Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" After Party

Yes, the Annotated Saving the Planet & Stuff project is done. You can access every post for some kind of total reading experience.

 But What Was The Point?

The original edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff went out of print in 2006. Print books go out of print because publishers make the decision that the sales the books are generating aren't large enough to justify warehouse space. That's why so few even traditionally published books are found in bookstores, too. Shelf space goes to books believed to sell. Print books are expensive to sell because of the real space they take up. The window for marketing a print book isn't very long. I've read more than once that after three months, authors should give up marketing efforts and work on the next book.

The edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff that I self-published is an eBook, however. No warehouse or shelf space required. Theoretically, you should be able to market eBooks indefinitely. Theoretically, you should always be able to find new readers because there are always new people who missed earlier promotions, who are growing into your book's age range, or who are discovering your subject as a new interest.

This theory gives me an opportunity to indulge my obsessiveness. Saving the Planet isn't my passion. You don't hear me going on about how much I love this book, believe in it, must give it its chance in the world. No, STP&S is much more of an obsession, probably because it straddles the YA and adult reading group and is so many things. It is fiction. It is humor. It deals with characters at different stages of life. It is connected to time and place. That wide net gives me opportunities to experiment with so many things.

What Was I Trying To Do This Time?

I had thought of putting up STP&S book excerpts at my website, but, seriously, I couldn't see myself going to a website to read an entire chapter of anything. Why would anyone else? Something briefer in a blog post was another story. And I love annotations and those behind the scenes features you see on DVDS. I'm always looking for ways to do Earth Day tie-ins. The annotated excerpts became my Earth Day month tie-in.

What Did I Actually Do?

Sold a few books. That's what you want to know, right? It really was just a few.

Learned that these days you have to promote blog posts. I got the idea to tweet the Annotated STP&S posts at the marketing program I attended in March. I also posted them to Google+ communities when the content was appropriate for them. On days I didn't do Annotated STP&S posts I tweeted the guest blog posts I'd done over the last two years. This past month I got the best blog stats I've had since back in the Golden Days of Blogging, around 2005-06. I suspect that that won't lead to a lot of new, regular readers. However, I will be more proactive from now on about promoting blog posts as a result of this experience in order to extend my reach.

Found that Twitter has it all over Facebook for getting the word out. There's nothing to discuss. But I will. Facebook author pages, in my experience, reach barely anyone. Personal pages involve a finite group of Friends. Posts are liked, but rarely shared. You're not going to reach new people, and your friends are primarily interested in hearing about your kids and vacation. On Twitter I could use hashtags to attract people beyond my own followers, people who were interested in what I was hashtagging. I got some retweets by environmental groups, one with a lot of followers. I could see results there, and those results presumably led to the leaps in blog page views. 

Confirmed that Google+ communities don't get the credit they deserve. Links posted to a community could end up getting shared days after they went up. I've often seen a little boost in blog stats here after posting at a Google+ community.

Definitely An Experience

This last month's work has changed how I'll be doing my posting. I've blogged in the evening for a long time, then posted as soon as I was done. For this project, I blogged in the evening, then posted early the next morning so I could tweet and retweet during the day. I'll be continuing with a similar system.

Also, the next time I have a new book come out, I would far prefer doing a lengthy blog promotion than a blog tour. I've done one traditional blog tour for a book and a nontraditional one, over a long period of time, for the Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook. I think this past month's promotional work was more effective.

For now, I am looking forward to blogging about other subjects. I'll be taking a rest for a while from Saving the Planet & Stuff promotion. But I do have a couple of ideas to try sometime in the future, because who just drops an obsession?

Next up: A weekend off from blogging. I've got some biking planned, and any time I can squeeze in for work I'll be using for my May Days project. Then next week--new material!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Twelve: The Romance Edition

A number of years ago, a YA agent or editor (I really don't remember which) announced at her blog that YA fiction required romance. She got a lot of attention for that. Then it all blew over, and I've heard no more about it.

So that's not the reason I included a little romance in Saving the Planet & Stuff. I included it because I think that out in the real world, teenagers hope for romance. It's part of what they're looking for in life. It's part of what teenagers look for in a summer experience.

I'm not a big reader of romance, though, so these two final scenes in the Annotated Saving the Planet & Stuff project, are not going to bring the Romance Writers of America beating a path to my door.

     "Hey, listen," Michael said as he followed her. "You want to do something?"
     Amber stopped suddenly and turned to look at him.
     "Okay, we need to get something straight," she said. "I don't date guys."
     Michael gasped. A lesbian! I've never met one before! At least, I don't think so. Wait until everyone hears about this. I wonder if there's some way I can send a postcard to Marc. This would cheer him up for sure.
    "I'm not a lesbian, if that's what you're thinking," Amber went on.
    "I meant I just don't date. And I don't date because I don't want to get involved with anyone from East Branbury. You get involved with someone from your hometown and then you're stuck there or else you're stuck going where he wants to go. I have one more year of high school, four years of college, then a master's program and a Ph.D. program before I can practice psychology. What do you think the chances are of my doing all that if I have a boyfriend back home? Zilch."
     She's going to be a senior this year. So she is older than I am.
     "I'm not from East Branbury," he reminded her.
     "Oh. Well. That's a minor point," Amber said quickly.
     "And I don't want to be your boyfriend or anything," he added, thinking he sounded very reassuring.
     Amber didn't look reassured.
     "I thought that was what you wanted—to not have a boyfriend," he said as he rushed to follow her along the balcony to the stairs. "Aren't we perfect for each other?"
     "What kind of standard for perfection do you have?" Amber snapped over her shoulder.
     "I don't know. All I did was ask if you wanted to do something. I'm not interested in going shopping for rings or anything."
You can understand why Michael finds the story of how Walt and Nora met a big improvement on how he and Amber set up their first date.

     "She took a big chance on me. I was drunk the first time she saw me. I was so shitfaced, I went into a coffeehouse looking for beer. They had a guy there sitting on a stool, reading poetry, so, as you can imagine, there were lots of empty tables. But I went and plopped myself down next to this woman who was sitting all by herself. She had a black cardigan sweater on that was buttoned all the way up to the neck. Her hair was red—not that orangy red like Bozo the Clown, but a dark, brick color, and it was in this twist along the back of her head. She turned and looked at me, and she didn't seem surprised to see me sitting there. She just smiled."
     "Why were you drunk?" Michael asked.
     Walt groaned and rolled his eyes. "I knew you were going to ask that. You always zoom in on something insignificant. I don't remember why I was drunk, okay? Wait! Yes, I do! I was drunk because Nora and I were meant to meet that night. It was Fate. But since I would never have gone to a poetry reading in a coffeehouse sober, Fate had to make sure I was drunk."
     Michael sighed. I want to meet a woman that way, he realized. Except for the poetry. I really don't like poetry. And except for being drunk. I've never been drunk, and what if I were drunk and went to the wrong coffeehouse or the wrong table? But otherwise I'd like everything to be the same.
Walt met a woman who wanted to save the planet. By the end of Saving the Planet & Stuff, it's pretty clear that Michael could deal with that, too.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

May Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

An active month. Not overwhelming, but plenty to do.

Fri., May 1, Joshua Jay, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:30 PM

Sun., May 3 Michaela MacColl, Barnes & Noble, Westport 4:00 PM

Sat., May 2, Christine Pakkala, Tommy Greenwald, and Michaela MacColl, Fairfield University Bookstore, Fairfield 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM

Sun., May 3, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Barnes & Noble, Glastonbury 2:00 PM 

Mon., May 4, Neal Shusterman, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM

Tues., May 5, Bob Shea, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM Story Time

Tues., May 5, Dave Barry, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 5:00 PM

Fri., May 8, Tommy Wallach, Westport Public Library event held at Toquet Hall Teen Center, Westport 6:00 to 8:00 PM

Sat., May 9, Janet Lawler, CT Authors and Publishers Association 12th Annual Conference on Writing, Publishing & Marketing, Hartford  11:00 AM Registration and fee

Sat., May 9, Katie Davis, CT Authors ad Publishers Association 12th Annual Conference on Writing, Publishing & Marketing Hartford 11:00 AM Registration and fee

Sat., May 9, Susan Hood, Fairfield University Downtown Bookstore, Fairfield 4:00 PM

Mon., May 18, Michaela MacColl, Westport Public Library, Westport 5:00 to 6:00 PM

Tues., May 19, Mac Barnett, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

This calendar is available in a pdf suitable for copying and posting. 

April 30th Update: This calendar was updated today with two events. The information was too late to make the e-newsletter edition.

Time Management Tuesday: Yes, Yes. Another May Days Project Is Coming Up

My May Days Facebook group is powering up again. You remember May Days? I've been talking about it here since 2012. Part of what I like about taking part in this event, as I've said before, is that it gives me an opportunity to indulge in obsession. Sort of the way I did this past month with the Annotated Saving the Planet & Stuff. I think of these blocks of time as set-aside time to work on specific projects. Like the An--you know.

I've written here before about the significance of the beginnings and endings of units of time. I'm really feeling that significance right now. I've been worn out from this STP&S promo month for a while. How much have I been looking forward to the end of this project? A little more than a week ago, I thought the month ended this past weekend, because it was the first weekend I didn't have any family commitments. Commitments done, month done, right? Imagine my disappointment when I realized I had another four days to go.

So while I'm anxious for this April set-aside time to end, I'm also looking forward to the beginning of the next set-aside time, May Days. As far as new work is concerned, this month I've mainly done revising. I'd really like to move forward. That's my plan for May Days.

What I want to move forward with is the mummy book that I worked on last May. And the May before.  I'm not foolish enough to think I can finish it next month. (Though I did meet a writer this weekend who can do a rough draft in six weeks, and I already have five chapters.) But it would be terrific to get it done by fall. Making some serious progress in the next few weeks would go a long way toward getting there.

Note that with both these monthly projects, the Annotated Saving the Planet & Stuff Earth Day Promo and  Mummy for May Days (a name!!), involve two of my six  goals for this year.  I am staying on task!

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Eleven: DIY Recycling

In Saving the Planet & Stuff, one of Michael's tasks while working for The Earth's Wife is to research "second lives," so to speak, for the waste that had been diverted to Walt and Nora's spare bedroom. He uses 1001 Ways to Give New Life to Old Things (Northampton, Mass.: The Free and Open Press, 1973) for this job.

     On Monday morning, Roberta asked him, "What kinds of things have you been finding in your room? You said you made a list."
     "Butter containers," Michael said. "There are hundreds of butter containers under the bed. They're all different sizes and colors and brands. And then there are lots of those artificial-whipped-cream containers."
      "Someone must have given Nora those. She would never buy anything in a plastic container herself. And she wouldn't buy artificial whipped cream no matter what it came in."
      "Plus, there are empty bleach bottles all along one wall," Michael said.
     Roberta groaned. "I swear, when I was in college, people were making purses out of bleach bottles. Or maybe that was just one of those urban legends, because you never actually saw anyone carrying one of the things. I did know a guy who made himself a vest out of the ring tabs on soda cans, though."
     "There are only a half dozen soda cans. I brought them in yesterday," Michael admitted.
     "Fortunately that's not enough to make anything out of. Whatever you do, don't buy any more. What else have you got?"
      Michael looked at his paper. "There are some used beach towels."
     "Are they nice?"
     "Maybe we can make pot holders out of them. What's that you've got written there? 'Blue jeans'? Are there a lot of them?"
     Michael nodded. "But they have holes."
     "Now those we can use to make a quilt. I've seen a few of those. They're actually attractive."
     "A quilt!" Michael repeated. And then he thought, What does she mean by "we"?
I think my Aunt Tessy really did make one of those bleach bottle purses. I don't know if she went out in public with it.

When the original edition of this book was in the editing stages at G. P. Putnam's Sons, someone there told my editor that no one would cut up old blue jeans for a quilt. They were too valuable. Well, I would. I don't have any kind of emotional attachment to my old Levi's. Or those of any of my family members.

And so, folks, I have, indeed, made a denim quilt out of old blue jeans. I think it was done either just before I was writing this book or soon after. It went away to college with someone and is now in his house. I also made a cute little bag for a girl out of denim with a denim patch work side. Don't have a picture of that.

What I do have a picture of is all the denim, some of it already cut into squares, that I've collected for another quilt. A couple of weeks ago a family member was visiting and told me he had a bag of denim for me but had forgotten to bring it. So there will be more squares and more quilts and maybe more denim bags.

Wow. Little denim bags. I could have cranked out a bunch of those and used them for swag. I could make a little denim bag and put a copy of the original paper STP&S in it for raffle donations! Got to think seriously about my ROI on that idea.

This whole recycling old things business was a bigger deal in my college days, so this is another example of an autobiographical element making its way into my work. Recrafting recycled items still has its advocates, however. Team EcoEtsy is a group of sellers on Etsy who reduce, reuse, and recycle. This past month they ran a trash-to-treasure challenge to celebrate Earth Day.

Nora would have done an article about them for The Earth's Wife.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Conference Day

I spent yesterday at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators spring conference. A very good day for me. In the past when I've attended professional events, I've reported on the people I knew who I ran into. Well, I seem to know quite a few people now. Reading a list of them wouldn't be that fascinating. So I will go on to other things.

Workshops Attended

Crafting Short Stories with Trisha Leaver. I may spend a month later this year revising a number of my short stories because of this program.

Show Me the Money with Chris Eboch. This workshop dealt with what I've heard called "income streams" for writers. There are a number of options, but they require so much work! I came up with some pitches for someone else I know while I was in the class. And this workshop was a good lead-in to the afternoon workshop I attended, which was on school visits. School visits, you see, are an income stream for writers.

Bringing Books Alive During School and Library Visits with Marcia Wells and Kwame Alexander. Interesting story here. When I signed up for this workshop, I'd never heard of either of these people. And then Kwame Alexander won the Newbery Medal! Marcia and I have already become Twittermates. I'll be doing a separate post early next month on school visit workshops.


The New England SCBWI regional conference is huge in terms of attendance. Computer Guy went with me a few years ago when we were preparing to republish Saving the Planet & Stuff so he could take a workshop on making e-books from scratch. He was stunned by the crowd then and amazed by the lunchtime picture to your left.

That is why it was terrific that Jill Daily, a member of my writers' group, somehow snagged a table for the nine of us. It was great not to have to negotiate a ballroom full of people on my own. I am afraid I was not a great lunch companion, however, because I was seated in such a way that I had to turn my back to everyone to see the lunch speakers. And I also was busy taking notes and pictures.

During lunch Deborah Freedman received the Crystal Kite Award for the New England region. This was for her book, The Story of Fish and Snail.

Kwayme Alexander spoke during lunch, too. Extremely charming and charismatic. I actually read a book of poetry this year, and I think I'm going to ask for one of Kwayme's (I went to his workshop, so I can call him Kwayme, right?) adult books for my birthday.

The lunch panel discussion was a surprise for me. I wasn't looking forward to it, because it was on nontraditional publishing. I've spent a lot of time on my own nontraditional publishing effort, and this past month I've been promoting the living daylights out of it. I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about hearing more on this subject right now.

But I was totally taken with this discussion. I think what made it good was the variety of viewpoints of the panelists. There was a self-published writer who is very encouraging on the process, someone who runs an editing company that also helps authors self-publish who recognized that some people are going to need help, someone who had been involved in some kind of self-publishing company that wasn't successful, and a traditionally published author new to self-publishing. I appreciated that they didn't all speak with one voice.

The panelists: Chris Cheng, Laura Pauling, Erica Orloff, and Steve Mooser. J. L. Bell, from the NESCBWI was the moderator. There is a reason for that. He's very good at it.

I'll be doing another couple of Conference-related posts later this week.

I am finishing today with a picture of lunch because Kwayme Alexander used a food slide in his lunch talk. It was terrific. People love looking at pictures of food. It is a universal truth.

Friday, April 24, 2015

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? April 24 Edition

More whining. It's been a rough month with a lot of prepping for family events, three medical appointments during the work week for an elder, and this Annotated Saving the Planet & Stuff promotion I've been doing. That is exhausting. How exhausting? Last week I didn't do a weekly check in on Friday night. I did my nails instead. I kid you not.  And, for the first time, I understood why women like doing it. It's a very zenny experience. I'll have more about this next month.

Goal 1. Mummy Book. I have been revising early chapters in an excruciatingly slow manner. However, some things are coming together that will...should...I hope...maybe...make later work easier. Or at least possible.

Goal 2. Short Pieces. I finished an essay I actually started this year! And I submitted it! This evening, so I just barely made it into this week. And I think I may write a writerly piece about NOT finishing a draft before you start to revise. Everyone says we should do that, and as you can see from what I said in Goal 1, I can't manage it. I have never managed it.

Goal 5. Community Building. The May Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar is ready to go next week. I also found my registration material for the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference tomorrow and now I know what workshops I registered for! Good work, Gail!

Goal 6. Marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff. Ayup. One week left to go.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Unplanned Post: Ripped From The Headlines!!!

Oh,  my gosh.  The  Saving the Planet & Stuff storyline involves Michael discovering that a major store chain has been selling insulation with mold. The Earth's Wife, the magazine he's working for,  has the opportunity to blow this story sky high, but the new managing editor has kept the story from publisher Nora Blake because he wants to take The Wife in a different direction. Michael finds himself in a dilemma that involves one of the book's major themes--how do we decide what is the right course of action, the right thing to do?

Well, just now I read that Home Depot is phasing out toxic vinyl flooring from its stores! Now moldy insulation that causes hallucinations isn't toxic flooring "linked to a laundry list of ailments." Plus it sounds as if Home Depot is acting pro-actively in requiring the the chemical in question no longer be used in flooring it carries while the company in Saving the Planet & Stuff doesn't. But except for all that, I see a parallel. It's there! I'm not hallucinating. (Well, not much.)

Man, what luck that I republished Saving the Planet & Stuff  a mere two years before this happened so everyone can ooh and aah over how prescient I was, huh? Also, what luck that I still haven't replaced the flooring in my kitchen. When I go shopping, I'll be checking out the chemical content of those vinyl squares I'm looking at.

Update To Add Excerpt

A reader asked for a Saving the Planet & Stuff excerpt related to the mold storyline described above. Ask and ye shall receive!

     "Oh, you're familiar with the story I'm working on?" Doug asked, sounding pleased.
     "Sure. I saw the e-mail about the hallucinations, remember? What kind of hallucinations are we talking about, anyway?" Michael asked.
     "They involve sounds. People have been hearing things," Doug explained.
     "Voices telling them to do stuff?" Michael asked hopefully.
     "I wish! There's no way they could keep a lid on that kind of story. No, these hallucinations involve hearing annoying songs. There was one person who would hear Frank Sinatra singing and see all his furniture dance along."
     "Wow," Michael said appreciatively. "So people have been seeing things, too. And hearing Frank Sinatra. That's bad."
     Doug laughed. "I'd be seeing a doctor if it were happening to me."
     "Isn't it funny the way everyone carries on about how awful heavy metal is, and it's Frank Sinatra who people hear when they're hallucinating?" Michael asked.
     "Ironic, isn't it?"

The Environmental Book Club

Yesterday was Earth Day, which means the Green Earth Book Awards were announced by The Nature Generation.

Fiction Winners

  • The Promise by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Laura Carlin  Picture Book
  • Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly Children's
  • Threatened by Eliot Schrefer Young Adult

Nonfiction Winners

  • Plastic, Ahoy!:  Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman with illustrations by Annie Crawley Children's
  • Eyes Wide Open:  Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman 

Honor Winners

  • A Bird On Water Street by Elizabeth O. Dulemba 
  • A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz with illustrations by Catia Chien
  • Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate with illustrations by G. Brian Karas
  • Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade by Beth Handman, Kenny Bruno, and Antonia Bruno
  • Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet
  • Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle
  • The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees:  A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle
  • The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature by the Education Staff of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Sarah Schmidt, editor, and Laszlo Veres, illustrator
  • The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans by Elizabeth Rusch
Notice Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla is an honor winner. We were just talking about that book.

And you can check out the list of all nominees.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Great Interview With Jane Yolen

Years ago, Jane Yolen was my on-line, secret mentor, which means I was kind of stalking her. I'm over that, but I'll still snatch an opportunity to take a look at an article about her.

Kirsti Call interviewed Jane Yolen at Writers' Rumpus, and both interviewer and interviewee were terrific. "How do you decide what to work on?" Great question. Yolen's response to the "What is your favorite book that you've written?" question. Excellent.

It was an interview that made me feel I was reading something new. Well, I was.

The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Ten: Do Environmentalists Play Well With Others?

 Every Day Is Earth Day

Environmentalists have specific interests. They are interests that not everyone will appreciate. I am not a particularly serious environmentalist, yet I had a bit of a rep with my older son's first grade teacher because I wouldn't send disposable items into school. Little Will volunteered to bring in spoons for Ice Cream Sundae Day in the spring. "But your mother will want to send real spoons instead of plastic," Mrs. F. objected. "I'll fix it," Little Will promised. And he did, because I felt guilty about making problems for my child. Then I felt guilty because, sure,  I could have made my kid hand out stainless steel spoons, pick them up after they were used, and bring them home dirty in one of the  grocery bags I save to reuse. I wouldn't have made him wash them. I would have done that. Instead, I bought plastic spoons and sent them directly into the transfer station with just a brief stop in a first-grade classroom.

It's hard to have fun, even with your family, when you believe everything you do matters so very, very much. That's a point made in the following excerpt from Saving the Planet & Stuff

     "Aren't golf courses already environmentally friendly?" he asked. "You know, green grass and no buildings. And I bet those little golf carts get terrific gas mileage."
     Nora rolled her eyes. "Golf courses are ecological disasters—all those chemicals to kill weeds. Plus, they're a terrible drain on the water table. But one of my daughters-in-law plays golf with her parents, and I have a grandson who is on his high school golf team. I could play with them, if I knew how. Golfing is just awful, of course, but my kids and grandchildren don't want to go on wildlife tours with us or visit native craftspeople or travel to the desert to view lunar eclipses. We have nothing to do together. And it's amazing how quickly you run out of small talk about drilling for oil in national parks." She sighed. "We need to do a multigenerational eco-recreation article for The Wife. Other people must be having these problems."
     No one I know, Michael thought.
     "There isn't anyone in your family who wants to take the alternative-energy tour with you? Your kids don't want to visit strange worlds?" he asked. "Because a windfarm has got to be a really strange place."
     "Their idea of visiting strange worlds is walking through those foreign pavilions in Epcot at Disney World," Nora said sadly.
     "Oh, those are good."
     A guilty look flashed across Nora's face. "I went golfing while we were on this last vacation. Just once. My son and daughter-in-law took me along when they went to play with her parents. Now, of course, I didn't really know what I was doing because I'd never done it before, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was like going for a walk with friends on a nice day, but at the same time playing a game."
     "Yeah, I think that's what golf is supposed to be."
     "Then we went out to lunch. I wish I could find a golf course with a vegetarian restaurant. At least if there were a restaurant at a golf course that wasn't involved with destroying other life-forms … well, maybe that would help to make being there seem less wrong."
     Michael stared at her. "Being at a golf course is lame and uncool, but it isn't wrong. Wait. What am I thinking? Of course being lame and uncool is wrong."
     Nora gave him a patient smile. "If we want to see changes made in our world, we can't support and use the very things we want to change. What reason would there be to change them?"
     Michael shrugged. "Microsoft changes Windows every couple of years even though tens of thousands of people use it just the way it is. And I bet Bill Gates doesn't refuse to use Windows while his employees are working on it."
     "I suppose change can come from the inside," Nora said thoughtfully.
     "Or not at all, because golf is just a game."
     Nora laughed. "Nothing is just a game," she said as they got up and started to clear the table together.

Environmental Theme

I've said here before that I'm not sure what an environmental theme is. "Climate change" isn't a theme, to me. It's a topic. The same with "the environment" or "the rain forest." In my humble opinion, theme needs a verb.

Saving the Planet & Stuff has more than one theme. But its environmental theme is that environmentalism is hard. Environmentalism is a lifestyle that requires thought and choices every single day. Michael doesn't become a big-time environmentalist as a result of his experience with Walt and Nora. But he comes to understand what their lives have been about.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Time Management Tuesday: Decision-making

Last week's Time Management Tuesday post dealt with an article from the Coaching Positive Performance website. So I went back to take a look at what other time management bits I could find over there and, lo, I came upon this post on decision-making. I promised back in August, 2012 that decision-making would be a long-term study topic here. And, look! I'm carrying through with that!

Why Is Decision-making Part of Time Management?

Decision-making takes time. And it's time when you're not doing anything except thinking about what you're going to do. It's time that doesn't produce much.

You want to spend as little time deciding what you're going to do as possible, so you can spend more time on real work. How to do that?

How To Decide What To Do?


The CPP folks talk about knowing which of the tasks you have to do will give you the biggest payoff. That means knowing your goals and objectives. You have to have those in mind all the time. I like to make them at the beginning of the year and check in with them regularly. I've been doing it weekly this year.

The CPP people also talk about figuring out what you can do and how much time you have available. That's always going to change. And why? Because everything is situational. Our situations are always changing, so we always have to work out what we can do with the time we have available.

A case in point? Last week's Time Management Tuesday was about managing sick time. With that we're definitely dealing with a specific situation, different from the situation we were dealing with before we got sick, and different from the situation we'll be dealing with after we're back to what passes for normal. Getting anything done in that particular situation requires making some decisions.

If All Else Fails...

Do something. Anything. Again as the CPP writer says, the only way you can fail is to do nothing at all.

Remember, that's the reason decision-making is an important part of time management. You don't want to spend too much of your available time thinking about what you're going to do instead of doing something.

I decided what I was going to do this week yesterday morning. So now I'm off to do it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Nine: What Does An Environmentalist Do For Vacation?

It's hard to take time off from environmentalism. Is it okay to forget about your carbon footprint for a couple of weeks each year? Souvenirs are just pre-trash, aren't they? How many motel towels would you have to hang up and reuse to offset all the energy those places use?

Early on in Saving the Planet & Stuff, Michael and Nora describe their different takes on getting away from it all.

     "I've been to some terrific malls when we've been on vacation. Huge ones."
     Walt dropped the newspaper onto his lap, took his glasses off, and looked across the room at Michael. "You go to malls while you're on vacation?"
     The indignation in Walt's voice brought a grin to Michael's face. "Sure. Doesn't everybody?"
     "You shop while you're on vacation?" Walt asked, sounding horrified.
     Mostly they just walked around in malls in the evenings or on rainy days, but Walt's reaction was more than Michael could resist. Air conditioners, sixty-five-mile-an hour speed limits, malls … was there anything that didn't tick this guy off?
     "Well, sure," he told Walt. "What if Abercrombie & Fitch runs a sale and you're out of town? That's the beauty of malls. They have the same stores all over the country. You never miss a thing."
     Walt laughed, shook his head, and appeared ready to go back to reading his paper. Michael, however, didn't give up easily.
     "So, what do you guys do while you're on vacation?" he asked just to try to keep the conversation going.
     "Now our vacations are usually planned around visiting our grandchildren," Nora explained for Walt. "But when our sons were living with us, we used to do things like stay on a farm for a couple of weeks and work with the farmer and her family. Once we stayed on an island that could only be reached by boat. That was a great vacation. Let's see. What other things did we do? Well, one summer we went out west and volunteered at a school on a Native American reservation. Then there was the year we did a tour of the birthplaces of our favorite authors—Henry David Thoreau … Rachel Carson … Wendell Berry—have you read any of their work, Michael?"
     Since Michael never remembered authors' names, he could truthfully say, "I don't know. Maybe …"
     "They're nature writers," Walt said, his voice indicating he wasn't taken in by Michael's evasiveness. "I'm sure we've got some copies of their books around here somewhere. If you read a few chapters, maybe it would refresh your memory."
     "We took turns reading them out loud in the car that year," Nora recalled, smiling. "That was another great trip."
     Michael tried to picture the scene: Younger versions of Walt and Nora would be sitting in the front of a car, probably the same car they still drove, with a couple of kids comatose from boredom in the backseat while Nora read from a very thick book.
     "The buttercups in the meadow were my only neighbors. And fine neighbors they were! Sometimes, while visiting with an acquaintance in the polluted, nasty town, I have thought of my old friends the buttercups and longed to be with them. They never have a harsh word to say of another, be he buttercup or man, nor do they take from another, living totally on what they get from the sky—sun and rain. And perhaps some nutrients from the earth. Oh, but if only we could be as simple as the buttercups."
     I'm definitely going to start treating my parents better, Michael promised himself. They're nowhere near as bad as they could be.
The older Nora looks forward to a few months off so she can travel to Iceland. Why?

     "In Iceland they're working on converting their transportation system to hydrogen power," she explained eagerly. "They'll have filling stations where you can buy hydrogen gas to run electric motors in cars. It will be clean. It will be quiet. It will be made from their own natural resources—hydrogen extracted from the steam in their geysers and the water all around them. Imagine that, Michael. An entire country doing something no one else is doing. It will be like stepping into a movie or a book, and in our lifetimes we can do it."
     "I usually don't want to do something no one else is doing, but maybe going to Iceland would be like going into an alternative universe," Michael said. "Which could be really neat. Especially since you could leave whenever you wanted to—or when your vacation was over, whichever came first."

Remember, this book was originally published in 2003. I couldn't predict that Iceland would become one of the coolest places to visit this year. It probably isn't because of the hydrogen fuel, though. My sister-in-law said she went because of cheap air fare.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What Was I Dreaming?

Last night I dreamed that I wrote an essay comparing...something, I don't know what, though I think it was related to the I Ching. I didn't know what the I Ching was in the dream, which makes sense, because I don't know what it is when I'm awake. In the dream, I just read a few screens worth of information about it, maybe the equivalent of a Slate article with a short film. Really short. Then I wrote the essay. I didn't get to the point in the dream where I was submitting the completed piece of writing. That's too bad, because I'd really like to know if there's a publication that would even consider such a thing.

Well, it appears that only in a dream would you find a short piece on the I Ching that would make it possible for you to write anything intelligent about it. (Though I'm trying right now.) Even the I Ching Wikipedia entry made my eyes glaze over two-thirds of the way through the second sentence. 

The best I can work out, the I Ching, known as The Book of Changes in English, is an ancient Chinese text used to tell the future. This makes it different from the zenny stuff I'm usually interested in reading, which deals with staying in the moment so you are not anxious about the future or regretful about the past.

As a general rule, you don't have to have completed psych 1 to analyze my dreams. But I'm at a loss as to where this I Ching business came from. Yes, I attend a tai chi/kung fu school, and those are both Chinese martial arts. And, yes, next Saturday is World Tai Chi Day, and I'm not taking part with my school because I'm going to a conference. And I did get a couple of e-mails about it.

But nobody mentioned the I Ching.

So, today I've been thinking about this and wondering what I could have written that essay on, even though, of course, I didn't really write an essay, I only dreamed I did. In dream world it happened. Here is what I came up with: If the I Ching is about telling the future, maybe I connected it to plotting a piece of fiction. Maybe I came up with a way to use it to work out the future, the plot, of a story.

How easy my life would be if I could find an ancient Chinese text that would do that. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Eight: Eco-Style And Conflict

I was thinking of a few glossy magazines when I was writing the eco-style thread for Saving the Planet & Stuff. Maybe a couple of stores in Vermont. In the years since the hardcover edition was published, the Internet has exploded with eco-stylish websites and blogs.

So the farcical aspect of the eco-style business is a bit undermined because eco-style is so mainstream now. But there is still the conflict between the old-time, hardcore environmentalists like Walt and Nora and the eco-chic followers of style like Todd Mylnarski. Have I mentioned that conflict can be funny?

     "The informing-and-changing-opinion mission is so 1960s. It's so old. Nowadays readers are more interested in lifestyles, how they're going to live their lives," Todd said.
    "But that's exactly what The Earth's Wife does," Nora objected. "It's all about how to live an environmentally sound life."
    "He means people want to read about biodegradable fashion and decorating instead of those god-awful stories about farmers contaminating groundwater because they've been using too much fertilizer," Maureen explained enthusiastically.
    "Eco-style. It's the next generation of the environmental movement," Todd announced. "The editorial staff has been talking, and we think we should be doing articles on things like how to furnish your living room environmentally and how to buy environmental back-to-school clothes and—"
    "Environmental music!" Michael exclaimed.
    "That stuff that's supposed to sound like the wind in the rain forest or something?" Walt sneered.
    "Actually, I was thinking the Dave Matthews Band," Michael said. "Those guys are supposed to be into saving the planet."
    "And what about that guy from U2—Bono?" Todd suggested.
    Michael shook his head. "He's only interested in saving poor countries. You know, debt relief?"
    "Oh, that's right," Todd said. "Too bad. He would have been worth a cover story. He looks very good on magazine covers."
    "Stop everything for a moment. Did anyone read last month's issue of The Earth's Wife?" Nora asked.
    "Of course."
    "I did."
    "Me, too."
    Michael silently shook his head no.
    "You realize it was about just what you're talking about—not Dave Matthews and Bono, but buying things? And how this need for things and owning things is destroying our world?" Nora said.
   "Well, that's one man's opinion," Todd told her.

I don't know if the eco-style people are big on humor. Todd certainly isn't.

Within the context of the Saving the Planet & Stuff world, the battle between the anti-material save- our-groundwater crowd and the shoppers looking for the latest organic cotton and hemp clothing is a generational conflict.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Environmental Book Club

I've just heard that "book pairing" is a thing.  Evidently you can pair books with all kinds of things. This business of pairing fiction and nonfiction books is interesting.

And Nancy Castaldo's pairing of nonfiction and eco-fiction children's books at Nerdy Book Club is particularly interesting.  Notice that she pairs Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate with The One and Only Ivan also by Applegate.

I don't believe I've included animals in our environmental books. Castaldo's thinking is that the animals in the books she's suggesting are endangered or, in Ivan's case, not living in its natural environment. I can certainly accept that as a reason to include those kinds of books under the "environmental" umbrella.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Seven: What To Do, What To Do?

The following excerpt is one of my favorite bits from Saving the Planet & Stuff. In order to create humor, I use hyperbole to ramp up the decision-making those trying to live environmentally sound lives do. But I also think this conversation illustrates a real struggle.

At least, I'm struggling.

See my picnic dish collection to the right? I've had them since 2001 and used them for large family al fresco meals over the years. I don't buy paper plates or napkins or plastic picnic cutlery. But it takes quite a while to get these things washed. Cheap plastic must hold grease. Sinks full of water go down the drain before we finish the job. But I've done the kind of thinking Nora does below and decided that my priority is solid waste, those disposable paper plates and cutlery, over detergents and water. If I lived in California right now, no doubt I'd feel differently.

Seriously, I don't live all that environmentally sound a lifestyle. People who do have to do this kind of priority assessment all the time.

    "Michael? I'm Maureen Bogda," she announced.
    "Associate editor," Amber reminded him. "Don't ask what that is. I was here all of July and August last year and never figured it out."
    "We have something we'd like you to take care of for us. We need you to go out and pick up a few lunches," Maureen said as she handed Michael several orders with cash clipped to them and explained how he would find the restaurant.
    Amber caught Michael's eye. "Speaking of sucky work—"
    "Oh, no!" Michael objected. "I like buying things."
    "I'm glad to hear that," Maureen said, "because Nora asked if you would stop at the little grocery store on the corner to pick up some soy milk and eggs. She wants the free-range eggs from chickens that have never lived in cages, if they have them this week. However, she says that if they are packed in a plastic package to please check and make sure the package is either number one or two plastic because that's all we can recycle in this town. If they have the free-range eggs, but they're packed in the wrong kind of plastic, don't get them. Get regular eggs, but make sure the regular eggs are in a cardboard package, not Styrofoam, because Nora doesn't buy Styrofoam."
    "Uh … just a minute. I'd better write that down," Michael said as he started to look over Amber's desk, hoping to find some paper.
    "Nora did it for you," Maureen replied as she handed Michael another piece of paper and some more money.

And Now For Something Entirely Different

In order to take a break from all this environmental thinking we've been doing, let's talk picture books.

I'd heard of The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee, and it's a book that does live up to its hype. The story of the farmer who sees a little clown fall from a circus train and takes him in is told totally in pictures. It's one of the easiest to follow wordless books I've ever seen.

I "read" this is as a sad story about the farmer. But when I finished, I looked at the front flap and found a much more upbeat interpretation, one I think that works. One that's much more from the clown's point of view.

So two stories going on here, all without a word.

I snatched up Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate with illustrations by G. Brian Karas because I'd already read  Applegate's The One and Only Ivan. My interest was in seeing an author use the same material in different ways. The picture book really is quite good. I almost thought I might like it better than the novel, but than I remembered Ivan's voice in The One and Only Ivan.

Both novel and picture book are very well done.                        


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Time Management Tuesday: Managing Sick Time

Last week I had a I'm-coming-down-with-something-hysteria day and spent the morning in bed with my laptop in order to deal with that situation. So you can understand why How to Enjoy a Productive Day When You Feel Bad grabbed my attention when I stumbled upon it at Coaching Positive Performance.

The CPP blogger says, "One of the most important aspects of improving your time management is to enjoy a productive day even when you don’t feel like it. That does not mean that you have to complete a massive workload; it simply means that you have to complete some important work which takes you closer to your goals and objectives."

There's great stuff here: 
  1. How to get started on a sick workday: Identify the three most important tasks you need to get done. These tasks relate to your most important goals. Then choose the three next most important tasks. After you identify that second group, you're not going to even think about them again that day. That's kind of brilliant. It eliminates a major distraction. You won't be overwhelmed by all the things you have to do.
  2. How to choose what to do first among your three chosen tasks: Do you choose the hardest task? Do you choose the easiest? You choose the one that is most important to your goal!
  3. How to work: In units!
One of the big negatives about being sick, besides being, you know, sick, is the stress of seeing work pile up. Thinking of sick days as another situation we can learn to manage is a huge help.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Six: No, This Isn't Just Composting Toilet Humor

Everything that appears in a work of fiction should be there for a reason. Everything has to support the story--the plot, the theme, the characters, the setting, the point of view. It has to do something.

This is a particular issue for people who write humor. You just can't throw random jokes into a narrative. If they don't support the story in some way, jokes will bring the narrative drive to an abrupt halt while readers stop to have a laugh. Too much of that and readers can stop feeling anything drawing them forward at all. And there's only so long they'll stick around to read jokes.

Think of the difference between old time comics who stood on a stage and just told one joke after another and a well-done sitcom in which all the humor comes out of a particular situation--a  workplace or a family, for instance. Writers of fiction want their humor to come out of a situation and not just be a series of jokes.

Today's Saving the Planet & Stuff excerpt illustrates that point. 
"So, Michael, where do you stand on the issue of composting toilets?" Amber asked.
    Michael stopped dead in his tracks and stared at her for a moment. Then he said, "What are my choices?"
    "Composting toilets—those things with a container of some sort under the seat so when you flush, nothing goes very far? Then you throw a handful of bark mulch or some leaves in there with the crap, and it all decomposes?"
    Michael started to grin. Okay! he thought ecstatically. She's coming on to me.
    "What? You think I'm joking?" Amber asked, mistaking the look of joy on Michael's face for appreciation of toilet humor.
    "Well, it doesn't sound much like a joke," Michael admitted, "not a very funny one, anyway. But it is kind of … an odd thought."
    "You've never heard of composting toilets, have you? Well, you're lucky I brought it up, because you're going to. It's, like, a big political issue here," Amber explained. She took a deep breath as if getting ready for a long speech. Her sweater rose up as her lungs—and her chest—expanded. "At one end of the spectrum you've got your people who want to see all human waste transformed into nutrients in a box under their johns and used to fertilize public parks and gardens so they can feel a sense of unity with their environment. At the other end you've got folks who don't understand why the federal government isn't committing big bucks to researching ways to vaporize their
doodie like they do on Star Trek so they'll never have to think about it again."
    "They vaporize doodie on Star Trek?" Michael asked.
    Amber looked up at him. "Haven't you always been curious?"
   "I don't actually watch Star Trek much. It's my little brother's thing. He builds rockets, designs space stations in art class, watches Star Trek—"
    "Cool kid. Well, if you're here very long, the subject of composting toilets is going to come up. You'd think we were talking stem-cell research the way they carry on about it. It's a very divisive issue."
   "This is a joke, then," Michael said while thinking, Cool kid? Eddie?
    "Try laughing when you hear someone talking about it. You'll see how funny it is."
The composting toilet thread in Saving the Planet & Stuff is not just an opportunity to squeeze in some toilet talk. It supports one of my themes, the effort, thought, and decision-making that goes into attempting to live an environmental lifestyle. It also supports character because it will eventually illustrate what a mania--how intense--Walt is.

I actually have seen a composting toilet, though it was at an outdoor park, not in an office where Walt was hoping to install one. I believe it was at the Ecological Park of the Acadian Peninsula in New Brunswick, Canada. My recollection is that they had some in little sheds like the one you can see to the left in this picture. That would explain the pipe you see to the left of that building's roof.

And, by the way, we are an engineering family. Of course, the issue of managing sewage on Star Trek has been addressed in our home. Probably at our dinner table. We've always wanted to see an episode in which Scottie or Geordie has to deal with the engineering crisis that would come about with an epic sewage treatment failure. Anyone else notice that the treatment system never gets damaged when the Enterprise is under attack?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Now You, Too, Can Give A Reading-Themed Birthday Luncheon For Adults

I am sure you all recall that yesterday I said I couldn't get sick this weekend because I was running a family thing. Well, I gave a birthday luncheon today. Not a party. I don't do parties. This was a luncheon for thirteen women.

You know how this past week your Facebook page was covered with your friends' pictures of their siblings for something called...ah...Sibling Day? Seriously. Where did that come from? Has anyone heard of it? All of a sudden it's here and people were carrying on as if it's Christmas. Well, my sibling didn't get her picture as a little nipper put up on Facebook. She got a birthday luncheon.

My sister has been a member of a book group for around fifteen years. (I think that's about when my own book group fell apart.) I learned today that she's the one who prepares questions for every single meeting. She's also very taken with her Kindle Paperwhite. Thus, while planning this luncheon I used a reading theme.

A luncheon without a theme is like a book without a theme. What is it really about?

I began, of course, with an invitation. No, actually, I began with finding a place to hold this thing. Then I went on to the invitation. Mine looked like the first page of the first chapter of a book. I used the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice as my inspiration.

IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman in possession of intellect, humour, and sense must be in want of a surprise birthday luncheon. However little known the feelings or views of such a woman may be on the subject, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of her friends, that the mere knowledge of her approaching birthdate is invitation enough to gather.

Of course, others may take their inspiration elsewhere. You just have to remember to work in the details about where this function will be and when.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't give a rat's patootie about table decorations, but my sister gave me a birthday luncheon a while back and she had table decorations, so what are you going to do? What I did was collect a quotation from authors who had birthdays in April. Because this is April, get it? My sister's birthday is in April? One for each day of the month. I used authors and quotes from Library Booklists. I used the same font I used for the "An Invitation" invitation title. I cut the quotations and author names and birth dates out and glued them to some colored index cards that I found in the office, to be honest. Then I spread them around the table at the restaurant. (Actually, I got someone else to do it.)

I thought the quote decoration wasn't going to go over all that well. It was the kind of thing I could easily have forgotten to put out, remembering the cards half way through the meal. Or they could have dropped like a brick, even though there were members of my sister's book group there. However, my sister liked the idea, made sure everyone had a card, and had them take turns reading them aloud. (She does do parties.) So this went well.

Then for favors for the guests I had reading journals and Pental pens. Let me tell you, people loooove Pental pens. I got 18 of them for $4 on sale at Staples. I mention that because I'm one of those people who has to tell everyone when she gets a deal. Notice that the labels for the journals match the invitations, match the font on the author quotes. Yes, Computer Guy did some of that.

Yesterday I realized I should have tried to get the bakery to make a cake in the shape of an open book. Or I could have tried to do it myself. But that would have been kind of gilding the lily, don't you think?

Now maybe a reading theme won't go over as well for a kid gathering because, you know, no wine. But this worked for my adult group today.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? April 10 Edition

Well, so far I've watched a season and a half of Veep, 3  hours worth just today. Otherwise, let's face it, I've done a lot of work on the blog for the marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff goal and some revising and planning of the mummy book for that goal.

Things should start turning around next week in terms of family needs overwhelming work time.

So Wouldn't Selina Meyer's Office Be Hysterical In Publishing?

First off, let me set the stage for you. I've been working in bed, and now on the couch, today because I'm fighting off a cold that I just can't succumb to because I'm running a family thing this weekend that I will probably tell you all about because it totally relates. So while I was soaking in the tub, trying to sweat out whatever is bothering me, I was reading a book review in a popular magazine. The YA book being reviewed sounded pretty ho-hum to me, and the one-line quote? I looked at it and thought, This is mindless B.S. What does it even mean?  What @#!! thought this was something that should be pulled out for promotion? Who the #&** are they promoting to? 

Then I realized I was channeling Veep. I've been binge watching it this week during a TV Watchathon. In fact, I'm binge watching season two right now because of that business of trying to convince my body not to get sick.

What I'm thinking now is Selina Meyer running her own book imprint. The entire V.P.'s staff could be her editorial staff. Instead of Selina always asking Sue if the President has called, she will ask if the publisher has called. The staff can fight with marketing. Selina can fight with other editors over authors. She can try dumping authors she thinks won't earn back their advances onto other editors.

And, get this:  Julia Louis-Dreyfus used to play an editor!

This could work.  

The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Five: Eco-humor

Part of Michael's job as office peon at the editorial offices of The Earth's Wife is to screen in-coming e-mails, which is how he stumbles upon a plot involving a major manufacturer and insulation. But he has to read a few e-mails before he gets to that point. Both the e-mails in this post illustrate humor that comes from the disconnect that occurs when two unrelated ideas/events come together.

The following e-mail was funny at the time because when Saving the Planet & Stuff first appeared in 2003 fiction about the environment wasn't common. The term climate fiction was still a few years away. Nature writing tended to be Thoreau-type essays. Journalists covered the environment. So the idea of eco-fiction was funny because it didn't exist.

Now eco-fiction is a term that is used and discussed, so the idea of eco-fiction is no longer funny. The humor in this first e-mail now relies pretty much on comparing eco-fiction to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Dear Earths' Wife,
Kudos on another wonderful issue!
One suggestion—Have you ever considered doing a fiction issue? No one is publishing eco-fiction right now. I don't know why. You could do a special issue once a year on ecologically themed literature the way Sports Illustrated does a special issue once a year on women's swimsuits. Look how much people look forward to that!
This next e-mail illustrates why hypocrisy can be funny.  Totally clueless characters who say one thing but do another can often be mined for laughs because they are providing that disconnect between two unrelated ideas/concepts.

To the Editor:
I very much enjoyed last month's article on the pollution caused by vehicles using drive-up windows at fastfood restaurants and banks. You only have to sit in a line of cars waiting ten minutes or more for a couple of burgers and a shake, as I have done many times, to realize our atmosphere is being poisoned. Last week I used drive-up windows at a bank twice and a drugstore once. Isn't it awful that you can get your prescriptions at drive-up windows now? It ought to be a crime, all those cars sitting there with their engines running. I counted eight the last time I was at Burger King. I wouldn't have used the drive-up that day, myself, but it looked as if there was no place to sit inside anyway.
Additionally, drive-up windows are a particular environmental complaint of mine. Why does no one do a study on the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere because tens of thousands of people can't get out of their cars to buy a Big Mac? I can't be the only person who wonders about that. Can I?

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Environmental Book Club

I have finally found an environmental book for older readers, and it is terrific.

Sixteen-year-old Laura, the journal keeping main character in The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, is a member of a punk band. She has an appalling older sister, and her parents are falling apart. Sounds pretty generic YA, doesn't it? What makes this book riveting is its setting and its main character.

Are Good Environmental Books All About Setting?

The 2015 Britain of The Carbon Diaries is one suffering from energy shortages and horrific climate problems, as is the rest of the world. Britain, however, is the first country to start carbon rationing. The book is Laura's account of her family and neighbors dealing with limited access to energy while suffering through an extreme winter, a drought, and torrential rain. Her older sister is appalling because she is bitter and angry about her gap year in America being cancelled. Her parents are falling apart because they're having trouble coping with the social change they're being hammered with. Dad, for instance, is the head of a travel and tourism school. With carbon restrictions, people can't travel. That pretty much puts an end to the tourist industry in Britain, and he loses his job.

The book isn't a cautionary tale, in my humble opinion. It's much more of a thriller. What's going to happen next and how will the characters survive it? Though Laura comments on the selfishness of others a couple of times and wants very much for the rest of the world to get on board with carbon rationing, this is not a "Let's save the planet!" story. There is no instructive message.

I'm sure many reviewers probably write about The Carbon Diaries' environmental themes. I always have trouble determining what an environmental theme would be. I've seen some writers calls The Carbon Diaries' theme "climate change." That seems more like a subject to me. I would say the theme of The Carbon Diaries involves a teenager struggling to find her place as an older person in her family and her place in society, one that is dramatically changing. Those are traditional YA themes, not environmental ones. It's the environmental setting that makes those traditional YA themes interesting and makes this book environmental.

Isn't climate fiction, fiction dealing with climate change, all about setting?

A Good Character Always Does Wonders For A Book

Laura is like an edgier, smarter Georgia Nicholson. The format of the book is even similar to the Georgia Nicholson books. It's a journal, of course, and there are several pages at the end translating British terms for American readers, which you find in Georgia's books. This is not a complaint. I like Georgia. I like Laura.

A Good Book Doesn't Have To Teach You Anything

Though The Carbon Diaries doesn't insist that readers do anything, the characters' struggle was so intense that it has an impact. I hadn't read much before I started obsessing about whether or not I'd turned the heat down at night. I freaked out a bit over that power outage in Washington earlier this week. And, yikes! They're rationing water in California!! 

Very few people like to be preached at or taught. If a piece of fiction is well done, it creates a response in readers without doing either of those things.