Monday, February 24, 2020

Black History Month: "March"

I finally read March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Ayden, and Nate Powell. I've been hearing about it for years. This is definitely a case of a book being worth the buzz.

March is a graphic memoir of John Lewis, the long-time U.S. Representative from Georgia's fifth congressional district who has also been part of the civil rights movement for decades. Lewis has a compelling story, but it's a story that is also extremely well told in this book. The frame used--Lewis is telling his story to children on Barack Obama's Inauguration Day--is marvelous. And Lewis's influences are carefully established, all the way back into childhood. The illustrations tell a lot of the story, as they should in a graphic work. And when there is narrative in the boxes, it's in Lewis's voice. He's the narrator telling the story.

The book is well done and informative. It's a book for young readers, but also a quick read for adults, including not-very-well-informed ones like myself, about the mid-twentieth century civil rights movement. Hmm. An adult I know may get this for his birthday.

March is the first of three volumes about John Lewis. Oh, this won the Coretta Scott King Book Award, which I mentioned here a few weeks ago.  The third book in the series was the first graphic work to win the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Just sayin'.

Be sure to read about Andrew Ayden, who wrote March with Lewis. How the two of them came up with the idea for a graphic memoir is interesting, too.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Weekend Writer: An Agent Virtual Appearance And A Podcast

Are any of you Weekend Writers thinking about submitting to agents? Here are a couple of resources.

I used to be quite the fan of podcasts, listening to them while I binge cooked on weekends. After a while, I found it harder and harder to find podcasts that interested me, and I have the binge cooking thing under control now. Also, I found it difficult to get everything I should out of the podcasts while I was moving from baking center to stove to sink. And just sitting and listening to one? I need a compelling reason.

Well, while doing agent research last week, I discovered that this weekend is WriteonCon, an on-line childlit conference that offers, among other things, speakers doing video presentations. I "attended" WriteonCon in 2012 a few weeks after it was over. This year, by the way, there is a modest fee for attendance, which will allow you access to content either until the beginning of March or March 22, depending on what you pay.

There is also a little free content in the form of showcase events, which were available early. I sat and watched Working With Your Agent with Natascha Morris, who has been with the Bookends Agency nearly three years. There is a little sound problem with the first few minutes of this video, but stick with it. She has a number of interesting things to say, particularly if you are at the working with agent stage. Early on she talks about receiving editing letters from agents and how writers can deal with them. What she describes is exactly how I dealt with editing letters from editors.

Then I stumbled upon a Write the Book: Conversations on Craft podcast with Emily Forland of the Brandt &  Hochman Agency. This is an interview marked by the quality of the interviewer's questions. I realized when I'd nearly finished listening to this thing that I recognized Write the Book. It's a podcast out of Vermont (the Burlington area, I think) that I've listened to a few times back when I listened to podcasts. During this podcast an author was mentioned who I looked up and whose work I want to read, but now I can't remember his name! I don't have time to listen to this again.

Which is one of my problems with podcasts.

However, if you have time to listen to one, Write the Book is very good. And if you have time for an agent video, Natascha Morris's is very worthwhile.



Wednesday, February 19, 2020

I Read Canadian Day

Today is I Read Canadian Day. I know because I saw it on Twitter this morning, and a Facebook friend posted about it. So, as so often happens, I am way behind the curve on this. But over the years I have paid a little attention to what's going on, childlit-wise, in Grandpa and Grandma Gauthier's home country. So here are some links from the Original Content archive on Canadian authors.

Susan Juby Susan Juby and more Susan Juby 

Kenneth Opel                             

Ben Philippe

Cheryl Rainfield


Mordecai Richler

Tim Wynne-Jones 

I am not a big Anne of Green Gables fan, yet I have three posts on that book:
It appears that except for Ben Philippe's book, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, I've done little Canadian reading recently. What's that about?

Edited:

Gordon Korman is Canadian! Or started out that way.  And more Gordon Korman.


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: Some Alternatives To Writing Every Day

This past week someone on Twitter brought up the question of whether or not it is really necessary to write every day. His point was that not everyone has the time to do that.

Well, since he mentioned time...

How Writing Every Day Can Help 


Writing every day is extremely helpful if you are working on one particular project, because it helps you to stay in the world of your book. You can keep a little flow thing going.  It's even good in terms of time management, because you don't have to keep bringing yourself back up to speed with characters, setting, and whatever it is you're trying to do.

Writing every day can also help you avoid letting yourself--or those around you--develop a mindset that you only write when every other thing in your life has been done. It also helps you avoid accepting a lot of discretionary, volunteer tasks. You have to limit those because you write every day.

But Let's Get Real


A great many new writers, and even published writers who don't make a living writing:

  •  Have day jobs that put food on the table, a roof over their heads, keep them alive.
  • Are the main caregivers for children.
  • Have day jobs and care for children.
  • Are caring for family members in the extended family, often while holding down a day job. And dealing with children of one age or another
  • Have chronic health problems of their own and also working day jobs and/or caring for others
Writing every day just isn't a possibility for many people. Suggesting they should be doing that not only does them no good, but can seem exclusionary. "Writers need to write every day. You can't write every day. Therefore...draw your own conclusion."

Can Writers Do Something Every Day?


You probably read. Read something every day that pertains to your writing.
  • Read in your genre. Pay attention to what is being done by other writers. Pay attention to what you like and, more importantly, what you dislike.
  • Read articles on craft. Pick up a copy of Writers' Digest, The Horn Book, or other publications that relate to the type of writing you do. Read what you can, when you can.
  • If you write short form work, read publications that publish it. Learn who is publishing what.
  • If you're working on a project that requires research, or even just thinking about starting one, do some reading for that.  
Maintain an "idea journal" in which you only have to jot down an idea or a situation, if that's all you have time to do. If you can find some kind of journal software, even better. You can search those and find similar ideas you've entered so you can pull them together when you want to do something with them.

Try to maintain a writing area, even it it's not an office or even a desk. When you have opportunities to write, write in the same place-- a particular chair in the living room where you work with a laptop or a notebook will do. Set aside a shelf for your writing books and magazines, any books you've been using for research.

Check out your schedule for the upcoming week (or weekend), looking for time when you can write. It's not necessary to have an eight-hour shift for writing. Small units or segments of time will due very nicely. 

What About Writing Every Day To Create A Writing Habit?


How many people have really done that?

My more rabid followers know that I'm a fan of psychologist Kelly McGonigal, who wrote The Willpower Instinct. She isn't a big supporter of promoting habits for changing behavior. Habit works best, she says, for small tasks that don't require a lot of people in the first place. Which is why so many of us have no problem brushing our teeth. Writing demands a lot more of us than keeping our teeth clean, though.

In my own experience, whenever I've felt I had a traditional write-every-day habit going, something jumped the border between my personal and professional lives and writing went out the window for a while. Habit just hasn't been that helpful for me when life problems strike.

Pursuing That There Goal--An Alternative To Writing Every Day


Kelly McGonigal talks about what she calls "automatic goal pursuit." For writers this would mean that instead of focusing on a behavior--I must write every day, because real writers write every day--you focus on an ultimate goal, say a particular writing project you want to complete. You chip away at that, however you can, instead of worrying about whether or not you're writing every day.

Producing something is the goal, not the process we use to produce it. Though there are plenty of articles, books, and workshops out there claiming to provide the secret to the perfect writing process, the real secret is that the perfect writing process doesn't exist.

I Have Some Experience With This, People


For instance, this week I have a seven-year-old house guest* arriving today and staying into Friday. I lost part of yesterday to guest prep. But I hate to lose a whole week, so I'm trying to plan some small tasks that will support some of this year's work goals.

  • I got this blog post ready to post yesterday and scheduled a couple of tweet pitches on Tweetdeck for a Twitter pitch even on Thursday when I expect to be away from home most of the day. Submitting work is a goal.
  • I've loaded my iPad with some essay and short story reading that will expose me to some new markets or some craft writing. Writing short form work is a goal.
  • I'm slowly plugging away on a YA mystery this year, and I'm using a blueprinting system I learned at a workshop taught four years ago by Wendy Maas. I've printed out the blueprinting I've done so far so I can add to it at odd moments during the week.
Hmm. I'm definitely not trying to write every day. What I do appear to be doing, though, is pushing myself toward those goals.

Oh, my gosh, I love goals so.

*My house guest was struck down by a stomach bug last night, so we'll never know how well I would have done with the plan I'd made for his stay. However, I now have some found writing time. Instead of reinventing the wheel (something I always find time consuming), I'm going to stick with working toward goals, as I'd planned, maybe leaning a little more heavily on the blueprinting then I would have if he'd been here.



Friday, February 14, 2020

Observing Valentine's Day In Book World


It's February 14. That Means The Cybil Winners Are Announced.


Yes, indeed, every February 14th excitement reigns because the latest crop of Cybils Award winners are announced. There are fifteen winners. Check them out.

Bette Bono, an author in one of my Facebook groups, suggested that for Valentine's Day we send valentines to writers, by way of reviews, purchases, or contacts showing appreciation. So I'm following Cybils writers and illustrators on Twitter. Yeah, that's including Cybils winner Trevor Noah, who's very funny but already has more than 10,000 Twitter followers and hardly needs a little valentine from me.

Hey, but he just won a Cybil! He should have way more than 10,000 followers! Now he has more than 10,001.

Another Observance


Also, I just bought a Kindle edition of The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty, as part of my Valentine's Day observance. I first heard about this book yesterday, but passed on it because I have at least two food books to read this year. But there was the Bette thing about sending authors "valentines," and Twitty's book is about history, as well as food, and I'm trying to do more reading about that this year, too. So purchasing it was a multiplier. I love those.

Editing Note: I have edited this post twice today, as I think of more Valentine's Day activities. The day isn't over. I may edit again.


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: The Ultralearning Wrap-up

I began my Time Management Tuesday arc on Ultralearning by Scott Young back in October. Of last year. I actually finished reading the book two months ago, continued to write up blog posts, and have been "working" on my ultralearning plan for about five weeks.

Ultralearning describes a method of quickly learning new skills and information, something writers often have to do while researching material. I think Ultralearning will be most useful for someone who has never done any kind of learning/research project. Quite honestly, in the time I've committed to studying this book and trying to apply it to my history learning, I could have probably done the research I wanted to do using my hit-or-miss methods from the past.  But researching this learning method could change how I learn other things in the future.

The Ultralearning Blog Posts


Here is an annotated round-up of the blog posts I've done about Ultralearning.

  • Write What You Know and Ultralearning. Why writers might want to do an ultralearning project.
  • Principle 1. Metalearning. Learning about how to study your subject. Learning "how knowledge is structured and acquired within this subject; in other words, learning how to learn it." Interesting section of the book.
  • Principle 2. Focus. This is essentially time management. We've done this.
  • Principle 3. Directness. Involves tying your research to the situation you want to use it in.While I wasn't a fan of this chapter when I read it, one of the things Scott discusses is immersive learning. This is definitely missing from my ultralearning history project, right now. I haven't done a good job with that with this project. I think immersion is an important aspect of writing, and I can see why it would be helpful when trying to learn something, especially if you want to do it fast.
  • Principle 4. Drills. I didn't see how I could use this with my history methodology project, but maybe something will come to me. And I can see how it would be helpful with other types of learning. Say, studying French, which I tinker with from time to time.
  • Principle 5. Retrieval. This section was about using testing to improve your retrieval of material. Forcing yourself to try to retrieve material helps you to remember it. I didn't know how I could do this with my project at the time I read the chapter and blogged about. However, now that I am actually studying and trying to get started on a little writing, the outlining and character development I'm working on might be perceived as a pretest. It's at that point that I find out what I need to know and can go looking for that knowledge.
  • Principle 6. Feedback. Different types of feedback on how you're doing with your learning project. I consider ways writers can get this. 
  • Principle 7. Retention. Obviously, this is about retaining what you've learned. I argue that this isn't terribly important for writers, researching for a particular writing project.
  • Principle 8. Intuition. I believe Young is talking here about getting to a point in your learning that your knowledge is broad enough that you don't have to think intently about it. But I can't be sure, because I found this chapter difficult.
    Principle 9. Experimentation. Getting to the point in your learning that you move past learning to something else. Doing something with your learning. This is another chapter I had to guess at.
  • Principle 10. Your First Ultralearning Project. Making a plan. 

At some point, I'll report on what this project ended up doing for me.

My response to this book reminds me about how I felt about Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. (Try as I will, I can't find an Original Content post on Quiet.) I was not taken with that book, felt there was an intoverts-good/extroverts-bad vibe to it, for instance. However, over time the issues raised in it have had a big impact on my world view and the character-development for one of my unsold middle grade novels. I've gifted a copy to a family member and recommended it to others. I wonder if Ultralearning, in the long run, could end up being the same kind of post-reading experience for me.


Friday, February 07, 2020

Black History Month: 50 Years Of The Coretta Scott King Award

My more rabid followers may recall that last month I took a year's worth of Horn Books with me on retreat, because I had fallen a year behind in my reading. As a result, I've only recently read The Horn Book's special issue from last year on the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Award.

The Coretta Scott King Award is given each year "to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values." I think the focus on "appreciation of African American culture and universal human values" gives this award a much different spin than the Newbery Medal, which is "awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year." Because...what's that?

Which brings us to The Horn Book tribute issue. It covers a number of different aspects of the Coretta Scott King Award.

Rudine Sims Bishop's Let Our Rejoicing Rise: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards is an excellent overview on the subject and gets right to the point in its first sentence. "The Coretta Scott King Book Awards originated as a response to the failure of the children’s literature establishment to acknowledge the talents and contributions of African American writers and illustrators."  A publisher at the 1969 ALA conference overheard two librarians discussing that in the 47 years the Newbery Medal and the 31 years the Caldecott Medal had existed, neither had been awarded to an African American writer or illustrator. The publisher suggested the librarians establish an award that would do just that, so they did.

Editor Roger Sutton's interview with George and Bernette Ford, the winner of the first Coretta Scott King illustrator award and the first African American vice president of a children's publishing, respectively, has a "they-were-there-on-the-barricades" vibe that I always enjoy. George Ford says that pre-CSK, " Publishers did not even think Black people did any reading, so the notion of winning prizes was not on the radar."

In A Vision for the CSK: Past, Present, and Future, Kekla Magoon writes about the types of books that are recognized with the Coretta Scott King Award--a variety of books about young black life and not just stories with obvious racial themes. Nor do the judges limit the award to books that just support a traditional, "approved" narrative about civil-rights history.

"After the initial shock and ebullience of my first award call wore off, I was able to reflect on how remarkable it was for the Coretta Scott King Jury to so open-mindedly embrace a text that expands readers’ understanding of the civil rights era. And how important a statement it was for the jury to emphasize that my voice — as a debut author trying to expand young readers’ understanding of Black history — mattered to the powers-that-be of children’s literature."

Magoon also reminded me that two hits from my reading past are Coretta Scott King books. Mare's War by Tanita Davis is an Honor Book (2010) and Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson won the award the same year. 

This Horn Book issue is also peppered with marvelous brief personal essays by authors and illustrators who have been CSK winners.

Looking for a copy of this Coretta Scott King Award Horn Book tribute issue would be well worth your time.



Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: An Ultralearning Case Study, Principle 10, Your First Ultralearning Project


Quite honestly, I think my experience reading Ultralearning by Scott Young would have gone much, much better for me if I hadn't done the equivalent of an ultralearning project before. But I've done at least two. I just didn't do them in a very organized way. So some of what I was reading in Ultralearning wasn't that novel to me. Also, I already have bad habits in place.

But here's how I'm applying the steps in this chapter to my present project.

Our Case Study: Step 1. The metalearning research, researching how history is studied. By the end of December I'd collected a lot of material. I stopped doing this kind of research at that point so I could get started using it at the beginning of the year.

Our Case Study: Step 2. Schedule your time. How much time you'll give to the project and when you'll do it. My plan at the end of December was to use my metalearning research in January and February. By then I wanted my character defined in terms of what he does with history and the part what he does with his knowledge in the plot to be determined. I planned to give some of my work time to this every week.

I originally thought of limiting this step to January, but I have a week-long retreat and a number of family things coming up as well as other work I want/need to do. So I'm not going to torture myself with an unrealistic deadline.

Our Case Study: Step 3. Execute the plan. Here's how some things went last month:
  • One of Young's suggestions is to find a course syllabus for the subject you're studying. I had found and chosen a class syllabus for a 2013 UConn class called The Historian's Craft, which  was about the methods and tools of the historical profession. The course is described as being about "how history is written." I ordered a copy of one of the three course books, A Student's Guide to History by Jules R. Benjamin. I thought it was too pricie and ordered a used copy. And I waited until the beginning of January, the beginning of my study time, to place the order. So I lost two weeks of my study time waiting for that to arrive. Lesson learned.
  • While I was waiting, I listened to a great podcast, So You Wanna Be A Historian--Historical Thought, Methods, Historiography, and the Historians Toolbox  at The Ask Historians Podcast.  I went through a podcast thing about four years ago, but am not a fan now because I find content quality varies a lot and they require concentration. I can't get much out of listening to a podcast while I'm doing something else. But who has time to just sit and listen to one? This particular podcast was over an hour, but I listened to it while on retreat last month. I took copious notes. I took names of historians to look up. It was great. I still have more paths I can pursue as a result of listening to this podcast.
  • So, I get back home, my book has arrived, and I go to work with the syllabus. Here's what I found to be the case with working with a course syllabus when you don't have access to the class instruction that goes along with it: it's of limited use. Other readings were assigned for this class, some of which were only available through sites that could only be accessed by students or must have been handouts. The writing assignments were on the syllabus, but they didn't make any sense without having been in the classes. The book has been good, but I haven't gotten as much from The Historian's Craft syllabus as I'd hoped.
  • I am doing a better job of organizing my notes than I have with other projects, but I really do have to keep reminding myself not to just dump everything into one file. 
  • I've read some other material on my subject. And on and on.
  • I have had some thoughts regarding my character and my plot as a result of my reading and that was the whole point. But I need to do some immersion on this research and writing project. My efforts were spread over too many goals last month. Just doing this a few hours a week may not have been the best plan. I've got three and a half weeks left in my scheduled time.

Our Case Study: Step 4. Review Results  Still to come

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Am I Still Sticking To Goals?

One of my goals for this year is Goal 6. Stay On Top Of Upcoming Known Events. And an objective for that goal is to heck in with goals at the end of each month. The point being to make sure that I'm actually working on goals and not...doing something else. Particularly nonwork related things.

So, have I done anything I wanted to do? I checked last week.

Goal 1. Concentrate on submitting completed book-length projects as well as completed short-form work.  I made five submissions last month, all of them in the last two weeks. Three were book-length projects to agents, one was a short humor piece to an on-line publication, and one was to a regional anthology. That was quite good for me.

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

Objectives: 
  • Start some eating essays  I think I tinkered with something
  • Choose an essay or short story from the files or journal to do a little work on every week I have done a little bit
  • Plan to focus short-form reading on different genres each month I focused on flash fiction this month, with some work/thinking on whether or not picture book texts are flash fiction. More to come on that.
  • Spend the last week of every month completing something. Anything. Ah...no
I did spend two days working on a totally new picture book project that I think I'm going to turn into an early chapter book. So I was doing something on the short-form side, it just wasn't one of my objectives for the year.
Goal 3. Work on the 365 story project The flash fiction reading (above) was a multi-tasker for this goal. I did do some organizing of files. But, no, no real progress on this.

Goal 4. Work on YA thriller that could become an adult thriller. I've been doing research on historical methodology for this one. No real work on the manuscript. But, you know, thinking.

Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding. I've done quite a bit with this one, with support for other writers through the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar, support of Multicultural Children's Day, covering Connecticut writer events. I hope to attend one day of the NESCBWI Conference in April.

I did lots of little things last month, but no work on big projects. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Are these little things I'm doing the ground work for something big later in the year? Or am I just messing around?

Perhaps I'll find out this month.