Thursday, December 07, 2023

Some Annotated Reading December 7

This week's annotated reading is all short form.

Pool of Souls by Madeline Graham at Redivider   One of my favorite things about flash fiction is that it can pack an intense emotional wallop that longer works can't. Pool of Souls definitely packs a wallop.

Flash fiction sometimes gets a little mystical, which I'm not as fond of as I am intensity. We Don't Want Kids by Catherine Roberts at Flash Frog has enough intensity to offset whatever mystical thing might be going on, so I found it satisfying.

Facebook friend Sherrida Woodley just published Me and Amelia Earhart at Halfway Down the Stairs. This is not flash, but a memoirish piece and some very elegant writing. Check out the first paragraph, if nothing else. 

What Happened When the U.S. Failed to Prosecute an Insurrentionist Ex-President by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker. (I have a digital subscription this year.) I read this because I love Jill Lepore. I own two of her books, one being a big history of the United States that I carry in the car to take into any place where I might have to wait. I read it when it's someone else's turn to drive. Lepore is a regular contributor to The New Yorker, so I have a lot of reading to do. I have to admit that I got lost in all the people involved in whether or not Jefferson Davis would be prosecuted, but there was still a lot of terrific material here. I'm the kind of nonfiction reader who takes what she can take and doesn't grieve the rest.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Child Readers...Maybe Any Readers?...Of Science Fiction

This past September I came upon and flagged a 2015 Horn Book article, The Campaign for Shiny Futures by Farah Mendelsohn. I probably read it at the time it was published, because I was subscribing to Horn Book then, and I've been familiar with Mendelsohn's work for a long time. I believe we were once members of the same listserv, I may have heard her speak at a scifi/fantasy conference years ago, and I find her to be an incredibly logical and coherent thinker and writer.

In The Campaign for Shiny Futures she has fascinating things to say about child readers of science fiction, how science fiction for children has changed over the last half century, who is writing science fiction for children...I could go on.

One of the things she writes about is child readers' interest in ideas and information in science fiction, versus relationships. I am only a dabbler in reading and writing science fiction, but I wonder if this may be true of adult readers of science fiction, as well.

I was reminded of a science fiction discussion I attended at my local library years ago, back in the day when it actually sponsored literary events vs. gatherings regarding crafts and cooking. (Why, yes, I do have an ax to grind.) I don't recall what book we'd read, but I had not liked it at all. However, I was sitting in a circle with people who were leaning forward, on the edge of their seats, consumed with interest. What is going on here? I wondered.

What I realized was that those people were reading for content while I was reading for style. Did that make me just a little superficial? Or a lot?

For example, I like the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. In fact, I believe there's a new book out I'll be buying myself for Christmas. However, I can't tell you a whole lot about what's going on in those things, the technical information, or ideas. I am totally taken with Murderbot, itself. The same is probably true for any science fiction I read.  

This means, I think, that I should not be shopping for or advising any true science fiction reader of any age.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Time Management Tuesday: If The Metaphor Works...

Sometime in the last month or two, I stumbled upon Eat the Frog: Brian Tracy Explains the Truth About Frogs. Tracy is a "success expert" and has a book called...Eat that Frog, about dealing with procrastination.  The Eat the Frog concept is inspired by a Mark Twain quote. "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." To make a quite long story short, Eat the Frog involves doing your biggest and most important task first thing. And if you have two big and important tasks, you hit the biggest and most important task before the less big and important one.

Now, this seems like old wine in a new flask to me. This is not the first time I've seen advice regarding doing the biggest or the most important or the least desirable job first thing in the morning while you've got energy and impulse control, both of which peter out over the course of the day. Though I've also on at least one occasion read a suggestion to do two or three small things so the adrenaline rush of completing them encourages you to take on more.

But Eat the Frog is a metaphor. You're comparing a job you're not enthused about doing to eating a frog, another thing most of wouldn't look forward to. I believe metaphors help us. They can be like mantras. I, for instance, use "staying on task" or "on task" for actual work and for craft. I need to stay on task with a humor piece, with an essay, even a piece of fiction, to keep myself from drifting off topic or theme or losing a character's voice. "Staying on task" comes from back in the day when I was harassing young kids to do any number of things. It is a metaphor I lean on.

One could argue that everyone needs a metaphor. If eating a frog helps you with your workload, embrace it.

Monday, December 04, 2023

2023 Thurber Prize Semi-Finalists

The semi-finalists for the Turber Prize for American Humor were announced last month. I usually don't hear about these until the winner and finalists are announced, but I got an email this time! I've been trying to do some Thurber Prize reading the last couple of years, so I'll get to a few of these at some point.

Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou                   

Hysterical by Elissa Bassist

Ms. Demeanor by Elinor Lipman


The Lemon by S. E. Boyd   


Working Girls by Trixie Mattel and Katya

Friday, December 01, 2023

Friday Done List For December 1

Goal 1. Finish 143 Canterbury Road

  • Finished doing a new draft of this manuscript for National Novel Writing Month last Sunday. (Will Gail ever stop talking about that?)

Goal 2. Work on Adult Essays, Short Storis, and Humor

  • Made two submissions of a humor piece.
  • Received one rejection.
  • Began working on what I'm calling the Daily December Project, which involves just starting a new short-form piece each day. Did the first one today, December 1.
  • Filed some materials related to short work that had been floating around.

Goal 4. Submit Adult Work To Agents

  • Have been working on collecting agent names to whom I'll submit 143 Canterbury Road.

Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

  • Did three blog posts (counting this one).
  • Started a fourth blog post.
  • Promoted the blog at a couple of places, which I haven't done in a long time.
  • Made a list of OCWW workshops I'm interested in taking in the next few months. Hmm. I think there's one next week.
I also cleaned my desk as a sort of between temporal landmarks purge/preparation. When you're a minimalist, it takes far less time to do that.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Some Annotated Reading November 30

True Biz by Sara Novic is one of those books that has such a long waiting list on Libby that by the time it turns up for me, I've forgotten why I placed the hold. It takes place in a boarding school for the deaf and deals with a multitude of teenage things, but, additionally, two methods of communication for the deaf, sign language or ocular implants. Interesting point: I often complain about books for the young that appear to be written to teach them something, claiming that I don't see that in adult books. This book does seem to be written to teach adult readers something, it just seemed to do it really well. Or perhaps it's just that the deaf community is something I know very little about, so being exposed to it was fascinating.

I was looking for mystery/thrillers to read and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn had been on my Kindle for some time. I bought it on sale, but because I'd seen, and liked, the movie years ago, I didn't bother to read it. I bothered this month, and it is a very good read. I rewatched the movie this past weekend. The ending of the book is much grimmer than the ending of the movie. Interesting point: Writers often read that they must have likable characters, certainly a likable main character. One of Gone Girl's main characters is unlikable and the other is a psychopath. Yet Flynn pulls it off.

So then I decided to read one of Gillian Flynn's earlier books, Dark Places. Holy Moses, it makes Gone Girl look light and fluffy. Interesting point: Talk about unlikable characters! This one has some unlikable child victims. Again, Flynn pulls it off.

Another interesting point: All three of these books use multiple points of view, something I didn't realize was used that much in adult work. With Flynn's books, in particular, you really get different voices with the different point of view characters, something I think doesn't happen a lot with YA and middle grade, in which the characters often sound alike.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Time Management Tuesday: December! Still Another Temporal Landmark

You haven't been seeing much of me here, because I've been intently working on my National Novel Writing Month project, which I did, indeed, finish his past Sunday, five days early. As I've tried to make clear, I wasn't doing a traditional NaNoWriMo 50,000-word first draft. I was doing a revision of a completed manuscript that I think comes in around 80,000 words. Nonetheless, it is probably my most successful National Novel Writing Month effort.

Now, this fall I went on, and not for the first time, about the splendors of NaNoWriMo as a temporal landmark, a special occasion/calendar date(s) that mark out a period of time that's different from what came before, an event or period that creates an opportunity for a fresh start. (Paraphrasing myself there.) Damn if we don't finish the NaNoWriMo temporal landmark season then we head right into another. 

Advent/Holiday Season/End of Year

Whether you want to go all Christian and think of December as Advent or you'd prefer to think of it as the holiday season, because there is a boatload of them (the article linked to is from last year, so many of the dates aren't accurate for 2023), or just preparation for the end of the year, December makes many of us feel that it's different from what came before and most definitely different from what will come later.

Often that difference involves being overwhelmed, because even if we're not big holiday people, ourselves, our culture (capitalist culture?) loves them. Town events, school events, family events, musical events--the demands and distractions go on and on. Additionally, many day jobs may require end-of-the-year rushes, because even if the year's end isn't the end of the fiscal year, it's the end of the year. Come on, people, everyone knows that means something.

Writers In December

Writers, especially writers with day jobs or families or day jobs and families, who also have a contractual end-of-the-year writing deadline--congratulations! Though it's been a long time since I've been in this situation, I know it's going to be rough for you. I'm going to be honest and say that I don't have much advice to offer other than:

  • The only way out is through.
  • Nothing lasts forever.
  • When this is over, think about some end-of-the-year life prep you can do in the future well before December to help if this happens to you again. 
For the rest of us, December may not be a good time to start working on a new novel or that history of women who received master's degrees in the nineteenth century. It may not be a good time to decide you must get up at five every morning to write or even to write two hours a day. Taking on big things when you're strapped for time is a good way to wreck your self-esteem and wrecking your self-esteem leads to failures of impulse control and once you're impulse control is shot, well, it's going to be difficult coming back in January.

That doesn't mean you should take the month of December off, either. December is a great time to work on small things that will help us next year and additionally support our identities as writers. Such as, Gail?
  • Got a manuscript ready to submit? Researching agents takes time, but can be done in short bursts here and then. Prepare a list of agents you can submit that project to in January. 
  • Do you write short pieces? In 2021 I spent the month of December just starting 31 short story or essay a day. That was one a day. Of those 32 starts, 6 have been completed and published. I started to do the same thing last year, but only made it to 15. Hey, but 15 starts. 
  • Research for a novel or nonfiction! I love research! It's great for December, because, like researching agents, it can be done in bits and pieces whenever you can make time. 
  • Reading markets, which is another way of saying researching markets, can also be done in odds and ends of time. I'm talking about reading print and on-line journals to see if they publish the kinds of things you write and would thus be a good choice for a submission next year.
  • Cleaning your office wouldn't require a lot of mental energy from you at a time when you may not have much. At least get the filing done? Make sure you're up-to-date with keeping track of your submissions? Yes, I have some things sitting on the desk that surrounds me that I could try doing something with. 
  • Have you got craft books (by which I mean writing craft) and articles stowed away somewhere? Another task that can be worked around the end of the year chaos.
Doing one or more things like these during December would mean truly accomplishing something, not just making you feel you have. 

Additionally, these are also all examples of how writers can work every day, or nearly so, without having to enslave themselves to the write-every-day order. Because being a writer involves more than writing. Working through December can help us learn that.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Friday Done List For November 24

I have started revising the last chapter of the manuscript I'm revising for NaNoWriMo. I am so close to being able to submit some short pieces next month. And clean up my email inboxes again. (Not that I'd finished them.) And start making a list of agents to submit this to. Oh, and looking for OCWW workshops to take! Maybe I can take one next month. And get some Christmas shopping done. Oh, and blogging, of course.

There is a lot of joy to be had with being almost finished with a project.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Friday Done List For November 10

National Novel Writing Month has been going well, even though I've missed one day for family and will be missing a lot of the coming weekend. Of course, I'm not writing an entire first draft this month, I'm doing a revision, so the demands aren't as great.

Goal 1. Finish 143 Canterbury Road As An Adult Book

  • My NaNoWriMo project is a revision of this book. I am down to the last two chapters, but they may be rough. Much of the earlier part of the book had gone through four drafts. These last two chapters had gone through only one. The last chapter, in particular, needs a lot of work. I'm waiting until next week.

Goal 2. Work On Adult Short Stories, Essays, And Humor

  • Got a rejection this week!

Friday, November 03, 2023

Friday Done List For November 3

National Novel Writing Month started three days ago. Since then I've been staying focused/on task with one project. 

Goal 1. Finish 143 Canterbury Road As An Adult Book

  • This was finished earlier in the year. I'm doing what I call a "tonal" revision for National Novel Writing Month. In three days, I've completed maybe a third of the job. This makes me hopeful that I'll finish by the end of the month. However, I have a number of family things coming up this month. Also, it has been my experience that everything takes more time than I think it will.

Goal 2. Work On Adult Short Stories, Essays, And Humor

  • I made a submission to Smokelong Quarterly at the beginning of the week before starting NaNoWriMo. I don't expect to do any more on this goal this month.

Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding. 

  • Four blog posts, counting this one.
  • Attended Musings & Movement yesterday, a monthly Zoom program. This is the second time I've attended. I can't say I have done any community building there, but attending makes me feel one with other writers. Both times I've also come away with some creative ideas.
  • Did a couple of Goodreads reviews. My main interest with Goodreads is keeping track of my reading. If any community building or marketing happens, that's fine.