Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Stress Is Harmful Vs. Stress Is Helpful

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a couple of mindsets in the Gauthier family. This week I'll cover two very general ones described by Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress. Notice how they could impact writers.

The Stress Is Harmful Mindset

"When you view stress as harmful," McGonigal says, "it is something to be avoided. Feeling stressed becomes a signal to try to escape or reduce the stress...."

Writing can be stressful. Coming up with new material, revising a draft and having to come up with more new material is hard. Creating the perfect synopsis, the perfect cover letter, creates a lot of misery. (That can't just be me, can it?)

"...people who endorse a stress-is-harmful mindset are more likely to say that they cope with stress by trying to avoid it. For example, they are more likely to:

  • Try to distract themselves from the cause of the stress instead of dealing with it 
  • Focus on getting rid of their feelings of stress instead of taking steps to address its source."
  • And other things like drink, withdraw, etc.
Writers could distract themselves from their stress by addressing its source, meaning writing. But more often we don't deal with it, we distract ourselves instantly by going on-line. Social media may not have been created to alleviate stress, but it does a great job with it.

The Stress Is Positive Mindset

"...people who believe that stress can be helpful," McGonigal goes on, "are more likely to say that they cope with stress proactively...they are more likely to:

  • Plan a strategy for dealing with the source of stress.
  • Seek information, help, or advice."
  • And other things  
These must be the people who actually do their writing. But I'm just guessing.

More Mindsets Are Coming Up, As Well As Information On How To Move From One To Another

Maybe next week, maybe not.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Reading Is A Sign Of Good Health

After three days on an antibiotic that doesn't make me sick (so far), I am again sitting up and taking nourishment. In fact, I started working again yesterday and have done a little cooking.

I've also watched a lot of TV. Last weekend when the body aches hit, I added a Netflix app to my tablet so I could watch TV in bed, twenty-four hours a day. And that's what I did for several days at the beginning of the week. I watched two Katherine Ryan specials, the new Aziz Ansari special, all three seasons of Broadchurch, part of season one of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, and an episode from the last season of Episodes.

I would wake up and watch some TV on my tablet before I got out of bed. Once I was better, I moved out to the sun room to watch tablet TV. I'd go to bed and watch an episode of Broadchurch before I went to sleep. Except one night when I was running late, I watched that episode of Episodes because it was only half an hour. If I woke up in the night, I watched TV.

Those were all times when I used to read. I had no interest in it then. Kind of like I didn't have an interest in eating Saturday night into Tuesday.

Then one morning instead of watching TV in bed, I used my tablet to read articles. A number of them. Last night I ended up reading the first story in a Shirley Jackson book I've had on my Kindle for at least a year. Even though twice today I petered out and stretched out on the sun room couch to finish Broadchurch, it looks as if I'm back reading.

As I was writing this, I realized that my desire to read came back along with my desire to eat.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

What Are You Whining About Now, Gail?

Lyme Disease! That's what I'm whining about now. I'm being treated for suspected Lyme Disease, which is a hodgepodge of uncomfortable symptoms, in my case, anyway, and the antibiotics to treat it suck.

I added the Netflix app to my tablet, and now I can watch TV and movies in bed. If I felt better, I'd worry about never reading again. But instead I'm going to go watch another episode of Broadchurch.

And I mention this here, because I don't expect to be working this week. What energy I have is going to watching TV. See you on the other side.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: How You Think About Stress In Your Life

Today I'm continuing my exploration of how stress affects the way we manage time, using The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal.

McGonigal writes about mindsets, "beliefs that shape your reality." The concept of mindsets isn't new. I've always thought of them as, say, a belief system that everything is filtered through. What is new is that McGonigal says that mindsets affect how we perceive stress and that there's a "new field of mindset science" that shows that one short intervention can change them.

I've only made it about 25% of the way into the book so far, and while I was in the early days I was thinking...Meh. Then I realized what my own stress mindset is. (Actually, McGonigal tells us in the book to do that, so maybe I was following instructions. I don't remember.) And very soon thereafter I happened to get an e-mail from a family member (not the archivist I wrote about recently, another one, a nurse) who had read my first stress and time management post and responded with what sure looked like her stress mindset.

A Tale Of Two Stress Mindsets

Gauthier 1. That's me. This is how my mindset about stress goes: I feel that I can only take on one stressful activity at a time. I can't take on Stressful Activity B until Stressful Activity A is over.  I can't even make reservations for a weekend in July until whatever issue is concerning me in May and June is over.

Gauthier 2. The nurse.  She thinks that stress is necessary.  She believes we have stress no matter what the circumstances, because we are so used to having stress that it helps us to get things done.   Feeling stressed gets us motivated to finish the things we need to do.  Otherwise, would we finish anything?

The Gauthier Stress Mindsets And Time Management

How do these mindsets affect how these particular Gauthiers manage time and crank out work?

Gauthier 1. That's me again. If the stars are lined up correctly, I can work toward multiple goals.  Not so much when stress raises its ugly head. In fact, during particularly stressful times, I intentionally narrow my focus to only a few things. Once I get something done, or get that stress behind me, I can take on something else. I can stay on task, because I limit the number of tasks I'm working on. I might, for instance, limit myself to work and family, and cut way back on social interactions and travel.

Gauthier 2. Gauthier 2, who is not me, remember, is able to work on more things over all aspects of her life. She manages work, family, a network of friends, travel, going to movies regularly, and hitting some Broadway shows when they came to Hartford.

Does what I'm describing here illustrate that fight-or-flight business we're always hearing about because Gauthier 1 appears to run for her life to escape stress while Gauthier 2 tends to go "@#!! it! We're doing this?" You'd think so, but McGonigal says that fight or flight is not the only stress response. More on that in another post.

Why Do People Develop Different Stress Mindsets?

Gauthier 1 and Gauthier 2 should have pretty similar DNA (Ancestry.com says so), and except for birth order and the Mom-and-Dad-liked-me-better thing, we had a pretty similar upbringing. So why such different stress mindsets? Is this something McGonigal will cover in her book?

If I had to guess...and this is my blog, so I do...our work situations are a factor here. Remember how I made a point of stating that Gauthier 2 is a nurse? She has spent years in a variety of increasingly responsible healthcare positions, keeping her under stress regularly during her workdays..

Gauthier 1, on the other hand, is a writer. I experience what might be described as punctuated stress. Stress shoots up when trying to meet a contractual deadline. It goes up when preparing for a professional presentation or having to make it. An editor leaves her publishing house. Should I follow her? Stressful. Cover letters for submissions require hours of stressful work, because a sentence phrased incorrectly could mean the difference between convincing an agent or editor to take a look or being passed over. Struggling to come up with new material for revisions? Stressful. But when those high stress moments are over, the stress is gone and I have long periods of working in comfort.

In The Upside of Stress, McGonigal says that "past stress teaches the brain and body how to handle future stress. Stress leaves an imprint on your brain that prepared you to deal with similar stress the next time you encounter it." "Psychologists," she says "call this stress inoculation. It's like a stress vaccine for your brain."  "...going through stress makes you better at it..."

So I'm making the argument that the kind of stress Gauthier 2 has experienced over the years has made it possible for her to better handle it, and her ability to handle stress means she can better manage her time and do more. Evidently my kind of stress has done nothing for me.

Monday, July 01, 2019

I Was Going On About Time Ten Years Ago

My family member the archivist tweets from his extensive archives regularly in order to bring some of his material to the readingpublic's attention. I have done that once in a while, but realized today, hey, I could tweet every day from the ol' Original Content backlist. So, tomorrow being July 1st, I thought, why don't I tweet a July 1st post from another year? How about from ten years ago?

So I looked at the July 1st, 2009 post and what do I see? Trying to Manage Time. I was on that ten years ago, two and a half years before I started the Time Management Tuesday feature.

I do think I've made a little progress since then.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Enola Holmes Movie Is In The Works

I am Facebook Friends with Nancy Springer (which means we're not actually friends or really even know each other), author of the Enola Holmes series, and so I've been aware of an Enola Holmes movie coming up, since Nancy has been passing on news as it became
available. Things really started popping this past week.

Earlier this year, Nancy announced that Millie Bobby Brown was going to star as Enola Holmes and act as the film's producer. (I've read that there are plans to film all the books.) I am not that big a Stranger Things fan, and Brown is my main reason for watching.

In rapid succession, we heard this week that:

  • Helena Bonham Carter will play Enola's mother.
  • Henry Cavill will play Enola's brother. (That would be Sherlock Holmes.)
  • And Fiona Shaw will play...well, no one knows who she's playing, but it doesn't matter because she's so great in Killing Eve.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

July Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Sun., July 7, Kati Mocker, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 3:00 PM

Sat., July 13, Abdul-Razak Zachariah, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM 

Sat., July 13, Culliver Crantz, Barnes & Noble, West Hartford  12:00 PM

Fri., July 19, Joyce Lapin, Talcott Mountain Academy, Avon 7:30 to 9:30 PM Ticketed Event

Sat., July 20, Joyce Lapin, Elm Street Books, New Canaan 12:30 PM to 2:30 PM

Sun., July 21, Theresa Pelham, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 10:30 AM

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: The Impact Of Stress On Time Management

My family member the archivist has, for many years, been studying and preserving old television. For the last twenty months, he's also been the daytime caregiver for a baby, now toddler. Recently he said that he frequently can't work during toddler nap time, because he's worn out from the twenty-four hour a day stress of dealing with what a child should be eating, how he should be sleeping, whether or not he is sick, why he is crying, and keeping him safe and alive. When he gets a break because someone is napping, the archivist finds himself collapsing in front of the TV or with his phone. The stress of Dad Life often makes it difficult for him to take advantage of his small amounts of work time.

This was very interesting to me, because I had just experienced a drop in my stress level after many years of dealing with another family member's illness. I had less to do, less hanging over my head, and less to worry about. Was this new lack of stress, I wondered, going to have some kind of positive impact on how I managed my time?

What Time Does To Stress Is Not The Same As What Stress Does To Time

I went out looking for information on this situation and didn't find much. There's a lot written on weak time management skills causing stress, but far less on stress causing a collapse in time management. One article I did find, How Stress Affects Your Work Performance by Christina Hamlett at the Houston Chronicle's website, deals with stress in traditional work places. A couple of points that could pertain to people who work for themselves:

  1. Stress contributes to job burnout and strained relationships. What happens with people who work alone and have no relationships to strain? Maybe burnout was what was contributing to my family member collapsing during nap time instead of working. Or my struggle to get up in the mornings because here's another day of problems, what's the hurry? Or get up off the couch at night to go to bed.
  2. Stress affects ability to remember things, evidently both short- and long-term, and makes you easily distracted. Do I have any new followers on Twitter this morning? I should look again this afternoon. Have any of my friends posted pictures on Facebook? Oops. Gotta go check my blog stats.
  3. Stress pounds away at your health. It's hard to work if you're sick. Or going to the doctor. Or the pharmacy. Or using the Internet to research what's wrong with you, which kind of relates to what we were just talking about with being distracted. 


Some Why From The Time Management Tuesday Archives

Speaking of archives, as we were earlier,a few things we've talked about here at OC's Time Management Tuesday feature could relate to what's happening when we're stressed enough to blow up our ability to manage time.

  • According to our old friend Kelly McGonigal in The Willpower Instinct, people who are distracted have poor impulse control and are less likely to be able to stay on long-term goals. Stressors...hugely distracting. And then there is the What-the-Hell Effect. In the case of people under stress, the more worn-out they get and less they do because of it, the worse they feel about their ability to get anything done and...What the Hell? They might as well watch TV during work time. They might as well stay in bed another half hour.
  • Timothy Pychyl in The Procrastinator's Digest says that a big part of the reason procrastinators procrastinate is that they're giving in to the need to feel good immediately. Say what you want about social media, it can be an immediate feelgood. McGonigal also writes about how undermining feeling bad can be in The Upside of Stress. People who are shamed or frightened by their doctors over things like weight, smoking, or drinking, frequently engage in those behaviors even more, because now they feel bad. They're humiliated and frightened, and the quickest way to escape those feelings for them is eating, smoking, or drinking. Well, people under stress feel bad. Often for years, if the stressor is child rearing or eldercare. TV, bed, and the Internet are immediate feel goods. Work, not so much. This spring I've noticed people on Twitter tweeting that they're having a bad day and asking to see images of cats, because that will make them feel better. I'd rather look at celebrity gossip on my tablet while lying in bed in the morning or plastered to the couch at night, but to each of us our own immediate escape. 


So What?

Well, exactly. We've got some why, but can we do anything about stress's impact on our work time? I've got a couple of things in the OC archive that might help, and I've started a summer blog read,  The Upside of Stress, which I mentioned above. I know I've said I was reading it before, but I must have gotten distracted or stressed or something. I'm really reading it now.

More to come.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Magical Old People In Children's Books

Last night I finished reading a realistic middle grade novel in which an old woman appears way too conveniently in order to help our heroine with a far-fetched situation. She's what I think of as a magical old person, a secondary character in a children's book who appears for the sole purpose of helping the main character and providing life lessons. In my experience, most magical old people die by the end of the story, as the one in last night's book did. Because, you know, that's the very best life lesson.

Well-read child readers must catch on to the fact that if you have an old person in a book directed toward them, dollars to doughnuts you're going to have a death. Old people are like dogs in kids' books.

I want to write a middle-grade novel with an old woman who's a bitch-on-wheels. Not only will she survive the story, she may blow something up. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

So What Do Writers Do All Day? Not Write, Obviously.

I'm not a fan of accounts of how writers spend their days. This is totally because I once read an article in which a poet described his typical day. It involved reading the paper, going for a walk, and taking a nap. Maybe with his wife. I remember thinking something along the lines of, Please, God, no.

Nonetheless, I had an interesting day on Monday, one that is not representative of anything in particular but one that in its very lack of representation represents something, even if I'm not sure what.


Frittered this away, the whole stinking thing. That includes a mile and a half walk. So...yikes.


This is where the interesting part starts. I need to make some significant changes in a character in an adult book I've been working on. I wanted to go over my research, some of which involved a book I bought specifically for this project...and read...a number of years ago. So I spent the afternoon turning the office upside down and going over the living room bookshelves over and over again looking for it.

No luck. At first, I couldn't even remember the name of the thing and consider it quite an achievement that I was able to work that out with some Internet research.  My fear is that I decided I was through with it and tossed it while I was starting an office clean-out that I never finished.

This book definitely had an impact on what I'm doing with my book, and, yet, I cannot find any notes I took, either on paper or on my computer. Yes, my research skills are not what you'd call skills.

Something good came out of this experience. I found a bookend that's been missing for six months or so. It was where you'd expect it to be, on a shelf between a couple of books. This gives me hope that God's Daughters will show up someday, too. Along with my mother's checkbook and a heating pad that are also lost.


So on Monday evening, I went to my NESCBWI writers' group, the first meeting I've made in a year. Somebody got sick in May, 2018, and I missed some time for that. Then I was working on an adult book and wouldn't have anything to bring to the meeting so I didn't go while that was going on. Someone got sick again in January, 2019, so I stayed away for that. I wasn't enthusiastic about going this week, because I'm still working on an adult book, so I don't have anything to read at the group. Also, I'm aware through group e-mails I've been receiving that there are a lot of new group members. What if they were doing things differently? And, you know, going to these things means getting home around 9:00, which is the middle of the freaking night.

I was not up for this, at all, but I keep reading that you need social connections or your mind goes to pieces, so that is, absolutely, the reason I changed my clothes and dragged myself to that group meeting.

To make a long story short, I had a good time, got some marketing ideas, and finished the evening drinking with friends in the rain by the side of the road afterwards. I was looking forward to going back before I'd even left.

What's The Point, Gail?

It turns out, my Monday does represent something. What it represents is the amount of time writers can spend on writer-related activity without actually writing. This is not an original observation. The point has been made before, that writers can spend a lot of time "working" without writing.

Speaking of points, another interesting one is that in spite of the loss of my morning, I felt very good about Monday. Though, remember, I didn't do any writing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Not All YA Is Obvious YA

I recently finished reading The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, the first in a series of four YA historical mysteries. It's set in the nineteenth century and ends with a couple of feminist twists I appreciated. I grabbed it on a Kindle sale, because historical mysteries are something I read. My Kindle is loaded with them. My heirs will find them.

How These Historical Mysteries Work

Okay, so I've read dozens of these things...dozens. And the dozens and dozens of the adult historical mysteries set in the nineteenth century that I've read involve a female/male couple, who meet angry, end up with lots of sexual tension, and, after a few books, sex. At least one part of the couple is either tormented or has some torment in his/her past. One or the other of them ends up in physical danger that the other one saves them from. As a general rule, the characters are of more interest than the mysteries. And, in my experience, many of these series do the literary equivalent of jumping the shark at some point, and the characters and the sex aren't enough to keep you reading.

"A Spy in the House" And The Historical Mystery Pattern

A Spy in the House pretty much follows the pattern for the first book in one of these series. The female lead has a rough background, she's in conflict with the male lead, at least one of them ends up in physical danger and the other one saves the day. The ending may or may not be typical of these series. I'd have to read the next book to see.

A couple of times references are made to the leads' ages. The male is twenty, the female seventeen, but that's pretty much the only way we know how young they are. At the halfway point, something comes out about the female character's family and background that adds a bit of search for identity to the book world, something that is YA-ish. But it isn't a major part of the rest of the story. The sexual tension isn't very high in this book, though there's enough to suggest something could come of it down the line. This lower key love interest could be a nod to the YA audience.

Otherwise, this is pretty much an adult book with teen characters. The teens could be pulled out and replaced with adults with very little effort.

Nothing Wrong Here

A Spy in the House isn't the first book I've seen that works like this.  Au Revoir Crazy European Chick from 2012 has an adult-like character in an adult-like thriller geared toward teen readers. I Hunt Killers, also from 2012, is a teen Dexter. Illuminae from 2015 is a science fiction space thriller in which teen characters definitely function in very adult ways.

There's nothing wrong with any of this. We're just not talking books with traditional YA themes and YA situations. At most there may be a loose connection to a missing parent to tie the books to the genre. Otherwise, you could imagine any number of adult actors playing these characters in the movie adaptation.

And that is probably the point. These books give teen readers an opportunity to imagine themselves in far more adult and thrilling roles than those they find in more traditional contemporary YA books.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Author Jennifer Blecher Talks About Publishing "Out of Place"

Last night after an early dinner out, I hit the River Bend Bookshop in Glastonbury, Connecticut where debut author Jennifer Blecher was speaking about the publication of her first book, Out of Place.
She gave a very smooth, comfortable talk on finding agents and dealing with editors on the "island of Manhattan," the home of the publishing world. She did very well, particularly considering the book was only released four days earlier.

I have not read my copy yet, but I can say it is a beautifully designed book.

So I met and talked with Jennifer, ran into writers' group friend Nancy Tandon and introduced her to my husband, chatted with the River Bend people about Dog Man--they are fans--all after having enjoyed a nice chicken margengo and glass of pinot grigio. This is what we call a night out at my house.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Can Traditionally Published Authors Market Their E-books?

I believe I've mentioned this once or twice before, but in case you missed it, all eight of my published books are out-of-print in paper. But four are "in-print," so to speak, as e-books. (Look to your left. Scroll down a bit. Not too much. There they are.) My publisher published e-book editions of my last three books with the company, as publishers do these days. I got the rights back to one of my older out-of-print books and republished it as an e-book myself.

Well, I received my royalty statement a few days ago, and imagine my surprise to find that all three of the e-books from my publisher have sold some copies. We're talking a number small enough that I'm not going to mention it here, but all three of them sold something. Usually maybe one will sell something during the period the statement covers.

I checked my Saving the Planet sales on Amazon, and, damn, I'd sold a few e-books there, too. (I think one was to a family member who just got a Kindle.)

Now, in all likelihood, this "surge" in sales is some random event in the universe. Nonetheless, it brought to mind a thought I've had before and may have written about here but, of course, can't find. And that is...

If Traditionally Published Authors Are Out-of-Print In Paper, Should They  Market Their E-Books?


In my experience, most authors published by traditional publishers that include an e-book edition with their publication plans (as many do nowadays), treat those e-books as if they don't exist. Paper
and print is all. This makes sense for authors whose paper-and-print books are in print, because they are usually more expensive than the e-books, so a paper-and-print sale is worth more. Additionally, it's easier to support a paper-and-print book with appearances at bookstores and festivals. E-books are invisible. It's hard to make a public appearance for them.

How much do writers focus on paper-and-print books over e-books? I read an article this winter, which, of course, I can't find now, in which a number of pretty well-known authors were asked their opinion on what authors should do when their books go out of print. Try to find another publisher? Republish themselves?  Every single one of those people said the equivalent of "Give it up and move on, folks. That horse is dead, don't waste your time beating it. There are other books in the sea waiting for you to write them."

Except...the horse isn't quite dead. There's an e-book edition. And while e-books aren't big sellers in children's publishing, they do much better in some adult genres. Your book is available for purchase by anyone with an e-reader. For that matter, library users are able to access e-books for their readers through their libraries, so, somehow, libraries or organizations they are connected with buy them. Should you be doing your bit to market them, just as you would to market the print book?

Who Should Consider This Question?

  • For authors who are publishing regularly, marketing their print books will probably still be their top interest, because that's where the money is. And, you know, you've moved on. Unless, of course, you have a book out-of-print in print that you really like a lot, and you'd like to see it get more readers. In that case, e-books will be more important to you.
  • Then you have authors who publish a book and then find themselves, for whatever reason, out of print before they've found a publisher for book two. But they've got their e-book edition out there, ready for purchase.
  • You also have writers who have been published multiple times and then find themselves, for whatever reason, in a long dry spell. They may have multiple e-book editions out there, ready for purchase. 


What's To Be Gained By Marketing E-books?

  • If you can generate sales of e-books, you can show potential publishers that you're capable of marketing.
  • If your print book went out-of-print before it had earned back your advance, your publisher lost money on you. Money generated from e-book sales goes toward that advance. You're showing potential publishers that you're capable of continuing to make money for them, even after your print book is gone.
  • If your print book went out-of-print after it had earned back your advance, you'll collect royalties on e-book sales. 


How Can Traditionally Published Authors Market "Traditionally" Published E-books?

Well, there's the big money question. You could try looking to self-publishing for a model, but writers who self-publish e-books have control over their books in a way that traditionally published authors don't. They can change the price, for instance, creating sales periods, which traditionally published authors can't do, because the publishing company is the publisher and controls that. Nor can traditionally published authors tinker with any of the Amazon details for their e-books. Again, that's the publisher's business. On top of all that, most self-publishing how-to's for marketing e-books relate to publishing new e-books. The e-book edition of an out-of-print book could be five, ten, or more years old. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that it is difficult getting marketing attention for the e-book edition of an out-of-print book. A bazillion books are published every year. The shiny and new get attention.

You probably shouldn't be putting tremendous effort into marketing backlist e-books. Tremendous effort should be going into writing new books to become your future backlist e-books. Go for less labor intensive marketing:

  • Make sure your website includes information on how visitors can buy your e-books.
  • Make sure visitors to your blog can see your e-books and follow links to purchasing information, too. (Look to your left. Scroll up a bit. Up some more. There they are.)
  • Include their images on your Twitter banner.  
  • Be active on social media. E-book readers curious about you may decide to try out an available e-book. Especially if you have a cheap one.  
  • Find opportunities to mention your available e-books or use their images. Yes, the way I have in this post.  
Whatever you do, don't ever say that your book is only available as an e-book. There is nothing lesser about e-books.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

A Taekwondo/Writing Analogy

Box o' TKD Belts
You haven't seen me write about taekwondo in...ah...maybe six years, which was when I quit training. But I'm still going through my old writers' journals and found a post about breaking boards.

Everybody loves breaking boards, by the way.

Back in 2008 I wrote:

"The point of breaking is to perfect your kicks, to land them more accurately, and you can be doing that without breaking the board. You can be getting what you're supposed to be getting from the experience without seeing the board break."

A Place to Perfect Writing. Yeah.
I don't know where I got that. Presumably I thought of it myself, because I'm pretty obsessive about keeping track of citations. But looking at it now, I realize there's an obvious connection to writing.

One of the points of writing is to perfect the writing. You can be doing that without getting published. You can be getting what you're supposed to be getting from the experience without seeing your work published.


Monday, June 03, 2019

Whispering Pines Retreat Retreat

The New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators has been running the Whispering Pines Writers' Retreat in Rhode Island for more than twenty years. It is one of those retreats that's more of a mini-conference with a weekend of mentors and presentations. It's a very well regarded and popular event, so much so that they've started running two a year.

This fall the organizers will be running a different kind of Whispering Pines, a working retreat without faculty or workshops. A traditional writers' retreat in a beautiful, somewhat isolated place.

Dates: Oct. 25-27.

For an extra fee, you can get a private room!!! Introverts take note.

You can also get day only tuition, for those of us who think an entire weekend with our own kind would be way too much, even with our own rooms.

This thing has a lot to offer.

Disclosure: I attended Whispering Pines Retreat thirteen years ago as a mentor and went back as a participant for a day a few years later. My sister has attended rubber stamping retreats at the same facility. Her complaint? The food was too good.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

June Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Sat., June 1, Clare Pernice, The Toy Tree, Newtown 10:00 AM

Sat., June 1, Amanda Bannikov, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 12:00 PM Story time

Sun, June 2, Barbara Gervais Ciancimino, That Book Store, Wethersfield 1:00 PM Story time  

Fri., June 7, Jen Blecher, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 6:00 PM

Sat., June 8, Joyce Lapin, The Hickory Stick, Washington Depot 12:00 PM Story time

Sun., June 9, Katie L. Carroll, 17th Annual Pirate's Day, Milford 9 AM to 3 PM

Wed., June 12, Martha Seif Simpson, Avon Free Public Library Pop-up Book Fair, Avon 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM 22 local authors

Sat., June 15, June Hyjek, Book Club Bookstore & More, Windsor 10:30 AM Story time

Sat., June 22, Joyce Lapin, Bank Street Book Nook, New Milford 12:00 PM

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

I Have A Connection to Lad! The Dog! That Dog!

Today I had lunch with my husband's second cousin once removed, who told us that his wife's uncle was... Albert Payson Terhune! The collie guy!

It's a good thing I was at Bertucci's today with these people, because my husband didn't have a clue who Cousin E was talking about. But I read Lad of Sunnybank back in the day, and it seems as if I had to have read more of his many collie books, since Terhune's name looms so large in my mind. Not that I can tell you much about Lad, except it was about a dog who was owned by a classy couple who lived in a classy house.

Cousin E. also told us that my husband's great-grandfather owned a Terhune collie, because Terhune was also a breeder. So I have a double connection to Lad.

In an article about a Terhune biography published in 1977, Albin Krebs called Albert Payson Terhune "The creator of some of the most popular books for young people ever published in this country."  In 2015, Bud Boccone, writing for the American Kennel Club called him, "One of the most influential American novelists of all time."

People who like this guy, really like him.

In Lad as a Wasp In Dog's Clothing a child fan who reread some of Terhune's books, noticed some things that got by him when he was younger. In short, he found that "The analogy between thoroughbred dogs and human aristocrats is implicit in all Terhune's stories." To put it nicely. I actually read this article years ago and remember it.

I'm still excited because I'm kind of related to Lad by marriage.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Sounds Good Even With No Childlit Authors

The Avon Free Public Library in Avon, Connecticut is running its sixth Local Author Festival this summer. AFPL has featured children's authors and illustrators other years. The first year of the festival, for instance. This year, though, it looks as if no children's or YA authors or illustrators are taking part.

There's a good line-up of other people, though. Bookstores cut back on their author offerings during the summer. Recently, libraries like Avon's have been picking up the slack. Well done.

I've only been to the Avon Free Public Library for the Author Festival. I'm hoping to make a stop this summer to scope the place out during regular business hours. I've heard good things about the Children's Room.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

What's Happening In The Spring SCBWI Bulletin?

Do you have a copy of the Spring, 2019 Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrator Bulletin? Can you get one?

My favorite articles:

  • Isn't That a Coincidence? by Joelle Anthony. Yes, it's about dealing with or avoiding coincidence in your writing.
  • Verbs Make All the Difference in Nonfiction by Anthony D. Fredericks. Pretty obvious, right?
  • Prepublication Marketing by Darcy Pattison. This will be of particular interest to self-publishers. It includes a few things I hadn't heard before.

Go forth and read, children's writers. And other writers. And anybody.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Reading To Support Goals

At the end of January, I made an adjustment to this year's goals and objectives "Research and create notes for a happy apocalyptic story." I read Pandemic 1918 by Catharine Arnold and Pale Rider by Laura Spinney to research that story, but I'm also trying to read some general science fiction to ground myself in the genre I'm writing. (I also have an adult first contact story that I'm holding on to for a little while before I submit it again, so grounding myself in the genre would be good for that, too.) So late this winter/early this spring I read Lock In and Head On by John Scalzi. (I read his Redshirts a few years ago, and I believe we have his Agent to the Stars floating around the house somewhere.)

Lock In and Head On are police procedurals set in the near future, using the same main characters and same world. To be truthful, I found the science a little long in places and hard to follow, and there were a lot of secondary characters, particularly of the potential bad guy variety. I loved the main characters and their world, though, enjoyed the reads, and hope Scalzi does more Lock In books.


How Do Lock In and Head On Fit In To My Grand Scheme?

The Lock In books involve bringing science fiction elements into our world. This is my favorite kind of science fiction. I am not a big fan of stories about human elements entering science fiction worlds. When I write science fiction,which, granted, isn't that often, I bring science fiction to the here and, so far, the now. That's what I did with My Life Among the Aliens and Club Earth, which have the same main characters and world. They involve aliens coming into suburban children's world.

So I'm going to try to stick with that kind of science fiction reading for the immediate future.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Not So Obscure Illustrator

Old books over fireplace. Not anymore.
Time to start easing back into work life, including blogging.

In March and April, I wrote about the old books that I was literally...and that is literally...using as living room decor. I know Joanna Gaines does that all the time, but moldy old books are not that attractive. They get depressing after a while, too.

On Saturday I was with a group of relatives and tried to unload an 1898 edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin that my grandmother had written her name in in 1945. My Aunt Esther, her daughter, said, "Eh, I have a bunch of those," meaning, I assume, her mother's books, not copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Not only did my cousin Mary not want it, she said if I could get our cousin Bob to take it, she'd send him the grandmother book I sent her last year. Bob did take the book. He just moved, has 65 boxes of books, and just doesn't care about one more. Yeah, I did kind of take advantage.

So that's one book gone. But there are more!
The Little Browns

The Little Browns by Mabel E. Wotton, for instance. It caught my eye because it's 119 years old and  still very attractive. Okay, attractive in a dated way, in a way that a lot of 119 year old books aren't. The illustrator, H.M. Brock, is better known than some of the people I've been writing about. The University of Reading, for instance, has the H.M. Brock Collection, which holds 2,000 books that include his work.

Illustration from Little Browns
Unfortunately, H.M. Brock is often described as C.E. Brock's younger brother. C.E. was also an illustrator, who gets attention for illustrating Jane Austen's books, though it appears that H.M. worked with him on that. C.E. painted in oils and was elected to something called the British Institution. Poor H.M., on the other hand, worked in advertising in addition to illustrating. Advertising always gets a bad rap.

Illustration from Little Browns
Jeff A. Menges in a  selection in 101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age, 1890-1925 says that C.E. accepted fewer illustration assignments and the ones he did take "included more literature." (Ah...what?) Our H.M. did more book work and more for the juvenile market. (Ah...is that supposed to be a bad thing?) H.M. also went into comics when book sales in the '30s and '40s meant less work for him. That may have been a sign of hard times in those days, though now it makes him cool.

Cooler. Coolish.

At the very least, he has left a bigger paper trail than some of the other authors whose books I had in my living room for several years.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Morning Pages For Organization?

This past winter, as part of a feeble attempt to create a minimalist office, I've been weeding out and then discarding many, many...many...years of writers' journals. Or workbooks, as I sometimes thought of them, according to something I read in one of them last night. This will be the subject of another blog post, some time in the future. Who knows when?

Today what I want to write about is what I've been finding in the 2002-03 journal and how it relates to a post I stumbled upon this week from Melissa Wiley, writing at Medium, though in the childlit blog world she is known for Here in the Bonny Glen.

I have to say my mind has been on hover these last few weeks, and I haven't been doing much with it. So going through old journals is a perfect not much thing to do with a hovering mind. Then one day I went on to my Feedly bloglist, thinking that would be not much I could do with my hovering mind, too. And I found Melissa's post that connected with something I've been seeing in this particular journal of mine.

This is one of those it's-supposed-to-happen things.

Morning Pages And Distractions

So Melissa's Medium piece is called Digital Decluttering: A Diary, which is all about getting a grip on digital distractions. Definitely a good read for people trying to manage time.What became particularly interesting for me, though, is that Melissa started doing the morning pages recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way. "Three pages of longhand stream-of-consciousness writing every morning before any outside input—no screens, no conversation, not even a book," Melissa says.

As it turns out, in my 2002-2003 journal/workbook I write often of doing morning pages. In fact, I was doing them in the journal, using morning pages to free-write on projects I was working on. If recollection serves me, that's  not what you're supposed to do with morning pages. I was also using them to whine about my life. From what I can make out in the journal--there is a lot of chaotic material in there--I was trying to do them for six weeks, because I'd read that six weeks of a behavior is a habit. Hahahahaha. Sure.

In Digital Decluttering, Melissa  says "In these daily writing sessions I found myself lamenting my diminished attention span, my unread bookstack, my wasted time."

I did, too!  "Yesterday was a serious bust..." "Disastrous few days." "Yesterday didn't go too well."

Melissa used morning pages to help her stay organized. "The cardinal rule of Morning Pages is they have to come first, before you do anything else," she wrote...in bold.  "...I began moving to my studio to write my Morning Pages and then I’d roll straight into work on the book." Morning pages made it possible for her to skip checking in on the news and social media first thing instead of working.

I was trying to use them for practical, organizational reasons, also. "In order to justify the morning pages, they really have to increase my work output. My output professionally. I also have to justify them family-wise, by becoming more productive in the house." "Well, working on morning pages is a better thing to do before TKD (taekwondo) then surfing the Net. I guess."

But We Really Didn't Like Morning Pages

Towards the end of her Medium post, Melissa says, "Morning Pages had been effective at helping me shift some habits. But I never liked writing them; after a few weeks they felt routine and dull. I kept up the practice because it had borne good fruit. But I was thrilled to exchange them for something that suits me far better: a daily practice of reading poetry first and then opening my notebook to see what happens."

I'm not sure how far I was into my six-month plan (as I indicated earlier, my journals are pretty chaotic), when I wrote, "I'm really beginning to hate this. I'm not feeling any more creative. Nor productive. Must find ways to get more done. Like what?"

Melissa's use of morning pages led to a work practice she finds satisfying.  I don't recall what morning pages led to for me. Perhaps the next journal will reveal something.

Remember, this was in 2002 or 2003. I started Time Management Tuesday at the beginning of 2012. Yes, it is a sad statement that I was still struggling with productivity ten years later. But I'm one of those people who believes that the struggle is everything, so...Hurray! I was still struggling!

So What Is My Takeaway From This, Gail?

Go ahead and check out Melissa's post, particularly the section toward the end about poetry, and think about whether plunging into some type of writing...any kind of writing..., either first thing in the morning or first thing in your writing time, will help you stay focused on work.

Friday, April 26, 2019

May Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Sat., May 4, Susan Ross, Westport Library, Westport 3:00 PM

Sat., May 4, Katie L. Carroll, Rick Arruzza, Suzanne Cordatos, Tabitha G. Kelly, Donna Marie Merritt, Christine Pakkala, Torrington Library, Torrington Noon to 4 Author Expo and Book Fair

Mon. May 6, Padma Venkatrama Q&A with blogger Cassi Steenblok, Bank Square Books, Mystic 5:30 PM

Tues., May 7, Erin Jones, Bank Square Books, Mystic 7:00 PM

Sat., May 11, Joyce Lapin, Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury Noon

Sat., May 18, Joyce Lapin, That Book Store, Wethersfield 1:00 PM

Sun., May 19, Josh Funk, That Book Store, Wethersfield 11:30 AM

Sat., May 25, Joyce Lapin, Barnes & Noble, West Hartford 11:00 AM

Sun., May 26, Joyce Lapin, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 10:30 AM

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Do I Have Book Series? I Have Book Series.

Okay, so we've talked here about the old books I was decorating my mantel with. I finally found a picture of the thing all prettied up with stained and torn books that were probably causing mold- and health-related problems here. Marie Kondo would have had a stroke if she'd seen this place.

Today we're covering my copies of The Radio Boys Search for the Inca's Treasure (1922) and The Radio Boys Rescue the Lost Alaska Expedition (1922) by Gerald Breckenridge. According to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, there were three Radio Boys series published in the 1920s. The biggest sellers were published under a pseudonym by the famous Stratemeyer Syndicate. My books, of course, are not among the biggest sellers.

They do have a claim to fame, though. My books were written by Gerald Breckenridge, a pseudonym for...No, Gerald Breckenridge isn't a pseudonym at all but the author's actual name. And that's the claim to fame. This particular series of Radio Boys was written by an author not using a pseudonym. Breckenridge was a journalist who also worked as a publicist for RKO studios.

The Internet isn't swarming with info about him, though I did find that his papers are archived at the Auburn University at Montgomery Library. According to the guide to the papers "The collection lacks significant information pertaining to Breckenridge's career as a newspaper man, his relations with Lella Warren, or his other writing activities." Which kind of makes you wonder why the material is there. Lella Warren, by the way, was Breckenridge's first wife and a writer. In the very next paragraph, the guide writer says, "Among the more interesting items within the collection are the book and short story drafts. Portions of the drafts appear to have been written in the fictional/biography style utilized by Lella Warren. There is insufficient information available to determine the influence of these two writes upon one another."

If I were one of those tabloid writers who cover the royal family, I'd have a field day with those last two sentences. But I'm not, so speculate quietly to yourselves.

Gerald Breckenridge is another author who has traveled into the land of obscurity.

I also found two other books from children's series on the mantel:  Buddy on the Farm by Howard R. Garis and Bound to be an Electrician by Edward Stratemeyer. Yes, that Stratemeyer, the one of Stratemeyer Syndicate fame. Evidently he wrote a boatload of books himself in addition to...producing or packaging...series written by others. It appears to me that much of Stratemeyer's own work has become obscure, while some of the syndication's series, such as Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, remained known until very recently and may still be. Nancy Drew, in particular, has some cultural significance.

My copy of Bound to be an Electrician is inscribed to my husband's great-uncle, a Christmas present from his aunt in 1910. Someone held on to it for over a hundred years and moved it from place to place. My mind is boggling over that.

Marie Kondo, come get these books.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

The Weekend Writer: Make Sure Everything In Your Book Supports Your Story

I keep mentioning that I worked reading into some of my goals and objectives for this year. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even during stressful, demanding times, there's always room for reading, right?

Well, one of my objectives for Goal 2 Work on YA Thriller is Read YA Thrillers. Sounds great, doesn't it? Recently I started what I thought was a YA thriller as well as a YA thriller-ish piece of science fiction. I didn't finish either one of them. I was always having to stop to read material that didn't seem to have anything to do with the story I believed I was reading. I just couldn't maintain interest.

What, Exactly, Do You Mean, Gail?

For a story to work, everything in it must support it in some way. At the very least, if something appears in a story, it needs to support character, theme, or plot. If it doesn't, it stops the forward momentum of the story. Readers have to pause to take in this new material that doesn't relate to anything they've read before and, they may find, won't relate to much they're going to read.

For instance, eight or ten years ago, the YA blogosphere got hopped up because an agent, whose name I really don't know, went on record as saying that YA needed romance. Indeed, there is a lot of romance, or at least romantic entanglements, in YA across the board. But if the romance doesn't support the story, the writer has to stop the story to talk about young love.

Okay, the first book I quit reading involved a murder and potential victims getting weird murder-connected communications a year later. I thought that sounded thrilling. I thought that was the basic story, these young women getting messages and perhaps being targeted. I may have been wrong, though. The story may have been about something else, something deep and not thrilling. Especially since there was a lot of love interest going on in the first more than third of the book. There was a torn-between-two-lovers situation and another couple. I read quite a bit, wasn't clear on what these romances had to do with the story I thought I was going to read, and if the story was something else, I never figured out what it was. I may have got almost to the mid-way point on this one.

The second book I quit reading involved four young people fighting a terrorist group plotting attacks in the future. Thrilling! And sci-fi, which is good for me to read because I have an adult sci-fi project to shop around at some point. But the action kept stopping so characters could talk about how one of them was bi-sexual, one was gay, and one was transgender. We also had to pause for the hints that some of these characters were attracted to one another. It wasn't clear to me how this supported the terrorist story or how it was going to. So I gave up on that one, too.

All the romantic and quasi-romantic diversions in these books kept slowing the story down because they didn't seem to be about the story. Especially with the science fiction book, I felt as if I was sometimes reading filler.

An Example Of Romance Serving Story

Before some of you write me off as not appreciating romance, consider a book in which I think it works very well, because it is definitely part of the plot of in a story.

I happen to have just finished the adult novel My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. In this book the narrator and her sister are both attracted to the same man who is only attracted to one of them. A twist on the torn-between-two-lovers scenario that is so popular in YA. In this case, this romantic entanglement absolutely supports the plot, which is all about how the narrator will deal with her murderous sister. It creates tension. It definitely makes readers want to move on. It made this reader, anyway.

It's not just romance that can stop a story. Humor writers have to be careful to note use random jokes. If material doesn't support character, theme, or plot, it doesn't matter how funny it is, it will distract readers and discourage them from continuing reading.

This explains why a couple of days ago I edited out a lengthy HGTV joke in Chapter 17 of a new project. It didn't do anything and would have left readers wondering what it was doing there and if they needed to remember it going forth.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

An Early Twentieth Century Woman Educator For Women's History Month

It's the last day of Women's History Month, and I just have time to do one more post on the old books piled on the floor in my living room. Well, I'm going to do more than one, but I mean one more about women that fit into a Women's History Month theme.

What I'm telling you about today is The Children's First Reader by Ellen M. Cyr. My edition was published in 1893 by Ginn & Publishers, Boston. You can find a variety of her readers for different levels and in different editions all over the Internet.

In Mysteries Revealed about a Reading Instruction Pioneer in the Winter/Spring 2006 The Jayhawk Educator (page 8) Arlene Barry, Associate Professor at the University of Kansas School of Education, says that Ellen Cyr was "the first woman in America to have a widely sold reading series marketed under her own name." Her books were translated into Spanish, Japanese, and Braille.

Barry provides an analysis of the books and why they were successful. But the First Reader has a note To the Teachers that includes some interesting information about what motivated Cyr to write her books. She said that the reading program for the first year of school was in the first half of the books used for instruction. "...the larger share of the first-year books are too difficult to be completed by the class, and therefore a part of the book is left unread." She writes that children were overwhelmed by the vocabulary in the second half of the books, would start another book and become overwhelmed after the halfway point again.  "...vocabulary is introduced too rapidly for the struggling brain."

"In this series, it has been my purpose to have a complete primary course..."

And she was successful. Her first primer, published by Lothrop, did so well that Ginn & Company offered her a contract. I can't find precise information about how long they remained in print or in use, but books available for sale indicate they were still being published in 1906.

Now, of course, Ellen is gone, another successful woman who became obscure.