Monday, May 20, 2019

Reading To Support Goals

At the end of January, I made an adjustment to this year's goals and objectives "Research and create notes for a happy apocalyptic story." I read Pandemic 1918 by Catharine Arnold and Pale Rider by Laura Spinney to research that story, but I'm also trying to read some general science fiction to ground myself in the genre I'm writing. (I also have an adult first contact story that I'm holding on to for a little while before I submit it again, so grounding myself in the genre would be good for that, too.) So late this winter/early this spring I read Lock In and Head On by John Scalzi. (I read his Redshirts a few years ago, and I believe we have his Agent to the Stars floating around the house somewhere.)

Lock In and Head On are police procedurals set in the near future, using the same main characters and same world. To be truthful, I found the science a little long in places and hard to follow, and there were a lot of secondary characters, particularly of the potential bad guy variety. I loved the main characters and their world, though, enjoyed the reads, and hope Scalzi does more Lock In books.


How Do Lock In and Head On Fit In To My Grand Scheme?

The Lock In books involve bringing science fiction elements into our world. This is my favorite kind of science fiction. I am not a big fan of stories about human elements entering science fiction worlds. When I write science fiction,which, granted, isn't that often, I bring science fiction to the here and, so far, the now. That's what I did with My Life Among the Aliens and Club Earth, which have the same main characters and world. They involve aliens coming into suburban children's world.

So I'm going to try to stick with that kind of science fiction reading for the immediate future.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Not So Obscure Illustrator

Old books over fireplace. Not anymore.
Time to start easing back into work life, including blogging.

In March and April, I wrote about the old books that I was literally...and that is literally...using as living room decor. I know Joanna Gaines does that all the time, but moldy old books are not that attractive. They get depressing after a while, too.

On Saturday I was with a group of relatives and tried to unload an 1898 edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin that my grandmother had written her name in in 1945. My Aunt Esther, her daughter, said, "Eh, I have a bunch of those," meaning, I assume, her mother's books, not copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Not only did my cousin Mary not want it, she said if I could get our cousin Bob to take it, she'd send him the grandmother book I sent her last year. Bob did take the book. He just moved, has 65 boxes of books, and just doesn't care about one more. Yeah, I did kind of take advantage.

So that's one book gone. But there are more!
The Little Browns

The Little Browns by Mabel E. Wotton, for instance. It caught my eye because it's 119 years old and  still very attractive. Okay, attractive in a dated way, in a way that a lot of 119 year old books aren't. The illustrator, H.M. Brock, is better known than some of the people I've been writing about. The University of Reading, for instance, has the H.M. Brock Collection, which holds 2,000 books that include his work.

Illustration from Little Browns
Unfortunately, H.M. Brock is often described as C.E. Brock's younger brother. C.E. was also an illustrator, who gets attention for illustrating Jane Austen's books, though it appears that H.M. worked with him on that. C.E. painted in oils and was elected to something called the British Institution. Poor H.M., on the other hand, worked in advertising in addition to illustrating. Advertising always gets a bad rap.

Illustration from Little Browns
Jeff A. Menges in a  selection in 101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age, 1890-1925 says that C.E. accepted fewer illustration assignments and the ones he did take "included more literature." (Ah...what?) Our H.M. did more book work and more for the juvenile market. ( that supposed to be a bad thing?) H.M. also went into comics when book sales in the '30s and '40s meant less work for him. That may have been a sign of hard times in those days, though now it makes him cool.

Cooler. Coolish.

At the very least, he has left a bigger paper trail than some of the other authors whose books I had in my living room for several years.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Morning Pages For Organization?

This past winter, as part of a feeble attempt to create a minimalist office, I've been weeding out and then discarding many, many...many...years of writers' journals. Or workbooks, as I sometimes thought of them, according to something I read in one of them last night. This will be the subject of another blog post, some time in the future. Who knows when?

Today what I want to write about is what I've been finding in the 2002-03 journal and how it relates to a post I stumbled upon this week from Melissa Wiley, writing at Medium, though in the childlit blog world she is known for Here in the Bonny Glen.

I have to say my mind has been on hover these last few weeks, and I haven't been doing much with it. So going through old journals is a perfect not much thing to do with a hovering mind. Then one day I went on to my Feedly bloglist, thinking that would be not much I could do with my hovering mind, too. And I found Melissa's post that connected with something I've been seeing in this particular journal of mine.

This is one of those it's-supposed-to-happen things.

Morning Pages And Distractions

So Melissa's Medium piece is called Digital Decluttering: A Diary, which is all about getting a grip on digital distractions. Definitely a good read for people trying to manage time.What became particularly interesting for me, though, is that Melissa started doing the morning pages recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way. "Three pages of longhand stream-of-consciousness writing every morning before any outside input—no screens, no conversation, not even a book," Melissa says.

As it turns out, in my 2002-2003 journal/workbook I write often of doing morning pages. In fact, I was doing them in the journal, using morning pages to free-write on projects I was working on. If recollection serves me, that's  not what you're supposed to do with morning pages. I was also using them to whine about my life. From what I can make out in the journal--there is a lot of chaotic material in there--I was trying to do them for six weeks, because I'd read that six weeks of a behavior is a habit. Hahahahaha. Sure.

In Digital Decluttering, Melissa  says "In these daily writing sessions I found myself lamenting my diminished attention span, my unread bookstack, my wasted time."

I did, too!  "Yesterday was a serious bust..." "Disastrous few days." "Yesterday didn't go too well."

Melissa used morning pages to help her stay organized. "The cardinal rule of Morning Pages is they have to come first, before you do anything else," she bold.  "...I began moving to my studio to write my Morning Pages and then I’d roll straight into work on the book." Morning pages made it possible for her to skip checking in on the news and social media first thing instead of working.

I was trying to use them for practical, organizational reasons, also. "In order to justify the morning pages, they really have to increase my work output. My output professionally. I also have to justify them family-wise, by becoming more productive in the house." "Well, working on morning pages is a better thing to do before TKD (taekwondo) then surfing the Net. I guess."

But We Really Didn't Like Morning Pages

Towards the end of her Medium post, Melissa says, "Morning Pages had been effective at helping me shift some habits. But I never liked writing them; after a few weeks they felt routine and dull. I kept up the practice because it had borne good fruit. But I was thrilled to exchange them for something that suits me far better: a daily practice of reading poetry first and then opening my notebook to see what happens."

I'm not sure how far I was into my six-month plan (as I indicated earlier, my journals are pretty chaotic), when I wrote, "I'm really beginning to hate this. I'm not feeling any more creative. Nor productive. Must find ways to get more done. Like what?"

Melissa's use of morning pages led to a work practice she finds satisfying.  I don't recall what morning pages led to for me. Perhaps the next journal will reveal something.

Remember, this was in 2002 or 2003. I started Time Management Tuesday at the beginning of 2012. Yes, it is a sad statement that I was still struggling with productivity ten years later. But I'm one of those people who believes that the struggle is everything, so...Hurray! I was still struggling!

So What Is My Takeaway From This, Gail?

Go ahead and check out Melissa's post, particularly the section toward the end about poetry, and think about whether plunging into some type of writing...any kind of writing..., either first thing in the morning or first thing in your writing time, will help you stay focused on work.

Friday, April 26, 2019

May Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Sat., May 4, Susan Ross, Westport Library, Westport 3:00 PM

Sat., May 4, Katie L. Carroll, Rick Arruzza, Suzanne Cordatos, Tabitha G. Kelly, Donna Marie Merritt, Christine Pakkala, Torrington Library, Torrington Noon to 4 Author Expo and Book Fair

Mon. May 6, Padma Venkatrama Q&A with blogger Cassi Steenblok, Bank Square Books, Mystic 5:30 PM

Tues., May 7, Erin Jones, Bank Square Books, Mystic 7:00 PM

Sat., May 11, Joyce Lapin, Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury Noon

Sat., May 18, Joyce Lapin, That Book Store, Wethersfield 1:00 PM

Sun., May 19, Josh Funk, That Book Store, Wethersfield 11:30 AM

Sat., May 25, Joyce Lapin, Barnes & Noble, West Hartford 11:00 AM

Sun., May 26, Joyce Lapin, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 10:30 AM

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Do I Have Book Series? I Have Book Series.

Okay, so we've talked here about the old books I was decorating my mantel with. I finally found a picture of the thing all prettied up with stained and torn books that were probably causing mold- and health-related problems here. Marie Kondo would have had a stroke if she'd seen this place.

Today we're covering my copies of The Radio Boys Search for the Inca's Treasure (1922) and The Radio Boys Rescue the Lost Alaska Expedition (1922) by Gerald Breckenridge. According to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, there were three Radio Boys series published in the 1920s. The biggest sellers were published under a pseudonym by the famous Stratemeyer Syndicate. My books, of course, are not among the biggest sellers.

They do have a claim to fame, though. My books were written by Gerald Breckenridge, a pseudonym for...No, Gerald Breckenridge isn't a pseudonym at all but the author's actual name. And that's the claim to fame. This particular series of Radio Boys was written by an author not using a pseudonym. Breckenridge was a journalist who also worked as a publicist for RKO studios.

The Internet isn't swarming with info about him, though I did find that his papers are archived at the Auburn University at Montgomery Library. According to the guide to the papers "The collection lacks significant information pertaining to Breckenridge's career as a newspaper man, his relations with Lella Warren, or his other writing activities." Which kind of makes you wonder why the material is there. Lella Warren, by the way, was Breckenridge's first wife and a writer. In the very next paragraph, the guide writer says, "Among the more interesting items within the collection are the book and short story drafts. Portions of the drafts appear to have been written in the fictional/biography style utilized by Lella Warren. There is insufficient information available to determine the influence of these two writes upon one another."

If I were one of those tabloid writers who cover the royal family, I'd have a field day with those last two sentences. But I'm not, so speculate quietly to yourselves.

Gerald Breckenridge is another author who has traveled into the land of obscurity.

I also found two other books from children's series on the mantel:  Buddy on the Farm by Howard R. Garis and Bound to be an Electrician by Edward Stratemeyer. Yes, that Stratemeyer, the one of Stratemeyer Syndicate fame. Evidently he wrote a boatload of books himself in addition to...producing or packaging...series written by others. It appears to me that much of Stratemeyer's own work has become obscure, while some of the syndication's series, such as Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, remained known until very recently and may still be. Nancy Drew, in particular, has some cultural significance.

My copy of Bound to be an Electrician is inscribed to my husband's great-uncle, a Christmas present from his aunt in 1910. Someone held on to it for over a hundred years and moved it from place to place. My mind is boggling over that.

Marie Kondo, come get these books.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

The Weekend Writer: Make Sure Everything In Your Book Supports Your Story

I keep mentioning that I worked reading into some of my goals and objectives for this year. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even during stressful, demanding times, there's always room for reading, right?

Well, one of my objectives for Goal 2 Work on YA Thriller is Read YA Thrillers. Sounds great, doesn't it? Recently I started what I thought was a YA thriller as well as a YA thriller-ish piece of science fiction. I didn't finish either one of them. I was always having to stop to read material that didn't seem to have anything to do with the story I believed I was reading. I just couldn't maintain interest.

What, Exactly, Do You Mean, Gail?

For a story to work, everything in it must support it in some way. At the very least, if something appears in a story, it needs to support character, theme, or plot. If it doesn't, it stops the forward momentum of the story. Readers have to pause to take in this new material that doesn't relate to anything they've read before and, they may find, won't relate to much they're going to read.

For instance, eight or ten years ago, the YA blogosphere got hopped up because an agent, whose name I really don't know, went on record as saying that YA needed romance. Indeed, there is a lot of romance, or at least romantic entanglements, in YA across the board. But if the romance doesn't support the story, the writer has to stop the story to talk about young love.

Okay, the first book I quit reading involved a murder and potential victims getting weird murder-connected communications a year later. I thought that sounded thrilling. I thought that was the basic story, these young women getting messages and perhaps being targeted. I may have been wrong, though. The story may have been about something else, something deep and not thrilling. Especially since there was a lot of love interest going on in the first more than third of the book. There was a torn-between-two-lovers situation and another couple. I read quite a bit, wasn't clear on what these romances had to do with the story I thought I was going to read, and if the story was something else, I never figured out what it was. I may have got almost to the mid-way point on this one.

The second book I quit reading involved four young people fighting a terrorist group plotting attacks in the future. Thrilling! And sci-fi, which is good for me to read because I have an adult sci-fi project to shop around at some point. But the action kept stopping so characters could talk about how one of them was bi-sexual, one was gay, and one was transgender. We also had to pause for the hints that some of these characters were attracted to one another. It wasn't clear to me how this supported the terrorist story or how it was going to. So I gave up on that one, too.

All the romantic and quasi-romantic diversions in these books kept slowing the story down because they didn't seem to be about the story. Especially with the science fiction book, I felt as if I was sometimes reading filler.

An Example Of Romance Serving Story

Before some of you write me off as not appreciating romance, consider a book in which I think it works very well, because it is definitely part of the plot of in a story.

I happen to have just finished the adult novel My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. In this book the narrator and her sister are both attracted to the same man who is only attracted to one of them. A twist on the torn-between-two-lovers scenario that is so popular in YA. In this case, this romantic entanglement absolutely supports the plot, which is all about how the narrator will deal with her murderous sister. It creates tension. It definitely makes readers want to move on. It made this reader, anyway.

It's not just romance that can stop a story. Humor writers have to be careful to note use random jokes. If material doesn't support character, theme, or plot, it doesn't matter how funny it is, it will distract readers and discourage them from continuing reading.

This explains why a couple of days ago I edited out a lengthy HGTV joke in Chapter 17 of a new project. It didn't do anything and would have left readers wondering what it was doing there and if they needed to remember it going forth.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

An Early Twentieth Century Woman Educator For Women's History Month

It's the last day of Women's History Month, and I just have time to do one more post on the old books piled on the floor in my living room. Well, I'm going to do more than one, but I mean one more about women that fit into a Women's History Month theme.

What I'm telling you about today is The Children's First Reader by Ellen M. Cyr. My edition was published in 1893 by Ginn & Publishers, Boston. You can find a variety of her readers for different levels and in different editions all over the Internet.

In Mysteries Revealed about a Reading Instruction Pioneer in the Winter/Spring 2006 The Jayhawk Educator (page 8) Arlene Barry, Associate Professor at the University of Kansas School of Education, says that Ellen Cyr was "the first woman in America to have a widely sold reading series marketed under her own name." Her books were translated into Spanish, Japanese, and Braille.

Barry provides an analysis of the books and why they were successful. But the First Reader has a note To the Teachers that includes some interesting information about what motivated Cyr to write her books. She said that the reading program for the first year of school was in the first half of the books used for instruction. "...the larger share of the first-year books are too difficult to be completed by the class, and therefore a part of the book is left unread." She writes that children were overwhelmed by the vocabulary in the second half of the books, would start another book and become overwhelmed after the halfway point again.  "...vocabulary is introduced too rapidly for the struggling brain."

"In this series, it has been my purpose to have a complete primary course..."

And she was successful. Her first primer, published by Lothrop, did so well that Ginn & Company offered her a contract. I can't find precise information about how long they remained in print or in use, but books available for sale indicate they were still being published in 1906.

Now, of course, Ellen is gone, another successful woman who became obscure.

Friday, March 29, 2019

April Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Wed., April 3, Neil Patrick Harris, Morgan High School Auditorium, Clinton 7:00 PM Sponsored by R.J. Julia Booksellers. Tickets sold out.

Sat., April 6, Deborah Freedman, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Sun., April 7, Liza McMahon, Jessica Simons, Theresa Mackiewicz, Sara Ann Hofferd, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 2:00 PM

Tues., April 9, Melissa de la Cruz, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:30 PM

Wed., April 10, Lana Bennett, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 10:00 AM Storytime  Fee

Fri., April 12, Amanda Bannikov, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 10:00 AM Storytime

Sat., April 13, Katie Melko, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 12:00 PM Storytime

Sat., April 20, Leslie Bulion, Howard Whittemore Memorial Library, Naugatuck 10:30

Sat., April 27, Suzanne Cordatos, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 12:00 PM Storytime

Sun., April 28, Joyce Lapin, House of Books, Kent 2:00PM

Sun., April 28, Jo Knowles in Conversation With Debbi Michiko Florence, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 3:00 PM

Sun., April 28, Jamie Deeniham, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 10:30 AM    

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Take Your Wins Where You Can Get Them

Up until around five o'clock Sunday afternoon I thought Monday was going to be a big workday for me. Instead, I wrote five sentences yesterday. A paragraph. A transitional paragraph, to be precise. And I was delighted to get that much done.

You have to consider and accept your situation. Beating your head against a wall because you're not doing a cliched butt-in-chair thing while your personal life is spilling all over your work table will destroy self-esteem. And that endangers your impulse control. No impulse control, no staying on task. We're talking about a downward spiral at a time when you are least able to afford one.

Given yesterday's situation, a five-sentence para was a win. A big, big win. Last night I actually felt pumped for my next work session, which did turn out to be today. And I'm happy with the blueprinting and research I'm doing today, too.

I would not say, "It's all good." I'd say, "Anything's good."

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Naomi Kritzer, Short Ficton

You will remember that reading is part of my goals and objectives this year. I'm sure I mentioned it here. Several times. An objective for the essay and short story goal involves reading a short story or essay every day. I've been hitting that one out of the park. I missed only one day when an elder was in the emergency room. And I wasn't one of the people who stayed there all afternoon. And evening. I definitely shirked that day.

My plan was to read randomly, which I pretty much have, though I did find myself doing an author study early on.

I discovered Naomi Kritzer on Facebook, believe it or not, when she very appropriately posted a link to one of her short stories in someone's comments. I loved it and took off.

Favorite Kritzer Stories

So Much Cooking was what got me started. This is an apocalyptic story written in the form of a food blog. So much to like.

Field Biology of the Wee Fairies. A fairy story for people like me who don't like them.

Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty's Place Cafe. An end of the world story? Or something else? 

Paradox. A time travel story that doesn't take itself too seriously. And it has a Travelers vibe.

Bits. This is the story everyone who has ever seen a story about human/alien romance has been waiting for.

What I like about Kritzer's writing is that she does scifi and fantasy stories and sets them in our real world. Or, in some cases, our nearly real world. That's my favorite kind of science fiction and fantasy. Which explains why I so rarely like fantasy. I don't find a lot of it set where I want it set.

YA Coming

This fall, Naomi Kritzer's YA novel, Catfishing on CatNet will be published by Tor/Forge. You can check out an excerpt at Den of Geek.

So Kritzer writes this neat short fiction AND she has a childlit connection. She's perfection for Original Content.