Monday, December 31, 2012

January Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar

January is going to be a quieter month for children's authors in Connecticut.

Saturday, Jan. 12, Barbara Mariconda, Educator Reception, Barnes & Noble, Westport, 11:00 AM

Sunday, Jan. 13, Janet Lawler, Granby Public Library, Granby, 1:30 PM

Saturday, Jan. 19, Peter Goodman, Barnes & Noble, West Hartford, 11:00 AM

Saturday, Jan. 26, Dan Yaccarino, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM

Another Author's Recapitulation Post

Jo Knowles has done an excellent recapitulation post, Goals, Dreams, And Themes, at her blog, Jo Knowles. She didn't call it a recapitulation post, but we know one when we see one, right?  Twenty-seven goals was rather ambitious, at least by my standards, and I don't dream, myself. I think in terms of goals and objectives, as you'll see in tomorrow's post. But this was great reading for a writer, and Jo's Goal 23 is going to figure in my thinking for my goals and objectives post for Time Management Tuesday. (That's tomorrow, folks.)

Know of other author recapitulation posts? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

That Recapitulation Post I Was Talking About

Yes, I was talking about unit end recapitulation last Tuesday. Not to worry. I'm not talking about recapitulation in the sense of "recalling a charged event" and "feeling remorse if appropriate." I'm talking about what I did and how successful I feel I was with it. Because that will be a factor in my planning for next year.

Time Management Tuesday

I managed a Time Management Tuesday post, every single Tuesday. Even during Retreat Week. Even on Christmas Day. In terms of managing time and perseverance, terrific. But did it do me any good in terms of work?

First off, my time management research last year led me to submit a workshop proposal to the New England SCBWI for its spring conference. It was accepted, and I will be teaching a Situational Time Management workshop that weekend. I have spoken at professional conferences before, even at a writers' retreat. This is the first regional conference.

Secondly, I have been using the unit system (which has evolved a lot since I first wrote about it back in February), transitional time, and constant planning to manage my time.

Which leads us to...

The Saving the Planet E-book Edition

Preparing this e-book has been hugely time consuming for both my computer guy and myself. I will go into his work at some other time. I spent huge amounts of time seeking out and planning ways to publicize the book. The unit system and constant planning (see above) were significant here, because for many months I was working part-time. Planning units for the various research helped to make good use of the time I did have. Given that I often had only two days a week and that they were frequently Mondays and Fridays, trying to get into a big writing project might have been extremely difficult. So this was a good use of the time I had. But the fact that it took up so much time will definitely influence what I do next year.

Submission Binge

I did a binge of submitting short stories and essays early in the year, which resulted in a short story being accepted for publication at Alimentum. Again, that will have an impact on my plans for next year.

The NESCBWI Blog Tour 

This is a little project I assigned myself last year and finished this year. This was worthwhile for a couple of reasons. It provided content for Original Content, of course, but was also a community building effort before I even got into building community. (See below.) I friended some of the bloggers on Facebook and made connections of one kind or another. And it could have an impact on my planning for next year.

May Days

Last year I took part in a Facebook event called May Days, which was sort of like binge writing for a specific unit of time. I wasn't prepared for the project, so I just wrote two pages of anything every day. At least one piece I worked on was reworked this fall into a press release for Saving the Planet & Stuff. Again, this will be coming up again during my planning for next year.

Community Building

When you consider how late in the year I became interested in community building, I managed to do quite a bit with it--at least, by my standards. The Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar, the weekend reading roundups, and the Next Big Thing Author Meme, which I expect to be posting next weekend, all involve community building. I've also been more conscientious about taking part in the Carnival of Children's Books this past year and have taken part in the Carnival of Creativity a couple of times. How will community building figure in to my plans for next year?

Not only are these the bigger projects I've been involved with this past year, they're the projects I've written about here at Original Content. I'll use them as examples for next week's Time Management Tuesday post.

It Appears That I Remember Almost Nothing About "The Giver"

Jeff Bridges Making "The Giver" Movie.

Hmmm. Hmmm. The name "Jonas" sounds familiar. And...and...was there a sled at the end?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Connecticut Winter Workshop For Writers And Illustrators

The Shoreline Arts Alliance, home to the Tassy Walden Awards, is sponsoring a one-day workshop for writers and illustrators on January 12th. That's only a little over two weeks away. Note that the deadline for registration is next Wednesday, January 2nd. There will be two morning workshops and a networking luncheon as well, as an optional afternoon prep workshop for people interested in preparing manuscripts or portfolios to submit for the Tassy Walden Award.

The day starts at 8:30 AM, costs $65, and will be held at the Guest House Retreat & Conference Center in Chester, Connecticut.

Among the workshop presenters are Lynda Mullaly Hunt and A.C.E. Bauer. I actually know Lynda and have met Alice. In fact, I may have met other writer/presenters for that workshop and apologize, if I've forgotten.

If this isn't the first Connecticut writers' conference of the year, it's very close.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So How Did We Do With Holiday Book Giving? And Getting, Of Course?

Okay, so let's talk about the important stuff we got and gave for Christmas. Books.

I received a subscription to Bookmarks Magazine, which I'm very excited about. Also a Barnes & Noble gift card and an Amazon gift card, with which I hope to buy masses of things for my Kindle. And 500 Pizzas & Flatbreads, which was unexpected but very me.

I gave:

Fairest  Vol. 1 by Bill Willingham

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett. The family member who received this and I were making our way through the Discworld books back in 2011 and got sidetracked. I'm hoping to get this as a loaner from him later this year.

When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart

You Are A Lion and Other Fun Yoga Poses by Taeeun Yoo

Bomb: The Race to Build--And Steal--The World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin  This was a gift to the extended family because family lore has it that my husband's grandfather was surprised to receive a citation after WWII thanking him for his contribution to the making of the atomic bomb. Another family member definitely worked on a project in the 50s studying structures that could survive an atomic blast. His group's conclusion? There were none. Bomb is supposed to be passed around among us.

The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer

Skulduggery Pleasant: Dark Days by Derek Landy. I'm hoping to borrow this one, too.

Sew What You Love by Tanya Whelan

Growing Up Sew Liberated by Meg McElwee

Last, but not least, for the first time I gave e-books, sending them to family members who own Kindle Fires:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 

Giving e-books, for Kindles, at least, is unbelievably easy. You can order them and have them delivered on specific days, such as Christmas. The books are sent between midnight and 3:00 AM, so the receivers found them ready to download Christmas morning before everyone else was up.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: The End Of Time And Recapitulation

Earlier this year, I wrote about the significance of the beginnings and endings of units of time. I was interested then in how easy it is to waste time when a unit is coming to an end. A year is one massive unit of time, and today, Christmas Day (I did notice), is  very close to the end of this one. When you're talking about a year, it's very difficult to maintain a work schedule, anyway, because the end of that unit of time is heavy with holidays in Judeo-Christian cultures. Then you've got the ending issue coming on top of that.  "Doing absolutely anything work-related during those lost hours at the end of a unit of time would be better than just blowing them off," I suggested back in the summer, long before I was giving any thought to merry making.

One work-related "anything" we can be doing at the end of any unit of time is assessing what we did. Kind of late in the day to be doing that, you say? But the end of a unit of time means another one should be starting soon. Assessing how did with your old work time should help determine what you're going to do with the next one.

The December issue of Yoga Journal included an article called Out With the Old by Sally Kempton. This being Yoga Journal, the article is a little long on things like "vibrant energy." The ritual of "recapitulation" that the article describes as "a process of recalling a charged event, bringing it to consciousness, feeling remorse if appropriate, and then letting it go" probably requires more intensity than most of us need when thinking back over how well we did with carrying out our work plans. I also don't think we necessarily need to be creating a list of negative thoughts so we can tear it up. However, Kempton  talks about recalling "things we'd accomplished," "changes," and "conflict," all of which could be very useful to consider when working out the plan for the next unit of time.

What worked? What didn't work? How can we use what we did in the last unit of time in an upcoming unit? Next week begins a new year. Traditionally, people get very excited about the beginning of new years, making resolutions relating to what they're going to do over the next twelve months. They might do much better to make an actual plan. And an actual plan will come together better if you assess what you've done so you're building on the good and not repeating the bad.

Before next Tuesday, I'll try to do some sort of recapitulation on this past year, with a lot of focus on my time management study.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sharing Kindle Deals On Facebook

You may have picked up on the fact that I'm lukewarm on Facebook in terms of its usefulness for building community or marketing. And let's face it, marketing is what drives many writers over there.

But you know what Facebook has been great for? Finding Kindle deals. I happen to be friends with a large number of writers and bloggers. Many writers will let their Facebook friends know when the Kindle editions of their books go on sale. Many bloggers will let everyone know when books they particularly like are part of a Kindle promotional deal.

This is a totally unexpected benefit to being on Facebook for me, particularly since I didn't get my Kindle until this past year. But right now hearing about sales is probably my favorite Facebook perk.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Maybe I Should Treat My Filing Cabinet As If It Were A Closet

I have a family member who subscribes to More Magazine. A few times a year, she sends me a stack of back issues. That means I'm seeing an awful lot of articles and advertising relating to wrinkled and sagging skin all at once. However, you find some gems (like the mag's book coverage) in these things, too.

A case in point, Lose the Clutter, Find Your Style in the October issue. Most clean-your-closet articles (which is what this was) focus on the same thing--If you haven't worn something in some specific length of time, out it goes. This article, by Jennifer Braunschweiger, takes a different approach. Braunschweiger suggests actually wearing those items for a day because many people keep things they still aren't going to make much use of. She made a vow to wear every item in her close. A day at work with all this stuff gave her a better idea of what no longer fit comfortably, what made her feel dowdy, what made her feel that she was presenting herself the way she now wants to present herself.

Where am I going with this?

Well, I've recently been working on overhauling my filing cabinets. (You can look forward to a Time Management Tuesday post on that, once I'm done.) I have files going back...ah, well, I have files going back a long time. I probably have more writing projects I've begun than I have items of clothing. I have bits and pieces of stories I started and never finished. I have things I finished that are dated. I have lots of things that need work. For a fleeting moment a week or so ago, I wondered if I should keep all  these things. Then I refiled it all with my new system.

After reading Braunschweiger's article, I'm wondering if I should "wear" those story attempts for a day or two. Meaning maybe I should try rewriting them soon. The projects that feel comfortable, that make me feel that this is what I want to be writing now, I would keep, even if I didn't finish any of them. The projects that makes me feel dowdy and uncomfortable could go.

It's not actually a plan yet. Just something I'm thinking about.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Scarlet" Took Me Back--Way Back

Reading Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen was a fascinating experience. The book is the Robin Hood story from the point of view of Will Scarlet, one of Robin's band of so-called merry men. Except in this rendition, he's a cross-dressing young woman.

First, I was caught by the voice. Voice can be tricky in historical novels. Characters from the past shouldn't sound twenty-first century, but at the same time, making them sound nontwenty-first centuryish can also mean making them sound contrived or stilted. And while we know how people--particularly educated people--wrote in days of old, we can never really know how they sounded. The key to Scarlet's voice is that she's very ungrammatical. She appears to be unaware of the third person singular of the verb "to be," throwing "were" in everywhere. "That were Rob's version of a greeting." "'First, Freddy Cooper were arrested,'" I said, looking around. It weren't good news." Also, she uses the word "lads" for the other band members. I like the word "lad."

So I liked Scarlet's voice right away. What I didn't like was when she said things like, "Rob looked at me, and as were fair usual, I felt my heart jump." I thought, Oh, no. A romance. Why must there always be a romance? I don't know if I'm going to be able to take this for long.

I switched between reading Scarlet and another YA historical novel, figuring I'd stay with the one that hooked me first. As it turned out, it was Scarlet.


Because I realized I would have loved Scarlet when I was a teenager. I...mean...loved it.

The girl who dresses up like a boy so she can escape the restrictions of her society and be tough and strong and do exciting things? Teenage Gail loved those characters.

The girl-who-is-torn-between-two-lovers scenario, as Scarlet is with Rob and someone who will remain nameless? As an adult, I find that a tedious cliche. As a teenager? Loved it.

The star-crossed lovers who are always misunderstanding cues and take forever to get together? As an adult, I want to slap those characters and tell them to get on with it. But teenage Gail couldn't get enough  of that Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy vibe.

As I was reading this book, I felt as if I was being transported back in time. Not back into the time of the story, but back into my past. I don't think I have ever read a book that took me back to my teenage reading experience the way Scarlet did.

Also, there is a great reveal in Scarlet that I never saw coming but realized immediately made sense.

Plot Project: The whole Robin Hood mythology is one of those cultural things everyone seems to know about even if we can't remember why. (Maybe even more so than King Arthur, probably because Robin Hood is a much more democratic and contemporary sounding figure. He's all about redistribution of wealth, after all.) I suspect that Gaughen tweaks much of the basic Robin Hood narrative for her plot. Good story, but what is even more impressive is the situation/world she came up with to put the storyline within. There's more going on here than just making Will Scarlet a female.

Scarlet is a Cybils nominee in the YA category.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: The Time Involved In Community Building

For the last few months, I've been interested in community building, by which I mean a creative, professional community related to writing. You will recall, I am sure, that what got me started on this was the Crafting a Public Identity Workshop I attended in September. Artist Sharon Butler discussed her commitment to becoming part of an arts community that was apart from her own art career. The experience of being part of the community was valuable in and of itself, but it also ended up helping her professionally.

Butler talked about how the Internet and social media helped with her community building. She was talking primarily about her blog, Two Coats of Paint. This blog can be found plenty of places on-line, but the "reviews, commentary, news, and background information about painting and related subjects" that Butler says Two Coats of Paint is about, seem to all be generated at the blog. The blog is the center of her creative community building.

So I've been working on building a writers' community here at Original Content. I got started with The Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar, which is all about building professional community here in this state. The various weekend reading roundups (which I should provide with a consistent name) are about rebuilding the on-line community I was part of years ago. My portion of the Next Big Thing Author Meme, which I'm still pulling together, is about writers helping writers and building professional community in that way.

Here's the thing with community building--it is hugely time consuming. It takes a lot of time to do it, and it takes a long while for the work to pay off, either in terms of becoming part of a community or in terms of the community providing any kind of help for a career.

In my experience, community needs to be more than just joining Facebook or a few other "people pools." I don't see a lot of "professional" interaction at Facebook. Writers network their blog posts or make announcements regarding their work, but lots of that just drops with no response. There's not a lot of the "commentary, news, and background information" that Butler describes in the "About" section of her blog. Goodreads, my other social media spot, is primarily lists of books read by members. Not much discussion of those. Writers on Goodreads will often network the same blog posts they've put up everywhere else. Again, not that much reaction. So while joining places like that is easy and posting doesn't take much time (especially if you're not putting up much besides your blog posts), I don't see how anyone can get a real feeling of community there.

There also may not be a lot of interest in real community building among some types of professionals, writers in particular. Artists like Butler have a very public face. Their work has to be shown somehow in order for people to see it. Artists have to get the work out there somehow, have to click with the galleries and groups that show art. They have to meet with people. That is less of an issue with writers. Yes, we have to market, and we have to spend more and more time doing that. But because in publishing there's what I call the "opening weekend" model for new books, writers sort of binge market when a book comes out and then disappear.

A lot of what we do is hit and run. Marketing is hit and run. Submitting is hit and run. Getting a first draft done is hit and run. Community needs to be maintained regularly. We don't work at anything regularly.

I'm a bit obsessive and recognize that there are no short cuts for most things in life, so I'll continue working on community for... mmm...maybe another half year? But any kind of community I manage to create is going to have to be one that can be managed in a time efficient way.

I've already started working on next month's Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Weekend Reading Round-up

I did a big gift wrapping last night, visited with an out-of-state relative at lunch time, and baked cookies and made candy this afternoon. I am so ready to browse.

Earlier this week, I heard on Facebook about Book Blogging 101: Is Originality Gone?, published at Parajunkee. It's all about the giveaways seen at so many book blogs, as well as "press release" type material that doesn't appear to be original work from the blogger. Interesting stuff, interesting comments. We had an interesting discussion about this post on the Kidlitosphere listserv.

Here's something else interesting that I just discovered: One day later, Parajunkee carried a post called  Welcome to the Giveaway Social, and it lists 50 giveaways at blogs. Aren't giveaways one of the things  that Book Blogging 101 was describing as unoriginal the day before? Well, anyway, if you're interested in trying to find some free stuff, there's 50 chances for you.

Here's something else I found at Parajunkee that I think is interesting: This is another Book Blogging 101 post, from 2010, called Book Blogs vs. Mommy Blogs. I stumbled upon a link to this post and followed it because I visited a couple of localish Mommy Blogs a few months ago, looking for places that might be interested in linking to the Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar. I'd heard things in the past about how writers ought to "get in" with the Mommy Bloggers, and I thought blogs that focused on families might be interested in reading, visiting with authors who make appearances in their areas. Well, I was quite amazed to see that the blogs I found appeared to be small businesses and not all that family focused. I have no objection to the business aspect. I just wasn't expecting it. And I wasn't expecting it, because of the label "Mommy Blogger."

Is that a derogatory term, by the way? Is it an attempt to belittle these businesses because they're run by women?

Parajunkee doesn't address that question, but its post does discuss differences between book bloggers and Mommy Blogs. Wish I'd seen it earlier.

Also, why is Mommy Blog capped, but book blog isn't?

Enough about Parajunkee for one week.

Carmela Martino has a post up at Teaching Authors on Building a Writing Portfolio. I'm interested in  writing portfolios because I write different types of things. I've also been a little surprised by the number of people I've met over the years who just decide they're going to write a book without having done any other kind of writing. Okay, some people manage to do it. Nonetheless, it seems an awful lot like walking up to a stage door on Broadway when you haven't put in any time acquiring other acting experience.

Ms. Yingling writes about graphic novel editions of City of Ember and A Wrinkle in Time.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Good Easy Reader Is Hard To Find

I have "known" Melissa Wiley of Here in the Bonny Glen for years. She's written five books, three of which came out this year. Fox and Crow Are Not Friends is the first that I've read.

This clever Step into Reading book uses three tidy chapters to show Fox and Crow interacting in nonfriendly ways. At the same time, the book is a complete story with a climax and surprise reveal. The images don't just illustrate text but really do carry part of the storyline. The reveal makes sense in terms of the illustration. At the end of the story, we suddenly ask ourselves, Ah, yes. Where did the cheese come from?

And this little volume is full of literary references, starting with its title. Fox and Crow Are Not Friends calls to mind Frog and Toad Are Friends the first of the Frog and Toad  I Can Read books by Arnold Lobel. I once saw this series referred to as the best I Can Read books ever written. The chapter title A Good Smell Is Hard to Find has to make adult readers think of Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find, a short story I've never understood. Another chapter title, Revenge Is a Dish Best Served with Cheese is a play on "revenge is a dish best served cold," which is not a Klingon proverb, people! And the reveal at the end, which I don't want to give away--did it not make anyone else think of the Berenstain Bears?

I hope we'll see more Fox and Crow books in the future.

Fox and Crow Are Not Friends is a Cybils nominee in the Easy Readers/Early Chapter Books category.

Friday, December 14, 2012

I'll Wait For Another Day

I was going to do a post today on filing. However, I think it's pretty well known that I'm in Connecticut. Our state is in shock. I'm nowhere near Newtown but have contacts in the Connecticut children's writing community who are. For today, I'm speechless.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Very Skulduggery Christmas

My niece and I are fans of  Skulduggery Pleasant  by Derek Landy. I am, in fact, Rebecca's Skulduggery supplier. Seven Skulduggery Pleasant books were published in the United Kingdom. For some misguided and lame-brained reason, only three were published in the United States. I began feeling anxious for Pleasant back in 2009 when I read that Landy was making appearances in this country hoping to help the series catch on here. What was the problem? Were they too clever and witty? Did someone object because this fantasy wasn't all doom and gloom? Well, okay, it was pretty doom and gloom what with Skulduggery being dead and all and fighting some group that often seemed unbeatable. So if depressing tragedy is a requirement for fantasy on this side of the Atlantic, the books had it. They were just amusing about it. Is that a crime?

And at the end of the third book, our hero suffered a major setback. Rebecca and I have been left hanging for a year or two now.

Well, anyway, I ordered a copy of Volume Four from merry old England. The seller claimed to have a used copy that was like new and the fee for mailing it was incredibly reasonable. Unreasonably reasonable, I feared. The book wasn't going to arrive until after Christmas, but Rebecca is cool. She'd be happy to know it was coming.

Except it isn't coming! It's here! It arrived yesterday and the description "like new" was entirely accurate. The book looks fantastic. And it's English. I hope it's full of Englishisms like lorry for truck and lift for elevator.

Merry Christmas to me! I Rebecca.

I better go wrap it right away.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Who's Doing What? When? Where? And, Maybe, Why?

We lose a certain amount of time--and energy--here at Chez Gauthier because we have trouble making sure everyone in the clan who needs to know about certain activities actually does know about them. Sometimes a plan is of limited use, if not everyone knows about it. Or, even worse, if you're the only one who knows you've made one.

Communicating what's happening so it can happen can relate to managing personal time in order to make professional time. But it can also be specifically about professional time. Writers who make appearances and travel or work with partners or people who manage their graphic and technical needs risk spending extra time bringing others up to speed. It's far faster and more efficient to keep people in your loop in the first place.

A few weeks ago, while trying to research a connection between yoga and concentration, I stumbled upon Creativity and Time: An Interview with Jeffrey Davis at author Laraine Herring's blog. Davis is a writer and creativity consultant. In the interview with Herring, he talks about keeping track of schedules with his wife. He says they will regularly ask each other, "“What do you need today in terms of time?”

I thought of this practice of his this weekend after we experienced another family member slipping through the cracks relating to holiday planning. Now, I have to tell you, Gauthiers are not likely to ask, "What do you need in terms of time?" We're more "Here's what's happening. Now don't you dare tell me you didn't know about it" kinds of people. And touching in every day would really get on all our nerves. But making sure plans have been communicated, especially if they're my plans, seems as if it could save time that I'd rather use for work.

So, I've started a new Sunday planning practice with family members. (Which is not to be confused with my Monday morning planning practice, which I do by myself.) On weeks when the extended family is involved or might want to know what's happening, I'm including a group e-mail. The planning includes what's happening, who is involved, and where it's happening. Sometimes we will have to get into why. The planning could relate to weekdays, evenings, or weekends. It could relate to anything that deals with professional or personal responsibilities.

Knowledge is power, so they say. My theory is that it also saves time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Blog Culture AndThe Next Big Thing Author Meme

I am taking part in The Next Big Thing Author Meme, thanks to Sarah Stevenson. Google "The Next Big Thing" and authors. It's all over the place.

This very professionally focused meme is an example of the collaborative nature of blog culture. I think a lot of authors don't understand the blogging world. They hook up with Blogger or Wordpress, post some stuff occasionally, and say they have a blog and, thus, a platform. But they don't really understand the networking aspect of blogging. Yeah, they hope for some kind of viral thing to happen to their book. Somehow. But blogging remains apart from them. It's something they do because the marketing books and many, many how-to articles say they should.

I haven't even done my Next Big Thing blog post yet. I've only been mentioned as doing one in the future. The stats for this blog have jumped these last two days. That, my lads and lasses, is blog culture at work.

You have to be part of the culture to have things like that happen. You have to be somebody who has connected with other somebodies in the blogosphere. You can't just treat blogging like ordering post cards and bookmarks, part of the marketing plan that you're forced to do.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Weekend Reading

I have just spent several hours with Christmas baking, some of which did not turn out very well. The word "nasty" may end up being applied to one concoction. I have been looking forward to sitting down with the Internet for nearly an hour.

Reviving Your Out-of-Print Novel as an E-book Part 2 at Tales from the Rushmore Kid. I actually saw this guest post on Friday. We did Item 1 differently than Tina's guest blogger did with her e-book. In order to make sure we had the book as it actually was printed, we sent a copy of the completed book to be scanned, which did, indeed, come back to us as a Word document. The scanning process changed the appearance of the text, in large part because there are a number of different fonts used in the book. All the different fonts had to be corrected by my computer guy. In addition, the scanning process caused all kinds of minor copy errors, such as dropping quotation marks. I've copy edited the book twice and plan to do a third run through before publication at the end of January. Between the two of us, we've probably put in a hundred hours, anyway. Was there an easier way to do this? I don't know.

What Creative Nonfiction Isn't at Celebrate Science. It's hard for me to resist a creative nonfiction post.

150 Ways to Give a Book at MotherReader. I think that when Pam started doing this a few years ago, the list was much shorter.

In Sendak "born to Holocaust survivors"? at Oz and Ends, J.L. Bell notes something I totally missed in The Believer Sendak Interview.

Ah, Days of Blood & Starlight, the follow up to Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor, was released last month. Ah, I was vaguely aware of that because Laini and I are Facebook friends. Which, in this case, means we don't actually know each other.

Well, this prowl around was nowhere near as relaxing as I'd hoped it would be, since I have probably a half hour of work to do on the so-called "good computer," if only someone else would give up whatever game he's playing on it. There are hours of other things to do here, too.

Back to the salt mine.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Joel Stein, Role Model

The most recent issue of Time has an essay by Joel Stein about the Common Core requirements regarding nonfiction in the schools. He says that he has "found out that there are English teachers who assign my column as reading material."

When my sons were in the upper grades of elementary school and in middle school in the 90s, writing essays was being pushed big time in their schools, primarily just before the state mandated tests, which tested essay writing. To my knowledge, they never read essays at school. I saw nothing to even suggest they saw anything that would show them what an essay should be or make them want to read or write one.

I did, indeed, slip my sons the occasional Joel Stein column in those days. He could use a thesis statement and then continue writing about what he had told readers he was going to write about. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Then why doesn't every essay writer do it? On top of that, Stein is self-deprecating and witty without being cruel.

I'm not saying he's the perfect writing role model. But, seriously, the Gauthier boys could have done a whole lot worse.

And, yes, they can write.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

More From Ivy And Bean, Two Of My Favorite Girls

I have been a fan of the Ivy + Bean books by Annie Barrows for years. As I said back in 2007:

"Bean could be described as a Junie B. and Clementine type of child in that she tends to go her own way. Her creator describes her as "loud and wild." The difference between Bean and the other leads in the big, girl series is that Bean is comfortable with who she is. She isn't always anxiously interacting with adult characters who reassure her in some way or are involved in helping her learn a reassuring lesson. Most of Bean's interaction is with another child and not adults. She interacts with Ivy, her co-lead, who, superficially, is your stereotypical quiet little girl.

Yeah, your quiet little girl who is into magic and potions, and who is sharp as a tack. Talk about still waters running deep." 

Their eighth book, No News Is Good News, is more of the same, and the same is very good. Ivy and Bean want to take part in a school fad that requires money. Their first plan to make some involves selling potions that Ivy would make. Surprisingly, that doesn't work. So they fall back on creating a neighborhood newspaper, as Bean's father did when he was young. They grasp the concept of selling subscriptions right away. That they will have to provide something to the people who paid up comes as something of a surprise to them. They also struggle with the concept of "news."

Yes, stories about child-run newspapers have been done before. But not with Ivy and Bean.

Ivy + Bean No News Is Good News is a Cybils nominee in the Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books category.


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Taking On Procrastination

Okay, my lads and lasses, today I am finally taking on the subject of procrastination. No, I have not been procrastinating about doing so. I have been studying the subject. Back in October, I began to wonder if what a lot of us call procrastination had become a catch-all term. According to Timothy Pychyl who maintains the blog Don't Delay at Psychology Today and is the author of the very fine book The Procrastinator's Digest A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, I was right. According to Pychyl, procrastination is not just "putting off work for whatever reason," as I stated here in October. It's not just waiting until the last minute and working madly to catch up. It is more than a habit.

Pychyl says that true procrastination "is the voluntary delay of an intended action despite the knowledge that this delay may harm the individual in terms of the task performance or even just how the individual feels about the task or him- or herself. Procrastination is a needless voluntary delay." It has a very specific definition within psychology.

True procrastination, Pychyl explains, is a self-regulation issue. Individuals are not regulating their behavior in order to achieve goals, meaning they are risking not achieving those goals. He doesn't describe procrastination as a time management problem. Instead, it's similar to gambling, drinking, overeating, and trouble managing money. Real procrastination, the hardcore stuff, involves individuals choosing to do something that will, essentially, harm them, meaning not doing the work toward a goal that would benefit them. You can procrastinate about going to the doctor, getting started on a diet, working on a book, submitting writing to an agent or publication.

All these things have value to the individual who wants to do them. Thus, choosing not to do these things is harmful.

A big part of the reason procrastinators procrastinate is that they're giving in to the need to feel good immediately. Yes, loosing forty pounds would make my health better six months from now, but if I eat three cookies now, I'll feel good immediately, so I'll put off starting the diet until tomorrow. Yes, finishing writing this book I've been working on would be a very positive thing because my editor has already voiced interest in it, but feeling good about finishing that won't happen for a couple of months and I can feel good about talking with some friends on Facebook right now.

Pychyl's book is extremely well organized and clearly written. He discusses various aspects of procrastination and strategies for change. Procrastination is much, much more than just a time management issue. However, I think there is one classic time management technique that writers could combine with one of Pychyl's strategies in a very helpful way.

Pychyl talks about implementation intentions. Essentially,  with implementation intentions you're planning ahead what you're going to do in specific situations. (And you know how I love the whole situational thing.) He suggests using an "if-then" format for phrasing the intention you plan to implement. You've heard these kinds of things before relating to other behaviors that require self-regulation. "If I'm going to a party, then I will eat something before I leave so I won't get there hungry and overeat." "If I'm meeting friends at the casino, then I'll only bring $30 of gambling money so I won't risk losing more than I can afford."

Writers concerned about procrastinating can try combining an implementation intention with the unit system. "If I want to stop working while the timer is on, then I'll wait until it goes off."  There are two helpful aspects to this scenario: 1. We've talked about relatively short units of time here, under an hour. So if  procrastinators have to rely on their intention to get them through the unit, they shouldn't have to work long to make it to the end. 2. The break between units can serve as a reward. Whatever they do in the break can make procrastinators feel good now, and they can also feel good because their intention worked for them.

This feeling good thing is important because Pychyl says procrastinators often suffer self-esteem issues over procrastinating. So another plus I see with using the unit system to help procrastination is that if people can't make it through the short unit, they've lost only a small amount of time, and they can start again the same day.  The unit system gives many opportunities over the course of a day to meet the implementation intention, feel good, and actually get some work done.

The Procrastinator's Digest is a marvelous book. If you have an e-reader, you can get it dirt cheap.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Yes, Ivan Is A One And Only

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is one of those books that is saved by a really great character. Ivan is a gorilla, and he tells his own story in short chapters laid out in short paragraphs. They aren't indented and are spaced in such a way that the material on the pages could pass for lists. This all seems to me to suggest the way a nonhuman would tell a story.

Ivan's is a hard core outsider story, because, though he describes himself as having had a life as a human at one point ("My life as a human was a glamorous one, although my parents, traditional sorts, would not have approved."), he clearly has not. He lived in a human family only as long as the human family could tolerate him. He observes humans from inside a cage.

He may not quite get that his understanding is often just a little bit off. So all his observations and philosophical sounding statements are from the point of view of someone who is watching humans but not always totally getting beyond the surface of what he observes. This is not to say that he's superficial. He does the best he can with what he's got to work with.

Applegate was inspired by a true story of a gorilla who lived much like Ivan did. Since this included spending decades in a cage, you might think this is one of those evil people doing animals bad stories. But the entire human race isn't written off here. Even Mack, who could be described as the heavy, is portrayed as more unenlightened and maybe confused than wicked.

The One and Only Ivan is a clever, often very readable story. But it also often doesn't have a lot of narrative drive. Which brings us to an opportunity to do a Plot Project piece.

Plot Project: You could describe The One and Only Ivan plot as being built around  a character wanting something and having to overcome obstacles to get it. Ivan wants to save a young elephant. But that young elephant doesn't enter the story until about a quarter of the way through the book, and Ivan's mission to save her doesn't become clear until close to the halfway point. You could also describe The One and Only Ivan plot as beginning with a disturbance to his world--the arrival of the young elephant. But, again, that doesn't come until a quarter of the way in. The real story here, the something that happens to somebody and so what, doesn't begin for quite a while. Until then, you're talking world building and characterization.

Ivan is a wonderful character, but it wasn't until the last third of the book that I became interested in what might happen next.

There's a discussion of The One and Only Ivan in the comments to this review at the Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog. The One and Only Ivan is also a Cybils nominee in the Fantasy/Science Fiction category. That seems an odd place for it, given what we think of as fantasy these days. But it is about a gorilla who can write a book, so...

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Gail's Weekend Blog Finds

Alex at The Children's War reviews The Poppy Lady, a picture book about Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, who popularized poppies as a tribute to WWI veterans. Though I haven't read the book, myself, I like the idea behind it because many children see groups selling artificial poppies to support veterans groups. The Poppy Lady sounds as if it connects the past with the present.

I don't read a lot of blog book reviews prior to reading books because so many of them are favorable, sometimes over the top favorable. There's no need for me to read the reviews. The fact that a blogger is reviewing it means the review is going to be about how good the book is. I may try to skim the first para to see what the book is about, and if the book is reviewed at a lot of blogs, I'll probably recall the title and may pick it up and look at it if I stumble upon it somewhere. So blog reviews aren't wasted on me, I just don't use them the way most readers do. (Or maybe I do, I don't know how most readers use them.)

At any rate, I've been seeing the title Bomb, The Race to Build--And Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon for a while now. But it was only a few minutes ago, when I saw Tea Cozy's review, that it really hit me what this book is about and why I might be interested. As a young man after WWII, my father-in-law was involved in a study to determine what structures would withstand an atomic bomb. If I recall correctly, the group's conclusion was that there were none. He once told me that the work had paid well and been fun.  So now I'll probably be picking up Bomb when I stumble upon it. I may take a look at it and see if it would be appropriate for a "family gift" to pass around to relatives interested in reading about something connected to their Papa's work as a young man.

I actually found Defining Contemporary, Realistic & Historical Fiction at Stacked earlier this week. I had some thoughts about this post but was unable to post them there. (I'm often unable to post comments. Do these people see me coming?) Now I can't remember them! Though I do think I was wondering if  when a contemporary novel becomes dated it can become historical fiction. I think not. It's just dated, which isn't considered a good thing.

Friday, November 30, 2012

December Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar

I thought December was going to be a slow month for author appearances, but not so. A number of big names are visiting the state, and a Connecticut children's author and bookstore will be featured on Booktalk Nation, which is like a public appearance, but different.

Weekdays in Dec., Janet Lawler, broadcast of reading of Tyrannoclaus and interview, WPAA-TV, Wallingford,  7 AM

Sunday, Dec. 2, Michael Northrup, Greg Fishbone, and Ann Haywood LealBank Square Books, Mystic, 3:00 to 5:00 PM

Sunday, Dec. 2, Janet Lawler, Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, 1:30 to 3:30 PM

Sunday, December 2, Sarah Ferguson, New Canaan Library, 3:00 PM

Tuesday, Dec. 4, Ann Haywood Leal, Booktalk Nation, 7:00 PM You can sign up and listen to Haywood Leal being interviewed by Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic.

Friday, Dec. 7, Barbara McClintock, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM

Saturday, Dec. 8, Susan Hood and Barbara McClintock, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, 2:00 PM

Friday, Dec. 14, Jane O'Connor, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM

Sunday, Dec. 16, Rosemary Wells, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2:00 PM 

Sunday, Dec. 16, Jane Yolen, New Canaan Library, 1:30 PM   Jane Yolen will appear again at the New Canaan Library at 4:00 PM for a poetry reading for adults

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Interview With Tanita Davis

CBC Diversity has posted an Industry Q&A with author Tanita S. Davis. Yay, Tanita! There are some interesting questions here and one that looks as if it belongs on some kind of exam. "Please write an example of a paragraphthat is tone deaf when it comes to cultural diversity, then write the correct version. Explain the differences in the third paragraph."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Two Different Views Of The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

At the end of August, The Millions published Michael Bourne's essay, Keeping the Faith: Ten Days at Bread Loaf, about his experience at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. In August, 2011, The Millions published my essay on the same subject, My Bread Loaf. Compare and contrast, people.

I would just like to point out that while I didn't do any professional networking while I was at Bread Loaf and it pretty much ruined writers' conferences for me, I was paid to be there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Children's Lit Blog Hop

I only recently learned about blog hops. There's one underway now through the GEO Librarian blog.

Time Management Tuesday: Maybe Routine Was What Got Me Off The Mat

At this time last week, I was wondering if the unit system would keep me working, at some level, through the holidays. It definitely didn't get me through this past one. By Saturday evening, the whole idea of giving up the good times I'd been having and going back to work was...hmm? Is repugnant too strong a word? I felt a little better after writing this line in Saturday's blog post, "Will our intrepid writer get back on task with cleaning her files, laying out her website overhaul, and developing lists of marketing contacts for the launch of the Saving the Planet e-book, just for starters." But for the most part, a life committed to going for walks and baking sounded rather inviting at that point.

What does Gail's failure of will have to do with time management, you may wonder. Remember, there is a self-discipline aspect to time management. Yes, there is. Last weekend, mine went down in flames.

However, Sunday morning I got up, went over a step sparring tape, did a mile on the treadmill, and, because I'm in training for January's retreat week when I will take five or six one-hour yoga classes in six days, I upped my daily 10/15 minute yoga practice by working with a 30-minute DVD that I rarely use because I find it difficult. The 30-minutes of yoga went incredibly well, and when I was finished I felt very close to being back to normal.

Eureka! I thought, or something similar. Yoga truly is a cure all! I was aware that meditation assists concentration for some people, thus helping them use time more effectively. But I hadn't heard anything specifically about yoga. So I spent some time that afternoon hunting on-line for material on some kind of connection between yoga and self-discipline or control.

Yesterday morning I was working out again when I started wondering whether it was really the yoga that brought my mind back to where I wanted it to be. Maybe it was the fact that I was working out at all, as I almost always do in the morning. Maybe it was the repetition of my regular life routines that brought me back to regular life.

Recall that I first began to feel some stirring of my normal self Saturday night when I wrote a blog post, something I do nearly every day, often in the evening, but hadn't done over the holiday. Then things really began to fall back into place Sunday after working out, something I do nearly day, also, but hadn't been able to do regularly over the holiday. I hadn't gone back to work, but I had gone back to routines I associate with work--working out before the work day and blogging at the end of it. That appears to have been enough to get me transitioning back to my work life.

Though I will keep my eye open for any yoga/discipline connections.

Monday, November 26, 2012

May Have Revived My Interest In Sherlock Holmes

I've written about Sherlock Holmes quite a bit  here over the years. As I've often said, I read the Holmes books when I was a youngish teenager, but as an adult, I don't know why kids are fascinated with him. The publishing world certainly is, but child readers? I don't get it.

I put off reading the Enola Holmes books by Nancy Springer because, without recognizing a child/Holmes connection, I didn't feel any compelling need to read a Holmes story about his younger sister. I wasn't very hopeful.

Well, I stumbled upon the last book in the series, The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye, and, since the author and I are Facebook friends for some reason, gave it a try. Wow. A marvelous book.

This series appears to have had an arc involving Enola's (and Sherlock's and Mycroft's) mother disappearing. Enola has been on the hunt for her and while doing so has taken on her own cases. She's also been on the run from Sherlock and Mycroft because, since she's only a female in her early teens and they are the men of the family and this is the Victorian Era...Well, you get where I'm going with this.

It was incredibly easy to come up to speed with that back story. Additionally, this volume includes a mystery that really is well done with a marvelous solution, especially for those of us interested in women's history.

The writing is just incredible. Enola's first-person narration makes her sound like a young woman from another time, which is exactly what she's supposed to be. The historical world-building is fascinating without becoming a tedious lesson in what it must have been like to live in nineteenth century England. The detail...Well, I've already said incredible, haven't I?

And Springer uses the world Suffragist. SuffragIST and not SuffragETTE, which would have been considered derogatory. I would have forgiven a lot, just for that one point. But I didn't have to forgive anything.

The publisher lists this book as being for ages 8 and up. I found it in the YA section of my local library, where I believe it belongs, if only for the sophistication of the historical world and voice.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I'm Oozing Back Into A Practice

I'm coming down from my Thanksgiving-induced mania and moving back toward work mode. I'm finishing   my weekend with a little professional reading, a habit I've been trying to create these last few months.

First off, here's a Bookslut interview with Dinty W. Moore. He's an essayist, and in this interview he talks specifically about flash nonfiction. That's a subject that interests me, because I often think of blog posts as flash nonfiction. Moore says something about the difference between an artist and "someone who probably never will be" that reminded me of John Cleese's point about creativity taking time. Moore says, " is very hard for certain students to ever imagine entirely scrapping a beginning or ending. There is too often that insidious voice telling them that if they just clarify a word here or add a clever descriptor there, perhaps it "will be good enough," and they can move on to something else. There's the dividing line between a true artist and someone who probably never will be, if you ask me. A writer wants it not to be "good enough," not even to make it very good, but to nail it, to make it as nearly perfect as she can."

Mitali Perkins did an interesting post on working with an editor at the Fire Escape.

Do YA authors, editors, and librarians promote the idea that YA books have the power to do good, but reject the idea that they can do harm? at CBC Diversity. Link from Finding Wonderland. Naomi Wolf raised questions way back in 2006 about whether or not YA girls-gone-bad books were damaging. She took some heat for it. (Though she takes heat for a lot of things, and I'm saying nothing more about that.) I think the CBC blogger raised good questions that many people don't want to address. Personally, I made the decision years ago that if I ever found out how to make a nuclear bomb, I would not use that information in a novel. Seriously, I actually thought those words. More recently I made the decision to never create a character like Bella Swan.

Chronicle Books sends me catalogs.  Fiction Notes offers a tour of its offices.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Talk About Breaking Discipline

I have had a fantastic few days, but good times appear to have destroyed my discipline. All I've done for work since Tuesday morning is write an e-mail. An e-mail, as in one. I've spent the last couple of hours researching self-discipline fixes and coming up dry.

Well, at least we're experiencing a little drama here at the OC. Will our intrepid writer get back on task with cleaning her files, laying out her website overhaul, and developing lists of marketing contacts for the launch of the Saving the Planet e-book, just for starters? Or will she throw everything over to hunt for multiple cookie pie recipes?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Will The Unit System Get Me Through The Holidays?

At the beginning of this year, some of us talked about the December time suck for people who work in their homes where holiday tasks want to force themselves into our work time. Well, it's Thanksgiving week and the holiday call is beginning. I have to start on a big holiday meal days in advance. In addition, I'll have some overnighters here, which means a little prep time for the "guest wing."

Losing time to the holidays, in and of itself, is a problem. What also happens, though, is that we can damage our work habits while not working and lose any carry-over flow we might have been experiencing. What to do?

I'm relying on that planning habit I've been trying to create in order to use transitional time and the unit system, which I first heard about way back at the beginning of the year. I was cooking and cleaning in the afternoon yesterday, but not until after I used transitional time to work on the filing project I've got going in my office and a couple of 45-minute units to write an important letter, to work on the layout of the Saving the Planet page we're going to do for my website, and to do some more research for marketing said book. I also did a blog post in late yesterday afternoon. I've done some work on the filing system this morning.

I'm happy to be getting anything done this week, and while I'm not experiencing anything like real flow, I do feel that I'm in some kind of work mode. The plan is to get a unit of work in tomorrow and then start doing more on Friday. (Though not a real workday, since I'll still have guests.)

Note that except for a letter and two blog posts (including this one), I didn't do any writing. I haven't been writing in the sense of generating new material since earlier this year. I wanted to put more energy into the family situation this half year and getting the Saving the Planet e-book has turned out to be hugely time consuming. I go back to a more normal work situation in December (until the next holiday), and things should be settling down with Saving the Planet by March, if not sooner. I'm looking forward to seeing how my Situational Time Management system works when I'm really writing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

No Vampires, Werewolves, Fairies, Zombies, Or Any Other Paranormal Beings. Just Real Kids In A Good Book.

Summer for teenagers is supposed to be a fantasy of dream jobs in dream places with dream people. Teenagers know that because they've read it in books. In reality, summer is frequently far more like what the four characters in The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher experience. They're stuck in town without their friends because that's the way things fell into place. They're injured, like Adrienne, The Unbearable Book Club's main character. Or they're in trouble with their parents, like CeeCee the well-to-do snotty girl. Or they're high achievers working away at their ho-hum summer jobs like Jill because they have goals they're going to meet. Or, like Wallis, they're from families in which teenagers don't get to do any of the fantasy dream stuff that shows up in YA books.

I guess I would have to say that this book is basically about four girls without much to do who are thrown together for the summer. The frame for the story is the AP English mother/daughter book club that three of the girls' yoga-loving mothers put together for them. Over the course of the book, the girls read four novels that scream AP English. ( I had an AP English student living in my house not too long ago. Yes, he had to read The Awakening, just as these girls do. ). Bits of the books relate to what's happening to the girls in The Unbearable Book Club. It could be argued that not much does happen to them, which, to me, is in large part what makes this book so believable. Lots of times, not much happens to us. Schumacher writes about not much happening very, very well.

And yet someone dies in this book. As Adrienne says in her introduction, "Book clubs can kill you."

Adrienne is a marvelous character because she's having a rough summer in which she does modestly unsavory adolescent things without a whole lot of justification for her behavior. That happens. Okay, sure, she's never known her father, but why pick this particular summer to let it get to her? Because a bottle of gin just sort of fell into her lap. And, yes, that's how things happen in real life.

I loved CeeCee because she's the stereotypical mean girl, but she isn't. Over and over in books and movies I see that same cliche. Here the cliche gets a working over. CeeCee reminded me of Dalia in Suburgatory but way smarter. She has a sophisticated wit. Don't believe she could get into AP English reading just the summary of books on-line, the first couple of chapters, and then the end? I've known people who got through college reading like that. And they did well there. It can be done.

This is a marvelous, mainstream novel that could be another crossover book. I'm surprised it didn't get nominated for a Cybil or for one of the Goodreads awards that are being voted on now.

I've just read that Unbearable Book Club's author wrote an earlier, adult novel, The Body is Water, about Adrienne's mother sixteen years earlier. I love the idea of using characters in two different books, even in two different genres.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Let's Relax With Some Reading

Today was a brutal day of Thanksgiving prep, wasn't it? I made rosemary shortbread. If you're on Goodreads, you can go to the blog I maintain there to read about the literary connection to my rosemary cookies.

Okay, I am whipped. So we're just going to shoot the breeze about some Internet reading.

By way of Blog of a Bookslut, I learned something I didn't know about the IMPAC Award. Librarians from around the world nominate the books. You can find out if a library near you had a hand in the nominations. Only 24 libraries in the U.S. took part, but as it turns out, Hartford Public Library, about thirty minutes from me, was one of them. Hey! It's almost like being there.

Oz and Ends has a terrific post on Sidekicks. John Bell is able to talk about the book in the context of the comic book world that inspired it.

The number one skill for perseverance, in my humble opinion. Krist Holl at Writer's First Aid agrees in Are You A Marathon Writer? That link came from Cynsations.

Okay, I've been wandering the Internet for an hour now. I'm done. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Gail's Connection To Hostess Brands. Seriously. I Have One. And Another E-book Announcement, Too

So, you've heard that Hostess Brands is going belly up, right? No? Well, it is, and that means the Twinkie is on its way out. Well, maybe not, because another company could buy the rights to the cake. But for now, things aren't looking good.

So what does this have to do with moi? And, more importantly, what does it have to do with professional moi, since this is a professional blog, no matter what others may tell you to the contrary?

Well, in addition to Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and Ring Dings, Hostess made...something...called Sno Balls. I did not eat Sno Balls frequently when I was a child, but I definitely admired them back then. So when I needed a highly processed treat for the last chapter of my first book, My Life Among the Aliens, Sno Balls were the first thing that came to mind.

I have been thinking of Aliens very recently because just this past week the rights to the book were returned to me from my publisher. Thus, people, there's reason to hope that the world will see a new My Life Among the Aliens e-book edition sometime next year.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

You Can Still Find A Good Nazi Spy Story

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is a marvelous World War II spy story in which details are slowly revealed. Anyone talking about this book (and I'm not the first to note this) must be very careful not to destroy the book's pleasures by revealing any of those details ourselves.

So let me say that this book is about two young English women (Wait! One of them is Scottish, damn it!), who come to know one another during their war work. Maddie is a pilot in one of those women's auxiliary groups, and Queenie...Well, I don't want to say just what she is, because that's one of the things that's revealed. I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that at the beginning of the novel she has been captured by the Nazis.

The plotting of this story is very intricate. Personally, I think it falls apart a bit in the second half of the book. But, you know, I can't really get into it too much because to do so would, once again, give away some of the details that are the big pleasure of this novel. I will say that I found the second half less believable and felt that a climactic event was telegraphed.

Much has been made of the friendship between the two young women in this book. Okay, let me pause and say here that a close family member who is quite fond of me has described me as being "disturbingly" unsentimental. I will not pass on another relative's perception of my hardness other than to say that he is one hundred percent correct. So now that you know that, I will proceed and say that I found the friendship thing in Code Name Verity to be somewhat over the top. It made for a melodramatic climax. To me it's a tribute to the strength of the spy story that the book is still so incredibly readable.

Plot Project: I haven't done any plot project talk recently but some information in the "Author's Debriefing" at the end of the book interested me in terms of plot. Wein says, "This book started off rather simply as a portrait of an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot. Being a woman and a pilot myself, I wanted to explore the possibilities that would have been open to me during the Second World War." "...I started with research, hoping to get plot ideas..." What she's saying is that she started with a situation and had to come up with a story later.  I've written more than one book starting with only a situation, and I think it must have been incredibly difficult for Wein to move from that "portrait" idea to the incredibly complex spy story she finally wrote. That is a huge achievement.

Code Name Verity is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Category and a Goodreads Choice Awards nominee for Young Adult Fiction

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Time For Creativity

During my working life, I've tried to whittle down the time involved with what I call life maintenance, especially the routine things, so that I'd have more time for my creative work. In fact, there were points in my life when that was my entire interest in time, just to make more of it for my creative life.

Monty Python's John Cleese looks at time and creativity from a different angle in 5 Factors to Make Your Life More Creative, which is available all over the Internet and not just at Brain Pickings, where I found it. At the 5:45 point in this twenty-year-old lecture, Cleese begins to talk about "creative discomfort," which he describes as the discomfort a  person feels while trying to work out a creative problem. Some people may go with the first solution they come up with in order to get themselves past that discomfort, even if the solution isn't particularly original. More creative work is done, he claims, by those people who can tolerate the creative discomfort and stick with a problem longer.

"More pondering time," as he puts it, makes more creative work. "Give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original."

Of course, how long is "more" or "as long as possible?" I will research this subject, but I'm guessing there is no set number of minutes or hours. Creative people have to somehow recognize that the material they've produced is, indeed, original.

I think this is a particularly interesting point to consider for writers because of the popularity of serial books, particularly in children's literature, and because of the increasing number of e-book writers in all genres. Those types of books need to be turned out rapidly.

1. Serial books are "episodes" in a longer story. Readers are left dangling at the end of each episode. Getting them to come back for the next installment means getting that installment out rapidly enough so that they haven't lost interest. With serials for children and young adults, you also don't want the next installment to come out so long after the last published book that your readers have aged out and will no longer be interested for that reason.

2. Writers who self-publish e-books and are actually able to make some money at it often are able to do so because they have a number of e-books available. E-book readers (and I speak from experience here, being an e-book reader, myself) can impulse buy directly from their Kindles/Nooks/etc.. We enjoy moving on to the next book by a writer we like. A self-published e-book writer may not be a best seller for any one title, but can pull in some more income by having a number of titles selling at the same time.

In both these cases, writers need to get the next book published, sooner rather than later. What does that mean in terms of Cleese's point about the need for "pondering time" in order to come up with more creative work?

Ah, time and creativity. Another aspect of time management for me to obsess on.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Ideas Are Probably In The Air"...Like Cigarette Smoke

I am not much of a Rod Serling fan. However, I like this clip at Brain Pickings very much. In it Serling says that ideas come from "every human experience." He goes on to make the point that "the hardest thing on Earth" is to put ideas down. By which he means to do something with them.

Yes, getting from an idea to a completed piece of work is often brutal. To be honest, it's almost always brutal.

Friday, November 09, 2012

An Example Of Skimming

In my last Time Management Tuesday post, I talked about strategies for reading more in whatever time we have. Today I've been reading a lot. I've been researching Internet sites to approach for promoting Saving the Planet, and I've been taking notes on a nonfiction book that will be the basis of a post here and maybe have an impact on my work some day.

When I went to The Millions for one of those breaks between 45-minute work binges I do, I didn't feel I had a lot of time. I settled on Elegy for a Grey Cat by Janet Potter because it included an His Dark Materials reference in the sub-title.

The essay is divided into three sections. I skimmed just enough of the first section to determine that it was about a human's relationship with her cat, a subject that doesn't hold a whole lot of interest for me. (Yes, I am an awful person.)  But sections 2 and 3 dealt with books, By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Amber Spyglass, respectively. I've read Silver Lake and a lead-in to Amber Spyglass. Those sections of the essay interested me.

Those sections were, in fact, quite lovely, as far as I'm concerned. Have I not gained something in pleasure and thinking from having "just" skimmed the first part of this essay? Isn't my reading experience valuable, even though I didn't read every word of the whole piece? Because I'll tell you, if I were an all-or-nothing type of reader, I wouldn't have started a cat essay at all. And what would I have gained from that?

Actually, A Long Walk Will Fix Most Things

Brain Pickings has one of those lists of writerly advice, this one from Helen Dunmore, who wrote The Tide Knot. The title to my post refers to her Item 9, "A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk."

Thursday, November 08, 2012

New Publishing Venture For A Children's Author

Nancy Springer, author of Rowan Hood and a number of other children's books, published an adult book this past Tuesday. In a guest post at Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews, Nancy describes Dark Lie as not for kids and very much for adults. "...It's a psychological suspense thriller, for gosh sake, with deep insights and dark shadows and creepy people and sexual weirdness..."  I can take or leave deep insights but creepy people and sexual weirdness are always a draw for me.

Because I enjoy telling humiliating stories about myself, I'll refer you to this nearly ten year old blog post describing how I came to meet Nancy. Note that I'm only saying that I've met her. I don't claim to know her.

As it turns out, I have one of her Enola Holmes books upstairs in my To Be Read pile.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Is It Too Late For Me To Get Myself Some Brothers?

An argument could be made that Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks is just another outsider trying to make it in high school story. Maggie and her three older brothers were all homeschooled by their mother who, like so many mothers in  children's lit/YA, is gone, gone, gone. Each one of them had to transition to public school at ninth grade. Now it's Maggie's turn. Her brothers are quite marvelous, though not particularly attentive, and Maggie is left to experience not just the terrors of high school on her own, but the whole separation from family that most kids do somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5.

Yes, the homeschooling thing is the only unusual element here in the basic story. Nonetheless, Friends With Boys is very well done. Partly this is because those older brothers, while not particularly helpful at first, have made their way through an assortment of adolescent problems and are still standing, so there is every reason for us to trust Maggie to do the same. And partly this is because Friends With Boys is a graphic novel and a really good one.

I am able to whip through what I consider to be a well-done graphic novel, one that uses image to communicate setting and action. Hicks does even more here. Her wonderful artwork conveys character. When Maggie's older brothers appear, our understanding of them is almost instantaneous. There are no what I call "narrative boxes" in these frames--spots where the graphic novelist has had to tell us some info in words. Absolutely everything here is in dialogue and images. You can just suck this story in, absorb it. Be one with the story.

Okay, I will admit I don't totally get the ghost. But for you people who like that sort of thing, hey, there's a ghost.

Friends With Boys is a Cybils nominee in the Teen Graphic Novels category.