Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Time Management Tuesday: Now Is The Time For Change. Hurry!

I know, I know. I said I wasn't going to be blogging until next month. However, I actually read those newspapers hotels provide gratis, and I read something last week that will not keep. It is time sensitive.

First off, I'm sure you all recall that I've written here about the significance of beginnings and endings of units of time.  January, the beginning of a major unit of time, the year, is a big moment here at OC with the creation of goals and objectives.

Well.

Last week The Wall Street Journal carried an article about the end of one unit of time and the beginning of another and how that beginning has become very important. In Now Is the Real New Year, the WSJ reports that September is now "the start of the real new year." It lists masses of ways that September is now outpacing January for people making changes in their lives. And there's a couple of statements that suggest that September works better than January for doing this. "In January, postholiday exhaustion can make New Year's weight-loss resolutions feel even tougher, nutritionists say..." and 69% of respondents in a British survey "believe small improvements in September are easier to achieve than New Year's resolutions."

There's not a lot in this article explaining why this is happening. There's talk of shifting back to routines after the summer and the Jewish New Year coming in the fall. But what is going on that is so big that it blows January, the stereotypical time for changing our behavior and getting started on new projects, out of the water?

My own wild theory is that, at least here in the U.S., we have generations of being enslaved to the school year and its calendar. We're tied to it as students, ourselves, and then those of us who have children are tied to it again when they are students. Teachers are tied to it. Children's writers who do school presentations are tied to it. The school year, which begins in September, has become more meaningful than the calendar year because something truly happens when it begins. January, not so much.

So can we use this sense of a new beginning and a time to get started fresh in our work?

I can't, obviously. I'm on vacation. But maybe you can.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Try To Miss Me Just A Little. Or Better Yet, A Lot.

Vacation 2014
Original Content is taking a vacation, because I am. I will be posting my biking mileage at Facebook every few days, and I might tweet occasionally, if I feel a compelling need to. (I sometimes live tweet TV shows and season premiere time is coming up.) Remote possibility that I might create some new Pinterest boards, because that's fun. Otherwise I'm not even planning to check my e-mail regularly.


Vacation 2015

What About Vacations And Time Management?


Today is Tuesday, so this should be a Time Management Tuesday post. I could be writing about how preparing for vacation is very stressful and time consuming. It increases monkey mind problems.

And what about goals for vacation? Shouldn't I have those? I'm very goal-oriented these days, and I feel that during vacation I should be working on goals unrelated to work. Because I'm on vacation. No work. So I'm thinking instead my goals should be reading French. And meditating. And reading lit journals. And writing in journals. And reading about tai chi. Hmm. Is there something called objective panic?

But you know what would be a really good vacation goal? Arriving at the motels where you have reservations at the time when you've reserved them.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Makes You Appreciate Traditional Publishers

This morning I gave up on a book and shelved it in my Kindle under "Didn't Finish." I had started skimming by the 10 percent point and still ended up making the decision that life is short. There was just no reason to spend time like this.

My Kindle is loaded with goodies I download during free promotions or buy on sale.* This is my way of discovering new authors. At some point I dip into the Kindle and see what turns up. For instance, I recently found Longbourn by Jo Baker on my Kindle. Must have bought it on sale. Superb book. Believe me, I'll be remembering that writer and considering some of her other titles.

Obviously, that was not the case with the book I gave up on this morning. I hadn't been reading long when I began to suspect it was self-published. Sure enough, it was. What was the tip off?

When Self-Published Books Are Bad, They're Often Bad In The Same Way


Certainly I've read plenty of bad traditionally published books over the years. But when self-published books are bad, they're often bad in the same, recognizable way. For instance:

  • Telling vs. Showing. Today's book had chapter after chapter of telling instead of showing. Some people argue that the  show-don't-tell rule is a meaningless cliche. But what telling does to a story is make it incredibly flat. There's not much in the way of action, so there's not much narrative drive to make readers want to continue reading. Here's an example for you. While a protagonist walks home from work, she can recall (tell us about) having seen a person on the street approached and dragged away by federal agents. She may say it was disturbing, but it's all in the past. We know she is still here to tell the tale. Or, while a protagonist walks home from work, she can witness a person on the street being approached and dragged away by federal agents. The author is showing us the event as it happens and as the protagonist experiences it. For a moment or two, we feel suspense, because we don't know what is going to happen. We don't know what the character witnessing the event is going to do or how it is going to impact her. And that is why show vs. tell matters. As I said, I often find showing missing in self-published books.
  • Little distinction among characters. They seem very much alike.
  • No voice. Lack of a strong, distinctive voice for the main character.
  • No understanding of plot. Random events strung together into a plot instead of events having a causal relationship--Event A leads to Event B leads to Event C. Randomness is both confusing and undercuts narrative drive. Things drag.
  • Unnatural descriptions. The story stops moving forward so the author can describe a character or setting.
  • More copy errors than we usually see in a traditionally published book. One or two errors in an entire book are barely noticeable. But much more than that and readers become distracted. Copy errors matter because every time readers see a letter missing or letters transposed they are taken out of the reading experience. They realize they are no longer in the world of the story.
A bad self-published book might include many of these problems.

I have to say I've read only one self-published book that I thought was really good, Do Not Resuscitate by Nicholas Ponticello. I also thought Due North by Melanie Jackson was well done, though it didn't fit into a traditional publishing niche. However, I don't read a great many self-published books. There may be some kind of percentage thing going on with these things whereby X percent are good, and you have to read a great many in order for that X percent to amount to much in real numbers.

What About Bad Traditionally Published Books?


Why is it I recognize a bad self-published book as self-published versus traditionally published? Because when I read a bad traditionally published book it's seldom bad in all the ways I cited above, the way bad self-published books are. With bad traditionally published books you're usually dealing with one or two of these:

  • Cliches. Copy cat stories. (Think the YA books with autistic main characters that have exploded over the last decade.)
  • Running out of steam. Series that ran on too long.
  • Stereotypes. Characters are well defined, but stereotypes.
  • A strong voice for main characters, but they sound too much like other voices in the genre. (Both YA and adult To Kill A Mockingbird wannabes, for instance, and Catcher in the Rye wannabes, noir mysteries. For a while there were YA books coming out with characters trying to be another Georgia Nicholson.) 
  • Books that are bloated. They just should have been shorter and tighter.
  • Fantasy series that rely on weird stuff happening. As the series progresses, you're basically just getting more and more weird stuff. The weirdness has to be cranked up, and that's pretty much all there is. 

And Why Don't We See More Of The Self-Pubbed Problems In Traditionally Published Books?


My assumption--and it is an assumption--is that the publishing system actually works, to some extent, at least, and agents and editors screen out the tell, tell, tell stories, the stories without distinctive characters, without voice, without a well-constructed plot. And publishing companies definitely employ copy editors, so we see far fewer missing letters and gaps in lines, etc. We get far fewer of those kinds of distractions.


What Does It All Mean?


Today I was feeling very warmly toward the traditional publishing world. I felt I was unlikely to find myself reading something like the book I shelved today, if I stuck with traditional pub. Yippee doodles for Gail the Reader.

But then I thought, Wait, if the traditional publishing world is doing this great job keeping books out of the publishing pipeline because they're filled with telling instead of showing, characters who seem alike, characters with no voice, stories with no plot, AND the traditional publishing world is also keeping my books out of the publishing pipeline, does that mean that my books are filled with telling instead of showing, characters who seem alike, characters with no voice, and stories with no plot?

I think this makes traditional publishing what is called a mixed blessing.
____________________
*By the way, I do buy full price eBooks. I'm talking here about impulse buying sale books I've heard of and wouldn't have read otherwise or new to me items I'm willing to take a chance on because they're cheap.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

More September Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar Updates

Wed., Sept. 14, John Himmelman, Room 164, Austin Hall, UConn Storrs 6:00 PM Discussion on creative process open to the public.

Thurs., Sept. 22, Dawn Metcalf, Barnes & Noble, Enfield 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Friday, September 09, 2016

The Benefits Of A Binge Read

I'm always saying how much I wish I'd read a series in a binge, after several books had been published, instead slowly as they were published. Well, I stumbled upon the Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke at a local library and thought, Gail, here is your chance.

This was a great experience. Because when I read the first book, Zita the Spacegirl, I thought, That was okay. But as I read the others, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl, I got more and more into this world and this girl's adventures. Seriously, I would have read another book.

These are well done graphic novels in that I don't think there is any narrative text at all. The entire story is told with dialogue and image. Readers have that marvelous experience of sucking in a story fast. I have to say that I sometimes found too much going on in some of the panels, but it didn't slow me down.

There are two things about Zita, herself, that are particularly terrific. One, she always comes up with a solution. And, two, though she is definitely a girl, she transcends gender. This is no pink and green princess story. This is a girl fighting her way across space. Any child can read this.

If you can get them all, read them one after another.

Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar Update

Author Jane Sutcliffe will speak about and read from her book Will's Words at the UConn Bookstore at Storrs Center on Monday, September 26, at 6:00 PM. Her appearance celebrates Shakespeare Month and the showing of the First Folio at UConn.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Time Management Tuesday: More On Making Use Of Reading Time

For the last two weeks, I've been writing about reading less in order to make time to read more:

But I Have More On Reading!


Yes, reading is such a big time issue in my life that I've thought about it and written about it here before, including some posts in 2012 on Pierre Broyard's How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read and how his thinking can help readers manage time. What follows is an annotated bibliography of my reading posts with links.

An Introduction To Reading. Maintenance reading vs. professional reading. Also "Select what is important to read and don't sweat the rest." Rita Emmett

Forget About Reading Every Word. Skimming and reading articles about books when you can't get to the books, themselves.

An Example Of Skimming. Picking out what interests you in an essay.

Be More Discriminating About Reading. Early thoughts on how to decide what kinds of reading to cut back on.

More Time For Reading. This deals with reading tips from one of those articles with numbers in the title that I'm cutting back on reading now. But I wasn't then.

Reading all this information could help you better manage your massive amounts of reading. However, if you've been following my TMT posts the last couple of weeks, you'll be aware that not reading it could also help you  with your reading time.

Gotta love a win-win situation.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Sophisticated YA Mystery

First off, I'd like to say that how I came to read The Mystery of Hollow Places is an example of marketing working. Its author, Rebecca Podos, made some appearances in Connecticut over the last few months, so I saw her name turning up on the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar. I noted what her book was about while reading about her. She's also an agent whose name I've seen connected with SCBWI events. So, for me, she had a bit of name recognition. When her book turned up in front of me on the new book shelf at one of the libraries I frequent, my mind was ready to accept it. A job well done, Rebecca.

The Mystery of Hollow Places is a literary stand alone mystery. That makes me happy. Our teen narrator/detective is hunting for her father who appears to have taken off for parts unknown. He's a mystery writer and his girl, Imogene, has made a study of his work. She believes she can use what she's learned from reading his books to find him.

This book has a great deal to recommend it:

A legitimate, realistic mystery that is also realistically solved by a teenager.
A wealthy, popular teen girl sidekick for our detective protagonist.
A nonevil stepmother.
A side trip to Willimantic, Connecticut, which isn't that far from where I'm sitting right now and where I have been many times. Which, of course, is only a recommendation to those of us who know the place.

I just suggested The Mystery of Hollow Places to a friend who's writing a mystery. I thought she'd be interested in the way health information is slowly revealed and that great sidekick.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Cybil Is Calling

It's that time of year again. The Cybils Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards has put out the call for judges. Judges serve in specific categories to help choose the year's best   books in those genres, and kid-friendliness counts. The administrators are looking for people who "contribute regularly to a blog, podcast, or vlog about any aspect of children’s or young adult literature."
Cybils' Reading for 2006

I've judged three times in ten years, most recently last year. So I'm passing this time, because I'm not greedy. But this is a good opportunity for childlit bloggers who'd like to connect with other members of the childlit blogging community.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

September Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar


We have a nice combination of bookstore, library, museum, and conference events this month.

Sun., Sept. 18, Christine Pakkala, Barnes & Noble, Westport 5:00 PM

Fri., Sept. 23, Leslie Bulion, Durham Fair, Durham  10 AM to 11 AM

Fri., Sept. 23, Hollis Seamon, Ridgefield Writers' Conference,  Ridgefield Registration required

Sat., Sept. 24, Danielle Paige, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM 

Sat., Sept. 24, Pegi Deitz Shea, The Mark Twain House & Museum Writers' Weekend, Hartford 9:30 to 10:45 AM Writing for Children Workshop Registration required and fee 

Mon., Sept. 26, Jane Sutcliffe, UConn Bookstore at Storrs Center, Storrs  6:00 PM

Wed., Sept. 28, Angela DiTerlizzi and Brendan Wenzel, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:30

Thurs., Sept. 29, Sarah Darer Littman, Cos Cob Library, Cos Cob 7:00 PM Book launch

Thurs., Sept. 29, Betsy Devany, Bank Square Books, Mystic 5:00 to 7:00 PM Book launch