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.