Friday, May 30, 2014

June Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

School will be out soon. I hope we'll have plenty of lit happenings in Connecticut for the summer. To get started:

Friday, June 6, Len Flahos, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM

Saturday, June 7, Sarah Albee, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 3:00 PM

Saturday, June 7, Wendell Minor, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot 11:30 AM

Wednesday, June 11, Janet Lawler, Milford Public Library 375th anniversary, Milford 5 to 8 PM

Saturday, June 14, Janet Lawler, Farmington Public Library, Farmington 10:30 AM

Saturday, June 14, Jeff Cohen, Barnes & Noble, West Hartford 11:00 AM

June 21, Stephanie Brockway, Burgundy Books, Westbrook 1:00 PM  Part of Summer Festival Fee for event

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Environmental Book Club

Last week I said that I wasn't stumbling over environmental books on-line now that this year's Earth Day is past. I did, however, stumble upon some at my local library. This week I have a terrific book for our club.

First off, I must say that I am not fond of haiku. That is not a random thought, by the way. Look at this book's title. Anyway, I find haiku kind of confining because of that business of counting the number of syllables and so many syllables per line and three lines and multiply this by that and then divide something, raise to another power, and maybe there's a percentage in there somewhere. I don't actually know.

Jon Muth says he didn't confine himself to the pattern I think of as haiku in Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons. Instead, he treats haiku "like an instant captured in words--using sensory images." And his sensory images are fantastic.

Now this book is more about children's (and pandas') experience of the different seasons than a hardcore "this is autumn" sort of thing. But we live within nature, too. Leaves that need to be swept up, snow falling off branches, birds making nests, fireflies...every season has something new for kids to do. And the changing events definitely get across the idea of change. And that's seasons, for you. Change, change, change.

And for really young kids, who aren't ready for picking up on ideas, there's Muth's terrific panda.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why Don't Kids Read Books? Hint--It's Not Technology

Not to keep you in suspense, Jordan Shapiro at Forbes says, Kids Don't Read Books Because Parents Don't Read Books. His point is that while technology so often gets dumped on for distracting young people from reading, seeing the adults around them not reading is a greater factor. A very interesting piece.

You know what else is interesting? The comments after Shapiro's column. Not every commenter was as taken with this work as I was.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: Obsessing Is A Time Suck

Let's see, one change I've been working on this past month (May Days!) to increase my word count is to pay attention to scenes. I'm planning them ahead of time, structuring them, and confining material to a limited number of scenes in a chapter instead of meandering here and there. I think it's making a difference.

You know what else is making a difference with word count? I think? Not obsessing on making everything perfect before I move on. I can lose forty minutes or much, much more fixating on getting every word right because each paragraph is a foundation for the next paragraph, and I need a good foundation! Then I might come up with something while working on chapter nine that means changes in seven and eight and maybe I need to have one character own a smartphone, so I have to go back and do that.

This kind of thing sucks up time, big time and keeps me from generating new work.

This past week I've been able to make notes about how I want to change a paragraph when I can't get there immediately. Then I jump it and move on. That business about coming up with something in chapter nine that requires changes in chapters seven and eight? That was real. I opened those earlier chapters and left instructions for myself.

And then I moved on.

Now, I won't know how well this works until I get to the end of the road and start the next draft. But for now, I am piling up words.

But nothing like the 10,000 words a day I was shooting for.

Monday, May 26, 2014

I Don't Think I Can Read About Noah Anymore

I think I may have mentioned Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean recently. If not, let's just say that it totally changed my perception of the Noah's Ark story, which I pretty much only knew about from teaching preschool Sunday school. To this day, I don't think I've read the Bible passages that refer to it.

Yesterday I did a little Noah reading with a young family member.We began with On Noah's Ark by Jan Brett. Beautiful book. It began with "Grandpa Noah says that the rains are coming. Soon the land will be covered with water. Grandpa Noah is building an ark for our family and the animals to live on until it stops raining." Our family is chilling to me now. Because we're talking only our family. The last page includes a lovely rainbow, though it doesn't mention anything about the rainbow in the text. I know that the rainbow is supposed to represent God's promise to never destroy the world with water again. (According to preschool stories, at least.) That's comforting, I suppose. But doesn't it leave you to wonder, How will you destroy it?

We went on to Peter Spier's Noah's Ark. Another beautiful book, a Caldecott winner. This is a wordless volume. Nonetheless, when I got to the page with the elephants left in the rain watching the ark that they've been shut out of...eek. And then the page with the four columns showing the ark floating above a building and a whole village? Okay, there were no bodies. But, also, there was nobody.

Thank goodness my Sunday school teaching days are behind me.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Weekend Writer: No, You Don't Just Write When You Feel Like It

I had a discussion this week with Kelly, my hair stylist (Thursday's cut--fantastic), about whether or not I have to feel like it to write. I could do a few thousand words, anyway, on that subject.

That did remind me of a brief article I saw in a Vermont publication I picked up last winter. Author Bill Mares (I remember his book, Real Vermonters Don't Milk Goats, written with Frank Bryan) was interviewed for what looked like an advertisement for Red Barn Books. The bit, the essence, that I liked best and that relates to the whole write-when-you-feel-like-it thing: "Writing is tough...Many writers want it to be a painless process, but it's not. I'm a Calvinist on this."

Like any Calvinist ever expected to do anything just when she felt like it.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Environmental Book Club

Now that this year's Earth Day is behind us, I'm not stumbling over children's books obviously related to the environment/ecology all over the Internet. Which leads me, again, to be thinking about what kinds of books I should be considering for encouraging an appreciation of the world in children. I still like the idea of providing experience, rather than a lesson.

I'm also still loving the interview I heard a few weeks ago about Thoreau recording all kinds of information about Concord's flora and fauna. This weekend I'm hoping to get a very young family member started on a Thoreau-like experience, maintaining a nature journal filled with dried leaves and flowers and maybe pictures of that creepy flock of turkeys in his backyard. (Recognizing that turkeys are disturbing is a sort of appreciation.) While I know a wild turkey when I see one, I'm only familiar with a few trees.

Fortunately, there are books to help with that sort of thing. Scholastic has a whole list of Books for Teaching About Plants and Trees. I'm particularly interested in that apple pie book. When we do our apple tree thing, we can finish with pie.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: Using Scenes And Chapters To Manage The Time You Have

First off, my word count since last we were together: Friday--995 words, Saturday--65 words, Monday--1,640 words, and today 1,009 words. I did get some additional work done today on next month's presentation, which has been hanging over my head.

Note Saturday's pathetic word count. In my defense, I'd like to say that I don't usually work at all on weekends. In my defense, I'd also like to say that on Saturday I also did some scene planning.

In last week's post I agreed with Rachel Aaron that knowing what you're going to write is essential to increasing word count. Or in my case, it seems, maintaining any kind of word count worth mentioning. One way she says you will know what you're going to write is by planning scenes.

As with most aspects of planning/plotting a story, coming up with scenes is easier said than done. The easier part, though, comes along if you keep in mind that scenes keep you from just randomly writing, stumbling around through text. Scenes are specific moments, steps in a story. They are made up of action that takes place in one place at one time, and they reveal new information. You're doing something specific with them. I've found thinking in terms of scenes and planning them hugely helpful this past month.

I include a little something I got from The Plot Whisperer while planning my scenes. I want them to relate to character, plot, or theme. More than one of those items? Terrific. But at least one.

And chapters? Again, they shouldn't be random. You shouldn't be starting a new chapter because it feels right. (Yeah, I've done that.) Aaron quotes Holly Lisle on the subject. In a chapter, something changes. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know that.

Seriously. Knowing stuff, at least about scenes and chapters, means you can write faster. Writing faster is like finding time.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Horn Book's Illustration Issue

Yes, the May/June issue of The Horn Book is out. But I'm writing about the March/April issue, because I'm not comfortable being up-to-date.

I'm talking about The HB's illustration issue. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. My interest in art is historical and cultural. I'm interested in what art says. How it's created is another thing, and I have little knowledge of technique. Less than little knowledge. Nonetheless, I found lots of good stuff in this particular issue, much of it written by illustrators.

First off, I loved Leonard Marcus's An Interview with Neal Porter, probably because I love everything Marcus does. Porter is a founder of Roaring Brook Press, and the interview deals with picture books.

Julie Danielson, of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, has an article in which she introduces the idea of illustrators working with both "hand-crafted" and digital techniques. Gareth Hinds picked up on this thought in his Paint & Pixels.

A number of illustrators wrote about how the way they work changes over time. Brian Selznik was influenced by an exhibit of another artist's work. Yuyi Morales's favorite medium is the one she's about to try next. And Gene Luen Yang moved on from How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.

Then Thom Barthelmess goes at illustration from another angle with What Makes a Good Book Cover?

Even The Horn Book's From the Guide section deals with picture books, wordless picture books.

Whew. Yes, there are reviews in this issue, too. Check them out when you get hold of the issue.

Usually I pass my Horn Books on to a relative who is a middle school librarian. This one is going to one of the artists in the family.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Weekend Writer: The Business Of Writing

I see The Weekend Writer as being for beginning writers, so last week's post about reading is probably more appropriate than today's about managing your writing business. But there's stuff in Money, Writing and Life With Jane Friedman at The Creative Penn that might be eye opening for people planning a writing career.

  • Risk tolerance--You need it if you're going to quit the day job. Personally, I think you need it if you're not going to quit the day job. You're putting a lot of time and energy and emotional whatever into a very risky venture that you don't have a lot of chance of being successful with. Whoops. Should I have said that?
  • A way to manage the reality of limited and irregular income--Joanna Penn says that when she gave up regular income from a day job in order to write full-time, she sold everything. The house. The car. No debt and a lot fewer expenses so she could manage on a writer's income.
  • The traditional model for writer's income vs. reality--The model is income from book sales, but how many writers live on that without teaching/workshop/conference income, appearances, work for hire? By the way, there's a glut of MFA graduates right now, hurting writers' chances of getting college teaching jobs. I've heard that elsewhere.
  • Few sales from many books vs. many sales from few books--Penn and Friedman discuss this. It's something you hear about a lot from entrepreneurial self-published writers, too. What are the chances of one or two books generating a lot of sales? What are the chances of many books generating small numbers of sales each? If you can write a lot, you don't have to sell a large number of each book in order to generate some money.
That's just a sampling of the material you can pick up from this Creative Penn blog post. Read it because forewarned is forearmed.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Environmental Book Club

Moral Fibres, a sustainable living blog from the UK (the spelling of fibre vs. fiber was the giveaway), has a review of two environmental books for kids.  Wendy  read How Does My Garden Grow? by Gerda Muller and The Tomtes of Hilltop Stream by Brenda Tyler. These books are from a Scottish publisher, so they may be difficult to find in this country. But every now and then I like to make an attempt to recognize that the U.S. isn't the only place on the planet that publishes books.

I'm fond of little kid garden books.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: I See An Improvement In Writing Speed

So you'll recall that I'm working on a manuscript as part of my May Days effort and experimenting with upping my daily word count. That's doing more with the time you have, folks. When I was finally able to get started on my project, I was getting numbers like 534 and 209 a day. Yeah. I actually went down. I don't know what happened the third day. I forgot to record my numbers.

But yesterday I went up to 1,400 words and today to 1,800. That's not the 10,000 words Rachel Aaron talks about in the book I read to prep for this month. I haven't even gotten to the 2,000 words that was her starting point when she started pumping up her own word count. But what a jump for me.

This week's improvement was due, I think, to Aaron's contention that knowing what you're going to write is necessary for a good word count. I was able to do a lot of planning for the last two day's work. I've got plans for the next chapter, too. After that I don't know.  

I've had times when I've been able to get the word count up before. When it has happened, I think it was due to my being able to immerse myself in a project and stay there. Staying in a project, in my experience, is the best way to come up with those plans that allow you to know what you're going to write. The more you work on something, the more you're able to work.

I have bad news and good news. The bad news is that I have a speaking engagement next month that I really ought to start preparing for. It takes me forever to do that sort of thing. Working on that will keep me from the immersion I seem to need to develop some work speed. The good news is that I picked up something from Aaron's book that I think is helping me and might offset a little appearance preparation time.

Next week: scenes and chapters.

Monday, May 12, 2014

This Should Have Been Part Of A Binge Read

I am a long-time fan of the Skulduggery Pleasant series. Nonetheless, I'm finding the books becoming more and more...mmm...what word am I looking for? Slog is too extreme. Too much may be what I'm going for here.

And yet the final volume, Armageddon Outta Here,  comes out later this year, and I'll be getting my copy in from Great Britain. I kind of wish, though, that I'd found these books after they were all published. Then I could have read them in a binge and wouldn't have experienced some of the problems I encountered, particularly with Last Stand.

Knowing what happened in earlier books is crucial to getting the most out of this one. These books are very much a serial, not a series.  I've been reading them over six years. My mind's just not that good. I was lucky if I could put together a vague idea of some of the past events. Reading all eight books, one after the other, would have helped with that.

And while there are many witty characters in Last Stand, they tend to be witty in the same way, sounding a lot alike. Reading the books in a binge might have made the sameness even more obvious or it might have made the characters easier to follow because you could carry them from book to book.

Apart from that, this particular volume in the series is interesting because of all the point of view switches. In the first half of the book, it would be easy to argue that Skulduggery and, more importantly, Valkyrie Cain, aren't the main characters. It could be argued that there is no main character. The early book comes across a bit like World War Z, in which the war is really the character. The point of view switches also slow things down.

Another interesting aspect of the book is the question of just why it's YA. Valkyrie Cain turns 18. She's never had a lot of traditional teen experiences, anyway, though she was often childish acting over the course of the series. In Last Stand, she is all about being a warrior. Character and situation aren't too YA-like. But theme is. Valkyrie (and another character) are evolving, sometimes trying to control who they will become. The themes of transition and life choices mark the book as YA.

So that's it on Skulduggery, until this fall.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Weekend Writer: That Business About Reading

You know how new writers are advised to do a lot of reading? Yeah, well, this is one of those you-ought-to-read things. But different.

Author/agent Marie Lamba says in her Updating Your Image post that it's not unusual for her to see "submissions that feel dated." For people hoping to get into children's writing, in particular, this is often due to writers admiring the books they read when they were children. That is their idea of great writing and what they hope to model their own work upon. While the authors of that work from another time may have been doing something new, new is only new once. As Lamba says, "really great fiction of our time reflects today’s sensibilities and your experiences as who you are right now...Writing from a place that only takes in what fiction once was like too often just feels pokey." I would say feels "done," myself.

So when you're doing your reading, keep up-to-date. Read widely and read what's being published now, as well as rereading what was being published when you got excited about books. Think about this: In what other profession would you not keep up on what is being done in your field?

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Environmental Book Club

Earth Day is over, but that's no reason to stop reading environmentally themed books. The Horn Book's Recommended Reading For Earth Day list is interesting because it's so long on nonfiction. Plus, the fiction books for older readers all have a post-apocalyptic or at least dystopian thing going on. Monument 14 sounds intriguing, but in a disaster movie sort of way, not an environmental sort of way.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The 48 Hour Book Challenge Is Coming Up

The Ninth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge is coming up the weekend of June 6 through 8. What's the 48 Hour Book Challenge, you ask? To put it as simply as possible, lit bloggers read furiously and then blog madly about it, trying to stay conscious for as much of a 48-hour period as possible.

Good times. Good times.

Back in 2008, my third year taking part in the Challenge, I said I found it more satisfying when I had a theme. This year, Pam Coughlin/ MotherReader, the Challenge's creator, has chosen a theme, diversity for children's books. She's encouraging participants to support the We Need Diverse Books campaign.

I haven't kept up on the We Need Diverse Books issue, but I'll have to bring myself up to speed because, for the first time since 2008, I believe I'll be able to take part, at least from Saturday afternoon until Sunday night. I'm feeling cautiously optimistic.

I may get to play with my blogging buddies.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: That Do More With Less Time Plan Fell Apart For A While

My May Days Project got off to a really bad start.

The Plan

You will recall that I was planning to generate work on a project that I'd set aside last year and, at the same time, work on increasing my word count as a way to do more with less time. So I've been using 2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, etc. by Rachel Aaron to help me do this. Aaron writes that a key element in writing faster is knowing what you're going to write before you get started. So in addition to bringing myself up to speed with this project by revising the few chapters I'd already written, I was going through my materials on characters, historical elements, timing, etc., to help me plan some scenes, which as far as this organic writer is concerned, would be knowing what I was going to write.

Last Tuesday, two days before the beginning of May, I took a look at the scene file I'd started last year. Yikes! It was a mess. I had made a list of scenes, but the beginning scenes didn't entirely match what I'd actually written (not a problem, it's the result that matters) and later scene plans weren't all that helpful, in part because of how the story now started. Well, I said, you will spend tomorrow, Wednesday, cleaning this stuff up and getting some scene plans in order.

What Could Go Wrong?

However, Tuesday evening I received a request for chapters and a synopsis for another manuscript that I had submitted to someone. Yikes again! This was good news, right? Of course, it was.  Someone was interested in one of my projects. But I didn't have a synopsis ready to go. As I told you this past weekend, I spent five days writing it. That included the Wednesday I was going to spend on scene planning and the Friday I was going to spend writing. (Thursday is family/runaround day at Chez Gauthier, and I've given up pretending I work on weekends.)

We have talked about these time management issues here before. That synopsis was what is known as reactive work. I needed to drop the creative work I was doing to react to an incoming request. It was also an example of situational time management. I had to adapt very rapidly to a new situation.

What The Hell, Right? No.

The synopsis went out Sunday, so my situation has changed again. What should I do now? I wasn't able to finish my planning and I wasn't able to get started with writing. What the Hell. I might as well do something else.

That is what's known in self-discipline circles as the What-the-Hell Effect. It's a major reason for self-discipline failures. Instead of staying on task with a diet, people say what the hell at ten in the morning because they ate two doughnuts at nine and figure they might as well give up and start again tomorrow. In reality, they've got many hours left in the day during which they can stay with their program. The same is true with managing time, whether you're talking about a day or a week or a month. I have a lot of time left in this month that I can use for my planned project, even though I've lost some of it early on.

Fighting The What-the-Hell Effect Leads To Results You Can See

Last week was then, this is now, and now is an entirely different situation to work within. Additionally, I don't need to feel bad about myself for not working on my May Days project last week. (Feeling bad is the big reason for giving into the What-the-Hell Effect.) I was working and working on something significant, just not the significant something I planned to work on. Yesterday I continued with the last of the revising of the early chapters of my May Days manuscript, and I have the next few scenes planned. Since I'm an organic writer, just knowing what I'm going to be doing a few scenes ahead may be the best I can expect. We'll have to see how the rest of the month goes.

Oddly enough, I had What-the-Hell issues with last year's May Days project, too. And, yet, the work I ended up doing that month led to more work later in the year, and I'm back on the same manuscript now.  That, lads and lasses, is an example of why fighting the What-the-Hell Effect is so important.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Catching Up With Winfred Rembert

I'm not sure what led me to take my copy of Don't Hold Me Back by Winfred Rembert off my shelf yesterday to show to a family member. I met Rembert back in 2004 when we were both nominated for the Connecticut Book Award, back when there still was a Connecticut Book Award. (Not to be confused with the Nutmeg Award, folks.) But as a result, I looked up Rembert today.


Winfred Rembert is a leather folk artist whose work has gotten around. He's had gallery shows that were reviewed  in the New York Times. He's had other gallery shows.  Oh, look. Another, very recent show. The Huffington Post carried a piece about him. A book has been written about him. And a documentary has been made.

I was going to offer my copy of Don't Hold Me Back to a couple of my family members who are library/reading teacher people. But I love folk art! And Rembert signed it! I think I will make them drag it from my cold, stiff hands. They can look forward to fighting for it.

Here's something I've been thinking about this afternoon. I love a lot of the folk art I've run into over the years. It's not so much the execution, which I'm not qualified to judge, though there are definitely some things I've liked more than others. It's that these people, who have little to no art training, need to create so badly that they won't let the fact that they have only a vague idea what they're doing stop them.

So why don't I feel the same way about work from untrained writers?

And was I the equivalent of a folk writer when I started publishing?

Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Weekend Writer: The Dreaded Synopsis

I had eight books published with one of the big publishers without ever having to write a synopsis. I barely knew what a synopsis is.

I am not bragging here, folks. I am explaining why things have been so tense around Chez Gauthier the last few days. I've been writing a synopsis that was requested after I made a submission. How bad did things get? My husband tried to ask me something this afternoon, saw I was still at my laptop, and said, "Never mind. Finish that #@!! thing."

While struggling these last few days, I came upon 6 Steps for Writing a Book Synopsis at Marissa Meyer's blog. I wish I'd found it earlier in my own synopsis process. Read it now before you need it.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Environmental Book Club

Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau's Woods isn't a children's book. And I don't know how many people find climate change a riveting subject. But the author, Richard Primack, was involved in a fantastic interview on Science Friday on NPR last week. Guess what Thoreau did? He spent years recording changes in plants in Concord, as well as when birds arrived in the spring. And scientists are using that information today. Doesn't that make you want to start taking notes on something? And hope someone will hold onto it for 160 years?

I can make a children's book connection for you. You can introduce your young ones to Henry David Thoreau with D. B. Johnson's lovely books about the naturalist and writer, including Henry Hikes to Fitchburg.