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Author Gail Gauthier's Reflections On Children's Books, Writing, And The Kidlit World
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1. A Future That Is Not Dystopian

Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel by K. A. Holt is a nominee this year for Connecticut's Nutmeg Award, which is how I found out about it. It was on the Nutmeg Shelf at my local library.

Nerves of Steel is a mystery in a science fiction setting that is more Jetsons than Hunger Games. Mike Stellar is suddenly hauled off on a space mission by his parents who were accused of being responsible for the failure of an earlier trip into the great unknown. Right away Mike thinks there's something odd going on. In traditional kid story fashion, he is all over it.

I found Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel slow getting going. And slow in other places. I hate to admit it, but I found the plot confusing in places, too. But there came a point when I did think that child Gail would have bought into a kid being able to save the day, no matter how improbable.

As Charlotte of Charlotte's Library said of this book when it was published, "This probably isn't a book that will appeal to grown-up fans of science-fiction, for whom the plot and its concomitant technology might seem simplistic. But, since they aren't the target audience, so what." Well, maybe I shouldn't say "As Charlotte...said" because I didn't find the plot simplistic. But you get what I'm going for here. This book isn't for people like me.

A big plus: Civilization hasn't fallen in this book. Oh, my gosh, I am so tired of post-apocalyptic misery.

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2. Time Management Tuesday: Doing More With The Time You Have

My May Days Facebook group is getting ready for what I call another month-long set-aside project. The idea behind the May Days group, itself, is to encourage one another to complete two pages of writing a day. That may sound like a modest goal, but it gives you some idea of how much writers do that's not writing. Some of us need support to help us find the time to get two pages written. I use the month as a unit of time to which I've assigned a particular task. Maybe I'll wring two pages a day out of it, maybe I'll do something else. This year I really am hoping for some new material and try out a new time management process.

I've been spending a lot of time working these last couple of years on projects that didn't involve generating a lot of writing. Instead I was revising completed projects to resubmit, dealing with the Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook publication, planning a workshop for a conference, and other such things that take up time. They may even require some new writing, but not a lot of it. For this May Days I'm going to do two things:

My theory is that there are two ways to manage time.
  1. Find more time
  2. Work more efficiently with the time you have
I've been writing about finding more time for a year and a half or so. Increasing word count could be a way to work more efficiently.

Aaron's fiction is traditionally published with Orbit. However, her topics with Writing Faster, speed and high word counts, are often associated these days with self-publishing authors who support themselves with sales spread over a number of titles available rather than massive sales of just a few. Thus, they need to keep cranking out books. Does that mean that writing faster and producing more won't be of benefit to other types of writers. I'm thinking, no. Writing faster and producing more simply means doing more with the time I have available to me. That's a lot like managing time.

Some points I need to make about my May Days project for this year:

  • I did start the planning last May, and I started writing (and rewriting the first few chapters over and over again) later in the year. So I'm not starting from scratch.
  • Aaron describes herself as a hardcore plotter. I'm an obsessive organic writer. But I'm already getting ideas for ways I can modify some of the suggestions in Writing Faster to fit my writing style. Otherwise, I will be heading for some kind of breakdown next month, which I would, of course, document here. You don't want any part of that.
Next week I'll bring you up on what I'm doing to prepare for working more efficiently with the month of May.

This is your last day to comment so you'll be in the running to win a copy of the Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook. The drawing will be tomorrow. Happy Earth Day.

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3. Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar Update: World Book Night Event Tomorrow

I've received a World Book Night announcement stating that Stephen Chbosky, author of Perks of Being a Wallflower, will be at the North Haven Barnes and Noble tomorrow night at 7:00 PM to meet local givers.This is a launch event. World Book Night is Wednesday.

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4. A Sale For Earth Day Week

Another special event for Earth Day: The Kindle and Nook eBook editions of Saving the Planet & Stuff are on sale this week for $.99. Kobo's not on sale simply because I couldn't work out how to change the price on the website. If that's a problem for anyone, let me know, and we'll try again.

On sale, all week.

And, remember, you can sign up for a chance to win a free copy of the eBook for Kindle, Nook, or Kobo through tomorrow, which is Earth Day.

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5. The Weekend Writer: Writers' Journals

Maintaining a journal is a big cliche in writer world, but it is also helpful. If you're a write-every-day person, it can provide you with opportunities to do that during those times when you're overwhelmed or traveling. Some of my most serious journal work has been done on vacation.

Lisa Catherine Harper has an excellent piece on writers' journals, Using The Writer's Notebook: A Practical Guide at Ploughshares' website. What's particularly good about her article is the variety of suggestions she has for notebooks/journals. You really can do anything with them.

While I do understand her point about handwriting with a journal, a journal computer program has the benefit of being searchable. Writers can go either way.

Here's some particularly good advice from Harper: "Be recursive. Don't write in your notebook and forget about it. Go back to read, underline, annotate, or dog-ear. Use Post-it notes to indicate important passages." I say this is particularly good advice because working on my journals is something I've failed to do. I've definitely been a dump-and-run writer. Paying more attention to my journal could oen a whole new world.

Remember to comment in order to have a chance at winning an eBook edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff.

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6. Promo Friday: Working On Twitter

Okay, I've done a little more snooping about Twitter.


I'm not going to do any "First, choose a name" things because you can find that all over the place. Agent Molly Jaffa does that in The Writer's Guide to Rocking It on Twitter, reprinted at Backspace. She does a little something extra by suggesting appropriate tweet material for writers--your writing and, additionally, your reading.

Then What About Followers?

Pragmaticmom (who I sort of know through Google+, not Twitter) has an interesting post, Twitter Tips and How I Got 55,000 Followers. Mia has a great deal of information here, but the point that really popped for me was the one about following and unfollowing people to increase your followers. Scroll down to the comments, and at the end you'll see I asked why to unfollow. Well, Twitter only allows you to follow so many people at a time. So you unfollow those who don't follow you back so you can follow others.

I think you have to consider what your goal is for Twitter. I originally joined for content, so whether or not people were following me back wasn't that great an issue. I was more concerned with cluttering my stream with content I wasn't interested in, keeping me from getting to the stuff I was. But rereading Mia's information about finding an audience niche and following hashtags has made me reconsider what I'm doing there.

Speaking of Hashtags

My understanding of hashtags is that they can increase your reach beyond your followers because anyone who is interested in the topic/hashtag you've added could end up finding your tweet in their stream. Feel free to correct me on that, readers.

You can find lists of hashtags related to various fields. Twitter Hashtags for Authors and Book Marketing Pros is one of them.

How Much Am I Liking Tweeting?


Ehh. I don't dislike it. I can even get into quickly sharing an article I've enjoyed reading. But I'm finding learning how to best use Twitter a little time consuming.

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7. Environmental Book Club

Check out Literacy, Families and Learning's Literature and Environmental Issues: 18 Challenging Picture Books. The blog breaks the eighteen titles into four groups:

  • The relationship of people to the environment
  • The negative impact of humanity on the environment
  • A celebration of the environment, its beauty and wonder
  • Environment as creation and the metaphysical experience of our world
Graeme Base makes the list twice.

Make your comment in order to be considered for the Saving the Planet & Stuff giveaway.

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8. An Earth Day Gift--"Saving the Planet & Stuff"

As I announced earlier this month, I'll be offering a free copy of the eBook edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff for Earth Day, which is next Tuesday, April 22. How do you get a chance to win? Leave a comment on any of my blog posts today through next Tuesday. We'll compile all the names and Computer Guy will use a program he created to randomly select a winner. You're welcome to comment as many days as you like, but we're only going to be counting you once.

The winner will be announced and notified next Wednesday, April 23. That just happens to be World Book Night, so we'll be celebrating two events at once.

Saving the Planet is available for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo.

"Sixteen-year-old ­Michael agrees to intern for an environmental magazine, The Earth’s Wife, and finds himself in over his head in politics—of both the environmental and the office kind. This eco-comedy contrasts the radical idealism of the 1960s with twenty-first-century “me-ism.”" That's how Saving the Planet is described on a list of science-themed books at the ALA website.

Wondering why I'm asking for comments instead of including one of those Rafflecopter things? Well, I rarely do giveaways here, so I decided that making the effort to learn how to use Rafflecopter wasn't a good use of my time. Besides, am I the only person who finds them less than attractive?

Let the comments begin.

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9. Time Management Tuesday: Using Units To Get Through Panic

Work is piling up, as it often does.

  • It will be time soon to pull May's Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar together.
  • I have some more Saving the Planet/Earth Day promotion to do this month, and it's coming up soon. Tomorrow for some of it, in fact.
  • I've been working on an essay I'd like to finish, and then I should be looking for markets to submit it to. (I have a couple in mind, so I'm not writing this thing blind.)
  • Speaking of submitting, I've been working on submissions for weeks. What about that?
  • Last weekend I realized that another May Days opportunity is coming up and that I have a two-fer project I'd like to work on then, one that involves producing new work and time management. I need to do some prep for that, if I want to make any real progress. 
  • World Book Night is next week, and I have to pick up the books I'm giving out. I think there may have been a glitch in the order, and I've been hunting for e-mails related to it today.
  • In June, I'll be speaking on Ethan Allen at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, Vermont, and I want to start bringing myself up to speed on that starting in May. We're taking a long weekend up north for that, so I'll have to find us a place to stay soon.
  • I have Computer Guy working on some logos for Original Content, and I need to do something about starting to use them.

Then a few days ago I remembered that Easter is next Sunday, a holiday I try to observe with a family event. In addition to all the work that entails, I've been having trouble getting a count on the number of people who will be here. Oh, I'm also supposed to be planning a multi-week trip for September.

That's when I started to panic about time. It was the pile on of personal work onto work work that did it. During this mini-crisis I started thinking about Charles Finch's point about amateur writers spreading themselves too thin. Pick some things to work on, Gail, and stick with them.

And, better yet, give them some units of time when they have you all to themselves.
  • I'll start using evening units for the CCLC next week. There's a whole week and a half after Easter. Huzzah!
  • Tomorrow a unit will be devoted to getting the Saving the Planet & Stuff giveaway started for Earth Day. Before the weekend, another unit will be used to go over again what I have to do to lower the  STP&S price for next week and deciding when this weekend I should do it.
  • The essay I've been working on for over a month I've been writing in sprints. It's quite far along, and by giving it some forty-five minute units over the next week, I should be able to finish it by the end of the month easily. And maybe spend some time determining the best submission plan. 
  • That submission project is pretty much done, too. I just have to wait, which I can easily do while working on something else.
  • I used a couple of units of time yesterday prepping for May Days. I just have to do something on it as many days as I can. Some reading is involved, and I might be able to work on that on weekends.
  • I'm stopping at the bookstore to try to pick up my World Book Night books on my way home from tai chi tonight. (No special trip out.) I may find that there are no books, in which case, this is done!!!
  • The Ethan Allen talk can wait until into next month. Once I have some of these other things done, assigning it units will be easier. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
  • Logos--That's not critical. Yeah. Let's save that for next week at the earliest.
  • And Easter, well, you don't want to hear about that. But that's started.
The old unit system helps with panic because it at least makes you feel that you've broken an overwhelming job into doing bits. In addition, planning units is a lot like creating objectives to meet a goal.

In this case, the goal is getting through the next week.

And now, if you will excuse me, I just took a break and am about to start another work unit. This one will involve that May Days project I want to get ready for.

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10. An Adult/Children's Book Mash-up

I have been a fan of Flavia de Luce, the eleven-year-old protagonist of a series of adult mysteries set in England in the 1950s, for a long time. I've also wondered why she hasn't received more attention from the YA world. Her most recent adventure, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, isn't my favorite, but it is a great example of why Flavia, created by Alan Bradley, is such an incredible combination of adult and even children's fiction elements.

Flavia has an incredibly unique, sharp voice, and she's extremely knowledgeable about a sophisticated subject, chemistry. While she jumps on her bike and has the kinds of adventures that are the stuff of children's books, that voice that adult readers love so much might not be acceptable to child readers. Adults like her because a child shouldn't sound like she does or do the things she does. Child readers might just find her unbelievable. Adults don't care about believing her. Adults like that this brilliant child knows nothing about sex. In this most recent book, she thought she could use her massive knowledge of science to bring someone back from the dead. It was a childish belief that adult readers would find touching. Child readers, on the other hand, might not get that this attempt on Flavia's part was more about character than plot.

I also suspect that Flavia isn't an entirely reliable narrator when it comes to her family. She perceives her sisters as hating her, but they have routinely come through for her over the course of the series. And in this volume it's clear that she hasn't understood her father's behavior toward her. I'm not aware of a lot of unreliable narrators in children's books or even YA.

In all these books a mom has been missing--a classic children's book situation. In The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, we get an actual dead parent. Children's literature is littered with those. What is really fascinating about Vaulted Arches, though, is that here we get a child suddenly learning that her family has a special function and that she is chosen--not those others--to be part of it. This is a cliche of children's fantasy, and there is almost a whiff of fantasy about Flavia at that point.

So what have we got here? While these definitely aren't children's books, do they have enough children's elements to bring young readers into the world of adult reading? 

Alex Waugh of The Children's War has also been writing about Flavia.

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11. The Weekend Writer: Charles Finch And The Differences Between Professional And Amateur Writers

Since the Weekend Writer began as a sort of training opportunity for beginning writers, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss Charles Finch's guest post, The 5 Differences Between Professional And Amateur Novelists, at Writer's Digest. Finch is the author of the Charles Lenox mysteries (I've read at least two of them), making him a professional.

Finch explains his points in greater detail, but basically he argues that the amateur and professional writers differ regarding tools, patience, focus, habits, and practice. Tools, patience, and focus are of most interest to me.

  • Tools: Professionals are interested in nitty gritty aspects of process.  Amateurs haven't gotten to that point yet.
  • Patience: Amateurs suffer from what has become known as the "rush to publish." Professionals have had the experience of recognizing problems in a manuscript after it has sat for a while. They want to find and fix those problems, not publish them.
  • Focus: Amateur writers often don't focus, spreading themselves too thin over an array of projects.
Today's lesson, then, is:
  1. Create a process and pay attention to it
  2. Accept that writing requires time, then take the time to do it
  3. Stay on task. 

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12. "Before There Was Georgia Nicholson, Before There Was Bridget Jones, There Was Adrian Mole By Sue Townsend"

To mark the passing of writer Sue Townsend, I am republishing a couple of Original Content posts about her fantastic creation, Adrian Mole. The first post below was the second one I wrote for this blog.

March 7, 2002  Speaking of Bridget Jones...

...as we were yesterday, gives me an opportunity to bring up two Bridgetish YA books I'm fond of.

Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison was compared to Bridget at the time it came out because, well, it's the funny diary of a British female. The big difference is that Georgia, the main character, is a teenager. Thus, being self-absorbed is much more normal for her than it is for Bridget, who is thirty if she's a day. Boyfriend and clothing problems get old fast with adults. Get a life, Bridget. But boyfriends and clothes are a more significant part of a teenager's world. Georgia never wears out her welcome, the way Bridget does.

The Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend contains two books originally published in the late 1980s/early 90s. The first book begins on New Year's Day with a list. Sound familiar? So does Bridget. The books are supposed to have been wildly popular in England. Sound familiar? So was Bridget. But, remember, Adrian was first. Hmmm. In addition to having a teenage main character, the Adrian Mole books are also deeper than Bridget. Adrian comments on what was going on in England at the time. High unemployment and immigration, for instance. That's social commentary, which holds a reader's interest a whole lot better than "Oh, how many cigarettes have I had today? That can't be good."

A question: Were the Adrian Mole books originally published as children's books?

June 13, 2006 Your First BAFAB Recommendation

I want to make my Buy A Friend A Book Week recommendations YA books that aged ones can also enjoy. My first two choices, sadly, are out of print. That's okay, though, because this book may even be better.

Before there was Georgia Nicholson, before there was Bridget Jones, there was Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend. And his adventures, taken together as The Adrian Mole Diaries are available for young and old alike to enjoy.

Adrian is supposed to have been huge in England back in his day, and Helen Fielding has admitted to being influenced. So you could call him the boy who launched the chicklit journal craze. He is, however, significantly deeper than his female followers, though still very funny. I have been a fan since discovering him in a local middle school library.

Quite honestly, I don't know if this book was originally published as YA or if it is being promoted as YA now. It deserves to be better known in this country and could easily be a cross-over book. So go out and buy it for a teenager or adult you know. 

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13. Environmental Book Club

The Nature Generation announced its shortlist for the 2014 Green Earth Book Awards. The award is given to books that "best convey the environmental stewardship message to youth" and "inspire children to grow a deeper appreciation, respect, and responsibility for their natural environment."

Winners will be announced on Earth Day.

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14. Two Stories In One Book

Scarlet is the second book in the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, which began with Cinder, a book I was very taken with. Cinder is a futuristic cyberpunk take on Cinderella. Scarlet kind of does the same thing with Red Riding Hood.

I say "kind of" because this is still Cinder's story, and for a long time Scarlet had her own story that was barely connected with Cinder's. Readers swing between the two storylines. Scarlet's is a very traditional woman attracted to a bad guy stranger and getting him to help her with a quest tale. Cinder's story is the traditional royalty in disguise, birthright stolen from her thing. But I'm already committed to Cinder because of Cinder, so I liked her part of the book better.

Oh, look! The next book in this series, Cress, has already been published. And, gasp, there are short story prequels for this series. So much to read.

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15. Time Management Tuesday: Procrastination In Our Genes? Shoot.

Did you read Procrastination Is In Your Genes at CNN Health and everywhere else on the Internet today? Did you even see it? Not to worry. I did.

A recent study (using those favorite study subjects, twins) "concluded that procrastination can indeed be genetic, and that it seems to have some genetic overlap with impulsivity." We've covered here at OC the impact of lack of impulse control on self-discipline. Yeah, it leads us to choose to chase after shiny stories about celebrities who haven't aged well instead of knocking off a thousand words a day. And that sounds a lot like procrastination.

The CNN article makes two interesting points. Impulsiveness gave the people of the past who possessed it an evolutionary advantage, presumably because those who could impulsively take off when they saw a wild animal coming for them had the best chance of getting away. Procrastination, the article says, "may be more of a modern phenomenon, since we now focus on long-term goals..."

We can focus on long-term goals because basic survival isn't as big an issue as it was centuries ago. Long-term goals are a luxury of a modern day life that doesn't require racing from wild beasts or rushing to get our share of food from a limited pool of the stuff. But most of us are descended from people who were impulsive, which is why they survived to reproduce. We don't need to run from wild beasts on a daily basis, so we use our impulsiveness to grab at Internet stories, home improvement shows, baking projects, shopping, and whatever else our hearts desire.

Writers, by the way, are modern people who particularly need to focus on long-term goals. But we're as likely as anyone else to have inherited impulsiveness from our ancestors. Check out your relatives to see if anyone else in your family has an impulsiveness/procrastination thing going on. If it looks as if it's in your genes, turn to  The Procrastinator's Digest for help.

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16. Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar Update: 8th Annual Literacy Essentials Conference

The 8th Annual Literacy Essentials Conference will be held this Saturday, April 12, at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. Children's authors PadmaVenkatraman and Spring Herman will be signing books from 2:00 to 3:00. Both writers will also be presenters of breakout sessions. Venkatraman will be co-presenting For Better or Verse: Selecting and Using Stories in Verse to Implement Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Hermann will be presenting the session Using Non-fiction for Uniting Multi-racial Student Communities: A Dialogue Between Authors and Teachers. 

This conference is directed toward educators and education students.


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17. Promo Friday: What's With Twitter?

I'm not entirely sure. I'm going to be working on Twitter for a while.

How To Deal With All The Tweets

I read quite some time ago that Twitter users only read what is on the screen in front of them at any particular time. Otherwise, all the material the people they're following tweet all day is pretty much lost to them. That's my experience. I'm probably not seeing a fraction of what's in my stream.

In Twitter Tips for Beginnings: Everything I Wish I Knew About Twitter When I Started Kevan Lee advises putting your followers into lists. Then at any one particular time you can call up just one list and read tweets in an organized way. How often are you going to do that and how far back are you going to read? I don't know. But it's a way to do some reading, anyway.

Do You Really Want To Follow Everyone?

Lee also suggests following anyone who follows you in order to build as big a following as you can. Some of his commenters disagreed, suggesting focusing on quality rather than quantity. I've read that it's considered good manners to follow anyone who follows you, but you shouldn't expect it of those you follow. I'll follow friends and interesting writers and bloggers who follow me, but I avoid people who are marketing products for writers or hardselling their books. I really am interested in content. Remember, it's hard to keep up with all the tweets, anyway, so you don't want to make your job harder by filling your stream with sales pitches.

What About Hashtags##??

Quite honestly, I was going to cover hashtags, but I read something today that suggests that I may not have a real good grasp on how to use them. My Twitter life is evolving. I'll cover this again another Friday.

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18. Environmental Book Club

I'm restarting the Environmental Book Club this Earth Day month with When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story by Linda Crotta Brennan. This is a lovely book with all kinds of illustrations--photographs, drawings, charts, and text boxes. I feel a little superficial talking first thing about how the book looks, but appearances make a book easier to read, particularly a nonfiction book. When Rivers Burned was also brought out by a smaller publisher, and its appearance is an example of how nice a product they can turn out.

Crotta Brennan does a good job here laying out her material as a narrative. She begins with the pre-Earth Day problems that led to the activism that led to the political action that led to Earth Day. It's not just an environmental book, it's a good beginner nonfiction book. I can see this book being recommended to upper elementary students so they can learn what nonfiction should be and how they should read it.

Only one quibble here--No footnotes or endnotes or bibliography. However, over the last ten years or so I've been seeing nonfiction without footnotes. So there may be something going on in nonfiction publishing that I'm just not aware of.

Transparency issue: I do know Linda Crotta Brennan in a say-hello-at-a-conference sort of way. I got this book through the library, not through Linda or her publisher.

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19. April Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

April 1, Jacqueline Davies, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00

Thurs., April 3, Janet Lawler, Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford Literacy Coalition Book Fair, Barnes & Noble, West Hartford  3:30 to 5:00

Thurs., April 3, Annabel Monaghan, Westport Public Library, Westport  7:30-9:00

Sat., April 5, Janet Lawler, Granby Public Library, Granby 10:30

Sat., April 5, Katie L. Carroll, Bank Square Books, Mystic 2:00 to 4:00

Thurs. , April 10, Joan Verniero, Westport Public Library, Westport 10:00 to 11:00 (This sounds like a program for adults by a children's author)

Thurs., April 10, Jody Casella, Jennifer Castle, Kim Purcell, Phoebe North, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM

Sat., April 12, Gordon McClellan, Bank Square Books, Mystic 11:00 to 1:00

Sun., April 27, John Rocco, Bank Square Books, Mystic 2:00

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20. Talking Fish

I  just stumbled upon this great bit of information: Santiago Cohen, who did the cover and illustrations for my very first book, My Life Among the Aliens, as well as its sequel, Club Earth, has a picture book coming out this November, The Yiddish Fish. Terrific news. 

Bless S.C.'s heart, he still maintains my book covers at his website.

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21. Promo Friday: Making Google+ Work For You

First off, why get involved with Google+?

Nobody's over there, right? Well, your friends from high school probably aren't. Or your neighbors or members of your church. If you're interested in professional-type content rather than pictures of cats, Google+ might be the place to find it. It's definitely an easy place to organize it. Google+ allows you to organize your contacts into "circles," categorized the way you want to categorize them. I, for instance, have self-publishing circles, marketing/promotional circles, and blogger circles. I can easily bring up each circle so that content is all I see on the page in front of me. I can take in a lot of information, easily.

How about getting my information out on Google+? Last week, I said I was going to check out Julia DeNeen's tutorial on crafting content for Google+. What you want to do on Google+, as with any other social platform, is get a message out to as many people as possible so you can develop some name recognition. DeNeen's tutorial can definitely help you do it.

This past week I've been doing only a few of the things DeNeen suggests, and I've definitely seen an improvement in my plus 1's (people sharing my posts) and an uptick in people adding me to their own circles. People, particularly people I don't know, sharing my content gets my name out in front of more people I don't know. People I don't know adding me to their circles so that my posts will be coming up on their walls regularly means that they'll see my name over and over. Name recognition.

What have I been doing?

  • I've been reposting all my blog posts at Google+ for a while. After watching DeNeen's tutorial, I've been much more serious about introducing them with a summary. That way, readers don't have to click through to my post to find out what it's about. This makes a great deal of sense in terms of the little I know about communication theory. The receiver of a message shouldn't have to work too hard. Without a good summary to give receivers an idea of what's on the other side of that link, they're forced to do the work of discovering it themselves. A lot of readers won't. (Myself included.)
  • I link to Google+ users whose work I'm discussing in my post in the summary. I had no idea how to do that. Never even occurred to me to try.
  • I now know how to use bold text.
I'll have to watch the tutorial again to figure out how to use images. But given the results I've had with what I have been doing, I think it would be worth it.

Next week I hope to cover everything I've been doing wrong at Twitter.

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22. The Weekend Writer: Salvage Operations

A Baking Metaphor

Yesterday I made the cookies you see to your left. No, they were not supposed to come out like that. I got distracted when I realized I was out of dark chocolate and would have to use regular and ended up using three times as much as I needed. I couldn't scoop any out, so I doubled everything else, hoping to make things work in some magical way. As you can see, the first batch of cookies were shapeless blobs. Not magical. Not any good magic, anyways.

But I had a lot of cookie dough, and I didn't want to waste it. So I tried dumping it all in a cake pan thinking that if worse came to worse, I could break it out of there, freeze the crumbled result, and we could eat it with ice cream until Halloween. And after I took it out of the oven, I thought that was what I'd have to do.

But when I got up this morning, I discovered that someone else (well, it was my husband) had been able to cut tidy bars out of the pan for breakfast. Sure enough, I was able to take a disappointing mess and turn it into bar cookies.

So What's The Metaphor?  


Well, writing projects often don't turn out the way we originally envisioned them. And that can happen after putting a lot of time and effort into them. Did a novel requiring a lot of research not work out or find a publishing home? That material might be turned into a piece of nonfiction. Published essays frequently turn into books of nonfiction a few years down the line. Writers may realize that a novel should have been a short story. I have a middle grade manuscript I couldn't place, and I've made one pass at turning it into a book for adults. I'm working on an essay right now that was originally a workshop proposal.

It's as hard to see words and time go to waste as it is to see butter, flour, and cocoa. Writers who are trying to support themselves with their work can't afford to just forget about projects that aren't panning out. They have to salvage them somehow, if they can.

So while you're writing, keep thinking about options. You might need them.

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23. I've Been Reading The Horn Book

Okay, I'm talking about the January/February issue and not the current one. But if you haven't read it, you're going to have trouble finding it now. Not to worry. I will share favorite bits and and a few thoughts.

The Articles

What's New About New Adult?, which you can read. I would probably have at least taken a look at this particular piece even if blogging colleague Liz Burns wasn't one of the authors. (Along with Sophie Brookover and Kelly Jensen.) A concise description of NA from their article: "New Adult — aimed at an adult audience but with strong appeal for teen readers — has recently garnered much buzz. Story lines tend to follow the contours of contemporary genre romance novels, but starring younger characters." They also say that NA has "more drama and explicit sexuality than even the most daring YA."

I heard muttering about some kind of new category of book for older than YA readers for years before New Adult turned up on the scene. I was expecting it to be rooted in college-age and twenty-something experience of starting jobs and being out in the world, though, and not limited to romance and sexuality, which is all I'm hearing now. I was thinking things like Lonely Werewolf Girl. Yeah, I got that wrong.

Owl Moon Redux by Jane Yolen. I am not a poetry person, but I found this article on different ways Yolen could have gone with the text of her book Owl Moon fascinating.

What Makes a Good Horse Book? by Anita L. Burkam, which is also on-line. Guess what? I was a horsey girl. Billy and Blaze. The Black Stallion. Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio, which I remembered as Queen of the Palio. Another article I just had to dip into. And what did I find? Maxine Kumin wrote a horse book for kids!

The Reviews

A lot of Horn Book reviews deal with  apocalyptic, paranormal, and fantasy titles or some variation of same. As a general rule, there are also a lot of dead parent or dead somebody stories. This probably reflects what's being published rather than any kind of direction from the magazine. There's a limit to how much the-future-is-a-dreadful place and dead Dad reading I can do.

Some other types of titles that caught my eye:

Year of the Jungle, Suzanne Collins' picture book about her father's tour in Vietnam.

Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt. A graphic novel with a character who is into Jane Eyre.

The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van Leeuwen. This book actually sounds a little over my head, but I was grabbed by this line--"...then she meets a captain who's AWOL because he's unable to use the imperative mood." He couldn't give orders?

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. Eccentric art genius.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by NESCBWI colleague Melissa Stewart

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24. Time Management Tuesday: Can Our Environment Impact How We Use Time?

Earth Day is coming up on April 22, and I'll be observing it off and on all month. Yeah. Earth Day Month. Today I'll begin by stretching the meaning of environment and pondering whether our immediate environment, and lack of order within it, can have an impact on how we use time.

First off, I'd argue that without a doubt lack of order in our immediate environment will be a time buster just because it makes it difficult for us to keep track of things. Time gets sucked up hunting for things in the office or even going out to buy more of what we can't find. That's a practical matter.

But last month in a Chicago Tribune article, Self-control, Smells, and Spending, Gregory Karp wrote about some recent studies that concluded that our immediate environment has a less obvious impact, as well. The studies, he says, indicate that a "disorganized environment can leave you feeling out of control, which drains your reserves for future self-control, leading to poor decisions including impulse spending." What does impulse spending have to do with time management? It's not the spending we should be concerned with, it's the draining self-control or discipline. If a disorganized environment makes people feel out of control enough to impulse shop, won't it make us feel out of control enough to shake up our work schedules? In fact, according to ScienceDaily, the researchers on one of the studies Karp refers to, Environmental Disorder Leads to Self-Regulatory Failure, were "looking for changes in behavior like impulse spending as well as poor mental performance or reduced stamina on tasks that require advanced thinking skills."

"Reduced stamina on tasks that require advanced thinking skills"--that's what we're concerned with.

Environmental Disorder (Boyoun (Grace) Chae of the University of British Columbia and Rui (Juliet) Zhu of the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in China) is quoted all over the Internet. A blog at The Harvard Business Review picked up this point in the study: "...people who sat by a messy desk that was scattered with papers felt more frustrated and weary and took nearly 10% longer to answer questions in a color-and-word-matching task, in comparison with those who were seated by a neatly arranged desk."

The irony here for those of us interested in managing time is that maintaining order takes time. I have set up a new work station for my new(ish) laptop without ever really organizing the spot where I put it. Doing that would eat into my work time. But things are closing in on me, as you can probably see from the pictures accompanying this article. At some point, the disorder will reach some kind of tipping point, and I'll have to do something about it in order to continue working. Last year I had a system set up by which I spent 15 minutes in the morning doing some filing and pick-up so this kind of thing wouldn't happen. That fell apart when I had a health issue earlier this year and wasn't working regularly. I need to get some kind of clean-up routine back into my life to address this kind of problem in an efficient, timely way. (You can bet that will become another Time Management Tuesday post.)

Another issue relating to disorder in our immediate environment is that many writers work in their homes. How "immediate" does "immediate work environment" mean in that case? Not many of us have someone coming in to do laundry or clean bathrooms or...Well, anyone who works at home in any way knows where I'm going with this. "...disorganized environment can leave you feeling out of control, which drains your reserves for future self-control." Everyone's tolerance for disorder is different, but I will admit that sometimes having to walk through my kitchen on my way to the office drains my reserves.

I'd also like to point out that over the last few decades the value of homemaking has taken a few hits. Letting housework go and not being a perfectionist about it are the center pieces of many articles on how to manage time and stress. How often is the traditional suburban housewife some kind of heavy/bad guy on TV shows or at least a laughable cliche? (Not Alison on Orphan Black, by the way. I love her.) And, yet, without the order they once maintained many of us find ourselves in a disorganized environment that often drains our reserves of self-control.

Well, I've used up a couple of units of time writing this blog post, and now I need to use my break to fold the towels I washed yesterday. They're up in my living room. Talk about disorder.

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25. "Saving The Planet" Made A Science Book List. I Feel So Amy Farrah Fowler.

As I mentioned yesterday, I'll be observing Earth Day all month in an irregular sort of way. I'll be bringing the Environmental Book Club back to life, putting the Kindle edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff on sale at a reduced price the week of April 20 through 26, and  offering a free copy to a lucky commenter on Earth Day, itself, April 22.

Speaking of Saving the Planet & Stuff and all things environmental, I learned earlier this year that the original edition of that book was included on an ALA list of Science-Themed Novels. It's classified under Landforms and the Environment.

Landforms and the Environment. Does this mean I could be on the Big Bang Theory?

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