Wednesday, March 29, 2017

April Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Scott Westerfeld and Gene Luen Yang are both going to be in Connecticut this month! On the same day! At almost the same time! In different towns! You can't get to both of them!

April 1, Stacy Barnett Mozer, Cos Cob Library, Greenwich 3:00 Book launch 

Sat., April 1, A.L. Davroe, Barnes & Noble, Waterbury 1:00 PM

Mon., April 3, Scott Westerfeld, Barnes & Noble, Canton 7:00 PM

Mon., April 3, Gene Luen Yang, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:30 PM Registration 

Wed., April 5, Deborah Diesen, Simsbury Library, Simsbury 2:00 to 3:00 PM Sign up.

Sat., April 8, Alexandra Penfold, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:30 PM Picture book master class. Ticketed event.

Sat., April 8, Ron Kramer, Barnes & Noble, Waterbury 1:00 PM

Sat., April 8, Trinene Davis, Barnes & Noble, Farmington 10:00 AM

Sat., April 8, Jeffrey Turner, The Hickory Stick, Washington Depot 1:00 PM

Tues., April 25, Carrie Firestone, Barnes & Noble, Canton 7:00 PM Discussion on publishing

Wed., April 26, Margaret Peterson Haddix, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:30 PM Registration 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Time Management Tuesday Rerun: Time Shaming

I've got a substantial start on this week's Time Management Tuesday post. Nonetheless, it's not going to happen. I'm running out of time.

Yes, I am feeling a little chagrined about that. So today, rather appropriately I think,  we're going to recall a post originally published in March, 2015...

 Time Shaming.

Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach In One by Ryan Boudinot received quite a bit of attention, of one kind or another, from two different groups on my Facebook wall this past week. I have never been part of a MFA program, so I can't even pretend to address what he has to say about them. I will, however, address what he had to say about time.

Yeah, That Was Harsh

"If you complain about not having time to write," Boudinot said in bold, "please do us both a favor and drop out." While expanding on that thought, he said, "My experience tells me this: Students who ask a lot of questions about time management, blow deadlines, and whine about how complicated their lives are should just give up and do something else. Their complaints are an insult to the writers who managed to produce great work under far more difficult conditions than the 21st-century MFA student."

Talk about insulting.

I have heard others disparage people with, shall we say, "time management issues." They seem to believe that those who can't manage their time suffer from some kind of moral failing. Certainly, they are "other," not like the people who perceive themselves as being time masters.

Why Time Shaming Is So Very Odd


What I find particularly interesting about this situation is that there are so many workable time management techniques. Psychologists have studied procrastination and impulse control problems it is related to. There is even writing process related to writing faster, which has a definite impact on how much writers can do with the time they have. Why, then, do people in positions to help writers treat those who wonder how they can find the time to write as if they just lost some kind of life lottery by merely asking the question?

I can only speculate, of course.
  1. We are a very them-or-us type of culture.  "I write at the drop of a hat, you don't. I know I'm good, so you must be bad." See also: Organic vs. plotting writers. Lots of arguments over whether or not one writing method is better than the other.
  2. The shamers simply don't know anything about time management. Not knowing something makes them uncomfortable, knocking down someone else makes them feel better.
One final speculative question:  Why not teach writers how to manage their time?

Monday, March 27, 2017

First Contact

The second book I read after finishing my judging responsibilities for the Cybils YA speculative fiction category was...YA science fiction. Can you believe it?

Dark Energy by Robison Wells is one of those terrific reads you look forward to getting back to. Then you finish and start thinking of all kinds of little problems. But none of it really bothers you, because you had a great time.

So Dark Energy begins just after an alien space ship--a big one--crash lands in  Minnesota. How big is the ship? It's so big that it hits in Iowa and skids into Minnesota. Yeah, that does some damage. And kills a few people. Our protagonist, Alice, whose Navajo mother is conveniently dead, heads right to the crash scene with her really neat NASA dad who has kind of been living his whole life waiting for a spaceship to drop out of the sky. Alice and NASA dad have a really great relationship. I mean it. They're clever and witty together. NASA dad has enrolled Alice in a nearby Minnesota smart-kid boarding school. This doesn't turn into one of those predictable and, let's be honest, boring new-kid-in-boarding-school problem books because there's a giant alien spaceship just miles away from the place. Who's in that thing? What are they doing here? What's going to happen? Teenagers are supposed to be carrying on about who's top girl in the dorm when that's going on? Even when the government sends a couple of alien kids  to the school, you don't get any "who do they think they are?" stuff. These characters recognize, as they should, that first contact with an alien race has the potential to change their world, culture, lives, everything. Assuming they still have a world, culture or life in a couple of weeks. Or tomorrow.

Alice and a couple of her genius new friends from genius school get onto the space ship because cool NASA dad asks them to come in to help survey the inside. This is borderline unbelievable, but not actually unbelievable. We're talking about something incredibly huge that the government doesn't have enough people to map out in the time it has to do it. It's probably the equivalent of asking unqualified volunteers to sandbag a river engineers expect to flood too soon to get qualified people to do it. Or the equivalent of those college kids who came out to my uncle's farm decades ago to help take apart his barn after a hurricane brought it down on top of animals who were believed to still be alive. There's precedent for this kind of thing.

Plus getting Alice into that space ship means another question arises: What the heck were those beings doing in there? And are they going to want to do it here? (Actually, that was probably just me asking that question.)

I have to admit, I thought the ending was a little bit magical old people (and a little bit magical something else, not to give anything away), though also a little bit War of the Worlds, which is always neat. Also, while the romance in this story  is nicely done, in my humble opinion it's very unnecessary. This was a great adventure story without it. I wondered if an agent or editor insisted that a YA novel had to have romance. Give us some smoochy! But, as I said earlier, these are the kinds of issues you come up with when you keep thinking about a book you like after you've finished reading it. I just finished watching the last season of Outlander yesterday. I've got an issue about the last few minutes of that, too.

And here's something I thought was done very well in this book--crying. Alice doesn't cry because of boyfriend problems, or problems with her girlfriends, or problems with dad, the way a lot of girls cry in a lot of YA books. She cries from shock. Her crying seems to be a physical response to seeing things that suggest something horrific has happened, even though at the point when she cries she doesn't know what that horrific thing is. This seems like a minor point, but I thought it carried some wow factor.

So, Dark Energy. Definitely a good read.

Friday, March 24, 2017

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? March 19th Edition

Had a fantastic workday on Monday, then had to squeeze work in around all kinds of errands. Today went quite well, too.

Goal 2. Generate New Work Through End Of April--Adult Novels. Had some happy revision time on Monday. I started doing some research with a book I ordered last week. Happy with that, too. Interesting thing happened this week. I've been corresponding with a family member who is also a writer about my goals and objectives plot generating system. I had forgotten to apply it to my latest writing project. When I did that today, I was able to come up with material for two more chapters. Since I have a chapter list for this book, going ahead and applying goals and objectives to those chapters should be hugely helpful. Feeling good about that right now, anyway.

Goal 4. Make More Than 33 (last year's number) Submissions Of  Completed Work Throughout The Year.  Took part in yesterdays #PitMad Twitter Pitch Party. Three tweets for two different books. These count as submissions as far as I'm concerned, which brings my submission total for the year up to 12.

Goal 6.  Support And Promote Diverse Literature, Diverse Culture.

 Material I tweeted or retweeted

on sale now!

Please Don't Talk About Your Book by Barbara Dee via  

Mar 22
31 years ago, Debi Thomas became the first African American woman to win the World Figure Skating Championship.

Thanks to Melissa for suggesting Selena as this week's !

Our is June TarpĂ© Mills! 1915–88|Created Miss Fury, who preceded Wonder Woman

Get kids excited about historic female heroes both past and present with these inspiring books!

These women rolled bandages for the wounded overseas:

Imagine what the universal truths would be if the entire universe had a chance to tell them. -

 Stand Up and Sing! via

The Children's War: Adrift at Sea: A Vietnam Boy's Story of Survival b...

These Vicious Masks post Promote to Google+, Facebook community, Twitter, and Goodreads
TMT Distress Tolerance post --Promoted to Facebook, Google+, Twitter
Temporal Landmarks and Story Structure post--Promoted to Google+and Twitter
Promote book giveaway
Worked on Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

One More Week To Take A Chance At Winning "Fancy Party Gowns"

Next Friday I'll be selecting the winner of the Women's History Month giveaway of Fancy Party Gowns by Deborah Blumenthal with illustrations by Laura Freeman. To be considered, enter a comment at this post. (By "this post," I mean the post I link to in that last sentence, not "this post" that you're reading right now.) No, you won't see your comment immediately. I will need to approve it, because the post is old. But I most definitely will approve.

If you happen to have a website or blog and want to leave me a way to reach you there, that would be appreciated. Otherwise, check back at Original Content next weekend. I'll announce the winner, and if I can't contact you, you can then contact me.

More book giveaways coming up in April and May.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Temporal Landmarks And Story Structure

I finally finished reading The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior, which I mentioned earlier. Yes, give me a medal. I'm going to write more about temporal landmarks and the Fresh Start Effect for Time Management the future. (Perhaps after a temporal landmark.)

But today, maybe while in the grocery store or driving home, I can't remember, I had this flash of insight about temporal landmarks. I've been having flashes of insights for the last twenty-four hours. I haven't been sleeping well and think the whole insight thing may be happening because of sleep deprivation. This rambling I'm doing in this paragraph may be due to that, also.

Ah, okay, temporal landmarks are calendar events that may be cultural (holidays) or may be personal (birthdays). The Fresh Start Effect paper is a report on a study that found that people are more likely to engage in improving behaviors immediately after a temporal landmark.

And Story Structure?

Here's what I flashed on today regarding story structure. Seriously, it came out of nowhere: Many stories begin with a disturbance to main characters' worlds. And, at least in children's and YA literature, a lot of these changes occur immediately after a temporal landmark.

For example, many stories begin:

  • At the beginning of a new school year (cultural landmark)
  • At the beginning of summer vacation (cultural landmark)
  • When a new teacher arrives (personal landmark)
  • When someone moves to town (personal landmark)
  • When someone moves away (personal landmark)
  • After someone dies (personal landmark)
  • When a parent loses a job (personal landmark)
  • When parents divorce (personal landmark)
  • When parents remarry (personal landmark)
  • When the planet you're living on is attacked (hmm cultural and personal landmark)

Now, researchers think temporal landmarks encourage people to attempt to make an improving change in their lives because the landmark acts as a boundary between their past and the present. It helps them to believe that whatever they were doing wrong is behind them, things will be different now. Let's improve ourselves!

But why do temporal landmarks show up at the beginning of so many books? I'm no researcher, but in my humble opinion, it involves that element of change. Stories are about something happening to somebody. The initial change--that temporal landmark--gets the story started. The main character  responds to or deals with the consequences of that change/landmark. That's what's happening to them.

Temporal landmarks matter to both real and fictional people.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Distress Tolerance, Distress Tolerance, Distress Tolerance

Last week I decided that in order to avoid time management failures, I need to work on something called distress tolerance. Meaning, according to Kelly McGonigal in this talk Are You Sure You Want a Habit?, I need to become more comfortable with uncomfortable experiences.

Distress tolerance can refer to developing skills to deal with major and serious events. But  McGonigal says that just wanting can be a distress we need to be able to tolerate. We can want to do something so badly--eat, shop, gamble--we do it immediately to make the wanting go away. That can lead to some long-term and often serious problems.

So How Does This Relate To Time Management For Writers, Gail?

The whole distress tolerance issue relates to writers when writers want to spend their work days visiting Facebook, checking their e-mail, doing endless research, or following publishing professionals on Twitter because that's real work, right? For us, lack of distress tolerance leads to procrastination, "... the voluntary delay of an intended action despite the knowledge that this delay may harm the individual in terms of the task performance or even just how the individual feels about the task or him- or herself. Procrastination is a needless voluntary delay." Timothy Pychyl in The Procrastinator's Digest.

In The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal (Yes, I do refer to her a lot. She is my personal guru, though she doesn't know it.) stress makes us want to give in to cravings and get a reward. Those wants writers experience will provide immediate rewards. Writing a book, a short story, or even a submission letters does not. Figuring out the structure of your story, planning characters and setting, making everything interact and support something can take weeks or months or years. And what's more, writing a book, short story, or submission letter is hard (Again, figuring out the structure of your story, planning characters and setting, making everything interact and support something...ouch), while getting a quick reward from connecting with someone on-line or reading about a favorite subject isn't. Then there's the whole issue of whether the project we put so much time into will ever sell. Whereas we're guaranteed we can watch that funny video over and over again.

So How Do We Improve Our Tolerance Of These Kinds Of Distress? 

McGonigal talks about three skills that could apply:

Automatic Goal Pursuit--This is different from habit. You're trying to keep goals in mind instead of relying on automatic habits. You are always focusing on the goal, instead of behavior.

Implementatons--Essentially, you're planning what you will do in certain situations. When I want to go to Facebook, I will check my timer to see how much time is left in my 45-minute work unit and work until the unit is done. If I still want to go to Facebook, I can go then.

Commitments--When faced with a challenge to our goal, have a rule we can rely on rather than habit. I have been invited to hike tomorrow. Tomorrow is a work day. Hiking won't get me closer to my goal, working will.

(Original Content: TMT: Is This Getting Closer To Discipline?)

Creating some personally designed training:

Yoga. Last week, I wrote about Fuel Your Willpower to Transform with Tapas by Kate Siber in the February, 2017 Yoga Journal. She suggests using yoga to help learn to deal with "the friction or resistance that arises when we go against the overwhelming momentum of our ingrained habits." Friction or resistance being like distress, see? "Holding a difficult-for-you pose on your yoga mat can prepare you for staying with discomfort in your daily life..."

Now because I toy with a short home yoga practice, I can see how yoga could work in this situation. You wouldn't even have to use a difficult-for-you-post. How about just holding any post longer? That would create some minor distress for you to learn to tolerate.

Meditation. I also toy with a short meditation practice. Wouldn't slowly lengthening  the practice improve my ability to tolerate distress? Yeah, I probably don't have a great attitude toward meditation.

Multipliers. If you're not already doing yoga or meditating, you're probably thinking that taking them up is going to take more time out of your life, which is counterproductive. You're trying to better manage the time you've got, not cut down on your time to manage. And you'd be correct. Using yoga and meditation to increase my distress tolerance may work for me because I'm already doing them for some other goal. Adding a goal, increasing my tolerance for distress, makes these activities multipliers. I'm not adding to my workload (much) by creating a new task. I'm using the same task to address multiple goals.

Other possible multipliers:

  • Finish one task at a time. If you're doing dishes, force yourself to stick with the job until you're done instead of giving in to the "distress" of making phone calls, watching a bit of TV, or checking your e-mail because you're laptop is right there on the kitchen counter. (Come on. I can't be the only person who does that.)
  • Add a short amount of time to any workout program you're already doing. Same task, you've added a second goal.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Distress tolerance, distress tolerance, distress tolerance.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Georgette Heyer Meets Agents Of S H I E L D

So the first book I read after I finished my Cybils reading for the YA speculative fiction category was...YA fantasy. Can you believe it?

Though These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas seemed like a play on the Regency romances by Georgette Heyer that I consumed like potato chips when I was in high school and relied on for exam week reading in college, it's actually set in a later period. Still, though, it has that upper class culture that exists pretty much only to sustain itself by marrying off young members to one another and a young female main character who either doesn't embrace her social network or finds herself in a situation that puts her at odds with it. And there is a romantic interest. In these types of books the romantic interest is sometimes a man who is inappropriate in some way. Sometimes it's a guy who is very appropriate but has layers.

Yeah, I read a lot of those things.

With These Vicious Masks, we're talking a  romance/fantasy mash-up about a teenage girl who leaves her English country home to go to London to find her sister who has been kidnapped. She learns that a number of people she knows have paranormal powers. There is not one romantic interest, there are two. The torn between two lovers scenario is popular these days. If I saw a lot of it when I was reading years ago, I don't recall it now.  

The ending of this book is extremely interesting, though, of course, I can't tell you why. What I will say is that my understanding of traditional romance (I went to a Connecticut Romance Writers luncheon many years ago where I heard this, so make of that what you will) is that they are supposed to follow certain formats. Vicious Masks doesn't in at least one way. Not that I'm complaining. I particularly liked that.


Friday, March 17, 2017

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

Goal 2. Generate New Work Through End Of April--Adult Novels. Finished Chapter Two! And I've already got ideas for revising them! I also ordered a book for research.

Goal 4. Make More Than 33 (last year's number) Submissions Of  Completed Work Throughout The Year.  Prepared three tweets for next Thursday's #PitMad Twitter Pitch Party. Yes, I do include these as submissions.

Goal 6.  Support And Promote Diverse Literature, Diverse Culture.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Post-Apocalyptic Dystopia I Can Actually Enjoy

Here it is, people. My last post on this year's Cybils YA Speculative Fiction finalists. This is definitely a last, but not least, situation. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab was the first of the finalists I read. It was a good introduction.

One of the things I liked about this fantasy/scifi (what is apocalyptic fiction, anyway?) is that instead of front loading the story with  world building, it begins with a scene that could appear in a nonfantasy book. The scene involved a girl burning down a church at a boarding school, so, sure, it wouldn't appear in just any nonfantasy book. But my point is, the book begins with a realistic (and intriguing) opening that helps pull readers like myself, who don't love fantasy for the sake of fantasy, into the story.

The publisher compares this book to the work of Holly Black, Maggie Stiefvater, and Laini Taylor. But This Savage Song reminded me much more of Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin. Both are post-apocalyptic novels that don't rely on cliched totalitarian political mumbo jumbo. Instead, whatever caused society to fall involves the rising of...creatures...beings. In the case of Rot and Ruin, we're talking zombies. With This Savage Song, we're talking monsters that are "born" from the violent acts that caused human deaths. In these books, the human characters are trying to maintain a normal life with a town in the middle of a zombie frontier or a high school in the middle of a protected city. It's not their political leaders holding them down. It's a real, physical threat from outside. Not that there aren't some human issues. There's the question in both these books of just who is the real monster here?

This Savage Song, like Illuminae, the Cybils winner in this category, has a neat little gender twist. Kate is much more of an anti-hero than August is. He is more of a family person. I've seen a number of YA books over the years with a male protagonist who has father issues. In This Savage Song, it's Kate who has them. Both Kate and August are filling roles traditionally played by members of the opposite sex.

Okay, that's it. My 2017 Cybils experience is over.