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. ( 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 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.

Friday, March 29, 2019

April Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Wed., April 3, Neil Patrick Harris, Morgan High School Auditorium, Clinton 7:00 PM Sponsored by R.J. Julia Booksellers. Tickets sold out.

Sat., April 6, Deborah Freedman, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Sun., April 7, Liza McMahon, Jessica Simons, Theresa Mackiewicz, Sara Ann Hofferd, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 2:00 PM

Tues., April 9, Melissa de la Cruz, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:30 PM

Wed., April 10, Lana Bennett, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 10:00 AM Storytime  Fee

Fri., April 12, Amanda Bannikov, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 10:00 AM Storytime

Sat., April 13, Katie Melko, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 12:00 PM Storytime

Sat., April 20, Leslie Bulion, Howard Whittemore Memorial Library, Naugatuck 10:30

Sat., April 27, Suzanne Cordatos, The Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 12:00 PM Storytime

Sun., April 28, Joyce Lapin, House of Books, Kent 2:00PM

Sun., April 28, Jo Knowles in Conversation With Debbi Michiko Florence, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 3:00 PM

Sun., April 28, Jamie Deeniham, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 10:30 AM    

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Take Your Wins Where You Can Get Them

Up until around five o'clock Sunday afternoon I thought Monday was going to be a big workday for me. Instead, I wrote five sentences yesterday. A paragraph. A transitional paragraph, to be precise. And I was delighted to get that much done.

You have to consider and accept your situation. Beating your head against a wall because you're not doing a cliched butt-in-chair thing while your personal life is spilling all over your work table will destroy self-esteem. And that endangers your impulse control. No impulse control, no staying on task. We're talking about a downward spiral at a time when you are least able to afford one.

Given yesterday's situation, a five-sentence para was a win. A big, big win. Last night I actually felt pumped for my next work session, which did turn out to be today. And I'm happy with the blueprinting and research I'm doing today, too.

I would not say, "It's all good." I'd say, "Anything's good."

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Naomi Kritzer, Short Ficton

You will remember that reading is part of my goals and objectives this year. I'm sure I mentioned it here. Several times. An objective for the essay and short story goal involves reading a short story or essay every day. I've been hitting that one out of the park. I missed only one day when an elder was in the emergency room. And I wasn't one of the people who stayed there all afternoon. And evening. I definitely shirked that day.

My plan was to read randomly, which I pretty much have, though I did find myself doing an author study early on.

I discovered Naomi Kritzer on Facebook, believe it or not, when she very appropriately posted a link to one of her short stories in someone's comments. I loved it and took off.

Favorite Kritzer Stories

So Much Cooking was what got me started. This is an apocalyptic story written in the form of a food blog. So much to like.

Field Biology of the Wee Fairies. A fairy story for people like me who don't like them.

Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty's Place Cafe. An end of the world story? Or something else? 

Paradox. A time travel story that doesn't take itself too seriously. And it has a Travelers vibe.

Bits. This is the story everyone who has ever seen a story about human/alien romance has been waiting for.

What I like about Kritzer's writing is that she does scifi and fantasy stories and sets them in our real world. Or, in some cases, our nearly real world. That's my favorite kind of science fiction and fantasy. Which explains why I so rarely like fantasy. I don't find a lot of it set where I want it set.

YA Coming

This fall, Naomi Kritzer's YA novel, Catfishing on CatNet will be published by Tor/Forge. You can check out an excerpt at Den of Geek.

So Kritzer writes this neat short fiction AND she has a childlit connection. She's perfection for Original Content.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

An Obscure Woman Writer For Women's History Month

In my last post, I commented upon writers who ramble and distract from their points with lots of extra words. So I deleted a couple of paras relating to how I came to have two grocery bags full of books from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, as well as a couple more stacks on the floor. Let's just say, I've got 'em. And in checking them out on-line to see whether or not it's necessary for us to hold on to them, I was struck with how many of them, and their authors, seem...lost. A sobering situation for a writer to learn about.

One of the first books I noticed was a 1900 edition of To Have And To Hold by Mary Johnston. This thing is set in Jamestown during, you know, Jamestown, not one of my favorite time periods. But the story line has features I would have loved as a younger, pre-feminist reader. The lover with a secret identity. How Scarlet Pimpernel! An evil lord. I would probably have eaten that stuff up, though I don't think I was a particular fan of the pirates that also appear here.

What really interests me now is not the book but its author. According to Encyclopedia Virginia, Mary Johnston was the first woman to top best-seller lists in the twentieth century. To Have And To Hold broke publishing records. It's supposed to have been the most popular book between Uncle Tom's Cabin and Gone With the Wind. (Hmm. All three of those books were written by women. What am I to make of that?) It made Johnston rich. She was profiled in the New York Times in 1900, and To Have And To Hold became a movie twice. Okay, they were both silent, but they were movies. (A third version was made in 2015 and never released. Yikes.) And though it was Johnston's most successful book, she wrote and published others. She wasn't a one-hit wonder. She had a career.

And Then...Obscurity

You can find some odd editions of Mary Johnston books here and there, but she's far from a household name. Or a name most of us have heard of. What happened to this bestselling author who wrote the most popular book between Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind? We remember Stowe and Mitchell, don't we? Why not Mary Johnston? Come on, Gone With the Wind wasn't that great.

I have a family member who studies and preserves obscure TV at Television Obscurities, so I have given some thought to obscurity. You have your material that is what you might call born obscure because it never made much of an impact when it first appeared. Then you have material that becomes obscure for some reason.

To Have And To Hold certainly wasn't born obscure. But evidently it isn't considered timeless nor some kind of outstanding representative of its era. Or whatever a book has to be to remain in the public memory. And so it became obscure.

Which raises the question, I believe, of which popular books from our period are headed for obscurity?

Feel free to post your answer in a comment.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A New Twist On "A Room Of One's Own"

One of my January accomplishments was to finish reading A Room of One's Own, a significant piece of feminist writing, by Virginia Woolf. Woolf is one of those writers like Michel de Montaigne, as far as I'm concerned. I like the idea of them much more than I like reading their work. Woolf I can make some headway with, but I feel she rambles. I'm into communication, as both a reader and a writer. I don't want a lot of extra words distracting from the point.

Woolf does make some good ones in A Room of One's Own. She's writing about what women in her era needed to write fiction. She famously says they need a room of their own and five hundred pounds a year. These things, she contends, are what male writers have had for generations and why she can't find many women writers in past historical periods. Or women writers writing about issues of interest to women.

Woolf was writing about male privilege. But she addressed it as a male/female status issue rather than as a social class issue. She didn't, for instance, get into male writers who don't have a room of their own and five hundred pounds a year. Or how the female writers she was writing about could get the room of their own and five hundred pounds a year she claimed they needed.

Just this past week, Sandra Newman picked up Woolf's material and looked at it differently by asking What If You Can't Afford "A Room of One's Own? at Electric Lit. Does that mean you can't write? Newman argues that no, it doesn't.

What would Virginia Woolf have made of someone like Sandra Newman?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Reading Sloane Crosley

Reading figures prominently in my goals and objectives this year. I got psyched for the plan even before January and read an entire book of essays last fall by Sloane Crosley,  Look Alive Out There   Overall, the book is funny, the way I like writing to be funny. The writing is dry and understated, with no signs signaling a joke. The jokes make a point.

But what are these essays? Are they personal essays, which I thought took something personal and related it to the world, which these sometimes don't seem to do? Are they memoirs, which I recall a professor  describing as events the significance of which were not understood until after they were over? Which raises the question, why read memoirs? The essay about the noisy neighbor kid. I don't know what makes that an experience others want to read.

On the other hand, the essay about altitude sickness while climbing a mountain she's totally unprepared to scale may be recalled whenever I walk up a hill. And the Meniere's essay? Oh, my gosh. I am so grateful I only have vertigo once a year or so. And the guy who snatched Crosley's domain name and made her pay through the nose to get it back?

I definitely came away from this experience with the understanding that not every essay is going to click with every reader. Both readers and writers need to expect it.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Brazen Women For Women's History Month

I received a copy of Brazen, Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu at the Gauthier Christmas gift swap, which, last year, was an Icelandic book and chocolate swap. You know,
because Icelanders give books for Christmas Eve and then spend the evening reading and eating chocolate. Beats pajamas for Christmas, doesn't it? Women's History Month seems like a good time to post about it.

Brazen is graphic nonfiction, a collection of pieces on a wide array of women, some better known than others. I definitely liked it, though it raised a few questions for me.

The Questions

  • How should graphic nonfiction work? With graphic novels, the graphics carry plot and setting. Creative nonfiction may have plot elements, but not all nonfiction does. As a reader, what should I expect from graphic nonfiction?
  • Why is Brazen considered YA? The women covered are not necessarily teenagers and the material on them sometimes goes into old age. What is it about Brazen that makes it YA instead of adult graphic nonfiction that YAs can read the way they can read so many other types of adult nonfiction.?
  • And what is YA nonfiction, anyway? Many teenagers are ready for adult nonfiction and in terms of their schooling are probably expected to read it. What should writers writing YA nonfiction being doing that that they wouldn't do if they were writing nonfiction for adults?


No Answers

My quick and superficial hunt for answers to the above questions didn't provide me with much information. What I found tended to focus on what's available in YA nonfiction rather than what YA nonfiction is.

Kelly Jensen did an interesting piece at Book Riot a couple of years ago called Where's the Love for Nonfiction for Young Readers?  She describes Quiet Power, a YA version of Susan Cain's Quiet, about introversion versus extroversion. I'd never heard of Quiet Power, though I've read Quiet. Quiet Power sounds significantly different, very directed toward YA readers. An example of YA nonfiction?

But a lot of writing on nonfiction for young readers gets murky because journalists often pool middle grade and YA readers together. So the differences in the audience and how writing for them should be done isn't considered or addressed.

It looks as if everything Brazen made me think about is just going to sort of fester in my mind. And, oddly, what it made me think about was writing, not women. A classic example of Gail totally missing the point.

Check out this Washington Post article on Brazen that describes the storytelling and graphic aspects of the book.

Friday, March 08, 2019

A Fine YA Thriller

You'll be happy to hear that reading Fake ID by Lamar Giles met one of my objectives for Goal 3. "Read YA thrillers." Good objective, right?

Fake ID deals with a teenage boy in witness protection with his family. They're on their third change of identity, because Dad is trouble and can't keep with the program. Nick...Steven...Tony...finds that his family has been dumped in a town that's nothing but trouble.

It's The YA Characters, Stupid

Fake ID isn't just a good thriller. It's good YA. I've read YA thrillers before that were essentially  adult books with fast cars and dangerous women. The main character is said to be YA, but doesn't act YA or appear to be YA. S/he isn't in YA situations. These are simply adult books that have been retrofitted for YA.

This book isn't like that. Nick is very much part of a YA world...dealing with high school, new people, bullies, a new girl, a possible murder. Well, the possible murder isn't typical of a YA world, of course, but the victim is a YA.  Nick has father issues, which is common with YA novels. In fact, there are two guys with father issues here. On top of that, you could say that this book deals with identity, a classic YA theme, since what is witness protection about but identity?

Fake ID involves a few of those classic mystery elements, red herrings. There are a number of false leads, sending readers after different possible culprits. But it's not giving anything away to say that even on this score this book is about the YA characters, stupid. The fundamental most basic rule of YA, as far as I'm concerned.

Thrillers And Diversity

In addition to being a good read for anyone, Fake ID is an opportunity for young readers of color to see a main character of color in a thriller written by an author of color. 

At about the same time I was reading Fake ID, I read Changing the Face of Crime Fiction: 6 Writers of Color on Writing Mysteries, Crime Novels and Thrillers in Writer's Digest. The article is a round table discussion that begins with the question "Is it really true that the crime/mystery/thriller genre is overwhelmingly white...?" The writers involved in the discussion believe the answer is yes. One of them, Gar Anthony Haywood,  says, "I think support for writers of color starts with promoting crime fiction to young readers of color at an early age. Minority readers of crime fiction tend to discover us almost by accident, after years of reading white authors exclusively, and this is a missed opportunity."

Young white readers are exposed to plenty of mysteries, crime novels, and thrillers with white protagonists and therefore expect to find more of the same for their adult reading. Fake ID gives young nonwhite readers a chance for the same experience.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Carry On Carrying On

I am not back at Original Content, or work, for that matter, in any kind of organized way. I am not back to normal after fighting the most recent eldercare fire. Of course, there has not been a normal for long periods of time at Chez Gauthier for over eleven years. I know one couple who dealt with the swings of eldercare "issues," as they're often called, for well over two decades. Maybe close to three. Open a paper or look around at your friends, neighbors, and relatives. Tens of thousands of people can never be sure of how they'll be able to use their time because they are caregivers for parents, spouses, siblings, or children. For some people, that may be the reality of big chunks of their adult lives. Their time goes to care giving and the kind of work that puts bread on the table. If there's time in their lives for other kinds of work, it's hidden somewhere where they have trouble finding it.

Recently I recalled my inspiration for starting the Time Management Tuesday feature here at OC. A memoirist had written an essay responding to new writers who had asked her how they could find time to write. She advised them to take a few hours from the time they used for exercising and housework. From all of us who use up most of our exercise and cleaning time making multiple emergency room visits, lining up home companions, connecting with visiting nurses, hunting for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, visiting said nursing homes and assisted living facilities a couple of times a week, researching medications and treatments, meeting with doctors, social workers, physical and  occupational therapists, audiologists, the occasional lawyer, and even a minister when a funeral needs to be planned, let me just say that that was enormously, enormously unhelpful. Glib. Shallow. I ran out of adjectives early on and became royally pissed. Time Management Tuesday came out of rage.

I'll be up front here and admit that being judgemental is my worst fault. Dwelling on what I've passed judgement on is probably a close second. But there you go. On the plus side, rage and holding a grudge led to a multi-year study of time management that has provided some help to me this past month.

A Three-Pronged Modest Proposal For Those Writing During A Crisis. Or Two Or Three.


So you have day after day and week after week and month after month of dealing with family problems. In all likelihood, year after year. It's clear this stuff isn't coming to an end any time soon--which is just as well, given how some of these family problems end--and you'd like to keep writing. Realistically, what can you do?

Situational Time Management. Don't expect to be able to manage your creative time or any of your time the same way every moment of your life. Our life situations are always changing, so we change how and when we work in order to work around them. What's more, our work situations are always changing. Are we prepublished writers trying to generate work? Are we making a living from our writing and have to keep the income coming? Are we established writers working on projects that aren't in the publishing pipeline yet or do we have books coming out soon so we have to work on marketing? Everything we do is dependent upon our life and work situation. We only have to wrap our time around the situations we're in, and we can do it in any way. What a relief. Shifting from situation to situation is a whole lot easier than trying to work with only one schedule, and if we can't conform to it, believing we're out of luck.

The Unit System.  One very good way to wrap our time around whatever situation we're in is to stop thinking that we need a full day to work. In the fields of time management and productivity, there's a lot of support for breaking work days into units or segments of time. The theory is that the first 45-minutes of work are the most productive of the day. The longer we spend working past that point, the less productive we become. Thus working, taking a break, and working again tricks the brain into thinking that each new start is the beginning of a new day. Meaning that a short work period squeezed in before heading off for the nursing home or the couple of hours you have after you get back can be valuable. Doing something is always better than doing nothing, and it has the benefit of making you feel you're still in the game. Also, coming home to your laptop or a book you're reading for research can be hugely relaxing after having lunch with a table full of ladies all at different levels of cognitive decline but all certain that they don't like oven-roasted sweet potatoes.

Use Your Goals and Objectives. How can we make the best use of whatever units of time we have while in our particular situation? Make sure that we're always using them to work toward one of our work goals. That way, we're always making some kind of progress on the work we want to do. That's good both practically and emotionally. In addition, we're not wasting time, which we don't have very much of, trying to decide what to do. Having established goals at the beginning of the year that I could work toward was hugely helpful last month.

Does that sound more useful than "use some of your exercise and housework time for writing?"Am I still being judgemental here?

How Did You Use Your Units Of Time This Past Month, Gail?


Goal 4. Complete a second draft of Good Women by September. I've spent more time working on this goal than I expected to at this point. Why? Because so far it's been easier than I expected. This suggests to me that working on an easy goal while I have other kinds of stress going on in my life may be a very good idea.

Goal 1. Work on short-form writing, essays and short stories. I've hit a couple of objectives for this one. "Revise His Times Or Mine essay" and "Read an essay or short story every day."

Goal 2. Concentrate on submitting completed book-length projects as well as short form work. I submitted His Times Or Mine and received a very good rejection. Yes, there are good rejections.

Goal 6. Research and create notes for a happy apocalyptic story. I happened to stumble upon a book dealing with a historical event that should be helpful for this, so I've been reading that.

Carry On Carrying On

The above doesn't sound like a lot, but I've had periods when we had elder crises when I threw in the towel and didn't even try to work for months at a time. I ran into a member of my writers' group recently and she said to me, "Well, Gail, carry on." The fact that I've been able to carry on this much is probably due to my writing about situational time management, the unit system, and goals and objectives over and over again these past seven years here at Original Content and to my toughening up over these past eleven years of older relatives going up in flames over and over again.

Please excuse me now. After visiting the nursing home and dropping a hearing aid off at the audiologist (yes, I do go there a lot), I returned some books to a library where I stumbled upon still another book dealing with a historical event that relates to my happy apocalypse story. I have about an hour and a half left today, and I'm going to use it for research.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

March Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

March is bringing three new books to Connecticut, and a major YA author will be here promoting her memoir.

Sat., Mar. 2, Padma Venkatraman in conversation with Cindy Rodriguez, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 2:00 PM

Mon., Mar. 4, Leslie Bulion, Durham Library, Durham 6:30 Launch party

Sat., Mar. 9, Jamie L. B. Deenihan, That Book Store, Wethersfield 2:00 PM

Mon., Mar. 11, Laurie Halse Anderson, Fairfield University Bookstore, Fairfield  7:00 PM Ticketed event for Anderson's adult memoir; children under 13 not admitted.

Sat., Mar. 16, Sara Levine, Wesleyan R. J. Julia Bookstore, Middletown 10:30 AM

Sun., Mar. 17, Joyce Stengel, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 10:30 AM 

Thurs., Mar. 21, Martha Seif Simpson, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM Book launch

Thurs., Mar. 21, Peter Brown, New Canaan Library, New Canaan, 6:30 PM

Sat., Mar. 23, Leslie Bulion, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Sat., Mar. 23, 4th Annual Local Authors Fest, Library of New London, New London 11 AM to 2 PM I just learned of this yesterday, and it sounds as if the line-up hasn't been finalized. I don't know if any children's or YA authors will be there.

Sat., Mar. 24, Martha Seif Simpson, Greater New Haven Jewish Community Center, Woodbridge 2:00 PM Purim Party 

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

And We're Going Down Again

You know that joke about how when God hears you have plans, He laughs? Yeah. That's not funny.

We're fighting more eldercare fires here at Chez Gauthier, this time for two 90-somethings at once. Because we are efficient. For the sake of sanity and because I can accept reality, I'm going to ease up on blogging (and my writing group, which I was just about to start attending again after last year's elder fire) for probably a couple of weeks, maybe more. Actually, I'm probably ditching most of the objectives for this year's Goal 5  for the same amount of time.

The Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar will be up at the end of the month.

I am aware that Google+ is on its way out and that we may need to remove some buttons from this blog. We'll get to it, when we get to it.

I tried to look for some arty firefighting image to use in this post, but it was taking too long. I have know...eldercare stuff to do.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

So What's Been Happening This Month, Gail?

The first month of 2019 is over. If you made goals and objectives for the year, now would be a good to check in and make sure you've been spending time working on them instead of doing something else entirely. One twelfth of the year is gone, after all. On top of that, you can make changes now if, like me, you've got something new you've started working on.

For the sake of controlling my obsessiveness, I'm only mentioning the objectives I've worked on. The others have not been dropped, they're just being saved for another month.

Goal 1. Work on short-form writing, essays and short stories. 

  • Have nearly finished revising His Times Or Mine essay.
  • Have read an essay or short story every day of the month.
  • Finish reading A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf I feel accomplished and smart.

Goal 2. Concentrate on submitting completed book-length projects as well as short form work. Made 7 submissions this month. Okay, 5 were part of a Twitter pitch day

  • Have been binge researching agents.

Goal 3. Work on the YA thriller just enough so I'll have material to take to my SCBWI writers' group.

  • Revised one scene to take to the group next month
  • Am reading a very good YA thriller

Goal 4. Complete a second draft of Good Women by September. Took the month of January off to let the the smoke settle, though I have continued to make a few notes.

Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding


New Goal 6. Research and create notes for a happy apocalyptic story. 

I lost a week of serious work time this past month because of retreat week. This next month is going to be shaky because we have an ill elder and a family member coming from out of state. But we're going to think in terms of working in units, not days. Yeah. That's the ticket. 


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

February Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Another slow month, but, as you can see, I did find one Valentine's Day related appearance.

Sat., Feb. 2, Mark & Sheri Dursin, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 3:00 PM

Sat., Feb. 9, Andrew Zimmern, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 2:00 PM

Sat., Feb. 9, Janet Lawler, R.J. Julia Wesleyan, Middletown 10:30 AM

Sat., Feb. 23, Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 2:00 PM

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Hill House...Book And Series

"cup of stars"
I have just finished watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix...for the second time. I watched it once last fall, and then asked for the book for Christmas. I finished reading it  (rereading, actually, since I'd read it in high school) the second week of January and watched the series again, looking for connections between the book and film. I'm not big on watching "reruns," certainly not so soon after watching something the first time. But Shirley Jackson wrote The Haunting of Hill House.

You all know how I feel about Shirley Jackson.

Shirley Jackson has a  horror writer reputation. Because of that, she doesn't get credit for things like the incredible elegance of her writing in The Haunting of Hill House. You can hear some of it in the TV series. Some of Steven's voice overs from his book are Jackson's actual words. While the series is very different from the book as far as action and characters are concerned, in terms of mood, it's very true to the original.

The series also picks up a multitude of bits and pieces from Jackson's book, working them into the weekly episodes that move back and forth through time, often from different characters points of view. Jackson fans like myself can have a glorious time looking for the connections.

Overlap Between Hill House The Book And Hill House The TV Series

  • The Dudleys are the only characters who appear, as is, in both the book and the series, though they have a very different story arc in each. Mr. Dudley, in particular, is quite different in terms of behavior.
  • The names of three of the major characters, Luke, Theo, and Eleanor/Nell come from the book. In the series, Eleanor's married name is Eleanor Vance, which is her name in the book. Though they are adults and unrelated in the book, they are described as beginning to feel like family. In the series, Luke, Theo, and Nell are siblings and appear as both children and adults.
  • Theo is sexually ambiguous in the book. She's a lesbian in the series.
  • Hugh Crain is the original builder of Hill House in the book. In the series, he is a major character, the father of Luke, Theo, and Nell. He is also some sort of contractor who has bought Hill House and is planning to flip it, giving him another connection to the builder Hugh Crain of the book.
  • In the series Luke, Theo, and Nell have a sister named Shirley, which is an obvious tribute to our Shirley Jackson. She is very much a caretaker in the book, the way an author is.
  • I have no idea where the name Steven, the last sibling in the series, comes from. 
  • Rooms are referred to by colors in both the book and the series.
  • In the book, Theo and Nell are in a bedroom at night screaming because of the pounding around them. The child Theo and Shirley in the series have a similar scene. As adults they're together in Shirley's funeral parlor when more pounding occurs.
  • In the series there is a scene where Theo wakes up having been holding someone's hand, but she doesn't know whose. A similar thing happened to either Theo or Nell in the book.
  • A cup of stars is referred to in both the series and the book.
  • In the book, Nell runs up a spiral staircase where someone in the past had killed herself. In the TV show, Nell hangs herself near a spiral staircase. That spiral staircase shows up a lot in the last episode.
  • A statue of a father and child appears in the book. There are statues turning up all the time in the series.
  • Eleanor dances in both the book and series.
  • There's a cold spot in both book and series.
  • A mystery dog runs through the house in both the book and series.
  • In the book, Nell experiences a rain of stones when she was young, which is why she is invited to Hill House. She has experienced a supernatural event. In the series, the mother Olivia experienced it when she was young. It's made clear throughout the series that she has some kind of supernatural thing going on, something the house evidently can plug into.
  • "Journeys end in lovers meeting" Liv says to Hugh in the last episode of the series. She's quoting Shakespeare. The line appears often in the book.
  • "I am home. I am home." Yup. Appears both places.
  • The series ends with Steven reading a line from his book, which also happens to be the last line from Shirley Jackson's book. But not quite. Jackson's line ends "and whatever walked there, walked alone." Steven's line ends "and whatever walked there, walked together."  Kind of significant, all things considered.
I am sure this is not an exhaustive list. I only watched the series twice, after all.

 About That Cup Of Stars

No, I am not so obsessed with Jackson and Hill House that I made star-shaped cookies so I could make a cup of stars, because a cup of stars appears in the book and the TV series. Come on! The cup of stars was a cup with stars painted in it. It wasn't a cup of cookies!

No, what happened was I made these little toddler star cookies, then thought, Hey, I could make a cup of stars! That's a totally different thing and makes all the sense in the world.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Multicultural Children's Book Day Twitter Party

Tomorrow is Multicultural Children's Book Day, co-founded by Valerie Budayr of Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen of Pragmatic Mom. The program's mission is "to raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity" and "to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries."

As part of the event there will be a Twitter party tomorrow night from 9 PM to 10 PM EST, which you can follow using the hashtag #ReadYourWorld. You can register to win prizes.

You can also follow Multicultural Children's Book Day all day on Twitter using the hashtag #MCBD2019. For that matter, you can start following it today. There's already some activity.

Hint: If you use Tweetdeck, you can set up columns for hashtags you want to follow just for a day or two, like #ReadYourWorld and #MCBD2019. You can always delete them later. I already have my columns set up for tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Keeping Research...Or Not

Trust Me, There Was Craft Research Here
Last fall while working on an office purge, I cleared out a second binder full of general writing craft research I had done years ago. I did the other one last spring. These were nicely organized binders with section labels like "Character," "P.O.V.," and "Voice." I had both print-outs I'd made of Internet material I once liked and many pages of notes I'd made from books and magazines that didn't belong to me.

Why Discard Craft Research?

You've Forgotten You Had It. That was the case with me. The two binders were taking up prime shelf space, but I never opened them or thought about them. Some of this material had been printed and was time stamped. It went back to 2007. You know that advice you hear about throwing out clothes  you haven't worn in X amount of time? Yeah, well, 11 years is too long to keep craft research you haven't looked at.

It's Not From A Reliable Source. Some of these things came from blogs I know nothing about. In looking it over again, I question whether it was good information or just somebody's random thoughts on writing or literature. I can think randomly about writing and literature, myself. I don't have to have someone else do it for me.

It Looks Like Old Wine In A New Flask. Some of this stuff was just variations on standard information. Some different terminology, but nothing life changing.

It's Made Up Stuff For A Workshop Or Journal Article. Some of what I had was obviously workshop instructors' write-up of their workshop content. I've been to a few workshops. I've taught one and submitted proposals for others. What we're often talking here is the old wine in a new flask I just mentioned or something new for the sake of being a new workshop you can teach and get paid for. I would give you an example of a new-for-the-sake-of-new workshop proposal I submitted and then tried to sell as an article, but I'm not going to in case I'm able to use it some day.

You've Saved Notes From Craft Books You Remember You Didn't Like. I included the book title on some of these. Craft books written by academics, in particular, don't work for me. Why do I need to keep notes made on those?

It Relates To A Type Of Writing You No Longer Do.  You've moved on, so move on.

I Don't Mean To Go All Marie Kondo On You, But...


A disordered work environment drains your impulse control!!! No impulse control, no staying on task!

You can impose order by getting rid of some of those things of yours that are disordered. That includes craft research that doesn't help you anymore. Assuming it ever did.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Happy Birthday, Ethan Allen

Happy 271st birthday to Ethan Allen, rogue historical figure and hero of Ticonderoga. The Hero of Ticonderoga, a twentieth century Franco American girl's take on "one of the wickedest men that ever walked this guilty globe" is no longer available in print. I own the rights but haven't done anything about an e-book, so you can't read it that way, either.

However, the print book is available at many libraries.

And to celebrate E's big day, you can still see my Ethan Allen talk given at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, Vermont.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

An Author Does Story Hour At A New Bookstore

Human children and animal babies all go to sleep. That's the entry point that makes Snuggle Down Deep by Diane Ohanesian with illustrations by Emily Bornoff work. Each section involves both some light factual material with the "snuggle down deep" repetition. The book combines nature, poetry, and...sleeping. It's a lovely book with an ecological thread.

The Event

Cookies A Work Of Art
This morning Diane Ohanesian did what could be called a master class in how to do an author story hour in a bookstore. She had an audience of close to a dozen kids from around two-years-old to maybe six or seven. Yes, she brought cookies, which made a much nicer impression than I would have expected.

Making The Story Interactive
What was really impressive, though, was the way she got control of her group with the first words she spoke. In a whisper, she asked her audience to do something and they did it.  She kept control with a terrific board kids could interact with as she was reading. She finished up with a simple art project that went over extremely well, probably because of the great box of supplies she brought with her. She had brand new packages of paper!

Watching Diane illustrated why new writers should take advantage of opportunities to see writers experienced with speaking and dealing with the public.




The Venue

Diane read at the new River Bend Bookshop in Glastonbury, Connecticut. It's a nook and cranny independent bookstore, the kind where browsers can get a sense of the intellect curating the offerings. I "have a bookstore" in Stowe, Vermont I go into once a year and walk around until something jumps off the shelf and tells me to take it home. River Bend
Children's Nook
could be that kind of place.

Of course, today I bought Snuggle Down Deep.

River Bend is hosting writers and other literary events