Saturday, July 30, 2022

Interesting Reading From The March/April 2022 Horn Book

The March/April 2022 Horn Book carried a couple of articles that particularly interested me:

Some interesting reviews:


Thursday, July 28, 2022

A Marvelous YA Mystery

I found Cold by Mariko Tamaki through a review in The Horn Book. I was a few issues behind, so I was able to find this book at a nearby library. I'm interested in YA mysteries and thrillers right now, so there was my attraction.

It's a terrific book about a dead teenage boy and a live teenage girl. And that's as far as I'm going with the plot description. Oh, except Tamaki does something terrific with the mean girl clique cliche. I am not a fan of alternating points of view, but this worked great. The female lead is my favorite Georgia since Georgia Nicholson. It's not that outrageous a comparison because these two Georgias have voice.

This could be described as a queer mystery. What is particularly interesting is that it is slowly revealed just how much that thread has to do with what is happening. 

Mariko Tamaki is the author of the graphic novel Emiko Superstar  (art by Steve Rolston), which won a Cybil in 2009

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: Essentialism And Set-Aside Times

Here we go with the fourth and final portion of our discussion of how we writers can apply Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown to our lives. Today we’re talking about one of my favorite time management techniques, what I call set aside times. (Sometimes I've hyphenated it, sometimes I haven't. I accept that.) I'm talking a chunk of time--a weekend, a week, a month, or even more-- that we have set aside to do one thing. You can think of it as binging. Binge writing, binge editing, binge submitting.

Binging whatever you think is essential.

Life is chaos, as I've mentioned here a number of times over the last couple of years. Planning to work in blocks of time that we've committed to specific things helps to control that chaos, at least for a little while. To quote myself,  "Looking forward to our future, which we, of course, expect to go on forever, it's hard to get a handle on controlling things, because will power and self-discipline are finite." With shorter periods of time, it is possible to get some control. Additionally, if we try to manage our time around what is essential to us, that's not going to work long-term, either, because, as I said in an earlier post in this arc, that keeps changing. So we can't rely on just defining what is essential to us to help contain chaos for a lifetime.

But we should be able to use it to contain the chaos for a weekend, a week, or a month. Maybe even a semester, if we've decided a class is essential right now.

Planning

In his book, McKeown speaks briefly about extreme preparation. Preparation is going to be a big help in working with set-aside times. In the lead up to any kind of set-aside time, we'll want to plan: 

  • To get other small work jobs out of the way before we start so they won't divert us from the essential task 
  • To get as much pre-writing work done as possible
  • To decide what pre-writing work we want to do, if that's what the set-aside time is for
  • To coordinate the set-aside time with our day jobs so that we aren't trying to work intently on something essential to our writing at the same time we know we'll have extra work for the day job
  • To get as much personal life work out of the way or under control, meaning we don't plan trips or guests during the set-aside time, and to try to find a way to bring family obligations down to a minimum for that period.  

A Perfect Example

A perfect example of applying essentialism to writers lives in a set-aside time is National Novel Writers' Month. That has helped many writers jump starting new projects or completing first drafts. They had one essential thing they were doing for one month--writing 50,000 words.

You can find a multitude of information on-line about preparing for National Novel Writing Month, much of it involving plotting and working on character development or settings before November 1, NaNoWriMo's starting date. Additional planning could involve keeping your November weekends clear of commitments, finding help with the kids, getting meals made ahead of time. (That may only be important to me.)


The more plans you can get in place before NaNoWriMo or any set-aside time begins, the better your chances of being successful with it. 

 

Round-up Of Original Content's Essentialism Posts





Thursday, July 21, 2022

#MGReadathon Results

I finished last weekend's 48-hour #MGReadathon on Sunday afternoon having completed 4 books. Since I only read 7 back in 2006 for the original 48-Hour Book Challenge, I was pretty satisfied, because I didn't read as intently this time as I did then. While there definitely are some negatives to have taken part of this in terms of using my time (which you can be sure I'll be discussing here at some point), I interacted with some new people both here and on Twitter, got one book off my TBR shelf that had been there for years, will be updating my Goodreads blog with this post, and will be a few books ahead on my Goodreads goal for this year. So those are all pluses. Right?

Books Read


I Survived The Nazi Invasion, 1944 by Lauren Tarshis 

If you grew up on old WWII movies and have read a lot of WWII books over the years, this is a pretty traditional WWII story. It's a pretty traditional short WWII story with plenty of narrative drive and a main character who comes out of his nightmarish experience as well as anyone possibly could. This is the book from my TBR shelf and the first in the I Survived series that I've read. I'll be holding onto it for my personal library I maintain for young readers in the family. 


Nature Girl by Jane Kelley

Years ago I started reading a book that began the same way Nature Girl does--a girl in Vermont with some conflict with her family accidentally ends up on the Appalachian Trail. I stopped reading it, because I didn't like it. How likely is it that I've stumbled upon a totally different book in which the same thing happens? If the book I didn't like back in the day was Nature Girl, it has improved a lot over the years.

I am not a long-haul hiker by any means. Fourteen miles is my top hike, on a relatively flat rail trail, and we took a break in the middle to go to a local library to use the bathroom. Nonetheless, I very much liked this tale of a totally unprepared eleven-year-old girl who gets lost near her family's southern Vermont rental and stumbles onto the Appalachian Trail. She learns from a passing hiker that Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts, near where her best friend is spending time with her grandmother and sick mother, is just 30 miles that-a-way and decides, what the hell, she's having a lousy time vacationing in Vermont. She's going to get to Mt. Greylock and call her friend.

Now, if this is the book I gave up on years ago, I might have been turned off early on by the talk of the Appalachian Trail in Vermont. Because I knew that the Long Trail is Vermont's trail. However, a little research this time showed that the Appalachian Trail does, indeed, run west northeast through Vermont while the Long Trail runs north and south. And the two of them join for a while. I mention this in case among my hordes of readers there is someone else thinking, Wait. No. That's wrong. It's the Long Trail in Vermont. They're both there!

Once I knew that, I totally bought in to Megan's experience. The pieces of the Long Trail I've been on were similar to what Megan was seeing. (That shelter!) The people she ran into were similar to people I've read about in hiking articles. Yes, it does push the envelope to think this kid could make it and didn't throw in the towel and seek help. But we believe kids in books catch criminals and fight magical monsters, so why not this? 

Also, this book actually is funny. Lots of times with middle grade books we're told they are funny, and I get the feeling that at various points something is supposed to be funny, but it isn't. In this one the humor works. 

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus

I've been hearing good things about this book, and they're well-deserved. If you've spent twenty years reading children's books about the evacuation of children from London during World War II, a lot of what happens here will be familiar. However, they won't be familiar to today's child readers and that material is put together very well. This is a very well-written book with a cozy vibe in spite of its war setting.

Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai by Debbi Michiko Florence

I chose this book because Debbi Michiko Florence and I are Facebook friends. It's a middle school romance with a bit of a Pride and Prejudice thing going on. Romance isn't the best genre for me to be reading and reacting to. As a general rule, I need my romance integrated with something else, mystery or scifi, for instance. Just Be Cool does have a student journalism thread that I appreciated.

The book will be sticking with me, though, because it left me with two things to ponder: 

  1. This tween age is bizarre. These kids are old enough to have boyfriends but not old enough to use the stove when they're alone in the house. They have boyfriends, but they spend their evenings hanging with their boyfriend and groups of friends at somebody's house with their parents. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with any of that, but what does having a boyfriend even mean at this point in life? Does just being able to say you have a boyfriend (or girlfriend) provide some kind of validation? (Of course, it does, Gail! What's wrong with you?)
  2. This is not the first book I've read recently in which the main character had a close friend or more than one. These protagonists had to worry about whether or not they were spending enough time with their friends and what should they be doing with their friends and is their friend upset with them? This seems like so much effort. You read a lot about how difficult it is for adults to make  friends. Maybe it's because nobody past middle school has time for all the work that's involved.  

That last thought is going into something I've been working on, in my head, anyway. So thank you, Debbi and Jenna.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Bone By Bone With Dr. Sara Levine

Last Wednesday, I attended Facebook friend and author Sara Levine's Bone By Bone presentation at my local library. Clearly I have missed my calling, or, at least, missed a good calling. If this event is any indication, bones have a powerful attraction for kids. The enthusiastic audience put Sara to work discussing the bones she had on display before she was even introduced.

Sara, who is a veterinarian, was an assistant professor of biology for 12 years and has taught children’s environmental education classes for for over 20. Experience shows, both in terms of her knowledge of her material and ability to deal with children.

I try not to share much of authors' presentation material. However, I have to say that Sara has a bone box. I will not say what she does with it. But, come on--a bone box! And I was sitting very close to it. 

This presentation included a reading of Sara's book
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons, illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth. She has also written eight other books, and has three more coming out in 2023 and one in 2024.

Friday, July 15, 2022

I'm Doing #MGReadathon


This weekend I'm doing the #MGReadathon organized/sponsored by Karen Yingling of Ms. Yingling Reads. I am not well prepared for this, which I never advocate on Time Management Tuesdays, but I'm grabbing an opportunity for some intense reading and Twitter socialization. And I just happen to have brought some middle grade books home from the library on Monday. 

I won't be posting about the books until next week, but I'll be posting cover images on Twitter as I finish the books. You can use the #MGReadathon hashtag to follow what's being read on Twitter. Truthfully, I'm only talking maybe four books. Karen is hoping to read thirty.

My 48 hours began at 2:30 this afternoon in a pickup truck on the way home from biking. Life is chaos, and I will be reading chaotically until mid-afternoon Sunday.

I've finished Book One!


Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: Situational Essentialism

Part III in our discussion of  how we writers can apply Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown to our lives. 

While I find this book directed primarily to business executives (not that there's anything wrong with that), there are some ways that we can apply some of what McKeown writes about to the writing life.  One of them is to connect essentialism to the concept of Situational Time Management.

No one time management process is ever going to work for us throughout our lives. Life is chaos. We can't expect to come up with what is essential to our lives or work and expect it to hold true forever. What is essential to us right out of school is going to be different from what is essential to us ten or fifteen years later or essential to us another decade on. Or maybe even next year. Or  a few months from now. We have to keep evolving with the situations we find ourselves in. Accepting that and working with it is what I refer to as situational time management.

For writers, there's another whole level of situation that's going to keep changing, though in a pretty predictable way. 

Finding What Is Essential At Different Points In A Writing Life

One of the important points McKeown makes early in his book is that essentialists accept that we can't do everything. Thus, it's important that we prioritize what is essential to us so we can let other things go. Writers can do that in very situational ways.

  • The Acquiring Craft Skills Situation--Actually learning to write is a first step that many writers undervalue. If you read on Medium, check out the many--many, many--articles on writing for Medium that focus on creating lots of content to become successful. There's not a lot on holding back and studying, practicing, or working with critique groups. There aren't a lot of professions where you can hang out a shingle or throw work out before the public with no training or experience. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that early in their careers, it's essential for writers to learn to write, whether we do it in traditional college courses, or in  workshops or by reading or some other way. While in this situation, we really don't need to be spending valuable, limited time on reading about and attending workshops on how to submit to agents or promoting and marketing books, because we don't have anything to submit or promote and market. The one essential is to learn how to do what we want to do.
  • The Writing Situation--Again, until the project we're interested in is done, writing is our priority. Years ago I attended a writers group with a writer who had barely started a fantasy novel. She clearly was struggling with basics. But she was spending time and energy on promotional ideas. Much more recently I heard about a flash fiction writer who was also a college professor. She wrote in the summer. Writing was what was essential for her during that particular situation, when she had more time to give it. She made submitting essential the rest of the year, because submitting doesn't take the same level of time and involvement. It most definitely takes time, but not the kind of time that writing does. We're talking two different situations.
  • The Submission Situation--The book/short story/essay is finished. Now we're in the submission situation when the search for agents and publications that might be interested in our work takes place. This is way more time consuming than it sounds. In addition to finding people who might be interested in what we have to offer, there is the issue of how to submit--How many pages or chapters does each agent want? Who requires a synopsis? Do all the publications we think might be interested in our short form work accept submissions by email or do some of them use Submittable? Trying to prioritize both submitting and writing at the same time can drain time and energy from both.
  • The Marketing and Promotion Situation--It turns out every damn piece of published writing needs to be at least promoted (seeking attention for it, usually without money being involved) if not actually marketed (more traditional advertising that involves money). This becomes essential once something has been published. But not before. Again, prioritizing marketing and promotion at the same time that we're prioritizing submission or writing can mean that we're not doing any one of those things well.   
Overlap among these situations may occur, particularly for writers who are publishing regularly. Those of us who do that may still be in the Promoting Situation for Book B while we're in the Writing Situation for Book C. And writers who work primarily in short form writing may spend a lot of our reading time when we are in the Writing Situation with journals and other kinds of publications, which will give us a background knowledge in who is publishing the kind of work we do. That would give us a leg up when we get to the Submission Situation.

But overall determining the essential task for any particular situation can mean getting more done.

Friday, July 08, 2022

What Were You Doing Back In July, 2004, Gail?


What was I doing back in July, 2004? Well, that was back in the day when I had editors waiting for me and contractual obligations. Yes, one could argue that life is easier now. 

As part of my observance of Original Content's 20th anniversary, I am republishing this post from July, 2004. In part, I'm doing it to prove that I did use to work harder. But more importantly, because it may be one of my earliest references to Jane Yolen. I was obsessed with her for a while, not to the extent that I have been obsessed with Shirley Jackson, but still obsessed. Plus, Yolen is alive while Jackson isn't, so many of my Yolen posts were probably borderline stalking.

I no longer go to Yolen's on-line journal, though I do follow her on Facebook. And she's still doing more than I am.

Thursday, July 29, 2004 Just Can't Keep Up


I missed posting yesterday because I'm working on the fourth revision of a book (I mention this because I suspect there are people who think I don't do anything at all), and though it is going well, for a revision, I always get to a point where I am consumed. Not necessarily in the good sense of the word. Even when I'm not working on it, I have trouble doing much of anything else--like ironing, grocery shopping, other types of paperwork. I'm hoping to finish this revision next week and try to get back to what passes for a normal life for me.

I've noticed that Jane Yolen has started an on-line journal. It doesn't seem to be a traditional blog, but a traditional journal maintained on-line. I admire what she's doing, but I don't know if I'll be reading it much because...she does too much work . Her work habits are far better than mine, and I don't want to keep reminding myself.

On the other hand, maybe this is just what I need.


Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: Essentialism And Choice--For Writers

I was very enthusiastic about Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown when I began reading it, because I was connecting it to minimalism, a philosophy I am fond of and committed to. Now that I have  finished the book, I've found it to be less about helping to define what the few essentials in our work should be and how to stick with them and more about time management. That's fine if you haven't done a lot of reading on time management already.  And as so often happens with time management writing, it is addressed to people in work situations that provide some privilege that most writers don't have. In fact, the one appendix in the book is directed to people in leadership positions. 

The first section of this book Essence will probably be the most helpful to those  writers struggling with a variety of time issues who hope to find a way to do less but better as McKeown writes. Over the coming weeks, I'll pull out of the rest of the book those things I think we writers can use and how we can use them.

Right now my plan is to address:

Choosing What Is Essential


McKeown suggests that before we choose what is essential to us, we first explore. We can do that through:
  • escaping (making ourselves unavailable), 
  • looking (to see what really matters), 
  • playing (embracing our inner child), 
  • sleeping (because rest is important), 
  • and selecting (after creating high criteria). 
This section, as do all the sections, uses a lot of case studies involving real life people who are almost to a person executives often in higher positions that give them power and privilege. One in this section was particularly noteworthy, because he was able to take a couple of years off from work to recover from what overwork had done to him physically. He and the family spent one of those years in France.

 McKeown says that our best asset is ourselves, but I write for people whose best asset is their time. We don't have much of it. 

People who are working full time jobs, maybe driving delivery trucks or running cash registers or standing in front of a classroom or answering phones or having toddlers screaming "I want Daddy" at them most of the day and have families and have extended families and have to deal with basic life needs like laundry and meals and then are writing just do not have the luxury to explore to determine what is essential to them. Just when is that supposed to happen?

Exploring Your Experience To Determine What Is Essential


Instead of taking new time to explore by way of escaping from others and embracing our inner children (who are very, very overrated, imho), we can try exploring our experience, time we've already used, to make choices about what is essential to us.

  • In looking at writing we've already done (completed or not), are we aware of specific problems we should be working on? Have we had feedback from writers' groups or workshops that suggest we should be choosing improving some particular aspect of our writing as essential?
  • If we're published, have we been more successful with one kind of writing than another? Should we be making that more essential? On the Medium platform, for instance, I do much better with humor pieces about children/parents than humor pieces about lifestyle. I'm considering making child/parent humor more essential in the future. 
  • McKeown writes about normative conformity, doing what a group expects of us. Ten or fifteen years ago, many writers felt pressure to start blogs. A lot of writers don't enjoy this kind of short, nonfiction writing and had a trouble maintaining the blogs they started. Eventually there were more writer blogs than there were readers for them, and between lack of readership, the dislike of writing posts in the first place, and time pressures, we eventually started seeing a lot of abandoned blogs. The attempt to conform to a norm became a negative in a very visible way. Look at what you're doing for social media and try to determine how much of it you feel forced to do and how much is actually working for you. The good can become essential, and you can let the rest go.
  • Normative conformity is also a factor in networking. How many writing-related events do you attend because you feel you should because other writers say you will make work connections there? How often has that actually happened for you? If it has happened a lot, then going to conferences is probably essential to you. If it hasn't, you can consider being a lot more selective about which ones you attend. Does the conference you're considering right now include workshop content that addresses what you actually do for writing? Who is teaching the workshops you're thinking about attending? Are you talking a conference close enough that you can just go for a day, so you don't have to spend enormous amounts of time planning for what a family is going to do while you're gone longer or take a lot of time off from a day job? 

You can see how thoughtfully choosing what is essential can both free up time and make better use of the time we do have.

Sunday, July 03, 2022

The Weekend Writer: Reading About Writing

I am picky about what I read on the subject of writing, because back in the day when I did read more of them, I found that books about writing tended to be the same thing over and over and were often very boring.

However, 18 of Our Favorite Books About the Craft of Writing by Leah Schnelbach  from Tor.com sounds interesting. It includes well-known books like On Writing and Zen in the Art of Writing but a lot of things I haven't heard of, even when I've heard of their authors. While I'm a lot more interested in generative workshops than craft workshops, I might give one of these craft books a try.

Hmm. Reading and blogging about one of these could be an arc for The Weekend Writer feature here at OC.

Friday, July 01, 2022

And How Is Your Year Going?


It's the last day of the second quarter. Time to check on how I'm doing with this year's goals and objectives. Family business was up in March, so I didn't check at the end of the first quarter. But...begin
again! 
Where I'm working these days.


Goal 1. Work on short-form writing, essays, and short stories.  

Objectives:

  • Work on the humor and flash pieces I began or revised/organized in December. I have 31 of them. I need to do a post about that another time. While I have been working on short work, and publishing some, I forgot all about that December business. That's something to look forward to!
  • Spend a lot more time with Facebook flash and essay-writing groups, checking out what people are publishing and where. Haven't done this at all. 
  • Look for more on-line writing classes/workshops. I signed up for one today. Attended two.
  • Commit more time to reading essays and short stories. I'm trying to read essays, short stories, and humor in the evening. And I am, in fact, reading a book by David Sedaris right now. 

 

Goal 2Finish a draft of YA thriller that could become an adult thriller.  

Objectives:

  • I took a break from this project after November, so I'll need to reread what I've done to bring myself back up to speed. Did this much at least.
  • I have some outlining/blueprinting done for the next work. Go over this and extend it. Did a little bit.
  • Read YA thrillers. Hmm. Not doing a great job on this. You can check out my reading on Goodreads. But, again, this is something to look forward to!
  • Read history, since that's a significant factor for a character and maybe in other ways. Not much, but a little.
  • Make a big push on this during May. I tried, but was diverted with short form writing. I'm pushing this summer.

 

Goal 3. Concentrate on submissions and maintaining the number of submissions I made last year.  First off, I've made 28 submissions this year with 7 acceptances and two terrific rejections with feedback.

Objectives:

  • Try to submit once a month to a Medium publication. I have something ready to go right now. I didn't do this monthly, but I have had 7 pieces published at Medium sites, and we are starting the 7th month of the year, so that's kind of like monthly.
  • Submit to the two major humor sites at Medium. I've done that. Had a piece accepted by one of them and got some great feedback from the other.
  • Submit to the journal that was encouraging last year. I haven't done this yet, because I want to revise something for them. Didn't even come close to doing this.
  • Search for agents to submit to, particularly for the adult manuscripts that haven't been submitted to as many people as the middle grade stories have. Kind of. I want to do a DIY book submission retreat later this year.
  • Take advantage of Twitter pitch opportunities. I have done this, though the major one I submitted to in the past, Pitmad, is gone.

 

 Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

 Objectives: 


  • Mark Original Content's 20th anniversary with reprinting material from the archives that connect with present events. Yes.
  • Provide social media support for writers/bloggers generating diversity material. If nothing else, I can combine some archival material to do this and mark OC's anniversary at the same time. A multiplier! Yes, though I could do more.
  • Continue with the virtual author opportunities posts, if I continue to find them. Yes, though those are disappearing.
  • Attend virtual book launches and promote here. Not so much, because of the objective above.
  • Use NetGalley to support authors with new books publishing this year. Yes.
  • Continue with promoting Original Content at Facebook communities, Goodreads' blog, and Twitter. Yes, though I haven't been using the Goodreads blog at all. Something to look forward to!
  • Check-in with goals and objectives quarterly. Yes for this quarter, anyway. 

I would be feeling discouraged except for the short-form work, submissions, and publications. However, I'm a believer in 'begin again.' I've got half a year to go. I have all these objectives to work on. I'm excited to move on.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.