Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Let's Call This A New Objective

Only Olympic bobsledding and cross-country skiing being televised this evening. No problem finding time to blog tonight!

I have a completed picture book manuscript that, you guessed it, I have been unable to sell. Since I like to maintain the mind of a beginner, which, as far as picture books are concerned, is easy to do, I was attracted to a Read For Research Month Challenge that I learned about, probably on Twitter. It's a project to help picture book writers read and research mentor texts. There will be posts each day during the month of March from writers as well as a daily reading list.

Yes, lads and lasses, I did sign on.

This isn't something I planned to do this year, and I am pushing to have multiple chapters of an adult book underpainted by the end of April so I can make a big writing push with my May Days group. But this seems like a neat opportunity that I should at least take a shot at. I mean, it's only a month, right?

This isn't a totally random thing to be doing. I have a goal of generating new work, and improving my knowledge of picture book writing would certainly be an objective toward generating more picture books.

Read For Research Month was founded and is coordinated by Carrie Charlie Brown and Kristi Call.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Another Tuesday Bust

It's nearly nine pm, I can't get my images to work for my planned TMT post, and I'm deep into another night of Olympic ice skating. Let's face it. There's not going to be a post today.




Monday, February 19, 2018

And Now For Something Completely Different

Alternative History


That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston is a quiet book in a very unique setting. Basically, it's a romance with your classic YA torn-between- two-lovers scenario. It begins with young upper class women (and, if I recall correctly, men) doing the debutante thing in the city of Toronto and then moves to an idyllic Canadian lake. The relationships are worked out without a lot of passion and drama. What raises the interest level here is the kinds of relationships we're talking about and the world the whole story is set in.

What we have here is a well-developed universe with computers...DNA issues...a superficially twenty-first century-type setting. But we also have a British Empire that the sun hasn't set on with a powerful queen, as well as a United States from which pirates set out to pillage Canadian/British ships on the Great Lakes. What's more, this is a particularly diverse world, in large part because the historic Queen Victoria from whom the present queen is descended married off her children to leaders all over the world, not just to European (and, of course, white) royalty. So the royal family is diverse and that makes it acceptable and normal for every other segment of society.

One of the many nice things about this book is that it doesn't preach or hit readers over the head with any Hey, look how we have characters from all over the world here! Look what we do with sexuality! Everything is just there, as if it's just totally run-of-the-mill life. Which, in a book, it should be.

A Regency/Spy/Fantasy Mash-up


Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones is a gem, especially for readers who, like myself, spent many hours of their youth reading regency novels. Sixteen-year-old Annis Whitworth and her intellectual aunt have been left destitute by the sudden death of Annis's father. But Annis, whose big skill up to that point appears to have been advising her friends on how they should dress, is no classic damsel in distress, facing a sad future as a governess or companion. She discovers she has the ability to sew glamours into clothing, creating magical outfits in this world where glamours for this and that are a fact of life.

Oh, and also, she wants to follow her father into the spy business.

Regency novels often involve romance. This is more of an Austen-type social commentary with the strongest feminist tone I can recall ever seeing in a book of this type. There's even a #metoo type thing going on at one point. And, like That Inevitable Victorian Thing, there's no metaphorical neon sign here to make sure readers get it. This is merely the world of this book.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A YA Historical Mystery

Anyone familiar with what I call nineteenth century historical mysteries? Obviously they are mystery series set in the nineteenth century. Some examples: 1813 or so--Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries, 1890s to post WWI--Amelia Peabody, 1890s--Veronica Speedwell, 1880s or 90s--Gaslight Mysteries (Hillary Clinton's a fan). My Kindle is heavy with these things. The ones I read usually have a female and male amateur detectives or an amateur combined with a professional detective. The ones I read also have some kind of romantic tension and then involvement between the male and female leads.

Well, The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrell reads to me like the first entry in one of those series. Except for being YA. And set in the early twentieth century.  I would not describe it as "Downton Abbey in downtown Chicago" the way one of the blurbs does. It has a lot more story than that show ever did.

Piper Sail (eighteen years old, on the high end for YA) is the daughter of a well-known defense lawyer in 1920's Chicago. A lawyer with Mafia clients. (This is hardly Lord Grantham we're talking about.) When her best friend disappears, Piper gets involved in the hunt for her. She also gets involved with the hot, young Italian cop on the case. And who, guess what!, also has Mafia connections. Piper is one of those women who is trouble because she won't stay in her place. Mariano, an outsider to both his Mafia family and WASP Chicago culture, can tolerate her.

They are a couple made for a historical mystery series.

Friday, February 16, 2018

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Feb. 16 Edition

I had only three full days of work because we have a new family member, our second in six months, and that was diverting in the best possible way. I lost a little social media time in the evening because of the necessity of watching Olympic figure skating. It's on every evening, all evening, on NBC Sports. I want to be Adam Rippon! Then some evening time goes to planning a complex vacation for this fall, which is driving me crazy. We've been eating dinner in the living room (watching the Olympics, of course), because the dining room table is covered with road maps.

Nonetheless, I did some work.

Goal 1. Submissions. One thing I'm trying to do this year is squeeze submission research into days when I have a lot of nonwork obligations and can't spend a lot of time concentrating for big chunks of time. That way I'm getting something done on even a difficult day, and I'm actually making some progress on my submission planning. So yesterday and today, I got submission research in. Some good stuff, too.

Goal 2. YA Thriller. I brought a voice exercise for one of my characters to writers' group. I felt the voice wasn't there, myself, and someone gave some excellent feedback on that. I'm also skimming a book called Remaking the World: Adventures in Engineering by Henry Petrowski. (Honest to God, I found this on my To Be Read shelf.) I need a  world, a life, for a dead engineer in this story, and I'm hoping reading some engineering essays will give me some ideas.

Goal 3. Generate New Work With Good Women. I'm still working on underpainting the Christmas pageant chapter. Hey, it's hard to create a Christmas pageant.

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding.  Four blog posts with promotion to Google+, Twitter, a Facebook community, a Goodreads journal post, and a writers' group meeting.

Back to the men's free skate.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Skullduggery News

Author Derek Landy announced on Twitter a few weeks ago that the entire Skullduggery Pleasant series is finally coming to the U.S.A. The first three books, which were published here, will be re-released in May. According to one of Landy's Jan. 21 texts, the next six are supposed to be available by the end of the year.

My more faithful readers are aware that I am a fan of the Skeleton. I ordered the final six books from England through Amazon, passing them along to my niece. And it has been a mystery to me why the series was dropped in this country after the first three books. As I asked back in 2012, "What was the problem? Were they too clever and witty? Did someone object because this fantasy wasn't all doom and gloom? Well, okay, it was pretty doom and gloom what with Skulduggery being dead and all and fighting some group that often seemed unbeatable. So if depressing tragedy is a requirement for fantasy on this side of the Atlantic, the books had it. They were just amusing about it. Is that a crime?"


I also realized recently that a tenth Skulduggery book came out last year, and I missed it. I'm debating what to do about that. I felt that I'd finished the series. and I don't know if I want to continue with that feeling of done and out or if I want to go on. If I go on, I'll probably order it from merry old England somehow, because  they're only talking about publishing the first nine here.

Oops. An eleventh book is coming out this summer. You can't keep a good skeleton down.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cybils Announcement And A Little History

Valentine's Day is Cybils Announcement Day. Check out the 2017 winners.

 Last Friday, Tanita Davis of Finding Wonderland  did a great job in Cybils Countdown of explaining Cybils history. Among other things, she said of the big name children's book awards "...sometimes "literary" doesn't take into account "beloved." In 2006, the Cybils Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards were founded to address that particular issue."

Her post reminded me of something I saw at a professional listserv of academics and reviewers a few years after the Cybils were started. Someone had been following the nominations at the Cybils website and posted a message asking where were __________, _________, ___________ (that year's big name books that everyone was talking about)? Those titles needed to be part of any award consideration, he insisted. To which I responded, "That's not the point of the Cybils." (Or something like that. This was years ago, after all.)

The point of the Cybils, as Tanita says, is to "discover books that might not be famous or popular, but which have both literary merit and kid appeal." And then the Cybils brings them to the attention of readers.


The Cybils' Place In The Childlit World


In the childlit world, there's a big focus on awards, which are announced at the beginning of the year. (This year, just this past Monday.) It's not unusual for bloggers to start writing about next year's possible Newbery and Caldecott winners in March or April. We're in the middle of the Olympics, so I'm going to make an Olympics analogy. Get ready. Here it comes. Starting to focus on the "contenders" so early is like beginning to count medals on day three of the Olympics. It distracts from all the competition that is still going on. The book award talk narrows the literary conversation to a relative handful of children's books when there are thousands published every year.

This isn't terrific for writers who aren't being talked about, of course. But it's particularly bad for readers who don't get a chance to hear about books that might be more to their liking than those that the award predictors embrace. For instance, historically, humor books and science fiction haven't turned up regularly among Newbery winners. Regency novels, mysteries, sports stories...you don't see these a lot on award lists. Only recently have we started seeing books with diverse characters and situations at all, let alone on the podium. (Another Olympics reference.) But all those books are out there. I've read a couple of terrific Regency novels for YA over the last couple of years. And I've just started seeing alternative history. There are readers who want to know about these books. There are readers who might be reading more if they could find these types of works. But with childlit talk often being about award contenders, will the word get out?

And that's what the Cybils does differently. It broadens the literary conversation, because it isn't one award, it's multiple awards, hitting fiction for both younger and older readers, picture books, graphic novels, speculative fiction. And unlike other awards, all the books being considered are out in front of the public at the Cybils website for the two months leading in to the release of the short lists. And anyone with a lit blog can throw a title in the ring. You don't have to be a traditional childlit gatekeeper to be part of the process.

So, to wind up things, I'll say that the Cybils are an Olympic effort, broadening the scope of the books considered and awarded. That makes them particularly valuable to readers. 


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

No Time For Time Management

I'm not doing a Time Management Tuesday post today, because last night I was at a very full writers' group meeting. A lot of new members and things to discuss. Then I got home and spent an hour continuing to read about sexual harassment in children's publishing.

If you'd like to read an excellent article on how to go forth from this point regarding books by writers accused of harassment or other unacceptable acts, check out Kelly Jensen's What To Do With Books By Authors Accused Of Harassment, Racism, Or Other Inappropriate Or Illegal Behaviors at the blog Stacked.  She's writing specifically about librarians, but her thinking could be helpful to readers, as well.

You might also be interested in her article The State of Sexual Harassment in the Library at Book Riot. Holy Moses. How do those people go to work every day?

Monday, February 12, 2018

The ALA's Book Awards

Last year I was totally out of the childlit world for many months while dealing with some family issues, which resolved themselves very well, thank you. Evidently my head isn't totally back into the game, because I thought the ALA children's book awards were announced last month. I thought they were always announced in January. Talk about total lack of paying attention. They were announced today!

Even when I saw people on my Facebook wall talking about going to ALA last week, I didn't put two and two together and go, Wait...they're having their meeting now? The award announcement meeting now?

And I thought I'd been being very disciplined and mindful since my retreat week last month. This may shatter how I perceive myself and function for the rest of the year.

Anyway, check out the winners. The only winner I've read is The Murder's Ape, which was awarded the  Batchelder Award "for an outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States." But I didn't blog about it! My recollection is that it was a strange, not easy to pigeonhole story that I didn't necessarily perceive as a children's story. But I do like seeing unique works like that winning awards, so, good for Jakob Wegelius, the author and illustrator.

Also, congratulations to Debbie Reese, who won the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award "recognizing an author, critic, librarian, historian or teacher of children's literature." Reese has been writing about and advocating for Native American children's literature for many years. I have been seeing her within the childlit community for a long time. She has truly stayed the course and deserves recognition for her work and commitment.

While we're on the subject of Native Americans in children's literature, the AILA Youth Literature Awards have also been announced. 

Friday, February 09, 2018

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Feb. 9 Edition

Goal 1. Submissions. This is interesting, because I wasn't planning to work on this goal this week. But I saw a call on Twitter for "weird" short fiction from a lit journal. And guess what? I had something that fit that description. Now, back in 2016 I had submitted this piece of work to this particular lit journal and been rejected. But they were asking for weird work now. And for the next two days, they were waving their submission fee. So, my thought was that maybe my rejection a year and a half ago was about a good story at the wrong time. That could happen, couldn't it? On the other hand, if I'm rejected again, it didn't cost me anything.

Goal 2. YA Thriller. I did some very interesting research for material to give me ideas for my crime.

Goal 3. Generate new work with Good Women. Worked on some underpainting for a new chapter. I would have finished it but I got bogged down creating a Sunday school Christmas pageant.

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding. Five blog posts, five trips to Google+, a couple to Facebook, two to Goodreads, and multiple tweets. Oh, and I updated a Pinterest board. And I did some research on environmental books as part of a little plan to do some Saving the Planet & Stuff promo in April. Not one of my original objectives for this goal.


Thursday, February 08, 2018

When Mom And Dad Are Spies

I'm a fan of The Americans, the FX series about a couple who are undercover Russian operatives in the U.S. in the 1980s. (Because that would never happen now.) Philip and Elizabeth live as a comfortable suburban couple who run a business together. Their teenage children have not been raised in their real business.

At some points the question of what will become of Philip and Elizabeth arises. Will they go back to ol' Mother Russia? What about those kids? Last year I was thinking that a YA book about a kid who was ripped out of his comfortable American life and dragged to a Communist country with parents, who, they just learned, were strangers had some promise. Then I stumbled upon Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbit, which is about a boy who finds out his name isn't his name and his birthday isn't his birthday and he and his parents are packing up to move to East Berlin. In 1989.

Noah/Jonah's parents are a lot more light-hearted than The American's Philip and Elizabeth. But there's no doubt there's something going on with them. Noah/Jonah doesn't know everything about them, but they don't know know everything about him, either.

Every chapter in Cloud and Wallfish concludes with a "Secret File" explaining  historical material. They're like extensive footnotes. Now I like reading historical background. But it did break up the narrative drive of the story. I don't know how younger readers will feel about it. Nonetheless, this should be a great read for a student needing a book for a historical unit.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A Different Type Of Writing Workshop For Connecticut Writers

The Storyteller's Cottage in Simsbury, Connecticut is offering a  writing workshop on Sunday, February 25, from 1:00 to 3:00 PM. Getting From Once Upon a Time to Happily Ever After: How to  Write Your Novel is described as a "fun and practical writer's workshop designed for authors ages 13-113 on the journey to publication." The event Facebook page also calls it a family workshop.

What makes this program a little different, besides the tea and sweets included, is that the instructor, a traditionally published NESCBWI member, will be using a persona, the Book Fairy. We may be hearing more about her.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: An Art Metaphor For Me

My retreat week (yes, it has been a month, and yes, I am still talking about it) reading turned up a great article in the September, 2017 Writers Digest.

Here at Original Content I write mostly about managing time in terms of discipline and working. But occasionally I've covered ways to write faster or write more efficiently. In Train Your Eye for Better Writing, author Tess Callahan describes three techniques inspired by training and skill sets used by visual artists that seem to me to have the potential to help writers speed up.

Speed Up In An Artist's Way

  
Emulation. Just as artists study things like composition or brush strokes by copying master works, writers can practice writing in different writers’ styles. How can it help speed you up? When you're having trouble getting started, use your idea in a well-known author's style just to get something down on the page.

Frequent Small Sketches. Figure drawing classes sometimes involve working with poses that last seconds. Writers can work the same way throughout the day, jotting down bits and pieces of things seen or heard. Maybe thoughts. How can it help speed you up? "Sketching" can help you take advantage of small amounts of time that you would otherwise assume were useless because they weren't big enough for you to complete, say, an entire chapter or an essay.

Underpainting. Landscape and portrait painters often begin with a monotone underpainting that they use to “play with composition rapidly...before committing to a particular layout." Callahan suggests comparable “quick, loose first drafts.” She describes having begun a 500 page manuscript with a 20 page underpainting. This is my personal favorite. I did an underpainting of this blog post while I was still on vacation. I've been using this concept since I got home on two different projects. I "underpainted" a chapter I later completed, and I'm using the same method on a second one. Even a family member who was home one day last week was impressed by how much I was working.

Maybe We're Talking A Metaphor Here

Some might argue that sketches are nothing new and underpainting is just freewriting. But I like the idea of underpainting in a way I've never liked freewriting. (Oh, my gosh. Freeeewriiiiiiting.) It's far more freeing than freewriting, which I had an unpleasant experience with in college. I never studied painting, so I've got no complaints about it.

Maybe art here is a writing...and time...metaphor, and it's a metaphor that works for me. Maybe we all need a metaphor. 

For each technique she describes, Callahan also offers what sounds like a good book on writing that illustrates or supports what she’s writing about. This article is good enough to make hunting for this back issue worthwhile.
 

Monday, February 05, 2018

A Nearly Teen Queen Speaks

I am a fan of Tommy Greenwald's first book, Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading, so I entered a contest last fall to try to win a copy of his (then) most recent book, The Real Us. As you can see, I did.  Us is not as funny as Charlie Joe Jackson, but it's not supposed to be. In an interview last year, Greenwald said that as he developed the idea for The Real Us, "I realized this could be my first story that goes a little deeper into the issues and emotions that middle-schoolers face."  The book deals with an intriguing situation, a bad week in the life of a girl leader of a clique.

Calista is a particularly pretty girl who, because of her beauty, has moved away from the friend and athletic pursuits of her younger years. There's an interesting twist here because shes not the stereotypical mean girl who sucks others into her power field. It's more as if she's the one who is sucked away from her past. And it's all because of something she has little control over. Her looks. She's marked by her appearance.

And then she gets a pimple. And within days, she's got a rash. This means she's no longer the prettiest girl in school. She loses her chair at the cafeteria table! Those lame girl hangerons stop hanging on!

This story is told from three points of view, Calista's, a boy's with a health problem you don't see every day, and one of Calista's friends. Calista was the focus of interest for me. 

There's an identity thing going on here. Who am I if I'm not pretty? That's a very legitimate and interesting theme for child readers who are  determining who they are going to be.

Tommy Greenwald had a picture book come out last month, Hooked

FTC Transparency Info: I won this book, as mentioned before, and am  acquainted with the author through Facebook and NESCBWI.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

A Rare Weekend Cooking Post

I binge cooked yesterday afternoon, as you can see. I used to listen to writing and literary podcasts while I was binge cooking, then I'd post about the whole experience here. You haven't heard from me recently about that because I burned out on podcasts around a year ago. Plus I'm trying to be all mindful and focused and the multi-tasking with podcasts and cooking is all anti-mindfulness.

So why am I telling you about my cooking experience yesterday? Because while I was working away, doing one cooking task after another with just music on in the background, I thought, Hey, Megan in the YA Thriller Project could cook. And that was exciting.

Though, then I started thinking, she's the only girl in that situation. How can I have her cook without being stereotypically female? Should I have someone else cook?

These characters have to eat. Someone ought to cook. On the other hand, everything a character in a work of fiction does should be for a reason. It should show character or be necessary for the plot. It should do something. So if I'm going to have someone cook in this thing, I've got to come up with a compelling reason why s/he should.

I've created a Pinterest board about how this character dresses, in order to help me visualize her. Perhaps I should do another about what she cooks.

Friday, February 02, 2018

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Feb. 2 Edition

I finished a new chapter! I finished a new chapter! And I made a submission! I made a submission!

Goal 1. Submissions. My submission research is getting organized with lists of markets for specific projects. And I submitted to one of them yesterday. I have a submission plan I'll be writing about in a future post.

Goal 2. YA Thriller. Knocked off a scene and came up with what happened to a dead character. Had someone read the scene as well as the three short voice exercises I've done.

Goal 3. Generate new work with Good Women. Finished a new chapter. Did some tinkering. Created Pinterest boards of clothing choices for two of the main characters. Will post about that in the future.

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding. Four blog posts, including the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar, that were promoted to various places. Sent out the CCLC newsletter edition. Made a Goodreads review.