Sunday, November 30, 2014

December Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Connecticut author Martha Seif Simpson is in several venues this month with her seasonal book, The Dreidel That Wouldn't Spin. Speaking of seasonal, Christmas appears to have chopped off appearances for the second part of December.

Wed., Dec. 3, Michaela MacColl, Barnes & Noble, Westport 3:30 PM

Wed., Dec. 3, Christine Pakkala, Barnes & Noble, Westport 6:30 PM

Thurs, Dec. 4, Martha Seif SimpsonTemple Beth Sholom, Hamden 7 to 8 PM Signing with proceeds to benefit TBS Sisterhood

Fri., Dec. 5, Martha Seif SimpsonWilton Library, Wilton 4:30-5:15 pm Storytime for ages 4 and up, followed by a book signing. Town's annual Holiday Stroll follows

Sat., Dec. 6, Martha Seif Simpson, Stratford Library, Stratford 10:30 AM Storytime and signing

Sun., Dec. 7, Andrea West, Bank Square Books, Mystic 2 to 4 PM

Sun., Dec., 7, Martha Seif Simpson, Greater New Haven Jewish Community Center Arts & Crafts Fair, Woodbridge 10 AM to 4 PM Book program at 11:30, book sale during rest of event
Sun., Dec. 7, Peter Sis, Pequot Library, Southport, 4 to 6 PM

Sun., Dec. 7, Patricia Dunn, New Canaan Library, New Canaan 2 PM

Wed., Dec. 10, Robie Harris, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4 PM

Wed., Dec. 10, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Barnes & Noble, Canton 5 PM
Mon., Dec. 15, Martha Seif Simpson, Barnes & Noble, Milford 6:30 PM Proceeds to benefit Jonathan Law High School.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Lot Further Down The Romance Road

Back in 2012, I found Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor to be both romance and fantasy, two genres I'm not fond of in and of themselves. I need something more in those genres, such as a strong character, or, in the case of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a mystery. Who was the main character, Karou? Why was the guy with the wings always hanging around her? There was a journey thing going on, as Karou discovered who and what she was. I can't find a post on Days of Blood and Starlight, the second book in the trilogy, but I recall feeling it was a connector, which second books in trilogies often are.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the last book in the trilogy, is more clearly a romance. There's various other things going on, but the real significant storyline here is all about Karou and Akiva. Their eyes meet across a crowd. There are many paragraphs about kissing. Lots of relationship stuff. There are teases for the reader, too. Will they kiss? Someone shows up at the cave opening and No! The kiss is off! Will they get together for some real hot and heavy stuff? Oh, they're getting closer...closer...No! Akiva has disappeared!

You can probably tell I'm not that keen on Karou and Akiva anymore. No, Liraz was my big interest in this book. I won't tell you who she gets together with because that's the best surprise.

The Significance Of Romance And Marketing "Gods And Monsters"


I happened to read A Billion-dollar Affair in the Oct. 24 issue of Entertainment Weekly while I was reading Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Sales of romance are huge, there's an enormous market. At the same time, though, author Karen Valby says the "long-ridiculed" genre is "dismissed by the critical mass." As a result, I started wondering how Dreams of Gods and Monsters is being marketed. Is it being promoted as a fantasy or paranormal romance, which could bring it to a large and appreciative audience? Or is it being marketed as something else, perhaps to avoid the romance label?

In a USA Today interview, Taylor talks about working on a short story for a romance anthology, so she thinks of romance as a genre she works within, at least some of the time
. I think there is a romance thing going on in the publisher's marketing of the book, but it's subtle. The publisher's copy at its website includes the line "They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love." There's also talk of various beings fighting, striving, loving, and dying.

Wait. I just realized. My romance reading is limited to historical mysteries with couple characters. I don't read advertising copy for romance novels. "They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love" may be exactly how a romance novel is marketed.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.
From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera, and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy. - See more at:
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at:
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at:
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at:
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at:
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: The Just Say No Thing

Over scheduling is a classic time suck. It's also a big reason writers have trouble finding time for their work. We commit too many hours to various professional and personal activities. Our time is gone. Sometimes it disappears because we take on too much all by ourselves. Sometimes it goes because we're asked for it and say, "Sure."

Christine Carter has a blog post, 21 Ways to "Give Good No", at Greater Good in which she deals with this issue. I wasn't so interested in the "21Ways" that appear in Part Two of the post. Parts One and Three were another thing.

Plan How Much Time You Can Take Away From Work

In Part One of her article, Carter says it's easier to say no "when we have a concrete reason for doing so—a way to justify our refusal." "...we need to create the reason for saying no before we need it—we need a decision making structure, or “rules” to guide us so that we don’t have to agonize over every invitation." She talks about planning ahead for how many social invitations you can accept during the course of the week, then saying no to the rest. Also plan when you're going to work and say no to any requests that will conflict with your work time.

I've written here about writers working for free and being asked to work for free. If you want to be able to support some organizations with free work or appearances, you can plan ahead for how much of your time you can afford to give away. When you've reached your limit, say no to additional requests.

Your Decision Is Made. Move On.

In Part Three, Carter says, essentially, say no and stop thinking about it. "...when we make a decision in a way that allows us to change our minds later, we tend to be a lot less happy with the decisions that we make." Perhaps because the decision isn't really made if we can make a different one down the line? Forget about being happy with a decision. If the door is left open, the decision is still hanging over you, is it not? How time consuming and energy depleting is that?

So make your plan so you can make a decision. And when you've made a decision, get back to work.

Monday, November 24, 2014

More On Children's Lit People Working For Free

Freelancing for Free? by John Shelly at Shelly Scraps. This time we're talking illustration.

Little Too Traditional Fantasy For Me

I've probably bored people to death with how much I liked Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books. I liked Howl's Moving Castle for Howl. Mystical, changing buildings aren't much of a draw for me. I wasn't as enthusiastic about other Jones' books. I've had the same experience reading Terry Pratchett. Some I liked a great deal, some not so much. I think when writers have a big output, the way Jones and Pratchett do, there's going to be some up and down. Even if the quality doesn't vary, when there's a lot of work dealing with different characters and situations, readers' taste/commitment is going to be greater for some characters/situations than others.

That's how I felt about The Islands of Chaldea, the last book Jones was working on when she died. There wasn't a stand out character like Howl or Christopher Chant/Chrestomanci, though I think that if Jones had had all the time in the world, Aunt Beck or the captive prince she loved from afar might have become one. But they are both adult characters. I found Aileen, the child/teen main character, not very strong, though she does come through at the end. That may be a significant aspect of children's fantasy books, that the child protagonist transitions through the magic, the way real life children transition through adolescence. But my knowledge of fantasy isn't deep enough to know if that's the case or if I just made that up this minute.

I think you really have to enjoy magic to enjoy The Islands of Chaldea, and there are going to be young people who do and will. For me, though, the best part of the book is an author's note at the end in which author and actress Ursula Jones describes her efforts to finish her sister's book after Diana Wynne Jones's death.

The Islands of Chaldea is a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Category.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Sentence

"Writing is about finding out who you are, what you have to say that is not the same as what everyone else has to say, and how to express it in the strongest possible terms."  The Point of Writing by Meg Rosoff at Writer Unboxed.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Promo Friday: On-line Holiday Book Fair Next Weekend

The 10-Minute Novelist writers' community will be running a Holiday Book Fair on Facebook starting November 28th, Black Friday. Dozens of authors are scheduled to take part, posting sales links to their books, organized in seventeen categories. I'll be there with Saving the Planet and perhaps one or more of my other eBooks.

The sale starts November 28th and runs through Wednesday, December 3.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Environmental Book Club

The Green Earth Book Awards were announced in September.  The Nature Generation has been sponsoring them for ten years. This year's winners:

Picture Book: The Eye of the Whale by Jennifer O'Connell

Children's Fiction: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

Young Adult Fiction: Washashore by Suzanne Goldsmith


Children's Nonfiction: A Place for Turtles by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Higgins Bond


Young Adult Nonfiction: Inside a Bald Eagle's Nest: A Photographic Journey Through the American Bald Eagle Nesting Season by Teena Ruark Gorrow and Craig A. Koppie

Honor Books:

Ellie’s Log:  Exploring the Forest Where the Great Tree Fell by Judith L. Li with  illustrations by M.L. Herring

Frog Song by Brenda Guiberson with illustrations by Gennady Spirin

Mousemobile by Prudence Breitrose with illustrations by Stephanie Yue

Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trombore with illustrations by Susan L. Roth

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

The Tapir Scientist:  Saving South America’s Largest Mammal by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Come On. No One Else Gets A "Jane Eyre" Vibe Here?

When I was a teenager, I was a big fan of historical romance. In college, I would read Georgette Heyer during exam weeks to relax. As an adolescent, I really liked that "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, Well, maybe you're not so bad" storyline in a historical setting. So I picked Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge off the Cybils Young Adult Speculative Fiction nomination list for one reason and one reason only: The main character has been raised to marry and murder a demon who has had control of her country since before she was born but falls for him before she can complete her task. Okay, it was paranormal and not historical, but I was dealing with a speculative fiction list, after all.

Now, though I seem to read a lot of fantasy, it's mainly because a lot of children's and YA books are fantasy. It's not because I'm so fond of it. I don't get excited about fantasy elements, as a general rule.  I'm not crazy about houses that are always changing, for instance, as the one in Cruel Beauty does. I was kind of mystified about who the Kindly Ones were in this book, especially since there seems to be an alternative Greek mythology thing going on here and where do the Kindly Ones fit in? But that didn't matter because the demon was very witty and clever and our protagonist wasn't a particularly nice person, which I like in a heroine.

Yes, Teen Gail would have loved this thing. Cruel Beauty should be on a list of teen vacation reading that is totally inappropriate for school papers. 

But If You Want To Write A School Paper On It, Try Talking About Jane Eyre

However, if someone really wants to sell this as a subject for a high school paper, I think they might be able to do a Jane Eyre comparison. Cruel Beauty is being marketed as a Beauty and the Beast meets Greek mythology tale, but I kept thinking of Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre was not assigned reading for me when I was a teenager. I read it on my own, as I read a great many things back then. I did not find it particularly memorable, except for the scene where poor Jane sits on the sidelines during an evening event at Mr. Rochester's house. That probably speaks volumes about my adolescence. I didn't become a fan of Jane's until I re-read it in 2003 after reading The Eyre Affair. The Good Reading Fairy had hit it, and I've become a bit of a Jane Eyre groupy, looking for and reading retellings. Cruel Beauty may not be an intentional retelling, but I still think an enterprising student could make a case that would convince a teacher to at least accept a Beauty/Jane Eyre paper.

Jane Eyre is about a prickly young woman who doesn't inspire affection in traditional relationships, such as the one with her aunt. In the course of acquiring what is by the standards of her time a good education, she is not treated very well. She enters a wealthy (wealth is power) man's home as a governess. Said wealthy man is unhappy and bitter over the life he has been forced to live. These two damaged, unromantic people find something in each other.

Cruel Beauty is about a bitter, angry young woman, her father's least favorite child, the one he bartered away to a demon. He provides her with what is by the standards of her world a good education so she can kill the demon he's marrying her off to. The plan will mean her death as well, explaining her bitterness and anger. She enters a powerful male's home as his wife. Said powerful male is amusing and attractive but resigned to a fate he brought upon himself, one we're not aware of for a while. These two damaged, I can't say unromantic because I'm sure we're supposed to think they are, people recognize something in each other.

In Jane Eyre, there's a madwoman in the attic. In Cruel Beauty, there's a little something in one of the house's many rooms.   

Jane and Mr. Rochester's story in Jane Eyre is framed with a beginning piece about Jane's rough youth with her family and boarding school and an ending bit about her suffering after she leaves Rochester. Nyx and Ignifex's story in Cruel Beauty is framed with a beginning piece about Nyx's rough youth with her family and an ending bit about her suffering after she and Ignifex are separated. Some have argued that Mr. Rochester's blindness is a punishment for what he planned for himself and Jane, a punishment that was alleviated when Jane returned to him. A clever high school student could argue that Ignifex was punished for all he had done, a punishment that was alleviated when Nyx returned to him.
There you've got it, folks, the beginning of a Cruel Beauty/Jane Eyre English paper.

Wait! There's more! It's kind of a stretch, but if enterprising students wanted to, they could claim there's a bit of a torn-between-two-lovers thing going on in Jane Eyre what with Jane being proposed to by both Mr. Rochester and that creepy minister named St. John. The author of Cruel Beauty does something interesting with the torn-between-two-lovers cliche.

Okay, lads and lasses. You're welcome to this material, but put it into your own words.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: Taking Another Shot At Sprinting

I've written about sprinting a couple of times here. Then in the mad rush of life, it sort of drifted out of my consciousness as a regular time management technique.

This weekend, however, I was nursing a mild cold I wanted to get rid of (and pretty much have) and noticed that the 10-Minute Novelists Facebook community I belong to was doing a Saturday sprint event. This was to help NaNoWriMo participants punch up their word counts. Their plan was to sprint at the top of each hour and then do what they had to do on a Saturday until the top of the next one. Then they'd sprint again.

I was lolling around on a couch next to a wood stove with my laptop, anyway, so though I'm not doing NaNoWriMo, I decided to go with it. It was ten minutes before one when I heard about this, so I didn't have a lot of time to prep my mind. So I went to work on blog posts. By the end of the weekend, I had done one for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Now, in hindsight, I believe the other members of the group were doing twenty minute sprints. I only did ten minutes each hour because, well, I was sick and this was a 10-Minute Novelist group. Nonetheless, over the weekend I finished yesterday's somewhat lengthy blog post, which is terrific because I'm killing most of my evenings on blog posts. I'd like to be doing some reading then.

Today (Monday) I had to be away for a chunk of time on family business. I worked in a bit better than ten-minute sprint on this post for Tuesday before I left this morning, and I'm back for another ten minutes (and more, as it turned out) this afternoon.

Now, I wouldn't like to work like this all the time. Of course, I can get a lot more done in forty-five-minute units than in ten or twenty. Twenty- or even ten-minute sprints are a situational time management technique for those days when you're going to be hard put to find forty-five minutes because your work and personal life are out of balance and your personal time is bleeding into your work time. For those people who want to write every day, to encourage their creativity and keep their minds in their projects, as well as make progress on them, sprinting could make it possible.

I'm going to try to pay more attention to sprinting in the weeks ahead, both on Saturdays and Sundays and those weekdays when my personal life is overwhelming my work life. (Next week, for instance, which includes Thanksgiving prep, Thanksgiving, and some overnight guests.) For the immediate future, I'm going to focus on getting ahead on blog posts, trying to free up some evening time for other things. That would be nice. Creating some kind of sprinting work habits would be nice, too.

As usual, at some point I'll let you know how I do with that.

Monday, November 17, 2014

How Do We Feel About Writers Writing For Free? Is There Something To Be Gained For The Individual, Maybe Not So Much The Group?

Last weekend, The Toronto Star carried an article called Can You Afford to be a Writer? The situation it describes for writers in Canada is similar to what you'll find here in the states.  "... most writers are not likely to break $10,000 a year from their writing." Articles like this should be part of the reading for any writing program. Maybe they are.

I think Kate Gace Walton's blog post at Work Stew, Should I Write for Free? is related for a couple of reasons:
  • A lot of your traditional literary journals don't pay their contributors or pay only in copies.  Some very highly regarded writers publish in these things. These are the journals whose stories are often contenders for awards. Having published with them helps get the attention of agents and book editors.The Internet has made possible a multitude of new on-line journals, many of which don't pay contributors. While many of them are new and newish and don't build reputations the way some of the older print journals do, they could serve as stepping stones to more publication in the future. Yet writing for them doesn't add to anyone's income.
  • Walton says in her post that "The proliferation of people writing for free in recent decades (by self publishing fee-free content or contributing work to non-paying sites) has definitely made it harder for those who write for a living to get by." Does writing for free, she asks in a note to her essay, "degrade the market for professional writers?" She links to Tim Kreider's NYT's essay (which I hope he was paid for), Slaves of the Internet, Unite,  in which he talks about being asked to work/write for nothing. He's not the first writer this has happened to.
I can recall hearing something similar years ago about writers making appearances in schools. If some writers do a lot of free work, it undermines the earning ability of the writers who need an income stream from schoolwork . Because, as the Toronto Star article pointed out, they probably aren't making enough from their writing to support themselves.

But, at the same time, free work, as in publishing with established lit journals, has been a traditional way for writers to get exposure so that some day they might be able to get paid. Plus, the whole marketing issue throws a big curve into the question of whether or not writers should give their work away, because we're giving away enormous amounts of work for guest blog posts, interviews, essays, etc. when we have a new book coming. It's part of promoting that new work. We're advised to do so by book marketers. Marketing, whether it's free work or some other kind, is expected by publishers.

To be transparent here, about an hour ago I submitted a 700+ word guest post to a blog. I received payment for only one essay I've published*.  I've generated a lot of free material for guest posts and blog interviews while promoting the eBook edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff. The benefit to me of the promotional work is obvious, but even the essays fill a hole in my publishing history. I also hope they will serve as stepping stones to getting future essays published in paying publications at some point.

Free work can help individual unpublished or underpublished writers develop a following. At least it can help give the publishing industry the sense that these writers are a presence of some kind. But while individuals are giving away work hoping for some benefit for themselves, is the earning power of writers as a group suffering?

*This blog post has been edited. The original line said I'd never received payment for any essay I've published. I was paid for my Horn Book essay. Yay Horn Book!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Sentence

I heard about Sunday Sentence from Erika Dreifus. It's supposed to be a sharing of a "best sentence" read during the week, without context. It seems like a quick and easy way to do a little promo for a book.

I started to write some explanation of how I came to choose this, context!!! So:

"It wouldn't take much digging for an interested party to ascertain the...depths of abnormal...upon which she'd built this life."  Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Is There Also A Good Reading Fairy?

A week ago, I wrote about the Suck Fairy, a name for that sad experience that occurs when we re-read a book we liked quite a lot sometime in our past and find that it now sucks. There could be all kinds of reasons this could happen, all of which could come under the umbrella of the Suck Fairy visiting the book while we were gone and filling it with suck.

But what about when we re-read a book from our past, one that we weren't all that crazy about, and find that somehow it has improved? Did the Good Reading Fairy come while our backs were turned and fill that bad puppy with reading goodness?

I thought of this after reading Why Everyone Should Re-read the Books You Were Forced to Read When You Were a Teenager at The Owl's Skull.  Jessica McCort recalls reading Huckleberry Finn as a junior or senior in high school. She says she hated "this book with every single fiber of my being. ... I didn't understand its humor. I didn't understand much of the political environment in which it was embroiled. I hated the fact that women/girls didn't seem to come off extremely well... I thought Huck was a pretty horrible character, and Tom Sawyer ... don't even get me started on him."

She re-read it during her junior year of college. "...on the second go around, I loved the book. I thought it was uproariously funny. I was pierced by both its humor and its humanity (I still hated the last several chapters, I have to say, but for very different reasons than why I didn't like the book when I was in high school. And I still didn't like Tom, but I came around to Huck)."

Jessica then offers a list of books she didn't care for in the past and that she'd be willing to give another shot. They all appear to be classics. And, as she said, they were all assigned reading.

Jessica's post led me to mull on a couple of points.
  1. Somewhere in my reading these last few months (I apologize that I cannot recall where) someone raised the question of what society gains by forcing teenagers to read classics they are known, as a group, to dislike. I focused on Jessica's Huckleberry Finn example because I've heard before that it's not embraced by teenagers. I didn't care for it much, myself, when I had to read at least part of it as a teenager and can recall some scenes I enjoyed when I was older, but even then it's one of those books that I'm glad to have knowledge of because of its impact on what came after it, but that's it. In fact, I wonder if Twain/Clemens isn't an author who is beloved these days more because of his reputation than because of enjoyment or real knowledge of his work. And, let's be honest, was my son the only teenager who spent all his freshman or sophomore year of high school dreading having to read Shakespeare in the spring? No, Shakespeare didn't end up becoming a favorite writer.
  2. When as an adult we re-read a classic we disliked as a teenager, was the first reading and probably instruction a factor in the Good Reading Fairy experience? Or is it simply that at that later time of life we were experienced enough to appreciate the book, period, whether we had some earlier knowledge of the book or not? The earlier reading was meaningless, maybe worse than meaningless since disliking a work at fifteen could mean we won't even consider reading it at twenty-five or thirty or fifty-five.
Twelve or thirteen years ago, I attended a symposium I remember nothing about except that the professor explained that until the end of the nineteenth century literature was not part of a standard American school curriculum. Rhetoric, the study of speech and writing, was more common. Literature became part of the "English" curriculum in order to assimilate children of foreign families, to teach them to value what Americans valued, the works of authors writing in English. (This knowledge left me a little horrified about having been an English major in college, but let's not get into that.)

What's the point of "English" class these days?
  • Is it to insist that young people  read The Odyssey, Julius Caesar, Moby Dick, or any of the  classics Jessica McCourt recalls reading and disliking? Should we be holding up the works of dead, white, English speaking writers as having some value above all others? And if we should, is forcing adolescents to read this stuff working?  
  • Is it to encourage life-long reading so that young people become literate citizens capable of understanding writing in all fields of study, thus making them better able to make decisions affecting their lives? Will the works of dead, white, English speaking writers achieve that end?
Those people who believe knowledge of the classics is essential may fear that if young people aren't forced to read them, whether they're at an age when they can appreciate them or not, they risk never being exposed. There's no knowing what they'll study in college or be attracted to as adults. But if pre-eighteen-year-olds just can't recognize the wit in Huckleberry Finn and how it fits into the historical context in which it was written, or have enough reading background to recognize its influence on American literature, will their exposure to it do them any good?

How many people who disliked Huck in their youth go on to read it again? The Good Reading Fairy can fill classics with all kinds of reading goodness. If we never re-read those books we didn't like the first time around, we'll never find it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

We'll See Where I Go With This

Today my new author talk, Preparing for National Novel Writing Month, Elementary School Edition, made its debut. Things went very well. This photo of the Smart Board I used in a fourth grade classroom doesn't begin to do justice to the slides Computer Guy made for me.

This program grew out of the time management for writers work I've been doing for this blog for several years. My reading on doing more with the time you have, in particular, as well as the studying I've done on plotting over the years (Hmm. I've done a lot of writing about that here.)
became my material for this presentation.

Now, authors give public talks for a number of reasons. Sometimes it's for straight promotion--talking at book fairs, for instance, or building up a presence among groups (say, museum goers) that might be interested in your work. Sometimes it's for straight income. For children's writers, most school appearances fall into that category.

Writer Joanna Penn is well-known on the Internet where she writes about and is interviewed about writing, self-publishing, speaking, the writing business, and all variations thereof. Penn is a speaker and sometimes discusses public speaking as an income stream for writers. (See the preceding paragraph and children's writers in schools.) But I've also either heard her talk or read her writing on using speaking as a way to support writing in less tangible ways. "...being a speaker," she has said, "really helps being known as a thought leader..." I have little ambition to the thought leader title. Close to none, actually. But I do realize that "being known" makes a writer more marketable and more desirable to agents and publishers.

I am between books right now. While I continue to write and submit, it would be very useful if I could also maintain a presence in the childlit world, even if only locally/regionally. Speaking could be a way to do that. A children's writer who doesn't have print books available for book sales isn't going to get traditional speaking engagements at schools and libraries. What kind of speaking could I do that would keep me known among teachers and librarians? I realized this summer that I had the Situational Time Management Workshop I ran for the NESCBWI last year that came about because of my Time Management work here and that some of the work I've done here would also apply to National Novel Writing Month.

So the blog may lead to speaking, which could lead to promotional/income opportunities. I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

You Don't Have To Love Mockingbird To Like This Book

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora is about a group of teenagers who set out to increase To Kill a Mockingbird's popularity by making it appear to be disappearing and thus unavailable. Everyone wants what they can't have, right? Part of their plan is to take their project viral. Some readers might think that they were unrealistically successful with that. All the characters, teen and adult, are amusing and clever, though some readers might find that they sound a lot alike.

Yes, yes, "some readers" is me.

Okay, let's talk about the intriguing things in I Kill the Mockingbird:

  • This book really is about literate teens. These kids aren't just spokespeople spouting the party line on classics. They can actually discuss a book. They know why not everyone loves To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance. No, no, I am not one of the dislikers. But, nonetheless, I understand why not everyone embraces it and appreciate that mindset being expressed.
  • This book is about religious observance. I do not mean it is about dogma or doctrine. It is about kids who go to religious services and religious school. There are hundreds of thousands of young people who attend the services related to whatever faith their families follow. I don't see a lot of that reflected in children's books.
  • This book does have some of the "this-is-an-important-book-about-death" thing going on. Though it's more an-important-book-about-not-dying-and-having-to-get-over-it thing. And, yes, that's different.
  • I liked the father's reason for thanking God--it's always good to be polite. And the mother's argument that we are only able to enjoy living because we're able to pretend we're not going to die. And the discussion of "Ordinary Time," a season in the Christian church calendar? The main character gives a meaningful explanation of its significance. Though I was a Catholic child, I didn't learn about the church calendar until I was a Sunday school teacher in a Congregational church. I thought Ordinary Time was just that period of the year when nothing else was happening.
I liked I Kill the Mockingbird for all the odd little things I found in it. It's getting all kinds of loving  from people who probably liked it for other reasons.

I Kill the Mockingbird is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade category.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: "Killing The Buddha," Or Protecting Method And Process

First off, let's go over again why meditation has a connection to time management, particularly time management for writers. Managing time requires self-discipline. Meditation helps develop that. From last year's discussion of Kelly McGonigal's The Willpower Instinct:

McGonigal even explains why meditating helps with self-control and attention, something I've been hearing about for years, though no one felt a need to explain why it would work. Meditating, it appears, develops the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain that deals with impulse control. Good impulse control helps people stay on task with goals. Find meditation difficult because your mind keeps wandering and you have to keep bringing it back to the breath? That's actually good, according to McGonigal. The effort to do that develops the brain just as physical effort develops muscles.

Okay, that brings us up to this past Saturday, when I attended a five-hour meditation workshop sponsored by Dharma Drum Mountain's Hartford group. During the fifth hour, our monk leader was taking questions about the meditation we'd just done. Someone brought up seeing images of the Buddha while meditating.

The monk's response was that his group's particular meditation method didn't involve imagery because it can be distracting. When you have a meditation method, you need to eliminate anything that distracts from it. If that means eliminating Buddha, you eliminate Buddha. You kill the Buddha to protect your method.

Turns out killing the Buddha is a thing in Buddhism.

Writers develop a writing process just as meditators develop a meditating method. Writers need to eliminate anything that distracts from their process just as meditators have to eliminate anything that distracts from their method.

And that is why you frequently hear of writers practicing meditation. They're hoping that learning to kill the Buddha and protect their meditation method will give them the ability to protect their writing process as well.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Facts Here, Facts There, Facts Everywhere

I was very taken with Peter Sis's book The Wall back in 2008, so when I heard he'd written and illustrated another book, this one about Antoine St. Exupery, for whom I'm a groupy, I was enthusiastic. I've never really understood The Little Prince, and I don't really get Sis's The Pilot and the Little Prince, either. It's beautiful (and very well reviewed), but I'm embarrassed to say that I find the layering of information difficult to manage. There's narrative, sometimes there's little facts in circles in a straight line above the narrative, and sometimes there are facts sprinkled above that. An older child who is into nonfiction and just plain loves facts might eagerly suck this stuff up. This older reader is stuck in her ways and needs a more linear reading experience.

 A New York Times reviewer said, " Sis suggests in his new title that the Pilot of “The Little Prince” is Saint-ExupĂ©ry and the Little Prince his child self." I totally missed that. I'm not saying it's not there, just that I didn't get it.

However, I did pick up on the fact that Guerlain named the perfume Vol de Nuit for one of St. Exupery's books. That's the kind of thing a St. Exupery groupy wants to know.

The Pilot and the Little Prince is a Cybils nominee in the picture book category.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Suck Fairy--You'll Recognize Her

Have you ever read a book, thought it was terrific, remembered it fondly, finally re-read it sucked? That's the work of the Suck Fairy.

Author Jo Walton (whose Farthing books I've read, btw) has a great essay from 2010 on the Suck Fairy at Walton says, "You can say that you have changed, you can hit your forehead dramatically and ask yourself how you could possibly have missed the suckiness the first time—or you can say that the Suck Fairy has been through while the book was sitting on the shelf and inserted the suck."

I can recall reading Mists of Avalon with a book club years ago. I did not care for it at all. I had read The Once and Future King when I was a teenager. I knew what a good Arthurian novel was. I decided to re-read it to get the taste of Mists of Avalon out of my mouth. You guessed it. The Suck Fairy had been there. But according to Walton the Suck Fairy allows me to retain my happy memories, to remember "what’s good while not dismissing the newly visible bad."

There's a whole flock of re-reading fairies out there. Ever re-read a book and can't imagine how you missed the racism, sexism, or homophobia? That's right. Your book was visited by the Racism, Sexism, or Homophobia Fairies.  After reading Louisa May Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl four years ago, I'm afraid to re-read Little Women. I suspect it will have been visited by the Message Fairy.

Walton says the Message Fairy often hits "children’s books or books read when you were a kid. Kids are really good at ignoring the heavy-handed message and getting with the fun parts. It’s good they are, because adults have devoted a lot of effort writing them messages thinly disguised as stories and clubbing children over the head with them."

Yeah, I'm really worried about re-reading Little Women.

Thanks to Facebook Friend Suzi Steffen for tipping me off about the Suck Fairy and directing me to Jo Walton's essay.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Environmental Book Club

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French is one of the first pieces of fiction with an environmental setting/theme that I think I've read for this project. It deals with a boy from the city who learns of an endangered old growth forest of redwoods and gets involved with a child-directed initiative to save it. It's very much a city-people-with-money-bad, rural-farm-people-good story. That kind of stereotype is not a big drawback in children's publishing because child readers have not had time to become widely read. Old scenarios are new to them. In fact, Operation Redwood won the Green Earth Book Award in the children's fiction category in 2010. For this adult reader, the most interesting part of the book was the Author's Note in which French, an environmental lawyer, describes the history of redwood preservation, which also gave some idea of the inspiration for some of the events and characters in the book. The novel includes a lot of information and could easily be a reading list staple for school environmental units.

Reading this book raised lots of questions for me about environmental fiction. For one thing, what exactly is an environmental theme? In the case of Operation Redwood, I would say that it's that humans have a responsibility to act as caretaker for the Earth. But what would other themes be? Are there other themes? Is there any way for a writer to use the humans-as-caretakers theme without making it instructional instead of thematic?

And what about my desire to see environmental books that include an immersion in some kind of natural experience? Can you get that particular type of sense of place while working a plot?

How does Saving the Planet & Stuff fit in with all this? Thematically, that book is about having to decide how we'll live our lives. There's an environmental setting. There are environmentalist characters. If there's any kind of environmental theme, I'd say that it's the difficulty of living an environmental life.

Wait! Wait! Go back three paras at which point I asked for other environmental themes! I just came up with one!

Well, I look forward to reading more environmental fiction and obsessing on this further.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A Mystery With Romance

I definitely liked All The Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry, which I'm going to describe as a literary mystery. (Though, wait, it's also a romance.) I liked it enough that I tried to find time during the day to sneak in some reading. I liked it even though there were some odd little quirks that would normally bother me.
  • It took me a few pages to grasp the book's episodic nature, even though the episodes, often quite short, were clearly defined by Roman numerals. The episodes were usually in the main character, Judith's, present, when she is living in a socially rigid village where she has returned after having been kidnapped around the same time that one of her friends was murdered. But sometimes the episodes were in her past when she was kept captive by a dangerous man who released her after maiming her so she couldn't speak.
  • I was a little put off by the lack of definition as far as the setting was concerned. It seemed to be a Puritan world to me, but the text never makes that clear and an attack from the homeland is not consistent with the Puritan era, at least to my knowledge.
  • On a superficial level, Judith seems to be like Belle in the Twilight series. Men are mysteriously attracted to her. However, though the author doesn't clearly state it, I was able to see the logic of what was happening. In one case, Judith was not actually an object of desire, she was merely available. In another she is being pursued by someone hoping to take advantage of her. Only with the third man is there a real relationship. I can believe one.
Among the many things I liked about this book:
  • It doesn't scream "I'm a mystery!" Though the book is supposed to have received a lot of attention last year when it was published, I didn't know anything about it. The fact that this is a mystery was sort of slowly revealed as I was reading it.
  • There's a big battle scene early in the book. It was what would have been THE big climactic scene for many writers, but it came early. I definitely was wondering what was going to follow that.
  • A secondary young woman character could have been a stereotypical twenty-first century teen bitch placed in a Puritan village. But she's not.
  • Judith's slow understanding of what happened to friend Lottie, as well as of things she saw while a captive, and her slow reveal of what she knows, make sense.
I think an argument could be made that some scenes border on melodrama, what with one character throwing herself upon her injured beloved, another throwing himself off a cliff, and still another stripping naked to ford a river. Evidently I like a little melodrama.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: The October Purge Results

To bring everyone back up to speed, during the month of October I divested my home of one item a day because
So how did that work for you, Gail, you may ask? Remarkably well.

During the first week, I noticed that I was close to emptying a drawer in the kitchen. And then I thought, Hey, I could start keeping the junk in that basket on the counter, in this drawer. Clean(er) counters make for a more organized environment.

Then I realized that just getting rid of thirty random items out of an entire house wasn't going to do much to help me organize my environment, improve my impulse control, and manage my time. But focusing on specific areas, like that kitchen counter, could. Thus I got rid of table cloths from the china cabinet in the dining room so that I won't have to spend time on my knees in front of it looking for linens when I'm expecting guests. I worked on the pantry so I, well, could walk through it, to be honest.

I got rid of some random things, too. But, really, the way to get a usable result from a possession purge is to apply a little logic, do a little planning. I may do an annual purge.

The Last Week's Most Interesting Ditched Item

Actually, I did this after the end of October, but I got the idea back in September. I don't use wine glasses at home, myself, because years ago I saw Nikita and Michael drinking wine from from tumblers, and I thought, Gee, that's kind of cool. And what was cooler? Tumblers could go in the dishwasher.

So when a waitress in a restaurant in Ohio brought me my wine in a highball glass, I thought, Hey, I'm getting myself some of these things.

But, Gail, you're probably thinking at this point, how will being the only woman in your town serving guests wine in what are glorified juice glasses do anything about your use of time?

Answer: As God is my witness, I will never spend so much as a minute washing and drying stemmed glasses again.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Weekend Writer: At Some Point, You Might Be Interested In Joining A Writers' Group

When you've been writing for a while, studying for a while, attending workshops and/or classes for a while, you may start thinking about finding a writers' group to become part of. If for no other reason, you're going to be hearing about how wonderful they are. You're going to read author notes in which writers are filled with gratitude for members of their writers' groups.

Well, I've been a member of three writers' groups, and I can tell you there are writers' groups, and there are writers' groups.

The first one I was part of was small and made up of published children's writers who met in the writers' homes. It was terrific for networking, but I can't say I got a lot out of  it in terms of my writing. It dissolved after only four months. continues to meet and no one told me. I have wondered.

The second writers' group I joined was a mixed bag as far as genre is concerned and met at a chain bookstore. I was the only published writer. One member was a very active SCBWI member who went on to publish a  well received children's book and is quite successful. Another member attended a day program at a local writers' conference one summer. This group met twice a month and required a lot of time outside the meeting for reading and preparing feedback. There was little helpful critiquing. Because of the time commitment and the lack of benefit, I left and that is how things stood for six to eight years.

As part of my interest in the benefits of community for writers, I decided to take a shot at joining another group. I stumbled upon one nearby that's connected with the NESCBWI and have been to two meetings.

What a difference. All the members I've met to date are "trained" even though they aren't published. They attend NESCBWI and SCBWI programs and know how to critique. They bring back info from programs they attend, talk about writing books they've read. The quality of the story ideas they're dealing with is far beyond what I recall at other groups I've attended, as is the quality of the writing.

So far, this is a stimulating experience. But it took me three shots to find this. Like me, you may find that
you have to keep trying.

You can always consider starting your own writers' group. How to Build a Writing Group in Your Community by Nathaniel Kressen at Jane Friedman can offer some help with that.