Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Time Management Tuesday: It's That Time Of Year When We Talk About Temporal Landmarks And Lent

 Ah, temporal landmarks. Those events, dates in the calendar, that mark a change in our day-to-day lives. We often feel we can get a fresh start when we reach a temporal landmark. We often plan to get a fresh start when a temporal landmark is approaching. That can be school vacations for those people whose lives, because of work or family, revolve around the school year. It can be the beginning of a new calendar year. For writers it can be November, which has become National Novel Writing Month.

For people who observe Lent, one way or another, that can function as a 40-day temporal landmark. A beaut, because you get your fresh start on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and you can wrap it up on Good Friday, the end day.

The bottom line is no matter what your spiritual tradition, if it includes temporal landmarks, you can use them to help with planning new beginnings for any kind of project you want to jump start.

And What Are You Doing For Lent This Year, Gail?

Well, since you asked, I do have a Lenten/temporal landmark project this year. It doesn't involve giving something up, the traditional Lenten activity for my ancestors followed. Presumably. Instead, I am doing something extra.

Turns out, I've done this kind of thing before. In 2016, I read some nonfiction during Lent. This year, I'm reading poetry.

I'm not reading random poetry but Ruth Stone's The Essential Ruth Stone, edited by Bianca Stone. I will spare you the details about why I asked for this book for Christmas. Instead, I will say that while I periodically make an attempt at reading poetry, it's not something I naturally gravitate towards. So, though I'd had this book since Christmas, I hadn't touched it.

For Lent, then, I am reading a poem a day from The Essential Ruth Stone. But reading is not enough. I'm studying these things and keeping a record of my thoughts. I'm interacting with this book for Lent. Maybe...interacting with Ruth Stone?

This book looks to have far more than 40 poems, so I don't know what will happen when Easter arrives, and I haven't finished. But I have a Lenten experience going until then. 

I Have A Childlit Connection For You

I've met Ruth's daughter, Phoebe Stone, the author of a number of children's books, including The Romeo and Juliet Code.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Getting Serious About Humor: "I'm Wearing Tunics Now" Is Funny And Thought Provoking

I stumbled upon author Wendi Aarons at McSweeney's where an excerpt from her book I'm Wearing Tunics Now was published last fall. I enjoyed the excerpt so much that I sought out the book. (Lesson learned--excerpts work.) I'm Wearing Tunics Now is what might be called a women's memoir, about middle class women's life stages. Aarons is genuinely funny and has quite a bit of experience writing humor. (Lesson learned--experience is good.) I often think of her reference to her primary care physician, google.com, because I, myself, keep Dr. Google on retainer.

She has a terrific chapter on blogging in the '00s, an experience I recognize and the only thing I've read that describes it. Aarons is far more extroverted than I am, however, and has actually met blogging buddies in the flesh and is friends friends with them. But otherwise we both enjoyed that period in a similar way.

While Aarons is funny, I do feel that her material may be a little traditional. She writes about PTO Moms and women of a certain age feeling they're invisible, for instance. Among many other woman subjects. This may be a perceptual thing on my part, because I'm a little older than she is (I could be her mother's really cool younger sister) so I've heard about these subjects before. For women Aarons' age and younger, however, her material is new and relevant to their lives.

While reading I'm Wearing Tunics Now, I kept thinking of my friend, Ellie, my neighbor's mother and thus a generation older than me. She would hear us younger women at book club going on and on and on about our kids and what was going on at the school, because it was the most important freaking thing in the world, and she'd say, "We did all that. I was PTO president. I was a room mother." I would think, You can't possibly know what you're talking about, Ellie. But she did. We were probably boring her to death. Nothing is more important than an experience while we're living it. Then we move on to things like going to vineyards with our adult children and posting George Santos memes on Facebook. Or, in Ellie's case, getting a graduate degree. In, I believe, theology.

I'm Wearing Tunics Now left me thinking about what my own humor writing material will be. Because I really need to be considering whether things like meditation and FrancoAmerican holidays are the endless source of laughs I think they are. I've been mulling over trying my own PTO piece. I was the PTO Science Fair mom, you know. And head room mother at least once. I say "at least," because like childbirth and the first 5- to 10-years of motherhood, school volunteer work ends up being run together, if not actually suppressed.

Wendi Aarons speaks about and teaches humor writing. You can learn more about her at the Freelance Writing Direct podcast Humor Writing and Wearing Tunics with Wendi Aarons.

And, yes, Aarons has a middle grade book out, Ginger Mancino, Kid Comedian, that I hope to get to in the next couple of months.

Monday, February 20, 2023

A Lovely Surprise About Light

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication Date: April 18, 2023

Christine Layton followed me on Twitter earlier this year. Before following her back, I checked her out and saw that she is a writer with a book publishing in a few months. Wouldn't you know it, Netgalley was offering an ARC. As I have said before, sometimes social media interactions work.

Light Speaks, by Christine Layton and illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell is a beautiful book, both visually and in its short, poetic text. It deals with the many ways humans experience light, beginning with the light that comes from the sun to wake us in the morning. It covers both natural light and humanmade. It would make a terrific read-aloud, both for a group but also one-to-one, with an adult who can talk about things like the satellites, lightening, and fireworks that appear in the book. 

Light Speaks may end up being a gift for a child in the Gauthier family. 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Weekend Writer: Rethinking A Traditional Piece Of Writing Advice

Earlier this month, I attended another excellent Zoom program sponsored by the Off Campus Writers' Workshop in Chicago. If you're available on Thursday mornings, this is a great source for inexpensive and short workshops with accomplished writers, editors, and writing teachers.

Editor Panel: Which Literary Magazines and Journals Are Looking For Your Work with Joshua Bohnsack  (editor of TriQuarterly) Sue Cho (multiple editorial positions), Hattie Fletcher (former managing editor of Creative Nonfiction), and Aram Mrjoian (an editor-at-large at the Chicago Review of Books and an associate editor at Guernica) is a case in point. The panelists were better prepared than the members of other panels I've seen. Many panels, in my experience, end up being some people shooting the breeze. These particular panelists also prepared sophisticated handouts that I have not had time to dig into but am looking forward to.

The Takeaway For Us This Weekend

One of these panelists, and I am sad to say I cannot recall which one and my notes are failing me on this, made a very interesting point regarding some traditional writing/publishing advice. Usually, he said, writers are advised to keep submitting a rejected manuscript. As soon as one place says, "No," send it out to another. He suggested we do something else.

If five to seven editors have rejected a manuscript without offering any kind of feedback, it's time, he said, to consider doing some revising. 

I actually have revised rejected work between submissions, but I had always considered that to be an anxiety-related issue and not good writing practice. So someone is feeling good about herself today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

"It's Not Over Til You're Dead"

What are writers, even traditionally published ones, to do when sales don't materialize for a new book? I've read more than once that we should suck it up and move on, 'cause it is over.

Maybe that advice is outdated.

In 2012, author Lloyd Devereaux Richards published Stone Maidens with Thomas & Mercer, one of Amazon's imprints. (I have no idea how Amazon imprints work. Something to research in the future.) Evidently that was it. There was not much action as far as sales go.

Then his daughter created a TicTok account for the book eight days ago, with a video. Her call to action, and we're told all our promotional efforts should have a call to action, was, "I'd love for him to get some sales."

The book leaped to No. 1 on Amazon's Serial Killer Thriller list. The number of Amazon reviews has shot up, too. And there is talk of movie inquiries.

This may just be a random, wonderful fluke rather than some kind of hopeful model for other writers. But it does suggest that Jennifer Coolidge is right, and "It's not over til you're dead."

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Getting Serious About Humor: A Humor Fail

This is the first in a planned series on learning about humor writing from reading it. I even have a logo, custom-made by my computer guy.

Today's book will remain nameless, because I couldn't finish it. I skipped to the end, thinking I would at least see what happened, but I couldn't bring myself to read even that. I feel very bad about this, because it was a Netgalley arc, and I hate not to be able to give those books and their authors some support. In this case, while I can't support it, I won't attack it, either.

However, I think there's a lot to be learned from books we don't like, and I did have some thoughts about this one.

This was a YA book involving two girls looking to get in with the popular crowd, the popular crowd being an unpleasant bunch of people. Not a new situation/setting by any means. It did make me think a little bit of women pairs in TV humor, such as Patsy and Edina of Absolutely Fabulous. But only a little. I kept wishing Georgia Nicholson from Angus, Thongs, and Full-frontal Snogging was running things in the book.

Since I'm trying to learn something from my humor reading, here is my takeaway from what I was able to read of this book:

  • Characters should be well defined, anyway, but it really is a necessity for humor. Read anything by Louise Rennison, Georgia Nicholson's creator. The humor in Rennison's books comes out of her very strong characters.
  • Weak characters struggle to pull off hyperbole/outrageousness. That goes back to character. 
  • Don't rely on variations of the same shock joke for a big portion of your book. Shock has a place in humor. Shock can be funny. But once the shock is over, so is a lot of the humor. Have something else up your sleeve.
So while I didn't enjoy this book, I came away with something I hope to apply to my own work.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Yes, I Am Attracted To Descriptions Of Food

I didn't eat Chinese food while growing up in Vermont, though there was a Chinese restaurant in neighboring Rutland that had been there at least a generation, so Vermonters did eat it. Just not us. Then I saw The Misfortune Cookie episode of The New Twilight Zone. Not the Jordan Peel Twilight Zone, the one before that. The one very few people saw or know about. Anyway, The Misfortune Cookie which led me to try an egg roll offered as an appetizer in a nonChinese restaurant. And that was my gateway to Chinese food. I have some left over shrimp chow fun in the freezer now.

I can be enticed by food that isn't right in front of me.

So you can understand why I was interested in Betsy Bird's The Top Ten Most Disappointing Edibles And Potables Of Children's Literature in School Library Journal. And surprise! I have tried a couple of the foods she lists, because I'd read about them in a book.

Raspberry Cordial--I tried this while doing the Anne of Green Gables thing, because I was vacationing on Prince Edward Island. It was in the Anne of Green Gables bottle, which I kept for a little while. I actually did like it, but, yes, it was raspberry juice.

Turkish Delight--I know that at some point here at Original Content I have to have mentioned my long and not very stellar career as a Sunday school teacher. Toward the end of it, I was teaching a fifth- or sixth-grade class, which was like junior and senior year at our church. I decided I was going to enrich these kids' spiritual lives by bringing literature to them. I was going to read a bit of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis to them the weeks I taught, because I had read there was supposed to be something very Christian about the book.

Then I decided I would enrich the story I was reading them to enrich their spiritual lives by making them some Turkish Delight. I got done, looked at it, and said, "This can't be right."

I brought it into class, anyway. We all experienced a religious mystery.

I didn't get far with The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe reading, because I didn't understand what the big deal was. A girl in my class, whose mother was the director of Christian Education for our church so she knew things other kids, and maybe adults, didn't, explained to me that the lion is Jesus. Nonetheless, I quit the readings and nobody missed them.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

My First Publication Of The Year Is About...Macaroni And Cheese!

As I was just saying a couple of days ago, I am focusing on writing for adults this year. One of the things I'm interested in writing about for adults is eating. I do not mean I'm interested in food writing. For food writing, you need to know something. I'm interested in writing about eating.

My first publication for 2023 is, indeed, about eating. Mac and Me: A personal history of macaroni and cheese was published yesterday at Kitchen Tales.  

While writing eating essays for adults is new for me, writing about eating is not.

My first book, My Life Among the Aliens, was built around the premise that a mom's healthy, wholegrain cooking was drawing alien life forms to the family home, which her kids than had to deal with. In the follow-up book, Club Earth, Will and Rob come up with a sugar- and additive-laden dinner that drives away the aliens using their house as a resort.

My fourth book, The Hero of Ticonderoga, includes a meal of French Canadian treats loved by the main character, but not by her guest. And food plays a big role in Saving the Planet & Stuff

So it's not at all out of character for me to be writing about eating. I'm just doing it now for adults.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Time Management Tuesday: Gail Needs Goals And Objectives For 2023

Though I have been getting back into work since mid-January and have had in mind the "going forth" I mentioned last week, I have definitely felt the lack of firm goals and objectives for the coming year. The big value of goals (what is to be done) and objectives (how what is to be done will actually be done) is that you can keep going back to them to make sure you are spending your time on the things you want to spend it on.

My goals and objectives this year have been shaped by a decision I made during last month's retreat. Retreats, the kind where you're really retreating and not somewhere taking workshops, are great for creative thinking, in my experience.

This year, I decided, I will commit to my adult writing, particularly short form. While I published eight children's books with a good traditional publisher, it's been fifteen years since I've seen any movement in my writing for middle grade and YA. During that time I've had short stories and essays published for adults and have moved into humor writing, publishing on Medium. That seems a more productive use of time. 

Why Choose One Age Group?

Writing requires much more than just writing. Writers should be reading what is being written for the age groups they write for to help them understand what others are doing and where they are doing it. They should be doing market research for their age groups, meaning, for short-form writers, what publications are publishing what they write and, for long-form writers, what agents and publishers would be interested in considering what they're doing. There are different types of workshops and other types of studying to do for each age group. There are different social media groups to network with for each age group.

I am also interested in a variety of short-form writing--humor, essays, short stories. Writing about eating, versus food writing. I've completed and submitted a humor piece already this year, I'm working on an eating essay, and I'm thinking about another essay about time management for writers. Needless to say, all three of these pieces need to be submitted to different places, meaning I have to stay up on what the three different publications I'm interested in require for submissions.

Trying to work for two different age groups has been spreading me too thin. I hope that concentrating on adult work will give me opportunities to write more, submit more, study more, and build more of a reputation as an adult writer.

How Will This Impact Original Content?

Original Content will continue but with more focus on my adult work. I will continue to support children's books, particularly if they somehow address one of my interests. But you're going to see more adult books and adult writing concerns here in 2023.

If you look to the menu on the left, you'll see that I've added links to sites that collect my work on Medium and at Literary Mama, so that visitors can easily access my work at those sites. I've eliminated the Children's Literature Links, which mainly went to blogs. 

I'm also going to add a new feature, Getting Serious About Humor, in which I will be writing about and analyzing humor books I've read. I've got one post ready to go for that and two I need to write. Those posts will all be easily available by way of a link to the left. There's another new link there called Reader Response that will lead readers to all my blog posts on books tagged Reader Response.

Now For Specific Goals And Objectives For 2023

Goal 1. Finish 143 Canterbury Road As An Adult Book. This book was always straddling the border between YA and adult. I was thinking of it as YA so I could bring it to my NESCBWI writers' group. But I'm stepping back from that group for this year, freeing me to focus on adult themes, such as the impact of chance on our lives, rather than traditional YA themes such as place in and transitioning from family.

  • I've been rereading the manuscript and creating a blueprint of changes to be made by chapter and determining what chapters I need to finish the book and developing those.
  • I need to write an essay one of the characters writes.
  • Use the blueprint to finish a draft.
  • Send the draft to a reader I've lined up to check out technical information.

Goal 2. Work On Adult Essays, Short Stories, And Humor.

  • Complete and submit something every month to a Medium publication.
  • Revise some short stories and essays, preparing them for publication.
  • Increase my reading of both traditional and on-line journals--market research.
  • Spend more time with flash and essay Facebook groups, places to find both material to read and publications for submitting to.

Goal 3. Revise An Adult Manuscript Called Good Women


  • This will require some research regarding changes I am interested in making.
  • Blueprint where those changes will go.
  • Make the changes!

Goal 4. Submit Adult Books To Agents

  • Research agents for adult books
  • Submit Good Women first, since it's closer to being done and may have some current events interest

Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

  • Provide social media support for adult writers and continue supporting children's writers when appropriate, which means when the spirit moves me.
  • Attend virtual events for adult writers, fewer for children's writers.
  • Attend workshops for adult writing.
  • Use NetGalley to support authors with new books publishing this year.
  • Continue promoting Original Content at Facebook communities, Goodreads' blog, and Twitter.

Monday, February 06, 2023

A Charming Sort-of French Spin On Friend Issues

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication Date: April 25, 2023

I sought out My Not-So-Great French Escape by Cliff Burke on NetGalley because of the French setting. I'm always hoping books with some connection to France will throw in some French phrases that I actually understand, which will do my ego a world of good. There is, indeed, a little of that here. But the book is a very enjoyable read even for those not interested in the language.

This is another story that deals with friends drifting apart. But instead of happening in an elementary or middle school, it happens on a French organic farm that provides an opportunity for students from foreign countries to stay for a few weeks. The idea is that the students will learn about organic farming and improve their French. It provides a new spin to the friend situation that, I am told, really is a major concern for kids.

Rylan, who appears to be around 12, accompanies a newly rich friend who he isn't that tight with anymore, to France. No sooner are they there, than the friend cliques up with a group with a bit of a superiority complex, leaving Rylan to make his own connections with the kids who are left. Rylan has some believably low moments over this but rises to the occasion.

A sub-plot involving Rylan's estranged father is resolved in an interesting way. The friends Rylan makes are far more interesting than the ones his old buddy ends up with. There is French food. And Pierre, the organic farmer, is a charmer.

There is plenty here to like.