Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Come On, Enough With The Eye Rolling.

I'm reading a very good YA novel that is marred with constant eye rolling. From multiple characters. Maybe all of them. Sometimes different characters will roll their eyes on adjacent pages.

I've read YA book after YA book with characters rolling their eyes over this and that. It is so intrusive to the story. It stops the narrative flow while the reader goes, "What? Didn't somebody just do that? Is it this guy, again? Or was it that cheerleader? Or the other cheerleader?"

If a writer is going to use a gesture like eye rolling, it should be defining of a character in some way, the way using obscenity should define a character. But if all the characters roll their eyes or say ##@!, no one is defined. And if one character rolls her eyes and shouts ##@! regularly, it becomes less defining and more annoying.

Seriously, has anyone ever seen someone roll his or her eyes? I can't recall it. I don't think I can physically do it. I'm sure someone will argue it is a teenage thing. I don't remember seeing it from any teenager I've known. Okay, some shifting of eyes back and forth, but a real eye roll? What is that, even?

If characters have good enough dialogue, they don't need to be doing anything with their eyes. And if they don't have good enough dialogue, nothing you can do with any part of their faces will save the situation.

So let's give eye rolling a rest. Please.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: An Ultralearning Case Study, Principle 8 Intuition

This section of Scott Young's Ultralearning was incredibly difficult for me. For one thing, the chapter is an extended case study, and while I'm using my own project as a case study for dealing with this book, evidently I really dislike reading about them. More importantly, Young doesn't formally define intuition, assuming readers will know it, and this one didn't. It's a word I evidently had a connotative understanding of, but not denotative. For instance, I was a great one for saying something was counter-intuitive, seems wrong, without, it appears, really knowing what I was talking about. This comes from learning vocabulary from the context of your reading and not studying vocab. Don't let this happen to you.

Struggling to work out what was going on in this chapter may actually be an example of ultralearning. Another #@!! case study! This one with me.

Thank You Psychology Today

I skimmed big sections of this chapter because, as I said, I didn't like the case study. Then I went back and did a search of the eBook for "intuition." Then I started skimming again. Then I did an online search of "ultralearning" and "intuition." I found some sites where people had done elaborate reviews. Those people used "intuition" without defining it, also. Finally, I just googled "intuition" and found Intuition at good ol' Psych Today.

"Intuition is nonconscious thinking; essentially, the brain on autopilot. Scientists have repeatedly demonstrated how information can register on the brain without conscious awareness and positively influence decision-making."  "The automatic information processing that underlies intuition can be seen in something many people experience daily: the phenomenon known as "highway hypnosis." This occurs when a driver travels for miles without a conscious thought about the activity of driving the car."

So What Does It All Mean?

What I think Young is getting at here (using a long, long case study about Richard Feynman) is that after learners have acquired enough knowledge, they know it without having to think about it a great deal. Young says, "Whereas beginners tended to look at superficial features of the problem--such as whether the problem was about pulleys or inclined planes--experts focused on the deeper principles at work."

Is intuition related to what some of us used to think of as expertise, expert level skill/knowledge?

The amount of work I had to do to decipher this chapter illustrates a couple of things Young has talked about.
  1. You can't always stick to the easy learning
  2. Testing--I tested myself on intuition, couldn't answer the question, and worked on finding a solution. However, I cannot be sure the answer I came up with is correct.

Our Case Study: Intuition is probably something I want for my character. The question is: how much do I have to have in order to give him some?

Monday, January 20, 2020

Synopsis Building With Tara Sullivan

Original Content friend and fellow writer Nancy Tandon attended a writer event here in Connecticut last week. And she sent pictures.

On Sunday, January 12, Tara Sullivan, author of Golden Boy and The Bitter Side of Sweet, did a presentation at the Westport Public Library on synopsis building. This is a repeat of a well-received workshop Sullivan did at last year's New England Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators regional conference and dealt not just with writing a synopsis but using it  to help with revision. 

This January's event was co-sponsored by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' Shop Talks and WestportWRITES.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Another Reading Retreat Week In The Rearview Mirror

A very successful retreat week. In addition to the stack of reading you see in the accompanying picture, I knocked off maybe 8 pieces of flash fiction on-line and untold numbers of articles on Meghan Markle, with whom I am growing bored. Additionally, I listened to an hour plus podcast for my history methodology ultralearning project. I did catch up on my Horn Book reading, which you'll be hearing about over the coming months and came up with at least one new flash fiction idea. I'll have to check my notes on that.

Speaking of ultralearning, I thought I posted last Tuesday's Time Management Tuesday post on my Ultralearning read last Tuesday. However, I didn't think to check to see if it went up successfully until I got home yesterday afternoon. So that arc will continue to drag on.

Hey, but whatever. I've had a week-long reading retreat and I'm feeling the calm. I would ask how to make that last, but asking how to make the calm last would wreck the calm.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Retreat Week Begins Tomorrow

Things will become quieter here for the next few days, because we're leaving for our annual retreat week tomorrow. I am going to try to put up the Time Management Tuesday post next week, because I'm desperate to finish the Ultralearning arc and that will bring me one step closer. Otherwise, I don't plan to be here.

I call these annual trips a reading retreat. We do some snowshoeing, go out to eat, maybe spend some time in the fitness center, and hang out in our timeshare unit reading, listening to music, and (someone else) doing jigsaw puzzles.

My reading bag this year contains:

  • Two back issues of Writer's Digest
  • An entire year's worth of The Horn Book that I haven't read. I realized yesterday that the HB subscription renewal notice came before Christmas, and I found it! Now I should pay it, shouldn't I?
  • Two copies of Mindful.
  • One copy of Tricyle
  • The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson, because it takes place in Vermont, and the first book in the series sounds as if she had the area we're going in mind.
  • My Kindle, heavy with eBooks, including The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, which I hope will be a read for Multicultural Children's Book Day at the end of the month. 
  • I also have my iPad loaded with links to flash fiction and historical methodology reads, both this month's professional reading focus.
Retreat Reading 2017
And in spite of all that, I'll make my annual pilgrimage to Bear Pond Books, where I try to find something new for me. That is how I became a Mindy Kaling fan.

My traveling companion has had a mild cold since Wednesday, I am now fighting it off, and there is unseasonably warm weather and rain expected this weekend where we're going. But I'll still have the reading. And eating in restaurants.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

First Read Of The Year: "A Monster Calls"

I finished reading my first book of the year a little after midnight on New Year's Day. I stayed up late for the Carnegie Medal winning A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from the late Siobhan Dowd. The book is heavily illustrated by Jim Kay, who won the Kate Greenaway Medal for his work on it.

I was under the gun to get the book read, because a family member gave it to me for Christmas, 2018, and I was going to see her on January 4th. Yes, that's January 4th, 2020. I had started the book much earlier in 2019, but felt the sick mom and bullies (who I don't think were necessary to the story, by the way) made it  a "problem book," a genre in children's lit that I don't take to. But at the end of November, I thought, Hey, a college-age family member gave me this. Read it. 

A Monster Calls deals with a boy who is visited by a monster tree in his yard. The kid doesn't find him all that frightening because his mother is dealing with a big set-back in her cancer treatment, and there are those bullies at school. Our protagonist has real-life monsters to deal with. The book is very well written, and in spite of the serious subject matter and tone, I did get to a 'what's going to happen?' point. The monster tells the boy three stories, the first two of which I liked very much.

Another family member has suggested more than once that I think too much. Nonetheless, I am going to report that I did wonder while I was reading A Monster Calls if it is really fantasy or, instead, a story dealing with a psychological issue relating to a child's emotional trauma. (Even though we're told that there is physical evidence that the monster did really call.)  Or is it magical realism, a genre that I find can get very deep and difficult?

I was concerned about how to respond to the young woman who gave me the book. A Monster Calls is extremely painful, not a book I would ever describe as entertaining, and I think an argument could be made that, as well done as it is, it doesn't offer any new insights on grief. (Of course, aren't all insights new to readers twelve and up, the age group the publisher markets the book to?) I knew my dear young girl had dealt with some family losses over the last few years. I needed to be sensitive, in case this book had some profound meaning for her, and she had chosen to share it with me.

So I asked her, "How did you happen upon this book? Was it assigned for a class? Something you heard about?"

"I saw it in a used bookstore and loved the illustrations."

I do, indeed, think too much.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: An Ultralearning Case Study, Principle 7 Retention

I finished reading Ultralearning by Scott Young last month, and, as God is my witness, I'm going to finish blogging about it. Though it's going to take me another month to do it.

We've had a two-week break for goals and objectives, so I guess I'd better remind us all about what we're doing here. Especially since this is a blog post about retaining information.

As I said a few weeks ago,  Ultralearning  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 planning 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. This now relates to one of my goals for this year.

Principle 7, Retaining What You've Learned

This chapter of Ultralearning is all about remembering what you're learning. This is interesting on a personal level, because our family members have been dealing with relatives with memory loss for many years. By "interesting" I mean "interesting in a disturbing way." Professionally,  I don't think memory/retention matters as much for writers as it does for those learning other things, like a language or a skill they'll actually be using regularly.

Retaining For The Long-Term

Our Case Study: In my particular case, I'm interested in learning historical methodology that I can use for a character and situation in one book. I don't need to retain a lot of this indefinitely. If I want to use this information another time and no longer have a good grasp of it, I can research it again, using whatever I do recall as a guide/jumping off point. A refresher.

I've done this before. Many years ago, I researched the Puritan era for The Hero of Ticonderoga. This past year, I wrote an adult book in which a contemporary figure is a Puritan fan. I used what I recalled from the original research to "inspire" sections, then quickly researched those points again.

If I learn something in my research/learning of history that I want to use again, after my initial project, I can do the same kind of relearning research.

Retaining For The Short-Term

I believe that retaining for the short-term is more important for writers doing the kind of learning I'm doing. By that I mean, remembering what we've learned during Week 1 while continuing to study into Weeks 5 and 6. Or to remember what we've learned researching prior to starting the writing project while we're into the actual writing.

Young says that procedural skills, which appear to be activities that involve learning a procedure (I had to research this, because Young doesn't actually say), are retained better than declarative knowledge, which is facts or information. So if there's some way we can turn basic facts into a procedure, there's a chance they will be retained longer.

Our Case Study: Ah...not a clue how I could do this. Or if it's even possible at all.

Personal Problem With Retention That I Wish "Ultralearning" Addressed

I have had a lot of trouble in the past organizing research in an easy-to-access-again way. All my notes have gone into a notebook in the past or, more recently, a computer file, where at least, I could use "find" to find something I recalled but would like some support for before using it. Young doesn't cover this aspect of studying.

Our Case Study: I'm thinking that if I use a course syllabus, I can create a notebook or computer file for that course, just as I would if I were taking the actual college course. In fact, I'd have to say my takeaway from Ultralearning so far is to try to treat my professional research the way I would a college major instead of just dumping info into the digital or notebook equivalent of piles.

In this particular case, I may also be more focused in my research. I am not randomly researching history but history methodology. That may help me to organize research.

Since I am actually into the research at this point, I can report that yesterday I carefully created a file for a particular article I was reading instead of just tossing any notes I wanted to make into a "methods" file. I hope that's an improvement.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Connecticut Book Awards Submissions Opening Next Monday

2020 Connecticut Book Awards Submissions Open
January 13, 2020

Connecticut Center for the Book will begin accepting submissions for the 2020 Connecticut Book Awards on January 13, 2020; the final deadline for all categories is April 17, 2020. Criteria, guidelines and the online submission form may be found on Entry fees start at $40.00. 
Connecticut Book Awards recognize the best books by authors and llustrators from Connecticut or books about Connecticut. Categories include: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Books for Young Readers broken into three subcategories: Picture Books, Fiction, and Nonfiction. The Bruce Fraser ‘Spirit of Connecticut’ Award honors the memory of long-time director Bruce Fraser and celebrates Connecticut’s sense of place.
The awards ceremony will be held in October 2020. Final date is to be determined.*

*Connecticut Center for the Book Press Release. I couldn't find the on-line submission form there, but presumably it will be up next week.

Friday, January 03, 2020

New Year's Poetry

Check out this poetry blog post by author Tanita Davis, because:

  1. It includes a definition of the word "nocturne." Come on. I am not the only person who didn't know that.
  2. She wrote a New Year's poem that includes the words "bullet journal."