Monday, September 30, 2013

I Have Connections

I actually know one of the authors on the New York Public Library's Top 100 Books List, Mitali Perkins. Four or five years ago, I had dinner at a table next to the table at which another of these author's was seated, Lois Lowry. And Tomi dePaulo, who made the list twice, once walked by me at a conference and was so close, I could have reached out and shoved him.

That Was A Bit Of An Ordeal

I have a book-length work-in-progress that is actually in progress. This is the first time since the eBook publication effort for Saving the Planet & Stuff. Huzzah.

I got started on this in April, prepping for May Days, a unit of time I used to plan scenes for this project. Planning scenes is like plotting but different. Perhaps it could replace plotting for those who struggle with that.

I actually got started writing sometime this summer (maybe August?), working from that scene list. I was two and a half chapters and thirty-nine pages in, when I realized I still had a ways to go to get to the big disturbance to my protagonist's world. If you've been following my plotting posts for The Weekend Writer, you know that I'm very interested in the initial disturbance that starts a story. I had a secondary disturbance in the very first sentence, but the big one was taking a while to get to.

So for a little more than two weeks, I've been revising those two and a half chapters, changing the structure of the first chapter dramatically so that readers move back and forth between the day of the big reveal and how the protagonist got there. Instead of two and a half chapters and thirty-nine pages without reaching what I wanted to reach, I now have one twenty-eight page chapter, and I'm where I want to be to get the story going. In fact, the story is going.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Organic Writers And Plotters

I am an organic writer, as I said earlier this month, which makes it difficult for me to talk about plotting. What is an organic writer, you ask? I've seen references to us for a long time, but usually the references aren't very involved, as if many people aren't clear on what we are. ("I may not know organic writers, but I recognize one when I see one!") We are said to write by the seat of our pants. Thus you sometimes hear us referred to by the mildly vulgar term "pantsers." We are said not to plot. I once saw a blogger describe us as using our first drafts to find our stories, meaning we sit down to write before we know what our story will be.

Plotters, on the other hand, presumably plot out their stories before they start to write. My understanding is that they know what they're going to write, they just have to sit down and do it. I once read a plotter describe spending three months working out his plot before he started actually writing. I don't know if most plotting writers do that, or if plots spring from their heads fully formed, or how they work at all. I can only guess what they do.

My last Weekend Writer post dealt with The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson. Alderson provides some of the best writing on organic writers that I've ever seen.

Organic writers, she says, tend to think in pictures, as in "the big picture,"  rather than language, while plotters go the other way. They are more analytical and detail oriented. Organic writers tend to prefer writing about characters while plotters prefer dramatic action. Organic writers tend to see a story as a whole and are short on details. Plotters tend to see the story in its parts. Organic writers may concentrate on character and end up being weak on the action that drives readers to stick with a story. Plotters may concentrate on action scenes and lose readers who need human interest.

I agree with a lot of what Alderson has to say about organic writers. Our interest in the big picture tends to leave us going, Okay, how do I get to that big picture? This is why formulaic plotting plans often aren't very useful for us. They involve coming up with details. A problem to solve and roadblocks to solving said problem or, heaven help me, metaphorical doors to go through or not are more mystifying than not for us. If I have problems coming up with details, telling me to come up with details isn't going to provide me with a lot of help.

Plotters are like engineers who design every element of a project so that it can be built into a completed whole. Plotters supposedly know what's going to happen in their story after they have their plot worked out, just as engineers know how their project will turn out once they've finished their, though both may have to make some changes before the job is done. Organic writers are also like engineers, engineers who have to "fast track" a project, meaning construction begins before they've finished the design. Organic writers frequently begin writing before they even are clear on what the basic story is going to be. Their process is all about design changes.

In future posts, I'll have more to say about writing process for organic writers.

Friday, September 27, 2013

October Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

It's a big month for children's and YA literature in Connecticut, due in part to The Barnes and Noble chain, which is hosting more authors than usual.

Tues., Oct. 1, Jason Odell Williams, Westport Public Library, Westport 7:30

Wed., Oct. 2, J.C. Phillipps, Oliver Wolcott Library, Litchfield 7 PM to 8 PM Presentation on writing and publishing books

Wed., Oct. 2, Christine Pakkala, Barnes and Noble, Westport 7:00

Sat., Oct. 5, Dawn Metcalf, Costco, Enfield Noon-2:00 PM Signing

Wed., Oct. 9 Brandon Mull, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Thurs., Oct. 10, Deborah Freedman, R. J. Julia Booksellers 10:30 AM

Thurs., Oct. 10, Neal Shusterman, Barnes and Noble, West Hartford 7:00 PM

Thurs., Oct. 10, Brandon Mull, Barnes and Noble, Enfield 5:30 PM

Tues., Oct. 15, Dawn Metcalf, East Granby Public Library, East Granby 6:30 PM-8:00 PM Teen Writing Workshop

Wed., Oct. 16, David Adler, Barnes and Noble, Westport 7:00 PM

Thurs., Oct. 17, Kate DiCamillo, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Mon., Oct. 21, Adam Gidwitz, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Tues., Oct. 22, Judy Schachner, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Wed., Oct. 23, Mark Tatulli, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Thurs., Oct. 24, Janet Lawler, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Thurs., Oct. 24, John Lithgow, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Sat., Oct. 26, Dawn Metcalf, Barnes and Noble, Enfield Noon-2:00 PM

Sat., Oct. 26, Sara Levine, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 3:00 PM

Sat., Oct. 26, Carol Aebersold, Barnes and Noble, Westport 2:00 PM

Sun., Oct. 27, Carol Aebersold, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 3:00 PM

Sun., Oct. 27, Chanda Bell, Barnes and Noble, North Haven 1:00 PM

Tues., Oct. 29, Dawn Metcalf, Tolland Public Library, Tolland 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM Writers' workshop

Wed., Oct. 30, Stacy DeKeyser and Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Welles-Turner Memorial Library, Glastonbury 7 PM to 9 PM Workshop for writers submitting to the Tassy Walden Awards

Thursday, September 26, 2013

When Reviewers Collide

Leila Roy, of bookshelves of doom, has an interesting piece at the Kirkus site. In it she disagrees with Kirkus's own review of The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman. "Kirkus panned it as “skippable in the extreme”;" Leila says. "I haven’t been able to stop raving about it since reading it. Kirkus found it “unrealistic,” “ludicrous” and “snooze-inducing”; I found it chilling, suspenseful, shocking and raw."

This is an example of why I like to think of talking about books as "literary conversations" instead of "reviews." We tend to think of a review as something definitive. If you only read one review publication, that publication's reviewer provides you with your last word on any book you read about there. But, then, if you you read another publication, you may get a very different last word. That's the conversation.

The star system at places like Goodreads and Amazon, which are all averaged together so you see a 3-star book, 4-star, 5-star? No conversation there. A star is just a star. Even 5 stars are just 5 stars.

Of particular interest to me in this The Waking Dark conversation: I saw that book just a few hours ago at my library! I almost took it out. At the time, I wasn't particularly taken by what I considered to be a paranormal element. But now that I've overheard this conversation about The Waking Dark, I will reconsider the next time I see it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Opportunity For Unpublished Writers In Connecticut

The 2014 New Voices in Children’s Literature: Tassy Walden Awards are taking submissions from Connecticut writers and illustrators of children's literature. The submission deadline is February 3, 2014.

Scroll down to check out authors who have won this award and gone on to publish. Several of these people I actually know. They're for real! Tassy winners do move on.

Five workshops will be offered in October to provide information on preparing submissions. Workshop leaders are published writers and illustrators and Tassy Walden winners. The October 30th workshop in Glastonbury will be led by Stacy DeKeyser and Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

Tuesday, October 22, 7 - 9pm: Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, 84 Lyme Street, Old Lyme
Saturday, October 26, 10am - Noon: Byrd’s Books, 126 Greenwood Avenue, Bethel
Saturday, October 26, 2 - 4pm: Russell Library, 123 Broad Street, Middletown
Tuesday, October 29, 6 - 8pm: New Haven Public Library,133 Elm Street, New Haven
Wednesday, October 30, 7-  9pm: Welles-Turner Memorial Library, 2407 Main Street, Glastonbury


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Sprinting

August and September were rough months as far as time is concerned. (Yeah, aren't they all?) In addition to an increase in the elder care duties, I spent a couple of my workdays having a great time with family members who don't work in the summer and another couple with friends I only see once a year. One week I worked only Monday and Tuesday with five days going to other things. What I find happens in those situations is that I also lose my first day back at work, trying to get back up to speed. That was certainly the case in that instance.

I'd been trying to start a draft of the project I'd worked on during May Days and getting nowhere. When I could work,  there was always something else that needed to be done. So I decided to try sprinting, which I'd read about in a Query Tracker post by Ash Krafton. She described writing in 20- to 30-minute sprints throughout the day. As Krafton said in her post "sprints are tiny finite things," and you have to work intensely during them. Hey, for 20 minutes I can be intense. As she also said, "sprints aren't tiny finite things" because they do lead to sustained writing.

I used 20-minute sprints, only once a day, trying to squeeze one in every day to avoid those long breaks in the writing process for that particular project. The first time I did it, I was trying to work between the time a family member left after staying overnight and a commitment to be somewhere else. (I can't even remember now.) I only did 10 minutes. But I did work. For the most part, I've also been able to get a sprint in at least once a weekend.

On days when I can be here to work, I still do a WIP sprint in the morning. Then I do some units of time on other things I need to get done (a submission, for instance) and go back to the WIP later in the day. The morning sprint makes getting into the project in the afternoon much, much easier.

In fact, I managed to get two and a half chapters done working this way. Of course, I'm now working on revising them down to one chapter, which seems like going backwards. But that's an organic writing issue, not a time management issue. And, by the way, because I'm an organic writer, I'm not actually going backwards. That's off topic, but just saying.

Anyway, right now I'm loving sprinting. It doesn't just generate content. It keeps you in the world of your project, which has a big impact on managing time.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Some Professional Reading

I dropped the new issues of the SCBWI Bulletin and The Horn Book into the tub last week. Yeah, that's into a tub that had water in it. I managed to pull the pages apart enough so I could finish reading them, and the magazines have been sitting on the edge of the tub, all dried, hard, and wrinkled, ever since. Though the method of communication is the worse for wear, the content being communicated is still meaningful.

One of The Horn Book's articles I want to hold back and talk about in November, when I'm planning to focus on picture books more than I usually do because of Picture Book Month. Among the reviews I noticed was one for The Waffler by Gail Donovan, which I mention because Gail was one of the first people I met through NESCBWI. I saw another for the first in a new series, Lockwood & Co., by Jonathan Stroud, author of the Bartimaeus books, a definite favorite of mine. Lockwood & Co is described in The Horn Book as "part procedural," which I like and "part ghost story," which I don't. The procedural aspect and the Bartimaeus connection are enough to get me to give this book a try. Three of the books on the longlist for the 2013 National Book Award were also reviewed in this issue: Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, and Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang.

My favorite article in  the SCBWI Bulletin was The Ins and Outs of Write-ins by Wendy Henrichs and Colleen Kelly. A write-in is a gathering at which writers write. They are there to work. Write-ins don't take time away from writing the way critique groups do. Why gather to write instead of writing alone? I'm assuming lunch or breakfast could be involved.

Both publications carried an article on The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter, an exhibition at the New York Public Library. The Horn Book article was written by Leonard S. Marcus who curated the exhibit and happens to be my favorite children's book historian. Or maybe my favorite literary historian, period.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Problem Upon Problem

Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo is the story of an overweight high school girl tormented by bullies. Yes, we've heard that before. What's interesting here is that Angie is also dealing with the probable loss of her sister in Iraq, which has pretty much wrecked her family. What is even more interesting is that an attractive, very cool, new girl in school seeks Angie out.

Angie is living in a world of suffering, and that world is disturbed by the arrival of someone. I liked that opening. How is Angie going to respond to that disturbance?

After that, more and more problems pile on. Angie's mother is hard, hard, hard.  Her brother is acting out in hateful ways toward her. Her head tormentor at school seems almost pathological in her behavior. The new girl's interest brings more challenge (no spoilers), and she has problems to boot. As much as I liked what I saw as Angie's basic story, it seemed to be overwhelmed by so many problems for its character to deal with.

As I was reading this book, I was reminded of Alice Bliss, an adult book that deals with a teenage girl's life while her father is serving in Iraq. With both books I kept thinking that we have a volunteer army now. No one has to leave a family to go to Iraq. And while it is without a doubt a noble act to serve your country with military service of this type, what about the families that are left? In both Alice Bliss and Fat Angie we are not talking about career service people. These families know that their loved ones did not have to go. They know that their loved ones chose this action that causes such anxiety and risks such incredible pain for them. What does that do to the people at home paying a price for their father/sister's noble act? To me, that seems like a big enough situation to carry an entire story.

On the other hand, in books like this one that are filled with problems, readers get to sort of choose the one they want to follow. I do understand the attraction of the overcoming adversity storyline. In fact, Fat Angie earned starred reviews from both Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal.

Fat Angie has a great trailer, memorable enough to lead me to pick up the book when I saw it at my local library. Last summer author Charlton-Trujillo did an At-Risk Tour, driving across the country meeting with at-risk youth at community organizations as well as bookstores, bringing an author into venues where young people might not have an opportunity to meet them.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cybils Are Coming

It will be time to start Cybilizing soon. The judges for the Cybils have been announced. Which blogger Friends of Gail will be judging this year?

Melissa Wiley from Here in the Bonny Glen, first round, picture books.

Karen Yingling from Ms. Yingling Reads, first round, middle grade fiction.

Alex Baugh from Randomly Reading, second round, middle grade fiction (I know Alex from The Children's War.)

Charlotte Taylor from Charlotte's Library, first round, elementary/middle grade speculative fiction

Sarah Bean Thompson from GreenBeanTeenQueen, second round, elementary/middle grade speculative fiction

Sheila Ruth from Wands and Worlds, first round, young adult speculative fiction

Tanita Davis from Finding Wonderland, first round, young adult speculative fiction

Leila Roy from Bookshelves of Doom, first round, young adult speculative fiction

Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom, second round, graphics (I know Mia from Google+. I mention this because, yes, you can meet people on Google+.)

Kelly Fineman from Writing and Ruminating, first round, poetry

Anastasia Suen from Poet! Poet!, first round, poetry (Actually I know Anastasia from her work with Kidlitosphere Central and its listserv.)

There are also a few bloggers and blogs I recognize as well as many new ones I'm going to try to visit over the next few days.

The reading is going to begin soon.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Binging On Picture Books

This is Tuesday, so I should be doing a time management post. However, I'm recovering from a minor illness during which I've been working in sprints. I'm still lolling about reading and sleeping and saving my sprinting time for a work in progress. However, Blogger is letting me access it from my desktop today, which it hasn't done for a couple of weeks. That means I can get to my image file and finally upload this picture book post I did several weeks ago and have been saving.

I did a little art picture book binge recently. One book would be classified as an "art book" by just about anyone. The other I'm classifying as an art book because, well, this is my blog. I can classify anything anyway I want here.

Modern Art for Kids. And Me.

I don't know how kids feel about Mousterpiece by Jane Breskin Zalben, but it sure helped me develop a better understanding of modern art. Do kids need to know about modern art? Do they need to know about art at all? Does anyone? Personally, I think art is a form of communication and being able to comprehend and enjoy it is as valuable as being able to comprehend and enjoy any other kind of communication. On top of that, like other types of communication it expresses something about the culture that produces it, so it has a place in the study of history.

Okay, enough pontificating. Mousterpiece is about a mouse name Janson who lives in a museum and stumbles upon the modern art room. She is amazed and inspired and begins painting in the style of the paintings she  sees there. This is a story about appreciation. There is no push to teach artists or styles or names of paintings. All we see are Janson's paintings done in the style of Warhol, Matisse, Picasso and many more. Anyone (probably adults like myself) who wants a very quick and easy lesson on the artists Janson is inspired by can turn to a four-page spread at the back of the book. It's one of the best Notes sections in a picture book that  I've ever seen.

Narrative in Art

A piece of art often expresses a narrative, even when it is abstract rather than representational, which is probably its main attraction for me. Bluebird by Bob Staake is an example of a picture book that's narrative is expressed totally through art. All the illustrations are done in shades of blue and gray and while the work could be called representational, in that it represents what it is and we can recognize it, it's not all realistic. The human figures, for instance, are cartoonish but fit in with the overall settings in which they're placed.

While I'm not particularly fond of the narrative told  in these pictures (I find it a little "important" and even somewhat predictable in the way important children's books can be), it is a really fine example of art communicating story. So much so, in fact, that  in the early pages I found myself  going, "What? What's going on here?" It wasn't until the disturbance came to the main character's world (the bluebird's? the child's?) that I became engaged. Because disturbance is the beginning of story.

By the way, Bluebird is mentioned  in one of those What Makes a Good Picture Book About articles in  the most recent issue of The Horn Book.  Giving you the whole title would be a bit of a spoiler for Bluebird, but the article is on-line, so those of you who don't mind spoilage can follow the link and read it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dahl And Hitchcock

Today, September 13th, is Roald Dahl Day. Instead of speculating on just what a person has to do around here to get her own day, I'm going to insist, once again, that you just have to read his adult short stories.

You can start with Lamb to the Slaughter, published in Harper's in 1953. Don't have time to look for it? Well, in 1958, it was adapted for television for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.Yeah, Alfred Hitchcock. That's the kind of  story we're talking about.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Self-publishing And Web Presence

Since I've been maintaining the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar, I've been noticing an odd little quirk regarding the web presence of some of our local self-published authors. While it is common for self-published authors to have websites and blogs as sophisticated as anything you'll see in the world of traditional publishing, as well as Facebook pages, Google+ accounts, and Twitter feeds, it's also not unusual to see some self-published authors who have done nothing at all to market themselves on the Internet. I'll see authors making appearances at bookstores and when I try to find some information on them to link to within the CCLC, there is nothing. If I make a big effort (and I shouldn't have to--really, I shouldn't), I may find a small article in a local paper about Joe/Josephine Blow having published a book. And that's it. But sometimes I don't even find that.

What's going on here? you may ask. I certainly did.

In some cases, we may be talking about very inexperienced writers who are living the write-it-and-they-will-come fantasy. They may not realize that writers need to do something more than publish a book in order to find readers.

In other cases, we may be talking hobbyists, people who just want the experience of seeing their names on a book. Though why those folks are then making an appearance at a bookstore is a mystery. 

In either case, if they sat down and tried to come up with a plan to make it difficult for readers to find them, they couldn't do better than what they're doing, which is nothing.

I, of course, am interested in children's and YA writers for my children's literature calendar. I have occasionally come across writers who have chosen ambiguous titles and covers for their children's books. Unless the bookstore clearly labels these authors' events for children, and sometimes they don't, potential visitors/buyers can't even tell what age group the book is for and, thus, whether or not they're interested. If, on top of that, these authors have no web presence, there is no way to determine what their work is or who it is for.

Now, yes, traditionally published authors may not market themselves professionally, either. But the situations I have stumbled upon have all involved writers of the self-published persuasion.

I've had to put in some extra time and effort tracking down these people this past year. For the sake of my own work, I've recently made a couple of decisions: 1. If I can't find an obvious children's author's website immediately, I will list the event with no link for the author. 2. If I can't determine from the bookstore's marketing that an author has written a children's book, I can no longer justify taking the time to hunt down that information. That author's event just won't be listed.

Not only do these authors miss opportunities to connect with readers because they haven't put in the work to market themselves on the Internet, they also miss opportunities for professional networking. It isn't necessary to do every single form of Internet marketing, but it's hard to understand why someone wouldn't do at least one thing.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: A Balance Scheme

Last week I caught the tail end of a Twitter chat at #kidlitchat. The discussion topic was "Work/life/family/job/other. How do you balance it all?" I immediately recognized a subject for Time Management Tuesday because balancing activities has a great deal to do with managing time. Over the last year and a half, we've hit upon a couple of topics here at Original Content, as part of the Time Management Tuesday project or not,  that definitely deal with the getting everything done issue.

Balance Is Easier When You're Trying To Juggle Fewer Things

Really think of the balancing metaphor. Think in terms of  carrying a number of things and having to carefully balance them in order to do so. There will always come a tipping point, when you have one item too many and the whole load ends on the ground. Yes, dealing with work and a personal life is like that.

Back in June, I addressed Shannon Hale's post on caregiving and writing. She has cut her life down to work and raising her kids. Only  two things. There are, of course, multitudes of tasks within those two activities, but she is limiting where her time and energy goes to two major efforts.

Balance for all of us is easier to approach (notice I'm not using the word  "achieve") if we consciously cut back on the number of things we're trying to balance. That could mean cutting back on professional projects as well as personal interests. There's been talk for years about housework not being a valuable use of time. But as a general rule accepting that we'll never have clean windows or a kitchen linoleum without holes (is that just me?) often doesn't begin to offset all the other things we need to do/balance. Therefore, we may have to assess how  much we're really getting professionally from the writers' group we attend and let that go, as well as putting away the hobbies that have nothing to do with our work. We may not be able to justify the weekly author visit  to a local school any more than we can justify the monthly hike with a local walking group.

Remember the old clutter advice about only buying something new if you throw something out? Trying for balance could mean only taking on a new project if we give another one up. If we want to volunteer with a writers' organization, maybe we'll have to sacrifice community volunteer work. 

There really isn't much hope of achieving anything like balance if we keep trying to carry more and more activities. What's more, we can give a better effort in terms of time and energy when we have fewer things to work on.

Situational Balance

Balancing activities in our lives is like managing time. We can't expect to come up with one way to balance things and be done with it for the rest of our lives, just as we can't expect to come up with a schedule that we can work with forever. Everything is situational.  We have to rebalance everything in our lives depending on our ever changing life situation, just as we have to change our schedules when our lives change.

I'm not talking different balances during different life phases, as in we have one kind of balance while we're writing as single working people, another balance if we're writing and  raising a family, another balance if we're writing, raising a family, and holding down a day job. I'm talking weekly, if not daily adjustments.

We have to keep juggling our tasks not just because all personal lives appear to exist in chaos but because our work situations are constantly changing, too. Sometimes we have to balance our creative work with reactive work--responding to inquiries for appearances or RFPs for conferences or submission deadlines. Sometimes we have to balance our creative work with marketing or research or study. We may be working on more than one creative project at a time and trying to balance that.

And then we have to factor in the personal chaos.

What we're talking about here is creating balance around situation instead of looking for a permanent, all-purpose solution. Situational balance means we are only able to create anything like balance by planning what's going to happen for the next month or the next week or even, sometimes, the next couple of days.

A Zenny Balance Scheme

There is a zenny aspect to the balance scheme I'm describing because it involves recognizing:

  1. the desire to keep adding more and more professional and personal tasks to our workload may not lead to true unhappiness but it certainly won't lead to balance;
  2. our situation at the present moment and planning to deal just with that.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Weekend Writer: The Plot Whisperer

Now, let's see...What was I talking about before I got distracted by a conference? Oh, yes. Plotting. This could be a good time to discuss The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Alderson.

There is lots of good material in The Plot Whisperer. There is also just lots of material in The Plot Whisperer. Though I came away with some new knowledge I think will be very helpful, I also sometimes felt overwhelmed while I was reading.

For instance, Alderson talks about what she calls the Universal Story, a common structure she believes underlies all stories. She also talks about The Writer's Way, which is sort of motivational. I sometimes wondered if this material could have been two separate books. However, I read The Plot Whisperer as an eBook (if memory serves me, I ordered it when it was being offered for free). The Universal Story and The Writer's Way sections of the book were laid out differently than the rest of the text and with an eBook readers don't get a good look at that. How the page is laid out helps comprehension, and I wasn't getting the benefit of that. Those people reading this in another format may not have the same response I did.

Putting that issue aside, there are many, many good takeaways with this book. Among them:

  • The difference between plotters and organic writers. This book is very good on organic writers, though I may be biased because I self-identify as one.
  • The three major plots for a story--dramatic action (what); character emotional development (who), and thematic significance (why). Many writers don't think about theme at all while they're writing and only identify their theme after they're done. I like the idea of recognizing your theme early on and working with it throughout the writing process.
  • Back story, and when to use it, versus front story.
  • Scenes show, summaries tell. In order to keep a story from appearing episodic (all scenes), you need some judicious use of summary.
  • Cause and effect. In order to create the causal relationship necessary for a plot to be a plot and not a series of random events, Scene A should set up the cause of the effect that will occur in Scene B. There should be a linking effect.

Writing books are like cookbooks. Every reader of a writing book is going to appreciate different things, just as every reader of a cookbook is attracted to different recipes. So other readers are going to jump at other parts of The Plot Whisperer. I am finally working on a new manuscript, one in which I've been concentrating a great deal on planning scenes. A lot of the points I just checked off above are having an impact on the writing of this new work.

Plotting is hugely important, Weekend Writers. You really should consider some study before trying to do it. Martha Alderson maintains a plot whisper blog, and she has a plot series on YouTube, How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, or Screenplay. She has another YouTube series in which she analyzes a piece of writing for plot and structure. She also sponsors an International Plot Writing Month in December. So she offers quite a bit of free material on plotting that new writers can take advantage of.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

It Was Like The Running Of The Brides--For Books

I did my literary thing today by attending the Welles Turner Memorial Library's Fall Book Sale.

Holy Moses.

I've gone to this thing other years, but clearly not within twenty minutes of the start of the sale, as I did today. I was able to find parking fairly easily, but realized immediately that I was woefully unprepared for this shopping experience. I was seeing people arrive and leave with their own shopping bags. I carry reusable shopping bags in my car, but I only had one today because, to be honest, I'm not good about unloading nonperishables and most of my bags are on the floor of my pantry filled with canned goods.

So I was starting the day at a disadvantage because everyone else there had planned for serious hunting and gathering. There were people there with every kind of canvas bag, duffel bags, boxes, and those little pull behind you shopping carts you see elderly people using. It was incredible.

The books were organized on tables according to genre. Getting to the tables was a problem. People were mannerly and pleasant, but it was shoulder-to-shoulder there. I was there to buy paperbacks for one of our elders, and the salespeople didn't have a table specifically marked "Elderly Lady Books." For whatever reason, the Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel paperbacks were mixed in with the mysteries. I'm trying to keep a list of the books our elder has read, by author, on my iPhone, so I was there in that crowd with my purse and my rapidly filling shopping bag, trying to cross check titles.

As it turns out, I wasn't the only person there doing that. I met a Nora Roberts fan, and when I asked her if she has trouble keeping track of what she's read without a list, she whipped one out.

I also saw a young man buy a duffel bag full of older books on the world's religions and older classics like Candide. It was like watching a character from a movie, that young student who buys his books used. There was also someone who appeared to be buying up books and stacking them on the sidewalk near the street, as if getting them ready to be loaded into a passing vehicle. A dealer, perhaps?

It was an exciting event, and I hope I have enough  books to keep our family member until Thanksgiving, at least. She was delighted to go through the bag when I saw her later, picking out a couple of titles to keep right away.

I noticed that at the smaller book sale I attend at my own town's library, I have better luck at stumbling upon mainstream fiction for myself, things that jump off the table and say, "Take me home, Gail." Not so much of that, today, though I did pick up a very nice hardback copy of Canada by Richard Ford (for a dollar!) and what looks to be an obscure Ruth Rendell, which will be staying with me.

Now I must rest.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Skeleton News

No, this is not an early Halloween post. I just learned that the most recent Skulduggery Pleasant book, Last Stand of Dead Men by Derek Landy, went on sale a little over a week ago. By "went on sale," of course, I mean "went on sale in the UK," since it's not available in this country. However, I am your source for Skulduggeryness in the U.S. of A., at least in terms of talking about this series.

Because the new book just went on sale, this seems like a good time for me to write about the last book, book 7, Kingdom of the Wicked, which I finished a few weeks ago. This is probably my favorite of the last few books in terms of coherent storyline. There may be a reason for this. According to the Kingdom of the Wicked page at the Skulduggery Pleasant website, this series is broken into trilogies. Book 7 started a new trilogy. I'm definitely liking the political goings on with this one.

These books are violent, anyway, and the characters often find themselves in desperate straits. I can recall reading others in the series and wondering how they could possibly survive what was going on. Kingdom of the Wicked has a very extended culminating battle scene. Seriously, it took me three sittings to get through it, and not because I found it disturbing. I started while on a stationary bike, read some more before bed, and finished the next morning. It was long.

I must also say that this book has one of the best surprise cliffhangers I can recall in any serial book.

Question: What happened to the journalist from book 6 who was going to blow the whistle on the world of magic? The author thought better of it?

Also, I so hope Landy isn't working on a romance between protagonist Stephanie/Valkyrie and Skulduggery. Please, please, please don't let it happen. Teenage girl pairing up with paranormal skeleton--such a cliche. I think it's been a few years since I've done a father book post. The Skulduggery and Valkyrie pairing could be a workable father/child relationship. After all, he lost his own child centuries ago. She is his chance to live that relationship.

By the way, the Skulduggery Pleasant website says that Last Stand of Dead Men is the number one selling children's book in the UK right now. I haven't been able to verify that, but the series is supposed to be popular there, so I'll take their word for it.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Environmental Book Club

Last week's Environmental Book Club post dealt with The Camping Trip That Changed America by Barb Rosenstock. It's an account of the famous Teddy Roosevelt/John Muir camping trip.

As luck would have it, PBS is running a series this week, The National Parks: America's Best Idea and who should be mentioned in it but John Muir? The show runs for five nights, and I've only watched a few moments here and there on two of them. I believe Muir was talked about both evenings.

This being PBS, a companion book accompanies the series. Wouldn't it have been terrific if a companion children's book accompanied it as well? Since one doesn't, why not use The Camping Trip That Changed America?

I don't think you need to be concerned if you've missed the first few nights of The National Parks: America's Best Idea. This is one of those Ken Burns' deals, so PBS will probably be rerunning it for the rest of this decade. Plus there's a DVD boxed set that you can ask for for Christmas, which is how a lot of PBS programming has ended up on our shelves.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A Retreat Weekend!

In addition to this year's retreat week back in January (I have pictures of Retreat Weeks 2012 and 2013 at my personal Facebook page, FB people), I'm going on a retreat weekend in November. I'm going to SCBWI Eastern New York's Falling Leaves Master Class for Novels Retreat. I found out I was accepted this afternoon.

I did attend the Whispering Pines Retreat back in 2006, but I was a presenter, not a retreater, shall we say. In addition, that was a weekend that was pretty full of events, almost a mini-conference. Falling Leaves is supposed to include time for working during the day.

Why a Writers' Retreat?


I've got a couple of reasons for wanting to attend a retreat. One is the community-building business I've been talking about for the past year. This will be an opportunity to do some networking with a smallish group of writers (36) and a half dozen editors. It's also often a struggle for me to find time to write, and the promise of time to do that--particularly on a weekend--is a draw for me. And, finally, I would like to get away from Gail Universe and enter another for a couple of days.

Gail Blogs the Retreat


Oh, yes, everything is material, so you're going to be hearing again and again about my retreat experience--getting ready to go and, once I'm there, how much of the alternative universe I'm able to find there. I really, really want to visit an alternative reality.

Tomorrow I reserve my room.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: The Butt-in-Chair Strategy. What Is It?

My on-line secret mentor, Jane Yolen, is often credited with, if not creating the expression butt-in-chair (which she abbreviates BIC), at least promoting it. I'm not a hundred percent sure what she meant by butt-in-chair, beyond the fact that writers have to sit down and do the work, just as anyone needs to do the work required in any field.

The expression butt-in-chair has come to mean, I think, a strategy that involves simply soldiering on. It's often seen as a method of working for those who are strong enough that they can just put their shoulder to the grindstone and push. When I see it used, it is often accompanied by a certain amount of judgement addressed toward those who don't have the natural discipline to simply plow through a project.

Author and teacher J. Robert Lennon wrote just this past April that what he termed "the ass-in-the-chair canard" " in fact an insult to almost everyone who has ever struggled with the creative process, and as a teaching tool is liable to do more harm than good. It embraces several dangerous lies: that writer's block is the result, first and foremost, of laziness; that writing (indeed, any creative pursuit) is like any other form of labor; and that how hard you work on something is directly correlated with how good it is." As he also says, being able to sit down and work relatively easily without struggle isn't a moral victory making one writer superior to another. It is simply a method of working.

There is that business of having to put in the time, though, and actually do the work.

This brings me to Butt-In-Chair: A No-excuses Writing Productivity Guide for Writers Who Struggle to Get Started by Jennifer Blanchard. I first heard of Blanchard through one of her blogs, Procrastinating Writers. What I found particularly interesting about her book, is that while early on it includes the kind of judgmental material I've come to expect when I hear "butt-in-chair" (too tired, too busy, too distracted, for example, are treated as excuses for not writing and not as problems that could be addressed), the book is otherwise filled with traditional anti-procrastination material and even time management techniques. Butt-in-Chair is addressed to "writers who struggle to get started," meaning, I assume, new writers, and there is a great deal of work management material in it for people at that stage.

While reading it, though, I kept thinking, how is this butt-in-chair?  People who practice a butt-in-chair work strategy simply work. What do they need any of this for?

Then I wondered, But do they? Just work, I mean. Is it possible that butt-in-chairers follow some time management strategies they're not aware of? Do some of them, for example, take a break for coffee every hour or so, inadvertently breaking their time into units and thus tricking their minds into believing they're starting out fresh when they go back to their desks with their cups? Do they move between projects for the same reason? New project, new energy? Do they work early in the day as much as they can, when their self-discipline is at its highest? Do they break their calendar year into big units, with some time for specific writing projects, some for study, some for marketing?

In short, I am now wondering just what butt-in-chair means. Is it really a specific method of putting in writing time? Or are we simply talking here the acceptance that the writing time must be put in with no how specified?

Monday, September 02, 2013

New Media Day At The Eric Carle

Next month I'm going to be taking part in a New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators program at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts called New Media Day: Making Sense of the Evolving Digital Landscape.

James McQuivey, a media technology analyst, will be speaking in the morning, as will agent Rubin Pfeffer.  In the afternoon, Mary Jane Begin, Emilie Boon, and I will be part of a panel on publishing out-of-print books as eBooks, which will be led by J.L. Bell of Oz and Ends will lead a panel. The day ends with an interview with Ruth Sanderson.

Years ago, when I worked for a management development/personnel management consulting office at UConn, the professors I worked with referred to one-day workshops as "short, intensive learning experiences." While New Media Day isn't technically a workshop but more of a mini-conference, I have to say that I do enjoy the short, intensive learning thing. The NESCBWI has sponsored a number of them at the Eric Carle as part of its Published and Listed Program administered by author Melissa Stewart. They are extremely well-run  opportunities both for professional education and networking.

I would go to this thing even if I wasn't part of the program.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Weekend Links

As my Facebook Friends know, I experienced another manic cooking episode this weekend. I've collapsed now and am hoping I'll be able to maintain enough energy to finally do a Weekend Links post.

While baking cookies last weekend, I listened to the Oct. 14, 2012 New York Times book podcast interview with Lois Lowry (scroll down). Lowry talks about her book, Son. She also discusses the death of her own adult son. I knew he'd died in a service-related accident, but not the details. In addition, the point is made that her book The Giver is considered the first dystopian novel for young people.

This will be old news for some, but 'Island of the Blue Dolphins' woman's cave believed found.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt did a guest blog post on a teaching writing mini-lesson earlier this month.

The Book Smugglers did a post on backlist middle grade books. It appears that it will be a weekly feature.

Mother Daughter & Son Book Reviews and Youth Literature Reviews are hosting a Best of Summer 2013 Giveaway Hop. Sixty-four blogs are giving away book-related stuff. This Hop runs through September 6th.

Speaking of things being given away, Little Hyuts has extended the giveaway period for Indie Author Spotlight Week to September 7th.

Early Reader is a fantastic personal essay in the NYTimes Book Review from Aug. 22. It describes a condition I'd never heard of called hyperlexia, in which children begin reading extremely early. This is not necessarily a good thing.

Hmm. I mentioned Facebook earlier. J. L. Bell picked up on one of our Facebook conversations and ran with it in A New Angle on Narrative Momentum at Oz and Ends.

The anti-resume is a great idea. While I do keep track of submissions, I predate spreadsheets and still don't use one. I can't even begin to imagine how much time it would take me to pull an anti-resume together. Or how long it would go on. By the way, I found this through one of Erika Dreifus's Friday Finds for Writers.

And that seems like enough reading pleasure for one weekend.