Thursday, December 29, 2011

Coming Next Week--Time Management Tuesdays

Back in the dark ages, I worked at a state university for a department that offered personnel and management workshops and consulting services for state and municipal employees. I hated that freaking job, but as a result of spending four years of my life doing it, I often find myself thinking about business-related concepts I stumbled upon at work in relation to writing. (I never actually studied any of this stuff.)

One of the business-related concepts I think about is time management.

Organization and self-discipline are not things I learned at my mother's knee. Or at all. I have to make major efforts to manage my time so I can write. Always. It's not a linear process. It's more two steps forward and one step back, if I'm lucky and I haven't fallen over altogether, metaphorically speaking. Then I get started again. I'm always reading about better ways to manage time in all aspects of my life in order to isolate time to work. This has been going on for years. I won't even get into how many years.

So when artist Liza Myers posted a link on her Facebook page to Time Lost and Found by Anne Lamott, I rushed to read it. I did not, however, find it very useful. During my years of time management research, I'd read plenty of advice like Lamott's--you've got the time to write, you've just got to cut back on some other, lesser activity. I'm very sympathetic to those people who wonder, What lesser activity? There are plenty of us out here who have signficant family responsibilities or who really do need to put in many hours on a salary-generating job, because, you know, giving up work to live in a garret and write only works in romantic comedies. I also find such advice very glib because the people giving it rarely address the impact of reorganizing your life to work in a creative field in which you don't get daily or even weekly (monthly? annual?) feedback.

While I was making rambling comments/complaints on Liza's Facebook page regarding Lamott's essay, I thought, This is a nuts and bolts subject that ought to be addressed at writers' conferences and retreats, in books and at listservs, at...Original Content.

My followers know how much I love an obsession. So in 2012 I'm going to obsess on time management for writers and others in creative fields. I'm hoping that readers will jump in and comment, offering their reactions to my thoughts and their experiences with managing time. Maybe by the end of the year some of us will have found a way to structure our lives in such a way that we're cranking out work the way we've always dreamed we would.

Until next Tuesday.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December Carnival

The December Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Jean Little Library. What caught my eye? Happy Birthday William Joyce at Happy Birthday Author and Drawing From Memory by Allen Say at Paper Tigers Blog. I've enjoyed both authors' work in the past, and they both have new books out.

Middle Grade Read-a-thon

Ah, January. It's a marvelous time because there's nothing big going on in the greater world, there's no yardwork for those of us who experience a traditional winter, and you can let up on nagging the offspring about school because the big projects don't come until mid-semester or even later. Those of you who enjoy read-a-thons might actually have time to take part in one.

If that's the case, you're in luck because the Marvelous Middle Grade Read-a-thon is scheduled for next week. It's sponsored by Just Deb, a Canadian blog. If you can't take part, following Just Deb next week will give you some exposure to middle grade titles.

I'm No More Enlightened, But At Least I'm Amused

I kind of missed the whole Occupy Wall Street thing, because it seemed to get started in September while my family was experiencing a crisis, and I never caught up. Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance, which I found at The Horn Book website, doesn't explain it to me, by any means, but now I feel I've read something on the subject.

Handler's Premise Gives Direction To His Plot

I only learned last week that Daniel Handler has written a new book. And here's Katrina Hedeen reviewing Why We Broke Up at The Horn Book. (Another little something I found through Facebook.)

Here is my favorite line--well, bit of a line--of the review: "...the distinctive premise that gives direction to but does not limit plot..."

I love that point that premise can impact plot. I have to find a place to go write that down so I don't forget it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

You Should Know About This Book


I heard about Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide To Not Reading because its author, Tommy Greenwald, and I belong to the same listserv. Otherwise, I don't know if I would have heard of it, which would have been really too bad.

Charlie Joe Jackson is a master of avoiding reading, and he is prepared to share that skill with others in his first-person narrative, which includes 25 very fine "non-reading tips." (Tip #2: "Never read a book by someone whose name you can't pronounce." Tip #17: "Reading makes you blind.") Charlie is a middle school kid, but he's got that sort of slacker hip thing going that you often see in teen boy or even twenty-something guy books. But it works. In a lot of those slacker hip teen boy stories, the books read as if the author is, in fact, a hip slacker imposing his adult world view on a teen character. Charlie Joe Jackson is slackerish while remaining realistically young. (I'm not sure if we're ever told exactly what grade he's in. He talks about things that happened back in fourth grade, but the period since that point is vaguely described, in one case as "ever since." This is not a bad thing. It means anyone in the middle school age range--whatever that is--can feel part of the story.)

Charlie Joe doesn't perceive not reading as a problem that needs to be solved, so this is by no means a problem book. His long-standing arrangement with a reading friend to sort of be his reading dealer led him into trouble, but never does Charlie Joe regret not liking to read. He does have a moment of identification with a character he's forced to read about, but it passes. This is probably the best aspect of the book--Charlie Joe doesn't buckle and turn out the way adults want him to. This is not, thank goodness, a book with one of those "messages that grown-ups want kids to hear over and over."

In our literary culture, particularly children's literary culture, readers are perceived as superior, both intellectually and in some squishy spiritual sort of way. Even in books in which reading is a sign of dorkishness, the dorks are portrayed as having a great future or being put upon by characters far worse than they are. The far worse characters are rarely big readers. With Charlie Joe, though, Charlie our nonreader gets along just fine. He's what he might describe as a "clique buster." He seems to move among students. He has no enemies.

Except, of course, for books.

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading can be enjoyed by serious child readers who should get the sly humor and nonreaders who should appreciate that their view of reading is treated with some respect instead of as a disability.

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading is a Cybils nominee.

Plot Project: Perhaps the plot for CJJ's Guide to Not Reading began with the author giving his character something he wanted--to avoid reading--and then throwing a couple impediments in his way. On the other hand, it could easily have grown out of a situation involving a smart, capable boy who uses his wit to avoid doing something he just doesn't like to do.

Monday, December 26, 2011

What I Gave And What I Got

That's Christmas books I'm talking about here. And by Christmas books, I do not mean books about Christmas. I mean Christmas gifts.

Okay, let's see if I can recall this. Hmmm.


My sister and brother-in-law received a copy of Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.


Their son and daughter-in-law received Jellico Road by Melina Marchetta.

I sent my other sister a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Seriously, I don't think she's read it.

My mother got a book of short stories about dogs called Tails of Love.


I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President by Josh Lieb went to my older son. I also got him Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.

I got a book on making beaded jewelry for my daughter-in-law. But...ah...I couldn't even guess which one.

I know I got the younger son Worlds by Eric Flint, mainly because it includes a short novel set in the Honor Harrington universe. Also, it fit in a Christmas stocking.

Oh, and I also got my sister-in-law a LOL Cats book; but, like with the bead book, I no longer remember the title.

Of course, it is more blessed to give than receive. However, receiving is good, too. I got a copy of The Mediterranean Prescription, which I asked for because we go through periods when we eat dreadfully at Chez Gauthier, and we've been in one of them for a while. I also asked for and received Curse of the Wolf Girl by Martin Millar because I am such a fan of Millar's Lonely Werewolf Girl. Both books will be going with me on retreat week, which is less than two weeks away.

Share Your Loot: I wasn't going to do the whole "What I Got For Christmas" thing, but Becky Levine did, and now I'm thinking everyone should. If you blog about your Christmas books, post a link in my comments. Or just comment here about what you got or gave.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

An Appreciation Of Russell Hoban

Russell Hoban: The Last Cult Writer. I sure hope I didn't get rid of my copy of Riddley Walker.

Daniel Handler Has Written A New Book

I know because I saw Celebrity Break-up Stories on Facebook. As usual, one link led to another, and I finally picked up on what the whole thing was about.

The L.A. Times says Handler's Why We Broke Up is for readers "ages 15 and older." There's an age category I don't think I've heard before.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Once Again, Saved By A Character


Before I start in sounding all hypercritical about Notes From the Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin, I'm going to say right away that I enjoyed reading the book. And I enjoyed reading the book because I liked the male protagonist, Declan. He's probably a bit of a teen outsider, wiseass cliche, but that happens to be a cliche I like when the teen outsider, wiseass cliche is funny in a funny-that-works sort of way.

Notes From The Blender is about two teenagers, Declan and Neilly, from different rungs of the school social hierarchy who are thrown together when they find out that their parents are getting married. Let's put that differently...they find out that their parents have to get married in that Declan's dad knocked up Neilly's mom. In my humble opinion, that is a situation filled with comic potential. Their story is told from their points of view in alternating first person chapters. Think Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.

Personally, though, I didn't find Neilly anywhere near as strong or well-defined a character as Declan. Is she a "badass," which Declan would really, really like, or is she the cliched popular girl done to death in teen lit and movies? We're supposed to think she's something more than the jock's girlfriend she appears to be because her dad is gay, and after he left her mother and came out, she had to battle to defend him and herself from various classmates. But that's all in the past, so we never see her on the ramparts over terrific Gay Dad's honor.

Now Neilly's got her knickers in a twist over her mom being pregnant, when Neilly didn't even know she was going out with anyone, and having to give up her home and move in with this strange guy and his son. That is an understandably distressing situation. But compared to her father turning out to be gay and becoming engaged to his terrific law partner?

I just didn't believe a lot of the situations here. I didn't believe that beautiful, popular Neilly would bond with porn-loving, self-lover Declan so incredibly rapidly, even though they both share the same bizarre situation. While I respect the authors sending so many teen characters to a church youth group, because I don't see a lot of religious observance in YA, I find these kids' willingness to belong to such a group another unbelievable factor, even if the minister of the Unitarian church in question is Declan's lesbian aunt. Having known a family that dealt with a dad realizing he's gay (after having five kids with his wife--seriously), I found the relative ease with which Neilly and her mother accepted her father's new-to-them sexual orientation...romanticized, I guess I'd call it. We hear of another family that took a father's coming out much differently, which seemed to be an attempt to give a more balanced treatment of how people respond to these situations. But it didn't change the fact that Neilly and her mother were way cool with their family breaking up.

And, finally, this is kind of a message book--drinking and drugs are bad and everyone should be free to love who they love. Good messages, of course, and they're accompanied with plenty of coarse language to help make them less preachy. But, still, a message kind of breaks up the world of a story.

But then there is Declan, breaking down in tears over his dead mom when he isn't lusting after Neilly...or the math girl...or the therapist his father takes him to see. He is both foul-mouthed and sweet, funny and sad, someone who ought to be a victim in the traditional high school world, but definitely isn't. Declan totally makes Notes From The Blender.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Riddley Walker Author Was A Children's Writer, Too

Russell Hoban, of Riddley Walker fame, died Tuesday. I'm not sure that I knew he also wrote children's books and was quite well-known for them, too. (Note how quickly that Harper Collins page I just linked to was updated.)

I used to have a copy of Riddley Walker, which I could not make head nor tails of when I read it years ago. Perhaps one of my 2012 plans will be to read Hoban's children's books and take another shot at Riddley.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I've Had To Resort To Lists

I usually avoid "Best of" booklists and articles that speculate about contenders for book awards because they focus the literary conversation on just a few books and discourage readers from shopping around to all the titles that are actually out in the world and available for us to read. However, because I've had so little time to keep up with reading about books these past four months and because it's so difficult to get easy access to reviews even if I had time to read them (our local Big City paper is often down to only one book review a week now), I have, indeed, started scanning "Best of" lists just to familiarize myself with any titles at all.

The Best Fiction of 2011. Yes, I had heard of the Eugenides and Wallace titles because I'm not actually dead yet.

The Best Nonfiction of 2011. Well, I can say I know who Catherine the Great was.

Writers Choose Their Favorite Books of 2011. This was my favorite of the three "Best of" lists I've seen this past week because I was exposed to so very many titles, both those of the writers doing the recommending and those of the writers the writers doing the recommending were recommending. (I'm sure you follow that.) Plus, some of these titles were titles I'd already seen in the preceding two lists. I have to keep seeing titles in order to recall them and then pick up the books when I stumble upon them somewhere, which is pretty much how I find my reading.

Here's what stuck in my mind from the last list: Someone recommended a book by G.R.R. Martin, who wrote A Game of Thrones. That book was recommended to me the last time I went out walking with my walking group, which was, I think, last month. Some name recognition is building up in my mind now.

How could I forget the Dec. 19th issue of People Magazine's two page-section of Picks for Kids mini book reviews? I can't find it on-line, but it includes New England author Lita Judge's book Red Sled.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

She's Working On It

Okay, folks, here is your next installment of my coverage of New England writers' blogs. Today's entry is the blog (or two) of A.C.E. Bauer, who was born in Montreal and spends part of the summer on a lake in Quebec, bringing to mind the close connection that once existed between New England and Canada. (And maybe still does.)

From her blog I'm Working On It, I can see that A.C.E. was involved with and continues to be involved with the Tassy Walden Awards. This may be of more significance to us Connecticut residents, since it's local. She does book giveaways, reviews, and hosts guest bloggers.

If I had more time, I'd really like to read her post on Tintin and King Leopold's Ghost, since one of my sons was a big Tintin fan when he was younger, and the other one had to (wait, I should say, was supposed to) read King Leopold's Ghost when he was in college as part of one of those freshman reading initiatives.

A.C.E. also blogs at Write Up Our Alley, a group blog for eight writers/illustrators who "decided to pool our experience in reading, writing, illustrating and teaching to provide resources to you — parents, teachers, librarians and booksellers — to bring a love of books and reading to children."

Did You Do NaNoWriMo?

If you took part in National Novel Writing Month, you might want to consider following My Nano Edits at Dee Scribe.

Children's Book Coverage At The New York Times

Transforming Children’s Books Coverage at The New York Times. Found through one of my Facebook Friends.

Reading As A Nonlinear Activity

I had a night out with M.T. Anderson recently. It was more like an hour late in the afternoon, actually. And maybe 80 or 90 other people were also having an hour with him.

Anderson's appearance at Eastern Connecticut University last Tuesday evening was the "public" part of a three-day visit he was doing there. It took the form of a conversation between him and Professor Susannah Richards, who was very well versed in her suspect--M.T. Anderson.

There was all kinds of good information about M.T., but for thought-provoking blog-material, I liked a comment of Susannah's in which she said something about how reading and writing are not necessarily linear activities, though we often teach them that way.

I wanted to think and know more about that whole idea, so I googled "writing" and "linear activity." I came up with a lot of stuff about linear equations. Googling "reading" and "linear activity" got me a little more, a blog post called On Reading and Linearity; or, the virtues of disorganization.

First off, I want to tell you that the Gina Barreca to whom the blogger refers is a professor at UConn, and I've heard her speak. Secondly, I want to say that I wonder if reading in a nonlinear way necessarily means reading in a disorganized way.

For instance, the fact that I know who Gina Barreca is and bring that knowledge to my reading of this blog post--doesn't that add a bit of nonlinear experience to my reading of it? Toward the end of the post, the blogger says, "we don’t read from beginning to end, we skip the dull parts, we read ahead to see if what we’re ploughing through at the moment is really worth it, we attend to the dialogue rather than the description, or vice-versa. We forget what we read a week ago and start over, or we forget and skip forward to something that looks interesting." That does seem to describe a nonlinear process, but is it necessarily disorganized? "Disorganized" suggests that there's something wrong with that reading process. But is there something wrong with circling back and forth, maybe looping through a reading experience? Or is that just reading, period?

When I reread something like Walden, using the same text I used the first time and rereading my notes, and have a far different and better experience, isn't that reading Walden in a nonlinear way? To get anything out of the book, after all, I had to read the thing twice, with intervening years of living and, probably, reading to bring to that second read. Another person who had lived those intervening years differently and read different things during that time might not have responded the same way I did. Is that disorganization because there isn't a set plan to get from unread to read? Or is there a set plan, and I don't know about?

I hope to do some thinking and writing about writing as a nonlinear activity sometime in the future. If anyone has any thoughts on that subject, I'd be glad to hear them.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Always Searching For A Way To Improve My Writing Process

I caught up on a little magazine reading Saturday night.

I skimmed an article that briefly mentioned what it called the "four management functions for success"--identify, plan, organize, and control. I thought, Wow. That sounds like something I could use somehow in my work. Identify the project, plan it, organize...something...and control myself, as in stay on task. Maybe I just need to apply these concepts to my writing process, and I'll start cranking out work like nobody's business.

Later that some evening I was reading another article that included the following, "The samurai, who lived their lives at the edge of a sword and could die at any moment, were taught to concentrate on and immerse themselves in the here and now in order to connect with the fundamental core of their being. It helped them develop the powers of concentration, self-control, awareness and tranquility." In a flash of profound insight, I realized that I didn't need to identify, plan, organize and control in order to work harder and more efficiently. I needed to develop my powers of concentration, self-control, awareness, and tranquility by concentrating on and immersing myself in the here and now.

An hour later, I was asleep on the couch.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Breaking The Fourth Wall

Just yesterday I was talking with a YA librarian about the strangle hold first- person narrators have on children's books. Then this morning I learned that Monica Edinger has a post at Educating Alice called Thought on Newbery: Third Person Omniscient Narration. In it she discusses third-person narrators that she describes as characters or "third person narrators who insert themselves occasionally into the reader’s consciousness." If you follow her referrals to other posts, you'll get to her own Whatchamacallit Narrators and The Personalities of Intrusive Narrators at Fuse #8 Production.

I don't recall the intrusive narrating in The Golden Compass, which Monica mentions somewhere along the line. And I liked the second The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place book, a series Betsy Bird mentions at Fuse #8, very much, though I never got a chance to blog about it. However, while I'm sure there are other exceptions, as a general rule, I am not a fan of the intrusive narrator.

I think of intrusive narrators as being the literary equivalent of breaking the fourth wall in television programs, something else I'm not a fan of. I want the illusion that the fictional world is a real one that I have entered and am experiencing somehow, even though there is no pretence that I'm a character. Breaking the fourth wall and speaking to me directly destroys that for me. If the characters in the fictional world know I'm there, then they know they're not part of a real world, right?

While I'm reading that book or watching that TV show, I want the characters to believe in themselves and not me.

Now, this is not to say I will never use an intrusive narrator. I would just need an incredibly compelling reason that I can't even imagine right now.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Good Press For Daughter Of Smoke And Bone

Laini Taylor's name is one I recall from my blog reading, so when I saw it appear in one of last month's EWs, I paused to see what was going on. The magazine gave Laini's new book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, an excellent review.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

M.T. Anderson In Willi

M.T. Anderson will be speaking this Tuesday at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Connecticut. The presentation and book signing will be held at the Student Union Theater from 5:30 to 7:00.

Evidently Anderson is doing a three-day residency at Eastern this week.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Oh, Look. I Finally Read A Children's Book.


This fall I reread several of the Chrestomanci books, but the only new children's book I've read is The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall. I was a big fan of the two earlier Penderwick novels. This one...not so much.

I think the problem here for me was that the story wasn't as tight as it was in the first two books. Book one was a sort of modern Little Women. Book two was all about children dealing with a single parent who is taking an interest in members of the opposite sex. For a long time it was hard to tell what Point Mouette was about. It seemed like just a rambling vacation story. Breaking up the sisters weakened the situation, too. It may have been realistic, but shouldn't a Penderwicks book be about the Penderwicks? All of them? And while I found the dramatic reveal at the end of the book dramatic, I also found it far-fetched.

Check out Ms. Yingling's rant on Penderwick-like books, as well as the comments that followed. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette is a Cybils nominee.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Those NESCBWI Blogs I Was Talking About

Over two weeks ago I announced my plan to visit all the New England Society of Children's Book Writer and Illustrator blogs listed at the organization's website. And here I am finally getting to a couple more.

I sort of know Jeannine Atkins (we're Facebook "friends"), who blogs at Views From a Window Seat. Hers is another blog that portrays a person living a real writer's life. She submits, she teaches, she attends literary festivals. And you can read about all that activity at Window Seat.

Nandini Bajpai has published short form work, which interests me, since I dabble in that kind of writing, myself. Interesting material from her recent posts: her experience with NaNoWriMo and her part in what she describes as a "Big Fat Indian Wedding."

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Looking Forward

Okay, the prep work for the holiday is over, the food has been eaten and the leftovers put away. Some guests are gone, while others are visiting in-laws and will be back for a little more shmoozing.

I just spent a nice half hour flat on my back on the couch reading the latests SCBWI Bulletin. I've either not been working at all or have been barely working since the end of August, when we experienced an elder health crisis. I didn't expect to get started writing until the beginning of the year, but I did think that by this point I'd be doing more professional reading than I've been able to do.

This was my first week with just three days of elder visits. I still ended up spending some of my "free" days on eldercare business, and then there was Thanksgiving, which, though one of my favorite holidays, is certainly a timesuck. Next week, though...

I'm fantasizing about a book of essays, catching up on blog reading, looking at the Cybils nominations. It really doesn't take a lot to make me happy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Here's Something About Annie Barrows That I Didn't Know

Annie Barrows is the author of my favorite young girl series, Ivy and Bean. A couple of days ago, I learned that she is also the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. How did that get by me? That book has been making ripples for a while.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Another Something Came Up

I've been working a few hours a week trying to revise an essay for submission to a journal that accepts submissions only three times a year. We're in the midst of one of its two-week acceptance periods. It ends on Tuesday, so it was going to be a crunch to try to make it.

Then I lost a couple of hours today because a family member died unexpectedly, though not really. And it's not one of the elders we've been dealing with for years, either. It's another, not quite so elder.

So I'm calling it quits on the essay because Uncle Bob and his family certainly deserve whatever time and energy I would have put into writing the next couple of days. The essay will still be here when the next submission period comes around.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Yes! I Am Getting Stronger!

Every time I pass by an Internet headline like Nancy Grace's Weight Loss or Prince William to be Deployed, I feel...powerful...successful...as if I have a normal IQ.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

More Blogs!

The New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators has a new (as of mid-October) resource page listing member blogs. Some of these blogs are already familiar to me, but others are new. Though I recently said that I'm going to cut back on my blog reading, I want to check all these blogs out.

I'm starting with Kristine Carlson Asselin's Writing. For Real because NESCBWI lists the blogs in alphabetical order by author and Kristine's blog comes first. Kristine writes both fiction and nonfiction, and she is quite industrious with her blog, doing both interviews and reviews, writing about book launches, and recently taking part in a blog ring. Oh! And she has published short stories and belongs to a critique group. Her blog really portrays a person who is living a writer's life.

Okay, we'll see how long it takes me to get to the next blog.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Little Catching Up

I nearly missed a couple of events.

The Connecticut Children's Book Fair is this weekend. I had hoped to go see Jack D. Ferraiolo on Sunday, but that's not going to happen. Others should go to the Fair, though. Either day. Any time.

The nomination period for The Cybils is over for this year. When I have more time, I'll go over the nominated titles. If you have time, do it now.

Distorting Truth

I've been thinking of giving a copy of one of my books to a therapist who is working with our ill family member, to give her an idea of what said family member was like decades ago. Except, of course, she wasn't like the woman I wrote about in this way and that way and a couple of other ways. So what would I say to the therapist when I give her the book? "Except for A,B,C, and D you can see what she was like back in her thirties, but she wasn't really like that a couple of decades later"?

I just read this post by Karen Russell at The Orion Blog. Russell is the author of Swamplandia, which I've been thinking about reading because it's an adult book with a child main character, and I'm always interested in how that happens. What's the difference between an adult book with a child main character and a children's book?

But that's not the point today.

Russell begins her post with Whenever I’m asked about the ratio of the real to the fantastic in my work, I will shamelessly plagiarize Flannery O’Connor, who said, “The truth is not distorted here, but rather a distortion is used to get at truth.” I struggle with this whole idea of "the truth" of fiction. I'm more interested in theme and story then some concept of the truth of fiction. But I like this idea of distorting the truth of a writer's experience to support theme and story.

So perhaps I will give the book to the therapist with a note that the reality of our lives was distorted to support the story.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

I'm Beginning To Think About Writing Again

I'm not just thinking about my own writing. I'm thinking about other writers' writing. Perhaps I'm thinking about writing in a global sort of way. (I was thinking about the word global today, too.)

A couple of days ago I finished reading a book of short stories that had sat in my To Read heap for a few years. It was written by an author I've liked in the past. His work has always been very elegant and witty.

Now, some authorities on the short story will tell you that a short story should show some kind of change in the protagonist. In the past I haven't always been a big fan of that theory. I've liked writing what I called "slice-of-life" stories. They would often be more like studies of a character or a situation rather than about something happening to someone as Rust Hills says in Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. They rarely sold.

Well, in the book I was reading, the author's writing was, as usual, elegant and witty. But story after story left me feeling that there was no story there. Lots of character. Lots of situation. Lots of not much point. And a lot of the reason that there wasn't much point, I think, was that even when something happened to the protoganist (always a middle aged man in the throes of some kind of angst), it didn't change him.

As a result of this reading experience, I'm going to have to rethink years of work sitting gathering dust in my cellar.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Well, I'm Mortified


I am often...disappointed...in myself because I can't juggle more balls or even juggle the ones I do juggle very well. I do try to know myself, accept my limitations, and move on, but when I hear of others who are coping with far bigger problems than I am and doing so with good grace, at the very least, I do feel chagrined.

Lita Judge, who I heard speak about year and a half ago, has a new book, Red Sled, coming out this month. However, she's been sick for at least nine months and won't be able to do much to promote it.

At least I'm dealing with other people's health problems and not my own. Man up, Gail!

It's hard to describe how difficult it is for writers, or probably for all people who create/produce anything, to go through all the effort to get from idea to end result and then find that's it because they can't do the next step of getting attention for what they've done. And to have that happen because of something so outside your control, like an illness, which you have to cope with on top of your professional struggles, compounds the frustration.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Some Of That Personal Rehab I Was Talking About


Between visiting an elder and dealing with a four-hour power outage on Saturday and then dealing with a twelve-hour power outage and another elder who also didn't have electricity on Sunday, I was unable to post about my Friday rehab effort. I went walking with some people I haven't seen in a long, long time. We're talking about people who do things. Who travel and do things. Who read and travel and do things. Wow.

The scenic view photo was taken from a trail in some park in New Haven. I don't even know where. I don't care where it was, just that I was there.

Then we went to a vineyard for a potluck meal and vineyard juice!

When I got home, I actually worked for a while. It was like being a regular person for a few hours.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Real Children's Literature Post

Tomorrow is the awards ceremony for the Connecticut Book Awards.

The finalists for children's illustrator are Bill Thomson for Chalk, Andrea Wisnewski for The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane, and Wendell Minor for The Last Train.

The finalists for children's author are Karen Romano Young for Doodlebug, A Novel in Doodles, Thea Guidone for Drum City, and Lauren Baratz-Logsted for The Education of Bet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Leaner Gail

I lost ten pounds over the first six weeks of family crisis. I was low on appetite. I come from generations of overweight people, and I definitely was one to eat when I wasn't hungry, because just knowing food was there was a cue to consume it. I would nibble while I was baking or while I was making dinner. I didn't have time to do much baking these last two months, realized that if I just ate a piece of bread for the sake of eating it while I was trying to make a meal, I would have even less ability to eat when it came time to sit down at the table. I can also recall thinking about getting up from the couch in the evening to get something to eat and then realizing, It's just not worth it. I just don't care.

A similar thing happened regarding the Internet. Since the end of August I often didn't spend time on the computer in the evening. After frequently e-mailing family for the better part of an hour after getting home, I wanted to walk in place in front of the television or maybe do a little yoga. When I did take a look at the news websites I follow, I found that the really low-level stuff that usually tempted me--Celebrities Without Make-up! Simon Cowell Made A Mistake!--made me feel the same way food did. It just didn't seem worth the effort to follow the links.

I'm hoping to continue to stay away from food and Internet schlock under what is becoming our new world order.

Another thing I'm going to cut back on is my blog reading. I've been tinkering with that for a year or two, anyway, because it was so time consuming and even pre-latest-crisis I was always strapped for writing time. But for the last six or seven weeks, I didn't go to blogs at all. I don't know that it's made a whole lot of difference to me and certainly not to anyone else. I definitely believe that I should be keeping up on what's going on in my field, but I don't know that I need to be following 30 or 40 blogs, as I sometimes have in the past, to do that. A number of my blogger friends from years past are on Facebook now. If they've done a blog post they think is particularly notable, they'll say so there and I can check it out. The marketing blogs I've tried to follow? Reading them takes time from writing, and if I'm not writing, what will I have to market?

So while I'm in rehab, I'm weeding my Blog Reader. I figure that now is a good time to do it, because if I wasn't going to these blogs for nearly two months, I probably just don't need to go at all.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I'm Thinking About Doing Some Rehab

Our family's most recent eldercare nightmare may be making its way down to sustained, mid-level misery that we can get used to living with. So I'm thinking that maybe I can start recovering.

I just began home taekwondo training a couple of days ago, and I'm hoping I can get back to class in a couple of weeks. I haven't been since mid-September. I don't have nursing home duty next Friday, and right now the plan is for me to go hiking with a group I haven't been out with since February, 2010. They're hitting a vineyard after their six-mile trek.

Though I'm interested in submitting an essay in November and need to work on it a bit first, I'm not thinking about really getting back to a regular work schedule yet. I still have elder work to do that will cut into creating a professional schedule for a while. However, I've already weeded out e-mails in the two professional listservs I followed prior to September, and I'm thinking that maybe soon I can start some professional reading. In fact, I've already read a few essays.

Perhaps what I'm thinking about is doing a stint of rehabilitation, like people do after knee surgery or hospitalizations for accidents. After I've done the personal rehab, I can do some professional rehab.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Know When I'm Licked. We're Going Dark Here For A While.

An older family member's health took a turn for the worse this past week, and she's been hospitalized. (Which beats having a sick, elderly family member home during a hurricane, actually.) When this kind of thing went on two years ago, with two ill family members, I tried to continue working for months. I got nowhere with the work, anyway, and wasn't satisfied with what I was doing for some of the relatives. I've spent, I'm guessing, three and a half years on elder care of some sort, and I recognize that I'm not one of those powerful people who can do all kinds of things. So I'm just giving up on work for a while.

Fortunately, I do have a completed draft that I just finished self-editing so some day I can step up to the plate again. In the meantime, I just don't have the energy and will power to deal with work and family anymore. If I have any free time, I'm going to spend it reading trash and exercising. Maybe I'll try meditating again.

See ya later.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hey! I've Heard Of These People!

A couple of weeks ago, I was clearing off the dresser in my bedroom when I found the June, 2006 issue of The Writer. I truly thought, "What the hell?" I had no recollection of putting it there, and, no, it hadn't been there since June, 2006 because I clear off the dresser every month or two. I took it with me while we were doing a little traveling last weekend (that's pretty much all we were doing--two days in the car in order to attend a wedding for four hours), and so I learned that the cover article, Fiction & Nonfiction for Kids, was written by Melissa Stewart, someone I know. I actually know someone. Sure, we're not best friends, but she would recognize me if we passed on the street.

Then this morning, I was on the treadmill reading a magazine article about a movie called Anonymous that's coming out in October. It's a historical film built around the idea that Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare's plays. Well, I'd heard about that because Shakespeare's Secret covers the same ground.

Though the trailer for the movie looks as if it has a nude scene, which would make it different from the children's book.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Am I Sensing A Move Away From Personal Blurbs? I Hope So.

I've read three books recently that didn't use those "I am a famous person so you should care what I think" blurbs.

The back cover of Sidekicks used three quotes from professional reviews (and one from Jeff Kinney who is, okay, a famous person), all relating to the author, Jack D. Ferraiolo's, first book. The back cover of The Romeo and Juliet Code also used quotes from professional reviews relating to an earlier book by the author. What these kinds of quotes tell me, a reader, is that people who critique writing professionally have read these authors' work in the past, and here is what they think of it. Whereas the quotes from private individuals may be from friends of the author or from writers who were asked to blurb and felt they had to do it. And, in my experience, such blurbs are often way over the top and gushy, or witty rather than accurate. Whereas people who are paid to review may still be wrong in their assessment of an author's skill, their professional work is being quoted. They aren't doing anybody any favors by blurbing so we readers can hope that they're calling it as they see it. I find this kind of quote far more accurate and far more enticing.

My favorite back cover, though, is still Dust City's. No quotes from anyone. Instead, you just see the line "WHEN YOUR DAD IS THE WOLF WHO KILLED LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD LIFE IS NO FAIRYTALE." It's hard not to pick up that book after seeing that.

And They Say Self-Published Books Can't Get Media Attention

According to Do Little Girls Need Diet Books? at Salon, Maggie Goes on a Diet is doing okay that way.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I'm Not The Only One Whose Schedule Is In Flux

I'm embarrassed to say that usually I'm not that interested in reading about writers whose work I haven't read yet, especially if they're new writers whose work I'm totally unfamiliar with. Time is so short. I can't read about all the new writers out there, so I usually like to go the other way--read the book, search out info about the author.

But I was totally hooked by the Cynsations New Voice post Joseph Lunievicz on Open Wounds. Why? His talk about the way his writing schedule keeps changing, depending on family demands and day job. Recently, he's only been working two or three days a week for twenty to forty minutes a day.

He got the book written. His story left me feeling pumped up. Plus, the guy is a competitive fencer. There's something I don't see every day.

Just Who Are The Bad Guys Here?


I am a big fan of Jack D. Ferraiolo's The Big Splash, which my twelve-year-old niece also enjoyed. (And which I am now going to start referring to as "junior noir," having seen the expression somewhere in the last couple of weeks.) Thus, I picked up his new book, Sidekicks.

Sidekicks is definitely not noir, and I admire a writer moving among genres. What genre is this? Superhero? Is that a genre? Fantasy/scifi? Beats me. I gave up reading superhero comic books when I was in my teens, so I don't know what's been going on with them recently. I can't say that Sidekicks is covering new superhero ground or riffing on any particular kind of superhero theme, because I just don't know. But Ferraiolo does come up with some reasoning for superheroes being super that doesn't involve being exposed to radioactivity. Their existence is a little mysterious the way many physical conditions are a little mysterious, but the medical community in Sidekicks' universe does know about them.

I think most readers will figure out fairly easily that the uberhero Phantom Justice, for whom our main character, Bright Boy/Scott Hutchinson is a sidekick, is more than just controlling of his young ward. However, no one else in this book is who they seem to be, either. The story opens with Bright Boy experiencing the classic teen boy nightmare of being caught responding to the presence of a really good looking young woman. Only in his case, he's caught by a TV camera, and he becomes the laughing stock of a population accustomed to the presence of superheroes.

Bright Boy believes his hokie Spandexie outfit that leaves nothing to the imagination is the greatest problem in his life. If only that were true.

I will admit that Ferraiolo took me by surprise with the secret identity of one character who I had actually forgotten about. I was very pleased. This is an entertaining read that ought to attract readers who aren't interested in realistic fiction.

Sidekicks is a complete story without a cliffhanger, though it does seem to have the potential for a sequel. But, then, superhero stories always do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Definition Of The Word "Schedule" Should Include The Words "In Flux"

For years I have believed that if I could just find the perfect schedule, I would be able to crank out work in a Yolen-like manner, live in an orderly home, and reach some kind of spiritual and physical state of satisfaction, if not bliss. Work, creating order, and training all take time. The hours in a day remain the same, so determining how to use them becomes crucial.

I have yet to find that perfect schedule, which means that my schedule is always changing while I look forward it.

This past year my taekwondo training schedule has been changing because of changes at my school. I was on what I'll call the "winter schedule" in the spring, which involved training one evening a week with an occasional second evening class added when I could. Then in mid-June I went on the "summer schedule" when one morning class was added at the school to accomodate the kids who were out of traditional school. Then I could go to the one evening class that I could tolerate, but the morning class as well. I did two morning classes a week for something like eight years, so getting back to two classes--very, very good. Next week I go back to the winter schedule.

On the one hand, I need to train more than once a week to maintain my skills, but a lot of evening classes involving heavy sweating are hard to get into when you are more than eighteen years old, which I am. This means, by the way, that I have to try to find some time at home to add taekwondo to my personal workout/training mix. On the other hand, without the morning classes that I took for around eight years, I can now do a little writing before visiting the elders, which was added to my schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays about a year and a half ago. So we're definitely talking a glass half full situation.

I'm also thinking, as I write this, that perhaps I should think about creating seasonal schedules, with goals for the season.

Hmmm. Hmmm.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Gatekeeping Problem

Author Robert Lipsyte had an essay in The New York Times Book Review this weekend called Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?.

Now, I've always felt that there is a bizarre thing going on with children's literature because the only literature available to kids is created and vetted by adults, who are a totally different beast. I'm not saying children should write children's books, by any means, or that they should work as editors and reviewers. Still, I accept that children are in a very odd position because every image and thought that comes into their heads by way of books, magazines, Internet, TV, movies...you're following me, right?...is controlled every step of the way by people who are totally unlike them.

In discussing the position of boy readers, in particular, Lipsyte points out that their reading is controlled not just by adults, but by female adults. He writes of novels that "are bought by female editors, stocked by female librarians and taught by female teachers." I suspect that raising this point is going to bring down a storm of outrage upon him because we're a very polarized culture and one camp always feels it's being attacked by the other and is quick to respond. But there is an abundance of women in children's publishing, on every level. And, traditionally, there have been lots of women educators on the elementary and middle school levels where boys' reading habits are presumably being formed.

I wish Lipsyte's essay had included some suggestions about how the adults of either gender working in publishing and education could do more to help connect readers with books that don't, as he describes it, "split along gender lines."


Thursday, August 18, 2011

I May Be Beginning On Another Obsession With My On-line Mentor

Years ago, I had a bit of an obsession with Jane Yolen's Journal and began thinking of her as my on-line mentor. What attracted me was her ability to churn out incredible amounts of work and maintain a very active social life. For a while I thought that reading of her exploits would improve my own output. Eventually, though, I began to think that I wasn't modeling myself on her, but comparing myself to her, which wasn't at all good for me because the woman is a freaking machine that appears to exist to write, publish, and go out to eat with interesting friends.

For whatever reason, I decided to start dipping into her journal again. The old Jane work ethic might be a kick in the pants, which can only do one good. So I was reading this post filled with all kinds of exciting work news about book sales and revisions and the ins and outs of editors, and thinking, Yes! Yes! OMG! I am like a plant and Jane is the sun! This is wonderful!

Then I got to the end of her post where she starts talking about having a dessert party for fifteen friends. I couldn't scrape together fifteen friends who would come to my house for dessert, and if I could, I don't know what I'd do with them while we were eating. Then she had four houseguests for five days. Come on! Five days! I wouldn't even want to be someone's houseguest for five days, forget about having someone stay with me that long. And four people? That would take my guestroom and both the sleeper sofas. (Why do I have two couches that turn into beds if I don't want houseguests, you may ask? I cannot be trusted in a furniture store.)

So now I'm feeling anxious again, which is only compounded by the fact that I'm going away for three days and taking one of the elders with me. I need to relax tonight and not be thinking about making dessert! And I know I'm going to go back to Jane's journal when I get back home, drawn like a moth to the flame upon which she will expire.

By the way, I call Jane Jane not because I am being forward but because once during a conference Q&A I asked her a question, and at another conference I had her sign a book for me, so it's almost as if we know each other.

Hey. I wonder if I should friend her on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Character Certainly Helps With Plot

I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that Character = Plot, but developing character definitely helps a writer to sort of work her way into a plot.

Liz Gallagher at Cynsations.

I Love It When This Kind Of Thing Happens

Every now and then I'll hear something about one of my old books. Something good. Something like Bring Back 'Butch and Spike' at the Kirkus Reviews website.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

So Much To Think About


The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone was getting lots of buzz earlier this year, and I'm happy to keep the noise going.

Quick and Dirty synopsis: An eleven-year-old English girl is moved out of London to stay with relatives in Maine in 1941 to keep her safe while her home city is under attack from the Nazis. Why did her parents dump her with her grandmother, uncle, and aunt, family members she has never known?

There's a lot of interesting things going on in this book.

Personally, I think there's a bit of a gothic novel vibe. A young woman journeys to a large old house on the seacoast, where she is unknown and knows no one. There is a tall, handsome stranger. In this case, they're both eleven years old.

The evacuation of British children during World War II to rural parts of the country or even to North America had a big impact on that generation. There's practically a genre of children's books about the subject, and The Romeo and Juliet Code is certainly a legitimate addition.

Our main character, Felicity, is eleven years old, a common age for children's book protagonists. I think the age is chosen because it's on the high end of childhood, just before the kids get to their teenage years, and it's a writer's best chance at creating a character who is mature enough to believably do things. The interesting thing about Felecity is that she's so immature. She carries a teddy bear that she talks to and interacts with, and there's no doubt that it's not appropriate for her to be doing this. It's a nice little change in children's books.

Felicity's voice seems to be both foreign (as in English) and from another time (mid-twentieth century). In American children's literature there's a lot of talk about authentic child voices (more so in YA, perhaps), and I find that this means that a lot of first-person child and YA narrators sound alike. Felicity's voice is ever so different. She sometimes got on my nerves, but I definitely respect what Stone was doing with voice here, particularly after seeing True Grit this weekend, in which the attempt to duplicate the sound of another era is extremely important--and a bit demanding of viewers.

The research Stone describes at the end of the book involves characters who barely appear in the story, which is fascinating. It's as if there's an alternative novel somewhere, a traditional World War II thriller for adults, that accompanies The Romeo and Juliet Code.

There is a mystery going on in this book, and the solution was satisfying in the sense that I only saw it coming shortly before it was revealed. What was very disturbing about the reveal was that Felicity embraced it. What she learned was something that in real life has been known to knock people on their backsides. Adults are shaken by this kind of knowledge. What was unbelievable to me wasn't what happened, but Felicity's response to it.

But The Romeo and Juliet Code is one of those old-fashioned children's stories in which a child character enters a family and fixes everyone's problems. Everyone's life is improved because of her presence. (Felicity is a fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett's--Isn't that what happened in her book The Secret Garden?) Felicity's own life is on an improving arc, too, and in order to give her as happy an ending as possible, she has to let the solution to the mystery roll off her back.

It was jarring for me, but it is only one aspect of a book with so many fascinating facets.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Submission Chart Seems Like A Good Idea...

I do understand that charts can be an efficient means of transmitting or storing info. Really, I do. I've tried charts for all kinds of things. So this Writer Musings: Submission Tracking Chart calls out to me.

Here's the problem I've had with charts: I can't hold on to them. Or, when I've filled them out, I can't get around to printing out another. Truly, it's not them, it's me.

As far as submissions are concerned, I've tried keeping track of, say, short story and essay submissions on the inside of folders that contained a draft of the manuscript, back in the days when I was more likely to have a hard copy draft of the manuscript. The problem with that was that if I was being efficient, the file went into a cabinet. Back in the day when all submissions were made through the mail, sometimes a form rejection would arrive with nothing regarding what manuscript was being rejected and then I didn't know what submission it went to because I have a lot of files in my cabinets. Come on! Sometimes it would take months editors to get back to authors. How were we supposed to remember?

I've also tried keeping an expandable file with hard copies of all my rejected submissions for one particular project, which sounds organized, except I would have to keep going through all the materials in the folder to find out where I'd submitted. So then I made a list somewhere, though now I'm thinking, I should have made the list on the outside of the folder, huh?

Last summer I made a bunch of short story submissions and kept a list with dates on a white board here in the office. It's still there.

Most recently, I've been thinking about keeping track in my new journal software, because I shouldn't be able to lose that, should I?


New Biography Of Ethan Allen

Real Estate and the American Revolution in Slate describes Ethan Allen: His Life and Times by Willard Sterne Randall. The essay by Fran├žois Furstenberg about the book makes Allen sound very much the way I found him to be when I was researching him for The Hero of Ticonderoga. Furstenberg says, "Randall wants to cast Allen as "a leader and moral figure to be trusted. But that rings hollow."

What makes Ethan Allen so fascinating to me is that he wasn't a "moral figure" anyone ought to have trusted, and he probably wasn't even much of a leader. He was an unsuccessful everyman with a gift for gab (Furstenberg says Allen's prison memoir--still in print!--was the "second-greatest best-seller of the Revolutionary Era") who became a big name in his own time in spite of himself.

What's inspiring about him is that his life experience suggests that given the right combination of circumstances, a self-educated, opinionated, unpopular, professional failure whose consumption of alcohol was the stuff of legend can become immortal. I can't help myself. I have to love the guy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

STEM Friday

The Kidlitosphere has a new event, STEM Friday. That's STEM because STEM Friday focuses on books about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. We are an engineering family here at Chez Gauthier, so I'm hoping to see some engineering books mentioned. Okay, not engineering books this one, but something that would help prep young minds so they'd be ready for that one some day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Starting An Overall Revision

Yesterday I started revising the draft I finished about a month ago. And I did work on it en plein air.

Yesterday seems like an odd day to have started, because it was Wednesday. I know Tuesday was an eldercare day, but what did I do Monday?

The title of this post says "Overall Revision," because I revise as I go along, and some of the early chapters already went through as many as eight drafts. Many writing authorities will tell you that that's not a good thing. To which I say, "I'm okay with being bad."

I do hope to read a couple of posts on revision at Dee White's blog. The title of the first post, Using Your Plot Diagrams As Working Drawings is a little discouraging for me because...you guessed it...I don't have any plot diagrams. Post 2, The Scenic Route, sounds as if it could be more for me. Anyone who took two and a half years to finish a complete book draft, as I did, probably has already been taking the scenic route.

I Don't Need No Waterproof Book

My thought when I read about the world's first waterproof paperback was, What kind of gutless reader needs a waterproof book? Back in the day when I had time to read in the bathtub and at the beach, I read hardcover books over water. I read hardcover library books in the tub and while sitting on the shore pretending to watch my kids while they were playing in the lake.

Come on, any true reader is willing to risk the cost of replacing a book--particularly a paperback book--for the chance to read any place and any time. What's more, the danger adds to the thrill of the reading experience.

When you see me reading a waterproof book, you'll know I've lost my nerve.

Monday, August 08, 2011

I Haven't Mentioned Mordecai Richler In A While So...

Mordecai Richler wrote children's books, so I feel justified in linking to The Here and Now, an essay by Charles Foran about his biography of Richler.

Have I mentioned being on a bus tour of Montreal years ago and becoming very excited when we crossed St. Urbain Street because Richler wrote about it? It seems as if I must have. But just in case, I'm mentioning it now.

The people I was traveling with had no idea what I was talking about.

A New Publication For Gail

The essay I wrote about last week has been published. You can read My Bread Loaf, a short memoir about my nontraditional working experience at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, at The Millions.

I originally wrote this essay a number of years ago when the Writers' Conference was celebrating some anniversary. I'd say eleven years ago when it was celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary, but come on. It can't be that long. At the time, I tried to publish it in local Vermont publications where Bread Loaf is a big deal because that's where the Conference is held, in Ripton, Vermont. No takers. I thought, Well, this is a case of no one wanting to think of Bread Loaf in any way but as a highbrow literary gathering.

When I decided to take a look at the essay again and submit it to The Millions in time for this year's Conference, which starts on Wednesday, I realized that though it may very well be that there are people who only want to think of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference as a highbrow literary gathering, it was also true that my essay rambled and was unfocused. If I'd found someone to publish it as it was originally written, I would probably be quite embarrassed about it now.

I cut it down a lot before submitting and was careful about transitional material between paragraphs, which helps to keep an essay on topic. If you can't create a transition between one thought and the next, it's probably because the thoughts aren't similar enough to do so and something should be cut. The editor's response to that submission was that he liked it but that he thought it could be tighter and more focused and gave me a suggestion for the opening. Clearly I was on the right track, even if I was not moving along it very rapidly.

Here is the big thing I learned while working on this essay over the past month--with memoir, and probably with all kinds of essays, it's important to leave things out. I don't mean that you have to leave out anything that could get you into legal problems. I mean you have to leave out good bits because too much detail can actually overwhelm and confuse readers. With a personal essay or memoir you have to have the equivalent of a thesis statement/topic just as you would with a formal essay, even if you don't formally state it the way you would, say, in an argumentive article on why the U.S. economy is in the toilet. And then you have to stay with that topic. It may be a little harder to stay with it with a less formal essay because without a hardcore, clearly stated thesis statement at the beginning of the work, it's hard to create topic sentences that loop back to said statement. You have to be aware, yourself, what you are doing with each paragraph even if there isn't a formal thesis statement for you to direct readers back to. That means that good thoughts, anecdotes, and funny lines that don't relate specifically to your topic cannot be included.

I didn't formally state that this flash essay was going to be about the writing of My Bread Loaf. But that's what my intention was. Oh, and look--the paragraph above takes the essay from the particular--My Bread Loaf--to the general--writing personal essays/memoirs. I am pleased with how that worked out, cause I had forgotten to try to do that.

Maybe I'm developing a little muscle memory for essay writing.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Plot: In Praise Of Lack Of Same

Every now and then I make an attempt to do what's known in Writer World as researching markets, though it's probably just an excuse to read instead of write. This explains why I just read an essay called Plotting Against Plot at AGNIonline. The author, Vincent Czyz, finds he "gravitate(s) toward work that’s been praised for its strong language and striking imagery while generally being chided for its weak storyline." He believes, though, that editors and agents prefer manuscripts with "sufficient narrative momentum."

Among the books he says have lingered with him, though he thinks they're weak on plot, are Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. Oddly enough, I remember liking Heart of Darkness when I was in college, but only because of the professor's lectures. And I have to say, not much about the book has lingered with me. From things I've picked up here and there over the years, I've gotten the impression that it's not a wildly popular book with readers. And while I thought at the time I was reading To the Lighthouse that I got it, that I felt it was about regret or acceptance, I also thought Woolf's writing style, which went beyond its weak plot, made readers have to work unnecessarily hard. (On a totally unrelated note, I read it at the same time one of my sons had to read it for high school AP English, and I thought it was a terrible choice for that kind of class. It feels very much like a middle aged person's book.)

While I still prefer books maintain a balance among all their elements, with neither plot nor characterization getting an upper hand, I do find the essayist's point to be interesting.

Also, I noticed that he seems to use "plot" and "story" interchangeably. That's something I've thought about a great deal. I don't think I would do that, though I'm not sure exactly I would differentiate the two.

Plot: "The hard part is putting it into practice."

Plot School on the Porch from Jeannine Atkins blog.

I would say, myself, that the hard part is remembering everything I've studied and have been trying to train myself to do so that I can then do it. Oh, my gosh...I shouldn't have used "remembering" and "training" in the same sentence. It reminds me of how badly my martial arts class went Wednesday night, which is kind of related in terms of having to remember things and then apply them...and apply them well, not just approximate correct behavior. There is a writing/martial arts metaphor in there somewhere.

The link came from Becky Levine.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Craft Fantasy?

The expression "craft fantasy" is new to me, but Tanita Davis at Finding Wonderland and Charlotte at Charlotte's Library use it in posts on The Glass Swallow by Julia Golding. Evidently it refers to fantasies involving characters who make things.

But I may be wrong.

Nonetheless, I love definitions and classifications, so I latched on to it.

Should We Expect Everyone To Just Adore Reading?

Alan Jacobs argues in We Can't Teach Students To Love Reading, (The Chronicle of Higher Education) that long-form reading has always been practiced by a minority of people and that the belief that everyone should do it is a recent development. "All this is to say that the idea that many teachers hold today, that one of the purposes of education is to teach students to love reading—or at least to appreciate and enjoy whole books—is largely alien to the history of education. And perhaps alien to the history of reading as well."

A really good article.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

So That's What Happened After Happily Ever After


For decades, feminist writers have speculated about what became of Cinderella after she married her prince. Her situation was perceived as being full of peril, and that was before anyone had heard of the late, lamented Diana, Princess of Wales. In Cinderella and the Mean Queen, part of the After Happily Ever After Series by Tony Bradman, she has trouble with her mother-in-law (Yikes! Diana!) and works things out by starting her own business doing cosmetic and clothing makeovers. The feminist in me thinks, How shallow to put so much focus on physical appearances. But the writer in me thinks that's very clever, since the fairy godmother, or whatever it was she was, did a makeover on Cinderella in the original fairy tale.

I also read Goldilocks and the Just Right Club, Mr. Wolf Bounces Back, and The Fairy Godmother Takes a Break. These books are meant to be instructive on many levels. They all have a reading level between grades two and four+, and they include a glossary, discussion questions, and writing prompts. And the basic stories themselves are probably a little improving.

But I'm not going to hold any of that against these books because they are actually entertaining reading and well written. It's not easy doing a coherent, well crafted story for early readers, and these books are that. And clever, too. Goldlilocks, for instance, vandalized the Three Bears' home because of problems at school. When her parents transfer to another one, who does she meet there but Baby Bear? And the Big Bad Wolf ends up with work problems because once he becomes a father, all the creatures he would normally be offing (the little pigs, Red Riding Hood) remind him of his darling offspring. He's good for nothing after that. (I read that one while reading Dust City, a YA book that also makes the Big Bad Wolf a father, but uses that idea very, very differently.)

I had a family member home who is a teacher working with children with reading problems. While she liked the book in this series that she read, she felt that in spite of the glossary, some of the vocabulary might still be a problem for her students. She pointed out the word "kettle," for instance, which she didn't believe her students would know and which doesn't appear in the glossary. However, teachers who work with struggling readers could use these books while providing support. Adults who are looking for books for very young children who are reading early but still have young interests should check them out, too.

By the way, every page has a black and white illustration by Sarah Warburton, so readers aren't overwhelmed by lots of text.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Now That Was Writing In Flow

Years back, I read a book called Writing in Flow by Susan K. Perry. It made me a believer in writing in flow states, probably because I'd done it a few times, but I can't say I did a good job of learning how to do it whenever I wanted. However, writing in flow is something I aspire to.

Well, yesterday it happened.

I had received an essay back from an editor last Wednesday with his suggestions for changes, and I'd been working on it ever since. Yesterday morning I got up and went to the computer in my nightclothes. I changed into workout clothes, as I do every morning that I'm not training in the dojang, but I got distracted...by work...and went back to the computer. Around mid-day I considered cleaning up and getting dressed, but I remembered that I hadn't worked out yet. So I put in a load of wash, fixed something to eat, and took it back to the computer. The essay was in good shape around 2:30, so I got on the treadmill for a while. Then I got off and went back to the computer. Around 4 o'clock, I finished working out, finally took a bath, and got dressed. After dinner I went back to the computer for an hour and a half or so, just to tweek the essay and do things like spellcheck, then I submitted it. I never combed my hair, though I did brush my teeth. I think.

The day of work felt great. If the editor is no longer interested in the essay, it doesn't matter because the writing experience was so terrific, and I learned so much about writing memoir while working on this piece.

How did this flow state come about when it so rarely happens for me?

I think it was the amount of time I put into the essay before Monday, the flow state day. I worked on this thing for a couple of hours Thursday morning and all day Friday. It was not going well. I tried this and I tried that, I moved things here and there. Saturday morning I woke up around 3:30 and was still up at 4:30. So I got up and worked on the essay for 2 hours until going back to bed for a few hours. I think I worked on it some more Saturday afternoon or evening. I definitely worked on it off and on Sunday. I felt I was making progress, and Sunday night just before I went to bed I made a page and a half of freewriting notes in my hardcopy journal for use the next day.

Then I had my flow experience on Monday.

I think to finally get into a flow state you have to achieve a certain level of concentration before getting into the flow. (It's the same thing you need to do to trigger a breakout experience, though in that case you back off for a while after you've been working.) My present schedule of working only Monday, Wednesday, and Friday means that I'm not staying at work long enough to get to that level of concentration and stay there. I remember talking to Computer Guy about the whole flow thing years ago when he was writing code for games he was creating. He said he'd read that the reason you used to hear these stories of people who write code regularly living on caffeine and staying up all night was that they wanted to stay in some kind of work groove once they'd achieved it. That sounds like flow.

A few months ago I started trying to work for a half hour or so every weekday morning, even on the elder care days. It didn't lead to anything like the flow state I experienced yesterday, but it helped. Yesterday's experience confirms my impression that I need to find a way to work more.

Monday, August 01, 2011

You Need Adult Readers To Bring In The Big Sales

This Slate article about Suzanne Collins is so short that I kept looking for the "read on" link. It seems like an introduction.

The author argues that The Hunger Games made adults stop worrying about being seen reading YA. "It wasn't until Suzanne Collins published her bleak, seductively sadistic Hunger Games trilogy that grown-ups stopped worrying and learned to love the teen novel—to the tune of some 4 million copies sold in 2010 alone."

Aren't the giant sellers in children's/YA Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games? Didn't all three of these series attract legions of adult readers? Does a children's/YA book need adult readers to become wildly successful?

And if it does, won't that have some kind of impact on children's publishing as publishers try to identify the factors in books that will attract the adult readers and their money?

I always have questions, rarely answers.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Yeah, I Was Inspired

We went to the New Britain Museum of Modern Art today. I love the illustration collection, which had changed since we were there last time. (Maybe last year?) We went to see the exhibit on the artist colony at Provincetown, Massachusetts. I left feeling that I want to work en plein air. So I think I'll take The Fletcher Farm Body outside when I do the revision.

Also, the Provincetown art colony seemed to be strong on representational and, later, abstract art. The Lyme Colony was about American Impressionism. I wonder now if writers' colonies/conferences concentrate on some kind of specific "schools" of writing. Yaddo? The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference? The MacDowell Colony?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Looks As If I'll Be Trying To Go To The Connecticut Children's Book Fair This Fall

I just heard on Facebook that Jack D. Ferraiolo, author of The Big Splash, will be at this year's Connecticut Children's Book Fair in November.

By the way, while I'm a noir fan and was very fond of The Big Splash, I've wondered if kids would get it and noir in general. Did you have to be aware of the genre to get children's noir? Well, my twelve-year-old niece didn't. I got her a copy of The Big Splash a couple of months ago, and she did like it.

When I told her I'd been concerned that you had to be familiar with Raymond Chandler's work to like Splash, she said, "Raymond Who?"

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Another Month, Another Carnival Of Children's Literature

This month's Carnival of Children's Literature can be found at Emmy's Book of the Day. And guess what? I pulled myself together and got a submission in on time.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Idea For Another Children's Book?

We hear a lot of talk about the importance of teachers reading to their students, but quite honestly I can only recall two books that were read by a teacher in class when I was a child. One was The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. I thought of that book last night and again this morning when hearing and reading that the imaginary mountain lion killed by a car here in Connecticut had migrated from South Dakota. I say imaginary because there had been mountain lion sightings here for a while, but state officials insisted they were mistakes because mountain lions don't live here anymore. I think they must have left because of the poor business climate.

Then someone hit one with a car and, wow, someone else thought to check the cat's DNA and found it, indeed, wasn't a preppy but a western creature. The mountain lion is believed to have hoofed it here all the way from the Black Hills of South Dakota, just like the animals in The Incredible Journey hoofed it wherever they hoofed it.

So now I'm thinking that there might be a children's book idea in the mountain lion's story. Because, you know, the irony of it coming all this way only to be killed in a random accident is huge and has all kinds of narrative possibilities.

The other book I remember a teacher reading in class is Justin Morgan Had A Horse by the queen of horse books, Marguerite Henry. (She was the queen of horse books and a two-time Newbery honor winner.) Now I'm waiting for stray horse sightings here in the land of steady habits.

Monday, July 25, 2011

One Hundred Crazy Days

Author Laurel Snyder is planning to do 100 Skype Visits in 100 Days. That doesn't sound like a big deal because she won't have to leave her home to do it. However, that's a lot of human contact. One hundred human contacts, in fact. I can feel myself getting a little trembly just thinking about someone else doing it.

Teachers and media specialists should check out her post on the subject because she's planning to do this for...free. Yes, all that anxiety-inducing human contact for free.

Meriden Children's Library Renamed For Tomie dePaola

Meriden, Connecticut has renamed its children's library The Tomie dePaola Children's Library. dePaola grew up in Meriden and has maintained a connection with his home city.

The most recent issue of The Horn Book includes dePaola's acceptance speech for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. In it he talks about his youth in Meriden where he was interested in tap dancing and acting as well as art, and he describes the encouragement he received from adults.

dePaola is also a supporter of the Northeast Children's Literature Collection.