Thursday, December 07, 2017

Environmental Book Club

Another book on the seasons? Or a season? Aren't there a lot of those? Indeed there are. But In the Middle of Fall by Kevin Henkes with illustrations by Laura Dronzek is an example of why more keep being published.

First off, I wish I knew more about art so I could explain why I find these simple, intensely colored illustrations so striking. Originally I was planning to say that this book is all about the art.

Then I read it again.

In the Middle of Fall is two sentences long. Those two sentences are filled with beautiful clauses, each one illustrated with an also beautiful a two-page spread. "...and the apples are like ornaments," is my favorite.

But that's not what makes this book so terrific. Pretty words, pretty pictures. That's not enough. No, what makes this book terrific is the second sentence, the one that foretells what's coming up at the end of the season.

Seriously, I dreamed about this book. I can't remember it now, but I definitely dreamed about it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Managing Time With The NaNoWriMo Model

In case you don't recall, for National Novel Writing Month this year I worked on a project I'd already started. It wasn't a true or traditional NaNoWriMo experience. I wasn't signed up at the NaNoWriMo site. What I was doing was using the month as a set-aside time for binge writing. My goals for the month were:
  • Write two-thirds of a book.
  • Come up with a plan for the last third of the book.
  • Work on focus training


NaNo Results

  • I wrote 14,705 words, which amounted to 55 pages and 4 chapters. Since I'd already completed 2 chapters earlier, I now have 6. That's not two-thirds of this book.
  • I don't have a complete plan for the last third, though I do have the beginning of a plan, notes for many of the next chapters, and an ending.
  • I stayed pretty focused, though it meant clinging to the work with my psyche's fingernails, while the rest of my life was weaving back and forth around me. Distractions came from November's holiday and the biggie coming up in December, along with just general family needs. By mid-month I wasn't meditating, exercising, and putting in any extra tai chi practice outside of class, so I could stay on task with the manuscript. I also didn't learn anything about how to focus that I could apply to other work situations or life in general. I've been expecting that to happen for going on fifteen years now.


My NaNoWriMo Was Good


 In spite of those somewhat downer results, I feel this year's National Novel Writing experience for three reasons:
  1. I created a model for generating first drafts. I spent weeks before starting work planning chapters, characters, and settings. That's what I should be doing.
  2. I got into using placeholders.
  3. I was generating a chapter a week, roughly. Very roughly. Back in the day when I was between parenting young 'uns and caring for old ones and had the most control of my time that I've ever had, I was producing a week of new material a week. (Hey, don't judge me.) Last month I didn't have as much time as I did in the good 'ol days, but by prepping beforehand and letting the rest of my life go to hell, I was able to write as much as I did when things were going better.  

Next Time


I would use the NaNoWriMo model again, absolutely. But never again in November or any month with a major holiday. Or in a month preceding a month with a major holiday, in fact. The pressure it creates is unnecessary and doesn't do anything to help with the work.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Picture Walks

Oh, my gosh! Picture walks! What a brilliant idea for picture book authors doing a reading in front of groups of  young children. Or librarians or or booksellers doing story time. Or picture book authors. Or parents reading with young children. Or picture book authors.

What Are Picture Walks, You Ask?

Okay, a picture walk is an introduction to a new picture book, using the pictures only. The person leading the walk can ask listeners about what they think is going on in the pictures, who the characters may be, and what they think might happen. Since illustrations are supposed to carry a plot line, this approach should give nonreaders a good idea of what the story is.

When you're done with the pictures, you can get to the text and listeners can have the pleasure of determining if that matches up with what they thought was going to happen as a result of looking at the pictures.

For authors reading to a largish group, I can imagine PowerPoint coming into play.

Thank You, Facebook

I learned about picture walks last night in a Facebook group I belong to. Don't let anyone try to tell you the Internet isn't wonderful.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Thanksgiving Weekend Reading

I had a fun reading experience over Thanksgiving. It was picture book weekend with a young family member.

Hide and Seek by Ill Sung Na. Because my guy really likes to play hide and seek.

Ready, Set, Build! by Meg Fleming with illustrations by Jarvis.
This was my reading buddy's favorite. We read it twice. Possibly because the main character is blue.

Thanksgiving at the Tappletons by Eileen Spinelli with illustrations by Maryann Cocca-Leffler. I haven't found many good Thanksgiving books over the years. I don't know what the issue is. This one about Thanksgiving dinner going awry I liked.

Polar Bear Morning by Lauren Thompson with illustrations by Stephen Savage. I picked this for the illustrations. Lots of blue. Seriously. The other reader likes blue. A lot.

Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh This is a lovely combo of story, art, and even a basic color lesson that you hardly feel is a lesson at all.

Where's Wallace? by Hilary Knight. I snatched this one up because our reader loves to hunt for images in pictures. And he is good at it. Where's Wallace has quite a bit of text for a search book, but the great thing about it is that when we were stuck for time, I could edit it down and get us right to the illustrations, which is what we were interested in.

I was looking forward to my Thanksgiving reading, and these picture books delivered.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: The What-the-hell Effect Is Looking Really Good Right Now

I don't remember my other attempts at National Novel Writing Month being as rough as this one. I haven't found any posts relating to my first attempt back in 2003 or '04, and last year I knew by the time I was 8 days in that I'd made a mistake. I remember more excitement the first time and less angst last year.

Even this year, I was feeling pretty good before Thanksgiving week. Sure, I was only able to work 3 days a week most weeks, if I was lucky. But that didn't seem bad when you consider that last summer I was only able to work 3 hours a week. And the first weekend I was able to put in a few minutes of work here and there. I don't usually work on weekends, so it seemed as if  I was cooking with gas, as they say.

Why Bother Continuing To NaNoWriMo?

But Thanksgiving. Wow. Had a great time, by the way, but I didn't work from the Wednesday before the big day until Sunday afternoon. It doesn't take long to get used to not working. And then when it was time to go back to work, I had only four days left for the month. Even though I never had any expectation of reaching the National Novel Writing Month 50,000 word goal, I'd only finished three new chapters. I have at least eight more to go. This is me we're talking about. I'm not writing any eight chapters in four days. I'm not writing any eight chapters in forty days.

Man, the what-the-hell effect is looking good. Because, what-the-hell, since I'm not going to complete anything with the NaNoWriMo project, anyway, I could quit and work on the revisions that are hanging over my head. They're important. It's not like I would be blowing off NaNoWriMo to start baking for Christmas or do the laundry that's piled up after having house guests. Or getting ahead on some cooking. Or recover from Thanksgiving.

But if I kept slugging away yesterday and today and keep on keeping on tomorrow and Thursday, I may finish a fourth chapter. Hey, a chapter is a chapter.

Also, forcing myself to stay with this is building up some discipline. You can never have too much of that. I can't, anyway.

Could The NaNoWriMo Pool Of Writers Tell Us Something About Discipline And Using Time?

According to NaNoWriMo Statistics , 384,126 people took part in National Novel Writing Month last year with over 34,000 of them hitting the 50,000-word goal. The 350,000 who didn't make it are far more interesting to me than the ones who did. For instance:

  • Why didn't they make it? How many quit and how many worked right up to the finish line but just didn't write enough?
  • When did those who quit quit? Was it at the end of the month, because, what-the-hell, there's not enough time left to make a difference? Was it much earlier when they couldn't keep up with the 1,166 word daily goal? Because, what-the-hell, they were too far in the hole to ever write themselves out?
  • Do people who do National Novel Writing Month more than once see an improvement in their result the second and later times?
Seriously, aren't we talking a research project waiting to happen? A research project on what being discouraged does to self-discipline and time management.

Monday, November 27, 2017

December Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Not much happening the last half of the month, because, you know, Christmas.

Fri., Dec. 1, Gigi Priebe, Elm Street Books, New Canaan 5:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 2, Amanda Banikov, The Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 11:00 AM

Thurs., Dec. 7, Debbi Michiko Florence, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:30 PM

Fri., Dec. 8, Mark Sasha, Bank Square Books, Mystic 5:00 PM                        

Sat., Dec. 9, Shawn Elizabeth George, The Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 10:00 AM

Sat., Dec. 9, Mary Kate Cohane, Fairfield University Bookstore, Fairfield 12:15 PM

Sat., Dec. 9, Lizzy Rockwell, Fairfield University Bookstore, Fairfield 2:30

Sat., Dec. 9, Cat Jordan, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 9 & Sun., Dec. 10, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, The Ruby Tree, Woodbury 1:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 16, Greg Wolfe, The Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 11:00 AM

Sat., Dec. 16, Tony Abbott, Byrd's Books, Bethel 2:00 PM

Sun., Dec. 17, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, Barnes & Noble, Waterbury  1:00 PM

Wed., Dec. 27, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, Middlebury Library, Middlebury 1:00 PM

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: NaNoWriMo And Not-To-Do Lists

As a general rule, I don't read listicles. I try to avoid reading anything with a number in the title. Like Six Habits to Develop If You Want To Be Truly Productive by Karen Banes. But I'm a sucker for the word "productive," so there you go.

Buried in this article is an interesting bit about how productive people deal with procrastination. One of the things the author says they do is make Not-to-do Lists. She doesn't go into the subject very deeply, just writing about the things on hers. But it got me thinking.

The Value Of Not-To-Do Lists

Seems kind of ridiculous, doesn't it? Who needs to plan, with an actual written list, for what they're not going to do?

You need to write out what you're not going to do so you have a better chance of committing it to memory. Otherwise, you may very well forget that you're not going to do it and do it. What would be so bad about that, you may ask? A couple of examples:
  • You've decided that you're not going to take calls from your sister during the work day. You forget, pick up the phone, and forty-minutes are shot, just like that. 
  • You've decided you're not going to do any more volunteer work, get an e-mail asking if you can serve on this committee or that, forget and accept, and there goes the better part of a month. 


That National Novel Writing Month Connection, Gail?

It's hard to make a not-to-do list for the rest of your life. I mean, seriously, not talk to your sister during the day for decades? As great as that might be for some people, realistically speaking, it's just not going to happen.

But a not-to-do list for a specific unit of time is another thing. If you've assigned yourself a chunk of time to do a certain thing--say, a month to write a first draft of a novel--you're going to need to not do some things so you can get that puppy written.

Two types of activities can end up on a not-to-do list during NaNoWriMo:

Personal Tasks. The line between personal and work time is thin and goes back and forth. A not-to-do list for personal tasks during NaNoWriMo should help keep personal time from overwhelming work time.
  • Not going to test drive cars this month
  • Not going to shop for Christmas
  • Not going to take care of that pile of books on the floor in the living room
Professional Tasks. If you're trying to complete one particular task, you can't load up your work time with other ones.What can you put off? Remember, we're talking about putting things off for a relatively short period of time--one month--not for years.
  • Not going to submit
  • Not going to revise other projects
  • Not going to start other projects
  • Not going to do professional reading
  • Not going to do marketing
  • Not going to do market research


Doing Less So You Can Do More

Not-to-do lists make it possible for you to do less of a number of things so you can concentrate on doing more of just one.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

If You're Only Going To Read One Book, You Want It To Be This Good

During my long summer break, and longer, actually, I read only one childlit/YA book, The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis. I got it through an eBook sale, loaded it onto my Kindle, then found it there a while later. I've had some great experiences reading like that, and The Female of the Species was one of them.

Main character Alex responds in a...shall we say, unique?...way, when her older sister's killer gets away with her murder. She's not a traditional teenager, but she finds herself in a traditional teenage world, developing both the best friend and boyfriend found in so many YA novels/TV shows/movies. That's part of what makes this book so terrific--the mash-up of these two sides of this character's life.

This is an excellent thriller. Wait. It's not just an excellent thriller, it's an excellent YA thriller. That's significant because, in my experience, it's not unusual to find so-called YA thrillers that are, essentially, adult thrillers in which the adult main character has been replaced with a teenager. Nothing else has changed. There's nothing in terms of basic situation or theme that makes the book YA.

But with The Female of the Species, you definitely get YA.

Friday, November 17, 2017

And How Are Your Thanksgiving Plans Coming Along?

I have family coming for the Thanksgiving weekend. I haven't cooked a thing. I haven't cleaned.

What I have done is make a trip to two libraries to stock up on books. I'll be reading with a littlie any moment I can snatch next weekend.

So my Thanksgiving is pretty much all set.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Networking For Introverts

Gail's Perception Of Networking

Conventional Wisdom tells us that writers tend to be introverts, drained by lots of interaction with large numbers of people, at their best with small groups or even working by themselves. Presumably that's one of the reasons we're attracted to writing in the first place.

And, yet, in the 21st Century, so much of nonwriting writer work is done in large groups--conferences, book fairs, speaking engagements, etc. I've written here before about introverts attending professional gatherings. The structured workshops, panel discussions, critiques, and even one-on-ones aren't a problem. Those are the reasons introverts go to these things. The meandering around before and after events is another thing. Lunch. Coffee breaks. Grin and bear it time, folks. You sometimes hear about how these excruciating moments are the most important part of a professional gathering. So important, that they have their own name...networking.

Networking is like going to singles bars, but for professionals. In publishing, it's when people hope to meet the agents and editors who will change their professional lives. Maybe even in an elevator, which is where the expression "elevator pitch" comes from. Personally, I don't believe that story that was going around years ago about a woman shoving her manuscript under a toilet stall to an agent at a conference. Urban legend, in my humble opinion. But it makes a point about expectations for networking.

I will be honest and admit that I don't even try to network anymore. Though I've been to enough writing events over the years that I usually see people I'm at least acquainted with when I attend them, I can't say that I've made any career changing connections at any program I've ever attended. I've taken in some great content from presenters, but meeting someone who boosted me up the publishing ladder? No. When I see on meeting instructions that there will be a half-hour of networking before the program that is my real goal for the day, I figure I can sleep in thirty minutes and get there late.

NESCBWI's Agent And Editor Model

Which brings us back to last week's Third Annual  New England SCBWI Agent/Editor Day. This Agent/Editor day was organized so that participants would meet in small groups with with an agent or editor in the morning and then with another agent or editor in the afternoon. What you're essentially doing is creating a writers' group, then creating another one a few hours later.

The materials we received asked us to be sure to arrive by 8:45, though the first group didn't begin until 9:30. I looked at it and thought, Yeah, sure.

Then I thought again. What if that 8:45 thing was a test? Hmm?

Of course, it wasn't a test. Nonetheless, I ended up leaving the house under a full moon that morning to get to New Hampshire for 8:45. I pulled into the parking lot after 8:30, knowing nothing would be happening for 45 minutes. I wasn't miserable, by any means, but I definitely wasn't enthusiastic.

Then I get inside and see tables set up in a ballroom...with a dance floor, not that that matters. And each table has the name of the agent or editor assigned to it. And everybody just went immediately to their assigned tables, because evidently introverts follow instructions really well. What followed was forty-five minutes of pretty meaningless chit-chat, but, hey, painless!

After two hours of very good literary criticism, it's time for lunch. Remember how much fun the high school was the first day of a new school year? Yeah, that's what lunch is like at conferences. But last week, instead of drifting off to some other spot and forcing ourselves on other people, we picked up our food from the buffet and came back to our table. Our very same spots next to people we'd been with for hours. Well, just under three hours. But that's hours. It was as if we knew each other, in that way you can know people whose name you can't remember, even though everyone's wearing name tags.

Then we got up and all separated and headed to other tables for our second session of the day where there was another sign, and we were good to go for another couple of hours. During that second session, by the way, someone brought around plates of cookies, which was kind of hygge-like. (Yes, I am reading The Little Book of Hygge.) Hygge--comfort, contentment, coziness. Not that I ate any of the things, but the hygge was still there.

Crunching Some Numbers

Number of people at last week's event: Between 100 and 114

Number of people participants had to interact with: Seven or 8 at a time, 14 or 16 altogether

One hundred to 114 people, not that manageable. Seven or 8 people? Totally manageable. Seriously, I barely knew anyone was there besides my two groups. This thing was an introvert's dream.

Now, I can't say at this point that I made any career-changing connections at this thing, though I may very well change the way I write as a result of my time there. But for me this set-up will remain the gold standard for a professional gathering for quite some time to come.