Sunday, April 22, 2018

Environmental Book Club

I am back on-line in time to get this Environmental Book Club post on reality-based picture books up for Earth Day.

I haven't been doing many environmental book club posts this past year because I find so few "environmental" books, particularly in fiction, that I want to read. Forgive me, if I've said this here before, but too often I find novels about the environment pedantic and predictable. They tend to be about saving an animal or piece of land from an evil business (middle grade) or a post-apocalyptic world that exists because of an environmental disaster caused by humans (YA). I find myself drawn, instead, to picture book stories based on true environmental situations. Reality is actually more interesting and less predictable than fiction.

The Water Princess by Susan Verde with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds is about an African village whose women must travel for miles each day to get water. This isn't an entirely new-type of narrative. We've heard of water problems in Africa before. But the fact that this story is based on someone's experience gives it a sense of reality a totally fictional account wouldn't have. This was one of my ReFoReMo reads. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll just repeat what I've already said about it. "...what makes this book so workable is the main character, who fantasizes about being an African princess. Also, she recognizes the struggle she and the women she knows deal with, making a lengthy round-trip each day to get water, but she doesn't lecture the readers about it. The author trusts us to recognize that this is a tough subject."

I also liked One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul with illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon, another ReFoReMo title.  This book is based on a group of Ghambian women who handled a solid waste problem caused by plastic bags piling up and up around them by crocheting them into purses. I thought the author used repetition well, giving the book a "creative nonfiction vibe."  One Plastic Bag reminded me of Ada's Violin, a book about a group in Paraguay recycling solid waste in a creative way. Ada's author, Susan Hood, also uses creative nonfiction techniques well.

Friday, April 20, 2018

And How Was Your Week?

I had only one work day this week, as I expected, but on top of that I wasn’t able to do the social media work I usually do in the evenings. We had an Internet disaster. It involved a pop of light and an enormous crack of thunder on Monday afternoon. We’ve been limping along with our limited Internet  access with our phones. We have quite a lot of limited access, because that’s how we roll, but not enough to be spending hours each evening blogging and researching  author appearances for the Connecticut Children’s Lit Calendar. Oh, and tweeting. I do enjoy a little Twitter.

I had gotten ahead on blog posts last weekend, because I knew I had a houseguest Tuesday through Thursday. I was able to use my phone to post those from home. I’m doing this post on my iPad  at the nursing home I visit one to two times a week.  I got very excited before I left my house this morning when I realized I’d be able to access the nursing home’s wifi with my iPad, which I can’t do at home. I love my iPad. It may be my favorite possession. I’ve finished my visit and have camped out in the lobby, wondering if I’ll get kicked out of here any minute. I have been coming here weekly for over six years. I think I should be able to set up somewhere with my laptop and lunch. But you can’t predict the reaction of others, can you?

Computer Guy spent two days hunting for a new modem, which we were able to get yesterday. When I left him this morning, things were not going well with the repair. I’m not looking forward to going home.

You know those things you read about how glorious life is when you disconnect from your technology? Those people are hallucinating.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: Don't Do Things Automatically; Make Decisions

It is spring in New England, and in our region's childlit world, writers' minds turn to the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' annual conference. It's coming up this weekend. People have been looking for roommates on the NESCBWI listserv for the last month or so. A chunk of my writers' group will be there. There's been talk on Facebook. People will be getting really psyched there over the next week.

What's Gail Doing Conference Weekend?


Lunch With Writers' Group
Within a day or two of registration opening I decided to skip it again this year. I've written before about my mixed feelings about conferences in relation to managing time. And this is another of those situations. I saw a couple of workshops I was interested in this year, but not on the same day, so I could just go up for Saturday or Sunday. Or even Friday afternoon. But there also wasn't enough programming I thought I could use right now to justify me being there all weekend. Sure, I would have seen a number of people I know and had lunch with my writers' group at least once. But, still, to get those two workshops I could have ended up there for a lot of time. A lot of time.

I've had many weeks recently when I could only work three days. This week it's going to be only one, unless I can squeeze in a few minutes here or there. (I'm not working today, by the way.) I rarely am able to pick up any work time on weekends. I have a big project I want to finish before fall and a marketing project I want to plan and pull together for July. I need to make a synopsis for two different manuscripts before I can submit them. If I were to go to a conference on a weekend for two days, or even one, that would be like working on a weekend. Except I wouldn't be doing any of the work I need to do to produce and promote material. I wouldn't be working toward my major professional objectives for the year.

A Writer Is Supposed To Write


These last two months while I've been second guessing my decision about the conference, I've been thinking a lot about a woman in a writers' group I was in years ago. She had a marketing plan for a book she hadn't written more than a chapter or two for. She may not have written that much. She really needed to be writing, not planning how she would sell something she hadn't created yet. That's how I feel about a two- or three-day conference and me right now. Without getting some more work out, do I really need a conference?

That's the kind of time decision writers need to be making all the time. The year my computer guy and I went to the NESCBWI Conference to take a workshop on creating eBooks, I needed to be there. (Well, he needed to be there.) The year I took a storytelling workshop that revolutionized my school presentations, I needed to be there. This year, I don't.


So What's Gail Doing Conference Weekend, Again?

 

I'm writing.

Even before I attended last weekend's nature writing retreat, I had planned to create a pseudo-retreat for myself during NESCBWI Conference weekend. If I am able to work even two or three hours, that will be the equivalent of attending two or three one-hour workshops. Instead of making time for a conference on a weekend, I'm going to make time to write.

That's the plan, anyway. And plans are so important for managing time.

It won't be easy. Soon after deciding to do this, we had an opportunity to take part in a two-hour hike Sunday afternoon. Okay, that's like going for a walk at a retreat, which I did last weekend. So we're probably going to do that. Then a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to do some volunteer work that weekend. Being a witch, I begged off. On the positive side, it's not my weekend to do eldercare.

My NESCBWI friends and I will all be doing professional activities this weekend. We've just decided we won't all be doing the same thing.

NOTE: The weekend is three days away. That's a long time for things to go wrong Chez Gauthier. Plenty of opportunity for my weekend work plans to blow up in my face.



Monday, April 16, 2018

A Terrific Alex Award Winner

Somehow I got onto a Tor.com newsletter a year or two ago, which provides me with some interesting info on books. Earlier this year, I learned on the newsletter about All Systems Red by Martha Wells, one of this year's Alex Award winners. I thought it sounded intriguing, and I was able to get the eBook for a very reasonable price. Cheap, really. You know me. Intriguing. Cheap. I bought that thing.

It is fantastic.

All Systems Red is the first in the Murderbot Diaries, Murderbot being the name an android gives itself, because...Well, isn't it obvious? Murderbot is a security android assigned to a group of scientists doing research on another planet. Its main interest is watching what we'd call soap operas it's downloaded. But when its people are endangered, it focuses on saving them.

I loved this book. As I was reading it, though, I wondered what made this one of the ten Alex winners, "book written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18." But by the time I finished, I got it. Murderbot is trying to understand why it is the way it is. And the humans in the story tend to treat it as a youth.

All Systems Red is a novella, one I purchased in print form for my niece to read during exams. I'm planning to get another copy for a family member short on time. There are three more novellas coming out this year.







Friday, April 13, 2018

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? April 13 Edition

Another three-day week, though I am definitely getting into squeezing some work into odd-times on between other commitments. I worked into the evening once, which is extremely rare and unusual and unique for me.

Goal 1. Submissions. I received a couple of rejections this week, which is, you might say, the opposite of submitting. Wait. No. The opposite of submitting would be not submitting. Rejection is something else. I checked out a couple of on-line publications today. Both won't work for me.

Next week I'll only be working only two days. If I can manage any work time at all on the other three, I'm going to commit it to market research.

Goal 2. YA Thriller. Got a few pages of this ready for writers' group Monday night. The discussion there was helpful in terms of getting one particular character settled. And I've come up with a couple more ideas during the week. Maybe just one.

Goal 3. Generate New Work With Good Women. I have finished revising the first eight chapters and have made some progress undercoating/blueprinting/outlining (choose your metaphor) additional ones. That will be my focus the rest of this month.

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding. 
  • Attended a writers' group meeting.
  • Made four blog posts, promoting them at various places.
  • Updated my Goodreads blog for the first time in a couple of months.
  • Started posting Goodreads reviews of my ReFoReMo reading.
In totally unrelated news, I finished what I'm calling a rough draft for a vacation itinerary for this fall. That was weeks and weeks of work spread over about three months.

Environmental Book Club

I am sure you recall that last weekend I went on a writing retreat where I read some nature poetry. Well, I've read some more. I'm rather liking this stuff.

I picked up the picture book Snow Toward Evening: A Year in a River Valley (illustrations by Thomas Locker and poetry selected by Josette Frank) at a library without giving it a lot of thought. When I sat down to read it, I wasn't expecting much. I am not much of a poetry reader, have little knowledge of it, and it's not something I have much experience of.

Why, I may be much like a child reader in those ways.

I was taken with Snow Toward Evening immediately. The first poem, January by John Updike (Updike! Never got into him, either.) begins "The days are short,/The sun a spark/Hung thin between/The dark and dark." How is that for an image?

There are only twelve poems here, one for each month of the year, with a nature/landscape illustration. The poetry isn't children's poetry (Updike!), though it is very accessible. (Hey, I liked it.) The book functions:
  • As beautiful in and of itself
  • As a lead-in to adult poets for young readers who may be unfamiliar with them (Updike!)
  • As a cross-over book for adults.

Unfortunately, you're going to have a hard time finding Snow Toward Evening. It was published in 1990 and is out-of-print. Way out-of-print, presumably. Both the illustrator and compiler are dead, and it looks as if finding some good used editions could take a little effort. Personally, I'm suggesting this as a gift some family member can make the effort to find for me.

By the way, the book title comes from the poem Snow Toward Evening by Melville Cane, which is included in this collection.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Author Of "My Beautiful Birds" Wins First Malka Penn Award

I'm a little late with this news, but I recently learned that early last month author Suzanne Del Rizzo was presented with the first annual Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children's Literature for her book My Beautiful Birds. The award was announced last November at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair. The award presentation took place at the Thomas Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, which, I can assure you, is a lovely building. The Northeast Children's Literature Collection is there.

The award will be given "to the author of an outstanding children’s book addressing human rights issues or themes, such as discrimination, equity, poverty, justice, war, peace, slavery or freedom."

In addition to this being Connecticut childlit news, and thus of importance to Original Content, I met Malka Penn a few times many years ago. Additionally, I read the lovely My Beautiful Birds last month as part of ReFoReMo.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: Don't Be Ashamed

A few years ago, I wrote about time shaming, the attitude that writers who struggle with finding time to write are weak with no future. The writer being shamed may even be portrayed as suffering from some kind of moral failing.

Writers Aren't The Only People Who Get Time Shamed


Recently, I was listening to a talk on finding time for yoga. The speaker had "guru" attached to his name. Someone (a woman, the guru said when he wrapped up) forwarded a question to him at what may have been a public forum. She got up at 6 AM each morning, she explained, cooked, got her children ready for school, left for work around 8:30, was home by 6:30, dealt with the children and herself transitioning home, prayed, cooked, dealt with homework, and went to bed. How could she fit yoga into her life?

Well.

Over the course of five or six minutes, this guru told the poor soul that she had time to eat and gossip. I have no idea where the gossip thing came from, but I think he was implying she could give up either of those activities and, voila, yoga time. He also said that she acted like a martyr, taking care of everything but herself.  Unless you actually are killed for others, "martyr" almost always has negative connotations. If the woman  really was concerned about her children, she would want to provide them with a loving atmosphere (with yoga?) rather than material things (purchased with the wages of her work, which was keeping her from yoga?). She was told that she needed to look at the fundamentals of her life. Also, if her body and mind were more organized, she could get rid of unnecessary action and have more time. Though he had nothing to say about how to do that.

Finally, he told her to get up at 5:30 to fit yoga into her life. I can't imagine someone being able to get out of bed at any time after being told all that.

I'm sure you can see why this reminded me of the kind of time shaming I've heard addressed toward writers.

What To Consider If You Are Time Shamed


Speakers/writers addressing writing and time who say things like:

  • If writing was really important to you, you'd find time.
  • It's your dream...surely you can find time for your dream.
  • You say you don't have time, you're too tired, your job is too consuming, your children need you...excuses!
  • Well, you have time to eat and gossip.
are probably talking like that because they have no knowledge of the research/studies/writing on:
I could go on and on, but I don't have any more time. And don't get any ideas about making me feel ashamed about that.

My point is that there is so much time shamers could tell writers, and those who want to work yoga into their lives, that would have the potential to really help them. And yet they shame, instead.

That doesn't mean we have to accept it from them.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

A Short Retreat Makes For A Great Afternoon


Looks nature-like, doesn't it?
I spent this afternoon at a nature writing retreat sponsored by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and run by Katherine Hauswirth. It was not what I’d expected, and yet a very good experience. Because I’m in to that mind-of-the-beginner thing. I can be open.

So Here’s What Happened


I heard about this nature writing retreat that would start with some sharing of nature writing, a brief group discussion of writing approaches, themes, and formats. Then we’d spend time in nature (going for a walk) and engaging in the writing process. I jumped right on this because I hear “nature writing” and what do I think? I think “nature essays.” And I write essays!  I have a couple of nature-ish essays on my hard drive! I have those blog posts I’ve done about snowshoeing! This retreat was only 4 hours long, it was a half hour from my house, and it cost $20. Seriously, who wouldn’t jump on this?

Well, the first thing I figured out during the brief group discussion was that “nature writing” does not automatically mean “nature essay.” It can be poetry, journals, almanacs… We were not talking a straight essay retreat, I just thought we were, because that’s how my mind runs. Essay, essay, essay. 

The second thing I figured out was that I was way over my head with this crowd as far as reading nature writing is concerned. To me a nature writing book is Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit, which is, obviously, about walking. I got it at the library, maybe eight years ago. These people were reading books about spring and mushrooms. They own these things and have just read some of them.

But There's Always Something To Take From Every Experience, Right? Right?

 

We had about two and a half hours between the 45-minute intro and the 45-minute wrap-up. During that time I:


  • Went for a walk with the group. While out in the woods I learned that Connecticut has fairy
    The trail I used.
    shrimp in its vernal pools.
  • Got an idea for the framing I need for another, totally not nature essay.
  • Went back to the meeting room.
  • Read Katherine's terrific handouts.
  • Looked up Ron Harton on-line; Katherine referred to him in her handouts.
  • Read some nature poetry.
  • Had a revelation that nature writing may be observational while the two nature-ish essays I have on my hard drive are more in the area of recollection, even though they do involve recalling natural situations. That might make them memoir, rather than nature writing.
  • Used some of the points Katherine makes in her handout to try to come up with some changes for my nature-ish essays.
  • Decided one of my nature-ish essays needs a different tone, which has nothing to do with nature writing.
  • Bought a copy of Katherine Hauswirth's book, The Book of Noticing.  
  • Ate some pretzels and listened to some George Winston on my phone.
Katherine's book

Spending a Sunday afternoon reading about and talking about writing, even a type of writing that I don't actually do, was...both relaxing and stimulating at the same time. I would appreciate a retreat like this about travel writing and food writing. Oh, yes. Food writing. 

I'll jump on something like that.



Friday, April 06, 2018

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? April 6 Edition

The Done List is back! I did a few things on a three-day work week.

Goal 1. Submissions. I made two submissions. Have someone in mind for another one.

Goal 2. YA Thriller. I had some great ideas for this, maybe for the ending. But I forgot them. I have to do some work on this before writers' group on Monday night.

Goal 3. Generate New Work With Good Women.  This is my focus this month. I've been revising early chapters to get characters functioning at their best, which I find makes moving on easier. I've also been able to work on underpainting a later chapter, which just shows my "begin again" policy works. That's my story.

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding.
  • Four blog posts that were feebly promoted.
  • Beginning to review the 47 picture books I read last month at Goodreads.
  • Building up followers on Twitter.
  • Came up with an idea for marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff this summer.