Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Austenland Coming To The Big Screen

I read Austenland by Shannon Hale a few years ago and thought it an interesting work. I have to say, though, for me the big draw for the movie is Jennifer Coolidge. However, Jane Seymour looks pretty commanding in the one trailer I've been able to find.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Week 2 Of Boost Your Willpower

Everybody taking part in Week 2 of Yoga Journal's Boost Your Willpower? Yes? No?

Week 1, I'm sure you all recall, was about choosing a focus, as in choosing what aspect of your life you want to improve your willpower for, what you need the willpower to achieve. Think of it as a goal. I chose staying on task.

Week 2, was about making a commitment to that focus and choosing one small thing to do to do that will remind you of your focus/goal. In the daily e-mails, I found three things of particular interest.

1. Meditation. Again, we discussed using meditation for concentration a year ago. One of the Boost Your Willpower e-mails indicated that there is science to back up the use of meditation as a way to improve self-control skills such as "attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness." Meditation, it claims, is like exercise for the brain.

I am not successful at meditation and have so many "practice" type things I do each day that it's too stressful to try to add another one. However, one of those practices is yoga, and I have just recently started extending my home practice because I haven't been holding poses long enough to build up strength and endurance. Holding the poses longer requires me to be careful about counting breathing. The mindfulness I have to practice in order to maintain breathing may be as close to meditation as I'll be able to get.

2. Recognizing that we actually do use willpower regularly. Those of us who are interested in improving our willpower and self-discipline tend to believe we need to do that because we don't have much. However, we're making decisions each day that involve exerting our will. Doing a brief recapitulation at the end of the day (a unit of time!) can assure us that we are, indeed, exerting some willpower and lead us to build upon it.

3. "I will" instead of "I won't." As I've said before, a lot of willpower and discipline writing involves changing behavior we don't want to engage in (overeating, gambling, drinking, procrastinating, etc.) and not changing behavior we want to do more of or even just developing some vaguely defined thing called discipline. The Boost Your Willpower folks suggest that always thinking in terms of "I won't" keeps calling the behavior you don't want to do to mind, and dwelling on what you don't want to do can often lead to no good. They suggest looking for "I will" statements.

Writers who are trying to develop self-discipline are trying to do something, they're not trying to not do something.  So "I will" statements are particularly useful for us because they tell us what we're trying to do. For example:

I will plan next week's work.

I will plan my day around the unit system.

I will use transitional time.

So there you have three ideas for improving willpower. Two more weeks to go on this program. I'm hoping that just persevering and sticking with it for a month will do something for my self-discipline.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Zenny Book For Writers

My big Retreat Week professional read this year was One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers by Gail Sher. I've got to tell you, I just do not know what to make of this book. I can imagine myself quoting from it. I can imagine myself referring to it for bits I recall and want to check out again. But I can't say that I got tremendous amounts from it and don't know who I would necessarily recommend it to.

For one thing, I think you have to have some knowledge of Zen and writing to make heads or tails of this thing. For instance, it begins with an exercise called "Writing Zazen: Write on the same subject every day for two weeks. Revisiting the same subject day after day will force you to exhaust stale, inauthentic, spurious thought patterns and dare you to enter places of subtler more "fringe" knowing."

Now, I happen to know that zazen is meditation. I have even thought that freewriting or morning pages might serve as a form of meditation.  But how many people picking up this book know what zazen is? And there wasn't anything in this short exercise description that tells readers that Sher is suggesting meditation. I was so freaked out by that, that I looked up zazen to make sure that I did, indeed, know what it was.

There was another section called "Not Knowing," which seemed similar to what I learned of as beginner's mind. I actually do try to maintain the mind of a beginner. The concept, as I know of it, isn't all that difficult to understand. But Sher's "Not Knowing" is a little different. "For a writer, "not knowing" means giving over the part of you that knows to the writing. The writing tells you what it is." Okay, I had trouble with this section of the book because it did remind me of something I already knew about, and I'm trying to superimpose my knowing onto it. Which would mean that I'm not maintaining the mind of a beginner at all.

Wow. I'm not getting a lot out of that and blowing my mind while doing it.

I wonder if these pieces couldn't be considered meditations or something like dharma talks, except, of course, about writing. They're too mystical for beginning writers and too simple for experienced ones. You'll only like these kinds of things if you like these kinds of things.

The title One Continuous Mistake doesn't refer to the book's whole concept. It's just the title of one of these essays and refers to a Zen teacher's statement that "Zen practice is one continuous mistake." I think I would enjoy reading someone's meditation/writing talk about writing practice being one continuous mistake, but that wasn't what Sher's One Continuous Mistake essaylet was about. At least, I don't think it was.  The book's subtitle Four Noble Truths for Writers, was also the title of an essay. The title refers to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

There was a great deal in this book that attracted me but then didn't go anywhere...for me. What does that mean? It could mean something. While reading One Continuous Mistake, I began to think that I'd like to be part of a writers' book group that read and discussed nothing but books about writing, which is something I'm quite certain I'd never considered before.

I didn't learn much from reading this book. I didn't take a lot from it that I can use in my writing or my life. I merely had an experience while reading it. And I probably shouldn't use the word "merely" when saying that.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

This Weekend's Internet Reading

It's been a rough weekend with little free time, and I need to prep for tomorrow when I'll have a couple of electricians in here. In here. In my office. So I only have time to pass on a couple of readings.

How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published? at Jane Friedman A number of self-published commenters complained that this piece was out of date, I guess relating to the section Self-publishing when no one is listening. They seemed to feel that you can self-publish even if you "haven’t yet cultivated an audience for it, or can’t market and promote it effectively through your network."

Digital Technology's Impact on the Arts; New Pew Survey at ArtstoMarket. What I found interesting about this post's account of the Pew Survey was not that arts organizations are incorporating new technologies  (What organization isn't?), but that the survey addresses the cost of doing so. "...organizations are striving hard to capitalize on opportunities and incorporate new technologies to build new relationships with supporters, their audience and the broader community. But to do that effectively, they find they need skilled staff and dedicated budget for products and services, which makes it difficult at a time of reduced arts funding."   "...organizations are turning to new tools on the internet and in mobile technologies to increase awareness, promote events and exhibits, and provide custom experiences for patrons. But there are costs involved, even when using tools that are free or affordable, with regard to staff and to training. That said, 99% have their own website; 97% have an active social media presence; 50% maintain a blog;"

With writers, we often hear of the costs of new technologies in terms of time spent, but not so much about real dollars and cents because we do a lot of our internet promotion ourselves. We don't think about the time we're spending as costing us money, though for most of us our work with digital technology comes right out of our writing (production) time. This is probably due to the fact that most of us don't make a great deal of money to begin with, so we don't see the loss of writing time as a big financial loss. Arts organizations are far more aware of the amount of money it takes to keep them afloat and can tell when real money is being spent.

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Adorable?" Really? Does Adorable Have A Meaning I'm Not Aware Of?

Adorable Letters from Famous Authors to Their Children at Flavorwire will make those of us who are not the offspring of famous authors feel profoundly grateful.

The length of these things, some of which were sent to quite small children, is impressive. I am dead certain that if I had written and sent some of these letters to the Gauthier boys, at least one of them, maybe both, would either have had to give up reading altogether or take it in shifts. I know Ted Hughes (Letter 10) was a well-regarded poet, but someone should have pointed out to him that if he wanted his offspring to read his letters, he needed to be more generous with the paragraph indentations. And maybe not make subtle digs at the kid's dead mom.

Anne Sexton wrote to her 15-year-old daughter with an interesting message that the girl was evidently expected to recall when she was 40 and mom "dead perhaps." I thought it was nice that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote to his daughter about his work, since I do that with my kids, too. Then he went on to describe how he was thinking of responding to the next person who told him that he'd read his work while in kindergarten but not for years and years now. Did she get back to Dad about that? Because I know at least one of my kids would have gotten back to me with a suggestion or two about dealing with rage.

My older son sent me a card from camp saying only, "Stop sending letters." I imagine F. Scott Fitzgerald's eleven-year-old daughter did the same after she received the lengthy missive that included lines like "I never believe much in happiness" and "If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs “Lillies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”"

Sherwood Anderson's letter was filled with short paragraphs of pretty decent advice, for the most part. He was probably right about "Next to occupation is the building up of good taste. That is difficult, slow work. Few achieve it." I wondered, after I read it, if I'd actually given my children any lessons on good taste. They picked some up somewhere, because I know of a few situations in which theirs has been shown to be superior to mine. That's a relief, because it might be too late for me to do anything about their education now.

I write to my children nearly every weekend, by e-mail because if e-mail isn't writing, I can't imagine what the heck it is. For a while after reading these letters, I was worried that I'd struggle the next few weekends, fearful of pounding out lists of advice or pouring out angst about career woes or the passage of time. Then I remembered that my most recent e-mail exchange with one son was all about the finale of Fringe and with the other about how he could help me with iPhone questions.

Clearly, we are not Famous Author Family material. We will not be writing nor receiving any adorable e-mails.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

STP&S Pushed Back Into February: A Long Learning Curve For Self-Publishing

Publishing is hard. And takes a long time. So the ebook edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff will be coming out in February and not at the end of this month, as originally planned.

We (my computer guy and I) are publishing STP&S the hard way. In part, this is because when we started this project, we weren't aware there was an easy way. Now that we know more about this process, we probably would have had to go the hard way, anyway. STP&S is full of font changes because of instant messages, e-mails, post cards, and quotes from magazines and newspapers. (Book Links included it in an article called The Text Generation: Fiction That Incorporates Digital Communication.) That would have raised the cost of hiring someone to do this for us (the easy way), though we don't know by how much. I am happy to have paid for the beautiful new cover. However, because I don't know if I'll make back my investment on this project, I do have to give consideration to how great that investment will be.

An additional problem is the material we had to start with. Many "how-to" explanations for publishing ebooks say to begin with your Word document. Because we were republishing a published book that had been professionally edited and copy edited, I didn't have a Word document that was exactly what was in the published book. We made editing changes directly onto the last manuscript I sent my editor. We made changes on the publisher's created copy. We made minute copy changes. In order to truly republish STP&S, I couldn't use anything I had on my computer.

So we sent one of the books off to be scanned and received back the copy in three different files, from which CG chose one to work with. The scanning process made a lot of typographical changes that needed to be corrected. HTML was involved. We had to determine how the copyright page would look. We had to determine...this and that and a dozen other things.

In short, we're not quite done. And once our finished work is uploaded to Kindle and Nook, we could find ourselves with more problems. The book is still coming, just not yet.

I have been spending large quantities of time on things like writing the product description for Amazon and Barnes & Noble, seeking out blogs that might be interested in featuring the book, planning the trailer (which was completed months ago, though not uploaded--I'll explain why another time), and copy editing the text three times. Dealing with the hardcore technical stuff has fallen on Computer Guy. Early last year when we first discussed doing this, he said he thought it would be fun. It hasn't looked as if he's been having fun to me. However, a few weeks ago, he said, "You've got the rights back to My Life Among the Aliens, don't you? We can go right to work on getting that ready to publish." My response was, "Noooo. I need to do some writing this year." "But I can get started on my part," he insisted.

Clearly computer guys have an unusual definition of fun.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: A Willpower Training Opportunity

I'm a little late with this news, but being late is no reason not to do something.

Yoga Journal is offering a four-week Boost Your Willpower program that involves receiving daily e-mails and an opportunity to take part in question and answer sessions on Facebook with Dr. Kelly McGonigal who created this particular series of events for the magazine. The program began on January 14th, though I signed up a day or two later. The February issue of Yoga Journal carried an article on willpower and its four-week project.

Now, I need to make two points about this program up front:

1. As with most writing I've seen on willpower, the YJ article and its Boost Your Willpower program focuses a lot on using willpower to change behaviors such as eating rather than using it for our purpose, managing time. However, I'm a big believer in grabbing ideas from everyone, and I've found plenty to interest me in this material.

2. You're going to see a lot of yoga and meditation talk in this program. This is Yoga Journal, after all. Though we've discussed using meditation for concentration as part of time management, it's probably not a technique that people specifically interested in managing time will gravitate to. I took five yoga classes last week, and I'll admit that, for the most part, I'm skipping the yoga material. But as I said, I'm grabbing what I can here, and others can, too.

Over the next few weeks, Time Management Tuesday will be all about my involvement in Boost Your Willpower. At some point, I'll be writing about the Boost Your Willpower article. But in order to impose some order on myself, I'll first write about the weekly programs. Since Week 1 is already over, here's a quick overview of what I got out of it:

Week 1 was about choosing a focus. Initially, I chose managing time better. Makes sense, given my time obsession. However, I am seriously into setting goals. "Choose a focus" sounds like "set a goal" to me, and "managing time better" was not specific enough for my taste. Better than what? How will I know I'm managing better? So I switched to "staying on task while working" because I can easily tell when I'm on or off task.

"Self-Reflection Questions" are included for each week. The one I liked best was "When you're feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, or self-critical, where do you put your attention? What do you give your energy to?"  Managing time is particularly difficult when we're stressed and overwhelmed. I felt the question fit in with Day 3's e-mail, which included this line "Scientists have found that self-control is highest in the morning and deteriorates over the course of the day." When we're more likely to start feeling stressed and overwhelmed? (Timothy Pychyl  reported similar findings, by the way.) This suggests to me that by using the unit system we might be able to trick our brains into thinking we're just starting work when we have the most self-control, the way we use the unit system to trick our brains into thinking we're just starting work for other reasons.

And, finally, in the Facebook question and answer, Dr. McGonigal talked about the difference between habits and values-based commitments. Habits--or, some of my family members would say, rigid scheduling--have helped me accomplish a number of things over the years. However, they are hard to form and maintain in work situations that are constantly changing and/or with unpredictable personal lives. So I'll try to give this values-based commitments business some thought.

Those of you who are interested, go sign up for this program. We can start talking about it in the comments next week.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Yeah, I Did Some Reading

I am back from Retreat Week. While it wasn't the most retreating Retreat Week I've ever done, I did do some professional reading, which I'll be writing about this week.

First up, I saw some interesting things in the Jan./Feb. Horn Book.

1.Both Code Name Verity and The Brides of Rollrock Island made The Horn Book Fanfare list of Best Books of 2012.

2. The Gail Carriger YA novel, Etiquette & Espionage, is reviewed. It publishes next month. I find the idea of a YA novel from Carriger interesting because one of her adult books made a list of adult books for YAs sometime in the last couple of years. I liked the book. In fact, I may own it. I own several of her books. I just don't see anything about it that makes it of any more interest to YAs than any other adult steampunk book about vampires and werewolves. So it is interesting that Carriger wrote a YA, which I look forward to reading.

3. Days of Blood & Starlight is reviewed. This is the sequel to Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor, which I liked. So, again, I'll be looking forward to reading that.

4. Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones is reviewed in the "Of Interest to Adults" section of the mag. I've been hearing about this book for months and want to read it also.

5. Also reviewed in that "Of Interest to Adults" section is Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L'Engle in Many Voices  by Leonard S. Marcus. I've never been a L'Engle fan, though I did enjoy hearing her speak once years ago. And I do like Leonard S. Marcus. Plus I think I might have read at least part of the "controversial 2004 New Yorker article" referred to in this review. So if I were to stumble upon this book somewhere, I could read it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Retreat Week

Tomorrow I begin my annual Retreat Week, during which time I go to yoga classes, frolic in the snow, read in front of the window looking out onto an alpine meadow, and eat some very fine chocolate. I don't write. I don't blog. I'll do professional reading that's been piling up and maybe some journal work. This year I'm not bringing any children's books. I do hope to play with my new iPhone, so I might do some experimental posts to my personal Facebook wall.

This year it may take a while to get into true retreat mode because Saving the Planet & Stuff's publication is coming up at the end of the month, and there's still work to do for that. I've been keeping a To Do list, and tonight I've got to bring that up to date. The idea is that if everything is written done, I can leave it here on my desk and not think about it when I should be reading the New York Times Book Review on Sunday.

A la prochaine.

Why Might Writers Be Interested In The 2013 Comment Challenge?

Pam Coughlin (MotherReader)  and Lee Wind (I'm Here, I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?) are running their annual comment challenge. Starting now. Right now! And running through the end of the month. If you actually sign up and keep checking in, there's a competition-type thing going on.

Why should blogging writers care about this?  Community building, people! A comment challenge gives blogging authors an opportunity to make themselves part of blog culture, part of the blogging community. I wonder, myself, how many blogging writers read other peoples' blogs. I suspect there's a lot of post and run going on. If that's the case, though, blogging writers are missing one of the main benefits of blogging--getting to know others who share your interests and are interested in what you do.

Many writers are going to find the challenge goal of 5 comments a day too much. Don't let that discourage you from working on your community. Shoot for 1 or 2 comments a day. Or simply spend any time at all during the next two weeks trying to interact with other bloggers. Community matters.

Unfortunately, I'm heading out for Retreat Week tomorrow, during which time I won't be blogging. I will be doing some professional reading, though, and I consider reading litblogs professional reading. I'm not setting any goals, because I find that very destructive of the whole retreat experience. But I'd like to drop a comment or two here or there.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Will I Make The Cut For Giver?

Today I submitted my application to become a Giver for World Book Night. If I am accepted, I'll have a new adventure to tell you about in April.

World Book Night--A night when book types share the loves with those who may not have experienced it yet.

I cap Giver because it looks so Lois Loweryish.

Gail's 2012 Cybils' Reading

I did some binge reading at the end of last year off the Cybils nomination lists. But I also just happened to have read a few books over the course of the year that would later end up being nominated. What follows is a roundup of my Cybils reading.

Fox and Crow Are Not Friends, Melissa Wiley

Ivy + Bean No News Is Good News, Annie Barrows

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, The Unseen Ghost Maryrose Wood

The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate

Cinder, Marissa Meyer

The Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanagan

Fangbone! Third Grade Barbarian, Michael Rex

Friends With Boys, Faith Erin Hicks

One for the Murphys, Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Ungifted, Gordon Korman

Minette's Feast, Susannah Reich

Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein

I Hunt Killers, Barry Lyga

Keeping the Castle, Patrice Kindl

Scarlet, A.C. Gaughen

And, once again, the finalists have been announced.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Take Your Child To The Library Day Is Coming Up

Take Your Child To The Library Day began in Connecticut just last year. Now 213 libraries in 30 states and 1 province are on board. The event falls on the first Saturday in February, for you really long-term planners, and this year that means February 2nd.

I believe libraries can still get involved. I'm dead certain parents can take their children to their local library that day, whether it's taking part or not.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: When Do We Come Up With New Ideas?

When writers, and probably all creative types who rely on coming up with an idea before they can do anything, talk about managing time, we're usually talking about managing time to actually work. Research, plotting, planning, writing, rewriting, submitting, editing, marketing, public presentations--that's all real work, and we need to manage the time we have available for working in such as way as to get that all done.

In Time is Not of the Essence, an essay published a couple of years ago at Talking Writing, David Biddle writes about a little something that can throw a kink into author work plans and scheduling--the fact that ideas/inspiration, what we need to get started, come "in the folds and creases of time." You probably can try scheduling a unit of time for, say, "idea generation," and do a little meditating and some free writing. But how often have you heard of anyone actually coming up with an idea doing that that ended up in a completed piece of writing? Ideas usually come in other ways, say, while taking part in the  Facebook arguments and e-mail exchanges with friends that Biddle suggests.

Yes, ideas and inspiration often come about while doing the things writers need to try to avoid doing in order to manage their time and actually produce some work. It is the irony of our work lives. Terry Pratchett once said that he is always working, and that's true of all writers. We are always working because anything we do, absolutely anything that happens to us, can result in an idea. Seriously, eating potato chips in a hospital cafeteria provided me with a publishable short story. That wasn't something I had scheduled. But it turns out I was working that day, after all.

For this reason, it is rather easy for writers to justify doing absolutely anything because doing absolutely anything might produce the inspiration for a project. We have to avoid falling into that anything goes trap by using our time management skills to complete the projects we're already working on. But by doing so, are we limiting our chances for coming up with new ideas?

No Time Management Tuesday next week. I will be on Retreat Week.

Monday, January 07, 2013

You'd Think Seals Would Stay Well Away From Shore

I've never had much interest in selkie legends. To be honest, I've never had any interest in them. If Margo Lanagan hadn't written The Brides of Rollrock Island, it's unlikely I would have even picked the book up. But she did write it, and I am a big, big fan of her book, Tender Morsels. That's why I kept reading Brides even though I had a little difficulty getting into it.

But I did keep reading, and I did get into it, and The Brides of Rollrock Island is, like Tender Morsels, a quite marvelous book.

Misskaella, who is a central character in Brides, is a descendent of a selkie/human relationship, which, when she is young, is not a good thing. Like the main character  in Tender Morsels, she is treated badly as a young woman and responds by creating a world for herself. The main character in Tender Morsels creates a world into which she can escape. Misskaella creates a world that she dominates, taking her revenge on her village by giving its men what they believe they want, selkie wives.

Lanagan's story is told from the differing points of view of various characters over a period of time. In my experience, a lot of writers can't pull this off. The narrative drive is destroyed with each p.o.v. switch, and the writers often have trouble making each switch move the plot along. Lanagan does a great job with all that.

She also does a great job of using her characters to explore different aspects of the basic situation she's dealing with, families created with seal woman wives and mothers. She doesn't do any kind of romanticized fantasy thing here. Pretty much everyone is miserable. No, no, everyone is miserable. More than one character realizes that.

I think this book is about sex, for the most part, and how people end up living when everything in their lives takes second place to consummating a few moments of intense sexual desire. The whole seal element is tied up with desire. One of the sections that is from a child's point of view is very much a coming of age story. In that type of story, you'd expect a young boy's passage to adulthood to be rushed along by his learning about sex. Here, though, learning about the nature of sex is far less significant than learning about the nature of women. The big mysterious fact of life on Rollrock Island is that all the mams are actually seals.

This is a fantastic book. I wonder, though, if it is a young adult book. Is being a wife and mother enough? might be described as a central question in this story, and that is an adult question, it seems to me, though it could be argued that adolescents ought to be asking it. Many of the chapters start out from a child's point of view, but all these children become adults, and their adult selves are significant. Look at the cover. That's one of the seal wives you see there. Their age is never considered, and their lives as wives and mothers, not as young adults, is what's important to the story. The title is The Brides of Rollrock Island, putting stress on nonchild characters. In fact, we never get a chapter from a bride's point of view, though they are referred to in the title.

My concern with a book like this being marketed as young adult instead of general fiction is not that there's anything wrong with YAs reading it. I think adults would enjoy it more, though, and they may never find it.

Plot Project: This is a book that seems to be about situation. Once a writer looks at the selkie legends and starts thinking, Man, there's really nothing positive about this, she can run with that idea. There's also a definite disturbance to a world that gets this story going. Misskaella is treated badly, and as a result she brings on everything that happens to the villagers. I don't see the give-someone-something-to-want-and-keep-her-from-getting-it formula at work at all here.

The Brides of Rollrock Island was a Cybils nominee in the Fantasy/Science Fiction category.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

First Weekend Roundup Of 2013

I haven't been able to do a weekend roundup of Internet reading for a couple of weeks because those long holiday  weekends we've been experiencing didn't leave me with more time to myself, but less. So I have a lot of things I'm interested in piling up. In no particular order:

'Sick-lit' Books Aimed At Children. A Facebook friend brought this to my attention today. I'm loving the term "sick-lit," but don't think the "genre," if it is a genre, is anything new. Lurlene McDaniel ("Everyone loves a good cry, and no one delivers heartwrenching stories better than Lurlene McDaniel.") has been writing the One Last Wish series for a long time. Is she the mother of sick-lit? Or does the terminal child go back to the nineteenth century? Someone on Facebook mentioned Beth March, as an example. What about Jane Eyre's friend at the beginning of Jane Eyre? Not a YA book, but a dying child.

John Ostrander: Freelancers Live Without a Net at ComicMix. This is true of many "creatives" working for themselves.

Three R's of Narrative Nonfiction in The New York Times. Note that this essay is written by Lee Gutkind, a significant name in creative nonfiction. The link came from Educating Alice.

How to Give a Great Presentation: Timless Advice from a Legendary Adman, 1981 at Brain Pickings. A lot of what's in the first section, "How to Organize a Presentation," also relates to writing essays. Note that Item 3 in the second section instructs us to write out a speech. None of that business of using note cards to remind you of what you were hoping you'd remember to say in the order you hoped you would say it. I received similar advice years ago at a story telling workshop. It helped me a great deal with my presentations, but--surprise--writing out a speech/presentation and practicing it is very labor intensive and time consuming.

Top 10 Storyboard posts of 2012 at Nieman Storyboard. This seems like a good intro to the Nieman Storyboard, which is connected to the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and deals with narrative journalism. I was particularly interested in 10 and 3 and hope to spend some time dwelling on them during Retreat Week, which is coming up rapidly.

Tommy Greenwald on Plot Development. It seems to me as if he's using story and plot interchangeably, something many people do. I think there's a distinction, but I haven't had time to work it all out.

The trailer for 1, 2, 3 by the Sea by Dianne Moritz with illustrations by Hazel Mitchell  is so entertaining, I can imagine watching it with a child.

You'd think it would be pretty easy to determine whether or not a book is an author's debut, wouldn't you? Not for the Morris Award.  Check out But What Do The Rules Say?  at Tea Cozy and What is a Debut Novel? at Stacked.

No weekend roundup next weekend because, as I mentioned above, I will be retreating.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Next Big Thing

For the last few months, I've been interested in community-building for writers. So I was delighted when Sarah Stevenson, author of The Latte Rebellion and a long-time blogger at Finding Wonderland, tagged me to be part of the Next Big Thing Author Meme. Not only is this meme about writing and a promotional opportunity for authors, it gives me another chance to reconnect with the blogger community I was part of years back as well as connect with writers I'm acquainted with now. For readers, this meme provides you with information on books that are in the pipeline toward publication or, even, in the most early stages of work.

I'm going to be talking about Saving the Planet & Stuff, which will be republished at the end of this  month as an e-book. Then I'll be linking to three more authors who will carry on with this project.

What is the working title of the book?

Well, back in 2001, when my editor, Kathy Dawson, and I were first discussing the book, I was thinking of calling it Summer Work. According to an e-mail I found, I thought that was sort of deep because the main character (named Edmund at that point) had a summer job, but just what was the real work he was doing that summer? Kathy's response was, "Let's sit tight on the title for now." And it ended up being called Saving the Planet & Stuff, a title I'm very happy with, when it was published in 2003.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

My family dropped in on my in-laws and found that they had company, an older couple on their way to their cabin in Maine. The husband told my preteen son that he ought to come to their cabin with them and help him set up his laptop. That definitely didn't happen, but the idea of a young person being thrown in with older people he barely knew intrigued me, and I thought about it for a couple of years. 

What genre does your book fall under? 

This is mainstream fiction for older YAs and adults. I say that not because the content is so incredibly mature, but because much of the humor involves the office/workplace and environmentalism. The work world is something teenagers are beginning to take an interest in. Middle grade and younger kids? Not so much. Committed environmentalists have made a lifestyle choice that sometimes puts them at odds with the rest of the world, and that conflict is the basis for much of the humor in Saving the Planet & Stuff. Teenagers are beginning to understand that life is going to involve some decision making. 

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I'm embarrassed to say that this is something I have fantasized about. I can't say I've thought about it for my other books, but definitely for this one. The young main character, Michael Racine, is the hardest part to cast because young actors age out fast. Frankie Muniz is way too old, though he would have been good in his youthful heyday. Charlie McDermott of The Middle still plays a teenager. You need somebody who can project an attitude and who can be amazed that there are people in the world who are not of his world. The two pivotal adults are much easier. Blythe Danner with a long braid for Nora Blake and, if he would let his hair go gray and grow a ponytail, Tom Selleck for Walt Marcello. Big. Imposing. Sly wit. I wouldn't even object to the 'stache so long as it was gray.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A twenty-first century mall child and two aging environmentalists experience culture clash when they're thrown together for the summer.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This question is phrased oddly. I am going to answer it in this way: I am self-publishing an e-book edition in order to keep Saving the Planet available as a back list title. It was originally published by G. P. Putnam's Sons in 2003.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I don't know if I could work that out even if I went through all the old e-mails. I can tell you it takes me a long time to write a book--months, if I'm lucky. Then there are many revisions. I know my editor and I were e-mailing about the book in 2001, which means she must have had a manuscript to look at at that point. Then it was published in 2003.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This is always a difficult question for me because I write a lot of humor within mainstream fiction, and I don't always see much of that to compare myself with. I'm going to throw out the title I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President. Though that is a school-based story, whereas Saving the Planet is workplace and environmental humor, I found the humor in I Am a Genius mature in the same way that I think the humor in Saving the Planet is mature.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? 

My older son liked YA fiction when he was a teenager, and I was his book shopper. I understood his humor and was able to bring things back from the library that he actually liked. One day he said to me, "All the books you bring me are about girls."  I realized he was right. At that time, funny books tended to be about girls. Books about boys were about sports or something violent or dark, which he had no interest in whatsoever. So I set out to write a funny book about a teenage boy for my teenage boy. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is a funny book not just about environmentalism and office politics but about what people choose to do with their lives. That theme should work for both teen and adult readers. Michael, the teenager, is faced with questions about what he is going to do with his life. Three male models are available to him over the course of the story. Walt and Nora, the much older adults, are faced with questions about what they've been doing with their lives. (I would say did, except this couple is definitely not done living.)

Who Else Has A Next Big Thing To Blog About? 

Sarah Albee, who has written a number of children's books (and is the only writer I know, personally, who has published under more than one name), will be continuing with The Next Big Thing at her blog. While you're waiting to hear about what's coming up in her writing world, check out her blog post about hunting for bathrooms at the Mark Twain House

Crissa-Jean Chappell, the author of  Total Constant Order as well as Narc and a contributor to Dear Bully, will be writing about her Next Big Thing at her journal.  

And I believe we'll be hearing about Dawn Metcalf's Next Big Thing, as well.  Dawn's first book, Luminous, was published in 2011, and her next book, Indelible, comes out this summer.

Watch their blogs for their Next Big Thing. 

Later this month, I hope to do a Next Big Thing roundup of NBT posts from other writers.

Friday, January 04, 2013

"Rosemary And Olive Oil" Published At "Alimentum"

My first published fiction for adults (I've written plenty of adult fiction that hasn't been published yet), Rosemary and Olive Oil, went up today at Alimentum, a beautiful on-line journal that focuses on "The Literature of Food."

The story is named for a flavor of potato chip. Seriously. After having eaten them for the first time in a hospital cafeteria, I went on a long quest to find them elsewhere. They're now available at our local chain grocery store.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Cybils, A Carnival, And Ted Talks

The 2012 Cybils finalists were announced on New Year's Day. I've been reading off the nomination lists for a couple of months now. When I finish up, I'll post a list of all the  Cybils nominees I've blogged about.

Also, the December, 2012 Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Playing by the Book. Yes, I participated.

While visiting Playing by the Book, note the children's lit themed TED Talks highlighted there since December 21. I had never heard of these things, but it turns out that TED Talks are podcasts of talks and performances at TED Conferences. Still unclear? I was, too. TED stands for technology, entertainment, design, and the TED conferences showcase "ideas that matter in any discipline."

So there's something I didn't know fifteen minutes ago.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: New Year's Resolutions Are A Waste Of Time

Managing time when your situation is constantly changing is all about planning. Traditional New Year's resolutions set the resolvers up for failure because there is no plan. There is nothing to guide people making resolutions as to what they actually need to do. Often times the so-called resolution, itself, is incredibly vague.

Consider "I'm going to write more!" as a resolution. Well, write more than what? How much is more? Just what is a person supposed to do with a resolution like that?

Don't waste your time making New Year's resolutions. Instead, use your time more efficiently by creating goals and objectives for this next unit of time that we call a year.

First off, let's be clear on what goals and objectives are. Many people (in the past, my computer guy was among them) believe the terms are interchangeable. They are not. A goal is what you want to achieve. An objective is a step you must take, a task you must complete, to achieve the goal. For any one goal, there can be  multiple objectives. With a goal and objectives you have a plan. Time management requires a plan.

Now, if you did some recapitulation regarding last year's work you can use what you learned to more carefully craft your objectives  for next year.

My goals and objectives for this year:

Goal 1. Publish the Saving the Planet e-book at the end of January.

  1. Final copy editing of text
  2. Assign ISBNs
  3. Amazon/B&N product description
  4. Work with Computer Guy regarding the uploading of final copy to Amazon and B&N
  5. Deal with any problems that turn up when uploading of final copy 
  6. Make sure website update is completed and posted
  7. Upload book trailer to YouTube
  8. Check press releases
  9. Contact first bloggers I'll be working with  and work with them regarding material they need from me
  10. Do a number of Original Content and Facebook posts building up to publication
Goal 2. Publicize Saving the Planet throughout the year
I have a multitude of objectives for this and will be doing a blog post on the subject later.

Goal 3. Maintain Time Management Tuesday Project (Last year's project went so well that it led to a workshop that I'll be leading at a writers' conference this spring.) 
  1. Continue Tuesday posts at least twice a month during this second year
  2. Read The Power of Habit
  3. Plan NESCBWI time management workshop for May
  4. Look for opportunities to write on the subject

Goal 4. Submission Binge (Last year's submission binge resulted in a short story acceptance and 2 excellent rejections, so I want to do another)  

  1. Plan a month or two period to do revisions and submit, probably September and October
  2. Look for markets in the months leading up to that point
  3. By July have one or two old stories selected and be working on them to make use of "archived" material.

Goal 5. Write and submit an essay on blogging (Idea came about as a result of the NESCBWI Blog Tour I did earlier this year) 


  1. Seek out possible markets to determine whether or not this is a worthwhile project
  2. Write essay

Goal 6. Work on an outline for "mummy book" during May Days (I wasn't prepared for May Days last year. I hope to be this year.)

  1. Finish reading Wired for Story because I think we organic writers often don't know what our story is prior to writing, which makes plotting difficult.
  2. At least skim The Plot Whisperer for same reason
  3. Go over old research for this project and continue with more.
Goal  7. Continue with community building   
  1. Next week--The Next Big Thing post here at OC
  2. Next Big Thing round-up post later in the month
  3. Support Cybils with a round up post of my reading of nominees; also post to Goodreads
  4. Continue with Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar and try to make a real calendar template accessible in the sidebar so the calendar can always be found and isn't buried in each month's posts.
  5. Continue looking for ways to publicize Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar
  6. Look for short,  local writers' workshops/retreats/events to attend
  7. Continue with the weekend roundup of blog and Internet  reading to help build community with other bloggers
  8. Consider the possibility of creating some kind of networking group for published writers, either on-line or some kind of local gathering. (This is a very low level objective because I suspect I won't find much support for it)
Goal 8. Publish a free Hannah and Brandon e-short story to support the Hannah and Brandon e-books published by G. P. Putnam's Sons.   
  1. Determine just how much publishing a free anything will cost me
  2. Reread the Hannah and Brandon books
  3. Check journal and files for story ideas
  4. Read other short stories for younger children
  5. Write the short story
  6. Decide how we will handle the cover
  7. Work with Computer Guy on the technical publishing work
Goal 9. Plan publication of My Life Among the Aliens and Club Earth e-books for winter, 2014 (I want to publish them together hoping to cut down on the time spent planning the marketing, which was very time consuming this year for Saving the Planet & Stuff)
  1. Wait for the return of rights for Club Earth (I already have the rights to My Life Among the Aliens, and the request for Club Earth has already been submitted.)
  2. Wait to see how Saving the Planet & Stuff sells before deciding whether to go with professional covers or look for a cheaper type
  3. Look into companies that prepare texts for e-book publication
  4. Discuss with Computer Guy whether I should go with a company for these books or have him prepare them as he prepared Saving the Planet
  5. Wait to see how Saving the Planet sells before deciding how to market these books--whether to buy advertising right away or start with promotion through blogs and websites
  6. Plan at least one book trailer 
It appears that I'm planning to do a great many things this year. There are well over 42 objectives, counting the Saving the Planet marketing I didn't bore you with. In reality, though, I'm only talking 9 goals, with each goal essentially being a specific project, over the course of the entire year. If an unexpected opportunity should drop in my lap, I can simply cut out a goal or two. Goals Four and Five could easily be put aside for another year. I can also limit some of my objectives, if I have to. For Goal Three, I really don't need that third objective, for instance.

Oh, by the way, goals should be specific. You need to know exactly what it is you're working to achieve. Objectives should be measurable, at least in the sense that you can tell when you've completed them. Even with Goal 9 where I have to wait around for a while to see how Saving the Planet sells before deciding how to proceed with the next e-books, there will come a point where I know, yes, I can make back the investment for a professional cover or, no, I can't.

Goals and objectives are incredibly valuable because they tell you what you're going to do. In addition, I like them because even if you don't achieve a goal, the work you've done on the objectives for that goal enhance you professionally and can help you in some way you haven't foreseen.

Try getting that out of a New Year's resolution.