Wednesday, October 31, 2012

If You're Going To Read A Book With Multiple Points Of View, Read This One

Minutes before I started reading Ungifted by Gordon Korman, I gave up reading a book that was told from alternating points of view. Several of them. None of the characters were particularly interesting, some of them were terribly cliched, and the point of view switches meant having to keep readjusting myself to a different person telling a story I didn't like very much, anyway.

Imagine my surprise when I found that Ungifted was told the same way. The basic story is more interesting in Ungifted, though, and the characters are all more likable and more accessible.

Ungifted is the story of a run-of-the-mill kid who has a history of stumbling into disruptive rather than criminal trouble. After accidentally causing expensive damage to the middle school gym, he takes advantage of a paperwork error so he can hide out in the district's school for the academically gifted.

I found the basic premise for the book believable. Donovan had legitimate reasons for being concerned about the financial trouble he was going to make for his family if he was fingered for the gym job. I found the slip-up that got him into the gifted program believable. I found his family's response to his sudden identification as gifted believable. For the past thirty years, at least, it has been a rare parent who hasn't spent their children's entire school careers waiting for someone besides themselves to recognize their offsprings' splendor.

I did feel the point of view switches weakened the story, though. The basic idea is that Donovan's presence at the school makes life better for the gifted students. I buy that idea, too. But I would have enjoyed getting deeper into one point of view in order to see what's so great about Donovan.

This is a contemporary, realistic school story with a lot of humor. I see so much fantasy, paranormal, teen girl group stuff that a realistic story seems unique by comparison. A lot of kids would be happy to find this book.

Ungifted is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Back-up Planning

Yes, you're right. It's not Tuesday. Nor is this a post about making the most of reading time, which I planned to do last week. You've probably heard, though, that here in southern New England we're expecting storm-related power outages starting later today. It's already started raining and blowing.

We've had lots of prep time for this storm, and I've been able to plan what I can do if I'm not able to do what I originally planned to do. One of the benefits of all the planning I've been doing this past year for Situational Time Management is that I now need to plan. And while I'm quite capable of adapting to a storm and putting my feet up while I spend some time reading, I really don't want to have big chunks of time during which I can't work at all.

Fall-back plans aren't difficult to create for mid-list writers. Prepublished writers can and should concentrate on process--studying it and writing. They don't have to worry about marketing at that point and shouldn't (IMHO) being wasting a lot of time on creating an Internet presence. (An Internet presence for what?) Your J. K. Rowlings and Stephen Kings can hire help for marketing and promotion. It's those writers in the middle who are overwhelmed with maintaining the on-line presence, updating marketing materials, looking for and making contacts, writing workshop proposals, etc. Most of the time, if you can't do one thing there are two or three other things waiting to be done. No worries.

But, Gail, you're probably thinking. Don't all those things require access to the Internet or at least a computer. Don't they require electricity?

Indeed they do. However, filing doesn't. As I mentioned earlier this year, my files need a significant overhaul.( If I lose electricity (It's probably when, since it flickered off while I've been working on this post. That's why you're not getting a link to the filing post. I am in a hurry.), I'll turn all my attention to my filing cabinets. Until it gets too dark in here to see, anyway. 

I have a back-up plan. The back-up plan to that plan is to put up my feet and read. Until it gets too dark in here to see, anyway.

November Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar

The November Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar is going up a couple of days early because Connecticut is expecting power outages in the next day or so due to Hurricane Sandy. Depending on what's happening in the state later this week, you should probably check with the venues for next weekend's events to make sure they are back to their normal schedule.

November is always a big month for Children's Literature in Connecticut because of the Connecticut Children's Book Fair. This year there are a number of other author appearances as well.

Saturday, Nov. 3, Janet Lawler, Farmington Public Library, Farmington, 1:00 PM

Saturday, Nov. 3, Dawn Metcalf, Karen Casale, and P. J Sharon, Author Fair, Enfield Public Library, Enfield, 10 AM to Noon

Saturday, Nov. 3, Dan Yaccarino, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 1:30 PM

Monday, Nov. 5, Dav Pilkey, UConn Co-op, Storrs, 4:30 PM

Tuesday, Nov. 6, Leigh Ann Tyson, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 10:30 AM

Thursday, Nov. 8, Marilyn Nelson, Hartford Public Library, Hartford, 6:00 PM Wrap up event for One Book One Hartford

Saturday, Nov. 10, Katie Davis, Dodd Research Center, Storrs, Exhibit reception and gallery talk, 2 to 4 PM

Saturday, Nov. 10, and Sunday, Nov. 11, Judy Blundell, Patricia MacLachlan, Robert Sabuda, Leslea Newman, Jerry Spinelli, and sixteen other authors and illustrators, Connecticut Children's Book Fair, Rome Commons, Storrs, 10 AM to 5 PM each day

Sunday, Nov. 11, Janet Lawler, Janice Hechter, Vivian Newman, 3rd Annual Great Children's Read, Mandell Jewish Community Center, West Hartford, 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM

Wednesday, Nov. 14, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Welles-Turner Memorial Library, Glastonbury, 7:00 PM. Grades 4-8, Register 860-652-7718  

Thursday, Nov. 15, Matthew Cody, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM

Sunday, Nov. 18, Dawn Metcalf, Annual Holiday Fair, Temple Beth Hillel,10 AM to 3 PM

Thursday, Nov. 29, Bob Shea, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM

Sunday, October 28, 2012

You Are There

Last night at dinner we were talking about the first episodes of TV series, many of which are quite dreadful. There is much to be done in that first 30 or 60 minutes, which are, of course, nowhere near 30 and 60 minutes with commercials. Introductory information can often result in a very tedious, connect-the-dot-like experience as one character after another appears, someone says his or her name, and something has to happen to identify what he or she is doing there and what they have to do with whatever it is that's supposed to be happening in front of us.

I immediately thought of the openings to books. They're  incredibly important for reasons similar to those TV opening episodes. They can be just as clunky, too, with one character after another appearing, his or her name being said by someone else or worked into a narrative that may sound clunky to our reader's ear. It can take a very long time for a reader to be brought up to speed.

I happened to have just started reading Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Cinder takes Cinderella and places her in a futuristic cyberpunk world. The first paragraph begins "The screw through Cinder's ankle had rusted..."  The last sentence in that paragraph includes a reference to Cinder's "prosthetic steel hand."  First line in second paragraph: "Tossing the screwdriver onto the table, Cinder gripped her heel and yanked the foot from its socket."

Immediately--and I mean immediately--you know the kind of environment you're dealing with, and you have a Cinderella reference to a foot. There's no first-person narrator telling you all kinds of information that you need to know in order to accept the story's premise. You are just there, in the story.

I can't recall the last time I got into a science fiction story so rapidly. I don't know how I'll feel by the time I get to the last chapter, but the first one was very impressive.

Friday, October 26, 2012

What Publishers Have That Writers Should Want

Do Publishers Need to Offer More Value to Authors? by Jane Friedman is full, full, full of interesting material. The comments are juicy, too.

There's an awful lot of information there, but two bits of info that were striking to me:

"If you sign a traditional deal with a Big Six house, you’ll receive an advance. But most authors (up to 80%) never see royalties; their books never earn out."  I was aware that it was not at all unusual, and maybe even common, for writers to never make more on a book than their original advance. But for this to be happening with "up to 80%" (what does "up to" mean?) of writers is significant.

" It boils down to three desirables that publishers offer.
  1. Money
  2. Service
  3. Status"
Friedman pretty much writes off money (we've just seen that most writers don't make much beyond their advance) and service and dwells on the status that publishing with a traditional publisher brings an author. Yes, it's true that publishing with one of the Big Six publishers "can open doors and lead to other types of paychecks." It opens doors to literary blogs, review journals, and conferences, though, in my experience, not necessarily to bookstores.  But as Friedman points out in one of her comments to her own article, readers rarely know the publishers of the books they read. I have definitely found that to be true. So the status we're talking about here is status within the publishing industry, not status within the greater culture. How long and how much are you going to care what the cool kids in your cliche think about you? Cripe, we're grown-ups.

I think the major desirable publishers offer is service. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that marketing and promotion are the big devils on everybody's backs. But publishers also offer editing. I do not mean copy editing, though they do offer that (mine always did) and that is definitely important. But more significantly, they offer content editing. This is crucial. It is a rare manuscript that will not benefit from a second mind helping to look for inconsistencies, meanderings, unnecessary characters, and a long list of other things.
At a publishing house, your manuscript was acquired by an editor who has some kind of interest in it, presumably "gets" it and "gets" you, at least in relationship to this one particular piece of work. Because they are being paid by a third party (the publisher, not you) they they are free to go back and forth with you to help you shape your book into something more polished and finished than your (first) final draft.
The money might not be great with a traditional publishing company and your neighbors and family may be totally unaware of your elevated status because you're publishing with one. But so long as the traditional publishing companies have content editors, they'll have one very big desirable to offer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Another Good Blog For Writers

I stumbled upon another good blog for writers. My favorite part of C.S. Larkin's Live Write Thrive  is her guest post category Writing for Life.

I found both Larkin's and Janice Hardy's sites through the most recent Carnival of Creativity.

Some Self-Publishing Thoughts From Others. Okay, And From Me.

You all know that I'm self-publishing an e-book version of Saving the Planet & Stuff in order to give it a life as a back list title. You know because I keep mentioning it here. You can see the cover over to the left. I have done very little since the beginning of July except work on the marketing plans for this thing and copyediting. When you have text scanned to create a digital file, a lot of errors occur. Who knew?

So, I have self-publishing on the mind. Self-publishing was on my mind when I saw Some Hard Numbers at Janet Reid, Literary Agent. Reid writes about writers who self-publish believing they'll catch a traditional publisher's eye. As she points out, they may not be aware of what catches a publisher's eye. It's sales. Big ones. By big, she's talking 20,000 books. Doesn't sound like a big number to you? Many traditionally published authors don't sell 20,000 copies of an individual title. The commenter who pointed out that a self-published e-book can continue slowly selling for years is correct. That's why traditionally published authors like myself are self-publishing out-of-print titles. E-books function as the back list that publishers can no longer maintain. But slow, low sales over many years aren't helpful for publishers. If they were, they'd keep much larger back lists than they do.

Self-publishing was also on my mind when I read A Day in the Life of a Children's Book Editor. What I kept thinking was that all those things that editor talked about doing are things self-published authors have to do for themselves. Proofing, cover copy, cover concepts, cover illustrations, promotion, deadlines, events...And, as this editor said, she didn't do any editing that day.

One of my Facebook friends said she was surprised to hear that self-publishing was a lot of work. She isn't a writer.

Recognizing Community

You may recall that about a month ago I was showing an interest in becoming part of a creative community. Just now I was visiting a Modest Money  (it was part of a web marketing carnival I was checking out), and in one of the blogger's posts, he recognized all the bloggers who had mentioned him recently. I thought, That sounds like community building. So I'm going to do it here every now and then.

I have two blogs I can mention:

The Author Chronicles,  which included me in a recent Top Picks Thursday post.

Connecticut Bloggers, where I am now a contributor for the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendars.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gail's Amazon Experiment

I have had an Amazon Author page for several years. I never imported this blog to it, though. Originally, Amazon allowed me to maintain a blog right there, so I made totally different posts about totally different things. I had two blogs, here and at Amazon. Amazon put an end to author blogs, and I had concerns about somehow losing ownership of my content if I sent my Original Content posts over there, so I didn't.

Needless to say, I am over that.

So this post is a check to see if the blog feed will work. It could be twenty-four hours before I find out. I'll let you know.

I would say, "Testing...Testing..." but that's so trite.

UPDATE:  It worked. I know everyone was up wondering about that last night.

So Much To Read At "The Other Side"

Well, no sooner do I do a post on time and reading then I find a new blog with lots to read in it. The Other Side of the Story looks a little bit like one of those websites that sells services to writers. But, no, it is YA author Janice Hardy's blog and website that deals with "ways to build a solid foundation for your writing."

She has NaNoWriMo prep posts this month. She has plotting posts. She has guest posts on process. She has on-line resources.

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. But I'll get over it.

Time Management Tuesday: Introduction To Reading

I'll be talking more about procrastination after I read a second book on the subject. However, my next blog topic, reading, was inspired by Rita Emmett's The Procrastinator's Handbook. She seems to write more about time management than procrastination, and at one point she uses the heading "You Can't Read Everything." "No one can these days," she goes on to say. "Until you accept that fact, you'll be creating a lose/lose situation. Either you'll feel like a loser for procrastinating about all your unread papers, or in the time spent trying to read everything, you'll feel like a loser because you've put off some of the really important things in your life."  She ends that section with, "Select what is important to read and don't sweat the rest."

First, I think that there are a lot of people who can't get to all their reading because they don't have time to do it, not because they are putting it off for the sake of putting it off, which is, I think, an aspect of procrastination that makes it procrastination rather than just having too much to do. Second, for many people reading is one of the really important things in their lives. Third, I got kind of excited when I read "Select what is important to read and don't sweat the rest," because I thought that was a transitional sentence, and she was going to discuss how to do that in her next section. But this whole reading thing ended up being part of the clutter segment of the book, and she talked about throwing away magazines and newspapers that have piled up.

Emmett has a point with cutting back on subscriptions for magazines you'll never read and not letting catalogues accumulate. (I don't bring them into the house, myself. The recycling box is in the garage, and I throw them in there on my way in from the mailbox.) However, that's a very small portion of the reading most of us do. You can throw away all the periodicals you want. It doesn't change the fact that there comes a point when we should be reading and must read.

We  have two kinds of reading:

Maintenance Reading--Reading we need to do to manage our daily lives. Depending on the person this could include reading about politics, economics, education, and health, just to begin with.

Professional Reading--Reading we need to do to manage our professional lives. For writers this would include reading in our genre to keep up with what is being published and, presumably, read, and in other genres we're interested in writing. It should also include reading about process, in order to always be training in what we do. For writers interested in writing short stories and essays, (like myself), it would also include reading journals and magazines to research markets. Oh, and then specific writing projects may require research, more reading. We also need to be reading about marketing and technology. If we're interested in teaching workshops, we'd probably be doing some reading about that.

For any person, in any profession, there's going to be professional reading. It takes time. Lots of it. Are there ways to try to get some of this reading done in less time? I think so.

Next week, I'm going to discuss Pierre Broyard's How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read, which is more about reading than it is about not reading. He writes about the different kinds of reading we actually do, anyway, and knowing we're reading in those ways could help us manage our reading workload.

A bientot.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Real Reason To Read A Professional Review

Was it necessary to call this article Are Professional Book Reviewers Better Than Amateurs?

I do enjoy reading a professional review written by someone with knowledge of the author and/or genre or, in the case of nonfiction, the subject. But it seems as if the people who publish these articles about professional reviews being better than amateur reviews instead of merely different are trying to incite a riot.

Additionally, many of these articles don't do a good job of explaining why professional reviews are professional. Consider the following paragraph from Are Professional Book Reviewers Better Than Amateurs?

"Consider the standard print review of a book in, say, the Observer, the Times, the TLS or the New York Review of Books. Such a review will usually run somewhere between 500 and 1,500 words. Before publication, it will be subjected to a prolonged and intense process of subediting. Crucially, it will be signed, and usually paid for. Compared with the raw material of your average blog, it has been refined and distilled to within an inch of its life."

What am I to make of that? That professional reviews are good because they're long and edited and the reviewers take ownership of their work and get paid for it? No, people! No! That's not it at all! Well-done professional reviews are good because the reviewers know something. They have a background in their subject. They understand what good writing should be, they are able to use that understanding to analyze a piece of work, and they're able to express their thoughts intelligibly.

You know what would be really cool? And I mean "cool" as in "interesting?" To have a professional reviewer and an amateur reviewer review the same book and walked their readers through their thought processes and how they came to view the piece of writing the way they did. I would love to read that. I might even pay to read that.

Social Media Marketing: Rah! Rah! Rah!

I've been to a couple of marketing workshops this past year. People who do marketing for a living get very excited about social media marketing.

For writers who are actually doing social media marketing, the level of excitement is not quite so high.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Weekend In Review

As I've said before, I've pretty much given up any hope of being able to write on weekends. However, once again I did get some work done. I'm still reading The Procrastinator's Handbook and managed a little Internet research on the subject. In fact, around midnight last night I bought the Kindle edition of The Procrastinator's Digest by Timothy A. Pychyl. (Needless to say, I still love my Kindle.) I also joined a new Facebook group and discovered Brain Pickings.

In blog reading:

I picked up a new term at Ms. Yingling Reads--"Notebook Novel."

Tanita Davis has become a believer in self-publishing.  That probably wasn't what I should have taken away from that blog post.

I have had far, far less productive weekends.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Kennedys As Historical Details

Just yesterday I was writing about The FitzOsbornes in Exhile's similarity to various series on Masterpiece and its use of Kathleen and Joseph Kennedy, Jr. as historical details. Well, I just saw last Sunday's episode of Upstairs Downstairs and who should appear at 165 Eaton Place but Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., the missus, and one of the boys. I missed which one it was--he was skinny like Joe, Jr., but it could have been Jack. He didn't have much of an impact on the story because it does look as if he was just there because, well, the Kennedys were in London in the 1930s.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Like Reading A "Masterpiece" Series--And There's Nothing Wrong With That

I am enjoying the Montmaray Journals by Michelle Cooper, which began with A Brief History of Montmaray. In The FitzOsbornes in Exile, the royal family of Montmaray is living the 1930's London upper class life some of us have come to know and love from various novels and Masterpiece series. Unlike the first Montmaray novel, which I found difficult to categorize, this one is probably a formulaic England-under-the-cloud-of-coming-war story.

I felt A Brief History of Montmaray had an odd plot because the event that changes the world for the characters and sets everything in motion didn't start until halfway through the book. The Montmaray Journals brings serial novels to historical fiction, something that we usually see with fantasy, and the event that changes the world for these characters this time occurred at the end of book one--the Nazis force the royal family out of their island kingdom. In The FitzOsbornes in Exile they don't really start dealing with that until, once again, halfway through the book. Initially, they are fish out of water, not fitting in with the shallow London debutantes because they've had a much rougher life, despite being royal. Then the rest of the book deals with them trying to get the world to recognize what has become of their country. Like the first book, this one even has a climax filled with physical danger, though I found it more improbable than what happened in book one.

The FitzOsbornes in Exile probably suffers a bit from being the middle book in a trilogy. It's the book that pretty much acts as filler between the hook that caught readers' attention in the first place and the big finale, which in this case is going to involve World War II. I, for one, am expecting a big, big finale.

As charming as the FitxOsbornes are, I can imagine them wearing on some readers a bit because they are so beautiful, intelligent, and noble. But I love the period details in these books. I am familiar with the Mitford sisters, who are mentioned a few times here, and Sir Oswald Mosley, who gets even more space. (He's almost a semi-regular on Masterpiece, turning up in both Upstairs Downstairs and, I believe, Foyle's War.) I certainly recognize the names Kathleen Kennedy and Joseph Kennedy, Jr., though I'm not sure how their presence adds to the story, unless their fates come into the third book.

At one point, the main character is asked if she's been reading Machiavelli. "No," she says, "I'm reading Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer....and it's got Beau Brummell in it." Regency Buck was published in 1935, making it a likely choice of reading material for a young society woman living in the late 1930s. And note that Sophia points out that the book includes Beau Brummell, who might be described as more of a historical celebrity than historical figure. She's mentioning a book that uses a real person from the past as a character, just as the book she, herself, appears in does. Kind of cool.

As I said, I love the period detail. I wonder if you have to know the period to recognize the details, though, to play the history game. And if  you can't play the game, does that lessen your enjoyment of the book?

Since I can play the game, I will be reading the third book in the series, The FitzOsbornes at War.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I Have ISBNs

Last night we bought the ISBNs for the Kindle and Nook versions of  Saving the Planet & Stuff, which should both be available the end of January. Thus, I was very interested to read the following quote from The Road to Discoverability at FutureBook:

“In 1990, there were about 900,000 ISBNs. Today there are 32 million ISBNs and an unknown number of unidentified books.” 

Well, if you're the kind of person who likes company, I guess that's a good thing.

If you read The Road to Discoverability, you will find a number of interesting terms. Of the following ones I saw--metadata, SEO, algorithm, and pixie dust--the one I have the best grasp of is pixie dust.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Drifting

Writing every day is not something I'm able to manage, and I know that weekends are almost always going to be a dead period for me as far as actually writing is concerned. I do try to get some professional reading done then, even if it's just catching up with blogs. This past weekend I started reading The Procrastinator's Handbook: Mastering the Art of Doing it Now by Rita Emmett.

I'm not sure how procrastination fits in with what I call Situational Time Management, constantly planning so you can find work time in changing life situations. A lot of what I talk about on Time Management Tuesdays is facing the fact that we often truly have more tasks to do than we can complete in the time available. There comes a point where you can't pretend that A, B, or C time management program is going to change the number of hours in a day or days in a week.

Procrastinating--putting off work for whatever reason--seems to be a different, though related, subject. I'm also wondering if what we've called procrastinating in the past isn't now a catch-all term for other things, such as disorganization or buckling under the pressure of feeling overwhelmed by your workload. Internet addiction seems like something that should be tossed into the procrastination category because it certainly keeps people from working, but is it really procrastination or something else?

I'll be giving all this a lot more thought as I read more of the book.

In the meantime, though, one thing Emmett talks about in her book that I think does relate to our subject is "drifting," which she doesn't give a hardcore definition but describes as "like being a ship without a destination." Drifters might start several jobs without finishing any of them or "putter around without really doing anything." "It usually occurs during unstructured time" and in occupations that are particularly unstructured. Writers and other people who work for themselves would fall into this category because we don't have structure imposed on us by bosses, supervisors, and traditional work hours.

Emmett suggests finishing one task to start getting drifting under control. I'm going to suggest the unit system because it imposes structure upon us, and, as Emmett says, "You don't usually find yourself drifting during a highly structured day."

By the way, earlier in her book Emmett recommends using a timer. I'm seeing timers over and over again in my time management reading.

Watch Katie Couric interviewing Rita Emmett on procrastination.

Monday, October 15, 2012

What If Dexter Morgan's Dad Had Been A Serial Killer Instead Of That Creepy Cop?

Well, well, well. I requested I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga a while back, and by the time I got hold of it, it was a Cybils nominee for YA fiction.

I Hunt Killers is a serial murderer story with a tormented lead who is both hunting for the killer and fearful that he could become one. It includes a quirky, much weaker, sidekick and a spunky girlfriend. It made me think of Dexter, if Dexter had made any attempt to control himself when he was young. And had friends.

It also reminded me of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick in that both books seem like YA book versions of adult movies. With some changes to details, all the main characters could easily be ten years older and pretty much maintain the same plot and end up with the same story. And it seems as if it wouldn't take a whole lot to adapt them into movies because they seem so much like movies already.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. This thriller scenario may be new to YA, which is different than doing the same thing in YA over and over again simply because new readers are coming up who haven't seen it before.

This idea of using adult film as inspiration for YA novels may be really taking off right now. I'm reading The FitzOsbornes in Exile, and though I'm enjoying it, I have to say it seems a lot like a Masterpiece series.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What Would Make A Good All Hallow's Read Book?

I just heard about All Hallow's Read on Facebook. I am, of course, taken with this idea. I am at a loss, though, as to what scary book to get and whom to give it to. As a general rule, I avoid books that are scary for the sake of being scary.

Oh! Wait! A few months ago, I was reading World War Z: An Oral  History of the Zombie Wars and would read something else just before going to sleep because I was afraid of having nightmares. That would make a good All Hallow's Read book, I think, but whom should I give it to?

Friday, October 12, 2012

You Can't Get Too Much Advice From Writers

Well, you probably can, because  if you listen to enough of that stuff, you'll find that a lot of it conflicts. However, I'm including links to a couple of Top Ten Writing Lists from writers with connections  to children's literature because they both include some interesting thoughts.

Sherman Alexie's list included "Don’t have any writing ceremonies. They’re just a way to stop you from writing." That is probably all too true. Also, he says "Subscribe to as many literary journals as you can afford." This is not something I ever hear in children's lit circles. However, I have read in nonchildren's lit articles that writers should make an attempt to support journals by subscribing to them. And I actually did subscribe to one for a couple of years. What happened, though, is that the two journals I received each year were as hefty as books of short stories. I believe I still have a couple of them on one of my To Be Read shelves. But, still, seeking out a journal you like and supporting it is certainly a  good idea.

Margaret Atwood's "writerly advice" includes something that is both useful and somewhat profound. "Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page." If I still embroidered, I might try to put that on a pillow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A 2011 Cybils Award Winner On Sale Today

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach was the 2011 Cybils Award winner for YA Fiction. Which I guess makes it the reigning YA winner. It's a Kindle Daily Deal title today, so if you have a Kindle, you can get it for just $1.99.

I think I've made it clear here that we Gauthiers are not team sports people. You may know the family legend--a long-ago Gauthier is supposed to have played professional hockey back in Canuckistan and died young. Causal relationship between playing team sports and dying young? We don't know, but we're not taking any chances. The point I'm getting around to making is that books about team sports aren't a big draw for me. But Stupid Fast is supposed to be funny, and Ms. Yingling nominated it. I think we may have similar tastes, so I now have a copy on my Kindle.

Thanks to Leila at Bookshelves of Doom for the tip about the sale.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Developing A Planning Habit

Last week I wrote about planning to get the most out of small units of time when you're relying on Situational Time Management to help you get things done. Today I'm hitting the bigger picture--why planning is so important to Situational Time Management in the first place.

In The Chicago Tribune article The Blessings of Routine, author Charles Duhigg (whose book The Power of Habit seems like something I should read, doesn't it?) is quoted as saying "The routine is sort of the behavioral aspect of the habit."  "The reason we adopt habits is to help us meet our goals," Judy Hevrdejs, the article's author, writes later.

Our goal as writers is, immediately, to write and, in the long-term, to finish a written project. Work routines and habits can certainly help us to do that. However, they're far easier to form if we actually have a static life situation in which we have the same amounts of time falling on the same days of each week to work with. Those of us who are trying out Situational Time Management to manage our work time don't. Because of day jobs or family responsibilities we can't adhere to a routine because our work time keeps changing.

Without a routine to help us create a work habit, we have to be extremely careful that we don't end up working only when we have nothing else to do. How do we replace routine to make sure that doesn't happen?

What I've been doing is making planning the routine. To make Situational Management work, you have to be constantly thinking ahead, to the next week, to the next month, and beyond. What is your writing time next week? Schedule when you're going to work next week and commit to it. You know that a big work project is coming up for your day job in another month? What kind of writing can you do then? Do you finish the draft this month so you can put it aside for a few weeks and market or study while you have less time next month? Make a plan and commit.

It took me months to get into the planning routine with  the yellow notepad that I described last week. Now, though, toward the end of this week I'll be thinking about what will go onto next week's plan. I may even be making lists for next week before I start formally writing out the plan on Sunday night or Monday morning.

Planning is my routine and my habit. I think  that's how to cope with the situation I find myself in, and it's how to make Situational Time Management work.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Book Trailers: Situation Vs. Synopsis

In my survey of book trailers this past summer, I discovered that I'm not terribly fond of what are sometimes know as "synopsis" book trailers. These are trailers that try to summarize a plot. They seem to go slowly to me, and I often don't stick around to the end when I'm watching them. Perhaps I have attention span issues.

I prefer what I, at least, call situation trailers. These trailers simply expose the basic situation the book deals with. They seem to move faster, maybe because they aren't trying to do as much.

Two examples of what I mean by situation trailers are those for Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock and Pretty Crooked by Elisa Ludwig. These trailers seem to show us what these books are about and not what happens in them. I say "seem" because I haven't actually read either one. On the basis of their trailers, I definitely would pick them up to take a look if I came upon them somewhere. That is the next step to reading them or, better yet, purchasing them. So for this viewer, the trailers have done their job.

Friday, October 05, 2012

I Am Really Into Punctuation Right Now

I am copy editing the scanned text that will become the e-book version of Saving the Planet & Stuff, so I am probably more interested in the article Writers' Favorite Punctuation Marks than I would otherwise be. I, too, am very fond--perhaps overly fond, I'm thinking right now--of the em-dash. It looks as if the scanning process turned every last one of Saving the Planet's em-dashes into hyphens.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

A Rave For "The Diviners," But The Rest Of YA Doesn't Come Off As Well

Laura Miller gave the audio version of Libba Bray's new book, The Diviners, a great review at Salon. But while doing so, she managed to damn the YA genre with very faint praise.

Right off the bat, she starts talking about the difficulties for audiobook narrators who are dealing with books with a large number of characters. "However," she continues, "this isn’t a challenge that often confronts readers of YA (young adult) audiobooks, given that the genre specializes in quirky, irreverent first-person narration. Once you get Holden Caulfield’s voice down, you’re set." Personally, I agree that a lot of YA novels sound alike. But I'm going to try to remember not to open with that, if I ever have to write a review of a book I like. A nice compare and contrast para somewhere in the piece seems appropriate, but knocking an entire field? Not so much.

Miller also describes YA as "a genre dominated by shy, bookish heroines" and that The Diviners' main character "makes for a refreshing departure" because she's "so bold, confident and fun-loving (Evie is not above asking a new acquaintance if he’s got any hooch on him)." The shy, bookish heroine probably is a children's lit cliche, but I'd really like to see some support to the claim that it dominates contemporary young adult literature. I don't think it dominates your more popular YA, like Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist or The Hunger Games. How many shy, bookish characters are in the rich kid books?

The most disturbing part of the article is Miller's contention that using "familiar tricks" is acceptable in YA. "...that’s one of the advantages of YA; the intended reader hasn’t yet had the chance to grow tired of these old reliable gambits, and the genre’s adult readers are inclined to be indulgent about borrowings." There is some validity to this point, just as there is to her statement about so much of YA sounding like Holden Caulfield. However, how is that an advantage? An advantage to whom? To me, it's an aspect of YA that makes it difficult to judge it. Yes, the adult who has been reading for decades does have to take into consideration that a sixteen-year-old hasn't seen this material used over and over again the way she has and to try to make her assessments on the quality of the writing rather than its originality. But doesn't there also come a time when an editor or reviewer has to say, "No, it's not okay to use this old reliable gambit just because teenagers won't notice it's been done before. The world just does not need another (fill in the blank with a familiar trick) story right now."

Congratulations to Libba Bray and January Lavoy, the narrator of The Diviners audiobook, on this terrific review. Sorry the YA genre had to take a hit, though.

More on Libba Bray: A Conversation With Libba Bray, which I stumbled upon on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Branded At Last

I have been thinking about branding for quite some time now. When I say "quite some time," I mean years.

Branding myself has been a problem because while I am a children's/YA writer (which you'd think would be a brand, itself), I haven't published the same types of things within that genre. Two of my early books are often considered science fiction, and I have an unpublished manuscript that is definitely science fiction. Yet I don't write traditional, what you might call "hardcore," scifi. I bring science fiction elements into the real world. I definitely don't write fantasy, though one of my books had elements of magical realism, which is sometimes considered to be fantasy. I used to call myself a writer of contemporary fiction, but my most successful book, critically, is a historical novel. I also used to use the word "humorist" in relation to my writing, but I think that's misleading because it brings people like Dave Barry to mind. He made his original reputation with his early humorous personal essays, not fiction. I can't call myself a mainstream writer because of the scifi and historical fiction forays and the mystery manuscript I'm sitting on right now. I've  sometimes thought of myself as writing outsider fiction because the aliens in the Will and Robby books, Butch and Spike, Therese LeClerc, and Walt and Nora are all certainly outsiders. But except for Therese LeClerc, none of those characters are the protagonists in the books in which they appear. The books aren't actually about the outsiders. Jasper Gordon, the lead in A Year with Butch and Spike, is the ultimate insider grade school student. He makes a conscious choice to break away from his traditional behavior. We never see Hannah in the Hannah and Brandon stories in a social setting, so we don't know if she's an outsider. She is simply a child who has chosen to behave a certain way.

My interests, as I've been known to say, are all over the place. And that's the way I like it. I really have no desire, and probably no ability, to limit myself to just one kind of writing. I think there is an aspect of branding that does that. Branding has the potential to typecast a writer the way an actor can be typecast. Just this past week I met a writer who was slammed with negative reader reviews for one of her books because it wasn't what they had expected from her. She had left her niche, her pigeonhole, and she suffered for it.

In this sense, it seems to me, authors who are expected to brand themselves are being asked to impose limits upon themselves.

However, I also understand that there's an aspect of branding that involves definition. If you can define yourself in a way that keeps your options open, it could mean "connecting your work to readers who will appreciate it most," as Dan Blank said in Branding for Authors.

A few weeks ago I realized that my subject matter is all over the place because that's how I am. I started thinking about me, personally, as well as my writing. I am not a bandwagon person who has any desire to adhere to one genre, one type of writing, or even one school of thought. Hell, I don't even work well in groups, because it's so hard for me to conform to one. What's more, I like those qualities in others. Readers with  natures similar to mine may be my people. I have to help us find each other..

So this weekend I came up with a brand for myself--"Real world fiction about characters who go their own way." That is what I write. It's there at the top of my website for all the world to see. I have defined what I do.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Getting The Most Out Of Little Units Of Time

This is the first of at least two posts on planning with Situational Time Management.

Today I'm going to be writing about very nitpicky planning issues relating to what I'm calling time finds, small amounts of time you find in your life.

Evening Jobs: For most of the last decade, I have worked in the evenings. Up until maybe three years ago, this involved reading and networking with other bloggers and writing my own blog posts. Private life tasks have been dripping into the evening work time, and I've had to pretty much give up keeping up with other bloggers. Earlier this year, I read an article about planning for the week that got me started actually planning what I'd try to do in the evenings.  So I broke out a yellow pad and each week wrote Monday through Friday along the top and made little lists under each day of things I wanted to get done. I didn't  (and don't) worry about whether I got Monday's tasks done on Monday or on Wednesday. I just cross things out when I do them.  

15 Minute Jobs: After I started using the unit system during my work day, I realized that those 15 minute periods between work sessions pile up. I believe that many people who use the unit system would advise you to use those 15 minutes for something relaxing. I, however, am just overwhelmed with little jobs I need to do for work, myself, and others. So I took my yellow pad, which I was already using to keep track of evening jobs, and actually wrote "Evenings" next to the list of evening jobs. Then under that I kept a daily list labeled "15 Minute Jobs." These might be work-related or personal. It could be making phone calls, e-mailing someone, starting a load of laundry, getting a package ready to mail, stripping a bed. The list could go on forever. Again, I don't worry about whether I got Monday's tasks done on Monday or some other day. I just get as much done over the course of the week as I can.

Transitional Time: A couple of months ago, I remembered transitional time. Since then I've added "Transitional Time" tasks to the yellow pad. This is just the transitional time to get me into the work day. I haven't gotten a grip on end of the day transitional time yet, or the transition at the end of my work day. I allow myself only 15 minutes for morning transitional time (though other people could choose any amount of time they wanted) and used it to clean my desk and now use it to maintain the desk and work on my filing system.

My planning goes beyond these three time finds. I also plan for:

The Big Picture: For the last month I've also had a section on the yellow pad for "Week Projects" so that I don't become so fixated on little tasks that I forget the overall work. The next couple of weeks, "copy editing" and "contacting bloggers" will be on that section of the pad.

Upcoming Tasks: I've also taken to adding a section called "Upcoming" where I put things I want/need to do as I think of them so I don't forget about them because I'm obsessing...I mean concentrating...on getting all these small things done.

My yellow pad floats around the house with me, and I often continue to add things to it over the course of the week. It becomes quite intense looking. But there are a lot of items scratched out at the end of the week. I am getting things done and all the scratch outs give a feeling of accomplishment. I keep all the pages, again to offer physical evidence that I've been doing things.

Next Tuesday I'll be writing about why some kind of planning is important with Situational Time Management. And it's not going to be just because it enables you to get things done. I've got something else in mind.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Cybil Season

Nominations for this year's Cybils started today. When you consider I don't have a dog in this fight/race/game (whatever analogy you like best) I am feeling quite excited about Cybil Season. Perhaps it's because I don't have a dog doing anything.

I'll be placing an Interlibrary Loan order soon from the Cybil nominee list.