Saturday, February 24, 2018

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Feb. 24 Edition.

Very short work week here. However, I managed the following:

Goal 2. YA Thriller. Did some more reading of engineering essays to come up with a significant point for a secondary character. Jotted down some notes last weekend regarding my central crime.

Goal 3. Generate New Work With Good Women. Finished underpainting or blueprinting (whichever metaphor you prefer) the chapter about the Christmas pageant. Have already decided I want to change the tone. The next chapter is going to be very short, and between what I'd already done with it and what I did this week, I think it's safe to say that's ready for May.

Goal 3. Generate New Work With Picture Book Study. I signed up for Read For Research Month, hoping to shape up the picture book manuscript I've completed or, hey, do some other picture book work. I also began looking for and collecting the picture books I'll need to read next month to take part in that challenge. That's going to be a lot of work.

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding. Did three blog posts and promoted 
them in the usual places. Did two Goodreads reviews. Started the March Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar. I also brought my historical fiction Pinterest board up to date.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Let's Call This A New Objective

Only Olympic bobsledding and cross-country skiing being televised this evening. No problem finding time to blog tonight!

I have a completed picture book manuscript that, you guessed it, I have been unable to sell. Since I like to maintain the mind of a beginner, which, as far as picture books are concerned, is easy to do, I was attracted to a Read For Research Month Challenge that I learned about, probably on Twitter. It's a project to help picture book writers read and research mentor texts. There will be posts each day during the month of March from writers as well as a daily reading list.

Yes, lads and lasses, I did sign on.

This isn't something I planned to do this year, and I am pushing to have multiple chapters of an adult book underpainted by the end of April so I can make a big writing push with my May Days group. But this seems like a neat opportunity that I should at least take a shot at. I mean, it's only a month, right?

This isn't a totally random thing to be doing. I have a goal of generating new work, and improving my knowledge of picture book writing would certainly be an objective toward generating more picture books.

Read For Research Month was founded and is coordinated by Carrie Charlie Brown and Kristi Call.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Another Tuesday Bust

It's nearly nine pm, I can't get my images to work for my planned TMT post, and I'm deep into another night of Olympic ice skating. Let's face it. There's not going to be a post today.

Monday, February 19, 2018

And Now For Something Completely Different

Alternative History

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston is a quiet book in a very unique setting. Basically, it's a romance with your classic YA torn-between- two-lovers scenario. It begins with young upper class women (and, if I recall correctly, men) doing the debutante thing in the city of Toronto and then moves to an idyllic Canadian lake. The relationships are worked out without a lot of passion and drama. What raises the interest level here is the kinds of relationships we're talking about and the world the whole story is set in.

What we have here is a well-developed universe with computers...DNA issues...a superficially twenty-first century-type setting. But we also have a British Empire that the sun hasn't set on with a powerful queen, as well as a United States from which pirates set out to pillage Canadian/British ships on the Great Lakes. What's more, this is a particularly diverse world, in large part because the historic Queen Victoria from whom the present queen is descended married off her children to leaders all over the world, not just to European (and, of course, white) royalty. So the royal family is diverse and that makes it acceptable and normal for every other segment of society.

One of the many nice things about this book is that it doesn't preach or hit readers over the head with any Hey, look how we have characters from all over the world here! Look what we do with sexuality! Everything is just there, as if it's just totally run-of-the-mill life. Which, in a book, it should be.

A Regency/Spy/Fantasy Mash-up

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones is a gem, especially for readers who, like myself, spent many hours of their youth reading regency novels. Sixteen-year-old Annis Whitworth and her intellectual aunt have been left destitute by the sudden death of Annis's father. But Annis, whose big skill up to that point appears to have been advising her friends on how they should dress, is no classic damsel in distress, facing a sad future as a governess or companion. She discovers she has the ability to sew glamours into clothing, creating magical outfits in this world where glamours for this and that are a fact of life.

Oh, and also, she wants to follow her father into the spy business.

Regency novels often involve romance. This is more of an Austen-type social commentary with the strongest feminist tone I can recall ever seeing in a book of this type. There's even a #metoo type thing going on at one point. And, like That Inevitable Victorian Thing, there's no metaphorical neon sign here to make sure readers get it. This is merely the world of this book.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A YA Historical Mystery

Anyone familiar with what I call nineteenth century historical mysteries? Obviously they are mystery series set in the nineteenth century. Some examples: 1813 or so--Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries, 1890s to post WWI--Amelia Peabody, 1890s--Veronica Speedwell, 1880s or 90s--Gaslight Mysteries (Hillary Clinton's a fan). My Kindle is heavy with these things. The ones I read usually have a female and male amateur detectives or an amateur combined with a professional detective. The ones I read also have some kind of romantic tension and then involvement between the male and female leads.

Well, The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrell reads to me like the first entry in one of those series. Except for being YA. And set in the early twentieth century.  I would not describe it as "Downton Abbey in downtown Chicago" the way one of the blurbs does. It has a lot more story than that show ever did.

Piper Sail (eighteen years old, on the high end for YA) is the daughter of a well-known defense lawyer in 1920's Chicago. A lawyer with Mafia clients. (This is hardly Lord Grantham we're talking about.) When her best friend disappears, Piper gets involved in the hunt for her. She also gets involved with the hot, young Italian cop on the case. And who, guess what!, also has Mafia connections. Piper is one of those women who is trouble because she won't stay in her place. Mariano, an outsider to both his Mafia family and WASP Chicago culture, can tolerate her.

They are a couple made for a historical mystery series.

Friday, February 16, 2018

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Feb. 16 Edition

I had only three full days of work because we have a new family member, our second in six months, and that was diverting in the best possible way. I lost a little social media time in the evening because of the necessity of watching Olympic figure skating. It's on every evening, all evening, on NBC Sports. I want to be Adam Rippon! Then some evening time goes to planning a complex vacation for this fall, which is driving me crazy. We've been eating dinner in the living room (watching the Olympics, of course), because the dining room table is covered with road maps.

Nonetheless, I did some work.

Goal 1. Submissions. One thing I'm trying to do this year is squeeze submission research into days when I have a lot of nonwork obligations and can't spend a lot of time concentrating for big chunks of time. That way I'm getting something done on even a difficult day, and I'm actually making some progress on my submission planning. So yesterday and today, I got submission research in. Some good stuff, too.

Goal 2. YA Thriller. I brought a voice exercise for one of my characters to writers' group. I felt the voice wasn't there, myself, and someone gave some excellent feedback on that. I'm also skimming a book called Remaking the World: Adventures in Engineering by Henry Petrowski. (Honest to God, I found this on my To Be Read shelf.) I need a  world, a life, for a dead engineer in this story, and I'm hoping reading some engineering essays will give me some ideas.

Goal 3. Generate New Work With Good Women. I'm still working on underpainting the Christmas pageant chapter. Hey, it's hard to create a Christmas pageant.

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding.  Four blog posts with promotion to Google+, Twitter, a Facebook community, a Goodreads journal post, and a writers' group meeting.

Back to the men's free skate.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Skullduggery News

Author Derek Landy announced on Twitter a few weeks ago that the entire Skullduggery Pleasant series is finally coming to the U.S.A. The first three books, which were published here, will be re-released in May. According to one of Landy's Jan. 21 texts, the next six are supposed to be available by the end of the year.

My more faithful readers are aware that I am a fan of the Skeleton. I ordered the final six books from England through Amazon, passing them along to my niece. And it has been a mystery to me why the series was dropped in this country after the first three books. As I asked back in 2012, "What was the problem? Were they too clever and witty? Did someone object because this fantasy wasn't all doom and gloom? Well, okay, it was pretty doom and gloom what with Skulduggery being dead and all and fighting some group that often seemed unbeatable. So if depressing tragedy is a requirement for fantasy on this side of the Atlantic, the books had it. They were just amusing about it. Is that a crime?"

I also realized recently that a tenth Skulduggery book came out last year, and I missed it. I'm debating what to do about that. I felt that I'd finished the series. and I don't know if I want to continue with that feeling of done and out or if I want to go on. If I go on, I'll probably order it from merry old England somehow, because  they're only talking about publishing the first nine here.

Oops. An eleventh book is coming out this summer. You can't keep a good skeleton down.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cybils Announcement And A Little History

Valentine's Day is Cybils Announcement Day. Check out the 2017 winners.

 Last Friday, Tanita Davis of Finding Wonderland  did a great job in Cybils Countdown of explaining Cybils history. Among other things, she said of the big name children's book awards "...sometimes "literary" doesn't take into account "beloved." In 2006, the Cybils Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards were founded to address that particular issue."

Her post reminded me of something I saw at a professional listserv of academics and reviewers a few years after the Cybils were started. Someone had been following the nominations at the Cybils website and posted a message asking where were __________, _________, ___________ (that year's big name books that everyone was talking about)? Those titles needed to be part of any award consideration, he insisted. To which I responded, "That's not the point of the Cybils." (Or something like that. This was years ago, after all.)

The point of the Cybils, as Tanita says, is to "discover books that might not be famous or popular, but which have both literary merit and kid appeal." And then the Cybils brings them to the attention of readers.

The Cybils' Place In The Childlit World

In the childlit world, there's a big focus on awards, which are announced at the beginning of the year. (This year, just this past Monday.) It's not unusual for bloggers to start writing about next year's possible Newbery and Caldecott winners in March or April. We're in the middle of the Olympics, so I'm going to make an Olympics analogy. Get ready. Here it comes. Starting to focus on the "contenders" so early is like beginning to count medals on day three of the Olympics. It distracts from all the competition that is still going on. The book award talk narrows the literary conversation to a relative handful of children's books when there are thousands published every year.

This isn't terrific for writers who aren't being talked about, of course. But it's particularly bad for readers who don't get a chance to hear about books that might be more to their liking than those that the award predictors embrace. For instance, historically, humor books and science fiction haven't turned up regularly among Newbery winners. Regency novels, mysteries, sports don't see these a lot on award lists. Only recently have we started seeing books with diverse characters and situations at all, let alone on the podium. (Another Olympics reference.) But all those books are out there. I've read a couple of terrific Regency novels for YA over the last couple of years. And I've just started seeing alternative history. There are readers who want to know about these books. There are readers who might be reading more if they could find these types of works. But with childlit talk often being about award contenders, will the word get out?

And that's what the Cybils does differently. It broadens the literary conversation, because it isn't one award, it's multiple awards, hitting fiction for both younger and older readers, picture books, graphic novels, speculative fiction. And unlike other awards, all the books being considered are out in front of the public at the Cybils website for the two months leading in to the release of the short lists. And anyone with a lit blog can throw a title in the ring. You don't have to be a traditional childlit gatekeeper to be part of the process.

So, to wind up things, I'll say that the Cybils are an Olympic effort, broadening the scope of the books considered and awarded. That makes them particularly valuable to readers. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

No Time For Time Management

I'm not doing a Time Management Tuesday post today, because last night I was at a very full writers' group meeting. A lot of new members and things to discuss. Then I got home and spent an hour continuing to read about sexual harassment in children's publishing.

If you'd like to read an excellent article on how to go forth from this point regarding books by writers accused of harassment or other unacceptable acts, check out Kelly Jensen's What To Do With Books By Authors Accused Of Harassment, Racism, Or Other Inappropriate Or Illegal Behaviors at the blog Stacked.  She's writing specifically about librarians, but her thinking could be helpful to readers, as well.

You might also be interested in her article The State of Sexual Harassment in the Library at Book Riot. Holy Moses. How do those people go to work every day?

Monday, February 12, 2018

The ALA's Book Awards

Last year I was totally out of the childlit world for many months while dealing with some family issues, which resolved themselves very well, thank you. Evidently my head isn't totally back into the game, because I thought the ALA children's book awards were announced last month. I thought they were always announced in January. Talk about total lack of paying attention. They were announced today!

Even when I saw people on my Facebook wall talking about going to ALA last week, I didn't put two and two together and go, Wait...they're having their meeting now? The award announcement meeting now?

And I thought I'd been being very disciplined and mindful since my retreat week last month. This may shatter how I perceive myself and function for the rest of the year.

Anyway, check out the winners. The only winner I've read is The Murder's Ape, which was awarded the  Batchelder Award "for an outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States." But I didn't blog about it! My recollection is that it was a strange, not easy to pigeonhole story that I didn't necessarily perceive as a children's story. But I do like seeing unique works like that winning awards, so, good for Jakob Wegelius, the author and illustrator.

Also, congratulations to Debbie Reese, who won the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award "recognizing an author, critic, librarian, historian or teacher of children's literature." Reese has been writing about and advocating for Native American children's literature for many years. I have been seeing her within the childlit community for a long time. She has truly stayed the course and deserves recognition for her work and commitment.

While we're on the subject of Native Americans in children's literature, the AILA Youth Literature Awards have also been announced.