Friday, July 12, 2024

Another New Humor Publication. And This One Has a Really Interesting Backstory. With a Moral.

The college paper 
Today Jane Austen's Wastebasket published my latest humor piece, Does "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Edward Lear Support Our Community's Values? Now, I know that I think everything I write has an interesting backstory, and I am always right about that. But this is a particularly good story.

Last month, I started to clean out my writing files, thinking I would get rid of old starts that I'm not interested in anymore to make more room in the filing cabinet for new work. I didn't get far because the first thing I found was my notebook from my college expository writing class. So, of course, I have to look through it. And what do I find but something called "The Subversive Aspects of The Owl And The Pussycat:  Including A Discussion Of Its Influences On Youth, Sexual Mores, And Society As A Whole."

Now this was a redneck kid's attempt to write a parody of an academic paper, something she didn't know a whole lot about even though she was, indeed, a college undergraduate. The piece is also now very dated, claiming the Owl and the Pussycat's guitar was an influence on a generation of folksingers and the dancing on the edge of the sand at the end "inspired a whole flock of C beach movies." But at the time the instructor was kind.

More importantly, I looked at this thing last month and said to myself, "You can do something with this."

What I did was reframe it and bring it up to date. It is no longer a parody of an academic paper but a parody of a book complaint to a librarian. Instead of hitting on folksingers and movies, it hits on religion and gay couples. The only carry overs from the original are the concerns about money and the Owl and the Pussycat being alone together while unmarried. Money and pre-marital sex are timeless.

I didn't get far with my file cleaning, because I found two more manuscripts I think I can rework for a humor piece and an essay. One is from the graduate-level essay writing class I took a long time ago, and I don't know how long ago I wrote the other one. I have the typed manuscript. It's probably from a couple of computers back and saved somewhere if I only knew where to find it.

I promised you a moral. It's a moral for writers. Never throw away work. 

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Annotated Reading July 11

 Books

I whipped through two Regency romances this week, which shall remain nameless, because except for the sex scenes (especially in the first book), I don't have a lot of good things to say about them. As a teenager, I read Regency romances, mainly Georgette Heyer who may have been pretty much all there was at that point. During college I read them during exam week. As an adult, though, I lost interest in traditional romance, mainly, I think, because the ending of a romance is never in doubt. Not much is at stake in those stories. (This is why in the Bridgerton TV world my favorite series has been Queen Charlotte, the only show with stakes beyond when the main characters will have sex, which is no stakes at all, because we all know they will.) What I do read is historical mysteries that feature a couple as the leads, said couples always, over the course of a series, eventually ending up in bed together. I prefer these books to be set in the nineteenth century. Many of them appear to be well researched and often feature some particular historical event or figure, or the culture of a period is a significant backdrop for the story. 

Yeah, the two books I just read had none of that. The author was recommended by an agent in an article I read, and I was able to easily get a couple of her books. All the characters were incredibly good looking, and in each book there are two characters lusting desperately after one another who are kept apart for far-fetched reasons. It turns out that that is not enough for me. I need a dead body. Maybe a few of them.

Live and learn. Or perhaps I should say, read and learn.

Humor

Dining With Us Tonight? by Neil Offen at Muddyum What makes this funny is not the parodies of pretentious menu items. That's been done before. The humor is in the asides, which are not pretentious. "...grown by local farmers who have never knowingly used chemically enhanced hand sanitizers before digging up their lettuce" "For dessert, our pastry chef has concocted a special panna cotta sorbet tiramisu dulce de leche because we've run out of English words on the menu."

After Twenty Years I Have Decided to Wear My Good Underwear by Anne Kyzmir at The Belladonna Comedy. I have so much good underwear.

Iconic Movies Reimagined In A World That Embraces Incontinence by Tobi Pledger also at The Belladonna Comedy. No, enjoying this piece does not say something distasteful about me. Even though I liked it the same week I liked that underwear thing.



Friday, July 05, 2024

Friday Done List

 Goal 1. Adult Short Stories, Essays, and Humor

  • Have nearly completed a draft of a new humor piece.
  • Have read some other Medium authors.
  • Found another old piece in the files that I have plans for.
  • Signed up for a Northwestern Zoom workshop on travel writing.

Goal 2. Submit 143 Canterbury Road to Agents

  • This goal has turned into just submitting any book length work. I submitted a middle grade novel to an agent opening this month for SCBWI members. It hadn't gone out for a couple of years, so I had to revise the letter. Additionally, the form for this submission makes more of comp titles than many agents do, so I had to spend some time coming up with one. Flavia de Luce!

Goal 3. Community Building/Marketing/Branding

  • Two blog posts, including this one.
  • Promoted the first post.

Thursday, July 04, 2024

Some Annotated Reading July 4

I spent my Fourth of July reading on my deck. First time in years I could give a whole day to reading, starting out there first thing in the morning still in my favorite nightgown. Didn't get through as much as
I thought I would, but a good reading day, and reading week, nonetheless. 

Books

While I liked Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin, I'm hard put to describe it, myself. An anxious and depressed young woman struggles to find a reason to keep living when there is so much misery around her? With some dark laughs? (There are some.)  The publisher does a better job with the description: "...a morbidly anxious young woman stumbles into a job as a receptionist at a Catholic church and soon finds herself obsessed with her predecessor's mysterious death." Gilda's anxiety is intense. 

This week I finished reading How to Keep House While Drowning by K.C. Davis. I think an argument could be made that this book isn't really, or at least just, about keeping house. I may feature this in a Time Management Tuesday post. I read an ebook edition I got through my library, and I was on a waiting list for it for a year. I'm ordering a copy for a family member.

Today I finished These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore. I love historian Jill Lepore, and this book is fantastic. I did spend a few years reading it, though, because my go-to reading is fiction. I read this in the car when someone else was driving and while waiting in doctors' offices. This was worth every minute of my life that I spent on it.

Poetry 


I was doing some research for a new humor piece when I came upon February by Margaret Atwood. Liked it much better than I remember liking her poetry in college. But this is from a book published long after I was in college, so maybe she was doing different kinds of poetry by then. And maybe she's doing still different kinds now.

Because I read that Margaret Atwood poem, I remembered my poet laureate project and looked up the next poet laureate to check out. I'm up to number 5, Karl Shapiro, who was still referred to as a consultant in poetry. Among his poems that I liked were Buick (Yes, it's a poem about a car.) and Ballade of the Second-Best Bed, which should be assigned to every high school kid having to read Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet, because it gives Shakespeare a little more interest than I remember him having when I had to read those things.  

Short Reading


The Time I Stole Tama Janowitz's Slaves of New York and Couldn't Stop Reading It by Elwin Cotman at Lit Hub. I was drawn to this because I'd just found my copy of Tama Janowitz's Slaves of New York, and I could stop reading it.

Quince Mince Pie | Owl and the Pussycat  at InLiterature. Yes, I've been doing some reading about The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, and here is an attempt at a pie made from "mince and slices of quince."

Excerpts from The Space Between by Herb Harris at Craft. This is an editors' choice selection from a memoir excerpt and essay contest. I believe there are others, but this is the only one I've read. Definitely enjoyed it. 

Humor

Frazzled has started accepting humorous essays. Oops...I Neglected to Bring My Son to Preschool Art Night by Brad Snyder is a good one. It has a bit of a memoirish thing going. 



Friday, June 28, 2024

Friday Done List June 28

 Okay. We're talking a better work week here.

Goal 1. Adult Short Stories, Essays, and Humor

  • A new humor piece was published on Tuesday
  • Promoted said humor piece.
  • Started another humor piece.
  • Have some other ideas for short writing.
  • Started cleaning old files where I found a couple of things that were supposed to be humor--of sorts--back in the day, and might evolve into more humor now.

Goal 2. Submit 143 Canterbury Road to Agents

  • I am done with the agent search for 143 and happy to have it behind me. Unless something drops into my lap, of course. I'll submit again in that case.
  • I made two submissions for another project, Good Women. I am also through submitting that, unless something drops into my lap.
  • One of the agents rejected it in just 24 hours. That makes me feel she must not have a lot to do, if she can get respond that quickly.

Goal 3. Community Building/Marketing/Branding

  • I did four blog posts this week.
  • I promoted some of those blog posts.

Goal 4. Nineteenth Century Novel, Which is Just for Fun

  • Organized some research links I've been emailing myself on this.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Some Annotated Reading June 27

While I didn't do much writing last month, I did do a bit of reading. Including:


Four Books!

  • My cousin Nooch mentioned author Jess Walter in a comment a while back, so last month I read his The Financial Lives of the Poets, a book about a man's marriage and life falling apart. Walter has a dark, deadpan sense of humor that I enjoyed very much. 
  • The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older. This is my favorite kind of scifi, a blend of science fiction and mystery. The world of the book I totally understood, which is not something that always happens for me with science fiction. The two main characters reminded me of Holmes and Watson, except that they are both women and the Watson character here is a great deal smarter than the original. They also have a romantic history. There's a second book I hope to read at some point.
  • I finished reading The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories by Roch Carrier. In an earlier post, I speculated that these were children's stories, with a child narrator and often a moral point of some kind. I wouldn't say that anymore. I'd like to do more reading about les contes, the kinds of stories Carrier is known for writing, but I'm not finding much in my quick hunt for material. 
  • Finally, I read a thriller that shall remain nameless. It plodded along and was extremely improbable. Yet I read nearly every word.

Short Writing

Humor

  •  I'd Like to Discuss My Child Specifically While You're Trying to Address a Group of People by Caroline Horwitz at Frazzled. Sometimes you'll hear talk about humor needing to be true. While I think you can make too much of that, this piece is definitely a case of truth in humor. That first situation Horwitz uses? I was in a room full of people while something just like that was going on. As God is my witness, I wasn't the mother doing the talking.
  • Things I Grew Up With That Seem Weird....Today by Patrick Metzger at MuddyUm This is a very funny spin on those old fart articles about how things were different when I was young. What makes it work is the total lack of nostalgia. "...drunk driving was popular and largely ignored." This writer deserves the 6,000+ claps he got for this piece just for calling Hawkeye Pierce a sanctimonious alcoholic.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

A New Humor Publication. With A Bear.

June has been a rough month for me as far as work is concerned. I spent a week celebrating a birthday with a family member. Then there were a number of days of preparation for John the Baptist Day. Then there was some this, and there was some that. 

But I did have a humor piece accepted for publication. Things I Don't Want to Hear from My Hiking Group was published this morning at Greener Pastures Magazine.

This piece as an interesting backstory. But, then, I think everything I write has an interesting backstory. But this one really does!

1. It began when I would do "Things You Don't Want to Hear on the Trail" posts on Facebook after my husband and I had been hiking.

2. Greener Pastures suggested I make some changes in the original submission, including coming up with a different title. (A truly excellent idea. I'll spare you why. Take my word for it.) Between the time I first submitted the bit and the time I revised it, my husband and I came upon our first bear while hiking. The thing was actually coming toward us on the trail. That is why there is now a bear joke in this piece. Originally there was no bear reference. 

3. My husband worked on the first draft with me, since our exchanges on the trail inspired it. At one point he was looking at what I had and said, "How about X?" "No, no," I said. "Y would be funnier." 

I then told him that we sounded like Ava and Deborah on Hacks. Which led to a discussion of which of us was Ava and which was Deborah. To be clear, at my house I am Deborah. If Deborah spent most of her life in sweatpants.

Monday, June 24, 2024

"We Talk French Here." A John the Baptist Day Post.

Today is the real John the Baptist Day, a holiday in Canada celebrating francophone language and culture. (It's observed in other French countries as well.) I say it is the real John the Baptist Day, because our family, which has only been observing it for five or six years, did so on Saturday, not the real day, with a cookout. 

Mes pauvres galettes

Part of our celebration of French culture was the Galettes a la Melasse Moelleuses a L'Ancienne I made. From a French recipe. Which I did not translate, except for the occasional word. Like moelleuses, which means "soft." I threw away all but three of those cookies yesterday. I have no idea how they tasted, because I have a gluten free batch for me. Next year I want a bonfire. I've heard that's a very John the Baptist Day thing to do, and we could try making s'mores for dessert. That whole scenario might go over better. 

John the Baptist Day was quite an event in nineteenth century Montreal. Not so much the south of New England today or maybe anywhere else in the U.S. How little interest is there in this holiday? There's Not Going To Be A St. John The Baptist Day Parade This Year, Eli is among my very least read pieces on the Medium platform. People on bed rest won't read this thing.

Some John the B Day Reading


As part of my personal John the Baptist Day observance, I've been reading The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories by Roch Carrier, a French Canadian writer. Carrier is a prolific author, including work for children. I haven't finished this book yet, but these stories may be children's stories (a child narrator, certainly), similar to the Soup books by Robert Newton Peck. Both portray child life in the past, though my superficial reading about the authors suggests Carrier's writing may be more authentic. (Excusez-moi while I pause to say I've always had major issues with the claims that Peck's nonSoup book, A Day No Pigs Would Die, is autobiographical or even semi-autobiographical, because of the Shakers-in-Vermont element. In short, they weren't.)

An encyclopedia.com article says (and I've seen this elsewhere) that Carrier is best known for writing le conte, or very short stories, which is what the stories in the collection I'm reading are. When I first saw this, I thought, Quoi? Are we talking French Canadian flash fiction? The encyclopedia.com article says of his work, "In a few hundred words a grotesque situation is exploited, a miniature moral is drawn, and an ironic commentary on human foibles is neatly and forcefully made." I would add that there are also sometimes some minor fantasy elements. Flash fiction? Northern magical realism?

The miniature moral aspect of some of these stories is my least favorite part. However, I'm liking the way the stories are set in a French-speaking world in an unspecified past. I'm not interested in anything like nostalgia, but the issue of the parents' concerns over English being taught and what the Anglais who runs Eatons will think make these things pop for me. 

The story The Hockey Sweater is supposed to be a huge deal in both French- and English-speaking Canada. I may have to read it again. So far What Language Do Bears Speak?, which I quote in my post title, is my favorite. 

Since I'm focusing my own writing on short work now, reading these short stories and reading about le conte has been, and will continue to be, thought-provoking. I like to think it could have some impact on my work.

UPDATE: When I promoted this post on X, I saw how beloved the short story The Hockey Sweater (there is also a picture book version) is and how well-known Roch Carrier is in Canada. So I decided I should try to figure out how to pronounce his name. I stumbled upon the man himself speaking, explaining how it's said. 


Friday, June 14, 2024

Friday Done List June 14

 I got only two things done this week, but they were significant.

Goal 1. Adult Short Stories, Essays, and Humor

  • Some editors from one of the Medium humor sites contacted me regarding a submission, suggesting some changes and offering to read it again if I was interested in making them. One suggestion, in particular, was very good. I had to put this thing out of my mind for at least a week, then spent a couple of days revising this week. It has been resubmitted.
  • I just finished the short story I've been working on most of this year. I mean I finished it around 1:30 this afternoon. This is huge for me. I have trouble walking away from projects. Now that this is done, I can turn my attention to smaller pieces. I will let it sit for a while before submitting. 
So I worked on only one goal this week, but it got a load off my shoulders. Felt a little weepy after finishing that short story, to be honest.  


Friday, June 07, 2024

Was Tomie dePaola Influenced By Frida Kahlo?

I have been missing, because we spent the past week celebrating a birthday. Hiking, trail maintenance, art museums, going out for lunch...and dinner...and ice cream. Saw our first bear on a trail last Friday on our first day. We paid a visit to the The William Benton Museum of Art  at the University of Connecticut in Storrs yesterday our last day, They had a couple of good exhibits going. Additionally, we happened to see Frida's Kitchen, a painting by Tomie dePaola.

Now, dePaola has a history with UConn. In 1999, he gave his work materials to the Northeast Children's Literature Collection in the Archives and Special Collections  at UConn. The University held a day-long event in honor of the donation with speakers and lunch. I cannot remember exactly how I managed to attend, but I think it's a long story involving me getting on a mailing list and taking advantage of it. There were panel discussions, maybe an art person from Penguin was there and maybe Mary Azarian, who we are fond of at my house. Sadly, that was three years before I began this blog, so I don't have details.

I can tell you, though, that in conjunction with the donation there was an exhibit of dePaola's fine art at the Benton. REMEMBERING TOMIE  I also went to that.

Which brings me back to Frida's Kitchen, dePaola's painting, which I saw yesterday. It turns out, that he was a Frida Khalo fan. And when I went hunting on the Internet for more about Tomie and Frida, I found that he illustrated a book about her, Frida Kahlo The Artist Who Painted Herself  by  Margaret Frith.

Additionally, he sometimes marked her birthday at his blog:

The Official Tomie dePaola Blog: Frida Kahlo 

The Official Tomie dePaola Blog: Frida Kahlo 

Now, I am more interested in art history than I am in art technique. But now that I know dePaola was interested in Kahlo, am I imagining an influence?


Friday, May 31, 2024

Some Annotated Reading May 31

I believe I have my link problem resolved. Additionally, I finished reading two books this week.

I read Secret Lives by Mark de Castrique as park of my mission to find good representations of older characters. And I did here. Ethel Crestwater is a legendary former FBI agent who runs a boarding house for agents of both the FBI and the Secret Service. This actually makes sense as presented in the story, because agents move around and sometimes take short-term assignments in the DC area, which is where Ethel's boarding house is. Ethel is not a Miss Marple type, using intuition and wisdom. She's a sharp, well-trained agent, which is a totally different thing, though one who physically is feeling her age a bit. My main complaint with Ethel is her name. I don't think it's appropriate to the era in which she was born. She's seventy-five in the book, which was published in 2022, so say she's just mid-seventies in the the 2020s. I believe that would make her born in the 1950s. That was the era of Nancies and Debbies. Maybe Sharons. The name Ethel goes back a few more decades, at least. But, otherwise, Ethel is an excellent character, and Secret Lives is the first book in a series that could go somewhere.

I know I must have bought the e-book edition of Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta because I loved one of Marchetta's earlier books,  Jellicoe Road. Tell the Truth is one of those books I had on my Kindle, and when I transferred it to the Kindle App on my iPad, it wasn't clear as to whether or not I had read it. I recognized some things at the beginning, but nothing after that. So I kept reading. Now I just checked Goodreads. Evidently I read it in 2018, didn't review it, but gave it a 3 star rating. I can't believe it, because I loved it on this read and will definitely give it a 5. What the heck? This was an involving contemporary English mystery, somewhat on the heartbreaking side. There was French that I could understand. There were a lot of teenagers, and I did find that confusing. That was it, though. I rarely intentionally read a book a second time. Doing so with this one and finding I like it so much more than I appear to have the first time is an interesting experience.  

The Poet Laureate Project

I just remembered this week that I was doing this and read up on Louise Bogan, the fourth poet laureate when they were still called poet consultants. She was also a critic for The New Yorker. I'd love to read some of her work for that publication, but I can't access its archive. I can only read older things when the magazine suggests it. 

I can't say I embraced her poetry, but I did like the last part of To a Dead Lover.  "And I have life--that old reason to wait for what comes, to leave what is over."

Short-form Reading

The  Author Cass Sunstein interview at Salon is fantastic. I'd never heard of him, but he has a book out called How to Become Famous in which he talks about the role of luck. It sounds fascinating. I am not very knowledgeable about Taylor Swift, but Sunstein mentions her song Mean, which I then had to hunt down and liked. A terrific read.

Last week I wrote about reading a book set in Argentina and how that might lead me to make Argentina the South American country I learn about. So far I'm sticking with it. I read I am the King, and I will destroy you at The Guardian. It's about Argentina's president.

Checking for Holes in the Multiversee by Paul Rousseau at Catapult is a short memoir with both a compelling story and an interesting frame. It's told backwards. I've mentioned Rousseau here before.

Humor

A Group of Moms Plan a Girl’s Night on WhatsApp  by Lisa Hides at MuddyUm This is another piece in which the framework is important. I found this funny even though the content was not particularly unique. Moms' nights out have been a thing since at least the '90s. The WhatsApp hermit crab format is what makes this work so well.

Top 10 Tips For Your Summer From a 2-Year-Old by Carter Anderson Lee at Frazzled. The demands! The voice! What a kid.

Revisiting Movie and TV Characters You Thought Were Mean When You Were A Kid by Caroline Horwitz at Jane Austen's Wastebasket I've had thoughts like this, but mostly about female TV characters I thought were old and frumpy when I was young and now they look a whole lot better.


Friday, May 24, 2024

Friday Done List May 24

Goal 1. Adult Short Stories, Essays, and Humor

  • I've been making progress on that short story, writing multiple pages a day. I'm at a transition point now, I always have trouble with transitions, so I'm going to go work in the yard soon.
  • A humor piece I submitted a couple of weeks ago was rejected.
  • I changed the title of the rejected humor piece and submitted it somewhere else.
  • I also applied to be a writer for another humor site on Medium and was accepted.
  • I'm considering taking a workshop on short story collections. I'm not interested in sitting down and writing a short story collection, but it seems as if any short story talk would be interesting and possibly even helpful.
  • I am looking forward to spending the bulk of my work time on short-form work.

Goal 2. Submit 143 Canterbury Road to Agents

  • One of the agents I submitted to the week before last sent a rejection.
  • I'm getting ready to send out a few submissions for other book-length work, then put the whole agent search behind me indefinitely, because I really want to work on short-form work.
Goal 3. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

  • Only one blog post beside this one.
  • I will do some promoting of that one pathetic blog post.
  • I joined a Connecticut author Facebook group, because you just can't be a member of too many Facebook groups. My main interest with this one is to keep up on book festival-type events. There seem to be a lot of them in this state. Far more than there have been back in the day. I suspect that they are primarily created for and by self-published writers, which just is another example of how hard they work.

Goal 4. 19th Century Novel, which is totally just for fun

  • I do a lot of on-line reading of subject matters related to my basic subject matter. Hit some good stuff this week.
  • I took an excellent workshop this week with author Hollie Smurthwaite through the Off Campus Writers Workshop that ended up being very generative in terms of this project. I've got lots of lists and notes that I now need to do something with.
  • I don't really want to commit to writing a book, because I want to do short-form work.

Some Annotated Reading May 23

This is a very abbreviated account of this week's reading, because Blogger isn't letting me link to everything. I'll try to work that out before next week. In the meantime, here's what I can link to.

Gail has finished reading still another book. This was an experience. I started reading Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht, because I thought it was a mystery. But it's a spy story, and I decided back when I was a teenager that I don't like spy stories. It's also set in Argentina, which is in South America, a continent of which I know as little as it is possible to know. And, finally, it's set during the 60s, which I'm not that fond of reading about. But the book is readable and features political figures I could look up and see actually existed, which I always like. The Falklands--how interesting are those islands?! I found myself getting into Argentina, too. It may become my South American country. There are two more Vera Kelly books. It's possible that I'll read another.

I'm a big reader of digital library books. So I was interested in Digital Reading Soars in Seattle Creating Problems for Local Libraries. The problem is that libraries have to pay a great deal more for ebooks than individuals do.

The Spindle of Necessity by B. Pladek at Strange Horizons was engaging and met a couple of reading goals--read more short story length work (versus flash) and more science fiction.

Nineteenth Century

I read a lot about the nineteenth century, particularly nineteenth century Vermont. Only one of my two favorites of the week will link:

Then Again: On and off the prohibition bandwagon by Mark Bushnell at vtdigger.  Basically, Vermont was dry from 1853 until 1903 when Vermont towns could vote on whether or not to remain dry. By "dry" I mean "no alcohol" sales. The nineteenth century temperance movement is a huge and fascinating subject, not at all the joke it was treated as in popular culture while I was growing up. I have no idea what the reality of life in a dry state was in the eighteen hundreds.


Friday, May 17, 2024

Friday Done List May 17

This week I actually did do some good writing and some submissions and these things were on goal. But instead of writing about that, I'm just going to repeat a Facebook post about the great day I had today. Then I'm going to go watch part of the second episode of the new season of Bridgerton.

You'll probably have to take my word for it, but this is a picture of a magazine clipping that I keep on the bulletin board in my office. It includes an image of Beatrice Cuming's painting, "Welders at Electric Boat Company," a favorite piece of art for me, and my favorite at the New Britain Museum of American Art. I was thunderstruck (a word I do not use lightly) today when we drove up to the Lyman Allyn Art Museum and saw a banner for a Beatrice Cuming exhibit. I believe they had three rooms of her work, borrowed from collectors and others. They also had "Welders at Electric Boat," borrowed from NBMAA.
We moved on from there to the Florence Griswold Museum, which I want to think of as Flo's Place. There I saw a painting by Winfred Rembert. Winfred worked in dye and leather. I actually met him nearly twenty years ago when we were both nominated for the Connecticut Book Award. (Pegi Deitz Shea won.) I still have his book, signed.
What a day! I love it when this kind of thing happens. And it happened twice.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Some Annotated Reading May 16

This was my week for some more sophisticated reading. You don't always see that here.

Once again, I finished reading a book this week. This time it was Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. This is the second book by Lahiri that I've read, and I can now officially say that I am a fan. I now have a favorite mainstream literary author. Her work is so accessible while at the same time including unique (to me) cultural material. Unaccustomed Earth is a book of stories. I hate to call them short, because they aren't, and they seem to have something more than short stories do. Something different. The last three are connected. Oh...my...gosh.

Alice Munro died this week, so I thought I'd read one of her stories. I believe I'd tried reading her before. The New Yorker happened to be offering The Bear Came Over the Mountain to digital subscribers, so I read that. I almost quit reading it early on, because it appeared to be a dementia story, and I've had quite enough of dealing with dementia. However, I stuck it out, and it's an infidelity story! Didn't quite get the ending on my own reading and don't understand the title. But, believe me, in the future I'll never hear that song without thinking of cheating. It turns out, The Bear Came Over the Mountain is a famous story with a movie adaptation, and there's lots written about it. I skimmed what Katie Zdybel had to say about it at The Darling Axe, and it supports my thought that this story is far more about Grant cheating than Fiona having dementia. It also gave me some thoughts about the ending. I guess a short story is pretty impressive if it inspires a reader to research it.

I read Can You Actually Steal a Recipe? by Ashlie D. Stevens at Salon, because I occasionally write about eating. I consider recipes intellectual property and want to attribute them to their creators. But recipes for me are usually just suggestions, and by the time I'm through tinkering with them, they often aren't recognizable as anything but a generic recipe Gail had her way with. So this is an important issue to me.

Humor

I Sent My Cat's DNA to 23andme: Turns out I'm not her real owner by Gary Chapin in Muddyum. This is hysterical, starting with that terrific title and subtitle. Now, yes, it hits home here, because Ancestry.com recently sent me DNA info claiming that I am as much Scottish as I am French, which hasn't actually blown my mind, but probably because nothing does, anymore. But maybe it did, and that's why I found this cat thing so funny.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Bet You Wish You'd Listened When the Teacher Was Talking About the Erie Canal Now. Also, More About Backlists.

Checking Facts With Players Who Are Still in the Game by Mike Shatzkin at The Idea Logical Company turned up on my Facebook page this morning. I dropped everything and read it, which says volumes about my work ethic these days. This article is notable for a number of things, two of them being: 

  • Some history about how New York City became the center of the publishing world and why traditional publishing published seasonally. It's as I always told my kids when they were studying social studies: Pay attention to water!! Access to water mattered in the past!! Relating to publishing and history Shatzkin  refers to a book coming out in July, The Untold Story of Books: A Writer's History of Book Publishing by Michael Castleman. 
  • Shatzkin also writes about the importance of the backlist. This is the second thing I've read recently that talked about that. Yet in the '00s new books were going out of print very rapidly. I had two books go out of print at once. Several times I wasn't even notified ahead of time by my very legitimate traditional publisher when a book went out of print. Conventional wisdom back then was that publishers had to pay taxes of some sort on what was in their storehouses, and it was cheaper to pulp books that were no longer current or meeting some sales limit. I wonder now if I'd been publishing just a decade later whether I'd still have hardcover books in print. What would having books in print mean for an author? Schools and libraries like to book children's authors for appearances who have books students can buy, so that's an income source for those people that disappears along with the book. Additionally, libraries sometimes want to replace certain titles. If the book's out-of-print, that can't happen. Or, at least, not easily.
It sounds as if Shatzkin includes ebooks when he's discussing backlists. I do have three ebooks still available through my publisher. Over the years, I have occasionally made an effort to market them. My impression from the writers I see on social media is that they don't. I think many writers think of ebooks as something that just doesn't exist. Hardcover is king. Now maybe that's because I know so many children's writers on social media, and in the past, children haven't seemed to be a big market for ebooks. Adult genre writers are supposed to be far more interested in ebooks.

At any rate, something appears to be happening with backlists.


Friday, May 10, 2024

Friday Done List May 10

 Goal 1. Adult Short Stories, Essays, and Humor

  • A short story I read this past week was the straw that broke the camel's back and convinced me to restart
    the short story I've been working on this year. Cut the characters. Cut the time covered. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Yes, I am aware that some people complete a draft of a book in the time I've been taking to not finish a draft of this short story. Also, I'd like to pause here and point out that recognizing that other people do things have not is not envy. It is recognizing that reality is...whatever it is.
  • I also wrote a new humor piece this week. I had been tinkering with it in my head for a while, so I don't want to make some claim to have done some rapid thing here. 
  • Also, I submitted that humor piece 

Goal 2. Submit 143 Canterbury Road to Agents

  • That is just about winding down. I think I've received all the rejections I'm going to. I just checked, and it appears that I only submitted it to a dozen agents. It just seemed like twenty or thirty. Now many how-to- query advisors recommend submitted in batches and submitting to many, many agents. Twelve is not many, many. The issue I find is that by the time I factor out the agents who represent only children's writers, only nonfiction writers, only genres I'm not submitting, as well as agents who say they represent what I'm selling but when I research them I find they haven't sold anything remotely like what I'm selling in the last two years and agents who haven't made more than a sale or two the last couple of years and agents who are closed to submissions I'm not finding hundreds of agents to choose from.
  • However, while researching agents for 143 Canterbury Road, I stumbled upon agents who might be interested in some of my other manuscripts. Now that I don't have to consider the possibility that an agent will show an interested in Canterbury Road, I can submit some other work to these other people. So that will be interesting. 

Goal 3. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

  • Wrote two blog posts, including this one.
  • Promoted the other post on Xitter.
Not my favorite week, but I have some found time this weekend and will do some psychic and office tidying up, preparing to began again next week.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Annotated Reading May 9

Where has the week gone?

Finished another book, You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thic Nhat Hanh. Very significant because it had been on my iPad to read for a long time. 

Short Stories

I'm writing about a couple of New Yorker stories you won't be able to read without a subscription, but I'll tell you about them.

The Landlady by Roald Dahl in The New Yorker. From 1959! I may have mentioned that I love my digital subscription to The New Yorker, because I have access to back issues. Way back issues. This one The New Yorker actually brought to my attention. This was a really important read for me this past week, because I discovered Roald Dahl's short stories before I discovered his children's books. I like his short stories, did not like whatever I read of his children's books and have not read many of them. The Landlady was a big deal for me, because of its simplicity. Just two characters. One setting. It may be a model of short story structure. It sent me back to the drawing board on the short story I've been working on this year.

Late Love by Joyce Carol Oates in The New Yorker. Last month. It's been years and years and years since I've read any Joyce Carol Oates (I have a book of her short stories), so when I saw she had a new story at The New Yorker, I thought I should take the opportunity to check it out. In Late Love a mature writer is writing about mature characters but taking them somewhere a bit different. I should try to read more of her work.

Flash Writing


Some of the following I may have found through some sort of list that now is gone.

About Accidental Firearm Discharge on Campus by Paul Rousseau at autofocus. Autofocus publishes autobiographical writing in any form. Rousseau has a lot of writing that I've saved to my reading list.

Sometimes She Wishes He Was Dead But Then She'd Miss Him by Dawn Tasaka Steffler in Flash Frog. This is a heart breaker and illustrates the intensity that's possible with flash fiction.

Solar Flare by Claudia Monpere at Atlas + Alice. Why is the mother so interested in heat? Another example of the intensity of flash. 

Our Nudist Neighbors are Fighting by Joshua Jones Lofflin at Flash Frog. A nice twist on this one.



Friday, May 03, 2024

Friday Done List May 3

Looks as if it's been a while since I've posted a Done List. Since the last time, I've worked on the following goals for this year:

Goal 1. Adult Short Stories, Essays, and Humor

  • Have completed a revision of the short story I've been working on and am revising it again, without having finished it. It seemed too much like a mini-novel. Maybe I should refresh my mind with some reading about short stories.
  • Read a number of the Smokelong Workshop Prize Finalists. Will be posting links next week. Probably. Maybe.
  • Have a plan for how I'll choose the next humor piece I write. 

Goal 2. Submit 143 Canterbury Road to agents

  • I received a couple of rejections in the last two weeks.
  • I've done some research on future agents to submit to. I attended a Zoom talk/workshop in which the leader spoke about the hundreds of agents out there. However, when you eliminate the agents who represent only children's writers, nonfiction, books that are not in your genre, are closed to submissions, or only sell a book a year, the number comes down significantly. 
  • While looking for agents for Canterbury Road, I came upon some agents who might be interested in other things I've written. So when the Canterbury Road submission period is over and done with, I'll submit these other things to those agents.

Goal 3. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding


Thursday, May 02, 2024

Some Annotated Reading May 2

Gail has finished reading a booook. Plot isn't Scorched Grace's strong point. Character and lovely writing are what author Margot Douiahy does really well. I mean really well. I fell in love with Sister Holiday, who describes herself as New Orleans' first punk nun, in, I believe, the third paragraph. The tattoos, the guitar, the smoking, the recollections of sex...yeah, I loved it all. What I also loved was Holiday's intense faith and love of God. Douiahy is a poet, and her writing about faith is lovely. I felt it was okay I hadn't gone to church the week before--or for several weeks, months--because I was reading this spiritual writing. Oh, also, this is a mystery and Sister Holiday is our detective. And, also, some powerful older women characters in this book. 

Gail has finished reading another booook, another mystery, The Maid by Nita Prose. I found The Maid a little slow, until Molly the Maid finds herself in hot water. The book delivers a good twist at the end, both surprising and leaving this reader going, "Of course!" That is possible because Molly is an unreliable narrator. A believably unreliable narrator. Here is something I thought about after finishing The Maid: Molly appears to be on the autism spectrum, though the word is never used. However, autism, at least superficially, is pretty well known in our society now and readers bring that knowledge to the book. But is it really necessary to know about autism to "get" Molly and enjoy this book? Isn't Molly capable of just being who she is without readers labeling or explaining her? 

I've Read Serious Stuff This Week

Dule Hill on The "Powerful" Value of Artists and Why "The West Wing" "Still Rings True Today" by D. Watkins at Salon. I gave up watching The West Wing a couple of seasons in and therefore didn't find the title of this article a draw. I found something totally different of interest. Dule Hill is being interviewed here because he is hosting a series on artists (meaning people in the arts versus people who paint, sculpt, etc.) for PBS. The interviewer says, "...many of the artists featured in the show are happiest when they are lost in their art. The idea of going big or making it is not often the goal." And Hill says things to support that. That's hugely significant for writers. The bulk of us will not go big or make it in the traditional sense of the expression. You do what you do for the sake of what you're doing. You write for the sake of writing.

No One Buys Books by Elle Griffin at Substack is an assessment of information that came out when the U.S. brought an antitrust case against Penguin Random House last year when PRH tried to buy Simon & Schuster. Some of this wasn't new news. The business about big name writers getting the big advances and big support from publishers has been known for a long time. How few copies other books sell was probably known within the publishing world, something the general public and  prepublished writers are less likely to be aware of. And probably still won't be aware of, since these kinds of articles are going to be read mainly by people already in publishing. Also, publishing has been afraid of Amazon for years. Something that sounded new to me was the importance of the backlist. At least at the turn of the century, books went out of print, very quickly and never made it to the backlist. So how big can it be? The kind of backlist Griffin is talking about sounds as if it's backlist titles everyone has heard of--like the Bible and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  These are books people who don't buy very many books probably buy. The business about romance novels going primarily self-published is also interesting, though I still see romance novels selling to publishers on Publishers Marketplace. Nonetheless, I like the idea that someone can be successful going their own way. 

How to Write a Humor Piece From a Headline by Alex Baia at The Writing Cooperative. In days of old, popular wisdom claimed you couldn't talk about humor. No one knew what it was, but they knew it when they saw it. That is not the case. You can talk about humor both in terms of analyzing something that has already been written and in terms of how to write it. I have not worked from a headline/title in the past. I come up with it afterwards. But I am trying to determine which of several humor ideas to work on next, and I think what I'll do is come up with headlines/titles for them and start writing the one I like best. So, at least in the short term, reading this article will have an impact on me.

A Lot More

I've read a number of short fiction pieces from a number of journals and, of course, some humor. But enough is enough for one week!



Monday, April 29, 2024

An Opportunity For New Writers Of Speculative Fiction Who Are Of A Certain Age. Also, An Ageist Image Issue.

For twenty years, the Speculative Literature Foundation has been offering a $1,000 grant to writers who are at least 50 years old and are "just starting to work at a professional level." The application period is May 1 to May 31. An application form will appear at the Foundation's website on May 1. No previous publishing experience is required. 

Everything about this grant sounds wonderful. The Older Writers Grant page at the Foundation's website looks wonderful. The ad the Foundation released a few days ago...no. This ad is getting a lot of attention on X, and not for the grant itself. What people are talking about is the bizarrely ageist and outdated image it uses.

What's the Problem?

First: The image plays into the stereotype that older people are:

  • cute
  • frail
  • able to do their own shopping, but only small amounts at a time
Second: The image has nothing to do with:
  • speculative literature
  • writing

In this ad, the text describes the grant precisely. The image, however, is totally unrelated to the text. At best, it adds nothing to it at all. At worst, the image distracts from the text because viewers find it offensive or not to be taken seriously.  

What Could They Have Done Differently?


Go to the Speculative Literature Foundation's Older Writers Grant page, and you will see a terrific image of a mature woman who looks healthy and fit and she is writing. Image of person writing...writing grant. If they had just used her on a professional photo type ad instead going for a cartoon and what looks like clipart, they would have had something fantastic to share.

They could also have looked for a photo of a group of older writers either from a writers' group (I see many of those on my Facebook page) or a writers' conference. They might have been able to find a group of writers that wasn't entirely white, too, which would have been a plus.


A Strange Turn Of Events


As I said earlier, the Speculative Literature Foundation has run this grant for two decades. This is the first I've heard of either the Foundation or the grant. So maybe there's no such thing as bad publicity?


Thursday, April 25, 2024

Some Annotated Reading April 24

 Now, look, I read a great deal more than I share here. Political stuff. Things about old murders. Bits and pieces about history. I carefully curate what I post here, leaning toward items that are literary or humorous and, most importantly, don't make me look like a maniac.

First off, remember that I read a book, and blogged about it. I'm taking credit for that.

Love in the Time of Collapse by Amy DeBellis was the first thing I've read at Identity Theory. I stumbled upon DeBellis on Xitter and will be checking out some more of her writing in the future, as well as some of the places she's published. This first piece is microfiction, and, I think, well done.

Humor

What Does Your Book Organization System Say About You? by Lisa Cowan at The Belladonna Comedy. My organization system isn't mentioned here. I use an intricate combination of chronological order and genre. And, yet, I have still lost books, one for a couple of years before it turned up, just about where I expected it to be.

Quiz: Things My Accountant Said to Me During Tax Season or Things I Said to My Toddler During Potty Training by Kate Brennan at Frazzled. This kind of humor is more difficult to write than it appears, because you have to maintain the original concept all the way through. 

Your Passive Aggressive Home Inspection by Adam Dietz at Slackjaw. I like hermit crab formats. Also, I've been house hunting for 5 years. The last three, we've only been pretending to look, but, still, 5 damn years.

Monday, April 22, 2024

My Annual Earth Day Observance

It's Earth Day, people. Though I have been keeping an eye on my pollinator garden, I have not been keeping up on what's happening environmentally during the month of April, which is something I have done in the past.

However, Earth Day provides me with a good opportunity to mention Saving the Planet & Stuff, a rare eco-comedy. I still don't see much in the way of books for YAs and adults that have environmental threads or are set in a world where the environment plays a significant role that are not about climate change or a disaster brought about by climate change. Though I haven't been looking recently.

Oh, so many things to read about.

Now that I'm obsessing about how older adults are portrayed in books, I will mention that while my editor at G.P. Putnam and I were working on Saving the Planet, she said she'd never seen older adults portrayed as they are here. By which I believe she meant committed, in control, business owners, etc. etc. and not aging hippies. Though Nora and Walt are that, too.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

In Which A Woman Of A Certain Age Gets Her Own Story Arc

I learned recently that there are readers out in the world, rather vocal readers, who object to humor created around older characters being placed in what are for them, nontraditional situations. I was very aware that older characters in children's books are often portrayed as frail, ill, and dying. Grandparents and dogs in children's books probably die in equal numbers. But I was a little stunned when I read so many objections to a piece I wrote placing older male authority figures in a situation in which they are out of their element--a children's playground. 

As a result of that experience, I'm feeling one of my little obsessions coming on, this one about how older characters are treated in books. As luck would have it, I just happened to finish reading a Net Galley arc of Facebook friend Gabi Coatsworth's new novel, A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over. The book's main character isn't older older, but as the mother of college students, she is just older. 

Fiftyish Molly Stevenson has been widowed for a few years during which time she purchased a bookstore. She is dealing with two issues as the novel opens--the bookstore isn't doing that well, and she has friends who are pressuring Molly to start dating. Things get worse with the bookstore when the rent is raised. Things get "worse" with the dating situation when she does, indeed, make efforts to meet men. Both story threads place Molly under pressure. Both threads are resolved in a positive way for her.

A mature woman managing on her own. This may not be an unusual main character for a novel these days. In fact, Book Riot has a list from 2019 called 50 Must-Read Fiction Books Featuring Older Women, who may be managing on their own or not. I've only read a couple of them. Many of those books sound a little on the heavy and downer side, though. A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over is not. It has a cozy aspect to it--the bookstore, a coffee shop, trips to an art gallery, friends gathering here and there, and what might be called a destination Christmas. This will be relaxation reading for many people, a very good thing, indeed. 

"A Beginner's Guide" And Women's Fiction. 

I was interested in reading A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over, in part, because I'd seen it described as women's fiction. I have an unsold manuscript that at one point I was submitting as women's fiction. Reading A Beginner's Guide gave me an opportunity to think some more about this.

According to the Women's Fiction Writers Association, women's fiction has as its driving force the "protagonist's journey toward a more fulfilled self." Does a more fulfilled self mean a self that ends up with a romantic partner? Not necessarily. More than one source I found stated that romances have narrative arcs that are totally about a couple's journey toward each other and include a happy ending.

(Here's an aside that requires its own paragraph: I was invited to a romance writers' luncheon around the time The Bridges of Madison County was all over the place. I was told by someone there that some romance writers had an issue with that book being described as a romance, because it didn't have a happy ending. Happy endings are a big component of traditional romance writing.)

At any rate, my superficial research suggests that A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over is, indeed, women's fiction, since the romantic element doesn't encompass the whole story, which is certainly about Molly's journey to a more fulfilled self.  On the other hand, I was probably correct to switch to describing my own manuscript, Good Women, as an upmarket comedy when submitting it. Not that it has done any good to date.

By the way, in What is Women's Fiction?, again at Book Riot, Kendra Winchester points out that there is no comparable genre to "women's fiction" called "men's fiction." That's something to think about. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

I'm Off Until At Least The Weekend

It's spring break for at least one of the New England states this week, and I will have houseguests tomorrow through Friday. 

I have a couple of other things in mind for you for next week, though.