Friday, August 30, 2013

September Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Fri., Sept. 6, Donna Marie Merritt, Melissa Damon, Ryan San Angelo are among the 17 Connecticut Authors and Illustrators at the Bozrah Farmers Market, Bozrah 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM

Sat., Sept. 7, Dennis Vanasse, Bank Square Books, Mystic, 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Sat., Sept. 14, Monte Christo Bookshop Author Tent, Connecticut Schooner Festival, New London 11:00 AM I'm assured that there will be children's and YA authors there, but the information on who and when never turned up.

Sat., Sept. 14, Anna Dewdney, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Mon., Sept. 16, D. J. McHale, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Fri., Sept. 20, Aaron Becker, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Sat., Sept. 21, Sandra Horning, Granby Public Library, Granby 10:30 AM

Sat., Sept. 21, Wendell Minor, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, 2:00 to 4:00 PM

Sat., Sept. 21, Florence Minor, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, 2:00 to 4:00 PM

Sat., Sept. 21, Aaron Becker, Bank Square Books, Mystic 3:30 PM

Fri. through Sun. Sept. 27 through 29 Leslie Bulion, Durham Fair, Durham Time of appearances was unknown at publication time and may vary.

Fri., Sept. 27, Tomi dePaola, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Sat., Sept. 28, R.L. Stine, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Sun., Sept. 29, Tommy Greenwald, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Environmental Book Club

The Camping Trip That Changed America by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Mordicai Gerstein is a neat little addition to our environmental book club because it's based on an event that actually happened. President Theodore Roosevelt's camping trip with naturalist John Muir is legendary in environmental circles. According to Rosenstock's Author's Note, after he got back to Washington, Rossevelt managed to declare areas such as the Grand Canyon and Devils Tower national monuments and while he was president the number of National Parks doubled and the first bird sanctuaries and game preserves were founded.

Rosenstock also says in her note that little is known about what happened during the Roosevelt/Muir camping trip. Thus she has created dialogue between the two men inspired by letters they sent to one another, newspaper accounts, and reports from others who accompanied them.

Does this mean that The Camping Trip That Changed America historical fiction? I can totally embrace that idea. Or is it another one of those nonfiction books that clearly includes fictional material? I never know what to make of those. I read a copy of Camping Trip from a library that had shelved it as nonfiction. The author has a very impressive Lesson Plans for the Home and Classroom for this book (scroll down to the book's title). In the Art of Writing section, Camping Trip is referred to as a story and theme is discussed. These terms don't necessarily refer only to fiction, but they do leave the door open as to what this book is.

Putting that issue aside, this is a lovely book dealing with a true event that has impacted how we think of wilderness and nature. Whatever went on between Muir and Roosevelt is believed to have led the president to push for environmental policies that we still live with today. Child readers live with them today. With this book, we have an excellent example of how the past is connected to the present.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How Did That Bout Of Books Read-a-Thon Go, Gail?

Bout of Books
My goals for last week's Bout of Books Read-a-Thon were very modest. I wanted to: "finish up a couple of eBooks I've started, and see what I can do with the library pile. And maybe read a few essays from the book I've left in the car for emergency travel reading. Since I've just joined Twitter, figuring out how to follow the #boutof books Twitter account would be a good idea. And I'm behind with some Goodreads updates. It would be good if I could get to those next week, too."

I finished  both the eBooks. I blogged about one last week, and I'll be covering the other for Time Management Tuesday next week. I did a little more reading on one essay in the emergency travel reading book, figured out how to follow the #boutofbooks Twitter account, and did some catching up with my Goodreads updates. I didn't touch the library pile. Instead, I spent time reading the Skulduggery Pleasant book I bought a couple of weeks ago. 

I enjoy short, intensive bursts of activity, which is what attracted me to this one.  I'm plenty satisfied with what I was able to do during this read-a-thon.

What has me excited now is that the next Bout of Books Read-a-Thon is in January, 2014, and I'm very hopeful that it's going to end up being during my retreat week. To be able to take part in something like this that involves reading, reading blogs about reading, spending some time at Goodreads posting about reading while I'm off on a mountain doing whatever I want, anyway, would be very much like a multi-day Christmas.

Of course, if it ends up being the week before retreat week when I'm madly preparing to be able to do whatever I want for a week would mean that the universe enjoys toying with me.                                             

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: More Support For Working In Units. How Did I Not Know This?

Yesterday, Salon carried an article called Why Your Mind Keeps Wandering. The author reports that new research indicates the brain needs energy to stay on task. It uses it up fast, and when it's on its way to depletion, the mind starts to wander. As few as 12 seconds of thinking can wear out neurons that then start hunting for a couple of different types of energy boosters, one of which is stored up during the night. Another reason most of us work better early in the day?

The researcher quoted contends that everyone deals with these attentional issues. People with ADHD have greater attentional problems, people without it lesser. But we're all part of the spectrum.

How to Deal With This Lack of Attention?

The researcher behind the study suggests recognizing "that you have a finite attentional window––and structure your workflow to be congruent with that capacity. This speaks to how we’ve talked about how work is a series of sprints––and to be our most productive and most creative, we need to unplug throughout our workdays." Does this not sound like the Unit System, a time management strategy that involves working for a unit of time, then breaking and doing something else for a short period before going back to work?

Now, I realize that this research is very new. But everything I've been reading this past year and a half about breaking work time into segments isn't. The Pomodoro Technique, which uses 20-minute units of time, goes back to the 1980s. Why isn't this type of work method common knowledge?

Do We Break Our Time Up Unintentionally?

I wonder, myself, if, left to ourselves, many of us don't fall into some kind of unit-like system with our time, anyway. A family member who definitely comes across as a butt-in-chair (next week's topic) sort, admits that he stops working every 45 minutes to an hour in the morning to get coffee. The traditional American high school schedule was divided into 50 to 60 minute class periods. Early Puritans worshiped all Sunday morning, if not all day. In my experience, most contemporary church services shoot for an hour. Television programming? Thirty minutes to an hour. (Much, much less with commercials cut out of them.)

We seem to have some kind of instinctive knowledge of how much attention we can use at one time. Except for when it comes to work.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

New Gail Gauthier Interview At Little Hyuts

Little Hyuts has just posted an interview with me. This interview is part of a project the blogger, Jill Marie, does periodically, Indie Author Spotlight Week. Notice today that another contemporary YA novel is covered, Kalifornia Blue by Kendell Shaffer.

Many of the authors being featured during Indie Author Spotlight Week are offering free copies, which is the case with me, also. Check out the interview and enter to win a copy of Saving the Planet & Stuff for Kindle, Nook, or Kobo.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Spontaneity Stinks

I was having quite a good work day today. It had the potential to become stellar. Then around 2 o'clock I got an invitation to visit someone here in town I only get together with once a year. So I dropped everything and went.

Nice time, but I lost a couple of hours of work, both professional and personal, and I'm going to be paying for it this evening. And maybe tomorrow.


I wonder what became of the person who came up with the "Stop and smell the roses" thought. Yes, someone made a fortune on posters in the 1970s, but, really, who thought it was a good idea to really keep stopping whatever you're doing to smell roses? Or anything else, for that matter?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

She Said, And Then She Said, And Then She Said

I'm hoping to head over to Goodreads this evening to do some catching up. I was going to make a joke about heading over to Goodreads to do some bullying, but that would be in bad taste. The joke would be in bad taste. Bullying is beyond questions of taste.

Porter Anderson's article on this past week's Goodreads kerfluffle is interesting because it essentially asks the question, "Do we actually know what happened over there?"

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Problem Novel. A Historical Novel. A Problem Novel. A Historical Novel.

Bout of BooksHouse of Girls by Joyce Shor Johnson was one of the eBooks I was hoping to finish reading as part of my participation in the
Bout of Books Marathon. And I made it.

House of Girls deals with a situation that readers of a certain age may find stereotypical--the young girl who gets pregnant, all Hell breaks loose, and she disappears for a few months. Read that way, some could see it as a classic teen problem novel. Problem novels often deal with stereotypical situations.

But Sharon Levi's story takes place in the early 1960s, and what happens to her may not be as common an occurrance to young readers today. In all likelihood fewer young women find themselves in such extreme situations because of  easier access to and knowledge of birth control, more acceptance of children born outside of marriage, social support for teen mothers, and legal availability of abortion. In that sense, House of Girls seems very much a historical novel. What happens to Sharon may be universal--pregnancy--but the response to it is very much about the time she lives in.

Shor Johnson does a good job in the early portion of this book showing how a very young woman could be drawn into a risky sexual relationship. Sharon isn't just drawn to her young man, Irish. She has become aware of sex, and she is drawn to that. There is a definite feeling of sixteen-year-old Sharon and the other girls in her family being newly sexual beings. As I was reading this book, I kept thinking that a lot of young girls would be interested in it because it expresses what I suspect many of them are feeling. Then I wondered how adult gatekeepers handle a book  like this. How do you offer kids a book that portrays teen sexuality?

It takes Sharon half the book to actually get pregnant. In order to avoid spoilers, I don't want to go into great detail about what happens to her and her eighteen-year-old boyfriend after that point. I don't think it's giving too much away, though, to say that Sharon ends up in a facility for pregnant minors, since the book is called House of Girls. It's an unfortunate title because the house of girls doesn't come into the picture until the halfway point, and the other girls there aren't that important. This is Sharon's story.

And there most definitely is a story here. A story is an account of something that happens to somebody and its significance. Sharon got pregnant and the misery she went through is the significance. There was probably little hope for her and her young man as far as a long-term relationship is concerned because of their youth and Irish's, shall we say, lack of dependability. But if they had lived in a different time with different people, their relationship might have been allowed to run its course. Their suffering, particularly Sharon's, would have been of a much more mundane nature, nothing like what she went through because she had the bad luck to get pregnant at sixteen during the Kennedy Era.

I read this as an eBook that I got for free during a promotion earlier this year. This is another example of the opportunities for discovery provided by eBooks.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Summer Reading Finale

I've spent about six weeks discussing Manage Your Day-to-Day, a book of essays on working with creativity edited by Joceyln K. Glei. I got a lot out of this book for two reasons.

  • It deals with issues I've been studying and thinking about for a year and a half as part of my Time Management Tuesday Project.
  • I liked the short essay format. I've read a number of nonfiction books this last half year on subjects connected in some way to managing time or writing. Many of them were bloated with narrative sections that went on far too long or didn't seem to illustrate the point being made. The essay format used in Manage Your Day-to-Day eliminates that. The writers stick to one specific idea in each essay and don't meander. Yes, some essays were better than others, either because the material was of greater interest to me or I felt the writing was better. But that's the beauty of a book of essays. You can pick and choose, not read everything, and still get complete reading experiences because essays are complete narratives.
I purchased this book as an eBook for Kindle, so it was incredibly affordable. This is an example of eBooks providing opportunities for discovering new writers and concepts because of their lower cost.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Pragmatic Yoga And Writing Practitioner

Today while on Feedly my eye was caught by Writing/Yoga Connection at Writers' Rumpus. This is an elegant essay by Carol Gordon Ekster in which she compares two of her loves, writing and yoga. With both "growth is measured in minute increments" and "Both passions take years to master." So true, so true.

Gordon Ekster treats yoga much as I would meditation, though that isn't at all unreasonable, since meditation is one of the branches of yoga. This suggests she does a much better job of unifying her yoga practice than I do mine. In my universe, there is yoga, and there is meditation. She is also far more spiritual about both yoga and writing than I am. I tend to be practical rather than spiritual.

While reading Writing/Yoga Connection, I thought of Elizabeth Grace Saunders' essay Letting Go of Perfectionism in Manage Your Day-to-Day. In it she writes about creative perfectionists and creative pragmatists. She uses the terms in relation to the way perfectionism can hinder people getting work done. To me, creative pragmatism is more of a world view. I almost always have some kind of practical use in mind for the things I take on, creative or otherwise.

For instance, like Gordon Ekster, I maintain what I think of as a practice for both yoga and writing. With yoga, I'm not interested in captivating my body or connecting myself to my soul, the way she is. While I've been dabbling in yoga for around thirteen years, I've been maintaining a short, nearly daily practice for two or so for one major reason--pain management. I'm trying (and, for the most part, succeeding) to control osteoarthritis. I've got a pragmatic goal. I have an intention, but I'm probably not using the word the way yogis and meditators do.

Writing goes back to grade school. I don't write for joy, but because it is what I do. If something is part of your identity, it is functional. I think in terms of writing almost all the time, seeing around me things I can take from other fields--business, martial arts, management, even engineering, right now--to apply to mine. You might say that I'm a taker, a user. I tend to feel, as Nora Ephron's mother did, that "everything is copy." At least, everything is something I can apply somehow.

I totally follow Gordon Ekster's argument that there is a connection, or, maybe, a similarity of some sort, between  yoga and writing. But, then, as I said, I find connections between writing and everything. My pragmatism leads me to glean, to collect from everywhere.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Weekend Writer: WriteOnCon On Voice

So did we all get a chance to stop by WriteOnCon this past week? Hmm? No? Well, I did, and I have my eye on a few events there that I still want to take a look at.

However, today I'm going to point you to something I've already seen at  WriteOnCon, What y'all saying, Bubba?--Creating Voice in Fiction by Joy Preble. We covered using voice to find story here in June. But you can never know too much, and Preble has some interesting things to say on this subject.

Voice And Worldview

Take a look at her third paragraph, for instance, which begins "What makes voice?" Everything she gives for an answer is correct, but I agree with her when she says that "Understanding and sticking to the character's worldview" is particularly important. She makes a good point later with “It doesn’t matter what typical sixteen year olds would say or not. The only thing that matters is what this particular sixteen-year-old character would say."

Writers only know characters well enough to create a way of speaking for them if they have created a worldview for them, if they know how characters understand and see the world. It becomes a circle, really. Characters speak a certain way because of their understanding of their world and their place in it. Their world and their place in it has an impact on them, and that's why they speak the way they do.

At some point in your writing, character and world become knitted together, everything becomes part of the whole.

Yeah. I know. Ommm.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Bout of Books Read-a-thon

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 19th and runs through Sunday, August 25th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 8.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team.
Bout of BooksYes, people, I am going to take part in a read-a-thon next week. I'm feeling a need to mix with others a bit, and the Bout of Books people sound very reassuring about low-pressure. See? They said "low-pressure" in the above blurb. No, I won't be challenging myself or going after any grand prizes. I'm not even competing with myself relating to my usual number of books read in a week, because I've been jumping around among books recently, so there hasn't been any "books read in a week."

My goals are somewhat murky. I want to finish up a couple of eBooks I've started, and see what I can do with the library pile. And maybe read a few essays from the book I've left in the car for emergency travel reading. Since I've just joined Twitter, figuring out how to follow the #boutof books Twitter account would be a good idea. And I'm behind with some Goodreads updates. It would be good if I could get to those next week, too.

I expect to be doing a two-hour car trip on Sunday, and I should only have to drive one way. Some reading time there. Then next week will definitely be stationary bike week during exercise sessions because I can read there, too.

Go over to the Bout of Books site and take a look at the sign up post. There are over 300 bloggers planning to do this. I will keep you posted on how this one is doing.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Today I'm At "Dude, Sustainable!"

I have a guest post up today at Dude, Sustainable, a sustainable living blog. My post is a flash essay, Providing Children With Environmental Reading Experiences, and refers to a few of the books I've mentioned here as part of the Environmental Book Club. Melissa Stewart and Loree Griffin Burns both corresponded with me while I was preparing this essay.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Summer Reading--Spending Time On Any Kind Of Creativity

I  know that many people probably perceive focusing on managing time as very noncreative. What about art? What about literature and music and those fields that are, I think, rather stereotypically considered creative? Shouldn't we be focusing on something like that?

I have a very practical attitude toward creativity. Creativity is simply the act of making something that did not exist before. Whether we're talking painting a landscape or baking a cake or writing a novel or building a house, we are talking creativity. Making something that did not exist before takes time. Big, big connection between time and creativity, in my humble opinion.

Manage Your Day-to-Day 's section on creativity includes an essay by Todd Henry called Creating for You, and You Alone. Now, remember, Manage Your Day-to-Day doesn't deal specifically with writers or artists but with all types of "creatives," people who need to come up with something that didn't exist before as part of their work This particular essay deals with people who work creatively in their jobs, but need to stay on a particular creative task. Exercising other aspects of their creativity is difficult for them, though doing so might be good for their day job, in addition to anything else they want to do with their lives.

Why am I interested in this essay when I write here for writers who presumably create for themselves all the time? Well, actually, we don't. Many writers have traditional day jobs that require creativity of them quite apart from the creative work they want to do for publication. Creating for themselves has to happen in addition to that. I also know writers who do work-for-hire, writing specific nonfiction books, for instance, for a particular publisher or writing volumes for series fiction. Earlier this year I met an illustrator who had "auditioned" for and won a rather nice assignment illustrating some children's books for a known cable chef. She expects to be tied up with that job for two years. For  many working writers and illustrators, this really is an issue.

Todd writes about what he calls "Unnecessary Creation," which he believes "is essential for anyone who works with his or her mind." He's talking about creative acts--making something, anything, that didn't exist  before--that are unrelated to an individual's work. "...something about engaging in the creative act on our own terms seems to unleash latent passions and insights." In other words, creativity spurs creativity.

He suggests creating a list of creative projects to work on in spare time, (I know. What's that?) then setting aside a specific time each week or day (Hell, I'd be happy with time each month) to make progress on it. The point of Unnecessary Creation is that any kind of creativity has value. For those writers I know who are trying to get to other types of creative work, that might be what goes into their spare time set asides. Or maybe not. Maybe simply engaging in any creative act will unleash the insights they need to get to the Unnecessary Creation they really want to move on. Creativity encourages creativity.

In the month or two since I read Todd's essay, I've been posting pictures of my Unnecessary Creations at my personal Facebook page.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I'm On Twitter. Now What?

Last Friday I had an opportunity to get some Twitter advice from a family friend and made the jump. User name gail_gauthier  I have a list of links to Twitter articles in my journal to read. I've only managed to get to What's the Best Way for Authors to Use Twitter?  Among the suggestions there? "Post an inspirational quote or message." I'm afraid the Twitterverse will wait a long time to hear something inspirational from me.

Should A Writer Do The Same Thing On All Platforms?

Oddly enough, earlier in the week I was involved in a brief discussion at the Writer Unboxed Facebook page about writers sending blog posts out over multiple platforms. A few of us were not at all crazy about that idea, because many receivers end up getting that post several times. Most writers keep joining more and more social media sites believing that each new one is going to be the one that brings them to a large audience. In reality, though, we're finding the same people at each site. Therefore, if we post the same message everywhere, the same people get it. How does this duplication happen?

Let's use Gail as a case study, shall we?

  1. First social media site. I decided a couple of years ago that I wanted a Facebook page. I just wanted a professional-type page to do short bursts of professional-type writing, similar to this blog but much, much shorter. After looking into the situation, I decided I wanted what some people call a fan page these days, because those pages turn up if someone does a Google search of "Gail Gauthier." The personal pages, according to the information I could find, could only be accessed by people who were members of Facebook. That is a finite group, whereas the whole world can use Google. I couldn't see spending any time at all on a Facebook page that could only reach a finite number of people.
  2. Second social media site. However, at the time I was doing this, my understanding was that I couldn't get the "professional" fan page without first having a personal page. I've been told by others since then that this is not the case. Still, this is how I immediately ended up with two social media sites. With the personal page, I could start Friending people. With the professional/fan page, I had to wait for people to Like me. I told the Friends at the personal page about the professional/fan page.
  3. As a result, almost half the followers of my professional/fan page are friends at my personal page. If I routinely post the same information at each page, those people have to endure getting the same message.
  4. Third social media site. I joined Goodreads. Guess what? There's a connection between Facebook and Goodreads. When you join Goodreads, a bunch of your friends from Facebook automatically become your friends at Goodreads. If you send your blog posts to both your Facebook pages and to Goodreads, those poor friends are now getting the same message three times.
  5. Fourth social media site. A couple of friends invited me to become active on Google+. A lot of people I know are also on Google+, so if I've been sending my blog posts to my other three social media sites and start sending them to Google+, too, we now have people being hit with them four times.
  6. Fifth social media site. When you join Twitter, who do you suppose you're going to find there? That's right. Your friends from all your other social media sites. Send your blog posts there, or any message that is the same, and you now have the potential for hammering the same people five times.

Now, media people will tell you that individuals need to hear a message a certain number of times before they remember it. But they don't necessarily mean the same exact message from the same person. This is why people do blog tours and hope to get reviewed at journals. They want readers to hear about their books multiple times, but the multiple times are coming from different sources. That's buzz. When it just comes from you, that's painful. Tedious. Hard sell.

A Social Media Protocol

I've developed a sort of protocol for my social media efforts.

  1. Original Content--Short-form nonfiction on writing and literature and promotional material related to my work.
  2. Professional/Fan Facebook Page--Professionally-related material. The blog is not linked to it. I include blog posts occasionally if there is information I want to get out--a new publication, for instance. I post links to my professional reading. Rarely do I post the same material that I post at my personal page.
  3. Personal Facebook Page--These posts project me personally, but only in relation to personal creative activities and some travel/fitness. I include blog posts occasionally if there is information I want to get out--a new publication, for instance. Rarely do I post the same material that I post at my professional/fan page. I Friend other writers, litbloggers, family members, and nonwriting friends.
  4. Goodreads--This is specifically about reading. I do have a blog there, Gail Gauthier Reads, but it is primarily about reading, including my nonchildren's book reading. If I want to include some promotional material there from the blog, it is a total rewrite. I rate books I've discussed here at Original Content, using quotes from here and a link back to that post. I also friend new litbloggers I've found, not the children's litbloggers I've known for years, in order to create a new base of people.
  5. Google+--Original Content does get published directly to the Google+. What I'm trying to do there is reach new people, building circles of still more new bloggers and developing a self-publishing circle. Google+ is about new people.
  6. Twitter--What? I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do here. The blog is not going to be automatically linked there, I'll post my own links occasionally. I also plan, at this point, to keep Twitter extremely professional. No pictures of cakes I've made or trails I've biked. I'm going to share reading I've liked, such as the Salon article I wrote about here last week. Twitter would be a place to share the article, Original Content would be a place to discuss it. Since I don't have a giant audience at my Professional Facebook page, I feel pretty comfortable using reading links from there on Twitter, especially since at the Facebook page, I can make a brief commentary about them, making what goes there a little different from what goes on Twitter.
Yes, I have given this an enormous amount of thought. And, once again, there are no metrics for determining the value of social media, so this may be time and effort for which I will get very little in return. However, it just seems so incredibly wasteful to have all these platforms, to refuse to use them mindfully, and to send out the one message everywhere, risking turning receivers off, because they keep hearing it over and over again.

Okay, I'm off to Twitter!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Is "Code Name: Verity" An Odd Duck?

Salon has an article about the audio version of Code Name: Verity by Elizabeth Wein. In it author Laura Miller says, "Although published as YA (Young Adult) fiction, it’s a bit of an odd duck in the genre. Its accounts of Nazi torture and death camps are serious and frank (and, it should be added, quite true to the fates of the many brave young people, male and female, who fought for the French Resistance), which will make it too disturbing for some youthful readers. And there’s no dreamy romance, an apparent requirement in YA books for girls these days."

Now, I think an argument could be made that Verity could have been published as adult because the main characters aren't teenagers and aren't living a typical teenage experience. But because the accounts of torture and death camps are too disturbing for youthful readers? Are torture and death camps that different from all the other disturbing material that YA covers--rape, death from disease and accident, and mental illness, for instance?

Miller's comment about the romance requirement--I have heard rumbling about that, but never that the absence of that element is the mark of an adult book.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Wit Really Can Take You A Long Way

First off, U.S. Skulduggery fans: No, these books haven't been published here. I ordered them from abroad. Hey, the U.S. publishing world gave up on this series and didn't want me to read these books, but I got around them. I feel like a the main character in a spy movie. Yeah, Angelina Jolie taking down the man.

My niece lent me the two Skulduggery Pleasant books I bought for her in March. To be honest, I found them slow getting into, in large part because there's more and more of a serial aspect to these stories now. In fact, when my niece handed them to me, she said, "They're really getting into cliffhangers." With a serial, it's hard to bring yourself up to speed if you haven't read the earlier books recently. There's a wide array of bad guys in the Skulduggery Universe, and, personally, I can't keep track of them over a long period of time. For instance, somebody named Lord Vile becomes important (again, I guess) in Death Bringer, and while the name rang a bell, that was all it did for me.
Both books did develop a certain...magnetic...aspect, though, drawing me back to them over and over. In large part, this is due to clever conversation. I would be hard put to recall the basic stories in any of these books. Many characters, however, are marvelously entertaining. Skulduggery Pleasant is a standout, of course, and he has had a big impact (some would say a bad influence) on his sidekick, Valkyrie Cain, who is the real protagonist in this series. But a wide array of secondary and even minor characters are clever and funny. Scapegrace the zombie, for instance. Valkyrie's parents. Her nitwit cousins. Clarabelle, who doesn't appear to be the brightest light in the sorcerer world. In fact, I'm not sure how she came to be part of it.

Wit and humor are what carries these books. The plots, no so much. The sixth book, Death Bringer, includes an incredibly clever thread (I hate to even call it a subplot) that rips into Twilight's Edward Cullen big time. It's brilliant. I appreciated it a great deal. But it really doesn't have anything to do with the book's basic story, which involves an attempt to kill half the world's population. In fact, this book has a torn-between-two-lovers scenario that I suspect only exists so Landy can make fun of Twilight. Hey, I love making fun of Twilight as much as the next person. More than its many fans. But here the pleasure I took from the humor was distracting.

Here's a fascinating thing that's happening in these later Skulduggery Pleasant books: Valkyrie Cain is becoming more and more unpleasant. I suspect that some of this attitude of hers was always there, but she's now becoming just plain nasty. She has a sort of shadow person who lives her mortal life for her so she can be off saving the world from paranormal bad guys without upsetting the folks. By the fifth and sixth books, Valkyrie is treating it like...yeah, mud, let's say. We may find at some point that this is due to some kind of envy because the duplicate gets to be part of the family Valkyrie has to leave, but in the meantime, Valkyrie is really awful to it. She's pretty dreadful to the two boyfriends. She has the...mud...beaten out of her by a character who is seeking revenge for all the cruel taunts Valkyrie has directed toward her in the past. Valkyrie doesn't seem to get that she had a part in bringing that down upon herself. She tosses around the words, "Shut up" and "Moron" as if they are fine examples of witty repartee, which they most certainly aren't, in case anyone is wondering, not even here. She is turning into a very unlikable main character. 

I like that. I find it intriguing. Where is Landy going with this? Or is he going anywhere with it? Does he find her as unlikable as I do, or does he, indeed, believe, "Shut up" is the soul of wit?

I suspect that Landy is intentionally going dark and unlikable, because I recently learned he has started a new series featuring Tanith Low, a character from the Skulduggery Pleasant Universe who went over to the side of evil in a big, big way. He is doing a whole series with a main character who is a bad guy. This flies in the face of Writing 101, where writers learn that protagonists must be likable so that readers will want to identify with  them. This is fascinating.

I now want to know how dreadful Valkyrie is going to become. I broke down and ordered book seven in the Skulduggery series, Kingdom of the Wicked, which just goes to show that unlikable characters can sell books.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Summer Reading--Time For Social Media

Manage Your Day-to-Day includes a number of essays on dealing with social media. Writers frequently fret about this subject. Is there any way of telling if social media does us any good? Is it addictive? How do I "turn it off?" Do I want to turn it off?

If Writers Are Going To Use Social Media, They Should Use Social Media

First off, a thought about how writers use social media. I'm not going to suggest that we should be doing more of it. Heaven knows, I've complained enough over the years about the time I spend marketing with social media. I do think, though, that many writers could use social media better. For instance, setting up a blog or a Facebook page that you only visit every month or so probably doesn't even count as social media. That little involvement with others can hardly be described as social. Using a blog or Facebook page just for the occasional announcement isn't social, either. As far as blogging is concerned, it probably isn't even technically a blog.

Using social media well is the best chance we have for using it in as time efficient a manner as possible.

Mindfulness And Social Media

 In Lori Deschene's Manage Your Day-to-Day essay, Using Social Media Mindfully, she writes about having clear intentions for social media use. "When we're mindful, we're aware of why we're logging on, and we're able to fully disconnect when we've followed through with our intention."  For those of us who use social media as part of our work, she says our "involvement might hinge around various objectives." Yes. Social media is part of our marketing plan, so it should be one of our objectives (steps) toward the goal of marketing ourselves.

What is our intention for each type of social media we use? I have a very specific intention for this blog, for instance. I have a specific intention for my professional Facebook page, which is different from my personal Facebook page. My intention at Goodreads is different, still. There I am trying to build a reading community to be part of. At Google+ my intention is to seek out different people,  adult fiction litbloggers and self-publishing people. There is definitely overlap among these groups, and there is some overlap on what I post. This blog goes to Google+ every day,  and quotes from blog reader responses go to my Goodreads reviews. But because I have an intention, I'm often able to go to a site, do what I intend to do and leave, to disconnect as Deschene said.

What Do We Want To Do With Social Media?

People who write about social media often compare it to being with groups of people in the real world. In the real world, most of us want to experience positive interactions and that desire controls our behavior and how we present ourselves. Controlling our behavior and being mindful of the impression we're making on-line can help control the amount of time we spend on social media.
  • For instance, do you really want to be known and remembered as the guy who is always pushing his self-published books at the Google+ community he was invited to join? Limiting hardcore self-promotion is a time saver.
  • How do Facebook political rants fit in with a writer's intentions for social media, which, remember, is an objective in an overall marketing plan? Do you want to be known for your politics or for your professional work? If you do want to be known for your politics, okay. Go for it. If you don't, limiting those kinds of posts is another time saver. Be mindful. Know what you're doing.
  •  Deschene suggests social media users ask themselves "Is it necessary to share this? Will it add value to my life and for other people?" By adding value to your life we might mean value to your professional life. By adding value for other people we might mean value to a professional/creative community. If a post doesn't do either of those things, maybe you can save some time and stay away from some of your social media outlets.
Deschene's suggestion that we treat social media involvement mindfully merely means that we not spend time on random, thoughtless activity. That time saved can then be used for something else.

Okay, I've got to go link this post to Facebook and Google+.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Weekend Writer: WriteOnCon And Writers' Conferences

I'm going to take a little break from writing about finding our stories with plot, so I can talk about writing conferences and their value to very new writers.

When To Consider Attending A Writers' Conference

When I was a young whipperwriter, just starting out, my sole experience with writers' conferences was working in the kitchen at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Conferences didn't litter the landscape back then the way they do now, so attending them wasn't something I gave a lot of thought to. Things are different now. Conferences are everywhere.

Conferences could very well be a good next step for an unpublished writer who has put in some time writing, studying, and maybe with a writers' group. I wouldn't advise it as the first thing someone considering getting started writing should do. You will get more out of a conference, if you have some kind of knowledge base to begin with.

Many people will tell you that the big benefit of conferences is networking and making connections that will help you professionally. Cannot say that has ever happened with me. I still think conferences are beneficial if there are workshops being offered that specifically deal with the kind of writing you do or with writing problems you have. That increases the probability of you getting something from the experience. That's another reason to wait to attend until you have some knowledge of writing. Without that, you won't even know what conference options are best for you.

Going to a writers' conference and sitting in the same room with other writers can make you feel like a writer. It's good to be with your own kind every now and then.

What To Look For In A Conference And What To Expect

Conferences are iffy things, though. Anyone can rent some space, higher a few people to speak, and call it a conference. Look for conferences run by organizations that have been around for a while, like the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and its regional branches or Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America or established colleges, like Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Even then, not all conference workshops/panels/lectures are created equal. Many are taught/given by writers who have different amounts of experience both as writers and as speakers. Publishing one book doesn't make anyone an authority on anything, no matter how successful it was. Publishing a dozen books doesn't mean someone can speak well and explain what s/he does. You have to go into these things thinking of them the way you would a book of essays or short stories. Some essays/short stories in an anthology are mind boggling. Some you don't know what they're doing there. You're going to come away with some transforming moments from some conference workshops, you're going to have wasted your time in others. That's just the way it is.

Which Brings Us To WriteOnCon 


Are you all excited now about attending a writers' conference? You want to go to one very, very soon? You can get a little exposure to one, cheaply and easily, by attending WriteOnCom, a free, online, children's writers' conference being held August 13th and 14th. "...keynote addresses, agent panels, and lectures are presented as blogs, vlogs, moderated chats, webinars, podcasts, and livestreaming." If you can't be in front of your computer one of the days of the conference, you can check out most of this online material at your leisure. I "attended" last year's WriteOnCon about two weeks after it was over.

I hope to go closer to the actual dates this year, and will, no doubt, be blogging about some of what I see there.

A Change Of Schedule 


Some of my faithful readers may have noticed that I'm having difficulty blogging on weekends this summer. To deal with the reality of this situation, I am going to cut back to blogging just once a weekend. I'll be alternating The Weekend Writer with Weekend Links.

So you shouldn't expect to see The Weekend Writer again for two weeks.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Where Was Gail Last Month?

I made a few stops around the Internet during July.

First off, the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar is re-posted each month at Connecticut Bloggers.

I took part in the Kid Lit Blog Hop at Mother Daughter & Son Book Reviews.

My guest post, Writing About Food--Again And Again was published at Word Spelunking.

I also took part in July's Carnival of Children's Literature at Prose and Kahn.

And, finally, I was included in July's Carnival of the Indies at The Book Designer.

Thank you to all my hosts.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Environmental Book Club

Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed with illustrations by Barbara McClintock is another book that provides readers with an experience, in this case, the experience of taking part in something that can only occur seasonally.

The narrator belongs to a skating family, one that skates on natural ice. They are attuned to the way ice changes as winter progresses, because it means either different kinds of skating for them ("stream ice" sounds fantastic to me) or brings them closer and closer to the big event, making their own ice rink and skating on it. And then, of course, the ice changes some more as the winter season moves along and the world comes closer to spring.

This is a totally different kind of skating life than the one we hear about every four years when the Winter Olympics come around and for a few weeks TV viewers go, "Oh. Skating. People do that?" Those types of skaters work year around on a static type of ice, something that is always there for them, assuming they can pay their fees. Humans have overcome the cycle of nature in order to provide a seasonal activity all year round.

Bryan Obed is writing about skaters who only skate when the environment they live in offers them ice. Skating makes them part of their natural environment.

I was drawn to this book because I'd read years ago that ice is some kind of recurring motif in Canadian literature. I don't know if that's actually the case, but I like the idea of an entire culture being so involved with its setting. Also, my son and I tried to build an ice rink in our backyard, also years ago. Central Connecticut is far south of Maine, where Twelve Kinds of Ice takes place, so we had that working against us to begin with. Then, after several days of effort, another family member suggested that we probably shouldn't have tried to build an ice rink over the septic tank. He was there every day. He couldn't have mentioned this before we got started?

I wonder how many children and parents will read Twelve Kinds of Ice and try for a backyard rink, too?