Monday, June 30, 2014

July Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Where is everybody? Only three events all month? Isn't summer supposed to be a big reading time?

July 17 Jane Sutcliffe, Tolland Public Library, Tolland 1:30 Reading and craft 

July 26 David Kirk, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30

Tuesday, July 29 Jerry Craft, Marilyn Davis, Stacy DeKeyser, Gail Gauthier, Avon Free Public Library, Avon 7:00 PM Children's Author Night Part of AFPL's Local Author Festival

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Weekend Writer: Conferences

So you're writing and studying. You're not part of a MFA program, but you want to get some live instruction. Or maybe you're done with a MFA program and you want more or different live instruction. You start thinking about attending a writers' conference.

Zakia R. Khwaja at Scribe's Madness has a post on preparing for a writers' conference. And it involves more than putting together the right outfit. Her section on creating conference goals is the particularly important bit here, IMHO.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Environmental Book Club

I've written here about liking an immersion-type thing with environmental books, books that don't wear a sign saying "It's eco-time" but just make readers part of a natural world or lifestyle. Maybe what I'm thinking of is some kind of wholistic experience.

That's what I think happens with Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends by Wong Herbert Yee. The book has a Frog and Toad vibe, which is good, though wordier. Fine Feathered Friends is all about Mouse and Mole watching birds. And drawing them. And writing poetry about them. The whole thing.

Over the course of a story about the two friends having to find a way to get close to the birds they want to draw, Mouse and Mole pass off a small amount of avian info. But what really makes this book at all environmental is that Mouse and Mole want to do this bird stuff. They want to draw them and write about them. They want to have a life that involves birds.

Listen, when I had little kids, I would have read them this book, got out their artists' journals (yeah, we all had artists' journals), and gone out with them to find us some birds. It would have worked as an environmental book for me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: Are You Using Your Time The Way You Planned To?

I've been thinking for a while that I need to check my New Year's goals and objectives. I wasn't eager to do it, because I suspected that I haven't been staying with the program, and who wants to have that confirmed? As it turns out, I've been doing better than I thought.

Goal 1. Finish the revision of The Fletcher Farm Body  Done.

Goal 3. Complete a draft of the so-called mummy book  My objectives were to get up to speed on this project by February and start working on this then. It didn't happen until May, but I do have 9 chapters toward meeting this goal now.

Goal 4. Make submissions  I've only met one objective here for this goal, the one regarding an agent search.

Goal 5. Continue to work on community building  I've only managed two objectives, continuing the Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar and looking for a writers' group. I may have found one just this week.

Goal 6. Continue marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook  I've met several of the objectives for this goal, restarting the Environmental Book Club, getting the trailer up at Twitter, and reducing the price for a week around Earth Day.

The goal I've really fallen down on is 2. Write a number of short pieces All I've done is work on the Statics and Dynamics for Writers essay.

How Will I Use My Time The Rest Of The Year?

  • Goal 3. Finish a draft of the mummy book, I hope by September when I go on vacation.
  • Goal 2. Write short pieces Anything.
  • Goal 4.  Make submissions. I hope of some of the short pieces from Goal 2.
  • Goal 5. Work on community building. See how things go with the writers' group, and it would be terrific if I could find a workshop or other program for later this year.
  • Goal 6. Continue marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook.

In January I also wanted to check up on myself each week to make sure that a good chunk of my time went toward objectives to meet my goals, an idea I got from Peter Bregman's 18 Minutes. I haven't been doing that at all. But I still have half a year to get started on that.

Check your goals and objectives for the year. You can feel good about what you've accomplished and decide which ones you want to focus on for the next six months.

Monday, June 23, 2014

An Adult Book About Cheerleaders

If you've heard lots of good things about Dare Me by Megan Abbott, believe them. This is a terrific adult thriller about those YA cliches, bitchy cheerleaders.

Main character Addy is the beta female in a cheerleader squad. She serves her alpha "captain," Beth, and initially seems very comfortable in that spot in the hierarchy and with her relationship with the traditionally awful Beth. The two of them are tight, tight, tight. Their world is disturbed right off the bat when a new cheer leading coach comes in, one as badass as Beth. I wondered, myself, if she wasn't a former Beth, reliving the good old days as best she can. To do it, though, she has to battle Beth. Among the things they're battling for is the beta, Addy.

Oh, yeah. And there's a guy.

Whenever I read an adult book with a young protagonist, my immediate question is Why? Why is this an adult book, not a YA or children's book? Theme, I was told once, is an important factor in what makes YA YA. Dare Me falls well within the noir genre, and the noir themes that apply here are far more adult than YA. Okay, my understanding of noir is shaky. But I've been reading about themes involving a fate that can't be avoided, as well as despair, darkness, and obsession. None of the cheerleaders in Dare Me are made happy by anything they do or achieve. And their coach? She knows things aren't going to get any better.

Is this all there is? How's that for a theme? It's not one traditionally associated with YA, which usually deals with  moving into the adult world, finding a place in society, etc.

I felt the homoerotic touch was unnecessary. It risked making the story just a common all-about-love thing. On the other hand, don't noir protagonists often have at least a sexual attraction to a femme fatale? In which case, Dare Me was giving a neat twist to classic noir.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Weekend Writer: Very Early Planning

An idea may feel terrific until you sit down to write something about it. Then you suddenly realize how very rudimentary it is. "...what to write or where to go with your idea..." is an initial problem that can put a stop to a writing project.

An Easy Exercise for Coming Up With Novel Ideas at Now Novel's blog is a great description of early planning using what you're interested in to get you started.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I Heard Something Even More Bizarre About YA This Week

On Wednesday, I visited a lovely new independent bookstore. A big store, connected with a state university that's home to a children's literature collection and a good-sized annual children's bookfair. I noticed that the store had a "Teen" section. Then I noticed that it also had a "YA" section. The YA section was large, larger than the Teen section. And I saw what I thought were children's books shelved there.

Well, I was intrigued. No, I was confused. So, since there was no one else there, I asked the woman behind the counter why they had both a Teen and YA section. The Teen section, I was told, was for books that had more sex and violence. The YA section would have less. I said I'd noticed what I'd consider children's books in the YA section. She said, yes, YA begins at third grade. Teen, I believe she said, begins at ninth, though I'm not sure I'm recalling that correctly.

I asked where these designations were coming from. She said, "The publishers."

Now, I'm not a publishing insider by a long shot. But there's been a lot of turmoil regarding YA recently, particularly regarding adults reading YAHorn Book editor Roger Sutton did a post on Why Do We Even Call It YA Anymore? because of the number of adults reading it. But that salesperson's explanation was the first I'd heard of YA as a classification for children's books or that publishers were suggesting that it should be.

I know that I get a little obsessive about definitions. However, declaring that the Young Adult category is for children's books, at a time when adults are supposed to be reading them for their adult pleasure, seems to be making this whole situation so confusing that the name Young Adult is going to become meaningless. I certainly don't know what it means now.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Environmental Book Club

Suzy Kline wrote an interesting post for the Authors for Earth Day blog. In Love Every Living Thing, she writes about Horrible Harry's love of nature.

It's been years since I've read a Horrible Harry book, so I can't address the issue of just how great his interest in environmentalism is. But I like the idea of appreciation of nature/environmentalism being a thread within a story, as Kline describes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Techie Sunday

Sunday's talk at the Ethan Allen Homestead went very well. Any number of interesting things happened. Two of them:

PowerPoint Problem. I arrived 30 minutes before my scheduled presentation, which was exactly when I was supposed to. That's not something that happens all the time with me, so yay!  I was greeted by a little crew of museum people. Everyone was expecting me. Yay! Yay!

Then a museum staff member started getting my USB with my PowerPoint slides set up with her laptop. Her laptop was failing her. Panic time, you say? No, because I had my computer guy with me. He tried my laptop, which had the slides on it, too. They couldn't connect it to the projector. So he brought his laptop in. Yes, we travel with two laptops. He pushed this and that for a while, and, of course, I had slides ready to go in plenty of time.

I wasn't at all freaked out while this was going on, and not because Computer Guy is a computer guy. I knew he'd never worked with a PowerPoint projector, after all. No, I was confident because I also knew that the day before he'd fixed a family member's hearing aid by shoving something into it to clean the contacts. Yeah, he'd never done that before, either.

I am afraid to go anywhere without him now.

Gail's On Film! While Computer Guy and a very attractive young woman were huddled together over equipment at the back of the room, another guy was busily setting up a camera and talking about me using a microphone in a ridiculously small space. Reading between the lines, I worked out that I was going to be filmed. I did not say, "What? What? How did this happen? There must be some mistake! I have not prepared myself psychologically for this! I need another week!" Because, you know, that wouldn't be cool. Instead, I managed to psyche myself out enough to prevent a meltdown.

The whole world can watch my presentation on the Antihero of Ticonderoga, given at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, Vermont.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Talking About Ethan Allen At The Ethan Allen Homestead

Tomorrow at 4:00 PM I'll be speaking at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, Vermont. That's why I've been tweeting Ethan Allen articles lately.

This will not be my first visit to the Homestead. You can see me sitting in front of the reproduction of the home Allen shared with his trophy wife, Fanny. That was taken back in the '90s while I was working on The Hero of Ticonderoga. That book, and my spin on why Ethan Allen was such a wild man, will be the focus of my presentation. If my traveling companion is able to get a decent (by which I mean a flattering) picture on my cell phone, I'll post it at Facebook. I may also try to tweet it.

We're taking a long weekend in the Green Mountains, so I don't expect to be back at Original Content until Wednesday. I hope to be biking Monday and hitting relatives along Rte. 7 on our way south on Tuesday.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Environmental Book Club

Spring Blossoms by Carole Gerber with illustrations by Leslie Evans is another one of these experiential books I'm fond of. With this one, you just sink into the experience of spring by focusing only on flowering trees.

The early part of the books involves just how some flowering trees look. After you get used to that, you move on to trees that bear both male and female blooms. Moving on, we come to pollen moving from male blooms to female blooms on balsam firs. There's a progression from less sophisticated information to more sophisticated.

I'm aware that I've been focusing a lot on picture books for this environmental book club. I'm working on that.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: Habit Falls Apart, Leading To Disordered Surroundings

This past April, I wrote about whether or not a disordered environment could have an impact on work. A recent study suggested it could cause "reduced stamina on tasks that require advanced thinking skills." At that time I also wrote about my own disordered office environment and how the system I'd set up the year before for keeping filing done and order maintained had fallen apart.

Well, things haven't improved. They're, uh, actually somewhat worse. Back in April, I thought I needed to get some kind of cleaning routine back into my life. Now I'm wondering if routine is the problem.

My self-discipline goddess, Kelly McGonigal, has voiced doubts about the value of habit, saying that it's a nonthinking behavior that works best for small tasks. Managing my environment doesn't appear to be a small task. What advice does she have that I could somehow apply to this issue?

Automatic Goal Pursuit--Keep a goal in mind instead of relying on automatic habits. Remember that I need to maintain order so I can have more time to work instead of relying on automatically and mindlessly doing it.

Implementations--Plan what to do in certain situations. In this case, planning to work on the office at certain times of day. This worked well when I was planning to work on the office every morning. When I started implementing work sprints in the morning, the office cleaning got lost. Yikes.

Well, I know habit isn't working for me on this one. I'm going to try to combo automatic goal pursuit and an implementation. It's worth a try. My office, as it is, is definitely making me feel out of control and undermining my discipline.

Monday, June 09, 2014

An Attack On Readers, Not A Genre

As I may have said here at some point in the past, I don't respond to articles dissing children's or YA literature. These things appear nearly annually at a couple of well-known Internet publications as well as the New York Times. I believe their purpose is to generate controversy and publicity for the organization doing the publishing. Children's literature was experiencing a big ground swell of popularity during and after the Harry Potter years and YA is wildly popular now. Articles criticizing them are guaranteed to get a rise out of fans. The controversy ends up being covered on blogs and other Internet sites, sometimes in print publications. It's all great publicity for the writers and publishers of the original bash piece. They don't need to get any more from me.

Against YA, the most recent case in point, is a little different from the run-of-the-mill Look! Look! I'm-Saying-Nasty-Things-About-YA-And-What-Are-You-Going-To-Do-About-It? article. Usually these things come in the form of a review of a new book. The reviewer doesn't work in YA or child lit, has little knowledge of it, and says a lot of ignorant things that a whole bunch of people object to. Against YA is simply book shaming. Its author belittles readers for their choice of reading material.

As I was reading it, I was reminded of attitudes toward science fiction and some forms of women's fiction. A writer at io9 picked up on the same vibe. In Really? Are We Still Genre Shaming People For The Books They Like? Lauren Davis says, "This song-and-dance — saying that we should be ashamed of what we like to read — is a familiar one for fans of genre fiction." She continues, "This argument is a familiar one to anyone who has ever heard that serious literature can't contain spaceships or aliens or, god forbid, dragons... But as science fiction and fantasy are being taken more seriously, it seems that we need to find more targets for our elitist sniffing."

Personally, I don't believe the target in Against YA is the genre. It's readers. That's why it's particularly distasteful.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The 48 Hour Book Challenge Concluding Post

I need a concluding post for my 48 Hour Book Challenge effort. So this is it.

I read 6 books, blogged about them, and did some social networking in around 17 and a half hours. For the sake of a good Google+ post, I'll list the titles here with links to the blogs related to them.

Boxers and Saints




Life is Fine

And now let's all take a look at Ms. Yingling's concluding post and recognize a serious 48 Hour participant. Hail to thee!

Books 5 And 6. "Boxers" And "Saints" By Gene Luen Yang

My last two Book Challenge books.

First off, this is a two volume set. Be sure to read Boxers first.

Boxers and Saints are Gene Luen Yang's terrific historical graphic novels about the Boxer Rebellion. They're treated as one work because the books treat the same material from different points of view. I knew nothing about the Boxer Rebellion before 3:00 this afternoon. By 8:00 this evening, I had a working knowledge!

So in 1900 a secret organization in China called the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists led an uprising of  peasants against western foreign influence, including the spread of Christianity. They were known as "Boxers" to the west because they practiced exercises they believed would give them powers. Presumably westerners thought they looked as if they were boxing. The Boxers fought against and killed "western devils" and "secondary devils"--those Chinese who either worked for westerners or accepted Christianity, the western devil's faith.

Boxers deals with the experience of a young villager named Little Bao who becomes the leader of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists. Saints deals with the experience of Four-Girl, a young villager who becomes a Christian. One of the particular pleasures in these books is that Four-Girl, the protagonist in Saints, is a minor character in Boxers. Little Bao, the star of Boxers, is a minor character in Saints.

Though, really, neither of them could be called minor.

Earlier today I had trouble with the long descriptions in Haters. The thing with a good graphic novel, and these are good graphic novels, is that the graphic images carry the descriptions and even some of the action. The author doesn't have to stop everything to tell readers how someone is dressed or what their surroundings look like. You can just suck in basic story, character, information.

Reading a good graphic novel is such a rush because you can take in so much so fast.

I am out of books, but it's 9:00 PM on Sunday, anyway. I'm ending this year's 48 Hour Book Challenge on a definite high.

Book 4. "Haters" By Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Haters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez was a rough, slow read for me. This is a boys-boys-I-like-cute-boys, shopping-and-clothes, and mean-girls book. That just is not a story situation that holds my attention. I had to start skimming the long paragraphs describing clothes and houses. Also a chapter on shopping and some dating sections. I am very aware, however, that there are many, many of these kinds of books in YA, meaning that there are plenty of people who do like reading them. Those readers may embrace Haters.

So Haters is a boys-boys-I-like-cute-boys, shopping-and-clothes, and mean-girls book with ethnic characters. It's also a kind of teenage fairy tale with all good things coming to main character Paski. A couple of interesting points:

In this LA world, beauty and money are great equalizers. Being Hispanic, Vietnamese, or any variation of African-American isn't an issue for people who are beautiful and rich. That's probably the case in real life.

In one of the magical realism episodes, Paski is visited in a vision by a child who will become the grandmother of her Japanese/African-American classmates/neighbors. This child has the knowledge of the adult she will become and of the world after she leaves it. She says something to the effect (and I'm paraphrasing here), I put in time in a Japanese internment camp as a child here in America so that my grandsons could be treated like crap when they get to high school not because they're Japanese but because they're chess geeks and just middle class? What the hell? With ya on that one, gram.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Book 3. "Josephine" By Patricia Hruby Powell And Christian Robinson

When I first heard about Josephine Baker, way back in my youth, I found her fascinating. I don't know if it was the banana costume, the gyrating hips, or the life in France, but I was impressed. So when I heard there was a picture book bio, I decided to keep an eye out for it.

Josephine, The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell with illustrations by Christian Robinson is a sharp and arty book.  It's written in free verse that is both effortless to read and expressive and intense. Many picture book bios don't cover an entire lifetime. This one does. I think Hurby Powell is able to do that because she uses dance and Baker's experiences with the segregated world she was born into as threads that keep her focused.

Baker's experience with segregation and work as a civil rights activist give this book another level of interest. As with Persepolis, it doesn't feel as if the reader (this reader, at least) is being instructed. A segregated world is just the well-defined setting for the book.

Book 2. "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi

Oh, my gosh. How could I have waited so long to read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi? How soon can I get hold of the second volume?

I probably would have been even more blown away by this memoir of living through the fall of the Shah of Iran, the fundamentalist takeover of that country, and its war with Iraq if I hadn't read Reading Lolita in Tehran, which deals with some of the same period but from an adult's experience.  What's amazing in both cases is the way people living under those conditions tried to maintain normality, continuing with their social gatherings in secret, collecting western pop culture trinkets. Oh, my gosh.

No wonder I see this book on my local schools' summer reading lists so often. But this isn't instructive, you-ought-to-learn-about-this-culture stuff. This is simply little Marjane's life, and she has quite a character. She's a very little revolutionary at first, but when the revolution leads to a fundamentalist takeover, she doesn't buckle under to that.

I wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did. Very pleased. Maybe a gift for my brother-in-law, who likes history but probably has never read a graphic novel.

My only complaint--the print seemed small at first. But once I was into the book, I no longer noticed.

Book 1. "Life Is Fine" By Allison Whittenberg

My 48 Hour Book Challenge weekend started a little around 3:00 this afternoon, and I just finished my book around 4:45.

I always like to have a theme for 48HBCs, and this year I accepted the official 48HBC theme as my own. Diversity. I haven't done any reading of the many, many things that have been written on the subject these past couple of months. When selecting my books, I didn't even use any book lists. I had a chance to hit a couple of libraries this past month and for the most part just picked up whatever I found that seemed to fit the bill.

Life is Fine by Allison Whittenberg (who needs a website) was an interesting read for me because I picked it up nearly a month ago. By the time I started reading it today, I no longer remembered what it was about. I like when that happens.

I want to get one thing straight right away. I liked this book. I think one could make an argument that there were a lot of cliched problem novel elements in this thing--neglected child with a single mom who needs men in her life, illness and the specter of death turns up, literature changes lives--and, yet, I liked it. I think main character Samara has a little bit of attitude that shows up not so much in her first-person narration but in her interactions with people. I liked very much the way race was handled here. There are no characters wearing metaphorical signs saying "I'm the African American character!" "I'm the Puerto Rican character!" Yet they are there. Now this may be why you want to see books by ethnic writers. They may be able to create ethnic characters who just are.

Now, after all this, I will tell you the really neat thing about this book. Teenage Samara falls for her substitute teacher--who is seventy, if he's a day. I would have loved to have seen a lot more about that.

I definitely would be interested in reading more of Whittenberg's work.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Environmental Book Club

I found another good book for our club.

I didn't expect to like Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor with illustrations by Laura Beingessner as much as I did. Picture book bios are often problematic to me. They sometimes seem too old for picture book folks, too young for older ones, so who are they for? This one, not so much. Definitely for mid-grade school readers. Maybe third or fourth grade.

The first thing that struck me about this book is that very early on we hear that Rachel as a child explored the outdoors by herself and had a mother who had an interest in nature. This child got her start without any formal environmental instruction, such as we would want for children these days, and, yet, she turned into Rachel Carson.

Another thing I liked about this book, and, yes, this is just me, is that it describes a woman's story. Carson as a young woman had needy family to deal with. As often happens with achieving women of her era, she had help. In her case, her mother hustled to pull together money for school. She was encouraged by a female college professor. A male superior at the Bureau of Fisheries advised her to submit work to The Atlantic. She was a professional woman without a personal family. If you read the Epilogue, you'll find that after Silent Spring was published critics referred to her as "an hysterical woman." Someone asked "why a spinster with no children was so concerned about genetics."

Okay, so maybe I got into this story because of the feminist angle I read into it. But, really, the part in the beginning about simply growing up enjoying the outdoors was very significant, too.

Love the period illustrations, too.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Lining Up My 48-Hour Book Challenge Reading

I stumbled upon the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children's Literature. Two of the honor winners are on my 48-Hour Book Challenge reading pile for this weekend.

Oh, and now I have their covers on my hard drive, all ready for blogging this weekend. 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Time Management Tuesday: Increasing Your Word Count Is Exhausting

If you've been following my May Days project, you know that I was working on doing more with the time I have by increasing my word count. You probably also know that I didn't get anywhere near the 10,000 words a day mark that author Rachel Aaron describes in her book 2k to 10k. Only once did I approach the 2,000 words she started with. Did this mean my May Days was a failure?

Hardly. I ended up with two things:
  1. Rough drafts of four new chapters for a long-term project. Since I already had five chapters, I'm probably past the halfway point. If I were a better plotter, I'd know.
  2. A new writing process that involves concentrating on planning scenes and chapters before starting to write. 
In addition to working with scenes, I was also staying immersed in this project, which I find helps to generate new work. But how do you stay immersed? You have to not do other things that need to be done. Planning an appearance. Staying up on promotional activities. Helping a friend move.

Everything you choose to do means you are choosing not to do something else. One of the sad realities of time.

I found this past month exhausting. It was a combination of hustling to stay on top of scene planning and writing and the anxiety of knowing I had other work that needed to be done. The last few days I was hanging on by my teeth. And now I'm right into another binge job, prepping for a speaking appearance at the Ethan Allen Homestead.  

June is going to be lost to Ethan, some family business, and a long weekend. Then I hope to get back to my May Days manuscript. My goal is to finish a rough draft before a September vacation.

Monday, June 02, 2014

An Odyssey For Those Of Us Who Don't Care For The Odyssey

I'm not a big fan of The Odyssey. Nasty folks in that story, doing nasty things. The Cyclops has all my sympathy. I appreciate The Odyssey's impact on literature and a creepy sort of way...but perhaps you can understand why I didn't rush out to read Stickman Odyssey by Christopher Ford.

But Stickman may be my kind of Odyssey. Main character Zozimos is an Odysseus-type in that he is pretty objectionable while managing to pull his sorry, and stick-like, backside out of one mess after another. And there are some references to familiar Odyssey scenes. But there's a great deal that's new here, too. This is quite a different story, if I remember The Odyssey correctly. For instance, I don't think there were any golems in the original work from ancient Greece.

David Elzey compared the Stickman books to Rocky and Bullwinkle's Fractured Fairy Tales. A neat idea.