Sunday, January 19, 2020

Another Reading Retreat Week In The Rearview Mirror

A very successful retreat week. In addition to the stack of reading you see in the accompanying picture, I knocked off maybe 8 pieces of flash fiction on-line and untold numbers of articles on Meghan Markle, with whom I am growing bored. Additionally, I listened to an hour plus podcast for my history methodology ultralearning project. I did catch up on my Horn Book reading, which you'll be hearing about over the coming months and came up with at least one new flash fiction idea. I'll have to check my notes on that.

Speaking of ultralearning, I thought I posted last Tuesday's Time Management Tuesday post on my Ultralearning read last Tuesday. However, I didn't think to check to see if it went up successfully until I got home yesterday afternoon. So that arc will continue to drag on.

Hey, but whatever. I've had a week-long reading retreat and I'm feeling the calm. I would ask how to make that last, but asking how to make the calm last would wreck the calm.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Retreat Week Begins Tomorrow

Things will become quieter here for the next few days, because we're leaving for our annual retreat week tomorrow. I am going to try to put up the Time Management Tuesday post next week, because I'm desperate to finish the Ultralearning arc and that will bring me one step closer. Otherwise, I don't plan to be here.

I call these annual trips a reading retreat. We do some snowshoeing, go out to eat, maybe spend some time in the fitness center, and hang out in our timeshare unit reading, listening to music, and (someone else) doing jigsaw puzzles.

My reading bag this year contains:

  • Two back issues of Writer's Digest
  • An entire year's worth of The Horn Book that I haven't read. I realized yesterday that the HB subscription renewal notice came before Christmas, and I found it! Now I should pay it, shouldn't I?
  • Two copies of Mindful.
  • One copy of Tricyle
  • The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson, because it takes place in Vermont, and the first book in the series sounds as if she had the area we're going in mind.
  • My Kindle, heavy with eBooks, including The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, which I hope will be a read for Multicultural Children's Book Day at the end of the month. 
  • I also have my iPad loaded with links to flash fiction and historical methodology reads, both this month's professional reading focus.
Retreat Reading 2017
And in spite of all that, I'll make my annual pilgrimage to Bear Pond Books, where I try to find something new for me. That is how I became a Mindy Kaling fan.

My traveling companion has had a mild cold since Wednesday, I am now fighting it off, and there is unseasonably warm weather and rain expected this weekend where we're going. But I'll still have the reading. And eating in restaurants.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

First Read Of The Year: "A Monster Calls"

I finished reading my first book of the year a little after midnight on New Year's Day. I stayed up late for the Carnegie Medal winning A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from the late Siobhan Dowd. The book is heavily illustrated by Jim Kay, who won the Kate Greenaway Medal for his work on it.

I was under the gun to get the book read, because a family member gave it to me for Christmas, 2018, and I was going to see her on January 4th. Yes, that's January 4th, 2020. I had started the book much earlier in 2019, but felt the sick mom and bullies (who I don't think were necessary to the story, by the way) made it  a "problem book," a genre in children's lit that I don't take to. But at the end of November, I thought, Hey, a college-age family member gave me this. Read it. 

A Monster Calls deals with a boy who is visited by a monster tree in his yard. The kid doesn't find him all that frightening because his mother is dealing with a big set-back in her cancer treatment, and there are those bullies at school. Our protagonist has real-life monsters to deal with. The book is very well written, and in spite of the serious subject matter and tone, I did get to a 'what's going to happen?' point. The monster tells the boy three stories, the first two of which I liked very much.

Another family member has suggested more than once that I think too much. Nonetheless, I am going to report that I did wonder while I was reading A Monster Calls if it is really fantasy or, instead, a story dealing with a psychological issue relating to a child's emotional trauma. (Even though we're told that there is physical evidence that the monster did really call.)  Or is it magical realism, a genre that I find can get very deep and difficult?

I was concerned about how to respond to the young woman who gave me the book. A Monster Calls is extremely painful, not a book I would ever describe as entertaining, and I think an argument could be made that, as well done as it is, it doesn't offer any new insights on grief. (Of course, aren't all insights new to readers twelve and up, the age group the publisher markets the book to?) I knew my dear young girl had dealt with some family losses over the last few years. I needed to be sensitive, in case this book had some profound meaning for her, and she had chosen to share it with me.

So I asked her, "How did you happen upon this book? Was it assigned for a class? Something you heard about?"

"I saw it in a used bookstore and loved the illustrations."

I do, indeed, think too much.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: An Ultralearning Case Study, Principle 7 Retention

I finished reading Ultralearning by Scott Young last month, and, as God is my witness, I'm going to finish blogging about it. Though it's going to take me another month to do it.

We've had a two-week break for goals and objectives, so I guess I'd better remind us all about what we're doing here. Especially since this is a blog post about retaining information.

As I said a few weeks ago,  Ultralearning  describes a method of rapid learning. (Saving time, see?) Research/learning new material is frequently a necessity in all kinds of writing. I use it not only to  provide background info in fiction but to inspire plot and characterization. Saving time doing this could be huge for writers, particularly this one.

Refresher On Our Case Study: I am planning an ultralearning project related to history, because I have a character who is a senior in college with a history major. I want his knowledge of history and, more importantly, how to do research to figure into the plot. The main issue I've decided I need to learn about is historical methodology. This now relates to one of my goals for this year.

Principle 7, Retaining What You've Learned

This chapter of Ultralearning is all about remembering what you're learning. This is interesting on a personal level, because our family members have been dealing with relatives with memory loss for many years. By "interesting" I mean "interesting in a disturbing way." Professionally,  I don't think memory/retention matters as much for writers as it does for those learning other things, like a language or a skill they'll actually be using regularly.

Retaining For The Long-Term

Our Case Study: In my particular case, I'm interested in learning historical methodology that I can use for a character and situation in one book. I don't need to retain a lot of this indefinitely. If I want to use this information another time and no longer have a good grasp of it, I can research it again, using whatever I do recall as a guide/jumping off point. A refresher.

I've done this before. Many years ago, I researched the Puritan era for The Hero of Ticonderoga. This past year, I wrote an adult book in which a contemporary figure is a Puritan fan. I used what I recalled from the original research to "inspire" sections, then quickly researched those points again.

If I learn something in my research/learning of history that I want to use again, after my initial project, I can do the same kind of relearning research.

Retaining For The Short-Term

I believe that retaining for the short-term is more important for writers doing the kind of learning I'm doing. By that I mean, remembering what we've learned during Week 1 while continuing to study into Weeks 5 and 6. Or to remember what we've learned researching prior to starting the writing project while we're into the actual writing.

Young says that procedural skills, which appear to be activities that involve learning a procedure (I had to research this, because Young doesn't actually say), are retained better than declarative knowledge, which is facts or information. So if there's some way we can turn basic facts into a procedure, there's a chance they will be retained longer.

Our Case Study: Ah...not a clue how I could do this. Or if it's even possible at all.

Personal Problem With Retention That I Wish "Ultralearning" Addressed

I have had a lot of trouble in the past organizing research in an easy-to-access-again way. All my notes have gone into a notebook in the past or, more recently, a computer file, where at least, I could use "find" to find something I recalled but would like some support for before using it. Young doesn't cover this aspect of studying.

Our Case Study: I'm thinking that if I use a course syllabus, I can create a notebook or computer file for that course, just as I would if I were taking the actual college course. In fact, I'd have to say my takeaway from Ultralearning so far is to try to treat my professional research the way I would a college major instead of just dumping info into the digital or notebook equivalent of piles.

In this particular case, I may also be more focused in my research. I am not randomly researching history but history methodology. That may help me to organize research.

Since I am actually into the research at this point, I can report that yesterday I carefully created a file for a particular article I was reading instead of just tossing any notes I wanted to make into a "methods" file. I hope that's an improvement.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Connecticut Book Awards Submissions Opening Next Monday

2020 Connecticut Book Awards Submissions Open
January 13, 2020

Connecticut Center for the Book will begin accepting submissions for the 2020 Connecticut Book Awards on January 13, 2020; the final deadline for all categories is April 17, 2020. Criteria, guidelines and the online submission form may be found on Entry fees start at $40.00. 
Connecticut Book Awards recognize the best books by authors and llustrators from Connecticut or books about Connecticut. Categories include: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Books for Young Readers broken into three subcategories: Picture Books, Fiction, and Nonfiction. The Bruce Fraser ‘Spirit of Connecticut’ Award honors the memory of long-time director Bruce Fraser and celebrates Connecticut’s sense of place.
The awards ceremony will be held in October 2020. Final date is to be determined.*

*Connecticut Center for the Book Press Release. I couldn't find the on-line submission form there, but presumably it will be up next week.

Friday, January 03, 2020

New Year's Poetry

Check out this poetry blog post by author Tanita Davis, because:

  1. It includes a definition of the word "nocturne." Come on. I am not the only person who didn't know that.
  2. She wrote a New Year's poem that includes the words "bullet journal."

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Are We Psyched For Our 2020 Goals And Objectives?

Once again I'm going to drone on about how important carefully planned goals and objectives are for managing time. And life, I guess. But what is managing time but managing life, right? Yeah. You bet.

To get everyone on the same page: A goal is something you want to do. An objective is what you need to do to achieve the goal. One goal can have multiple objectives. Objectives do not have goals. They support goals. The words goal and objective do not mean the same thing, no matter how many times my computer guy says they do.

You should plan to check back to your annual goals and objectives on a regular basis to make sure that you are spending your time on them and not other things. If you experience a big shift in your work or personal life over the course of the year, you can change your goals and/or objectives so they represent things you need to be doing in your new world order.

What Are Your 2020 Goals And Objectives, Gail?


Why, thank you for asking. Yes, many of my 2020 goals and objectives are similar to my 2019 goals and objectives, indicating either that I didn't reach many of them or they are damn fine goals and objectives. Let's go with that latter thought.

These are also listed by priorities.

Goal 1. Concentrate on submitting completed book-length projects as well as completed short-form work.


  • Submit adult book to agents researched this fall
  • Continue researching agents for adult book, through Publishers' Marketplace, Twitter, etc.
  • At some point in year, switch submission focus to my second adult book
  • At some point in year, switch submission focus to my children's books
  • Spend more time with essay Facebook group. Those people are publishing and share their work, exposing me to new markets. Which is not stalking them.
  • Seek out markets for a seasonal essay I wrote last fall.
  • Check the publication history of some essayists I read last year.

Goal 2. Work on short-form writing, essays and short stories.


  • Start some eating essays
  • Choose an essay or short story from the files or journal to do a little work on every week
  • Plan to focus short-form reading on different genres each month
  • Spend the last week of every month completing something. Anything.

Goal 3. Work on the 365 story project 


  • Focus on this as short-form writing (see Goal 2)
  • January reading focus will be flash fiction
  • Spend time reading short stories, shorter work in children's literature
  • Take drafts to writers' group

Goal 4. Work on YA thriller that could become an adult thriller


  • Work on history background for Character 2 during January and February
  • Work on Character 3
  • Work on blueprinting.
  • Just work on scenes. Don't worry about connecting things. 
  • Read YA thrillers.
  • Develop a theme

Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding


  • Provide social media support for writers/bloggers generating diversity material.
  • Continue with writers' group.
  • Pay more attention to community events like Multi-Cultural Children's Book Day
  • Continue with Original Content.
  • Check out NESCBWI spring conference, with possibility of attending.
  • Check out NESCBWI-PAL offerings this year, with possibility of attending.
  • Be open to attending events for writers of adult literature.
  • Attend other authors' appearances.
  • Continue with promoting Original Content at Facebook communities, Goodreads' blog, and Twitter. 

Goal 6. Stay On Top Of Upcoming Known Events (a TMT blog post is coming on this)


  • Do more planning for the year/particular months
  • Check in with goals at the end of each month
  • Expect the end of the year to be a disaster 

Goal 7. Continue collecting material and ideas for an adult scifi project, far in my future.  

What You Don't See Here

Notice that you're not seeing things like "find an agent" or "publish" among these goals. Goals and objectives should be things you can control. I can't control what agents do. I can't control what editors do. I can only control what I do. Therefore, my goals are written around me submitting and me writing.

Monday, December 30, 2019

My Year In Reading

I am active on Goodreads for one reason and one reason only--it keeps track of my reading for me and makes a nice little annual summary. I've learned you have to work this thing to get the result you want, because if you aren't careful to include a date you finished reading a book, it will just have you down as having shelved it in, say, 2019, and not having read it that year. You also have to be careful to actually record the books in the first place. Goodreads can't keep track of something you haven't entered there. It's not a mind reader, though that would be nice.

All that explains why when I checked my Goodreads Year in Books late yesterday I saw I'd read only 18 books, though I'd shelved more. I spent some time after dinner last night putting in date read material on the shelved books and then going through this blog to find a number of books I'd read but never recorded.

That brought me up to 42 books for the year. Probably not a great accomplishment, especially since I have a screenshot from 2017 that indicates I read 45 that year, but so much better than 18 that I am happy to take it. And, no, Bread & Wine was not my first review of the year, but I'm letting that go.

On to 2020!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

More Of This Year's Essay Reading

This year I've done a couple of posts on books of essays and other short form writing that I've been reading in support of my 2019 goal to work on short-form writing. (If you are one of my Twitter-followers, you've noticed that I've been posting links to other short-form reading I've been doing nearly every day. You have noticed, right? What am I thinking? Of course, you have.)

Well, today I'm going to do another one of those posts. I chose to read Shauna Niequist's Bread & Wine, A Love Letter To Life Around The Table, With Recipes, because it was a Kindle sale book sometime this past year, it was a book of essays, and it was a book of essays about food. I am interested in trying my hand at writing some essays about eating. Not food writing, which is a totally different thing. I'd have to know more about food than I do and eat better than I do to write about food. I want to write about eating, for reasons I will spare you now.

In Bread & Wine, Neiquist does what I'm interested in doing. She writes about eating, but in relation to something else. In her case, we're talking eating in relation to connecting with others and spirituality/faith. She would probably be described as a Christian writer rather than a food writer (she has written other books that appear to have nothing to do with recipes), and Bread & Wine was published by Zondervan, a Christian publisher. If you enjoy reading about someone living their Christian faith, you'll enjoy this book. If you'd really rather read about food, you'll enjoy this book. Because Neiquist comes across as one of your seriously Christian friends who prays for you but doesn't try to convert you. I will be very surprised if you don't have at least one of those.

What kind of freaked this introvert out about Bread & Wine was not the religious aspects of the book but the number of friends Neiquist has. And how often she gets together to eat with them. And she often gets together to eat with large numbers of them, at once. For a large part of the book, I felt as if there was something wrong with me, because I don't live like that. But by the end, I'd turned around and was thinking, "What is wrong with these people? Don't they ever stay home? How about dinner in front of the TV once in a while folks?" And then I felt better.

The book was definitely a good choice for my purposes.

Gail And Bread

It's been a long time since I've included any cooking pictures in a blog post, but this one involves a book called Bread & Wine, and I used to be a serious bread baker, so I think a photo is appropriate. I've been off gluten for a year and a half now, which has tossed a wrench into my bread baking, though I do have one gluten-free bread machine recipe I make a couple of times a month. Also I am surrounded by wheat-eating philistines who prefer brown-and-serve rolls to bread made in the kitchen. You see why I'm interested in writing about eating? About eating bread, anyway.

So, at Thanksgiving I tried a peanut butter twist recipe. Did not go over well. As one person said, "It's essentially a peanut butter sandwich. Why go to all this work for a peanut butter sandwich?" Yeah? Well, next year they can eat peanut butter on their brown-and-serve rolls!

I put half a pan of these twists out on a rock for the sweet little woodland creatures. The next day a flock of crows came for them. They also took most of the artisan bread I made for Christmas. My giving up gluten is the best thing that ever happened to the local crows.

The Tuscan toast triangles you see to the right of the twists turned out better, by which I mean someone will eat them, though not me. (I do gluten free Tuscan toast.) 

I'm also taking part in Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads today. Haven't done that in a long time, either.

Mmm. Writing about eating. This feels good.