Sunday, September 30, 2012

October Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

October into November--A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson has been selected for the One Book, One Hartford community reading program. Exhibits, book discussions, films, and other programs will be taking place at Hartford libraries throughout the month of October and into November.

Tuesday, Oct. 2, Caragh O'Brien, UConn Co-op, Storrs, 6:00 PM

Thursday, Oct. 4, Laura Harrington, R.J. Julia, Madision, 7:00 PM. Laura Harrington isn't a children's or young adult writer, but I suspect her book, Alice Bliss, is going to show up on some of those adult books for teen readers' lists, so I'm including it.

Thursday, Oct. 11, R. L. Stine will join two other authors for Mark My Words, at the Simsbury High School Auditorium at 7:30 PM. This is an event to benefit the Mark Twain House and Museum. Tickets are $45, $65, and $125.

Saturday, Oct. 13, Barbara Mariconda, Plumb Library, Shelton, 1:00 PM
Saturday, Oct. 13, Grace Lin, R.J. Julia, Madison, 4:00 PM

Sunday, Oct. 14, Sheri Sinykin, Congregation B'nai Shalom, Putnam, 2:00 PM

Sunday, Oct. 14, Stacy DeKeyser, Simsbury Public Library, Simsbury, 2:00 PM

Saturday, Oct. 20, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Sarah Albee, Sandra Horning, Dana Meachen Rau, Pegi Deitz Shea, Rosemary Wells, and fifteen other writers and illustrators, Southwestern Connecticut Youth Book Expo, Shelton, 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM

Monday,  Oct. 22, Tommy Greenwald, Westport Public Library, Westport, 7:00 PM

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Depth Of Writing Talent

Okay, another thought on my afternoon at Crafting a Public Identity: A Workshop for Creative Artists, Writers and Performers on Navigating the Arts Business Maze, which I was talking about just yesterday:

Actor Jeffrey Raab talked about the depth of talent in acting. Today there are large numbers of actors who are not just talented but also trained through undergraduate and graduate programs. They have studied and developed skills. Many people are qualified to play almost any part.

In the literary world, there has been lots of talk over the last few years about self-publishing. Some reviewers believe that self-publishing means the slush pile is being offered up to the reading public. Anyone can become a published writer, whether talented and knowledgeable about writing or not.

At the same time this is going on, though, we could be talking about the depth of talent in writing. Just as with actors, there are large numbers of writers who are not just talented but also trained, particularly through graduate programs. They have studied and developed skills. Many people are qualified to write traditionally published books.

I'm at a loss as to how to sum this up. How weird is that? comes to mind. As does, What does it all mean?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Yup. Gail Went Somewhere Today. She's Going To Be Talking About It All Weekend.

Oh, I love work events. Seeing friends. Meeting people. The whole being part of a community thing.

Yes, I know that is unlike me, but I mention the "community thing" because it was my big takeaway from Crafting a Public Identity: A Workshop for Creative Artists, Writers and Performers on Navigating the Arts Business Maze at the Thomas Dodd Research Center. The Thomas Dodd Research Center is one of my favorite places for work events. Mainly because it's so close to me, but it's also a beautiful place. It's the home of the Northeast Children's Literature Collection, by the way.

This particular work event, moderated by Susan Raab, was developed around the idea that all people working in the arts promote and market themselves and can learn from one another. There was a lot of talk about social media, of course, but, as I said, the sticky idea for me was community, something "social" media is supposed to build on-line so you can be part of a community that isn't in your local geographic area. Artist Sharon Butler was particularly good at explaining how social media helped her meet her goal of being part of a creative community and having a voice within it. Coincidentally, it aided her career as an artist, too.

My experience with being part of a community has been great, though I find that communities are always changing. Certainly the children's lit blogger community isn't as cozy as it used to be simply because it's grown so large. Think of any community you've ever been part of--in school, at work, in a volunteer group. People are always coming in and out of communities, which changes the dynamic. Your needs evolve. The community that was terrific once doesn't seem the same any longer. Another community calls to you.

This is not to say that I'm down on the whole community thing. Not at all. After half a decade of having to cut back on all kinds of community, I'm a bit pumped over the idea of getting more involved again. I do, however, recognize that any community I'm part of is not a static thing that will serve me and that I can serve in the same way forever. I will need to always be adapting.

I had another interesting (to me) thought about Crafting A Public Identity, which I hope to discuss tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I Would Be Greatly Relieved If My Teachers Said That Of Me

One of J.K. Rowling's teachers is supposed to have described her as "bright but “not exceptional”" in a New Yorker article, which I will try to read but it is 10 pages! Wait. That's not the point I wanted to make. The point I wanted to make was that I'd be flattered if any of my teachers recalled me as being "bright but not exceptional." That's probably as good as it's going to get for most of us. Hell, a lot of us won't be recalled as even being bright.

I'd settle for "Glad to hear she found work."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Poor Filing Can Cost You Time

A couple of months ago, I reported that I was using the transitional time I need to move from Morning Gail to Work Gail to declutter my office. That worked quite well. Though I still have boxes of another family member's possessions on the floor, my general work area became tidier and more functional and has stayed that way longer than it ever has before because I continue to use a little transition time to work on it.

I found, though, that I had another problem, beyond clutter, that was costing me time. My filing cabinets/systems. In order to take care of the clutter on my desk and shelves, I often had to actually take care of it, file it away. That was often a struggle because I couldn't find files some of this material needed to go into. Right now I have an e-mail relating to a short story submission in my filing box because I have no idea where the story file is.

How serious can filing issues become? We have finished a book trailer for the Saving the Planet & Stuff e-book coming out in January. It includes quotes from reviews for the original hardcover edition. Last week while cleaning out a file related to the original book, I found a review I'd forgotten about with a fantastic quote. "Memorable, hilarious, and featuring a likable, unlikely hero." Kirkus Reviews  Marvelous, huh? We didn't include it in the trailer, and it doesn't even appear on my website right this minute because it was lost in my filing cabinet.

When that trailer becomes available, you will see that quote in it. But getting it in there has cost time. I don't do my own technical work, so if I didn't have a personal computer guy at my beck and call, it would probably cost me money, too. And it is all due to misfiling.

Filing is an important management and time management issue for all writers. But if you've been around the track a few times, as I have, it becomes huge. I've been writing for years. And I haven't just written those eight pubished books, all of which went through multiple drafts, involved months of correspondence, and required marketing effort (some degree of marketing effort, anyway). Drafts, correspondence, marketing--it all left a paper trail. On top of that, I've written books that haven't been published to date, as well as plenty of unpublished short stories and some essays. I have short form work I've been revising and resubmitting for years.

I have been trying to keep track of this stuff. Really.

Needless to say, I am now using my transitional time to overhaul my filing system. So far all I've been doing is cleaning out files for my published books, which was how I came to find the wonder quote I described above. I don't touch the contract or correspondence files. My efforts have been focused on the two files for each book related to marketing. It's been very rewarding. Two issues:

1. In Files, Piles and Stacks, from an older issue of Writers Weekly, Julie Hood says "The most important skill for an effective filing system is consistent naming which means each time you think of some "thing" you are trying to file or locate, you use the same name." And that, my little lads and lasses, is how I came to woe with my filing. (At least in this case. I may find other problems later on.) What I was doing is that I was creating a file for each book for "Promotion." That was for materials I was creating to promote my books. It would include press releases, for instance, copies of letters I mailed to whomever, and often lists of people I was considering contacting. Think of it as being for promotion I was generating. Then I was creating a file for each book for "Press." That was for reviews, newspaper articles about me, magazines articles that mentioned the book. Think of it as the "press materials" being generated by others.

This still works for me. The problem is that when I had "press materials" in my sweaty little hand, I would file them in either file. On a whim, I guess. I wasn't consistent about what the name meant or in thinking about what the file was for. I had something I wanted to disappear, and I wanted it to disappear into a filing cabinet. And it did.

So I'm fixing that.

2. Because those two files were a mess, and I didn't actually know what was in them, and I sure didn't want to take the time to look, I often just filed duplicate copies of items just to make sure I had them. I've been throwing away a quarter to a third of the contents of some of these files. This morning, I threw out a stack of paper that was higher than the contents of the file I kept. I had been filing entire newspapers, in some cases, because there was an article about me somewhere in them. I found multiple clippings because I must have filed one, found or was given others at some later point, and filed those, too. I've also thrown away fourteen- or fifteen-year-old copies of correspondence. These were letters to people working at publications. After all this time, if I want to contact those organizations again, I'll have to check to see that they still exist and look for new employees, anyway. The old letters are of no use to me now.

I've made so much room in one drawer that I've been able to move files from another drawer into it.

What have I learned from this experience? Be consistent and use transitional time for filing. My hope is that the files will stay more orderly, and if I don't let filing pile up, it won't take much time to do it correctly.

I am both looking forward to and anxious about getting to the short story and essay files. They are going to require...I don't even know what they're going to require.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Do You Need Someone To Draw You A Picture To Understand Plot Shapes?

If so, 21 Plot Shapes and the Pros and Cons of Each could be for you.

I found this article over a month ago and e-mailed the link to myself so I'd remember to read it. It worked! I just found it in my in-box and did, indeed, read it.

It took some effort on my part, though, because at first I thought all the different line drawings describing plots were a joke. But, no, it's for real. And many of them do make sense. Fortunately, the author, Mette Ivie Harrison (turns out I've written about her before here at OC), used a lot of children's/YA novels as examples, and I happened to have read them. Plot 2 relates to The Hunger Games and 3 to The Queen of Attolia. Plot 7--Holes. Plot 19--Some books by Holly Black. Many of the other plot shapes relate to well-known books, TV shows, or movies.

My two favorite lines appear in Plot 14. "There is no climax, no high moment, no resolution. There is only death."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Weekend Professional Reading

The write-every-day thing has become very hard for me over the last few years. Rather than beat myself up over it (I'm not big on the beat-yourself-up thing), I try to adapt work efforts to whatever situation I'm dealing with. Weekends? I'm often running all day. Earlier this year, I did a tour of the NESCBWI member blogs on weekends, which gave me an opportunity to keep up on what other writers are doing and make some professional connections. I was squeezing some work of some kind into the weekend. Now I'm trying to flip that activity into hitting some of the blogs in my blog reader on Saturdays and Sundays. Or on Saturdays or Sundays. Today you get a round-up of some visits I made last night, while another family member was watching a movie about giant spiders up to no good.

It seems appropriate to start with How I Wrote Every Day for a Year, a guest post by Krissy Bradfield at Fiction Notes.

Love Ms. Yingling's comments regarding one of the zombie books she blogged about in a post last month. "Most boys who want to read about zombies don't really want to read about a boy pining for his brother and dealing with a clinically depressed zombie. They want blood and guts and body parts dropping off, which this lacks. (Think Kloepfer's Zombie Chasers.) This one is the sort of zombie book that could be considered for a Newbery Award." Does that not speak volumes?

Later she reviews Splendors and Glooms, which I'm going to try to get hold of because she says "This was an enthralling book-- like watching a really good Masterpiece Theater." Plus I liked Laura Amy Schlitz's A Drowned Maiden's Hair.

It turns out The Atlantic has  YA column, which I learned about through Tanita Davis

A review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a YA fantasy I actually liked

Is traditional publishing the new vanity publishing?  Found that at Cynsations.

Mitali Perkins has an interview regarding New Adult fiction. For what it's worth, I love the idea of a New Adult category, which I've heard mutterings about for a number of years. However, I thought the mutterings related to an age group of, say, late high school years to maybe early twenties. I agree with Mitali's interview subject. Fourteen to thirty-five is a "preposterous" age range. I believe he has other objections, but the twenty-one year span is enough for me.  For heaven's sake, I can remember seeing an article many years ago suggesting thirty-five was the beginning of middle age. That was ridiculous, too, but a little closer to the mark than "new adult."

French children's books. (I'm sorry. I can't remember how I found this.) These are books to read to children while they are petting their pet, Henri, Le Chat Noir.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Brief History Of My Reading Of "A Brief History Of Montmaray"

I've been hearing about the Montmaray books by Michelle Cooper for a while now, mainly through Horn Book reviews. The 1930's setting was a draw for me, and I finally got hold of A Brief History of Montmaray through Interlibrary Loan. It's an odd and attractive work, and I'll be ordering the next volume in the series, probably later today.

First off, I've seen this book compared to I Capture the Castle, a book that seems to have a cult following. If I've read it, it made no impression on me. I know I saw the movie. All I remember thinking is that it was a stereotypical eccentric British family story. The book I kept thinking of with Montmaray was The Book of Ebenezer LePage, another story of a character living a very confined life on an island. My recollection of that was that it was primarily character and setting, and for a lot of Montmaray, I felt the same way.

The opening of the book required a little determination from me, in that it begins with a couple of stereotypes I don't enjoy very much. It's written in journal form by a young woman who tells us right away about the young man she's smitten with. Fortunately, given that Sophia is a princess in a royal family that has fallen on very hard times living in a tiny island kingdom somewhere off from England, France, and Spain (can you tell geography isn't one of my strengths?), I didn't have to put up with any accounts of shopping. (I'm sorry, journal stories about girls smitten with boys and shopping at malls are just more than I can tolerate.)

What finally attracted me was the way the royal FitzOsbornes can trace their fictional history (because they're fictional characters) into all sorts of real historical events. I was also interested because Sophia is the least interesting and colorful of the FitzOsbornes. Her cousin, Princess Veronica, is personally powerful and intelligent and busy writing a Brief History of Montmaray, while Sophia plods away at her journal. Her older brother, Toby, the heir to the throne Veronica's mad father presently holds, is one of those 1930's era boarding school guys you might see in an Evelyn Waugh or Dorothy Sayers novel. Or on Masterpiece Theater. Sophia's younger sister, Princess Henrietta, prefers to be called Henry. She's such a hardcore tomboy that I wondered if she didn't have some gender identity issues. King John is mad, as I believe I mentioned. Other relatives are dead or missing.

Now that I think of it, I guess a lot of the characters are a little stereotypical. However, putting them in their strange, impoverished imaginary kingdom makes them more interesting. This is a royal family that really is considered royal. But they are in such serious financial straits that the princesses have to do their own cooking and cleaning and outgrowing their clothes is a serious issue. Their aunt, the Princess Royal, married well and appears to be sitting on a load of money in London. She provides for her nephew's education and is willing to treat her nieces to a London season, with the hope of finding them wealthy husbands in the market for princesses.

In terms of plot, the actual story here, the something that happened to somebody, involves how the family ends up...well, I can't exactly tell you that without slapping you with a huge spoiler. I will say, though, that that story line didn't really get started until halfway through the book. The disturbance to the characters' world, the initiating act that everything else is a response to, doesn't come until that point. We are teased with some possible disturbances prior to that. The invitation to Sophia and Veronica. The arrival of an airplane. But I'd have to say that the real story doesn't begin until close to the middle of the book.

It's hard to describe what this book is and why it's attractive because everything I've written here doesn't sound that flattering. Is it a historical novel when the country/kingdom involved is clearly made up? The Fascists, Communists, and Nazis in the book really existed, though. The Mitford sister referred to at one point was a real person. In many ways, I felt that with some tweaks to the setting, this could have been  a fantasy. All it would have taken would have been to switch the greater world in which the made-up world of Montmaray exists to a made-up world, too, with slightly different groups filling in for the Fascists, Communists, and Nazis. Or would that have made it alternative history? Is it alternative history now?

I think, ultimately, that's what I like about this book. I don't see it fitting into any narrow category.

Oh, and in addition, there are two relationship surprises at the end of the book that I didn't see coming. Loved them. One, in particular, does a number on the Sophia of the beginning of the book. Loved that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Knew Her When

I feel myself getting a little choked up about the news that editor Kathy Dawson will be getting her own imprint at Penguin Young Readers. She acquired my first book, My Life Among the Aliens, for G.P. Putnam's Sons when she was a very young editor, and I had had only two short stories published. She edited my first five and three-quarters books. (She left Putnam before Happy Kid! was published.)

At my house, we talked about my work at the dinner table. Butch and Spike came close to being real people to us, and I recall one of my sons snatching one of Kathy's editorial letters out of my hand so he could see what she had to say about them. There was a period when all the Gauthiers knew who "Kathy" was, even though my older son and I were the only family members who met her. He was in high school and after we were on our way home he commented on how young she looked.

I'll be sending some e-mails tonight to spread this good news.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Agatha Christie Agrees With Me

In a newly published essay that she wrote back in 1945, Agatha Christie indicates that she is not a fan of Harriet Vane, the character some of us believe brought down the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series. A Guardian article on the essay claims Christie says that Wimsey "became through the course of years merely a 'handsome hero', and admirers of his early prowess can hardly forgive his attachment to, and lengthy courtship of, a tiresome young woman called Harriet".

Yeah, Agatha, that's pretty much it.

I would argue that the Wimsey/Vane relationship became a model for other characters in other mystery novels. For instance, Ramses and whatever that woman's name was that he pines after for volumes in the Amelia Peabody books.

I read the Lord Peter books when I was in college, as a new adult. I see many lit bloggers talking about the series. In fact, it was a children's writer/lit blogger Facebook Friend who linked to the Guardian story about Christie's essay. But I don't know if new adults actually read them, or any so-called "golden era" mysteries, anymore.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: The 9% Solution?

I was going to blog about a different time management-related issue today, but I'm adapting because I received an e-mail this morning from Matthew Pelletier, Director of Relations for Compliance and Safety. He wanted to tell me about their infographic Restricting Social Media at Work: How does it affect Employee Productivity. Writers view social media as a boogeyman, a big factor in our inability to control our own time, so I took a look at the infographic. I found some information that relates to things we've talked about this year as well as something I've recently seen in the news.

Look at the section "The Case For Allowing Social Media in the Workplace." It says there that the 70 percent of people who engage in (limited) workplace Internet leisure browsing are supposed to be 9% more productive than those people who don't engage in it at all. That doesn't seem like a big number to me, but for those of us interested in time management, any increase in productivity is appreciated. What is more interesting, though, is this quote explaining why social media can make workers more productive: "Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days' work, and as a result, increased productivity." (Dr. Brent Coker, University of Melbourne)

Information on Coker was easy to find by...uh...surfing the Internet. At the end of this video, you can hear him talking about the impact of breaks on concentration levels. "We know that people can't concentrate for extended periods of time," he says.

His comments remind me of the research I've been hearing about, but not actually seeing, supporting what I call the unit system, breaking time into chunks between which you stop working for a bit and do something else so that when you begin again on your next unit you are duplicating the sense of productivity people are said to feel when they begin work. I haven't found the research that supports that "sense of productivity people are said to feel when they begin work," but Coker's findings are getting close.

And just what does the "short" in "short and unobtrusive breaks" mean? Different things to different people, no doubt, particularly when talking about social media. Earlier this month, Zadie Smith and other writers revealed that they block the Internet when they work. Either they haven't heard that they can increase their productivity by 9% with social media or "short" break for them was nowhere near short enough.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The State Of Self-Publishing

Publishing Is Broken, We're Drowning In Indie Books--And That's A Good Thing is a fantastic article in Forbes. (From August.) It's about how self-publishing got to the point it's at now, and what might happen with it in the future.

Some interesting points made:

Self-publishing may end up being where we see mid-list authors because they can make more money there on their ten thousand to thirty thousand sales.

Also--self-publishing e-books could become the new backlist for authors. This is something I'd already heard about, and is a factor in my republishing Saving the Planet & Stuff early next year as an e-book.

The amount of marketing traditionally published authors now have to do encourages them to publish on their own--they're already taking on some of the work traditional publishers did in the past, anyway.

Hemingway And Me

A couple of days ago, some guy named Edward Hemingway and I both commented on the same Facebook post. (It was regarding blurbs, and my long-time readers know my attitude toward those.) So imagine my surprise when I saw that the very same Edward Hemingway was the subject of a Seven Imps' post this morning.

Ah, Seven Imps. I hardly ever get over there anymore, and the quality of this post made me regreat that.

Here is my favorite Hemingway quote: "...our limitations create our style." He was quoting a teacher, but I'm quoting him, so now I have a Hemingway quote. I think what he says is probably true of writers, too.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sometimes Name Recognition Works

I have to admit that I don't have a lot of interest in Albert Einstein. I picked up Albert Einstein when I saw it at the library because I recognized the author, Kathleen Krull's, name. I remember her picture book Fartiste, and I liked what I thought was the novelty of her book Lincoln Tells a Joke. Plus, I believe Kathleen is a Facebook friend. My point being, that name is definitely filed away in my mind, and when I saw it on a book cover, the metaphorical equivalent of a bell rang.

I found Albert Einstein, part of Krull's Giants of Science series, to be a very readable book. Seriously, on a couple of occasions I looked forward to going back to this book over some other ones I was reading at the time. The text seemed as if it could have come from one of those well done magazine profiles that often grab me.

I can't say that I have a better understanding of what Einstein actually did, though I think I do have a grasp of his process. I have a much better understanding of the significance of his work in the bigger scheme of things. I am left, after reading Albert Einstein, not liking him very much. That was an interesting aspect of this book. I felt that Krull put out details of Einstein's personal life (his treatment of the women in his life, for instance) without making any value judgments, herself. I, however, felt free to do so. I also felt she did a good job of placing him within his time period and showing historical events' impact upon him. In one case, in particular, she showed the impact he appears to have had on a historical event.

This book includes a list of sources, but no citations in the text. I am seeing this in nonfiction books for adults, as well as children, and don't know what the significance is. The absence of citations wouldn't keep me from encouraging a young person to read the book.

Friday, September 14, 2012

So What's Your Story?

The Biggest Mistake Writers Make and How to Avoid it at Writer Unboxed has a big connection to my long-term thinking about plot. The article is written by Lisa Cron, whose book, Wired for Story, I happen to be reading.

I am not the only writer who struggles with plot. What I've come to believe is that those of us who find plotting hard do so because we don't know the story we want to write about yet. Our ideas come in the form of scenes or situations. There is no "something that happens to somebody and what it means." Without the basic story that we can describe in a sentence, how can we possibly create a plot? "Wouldn't it be neat if someone woke up and found she could fly?" describes a situation. In order for it to become a story, what happens to that character as a result of the situation and what it means to her life have  to be worked out

So we all have to learn how to back up and figure out the story. The horse (story) really needs to go before the cart (writing the story).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hoping For More Wolf Girl

Book Blogger Hop I stumbled upon a "book blogger hop," a term I'd never heard before, at Crazy for Books. It looks as if a book blogger hop is simply a situation in which a bunch of bloggers all do posts on the same subject. Maybe it's a meme? Does the word "hop" relate to the 1950s dance, making a blogger hop a sort of social gathering? Yes, yes, once again I am overthinking.

So hops occur regularly at Crazy for Books and involve all the participating bloggers responding to a writing prompt. I have a bad history with things like writing prompts and themed issues of literary journals. I am rarely able to come up with material when I'm asked.

This week's hop prompt is an interesting one for me. What book series do you never want to see end?  Ha-ha, you're thinking. You're going to come up dry again, Gail, because you hate series. No, I do not hate series. I really, really dislike serials, which is a different thing. What is striking about this blog prompt is that I can actually answer the question.

I am hoping that Lonely Werewolf Girl and Curse of the Wolf Girl by Martin Millar will be more than a novel and sequel. I really would enjoy a full-blown series here. I'm sure I could read at least two more novels. And I hope that taking part in this hop, as I am doing, will give the books a little more attention. Right now I feel as if Sheila Ruth at Wands and Worlds and I are close to being Wolf Girl's entire fan base.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

You Can't Live Down Your School Pictures

20 Famous Authors' Adorable School Photos at Flavorwire. Included are Lois Lowry, Madeline L'Engle, and Maurice Sendak.

Time Management Tuesday: Self-discipline And The Unit System

I've been feeling a need to do a little self-discipline reading recently. As I've said before, the quick and easy self-discipline material on-line deals more with using self-discipline/self-control to change specific problems rather than developing self-discipline in general. A case in point, is a general article I found in The Guardian on the Pomodoro Technique. It deals with self-discipline, but specifically related to time management. Right up our alley.

I had heard of the Pomodoro Technique in my time management reading rambles this year. It appears to be an earlier, better known version of It Takes An Egg Timer, which I read last month. They both seem like variations of what I've been calling the unit system, which I learned about earlier this year. You divide your time up into chunks/units and assign yourself tasks to work on within those units.

Oliver Burkeman, the author of The Guardian article, makes a very clear point about why time management systems like the unit system work for some people. (I say "some" because I don't believe anything works for everybody.) "They are, literally, tricks: the ticking clock takes an internal desire to get something done and fools some part of the brain into thinking it's external, that the clock must be obeyed."  "The illusion, voluntarily swallowed, is that choice has been removed--that there's something stopping you from choosing to abandon your focus and default to whatever inertia would have you do: daydream, websurf, beerdrink." Or, in my case, visit two news sites, Salon, Slate, and play a few hands of solitaire, which is what I used to call my "pre-writing ritual."

Some would say that the timer becomes an external support for will power. Personally, I think it's more the block of time, itself, rather than the timer that is the significant support.

This is a good opportunity to refresh ourselves on the unit system. You're trying to do two things with it, no matter how you keep track of your time (I use a timer on my computer, not a kitchen timer) or how long a unit of time you use (I vary them):

1. As discussed in this post, you're trying to create an external time keeper, a "punch-a-time-clock" arrangement that makes it clear to you that you are at work now.

2. And, as discussed in an earlier post, there is supposed to be research showing that the first 45 minutes working on a task is the most productive. So with the unit system, you're trying to reproduce that feeling of starting work, over and over again during the day.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Another Blogger Visits Concord

I visited the blog of a recent commenter, Jane Greensmith, and discovered that she was in Concord this summer. It's been two years since I've been there. Jane took more pictures.

Oddly enough, we were just going through our 2010 digital pictures of Concord this weekend, determining, for instance, whether or not we really needed to make hard copies of every shot of various points on the trail around Walden Pond.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Captain Underpants Is Everywhere

The August 31 issue of Entertainment Weekly carries an article called A Briefs and Candid Chat With Captain Underpants Creator Dav Pilkey. It appears to be an edited version of

The Entertainment Weekly articles are okay, but pretty much generic author interviews. For a real assessment of the series (a new volume came out the end of August) see One Nation, Underpants  at Slate. It's not unusual for critics to talk about this or that children's book as being subversive. Jessica Roake, this essay's author, makes an excellent argument that the Captain Underpants books truly does buck the traditional children's literature world that "is brimming with poignant, metaphor-heavy, gracefully rendered portraits of childhood that English teachers just cherish." Unfortunately what many adults appreciate in a children's book is not what children appreciate in a children's book. Be sure to read the comments to this article. At the time I read them, most were a touching tribute to the Captain.

 My  response to the only Captain Underpants  book I've read came early in Original Content's existence.

Friday, September 07, 2012

There Is Something To Be Said For Reading Bad Writing

I've said before here that there is value in reading poor quality writing. Avi says something similar in his blog post The Anatomy of Mediocrity. It's not so much that I read dreadful writing and think, as he does, “I can do better than this!” Or, “I write better than this!” In my case, it's more like,  I hope I can do better than this, or Dear God, don't let me write this badly.

But, yes, you can learn from reading writing you don't like. It becomes a model for what you don't want to do.

Is This An Over-The-Top Promotional Op Or What?

Some writers, actors, and at least one artist got together to dress up as some of Edith Wharton's chums visiting her at her little place in the country, The Mount for the article The Custom of the Country: Vogue Recreates Edith Wharton's Artistic Arcadia. I'm having a hard time working out the point of the article and the illustrations for it, since it has far less to do with The Mount than it does with Wharton's sex life, which appears to have been carried on elsewhere. It seems as if they ought to have done an article about her sex life or about The Mount and not tried to confuse everyone by tangling them up together.

All the living people playing dead people seemed to have recent or upcoming projects to promote. Having flattering pictures taken of yourself in costumes seems like the ultimate way to get word out about what you're doing. I'm wracking my brain to think of a comparable project for children's lit people.

Update: I've got it! Louisa May Alcott and all her Transcendentalist buddies! I, of course, want to audition for LMA, and we can all have our pictures taken lounging around Orchard House.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

We Have A Cover

We have a cover for the e-book edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff. We've also had the book's text scanned, and we're in the process of checking the coding. We have part of a book trailer. We have a script for a vlog. We have marketing plans. Well, initial marketing plans. We have the short story that I wrote prior to Saving the Planet that dealt with the original situation that inspired the whole thing (a young person going on vacation with elderly strangers). I was pretty certain it still existed somewhere, and, sure enough, I stumbled upon it on the hard drive. We have plans for a Saving the Planet & Stuff e-book section at my website. I should say, I have plans. My computer guy will be surprised.  I don't know whether the short story, Three Weeks with Walt and Nora, will end up there, or, since it's a bit lengthy, if we'll publish it for e-readers, too.

Eric Bloom is my cover artist, and you'll be hearing more about him at some point in the future. In addition to providing the basic illustration, he also took care of the titles and cover layout. This is a big deal because, it turns out, there are copyright issues related to fonts. Eric worked those out for us.

We are very, very happy with Eric at Chez Gauthier.

We have learned a few surprising things while working on this project. In addition to the font copyright business, ISBN numbers must be purchased, and we'll need one each for the Kindle and Nook editions. Why is this surprising? Because in the past my publisher took care of all these things for me.

I have a little bit of anxiety about whether or not there are other things G.P. Putnam's Sons did for me that I know nothing about but will need to do for myself. No doubt I will find out.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Now That's A Story For Children!

I am slowly making my way through Lectures Pour La Jeunesse by W.F.H. Whitmarsh. I say slowly because after years of self-study, I read French comme une jeunesse. I have a 1946 edition of the book that was originally published in 1936. This came out of my mother-in-law's house, and no one has any idea what it was doing there. I, of course, believe it was waiting there for me.

The first paragraph of the Foreward: "This Reader is intended for pupils who have passed the earliest stages of the subject and are capable of understanding a simple text introducing only elementary constructions and common words."

There you go. It is quite a perfect fit for me. My ease in reading French has improved since last winter when I met Marcel, un homme qui habit dans la maison de sante avec ma mere. Il a dit, "I speak pig French." Oui!, j'ai pense! Je veux parler pig French aussi!" When you no longer have to worry about perfection--or spelling--or accent marks--reading, speaking, and writing French becomes plus facile.

Okay, so this is a book of stories for children, and they are far more enjoyable than the decades old Journal de Mickeys I'd been reading (I'm not that big a fan of the little ducks, as they're known at our house) and far, far more enjoyable than the textbooks I was reading when I got started years back. These stories often have a little twist, like the one that turns on the fact that le duc can mean both the aristocrat and horned owl. (I kid you not.)

Histoire Corse, my favorite so far, deals with Corsican history. Evidently in days of old, Corsica was a wild and woolly place, where "the government sent hundreds of police with the mission to arrest or kill all the bandits." (My piggy translation.) In this story, a French teacher tells his students of the short story Mateo Falcone written in the nineteenth century by Prosper Merimee. Mateo, he says, "was a typical Corsican, proud, violent, capable of being a good friend or a dangerous enemy." Mateo's twelve-year-old son, while left home alone, hides a bandit and then turns him over to the police when they come looking for him. Mateo comes home in time to see the bandit call his house the home of a traitor. So, he takes his kid out in the woods and shoots him.

Back in the 1930s they really knew how to write for children.

I haven't read Mateo Falcone yet, but you can bet I will. And my enthusiasm for Lectures Pour La Jeunesse has definitely grown.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: How Are You Going To Get It Done?

Thanks to a Facebook Friend, I was able to read When the Work-Life Scales Are Unequal at the New York Times this past weekend. This article deals with people struggling with the boundary between work time and personal time, only these people work for others, not themselves, in jobs where they have assigned work and supervisors to report to. In some work places, employees can flex their time with other employees or arrange for others to fill in for them when their family responsibilities start intruding into their work responsibilities. The article makes clear that this is easier said than done.

Those of us who work for ourselves don't have co-workers to help out when family problems erupt or even when we'd like to be part of family events that require some of our work time. How could anything in that When the Work-Life Scales Are Unequal article help us? Check out the following paragraph, which appears on the second page:

"So what should an employee tell the boss when life bumps up against the job? “I think the default is to focus on, ‘Where am I going?’ ” says Ms. Yost, who has advised the United Nations, Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson, among others, on flexible work strategies. “Instead, employees should focus on, ‘How am I going to get my job done?’ ”"

That attitude shift could be key to helping us deal with our constantly changing situations. When confronted with a personal time flare-up, instead of focusing on "Oh, my gosh! I can't work!" (which is what I tend to do), we can focus on how we're going to get whatever we have to do done in this particular situation. This will work better when we know what we have to do. What do I have to do, and how can I chip away at this job in whatever units of time I can find?  Having a fallback plan ready might help, too. Researching markets for publishing and marketing might have been on a back burner while working on an a big writing project. Short increments of research can become your fallback work when dealing with a sick family member or other kind of family event.

"How am I going to get my job done?" I'm embarrassed that I didn't think of it before.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Deciphering Reviews

A lot has been written about book reviewing this summer. Many writers have been concerned about whether reviews are positive or negative. A more important consideration is what do the things actually mean?

To work out what reviewers are really saying: Sarah Harrison's Guide to Literary Criticism, by way of Katie Davis.

There Is Still Hope!

Hey, fellow writers! Feeling down over lack of recognition for your fine, fine work? Buck up. A couple of hundred years from now, things could totally turn around.

19th Century Writers Who Are Even More Relevant Today

Sunday, September 02, 2012

In Case You Are Shopping For A New House

Are you? Househunting? If so, you might be interested to hear that the Lucy Maud Montgomery Museum is for sale.  Yes, that is Lucy Maud Montgomery as in the author of Anne of Green Gables. And guess who has been there?Yes, that's right. Me. It turns out that I can't give you a lot of inside scoop on this prime piece of real estate, the asking price for which is supposed to be $349,000. I can only give you a little bit of information on the surroundings.

It appears that I only took one interior picture when I was at the museum, and, sorry to say, it was not of the kitchen. And, you know, kitchens sell houses. I have no recollection of the kitchen at all, which is most unusual because I love looking at old kitchens.

This is a bedroom that I believe was done up to look as if it could have belonged to one of the characters in the book. A female character, I'm guessing from that dressie looking thing hanging on the wall.

I don't know how much property comes with the house. At the time I was there, the grounds included the Haunted Woods Trail, which my walking journal indicates is .8 miles. The notes in my journal also say that the trail was the inspiration for the Haunted Woods in Anne of Green Gables. No idea where I got that info. I don't even remember the Haunted Woods in Anne of Green Gables.

Prince Edward Island, the province in which the museum is located, is, indeed, an island. It is accessed by one serious bridge. I mean, a whopper. At Chez Gauthier, we are fond of big bridges. The bigger the better. Tolls do not deter us. In fact, knowing that we were going to have to go over the Confederation Bridge to get to P.E.I. was a real draw, as far as we were concerned. And we got to go over it a second time on our way home! I guarantee you, we have more bridge pictures than we do Lucy Maud Montgomery Museum pictures.

The day we visited the museum we picked up a biking trail somewhere nearby. Again, quoting from the walking journal (which also doubles as a biking/skiing/canoeing journal): "5.9 miles. Maybe the best bike ride we've ever been on. A great mix of meadow, woods, beach, ocean views. It was fantastic and not difficult, either."

Not difficult is always a big plus for me. If you're going to go look at the house, bring a bike.

So there you are, a little information on the Land of Anne, where the Montgomery home is located.