Wednesday, November 28, 2018

December Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Merry Christmas month, folks. Make like those Icelandic folk and give a book for Christmas.

Sun., Dec. 1, Michael Belanger, Bank Square Books, Mystic 1:00 to 3:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 1, Lane Smith and Randall de Seve, The Hickory Stick Book Shop, Washington Depot 2:00 PM

Fri., Dec. 7, Mark Dursin, Book Club, Bookstore & More, South Windsor 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 8, Greg Wolfe, The Storytellers Cottage, Simsbury 11:00 AM

Sat., Dec. 8, Ron Kramer, Barnes & Noble, Waterbury 5:00 PM

Sun., Dec. 9, Jessica Bayliss, Barnes & Noble, Milford 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM

Sun., Dec. 9, Chase Taylor, Barnes & Noble, West Hartford 12:00 PM

Thurs., Dec. 13, Jessica Bayliss, Beacon Falls Library, Beacon Falls 6:30 PM

Fri., Dec. 14, Octavia Ashburn, Bank Square Books, Mystic 5:00 to 7:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 15, Julia Garstecki, Barnes & Noble, West Hartford 1:00 PM

Tues., Dec. 18, Brian Lies, Bank Square Books, Mystic 5:00 to 7:00 PM

Monday, November 26, 2018

Now THIS Is A Babysitters' Club

I came to A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting by Joe Ballarini after reading two and a half books I call "crush and make-up" stories, because they're about girls with crushes who are into make-up. I am not the woman to read crush and make-up stories, though I respect that there are people who are.

I am the woman to read clever, witty stories about young people taking on the supernatural and grinding it into dust. It was a great relief to realize that was what I had when I started reading Babysitter's Guide.

The basic premise here is that the monsters under kids' beds are real and the only protection from them is a group of highly trained babysitters. Unfortunately, main character Kelly doesn't know this until her charge on her first babysitting job is stolen by monsters. She ends up spending the evening with the babysitters' group hunting for her kid. As luck would have it, she has a gift for this kind of thing.

A Babysitters Guide to Monster Hunting could be described as a lighter, less end-of-the-world-is-coming Skullduggery Pleasant. In both books there is a group no one knows about that is taking care of things that no one knows about, as well as wise-cracking characters who are able to crack wise and make it stick.

A second Babysitter's Guide book came out this past year.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Weekend Writer

That office purge I've been talking about includes wading through dozens of writers' journals, which will be the subject of a blog post somewhere down the line. What I'm writing about today is something I found in one of those journals.

I had copied a quote from a review by Tim Sandlin (who might be this Tim Sandlin; it's been a long time, so who knows?) of Let the Dog Drive by David Bowman.

"Plot, character and voice are the holy trinity of fiction, and each has its own area of dominance. Theoretically, plot controls genre novels, character drives literary works, and voice powers humor."

Now the business about plot and genre and character and literary writing I've heard before. A number of times. But the bit about voice powering humor is new. Or not exactly new since I read it in a book review years ago. But this time around it it was like a light going off.

Voice Powers Humor

Think of all the times you've read a book that was supposed to be funny but wasn't. More likely than not, it was because the character speaking was just speaking. Just saying words. A narrator, whether first-person or third, was just telling things. The no voice.

Voice or no voice in a humor book is the literary equivalent of stand-up comics performing a set. They can recite a joke or they can sell it. Voice is how writers sell it.

You often hear of writers "searching for their voice" on a project. You can tell when you're writing humor whether or not you're selling it. And when you're not, it's probably because you haven't found a voice for a particular character or characters or narrator or narrative style. Once you do find it, the humor comes easier. It comes out of the character, because voice has a lot to do with attitude.

More on voice at Original Content.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: Can A Minimalist Office Help Us To Manage Time?

This is my last post on New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici. The point of this blog arc has been exploring how a minimalist lifestyle can help us manage time.

Two of the most telling things I think Fortin and Quilici do in this book is suggest that

  1. people ask what is the number-one activity they expect to take place in a particular room and 
  2. make sure whatever they have in that room supports the activity they plan to use it for.  
One of the most obvious examples of an activity-based room is probably a kitchen. It's for cooking, right? So should a third of my counter space be turned over to holding junk that's collected there because no one has the energy to decide what to do with it? How does that support the room's function? Huh?
 Thinking like this could be a game changer for me.

Consider Offices

What is the number one activity we expect to take place in our offices? Archiving books? Storing old computer parts? Stacking up boxes of stuff we brought from the grandparents' houses?

Oh, wait. No. Offices are for working. So how do decades old history text books support that? Or photos of the kids, nieces, and nephews? Or the Lord Peter Wimsey books we read in college? Or our husbands' grandfathers' collections of classics that they got for subscribing to newspapers in the 1930s? Yes, I have mentioned that before. It bears repeating. It does.

Do We Need A Nice Office?

You hear stories (or I used to) of writers working on ironing boards and working on their lunch hours. Books have been written under all kinds of less than ideal circumstances. No, no one needs a nice office. Or an office at all. When I'm feeling particularly tough and gnarly, I think that in spite of what Virginia Woolf said, writers don't need a room of their own. (Note...Woolf wasn't talking about rooms.) With enough will power and impulse control, we should be able to work in any place and under any conditions. Right?

But then there are those four-year-old studies I keep dwelling on, the ones that showed that disorder in our environment lowers the impulse control I was just talking about. No impulse control and there goes your ability to stay on task, to finish a project, a chapter, a short story, an essay, a letter to an editor. There goes your ability to manage time.

In which case, the shelves and shelves of old books, the old computer parts, and the heaps of stuff from Grandma's house piled up around us are significant in a bad way.

Can Minimalist Offices Help Writers With Time Management?

It's worth a shot, isn't it? And creating a minimalist office doesn't mean going out and buying some special minimalist furniture or minimalist organizational boxes and files. Go back to  Fortin and Quilici's instructions.
  1. Decide that writing is the number-one activity you want to do in your office.
  2. Make sure everything in your office supports writing. 
In my case, this has meant getting Gramps' multi-volume set of classics that no one has opened in three generations out of my office, as well as the outdated history books. I'm working on moving out maybe thirty mystery novels, too.

Impulse control may be coming.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Wish This Library Was In My Town

I'm sure I have many, many followers who are fans of Civil Engineering: The Magazine of the Society of American Civil Engineers. This month's issue has a cover story on a pretty amazing library in Binhai, China. Actually, it sounds as if its atrium is what's pretty amazing.

Now, I didn't read the whole article, because I saw the word "truss" several times, as well as phrases like "dynamic elasto-plastic time-history analysis." But what's going on, basically, is that this central atrium has shelves that are
also steps and walkways and seating.The upper walls with their shelves bend inward, as you can see in the picture to your left. It's pretty spectacular looking.

Now, I'm no engineer. But I looked at those upper walls and couldn't see any way to get to the shelves on them. I thought, well, the shelves must be accessed from behind. Good idea, Gail. According to the CE article, that was the original plan. But they only had three years to build this thing, so the rooms on the other side of the atrium walls were ditched. The upper shelves hold fake books. There are more traditional library rooms in the building with more books.

The builders and planners were interested in creating a site for gathering, as well as for archiving books, and they've certainly done that. It's hard for a book person not to be excited about the way the Binhai Library turned out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Connecticut Children's Book Fair 2018--Janet Lawler

I concluded my trip to this year's Connecticut Children's Book Fair, just over a week ago, with author Janet Lawler's discussion of finding ideas for writing. Janet was the only writer writer whose presentation I saw. By which I mean she was the only one who doesn't do her own illustrating.

Janet gave a list of ways writers get ideas and showed how some of them led to her books. What interested me here was how does a writer, who is an adult after all, decide whether an idea can be used for a children's book rather than an adult book?

  • For instance, Janet talked about emotions being a source of ideas and made the point that children's writers have to keep kids' emotions in mind. (This sounds obvious, but new writers struggle with leaning too much on adult characters' minds.) She's written mothers' love poetry that became children's picture books like If Kisses Were Colors instead of poetry collections for adults.
  • Janet gave a terrific example of getting a book idea from the news. She saw an article about a man who got into trouble for building an outsize snowman that caused problems when it melted. From that she wrote Snowzilla. Now, yes, I spend a lot of time watching things like Stranger Things and The Haunting of Hill House. But I think a story about a giant snowman did not have to become a picture book. It could have gone a much different way. 
I've been obsessing about this situation for the last week. I'm thinking Janet's presentation could become a writers' conference workshop. No, not on how to come up with ideas, but on deciding who they're for once you've got them.

Janet's most recent book is Fright School

Friday, November 09, 2018

Connecticut Children's Book Fair 2018--Robbi Behr & Matthew Swanson

I wasn't planning to go to Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson's presentation. They write for a few different age groups, and once again, I didn't know which one they'd be talking about. But I found myself with a hole in my schedule, they were talking, and there was a free chair. This is what is known as one thing leading to another.

They turned out to be right on the button for me. Or, I should say, right on a button. Robbi is an illustrator and Matthew a writer. They are a little (or maybe a lot) intimidating in that they run a couple of presses and also publish with traditional publishers. They also have a great patter. Also intimidating.

Editing Hybrid Books

What was meaningful for me, though, is that their new series, The Real McCoys, is what Robbi and Matthew call a hybrid book. It's not actually a graphic novel, but is traditional text with a lot of graphics. I have toyed with the idea of doing a graphic novel version of one of my earlier books. But this hybrid business sounds interesting, too.

The two particularly interesting points they made about their work on this kind of book:

  • While Matthew, the author, has an editor for the text, Robbi, the illustrator, works with the publisher's art director who acts as an editor for the graphics. She showed a couple of examples of what she means by editing. And, yes, it did, indeed, look like editing.
  • The text has to be edited and complete before the graphics are done. You don't want to spend time and energy creating graphics for a scene that will be changed or even dropped altogether. So authors and illustrators of this kind of book are working on different aspects of the book at any particular time. And if it's a series book, which The Real McCoys is, they may not even be working on the same book.

So stopping by that presentation was certainly worth while.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Connecticut Children's Book Fair 2018--Steve Light

This year I was looking for something specific at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair. I wanted to hear from authors who write for younger readers, maybe chapter books. I have a picture book manuscript out and about and after corresponding with one editor about it, I began to think about turning it into something chapter-bookish. A lot of the writers covered two age groups, and there was no way of predicting which one they'd be speaking about. Many of the speakers were both authors and illustrators, and there was no way of predicting which their talk would be about. On top of those considerations, I had to pick out people who were speaking around the same time, because I didn't want to stay there all day or end up going twice.
Steve With One Of His Journals

So you know the careful thought that went into planning my trip.

The first speaker I saw was Steve Light, an author/illustrator I hadn't heard of before, though I suspect I'll be hearing a lot about him in the future.

Writing Talk

  • Steve finds plotting the most challenging part of his work. I am guessing a huge majority of writers would agree with him there.
  • While working with plot, he creates backstory that may never appear in his books. He has created sculptures and maps of worlds. I found this intriguing. Imagine backstory for a picture book that ends up being more extensive than the picture book. Imagine a novel that is the backstory for a picture book. Excuse me. I've got to go write this down in my journal. 
  • He may use a recurring element in his work, like acorns or oak trees. He could have been talking about illustration, but this is something I do, too. I'll use a recurring joke or something that turns up a few times to define character or support a later event in the book. 

Art Talk

Steve With A Fountain Pen

  • Steve sometimes draws with fountain pens. I have a bit of a history with fountain pens, not drawing, of course, and have a lovely Waterman pen I like to use when writing letters. 
  • He also creates little inspiration books when he's working on a project. These are small books that he fills with small down-loaded images of art work that he turns to for ideas. Kind of like Pinterest boards? But classier? 

Builders And Breakers

I was particularly taken with Steve's book Builders and Breakers. It's one of the most attractive construction books I've seen. The blueprint endpapers...the finely drawn (with fountain pens?) double spread...the story that begins on the title page, making use of every part of the book. Builders and Breakers has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators and a two-page spread of Steve's original art for the book will be included in its 2018 Featured Artists Exhibit.

So I bought two copies for young family members.

Some Pretty Impressive Swag

I am not a fan of book bling and marketing swag. Melissa Stewart was quoted in a SCBWI article last year saying that creating swag is a waste of natural resources. My issue is the other end of the bling life cycle. Creating swag is just generating trash. I've signed hundreds of bookmarks that I knew were going to be balled up at the bottom of backpacks and tossed out by parents at the end of the week. (Whoops. Did I just let slip that I only cleaned my kids' backpacks on Fridays?)

Nonetheless, I have to say, Steve Light had some incredible book swag for Builders and Makers last weekend. In addition to a lovely poster version of the book jacket, he was giving out cloth bags with rulers and pencils all stamped with the book's, author's, and publisher's names. And a little notebook, maybe a lot like the one he uses for his inspiration books. This is useful stuff! Great stuff!

I took a set for a Christmas present for another child. It will be a little while before this treasure stash ends up in a landfill.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Time Management Tuesday: Why Do You Hold On To Material Things You Have To Spend Time Caring For?

Okay, we're going to switch gears from the Connecticut Book Fair to time management, because at some point the library is going to be on me about returning New Minimalism. Last week we discussed clutter and how getting rid of it could improve impulse control and increase free time, both of which can impact our writing.

So, what's happening this week, Gail?

Well, this week we're going to talk about three of the four archetypes authors Fortion and Quilici use to describe the reasons people have for holding on to material things. Why only three, Gail? Because I see myself in those three.

Why People Hold On To Material Things

#1. They Feel Connections. Connected people have "emotional, relational, and impassioned" ways of looking at the world, and they treasure family and friends. There's all kinds of great things about them. They tend to cling to things, though, because they feel that connection business. Sentimentality is an issue.

#2. They Are Practical. Lots of good things about practical people, too. Good at tasks, working toward objectives, or finding the answers to questions. They tend to not notice the material things piling up around them, presumably because they're working toward objectives. They can be blinded by the usefulness of items.

#4. They Are Frugal. What's not good about being frugal? They're very self-aware, eliminate expenses that don't support their lives, and are careful about how they expend their energy. They can become concerned about scarcity, though. They hold on to the knowledge that they've paid money for things.

Now, how does this work in terms of things piling up in your house and wrecking your work life?

Consider This Cast Iron Pot 

Take a look at the cast iron Dutch oven to your right that I've had for more than...well, for a long, long time. I bought it at a flea market with my Aunt Tessy. I wanted it because I wanted to take up fireplace/woodstove and open fire cooking. I kid you not.

My pot and the New Minimalism archetypes:

#1. My feelings of connection. Aunt Tessy was big into shopping for and buying used stuff. When I was in college, I spent a day with her, going from one seedy place to another. Honest to God, we stopped at one place where there was a guy outside tending an open fire. Rolled right off Aunt T's back. Thought nothing of it, while I'm going, "Wh--wh--What?" That day I bought a rocking chair for either six or nine dollars that ten or twelve years later became our baby rocker.  And then she helped me find this pot. It's just bubbling with meaning.

#2. I am so incredibly practical. Okay, it's true that the fireplace and open fire cooking came to naught. I think I tried to use this pot as an oven once or twice. And I definitely tried to make bean hole beans with it. Not a success. Mainly what I've used this pot for is holding candy at Halloween, because it looks like a witch's cauldron, get it? But, you know, I have cooked on a wood stove a few times when we've had a power outage. If that were to happen again, for a long enough time, I could use this pot. I would definitely learn how to bake in it. Maybe learn how to make bean hole beans. Sure, it's never happened yet. But it could.

#4. I am seriously frugal. I paid $19 for that pot! Aunt Tessy said it was a good price, but I think she was just being nice. I think I paid too much. I have to get my money's worth with this thing.

The New Minimalism authors provide strategies for dealing with these behaviors so you can shed yourself of things, things, things. I don't think I need them. Just recognizing why I've been holding on to that pot seems to be enough to get it out of my kitchen. Right now it's out in the garage, and it goes to the transfer station on Saturday.

How's The Office Cleaning Going, Gail?

I finally took another swing at cleaning the office this afternoon. There's a couple of dozen books in there that have been sitting on a top shelf for years. My husband's grandfather received them as rewards for subscribing to a newspaper back in the thirties or forties. As soon as I have time to climb up on my desk, those things are heading out of here. Connection is the only element that applies here. Clearly, we've decided we're not that connected.

So perhaps once you know why you hold onto things, you can start letting all kinds of possessions go.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Connecticut Book Fair 2018--Some Of Those Who Were There

I was off to the Connecticut Children's Book Fair yesterday afternoon for the first time in three years. In the past, the Book Fair raised funds for the Northeast Children's Literature Collection at UConn's Dodd Research Center, though I'm not sure if that's the case, anymore.

My excursion will, of course, initiate a series of blog posts. Today we'll begin with the Connecticut children's writers I talked to who were doing signings yesterday afternoon (There were others, like Barbara McClintock, I didn't get a chance to speak with.) and a couple of random thoughts.

Connecticut Authors Signing

The first person I met was Susan Hood. And I mean I literally met her. We had only corresponded by e-mail. Susan won the Connecticut Book Award this year in the Young Readers Juvenile division for Double Take! She's also the author of Ada's Violin, which I liked a great deal.

I just missed Sandra Horning's presentation this year, though I caught her back in 2015. I did catch up with her during her signing today. Her most recent book is Baby Code. I apologize for forgetting to have her hold it up.

I also met Brenna Burns Yu for the first time. I wanted to connect with her because she's the debut author and illustrator of Hazel and Twig The Birthday Fortune, which won the Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children's Literature while still in manuscript form.  (I don't know which year.) The Tassy Walden is a Connecticut award and a number of winners and finalists have gone on to publication. So Brenna is part of a Connecticut literary circle.

Random Thoughts

Arthur Yorinks was originally scheduled to attend this year's fair. He couldn't make it, but some of his books were offered, including  a beautiful stack of Company's Coming, which my beloved followers know, I'm sure, is a very important book to me. It even became part of a baby shower in our family. What's more there was another stack of Company's Going, Yorinks' follow-up book. I got pretty excited about this, because I thought both books were out-of- print. Which they may have been, and now they're back.

David Small illustrated both these books.
Yorinks wasn't the only person missing from the Book Fair yesterday. I used to know one or two booksellers involved with the Fair, but a new store is running it, so my contacts are gone. I used to sometimes see an archivist from the Northeast Children's Literature Collection there, but she's retired and moved away.

I was very happy to see Billie Levy there, though, who is a major presence in Connecticut children's literature. How big a presence is she? My husband, a civil engineer, asked me last night if Miss Billie had been at the Fair. She is a children's book collector whose 8,000 piece donation got the Northeast Children's Literature Collection off and running. And then she continued to collect more. I've been seeing Billie at UConn children's lit events for years. Billie was there, so all was right with the Connecticut childlit world yesterday.

Over the next few days I'll be covering the three discussions I attended.


Thursday, November 01, 2018

A Kids' Kids' Book

Finchosaurus by Gail Donovan is what's known as a quiet book, in this case, a quiet book about a very realistic child in a realistic child situation. Finch is obsessed with dinosaurs. His knowledge of those creatures defines him. He develops a new obsession when he discovers a tiny note in his fifth-grade classroom's garden.

"Help," it says.

Finch sets to work to find out who wrote it. Who needs help, and how can Finch help him or her? This is his goal, and he takes steps to reach it. He tries to keep what he's doing to himself so that no one can take this new project from him, but slowly more and more people find out and become drawn into his plan. I must say, I didn't see the ending of this carefully plotted mini-mystery coming. But it definitely works.

One of the things Donovan does very well here is stick to her basic premise. Finch's inability to sit still and his grandparents who are downsizing because one of them is ill, are not pile-on problems that draw readers away from the initial story issues. Finch's fidgets and concerns about where he and his family will stay when they go to visit Guppy and Gammy in the future are not obstacles to be solved or random tangents but a way of creating a world for him.

I can imagine Finchosaurus being used as a classroom read-aloud and initiating "what-would-you-do?" discussions.

A field trip to something called Dinosaur State Park figures in this story. Though it sounds like a made-up name, Dinosaur State Park is a real place in Connecticut. This book so rooted in reality uses a real park. I happened to be there a couple of years ago. I do not know why I didn't take any pictures of the good stuff. I was taking part in a Connecticut DEEP Challenge,
which is why I had my picture taken in front of the sign. I had to prove I'd been there.

FTC Disclosure: Gail Donovan is a NESCBWI colleague. I won my Finchosaurus uncorrected galley in a blog contest.