Good luck surviving this month!
Author Gail Gauthier's Reflections On Books, Writing, Humor, And Other Sometimes Random Things
Good luck surviving this month!
Back in the day, it wasn't unheard of to see on-line book discussions. Lauren Baratz-Logsted led a great one at the late, great Readerville community, though I can't remember the name of the book. But the discussion was terrific. Someone at Readerville also led a discussion of short stories, which was good, too. That was how I came to read A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka and that led to me reading The Metamorphosis. In 2008 I took part in a "Big Read" of a volume of Shirley Jackson short stories, that wasn't particularly successful, though I finished it.ocusing on race, ethnicity, gender, and class. She and her followers will be looking for what qualifies the book as a classic, but also looking to see if the attitudes in the book are dated in terms of how we feel about race, ethnicity, gender, and class now." I don't know how many books she discussed, because I took part in only one discussion, the one on An Old-fashioned Girl.
Reading this book was the beginning of a turn-around in my feelings about Louisa May Alcott. You can check out my takes on various aspects of the book below.
An Old-Fashioned Girl: What Is It?
An Old-Fashioned Girl: Poverty Is Ennobling--So Long As You're Not Irish
The Women Of An Old-Fashioned Girl
An Old-Fashioned Girl: And In Conclusion
I mention this, because it illustrates the beauty of Zoom. I sure wouldn't have been driving to that bookstore a minute or so after the event was scheduled to start. I also mention it, because the interview with Sarah at her book launch relating to how she came to write Some Kind of Hate and the background information she's accumulated was fascinating. She has materials at her website on the book.
Some Kind of Hate is written from two points of view, as many YA books are. One is Declan's, a young person who becomes involved with a white nationalist group, and the other is Jake's, Declan's Jewish friend, whose local community becomes a target for Declan's new friends. The points of view almost become separate stories. A book totally from Declan's point of view might have been a hard sell. He's risky, because he's not likable. He's definitely a realistic character: not very strong-willed even before a life-changing accident he brought on himself, and from what I've read, he's the perfect mark for a hate group. But he also is unwilling to accept responsibility for the boatload of grief he brought down on himself and his family. He projects responsibility for his circumstances onto others instead of shouldering it himself, which would then make it possible for him to take some kind of positive action about his life. He also illustrates very well why it is so difficult to reach someone like him. His hate group buddies support his misery and give him beliefs to make him feel better. It is difficult for his family and friends to use logic, fact, or family history to convince him to change, because he believes and belief doesn't require logic, fact, or any kind of knowledge. How deep a hole is he going to dig for himself becomes the narrative drive for Some Kind of Hate.
I kept talking about this book as I read it, and I think the reason I found it so thought provoking is that I come out of a world similar to Declan's, though much more rural. So I kept thinking, why didn't I or anyone I know go Declan's way? There are a couple of answers: 1. It was a different time, hate groups weren't as prevalent, probably because there weren't as many opportunities for haters to find one another, because the Internet hadn't been invented. I worked for the one Jewish storeowner in our area, so I was aware of verbal unpleasantness directed toward him. But if I hadn't had a connection, I might not have known these things happened in my day and age, there was that little communication in the world. 2. For all I know, people I knew growing up are now members of some of these groups or at least sympathizers. I don't belong to the kind of on-line groups where I would run into them.
After my sons left home for college, I would hear on the news about some good-awful thing a young man had done, and I'd wonder, Did I remember to tell my kids not to do that? One time I actually asked my younger son about one of these things I'd read about and asked him if I'd ever told him not to do it. He looked at me and said, "You shouldn't have had to."
As I was reading Some Kind of Hate, I wondered if I had forgotten to tell my sons not to be antisemites or racists, the way Declan's parents forgot to tell him. While it appears I didn't have to with my own children, it looks as if kids like Declan have to be told point blank.
As I said in 2017,
Last year things were a lot better, something I put down in a blog post to being a practicing minimalist so I didn't have as much cleaning to do and my Christmas spark book. My conclusion was:
"The best I can offer for writers who observe a labor-intensive holiday of any kind at any time of the year is to get your house in order. Get rid of as much as you can and write everything down."
Things were better last year for another reason, too. A couple of years ago I stopped working on big, intense projects during the month of December. Instead, I spend the month just starting a short piece each day, humor or flash. The ideas are pulled from my journal. A number of last December's starts became published pieces this year.
Publication Date: January 17, 2023
Between the time I requested this arc on Netgalley and the time I received it, I forgot why I was interested in it. It was until I got to the end and saw a picture of the author that I realized that Figure It Out, Henry Weldon was written by my old blogging buddy, Tanita S. Davis. So to be open and above board, I kind of know the author. But I didn't realize that while I was reading this book, because evidently I don't pay attention to author names on covers.
Tanita has done a very nice job of creating a kids' book developed around children's problems. Henri Weldon has a learning disability specifically related to math. The issue is recognized by her family. In fact, until recently she attended a special school to address her disability. She's now getting ready to attend a traditional school where her problem is still recognized and addressed. This is not a child surrounded by uncaring adults left to fend for herself.
That's a big part of what I liked about this book. Because while Henri is supported, she still has problems. Which, sad to say, is life. Her problems are not those we often see in children's books, the problems adults value big time: Death, divorce, death, old age, death, illness, death, war, death, tragedies, and death. They are the problems that children have and that are important to them.
The third 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 Don't Have Time For This. That's what we're all about here! Harris mentions some things related to time that can apply to writers, too.
Meditators are often looking for particular benefits, which motivate them to meditate. Improved
concentration, for instance, or help dealing with anxiety. What benefits can writers use to motivate them?
Thanks to Nancy Tandon for this.
|Suad Kamardeen @Unsplash|
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 good...eh.
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.
I'm not sure what to take away from this essay.
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.
The Mother Suite has been published in the latest issue of Literary Mama. Literary 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Kenny Eliason @ Unsplash|
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Connecticut Book Award winners were announced this past weekend. The following books/authors won in the Young Readers category.
Then my sons went to work in a bakery and started bringing home dozens of unsold doughnuts at the end of the day. They aren't good the next day. I don't find that they freeze all that well. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing. Except for stops at a few Tim Horton's when I was in Canada, doughnuts lost their attraction for me. Having to give up gluten did not improve the situation. There's a gluten free bakery near here that makes something round with a hole in that is edible but is stretching the definition of "doughnut."
You can see what drew me to The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz.
Now The Doughnut Fix deals with the classic/cliched kid situation of a child being forced to move away from home/friends. But it's well done. It's good.
|Chaotic desk in the old days|
These are books that it is difficult to talk about, because what is not known about them is what makes them so pleasurable to read. I tried to find a review of the most recent book, but I think the two I looked at gave away more than I want to. I can say that both books maintain the same atmosphere, and given that they were published, if not written, eight years apart that's no small task for the author to have accomplished. I will say that you should read the original book first and the prequel second. It's a prequel. Come on.
I can also safely say that I loved the family matriarch, Tipper Taft Sinclair. I suspect I wasn't supposed to. I don't think it says something disturbing about me that I like her but is an expression of how I function in our family. Tipper ran an annual lemon hunt in Family of Liars. I thought that was a fantastic idea, so when we were having a three-generation birthday lunch on my deck a few weeks ago, I ran an apple hunt, which is like a lemon hunt, but different. It wasn't as elaborate as Tipper's lemon hunt, but I didn't think to do it until the week before.
Next year my apple hunt will be more Tipper-like.
But you have to read the book twice before you feel that way. The first time through, I didn't notice that. Give these books a read.