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

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.

Monday, April 15, 2024

I Guess I Have Joined The Ranks Of Controversial Humor Writers Part II

Hert Niks on Unsplash
Who? What? When? Where? and Why? are the classic questions writers deal with. For me, the most important is why? The eternal why? In this case, why did What We All Want to Say to That One Out-of-Touch Grandfather at the Playground,  a light-hearted consideration of male authority figures out of their element in a kid-centered situation (an example of using incongruity in humor, by the way), incite the heated response I described yesterday

Some thoughts.

The Nastiest Comments


The nastiest comments came from people who were registered with Medium under assumed names and had not published anything there. I have no idea what to make of that. Were they regular Frazzled readers? Were they parents or regular humor readers? Do they use that language with their kids? With their grandfathers?

Romanticizing Grandfathers


I also received comments that were not nasty from nice people who had nice things to say about their own grandfather experiences, which somehow seemed to keep them from finding any humor in what I had written. The whole concept of grandfathers may be very warm and fuzzy for some people, something they want to embrace and can't see anything funny about. The feeling seems to be that we shouldn't be laughing about situations involving a grandfather character. We should enjoy grandfathers in some other way.

Understanding Humor


When I saw the first insult comment, by which I mean the one about me being a bigoted, anti-male feminist who should mind my **** business, I thought, Okay. I don't want readers to see this comment and leave with that being the last thing they think about. So I will use this opportunity to show that I know something about what I am doing and that I have even been recognized for it in the past. After thanking him for calling me an anti-male feminist, I said, "However, "What We All Want To Say..." is not a feminist piece but an example of hyperbole--exaggeration that is not meant to be taken seriously. Hyperbole is often used in humor writing, and I've been known for it throughout my career. "Gauthier demonstrates a real talent here for humorous hyperbole..." BOOKLIST."

More and more of these comments kept coming. In response to one of them, I said, "This isn't a memoir..." But before long I just started saying, "Thank you for your comment." Because if people are so irate they are moved to tell a writer she is an ass, it's pretty unlikely they will appreciate being told they don't understand what they're reading. Perhaps it is also arrogant to try to tell them. And since I've already been accused of being superior, let's not go any further down that road.

Some Kind Of Ageism


As I mentioned in my last post, the subject of ageism came up several times in the comments I received. Which is a laugh, what with me being older than mud, myself. This blog is over twenty years old. Does anyone think I started it when I was twelve? But I believe there is, indeed, some kind of ageism at work here. However, it's not on my part.

One of the more thoughtful, less antagonistic comments I received advised me to punch up, implying that I was punching down in this humor piece. I had to think about that, because, yes, I do not want to ever punch down, meaning direct humor at the powerless. But after a couple of hours, I suddenly thought, Hey, how is humor relating to grandfathers punching down? Why are grandfathers powerless? The grandfather characters I created were not ill or physically unfit. One had been in upper management. One had been in the military. Why was this a powerless group that needed special consideration? 

The only reason I can come up with is the grandfathers' age. Were readers perceiving grandfathers as weak and inappropriate topics for humor merely because they were...old-er...old-ish...old?

Which I believe is ageist. I'm not ageist! You're ageist!

It never occurred to me that fit, healthy men my age would be perceived as lesser because of how old they were and thus require special consideration when writing about them. When I realized two days ago that this might be what was happening, I was livid. How freaking patronizing! Yesterday morning I was depressed about men having to accept this unnecessary protection from strangers who think they've grown weak and inferior with time. 

But the depression only lasted for about forty minutes. I don't stay down on the mat long. 

Maybe This Thing You Wrote Just Wasn't Funny, Gail


All writers need to accept the possibility that something they wrote wasn't good, after all. I can live with that and have for many years. I have lived with thoughtful critiques of things like my pacing and how I develop conflict. Now I will live with obscenities from people who feel a need to use them and name call when they don't get the laugh they were expecting from something I wrote.

I will not claim that I was not shaken by this experience. I ate half a bag of vegan chocolate chips over a twenty-four hour period. Vegan! But like the grandfathers in What We All Want to Say to That One Out-of-Touch Grandfather at the Playground, I am neither powerless nor lesser. In fact, I may have just come up with an idea for a humor piece relating to what happened these last few days.

Thanks, commentors!




Sunday, April 14, 2024

I Guess I Have Joined The Ranks Of Controversial Humor Writers Part I

Hert Niks on Unsplash
I have been a published writer for going on twenty-six years. In that time, my work has been critiqued in various ways, as it should be. If you are a writer, you want to be known as a writer. You want to be part of literary discussion. Being part of literary discussion can mean professional reviews, blog reviews, Goodreads reviews, and personal responses from readers. Or it can mean comments on your on-line publishing. I've always found those to be pleasant, until last week when I was told I was a "bigoted anti-male feminist" and that I should mind my "**** business." And that was just getting started.

By the way, I am of the philosophy that everything is a writer's business, so that last bit wasn't as great an insult as the person who left it hoped it would be. Sorry. Also, the commentor used the asterisks. So he wasn't that offensive.

The Kind Of Less Than Stellar Criticism I Used To Get 


My first publications were books that were reviewed in professional journals. Now professional book reviewers tend to consider structural type things. On the occasions when they were pointing out negatives, they might say things like:
  • "Readers may find the ending abrupt and learn more about Ethan Allen than they want to know..." Booklist
  • "...the office politics at times slow the pace..."  Publishers' Weekly
  • "There is little cohesive development or central conflict in this short novel;" "The pacing is also somewhat uneven, with some stories losing their comedic effect as they drag on for several chapters." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Ouch!
I also had a reviewer call one of my books a one-joke story, and someone said of another that my main character was no Junie B. Jones, which is a big blow in children's books.

Regarding responses from readers, I once had a very civil exchange with a man who felt I shouldn't have used "goddamn" two or three times in a book in which Ethan Allen, who was a legend in his own lifetime for his use of profanity, figures prominently. We agreed to disagree.

Goodreads often gets mentioned for having unpleasant reviewers. I don't have any big complaints. Because I used to write children's books, I often saw reviews at Goodreads that were obviously from kids. My favorite is a short one from over ten years ago that begins with "I just read this book Happy Kid by Gail Gauthier but it wasn't very good." It ends with "I would not recommend this book to anybody, ever." Come on! That's adorable!

The Kind Of Less Than Stellar Criticism I Got Last Week


I have been writing humor and essays for various publications on the Medium platform for close to four years. Readers are extremely important at Medium. You get paid by the number of people who read your work and the amount of time they spend reading it. Readers also provide any critiques writers will receive in the form of either claps (applause) or comments. I've had thirty-one pieces of one sort or another published there in one place or another. When I've received comments, they've either been positive or engagement--as in discussing more ideas that could have been added to the piece or things that had happened to the reader that were similar to what I'd written about. We would have a nice little back and forth about it. 

So imagine how unprepared I was two days after What We All Want to Say to the Grandfathers at the Playground* was published at Frazzled to see the comment about my being a bigoted anti-male feminist and minding my **** business. I'm hesitant to do direct quotes here, by the way, because I just don't know how to attribute them. Feel free to go read the comments yourself. Enjoy.  (*Original title mentioned in earlier blog posts. It has been changed, as you will see. Read on!) 

Now keep in mind, Frazzled specializes in parenting humor. I've always liked it, because it does a good job of sticking to its theme while publishing very funny material. I've submitted a lot of work there, because I wrote situational humor for and about children for many years and am on my second generation of children in my family. The parent-child world is a milieu I enjoy and have experience with. 

Also keep in mind that I have written and published elsewhere at Medium a humor piece called The Best Moments For A Sex Scene During A Thriller. It was illustrated with a picture of two very scantily dressed people making out on a beach. Nobody had a problem with it. I also wrote Your Guide To Finding The Perfect Church in which I suggested making your decision on the basis of the quality of the coffee hours offered. No one was bothered by that, either.

No, they came out with pitchforks and torches for a list humor piece about grandpas at the playground.

How Bad Did It Get? 

   

So far, I've been told:
  • I sound like an ass. 
  • I was being a jerk.
  • More about me being anti-male. And also ageist.
  • A suggestion that I may not have had good relations with my grandfathers, father, or any man.
  • A question about whether I got out on the wrong side of the bed the day I wrote that piece. 
  • I may have been called a sanctimonious shit sack, but I'm not sure. I had a little trouble figuring out who that person was talking about. But I'm betting it was me!
  • I sound whiny.
  • More on the ageist business.
  • I have no empathy and am potentially cruel. That guy was actually kind of nice.
  • I have a superior attitude and probably not that much to be superior about. This one was pretty civil, and the second part is sadly all too true.
  • I was insulting old white men, and I could only do that because they are the only nonprotected demographic left. It took me a while to get my jaw up off the floor after I saw that.
  • It's been over a week and a half now, and someone just called me a boobie!
  • I will continue with updates if any more come in.
Now please don't think this was the only kind of comments I got. There were people who liked the piece. There were people who clapped for it. There were people who clapped for some of my responses to comments. I had some lovely exchanges with people that I won't go into in the interests of time.

But many of the comments I was seeing were markedly different from anything I'd seen before. In fact, they were different enough that the very supportive Frazzled editor contacted me to say he was sorry about them and to offer to let me tweak the title to see if that would help readers recognize the humor  and take some heat off me. (Which is why it now does, indeed, have a different title.)  And he said yes, these comments were unusual.

So what was going on?

Since I am philosophically opposed to lengthy blog posts, which this one already is, I've done some editing and am  publishing my take on that question separately.


Friday, April 12, 2024

Friday Done List April 12

Well, this was an interesting week, what with a solar eclipse and some interesting responses to my most recent publication. 

Goal 1. Adult Short Stories, Essays, And Humor

  • I had a new humor piece published at Frazzled
  • I did some marketing of said piece.
  • I wrote some careful responses to readers who left ugly, even vulgar comments about said piece. Though I did kind of like being called an anti-male feminist. 
  • I wrote more than a page on the short story! 

Goal 2. Submit 143 Canterbury Road To Agents

  • Made another submission!

Goal 3. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

  • Three blog posts counting this one.
  • Promoting two of those blog posts.
  • Promoting the new humor piece
  • Reading an arc of another author's book.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Some Annotated Reading April 11

A book finished--Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes. I read this because it was described as science fiction with humor, and, of course, I have an unsold science fiction with humor manuscript, because I have all kinds of unsold manuscripts. Chilling Effect is another good example of humor supporting story. I had a little trouble getting into it, because it seemed a little formulaic light scifi/adventure/romance, except with a female Cuban main character. Well, it turns out I like formulaic light scifi/adventure/romance, and I liked this female Cuban main character. This is the first of a trilogy, and I'll read at least the next one, if I don't get distracted by other things. I read an ebook edition of Chilling Effect on my iPad, and at about the halfway point, I started looking up the main character's Spanish asides, which were almost always cursing. If I read the other books as ebooks, I'll start looking up the Spanish from the beginning. I have books on cursing in French, which I would now like to look at again. So much to read, so little time.

To Keep My Brother Alive, I Will Fly 7,500 Miles by Dipika Mikherjee at The Los Angeles Review of Books. I read this moving piece, because the author was the leader at a workshop I took last week and liked.

I had a good solar eclipse experience on Monday (who didn't?) even though we only got 90 something percent sun coverage and the six-year-old and I were both disappointed that it didn't get darker in the yard where we were grazing on a table full of snacks. The temp dropped, though, which was interesting. Anyway, that was part of what led me to read Watching the Eclipse From the Highest Mountain in Vermont by Nick Paumgarten at The New Yorker. The other part of the reason I read it is that while I don't ski and haven't been on Mt. Mansfield, I do go to Stowe every year for our personal retreat week. I found this piece so lovely with just the kind of tone I like that I'll probably not read any more eclipse memoirs. I will probably continue to look at pictures, though. 

Humor

Things That Shook Me More Than That Earthquake by Aarushi at The Belladonna Comedy I liked this. Plus I admire anyone who can write this quickly about a current event. I think I've heard of a workshop coming up somewhere on doing that. Hmm.

Please Remember You Can Talk to Me, Your Mom, About Anything, Anytime, in These Specific Ways by Lily Hirsch at Frazzled.  Evidently, I just really like this writer, because I keep linking to her work. Also, we have a four-year-old family member who tried to get her brother away from me on Easter Sunday so she could tell him about some trouble she got into without me hearing her, because she already knows I'm a hardass. She's not telling me about anything, anytime, in any specific way. And, you know, I can live with that.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Another Story Behind The Story

I had a new humor piece published yesterday at Frazzled. As with many of my humor pieces, What We All Want To Say to the Grandfathers at the Playground has a backstory.

Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Last year I spent a couple of afternoons alone at a popular town playground with a kindergartener who had a half day of school. Great times, great times. On one of those visits I witnessed an older man yelling at a child who did not appear to be his family member. The old guy moved off, and I saw a woman holding a little boy in a Spiderman costume who was sobbing. Okay, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the kid just happened to have a sad thought at the same moment a stranger was shouting. Nonetheless, I stuck to my kid like a leech the rest of the time we were there, prepared to take care of that guy if he came near my boy. 

Then the guy actually spoke to me! As we were discussing leaving, I told my little guy that I had cupcakes in the car. (Because I did! Honest to God, I had cupcakes in the car!)  Lo and behold, the guy and his child companion were walking along beside us, he heard me, and said, "Yeah, good luck with that." I am ashamed to say that I just laughed and hauled our butts out of there. I should have said something like, "I don't need luck, sir. I have cupcakes. You should try it. Also, I don't yell at other people's kids unless they're about to run into the street, but that's just me." 

Yes, cupcakes do appear in this humor piece.

This whole thing happened close to a year ago. I have been enraged ever since. I like to think of myself as being too zenny to hold a grudge, but...maybe.

I finally started putting together things to say to guys like him as a humor piece, because I wanted to have something I could submit while I was feeling down about the short story I've been working on for months and not finishing. So that worked, anyway.


Friday, April 05, 2024

Friday Done List April 5

Goal 1. Adult Short Stories, Essays, And Humor

  • Received a rejection on a humor piece. I kid you not, I've submitted so many times to that place that the editor and I are on a first-name basis. I may have mentioned that before. 
  • Resubmitted the humor piece. It was accepted and will be published next week.
  • Attended a workshop/presentation on travel writing, because I'm traveling this fall. The workshop was quite decent, but now I have so much travel reading I should be doing.
  • Worked on that short story. It seems as if I'm so close to being done.

Goal 2. Submit 143 Canterbury Road To Agents

  • Made one submission.
  • Made a note to myself to check out a literary agency that I thought only represented children's work, but I was wrong.
Goal 3. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding
  • Four blog posts counting this one.
  • Marketed one of those posts on Facebook. Will also market it on Twitter and Goodreads.
  • Reading two arcs in hopes of being able to support the writers. These are digital arcs, and they aren't great for reading on a treadmill or stationary bike. I can't increase the size of the text.
  • One of those arcs could end up being a reading arc for Time Management Tuesday here at the blog.
Goal 4. 19th century novel, which is totally just for fun.
  • Did a little bit on a third draft of a first chapter.


Thursday, April 04, 2024

Some Annotated Reading April 4

This is two weeks worth of reading, because I was a lazy blogger last week.

The Poet Laureate Project 

I read some Robert Penn Warren, who was both our third poetry consultant (the precursor to the poet laureate position) and, a couple of decades later, our first poet laureate. I read his novel, All the King's Men, when I was a teenager and felt I'd done some grown-up reading. I wasn't even aware he was a poet until a couple of weeks ago. And he is a poet I find accessible. I particularly like Tell Me a Story and True Love.  

The Francophonie Project

I managed to finish reading Menuet by Guy de Maupassant. It is about a man who meets an elderly dance instructor and his elderly wife, a dancer. Or it may be about something deeper regarding the narrator. Reading this raised a lot of questions for me about how we judge short stories now and how short stories from the past relate to that. Which is interesting, because what reading this in French and English was supposed to do was improve my French. Francophonie Month is over now, so I can put this book back on my To Be Read Shelf, where it has been for years.

Some Serious Cultural Reading

The Rise and Fall of the Trad Wife by Sophie Elmhirst at The New Yorker. This was enlightening. The woman who was the main focus of this article was interested in the trad wife lifestyle, because she was into nostalgia. If that's the attraction for others, too, then that makes some sense. I, personally, think nostalgia of most--nah, of all--kinds is dangerous, but, again, nostalgia would provide an explanation for what's going on here. What I still don't understand is why women who choose to live this way want to tell the world about it. My guess is that they are hoping to monetize a blog or attract a big following so they can sell them a book. But that isn't exactly what we think of as trad wife behavior, is it? And why did they choose the trad wife lifestyle to try to make money off from? Why did they think people would "buy" that? Yes, I know some of them were right. But, still, where did this come from?

Humor

We Are Unable To Offer You A Place At Yale Because Your Essay Read Like The Closing Narration Of A Teen Rom-Com by Amelia Tait at McSweeney's. I still feel a need to read things with childlit/YA connections.

When a Recipe Says It's "Quick and Easy" by Jiji Lee and Patrick Clair at McSweeney's. I wish I'd thought of this.

Listen, Cat: I'm Not the Out-of-Control Infant You Once Knew by Nick Gregory at Points in Case. We have a cat. We have a preschooler in the family. 

Suggestions For Rebooting The Marvel Cinematic Universe From Farmer, Essayist, And Poet Wendell Berry by Jeff King at McSweeney's. Here's what you have to understand about Wendell Berry and me--Years ago, I was a member of a reading group in which there was another member who was humorless, narrow-minded, judgmental, and unpleasant. (No, I am not talking about myself.) She was a huge Wendell Berry fan and suggested we read one of his books. As a result, I know Wendell Berry's name.  But reading him? I just can't.

American Expat in France: Probably Don't Do This by Kat Garcia in The Belladonna Comedy. What I particularly liked about this is that while it appears to be a list, it is really a story.

Ten Reasons to Run That You, a Parent Who Hates Running, Can Give Your Kid Who Also Hates Running by Lily Hirsch at Frazzled. The title is a little long and awkward, but that's part of the joke, and it really does tell you exactly what this funny piece is about.