Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: The Snowshoe Model

Anyone who has spent years here with me is well aware that I'm a bit obsessed with my annual January Retreat Week, an event which goes back to at least 2007. If you are a Facebook friend, you may have seen my Retreat Week albums for 2016...2015...2014...2013...2012. (I'll be putting up one for this year soon.) And you are probably aware that among my greatest Retreat Week obsessions is the snowshoe trip to the Slayton Pasture Cabin. That is one rough haul that started becoming easier last year because my personal Sherpa, who has some obsessions of his own, changed how we approach the summit.

What he did was break the 3.1 mile climb into segments, which he timed. Each segment has a waypoint that we are heading toward. When we reach one waypoint, we can then determine how long it will take us to get to the next one. The whole trip up to the cabin takes us nearly two hours. But the longest segment is only fifteen minutes.

Psychologically, that makes a huge difference.

It's also a time management technique suggested by people like Alan Lakein back in the 1970s. Complex or difficult tasks often get put off because they're just too overwhelming. Climbing that "knoll" or...writing a book...are good examples. Breaking the job into smaller tasks makes the work involved seem doable.

How Are You Going To Make This Analogy Work, Gail?

Fox Track Connector
First Waypoint. Most of our snowshoe waypoints were spots where the snowshoe trail crossed a cross-country ski trail. The first waypoint, for instance, was the Fox Track connector. What is comparable with books?

Well, some writers like to begin with a disturbance to the main character's world, something that initiates action. Getting that introduced could be a waypoint, a chunk of work a writer concentrates on instead of focusing on, Oh, my gosh! I have to write a whole book.

Starting a book is actually more difficult than starting this snowshoe climb. The first few waypoints come before the climb. Whereas starting a book is much more of a trail. There's no material there. Find a writing waypoint. That can lead you to the next one.

Sign For Parizo Trail
A Waypoint At The End Of A Difficult Portion Of The Trail. One of our later waypoints is the trail sign to the Parizo Trail. This is good waypoint not just because there's a sign, but because after a steep climb, one of the worst of the trip, the trail turns and we start walking along the side of the knoll instead of up it. There's a definite change in the climb.

This happens with writing books, too. Some sections are more difficult to come up with material for than others. You may realize you're wandering too much, you haven't been careful about planning a specific goal for a scene, there are too many characters. Finally getting that section done to your satisfaction, at least for now, is a definite waypoint. It's like making a turn after a difficult climb.

Owl's Howl Trail
The Mid-Waypoint. Can't say enough about how great it is to know you've made it to the halfway point on a difficult trail. I mean, yeah, sure, you still have half the trip to go. But if you have any positive feelings toward life at all, you're halfway done.

Having a mid-point in mind for a manuscript can be hugely helpful. Some writing process people suggest that a novel's mid-point should be where something specific happens with protagonists. They may make a decision. They may change their behavior for some reason. They may experience a revelation that means they're going to do something. If while you're working on the first half of the book, you can come up with a mid-waypoint, when you get there and you have any positive feelings toward life at all, you're halfway done.
Barbed Wire

A Dramatic Waypoint. One of our waypoints in the second half of our snowshoe trip involves an area with remnants of a barbed wire fence. When I was little, I ran into a barbed wire with my sled. Yeah, that was a dramatic moment. You can be sure I'm going to notice barbed wire out of the woods.

In the second half of a book, there's going to be at least one dramatic moment of some type. A climax at the very least. That's a writing waypoint.

End Of The Trail
The End Waypoint. Seeing that last waypoint up ahead is a great moment, both when you're snowshoeing and writing a book. Here's a weird thing that happens, though. It seems as if you have to walk forever across that meadow to get to the cabin.

And, in my experience, that's what happens when writing a book. There's the ending waypoint, you're all excited, and then you realize, "Shoot. I need another chapter." You get that done and, damn, if you don't need another.

You Finally Meet All Your Waypoints. Whether you're snowshoeing or writing a novel, dividing the job into pieces with waypoints helps makes the job less overwhelming.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Picture Books For Retreat Reading

My Reading Done Pile
While I was on retreat last week, I did a lot of reading. Cybils spec fiction. A Poets & Writers.  Some Yoga Journals. A couple of Vermont Lifes. The most recent issue of 7 Days. Half a Carve Magazine. Got started on The Man in the High Castle, which I got at my retreat week indie bookstore.

But today's post is about a couple of picture books I brought with me, primarily because we had a four-year-old family member with us. I have a long history of "shopping" for books for family members. Over the years, I've registered a lot of hits. I'm thinking all those YA humor books for one YA. The adult mystery series for another. The hip books of essays for a daughter-in-law.

So what about the books I brought on retreat last week for a family member?

The Little Snowplow by Lora Koehler with illustrations by Jake Parker. I picked this book because our four-year-old is into things like trucks, race cars, and trains. This isn't the first truck book I've latched on to these last few years, which I want credit for. I may have mentioned here before that I don't get the truck, race car, and train thing. Dinosaurs, I get. Curious George, I get.

This is not a gender issue, by the way. I don't get princesses, either. Princesses actually annoy me. At least trucks, race cars, and trains are not annoying. They're just mystifying.

The little snowplow, of course, isn't a truck. It's a little snowplow in a world of big trucks. The Little Snowplow is a classic story of a little guy who trains and prepares and comes through in a pinch, in large part because he is little. Lovely story with a Beep, Beep for little ones to...beep.

I picked up Spot, the Cat by Henry Cole because I'd heard that our picture book reader is into those "hunt for things in pictures" books. Yeah, that's another thing I don't really understand. In fact, after looking at the first few pages of this thing, I thought, I hope he can spot the cat from this point on, because I sure can't.

Well, he could. Pretty soon, so could I. In large because this isn't a random Where's Waldo type of book. There is a narrative here that's told totally in pictures. A boy's cat goes out the window, has adventures while the boy looks for him, and eventually comes back home.

"Found That Cat."
We developed a "Found that cat!" sing-song as we thumbed through this, and before long our guy was "reading" the book by himself, including the wordless story about the cat's boy. One morning I stayed in bed and could hear him in the living room, going "Found that cat! Found that cat! Boy sad. Boy makes signs. Found that cat. Cat comes home." 

When it comes to picking out books for others, I've still got it. Not that I'm bragging or anything.

Well, of course, I am.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Rerun: The Snowshoeing/Book Writing Analogy

I'm back from Retreat Week where, once again, I made the snowshoe trek to the Slayton Pasture Cabin. Though I am what I'd call an exercise hobbyist, perhaps dilettante, I always find this six-mile round trip trying. I actually worry about it for months and start training in October with some climbs on a small hill behind my house. While I was out on the snowshoe trail last Wednesday, my mind began to wander away from how much I was suffering to how much what I was doing was like writing. I could do a blog post about this, I thought. And then I thought, this sounds very familiar.

That was because I had already had the same idea while making the same trip in 2015 and had, indeed, done a blog post about it. So, people, for your enjoyment, here it is again.

A Snowshoeing/Book Writing Analogy.

Many people who have not written a book may wonder what it would be like to just knock one off. I think if you took a  journey up a mountain on snowshoes, you'd get a pretty good idea of what it feels like to write a book.

Okay, say you're going to head up a trail, and just to make this piece of writing specific, let's say it's the trail to the Slayton Pasture Cabin in Stowe, Vermont. You've been up to the cabin a few times before, and you know it's one of the tougher outdoor activities you take part in. You feel some anxiety about this whole thing. But then you figure, What the Hell? I've done this before.

So you start out and things are pretty easy at first, and you're thinking, What was I worried about? Yes. I have done this before. I've done it successfully. People have liked what I've done in the past. Of course, I can do this.

Then you hit that Hellacious, straight up climb, the part of the job you'd really feared. It is horrendous. You think it will never end. You'll never get through it. You think, I cannot do this again. This has got to be the last time. Is that my heart I feel thumping away in my chest? Have I ever felt that before? Is it going to explode? Is there any cellphone service here?

Then you take that turn and things get better. Since you've done this before, you know some landmarks. You know that nothing will be as bad as that part of the job you just did. You know that the snowshoe trail crosses a ski trail at the X minute point, so you can think of this job as a series of short tasks instead of Oh my God I'm, going to be on this trail for two hours. And that's just one way!

You actually experience one of those break through the wall things that you've heard about with marathoners. You might actually be okay.

And, then...And then, you see the cabin. A chorus of angels begins to sing Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. They all sound just like K.D. Lang. You're going to make it!

Except...you still have to get through the pasture. Sure, this part is easy. But you're exhausted. You still have a ways to go. There's a fire in the cabin. There's food. Can you do it?  "Maybe there is a God," as Lenny Cohen says, because you can!!! You stagger up onto the cabin porch.

And that is what it's like to write a book.

But what about when you're in the cabin? Well, once you're in the cabin, you find that all the other writers, I mean, showshoers aren't wearing old thermal undershirts that are kind of too big for the shirt they're wearing over them. Nor do they wear hats their sons refused to wear. And they're talking about all the great places they've snowshoed and how long it took them to get to the cabin and how awesome it was, and it's always less time than it took you, and it's always far, far more awesome.

And that is what it's like to have published a book.

You come down off the mountain and feel pretty damn fine because it's always way better to have snowshoed than it is to snowshoe.

Just as it is always better to have written a book than it is to write it.

Friday, January 06, 2017

"Original Content" Is Going On Retreat

Yes, people, it is January. That means it's time for my annual retreat into the snowy north where I will do some snowshoeing and a lot of
reading and maybe some thinking, which is like working but different. No serious, organized writing, no cooking, no eldercare. Minimal social media, and no blogging.

See you in a week or so.

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Jan. 2 Ed.

My first week working with new goals and objectives. Yikes.

Goal 1. Adhere to Goals and Objectives. I experimented with the timekeeping app. More to say about that another time. I will just add that a done list is involved.

Goal 2. Generate New Work Through End Of April--Adult Novels. Worked on the second chapter of Seeking God.

Goal 3. Generate New Work, May Through August--Short Stories & Essays. While I'm  not actually working on this goal at this point in the year, I am trying to spend some time on short work ideas. Also, I read a great essay on culinary memoirs, a term I'd never heard before. I am now considering making all my essay writing this year about food.

Goal 6. Support And Promote Diverse Literature As A Means Of Helping To Maintain A Civil Culture. Picked up a great looking picture book at the library that supports this goal and ordered a picture book for Chinese New Year. Also started collecting some info for a couple of things I want to do related to this goal.

Goal 7. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding 

Cybils announcement post; Promoted to Facebook, Google+, Google+ child lit community, Twitter
Cybils announcement post became Goodreads blog post
TMT Goals and Objectives post; Promoted to Facebook, Google+, Twitter
Masterminds post; Promoted to Kidlitosphere Facebook community, Google+, Google+ community, Twitter, Goodreads
Set up We Need Diverse Books Twitter column
Connecticut Book Award post; Promoted to Facebook, two Facebook communities, Google+, and Twitter

That seems as if I did a lot, doesn't it?

I also spent an hour cleaning my desk/in-baskets, which I have no goal for. At one point, I thought I was just making things worse.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Connecticut Book Awards Are Back

The Connecticut Center for the Book, a CT Humanities Program,  is bringing back the Connecticut Book Awards, which were last heard from in 2011 when the Connecticut Center for the Book was managed by Hartford Library. There will be four categories, including Books for Young Readers. That will include "Juvenile, Young Adult, Teen." (I am not at all sure what the difference is between YA and Teen. In fact, I really have no idea.) This category includes both authors and illustrators.

Take a look at the submission guidelines.

Saving the Planet & Stuff was a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award Young Readers division back in 2004. Pegi Deitz Shea (seated far left) won that year.

The hardcover edition of STP&S is out-of-print now, but I still have that outfit. And wear it. It seems as if that should have some meaningful significance, but for the life of me I can't think what it would be.

A Middle Grade Thriller

I think of Gordon Korman as being a writer of realistic middle grade fiction, with humor. His Masterminds is different. It’s a thriller. Think Wayward Pines without the creepy devolved beings and the futuristic setting. And the violence. And the adult point of view. Well, okay, it’s only like Wayward Pines in that it takes place in a community cut off from the rest of the world to such an extent that residents, or in this case the child residents, don’t know what’s out there.

The kids believe they’re living in a perfect place. Eventually, readers realize that indeed they are. They’re living in a perfect place that’s been created for them. The question then becomes why?

While I was reading Masterminds, I wondered why utopias always seem to have something about them that’s not so utopian.  

This book is written from differing points of view, switching among a number of the kids. This is something I don’t usually care for. In fact, I had just finished reading an adult book written with point of view switches. Masterminds worked better.

This thriller keeps a reader coming back for more. My major complaint is that it’s the first in a serial. The ending was better than it could have been. But, still, I would have loved to see a complete story.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: 2017 Goals And Objectives

What do we do at the beginning of a new year? Why, we plan how we're going to use our time over the next twelve months, of course. The very best kind of plan, in my humble opinion, is a detailed set of goals and objectives. Once again, goals are what one hopes to achieve, objectives are the tasks necessary to achieve them. What you're going to do, and how you're going to do it. Without objectives, goals are a lot like New Year's resolutions. And, you know, ninety-two percent of people who make those things are supposed to fail with them. Let's not go that way.

Goal 1. Adhere to Goals and Objectives 


  • Set time frames now for at least some of this year's goals.
  • Continue weekly checks of goals
  • Experiment with using timekeeping app to stay on task 

Goal 2. Generate New Work Through End Of April--Adult Novels


  • Complete final draft for Becoming Greg and Emma.
  • Finish a first draft of Seeking God.
    • Blueprint new chapters. 
    • I have a beta reader lined up for this manuscript
  • Assign number of hours per week for each project, using timekeeping app to stay on task


Goal 3. Generate New Work, May Through August--Short Stories & Essays


  • Food essays!
  • External support for willpower essay
  • Essays developed from workshop proposals
  • Research markets all year
  • Make essay and short story reading a priority
    • Beginning with the first issue of my Carve subscription, which I've had for a couple of months


Goal 4. Make More Than 33 (last year's number) Submissions Of  Completed Work Throughout The Year


  • Trouble at Wee Play World to list of publishers 
  • Essay to P&W 
  • Research deals at Publishers Marketplace
  • Research regional publisher for The Fletcher Farm Body 
  • Consider including brief market analysis with book submissions. 


Goal 5. Marketing Effort For Saving the Planet & Stuff EBook For April, Earth Day Month, Targeting Specific Markets


  • Create new slide show related to SP&S setting
    • Take pictures this month
    • Look into adding sound/narrative
    •  Research ways to promote the slide show
  •  Article on the recycling crafts in SP&S
    • Research markets for it
      • This objective would also support Goals 3 and 4, so...multiplier!


Goal 6. Support And Promote Diverse Literature As A Means Of Helping To Maintain A Civil Culture


  • Blog Posts Related To But Not Limited To:
    • Chinese New Year
    • Black History Month
    • Women's History Month
    • Earth Day
    • Canada Day
    • Labor Day
    • Native Reads
    • Readukkah
  • Provide social media support for other bloggers/writers generating diversity material


Goal 7. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

One of my most successful goals last year, in terms of accomplishing the objectives.


  • Continue with writers' group
  • Continue with Original Content
  • January--Cybils judging
  • Check out NESCBWI spring conference, with possibility of attending
  • Check out NESCBWI-PAL offerings this year, with possibility of attending
  • Attend other authors' appearances
  • Continue with promoting Original Content at Google+, Facebook communities, Goodreads' blog, and Twitter
  • Continue reviewing environmental books at Amazon
  • Research markets (Supports Goals 3 and 4. Multiplier!)
  • Supports Goal 7, so another multiplier.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Cybils Finalists For 2016

The 2016 Cybils finalists were announced yesterday, New Year's Day. I was happy to see that A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, which I liked, made the short list for YA Fiction.

However, my big interest this year is YA Speculative Fiction, for which I am a second round judge. I'll be reading the following books before Valentine's Day.

YA Speculative Fiction Finalists

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King
The Door at the Crossroads by Zetta Elliott
The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
When the Moon was Ours: A Novel by Anna-Maria McLemore

I'll get back to you about these books after February 14.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

January Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Ah, bleak mid-winter. I love it because there's so little going on. Other years I've complained about the lack of childlit activity in Connecticut in January. And over the last year or two it's seemed to me that we're seeing a decline in childlit activity in independent bookstores all year round. But recently local libraries and even Barnes & Nobles have been doing such a good job of providing children's and YA authors and illustrators with opportunities to meet with the public that if they want to put their collective feet up during these dark, short days, it's fine with me.

Thursday, Jan. 5, Betsy Devany, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Wednesday, Jan. 25, Jerry Spinelli, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM

Saturday, Jan. 28, Clare Pernice, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM