel series as a box set.


Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born and raised in Perth, Australia, to English parents and now reside in Oregon, USA. I consider myself to be a perfect mix of Aussie, Brit, and Yank!

What or who inspired you to start writing?

I began writing on a dare. I was encouraged to read a novel by some friends and when I reported back that I wasn’t overly impressed, they dared me to write a book…so I did!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

It wasn’t until I quit my day job, after I published my third book, that I truly considered myself a writer. Now I am proud to tell people what I do for a living.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

I think it would be very difficult to write stories and NOT have my personality and experiences in them. All the female characters I write have a little bit of me in them, whether it is a physical or emotional trait. For example, Katy is pretty blunt, a lot like me. Janie is at times unsure of herself and often thinks she is lacking in certain areas of her life. Again, I suffer from that, too, just like millions of other women. Maureen loves her children so much, that she often meddles a little and frustrates her children. Again, that’s me!!

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

Having finished writing the First Class series, I am now really excited about the next one, Sky Romance Novels, the first book being released in 2014. It is a different format than FCN, in that all the stories don’t revolve around one family. SRN will have lots of different story lines weaving in and out and will not need to be read in chronological order.

What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst

The best thing is being able to set my own schedule. The worst is also being able to set my own schedule! 🙂 In order to be a writer you must have a lot of self-discipline, something I sorely lack at times.

What fuels you as an author to continue to write?

Feedback from readers who love my books is a wonderful boost to my confidence and desire to put out well-written stories. I love reading emails from fans who tell me how they relate to my characters and sit impatiently waiting for the next book to be released. There is no greater compliment for me, and no greater inspiration to continue doing what I love.

How do you conceive your plot ideas?

Plots come to me at night, usually when I’m trying to go to sleep. Quite often it’s just a scene that plays in my head and then the ideas just flow. A lot of my writing gets done after 10 pm!

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

I don’t outline the story if there are a limited number of characters, but in SRN, my new series, there are more storylines woven into one book, so an outline for each is definitely needed so that the stories come together at the right point.

If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?

I would certainly be Janie from First Class to New York. She’s experienced a happy marriage and has two sons that she adores and isn’t looking for a second love. But when she literally runs into the man that will become her future, her whole world turns upside down and she has to come to terms with the loss of her husband and realize that she has a whole future waiting for her. I feel connected to Janie in a way that I really can’t put into words. (Bad sign for a writer, huh? 😉 )

Do you have a specific snack that you have with you when you write?

I chew on ice and roasted almonds when I write. And I also need to be listening to music, preferably instrumental.

If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?

That’s difficult to narrow down to two, but the first would definitely be Jane Austen. I read her books as a young girl and they totally shaped my view of love and romance. I still read them often and it feels like coming home. The second would probably be Rosamunde Pilcher. I love the way she develops her characters on paper and am in awe of the way she connects the reader to all the characters in her books. She is a master.

About the Author

aj harmonAJ was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia, and currently resides in the United States. She has been married to the love of her life for 28 years and has two grown children, and a dog named Max. She is an avid reader, writer and wannabe chef.

She published her first romance novel First Class to New York after accepting a challenge from a friend to write a book. She self-published the book on November 17, 2012 in Amazon’s Kindle eBook store as a contemporary romance.

AJ Harmon’s First Class romance series is available in paperback on Amazon and for digital eBook download from the Kindle store. She has released all nine of the books in this series of contemporary love stories, including a boxed set that includes a bonus novella, and is currently working on the first book of her new series that will be released in 2014.

You can find out more about AJ on her website or on Facebook.



Follow up on using a digital recorder to write my novel

In January, I wrote a blog about using a digital recorder to help me write my novel. I received an Olympus digital recorder for Christmas with the hopes of brainstorming as I walked to get the kids from school or drove to the store. I envisioned dictating ideas or scenes in situation where my hands would otherwise be busy.

It has been over two months since I received the recorder, and I love it. Being able to record my thoughts as I run errands or clean the kitchen has been great. Right now, I am really using it more for the planning out of my story. I don’t work off an outline but rather let my story build and change as I write. This means I often need to brainstorm what will be happening next before I sit down to write. The recorder has been invaluable in that aspect.

A few times I have tried to dictate out a whole scene, but it hasn’t worked out as well as I would hope. I have no problem envisioning the scene in my head but trying to verbalize it seems to cause me problems. It seems I am better at typing down those thoughts.

I have even used the recorder to get down my ideas for future blog topics. I can just brainstorm aloud and then transcribe them later. And this is how I have been using the recorder. I play back – usually with headphones on – my recording and type the information into my Word document, often expanding the idea as I type. I have not tried using any of the software that would automatically input my recordings into Word. I kind of like having to type it in because it allows me to not only expand the ideas but put them in the correct order since this is basically my novel outline.

So if you are considering a digital recorder, I would say to go for it. For just over $50, you can get a great little recording device that is easy to use and carry with you. I am just happy to be able to work on my current work in progress when I am away from the computer and without needing a pad and pen to do it.