Monday, August 26, 2019

September Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

The beginning of units of time are important to humans, and I've read that September has become as important as January as the beginning of a "year." The beginning of this one sees Mike Lupica, Scott Westerfeld, and Jan Brett coming here and R.L. Stine serving as keynote speaker at the Saugatuck StoryFest

Tues., Sept. 10, Mike Lupica, Wesleyan R. J. Julia, Middletown 6:30 PM

Sat., Sept. 14, Jennifer Thermes, Elm Street Books, New Canaan 12:30 to 2:30 

Sun., Sept. 15, Josh Funk, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Sun., Sept. 15, Scott Westerfeld, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Mon., Sept. 16, Jan Brett, Mystic Congregational Church, Mystic 5:00 to 7:00 PM Sponsored by Bank Street Books Ticketed event.

Sat., Sept. 21, Stacy DeKeyser, Books on Pratt Street Book Fair, Hartford 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM Tentative

Mon., Sept. 23, Rebecca Podos, Ryan LaSalla, Rebecca Kim WellsR. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:30 PM

Sat., Sept. 28, Saugatuck StoryFest, Westport Library, Westport:

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Looking For Middle Grade Humor

I have done some reading this summer, both before and after getting sick, and now I tell people about it. I picked up Slacker by Gordan Korman because I was looking for middle grade
humor, something I write, myself. Reading it was part of my effort to read to support my goals or my work.

A lot of childlit humor isn't very funny. I've seen the same with with some adult books marketed as humor. Some of them aren't funny at all. Some of them involve a series of awkward jokes. I don't know what's going on here. The authors, agents, and editors involved don't seem to understand situational humor or timing. Why do they even want to produce humor writing?

Gordan Korman is a reliable humor writer. He definitely understand how to recognize a situation that has the potential for humor, and he knows how to work it. In Slacker, he combines humor with an improving childlit story about the benefits of doing good.

Cameron Boxer is serious about only one thing, his lifestyle, which he describes games. His only interest is playing them and preparing to play them in a tournament called Rule the World. Mom and Dad are not fans of this plan. They want to see him develop an interest that's not video games. " can be anything you want, so long as it involves real human beings and it doesn't happen on a screen."

Cam doesn't have any desire to do anything even remotely like that. But this clever slacker has to get his parents off his back so he can concentrate on training for Rule the World. He comes up with a scheme to create a "shell" school club for which he will serve as president. It sounds plenty impressive for the folks, but no one will notice it or join, because his hacker buddy is just going to slip it onto the school website that no one reads. Mom and Dad will think he'll be doing something, but he won't. His gaming time will be protected.

Yeah, everything goes wrong.

We're not talking gut-busting, roll-on-the-floor humor here, but wry, subtle stuff that comes organically out of the situation. The lessons on saving animals, the town, and doing good teeter into preaching at some points, but the commitment to Cam's character and the original situation make it palatable.

A second Slacker novel, Level 13, was published in June. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: A Stress Mindset Involving Values

Questions about the impact of life stress on time management was my original motivation for pursuing this summer's stress and time management study. This week I'm addressing a stress mindset that seems related to those very issues. 


Stress And The Meaning Of Life

According to Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress, in terms of the stress related to every day life (rather than the stress related to personal crises such as terminal illnesses or major human tragedies such as natural disasters and war) events and activities we find meaningful cause us the most stress. Child rearing, travel, school, friends, love, family all bring stress with them. Yet, these are all things most of us want in our lives.

Well, studies have shown that being able to think about these types of every day stresses in terms of our personal values, what gives our lives meaning, makes them become more meaningful and less burdensome. We are less likely to find ourselves in a flight (collapse on the couch/procrastinate)-or-fight (blood pressure rising/bang head on the wall) situation.

The Stress Mindset Intervention For Values

McGonigal suggests that when stressed, we go over our personal values and ask ourselves if we can connect our stressful situation to them in some way. Presumably if we can, the stress will become more manageable.

  • She describes some studies in which participants were given bracelets or key chains that they could mark with some value important to them that they could look at when stressed.
  • McGonigal says that writing about values has been shown to be "one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied." Writing about values makes people feel more powerful and in control. It also can be done once and show benefits months and even years later. (Many of the interventions she writes about have long-lasting benefits.)

A Personal Reservation Regarding The Values Stress Mindset

I can see how developing a values mindset can help with stressful situations in many aspects of life. The stress of childrearing, for instance, becomes manageable because of how important our children are to us. The stress of planning a trip and getting started on it becomes tolerable because seeing the world or some particular experience we're heading out to is important to us. School stress--We value that education, if not for itself than for what it will lead to. The same with work.

So long as we can see that the stressful activity will lead to something  positive that we value, we're headed for improvement. But what happens if we look to our values and realize that this stress isn't going to connect with one that's important to us? That the school or work stress no longer will get us to something we value? The stress of this relationship is no longer worth it?

I don't recall McGonigal addressing this issue, but my guess is that if you come to this kind of realization and get out of the stressful situation then that must be a good thing, too.

Values Mindsets For Writers

Being able to develop a values mindset may be of particular help to writers dealing with work stress. In fact, many writers may already have values mindsets.

  • It's not unusual for writers to focus on subjects that are of particular value to them.
  • Nonfiction writers, for instance, may specialize in writing about climate change, nature, and the environment. Historians may limit themselves to specific periods or regions. Or they may choose to write about groups of people whose past isn't well known.
  • Fiction writers may also have values they showcase in their work. Diversity, gender equality, faith issues, and climate change are all value-laden subjects fiction writers may focus on. 

For writers like these seeing stress through a values mindset which helps them connect their stressful situation to the values that give their work meaning to them can help them get through things like another draft for an agent or editor or the rigors of marketing.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Lodestar Award For Best Young Adult Science Fiction Or Fantasy Book Announced

The Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book was announced as part of the Hugo Award announcements at the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland. I believe I have an acquaintance at that convention. One I've actually met in the flesh for a moment and been in the same room with, unlike other people I am acquainted with in other ways.

According to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the Lodestar Awards are voted on by the same people who vote on the Hugos, but the Lodestar is not a Hugo. "The chief reason for this distinction is the principle that no single work should be eligible for multiple Hugo categories: Young Adult tales are not excluded from, and indeed have won, the Hugo for best novel and best novella." So now you know that. And it is interesting.

The 2019 finalists and the winner (in bold) are:

  • Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt / Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform / Gollancz)
  • The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black (Little, Brown / Hot Key Books)
  • Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)
  • The Invasion, by Peadar O’Guilin (David Fickling Books / Scholastic)
  • Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman (Random House / Penguin Teen) lists all the finalists and winners.

Another Connecticut Bookstore Closes

While working on next month's Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar, I noticed that the website for Jack and Allie's, A Children's Bookstore in Vernon is gone. What do you suppose that means, Gail? I thought.

I did a little hunting, and, as I suspected, the store has closed. The lease was up at the end of May, and the owner is looking for another site.

In addition to selling books, Jack and Allie's hosted events such as birthday parties, baby showers, fundraisers, and reading camps.

This is the second Connecticut bookstore to close this summer. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

How About A "Girl In Hyacinth Blue" For Child Readers?

Recently I read about an agent who would like to find a YA Broadchurch, all three seasons of which I watched last month while I was sick. I'm having trouble getting my head around that, perhaps because I love the stars, David Tennant and Olivia Coleman, too much. How could some other kind of characters be the center of this kind of story?

Today I finished reading Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, which traces the different owners of a Vermeer painting back across centuries. As I got toward the end, I thought, Okay. I could see a children's or YA variation on this.

When I was a teenager, I read historical novels that spanned generations of one family. Going back generations with one material thing doesn't seem like too much of a stretch.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Environmental Book Club

The Guardian in England reports that there is a Greta Thunberg Effect--"a boom in books aimed at empowering young people to save the planet." Thunberg is a sixteen-year-old Swedish climate change activist.

I wonder if this Greta Thunberg Effect is only in England, since The Guardian is an English publication. Greta Thunberg is on her way to America as I write this, so we'll see if she makes an impact in childlit here.

Okay, I'm going to admit that I'd only heard of Thunberg because she's one of the women on the cover of the September issue of British Vogue, guest edited by our own duchess, Meghan Markle.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: The Challenge Stress Mindset

Okay! Finally, Gail is getting to a new stress mindset, described by Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress.

Now, remember, a mindset is how we perceive something. We can perceive stress the way our ancestors did as, Oh, my gosh! I have to escape this! (Flight) Or I have to beat this impossible situation, and it's going to be horrible. (Fight)

Or...we can perceive stress as a challenge.

Threats Vs. Challenges

The fight-or-flight stress mindset is a threat response, meaning a response to danger or emergencies. Most of us aren't confronted with true dangers and emergencies on a daily basis, but our minds continue to perceive some of what's going on around us in that way. In the case of writers, we perceive a work-related stress and either run from it (to, say, the Internet and other procrastinating activities) or engage in some kind of psychological struggle to overcome the stressor. A case in point...writing my second book was very difficult, as second books often are for writers. I can recall being up early to work on it, leaving a son off at an evening Boy Scout meeting once and going home to work some more. I would drop everything and go for a walk trying to force a breakout experience, though I doubt I knew that term at the time. Then there was that moment I remember so fondly when I grabbed my husband by the front of his shirt and screeched, "You don't understand! I'm going to have to give back the advance!" Writing that book was definitely an ugly psychological fight.

With a challenge stress mindset, though, the primary goal is to go after what you want instead of either escaping it or using brute force to fight it. You don't feel as if you're in some kind of danger, the way you do with the threat response. You want to perform well. McGonigal says a challenge mindset can be more like pursuit of an athletic challenge than a threat. It's considered healthier for the body than the flight-or-fight stress mindset, because that is designed for short term real dangers. The human body isn't meant to live under that kind of stress indefinitely. It can manage the challenge mindset better.

Additionally, in terms of time management, with a challenge mindset there is less desire to flee the stress, because challenges are good, right? And, thus, there's less reason to procrastinate. We should be able to work more.

Threat Vs Challenge Stress Mindsets For Writers

  • In New England, this is the time of year when NESCBWI members are submitting workshop proposals for next spring's conference. Interested parties are encouraged to be prepared to teach two different workshops over the weekend, which means creating two different proposals. Depending on how you write proposals, this could mean going a long way down the road to planning two workshops. Keep in mind that while you're spending time putting together a proposal, you're not writing or submitting. What is the best use of time? Also, some writers are working on these proposals knowing that if they are accepted, they are not going to be at all comfortable teaching. I have submitted proposals twice, and taught once. The challenge mindset doesn't come naturally to me. This was a stressful experience that I now avoid. I know people who love doing this...ah...stuff, though. Perhaps they have a challenge mindset.
  • At any point writers can find themselves engaged in agent hunts. In addition to finding one who will be interested in the particular project you're shopping around, you might also like to find one who represents other genres you write in. And one who might at least kind of like you. Personally, I think looking for an agent is a lot like looking for a significant other. Stressful? Or challenging?
  • And, of course, there are those points in your work when you realize the new project stinks big time and you should drop it. And marketing worries for books that sold. And what about freelance writers who actually get published regularly and often find themselves with multiple deadlines? Is all this stressful? Or challenging?


Do You Have A Threat Or A Challenge Stress Mindset?

Think about whether or not you have the skills and resources to deal with a stressful situation.

  • If you believe you don't, you can end up with a threat/fight-or-flight stress response
  • If you believe you do, you may go into a challenge response.
Think about the conference example I gave above. I know writers who are experienced teachers. They know they have skills and resources to handle a one- or two-hour class. Prepping for conferences and workshops may very well be more challenging than threatening for them.

Changing Your Mindset From Threat To Challenge

According to McGonigal, to shift to a challenge mindset:

  • Focus on your resources. Acknowledge your personal strengths.
  • Go over how you've prepared for similar challenges.
  • Pray. 
  • Reframe stressful meetings as learning opportunities. (Learn from past mistakes?)
  • Practice/train because a challenge stress mindset is like a sports challenge, which you would practice/train for.


Some Closing Questions

I definitely like the idea of thinking of stress situations as challenges instead of as...hell. But I do have some reservations.
  • What if you go over your resources and have to acknowledge that you have none for a particular stressful situation? You have no personal strengths that relate to this?
  • What if you haven't prepared for similar challenges in the past? 
I suspect that for many people who do not naturally think in terms of challenges, the challenge stress mindset is essentially a mind game they're going to have to learn to play with themselves. And that's fine. I'm good with mind games. Getting through life is arguably one big mind game. The trick here is making this particular mind game work for you.

So...I guess if you want to face stress as a challenge, the answers to my above questions are:
  • If you have no resources for a particular stressful situation, decide what resources you need to seek out. If you have no personal strengths for this, which ones do you need to develop? 
  • If you haven't prepared for similar challenges in the past, who has whose experience you can study?

If you'd like to read more on the science behind this subject, check out Threat or Challenge? The Surprising New Science of How We Think About Stress at Six Seconds. Kelly McGonigal is one of the writers the author refers to.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Weekend Writer

I noticed I haven't done a Weekend Writer post in a long time. Since I had this drafted, and it's a weekend, here we go.

 Where To Begin A Story?

This is a big deal in writing novels. Where do you actually begin a story? After lots of backstory? In the midst of action? How long will readers be willing to wait to get an idea of what your story is really about?

It's not unusual for writers to realize that their stories actually begin in Chapter Three, say, and they have to start doing some shifting, if not cutting altogether.

Where To Begin A Chapter?

This same question applies to chapters. You can find yourself writing pages and pages of interaction, dialogue, activity, and realize you’re just getting to the point. Do you need all this stuff you’ve churned out? Will anybody want to sit through this witty repartee or step by step movement through time to get to the meat, what the chapter is about?

What To Do? What To Do?

Take the attitude that every chapter should involve a change or a release of new information. Determine what that change or new information will be. Get to that change or where that change will happen as fast as you can. Get that new information out sooner rather than later. If you want to place it toward the end of the chapter in order to connect with the next one, make sure your chapters aren't too long.

It can be helpful to maintain an 'as-you-go' outline in which you list for each chapter what change has happened or what new information has been provided. Then you can be sure that you don't have any chapters that are just bloat.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Stress Mindsets And Getting Started On Changing Them

Getting Back Up To Speed

It's been a while since I've addressed time management and stress mindsets so let's make sure I've covered enough so we can go forth.

This summer I'm reading The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal and trying to relate managing stress to managing time, particularly for writers. Procrastination is a particular problem for writers and stress is very much related to that. Remember, in Upside of Stress McGonigal says that people who see stress as harmful are likely to "try to distract themselves from the cause of the stress instead of dealing with it" and "focus on getting rid of their feelings of stress instead of taking steps to address its source." We distract ourselves with procrastinating. We focus on getting rid of our feelings of stress with procrastination. McGonigal also says that "The desire to avoid feeling anxious overtakes other goals." Getting rid of the stress of working toward finishing a draft overtakes the goal of finishing the draft.

Another of our old friends, Timothy Pychl, author of The Procrastinator's Digest, says something similar about procrastination. Procrastinators procrastinate because they're giving in to the need to feel good immediately. Revising this chapter is so much harder than I thought it would be. I am miserable. A Facebook break would make me feel better. Might even make me feel good. I would love to feel good.

You can see why jobs get dragged out forever and ever. At least, I can see why mine do.

Fight Or Flight...The Most Famous Stress Mindset

It's a rare reader of popular science articles who hasn't heard of the fight-or-flight response. The story goes that while we were evolving, the early humans who were good at deciding whether they should flee or fight wild beasts, natural disasters, or other humans were the ones who survived and whose good little fight-or-flight genes got into the gene pool. Nowadays those same genes have a lot less animal/disaster/other humans to trigger them, so turn their attention to things like public speaking, flying, what's happening with our kids, and work.

For many of us, fight-or-flight is our default stress mindset.

But There Are Other Ways To Experience Stress

In The Upside of Stress, McGonigal argues that there are other, more positive stress mindsets we could be using and even taking advantage of when dealing with stress. So far in my reading I've come upon mindsets involving:
  • Challenge
  • Tend and Befriend
  • Values
But where do they come from? If fight-or-flight is some kind of inborn response that we may not even think about, what are these other mindsets? Where do they come from and how do I get one?

Mindset Interventions

My reading suggests that some of these mindsets may be natural for some people and not others. But according to McGonigal, we can all switch to  more positive mindsets by either taking part in a formal intervention or making our own. She describes a number of research projects in which this is done and offers ideas for making our own interventions.

And that will be coming up.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Environmental Book Club

I bet you all thought I'd forgotten about the Environmental Book Club just because I've done only one post in the last year. Hahahahaha. I never forget anything. Hardly ever. I don't forget for long, anyway. I remember sooner or later.

Today's EBC post isn't about a book. Instead, I'm sending you to an Electric Lit article, All Literature Is Climate Change Literature by Jeffrey Arlo Brown. In it Brown makes the fascinating argument that while we talk about climate fiction as being a very contemporary genre, writers such as Shakespeare and Dante used "the language of climate" in their work. Something like climate fiction was being written before we knew what climate fiction is. "..our vulnerability to the climate," Brown writes, "is familiar."

Give some thought to the flood that's addressed in the Old Testament, as well as the early literature of other cultures. Could that be describing climate change, maybe?Hmm?

Should make you think twice when you're reading some of those boring, dead, white guy books, eh?