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.