Friday, December 19, 2014

The Joy Of Day-To-Day Work

Norah O'Donnell was interviewed for the November issue of More. Missed it, did you? At the very end of the article, she was asked a question about how she sees her future. She said, "...I guess one of the things that I still struggle with to this day is that focusing on the expectation of something is actually never fulfilling. Focusing on the day-to-day work is much more so. And then you end up falling into your goals anyway."

So true, so true.

Fixating on the big sale that's coming up, the conferences we're going to attend, the speeches we're going to give...no. That kind of activity, if you even want to call it activity, rarely leads to a big sale, a conference, or a speech. It's the day-to-day work that does that. Focusing on that leads to those other things or something like them.

If you can enjoy the day-to-day work, focusing upon it becomes not just easier but sort of the point. And then you don't have to deal with the lack of fulfillment from dwelling on what might happen in the future.

This whole live-in-the-work-moment thing may be part of my problem with the holiday season. I actually like focusing on day-to-day work, dragging my laptop all over the house and peering into it. I like planning and researching and struggling to work out what I'm doing wrong. When I've had to be away from work for a few days for family or house issues, wrapping presents and baking on a weekday (baking on weekends is another thing), getting back to the day-to-day feels like the beginning of a vacation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Some Serious Book Product Placement

Anyone watch Scorpion on CBS Monday night? The Christmas episode where everyone starts feelin' the season when a child is trapped in a cave with the water rising? In the course of the show, Katharine McPhee's character (I don't remember her name, we always call her Katharine McPhee) says that her son only wants one thing for Christmas, something called I Want an Alien for Christmas. Later in the episode, he gets it! And it's a book!

Well, I was on-line by the time the closing credits were running. I Want an Alien for Christmas appears to be a self-published book available on Kindle and Smashwords. Except for those two sales pages and its placement in Monday's episode of Scorpion, there doesn't appear to be any marketing for it.

What's particularly interesting about this situation, assuming this book turning up in an episode of a nationally broadcast television show isn't interesting enough for you, is that the author, Nick Santora, is also the creator of Scorpion. He's written for other TV shows and has written another book.

You'd think that a couple of mentions in a network primetime show would create some buzz. But two days later, I'm still seeing next to nothing about I Want an Alien for Christmas on-line. The book is mentioned in a Forbes piece, but that's from back in September.

Marketing is a mystery.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: The Unit System Lifeline During That Time Of The Year

Two years ago, I wondered if the unit system would get me through the holidays. My concern was "Losing time to the holidays, in and of itself, is a problem. What also happens, though, is that we can damage our work habits while not working and lose any carry-over flow we might have been experiencing." A week later I was reporting a major failure of will, self-discipline that had gone down in flames. Last year I wondered if sprinting and a new laptop would enable me to stay on task through the December holidays. It looks as if I never addressed how I did with this issue here at OC, probably because I was engulfed in a moderate health care crisis from the middle of December until the end of January.

So, two points:

My Major Problems With The End Of The Year Holidays


My control of my time is so tenuous that anything new that enters the playing field, like a holiday that requires hours and days and weeks of preparation, like two of them coming a month apart, is overwhelming. December/the Christmas season packs a double whammy, because in addition to being very time consuming, it involves an emotional toll. Christmas the secular event is supposed to be magic, whatever the hell that is. We're supposed to be creating magic. Yeah, we're talking a whole other level of time with the magic thing.

And we're supposed to be creating magic while we're maintaining a day job. Those of us who don't have traditional day jobs, who work for ourselves, in our homes, often have trouble controlling the boundary between home and work, anyway. It's all too easy to justify slipping over the border into work time to finally get started on cookies or get those gifts wrapped because cookies and gifts are magical. Magic is worth it, isn't it?

The Unit System


As the magic bleeds all over our days, sucking our work's life blood, small units of work time become more and more important. If we try to think in terms of a work week, we run the risk of hitting the What-the-Hell Effect. Oh, we don't have all week because of one holiday problem after another. What the Hell? We might as well forget about work then. The same is true of thinking in terms of a workday. At some points in December, we can't get many of those. So what the Hell? Why work at all?

But if you think in terms of forty-five, twenty, and even ten minute units of time, suddenly work options appear. Forty-five minutes at least a few times a week will work for editing a draft or maybe even progressing with  a new one. Twenty minute sprints each day can help keep you in a new project, even if you can't make a lot of forward movement with it. It can make a dent in blog posts or take care of some professional reading. Ten-minute sprints on a laptop set up in whatever room you're working magic in can allow you to knock off all kinds of work

So far, this is working for me. At least, it's working as far as work is concerned. I don't seem to be getting much magic done, though.

Hmm. I might use a tiny sprint this weekend to plan a rerun for next week's Time Management Tuesday post on the 23rd. On the 30th, I'll be doing a recapitulation post for my 2014.  


Monday, December 15, 2014

Going Out On A High

I have liked some of M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales/Pals in Peril books better than others. (I know I'm nitpicking on this, but the name of the series changed for some reason.) I had to be won over by the first book, Whales on Stilts, but the second one, The Clue of of the Linoleum Lederhosen, was a hit. The third one I read (there are supposed to be six; I seem to have missed a couple), Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware wasn't a favorite. But the final book in the series, He Laughed with His Other Mouths, is an absolute gem.

The basic premise for all these books: A Tom Swift-type character named Jaspar Dash and a spunky girl (younger and spunkier than the 1930's era Nancy Drew) existed in their own book worlds that reflected the eras that created them, the 1920s/30s and the 1980s/90s. And yet, at the same time, they are existing in our own twenty-first century where Jaspar, in particular, is both having adventures but out of place.

In He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Jaspar is now that classic/stereotypical character, the young male in search of his father. Jaspar will go to the ends of the universe in search of dear old dad. He will accept some pretty outlandish behavior from his father figure. However, Jaspar is a young hero, and he recognizes evil when he sees it. Maybe he doesn't recognize it right away and maybe he needs a little push from his spunky girl companions, but he does recognize and behave as a hero should.

All of the books that I've read in this series operate on more than one level. You have the basic contemporary adventure. You have characters from an older book world trying to function in a contemporary one. You have the knowledge that children who are now old, if not dead, read the older books back when they were new and shiny.

With He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Anderson does something quite marvelous with footnotes. Using footnotes for witty asides has become a cliche since Terry Pratchett perfected doing that back in the day. But Anderson uses his clever footnotes not to be witty but to tell another story entirely, this one about a kid during World War II who was a Jaspar Dash fan. This is a complete story, a piece of serious historical fiction embedded in a fantasy satire/comedy.

As with all these books that I've read, I wonder how much of this wonderful stuff child readers will understand. Assuming they enjoy the layer with the contemporary adventure, will they get the jokes that are part of it? Will they get the nostalgic elements?

Kid readers aside, for those of us who do get He Laughed with His Other Mouths, it's pretty damn brilliant.

He Laughed with His Other Mouths is a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category.


Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar Update

Nancy Tafuri will appear at the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington this Saturday, December 20th at 2:30 PM.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Sentence

A contribution for the  “Sunday Sentence” project, a sentence I've read this week, no explanation or commentary.

"But I am a scientist, and like all scientists, I am trained to deflect heat rays, escape space dragons, and safely land a lifeboat capsule on the cooler parts of the sun." M. T. Anderson, He Laughed With His Other Mouths, A Pals in Peril Tale.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Environmental Book Club

Not every page of Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More by Etta Kaner with illustrations by Stephen MacEachern contains Earth-friendly content. Nonetheless, this is quite a marvelous book about the work that goes into building a variety of structures and how many of them are being built greener.

Though this is a nonfiction work, the basic premise is that an imaginary girl has been traveling with her engineer parents, and we are reading her scrapbook. She is one enthusiastic kid. Among the things I liked about Earth-friendly B, B and M:
  • While there is certainly content related to large buildings being made more green, there's also material about designing buildings to withstand earthquakes and storms. It's as if technology is working with Earth, not against it.
  • It gives readers a good idea of the number of people, the variety of engineers, for instance, necessary just for the planning of a big construction project. This is important because it helps to explain why building takes so long and is so expensive.
  • Technology has had a bad rap for many years now. The 1950's were filled with movies about science gone amock. I've read that The China Syndrome was a turning point in how science was perceived by the public in the '70s, that technology would lead to very bad things. First some guy is messing around with creating life, and the next thing you know, dinosaurs are coming back and eating people. But in Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More, technology is portrayed as a good thing. Mom, Dad, an uncle, and a cousin are all engineers, all involved in creating or fixing things. Even if you're not a fan of tech, this is different.
The stereotype about environmental living involves natural fibers, whole grains, and funny light bulbs. But it takes technology to make real environmental progress, to find ways to heat and cool enormous buildings, for instance. Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More can help young people recognize that.


"Devil's Intern" Kindle Edition Available Free Today

The Devil's Intern by Donna Hosie is available free TODAY for Kindle. It's a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: Are Writers Ahead Of The Curve In Integrating Work And Life?

If you visited CNN's website today, you may have read an article today called Work-life Balance is Dead by Ron Friedman, a social psychologist who has a brand new book out, The Best Place to Work. He says that the idea of work remaining something that's done outside the home is a fairy tale. Well, it certainly is for writers. "Until we come to terms with the fact that separating work from home is a fantasy, we can't begin to have an intelligent conversation about what it means to create thriving organizations," he writes.

He's talking about traditional work sites where people go to work, to do something that they don't do at home. For writers, our work sites usually are in our home. Which is why you sometimes hear about writers heading out to coffee houses and libraries for mini-retreats. They're trying to escape the home demands or the home habits so they can work more. Or, as Friedman might say, they're trying to get some control. "...placing employees in control of their schedules encourages them to work during hours when they are most effective." Or perhaps where they are most effective?

Friedman writes that for "many of us, compartmentalizing our work and personal life is simply not possible and not just because of the ubiquity of email. In a growing number of companies, work now involves collaborating with colleagues in different time zones, making the start and end of the workday a moving target."

I would argue that many people can't compartmentalize their work and personal lives because their work is so much a part of their identity that it is their personal life. Of course, I'm going to mention writers here, who are always working, if for no other reason than that they are constantly taking in information that can become a new idea. But if you've known engineers and people in many medical and technical fields, anyone whose job involves solving problems, for that matter, they are often integrating what they're seeing around them with whatever is going on in their work lives.

"Instead of endorsing the work-life balance myth, organizations are far better off empowering employees to integrate work and life, in ways that position them to succeed at both," Friedman concludes. Integrating work and life is pretty much what writers are already trying to do.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Wouldn't This Make A Neat Little Sitcom?

When I picked up The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy from the library, I told the librarian that I'd heard the book was like The Penderwicks but with boys and two gay dads. She said, "Ah, bringing the story into the present." I think that is the case. I liked The Penderwicks very much and found it contemporary, probably compared to/contrasted with Little Women, which it is a spin on. But I also thought "This book, simply by being a throw-back to Little Women and, perhaps, other pre-nineteen-fifties stories, is different." It had a retro thing going for it, it was "a story about sisters who worry about the family's honor and don't even mention a TV."

The Fletcher boys may be viewed as a little innocent and other-worldly not because they're retro in any way but because their stories and lives are very rooted in traditional child issues. This in spite of the fact that they are not genetically related, they are not even all the same ethnic background, and they are all the children of two men who are living and raising a family together. Each boy has his own storyline with his own issue:
  • Boy One is a popular athlete who is considering trying something different 
  • Boy Two is dealing with growing apart from a friend and moving on, as well as trying to interview the crotchety old guy next door for a school project
  • Boy Three is highly intelligent and has begged Dad and Papa to let him go to a school for the gifted
  • Boy Four has the "stereotypical" imaginary friend. Or does he?
You know the one problem none of these kids have? Those gay dads. The men are just there, doing any kind of dad stuff. There's nothing didactic or instructive here about accepting families with nontraditional parents. These guys have had children in the school system for a number of years now. People know they're there. Halloween parties are held. Ice rinks are made. Holidays are celebrated. Life goes on.

This is not to say that no one ever raises an eyebrow over the gay family. When they are attending an open house at a new school, oldest brother Sam feels compelled to address questions. "We were all adopted as babies. Our dads have been together for ages. They got married two years ago"..."Do you have any other questions? Want to know our birthdays? Height and weight?"

That was a neat way to handle back story, by the way. The newspaper article written by an eighth grade student about the Fletchers and their annual Halloween party is also a clever way to get the back story on how the Fletcher kids became brothers.

As I was reading this book, I thought this premise would make a charming sitcom. The various chapters here could be the first season's episodes. Then the story could expand with episodes about the gay dads dealing with their boys going to camp, getting babysitting jobs, heading to high school, getting jobs, dating girls. 

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is a Cybils nominee in the Middle Grade Fiction Category.