Thursday, October 31, 2019

Your Halloween Post

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

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

A First Creepy Doll Story Oct. 31, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

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

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

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

A Case Study/Experiment

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

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

Learning About Learning About Your Subject

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

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

Why Do You Want To Do This?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Case Study Results From Principle 1: 

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


Monday, October 28, 2019

A Science Book About The Ocean For Younger Readers

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

November Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Environmental Book Club

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

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Write What You Know And Ultralearning

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

Writers' Need To Know What They're Writing About

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

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

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

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

These are all works of fiction.

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

How Might Ultralearning Help?

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

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

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

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

But, you know, that's another issue.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Boarding School Book Number 2

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

Harry Potter But With With Knives And Swords

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

Get it?

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

Evidently Boarding School Is Really Awful

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

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

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

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

A Late Night Read

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

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

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

Maybe in a future book.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

I've Been Busy On Pinterest, Too

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

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

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Kitchens, Bathrooms, And Websites Don't Age Well

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

What We Did Last Time

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

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

What We Did Do This Time

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

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

Author Websites Need To Keep Changing

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Thursdays!

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

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

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

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

What Can You Do With Thursdays?

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

Sunday, October 06, 2019

The Weekend Writer: More Publishing Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Multi-Media Fun

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

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

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

Agents' assistants appear to do a great deal.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Boarding School Book Number 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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