Saturday, December 30, 2017

Beowulf Drew Me

I don't have a lot of interest in teen angst, or maybe any kind of angst, so Grendel's Guide To Love and War, A Tale of Rivalry, Romance, and Existential Angst by A. E. Kaplan wasn't a big draw for me because of the angst there in  the title. No, I picked up  Grendel's Guide because of that word Grendel. It's a reference to Beowulf. Beowulf is my favorite epic. I spent some time ten years ago writing about it here. I did. That was the year of the Beowulf movie with Angelina Jolie. Probably not Beowulf's most glorious moment recently. That would be Seamus Heaney's version of Beowulf.

Beowulf In A Nutshell

Beowulf is the tale of a Dark Age warrior who helps out Hrothgar, King of the Danes, whose hall is attacked every night by the monster Grendel. Beowulf kills Grendel, which ticks off Grendel's mother, so Beowulf has to kill her, too. Then he goes home, lives into old age, has to fight off another enemy and doesn't survive it. The point being, in my mind, that we can do things when we are young that we can't do when we're old. That's life.

Back To "Grendel's Guide"

My interest in Grendel's Guide was looking for Beowulf connections. Now, the big one, of course, is that the main character is named Tom Grendel, tying him to the Beowulf monster. Though this Grendel isn't at all monster-like. The Rothgar family moves in next door. Hrothgar, remember, was the name of the King of the Danes in Beowulf. One of the Rothgar teenagers is named Rex, a name that means king.

Here's a particularly interesting bit: Rex Rothgar is a nasty piece of work, raising hell in a neighborhood of elderly people with loud music into the night, every night, tormenting Tom Grendel as well as his PTSD-suffering father. So here we have Rothgar tormenting Grendel instead of Grendel tormenting. Neat, huh? Also, Tom Grendel has that father, but no mother, because his mother is already dead. There is no Grendel's mother to seek revenge for her child.

I didn't get the significance of all the old people. Unless they have something to do with my perception of the original material being about growing old.

But Where Was Beowulf?

This is really embarrassing, but I kept looking for Beowulf in here and couldn't find him. It's embarrassing, because when I read the Author's Note at the end of the book, I figured it out, even though Kaplan didn't come right out and say who he was. It's embarrassing, because it should have been obvious. What was I thinking while I was reading this?

Author Kaplan says in her Note that she first encountered Beowulf in her ninth grade English class. (I was a freshman in college.) Grendel's Guide would be a fun companion volume for teenagers reading Beowulf for the first time.

Friday, December 29, 2017

January Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Ah, January. Bleak midwinter. What better time for a book? Maybe not a great time for an author event, though. The R.J. Julia bookstores are keeping #CTchildlit going this month, with an assist from The Storytellers' Cottage.

Thurs., Jan. 11, Diana Harmon Asher, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM

Sat., Jan. 13, Jenna Grodzicki, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 11:00 AM

Wed., Jan. 17,  Gigi Priebe, R. J. Julia Booksellers, 5:30 PM

Sun., Jan. 21, Neal Shusterman, R. J. Julia Booksellers, 2:00 PM

Fri., Jan. 26, MarcyKate Connolly, R. J. Julia Booksellers, 6:00 PM

Sat., Jan. 27, MarcyKate Connolly, Wesleyan R. J. Julia, 2:00 PM

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: The 2017 Recapitulation Post

Ah, Christmas is over. Hurray, hurray. That means that it's now time for recapitulation, something I've been doing at the end of December for five years now.  How good a job did I do meeting the past year's objectives and reaching goals? What can I learn from what happened? How can what I did last year affect what I'll plan to do next year? What does it all mean?

Once again, goals are what we plan to do. Objectives are the things we plan to do in order to reach those goals.

2017's Goals, Objectives, And Assessment Of Both


Goal 1. Adhere to Goals and Objectives 

  • Set time frames now for at least some of this year's goals.
  • Continue weekly checks of goals
  • Experiment with using timekeeping app to stay on task  
ASSESSMENT: Didn't do so great with this one. It looks as if I set time frames as part of my goal making(see below), and I continued with the weekly check of goals until I gave it up in the summer when a family member had surgery. I did experiment with a timekeeping app. Not at all useful.

Goal 2. Generate New Work Through End Of April--Adult Novels

  • Complete final draft for Becoming Greg and Emma.
  • Finish a first draft of Seeking God.
    • Blueprint new chapters. 
    • I have a beta reader lined up for this manuscript
  • Assign number of hours per week for each project, using timekeeping app to stay on task
ASSESSMENT: Not bad with this one. I did finish a final draft of Becoming Greg and Emma, probably before the end of April. A couple of beta readers have read it. I've done six chapters of Seeking God, which is now called Good Women, and do have some chapters blueprinted. That whole assigning number of hours a week for each project never happened, if memory serves.


Goal 3. Generate New Work, May Through August--Short Stories & Essays

  • Food essays!
  • External support for willpower essay
  • Essays developed from workshop proposals
  • Research markets all year
  • Make essay and short story reading a priority
    • Beginning with the first issue of my Carve subscription, which I've had for a couple of months 
ASSESSMENT: Total bust. Could become one of next year's objectives.


Goal 4. Make More Than 33 (last year's number) Submissions Of  Completed Work Throughout The Year


  • Trouble at Wee Play World to list of publishers 
  • Essay to P&W 
  • Research deals at Publishers Marketplace
  • Research regional publisher for The Fletcher Farm Body 
  • Consider including brief market analysis with book submissions. 
ASSESSMENT: I did one and three of the objectives and made 32 submissions, which is 1 fewer than my goal. Which is fantastic, absolutely fantastic, given how little I worked this year.


Goal 5. Marketing Effort For Saving the Planet &Stuff EBook For April, Earth Day Month, Targeting Specific Markets


  • Create new slide show related to SP&S setting
    • Take pictures this month
    • Look into adding sound/narrative
    •  Research ways to promote the slide show
  •  Article on the recycling crafts in SP&S
    • Research markets for it
      • This objective would also support Goals 3 and 4, so...multiplier
ASSESSMENT: None of this happened.


Goal 6. Support And Promote Diverse Literature As A Means Of Helping To Maintain A Civil Culture


  • Blog Posts Related To But Not Limited To:
    • Chinese New Year
    • Black History Month
    • Women's History Month
    • Earth Day
    • Canada Day
    • Labor Day
    • Native Reads
    • Readukkah
  • Provide social media support for other bloggers/writers generating diversity material
ASSESSMENT: I was able to keep up with this for about half the year. Maybe less. Definitely didn't make it to Canada Day.


Goal 7. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

One of my most successful goals last year, in terms of accomplishing the objectives.

  • Continue with writers' group
  • Continue with Original Content
  • January--Cybils judging
  • Check out NESCBWI spring conference, with possibility of attending
  • Check out NESCBWI-PAL offerings this year, with possibility of attending
  • Attend other authors' appearances
  • Continue with promoting Original Content at Google+, Facebook communities, Goodreads' blog, and Twitter
  • Continue reviewing environmental books at Amazon
  • Research markets (Supports Goals 3 and 4. Multiplier!)
  • Supports Goal 7, so another multiplier.
ASSESSMENT: Objective One! Two! Three! Five!...Yeah, this one fell apart mid-year, too. I don't even know what I was talking about with that last objective.

Well, it may not be my greatest year for accomplishments, but this year's recapitulation post is an excellent example of why recapitulation is so worthwhile. Some, maybe even a lot, of what I dropped the ball with last year, I'm thinking of folding right over into next year's planning.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas To Me

I am sure you  recall that last year the Norwegian publisher Gyldendal Undervisning purchased the rights to an excerpt from my book Saving the Planet & Stuff for a textbook for Norwegian students studying English. I told you all about it.

Well, today the good people at Gyldendal Undervisning contacted me about renewing our agreement for an additional print run.

There are kids in Norway reading about going to the Laundromat and recycling station because of my excerpt in their textbook. That is deep.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: A More Upbeat Christmas Time Post

I'm in the middle of putting together next month's Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar and a reader response post and need to be thinking about this year's recapitulation post. So today I'm reaching into the archives again for a Christmas time management post that is more helpful than some of the ones I turned out while feverish earlier this month. I was whining back in 2014, too, but in a more productive way.

I did manage to use some of these units of time last week to send out a submission. And yesterday I got maybe fifteen minutes of work done on another project. Allez, allez, allez.

The Unit System Lifeline During That Time Of The Year, December 16, 2014  

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

So, two points:

My Major Problems With The End Of The Year Holidays

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

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

The Unit System

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 15, 2017

How About A Merry Christmas Post, Gail? Maybe One About Books?

Why, yes, I can do that.

Alex Waugh has a Christmas picture book round-up post at Randomly Reading. It's mainly 2017 titles with a couple of older ones tossed in.

All those Christmas books reminded me of what may be my favorite Christmas picture book, published in 1993, Santa Calls by William Joyce. As a result, I am republishing a post from the Original Content archives all about about the splendors of this picture book for older child readers.

I Almost Made It, Jan. 4, 2006

Tomorrow night is Twelfth Night, if I've counted correctly, so I almost made it through Advent and the Christmas season without mentioning a Christmas book. However, on New Year's Day the family got into a discussion of the story line for The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. After I checked at the library today, I discovered that the others at the table were right, and I was totally wrong in my recollection of the book. Why am I bothering to blog about my own inept memory?

Because I was recalling a totally different book, one I love and want to direct some attention to.

Santa Calls by William Joyce is not your traditional Christmas tale in which a passive child protagonist experiences the North Pole or Santa or the mysterious spirit of Christmas through the intervention of adult characters. No way, Jose. Santa Calls is a Tom Swift type adventure in which the action is initiated by a child (though we don't know that right away) and undertaken by children. Yes, Santa and his very nonstereotypical assistants are there watching over everyone. But it's a kid who comes up with the candy bomb! The kids resolve the action. The story is about the kids, not the adults.

That's what kids' books are supposed to be, by the way.

Santa Calls doesn't trot out that tired old Christmas theme about childhood being a magical time that is lost when the child grows up, either. Instead, Joyce suggests that real relationships and real happiness in this moment right now are gifts, too.

Why am I now able to recall so much about Santa Calls when just a few days ago I had it confused with The Polar Express? Because while I had to go to the library to refresh my memory on The Polar Express, I was able to just pull my copy of Santa Calls off my bookshelf. Rereading it on the Eleventh Day of Christmas was a real treat. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: December Continues To Suck Up Time

My big work plan for this month is to make three submissions, two of which involve some revision. Two of these three submissions are ready to go, I just have to get my head around writing a kickass submission letter.
Where I've been living.

I've been putting that off, because I've been sick off and on for a week and a half. I've been on an antibiotic since Sunday, and that's making me sick, too.

Then there's that thing called Christmas, which is hanging over my head like death and taxes. I did very little holiday prep in November, you will recall, because I had committed myself to National Novel Writing Month. I thought that working intensely on that would make some kind of change in my self-discipline/will power/focus. Clearly, I'm going to go to my grave with that fantasy.

Yes, that is a basket of laundry under the tree
As a result of NaNoWriMo, sickness, and a major holiday coming together, I haven't done the gifting thing in any organized way. For instance, I have three unopened boxes of gifts I've ordered, and only a vague idea what's in them. I also have a Christmas tree that has been up since Saturday, but is only half trimmed. Oh, and I have only made six dozen of the ten dozen cupcakes I need for a gift. And none of them are frosted.

To get to the point, at last, I have gone off the time management rails. This kind of thing happens here routinely in December.

What Timely Thing Can I Do Now?

Well, mainly I think I need to just grit my teeth and put one foot in front of the other until the end of the month. But I happen to be reading The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal, in which she starts from research that indicates that people who don't view stress negatively deal with it better than those who are stressed by the fact of being stressed. And this has made me think that some attitude adjustment for what's happening here at Chez Gauthier would be helpful.

  1. Okay, I'm sick. And it's going on forever, and I'm never going to be better, and I had something similar in January, and I'm going to get this over and over again. Waily, waily, waily. We have people dying at Christmastime in this family. Not this year. Yet. But regularly. Stop your whining, Gail. We also have sickness here in December regularly. (Look at your Facebook wall. Everyone does.) I'm taking one for the team.
  2. Christmas. First World problem. Be grateful.

Can I Do Something About Future December Misery?

Well, I thought so five years ago when I began the Time Management Tuesday feature. One of my first posts was The December Time Suck in which I listed a number of ways to control time in December. This year I did not make any use of the sparkbook described in that post. It might not have made a huge difference, but still.

One thing I'm thinking of doing differently in 2018 is to live the entire year with the expectation that December is going to be a disaster. I'm not talking just an attitude adjustment. I mean actually prepping for disaster.
  • For example, having food ahead in the freezer was helpful during NaNoWriMo. (Not that I'm saying NaNoWriMo is a disaster.) I happened to have made a pot of soup just before I took a turn last weekend. That's been great. A fully stocked freezer for next year's December problems could make a difference in my life.
  • Those people who insist on having their Christmas shopping done by the Fourth of July may be on to something. I won't actually do that because gift recipients' needs and interests change in six months and then there is the whole issue about returns. I'm just saying that I no longer think people who have to have their Christmas shopping done before Halloween items are in the stores are out of their minds.
  • It's my year to do Christmas dinner. I'm kind of vague about what's happening with that. Seriously, that could have been planned months ago. It could have been planned last January. A job well planned is a job half done, my father always said. I wish this year's Christmas dinner was half done. 
I'm thinking of making some kind of work goal, preparing for the end of the year's rigors and disasters, so they'll have as little impact on my work life as possible.

Today, though, I'm going to grit my teeth and work on that third submission that needs some revision. And I will be grateful I have the opportunity to make those submissions. And I'll put up a couple more ornaments on the Christmas tree.  I'm also going to put one foot in front of the other and open those boxes in the living room. Then I'll order more because I am unlikely to get out of here to shop before Friday. And I will be grateful I can do that, too.

Hey, Wonder Woman climbed out of that trench and fought her way across No Man's Land. I'm just talking Christmas and some e-mail submissions. 

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Environmental Book Club

Another book on the seasons? Or a season? Aren't there a lot of those? Indeed there are. But In the Middle of Fall by Kevin Henkes with illustrations by Laura Dronzek is an example of why more keep being published.

First off, I wish I knew more about art so I could explain why I find these simple, intensely colored illustrations so striking. Originally I was planning to say that this book is all about the art.

Then I read it again.

In the Middle of Fall is two sentences long. Those two sentences are filled with beautiful clauses, each one illustrated with an also beautiful a two-page spread. "...and the apples are like ornaments," is my favorite.

But that's not what makes this book so terrific. Pretty words, pretty pictures. That's not enough. No, what makes this book terrific is the second sentence, the one that foretells what's coming up at the end of the season.

Seriously, I dreamed about this book. I can't remember it now, but I definitely dreamed about it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Managing Time With The NaNoWriMo Model

In case you don't recall, for National Novel Writing Month this year I worked on a project I'd already started. It wasn't a true or traditional NaNoWriMo experience. I wasn't signed up at the NaNoWriMo site. What I was doing was using the month as a set-aside time for binge writing. My goals for the month were:
  • Write two-thirds of a book.
  • Come up with a plan for the last third of the book.
  • Work on focus training


NaNo Results

  • I wrote 14,705 words, which amounted to 55 pages and 4 chapters. Since I'd already completed 2 chapters earlier, I now have 6. That's not two-thirds of this book.
  • I don't have a complete plan for the last third, though I do have the beginning of a plan, notes for many of the next chapters, and an ending.
  • I stayed pretty focused, though it meant clinging to the work with my psyche's fingernails, while the rest of my life was weaving back and forth around me. Distractions came from November's holiday and the biggie coming up in December, along with just general family needs. By mid-month I wasn't meditating, exercising, and putting in any extra tai chi practice outside of class, so I could stay on task with the manuscript. I also didn't learn anything about how to focus that I could apply to other work situations or life in general. I've been expecting that to happen for going on fifteen years now.


My NaNoWriMo Was Good


 In spite of those somewhat downer results, I feel this year's National Novel Writing experience for three reasons:
  1. I created a model for generating first drafts. I spent weeks before starting work planning chapters, characters, and settings. That's what I should be doing.
  2. I got into using placeholders.
  3. I was generating a chapter a week, roughly. Very roughly. Back in the day when I was between parenting young 'uns and caring for old ones and had the most control of my time that I've ever had, I was producing a week of new material a week. (Hey, don't judge me.) Last month I didn't have as much time as I did in the good 'ol days, but by prepping beforehand and letting the rest of my life go to hell, I was able to write as much as I did when things were going better.  

Next Time


I would use the NaNoWriMo model again, absolutely. But never again in November or any month with a major holiday. Or in a month preceding a month with a major holiday, in fact. The pressure it creates is unnecessary and doesn't do anything to help with the work.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Picture Walks

Oh, my gosh! Picture walks! What a brilliant idea for picture book authors doing a reading in front of groups of  young children. Or librarians or or booksellers doing story time. Or picture book authors. Or parents reading with young children. Or picture book authors.

What Are Picture Walks, You Ask?

Okay, a picture walk is an introduction to a new picture book, using the pictures only. The person leading the walk can ask listeners about what they think is going on in the pictures, who the characters may be, and what they think might happen. Since illustrations are supposed to carry a plot line, this approach should give nonreaders a good idea of what the story is.

When you're done with the pictures, you can get to the text and listeners can have the pleasure of determining if that matches up with what they thought was going to happen as a result of looking at the pictures.

For authors reading to a largish group, I can imagine PowerPoint coming into play.

Thank You, Facebook

I learned about picture walks last night in a Facebook group I belong to. Don't let anyone try to tell you the Internet isn't wonderful.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Thanksgiving Weekend Reading

I had a fun reading experience over Thanksgiving. It was picture book weekend with a young family member.

Hide and Seek by Ill Sung Na. Because my guy really likes to play hide and seek.

Ready, Set, Build! by Meg Fleming with illustrations by Jarvis.
This was my reading buddy's favorite. We read it twice. Possibly because the main character is blue.

Thanksgiving at the Tappletons by Eileen Spinelli with illustrations by Maryann Cocca-Leffler. I haven't found many good Thanksgiving books over the years. I don't know what the issue is. This one about Thanksgiving dinner going awry I liked.

Polar Bear Morning by Lauren Thompson with illustrations by Stephen Savage. I picked this for the illustrations. Lots of blue. Seriously. The other reader likes blue. A lot.

Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh This is a lovely combo of story, art, and even a basic color lesson that you hardly feel is a lesson at all.

Where's Wallace? by Hilary Knight. I snatched this one up because our reader loves to hunt for images in pictures. And he is good at it. Where's Wallace has quite a bit of text for a search book, but the great thing about it is that when we were stuck for time, I could edit it down and get us right to the illustrations, which is what we were interested in.

I was looking forward to my Thanksgiving reading, and these picture books delivered.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: The What-the-hell Effect Is Looking Really Good Right Now

I don't remember my other attempts at National Novel Writing Month being as rough as this one. I haven't found any posts relating to my first attempt back in 2003 or '04, and last year I knew by the time I was 8 days in that I'd made a mistake. I remember more excitement the first time and less angst last year.

Even this year, I was feeling pretty good before Thanksgiving week. Sure, I was only able to work 3 days a week most weeks, if I was lucky. But that didn't seem bad when you consider that last summer I was only able to work 3 hours a week. And the first weekend I was able to put in a few minutes of work here and there. I don't usually work on weekends, so it seemed as if  I was cooking with gas, as they say.

Why Bother Continuing To NaNoWriMo?

But Thanksgiving. Wow. Had a great time, by the way, but I didn't work from the Wednesday before the big day until Sunday afternoon. It doesn't take long to get used to not working. And then when it was time to go back to work, I had only four days left for the month. Even though I never had any expectation of reaching the National Novel Writing Month 50,000 word goal, I'd only finished three new chapters. I have at least eight more to go. This is me we're talking about. I'm not writing any eight chapters in four days. I'm not writing any eight chapters in forty days.

Man, the what-the-hell effect is looking good. Because, what-the-hell, since I'm not going to complete anything with the NaNoWriMo project, anyway, I could quit and work on the revisions that are hanging over my head. They're important. It's not like I would be blowing off NaNoWriMo to start baking for Christmas or do the laundry that's piled up after having house guests. Or getting ahead on some cooking. Or recover from Thanksgiving.

But if I kept slugging away yesterday and today and keep on keeping on tomorrow and Thursday, I may finish a fourth chapter. Hey, a chapter is a chapter.

Also, forcing myself to stay with this is building up some discipline. You can never have too much of that. I can't, anyway.

Could The NaNoWriMo Pool Of Writers Tell Us Something About Discipline And Using Time?

According to NaNoWriMo Statistics , 384,126 people took part in National Novel Writing Month last year with over 34,000 of them hitting the 50,000-word goal. The 350,000 who didn't make it are far more interesting to me than the ones who did. For instance:

  • Why didn't they make it? How many quit and how many worked right up to the finish line but just didn't write enough?
  • When did those who quit quit? Was it at the end of the month, because, what-the-hell, there's not enough time left to make a difference? Was it much earlier when they couldn't keep up with the 1,166 word daily goal? Because, what-the-hell, they were too far in the hole to ever write themselves out?
  • Do people who do National Novel Writing Month more than once see an improvement in their result the second and later times?
Seriously, aren't we talking a research project waiting to happen? A research project on what being discouraged does to self-discipline and time management.

Monday, November 27, 2017

December Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Not much happening the last half of the month, because, you know, Christmas.

Fri., Dec. 1, Gigi Priebe, Elm Street Books, New Canaan 5:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 2, Amanda Banikov, The Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 11:00 AM

Thurs., Dec. 7, Debbi Michiko Florence, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:30 PM

Fri., Dec. 8, Mark Sasha, Bank Square Books, Mystic 5:00 PM                        

Sat., Dec. 9, Shawn Elizabeth George, The Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 10:00 AM

Sat., Dec. 9, Mary Kate Cohane, Fairfield University Bookstore, Fairfield 12:15 PM

Sat., Dec. 9, Lizzy Rockwell, Fairfield University Bookstore, Fairfield 2:30

Sat., Dec. 9, Cat Jordan, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 9 & Sun., Dec. 10, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, The Ruby Tree, Woodbury 1:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 16, Greg Wolfe, The Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 11:00 AM

Sat., Dec. 16, Tony Abbott, Byrd's Books, Bethel 2:00 PM

Sun., Dec. 17, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, Barnes & Noble, Waterbury  1:00 PM

Wed., Dec. 27, Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, Middlebury Library, Middlebury 1:00 PM

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: NaNoWriMo And Not-To-Do Lists

As a general rule, I don't read listicles. I try to avoid reading anything with a number in the title. Like Six Habits to Develop If You Want To Be Truly Productive by Karen Banes. But I'm a sucker for the word "productive," so there you go.

Buried in this article is an interesting bit about how productive people deal with procrastination. One of the things the author says they do is make Not-to-do Lists. She doesn't go into the subject very deeply, just writing about the things on hers. But it got me thinking.

The Value Of Not-To-Do Lists

Seems kind of ridiculous, doesn't it? Who needs to plan, with an actual written list, for what they're not going to do?

You need to write out what you're not going to do so you have a better chance of committing it to memory. Otherwise, you may very well forget that you're not going to do it and do it. What would be so bad about that, you may ask? A couple of examples:
  • You've decided that you're not going to take calls from your sister during the work day. You forget, pick up the phone, and forty-minutes are shot, just like that. 
  • You've decided you're not going to do any more volunteer work, get an e-mail asking if you can serve on this committee or that, forget and accept, and there goes the better part of a month. 


That National Novel Writing Month Connection, Gail?

It's hard to make a not-to-do list for the rest of your life. I mean, seriously, not talk to your sister during the day for decades? As great as that might be for some people, realistically speaking, it's just not going to happen.

But a not-to-do list for a specific unit of time is another thing. If you've assigned yourself a chunk of time to do a certain thing--say, a month to write a first draft of a novel--you're going to need to not do some things so you can get that puppy written.

Two types of activities can end up on a not-to-do list during NaNoWriMo:

Personal Tasks. The line between personal and work time is thin and goes back and forth. A not-to-do list for personal tasks during NaNoWriMo should help keep personal time from overwhelming work time.
  • Not going to test drive cars this month
  • Not going to shop for Christmas
  • Not going to take care of that pile of books on the floor in the living room
Professional Tasks. If you're trying to complete one particular task, you can't load up your work time with other ones.What can you put off? Remember, we're talking about putting things off for a relatively short period of time--one month--not for years.
  • Not going to submit
  • Not going to revise other projects
  • Not going to start other projects
  • Not going to do professional reading
  • Not going to do marketing
  • Not going to do market research


Doing Less So You Can Do More

Not-to-do lists make it possible for you to do less of a number of things so you can concentrate on doing more of just one.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

If You're Only Going To Read One Book, You Want It To Be This Good

During my long summer break, and longer, actually, I read only one childlit/YA book, The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis. I got it through an eBook sale, loaded it onto my Kindle, then found it there a while later. I've had some great experiences reading like that, and The Female of the Species was one of them.

Main character Alex responds in a...shall we say, unique?...way, when her older sister's killer gets away with her murder. She's not a traditional teenager, but she finds herself in a traditional teenage world, developing both the best friend and boyfriend found in so many YA novels/TV shows/movies. That's part of what makes this book so terrific--the mash-up of these two sides of this character's life.

This is an excellent thriller. Wait. It's not just an excellent thriller, it's an excellent YA thriller. That's significant because, in my experience, it's not unusual to find so-called YA thrillers that are, essentially, adult thrillers in which the adult main character has been replaced with a teenager. Nothing else has changed. There's nothing in terms of basic situation or theme that makes the book YA.

But with The Female of the Species, you definitely get YA.

Friday, November 17, 2017

And How Are Your Thanksgiving Plans Coming Along?

I have family coming for the Thanksgiving weekend. I haven't cooked a thing. I haven't cleaned.

What I have done is make a trip to two libraries to stock up on books. I'll be reading with a littlie any moment I can snatch next weekend.

So my Thanksgiving is pretty much all set.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Networking For Introverts

Gail's Perception Of Networking

Conventional Wisdom tells us that writers tend to be introverts, drained by lots of interaction with large numbers of people, at their best with small groups or even working by themselves. Presumably that's one of the reasons we're attracted to writing in the first place.

And, yet, in the 21st Century, so much of nonwriting writer work is done in large groups--conferences, book fairs, speaking engagements, etc. I've written here before about introverts attending professional gatherings. The structured workshops, panel discussions, critiques, and even one-on-ones aren't a problem. Those are the reasons introverts go to these things. The meandering around before and after events is another thing. Lunch. Coffee breaks. Grin and bear it time, folks. You sometimes hear about how these excruciating moments are the most important part of a professional gathering. So important, that they have their own name...networking.

Networking is like going to singles bars, but for professionals. In publishing, it's when people hope to meet the agents and editors who will change their professional lives. Maybe even in an elevator, which is where the expression "elevator pitch" comes from. Personally, I don't believe that story that was going around years ago about a woman shoving her manuscript under a toilet stall to an agent at a conference. Urban legend, in my humble opinion. But it makes a point about expectations for networking.

I will be honest and admit that I don't even try to network anymore. Though I've been to enough writing events over the years that I usually see people I'm at least acquainted with when I attend them, I can't say that I've made any career changing connections at any program I've ever attended. I've taken in some great content from presenters, but meeting someone who boosted me up the publishing ladder? No. When I see on meeting instructions that there will be a half-hour of networking before the program that is my real goal for the day, I figure I can sleep in thirty minutes and get there late.

NESCBWI's Agent And Editor Model

Which brings us back to last week's Third Annual  New England SCBWI Agent/Editor Day. This Agent/Editor day was organized so that participants would meet in small groups with with an agent or editor in the morning and then with another agent or editor in the afternoon. What you're essentially doing is creating a writers' group, then creating another one a few hours later.

The materials we received asked us to be sure to arrive by 8:45, though the first group didn't begin until 9:30. I looked at it and thought, Yeah, sure.

Then I thought again. What if that 8:45 thing was a test? Hmm?

Of course, it wasn't a test. Nonetheless, I ended up leaving the house under a full moon that morning to get to New Hampshire for 8:45. I pulled into the parking lot after 8:30, knowing nothing would be happening for 45 minutes. I wasn't miserable, by any means, but I definitely wasn't enthusiastic.

Then I get inside and see tables set up in a ballroom...with a dance floor, not that that matters. And each table has the name of the agent or editor assigned to it. And everybody just went immediately to their assigned tables, because evidently introverts follow instructions really well. What followed was forty-five minutes of pretty meaningless chit-chat, but, hey, painless!

After two hours of very good literary criticism, it's time for lunch. Remember how much fun the high school was the first day of a new school year? Yeah, that's what lunch is like at conferences. But last week, instead of drifting off to some other spot and forcing ourselves on other people, we picked up our food from the buffet and came back to our table. Our very same spots next to people we'd been with for hours. Well, just under three hours. But that's hours. It was as if we knew each other, in that way you can know people whose name you can't remember, even though everyone's wearing name tags.

Then we got up and all separated and headed to other tables for our second session of the day where there was another sign, and we were good to go for another couple of hours. During that second session, by the way, someone brought around plates of cookies, which was kind of hygge-like. (Yes, I am reading The Little Book of Hygge.) Hygge--comfort, contentment, coziness. Not that I ate any of the things, but the hygge was still there.

Crunching Some Numbers

Number of people at last week's event: Between 100 and 114

Number of people participants had to interact with: Seven or 8 at a time, 14 or 16 altogether

One hundred to 114 people, not that manageable. Seven or 8 people? Totally manageable. Seriously, I barely knew anyone was there besides my two groups. This thing was an introvert's dream.

Now, I can't say at this point that I made any career-changing connections at this thing, though I may very well change the way I write as a result of my time there. But for me this set-up will remain the gold standard for a professional gathering for quite some time to come.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Place Holders

Situation One: You're working away on your National Novel Writing Month manuscript and you get to this bit where you need information you don't have. Do you:

  1. Drop everything and spend enormous amounts of time researching the subject?
  2. Spend a few minutes making a couple of notes about what you want to do in this spot, leave it for December, and use your precious NaNo hours to continue writing from that point?

Situation Two: You're struggling with a spot in your NaNoWriMo manuscript. It is brutal. Do you:

  1. Sit there most of the morning until something comes to you?
  2. Make a couple of notes about what you want to do in this spot, leave it for December, and use your precious NaNo hours to continue writing from that point?

Yes! Yes! The answer is 2!

The place holder is the rushed, rapid writer's friend. The best thing to happen to work time since the 8-hour shift. At least, I think it is. I've never been good at using place holders. Researching obsessively is much more my thing. And then I end up not using the information, anyway, or deleting whatever I managed to come up with. But today I used a place holder twice. The idea came to me before I'd wasted too much time. So all good.

And How Is NaNo Going For Gail?

Even though today is Day 7 of National Novel Writing Month, and in order to meet the monthly goal of  50,000 words a writer has to have written a bazillion by now while I have only written 3,641, I am feeling good about my NaNo experience to date. See, I've only had two and a half real days (more or less) for writing, during which time I wrote an entire chapter and started another, which is a lot of work for me.

And it's very early days for me to have latched on to that place holder thing. If I can keep that up the rest of the month, I'll be on fire.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Weekend Writer: Direct From The Editors' Mouths

Yesterday I attended The Third Annual New England SCBWI Agent/Editor Day, and now, Weekend Writers, you will get the benefit of my experience there.

Holly & Julie are there somewhere
These events are set up so that participants select two of the agents or editors in attendance and become part of small groups meeting with them. The writers have around fifteen minutes to do a short reading and receive feedback from the agent/editor and sometimes other group members. It's actually beneficial to hear critiquing of other writers' work, as well as your own. All knowledge has value, as my father-in-law once said.

What To Do With Your First Pages

You could sense a theme in Holly West's (Feiwel & Friends and Swoon Reads, both imprints of Macmillan) comments. While you often hear about "hooks" being needed in first pages, Holly talked about something different.
  • Readers need to get a sense of what a book is about right away.
  • The main character's goal should be clear up front. 
  • Character first in early pages. Add backstory later. 
  • The first words and lines of a story are a contract with readers, through which the writer explains what kind of book is about to read and who the main character is so readers know what they are getting.
An interesting bit I learned about Holly last night on-line--She edited These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, which I described as Georgette Heyer Meets Agents of SHIELD. And having talked with Holly West, I can see her working on that book.

How To Move A Story Along And A Great Definition Of Voice

I took away two thought-provoking points from Julie Bliven from Charlesbridge.
  1. Embed description and narration within dialogue and action, because dialogue and action are what move stories forward. Description, not so much. I'm thinking of a well known adult novel from years ago in which a character is making his way through Paris. Over and over again the action stopped so the author could describe a building. Evidently I don't care that much about Paris.
  2. Voice is the narrator's attitude toward what is going on around him or her. This is huge. Voice, I think is like art. People can't define it but know when they see it. Julie can define it, and it's a definition that is functional. This is a definition that should help help authors create voice. I think this definition also explains why I find writing so much easier once I have a voice for my main character. Once I have a voice, I know how characters will feel about what's happening. What's more, once I know their voice and attitude, I can also often determine what they'll do, not just how they'll feel about what others are doing.

Why Editors Matter

Both Holly West and Julie Bliven were very impressive yesterday. They were presented with fourteen to sixteen readings of four to five pages they'd never seen or heard before and had to respond to them on the spot. They functioned in classic critique mode, beginning with something positive and then moving on to analysis of where the manuscript needed work. They were able to do both those things for every single manuscript. If you haven't been part of a writers' group, you may not recognize how difficult that is. In which case, take my word for it.

Both women illustrated what editors do. It's not unusual for me to read about prepublished writers thinking that editing is just correcting grammar and usage. I've also read about self-published authors thinking they can take care of editing with their writers' group or with alpha readers. What the editors yesterday were doing was far more than that. They were pointing out things like:
  • humor should not just be relatable, it should illustrate character
  • characters' efforts should be focused 
  • what you tell about characters must be illustrated by what you show about them; telling and showing can't contradict one another 
What I'm trying to say, Weekend Writers, is that whether you end up working with a traditional publishing house or publish yourself, you need an editor. A real one.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Focusing On An Achievable Goal

Okay, folks, National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow. I don't have all my chapters blueprinted, but, in better news, all that NaNoWriMo cooking I told you about a couple of days ago survived a thirteen-hour power outage Sunday night through mid-Monday afternoon.

I am not officially doing NaNoWriMo. I didn't sign up. In part this is because I'm working on a novel I've already started back in 2004 or 5 when I officially did NaNo. On top of that, I started a revision earlier this year. So, no, I'm not actually following the rules for NaNo 2017. Also, I have no hope of finishing this puppy this month. I'm not even going to sit down with the calendar and work out how few full writing days I've got in November.

The stash I found yesterday
Finally, while I've done the best job I've ever done of prepping a project before starting, I'm vague on the final chapters, which isn't promising for finishing. And I've been working on that right down to the wire. Yesterday, during that extended power outage I was talking about, which meant no computer access, I worked on cleaning my desk, because I'm serious about working next month. Gotta work at that desk instead of the kitchen counter or a couch. What did I find on the top of a filing cabinet but a stack of materials/ideas I'd been collecting on this project since around 2004, that last NaNo attempt? Going through it was helpful, though finding it says volumes about my organizational and cleaning skills, doesn't it?

Nonetheless, finishing a book in a month is not my goal this year. It's not how I expect to use my time.

So How Are You Going To Use Your Time, Gail? 

Well, I'm going to shoot for:

  • Two-thirds of a book.
  • A plan for the last third of the book.
  • A month of focus training

Focus Training Or All NaNo, All The Time

My plan is to spend all my writing time writing the NaNo project. Learn to focus by focusing. I have one NESCBWI event to prepare for, but otherwise I'm not using any writing time for:

  • Submissions.
  • Blogging, except for National Novel Writing updates and news and the December CCLC. I'm hoping to use some of that blogging time for "the project." Whatever little bit I can do then will be a way of training myself to work more frequently, say...every day?
  • Prepping material for writers' group. In fact, I just this minute decided not to go!
Prepping today--still not at my desk
So I've got a two-fer going starting tomorrow. I'm generating material and developing monk-like intensity.

Monday, October 30, 2017

November Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Big news. After a one year break, the Connecticut Children's Book Fair is back.

Sat., Nov. 4, Mira Bartok, Marc Brown, Gordan Korman, Sandra Magsamen, Cammie McGovern, Eric Morse, Caragh O'Brien, Joshua David Stein, Rosemary Wells, Carol Weston, Connecticut Children's Book Fair, Rome Commons Ballroom, UConn, Storrs 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Sat., Nov. 4, Selina Alko and Sean Qualls, Fairfield University Bookstore, Fairfield 3:00 PM

Sun., Nov. 5, Russ Cox, Janice Dean, Carol Gordon Ekster, Tommy Greenwald, Florence & Wendell Minor, Robin Newman, Pat Schories, Lauren Tarshis, Matt Tavares, Andrea Wisnewski, Connecticut Children's Book Fair, Rome Commons Ballroom, UConn, Storrs  10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Sun., Nov. 5, Tomie dePaola, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2:00 PM Reservations requested.

Tues., Nov. 7, Sara Beth Videtto, The Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 10:30 AM 

Sat., Nov. 11, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Temple Beth David, Cheshire 7:00 PM Registration fee.

Sat., Nov.11, Marcela Osello, Fairfield University Bookstore, 3:00 PM

Sat., Nov. 11, Judy E. Byrne, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2:00 PM

Wed., Nov.15, Sara Beth Videtto, Southbury Public Library, Southbury 10:30 AM Story Time

Nov. 20, Darlene Davies, Avon Free Public Library, Avon 11:00 AM

Thurs., Nov. 16, Angela DiTerlizzi, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Tues., Nov. 28, Sara Beth Videtto, Oakville Branch Library, Oakville 10:30 AM Story Time

Sunday, October 29, 2017

And How Are You Coming With Your NaNoWriMo Prep?

This has something to do with writing
For many years, my family took part in a forestry management program conducted by the state of Connecticut. Every fall, we would cut and remove two to four cords of wood in a designated state forest area. We had four weeks to do this, which, for us, meant four weekends. It was a little intense. To prepare for the festivities, the week before we got started I'd make a big pot of spaghetti sauce for us to eat over the days we were working. Because in my family, that's the way we roll. We want to make sure we're going to be able to eat. 

Bread, cookie dough, and pear cobbler
This year, getting ready for National Novel Writing Month was no different.





What I've Been Doing These Last Few Weekends

Yes, I've been working on developing chapter blueprints, so that when I sit down to write next month I will, presumably, be able to write fast because I'll know what I'm going to write. But on weekends I've been loading the freezers with an array of things, just as I used to load them with spaghetti sauce for woodcutting.

Pasta bake and vegetable beef soup
It wasn't something I planned to do. At some point, maybe when I made those three loaves of honey wheat bread you see above, I realized I was doing it and ran with it.

It's not as if you didn't know I get a bit obsessive about cooking on weekends. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'm Going To Argue That This Isn't A Bad Idea


Carrot soup, tortellini soup
Look, that wood cutting experience I told you about was the perfect training for National Novel Writing Month. It was a lot of work that had to be done in a limited amount of time. And we didn't even have the full amount of time to do it, since we were limited to working weekends. It was a ridiculous amount of work to be doing with that restriction. What if it rained, you ask? We went out in the rain! What if someone got sick? No one dared!

More cookie dough, pear crisp, more soup
The main thing I learned from cutting wood in that way is that if you're going to work like that, that's all you can do. You have to do everything else some other time.

Yes, NaNoWriMo Is Like Cutting Wood

Frozen biscuit dough...for the soup
I'm doing NaNoWriMo very much like I cut wood in that I don't have the full amount of time to work. I'll be off on family business at least two week days most weeks. I'll be off to a NESCBWI program one Saturday and to visit family another. I expect guests from two different states over Thanksgiving weekend. If I'm going to work like that, I have to try to make sure that that's all I do, just as cutting wood was all I did when I actually did it.

And that, my lads and lasses, is my excuse for having gone off the rails cooking these last few weeks.

Today I'm taking part in the Weekend Cooking Meme at Beth Fish Reads.