Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: An Ultralearning Case Study, Principle 3 Direction

Today I continue with my study of Ultralearning by Scott Young, which I am trying to use to learn historical material for a character in a new fiction project. I have now reached Principle 3 of ultralearning, directness

What We Mean By Directness Here

          Young says:
  • "Directness is the idea of learning being tied closely to the situation or context you want to use it in."                  
  • "Directness is the hallmark of most ultralearning projects." 
  • "...the learning activities are always done with a connection to the context in which the skills learned will eventually be used."
Our Case Study: I've been focusing on collecting material to study (read) about Franco American history, my character's interest area. However, the aspect of what he knows that's going to impact the plot is his knowledge of metalearning--how to learn history. In terms of directness, I should be collected materials related to that.

You have to be careful to keep the directness issue in mind, because it's easy to fall into easier learning strategies, like watching videos of lectures instead of doing problems or, in my case, reading about Franco American experiences instead of the nitty gritty research skills that my character will actually need. Today I'm wondering if the Franco American business is necessary at all.



This was pretty interesting. Transference occurs when learning something in one situation, like high school, can be transferred to another, say, college or real life.  Young says a lot of research indicates that not much of this happens with traditional education, and that that has been known for over a century. (Google "transfer of learning." It's a thing.)

Transfer happens all the time but not in organized, instructional ways. Young argues that transfer doesn't occur through traditional educational situations because formal learning is so indirect.

Our Case Study (and for all writers): Determine what I actually need and focus directly on that. Research can become a real rabbit hole for writers, in which we burn off a lot of time studying up on a subject and very little of what we've learned gets transferred to the page. It happens to me a lot.

Tactics For Direct Learning

Young describes four, but I'm only including the two that I think are best for our purposes. By which I mean, of course, my purposes.

1. Project-based learning. If you build your project around learning how to produce something, you ought to learn how to produce that thing, at least. Studying in general can give you a lot of background information that may not transfer to that one thing you want to produce.

A project for an intellectual topic might be a thesis paper. This does apply the general learning to the topic of the thesis, but sounds a lot like traditional learning to me.

Our Case Study: Planning to use my research in some kind of article/essay, rather than a thesis paper, in addition to the fiction I'm doing the research for, might be a way to make my learning project-based. Using the same research for more than one form of writing is not an unusual writing plan.

2.  Immersive Learning. Surround yourself with a "target environment" in which the skill is practiced. This exposes you to situations in which the skill applies. Joining communities of people who are engaged in the same learning can have a similar impact. It encourages constant exposure.

Our Case Study: I started following #history and #historicalresearch on Twitter, with two Tweetdeck columns dedicated to these hashtags so I can find new info tweeted quickly. Not so helpful yet. I also am following historians who I think might tweet about the kinds of historical research that could be useful to me. I tried to join a couple of historical Facebook groups, one of which appears to have rejected me. (I'm in with the other one.) The rejecting group was academic and you had to give some information about yourself to convince them you were one of them. My undergraduate minor in history did not do the trick, nor were they moved by my interest in historical research for fiction. But, ha-ha on them, because this is still info for this blog post!

I also didn't take down the group's name and now can't find it on Facebook, which either illustrates an issue I have with doing research or indicates they are hiding from me. And may have been correct to pass on my request to join them.

What Has Reading This Book Done For You, Gail?

  1. Well, so far I've learned about metalearning, (Principle 1), and how it applies to what I'm doing. I've actually used the term in the first chapter of the project I'm working on. 
  2. Then I've focused on what I actually need to learn, (Principle 2) and collected material for my study. In fact, I've done that a couple of times, because I changed my mind about what I should be focusing on. This is the kind of thing I would have done anyway. Though I've also been known to do mini-researches as I'm going along in a project and questions come up. My hope is that more organized research will mean I don't do that.
  3. This week I've been working on tying my research/learning to my project. I have to say, I find this kind of iffy. Directness seems as if it could have been tied in with focus. One mega principle instead of 2. But I probably wouldn't have joined that history Facebook group (the one that would have me) and following historians on Twitter (which is like putting a positive spin on stalking) without the reading I did in Ultralearning.

Yes, this does seem to be moving along slowly. I am working on a big submission issue this month as well as short-form work. I am not being focused and direct with this particular project.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Old Lady Whispering, "Hush."

I had a get-together last weekend with a couple of littlies and, as we tend to do when we have a get-together, we did some reading.

Stretch by Doreen Cronin and Scott Menchin is a good book for listeners who like to be involved in a story, since they can do some acting out.

Where's the Elephant ? by Barroux is another involvement book. In fact, it's all involvement and no text. "Listeners" look for an elephant, parrot, and snake in two-page spreads, each one including a jungle that becomes smaller and smaller as human development around it becomes greater and
greater. I  brought this book for a two-year-old, but it was a bigger hit with her seven-year-old brother who has always liked picture searches. He did notice the shrinking greenery, but we didn't get an opportunity to discuss it's significance. Maybe noticing it once is a beginning to an understanding of that situation.

We didn't get a chance to all read This is My Fort by Drew Daywalt with illustrations by Olivier Tallec. I liked it, though. It's a clever spin on exclusionary kid clubs.

Then it was naptime, and someone directed me to the rocking chair in her room with the three books next to it. One of them was a Good Night Moon board book. You know the score on this one. Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. We read it twice. I may have mentioned here before that I've never really understood this book or its significance. I'm aware that Brown was part of some educational program that was expressed in her writing, but I don't know what it was.

I have to say, though, that after having read this book aloud for so many years, I enjoy the sound of it. I fall into a tone, a rhythm. A whisper. A hush.

I read an essay or short story a day, and somewhere I read an essay that mentioned the old lady whispering hush. It wasn't very much. I wonder about her.

Goodnight Moon is the book I'm sure I'll remember of the four we read on Sunday. That moment, reading it with that little girl. Whispering, "Hush."

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: An Ultralearning Case Study, Principle 2, Focus

At the beginning of his discussion of Principle 2, Focus in Ultralearning, Scott Young begins with another case study. This one is about Mary Somerville, an eighteenth century wunderkind in math and languages who did a lot of self-teaching because she lived in the eighteenth century and who wanted anything to do with educating a woman back then? I'm not that fond of other people's case studies, especially when they involve people who make me feel like a slacker.

But here is the important point in Young's material on Somerville: Putting aside the whole eighteenth century issues, she was dealing with a life that many writers deal with today...childcare, maintaining a home, and living within a network of friends and family. Young says of her and her situation: "I'm more interested in the kind of focus that Somerville seemed to possess. How can one in an environment such as hers, with constant distractions, little social support, and continuous obligations, manage to focus long enough not only to learn an impressive breadth of subjects, but to suchdepths that the French mathematician Simeon Poisson once remarked that 'there were not twenty men in France who could read [her] book'?"

Well, Young says that people face three "struggles with focus": starting, sustaining, and optimizing quality of focus.


Failing to Start Focusing (Procrastination)

Oh, wow. If there's one thing we know about here at Original Content, it's procrastination. So I'm just going to jump to what Young says we can do about it.
  • A lot of procrastination is unconscious. Try to recognize that you're actually procrastinating and not doing marketing for writing that hasn't been produced yet or networking again and again and again. Make recognizing procrastination a priority.
  • Give yourself a short period of time in which you have to work on a new task. Most of what we don't want to do with a task won't take all that long. Forcing ourselves to work for five, ten, fifteen minutes could be enough time to actually get us into the project and over the worst of the part we were putting off. The Swiss Cheese Method of time management!
  • You can then progress to the unit system or segmented time program. Break your worktime into units during which you have to work. You get a break between units. This is a classic time management technique.
  • Use a calendar to plan when you have units of time you can use to get started. I recalled recently that when I restarted writing after having children, I worked forty-five minutes, four evenings a week. That's how I wrote my second published short story. 
  • If you find that you're procrastinating on using the units of time you've charted out on your calendar, go back to the beginning and work for five minutes, then give yourself a break. Begin again. That's kind of a zenny thing, I believe.
Our Case Study: My particular learning project involves coming up with the historical, or historical process, knowledge a character in a book I'm working on must have in order to be able to have an impact on the not completed plot I'm working on. Need was a big part of getting me started. I felt I couldn't proceed with the overall writing project until I'd acquired this knowledge. Also, knowing that I want to continue with the overall project because I want to bring material to my writers' group each month is a motivator in getting started on the learning project. Accountability.

Failing To Sustain Focus (Distraction)

First off, a couple of things we've discussed here before:

  • Maybe you won't be studying in flow, according to Young:  Working in flow is a type of concentration that involves achieving a state of effortlessness, even enjoyment, with your work. It happens with writing, on occasion, anyway. You're not distracted. You're maybe not thinking a whole lot. Work is just sort of flowing because, particularly with writing, you know so much about what you're doing. Young says that may not happen with ultralearning. Learning, particularly if you're learning a skill like a new language or coding with specific goals, requires deliberate practice and feedback. Maybe too much thinking?
  • Studying in units of time: Young says researchers have found that people retain more new information if they're working in multiple periods of time rather than one long one. That is similar to the research that shows that efficiency in workers declines after a few hours. The really positive angle with this information is that with both studying and writing you can make progress using small chunks of time. You don't have to give up because you don't have days to commit to the program.
Okay, now, the three reasons we struggle to sustain focus while learning (or probably doing anything else):

Your Environment as Distraction: Phones. Internet. TV. Writers know these are issues, and even methods of fleeing from the stress of working. (We just did the stress book for Time Management Tuesday, remember?) Young says, though, that many people don't realize these things are distracting them, just as they don't realize they procrastinate. He suggests we be aware of our working environment and test what works best for us.

Your Environment Related To Our Case Study: Sadly, Young doesn't mention children and sick family members as environmental distractions. Personally, I have found that far more difficult to work with than phones, Internet, and TV, which are relatively easy fixes. Perhaps he covers that elsewhere in the book.

Your Task as Distraction: Certain activities, or learning tools, are more difficult to focus on than others. For instance, are you using videos, podcasts, or books as learning tools? Some are easier to focus upon than others.

An interesting point Young makes is that some tasks are less cognitively demanding than others. I would think that would mean they are easier to focus on, but Young says, no, they can be harder to stay focused upon, because the more difficult tasks are harder to do on autopilot. Autopilot is when you're more likely to become distracted by other things.

This probably explains why I gave up listening to podcasts years ago.

Your Task Related To Our Case Study: I still have to come up with my learning tools. Clearly I need to do some thinking/planning on this point.

Your Mind as Distraction: What Young is talking about here is unrelated worries and problems. Upcoming appointments...holidays...your day job...the meals you have to plan and then find time to cook every day for the rest of your life. Young's suggestion for dealing with this will sound familiar if you've ever tried meditation: Recognize these random thoughts and then bring your mind back to the task at hand. He quotes a meditation teacher from a mindfulness research center who says learning to let a thought come, recognize it, and let it go can instead of trying to suppress it can actually diminish it.

Your Mind Related To Our Case Study: I wasn't too impressed with this aspect of the book when I first read it yesterday. However, it does reinforce something Kelly McGonigal writes about in The Will Power Instinct, which is that having to bring a wandering mind back to the breath over and over again while meditating can develop the brain and impact impulse control. I just have to remember to do the catch-and-release thing while trying to focus.

Failing To Optimize Focus

I have to admit, I had problems with this section. Essentially, it sounds as if different tasks require different levels of focus, intense or more relaxed. It also sounds as if Young is talking about no focus breakout experiences for some creative tasks.

Our Case Study: I didn't come away with any new ideas from this.

My overall impression of the Focus section of Ultralearning: This section will be a lot more helpful if you know nothing about time management. If you do, there's not a lot of new information and what there is is subtle.

Friday, November 08, 2019

This Will Make You Think Twice About Going To The Mall. If You Aren't Already.

I've seen No Safety in Numbers by Dayna Lorentz described as The Hunger Games in a Mall, which I don't think is very accurate. No one is being entertained by what is going on. I've slaso seen it described as "apocalyptic." Nope. The best description I've come across is from the publisher. "A suspenseful survival story and modern day Lord of the Flies set in a mall that looks like yours."


A number of high school students, the same borderline cliche types you might see in a book with a high school setting, happen to go to the mall on the same day, at the same time. Unfortunately, it's a day and a time when a biological weapon is activated there. One of those kinds of biological weapons we hear about that causes people to get sick fast. The place is locked down. Use your imagination.

This is a good mash-up of traditional YA novel and adult thriller. There is no reason why this situation screams for YA characters. They could just as easily be adults. However, these teenagers really are teenagers, not adult characters passing as teenagers as I sometimes see in YA and adult thriller crossovers. Meaning this really is a YA book.

Though this is a first in a trilogy, I didn't feel I was being led on and teased with a nonending. The book was satisfying. Also, the book is from 2012. The rest of the series has been published, so you can binge.

A good example of why you should keep your eye out for older books you missed when they were shiny and new.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Another Sunday, Another Author Presentation

Yesterday I headed on out to the River Bend Bookshop in Glastonbury, Connecticut again, this time to see Josh Funk, who writes the  Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast picture books, among other things. Josh is well known in the New England children's lit world, and, if yesterday was any indication, probably in child and parent world all over. He created a little bit of a mob scene. I wasn't the only person who had to park behind another building. I bought my books as soon as I got there, which was a good thing, because after my sale I heard the staff say they were nearly sold out of the title I purchased.

If you're going to see Josh Funk, get to the venue early.

Josh knows how to handle a room of preschoolers, which probably comes as a result of having spoken at over 400 schools and libraries during the last four years. I had a four-year period long ago when I drove the carpool to preschool once a week, which does not give you the same kind of experience managing kids. I belted my kids in. Josh couldn't with this crowd.

He didn't have to. They loved him and loved the books he read them. I should have taken notes on what he was doing, but as you can see, the adults could barely get into the room. And, of course, I was clutching the books I'd just bought.  

This event was planned as a pajama party, and pancakes, juice, and coffee were served. When I read about that, I thought, Well, that seems to be asking for trouble. But the buffet was set out by the front door and looked as if it involved mini-pakes and no syrup. So, well done, booksellers.

Multi-Cultural Children's Book Day 2020

I just learned that Multicultural Children's Book Day is coming up on January 31. I'm hoping that if I do this post about it, I'll remember it's coming before, say, January 30.

If you want to keep up on Multicultural Children's Book Day, you can follow it on Twitter. I do. See how I know the event and date?

Seriously, I love January events. I get very excited for them in December. It's now November, which is almost December, so you can understand why I'm getting a little rush from this.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

The Weekend Writer: Like One Plot Isn't Difficult Enough

I am often frustrated reading books that include material that I feel doesn't serve the basic storyline. The main character in the mystery Truly Devious, for instance, suffers from anxiety. I never figured out why. Multitudes of children's books include sick siblings, estranged parents, and misunderstandings with friends when the books appear to be about something else entirely, like surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. And then how many adult mysteries have I read that included a romance when the book seems to be about restoring order to the world after a crime has been committed?

An article in the September issue of Writer's Digest by Jane K. Cleland called Subplots Aren't Secondary has led me to think that what I have been reading as random material may really be subplots. What's more, maybe I should be thinking about including some in my writing.

The Function Of Subplots, And They Have One

Subplots, Cleland says, should provide support to the main story by moving the plot along, developing character, controlling pacing, and contributing to the ending. In short, they should be doing a lot.

It sounds as if books should include two subplots:

  • One relating to an interpersonal relationship. Presumably those parental and friend issues I was just mentioning.
  • One relating to a nonfiction element.

Since they are supposed to support the main story, plotting a subplot should help generate material for that basic story and not just produce a lot of filler. They sound as if they could actually be...helpful.

As For Me And My Plots

In a couple of my unsold books I think I've created subplots without being aware that's what I was doing, particularly in terms of nonfiction elements. It's something I'll be paying a lot more attention to in the future.

Good article, if you can find it.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Your Halloween Post

Some of the publications I follow on Twitter have tweeted links to Halloween-type stories this afternoon. I'm going to be reading this stuff until Thanksgiving. But it made me recall a Halloween-type offering from eleven years ago, so I'm going to repost it.

Because, you know, I can get into holidays. I bought a pumpkin. Or, rather, someone bought it for me. We're good to go here.

A First Creepy Doll Story Oct. 31, 2008

As luck would have it, I just finished reading a book appropriate for Halloween posting.

The Red Ghost by Marion Dane Bauer is a Stepping Stones Book. "Build the bridge to chapter books...," the publisher says. So we're talking a book for young 'uns here.

Earlier this week, anonymous and I were talking about whether or not books for children and YA readers need truly new and unique story lines because much is new to less experienced readers, anyway. I understand that everything's new when you're too young to vote, but I find it difficult to judge how good a book for a younger audience is when its plot and/or characters and/or setting have been done to death.

The Red Ghost is an example of a book that is using a story line that's been done many times before but doesn't come across as the same old, same old. The Red Ghost is a creepy doll story, and, yes, indeed, a lot of us older folks have seen it before. But Dane Bauer manages to create a real sense of tension here that I don't usually see in books for kids this young. This is a short, complete mystery that the kid characters manage on their own. You've got what is really a simple plot, a limited number of characters, and a setting that is rooted in one place, all necessities, I think, for a book for kids in the lower grades.

Many books for this age group are just silly and pointless. The good ones tend to be very realistic, sometimes with adult characters helping child protagonists learn feel-good lessons. The Red Ghost is a genre novel for the very young. I don't think I've seen many of those, and I was quite taken with the novelty of it.

Like many early chapter books, this one has a number of illustrations. Peter Ferguson's black and white drawings definitely show the feelings of the characters portrayed. He created a great-looking main character, a neighbor who is a dignified, contemporary older woman, and a doll that looks as if she's got something on her mind.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: An Ultralearning Experiment/Case Study, Principle 1

As part of my research for a new project, which I wrote about in my last TMT post, I am reading Scott Young's book, Ultralearning, in which he describes a method for quickly learning sometimes complex subjects. "Quickly" is a relative term in this case, since he's often talking months, not days, and sometimes a year.

Can we fiction writers adapt some of his methods for the kind of research/learning we need to do to create characters, settings, and even plots? Inquiring minds want to know, right?

A Case Study/Experiment

Young starts out his book with some lengthy case studies, a model for many nonfiction books I've read the last few years. I'm at the 22% point in the book (yes, I am reading an eBook edition), and case study-type examples have continued to come up. So I thought that in my discussion of the book, I would use my own project as a case study. This will also give me an opportunity to immediately start trying to apply his material to my work. Thus, friends, I am not actually using research to avoid working. I'm not. Come on.

I'm going to jump right into a discussion of Principle 1, Metalearning.

Learning About Learning About Your Subject

Metalearning is learning about learning. It's not learning facts about your subject but "learning about how knowledge is structured and acquired within this subject; in other words, learning how to learn it." In the short-term, you have to learn about metalearning, learn  how to do it. In the long-term, once you've learned how to do it and have experience with the general skills, it should be easier for you to put together additional ultralearning experiences. This probably explains why Young has so many examples of people learning multiple languages. Once they've figured out how to learn one new language, it's easier to learn additional ones.

Metalearning involves:
  • Seeing how a subject works
  • Determining what kind of skills and information must be mastered
  • Finding what methods are available to master those skills and information
To do that, you ask three questions.

Why Do You Want To Do This?

You need to know why you want to learn something so you can focus your project on exactly what matters most. Knowing this will help you evaluate different study plans to create one that fits with your goals. For writers--Are you learning this for a character? To create a world?

Our Case Study: I want to do an ultralearning project related to history because I have a character who is a senior in college with a history major. I want his knowledge of history and, more importantly, how to do research to figure into the plot.

Right now, I don't know what kinds of research he would know how to do or what his own historical interests are. He has a history podcast at this point, but I don't know what he does with it.

What Concepts, Facts, And Procedures Do You Need To Know/Learn?

  • Concepts--Anything that needs to be understood. Concepts are ideas you need to understand in order to make them useful. Some fields straddle concepts that need to be understood and facts that need to be memorized. Young gives law as an example. I wonder if history isn't another.
  • Facts--Anything that needs to be memorized.
  • Procedures--Anything that needs to be practiced. Procedures may need to be performed without much conscious thinking, which was the case during my eleven years  studying taekwondo. (Probably not a candidate for ultralearning.) Last week I was reading about oral history. Interviewing for oral histories may be a procedure.
Once you have ideas relating to concepts, facts, and procedures, you can determine which areas will be the most challenging and search for methods and resources to overcome them.

Our Case Study: My  own traditional history study back in the day was long on facts, short on concepts and procedures. My reading of history since college has usually been books on specific subjects, not survey books. Meaning they were long on research and analysis. My guess is research is a concept and a procedure that a more serious history student than I was would be learning now. I fudged that.

At this point, I decided to look at my college transcript to see what I'd studied. I have a bit of a history background. Shouldn't that help me plan an ultralearning experience?

I was described as a secondary education major with a major concentration in English and a minor concentration in history. Because I was taking education courses and spent a semester student teaching, I probably didn't take the same number of courses in my major and minor concentration areas that traditional liberal arts students would have. Thus I have only seven  history courses under my belt. Which is two more than I thought I had.

American History to 1865
History of Western Civilization
U.S. History Since 1876
History of France
History of Greece
History of England
Another History of England
History of Women

I had some kind of fantasy about studying all history from the Greek period, which is why Greece is in there. Otherwise, except for the History of Women class, this looks very much like general western world history courses, something I wouldn't be particularly interested in now. Some of them may have been requirements, or they may have been part of my not very well thought out plan to study history in a linear way from the Greeks to the late twentieth century. Because back then, America and Britain would have been how people thought of studying history, and probably in a very generic wasp America and Britain sort of way. Oddly enough, I remember that History of Women class as being a stand-out in terms of American history content.

My shallow and all-over-the-place background in history is a problem for my present writing project. I want my character to have a particular historical interest by the time he reaches his senior year in college, and these generic western survey classes aren't going to be helpful. Or interesting.

Speaking of interesting: I thought to study Canadian literature when I was in college (it was offered at the University of Vermont when I was there) and was disappointed that two semesters of that didn't offer French Canadian lit in translation. But it never occurred to me to look for a Franco American history class. In fact, it may have been a decade after I got out of school before I even heard of the term Franco American.

Wait! Wait! I've got something! My history student is named LaSalle. He's descended from French Canadian mill workers. I've read Ghost Empire, How the French Almost Conquered North America by Philip Marchand, and I recently stumbled upon an independent historian in Maine who specializes in Franco American immigrant history in New England. Perhaps my character's field of interest could be Franco American history.

How You'll Use Resources, Environment, and Methods For Your Ultralearning Project

Benchmarking: Finding the common ways people learn the skill or subject you're interested in, so you can design a default strategy to begin. Benchmark-reference point.
  • Look at the curricula used in schools to teach the subject. Can be a course list or syllabus for a single class.
Emphasize/Exclude Method: Go through your benchmarked materials and determine what you want to emphasize and exclude.

Our Case Study: I had already thought of checking out college history departments for courses on methodology and had even begun collecting and reading on-line articles on things like theories of history. But Young says, "The literature on self-directed learning, as typically practiced, demonstrates that most people fail to do a thorough investigation of possible learning goals, methods, and resources. Instead they opt for whatever method of learning comes up naturally in their environment."

Certainly I've been doing my benchmarking in a very haphazard way, stealing away time for it in bits and pieces. (For instance, I did some searching of New England college Franco American history sites while I was watching TV last night.)

Our Case Study Results From Principle 1: 

  1. Coming up with a field of interest for my character is a big break-through, though it seems somewhat unrelated to ultralearning. It will, however, give me something to plan an ultralearning history program around. 
  2. The benchmarking business confirms something I was already doing and encourages me to make a better effort with it.
I'm excited to find out what Principle 2 is. 


Monday, October 28, 2019

A Science Book About The Ocean For Younger Readers

You want to know a great rainy day activity? Visiting a bookstore when it's hosting an author. You may run into a friend. You may meet an author from your general area who you have not met before. You may get exposed to a lovely picture book.

All that happened yesterday, when I heard Jenna Grodzicki read from her new picture book, I See Sea Food, Sea Creatures That Look Like Food at the River Bend Book Shop. This is a nonfiction work with a great premise. There are ocean animals that look like food we eat. Food that's not, you know, seafood.

In addition to the clever premise--illustrating, by the way, that nonfiction can be clever and not just...nonfiction--the book is written with material simple enough to be read aloud to younger preschool readers. Then there are the blocks of facts for the older self-readers who like that kind of thing. And they are out there.

The book is illustrated with lovely photographs, not drawings. Not that there's anything wrong with drawings. But the photographs give readers a feeling that this is science, and this stuff is real. Because it is.

I was hopeful that I Sea Sea Food would make a good gift for a young family member who has has an interest in the ocean. Because of the way the content is directed at two reading levels, it should be a hit. I'm happy with my purchase already.

Friday, October 25, 2019

November Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

November is usually Connecticut Children's Book Fair month. Not this year. This is what a November without the fair looks like. Not that bad. I've seen months with less going on.

Sun., Nov. 3, Amanda Banikov, Bank Square Books, Mystic 12:00 PM

Sun., Nov. 3, Josh Funk, River Bend Book Shop, Glastonbury 10:30 AM

Tues., Nov. 5, Neal Shusterman, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison  7:00 PM

Tues., Nov. 5, Eoin Colfer, The Mark Twain House, Hartford 7:00

Sat., Nov. 23, Liz Delton and M. Wednesday, That Book Store, Wethersfield 2:00 PM

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Environmental Book Club

Today I'm referring you to Katherine Hauswirth's First Person Naturalist for a review of No Entry by Gila Green. I found the review interesting because the book sounds like YA that has an environmental or, at least, nature element without being apocalyptic or climate fiction.

In my experience, books like that are few and far between. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Write What You Know And Ultralearning

Okay, I am jumping off on a totally new exploration of something I just heard about a few minutes ago. But I think it could pertain very specifically to writers and time and this being a Tuesday I'm going to pour it into a Time Management Tuesday post. I'm going to dip into ultra-learning.

Writers' Need To Know What They're Writing About

I'm a big believer in write what you know, though you will find writers who aren't. Knowing what you're writing about helps you to generate material and material that will make more sense to readers. I've read children's books involving older characters living in some kind of elder facility and been left wondering, What is this place supposed to be? Is it assisted living? Is it a nursing home? Is it something the author just totally made up? I read a children's book this past year that involved sewing that made me wonder if the author had ever sewed anything or known anyone who had.

Not knowing what they're writing about means writers can't create a realistic, clearly defined world. It means logical gaps in plots. It means weak, unrealistic characters.

No, writing what you know does not mean you are limited to writing only what you presently know about. You can, indeed, research subjects. Which then, surprise, means you know about them.

  • I researched the Puritan-era for The Hero of Ticonderoga. Also the humanist philosophers.
  • I researched solar homes and environmental lifestyles for Saving the Planet & Stuff.
  • I researched early twentieth century mill and labor history for an unpublished book.
  • I researched Egyptian history and late nineteenth and early twentieth century Egyptologists for another unpublished book.
  • Right now I am researching what I might call historical process--how historians work--for a new project.

These are all works of fiction.

The research is time consuming and I don't always do it in a very organized way.

How Might Ultralearning Help?

Ultralearning appears to be a term coined by Scott Young who defines it as "a strategy for aggressive, self-directed learning." In an interview in the Harvard Business Review, Young says, "People who have the least time, the people who have the most time constraints, those are the ones that really have to be efficient with figuring out what is the most effective way to learn this skill." (By which he means, in the context of the interview, "new skills," not an "ultralearning skill.")

Can you see why that looks attractive to someone who is always having to learn about new subjects to support new stories and can never find large chunks of free time in which to do it?

I have questions. How is ultralearning different from traditional research? Will it require enormous amounts of time to learn about? Can it help me be more organized? (I lost a book I used for research on submission and Christian women, as well as any notes I may have taken on the subject, so you can see why that's an issue for me.)

So I'm going to be dabbling with learning about ultralearning over the next few months, and trying to apply it to this history thing I'm doing. Which are both additions to what I thought I'd be doing at this point in the year.

But, you know, that's another issue.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Boarding School Book Number 2

Okay, I could think of Killing November by Adriana Mather as a boarding school book, so I can group it with the other boarding school book I read recently. Or I could think of it as...

Harry Potter But With With Knives And Swords

A young person goes off to a private school she's never heard of and no one can find. While there, she learns about family feuds and begins to suspect that her own family may be involved in some of this conflict.

Get it?

Except with murderers and stuff like that. And, blessedly, no fantasy. We're talking real world murderers.

Evidently Boarding School Is Really Awful

Killing November plays on the boarding school as misery and mean kid cliches because Academy Absconditi is miserable and these kids are mean. I'm talking assassin mean.

Assasination is the kind of thing they teach at this place. The teenagers there are all from families that for centuries have been the power behind thrones and often responsible for some of history's sudden turns. Especially if they were nasty turns.

November doesn't know any of this when she arrives on-site after her father suddenly sends her there to keep her safe while he deals with some unspecified dangers.

This place is Dad's idea of a safe house?

A Late Night Read

Now, personally, I took issue with the lack of electricity, Internet access, and cable at this place. (Another Potterish aspect, don't you think?) Nonetheless, I stayed up until one a.m. a couple of times reading this. (No, I don't read as rapidly as I used to.) And I'll look for the follow-up book.

Something that intrigues me--These kids, as November notes, are getting no education at all except for how to murder. How will they get into college? November's roommate explains that they don't need to go to college, they are criminal types with the means to just say they went. Well, okay. But won't they at some point need some basic knowledge of geography? Economics or civics? How to use laptops, which they have no experience with in this secondary school?

You hear a lot of talk in life about the difference between school and the real world. I would really, really like to see these kids try to function in the real world. Being a skilled murderer may not take you that far in life.

Maybe in a future book.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Think Of "Buffy" As YA And "Angel" As Adult

Earlier this month, Mary Elizabeth Williams argued in 20 Years on, "Angel" Has Aged Better Than "Buffy" at Salon that not only has Angel, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff, aged better, it is the better show. Those of you who know what I'm talking about will have some strong opinions about that, I'm sure.

Quite apart from all that, Williams says something in her article that made me think of the difference between YA and adult literature. Buffy, she says, "famously made real the universal truth that high school is hell" while Angel is a "workplace TV show."  

Theme is supposed to be a big factor in identifying YA as YA. Thematically Buffy is about young people finding a place in society. Angel, on the other hand, is thematically about adults living in that place in society. It's not just that Buffy is set in a high school and Angel is set in an office that makes one show YA-like and the other adult. It's what Buffy and Angel do in those settings. 

"Growing up is a finite process," Williams concludes. "Adulting goes on forever."

Monday, October 14, 2019

I've Been Busy On Pinterest, Too

In addition to the website and Twitter work I described yesterday, I updated my Pinterest board Connecticut Childlit Author Appearances. These are appearances that I attended, myself. Or, in a couple of cases, was part of.

They all have links back to Original Content posts covering the events.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Kitchens, Bathrooms, And Websites Don't Age Well

Author photo for new homepage.
It seems as if it was just four years and ten months ago that I was all excited about a website rework. Well, now I've done another. The latest one involved extensive changes to the homepage, some deletions and minor reworking on other pages.

What We Did Last Time

In 2015 I was interested in using color on both my Facebook page and Twitter banner as a sort of brand. I'd read an article on personal branding that said colors have attributes and yellow's is supposed to be creativity, intellect, and energy. But I am not a pastel person, so we went with gold, which I thought of as yellow-ish. That meant a tremendous amount of work for my computer guy, because he had to carry the color to every single page of the website, not just the homepage.

We kept the same color this time. We also kept the same fonts. This meant far less work and time.

What We Did Do This Time

I write and submit adult work, as well as children's, so I wanted my homepage to reflect that more. Additionally, while I like a homepage that contains information immediately, so users don't have to wait for some fancy work-of-art to load before looking for links, my homepage had become very text heavy. I was concerned that the amount of reading was turning visitors off, and that they weren't continuing deeper into the website where there was even more content.

What we have now is what I think of as a preview page. Each link has an image from the page it leads, too, which I hope will encourage visitors to move into the site, itself. And, of course, there are still images for each of my books, so that visitors can go directly to information about each of them.

Author Websites Need To Keep Changing

As a reader of other authors' websites, I've seen many changes over the years. Because so many websites change, the ones that don't begin to look very dated.

Much like kitchens and bathrooms. I'm very sensitive about old kitchens and bathrooms. And websites.

By the way, I've also done a little updating to my Twitter banner. It now has a photo image of my books, instead of a spread of book covers, and the same new picture of me that we're using on the website.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Thursdays!

I stumbled upon 15 Time Management Strategies for Freelancers at Freelance-Work-Guide.com while on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. As a general rule with these listicle time management things I find a lot of the same old, same old or they don't relate to things writers can use. Maybe I find one interesting offering.

And that was the case with this article. What did I find that was interesting, that I think writers can use?

"Thursday Debriefings: Use Thursday as your day to review your progress over the week and identify the projects you need to complete by the weekend."

Yes! I actually did this for quite a while a few years ago, in a What Did You Do This Week, Gail? feature here at the blog. Every Friday I would do a post on how I had used my time for that year's objectives. I would prepare it on Thursday nights, and if I found that I was behind on the social media related goals, I hustled to promote blog posts to Twitter, Facebook communities, Goodreads, and, at that time, Google+. Thursday night was a catch-up night.

What Can You Do With Thursdays?

  • Use them regularly to check in to make sure you're spending your time on your work goals.
  • Use them to catch up with small tasks.
  • Use them to to decide what you haven't done this week that you really wanted to do, that being how you'll spend the rest of your work week.
So, keep the Power of Thursdays in mind.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

The Weekend Writer: More Publishing Reality

Last month, How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Really Trying by Heather Demetrios was getting a lot of attention in the Twitter circles I travel in. If I didn't get e-mail notices from The Millions, I wouldn't have heard about Russell Rowland's article published there in mid-September about his publishing experience.

Russell (I am referring to him as Russell because we were kind of acquainted years ago through the Readerville writers' community) covers his twenty year experience as a writer in The Long, Winding Road to Publication. Why is his essay not getting a lot of attention, the way the essays on the writing life written by other authors have over the years? 

I think it's his acceptance of and appreciation of the reality of that writing life. "I ended up working with whoever would have me, in most cases regional publishers in Montana. And I have nothing negative to say about any of those people." He writes about what it's like to meet writers he admires and have them dismiss him as an unknown writer. But I don't get a sense of bitterness from him. It's more a "this is how it is" sort of thing.

He recognizes the seduction of the stereotypical big author's life, but at the same time, when he asks the question "Is it possible to be happy as someone who has a small, loyal following?" he answers, "As a matter of fact, yes it is."

For those of you starting out, this is the kind of publishing reality essay you want to end up writing in twenty years. 

Russell has a new book, Cold Country, coming out from Dzanc Books next month. According to the publisher's description, it involves a murder.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Multi-Media Fun

I've been watching Dix Pour Cent (known as Call My Agent on Netflix). It's a French TV show about an agency of actors' (not writers') agents. It's in French with English subtitles, which gives me a chance to pick up a (very) few French phrases ( parce que mon francais est tres mauvais).  It is a very entertaining show. Those agents do carry on.

Watching foreign TV shows with subtitles is relaxing, because I can't do anything while doing it excupt read said subtitles. This explains why I watched two seasons of a show from Iceland.

Today I listened to Suzie Townsend & Ten Questions with a Literary Agent, a Write or Die podcast. It's a totally different experience. Nothing to see, nothing to read. What Townsend has to say about agents' assistants made me think of the agents' assistants in  Dix Pour Cent, though.

Agents' assistants appear to do a great deal.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Boarding School Book Number 1

I picked up Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson because it falls into that YA mystery/thriller category I'm interested in this year. Additionally, I've read other books by Johnson that I've liked. What's more, this book deals with a contemporary character who is trying to solve a mystery in the past. I just happen to have a completed unsold middle grade manuscript with that scenario.

Stevie Bell has been accepted into Ellingham Academy in Vermont, which she wants to attend because of the murders connected with the place back in the 1930s. She's interested in becoming a detective and solving the Ellingham Academy case, she believes, will bring her closer to her goal.

I like the historical period in which the murders occurred. Yes, it's true. I have many historical periods I like...so long as they're nineteenth into twentieth centuries.

The setting for this book is great for me, too. Stevie and her parents start out on I-89 from Burlington. I was just there at the end of August! I've done the I-89 route many times over the years. And when they get off the highway onto a "smaller road dotted with stores and farms and signs for skiing, glassblowing and maple sugar candy?" I bet that's the road that goes past Waterbury to Stowe.

Truly Devious works for me in almost all ways. My main complaint? It's the first in a serial. I've enjoyed serials in the past, but mainly completed ones that I could binge read. I will admit, I will keep my eye out for Book 2, The Vanishing Stair, which was reviewed in the March/April The Horn Book. The reviewer highly recommends reading Truly Devious first, though she also says it's a "fulfilling second volume."

And, she says, information is held back for a third volume.

Well, I'm hoping to get my hands on a copy of The Vanishing Stair in the next month or so. Which I guess is why serials exist.

This is, as I said, a YA mystery/thriller, part of my study of the genre. What am I taking from this? So far, the romantic or physical attractions in this book do not overwhelm the story or world, as they so often do. The romances seem to exist because this is a teenage world, and teenagers do this sort of thing. There is a logic to it. It becomes part of the setting.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

October Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

This is a big, big month for Connecticut children's literature. Since there will be no Connecticut Children's Literature Fair in November, I'm guessing #CTchildlit activity will peak in October.  

Tues., Oct. 1, Jennifer Thermes, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM

Thurs., Oct. 3, Elizabeth Eulberg, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:30 PM

Sat., Oct. 5, Jenna Grodzicki, Barnes & Noble, Canton 11:00 AM          

Sat., Oct. 5, Michael BelangerPegi Dietz Shea, Sarah Darer Littman, Marilyn Nelson, Chandra Prasad, Cindy Rodriguez, Connecticut Literary Festival, Real Art Ways, Hartford  Scroll this page to check times and learn of other presenters.

Sun., Oct. 6, Jeanne Zulich Ferruolo, That Bookstore, Wethersfield 2:00 PM

Mon., Oct. 7, Kwame Alexander, Sea Tea Theater, Hartford 5:30 to 8:00 Registration now closed

Thurs., Oct. 10, Jake Burt, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:30 PM

Fri, Oct. 11, Raj Haldar, Wesleyan R.J. Julia Bookstore, Middletown 4:00 PM

Wed., Oct. 16, Katie Melko, Avon Free Public Library, Avon  11:30 AM

Wed., Oct. 16, Beth Vrabel, Wesleyan R.J. Julia Bookstore, Middletown 6:00 PM

Sat., Oct. 19, Wendell Minor, Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot  2:00 PM

Sun., Oct. 20, Connecticut Book Awards Ceremony, Reception, Book Signing with finalists as well as winners, Hartford Public Library 3:00 to 5:30 PM Registration and fee

Sun., Oct. 20, Jeanne Zulich Ferruolo, Bank Square Books, Mystic 4:00 PM

Fri., Oct. 25, Brendan Wenzel, Wesleyan R. J. Julia Bookstore, Middletown 6:30 PM

Sat., Oct. 26, Jerry Craft, Bank Square Books, Mystic 4:00 PM

Sun., Oct. 27, Jenna Grodzicki, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 10:30 AM

Tues., Oct. 29, Grace Lin, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 5:30 PM

Wed., Oct. 30, Rebecca Behrens, Wesleyan R. J. Julia Bookstore, Middletown 6:30 PM

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Crash! And What It Has Done To My Time

I'm the one who has crashed, not my computer.

Though my computer is involved in part of it

My Laptop Is Destroying My Body

I started using a laptop six years ago. I've worn the letters off some of the keys I've used this thing so much. I spent at least one summer working on it while sitting on a couch in my sun room, with the laptop literally on my lap. I spent nearly six years of evenings working on it in the evening while sitting on the couch in the living watching TV.

I ended up with upper body pain probably for a year or two before I put two and two together and realized hunching over a computer was a contributing factor. I was able to turn that around quite a bit by working on straightening my posture both while working and doing everything else in life.

Then maybe six or eight weeks ago, while I was still dealing with Lyme issues, I was working away on the couch one evening, typing over some old journal notes into my laptop, when I experienced an excruciating pain from my shoulder to my elbow. No, I wasn't having a heart attack. I self-diagnosed a pinched nerve. It took days to clear up totally.

I haven't worked on the laptop in the evening since.

What My Laptop Messing With My Body Is Doing To My Time

Now, remember, I actually worked in the evening on the laptop while I was watching Blacklist, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and a variety of scifish shows on Netflix. What was I doing? Blogging. Promoting the blog on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and, before it, too, crashed, Google+. I spent a week of evenings most months working on the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar. We're talking hours of work a week. When's that stuff going to get done?

  • During my daily writing time? That seems counterproductive.
  • Weekends? I have been doing more on Sundays, which is laughable. After the death in our family last spring, I decided to make Sunday a Sabbath rest and diversion day. Try to attend church more often. Go for walks. Kick up yoga those days. Watch movies on TV. Read. I got back from a bike ride this past Sunday and then spent an hour or two on a blog post. So having to take on more work on weekends, in a word, sucks.
  • I could drop some of this stuff, but I'm too obsessive.


It's Not As If My Daily Schedule Was So Fantastic To Begin With

I use the unit system to manage my work days. (Also known as segmented time.) I work 45 minutes with a 15 minute break to trick my mind into thinking it's starting afresh when I go back to work. Also, there's always the possibility that I'll have a breakout experience regarding whatever I'm working on during those 15 minutes.

Well, here's the thing. With those unit system/segmented time plans you're supposed to use the fifteen minute breaks for things like going for walks, meditating, maybe some reading. I use mine to get started cleaning a bathroom. Get some food cooking. Mop a room. Bake a cake. Go to the store. I do a lot food prep things with my 15 minute breaks, because even before my laptop turned on me, I was on diets for what ailed me. To the point that I work near the kitchen instead of in the office so I'm never far from the stove.

In short, those 15-minute breaks have been stretching longer and longer, while  the 45-minute work periods have been getting shorter and shorter.

The not-working-in-the-evening issue added to my personal vs. professional life boundary weakening has caused a bit of stress. Which I am looking at as a challenge.

I am trying a totally new workday, which I will write about in a few weeks when I've had a little more practice with it. It's shiny and new. Shiny, new things are exciting.

A Positive Coming Out Of All This

Now that I'm not working a couple of hours every evening, I seem to be sleeping better at night. Grab whatever gold rings you see coming your way.

Okay. Done with this. I'm going to go clean a toilet.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Weekend Writer: Publishing Reality

This past week I saw some references to "that publishing article" on Twitter. I found it so you don't have to look for it.

Initial Thoughts 

  • How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Really Trying by Heather Demetrios deals with an author's disappointing experience with publishing her work. Another such essay got a lot of attention a few years ago. I don't want to say Demetrios's experience is common, but it's not totally unusual, either.
  • Demetrios is dealing with the stress she experienced by looking at it through a tend-and-befriend mindset.  (Discussed here recently in my time management feature.) She is trying to publicize the problems she encountered in order to assist other writers. Just thought I'd mention that since this seems like such a good example of a writer doing tend-and-befriend.
Demetrios's article deals with two issues: how she managed her income from publishing and her sales once her books were published.

The Money

First off, 99 percent of the people reading this post won't have to worry about handling six-figure advances, two of them, which is what Demetrios received.  According to agent Jennifer Laughran, advances for children's/YA writers are more like this: "Many new authors will probably be offered $4-8,000 on a debut picture book text-only to a normal mid-sized traditional publisher. $5-12,000 on a chapter book. $8-20,000 on a middle grade novel. $12-30,000 on a YA." Demetrios is a YA author so her first advance of $100,000 for two books was very good. The next year she got another advance of $250,000 for three books. Again, a lot of money, but, keep in mind she still had to write the second book on the first two-book deal, and probably at least two of the trilogy books.

Here's something I don't think she mentions in her article: It's unlikely she got either of those advances all at once. In days of old, you got half your advance on signing the contract and half on publication. Nowadays, you get it in three payments: on signing, on turning in a completed manuscript, on publication. If you have an agent, a percentage goes to him or her. Taxes need to be deducted. So Demetrios probably never had a huge amount of money in her pocket at any one time.

In her essay, she discusses various mistakes she made in terms of handling the money she did have, to make the best use of it and to make it last as long as possible. You can  read about those for yourselves. Personally, I think the basic mistake she made was believing that because she'd made two big sales, she was established and could expect to continue selling books to publishers and make a living that way. That happens for a very small percentage of writers. Writing is market driven. Your product has to sell in order more of it to be picked up by the middle people who sell it. For us, that's publishers.

You can find a lot of information on-line about the business of marketing. Jennifer Laughran's REAL TALK: $ix Figure Book Deal$ from 2015 (quoted above) is one example. An Agent Explains the Ins and Outs of Book Deals by Kate McKean at Electric Lit is another.

If you are a children's or YA writer who has received an advance and can use some of it for something other than food, shelter, and health care, you might want to consider joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. It puts out a publication four times a year that always carries a column on taxes, for one thing. It sponsors writing groups and, in my region, anyway, meet and greets that are free, for another. There are also various SCBWI Facebook groups. Spending time with other writers could provide some information on their experiences in publishing.

Book Sales

One of  Heather Demetrios's books won an award, she got starred reviews, she did promotional work with a website and interviews, guest posts, and podcast appearances. One publisher sent her on a book tour. But sales were still disappointing.

What went wrong here? Maybe nothing. Seriously, I don't think there's anything that can really be done to make a book successful.

Sure, you want to go with the best editing and production values, a beautiful cover, attention from reviewers, a social media campaign. But many, many books get that and don't generate enough sales to make back what the publisher gave the author for an advancement. It's a mystery.

And when a book does become successful, there's often no way to determine why that happened, either. There's no way of putting a finger on what marketing or promotional investment did the trick.

The best advice I've heard offered for dealing with this dilemma is to move on to writing the next book. Even though it may mean a smaller advance. And, once again, try to network with other writers. Because misery loves company.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

CT Book Award Finalists And That Other Award Long List Announced

The Connecticut Book Award Finalists for 2019 have been announced. The nominees for Young Readers Fiction, Nonfiction, and Picture Book are


The History of Jane Doe – Michael Belanger
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle – Leslie Connor

The Rhino in Right Field – Stacy DeKeyser
Lifeboat 12 – Susan Hood
Young Readers – Nonfiction
Shark Quest: Protecting the Ocean’s Top Predators – Karen Romano Young

Young Readers – Picture Book
I’m Sad – Michael Black, Author
Night Train, Night Train – Wendell Minor, Illustrator

I'm having trouble finding information about when the winners will be announced.  Also, does it look to anyone else as if it will be a major upset if Karen Romano Young doesn't get the award for nonfiction?

UPDATE: I've got the winner announcement info! The ceremony is on October 20 at the Hartford Public Library at 3pm. Philip Caputo, co-winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of A Rumor of War, is the keynote speaker. A reception will follow with a book signing for finalists, as well as winners, and books will be available for purchase. This event is open to the public. Registration is requested and there is a registration fee. Which is, I believe, half of what it was years ago when I was a finalist. Good news!

That Other Award

The New Yorker has the list of 2019 National Book Awards finalists for young people's literature. I believe this list will become shorter before a winner is selected. But you know me. My knowledge of book awards isn't all that great.