Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: Time For The Annual Recapitulation Post

Here it is, the recapitulation post, in which I go over my professional goals and objectives for the year, determining what worked and what didn't, what I want to continue doing, what I want to change. This will set me up for planning next year's goals and objectives, which will go up next week. 

Consider doing some recapitulation, folks. It's incredibly helpful, and you may find it an ego-boost, too. You could have accomplished more than you think you have. Especially if you had goals to work with last year. They were a huge help for me, giving me something to focus on.

My greatest accomplishment in 2020 is, of course, remaining on my feet and as sane as I ever am. Professionally, though, here are my goals and objectives and what happened with them.

Goal 1. Concentrate on submitting completed book-length projects as well as completed short-form work. 


  • Submit adult book to agents researched this fall Yeah, I did some of that. Six submissions of one book, anyway.
  • Continue researching agents for adult book, through Publishers' Marketplace, Twitter, etc. Ah...
  • At some point in year, switch submission focus to my second adult book Well...
  • At some point in year, switch submission focus to my children's books Not in an organized way.
  • Spend more time with essay Facebook group. Those people are publishing and share their work, exposing me to new markets. Which is not stalking them. Nope, I didn't do that.
  • Seek out markets for a seasonal essay I wrote last fall. May have made a few feeble attempts.
  • Check the publication history of some essayists I read last year. Don't know what this was about

However, I did make 50 submissions overall this year, resulting in publishing the following:

Fears That We May Cease To Be at The Blue Nib Literary Magazine

Dear Pastor Bill at The Haven

And I published the humor piece Well, How Many Masks Have You Made at Medium myself.

That was some progress with my short-form adult writing.

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

  • Start some eating essays I did a micro piece about shell macaroni and maybe something else.
  • Choose an essay or short story from the files or journal to do a little work on every week Nope
  • Plan to focus short-form reading on different genres each month Did do that for a while
  • Spend the last week of every month completing something. Anything. Nope

However, I took a six-week flash forms workshop this summer during which I wrote some pieces and then last month took part in Flash NaNo2020 during which I wrote nine more pieces. One of them was Dear Pastor Bill, which has already been published. So though I didn't do much with the planned objectives, I am happy what I did for the overall goal.

Goal 3. Work on the 365 story project 


  • Focus on this as short-form writing (see Goal 2)
  • January reading focus will be flash fiction  Yes
  • Spend time reading short stories, shorter work in children's literature Nope
  • Take drafts to writers' group What writers' group? It's 2020.

I did absolutely nothing on this and was planning to ditch it again for next year. However, just this morning I was thinking that now that I have more flash training, I should dabble with this again.

Goal 4. Work on YA thriller that could become an adult thriller

  • Work on history background for Character 2 during January and February Yes
  • Work on Character 3 Yes
  • Work on blueprinting. Yes
  • Just work on scenes. Don't worry about connecting things. Not so much
  • Read YA thrillers. Don't think I stumbled upon many of those this year.
  • Develop a theme Yes
I did a lot with this, and it will be a focus for next year.


Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding


  • Provide social media support for writers/bloggers generating diversity material. I found a nice mix of diverse writers publishing this year and was able to include them in my 2020 monthly books publishing posts.
  • Continue with writers' group. No.
  • Pay more attention to community events like Multi-Cultural Children's Book Day  That fell apart, because I was spending so much time on the monthly publishing posts.
  • Continue with Original Content. Yes.
  • Check out NESCBWI spring conference, with possibility of attending. Yes, but didn't attend the on-line conference. Did take 2 or 3 of the on-line workshops it offered for members this year.
  • Check out NESCBWI-PAL offerings this year, with possibility of attending. There were some regional on-line gatherings, but I didn't go.
  • Be open to attending events for writers of adult literature. Took that flash forms workshop mentioned above and attended a couple of salons.
  • Attend other authors' appearances. Went to 2 virtual book launches.
  • Continue with promoting Original Content at Facebook communities, Goodreads' blog, and Twitter. Yes.

Goal 6. Stay On Top Of Upcoming Known Events


  • Do more planning for the year/particular months Yeah, that fell apart. For one thing, I forgot to check the monthly section of my bullet journal on this.
  • Check in with goals at the end of each month No
  • Expect the end of the year to be a disaster Yes. Other parts of the year, too.

Goal 7. Continue collecting material and ideas for an adult scifi project, far in my future.  

Funny story on this one. The adult scifi project I was thinking about was called Flu Season, and it was going to be a mystery/thriller set in a world that has recovered from a massive flu epidemic that took out a big percentage of the population a couple of generations back. The flu has never been wiped out, and people have learned to live around it. In addition, the world's population hasn't bounced back, so the world hasn't bounced back, so that makes for a different--though not necessarily bad--kind of life. 

I had a lot to work out with this and hadn't started any writing. But I was thinking about world building. I was thinking about a world where everyone wears masks and gloves in public and makes fashion statements with them. Homes are renovated so people enter through laundry rooms where they strip out of their outdoor clothes and change into clean clothes. Everyone home schools. Takeout meals are a big, fancy deal.

Now, I'm not going to go anywhere with this now, but the thinking I'd done with it had an impact on how I've lived the last 9 months, and probably why, psychologically, I've dealt with this better than I might have. I was somewhat prepared.


Sunday, December 27, 2020

At Least I Met My 2020 Reading Goal

I've been doing a lot of reader response posts lately, because I've been pushing with my reading in order to meet my goal of reading 50 books this year. I made it, going over by two. I know I did, because GoodReads says so.

GoodReads keeps track of my reading over the year--so long as I enter the books and remember to include a finish date. It makes a lovely graphic with all the covers of the books. Over the course of the year, it tells me if I'm behind or ahead of schedule. This year I was often behind, partly because I read some slow adult works. I'm looking at you A People's History of the United States

In order to make my goal, I had to push this past few months, giving up my daily Zen of watching foreign TV shows to make reading time. I was not willing to approximate correct behavior on this one. Next year I'm going to set the bar a little lower. It will be less stressful to reach it, and if I go over, I can brag.

I'm not bragging this year, folks. My sister read 100 books in 2020.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Love Story About Family

I missed The Swap by Megan Shull when it published six years ago, even though it was a big enough noise to inspire a Disney Channel movie. It's an entertaining read and about something a little different.

Ellie and Jack, both middle school athletes with single parents, barely know each other, though Ellie certainly knows about Jack who is quite highly regarded. They end up swapping bodies and having to spend the weekend with each other's friends and families and dealing with each other's problems. The book switches from one point of view to the other, which I'm not usually of, but it works well here. Yes, humorous situations all over the place. 

Some things I particularly like about this book:

  • First and foremost, though there's lots of talk of preteen romance in this story, Ellie and Jack's love interests are familial. It's the other character's family that is their love object. 
  • This isn't a "walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes-and-learn-something" story. Instead, Ellie and Jack each find something in the other person's life that they need. In fact, they're each able to do something for the other while they're stuck in the wrong bodies. 
  • I loved Jack's siblings, though I found their sports culture somewhat over the top. However, I've never done team sports and know nothing about that world, so I'm willing to accept them.
  • I also liked that Jack, his hockey-playing brothers, and his team mates are all portrayed in positive ways. There are no stereotypical evil kid athletes here.
  • While I also found the mean girl over the top, I liked that so many of the other kids, while not willing to try to take her down, certainly knew what she was. It reminded me of something a neighbor girl told me about the popular kids at our local high school. "The popular kids are people nobody really likes."

So this was a good find, a good end-of-the-year read.

Monday, December 21, 2020

A Middle Grade Book About Something Different

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm is about a girl whose grandfather, lodged in a teenage boy's body because the old guy thought making himself young again was a good idea, leads her to an interest in science. At least, that was the big attraction for me. Yes, main character, Ellie, is also growing apart from her best friend, a classic middle grade situation. But I got really excited when the science aspect came in.

A particularly entertaining part of the book involves the fact that gramps has turned back time for his body, but not his mind. He's still, in reality, an older scientist, who has now been thrown into a teenager's world.

I thought Ellie's epiphany toward the end was a little abrupt, but, nonetheless, this is a neat book, both entertaining and with some different content. 

And a sequel came out earlier this year.        

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

"Dread Nation" A Favorite Recent Read

A family member recommended Dread Nation by Justina Ireland to me. Within just a couple of weeks,
I saw the ebook edition on sale. At my house, that is what is known as a sign, a sign for me to purchase and read.

I'm always saying that I'm not that big a fan of zombie books, but I seem to have read a number of them.  I'm not attracted to the idea of walking dead, by any means, or horror. I'm attracted to zombie books that have a unique world for the zombies to exist within. That was the case with the Rot & Ruin books I read, as well as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Rot & Ruin was a zombie/contemporary western mash-up. P and P and Z was, of course, a zombie/Pride and Prejudice mash-up. Dread Nation is a zombie/alternative history mashup. It takes place in a post-American Civil War world in which the dead rose during/after the Battle of Gettysburg. 

I believe I once read that zombie stories are never about zombies. That's certainly the case with Dread Nation. This book deals with race and politics, with a twist on a southern belle/mean girl secondary character thrown in, just in case there's not enough to interest you. And like with Rot & Ruin, the zombies in Dread Nation are not necessarily the worst things our hero has to deal with. Some of the humans who exist in this zombie world are pretty grim. 

Fantastic main character who would have been a male a decade or so ago but most definitely is not. Even the ending is good, though the story is clearly set up for a sequel.

Seriously, I can't think of any negatives for this one.

Dec. 17 UPDATE
Talk about a sign! (Which I was doing earlier in this post.) The eBook edition of Deathless Divide, the sequel to Dread Nation, is on sale! I just bought it! I just started reading a new book last night, so I can ditch that and read this instead!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

"The Hundred Dresses"--A Seventy-Four-Year-Old* Children's Book That Is Now A Little Bit Chilling

When I stumbled upon The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, I had never read anything by the author, though I'd certainly heard of her. She wrote three Newbery Honor books and won the medal for a fourth. So I borrowed the ebook and filled my reading gap.

The Hundred Dresses was published in 1944, and it's interesting on a couple of levels. 


Stylistically, it is very elegantly written. It is more sophisticated in presentation than we see in middle grade books these days. And, yet, it also has a lot of illustrations by Louis Slobodkin. (Turns out I admired that Slobodkin site back in 2007.)  This gives the impression that The Hundred Dresses is for even younger readers. However, that may have been common in children's books of that era. The Hundred Dresses is also written in the third person, something that's not very popular with publishers now. It sometimes is written from a point-of-view character, Maddie, who who is more of an observer than an actor in the story, and sometimes the narrator is more classically omniscient. I don't think that kind of switching would go over today.

How The Content Can Now Be Perceived

This book is about a couple of school girls who humiliate a third one, a child of poor Polish immigrants who has to wear the same dress to school every day. They "have some fun with her." The main instigator is a girl named Peg, who would be perceived today as a head mean girl. That sometimes point-of-view character, Maddie, is her companion, complicit in her silence.

At a couple of points it seems clear that neither the omniscient narrator nor Maddie consider Peg to be a bully. In her era, she may have been considered just incredibly shallow and thoughtlessly cruel. But Peg would be considered a bully today. Reading how she behaves to her victim, Wanda, and how Wanda just takes it and takes it and takes it was disturbing to this adult reader who is aware of how those who are bullied have broken over the last couple of decades. 

The ending was also disturbing. Wanda forgives Peg and Maddie. I'm not saying forgiveness is a bad thing. But those two little WASP girls didn't have to do a damn thing to redeem themselves, so they could feel better.  Wanda does it all.

Some Interesting Bits

I've seen a few descriptions of this book that indicate that it's about Wanda Petronski, the Polish girl victimized by Peg and Maddie. I don't feel it is. I think it's about Maddie, the girl who stood to one side, did nothing to stop the bullying, and was a decent enough human being to feel bad about it. It is her thoughts we are privy to and we see what she sees. Additionally, the book is said to have been inspired by an incident in Estes own life, when she was in a Maddie position and was never able to apologize to the girl she didn't help at the time. 

I think Maddie as the central figure makes The Hundred Dresses a far more interesting book than it would be if it really were about Wanda. We have lots of victim books. We have far fewer about the other people in those situations. 

This would be an excellent classroom or family read-aloud. 

*I originally published the title as "A Sixty-Four-Year-Old Children's Book." 


Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: Managing Chaos With Approximating Correct Behavior

I was a big believer in approximating correct behavior when my children were little. If they got anywhere near close to a behavior I was hoping for, instead of complaining about the near miss, I rewarded whatever they did. I took it as a win. My idea was that step-by-approximating-step, they would reach what I was shooting for. I can't recall how often that worked, but at least we avoided a lot of conflict.

Writers can manage some of the chaos in their lives by encouraging a similar attitude in themselves. Particularly in situations in which we've set up short-term objectives around a schedule, we have to be careful not to fall apart when (notice I didn't say if) the schedule can't be adhered to as we fantasized it would, when we can't reach the behavior we were hoping for.

Falling apart causes chaos. 

A Case In Point

Last month I took part in FlashNaNo2020. The plan/schedule for that was to write 30 flash stories in 30 days. I veered off into flash essays and memoirs, so I wasn't sticking to the plan for that right from week 2.

It also became clear at the end of the first week that I wasn't going to meet the planned, "correct behavior," writing 30 pieces of flash in 30 days. I had to put that correct behavior aside and accept that I was going to have to approximate it. The alternative to approximating correct behavior would have been to give in to the dread what-the-hell effect. "I'm obviously not going to hit the behavior I want, so what-the-hell? I might as well give up on this whole thing."

The what-the-hell effect is a lot like what passes for chaos at my house.

What Can Writers Gain From Approximating Correct Behavior?


Consider National Novel Writing Month. How many people actually complete a 50,000 word draft of a novel during National Novel Writing Month? Many of them probably realize early on that they're not going to make it. They can fall apart into the chaos of either struggling with work and personal commitments in order to continue trying for the correct behavior or or they can feel that they are incompetent failures. OR they can accept an approximation of correct behavior. In which case, they might come away with a 10- or 20-thousand start on a new writing project. That is a win they can run with in the future. Ask anyone who has written a book.
The pressure to meet your desired behavior on a traditional writing retreat (meaning writing goals) must be intense. You've put down some money to be there, you may be walking away from a day job or family to write. Fall apart on Saturday afternoon when things aren't going well? Or shoot for approximating correct behavior and go home with something instead of nothing?
As far as my FlashNaNo2020 experience is concerned, I ended up with 15 pieces of flash. I dipped into my writing journal for many of them, which was very gratifying. I'd wanted to do something with some of those thoughts for years. One of my writings from last month was published at a humor site last week. I rewrote one traditional short story as flash and am considering submitting it this month.

Between those 15 new stories/essays/memoirs (some of which need some more work) and the material  I produced at my flash workshop this past summer, I have quite a bit of new writing to submit. This is important, because I've read of a number of writers who manage to get 5 to 10 stories published in a year. They do that, though, by making huge numbers of submissions. You need content to submit in order to do that.

Descending into chaos when you can't maintain the correct behavior you think you need to write doesn't get you material to submit. Approximating correct can.


Saturday, December 05, 2020

I've Done 48 Hikes This Year! And, Yes, That Does Relate To Children's Books

I am not a major fan of wordless picture books. But I definitely enjoyed Hike by Pete Oswald, possibly because I've been out for minor hikes one to two times a week this year. (I prefer to call them walks, truthfully, because the longest was only 4 miles, but that wouldn't work in this blog post, would it?) .  A number of the shortest hikes were with a very small person suffering from being housebound these many months.

That's what Hike is about--a hike with an adult and child, in this case a father and a young one who I think could be of either gender. The illustrations are terrific and carry a very coherent and simple story line regarding the characters' day trip. There's plenty to talk about on most of the pages, especially with a little listener who has been out on trails.

Oh, and this is a 2020 book! A pandemic book about my major out-of-house pandemic activity.

Friday, December 04, 2020

New Humor Piece Published

This week The Haven, a humor publication ("A Place to Be Funny Without Being a Jerk") on the Medium platform, published my piece, Dear Pastor Bill. If you have attended on-line church services these past 10 months--or if you drink wine--or if you do both--you may find this interesting. 

I wrote Dear Pastor Bill last month as part of FlashNaNo2020, my month of writing flash. So I originally thought of it as flash fiction. But is it "humor writing?" Is there such a thing as "humor writing?" What is this? 

You can see why I referred to it as "my piece" in the first paragraph. 

And, yes, I should do some research and tell you all about it. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

If Authors Aren't Going To Blog How Can They Share Their Work And Generate Interest In It

I have been involved in a Facebook discussion on authors and blogging recently. While I am an obsessive blogger, myself, I don't think it is a necessity for writers. There are far more writer and literary blogs than there are readers to read them, and few people can follow and read any one blog on a regular basis. I think writers are much better off using their time to create and maintain (that means periodically update, people) a traditional, static website where potential readers can quickly and easily find information about them, what kind of writing they do, and where they can find it. That kind of information is often lost in a blog, which should be generating new material regularly. The most recent blog posts may not contain the info seekers are looking for.

In our Facebook discussion, a question arose on how writers can share their work and generate interest in it without blogging. Well, you know me. I have some thoughts on that. I think, therefore I blog.

Be Careful What Work You Share

Writers need to be very careful about "sharing" new work at a website or blog, even their own, because many journals and potential markets consider what they've posted as "published." Those markets, and there are many of them like this, won't consider that work for publication. It's now "previously published," and many places don't accept that kind of work. It doesn't matter how low your readership is, the material is, or at one time was, available to the public.

I never publish my essays and short stories here or at my website, because I want the option of being able to submit them elsewhere. While I was taking part in FlashNaNo2020  last month, I wouldn't even post any of my work at the group's Facebook page, in case doing so meant I'd lost the option to submit it elsewhere. 

I write frequently here about a number of subjects--blogging and time management, for instance--that I might someday want to write something on and submit somewhere. However, I don't expect to be able to publish anything I've posted here as is. I would need to do updating, rewriting, and maybe some new research. I would need to come up with new "original content."

Then How Do You Generate Interest In Your Work?

Well, I haven't made a new book sale in over--well, in quite some time. Clearly, I'm not the one to be giving advice on how to generate interest in your writing work. Not to worry. That won't stop me.

Three things you can try:

  • Submit your work to appropriate journals/markets. If you get something published, share that on any social media you're part of. 
  • Make good use of social media. I have my Tweetdeck set up with  columns that show me tweets from editors and publications I follow. That's how I learned one of those publications is open to submissions of flash fiction this month, and I just happen to have something to send it. (Here is my second post on how to use Tweetdeck.) I'm a member of Facebook groups related to types of writing I do, such as essays and flash fiction. I could be more active in those, but membership in the essay group led me to submitting a flash memoir to Bending Genres, which eventually published it in its anthology. That got me into print again.
  • Help other writers by sharing their news on social media. For years before the pandemic, I did the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar here at this blog. After publishing the calendar, I'd share it over and over again on Twitter, each calendar event getting a tweet. I shared it on Facebook. I got some attention within the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for that work. Since the pandemic started and public appearances have ended, I've been doing monthly childlit book release posts and tweeting them. Those posts draw the most traffic to my blog these days, meaning they're promoting me, if not my actual work. 
  • Helping other writers when you don't have a blog. On Twitter? Follow writers you know and writers who write your kind of work. Retweet their tweets on new publications, awards, etc. On Facebook? Do the same, but share their info instead of retweeting. You don't have to say anything. You don't have to gush about books you haven't read. You're helping these people to extend their reach. It helps you, too, because it gets your Twitter and Facebook info out into the social media streams.

Blogging Posts

While thinking about the Facebook discussion I was part of, I searched Original Content to see what I'd covered on this subject in the past. Here are links to more of Gail's thoughts on blogging than you will want to be privy to. Some of these posts go back a while, so some links may not be working. My own words, of course, are timeless.