Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The End Of My Cybil Season Reading

I finished the last book I'd taken from the Cybils lists last night, and not a moment too soon. The finalists for the Cybils Award will be announced tomorrow.

I love the premise for The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods. Violet Diamond is an eleven-year-old biracial child whose black father died before she was born. She has never met his family because his mother originally objected to her son marrying a white woman and later, we learn, was so devastated by her only child's sudden death in an accident that she couldn't deal with the family he created with his wife. Once she'd recovered, staying away from them had become a habit.

I find that believable, by the way.

Violet's loving maternal family is extremely white,  and she lives in a very white, upper-middle class world. Her mother is a neonatologist, and her late father was a medical doctor as well. Her white grandmother runs some kind of on-line business and her white grandfather is enjoying retirement, cooking and playing golf. Violet wants for nothing, materially or emotionally. Except that half her identity is missing. Just not there.

She is aware that her black grandmother is a well-known artist, and when she finds out that grandmother will be in a neighboring city for an exhibit, she gets her mother to take her to the opening. Violet and grandmother meet, and Violet ends up being exposed to the half of her family history she's never known.

As I said, I love the concept and love the artist grandmother. I felt as if the story of Violet's exposure to her family took a while to get started, though.

For another take on biracial children meeting an unknown grandparent, check out Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It (Hmm, similar title.) by Sundee Frazier.

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category.

After a couple of months of Cybilizing, I feel more up-to-date on recent children's lit than I have in quite some time.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The 2014 Recapitulation Post

For the last couple of years, I've been doing recapitulation posts at the end of December. I got the idea from an article in Yoga Journal. These posts are opportunities to go over the goals and objectives I created at the beginning of the year and to determine how far I got in reaching them. This is not a beat-yourself-up opportunity. It's all about time. Assessing what we've achieved during a particular unit of time (say, a year) is useful in helping to plan what we're going to do in another unit of time (say, next year).

Remember, the goals you'll see here are what I wanted to do. The objectives were the actual tasks I planned to do that would lead to achieving the goals. Notice I only had six goals. How hard could it be to do six lousy things?

Goal 1. Finish the revision of The Fletcher Farm Body
  • Continue revising to enhance the brothers' relationship to support the control theme
  • Continue revising to eliminate as much material that doesn't relate to plot, character, or theme as possible
Assessment: I met this goal. I think I met it twice. I believe I did a second revision halfway through the year relating specifically to scenes and chapters. I've revised this thing a lot. It's kind of a blur.

Goal 2. Write a number of short pieces

Possible Objectives:
  • Statics and Dynamics for Writers essay. This was originally a workshop proposal. The proposal wasn't accepted, but the organization running the conference required such an extensive outline that I think I can flip it into an essay.
  • Walking for Writers essay
  • The Northeast Children's Literature Collection essay
  • Promoting eBooks for Traditionally Published Writers essay
  • Relic Hoarding essay
  • Becoming Part of Blog Culture essay
  • The Value in Becoming Part of a Local Writing Community essay
  • Hannah and Brandon short story (held over from last year)
  • Your On-line Friend short story
  • How to Make Friends and Live Longer short story
Assessment: I was dreading assessing this goal, but the results may not be as bad as I thought. I did write the Statics and Dynamics for Writers essay and even submitted it a couple of places, for what good it did me. I also spent way too much time on a piece of flash fiction and wrote a guest post for another blog. I just didn't pick up on many of these possible objectives that I had in mind last year. Quite honestly, I don't even remember what my thinking was regarding the Your On-line Friend short story. I hope I made some notes for that somewhere. Did I meet this goal? Define "number of short pieces."

Goal 3. Complete a draft of the so-called mummy book

  • By February get back up to speed with this project
  • By February start assigning a few 45-minute units a week to this project  
Assessment: I got nine chapters into a draft for this one. Didn't meet the goal, but made progress. And since I'm working on this project again now, I'm feeling warm and fuzzy about it.

Goal 4. Make submissions

  • Submit The Fletcher Farm Body to a specific editor
  • New agent research
  • Research markets for short works
  • Submit short works
Assessment: I did seventeen submissions this year, which wasn't bad for me. This included submitting The Fletcher Farm Body to agents, at least two of whom asked to see more of the project, and submissions of short work to journals. I really went on a submission binge in November. For my efforts I have one guest post coming up next month. I'm going to say this goal was met, though I'd like to spread submissions out more over the course of the year and do less binging.

Goal 5. Continue to work on community building

  • Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar
  • Attend other authors' marketing events
  • Attend a few professional events
  • Prepare a new workshop to offer at libraries and bookstores
  • Try to find a writers' group 
Assessment:  This one I made some real progress on, though not necessarily with the objectives I have here. I didn't make it to any other authors' marketing events or any professional events (that I recall), but I prepared two new presentations, one that was prepared for and given at a library this past summer and one on preparing for NaNoWriMo that I gave at an elementary school in November. I also found and joined an incredible writers' group. I joined the 10-Minute Novelist Facebook group and was invited to join  The Connecticut Women Writers Facebook group. I make use of Google+ communities whenever I can and am kind of into Twitter. Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar continues, so let's call this one done.

Goal 6. Continue marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook

  • Check out the blogs and sites I've been collecting for possible contacts
  • Start researching blogs to contact again
  • Continue the Environmental Book Club at Original Content whenever possible
  • Get trailer up at Twitter page
  • Consider a price reduction for a limited time and promoting same
  • Consider pulling eBook from Barnes & Noble and Kobo to take advantage of Kindle marketing for books exclusive to that company
Assessment:  Well, I hit all but the last objective. My blog contacts resulted in coverage for Saving the Planet & Stuff at Connecticut GreenScene and Reduce Footprints. There's a possibility of a third blog giving it some attention. I'm using Twitter to network with environmental groups. And I ended up making two appearances this summer that were all about promoting STP&S. So while there isn't a lot of movement with this book, I'm going to call this goal met, too.

An Overall Assessment Of My Year

I did a lot but not that much generating of new work. I struggled with time early in the year because of health issues, then I had an opportunity to make an appearance that required a lot of preparation. And then I had another. And then a workshop I proposed got picked up, so I had to actually plan and prepare it. Those appearances could lead to more work, but they still took time away from writing. I was on vacation for nearly three weeks in September. I came up with a few ideas that could lead to writing in the future, but I wasn't writing while I was on the road.

This assessment of how I spent my time last year will have an impact on the plans I make next week for how I spend my time next year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

I Stumbled Upon A Couple Of Charmers

I think these are the only two picture books I read off the Cybils list. (I've read myself into a mild coma, so I can't be sure.) They are both particularly engaging.

I read Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Christian Robinson first and was delighted. Gaston does not exactly fit with his teapot poodle siblings, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La. Does his mother care?  Not a bit.

One day this family is out at the park where they meet another family of dogs with a member, Antoinette, who doesn't fit in with her siblings, Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno. Quelle horreur! Has a terrible mistake been made?

Gaston is all about feeling right as well as looking right. It's amusing and quick and kind of deep. I did wonder if some kids reading this will learn about the possibility of being switched at birth and be a little shaken. But, hey, literature is dangerous.

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle is one of those books in which the pictures tell the tale. There are no words. I can't recall when I've seen a book in which facial expressions and body language--even on the part of the penguin--did such a terrific job of conveying emotion and action.

Gaston and Flora and the Penguin are both Cybils nominees in the fiction picture book category.

January Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

The Great CT Caper is THE big event in an otherwise really slow children's lit month. I'll have more to say about the Caper in later posts.

Wed., Jan. 7, Great CT Caper Launch Party, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford 4:30 to 6:30 PM

Wed., Jan. 7, James Frey, New Canaan Library, New Canaan 7:00 PM

Fri., Jan. 9 John Himmelman, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Thurs., Jan. 15, Holly Black, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Characters. It's All About The Characters.

A clever, spunky girl who keeps a journal and is dealing with a parent's tragic illness. Doesn't that sound like a stereotypical children's book, the kind adult gatekeeper's just love?

That was my first impression of The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern. In fact, I considered giving up on this one early on. Before long, I was very glad I didn't.

Twelve-year-old Maggie Mayfield is brilliant, knows it, and loves everything that goes along with being smart. She is given a journal in which she begins writing a memoir while sitting in a hospital room with her obviously critically ill father. This is all in the prologue. You can see why I wasn't immediately entranced.

But Maggie has a truly marvelous voice. She reminded me very much of Flavia de Luce, a child character of about the same age in an adult mystery series, not just in her intelligence and enjoyment of same, but in her relationship with her two hot, older sisters. There is antagonism there, but the older sisters also keep an eye out for Maggie, which she may not always recognize. Maggie also sets out at one point to cure her father of multiple sclerosis, just as Flavia sets out to do something miraculous and impossible for a parent in one of her books.

Maggie's memoir deals with the year between her eleventh and twelfth birthdays, the year when her father's illness took a turn for the worse, something her family couldn't protect her from, try as they would. Hmm. My college knowledge of memoir is that it's a recollection of an event the significance of which is not clear until after it happens. That pretty much fits the situation here.

One thing I found odd with this book was it's 1980s setting. Why? I kept wondering. So that dad could be the aging hippy he is here? So that the author can talk about decades old music? So that Maggie wouldn't have the Internet available to her, because the Internet would have made it a lot harder to keep knowledge of her father's illness from her? No, in an author's note at the end of the book we find out that The Meaning of Maggie is autobiographical. I can't believe I've never read an autobiographical children's book before. If so, was it this good?

The Meaning of Maggie is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

How Will We Live Our Afterlives?

Here's the basic set-up for The Devil's Intern by Donna Hosie: Hell and "Up There" are just places people go to after they die. While there are definitely evil folk in Hell who suffer horribly, some people, like our teenage protagonist Mitchell, seem to end up there for random reasons. For them, Hell is pretty much a really boring, overcrowded place. They hold jobs and can change. Mitchell's good friend, a Viking prince who died in battle at sixteen, has learned to read in Hell.

Mitchell is an intern in the accounting department and through his boss is able to get his hands on a device that will allow him to time travel. His plan is to go back in time with his three best (dead) friends to relive and change their deaths. Mitchell, in particular, wants to get to live the life he missed out on because he was hit by a bus.

There's much that's entertaining and intriguing in this book. There's plenty of narrative drive once the group finally gets on the road. But I had a hard time with the "paradox" business that Mitchell kept talking about. If these dead kids changed their deaths, what does that do to their afterlives where they were best friends and even two couples? The things that happen at each of their deaths that only happen because of something else that happened and could that be changed? Well, I was watching an episode of Dr. Who this afternoon that I couldn't follow, either. The where-are-we-in-time thing is difficult for me.

While I was reading The Devil's Intern, I wondered if it was really YA or was it an adult book with teen characters? One of the big factors in determining YA is supposed to be theme. YA themes often involve young people working out how they're going to live their lives. At first, I thought the characters in The Devil's Intern were coming to terms with how they had lived their lives, which would be adult. However, you could argue that they are working out how they're going to live their afterlives, bringing us around to YA territory again.

Hellbent by Anthony McGowan is another YA book set in Hell. Interesting how totally different they are.

The Devil's Intern is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Gauthier Christmas Poetry Slam

This year Gauthier Christmas involved a poetry slam, the results of which determined who got the three best spots in a Yankee Gift Swap. I finished my poem this fall. I thought nothing more about it until a week or two ago, when I start hearing that other people are writing limericks and song parodies. I thought my eight-line work was going to be a stinking masterpiece. It was a little angst-ridden, with a theme about yearning for experience.

Christmas Presents

An hour with my child
Two hours on a hike
Three hours in a movie theater
Four hours on a bike.

A rainy day to read
A weekend in the snow
Three weeks for travel
Does Santa know?

You were supposed to get extra points for presentation, so I prepared the same kind of opening I would use for a public reading. I was feeling pretty confident that I could hammer my relatives into the ground.

Then the first poet gets up and reads his poem. It's this incredibly moving piece involving every member of the family. He referred to his cousins, my sons, as his brothers. His mother was nearly in tears. Then he ended it with a funny kicker. Another poet got up and did a moving poem about family that he had memorized. He choked and sat down part way through. Then he got up a bit later, started again, and nailed it. It was a stinking Olympic moment. Followed by his fiancee, a middle school librarian who had prepared a little artificial poetree with Christmas lights and haiku ornaments. The civil engineer in the family did four haiku, also, one for each season.

I did not win, place, nor show. But I did come home with a gift card to a decent restaurant, anyway.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: A Memory Rerun

You know how network TV is full of reruns this week? Yeah, I'm doing one here today, too. Trying To Remember What We're Supposed To Be Doing originally ran in February of this year. I'm bringing up the business of remembering our time management plans because over the last three years I've considered a lot of issues related to time. How to work these all into one life?

Trying To Remember What We're Supposed To Be Doing

Last year I did a Time Management Tuesday post on Remembering That We Were Going To Practice Self-discipline. It was an argument that the self-discipline required to manage time required remembering that we have time management/self-discipline plans.

I remembered the memory aspect of time management last week as I tried to move forward in getting back to work after weeks of being off my game due to a nearly month-long cold, a retreat week, and surgery preparation and recovery. How many things I was I doing back before this whole thing started.

I remembered the unit system first, both sprinting and the forty-five minute segments, which was hugely helpful. Then I recalled my plan to limit reactive, noncreative work to Fridays in order to prevent things like marketing from taking over all my work time. This week I remembered that I use some morning transitional time to maintain my office. Unfortunately, it's been a while since I've done that. Planning fell apart at the end of December, and while I do recall it from time to time, I haven't been able to get back to that, either.

Managing time does require remembering a lot.

I had my best workday in weeks yesterday, spending multiple units on one big writing project. And I managed a sprint over the weekend on a new essay I started last week. On Saturday I also dragged Computer Guy into helping me with some reactive work. Remembering the unit system, sprinting on weekends, and keeping reactive work out of the workweek all figured in to what I've been able to do in the last week or so.

Monday, December 22, 2014

There's Always Time For The Library

You know how I've been whining about the time suck that is Christmas? Yes, I have.  Well, on Saturday, the Saturday before Christmas, I was doing the run-around thing. I got less done in the morning than I'd hoped, which is always the case, and then I had a particularly draining weekly elder visit. I had to stop at the library on the way home because I'd received one of those e-mail "It's over lady! You didn't even start that book, and it's too late now" messages. I had plans for when I got home. (I can't even remember what they were now.) So I was going to just run into the library with my books, shove them in the slot, and get the hell out of there.

Really, I was.

Then I'm in the parking lot, and I think, Bring your wallet, Gail. Bring your library card. Because you know what you need? You need some new library books. You'll feel so much better, so good, after just five minutes wandering around in this building. Maybe ten.

And I was right. A library is so incredibly calming. Oh, my gosh. It's like soaking in a hot bath. Maybe because I soak in hot baths with a book.

I only picked up a few things, because I'm not greedy, one being The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara. This is a sharp looking picture book with a distinctive style. Plus it's a quick, charming story about a little girl librarian working at night to make everything right for her patrons.

Is that not the perfect library book for someone who has just had a calming experience at the library?

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Joy Of Day-To-Day Work

Norah O'Donnell was interviewed for the November issue of More. Missed it, did you? At the very end of the article, she was asked a question about how she sees her future. She said, "...I guess one of the things that I still struggle with to this day is that focusing on the expectation of something is actually never fulfilling. Focusing on the day-to-day work is much more so. And then you end up falling into your goals anyway."

So true, so true.

Fixating on the big sale that's coming up, the conferences we're going to attend, the speeches we're going to That kind of activity, if you even want to call it activity, rarely leads to a big sale, a conference, or a speech. It's the day-to-day work that does that. Focusing on that leads to those other things or something like them.

If you can enjoy the day-to-day work, focusing upon it becomes not just easier but sort of the point. And then you don't have to deal with the lack of fulfillment from dwelling on what might happen in the future.

This whole live-in-the-work-moment thing may be part of my problem with the holiday season. I actually like focusing on day-to-day work, dragging my laptop all over the house and peering into it. I like planning and researching and struggling to work out what I'm doing wrong. When I've had to be away from work for a few days for family or house issues, wrapping presents and baking on a weekday (baking on weekends is another thing), getting back to the day-to-day feels like the beginning of a vacation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Some Serious Book Product Placement

Anyone watch Scorpion on CBS Monday night? The Christmas episode where everyone starts feelin' the season when a child is trapped in a cave with the water rising? In the course of the show, Katharine McPhee's character (I don't remember her name, we always call her Katharine McPhee) says that her son only wants one thing for Christmas, something called I Want an Alien for Christmas. Later in the episode, he gets it! And it's a book!

Well, I was on-line by the time the closing credits were running. I Want an Alien for Christmas appears to be a self-published book available on Kindle and Smashwords. Except for those two sales pages and its placement in Monday's episode of Scorpion, there doesn't appear to be any marketing for it.

What's particularly interesting about this situation, assuming this book turning up in an episode of a nationally broadcast television show isn't interesting enough for you, is that the author, Nick Santora, is also the creator of Scorpion. He's written for other TV shows and has written another book.

You'd think that a couple of mentions in a network primetime show would create some buzz. But two days later, I'm still seeing next to nothing about I Want an Alien for Christmas on-line. The book is mentioned in a Forbes piece, but that's from back in September.

Marketing is a mystery.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: The Unit System Lifeline During That Time Of The Year

Two years ago, I wondered if the unit system would get me through the holidays. My concern was "Losing time to the holidays, in and of itself, is a problem. What also happens, though, is that we can damage our work habits while not working and lose any carry-over flow we might have been experiencing." A week later I was reporting a major failure of will, self-discipline that had gone down in flames. Last year I wondered if sprinting and a new laptop would enable me to stay on task through the December holidays. It looks as if I never addressed how I did with this issue here at OC, probably because I was engulfed in a moderate health care crisis from the middle of December until the end of January.

So, two points:

My Major Problems With The End Of The Year Holidays

My control of my time is so tenuous that anything new that enters the playing field, like a holiday that requires hours and days and weeks of preparation, like two of them coming a month apart, is overwhelming. December/the Christmas season packs a double whammy, because in addition to being very time consuming, it involves an emotional toll. Christmas the secular event is supposed to be magic, whatever the hell that is. We're supposed to be creating magic. Yeah, we're talking a whole other level of time with the magic thing.

And we're supposed to be creating magic while we're maintaining a day job. Those of us who don't have traditional day jobs, who work for ourselves, in our homes, often have trouble controlling the boundary between home and work, anyway. It's all too easy to justify slipping over the border into work time to finally get started on cookies or get those gifts wrapped because cookies and gifts are magical. Magic is worth it, isn't it?

The Unit System

As the magic bleeds all over our days, sucking our work's life blood, small units of work time become more and more important. If we try to think in terms of a work week, we run the risk of hitting the What-the-Hell Effect. Oh, we don't have all week because of one holiday problem after another. What the Hell? We might as well forget about work then. The same is true of thinking in terms of a workday. At some points in December, we can't get many of those. So what the Hell? Why work at all?

But if you think in terms of forty-five, twenty, and even ten minute units of time, suddenly work options appear. Forty-five minutes at least a few times a week will work for editing a draft or maybe even progressing with  a new one. Twenty minute sprints each day can help keep you in a new project, even if you can't make a lot of forward movement with it. It can make a dent in blog posts or take care of some professional reading. Ten-minute sprints on a laptop set up in whatever room you're working magic in can allow you to knock off all kinds of work

So far, this is working for me. At least, it's working as far as work is concerned. I don't seem to be getting much magic done, though.

Hmm. I might use a tiny sprint this weekend to plan a rerun for next week's Time Management Tuesday post on the 23rd. On the 30th, I'll be doing a recapitulation post for my 2014.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Going Out On A High

I have liked some of M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales/Pals in Peril books better than others. (I know I'm nitpicking on this, but the name of the series changed for some reason.) I had to be won over by the first book, Whales on Stilts, but the second one, The Clue of of the Linoleum Lederhosen, was a hit. The third one I read (there are supposed to be six; I seem to have missed a couple), Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware wasn't a favorite. But the final book in the series, He Laughed with His Other Mouths, is an absolute gem.

The basic premise for all these books: A Tom Swift-type character named Jaspar Dash and a spunky girl (younger and spunkier than the 1930's era Nancy Drew) existed in their own book worlds that reflected the eras that created them, the 1920s/30s and the 1980s/90s. And yet, at the same time, they are existing in our own twenty-first century where Jaspar, in particular, is both having adventures but out of place.

In He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Jaspar is now that classic/stereotypical character, the young male in search of his father. Jaspar will go to the ends of the universe in search of dear old dad. He will accept some pretty outlandish behavior from his father figure. However, Jaspar is a young hero, and he recognizes evil when he sees it. Maybe he doesn't recognize it right away and maybe he needs a little push from his spunky girl companions, but he does recognize and behave as a hero should.

All of the books that I've read in this series operate on more than one level. You have the basic contemporary adventure. You have characters from an older book world trying to function in a contemporary one. You have the knowledge that children who are now old, if not dead, read the older books back when they were new and shiny.

With He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Anderson does something quite marvelous with footnotes. Using footnotes for witty asides has become a cliche since Terry Pratchett perfected doing that back in the day. But Anderson uses his clever footnotes not to be witty but to tell another story entirely, this one about a kid during World War II who was a Jaspar Dash fan. This is a complete story, a piece of serious historical fiction embedded in a fantasy satire/comedy.

As with all these books that I've read, I wonder how much of this wonderful stuff child readers will understand. Assuming they enjoy the layer with the contemporary adventure, will they get the jokes that are part of it? Will they get the nostalgic elements?

Kid readers aside, for those of us who do get He Laughed with His Other Mouths, it's pretty damn brilliant.

He Laughed with His Other Mouths is a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category.

Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar Update

Nancy Tafuri will appear at the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington this Saturday, December 20th at 2:30 PM.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Sentence

A contribution for the  “Sunday Sentence” project, a sentence I've read this week, no explanation or commentary.

"But I am a scientist, and like all scientists, I am trained to deflect heat rays, escape space dragons, and safely land a lifeboat capsule on the cooler parts of the sun." M. T. Anderson, He Laughed With His Other Mouths, A Pals in Peril Tale.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Environmental Book Club

Not every page of Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More by Etta Kaner with illustrations by Stephen MacEachern contains Earth-friendly content. Nonetheless, this is quite a marvelous book about the work that goes into building a variety of structures and how many of them are being built greener.

Though this is a nonfiction work, the basic premise is that an imaginary girl has been traveling with her engineer parents, and we are reading her scrapbook. She is one enthusiastic kid. Among the things I liked about Earth-friendly B, B and M:
  • While there is certainly content related to large buildings being made more green, there's also material about designing buildings to withstand earthquakes and storms. It's as if technology is working with Earth, not against it.
  • It gives readers a good idea of the number of people, the variety of engineers, for instance, necessary just for the planning of a big construction project. This is important because it helps to explain why building takes so long and is so expensive.
  • Technology has had a bad rap for many years now. The 1950's were filled with movies about science gone amock. I've read that The China Syndrome was a turning point in how science was perceived by the public in the '70s, that technology would lead to very bad things. First some guy is messing around with creating life, and the next thing you know, dinosaurs are coming back and eating people. But in Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More, technology is portrayed as a good thing. Mom, Dad, an uncle, and a cousin are all engineers, all involved in creating or fixing things. Even if you're not a fan of tech, this is different.
The stereotype about environmental living involves natural fibers, whole grains, and funny light bulbs. But it takes technology to make real environmental progress, to find ways to heat and cool enormous buildings, for instance. Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More can help young people recognize that.

"Devil's Intern" Kindle Edition Available Free Today

The Devil's Intern by Donna Hosie is available free TODAY for Kindle. It's a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: Are Writers Ahead Of The Curve In Integrating Work And Life?

If you visited CNN's website today, you may have read an article today called Work-life Balance is Dead by Ron Friedman, a social psychologist who has a brand new book out, The Best Place to Work. He says that the idea of work remaining something that's done outside the home is a fairy tale. Well, it certainly is for writers. "Until we come to terms with the fact that separating work from home is a fantasy, we can't begin to have an intelligent conversation about what it means to create thriving organizations," he writes.

He's talking about traditional work sites where people go to work, to do something that they don't do at home. For writers, our work sites usually are in our home. Which is why you sometimes hear about writers heading out to coffee houses and libraries for mini-retreats. They're trying to escape the home demands or the home habits so they can work more. Or, as Friedman might say, they're trying to get some control. "...placing employees in control of their schedules encourages them to work during hours when they are most effective." Or perhaps where they are most effective?

Friedman writes that for "many of us, compartmentalizing our work and personal life is simply not possible and not just because of the ubiquity of email. In a growing number of companies, work now involves collaborating with colleagues in different time zones, making the start and end of the workday a moving target."

I would argue that many people can't compartmentalize their work and personal lives because their work is so much a part of their identity that it is their personal life. Of course, I'm going to mention writers here, who are always working, if for no other reason than that they are constantly taking in information that can become a new idea. But if you've known engineers and people in many medical and technical fields, anyone whose job involves solving problems, for that matter, they are often integrating what they're seeing around them with whatever is going on in their work lives.

"Instead of endorsing the work-life balance myth, organizations are far better off empowering employees to integrate work and life, in ways that position them to succeed at both," Friedman concludes. Integrating work and life is pretty much what writers are already trying to do.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Wouldn't This Make A Neat Little Sitcom?

When I picked up The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy from the library, I told the librarian that I'd heard the book was like The Penderwicks but with boys and two gay dads. She said, "Ah, bringing the story into the present." I think that is the case. I liked The Penderwicks very much and found it contemporary, probably compared to/contrasted with Little Women, which it is a spin on. But I also thought "This book, simply by being a throw-back to Little Women and, perhaps, other pre-nineteen-fifties stories, is different." It had a retro thing going for it, it was "a story about sisters who worry about the family's honor and don't even mention a TV."

The Fletcher boys may be viewed as a little innocent and other-worldly not because they're retro in any way but because their stories and lives are very rooted in traditional child issues. This in spite of the fact that they are not genetically related, they are not even all the same ethnic background, and they are all the children of two men who are living and raising a family together. Each boy has his own storyline with his own issue:
  • Boy One is a popular athlete who is considering trying something different 
  • Boy Two is dealing with growing apart from a friend and moving on, as well as trying to interview the crotchety old guy next door for a school project
  • Boy Three is highly intelligent and has begged Dad and Papa to let him go to a school for the gifted
  • Boy Four has the "stereotypical" imaginary friend. Or does he?
You know the one problem none of these kids have? Those gay dads. The men are just there, doing any kind of dad stuff. There's nothing didactic or instructive here about accepting families with nontraditional parents. These guys have had children in the school system for a number of years now. People know they're there. Halloween parties are held. Ice rinks are made. Holidays are celebrated. Life goes on.

This is not to say that no one ever raises an eyebrow over the gay family. When they are attending an open house at a new school, oldest brother Sam feels compelled to address questions. "We were all adopted as babies. Our dads have been together for ages. They got married two years ago"..."Do you have any other questions? Want to know our birthdays? Height and weight?"

That was a neat way to handle back story, by the way. The newspaper article written by an eighth grade student about the Fletchers and their annual Halloween party is also a clever way to get the back story on how the Fletcher kids became brothers.

As I was reading this book, I thought this premise would make a charming sitcom. The various chapters here could be the first season's episodes. Then the story could expand with episodes about the gay dads dealing with their boys going to camp, getting babysitting jobs, heading to high school, getting jobs, dating girls. 

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is a Cybils nominee in the Middle Grade Fiction Category.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sunday Sentence

A contribution for the  “Sunday Sentence” project, a sentence I've read this week, no explanation or commentary.

"Alien abduction is part of the American poetry of loneliness." M. T. Anderson, He Laughed With His Other Mouths, A Pals in Peril Tale

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Weekend Writer: An Opportunity For Children's Writers In And Near Connecticut

Write Yourself Free, a creative writing workshop in Westport, Connecticut that offers writing instruction, will be offering an eight-week Writing for Children program (scroll down) in January and February. There are three options for times. Author Victoria Sherrow is the instructor.

Friday, December 05, 2014

My Word Count Is Higher Than Your Word Count

Toward the end of last month, I began to see "I Won" badges being shared by Facebook friends who had hit their NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words during November. It was neat to get a little buzz off their excitement. But then I began to see links to blog posts that included variations of "I Lost" in the title. Not so buzzy. It's been many years since I've taken part in NaNoWriMo, but I don't recall this Win/Lose thing. I may not have a good grasp of the word "lose," but I can't imagine a universe in which having started a book length project and worked on it at all makes anyone a loser.

Having those "I Lost" images in my mind left me particularly interested when I stumbled upon When Did Writing Become A War? by Lev Raphael at the Huffington Post. Raphael says, "The sensible suggestion that beginning writers should try to write something daily to get themselves in the habit has seemingly become interpreted as a diktat for all writers all the time. What we write doesn't matter, it's how much we write every single day... As if we were the American war machine in 1943 determined to churn out more tanks, planes and guns..."  "There's nothing wrong with having a daily goal if that works for you as a writer," he goes on, "but why should you be ashamed or crazed because you don't reach that daily goal -- what's the sense in that? Why have we let the word count become our master?"

Focusing on word count as a way to help stay on task or get more done in a specific amount of time are logical work strategies. But the shame thing is counterproductive. Feeling bad about ourselves undermines willpower, and willpower is necessary for that staying on task business.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

And Now For Something Totally Different

I just finished three fantasy books in a row, mainly because I needed to get them back to the library in a certain order. You'd think fantasy would be different, wouldn't you? As in, it's not real world stuff, so it should be different. But when you read so much of it, there's a certain sameness. And then real world YA is often very similar in its own real world way.

Which is why The Tyrant's Daughter by J. C. Carleson is so exciting. It's real world, but very different YA real world.

Laila is a princess, daughter of the murdered king of an unnamed, presumably Middle Eastern country. Except after she has resettled with her mother and brother in a seriously modest two-bedroom apartment outside Washington, DC she realizes that no, she's not a princess at all. Mainly because her father was never a king. He was a third-generation strongman tyrant and when he wasn't being Dad at the palace, he was behaving in a typical tyrannical way.

Laila has a terrific voice, slightly reserved and stiff as she describes, for instance, her appreciation of her new American friend's kindness even though she can't help noticing that she dresses like a prostitute. She's a kind person, herself, recognizing that a classmate is suffering because her parents are divorcing and becoming attracted to that nice guy who works for the school paper. But  those traditional YA experiences pale compared to those of a fifteen-year-old whose father was gunned down in his home on her uncle's command, who saw her mother covered in her father's blood, whose life was saved by a CIA operative. The Tyrant's Daughter isn't about the world of teens. It's about a teen in the world.

What's missing from this novel is cliched nasty teenagers. There are no mean girls. There are no bullies. There are no jocks trying to force themselves on girls. Adults might find the CIA operative familiar, as well as the brilliant, manipulative widowed tyrant wife. But I don't think they appear often in YA.

So that's just the basic set-up to this thing. As the truth about Laila's family is slowly revealed to her, the fact that this book is a political thriller is slowly revealed to readers. Why is that CIA op hanging around? What's he paying Laila's mother (but not very much) to do? With whom? Why is her mother talking to Laila's uncle, the tyrant who had her tyrant father killed?

And what will Laila's involvement in all this be? She is a tyrant's daughter, after all.

This is a marvelous book, extremely well written. But it's undercut a bit by the essay on women in the Middle East that follows. Even though the essayist ties it to The Tyrant's Daughter by questioning what will become of Laila after the end of the action of the novel, I think most readers are going to wonder why it's there and feel that this great reading experience is being turned into some kind of lesson.

The Tyrant's Daughter is a Cybils nominee in the YA Fiction category.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: What Kinds Of Work Are Best For Sprints?

I've written here a number of times about sprinting. Perhaps you've read about my plans for sprinting. Or my speculation as to whether or not sprinting would get me through Thanksgiving, 2013. You may remember that creating a morning sprint habit wrecked my morning office management habit, something that I never recovered from, by the way. And, quite honestly, the whole sprinting thing had pretty much disappeared from my radar recently, possibly because of that lengthy vacation I took in September. But, then, there was last month's excitement over ten-minute sprints on the hour!

Well, I used that ten-minute on the hour thing during the lead-up to Thanksgiving with some good results. Last month I was on a submission binge. During those pre-Thanksgiving days I had my laptop on the kitchen counter and while I was by myself prepping for the Big Day I would stop every hour (at least several times a day, anyway) and do a ten-minute market search. I found two journals appropriate for submissions and submitted manuscripts to them.

This was a revelation, of which I have so many.

In the past, I thought the best part of sprinting on days when writers can't maintain a normal schedule is to allow them to work just enough so they can stay in their projects. Then it won't take them as long to get up to speed again when they can get back to work. That probably is the best part of sprinting. But in the chaos of family and day jobs, getting into a real work project for even just twenty minutes (the traditional sprint time) can be way too much, in my experience, at least.

But what about using some ten-minute sprints for some of the many other tasks writers need time for?
  • Market research
  • Submissions
  • Getting started on blog posts
  • Twitter work--those welcomes to new followers and thank yous for retweets and favorites, following new people yourself. There's masses of Twitter work
All these chores suck up time we could be using for work. If we can find a way to knock some of them off during periods when we can't do traditional writing, that should free up our traditional writing time for writing.

Well, shouldn't it?

We will see.