Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How Come Flavia Has Never Won An Alex Award?

And, also, didn't there used to be a list of top adult books for teens? Does that exist somewhere? Is Flavia on that, at least, even if she's been passed by for an Alex, an award given to "ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18?"

I am, of course, speaking of Flavia de Luce, the eleven-year-old heroine of a series of mysteries set in early 1950's England written by Alan Bradley. She is an incredible creation, one who can carry a book on her narrow shoulders. She sometimes does, because her plots aren't always as powerful as she is. She is both incredibly sophisticated, in terms of her knowledge of chemistry and murder, and touchingly innocent--her knowledge of sex is pretty much nil and in her most recent outing, I am Half-sick of Shadows, she is on the fence about the existence of Santa.

Though these books are not serials (I spit on serials), there are some intriguing questions hovering over all of them. What really happened to Flavia's mother, the late, lamented Harriet? Why is there so much conflict between Flavia and her older sisters? Is Flavia merely an unreliable narrator, perceiving her sisters as hating her, though in each book at least one of them does something significant for her? Or is there some family mystery there waiting to be revealed? Dogger, the shell-shocked war veteran who takes care of the whole family, appears to be able to do just about anything. What's that about?

I was reading quite a good book on plot at the same time I was reading I am Half-sick of Shadows. I couldn't help noticing that while I was being told in my plot book to get the story going right away, Flavia's murder mystery didn't actually start until halfway through the book. But, then, the laws of chemistry are the only rules she recognizes.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bears In Church

Getting back to the Berenstain Bears: I learned today at Facebook that Besty Bird did a Fuse piece last year on religious conversion in some popular works read by young people. A big section was devoted to a more overtly religious branch of BB books.

Time Management Tuesday: Flexibility Is Supposed To Be A Good Thing

I am definitely getting into the unit system for time management. I expect to be covering my experience with it in future Tuesday posts. (In fact, I'm even speculating about a memoir at some point--My Life in Forty-five Minute Increments.) Today, though, we're going to talk about having to give up your schedule and still work. Flexibility I believe that's called. I don't have a lot of that in my joints or my psyche.

Flexibility is essentially what Livia King Blackburne advised when I contacted her about her take on the unit system. Livia is a living, breathing graduate student working on her dissertation. You will recall, I am sure, that the forty-five minute time management plan is based on research done on students working on research papers. While Livia thought such research sounded useful and made sense, "The thing about research though, is that it applies to the average result of everybody studied, and also, the results would depend on the exact circumstances of their experiment, so there's certainly wiggle room in their advice. I find that for myself, it's better to define chunks in increments of work done, rather than time...Also, as you mentioned about the writing flow, I do think different tasks have a different natural length to them. So I wouldn't take 45 min. as a hard and fast rule, but rather let it vary according to the person and the task." (Emphasis in both cases is mine.)

Ah, clearly Livia does not have obsessive tendencies, as I do. Hey, but I can be flexible, no matter what anyone tells you to the contrary. It just takes tremendous effort on my part.

Yesterday is a case in point. I had been excited about what I was doing last week and actually looked forward to going back to work on Monday. But, then, Monday morning actually came, and I suddenly decided I really needed to submit some more work somewhere. So, I figured I'd spend a forty-five minute unit or two making one. On top of that sudden change in direction, I had a carpet guy here. Not only here, he was working on the hallway outside my office.

I am not yet so comfortable with running my life on the forty-five minute schedule that I wanted to walk by a relative stranger every three-quarters of an hour so I could do a nonwriting task somewhere in the house, then, fifteen minutes later, barge past him again (or over him, as he spent a lot of time on his hands and knees) to go sit in front of a computer again. Carpet Guy also kept wanting to talk about the cracks he was finding in the concrete under the old carpeting and something about nap. So I just sat at my computer, for the better part of four hours, going back and forth between two groups I might submit to and then preparing new submission material for the one I decided upon.

Also, I did a little less exercising yesterday morning than I usually do, and I didn't meditate because I wanted to be dressed and established in the office (staking out my space) before Carpet Guy arrived. My pre-writing ritual had been disrupted, I wasn't doing what I'd planned to do, and I was way off my forty-five minute schedule (crutch?). Seriously, I was feeling pretty anxious most of the day.

But I got my submission in. Submissions are incredibly important for writers--obviously--and incredibly time consuming; it's easy to forget about them in the rush to work, especially since the bulk of submissions amount to nothing. (An example of taking focusing on work rather than results, usually a good thing, to excess.) So while the day could be deemed a failure in terms of time management, in terms of accomplishing a task, of an increment of work done, it was a success.

That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

So, readers, what about flexibility? Are you comfortable with it? Have you had good experiences with it, or does being flexible just mean you're off your schedule and headed south?

Hey, this task took up a forty-five minute unit, so I should be off doing something else for fifteen minutes. Except Carpet Guy just returned! I can cope with this...I can cope with this...I can cope with this...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Jan Berenstain--Working Right To The End

Jan Berenstain, co-creator of the Berenstain Bears, has died. Her son said of her, "She was working on two books and had been doing illustrations until the day before she passed away." Way to go, Jan.

When her husband, Stan, died in 2005, his NYTimes obit included criticism of the Berenstain Bears series. The Gauthier boys were very happy with those books, though. I'm not saying the books didn't reinforce sex role stereotyping, as their critics charge. But if they did, it rolled off my kids' backs.

Of course, when your dad does dishes, folds clothes, and maintains his own personal grocery list and your mom mows the lawn and goes to the dojang, a book about bears living in a treehouse isn't going to have much impact on your world view.

Let's Get Serious About Hitting A Few Of These Blogs

I have doubts as to whether or not I will live long enough to visit all the New England SCBWI member blogs. It's not that there are so many (though it seems to me that there are). It's that I'm so slow.

Today I hit the forwordsbooks blog. forwordsbooks is "a website containing information about and access to Jewish books." The president also offers workshops on using Jewish children's literature. I'm not really seeing the writer connection with this blog, but it is listed at the NESCBWI site.

NESCBWI links to Anna J. Boll's LiveJournal blog Creative Chaos II. I prefer Creative Chaos, which is part of a more traditional At Creative Chaos, I can easily access info on Boll, whom I've heard of because she's the Northern New England Regional Advisor for SCBWI, and her name turns up in NESCBWI circles. She's done some posts recently on critique groups, which I hope to find time to read.

Freelance Ne'er-do-well is Ellen Booraem's blog. It looks as if she does book reviews, and she plans to be blogging about a recent trip to Ghana.

Ann Bedichek is a pre-published writer who blogs about historical fiction at Historical Fiction for the Classroom. Historical fiction! That subject keeps turning up here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Irish Troubles Are More Interesting Than Iron Age Speculation

Fergus McCann should be having a great summer. He's on study leave to prepare for his A-level exams. If he can pull off three B's, there will be a place for him in a medical school, which is his get-out-of-town plan. His uncle is teaching him to drive. He finds a two-thousand-year-old body in a bog. He gets to hang out with an archaeologist who arrives to study the body, and he gets to make out with the archaeologist's hot daughter.

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd could have easily been a book about one of those magical teen summers. But Fergus McCann's magical teen summer is pretty much wrecked by the fact that he's living in Northern Ireland in 1981, and his older brother Joey is on a hunger strike in Maze Prison. Ten men died during the hunger strikes at Maze in 1981, so Joey's family is painfully aware that his decision to stop eating could very well be a death sentence.

The magical realism aspect of the book, in which the Iron Age girl's story is told through Fergus's dreams, didn't work for me. Her fate and the one Joey has chosen for himself parallel in that both the dead girl and Joey are willing to sacrifice themselves for the culture they live in. Over all, though, I didn't find the bog child all that interesting.

Fergus and his struggles are. Bog Child is a historical novel, something we were talking about here recently. It's a good one in that the historical setting doesn't become instructive or overwhelm the proceedings and Fergus actually does have an interesting story, historical or not. Can he save his brother? Will he destroy his future trying?

Though I am not a big fan of all things Irish, I found myself greatly attracted to this book because its setting in time isn't one I know a great deal about. It was such a relief to be reading something that wasn't a paranormal romance, a mean girl story, a school based outsider tale, or anything that I've read before. Dowd, who also wrote The London Eye Mystery, really was a fine writer. This book was one I wanted to keep reading.

A question I was left with: The hunger strikers were seeking political prisoner status. However, in Bog Child we never find out what Joey McCann did to get sentenced to prison in the first place. Though there's much talk of Bobby Sands, we don't hear what he did, either. Can you be a political prisoner if you committed a real crime?

Sad to say, this book has been in my local library since November, 2009. I am only the second person to have checked it out.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Social Media Therapy

Do You Need a Social Media Intervention? provides advice on cutting back on social media. Unfortunately, now I want to follow the blog this post appeared at, The Bookshelf Muse.

Thanks to Cynsations for the link.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Falling Off The Time Management Wagon

I had planned to write this week about some experimenting I was doing with juggling time so I could squeeze in a little writing on the weekend, hoping, of course, that that could become a regular thing. However, the experiment fell apart because my personal time demands snuck over the boundary into my professional time on Friday and that impacted what I'd hoped to do professionally on the weekend.

I come from a family with many members with compulsive problems with food, alcohol, money, and drugs. We had a hoarder before we knew what hoarding was. So I think in terms of metaphors related to addictive behaviors.

For instance, I was reading an article sometime this past month in which the writer was advising someone with money management issues and recommending the equivalent of the old envelope system for setting aside and saving money for monthly expenses. I immediately started thinking about time. If only there were a way to put aside unused time and bank it for the future. When I've binged on time wasters, particularly in the morning, I tend to believe the day is shot, much as dieters will often feel they might as well give up that day's eating plan because they wrecked it with a donut, anyway. All is lost.

Things haven't been going quite that badly for me since I've been obsessing on time management this year. A few weeks ago I found myself reading comments on an article on-line. All of a sudden I kind of gasped and thought, You're not supposed to be doing this now! Instead of throwing my hands in the air and giving up, I used that technique I've heard from yoga and taekwondo instructors during meditation--If your mind wanders, simply bring it back. No passing judgment on yourself, just go back to the task at hand. On Friday I had a medical meeting for an elder at mid-day, which required a little prep time in the morning. But when I found myself with more than an hour left before I had to leave, I realized I could do a 45-minute work unit. I was able to do two or three in the afternoon after I got home, too. For the next two weeks, I'll be losing at least an extra half day of worktime to check in on an elder because the person who took that job over from me last September can't get time off from work right now. In the past I would have thought those weeks are just torn asunder because of an all-or-nothing attitude toward my schedule. This time I'll be trying to get a 45-minute work unit in before I leave and after I get back on that "lost" day.

So when your schedule falls apart, what do you do? Beat yourself up? Give up and try another day? Soldier on? What's the best way to deal with this particular time problem?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I Wish I'd Had A Sensei. Is It Too Late For Me To Get One Now?

Drawing From Memory by Allen Say is a marvelous memoir, a highly illustrated work based on Say's auto-biographical novel The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice. The publisher describes it as being of interest for grades 5 through 8, but adults can enjoy it because the material is novel but, for us, a quick read.

The period of time Say writes about has a lot going for it. His parents divorced in post-World War II Japan, and he ended up living with a grandmother. That wasn't going well for either one of them, and she and his mother allowed him to live independently from the ages of twelve to fifteen. This is an unusual situation to twenty-first century middle Amercians, but not a tragic one. Say was supported by his mother and lived in a one-room apartment while attending school.

So that's pretty eye catching.

On top of that, though, Say, who wanted to become a cartoonist, managed to become an apprentice to Noro Shinpei, who was, at that time, a well-known cartoonist in Japan. (I'm unable to find anything about him on-line that doesn't relate to Drawing From Memory.) So we also learn a great deal about Say's training as an artist, the work he did with Shinpei, with whom he had a student/teacher relationship, and his study of Greek and Roman sculpture and life drawing.

One of the most interesting aspects I found about the book is that nowhere does Say talk about submitting his own art to any kind of publication at that point in his life. He's always studying or training with his sensei (teacher), Noro Shinpei. It is, I think, a different model then the one I often hear about with young people (and often their parents) believing they should be publishing their writing now, that there are short cuts or that talent trumps actually knowing how to do things.

It is, in fact, different from what I thought I should be doing when I was a teenager and college student. I barely worked/trained at all and would send out any piece of crap I managed to approach finishing. If only I'd had a sensei.

Friday, February 17, 2012

And Now...Point Of View

Marlo Garnsworthy has a point of view discussion going over at Wordy Birdie.

Writing "About" History Rather Than Writing Actual Historical Fiction

I've been spending a lot of time these past two weeks researching markets, which means that I'm reading a lot short stories and essays at journals, trying to judge if these publications would be good places to submit some of my own work. That's how I came to read The Map by Don Schwartz. Seriously, I'm not just spending mass quantities of time reading.

The Map deals with some modern Germans' discovery of a map of the Warsaw Ghetto. The story has an element of magical realism, I think. But the reason I'm mentioning this adult piece of fiction here, at a blog relating to children's writing, is the author's way of dealing with historical material. I found it particularly interesting since we were just talking about historical fiction here a couple of days ago, and in the comments of that post, Tanita Davis wrote about how when she was working on a historical novel, her editor wanted a hook in the present day. The Map takes place in the present day, and the magical map is the hook that connects the present to the past.

Schwartz is writing in the twenty-first century, and he can't be sure how much his readers will know about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. So what does he do in this two character story? "What do you know about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising?" the secondary character asks. The first-person narrator responds, "Is this another history question? Because you know I know nothing about history."

This gives the secondary character, who knows lots about history, an opportunity to tell what he knows about the uprising. It also, by the way, gives him the opportunity to say, "How convenient for a German," a bit of commentary.

The "What do you know about..." question to give a character an opportunity to spill info isn't anything new. But it's used very well here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Some Talk About Historical Fiction And Balance

I will be behind in my blog reading for the rest of my life. But that's a good thing. I can bring readers' attention to things they might have missed, or, maybe, refresh a discussion.

For instance, earlier this month (not that long ago, by my standards) Tanita Davis made a case for historical fiction over at Finding Wonderland. Evidently historical fiction isn't wildly popular with a lot of young readers. Tanita says, "In part, the sticky label of "historical fiction" is a marketing key for parents and librarians to identify the book: Here is something semi-educational to slap into the unsuspecting hands of innocent youth. Go to it!"

This argument both works and doesn't. It doesn't work because historical fiction isn't written just for the young. There are adult works of historical fiction. Any western novel is a sub-category of historical fiction. Lonesome Dove, for instance. Those Napoleonic seafaring books by Patrick O'Brian are historical fiction. Georgette Heyer's historical romances are historical fiction. None of these books were written for children or even young adults.

Tanita's argument does work, though, because adult readers don't read historical fiction to learn anything. They read it because they enjoy the setting. Time is a setting, just as place is. But, as Tanita pointed out, too often historical fiction for the young is expected to be educational. Only child readers are expected to learn something from reading it.

Forgive me if I've told this story before (and I think I have): As a teenager, I was a big reader of historical fiction. A lot of it was adult historical romance, and a lot of it was related to adventure stories of some sort. None of it was assigned reading. I found it on my own. I don't recall ever reading a novel as part of a social studies class.

Time passes. It's the late 1990's, and I'm a children's writer considering writing a historical novel because, hey, I liked them back in the day. So I decide I should take a look at a few middle grade historical novels. I tried maybe three before giving up. I couldn't finish any of them. The historical fact aspects of the book were in my face and annoying. My professional reading from that period reinforced my impression--the most important factor in historical fiction for kids was historical accuracy.

As I said before, though, time is part of setting. Setting is only one of the elements of fiction. A good novel has to balance all its elements. So while it's important that historical information be accurate, the historical setting shouldn't become so weighty and important that it overwhelms character, point of view, plot, and theme. When it does, you get a book that needs to be assigned reading because who's going to want to read it otherwise?

Some well-balanced historical fiction: A Drowned Maiden's Hair, How the Hangman Lost His Heart, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing Traitor to the Nation, and What I Saw and How I Lied.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

You Know What February 14th Is, Don't You?

Cybil Winner Announcement Day

Time Management Tuesday: Writing Every Day

Today is our last initial discussion of Ellen Sussman's article, A Writer's Daily Habit: Four Steps to Higher Productivity, which was published in the Nov./Dec. 2011 issue of Poets & Writers.

The fourth step toward productivity for Sussman is daily writing. Breaks in writing, she says, make it difficult to "reenter a writing project." It also sounds as if she's an organic writer. "I don't outline my novels ahead of time. I let myself discover story and character as I write. And so I have to stay very focused to contain that fictional world." Her work goes easier if she is able to stay in the story and that means writing regularly, in her case, five or six days a week.

I totally agree with everything she says on the subject of writing daily. Perhaps I'm particularly sensitive to the problems related to writing breaks because I'm an organic writer, too. It is difficult to maintain flow, for instance, or stay in any kind of writing state, if you're always having to stop. Recently I was working three days a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and found that day on/day off schedule difficult because every day on came after a break of one or (on Mondays) two days. A chunk of my work mornings was spent fiddling around on-line, putting off attacking work. On the other hand, I can recall what a difference it made for Monday morning to be able to work for even a half hour or so over a weekend on a project I was deeply into. My computer guy has talked about writing code and how much easier it is to do if you've been doing it for a while. That, presumably, is why we used to hear stories about computer people staying up all night working, hopped up on caffeine. They didn't want to leave what they were doing and have to go through getting started again.

What's the connection with daily writing to time management, however? I think it's connected in two ways.

1. In terms of actually managing your writing time, if you can write nearly every day, you can get more done and not just because you're writing every day. You can get more done because the more you write, the easier it is to do. Plus, as Sussman says, "If I'm writing every day, four pages a day, then the novel stays in my mind during all the hours I'm not writing." So long as you can stay with the project, your mind keeps working even during those times you're not technically "writing." It's easier to experience breakouts. So writing every day has a connection to time management in that it helps you use your writing time more effectively.

2. To write every day, you have to make time to do it every day. This gets back to the issue of work and personal time. How can we possibly write every day and deal with personal time or day jobs? Sussman talks about habit. "Over time daily writing does get easier; it becomes a habit." You cannot exaggerate the power of habit. But it takes time to create one. How do we find the time to get started and do that?

I'm experimenting with squeezing in writing time on weekends and will write about how that's going next week. (And probably other weeks, too.) In the meantime, how many of you are able to write nearly every day? If so, how did you get started? If not, do you think it's worthwhile, and how might you try doing it?

ADDITION: Speaking of writing every day, in the essay Norman and Me, Amy Rowland says that Norman Mailer wrote every day. His biographer gave a tour of a house he lived in in Provincetown and told them "...Mailer believed writing had to be done every day, otherwise 'it was like leaving soldiers out in the rain.' He said you couldn’t tell yourself you were going to do it and then not do it, that it was a 'disservice to the subconscious.'" She also says he wrote in an attic room. "Toward the end of his life, Mailer would drag himself up the narrow stairs with a cane in each hand."

I was never able to get through the one book by Mailer that I tried to read and think the "disservice to the subconscious" bit is a little over the top. Still, I admire his dedication. Or perhaps perseverance.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Good Press For YA

“The Fault in Our Stars” and “There Is No Dog”: Not kids’ stuff at Salon.

The author, Laura Miller, talks a bit about the mysteries of YA vs. adult book publishing. I have a question about this bit:

"It makes no sense that the maudlin goo that is “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” should be classified as a work for adults, when “The Fault in Our Stars,” a far more mature rumination on the same themes, is regarded as a children’s book. Likewise, why should grown-ups be subjected to the cutesy “The Life of Pi” while teenagers get to revel in an astringent fable like “There Is No Dog”?"

Is she saying that it would make more sense for the "maudlin goo that is “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”" and "cutesy “The Life of Pi”" to be published as children's books? Because, maybe, children's/YA is gooey and cutsie?

Sometimes when I read raves for particular YA titles from nonYA people, I get the sense that they are surprised, that the YA book they're loving rises above its peers. Take the title of this piece--"'The Fault in Our Stars' and 'There Is No Dog': Not kids’ stuff." In the context of the review, I'm reading "not kids' stuff" as a really good thing. Why is it good that children's books not be children's books?

I may, however, be reading a lot into this.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lots Of Reading For Thief Fans

I was a big fan of Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief, though not so much the other books in the series. (There may be a fourth book I never even read.)

However, these books have a faithful following. Said faithful followers may be (and probably will be) delighted to hear that Chachic's Book Nook did a Queen's Thief Week at the end of January. There is a great deal of reading there.

While the series lost steam for me, I do think I'll be buying a copy of The Thief for my niece. Thanks to Liz. B. for the link.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

More On John Christopher

John Christopher's Guardian Obit is notable because it claims he "repudiated, rightly, the tag of "cosy catastrophe", a phrase coined by Brian Aldiss." Another obit used that term to describe his work.

The discreet charms of 'cosy catastrophe' fiction.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Wonkier NESCBWI Blog

When I read about writing, I prefer to read what published writers have to say about the subject over the thoughts of unpublished writers. This is not a matter of caring about status. It's a matter of caring about experience. I'm not a big believer in untrained literary genius. Or untrained anything, for that matter.

I was going to tell you an amusing story that illustrates my point about me, but it would have meant taking too much time away from the actual subject of this post, Livia Blackburne's A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing. Livia Blackburne is what we call nowadays a pre-published writer, though she's a pre-published writer with an agent, suggesting she's perfected her work enough to be considered publishable by at least one publishing professional. She writes fantasy, but she's also a neuroscience graduate student, and she brings a wonderfully analytical approach to her writing about writing.

Her blog has a "Popular Posts" section (by the number of comments she gets, other readers are not at all put off by the fact that she hasn't published yet), and among them is one called Author Blogging: You're Doing It Wrong, in which she discusses why blogging probably isn't a great marketing tool for fiction writers. (Though there are other reasons beyond marketing for blogging.) It's hard for fiction writers to create a platform. On top of that, she says, "Sometimes in online platform discussions, someone will mention the elephant in the room, that we’re only blogging for other writers. Usually, that comment is met with thoughtful nods. Comments of “Yeah, we should think about that”. More awkward silence, and then we go back to our blogging....I‘ve never heard anyone come up with a thoughtful, generalizable, plan for reaching targeted fiction audiences through blogging."

I would go a step further, myself, and say that most bloggers are only blogging for other bloggers. It's a closed system. And, yeah, a lot of bloggers don't want to discuss it.

Livia, however, does. In Author Blogging: You're Doing it Wrong, but John Locke's Figured it Out she describes another author's strategy for determining his target audience. The idea being that once you've worked out your target audience for your fiction, you can try to write posts that will appeal to that group.

A children's author's target audience, for instance, is probably librarians, teachers, and booksellers, since most kids don't have large amounts of disposable income or a means to get to bookstores or order on-line.

A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing is a blog I'd like to spend a lot more time exploring. Ah, but, there's the time thing.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

How Are Introverts Portrayed In Children's Literature?

The February 6 issue of Time had a cover story The Upside Of Being An Introvert (And Why Extroverts Are Overrated). (The actual cover says "The Power of (shyness)," which is not what the article is about at all.) This will be of interest to writers because conventional wisdom says that introverted types are drawn to writing.

I think it ought to be of interest to children's writers, too, because the article claims that extroverts tend to be more valued in our culture, yet introverts have qualities that often help them to become high achievers. At the same time, schools focus on and reward extroverts. (Group players...the belief that everyone needs to be well-rounded--whatever that is.)

What does children's literature reflect? The reality (according to Time, anyway) that introverts are achievers or the stereotype of introverts as outsider outcasts?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Cleaning Out The Sci-Fi Idea File

I came upon a file in my cabinet marked "Sci Fi Research." Since I've been keeping ideas for a nonapocalyptic future story on my new computer journal, I decided to go through the file, see what I could find that would apply, and get rid of the rest.

So far, I've found an editorial from 1995 about welfare reform. I can see where I was going with that, but I think it's too old to do me any any good. Get this--I saved an undated article about personal home pages. A-yeah, that's futuristic. There's also a 1995 article about Biosphere 2. Old news and the kind of claustrophobic, enclosed setting that would make me nuts to have to write about.

There's close to an inch of this kind of stuff, including a page I tore out of Newsweek regarding the 1950s and a Milestones from Time in 1992 announcing the deaths of Sam Kinison, Isaac Asimov, and Sam Walton. Nowadays what would interest me workwise is the bit about Molly Picon's passing, because today she is the least well-known person who died that issue. Time was a big source of information for me back in the '90s. Was I interested in the fact that back in '92 they thought that maybe high-fat, low-fiber diets didn't cause breast cancer, that someone was working on a vaccine from patients' own cells to treat some kind of lymphoma, or that frozen water was found on Mercury? All those stories were on another page I saved.

I have a review of a book about Daniel Boone in that sci-fi file. I don't know why I kept it, but it's still in print. I also found a review of a book about Jackie Gleason with "Sci-fi" written in my handwriting next to his picture. That book does not appear to still be in print.

This is going to be a much, much bigger job than I thought it would be, and not at all worth it, since I'm nowhere near ready to get started on a book like this. So I'll just close it up and put it away for another couple of decades.

Oh and there is also a two-page outline regarding a space station story for adults in which everyone on the space station is bored out of their minds. While there is an aspect of that that still interests me, no, I am not doing any stinkin' space station stories.

This was typed on the back of some of my old resumes. I really, really don't want anyone to find those.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Old Adult Vs. Children's Literature Question

I have an interest in adult fiction with child characters, mainly because working out the difference between a piece of writing published for adults with child main characters and a piece of writing published for children with child main characters is a bit mystifying to me. So today I spent some time reading Composite Body by Tony Tulathimutte, which was published in the the Winter, 2011 issue of Cimarron Review.

Composite Body is about a fourteen-year-old boy whose divorced mother moves the two of them in with a man he barely knows. The adults plan to marry, and the man has a teenage daughter. Teen faced with becoming part of a blended family is a traditional (and, yes, some might say stereotypical) YA scenario. In fact, not too long ago I read an entire YA novel with a similar situation, Notes From the Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin. Both works also involve the teen male main character bonding with the teen female main character who fills a stepsister role, either actually or potentially.

How is the adult short story different from the YA novel?

1. Voice. Joe, the narrator of Composite Body, has a very straight, lay-it-out there voice, while I described Declan, in Notes From the Blender as being a "teen outsider, wiseass cliche, but...funny in a funny-that-works sort of way." Nothing about Joe and Composite Body could be called funny.

2. The relationships between the main characters. Joe and Lorraine become anorexic together. Lorraine is frustrated by her unsuccessful attempts to become an actress. Joe joins her in starving once she tells him that food is pumped into you by others and creates flesh that covers who you really are. If you get numb on the inside from not eating, "then you can make people feel cold just by looking at them, and nobody can do anything bad to you, no matter how bad they want to.' She let go of my hand. 'Just by looking.'

That was when I joined her. We were going to be honest, and we were going to keep everybody and every nasty thing the hell out of us
." Nasty things might include Lorraine's father, his mother's fiance, who slowly becomes a darker and darker figure.

Declan, on the other hand, is hot for his soon-to-be stepsister and has to come to terms with them having a more sibling-like relationship.

3. The outcome. The YA book has a more positive outcome than the adult short story. That is expected of books for young people. YA is expected to have a climactic epiphany of new maturity, maturity, I'm assuming, being considered a positive thing. I'm not sure that I totally understand the ending of Composite Body, but I'm thinking that poor Joe identifies way, way too closely with his almost stepsister. I didn't see anything positive there or anything that suggested that Joe is more mature as a result of his experience, just far more troubled.

Though I found Composite Body more believable than Notes From the Blender, I wouldn't say either work is superior to the other. They are different in terms of what they are--adult short story vs. YA novel. And I'm afraid that reading Composite Body so soon after Notes From the Blender has done nothing to address the issue of why one author went one way and the others another with what is very similar material.

Time Management Tuesday: The Unit System

Okay, this is a thought-provoking idea for managing actual writing time.

In her article, A Writer's Daily Habit: Four Steps to Higher Productivity, Ellen Sussman describes using the "unit system" to manage her actual work time. She divides her time into units of an hour. She works for 45 minutes of that hour, and then spends 15minutes doing something that's not work related. The benefits, she says, are:

1. During the 45 minutes that she's working, it's easier to stay on task when she knows she'll have a break in another X minutes

2. During those 15 minutes that she's not working, her "unconscious thought" can often continue working on a writing problem. (She's talking about breakout experiences.)

Sussman's unit system is based on research done by Dorothy Duff Brown on using time while writing graduate theses. The end of 2/5 Practical strategies for pain-free academic writing and the beginning of 3/5 Practical strategies for pain-free academic writing (videos of a college-level class on academic writing--the sound is bad) cover the unit system. Evidently there is research--somewhere--that indicates that people develop a feeling of productivity for 45 minutes but that it decreases afterward. Theoretically, then, if you can keep reproducing that first 45 minutes over and over again through your workday, you can maintain a higher level of productivity then if you keep your butt on the chair and struggle for a full eight hours at a clip.

The lecturer in the videos suggests determining how many units you want to do in a particular work day. That sounds useful because if your time is being eaten away by family responsibilites or a day job, you may feel that trying to work for an hour or two here or there just isn't worth it. But, hey, if you can plan and knock off one or two units of work, that feels like an achievement.

The lecturer says that having a preplanned stopping point is also supposed to make for more efficient working, that people work harder when they know when they're going to stop, particularly as they get closer to their deadline. (Anyone else read The Feminine Mystique, in which Betty Friedan said that housework expands to fill the time available? It may be true for everything--if I have unlimited time to write a chapter, it could take me much longer to do so then if I have only four work units.)

While all this makes a great deal of sense, I wonder if it also contradicts what little I know about writing in flow. Not that I write in flow that frequently. However, if I could do a unit or two over the weekends (a time when I almost never work), maybe flow would come more easily on Monday or Tuesday.

Since I came back to work last month, I've been revising/editing and researching markets. I haven't been doing the hardcore writing that is far more difficult for me. So I haven't had an opportunity to try the unit system under the most serious work conditions. I did use the "work until 1 and you can take a break" argument once, though, and it worked. I'm definitely going to be trying the unit system in as organized a manner as I can muster. In fact, as soon as I finish this post, I'll be taking a break to put some wet clothes in the dryer because between the Internet research on Dorothy Duff Brown and writing this thing, I've worked well over 45 minutes.

Has anyone else tried the unit system? Any luck with it? Does anyone else want to try it and report back?

Monday, February 06, 2012

John Christopher

Sheila Ruth is doing a White Mountains post at Wands and Worlds in honor of its author, John Christopher, who died recently. This Tor obituary describes him as a writer of "cozy catastrophes," a term I'd never heard before. They sound like early, upbeat apocalyptic novels.

I will follow Sheila's lead and post some links to John Christopher posts I've done over the years.

Invasion Novels

Bringing You The Past

Are You A Tripods Fan?

Connecticut's 2012 Nutmeg Nominees Announced

The Intermediate and Teen lists for the Nutmeg Award were announced at the beginning of this month. It doesn't look as if the 2012 winnters have been chosen yet.

It's Not Walter Dean Myers' Fault If "Lysistrata" Isn't Taught At Your Middle School

Did anyone else totally miss that we have a new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and that it's Walter Dean Myers? Did anyone else totally miss the pissing match over his appointment?

I spent quite some time working on a post regarding how elitist I found Alexander Nazaryan's argument in Against Walter Dean Myers and the dumbing down of literature: 'Those kids' can read Homer. But I decided that would be pointless, because I realized that Nazaryan, himself, has missed the point regarding Myers' new position.

Essentially, Nazaryan's objection to Myers' appointment as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature is that he finds Myers' work "painfully mundane, with simple moral lessons built into predictable situations." However, Nazaryan didn't suggest an alternative children's writer whose work he found less mundane, simplistic, and predictable. Instead, he suggested students should be reading Homer, Virgil, and Sappho. These are authors who young people may read, but they are not writers who wrote specifically for young people.

The purpose of the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature is stated very simply at its website. "The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people." I repeat, "...national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature..." If Alexander Nazaryan believes the classics should be taught in the schools, he should feel free to go ahead and promote that. But it is not the job of the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature to do so. He used Myers' appointment as the springboard for his essay, but, in reality, it's totally unrelated to what seems to be his real subject, teaching the classics.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Rave Review For "The Fault In Our Stars"

Time Magazine gave The Fault In Our Stars by John Green a really stellar review. And I read it while using bicycle! No one else has used it yet!

Though, of course, it's the review that matters. I get that.

This Could Actually Be Helpful Writing Advice

The title What Makes A Book Sell? at Jill Corcoran Books sounds as if the post is going to be all about marketing. It's not.

Scroll down to the numbered items. "Brainstorm concepts and pitches before you commit to a new book." Again, because that line includes the word "pitch" it sounds as if we're talking sell, sell, sell here. However, I read an article in a SCBWI Bulletin recently that suggested doing the same thing before getting started on a new writing project. Being able to concisely describe your idea--to yourself--helps you to define what you're going to do. I wonder if it wouldn't be a helpful technique for an organic writer in terms of getting a plot started.

Also, this post included another interesting line: "Almost no one expects musicians to get good on an instrument without years of lessons, books, years of practice. There is a similar learning curve for writing." How many new writers realize that? How many people who want to become writers realize that? I certainly didn't back years and years ago. I thought every para I wrote was brilliant and publishable. Thank God others didn't.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

All Picture Books

I'm still doing it, I'm still visiting the NESCBWI member blogs.

I just got back from hitting Shop Talk, The Eric Carle Museum's Bookstore Blog. As you would expect, this is a blog heavy on picture book coverage. It is also, very appropriately, heavy on illustrations. Nice ones. Eliza Brown posts "puzzlers," in which she puts up illustrations from picture books choosen because they share some sort of theme and lets commenters try to guess the titles. A particularly stunning one was the puzzler on maps.

Battle Of The Kids' Books

Last year was the first time I was able to get into School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books, because it was the first time I'd read more than one of the contenders. This year I've read none of them. Though I do have Allen Say's Drawing From Memory waiting for me upstairs.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Yes, There Are Still People Who Feel Fiction Should Teach Something...Anything

There is, and has always been, an adult faction in the children's literature world that greatly admires fiction that is instructive. Evidently there are adults in the general population who feel the same way.

Stories Don't Need Morals or Messages at Salon.