Tuesday, April 30, 2013

New Gail Gauthier Interview

The Bibliophilic Book Blog has just posted an Interview with Gail Gauthier, author of Saving the Planet & Stuff. Notice the framed picture at the top of the blog? Our blog host's name is Star. Many thanks to her for featuring me today.

Time Management Tuesday: Another Year, Another May Days Set-Aside Time

Last year, I took part in The May Days, a Facebook group in which members encouraged each other to write two pages a day. On May 8th, 2012, I explained why writers might actually need a push to get them writing--a lot of the work writers do isn't actually writing. After I finished my month, I decided I liked what I called this set-aside time for specific projects, or binge writing.

What I liked about The May Days was the way it appealed to my own joy in obsessing on a project or topic. I don't have the endurance to obsess indefinitely, but a set-aside time--Oh, I'm there. Seriously, I once did one of those week-with-no-TV things. I made two kids do it with me. I love this stuff.

Since last May, though, I've been reading The Willpower Instinct  by Kelly McConigal. She talks about willpower (and lack thereof) spreading through groups. I'll do more on that next week  In the meantime, I will just say that there appears to be some support for group writing initiatives like The May Days helping writers stay disciplined.

Well, tomorrow is May 1st, and our group is starting another May Days project or binge. Last year I didn't even hear about this until the day before, so I had done no preparation at all. This year as part of my New Year's planning I actually had a May Days goal and objectives:

"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."
I did finish Wired for Story, though I've only read a few pages of The Plot Whisperer. (This is not a comment on the quality of the book. I just haven't been able to get to it.) I didn't go over the old research I've collected over the years that I've been thinking about this book. What I did do:
  1. Visit UVM's Fleming Museum, because right now a college museum figures into the setting/story
  2. Read half of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking for character development research
  3. Register for a 3-hour plot workshop this Sunday at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference
  4. Realize I can use the find-the-story posts from OC's Weekend Writer series to help with early find-the-story work
  5. Make a few journal notes over the past year for this project
While it can be argued that I am better prepared for May Days this year than last, I am still not in great shape. For one thing, I'm going to have a lot of trouble writing on May 2 through 4 because of family and conference commitments. That's really early on in the project to be veering from the program. The plotting workshop on May 5 seems like a great idea, particularly since it comes early in the set-aside period. However, the workshop description asks participants to bring a work-in-progress to which they can apply the information we'll be taking in. I am going to be scrambling the rest of today and in whatever time I can find tomorrow to scratch up enough material to be able to say I have a work-in-progress.

Hey, a work-in-progress is in the eye of the beholder, n'est-ce pas?

Stay tuned to learn what Gail has to show for her May Days experience at the end of the month.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Who Can Get You Into A Bookstore?

Last week I briefly mentioned a blog post I'd read called Eisler on Digital Denial. Author Barry Eisler wrote about his contention that the one major benefit traditional publishers can offer writers is distribution to "real" stores. Some folks disagreed with him. Tweeting was involved. It was all quite exciting.

While eating lunch just now, I stumbled upon Self-Publishing is for Control Freaks at the Forbes website. It appears to have been published a couple of days after Eisler's post at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. The article is about a report on what authors look for when deciding whether to self-publish or seek out a traditional publisher. It concludes with this: "However, according to the report, distribution is far and away the most important factor and that should be comforting to publishers because, at this point, established publishers are the only reliable path into bricks-and-mortar bookstores, where a large proportion of sales are still made."

Only four comments follow the Forbes article. Eisler's article at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing got 185. Not that it's a competition, but either one readership found the concept waaaay more interesting than the other, or one site has more readership to begin with. Or something.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Weekend Links

The Greenhouse Literary Agency is offering the Greenhouse Funny Prize, with a U.S./Canadian winner and a UK winner. The prize is representation, and the deadline is July 29th.

The most recent Poets & Writers includes Digital Digest: Algorithms for What to Read Next. The subject is the reliability of on-line reviews. The juicy bit: "Estimates about the proportion of phony reviews to the overall total run as high as 30 percent, with Gartner research predicting that paid endorsements (deemed illegal by the Federal Trade Commission unless disclosed) will account for 10 to 15 percent of product feedback by 2014." At lunch today I told a family member about that 30 percent estimate, and he said, "That's all?" He would have thought the percentage of fakes would be higher.

Blog anniversaries: A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy is eight and Teaching Authors is four.

I like the idea of a slow writing movement, which I stumbled upon at the American Society of Journalists and Authors. So I googled the term and  found slow writing movement pieces at Rock Your Writing, Another Word, and a few other spots. I suspect it's a movement that will be, uh, slow moving.

Another World Book Night recap at The Book Wheel. Be sure to check out the comments and note the number of givers who ran into people worried they were peddling religious tracts.

Tanita Davis reviews Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger at Finding Wonderland.

The Emerging Writers Network will be observing Short Story Month in May. This is a neat idea, and if only I'd known about it much, much earlier, I would have planned my May differently.

Carnival Of The Indies

I'm part of this month's Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies at The Book Designer. I'm under Marketing and Selling Your Books. I mention the sub-category because this is a big carnival.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Be Careful When Writing Descriptions

I am reading a tedious book and want to vent. So we're going to take a break from hunting for our stories, so I can use this teachable moment to warn new writers about the risks involved with writing description. Description, you see, is part of what is making the book I'm reading tedious.

I suspect that there is a school of thought that argues that descriptions in books should be "evocative," causing readers to feel something, and that descriptions should be beautiful in and of themselves. They should be beautiful for beautiful's sake. However, what they really ought to do is support your story, once you know what your story is. Readers shouldn't notice descriptions. Not everyone can write description well enough to be evocative and make a reader shed a tear over great-aunt Bet's bracelet that was given to her by the only guy she ever loved before he went off to war and never came back because he deserted, went over to the other side, assumed another identity, married, and lived happily ever after without her. And those who can write well enough to make a reader shed a tear over a description of a bracelet in its box under the stack of crap Aunt Bet has been hoarding, shouldn't do so if it means stopping the forward movement of the story and making readers literally wait to get through all this verbiage before they get going again.

I can recall reading a well-known novel set in France that shall remain nameless. A character is going down a street in Paris, and we all had to stop while the author described a building. Then a while later, we all stopped while he described another. And, you guessed it, we made another stop and waited for him to do another description. I know he was trying to create atmosphere and prove that he'd been to Paris. But those individual buildings, and particularly their appearance, really didn't have anything to do with the story.  I became impatient and started skimming.

What I'm talking about here hits two of Elmore Leonard's ten rules of writing: "9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things" and "10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."  Readers tend to skip detailed description of places and things.

Okay, I am now going to give a couple of suggestions to help new writers avoid taking readers on lengthy, detailed tours of parking lots and offices.

1. When you're describing a place, try to show a character moving through it or interacting with it instead of doing a straight narrative description. If a character is involved in some way with this place, there's a greater chance that the place has some significance to the story.

2. I think these long, drawn out descriptions of places occur more frequently in books written in the third person. If you're writing in the third person, as a first draft of a description try writing it from a first-person point of view. You might get a more natural sounding description that way, since a speaker describing something is less likely to go on and on about it than omniscient narrators seem to. When you switch back to the third person, leave out everything the first-person narrator didn't say.

There. I'm feeling better about that book I'm determined to get through.

Friday, April 26, 2013

May Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

This May is not a busy month in Connecticut as far as children's/YA author appearances are concerned. Is this due to a seasonal variation related to the school year winding down? Are authors focusing on next weekend's sold-out NESCBWI Conference?

At any rate, here's what I have for you:

Mon., May 6, Alex MorganR.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM

Tues., May 14, Sara Zarr, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 6:00 PM

Wed., May 15, Paul Ferrante, Westport Public Library, Westport, 7:30 PM

Thurs., May 23, Jane O'Connor R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM

Wed., May 29, Gregory GallowayWestport Public Library, Westport, 7:30 PM

Fri., May 31, Lincoln Peirce, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Yeah, It's The Wild West Out There

I'm still recovering from a day of illness and hoped to stretch out with a couple of different kinds of research, which is like resting but different. But then I became glued to my desktop reading Eisler on Digital Denial at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. And I scanned all the comments as well, which is where I read M.J. Rose's line, "It's the wild west out there."

That makes the exhaustion I've been feeling over publishing and marketing and everything I'm doing other than writing seem at least a little more interesting and exciting. A little pep me up.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My World Book Night Experience

Look at all this lovely World Book Night news at WBN's Facebook page. Sites where books were passed out. People involved. Al Roker doing his WBN thing. Why, Gail, you're probably thinking, what about your World Book Night experience? How did that go for ya'.

I spent the evening of World Book Night huddled on my couch, wearing the same pajamas I'd been wearing for twenty-four hours, and hoping I'd keep down the broth I'd had for dinner. World Book Night was kind of a bust for me.

However, my event went on without me. One family member delivered the books to the skilled nursing facility where I was supposed to do the distributing, and another family member took over the job of actually handing them out. She was the one who had recommended The Language of Flowers as my WBN choice, anyway, and she's a book club member. She is definitely World Book Night material.

Now, choosing to distribute books in a skilled nursing facility that offers both long-term and rehabilitative care was risky. A percentage of the population in any of these places suffers from some degree of cognitive loss of one sort or another in addition to their physical issues. So we're not just talking about people who are light or nonreaders because they've never had the opportunity to be exposed to good books or own any. But it's also a population that could benefit from being encouraged to read.

The recreation director got behind WBN in a big way, planning a flower arranging activity for the evening rec event, flowers being a big part of our book. Recreation in these places is hugely important, in my humble opinion. It is a form of therapy that offers residents an opportunity to interact socially and mentally, often just to move around, all of which are factors in maintaining cognitive abilities. However, residents have the option to take part or not, and only 3 showed up for the flower-arranging event and at the book station set up there.

However, my family member who was running this for me, remained steadfast and on task. She went up and down every hallway with our books, handing them out to various residents we knew and hitting the rehab-wing where there were short-term patients whom we wouldn't know. I believe she said she gave out a half a dozen books to staff, one of whom she believes feared she was being handed a religious tract.

It was probably not the best World Book Night experience we're going to hear about this year. (Certainly not for me, though I did get a very good night's sleep afterwards and am much better now.) But I am a great believer in ripple effects. I think it's possible that I may go into this place tomorrow and hear something about this book from people who received it. Or maybe it will be next week or the week after.

And if I do, that is what World Book Night is about, not whether I had a good time that evening or whether it went the way I thought it was going to or whether I went to an after party (I did get an invitation!) or whether someone else had to run the whole thing for me. So how my World Book Night went still remains to be seen.

Monday, April 22, 2013

OC's Earth Day Post: Cli-fi

I usually do an environmental post on Thursdays, but today is Earth Day, and, hey, I can adapt. So I'm getting all environmentalish with a climate fiction post on Monday this week.

Climate fiction? you say. Yeah, I just heard about it a couple of days ago, too. Climate fiction, according to NPR is a genre, well, an "emerging" one, anyway, in which writers "set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth's systems are noticeably off-kilter." That's how it differs from dystopian or apocalyptic novels in which a futuristic world is suffering because of (usually) human-made environmental disaster or just a human-made "oops." Climate fiction is set in a contemporary world.

This article at Grist  looks like a review of a couple of cli-fi novels, though one seems a little futuristic/apocalyptic.

I suspect that NPR's definition of cli-fi as being something separate from the dystopian/apocalyptic stuff isn't generally known. Here someone uses the term "cli-fi thriller" to describe the same book set 75 years in the future with climate disaster that Grist included in its review column.

Climate Change and Contemporary Fiction appears to be a blog that deals with this very subject.

I'm going to admit that though I have an interest in environmentalism, as a reader I find environmental/climate change disaster stories cliched. The first few were interesting, sure, but now they leave me with a feeling of, "Oh. I've read this. Several times." Or, "Of course. The tech people/scientists are the bad guys. Again." It's not that the problems aren't real or serious, but they've become formulaic as far as literature is concerned. I also wonder if there isn't a message quality to some of these books, a lesson that readers are supposed to be learning. There's sometimes a propaganda quality to some of these stories. This preaching issue is discussed in Few A-List Novelists Tackling Climate Change in Their Plots at Climate Central.

Novelists Try Climate Change Story Telling: A Critical Review of Two Recent Entries published at The Yale forum on Climate Change & The Media  ends with "Are there other ways that climate change can make for good reading? It’s a question more than a few hope to see answered in the affirmative. As Bill McKibben wrote in 2005, climate change still lacks resonance in American culture. “Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” he asked. “Compare it to, say, the horror of AIDS in the last two decades, which has produced a staggering outpouring of art that, in turn, has had real political effect.”"

I am not knowledgeable about AIDS literature, but I think the question being raised here is is climate change being used in literature other than in novels? Certainly a different form--poetry or opera, for instance--might help to break the formula of human-made disaster leading to woe.

Happy Earth Day.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Weekend Links

I missed last weekend's links, so I've got a bit of a pile up today.

I was never able to get into Veronica Mars, but this post at GreenBeanTeenQueen on what to read while waiting for the movie appears to be a listing of YA mystery. Except for Rats Saw God, which I read back in 2004.

Are teen readers moving back to print from eBooks? Leila at bookshelves of doom wants to know. Yeah, me, too.

A huge list of YA mystery at Stacked.

Love Dorothy's World at Oz and Ends.

Secrets & Sharing Soda's contribution to March's Carnival of Children's Lit, which it hosted, was on Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle. Secrets & Sharing Soda said of it, "This is one of the creepiest children’s books I have ever read." I remember reading that book. I do recall some oddness to it. I also am 90% certain I read it to my kids. This is a book I'm probably going to revisit sometime.

Since I've been on Feedly, I've been able to do more visiting and reading, so I've been able to add friends' blogs. I particularly liked the poem Call Me Ishmael in this post at Tanita Davis's blog. But be sure to read the body of the post, too.

As I'm sure I've mentioned here before, when I was in high school I read The Wild Boy of Aveyron by Jean Marc Gaspard Itard. So I always have to read about new versions of the story, such as Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron by Mary Losure.

New NESCBWI member Mark McNulty is starting a blog relating to his soon-to-be experiences as a father. The jaded, broken mom in me wants to go, "Hahahahahaha, like you're going to blog and write fiction after that kid is born! Like you're going to bathe after that kid is born!" But I work really hard to control that part of me. Mark, the author of The Sea Shack, is also going to be reviewing books at The New American Dad.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Hunting For Your Story With Point Of View

Back we go to finding our story, which is, you'll remember, something that happens to somebody and its significance. Ideas frequently come in segments, scenes, or situations rather than a fully realized story, so a writer may not know right away what is happening to whom and its significance. In that case, you can search out information to use in building a story by first developing basic story elements. We've talked about doing this with character and setting. This week we're hitting point of view.

There are a number of points of view, but for simplicity's sake we're only going to talk about  two, first person and third person limited omniscient.

First Person: The "I" person. A character is actually telling the story. This is often the main character, but not  always. (Think Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories or Brandon in the Hannah and Brandon stories.) First person narrators are in every single scene. Everything that happens is filtered through their minds. It's very easy to develop a voice with a first person narrator.

Third person limited omniscient: A "he/she" narrator. We think of third person narrators as being all knowing (omniscient) and being able to move from character to character, but the moving-from-character-to-character thing isn't used a great deal nowadays and is difficult to do without appearing confusing and as if the writer is jumping all over the place. Writers will sometimes try to switch to different characters in different chapters, but that can stop the forward movement of a story.

What is easier to do is a third person limited omniscient narrator, something that is also known as a "point of view character." You have one main character who appears  in every scene and through whom everything is filtered, just as with the first person, but there is a storytelling type voice telling the story and referring to this character as he or she. Michael in Saving the Planet & Stuff  is a point of view character or third person limited omniscient narrator. With third person limited  narrators, the storyteller voice can actually know more about the point of view characters than first person narrators often know about themselves.

One thing writers can do while trying to determine what their stories are is write a scene twice, once in the first person, as if the chosen character is talking him- or herself and once in the third person, as if a storyteller is at work. You should find yourself  coming up with different material from each voice, giving you some ideas about what could happen to these people.

Another thing you can do is try different characters as both the first person narrator and point of view character. Even if you end up sticking with your original choice, writing about other characters in different ways may give you ideas you can use.

Yes, point of view can be a lot of work.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Flash Essay On Writer Envy

For years I've been thinking about writing a memoirish book of essays about my experience as a maritial arts student. I even had a working title, Black Belt Essays. I even wrote and published two said essays. But that's as far as I've gotten with this project because of the time issues I keep writing about on Tuesdays and poor discipline and whine, whine, whine.

Just moments ago, I learned that someone else has written my book. Susan Schorn has written Smile At Strangers and Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly, which will be published next month.  #@!!  This is all because I am slow and inept!

Of course, my weak grasp of zennyness tells me that wanting, as in wanting to have written that book, as in wanting someone else not to have written it first, leads to unhappiness. Damn straight about that. But soon this moment of wanting and unhappiness will be in the past and over, and I will be on to another moment in which I will be slow and inept about other things. Yeah. I'm sitting here waiting for that. And waiting.

Oh. Here's a cheery thought. Schorn's book is about karate, and mine would have been about taekwondo. Plus, she teaches karate, while I can barely manage to maintain my own taekwondo skills, let alone teach anyone else. (I've already written one essay on that subject and am sure I can probably wring two or three more on it.) So if we both end up writing martial arts memoirs, they wouldn't be anything alike.

Now, that's a relief. I'm into that better feeling moment already.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

So Was Walt Exaggerating?

In Saving the Planet & Stuff, Walt and Michael head on over to the transfer station one day, the first trip Walt's made there in nearly four months. The back of his station wagon is filled with recycling. Additionally, he has a white kitchen trash bag that's one third full. Walt holds it up and announces, "Four months and this is all the nonrecyclable garbage we've generated. It's a record." Later Walt says, "There are some people out in the Midwest who claim they can go all year without using more than two thirty-gallon trash bags, but I think Nora and I could beat them."

Think I was going a little (or a lot) over the top with Walt's claims? Well, first off, I really did read about the two thirty-gallon trash bag family. That was years ago, though, and I have no hope of tracking them down. I don't have to, however, in order to support Walt's contention that he and Nora might be able to toss out less than sixty gallons of trash  a year. Check out Trashy No More, which was published this past February in the Tribune Newspapers. Forget about those wasteful thirty-gallon bag folks.  Author William Hageman found a family that claims to generate only a quart of trash a year.

Yeah, they've got a book on how to do it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A "Horn Book" Review

It's been a long time since I've discussed an issue of The Horn Book here (I couldn't even find the last post when I "reviewed" one), but the March/April issue was particularly good, I thought. Think of today's offering as being like a Downton Abbey or Walking Dead recap but without Maggie Smith or whatever it is that's on the Walking Dead.

Okay, this was a theme issue on weird-as-- , or, rather, "the odd, the marginalized, the independent, and the otherwise nonconforming among us." Within those essays, I particularly liked Two Writers Look at Weird by Polly Horvath and Jack Gantos. I also liked Something Wicked by Christine Taylor-Butler. I read that when I was young, too. Have I ever told you about my Uncle Mickey and his trunk full of paperbacks, from which he pulled some Ray Bradburys and handed them to me? Sigh.

Enough with the trip down Memory Lane. The Jack (and Jill) Be Nimble interview with Mary Cash and Jason Low was terrific. Painlessly showed me the world of the original independent publishers, as in small publishing companies that aren't owned by conglomerates or shareholders and can thus function without  committees and group thinking.

The Price of Truth by Eugene Yelchin is a great memoir of his youth reading in the police state that was the Soviet Union. Here is a true story on top of his true story: Yelchin mentions a poet, Osip Mandelstam, whom he says was censored by the Soviets and had his papers destroyed. His wife memorized his poetry and years after his death, dictated it so it could be written down. Hours after reading this in The Horn Book article, I heard the Mandelstam story again on On Point. Seriously.

Liz Burns, who I kind of know in that blogger-knowing-blogger way, wrote Reading: It's More Than Meets the Eye  a well-done piece about providing books for the print disabled.

I don't know Elizabeth Bluemle, but I've been to her bookstore, the subject of her article, When Pigs Fly: The Improbable Dream of Bookselling in a Digital Age.

And there are more articles, of course, and then the reviews. I'm delighted I got a chance to recap this issue before the next one arrives, which should probably be next month, only a few weeks away, right?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: A Break To Remind Ourselves About Transition Time

I have to take a break from my quest for discipline because my next step on that search is reading Kelly McGonigal's The Willpower Instinct, which I just picked up today. I haven't learned to manage time so well that I can have it read by midnight, forget about giving it any thought.

So while we're waiting for me to see if there's anything in The Willpower Instinct that we can use, I'm going to refer you to one of last year's posts about transition time. Why? Because if I ever become self-disciplined, it's one of the things I hope to get control of. I'm not doing much better with it now than I was when I wrote about it back in July of last year.

I  find it interesting that I  see so little written about transition time. This post from Attack Your Day is the best thing I found today, and it's what I found last year, too. I sometimes see a bit written about it in reference to groups needing to spend time moving from one activity another, but there's not much out there on individuals losing time while they're making transitions from morning routine to work, work to evening routine, etc.

Monday, April 15, 2013

My World Book Night Book

World Book Night is a week from tomorrow, and a couple of days ago I finished reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, the book I'll be giving. I chose this book on the recommendation of a family member. As it turns out, the protagonist, Victoria, is a young woman in her late teens who has just left the foster care system. We follow two story lines in alternating chapters, one about Victoria's childhood involvement with Elizabeth, the foster mother who teaches her the language of flowers, and the second about her experience as she tries (or I should say, is almost forced) to make a life for herself. The young character makes this a book of particular interest to me, because I like to ponder the differences between a children's/YA book with a child/YA character and an adult book with a child/YA character.

Flowers is a good book in which Diffenbaugh, a first-time novelist, shows a lot of control. For instance, in places she teeters on the edge of what I like to call the Magical Mommy, treating motherhood as some kind of mystical experience that has the potential to cure all. But she juuuust pulls back. Victoria is also only able to maintain herself because she happens to run into people who take to her and offer significant help. Coincidence is never good in fiction, but I was able to accept it here because the people who help her are outsiders. (And maybe because my experience of the world suggests that many young people like Victoria only succeed at all because someone helped them help.)

Diffenbaugh also does a good job showing why  Victoria is filled with anger and does ugly things. In lots of books with characters like that the behavior is just there without enough development to make what they're doing make sense. Readers are expected to accept it and move on with the story.

What readers of this blog might find particularly interesting about this book is that while it's an adult book, I thought it seemed very much like a YA problem novel--a teenager, usually a girl, has a specific problem that, after much struggle, she overcomes. If you removed the Victorian language of flowers from The Language of Flowers, I think it would have seemed even more like a bare bones YA problem novel.

I think this is a novel that could end up on library book lists for teenagers, just as I thought Alice Bliss would.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Taking Advantage Of Opportunities To Meet More Experienced Writers

We're going to take a break from finding our story to talk about learning from other writers. Yes, I am doing this because I want to talk some  more about the book expo I attended last week. But anyone beginning a new line of work or a new craft can learn from those who have more experience in their field. And new writers can find more experienced writers at book expos, festivals, store appearances...you name it. No, you don't go to get ideas for the public appearances you're going to make after you publish the book you haven't written yet. You go to hear what writers have to say during panel discussions and other kinds of presentations. You go to ask questions, if you have a chance.

At Wednesday night's expo you could have heard writers talking about outlines, writing groups, organic writing, and much more. Associating with writers can help a person new to the field feel more like a writer, too.

And now that I've finished that improving lecture, get a load of this:

On Wednesday evening, I met Esther Friesner, a Nebula award winner who has written the Princesses of Myth series. She's been writing science fiction and fantasy for a couple of decades. Among her works, she told us during our panel discussion, are two Star Trek novels.

Now this was of great interest to me because here at Chez Gauthier we have, as a rough estimate, between two and three hundred Star Trek novels. So when I had a chance, I went up to Esther and said, "Hey, Esther, were either of your Star Trek books for Classic Star Trek or Next Generation?" Well, it turns out she wrote for Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

Come on. Somebody has to know what I'm talking about.

Well, the next day, someone who has actually read those two to three hundred books, went through the stash and found that we do have in our house Esther's book, To Storm Heaven.

I have appeared with a Nebula winner and have her book in my  house.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Can An eBook Author Do The Book Fair Thing? A Report From The Trenches

On Wednesday night, I was a featured writer at the Norwich Free Academy Book Expo in Norwich, Connecticut. This was the first time I'd been invited to such an event since my books have been available only in eBook editions, and the first time since self-publishing Saving the Planet & Stuff as an eBook in February. As you may recall, I had plans:

"What I plan to do," I wrote back in March, "is show up with a laptop that will have a display of my four available books. I don't know if I can get Internet access there, so I'll have various pages from my website loaded onto the computer and available for viewing. And, of course, the Saving the Planet & Stuff trailer. This techie set-up, I've read, is how authors such as myself can make public appearances." 

And that is what I did.      

Because my four eBooks were published in paper and ink back in the day, I did have "books" people could see and handle, though they couldn't buy them. But additionally I had the laptop loaded with
the Saving the Planet & Stuff trailer

                  The Saving the Planet & Stuff page from my website
and the website, itself, which I could maneuver through there on the hard drive, meaning I wasn't dependent upon the high school library where we were located having WiiFii. (Though it did.)

So how did all this work out? Well, there are two factors to consider.

1. Sales. No sales have yet been generated as a result of this appearance. This isn't necessarily an indication of failure. Many authors with paper-and-ink books making public appearances will make no sales at all. Selling just a few books at an appearance is about as much as most writers can hope for. Years ago, I had a bookseller tell me that if he could get four sales from an in-store appearance, he was happy. I've attended many book fairs that generated long lines for the one or two big names who were invited to draw customers while the rest of the writers sat looking bored or embarrassed. This is a fact life.

2. Connecting with the reading public. Here is where I saw a big difference between the NFA event and other events at which I've appeared. I definitely did more chatting and interacting than I've done in the past. I think this was due to two factors. A. Though there was a book sale going on, because I had eBooks, I did not expect to make any sales that evening. The only people who would be buying my self-published book, the one I was really promoting, would be people who owned a Kindle or a Nook, because those are the only two platforms we've published it to so far. In all likelihood they would make their purchase, if they were going to make one at all, at some other time, not right there. This took a big burden off my shoulders. There was no anxiety about whether I was going to "succeed" or "fail" with sales, because I went in there knowing there would be none right there on the spot. I was feeling kind of light-hearted. Jolly, even, which is not what anyone would call characteristic of me. B. Look at the next two pictures. Notice the difference between Gail with the laptop and without it?                    
Without the laptop, I am behind a table, as most authors are at festivals and book fairs. There's always something between the writers and the public. You sit and hope someone will come talk to you. There is a stilted conversation between the person on one side of the table, who is the "writer," and the person on the other side of the table, who "is not."

With the laptop, I had to be at least to the side of the table, so I could get to the front and operate the mouse, arrow keys, etc. There was no physical barrier between  the person on one side of the table, who is the "writer" and the person  on the other side of the table, who "is not." There was far more natural give and take. I talked with other writers far more than I have
at other events, because I was moving around and could. I got into a discussion with a couple of people about Goodreads, one of whom had never heard of it. I wrote "Goodreads" on one of my business cards so she could remember it--and me, presumably. In fact, I gave out more business cards than I usually do. Which, okay, wasn't many. But it was still a different experience.

The connecting with the reading public part of an appearance is important. In the short-term, invitations to speaking engagements and school visits can (and, in my case, have) come about because of connections made with the public. In the long-term, meeting other writers, librarians, teachers, and booksellers and making new Facebook friends of all kinds can help out down-the-line in ways we can't foresee at the time of the meetings.

So I think there is a workable method that eBook writers can use for public appearances. A much bigger problem will be, I believe, finding opportunities for public appearances in the first place. Most festivals and book fairs are fundraisers for some group. (The one I attended this week was not.) The group sells the writers' books, just as a bookstore would, and the profit it makes is its fundraising. Groups aren't going to be able to sell an eBook, self-published or not.  Kobo has an arrangement with independent bookstores that enables participating stores to keep a percentage of the sale of eBooks sold from their websites. Will there one day be a similar arrangement for book fair and festival organizers, which will then welcome eBook authors? Until there is, I don't know how often writers like myself will be appearing at public events.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Will The "Saving The Planet" eBook Save The Planet?

No trees are destroyed in the making of an eBook. Sounds like a good thing, n'est-ce pas? You don't have to take a living tree, kill it, mash it into pulp, squish it into paper, print a book on it, read it, and, some day, send it off to book heaven. A book, it could be argued, is pre-trash.

So shouldn't an eBook, which is kind of nothing, be a lot better environmentally speaking?

Some would say that it depends on how many books you read. Producing devices for reading eBooks  requires resources, as does producing traditional books. How many traditional books do you have to replace with eBooks to offset the environmental impact of the creation of the reading device? As few as fourteen? As  many as a hundred? Estimates vary.

Some would say that it depends on what kinds of devices the eBooks end up being read on.  If readers move to some kind of tablet that they use not only for reading but for accessing the Internet so that they no longer need a desktop or laptop, they'll be using a lot less equipment and the resources required to make them.

Some would say that it really just depends.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

New Interview On Self-Publishing Backlist Titles

Tanita Davis and Sarah Stevenson have posted an interview/conversation with me at their collaborative blog, Finding Wonderland: The Writing YA Weblog.  The subject? Self-publishing Saving the Planet & Stuff. Note the great intro story about finding a self-published gem among the SFF Cybil nominees a few years ago.

Time Management Tuesday: Is This Getting Closer To Discipline?

Last week I wrote about my confusion over how to form work habits that would support managing time. I understand the cue and routine that Charles Duhigg writes about in The Power Habit, but I don't know what reward writers get for working--just for working, itself--that will make us want to loop back to that cue that will send us to the routine that will lead us to...what reward?--and keep us working habitually.

Kelly McGonigal, who designed the Yoga Journal willpower program  we all took part in this past January (We did all do that, right?), has reservations about habits. In a talk she gave to a habit formation group, she says that habitual, nonthinking behavior works best for small tasks like brushing your teeth or taking medication--tasks that don't require a whole lot of us in the first place. She doesn't believe forming habits   works well for making what she calls "really freakin' hard changes," such as those necessary to overcome addiction or achieve weight loss.

Where managing time comes in here, I can't say. Is managing time more complex than remembering to brush and floss every morning? Is managing time a self-regulation/self-control issue and it's appropriate for me to be obsessing on how to better regulate it...or ourselves? Or is it merely a self-regulation/self-control issue for me?

In either case, here are some of McGonigal's thoughts on behavior that supports difficult change. Will it also support managing time?

"Want Power"--Remember what you actually want. (A goal?  I understand goals!) Also, be mindful of your choices and whether or not they address your goal.

Automatic Goal Pursuit--This is different from habit. You're trying to keep goals in mind instead of relying on automatic habits. You are always focusing on the goal, instead of behavior.

Distress Tolerance--Work on becoming comfortable with uncomfortable situations, the distress of wanting. For time management for writers, this could mean becoming comfortable with working alone, which could go a long way to control the "craving" or desire to keep checking your e-mail/Facebook wall hoping for some human contact.

Implementatons--We've already talked about implementations in relation to procrastination. Essentially, you're planning what you will do in certain situations. When I want to go to Facebook, I will check my timer to see how much time is left in my 45-minute work unit and work until the unit is done. If I still want to go to Facebook, I can go then. That is an implementation intention, my little lads and lasses.

Commitments--When faced with a challenge to our goal, have a rule we can rely on rather than habit. I have been invited to hike tomorrow. Tomorrow is a work day. Hiking won't get me closer to my goal, working will. Personally, I can see where a commitment would work better in the case of a real challenge than a habit.

As I listened to McGonigal, I wondered if a lot of what she was talking about would relate to discipline, which was what I was interested in pursuing last year but couldn't find any information about--at least in relation to time management.

She describes mindfulness, which she teaches, as being the opposite of habit. My thinking now is that habit may not be as good a way of creating a disciplined writer as some of these mindfulness-related techniques that McGonigal talks about. Yes, now I've got to read her book.

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Book Train Has Left My Station

The stars finally lined up correctly, and not only did I finally manage to get my book donation for Book Train pulled together and packaged, I actually got it to the post office today and mailed it.

Book Train is an organization/site begun by author Lynda Mullaly Hunt  "to connect people who are advocates for children and children’s literacy with people who will get book donations directly into the hands of kids." Specifically, into the hands of kids who are in foster care.

Right now, only two states are involved as far as distribution is concerned--Connecticut and Colorado. Books may be donated to those two states from anywhere in the country. Note that Book Train is looking for social workers in other states to distribute books.

I'd been planning to make a book donation ever since I heard about this program. I had to mail a book to another group last week, so I thought it would be time and energy efficient to create two packages at once. Or was I moved to finally do this because I'm reading The Language of Flowers with its protagonist who has just come out of the foster care system? Hmmm.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Weekend Links

This is an all self-pub Weekend Links.

Hugh Howey explains how the big Wool deal came about. This story will send tens--if not hundreds--of thousands of people into self-publishing.

John Winters has not had Hugh Howey's experience. Not even close. Tens--if not hundreds--of thousands of people should read this, but probably won't.

Hugh Howey kind of rebutts John Winters. I agree with a lot of what Howey has to say, except for the part about "learn your craft while producing material. You win over your fans directly."  He compares learning to write with learning to play a musical instrument and perform with same. "How many people teach themselves to play the guitar? We celebrate this, don’t we?"..."They go on to strum on the sidewalk with a hat by their feet much like someone might blog and hope for a donation. They play small venues on open-mic nights that we can think of as free books on Smashwords. They get a few paying gigs, which is like self-publishing on Amazon." He carries the comparison on until he gets to "This is how artists are born. They are self-made. They perform for people. They learn and improve as they do both."

Here's the big difference that he's not considering: Musicians may be learning performance and improving their performance as they perform but they have to have learned some kind of skill before that point or they aren't going to get many opportunities to perform in the first place, even on sidewalks. What's more, because we're talking performance, once that performance is over, it's gone. (Unless someone records it on their iPhones, of course. But try to see my point.) They are able to practice performance in public, but also somewhat privately because in most cases the public can't go over and over what they did and keep assessing it. With writers, it's different. You've committed something to paper or you've digitized it and the public has it and can keep looking at it. While everyone should continue to learn and improve throughout a career, if you are taking the attitude that it's appropriate for you to truly learn to write while you are publishing, then the public can be reminded over and over that your writing wasn't of professional quality with that first book. That you weren't really that good with the second one. Malcolm Gladwell writes in Outliers about how many hours the Beatles spent performing before they hit the big time. But they were performing in a strip club in Germany. How many people were able to hear those performances after the fact? The Beatles actually had a certain amount of privacy in which to perfect their performance skills. Personally, I think writers ought to consider looking for a similar type of privacy to learn their craft.

The Self-Published Authors Share 5 Things They Learned in 2012 series at Live Write Thrive Note that a few of these people stress the need for editing.

Some info on self-publishing in paper  from Maria Murnane

Info on making digital picture books at e is for book

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Hunting For Your Story With Setting

Okay, before we broke for Easter, we were hunting for our story using character. By "story," we mean something that happens to somebody and its significance. Sometimes the "idea" that moves us to write something isn't that actual story but merely a scene or situation.  The theory we're working with here (and which helped me to write my last two, granted unpublished, books) is that developing the elements of fiction--character, setting, point of view, theme, and plot--can generate the material that will finally make the story, the something that happens to somebody and so what, clear. And once we know the story, we go back to the elements again and develop them still more. It's a back and forth process.

So, this week, we will talk about setting. Why? How can setting help us come up with ideas for what might happen to characters and what that event might mean? Because certain things can only happen in certain places. So once you have setting pinned down, you're in a better position to start thinking about what could happen there and to whom it could happen.

And, remember, setting isn't just about location. It's also about time. Thus, if you're thinking about a setting in the past, that will help to narrow down what can happen in that time. It will help to narrow what kinds of characters can exist then. If you're thinking about a setting in the future, it will broaden what can happen there or who can exist there. Or will it? Got to think about that one.

If you're thinking about working in genre, a setting in a fantasy world or on a space station impacts to a huge degree what kinds of things will be able to happen in your story. A setting in a culture at war vs. in a twenty-first century high school or office will mean very different events and characters. Or, again, will it? Hmm. Deep.

Think about sense of place while developing this material. Think about world building.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Out And About In April

 I have a couple of outings coming up this month.

First off, next Wednesday I'll be at the Norwich Free Academy Book Expo in Norwich, Connecticut. This expo starts at 6:30 in the Norwich Free Academy's Edwin H. Land Library and will feature eleven NFA and Connecticut authors.

Then you may have noticed the World Book Night logo to your left. If you haven't, notice it now. I am a giver at this year's World Book Night on Tuesday, April 23. I'll be distributing copies of  The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh to residents and staff at a skilled nursing facility. This book has been checked out at my library for weeks, so I had to buy my own copy today so I can read it before the big night.

I will report back on both events. I hope to have pictures.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

An Earth Day Story Book Launch

Linda Crotta Brennan's newest book,When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story, will have its official book launch on Sunday, April 21, the day before Earth Day. The event will be held at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island's Environmental Education Center from 1 to 4 PM. There will be a book discussion, question and answer session, and book signing. A dollar from every purchase made that day will be donated to the Earth Day Network.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Now I'm Confused About Work Habits

I'm interested in work habits, hoping that I can use them--good ones, anyway--as an external support for willpower. We all want something that will help us to stay on task. What I've liked about habits/routines (when I've had them) in my own life, is that I find them time and energy saving in an additional way because I'm not wasting time and energy on making decisions about what I'm going to do, when I'm going to do something, etc.  Thus, I am dragging you into this habit obse--arc.

I've been reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg and have spent much of the past week confused. The Power of Habit definitely isn't a self-help book that will aid individuals (this individual, anyway) in managing their own behavior. It's more of a big picture type of thing. In fact, it reminds me of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, using narrative nonfiction bits to illustrate factual material relating to general concepts. In the case of The Power of Habit, there's a lot of information on how habits impact businesses and social interactions/societies. Not great amounts of material that we can apply to the issue of work habits. And, as I said, what I did find and tried to apply, ended up confusing me.

 Duhigg writes about "habit loops." A habit, as he describes it, is triggered by a cue (often a time of day), we go through a routine (the activity of the habit), and receive some kind of reward for it. Because we were rewarded, the cue sets off the routine again.

You can see how a habit loop forms with physical habits--eating in front of the TV, feeling uncomfortable if you haven't done your morning workout, for instance. The reward in those cases is physical, the way your body feels. You can also see the loop clearly in any habit that involves a reward you can actually observe or even touch. If, say, you are twelve-years-old and you have fallen into the habit of spending your allowance on comic books as soon as you receive it or you are a nineteenth century laborer and you have fallen into the habit of stopping at a bar on the way home on pay day, it's pretty obvious how those actions came to be repeated until they became the habit.

Work habits, particularly for writers, seem different to me because the reward doesn't come immediately, and that's what threw me this past week. Isn't the obvious work reward payment or advancement in your field of work? They don't come all that frequently, so how does a worker form habits around them?

And for writers, payment can come very rarely, indeed. Royalty checks only come a couple of times a year, and many writers don't receive them. They get their one-time advance, and since many books never sell enough to earn back that advance, that will be it. If I'm trying to use habits to help me manage my work time, how is that going to happen when my reward--payment--comes so rarely?

Now Duhigg writes about monkeys who will maintain a habit after their reward is no longer coming, because they've come to crave the reward. He talks about the "power of cravings in creating habits." But, once again, is the occasional advance going to happen frequently enough for us to get used to it and crave more? Crave it enough to keep us working regularly?

Perhaps money isn't the cue, I decided. Maybe it's just publication, because many of us publish work at journals that don't pay. Publication can come more frequently than payment, so maybe publication is the reward that creates a craving. Again, though, it doesn't come very often compared to the amount of work we have to do to get it. Is it really enough of a reward to help us form a work habit?

I decided that maybe I was being too literal  with the whole reward thing. Maybe I needed to be more mindful in terms of work, stay focused on the work itself, instead of something that may or may not happen (publication and payment) somewhere in the future. A fantasy future, the zenny ones might say. Maybe, for writers, at least, the work has to be the reward. Can the knowledge that work is being done  be satisfying enough to be the reward for a work behavior? Is that how we form work habits?

I suspect that that reward may be enough for some workers, but not all. And that may explain why not everyone has so-called "good" work habits.
Duhigg provides a flow chart at his blog on changing a habit. He said he was going to post one on creating a habit as well. Unfortunately, he never created a blogging habit and hasn't updated in four months.

Next week: We consider whether or not I've been going down the wrong road with this whole habit thing.

Monday, April 01, 2013

World Class World Building

In his Author's Acknowledgments at the end of Dodger, Terry Pratchett calls the book historical fantasy, not historical fiction, because he's tweaked some historical material. He moved some people who actually existed in the nineteenth century to a different point in the nineteenth century, for instance, and put the offices of a real newspaper on Fleet Street because he couldn't determine where it actually was located. I suspect there are many historical novelists who've done far worse without flinching and got nowhere near as good a result as Pratchett gets here.

Dodger is an amazing combination of character and setting. The plot, maybe, is a little simple. To me, the most fantastical element in the book is the way the wonderful Dodger makes his way up the ladder in life. However, that may be a play on the work of Charles Dickens, whose books I have very little knowledge of. Dickens appears as a character in Dodger, and I'm making an assumption that Dodger was inspired by Dickens' own Artful Dodger. Though that's a stretch for me because I haven't read the book in which he appears. Dodger's success in life, as a result of his own resourcefulness, innate talent, and goodness, may also be something that occurs in nineteenth century English fiction. Just guessing.

You often read about world building in science fiction and fantasy. But every book has an imaginary world, even if it's set in 2013 America. Historical novels, in particular, have worlds that require intense work. Dodger's is incredible. You have place, you have sociology, you have language, you have clothing, you have attitude. You have everything you require for a world.

I rarely think to comment on covers. But I've noticed that Tanita Davis and Sarah Stevenson do at Finding Wonderland, and I do have some thoughts about Dodger's. While the American cover (see above) makes for a beautiful book object, I think it's misleading. The character looks very young. He's around seventeen in the book, and while he seems inexperienced in terms of not knowing the ways of the moneyed classes, he is, in his own way, a man of the world. That's why he's able to do the things he does.
The British cover may be less attractive, but I think it gives a better feeling of the character.