Wednesday, July 31, 2013

August Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

 This is a slow month for children's literature in Connecticut. However, as you'll see below, we do have ice cream.

Sat., Aug. 3, Pamela Zagarenski, Bank Square Books, Mystic 3:00 to 5:00 PM

Sat., Aug. 10, Elise Broach, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 2:00 to 4:00 PM Suspense writing workshop for children. Ticketed event with fee.

Thurs., Aug. 13, Dawn Metcalf, Collins Creamery, Enfield, 7:00 PM Ice cream and signing for new release, Indelible

Sat., Aug. 17, Robert Skead, Barnes and Noble, Danbury, 2:00 PM

Sat., Aug. 17, Anthony Paolucci, Monte Cristo Bookshop, New London, 1:00 PM

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Summer Reading--The Word We've Been Looking For Is Metrics

Today's essay from Manage Your Day-to-Day is Scheduling In Time For Creative Thinking by Cal Newport.  Newport's big issue in his essay is the cost of distraction, by which he's talking about people in organizations who are "asked to be constantly available by e-mail and messenger and in meetings--an administrative goal that creates constant distraction." He believes this situation comes about because there's no "clear metrics in the knowledge work sector"...there's no "clear evidence of exactly how much the behavior is costing the organization."  I'm assuming there is also no clear evidence of exactly how much the behavior is producing for the organization, either.

Business metric--"a raw measurement of a business process." Good to know.

How Do Metrics Relate to Writers?

The term "metric" puts a nice label on the problem writers deal with in terms of their reactive work--all the noncreative work we do in reaction to publishing (marketing) or to inquiries for appearances (hmm, still marketing) or to rfps for workshops (which still has a marketing aspect). We lack a clear metric to determine whether using time in that way is cost effective. Is there a return on our investment of time? Since the time we spend on these reactive marketing activities means we no longer have the opportunity to use that time for creative work, is what's known as opportunity cost worth it?

Sales figures come in slowly for traditionally published writers, and even when they come in, it's impossible to tell which marketing effort worked, if any of them did at all. There is no metric for the value of their time spent marketing. Self-published eBook writers can check their sales quickly and regularly. But if they have spent time on several marketing efforts, there is no metric that will let them know which one helped sales, if any of them did at all.

Hey, we don't have metrics. Let's remember that.

Getting Away From Work Distractions

Newport's suggests workers within organizations deal with distraction by using a variation on the Unit System. He calls his units of time "daily focus blocks."  (Last week's essayist talked about mental intervals.) Because he's dealing with interruptions from co-workers, he advices treating these focus blocks as appointments, scheduled time during which you can't be interrupted, just as you couldn't be interrupted during any other kind of appointment. Assigning each block a specific task will also help workers stay focused on it and resist distraction.

Notice a recurring theme in these Manage Your Day-to-Day essays we've discussed so far? Yeah, me, too. Many of the writers I've pointed out break time into smaller segments in order to manage it.

Applying The Metric Question To My Present Work Situation

I learned this weekend that I'm going to be back to a three-day work week, probably into September. Actually, it started last week. Having a three-day work week means I'll often have an even shorter work week, because when more life stuff pops its head up, whatever problems it brings with it will come out of my work time.

I had already changed my work schedule around so that I was keeping Mondays and Tuesdays for writing and Fridays for marketing to keep reactive marketing distraction from creeping into all my work time. Now that I'm certain I won't have Wednesdays for work, this schedule gives a third of my time to marketing. That's way too much when you consider I have no metric to determine whether or not that time is well spent.

What I'm going to do for this next six weeks (a unit of time!) is put off marketing on Fridays unless something drops into my lap. (I do have a workshop proposal due the beginning of September.) I'll continue my blog marketing research, which I mainly do in the evenings, but I won't contact anyone else until I've got a longer work week again. Then I'll go back to making contacts on Fridays. At that point if those new contacts result in an invitation for a guest post, I'll have more time to write it.

Scraping--A Huge Black Eye For Self-publishing?

According to Diana Peterfreund in An Epidemic of Plagiarism in the Indie World, "scraping" is the act of copying, pasting, and publishing. And there appears to be a lot of it going on in self-publishing. I enjoy learning new things, so I'm set for today. For a couple of days, probably.

As Peterfreund points out in her well-documented post, the people who are doing this are not writers. "This is an organized, promoted attempt by unscrupulous moneymakers to game the self-publishing system and make some quick cash. They are formatting works they find online and making money off them, with little or no oversight by the publishing platforms (like Amazon/Kindle) and just as little ability for wronged parties to get justice." But writers are affected, especially self-published writers, and not just those whose work ends up being scraped. (That can happen to traditional writers, too.)

Self-Publishing's Reputation

Though the people who are doing this are not writers, they are self-publishing what they steal as if they were. If word of this gets out to the reading public, how will readers be able to tell which self-published books are original work and which are stolen? Jaded folk, and the scammers who are scraping others' writing, may believe the reading public won't care so long as it ends up with an enjoyable reading experience. How enjoyable the reading experience will be will probably depend on what kinds of standards the scrapers set for themselves (Ha-Ha) and whether or not readers start recognizing favorite authors' work in pirated eBooks.

Self-publishing authors have been working for years to overcome the reputation for poor quality work due to the rush to publish with little or no editing. Then there was last year's issue with self-published writers buying Amazon reviews. And now pseudo-self-publishers are plagiarizing real self-publishers. It's not often we hear something good about self-publishing.

More Doors Slamming For Self-Published Authors' Marketing Opportunities?


Peterfreund refers to a blogging issue involving Me, My Shelf & I. Liz covered this at Tea Cozy just a few days ago. This was another plagiarism situation. This time Amber at Me, My Shelf & I had unknowingly reviewed a plagiarized self-published book. Ugliness followed.

Self-published authors already have difficulty getting reviewed and getting blog reviews. Personally, I have visited several hundred blogs this past year, researching possibilities for coverage of Saving the Planet & Stuff. Of the ones I visited, I have only approached around 50. From those 50 I have ended up with 6 blogs hosting me or reviewing, with 2 more guest posts coming up. Of those 8 positive blogger responses, 2 came from people I either already knew through blogging, myself, or had a connection with through the Kidlitosphere listserv.

A large percentage of litbloggers already have a no self-published books policy due either to self-publishing's reputation for poor quality product, mentioned above, or concerns that they will be overwhelmed with requests from the enormous self-published community. Now blogs like Me, My Shelf & I, which do make an effort to support self-publishing, have to be concerned about whether or not the authors approaching them really are authors or simply scrapers. How can the bloggers know? And, if they end up accidentally reviewing a plagiarized work or hosting a plagiarist, what is it going to mean for them? How many more more litblogs are going to include "No self-published books" in their review policies as a result of this?

Once again, scrapers are not writers. Let's see what kind of impact they're going to have on people who are.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Disturbing A Protagonist's World

A couple of weeks ago, I left you with some transitional material, something that helps connect one part of a piece of writing to another. Remember the last paragraph?

"Notice that Freytag's Pyramid includes an "inciting incident." I've become very interested in inciting incidents, or what I prefer to think of as a "disturbance to the protagonist's world." A post for another weekend."

Yeah, well, this is that other weekend.

What Is A Story Again?

Remember that a story is an account of something that happened to somebody and that event's significance. Here is a way to help clarify what I mean by that: Think of a joke that is told as a story. We're talking a funny story. In those cases, the story is an account of something that happened to somebody and the punchline is what's significant about what happened.

People who are setting about writing something presumably have some kind of idea. Otherwise, why would they be interested in writing? If the idea you have hasn't exploded from your mind as a story idea--something happening to somebody and so what?--then you need to develop it, to hunt for the story. That's what we've been talking about here for several months.

 Stumbling Along Without A Story

Sometimes people will advise writers who don't have a full story idea to skip the development part and simply give their character a problem that s/he will have to solve over the course of the story. This is similar to the something-to-want plot plan we talked about a couple of weeks ago. You haven't done any character, setting, theme, or point of view work, you know virtually nothing about anything. So where are these problems and desires supposed to come from?

In his book Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell talks about a disturbance to a main character's world. He says, "In the beginning of your novel, you start out by introducing a character who lives a certain life. That is his starting point or, in mythic terms, the hero's ordinary world."  "...something has to disturb the status quo." "It can be anything that disturbs the placid nature of the Lead's ordinary life." I find the idea of a disturbance to the protagonist's world hugely helpful. In fact, in looking back on my own writing, every single book involved a disturbance to the character's world. I just didn't know it at the time and couldn't make good use of it while plotting. Plotting was torture.

Disturbance--Something Happening

A disturbance to a world is dynamic because it sets the character up to respond to the disturbance and move on from there. Aliens land. A body is found. A new child moves to the neighborhood. A new school year begins. These are all disturbances. Disturbances are also all about story. Something happens to somebody, our definition of story. Aliens keep coming to Will and Rob's house and they have to deal with them. Jaspar is forced to sit between Butch and Spike on the first day of school and has to deal with them for the rest of the year. A substitute teacher turns up in Therese LeClerc's classroom and she has to deal with the report assignment he gives her, which she wasn't supposed to get. Michael Racine accepts an invitation to stay with two strangers and is stuck dealing with them.

The disturbance is what causes the rest of the action. It comes out of your initial story situation or idea. The disturbance gets the character moving naturally. Giving characters a problem or something to want, on the other hand, is sort of just dumping on them. It creates a much more static situation. There isn't much natural movement from that point.

For a writer, looking for a disturbance is a helpful way to get started on a plot.

Friday, July 26, 2013

So Why Isn't There Going To Be A "Golden Compass" Sequel?

Franchise Fails: The Planned Sequels We'll Likely Never See at Salon explains why my computer guy will probably never see ice bears on the big screen again. It was pretty much what I'd heard. Though The Golden Compass movie made a bundle, it didn't make a bundle here in the U.S., and evidently that makes the difference. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. You'd think someone would make the next movie and just forget about the U.S. audience. Or you'd think a foreign film studio would make it in French or Chinese or something and, again, forget about US. Computer Guy would watch it on DVD with subtitles so long as the ice bears came back.

Take a look at the material on the City of Ember movie, another potential franchise, in the Salon article. You don't suppose that movie tanking had anything to do with the big fat spoiler in the first couple of minutes of screen time, do you? I wasn't a big fan of the book, it being dystopian and all, but the number one interesting bit was...Well, I don't spoil. I will just say that as far as I was concerned, after the first few moments of the movie, you could get up and leave the theater.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New Guest Post And Chance To Win A Copy Of "Saving The Planet & Stuff"

My guest post, Writing About Food--Again And Again, is up at Word Spelunking. It's a flash essay about my use of food in my writing.

Word Spelunking is also running a raffle with a copy of Saving the Planet for Kindle, Nook, or Kobo as the prize. You can enter until July 31st.

Many thanks to Aeicha for hosting me.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Browsing

Here's How Amazon Self-Destructs at Salon inspired a little discussion on my personal Facebook wall recently.

Will Amazon's Book Business Fall Apart When Bookstores Are Gone?


Author Evan Hughes says, "According to survey research by the Codex Group, roughly 60 percent of book sales — print and digital — now occur online. But buyers first discover their books online only about 17 percent of the time. Internet booksellers specifically, including Amazon, account for just 6 percent of discoveries. Where do readers learn about the titles they end up adding to the cart on Amazon? In many cases, at bookstores."

Hughes contends that book buyers engage in "showrooming"--using bookstores as showrooms where they browse, then go home and buy their books through Amazon where they can get discounts. As more and more traditional bookstores fold, and there's plenty of talk about Barnes & Noble being part of that more and more, readers will have no place to browse. Without a place to browse, how can they buy at Amazon? Thus, Amazon's success at destroying the competition could actually hurt it in the long run, at least as far as book sales are concerned.

But How Many People Browse In Bookstores These Days?


I was particularly interested in this article because my NESCBWI Conference roommate (Erin Dionne--she has a new book out. Just saying.) discussed browsing in bookstores during our late night roomie talk. We both agreed. We do not browse in bookstores anymore. We go in for something specific, and then we leave. Bookstores are no longer destinations for us. We aren't stumbling upon new books there. Why not?

  • Time is an issue, of course. How many adults really recreationally shop anymore?
  • The uniformity of the big box bookstores has become an issue for me. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when the first Borders opened up in my area, because we didn't have any bookstores around here. But over the years it became clear that every Borders was like every other Borders and every Borders was like every Barnes & Noble, too. If I'd been into any of those stores in the last month, maybe even longer, I really didn't need to go into another, as far as browsing and discovering new things were concerned. It wasn't going to happen.
  • Another issue for me with Barnes & Noble is that it prominently displays this season's big books and last season's big sellers. The books I'm going to run into easily there are the books I've heard about on-line, in magazines, and on NPR. Again, nothing new to discover.

So Where Are People Browsing For Books? 


Two interesting areas for book browsing came out of our Facebook discussion:
  • Libraries--One person pointed out that the cost of new books is high enough that she can't impulse buy, so she doesn't browse in stores. She, and other people, talked about using libraries.
  • Used bookstores/sales--People also talked about browsing in used bookstores.
Since I happen to use libraries, library book sales, and a used bookstore, I understand how and why this is happening. Real, old-fashioned book browsing, of the sort where you end up going home with something you hadn't expected and maybe hadn't even heard of, can happen in libraries and with used books because it's in these situations readers can take chances. It's at libraries and used book sales that readers can discover new writers because the financial risk is low at those places. The likelihood of buyer remorse, such as I feel over that new, sixteen dollar book I bought on Buddhism for regular folk that is pure torture, isn't that great.

Amazon may have nothing to fear from the loss of browsers in traditional bookstores because if my small group discussion is any indication, that's already gone.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Summer Reading--Renewal

Today's discussion of Manage Your Day-to-Day involves Tony Schwartz's essay, Building Renewal Into Your Day. It was particularly interesting for me, because what he's talking about in his piece is similar to what we call here at OC the Unit System.

Breaking Your Work Day Into Units Or Intervals

Schwartz says that "the demand in our lives increasingly exceeds our capacity" but that "we can influence the way we manage our energy." We can do this by recognizing that humans follow an ultradian rhythm.
At the end of ninety minutes, "we reach the limits of our capacity to work at the highest level." Then we need to renew. At his blog, Schwartz recently referred to the work pattern he suggests--90 minutes of work, followed by a break--as "mental intervals." He also compared this work pattern to interval training, an excellent analogy, I think.

Over and over again I'm coming upon variations of the Unit System. I don't think the number of minutes in your unit or interval (90, 45, or even 20) is that important, so long as you focus your attention on work for a preplanned period of time and then take a break. It helps us to take advantage of the scientific knowledge of what we're physically and mentally capable of doing and provides an external support for willpower.

The Impact Of Lack Of Sleep

Schwartz also writes about what fatigue does to work effort and quality, saying "...even very small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our cognitive capacity."  This was intriguing for me, because I've just started reading a productivity guide for writers that described being too tired to write as merely an excuse. In the event that people truly are dealing with fatigue, they might be better advised to find a way to deal with that renewal issue.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Now What Is It Gauthiers Talk About When They Get Together?

In reality, I was with the in-laws this weekend (which is why you didn't see a Weekend Writer or Weekend Links post), which is like being with Gauthiers, but different.

Interpreting A Scene vs. Duplicating An Image


We have a family member who is an artist, which led us to discussing last week's passing hot topic, the cover of The Rolling Stone. Then we went on to artists interpreting the scene they are painting vs. photographers who merely duplicate a scene. And we covered art photography in which photographers are, like traditional artists, trying to do something beyond simply duplicating what is in front of them.

Professional vs. Photoshopped Book Covers


This whole issue of art as an interpretation of something and photographs merely duplicating life, led someone to bring up the new Saving the Planet & Stuff cover. No, seriously, it wasn't me. Someone else thought of this.

Prior to beginning the eBook publishing project, I had to make a decision about the cover. I very rapidly decided I wanted a professional cover rather than a photoshopped one that we could have done ourselves. The book had originally had professional everything, and I didn't want to take it down from that level.

But my family member pointed out yesterday that this cover is more than merely just a professionally done picture. It is an artist's interpretation of the story. And indeed it is. Eric Bloom's interpretation of Michael Racine's story involved Michael holding the weight of the world on his shoulders. It was an entertaining way of making the point that the environmental issues Michael is dealing with are important. That was Eric's thought process, his interpretation.

We wouldn't have had that interpretation to work with if we'd bought some stock photos and put them together for a cover. And the stock photos would probably have been nice images that merely duplicated whatever scene an unnamed photographer was looking at. Would they have meant anything?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Environmental Book Club

Experiencing The Environment

I've been thinking about Is Your Story An Experience at Rock Your Writing for...I don't know...a while now. Days, anyway. The essay author compares writing to game design. "When you’re designing a game," she says, "you need to think about the experience you want the player to have." Writers could be thinking about that in terms of the books they're writing, about creating "elements that will hopefully contribute to the experience."

This whole question of experience can apply to environmental books for children, too, both the writing of them and the reading. Writers who are able to create a natural world in their books are able to provide child readers with an experience that can end up being more transforming than a text that was created to instruct.  Last week's gardening books are examples of books that provide experience. This week's books definitely are, too.

All Experience, All The Time

Out on the Prairie by Donna M. Bateman with illustrations by Susan Swan is actually a counting book. But what's being counted are prairie creatures.

"Out on the prairie where the yucca grows toward heaven,
Lived a mother howdy owl and her little checks Seven.
"Nod!" said the mother. "We nod," said the Seven.
So they nodded in the twilight where the yucca grows toward heaven."

And there are the howdy owls embedded in a gold, brown, and pale blue scene spread over two pages. Out on the Prairie provides readers with a prairie experience.

With very little text, Under GROUND by Denise Fleming brings readers...under ground. Readers see parts of a human child occasionally, so we know we, too, are part of the world that exists just above the under ground part. But there is no main character here of any kind, unless you want to get metaphorical and say the world being experienced is a character.

Again we're talking experience, all experience.

Both these books have end material identifying animals for adults who need that sort of thing.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Poet Robert Lee Brewer On SEO For Writers

This Writer's History With SEO 


I have made several attempts to understand search engine optimization (SEO), and I've gotten as far as understanding that I need search engines to find this blog and my website. It's the keyword research that I found so confusing. I tried going to those on-line tools that are supposed to help you find the best keywords for the text you're using, but then I would get bogged down on whether or not I should use the most obvious keywords because everyone uses the obvious keywords, and it appeared that I shouldn't be doing that because that would mean I was competing with lots of other people using the same keywords. At least, that's how I understood the situation. And did I have to use those on-line tools every time I created new material? In case you haven't noticed, I blog nearly every day.

I've tried to get serious about the labels at the end of my posts, trying to avoid using Gail the Center of the Universe and Gail goes on and on because who ever looks those up? But otherwise I've pretty much pretended SEO doesn't exist.

SEO Help 


Then I stumbled upon this guest post by Alexis Grant at My Name Is Not Bob, Not Bob being poet Robert Lee Brewer. Grant writes about 3 SEO myths that scare writers. Check out "#3 You have to put a ton of effort into identifying the right keywords." "While you can spend a lot of time on keyword research," Grant says, "using tools like Google Trends to help you figure the best keywords for your topic, it's absolutely not necessary. Instead, take five minutes and just use your brain."  That usually means trouble, in my experience, but Grant suggests doing something simple and not very troublesome at all--asking yourself what you would type into Google if you were looking for the article/essay/blog post you just wrote. Then try to put some of those words in your headline.

If you go back to Myth #2 in Grant's guest post, you'll find a list of places to put keywords in addition to headlines--your first paragraph and subheadings, for instance. Because I read this post, I used a subheading in yesterday's Time Management Tuesday post, and included the words "write every day," because that phrase could be one writers look for on Google. Yes, and that's why I'm using subheadings today.

More SEO Information For Writers

My Name Is Not Bob has a lot of info on SEO. For instance, Robert Lee Brewer did a post, himself, on SEO Keywords for Writers. He's talking about both blogs and websites and points out that mentioning the names of your published work as often as possible increases the chances that someone looking for it will find it. I shouldn't be referring to my eBook, for instance. I should be referring to my eBook, Saving the Planet & Stuff.

In still another post, this one on SEO tips for writers, Brewer points out that writers need to be careful to use keywords naturally, otherwise they'll damage their content, turning off readers. Updating content regularly is also important so that your site doesn't appear abandoned to the search engines.

The tips for writers post also suggests that headlines be specific because people look for specific words, not vague, general ones and search engines pay attention to headlines. For that reason, I've changed today's headline twice.

Pretty much all I know about SEO I've learned from a poet.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Summer Reading--Work In Order To Work

I usually manage at least one blog post, sometimes two, on weekends. For that matter, I blog nearly day. So it could be said that I write every day. It's not the kind of writing I wish I was doing every day, but I like to think it at least keeps the joints in my fingers from stiffening up due to lack of use.

Yes, that's right, we're getting back to the write-every-day issue. Since I can't manage it except for those blog posts I was just mentioning, I'm not getting all judgmental about it. Relax. What I am going to do is discuss Gretchen Rubin's essay, Harnessing the Power of Frequency, in Manage Your Day-to-Day.

Rubin does write every day. But we're not going to hate her for that because desire, including desiring the work habits of others, can only lead to unhappiness. (I mention that even though Rubin is the go-to person for happiness, pas moi.) Rubin has some interesting things to say about the value of writing every day, none of which involve the fact that writing every day should result in getting a lot of work done.

Reasons To Write Every Day


Writing regularly makes it easier to keep writing. It's easier to continue with a writing project if you were just working on it yesterday versus a couple of weeks ago or even longer. Monday is one of my better writing days because I tend not to have family obligations on Monday. But getting started Monday morning after just a weekend break can be a b-- can be hard. Especially now that I've organized my week around doing marketing on Fridays (Yes, you do know about this. You know about everything.) instead of letting it slowly take over my week. On top of that, Thursdays are caregiver/life maintenance days here. So by Monday morning, I may not have worked on a serious writing project for four days. It's a lifetime. Hmm. Once again, I've got to try to squeeze in a unit of work, at least, on a Saturday or Sunday.

Writing regularly keeps your mind on your project. As Rubin points out, if you can stay in your work, you often see connections between your writing project and things that are going on around you. Connections you can use. But you have to be immersed for that to happen.We're probably talking a variation on breakout experiences with this.

Writing regularly encourages creativity. The more creative work you do, the more creative ideas you come up with for more work. If you create, you create. If you don't create, then you don't create.

There's a saying in tai chi that seems related to all this: "When one part of the body moves, the whole body moves. When one part of the body stops, the whole body stops." If we're writing, we will keep writing. If we're not writing, we won't.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Speed Writing

Since I've been dabbling in self-publishing, I've been reading a lot about the need to have multiple books available for your reading public. You may not be able to rack up big sales on one title, but if you are getting okay sales on a number of titles, you can generate the kind of income writers who do rack up big sales on one title generate. If you follow my thinking.

This involves cranking out some writing, though. Writing on the Ether: Faster, Authors, Faster! at Jane Friedman deals with "The pressure to write faster, write more" on what author Porter Anderson calls "entrepreneurial writers." By that I believe he means those self-published writers who embrace their roles as publisher/businesspeople. Not only do these writers need to build a body of work for the reason I mentioned earlier, maintaining enough titles to bring in income, if they are series/serial writers who have built up a following, their fans may be pressuring them for more, more, more. And, practically speaking, writers in that situation may want to get more out there before the fans have forgotten them and moved on to someone else.

Traditionally published authors of stand alone titles are unlikely to feel much pressure to get a lot of books out into the world so that they have more to sell. In my experience, publishers aren't going to be keen to do that without some big sales of an earlier work. However, traditionally published authors of successful series/serials probably are under that same kind of pressure, especially if you're talking children's authors. If you have an 8- to 12-year-old fan base excited about your work, you probably don't want to make them wait too long for the next installment or they may have aged out. You can't be sure the next group of 8- to 12- year-olds will find the same author as engaging as their elders did. This is a case where striking while the iron is hot is important.

In Anderson's post, he writes about the feeling among many writers that they just can't keep up with the pace. I'm going to suggest that speed writing is particularly difficult for organic writers who spend so much time writing and rewriting preliminary work, which is usually how we come up with a basic story in the first place. Then we have to get it into shape later. And all writers have to deal with the fact that while they may feel they need to work faster, they have less time in which to work, period, because of marketing demands.

For those who are trying to speed up, I recently read about writing sprints, intense writing in 20 or 30 minute blocks over and over throughout the day. For my Time Management Tuesday followers, this sounds like the Unit System, but sprinters choose to work in even shorter periods of time.

And if you're willing to try something well outside the box, scroll down through the comments following the Faster, Authors, Faster! post. One commenter/writer uses a polyphasic sleep schedule to make more time for writing.

If you find a way to make more time to write, can you slow down?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Weekend Links

How long has it been since I've had time on a weekend to do a Weekend Links post? It's probably better not to dwell on it.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the general problems of writers who are also care givers. Candice Ransom wrote more specifically on the topic at Cynsations.

Matthew Dicks' post at the Huffington Post on redefining author appearances could be useful to writers planning on speaking in public.

Speaking of author appearances, Jeannine Atkins had a post back in June on an all too common author experience related to appearances. The title says it all--Rows of Empty Chairs.

Is there a "Politics of the Muggle Generation?" For that matter, is there a "muggle generation?"

A is for Aging, B is for Books  is a blog on "positive images of aging in children's literature," a subject I haven't seen addressed before in an entire blog.

Greg Fishbone had a guest post at Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America on Writing SF for Young Readers

In June, Author of... did a series on graphic novels. Scroll back from Cecil Castellucci's 'Odd Duck' to catch all the posts.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Hunting For Your Story With Plot And The Assistance Of A Dead, White Male

I forgot to mention in my discussions of plot that we can use it to help us find stories. Remember, plot is different from story. A plot is the series of causal events--one leading to another--that make up a story, an account of something that happened to somebody. So if we've been having trouble getting from an idea that is merely a situation (such as a guy riding a stationary bike along with the Tour de France riders, who he is watching on a TV) to an account of something that happened to somebody (I do not know what that would be for the Le Tour stationary bike guy), working to come up with a basic plot is one more thing, like working with characters, setting, point of view, setting, theme, and voice, that can help us make the trip.

Okay, Freytag's Pyramid. What does that have to do with plot? Well, Freytag's Pyramid describes with a nice graphic a basic plot structure. It's the plot that many of us learned about in school. Aristotle's name gets thrown around a bit when discussing writing, and, sure enough, you can find talk of Aristotle's Incline in relation to plot. Aristotle's Incline is sort of a lopsided Freytag's Pyramid. Both plot plans involve action that becomes more and more intense until there is a climactic moment in the story--the bully is defeated! the vampires and werewolves fight! Then the excitement drops off. Both graphics can work, depending on how rapidly you think action should drop after a climax or how much resolution/wrap up you want to do after the climactic moment.

I am particularly fond of  boring, white, dead guy Freytag's Pyramid for one reason and one reason alone. It is simple. There are big sections on Freytag's Pyramid for rising and falling action, but he doesn't go on about doors and steps and when we should be adding what where, which some plotting schemes require. (Yeah, I'm talking about you, Hero's Journey.) Elaborate plot constructions for writers to follow may result in fine books, but for this writer, they are like having to solve a puzzle before I even get started writing. I don't like puzzles.

Notice that Freytag's Pyramid includes an "inciting incident." I've become very interested in inciting incidents, or what I prefer to think of as a "disturbance to the protagonist's world." A post for another weekend.

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Pratchetty" YA Books

Sheila Ruth from Wands and Worlds, Charlotte Taylor from Charlotte's Library, and Tanita Davis from Finding Wonderland all attended the North American Discworld Convention earlier this month. The three of them served on a panel recommending YA fiction for fans of Discworld author Terry PratchettSheila and Tanita both have posts on the event. Charlotte, who was the panel's moderator, has the list of books they recommended at her blog. A number of them are titles or authors I'm familiar with.

For instance, I haven't read The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly recommended by Tanita. But I have read another of his books, The Gates, an adult book with a child main character, definitely an option for YA readers.

I also haven't read the Diana Wynne Jones titles Tanita recommended. Faithful OC readers know I'm a big fan of her Chrestomanci books. They do have a Pratchett-like feeling--a developed world, some recurring characters, definite wit, and sophisticated writing.

Sheila recommends all the Bartimaeus books and both Lonely Werewolf Girl titles. I'm in total agreement.

One of Charlotte's suggestions is the Skulduggery Pleasant series. I happen to be reading the 5th book in the series now, having purchased 5 and 6 for my...yes, YA...niece's birthday. They just came my way a couple of weeks ago. Reading my niece's copy and knowing it's hers because of me makes me feel like one fine aunt.

Now that I think of it, I've given her a Bartimaeus book, too. And at least some of the Chrestomanci books. Oh, my gosh, I've given her at least one Tiffany Aching title! That's Discworld!

I am a stellar aunt.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Environmental Book Club

I am not at all certain how to define "environmental books" at this point (I'll be dealing with that issue in the future), so for now, I'm casting my net broadly. Today I'm talking about children's gardening books, because gardening roots all of us to our environment, children and adults.

First up is Lily's Garden by Deborah Kogan Ray. In addition to her work as a children's book author and illustrator, Kogan Ray is a fine artist whose work includes landscape and nature subjects. Reviewers described Lily's Garden as a book for preschool through 3rd grade, which I think is probably correct. In addition to there being more text here than I'd expect to see for younger children, Lily is in school and and is able to manage a year's worth of gardening activities, either on her own or as part of a family.

Lily's Garden portrays a child who lives within the natural year. Each two-page spread covers one calendar month. On the right page is a narrative of Lily's life planning, managing, and harvesting either her own garden or crops such as blueberries or apples. On the left is a sidebar with more information on the plants (watermelons come from Africa) or activities (harvest festivals around the world) Lily mentions. As with The Rainforest Grew All Around, which also had extras, this material can be read or not, depending on the age and interests of the child reading or being read to. Lily is part of her Maine environment, and there is a comfort aspect to this situation. There is always something for her to do.

Lily's Garden is out-of-print, but well worth looking for in libraries or snagging used, if you can find it.

Isabella's Garden by Glenda Millard, with illustrations by Rebecca Cool, has less of a connection to the real world than Lily's Garden. The illustrations have more of a Tomie dePaola vibe, but dramatic, rather than cute, with intense primary colors. The major hook is the "This is the house that Jack built" text.

"This is the soil,
all dark and deep,
in Isabella's garden.

These are the seeds
that sleep in the soil,
all dark and deep, in Isabella's garden.

This is the rain that soaks the seeds..."

This book, too, moves through a year. Shoots come up, flowers waltz in the wind, birds are hatched, leaves turn colors, "winter comes swiftly and silent and soon."

Isabella's Garden is listed at Amazon as being for the same age group as Lily's Garden. It probably doesn't have the comfort of working with nature that readers can get from Lily's Garden. It is, however, a beautiful book in both word and image. Beautiful may not be a strong enough word. Perhaps I should call Isabella's Garden stunning. This could be a terrific reading experience for two generations.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Read One Of Their Books

I just heard a few hours ago that Barbara Robinson, who wrote The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, died yesterday. I was very fond of this book, and I read it as an adult. I probably read it during my years teaching Sunday school. I believe I taught for 11 years (Hmmm. The same number of years I trained in taekwondo, though not the same 11 years.) That means I was involved, in one way or another, in 11 Christmas pageants. This book captured the chaos and heart-warming aspects of these events. Read it during Advent this year.

So long as I'm on the subject of writers who aren't going to be able to provide us with any more of their work, I'll mention that Diana Wynne Jones, who died two years ago, has a new book coming out next year. The Islands of Chaldea was nearly finished at the time of Wynne Jones' death. Her sister, Ursula Jones, has completed it.

Oh, how I wish it was a Chrestomanci book. I own the whole series and save it for rereading during troubled times.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Beginning Our Summer Reading With Creative Vs. Reactive Work

Summer reading...a seasonal joy. Today we begin a discussion of one of my summer reading books, Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. Glei is the editor-in-chief for a website called 99U, which tries to provide a " "missing curriculum" for making ideas happen." 99U is related to another website, Behance, a "platform to showcase and discover photography, graphic design, illustration, and fashion." Thank you for that, Wikipedia, because while I could get the gist of what was going on at Behance, I like to have things written out for me, and I couldn't find a clear statement of purpose at the Behance site.

Okay, back to Manage Your Day-to-Day: Neither this book, nor 99U, deal specifically with writers. However, they do both deal with "creatives" and share a premise that the creative world tends to focus on idea generation, not so much on idea execution. Manage Your Day-to-Day is a series of short essays by and interviews with people working in creative fields. All the chapters deal with idea execution. Glei says in her preface, "Our goal was to come at the problems and struggles from as many angles as  possible."

What do we need to execute ideas? We need to manage time. Over the past year and a half, we have been coming at the problems and struggles of managing time from as many angles as possible here at Original Content. Some of the ideas in Manage Your Day-to-Day are angles we can try to apply to time.

For instance, in the essay Laying the Groundwork for an Effective Routine Mark McGuinness talks about "reactive work," work that involves "responding to incoming demands and answering questions framed by other people." Reactive work, he says, takes time away from creative work.

Now, I believe McGuinness is writing primarily about people working in traditional offices or within organizations in which they are expected to interact regularly with other employees, report to others, and/or have others report to them. Interaction is hugely time consuming and tends to snowball into more work. Most writers work by themselves. Little interaction, little reactive work. Right?

But how much time are we truly spending on creative work these days? Promoting ourselves and specific works and long-term marketing in general cuts into creative work. Marketing and promotion has become our reactive work. We publish a book, and we have to react to that with contacting sites and bloggers to whom we must react still more, if they react to us. A RFP for a conference workshop arrives, we react to it. An inquiry comes in regarding an appearance at a school, we react to it. Last week I happened to see a write-up on a literary journal. I dropped everything and reacted to it by doing a quick revision of a short story and submitting it. As reactive work goes, that's not bad, but it wasn't the creative work I was expecting to do that day.

McGuinness says, "The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities..."  

Blocking off a chunk of time could mean saving a unit or two every day for creative work. Another way to block time is to think of a week as a unit and saving the early part of it for the creative work and letting the reactive stuff wait. I've been suffering from reactive marketing creep, myself, and found that I was going weeks and months without real writing because so much time was going into promoting Saving the Planet & Stuff. I've started trying to limit Mondays and Tuesdays to writing and Fridays for marketing.

There are two issues to consider here: One is putting creative work before reactive work, of course, but the other is to first train yourself to identify reactive vs. creative work. If  what we're doing is reactive, should it be our top priority?

Monday, July 08, 2013

Maybe We've Had Enough Of Talking About Guys?

"Where are all the kickbutt girls in YA without the romance?" a kickbutt girl asked Sarah of GreenBeanTeenQueen.

Well, a few years ago, a literary agent got a lot of attention on-line after she did a blog post stating that YA must have romance. I don't know how much influence she had, but it does seem as if love is overly represented in YA books about girls.

But YA fiction isn't the only place where the search for love rules. Sarah's questioner in search of something to read is not the only female who has grown weary with boy-meets-girl. Last Wednesday, Gina Barreca's column, Movies Centering On Women Rare But Welcome, was published in The Hartford Courant.

It turns out that what both women of different generations are looking for are stories in which "The lives of the women on which they're centered are not obsessed by romance..." Because, you know, love isn't all there is to life.

Barreca thinks that the movie industry would create more movies centering on women who have something more going on in their lives than looking for a man if there were more women script writers and directors. If what's happening in YA is any indication, I don't know if bringing more women in would bring about the shift Barreca hopes for. A lot of the YA books about girls and romance are written by women, and women are well represented in the business side of children's/YA publishing.

Barreca concludes her essay with a description of the Bechdel Test, created by comic strip author and artist Alison Bechdel. The Bechdel Test is applied to movies and TV shows, but let's consider applying it to YA fiction as well. To pass the test, a YA book would:

1. Have to have at least two women (we'll say girls) in it

2. Who talk to each other

3. About something other then men (boys)

Seriously, how hard can that be?

Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Give Your Character Something To Want--Just How Useful Is That?

Several years ago when I started thinking that maybe I'd find writing a lot easier if I studied up on plot, I attended a plotting talk at a weekend retreat. The speaker, a writer who had published only one book that had won a very big award, described a well-known system for creating plots. She said to create a plot by first giving your main characters something to want. Then keep it from them.

I didn't walk away feeling I'd experienced a revelation. But I have been thinking about this workshop ever since. It took a while, but I finally decided I didn't see how this system could be particularly useful.

First off, I don't see this as a method for generating plots. Remember, plot is the series of causal steps that make up a story. Do we see any causal relationships here? At all? Instead, I see the give-them-something-to-want-and-keep-them-from-getting-it concept as a formula. It will create a story about someone overcoming adversity (the keep-them-from-getting-it part) in order to live a dream/achieve happiness/an uplifting ending (the give-them-something-to-want part). There's nothing wrong with a formula story, if it's a formula you happen to enjoy. But that's a long way from a plot.

Imagine you are a writer who really does enjoy reading and writing stories about overcoming adversity. Then imagine you've just been told to give your main character something to want and then keep it from him or her. Even if you've already done all the work we've discussed these last few months so that you are close to a story idea about someone overcoming adversity--a story being something that happens to somebody and its significance--won't you be left wondering, What? What do I give him or her to want? If you haven't gotten to the point of a true story idea, won't you really be stumped? And then, okay, you've come up with something for him or her to want. How do you come up with a reason your character can't get what he or she wants?

That was one of my first thoughts after that workshop--Where is this stuff supposed to come from?

Many times, when writers say they have trouble with plot, they mean they have trouble coming up with material. All the give-them-something-to-want-and-keep-them-from-getting-it system does is tell us to come up with material, which is the very thing we have trouble doing.

There has to be some other ways to do this.

Friday, July 05, 2013

If I Had All The Time In The World, I Would Spend Some Of It With "Louisa May Alcott Is My Passion"

Yes, that's right. I didn't get back here on Wednesday, as I'd planned. The 4th of July totally kicked my--did me in. If I hadn't been cleaning and cooking on Wednesday and Thursday, I would have liked to have spent some time at Louisa May Alcott is My Passion. I hit that site last year, and because I Liked  LMA is my P's Facebook page, I realized this week that there was a post there I just couldn't resist.

Little Men: Autobiographical Elements was the big draw for me. I looove Little Men, which I would have thought I would have mentioned here at OC sometime in the last eleven years, though I can't find anything on it. I also have a big, big interest in how authors work their lives into their fiction. You can see how I had to read that post.

I did a little poking around while I was there, and I found a post comparing Louisa May with Margaret Fuller, who got a big mention in the Autobiographical Elements. Louisa's interest in service and domesticity? I would love to be able to delve more deeply into that.

I don't know how this happened, but I found two posts at LMA is my P on An Old-Fashioned Girl. And look! I have a whole series of posts here at OC on An Old-Fashioned Girl!

This is most definitely a case of one thing leading to another. I had to run away, because clearly I could just stay at that site for hours and hours if not days and days.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Low Expectations Could Be A Good Thing In Some Situations

Ah, summer. Ah, summer and the 4th of July. Ah, summer and the 4th of July and family gatherings. Ah, preparing for a summer event and the 4th of July and family gatherings. Yes, preparing for a summer event is different from preparing for a family gathering, because summer events are outside, which is another magnitude of work, whereas family gatherings could be inside, which is less work. That's what's going on here this week, in addition to two care giving excursions and, to be painfully honest, a morning hike on Friday.

This is most definitely an example of needing to develop a time management plan around a situation. I'm talking situational time management. I have only two real workdays this week, and that's assuming the morning hike on Friday doesn't run on and I'm home by ten. If it does, I have only one-plus real workdays this week. The rest of the week will be hit and very miss. Thursday, in particular, will be all miss as far as work goes.What should I do?

You know I'm going to say I'm going to rely on the unit system. And that's true. I'm using the unit system right now to squeeze in this blog post between getting home from a 5-hour excursion and heading out for another.

More importantly, though, I'm not trying to do a lot this week. What I find usually happens during weeks like this one is that I'm trying to do a large number of things, the situational problems involved with family and holidays become inflated, and very little work gets done. My theory on how to handle this? Plan to do less and actually do it.

This week I've planned to use my one definite work day for units of writing. That was yesterday. It went very well. I'm happy with an essay I'm working on, and I even managed to do something spontaneous. After learning about a new journal that might be a good match for my work, I chose a short story, did some modest revisions, and submitted. A good use of a unit or more on a writing day.

Friday will be the other best day of work for me. I've recently started committing Friday to marketing, as a means of keeping marketing creep from taking over the rest of my week. So I'll be using whatever units I have on Friday for 3 or 4 marketing tasks.

I got a little professional reading done this morning and have reason to believe I'll get a little done tomorrow. This blog post will be completed soon, and I'm hopeful for another tomorrow. Otherwise, any time I have today and tomorrow I'm going to use to compile notes on a professional book I finished reading a couple of weeks ago. It seems like a good task for small bits of time.

I was going to plan some blog research for the evenings, but, realistically speaking, that's unlikely to happen. Committing myself to it is setting myself up for perceived failure. I'm also not going to try to do anything on Thursday when I'm visiting an elder and seeing some relatives. Again, I'd rather not set myself up for perceived failure.

Now, if I were in the midst of a big, long-term writing project instead of working on essays, I would have committed whatever time I have to working on that. At the very least, that would keep me in the midst of the job and improve my chances of getting back to work quickly next week. But that's not the situation I'm working with this week. How you manage time is always dependent upon your present situation.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Where Has Gail Been?

She hasn't been at OC doing Weekend Links posts recently, that's for sure. I do have links to share, I'm just having trouble finding time on Sundays to put them together for you.

I did get around to a few other places on-line, though.

First off, back in February A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers was included in the Booklist: Double Trouble post at BellaOnBooks's Blog. These books dealt with twins, triplets, and other varieties of multiple births.

Anne M. Leone did an assessment of my NESCBWI time management workshop at her blog, Critically Yours. It was a lovely, gracious post, which I greatly appreciate.

I am included in the June Carnival of Children's Literature hosted at The Flatt Perspective. I haven't had an opportunity to do more than skim the offerings so far.

I'm also included in the June Carnival of the Indies at The Book Designer. This is an enormous carnival, and it's going to take me a while to take a look at everything there.