Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Are We Psyched For Our 2020 Goals And Objectives?

Once again I'm going to drone on about how important carefully planned goals and objectives are for managing time. And life, I guess. But what is managing time but managing life, right? Yeah. You bet.

To get everyone on the same page: A goal is something you want to do. An objective is what you need to do to achieve the goal. One goal can have multiple objectives. Objectives do not have goals. They support goals. The words goal and objective do not mean the same thing, no matter how many times my computer guy says they do.

You should plan to check back to your annual goals and objectives on a regular basis to make sure that you are spending your time on them and not other things. If you experience a big shift in your work or personal life over the course of the year, you can change your goals and/or objectives so they represent things you need to be doing in your new world order.

What Are Your 2020 Goals And Objectives, Gail?


Why, thank you for asking. Yes, many of my 2020 goals and objectives are similar to my 2019 goals and objectives, indicating either that I didn't reach many of them or they are damn fine goals and objectives. Let's go with that latter thought.

These are also listed by priorities.

Goal 1. Concentrate on submitting completed book-length projects as well as completed short-form work.


  • Submit adult book to agents researched this fall
  • Continue researching agents for adult book, through Publishers' Marketplace, Twitter, etc.
  • At some point in year, switch submission focus to my second adult book
  • At some point in year, switch submission focus to my children's books
  • Spend more time with essay Facebook group. Those people are publishing and share their work, exposing me to new markets. Which is not stalking them.
  • Seek out markets for a seasonal essay I wrote last fall.
  • Check the publication history of some essayists I read last year.

Goal 2. Work on short-form writing, essays and short stories.


  • Start some eating essays
  • Choose an essay or short story from the files or journal to do a little work on every week
  • Plan to focus short-form reading on different genres each month
  • Spend the last week of every month completing something. Anything.

Goal 3. Work on the 365 story project 


  • Focus on this as short-form writing (see Goal 2)
  • January reading focus will be flash fiction
  • Spend time reading short stories, shorter work in children's literature
  • Take drafts to writers' group

Goal 4. Work on YA thriller that could become an adult thriller


  • Work on history background for Character 2 during January and February
  • Work on Character 3
  • Work on blueprinting.
  • Just work on scenes. Don't worry about connecting things. 
  • Read YA thrillers.
  • Develop a theme

Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding


  • Provide social media support for writers/bloggers generating diversity material.
  • Continue with writers' group.
  • Pay more attention to community events like Multi-Cultural Children's Book Day
  • Continue with Original Content.
  • Check out NESCBWI spring conference, with possibility of attending.
  • Check out NESCBWI-PAL offerings this year, with possibility of attending.
  • Be open to attending events for writers of adult literature.
  • Attend other authors' appearances.
  • Continue with promoting Original Content at Facebook communities, Goodreads' blog, and Twitter. 

Goal 6. Stay On Top Of Upcoming Known Events (a TMT blog post is coming on this)


  • Do more planning for the year/particular months
  • Check in with goals at the end of each month
  • Expect the end of the year to be a disaster 

Goal 7. Continue collecting material and ideas for an adult scifi project, far in my future.  

What You Don't See Here

Notice that you're not seeing things like "find an agent" or "publish" among these goals. Goals and objectives should be things you can control. I can't control what agents do. I can't control what editors do. I can only control what I do. Therefore, my goals are written around me submitting and me writing.

Monday, December 30, 2019

My Year In Reading

I am active on Goodreads for one reason and one reason only--it keeps track of my reading for me and makes a nice little annual summary. I've learned you have to work this thing to get the result you want, because if you aren't careful to include a date you finished reading a book, it will just have you down as having shelved it in, say, 2019, and not having read it that year. You also have to be careful to actually record the books in the first place. Goodreads can't keep track of something you haven't entered there. It's not a mind reader, though that would be nice.

All that explains why when I checked my Goodreads Year in Books late yesterday I saw I'd read only 18 books, though I'd shelved more. I spent some time after dinner last night putting in date read material on the shelved books and then going through this blog to find a number of books I'd read but never recorded.

That brought me up to 42 books for the year. Probably not a great accomplishment, especially since I have a screenshot from 2017 that indicates I read 45 that year, but so much better than 18 that I am happy to take it. And, no, Bread & Wine was not my first review of the year, but I'm letting that go.

On to 2020!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

More Of This Year's Essay Reading

This year I've done a couple of posts on books of essays and other short form writing that I've been reading in support of my 2019 goal to work on short-form writing. (If you are one of my Twitter-followers, you've noticed that I've been posting links to other short-form reading I've been doing nearly every day. You have noticed, right? What am I thinking? Of course, you have.)

Well, today I'm going to do another one of those posts. I chose to read Shauna Niequist's Bread & Wine, A Love Letter To Life Around The Table, With Recipes, because it was a Kindle sale book sometime this past year, it was a book of essays, and it was a book of essays about food. I am interested in trying my hand at writing some essays about eating. Not food writing, which is a totally different thing. I'd have to know more about food than I do and eat better than I do to write about food. I want to write about eating, for reasons I will spare you now.

In Bread & Wine, Neiquist does what I'm interested in doing. She writes about eating, but in relation to something else. In her case, we're talking eating in relation to connecting with others and spirituality/faith. She would probably be described as a Christian writer rather than a food writer (she has written other books that appear to have nothing to do with recipes), and Bread & Wine was published by Zondervan, a Christian publisher. If you enjoy reading about someone living their Christian faith, you'll enjoy this book. If you'd really rather read about food, you'll enjoy this book. Because Neiquist comes across as one of your seriously Christian friends who prays for you but doesn't try to convert you. I will be very surprised if you don't have at least one of those.

What kind of freaked this introvert out about Bread & Wine was not the religious aspects of the book but the number of friends Neiquist has. And how often she gets together to eat with them. And she often gets together to eat with large numbers of them, at once. For a large part of the book, I felt as if there was something wrong with me, because I don't live like that. But by the end, I'd turned around and was thinking, "What is wrong with these people? Don't they ever stay home? How about dinner in front of the TV once in a while folks?" And then I felt better.

The book was definitely a good choice for my purposes.

Gail And Bread

It's been a long time since I've included any cooking pictures in a blog post, but this one involves a book called Bread & Wine, and I used to be a serious bread baker, so I think a photo is appropriate. I've been off gluten for a year and a half now, which has tossed a wrench into my bread baking, though I do have one gluten-free bread machine recipe I make a couple of times a month. Also I am surrounded by wheat-eating philistines who prefer brown-and-serve rolls to bread made in the kitchen. You see why I'm interested in writing about eating? About eating bread, anyway.

So, at Thanksgiving I tried a peanut butter twist recipe. Did not go over well. As one person said, "It's essentially a peanut butter sandwich. Why go to all this work for a peanut butter sandwich?" Yeah? Well, next year they can eat peanut butter on their brown-and-serve rolls!

I put half a pan of these twists out on a rock for the sweet little woodland creatures. The next day a flock of crows came for them. They also took most of the artisan bread I made for Christmas. My giving up gluten is the best thing that ever happened to the local crows.

The Tuscan toast triangles you see to the right of the twists turned out better, by which I mean someone will eat them, though not me. (I do gluten free Tuscan toast.) 

I'm also taking part in Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads today. Haven't done that in a long time, either.

Mmm. Writing about eating. This feels good.

Friday, December 27, 2019

January Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

At this point in the year, I am tired of holiday prep and excited for January and new things. The endings and beginnings of units of time (like a year, say) are hugely important. It turns out, beginnings and endings of cycles of time are temporal landmarks, special occasions and calendar events that "create numerous “fresh start” opportunities at the beginning of new cycles." I have come to like the end/beginning of the year temporal landmark more than I like Christmas, which carries a big burden of "BE JOYFUL!"

Thus, I am happy to be able to share the first Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar for the year 2020. Whatever is going on in your life this minute, remember that you have a brand spanking new year to look forward to in just four days.  

Sat., Jan. 4, Susan Cooper, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Tues., Jan. 7, Ryan La Sala, Wesleyan R.J. Julia Booksellers, Middletown 7:00 PM

Sat., Jan. 11, Janet Lawler, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30

Sat., Jan. 11, Bob Shea, Wesleyan R.J. Julia Booksellers, Middletown 10:30 AM

Sun. Jan. 12, Karen Romano Young, Byrd's Books, Bethel 2:00 PM

Sat., Jan 18, Bob Shea, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Sat., Jan. 25 Colleen Brunetti, Storytellers' Cottage, Simsbury 1:00 PM

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: The 2019 Recapitulation Post

We're going to pause for a couple of weeks in our reading of Ultralearning by Scott Young to observe the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. This has become an annual event for me here at Original Content, one I look forward to. The end of a year and beginning of another are temporal landmarks. I love them.

We begin today with the recapitulation post, in which I go over my professional goals and objectives for the year, determining what worked and what didn't, what I want to continue doing, what I want to change. This will set me up for planning next year's goals and objectives next week. (Honestly, I'm doing this the second and third week of December. I'm not actually working Christmas Eve.)

Woe is Me. This was a year that should have gone very poorly professionally because of the usual family health problems we've had here for more than a dozen years now. In fact, in February I did only two blog posts because we had two elderly relatives with serious problems at the same time. We had a death in April and a protracted wait before we could have the funeral in May. I had Lyme Disease in July, which wasn't all that bad, though I did spend a lot of time watching Netflix on a couch in the afternoons and the whole Lyme and its treatment kept us from the short trips we were planning. We were planning short trips because we started house hunting at the end of March, and that has gone very poorly. Very, very poorly. I will not get started on that. Wait. I just did.

In spite of all that, I stayed on task pretty well with my goals and objectives. And that is why you should have them, people. When the going got tough, and I didn't feel up to a lot, I had objectives/tasks in mind that I could choose from. I didn't have to struggle to come up with all new projects. I will be doing a specific blog post on this next year.

How Did Gail Do In 2019?

Goal 1. Work on short-form writing, essays and short stories. I was aware that one of our family members was very ill and thought, under the circumstances, that short-form work would be easier to manage than a novel. I mention this because it will come up with a later goal.


  • Revise "His Times Or Mine" essay Have made good progress on this.
  • Start some eating essays. Started one.
  • Choose an essay or short story from the files or journal to do a little work on every day. Nope. Never gave it a thought. I did, however, do a new essay at the end of the year and got it to the point of submission. It's seasonal, so I can spend 2020 looking for places to submit it next year
  • Read an essay or short story every day.
    Did very well with this, missing only 22 days, to date. Most of these were in the two months I was recovering from the antibiotics for the Lyme. I don't feel I got much from this every day experience. I have a different plan for next year.
  • Finish reading "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf during retreat week (next week!), because it will make me feel accomplished and smart. Did finish this, though I don't know if I finished on schedule. I do feel accomplished and smart.
  • Spend the last week of every month completing something. Anything. Yeah, forgot about this, too.

Goal 2. Concentrate on submitting completed book-length projects as well as short form work. I ended up concentrating on completing a novel instead. Nonetheless, I did 50 submissions this year, up from 37 last year. That includes taking part in Twitter pitches a few times. I had two agents ask for complete manuscripts for two different projects.


  • Research agents at "Publishers Marketplace" Started with this late summer/early fall
  • Research agents for adult books Same as above
  • Pay more attention to agents on Twitter. Which is not stalking them. Not much
  • Spend more time with essay Facebook group. Those people are publishing and share their work, exposing me to new markets. Which is not stalking them. Not much

Goal 3. Work on the YA thriller just enough so I'll have material to take to my SCBWI writers' group. I gave up writers' group for a big part of the year while we had sick family or I was sick. Got started with it, and this thriller, in the fall.


  • Start by revising the material I've shown them. No one is going to remember that. Got great feedback when I went to them this fall.
  • Work on blueprinting. Ah...But the "Ultralearning" read is going to help with this.
  • Just work on scenes. Don't worry about connecting things. No.
  • Read YA thrillers. Read several of these.
  • Keep theme in mind. What?

Goal 4. Complete a second draft of Good Women by September. Completed it much earlier. Since a lot of it was a second draft with new material at the end, I found this much easier to work on during funeral planning/sickness periods than coming up with new short projects for an earlier goal. As I said earlier, next year I'm going to do a blog post about this experience.

Forget Objectives. This Is What I Did:
  • Gave manuscript to Beta Reader 1. Made revisions.
  • Gave manuscript to Beta Reader 2. Made revisions.
  • Began submitting.
 Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding


  • Get started with writers' group again. That didn't start until fall.
  • Continue with Original Content. Yes.
  • Check out NESCBWI spring conference, with possibility of attending. Checked, didn't go.
  • Check out NESCBWI-PAL offerings this year, with possibility of attending. Checked, didn't go.
  • Be open to attending events for writers of adult literature. Attended a Connecticut Women Writers' meeting.
  • Attend other authors' appearances. Attended at least 4.
  • Continue with promoting Original Content at Google+, Facebook communities, Goodreads' blog, and Twitter. Google+ is gone. I was not as strong on this as I have been in the past, but kept it up, nonetheless.
  • Provide social media support for writers/bloggers generating diversity material. Was very weak on this. Am planning to up this for January, since Multicultural Children's Book Day is the 31st.

Goal 6. Expect the end of the year to be a disaster. Don't fall behind on goals so that I have to struggle to catch up while dealing with the holidays. I also ended up planning to do short-term things in December, reading for instance. I've been doing agent research. I've been planning for next year. December has been great. (Well, it was great. A future blog post will deal with this.)

Checking In With Goals

For a year or two, I was creating a done list each Friday, with which I checked to make sure I'd worked on goals that week. I found it very helpful, but also a little time consuming. It was one of the first things I gave up last summer when that family member fell ill. This year I'm going to try to do it just once a month. I see I did this at the end of January. Totally forgot about it after that. If I had kept up with that, I would have been aware that I was slipping on some of the Goal 5 objectives and been able to pick up on them.

I mention this because, as I just said, it was helpful, especially with the social media goals. I would hustle Thursday night to get things done, because I knew I had to report the next day. You might want to try it.

In Conclusion

Now, yes, if you read this carefully you noticed that I didn't publish anything this year. And, yet, I feel good about maintaining a work life, at all. I am sure this is totally due to creating and using goals and objectives.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Like "Artemis Fowl" Without The Fairies

I picked up Spy School: British Invasion by Stuart Gibbs because it looked clever and witty, which it
is. I didn't notice "A Spy School Novel" at the bottom of the cover, or I would have realized this book is part of a series.

In fact, it's part of a serial. British Invasion begins with the end of one espionage operation as it sort of bleeds into another. The book ends with an escape that, while it does have some closure, leaves things up in the air. Literally.

For all that, the book is still readable and enjoyable. But it would have been even more so if I'd read the seven books that came before it and knew all the characters' back stories. Since it is the seventh book, it has great binge potential. In fact, there is a boxed set.

This book reminded me some of the Artemis Fowl books. It's an over-the-top thriller with humor. No fairies, though.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: An Ultralearning Case Study, Principle 6 Feedback

Let's pause here to remind ourselves (myself) why we're (I'm) doing this read for Time Management Tuesday: Ultralearning by Scott Young describes a method of rapid learning. (Saving time, see?) Research/learning new material is frequently a necessity in all kinds of writing. I use it not only to  provide background info in fiction but to inspire plot and characterization. Saving time doing this could be huge for writers, particularly this one.

Refresher On Our Case Study: I am trying to plan 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. The main issue I've decided I need to learn about is historical methodology

Check out the posts to date on Principles 1 through 5.

Now we're ready to start on Principle 6, Feedback.

Young says feedback  is a common tactic for ultralearners. "What often separated the ultralearning strategy from more conventional approaches was the immediacy, accuracy, and intensity of the feedback being provided."

Remember, the last principle was testing, which ultralearners use as a learning tool, not an evaluation tool. Testing is arguably how traditional students get feedback, though they aren't able to do much with it, because there are rarely opportunities to go back and learn what the test results indicate they don't know. So what do ultralearners use as feedback?

Outcome Feedback

Outcome feedback tells you how you're doing but doesn't offer much about quality--whether you're doing better or worse. Traditional grades are outcome feedback or it can come from a group. Applause is outcome feedback. Book sales are outcome feedback. The feedback doesn't tell you why this is happening. Perhaps blog and website statistics are outcome feedback. You know the sites are or aren't successful, you don't know why.

This is often the only kind of feedback available.

Informational Feedback

Informational feedback can tell you what you're doing wrong but won't necessarily provide information on how to fix it. The examples Young gives--speaking a foreign language with a native speaker who doesn't understand you, getting applause, or not, from a performance--sounds similar to outcome feedback to me.

Corrective Feedback

Clearly, this is feedback that shows you what you're doing wrong and how to correct it. It's often only available through someone who knows more than you do. However, Young includes study materials like flash cards and solutions to problems as corrective feedback. You can use these to check your learning.

But that sounds like the last principle, testing. Unless you want to think of it as providing your own feedback.

Our Case Study: Remember, I am not trying to learn a skill like speaking a language or coding, two examples Young uses a lot in his book. I'm trying to acquire a basic knowledge of how a subject is studied. What kind of feedback do I need?
  1. Have I comprehended this correctly?
  2. Am I correct in applying it to the character and situation in my book?
How will I get this feedback? Once again, I will be using what I learn in a writing project. The classic ways for writers to get feedback are:
  1. Writers' group
  2. Beta readers
  3. Response from agent
  4. Working with editors
  5. Response from reviewers/readers 
If writers can find beta readers who are knowledgeable in the field they studied to write their book, they can get some targeted, corrective feedback. The same is true if reviewers know the field. That feedback will be coming way too late, of course.
I can't think of anything new for providing myself with feedback as a result of reading Ultralearning.

However, I am now considering a story idea about a writer who goes mad doing research, continuing with it for years and years. And years. And a little longer. I'm pretty sure that's been done. Though I haven't researched the topic yet.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Weekend Writer: Get Yourself Out To Hear Authors Speak

I am not a fan of new writers, whether they are fourteen or forty, rushing out to publish the first or second or maybe even the third thing they've written. They'd be better off, I think, first spending some nonwriting time reading widely, taking part in book discussions, joining the best writers' group they can find, and attending the public appearances of published writers. Appearances are opportunities to hear about the experiences of more established writers and, perhaps, to ask them questions.

All Writers Can Gain From Other Writers, Part I

Even experienced writers can gain from attending another writer's bookstore or library appearance. A case in point: My trip out last weekend to see Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo.

During her talk, Jeanne spoke about writing she did as a young student. This type of writing is known as juvenilia, by the way. I first heard of it years ago when Justine Larbalestier did a blog post about a juvenilia panel she was part of. She was considering posting some of hers at her website "to demonstrate that even the most talentless kid can grow up to be a writer." I have some kicking around my office and have thought of put some up at my website, too, primarily to store it.

Why does it need to be stored? Kept at all? Shouldn't Gail the Minimalist being ditching these things?

Jeanne's talk illustrated a very legitimate reason for holding on to juvenilia and for sharing/studying it. She held up a story she'd written as a child that included a cover she'd drawn. And on that cover was a house, similar to one that appears in her book, Ruby in the Sky. Juvenilia can illustrate that writers have been dealing with or interested in the same subjects or themes all their lives. It can show how an interest evolved over a lifetime.

I came away from meeting Jeanne with a renewed interest in a juvenilia section for my website. Maybe that will be an objective for next year.

All Writers Can Gain From Other Writers, Part II  


So, I get to this bookstore last weekend, introduce myself to Jeanne, and she thinks we've met before. She recalled that I was working on a project that involved a different story for every day of the year. Well, I was working on a project that was exactly that. (The 365 Story Project.) For her to have heard about it, though, we would have both had to have been at the Whispering Pines retreat together in 2010, because that was the only time I read from some of that material to a group.

My take-away from that experience was that none of the very sophisticated readers in that group got what I was trying to do with that manuscript. They didn't understand the whole story-a-day concept. As a result, I dropped that project. I cannabalized it and used some of the material in a middle grade mystery that a few agents and editors have shown some interest in, but the original 365-story-project was dead.

But Jeanne said to me last week, "I liked that idea. I've been watching to see if it made it to publication."

What? (Or quoi? because I've been watching French TV shows and that's my big French learn from that.)

As a result of  Jeanne's comment about the reading she recalled, I've found my 365 Story Project material, cleaned up the files, and am planning to go back to work on it next year. In the last ten years, I've become interested in flash fiction. Treating this as flash fiction for kids could make a big, big difference in how it works out. And I had an idea last week about the whole project that could  change everything.

Yes, I am ashamed that Jeanne remembered me, and I didn't remember her. But, man, I will remember her now.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

"Run for Your Life" Was A Batchelder Honor Book This Year, And I Missed It

I received a newsletter last week that let me know that Run for Your Life by Silvana Gandolfi, which I wrote about last January, was named a Batchelder Honor Book that same month by the American Library Association's Association for Library Service to Children. I was baking yesterday, when a two-year-old looked at the array of sweets his father and I produced and announced, "Too many cookies." There may be too many ALA/ALSC book award announcements for me at the beginning of the year. I get overwhelmed.

For those of you who didn't have the energy to follow that Batchelder Honor Book link in the above paragraph, "The Batchelder Award is awarded to a United States publisher for a children’s book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originating in a country other than the United States and in a language other than English and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States during the preceding year." (ALSC website)

The publisher, in this case, is Restless Books. It's Yonder Imprint publishes translations of children's books from around the world. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: An Ultralearning Case Study, Principle 5 Retrieval. Or Testing

Okay! This week our Ultralearning read (which we are doing to help us learn to learn/research faster) deals with retrieving what you've studied/learned. To cut to the chase, author Scott Young says research has determined that testing yourself is a stronger way of remembering material and being able to retrieve it, better than reviewing material before a test or creating a concept map. (writing out concepts in some kind of organized diagram) Putting aside testing's use in traditional education as a method of evaluation, it appears that the effort to retrieve information from the mind the way you do with a test is a learning tool, itself.

Difficulty plays a part, also. "Low-intensity learning strategies typically involve either less or easier retrieval. Pushing difficulty higher and opting for testing oneself well before you are 'ready' is more efficient."

Our Case Study: Something I can use! Don't avoid the hard stuff, Gail! Which, you know, I would.

Interesting point here--Testing ("practicing retrieval") before you've learned material can be helpful in retaining it once you do acquire the information, possibly because your mind has been sort of forewarned and will look for/recognize the information when it is exposed to it. However, you still have to decide what things you want/need to learn in the first place, and thus pre-test yourself on.

Our Case Study: While this makes sense to me, how can I make it work for me? I do not know.

I have finished reading this book, which means that I can make some progress trying to apply the techniques to my project, for future reports.

You might want to check out Scott Young's blog.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Meeting Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

I've been seeing Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo's name coming up in Connecticut for quite some time because of her appearances. She made one this past Saturday at the River Bend Bookshop in Glastonbury that I was able to attend.

I have not yet read her middle grade novel, Ruby in the Sky, but a young woman in the audience who had described it as "awesome." That was significant, I thought. I put a lot more weight on the reactions of young readers of middle grade and YA books than I do on those of adult readers.

Writers planning appearances like this one, especially when they write for an older audience, are often at a loss for what to talk about. Jeanne had a well-thought out presentation, in which she focused on a character's interest (birds) both with the reading she chose and an activity she provided. (Making bird feeders.) Jeanne says she loves props. In the past, I haven't. But I will rethink that as a result of attending her presentation.

Jeanne's going to figure in a Weekend Writer post sometime soon on the value of writers attending other writers' presentations. I came home pretty pumped up. 

Friday, December 06, 2019

Running Into Maurice Sendak

We're doing a couple of days of winter day trips this week, and yesterday I found myself on the Maurice Sendak Memorial Highway in Ridgefield, Connecticut. I'd forgotten that for many years he'd lived there.

It turns out his home and archive will be open to the public next year, though only by appointment. I don't know what will be in the archive, since last year the Maurice Sendak Foundation and UConn announced that a large number of his materials would be "hosted" at the Northeast Children's Literature Collection at UConn, though the Foundation would continue to own them. For what it's worth, I think this is an entirely logical arrangement, since the Children's Literature Collection has the resources to store materials in climate controlled surroundings best suited to preserving them and the staff to provide access to them to scholars and students.

If I'd realized Sendak's house was in Ridgefield, I would have driven by.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Humor AND Story

I am certain I've complained pointed out here before that I find that a lot of so-called humorous children's books just aren't. They are written as if kids are from another culture and this is their humor. Of course, it's not actually going to be anything adult culture would recognize as funny. The jokes are forced. They aren't integrated into the story. Sometimes there isn't much of a story to begin with.

In I'm An Alien and I Want to Go Home Jo Franklin does a much better job with both humor and humor that's integrated into story. This is one of those  child outsider stories, in this case taken to an extreme. And, yet, for an "alien" story, it is very grounded in reality. The resolution here is one that makes sense and is reached in a logical way.

The book has many illustrations by Marty Kelley. With both subject matter, humor, and packaging, this could be a fun read for younger children.

 I saw Marty Kelly at a NESCBWI event a number of years ago, about, I believe, author appearances at schools. He does a lot of those.

Interesting factoid. Kelley is an American writer located here in New England. Franklin is British. I had a British cover artist for the hardcover edition of one of my books, so I shouldn't be all "They're from different countries!" about that situation. Nonetheless, I am.

Children's publishing is probably a small world. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: An Ultralearning Case Study, Principle 4 Drills

In this section of our Ultralearning read author Scott Young is talking about using drills to attack your weakest point. I didn't foresee this being useful for writers or for researching a concept like history, versus skills like language, coding, or woodworking. (Someone's doing that at our house.) However, he starts with another long case study, this one about Benjamin Franklin, how writing had a big impact on many things he did, and how he consciously worked to improve it as a young person.

The idea that "one component of a complex skill determines your overall level of performance" is the reasoning behind using drills. Don't spread your energy over all the skills needed for the task until you've got this one down. That will make the learning faster in the long run.

Our Case Study: My feeling is that I need to get the history issue down and that will make things fall into place for the plot of the project I'm working on. So you could say history is the skill I need to drill. However, it isn't a skill, it's a knowledge base, and I'm struggling with coming up with a way to drill history. Especially since Young says drills should "simplify a skill enough that you can focus your cognitive resources on a single aspect." (Did my high school math and French teachers know that?)

Young's strategy behind drills: Determine the weakest step in what you need to do, analyze it, and deliberately practice it. It should be something  that "governs the overall competence you have with that skill, by improving  it you will improve faster than if you try to practice every aspect of the skill at once."

Our Case Study: History is the weak step in my writing project, so I have been analyzing it and collecting material to learn about it. Maybe drill ideas will come up after I get to that.

Drills for ultralearners shouldn't be as mind-numbing as they are in traditional education because we have identified what we need to know, ourselves. "...carefully designed drills elicit creativity and imagination as you strive to solve a more complex learning challenge by breaking it into specific parts."

Our Case Study: That last part sounds wonderful. I'm just not seeing how I can come up with drills around learning methodologies for studying history.

I'm not even halfway through this book. Other projects and holidays have put this on a back burner. I'm also feeling that the time I'm using reading this thing could be better used reading the materials I've collected on my subject and looking for more. 

Saturday, November 30, 2019

This Is The Only Way You're Going To Spend Any Time At The Connecticut Childen's Book Fair This Year

I've been obsessing about the Connecticut Children's Book Fair this month, because there wasn't one. This is the second time in four years the Fair has been cancelled. It is also the second time this has happened since a new bookstore took over running it. Before that time the Fair was an annual event at the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs for twenty-four years. Hmm.

I've a reputation for being relentlessly optimistic. Annoyingly so, I've been told. I have to admit, this doesn't bode well to me.

Should the Fair disappear, it will be a big loss to the Connecticut children's literature community. This thing brought nationally recognized writers and illustrators into the state. Yes, Storrs is somewhat remote. Nonetheless, many years ago I was told the Fair attracted a couple of thousand people over its weekend. Plus, the eastern part of Connecticut where Storrs is located is the part where people like Meryl Streep don't live. Not many New York City folks have second homes there. This number of children's literature professionals don't show up in that part of the state in a forty-eight hour period, because there aren't towns large enough to support the kinds of bookstores that can bring them in. Actually, I'm not aware of them showing up in those numbers in any part of Connecticut.

Oh, and this is a free event.

Additionally, in the past, the Fair was a fundraiser for UConn's Northeast Children's Literature Collection, the largest children's literature archive in the northeastern United States. I don't know if that's still the case. The Fair website is vague on that subject.

So as part of my obsession with this issue, I've spent the month tweeting links to all my Original Content posts about my visits to the Fair. Following is a round-up of them, so you can enjoy connecting with all these authors with me. If the Fair disappears without a whimper next year, we will have had one last hurrah.


Some Of Those Who Were There  With Susan Hood, Sandra Horning, and Brenna Burns Yu

Steve Light

Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson

Janet Lawler


Alan Katz

Brian Floca

Sandra Horning 

Jane Sutcliffe


My One Hour Tour with Tui T. Sutherland, Jonathan Bean, Aaron Becker, Ann M. Martin, David Johnson, Phoebe Stone


Good Times with Pegi Deitz Shea, P.W. Catanese, Leslea Newman, Mark Tyler Nobleman, Janet Lawler, and me. I ate dinner at a table next to Lois Lowry, by the way.


Suzanne Collins

1999 or so

My first time presenting at the Fair. I think it was 1999. At any rate, it was was pre-Original Content, so no posts about the experience. I know Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor were there. I heard Minor speak and stood in line forever to have one of George's books signed for my niece.

Earlier Yet!

I attended the Fair even earlier with one of my sons. This was in the days when it was held in a different part of campus and you could walk to the Dairy Barn for ice cream. Which we did. We bought a signed book, too.

I also visited a year when James Howe was there. Whenever that was. Someone else has the signed book I bought then.

Friday, November 29, 2019

December Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

We're expecting a calm childlit December in Connecticut.

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

Sat., Dec. 7, Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury 10:30 AM

Wed., Dec. 11, Todd Harrington, Barrett Bookstore, Darien 6:30 PM

Wed., Dec. 11, Jessica Bayliss, Barnes & Noble, Milford 3:00 PM

Sat., Dec. 14, Jessica Bayliss, Barnes & Noble, Milford 9:00 AM

Sat., Dec. 21, Greg Wolf, Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 1:00 PM

Sunday, November 24, 2019

An Illness Memoir For Kids

Guts, by Raina Telgemeier, is a graphic memoir that deals with the author's childhood experience with anxiety and what she describes in a back note as digestive problems. Yes, that second part is a subject that in kids' books could lead to a lot of distasteful humor. It doesn't here. Guts does what the best illness memoirs do. It has a mystery/thriller aspect. What is wrong with Raina? How much worse will things get for her? What is she going to do?

I can't say enough about how great It hink it is that memoirs are being written and published for middle grade readers. When my children were that age, all they read in school was novels. Which was fine, but that's not what they were learning to write. They were learning to write essays. They were often asked to write from their life experiences. But they never read examples of essays or anyone else writing of their life experience.

Guts would have been a great read for them, engaging and a mentorish text.

Friday, November 22, 2019

"Saving The Planet & Stuff" News

Gyldendal Undervisning, my favorite Norwegian publisher, and I have just renewed our agreement for it to use some material from Saving the Planet & Stuff in one of its textbooks for teaching English. For the second time since 2016. That's always a lovely surprise when that happens.

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.