Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Another One Of Those Opinion Pieces About Children's Books

Suad Kamardeen @Unsplash
Every couple of years, some mainstream magazine publishes an article trashing children's literature and creating hysteria in the children's literature world. This has been going on a long time, and I gave up responding to them, (and sometimes even reading them) a long time ago, because I felt I was being manipulated. The publishers of these things wanted me all huffy and talking about them, to create buzz for their publications. I don't like just mindlessly giving people what they want.

But here I go, anyway.

This morning, Google News carried in a section labeled "For You" a link to Are There Any Kids Books Out There That Are...Actually Good? by Kathryn Jezer-Morton, which was published Monday at New York Magazine's The Cut.  Jezer-Morton may not have been responsible for the click-bait title. Another one might have made the whole essay hang together better. And I'm not going to argue with her content. What she thinks is bad...what she thinks is

What I'm struggling with is the essay, itself.

She may be using some kind of classic writing format that I'm just not a fan of--knocking down A to build up B. Yeah, I do think that's a thing. She spends a lot of space objecting to a number of titles she appears to be familiar with before she gets to a shorter portion where she concludes SPOILER yes, there are books out there that are actually good. But it doesn't sound as if she's read them. She knows they exist because she asked librarians, and they told her so. She doesn't even name any of the titles of the good books. She links to a list of them that she created. 

What Does It All Mean, Gail?

I'm not sure what to take away from this essay. 

  • I'm definitely not accepting that the books she doesn't care for are bad or the books the librarians recommended are good, because anyone who has read here much knows I'm never going to do that.
  • I keep wondering how could this essay have been written in a more meaningful, but still short, way? Maybe just stick to a piece about her frustration with her kids' reading, which may have been the initial inspiration? Waited until she'd read some of the so-called good books so she could form an opinion about them herself and not just tell us librarians say they're good? Do a little compare and contrast between a book from part A and a book from part B?
  • What I really want to see now is an opinion piece trashing adult books, en masse, the way we get these pieces trashing children's books, en masse. They may be out there, and I just don't hear about them, because adult books don't seem to get people fired up the way kids' books do.


A few of my Facebook friends have books on Jezer-Morton's list of good books. Hurray!


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: Time Management For Writers With No Time--You Don't Have To Do What Someone Else Is Doing

The second in an arc inspired by Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris and Jeff Warren with Carlyle Adler.

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics includes a chapter called I Can't Do This that deals to a great extent with what author Dan Harris and his colleagues say is the misunderstanding that meditation requires clearing the mind instead of beginning again. "You really can't hear this enough: Meditation does not require you to stop thinking," they say.

Many writers think they can't write because they can't do certain things, also. Specifically,

Write every day and butt-in-chair are writing cliches that have generated masses of text. They appear in articles, blog posts, books, and workshops. There may be TED Talks about them. In spite of that, I'm not sure what butt-in-chair means. Is it a "just do it" time management technique? Do people who feel they are butt-in-chair writers use some kind of time management techniques to make it possible for them to keep their butts in their chairs or do they have some kind of inner fortitude the rest of us don't that enables them to do what others can't? I'm mystified.

What I do feel write every day and butt-in-chair are, though, is exclusionary. Do this, not that. This is what you have to be able to do in order to do what I do.

You really can't hear this enough: Writing does not require you to do what other writers are doing.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Weekend Writer: The Story Behind My Latest Publication In "Literary Mama"


My short story The Mother Suite has been published in the latest issue of Literary MamaLiterary Mama is one of the first literary journals to focus specifically on the work of mother writers and is celebrating its 20th anniversary next year. It publishes a blend of poetry, book reviews, profiles, fiction, and nonfiction. 

Now The Mother Suite has a history that may be of interest to writers who haven't done a lot of submitting yet.

  • According to my records, I first submitted The Mother Suite in 2005. I submitted it 9 times over the next 17 years.
  • I continued to tinker with it during that time and didn't just keep submitting the same thing over and over again. Come on. There's always a possibility that a piece of work is rejected for a reason. My submission records indicate that around 2020 the story evolved into a flash version. That is about the time I became interested in flash fiction.
  • Sadly, I have no hard copies of the original, presumably longer, version. Nor can I find anything pre-flash on my hard drive. As a minimalist, I believe that is good. As a writer...not so much.
  • The first publication I submitted the original story to in 2005 was...Literary Mama! I thought it was worthwhile submitting it again this past March for two reasons. 1. The story had changed over the years. 2. Publications change editors over time. A new person would be seeing this. 

Working With A Developmental Editor

Literary Mama has department editors who function as real developmental editors (I published a piece of creative nonfiction with them in 2007, and the situation was the same.). This is unique in my limited experience publishing short work, but it was a big part of publishing my books with G.P. Putnam. It's hard to describe what developmental editors do to someone who hasn't worked with one and especially to people who aren't writers. But, essentially, they help develop the story. Developmental editors working for a publication or a book publisher see something in a submission that appeals to them in some way, that they think could work for their publication or company. Writers and editors agree to work together to develop the story, to help it evolve into something they all believe enhances the original submission.

In this case, the original submission, called Take It From Me, was written as an older mother's advice to new mothers. The main character had two children, and she had more experiences that she talked about. It was essentially a superficial rant. Looking back, I think there was a feeling that the children were at fault somehow. Literary Mama's fiction editor liked a particular aspect of the story. She suggested dropping one of the child characters and creating more of a relationship between the mother and remaining child. She suggested dropping some of the experiences the mother originally talked about and elaborating on the ones I did use. She also suggested dropping the advice frame I was using, which went a long way to eliminating the ranting.

Maintaining the mother's voice was important to me. Among the good things that happened as this story evolved is that the daughter developed a voice as well.

The story became much more sophisticated than it originally was. I hope that the experience of working with this editor will have a positive impact on my future short story writing.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Environmental Book Club

I've been interested in minimalism for a number of years now. My understanding of minimalism is that, as Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus say at the The Minimalists , it "is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom."  I would say freedom to do things, because it is a tool that helps me to find time. Time that I'm not spending taking care of things, looking for things, shopping for things.

So you can see why I had a reason to snatch up Living Simply: A Teen Guide to Minimalism by Sally McGraw when I saw it on display at my favorite library. However, it seems to have little to do with the minimalism I've studied. It's much more about leading an environmentally sensitive lifestyle, which is certainly a worthy and legitimate subject. But I think that referring to this as minimalism is confusing.

In its advertising copy for the book, the publisher says, "Twenty-first-century minimalism is an increasingly mainstream response to global environmental crises such as climate change, the garbage glut, fast fashion, and other manifestations of the harmful impact of consumerism." I just don't know that that's the case. Minimalism is about individuals finding ways to do what they value with their lives. Consuming fewer things should, indeed, be a more environmentally sustainable way of life. But it's a side effect of minimalism. It's not the point.

Living Simply includes what might be described as sidebar types of material that includes suggestions for how to do specific environmentally sensitive activities such as shopping for secondhand clothes or interviews. Early in the book a fourteen-year-old minimalist is interviewed. He has very little to say about the environment. What he does say, though, is "It's really rewarding to just not have a lot of stuff. When you've got a whole bunch of useless stuff that you don't ever use, and it occupies the same space as you do, you almost feel like a prisoner." He's only been a practicing minimalist for a year, but he seems to have a good grasp of what it is and what it is doing for him.

While this book has a lot to say about how to live sustainably, I don't think it has a lot to say about minimalism. Losing the minimalism hook altogether and making this a teen guide to sustainable living would have been much clearer about the good things Living Simply has to offer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: Time Management For Writers With No Time--Begin Again

 For someone who meditates as little as I do, and then primarily with guided meditations so someone is holding my hand and walking me through it, I do enjoy reading about the practice. A meditation book I recently read and liked a great deal is Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris and Jeff Warren with Carlyle Adler. How much did I like it? I read an e-book from my library system and then ordered a hard copy so I could skim it again, mark it up, and label it. Which is something Dan Harris says he does with his meditation books, too.

As I was reading this particular meditation book, I kept thinking that a lot of what Harris and his co-writers were saying could apply to writing, and specifically apply to managing writing time. And thus a new reading arc was born for Time Management Tuesday.

Begin Again.  And Keep On Beginning Again. Then Begin Again Some More.

Early in the book the authors describe a basic, three-step mediation. The third step is the most important, they say. When you're distracted, you begin again.

Now other people have written about beginning again in relation to meditation. I've written about it in relation to writing. But what Harris (I'm going to refer to the authors as Harris from now on, because I'm lazy) does is make a really good argument for it over the clear-the-mind idea many of us have about meditation.

We could make a similar argument for beginning again over ideas many of us have about managing time for writing, too.

The Worst Marketing Campaigns Ever

Harris attributes the general public's understanding of meditation as requiring clearing the mind over beginning again to a poor marketing campaign. Meditation has been "marketed" in the past as an activity that brings practitioners to some kind of otherworldly state, which, evidently, you need a clear mind to achieve. As I'm writing this, I'm wondering what a clear mind would even be. It appears I've never experienced one.

With writing we don't think about the practice of beginning again, because we've been sold the idea of writing every day and placing our butts in chairs to do it.  We like nice turns of phrase in our line of work and while "write every day" is a pretty good one, "butt in chair" is fantastic. It even has an abbreviation, "BIC."  Though I, personally, like the sound and embrace the meaning of "begin again," it may be a hard sell for writers, because it isn't writing specific the way "write every day" and "butt in chair" (because most of us sit to write) are.

Make Begin Again Writing Specific

Here's the thing--no matter what the writing how-to articles say about writing every day and placing your butt in chair, there are going to be times when we can't do it. For some of us, there are going to be many times when we can't do it. It doesn't matter what that writing site/journal or workshop leader tells us. We deal with reality here, where there are day jobs and family and illness and houses falling down around us and cars that need to be serviced.

What we can always do, though, is begin writing again. It doesn't matter whether it's been a day, a week, a month, or many weeks and months. Beginning writing again is always possible.   

That's a huge positive for us. 

Friday, November 11, 2022

So This Is Happening In The Publishing World

Union employees of HarperCollins went out on strike yesterday. This is described as an indefinite strike, unlike the one this past summer, which was only one day. 

Among the people involved are those working in design, marketing, publicity, and sales. I mention this because I think a large part of the general public isn't aware of all the work done by traditional publishing houses to prepare books. Design, in particular, isn't considered much even by readers. Yet how text looks on a page is a huge factor in the readability of a book. That became obvious to me in the early days of self-publishing when some writers cut down on the number of pages they needed to pay to print by using narrower margins. What designers do matters a lot.

I'd also like to point out that I didn't learn about this through the news listings I follow or on Facebook. I learned about it on Twitter. I'd have to say that that is where I pick up on the bulk of the publishing news I hear about, even if it's just a mention that leads me to look something up to find out what's going on. This is why I'm sticking with Twitter for the time being.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

A New Publication For Gail: Julie Powell And A Mini Blogging History

Kenny Eliason @ Unsplash
I spent a lot of time earlier this week reading articles about Julie Powell who died on October 26 at forty-nine-years-old. That's just forty-nine, folks. She was a blogger, back in the day, but her blog went seriously big time, turning into the book Julie & Julia and then the movie with the same name.

I wrote what I like to call a flash essay about how Powell is representative of the arc blogging has followed over the last twenty years since the two of us became bloggers. Julie Powell and the World of Blogging was published today at Feedium.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: Organic Writers Have To Accept That We Use Time Differently

Yesterday I finished participating in what I'm calling May Days in October. I'm part of a Facebook group that uses the month of May as a set-aside time to work on something special. And now we do it again in October.

My hope was to at least finish a couple of chapters in the project called 143 Canterbury Road and blueprint several more. Maybe even get all the way to the end. I did satisfactory revisions of two chapters, blueprinted three more, and then realized that I needed to develop four characters a lot more, which would then generate more material about them. That new material would then need to be threaded into the work I'd already done. 

So much for my May Days in October plan.

Why Having To Stop Or Even Begin Again Isn't A Bad Use Of Time

A lot of writing books advise writing to the end of a draft before revising. I don't know if I've ever done that, and I definitely don't try now. 

Being an organic (pantser) writer, I can't separate plot from the whole story and create that by itself. I have to work with the whole story organism, using character, voice, point of view, and even setting to generate ideas and plot. The best I can hope for is to stay a few chapters ahead of myself with what I'm going to be writing and have some general feel for the whole story. I can't just work to the end of a draft, because after a certain point, there's nothing for me to work with. There is no end. Or there might be an end, but a giant gap before getting to it. 

Stopping to rework characters or give someone a voice often generates all kinds of new material and plot points. I may have to do multiple do overs, but if you look at my hard drive, you'll see that each new version is usually longer than the last. That's because I got more to work with each time I stopped.

So I'm not disappointed about what I didn't do last month. I'm excited about what I'm going to be able to do because of what happened last month. 

You Have To Be Able To Remain Unattached To Work Like This

In order to work like this with any degree of equanimity, you cannot be terribly attached to finishing a certain number of chapters in a certain amount of time or to maintaining any part of a story the way you originally saw it. You have to be able to ride the wave.