Monday, August 03, 2015

Terrific Historical Nonfiction

Even though I have a big interest in history, I sometimes find reading it a bit of a chore. Or, at least, not the kind of thing that I want to rush back to. The White House Is Burning: August 24, 1814 by Jane Sutcliffe is not at all a chore to read, and I found myself looking forward to getting back to it.

The book's publisher refers to The White House Is Burning as the "biography of a single day." That is how the book is structured. Sutcliffe takes readers through the day the city of Washington fell to the British during the War of 1812. She does that by using first person accounts. Fortunately a number of people who experienced the burning of the President's house felt moved to write down their thoughts. Note that the Introduction and the last chapter both begin with a reference to how the fall of Washington would be covered in the modern press. Nice frame.

The White House Is Burning is a great read, but it's also lovely to look at. It's illustrated with beautiful period artwork and portraits of historical figures referred to in the narrative. Though this is what might be described as an over-sized book, don't mistake it for a picture book. This is 105 pages of full text accompanied by 7 pages of quotation credits and a 3 page bibliography. And there is an index. I mention all this because I've heard that some teachers in the upper elementary school grades have page requirements for books acceptable for projects. This book ought to meet them.

I don't know how big a place The War of 1812 has in school curriculum. This book, though, is so marvelous a piece of work that it ought to be valuable in teaching how to read history and how history can be written.

Disclosure: I've run into Jane Sutcliffe here and there over the years, and a few months ago, she joined my writers' group. I ordered this book through Interlibrary Loan. I'd hoped to include it in my "Friends' Books" 48-Hour Book Challenge, but it didn't arrive in time.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Weekend Writer: Money

Okay, money is the elephant in the room when it comes to writing. Well, maybe it is one of the elephants in the room. Not making sales is another one.  Getting the writing done is still another. But today we're talking money.

People think writers make a lot of money because, I believe, Judith Krantz began making really serious money in the late 1970s. In my mind, it all goes back to Krantz. After her, you started hearing about other Krantz-like writers. James Michener. Danielle Steele. By 2000, J. K. Rowling was becoming well known for having become rich writing children's books.

From there it wasn't far to believing that writers make a lot of money because some writers made a lot of money. When we had an addition built onto our house, my neighbor's mother assumed we were paying for it with my writing income. My writing paid for some living room furniture once. People don't like to hear that sort of thing.

Last January, Ann Bauer wrote an article for Salon in which she talked about the advantages writers with financial support or connections through family have. In June, Christine Sneed published an article at The Billfold that gives a picture of  the other side, someone spending years writing without financial support or connections.

Neither one of them is talking about Judith Krantz-type of money.

Friday, July 31, 2015

What Did You Do Last Week, Gail? July 31st Edition

Goal 1. Mummy Book. After maybe a month and a half of revising Chapters One through Eight, I was finally able to finish Chapter Nine. I will be starting new work on Monday. I used to be able to do a first draft of a chapter in a week. I'm hoping to see something like that happen this next month, because I'd really like to have a draft done of this whole thing by Labor Day Weekend. A lot of family and personal stuff coming up next week, though. Allez, allez, allez.

Goal 5. Community Building. Posted the August Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar and mailed out the newsletter.

Goal 7. General Marketing/Branding. Did my usual Twitter thing, additionally checking out #MSWL, which took place on Twitter...ah...sometime this week.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

August Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Thank you, Marc Tyler Nobleman. Connecticut would have had an extremely slow month for children's author/illustrator appearances without you. Many libraries in Connecticut used the theme "Every Hero Has a Story" for their summer reading programs. Nobleman's biographies of the creators of Superman and Batman fit that theme well, so I'm guessing he's doing an end of summer reading tour.

Sunday, August 2, Suzanne CordatosBank Square Books, Mystic 1:00 to 3:00 PM

Monday, August 3, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Easton Public Library, Easton 3:00 PM

Monday, August 3, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Brookfield Library, Brookfield 7:00 PM

Tuesday, August 4, Marc Tyler Nobleman, New Canaan Library, New Canaan 3:00 PM

Tuesday, August 4, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Richmond Memorial Library, Marlborough 6:30 PM

Wednesday, August 5, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Norfolk Library, Norfolk 3:00 PM

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Time Management Tuesday: What's My Priority Today?

The June issue of More Magazine carried an interview with Laura Vanderkam who writes about time and productivity, particularly in relation to professional people. Vanderkam had a number of interesting things to say.

  • She provides still more support for the unit system, saying, for instance, "Not taking breaks during the workday is a big mistake, because if you don't take intentional breaks, you'll take unintentional ones." Remember, will power is finite, strongest in the morning and wears out during the day. The breaks you take every 45 minutes, or after whatever unit of time you want to work, help to replenish will power so you're able to work at a higher level.
  • She suggests that people decide what they're going to do for downtime on weekends early in the week before they're too worn out from work to do any planning. Writers with day jobs could do something similar, plan what writing tasks they're going to do with their free time at a point when they're rested and feeling positive about getting some writing done.

Priorities Vs. Not Having Time


Here is the thing I liked best in this interview: Rather than say, "I don't have time," say, "This isn't a priority."  Vanderkam goes on to say, "That language is more accurate." She means that we have time to do a great many things but choose not to. It's not that we really don't have time. We're choosing not to do the things we say we don't have time for.

Some people might find that judgmental. But to me, choosing to think in terms of priorities instead of "not having time" is situational. Priorities change. Your situation one week can mean you can make writing a priority. A couple of weeks later, marketing knocks writing from the top of the work list. A few months after that, your personal life shoves things around for a while.

I like thinking in terms of "This isn't a priority" instead of "I don't have time" because what that really says to me is "This isn't a priority now." I can make it a priority another time.

Monday, July 27, 2015

I Found "Meet the Dullards" Really Stimulating

I'm trying to decide what makes Meet the Dullards by Sara Pennypacker with illustrations by Daniel Salmieri clever and entertaining. The Dullard parents admire all that is dull and boring and are doing their best to pass their values on to their children. Older children (the four- to eight-year-olds the book is recommended for by the publisher) will get that that's funny because it's not supposed to happen. By the time kids reach that age, they're aware that our culture doesn't embrace the bland.

But jokes about a desire for a lifestyle of nothingness aren't enough to hold attention for very long. Because, you know, that gets boring. What really makes Meet the Dullards interesting is that it has a storyline that has run in many an adult novel. Let's say it's about generational loss, not conflict. The Dullard children don't fight Dullard Mom and Dad. They don't actively reject their parents' lives. It just happens, the way this sort of thing has happened since the beginning of time. The Dullard young'uns just can't help running into books, puppies, and the circus. And the young do what the young have always done. They move on to new things.

Yeah, I'm reading way too much into this.

I'll just say that text and illustration work well to provide humor that really does come out of a situation and support a story and leave it at that.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Weekend Writer: Writing Picture Books. Or Not.

Yes, as author/editor Ellie Sipila, who maintains the website Move To The Write, says in her fantastic piece, The Fickleness of Picture Book Publishing, many new children's authors are interested in writing picture books. She writes about why it's so difficult to break into that field, mentioning a couple of things I've never heard before or thought about. Among them:

There's a nice big backlist of picture book classics, so publishers don't need to purchase a lot of new ones.

Many new writers think they should be instructing the young in picture books and often stick to a handful of themes that have been done to death.

The rhyming thing. For years I've heard that editors and publishers aren't falling all over themselves to buy rhyming books. Why? Have you ever thought about what editing does to a manuscript in rhyme? Because until I read Fickleness of Picture Book Publishing, I hadn't.

If you're interested in picture book writing, you may find Fickleness very helpful.

Friday, July 24, 2015

So What Have You Been Doing Since June 26th, Gail?

I haven't done a post checking on goals since June 26th. Though I committed more time than usual since then to the personal side of my life, I did chip away at work.

Goal 1. Mummy Book. I had to go back and revise again before I could move on. This was pretty significant, actually, and it is allowing me to get the end of the book lined up. Until I revise that, too, of course.

Goal 7. General Marketing/Branding. I spent quite a lot of time learning to use Tweetdeck, which I'll be writing about here at some time. Lovin' the Tweetdeck. I also had an opportunity to submit workshop proposals to a Connecticut library.

Goal 2. Short Pieces. Because of Tweetdeck, I saw that a publication had opened for submissions for two weeks, and I submitted.

Goal 5. Community Building. I started work on next month's Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar and reposted an OC post to my Goodreads blog.

Goal 6. Marketing STP&S. Yesterday's Environmental Book Club included a little marketing for Saving the Planet & Stuff.

On the personal side, I finished that quilt top, broke in these Bryce Dallas Howard dinosaur hunting shoes (Yeah, I saw Jurassic Park), went to one of the two best weddings I've attended in my entire life, and started binge reading The Dublin Murder Squad.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Environmental Book Club

A list of environmental books for juveniles and young adult readers from the University of Urbana-Champaign includes authors and/or titles we've heard about: Carl Hiaasen, The Carbon Diaries, and Life As We Knew It, which probably made the list as a climate change disaster story. Oh, and look! The hardcover edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff is there, too. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Time Management Tuesday: Getting Started On A New Week

I would have sworn that sometime during this project I did a post on spending some time at the beginning of each week planning what you're going to do over the next seven days. The planning should relate to your goals and objectives? I think I used a picture of a notepad I was using for my planning at the time? Yeah, I can't find it.

My point in bringing all that up is that I do believe in weekly planning. So I was taken when I happened to see 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting Your Week at Time Management Ninja while I was scanning tweets.

If you haven't been able to work over the weekend, Mondays can be rough. They can be particularly rough if you've had more than a weekend off. If you've been messing around with a wedding for a couple of weeks...on an extended vacation...recovering from illness...getting yourself on task, even working for a unit of time or in sprints can be difficult. Planning that you will do certain things can help a lot.

What I like about the 7 Questions article is that it can direct you in your planning, if you're struggling with it. I would apply Question 7, What am I doing to reach my goals?,  to all the other questions, though. What do I need to do for a goal? Where do I need to be to work toward a goal? What do I need to catch up on to make progress on a goal? The questions give direction to your planning, and the goals give direction to the questions.

If you plan what you're going to do at the beginning of the week and go over what you actually did at the end, you can tighten up your work habits a lot.