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For the College Classroom

Hunting Through
Medieval Literature

Classroom Comics: Children's
Medium and the New Literacy

For the College Classroom

The Maiden with a Thousand

Peter Pan

Graphic Novel Reporter

A Whisper and a Prayer

The Masculine Mind
of Shakespeare's Women

Christine de Pizan

Hostages in the Rose Garden

Murder Will Out

It's what I tell my students, and it's what every writer should practice.

READ anything including magazines, newspapers, comic books, graphic novels, fiction and non-fiction full-length books.

READ every genre, including sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, poetry, thriller, essay anthologies, historical fiction, short story collections, literary fiction and non-fiction.

Dr. Eliot was a Harvard University President who gathered a 51-volume anthology together of the "classics" to provide students an excellent liberal studies education. A list of Dr. Eliot's Classic titles can be found at Wikipedia under "Harvard Classics".

One of my favorite genres is historical fiction and a good website for historical fiction aficionados is: www.historicalnovelsociety.org.  Their website includes historical fiction book listings, an online newsletter, information about upcoming conferences and contests, and a huge web listing of authors, agents, and publishers in the genre.

Some Historical Classics:
          Voices in a Mask by Geoffrey Green
          Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
          Young Will: The Confessions of William Shakespeare by Bruce Cook
          The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare by Stephanie Cowell
          The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
          The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian by Anne Radcliffe
          The Monk by Matthew G. Lewis
          Emma by Jane Austen
           Machiavelli's Prince
           A Far and Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman

For More READING Lists and Links to History and Favorite authors click on >Links

For Comic sites and reading lists click on >Graphic Novels for the College Classroom

Links for WRITERS


Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award - Do you have an unpublished or self-published novel you know Amazon.com readers will love? Enter your novel in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for a chance to win one of two $15,000 publishing contracts with Penguin USA and distribution of your novel on Amazon.com (This was for 2011).

Eric Hoffer Award for Independent Books - Each year, independent publishers (academic, independent, small press, and self-published authors) release extraordinary books to little or no recognition. The Eric Hoffer Award for independent books recognizes excellence in publishing with a $2,000 grand prize and various category honors and press type distinctions.


Are you researching an article? Not sure if an item you want to use is copyrighted? Here are a couple of copyright links:

U.S. Copyright Office - search for items published after 1978.

Copyright Registration and Renewal before 1978.


Smashwords - "Smashwords is a free service that helps you publish, promote, distribute and sell your masterpiece as a multi-format ebook, ready for immediate sale online at a price you determine. Because Smashwords publishes your book in multiple ebook formats, your book is readable on any e-reading device."

The Fine Print of Self Publishing - Mark Levine has written a great book providing valuable information about specific e-publishing houses. The book's website includes links to information about specific publishers regarding upfront costs and marketing help, including Arbor Books, AuthorHouse, Aventine Press, BookLocker, BookPros, CreateSpace, Dog Ear Publishing, Dorrance Publishing, Infinity Publishing, iUniverse, Llumina Press, Lulu, Magic Valley Publishing, Outskirts Press, PublishAmerica, Trafford Publishing, Wasteland Press, Xlibris, and Wordclay.


Book Junkie Reviews - Do you need a review of your latest book? Here's the place for a free review and helpful critique.


If you're self-publishing, your publisher offers some kind of marketing program - take advantage of it.

Good Reads - "The Goodreads Author Program is a completely free feature designed to help authors reach their target audience — passionate readers. This is the perfect place for new and established authors to promote their books." They do accept self-published works.


Before you finish an entire novel . . .

• Do join a critique group.

• Do not create a critique group that consists of your spouse or siblings. That's like taking your husband shopping and asking him, "Do these jeans make my butt look big." He (and your other relatives and friends) will lie if they have to, in order to keep the peace.

• Do join a local writer's group and attend ANY workshop they give. I always learn something, even when the workshop is on a topic unrelated to my writing, or it seems like I've been to the same workshop before.

• Do rewrite old essays into articles and GET them published. You need something to put on your writing resume.

• Start reading novels for style, transitions, descriptive color, hooks, and dialogue.

• Know your market. If you are writing a detective novel set in the Old West, find out what successful writers in that genre are doing. A great place to look is Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. You'll find books in even the most obscure genres with reviews and a synopsis. For example, this is how I discovered that readers who love Elizabethan novels, for the most part, hate Shakespeare-speak.

• Get it ALL down on paper. This is easier said than done. When I make a universal change to any writing, I want to go back and make all the changes to get it in sync with the plot. I think I rewrote the first 50 pages of my latest novel twenty times before deciding I would just make all the changes later. Keep track of universal plot changes in your Writer's Journal.

• That reminds me. The Writer's Journal. Go out and buy a small (meaning easy to carry around in your bag, the car, on the train, etc.) spiral bound notebook and keep track of ideas you have for your manuscript, changes you need to make to your manuscript, research you have done for your manuscript, books in the genre you have researched for your manuscript, and everything else related to your current manuscript. That way, when you need to look something up, it's all in one place.

• Finish your first novel. Don't get in the habit of tossing manuscripts on the flames.

TIPS: Looking for an AGENT OR EDITOR?

You know all that reading you do for pleasure and research? There is usually a section in every novel/nonfiction book labeled "acknowledgments," which often includes the names of agents, publishers, and editors in the genre you are reading and writing in. Make a list of all these resources in your Writer's Journal.

Before shooting off your manuscript, do some research. That list of editors and agents you've created is only good if it is up to date. Make sure the editor that helped your favorite author with his/her last novel still works at the address you've jotted down. Start with the internet, it's a fast way to check who's in and who's out.

Your local library probably carries Writer's Guide to Publishing and it doesn't matter how old it is. It will give you a list of publishers and magazines related to your genre to research further, then double check addresses and agents.

Go to the editor/publisher/magazine's website and find their submission guidelines. After you find them, follow them.

A great website for looking up agents, designing query letters, synopsis, and other helpful hints is www.agentquery.com.


I found writing a pitch letter as challenging as crafting a novel. And that's the point! You must spend as much time, effort, and energy crafting your pitch letter as you do writing your novel, essay, or article.

Again, before express mailing your pitch letter, check the agent/editor/publisher's website for their preferred format and mode of delivery (e-mail vs. snail mail). Believe me, they are all different.

Some Pitch letter Basics:

• Keep it to ONE page. Editors, publishers, and agents are BUSY. They don't have time for a five-page article on what you expect them to do for you.

• Use decent paper and standard formatting.

• Use spell check/grammar check. As a former employer who sometimes reviewed scads of resumes for executive positions, my favorite way to cull the pile involved finding cover letters or resumes with misspelled words or screaming grammatical errors and tossing them in the round file. This is also good advice when writing your article or book.

• Be positive, thoughtful, and witty; not a smart ass.

• Write a one paragraph synopsis of your novel. Think that's hard? Now write a one sentence synopsis of your book. One way of creating a synopsis is by summarizing each chapter, then delete chapter titles and reduce that to five pages, then reduce that to three pages, then one page. Only discuss the plot.

• Address the query letter to a person, not "Occupant." Briefly explain how you found the person you are contacting.

• Give a brief account of your writing experience—not every intimate detail of your life.

• DO NOT tell an agent/editor/publisher that your writing has been passed over by half the publishing world.

• Include why readers in your particular genre will love your book, but also how it differs from the 456,743 other books in the same genre.




GRAMMAR For the College Classroom

Read-Think-b4-u-write. blogspot.com has lots of grammar tips and exercises. It also contains posts about rhetoric, careers, advertising, comics, and reading.

The problem with English grammar is that most rules have exceptions. In this electronic age, grammar standards are changing to keep pace with changing technology. The more I read, the more I see author's breaking language rules, changes which may now be conventions. What's a writer to do? Avoid some of the most common grammar errors (see below).

Spelling is another can of worms because of spell checkers. How can that be? Well, just because you use a spell checker does not mean that you chose the correct word from the pop up list. "We must untie against trainee" - Huh? I think he meant, "We must unite against tyranny." You get the point.

I am always surprised by the number of students who want more grammar. I hesitate devoting large segments of class time to grammar because college students should be familiar with the basics. But one suggestion I would make is for students to buy a good, cheap "Handbook for Writers." They include basic grammar and can be found cheap in any used bookstore.

I don't know when William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White first wrote their Elements of Style, but it is well worth studying. It's super short—the copy I have is only 85 pages—and worth the read.

Here's a few tips:

• Avoid overuse of the verb "to be" (is, was, were, are, been being)
My favorite professor's pet peeve.

• Avoid starting sentences with "It," "There is," or "There was." When you do it sounds like amateur hour, especially when you use them over and over, then it just gets annoying.

• Limit common dialect and contractions to dialogue, and then sparingly.

• Do NOT use text messaging language in papers. While this form of verbal short hand is good for taking notes, it is not appropriate in any college level paper or manuscript.

• Avoid the overuse of "I". Many students have been told by their high school teachers to avoid I because it leads to too much personal opinion. In college, on the other hand, professors strive towards informed personal opinions. The problem lies in finding ten "I"s on a single page, or a paper where every other sentence starts with "I did this" or "I believe that." Again, repetition just gets annoying.

• And the first of my personal favorites (meaning, "the hardest error for me to break"): avoid Yoda speak, i.e. the pointy-eared little monk from Star Wars. "Tax returns they have filed," should be "Filed tax returns." "The newspaper was taken by the dog," should be, "The dog took the newspaper." "Plans to marry," should be, "Marriage plans."

• Favorite bad habit number two: Contrary to purple pens, adjectives and adverbs often do not strengthen verbs, they weaken them.

     held tightly = gripped, clutched

     froze over completely = froze

     wrapped tightly = bundled

     pull energetically = jerk

     moved slowly = sauntered

     sat heavily = plopped

     desperately wanted = desired

• Which leads to favorite bad habit no. 3: When the crew of the USS Enterprise decided to "Boldy go where no man has gone before" they split their infinitives. They should have decided “To go boldly where no man has gone before." A split infinitive occurs when an adverb or adverbial phrase is placed between to and the verb.

But I'm not alone in thinking this is a rule made to be broken: "George Bernard Shaw, the brilliant Irish playwright, once sent this letter to the Times of London: 'There is a busybody on your staff who devotes a lot of time to chasing split infinitives: I call for the immediate dismissal of this pedant. It is of no consequence whether he decides to go quickly or to quickly go or quickly to go. The important thing is that he should go at once.'”

School House ROCK

I use "School House Rock" as a refresher and then ask students to define the grammar term and provide an example in a complete sentence. These short videos are memorable and fun, but BEWARE, you'll be singing "Conjunction Junction, what's your function," for the rest of the day.

Mr. Morton - Subjects and Predicates


Verb: That's What's Happening

Conjunction Junction

Rufus Xavier Sarsasparilla (Pronoun)

Busy Prepositions

Unpack your Adjectives


Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here

Online Grammar RESOURCES

Cengage Learning - These grammar quizzes can be emailed to the instructor and cover everything from subjects and verbs in simple sentences to capitalization and punctuation. Quizzes take anywhere from three to five minutes to complete and there are about 100 to choose from. I often use as an extra credit possibility.

Identifying Sentence Errors - SAT Practice Test - Sentences ask students to identify specific errors. There is also a "show me the answer" option with an explanation of the error.

Grammar COMICS
Grammar can be fun?
brought to you by The Oatmeal

How and why to use Whom in a sentence - he=who, him=whom

How to use an apostrophe - "The soldiers' rifles were no match for Bob's amazing lightning pants."

How to use a semicolon - the most feared punctuation on earth.

How to use "literally" - without exaggeration.

Ten Words you need to stop misspelling - "alot is not a word, you don't write alittle or abunch..."

When to use i.e. in a sentence - "The best way to take out a unicorn is with a claymore, i.e. a directional mine which explodes shrapnel into a designated kill zone."

Online Writing LABS

Owl at Purdue - A great site for basic grammar and citation questions. From practice questions to tips for avoiding plagiarism and writing a résumé, there is something here for every college student.

Hypergrammar - University of Ottawa Writing Centre - Lots of basic grammar pages with lots of good examples, but they use British spellings . . . like centre rather than center, so beware.

Plagiarism CHECKER

If you don't have TurnItIn it is available for a fee at www.writecheck.com.

Links for ETHOS, PATHOS, and LOGOS

After reviewing ethos, pathos, and logos, a good way for students to understand these rhetorical concepts is by analyzing television commercials.

Teaching ethos:

"The Showdown" - Bird vs. Jordan McDonald's ad - 1993

and a modern remake

McDonald's Commercial with LeBron James and Dwight Howard

Q) How does McDonald's use ethos in these commercials? (Wanna be an athlete like Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Dwight Howard, or LeBron James - eat McDonald's)

Q) Why did McDonald's create the same commercial with different athletes? (Appeal to younger generation audience)

Teaching pathos:

You don't even need to understand the words to get what's going on in this commercial:

McDonalds Shrek 3 Commercial in Spanish

Q) How does McDonald's use pathos in this commercial? (Appeals to the baser emotion of greed - children want all the cups)

Teaching logos:

McDonald's Happy Meal Ad Cha Cha Slide

Q) How does McDonald's use logos in this commercial? (McDonald's has healthy food - apples. It's convenient.)

More ethos:

Two Japanese McGrand commercials. The first was created via a Project Runway segment:

Tomato McGrand

The second is designed for young men?

Japanese Ronald McDonald

Q) How does McDonald's use ethos in these commercials? (Wanna be a skinny model? Eat McDonald's).

And now for something completely different, especially if you are coulrophobic. The H appy Meal