Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: But We Do Have Time

Thank goodness for Time Management Tuesday. This blog feature gives me a socially acceptable way to whine about the time crunch I've experienced this past month and a half due to family responsibilities. I've been working maybe three hours a week, not counting blogging, which I do in the evenings on a reduced schedule. I can't exercise the way I usually do, because so many days I have to be away from home for hours. I'm going to only half my tai chi classes, on the good weeks. I can't eat at my usual times for the same reason. Yes, yes, that's right. I eat at "usual" times. And often. Finally, flat surfaces in the house are covered with items I can't find the energy to deal with.

One day a week or so ago I was whimpering in my head about how I never can do anything for me, when I realized perhaps I shouldn't be dwelling on how much I'm not doing for myself now. Instead, what about how much I was doing for me, me, me before this summer's situation.

I've Done A Lot Of Stuff 

Not Writing
There have been times in the past when I've worked out an hour and a half a day. I know. That's ridiculous, especially when you consider what poor results I got for my effort. I did eleven years of taekwondo classes, sometimes twice a week. In the morning, prime work time. For three or four years now, I've been taking tai chi classes, jumping up from one class a week to two. There's
Not Writing
been a lot of binge cooking over the years. Then there's been all the biking and hiking. When my children were young, I spent years doing ten to fifteen hours of volunteer work a week. Volunteer work was a thing in my circle. Unlike in American Housewife, we were really into it.

I could go on, but I'd have to write about activities and interests I'd rather people didn't know about.

We Often Do Have Time

What I'm driving at here is that I've used a lot of time for what might be described as elective activities. So while I have written thirteen books, eight of which have been published, I have often had time I could have used to write even more, submit more, market more. I chose to use that time for something else.

Not Writing
My experience illustrates a point that some time management writers have made:  As a general rule, we do have time to do the things we say we want to do. We just choose to use it for something else.

Those choices are not necessarily bad ones. I'm not suggesting writers beat ourselves up for all the things we've done and enjoyed doing that didn't involve sitting at our computers four or five hours a day. But what we need to accept here is that we're not talking about not having time to write.

What has this acceptance done for me? Well, I'm not whining now, right? Beyond that, I'm not sure what this is going to lead to.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Gauthier Reading

Here in the Gauthier family, we have a young relative who is fond of a particular kind of book, and I've got him pegged. I always have some specially selected library books here for him.

Now, he always rejects them in favor of books he brought with him, books which lean toward being about trains and trucks. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but, come on. Trains. Trucks.

Needless to say, I don't get him those things. I can't read train and truck books. Yikes. No, I get him what he really wants to read.

Hidden Picture Books

His favorite books, though he may not know it, but lucky for him, I do, are hidden picture books. The last time I had one for him, he kept insisting he didn't want to read it because he had five train books lined up for reading. Then I waved a page in front of him and finally caught his attention.

And once we were reading Where Did They Go? A Spotting Book by Emily Bornoff, he forgot about trains and trucks. For a while, anyway. Every two-page spread involves repetition of some natural element, and hidden among them is an animal described in a short text. Sooo much better than trucks, and better, even, than trains.

Where Oh Where Is My Underwear

We've all been in poor Polar Bear's position, hunting madly for underwear. In Polar Bear's Underwear by Tupera Tupera, readers get to look for his underwear, by which, of course, I mean underpants, too. This is one of those deals where you find underwear for everyone but the polar bear whose underwear you want. You go through a lot of underwear in this book.

These two books made for some great reading. Then I had to go back to trains and trucks.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Jane Yolen...Holly Black...Wonder Woman

Last night was writers' group (Yes! I did something work-like!), so no Time Management Tuesday today. Instead I'm going to direct you to Book Riot's Books to Read if You Like Wonder Woman. Not just because it's about, you know, Wonder Woman, though that is certainly reason enough. No, I'm directing you to it because this article includes:

Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen


The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

In children's lit, those authors are both considered wonder women.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Okay! Let's Read Some Mainstream YA!

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley is sophisticated, mainstream YA. Probably a problem book, but not preachy about it.

Solomon Reed is a teenage agoraphogic. Lisa Praytor is a teenager with ambition--she wants a psychology scholarship and believes that "treating" Solomon will provide her with material for a foolproof essay to go along with her scholarship essay. Solomon feels bad about what his situation does to his parents, and lets Lisa into the house to try to ease their lot.

This book has great character motivation. Readers can believe that Solomon and Lisa could connect in the way described. I often talk about how writers should give characters goals. Lisa is one of the most obviously goal-driven characters I can recall.

The author also does something very different with the romance angle in this book. The male love interest has some, what seems to me, very logical motivation for his behavior.

So while the book is called Highly Illogical Behavior, what I liked was the logic behind the writing.

A good choice for readers wanting a break from YA genre.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: When You Can't Make Much Effort

How to Structure Your Day by Mike Gardner at The Time Doctor involves some interesting ideas about:
  • Classifying your tasks on the basis of how much effort they require and how much impact they'll have
  • Determining your daily high and low energy cycles
  • Structuring your day around your best times for doing high or low effort tasks
I'm going to put aside the whole finding daily high and low energy cycles business for the foreseeable future. I'll spare you the details of what my days are like right now. Instead, I'm going to focus on effort.

Effort And Impact For Your Present Situation

Gardner writes about four kinds of effort/impact pairings: Low Effort/High Impact Tasks, High Effort/High Impact Tasks, Low Effort/Low Impact Tasks, High Effort/Low Impact Tasks. Note that this is totally different from the traditional high to low priority rankings of tasks, because the effort involved is included. It's not about deciding which tasks are most important. It's about deciding what kind of effort is required for various kinds of tasks.

Gardner writes about structuring your day around your best times for doing high or low effort tasks. But what about using your knowledge of effort and impact to help determine what tasks you'll work on during weeks or months when you find yourself in situations when you can't work normally?

At those times, you can determine how much effort you can make and which tasks you have some hope of completing.

Hmm. This might be an example of getting the best bang for your buck.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Smekday Goes To Hollywood

Thursday night we saw Home, the film version of The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. One of the cable stations was running it over and over. I liked the book a lot, and the movie was pretty decent, mainly because I liked the animation for the main human character, Gratuity Tucci. We're talking a cartoon girl with incredible facial expression and body language. Also, I'd just like to point out that both Gratuity and her mother are attractive females with hips. Cartoon women usually have lower bodies like store mannequins and busts so big they look as if they're going to fall over.

For someone who read the book, the movie is interesting because of the changes that were made. I remember the book being a little scarier than the movie, for one thing. For another, Gratuity and her Boov buddy were headed for Florida (DisneyWorld, I believe) in the book. They go to Paris in the movie. This requires the car they use to fly, something that I don't recall in the book. Why Paris? Or, to put it another way, why not Disney? Were they hoping to attract an international audience, one that they expected to prefer a European city to Orlando?

The biggest change, though, is the title. Home probably refers to the fact that Earth is home to humans and the Boov were making themselves at home there. But viewers won't know that until they've seen the movie. So how is that title preferable to The True Meaning of Smekday? This book got quite a bit of attention when it was published. By changing the name, didn't the movie makers risk losing the book's fans?

I don't know how this movie did in the theaters, but I don't recall hearing much about it in my childlit circle.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

And The Winner Is...

Alexandra Johnston, a Connecticut library media specialist, won Original Content's May giveaway, Strange Fruit by Gary Golio.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Help Me, Writing Portfolio, You're My Only Hope

Well, yikes. Talk about a moment in life that is a perfect example of situational time management, meaning my situation has changed this past month. And the situation I find myself in right now is also an example of the thin and wobbly boundary between personal and professional life coming close to crumbling altogether.

The New Situation

My husband is two weeks into the recovery period for shoulder surgery. We're probably looking at close to a month and a half with him having limited to no use of one arm. I wouldn't be surprised to find out it will go longer. I expected time for nursing care and planned to limit my writing to a page or two a day, do some professional reading, make some submissions.

If you think that makes me sound like the pregnant women who believe that while they're on maternity leave they'll write that book they've been meaning to get to or find a cure for cancer, yeah, I couldn't agree with you more.

What's happened is that I didn't realize how much the surgical patient does around here, meaning I'm spending a lot more time doing his share of keeping our ship afloat than I foresaw. We knew an older family member was going to move sometime this year. Then a few days after the surgery we learned that...Surprise!...it's going to happen in the next month or so. Prepping for the move is taking a lot of time right now, and our elder is going to need a lot of support once the move is made. Summer is nearly here, and that's a rough season for work at Chez Gauthier. Additionally, the family is expecting a new baby this fall. The last time we had a new baby around here, between baby support and dealing with older relatives I ended up working only two days a week for a few months. Which, actually, would be a great deal more than I'm doing now. I can look forward to that!

How To Deal With This Situation?

Well, that's the question, isn't it?

Take a work break? I considered taking a work break and focusing on cleaning up the personal life. My theory was that if I could get everyone and everything working well in a month or two, it would be so much easier to get back to work. However, this personal life situation is going to go on, to one degree or another, for the better part of the rest of this year. Letting myself get out of any kind of work routine at all could mean that one day I suddenly realize I'm not a writer anymore.

Doing Less, Like Einstein. Instead, I'm going to focus on just one thing, like Einstein did. And what I'm going to focus on is my writing portfolio.

Planning My Time Around My Writing Portfolio

I have material ready to submit. One of my seven goals for this year is to submit completed work. My theory (like Einstein, I have a theory!): submitting work I've already completed will require less intense, long-term concentration than generating new work. So until family responsibilities let up, I'm purging my other goals, and concentrating on submitting.

That still means I'll have to knock off a number of objectives/tasks:
  • Research markets (I've already done some of this. I have a list somewhere.)
  • Determine which manuscripts can go where
  • Generate cover e-mails, maybe a (blech) synopsis. (I have some new material stashed somewhere to help with this)
  • Keep track of submissions
The above seems more doable in the odd moments I have to work than trying to continue working on the first draft of a novel I've started or getting started on new essays or short stories.

Evil Gail

My husband's surgery was relatively short, and he was sent out of the surgical center before noon to suffer at home. So I stayed in the waiting room that morning, and while I was there, I drafted two reader response blog posts and finished reading a professional magazine.

I'm not bragging. I feel kind of bad about working under those conditions. Not as bad as I feel about going window shopping while I was waiting for my son to finish his day surgery ten years ago, but guilty nonetheless.

I wasn't the only evil wife there, though, if that's any kind of defense. I know for a fact that another woman left and went grocery shopping while her husband's shoulder was being hacked up, because she told me so. Somehow scavenging for food for the family while a mate is enduring a physical ordeal seems noble while nursing a career under the same circumstances, not so much.

Honest to God, I also brought food. And I ate it.

Oh, well, you know what the Zenny ones say--Dwelling on the past can only lead to unhappiness. Sure don't want that.

Friday, May 26, 2017

June Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

We have a few authors in the state promoting new books, as well as a few reading from older work.

 Sat., June 3, Wendell MinorByrd's Books, Bethel 3:00 PM

Sun., June 4, Stacy Mozer, Barnes & Noble, Stamford 1:00 PM

Sun., June 4, Francesca Simon, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 2:00 PM

Thurs., June 8, Sarah Dessen, Fairfield University Bookstore, Fairfield  7:00 PM Ticketed event

Sat., June 24, Emily Arsenault, Book Club Bookstore, South Windsor 11:00 AM

Wed., June 28, Susan Hood, Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield 10:00AM

Fri., June 30, Wendell Minor, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 5:30 PM

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

TMT: Purging Activities So You Can Do More

Last week we talked about purging tasks so we could concentrate on just a few pieces of work, on the theory that productivity improves when we can focus our attention on just a few things. But when there are so many things that seem to need to be done, how do we decide what to purge so our attention isn't being diverted all over the place?

Situational Time Management

Life, including work life, is in flux. What tasks we can purge will keep changing, depending on our situation at any particular moment.

  • Are we under contract for a book, under deadline for an edit for a publication, or have a workshop commitment coming up?
  • Are we starting a new project?
  • Are we working a day job, full-time, part-time, or some other kind of time?
  • Is our personal life intruding into our professional life because of a family member's illness, surgery, life change?
Everything always comes back to Situational Time Management. Assessing our situation so we can determine what tasks we can limit ourselves to will determine what tasks we can purge.

And how to purge?

 Minimum Effective Dose (MED)

In medicine, the minimum effective dose is the lowest dose of a medicine that gets you the result you need. Taking more than you need either doesn't improve things or has the potential to make your condition worse. In terms of productivity, the theory goes that you can find a minimum effective dose--or the minimum amount of time/effort--needed to get the work result you want or require.

How might this work?

Well, take a blogger/writer, for instance. Writers need to be careful about blogging. Blogs have value, but writers have to be careful not to commit too much of their work time to them.
  • So what is the minimum effective blogging schedule? This will be different for every writer. When I first started blogging, my goal was three posts a week. Then I got into the childlit blogging world and was blogging like mad. For quite some time, I've been trying to cut back to three times a week, but I'm always stumbling upon something more I want to blog about. So I'm cutting down to two, with the expectation that some weeks I'll do more.
  • The MED for blog reader responses--It's not necessary for me to do a full post about every single book I read. When I post at Goodreads (which I like to do so someone is keeping track of how many books I read over a year), it's not even necessary for me to do more than a star rating.
  • The What Did You Do This Week? posts were fantastic for me as far as getting marketing done.  But if I'm only going to do two posts a week, that sure doesn't need to be one of them.
  • We're talking about the MED for a situation in which I'm generating new work. If I were in a situation in which I was marketing a new book, I might want to spend more time blogging and promoting the blog as part of a marketing plan for a book.
A nonblogging example--You're in a situation in which your professional time is cut down because of demands of a day job or an increase in family responsibilities.
  • What is the minimum effective dose of work you need to do to keep your mind in a big writing project you've started so you can pick up quickly when your situation changes? A couple of pages a week? Reading over some of your completed draft each day looking for potential changes you can make notes on? Some research?


Purge What Isn't Working

Pay attention to what kinds of results you're getting for various tasks so you can avoid continuing doing things that aren't helping you much just because you've been doing them in the past or because conventional wisdom says you should do them.

  • Marketing is an area where I often see writers assess and purge tasks. I've heard a few writers who have done blog tours in the past question whether they will do one for their next book. Blog tours are very labor intensive for writers because in addition to the soul-sucking chore of finding blogs to take part, there are often guest posts to write or interview questions to answer. It's difficult to determine a writer's return on investment for these things. I spoke with a writer this past year who was cutting back on store appearances. They involve time to set up, travel time, and the time in the store and can result in only a handful of people showing up and even fewer sales. Even though conventional wisdom suggests it's good to network with booksellers, the return on investment for these activities is difficult to determine.
  • For myself, I had a goal this year involving a new marketing push for Saving the Planet & Stuff. Given the return on investment of my marketing efforts in the past and some family issues that will require extra attention this year, I've decided to let that goal go in favor of spending my time on generating new work and submitting material.

Networking is another area where writers can assess what kinds of results they're getting for their efforts and whether or not some purging can be done there.


The Overwhelm

Help me!
Most of the material I read relating to cutting down on work in order to increase productivity suggested it as a way of dealing with feeling overwhelmed. Personally, I'd like to avoid being overwhelmed in the first place.




Nothing Is Set In Stone

Remember, we're making our purge decisions based upon the needs of our present situation. When our situation changes, we can pick up purged tasks again and purge something else.

What tasks can you purge so that you can increase your productivity by doing less?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Environmental Book Club

Ada's Violin by Susan Hood with illustrations by Sally Wern Comport is one of the best environmental books for kids that I've run across. It's also a great example of creative nonfiction. Seriously, I thought I was reading a novel for a while, the storytelling aspect of the book is that good. (Clearly I missed the subtitle on the cover, The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay.) I've seen Ada's Violin mentioned this past year, but I had no idea what it was about. Then I saw it on The Green Earth Book Award short list. An example of an award bringing readers to a book. In my humble opinion, that's a major function of awards. The whole awarding part...eh.

Okay, so what is Ada's Violin about? "Ada Rios grew up in a town made of trash." Her family works for the landfill where recyclers pick through the garbage, looking for cardboard and plastic they can sell for five or ten cents a pound. Not a bright and cheery situation, but this isn't a grim story. Ada and her grandmother are interested in music, and grandma signs her up for music lessons. Ada decides she'll learn the violin, but there aren't enough instruments for all the kids who want to play.

So the music teacher gets together with a carpenter and a few other guys who find some stuff in the landfill and tinker with it and create a recycled orchestra. For real.

What's terrific about this story is that there is no artificial conflict between child characters and environmental bad guys. Ada lives within an unusual environment and that environment is used as the setting for this story. In reality, it was the setting for this story. Environment as setting, and setting as a major factor in action.

Hmm. I need to remember to use this book as an example in a workshop I do.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Doing Less, Like Einstein

So, in my last TMT post, I wrote about whether slowing down  could improve writers' productivity and how most of what I found written on the subject seemed to be more about the amount of work people did, not working slower. I didn't see how people could work more slowly without doing less. So this week I'm forgetting speed and angsting on whether we can improve productivity by actually, yes, doing less. Yeah, wouldn't that be great?

While I found material about improving your work situation by working less, I didn't see a lot about how to do it. A shorter work week would be good. Don't multi-task. Working less means less stress, more peace. I, however, need nitty-gritty how-to details. Sorry to say, the i's must be dotted and the t's crossed for me.

The Einstein Principle

I did find something helpful in a blog maintained by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. I'm talking about a post called The Einstein Principle: Accomplish More By Doing Less. I know! It sounds like exactly what I'm looking for!

Newport's point in his blog post is that for a three-year period, Einstein didn't do much beyond work on his theory of relativity. (Whatever that is.) The reality is, Newport says, that we're most productive when we focus on a small number of projects.

This seems as if it ought to be obvious. Yet think about how writers work. Piecemeal. There's the big writing project that we're totally into until we get this great idea for something else. And then there are the submissions of work we've finished and the marketing of individual projects and ourselves and the training and the appearances and maybe some teaching. When are we focusing on our theory of relativity? (Whatever that is.)

Productivity Purges

Newport actually does describe a strategy for doing less so you can do more. He calls it a productivity purge. I've been known to purge things, but Newport is talking about purging tasks. Next week I'll have some ideas for purging tasks specifically for writers. In the meantime, check out what Newport writes about how to list and analyze professional and personal tasks, analyze them, and identify which can go and which you can continue working on.

Apply The Unit System!

What seems to me to be one of the most important aspects of Newport's productivity purge is the requirement that for a month after finishing you not start any new projects. A month is a nice unit of time, something we're always talking about working with here. With Newport's purge plan, you identify the few tasks you're going to work on and commit to them for a unit of time.

Okay, so doing less to achieve more may be something we can do.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Silent Reading Parties--How Great Does This Sound?

So you know how you keep reading that contact with others makes people live forever with minimal
cognitive loss? And you worry about that because contact with others isn't something you're particularly good at or even care about? Yeah, I may have found something for u...you.

Silent Reading Parties. You get together with other people and read! You don't have to talk to them, because you're all reading! If you meet in a bar, you can buy something to eat and drink! If you meet in a library, you don't even have to do that!

This is genius. It could add years to my life.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Bill Finger--The Documentary "A Big Superhero Secret"

Nearly two years ago, I heard Marc Tyler Nobleman speak about his book Bill the Boy Wonder, the story of Bill Finger, who was instrumental in creating Batman but never received credit for his work. This is the only book on Finger.

Now Hulu has made its first original documentary, Batman & Bill. It's also the first documentary based on a nonfiction book for young readers, Bill the Boy Wonder. Nobleman figures prominently in the terrific trailer.

The film was just released last weekend and has received a lot of media attention. Check out SyfyWire's interview with the film makers for information on children's author Nobleman's connection with the project.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Why Mess With A Good Thing?

I loved Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, which is described on its cover as "The sequel to the New York Times bestseller Illuminae." I would call it more of a companion book, myself. It takes place in the world of Illuminae on the space station the characters from Illuminae are headed for. But we have different characters fighting for their lives now. Sort of.

The Gemina story is told with documents, just as it was in Illuminae. There's another heroic, thrilling female character with a witty, male, love interest. Most of the time they are struggling separately, just as the couple in Illuminae did. And there's a medical-type problem to deal with just as there was in Illuminae. Something happens at one point that seems an insurmountable disaster, and then it's surmounted. Just like in Illuminae.

I'm not complaining. I've tried to repeat early successes with later books, myself. I like the set-up in these two and look forward to reading the third book in the series. I'm going to be recommending Gemina to, and maybe buying it for, my niece, who is also an Illuminae fan. I'm just sayin' the first two books' central characters are strikingly similar, as are the books' format and story frame.

Actually, I'll be kind of disappointed if the author doesn't repeat the formula with the third book.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Where Is Today's Protest Music?

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio and Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich just happened to be published this spring, during a period when we're hearing more about protest than we have in a very long time.

But how much protest are we hearing in the form of music right now? Last month, CNN did a piece on the history of protest music that included both Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit and the Peter, Paul, and Mary version of Pete Seeger's If I Had a Hammer. It brought protest music up to the present with work by Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar, though I don't know if any protest performers of the last few decades have the safe, middle American popularity of Peter, Paul, and Mary. (Lady Gaga's getting there). We no longer have the bulk of the American public watching just three TV networks now or much in the way of variety shows that showcase musicians. A modern Peter, Paul, and Mary doesn't have a platform, like The Smothers Brothers Hour or, earlier, The Jack Benny Show,  ready for them to get a message out to a big audience.

Today's Protest

You know where you do see ready-made platforms for protest? On late-night political comedy shows. I'm going to suggest that that is where we're seeing protest this spring. As someone I discussed this with pointed out, it takes a while to create a Strange Fruit or an If I Had a Hammer, certainly longer than it takes comedy writers to react to today's news. Then the song writers, composers, and musicians face the same problem writers do--how do they get their work out before the public?

Today's political comedy protest also looks different from the protest music of the past. In How Late Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump Caitlin Flanagan argues that "Sneering hosts have alienated conservatives and made liberals smug." She talks about the tone of these shows--"one imbued with the conviction that they" [the hosts] "and their fans are intellectually and morally superior to those who espouse any of the beliefs of the political right."

That's not what we got in a folk protest song like If I Had a Hammer. That song is about the individual creating a better world. The hammer is a creative tool, not a weapon. Even in Strange Fruit, a song that makes listeners uncomfortable, we don't hear an attack. It's more a document that pays witness to tragedy. "This is happening people. Look at this. Don't pretend you don't know."

Why are we expressing protest so differently now?

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Okay, so we're looking into slowing down, by which I mean I'm looking into it. The goal here is to determine whether slowing down can enhance productivity or at least not make you less productive. Does rushing around frantically do you any good?

What Does Slowing Down Mean?


"Slow Work"--A Lifestyle Conquers The Working World describes a "slow work" movement. "By slowing down the work, you give your body the opportunity to regenerate. The general stress level drops as your concentration and creativity rise again. People have more energy resources and performance over the long term."  

It really sounds good. I have questions, though, about what slowing down actually means. Really working slower? With everything? In the same number of hours you had before? The lifestyle article suggests creating a daily schedule and planning more time for each activity then you'd ordinarily expect, taking breaks, and adding relaxation periods to your day. Would doing all that slow you down or would it cause to you take more time to do things because you're doing more?

Slowing Down Can Increase Productivity and Happiness, Part 1 from Psychology Today appears to be more about doing less than in doing the same amount of work but slower. The author says that productivity falls off when working more than 40 hours a week, but isn't that about how much someone is working, not how quickly? He also writes about busyness. Again, doesn't that involve the amount of work someone is trying to do, not how quickly? His material on decision-making really does seem to involve slowing down, mainly because it sounds as if he's suggesting doing more--"taking the time to gather information and alternatives."

Part 2 of his column does more to get into what he calls "slow work"--a philosophy that "challenges the unsustainable practice of doing everything as fast as possible and offers an alternative workplace framework." He includes a lengthy list of slowing down strategies and habits, some of which, again, actually would require more time: meditation (I dabble with this--it takes time), dedicating time for reflection, doing nothing for a while when you wake up (Sad to say, I do this and not for just 10 or 15 minutes, either), walking more instead of driving.

Slow Down! How "Slow Work" Makes Us More Productive in Time covers some of the same material and suggests making more time for ourselves during our workdays. The author admits that it and other strategies he suggests "will take more time because they require conscious efforts to vary existing routines. In other words, they slow us down. But these changes reward us with more time to absorb and process information, which strengthens our long-term professional performance." I'm not sure about that.

Yeah, I know. I sound like that argumentative person in your office who responds to every suggestion for change with "Yes, but..."

What Does Rushing Do?

This happened.
I don't know about anyone else, but rushing gets me into a hole over and over again. That desk over to your right? It looks the way it does right now, because I've been in too much of a hurry to take care of anything. And it's not the first time.  I can feel good about the office, because the laundry/sewing room you can also see to your right is worse. It looks the way it does, because I've been in too much of a hurry to take care of anything in there, too. It's not the first time for that, either.

You can tell by looking at these pictures that I am not a neat freak. My issue with this kind of disorder is that it becomes a time suck. Where is everything? Where is anything? Where is that piece of paper with the list of agents I was planning to submit to? I spent a lot of time working on that this spring. Hope it turns up.

Last week I worked on the table in the dining room, because I didn't have time to clear a space for my laptop.

Why am I rushing around so? Because I'm trying to do a lot of things in the time I have available. How will just doing all those things slower help my situation?

I believe I'll have to do something else.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Strange Fruit

I'm giving away another nonfiction picture book this month, this one Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio with illustrations by Charlotte Riley-Webb. You'll find details at the end of this post about how to enter for a chance at my copy.

Strange Fruit

The "strange fruit" in the title refers to the bodies of black men left in trees after having been lynched. It's the name and subject matter of a song singer Billie Holiday first performed in 1939. "Southern trees bear a strange fruit...Black body swinging in the Southern breeze." Grim subject matter for a book its publisher is marketing for ages 8 to 12?

Check out the title of the book again. "Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song." The book really is about Holiday and the song, Strange Fruit. Lynching is mentioned very briefly in the text and at greater length in material at the back of the book. But Strange Fruit the picture book is about Holiday's life up to the point at which she is offered the opportunity to sing Strange Fruit the song, a piece she wasn't all that taken with at first. A song that ended up having great significance.

A song, by the way, that I'd never heard of until I saw this book. I don't know how I missed it. Holiday's version is in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts named it a Song of the Century. Today you can still listen to Billie Holiday, herself, sing it. You can hear an extensive number of cover versions. I listened to these before I read the picture book  and enjoyed imagining white patrons in a club slowly recognizing what the song is about. (Strange Fruit: The First Great Protest Song in The Guardian deals with that very situation.)  I've recently learned that the composer of the song, Abel Meeropol, became the adoptive father to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg's sons after their parents were executed. That has nothing to do with Strange Fruit, of course, but it totally blew me away.

I won't go so far as to say that this is a song that young people should know about or need to know about. Instead I will say that this is a song that is very worthy of being known. This book is an opportunity to show kids one of the many ways that art matters.

By the way, author Gary Golio has a little bit to say about jazz and jazz singers in this book. Very helpful for those of us who aren't terribly knowledgeable about that subject.

The #bookgiveaway

We're going to do something different this month. You can enter to win Strange Fruit two ways:
  1. Comment below
  2. Follow me on Twitter
At the end of May, I'll collect all the comments and new follows, assign everyone a number, and draw a winner.

Remember, if when you comment here your name in the comment doesn't link back to an e-mail so I can contact you, I won't be able to let you know you won. (I should be able to reach you if you enter by following me on Twitter.) So check Original Content the beginning of next month to see what happened. If I can't contact the winner, and don't her from him/her in a week, I'll draw another name.

Also, Comment Moderation kicks in after a few days. I'll see your comment, and post it.

Coming Wednesday: More on Strange Fruit and protest.

FTC Transparency Info: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

May Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar

This month we have a variety of events coming up--a group appearance, a book launch (for Sarah Darer Littman's new book), and a visit from Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine.

Thurs., May 4, Rowboat Watkins, Brendan Wenzel, Sergio Ruzzier, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 5:00 PM. Registration requested.

Tues., May 9, Sarah J. Mass, First Congregational Church (sponsored by R. J. Julia), Madison 6:00 PM. Ticketed event.

Sat., May 13, Gail Carson Levine, Byrd's Books, Bethel 1:00 PM

Sat., May 13, Anna Raff, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM. Registration requested.             

Thurs., May 18, Sarah Darer Littman, Cos Cob Library, Greenwich 7:00 PM

Sat., May 20, Wendell Minor, Bank Square Books, Mystic  1:00 PM

Sun., May 21, Shoshana Banana, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM.  Registration requested.

Tues., May 23, Sarah Prager, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 7:00 PM. Registration requested.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Wasn't I Going To Do Some Research On Slowing Down?

Last fall I did a TMT post called Could I Do More If I Slowed Down?  Evidently I had been suffering from monkey mind last summer, and I was trying to deal with that. Additionally I felt that"Feeling rushed and overwhelmed is unpleasant, and I don't know that hurrying does any good as far as getting work done is concerned." I also thought rushing and feeling overwhelmed attracted monkeys.

I wondered, though, if working slower meant doing less. At the end of the post, I said, "Working slower is going to be my new research focus for the next few months. I am going to be doing it slowly. I'll be checking back."

Then I didn't touch the subject again. Not another word.

Slowing Down? Doing Less?

I started thinking about this recently because I've given up my modest yoga practice. I was having to avoid more and more poses to avoid various aches and pains and realized that if I let it go, I could use my yoga time to practice tai chi, which I've been studying in formal classes for three years or so. For the last year or so, I've been trying to do both.

I kept hanging onto the yoga practice, though it hadn't been working for me for a while, until I realized that while struggling to keep up with both yoga and tai chi, I wasn't doing terrifically with either one. I wasn't getting much from either one, either. I started looking forward to being able to do just one thing. And giving up my subscription to Yoga Journal after more than 10 years? Boo hoo? More time to read other things, people, including the professional magazines that I subscribe to and fall behind on.

That isn't exactly slowing down. It's doing less. Though, I've got to say, the last week or so I've been spending as much time on tai chi as I did on yoga and tai chi together. So I'm not actually doing less, it just feels like it because my attention isn't being split up.

"You Work All The Time"

A family member pointed out to me recently that I work all the time. By which he means, I work all evening taking care of social media, blogging in particular, so I don't have to do it during the day, taking time from my writing. He was right.

Social media is important for a number of reasons that I won't go into here, because this is a post about time, not social media. Nonetheless, I'm working all evening nearly every evening. Okay, to be honest this is partly due to the fact that the monkey is always circling my mind, and I often skitter across the Internet while I'm supposed to be working. Nonetheless, I'm on the laptop all evening, not reading magazines, sewing, looking for new things to cook, and planning vacations, which are my downtime activities. Assuming I have downtime, of course.

Working Slower? Working Less?

Now I really am going to study this, because I need to start managing my time differently. (Yes, I know. I'm always saying that.) This spring is a perfect time for me to make a change, because someone in this house is having work done on his shoulder, which will necessitate some temporary shifting of responsibilities. I'll need to take on some new patient and eldercare work. Since the days are only so long, I'll have to juggle and drop some of my regular work to take on the new.

Or maybe I can just become more efficient and productive. By working slower? By doing less?

By the way, my poor relative's surgery is a temporal landmark. The date is set, so it's a calendar event that's creating a fresh start opportunity for me.  I may be able to disconnect myself from my past imperfections and make changes as a result.

I'm Not Making This Up

I'm not making working slower and working less up, though I would do it without a second thought, if I had to. However, it turns out that slowing down is thing. In Slowing Down Can Increase Productivity And Happiness pay particular attention to Item 4, which deals with time perception. This is new for me. Unfortunately, I have barely a clue what this guy is talking about.

 Doing less is also a thing. Notice the section on the Pareto Principle in Accomplish More by Doing Less.  We covered that here last year. There's also a section on consistency, which I don't believe I have thought about, though my guess is it probably relates to staying on goal. 

Can You Slow Down Without Doing Less?

My initial superficial hypothesis is the same as it was last fall: I don't see how you can really slow down without either becoming hyper-efficient (hahahaha) with your slower work or doing less over all. Let's see what I find out and try over the next month or so.

Monday, April 24, 2017

There Are Fevers And Then There Are Fevers

Okay, I've written here a number of times about the Megan Abbott book I started reading on the plane on my way from Seattle a couple of weeks ago. As it turns out, The Fever is an adult book with a child or YA main character (YA in this case), which is a particular interest of mine. I sometimes write about these  types of books here. In fact, I wrote about an earlier Abbott book, Dare Me.

The Fever is what I'd call a literary thriller. Maybe a mystery, but not a traditional one with a detective-type character of some sort. The mysterious carryings on are carrying on and the characters are enduring them with no one figure working to bring order to this world. By mysterious carryings on, I mean that the girls at a high school are becoming ill with something unexplained and disturbing. Their parents are terrified, as they should be. What is happening to their babies? What is snatching them away (metaphorically speaking), and how can they put a stop to this and get their darlings back?

Interesting Point One: Fever's main character seems to be teenage Deenie, but we often get point-of-view switches to her brother and father, meaning we're talking two generations of narrator. One reviewer described The Fever's story as being told by a family, which I think is a great way of describing what's happening here. They're not just three narrators. We see that kind of thing all the time. They're three narrators tightly bound to one another, without, say, the sexual tension we often see between dual narrators in YA.

And speaking of sex, that brings me to

Interesting Point Two: Sex is used in an interesting way here. (Not that sex isn't always interesting.) Teenage characters are becoming sexually active in this story. I'm reading along thinking, Ah, this is taking me away from who's going to get sick next and what's going to happen to them. Bring me more sick girls. Then I thought,  I guess the author is trying to create a realistic teen angsty world, and teenagers have sex. And angst about it. (Well, who doesn't?) Then I got to the end and realized that sex has absolutely everything to do with this story. It is essential to the plot. Readers just don't get that until the end. Which was a neat little epiphany.

Often in books, particularly YA books, I'll see romance/sex that appears to be there because, Oh, we need some of this. The Fever shows readers sex that truly supports the story it's in.

Friday, April 21, 2017

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? April 16th Edition

Finally getting back to real life this week.

Goal 2. Generate New Work Through End Of April--Adult Novels. I'm doing the plotting thing with this. Seriously. I came up with something brilliant for one of my characters yesterday. And for another one, too. Finished reading some research. I've got more plotting done for this project than I've ever had for a book I've only written two chapters for.

Goal 4. Make More Than 33 (last year's number) Submissions Of  Completed Work Throughout The Year. I thought I'd come up with a new publication for an old manuscript. But, nope, it folded. Worked a bit on an agent list.

Goal 6.  Support And Promote Diverse Literature, Diverse Culture. Posted about Thunder Boy, Jr.

Material I tweeted or retweeted:

Larger Than Life: The Fierce and Fabulous Lena Horne - via
Okay, she's not a childlit person. But she's Lena Horne. Come on.

reading on Easter morning Thunder Boy Jr. as good as you've heard. .


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cover Reveal For "Pirate Island"

Fellow Connecticut author Katie L. Carroll has a new book coming out this fall, Pirate Island. She's doing a rather impressive reveal of the book's cover  over the next two weeks, which I'm taking part in.

Cover Illustration: Susan Tait Porcaro
Publication Date:  October 2017

"A thrice cursed island, a legendary pirate treasure, and one not-so-brave boy. What could possibly go wrong?

For centuries, the whereabouts of Captain William Kidd’s lost pirate treasure has remained a mystery. When Billy’s best friend, Andy, proposes they look for it on nearby Pirate Island, Billy thinks it’s just another one of their crazy adventures. It’s usually Billy who ends up in trouble as a result, but he goes along for the ride…like always. The more he delves into the life and death of Kidd, the more he thinks the treasure is real and that it might be buried on the small island in Long Island Sound. Billy—nope, call him William—becomes obsessed with the captain of the same first name. He even believes he’s possessed by Kidd’s restless soul. Now he and the spirit of a long-dead pirate are leading the crazy adventure on Pirate Island. And what they find is far bigger than the treasure they imagined."

You can also check out the neat teaser below.


Other bloggers taking part in the reveal today:

Juneta at Writer’s Gambit
Joshua David Bellin’s YA Guy
Waibel’s World
J.Q. Rose

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: While We're On The Subject Of Shame

Last week I wrote about how shame motivated me to work for about an hour while I was on a plane a week and a half ago. It didn't do anything to help me last week while I was trying to get back to normal while preparing for a major family gathering, though.

Why Shame Doesn't Help Much With Managing Time

Our old friend Kelly McGonigal says in The Willpower Instinct that self-criticism (shame, for instance) undermines motivation and self-control. Feeling bad about ourselves leads us to give in, give up. (That's in Chapter Six, according to my notes.)

Timothy Pychyl in The Procrastinator's Digest says something similar about why some of us don't "self-regulate" better than we do. We want to feel good now. We want to avoid what's making us feel bad (being ashamed of not working harder and longer, for instance), and we want to avoid it right away. Which usually means doing something easier and more fun than staying on task with our work. (Chapter Three, according to my notes.)

It's kind of amazing I did anything at all on that airplane when I could have immediately escaped to that Megan Abbott novel I've been talking about for days.

Instead Of Avoiding What's Shaming Us, How About Using Some Other Kind Of Motivator?

Or you could put it this way--avoid using shame. Develop discipline in another way. But how?

Well, Kelly McGonigal had a whole list of ideas that didn't involve shame that she talked about back when she designed a Yoga Journal willpower program a few years ago: "want power," automatic goal pursuit, implementations, commitments, and the distress tolerance we discussed recently.

Timothy Pychyl offers strategies in The Procrastinator's Digest for improving discipline that, again, don't include shame.
  • Recognize that we're putting short-term mood repair before a long-term goal.
  • Recognize that the task is making us feel bad, and what we're trying to run away from is a bad feeling. 
Shame doesn't work, at least not for long, and there are plenty of other things writers can do to at least try to keep themselves working.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Reading

No, I didn't make all these.

All that time I put in doing all kinds of things for prepping for Easter instead of working, sort of paid off, because yesterday morning I managed to find fifteen or twenty minutes for reading with a young family member. Yes, yes, that's fifteen or twenty minutes I could have been down in the office. Instead, I had a good time, and I'm not sorry.

An Alphabet/Art Book

We started out with An Artist's Alphabet by Norman Messenger, hand-picked for my reading companion who is a fan of visual puzzles. This is a traditional alphabet book with letters formed in stunning images of animals and plants. A really beautiful work. It was a hit with both of us.

A Cat/Art Book

We moved on to Papillon, The Very Fluffy Kitty by A. N. Kang.  This is a lovely story about a cat that is way too fluffy, so fluffy he can float. This is a real problem for him. His human, Miss Tilly, tries to come up with a solution for him, but this is a good book so our animal protagonist/child stand-in has a big hand in the resolution, in large part because he makes an improbable friend. Improbable for a cat.

There are some neat things reading companions can talk about with this book. For one thing, there's the issue of why this book is clever or maybe even funny. It's because cats don't float, people. It's that incongruity that grabs readers. Or grabbed us, anyway. Another thing to talk with your reading companion about is the art work. It's lovely, but each page tends to be a solid background color with black images drawn on them. Except for one small point of red. You can discuss why the artist wanted to put that red in. I just noticed that it appears far sooner than I noticed yesterday. We could have had fun looking for red.

You could also talk about how Miss Tilly never appears, just her dialogue bubbles. And papillon in French means butterfly, a creature that can, indeed float. Okay, it flies. But flying is like floating. Both words begin with "f."

A Sherman Alexie/Art Book

You may recall my recent concern about running into Sherman Alexie on my way home from Seattle, and he would be working intently on the plane while I wasn't, and I would be ashamed. Well, fortunately he does work harder than I do, and last year he published Thunder Boy, Jr., illustrated by Yuyi Morales. This book got a lot of buzz, and this is a case where it was well deserved.

Thunder Boy Smith, Jr., known as Little Thunder, is unhappy with his name. But it's not, readers come to realize, because his name is Thunder Boy. It's because he wants his own name, not his father's, as awesome as Dad is. What's interesting and unique about this story is that Thunder Boy, Jr. isn't looking for a Tom, Dick, and Harry type of name. He wants a name that sounds like him, that celebrates something he's done. He goes over a series of suggestions that are both funny and poetic. The name he and his father hit upon at the ending is both surprising (because, as I said, it's not Tom, Dick, or Harry) and perfect.

This is a unique story that's told without lots of extra text. The illustrations work fantastically, showing us Thunder Boy's life as a Native American child in a Native American family. The artwork definitely carries that part of the story.

You can see why I don't regret not working yesterday. The reading was great.

Friday, April 14, 2017

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? April 9 Edition

I have 15 people coming here for dinner on Easter Sunday, and I was out of town last week. No food here when we got back, no clean laundry, and the plans for the weekend were just coming together. I've been e-mailing relatives, chopping up Halloween candy to put in an Easter cake, making cupcakes, hunting for new vegetable recipes on-line, raking the parts of the yard people will see when they get here, and feeling anxious about not working for two weeks. Except for blogging, I've done nothing for work.

Yes, that's right. That's what I did last week, too.

The blog, though, has done very well the last few days. I've had very good stats. So that's gratifying.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Environmental Book Club

Yes, it has been a while since I've done an Environmental Book Club post. Not since last summer, in fact.

However, the Nature Generation has released its short list for the Green Earth Book Award, "the nation’s first environmental stewardship book award for children and young adult books." Included on the list is Ada's Violin by Susan Hood, which I happen to have on my TBR pile, so I may be back with a post about that. And I read another book perfect for the EBC, and as soon as I can finally get a response written up, I'll be back with that.

So, see you around.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Shame As A Motivator

Back in 2015 I wrote here that I refused to use guilt as a motivator. However, last week I found that shame works pretty well for an hour or so.

On Friday I returned home from a week in Seattle. I don't usually work much on vacations, but I do bring my laptop with me so I can do a little journal work and catch up on professional reading. This time, though, I left the laptop home, because I didn't want to bother bringing it on a plane. All I had with me was a traditional bound journal, a Writer's Digest, a Horn Book, and some other improving reading to do on the plane. I even printed out the chapter list and notes for the book I'm working on, figuring that surely over five days I'd be able to do something with that.

I didn't even make it to the airport in Boston before I decided I needed some lighter reading. I picked up Mindy Kaling's latest book at a news stand. Temptation. I'm very fond of Mindy.

On the flight to Seattle I did nothing but shuffle back and forth between a couple of books and listen to a Backstory podcast. It had been a few decades since I'd flown, and while it appeared that I was no longer terrified of flying (who knew?), I was bored as Hell. I only said, "Are we there yet?" once, but I was thinking it, even though I was glued to the flight tracker on the monitor in front of me and kept scrolling through the same TV stations I could have watched at home.

Who can work under those conditions?

While in the Seattle area, the few hours I wasn't visiting relatives, biking sixteen miles (see how I managed to slip that in?), or doing touristic things, I spent with Mindy Kaling. Then I bought two more non-work and involving books for the flight home. Because, you know, I already had learned that it's ridiculous to think you can work on a plane.

So I was set for the trip home with The Fever by Megan Abbott and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. All was good. Seriously, I had a feeling of well being while I was sitting at the gate waiting for my plane to Boston.

Then I noticed this guy sitting next to me with his laptop open. (He didn't have any concerns about traveling with it.) What did I see on his screen? (Because I looked.) Manuscript pages. The guy was a writer. And he was writing in an airport.

I immediately recalled Mindy Kaling's book, which I had just finished. This woman has a really disturbing work  ethic. By which I mean disturbing when compared to mine. She sounds as if she's always working. Even when she's drinking and eating and admiring guys, she's working because she writes about all that. If she's ever been in Seattle, I'm betting she was working.

So I'd been reading about that for a couple of days while, remember, I was doing nothing. Then this guy sits down next to me and rubs it in that he's not reading a Megan Abbott novel.

What if he sits next to me on the plane? I thought. What if I have him working next to me for four or five hours? I finally casually turned and took a look at the guy, himself, wondering if he was Sherman Alexie, who's supposed to live in Seattle. What if I had to sit next to Sherman Alexie for nearly six hours (what with takeoff and landing) and he worked through the whole trip, illustrating why he is Sherman Alexie and I'm Gail Gauthier?

Well, this guy wasn't Sherman Alexie. And he didn't sit next to me. He sat directly in front of me. I couldn't see his laptop, but I know he had it open, because I leaned around him so I could see it.

That's why I wrote most of this post in my bound journal on the plane, as well as notes for two book posts. The only reason this post is going up on time is because I did that writing on the plane. See? Shame is good.

Then I went back to reading Megan Abbott, and then I took a nap.

So shame is good, but only for a while.