Friday, May 28, 2010

I Guess I'm On Hiatus

Once again, we are overwhelmed by family events at Chez Gauthier, though this time we're talking better family events than we usually do. We have a big wedding this weekend, relatives here from out-of-state, yada-yada-yada...and so forth and so on. I did not plan to stop blogging the beginning of this week but you know the old joke about God hearing you have a plan and throwing back His head and laughing. Since it appears that I'm not blogging, anyway, I've decided to get serious about it.

In addition to taking wedding weekend off, I'm going to let Original Content go dark the first two weeks of June. At that point, the family archivest goes back to graduate school. Since he's on vacation right now, I will pretend to be on vacation, also. I'll still be writing, so I'll only be pretending, but, hey, I'm excited about this pretend thing.

If I hear about something really fascinating that I must absolutely express an opinion about immediately, I'll probably jump back onto my soap box for a few minutes. And I may post a wedding picture or two, because some of the members of the wedding party have a connection to my work. I hope to have a few days of writing progress to tell you about when I get back, but I wouldn't get my hopes up, if I were you.

Enjoy the 48 Hour Book Challenge next weekend.

Monday, May 24, 2010

If At First...Or Second...Or Third...You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again

So I'm bogged down in the midst of what used to be the 365 Story Project and is now Middle Ridge Road B. That means, of course, that there was a Middle Ridge Road A. I had a moment of excitment last week when I started outlining candy bar scenes, though that didn't do me a lot of good because I forgot to go back to the scenes when I went back to work a couple of days later. And, then, though I sort of had the ending, it was only sort of.

So this week what I'm going to do is start another draft, this time in the first person. Now, I've gone on record here many times as believing the first-person has been done to death in children's literature. But the first-person is good for two things: 1. It's a quick and dirty way to create a voice, though it may end up being a voice everyone has heard before, and 2. When characters speak for themselves, they tend to spit up more material than they do when an author is writing about them.

So that's what I'm hoping to do, create more material, as in motivation, etc. I'm also planning to do some first-person work for a secondary character who is significant, hoping to heave up some important material about him and perhaps create a voice for him, too.

In the best of all possible scenarios, this will work, I'll finish a draft and then write another one in the third person.

I'm kind of psyched about this, even though it means extending this job by, I don't know, a couple of lifetimes. But at least I know what I'll be doing. Unfortunately, I have a long, long weekend of family stuff coming up, so I won't be doing it much.

But the weekend will be more enjoyable knowing--or at least, believing--I have a plan.

What We Can Learn From The Lost Finale

You really can wreck a narrative in the last pages. Of course, if you can't get to the ending, which is what is happening with my present project, you don't have to worry about having the whole thing blow up in your face.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Off Topic, But I Do Love This Stuff

The first World Poutine Eating Competition was held recently in Toronto. The goal was to eat as much poutine as possible in ten minutes.

Whenever I go to Canada, my goal is to eat as much poutine as possible, too. However, I'm talking as much as possible in four or five days, or even, once, two weeks. Ten minutes seems hardly worth it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Didn't I Say Something Very Similar About Shirley?

The New Republic carries an article about Shirley Jackson called The Read: I'm Sorry, Ms. Jackson. In it, the author, Ruth Franklin, says of Jackson's short fiction, "The majority of the short stories...are tales of women in distress." She also says, "Jackson’s stories explore the claustrophobia that often accompanies marriage and motherhood, and the desperation to which it might drive a woman."

I noticed that Jackson wrote about women, many of them trapped in some way, when I reread her short stories back in 2008.

I had a bad work day today, but reading about Shirley always...well, gives me a lift isn't quite right. Reading about Shirley drives me on. Yeah, I needed that. Thanks for the link, Bookslut.

Author Photos Are Difficult

Last month Pimp My Novel did a post called The Magic of Author Photos. I am not the only writer who doesn't have a good relationship with cameras. We've all seen author photos that left us thinking, That was the best picture he had?

I've had untold numbers of photo shoots with family members trying to catch me at a good moment, three sets of pictures done by professionals, and a couple of cringe-worthy photos taken and published by photographers employed by newspapers. My most recent publicity shot makes me look as if I sell real estate or sit on a board of directors. Or maybe have an administrative position within a church hierarchy--someone who decides what mission projects all the local churches will be allowed to support, for instance.

One of my favorite author pictures for myself is the black and white one above, which appeared on my first book, My Life Among the Aliens. I call it my John Irving pose, because it reminds me of an early photograph of him wearing a sweatshirt and with his arms crossed over his chest. That was back when you used to hear a lot of talk of his wrestling background, so I always think of it as a wrestling photo.

If anyone looks at this picture of me and thinks, Is that the best picture she had?, the answer is yes.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Using Theme While Writing

Earlier this year, I wondered if starting with theme would be a good way to go about writing. Writing and Ruminating has an interview with Jennifer Hubbard in which Hubbard talks about how she considers theme while writing. It doesn't sound as if it's her starting point, but she does keep it in mind.

Hubbard also has some interesting things to say about short stories: "We keep hearing how people have short attention spans now, how we live in a sound-byte society. And yet, short stories haven’t found as big a market as novels have, just like short films haven’t found as big an audience as longer feature films have. It seems counter-intuitive!"

This interview is part of the 2010 Summer Blog Blast Tour.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Picture Book For Writers

I don't recall how I happened to stumble upon Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street, a thirteen-year-old picture book by Roni Schotter with illustrations by Kyrsten Brooker. It came from the library, but I found it weeks later on the book pile in my living room.

Little Eva is told by her teacher to "Write about what you know." So she sits out on the front steps of her building on 90th Street with a cinnamon Danish and a notebook waiting for something to happen. But nothing ever does. While she waits, various neighbors come by and give advice.

"Watch the stage, observe the players, and don't neglect the details," says an unemployed actor. The man who runs a dessert shop tells her, "There's always a new way with old words." "You can ask, 'What if?' and make up a better story," says another passerby. Everyone has something excellent to suggest, and Eva puts their advice to good use in her story about how nothing ever happens on 90th Street.

This is a lovely book, both in terms of text and illustration. It's a little wordy for your hardcore picture book readers, and I don't know if its embedded writing message will mean much to them. This book might be better as part of a writing unit for grade schoolers. In fact, you can find plenty of lesson plans on-line relating to this title.

Plot Project: My feeling is that this plot is developed around structure--it reads as if the author knew what writing elements she wanted Eva to hear about, created characters to present the material and actions that would illustrate them.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The One-Question Interview Blog Tour With Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Last week, Liz B. at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy did a one- question interview with Lauren Baratz-Logsted as part of Lauren's one-question interview tour. I was interested because I've actually met Lauren. It was years ago, back when I actually left the cellar and bopped around to different parts of my home state. Ah, those were the days. Good times, good times.

I tried following Lauren around on her tour for a bit. What I particularly liked about it was that it took me to what were for me new blogs. Among them: Georgia McBride, The Book Lush, What Book Is That?, and Read Many Books!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Louis Sachar Has A New Book...

...and it sounds intriguing. And I say this as someone who really doesn't care that much for Uno, forget about bridge.

I was referred to this excellent interview by someone at the child_lit listserv.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Some Local Kidlit News

The 2010 winners of Connecticut's Tassy Waldlen Awards includes One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, a long-time and very active member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. One for the Murphys has also been accepted for publication by Nancy Paulsen Books, a new division of the Penguin Young Readers Group. It's a first publication for Lynda.

Training Report: Something like 2000 words revised today. Hot damn, huh? I want to do some serious plotting soon, hoping that will make things go easier in the future. That's always my hope--that things will go easier in the future and that I will come up with a plot.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Grave Or Maybe A Body In A Well

This is an example of how writers are always working, no matter what else they're doing:

Today is not one of my three work days. No, it is a taekwondo, elder care, and life chores day. So I'm sitting in the Laundromat for life chores and reading this book in which the not at all dearly departed are coming out of the grave when I suddenly have this flash of insight--Hey, a grave or maybe a body in a well could be just the thing for the project that I'm slowly slogging my way through.

I am feeling quite pumped up.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Someone Worked Today

While I was gone today our family archivest (seriously, we have a family member who is halfway through a graduate archival program) went through all the copies of my books that are boxed under a desk in the office, counted them, organized them, and made a spread sheet so I can keep track of what I've got. He is also advising me regarding better ways of storing the books and has discussed the possibility of my offering some of my fifty copies of Saving the Planet & Stuff for sale at my website.

He's only going to be here a few weeks, but I'm going to tell him, "Here's my desk. Here are the filing cabinets. Here are the shelves. Do anything you want with them, and tell me about it later."

An Idea Whose Time Hasn't Come

Today I ended up spending an unexpected forty minutes waiting for the paperwork to be completed so I could pay for service on and retrieve the key for my main set of wheels. I wasn't even waiting for the service, which was already done. I wasn't even waiting to take the vehicle home, because I was going to do that in the evening when I had another driver to drop me off. I was just waiting for paperwork.

But even though I had already been away from home for five hours and had a couple more hours of elder care/life chores to do, I was fine. Because I can live in the moment. I can grab a moment and wring the juice right out of it.

What I did was, I read some of the dealership's back issues of Highlights. I thought, gee, maybe I could try writing some sort fiction for this thing. It would be like flashfiction for kids, wouldn't it? I would feel good if I had a short story published somewhere. It would help tide my psyche over while the book publishing world acts as if I never existed.

So I read a few back issues, as I said, and I saw this lovely little nonfiction piece about an arctic fox that had stowed away on a barge in Alaska and ended up in Seattle. An absolutely inspirational piece. It inspired in me the desire to write a short story about a human stowing away on an alien space craft. Once he arrived on the alien world and was discovered, he'd have to stay in quarantine for a while because humans often carry disease. The aliens would name him and play games with him and keep him in a nature preserve because it wouldn't be safe to release him back out into the wild.

At about that point I realized I didn't have a prayer of getting something like that published in Highlights, and I went over to the service counter to see how that paperwork was coming along.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Should Editors Get A Commission?

I'm a month behind reading a fascinating post and discussion about the possibility of editors receiving a small commission on the sales of books they edit at Pimp My Novel.

In my limited experience, my editors have been involved in sales to a small extent. I know one of them talked about one of my books at a conference she attended, which is certainly like marketing, and I believe that they both had to "sell" the publishing house on my books to get them published at all. So there may very well be a sales aspect to editing. I don't know if a commission would make good editors do even better editing, but perhaps it would encourage them to work harder on that sales portion of their work life.

Of course, also in my own very personal experience, there are only so many hours in a life. Anything you choose to do means you are forced to choose not to do something else. If editors start working sales a little harder, maybe that will mean they have to let up on the editing. And books do need to be edited no matter what anyone tells you to the contrary.

I also wonder if editors working on commission would be less willing to take chances on what they acquire. We've been buried in vampire books and paranormal this and that these last couple of years, presumably because of a belief that what made money for one publishing house will make money for another. Imagine how much worse it could have been if the people doing the acquiring had reason to believe that their own income would go up if they could only acquire the same kind of money maker that worked for somebody last season.

But I'm not making any serious predictions here. The consequences of any action often come as a total surprise.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Can I Take A Pill For This?

Yes, the Internet is rotting your brain. This pretty much confirms my worst fears.

Perhaps That Is Just My Process

"Trust your process" says Brian Yansky of Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. For the past few weeks I've been off the rails as far as staying on task is concerned and right back to blowing of time checking out the news and playing a game of solitaire before starting work. That really doesn't seem like a good idea now that I've lost around six to eight hours a week to family care.

But maybe it's just part of my writing process! This is not necessarily wishful thinking, since I've read somewhere about people needing to make transitions between different types of activities. All this garbage I have to do before writing may just be honest transition. I decided sometime ago to try to find something more productive to do for transitions.

Then I forgot.

Link from Cynsations.

"It was like comedy central"

I was doing a little ego surfing recently (it's the only ego polishing I get these days), when I came upon the Reading Rocks at D.R. Hill Middle School's post on Happy Kid!. Be sure to read the astute comments.

I've also learned this weekend that a copy of Happy Kid! is making its way down the hall in a graduate dorm at Simmons College. Another astute group of readers.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A Twenty-first Century Metaphor?

Did anyone else have a college professor announce to the class that references to a bird in a house in Anglo-Saxon literature were metaphors for life? The bird flying into the house was birth and out of the house was death, life happening while the bird was still in the building? I can't find anything about it on the Internet so maybe I misunderstood. I'm quite certain it was my Canadian lit professor who said this, and she would have been talking about British cultural impact on Canadian literature. In fact, Canadian author Margaret Laurence wrote a book called A Bird in the House, which I have not read. I've read her novel A Jest of God, though I remember nothing about it.

Gail, do you have a point? Why, yes, I do. Thank you for asking.

This past week an older family member was telling me about a dream she'd had in which she was in the Congregational church of her childhood and a plane came in through one window and out the other. Well, of course, I immediately thought of my old college professor. Who wouldn't, right? Could this be a twenty-first century version of that old Anglo-Saxon metaphor? An eighty-one-year old woman dreams about the church she attended as a child and a plane is flying in and out of it?

Sounds like a way of summing up life, to me, though the eighty-one-year-old dreamer wasn't so keen on my interpretation.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Sick Bed Reading

Tuesday was a sick day for me. I had to skip my taekwondo class, cancel my elder care duties, and bail on foraging for food. I felt well enough to think I was about to live a "found day." I had four or five things I could do for work and a never ending list of life chores. As I said, I was well enough to think of all these things, but I was too tired to do any of them.

What I did, instead, was read an entire book in one day, which was gratifying. As luck would have it, I had picked up some mind candy while on a marathon shopping expedition on Sunday. (Which may have been what sickened me, because I started to feel unwell that evening. This is why I do marathon shopping expeditions every few months--to avoid contact with disease on a more regular schedule.) Okay, you're not going to impress any graduate school admissions people by bringing up a paranormal romance like Changeless, but it is just the thing if you are spending the day in and out of bed.

Others have mentioned this book's cliffhanger ending. I, personally, just want to say that in the next book someone better do some really serious groveling.

In terms of characters and theme, I don't see that Changeless has much crossover potential for YAs. They'd have to read it for the sex and werewolves.

I Read The Feminine Mystique When I Was A Teenager

Perhaps if I ever finish reading the book of essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson I've been working on this year, I will reread some bits of The Feminine Mystique and see if I can find anything I think teenage girls should be reading now. Oh, I could so get into that.

Something for you all to look forward to.

I just remembered something--Years ago someone told me that everything that was wrong with me was due to Betty Friedan and the Pope. That is seriously thought provoking.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

In Case You're In The Market For A Magazine

Newsweek is for sale.

I found this particularly interesting because Newsweek made some big changes to its format last year, going in for a lot of essays. I love the new Newsweek. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone else who does.

What Kidlit People Are Talking About

At least, what they were talking about last month.

Note the panelists discussed an upcoming Hunger Games movie. I've just finished reading another dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel, and I have to say that I find them extremely formulaic. Yes, the authors have to come up with a unique world--in Hunger Games it was one in which a population watches children kill children on TV for entertainment and in Mortal Engines it was one in which cities are capable of moving about and destroy and absorb other cities in a form of municpal Darwinism--oh, and in The Uglies series it was a world in which everyone is made beautiful as a method of control--but, otherwise, every one of those books I can think of involves something dreadful happening in the past, usually brought about because mankind has used science to create a dreadful weapon or some dreadful technology that ran amuck. Our heroes work to escape or make their fellow citizens see what is really happening.

I wonder if the sameness of the storylines will be even more obvious when it's right in front of us on a movie screen.

Moving To Paperback Originals

Eric at Pimp My Novel discusses Trade Paperback Originals and whether more of them will be coming our way.

An Outstanding Winner

"Worst Story Line Ever" Contest

Monday, May 03, 2010

A Biiiiig Carnival This Month

April's Carnival of Children's Books at forwordsbooks is huge. I read Samantha Clark's interview with Bree Ogden at Day By Day Writer, where I felt very much at home because Samantha starts her posts with a "Manuscript Update." They're a lot like the "Training Reports" I end mine with.

A Dignified Series For Younger Readers

In spite of the use of the word "underpants" and "barfed" in the titles, these two books from the Uh-oh, Cleo series by Jessica Harper are head and shoulders above many books written for new readers. Cleo's stories are real stories that deal with real-life situations. They are not merely a string of lame jokes strung together with little plot. They have honest-to-God beginnings, middles, and ends. There is, believe it or not, a logical reason for Cleo and her siblings to jam underwear on their heads in Underpants on my Head. The undergarments aren't just thrown in there the way they would be in other books of this type because, hey, everybody knows kids like butt jokes. Poor Cleo has a weak stomach, mentioned in both books, and it takes center stage in I Barfed on Mrs. Kenly. So, no, the book isn't an excuse to use the word "puke" as many times as possible.

Both books give the impression that they are not just random efforts. In Underpants on my Head Cleo says, "I like to read too, but I'm not interested in all those wizard books. I'd rather read books about regular kids who lose their pet or there's a bully in their class or something. You know, normal stuff." That is definitely what these two books are about--normal stuff. And at the end of both books, Cleo talks about how what just happened to her feels like a story or a tiny book inside her and speculates about how many of these books she'll have inside her by the time she's an adult.

This is an author who seems to be trying to tell kids that fiction can be rooted in life, in reality. On the back flap of Underpants on my Head, you can check out a photo of eight-year-old Jessica Harper with her head pretty much covered with what looks like a pair of white cotton girly briefs. If I were playing teacher, I'd have some of these books in my classroom to use in a writing unit on using experience in fiction.

Some drawbacks: Cleo doesn't have a great voice. She's a little on the bland and flat side. What she does have is a large number of siblings who can be hard to keep track of. And mink coats figure prominently in I Barfed on Mrs. Kenly. I found that a little retro, myself, as if it came out of a sixties sitcom, because my experience of the suburbs and small town American life these last couple of decades has been pretty much mink coat free. I don't know if a lot of kids these days experience their parents' friends arriving for an evening and piling the minks on the bed.

But even with those complaints, these books should make good reading for young readers, especially those who, like Cleo, would rather not read fantasy.

While we're on the subject of books for younger readers, you might want to take a look at the April I Can Read: A Carnival Celebrating New Readers at Jean Little Library.

Training Report: Almost through with a chapter that has been an absolute ordeal for a couple of weeks. I'm wondering if an author writing the same dinner scene over and over again would make a decent short story. I must remember to write that idea down in my writer's notebook. But I probably won't.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

I Don't Think We're In Kidlit Anymore, Toto

The Gospel According to Philip at Slate.

Some Science Fiction Thoughts

Right now I'm in the midst of reading Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, which I'm finding a little underwhelming after the splendor of his Larklight books. The world is interesting, but it's another one of thoses dystopian futures. We're talking way, way into the future, and I haven't picked up on what exactly happened to lead humanity to pack up its cities and start moving them around, though it may have had something to do with earthquakes, volcanoes, and other such natural events.

Sort of like what we've been experiencing lately.

I do get the feeling, though, that technical people are the heavies in this story. The members of the Guild of Engineers shave their heads and wear rubber coats. That's got to be a bad sign. And the head guy in London is also the head of the Guild of Engineers, and he appears to be up to no good.

Science and its followers are often the cause of disaster in contemporary science fiction, especially in apocalyptic novels. I refer you again to Science Fiction and the Frame of Technology in which Paul Woodlin lays out the ways technology is often represented in science fiction. Most of them aren't what most of us would call positive.

Woodlin offers the following caution: "While SF should explore the potential dangers of technology, it should be very careful, more careful than many writers (especially script writers) are, to not cross the line into being anti-science. It is scientific wonder that is at the heart of SF. To become anti-science would undermine SF, breaking its own frame, leaving it defenseless and rootless. The rejection of science may eventually lead to the rejection of SF;"

I don't know about leading to out and out rejection of science fiction, but the anti-science attitude in scifi certainly has become a cliche that could lead readers to feel we're just reading variations of the same story.

If you'd like to get some idea of what's out there for science fiction right now, you can check Charlotte's most recent Fantasy and Science Fiction Round-up and Sweet New Spec Fiction on the Horizon.