Sunday, October 31, 2021

A Good Mean Girl Book

First I would like to share how I happened upon Rival (now available in a very affordable e-book) by Sara Bennett Wealer, because it's another example of social media at work. And working.

This fall, I became involved in a fascinating discussion on Facebook about a  literary fight that was getting a lot of press at the time. Sadly, I love that kind of stuff. None of the people involved in the discussion were people I actually knew because I, like many writers, am Facebook friends with many authors I don't actually know. We're all networking. After engaging with them for a while, I thought, Who are these people? I looked up a few and tried to find their books in the e-book library system I use. Sara Bennett Wealer's Rival was there, and I ended up with a very good read. 

Two Great Things About Rival

  1. The two rivals are not rivals for high school status but for top honors in a major, high quality singing competition. These young women are highly talented and trained singers. They have something very interesting going on in their lives beyond who-gets-to-sit-at-which table in the cafeteria. They have a passion and an interest beyond the next dance. The character who we would probably consider the bully in this story doesn't even care that much, or maybe even at all, about the high school social world she dominates. She wants to win the singing competition and impress her father. Because if there is one thing we've learned from the second season of Ted Lasso it's that everyone has daddy issues. The character we would consider the victim needs the competition scholarship money. She does not keep her eye on the real price as much as she should
  2. It's hard to tell who the real bad guy is here. As I said, Queen B, the pseudo-bully, really doesn't care about things like the important dance after the football game. She cares about singing. Whereas the victim, who needs to win the competition for college money, bends over backwards to get in good with the clique around the bully. In fact, she does one thing I think most people would consider criminal and for a very shallow reason. Then there's a third character, a member of what we'd usually consider the mean girl clique, who is highly active behind the scenes. She might have a little sociopath thing going on. I now want to read more books about characters in her position. What the heck kind of life are they living and making for themselves? 

The Music Is A Great Asset

I am not a fan of teen friend angst stories, especially when related to cliques, mainly because if you've read one book about that, you've pretty much read them all. However, adding a talent to work with for the two main characters makes them so much more interesting. And I don't even know anything about singing. Wealer does. According to her website, she sang in choirs as a teenager and majored, at least for a while, in voice performance in college.

She makes great use of her knowledge in Rival and does some interesting things with what could have been very cliched characters.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The "Four Thousand Weeks" Read Part 2

You Know I Love A Little History

Back in Medieval times, and presumably before, people did not think about time, Oliver Burkeman tells us in his book Four Thousand Weeks. They got up when they got up, presumably with the sun, and worked with the light at tasks related to the seasons. Time as something people thought about as a separate thing that you imposed on your life didn't exist. I have actually read this before, which suggests this is a generally held belief about how people lived in the past.

Keeping track of time didn't become necessary until you were dealing with multiple people. You wanted more than one person to arrive at a certain point at a more specific time than, say, 'when the sun is at its highest point.' The arrival of the Industrial Revolution meant a lot of people were wanted in mills and factories at specific times for the purpose of doing specific things for which they were paid specific amounts. People began being paid for their time, not for piece work completed. By the way, the Industrial Revolution is responsible for a lot of change in human existence. This is not to say the Industrial Revolution was a bad thing. I am not one of those people who wishes she could shear her own sheep and weave  her own cloth. But it is to say that the Industrial Revolution is very important historically. Pay attention when you see or hear it being mentioned.

What About Our Brains?

If time was something humans weren't working with as recently as the Middle Ages, which is recent historically speaking, and didn't become part of our daily lives until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is it possible our brains didn't evolve to struggle with completing tasks within time frames? If we weren't doing it while we were evolving, way back when we were evolving, are we mentally just not wired for applying time to everything we now need to do in our lives?


I don't have an answer for that, by the way. I'm just saying that last week I wondered if the knowledge that death, the ultimate time killer, is coming up in our future may be why we try so desperately to manage our time so we can do more while we're not dead. And now I'm wondering if the reason managing time is so difficult for so many of us is that we don't have the physical/anatomical ability to do it.

I am hoping for more positive time management thoughts next week.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

My Most Recent Experience With Medium

In September I posted some information on changes coming to Medium's partnership/payment program. Otherwise, it looks as if I haven't done an update on my publishing experiences on Medium since March. I did publish a couple more humor pieces there this summer, which deserve their own post at some point. However, today's subject is the Medium Writers Challenge, which took place in August with winners and honorable mention essays announced in the last week or so.

In short, the challenge was a contest. There were four writing prompts, which might also be considered categories. I entered two essays, one for each of two prompts. Won nothing. 

Generally Speaking

However, this was a positive experience because:

  • I completed an essay I'd started a couple of years ago and revised a second one. Finishing things is always good.
  • I did this work in a timely fashion.
  • My work was published at two more Medium publications, which means that I now have a connection with them and can submit to them again.
  • Taking part in the challenge got me two more essays on Medium, and, supposedly, the more you can publish there the more of a following you can build up within that closed community.
  • While Medium is a closed community, every time I publish there I can promote the work to the wider world and a few more readers may learn what I do.

What Have You Learned, Gail?

I don't know if I actually learned anything, but I do have some theories about what was going on with the two prompts I submitted for and what the winners and honorable mention writers did that I didn't. 

Were The Judges Looking For A Specific Length? There was a minimum word-length--500 words-- for these prompts. I did meet that. But the winners and honorable mention essays I read were much, much longer. Medium keeps track of how long it takes to read the materials published there. My entry for the Death prompt, Enough, was a four-minute read. Keeper of the Place by Randi Ragan, the winner of the Death prompt, which was also the over all winner, was a fifteen-minute read.  My entry for the Space prompt, What We Did There, was also a four-minute read. The winner of that prompt, The Space Between My Fingers by Meera Vijayann, came in at twelve minutes. A lot of the honorable mentions I read for the Death prompt were lengthy. For the Space prompt, not so much. 

Over the last couple of years, I've become interested in writing and reading both flash fiction and nonfiction. I like tight writing, as both a writer and a reader. With nonfiction and essays, I really want a feel in the first paragraph or two of what I'm dealing with. I'm definitely not a fan of digressions. Or lengthy descriptions.

But there may be a school of thought that argues more material is needed to support and expand upon thoughts. Five hundred words and four minutes of reading may not be enough elaboration. That may have been the thinking with this year's judges, particularly with the Death prompt.

Were The Judges Looking For Specific Subject Matter? That definitely seemed to be the case with the Death essays I was able to read. Or, I should say, skim in most cases, because, you know, they were a little long for me, and there were a lot of them. 

The Death prompt stated "People die, of course, but so do other things. Ideals. Relationships. Jobs. Life phases. Pieces of who we once were. A death isn’t always inherently sad, either; sometimes, it’s a positive step, freeing us from what was weighing us down or allowing us to move forward. Illusions can die. Grudges. Bad habits. Tell us about a death you’ve experienced, for better or worse, and how you marked the loss — whether it was with mourning or celebration." 

The bulk of the finalists that I, as I said, skimmed in this category dealt with the traditional process of someone dying or a survivor dealing with a death. I cannot say that was the case for all of them, because I had I had to stop reading. It was becoming too disturbing. This is supposed to have been the prompt that drew the most entries. It must have been brutal for the judges to read so many of them.

Karo Kujanpaa
My own essay was more of a celebration of someone who had passed, of her family, and of how we will move on without her. There was a lot less pain and suffering than I was seeing in the essays that did well. So putting aside discussion of quality, my essay may not have fit the prompt the way the judges interpreted it.

The Space prompt was far vaguer. "Whether we’re letting our imaginations run wild or focusing on what’s in front of us, our day-to-day lives are defined by space: living space, personal space, outer space. We make space. We claim space. We practice social distancing. We turn spaces into homes, into communities, into refuges, and we forge relationships with others and ourselves within those spaces. We wonder, with varying degrees of skepticism and belief, about the beings that occupy the space beyond our planet. However you define it, tell us a story about a role space has played in your life."

Camilla Sanabria
I really can't say I saw a recurring theme in the Space prompt entries. Topics were all over the place, which is probably a good thing. I can't come up with a theory from reading the ones I read that suggests why my essay didn't fit the prompt for the judges. I can say, though, that my entry has received the fewest views and reads of anything I've published at Medium. The space it deals with is a taekwondo dojang. It's not unusual to hear of people trying martial arts and totally embracing it. It becomes part of their lives and their identities. However, martial arts people may be too small a subset of the world. So, again, putting aside discussion of quality, my Space essay may not attract a big enough reader group, or judge group.

Some Thoughts From Someone Else

Elizabeth Dawber has published, on Mediuma list of all the winners and the honorable mention writers for this challenge. Her article includes an analysis that addresses, among other things, the issue of the length of the winners. 

Another New Medium Experience

Today I'm trying something new at Medium, I'm going to republish this post there. The point is to both encourage new readers for Original Content and to create more content for me at Medium

So I'll see how that works, and if it is worth doing again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: I'm Starting A Book Arc! Oh, And Also, We're All Going To Die.

It's been a while since I've read a time management book and blogged about the experience here, so I am quite psyched to get started with a new one. A very new one.Last week I saw author Oliver Burkeman being interviewed by Roxanne Cody about his new book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals and now have my own copy.

During the interview, Burkeman said that while various time management techniques are presented to us as making it possible to reach some point at which we will have the time we're looking for, that can never happen. We will always have more to do, because we have an infinite number of obligations, professional and personal.

I have to say that, after spending, I think, nearly ten years writing here about time management for writers, that most definitely seems to be my impression. There's never an end to the things that eat away at time.  If you're a goal-driven person, you'd be wise not to make achieving some kind of time nirvana a goal, because it is not attainable. You'll go out of your mind.

Another impression I've come away with from my years of time management study is that a lot of writers on the subject have nothing new to say. They're just rewording the same thoughts, sometimes even renaming ideas that already exist. Four Thousand Weeks might actually be new and different, because it begins with the interesting premise that time management doesn't actually work.

We Don't Have Forever

In his introduction, Burkeman explains that his book is called Four Thousand Weeks, because that's the number of weeks in an eighty-year-old's life span. Usually with time management we think of time being limited because there are only seven days in a week, and, sadly, we need to spend a certain amount of that time sleeping. We don't think, Damn, there are a limited number of weeks, too.

But once Burkeman brought it up, I began to wonder if we don't all have that unspoken knowledge in the back of our minds when we try so desperately to manage our time, so we can produce and create and be dream parents or have some other really great relationships and maybe get in a little exercise and travel, too. We have to get control of our time now so we can do all these things, because there's not going to be any time to control in our future.

I will leave you with that uplifting thought. Part Two of my Four Thousand Weeks read will come next week.



Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Weekend Writer: I Need Someone To Do This For Me

When self-publishing first became a thing, it wasn't unusual to see blog posts and personal opinion articles about how traditional publishers didn't do that much for writers, yet they kept so much of the cover price of a book. Writers could do what publishers do and keep everything they make in sales themselves! 

Over the years, it has come out that traditional publishers do thousands of dollars of work on every book they publish, work that their authors don't do and don't pay for. Self-publishers can, indeed, do this work themselves, and they do. But not only do they have to fund all the work themselves, paying for professional level editing, cover illustrations, design, and marketing, they also have to learn everything that needs to be done.

A case in point--printing.

Andrew Watson's Book Printing 101: What You Need To Know Before Approaching A Printer appeared at Jane Friedman's Blog. I don't mind admitting, I was shaken by all the details involved. 

Now, I suspect there are companies out there, Amazon might be one of them, where self-publishing authors can just press a few keys, and everything will be taken care of for them. But isn't somebody, somewhere, still making decisions about types of paper for the text and types of paper for the covers, and what types of hard covers, and on and on?   

I have probably said something similar to this here before, but it's worth saying again: You just can't exaggerate what self-publishers need to know to give their books a chance at being successful.


Friday, October 15, 2021

One Thing Leads To Another

Last month I took a humor writing workshop through the Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Now, I could go on at great length here about the significance of this. My first humor writing workshop. Mr. Carswell telling me in 10th grade that something I'd written was Thurberesque. Visiting Thurber House in 2014. Liking the idea of Thurber more than liking his work. Yes, I could go on about all that, but...

Oh, wait. I just did.

Okay, what I really am interested in talking about now is the reading list provided by my workshop instructor, Janine Annett. It was two pages. I was so excited when I got it. Love me a reading list.

It included four humorous novels, one of them being Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. It's written in letters, and at first I thought it was going to be one of those novels in letters back and forth between a couple of characters, which I really don't care for. But, no, these were all letters of recommendation from one college professor who is slowly (not too slowly) revealed to us. There is a story arc for him and at least one of his students. And it's all very entertaining.

But that's not why we're here, folks! We're here because when I looked up Julie Schumacher, I discovered that she wrote a book called The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls. A YA book I liked a lot back in 2012. Really, I thought it was a "marvelous, mainstream novel..." Evidently I'd had it with paranormal YA at that point. 

I believe I've often been disappointed when I've read the work of an author who has written for both adult and YA audiences. But that most definitely wasn't the case here. I'm going to read some of Schumacher's other work, because I often worry that someone will ask me the name of a favorite author. And, of course, I don't have one. But Schumacher could end up qualifying.

Now, to tightly tie my Schumacher reading experience back to the workshop I took--Dear Committee Member was on Janine Annett's, the workshop leader's, reading list. Additionally, it won the Thurber Prize for American Humor in 2015. She was the first woman to win the award.


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sickbed Reading

Where I lived for 5 days.
Well, I lost an entire week of my life to an illness that wasn't Covid. I was out of commission for four days, though, and the following two days were up and down. I imagine I'll be napping this afternoon, too. I was sick enough that I even had to give up tweeting virtual author appearances, because I tagged a random guy with the same name as an author involved. I was able to read, but I kept moving back and forth between books. Not a lot of concentration.

Though maybe I do that, anyway.

I did, however, finish some interesting things. 

The Best American Essays 2012 I've had this thing on my Kindle for, I don't know, seven or eight years? Whenever it became available as a deal. I'd read a few of the essays, but it wasn't something I looked forward to getting back to, obviously.

Recently, I've been reading essays on Medium, where I've wondered if essays aren't just a bit different. I find them longer than I'd prefer. Rambling. Not staying on subject. Sometimes more personally focused than I'm interested in reading.

The essays in 2012 were also longer than I'm interested in reading. Sometimes authors will write about something, then relate it to books they've read, which should be enlightening, but... There was one essay about boredom that put me to sleep at least twice one morning on a particularly sick day. I woke up in the night, couldn't get back to sleep, thought, I'll try some more of that boredom essay. Knocked me right out. It was great.

Another essay was of interest to me, because it was about the author's friend who was beautiful. Doesn't sound as if the guy was someone you'd want to know, though. The author veered off into discussions of beauty. I didn't love the essay, but it made me think that maybe I'm not all that interested in beauty as a subject. That's significant because there is a character in 143 Canterbury Road whose beauty is remarked upon. I need to think about that.

Two essays I particularly liked: Killing My Body to Save My Mind by Lauren Slater and Outlaw by Jose Antonio Vargas. Both these essays are very personal. But they stay on task, making them on the short side for these kinds of volumes, and they deal with subjects that I am aware of, but haven't read about over and over again.

I walked away from this book--metaphorically, because I wasn't doing much walking last week--with a question--How do you go about choosing subjects for essays? Things like boredom and beauty or things much more from personal experience?

Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate by Stephanie V. W. Lucianovic  I started this a couple of months ago, because we have a few truly picky eaters in our family, and it does have a big impact on their lives. My response to this book is interesting, because while with the essays I preferred the ones that were personal, I found this too memoirish for my taste. I was hoping for more help. Maybe there just isn't any.

I'm mentioning this here, because Lucianovic now writes children's books, and next month she has one coming out called The League of Picky Eaters. I don't think I've ever seen this subject in a children's book, though there may be some out there. This one sounds very clever. I've sent a request to NetGalley, though I'm behind on posting about other NetGalley books, so I don't know how this will turn out.

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake with illustrations by Jon Klassen. This is an example of social media marketing working. Amy Timberlake ended up in my September Virtual Opportunities post, because she has a new Skunk and Badger book out right now, Egg Marks the Spot. While scrolling through available e-books from my library, I recognized her name on the first Skunk and Badger book and borrowed it. So the author and her book series got a reader, because of social media marketing, and now it is getting more social media marketing by way of this blog. 

Somehow I got the impression Skunk and Badger was going to be like Frog and Toad. I wouldn't make the comparison, myself, because I think it's for a much older age group, and is much more sophisticated. Which is not a bad thing. Not bad at all. 

Skunk and Badger are two loners who definitely need each other, though they're not at all alike. The reclusive and studious Badger struggles with coming to grips with the much more outgoing and somewhat chaotic Skunk. They inhabit a world with a village populated by other animals, and they have mail! Also, there are lots of chickens. 

A really lovely book.

Monday, October 04, 2021

A Book That Tears Up Some YA Cliches

Last Friday, October 1, I began a new writing group program with a Facebook group I've belonged to for a couple of years. We create a couple of temporal landmarks a year by setting aside a month for a specific writing project.  This month I'll be working on that mysterious YA mystery I keep talking about here. And today I'm posting about a mysterious YA book I recently read.

A number of books have covered people unaware of the world they're living in or unaware that they are being used for the entertainment of others  (notice how I'm not telling you much here?), but This is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey does it particularly well. Even if you end up hearing some of what this book is about before reading it (it has been out since February), there's a genre-bending twist, and a bit of a surprise in the ending. 

A real ending, people. As I was getting closer and closer to the end of the book, my anxiety level was going up and up, because I was so sure this was going to be the first in a serial. What a delight to get to that last screen (I read an e-book) and get a satisfying resolution. I think there may be an opening for a sequel, but not in a serial, you've-got-to-read-another book sort of way. 

This Is Not The Jess Show starts out with a very traditional teen girl craving romance. She is a traditional teen girl with two best friends. She has a traditional family tragedy looming over her. I will be honest and say those are not my favorite things to read about. But then author Carey blows all of those out of the water. A really impressive job.

There's also some well done, subtle, commentary relating to technology and society going on here, a la Black Mirror. In fact, I believe there are some scenes similar to a Black Mirror episode. Which is not a complaint. Just saying, if you like Black Mirror, consider reading This Is Not The Jess Show. And if you like This Is Not The Jess Show, consider catching some episodes of Black Mirror.

I would also like to say that I think Carey makes the situation in her book believable with that genre twist I mentioned above. Well done. 

Here's a question you might be left with after reading this book: Why does our culture find death and grieving entertaining?

Friday, October 01, 2021

Some Virtual Opportunities For October

As usual, I will be adding to this post over the course of the month.

Oct. 2 Chris Colfer, Book People, Austin, Texas  2:00 PM CT

Oct. 4 Victoria Kann, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 4:00 PM ET

Oct. 4 Henry Winkler, Lin Oliver, and Jeff Kinney, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Massachusetts 6:00 PM ET

Oct. 4 Holly Jackson and Victoria Lee, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 6:00 PM ET

Oct. 5 Betsy Bird, The Book Stall, Winnetka, Illinois 6:30 PM CT

Oct. 6 Chris Negron, Mayonn Paasewe-Valchev, Christyne Morrell, Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Georgia 7:00 PM ET Facebook Live

Oct. 6 Margaret Rogerson, Ayana Gray, and Chloe Gong, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 8:00 PM

Oct. 7 Victoria Kann, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Massachusetts 1:30 PM ET

Oct. 9 Rick Riordan, Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Georgia 7:00 PM ET

Oct. 12 Rebecca Evans, Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Georgia 11:00 AM ET 

Oct. 12 Dylan Dreyer and Jeff Kinney, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Massachusetts 6:00 PM ET

Oct. 13 Eugene Yelchin, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Massachusetts 10:00 AM ET

Oct. 13 Gayle Forman and Adam Gidwitz, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 6:30 PM ET

Oct. 18 Brendan Wenzel, Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Georgia 5:00 PM ET Facebook Live

Oct. 19 Maryann Cocca-Leffler and Janine Leffler, Print, A Bookstore, Portland, Maine 7:00 PM ET 

Oct. 19 Barbara Dee, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 6:30 PM ET

Oct. 21 Shelli R. Johannes and Maddie Frost, Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Georgia 5:00 PM ET Facebook Live

Oct. 25 Ruth Freeman and Tricia Springstubb, Print, A Bookstore, Portland, Maine 7:00 PM ET