Social Media and Kids

Earlier this month, I went to a seminar about social media and kids. It was presented by a counselor from one of our area middle schools.

Now, my kids don’t have cell phones, but they do have iPads that have WiFi ability, so they could have access to some of these apps (though they don’t). Also Jase will be starting fifth grade in August, so I figured it would be a good idea to find out what apps and social media kids are into nowadays and what the dangers associated with them.

The counselor stressed open communication with your child. She suggested using the available apps and social media as a way to start a conversation about what they put online. You know…the whole “Whatever you put on the Internet is out there forever” and such.

Her recommendation was to allow your kids to have some of the safer apps but require they give you their login and password information rather than you just friending or following them on the social media sites. This way you can check to make sure they are behaving in a safe manner.

Good-and-Bad-Teen-Apps-Parent-Guide-300x169She put the apps and social media into three categories: green (safe), grey (could go either way) and red (bad/stay away). (I may have missed some in my note taking. She listed them by their icons rather than their names.)

Green Apps: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Linked In, YouTube

Grey Apps: Snap Chat, Vine, Personate, Facetime, Texting, Messenger

Red Apps: Kik, Yik Yak, Omegle, Whisper, After School App, Secret,

Many of the Red Apps let users set up anonymous accounts – which means users can post things without their comments being traced back to them. This often leads users into making mean comments (cyber bullying) or posting things sexual in nature. (Kik doesn’t even link your account to your cell phone number.

unnamedMany of the red apps are rated for kids age 17+, but that doesn’t mean kids younger than that are not downloading and using them. She also suggested checking their phones for a “Secret Calculator” app. This app looks like a regular calculator to friends or parents but actually once the passcode is entered it is a place to store photos and videos. This is just one way that kids get around any parental rules.

And just because you forbid them to use a particular app or perhaps don’t even get them a phone, they find ways around it such as setting up an account on a friend’s phone. In the speaker’s opinion,(and I agree with her) it is better to have supervision rather than no knowledge of their behavior. (In other words, allow them some freedom but still monitor their activities and keep communication open.)

Another way of hiding things is to have a Finstagram account on Instagram. This is generally a second fake account usually used for only close friends where users share funny or embarrassing photos. Even though Instragram posts only show for 10 minutes or less, it doesn’t stop others from taking a screen shot of the image and sharing it elsewhere. So if your kid has a Finstagram account, they need to remember that what is posted is no longer private. It can go anywhere.

Overall, the course was an eye-opener, and it gave me a lot of things to think about. Here is the link to her go-to website for staying up-to-date on the latest apps and their dangers.

Tips for dealing with criticism about your novel

criticism2It never fails. Whenever my husband reads a draft of my novel, he has comments and questions. And somehow in our discussion (either while he is explaining what he doesn’t understand, or I am questioning him to better understand his point of view) our communication breaks down. One of us gets defensive…and I will admit that often that is me.

After thinking about it…I have decided that part of the reason is that I take his comments as criticism of my writing. He doesn’t understand a plot point or can’t see the scene that I can see so clearly in my mind. And often he is correct that I need to make a change because if he doesn’t get it, I can’t expect every other reader to either.

So while the process does improve my novel, it is a bit stressful for both of us. That gave me the idea of writing a blog about accepting criticism, whether it is from a beta reader or a book reviewer.

TIPS for handling critiques

Stay Calm – It is natural to feel defensive but that won’t help the situation. Keep in mind that we can always improve. Take deep breaths and just listen.

Don’t take it personally – Take more deep breaths and remember it isn’t necessarily an attack on you. (Though I know there are some reviews out there that will come across as a direct attack on you. Remember you can’t please everyone.) Someone can criticize your novel without saying you are not a great writer. They may simply see flaws in what you wrote, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect on you overall.

Give yourself time to cool off – I much prefer reading my husband’s comments and then later discussing with him. It gives me time to process what he is saying and reflect on it before we discuss them. But when that doesn’t happen, sometimes I react poorly. I assume he is attacking my skill as a writer. So instead of asking questions or responding, I need to take time to step back and reflect (or cool off). Hopefully, this will allow me a different perspective.

Remember the goal is to improve – Remember that many of these comments can be an opportunity to step back, evaluate your writing and find ways to improve. When you look at criticism this way, you may have an easier time receiving it. Never give up on trying to be a better writer.

Evaluate what is being said – And of course, there are cases where the criticism is unjust or just mean. In this case, any “advice” is not helpful and is best ignored. To help you pose these questions when you receive hurtful criticism.

Were the comments something you can control?

Does the critical person’s opinion really matter to you?

In the case of receiving feedback in the form of a review, it is often tempting to respond, justify or correct the person. DON’T DO IT! No matter what a reviewer says that is negative, do not respond.

criticismWhen dealing with a beta reader, it often is best not to respond to their comments either. Simply evaluate whether their suggestion will improve your book. If it will, then make your changes. If not, ignore their comments and move on.  Don’t give into your temptation to argue. Keep your knee-jerk reaction to yourself and be professional. “That’s a good point. I’ll take it into consideration.”

Remember your goal with beta readers is to improve your novel. (Book reviewers can help you improve your writing on future work.) You cannot improve without constructive criticism. Having something to fix doesn’t mean you are a bad writer or that your book isn’t worth publishing. You don’t have to accept every piece of advice you get but do take the time to evaluate if the suggestion will improve your book or writing.

And last of all, when dealing with criticism. Remember: it isn’t about you; it is about your book. They are not the same.

Organizing your kids artwork and school keepsakes

It starts in preschool. Every day your child comes home with new treasures. The papers, the artwork, the pages with scribbles that later start looking like letters. It can be overwhelming.

And while I know some parents who keep everything that just isn’t me. There is no way I could store all that stuff – Popsicle towers, odd shapes they cut out, string art, watercolors and rubbings of leaves. It is just too many things to be saved.

My solution was to buy a 3-ring binder to hold the items I choose to keep. I buy a 2-inch wide binder and can typically get two years’ worth of stuff inside it.

Currently, Jase has four binders: 1 with preschool (3 year old, 4 year old and gift of time, 1 with kindergarten and first grade, 1 with second and third grade and I have stared a 1-inch binder for fourth and fifth grade. (He just completed fourth grade.) The reason I went for 1-inch binder for the IMG_4265fourth/fifth grades is that they bring home a lot less artwork or paperwork that I feel like keeping.

Lexie has three binders: 1 with preschool (3 year old and 4 year old), 1 with kindergarten and first grade and the last has second grade and will have her third-grade stuff from the next school year.

Each binder starts with a front cover listing the school name, and the grades contained with the school year dates.

Lexie’s Elementary School

Encino Park Elementary



First Grade


IMG_4512Each grade starts off with a cover page listing the grade, school name, school year dates and the teacher’s name. Underneath is a picture of the child taken sometime during that school year.

Now everything in the binder is in sheet protectors. I did have to cut down some artwork to make them fit. If there was something I wanted to save that was too big for the binder, it is just kept on the shelf next to the binders. I am sure I will have to put these in a box at some point.

After the cover page, I include their last report card for that grade and their class photo. I try to get them to help me label the back with the kids’ names because you know we will forget them as time goes on.

IMG_4513The next pages are filled with artwork that they completed during the year (in chronological order). I sometimes include photos of events at their school. Any notes from the teacher or parent-teacher conference forms are also included as well as their birthday invitations and whatever they made for me in class for Mother’s Day. Any sport awards, photos and certificates are also included. And I sometimes throw in a homework assignment, just so we can see the progression of work – or at least handwriting.

CIMG3269Now because I am selecting just my favorite pieces does not mean I am just throwing away everything else. If it is just a homework sheet or a scribble, I do recycle those pages. But for others, I simply lay the items on the floor and take a picture of them. Yes, I could scan them but the picture collage takes up less room. I then file these photos in their photo folders on my computer under the appropriate age. So Lexie’s kindergarten art is in a folder called Kinder art in her 5-year-old folder on the computer.

Overall, I have been pleased with this method of storing their artwork, certificates and school papers. The biggest challenge is not letting the piles get too high before I weed through them and make my decisions on what to keep and what to recycle. Now that summer is here, I am working on finishing their second and fourth-grade binders. My goal is not to put it off and get everything filed by the end of this week. And then the piles will begin forming again in August.


Today’s Featured Author – Hicham el Harrak

Today I welcome Hicham el Harrak to my blog. His first book, The Land Of Cannabis, was published last year. You can purchase The Land of Cannabis on Amazon.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

hichamHicham el Harrak is a Moroccan writer. He was born In Tangier and was graduated in English Literature In 1993. Now, he is living with his wife and two sons in Barcelona. He discovered his passion for reading and writing when he was very young. Since then his thirst for literature was never quenched. He published his first novel The Land Of Cannabis in 2015.

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in Tangier, Morocco.

What or who inspired you to start writing?

I am fan of the word since I started to read fairy tales as a child. I discovered my passion of writing when I wrote my first short story 30 years ago. This short story was never published, but it was the start.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I considered myself a writer when I started writing full novels ten years ago. I moved to live in Spain in 2001 ans since then I started to think seriously in embarking on a new career as a writer. I wrote The Muslim Lover which is not yet published.

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

The Land Of Cannabis is a work fiction, However, it talks about real places and to some extent real events. It talks about history also. In the war of the Rif, I narrated real events which happened. My origins are from Sumatha in the Rif Mountains. I used to go there on vacation during summer.

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

Now I am writing a new work of fiction named the manuscript. It’s a religious mystery which talks about an Imam who wrote a manuscript about a controversial subject which will provoke the wrath of The Sunnis against the Shiites.


What is the best and worst writing advice you ever received? 

The best advice I have received regarding writing was that I must go on writing and never give up, and the worst one was that my chances to get success in US as a writer are very low.

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

The best thing about being a writer is that you can live in different worlds continuously and be a friend of your characters. Your imagination is free and vast to the point that you can see what others can’t see.

How do you conceive your plot ideas?

I conceive my plot ideas by contemplating the lives of others, by making a comparison between people and see the differences between them.  A plot can emerge suddenly, rough and incomplete, and by deep thinking and modification it is converted into a full one.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

I need to outline it so as I cannot go away from the line, however; sometime the plot strings spin off my hand I end writing totally something in which I have never thought at the beginning.

Please tell us about your current release.

cannabisSet in the northwest of Morocco, a setting familiar to the American reader in the works of Paul Bowles, THE LAND OF CANNABIS not only reveals the secrets of the illegal trade, but also the historical and religious background of the area. It takes advantage of such a delicate theme, to depict a sensational portrait of the emotional and social changes that occur in the Jebala region.

Mohammed, a university graduate, is a victim of nepotism who will be obliged to go to Sumatha, his father’s homeland, to grow cannabis in order to earn a living. In this very strange context, the protagonist will suddenly find himself in direct confrontation with Ben Aisha, the most powerful cannabis tycoon in the area. The experience will drive
him through a new world where hatred and greed are dominant. Mohammed will face a series of problems and difficulties which will make him grow conscious of the graveness of his acts. When his life and the life of his family are in danger, he decides to actuate rapidly so as to free his father from his abductors.

Complete at 75.000 words, THE LAND OF CANNABIS is the first novel which is told from inside the Jebala Society, by a narrator who belongs to this society and who knows the reality and the secrets of this culture. Each summer, I used to spend my vacations in my grandfather’s home, in Sumatha, where cannabis was the bread of the mountaineers. This novel will appeal mainly to occidental readers who will be able to discover the secrets of a land unknown to them, its history and customs directly from a native narrator.

What inspired you to write this book?

This book was inspired by what I lived and saw. As I said before, I belong to this country, because it the land of my fathers. I considered that not only Cannabis but also the culture, the people and the history are important things, and that they are worth to be known by other people in other parts of the world.

How did you come up with the title?

The title at first was Cannabis, Then I changed it to The Land of Cannabis, because the first title was a little misleading because the reader may think that it’s a book about how to sow cannabis and so on, and with the title The Land Of Cannabis I established a link between the land and the plant and the man. It’s about a country, its people, history and present.

Can you tell us a little about the black moment in your book?

The black moment of my book is when the protagonist will be informed that his father has been abducted.

What was the most difficult thing/scene to write in this story?

The most difficult thing to write in The Land Of Cannabis was the end, because I didn’t know how top end the book, until I got with it. It was really hard.

Did the story turn out the way you planned from the beginning? If not, what change happened that you didn’t expect?

It didn’t end as I planned, because the father protagonist was to die, but I decided that he shouldn’t die to give the book a happy ending and make the protagonist think about his acts and quit the illegal business.

What book are you reading right now?

Right now I am reading Whiteout by Ken Follett.

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

I would like to meet Orhan Pamuk and Ken Follett because for me they are very brilliant writers. The first one because he is a winner of the Noble Prize and also because I like his prose. About Ken Follett I want to ask him how he could reach a wide audience all over the world. I like his style because it’s clear and simple.

Book Blurb

cannabisWhen he finished his studies, and graduated in Spanish Literature, Mohammed dreamt of a job and a promising future. Unfortunately, his dreams were broken quickly, as he was unable to find a job, because nepotism was rife everywhere. His decision to go to Sumatha, his father’s homeland, to grow cannabis, was strongly opposed by his mother; notwithstanding, he insisted on taking this risky step because the future was unknown, and little can be done to secure one. In his dull and routinely life of a cultivator of cannabis, he will come across a distinguished dealer of cannabis who will introduce him into a new world, and opened to him the doors of the illegal trade. But, will he succeed in the first test? Will he live in peace as he did before converting into a real cannabis tycoon? A conflict with Ben Aisha, his rival in the area, was bitter and violent. Will he be able to confront Ben Aisha?

You can purchase The Land of Cannabis on Amazon.

Character motivation – keeping it real and true to the character

I once wrote about my husband always asking me why a character does this or that. He can be annoying about it, but it does improve my novel. You can’t have characters do things just because you, the author, want them to. They need to be motivated by their own desires.

“Every character should want something,

even if it only a glass of water.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Why does Johnny get off the couch and go to work even though he would rather be a couch-potato? Johnny is the sole provider for his family.

Why did Jenny rob the store? She needed the money to pay for her mother’s cancer treatments.

Why did Bobby let his little sister tag along with him on his sky-diving adventure? Bobby had no one to watch his sister, so he had no choice but to take her. (Or perhaps he knew she would love the adventure.)

There must be a reason why your character does what he does. Strong character motivation allows readers to understand why characters make the choices they do. This does not mean that you need to explain out right to your reader why something is happening. It does not mean that you need pages of back story to justify every decision.

A few well-chosen details from the past will speak volumes. And you don’t have to give the hints before the action. It can be revealed slowly through action and dialogue. If you carefully choose those elements, then readers will understand why a character can’t enter a hospital room or accept a compliment.

To help strengthen your writing, examine your characters’ traits and then decide what motivated them to develop those behaviors. If you understand your character’s beliefs and behavior, you will be able to find ways to “show” the events that led to these things without “telling” the reader anything.

And be careful that the motivations you give your characters are based on their NEEDS and not yours as an author.

Example: Why does the character go New York City?

Author Answers:

Because she needs to do something exciting. (In other words, the author needs her there.)

Because she needs to run into Emily. (Again, the author needs her there.)

Because she needs to find the key. (Again, the author needs her there.)

Character Answers:

Because her grandmother is in the hospital.

Because she is escaping the sheriff, and New York is out of his jurisdiction.

Because she is curious about the hero’s past, and he mentioned his family was there.

So as you write, examine your character’s actions and reactions. Why do they do the things they do? Make sure it is consistent with their behaviors and beliefs. And make sure it is really THEIR motivation and not your own as an author.

For even more on giving characters strong, real motivation, check out my post on character motivation from last year.