Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Unbroken Circles for Schools, A New Book by Kenneth Johnson

By Stephanie Osborn

Kenneth Johnson is a fascinating guy. Principal Chief of the Florida Tribe of Cherokee Indians, folklore master, culturalist, social scientist, negotiator/mediator, teacher, and more, now he's set out to write a book for teachers about teaching -- specifically, how to handle conflict in the classroom, in a way calculated to keep bad behavior from escalating to something that requires the court system. Given some of our conversations, I'm really looking forward to reading it.



First, let me say that it is always an honor to be invited to guest blog for Stephanie Osborn. What a talented individual! NASA scientist, former detective, ordained minister, bestselling author—you name it and she has probably done it. But, that is a polymath for you.

Usually, I am talking about allegory and culture.  After all, that is what I do as a culturalist – I study cultures through the lens of a social scientist.  And with culture also comes conflict.  That is also the reason why I trained with the Florida Supreme Court’s Dispute Resolution Center (FL DRC) and the University of West Florida College of Professional Studies (UWF COPS) in the fields of Conflict Resolution (CR) and Restorative Justice (RJ).  Specifically, I am a Certified County Court Mediator through the FL DRC.  I exclusively trained at UWF COPS under a best-selling Simon & Schuster author while learning RJ.  Part of this training also required that I do some field work at Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama – a maximum security “death house.”

Conflict is a natural part of life.  It can build you up – as in anabolic conflict.  Or it can destroy relationships – as in catabolic conflict.  Sadly, the world focuses too much on the bad and too little on the good to see the field for its dynamic complexity. 

The 1990s were my teen years.  Ironically, this decade arrested more youths than all of previous US history combined.  One academic in particular capitalized on this national fear of our youth with a Simon & Schuster best-selling book called Body CountHere, pre-teen boys were called Godless, murderous thugs who killed and raped without remorse.  This book, along with other writings from the author, proposed a myth called the “Superpredator Theory.”  Later, politicians like Florida Senator Bill McCollum used this theory to push for stronger anti-juvenile legislation at the federal level while states compounded the issue with even more onerous forms of legislation.  In particular, Florida Governor Charlie Crist pushed for as much as 7% of the juvenile population of the state to be arrested and charged as adults for felony and misdemeanor crimes. 

This book [Johnson's book, Unbroken Circles] is essentially a stand that I made.  I asked myself, “Why not me?  Why can’t I do something to stem this tide?”  Others have written books that would have helped.  However, to fully understand all of the ins and outs of the programs, a school would have to fork over to the author and his/her company thousands of dollars for program manuals, books, cards, and other tools.  So, instead, I decided I would break from the herd and give a holistic approach that would empower the community to make the changes that they felt were needed.  Best of all, I offered up everything for free.  This, I felt, would allow for the schools to develop their own programs tailor-fitted to their specific needs.

It would seem that I am not alone.  Lately, Florida is now following suit with California to no longer be the top arrester of juveniles in the country.  Just this past June, Florida Senator Greg Evers, along with other extraordinary leaders in the Legislature, passed the “Pop Tart” bill that Governor Rick Scott just signed into law.  The bill gets its name from an incident in Baltimore, Maryland where 7 year old Josh Welsh was suspended for nibbling a pop tart until it was somewhat in the shape of a gun.  Nationally, 2 million students are arrested each year.  Even more are suspended and expelled with the majority being for offenses such as what Josh Welsh did.    Sadly, the media still plays these incidences off as being trivial, weird, atypical, and rare rather than being epidemic.  And while this new law will stem the tide of many suspensions and expulsions, it does nothing to stop the 58,000 arrests per year of juveniles in Florida.

The timing of this book’s release could not have been more perfect.  Communities are hurting all over this nation with practically nothing being reported in the media.  If you are poor, of a given racial/ethnic class, a male, etc. then your chances of going to jail or prison as a juvenile are significantly higher than that of an adult.  Schools have even supported this trend by bringing in grant-funded School Resource Officers (SROs) in response to performance-based funding on standardized tests.  Social Scientists now call this the “Test-to-Prison Pipeline” since an arrested student cannot have their tests generally counted towards their overall school performance. 

Here’s how the book works – I merge CR and RJ practices into what is known as a Collaborative Justice practice.  My book Unbroken Circles SM for Schools:  Restoring Schools One Conflict at a Time is broken into two parts.  Section I is designed to give an overview of the programs needed as well as an understanding of what conflict really is.  Personally, I would buy the book just for Chapter 1.2’s discussion of the history and nature of conflict.  Meanwhile, Section II is devoted to the “nuts and bolts” of how to make a Collaborative Justice program work effectively.  It gives options to best use, and even eliminate over time, the SROs from schools.  Using Circles, Peer Mediation, Panels, Conferences, and Justice/Peace Circles the book fosters a meshing of various practices together in order to form a network of overlapping programs to eliminate catabolic conflict while fostering the benefits and transformative powers of anabolic conflict. 

Through this book, communities are urged to become empowered to address issues at the local level rather than waiting for dictates from the legislative and bureaucratic process.  Concepts such as “Community of Care” and “Reintegrative Shaming Theory” are used with proven science to back them up as being better alternatives to the status quo.

Ken Johnson is an author, lecturer, and conflict specialist.  His book Unbroken Circles SM for Schools: Restoring Schools One Conflict at a Time is published by SYP Publishing (ISBN-10: 1940869161 & ISBN-13:  978-1-940869-16-2).  He can be found on Twitter (@KenJohnsonUSA) as well as on LinkedIn (, Crokes (@KenJohnson), and Facebook (   You can learn more about Ken Johnson and his works at


Fascinating, Ken! I'm really looking forward to reading this!

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Catching Up

by Stephanie Osborn

Today is going to be fairly short. I'm writing this prior to DragonCon, because time crunch, and scheduling it to go up within 48 hrs of the end of Dragon. 

First off, I've had some inquiries as to where the print version of A Case of Spontaneous Combustion is. Well, it's not out yet. The ebook came out in May, and I anticipated the print book in June. But the publisher had a slight backlog and slipped it on out. Then we intended to try to get it into print prior to WorldCon in mid-August. But between that trip falling through for me, and some issues with the galley proofs, that slipped too. I've already been through several galley proofs, which is unusual with my publisher. I think the problem is partly mine; there is a good bit of non-English in this particular book, which required footnotes for translation, and the footnotes are not printing properly on the pages. So please be patient as we work out the proper layout and get it working right. I'd much rather delay and put out a good quality book than rush it to print and have people complain about its quality.

Second: If I have time -- and more importantly, energy -- to come back in here and edit this post for DragonCon updates, photos, etc., I will. Best not to expect it, lol. I put out a lot of energy during a regular con, and usually need a day when I get home to recuperate. (Part of it is due to the fact that I am not as much of an extrovert as most people think I am when they meet me.) And then there's DragonCon, which is nothing like a regular con. You gotta expect the biggest SF/F convention in the world to leave you worn out, especially if you're one of the people speaking at it. And since I have panels on Labor Day Monday, it will be late that night, possibly into the wee sma's Tuesday, before we arrive home. Tuesday to rest, and the blog goes live about 3:30am Central time on Wednesday, so yeah. Don't hold your breath! I'll post Dragon stuff when I can.

And last but hardly least, we will have just celebrated Labor Day. Of course I wasn't/won't be home to post anything, so I'd like to throw in a few inspirational quotes for those of you so inclined, and wish you all a happy start to Autumn 2014.

"Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work."
~~Mark Twain, aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens

"There is no substitute for hard work."
~~Thomas Edison

"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
~~Thomas Jefferson

"Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them."
~~Joseph Joubert

 “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”
~~Albert Einstein

“God sells us all things at the price of labor.” 
~~Leonardo da Vinci

“I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true - hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.” 
~~Ray Bradbury

“Each morning sees some task begin,Each evening sees it close;Something attempted, some done,Has earned a night’s repose.”
~~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


And on that note, dear friends, good night.

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Stephanie Osborn's DragonCon Schedule

by Stephanie Osborn

Okay folks! Yours truly will be officially attending DragonCon this year! Due to circumstances beyond my control I was unable to attend Nine Worlds Convention and LonCon-3/WorldCon in London UK this year, as planned, but unless something really DRASTIC happens (and I'm talking somebody in the hospital or the morgue drastic), I WILL BE at DragonCon!

And since I thought a few of you might like to know my schedule, here it is, fresh from the planning folks.


Title: Reading: Stephanie Osborn 
Time: Fri 04:00 pm Location: Roswell - Hyatt (Length: 1)
Description: From 'A Case of Spontaneous Combustion'
Track: Readings

Title: First Contact: Make & Create Aliens
Time: Fri 08:30 pm Location: Embassy A-B - Hyatt (Length: 1)
Description: Skilled professionals brainstorm an alien and the first contact that might result.
Track: Sci-Fi Literature

Title: The Detective & The Ripper
Time: Fri 10:00 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1)
Description: Victorian fact and fiction meld as panelists examine and share theories about the world's greatest detective and famed first serial killer.
Track: Alt Hist

Title: Practical Time Travel
Time: Sat 04:00 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1)
Description: The science and real theories behind time travel and a survey of time travel in speculative fiction and media.
Track: Alt Hist

Title: Race & Gender Issues
Time: Sat 07:00 pm Location: Augusta 3 - Westin (Length: 1)
Description: This discussion panel explores how to handle historical gender and race roles within the realm of alternate history.
Track: Alt Hist

Title: Autograph Session
Time: Sun 01:00 pm Location: International Hall South - Marriott (Length: 1)
Track: Autograph

Title: Putting Humans on Mars
Time: Mon 10:00 am Location: 309-310 - Hilton (Length: 1)
Description: A discussion of the issues that must be resolved before boots on Mars can be accomplished.
Track: Space

Title: Victorian Technology
Time: Mon 11:30 am Location: Augusta 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1)
Description: A panel discussion of the technology of the Victorian era and how to exploit it for stories or imagination.
Track: Alt Hist


Do note that schedules can change at the last minute. Also note that in some cases I will be scuttling between hotels on bad knees, with more or less back to back panels. (Dragon is wise and allows half an hour between scheduled panels for people to make this traverse, but for those of us who are handicapped, it may still be difficult.) So if I'm supposed to be on the panel but it starts without me, hang on! I'll get there as soon as I can!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Character Development, A Guest Blog by Barb Caffrey

By Stephanie Osborn

I'm pleased to welcome back Barb Caffrey, book reviewer, editor extraordinaire, and newly-published author of the delightful fantasy/romance/comedy/mystery genre-crosser, An Elfy On The Loose. Today she talks about character development, and she does so from a broad range of experience in literature.



Without characters, you don't have a story.

I mean, think about it: Who'd remember the Harry Potter series if Harry Potter wasn't there? Or his buddy Ron Weasley? Or his other buddy, Hermione Granger? And that's just the good characters.

What about the enigmatic Severus Snape, the villainous Voldemort, or Harry's own uncle and aunt? Without them factoring into the equation, how would the seven books about Harry Potter interest anyone?

No, books are built on characters. It can't be any other way.

Even in a story where it's all about one man's struggle against the elements – such as Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea or the movie 127 Hours, the true story of hiker Aron Ralston (who had to amputate his own arm in order to survive) – you still must buy into the main character's dilemma. You have to care about Hemingway's old man. You have to care about Aron Ralston (as played by actor James Franco). Or the story doesn't make any sense.

And it's always been this way.

Consider, please, that Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales were all about characters. The ones we remember best, such as the stories about the gregarious and lascivious Wife of Bath, are because the characterization was so strong, people just couldn't help getting sucked into the tale.

The biggest and most obvious example, though, is the Bible. There are so many memorable stories there – stories of Moses, of David and Goliath, of Samson and Delilah, of wise King Solomon, and of course last but certainly far from least, Jesus of Nazareth. Most of these stories have narratives we completely understand.

For example, Moses tells the Egyptian Pharoah that if the Pharoah doesn't let Moses's people go, Egypt will be afflicted. The Pharoah doesn't listen, Egypt gets ravaged, and finally after a great deal of suffering, the Pharoah tells Moses to take his people and go.

Mind, if this particular story wasn't in the Bible, we'd see it as a story of action, adventure, mayhem, perhaps even as fantastic...but it works predominantly because we believe Moses is a grounded, down-to-Earth person who's telling the flat truth at all times. We also believe the Pharoah doesn't understand who – or Who – he's messing with, so when the Pharoah (and by extension, all of Egypt) gets his comeuppance, the reader can clap and cheer. (Or at least want to do so, which is one reason why the Bible is among the best-selling books of all time.)

But there's a different Biblical story I'd like to discuss, and that's the story of Job. He's a guy who seemingly has it all at the beginning of his story, and is described as being both "blameless" and "upright." He has a good family, lots of money, lots of property, is well-respected, and has many friends. But because his life is so comparatively easy, Satan turns to God and says, in essence, "Hey, Job has it really easy. I bet he'd not be so good if he had nothing at all."

God's reply is to cause Job to be afflicted with a great deal of unnecessary suffering. Job has no idea why he loses everything, why his family suffers right along with him and most of them die – all he knows is that God has apparently forsaken him, when Job himself hasn't done anything at all to deserve this. And all but a few friends desert him, too – and the few friends left all believe Job must've done something to cause this, even if they don't know what.

Job, though, really is as good as God said he is. So Job keeps being himself, tries to help others, and while he's obviously and understandably upset at all the undeserved misery that's befallen him and his family, he doesn't lash out at other people.

Because of Job's exemplary behavior, eventually much is restored to Job, though Job never gets a true answer as to why this happened. Instead, God basically stays above the fray and says Job cannot judge God – and Job accepts this.

Now, why does much of this story work, even to modern readers who don't accept that a Deity figure would ever behave in such a peremptory way? Well, it's simple: We all know people who've suffered unnecessarily cruel things. We don't know why this has happened. Often, the ones suffering get hectored by their friends, the same as Job was, and that just adds insult to injury. And finally, we respect a man who has shown he truly is good, deep down, in all the ways that count – because anyone can be a good person when there's no adversity in his life.

But it takes a very strong person indeed to be good when everything's stacked against him.

In Job's story, we have two main characters – God, who we can't possibly understand, and who even says so. And Job, who we definitely do understand . . . so if we didn't buy into Job's character, why would the story of Job still be resonating millennia after it was originally written down?

Job's story in particular illustrates why characterization is so important. Because if you don't have someone memorable to build a story around (like Job, Moses, Harry Potter, the Wife of Bath, or my own Bruno the Elfy), what good is the story? Who will remember it? And why should anyone care?

So when you sit down to write, make sure your main character – whether he's human, Elfy, completely alien, Godlike, or many other disparate things – is memorable. Because without that, you can't possibly interest a reader.


Well, it seems appropriate at this point to simply say, "Amen"...

If you haven't read Barb's new book, An Elfy On The Loose, by all means, do so!

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Character Development, a Guest Blog by Dina von Lowenkraft

by Stephanie Osborn

Dina von Lowenkraft is the author of the excellent fantasy, Dragon Fire, released through Twilight Times Books. 

Some choices are hard to live with. 
But some choices will kill you.
 When seventeen-year-old Anna first meets Rakan in her hometown north of the Arctic Circle, she is attracted to the pulsing energy that surrounds him. Unaware that he is a shapeshifting dragon, Anna is drawn into a murderous cycle of revenge that pits Rakan and his clan against her best friend June.
Torn between his forbidden relationship with Anna, that could cost them both their lives, and restoring his familys honor by killing June, Rakan must decide what is right. And what is worth living  or dying  for.

Today Dina talks about character development.



Character Building
Character Creation and Development

One of the pleasures in writing is creating characters -- vivid, dynamic characters who come alive.

Character Building is a multi-layered process, interwoven with other aspects of writing. Although the spark for a character can come from anywhere -- an image, an event, a plot arc or even a theme one wants to deal with -- the actual process is one of on-going discovery as each character takes on a life of their own.

I’m a plotter but I like creative freedom. Or I could say, I’m a pantser but I like to know where I’m going. So the tools I often see for character building don’t work for me. I have never been able to fill out a ‘character questionnaire’ before writing a book because I always stop after a few questions -- my mind will have jumped elsewhere. However, when my agent sent me a 3-page character questionnaire so that she could better understand my characters’ motivations in a completed manuscript, I was able to sit down and answer every question without pausing to consider what the answer was. But I did not, contrary to what she said often happens, learn anything new about my characters. By the time I have written and revised a manuscript, my characters are very much alive for me -- even the secondary ones.

So how do I get to that point if I never sit down and write it all out? Essentially, character building comes in waves for me:

1. General idea of characters which then mixes with plotting: Who Are These People?
2. Deepening my understanding by writing a few scenes and doing some more detailed plotting before writing the first draft: What Do They Want?
3. Digging further into motivation and objectives while writing the first draft: How Do They Show What They Want?
4. Checking for voice and expression as I revise and rewrite to get to a second draft: Can They Live Outside My Head?

1. Who Are These People?
Whether a book idea comes from an image of a world, a situation, a feeling, a theme or a character trait, I always have a vague idea who my characters are in terms of gender, age, etc. At this stage, I go back and forth between the story idea and the characters involved, since each character’s identity juggles with the plot to define itself. For example, when I was creating the main character of DRAGON FIRE, a shapeshifting dragon named Rakan, I only realized after I began plotting that he had to grow up outside of the normal Draak family structure. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to fall in love with a human, since most Draak see humans as nothing more than animals to be exploited. So I adjusted his upbringing accordingly.

At a minimum though, to get a story idea fleshed out enough to know where it is going, I need to have a decent idea of age, education level, family structure, and attitude of the main characters.

Having worked out some of these basic details, I will usually start writing -- maybe just a few scenes here or there in the story, or sometimes backstory. This allows me to get to know the character better and gets me to a point where the real work in character building can start.

2. What Do They Want?

Once I have written a few scenes to get a better sense of who my characters are and how they react to one another, I then like to flesh out my plot. As I do this, I delve deeper into what my characters want.

Compelling characters have a strong drive -- whether it is physical, emotional or intellectual will depend on your story, and your character. But whatever the plot line, and whoever your characters are, there will be a goal, a problem to overcome and hopefully, a mix of internal and external needs that conflict with each other.

3. How Do They Show What They Want?

I don’t worry about getting all of the character details figured out before I write, just those that seem most relevant to the story/characters involved. But by this point I have a clear idea of each main character’s internal and external motivations. This is essential since emotional tension and conflict work together to drive the story forward -- and result in a compelling read.

As I write each scene, I think about each character’s motivation. Given what I have already determined, and what comes up as I write, their motivations should be clear. If they aren’t, I look first to see if I haven’t clarified that part of their personality/situation yet. If that seems clear, I look at the scene itself -- maybe it is a scene that doesn’t carry enough weight. Maybe something else needs to happen (or not happen) to increase tension or build more suspense. In other words, I will look at the scene to clarify its objective and make sure it helps bring my character, and the plot, forward.

4. Can They Live Outside My Head?

Once the first draft is finished, it’s time to revise. I know many writers who don’t like revising, but I actually find it is a great time for deepening characters. By this point, I know my characters well. I know where they are going and how they get there. As I re-read and revise, I check to see if their actions are in line with their internal motivation, if their voice is clear and unique and if the plot arc and the emotional arc come together at the end.

For me, Character Building is an on-going process that is in constant flux. Characters grow and develop with the manuscript, and as they grow, so does the potential emotional impact of their story.

Thank you for inviting me to participate in this fun series on craft, Stephanie!

Author Bio:

Born in the US, Dina has lived on 4 continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat.

Dina loves to create intricate worlds filled with conflict and passion. She builds her own myths while exploring issues of belonging, racism and the search for truth... after all, how can you find true love if you don’t know who you are and what you believe in? Dina’s key to developing characters is to figure out what they would be willing to die for. And then pushing them to that limit.

Dina is repped by the fabulous Kaylee Davis of Dee Mura Literary.

Twilight Times YA & NA Books on FB:


Thank you for participating, Dina! This was very insightful. I find that you and I build our characters similarly, I think; but mine is rather more an intuitive process that might gain strength from using your questions to flesh them out better. Certainly by the time I am, say, five books into the series, I do know my characters! 

I look forward to hearing your comments on our next element!

-Stephanie Osborn