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.