Friday, May 31, 2013

Francelia Butler--Leading Figure In Bringing Recognition To The Field Of Children's Literature

In days of old, the male dominated academic world often viewed children's literature as inferior, in part because it was taught primarily in library science and education programs, and those fields were seen as belonging to women. Francelia Butler, a professor at the University of Connecticut from the mid-sixties to the early nineties, was instrumental in bringing children's literature into its own academic discipline. In addition to her many years of teaching, Butler founded Children’s Literature Journal,  helped to form the children’s literature division of the Modern Language Association, and was a founding director of the Children's Literature Association, which appears to sponsor a Francelia Butler Lecture. She also began a festival that would eventually become Peace First

Additionally, Butler wrote 40 versions of her autobiography, The Melted Refrigerator. One of those versions has been edited by Norman Stevens, UConn Libraries Director Emeritus, and Jessica Fontaine, a Hollins University graduate student in children's literature. The Melted Refrigerator was released on April 28th, the 100th anniversary of Butler's birth.

I have mentioned Francelia Butler here before. I didn't know her, but I did work in UConn's College of Extended and Continuing Education (which may not exist anymore) while she was still teaching in the regular academic program. I was there the semester she brought Margaret Hamilton to campus. I was aware of the great popularity of her children's literature course. I also picked up on some of the struggle she faced at various times.

Several years ago, I stopped using the terms "kidlit" and "kiddie lit" in the text of my blog (It still appears in the masthead for the sake of continuity, but I'm wondering just how important that is.) because of Francelia Butler. A blogger friend pointed out the history of the term and how it was used to limit women and children's lit because children's lit was considered part of the world of women. This, of course, reminded me of my history walking the same campus Francelia Butler walked, at the same time, in fact, that she was walking it.

Using the terms "kidlit" and "kiddie lit" is liking using the word "girl" for an adult woman. People who came before me worked hard so that I could be taken seriously. I shouldn't throw that away.

Needless to say, I was very interested to hear about the publication of The Melted Refrigerator. Happy birthday, Professor Butler.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

June Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

We have three multi-author events in Connecticut in June.

Sat., June 1, Wendell Minor, Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, Signing, 1 to 3 PM

Sat., June 1, Lisa Greenwald, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM

Thurs., June 6, Tommy Greenwald and Lauren Tarsis, Barnes & Noble, Westport, Panel discussion, 6:00 PM

Thurs., June 6, J.C. Phillipps, Lucy Robbins Welles Library, Newington,  Writing and Publishing Kidlit (For adults), 7 PM

Sat., June 8, Dawn Metcalf, Tolland Public Library, Tolland,  Speaking on The Wild, Wonderful World of Writing Young Adult Literature. Registration required, 11 AM

Sat. June 8, J. C. Phillipps, Lucy Robbins Welles Library, Newington,  Monkey Ono Party (For kids), 1 PM

Tues., June 11, Annabel Monaghan, Westport Public Library, Westport, Speaking , 7:30 PM

Sat., June 15, Christina Cody, Sheila Adams, Lisa Saunders, Cassandra Giovanni, MJ Allaire, Bank Square Books, Mystic, 11 AM

Sun., June 16, Anna Banks, Leigh Bardugo, Jessica Brody, Emmy Laybourne, and Gennifer Albin, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Fierce Reads Tour, 4:00 PM 

Thurs., June 20, Henry Winkler, One Big Summer Night, Connecticut Convention Center, Hartford, Fundraiser for Hartford Public Library, ticketed event, 5:30 PM

Sun., June 23, Catherine A. Welch, Southbury Public Library, Southbury, Local Author Open House, 2PM to 4 PM

Leigh Bardugo and Emmy Laybourne, who are part of the Fierce Reads Tour at R.J. Julia on June 16th, both have books reviewed in the May/June Horn Book.

Finally, note that in the sidebar to the left we now have a link to the Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar. That link will bring you back to the CCLC so you can easily access it any time. It will no longer be buried in a month of blog posts.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Developing Some More Discipline

Last week's TMT post on discipline included the following:

"McGonigal even explains why meditating helps with self-control and attention, something I've been hearing about for years, though no one felt a need to explain why it would work. Meditating, it appears, develops the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain that deals with impulse control. Good impulse control helps people stay on task with goals. Find meditation difficult because your mind keeps wandering and you have to keep bringing it back to the breath? That's actually good, according to McGonigal. The effort to do that develops the brain just as physical effort develops muscles."

Later in the week, I happened to find an Aug., 2012 Yoga Journal open to Everybody's Meditating--Why Aren't You? somewhere in the house. I think on my desk, but I thought I'd been keeping it cleaner so I don't know how that could be. At any rate, this article related to a 28-day meditation training event similar to the Boost Your Willpower thing we all did this past January. (We did all do it, right?) Given what I'd just learned from reading The Willpower Instinct, this seemed as if the Universe was sending me a message. I find the Universe to usually be on the attack, but this is one of its more benign offerings, so I'm going to run with it.

So yesterday,  I started using YJ's Meditation Invitation to try to develop the ol' prefrontal cortex, hoping to become more disciplined and less likely to give in to the impulse to go on-line and see what's happening with Angelina Jolie. It appears that you can still sign up for the daily e-mails at the Meditation Invitation site, even though the program is from last year, because I did this morning and received a response.  However, you can also just follow the link to How To Sit to get to each week's videos and guided meditations.

Now, I'm feeling sort of goal-driven over this project, and I'm wondering if you're supposed to do that with meditation. So, we'll have to see how that goes.

Regarding the first week's guided meditation--If you have any experience with meditation at all, you might find it annoying to have someone chattering while you're trying to keep your mind on your breath. However, I'm a big believer in maintaining the mind of the beginner. We may find that the next few weeks' guidance will be different, and this intro week will make sense in relation to the others.

So I've had two days of meditation, each time a little under ten minutes. I wonder how things are going with my prefrontal cortex.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Weekend Links

We're into little bears here, so I was interested in this list of top 10 bear picture books at The Guardian.

Every time I pass on something here like Beware of Book Blurbs (Salon), I fear that I will one day have an agent or editor who will insist that I have to find some poor soul who will provide me with one. And yet I continue to pass them on.

The idea of a writing retreat is very attractive to me. I mean the kind where you really do live sort of like a monk for a while, not taking classes and networking, just writing and perhaps meeting in a critique group once or twice. (I would be willing to eat meals with the other writers. And not in silence. There's a limit to how far I'll carry the monk analogy.) I've never been to a retreat of this sort because of the time and expense involved. Plus, since I am alone in my house all day several days a week,  I get the feeling that the people around me view all my work days as a writing retreat. Given all that back story, you can understand why I had to read Planning Your Own Writing Retreat at Write It Sideways.

I've actually read three of Flavorwire's 25 Greatest Essay Collections of All Time.

I collect Twitter articles because I'm headin' there. Yes. I've made the decision to go over to Twitter because that's the social platform that makes all the difference. Plus, I read recently that writers should have 7 ways for readers to find them, and right now I have only 6. And they still can't find me. So, seriously, Twitter will make all the difference, right? Another back story that explains why I'm sending you to The Top Ten Most Prolific Authors On Twitter. Shoot. Looking at those slides has impressed upon me that I need a Twitter handle. I knew that, but I didn't know that. What I hadn't realized was that I'd also need a Twitter profile. Now I must angst over whether to go simple, direct, and straight to the point (Margaret Atwood) or reach for something endearing (Ian Rankin).

It's been a long time since I've posted anything here about Alloy and book packaging. According to Gwenda Bond in Pack(ag)ing It Up, Amazon has a licensing agreement with Alloy so it can publish fanfiction written around the worlds of books Alloy packages. Bond says she found the response to the Amazon/Alloy deal interesting because of "how few people immediately recognized these are all packaged properties. I have seen a lot of worry about the authors who created these characters getting money, and how the rights worked, and etc. etc. and I am reminded once again that lots of people--even savvy industry types--don't realize how prevalent packaging is in YA (and probably elsewhere too--I am most familiar with YA and so that's what I'm talking about here)." Her point is that for some of the series involved there isn't an author who will be impacted because the books are written by multiple people or that some of these authors are working for hire, so they don't have the some contractual intellectual property rights that other writers do. Read Bond's post. Gwenda will explain it all to you.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Hunting For Your Story With Theme

If a story is something that happens to somebody and its significance, which is how I define it, theme is a big part of the significance. It helps give a "so what" to the tale.

It's not unusual to hear writers say that they don't give much thought to theme until after they've finished a project. That was certainly the case with me in the early days. However, theme is particularly important in children's and YA writing because theme is part of what defines a children's/YA story versus an adult story. Simply having a child or teenage character does not automatically make a work one for children or teenagers. Even building a book around an experience a child/teenager could be expected to be part of doesn't automatically make it a children's/YA story.

For instance, a story about  child/YA protagonists observing their parents' divorce with a theme relating to the impact of a family breaking up on children can end up being a children's/YA book. A story about child/YA protagonists observing their parents divorce with a theme relating to the impact of a family breaking up on an adult, married couple is almost certainly going to be an adult book. Two similar situations can  end up being two very different books simply because of the theme.

How can theme help find a story? It probably shouldn't be the first element of fiction to be developed. If you have a situation and you've given some thought to characters and setting and from whom's point of view the story will be told, you can start thinking about the significance of  the whole mess in order to generate some more material. The more material you have, the more likely your story will appear.

Try to avoid thinking of theme as one word. As a general rule, with one word you're thinking of a topic, not a theme. "Love," for instance, is a topic. "The destructive nature of love," "the healing nature of love," "love as a redeeming force" could all function as themes. "Love," all by itself, doesn't give a writer much to work with. It's a very static thought. "The destructive nature of love" is far more dynamic. The energy in a dynamically stated theme helps move the story forward all by itself. Will someone be destroyed by love or will someone destroy someone else because of love? Writers starting out with either of those themes know something immediately about what will happen in their stories.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Connecticut Literary News

First off, the Connecticut Center for the Book is back. I didn't know it was gone, but according to an April Hartford Courant article, after four years with the Hartford Public Library, ending in 2011, it is now with Connecticut Humanities. While at the Hartford Public Library, the Connecticut Center for the book sponsored the Connecticut Book Awards. Right now Connecticut Humanities is rethinking an award. "Book awards are fraught with challenges," according to Amanada Roy, program officer for Public Humanities Programs for Connecticut Humanities told the Courant. "We need to recognize great work going on in Connecticut, but no matter how careful [the process], picking a winner is tough." She goes on to say, "We want to shine a light in the best way and make it as meaningful to authors seeking recognition as singling out just one."

Though the original hardcover edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff was a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award back in 2004, I have to say that I think moving away from an award to doing something that can support many Connecticut writers could be a very good thing, especially since the Connecticut Center for the Book, part of a nationwide program connected to the Library of Congress, is supposed to promote reading as well as writing. My understanding is that running awards can be expensive and time consuming. Perhaps that kind of energy could be spread around to benefit more people, whether writers or not.

In other news, Walter Wick, who is very much associated with Hartford in these parts, has a new Can You See What I See? book out this spring. He's profiled in the Hartford Courant's Walter Wick's World.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reduce This

Kelly at Stacked posted today on The Reductive Approach to YA. By this she means reducing all of YA to a few titles while discussing the field, always referring back to those few books when describing the whole genre. Stacked appears to be another blog that won't let me post comments, so I'm going to respond to it here.

Kelly was inspired by a recent New York Times review by A. J. Jacobs of Winger by Andrew Smith. In the review, Jacobs gives over the first three paragraphs to discussing John Green and "GreenLit," which he claims is the most popular of the "young adult genres." I'm not sure if he's correct about that, but that's not Kelly's point. Her point is that "Reducing an entire genre to one person's books as a source of comparison is limiting and reductive of the nuances, the depth, and the range of voices that exist within it." Before all discussion of YA was reduced to John Green, it was reduced to The Hunger Games. Before that it was reduced to Twilight.

I think where we see this kind of reduction happening most often is in articles and reviews written by people outside YA. By people like A.J. Jacobs, for instance, who wrote the very review under discussion. A. J. Jacobs is a legitimate, pretty well-known author. (I've heard of him, anyway.) But he writes adult nonfiction of the George Plimpton, "participatory" journalism type. I may be being reductive by comparing his type of writing to George Plimpton, but what I mean to say is that Jacobs doesn't write YA fiction, which was what he was reviewing. People who review a type of writing that they don't work with themselves don't have much of a context for their judgements. If they want to do a compare and/or contrast thing, their breadth of knowledge upon which to draw may be pretty narrow. Thus they have to reduce everything to the one big selling book or author they know. There is a certain logic at work here.

When I finished reading the Winger review, I wondered why the NYT didn't get someone from within YA to review that book. Someone, say, like John Green?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

It's Like An Archaeological Dig

I am working on a project that I've tried starting twice before. This goes back to at least 2005. The book involves some research, which is where I started both times in the past. I collected a lot of stuff each time I tried to get started and continued collecting things off an on even when I wasn't working on the job.

Everything went into a box. You know, because that seemed like a tidy and efficient thing to do.

Well, these last two weeks I've been pulling things out of the box (which we will call the Egypt Box), one or two at a time, and going through them. There were notes, some National Geographics, some Discover magazines, a New Yorker. There was a metal pencil case in the shape of a mummy case that once belonged to one of my kids. Oh, wait! There are two of them! Nearly unused! Clearly, neither kid liked them much.There's an unopened DVD.

I didn't sort through the box in this most recent work effort. I just took things off the top. This afternoon I found books. Two of them. I bought books for this project.

I don't know what else is in the Egypt Box because now I don't want to know ahead of time. I want to just keep pulling one surprise out after another, as I come to them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Seeking Discipline

Early on in my time management study I became interested in discipline, how becoming disciplined can help us manage time. (It probably would help us manage just about everything else in our lives, but I only discuss time management at this blog.) What I didn't do when I was mulling over discipline was carefully define it. That is always a mistake in my experience. Discipline, as it turns out, involves training and maintaining behavior through control. That is a disturbing idea if you're applying it to others. Personally, I love it when applying it to myself. I love the whole idea of training. I'm shakier on the control part, as in self-control, but, hey, that's something I can train for, right?

Which brings us to The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More Of It by Kelly McGonigal. I mentioned McGonigal's name so frequently in the Situational Time Management Workshop I led earlier this month that I finally suggested we could use the name as the basis of a drinking game. The fact that I would even think of such a thing indicates that I need a whole lot more discipline and self-control.

McGonigal never actually writes about time management. She writes about goals of all kinds, especially those involving changing behavior, and using willpower to achieve them. Well, managing time is both goal and behavior.  There are a number of things she has to say that can apply to managing time, particularly for writers.

A few examples:
  • People who are distracted have poor impulse control and are less likely to be able to stay on long-term goals. Many writers work out of their homes and have trouble maintaining a strong barrier between their professional and personal lives. Personal life distractions undermine our ability to stay on task.
  • Thinking in terms of being "good" or "bad" relating to a goal undermines willpower. For instance, having been "good" and accomplishing a great deal this morning can be used as justification for being "bad" and not working this afternoon.
  • We tend to think of the future as a wonderful place where we will accomplish great things. Thus, believing we'll feel more like working tomorrow or will get a lot done tomorrow justifies taking today off.
  • Willpower failures and successes are contagious. A strong argument for writers' groups and group writing projects like NaNoWriMo.
  • Giving in to the What-the-Hell-Effect when experiencing setbacks. We  actually lose valuable work time when that happens.
McGonigal even explains why meditating helps with self-control and attention, something I've been hearing about for years, though no one felt a need to explain why it would work. Meditating, it appears, develops the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain that deals with impulse control. Good impulse control helps people stay on task with goals. Find meditation difficult because your mind keeps wandering and you have to keep bringing it back to the breath? That's actually good, according to McGonigal. The effort to do that develops the brain just as physical effort develops muscles.

This book has masses of material that can be applied to managing writing time, even though it's not about managing writing time at all. It's a marvelous aid for those of us who are interested in training for self-control.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Brushing Up On Plotting For The May Days Project

My May Days project involves coming up with an outline for a book I've been thinking about writing for, maybe, ten years. I got started with research and a few notes twice. But with my last few writing projects, I've been trying to get away from the organic writer thing and do more pre-writing plotting. So that's what's happening this month with this latest shot at this book.

Sometime before I wrote my last, for the time being, unpublished book, I invested in a copy of Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. As a result, I've been very interested in plots starting with a disturbance to the main character's world, which he writes about. I really don't care for the give-characters-a-problem thing that I've heard so much about, but a disturbance to their world makes perfect sense to me. In fact, that's how almost all my books began before I'd even heard anything about disturbing a world. Disturbing people may come naturally to me.

Needless to say, that's how my May Days project is starting, with a disturbance.

Looking at my Plot & Structure notes this morning, I saw that Bell talks about plot patterns. I have three significant characters, and I'm going to try to give each one of them a different pattern, which is more or less their goal. For instance, one character's plot pattern/goal is revenge, the second's is a quest, and the third's is what Bell calls "one apart"--a loner who is forced to act.

Now, sometime in the past I found the following story structure plan at a website called Storyfix. It involves thinking of your plot as having four parts with a mid-point.

Part 1. Set up.

Part 2. Collecting information. Either the author, or the protagonist  Some people will talk about complications at this point in a story, but as an organic writer, that leaves me wondering “What complications? Where am I supposed to get those?” Sending my character out to collect more information about what’s happening to her or her world, makes more sense to me and it’s phrased dynamically.

Mid-point—Plot twist or maybe moment where protagonist changes

Part 3. Protagonist uses information

Part 4. Ending

I like this structure because it is so simple. And it tells me what to do. And it is a structure, not a formula, like the give-your-character-something-to-want-and-then-keep-it-from-her thing that I have also heard a lot of in the past.

So this is what I'm working on this month with my May Days project.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Weekend Links

So you've probably all seen that gas pump video from the Tonight Show by now. Old news. And you've probably heard that there is some question as to how authentic it was. If not, check out How Much Lying Is OK on Late Night? at Slate. Why does this make my Weekend Links post, you're wondering? The author, David Haglund, claims that "... when humor’s involved, people grant a lot more latitude. David Foster Wallace’s unacknowledged use of composite characters in his very funny pieces for Harper’s and elsewhere disappointed some people, but it has not really besmirched his reputation. David Sedaris fictionalizes his “nonfiction” considerably, and yet when this is pointed out, most people shrug." This is of interest to me because I write essays, though they aren't all particularly funny. Haglund also says "that people seem to hold writing to a higher standard than storytelling on screen or on a stage." Which may be true, but it didn't seem to fit in with the rest of his essay.

In When Fanfiction Took Over Children's Publishing at Oz and Ends, J.L. Bell comments on Peter Rabbit and the Tale of a Fierce Bad Publisher in the new issue of The Horn Book. (This is a really good article, by the way.) He concludes, " appears the British children’s literature establishment has turned to fanfiction."

Also on the subject of fanfiction: 10 famous authors who write fan fiction at The Daily Dot.

Tanita Davis did a link roundup Friday at Finding Wonderland, which is how I found Diversity 101: Who's That Fat Kid? at CBS Diversity. I do have an overweight character in an unsold manuscript, and I'm going to be rethinking how I deal with him as a result of reading this article.

I got started on Google+ a couple of months ago. As with every other form of social media that isn't blogging, I'm finding it underwhelming. Seven Ways Writers Can Build Online Authority with Google+ makes me feel that perhaps I'm the one who's underwhelming.

Jules at Seven Imps writes about a picture book she hopes won't be written off as another book about bullies, Ben Rides On.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Weekend Writer: More On Hunting For Your Story With Setting

I'm going to write a little more about hunting for your story (something that happens to somebody and its significance) with setting, because I recently finished reading a book that illustrates my point. Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley is the most recent of the Flavia de Luce books. They're written for the adult market, but their protagonist, Flavia, is eleven years old, making them appropriate material for Original Content.

These books are very, very dependent upon their historical setting. As I wrote after reading the first one:

"Setting this book in 1950 was a stroke of genius. Flavia is a bit over-the-top. Oh, hell, she's a lot of over-the-top, which is what makes her so marvelous. But no one could begin to believe she could exist in the twenty-first century. Her extensive knowledge of...all kinds of things...could only be acquired in a world without TV, malls, dance lessons, sports, and, it would seem, traditional schooling. (School is never mentioned.) And, for me, a big stumbling block with child mysteries is the fact that kids can't get around places on their own. But Flavia's always jumping on her old bike and pedaling off all over the place. It's believable in a pre-suburban world. I have ridden my bike to the library and even a church tag sale, but it's a huge undertaking, taking a big chunk out of my day. Traffic being what it is, I'm taking my life in my hands every time I do it. But in Flavia's world, it works."

Readers accept this quite unbelievable child because her stories are set in the past, and we believe things were different in days of old. We're more willing to accept Flavia's apparently self-taught brilliance because we can accept that children in the past may well have worked harder on their own and achieved more that way. If these books were set in the here and now, Flavia wouldn't work. Her wandering all over town on her own wouldn't work in the twentieth century, either, because in our culture we would fear for unsupervised children. But the past, we think, was safer--even though in every book Flavia is nearly killed. We Americans also have this image of England, especially England in the past, as being a small place with villages close together. We believe a child could bike from one village to another. Could she bike from one suburban town to another in 2013? Not where I live.

Placing those books in 1950's England has a big, big impact on the story and what can happen in the story.

Think, also, of eleven/twelve-year-old characters in fantasies. They do ridiculously unbelievable things--lead others in battle...defeat gods...escape from repressive governments. But the fantasy settings are ridiculously unbelievable to begin with. Once that setting is established, the writers can make things happen that they couldn't make happen in a real-world setting.

Related to setting is place. Check out The Five Pillars of Place at Ploughshares.

So, the point here is work on your setting to help you determine what is going to happen to whom and its significance.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Last Artemis Fowl

I've had a very up-and-down relationship with the Artemis Fowl books. I was enthusiastic about the first book. Though I loved Holly Short in book two, I thought there were issues with point of view. Third book...disappointing. Evidently I didn't even want to write anything here about the fourth book. With the fifth book, I was happy again. Happier, anyway. It appears that I missed book six and wasn't crazy about book seven. 

Was there a book in which Artemis went into space?

Oh, well, the series/serial is done now, and the wrap up, The Last Guardian, is quite good. We do have the choppy story line in which we swing back and forth between worlds/characters, which has appeared in earlier books. The side trip regarding Foaly's wife seemed totally unnecessary, for instance. It did give us a chance to be with Foaly, though, and who doesn't like Foaly? I also liked Artie's little brothers. Does anyone else see potential for an early reader series about criminal genius preschoolers?

The Artemis Fowl books are fantasy thrillers with humor, and with this concluding volume we are provided with a big thrilling threat for Artie to overcome. I think the actual ending of the book gives readers a chance to have their cake and eat it, too, which I'm not complaining about.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Environmental Book Club

A few years ago, the Nature Conservancy ran an article at its website on a "green book club" that had been meeting for ten years. As a former member of a book club (I was one of the two people who started it), I can say that the ten years part is pretty remarkable, particularly since the group read "nonfiction with a conservation focus." I am a little bit crunchy, but I would be hard put to make my way through 110 books of that type, as the woman representing the club said they have.

A green book club for kids seems a little on the improving side, but if you want to try it, or just bring a few greenish books into your home, The Nature Generation's Green Earth Book Award winners and honor books seem to offer a variety of titles over a range of ages. However, the website doesn't appear to maintain a list of former winners. Here's some help:

2007 winners

2008 winners

2009 winners

2010 winners

2011 winners

2012 winners

2013 winners

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May Is Short Story Month. That Kind Of Got By Me.

It has come to my attention that May is Short Story Month. Unfortunately, the month is half gone. If I'd only realized this was coming up, I would have planned my May Days project around writing short stories. I must make a note for next year. And put it someplace where I have a prayer of finding it.

The Emerging Writers Network is getting into this in a big way. The Oxford University Press provided a reading list. The Missouri Review is highlighting a short story every day at its blog. In fact, Short Story Month is all over the Internet.

This seems like an appropriate time to remind everyone of my short story publication this year, Rosemary and Olive Oil, at Alimentum.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: The May Days Set-Aside Time And The What-the-Hell Effect

Well, my May Days experience has not been all I'd hoped for.

The conference I attended at the beginning of the month didn't cut into my May Days project work time all that much, since I was home one day and worked on it during a three-hour workshop at the conference on Sunday as well. However, those five days I spent getting sicker and sicker last week were definitely not part of the plan. I did May Days work three of them, at least once with a laptop in bed, but then lost the rest of the week, any hope of squeezing some time in on the weekend, and yesterday, too. As our May Days leader pointed out yesterday at our Facebook page, we've reached the halfway point for this project.  I  think I have nearly four pages of intro and a number of pages of notes for characters and scenes. 

Back in February, I wrote here about the What-the-Hell Effect. My understanding of the phenomena suggests that guilt over willpower/discipline setbacks is the big instigator in the "What-the-Hell Effect"--individuals feel guilt and frustration, a little self-hate, maybe, over what they see as their lack of ability to stay on task and figure, What's the point? What the Hell, this initiative is shot, I might as well give in.

I'm not feeling guilty over picking up a bacterium. However, losing time for any reason is always a frustrating setback. In this case, the loss isn't just related to The May Days, but to every other work and personal task I needed to do these past six days. This May did not work out the way it was supposed to. Things are not the way they were supposed to be. Since The May Days can't be what I'd planned, should I accept that they're a lost cause?

Well, that's a pointless question for me, because I'm too obsessive to give up on a short-term project like this. I said I was going to do this for a month, and I'll do it for a month, if I have to finish it on my knees. Or in bed, as I did last week. But for those readers who want to make a more rational decision, consider this:.

I still have a half a month.

Yes, we can do some rah-rah talk here, get a little Zenny about putting last week into the past (which, you know, is where it is), but the hard fact is that giving in to the "What-the-Hell Effect" in this case means losing half a month of work. When we're talking about time management, giving in to the "What-the-Hell Effect" always means losing the time we would have worked if we had picked ourselves up off the mat after our discipline slip and kept going.

To make a long story short, I'll be working for a while on my May Days project today.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Recovery Period

I haven't posted for a few days, because I "haven't been well." I spent around four hours this morning in an ER and   was happy to be there.  The best part of my week by far. I'll continue not posting while I recover.

Posted on my iPhone from my couch where I am watching an old Big Bang Theory.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Can You Catch Willpower/Discipline From Others?

In her book The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, Kelly McGonigal (Cheers! My workshop participants will get that joke.) says, "Willpower failures may be contagious, but you can also catch self-control."

According to McGonigal, studies show that "behaviors we typically view as being under self-control are, in important ways, under social control as well." We are influenced by others in any particular group we are part of at any particular moment. Are you trying to control your eating or drinking? How does that work for you when you are out with a group of people who are really, really enjoying their food and drink? Trying to control your spending? You might want to be careful about whom you go shopping with. If you're with someone who either doesn't live with the same financial constraints you do, or just doesn't care, you can easily find yourself spending more than you wanted to because when you're with others who are doing it, it can seem like a great idea. But maybe not so much later when you're by yourself again.

This is one of the reasons obesity seems to "run" in families. In fact, McGonigal claims that a woman with an obese sister has a 67 percent increased risk of becoming obese herself. It's not so high for men with obese brothers--their risk is just 45 percent. (No, I do not know why.) Additionally, though, having a friend become obese increases an individual's risk of becoming obese, too. By a whopping 171 percent. Thus we're not just talking genetics here. It's the influence of a group. Willpower failure spreads among people.

We have mirror neurons in the brain that keep track of what others are doing. You can see why this would be a good survival mechanism for evolving humans who wanted to be part of a group to increase their chances of survival. Mirror neurons are part of the spread of willpower failure because they make us unintentionally mimic others who are not staying on task with their willpower goals, they mirror and spread emotion (poor moral in an office, for example--"Let's close up early and get out of this place."), and they mirror and spread temptation ("Everyone on Facebook is talking about that book. I should read that today to keep up instead of working.")

On the other hand, though, goals can spread from person to person, too. Yup, there's a term for this. "Goal Contagion." McGonigal says that research indicates that we can catch another person's goals and change our behavior by doing so. Some of this can come about just by reading or thinking about someone. Fortunately, goal contagion is limited to goals we already share somehow. We're unlikely to "catch"  goals to invest heavily in stocks or throw over our workaday lives and take a couple of years to travel the globe unless those were things we'd wanted to do somewhere at the back of our minds, anyway.

What does this have to do with managing time, particularly managing time for writers? The May Days, people! National Novel Writing Month! Your writers' groups. All these group initiatives involve setting aside time (a month, a meeting every week or two) and pulling people together with the hope that we will "catch" initiative, work ethic, etc., from each other. That we will catch each others' goals.

When the groups don't work, it's because not enough individuals were able to stay on their goals, giving others something to mirror. Remember, willpower/discipline failure spreads. But when they do work, it's because a big enough percentage of the group stayed on task--to any extent--and contributed to the discussion, and those people were able to provide something for others to catch. Because, remember, goals are contagious.

Monday, May 06, 2013

I Know, I Know. You're All Anxiously Waiting To Hear How My Weekend Went.

That's my weekend at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference. And you are all waiting to hear, right? I hope so, because that's what's coming.

First off, the workshop I led on Friday, Situational Time Management, appeared to go very well. Dinner was soon afterward, and I did not feel a need to spend every cent I had with me at the cash bar. Though I did spend some.

Earlier in the day, I attended a workshop called Keyword By Word: Create a Plan to Brand, Sell, and Promote Your Novel, which was led by A.C. Gaughen and Hilary Weisman Graham. This was notable because, in my experience, dual presenters don't always work that well. They can sound awkward and uncomfortable. In this case, they worked very well indeed. I think the difference was that Annie and Hilary had plenty of material and good mastery of it. They also clearly had a plan. They weren't just up there winging it. Keep this in mind, people, if you are ever tempted to offer to run a workshop with a friend.

I am including this shot of the Faculty Dinner on Friday night just to prove I was invited and was there. 

Oh, and get this! I am seated at a table and, there, across the room, I see a familiar face. Our eyes lock. It was...Leila Roy from bookshelves of doom! I shoved my way through all the other diners so we could meet in the real world. I actually had someone take our picture together. Unfortunately, in it I look like, well, let's say I look like Leila's hip aunt who is much younger than her mother but way shorter than Leila. Yeah. Let's say that. So we're not publishing that.

Later that evening, while doing my version of mingling, I met Charlotte from Charlotte's Library. In this case, she recognized me, probably because I look like Leila Roy's hip, short aunt. 

Seriously, I was delighted to run into both of them. 

I am including a shot of the interior of the Sheraton in Springfield. This was the view from the door of my room. Marlo Garnsworthy, a Facebook friend whom I met for real in the elevator this past weekend, has a much better picture of this scene on her Facebook page. I love the view because it looks like something out of a sci fi movie.

Friday night roommate Erin Dionne and I met on Facebook after we got our room assignment, so we weren't total strangers. An absolutely lovely woman.

I headed home on Saturday morning for a number of reasons. Late Saturday afternoon, I started a 4-hour shift doing some ground work for my May Days project, which I wanted to take back to the conference the next day for the three-hour Advanced Plotting workshop I was signed up for. Chris Eboch led this. It was the best craft workshop I've ever taken. We ended up doing a short, on-the-spot writers' group during it. It's been years since I've been able to be part of a writers' group. This one was fantastic. At some point I'll cover writers' groups as part of my Weekend Writers series, and I'll discuss why this one was so good.

I finished the day with Lynda Mullaly Hunt who led the workshop Researching Agents in Order to Find the Right Match for You. This was another excellent workshop because, like everything else I attended this weekend, the leader actually knew her subject and had lots of material participants could walk away with.

Are you seeing a recurring motif here? I mean, as far as the workshops are concerned, not as far as my meeting and greeting people and hitting the cash bar goes? Yeah, I like workshops with lots of material organized in a meaningful way.

One last piece of info to pass along--images of the faculty member's book covers kept coming up on two screens in the ballroom where we ate lunch. Yes, yes, that's right. I got up and stood in front of the screen until mine came up again so I could get this picture. 

A few other blog posts on the conference (many with better pictures):

Jeannine Atkins 
Sarah Albee
Kelly Ramsdell
Jo Knowles

These are just the blogs I could easily find on my Facebook wall. Feel free to add your NESCBWI conference posts in the comments.


Saturday, May 04, 2013

Situational Time Management Workshop References

On Friday, May 3, I taught a Situational Time Management workshop at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference. This post contains information related to the writers and people I referred to during the workshop and is here for the benefit of participants and anyone else who is interested. The author materials are listed in the order they appeared in during the workshop.

Francesco Cirillo,  The Pomodoro Technique

Ellen Sussman, A Writer's Daily Habit: Four Steps to Higher Productivity, Poets & Writers, Nov./Dec., 2011

Herbert Benson, The Breakout Principle  Article about: Oprah

Dorothy Duff Brown  Post about with links to videos: Original Content

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

Kelly McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct  Articles and book excerpts  Psychology Today blog

Timothy Pychyl, The Procrastinator's Digest  Psychology Today blog

Alan Lakein, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life  About the Swiss Cheese Method of Time Management

Susan K. Perry, Writing in Flow

Frank Gilbreth Lillian Gilbreth  Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, Cheaper by the Dozen

Hersey Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory

Charles DuhiggThe Power of Habit

Friday, May 03, 2013

The Weekend Ahead

I am leaving in a few hours to attend the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators regional conference, where I will be running a workshop this afternoon on situational time management. Sometime this weekend I'll be putting up a post dealing with references for the workshop. Beyond that, I don't expect to be active here.

I guess I'd better go finish getting ready.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Seriously, You Can Make Things Out Of Your Trash

In Saving the Planet & Stuff there is a recurring storyline about all the things Walt and Nora have been saving in their spare bedroom because they were dead certain that it was all useful. (Like hoarding, but different.) Michael is set to work finding useful and attractive projects to turn what he believes to be trash into...something else.

This isn't some far-fetched idea or an old one from back in my wish-I-were-a-hippy days. This kind of thing is going on right now. As I right these words, someone is making something out of plastic bags.

Check out Danny Seo turns trash into treasures in "Upcycling Celebrations" in the Los Angeles Times.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Where Was I In April?

I made a few appearances around the Web last month.

Finding Wonderland: The Writing YA Weblog An Author's Take on Self-Publishing

City Muse, Country Muse April 2013 Carnival of Children's Literature

The Book Designer Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #31

The Bibliophilic Book Blog Interview with Gail Gauthier

Thank you to all these bloggers.