Friday, May 31, 2024

Some Annotated Reading

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.


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.

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.


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 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!