Sunday, February 27, 2022

Some Virtual Opportunities For March

As usual, I will update this list over the course of the month as new events come to my attention. And, once again, check out Books of Wonder's many upcoming virtual events.

March 1 Lincoln Peirce and Jeff Kinney, An Unlikely Bookstore, Plainville, Massachusetts 7:00 PM ET

Marcy 2 Kelly Yang and Jerry Craft, Blue Willow Bookshop, West Austin, Texas 5:00 PM CST

March 2 Yamile Saied Mendez, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 7:00 PM ET

March 7 Leslie Bulion and Becca Stadtlander, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 6:30 PM ET

March 8 Jen Yen, Blue Willow Bookshop, West Austin, Texas 7:00 PM CST

March 8 Rebecca Podos and Katherine Locke, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury, Connecticut 7:00 PM ET

March 8 Michele Assarasakorn and Nathan Fairbairn, An Unlikely Bookstore, Plainville, Massachusetts 7:00 PM ET  

March 14 Crystal Maldonado, Anna Meriano, and Skye Quinlan, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 6:30 PM ET  

March 17 Renee Kurilla, An Unlikely Bookstore, Plainville, Massachusetts 1:30 PM ET

March 22 John Cho and Kal Penn, An Unlikely Bookstore, Plainville, Massachusetts 7:00 PM ET   

March 22 Andrea Wang and Jason Chin, Blue Willow Bookshop, Austin, Texas 5:00 PM CST

March 29 Eric Gapstur and Jeff Kinney, An Unlikely Bookstore, Plainville, Massachusetts 6:00 PM ET                  

Friday, February 25, 2022

Can't These Two Nice Guys Find Happiness?

I usually find the Michael L. Printz and Alex Awards the most interesting of the annual ALA book awards. The Printz deals specifically with YA and  the Alex is a list of ten adult books with special interest for YA readers. It's not that I'm a fan of YA over books for younger readers. But I've found these older reader awards to be less predictable than those for the younger kids. The books selected are usually less instructive. There's a lot less of the small town children-mature-before-their time thing going on. 

This year I went looking for an Alex book to read, for one reason and another. I will admit,  Winter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell was the only one of this year's winners I could find in my library's e-book service. I had to put a hold on it, and by the time it arrived, I couldn't remember what it was about. The whole made-up-empires-on-made-up-planets-thing I noticed at this point didn't fill me with enthusiasm.

However, I most definitely understand how this book made a list of adult books with interest for YA readers, because YA Gail would have loved this thing. Adult Gail enjoyed it, too.  

Like A Historical Romance In Space

As a teenager, I was a big fan of historical romance. I continued reading it through college, primarily during exam weeks. Clearly some kind of relaxation/calming strategy. Winter's Orbit follows a classic historical romance pattern. A couple, often of unequal status, end up married, but because of a series of misunderstandings they don't understand they love each other/are meant to be together/are only moments from happiness.

This is not the Pride and Prejudice model of hate-at-first-sight and come-around-to-love-later seen in a great many contemporary romantic comedies. The situation I'm talking about involves characters who usually don't bear each other any ill will and have good intentions, but misunderstandings keep them apart emotionally.

At her website author Maxwell says that as a teenager she read science fiction and fantasy, "with her family’s Georgette Heyer collection always a reliable friend when the library books ran out." Heyer's historical romances were the reliable friend for many teenagers, and her influence is sprinkled all over Maxwell's novel.

In the world of Winter's Orbit, Prince Kiem and Count Jainan enter an arranged marriage to seal an agreement between their planets. Prince Kiem is a reformed playboy (a variation on the reformed reprobate often seen in romances), who now has a pseudo career as a Prince Harry-type, making appearances as a patron to various organizations. A charming guy, but not, at first glance, an intellectual heavyweight. Count Jainan is a very recent widower, a diplomat who had been half of another arranged marriage in support of his home world. A very serious guy who is carrying around a whole lot of  anxiety.

While dealing  with all the confusion regarding their mutual attraction, they end up up-to-their necks in a political mystery.

World Building Around Gender

Science fiction, like historical fiction, has a great deal to do with world building, and Winter's Orbit's is extremely interesting in relation to gender. There's not much in the way of gender issues in this empire. Evidently males and females may dress so similarly that they express their gender, should they want to, by wearing certain types of jewelry. Whether male, female, or nonbinary, the royal at the top of the heap is referred to as "emperor." There are no princesses, everyone carrying that status is a prince. There are no gay marriages or lesbian marriages or heterosexual marriages. No modifiers, only marriages. Spouses usually refer to themselves as "partners" rather than "husbands" or "wives," which gives the couples a definite level of equality. A male character is referred to as beautiful, without that word having the feminine connotations many readers would expect. Anyone could be beautiful here.There are no references to a female military person or academic having had to fight her way up because of sexism. Presumably no one in the Winter's Orbit world would know what that is. 

A Blast From The Past

I think a big part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much is that it took me back to a time when I read things similar to this regularly, a time when I just read to read, could stay up late doing it, and didn't have responsibilities beyond final exams. Compared to what came later in life, final exams were nothing at all. 

Time to return Winter's Orbit. There are three people waiting for it. I'm not at all surprised. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Another Writers' Group Member With A New Book

Another one of my writers' group colleagues has a book publishing, this one today. If You Were a Garbage Truck or Other Big-Wheeled Worker! by Diane Ohanesian with illustrations by Joey Chou is a rhyming story that puts "preschoolers in the driver's seat as their favorite vehicles reveal the ups and downs of being a busy truck." It sounds as if it might be described as the inner lives of trucks.

Diane is the author of several other picture books. Two years ago, she did an impressive presentation for her lovely book, Snuggle Down Deep, that I was able to cover here. To help mark the publication of If You Were a Garbage Truck, as well as observe Original Content's twentieth anniversary, I'm rerunning it below.


Saturday, January 19, 2019 An Author Does Story Hour At A New Bookstore

Human children and animal babies all go to sleep. That's the entry point that makes Snuggle Down Deep by Diane Ohanesian with illustrations by Emily Bornoff work. Each section involves both some light factual material with the "snuggle down deep" repetition. The book combines nature, poetry, and...sleeping. It's a lovely book with an ecological thread.

The Event

Cookies A Work Of Art
This morning Diane Ohanesian did what could be called a master class in how to do an author story hour in a bookstore. She had an audience of close to a dozen kids from around two-years-old to maybe six or seven. Yes, she brought cookies, which made a much nicer impression than I would have expected.

Making The Story Interactive
What was really impressive, though, was the way she got control of her group with the first words she spoke. In a whisper, she asked her audience to do something and they did it.  She kept control with a terrific board kids could interact with as she was reading. She finished up with a simple art project that went over extremely well, probably because of the great box of supplies she brought with her. She had brand new packages of paper!

Watching Diane illustrated why new writers should take advantage of opportunities to see writers experienced with speaking and dealing with the public.




The Venue

Diane read at the new River Bend Bookshop in Glastonbury, Connecticut. It's a nook and cranny independent bookstore, the kind where browsers can get a sense of the intellect curating the offerings. I "have a bookstore" in Stowe, Vermont I go into once a year and walk around until something jumps off the shelf and tells me to take it home. River Bend
Children's Nook
could be that kind of place.

Of course, today I bought Snuggle Down Deep.

River Bend is hosting writers and other literary events

Friday, February 18, 2022

And Another New Humor Publication From Gail

My humor piece Living in Nature: A post-apocalyptic forest science unit for Grade 4 was published today at Slackjaw, the largest humor site on the Medium platform. Slackjaw is more selective than some of the other publications on Medium. A few months ago, it rejected a submission from me. I was hoping to break in this year and am delighted I made it so soon.

Notice I did not say that getting published at Slackjaw was a goal for this year. I like to limit goals to things I have some control over. I can't control what editors do. Instead, I made "Submit to the two major humor sites at Medium" an objective for my goal "Concentrate on submissions and maintaining the number of submissions I made last year."  Submitting is something I can control.

This is another piece of writing that drew upon my personal experience. No, I have not headed out into the wild as a survivalist. But I have written 75 letters to a young family member relating to the weekly hiking I've been doing over the last couple of years. I would think about what I would write while I was walking, looking for things to tell him about and taking pictures. 

From that I moved to imagining what I would say to a youngster about surviving in the woods. From that I went to a post-apocalyptic scenario. From that I went to a school unit. 

By the way, I took the photo illustrating this piece. It was taken during a very good Sunday walk, sort of a stroll. That path goes through an abandoned Christmas tree farm. It was huge.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

A Picture Book Biography For Black History Month

A few weeks ago, I was hunting for art-related picture books, when I came upon A Splash of Red: The Life And Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Melissa Sweet. It's a lovely picture book biography.

Horace Pippin was an untrained African American folk artist who became successful in his own lifetime. He was born twenty years after the Civil War, but his work became popular in the 1930s, during a period when folk art was of particular interest. According to a write-up at the National Gallery of Art website, among his subjects was African American genre scenes, meaning scenes of everyday African American life.

Both in terms of what he accomplished with his work and what he painted, Horace Pippin seems like a fine subject for Black History Month. A Splash of Red, which gathered a lot of well-deserved attention when it was published in 2013, is a good introduction to him. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: You Don't Have To Stick To Someone Else's Scheduled Event

Our point today: Don't give up on an interesting event because you can't conform to it. Make the event conform to you.

A case in point: Last fall I had a three-month plan I was very excited about. I was going to continue working on the never-ending book through October and November, then spend December with FlashNaNo, during which you write a piece of flash fiction every day for a month. I'd done it the year before, and while I didn't do a piece a day, I did end up with nine pieces, three of which ended up as published humor. I was looking forward to working on short work I could dip in and out of during a holiday month that is usually rough for me. 

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I realized that FlashNaNo is in November, like National Novel Writing Month. To take part I would have to work on the book-length project in October, do FlashNaNo, then go back to the book-length project in December. That meant transitioning in and out of an in-depth work, which I do not find easy, and trying to keep my mind in a book world while dealing with holiday and family events. 

The end of the year was going to suck.

Then I realized there are no time management police where I work. I could just do my own personal FlashNaNo in December, as I'd planned, after the official one was over. 

Which was what I did.

It ended up being far more successful than the one I did the year before. Since I wasn't following the rules for time, I didn't follow other rules, either. I worked on something different each day, but I didn't follow any prompts or necessarily start new work. Sometimes I pulled projects out from all over my hard drive and journal. I didn't limit myself to fiction. I also did essays, memoir, and humor. Because I was requiring so little of myself, I could do something every day, including weekends when I don't usually work. I didn't worry about completing anything, just starting or revising. My plan was to draw from the Flash2021 folder for writing projects in 2022.

Which is what happened. Three of the pieces I worked on in December have been published, a fourth has been accepted, and a fifth has been submitted. It was the most professionally productive December I've ever had. Decembers now on will be laid back generating months, getting work ready for the next year.

Can I apply this thought to other situations? I think so. 

  • Can't/don't want to go to a conference? What were you going to do there? Create a reading list/writing plan related to the workshops you would have taken and work where and when you can.  
  • Missed a reading/book launch? Read the books involved when it works for you, along with reviews and author interviews.
  •  DIY writing retreats are all about creating your own experience when you can't conform to the schedule someone else created. 
To rephrase my original point: You don't have to give up on projects because the time frame doesn't work for you. Take on the project whenever is best for you.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Is Mary Sue Still A Thing?

Today's blog anniversary post goes back to 2009, when, it appears, I was worried about accidentally writing Mary Sue characters. Basically, Mary Sue characters are characters created as a sort of fantasy stand-in for the author. They grew out of fanfiction and often appear in situations where some kind of established male character exists. The Mary Sue character becomes his romantic interest because of her many, many fine qualities. 

It's been a while since I've seen references to her, so she may not be as common these days. Nonetheless, I'm reprinting this Mary Sue post as a warning.

Unless, of course, you like Mary Sues. Then, of course, do what you'd like.

In addition to the whole Mary Sue issue, I think this post is interesting in terms of childlit blogging history. 

  • First off, both the blogs mentioned in the first sentence are gone now, though Kelly Herold and I are Facebook friends these days. (The same with Kelly Fineman in the second paragraph.) A lot of childlit blogs are gone from back in the day. I do stay in touch with some of those bloggers, though.
  • Second, go to the original post and look at the "engagement" in the comments. Back in the '00s, childlit bloggers often interacted in comments. It wasn't unusual to see a salon-like atmosphere. That's been gone for a long time. A big part of that is probably due to people moving on to "quicker" types of social media like Facebook and Twitter. Another part, I believe, is that the Internet became overwhelmed with litblogs, at which point readers had to give up reading them, because reading blogs would be all they would ever do. I know I don't read any regularly, now. I read a blog post when its writer catches my attention...on Facebook or Twitter. 

Friday, May 22, 2009 How Do I Avoid Writing Mary Sue?

Kelly Herold of Big A, little a has a new blog called Crossover where she will be blogging about "crossover books"--books that end up with two audiences, adult and YA or adult and even younger. She got the ball rolling with a discussion of America's most recent crossover, Twilight.

The blog comment that really got my mind spinning was Kelly Fineman's regarding Bella being a Mary Sue, who has moved from being a proxy for the author (Mary Sues were originally defined as characters based on authors' idealization of themselves. See the second Urban Dictionary definition) to being a proxy for readers. I think she has a good point.

The other character I've come across recently who seems like a Mary Sue to me is Mary Russell in A Monstrous Regiment of Women. I've heard that the Mary Russell series is also read by both adults and teens.

Mary Russell is a more traditional Mary Sue than Bella Swan in that she has so many superior qualities--intelligence, sophistication, a college degree, money. Anything she puts her hand to she's successful with. Plus she appears as the love interest for a character who already exists (Sherlock Holmes), which is how Mary Sues got their start in fanfiction. Bella, on the other hand, is pretty bland and inept, though she is loved by all. Her love interest is a type that has existed before (a vampire), though Edward, himself, is new to her series.

What both characters have in common is a sexual tension with a male character who is also idealized, one who watches over them while also serving as a threat. In Twilight Edward, who might go mad with lust at any point and kill Bella, controls her by treating her like a child. In A Monstrous Regiment of Women Sherlock Holmes "saves" Mary with physical violence--injecting her with drugs at one point and hitting her at another.

Now, I don't think many professional writers sit down and plan to write Mary Sue characters. (Though maybe we should, since they appear to be very popular.) However, it happens. For example, I've read that some critics believe Harriet Vane in the 1930's Lord Peter Wimsey novels is a Mary Sue for Dorothy Sayers, the books' author.

So my thought now is, if writers use their own experience in their writing (and this one sure does), how do we avoid writing Mary Sues? Do they always appear as a love interest? If I stay away from romance, will Mary Sue characters stay away from me? If I don't write about anyone over the age of thirteen will I be safe? What if I use male main characters? Will that work?

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

A New Humor Piece Published Today: And A Case Study In How Experience Works In Writing

By Monica Sedra on Unsplash
Frazzled, a very good humor site that focuses on parenting on the Medium platform, published my most recent humor piece, Your Child Has Been Exposed To COVID...Again. The pandemic is a never ending source of fun.

Your Child Has Been Exposed To COVID is an example of using life experience in writing. 

My History In Using Life Experience

I hate to use the phrase "write what you know," because, while it is well-known, a lot of people don't know what it means. It's often interpreted as confining writers to writing only about what's happened to them or what they have done. In reality, it's much more about taking a dip into the life pool for details for characters, settings, plots, and every aspect of story telling. It gives writing depth, richness, and authority. Oh, and relatability.  Additionally, it's a whole lot easier than having to come up with details from scratch.

A lot of my children's books drew very much upon my life as a mother and on my children's lives. 

My Life Among the Aliens and Club Earth were collections of short stories that came out of what was going on when I was raising two preschool and early grade school boys. Yes! I was that mother who baked with bran! 

A Year With Butch and Spike followed some sixth-graders through a school year. By that point in my kids' lives, I was somewhat jaded about the school experience. Their school experience, which, by extension, was my experience as a parent of school-age children.

Then we got to middle school, where, it turns out, not every student is a Happy Kid! Neither are their moms.
Saving the Planet & Stuff was written for one of my sons when he was in the early high school years. He liked reading humor, but found that a lot of YA humor at that time involved girls. He was fine with reading it, but, you know, where were the guys? This booked combined him with what I thought I was going to be during my college years. Two generations were dealing with identity from different sides of the subject--Who am I going to be? Who have I been? 

One of my sons once asked me of my writing, "Do you ever have an original thought?" My response was, "I don't have to, so long as I have you."

Which Brings Us To Your Child Has Been Exposed To COVID...Again 

My interest here was treating the confusion I felt about what I should be doing about COVID, when "what I should be doing" seemed to always be changing. I'm not that quick on my feet. I came up with the preschool situation because we've had that come up a few times with the preschoolers in our family--once just before Christmas, which included me because I spent a couple of hours with the child involved the day his parents found out about the exposure. 

I finished a draft and, I kid you not, that day we hear that the number of days people need to quarantine after exposure has changed. By that point, I was so confused that I couldn't work out what was going on, let alone be funny about it.

Several weeks later, Son Number 2 tells me about something very interesting related to a COVID exposure at his son's preschool. "I can use that!" I told him. Soon afterwards, Son Number 1 texts us with some news about his daughter's preschool and COVID exposure. I can use that, too! I thought.

And that's why I was able to finish this humor piece.

Well, it was then that I came up with the UPDATE and strikeout repetitions. My children didn't write the entire thing.

But their experience, and my experience of hearing about their experience, kick started the completion of this piece.

I can't say enough about writing from experience.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

The Weekend Writer: An Opportunity For Unagented Picture Book Writers

I learned about the 2022 PBParty Annual Contest at my writers' group Tuesday night. It's an opportunity for unagented picture book writers and writer/illustrators to make a submission to a pool from which a group of projects will be drawn for the agents and editors connected with the event to read. Some of whom may ask to see more of a particular author's work.

Note, this is not a Twitter pitch. You will need a query and 60 to 70 words of a completed, ready-to-submit manuscript. You will have two windows on March 1 to submit your material via a Google form, a link to which will be provided. 

There's lots of information on this event at the link above. Check it all out.

I must add that networking about events like this is another benefit of belonging to a writers' group, particularly one with trained, active writers who are pursuing study and submission.

Friday, February 04, 2022

A Contemporary Mystery Fantasy Combo

I sought out Second Sleep by Diane Stanley, because I had actually heard of "second sleep."  It's a real thing that I first read about a couple of years ago. Second Sleep doesn't have a lot to say about the historical aspect of second sleep/two sleeps, but it uses the idea for a quite well done fantasy/mystery.

Main character Max's mother disappears, leaving him, his father, and younger sister under a lot of stress. His mother's own mother, feeling some strain over her missing daughter, herself, gets the children out of the house and away from the crisis there by taking them to a cabin she owns where missing mom had spent part of her summers when she was a child. The cabin is in an area that had once been a vacation spot for families, built up around a lake. But Grandma's cabin is the only one occupied now, because a developer has purchased all the others in order to develop a more upscale vacation mecca. In fact, Grandma has sold, too, and she and her missing daughter had planned a trip to the cabin to pack it up and move things out. Now she's there with the grandkids, doing the job by herself, because, remember, her daughter, Max's mom is missing.

The cabin doesn't have electricity, so there's no TV and no kind of service for devices. (They do have a power source for a refrigerator, running water, and some sort of phone, because let's be realistic and safe, okay?) But the point is, without electric lights, TV, iPads, etc., what  does the family do when it gets dark? They go to bed, as people did centuries ago when it got dark and they didn't have light to do things.

Going to sleep early leads Max to wake up in the middle of the night. When he goes back to bed for his "second sleep," he dreams about the lake near the cabin where there is an assortment of other children who are also staying in cabins near the lake. Except there are no children in the area, because all the other cabins near the lake are empty, having been sold to that developer who is getting to tear them down. 

At least, there are no children anywhere nearby now.

I am not a fan of dream stories, but this was good. I'm finicky about fantasy, too, but this was a contemporary fantasy with no dragons or fairies, which I find much more palatable. Mystery is more to my liking and that is here, though, arguably, it may be a weaker element of the book. 

On top of everything else, Second Sleep is elegantly written. I'd give you a little example, but there was a waiting list with the ebook service I use, and I had to return it before I could write this post. It's a new book published just three months ago, and it's good, so it's understandable that it should have found readers. 

Another thought:This could be a neat vacation book, too.

It turns out I've read one of Stanley's earlier novels, Bella at Midnight, which looks as if it may have been a Cybils title one of the years when I was a judge.


Wednesday, February 02, 2022

The Kind Of Writers' Group You Should Be Looking For

My writers' group held its first meeting last night (Zoom) since the beginning of the pandemic, where I learned that today is the deadline for unpublished Connecticut children's authors and illustrators to submit to the Tassy Walden Award. This is a local award with big significance, because a number of winners and finalists have gone on to be published.

Over the years, quite a few of my writers' group colleagues have been among those winners and finalists. One of them, Linda Zajac, had a book published last year. Another, Nancy Tandon, had her first book published last month. As recently as 2020, our group had a member win the award for picture book text.

This seems like a good opportunity for an Original Content Twentieth Anniversary rerun of a 2015 post on the Tassy Awards that includes an elaborate taekwondo analogy. I'd hate to pass up one of those.


Sunday, May 31, 2015 The Weekend Writer: A Writers' Dojang

Tandon, Howley, Sherlock DiLorenzo
On Wednesday I wrote about this year's Tassy Walden Award winners. What I didn't mention is that three of this year's honorees, Nancy Tandon, Holly Howley, and Heather Sherlock DiLorenzo, come from the same writers' group. These three writers made up thirteen percent of the Tassy winners over all. However, some of those winners were illustrators. These three women made up twenty percent of the winning writers.

In past years, the group had three other members who placed well. And I believe there are two members who were Tassy winners prior to joining the group. One of them went on to be successfully published. Oh, and another member competed against published writers for a spot with The Great CT Caper and won one.

2015 Tassy Honorees
I've written about writers' groups for The Weekend Writer Project before. As I said then, "there are writers' groups, and there are writers' groups." How to explain so much achievement from this one group? Well, I happened to join it last October and have a little knowledge of what goes down there. You know how I love martial arts analogies? Yeah. I feel one coming on.


These people train. They attend NESCBWI workshops and retreats. They read in their genre. They keep up on what is being published in their field. Referring back to Marlo Garnsworthy's recent blog post, they don't assume that they should "automatically know how to write a publishable story." 

Maintaining the Mind of a Beginner

In a martial arts training hall, people of all ranks train together. If the instructor is introducing a yellow belt-level skill, the black belts in the room work on it, too, because there's always the possibility that they missed something when they learned it, there's always the possibility they can improve that skill. They cannot allow themselves to be blinded by the belief that they already know this stuff. They have to maintain the mind of a beginner. (Humility is also a good thing on a very practical level.)

That's how the people in this writing group conduct themselves, also. If they attend a program, they consider how the content can improve their work. If they get feedback on a submission, they don't walk away believing the agent/editor just doesn't get it. Within workshop meetings, they try not to respond to critiques from other members. The point is to listen to what others have to say and assess it.   


In the taekwondo school I attended, people of equal rank usually trained together, trying to share knowledge, the idea being that what one student missed last week, another will have picked up on. They were trying to learn from one another. Even in the tai chi school I attend now, where there is no belt system, students who are just learning a form are positioned within the group of more experienced students during practice, so the newbies can model their movements on the people who already know the form.

The people in this writing group do something similar. "How about this for the first chapter title?" "You might be able to eliminate that first page." One writer might be able to pick up on something another writer has missed.

Getting Up Off the Mat 

Getting knocked down isn't that big an issue in martial arts training. Getting up again is.

The people in this workshop submit their work. If the work comes back, they train some more and submit again. You cannot stay down and move forward, too.

Don't Care For Martial Arts Metaphors?

In the event that you don't love martial arts metaphors the way I do, you can phrase the reasons for this writers' group's success another way: These people study. They keep an open mind about their work. They work together. They persevere.

If you're at the point of looking for a writers' group, this is the kind of group you hope to find.