Wednesday, December 29, 2021

A Round-up Of My 2021 Published Writing

Satellite office; using this year
Here is an end of the year listing of  all of my 2021 published work. It was all published on the Medium platform. Some pieces were accepted by publications there, some I directly self-published.

I'm More Altruistic Than You Are at The Haven  My most recent piece, so perhaps the jury is still out. It doesn't appear to be a big hit right now, though.

A Minimalist's Christmas at  The Bigger Picture This was chosen by somebody/something at Medium for further distribution. Presumably it got a boost in exposure. My most successful essay. I did the first draft a couple of years ago.

Slow Down, You Write Too Fast Self-published. This was an attempt to rework a blog post from here at Original Content. It was my least popular piece. Medium is full of self-help articles, particularly about writing for Medium. The bulk of them are about writing and publishing more, so you can see why an article about writing slower, which could result in writing less, wouldn't attract a lot of readers there. It flies in the face of that culture's conventional wisdom.

Still Another Story About The Medium Writers Challenge Another self-published piece. This was also chosen for further distribution, even though there was a great deal published on Medium this fall about the writers challenge. Evidently people there just couldn't get enough of that subject. It did much better than Slow Down, You Write Too Fast.

What We Did There at Tell Your Story This was one of my two submissions for the writers challenge. It is also one of a series of "black belt essays" I've written over the years about my experience as a taekwondo student. It wasn't a big hit even though I had done a draft for a workshop the year before, and used the structure I'd learned there for it, as well as the feedback I received. So much for workshopping material.

Submission Boards

at Kitchen Tales My second submission for the writers challenge. It was chosen for further distribution and did much better than What We Did There, even though the publication that accepted it didn't have as many followers as the one that accepted What We Did There. I had started it a year earlier. Since I am interested in writing about eating, I was pleased to get an opportunity to write this.

Daddy Is Watching The Olympics Again at Frazzled Chosen for further distribution. I was happy with this, because it was time sensitive, and I had to write it fast after coming up with the idea. That's most unusual for me.

Relieve Your Anxiety NOW! at The Haven This was very popular with my Facebook friends, but far less so with Medium members. It was my least popular piece until I published I'm More Altruistic Than You Are.

My Child Doesn't Watch YouTube at Frazzled Chosen for further distribution. It is my second most successful piece with Medium readers.

So, What Does This All Mean...


...other than that I wanted an excuse to promote my writing today here at Original Content?
You often see articles on Medium about how to write for Medium and how to get more attention there, more readers, and, therefore, more income. Given the amount of income I've generated from my writing at Medium (we're talking less than $20 for everything I've written combined), I clearly am not going to be writing anybody a how-to article.


In analyzing my own experience there, it is obvious that the distributed articles did better than the ones that weren't distributed. Both my parent humor articles were distributed, as were the two, let's say, meaningfulish personal essays. 

The humor piece about meditation and the personal essay about taekwondo both did poorly. Though one was humor and one wasn't, I see them as being somewhat similar in subject in that they are both a little counterculturish, not as mainstream as parents and kids or grief and eating, the subjects of essays picked up for distribution.

Presumably, I could use this experience to shape my writing for Medium, trying to attract that further distribution designation. I have to decide whether or not I want to jump through hoops to get Medium's support, support that will probably just get me a couple of extra dollars, at best. I could also try to tailor myself to Medium's interests temporarily, until I have more followers who might be interested in sampling whatever I write. Though, personally, I stop following writers whose work drifts away from what originally attracted me to them, so I don't have a lot of confidence in followers following me anywhere.

Also, keep in mind, I'm not trying to make a living off my Medium writing. I'm trying to  use publishing there as a springboard to getting essays into publications everywhere. How much do I need Medium's seal of approval (distribution) to do that?

Next year the Medium experience will continue.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The Recapitulation Post

For the ninth year, I am doing an end-of-the-year recapitulation post in which I go over my professional goals and objectives for the  past 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. 

If you've formally created goals and objectives for the year (or any other period of time you choose to use), a recapitulation post should be pretty easy to do. 

Goal 1. Finish a draft of YA thriller that could become an adult thriller. It has a name this year, 143 Canterbury Road   Ah, no, but I have made serious progress and am happy with what I've done.


  • I haven't work on this for a few months, so I'll need to reread what I've done to bring myself back up to speed.  Did this
  • Go over the outline/blueprint. Did this
  • Assign writing tasks to time frames each week. I didn't do much of this. It seems to add an extra level of work. I find I prefer sticking to tinkering with an outline/blueprint.
  • Just work on scenes. Don't worry about connecting things. Yeah, no.
  • Read YA thrillers. I did do this. Most of them, not that memorable.
  • Read history, since that's a significant factor for a character and maybe in other ways. And I did do this.

Goal 2. Concentrate on submissions and concentrate on increasing the number of submissions I make. I made 70 submissions this year, up from 50 last year. That included 4 rounds of PitMad. This resulted in 7 publications in Medium publications, and a very good rejection from another publication.


  • Submit book length projects to the agents I researched last month. Did that.
  • Spend more time with essay Facebook group and flash Facebook group. Those people are publishing and share their work, exposing me to new markets. Which is not stalking them. Did very little of this.
  • Use that agent Twitter list I made a while back. Must have done that.
  • Use that publications Twitter list I made a while back. Don't remember this.
  • Do a lot more reading of markets for short-form writing. I do spend time on this.
  • Not to brag, but I got my first rejection yesterday.

Goal 3. Work on short-form writing, essays and short stories. Done this.


  • Commit a month or two to flash writing. I was happy with how that worked this past year. I'm doing that right now.
  • Look for more on-line writing classes/workshops. I attended 4 workshops and 12 author presentations.
  • Commit more time to reading essays and short stories  Yes
  • Tinker with the 365 Story Project. Give it up, Gail

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding


  • Provide social media support for writers/bloggers generating diversity material. Not sure how much of that I've done.
  • Pay more attention to community events like Multi-Cultural Children's Book Day; plan ahead for reading to support these events. I fell down on the job with this.
  • Continue the monthly childlit book release posts. I made the decision to quit this and promote virtual author appearances.
  • Attend virtual book launches and promote here. 5 or 6 of the author presentations I attended this year were book launches that I at least mentioned (adult books) here.
  • Continue with Original Content. Obviously
  • Continue with promoting Original Content at Facebook communities, Goodreads' blog, and Twitter. Yes
  • Get into the habit of checking my monthly plans in my bullet journal. I did a little better at this.
  • Check-in with goals and objectives quarterly. I'd say "monthly" but that was an objective for last year that I didn't touch. I managed this one.

Though the world appears to be going to hell in a hand basket, as my mother would say, I managed to make some small professional progress and take advantage of some opportunities that came my way.


A Typical Gauthier Christmas

Our Christmas is being put off to January, because I spent the afternoon yesterday with a child whose parents found out last night that he was exposed to Covid at preschool. So we're spending the holiday week waiting to see what's going to happen, whether or not he's going to get it, and whether or not I've been exposed. Believe it or not, this is not the worst Christmas we've had.

While I'm waiting to see what's going to happen, I'm going to try to reread a little Joan Didion, whose The White Album I read many years ago. Hmm. Maybe I'll add a reference to it in that YA book that I've been working on for years.

And in really positive news (positive good, not positive Covid test), though the world may be going to Hell in a hand basket, as my mother would say, we can all be comforted with the knowledge that I made my Goodreads reading goal. We'll always have that.

Don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out, 2021.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Cottonlandia: Southern Lit For YA?

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication Date: January 11, 2022

A New York City rich kid ends up penniless on a cotton farm in Mississippi. That description at NetGalley, combined with the cover illustration, attracted me to Cottonlandia by Watt Key. It's a city mouse/country mouse, fish-out-of-water story, but one that's not played for laughs in the Green Acres mold. Also, there's no dealing with a traditional high school situation and friends here. No bullies, no teacher problems, no sports, no sibling rivalries. Not your same old, same old YA.

Fifteen-year-old Win Canterbury is not your same old, same old YA male, either. He is self-centered, self-involved, selfish, entitled, and immature and demanding. He most definitely is not the likable character required for readers to identify with. I loved him. He might not be someone I'd like to know personally, but I loved him in this book, because he was different. His unpleasantness, however, doesn't alter the fact that he has also been abandoned, though not your traditional abandonment on the side of the street. The reason for the abandonment is unique as well.

Just before Christmas sometime in the 1990s, Win's wealthy father informs him that he's sending him down to visit his sickly grandmother in Mississippi for a few days. Win doesn't know the woman. He's only been to Mississippi once. His father is insistent. So Win is handed off to a flight attendant in New York, takes three planes to get to his destination, where he is met at the airport by John Case, the farmer who has been renting the Canterbury family's property, Cottonlandia, for decades. The farm is a going concern as a cotton plantation/farm, but the family house is sort of rotting around its owner, who is sort of rotting away herself. Not exactly a southern mansion, though it and the grandmother have clearly seen better days. Win is dropped into this world where he can't even get food he's used to, and after a few days he learns that he has to stay there. He has nowhere else to go.

The 1990s setting makes Cottonlandia believable. The Internet was not then what it is now and teenagers were not connected with phones and social media, so Win's isolation  makes sense. An old lady with no TV and only one phone she doesn't want to use would be eccentric at that time but still possible.

In a more formulaic YA book, Win and his creepy grandmother would develop a deep, meaningful relationship. Not here, thank goodness. Or living at Cottonlandia would awaken some kind of instinctual love for the family property. Again, no. Instead, Win's boredom and dependence on John Case, as his contact with his old world, eventually leads to his involvement with the people he now finds himself stuck with. He eventually rejects those who should have cared for him and didn't and embraces those who provided him with care when he needed it. 

If I knew more about southern regional writing, I might suggest that Cottonlandia is southern lit for YA. Place and world view are hugely important in the story, and the place is in the south. There's a lot of description, which is something I usually skim. I didn't here. Seriously, I actually read about cotton farming and blowing up beaver dams. (Aside: I am not fond of beavers.) I felt I was being exposed to something new for me, read everything, and looked forward to getting back to the book between reading sessions. Some people might argue that the climax of the story wasn't climactic enough, but there's a reality to that. Plus, if you had any involvement with construction at the end of the last century, the issue Win uses to get what he wants is entirely believable. It used to be a very big deal and may still be, though maybe not so much here in New England.

The author, who has published successfully with traditional publishers, says in a note that he published Cottonlandia himself. It can be hard for self-published books to attract attention. I hope that this one gets some.

Friday, December 17, 2021

And I've Published Another Humor Piece

Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
The Haven published my latest piece of humor, I'm More Altruistic Than You Are, earlier this week. I will say nothing more, because humor should not need to be explained.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: No December Whining This Year

Over the years, I've done a lot of whining here about my difficulties dealing with the joy that is preparing for Christmas. I rather like working, at least a certain amount of it, and juggling it with gifting and decorating and extra cooking is a mini-ordeal for me, as it is for a large chunk of the Christmas-celebrating world.

Not so this year. Things are better and more restful. I think there are two reasons for that--my minimalist lifestyle and my Christmas sparkbook. 

Minimalism And Time

In 2018 I did a reading arc on New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici and how practicing minimalism can impact the time we have for work. And I began moving toward a minimalist lifestyle as far back as 2014 to try to deal with the chaos I seem to attract. This holiday season I've seen it paying off.

I hosted Thanksgiving this year, for the first time in many years. Usually hosting a holiday meal means three days of prep for me, between cleaning and cooking. But we were only expecting two adults and two children who eat very little, so how much work could that be, right? So on the Monday and Tuesday mornings of Thanksgiving week, I worked. On Tuesday evening, I panicked. Though no one was staying overnight, I needed to tidy up two bedrooms for children's play or in case someone went in them on top of the cooking that was left. How was I going to do all this?

Imagine my surprise when I saw that it took only a couple of minutes each to get those bedrooms presentable. Why? Because there wasn't much in them. We don't use spare bedrooms as junk rooms or for storage, because we don't keep junk to store. 

This was a huge eye-opener for me. That and the fact that this fall I've been able to use my laundry room for folding clothes and sewing without having to clean it first. Again, it's not filled with items we're storing. We don't have much to store. Seriously, I've never been able to use the laundry room for folding clothes. We've always had baskets of clean clothes stacked in the living room and bedroom. This is amazing.

December is going the same way. The house is decorated, but not with the extensive amount of Christmas junk I used to use, because I'm not interested in that any more. Extensive amounts of Christmas junk is depressing. The tree is up a week early. Okay, only the lights are on, but you noticed the part about a week early, right? There are small batches of cookie dough in the freezer (I do small-batch baking now, which is like minimalism but different) for baking later. I am getting into a new weekly elder visit routine. And still I'm actually working nearly ever weekday morning, or longer, and sometimes a little on the weekend. On a day I have to be away, I am sometimes able to squeeze a little work into the afternoon. I am even submitting short form work and had two pieces published this month. Also, I've had two rejections, which I mention to reinforce the point that I'm able to submit.

I will admit that some of the calm and sense of accomplishment I'm experiencing this month  is due to the pandemic. We are not having the two large family gatherings we did in the past, one or both of which I sometimes hosted. There will be two smaller gatherings, as well as a dessert meeting, on different days, so no one is racing from place to place. I'm not in charge of any of these things. I also shopped early because of the warnings about shortages. 

But, still, this is the calmest and most productive feeling December I can recall having, and a lot of it is due to the fact that the lack of  stuff in this house has cut some of the chaos. 

Sparkbooks And Time 

For those who observe Christmas, the most stressful part, after determining who is going where, is remembering what you've bought and for whom and holding on to receipts so items can be returned. This is particularly onerous if you're one of those people who shops early in the year. A lot of time is wasted looking for gifts in your home, trying to find the receipts, and, when you can't, trying to find a way to at least exchange gifts that are too large or small or just not right.

I began maintaining a Christmas sparkbook nearly ten years ago. I am now losing a lot less time to gift issues.

These days 'spark book' relates to some kind of data processing system. Or a book written by Nicholas Sparks.  But when I heard about 'sparkbooks' in an advertising supplement in a women's magazine, they were a sort of journal or scrapbook for keeping track of details relating to, well, in this specific case Christmas, though it seemed as if you could use the idea for anything. 

The Christmas sparkbook I created was in a traditional three-subject binder. One section was for decorating ideas, which I often forgot to look at. One section was for food ideas, which, again, I often forgot to look at. But the gift section? That I am glued to for the month of December. I may have a page for ideas for the next year, but I definitely have a chart keeping track of the people I'm buying for, what I'm getting, if I've purchased it, and often if it's arrived or if I've wrapped it.

And, best of all, at the beginning of this section there is the classic portfolio pocket for receipts. It took me a few years to remember to put everything in there, but I'm working it now.

Why Should We Care About Your Personal Life, Gail?


Because the line between our personal and work lives is very thin and very pliable. Most of us can't afford financially or professionally or psychologically to blow off a month of work for holidays. 

The best I can offer for writers who observe a labor-intensive holiday of any kind at any time of the year is to get your house in order. Get rid of as much as you can and write everything down.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

That Was Grim. Good, But Grim.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power is not your stereotypical girls boarding school story with cliques and mean  girls and young love and someone dying. Though there is some young love. And a lot of people dying.

Raxter School for Girls, where our story is set, is on an island off the coast of Maine, and it’s alone there. So when the girls, their teachers, and all the animals on the island become ill with an unknown and quite horrendous illness that leaves them maimed and never actually goes away, but recurs, unless it kills them, they are quarantined by the government. The book is well written and atmospheric and violent, with some surprises. I've seen it compared to Lord of the Flies. It's not a perfectly apt comparison, but if you have to compare it to something, that's not bad. 

How disturbing is this book? I was reading it this fall when I became sick for four days with a nonCovid illness that we didn't know wasn't Covid for a few days because we were having trouble finding home Covid tests or scheduling one. So I was quarantining in a bedroom with my iPad and food being brought to my door by a masked man. I decided that Wilder Girls wasn't something I should be reading right then and put it aside. No, I don't remember what I replaced it with.

An excellent book but maybe not for the faint of heart.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

A New Publication At Medium, Just In Time For Christmas

Annie Sprat on Unsplash
A Minimalist's Christmas was  published by The Bigger Picture, a Medium publication, a few days ago. This was a humorous essay but not a straight up piece of humor like some of the other things I've published on Medium.

What's Happening With Gail On Medium?

The Bigger Picture has a larger following than some of the other Medium publications that have published me, so that's good. While checking my stats for this piece, I noticed the line "Chosen for further distribution." This means that Medium will be promoting it in some way, beyond just leaving it to the publication's or my followers or whatever social media promotion I do for it. So that's good, too.

You know what else is good? I almost missed noticing that distribution notice, so I went back and looked at my other work published on Medium. I found that five of the ten pieces I've published there were chosen for further distribution. I am feeling quite special right this moment.

What Does "Chosen For Further Distribution Mean?"


Well, I'm not sure, other than the special feeling business. I haven't seen any of my selected work anywhere on my Medium reading lists or in newsletter-type e-mails coming from it. I can see on the graphs on my statistics page for these pieces that readership went up after the distribution point. But we're not talking anything going viral here, folks. Readership went up enough so that the lifetime income on some of these things is between $2 and $5 instead of much less. So the distributed pieces have made more money, but we're still not talking a lot. 
What this probably means for me, personally, is that I'm going to get all competitive with myself and feel bad when I publish something that doesn't make the "chosen for further distribution" cut.

Hey, but live in the moment, right? I got good news today.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The "Four Thousand Weeks" Conclusion

After a month and a half, I am concluding my arc on Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.

In an earlier post, I said that Four Thousand Weeks may not be a time management book at all, but a time philosophy book. After finishing it, I think that is the case. It really isn't for people who are looking to manage their time so that they can reach a particular goal. It's for people who are looking to change themselves and how they think about life. 

That is not a bad thing. It's not a good thing. It's just the focus of this particular book. 

As I was reading Four Thousand Weeks, I sometimes made comparisons between what Burkeman was writing about and what I've read about minimalism. (Which has been on my mind recently, anyway.)

Burkeman's Time And Minimalism

  • Burkeman says that many time management programs don't work, because they set users up to believe that using them will mean that at some point they will have time to do what they want. But that will never happen, because our personal and work obligations are infinite. There will always be more of them. A minimalist writer (I apologize for not recalling which one) claimed that organization programs for material things don't change the amount of time you have to commit to your material things. Instead of dealing with material things piled up around you, you're dealing with organizing them. Everything is still there, you've just shifted how you spend your time dealing with it.
  • Burkeman says we'll be better off if we accept that we can't do everything, or maybe we can't do everything now. With minimalism, we believe we'll be better off if we accept that we can't have every material thing.
  • At one point in Four Thousand Weeks, Burkeman writes that when we become distracted with something like social media, we pay for that time with hours of our life, the hours we could have been using to do something we value more. It was sort of a throwaway line. He didn't elaborate. I picked up on it in a big way, though, because one of the minimalist writers I've read says we pay for any material thing we purchase with hours of our lives, the hours it took to make the money to pay for the thing. That minimalist thought has kept beaucoup de crap from coming into my house. I have used Burkeman's thought about paying with hours of my life for social media to keep me off it during the workday. 

Your "Four Thousand Weeks" Roundup

Here are the links to the Original Content posts on Four Thousand Weeks

Saturday, December 04, 2021

A Terrific Interview With Jason Reynolds, National Ambassador For Young People's Literature

Our National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Jason Reynolds, was interviewed on the Late Show With Steven Colbert Thursday night. Every response he gave to every question was marvelous. Everything discussed was significant. Colbert was excellent, too, treating children's literature with respect, and he was obviously well prepared.

By the way, Reynolds released a new book last month, Stuntboy, in the Meantime.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The "Four Thousand Weeks" Read Part 6

At one point in Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman discusses rushing, speed, and impatience. A major point in his book is that constantly structuring time for something that’s going to happen/be completed in the future has a negative impact on our present. He’s very much about quality of life..

Here at Original Content, I've been interested in whether or not slowing down might actually make it possible for us to do more writing in our present. I want to do more with less effort and angst.

Some Speed Issues Unique To Writing

Writing isn't the day job for many writers. We're working writing around a regular income-producing job or family care or both. The desire to rush and get more done in whatever writing time we have is less about impatience and more about necessity.

In addition, two other situations encourage speed for writers.

Traditional Writers. Somewhere around the turn of the century, series became very popular in traditional writing, particularly in fantasy. I can't speak so much to adult series, but for children's and YA, many of these series were actually serials, meaning Book A didn't have an ending, readers had to wait until Book B. Book B might not have an ending, either, you had to go on to Book C.

To keep readers, writers and publishers had to crank out the next book as quickly as possible. Everyone had to work fast. A book a year or even every year and a half or two years is pressure in the traditional publishing world. 

Additionally, even a buzz-worthy book may not generate a lot of buyers, whether it's part of a serial or a stand-alone. In children's publishing, it's not unusual for books not to make back their advances. So writers hoping to make a living or even just create and maintain some kind of career feel a need to rush the next project along.

Self-Published Writers. In the past, at least, self-published writers often didn't get large numbers of readers per book, since distribution was such a problem for them. To make up for that, they had to produce a larger number of books. Smallish number of readers per book + more books = more income. For them we might be talking a book every couple of months or less.

In the early days, self-published writers could produce books that fast, because they didn't have to deal with editors and layout and design people. More recently, the more successful self-published writers are hiring editors and design people to better compete with traditional professionally published books. But, keep in mind, publishing companies provide all those services. Self-published writers have to seek all that out and pay for it, themselves, which means more work, which means more rush.
Income generating self-publishing exists now for short-form work, too. Sites like Medium are self-publishing platforms. People who are able to generate income on Medium generate it by the reader, and it's a very small sum. The way for writers to try to produce more income there is to produce more writing. They do that by writing a lot, which means speed.

Methods For Slowing Down 


Burkeman suggests accepting that a project is going to take the amount of time it's going to take as a method for slowing down. While that sounds promising, it won't be very helpful for writers who have contractual deadlines or need to generate income sooner rather than later. 

Some other options:
  • Create writing goals and objectives for a specific period of time, be it a year, a quarter, a month, or whatever you want. Goals are what you plan to do, objectives are the steps you are going to take to meet the goals. Try to stick to these goals and objectives. If something new comes up that can be an objective for one of your goals, go ahead and do it. If not,  try to set it aside for another planning period.
  • Take your to-do list seriously. It should be focused on your goals and objectives.
  • Work with multipliers, one task that addresses multiple goals, instead of multi-tasking, which can't be done, anyway. This blog post is an example of a multiplier, since I will publish a version of it it at Medium. It meets both my community building/branding goal and my short-form writing goal.
  • Create concentrated blocks of time during which you work on one project. This could be a weekend, a week, a month, a retreat or anything you want. For instance, National Novel Writing Month is an example of a concentrated block of time. School breaks for teaching writers could be examples of concentrated blocks of time. Days children are at school could be examples of concentrated blocks of time for parent writers. 

The idea is to try to slow down without cutting output. That could improve the quality of life Burkeman is interested in in Four Thousand Weeks.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: Enjoy Your Thanksgiving Week

Some Positive Procrastination During Thanksgiving Week

In his book Four Thousand Weeks author Oliver Burkeman writes about how there are so many, many things we want to do in life, and we should learn to procrastinate on some of them so that we can concentrate on others. That doesn't mean we'll never get to do them. But during this year, quarter, month, week, weekend, what-have-you, we are putting something off so we can concentrate on something else.

This week I'm concentrating on finishing a chapter in another one of those never-ending book-length manuscripts you hear me talking about here and getting ready to host Thanksgiving for the first time in years. Original Content will be back after the holiday weekend.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

A Fun And Compassionate Book About Friends And Picky Eating

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication November 2, 2021

I  think The League of Picky Eaters by Stephanie V. W. Lucianovic could be described as a middle grade friends book. Main character Minerva recognizes that her long-time best friends are just plain toxic. (The main one has a mother who is pretty appalling, too, as mean girl moms often are in books and movies. Mean girls learn their mean ways at home.) Sadly, this is at the very point when Minerva is placed in a remedial class, where she eventually realizes she's found a group that embraces and understands her.

The remedial class Minerva is placed in is for picky eaters, children who don't meet the standards for eating in the slightly alternative world they live in. Like Rival, a YA mean girl book, The League of Picky Eaters is about something more than just school relationships. Rival was about singing, and The League of Picky Eaters is about...picky eating.  

Picky eating is a real thing, and it is what brought me to this book after reading Lucianovic's adult book on the subject. We have three picky eaters in our family, one of whom has taken whatever this is--condition/eating disorder/food aversion--into adulthood. We've been dealing with it for many years. Picky eating isn't a dire, life-threatening issue. But it does cast a shadow over lives. We are an extremely food-centered culture. Meals and snacks are eaten at school, incredible numbers of social events are created around food or food is featured before or after them. Work meetings involve lunches, coffee and doughnuts (though all our picky eaters will eat those, or at least some types), dinners, and receptions. A simple book discussion group can end up meeting in restaurants. Dating is around meals. Oh, wait...traveling...means eating in restaurants. Any health situation that involves eating--gluten-related health conditions, diabetes, lactose intolerance, and, yes, picky eating--causes life complications for people affected and their families.

At last Sunday's book launch for The League of Picky Eaters, which I attended in Los Altos, California from my office in southern New England through the magic of Zoom, Lucianovic, a recovered/recovering picky eater, said she was twenty-seven-years old before she started making progress on her own picky eating. She went on to go to culinary school and eat, what sounds to me, like a remarkable number of things. She is every mom of a picky eater's fantasy. She wrote this book, she said, because in the area where she was living she was seeing competitive parenting around eating. And that led her to a book set in a school named for St. Julia Child where students are graded and tracked for their eating.

One of the big attractions of this book for me is that our main character doesn't experience some kind of eating revelation. Characters changing is a simplistic, quick-and-dirty writing rule/tip thrown around in many how-to articles and intro-writing workshops. Minerva's life does change in a realistic and positive way. But it's not around her eating, which is also realistic. I haven't seen or heard of a lot of that happening with picky eaters.

The League of Picky Eaters is entertaining and interesting, because it's about something we don't see a lot in children's books. (I don't know if I've seen it in any fiction.) My concern for the book is that adult gatekeepers won't be familiar with picky eating and not realize what Lucianovic has done here. 

Stephanie Lucianovic ran her launch party from her kitchen where she made a grilled cheese. Grilled cheese figures prominently in The League of Picky Eaters, because it is an acceptable, even loved, food for many picky eaters. Yes, yes, we know grilled cheese well here. In fact, someone mentioned it just yesterday.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The "Four Thousand Weeks" Read Part 5

The Writing Life And Those Present Moments

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that in Four Thousand Weeks Oliver Burkeman deals with time in general and not with something specific in mind that readers want to do with their time, the way I write about dealing with time management specifically in order to write. In some ways I think one could argue that Four Thousand Weeks isn't a time management book at all, but a time philosophy book. Burkeman's major point with this book is that when you are always using your time, your present moments, for something that's coming up in the future--promotions at work, training for an athletic event, getting into graduate school, planning a wedding, writing a book--your present moments have little value for themselves. You're not enjoying your present moments. 

I found this to be a little bit judgy, as in it may be wrong to spend your present time working toward completing something in the future. Or, what's more, to spend your present time managing your present time so you can complete something in your future. 

In writing world, we have a saying: "Nobody wants to write a book. Everyone wants to have written one." Writing is difficult and sometimes boring, as I was just saying last week. The people who are able to continue doing it, particularly when traditional payoffs such as publication and money come rarely for most of us, are those who do enjoy spending their present moments sitting in front of a computer or old typewriter or journal and generating paragraphs or pages on one project or another, picking up where they left off a few days or weeks or months ago, or doing research, scrapping it all and beginning again. 

It's called The Writing Life for a reason, and maybe there is a philosophy of time involved with it, too. 

Reading this section of Four Thousand Weeks, which, as I said, I found a bit judgy, reminded me of the ending of Cheaper By the Dozen in which Ernestine Gilbert Carey and Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. say of their father, Frank B. Gilbreth, an early advocate of time-and-motion studies:

“Someone once asked Dad: “But what do you want to save time for? What are you going to do with it?” “For work, if you love that best,” said Dad. “For education, for beauty, for art, for pleasure.” He looked over the top of his pince-nez. “For mumblety-peg, if that's where your heart lies.”

I guess I'm concerned less about what people do with their time, in the present moment or the future, than I am that they have that time to do it.


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The Bad Mood

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication November 16, 2021

The Bad Mood by Moritz Petz with illustrations by Amelie Jackowski looks as if it was originally published in 2004 in Switzerland. In fact, the end paper says it's a "beloved classic."  It's a beautiful book about a badger who wakes up in a bad mood and thoughtlessly spreads it to everyone he meets. He then has to fix things.

What I particularly like about this book is that Badger's mood lifts, not because someone points out the error of his ways, but because the mood "slipped right off him" while he's working outside. There's no lecture here about the value of physical activity on the mind, but we do see something positive happening.

Nor is there a lecture on making things right with those you've wronged. Again, we just see it happening.

Show, through story and image, don't tell. A lovely book.

Another Badger book is coming next April.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The "Four Thousand Weeks" Read Part 4

Turns Out There's Bad Procrastination, Too. We Did Know That.

So last week as part of my read of Oliver Burkeman's Four Thousand Weeks, I wrote about what Brukeman describes as good procrastination. That would be accepting that we can't do all of the marvelous things we want to do and making a conscious decision to put some of them off so we can concentrate on a few things we definitely want to get done. You know, write.

Bad procrastination is the kind we hear about more often, the kind that takes us away from those few things we want to concentrate on. 

Procrastination Is Not New

Nowadays, we seem to feel that procrastination is a new thing, a new problem of our era brought about in large part by the distractions that the Internet and social media provide. But Burkeman claims that ancient Greek philosophers wrote about distraction, long, long before Facebook and Twitter existed. I find knowing that a negative behavior has existed for generations oddly comforting. Burkeman also says that distractability has an evolutionary benefit. Those hunter-gatherers who were more easily distracted by the approach of a danger were more likely to survive it. I've recently read something similar about anxiety--anxious early people who worried about what that noise was or whether or not all berries were safe to eat were more likely to live long enough to reproduce and get their genes into the gene pool.

Earlier in Four Thousand Weeks, Burkeman wrote that humans have only been imposing the concept of time onto their lives for the last couple of centuries. And now he says that distractability had a benefit for early humans, one that they may have passed on to us? Once again, when we try to manage time, are we working against nature?  Depressing much?

Procrastination/Distractability Is Not A Problem--It Is A Solution To A Problem

So here's an interesting spin Burkeman puts on the whole procrastination issue: Procrastination is not a problem. It's a solution to a problem we don't recognize or at least do nothing about. 

The real problem is that a lot of what we do in life, even when we want to do it, is boring. Or difficult. Making transitions in writing, getting characters and a story from one place to another is difficult for me. Generating new material for gaps in stories is very, very difficult for me. The solution for dealing with those real problems is to flee to something else, say, Facebook or checking the news or almost anything else I can easily get to on-line. 

A very easy, nonwriting illustration of what I'm talking about, is young parents and cellphones. You often see them on their phones while in the company of small children. How awful, right? The phones, and what's on them, are stealing valuable time from those families. Boo-hoo. No, the phones are a solution to a problem the parents are dealing with. A lot of childcare is boring as hell. Or it's difficult. Or it's heartbreaking. Or it's disappointing. Or it's exhausting. Escaping to the Internet provides a temporary relief from those problems.

So procrastination doesn't cause problems for us. It is a solution/cure for living/work problems.

So How Do We Deal With The Real Problems?

Suck It Up, Buttercup. Burkeman suggests dealing with the original problems by accepting that there are no solutions for many of them. We should give up expecting our lives or work situations to be easier than they are. This isn't unreasonable. Here at Original Content, we've discussed trying to develop distress tolerance, developing a tolerance for the stress/distress involved with our work. Pursuing goals (you have to have them in order to do that, people), planning what you'll do in specific distress situations, and making commitments can all help to increase our tolerance for the distress we would otherwise try to escape with procrastination.

Productive Procrastination. Or, we might say, planned procrastination. Some people procrastinate, not with checking out what's happening on the COVID front or looking to see what's going to be on HBO soon, but with more work. When the stress of dealing with figuring out what's going to happen next to the characters in a big project becomes just too much, they escape to another project. A blog post, for instance. Finishing a humor piece that is almost ready to submit. Researching markets. The main project may have hit a wall for this hour or even the rest of this day, but they're still cranking out work. 

So our two options at this point are to accept or to plan more work.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The "Four Thousand Weeks" Read Part 3

Turns Out There Is Good Procrastination. Who Knew?

Unlike most time management books, Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman is about thinking about/dealing with time in general and not with something specific in mind that we want to do with our time. Here at Original Content, it's important to remember that with Time Management Tuesday we do know what we want to do with our time. We're all about writing. We're all about protecting time for writing. When Burkeman writes about the issue of having too many things we want to do in life, we writers think, Too many things we want to do in addition to writing. 

Many time management programs, Burkeman says, lead us to believe that if we just organized our time differently, we could do more of all those things we want to do, when, in reality, we really ought to let some things go so that we're doing less. Less of what is not our focus. Remember, our focus here is...writing.

According to Burkeman, we should procrastinate on some of these other things--creating wall hangings, attending virtual art programs, subscribing to and reading multiple magazines, volunteering for everything, for example (I'm speaking for a friend)--to focus on what we've decided matters. Writing.

That is where good procrastination comes in. You choose what you're going to procrastinate on, so you can stick to what you want to do. Write.

I have to say, in my experience, this has been the case. The magazine subscriptions have had to go. The volunteering had to go. The virtual art programs never got started. Those things went, in the belief that I might get to them sometime in the future, so I could write now. Those things may never come in the future, but it's better to procrastinate on those items so I can write, than to procrastinate on writing so I can do all these other things.

Temporal Landmarks: A Humble Suggestion For Positive Procrastination

There are many things we can't, or maybe just don't want to, procrastinate on indefinitely. Using temporal landmarks--special occasions and calendar events that mark the passage of time and create new opportunities to begin new cycles--could help us to procrastinate productively on important things.

  • This past year I read about a writer who is also a college teacher. She limits herself to writing during one part of the year and submitting during another. She could be described as procrastinating on each task so that she can concentrate on it fully later.   
  • I frequently mention National Novel Writing Month here in relation to temporal landmarks. Many writers use that block of time to draft new work. Over the course of the year, they procrastinate getting started on a new project until November, a time when starting will work best for them.
  • Writers who have to work around school calendars either because they teach or have children at home often do one type of work when school is in session and another type when it's not. They are, arguably, procrastinating so that they use the type of time they have in the best way possible.

You can create your own temporal landmarks around anything--holiday months when you want to work less intently so you put off lighter work for that time; a day job's calendar when you can predict that work will be more demanding or less; travel time when you might be able to do more reading and research. Then you can plan what you're going to do (writing or even something else) during those times and put if off--procrastinate with that particular activity--the rest of the year.

However you do it, you're controlling the procrastination.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Kim Johnson's "This Is My America" Wins This Year's Malka Penn Award

This Is My America by Kim Johnson has won the 2021 Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children's Literature. The Malka Penn Award is given annually to the author of an outstanding children’s book addressing human rights issues or themes. It recognizes works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, or biography written for children from preschool to high school. The award is named in honor of author Michele Palmer who writes under the pseudonym Malka Penn and presented by Dodd Human Rights Impact at the University of Connecticut.

This Is My America is Johnson's debut YA novel. HBO Max is working on a TV adaptation.

2021 Honor Books 


On-line Awards Ceremony Tomorrow Night, November 2

An awards ceremony for the Malka Penn Awards will be held tomorrow night, Nov. 2, 7:00 PM ET. Johnson and the Honor Book authors will be taking part in a panel, Mirrors, Windows, and Doors: Stories for Equity, Empathy, and Activism.

Register here.