‘Ulysses’ VR Game Developed in Boston, Showcased in Ireland

A virtual reality game developed by college students in Boston and based on James Joyce’s “Ulysses” is being showcased in Dublin as the Irish capital holds its annual celebration of the author and novel.

Read more at the NYT:  http://nyti.ms/2ss3Yrq

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The Coloring Book I Wish I’d Published

Julie Schumacher found plenty of fodder for her career detour into adult coloring books from two decades teaching at the University of Minnesota, which has its own therapy animals for stressed-out students to pet.

With simple line drawings by illustrator Lauren Nassef, “Doodling for Academics” (The University of Chicago Press) pokes fun at the college world the professor of English and creative writing last skewered in her 2014 satire, “Dear Committee Members.” [Which I highly recommend–Frankie]

Read the rest at the NYT 

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“One of the few men in musical history who have ever squeezed big money out of an accordion”

By RICHARD SANDOMIRDick Contino, whose energetic accordion playing and movie-star looks made him a teenage star in the late 1940s, but whose celebrity ebbed after he was imprisoned for evading induction into the draft, died on April 19 in Fresno, Calif. He was 87.His wife, Judy, confirmed his death.

For a time, Mr. Contino was a show business rarity: a heartthrob accordionist who earned up to $4,000 a week in nightclubs.

“Dick Contino is one of the few men in musical history who have ever squeezed big money out of an accordion,” Time magazine wrote in 1951.

Read the whole thing: NYT Arts http://nyti.ms/2pykvrV

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New academic mystery, #Review, and character interview: The Art of Vanishing


I’m always on the lookout for a good campus mystery, and was delighted to discover Cynthia Kuhn. She obviously knows academia, and writes about it in an entertaining and accessible way. The Art of Vanishing is a light, fun, cozy, but Kuhn has built an impressive and convincing world complete with undiscovered mystery authors and egotistical literary legends. In fact, I spent quite a few minutes searching online for a certain early-20th-century writer, only to discover Kuhn had made her up. Highly recommended!

When Professor Lila Maclean is sent to interview celebrated author and notorious cad Damon Von Tussel, he disappears before her very eyes. The English department is thrown into chaos by the news, as Damon is supposed to headline Stonedale University’s upcoming Arts Week.

The chancellor makes it clear that he expects Lila to locate the writer and set events back on track immediately. But someone appears to have a different plan: strange warnings are received, valuable items go missing, and a series of dangerous incidents threaten the lives of Stonedale’s guests. After her beloved mother, who happens to be Damon’s ex, rushes onto campus and into harm’s way, Lila has even more reason to bring the culprit to light before anything—or anyone—else vanishes.

Professor Maclean, welcome to Island Confidential! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

LM: Hello! I’m Lila Maclean, an English professor at Stonedale University. It’s my first year here, and I’m trying to fit in.  But— just between us—it’s been a challenge.

Being the new kid is hard–do you have any supportive coworkers? 

LM: My cousin Calista—we grew up together. Never imagined back then that we’d be colleagues in the same department! Adore her.

Is there anyone on campus you don’t get along with so well?

LM: The chancellor. Let’s just say that he is very concerned with people doing whatever he wants whenever he wants it, and I’m not quite as committed to that objective.

Just between you and me: What do you really think of your author?

LM: She sure does like to type!

What’s next for you?

Make it through the semester. Rumor has it that there are more mysteries to be solved at the university. I’m not surprised—Stonedale seems to be full of secrets!

About The Author  

Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean academic mystery series. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Literary Mama, Copper Nickel, Prick of the Spindle, Mama PhD and other publications. She teaches English at Metropolitan State University of Denver and serves as president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado. Visit her at cynthiakuhn.net or @cynthiakuhn.

Author Links

Amazon | B&N  | iTunes | Kobo | Website |Blog | Facebook | Twitter

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The Blessed Event is on Kindle Monthly Deals. Only 99 cents in March!

“You may wonder what my least-favorite student was doing in my living room. In a twist of fate that might seem hilarious if it happened to someone else, he was now my stepson.”

Professor Molly Barda is looking forward to a quiet summer in Mahina, Hawaii working on her research and adjusting to married life. But when a visit from her new husband’s relatives coincides with a murder, Molly wonders what she’s married into–and realizes she might have a killer under her roof.


If you like Dorothy Parker, Sarah Caudwell, P.G. Wodehouse, or E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia stories, or are in the mood for a murder in Hawaii, you’ll enjoy this tale of passion, pilferage, and petty politics in the middle of the Pacific.

99 cents on Kindle

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New Sketch in Crime mystery: The Drawing Game

>>Enter to win a print set of the Sketch in Crime Mysteries (U.S. Only)<<<
A lover of all things green, CeCe Prentice is not impressed when a fully-sustainable development, Green Acres, pops up next to her family’s homestead. It’s not so much the ridiculous price tag of the million dollar homes built entirely from re-usable materials and powered by the sun, but rather the new neighbors who think they can simply buy a green lifestyle.
To make matters worse, one homeowner turns out to be CeCe’s high school nemesis, Phoebe Purcell, a hair-tossing vamp who tried to break up CeCe and her long-time boyfriend, Charlie.
Already disillusioned by the so-called eco-friendly development, CeCe’s family home is threatened when a series of power-outages at Green Acres kicks off a rash of home invasions. When neighbors start showing up dead, the mood at Green Acres turns south. But when Charlie, CeCe’s on-again, off-again love interest is implicated in the murders, CeCe springs into action when she discovers the only clue – a portrait she painted years ago.

Deirdre, welcome back to Island Confidential! Can you tell us a little about your protagonist? 

Deirdre Verne: CeCe Prentice is a Freegan, otherwise known as a Dumpster-diver. She is an expert on scavenging furniture, clothing and anything else she needs. She’d much rather repurpose an old item than purchase something new. Her resourcefulness is one of her best qualities!

How much of you is in CeCe? How would you feel about her if you met her in real life?

DV: I’m an awful lot like CeCe Prentice. I adore all things vintage and I have a houseful of items I’ve either scavenged or found at garage sales. I would love to meet CeCe for a day of scavenging road-side furniture. My latest project includes spray painting a pair of old figure skates shiny pink and adding red laces. They will be hanging on my front door next holiday season.

Do your characters change and evolve throughout consecutive books in the series?

DV: There’s something nice about returning to a series and jumping back into a character you’ve come to love. On the other hand, it can get boring. I like to put my characters in challenging situations to uncover something new about their personality. For example, CeCe has surrounded herself with Freegan friends which is very safe for her. By introducing a love-interest who questions her beliefs, she has to see things from a different perspective. She is proving to be more open than I expected.

Have you ever thought of killing someone that you know in real life–on the pages of a murder mystery, I mean?

DV: I’m sure I’m not the first writer to take out my frustrations on paper. It happens to be great therapy. That being said, I’ve never directly created a character based on a real-life person. However, I have definitely used qualities of people I don’t like in characters that ultimately meet their demise. I have also used names of people I dislike and then changed the names before publication.

How realistic is your setting? Do you take liberties, or are you true to life?

DV: My books take place on the North Shore of Long Island. I grew up on Long Island and although I no longer live there, I try to be as true to my memory as possible. When my memory fails me, I’ll jump in the car and spend a day in the towns I write about which is always great fun. I also use Google maps and paper maps to sketch out scenes and locations.

When the movie or TV series is made, who plays the major parts?

DV: I am a big fan of the TV program Orphan Black so my first choice to play CeCe Prentice would be Tatiana Maslany. She is a phenomenal actress with the perfect combination of strength and vulnerability. I’d like her father to be played by John Lithgow and Meghan Mullally, (Karen from Will and Grace), to play CeCe’s mother. I know that sounds like an odd cast, but this isn’t my area of expertise.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

What’s the worst and best advice you’ve heard or received as an author?

DV: The best advice I received was don’t hide. Writers can often be shy and uncomfortable promoting themselves. I would never have been published had I not joined writing groups, attended conferences and reached out for professional critiques of my work.

Worst advice? It hasn’t happened! The wonderful thing about writing is that fellow authors offer great advice. There are so many experienced people in the field who are more than happy to help out.

About The Author  

Deirdre Verne (Scarsdale, NY) is a college professor and an active college blogger. A writer for the millennium crowd, Deirdre’s interest in green living inspired her to create an off-the-grid character who Dumpster dives her way though a suspense-filled mystery series. A member of Sisters in Crime, Deirdre’s short stories appear in all three New York chapter anthologies –Murder New York Style, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices and Family Matters.


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“Many of the purported academic benefits of sports — recruitment, prestige — have all proven to not be true. They don’t exist.”

University of California, Santa Cruz athletes at a drill. Some students want to roll back the fees they pay to support sports teams.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Andy Pinedo likes sports. He just doesn’t want to pay more so other people can play them.

As sophomore at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Pinedo voted “no” last year in a referendum about whether he was willing to hand over another $270 a year to support his school’s Division III teams, above the $1,221 in fees the campus charges now.

Read the rest at The Hechinger Report.


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Are Elite College Courses Better?

– The public — and heck, many people in higher education — widely assume prestigious colleges and universities provide the best quality education. That’s why employers often want to hire their graduates and why many parents want their children to attend them.

Mahina State Mouse Pad

And the assumption partially explains the fascination from the media and others in recent years with massive open online courses from Harvard and Stanford and other elite universities: the courses were believed, rightly or wrongly, to be of higher quality than all other online courses precisely because they came from name-brand institutions.

But what if the richest and best-known colleges and universities don’t provide the highest-quality education?

Continue Reading

Novelist teaches freshman writing, is shocked by students’ inability to construct basic sentences

Last year, I taught expository writing to freshmen at a nearby university. (The name of the school isn’t relevant here; this article reflects my own views on teaching writing, not the university’s.) What I saw disturbed me: a few of my students expressed their ideas well, but most of them couldn’t write clear, grammatically correct sentences.

Here are some examples of their work:

  • Neglecting to recognize the horrors those people endure allow people to go to war more easily.
  • The money in the household shared between Nora and Torvald contrast the idea of a happy marriage.
  • The similarities among the speakers and their author are illustrated differently through their speaker’s separate tones.

The First Year Writing program at my university stresses essay-writing skills: developing an arguable thesis, presenting strong supporting arguments, using quotations as evidence. As an author and ghostwriter, I agree that freshmen need to learn these skills, and that we should encourage creative thinking, not stifle it with endless, mind-numbing grammar lessons.

But those clumsy sentences haunted me. How will my students’ future professors judge their work? Will the students struggle to find jobs because of their cover letters? Their writing may improve with practice as they make their way through college — but they’ve already been practicing for twelve years!

I had taught classes in fiction writing, but never expository writing, so I asked more experienced colleagues for advice. Some suggested that I pick a few common errors and teach brief lessons. They cautioned me, though, not to expect miracles.

Related: Communities come together to increase college-going from the ground up 

Approaching the challenge methodically, I listed the types of mistakes each student made, identified the most common ones, and devised what I thought were lively lessons. (Change to active voice: “The UPS man was run over by a FedEx truck.”) While continuing to focus on essay-writing skills, I added lessons on revising awkward phrases and replacing fuzzy abstractions with more concrete specifics. I showed my students examples of bad writing and better writing; most of them quickly recognized which was which. Then I had them practice revising terrible sentences, first as a class, then individually. Here, most of them stumbled.

I wish I could say that my lessons worked as planned, that their final essays showed vast improvement, but that would be an overstatement. The changes were subtle at best.

The prevailing opinion seems to be right: brief lessons don’t accomplish much. A few bright students will quickly absorb the new concepts; the others will fill out their worksheets on subject-verb agreement almost perfectly, and then write things like, The conflict between Sammy and Lengel are mainly about teenage rebellion. But that doesn’t mean we should give up and pretend it doesn’t matter.

(Why does it matter, though? Isn’t this a petty problem? That’s an argument for another essay. For now, I’ll just say that readers notice these things. Minor errors distract, and erode the writer’s authority.)

I searched online for proven teaching strategies, and emailed a few writing instructors at my school and others. My search didn’t turn up the answers I needed. I found articles recommending writing across the curriculum in high school, and the story of Judith Hochman’s program of rigorous grammar instruction, which produced transformative results at a Staten Island high school.

Related: Aging faculty who won’t leave thwart universities’ attempts to cut costs

Hochman’s method recognizes that many students have never learned how sentences work, and therefore teaches sentence structure, moving from simple to complex. The commitment to writing instruction is schoolwide and immersive; I couldn’t imagine using it in a twice-a-week college class (though I do plan to teach sentence structure in the future).

Many of the writing instructors I spoke with shared my frustration. No one enjoys reading final papers that are just as awkwardly written as the first work of the semester. But none of them said what I’ve come to believe: that we should offer more help to students who reach for eloquence, only to trip over their own contorted clauses.

The teaching of writing has become an academic specialty with its own dominant philosophy, which argues against grammar instruction. [I think we just found the problem.] But I believe that ignoring awkward writing will prove to be a mistake — an educational fashion that will handicap a generation, until someone shouts, Look at the clumsy writing our students are producing!

I’m not saying the current focus on constructing competent arguments is wrong. But many students arrive at college unable to write grammatically correct sentences, and we need to teach them that skill, too.

The challenge is figuring out how. I’m still hoping to find instructors who know how to teach this at the college level, who are willing to share their methods. Meanwhile, college writing programs should begin to ask these questions:

  • How many of our students need remedial help with writing?
  • What are we doing for them? Is it enough? (Even colleges with writing assistance centers need to ask what their tutors do about grammatical errors. Many, I believe, overlook them.)
  • What else can we try?

Related: Opinion Liberal arts-STEM mashup: Not a bad way to fix higher ed

Until effective strategies emerge, I intend to experiment. While keeping the emphasis on essay-writing skills, I plan to give my students more practice spotting problems in their sentences and more instruction in how to fix them. One instructor I contacted, John Maguire, has published a manual for writing teachers that stresses concrete nouns, active verbs, and conciseness. I expect to draw heavily from his work.

Like athletes building muscle-memory, some students need practice working on sentence-level skills. For those who need extra help, I’d like to assign interactive quizzes for homework, so they can see instantly whether or not they’re getting the answers right, and adjust if necessary. My goal: to see clear progress by the end of the semester.

Learning to write, like learning to dance, takes time and practice. We acquire grace slowly, and strive not to stumble. There’s no clear point at which a teacher can say, Yes, perfect — but it’s reasonable to expect that students will improve noticeably. Perfect writing may not exist, but relative competence does. We should be helping students achieve it.

Michael Laser writes fiction for adults and adolescents. His most recent novel is My Impending Death, a dark comedy. For more about him and his work, visit michaellaser.com.

The post Novelist teaches freshman writing, is shocked by students’ inability to construct basic sentences appeared first on The Hechinger Report.




AmazonButtonBNKobo_logo.svgibooks The Case of the Defunct Adjunct (The Molly Barda Mysteries, # 0)


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College students are not customers. Or are they?

If students are customers, then the university is a business. A business’s only goal is to succeed, as in make the largest profit possible, which it usually does by purveying the cheapest product it can at the highest price customers will pay. In this model, tuition should be as high as the school can get away with, and all courses should cater purely to the tastes of the lowest common denominator of the customer base. In practice, it follows that each class should be five minutes long, taught by holograms of Rihanna, and consist entirely of self-graded multiple-choice tests composed in emoji.

Read the original on Slate: College students are not customers: A political shorthand that needs to die.

More over on Higher Education’s Premier Online Publication.


THE MUSUBI MURDER August 2015 Amazon / B&N /Powell’s /Audible / iTunes