Friday, March 30, 2012

Gail Carriger Working On YA Series

Gail Carriger, who wrote the Alexia Tarabotti novels (series completed), will be writing a four-book young adult series, The Finishing School.

The Alexia Tarabotti books were a mash-up of steampunk, supernatural (hot werewolves and vampires, not so hot ghosts), and Georgette Heyer's wittier historical romances. Also, if you've read the Amelia Peabody books, the main characters were sort of like Amelia and Emerson but, you know, supernatural. That is not a complaint, just an observation. Emerson is very werewolf-like, anyway. 

The first Alexia book, Soulless, won a YALSA Award in 2010. I like these books, but I don't really see anything about Soulless that would "have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18." Though we were probably still in Twilight frenzy back then, and Soulless did have plenty of vampires and werewolves.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Love Reading About Margaret Wise Brown

Margaret Wise Brown's eccentricities are not news to me. I do think, though, using her as the basis for an argument that she was childlike in some way and that childish writers may write better children's books, as Katie Roiphe does in Do Childish People Write Better Children's Books, is a bit of a stretch.

I have to admit, I don't actually understand Goodnight Moon. But I've read it out loud a lot, and I buy it regularly for expectant parents.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

OC Is Older Than Bookslut!

According to An Interview with Jessa Crispin at The Missouri Review's blog, Original Content has existed a little longer than Blog of a Bookslut. I just don't know how to feel about this. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Another Plotting Breakthrough?

In the spring and summer, I often replace some of my workout time with yard work. Yard work seems to be very conducive to breakout experiences.

I've been thinking about plotting recently, and yesterday I did a little research on the difference between plot vs. story. Many people use those words almost interchangeably, which I don't think is appropriate at all. Plot is part of story. How can it be defined as being the same thing? Character is part of story. Are we also going to define that interchangeably with story, too?

Here is my story definition (to date): Story is an account or retelling of something that happened told in a way that expresses meaning.

Here is my definition of plot: Plot is the action steps used to tell a story, each step having a causal relationship with the ones before and after it.

So here is the breakout thought I had this morning while cleaning up the periwinkle, totally as a result of my researching yesterday: My initial ideas for stories often come in just a scene or other very small element. My huge problems with plotting may come about because I don't yet have a story. Plot is part of story. It supports the story. The story ought to be there first. How can I create a plot, characters, setting, etc., when all I have for a starting off point is an elderly man suggesting to a young boy that he come to his camp with him and his wife and help him set up his computer? (Saving the Planet & Stuff) Or  a group of kids, one of them an alien, playing on the lawn in the evening and looking up at the sky because they know a war is being fought on another world? (Becoming Greg and Emma, which hasn't yet sold.)

When I'm getting started struggling with a new writing project, I'm not just struggling because I have no plot. I'm struggling because I haven't yet found the story that a scene or question has suggested to me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Alternative Plot Types

I've been waiting for three seasons to check out Time to Punk-rock With Plot at On Beyond Words and Pictures. The author, Ingrid Sundberg, writes about alternatives to the goal/give 'em something to want plot line. Note this line from the last paragraph: "Remember, there is merit to Aristotle's goal-oriented plot and many agents and editors are looking for that type of plot in a novel."

She has a legitimate point, but I hate that we have to think about what agents and editors want. Of course, if I did that more, things would be different around here.

Time Management Tuesday: The Swiss Cheese Method Of Time Management

A few weeks ago, I mentioned my dark past working at a traditional job. The agency I worked for did management consulting, including time management, and it was at that point in my life that I read Alan Lakein's book How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, which I heard about at the office.

The book was about what Lakein called the Swiss Cheese Method of Time Management. The theory was that many people put off complex tasks, hoping to have more time for them at some later date. Lakein claimed you could get started at jobs like that right away, chipping away at what needed to be done with small chunks of time. These small chunks of time were compared to the holes in Swiss cheese. With enough holes, the cheese either disappears altogether, because the job is done, or enough of it disappears to make the job seem manageable enough to work on in a more regular manner.

I've been using this method ever since, mainly in my nonwriting life. I've made quilts in just twenty or thirty minutes a day, over many days. That's how I get my yard cleaned up every year. I made carrot soup this past Sunday for Easter, because cooking an entire holiday meal anywhere near the actual holiday is quite beyond my capability.

Does this method work for writing, though?

Certainly it can be used for the business aspects of the job--creating mailing lists, data bases of contacts, building up your Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Those are jobs that don't require a lot of continuity. It could also be used when you're getting started on a new writing project. Pre-writing--planning characters, settings, and plots, for instance--could be chipped away at in small chunks of time. The same with research.

Once you're writing, though, can you stay in your writing world while working only minutes a day? Will working in such small units of time impair your ability to write in flow? I've actually wondered if using the Swiss Cheese Method of Time Management for parts of my life all these years has wrecked my endurance and made it harder for me to stick with a task, including writing, for lengthy periods of time.

Author Joseph Lunievicz described his writing schedule last year in a Cynsations interview. He completed his first book, Open Wounds, sometimes working only twenty minutes to an hour a day. He said, "The third key is to remember that even twenty minutes one day a week is enough time to write a novel--if you string enough twenty minute segments together over a longer period of time. Open Wounds took me seven years to write, but I wrote it over the first seven years of my son’s life when time was at a premium..."

So someone managed to write a book using, essentially, a Swiss cheese method to manage time. Does anyone else have experience using very small amounts of time to write? 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I May Have Experienced A Plotting Breakthrough

A few weeks ago, I read Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. Because I am Gail, I didn't get with the entire program. But there were any number of bits and pieces that grabbed me.

For instance, Bell talks about plots beginning with a disturbance to the world of the book, or the world of the character, however you want to think of it. There was something about that that I thought sounded far more useful than all this stuff about give your character something to want and then throw stumbling blocks in her way so she has to struggle to get it. For one thing, that seems like a formula to me, not a plot generating method. For another, being an organic writer, as I am, I always wonder, What character? What does she want? What stumbling blocks? Where am I supposed to get all that stuff? None of this material just comes to me. A disturbance to the world of the book, on the other hand, seemed far more useful. It could be a real jumping off point for coming up with a plot, I thought.

I'd been thinking about disturbances off and on ever since I finished Bell's book, particularly how they relate to my books. I'd been thinking that my books have all started with disturbances. The disturbance at the beginning of my very first book, My Life Among the Aliens, is the arrival of aliens. At the beginning of A Year with Butch and Spike it's the main character finding himself sitting between the bad boys of his class on the first day of school. With Club Earth another alien arrives with news. In The Hero of Ticonderoga, the main character is given the Ethan Allen research project. With  Happy Kid! the main character is given a book that influences his life. Even the Hannah and Brandon Stories, which are collections of connected short stories, have a disturbance at the beginning of each book--a neighbor with a dog moves in with the first book and the wild kids next door start moving in on Hannah and Brandon's lives in the second. The two books I've written and haven't sold yet start off with disturbances. I can see it in some of my short stories.

I was aware of all that, but it wasn't until this morning while I was out working in my yard that I realized something. (Breakout experience!) When I was writing all those books, I didn't realize any of this disturbance at the beginning of the book thing. If I had known what I was doing, couldn't that have made my plot creation process dramatically easier? If I had realized that my characters' worlds were experiencing a disturbance, wouldn't that have helped me with plot points because I would have known that I was dealing with the impact of the disturbance, its consequences, how characters respond to it? It would have generated a lot of material for me, and for organic writers, generating material that we can work with is a big part of our work battle.

Over the last couple of years I've been doing what I call the Plot Project here at Original Content: When I do a reader response to something I've read, I speculate about whether the author developed the plot through the give-a-character-something-to-want formula or if it could have come about in some other way. Going forth, the Plot Project is going to be about looking for disturbances.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


As luck would have it, I have already stumbled upon The Plot Whisperer, which Jill Corcoran gave a big mention to at her blog recently. I'm slowly making my way through the vlog series. I've only done two, and while I'm not seeing anything revolutionary--yet--the videos are short and on topic and definitely are stimulating my thinking about plotting as a subject, itself.

Friday, March 23, 2012

I Have A Name To Drop, And I'm Going To Drop It

I read somewhere recently that Suzanne Collins is somewhat reclusive. That made me recall that I've actually met her. Suzanne Collins doesn't do a lot of media events, but I've met her! And I don't mean that I just sat in the audience while she was speaking at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair back in 2005 about her first series, about Gregor the Overlander. I bought a book, and she signed it for me, and we talked about my favorite character, which is, of course, the anti-hero, Ripred. At that time, Collins had little rubber stamps for some of her animal characters. This was a very nice marketing touch. One she sure doesn't have to worry about now.

"Hunger Games" Tribute

In recognition of The Hunger Games opening day, here is a roundup of Salon's recent all-over-the-place Hunger Games coverage. The Sexual Politics of the Hunger Games. (In short, she loves it.) "The Hunger Games": A lightweight Twi-pocalypse. (In short, he hates it.) The Making of a Blockbuster. (In short, I really liked this look at children's book marketing.) What Came Before "The Hunger Games". (In short, an account of pre-Hunger Games books and movies that cover similar territory. Just a little bit snarky. "Hunger Games," Taylor Swift Reinvent Soundtracks. In short, I didn't read it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Believe She's Talking About Professional Behavior

It's hard to believe that people need to be told the kinds of things agent Jennifer Laughran says in her blog post The Fine Art of Zipping It, or XYZ PDQ. Other professionals have to be aware of their public behavior all the time, why should writers, and specifically children's writers, expect to be any different? It could be because on, say, Facebook you "friend" people. Thus there is the illusion that you know your friends and can relax with your friends. But many writers go onto Facebook for the sole purpose of promotion/marketing. They are advised by promotion/marketing books/sites/experts to do so. They collect as "Friends," many of whom they don't actually know. The idea is to post info about their work in front of all these people, hoping that they will buy books or at least talk about you to others. So you go to all that work, and then do nonprofessional posts that will make you look, well, nonprofessional? I am mystified. Mystified, but also hoping I never slip up and do it myself.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I'm in the process of trying to update my blog, and while that is going on, there may be some gaps in posting. Or other mysterious things may occur. So anything strange that appears here will be due to upkeep.

Time Management Tuesday: Grouping Activities

When I was a young mother, I had a friend who talked about planning her days so that she would always have a reason to leave the house for a little while with the baby. She couldn't stand being in the house all the time.

Needless to say, she was not a writer.

A big part of my time management effort goes to making sure I'm home as much as I can be. I'm not talking about avoiding speaking engagements, school presentations, or conferences right now. Most writers won't have so many of those that they are that big a draw from their writing time. I'm talking, essentially, about personal time demands and errands. I try very hard never to leave the house to do just one task. My attitude is it's far better to blow off two or three hours doing four or five things than it is to disturb four or five days doing one thing at a time.

In an article on getting control of your week life coach Tiffany Chion talks about steps anyone can take to organize time for the things they particularly want to do. Being Gail, I didn't get with the entire program. But I think her point "Group together activities that are similar, so you don't have to 'switch mental gears'" is a good one. I don't want to keep having to switch gears between going to the post office and revising a chapter, between hitting the bank and writing toward a deadline. The shifting back and forth is too difficult and way, way too time consuming.

Right now, I don't work on Thursdays. I shop, spend three hours visiting an elder, and do errands. On a good week, one in which there are no professional calls relating to ill family members, no extra visits to an additional elder, no appointments that I have to be involved with either because I'm a driver or the appointment is for me, that means I have four days to work. That's not bad.That's better than not bad.

Within my worktime, I've started experimenting with grouping submissions. I can go a long time without submitting short stories or essays, which is not a good thing. Nothing ever got published sitting on a hard drive. (That saying is so old that I originally heard it as "Nothing ever got published sitting in a filing cabinet.") I tend to avoid submitting because I find researching markets and doing cover letters time consuming. Submitting truly takes away from writing time, and once I'm into a writing project, I tend to stick with that. So I've started designating Mondays for submissions. I try to submit one manuscript somewhere every Monday, even though that frequently means losing many hours of Monday to visiting publications' websites and spending some time reading content to determine the best fit for whatever I'm thinking of sending. But spreading the Monday time over the entire workweek would have a much worse impact on my productivity than grouping the activity and keeping it to one day.

Does anyone else group activities to manage time?

Monday, March 19, 2012

What Children's Publishing Can Do For Books

On the surface, The Making of a Blockbuster is about the publishing support that helped make the book The Hunger Games a bestseller. But it's also about the kind of support children's publishing can give books, period, though, of course, not every children's book gets it. According to the article's author, Salon's Laura Miller, "children’s book publishing operates quite differently from its adult counterpart" in that regard. "With the right title, a kid’s publisher can deploy something the world of adult publishing can only dream about: a large, well-oiled and highly networked group of professional and semi-professional taste makers who can make that book a hit even before it’s published."

A couple of random points that particularly struck me:

Twenty thousand children's books are published each year. This explains why every book doesn't get Hunger Games treatment. Assume there was enough money to give twenty thousand books that kind of send off--wouldn't the people within the system who receive the arcs and spread enthusiasm eventually go deaf from all the buzz, some of which would certainly be unjustified? You know, just statistically not all twenty thousand books can be great. At some point, the people being told they are will realize that.

"The only thing that reliably sells books is word of mouth..." "Advertising and reviews and flogging on Facebook or Twitter don’t help much unless the author already has a large following." I've been hearing the part about advertising and reviews not selling books for several years now. I've had my doubts about Facebook, but seeing that line was particularly demoralizing since we spent the end of last week converting my professional Facebook page to Timeline and trying, unsuccessfully, to get Facebook share buttons onto my blog posts.

Sorry About That

We tried to make some changes to the blog this weekend that have fouled up links made to Facebook. For me, anyway. We have no idea what it's doing to linking anywhere else. We're going to continue working on it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Alice Bliss"--Could It Have Been Published As YA?

I just finished reading Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington, an elegantly written story of a fifteen-year-old girl's life while her father is deployed in Iraq. (Skim Harrington's blog for all kinds of background info relating to the writing of the book.) I am not a fan of coming-of-age novels, which Alice Bliss most definitely is. In case readers don't get it, on page 289 the third-person narrator says of Alice that something that has happened "makes her feel that she is not a kid anymore; that the most essential part of growing up has happened overnight." What grabbed me about the book, though, was that while Alice is totally consumed with what is going on with her model father, her life is continuing to go on. Life does that, especially adolescent life. That aspect of the book, the quality of the writing, and the fact that I haven't read any other fictional accounts of the homefront experience for our present wars, made me plow right through this book.

And, of course, I was curious about why a book with a fifteen-year-old main character wasn't published as YA. I can only speculate, of course.

1. That coming-of-age scenario (theme?) I just mentioned. That may be more popular with adult readers than with younger ones. (But, please, if someone can rattle off a list of coming-of-age YA books--especially popular ones--please do so.) Coming-of-age books tend to romanticize the splender of childhood and get misty-eyed over its sudden loss through some significant or even traumaticizing event. Boo-hoo, now the child has lost his/her innocence and is one of us. YA books may respect the YA experience, itself, and stay focused with what is going on during that time in life, without including a transition to what comes next.

2. I have heard a theory that books dealing with YA characters within the family are adult, books dealing with YA characters within the peer group are YA. Thus, Alice Bliss, dealing primarily with family, would be an adult book. I suspect that that is just one editor/publishing houses's stand. What about Margo Rabb's Cures for Heartbreak, about a fifteen-year-old girl whose mother dies of cancer? That was published as YA, and while I haven't read it, this excerpt certainly sounds focused on family and family history, not peers. A Certain Slant of Light would be another example of a book that doesn't fit the family vs. peer group formula. If memory serves me, both these books were written as adult fiction. The decision to publish them as YA was editorial and made after the fact.

3. Point of view. Alice Bliss is written in the third person, which is a hardsell for YA. For the most part, it uses a point-of-view character (Alice), but there are odd little shifts into other characters' minds, often adult characters. Not particularly YA friendly.

4. Voice. Though Alice Bliss uses a third-person narrator, it still manages to maintain an odd, wry voice. That could be a stumbling block for YA. Though you often read reviews or blurbs that include lines like, "A fresh new voice in YA!" most YA voices sound remarkably alike.

5. There's a serious amount of suffering in Alice Bliss. That's not a reason to keep it out of the YA category, of course. Lots of angst in YA. Alice Bliss does teeter on going over the top sometimes, though. I once read that a problem with books about suffering is that while the characters in the book are experiencing their trauma over, say, many months, we readers are getting it all at once. Readers can get to a point where they feel, Okay. Everything's terrible. We get it. Are YA readers more likely to get to that point than adults? I don't know.

6. Alice Bliss has the teen girl with two guys interested in her. That set-up is beloved in YA. (Twilight! Hunger Games!) And there is a mysterious couple of pages where two characters may have had sex or may have just engaged in a serious makeout session at a really inappropriate time. YA readers would love to discuss that.

There's plenty to talk about here regarding the YA vs. Adult question. I'm guessing that in many cases, these decisions are just random. When Margo Lanagan was asked at an event I attended why her book Tender Morsels was published as YA in the U.S., while it was published as adult in Australia, she said that her contract with her American publisher was for a YA novel. So YA it was.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Present

This is the tenth of my ten Tenth Anniversary posts. Enough about the past. You know what the Zenny-types say--don't regret the past or be anxious about the future. Stay in the present. Presently I am rewriting one of my unpublished manuscripts, moving it from a children's book to one for adults, which leads to today's repost.

I frequently read adult books with child main characters (The Gates by John Connolly, for instance, and I'm reading Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington now), and what makes those books adult books versus children's books is something I give a lot of thought to. I'll be thinking about it even more the next couple of months.

Today's anniversary post doesn't involve an adult book with a child main character, but it does involve an author rewriting his children's book as a film for adults. In this case, he shifted the main character from a child to an adult, which I don't plan to do. Nonetheless, reading the book and watching the movie is an interesting experience because you can see the shift from children's to adults' story.

January 3, 2011 A Great Illustration Of The Difference Between Adult And Children's Literature

The day after Christmas, PBS ran a production of Framed on Masterpiece Theater, which I just finished watching today. The TV film stayed pretty close to my recollection of the book. What was incredibly--incredibly--fascinating about it was that the book is a children's book. The film is a mainstream adult production.

While I can't recall every moment by the book, of course, it appears to me that all Frank Cottrell Boyce, who wrote both the book and the adaptation, did differently was focus on the adult museum character in the movie, while he focused on the child character in the book. In an essay at the PBS website, he says, "The film just became a thing of its own — less about the little boy who narrates the book and more about the love story between the grown-ups." Last week I wrote about how theme can make the difference between an adult and YA book. Here it's a matter of character making the difference between a story for children and one for adults.

Take a look at this description of the book. And now read the description of the film. You'll see what I mean.

The film begins and ends with Quentin Lester, the adult. He is the character who evolves during the story. The kids still have the best action, but at the end we don't see what has changed in their lives. It's pretty much how the kids' actions impact Quentin that matters. The story has, indeed, been turned into an adult romance.

You can even see the difference when you look at the covers of the book and the DVD. The book has a child character on the cover. The DVD has two adults.

I have no problem with this, myself. I like the idea of an author reworking material in different ways. I don't know how I'd feel if I were going to sit down to watch the show with the kiddies after we'd all read the book, but since I wasn't doing that, I found the movie intriguing.

Years ago a friend showed me a short story she was thinking of submitting to a magazine running a contest for a children's story. I had to point out to her that her story was about the mother and not her kids, thus it wasn't a children's story. Whose point of view to concentrate on is a concept that some people have trouble with. I think reading Framed and watching the adaptation would be a wonderful case study for very new writers illustrating this very basic difference between children's and adult fiction.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Tenth Anniversary Obsession Post--Shirley Jackson

Over the past decade, I have indulged many of my obsessions here at Original Content. I've done many Rebecca posts, for instance. I went through a dad book period. I've gone on, at length, about breakout experiences. Then there's Louisa May Alcott.

But the obsession worthy enough for a tenth anniversary post can only by the one I have with Shirley Jackson. That goes back all the way to high school.

December 6, 2008 Not What I Expected From Shirley

Shirley Jackson's main connection to YA literature is probably through the short story The Lottery, which many students read in high school. I think it's considered attractive to kids because it's scary and surprising. So a lot of readers think, "Oh, Shirley Jackson. Creepy." As Jonathan Lethem said in the Salon article Monstrous Acts, "An unfortunate impression persists (one Jackson encouraged, for complicated reasons) that her work is full of ghosts and witches. In truth, few of her greatest stories and just one of her novels, "The Haunting of Hill House," contain a suggestion of genuinely supernatural events". That is definitely the case with the short story collection The Lottery: Adventures of the Daemon Lover. (This is the original title of the 1949 book and it appears that way on my old paperback published in 1969.)

What struck me about these stories when I reread them last month is that many, if not most, of them are about women. Specifically, they're about women's lives. I'm not talking about a writer making some kind of feminist statement with her writing. (Though her story Elizabeth might be of particular interest to feminists.) I'm talking about a writer showing us women's experience during a particular point in time and in a particular place--mid-twentieth century America. The women in Jackson's stories live extremely claustraphobic, narrow lives. They are almost always referred to as Mrs. Something or Another or Miss Something or Another. They are thus defined in terms of their relationships--or lack thereof--with men. How often do we see Mrs. or Miss or even Ms. used these days the way Jackson uses those honorifics? She creates a very definite feeling of oppression with them.

Jackson's female main characters in these short stories are almost always alone. They are also often trapped emotionally in some way. And many of the stories involve a city woman who has moved to the country, where she is, once again, isolated and trapped.

The Lottery appears at the end of this collection, which is a very good place for it. After having read the other stories, The Lottery doesn't seem all that surprising. Instead, it fits in rather well with Jackson's other stories of women trapped in worlds from which they cannot escape.

It's still scary, though.

The Problem With Apocalyptic Fiction... that a lot of it sounds alike. Something bad happens to a culture, and now everything sucks. All apocalyptic novels are a variation on that scenario. Suzanne Collins didn't have to copy anything to make The Hunger Games sound similar to an array of earlier books and movies. That is the nature of the genre. It's pretty narrow.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

An Eye-Opening Story

Lit blogs and Facebook posts are spreading the story of author Francesca Lia Block's struggle to keep her home. Many Americans are facing similar situations now, and her experience puts a well-known face (in children's literature, anyway) on that dilemma.

But her story also illustrates how fragile a writer's career is. Block is a successful writer. In fact, according to her account, she's had the money to keep up with her mortgage payments. So far. But as she points out in this LA Times article, she's had a bad year in terms of career (an eye problem has made it difficult for her to work at a computer) and the legal complications regarding a loan her late mother had signed for.

One bad year can wreck things for anyone, and writers are no different. They're believed to make big bucks, but even those who do, don't make regular big bucks. There will be wide swings in the amount writers make each year, depending on whether they received an advance for a recent sale or are just waiting to see what royalties come in on books in print. They can supplement this with income from appearances, workshops, and reviewing, but that's not regular, predictable income, either. We're not talking a lot of financial security, and it's easy to see how the present economic mess, particularly as it relates to real estate, can have a chilling impact on a writer's life.

Francesca Lia Block has a new book out, Pink Smog. I suspect that she would much rather be talking about that right now than what's happening with her mortgage.

More on writers' incomes.

Time Management Tuesday: Writing On Weekends, Flow, And The Impact Of Networking On Managing Time

Today's post from the past deals with a couple of things we've been discussing on Time Managment Tuesdays this year: 1. Finding time to write every day and 2. Writing in a flow state. I also think this post suggests that finding time to network with other writers might have a positive impact on how we use our time.

The writer friend referred to in this post has to be Lynda Mullaly Hunt, whose first book, One for the Murphys, will be published in May.

October 4, 2010 The Flow Thing

I can't make any big claims about writing in a flow state. However, I do think that when I'm...shall we say...flowing?...I continue to work after I leave my work station. Thoughts come unbidden while I'm making dinner and cleaning toilets. Problems are resolved while I'm driving or mowing the lawn. I have more breakout experiences.

I've had problems getting to that point this past year because I'm most likely to get into a flowish-like state when I'm working regularly. I have to stay involved with the work. As in every day. With the schedule I'm living with now of work work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and family work on Tuesday, Thursday, and weekends, it's hard for me to stay involved enough to keep my mind working away while the rest of me is doing something else.

I had something interesting happen this weekend related to this. Out of the blue a writer friend I haven't spoken to since maybe March called me Saturday evening. A family member claims we talked for an hour and a half, though I wouldn't know. (Hmmm. Perhaps I was in flow.) I found the experience stimulating enough that I couldn't wait until Monday to get back to work.

So yesterday afternoon, while sitting next to a fire to tend a pot on some coals (I'll spare you the details about how I got started on that) instead of reading a magazine I brought my workbook with me and worked out what I needed to do today to, essentially, deep-six a chapter and replace it with something else that would incorporate some of the same material and yet be totally different.

As a result, today's work went really well, in spite of having a plumber sharing the house with me for the better part of the day.

So I'm thinking that I really need to do something--even something small--every day.

Yeah, another desperate plan. We'll see how that goes.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dumping On Litblogs

When the review sections of newspapers began their decline a few years back, some of their advocates tried to save them by claiming that if print reviews disappeared, the world would be left with nothing but on-line reviews " written by someone who uses the moniker NovelGobbler or Biografiend." Newspaper reviews were "intellectual" while on-line review sites were "a childish free-for-all." (Michael Dirda quoted at Chasing Ray--see link in original post). Saving humanity from litblog reviews was a major reason for maintaining your local newspaper's book section.

Yeah, well, that ship has sailed now, hasn't it? Marketing these days is all about blog tours and social media. Of course, reviews are supposed to be about criticism, not marketing, but the publishing world only cares about them because they can be used to sell, sell, sell. And a blog tour and social media can be used for that, too, so print reviewers had a hard time getting a lot of support.

The links to the National Book Critics Circles' blog Critical Mass in my original post and in Chasing Ray now lead to a message saying you need to be invited to access them. However, Critical Mass does still exist and appears open to all. I couldn't find the posts Colleen Mondor and I linked to in its archive, though I did find a reference to the NBCC's Campaign to Save Book Reviewing. I don't know how long it went on or how it ended, if it ended.

April 28, 2007 Does Anyone Else Understand This?

The way this whole Save The Review Section, Save Western Civilization movement has turned into an anti-literary blog campaign is fascinating in a "Hey! Look at the five-legged frog!" sort of way. How are newspaper review sections and litblogs connected? I know plenty of people here in the carbon-based world (winky for you, Sheila) who get all their news from Internet sources, but I don't know a soul who gets all of his or her book information from the Internet.

Are the traditional book critics just looking for a dog to kick?

I've started visiting Critical Mass, "the blog of the national book critics circle board of directors." Yesteryday's post Flat Screen Differs From The Book goes on for a while about the difference between reading on a monitor and reading a book, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what bringing up computers has to do with the writer's passion for books, which she talks about later in the piece, and her desire to see them reviewed. Why bring up computers at all? What was the point?

I enjoy a newspaper book section, myself, and have good reason to want to save them. After all, so long as they exist, there's always the possibility one of my books will be reviewed in some of them. Therefore, I certainly hope the pro-review warriors have a better weapon in their arsenal than complaining about litblogs.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Marketers Moving Into The Blogosphere

How serendipitous is this? I planned this anniverary post for today a week or so ago, but it relates to a NESCBWI program I attended yesterday on book marketing. A lot of what was discussed yesterday related to Internet marketing. The publishing world's enthusiastic acceptance of Internet marketing and its attempts to control its viral nature date back to the frontier period of children's lit blogging.

January 17, 2006 What Should a Blogger Do?

Last week I mentioned the litblog co-op, a group of literary weblogs that try to draw attention to "contemporary fiction, authors and presses that are struggling to be noticed in a flooded marketplace." A few days later, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators: New England's newsletter came with a notice about The Great Blog Experiment, in which agent Nadia Cornier (that's agent as in literary agent, not Jack Bauer-type agent) is encouraging bloggers and readers to promote a book (Teach Me by R. A. Nelson) in order to see if blogging can have an impact on sales.

I don't know how I feel about all this. Certainly bloggers pass info around through whatever community they are part of--in our case, kidlit, but there are also on-line communities for every kind of interest. Part of the point of blogging is to give a voice to everyone, to those who are outside traditional power structures who wouldn't normally be heard. Sometimes we're just giving a voice to ourselves. Sometimes we're giving voices to the people we're writing about. And I think we should be giving a voice to books and authors the mainstream press doesn't cover because what's the point in just repeating what can be read in a newspaper or magazine?

But if bloggers are uniting, aren't they creating another power structure that's going to speak with just one voice--or at least on a limited number of topics? The litblog co-op describes itself as "uniting the leading literary litblogs," suggesting a little elitism that's going to elbow out litblogs that aren't "leading." I know they're looking for power in support of a good cause. Many good books are ignored because there just aren't enough venues to promote them. But maybe creating a hierarchy on the democratic Internet is going to limit the venues, too.

"Word of mouth" promotion for books is real. But it's word of mouth, enthusiasm for a book that spreads because, well, individual readers were enthusiastic and spread the word. We're talking power to individual readers here, not organized ones.

Oh, jeez. I'm afraid I'm turning into some kind of anarchist.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Reader Responses--Mine

Many, many times over the years I've written at Original Content about my reading. I don't do true reviews here, in part because I don't know what a real review should entail, and in part because I want to stay away from the whole "negative" vs. "positive" review problem that pokes its head up on the blogosphere from time to time. (Or used to, anyway.) So what I do here are reader responses. Here is one of them.

January 8, 2004 Keeping Company With the Captain

I was at Readerville quite some time ago, and one of the other posters was expressing some concern about The Captain Underpants series. She seemed to think there was a lot of damaging stuff in it.

Well, of course that was all I needed. I had already read the first book so I ran out to the library and got Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies From Outer Space. I liked it. I thought it was clever, I thought it was kid-centered, and I thought the humor was unpredictable. Which I think is a good thing.

On top of that, Dav Pilkey, the Captain's fearless author, doesn't talk down to kids. He uses pop culture references (something I like) and definitely doesn't limit himself to an approved kid vocabulary. By that I don't mean he uses vulgar, adult language (though you're going to see some toilet humor in this guy's work). I mean this book written for third graders is peppered with words like "improbabilities," "jubilant proclamations," "assault," and "triumphantly."

Of course, third grade may not be what it used to be, but I still think the vocabulary in this book is a little challenging. I also think that, like pop culture references and unpredictable humor, is a good thing. Will kids understand every word? Probably not. Will they figure out a lot of meaning from context? I think so. And they'll be figuring it out from a fun context, too.

Will kids learn to behave disrespectfully toward their principals because Captain Underpants is a nasty principal who occasionally turns into a lame superhero who runs around in his tightie whities? I don't think so. Humor comes from incongruity. What's funny about these books is the idea of the all-important school principal running around in his underwear and needing grade schoolers to keep him out of trouble. That's funny because in real life it doesn't happen. Hardly ever, anyway. I think kids get that.

And as far as making jokes about lunch ladies is concerned, come on! People have been doing that for a couple of generations now. That's not news.

Not too long ago I was ego surfing on a Saturday night (pathetic way to spend the evening, I know) when I came upon a library website that include a page called If You Liked Captain Underpants. It was a list of recommended books for readers who liked the Captain Underpants series. What do I see there but my own My Life Among the Aliens.

I am definitely happy to be keeping company with the Captain.

What? "Mrs. Mike" Wasn't A Memoir?

I learned on Facebook today that the co-author of the novel Mrs. Mike has died. The obit describes the book as a "cherished mainstay of adolescence and beyond."

I read it as a pretty young adolescent. My recollection is that I thought the whole thing was true. Clearly, I did not look at author names back then.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Some Literary Unpleasantness From The Past

Someone is always complaining about something in the literary world, and the children's lit world is no different. In this post from 2003, I cover the buzz surrounding an attack on two writers popular with young readers and mention the Readerville website, where I wasted many hours I should have been working back before the blogosphere exploded and I could start wasting time there, instead.

September 25, 2003 And None of You Readers Know Anything, Either!

Lots of talk at Readerville (and other litty sites, I'm sure) about Harold Bloom dumping on Stephen King. Since Stephen King is popular with YA readers--and since Bloom took this opportunity to moan and groan about J. K Rowling, as well--I think it's appropriate for me to talk about it, too.

First, who is Harold Bloom? The short answer is, an old guy who doesn't like anything and enjoys saying so. The long answer is he's a highly educated academic and literary critic who is well regarded by some. I wouldn't know about that, not having read anything he's written. He's well-known for promoting something called "The Western Canon," the western canon being literary works believed to have value. Most of them just happen to have been written by white, European males. Dead ones, often, too.

So he hates J.K. Rowling, saying she is a terrible writer whose readers will go on to read other terrible writers, such as Stephen King. Whom Bloom hates even more then he does our Jo.

Now, I don't necessarily think Rowling is the greatest author who has ever walked our globe, either. And I've never read anything by King, so I can't comment one way or the other. However, Bloom's "commentary" becomes nasty and personal in the article that is making noise right now. He moves away from critiquing the work to attacking the person.

In addition, the tone of the article in question suggests (at least to me) that most of the readers in the world are not educated enough to make decisions about literature, to understand and recognize quality writing. The elitist attitude is both offensive and scarey.

Notice that in he above paragraph I was writing about the tone of the article? I didn't attack Bloom, himself? That is how this lowly reader with only a mere college education believes criticism should be written.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Beginning Of The End Of Graduate School

Two thousand and two was a big year for me. In addition to beginning Original Content in March, I began training in taekwondo in July, and I took a graduate course in September. As God is my witness, I aced the class. Why was it the end of my graduate school experience? Man, is graduate school ever a time suck. It truly took up all my writing time that semester.

I did go on to publish some essays, though.

August 29th, 2002 This is a Fine Mess I've Gotten Myself Into

The school year has started, which means I should soon have more to write about--school presentations, conferences, etc. However, the question of how I'll find time to write about these things has come up. You see, I've been thinking about going to graduate school for, oh, say, twenty-five years and last night I actually started taking a graduate class. Not that that means I'm actually in graduate school. I'm a non-degree student, which helps to explain why it took all summer for me to get permission to attend this thing.

But whether I'm in graduate school or not, I'm taking this graduate class about essays. And today I started reading essays by a fellow named Montaigne who lived in the Sixteenth Century. In France. He is the father of the modern essay as we know it. (Did I ever hear Regis ask that question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?) By the time I got to the end of the first page I was falling asleep, and after twenty minutes I was out cold. That was at ten to eleven this morning. I still have twenty pages left to read. Then I get to go on to the works of two Eighteenth Century British writers and finally an entire book by a contemporary writer. That's for next week.

I'm not worried about the reading keeping me from writing but the napping may cut into my work time significantly.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Things We Used To Do

Today's 10th Anniversary post gives you a bit of blogging history and Gail history in one package. It deals with a list that was passed around among bloggers back during our frontier period. I don't see much of this kind of thing, anymore. This may be because I don't read as many blogs as I used to, but it also may be because this kind of meme-like activity probably involves images these days.

Yes, I am aware that I did double 6s and 8s on this list so that I have actually 22 items. But that's how it was originally published, so you're getting it mistakes and all

November 4, 2005 Twenty Not So Random Things About Me

On October 29, Kelly, of Big A little a said she'd like to hear from me regarding "Twenty Random Things About Myself." She had been "tagged" with the list request by another blogger, who had received it from another blogger, and evidently you can trace this back quite a ways, if you have the time.

I was interested in the passing of this Random List request among children's bloggers because it seemed a way of creating a community of people interested in kidlit, just as I was writing about a few day's back. However, I really want to keep this blog focused on children's literature. I try to only talk about myself in relation to my being a children's writer and children's book reader. So I'm going to do the random list thing, because I don't want to be left out, but it has to be a focused random list.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Twenty Not So Random Things About Me:

1. I was an English major and history minor in the College of Education at the University of Vermont.

2. I never actually taught school.

3. I did teach Sunday school for eleven years (can you believe it?), served as an elementary school classroom volunteer for three years, and presently do author talks in elementary schools and assist with a junior taekwondo class.

4. School settings are of great interest to me, and I used them in three of my books.

5. I taught Sunday school in a Congregational church.

6. Congregational churches were originally Puritan churches, and I once prepared a lesson plan on Puritan history for my sixth-grade class. (Yeah, everyone loved having me for a teacher.)

6. The Puritans came up again when I was writing The Hero of Ticonderoga because Ethan Allen was the anti-Puritan.

7. When I got out of college, I worked in a department at the University of Connecticut that did management development and personnel management training.

8. As a result, I'm probably a little more open to business and management-related ideas than I would otherwise be.

8. For instance, I once led a writing workshop that was developed around using goals and objectives in writing.

9. I always use French surnames in my books.

10. I like reading books on creativity and how to be more productive as a writer.

11. Such books haven't done me a lot of good.

12. I wish I knew more about grammar and usage.

13. I worry that the copy editors at G. P. Putnam get together at lunch and laugh at me.

14. I received a letter last week from a fourth grader who asked if I express myself through writing.

15. My first thought on reading that letter was "What? What's she talking about?"

16. Then I realized that absolutely everything we do expresses something about ourselves.

17. I wrote the child a very philosophical reply.

18. Now I worry that the teachers at that school get together at lunch and laugh at me.

19. I suffer from performance anxiety before public appearances and when training with higher-ranked taekwondo students.

20. Last fall I was nominated for a writing award and really didn't mind not winning at all, because I was so worried about having to get up and thank people. Not that I wouldn't have been grateful. It's just that if I expressed my gratitude incorrectly, I could have ruined the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Routines And Inner Editors

In today's post you will learn that I was concerned with doing more with less time long, long before Original Content started.

July 1, 2009 Trying To Manage Time

Teaching Authors has a post up called "Ideal" Life vs. "Real" Life: Where Does the Time Go?". It's about writing and time management.

Get ready for a laugh--I once taught a workshop on time management for secretaries and administrative assistants. This was decades ago, when I'd been working for an agency that did management development and personnel management training for state and municipal employees. My bosses did time management programs for managers. Those programs focused on delegating work as a way to manage your time. You don't have time to do something? Get someone else to do it! Problem solved!

Why anyone thought I was qualified to teach time management I no longer recall. And note that the people I was teaching the time management workshop for were at the bottom of the executive chain. They were the people work was delegated to. Delegating wasn't an option for them. What I focused on was using "forms." Creating templates (pre word processing) for anything you possibly could so that you didn't have to come up with a new letter, memo, etc., for every single occasion. My plan was to save as much time as possible by cutting down on decision making and avoiding having to reinvent the wheel.

I only taught the workshop once.

I still think that you can save time with routines--do the same thing at the same time on a regular basis so that you don't have to spend a lot of time thinking about what you're going to do. Send the same letter to as many people as possible. That sort of thing.

It doesn't help a whole lot with managing writing time, though.

In her post on time management at Teaching Authors, Carmela Martino says that she procrastinates because of perfectionism. That's a classic problem for writers, one that is sometimes referred to as an inner editor. When I first heard about inner editors, I thought the idea was laughable, some kind of touchy feely, navel gazing thing. (That was before I started dabbling in zen, of course.) Then, after struggling with some of my later books and finding myself reading anything, absolutely anything, so I could avoid working, I began to suspect that perhaps my problem was, indeed, that I had been invaded by an inner editor. My weak ego couldn't face the knowledge that the manuscript I was working on was going to need draft after draft after draft. It was just too soul-sucking. I could make myself feel better by reading--something someone else had written. It's good to get some in-depth knowledge about politicians, isn't it? There was always a chance that reading would lead me to come up with some brilliant idea. It wasn't really wasting time.

Hmmm. Perhaps there's medication for that?

My latest time management twist involves looking over a writing project in the middle of my morning workout. (I have little problem working out for close to an hour in the morning. Why should I? When I'm working out, I don't have to work! You'd think writers would be the most fit group on the planet because exercise is such a fine procrastination device.) Then, while I'm on the treadmill or whatever, the material I've just looked over is in the back of my mind, and I often come up with some satisfying tweak for it. This is what is known as forcing a breakout experience, by the way.

Go to the original post to read the comments.

10th Anniversary For Original Content

I created Original Content ten years ago today. The thing existed for six years before it occurred to me to mark an anniversary. Observations of the day were hit and miss after that.

We're going to observe this particular anniversay in a bigger way. For the next 10 days, I'll be republishing a post from each year of OC's existence. I'm choosing posts that I think relate in some way to what's been going on here on the Internet or in publishing or that are representative of one of my many obsessions. I'll be starting those today. The Time Management Tuesday post will come from the archive.

But, first, a quick overall impression of how blogging has changed in the decade I've been doing it:

1. I've said this before, I know. When I began blogging, there were only a handful of children's literature blogs. Around 2005/06, we went through a big growth spurt that I like to think of as the frontier period. There were no organizations, no tours, there was just blogging and informal communities of bloggers grew up around the act. That was my favorite time. The explosion kept moving on and on, though, and the number of blogs has become much larger than many of us can keep up with. The audience for any particular type of blog is probably finite and with so many bloggers competing for it, not many will be successful in achieving much of a readership. It's not a great time to be a new blogger, IMHO.

2. Another thing I've noticed is that the structure/format of blogs has changed. Back in the day, it was a specific short form. (I often refer to what I do here as "flash nonfiction.") A blog post was supposed to be short, with links to other material that bloggers were commenting upon or using for support for what they had to say. Blog of a Bookslut is a good example. Nowadays you often see more traditional long-form writing published as blog posts, lengthy book reviews, for instance, and essays that years ago might have appeared as part of a newspaper column. The "read more" hyper link on many blogs is an attempt to maintain the appearance of the short form by hiding a lot of the text.

There's nothing wrong in blog posts becoming lengthier. I have trouble controlling my flash nonfiction, myself. What is interesting about this situation, though, is that in the past there were all kinds of concerns about the impact the Internet would have on traditional media. But in this particular case, I think the writing style of traditional media has moved right into blogs, thus impacting the Internet.

The picture above is from 2002. I am grayer now, and you won't see me holding my glasses in my hand these days. I still own that dress, though, and I can still get into it. I suspect that's a metaphor for this blog--superficially changed by time, fundamentally the same.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Some Excellent Book Marketing Material

You know how I keep talking about how I've been sick? (I've been siiiiick.) Well, I blew off my tkd class this evening, because I have to be in top form to survive an hour with the night crew, and I just spent a tidy chunk of time reading a five-part series called Marketing & Publicity for Authors at Through the Wardrobe, author Janet Fox's blog.

I am so happy that in Part 1 she said that a website "is truly the only absolute in publishing today. I do believe a personal website is essential to every author." A blog, on the other hand, she calls "not essential." More than once I've read in advice to new writers that they can do a blog instead of a website, a blog is the bare minimum, everyone needs to blog. That is just so wrong. A blog, by itself, just doesn't make hardcore info easy for readers to find. What's more, if you don't really have any material that compels you to write or you only update a few times a year...well, what kind of impression does that make on readers?

Between what Janet has to say and her many links, there is a lot of information in this series. And it's not all the same old "rah-rah social media will make your career stuff," either. Though I did find some information on how to do something techie I've been thinking about trying here.

My computer guy is going to be so happy.

Thanks to Cynsations for the great link.

How To Appropriately Recycle Ideas

As I mentioned recently, I just finished watching the second season of Downton Abbey in a feverish marathon. I like that period and enjoyed the show, though not as much as many of my Facebook Friends did. What happened was that in the third episode of season one I realized I'd seen a scene in a car between the chaffeur and one of the fancy daughters before. A very similar scene appears in the Upstairs, Downstairs sequel. Because it's set pre-WWII instead of pre-WWI, the UD chauffeur and fancy sister (instead of daughter) were either Communist or Nazi sympathizers while the DA chauffeur and daughter were an Irish revolutionary and...I never figured out what Sybil was doing there, actually.

From that point, I realized that I'd seen a lot of Downton Abbey before. It's very similar to the original Upstairs, Downstairs, which was wildly popular and which I saw in reruns, maybe in the early '80s. Yes, people, I am older than dirt, but my mind hasn't quite failed me yet. I remember the butler, the chunky, bossy cook, the poor kitchen maid, the younger upstairs woman who gets involved with politics, someone going down on the Titanic, someone dying during the Spanish Influenza epidemic. I don't remember if there were any WWI battle scenes, as there were in Downton, but I recall a heart-breaking one in a train station as Johnnie went off to war.

Okay, both series deal with that society's experience of its era and so how different should anyone expect them to be? But, still, seriously, there is a lot of overlap.

I thought it was odd that no one else seemed to notice. But in spite of our culture's love for nostalgia, it doesn't seem to have a lot of real memory. So I started wondering if maybe if every generation or two...or every's acceptable and interesting to do an update of some popular work. Clearly this is something I've thought about before, because a couple of years ago I tried to do a twenty-first century version of Nan Gilbert's 365 Bedtime Stories, but the effort evolved into something else.

After this past weekend's viewing, I wondered if I should try again. Not necessarily with 365 Bedtime Stories, but with something.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

February Carnival of Children's Literature

The February Carnival of Children's Literature is up at The Fourth Musketeer. Some highlights:

Super Snail, a post at Speak Well, Read Well, a blog dealing with language, literacy, and literature, maintained by a speech therapist. This interest combo in a blog is new for me.

Setting: The Magic of a Place at Nerdy Book Club. What's interesting about this post is that the author isn't talking about the setting of the book. She's talking about the setting in which the reader read the book.

I've been hearing about The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919 by Deborah Kops at one of my listservs. Wrapped in Foil posts a review.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

While I Have A Little Time

I was sick yesterday (It doesn't matter how flexible you try to be--illness makes a joke of schedules) and was off elder care today for fear I am still contagious. So after finishing watching maybe six hours of Downton Abbey over the last two days, I decided I could spare a little time for my NESCBWI blog project.

Here we go:

Deborah Bruss's My Blog is very new. It's only been around since October, and it deals primarily with her book Book! Book! Book!.

I've actually met Loree Griffin Burns. She's a science and nature writer, and in her blog, A Life in Books, Loree writes about her work and science and nature. A recent post I found particularly interesting--On Tooting One's Horn, in which Loree writes about the angst involved in creating an e-mail marketing database. I am stunned that she came up with 940 names. I would be grateful for 45 or 50. Just how anti-social am I? Clearly, I live under a metaphorical rock. This post is also notable because in it Loree coins the term "toot-challenged."

Next time I finally get to start on blogs whose authors' names begin with the letter "C."

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Yeah, Like I've Got Time And Energy For This

My very delicately balanced schedule included me doing e-book research on Thursdays, since Computer Guy and I are hoping to republish one of my out-of-print books as an e-book later this year. However, a thread on Facebook and an announcement on my author Facebook page has thrown me off.

It appears that I need to do some major research on this Timeline thing. You know, if I wanted my life story told, I would write it up myself and sell it. My personal wall is filled with angst-ridden posts on the switch, a number of them from writers.

In the immortal words of the Wee Free Men, "Waily, waily, waily."