Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Do I Have Book Series? I Have Book Series.

Okay, so we've talked here about the old books I was decorating my mantel with. I finally found a picture of the thing all prettied up with stained and torn books that were probably causing mold- and health-related problems here. Marie Kondo would have had a stroke if she'd seen this place.

Today we're covering my copies of The Radio Boys Search for the Inca's Treasure (1922) and The Radio Boys Rescue the Lost Alaska Expedition (1922) by Gerald Breckenridge. According to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, there were three Radio Boys series published in the 1920s. The biggest sellers were published under a pseudonym by the famous Stratemeyer Syndicate. My books, of course, are not among the biggest sellers.

They do have a claim to fame, though. My books were written by Gerald Breckenridge, a pseudonym for...No, Gerald Breckenridge isn't a pseudonym at all but the author's actual name. And that's the claim to fame. This particular series of Radio Boys was written by an author not using a pseudonym. Breckenridge was a journalist who also worked as a publicist for RKO studios.

The Internet isn't swarming with info about him, though I did find that his papers are archived at the Auburn University at Montgomery Library. According to the guide to the papers "The collection lacks significant information pertaining to Breckenridge's career as a newspaper man, his relations with Lella Warren, or his other writing activities." Which kind of makes you wonder why the material is there. Lella Warren, by the way, was Breckenridge's first wife and a writer. In the very next paragraph, the guide writer says, "Among the more interesting items within the collection are the book and short story drafts. Portions of the drafts appear to have been written in the fictional/biography style utilized by Lella Warren. There is insufficient information available to determine the influence of these two writes upon one another."

If I were one of those tabloid writers who cover the royal family, I'd have a field day with those last two sentences. But I'm not, so speculate quietly to yourselves.

Gerald Breckenridge is another author who has traveled into the land of obscurity.

I also found two other books from children's series on the mantel:  Buddy on the Farm by Howard R. Garis and Bound to be an Electrician by Edward Stratemeyer. Yes, that Stratemeyer, the one of Stratemeyer Syndicate fame. Evidently he wrote a boatload of books himself in addition to...producing or packaging...series written by others. It appears to me that much of Stratemeyer's own work has become obscure, while some of the syndication's series, such as Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, remained known until very recently and may still be. Nancy Drew, in particular, has some cultural significance.

My copy of Bound to be an Electrician is inscribed to my husband's great-uncle, a Christmas present from his aunt in 1910. Someone held on to it for over a hundred years and moved it from place to place. My mind is boggling over that.

Marie Kondo, come get these books.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

The Weekend Writer: Make Sure Everything In Your Book Supports Your Story

I keep mentioning that I worked reading into some of my goals and objectives for this year. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even during stressful, demanding times, there's always room for reading, right?

Well, one of my objectives for Goal 2 Work on YA Thriller is Read YA Thrillers. Sounds great, doesn't it? Recently I started what I thought was a YA thriller as well as a YA thriller-ish piece of science fiction. I didn't finish either one of them. I was always having to stop to read material that didn't seem to have anything to do with the story I believed I was reading. I just couldn't maintain interest.

What, Exactly, Do You Mean, Gail?

For a story to work, everything in it must support it in some way. At the very least, if something appears in a story, it needs to support character, theme, or plot. If it doesn't, it stops the forward momentum of the story. Readers have to pause to take in this new material that doesn't relate to anything they've read before and, they may find, won't relate to much they're going to read.

For instance, eight or ten years ago, the YA blogosphere got hopped up because an agent, whose name I really don't know, went on record as saying that YA needed romance. Indeed, there is a lot of romance, or at least romantic entanglements, in YA across the board. But if the romance doesn't support the story, the writer has to stop the story to talk about young love.

Okay, the first book I quit reading involved a murder and potential victims getting weird murder-connected communications a year later. I thought that sounded thrilling. I thought that was the basic story, these young women getting messages and perhaps being targeted. I may have been wrong, though. The story may have been about something else, something deep and not thrilling. Especially since there was a lot of love interest going on in the first more than third of the book. There was a torn-between-two-lovers situation and another couple. I read quite a bit, wasn't clear on what these romances had to do with the story I thought I was going to read, and if the story was something else, I never figured out what it was. I may have got almost to the mid-way point on this one.

The second book I quit reading involved four young people fighting a terrorist group plotting attacks in the future. Thrilling! And sci-fi, which is good for me to read because I have an adult sci-fi project to shop around at some point. But the action kept stopping so characters could talk about how one of them was bi-sexual, one was gay, and one was transgender. We also had to pause for the hints that some of these characters were attracted to one another. It wasn't clear to me how this supported the terrorist story or how it was going to. So I gave up on that one, too.

All the romantic and quasi-romantic diversions in these books kept slowing the story down because they didn't seem to be about the story. Especially with the science fiction book, I felt as if I was sometimes reading filler.

An Example Of Romance Serving Story

Before some of you write me off as not appreciating romance, consider a book in which I think it works very well, because it is definitely part of the plot of in a story.

I happen to have just finished the adult novel My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. In this book the narrator and her sister are both attracted to the same man who is only attracted to one of them. A twist on the torn-between-two-lovers scenario that is so popular in YA. In this case, this romantic entanglement absolutely supports the plot, which is all about how the narrator will deal with her murderous sister. It creates tension. It definitely makes readers want to move on. It made this reader, anyway.

It's not just romance that can stop a story. Humor writers have to be careful to note use random jokes. If material doesn't support character, theme, or plot, it doesn't matter how funny it is, it will distract readers and discourage them from continuing reading.

This explains why a couple of days ago I edited out a lengthy HGTV joke in Chapter 17 of a new project. It didn't do anything and would have left readers wondering what it was doing there and if they needed to remember it going forth.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

An Early Twentieth Century Woman Educator For Women's History Month

It's the last day of Women's History Month, and I just have time to do one more post on the old books piled on the floor in my living room. Well, I'm going to do more than one, but I mean one more about women that fit into a Women's History Month theme.

What I'm telling you about today is The Children's First Reader by Ellen M. Cyr. My edition was published in 1893 by Ginn & Publishers, Boston. You can find a variety of her readers for different levels and in different editions all over the Internet.

In Mysteries Revealed about a Reading Instruction Pioneer in the Winter/Spring 2006 The Jayhawk Educator (page 8) Arlene Barry, Associate Professor at the University of Kansas School of Education, says that Ellen Cyr was "the first woman in America to have a widely sold reading series marketed under her own name." Her books were translated into Spanish, Japanese, and Braille.

Barry provides an analysis of the books and why they were successful. But the First Reader has a note To the Teachers that includes some interesting information about what motivated Cyr to write her books. She said that the reading program for the first year of school was in the first half of the books used for instruction. "...the larger share of the first-year books are too difficult to be completed by the class, and therefore a part of the book is left unread." She writes that children were overwhelmed by the vocabulary in the second half of the books, would start another book and become overwhelmed after the halfway point again.  "...vocabulary is introduced too rapidly for the struggling brain."

"In this series, it has been my purpose to have a complete primary course..."

And she was successful. Her first primer, published by Lothrop, did so well that Ginn & Company offered her a contract. I can't find precise information about how long they remained in print or in use, but books available for sale indicate they were still being published in 1906.

Now, of course, Ellen is gone, another successful woman who became obscure.

Friday, March 29, 2019

April Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Wed., April 3, Neil Patrick Harris, Morgan High School Auditorium, Clinton 7:00 PM Sponsored by R.J. Julia Booksellers. Tickets sold out.

Sat., April 6, Deborah Freedman, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Sun., April 7, Liza McMahon, Jessica Simons, Theresa Mackiewicz, Sara Ann Hofferd, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 2:00 PM

Tues., April 9, Melissa de la Cruz, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:30 PM

Wed., April 10, Lana Bennett, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 10:00 AM Storytime  Fee

Fri., April 12, Amanda Bannikov, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 10:00 AM Storytime

Sat., April 13, Katie Melko, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 12:00 PM Storytime

Sat., April 20, Leslie Bulion, Howard Whittemore Memorial Library, Naugatuck 10:30

Sat., April 27, Suzanne Cordatos, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 12:00 PM Storytime

Sun., April 28, Joyce Lapin, House of Books, Kent 2:00PM

Sun., April 28, Jo Knowles in Conversation With Debbi Michiko Florence, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 3:00 PM

Sun., April 28, Jamie Deeniham, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 10:30 AM    

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Take Your Wins Where You Can Get Them

Up until around five o'clock Sunday afternoon I thought Monday was going to be a big workday for me. Instead, I wrote five sentences yesterday. A paragraph. A transitional paragraph, to be precise. And I was delighted to get that much done.

You have to consider and accept your situation. Beating your head against a wall because you're not doing a cliched butt-in-chair thing while your personal life is spilling all over your work table will destroy self-esteem. And that endangers your impulse control. No impulse control, no staying on task. We're talking about a downward spiral at a time when you are least able to afford one.

Given yesterday's situation, a five-sentence para was a win. A big, big win. Last night I actually felt pumped for my next work session, which did turn out to be today. And I'm happy with the blueprinting and research I'm doing today, too.

I would not say, "It's all good." I'd say, "Anything's good."

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Naomi Kritzer, Short Ficton

You will remember that reading is part of my goals and objectives this year. I'm sure I mentioned it here. Several times. An objective for the essay and short story goal involves reading a short story or essay every day. I've been hitting that one out of the park. I missed only one day when an elder was in the emergency room. And I wasn't one of the people who stayed there all afternoon. And evening. I definitely shirked that day.

My plan was to read randomly, which I pretty much have, though I did find myself doing an author study early on.

I discovered Naomi Kritzer on Facebook, believe it or not, when she very appropriately posted a link to one of her short stories in someone's comments. I loved it and took off.

Favorite Kritzer Stories

So Much Cooking was what got me started. This is an apocalyptic story written in the form of a food blog. So much to like.

Field Biology of the Wee Fairies. A fairy story for people like me who don't like them.

Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty's Place Cafe. An end of the world story? Or something else? 

Paradox. A time travel story that doesn't take itself too seriously. And it has a Travelers vibe.

Bits. This is the story everyone who has ever seen a story about human/alien romance has been waiting for.

What I like about Kritzer's writing is that she does scifi and fantasy stories and sets them in our real world. Or, in some cases, our nearly real world. That's my favorite kind of science fiction and fantasy. Which explains why I so rarely like fantasy. I don't find a lot of it set where I want it set.

YA Coming

This fall, Naomi Kritzer's YA novel, Catfishing on CatNet will be published by Tor/Forge. You can check out an excerpt at Den of Geek.

So Kritzer writes this neat short fiction AND she has a childlit connection. She's perfection for Original Content.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

An Obscure Woman Writer For Women's History Month

In my last post, I commented upon writers who ramble and distract from their points with lots of extra words. So I deleted a couple of paras relating to how I came to have two grocery bags full of books from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, as well as a couple more stacks on the floor. Let's just say, I've got 'em. And in checking them out on-line to see whether or not it's necessary for us to hold on to them, I was struck with how many of them, and their authors, seem...lost. A sobering situation for a writer to learn about.

One of the first books I noticed was a 1900 edition of To Have And To Hold by Mary Johnston. This thing is set in Jamestown during, you know, Jamestown, not one of my favorite time periods. But the story line has features I would have loved as a younger, pre-feminist reader. The lover with a secret identity. How Scarlet Pimpernel! An evil lord. I would probably have eaten that stuff up, though I don't think I was a particular fan of the pirates that also appear here.

What really interests me now is not the book but its author. According to Encyclopedia Virginia, Mary Johnston was the first woman to top best-seller lists in the twentieth century. To Have And To Hold broke publishing records. It's supposed to have been the most popular book between Uncle Tom's Cabin and Gone With the Wind. (Hmm. All three of those books were written by women. What am I to make of that?) It made Johnston rich. She was profiled in the New York Times in 1900, and To Have And To Hold became a movie twice. Okay, they were both silent, but they were movies. (A third version was made in 2015 and never released. Yikes.) And though it was Johnston's most successful book, she wrote and published others. She wasn't a one-hit wonder. She had a career.

And Then...Obscurity

You can find some odd editions of Mary Johnston books here and there, but she's far from a household name. Or a name most of us have heard of. What happened to this bestselling author who wrote the most popular book between Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind? We remember Stowe and Mitchell, don't we? Why not Mary Johnston? Come on, Gone With the Wind wasn't that great.

I have a family member who studies and preserves obscure TV at Television Obscurities, so I have given some thought to obscurity. You have your material that is what you might call born obscure because it never made much of an impact when it first appeared. Then you have material that becomes obscure for some reason.

To Have And To Hold certainly wasn't born obscure. But evidently it isn't considered timeless nor some kind of outstanding representative of its era. Or whatever a book has to be to remain in the public memory. And so it became obscure.

Which raises the question, I believe, of which popular books from our period are headed for obscurity?

Feel free to post your answer in a comment.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A New Twist On "A Room Of One's Own"

One of my January accomplishments was to finish reading A Room of One's Own, a significant piece of feminist writing, by Virginia Woolf. Woolf is one of those writers like Michel de Montaigne, as far as I'm concerned. I like the idea of them much more than I like reading their work. Woolf I can make some headway with, but I feel she rambles. I'm into communication, as both a reader and a writer. I don't want a lot of extra words distracting from the point.

Woolf does make some good ones in A Room of One's Own. She's writing about what women in her era needed to write fiction. She famously says they need a room of their own and five hundred pounds a year. These things, she contends, are what male writers have had for generations and why she can't find many women writers in past historical periods. Or women writers writing about issues of interest to women.

Woolf was writing about male privilege. But she addressed it as a male/female status issue rather than as a social class issue. She didn't, for instance, get into male writers who don't have a room of their own and five hundred pounds a year. Or how the female writers she was writing about could get the room of their own and five hundred pounds a year she claimed they needed.

Just this past week, Sandra Newman picked up Woolf's material and looked at it differently by asking What If You Can't Afford "A Room of One's Own? at Electric Lit. Does that mean you can't write? Newman argues that no, it doesn't.

What would Virginia Woolf have made of someone like Sandra Newman?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Reading Sloane Crosley

Reading figures prominently in my goals and objectives this year. I got psyched for the plan even before January and read an entire book of essays last fall by Sloane Crosley,  Look Alive Out There   Overall, the book is funny, the way I like writing to be funny. The writing is dry and understated, with no signs signaling a joke. The jokes make a point.

But what are these essays? Are they personal essays, which I thought took something personal and related it to the world, which these sometimes don't seem to do? Are they memoirs, which I recall a professor  describing as events the significance of which were not understood until after they were over? Which raises the question, why read memoirs? The essay about the noisy neighbor kid. I don't know what makes that an experience others want to read.

On the other hand, the essay about altitude sickness while climbing a mountain she's totally unprepared to scale may be recalled whenever I walk up a hill. And the Meniere's essay? Oh, my gosh. I am so grateful I only have vertigo once a year or so. And the guy who snatched Crosley's domain name and made her pay through the nose to get it back?

I definitely came away from this experience with the understanding that not every essay is going to click with every reader. Both readers and writers need to expect it.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Brazen Women For Women's History Month

I received a copy of Brazen, Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu at the Gauthier Christmas gift swap, which, last year, was an Icelandic book and chocolate swap. You know,
because Icelanders give books for Christmas Eve and then spend the evening reading and eating chocolate. Beats pajamas for Christmas, doesn't it? Women's History Month seems like a good time to post about it.

Brazen is graphic nonfiction, a collection of pieces on a wide array of women, some better known than others. I definitely liked it, though it raised a few questions for me.

The Questions

  • How should graphic nonfiction work? With graphic novels, the graphics carry plot and setting. Creative nonfiction may have plot elements, but not all nonfiction does. As a reader, what should I expect from graphic nonfiction?
  • Why is Brazen considered YA? The women covered are not necessarily teenagers and the material on them sometimes goes into old age. What is it about Brazen that makes it YA instead of adult graphic nonfiction that YAs can read the way they can read so many other types of adult nonfiction.?
  • And what is YA nonfiction, anyway? Many teenagers are ready for adult nonfiction and in terms of their schooling are probably expected to read it. What should writers writing YA nonfiction being doing that that they wouldn't do if they were writing nonfiction for adults?


No Answers

My quick and superficial hunt for answers to the above questions didn't provide me with much information. What I found tended to focus on what's available in YA nonfiction rather than what YA nonfiction is.

Kelly Jensen did an interesting piece at Book Riot a couple of years ago called Where's the Love for Nonfiction for Young Readers?  She describes Quiet Power, a YA version of Susan Cain's Quiet, about introversion versus extroversion. I'd never heard of Quiet Power, though I've read Quiet. Quiet Power sounds significantly different, very directed toward YA readers. An example of YA nonfiction?

But a lot of writing on nonfiction for young readers gets murky because journalists often pool middle grade and YA readers together. So the differences in the audience and how writing for them should be done isn't considered or addressed.

It looks as if everything Brazen made me think about is just going to sort of fester in my mind. And, oddly, what it made me think about was writing, not women. A classic example of Gail totally missing the point.

Check out this Washington Post article on Brazen that describes the storytelling and graphic aspects of the book.