Sunday, November 18, 2018

Wish This Library Was In My Town

I'm sure I have many, many followers who are fans of Civil Engineering: The Magazine of the Society of American Civil Engineers. This month's issue has a cover story on a pretty spectacular library in Binhai, China. Actually, it sounds as if its atrium is pretty amazing.

Now, I didn't read the whole article, because I saw the word "truss" several times, as well as phrases like "dynamic elasto-plastic time-history analysis." But what's going on, basically, is that this central atrium has shelves that are
also steps and walkways and seating.The upper walls with their shelves bend inward, as you can see in the picture to your left. It's pretty spectacular looking.

Now, I'm no engineer. But I looked at those upper walls and couldn't see any way to get to the shelves on them. I thought, well, the shelves must be accessed from behind. Good idea, Gail. According to the CE article, that was the original plan. But they only had three years to build this thing, so the rooms on the other side of the atrium walls were ditched. The upper shelves hold fake books. There are more traditional library rooms in the building with more books.

The builders and planners were interested in creating a site for gathering, as well as for archiving books, and they've certainly done that. It's hard for a book person not to be excited about the way the Binhai Library turned out.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Connecticut Children's Book Fair 2018--Janet Lawler

I concluded my trip to this year's Connecticut Children's Book Fair, just over a week ago, with author Janet Lawler's discussion of finding ideas for writing. Janet was the only writer writer whose presentation I saw. By which I mean she was the only one who doesn't do her own illustrating.

Janet gave a list of ways writers get ideas and showed how some of them led to her books. What interested me here was how does a writer, who is an adult after all, decide whether an idea can be used for a children's book rather than an adult book?

  • For instance, Janet talked about emotions being a source of ideas and made the point that children's writers have to keep kids' emotions in mind. (This sounds obvious, but new writers struggle with leaning too much on adult characters' minds.) She's written mothers' love poetry that became children's picture books like If Kisses Were Colors instead of poetry collections for adults.
  • Janet gave a terrific example of getting a book idea from the news. She saw an article about a man who got into trouble for building an outsize snowman that caused problems when it melted. From that she wrote Snowzilla. Now, yes, I spend a lot of time watching things like Stranger Things and The Haunting of Hill House. But I think a story about a giant snowman did not have to become a picture book. It could have gone a much different way. 
I've been obsessing about this situation for the last week. I'm thinking Janet's presentation could become a writers' conference workshop. No, not on how to come up with ideas, but on deciding who they're for once you've got them.

Janet's most recent book is Fright School







Friday, November 09, 2018

Connecticut Children's Book Fair 2018--Robbi Behr & Matthew Swanson

I wasn't planning to go to Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson's presentation. They write for a few different age groups, and once again, I didn't know which one they'd be talking about. But I found myself with a hole in my schedule, they were talking, and there was a free chair. This is what is known as one thing leading to another.

They turned out to be right on the button for me. Or, I should say, right on a button. Robbi is an illustrator and Matthew a writer. They are a little (or maybe a lot) intimidating in that they run a couple of presses and also publish with traditional publishers. They also have a great patter. Also intimidating.

Editing Hybrid Books


What was meaningful for me, though, is that their new series, The Real McCoys, is what Robbi and Matthew call a hybrid book. It's not actually a graphic novel, but is traditional text with a lot of graphics. I have toyed with the idea of doing a graphic novel version of one of my earlier books. But this hybrid business sounds interesting, too.

The two particularly interesting points they made about their work on this kind of book:

  • While Matthew, the author, has an editor for the text, Robbi, the illustrator, works with the publisher's art director who acts as an editor for the graphics. She showed a couple of examples of what she means by editing. And, yes, it did, indeed, look like editing.
  • The text has to be edited and complete before the graphics are done. You don't want to spend time and energy creating graphics for a scene that will be changed or even dropped altogether. So authors and illustrators of this kind of book are working on different aspects of the book at any particular time. And if it's a series book, which The Real McCoys is, they may not even be working on the same book.

So stopping by that presentation was certainly worth while.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Connecticut Children's Book Fair 2018--Steve Light

This year I was looking for something specific at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair. I wanted to hear from authors who write for younger readers, maybe chapter books. I have a picture book manuscript out and about and after corresponding with one editor about it, I began to think about turning it into something chapter-bookish. A lot of the writers covered two age groups, and there was no way of predicting which one they'd be speaking about. Many of the speakers were both authors and illustrators, and there was no way of predicting which their talk would be about. On top of those considerations, I had to pick out people who were speaking around the same time, because I didn't want to stay there all day or end up going twice.
Steve With One Of His Journals

So you know the careful thought that went into planning my trip.

The first speaker I saw was Steve Light, an author/illustrator I hadn't heard of before, though I suspect I'll be hearing a lot about him in the future.

Writing Talk


  • Steve finds plotting the most challenging part of his work. I am guessing a huge majority of writers would agree with him there.
  • While working with plot, he creates backstory that may never appear in his books. He has created sculptures and maps of worlds. I found this intriguing. Imagine backstory for a picture book that ends up being more extensive than the picture book. Imagine a novel that is the backstory for a picture book. Excuse me. I've got to go write this down in my journal. 
  • He may use a recurring element in his work, like acorns or oak trees. He could have been talking about illustration, but this is something I do, too. I'll use a recurring joke or something that turns up a few times to define character or support a later event in the book. 

Art Talk

Steve With A Fountain Pen

  • Steve sometimes draws with fountain pens. I have a bit of a history with fountain pens, not drawing, of course, and have a lovely Waterman pen I like to use when writing letters. 
  • He also creates little inspiration books when he's working on a project. These are small books that he fills with small down-loaded images of art work that he turns to for ideas. Kind of like Pinterest boards? But classier? 

Builders And Breakers


I was particularly taken with Steve's book Builders and Breakers. It's one of the most attractive construction books I've seen. The blueprint endpapers...the finely drawn (with fountain pens?) double spread...the story that begins on the title page, making use of every part of the book. Builders and Breakers has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators and a two-page spread of Steve's original art for the book will be included in its 2018 Featured Artists Exhibit.

So I bought two copies for young family members.

Some Pretty Impressive Swag


I am not a fan of book bling and marketing swag. Melissa Stewart was quoted in a SCBWI article last year saying that creating swag is a waste of natural resources. My issue is the other end of the bling life cycle. Creating swag is just generating trash. I've signed hundreds of bookmarks that I knew were going to be balled up at the bottom of backpacks and tossed out by parents at the end of the week. (Whoops. Did I just let slip that I only cleaned my kids' backpacks on Fridays?)

Nonetheless, I have to say, Steve Light had some incredible book swag for Builders and Makers last weekend. In addition to a lovely poster version of the book jacket, he was giving out cloth bags with rulers and pencils all stamped with the book's, author's, and publisher's names. And a little notebook, maybe a lot like the one he uses for his inspiration books. This is useful stuff! Great stuff! 

I took a set for a Christmas present for another child. It will be a little while before this treasure stash ends up in a landfill.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: Why Do You Hold On To Material Things You Have To Spend Time Caring For?

Okay, we're going to switch gears from the Connecticut Book Fair to time management, because at some point the library is going to be on me about returning New Minimalism. Last week we discussed clutter and how getting rid of it could improve impulse control and increase free time, both of which can impact our writing.

So, what's happening this week, Gail?

Well, this week we're going to talk about three of the four archetypes authors Fortion and Quilici use to describe the reasons people have for holding on to material things. Why only three, Gail? Because I see myself in those three.

Why People Hold On To Material Things


#1. They Feel Connections. Connected people have "emotional, relational, and impassioned" ways of looking at the world, and they treasure family and friends. There's all kinds of great things about them. They tend to cling to things, though, because they feel that connection business. Sentimentality is an issue.

#2. They Are Practical. Lots of good things about practical people, too. Good at tasks, working toward objectives, or finding the answers to questions. They tend to not notice the material things piling up around them, presumably because they're working toward objectives. They can be blinded by the usefulness of items.

#4. They Are Frugal. What's not good about being frugal? They're very self-aware, eliminate expenses that don't support their lives, and are careful about how they expend their energy. They can become concerned about scarcity, though. They hold on to the knowledge that they've paid money for things.

Now, how does this work in terms of things piling up in your house and wrecking your work life?

Consider This Cast Iron Pot 


Take a look at the cast iron Dutch oven to your right that I've had for more than...well, for a long, long time. I bought it at a flea market with my Aunt Tessy. I wanted it because I wanted to take up fireplace/woodstove and open fire cooking. I kid you not.

My pot and the New Minimalism archetypes:

#1. My feelings of connection. Aunt Tessy was big into shopping for and buying used stuff. When I was in college, I spent a day with her, going from one seedy place to another. Honest to God, we stopped at one place where there was a guy outside tending an open fire. Rolled right off Aunt T's back. Thought nothing of it, while I'm going, "Wh--wh--What?" That day I bought a rocking chair for either six or nine dollars that ten or twelve years later became our baby rocker.  And then she helped me find this pot. It's just bubbling with meaning.

#2. I am so incredibly practical. Okay, it's true that the fireplace and open fire cooking came to naught. I think I tried to use this pot as an oven once or twice. And I definitely tried to make bean hole beans with it. Not a success. Mainly what I've used this pot for is holding candy at Halloween, because it looks like a witch's cauldron, get it? But, you know, I have cooked on a wood stove a few times when we've had a power outage. If that were to happen again, for a long enough time, I could use this pot. I would definitely learn how to bake in it. Maybe learn how to make bean hole beans. Sure, it's never happened yet. But it could.

#4. I am seriously frugal. I paid $19 for that pot! Aunt Tessy said it was a good price, but I think she was just being nice. I think I paid too much. I have to get my money's worth with this thing.

The New Minimalism authors provide strategies for dealing with these behaviors so you can shed yourself of things, things, things. I don't think I need them. Just recognizing why I've been holding on to that pot seems to be enough to get it out of my kitchen. Right now it's out in the garage, and it goes to the transfer station on Saturday.

How's The Office Cleaning Going, Gail?


I finally took another swing at cleaning the office this afternoon. There's a couple of dozen books in there that have been sitting on a top shelf for years. My husband's grandfather received them as rewards for subscribing to a newspaper back in the thirties or forties. As soon as I have time to climb up on my desk, those things are heading out of here. Connection is the only element that applies here. Clearly, we've decided we're not that connected.

So perhaps once you know why you hold onto things, you can start letting all kinds of possessions go.


Sunday, November 04, 2018

Connecticut Book Fair 2018--Some Of Those Who Were There

I was off to the Connecticut Children's Book Fair yesterday afternoon for the first time in three years. In the past, the Book Fair raised funds for the Northeast Children's Literature Collection at UConn's Dodd Research Center, though I'm not sure if that's the case, anymore.

My excursion will, of course, initiate a series of blog posts. Today we'll begin with the Connecticut children's writers I talked to who were doing signings yesterday afternoon (There were others, like Barbara McClintock, I didn't get a chance to speak with.) and a couple of random thoughts.


Connecticut Authors Signing

The first person I met was Susan Hood. And I mean I literally met her. We had only corresponded by e-mail. Susan won the Connecticut Book Award this year in the Young Readers Juvenile division for Double Take! She's also the author of Ada's Violin, which I liked a great deal.

I just missed Sandra Horning's presentation this year, though I caught her back in 2015. I did catch up with her during her signing today. Her most recent book is Baby Code. I apologize for forgetting to have her hold it up.






I also met Brenna Burns Yu for the first time. I wanted to connect with her because she's the debut author and illustrator of Hazel and Twig The Birthday Fortune, which won the Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children's Literature while still in manuscript form.  (I don't know which year.) The Tassy Walden is a Connecticut award and a number of winners and finalists have gone on to publication. So Brenna is part of a Connecticut literary circle.

Random Thoughts


Arthur Yorinks was originally scheduled to attend this year's fair. He couldn't make it, but some of his books were offered, including  a beautiful stack of Company's Coming, which my beloved followers know, I'm sure, is a very important book to me. It even became part of a baby shower in our family. What's more there was another stack of Company's Going, Yorinks' follow-up book. I got pretty excited about this, because I thought both books were out-of- print. Which they may have been, and now they're back.


David Small illustrated both these books.
Yorinks wasn't the only person missing from the Book Fair yesterday. I used to know one or two booksellers involved with the Fair, but a new store is running it, so my contacts are gone. I used to sometimes see an archivist from the Northeast Children's Literature Collection there, but she's retired and moved away.

I was very happy to see Billie Levy there, though, who is a major presence in Connecticut children's literature. How big a presence is she? My husband, a civil engineer, asked me last night if Miss Billie had been at the Fair. She is a children's book collector whose 8,000 piece donation got the Northeast Children's Literature Collection off and running. And then she continued to collect more. I've been seeing Billie at UConn children's lit events for years. Billie was there, so all was right with the Connecticut childlit world yesterday.

Over the next few days I'll be covering the three discussions I attended.

 

Thursday, November 01, 2018

A Kids' Kids' Book

Finchosaurus by Gail Donovan is what's known as a quiet book, in this case, a quiet book about a very realistic child in a realistic child situation. Finch is obsessed with dinosaurs. His knowledge of those creatures defines him. He develops a new obsession when he discovers a tiny note in his fifth-grade classroom's garden.

"Help," it says.

Finch sets to work to find out who wrote it. Who needs help, and how can Finch help him or her? This is his goal, and he takes steps to reach it. He tries to keep what he's doing to himself so that no one can take this new project from him, but slowly more and more people find out and become drawn into his plan. I must say, I didn't see the ending of this carefully plotted mini-mystery coming. But it definitely works.

One of the things Donovan does very well here is stick to her basic premise. Finch's inability to sit still and his grandparents who are downsizing because one of them is ill, are not pile-on problems that draw readers away from the initial story issues. Finch's fidgets and concerns about where he and his family will stay when they go to visit Guppy and Gammy in the future are not obstacles to be solved or random tangents but a way of creating a world for him.

I can imagine Finchosaurus being used as a classroom read-aloud and initiating "what-would-you-do?" discussions.

A field trip to something called Dinosaur State Park figures in this story. Though it sounds like a made-up name, Dinosaur State Park is a real place in Connecticut. This book so rooted in reality uses a real park. I happened to be there a couple of years ago. I do not know why I didn't take any pictures of the good stuff. I was taking part in a Connecticut DEEP Challenge,
which is why I had my picture taken in front of the sign. I had to prove I'd been there.


FTC Disclosure: Gail Donovan is a NESCBWI colleague. I won my Finchosaurus uncorrected galley in a blog contest.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: An Autumn Read That Might Slow Down Some Of Our Work

I've begun reading New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici. I read about the book last spring and was interested in trying to use the information during an office purge.  Honest to God, within two weeks of writing that minimalism purge post a family member had a health crisis, and I never finished the office. With this autumn read we'll see if I move any further with that project. And whether or not some new minimalism can help create that slow work thing I've been toying with.

Why Am I Spending Time On Clutter When This Blog Feature Is About Managing Time For Writers?

 

New Minimalism deals with clutter. It's right there in the book's title. What does that have to do with time management?
  1. In order to make time for work, we have to control all our time. There's a fine line between personal time and work time, and if our personal time gets out of control, it's going to spill into our work time. Check that last paragraph I wrote above about the sick family member. Dealing with a lot of material things can impact our personal time. Fortin and Quilici claim that among the benefits of a less cluttered, New Minimalist lifestyle are more free time and less "to-dos" hanging over our heads. That's time writers can use for work. And  shouldn't more free time and fewer "to-dos" mean I can slow down the work in at least my personal life?
  2. Disorder in our surroundings undermines impulse control, which can impact our ability to stay on task. Disorder can be a lot of things, but clutter is one of them.
  3. I'm thinking of clutter as metaphor, too. I'll get to that very soon and probably often.

Can We Agree On Clutter?


It's no longer this bad. Still...
Fortin and Quilici define clutter situationally. (I love the situational.) "...people get to determine how they want to feel in a space...and their own lifestyle needs and desires. The material items that don't support this vision are clutter."

Think about that office I was supposed to clean last summer. If I determine that I want to write in that office, all the things stored in there that aren't related to writing would be defined as clutter.

And here's an opportunity to get all metaphorical. Let's argue that anything that doesn't support a goal is clutter. Now let's argue that if we're writing and we have our main character's goal well thought out and we know our story, anything that doesn't address the goal and support the story is clutter. Maybe we can practice minimalism in writing process.

I hope I'll have more next week.



Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Weekend Writer

Wow. It's been almost a year since I've done a Weekend Writer post. Well, I think I have some helpful material here for you on getting started on writing picture books, though I think you could apply some of this work to any kind of writing.

A Training Model


Michelle Cusolito
I often use the word training in relation to writing, because I spent around 14 years training in a couple of different martial arts and, obviously, liked that world. Training is more than just writing something and expecting people to read it. Training involves an organized plan. Repetition. Learning new skills, then building on them to learn more skills.

I think two newly published writers recently interviewed at Cynsations can definitely be described as having trained before getting their first books published.

Yes, Michelle Cusolito (a NESCBWI member who I've met) and Casey W. Robinson followed the traditional writer advice to write and read a great deal. But notice how directed they were about it.
Casey W. Robinson
  • They took classes
  • They read thousands of picture books, because that was the genre they were interested in writing
  • They joined SCBWI
  • They both took part in an on-line picture book writing program.
  • Michelle assessed the publishers of the picture books she read to determine which types of books various companies were publishing
  • Casey analyzed texts to determine how a writer "creates room" for illustrators to pick up the story
  • Michelle joined a critique group.
  • Casey found a critique partner 
This is kind of intense. But that's probably why they're now published writers.