Saturday, October 23, 2021

My Most Recent Experience With Medium

In September I posted some information on changes coming to Medium's partnership/payment program. Otherwise, it looks as if I haven't done an update on my publishing experiences on Medium since March. I did publish a couple more humor pieces there this summer, which deserve their own post at some point. However, today's subject is the Medium Writers Challenge, which took place in August with winners and honorable mention essays announced in the last week or so.

In short, the challenge was a contest. There were four writing prompts, which might also be considered categories. I entered two essays, one for each of two prompts. Won nothing. 

Generally Speaking

However, this was a positive experience because:

  • I completed an essay I'd started a couple of years ago and revised a second one. Finishing things is always good.
  • I did this work in a timely fashion.
  • My work was published at two more Medium publications, which means that I now have a connection with them and can submit to them again.
  • Taking part in the challenge got me two more essays on Medium, and, supposedly, the more you can publish there the more of a following you can build up within that closed community.
  • While Medium is a closed community, every time I publish there I can promote the work to the wider world and a few more readers may learn what I do.

What Have You Learned, Gail?

I don't know if I actually learned anything, but I do have some theories about what was going on with the two prompts I submitted for and what the winners and honorable mention writers did that I didn't. 

Were The Judges Looking For A Specific Length? There was a minimum word-length--500 words-- for these prompts. I did meet that. But the winners and honorable mention essays I read were much, much longer. Medium keeps track of how long it takes to read the materials published there. My entry for the Death prompt, Enough, was a four-minute read. Keeper of the Place by Randi Ragan, the winner of the Death prompt, which was also the over all winner, was a fifteen-minute read.  My entry for the Space prompt, What We Did There, was also a four-minute read. The winner of that prompt, The Space Between My Fingers by Meera Vijayann, came in at twelve minutes. A lot of the honorable mentions I read for the Death prompt were lengthy. For the Space prompt, not so much. 

Over the last couple of years, I've become interested in writing and reading both flash fiction and nonfiction. I like tight writing, as both a writer and a reader. With nonfiction and essays, I really want a feel in the first paragraph or two of what I'm dealing with. I'm definitely not a fan of digressions. Or lengthy descriptions.

But there may be a school of thought that argues more material is needed to support and expand upon thoughts. Five hundred words and four minutes of reading may not be enough elaboration. That may have been the thinking with this year's judges, particularly with the Death prompt.

Were The Judges Looking For Specific Subject Matter? That definitely seemed to be the case with the Death essays I was able to read. Or, I should say, skim in most cases, because, you know, they were a little long for me, and there were a lot of them. 

The Death prompt stated "People die, of course, but so do other things. Ideals. Relationships. Jobs. Life phases. Pieces of who we once were. A death isn’t always inherently sad, either; sometimes, it’s a positive step, freeing us from what was weighing us down or allowing us to move forward. Illusions can die. Grudges. Bad habits. Tell us about a death you’ve experienced, for better or worse, and how you marked the loss — whether it was with mourning or celebration." 

The bulk of the finalists that I, as I said, skimmed in this category dealt with the traditional process of someone dying or a survivor dealing with a death. I cannot say that was the case for all of them, because I had I had to stop reading. It was becoming too disturbing. This is supposed to have been the prompt that drew the most entries. It must have been brutal for the judges to read so many of them.

Karo Kujanpaa
My own essay was more of a celebration of someone who had passed, of her family, and of how we will move on without her. There was a lot less pain and suffering than I was seeing in the essays that did well. So putting aside discussion of quality, my essay may not have fit the prompt the way the judges interpreted it.

The Space prompt was far vaguer. "Whether we’re letting our imaginations run wild or focusing on what’s in front of us, our day-to-day lives are defined by space: living space, personal space, outer space. We make space. We claim space. We practice social distancing. We turn spaces into homes, into communities, into refuges, and we forge relationships with others and ourselves within those spaces. We wonder, with varying degrees of skepticism and belief, about the beings that occupy the space beyond our planet. However you define it, tell us a story about a role space has played in your life."

Camilla Sanabria
I really can't say I saw a recurring theme in the Space prompt entries. Topics were all over the place,
which is probably a good thing. I can't come up with a theory from reading the ones I read that suggests why my essay didn't fit the prompt for the judges. I can say, though, that my entry has received the fewest views and reads of anything I've published at Medium. The space it deals with is a taekwondo dojang. It's not unusual to hear of people trying martial arts and totally embracing it. It becomes part of their lives and their identities. However, martial arts people may be too small a subset of the world. So, again, putting aside discussion of quality, my Space essay may not attract a big enough reader group, or judge group.

Some Thoughts From Someone Else

Elizabeth Dawber has published, on Mediuma list of all the winners and the honorable mention writers for this challenge. Her article includes an analysis that addresses, among other things, the issue of the length of the winners. 

Another New Medium Experience

Today I'm trying something new at Medium, I'm going to republish this post there. The point is to both encourage new readers for Original Content and to create more content for me at Medium

So I'll see how that works, and if it is worth doing again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: I'm Starting A Book Arc! Oh, And Also, We're All Going To Die.

It's been a while since I've read a time management book and blogged about the experience here, so I am quite psyched to get started with a new one. A very new one.Last week I saw author Oliver Burkeman being interviewed by Roxanne Cody about his new book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals and now have my own copy.

During the interview, Burkeman said that while various time management techniques are presented to us as making it possible to reach some point at which we will have the time we're looking for, that can never happen. We will always have more to do, because we have an infinite number of obligations, professional and personal.

I have to say that, after spending, I think, nearly ten years writing here about time management for writers, that most definitely seems to be my impression. There's never an end to the things that eat away at time.  If you're a goal-driven person, you'd be wise not to make achieving some kind of time nirvana a goal, because it is not attainable. You'll go out of your mind.

Another impression I've come away with from my years of time management study is that a lot of writers on the subject have nothing new to say. They're just rewording the same thoughts, sometimes even renaming ideas that already exist. Four Thousand Weeks might actually be new and different, because it begins with the interesting premise that time management doesn't actually work.

We Don't Have Forever

In his introduction, Burkeman explains that his book is called Four Thousand Weeks, because that's the number of weeks in an eighty-year-old's life span. Usually with time management we think of time being limited because there are only seven days in a week, and, sadly, we need to spend a certain amount of that time sleeping. We don't think, Damn, there are a limited number of weeks, too.

But once Burkeman brought it up, I began to wonder if we don't all have that unspoken knowledge in the back of our minds when we try so desperately to manage our time, so we can produce and create and be dream parents or have some other really great relationships and maybe get in a little exercise and travel, too. We have to get control of our time now so we can do all these things, because there's not going to be any time to control in our future.

I will leave you with that uplifting thought. Part Two of my Four Thousand Weeks read will come next week.



Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Weekend Writer: I Need Someone To Do This For Me

When self-publishing first became a thing, it wasn't unusual to see blog posts and personal opinion articles about how traditional publishers didn't do that much for writers, yet they kept so much of the cover price of a book. Writers could do what publishers do and keep everything they make in sales themselves! 

Over the years, it has come out that traditional publishers do thousands of dollars of work on every book they publish, work that their authors don't do and don't pay for. Self-publishers can, indeed, do this work themselves, and they do. But not only do they have to fund all the work themselves, paying for professional level editing, cover illustrations, design, and marketing, they also have to learn everything that needs to be done.

A case in point--printing.

Andrew Watson's Book Printing 101: What You Need To Know Before Approaching A Printer appeared at Jane Friedman's Blog. I don't mind admitting, I was shaken by all the details involved. 

Now, I suspect there are companies out there, Amazon might be one of them, where self-publishing authors can just press a few keys, and everything will be taken care of for them. But isn't somebody, somewhere, still making decisions about types of paper for the text and types of paper for the covers, and what types of hard covers, and on and on?   

I have probably said something similar to this here before, but it's worth saying again: You just can't exaggerate what self-publishers need to know to give their books a chance at being successful.


Friday, October 15, 2021

One Thing Leads To Another

Last month I took a humor writing workshop through the Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Now, I could go on at great length here about the significance of this. My first humor writing workshop. Mr. Carswell telling me in 10th grade that something I'd written was Thurberesque. Visiting Thurber House in 2014. Liking the idea of Thurber more than liking his work. Yes, I could go on about all that, but...

Oh, wait. I just did.

Okay, what I really am interested in talking about now is the reading list provided by my workshop instructor, Janine Annett. It was two pages. I was so excited when I got it. Love me a reading list.

It included four humorous novels, one of them being Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. It's written in letters, and at first I thought it was going to be one of those novels in letters back and forth between a couple of characters, which I really don't care for. But, no, these were all letters of recommendation from one college professor who is slowly (not too slowly) revealed to us. There is a story arc for him and at least one of his students. And it's all very entertaining.

But that's not why we're here, folks! We're here because when I looked up Julie Schumacher, I discovered that she wrote a book called The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls. A YA book I liked a lot back in 2012. Really, I thought it was a "marvelous, mainstream novel..." Evidently I'd had it with paranormal YA at that point. 

I believe I've often been disappointed when I've read the work of an author who has written for both adult and YA audiences. But that most definitely wasn't the case here. I'm going to read some of Schumacher's other work, because I often worry that someone will ask me the name of a favorite author. And, of course, I don't have one. But Schumacher could end up qualifying.

Now, to tightly tie my Schumacher reading experience back to the workshop I took--Dear Committee Member was on Janine Annett's, the workshop leader's, reading list. Additionally, it won the Thurber Prize for American Humor in 2015. She was the first woman to win the award.


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sickbed Reading

Where I lived for 5 days.
Well, I lost an entire week of my life to an illness that wasn't Covid. I was out of commission for four days, though, and the following two days were up and down. I imagine I'll be napping this afternoon, too. I was sick enough that I even had to give up tweeting virtual author appearances, because I tagged a random guy with the same name as an author involved. I was able to read, but I kept moving back and forth between books. Not a lot of concentration.

Though maybe I do that, anyway.

I did, however, finish some interesting things. 

The Best American Essays 2012 I've had this thing on my Kindle for, I don't know, seven or eight years? Whenever it became available as a deal. I'd read a few of the essays, but it wasn't something I looked forward to getting back to, obviously.

Recently, I've been reading essays on Medium, where I've wondered if essays aren't just a bit different. I find them longer than I'd prefer. Rambling. Not staying on subject. Sometimes more personally focused than I'm interested in reading.

The essays in 2012 were also longer than I'm interested in reading. Sometimes authors will write about something, then relate it to books they've read, which should be enlightening, but... There was one essay about boredom that put me to sleep at least twice one morning on a particularly sick day. I woke up in the night, couldn't get back to sleep, thought, I'll try some more of that boredom essay. Knocked me right out. It was great.

Another essay was of interest to me, because it was about the author's friend who was beautiful. Doesn't sound as if the guy was someone you'd want to know, though. The author veered off into discussions of beauty. I didn't love the essay, but it made me think that maybe I'm not all that interested in beauty as a subject. That's significant because there is a character in 143 Canterbury Road whose beauty is remarked upon. I need to think about that.

Two essays I particularly liked: Killing My Body to Save My Mind by Lauren Slater and Outlaw by Jose Antonio Vargas. Both these essays are very personal. But they stay on task, making them on the short side for these kinds of volumes, and they deal with subjects that I am aware of, but haven't read about over and over again.

I walked away from this book--metaphorically, because I wasn't doing much walking last week--with a question--How do you go about choosing subjects for essays? Things like boredom and beauty or things much more from personal experience?

Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate by Stephanie V. W. Lucianovic  I started this a couple of months ago, because we have a few truly picky eaters in our family, and it does have a big impact on their lives. My response to this book is interesting, because while with the essays I preferred the ones that were personal, I found this too memoirish for my taste. I was hoping for more help. Maybe there just isn't any.

I'm mentioning this here, because Lucianovic now writes children's books, and next month she has one coming out called The League of Picky Eaters. I don't think I've ever seen this subject in a children's book, though there may be some out there. This one sounds very clever. I've sent a request to NetGalley, though I'm behind on posting about other NetGalley books, so I don't know how this will turn out.

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake with illustrations by Jon Klassen. This is an example of social media marketing working. Amy Timberlake ended up in my September Virtual Opportunities post, because she has a new Skunk and Badger book out right now, Egg Marks the Spot. While scrolling through available e-books from my library, I recognized her name on the first Skunk and Badger book and borrowed it. So the author and her book series got a reader, because of social media marketing, and now it is getting more social media marketing by way of this blog. 

Somehow I got the impression Skunk and Badger was going to be like Frog and Toad. I wouldn't make the comparison, myself, because I think it's for a much older age group, and is much more sophisticated. Which is not a bad thing. Not bad at all. 

Skunk and Badger are two loners who definitely need each other, though they're not at all alike. The reclusive and studious Badger struggles with coming to grips with the much more outgoing and somewhat chaotic Skunk. They inhabit a world with a village populated by other animals, and they have mail! Also, there are lots of chickens. 

A really lovely book.

Monday, October 04, 2021

A Book That Tears Up Some YA Cliches

Last Friday, October 1, I began a new writing group program with a Facebook group I've belonged to for a couple of years. We create a couple of temporal landmarks a year by setting aside a month for a specific writing project.  This month I'll be working on that mysterious YA mystery I keep talking about here. And today I'm posting about a mysterious YA book I recently read.

A number of books have covered people unaware of the world they're living in or unaware that they are being used for the entertainment of others  (notice how I'm not telling you much here?), but This is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey does it particularly well. Even if you end up hearing some of what this book is about before reading it (it has been out since February), there's a genre-bending twist, and a bit of a surprise in the ending. 

A real ending, people. As I was getting closer and closer to the end of the book, my anxiety level was going up and up, because I was so sure this was going to be the first in a serial. What a delight to get to that last screen (I read an e-book) and get a satisfying resolution. I think there may be an opening for a sequel, but not in a serial, you've-got-to-read-another book sort of way. 

This Is Not The Jess Show starts out with a very traditional teen girl craving romance. She is a traditional teen girl with two best friends. She has a traditional family tragedy looming over her. I will be honest and say those are not my favorite things to read about. But then author Carey blows all of those out of the water. A really impressive job.

There's also some well done, subtle, commentary relating to technology and society going on here, a la Black Mirror. In fact, I believe there are some scenes similar to a Black Mirror episode. Which is not a complaint. Just saying, if you like Black Mirror, consider reading This Is Not The Jess Show. And if you like This Is Not The Jess Show, consider catching some episodes of Black Mirror.

I would also like to say that I think Carey makes the situation in her book believable with that genre twist I mentioned above. Well done. 

Here's a question you might be left with after reading this book: Why does our culture find death and grieving entertaining?

Friday, October 01, 2021

Some Virtual Opportunities For October

As usual, I will be adding to this post over the course of the month.

Oct. 2 Chris Colfer, Book People, Austin, Texas  2:00 PM CT

Oct. 4 Victoria Kann, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 4:00 PM ET

Oct. 4 Henry Winkler, Lin Oliver, and Jeff Kinney, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Massachusetts 6:00 PM ET

Oct. 4 Holly Jackson and Victoria Lee, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 6:00 PM ET

Oct. 5 Betsy Bird, The Book Stall, Winnetka, Illinois 6:30 PM CT

Oct. 6 Chris Negron, Mayonn Paasewe-Valchev, Christyne Morrell, Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Georgia 7:00 PM ET Facebook Live

Oct. 6 Margaret Rogerson, Ayana Gray, and Chloe Gong, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 8:00 PM

Oct. 7 Victoria Kann, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Massachusetts 1:30 PM ET

Oct. 9 Rick Riordan, Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Georgia 7:00 PM ET

Oct. 12 Rebecca Evans, Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Georgia 11:00 AM ET 

Oct. 12 Dylan Dreyer and Jeff Kinney, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Massachusetts 6:00 PM ET

Oct. 13 Eugene Yelchin, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Massachusetts 10:00 AM ET

Oct. 13 Gayle Forman and Adam Gidwitz, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 6:30 PM ET

Oct. 18 Brendan Wenzel, Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Georgia 5:00 PM ET Facebook Live

Oct. 19 Maryann Cocca-Leffler and Janine Leffler, Print, A Bookstore, Portland, Maine 7:00 PM ET 

Oct. 19 Barbara Dee, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 6:30 PM ET

Oct. 21 Shelli R. Johannes and Maddie Frost, Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Georgia 5:00 PM ET Facebook Live

Oct. 25 Ruth Freeman and Tricia Springstubb, Print, A Bookstore, Portland, Maine 7:00 PM ET

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Environmental Book Club

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication Oct. 12, 2021?

According to NetGalley, Busy Spring, Nature Wakes Up by Sean Taylor and Alex Morss with illustrations by Cinyee Chiu publishes the week after next. However, looking around on-line, including at the publisher's website, it appears to have come out this past March. That makes a great deal more sense, a spring book publishing in the spring, not in the fall.

Whenever it became available, Busy Spring is an excellent selection for our Environmental Book Club. It's a beautifully illustrated story about a boy and girl who go out to work in the garden with their father, just because it is spring. They ramble about, doing a number of things in the yard, while Dad explains various things in a nonscientific way. "The spring sunlight is nature's alarm clock. Life's waking up. Plants are racing to get more light." A better than adequate explanation for young readers of what's happening in springtime.

The illustrations and layout of this book reminded me of The Ox-cart Man by Donald Hall with Caldecott Medal winning illustrations by Barbara Cooney.  Both books also deal with nature, by way of the changing seasons. Ox-cart Man is about what the ox-cart man does over the course of the year, while Busy Spring is about what a family does in spring time.

Busy Spring has several pages of back matter, including a lengthier poetic explanation of spring and then a section on what is going on with plants and animals at that time. But, really, the main text about the family working together is enough. 

Taylor, Morss, and Chiu have an earlier book, Winter Sleep, A Hibernation Story.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The Third Quarter

It's the end of the third quarter, people. Time to check in on those goals and objectives you created at the beginning of the year. You did do that, right? Right?

At the end of the first and second quarters, I discussed what I'd done for these goals and objectives and what I planned to do. The same thing's going to happen with this post.

Goal 1. Finish a draft of a YA, possibly adult, thriller, now called  143 Canterbury Road   

 Objectives worked on this quarter

  1. Read YA thrillers. I've done some of that, and will be posting about one of the books soon. 
  2. Read history, since that's a significant factor for a character and maybe in other ways. I am still working on Jill Lepore's These Truths and Susan Strasser's Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash. These are excellent books. I just get distracted by fiction reading. 
  3. At the end of the second quarter, my plan for the third quarter was to get this draft done, so I could spend the rest of the year on short-form work. Though I didn't think that was going to happen. I was right! I got distracted by a Goal 3, see below, and a couple of minor surgeries in the family. (Not me.)

 Plan for next quarter:

  • My May Days group is getting together in October, and I'm committing to working on 143 Canterbury Road. Then I'm going to continue in November, as if I were working on a National Novel Writing Month project.

Goal 2. Concentrate on submissions and increasing the number of submissions I make.  I've made 56  submissions so far this year, up from 35 at the end of June. August submissions resulted in publication on two Medium publications, which I will be discussing below. Also, I received an excellent rejection from a publication with an invitation to submit more work.

Plans for next quarter:

  • I won't be pushing for submissions until December, because I'm focusing on Goal 1.

Goal 3. Work on short-form writing, essays and short stories. I ended up throwing aside my YA thriller work in August in order to meet a deadline for submitting two essays to a Medium challenge. I also took a humor writing workshop at the end of this quarter through the Thurber House, which I plan to write about later. 

Plan for next quarter:

  • Make this a focus during the month of December/

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

My plan for this goal for the third quarter was "Keep struggling along." Ah...what? What was I thinking with that?


Plans for next quarter for Original Content: 

  • Here at Original Content shift my focus from monthly book releases to other types of blogging: More regular TMTs, more book posts, more variety. Continue with the virtual author appearance posts. Focus on supporting new releases through.

While I am psyched for the next three months, I wish I'd been able to do more these last few weeks to get ready for them. I have little things piling up around me. But, hey, I am chaos, right? I can manage that.


Monday, September 27, 2021

Sunday In The Park With Linda: An In-Person Author Appearance

Yesterday I attended an in-person book launch for Linda Zajac's very attractive and intriguing picture book, Robo-Motion: Robots That Move Like Animals.  It was the first in-person author appearance I've attended since, I believe, December 2019

I see a lot of book people on Facebook chomping at the bit to get back to in-person book events after a year-and-a-half of pandemic living. I've always found it difficult to feel all that enthusiastic about being with strangers in confined places, even before masks. Also, the last couple of years before Covid I was aware of how much of my time was going to running around doing...stuff. One positive thing the pandemic has done is give me some control over that. I've loved eliminating prep- and drive-time to attend literary on-line events. (I'm going to a workshop sponsored by an organization in Cincinnati this very evening!)

I also loved Linda's book launch, even though I had to iron a shirt to wear to it and drive fifteen minutes to get there. The site was in a pavilion in a charming town park, an outdoor, safer setting with some strolling possibilities on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It wasn't a dead-end event, like going to the grocery store or the doctor or a bookstore, where you've made an effort to go for one thing and then go home.

At this book launch, you could chat and purchase a book and head off for an easy mile walk.

Sad to say, Linda has raised the bar for book launches for me. And not just because of the walk across an extensive lawn to this tower and the impressive view beyond it.

She served cake.