“Eight Cousins” by Louisa May Alcott

"Eight Cousins" by Louisa May Alcott — Kimia Wood My tattered paperback attests that this simple classic was my absolute favorite book at the age of twelve.

Revisiting it a full fifteen years later not only brings fresh perspective on the situations and characters I once adored, but confirms that this “Young Adult” novel is one for the ages!

Seven Boys and a Girl

Rose Campbell has recently lost her father, and so is forced to move in with her great-aunts on the “Aunt Hill,” where the whole of her large extended family is eager to meet her.

But all seven of her cousins are boys! Oh, what is a poor, sheltered little flower to do?

Worst of all, when her new guardian – her uncle Dr. Alec – shows up, he turns out to be so eccentric that he wants her to run (the un-lady-like horror)…to wear loose-fitting scarves and dresses of bright colors (not the belt that held in her petite waist)…to eat plenty of healthy, wholesome food…to work with her hands…and overall to fill out her small frame, rosy up her cheeks, and draw her out of herself so that she can become the healthy, confident, caring young woman she was meant to be. Continue reading

My 27 Happy Birthday Things

Today – April 27 – I turn 27 years old.

(That’s right, isn’t it, Mom? Right? [math]…okay, yeah.)

My day-job is still on quarantine shut-down – along with most things in my state – but I figured I could still have fun by coming up with 27 things that I like.

Read on to: 1) find some things you might like to try; 2) rejoice that something you like is enjoyed by someone else; and 3) find out more about me! (Because who wouldn’t want to!)

1. Jesus

He’s the most wonderful Person in the history of ever. Not only does He put up with me when I’m being a selfish, petulant baby, but He rescued me from my own selfishness and is going to marry me one day.

(In a spiritual sense, of course. It’s not weird…talk to Him about it!)

2. My family

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

The famous brother!

Well, a whole lot of things have to tie for second place. But I think the cake has to go to my parents and my kid brother.

(Just kidding! I eat the whole cake myself!)

While they’re far from perfect, I think my parents’ success can be boiled down to two basic parenting choices:

A—They boldly lived their Christian walks in front of us kids

…the times they doubted, the times they came up short, the times they didn’t have the answers. They communicated their love of Jesus – not only in their words – but in the actions and decisions they made every single day.

B—They took us along for the ride.

We were never excluded in a little box of “innocence,” and they never made us feel like the adult world was some boring place we didn’t belong. Whether visiting the OB floor where my mom worked…or sitting around with our church-friends talking heavy theology stuff…or going over math sheets together…or taking two weeks for an “American Government” field trip on the East Coast because homeschooling lets you do that!…we were always included, valued, “one of the guys,” and shown the “adult world” as a place we absolutely belonged.

And my brother…well, I could talk all day about this complicated and precious dynamic we have.

3. Dorothy Sayers

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Amazon

She had to come sooner or later.

If I were to list only one author whose work I would want with me on a desert island, it would be the lucid, intellectual, witty, and soul-searching novels of Dorothy L. Sayers.

She doesn’t just write mysteries…although they are such clever, twisty, and satisfying mysteries.

Each of her works is infused with a philosophical bite, a keen insight into human nature, glorious British banter, colorful flesh-and-blood characters…

I could go on, but I’ll just recommend my personal favorite: Unnatural Death.

4. One Punch Man

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: One Punch Man Wiki

Another tie for 2nd place, this anime blew my mind and skyrocketed to the top of All Things Amazing in my life.

Yeah, probably don’t show it to the kids (there’s sprinkled coarse language and borderline male nudity), but there’s so much else awesome here!

Genos! Saitama – a noble (though bored) hero with the Daddy-like power to crush any bad-guy! Crazy monsters, and truck-loads of professional heros. Genos! A snotty telepath chick who kicks Captain Marvel in power, attitude, and characterization. Simple plots with deep themes – oh, such themes! Heroism! Self-sacrifice! The harsh reality of mob mentality, attacking the very heroes who saved their lives! Genos!

Enough already. Just go read why Genos is totally adorable, then maybe find it on YouTube or your favorite streaming service (or even buy the DVD and a t-shirt to match!).

5. Baking

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Pixabay

When I was a kid, I always found baking frustrating because it took so much time and energy to produce something that…would be consumed and gone before you could turn around.

Now, it still takes time and energy…but I just need those chocolate cookies, man. Whatever method delivers my hit.

Oh! I’ve also figured out yeast-bread. For the longest time, breads with yeast were always frustrating because they took longer, you had to get your arms all flour-y with kneading them, and 90% of the time they wouldn’t even rise!

Now, though, I have a few secrets:

a) Use yeast that’s not old and kaput. b) Knead on the kitchen table (which is just the right hight to be comfortable for my arms). You still have to get flour all over your hands, but if you knead it long enough the dough goes all soft and squishy and elastic and it’s lovely. c) Arrange the dough beside and above a ROARING WOOD-STOVE to rise!

Now…well, my baked goods still seem to disappear shockingly quickly. But I’m having enough fun experimenting with the process that it’s not so terrible when I only get one or two rolls.

(ALTHOUGH I STILL WANT MORE THAN ONE ROLL, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.)

6. My coworkers

I like my day job. I really do. Yes, it’s work, and yes, it’s makes me tired and frustrated…but that’s what adulting is about.

And part of what makes it all worth it is the great people I get to work with! They really are like family 🙂

7. YouTubers: Lindsey Ellis, Filmento, Overly Sarcastic Productions, Literature Devil, The Closer Look

I watch way too much YouTube. One of the reasons I’m always baking (or washing dishes) is it gives me an excuse to watch.

My pattern over the past year or so is: I find a video I like (usually on story theory, movies, or human nature) and then I go obsessively watch the creator’s entire back-list.

I forced myself to narrow it down to just my absolute favorites. Go check them out…maybe you’ll discover some new content you love!

(And one of these days I absolutely need to put something in their Patreon tip jar, ’cause – come on! – I want them to keep eating and keep making content!)

Overly Sarcastic Productions—My favorite of their videos is their series “Trope Talk” on various commonly repeated story elements/tools/building blocks, like this video on Paragon Characters (language caution for this one)—official site

—Literature Devil—His series of videos on “Is #ComicsGate Wrong?” asks the question: “Should comics focus primarily on Telling Stories, or on Politics and Social Issues?” Entertaining and thought-provoking!—official site

—Lindsey Ellis—I first found her channel through her ruthless critique of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remake. She may be a woke lib chick from California, but even when we don’t agree I still find her arguments interesting and thought-provoking (LANGUAGE cautions, though!)—her channel homepage

—Filmento—This guy has an adorable little accent – I mean, also he analyzes movies from a story-telling and craft perspective…like this video where he explains why Captain America: Winter Soldier is amazing (language caution)! He’s also good because, when he critiques a movie, he gives suggestions for how it could be done better – like in this video for how the Men in Black reboot could have been stronger!—his Patreon

—The Closer Look—I first found this guy because of his video on how pushing a political viewpoint in a story alienates your audience…though I also like his video that discusses the unique immersion opportunities video games have versus other forms of media—his channel homepage

8. Wadjet Eye Games

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Gemini Rue

Maybe should have gone higher on the list but I refuse to overthink this.

This outfit consistently puts out amazing, high-quality point-and-click games.

The puzzles are intuitive (most of the time) and make you feel clever.

The stories and powerful, emotional, and feature jaw-dropping twists.

The voice work is top-notch, the music is addictive, and the graphics range from retro low-res to beautifully evocative.

How much do I love them? I finally bought one of their games NOT ON SALE! (Okay, it was a Christmas present from my brother, same difference.)

If you are in any way interested in point-and-click indie games, then checkoutmyreviews, and then give them your money so they can keep doing this!

9. Visiting nursing homes

It’s…strangely fulfilling and addictive. Of course, I haven’t gone to see my little friends for at least a month…but I’m still praying for them, and can’t wait to get back at it!

You, too, can visit nursing homes and brighten someone’s day!

10. Pretty yarn

My work-place has started carrying these super cute skeins that have multi-color swirls of different colors, and they look so adorable all wrapped up (and feel so soft and fun when you touch them) that I’d have a hard time actually using any of them.

But they’re still super adorable.

11. Columbo and Mission: Impossible

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: marketwatch.com

Tied for 5th place (don’t try to make the math come out…I’m not) are two amazing TV shows.

Columbo is a knuckle-biting (and sometimes humorous) murder mystery starring the smartest, frumpiest police lieutenant to ever be perpetually underestimated.

Mission: Impossible is packed with suspense, intrigue, slow-burn plots, keep-you-guessing double-agents – all held together with amazing teamwork!

If all you know of M:I is the movies…you’re missing out and you need to see the TV show!

12. My Hero Academia

My brother and I only recently cracked into this show over quarantine…and, well, I guess it lives up to the hype.

I know I put it after Columbo and M:I, but it might actually be my #2 favorite show. (It’s way better than Avatar: The Last Airbender YES I SAID IT.)

I really need to write a full review. Suffice to say that it handles a large cast expertly, builds slow-burn friendships and character arcs deliciously, offers pay-offs on things you didn’t even know they were setting up…all while exploring the explosive concept of a super-human society with creativity, humor, and plenty of action.

Perfect? No. But 100% worth $5 for a month of streaming from whatever service you can find it on. (And maybe when they finally come out with full-season or multi-season DVDs we can get those, too.)

13. Buckeyes

For those not in the Midwest, these are basically half-and-half frosting and peanut butter – rolled into balls and coated in chocolate. (Although they also work just plastered on a cookie sheet and chopped into slices.)

Chocolate and peanut butter. The only downside is the calorie price-tag.

14. Our dog and cats

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia WoodTied for 5th place (just give up…I have) is our dog (Border collie mix) and cats (our current ones are all-black American short-hairs).

My family never owned a dog until we moved to the country when I was…well, over 20 – and now I don’t know what we did without him!

Wag wag SO FLUFFY wag snuffle *stroke ears*

15. Knitting

I’ve been trying to rotate lately, to cut down on hand pain (really hoping this isn’t early-onset carpel tunnel), but I love knitting.

Probably especially since I can do it while doing something else (reading, watching a movie, talking with people) and feel like I’m being productive (or “extra productive”).

I’ve been knitting since age 12, and have made countless hats, scarfs, afghans, sweaters, shawls, doll clothes –

My bad. The doll clothes I’m thinking of were crocheted.

I also do cross-stitch, am getting into sewing, and have done embroidery in the past.

I probably like knitting the best, but it depends on the situation. (And I’m constantly having to talk myself out of picking up a new project.)

16. Research

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Mike Popovich on Unsplash

Part of the fun of being an author is researching stories!

Back when I was writing Sons of the King, I lived to hunt through all the obscure websites about castles, swords, poison, and other info about pre-Conquest Great Britain.

Hayes and Hayes, of course, required me to learn A LOT about the Drug Enforcement Administration, gangs, and meth. (Reminds me of a funny story from Sociology class…also I wrote a Statistics paper about meth-rehab clinical studies!)

And of course, White Mesa Chronicles let me dive head-first into societal collapse…what urban environments might look like after 50 years of neglect…home-steading…prepper culture…how you could rebuild Western civilization with a 3D-printer in your basement (ahem – you really can’t, but having 50 other families with 3D-printers in your neighborhood is a good start)…parasite epidemiology…I lose track.

Ooh! And if you grab my latest release (Transmutation of Shadow, publishing TODAY!), you’ll find out why I researched jails; the CIA headquarters at Langley, PN; the strength tolerances of bullet-proof glass; when Dunkin’ Donuts opens; and other cool stuff like that!

(It’s so much fun sometimes you don’t write the actual book…*cough cough*!)

17. Fire escapes and sewer grates

That reminds me. I have an unnatural attraction to fire escapes.

Not like I want to do parkour or anything… Maybe it’s just the draw of the forbidden.

Like those “Staff only” and “No entry” doors, and the little packets at stores that say “Silica gel Do not eat Throw away.”

What would happen if you ate one?

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: es.Valve.wiki.com

As for the sewer grates, I’m pretty sure that’s 85% to 90% of me worried a head-crab is going to appear at any moment.

18. Halo and Half-life 2

How could I call this a “list of things I like” and totally forget two of the greatest games to ever grace the digital world?!

While I have written about how, in some ways, Halo is superior to Half-life 2…they both played huge, HUGE roles in my development – mental, emotional, and creative – and I will always owe them a great debt.

(Honestly, though, the Master-chief beats Gordon Freeman. Totally.)

19. Steve Taylor

My favorite singer/songwriter ever.

My family teases me that you can’t understand a word he says…but if you take the time to dive into the lyric sheets, you’ll find words that cut deep to the soul of humanity – and then stake that soul out to roast on the solid rock of Biblical Theology.

He’s also sarcastic, which is delightful.

20. Kristen Lamb

This Texan lady is a blogger on story structure, author business, marketing, the publishing industry, inter-personal social dynamics…

She’s so very different from me. She’s aggressive. She’s a go-getter. She calls it like she sees it, and doesn’t care what extra characters (@#%&) she uses in her posts.

She’s also remarkably right about a lot of things…and I find her call-to-arms inspiring.

My favorite post is probably this one, talking about how content providers (authors, singers, artists, performers) actually do deserve compensation for the services they offer.

Check her out! Maybe even buy her books (or check out her tip jar if you really like her stuff).

21. Magnolia flowers

Every spring, the tree in the front yard blooms, and my heart sings.

22. also Tulips and Daffodils

Everybody talks about how wonderful roses are, but tulips are gorgeous and amazing and come in so many different colors and have such a pleasing shape! (Also our property is coated with rose bushes that are all thorns and will grab you at the most unexpected times but I digress.)

23. Marvel movies

My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Image credit: BrianOverland.com

My favorites are Thor: Ragnarok and Captain America: The Winter Soldier!

My mom’s favorite is Avengers: Age of Ultron because of the scene on Hawkeye’s farm. She could probably just watch that scene over and over and be happy 🙂

24. RWBY soundtrack

I think I might like the music more than the show itself, even! As I said in my review, it’s like cinematic orchestral smashed with rock with a smattering of ballad…and also jam packed with clever words and emotion.

(Note to self: buy the CDs one day in case YouTube is down…)

25. Cleaning things

Sounds weird, I know. I think the fun comes from the visual progress of seeing dirt and grime peeling away and being magically replaced with clean surfaces.

(I also have a perfectionist streak, so whenever I start cleaning something, I get wrapped up in doing it all.)

26. Our D&D campaign

My dad and brother have gotten more “into it” than I have (which is strange, since re-launching our campaign was kinda my idea), but it grows on you. (Maybe dying has a way of increasing emotional investment?)

It has taken over my blog in some ways. Or rather, it’s kept the blog alive during some dry creative patches!

Go ahead – check out the Ranger Journal (at “Season 1: the Cult of the Reptile God,” “Season 2: the Village of Homlette,” or the in-progress “Season 3: the Temple of Elemental Evil“).

When it’s less about rolling dice – and more about creating a story as friends – it’s more fun!My 27 Happy Birthday Things — Kimia Wood

27. Blogging

Tied for #10, I love my blog.

Though I started it to promote my author career, I have fun jabbering about whatever I care about, formatting it prettily, then PUBLISHING it for all the world to see!

It gives me a place to process things I want to think about, and encourages me to articulate it in a way that makes sense to other people.

So…look around, make yourself at home – and maybe find something that entertains you and makes you think!


My 27 Happy Birthday Things — Kimia WoodKimia Wood turns 27 today!

She was born in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and currently lives with her family somewhere in the American Midwest. She’s bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

If you like lovable characters, gripping action, siblings who would die for each other, mysteries, questions, emotional adventures, and asking “what if?”…then you will enjoy any of her books!

Her latest novel just PUBLISHED TODAY, and features a lovable “Jason Bourne Jedi” – who works as a government assassin – finding out some of his targets weren’t on the approved list! Give me a birthday present and grab yourself a copy 😉 😀My 27 Happy Birthday Things! — Kimia Wood

Listen, Kid…(What Do You Say Next?)

Listen, Kid…(What Do You Say Next?) — Kimia Wood

CHOOSE YOUR PATH! Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

So once upon a time an older person met a younger person. They didn’t know each other very well, but were connected through socio-cultural similarities.

Wanting to encourage the younger person, the older person chose to give advice about their potential life choices.

See if these words sound familiar…

You’re interested in writing? You should go to a four-year college and get a Master of Fine Arts degree! That will let you make money as an author.

You did very well with your three lines in the church play! Maybe you should go to a four-year acting college, move to California sight-unseen, and get a job in the movies!

You enjoyed high school math and economics? Invest in that! Go to this website and check out internships in your field, then look into advancing your education and getting into clerical/economic positions!

Do you notice anything…off?

Naturally, there’s a lot of good here: the older person is trying to affirm the younger person…to notice their interests and passions…to give them positive feedback…and encourage them to better themselves.

The older person wishes only the best for the younger person. They seize on what little data they can find, and build on that…with nothing but the best intentions.

And yet…

What god do these people worship?

Take a close look at the quotes. There’s not a lot to go on, is there? There’s mention of a “church play”…but what else in the scene places these two characters?

They might be meeting at a Lions Club. They might be distant relatives at a family reunion. Perhaps they’re total strangers interacting briefly in a store.

Look again at what the older person said. Based only on their words, who (or what) do they consider the most important thing in the world worship?

Short Aside—What Is A God?

If you’ve ever read the Bible, you know that “idols” are things people worship apart from God, and it makes Him very angry.

Because, if we’re Christians, we’re “married” to God…but every time we put something else in His place, that’s like having an affair with the idol.

That’s what He literally says through his prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

(Anyone else feeling dirty right now?)

My dad defines a “god” as this—

A god is something we go to when we want to get things done…or something whose claims on us we acknowledge.

Examples?

Money is an easy target. It’s even mentioned in the Bible. Money is a very generous god…it gives us anything we could desire.

But in exchange, it demands our soul.

Power and sex are other “gods” we go to for getting what we want.

Sports is a harsh authoritarian, demanding our Sunday mornings, our school nights, and our time with family. It can be hard to deny Sports the things it demands.

Pride? Pride is a god worshiped by many (including me – that’s why Jesus needs to change my heart). I want other people to praise me, to acknowledge me, and to speak great things of me. Because (get this) it’s all focused on ME…not God.

And in exchange, Pride rots my heart from the inside out.

Back to Our Fairytale…Who Gets My Life?

An older person spots a younger person…just starting out, an image of what they themselves once were, with a chance to do anything and be anything this world offers.

This older person wants to advise the younger person…to give them a hint about the direction they should take…to encourage them to put their youthful energies and resources into something meaningful.

So the older person says:

[…what would you say?…]

[…what is the most important thing?…]

[…what one thing would you point to, that you wish every whipper-snapper in your life would devote themselves whole-heartedly to?…]

There’s no guarantee they’ll listen. They’re young…they probably won’t.

But what is so critical, so vital, that you’ll use your one interaction with this incarnation of Past You to impart?

Think about it. Your answer will say a lot about where your heart is…


Listen, Kid…(What Do You Say Next?) — Kimia WoodKimia Wood lives somewhere in the American Midwest with her family…including the brother people mistake for her boyfriend.

Subscribe to her mailing list before society collapses and the web goes dark! You’ll get a FREE copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier…plus periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

Best Articles You Shouldn’t Miss

I love Twitter for all the cool articles I can find and share there. So I dug back through my feed for the best articles, posts, and videos I found and shared this past year!

Whether you’re an author, a blogger, or just a Christian who likes thinking deeply about things, here are some cool (and/or important) pieces for you to enjoy!

Writing and Story DevelopmentBest Articles You Shouldn't Miss — Kimia Wood

This year I fell down the deep, dark hole of “writer YouTube”…Here are some of the amazing (and addicting) videos I found:

Former CIA Chief of Disguise Breaks Down 30 Spy Scenes From Film & TV

via WIRED

I found this video while researching my spy/suspense/action story Transmutation of Shadow, and it’s so cool!

Trope Talk: Robots

via Overly Sarcastic Productions

Red does a great job recognizing that humans and computers have totally different ways of thinking…and she also breaks down the good, the evil, the friendly, and the realistic of writing robots in fiction.

Rey and the Sad Devolution of the Female Character

via Thor Skywalker

We don’t hate female characters…we hate poorly done characters that serve a meta agenda, rather than feeling like genuine people within the story world.

Watch the video to see for yourself!

(Also check out this video – by Literature Devil – about “Mary Sue” characters…what they are, why people dislike them, and how they relate to the issue of “Social Justice Warriors”.)

A Few Words from Roger Zelazny

via on Tor.com

Roger Zelazny wrote the Chronicles of Amber, which inspired my dad as a young writer…and became a surprise favorite with me when I read it. This interview with him gives insight into his writing process, his opinion of fantasy vs. science fiction, and on writing complex characters.

It’s not a video…so read it at your leisure.

Action Choreography for Novels

via Felix the Fox Mysteries

Action plays a big role in my White Mesa Chronicles (especially Gladiator…guess why) and in Transmutation of Shadow. Thus it’s important to get the physics right!

This post (also not a video) will help you think about those pesky problems of what’s actually, physically possible in your story!

Also check out his post on making pre-modern (and fantasy) battles more realistic in terms of equipment, technique, and strategy. Remember: everything happens in context!

The Elevator Pitch

via Christa MacDonald on Christian Shelf-Esteem

If you’ve been in the “author” circle for long, you’ve heard you need an “elevator pitch”…a short, pithy expression of your book(s) that would fit into the space of an elevator ride, but make whoever’s listening want to hear more.

Christa MacDonald found she was making assumptions about what the people she was talking to would be interested in, and defending her work before anyone had raised any objections.

Read her post to see how she decided to let go of this fear rooted in pride, and share her stories at face value.

Worldview

Best Articles You Shouldn't Miss — Kimia Wood

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

How we think about the world is crucial…and our different perspectives form a central part of who we are.

Each of these articles (or videos) explores a different element of our lives and challenges us to think about morality, culture, art, ourselves, and/or God in a different light.

Enriching Lives – What Mass Effect 2 Teaches Us about Morality

via Extra Credits

Extra Credits create entertaining, thought-provoking videos about video games…how to make them well, how to tell meaningful stories through them, what they can mean for the broader culture, etc.

This one talks about how video games can force us to examine our own moral beliefs!

Artistic Originality: Is It Dead—or Was it Merely a Fallacy to Begin With?

via Sean P. Carlin

In our cultural climate of reboots, sequels, prequels, reboot-sequels…Mr. Carlin has asked the question, “What is artistic originality anyway?”

Can we ever truly be free of our creative influences, and make “original” art?

Read his article to find out!

Also check out his article about his childhood of urban exploration in New York City, and how our shifting culture of security-consciousness makes that impossible for kids of the modern day. We’ve lost something…is it worth the price of “safety” to give up?

Read his piece and decide for yourself!

How Virtual Horse Armor Paved the Way for Micro-Transactions

via Cheddar

Micro-transactions are all over the place in free-to-play games…sort of like YouTube has started shoving ads in my face every time I want to load a video.

This video (on YouTube…ahem) talks about how it started…and why micro-transactions that affect game-play make players more unhappy than things that affect aesthetics.

How Our Addiction to FREE is Poisoning the Internet and Killing the Creatives

via Kristen Lamb

This post was so interesting, I even wrote my own follow-up piece.

Basically: we all love free stuff. Getting free stuff, that is. But nothing is free…someone has to give it. And as authors give away more free stuff (books, songs, etc.) the more audiences expect free stuff, and the worse the whole problem gets.

Just go read her full post – then read my post about living generously!

(Also read her post about the flood of new books that self-publishing has created, and some strategies that we as an industry could use to find the “good fish” amidst the tsunami. Basically, go check out her blog in general.)

My Son Was Addicted to a Smartphone

via Sabrina McDonald on Family Life

Yes, smartphone addiction is a thing, and yes, you can confront it. In fact, before drugging your kid up for ADHD, look into culling his screen time! It might be the trick you need.

YouTube: Manufacturing Authenticity (For Fun and Profit!)

via Lindsey Ellis

Having become, ahem, slightly addicted to YouTube this year, I naturally found channels/content providers that I liked and looked up all their videos.

However, as an author and blogger, I also have a feeling for the other side (people all over the world aren’t watching my face, but they can look up my words at any time).

When the wall between “media celebrity” and audience comes down…when your favorite YouTuber or author “gets real” and shares personal things…what does that do to them? What does it do to us? What are the “moral hazards” of this “authentic celebrity” culture?

If you’re not sure exactly what I mean, just watch the video! It’s thought-provoking! (Language cautions, though.)

Christian Fiction Guidelines

via Chad Pettit

Did you know that some “Christian” readers have very specific guide-lines for what they consider to be “Christian” fiction? And that they’ll rake authors over the internet coals if they break these rules?

Perhaps we should go back to the BIBLE for a consideration of what we should be reading/writing in our fiction…and maybe we can extend some Christian kindness to our brothers and sisters.

This post is a plea for just that. Read it yourself!

A Tale of Two Worldviews

via Scott Allen at WORLD Magazine

Ta-Nehisi Coates versus Martin Luther King, Jr. — two African-American thought leaders with very different approaches to the race issue. Justice and reconciliation will only come from a Jesus-centered worldview.

MarketingBest Articles You Shouldn't Miss — Kimia Wood

We authors are always looking for ways to better get books into readers’ hands. Here are some of the useful posts I’ve found on marketing:

How To Improve Your Amazon Book Descriptions

via Jane Friedman

How do you describe your book so that someone else will want to buy it? Making the text easy to skim, and starting with a grabby line, are just a couple of the suggestions you’ll find here!

How to Improve Your Email Newsletters Right Now

via Bad Redhead Media

Email newsletters are one of those things that are so important, yet so mystifying. These tips and tricks will help you look like a pro to your fans! (Hint: STOP USING G-MAIL ALREADY.)

How to Write for a Blog: 10 Tips for Writing Strong Web Content

via Anne R. Allen

Writing a blog post is different than writing a term paper. Here are some easily digestible, understandable tips to help anyone write a better blog!

Blogger + Author Interaction Etiquette Survey Responses: Answers from the Book Bloggers’ Perspectives (2019)

via Vicky Who Reads

200+ bloggers were surveyed (anonymously) about how they want authors to interact with them. I found some of the answers very interesting, and it’s worth it to check out someone else’s perspective.

The Eternally Clickable Headlines of Buffer (And How to Write and Find Your Own)

via Buffer

Blog post headlines are mysterious, but very important. Here’s some advice that is readable and digestible to make your blog headlines even better!

Six Reasons Nobody Reads Your Blog and How to Fix It

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You say you could never write a blog? That it’s too complicated, or too hard?

These six tips might just give you the tools and the steps you need to become a blogger (or to take your blog to a more professional level)!

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Best Articles You Shouldn't Miss — Kimia WoodKimia Wood lives somewhere in the American Midwest with her family – including the brother people mistake for her boyfriend.

She’s currently bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

“Talk to the Hand” by Lynne Truss

Talk to the hand, ’cause the face ain’t listening!

How rude!

Well, you know what you can effing do!

Is everyone around you shockingly rude? Do you find yourself dissed by shop clerks?…given the run-around by customer service phone trees?…pelted with garbage by faceless, uncaring litterers?

Lynne Truss’ Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door will comfort you that at least you’re not the only one exasperated…and perhaps challenge you that there is something we can do about it. Continue reading

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver

NOTE: This post is something of a departure from my usual tone, as it will be more dry and academic than I usually write. This is because it’s a subject I have strong emotions about, and in an attempt to avoid breathing fire on my keyboard, I’ve squeezed a lot of my normal humor out of it.

But it’s still an important piece about a vital subject, so please take the time to read it and form your own opinions. I promise I only froth at the mouth a tiny bit.

What if we’ve been wrong about preschool this whole time?Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

Lots of people see “preschool” and they think “good.” We all want our kids to learn, right? We want them to have the best chance to succeed, right? And wouldn’t starting them in an institutional learning system as early as possible be the best way to do this?

No.

There’s also the question of whether this is the best way to honor God with our children. We want them to “achieve their full potential” and get good jobs, etc., but if we don’t make honoring God our chief focus (and make sure our kids know as much as we can teach them about Jesus) then we’re not living our Christian witness to the best of our ability.

But I’ll save that for a different post. For now, I’ll focus on the benefits preschool promises: academics, adult interaction, and affirmative action.

Let’s dive into this topic and try to figure out what we’re hoping to get out of preschool and whether it really delivers (or not)!

Academic Achievement

We all want Little Johnny to learn “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic”. After all, “whatever you do, do it as though you were working to the Lord.” We want our kids to be able to support themselves, contribute to their communities, and enrich the lives of others…to say nothing of living full lives themselves and using the intellectual gifts God has given them.

It all starts with a “good education,” right?

And preschool is one of the best ways to give kids that, right?

No.

Where child development is concerned, there are very few absolutes…but the evidence is coming in stronger and stronger that preschool – especially an academically-focused preschool – does not give kids an “edge” to learning…and in fact might hurt them.

Academics over Learning

There’s been a lot of emphasis lately on pushing kids to achieve higher standards at earlier ages. The Atlantic tells us how kids who used to be expected to read by the end of first grade are now expected to read by the end of preschool. Maybe I’m doing the math wrong, but isn’t that a two-year advance?

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

How can we help our children thrive? Image from Pixabay

A recent article in the newsletter from the Home School Legal Defense Association cites several researchers and testimonies from parents that children grow and develop at different ages. For instance, “children who had learned to read in kindergarten had no substantial advantage over those who learned to read in the 1st grade.”

Kids have different development rates, and that’s okay. Trying to force them into a one-size-fits-all system is a terrible way to let them flourish.

Parents testify to children as old as seven and eight years old who would not have done well in a traditional, sit-down-shut-up learning environment. Forcing these children to attend a rigorous preschool at four or five years old would not have helped them with “school preparedness”…it would have destroyed them. They needed a kinetic, hands-on learning environment tailored to their particular interests (an environment that their parents did provide for them).

The article also references increased diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder (ADHD), or similar disorders on the spectrum, when kids who aren’t developmentally ready for school are expected to conform to the school environment. Do these kids really have a learning disability? Or are they just being asked to perform above where their brain and body have developed to?

Long-term consequences?

There’s more. According to Psychology Today, an intense focus on academic attainment (learning reading, writing, and math through worksheets and instruction) in preschool almost doubles a child’s chance of a felony record. (Presumably because the early pressure and behavioral expectations led to them acting out more in school, and elsewhere…although it’s impossible to finger causality in cases like this.)

Contrast this with “play-based” preschools where children are encouraged to play, interact with others, and explore on their own…sort of like what they would do in a natural home setting, perhaps in conjunction with play-dates.

EdLibertyWatch.org collects quotes from several different papers, including this study from the National Bureau of Economic Research: “…researchers concluded that preschool has a positive impact on reading and mathematics scores in the short term and a negative effect on behavior.”

Further, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that a 2015 study found that “while children coming from ECE [early childhood education] programs earned higher achievement scores in kindergarten, these students did not test higher than their non-ECE attending peers by first grade, and tested below their peers by the third grade.”

Which is more important?

A slight, temporary rise in test scores in exchange for increased behavior issues, and even more ADHD diagnoses? Wait – should this even be a trade-off at all?

The homeschooling examples prove we can suit our education models to each child’s learning needs. Maybe we shouldn’t throw the “preschool” baby out with the bathwater…but it’s high time we stopped taking it for granted that the earlier we got our kids into preschool, the higher their college entrance scores would be.

The spiritual dimension: anti-Biblical curriculum

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

Image from Unsplash

I know I said I’d leave this for later, but I came across a quote during my research that just stunned me:

What is gender identity? Why should it to be taught to three and four year old children? How [will it] close the achievement gap for poor and minority children?…

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEC), whose accreditation results in both more Minnesota state funding for childcare programs and gains a higher rating in the Parent Aware quality rating system, promotes these types of “gender anatomy and gender identity” exercises in its curriculum.

(Education Liberty Watch, quoting from the National Association for the Education of Young Children)

Notice that both state money and professional validation are tied to accepting the NAYEC’s view on this moral issue. And homosexuality is only one example – the culture has a whole hat-full of issues to introduce to your kids.

If you thought preschool was all about “school readiness” and getting a jump-start on learning the alphabet, these secular educators have one up on you. Kids at these ages are sponges, ready to accept whatever the “people in charge” teach them.

And if your child’s preschool is teaching transgender issues with anatomically correct dolls, wouldn’t you want to know about it – and be involved in conversations with your child?

To defuse the part-to-whole objections:

No, I’m not saying every teacher in every school is out to make your preschooler gay. But think about the trend of the culture, the political pressures of “this present age”…and remember who God will hold accountable for the children He entrusted to you.

Adult Interaction

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia WoodWe want kids to grow up to be confident, competent, fully-functioning adults. Kids are great at learning by imitating (just wait until they start repeating that one word you wish you hadn’t said).

So the best way for them to learn how to be adults is…by putting them around adults.

More specifically, there’s plenty of research that what children at the preschool ages need is not math worksheets and vocabulary tests, but stable, lasting relationships. They will have plenty of time to grasp the more cerebral concepts if their emotional, psychological, and spiritual health is firmly grounded in relationships with trustworthy adults.

As Morningstar Education Network’s research adviser, Denise Kanter, says: “Young children need to be at home bonding with their mothers and fathers.”

KindredMedia.org collects several reports that speak to this:

[A]ccording to Martha E. Mock, assistant professor at the University of Rochester Warner School of Education[,] “Young children learn best through meaningful interaction with real materials and caring adults and their peers, not through the drilling of isolated skills,” … Kids from play-based programs usually catch up academically, while kids from academic backgrounds may never catch up socially. — Education.com

…the years from birth to age 5 are viewed as a critical period for developing the foundations for thinking, behaving, and emotional well-being. Child development experts indicate it is during these years that children develop linguistic, cognitive, social, emotional, and regulatory skills that predict their later functioning in many domains. — Early Childhood Education: The Long-Term Benefits (PDF, first page)

But won’t my child miss out on socialization if he doesn’t go to preschool?

If you do the necessary socializing and relationship-building that parenthood involves, your child won’t suffer from missing out on preschool. Just because a good preschool is superior to plopping kids in front of the TV and ignoring them, though, doesn’t mean it should be our go-to method of child-rearing. (See below!)

The Atlantic article cited above explains that organic, child-driven learning (coached by engaged adults) is more interactive – and more educational – than the traditional “butt-in-seat” classroom model. This is where a teacher (or parent) uses a child’s natural curiosity to let them explore the world and ask questions (yes, millions of questions) and let them learn through the natural give-and-take of human conversation…instead of a list of facts they will be tested on later.

Focus on the Family insists that preschool should enhance the parents’ relationship with their child, not hinder it — nor simply be a way to get a “leg up” on those other kids! After all, trying to “keep up with the Joneses” isn’t very neighborly, is it?

The spiritual dimension

We should be especially concerned about this as Christians. Rod Dreher in his book The Benedict Option – which is all about cultivating a deliberate, passionate Christianity that informs every aspect of our daily lives – talks about how the model of “education” has changed over the past century. Instead of learning about the natural world and human history as a way to understand God better, and as a way to provide context for the divine order of the universe, modern schools are focused on retaining facts and applying them to work skills.

“Every educational model presupposes an anthropology: an idea of what a human being is. In general, the mainstream model is geared toward equipping students to succeed in the workforce, to provide a pleasant, secure life for themselves and their future families…and to fulfill their personal goals—whatever those goals might be.” (pg. 147)

Christian education, in contrast, should focus on “join[ing] ourselves to Christ and striv[ing] to live in harmony with the divine will” – from the time we wake up and have breakfast, to when we’re walking past the weird stranger on the street, to when we say our prayers at night.

As Christians, we need to teach our children that God is an important part of every single facet of our lives…that He is not somehow unrelated to physics, or social studies, or English spelling.

Tend your own personal orchid

Remember how every single child is unique, and develops at his or her own rate? Just because your child is seven years old and can’t spell doesn’t mean he (or you) is a failure. It means he needs someone caring and invested to give him the help he needs to learn in the best way for him (like getting up and moving during spelling tests, instead of glued to a desk with a pencil in his hand).

My mom used to have me write short stories with the words I missed on spelling tests…and now I can spell “snake” and “rabbit” just like any other well-adjusted twenty-something! (And, well, check out my “Books” tab to see what encouraging my story-telling got us!)

Kicking your orchids out of the hot-house make them shrivel…

Going back to that wealth of materials collected by EdLibertyWatch.org, the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD – 2007) say:

The more time a child spent in center-based care the more likely he or she was to be described by sixth grade teachers as one who “gets in many fights,” is “disobedient at school,” and “argues a lot.”

Children need a stable home life to help them develop emotionally and behaviorally – and that maturity will only improve their academic endeavors later on. In fact, to quote the rest of the excerpt on the NICHD study:

…NICHD tracked 1,364 children who had participated in early childhood education. Preschool participants were more likely to score higher on factors of aggression and disobedience as reported by their teachers. This finding was true even for children who attended high quality center-based care.

Remember: who are the two adults children will interact with for the greatest part of their growing-up? Their parents. Even if they go to institutional school and learn from different teachers every single year, they need a strong relationship with their parents to anchor them throughout their childhoods and beyond.

Children are more than a statistic…and when it comes to their lives, we need to be concerned about more than what the “experts” say, “what we’ve always done,” or what supposedly “works” to get the outcome we want.

This isn’t about outcomes. It’s about doing what God says. Right?

Teach a man to fish…

My parents have always affirmed that teaching their children how to study is one of the most important things they could do.

Children who develop emotional, psychological, and cognitive maturity will be self-motivated to study…and if they haven’t had their love of learning “snuffed out” by over-exposure, they will drive their own educational journey through grade school, high school, college, and beyond into adult life. (You knew we don’t stop learning once we get a job and don’t have a designated “teacher,” right?)

Assisting the Disadvantaged

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

I don’t have a picture of an impoverished child, so enjoy this cute dog instead.

A lot of voices in favor of preschool emphasize “closing the gap” between the “disadvantaged,” poor children and those with a better home life. A noble goal, and one in line with God’s own plan for us (check out James 1:27 and Mark 12:29-31).

The orphan (or in some places “fatherless”) is already late to the starting line, before the race even starts. That’s no fault of theirs, and God cares deeply about giving justice to the oppressed and helpless (just read, like, all of the Psalms).

However… While it’s good to feel for children who are growing up with only one parent, who suffer lack of opportunity due to poverty, etc. – none of that explains how the preschool system is superior to the natural, historic, and God-given system of two dedicated parents raising and educating their own biological children themselves.

And our concern for disadvantaged kids should in no way interfere with the raising of those kids who are blessed with a committed mom and dad.

But what about those poor kids who don’t have the same chances other children do?

Maybe they’re living in a single parent home, or their family doesn’t have the financial resources for books, etc. Maybe they really do have ADHD, autism, blindness, or some other physical barrier to learning the way other kids do. Do early childhood education programs help them succeed better – both now and later in life?

The Psychology Today article referenced above shared the results of a study among “sixty eight high-poverty children living in Ypsilanti, Michigan”. This study was largely to examine the effects on these children of a “Direct Instruction” preschool classroom (that focused on academic attainment) versus a “Traditional” preschool (which emphasized play). To quote:

[T]he experiment also included a home visit every two weeks, aimed at instructing parents in how to help their children. …

The initial results of this experiment were similar to those of other such studies. Those in the direct-instruction group showed early academic gains, which soon vanished. This study, however, also included follow-up research when the participants were 15 years old and again when they were 23 years old. At these ages there were no significant differences among the groups in academic achievement, but large, significant differences in social and emotional characteristics.

That’s right. “No significant differences in academic achievement“!

This is the same pattern we saw in the other studies. The writers suggest that the children in the so-called “play-based” preschools learned to “plan their own activities, to play with others, and to negotiate differences” – skills which served them not only in the later grades, but beyond into adulthood. (“Teach a man to fish…”)

The article writers also theorize that the home visits encouraged the children’s parents to reinforce these teaching styles. The Traditional “play-based” preschools encouraged the parents to let their children interact with the world creatively. The Direct Instruction preschools were focused on test scores and other “academic” markers of “personal achievement” – and this focus on “personal achievement” could have encouraged these children in the selfish attitudes that led to their generally more anti-social behavior.

Without being simple pragmatists, let’s look at the fruit.

The Bible tells us we can evaluate teachers by their fruit…or in other words, we can pick up hints about whether to listen to them by watching their actions (Matt. 7:15-20).

What is the outcome of preschool for disadvantaged children?

Obviously in some cases the outcome was…not too good. Early pressure to achieve, plus a focus on personal performance, encouraged anti-social behavior in some of these individuals. We might go even farther, and say that denying them a carefree childhood, and the opportunity to learn at their own pace, hampered their emotional and social growth.

So we see that even for disadvantaged children, the best outcome is the one that mimics a traditional, Biblical upbringing centered in the home of their biological parents.

But, post writer, what about all the terrible parents who will just stick their kids in front of the TV and who have no idea how to parent –

Statistically speaking, children with “bad” parents will have poor outcomes, no matter what school system you devise for them. The students discussed in Psychology Today had professionals visiting them at home to advise their parents how to support the teaching curriculum of their preschool – and the results still weren’t stellar.

The point is not that we should “give up” on these disadvantaged kids, but that we need to have our eyes firmly fixed on JESUS and to make sure we’re 1) trying to accomplish what He wants, and 2) going to Him for direction in how to do that.

Systemic Dysfunction

Preschools that drill facts and figures into little kids doesn’t help them. In fact, in the worst cases, it hurts their chances because they missed out on that crucial period of character development by worrying about head knowledge.

Children at these young ages should be sending down their roots and finding out what can be depended on…not raising their branches to test high on impersonal markers of “achievement.”

The preschools that did seem to succeed were the ones that allowed children to flourish at their own pace and ask questions naturally…in fact, the care centers that mimicked a nurturing home environment.

Further, as Christians, we understand that there are more important markers to success than grades or salaries. Give me ten children who respect their parents, treat those around them with kindness, and love their Creator over one “child” who makes six figures with his graduate degree and can’t keep his marriage together.

Institutional education is the cultural norm.

My grandparents have finally stopped asking when I’m going to get a college diploma (although they’re still not satisfied with my Associate’s Degree). The culture around us expects us to send our kids off on the bus as soon as they can walk, and our young adults off to college as soon as they’re old enough to join the army vote.

But is that the best way? Is that really how we’re going to accomplish our goals? Even if it was, the ends do not justify the means. (Otherwise, as my brother loves to shout, there is no justice, only means.)

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

Which is the “straight and narrow” way? Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

God calls us to justice and righteousness. How can we strive for that in our everyday lives, and with our children?

Maybe in some other post, we’ll examine what God calls us to in our daily lives, and what that means for raising our kids. Until then, take a good, hard look at your own decisions.

I firmly believe the system of institutional education is broken – and that goes all the way down to preschool. Whether you agree with me, or think my mom dropped me on my head as a young’un, your kids are worth more than the default.

We need to get out of the rut of thinking “preschool” always equals “good.” Can it help? Sure – under certain circumstances and in certain situations.

But don’t do it because “everyone else is doing it.” Don’t do it because it’s expected of you, or because the grandparents want you to.

These are your kids we’re talking about – the kids God gave to you. Look at all the evidence, and decide if preschool will really help your kids to send down their roots, and thrive in God.


Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia WoodKimia Wood was raised by an aspiring author, so spinning words and weaving plots is in her blood.

She currently lives somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, gaming, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing projects.

10yo Girl Killed—God Proved Right

10yo Girl Killed—God Proved Right

This week something abominable happened in my own slice of the Midwest.

In a nutshell: A ten-year-old girl went missing. A four-day search by police and the community ended with the discovery of the girl’s body. Her step-mother has been accused of strangling her.

What’s our reaction? Continue reading