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Author Gail Gauthier's Reflections On Children's Books, Writing, And The Kidlit World
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1. Really, I Shouldn't Be Thinking This Much

I have probably mentioned before that I have an interest in books with some kind of weight-related angle. One branch of my family has been...big...for three generations, probably more. While I've only been borderline heavy at times, myself (though I still have time), I've seen what this issue can do to a lot of people. It's something I think about a lot. If my response to Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught a few years ago is any indication, I over think about it.

All the time I was reading 45 Pounds (More or Less) by K.A. Barson, I was over thinking like mad.

One of the things I was over thinking about was how difficult it must be to write a book about being overweight. I definitely accept the value of the material. But can you write about the experience of being overweight without writing an issue/problem book? How can you write about being overweight without that situation being a problem? On the most superficial level, to do that the writer would have to find a way to overcome social attitudes toward the overweight in the world she creates, forget about the practical considerations Anne in 45 Pounds deals with or the health considerations my family members have dealt with. It's hard to see how this can go any other way than a problem story.

So 45 Pounds falls into the problem novel category, covering a multitude of reasons for people finding themselves a size 17, as main character Anne does. She really is hammered with far more reasons to comfort and impulse eat than anyone needs. She's very good at recognizing them. Though that probably makes sense because she's been studying weight loss for a big part of her sixteen years. Anne's big turn around comes from her desire to help someone else, not herself. That's something I could over think about with little effort. Is it better to improve yourself for yourself or for someone else? What does it all mean?

45 Pounds is definitely readable. Far more readable, in fact, than my angsting over the weight issue would lead my readers to believe. After I finished the book and while I was working on this blog post, I happened to read an article by Susan Dunne about artist Nathan Lewis. At the very end, he says, "That's the way we learn stories, through fragments. The narrative happens in our own mind." It immediately made me think of 45 Pounds, though not because its story is fragmented. Not at all. It's all there. But readers like myself, who feel they have a connection to that story, can get trapped in a narrative in our own minds.
 

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2. April Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

In April we finally get a heavily scheduled month of children's/YA author and illustrator appearances.

Wed., April 1, Paige McKenzie, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 7:00 PM

Thurs., April 2, Jeanne Birdsall, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 5:00 PM

Fri., April 3, Yevgeniya Yeretskaya, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Tues., April 7, Paulette Bogan, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Wed., April 8, Sarah Darer Littman, Cos Cob Library, Greenwich 7:00 PM

Sat., April 11, Erin Bowman, Barnes & Noble, Canton 12:00 PM

April 13, Lynn Rosenblatt, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Sat., April 18, Stacy DeKeyser, Mark Twain House, Hartford 10 AM 4th Annual Authors' Weekend Workshop w/fee

April 22, Gail Carson Levine, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:30

April 23, Katherine Applegate, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 5:30 PM

Thurs., April 23, Martha Seif Simpson, Barnes & Noble, North Haven 5 to 9 PM New Author Night
Noah
Sat., April 25, Stacy DeKeyser, Barnes & Noble, Canton 12:00  Local Author Day


Sat., April 25, Katherine Applegate, Steve Light, Bob Shea, Tony Abbott, Kathy MacMillan A Festival of Children's Books, Davis Street Arts and Academics School, New Haven  10 AM - 3 PM

Tues., April 28 Alex London, Noah Webster Library, West Hartford 7:00 to 8:00 PM Registration required

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3. What Did You Do This Week, Gail? March 27th Edition

What I focused on this rough week: Small things, since I could squeeze those into the time I had.

Goal 1. Mummy Book. I did some tweaking of early chapters based on some new research and found some new material for research.

Goal 2. Short Work. Worked on the new essay. Did a little bit of market research.

Goal 3. Adult version of Greg and Emma. Looked at a couple of pages. Had some ideas that I've forgotten. Did some market research.

Goal 5. Community Building. I finished the Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar for next month and passed it on to Computer Guy for fitting into the e-newsletter. It will go out this weekend. Also did a little tweeting.

Goal 6. Continue Marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff. I put in a few evenings on an annotated excerpt program I'm doing here next month for STP&S.

Things could have been a whole lot worse.


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4. Time Management Tuesday: A Situational Time Management Situation

You know how I'm always talking about how we can't set hardcore schedules, we must adapt to the ever changing situations that are our lives. Well, I am. For me, this week is a case in point.

A family member made a quick and successful trip to the ER this weekend. While he is well on the road to recovery, he is recovering, and I'll be helping out with some of his elder care responsibilities and other life chores. This week just happens to be one in which I had appointments digging into my work time, anyway.

  1. I know I can't do everything I normally do in this particular situation, and I don't enjoy trying and failing to do so as much as I used to. Feeling busy and overwhelmed doesn't really attract me much.
  2. I think I might be better off focusing on just a couple of work-related things this week so I can try to make some real progress on them instead of struggling with a number of things and not getting too far with any of them. Practically speaking, I think it's a better move. Emotionally it will be, too. Or not.
  3. I've decided that in this type of situation, blogging may not be the best use of my time.  Even though I do most of my blogging in the evening, I have a promotional plan for next month that I could be working on then that might be a better work choice.
Thus, I will be back on Friday to report how things went. 

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5. The Weekend Writer: Are You Developing A Trope Or Using A Cliché?

I'm including  My Top 5 Tried and True Horror Tropes by Micol Ostow in a Weekend Writer post not because I think new writers need to know about horror. Though, of course, if you're interested in writing horror, you'd better. No, what interested me in this post is how she defines the difference between a trope and a cliché. "...there’s also a fine line," Ostow says, "between a “trope” or homage, and a cliché."

When you see people refer to "tropes," it's usually in a flattering way. I can't recall the last time I heard someone say something flattering about a cliché.

The big question (which may be answered in the workshop Ostow mentions, but we won't all be going to that, and it isn't until fall, anyway) is how does a writer make something like a haunted house, asylum, or possessed doll a trope/homage and not a cliché? I've often wondered, is a trope a trope if readers get it, otherwise it's a cliché?

So keep the cliché/trope issue in mind.

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6. What Did You Do This Week, Gail? March 20th Edition

Goal 1. Mummy Book. Most of my efforts this week went to the mummyless mummy book. I had to do some research in order to move on. So there was research and there was moving on.

Goal 4. Submissions. I continued researching agents.

Goal 5. Community Building. Worked on CCLC and Goodreads.

As I write this, I'm watching Authors Anonymous and becoming depressed. Oh, my gosh. I hope I can go to my writers' group next month.

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7. Environmental Book Club

The Jenny Evolution has a list of Best Earth Day Picture Books For Kids. I haven't read any of these, but I haven't been able to pick up any environmental books, myself, for a while, so I'm offering these. 

I do have a couple of titles in mind for future reading.

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8. But, Then, I Like Art Museums

Meet Me at the Art Museum by David Goldin is one of the easiest to take instructive picture books I can recall reading in quite some time. It uses the old night-at-the-museum situation with a docent's name tag giving a ticket stub an after-hours tour.

This thing gets really simplistic, going so far as to explain what a coat check room is and that there are signs all over the place telling you what to do. But, you know, it's a picture book. It's for kids who presumably have never been into a museum. When I go to a museum, I like to go to the coat check first thing.

What a curator does, what a conservator does, what an archivist does, what a historical artifact is...I love this stuff. I also loved the reproductions of artwork sprinkled throughout the book. On page 14 you'll see A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat or, as one of my kids once told me, A Picture of a Woman Walking Her Monkey. I don't know why I'm so fond of that work.

Meet Me at the Art Museum would be a fine addition for libraries, schools...and museum bookstores!

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9. Time Management Tuesday: Talk Less About Procrastination, Do More

Procrastinating on a Writing Project? Use the 300-Words Trick by Charlie Gilkey is short and sweet. He suggests a reason writers may procrastinate and gives three methods for dealing with it, so they can get right to work.

Reason for Procrastinating


Gilkey thinks many writers put off getting started with work because they don't think they'll be able to finish. I think procrastinating for writers comes about when they don't know what they're going to write next. (Maybe that's just me.) But we may be talking about the same thing. If you don't know what you're going to write next, you're sure going to have some questions about whether or not you're going to be able to finish.

The Gilkey Method of Dealing with Procrastination

  1. Make yourself write 300 words. This sounds similar to the old Swiss Cheese Method of time management. It's a way to get started, and no law says you have to stop.
  2. If you can't write 300 words of straight narrative, you can write something about your narrative. I would add that you can also make lists of things that could happen somewhere in your narrative. A list of dialogue, actions, and reactions, for instance. Why, I did that just this afternoon.
  3. And if you can't write 300 words of narrative or lists, you can write some commentary on the structure of what you're working on. Hmm. I think that would have to be 300 words on how I've put things together wrong and how I can fix it.
The reason techniques like this help? Procrastination is about not being able to start. Three hundred words is starting.

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10. What Are We Really Promoting?

This week I'm starting a new schedule that involves doing promotion/marketing on Mondays. So it's appropriate, I think, to talk today about this terrific promotional article, What It Costs to DIY A First Book Tour. In it, author Katey Schultz discusses her year-long promotional tour for her book, Flashes of War, which was published by a small university press.

Interesting points:

  • Schultz spent $12,000 on her tour, split pretty evenly between hiring a publicist and tour manager and travel expenses. It was money she'd inherited or saved, not borrowed. She wouldn't go into debt for the book. This caught my attention because several years ago I attended a NESCBWI event at which a colleague said she didn't want her family to lose money on her writing. Something writers need to consider--writing can cost you money.
  • Five thousand books is too large a goal for a year. Schulz had to lower her expectations and spread that goal over three years. She's been told that the 1,500 books she believes she's sold over one year is a good number. Good numbers are still small numbers.
  • Some booksellers were not very supportive. I don't know if her experience is common. I can't help thinking, though, that within writers' circles there's so much commitment to booksellers. So...
  • Schultz hasn't made back her financial investment, but feels the work she's done has been good for her career overall, preparing the way for the promotion of a second book. And that's often how things work with writing. You have to think in terms of the career, not any one particular book.
We're always promoting ourselves.


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11. What Did You Do This Week, Gail? March 13th Edition

Goal 1. Mummy Book. After a rough start to the week, I finished another chapter. I am supposed to be revising the first nine chapters, but what I'm cranking out is so different now that I think I should just call it a new draft. I also presented some mummy material to my writers' group.

Goal 5. Community Building. I attended a marketing workshop last weekend and writers' group Monday night. I did a little work on the Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar newsletter and updated my Goodreads blog as well as did some other posting there.

Goal 6. Marketing STP&S. Came up with a couple of new ideas for the April marketing push I want to do, though I need to get acting on them. I also came up with an idea for a change in my general marketing work that I'll be trying out next week and writing about here in the future.

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12. Loretta Young And "The FitzOsbornes At War"

Here's a little something I heard at Goodreads this week:

The striking cover of The FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper uses a 1932 photograph of Loretta Young taken by Edward Steichen.

This is an incredible cover, IMHO, reflecting the era of the book (WWII, which is close to the '30s) and the character of the protagonist. Sophie is not the smartest, the bravest, the most charming of the FitzOsbornes. She is merely the one who wrote down everything that happened to the other members of the family.

Michelle Cooper refers to the photo and cover at her blog.

I'm guessing that this cover was created by the art department of Cooper's American publisher, Knopf. If I'm right, then I think it's a powerful example of what a traditional publisher can do for an author. Finding that particular photograph and getting the rights to use it is amazing.  

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13. We Can Keep Reading, Anyway

I've been reading Terry Pratchett tributes all day and particularly liked Tanita Davis's at Finding Wonderland. Discworld readers will appreciate it. Also, Emily Dickinson fans.

I've started my son and niece on Discworld books. If I hadn't just bought three Jane Eyre-related books for Becki, whose birthday is next week, I'd run out and get her Monstrous Regiment, one of my favorite Pratchett books. It will have to wait for another event.

Check out the photo above. That's another generation holding his first Discworld book. Where's My Cow? is a picture book version of a story that appears in at least one of the Discworld books. Every night, Sam Vimes runs through the city to get home in time to read Where's My Cow? to his son before he goes to bed.

I haven't finished all the Discworld books. Some I like better than others. I'm planning to concentrate on the City Watch books, which feature Sam Vimes.

The reading can go on and on.

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14. Some Young Ones Are Going To Like This

Books for kids on the lower end of elementary school have improved over the years. Sasquatch and Aliens: Alien Encounter, a chapter book by Charise Mericle Harper has real wit and a legitimate story line. (Well, except for the underwear business at the beginning, which, though fun, sort of peters out.) Two boys, who are not exactly made for each other, stumble upon an alien in the woods. And later a sasquatch. And there's a logical explanation. One that is just a little bit disturbing.

Cartoons are liberally sprinkled throughout Sasquatch and Aliens. They do more than illustrate. They carry some of the story, replacing traditional text in the narrative. That ought to make this book attractive to readers who may not be that fond of reading.

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15. Time Management Tuesday: Staying On Goals And Objectives

Someone, I won't mention any names but he knows who he is, suggested that the What Did You Do This Week, Gail? posts I've been doing once a week lately are not his favorite part of Original Content. They're becoming a favorite of mine. I've been staying on my goals and objectives this past month and a half or so, and those check-in posts are the reason why.

The last few years I've been checking on my goals and objectives quarterly or, once, not until the six-month point. I sometimes found myself rushing around in the fall to try to catch up on goals, and particularly objectives, that I'd forgotten about. I'm spreading the work around to a much greater extent this year by checking so much more frequently.

I got the idea for this from 18 Minutes by Peter Bregman. He suggests doing this goal evaluation daily. Weekly is all I can manage right now, and even that is helping.

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16. More Royal Binge Reading Material

I've just completed reading the Montmaray Journals by Michelle Cooper, an account of the lives of an impoverished royal family from pre-World War II into the very early 1950s. I began the series back in 2012 with A Brief History of Montmaray, a strange, otherworldly trilogy that I definitely enjoyed. I read Book Two, The FitzOsbornes in Exile, right after reading Book One. I don't know why I waited so long to get to The FitzOsbornes at War, but I didn't forget about it.

In the early pages of FitzOsbornes at War, I was definitely sorry I hadn't binge read these books. I was having trouble getting up to speed with the characters. But I did. I won't go so far as to say I couldn't put it down, but I was anxious to get back to it.

I thought The FitzOsbornes in Exile was probably a formulaic England-under-the-cloud-of-coming-war story. The FitzOsbornes at War is probably a formulaic London-during-the-Blitz story. It's just a really good one. Or maybe I just really like that formula.

With the first two books, I felt that the change to the characters' lives that gets their stories started didn't really start into well into the book. The change to the characters' world in FitzOsbornes at War is World War II, of course. Things got underway pretty early on this time. I did wonder, though, whose story this is. Sophie, who maintains these journals, is the least out-there of the royal FitzOsbornes. She's not as dramatic and charming as her brother, the king/pilot and younger sister (oh, Henry, Henry, I was in the Laundromat when I read...well, let's not go there), nor as brilliant and beautiful as her cousin. Her war experience is far more limited than theirs. Her function is to record what happens to them. Is this her story of telling their stories or the family's story?

In one of the earlier books, HRH King Tobias' personal life is revealed but barely mentioned again in this final book. In the last pages of the book, which cover what happened to the family immediately after the war and includes a genealogical chart, those of us in the know can pick up a little something that might relate to it. I found what these royals ended up doing immediately after the war very interesting.

I have to wonder if this last book is actually Young Adult. Sophie, our main character, is nineteen when the war begins at the beginning of the book, meaning she is twenty-four by the end. The war experiences aren't anything that relate specifically to adolescence.

I don't find this to be a problem. The idea of a YA trilogy transitioning to adult is interesting.

Check out this post from author Michelle Cooper's blog in which she discusses some historical events she considered including in the Monmaray Journals and had to let go. Cooper's blog also indicates she's been doing research on the 1950s and '60s. What is coming up?

And, finally, this trilogy is completed so you can binge read. Don't wait for the last book the way I did.



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17. NESCBWI: Marketing Your Brand

Oh, Look! Suddenly I Can Add Captions!
Yesterday I attended a New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' program, Marketing Your Brand. Jen Malone was the program leader.

Now Jen's first book, At Your Service,  was published just last year, though she has several others under contract and coming out soon. What she brings to the table when it comes to marketing is that she is the former New England Head of Publicity and Promotions for 20th Century Fox and Miramax Films and has sixteen years of experience teaching film marketing at Boston University. 

This was a very good program. I try not to go into too much detail regarding events like this, because the content is the presenter's. But I feel comfortable discussing workload and blogging.

Workload

 

You cannot exaggerate how hard many children's and YA authors are working at promoting, the time they are spending going to events, planning presentations, traveling, contacting people, all on their own dime. They may hold jobs of one kind or another and have families. It is just huge. And then they need to be writing their next books.

 

Sigh. I happened to be reading Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki today. Suzuki says, "The driver knows how much load the ox can carry, and he keeps the ox from being overloaded. You know your way and your state of mind. Do not carry too much!" It seemed appropriate.

Blogging

 

The feeling among the people in attendance yesterday was that blogging is a bit yesterday as far as "Authors must blog!" is concerned.  Some authors in that room were vocal about disliking blogging. What does that mean for long-time writer/bloggers like myself?

I'm thinkin' good news.

The Internet began to buckle under the weight of all the blogs that were created by writers from, say, 2006/7 to date. The pool of blog readers couldn't absorb them all, so many of us saw our readership drop and drop. If writers no longer feel compelled to blog, that could mean more readers for the rest of us.

That's what I'm hoping, anyway.

The caption under the picture of Jen Malone? The capacity to caption appeared out of the blue. Computer Guy is mystified.

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18. What Did You Do This Week, Gail? March 6 Edition

Goal 1. Mummy Book. Moving on! Including some timeline work that included historical research for a particular character's story. I am still working on that revision objective, though.

Goal 2. Short Pieces. Put in some time on an essay.

Goal 4. Make Submissions. The submission I planned to make this week fell apart in a big way. However, I found two new submission possibilities to try out. I also continued with the agent search for a couple of manuscripts that aren't ready yet.

Goal 5. Community Building. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Twitter work. Goodreads. Some posting to Google+ communities.

Goal 6. Marketing STP&S. I contacted a couple more blogs about possible Earth Day posts.

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19. Environmental Book Club

 In What is Cli-fi? And Why I Write It in The Guardian author Sarah Golding describes climate fiction as "fiction that foregrounds climate change." Her interest in writing it appears to go beyond using it as a setting, world, or spring board for a plot. She's trying to do something specific with her cli-fi books for young readers. She hopes that her characters' concern for the environment will spread to her readers.

On a related note, you might want to take a look at The Necessary Evolution of Environmental Writing by John Yunker at the Ecolit Books blog. He writes about needing stories "that inspire lasting change and have the power to change our worldview."

So both writers are talking about using environmental fiction in a proactive way, at least, if not one that is actually instructive.


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20. What Did You Do This Week, Gail? February 27 Edition

Goal 1. Mummy Book. Still working on revising early chapters. I am satisfied with what I'm doing, though. Cutting a lot. Cutting is always good, in my experience.

Goal 4. Submissions. I spent time researching agents and have a journal lined up for a submission. I wanted to make it tonight because I have an objective to submit a short piece every month, and I've already missed January and now I'm pretty close to missing February. But this particular journal closes for part of each month, and doesn't open again until the first. So I have to wait until Sunday or Monday.

Goal 5. Community Building. I completed and posted the CCLC and launched the CCLC newsletter. I've been involved with the 10-Minute Novelists this month as well as another Facebook group, and I did some Twitter maintenance. I'm going to look into another Facebook group I heard about this past week. Because you can't be a member of too many, right?

Not a great week, but I'm in a good position for next week. Not so much because of what I did this week, but because we don't have so many nonwriting things going on next week.

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21. The Weekend Writer: More On Dialogue And Tagging

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote here about dialogue tags, the little bits in a piece of writing that indicate someone has spoken. Author Martyn V. Halm discusses some additional ways to deal with said and tagging in WRITING: Dialogue and the 'Said' Rule.

Also, in The Seven Deadly Sins of Dialogue, pay particular attention to Item 2, Impossible Verbing.

I caught both these articles at a Writer Unboxed Facebook discussion, by the way.

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22. Well, This Is A Time Mess Up

Last Friday in my weekly goals and objectives post, I wrote about planning to submit a manuscript to a journal that is only open for submissions for part of each month. It opens on the 1st and closes when it reaches 200 submissions. That's the number of submissions the staff feels it can deal with in a month.

As it turned out, yesterday was the 1st. So I planned to submit yesterday or today. I was on the road most of yesterday, worked on completing the revision of a chapter today, and when I went to submit the manuscript in question, maybe ten minutes ago, the journal was already closed to submissions. It reached it's 200 mark in less than 48 hours.

Clearly I should have rearranged my time and tried submitting this morning. Or last night after getting back from a day trip. Or yesterday morning before I got on the road at 8:30.

I did not schedule my time correctly. And, you know, I did have a feeling I wouldn't have more than a couple of days to do this.

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23. Attention For Original Content

Today Original Content begins a six-week stint as one of the Featured Blogs at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators website. Look at the blogroll right there on the main page.

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24. Time Management Tuesday: Time Shaming

Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach In One by Ryan Boudinot received quite a bit of attention, of one kind or another, from two different groups on my Facebook wall this past week. I have never been part of a MFA program, so I can't even pretend to address what he has to say about them. I will, however, address what he had to say about time.

Yeah, That Was Harsh


"If you complain about not having time to write," Boudinot said in bold, "please do us both a favor and drop out." While expanding on that thought, he said, "My experience tells me this: Students who ask a lot of questions about time management, blow deadlines, and whine about how complicated their lives are should just give up and do something else. Their complaints are an insult to the writers who managed to produce great work under far more difficult conditions than the 21st-century MFA student."

Talk about insulting.

I have heard others disparage people with, shall we say, "time management issues." They seem to believe that those who can't manage their time suffer from some kind of moral failing. Certainly, they are "other," not like the people who perceive themselves as being time masters.

Why Time Shaming Is So Very Odd

 

What I find particularly interesting about this situation is that there are so many workable time management techniques. Psychologists have studied procrastination and impulse control problems it is related to. There is even writing process related to writing faster, which has a definite impact on how much writers can do with the time they have. Why, then, do people in positions to help writers treat those who wonder how they can find the time to write as if they just lost some kind of life lottery by merely asking the question?

I can only speculate, of course.
  1. We are a very them-or-us type of culture.  "I write at the drop of a hat, you don't. I know I'm good, so you must be bad." See also: Organic vs. plotting writers. Lots of arguments over whether or not one writing method is better than the other.
  2. The shamers simply don't know anything about time management. Not knowing something makes them uncomfortable, knocking down someone else makes them feel better.
One final speculative question:  Why not teach writers how to manage their time?



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25. My Favorite Carle

Though I certainly have always respected Eric Carle's accomplishments (great museum, for instance), I can't say I was ever particularly taken with his work. The whole caterpillar business kind of escapes me.

However, this weekend someone asked me to read him Carle's Dream Snow. And now I know why Eric Carle is Eric Carle.

What a fantastic combination of story and image. Little bits of animals can be seen through barn windows. Later, the whole entire body can be found behind an overlay of snow. And then the Santa-type figure decorates a tree that lights up. (Or maybe there was music. I was kind of excited over this, and now I can't remember.) I think this book makes the best use of what some might consider gimmicks, the overlays and the music or lights, that I've ever seen.

Someone in our family was totally drawn into this book. I had told him I was looking for a cow book in his room. He asked for Dream Snow, pointed out the cow in the barn, and when we lifted the snow overlays, announced, "There's the cow" and then "There's the-----" whatever the next animals were. Yes, he is amazing. But this book should make it easy for all kids to be amazing.

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