Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Weekend Writer: A Question For Agents That You May Not Have Considered

The weekend before last, childlit Twitter lit up when a well-known literary agency "parted ways" with an agent and unexpectedly dropped some of her clients. They were notified by an e-mail that went out on a Friday night. 

Hunting for an agent is stressful. Also, it's pretty much a part-time job at some point(s) in a writer's career. Over the years, I've heard many agent stories that indicate finding one who will take you on does not mean you've got it made, by any means. This was a particularly painful tale. 

Why Am I Bringing This Up On Weekend Writer?

Many writers interested in publishing books may want to approach agents for representation. You'll probably read a number of how-tos on how to do so, including what questions to ask agents who show an interest. In response to this blow-up, the Authors Guild released a statement on May 13 that included the following line: 

"The Authors Guild strongly believes that every agent needs to have a succession plan for their authors in case of disabling ill health or death, and we instruct authors to inquire about such a contingency plan." 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

I Can Never Get Enough Frog And Toad

 Last month I shared here that Frog and Toad have a new TV show. Today I'm linking you to an interview humor writer Julie Vick did for her newsletter with Jennie Egerdie, the author of the parody Frog and Toad Are Doing Their Best.

This book began as a humor piece published at McSweeney's Internet Tendency called Frog and Toad Tentatively Go Outside After Months In Self-quarantine

Note in my first sentence I did not identify Frog and Toad. I expect you to know them. They are that important. 

I have a Jane Eyre post coming up soon, on a retelling, not a parody. Jane Eyre and Frog and Toad. I expect you to know all of them. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Time Management Tuesday: Maybe We Can Find A Little More Time For A Few Weeks

 Just last week I said I wouldn't be doing regular Time Management Tuesday posts, and here I am back already. Well, I found "something interesting and potentially useful to write about."

You Can Become A Morning Person Thanks to This Swedish Lifestyle Practice by Adrianne Webster describes how the Swedes do something called gokotta. From Ascension Day until midsummer, May 30th (According to Webster. Other sources say May 18 this year) to June 24th, they get up early to get some sun, listen to birds, and experience nature.

There are two things that should interest us about this practice: 1. It involves getting up early, and 2.  It involves temporal landmarks

Getting Up Early

I am sure we have all read about writers who get up at the crack of dawn, or earlier, to get in their writing time. We may have been advised to do it. We may have tried it.

You may have tried it.

How did it work for you? About as well as getting up early to exercise? Yeah, me, too.

I am going to argue that the Swedish rise-with-the-birds thing is different from the roll-out-of-bed-and-write thing. When the Swedes get out of bed on Ascension Day and the weeks that follow, they are not under any kind of pressure to achieve something. They don't have to get in X number of words before a certain point or they've wasted their early rising. They're getting up early for an experience, to pretty much just enjoy themselves. There's no reason to quit the practice because they've failed, because there's no failure.

Time management, I think, is often a matter of psyching ourselves out. If we got up earlier without the pressure of achieving something with writing but to go outside for a while, make the kids eat breakfast on the deck, or "For mumblety-peg, if that's where your heart lies,' as Frank Gilbreth says at the end of Cheaper by the Dozen, how much easier would it be to do? We could probably do it a lot more often. 

How would that help us as writers since we wouldn't be using that hour or more for work? We would still have an hour or more in that day that we wouldn't have had if we'd stayed in bed. Sometime during the day, we would have some time we wouldn't otherwise have had. And what do writers do when they find themselves with some extra time? You get my point with this.

Temporal Landmarks

Notice the Swedes don't get up with the birds all year long. Gokotta begins and ends with a temporal landmark, Ascension Day and midsummer. In fact, you could say that gokotta is a temporal event. 

Temporal landmarks are events on the calendar that mark some kind of change in our lives. Because of that change, we often feel we can start something new. For people tied to the school year for some reason, summer vacation, semester breaks, the new school year are all temporal landmarks. National Novel Writing Month may have become a temporal landmark for many writers. Holidays are often temporal landmarks and many of those, like Ascension Day, are connected to religious practice of some sort.

Gokotta is another temporal landmark that makes me feel I can change, can get up a little earlier. I've been doing it for a couple of days. To be honest, I've been doing it because we have people here working on the house. But, nonetheless, I've been up earlier and outside earlier and the day does seem longer. I have spent what has seemed like more time reading and writing.

Yes, I am suggesting we take a practice designed to improve wellness and try using it for our own benefit. And I am suggesting we take another temporal landmark and try using it for our own benefit.

In fact, I'd like to fill up my entire year with temporal landmarks I can use for my own benefit.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Notes On Why I Read "Notes On An Execution"

I read Notes On An Execution by Danya Kukafka, because I am interested in the author's agent. And that is why I am mentioning this book here. It's part of my shifting my world view from children's writing to adult writing. 

Also, a couple of interesting things happened while I was reading it.

First, Notes On An Execution involves a number of women over a long period of time who are all connected to a murderer. Their stories are interspersed with the events of the murderer's execution day. I don't think I'm giving anything away here. It's all in the title.

Well, I started reading the book, and I found a section related to a mother of sons just too painful. I decided I wasn't going to read the book, which I had borrowed through an e-book service, and I returned it.

The very next day I saw on Twitter that Danya Kukafka had won the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Notes On An Execution. The award was announced the night before. She won this award at around the same time I was returning her book to the library.

Book awards often aren't that big a draw for me. However, the timing of this one was so uncanny that I decided to borrow the e-book again. I'm very glad I did, because this is an exceptional book. 

However, I was reading it in bed one night, hit another mother/son section and was up until around 4 AM unable to sleep. To be honest, I had also started an antibiotic that had insomnia as a side effect, so it could have been that. But I would advise any mothers of sons to not read this before going to bed.

Earlier this month, I attended a presentation by two agents who talked about some different categories of fiction. As a result, I'm going to suggest that Notes On An Execution is not a traditional genre work, meaning, in this case, mystery, but a genre work that leans literary or high concept. The book is not, after all, a who done it, since, again, it's in the title, but a why done it. It's literary because of the significance of character development. It's high concept in that the story keeps coming back to the murderer's execution day, and there is a great deal of compassion for every character.

It really is an impressive work. But moms with boys, remember not to read it before going to bed.

Friday, May 19, 2023

My Newest Humor Piece, And What I'm Doing On Medium

In  case you haven't picked up on this, I have made a lot of book submissions over the years. I've read a lot of articles on how to do it. I may have attended a few workshops on the subject. I can't remember. It's all a blur, to be honest.

All that how-to resulted in my humor piece, The Trick to Writing Stellar Book Submission Letters, which was published yesterday at Greener Pastures Magazine, a Medium publication.

Now, Greener Pastures asked for some revisions before accepting my submission. Their main request was about structure, and I was embarrassed that I'd missed what their editor picked up on. Yesterday, while The Trick to Writing Stellar Book Submission Letters was enjoying its first day of publication, I was revising another humor piece for another Medium humor publication that may or may not publish the revised material. The editor there had picked up on an issue with that submission that was similar to the one the Greener Pastures' editor cited for Writing Stellar Book Submissions.

I am grateful for the feedback.

I'm also feeling that the experience I'm gaining with my writing for the humor sites on Medium is similar to the experience comics get performing "on the road." I'm definitely learning, and I hope I am improving. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Time Management Tuesday: Where Are You?

I have been skimpy with the Time Management Tuesday posts for many months, if not longer. I've got a number of reasons I could, and will, give for this.

  1. I've been doing this for eleven years. Technically, new time management material is always turning up. After all this time, though, a lot of it is variations on a theme or contradictory. I don't feel enthusiastic about a lot of it.
  2. While I have gained a lot from what I've been studying and have favorite methods for managing my time, after all these years, I've had to accept that my life is chaos and I'm always just struggling to contain it. Given that, I feel a certain amount of discomfort writing for others about time management.
  3. My plan this year was to write more extensive time management pieces using research I've done these last ten years and try to publish them with some of the publications on the Medium platform. Then I would announce my publication news here with a link. I didn't expect to be doing that every week.

The Situation With Medium And Self-Help

If you spend much time on Medium, you learn that it is just snowed under with self-help articles, a lot of them about personal management, a lot of them about writing, a lot of them about writing specially for Medium, and a lot of them about time management. Many of these articles are written by people without any particular qualifications or expertise, much like myself. Many of these people have no qualifications to write these articles other than that they have written other articles on the subject. Again, a lot like me. Many of these articles don't have much in the way of new information to offer.  Last fall, Medium had 725,000 paying members. I'm presuming a lot of them are there to publish their work and not just read, since you can read a few articles a month there for nothing. Time management information, no matter how basic, may be new and helpful for them.

Nonetheless, I'm thinking long and hard about whether or not I want to spend valuable time writing about valuable time and pouring my output into a publishing world that is overwhelmed with similar material. My experience publishing time management material there, either on my own or with a publication, has not been at all positive. The work I've already done there disappeared. 

Look At The Numbered Items Above Again

You can see why time management material has not been showing up here regularly and won't in the immediate future. The desire to meet the Tuesday deadline was huge in the past. Now I desire something interesting and potentially useful to write about.

For instance, I saw an article on Medium a while ago about some apps to use for time management. I may try that and get back to you about it.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Getting Serious About Humor: A Memoir Or Something Else?

I'm not sure how I found Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want To Come: One Introvert's Year Of Saying Yes by Jessica Pan, but it is another funny memoir. 

Or is it? 

My college professor's explanation of memoir was essentially an account of a life experience, the significance of which isn't understood until after the fact. That describes The World's Largest Man and I'm Wearing Tunics Now. But with Sorry I'm Late, what we have is not an account of some part of someone's life, their past. What we have is an account of planned experience. There's nothing wrong with that. Other books have been written with this kind of set-up. It looks as if A. J. Jacobs has written a number of them. (Perhaps he's someone I should read. There are so many someones I should read.)

In my study of humor writing, I've learned that one way to find material is to look to life lived. Sorry I'm Late, which is definitely funny, teaches that we can also create material. Because what Pan did was spend a year saying yes to a list of experiences an introvert probably wouldn't embrace. I suspect a lot of extroverts wouldn't, either.

As a self-identifying introvert, I expected to find essays in Sorry I'm Late on, say, forcing oneself to engage with people after yoga class or to speak to people---everywhere. But what Pan did was say yes to things like performing on The Moth and taking a stand-up comedy class that culminated with another performance. I had trouble wrapping my head around her choices of activities, I guess because I found them to be things that even many extroverts wouldn't attempt to do. Personally, I won't even listen to The Moth, because I find it depressing. My comedy fantasies don't run to doing stand-up, but working in a comedy writers' room. From home. On-line. Without having to be in the same room with my colleagues.

Of course, that may be the humorous hook here--the incongruity of an introvert wanting to do these things.

A couple of days ago, I signed up for a 30 Days of Positive Thinking Challenge being run by a meditation app. I realized while working on this post and analyzing Sorry I'm Late, that I might be able to do some humor writing around that. In which case, like Jessica Pan I would be generating material with something I'm going to do, instead of finding material in something I've already done.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

The Weekend Writer: A Case Study In Raising Stakes With "Queen Charlotte"

Over and over again in my writing years I have read and heard that writers should raise the stakes for their characters. Protagonists must have something at risk to make readers care.

I will admit that my response to this has been, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. If you have a story, you have a story. Raising the stakes is just manipulation or filler."

Recently, though, I saw Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story and realized what a difference a protagonist with something significant to lose can make to a story.

The Bridgerton Series

The first two seasons of Bridgerton on Netflix are the arguably drawn-out love stories of attractive, wealthy characters in Regency England. 

The stakes: How soon will this good-looking, rich guy get together with this good-looking, rich woman and how soon will they take their clothes off?

These are entertaining shows, if you like historical romance or at least the historical period involved. Or if you like looking at beautiful clothes.

The Queen Charlotte Difference

Queen Charlotte is centered on a secondary character from the Bridgerton universe, one inspired by a historical figure, Charlotte, the wife of King George III. The story here begins at the point where the other two Bridgerton series end. Charlotte and George get together and marry, though don't take their clothes off, in the first episode.

The stakes:  1. How will Charlottee deal with George's mental health problems, which could affect the monarchy/government? Will the two of them make it possible for him to reign? 2. Will Charlotte be able to establish herself in a position of power as queen, thus ensuring that the people who look like her, their side (as the situation is often referred to), will be able to hold their new positions in the aristocracy and hand those positions down to their children. 

We're talking a cultural shift for a society versus a romance for one couple.

Queen Charlotte is far more involving than the first two Bridgertons, and that may be due to how much higher the stakes are for the main character.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

You Won't Believe What I've Been Doing

Elisa Ventur @ Unsplash
I kid you not, I am still going through to-do e-mails

I have managed eight blog posts since I started working on the to-dos, and I wrote a Time Management Tuesday piece for this week. But I forgot to post it until after I'd turned off my computer Tuesday night, maybe because of those e-mails I was slogging through, and Tuesday is over now. I also have a number of book posts I could be working on except there are still to-do e-mails to deal with.

I did have one humor piece published this past month, and I have another one that's supposed to be coming out next week.

But the to-do items in my email in-baskets go on and on.

Yes, yes, I have learned my lesson.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

A Personal Essay About A Book Of Personal Essays

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication Date: June 13, 2023

I'm trying to expand my essay reading this year, which is what attracted me to Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me by Aisha Harris. Plus, it was about popular culture, which I have an interest in and appreciation for. Not as deep an interest and appreciation as Aisha Harris's, though.

These are personal essays, on subjects personal to Harris, such as her name, that then reach out to connect to the larger world. Now this is significant, because Harris is a young black woman, while I am a not-so-young white woman. We don't share what you'd call a racial culture, but we don't share a generational culture, either. With some of the essays, I felt as if I was doing the reading for a college course, because the information was so new to me. I had to look some stuff up.

That's not a complaint, by the way. I found it exciting. I now know that IP refers to "intellectual property." One of my son's was surprised to learn I didn't know that. Thank you, Aisha, for catching me up on that. Seriously.

The first essay in the collection, relating to Harris's name, Aisha, is a model for the personal essay form she uses. In discussing her own name, she gets into the impact on Black parents of music and the mini-series Roots. Popular culture shaping people. In her case, it didn't shape her name quite the way she thought it did.

After reading about her TV interests when she was a girl, I felt bad, because I couldn't remember if my sons had had a similar experience with TV shows. I did monitor the TV a bit here. So I got into that with the same son who was surprised I didn't know what IP meant, and, sure enough, he could recall a Friday night lineup with programs I have little recollection of. Which may get into a generational thing--though I watched TV with my kids, the things they enjoyed were probably pretty meaningless to me, so I don't retain them. I think I only remember Boy Meets World because there was a girl in it named Topanga. Which could lead us back to names.

Hmm. Is it meaningful that I was concerned about whether or not my sons had a chance to experience the popular culture of their generation, but I didn't give a thought to what experiences I, myself, had with popular culture growing up? 

I should have, because I think the big takeaway from this interesting and readable collection is that popular culture didn't just shape Aisha Harris. It shapes all of us. 

Monday, May 01, 2023

I Have Two Pieces Of News

The Medium platform, where I have been publishing short-form work for the last couple of years, recently started offering a Verified Book Author feature. You have to apply for it, which I did maybe six weeks ago. Or two months. Who knows? At any rate, today I learned that I am now a Verified Book Author there. Of course, it's gratifying that someone verifies I've written books. But more practically, the book title I gave them when I applied is now featured prominently on my Medium profile with all my published pieces at various Medium sites. Okay, the publication date for the book is off by ten years. The ebook edition that I published and that is available was published in 2013 and not 2003. But the Amazon link is correct and the copyright date there is also.

Also, if you are reading any of my Medium work, you'll find my book featured over to the right under my bio. 

Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

My second piece of news is that I had a new humor piece, Some Thoughts On Your Request That I Start Helping Out Around Here, published at Frazzled last week. Frazzled is a Medium publication that specializes in parenting humor. I love publishing there, because the readers are enthusiastic and responsive.