Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Weekend Writer: "My goal is to do well enough that my publisher wants to publish my next book."

I've been saving this interview with Elinor Lipman at Jane Friedman's website, because I think she says  some good things about writing humor and dialogue. 

I realized just a few days ago that I really don't enjoy reading interviews with, and writing articles by, authors I'm not familiar with. So I should probably say here that I've read a couple of Lipman's books and particularly liked The Inn at Lake Devine, which for some reason I thought must have been set on a lake near where I grew up. 

Something that struck me in this interview was what Lipman said about her publishing goal. "My goal is to do well enough that my publisher wants to publish my next book." That was my publishing goal, too! I really didn't care about how much money I made. I cared about a publisher for the next book.

One of the things you have to accept about goals is that you're not going to meet all of them.


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

I Had A #BreadLoaf2021 Experience. Sort Of.

I stumbled upon a tweet last week that tipped me off that the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference was under way. It was on-line this year, as, I believe, a workshop series, for obvious reasons. I'd heard that for a few years now the Conference was offering lectures that were open to the public. And guess what? Those were on-line, too! In fact, for $25 a pop I could watch recordings of ones I'd missed. Which ended up being all of them, because we were getting toward the end of the second week of the Conference. 

Swimming at Falls of Lana between shifts

My History With Bread Loaf

My rabid followers are aware that I'm not a major fan of conferences, so why would I care about this one? Well, back in my college days, I spent three summers working in the Bread Loaf kitchen, during the English graduate school and the writers' conference. I was the Pastry Assistant, as I always put it, because even then I didn't allow anyone to call me girl, so I refused to use the official Pastry Girl title. It was a great time, particularly the first summer, what I imagine going to summer camp is like. If you actually like summer camp.

My time at Bread Loaf probably is what ruined me for writers' conferences, not because the Bread Loaf Conference is so superior to all others, but because, as I explain in My Bread Loaf, I now expect writers' conferences to be fun in a 'let's go hiking and swimming and crashing events' sort of way. And in my experience, they just aren't. Ya just have to accept that there's not going to be any of that. 

My #BreadLoaf2021

Empty class building

In an odd twist of fate, I learned that the Conference was happening just a few days before I was going to Middlebury, Vermont, which is sort of at the foot of the mountain Bread Loaf is on. I had no plans for going up to the Bread Loaf campus, but while we were in Middlebury last Saturday we had a few hours between a 4-mile walk downtown and a family dinner in the evening, and my husband was sure he'd be bored if he had to spend all that time in our hotel room. So we drove up to Ripton, the mountain town where Bread Loaf is located.

Empty inn
The campus was absolutely empty, though it was supposedly the last day of the Conference, because, remember, it was on-line. So that means that of all the people involved with this year's Conference, I may be the only person who was actually there on-site. For a three- or four-minute drive-thru.

Just What Was Your Bread Loaf Involvement, Gail?


Okay, you will recall that I mentioned in the first paragraph that the Conference offers lectures that are open to the public. That was foreshadowing, folks! Because on Monday, the day after I raced Hurricane Henri home, only to have him turn up his nose at Connecticut, I enjoyed one of those lectures out in my sun room surrounded by what may be described as leftover rain. 

I watched Dean Bakopoulus's Creatures of Impulse: What Fiction Writers Can Learn From TV, because, well, TV, right? It was a very decent presentation that functioned on two levels--one dealing with how fiction writers could use techniques from TV writing and the other dealing with his life during the pandemic. I thought I'd heard as much as I'd ever want to about what people were doing during the pandemic, but I was wrong. If I had been Dean last Thanksgiving, I would have roasted a turkey, too. 
Also, I now have a reading list, which makes me feel very intellectually stimulated.

Wait staff. Dean isn't there.

Bakopoulus was the perfect Bread Loaf speaker for me. First, well, TV, right? But, second, he had been at Bread Loaf years ago as a conference attendant who was working as a waiter. That means that sometimes he was in the kitchen! Like me! And this year was his first time back at Bread Loaf, and he was an instructor. And this year was my first time back at Bread Loaf, and I was a watcher of an instructor's lecture. So that was sort of the same, too.

Of course, Bakopoulus was at Bread Loaf well after I was. (Notice I say 'well' after and not 'long' after. There is a subtle difference. A little usage lesson for you.) And the waitstaff was considered a step up from the kitchen staff, though they had to pay to be there while we were paid to be there, and they were presumably working all the time while we most definitely were not. (Here's another opportunity to check out My Bread Loaf, if you didn't take advantage of the one I gave you earlier.)

After I started publishing, I sometimes thought about applying to the Bread Loaf Conference, just to see if I could get accepted. It would have been a way of feeling I had made it. I didn't really want to go. The thing lasts two weeks. I prefer my professional development along the lines of three hours.

Or, better yet, one hour, like the lecture I watched on Monday.

Monday, August 23, 2021

August Childlit Book Releases

I know there are more August book releases that I haven't included here (check out Ms. Yingling Reads for some), but I am burned out on book round-ups. So here's what I've got for you.

Aug. 3 Mercury Boys, Chandra Prasad







Aug. 3 Usha and the Big Digger, Amitha Jagannath Knight






Aug. 3 Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares, Tehlor Kay Mejia







Aug. 3 Like Other Girls, Britta Lunkin 






Aug. 3 The Wild Ones, Nafiza Azad







Aug. 3 A Song of Frutas, Margarita Engle, Sara Palacios illustrations 






Aug. 3 Wish Upon a Stray, Yamile Saied Mendez






Aug. 3 Erik vs. Everything, Christina Uss






Aug. 3 Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai, Debbi Michiko Florence







Aug. 3 Black Boy Joy, Kwame Mbalia, editor






Aug. 3 Stowaway, John David Anderson 







Aug. 10 How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland






Aug. 10 Anteaters, Bats, and Boas, Roxie Munro 







Aug. 10 Be StrongPat Zietlow Miller, Jen Hill illustrations 






Aug. 10 The Fastest Girl on Earth! Dean Robbins, Elizabeth Baddeley illustrations 





Aug. 10 Poultrygeist, Eric Geron, Pete Oswald illustration






Aug. 10 Harmony Humbolt, Jenna Grodzicki, Mirka Hokkanen illustrations

Aug. 10 The Story of Princess Diana, Jenna Grodzicki






Aug. 15 Moon Pops, Heena Baek, Jieun Kiaer translator






Aug. 17 Child of the Flower-Song People, Gloria Amescua, Duncan Tonatiuh illustrations






Aug. 17 The Many Meanings of Meilan, Andrea Yang







Aug. 24 The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess, Tom Gauld 






Aug. 24 Eyes of the Forest, April Henry

Aug. 31 The Great Stink, Colleen Paef, Nancy Carpenter illustrations


Aug. 31 Negative Cat, Sophie Blackall






Aug. 31 Survivor Tree, Marcie Colleen, Aaron Becker

Thursday, August 19, 2021

I Read It For The Bread

You know those books about women going to Europe on their own and having some kind of meaningful life improvement thing happen there? Yeah, I haven't read any of those, but I imagine All You Knead Is Love by Tanya Guerrero may be a middle grade version of those. 

Twelve-year-old Alba is sent off to Barcelona from New York to live with her Spanish grandmother who she doesn't know well, because her well-to-do father in America is physically abusive. The abuse primarily involves her mother, and mom gets Alba out of this mess by sending her off to her own mother. Alba isn't crazy about this plan, and she's angry with both her parents--her father for being what he is and her mother for putting up with it. But Alba is won over by life in Barcelona, because her grandmother is a lovely woman, there's a male mild romantic interest, a girl best friend, and an old friend of Mom's who runs a bakery specializing in bread.

Some Basics About The Book

I don't think I've read many middle grade books that begin with an escape from abuse or that include mom being on the receiving end to this extent. I found that interesting. I would have liked more of that. I wanted to see evil Dad, see mom standing up to him, and see Alba respond to that situation. There was also an issue with Alba's appearance--she likes to wear her hair very short and wear boyish clothes. This ticks Dad off. I thought we were going to see some kind of gender situation here, but it never came to that.

Some Favorite Parts

I have never been that interested in Spain, but Guerrero makes Barcelona sound fantastic. The book isn't enough to get me onto a plane, but I certainly would watch a  movie or TV series set in Barcelona, or even Spain, after reading it. 

And then there is the bread. I sought out this book because  the the word "knead" is in the title and there are loaves of bread on the cover.

I Was The Bread Person

I have been baking bread, and bread-like things, since I was a teenager. All this stuff about yeast shortages during the pandemic, because people who had never baked bread were taking it up while they were stuck at home? That set me off. Those Johnny-come-latelies were taking my yeast. And I'm somebody who buys it by the bottle and usually am one bottle ahead.

Back in the day, I made bread in the shape of Christmas trees, braids with white, whole wheat, and something else strands, braids stuffed with pastes made of walnuts or almonds, Easter braids with colored eggs. Sadly, I do not have pictorial evidence of any of that. You'll have to take my word for it. I cut back on the fancy stuff, because I'm surrounded by Philistines who prefer brown-and-serve rolls, which I will not have in my house. I'm not even sure what they are.

A friend up the street once said, "Whenever it rains, I know that Joan is making cookies, and Gail is making bread." I was famous for bread, people. Famous, I tell you.

So you can see why I had to read All You Knead Is Love

Sadly, the bread making in All You Knead Is Love is way, way beyond my clearance level. However, I loved that the bakery in the book expanded to making gluten-free breads, since I'm doing that, too, now. After several years, I'm just tinkering with a recipe I really like. I have no pictures of that, either.

All You Knead Is Love is more than a travel and food book, but it should be a nice introduction to those types of reads. 


Sunday, August 08, 2021

The Way "I" Say It

I've finished reading my first digital arc from NetGalley, The Way I Say It, by Nancy Tandon, which, I am relieved to say, is a beautifully written book about real child situations. I say "relieved," because Nancy is a member of my writers' group, this is her debut novel, and things could have been awkward, since my followers here are aware that I'm a little picky in my reading. (To be honest, in my head I talk about books the way the legendary Roy Kent on Ted Lasso talks about soccer.)

In our writers' group, we are all working on a number of things. Some of these projects go back a while and as new members come into the group, they may not be aware of what individuals were working on in the past. And some of us, yes, I mean me, may be a little irregular in our attendance. So while I was aware of this book and that it was being submitted to agents and when agents got involved and when it was sold, my knowledge was what you might call superficial.

For instance, I thought The Way I Say It was about a kid with a speech impediment and how he deals with it. I would argue that's not the basic story here. The basic story, to me, is far more sophisticated. It's about a kid, who happens to have a speech issue, dealing with his anger and guilt over a failed relationship and how that impacts his world during sixth grade.

I hate to go into too much detail, since there were a couple of points where I actually exclaimed while reading this book, because I am so lazy that I didn't even read all the flap copy. I don't want to take that experience away from other readers. (Don't read the flap copy!)

So I'll talk about some other things.

What Do I Mean By Real Child Situations?

Over the years, I've found that many middle grade novels, especially the ones that are warmly embraced by gatekeepers, deal with situations adults find...uh, shall we say...terrifying? Dead parents, siblings, relatives, and friends, divorce, terminal illnesses, chronic disease, war, and the ever popular demented old people, for example. I'm not saying these aren't terrifying situations or that they never happen within children's families. But there's a whole other category of issues that are important to children and focusing on the major life problems that adults find important all the time suggests that children's problems are not valuable enough to showcase in books for them.

In The Way I Say It, Nancy Tandon deals with a school year full of these types of issues. Fear of humiliation and not being included, struggles to deal with uncomfortable interactions, beginning to want to spend time with members of the opposite sex, getting started on a new school year and having to rebuild relationships or make new ones. Starting a new school year is like starting a new job, people. We think starting a new job is important, don't we? Why isn't starting the new school year enough without killing someone off or breaking up a marriage to go along with it?

Write Who You Are


I don't like to use the expression "write what you know," because, first, it's a cliche and, second, it has become somewhat controversial. People get very hot under the collar about what it means and what it has to do with them. I prefer "write who you are." Nancy Tandon is a speech therapist. I believe that's why the great deal of speech therapy talk in her book sounds natural and normal to the moment where it takes place. She drew upon who she is to create details for her main character and the teacher who plays a big part in his sixth-grade life and for various situations she puts them into.
It's true you can research whatever you want to write about. But there used to be an expression I'd see in book reviews, "don't let the research show." That can be difficult to do if you haven't had an opportunity to live with or maybe work with that research for a while. It can create information dumps or at least sound forced. The Way I Say It illustrates the value of writing who you are.

The Way I Say It will be published Jan. 18, 2022 by Charlesbridge. I'm excited to see how it will do.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: Goals And Living Chaotically (Also, A New Publication)

So last week I was working away on 143 Canterbury Road, my first goal for this year, when I heard about a writing challenge at Medium, where I've published humor. It involves four writing prompts you can pick and choose from, writing for as many or as few prompts as you want. You publish your work directly to Medium, not to a publication on Medium, using challenge tag words, which will mean your work is considered by judges. There's money involved but, more importantly to me, is the possibility to have work read. 

I have short form work I've started or been interested in starting this past year. So the challenge is attractive to me. But...the work has to be up by the end of August. That's going to take time away from 143 Canterbury Road, which I'd really like to get behind me so I can work on short form writing, similar to what I'd do for this Medium writing challenge. (Notice the little cyclical thing going there?)

Then Saturday morning I saw a tweet from one of my sons involving the Olympics, which gave me an idea for a humor piece. However, the Olympics will be over next week. No one will be interested in an Olympics humor piece after next weekend. This was Saturday, remember. In the past, I haven't worked weekends. But I sat down for a few hours and knocked off a rough draft, trying to get something that could be submitted to a humor site on Medium, where it would have a chance of being considered and being published before it would be too old to be of interest to anyone.

I Am Chaos

Serena Repice Lentini on Unsplash
Once again, I'm throwing any hope of an orderly life out the window and living chaotically. The weekend work paid off, because my latest humor piece, Daddy is Watching the Olympics Again, was published today at Frazzled, a site that publishes parenting humor. I've never been able to write something in time to take advantage of a current event, so this is significant for me. Even though I had to give up some order in my life to do it.

And, yes, I'm going to put 143 Canterbury Road on the back burner for August, though I'm hoping to do enough to stay in the Canterbury Road world, so I can work on a couple of short pieces for the Medium challenge. This is another example of taking advantage of an opportunity, though it means upheaval to my writing plan and not staying on a task.


Two things are providing anchors in this chaos:

  1. We're talking short periods of time here. The Olympics piece had to be done in a couple of days. The Medium challenge lasts only one month.
  2. While I'm putting off work on one of this year's goals, "Finish a draft of YA thriller that could become an adult thriller," I'll be working on another, "Work on short-form writing, essays and short stories." If all goes well, I'll have a couple of pieces submitted for this challenge, which addresses still another goal, "Concentrate on submissions and concentrate on increasing the number of submissions I make."

So long as the goals are being addressed, does it matter how orderly or chaotically you work to meet them?

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Some Virtual Opportunities For August

I'm getting the virtual opportunities post up first thing this month, because there are several multi-author events coming up in the next week. I'll be updating over the course of August. 

Aug. 3 Helen Rutter and Gordon Korman, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madision, Connecticut 5:00 PM ET

Aug. 5 Amitha Knight, Sandhya Prabhat, Livia Blackburne, Belmont Books, Massachusetts 6:30 PM ET

Aug. 5 Tehlor Kay Mejia, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 6:30 PM ET

Aug. 7 & 8 Middle Ground Book Fest, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut  Panels all weekend, ET

Aug. 7 Tehlor Kay Mejia and Nina Moreno, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Texas 12:00 PM CT

Aug. 7 Britta Lunkin, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 3:00 PM ET

Aug. 14 & 15 Virtual Indie Book Fest, YA panel on the 14th, Starting at 10:00 AM ET each day.

Aug. 16 Deb Caletti, Morgan Matson, Nafiza Azad, and Raquel Vasquez Gilliland, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Texas 6:00 PM CT

Aug. 23 Chandra Prasad, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 7:00 PM ET