Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Saving The Planet & Stuff" As The Norwegians See It

I am sure you all remember that an excerpt of Saving the Planet & Stuff sold to Norwegian publisher Gyldendal Undervisning two years ago for use in a textbook for teaching English. And the company extended the agreement this past winter.

You can get a look at the textbook in which the Planet material appears. You can get a feeling for how the page layout looks below.

And, remember, the nonNorwegian  Kindle edition is on sale this month for just $1.99.

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Visit To The Storyteller's Cottage

I finally got a chance to visit The Storyteller's Cottage in Simsbury, Connecticut today. We just dropped by and were given a tour by a marvelous staff member whose name I didn't think to ask.

The Storyteller's Cottage is a venue for literary activities. It runs what you might call your traditional book events such as writing classes and author appearances. But it also does unique, outside-the-box things like mystery rooms and costume parties. Check out some of the things it's doing this summer.

Among the spots in the house we hit were the Jane Austen dining room, which is quite lovely, and an early twentieth-century room related to 'thirties-era Agatha Christie mysteries.

The real eye-popper, though, was what I might call the Harry Popper suite. It's more than one room. I'm not even a Harry Potter fan, and I thought these rooms were marvelous.  

As I said, we dropped in on this place. We were in town for Simsbury's Art Trail, an installation of 32 pieces of sculpture by Seward Johnson. One of my favorites was a statue of Monet painting.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Environmental Book Club

This list of climate fiction is made up of adult books, not children's/YA. But the last one, South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby, is supposed to be funny. Clifi, as a general rule, is pretty grim.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: A Summer Read...”Deep Work”

Last week I said I was going to consider whether the concept of  “deep work” could have any connection to “slow work.” Slow work, to the best of my knowledge, seems to be more about dealing with spiritual issues and slowing down to enjoy life rather than slowing down a work pace as a way to work more efficiently and do more, which would make me enjoy life a whole lot more. Deep work, a term coined by Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, is a "skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time."

Okay, "quickly" seems as if it shouldn't have anything to do with "slow," but if producing "better results in less time" ends up meaning putting in fewer hours, that's slowing down as far as I'm concerned. Also, Newport is writing about working in an "information economy" or "new economy." He's not writing about writing.

But I've found my best time management ideas in books that were about managing other kinds of work.Therefore, I have a copy of Newport's book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. A summer read is something I think I can manage while continuing to recover from an elder's most recent health crisis. And if it leads to better use of whatever I have for work time when I start living the new normal, boolyah!

An Introduction To Deep Work

In Newport’s introduction to his book, he defines deep work as "Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate." Examples for writers would be...ah...writing. Creating new content.

Deep work sounds like working in flow.  Hmm. Unless flow states are used in order to work deep. One leads to another?

Newport argues that most “most modern knowledge workers” are “rapidly forgetting the value of going deep.” The reason? “Network tools.” By which he means, among other things, the social media that has become part of writers’ work, now that we do a big chunk of our own marketing.  This type of work Newport calls “shallow work."

He describes shallow work as "Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate." Examples for writers would be growing a Twitter following, promoting books on Twitter, maintaining a presence on Goodreads, etc.

Shallow work is the enemy of deep work. "...fragmented attention cannot accommodate deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking.”

So far, none of this is really news. In fact, Newport says that, himself. His more original argument is that as our culture shifts toward spending more and more time in the shallows, opportunities exist for the people who are capable of working deep. Because there aren't that many of them.

Think of this in terms of writing. For writers, marketing is the shallows. It doesn't require the kind of depth that producing new content does. (For  professional marketers, this may not be the case. Marketing may be their deep work, at least coming up with new marketing ideas.) I know one writer who has been writing successfully for many years describe how the percentage of time she spends writing has gone down, as she's had to spend more and more time promoting herself. I know of another writer who felt her first book sold, in part, because the publisher believed she had the marketing skills and drive to promote it. This is a case of a writer being rewarded for being good at shallow work or at least spending time doing it.

Nonetheless, no matter how good we are at the shallow stuff at some point we have to go deep enough to generate some content. Without the deep work, there's no need for the shallow work.

More to follow.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

July Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar Update

Tues., July 10, Susan Hood, Barnes & Noble UCONN Storrs Center, 3-5 pm Confratute reception. Includes a presentation moderated by Children’s Literature Professor and Consultant Susannah Richards, a Q&A, and a book signing.

Friday, July 06, 2018

An Ode To An Ode

Slate has a wonderful article by Johanna Winant, All Our Work Holds Good, about poet Donald Hall's Ox-Cart Man.  Among other things, Winant describes how the text of the book was originally a slightly different poem with a different tone.

Donald Hall died last month.

I loved this book when my children were young. I saw it as a tribute to everyday life, something I'm interested in with art. (By the way, Barbara Cooney won the Caldecott Medal for her illustrations for this book.) I read the book a number of times with my kids and think it's time to gift a copy to some other family members.

It would be wonderful to find this book promoted in bookstores this summer as part of a Hall memorial-type display, a way to introduce children to adult poetry. Or just to a really good picture book.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

"Saving The Planet's" Real World Setting In Middlebury, Vermont

Last week I described Saving the Planet & Stuff as having an environmental setting because much of the book's action takes place at the editorial office of an environmental journal. Additionally, there are scenes in the home of seriously committed environmentalists.

But the book also has a "real world" setting, a street and a town. It's set in East Branbury, Vermont, a place you will not find on any maps, because I made it up. (Though you will find Branbury State Park, which my family referred to as Branbury Beach.)

 I grew up in three different towns within a half an hour of Middlebury, and some of my older relatives ran farms in the area back in the day. Nonetheless, in spite of the Gauthier connection, Middlebury was bohemian bourgeois before bohemian bourgeois came to America. (We Gauthiers are neither bohemian nor bourgeois, forget about doing both of them at once.) When I was in high school, Middlebury was where we went to be cool. Except for the Ben Franklin, I couldn't shop in town, it was too expensive. But I can recall muttering obscenities with my friends while struggling to park my parents' car on the street. That's how cool I was then.

So when I wanted a town in Vermont, one with a place for an office and a house and streets to bike on, Middlebury came to mind.

The Middlebury STP&S Connections

First off, I thought of Weybridge Street for the location of Walt and Nora's 70s/80s-era solar home. My Gauthier grandparents lived on Weybridge Street towards the end of their lives, and it is absolutely the only residential street in Middlebury I have any knowledge of. No brainer.

There are several scenes in the book in which Michael and Nora bike to her office. Here is a Weybridge Street view I had in mind for that. Note how flat it is. My kind of biking.  If you read about Michael and Nora on their bikes, think of this kind of street.

Here is what I was thinking of as Michael and Nora's first turn off from Weybridge Street on their daily commute.

Then I envisioned them on a Main Street like Middlebury's. 

The bike trip to The Earth's Wife's office is described as including a steep incline. That's right. That didn't come out of  nowhere.There is an alley in Middlebury that leads to shops and what used to be the Vermont State Craft Center at Frog Hollow, which began during the time Walt and Nora were starting their magazine and was still a going concern while I was writing STP&S.

At the foot of this incline you also find the multi-floor back of some Main Street buildings. In my mind, this is where I located the entrance to The Earth's Wife's offices. They are on an upper floor, and Walt and Nora are renovating a lower floor for another editorial office.

Enough about the ride to the office. In one scene Walt and Michael go to the East Branbury transfer station. I don't have a clue where Middlebury's transfer station is, or if individuals can access it the way Walt does. I just got Michael and Walt out of town by sending them out past a church. And I did have a church in mind, St. Mary's Catholic Church, which the Gauthiers have had some connection with over the years.

One of the most popular scenes in Saving the Planet takes place in a restaurant. I was thinking of one of these store fronts for the restaurant. We're no longer on Main Street here. We're on whatever turns off Main Street to go up the hill toward Rt. 7. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

So that gives you an idea of the kinds of things I do in my head to work on settings for a book, particularly this one.

Like Pinterest?

If you like Pinterest, I have a Pinterest Board on STPS's Middlebury setting. It includes some extra personal material on my connection to some of these places.  By the way, you can also find some Pinterest boards I'm using for character development on a new project.


You can follow me on Twitter or use the hashtag #STPStwittered so you can read the Twitter edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: Slow Work And Privilege

So, slow work...it's not a figment of my imagination, but there's not a lot about it out there, either.

"Slow Work"--A Lifestyle Conquers The Working World by Morgaine Gerlach at Society 3.0 (from November 23, 2016) describes slow work as a "workplace variation on the popular lifestyle movement "Slow Food." Slow Food has a national and international presence, with a very specific mission. "...to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us." The two main articles I've seen on slow work, the one at Society 3.0 and Slow Down! How "Slow Work" Makes Us More Productive by Peter Bacevice at Time (from way back in 2012) don't have a mission statement anywhere near as clear cut. The Society 3.0 article states that slow work is "about moving through life more consciously, taking the time for the little pleasures of everyday life and dealing with mind and body spirituality."

Maybe it's just me, but I don't find that very specific or attainable. I'm not even sure what I'm trying to attain with those kinds of statements.

Suggestions From Slow Work Articles

The Time article states that slow work philosophy "urges us to punctuate our routines in ways that might initially appear to compromise productivity but actually enhance long-term creativity." That sounds like what I've called the unit system.  The Society 3.0 article includes suggestions that seem to support that.

  • "Take breaks and use these short breaks for a little small talk among colleagues or networking via Xing, LinkedIn & Co."
  • "Actively add relaxation periods to your everyday life, for example, a little yoga in the morning."
  • "Create a short daily schedule in the morning and calculate twice as much time for each point on this to-do list than you would estimate."

The 3.0 article adds:
  • Make more time for yourself within your daily work routine. 
  • Vary your routine. 
  • Look for a way to “break out” of the office.
  • Consider “coworking” with others for a day.

Is Slow Work Only For The Privileged?

If what I've read so far is an accurate description of slow work, it sounds to me as if it is only for those who are in work positions in which they can take breaks and talk with colleagues, they can schedule extra time for the items on the short daily schedule they have the option of creating each money. It sounds as if it's only for those people who are allowed to vary their daily routine, look for ways to get out of the office, and consider coworking.

The 3.0 article concludes with '"Slow Work" can also mean simply working less. The opportunities are varying and always dependent on the individual job as well as the company. The possibilities are part-time employment, home office or sabbatical."

Well, for many people, even people who work for themselves, part-time employment and sabbaticals are not possibilities.

I'm Sorry, But I Need Something A Lot More Specific

In addition to describing slow work  as being "about moving through life more consciously, taking the time for the little pleasures of everyday life and dealing with mind and body spiritually," the 3.0 article says,  "Health and happiness are the focus of the 'Slow Movements.'" Slow work "takes the stress out of the workplace and thus leads to long-term mental and physical well being."

You know what would really lead to long-term mental and physical well being for me? Being able to get the work done that I want to do. Finding specific ways to get enough control both my work nonwork lives  so I can do more of the work I want to do. That would do wonders for my health and happiness, too.

Just because I haven't yet found anything about slow work that will help me with my work doesn't mean there isn't something there. I'm going to stay on it. As part of my slow work thinking, I'm going to consider deep work and minimalism.

The #STPStwittered

Tweeting Saving the Planet & Stuff continues. You can follow it on Twitter with the #STPStwittered hashtag or you're welcome to just follow me altogether at @gail_gauthier. And the Kindle edition of STP&S is on sale at a reduced price this month.