Wednesday, January 31, 2018

February Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Oh, wow, February. The Connecticut children's book world must be assuming that everyone is going to be doing the hygge-thing and staying at home to read.

I do want to point out, though, that Take Your Child to the Library Day is this Saturday, Feb. 3. A large number of libraries in Connecticut (where this event began) are taking part, and there may be some hosting authors. Though not necessarily.

Sat., Feb. 3, Diane Ohanesian, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Fri., Feb. 9, Kim Purcell, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 7:00 PM

Sat., Feb. 17, Amanda Banikov, The Storyteller's Cottage, 11:00 AM 

Sat., Feb. 24, Shawn George, The Storyteller's Cottage, 10:00 AM

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: Hey, I Have Priorities

We're doing a TMT rerun this week about productivity and priorities, folks.

By the way, my priorities right now are two writing projects I'm shifting back and forth between. Is that multi-tasking, which is now bad? Because I feel as if I'm being productive. Finished a chapter today, for instance.

Here's something interesting: prioritizing only two things (well, I do a little submission research to take advantage of small, odd moments) makes me feel as if I am totally unrushed. I have time. How I'll feel when I'm still working on these things in a few months, I can't say. Though you can be sure I'll think of something then.

July 28, 2015

What's My Priority Today?

The June issue of More Magazine carried an interview with Laura Vanderkam who writes about time and productivity, particularly in relation to professional people. Vanderkam had a number of interesting things to say.
  • She provides still more support for the unit system, saying, for instance, "Not taking breaks during the workday is a big mistake, because if you don't take intentional breaks, you'll take unintentional ones." Remember, will power is finite, strongest in the morning and wears out during the day. The breaks you take every 45 minutes, or after whatever unit of time you want to work, help to replenish will power so you're able to work at a higher level.
  • She suggests that people decide what they're going to do for downtime on weekends early in the week before they're too worn out from work to do any planning. Writers with day jobs could do something similar, plan what writing tasks they're going to do with their free time at a point when they're rested and feeling positive about getting some writing done.


Priorities Vs. Not Having Time


Here is the thing I liked best in this interview: Rather than say, "I don't have time," say, "This isn't a priority."  Vanderkam goes on to say, "That language is more accurate." She means that we have time to do a great many things but choose not to. It's not that we really don't have time. We're choosing not to do the things we say we don't have time for.

Some people might find that judgmental. But to me, choosing to think in terms of priorities instead of "not having time" is situational. Priorities change. Your situation one week can mean you can make writing a priority. A couple of weeks later, marketing knocks writing from the top of the work list. A few months after that, your personal life shoves things around for a while.

I like thinking in terms of "This isn't a priority" instead of "I don't have time" because what that really says to me is "This isn't a priority now." I can make it a priority another time.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Okay, Well That's A Different Kind Of Apocalyptic Story

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson is an apocalyptic story, which I didn't pick up on
from reading the flap content. But, then, I try to avoid apocalyptic tales, so I may not be able to spot one as easily as a fan would. This one has a really intriguing premise, though. Humans fall to the alien invaders because they destroy our economy. How cool is that?

Some interesting points:

  • Adam, our main character, is an artist, and each chapter relates to a piece of art he's creating. In one chapter there's discussion of the artists of the Hudson River School and how their work is about atmosphere, clouds, mist, and moisture. Their work is "paintings of the air between things." I hope I remember that the next time I'm in a museum and stumble upon a Hudson School painting.
  • Adam suffers from a bowel problem, a disease he picked up from drinking bad water in this dystopian world. Oddly enough, a character in The Lake Effect, another recent read,  also suffers from a bowel problem. Yes, this is a meaningless coincidence. Though in both books the situation is presented as the life problem it is, not as an opportunity for toilet humor. So it may not be meaningless after all.
  • At various points, I felt that this book was a serious downer. Which, of course, is the case with books about post-apocalyptic worlds. But the ending is on the positive, light side, making it different in my experience of the genre.
  • Landscape with Invisible Hand is short! That's how I want my apocalyptic novels.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Multicultural Children's Book Day

Today is/was Multicultural Children's Book Day, which totally escaped me until yesterday. It didn't escape Mia Wenjen (Pragmatic Mom blog), who is one of the co-founders of the event. You can see and hear her talk about Multicultural Children's Book Day on the Miss Panda Chinese YouTube Channel.

While I don't have anything new relating to multicultural children's books, I can refer you to some I've enjoyed in the past.

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Kahn with illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini.

The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang with illustrations by Alina Chau.

Listen Slowly by Thanhha Lai

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Mare's War by Tanita Davis

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Life is Fine by Allison Whittenberg

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell with illustrations by Christian Robinson

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword Back by Barry Deutsch

Friday, January 26, 2018

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Jan. 26 Edition

I worked three days this week, with a few extra hours on Thursday. During that time I worked on:

  • Goal 1. Submissions. Objective 1 Researching agents
  •  Goal 2. The YA Thriller. Objective 1 Character sketches. I also began working on some secondary characters, worked on lists of plot ideas for the three main characters, and made a feeble attempt at some historical research.
  • Goal 3. Generate New Work. Objective 1 Draft of Good Women. Worked on actual writing. Objective 6 Research markets.
  • Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding. I didn't get a social media calendar done this week, but I did do and promote three blog posts and have a few more planned. Computer guy and I also did a small revision of my homepage, with some plans for a bigger revision of one of the other pages.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

An Eye-opener For Unagented Writers. And Maybe Writers With Agents, Too.

While doing submission research this afternoon, I stumbled upon the freshly written blog post Agentaversary, just three days old, by literary agent Kelly Van Sant of the D4EO Literary Agency. Kelly has just finished her first year working as an agent.

Though I have traditionally published eight books, I have never had an agent. In fact, I may not have even met one in the flesh until three or four years ago. But once I decided that I should consider going the agent route, I started reading up on these people. I read agent blog posts like Kelly's. I read agent interviews. I read comments about agents at sites where that kind of thing goes on. And every now and then, I read the Latest Deals section of Publishers Marketplace. Yes, you're right. This is like stalking.

What I Have Learned About Agents While Stalking Them

What I've noticed, particularly from that PM Latest Deals page, is that a lot of agents make very few sales over the course of twelve months. I've seen many agents listed there who have sold four or fewer books to publishing houses in the last year. Agents get just a percentage of what their authors are paid, whether we're talking advance or sales.  While there's always talk of million dollar advances, my understanding is that is very rare when you consider how many books are published.  Ask the Agent: What Does an Average First Book Pay?  by Chip MacGregor gives an advance estimate of $5,000 to $15,000, which is the kind of numbers I've heard about. Certainly for children's books.

So an agent gets around 15 percent of that. However, the author doesn't get that advance all at once. It used to be half on signing, half on turning in a ready-to-publish manuscript. Now it's usually a third on signing, a third on turning in a ready-to-publish manuscript, a third on publication. So agents involved in sales like that are presumably getting their commission in thirds, also.

Do the math, 'cause I'm not going to. But 15 percent of those kinds of numbers isn't going to generate a big annual income. My theory is that some of these agents must be getting income from sales of books that they sold to publishers for authors a couple of years ago in addition to this year's sales.
The really lucky authors represent someone like Rick Riordan or Meg Cabot whose work keeps on selling.

Now Go Back And Read Kelly Van Sant's Blog Post

In case you skipped following my original link to Kelly's post, and I'm sure at least some of you did, go back and read about the kind of work she did this past year. "I don't think most people," she says, "--writers and agent-hopefuls alike--have any idea how much work it takes before agenting becomes financially sustainable."

The same could be said for how much writers do, of course. A lot of what Kelly says sounds very familiar. Including the part about financial sustainability. Personally, I don't know what financial sustainability means. It sounds good, though, doesn't it?

Intellectually, I know I should find Agentaversary discouraging. So many pre-published writers think finding an agent is a golden ticket. Knowing agents struggle like the rest of us is going to make a lot of new scribblers unhappy.

Emotionally, though, I feel Hey, I've got the inside scoop! I know what goes on! And, sure, it's not good news for me, but knowledge is power. Right? Right? Am I right?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: When To-Do Lists Go Bad

I'm a big fan of to-do lists. I've been keeping a serious weekly to-do list for years, and I occasionally supplement it with other lists. I tend to feel that if I want to be sure to get something done, I should put it on a list.

But just writing things down on a piece of paper, one item after another instead of in a paragraph, won't necessarily provide you with a to-do list that will get you anywhere. Melissa Thompson explains why in 2018 Is Your Year For Avoiding These 6 To-Do List Mistakes.

How Writers Can Make Mistakes With To-Do Lists

  1. You Put Too Many Things On The List. Overwhelm. Few people deal well with that. And, remember, we're most likely to experience failures of willpower when we feel bad about ourselves, for things like not getting everything done on our to-do lists. Less. My word for the year is less.
  2.  You Don't Plan For Interruptions. For instance, your editor gets back to you with content editing and that is the end of the new work you were getting started on. Or you suddenly hear of an opportunity to submit work, but the submission, itself, requires some unexpected work when your to-do list says you're supposed to be doing marketing. Or you're suddenly dealing with a problem with the pharmacy or a medical bill you think you already paid or a family who is sick. I don't see how you can plan for these things. Unless you go back to Item 1 and don't have your to-do list jammed packed in the first place.
  3.  You Don't Prioritize. Writers have an array of tasks these days. Which one is the most important? That's easy, right. Writing, of course. Not always. It's all situational, lads and lasses. Research may be a priority one day. Marketing another. Editing. Teaching. Appearances. You have to constantly be changing your priorities. Sad to say, you can't pick one and create a long-term habit.
  4. You Don't Set Deadlines Or Estimate Time. The unit system can help with this. Whatever time segment you choose to use becomes an immediate deadline. You can assign yourself a number of units for a particular task, and there you have an estimate of time.
  5.  You Aren't Specific. This is where having objectives for your goals comes in handy. For instance, a goal of "Generate New Work" isn't very specific. The objectives for the goals are. 1. "Finish a draft of Good Women." 2. "Write food essays." 3. "Write essays using outlines created for workshop submissions." And you can get even more specific. 1. "Write food essays--draft an essay about baking pans." (Seriously. I want to do that.) 2. "Write essays using outlines created for workshop submissions--draft an essay from the procrastination submission."
Clearly, there are ways to get more bang for your buck with to-do lists.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Love Them Summer Jobs

I have have a soft spot for teenage summer job stories, for some reason particularly if they involve boys. In fact, when I told someone about this preference recently, he pointed out to me that I wrote a teenage boy summer job book. So I picked up The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan because it involved a recent high school graduate’s summer working for an elderly woman in her home on Lake Michigan. (I’ve been to Lake Michigan!)

This was a light-ish read with heavy spots. Personally, I think there was a little too much going on. I would have liked to stick more to Abigail’s issue or more about grandma Ruth. Pick a couple of things and dwell on them more. I'm on a less is more kick this year.

Regarding the funerals that the main character’s boss is always making him take her to: Some people may not find that very believable. To them I would say that Grandma Gauthier took me to crash a wedding when I was very older than seven. We didn’t go to the reception, just the  Catholic church service. It turned out the bride was the older sister of someone I went to school with, and the girl I knew saw me there. I don’t recall things getting particularly awkward, but I do remember that it happened. That must mean something.

What’s with these old ladies?

Friday, January 19, 2018

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Jan. 19th Edition.

This week I worked on:

Goal 2. Begin YA Thriller. I continued to work on character development and creating voices for my three main characters as well as some character work on an important character from the past.

Goal 3. The first draft of Good Women. Brought myself back up to speed by rereading the first six chapters and worked on blueprinting the next chapter per Wendy Mass's book development plan.

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding.  Got started making...and using...a social media marketing calendar again.

  • Halo Effect blog post--Promoted to Facebook, Google+, Google+ community, Twitter

  • TMT blog post--Promoted to Twitter, Google+, and Twitter. Note I didn't promote it to Facebook this week. I'd just promoted the Halo Effect post there. You don't want to give people too much of a good thing.

  • Women and Nature Writing post--Promoted to Google+ and Twitter.  

  • Hornbook Reading List post--Promoted to Google+, Google+ community, Facebook community, Goodreads blog, Twitter 

I also started working on next month's Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

My Horn Book TBR List

I caught up on my Horn Book reading on retreat week, though I appear to have lost one issue.  At any rate, here are the books I read about that I’m particularly interested in:

July/August 2017

The Special Ones by Em Bailey. When my kids were young, I read a lot of edgy, interesting childlit  and YA novels from Australia. This sounds as if it could be another. It also sounds as if it could have a bit of a Never Let Me Go thing going on. YA

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce. I like the alien-human save the world premise here, though I do think it’s one I’ve seen before. Additionally, I liked one of Boyce’s earlier books. Not crazy about the grandfather situation described here, which I think has become a cliche in children’s lit. Middle grade

The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby. I loved one of Juby’s adult books. This is described as a comedy with things to say. YA

Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwann. Follow-up to This Savage Song, which I read last year and liked. YA

And Then There Were Four by Nancy Werlin. I’ve read some of Werlin’s thrillers. This is described as a “psychological page-turner" and involves high school kids being killed off by an interesting group. I want to read more YA thrillers this year, anyway. It’s an objective for one of my goals.

A lot of the books that interested me from this issue were by authors I already know. Let’s see what happens with the next issues.

September/ October 2017

Jasmine Toguchi Mocha Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence This book has shown up on the CCLC a couple of times and is written by a NESCBWI colleague. I’m interested because it’s a book for younger readers that’s about something different. And at the same time, it’s not. You have the eight-year-old child who feels a need to compete with family members, which is the not different part, but she lives within a culture I’m not familiar with, which is different. Shallow me. That’s why I’m interested in diverse books. I want to read something different. Younger readers.

The Night Garden by Polly Horvath. This is described as a madcap comedy set during WWII, so it has both humor and history for me. Also, I’ve never read anything by Horvath, who has been around for a while. Middle grade

When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kushner. Another YA thriller for my YA thriller reading objective.

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart YA thriller. See above.

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins. First, I will be upfront and say I am acquainted with the author, to the point that we’ve actually met in the carbon-based world a few times. Additionally, this sounds as if it might be a multi-generation book, something I was fond of as an adolescent. Also, there’s a character who sounds as if she becomes a Bollywood star, something I don’t see every day in my childlit/YA reading. YA

November/December 2017

I have no idea what became of this issue. It sure didn't make it to my retreat site.

January/February, 2018

Nothing by Annie Barrows. The premise for this book is fantastic. Two teenagers realize that they’d make poor YA novel characters because they don’t live the eventful lives they see in books. So one of them decides to write a book about them. YA written by the author of the Ivy + Bean books for younger readers, which I’ve liked.
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani. A graphic novel featuring a trip to India. Middle grade

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. A mystery with a setting in my home state. I liked Johnson’s Suite Scarlett. YA

The Inevitable Victorian Thing by E K Johnston. Alternative history, which I don’t think I’ve seen much of for young readers. Brings the Victorian era into the present. YA

Escape From Syria by Samya Kullab with illustrations by Jackie Roche and color by Mike Freiheit. A graphic novel about a family dealing with what’s happening in Syria. Material I haven’t seen before and wish I knew more about. Middle grade

The Big Lie by Julie Mathew. More alternative history, this time dealing with the Nazis conquering Britain in 1940. I think this may be a common setting in adult alternative history (the Farthing books by Jo Walton, for instance), but I haven’t see it before for kids. YA

Who Killed Darius Drake? by Rodman Philbrick. A mystery with a tough kid (maybe bully?) providing protection for a social outcast who is being threatened. Middle grade

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange. A historical novel set post-WWI, one of my favorite periods. Though I seem to have a lot of those. Middle grade

I haven’t listed any nonfiction, but there is fascinating looking stuff featured in all these issues. A wealth of interesting subjects.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Women And Nature Writing

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
I haven't been home from my personal reading-about-writing retreat for even a week, and I've already signed up for a more traditional one. A mini-retreat, only five hours, on the subject of nature writing, something I've been mulling over for years.  And even tinkered with.

So this seems like a good opportunity to post a link to Outside's Women Writing About the Wild: 25 Essential Authors.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: Can Living Like A Zen Monk Help With Time Management?

Zen monk in here. Somewhere.
My reading last week wasn't just about writing. I also did some personal reading of a zenny nature. But everything, I find, is about time or writing or both. The Zen Habits blog post 12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Monk is a case in point.

The Live Like a Zen Monk post had been bookmarked for me for some time. When I finally read it, what do I find? It happens to fit in with my attempt to do more this year by doing less. In fact, item 4 on this guy’s list is actually “do less.”

So what does the blogger Leo Babauta suggest that can work for us writers? 

The Zenny Writer

  • Do one thing at a time. I’ve already given up listening to podcasts while cooking. I couldn’t find podcasts anymore that interested me enough to keep my attention while I was working, and I couldn’t focus and absorb much from the ones I was listening to. Do one thing and do it well.
  • Do it completely. That isn’t going to work often for a writer. But we can certainly break a writing task into what we’re going to do today and get that done. And we can certainly “put away” a project when we have to put it aside for a while, as Babauta describes. Less material chaos around us and in our minds. And if we put it away with a plan for how we’re going to start again? Even better.
  • Do less. Don't overload that to-do list. Having to rush to get everything done doesn't necessarily produce our best quality. And leaving tasks undone can make us feel overwhelmed.
  • Develop rituals. I’m thinking a start work ritual might be a great idea. (How many writers start work with a cup of coffee?) and a stop work ritual could be good, too, one that involves putting work away, perhaps. (See above.)
  •  Determine what's necessary and ditch what isn't. This isn't just about material things. What are we doing that isn't necessary? Getting rid of those activities will leave more time for more important things we want to do.
How zenny can we be?

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Halo Effect And My Retreat Week

Retreat reading, not including iPad
In spite of starting our 2018 retreat week in sub-zero weather and ending it a day early in a downpour in order to avoid a deep freeze and four to eight inches of snow, I had an incredible experience. Both stimulating and creative.

I brought professional reading with me that had looked pretty pointless at home. Up in the mountains it became significant. I mean really, really significant. I came up with all kinds of ideas for essays and blog posts and ways to manage my writing time. I even wrote those ideas down, so I'd  find them and use them later. I thought of a way to do that (find them again) on retreat week. We’re talking about ideas that are going to change my writing life. Heck, my whole life.

I have never attended any professional writers' event that was as marvelous intellectually as my personal retreat last week.

That’s Probably The Halo Effect Talking

New snowshoe trail
As I’ve mentioned here before, long, long ago in a galaxy far away, I worked for management development consultants who ran “short, intensive learning experiences,”such as workshops, conferences, and retreats. In asking for participant assessments of these programs, they worried about the halo effect, "a well documented social-psychology phenomenon that causes people to be biased in their judgments by transferring their feelings about one attribute of something to other, unrelated, attributes." (The Nielsen Norman Group) For instance, the feeling that a program was terrific because the respondent liked the instructor, met some cool new people, and enjoyed lunch.
Beautiful. And all mine twice.

Or in my case, feeling creatively stimulated because I read whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted, snowshoed on new trails, and used an empty and beautiful yoga room for two lengthy tai chi practices. (Tai chi doesn't provide much of an endorphin surge, in my experience, but even that will leave you pumped up a bit if you do it for 45 to 60 minutes.) Also, in this retreaty place I did writing sketches (which will be discussed in an upcoming blog post) without worrying about finishing anything.

Who wouldn't feel out of their freaking minds with creativity?

But Is The Halo Effect The Mark Of A Successful Retreat?


A retreat, conference, workshop or other "short, intensive learning experience," as my former bosses called them, is not successful just because you have a really terrific time while you're there. I was also eating out in restaurants regularly last week and reading in front of a wood fire. Who isn't going to have a terrific time under those circumstances? A learning experience is only successful, if  you are able to bring a new skill set back to your workplace and use it. The experience has to change your behavior. For the better, I guess we should add.

Now, I had a lot of great new ideas and thoughts that are unformed ideas last week. I've been around the writers' conference/workshop/retreat track a few times, and I think it's unlikely that everything that went on in my mind is going to make it into my work week. I'm hopeful that some of it will, especially since I was able to start using a couple of things last week. But only time will tell if Retreat Week 2018 was as great as I felt it was while I was living it.

Stay tuned to hear more, because I have lots of retreat blog posts started.

Friday, January 05, 2018

It's That Time Of Year Again.

No, it's not Christmas again already. You can tell, because I'm not complaining.

What it is, lads and lasses, is Retreat Week. Six days of snow, reading, and eating in restaurants. So no Original Content posts until the week of January 15th. I don't expect to spend much time at Facebook, though I may tweet links to some of my on-line reading.

So, see you later.

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Jan. 5th Edition.

I'm bringing back the What Did You Do This Week, Gail? feature, even though one of my more faithful readers has said it doesn't make for compelling reading. I'm keeping it because it works big time for me. It gives me an opportunity to look back over the week and make sure I'm working toward at least some of my goals for the year. And when it comes to social media marketing, it gives me a deadline. I hustle to get things done so I can report that I did them here.

So, this week:

Goal 1. Make Submissions Of  Completed Work Throughout The Year. I knocked off Objective 1, Submissions to editors and agents from November NESCBWI program.

Goal 3. Generate New Work I revised the early part of two manuscripts this past month and spent the last two days integrating it into the rest of the manuscript. Which is like generating new work.

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding I did three blog posts 

I also sent out the newsletter edition of the January Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

My First Read Of 2018

I've finished reading my first book of the year.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a fine addition to the pool of juvenile books about the evacuation of children from London during World War II. My sons and I read a number of these when they were young, and the subject has become of such interest to me that it was the inspiration for an adult scifi book I've completed. I found the beginning and ending that framed the Saved My Life story a little melodramatic, myself. It could have come down a couple of notches. But that doesn't wreck the reading experience by a long shot. I'm interested in this subject, anyway, and like twentieth century small-town British stories on top of that. I knocked off the first half of this book while I was up in the night with an attack of insomnia.

Some of the things I particularly liked about The War That Saved My Life:

  • Susan, the woman who takes Ada and her brother in after they leave London, appears to suffer from depression. But the author doesn't use it as some kind of teachable moment. It's merely a way of defining Susan.
  • Perhaps I'm ready too much into this, but I also suspect Susan is a lesbian mourning the loss of her companion. Again, there is no big neon sign or any kind of lesson on acceptance here. This is just Susan.
  • There's an interesting spin on the "miracle of Dunkirk," which usually, in my experience, focuses on the boats. In The War that Saved My Life, the focus shifts to what happens to the men after the boat lift.
A follow-up book was published last year, The War I Finally Won.