Wednesday, October 30, 2013

November Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

November is Connecticut Children's Book Fair month in Connecticut. This year there's another big children's literature event that same weekend. A picture book exhibit also starts that Friday, but it runs for two months, giving viewers plenty of opportunities to get to it.

Sat., Nov. 2, Tommy Greenwald, Barnes & Noble, Westport 2 PM

Sat. Nov. 2, Matt Davies, Westport Public Library, Westport 3 to 4 PM National Novel Writing Month event for children. 

Wednes., Nov. 6, Leigh Ann Tyson, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM Story hour

Thurs. Nov. 7, Doe Boyle, Frank W. Dormer, Deborah Freedman, Lynn Reiser, Sanna Stanley, Marcela Staudenmaier, Jennifer Thermes, Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, Opening Reception and Book Signing for The Art of Picture Books: Creative Process In Visual Storytelling Exhibit, Arts Council of Greater New Haven's Sumner McKnight Crosby, Jr. Gallery, New Haven 5 to 7 PM

Fri., Nov. 8 through Jan. 3, 2014, The Art of Picture Books: Creative Process In Visual Storytelling Exhibit, Arts Council of Greater New Haven's Sumner McKnight Crosby, Jr. Gallery, New Haven, Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM

Sat., Nov. 9 Tony Abbott, Jennifer Berne, Bryan Collier, Bruce Degen, Deborah Freedman Patricia Reilly Giff, Susan Hood, Ann Haywood Leal, Barbara Mariconda, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Michael Rex, R. L. Stine, Laura Toffler-Corrie, Dan Yaccarino, Pequot Library Children's Book Festival, Southport, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Sat., Nov. 9, Judi Barrett, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, 2 PM

Sat. Nov 9 thru Sun. Nov. 10 Jonathan Bean, Aaron Becker, Nicholas Blechman, Nick Bruel, Diane deGroat, Robert L. Forbes, David Johnson, Ann M. Martin, Shelley Rotner, Phoebe Stone, Tui T. Sutherland, Mark Teague, Elise Broach, P.W. Catanese, Elisha Cooper, Etienne Delessert, Tomie dePaola, Elizabeth Eulberg, Robie Harris, Jeff Hirsch, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Steven Kellogg, Jarrett Krosoczka, Michaela MacColl, Rita Marshall, Michael Northrup, David M. Schwartz, The Connecticut Children's Book Fair, University of Connecticut, Storrs 10 AM to 5 PM

Fri, Nov. 15, Matthew Cody, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Mon., Nov. 26, Carol Aebesold, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM

Thurs., Nov. 29, Bob Shea, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Fear Drives The Noncreative Demands On Published Writers' Time

I've written here before about the amount of time published writers spend on marketing/reactive  activities versus the time they spend on actual writing/creative activities. A few days ago, author Lionel Shriver published an essay, How to Succeed as an Author: Give Up on Writing,
that deals with the same subject  in the New Republic. (I question, myself, whether she is responsible for the subheading "The Rancid Smell of 21st Century Literary Success." She wasn't that embittered in the essay, and it sounds an awful lot like clickbait.)

Now Shriver has achieved a high level of international success, and the average published writer isn't going to have to worry about being overwhelmed with invitations to lit festivals all over the world or two-week tours in foreign countries. But published writers of all levels do lose valuable writing time to prepping for both income and nonincome generating appearances, getting our names onto blogs and websites by pumping out content for them, and coming up with marketing schemes to make ourselves better known so that we can hit some of those faraway literary festivals. Shriver is writing about a very real time demand that many, many writers understand.

Unfortunately, many of her commentors focused less on the universality of the experience Shriver is describing and more on the fact that she is very successful and has no business complaining. In hindsight, including information from a few other writers with similar time constraints might have been a good idea, so the essay would have been less about her and more about the situation she's describing. In hindsight, she might have also played up these points that she did make:

"...with the exception of a few select luminaries whose reputations are assured, in this business you’re only as good as your last book. My livelihood started out shaky; it is still shaky."

"A frenzied calendar is my fault. It is the natural consequence of a profound insecurity that, during a dozen long years when I lived a hair’s breadth from having no publisher at all, worked its way into my very bones. That insecurity, some of which is economic, seems to have induced a permanent terror of turning anything down—anything that will make money, fortify my name recognition, or support book sales."

"Sure, there’s no precise requirement that authors put themselves in the way of all that froufrou. But this is a high-anxiety occupation. With publishers’ recent hanky-twisting over whether there will even be a publishing industry in ten years, that anxiety has gone into overdrive. Could we authors learn to “just say no”? Perhaps. Still, how many names that the public has learned to recognize will it soon forget? More than by ambition, “just say yes” is powered by fear."

With those excerpts, I think Shriver does an excellent job of explaining how writers end up spending  a huge chunk of their time not writing. I sure saw the anxiety and fear behind this essay. Other readers, though, only saw that Shriver's going to Bali. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

How A Lady Behaves Around Vampires And Werewolves

Etiquette & Espionage, the first in Gail Carriger's entertaining steampunk and paranormal series for young adults, is difficult for me to assess because I'm not coming to it fresh and new, the way most young readers will. I've also read the author's amusingly sexy steampunk and paranormal series for adults. Quite honestly, I read the adult series for the funny sex. The YA series, at least its first book, doesn't have that. And that's perfectly fine. It has plenty of other things. But an adult reader who is familiar with that aspect of some of Carriger's other work is left wondering, you know, what happened to it?

This new series takes place before the original series and some of The Parasol Protectorate's  secondary characters appear in the new book as teenagers or children. That's a fun aspect of the book for an adult reader such as myself, though YA readers won't get it. If they move on to the adult books at some point, finding these characters  as their much older selves should be entertaining. Or disappointing, if they don't like how they turned out.

The book involves a young girl leaving home to attend what she and her family believe is a finishing school. (A disturbance to her world!) What she's gotten into, though, is a training program for spies and assassins, one that involves learning how to get some dirty jobs done while maintaining proper social behavior. The premise is clever, as is the world in which vampires and werewolves are recognized parts of the social structure.

What's more, this truly is a YA book, not just a thriller that a writer for adults has retooled for young people by replacing an adult protagonist with a teenager. The young people in this book are dealing with separating themselves from their families and determining what kinds of lives they're going to live. That's YA all over.

Oh, look. Etiquette & Espionage is a Cybils nominee. Book Two in this series, Curtsies & Conspiracies, comes out in eight days. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

New Media Day: The Ruth Sanderson Post

Last Saturday's NESCBWI's New Media Day concluded with an interview with author illustrator Ruth Sanderson conducted by Melissa Stewart. Melissa opened with the observation that it is common for people who have been in children's publishing for a long time to do a number of things, a point that tied Ruth to the rest of the day's program, which was all about children's authors moving into something new, digital publishing. She began her career doing artwork for filmstrips (that was techie once) and two years ago she reformatted her version of Cinderella.

In between those two career events, Ruth did textbook illustrations and the covers for book series, including the first Black Stallion paperbacks. She moved into writing with a series of fairy tale retellings that she also illustrated. In addition to what might be called traditional illustration work, Ruth creates licensed products such as cards, puzzles, and flags. She considers herself a commercial artist who shifts with the book and product markets.

She also teaches summers at Hollins University's children's literature program and has applied to Vermont College's MFA program.

Ruth's description of her career made me think of Roxie Munro, who spoke last year at UConn. She also described a career in art and illustration that involved a lot of movement among different types of work and that progressed into new media.

What we may be seeing here is a work model, one that is becoming more visible because of the evolving digital landscape. Illustrators and writers don't do one thing over and over again but move along with market demands and take advantage of new technologies. This is probably nothing new, but the attention digital publishing is receiving is bringing new attention to the changes in how creative people like Ruth Sanderson work.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

New Media Day: The Evolving Digital Landscape

I know the wait for me to discuss last Saturday's NESCBWI event New Media Day: Making Sense of the Evolving Digital Landscape has been long and painful. Well, folks, it is over. I am ready to begin.

The overall feeling of the day was that the move to digital reading isn't something to fight and fear. For one thing, it's here. For another, it can work for you.

James McQuivey on Digital Disruptions   

James McQuivey tracks how digital disruptions affect traditional businesses, like publishing. McQuivey describes a world of consumers who are so disrupted in the way that they receive products that any company that doesn't conform to this new method of obtaining product will become irrelevant. Companies must, as he said, follow the consumer. For publishing, what we're describing as a digital disruption is the move to, or at least the inclusion of, eBooks. The more rapidly publishers can embrace digital publication, the sooner they'll be able to give the millions of digital consumers already in existence what they want.

McQuivey made a really interesting historical point. We have experienced technical disruptions in the past. (Wasn't the entire Industrial Revolution a technical disruption?) But those disruptions were slow and expensive. It took a lot of time and money to build mills or develop jet engines. The digital disruption we're experiencing now is far cheaper and faster. More people can become involved, more people can bring ideas to the market.

This is a good thing.

Rubin Pfeffer On Specifics Of Digital Publishing In The Children's Field

Rubin Pfeffer of East West Literary Agency spoke about specifics both digitally and with self-publishing, since many self-published writers go the digital route. According to Pfeffer:
  • The numbers of traditional vs. self-published titles are very close to being the same, near the 400,000 mark for each.
  • In addition, eBook sales are expected to surpass print books at some point. (Keep in mind that many eBook sales figures include free books.)
  • YA is the dominant children's genre in self-publishing and is significant with eBooks since younger children are less likely to have e-readers, the visual components of picture books can be more difficult to create digitally, and e-readers give adults who read YA and don't want anyone to know it some privacy.
  • We are witnessing the rise of independent eBook publishers 
  • Technology creates new content, eBooks, enhanced eBooks, and apps all being cases in point

Begin, Boon, and Gauthier On Bringing Books Back To Life

Author-illustrators Mary Jane Begin, Emilie Boon, and I took part in a panel discussion moderated by NESCBWI Assistant Regional Advisor and author/editor/historian J. L. Bell. We got even more specific on the subject of digital publishing by answering questions about how we republished out-of-print work as eBooks. We all covered how we determined which of our books to take digital, where we went for technical assistance, and the general difficulties we experienced.

Both Mary Jane and Emilie used eBook publishers for their work, which, since they are illustrators, would have been heavy with artwork. Hearing this coming so soon after hearing Rubin Pfeffer's presentation, which included a list of independent eBook publishers and a description of services they offer, made me decide to refer to my eBook edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff as an artisan book, because my computer guy and I did it ourselves, not realizing until we were well into the project that we had any other option.

When we got to the point of discussing sales, my co-panelists and I had to be the bearers of the most difficult news of the day. We were in agreement that sales have been modest to dreadful. And we were also in agreement as to why that was the case--searchability, or, the term I prefer, discoverability. In a literary world in which nearly 800,000 books are published a year, it's extremely difficult for any one book to be noticed. There's pretty much a pile on and most titles will be buried.

We managed to bring things back up, though, by pointing out that that sales situation could change. Any one of us on the panel could publish something in the future that would make our back list more valuable, and then our eBooks will be available because they don't go out of print. In addition, self-publishing is an exciting, artistic project. Even though it was Mary Jane who said that, not me, I agree that the two years of publishing and marketing my eBook have been a mental kick.

Our Conclusion Is Still To Come

The day ended with an interview with author-illustrator Ruth Sanderson. I'll be giving that its own post later this week.

Thanks to Facebook friend Hazel Mitchell for the panel picture. The final group photo was taken by Joanie Druris of the NESCBWI.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Learning Curves For New Technology

Have I mentioned my new laptop? I don't think so. I will be talking about its splendors sometime in the future, but today I'm going to drone on a bit about how technology is wonderful, absolutely wonderful, for managing time and getting things done. But technology is always changing, which means learning curves, over and over and over again. And do they ever take time.

Very few people can afford the time to just stop working and learn how to use, say, a new word processing program or make the jump from a standard cellphone to a smartphone. We have to work while we learn, we have to use that phone while we learn. I think of this as a martial arts model. In the schools I've attended, you're thrown in with all the other students of all different levels of experience and knowledge. You follow along as best you can, and then step out to work on the skills for your level. Then you jump back in with the others, going back and forth like that. It works for them, but they take the long view. Everything will come with time.

That's how things work with new technology to a great extent but for a different reason. We jump right in and work with the new, not because we take the long view but because we don't. We can't stop to study because we have to keep producing. But there's no getting around the fact that we're not producing at peak efficiency and speed, because we're struggling to learn the new technology as we go along.

A case in point

My laptop arrived two weeks ago loaded with Word 2013. I haven't had to acclimate myself to a new word processing program for some time, because I've been using Word 2003. For the very standard straight manuscript typing I do, it has worked very well, and I haven't had to lose any time learning the new bells and whistles of all the versions that came between 2003 and 2013. Now, my computer guy could find a way to get 2003 onto this laptop because he's kind of a rogue and that's how he rolls. But we have another computer guy in the family, and Computer Guy II pointed out that at some point Microsoft will stop supporting earlier versions of Word, and then what do I do? Computer Guy I, being a rogue, as I mentioned, would take the attitude that we fight it! We do not give in to the man! Computer Guy II, on the other hand, is more of a make-love-not-war tech person. Since I've got this maintain-the-mind-of-a-beginner thing going on, and I'm willing to concede that maybe Word 2013 has something positive to offer me, beyond the fact that it is simply on my computer, I decided to go with Computer Guy II on this one.

This morning, after having used Word 2013 for two weeks, I spent fourteen minutes getting a header with numbering onto a new chapter file. That is a good thing. On the last two chapters, I spent around forty to forty-five minutes on headers and numbering pages. I am making progress.

But I've also lost work time. In my case, I'm hoping that the time I lose now will be made up for in the future because of the splendors of this laptop.

Do We Get Everything New Devices Have To Offer Learning This Way?

In my case, the answer to that question is, "No." I'm on my second digital camera. I never learned all the options on the first one, and I use only a fraction of what I could on the new one. I've even carried the manual in my camera case, hoping that I'd find time while traveling to sit down and browse. That rarely happens, mainly because I can take a good enough picture and let it go at that. My iPhone is my favorite material possession right now. One of the reasons I got it was to listen to podcasts. I do do that, but directly from the site that originally produced them. I haven't figured out how to download podcasts to my iPhone. In fact, the Apple store won't let me purchase podcast apps from my phone because of some password problem I haven't had time to even try to resolve. I always take the easy option that provides a lesser result because I don't have time to go another way.

The irony here, folks, is that the technological device that could be a major factor in managing our time requires time to learn to use properly.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Report On Graphic Novels For Kids By Women

Gene Kannenberg, Jr., Director of, did a presentation at last Wednesday night's  Gendered Publishing panel at UConn that had so much content that was new to me that I decided to give it its own post.

Unlike children's publishing, the comic book world that graphic novels grew out of was not dominated by women. In fact, Kannenberg said that it wasn't uncommon in days of old for women artists and colorists to get into comic books through the men in their lives, brothers or husbands who were already working for a comic book publisher.

The Graphic Women And Their Work

Marie Severin has great historic significance because she started working in comics in the 1950s and was with Marvel from the 1960s until 1996. She doesn't appear to have moved specifically into children's literature, though she was involved with the artwork for 25 of the 26 Muppet Babies comics, which would certainly seem to have been directed toward children. She was also involved with the Not Brand Echh series, which I remember.

Trina Robbins began as an underground cartoonist, according to Kannenberg. She moved to Marvel, also, working on comics aimed at young girls. She was one of the first cartoonists to do comic graphic novel adaptations. It appears that Robbins is also writing YA graphic novels with other artists doing the graphic element.

Francoise Mouly put in time at Marvel, too, starting out as a colorist. Kannenberg says she used her earnings to buy a press and start RAW, a comics anthology, with Art Spiegelman. While art editor of the New Yorker (a position I believe she still has), she and Spiegelman produced the Little Lit series for Harper Collins, and five years ago, she started TOON Books, which produces graphic novels for younger readers.

Guess what? Jill Thompson has worked for Marvel, too. She's also hit a number of other comics publishers, working on both Wonder Woman and Neil Gaiman's Sandman for DC. Her work specifically for children is The Scary Godmother, the first in a series.

Linda Medley is more of a DC person. She has written and illustrated a whole series of Castle Waiting books that have a fairy tale thing going on, though I can't tell if they're specifically for children. She's also supposed to have done some rewrites of the Wizard of Oz books.

Update 10/23/13: A Castle Waiting fan from Google+, Amitha Knight, describes these books as being for upper YA to adult readers. "Fairy tales with a feminist angle."

Raina Telgemeier may be the best known of this group to those of us in children's literature because of her book, Smile. She's also adapted four books from The Baby-sitters Club series. Interesting point--She's the first of the women Kannenberg discussed who not only didn't have Marvel experience, she doesn't appear to have traditional comic book history at all.

Colleen A.F. Venable is a book designer for First Second Books, and has written a series of children's books. Again, this is a graphic artist who doesn't seem to have come out of the comic book publishing companies.

What, If Anything, Have We Learned?

  • Since attending last week's panel discussion, I've wondered if male comic book artists have also moved into children's books. 
  • Women (and probably men, too) appear now to be able to work with graphic novels for children without having first put in time with traditional comic publishing companies.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I've Been Places And Seen People

I haven't been able to finish posting about Wednesday night's UConn event Gendered Publishing, and I've already been over-stimulated by another terrific program, the NESCBWI's New Media Day: Making Sense of the Evolving Digital Landscape. And I'm not just saying that because I was on the afternoon's panel with Mary Jane Begin and Emilie Boon.

This was another of the NESCBWI programs run by children's science writer Melissa Stewart for the Published and Listed Program. The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators has a large membership of prepublished writers that it serves very well. In recent years it's been making an effort to provide programs for members who have been traditionally published. Melissa has been in charge of the New England divisions PAL programs and has creating creative short-term experiences like today's.

When I've had a chance to finish my account of last week's UConn panel, rest assured that I will give you a rundown on everything that happened today. In the meantime, enjoy this photo of my panel mates and our moderator having lunch. Hey, folks, this is the kind of insider, backroom information you don't get at just any blog.

And, yes, it's proof that I was in the insider backroom.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Report On The Panel On The Status Of Women In Children's Publishing

I went out last night to a UConn panel discussion, Gendered Publishing: The State of the Profession for Women Writers and Illustrators of Children's Literature. I have no idea who actually sponsored it, but Susannah Richards, a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, member of the 2013 Newbery Award Committee, and a children's book activist, did a fine job as moderator. The panelists clearly had specific instructions and I sooooo like an event that stays within its time frame.

Women Writers

Lisa Rowe Fraustino, a children's book author and another professor at Eastern, spoke about her experience coming up through the academic world as a woman studying children's literature and writing. She mentioned at one point that the study of English education (vs. English literature) was not considered hefty in the past, a reference to that fact that children's literature was, and sometimes still is, taught as part of an education program rather than as part of a straight literature program. She also said that the people who had helped her as a writer were women.

Rowe Fraustino pointed out that the bulk of the students in her children's literature classes are women. The young people in the audience who would pursue children's writing would find that their teachers are women, their conference and workshop instructors would be women, the members of their critique groups would be women.

During Rowe Fraustino's talk I felt my dormant interest in graduate school stirring. It's gone now, but it was there for just a moment last night.

Women Illustrators

Interesting factoid about author/illustrator Barbara McClintock, who spoke about women illustrators: Long, long ago, I lived for a year in a tiny town next to the tiny town she lives in now. So we are neighbors in a Lake House sort of way.  

McClintock talked about the 22% of Caldecott winners who have been women in spite of the fact that they dominate the profession. Women in other professions find themselves in similar situations in which they are up against a male world. The difference is that in professions like medicine, law, engineering, and tech fields, traditionally they have been male worlds. Children's illustration has not.

What's more, the Caldecott Medal winners are chosen by librarians, another profession dominated by women. So one profession dominated by women is passing judgment on another profession dominated by women and passing by them to select men. What is that about?

One striking comment McClintock quoted involved someone's perception that male illustrators are more serious about their work because they support families while women work as a hobby. I loved this, finding it delightfully retro. How, say, 1959! This is what used to be known as the pin money theory--women were wives who were supported by their husbands and only worked for "pin money," for trivial sums for nonessential items. This was considered a legitimate reason to pay them less. In my women's history class in college, we learned that the pin money theory was disproved by President's Commission on the Status of Women in 1963. But, of course, not everyone took that class.

Now, my legions of followers are aware that I don't get highly excited about awards. I might be expected to feel that all this concern about who gets them is petty. But here's the thing. Awards are about money. Earnings from the Caldecott Medal come in a number of ways. Straight sales, of course, but according to McClintock, Medal winners can expect to get more support from publishers for their future work as well as invitations to take part in events. The odds are against women getting access to these benefits. Why?

I knew before I left my house last night that children's publishing is a woman's domain yet the minority of men in the field get the bulk of awards. McClintock's talk, though, made this known situation more interesting than I expected it to be.

Women In Graphic Novels

The third speaker on the panel discussed women working in graphic novels. This was new information to me, and I'm going to give it a post of its own tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I've Got To Read Less. Seriously.

By "seriously" I mean that seriously I am overwhelmed with content.

The Problem

First, there are all the books I want to read on a variety of subjects. Children's and YA to keep up and because I do like a lot of this stuff. Adult fiction. Short stories, both anthologized and in journals. Essays, both anthologized and in journals.  Nonfiction, both long form and short, about time and marketing and zen and tai chi and writing process and French language and things I haven't thought of yet.

Then there are the masses of material that comes to me by way of Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, links to some good stuff. Because I have published an eBook with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, I now get a monthly periodical through each of them. I get Shelf Awareness through a local bookstore. I have an arrangement with my local library to get on-line periodicals, which hasn't been working very well recently, but now that I have my own laptop, I want to work that out so I can start reading Poets & Writers on a sort of regular basis.I subscribe to Yoga Journal and The Horn Book. The Kripalu catalog comes a couple of times a year. (I don't know why. I've never been there.) I read it the way one of my family members studies the Ikea catalog. Then there are the blog carnivals I take part in from time to time. I do make an effort to read what some of the other bloggers have to offer. Oh, wait. I thought of some more. There are all the blogs I visit researching places to promote Saving the Planet & Stuff and the lit journals I should be reading researching markets for my short form work. Oh, my gosh. My Feedly blog feed!

I taught myself to read in the car (when I'm not driving, ha-ha) years ago, and I read when I'm using a treadmill or stationary bike. I read when I have to stir something on the stove for a specific amount of time or beat something for X number of minutes. I read newspapers and magazines and on-line material for the hour or two when I'm sort of watching TV in the evening. I read in bed, at night and sometimes professional material in the morning before I get up.

No matter how much I read, there is always more to be read.

The Effort To Deal With The Volume

The Rule of One I considered just blowing off the newsletters from the eBook publishers, but I found a really good blog article through one of them just today. I'm going to do with them what I sometimes do with those terrific Cynsations News posts, just pick a couple of things to read and let the rest go. In fact, with the publisher newsletters, I'll probably be safe limiting myself to one. I've had to be selective with the Carnivals, too. I don't try to go to every site listed.

No Listicles Shelf Awareness carries a lot of what I've seen described as listicles. They're just lists of things, not articles with any meaningful content. I just gave those up a couple of months ago and have no interest in them if I run into them somewhere else. Shelf Awareness I skim for the new adult books.

Just Stopping I've been reading Salon for years, but I'm about ready to give that up. I did once before for at least half a year. It's extremely predictable politically, and even if you agree with its politics, how much of the same thing can anyone read? The ratio of political rants and overly personal personal essays to literary and popular culture content is too high for my tastes. Believe it or not, we'll also be giving  up our daily newspaper when the most recent subscription expires. They're running the thing with little in the way of local writing, so it's overwhelmingly made up of wire service stories and wire features. I can use that time for reading other things.

These are very minor efforts, but I feel I need to make some. You know, because I like to think I've got some control.

Does anyone else have systems in place to deal with their reading load?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Remembering That We Were Going To Practice Self-discipline

Okay, the first thing we need to do here is remember what we were talking about last week, which was:
  1. When, in the course of our lives, are we actively taught self-control, which we need to practice self-discipline?
  2. Those of us who don't learn self-control when we're young have the additional issue of remembering that self-discipline is something we want to practice because the whole self-control/self-discipline business is not a natural part of our lives.
And why do we writers want to become self-disciplined? Because self-discipline relates directly to being able to stay on task and manage our time.

Yeah, I Really Want To Remember To Do That

Part of being self-disciplined involves remembering that you're going to do it. How so? Think of any new behavior you want to engage in. Say I want to look over the entire buffet for healthier choices before I start filling my plate. Or I decide to exercise before I have breakfast. I also want to write 20 minutes on weekends and holidays when the family is here. In any of these cases, willpower failure can be due to a number of things, but I would like to add just plain forgetting what we'd planned to do to that list. We walk into a restaurant and truly just forget that we had a plan for dealing with the buffet because we'd never had a plan before, so it's not something we naturally do. We get up in the morning, eat breakfast, and go "oops" when we realize that we forgot the exercise plan.

Please, Gail, how about a writing-related example. Okay. Here's one. I didn't do my 20 minute writing sprint on Saturday. I could easily have done it in the morning, but I spent several hours cooking random things instead. In thinking about it afterward, I realized there was no reason in the world why I had to cook all those things. I could easily have squeezed 20 minutes of writing in, which would have kept me in the world of my WIP. I really just forgot that I had a plan. Maintaining self-discipline isn't something I'm accustomed to doing, at least, not with that particular task.

So Now We Have To Work On Improving Memory, Too?

Well, it certainly can't hurt anything, can it? So how are we going to do it?

  1. We can try creating habits, which are like self-discipline without any thinking. Muscle-memory for the memory. Presumably with a habit, we would simply do something we wanted to do. However, Kelly McGonigal, my personal self-discipline guru, isn't a fan of habit. She believes habits work best for small behaviors that don't require a lot of us, which explains why I'm now flossing my teeth regularly. It's not brain surgery. She talks about using things like automatic goal pursuit, implementations, and commitments instead of habit. But you have to remember the goal you're pursuing automatically, you have to remember the plan you're going to implement in certain situations, you have to remember your commitments.
  2. We can try meditating, because it appears to be a cure-all for what ails you. Now that we have ways to study the brain and the impact of various activities upon it, there is some science to back up its use. Again, my friend Kelly McGonigal says that meditating helps with self-control and attention because it develops the prefontal cortex, the portion of the brain that deals with impulse control. The effort to keep your mind from wandering actually develops the brain.
    Memory, Gail, memory. Remember we're talking about memory. I do remember that. Maybe because I started a short meditation practice in June, one that I'm only able to keep up with 3 or 4 days a week. I didn't notice any revolutionary gains in concentration, but I did wonder if my memory was improving. It wasn't that I wasn't forgetting things. What I was noticing was that I "recovered" from the forgetfulness faster. Meaning I remembered where my cell phone was as soon as I realized I didn't have it. I remembered I hadn't turned the timer on while baking as I was leaving the kitchen. Sure enough, a little time on the Internet turned up a very recent article on a study that indicates that meditation does, indeed, improve memory.

    What Will Memory Do For Us?

    My theory is that improving memory will lead to improved self-discipline will lead to improved time management. Because absolutely everything is tied in with time.

    Monday, October 14, 2013

    A Fun Thriller With Ghosts

    I am not a fan of ghost stories, but Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore is more of a thriller than it is a ghost story. It's certainly not any particular ghost's story.

    It could also teeter into that adult thriller retooled for YAs category that I've been noticing recently. Daisy Goodnight (a great name) is a freshman in college and the two guys she's not quite torn between are twenty-somethings. Daisy's story is entertaining and engaging, but there's no compelling reason for these characters to be as young as they are. The story could easily be flipped for older, even much older, characters.

    As I said, Daisy is a college freshman, which is a neat way of making her available to FBI agents who want her assistance. It is easier for a person that age to be off having adventures, than a younger one, even a younger one who is an orphan like Daisy. The FBI is interested in Daisy because she can communicate with the dead, helpful when investigating murders. The world of the book is one in which any number of people can do magic to one degree or another, and while it may not be common knowledge, even a criminal mastermind may use magical assistance. The Goodnight family is full of hedge witches and other magical sorts.

    The book begins with a murder and involves the story of how Daisy gets drawn into a scheme to take advantage of the dead. I got lost a few times in the plot, but Daisy is definitely a charmer.

    Another interesting point I must mention--No blurbs on the cover! The back cover simply says, "Daisy Goodnight can talk to the dead. And something has them terrified." And that's why I read a book about ghosts when I don't care for them.

    Sunday, October 13, 2013

    The Weekend Writer: Let's Get A Little More Definitive About Organic Writers

    Remember what we were talking about the last time I did a Weekend Writer? Plotting vs. organic writing. I had been discussing plotting in earlier posts and decided it was time to talk about the fact that some people find plotting difficult and go about writing a different way.

    Frequently I will read that we organic writers don't want to plot because we believe it will confine us in some way. Not this organic writer. I would love to have a plot in front of me that directed me what I should be doing, say, tomorrow morning when I sit down to write. I think my issue is much more the one I mentioned last time, Martha Alderson's contention that we organic writers see the big picture, stories as a whole and have trouble with details. Without details, it's hard to generate the material we need to get to that whole story big picture we can see or maybe even feel.

    I've often wondered why organic writers are called organic writers. Is it because we sort of grow a story, as if it's some kind of living organism that we can't control, can only nurture? That's a little woowoo for my tastes. You sometimes see definitions of organic that involve interconnectedness or elements that are part of a whole. That's what I think is the issue for me and my kind.

    Remember, "plot" is only one of the elements of fiction.  Opinions vary on how many elements there are, but whatever the number, organic writers have trouble isolating one of them, plot, from the others. For us, character is most definitely tied up with plot, and plot can be tied up with setting, and voice and theme can be tied up with everything. We can't separate one thing and work on it all by itself. We can certainly try, but we find ourselves reworking things over and over again because, for us, character interaction suddenly leads to something happening we hadn't plotted out and as we get more and more involved with a theme new ideas for how to present it may suddenly appear. All the different elements offer up material at some point or another, not just plot, and not in a very orderly manner.

    We have to juggle the whole thing all the time whether we like doing it or not. But sometimes juggling is easier than others. And the next time we get together, I'll talk about that a bit.

    Thursday, October 10, 2013

    What Gail Will Be Doing For The Next Week Or More

    My laptop arrived today. This is very exciting, because I've never had one of my own. I've shared one with a family member when I wanted to be mobile, but otherwise I've been chained to a desktop, where I am now. Computer Guy is in the next room tinkering on my new treasure, but after having looked over his shoulder at Word, I can tell I'll need to tinker, too.

    My plan is to build my work life around this laptop, as well as my personal life, to the extent that my personal life requires techie stuff. I'm looking forward to a rosie future.

    Right now, though, I feel as if I'm getting ready to pack up and move.

    Wednesday, October 09, 2013

    A Universal Child Story

    Last week I wrote about one of the reasons I like the Cybils Award. Here's another--While the judges are reading the nominees, there's a chance they'll blog about them. Since absolutely anyone can nominate a book, the selection of titles considered is much broader than for those awards for which publishers submit what they consider their best shots, their award level work. With the Cybils there's a chance that books that might not be getting much attention will get some, whether they win or not or even whether they make the short list or not. This is good for books, for writers, and particularly for readers.

    That's why I nominated The Waffler by Gail Donovan. The book has been well reviewed, and I hope it becomes well known, too.

    It's not unusual to see children's books about death, divorce, poverty, illness, and other Big Topics. Big though they may be, they are not universal child topics because not every child experiences death as a child, experiences divorce, poverty, illness, natural disaster, etc. The number one universal child experience, in my humble opinion, is the pressure/need to conform. By that I don't mean conform to a child clique or a team or a group of bullies. I mean conform to adult society, adult social norms. The universal question we must all deal with as children is How the Hell much of myself am I going to have to give up in order to get along in this freaking world?

    And that is what The Waffler is about.

    Monty isn't a model fourth grader. He was, after all, involved in a graffiti incident, and he's not in one of those combined advanced classes like his twin sister. The big issue that the adult world comes down on him about, though, is that he can't make a decision to save his life. What kind of pet to buy, what to name it, what to write about for a class assignment, where to sit at lunchtime. You name it, and he'll probably change his mind about it. This makes him unacceptable both to the loving, frustrated grown-ups at his two homes (he has two sets of parents) and the much harsher grown-ups at his school. No one accepts him the way he is and, interestingly, no one helps him with decision making skills. He's just told to start making them.

    Figure it out, kid. Become like us.

    Fortunately, this isn't a learn-the-error-of-your-ways-child story. Of course not. I wouldn't be writing about it, if it were. Monty wins his family over, for a while at least, with a decision not to make a decision. It's pretty clear that his teacher isn't as taken with this move but decides discretion is the better part of valor and waits to fight another day. The book both does and doesn't have a tidy ending, something I appreciated.

    I also appreciated the fact that it's a book for the lower end of the middle grade spectrum. You see a lot of middle grade books with twelve-year-old characters. You want an older character in order to create someone who has a lot of acquired knowledge or be mature enough to save the world in a fantasy. You use twelve year olds when you're trying to make the unbelievable more believable. (I've done it, too.) Monty is a believable younger child in a believable situation. He's not wildly funny. He doesn't have an over-the-top voice. He's a regular child many child readers at the lower end of middle grade or the higher end of chapter books could know.

    Time for a little FTC transparency chatter here: I received my copy of The Waffler from the author, who I met at a NESCBWI conference maybe twelve or thirteen years ago. 

    Tuesday, October 08, 2013

    Time Management Tuesday: Wish I'd Learned Self-Control In Kindergarten

    Kelly McGonigal tweeted a post on Activities for Practicing Self-Control. It's a kindergarten teacher's description of things he does to teach self-control to his students. He says, "I often hear teachers complain (including myself) about kids lack of self-control but what are we doing to help kids learn about it?" Good point. I would argue that self-control/self-discipline is a big part of managing time. It seems to be the kind of thing most of us pick up or we don't. It isn't specifically taught the way, say, addition is. Those of us who find ourselves undisciplined adults are going to have to muddle along on our own.

    The Piece of Cake


    Matt Gomez, the teacher who wrote the post on self-control activities for kindergarten students, writes about modeling self-control for his class. "I give examples often of adults that have to have self-control so they know we all have to make choices. For example: “guess what class, I saw a piece of chocolate cake in the staff refrigerator. I could have eaten it but I chose not to because it wasn’t mine.”" I found this interesting for several reasons.
    1. Gomez is interested in self-control in relation to people getting along with one another. He says he didn't eat the cake because it wasn't his, not because it wasn't good for him, a reason many people exercise self-control around food. I'm interested in self-control in relation to staying on task with my work and getting more done faster, not because it will improve my relations with others. However, according to Kelly McGonigal's book, The Willpower Instinct, working on improving willpower in one area of life often leads to improvement with other areas that require willpower. It doesn't appear to be a spot specific strength. Therefore, the children learning to control themselves so they can get along within a group, may find themselves better able to control themselves when needing to stay on a task. If I am able to improve my control with my work, I may find myself getting along better with others.
    2. Unless we've been receiving some kind of self-control instruction or are undergoing some kind of training in it, how often are we actually aware that we are practicing self-control or need to? For instance, take the example of seeing a piece of cake in the refrigerator. How often do we see something like that and consciously think, Time to exert a little control here and walk away from that thing? I think it's probably much more common for us to realize we've experienced a self-discipline success or failure after the fact (I knocked off a chapter today! I lost half the day to phone calls!) than while we're in a position to do something about it. Is this because that's the nature of humans or because we simply haven't learned a particular behavior or skill?
    3. Gomez's description of modeling self-control for his students raised this point for me--I would have to remember I was looking for self-control examples, particularly if I wanted to find any coming from me, before I would recognize that not eating that cake was a golden opportunity to create one. And that brought up the whole issue of memory and self-control.
    Now you know what I'll be writing about next week.

    Monday, October 07, 2013

    Connecticut News Round Up

    I've noticed a few things going on locally that are worth rounding up for a post.

    First off, Bank Square Books in Mystic is expanding. This is an attractive bookstore, anyway, that does neat author luncheons, though I've only been to one and it was a while ago. But it was neat then, and there's no reason to believe anything's changed.

    Connecticut author Tommy Greenwald appeared on the local Fox affiliate late last month, talking about his new book, Jack Strong Takes A Stand. Speaking of lunch, as I was just a para ago, I had lunch with Tommy once.

    The Connecticut Center for the Book, part of CT Humanities, maintains a list of Community Reads projects. Cheshire is reading Alice Bliss and East Hartford is reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

    I recently stumbled upon science writer Linda Zajac's blog. In addition to her posts on writing and science, she has posts on Connecticut state parks. I have to have been to some of these places, because I've been to a lot of Connecticut state parks. However, I keep a trail album, and once I've put my material in it, I pretty much leave it there. By the way, speaking of lunch, as I was a couple of paras back, I think I may have had lunch with Linda Zajac, too. Can't be sure. I've had lunch with a lot of people, but a Connecticut science writer named Linda sounds familiar.

    Oops. Here's a little something I meant to mention. The Florence Griswold Museum is doing one of those weird little faerie house things they do, this one with a Wizard of Oz theme.

    Sunday, October 06, 2013

    Weekend Links: Carnival Of The Indies Edition

    I took part in the most recent Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies. I also managed to visit a number of the other contributors. My favorites:

    Book Cover Design: Judging a Book by Its Cover--Part I at WGB.  If I ever self-publish another eBook, I'll pass this along to Computer Guy.

    Should You Convert Your Ebook Yourself, Or Hire A Professional? at Learn Out Live. I should have passed this on to Computer Guy before self-publishing Saving the Planet & Stuff.

    Why Self-Publishing Needs a Sundance (and Who Should Be Redford) at Electronic Bindery. It's hard to believe there isn't one.

    How I Created My First Podcast  at Small Blue Dog Publishing. I did send this one to Computer Guy. I love listening to podcasts while I'm working in the kitchen. (Yeah, as my Facebook friends can tell you, I don't mind spending time in a kitchen.) I have a podcast fantasy.

    Team Indie Author Games: Elevator Book Pitch at Electronic Bindery.   Possible conference workshop?

    The Elementary Marketing Tactic You Don't Know You're Missing at Be a Freelance Blogger. It's just one word. It is important in blogging, and I'm not sure how many writers realize it.

    Friday, October 04, 2013

    One Of The Reasons I Like Cybil

    Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach was the 2011 Cybil winner for YA fiction. It illustrates one of the reasons I like the Cybils. Stupid Fast is not a a paranormal romance or fantasy or part of a dystopian or apocalyptic trilogy, all of which attract big sales. Nor is it a heart-warming overcoming-adversity-in-a-small-town-filled- with-eccentric-characters-story, which attract awards. It has the overcoming adversity thing but with an edge, maybe even a desperate edge. Books like Stupid Fast don't fit into the standard marketing molds used right now.

    Neither does the Cybils. It is made for books like Stupid Fast. The book was well reviewed, but I would never have heard of it without its Cybils win. What's more, it has two sequels that I only heard about a couple of hours ago when I started preparing this post.

    Felton Reinstein is limping through adolescence when he suddenly starts to grow. And that growth spurt makes him fast. It's a life-changing event because his speed makes him desirable to the coaches at school as well as to the student athletes who had never been part of his world before. Felton is evolving. He is in transition. He's in a liminal state, as the anthropologists might say, he is most definitely in some state that is neither one thing or another, neither child nor man.

    This makes Stupid Fast so a YA book. I say that because it's not unusual for me to read a YA book that is perfectly decent as a story, entertaining, but what about it is YA? You definitely know why Stupid Fast is YA.

    Now, while Felton is doing his transitional thing, he is living with a parent who is descending into mental illness and a brother who is in need of help in dealing with her. It's as if he's living two different, simultaneous lives, one in which he is becoming more and more desperate, and another in which he is becoming more and more competent and part of the world outside his home. Something similar happened in Alice Bliss where Alice was dealing with her father's deployment while continuing to grow up, because that's what adolescents do. Adolescents have to grow and change. They can't help themselves. It's the nature of the beasts.

    I think someone could argue that Stupid Fast's ending is a little too much of a turn around. A deus ex machina type character shows up to make everything right, and things work out really well for Felton. But this adult reader also felt that Felton could have his good moment because things weren't going to stay that way for him. If I ever get around to reading the sequels, I suspect I'll find out that I'm right.

    While reading Stupid Fast I kept wondering about YA problem novels versus the adult equivalent. Stupid Fast probably could be described as a problem novel. When adult novels deal with characters with problems, what are they? Are they ever referred to as problem novels or as something else?

    Thursday, October 03, 2013

    And Where Has Gail Been Lately?

    It looks as if it's been a couple of months since I've done a round-up of Gail sitings from around the Internet. So here is where you could (and still can) find me late summer and early fall:

    On August 15th, my guest post, Providing Children With Environmental Reading Experiences, was published at Dude, Sustainable!

    On August 24th, I was one of the Indie Authors for Indie Author Spotlight Week at Little Hyuts.

    I'm included in September's Carnival of the Indies.

    I just linked up with the Kid Lit Blog Hop at Mother Daughter + Son Book Reviews.

    Thank you to everyone who hosted me.

    Wednesday, October 02, 2013

    Cybil Season Is Here

    It's time to nominate your favorite books from the last year for the Cybil Awards. We're talking a two-week nomination period and then a few months of the judges reading and blogging.

    For the last couple of years, I've read from the Cybils nomination list at this time of year and gave my responses here. That's not going to work for me this year. I may be able to hit a few titles, but may big Cybils observance will involve posting about nominees from other years at Goodreads.

    While the judges are bringing this year's titles to our attention, I'll be reminding everyone about old ones.

    Tuesday, October 01, 2013

    Time Management Tuesday: Another Month-long Unit

    My May Days buddies like to make another month-long group binge-writing effort in the fall. This year I'm working with them during the month of October. The plan, once again, is to write two pages a day, and report how we're doing each Monday.

    I have probably discussed the issue of whether or not two pages is all that difficult a daily task. It's not. The issue is that writing has become something writers do less of than in days of old. That bugaboo marketing, in all its many, many manifestations, takes up a lot of time, but so does teaching for many writers, workshop planning, public appearances, and submissions. Finding time for the real creative work involved with writing can be an effort, even if you don't have problems with staying on task. It's particularly difficult if you're trying to get started on a new, book-length project.

    My plan for my own personal Octoberfest, as I'm calling this month's unit of time, is to:
    • Sprint at least five days a week
    • Generate two pages of material as many days of the week as possible
    • Allow the two pages of new material to include new scene planning, if need be
    • Learn to do what I'm going to call skim writing, meaning I'm going to try not to stop to get obsessive about perfecting factual bits, names, etc. I want to leave ______ or bold placeholders, which I hope will help me move ahead generating material that will provide the solutions for those blank spaces and placeholders that I can then go back and correct. I get bogged down much, much too often with those types of things for my taste.
    And, of course, I hope to be able to wring another blog post or two from this experience.

    I have already done today's two pages. Now I need to go off to do some marketing/networking types of things.