Category Archives: Blog

Newsflash: Homework Improves Grades!

One of my daughters recently related a story to me wherein one of her high school classmates asked her why, when she already has straight-As, was she working so hard to finish all her homework and study for her tests? Uh, yeah, great question, kid. Not like there’s any potential correlation between those two things, huh?

Seriously, when did we lose sight of the importance of actually working through material in order to gain a better understanding of it? As if this had ever been a question, a couple of professors at one of North Carolina’s lesser-known public universities, East Carolina University, decided to settle this issue scientifically, once and for all. The professors designed a clever study of introductory economics courses at the university level, comparing courses where students were required or not required to do assigned homework sets (same course, professor, material, and students did not know ahead of time whether homework would be required).

Shockingly, the results proved what your mom always told you—doing your homework dramatically improves your likelihood of success in a difficult course. Yes, you heard it here first: requiring students to do homework results in “higher retention rates, higher test scores (5 to 6 percent), more good grades (Bs), and lower failure rates.” Am I the only one here with the cocked brow waiting for the punchline? I hope not. Thank you, ECU, for clearing that one up.

If you’d like to read more about it, the actual study can be found here, and a layperson’s summary is here.

Scientific Research Goes Rogue

ThiefOne woman’s plan to free all of science. If you weren’t aware, I’m a digithead in my non-novel-writing life. I spent a decade cranking out statistics for the pharmaceutical industry and have since run numbers for a bunch of other companies. Whatever I’ve done, there was always an element of scientific research in it, and like everyone else who uses journal articles, I’ve always been appalled at the cost to read published research. Typically, access to scientific journals runs $30-$50 per single article viewed as a PDF (usually 5-20 pages). If you are doing serious research, you may need to read dozens or even hundreds of these articles to find what you’re looking for, so these $30 dings really add up. Enter Sci-Hub, the brainchild of Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher from Kazakhstan. Ms. Elbakyan was fed up with her inability to complete any reasonable scientific research due to these high prices, so she created a site where researchers could access virtually any published science for free. The site provides the articles by “borrowing” university credentials or otherwise illegally bypassing journal pay-walls, giving millions of users access to science they could never otherwise afford.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those “all information and creative products should be free” types. Clearly. I write books, and I sell them. For cash money. That’s how I get paid for my efforts. But I write fiction—pure entertainment—and provide it for a very reasonable price. A latte at Starbucks costs more. And I receive no other remuneration for what I do. Scientific researchers, on the other hand, are already paid. Most of them work either on salaries or grants from universities or corporations. And that’s the only way they’re paid for the work they produce—understand, they do not get paid when people read the articles they wrote in an online (or offline) journal. In fact, more and more, journals are charging researchers to edit and publish their articles, and then they charge you to read the finished product. And while we’re at it, let’s remember that some of that research is paid for by public funds. You paid for the research study with your tax dollars, and then you have to pay again to read how the study turned out. In other words, scientific journal publishing is like giving a private company exclusive rights to the Declaration of Independence and charging people $35 to read it.

Ms. Elbakyan has been heralded as the Robin Hood of the digital scientific age. Is she? Is it ethical, as she claims, to essentially steal these articles and make them freely available to all? Probably not, but neither is it ethical for private corporations to control the flow of publicly-funded research. Yes, they do provide a valuable service: they read, edit, and evaluate scientific research, and lay it out in an easily accessible format online. That service is probably worth a few bucks per read, and, as those companies are now finding out, when you dramatically overcharge for a service, you can expect to be challenged—either by innovative competitors or by rampant theft. The music industry learned this lesson first, and the traditional book publishing industry is learning it now. Scientific journals have a choice: they can make content available at a reasonable price or expect to be out of business in five years.

Read more at: Big Think: Meet the Robin Hood of Science.

My First Book Trailer

So I’m finally being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world of moving pictures. I’m not a huge fan of video myself; I tend to prefer reading articles to watching videos. Like many of you I’m sure, I can read (or at least skim) an article much faster than anyone can speak the information out loud to me, but more than that, I seldom want to hear every single word of text therein. If I’m in search of a single piece of information, I don’t want to patiently sit through three minutes of unneeded content to get to that one gem I’m after. And most importantly, once I’ve found the bit I seek, I want to be able to study it and think about it and get back to it quickly without having to fast-forward and rewind. All of that said, I’ll admit that, yes, sometimes, video is educational or entertaining in a way that words alone will never be, and to that end, I buckled down and created a video to present my two series and added a really cute, fun piece of background music to set the mood. Try it out and let me know what you think!

The Gifted Ones Book 3 Now Available!

I promised Book 3 of The Gifted Ones series for Halloween, and here it is. The Animator focuses on a Gifted One you’ve already met, and a certain lady he’s very taken with. This is the official blurb:

Ellie’s Aunt Grace has always had a love/hate relationship with The Gifted Ones. Deep down, she blames them for destroying her sister’s life, so when Doo Clovis, an especially kind-hearted Gifted One, shows her some attention, she isn’t quick to take the bait. When Grace finally lets her guard down and begins to warm to the handsome cowboy and his old-money Texas family, however, she is unprepared for the evil that lurks in the more distant branches of his family tree. The next thing she knows, Grace is found with blood on her hands, sucked into a web of lies and deceit, and must turn to The Gifted Ones to get herself out.

It’s showing on all the big vendors now. You can find the purchase links on the book’s page. So scoot on over there, and hunker down for a hunky read.

Cover Reveal for The Gifted Ones, Book 3

Still lots of editing to do on this puppy, but we’ve got a nice cover done, so I thought I’d float it out in the world and see what people think. Anyone who’s not sighing over this rugged-yet-thoughtful cowboy is clearly not into guys. But if that’s the case, that’s okay, because, as usual, there are plenty more players where that one came from—my stories are nothing if not packed with colorful characters. And if you’re wondering what they’ll be up to in this one, the blurb is up for The Gifted Ones Book 3, The Animator on the series page.
 
Given that we’ve now got the outside of Book 3 finished, and we’ll have the inside done in another 10-14 days, I’m certain this installment of The Gifted Ones series will go live before Halloween, as promised. The book will be available in all the popular ebook outlets, as I don’t do the whole “exclusive with Amazon” thing. Yes, I wish my books could be available to borrow in Amazon’s all-you-can-read club (“Kindle Unlimited“), but I’m just not willing to help Amazon shut down every other ebook vendor on the planet in exchange, and that’s what they require of small publishers who want to participate.
 

Worse Ways to Spend Your Weekend

Well, how-dee! Yes, there surely are worse ways to spend your weekend, but I have to admit, after staring at about a thousand pictures of handsome cowboys the past few days, my eyes are bugging out. I’ve been searching for just the right model and just right the pose for my next book cover, and as usual, I’m incredibly hard to please. No picture is ever quite right. It took me about a week to find the image I wanted for Book 2 of The Gifted Ones, but that was of a Native American man, and those are hard to come by. The striking cowboy from Amarillo, Texas needed for Book 3, I thought, should be a cinch. Well, the pictures are easy enough to find, it’s settling on just the right one that’s tough. I’ve been to five different photo sites already and found dozens of handsome hunks I’d be happy to marry…or adopt…or pay to just stand around looking pretty all day. But now I have to narrow it down. What do y’all think of this swoon-worthy farm boy from 123RF?
 

Under The Covers


 
Conventional ebook publishing wisdom has it that changing up your covers every so often is a good marketing move. You can revitalize an older book or series and draw in new readers by giving your product a whole new look, or so the recommendation goes. If it works for politicians and fast food restaurants, it ought to work for ebooks, right? Well, I’m not sure I follow the logic, but you’d be surprised—even covers that you once drooled over start to look old and tired when you’ve seen them too much. So, just to relieve my own eye fatigue, and in celebration of almost ten years since I started the first book in the series (Little Miss Straight Lace), I’ve invested in a beautiful new set of covers for my old standy-by, Unbreakable. Remember, if you haven’t read it yet, the first book is free, so grab it now and try out the new skin!

 

Historic Shopping Mall Repurposed as Urban Living Space


Those who know me (or read this blog) know that I have a bizarre obsession with the tiny house trend. Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated with “little living spaces” like the insides of campers or boats or the homes I carved out inside the massive snowbanks in our Western New York backyard. Well, it appears the Providence Arcade, America’s first indoor shopping mall, has taken the concept a step further. The historic mall, originally constructed in 1828, had fallen on hard times like most of the malls in America, until a recent renovation repurposed the upper two floors in a unique manner. The second- and third-floor shops have been converted into tiny apartments just big enough for the belongings and budgets of recent grads and others whose housing needs don’t require a three-bedroom-with-den and sprawling screened porch.
 
The tiny, utilitarian spaces provide clean, convenient uptown living coupled with easy accessibility to the shops and restaurants on the first floor. Think about it—the residents have their own private spaces yet are surrounded by like-minded neighbors who they can meet downstairs for a drink, dinner, or a little shopping. The residents have everything they need, and the shops have a built-in clientele, even when the Rhode Island weather isn’t cooperating. I would have loved something like this back when I was footloose and fancy-free, and hadn’t yet accumulated years worth of “stuff” and pets and children all needing their own square footage.
 
Our country’s economy needs more innovation and less regulation, and the Providence Arcade is a brilliant example of both. Follow the link to read further and see more pictures.

 
via: America’s First Shopping Mall is Now Stuffed With Micro Homes