Monday, November 30, 2015

Nana In Her Environment

I considered writing about Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo as part of the Environmental Book Club feature, because Nana lives in a specific environment. But "the city" is not what you'd call a natural environment, at least in the way we think of natural environment. I think it could be argued that cities grow up or evolve in some natural way over time. But not too many people are going to accept that the concrete, metal girders, and glass of the city are natural. So I'll discuss the charming Nana in the City here.

Okay, so this kid's nana lives in the city. The child clearly doesn't, because he finds everything about the city scary. If you know any anxious or high strung preschoolers (or maybe preschoolers, period), this rings very, very true. The book does a very quick, simple job of turning the child narrator's attitude around. The very things about the city that he is uncomfortable about, his nana likes. She's able to make them sound desirable.

Lauren Castillo, who is both author and illustrator, does a great job of using image to carry part of the story. No doubt the committee that awarded her a Caldecott Honor thought so, too.

Friday, November 27, 2015

December Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Another good month for people looking for children's writers in Connecticut. Two authors of a book released this month have a number of appearances scheduled, and Barnes & Noble is running school book fairs that include authors on-site.

Tues., Dec. 1, Martha Ritter, Barnes & Noble, Manchester 5:00 PM

Tues., Dec. 1, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, Middlebury Public Library, Middlebury 6:30 PM

Wed., Dec. 2, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, Byrd's Books, Bethel 6:30 PM

Fri., Dec. 4, Martha Ritter, Barnes & Noble, Farmington 6:30 PM

Fri., Dec. 4, Amanda Banikov, Barnes & Noble, Manchester 4:30 PM

Sat., Dec. 5, Suzanne Cordatos, Barnes & Noble, Famington 11:00 AM

Sat., Dec. 5, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, Barnes & Noble, Waterbury  2:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 5, Martha Ritter, Barnes & Noble, Farmington 1:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 5, Lauren Page, Barnes & Noble, Farmington 3:00 PM

Sun., Dec. 6, Brenna Ehrlich, Bank Square Books, Mystic 1:00 PM

Sun., Dec. 6, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, Elm Street Books, New Canaan 12:30 PM

Tues., Dec. 8, Pamela Zagarenski, Bank Square Books, Mystic 5:00 PM

Tues., Dec. 8, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, Southbury Public Library, Southbury 6:00 PM

Tues., Dec. 8., Martha Ritter, Barnes & Noble, Manchester 5:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 12, Lauren Page, Barnes & Noble, North Haven 1:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 12, Janet Lawler, Lord & Taylor Children's Department, West Farms Mall, West Hartford 11 AM 

Sun., Dec. 13, Martha Ritter, Bank Square Books, Mystic 11:30 AM

Sun. Dec. 13, Martha Seif Simpson, "Hands on Hanukkah," Connecticut Post Mall, Milford 2:00 PM

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Blogging Disaster

I was almost done with the December Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar, and it is gone! Nowhere to be found!

In spite of those two exclamation marks, I'm taking having to do this whole thing over again pretty calmly. Because whatever is, is, yeah?

Time Management Tuesday: Okay, We Know What To Do During The Holidays

Every year I struggle with time during the holidays. It's a situational thing. One of my very first Time Management Tuesday posts was on the December Time Suck. For the record, according to the Christmas spark book I mention in that post, we need new lights for the tree this year. That's good to know.

Holiday Time Management Strategies 

No one has time to waste reinventing the wheel between the third week in November and the first week in January, so these holiday time plans come from the Time Management Tuesday archives.

So Here's My Plan For The Rest Of This Week

I'm going to use short units of time to sprint, then use routine to get over it when I'm disappointed in what I get done.

And, yes, I did sprint this morning. A real writing sprint, not a real posting a blog post sprint.

Monday, November 23, 2015

I'm Still Reading About Those Incorrigible Children

I've been committed to the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Mary Rose Wood since book one, The Howling. Though I've been frustrated because it's a hardcore serial, I enjoy the historical and literary references and its Jane Eyrish nature. Maybe a kind of parody Jane.

There's a lot of sly humor in these books, but it does involve understanding some of the literary works and ideas being parodied. I  sometimes wonder if child readers appreciate all the little bits and pieces I like. For instance, I was taken with the flamboyant Russian family in The Unmapped Sea. Are they over-the-top enough that kids will find them funny even if they've never seen or read a heavy Russian drama?

I found this particular volume a little slower going than the others. That may not have been the case, if I'd been able to binge read these books. I'd pretty much forgotten what had happened in the last book, and this is, as I said earlier, a serial. There are story threads, as well as a mystery, that run from book to book.

The Incorrigible Children would have made such a wonderful binge. Unfortunately, I didn't realize how much I enjoyed binge reading when I was getting started reading them or that this was going to be a serial.

Nonetheless I must continue reading, because at the end of The Unmapped Sea our intrepid heroine...  Well, let's just say I think I'll remember that when the next book comes out.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Alan Katz At The Connecticut Children's Book Fair

I saved my Alan Katz post for last, even though he was the third of the presenters I saw at the book fair last Sunday, because I had a particularly interesting experience at his event.

I had never heard of Alan until last month when I was working on the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar. He made another appearance in this state early in November. So when I saw that he'd written a middle grade book called The Day the Mustache Took Over that looked like humor, I thought, Oh, I'll do a nice thing for this author and go to his presentation and maybe write about him because I'm so incredibly nice and I can feel so good about my niceness.

Well. This guy does not need niceness from me.

He's written several books of poetry for children. His work in one of them, Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking, has been compared to Jack Prelutsky's. He has a fascinating background. He describes himself as a "print and television writer," and he's written for Rosie O'Donnell's show (parody songs and humor), animated series, awards shows, game shows, The New York Times, comic books... He sounds very comfortable moving among different types of writing.

Oh, my goodness. Six Emmy award nominations. And a Poetry Foundation bio.

Like Brian Floca, Alan showed us some of his juvenilia. In his case, it was a short story he wrote in third or fourth grade. I was mortified. That thing was good.

Alan did a very engaging presentation with fun for the kids and content for the adults. There was singing. I kid you not. And I didn't mind singing.

So I didn't know anything about this author. I went to his presentation, anyway. Had a good time. Was impressed. I'm going to look for new-to-me writers again when I'm at a book fair.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Brian Floca At The Connecticut Children's Book Fair

Brian Floca is a Caldecott winning illustrator, but I'm a fan because of his nonmedal winning book, Five Trucks. Which, by the way, he mentioned in his Connecticut Book Fair talk last Sunday.

He began his presentation with a slide of his juvenelia. You know, things he'd drawn when he was a kid? I like to think that as a toddler I could have drawn ovalish figures like he did when he was that age. My guess is that our paths diverged probably around second or third grade.

Brian said that as a child, he liked to draw pictures that told stories. Just an hour or so earlier, Jane Sutcliffe talked about seeing a story in the face of Michelangelo's statue David. In both cases, we're talking about a way of looking at art. Which is pretty much all I do with art, if you didn't already pick up on that in the last paragraph.

Sandra Horning also talked about story in her presentation.  In her case, it was the inside story on her books. Brian's inside story on Five Trucks? He was early for a plane and sketched trucks while he was waiting at the airport. He quoted Jack London as saying that part of an artist's job is to go out and look for ideas. But I think some people barely have to look for them. They just see them, which I think the inspiration for Five Trucks illustrates.

Brian also talked about the importance of research for artists. Part of his research for Locomotive involved driving the route of the Transcontinental Railroad. My immediate thought was, what writing project could I get started on that would involve research like that?

Neal Shusterman Takes The Prize

This year I paid a little more attention to what was going on with the National Book Award than I usually do, posting the longlist and finalists for young people's literature.  Last night Neal Shusterman won in that category for Challenger Deep.

The news broke on Twitter as it was happening.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sandra Horning At The Connecticut Children's Book Fair

Sandra Horning, whose unique author appearances I covered last month, also presented at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair on Sunday. This was a chance to see her doing a traditional author talk, so I took it.

Sandra did what she called an "inside story" on each of her three books. Here's what was fascinating about them: The same process that goes into adult work went into her work for very young readers.

You know how the classic advice for writers is "write what you know?" Yeah, Sandra did that. With a Step Into Reading book. Not a lot of words there, folks, but knowledge of one of her interests went into it. The personal inspiration for her first picture book, The Giant Hug, is something you'd expect to hear for a novel.

I was particularly impressed with Sandra's material on her Step Into Reading book, Chicks. The page of editorial comments illustrated that these manuscripts are treated as seriously as future National Book Award contenders.

Sandra made me want to try writing one. But what about?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Jane Sutcliffe At The Connecticut Children's Book Fair

Jane Sutcliffe was my original reason for attending this year's Connecticut Children's Book Fair. Jane's a member of my writing group, and I've been acquainted with her for several years through the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. As things turned out, she was a morning presenter, and hers was the first author talk I attended.

Jane talked about the original inspiration for her book Stone Giant: Michelangelo's David and How He Came to Be and how researching it led to another book, Leonardo's Monster. What was particularly interesting about Jane's presentation was her description of seeing the actual David statue in Venice and seeing in the face not just beauty, but a story.

I thought Jane was not just talking about David or her books. She was also talking about how to look at art. Her description of what was going on in David's face and how it related to David's story was amazing and will have an impact on my thinking when I'm looking at art in the future.

Speaking of David's story--I was certainly familiar with Michelangelos's statue, David. And I definitely know much of David's story...David and Goliath, King David, etc. I taught Sunday school for close to a decade and David is sort of the superhero of the Old Testament. I am embarrassed to say that I had not made the connection between the statue David and the Biblical David.

Or if I had, it never hit me the way it did when Jane showed a close up of the statue's face and described what she saw in it and how it related to the story of David and Goliath.

Jane Sutcliffe's Connecticut Children's Book Fair presentation would make a great offering at art museums with children's programs. I wonder if it couldn't be extended into an art history talk for schools, too. 

Time Management Tuesday: Got LEGOs? Seriously.

How To Use LEGOs To Manage Your Time Better describes a method for...uh...using LEGOs to manage time. Notice the author uses LEGOs with the Pomodoro Technique, meaning each of his LEGOs represents 20 minutes. But you could break your day into any units of time and assign each one a LEGO.

Will this just clutter your desk? Maybe. But maybe not. Familiar with the three learning styles, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic? Kinesthetic involves liking handling things, movement, etc., etc.? Could kinesthetic learners prefer to "handle" their time?

Many people have thousands of loose LEGOs floating around their homes. It wouldn't cost them anything to give a LEGO time management system a try.

Monday, November 16, 2015

How Great Was This Year's Connecticut Children's Book Fair?

This year's Connecticut Children's Book Fair was particularly terrific. The four author/illustrator presentations I attended yesterday were so great that I'm going to be giving them each their own blog post this week. I described the fair on Facebook as being like a writers' conference but better because it was free and the author talks only lasted thirty minutes. Also, usually at a conference there's a lot of inconsistency in the offerings. Some are much better than others. But, as I said, I saw four presenters, and they were all excellent.

A Photo Album Today

I got to the fair a little early to check out Elisha Cooper's book, Train. And, yes, that's him over to the right, signing the copy I'm giving to a family member for Christmas.

I stopped to say hello to Barbara McClintock because a couple of years ago, I heard her speak on a panel regarding women in publishing. And, of course, she's a #CTwomanwriter.

You all remember that I am an Ivy + Bean fan, right? I thought that was a good reason to say hello to that series' illustrator, Sophie Blackall.

I always see kids at this book fair, but I don't recall if they turned out for the actual author talks in the past. They certainly did this year.

More on the Connecticut Book Fair will be coming later this week.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Weekend Writer: Ellen Hopkins On Getting Started In Writing

At last week's Connecticut appearance, author Ellen Hopkins was asked for advice for people starting out in writing.

Right off the bat, she offered the same suggestion Roger Sutton did in a recent blog post--read. But she went on to say "read widely across genres." Don't stick to your favorite kind of reading material. There's something to be gained from exposure to different types of writing. On top of that, she advised writing in different genres before settling on the type of writing you're going to do.

She also said everyone should be careful to backup or maintain copies of their work. Which...yes.

Friday, November 13, 2015

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Nov. 13th Edition

Goal 1. The Mummy Hunters. I'm up to Chapter Nine in the revision! I met with my writers' group Monday to discuss the first scene.

Goal 4. Make Submissions. I haven't actually made submissions, but I'm prepping for a day-long meeting with agents and editors in a week. Yeah. Yikes.

Goal 5. Community Building. I attended Ellen Hopkins' local appearance Tuesday evening, blogged about it, and promoted that blog and her appearance. Then there was that writers' group meeting I mentioned above. That was a particularly good time, by the way.

I've also spent some time strategizing what I'm going to do on Sunday when I visit the Connecticut Children's Book Fair. Some writers and illustrators are speaking at some points and then they and others are signing at other times, and if I want to see Author A and Author B and Illustrator A and...Oh, my gosh. Countries have been invaded with less effort.

Goal 6. Marketing STP&S. I've heard again from the Norwegian publishing company interested in permission to use an STP&S excerpt in a textbook. Everything is up in the air. But it's like marketing.

Goal 7. General Marketing. Quite some time ago, I heard in a podcast about creating content strategy calendars. Essentially, for people like me, at least, it's planning how you can repurpose material over your social media platforms. I'd been doing this, anyway, but I'm trying to be a little bit more organized about it. I'm trying to get into a Monday planning habit. What have I written for the blog in the last few days or what am I planning to write this next week that I can republish at Goodreads, either as reviews or on my blog there? What can I link to at the various communities I belong to on Google+? What can I link to at my Facebook communities?  What can I use as Tweets? Using which hashtags? Then, of course, I have to try to do it over the course of the week.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Environmental Book Club

The Horn Book Blog carried a review earlier this month of Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul with illustrations by Jason Chin. The reviewer says, "...Water Is Water feels like an engaging story about children who love being out in nature." That sounds right up my alley.

Jason Chin lives in Vermont. I'm quite certain I read about him in a Burlington area publication while I was up north sometime in the last couple of years.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ellen Hopkins In Connecticut

Ellen Hopkins' pile of books.
Author Ellen Hopkins, who has written a pile of books, is touring to support her new YA book, Traffick, as well her adult book, Love Lies Beneath. Last night, she was touring here in Connecticut. She presented some intro material, did a reading, and answered questions.

I am not familiar with Ellen Hopkins' work. However, I found much of what she had to say interesting in terms of writing.

  • Hopkins writes two books a year, spending 3 to 4 months on each book.
  • She's been spending around 100 days a year on the road, but is trying to cut down. She's able to write while traveling. Yesterday she put in 4 hours of writing between a school visit and the store appearance.
  • She receives around 200 messages a day from readers spread among various social media platforms.
  • Her adult novel Triangles and her YA Tilt are companion books. They deal with the same situation from adult and YA points of view. As a writer, I think that's fascinating.
Hopkins attracted a nice crowd at our local Barnes & Noble, including a number of teenagers. Her YA book coming out next year: Chameleon.

She also had some writing advice that I'm save for a Weekend Writer post. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Time Management Tuesday: Prepping For Those Rough Times

J. M. Levinton has quite an interesting post, Getting Prepared: How to Write When You Can't, at her blog. She describes how she managed to get some social media work done while she was sick. She had prepared for that eventuality. She had a file of tweets ready to go and another of blog topics, complete with rough drafts. During those times when personal life overwhelms, she could at least keep on keeping on with social media.

Work can overwhelm, as well. Having social media topics and drafts filed away can help out when you're dealing with deadline pressures or rushing to get ready for an appearance.

And how about planning smaller projects for squeezing in when traveling, during holidays, or while you're getting ready for those appearances I just mentioned? And then you can always have some light professional reading ready for those hours you spend in motel rooms without On Demand or your dvr. (It's like being sent back to the Dark Ages.)

Seems a little obsessive, doesn't it? But not working makes some of us anxious. This is a way to plan to take care of our anxiety.

This post was written weeks ago. It's being posted today because I'm trying to finish a manuscript revision before the twenty-first and am going to be out several evenings this week.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Remember That Photo Problem With The Short Story?

Four months ago, I wrote here about another author's photo being used in the author bio connected to a short story I'd written. I let that issue sit for quite some time before I finally contacted the publication, Alimentum, to bring the error to the editors' attention. Someone got back to me in just two days to say they would take care of it.

And they did.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Weekend Motel Reading

We did an overnight in New York, where we spent Saturday afternoon walking around the Storm King Art Center (a sculpture park) and part of Sunday letter boxing. Saturday night we spent in a motel room where I caught up on some bookmarked reading and watched reruns of Archer, which never gets old.

The Yearning to Learn From Our Lives. The essay linked to in this post cannot be accessed. However, the excerpt quoted includes the following: "We all yearn to learn from our lives so we do not stumble like Sisyphus up the same hill over and over but, instead, discover the art of living well." Good opportunity to mention that I'm reading How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell.

Do Book Tours Sell Books? Maybe Not, But That Shouldn't Stop You From Having A Good Time. Good opportunity to mention that I'm blowing off tai chi class Tuesday evening to go hear an author at a local Barnes & Noble.

That's Too Much: The Problem With Prolific Authors. And he never mentions the self-published writers who publish every year, sometimes multiple books every year.

Dear Advice Person Lady: Advice for Writers. Honestly, I read this earlier.

Founding Father Fails  I've read a couple of Vowell's books. 

Friday, November 06, 2015

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Nov. 6 Edition

Goal 1. The Mummy Book. Wailly, wailly! I need this next draft done in two weeks for a writer event I'm attending. This revision is really deep, though. I have a working name now, at least. From now on, Goal 1 will be called The Mummy Hunters.

Goal 6. Marketing the Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook. This doesn't specifically relate to the eBook. I received an inquiry from a Norwegian publishing company regarding permission to use an excerpt in a textbook for teaching English. I responded. There may be negotiations.

Goal 7. General Marketing. Goodreads. Twitter. Google+.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

I Feel Bad About Why I Liked "Bamboo People"

I have this feeling that I should have liked Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins because it dealt with young people from a culture unfamiliar to me who overcome dire problems. I should be sensitive to all that.

Instead, I liked Bamboo People because the first half is a mash-up of a young people from a culture unfamiliar to me with dire problems story and a traditional prison camp tale. Okay, technically the characters are in the Burmese military. But their training site is like a prison camp. You've got your evil commandant, your friendly guard, your inmates who suck up to those in power, your clever, street-smart guy who often saves situations. Anyone else hear the theme music to Hogan's Heroes? On top of that, the young Burmese men being trained in their military's camp were, shall we say, impressed into service, similar to the way the British impressed male citizens into serving in their navy before the nineteenth century. Chiko, our main character, certainly seemed imprisoned.

I was disappointed at the mid-point when bookish, educated young Chiko gets out of the prison--I mean, training--camp. At that point, Bamboo People became a mash-up of a young people from a culture unfamiliar to me in dire circumstances story and a traditional war story. Chiko is still there, but he's now a secondary character in a new guy's account of his war experience.

You could say that the two parts of the book are two sides of the same story about conflict in Burma, with the young main characters not having a lot of control over their parts in what is happening.

Bamboo People would be a good book to offer students as a reading option for world studies classes, because young readers may find themselves hooked by the same aspects of the book that hooked me.

As an aside, last week I discussed in my NaNoWriMo workshop how creating friends for a main character can help a writer develop plot. I used Chiko's two friends in Bamboo People as an example.

Another aside: I feel so worldly after reading this book, because I now know that Burma and Myanmar are the same place. Also, since reading this book, I've been seeing references to Myanmar or Burma over and over again. It looks as if one of my Facebook friends is there now.


Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Time Management Tuesday: The October Purge Results Post

Oct. 31st
We did, indeed, each find an item a day in October to get out of this house. That's sixty material possessions we don't need to spend time dealing with. That's more than 22 cubic feet of belongings that won't cause disorder in our lives, leading to self-regulatory failure. Seriously, someone (not mentioning any names, Civil Guy) measured the heap, did some calculations, and came up with 22+ cubic feet. Evidently that's not much when you're talking loads of gravel or concrete. But we're talking stuff.
Oct. 1st

Now, why does anyone need a specific unit of time in which to clear out? Why not just do it on a regular basis? I think we're pretty good at that, and we've become quite good at not bringing unnecessary material things into the house in the first place. But I noticed something happening last month that suggests providing yourself with a dedicated Toss Time makes sense.

It's All About Mindfulness

22 cubic feet from another angle
What I noticed was that I was noticing things. The misshapen work gloves I haven't worn in years, for instance. I'd just been dumping other gloves on top of them. I've known for a long time that I can't do a thing with the ravioli attachment for my pasta machine, but I've hardly been aware of its existence. That didn't mean it wasn't taking up space in the pantry. Every year when I pull out winter clothes in the fall and put them away again in the spring, I've seen but haven't seen, if you know what I mean, a pair of black pants that are two sizes too large for me. They looked very good on me when I was 25 pounds heavier than I am now, so I've been holding on to them in case I gain back that weight. I've had them for, maybe, fifteen years. Well, if I gain that weight now, I'll have to buy some new pants.

My point is that somewhere along the line we stop being affected by a lot of our possessions. We can't make a decision to keep or ditch them because we're barely aware of their existence. But exist they do. You could compare living with unnecessary junk to living with mild chronic pain. You've become accustomed to it. It's become a norm in your life. But it still impairs your function.

A dedicated time for cleaning house requires mindfulness of us.When we're done, some of the things that have been lying on the raised hearth and the dresser will be gone. We won't have to spend time moving them around looking for things. They won't have a negative impact on our willpower, wrecking our ability to stay on task with work.

Ha-Ha, Gail. Now What Are You Going To Do With That Pile Of Junk?

Fortunately, the last day of October was a Saturday. While I was busy baking cookies with my leftover Halloween candy Sunday afternoon, someone else cleared off the entire worktable. Some things were thrown away. Some were placed in the church tag sale area of our cellar. A couple  of books are going to family members, the others will be going to a library book sale later this month. There's a large pile of clothes waiting to be bagged for the Salvation Army. But that's an easy task. Getting to that point is what is difficult.

And, no, I have not yet read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  I ordered it on Interlibrary Loan, and it came in while I was on vacation. I'll try to read it before next year's purge.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Podcasts In The Kitchen

This afternoon I had what I refer to on Facebook as a manic cooking episode. I had hopes of making two more things, but I wore myself out on those Halloween cookies. They're called Halloween cookies because they're made with leftover Halloween candy. I am the only person I know who hopes littlies won't come to her door so she can bake with her candy.

I bookmark podcasts to save for these times when I'm in the kitchen for hours at a time. I am aware that multi-tasking is no longer considered a thing, but listening to someone talk while I'm browning chicken or shaping cookies is close.

Of course, I have notes floating around my kitchen that I took maybe a couple months ago while bopping between listening to a podcast and cooking something. Sad to say, I didn't jot down what podcast I was listening to, so I can't share. A few insights stuck with me.

Today, though, I can actually provide my playlist.

Listening to podcasts while I'm cooking makes me feel as if I'm doing a lot.