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.