Friday, November 30, 2012

December Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar

I thought December was going to be a slow month for author appearances, but not so. A number of big names are visiting the state, and a Connecticut children's author and bookstore will be featured on Booktalk Nation, which is like a public appearance, but different.

Weekdays in Dec., Janet Lawler, broadcast of reading of Tyrannoclaus and interview, WPAA-TV, Wallingford,  7 AM

Sunday, Dec. 2, Michael Northrup, Greg Fishbone, and Ann Haywood LealBank Square Books, Mystic, 3:00 to 5:00 PM

Sunday, Dec. 2, Janet Lawler, Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, 1:30 to 3:30 PM

Sunday, December 2, Sarah Ferguson, New Canaan Library, 3:00 PM

Tuesday, Dec. 4, Ann Haywood Leal, Booktalk Nation, 7:00 PM You can sign up and listen to Haywood Leal being interviewed by Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic.

Friday, Dec. 7, Barbara McClintock, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM

Saturday, Dec. 8, Susan Hood and Barbara McClintock, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, 2:00 PM

Friday, Dec. 14, Jane O'Connor, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM

Sunday, Dec. 16, Rosemary Wells, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2:00 PM 

Sunday, Dec. 16, Jane Yolen, New Canaan Library, 1:30 PM   Jane Yolen will appear again at the New Canaan Library at 4:00 PM for a poetry reading for adults

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Interview With Tanita Davis

CBC Diversity has posted an Industry Q&A with author Tanita S. Davis. Yay, Tanita! There are some interesting questions here and one that looks as if it belongs on some kind of exam. "Please write an example of a paragraphthat is tone deaf when it comes to cultural diversity, then write the correct version. Explain the differences in the third paragraph."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Two Different Views Of The Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

At the end of August, The Millions published Michael Bourne's essay, Keeping the Faith: Ten Days at Bread Loaf, about his experience at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. In August, 2011, The Millions published my essay on the same subject, My Bread Loaf. Compare and contrast, people.

I would just like to point out that while I didn't do any professional networking while I was at Bread Loaf and it pretty much ruined writers' conferences for me, I was paid to be there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Children's Lit Blog Hop

I only recently learned about blog hops. There's one underway now through the GEO Librarian blog.

Time Management Tuesday: Maybe Routine Was What Got Me Off The Mat

At this time last week, I was wondering if the unit system would keep me working, at some level, through the holidays. It definitely didn't get me through this past one. By Saturday evening, the whole idea of giving up the good times I'd been having and going back to work was...hmm? Is repugnant too strong a word? I felt a little better after writing this line in Saturday's blog post, "Will our intrepid writer get back on task with cleaning her files, laying out her website overhaul, and developing lists of marketing contacts for the launch of the Saving the Planet e-book, just for starters." But for the most part, a life committed to going for walks and baking sounded rather inviting at that point.

What does Gail's failure of will have to do with time management, you may wonder. Remember, there is a self-discipline aspect to time management. Yes, there is. Last weekend, mine went down in flames.

However, Sunday morning I got up, went over a step sparring tape, did a mile on the treadmill, and, because I'm in training for January's retreat week when I will take five or six one-hour yoga classes in six days, I upped my daily 10/15 minute yoga practice by working with a 30-minute DVD that I rarely use because I find it difficult. The 30-minutes of yoga went incredibly well, and when I was finished I felt very close to being back to normal.

Eureka! I thought, or something similar. Yoga truly is a cure all! I was aware that meditation assists concentration for some people, thus helping them use time more effectively. But I hadn't heard anything specifically about yoga. So I spent some time that afternoon hunting on-line for material on some kind of connection between yoga and self-discipline or control.

Yesterday morning I was working out again when I started wondering whether it was really the yoga that brought my mind back to where I wanted it to be. Maybe it was the fact that I was working out at all, as I almost always do in the morning. Maybe it was the repetition of my regular life routines that brought me back to regular life.

Recall that I first began to feel some stirring of my normal self Saturday night when I wrote a blog post, something I do nearly every day, often in the evening, but hadn't done over the holiday. Then things really began to fall back into place Sunday after working out, something I do nearly day, also, but hadn't been able to do regularly over the holiday. I hadn't gone back to work, but I had gone back to routines I associate with work--working out before the work day and blogging at the end of it. That appears to have been enough to get me transitioning back to my work life.

Though I will keep my eye open for any yoga/discipline connections.

Monday, November 26, 2012

May Have Revived My Interest In Sherlock Holmes

I've written about Sherlock Holmes quite a bit  here over the years. As I've often said, I read the Holmes books when I was a youngish teenager, but as an adult, I don't know why kids are fascinated with him. The publishing world certainly is, but child readers? I don't get it.

I put off reading the Enola Holmes books by Nancy Springer because, without recognizing a child/Holmes connection, I didn't feel any compelling need to read a Holmes story about his younger sister. I wasn't very hopeful.

Well, I stumbled upon the last book in the series, The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye, and, since the author and I are Facebook friends for some reason, gave it a try. Wow. A marvelous book.

This series appears to have had an arc involving Enola's (and Sherlock's and Mycroft's) mother disappearing. Enola has been on the hunt for her and while doing so has taken on her own cases. She's also been on the run from Sherlock and Mycroft because, since she's only a female in her early teens and they are the men of the family and this is the Victorian Era...Well, you get where I'm going with this.

It was incredibly easy to come up to speed with that back story. Additionally, this volume includes a mystery that really is well done with a marvelous solution, especially for those of us interested in women's history.

The writing is just incredible. Enola's first-person narration makes her sound like a young woman from another time, which is exactly what she's supposed to be. The historical world-building is fascinating without becoming a tedious lesson in what it must have been like to live in nineteenth century England. The detail...Well, I've already said incredible, haven't I?

And Springer uses the world Suffragist. SuffragIST and not SuffragETTE, which would have been considered derogatory. I would have forgiven a lot, just for that one point. But I didn't have to forgive anything.

The publisher lists this book as being for ages 8 and up. I found it in the YA section of my local library, where I believe it belongs, if only for the sophistication of the historical world and voice.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I'm Oozing Back Into A Practice

I'm coming down from my Thanksgiving-induced mania and moving back toward work mode. I'm finishing   my weekend with a little professional reading, a habit I've been trying to create these last few months.

First off, here's a Bookslut interview with Dinty W. Moore. He's an essayist, and in this interview he talks specifically about flash nonfiction. That's a subject that interests me, because I often think of blog posts as flash nonfiction. Moore says something about the difference between an artist and "someone who probably never will be" that reminded me of John Cleese's point about creativity taking time. Moore says, " is very hard for certain students to ever imagine entirely scrapping a beginning or ending. There is too often that insidious voice telling them that if they just clarify a word here or add a clever descriptor there, perhaps it "will be good enough," and they can move on to something else. There's the dividing line between a true artist and someone who probably never will be, if you ask me. A writer wants it not to be "good enough," not even to make it very good, but to nail it, to make it as nearly perfect as she can."

Mitali Perkins did an interesting post on working with an editor at the Fire Escape.

Do YA authors, editors, and librarians promote the idea that YA books have the power to do good, but reject the idea that they can do harm? at CBC Diversity. Link from Finding Wonderland. Naomi Wolf raised questions way back in 2006 about whether or not YA girls-gone-bad books were damaging. She took some heat for it. (Though she takes heat for a lot of things, and I'm saying nothing more about that.) I think the CBC blogger raised good questions that many people don't want to address. Personally, I made the decision years ago that if I ever found out how to make a nuclear bomb, I would not use that information in a novel. Seriously, I actually thought those words. More recently I made the decision to never create a character like Bella Swan.

Chronicle Books sends me catalogs.  Fiction Notes offers a tour of its offices.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Talk About Breaking Discipline

I have had a fantastic few days, but good times appear to have destroyed my discipline. All I've done for work since Tuesday morning is write an e-mail. An e-mail, as in one. I've spent the last couple of hours researching self-discipline fixes and coming up dry.

Well, at least we're experiencing a little drama here at the OC. Will our intrepid writer get back on task with cleaning her files, laying out her website overhaul, and developing lists of marketing contacts for the launch of the Saving the Planet e-book, just for starters? Or will she throw everything over to hunt for multiple cookie pie recipes?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Will The Unit System Get Me Through The Holidays?

At the beginning of this year, some of us talked about the December time suck for people who work in their homes where holiday tasks want to force themselves into our work time. Well, it's Thanksgiving week and the holiday call is beginning. I have to start on a big holiday meal days in advance. In addition, I'll have some overnighters here, which means a little prep time for the "guest wing."

Losing time to the holidays, in and of itself, is a problem. What also happens, though, is that we can damage our work habits while not working and lose any carry-over flow we might have been experiencing. What to do?

I'm relying on that planning habit I've been trying to create in order to use transitional time and the unit system, which I first heard about way back at the beginning of the year. I was cooking and cleaning in the afternoon yesterday, but not until after I used transitional time to work on the filing project I've got going in my office and a couple of 45-minute units to write an important letter, to work on the layout of the Saving the Planet page we're going to do for my website, and to do some more research for marketing said book. I also did a blog post in late yesterday afternoon. I've done some work on the filing system this morning.

I'm happy to be getting anything done this week, and while I'm not experiencing anything like real flow, I do feel that I'm in some kind of work mode. The plan is to get a unit of work in tomorrow and then start doing more on Friday. (Though not a real workday, since I'll still have guests.)

Note that except for a letter and two blog posts (including this one), I didn't do any writing. I haven't been writing in the sense of generating new material since earlier this year. I wanted to put more energy into the family situation this half year and getting the Saving the Planet e-book has turned out to be hugely time consuming. I go back to a more normal work situation in December (until the next holiday), and things should be settling down with Saving the Planet by March, if not sooner. I'm looking forward to seeing how my Situational Time Management system works when I'm really writing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

No Vampires, Werewolves, Fairies, Zombies, Or Any Other Paranormal Beings. Just Real Kids In A Good Book.

Summer for teenagers is supposed to be a fantasy of dream jobs in dream places with dream people. Teenagers know that because they've read it in books. In reality, summer is frequently far more like what the four characters in The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher experience. They're stuck in town without their friends because that's the way things fell into place. They're injured, like Adrienne, The Unbearable Book Club's main character. Or they're in trouble with their parents, like CeeCee the well-to-do snotty girl. Or they're high achievers working away at their ho-hum summer jobs like Jill because they have goals they're going to meet. Or, like Wallis, they're from families in which teenagers don't get to do any of the fantasy dream stuff that shows up in YA books.

I guess I would have to say that this book is basically about four girls without much to do who are thrown together for the summer. The frame for the story is the AP English mother/daughter book club that three of the girls' yoga-loving mothers put together for them. Over the course of the book, the girls read four novels that scream AP English. ( I had an AP English student living in my house not too long ago. Yes, he had to read The Awakening, just as these girls do. ). Bits of the books relate to what's happening to the girls in The Unbearable Book Club. It could be argued that not much does happen to them, which, to me, is in large part what makes this book so believable. Lots of times, not much happens to us. Schumacher writes about not much happening very, very well.

And yet someone dies in this book. As Adrienne says in her introduction, "Book clubs can kill you."

Adrienne is a marvelous character because she's having a rough summer in which she does modestly unsavory adolescent things without a whole lot of justification for her behavior. That happens. Okay, sure, she's never known her father, but why pick this particular summer to let it get to her? Because a bottle of gin just sort of fell into her lap. And, yes, that's how things happen in real life.

I loved CeeCee because she's the stereotypical mean girl, but she isn't. Over and over in books and movies I see that same cliche. Here the cliche gets a working over. CeeCee reminded me of Dalia in Suburgatory but way smarter. She has a sophisticated wit. Don't believe she could get into AP English reading just the summary of books on-line, the first couple of chapters, and then the end? I've known people who got through college reading like that. And they did well there. It can be done.

This is a marvelous, mainstream novel that could be another crossover book. I'm surprised it didn't get nominated for a Cybil or for one of the Goodreads awards that are being voted on now.

I've just read that Unbearable Book Club's author wrote an earlier, adult novel, The Body is Water, about Adrienne's mother sixteen years earlier. I love the idea of using characters in two different books, even in two different genres.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Let's Relax With Some Reading

Today was a brutal day of Thanksgiving prep, wasn't it? I made rosemary shortbread. If you're on Goodreads, you can go to the blog I maintain there to read about the literary connection to my rosemary cookies.

Okay, I am whipped. So we're just going to shoot the breeze about some Internet reading.

By way of Blog of a Bookslut, I learned something I didn't know about the IMPAC Award. Librarians from around the world nominate the books. You can find out if a library near you had a hand in the nominations. Only 24 libraries in the U.S. took part, but as it turns out, Hartford Public Library, about thirty minutes from me, was one of them. Hey! It's almost like being there.

Oz and Ends has a terrific post on Sidekicks. John Bell is able to talk about the book in the context of the comic book world that inspired it.

The number one skill for perseverance, in my humble opinion. Krist Holl at Writer's First Aid agrees in Are You A Marathon Writer? That link came from Cynsations.

Okay, I've been wandering the Internet for an hour now. I'm done. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Gail's Connection To Hostess Brands. Seriously. I Have One. And Another E-book Announcement, Too

So, you've heard that Hostess Brands is going belly up, right? No? Well, it is, and that means the Twinkie is on its way out. Well, maybe not, because another company could buy the rights to the cake. But for now, things aren't looking good.

So what does this have to do with moi? And, more importantly, what does it have to do with professional moi, since this is a professional blog, no matter what others may tell you to the contrary?

Well, in addition to Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and Ring Dings, Hostess made...something...called Sno Balls. I did not eat Sno Balls frequently when I was a child, but I definitely admired them back then. So when I needed a highly processed treat for the last chapter of my first book, My Life Among the Aliens, Sno Balls were the first thing that came to mind.

I have been thinking of Aliens very recently because just this past week the rights to the book were returned to me from my publisher. Thus, people, there's reason to hope that the world will see a new My Life Among the Aliens e-book edition sometime next year.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

You Can Still Find A Good Nazi Spy Story

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is a marvelous World War II spy story in which details are slowly revealed. Anyone talking about this book (and I'm not the first to note this) must be very careful not to destroy the book's pleasures by revealing any of those details ourselves.

So let me say that this book is about two young English women (Wait! One of them is Scottish, damn it!), who come to know one another during their war work. Maddie is a pilot in one of those women's auxiliary groups, and Queenie...Well, I don't want to say just what she is, because that's one of the things that's revealed. I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that at the beginning of the novel she has been captured by the Nazis.

The plotting of this story is very intricate. Personally, I think it falls apart a bit in the second half of the book. But, you know, I can't really get into it too much because to do so would, once again, give away some of the details that are the big pleasure of this novel. I will say that I found the second half less believable and felt that a climactic event was telegraphed.

Much has been made of the friendship between the two young women in this book. Okay, let me pause and say here that a close family member who is quite fond of me has described me as being "disturbingly" unsentimental. I will not pass on another relative's perception of my hardness other than to say that he is one hundred percent correct. So now that you know that, I will proceed and say that I found the friendship thing in Code Name Verity to be somewhat over the top. It made for a melodramatic climax. To me it's a tribute to the strength of the spy story that the book is still so incredibly readable.

Plot Project: I haven't done any plot project talk recently but some information in the "Author's Debriefing" at the end of the book interested me in terms of plot. Wein says, "This book started off rather simply as a portrait of an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot. Being a woman and a pilot myself, I wanted to explore the possibilities that would have been open to me during the Second World War." "...I started with research, hoping to get plot ideas..." What she's saying is that she started with a situation and had to come up with a story later.  I've written more than one book starting with only a situation, and I think it must have been incredibly difficult for Wein to move from that "portrait" idea to the incredibly complex spy story she finally wrote. That is a huge achievement.

Code Name Verity is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Category and a Goodreads Choice Awards nominee for Young Adult Fiction

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Time For Creativity

During my working life, I've tried to whittle down the time involved with what I call life maintenance, especially the routine things, so that I'd have more time for my creative work. In fact, there were points in my life when that was my entire interest in time, just to make more of it for my creative life.

Monty Python's John Cleese looks at time and creativity from a different angle in 5 Factors to Make Your Life More Creative, which is available all over the Internet and not just at Brain Pickings, where I found it. At the 5:45 point in this twenty-year-old lecture, Cleese begins to talk about "creative discomfort," which he describes as the discomfort a  person feels while trying to work out a creative problem. Some people may go with the first solution they come up with in order to get themselves past that discomfort, even if the solution isn't particularly original. More creative work is done, he claims, by those people who can tolerate the creative discomfort and stick with a problem longer.

"More pondering time," as he puts it, makes more creative work. "Give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original."

Of course, how long is "more" or "as long as possible?" I will research this subject, but I'm guessing there is no set number of minutes or hours. Creative people have to somehow recognize that the material they've produced is, indeed, original.

I think this is a particularly interesting point to consider for writers because of the popularity of serial books, particularly in children's literature, and because of the increasing number of e-book writers in all genres. Those types of books need to be turned out rapidly.

1. Serial books are "episodes" in a longer story. Readers are left dangling at the end of each episode. Getting them to come back for the next installment means getting that installment out rapidly enough so that they haven't lost interest. With serials for children and young adults, you also don't want the next installment to come out so long after the last published book that your readers have aged out and will no longer be interested for that reason.

2. Writers who self-publish e-books and are actually able to make some money at it often are able to do so because they have a number of e-books available. E-book readers (and I speak from experience here, being an e-book reader, myself) can impulse buy directly from their Kindles/Nooks/etc.. We enjoy moving on to the next book by a writer we like. A self-published e-book writer may not be a best seller for any one title, but can pull in some more income by having a number of titles selling at the same time.

In both these cases, writers need to get the next book published, sooner rather than later. What does that mean in terms of Cleese's point about the need for "pondering time" in order to come up with more creative work?

Ah, time and creativity. Another aspect of time management for me to obsess on.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Ideas Are Probably In The Air"...Like Cigarette Smoke

I am not much of a Rod Serling fan. However, I like this clip at Brain Pickings very much. In it Serling says that ideas come from "every human experience." He goes on to make the point that "the hardest thing on Earth" is to put ideas down. By which he means to do something with them.

Yes, getting from an idea to a completed piece of work is often brutal. To be honest, it's almost always brutal.

Friday, November 09, 2012

An Example Of Skimming

In my last Time Management Tuesday post, I talked about strategies for reading more in whatever time we have. Today I've been reading a lot. I've been researching Internet sites to approach for promoting Saving the Planet, and I've been taking notes on a nonfiction book that will be the basis of a post here and maybe have an impact on my work some day.

When I went to The Millions for one of those breaks between 45-minute work binges I do, I didn't feel I had a lot of time. I settled on Elegy for a Grey Cat by Janet Potter because it included an His Dark Materials reference in the sub-title.

The essay is divided into three sections. I skimmed just enough of the first section to determine that it was about a human's relationship with her cat, a subject that doesn't hold a whole lot of interest for me. (Yes, I am an awful person.)  But sections 2 and 3 dealt with books, By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Amber Spyglass, respectively. I've read Silver Lake and a lead-in to Amber Spyglass. Those sections of the essay interested me.

Those sections were, in fact, quite lovely, as far as I'm concerned. Have I not gained something in pleasure and thinking from having "just" skimmed the first part of this essay? Isn't my reading experience valuable, even though I didn't read every word of the whole piece? Because I'll tell you, if I were an all-or-nothing type of reader, I wouldn't have started a cat essay at all. And what would I have gained from that?

Actually, A Long Walk Will Fix Most Things

Brain Pickings has one of those lists of writerly advice, this one from Helen Dunmore, who wrote The Tide Knot. The title to my post refers to her Item 9, "A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk."

Thursday, November 08, 2012

New Publishing Venture For A Children's Author

Nancy Springer, author of Rowan Hood and a number of other children's books, published an adult book this past Tuesday. In a guest post at Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews, Nancy describes Dark Lie as not for kids and very much for adults. "...It's a psychological suspense thriller, for gosh sake, with deep insights and dark shadows and creepy people and sexual weirdness..."  I can take or leave deep insights but creepy people and sexual weirdness are always a draw for me.

Because I enjoy telling humiliating stories about myself, I'll refer you to this nearly ten year old blog post describing how I came to meet Nancy. Note that I'm only saying that I've met her. I don't claim to know her.

As it turns out, I have one of her Enola Holmes books upstairs in my To Be Read pile.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Is It Too Late For Me To Get Myself Some Brothers?

An argument could be made that Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks is just another outsider trying to make it in high school story. Maggie and her three older brothers were all homeschooled by their mother who, like so many mothers in  children's lit/YA, is gone, gone, gone. Each one of them had to transition to public school at ninth grade. Now it's Maggie's turn. Her brothers are quite marvelous, though not particularly attentive, and Maggie is left to experience not just the terrors of high school on her own, but the whole separation from family that most kids do somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5.

Yes, the homeschooling thing is the only unusual element here in the basic story. Nonetheless, Friends With Boys is very well done. Partly this is because those older brothers, while not particularly helpful at first, have made their way through an assortment of adolescent problems and are still standing, so there is every reason for us to trust Maggie to do the same. And partly this is because Friends With Boys is a graphic novel and a really good one.

I am able to whip through what I consider to be a well-done graphic novel, one that uses image to communicate setting and action. Hicks does even more here. Her wonderful artwork conveys character. When Maggie's older brothers appear, our understanding of them is almost instantaneous. There are no what I call "narrative boxes" in these frames--spots where the graphic novelist has had to tell us some info in words. Absolutely everything here is in dialogue and images. You can just suck this story in, absorb it. Be one with the story.

Okay, I will admit I don't totally get the ghost. But for you people who like that sort of thing, hey, there's a ghost.

Friends With Boys is a Cybils nominee in the Teen Graphic Novels category.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Forget About Reading Every Word

Okay, as I was saying back before we were interrupted by a hurricane, writers, like people in any other field of work, need to do a lot of professional reading. How can we find/make time to do it all?

Well, maybe we should be looking at this problem differently. Instead of finding/making time to read, maybe we should be trying to read differently so we can read more in whatever time we have.

Iin his book How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, Pierre Bayard actually writes about reading, not about not reading. He's talking about acquiring knowledge about how a book relates to the rest of the world. When writers are reading for professional reasons, to a great extent that is what we're trying to do. More specifically, even, we're trying to acquire knowledge about how a journal, editor, agent, or other author--whatever we're reading about--relates to us. How can we use this information in our work, our lives? We don't need to read every word in order to do that. We can hunt for specific info and then zone in on that material that is really necessary to us.

Bayard talks in his book about different types of what he calls not reading but, of course, I would say he is talking about just the opposite. Two of the types of reading are skimming and collecting info about the book through reading about a book rather than the book, itself. For instance, there's info all over the Internet about Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. You can get a lot of  information about it. If you have nearly two hours to kill, you can hear him speak and not have to read anything at all. (But two hours is a long time for those of us who struggle with time.) You can benefit from his ideas without having to read every word of the book that contains them. Or even any word at all.

Bayard also talks about books we've read and forgotten about. For example, I can't remember if Bayard says what percentage of what we read we actually retain. A quote from his book at 3:17 am describes our retention as "in truth no more than a few fragments afloat, like so many islands, on an ocean of oblivion." You get the idea. Does this suggest that we really should be reading more of what we read in the hopes of remembering a better percentage or that we should be reading less and looking for the important stuff, those "few fragments" that will stick with us? You choose.

A case in point: Several summers back I read The Art of the Short Story by Dana Gioia and R.S. Gwynn. I can guarantee you I didn't read every word. Now I can't remember most of the authors I was excited about at the time. What I remember is Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. I read it in my sun room in the evenings. To have culled just that memorable experience from that book is worth everything I've forgotten and if it had been all I'd read of that book, it would have been enough.

So, if you've been skimming this blog post (and if you were, good for you), the point here is to think about your definition of "reading."  Are you going to insist that reading means reading every word and completing every piece of writing you encounter? Or are you going to sometimes define reading as acquiring information that you need, for whatever reason?

If the latter, consider:

1. Skimming, particularly nonfiction or anthologies from which you are looking for particular kinds of information. When you find what you're seeking, you can always slow down and start giving more attention to detail. Personally, I will also often skim fictional works that I don't care for but feel a responsibility to familiarize myself with. (I'm thinking of you, last Harry Potter book, whatever the heck you were called.) I refers to such books as "skimmers."

2. Reading articles as well as reviews about a book you're interested in. This will help you decide whether or not you should dedicate time to the book, itself, and particularly in the case of nonfiction it could provide you with the information you need on some particular subject so that you don't need to read the entire book at all.

Monday, November 05, 2012

That Interviewer Sure Got An Earful

I've never been a fan of the cliche about  famous old people who say all kinds of dreadful things and everyone thinks they're honest and charming because, I guess, they're old and famous. So I probably didn't appreciate the interview with Maurice Sendak in The Believer as much as other readers will. Or maybe I should say that I appreciated it differently.

I have to admit, I roared when Sendak complained heartily--and graphically--about Salman Rushdie and claimed he called the Ayatollah about him. And like Sendak, I am not a fan of Roald Dahl. Over all, though, articles like this make me determined to continue watching VH-1 and reading books columns with the hopes that keeping up with the world will prevent me from spending my declining years going on about how good things used to be back in the golden days of my youth.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A Cinderella Story For People Like Me

It's NaNoWriMo again, and I am pleased that things have fallen into place so that I can write about a book that began in NaNoWriMo, 2008. Cinder by Marissa Meyer is proof that NaNoWriMo can turn out a good book.

First off, I should tell you that my knowledge of Cinderella is limited to the Little Golden Book version of the Disney movie. I'm no expert on the origins of the story. I can tell you, though, that I'm not a fan of the "Some day my prince will come" attitude that I associate with the whole Cinderella concept, even if it is Disney's fault.

Ya get none of that in Cinder. Au contraire, the prince is damn lucky he stumbled upon Cinder, or it looks as if he will be at some point because I don't think I'm giving anything away to say that Cinder is book one in The Lunar Chronicles.

Okay, so with this book you get Cinderella in a cyberpunk world. It's a world set far in the future, with royalty ruling a section of the Far East that includes China and the rest of the planet divied up differently with royal or elected rulers. Yeah, it's a post godawful world war situation, but not one that's particularly dire. This isn't The Hunger Games. There is a creepy group of people on the moon, though.

Enough background.

In terms of the Cinderella thing that's going on here, Cinder doesn't leave her shoes anywhere. Instead, she struggles with her artificial foot because she's a cyborg. The prince doesn't see her across a crowded ballroom. He brings his android to her to be fixed because she's a mechanic. She has a wicked stepmother and two stepsisters, but they all have a lot more depth than you usually see in Cinderella variations. Yes, you will actually feel for poor old mom. Occasionally. At least I did.

There's a cool standin for the coach, and a couple of days after I finished reading the book I realized there's probably a character who is functioning as the fairy godmother.

A third-person story, people. You don't see a lot of that. My only quibble with this story is that Cinder is the point-of-view character, yet a few times the point of view shifts to the prince. But, remember, I am a writer who obsesses on things like point of view.

And guess what? No annoying blurbs on the cover!

I'm going to see my thirteen-year-old niece at Thanksgiving. I will ask her if she's familiar with cyberpunk. If she says, "No," I can assure her that Aunt Gail will take care of that hole in her reading. Cinder is a Cinderella story you can actually feel good about giving to a family member.

Cinder is a Cybils nominee in the Fantasy and Science Fiction category.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Really? High Schoolers Need A New "Catcher In The Rye?" Do They Need Any "Catcher In The Rye?"

In So Long, Holden at Slate, Jessica Roake argues that Catcher in the Rye is dated and of little interest to contemporary students and suggests a replacement. I'm totally with her assessment of Catcher in the Rye, but, then, I've never liked it. Where I break with her is in the need to replace it in high school classrooms with another so-called "coming of age" novel. With all the literature out there--YA and adult--why is it so urgent that schools hunt for a novel to replace one Roake describes as expressing the "fundamental teenage anguish" "that in life, phonies abound and beauty is a fragile, horrible thing we will forever chase and lose."

First off, I would argue that the fundamental teenage anguish is struggling to accept the passage of time and life and determining how they will live the life and time that they have in a way that will provide meaning and some kind of happiness for them. The last couple of generations have grown up on TV. They learned about phonies at Mom's knee. " is a fragile, horrible thing we will forever chase and lose?" That's a very particular life view that I don't think is necessarily universal.

I can't make any pretense of knowing what adolescents need to read or enjoy reading. But I do think coming-of-age novels, which tend to be ones, in my experience, that have as their theme introducing young characters to the adult world of death, sex, and general misery, are something adult readers embrace. It's as if the coming-of-age novel is a gateway to the adult world, a world that is oh, so important because of death, sex, and general misery. This is the real world and childhood and adolescence is some kind of fantasy that the young must pass out of to become adults, adulthood being what really matters. Young people may not be so enamored of that concept.

God knows, I am all too aware of the death and general misery aspects of adulthood. (Notice how I'm being coy about sex?) But let's get over ourselves and move on.

I would also like to point out that when essayists write about Catcher in the Rye and the universal experience of reading and loving it, they are talking about a subgroup of the population that experienced a particular college prep sort of education. Not everyone over the age of 40 has read Catcher in the Rye. Not even close. I would argue that there are a lot of people who haven't even heard of it.

Hey, in the world I grew up in, rye was just something people drank.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Another Oswald Mosley Sighting

Last month, I wrote about how often Oswald Mosley turns up these days on Masterpiece Theatre. That was prompted about his appearance in The FitzOsbornes in Exile. Now, just weeks later, Mosley shows up again in the very next World War II novel I read, Code Name Verity. It's not going to be long, and he's going to need a rest. He wore out his welcome in his lifetime. He ought to be careful about doing it again.

Code Name Verity is a WWII spy story. No sooner do I get into it (and I am into it), then WW II undercover activity makes the news. I, for one, want to know what that carrier pigeon was doing. He'd better not have been bringing a love note or a shopping list back from France, that's all I can say.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

What Other Bloggers Have To Say

Sometimes it is going to be 245 posts or so behind in your blog reader. For instance, when you're too worn out to do much, but your time management plan involves writing a blog post. Parking your butt in front of a computer and just seeing what other people have been blogging about looks good on those evenings, and you're really happy to have a lot to look at.

What caught me eye:

An interview with Barbara O'Connor at Cynsations Best quote: "...alas, a book needs a plot."

Jane Eyre-related books! from Tanita Davis at Finding Wonderland

John Bell says at Oz and Ends that there is an article in Smithsonian on a Tom Sawyer who claimed to have inspired....Tom Sawyer. I may very well be able to get my hands on that issue of Smithsonian. It's either still in the house or with another family member. Oh. Wait. I can read it on-line. That doesn't seem as exciting. Or as likely to happen.

I have received the same Amazon Author Rank e-mail that Darcy Pattinson and every other author got. I just haven't read mine yet. I've been hoping to get Computer Guy to do it, because he likes that kind of thing. Seriously, he actually has some idea of how my books have done on Amazon. The bit in Pattinson's post on the subject that I liked is her point about authors knowing where they are in the pecking order. "But, as authors, we know exactly where we stand in the pecking order. Try signing books at a national conference, where your line is, well, one person and next to you is Kate DiCamillo, who’s line is out the door and down the street. Oh, yes. Authors know exactly where we stand." So true, so true. We don't need no Amazon Author Rank!