Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Cool Activity

The office is one of the cooler spots in our house, and visiting NESCBWI blogs doesn't require any sweat- inducing activity. So that's what I'm going to do.

Judy Mintz is working on a YA novel. What gives her gravitas as a litblogger, though, is her stint as one of the hosts of a cable show that involved interviewing authors. "Over the course of several years in the mid-90s I interviewed many of my favorite authors (Joyce Carol Oates, Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake to name a few) and many brand new authors who would subsequently disappear into obscurity (not, of course, due to anything I may have said)." An interesting point about her blog, Everywhere I Go, is that she describes her posts as short essays. And you know how I like essays.

Hazel Mitchell is an illustrator and one of my Facebook friends. As with many of my FFs, I do not know how that happened. I just enjoy finding that I already "know" people I run into like this. Her blog, Along the Right Lines, covers information about her books and her work travel and also includes illustrations.

Hazel also posts at the group blog, Pixel Shavings.

Laurie Smith Murphy is another FF. This year she's only done a half dozen posts at her blog, Random Acts of Writing, possibly because, according to her June 2 post, she's been working on a revision.

I actually know Mitali Perkins (though, yeah, we're Facebook friends, too). Her blog, Mitali's Fire Escape, is well known in the Kidlitosphere. She's a serious blogger. Read her and learn, people!

Tracy Porosoff is a pre-published writer whose blog A Bissel at a Time deals with incorporating Judaism into family life.

Katherine Rawson blogs at The Parrot's Point of View in the voice of a parrot. (She is the author of If You Were A Parrot.)

Joyce Ray writes for the America's Notable Women Series. Recently she's been doing book reviews at her blog, Musings.

Dreams du Dog is another blog written from the point of view of an animal, this time a Walker Foxhound. The blog doesn't make clear what it's connection is to writing.

Okay. I believe I am well over two-thirds of the way through this project. The end is in sight!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Long Tail Theory And Saving The Planet & Stuff

I'm actually a few days ahead on a writing project I'd assigned myself for the month of June, so I'm chipping away at the mess that is my desk. This included finishing typing up some notes from a marketing conference I attended several months ago. I was very intrigued to see that I had written "Long Tail Theory--Amazon may be selling more in backlist than up front." I have no idea if that bit about Amazon is true, but I looked up "Long Tail Theory." It actually applies to something I'm planning to do later this year with Saving the Planet & Stuff.

Long Tail refers to a theory first described eight years ago in an article by Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, and later in a book. He describes the theory, complete with a nice graphic that visually explains how it got its name. His graph shows the relationship between popularity and products--that a few products are extremely popular (profitable) and many more are less so.

This relates to publishing in a big way. A very few books are big sellers. They would fall in the "head" of Anderson's chart. These books are stocked in stores because they're likely to sell. However, far more books don't sell a lot. They're in the tail of the chart, and they don't get stocked because they don't generate enough sales to make it possible for booksellers to do so.

However, the tail is long. There are a lot of books in there. Taken together, they could generate a lot of sales, if buyers could buy them.Years ago, books in the long tail would have made up publishers' backlists, and buyers could, indeed, buy them. They could at least order them through booksellers. Backlists aren't very large anymore because of the expense of warehousing and paying tax on stored books. (How Thor Hammered Publishing, O'Donnell, 1993) Thus, between the economic issues for both booksellers and publishers, buyers often can't buy backlist books. 

Anderson contends in his theory that if consumers could get many of these books--and with POD publishing and Internet sellers who don't have the same expenses as a traditional bookstore they can--they will purchase out of the long tail.

This brings us to--e-books! They require no storage. No warehouse taxes. No shipping. E-books can become the books in the long tail, available always. They can become an eternal backlist.

Publishers must agree, because their contracts now include e-rights. My publisher has three of my titles available as e-books now--Happy Kid!, A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat, and A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers. Yes! I have a backlist!

We hope to expand the list with an e-book for Saving the Planet & Stuff. We have an illustrator working on a new cover for this edition, my computer guy is working on some techie stuff, and I'll be working on marketing over the summer. And now I have this Long Tail Theory business to talk about in relation to the whole project.

Educating Gail

A couple of weekends ago I suddenly wondered if I could buy issues of the New York Times Book Review for my Kindle. Lo' and behold, I can! For ninety-nine cents, I can have my own issue on my own Kindle to take with me on the stationary bike and treadmill, to read in front of the TV or in bed. Huzzah!

I was first exposed to the NYT Book Review by an arrogant and pretentious English professor when I was a freshman in college. He made us buy the Sunday NYT as part of some kind of intro writing class. Well, bless his heart. I took to the review section. I started reading it regularly in my twenties. When I didn't have time for the whole Sunday edition, my father-in-law, an engineering professor, who read three newspapers a day, saved me his. My children would get me the Sunday NYT and doughnuts for Mother's Day. For a while, you could purchase just the review section, which I tried doing when my father-in-law grew too frail for that kind of rigorous reading and gave up the NYT. It's been years since I've read it regularly, the book review section being one of the things I've given up because of lack of time.

I may have told this story here before, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself. I am older than mud, which is why I repeat myself. It is also why I didn't major or minor in creative writing as an undergraduate. You didn't find those majors at the undergraduate level then. Now you can't spit without hitting one. MFA writing programs were few and far between then, too. Iowa, Iowa, Iowa (I'm repeating myself) was all you heard back then. Not so much now that the landscape is littered with colleges offering graduate writing degrees. I did take probably four writing classes of one sort or another while I was in college. Quite honestly, I learned  next to nothing in them.

My big teacher prepublishing was the NYT Book Review. Good, readable reviews were often analytical, describing what the author of the book under discussion did right and did wrong. I learned "show don't tell" from reading the Book Review. I learned that research shouldn't show from the Book Review. I learned a lot of general info from reading reviews of nonfiction. I also learned that book reviews were not necessarily love fests, and, as a result, I've never expected that of them.

I purchased the June 17th Kindle Book Review. It included reviews that illustrate my point. It also included a couple of children's book reviews in which the reviewers discussed some questions regarding children's publishing that I have considered but haven't seen covered much elsewhere.

Reviewer Bruce Machart has many positive things to say about Boleto by Alyson Hagy, using words like "dazzles" and "another delight." He also says, though, "The novel does falter at times...Hagy puts a lot of stories in play, slowing and cluttering the drama. She slows things further by endlessly modifying her dialogue: if we hear a character barking, "You get out of my godddamn sight," do we really need to be told that her cheeks are "sploted with temper"?"  I find a lot there to think about in terms of my own work.

In a review of food books for children, that included  Minette's Feast by Susannah Reich and Bon Appetit by Jessie Hartland, reviewer Ann Hodgman is very positive about both titles. But she raises this point: "Picture books are arguably the best medium for a life as colorful as Child’s, but the kids I know gravitate to biographies mainly when they’re assigned a school report — and they tend to choose obvious heroes like Rosa Parks and Paul Revere. What’s Julia’s actual Q quotient among elementary-school children? An increasing number of them are cooking these days, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they’ll be attracted to a woman with big shoes and a whoopy voice who whacked fish with a cleaver on black-and-white TV 50 years ago" While I, myself, believe Minette's Feast has potential as a story and not just as a mini-bio, I think Hodgman raises a good question that could pertain to many of the beautiful picture book biographies we're seeing published.Who will read them? Again, here's something writers ought to be thinking about.

I don't see that kind of question addressed often at the blogs I've frequented over the years. Nor can I recall seeing much of the kind of detailed analysis/criticism illustrated in the Boleto review quoted above. Blog reviews, which often are presented more as recommendations of books bloggers liked and are promoting, are fantastic in terms of fan culture. They're good at spreading the word to fans of specific authors and specific genres. Fan culture is great for readers and supports writers and their books. It's all good.

But what the traditional, so-called professional review does is also educate. At least, they educate me.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I Totally Missed One Of Those Media Freakouts About YA Literature. Too Bad About That.

Evidently, there was a blogosphere and media freakout earlier this month over a study on the number of "swears," as my kids used to call them, in 40 YA books. Profanity in YA: Research, Assumption, and Feminism at Stacked is a very readable and interesting analysis of the study, "A Helluva Read": Profanity in Adolescent Literature. It covers what the study did and didn't do and the erroneous assumptions traditional and on-line media jumped to regarding it.

In reading some of the comments to the two posts I linked to, I noticed people writing that when profanity appears in teen books it reflects the reality of teen culture. I would agree with that. But I would also like to argue  that the main reason to use profanity is to define character. Personally, I'm more interested in expressing something about the characters I'm creating than I am in making a general statement about any particular culture.

I'm a writer, Jim, not a sociologist!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nora Ephron, Essayist

I learned this morning that Nora Ephron died yesterday. She became well known over the last couple of decades for her screenplays, but her big impact on me was with her early essays.

I discovered Ephron while I was in college, working at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in the summers. The Conference administrators littered the Barn's lounge with magazines. This was probably to impress upon the writers attending the conference that they should be reading the things in order to research markets for their own work. That was lost on me at the time. (Perhaps because I was working in the kitchen and not actually attending the Conference?) I was just happy to suck up free magazines, the stand-out in my memory being Esquire. Nora Ephron wrote a column for Esquire in those days, and I was so taken with it that I somehow swung a subscription for the magazine so I could continue reading her work after I got back to school. In my twenties I bought her books Crazy Salad and Wallflower at the Orgy.  I lost touch with her writing after that, only reading writing about her. But early Ephron is why I started reading essays. She's why I've tried to write them over the years. She's why the only graduate course I took was on writing essays.

This Ephron appreciation concluded with the thought that if you're a woman, Ephron "should remind you of what you can hope to be."  She certainly has always reminded me of what I hoped to be professionally when I was young. I'm not even going to touch the fact that everyone says she was incredibly nice personally, too.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Situational Time Management

Long ago, but not long enough, I worked for a management consulting/personnel management group that conducted training programs and consulting projects for municipal and state governments and agencies. Wait! Wait! Don't nod off. One of the people I worked for did programs on situational leadership. Situational leadership, as she described it, involved managers changing their leadership style depending upon whom they were dealing with. There was a chart. She used to use the movie Twelve O'Clock High as a case study. Evidently, she was not alone in doing this. This was back before video. I cannot tell you what a pain in the butt renting this movie was, which, no doubt, is why I remember situational leadership.

A couple of months ago, I was listening to a call-in show on friendship on my local NPR station. (My excuse? It was a weekend, and I was working in the kitchen.) So, this woman called in and started talking about what she called situational friendship. By this she meant friendships made while in particular situations. Thus, you have your PTO mom friends, your church friends, your writers' group friends, your walking group friends, your Boy Scout parent friends, etc. These are all friends unique to the situations in which you find yourself. When the situations no longer exist, neither do the friendships.

Last week, these different experiences from my distant and very recent past came together while I was thinking about the beginnings and endings of units of time--the different impacts those situations have upon us and how we use the time available during them. In terms of the ends of units of time, for instance, I've noticed that those hours, even days if the unit of time is a month, say, are often wasted if I've become discouraged with how I've managed my time up to that point. Just as a dieter will figure he might as well eat whatever for the rest of the day because he was unable to stick with the program around 3:30, I would believe a day was ruined because I didn't stay on task in the morning. I might as well blow off the rest of the day, too. To deal with that situation, I decided to have work tasks lined up that I could switch to if I found myself giving up on the planned/scheduled work. Doing anything, even if it's not the planned task, is better than wandering off to look for LOL cats.

This led me to think that what we sometimes do with time is create a management plan/schedule for ourselves and expect to adhere to it no matter what our situation is. When we don't, we're...out of luck, shall we say? How about instead applying a variation of the situational leadership/friendships model to time? With that model, we would expect to change the plan depending on our situation instead of believing the plan had broken down because our situation couldn't adhere to it.

I'm talking about more than a time plan for a big chunk of life, as in a plan for the years I'm in law school, a plan for the years when I am raising children, a plan for the years when I'm running a legal practice and raising children. I'm talking about constantly switching time management plans as situations change because situations change constantly.

For instance, this month I was able to commit to revising a book length manuscript. (May Days helped me think in terms of a month-long unit of time committed to one thing.) I should be done with it tomorrow, even though I've been down to working only three days a week again because of family commitments. (No crisis. The family member who was helping with elder care visits hasn't been able to get away from work.)

Now, next month I may be down to working only two days a week because of another family commitment. However, I've been able to plan for that situation. So next month whatever work time I have will go toward researching and planning marketing for the Saving the Planet & Stuff e-book I expect to publish later this year. Those kinds of work tasks shouldn't require the kind of continuity that writing a draft or revising a lengthy manuscript do, so they are better suited for working only two days a week. Thus, I have planned my time around my situation.

By September my situation should have changed again, maybe sooner. I will switch my time management plan again then.

Can someone do this kind of situational time management during, say, a lengthy family crisis? It depends, of course, on how soul-sucking the situation is. But maybe recognizing that you can plan your time around your situation could keep a management plan from breaking down altogether because the situation you find yourself in won't work with it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Your Weekend Blog Visits

Ah, weekends. I actually have less time on them than I do on weekdays. For instance, I'd like to do a big post regarding last week's New York Times Book Review. However, it's only 8:30 AM, and I already know that's not going to happen.

Thank goodness I have that NESCBWI Blog Tour going and have developed just enough self-discipline (or habit or mental muscle memory) to keep plugging away at it. And who knows if I'll be able to get today's stops done in one pop?

Okay! Ann Haywood Leal. Her blog is The Backstory where recently she's been writing about getting around for work, to the New York SCBWI conference, for instance. She's also written about family and people she's met.

John Lechner's blog, The Untended Garden, is lavishly illustrated often with photographs or examples of other artist's work embedded within posts in which he writes about them. If I had time, I  would try following this blog for a while. But...  John has a second blog more closely related to his own work.

It's 8:44. As I foresaw, I have to stop for a while.

Six-thirty-four PM. I'm baaack.

Okay. Random Noodling has a terrific header illustration. It's Diane Mayr's blog and deals with "poetry, information to share, books to recommend--or not..."  Diane is interested in haiku, and she does something called Happy Haiga Day posts. I've no idea what that is. In addition to her books, Diane has published magazine articles. She's also one of The Write Sisters. I've seen that named floating around the Internet, maybe on Facebook.

Why look! The Write Sisters is Diane's second blog. The Write Sisters also have a website, though it just won't open for me tonight. They are seven writers who started out as a critique group, have published more than 100 books among them, and now offer workshops.

Laura Williams McCaffrey's blog, Here There Be Dragons, hasn't been updated since last year. She was doing a lot of writing prompts back then. She has some material at her website relating to plotting. Yeah. You all know how I am about plotting.

Dawn Metcalf's first book Luminous was published last year. Her blog, Officially Twisted, appears to be a mix of posts about her writing, specifically, and writing in general.

Enough for this weekend.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Maintaining The Mind Of A Beginner About The Third Person

I am always a little taken aback when I see newly published writers offering workshops on writing. To me, a person who has published only one book is inexperienced and probably doesn't have a lot of knowledge to impart to others. This attitude on my part is why I have been such a satisfied martial arts student for the past decade. The "maintain the mind of a beginner" business, in which you assume you don't know much so that you're always open to new knowledge, is popular in martial arts training. I embraced it eagerly.

After I wrote and published my first book, I certainly didn't know much. It's a very good thing that I accepted that because when my editor, Kathy, pointed out that my use of a third-person narrator in my second book left something to be desired, my mind was open to the possibility that she was right. I have obsessed on the third person for the last fifteen years or so, and wrote only one book with that kind of narrator. And Saving the Planet & Stuff used a point-of-view character, which is like a first-person narrator but different.

Recently I happened to read several books written in the third person, books that did not use a point-of-view character but shifted points of view among several characters. Here are a couple of problems I saw with the situation:

1. First and foremost, it's difficult to maintain narrative drive if the author keeps stopping the action to allow still another character to dwell on what's happening or even tell a story that doesn't appear to have much to do with anything. Some writers can switch point of view and have the new character drive the action of the story along. Some can't. Or maybe they don't know they're supposed to.

2. It's hard to commit to a protagonist if other characters are given too much face time. Or maybe it just seems that they're getting too much face time if those other characters aren't carrying the story along in terms of plot or interacting with the protagonist enough.

3. Martin Millar can create a whole universe of characters who are entertaining enough that readers will want to stay up late to read portions of a story from their various points of view. It seems that not every writer can do that. I can't believe that I'm the only reader who goes, "Oh, shoot. Him again" when confronted once more with the thoughts of a particularly dull secondary character.

None of the books I'm talking about were dreadful. They were just strikingly off because the third-person narrator was so awkward. Would I have recognized that fifteen years ago when I was still an inexperienced writer? Would I have recognized it now if I hadn't continued to study point of view ever since?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Save Me

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (whom I have known for over ten years) is a touching, sweet-natured story of a toughened girl from a rough background who falls in with the right crowd. After living what sounds like a day-to-day life in Vegas with her single mom, Carley Connors ends up in suburban Connecticut with her mother and an abusive stepfather. Stepdad becomes violent, and Mom and Carley end up hospitalized. Mom, who hasn't been nominated for Mother of the Year, ever, lands in rehab because of her injuries. Carley lands in foster care with the Murphy family, who she finds oppressively good, particularly the mom.

I happened to start reading One for the Murphys as I was finishing up one of those mysteries set in the nineteenth century with a clever upper class female lead and an outsider male (who is still a gentleman, of sorts, of course) counterpart who are clearly attracted to one another but always taking one step toward a relationship and then experiencing misunderstandings that keep them apart. (Yeah. I read those, but I'm not bragging.) As a result, I saw parallels in One for the Murphys. It appears to me to be what I'll call a "family romance," a story in which an outsider child does the one-step-forward-bump-into-misunderstandings dance with a truly good family that has the potential to save her/him if child and family can only get together.

All the time I was reading about Carley in Murphys, I was thinking about Dan in Little Men.When I was a child, Little Men was the Alcott book as far as I was concerned, not Little Women, which I liked well enough but even then probably found a little holier than thou. Carley is so much like Dan, craving mother Julia Murphy as Dan craves mother Jo Bhaer. There is an actual love interest in these stories, a mother/child love interest between real mothers and children they have no biological connection to. Both child characters in the relationships have redemptive scenes with their mother figures' biological children. It's clear that Carley's personal story will continue past the end of One for the Murphys. Dan's personal story continues in another actual book, Jo's Boys.

One for the Murphys will be a good read for adults who hope they could save a child if they had to and for children who hope there is an adult out there who could save them if they needed it.

I have met many other writers, but I don't think I've known one as long as I've known Lynda or known one before she started publishing. Reading the early chapters of this book was a bizarre experience because I could often hear Lynda's voice speaking Carley's dialogue and visualize her facial expressions and body language.

Oops. I almost forgot to mention that I purchased my copy of the book. It was not a gift from the author or an arc.

Ah, Minette.

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has a post today on the preliminary artwork for Minette's Feast.

By the way, Minette received a lovely review in the NYTimes Book Review this past weekend.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: The Signficance Of Beginnings And Endings

When I say that beginnings and endings are significant, I'm talking about the beginnings and endings of units of time, not manuscripts.

The beginning of a new calendar year (I've written many times here, I'm sure, about how much I love the month of January), a new school year, and summer times, huh? We tend to get excited about our plans for "new" blocks of time. Oh, what we're going to do this Christmas season! NaNoWriMo! May Days! If we can perceive some upcoming time as something new, as something different, a change, it's far easier to believe that we can make a change in how we're going to behave in that new chunk of time than it is to believe we can just change what we're doing now in this ho-hum unit of time we've been living in.

If we think about the unit system I wrote about back in February and the research that suggests that people are productive for the first 45-minutes that they work, there may be some logic to our love of new beginnings. Experience has taught us that we're more productive when we start something new, and we like feeling productive. We like the surge of starting something new. I swear, we once got new living room furniture, and just that change led me to start a new plan to keep everyone from eating in the living room. That probably didn't even last 45-minutes, but I remember the rush I felt not because I had a new couch and two new chairs all at the same time, but because the new furniture changed something and I was going to do something different because of it.

The end of a unit of time is a different story, particularly if things haven't gone well during the time period that is drawing to a close. Take last week for me, for instance. I ended up taking one elder to a doctor's appointment on Monday, wasting a lot of time Tuesday reading a book (on my Kindle!), visiting an elder on Wednesday, visiting the first elder again on Thursday (as well as doing life maintenance work while I was out of the house). It got to be mid-day Friday, and I thought, Ah, the week was wasted, anyway, I might as well surf the 'Net. And start again next week when a new unit of time will begin.

In this situation, you can see the parallels between applying self-discipline to work and applying self-discipline to "problems" such as eating, smoking, etc. Oh, this day of dieting is ruined, anyway, because I ate a second cupcake. I might as well eat a couple more and start again tomorrow. How much time is wasted at the end of a bad work unit because we're too disappointed in what we've accomplished to continue? And how to make better use of that time?

Well, yes, we could suck it up and apply some self-discipline, but if you aren't aware that I'm low on that, you haven't been reading this blog regularly. I wanted to come up with another way to make better use of those bad ending hours. While driving home from my taekwondo class last night, I did. (This is an example of a breakout experience, by the way. I'd been thinking about this situation for three days, and an idea for a solution came to me after an hour of practicing joint locks and knife defense.)

Doing absolutely anything work-related during those lost hours at the end of a unit of time  would be better than just blowing them off because things didn't turn out the way we planned in the days leading up to them. Anything. So we can keep fallback work to do then. For writers, this will not be difficult. We have piles of promotional work, research, projects that we've started and not finished that we could shift to when we realize that we're blowing off time. Filing. Checking up on the status of submissions. A table covered with three inches of books and paper in the office. (Oh? That's just me?) Getting some of this stuff done will positive in and of itself, but getting it done will also free up time in the future for other kinds of work. Win-win, as they say.

How am I going to do those things when I've just mentioned that I'm weak on self-discipline? The plan (And I love a plan! It's as if I'm starting a new unit of time!) is to plan for those situations. The plan is to have fallback tasks ready for when the first task doesn't pan out.

I am going to call this Situational Time Management. I will write more about it next week, since I just came up with the idea as I was getting off the stationary bike less than two hours ago. Any idea benefits from thought.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Reading YA

In  So You Want to Read YA? at Stacked editor Andrew Carre says, "Young adult books are about adolescence, not for adolescents." This is a thought-provoking statement, though probably not a hardcore definition of YA literature, since if YA literature is merely about adolescence, why have a separate YA category? Especially since Carre's post is all about about encouraging adults to read YA. His point is that adults shouldn't let that YA category label keep them away from YA books.

If young adult books are merely about adolescence, why not just publish them within general fiction for anyone to read, which is where many books about adolescence are published? That is, after all, where those YA classics Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird first found homes. 

On a related note (really), I am reading Swamplandia!, which, so far, seems like YA to me. That's not how it was published/marketed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Weekend Visits

I'm getting pretty good at sticking to a weekend discipline/schedule of visiting NESCBWI blogs.

Jo Knowles is a Facebook Friend I actually met for real once in a parking lot before a NESCBWI salon. It was somewhere in Massachusetts. Don't recall the town. Don't recall what the Salon was about. The fact that Jo is from Vermont where I grew up is a big part of the reason I originally remembered her. She has a good blog where she writes regularly about her professional life. She's very active both in terms of writing (new book out this year), teaching, and making appearances.

Alison Kolesar is an illustrator. She describes her blog, Jumping in Puddles, as an illustration blog. It does look as if every post includes an illustration.

Jane Kohuth also has a book out this spring. Her blog, Jane Says, deals pretty much with news relating to her books.

Kathleen Kudlinski is another Facebook Friend. She's only been updating her blog, The Pond Side Place, once a month recently. That might be because her energy and time are going into her column, The Naturalist, at The New Haven Register.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Of Course

The Guardian obit for author Barry Unsworth mentions a number of books he wrote but, of course, not the one I read, Losing Nelson. It was good, too. Though not a children's book. Not even YA.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Patrice Kindl

I've been seeing Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl mentioned frequently recently. I kept thinking, I know that name...Patrice Kindl. Sure enough, she is the author of Owl in Love, a book I read back in 2006 as part of a magical realism weekend read I did for the first 48 Hour Book Challenge. This puts Keeping the Castle on my radar.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Subversive?" I Don't Know About That.

I've seen some talk about The Mother of All Girls' Books by Deborah Weisgall in The American Prospect and just finished reading it. The article is subtitled "The Secret Subversiveness of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women." My question is, How is it subversive?

Was Alcott secretly trying to upend the position of "little women" in nineteenth century New England society? Were the good little women of her book who sacrificed and always tried to improve themselves different from other girls of that time? I don't know. Certainly by our standards, Jo is the subversive character in the book, the young woman with literary ambition. But as Weisgall says, "Alcott piles punishments on Jo." She loses the young, good looking man to a sister who isn't half the woman she is and gives up writing at the urging of the man she marries. I don't remember feeling particularly outraged by this when I was a child reader. If I was supposed to be distraught and want to live differently, "the secret subversiveness" was too secret for me.

This article has encouraged me, once again, to read more about Alcott. Maybe by the end of the year.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Don't Have A Problem With This, Myself, But I Can See Why Others Might

I am really, really enjoying my Kindle, which I haven't had for quite a month. I am not speaking ironically here. I am not being sarcastic. I sincerely love my Kindle.

Here is just the best, most wonderful thing about it: If you are a person (and I'm not saying I am) who gets hooked on  historical mystery series, you can often get various titles on e-book for dirt cheap. Okay, sometimes around $4, recently I paid $9.99 for one, I've got my eye on one that's around $6 something. Now, that's more expensive than getting the books from the library, but you don't have to go anywhere to get them. You don't have to wait for them to come in through interlibrary loan, if your local library doesn't have them. You don't have to worry about the librarians getting all judgmental on you for reading this stuff.

You don't have to go to the store. If you're careful, you can get the books for less than paperbacks. You don't have to pay shipping. You don't have to get out of your chair. Hell! Ya don't have to get outta bed! It's incredible! These things are on your e-reader and ready to read in minutes. And, then, for all the people around you know, you're reading Siddhartha, which you got for free, and not something that is so definitely not improving, which you paid for.

And, seriously, you didn't read Siddhartha back when you were in college when everyone else was reading it. What are the chances that you're going to read it now? But who knows that?

I have probably spent only between $20 and $25 on e-books so far, and I can stop whenever I want. But I can imagine this becoming a real problem for someone who isn't on some kind of vision quest to achieve self-discipline the way I am.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Starting Down The Self-Discipline Road

I'm searching for self-discipline, in my undisciplined way. While I'm not discovering a lot written on self-discipline, I'm finding more on self-control. Psychology Today, for instance, maintains a blog on the subject. What I'm finding, both at the PT blog, Don't Delay, and elsewhere is that writing on self-control often relates to dealing with problems, such as over-eating, smoking, etc. and not some kind of development of over all self-control.

I guess you could say that the self-discipline/self-control aspect of time management that I'm interested in also deals with problems--problems with staying on task, putting off work, and organizing time, for starters. These past few months I've sometimes thought about managing time in terms of budgeting, the way we think of money, another common control problem. Mainly what I've thought is that we can't budget and save time for use in the future, the way we can money. (Or maybe we can. Hmm. I will have to think about that for a future post.)

Some recent posts from the PT blog Don't Delay that might be of interest to us:

Self-Control Is More Than Strength and Brute Resistance--Dr. Timothy Pychyl, Don't Delay's keeper, writes about Backsliding: Understanding Weakness of Will . He talks about "skilled resistance" and "applying particular self-control skills in particular situations." Yes! Yes! I want to find skills I can learn!

External Supports for Your Willpower--This post is about "extended will" and "distributed willpower" and how people support their willpower by "offloading" some of their mental work/working memory to their environment. An example is using writing for creating lists. I assume breaking your work into 45-minute units, as we discussed earlier this year, and using a timer to do that is another because you are relying on something outside your mind--the timer and even the concept of the unit, perhaps--to assist you.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Gail Maintains A Little Discipline

I am trying to maintain some self-discipline, so I'm going to visit some more NESCBWI member blogs instead of exploring the wilds of my laundry room or collapsing somewhere and reading.

Guinea Pig Writers was being maintained last year by some writers who graduated from the Simmons College MFA program offered at the Eric Carle Museum. Great idea, though this year they've done only two posts, and those were back in January. So I don't know that this is still an active blog.

Katherine Quimby Johnson's blog, Words Are My Life, is more active. She does reviews and posts about writing. She also lives in my old university town.

Joyce Shor Johnson recently did an interesting post at her blog, The Write Joyce, that included a lengthy list of bloggers doing giveaways relating to debut books. She writes about her own writing, and she's also involved with the next NESCBWI regional conference.

Lita Judge's blog, Wilder Farm, looks as if it's updated monthly and deals to a great extent with her own work. She's an illustrator, and she posts lots of images.

Okay, enough self-control. Now I will answer the call to adventure in the laundry room.

Book Spine Poetry and "Happy Kid!"

Happy Kid! was included in a book spine poem at ALSC Blog. I had never heard of book spine poetry before. Hmmm. Maybe I'll try to write some using my other books.

I found out about this through a family member who learned about it through a friend he went to graduate school with. Just saying, it's interesting how it came to me.

Friday, June 08, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge Starts Today

The 48 Hour Book Challenge starts today. Ah, good times in years past. While I do have a little more time this weekend then I've had the last few years, I'm sad to say that I have to use it for maintenance, since I've been away from the house a lot the last couple of weekends. Seriously, I saw a small creature caught in a cobweb in my bathroom yesterday.

I was sorry to see how few bloggers have signed up for the book challenge this year. If memory serves me, the Challenge used to attract a much larger crowd. Or perhaps the sign-ups didn't begin until today, and we'll see a lot more people listed as they begin their particular 48 hour reading period.

I see a couple of old blogging buddies on the list, and I'll try to check in with them over the weekend to see what they're reading.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Speaking Engagements Gone Bad

A Yoga Journal blog post by Neal Pollack got me recalling my own speaking engagements gone bad. I could write a book on the subject. Not to worry. I will just give you a few highlights.

Let's see, one standout was a one-shot talk during the day for a group of sixth graders. It was arranged by a PTO member, and at the time we were making the arrangements I thought it was unusual that she was talking about having me speak for an hour and ten minutes or so. Most schools have 50- or 60-minute class periods and want speakers to stay within that time frame. But I was distracted by the fact that I don't usually speak to sixth-graders and that I was going to have to prepare some new material, so the time frame went on to a back burner. When the day came and I was giving the talk, the audience wasn't terribly engaged. But I'd planned a brainstorming-type thing for the last fifteen minutes or so. I'd just started with that, a boy had started speaking rather eagerly, it looked as if things were finally going to start working for me, when a teacher stood up and said, "We have to go now." Then everyone stood up and walked out on me.

Oh, the get-up-and-walk-out thing happened at a children's museum once, too. There was a big group there and a few minutes after I started my reading they all got up and left because they needed to catch their buses.

In his Yoga Journal post, Pollack says, "Every time I land a speaking or teaching gig, no matter what the type, I always think: This is the one that’s going to break me into the big time, whatever my current definition of “big time” might be." Experience must make a bigger impression on me than it does on him, because I don't do that anymore. But I've done it in the past! I was speaking for day at a regional teachers' conference in another state, no less. Yes, indeed, I did think that it was going to be the turning point, and I would become a regular speaker at professional conferences. Well, that year, for the first time ever, they had only 40 participants. They had six different venues running all day, two other authors speaking and some other professional things going on. The biggest group I spoke in front of all day included 6 people. The last hour of the day I had 1 woman in the audience. I know she wanted to leave. I said to myself, no...freaking...way. I had planned a special presentation for that conference that I would never be able to use again, and I had slides. I made her sit there and listen to the entire hour presentation.

I arranged to do a reading and talk in a lovely bookstore in my hometown in Vermont to coordinate with a nearby school visit the day before. If my sisters and brother-in-law hadn't driven up from Connecticut for the event, I would have been reading to my aunt and my high school history teacher and his family. Harsh, huh? A turnout like that in your hometown? Could be worse. I met a guy who did a book signing in the town he was living in at the time, and not a soul showed up. And he had just won the Connecticut Book Award.

Like Pollack, I try very hard to avoid becoming attached to results. Attachment to results is a kind of desire, desiring things to be a certain way. And what does desire lead to? Unhappiness! You know what else leads to unhappiness? Fixating on the past and letting all those disastrous speaking engagements fill you with regret and despair. I am so unattached to the results of my speaking engagements and spend so little of my energy regretting those results that I'm actually planning to submit a proposal to teach a workshop at a writers' conference. I'm just not foolish enough to expect it to go well.

Have a really lousy speaking engagement you think others would enjoy hearing about? Share it in the comments.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: May Days, The Results Show

Wondering how I did with The May Days Project I took part in last month? The one in which I was supposed to write two pages a day, every single day? Well, I made it through, though I had to do some finessing. At least once I had to do 3 pages the day after I did only 1, and the last few days I had to stockpile pages whenever I could to deal with heavy family days. But I did manage 64 pages over 31 days, which means I averaged 2 pages a day with, somehow, 2 pages extra. I worked on 14 different projects. I didn't finish anything, and some of the work is so bad that, as I told my May Day colleagues, I'm worried something will happen to me and  my survivors will find this stuff on my hard drive and be horrified.

So what did I gain from all this?

Actual Product:
  • I started some projects I've been thinking about for years.
  • I began going through journals, pulling out workable project ideas and moving them to my computer journal where I'll be able to find them again. I've never done that before.
  • I started an article on craft that I'm going to turn into a workshop proposal and submit to a conference  
 Managing My Time: 
  • I'm going to start thinking in terms of  month-long blocks of time and try to give a long-term project priority each month. For example, I'm giving a book-long revision I've been working on for quite a while priority this month.
  • Working weekends is too difficult for me. However, I've been thinking about trying to do some professional reading on weekends for a long time now. After the ordeal of trying to write every weekend, doing a bit of reading doesn't seem so bad. I began the reread on Saturday.

Scheduling "Set Aside Time" For Special Projects:

Shonna Slayton of Routines for Writers, who was not part of my May Days Project, also did a May project as part of Story a Day, a group of around 500 writers trying to write a story a day in May. Shonna used the month to work on plot outlines for future novels instead of actual stories. That was an excellent idea, I thought, and at the end of her post she suggests other ways to set aside time for that kind of work. (Or use those methods for setting aside time for any kind of writing work.)

What we might be talking about with this kind of set aside scheduling is binge writing, a term I hadn't heard for years until someone on Facebook linked to some interviews on it just last week. Author Sally Bosco interviewed self-described binge writers Emily Asad and Leslie Davis Guccione. Note that both authors are not binge writers in the sense that they are moved by a muse to write like crazy. They prep for their intensive writing periods.

My Plans For Future Set Aside Or Binge Writing Periods:

  • I'm going to try to formally do this again in the fall, though I won't include weekends. In order to preserve as much time during the work week for writing as possible, I load weekends with family and home maintenance tasks. You cannot do two things in the same time period. I can't, anyway. Trying to work weekends, is a set up for failure.
  • I'm also hoping to plan the work ahead next time (I found out about May Days on the last day of April), having either a specific project or projects I'm going to focus on.
  • Additionally, I may have the freezer stocked up a bit ahead of time, too, so I can try to do less thinking about something life-related. If you want to give more time to work, the time has to come from somewhere.

Monday, June 04, 2012

On Writing What You Know

How wonderful is this? I'll tell you. It is wonderful.

"Every writer is faced with the same question: do you write about what you know or what you don't know? Some of my writing students, particularly my undergraduates, err to one extreme or the other. They write simply what they know, which is a transcript of Friday night's keg party, or simply what they don't know, which is Martians. What they need to do—and here I'm quoting a former writing teacher of mine—is write what they know about what they don't know or what they don't know about what they know. In other words, they want the advantages of both closeness and distance."
From Risk by Joshua Henkin in the new Glimmer Train Bulletin.

Thanks to Jane Friedman for the link.

So What Did We Think Of The Unconventional Blog Tour?

I just finished reading all the posts included in the Unconventional Blog Tour. You remember the Unconventional Blog Tour. It was the blog tour about blogging. If you are a litblogger or thinking of becoming one or you are an author thinking of contacting blogs to try to arrange for reviews, you should consider at least skimming parts of the tour.

I see a recurring theme in the Unconventional Blog Tour--An attempt to set and maintain professional standards and to maintain independence of the publishing marketing machine. The professional standards issue is understandable. Anyone can put out a shingle and claim to be a blogger and, what's more, claim to be a literary blogger. There isn't any professional certification or licensing. For those of us who appreciate a rogue quality in life, a different voice and attitude, this is a good thing. But it also puts a lot of responsibility on readers to determine which bloggers favor straight opinion and which favor judgement, (see Objectivity and Transparency Online at Sophisticated Dorkiness), and to determine, moreover, how much professionalism we want in our blog reading. Readers really need to beware.

The attempt to maintain independence of the publishing marketing machine is a more interesting situation. It's interesting because back in the day, when lit blogging first started, it wasn't an issue. Blogs were totally independent of publishing. That started to change when the traditional publishing world, authors and publishing companies alike, saw that blogs could pull some of the marketing weight and moved in. Now publishing companies are trying to manage bloggers.  No wonder the FTC got involved a few years ago regarding whether or not bloggers are being compensated for reviews when they receive goods, such as books, from publishers (again, see Objectivity and Transparency Online).

Blogging started out as an independent act. Personally, I hope it stays that way. 

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Weekend Blog Travel

I'm finding the NESCBWI blog tour a relaxing thing to do during breaks in hectic weekends. That's what I'm on right now, a break in a hectic weekend.

Sharon Abra Hanen, the blogger who maintains The Well-fed Poet, has published primarily for adults. However, she does do posts on children's literature at her blog. 

Kourtney Heintz's Journal is the blog of an aspiring writer. She does book reviews and recently attended--and blogged about--the Mystery Writers' Association Symposium.

Jennifer Marie Hofmann is one of three writers who maintain the blog Damsels in Regress...bringing history back to life. They do author interviews, book reviews, and short essays on historical subjects.

Kathryn Hulick is a freelance writer and editor who maintains the blog Visible Thought.

And we will finish this week's relaxation with Lynda Mullaly Hunt's two blogs. Recently her personal blog has dealt with the launch of her debut book, One for the Murphy's, but she also runs a regular feature, Mentor Mondays. She's also one of the authors involved with EMU's Debuts, a blog maintained by debut authors at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Worrying About Creativity

Today I used some of my work time to bake something to bring to a writers' gathering I'm attending tomorrow. As I got started, I wondered if other people would be baking or would they be bringing bakery items and how I should package my stuff so it didn't look as if it came out of a kitchen that a health inspector had never been near. I also spared a few seconds to get all angstie about whether I should  be using work time to bake something when there are other options. But, then, I had to consider why I bake.

A family member has a friend who thinks it's really neat that I bake from scratch. That's flattering, though baking ain't brain surgery--and I do the kind of scratch baking that involves combining the basic elements myself, not using mixes. I mention that because a number of years ago a survey is supposed to have been done that indicated a large percentage of those polled would, indeed, bake "from scratch" if they had the ingredients available. Then the surveyors found out that by "ingredients available" a large chunk of their group meant "a prepackaged mix." They didn't know what scratch baking is.

I will spare you the health benefits of scratch baking both because this isn't a cooking blog and there really aren't a lot. I will also admit that there have been times when I've been working with deadlines when I brought Oreos and those creepy grocery store bakery cookies into my house. Otherwise, though, I've been baking weekly for years. Years and Years.

Why? Because baking is a creative act, and I am afraid that if I give up one creative act, I will give up others. How, I wondered when I first started publishing regularly, can a person be creative in only one thing? If you are a creative person, shouldn't it express itself in many things you do, if not all? I was afraid that if I became less creative in one aspect of my life, I would become less creative in others. If I no longer needed to create raspberry bar cookies, I was afraid I would no longer need to write fiction. If I stopped experimenting with using dark chocolate in just about every chocolate baked item I've ever made, I was afraid I'd stop experimenting with using different types of characters and settings in every kind of fiction I'd ever tried writing. I was afraid that if I didn't bake, something bad would happen.

And so I do bake. And bake and bake and bake.