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Author Gail Gauthier's Reflections On Children's Books, Writing, And The Kidlit World
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Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote a post at her website last winter on procrastination called How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don't Want To. Among her suggestions and my take on how they apply to writers:
Promotion vs. Prevention Focuses
A promotion focus
encourages someone to work to better themselves. Will working today mean meeting a deadline or enable you to make a submission? Will studying today enhance the quality of your writing? Will just putting in time writing enhance the quality of your writing? That's all about promotion.
A prevention focus
encourages someone to work to maintain what they have and prevent loss. Will working today help me to maintain my tenuous place on the writing career ladder? Will it help me to stay published? That's about prevention.
Halvorson argues that choosing a focus can keep you working.Do You Have To Feel Like Working In Order To Work?
This is a question of particular interest to writers and other creatives because there is a stereotype that we have to be inspired in order to work. There are muses that are supposed to visit us. Personally, I think this is a very old-fashioned attitude, at least as far as creative people are concerned. I never hear it from published writers or anyone serious about publishing. Actually, I only hear it from people who don't do creative work, and even then rarely. I don't hear about writer's block, either. The realities of publishing have moved most of us past that.
If-Then Planning Timothy Pychyl also talks about if-then statements
, calling them implementation intentions
. You plan ahead to deal with problem situations--form an intention and plan how you'll implement it. I, for instance, plan to keep working until a timer goes off. Halvorsan says, "...if-then plans dramatically reduce the demands placed on your willpower... In fact, if-then
planning has been shown in over "200 studies to increase rates of goal attainment and productivity by 200%-300% on average."
Author Lynda Mullaly Hunt will be making an appearance at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Glastonbury on Sunday, August 31st at 2:00 PM.
Roger Sutton recently had a post at Read Roger in which he expressed frustration over reading books and finding out, without warning, that they aren't complete. They're the first in a serial. Oh, yes. I've had that happen so many times. He concludes, "Thank goodness Tolkien had already finished The Lord of the Rings before I got to the end of The Two Towers and “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.”
I didn't have that experience with The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood. I had that experience with The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling, which was the first book in this serial. The Interrupted Tale is the fourth. I've liked them all, but The Interrupted Tale took a long time to get into. These books have a very distinctive voice, one I enjoy, but it's not a very natural one.
I enjoy binge-reading adult mystery series. While I was reading The Interrupted Tale, I started thinking that binging might be the way to read serials, too. How great it would have been if I could have read all The Incorrigible Children books one right after another. There would have been no "getting to know you" period for each book. I could have just lived in the serial.
So what do those of us who enjoy binge-reading a serial after it's concluded or a series after there's plenty to binge on need to do? As Roger pointed out, we often don't know that a book we're reading isn't a complete story. Once we've accidentally stumbled into a serial, do we just put reading the rest on hold for years until the serial has been completed? And when we are aware of a "new trilogy," do we avoid it and make a list for sometime in the future?
Hmm. Perhaps I'll have more on this in the future.
Writing a novel is the gold ring of publishing. But realistically speaking, you might want to start out by writing something more manageable, something for magazines. How do you get started writing for magazines? According to The Renegade Writer, you start writing for magazines by reading them.
A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk on the traditional vs. self-published experience for writers. I discussed covers, but had to stick to those with new art created by artists, since I had no experience with photo covers. If only I'd been quicker about reading the May/June 2014 SCBWI Bulletin, I would have had some good info I could have included.
In that issue, author Chris Eboch had a great article called Photo Cover Design for Self-Published Novels. She uses a case study of an author who found the main photo for her cover herself and still needed a photo artist and a designer (that's two different people, folks) to finish her cover. I mention this to make sure everyone understands how involved creating a cover is.
Finding this article will be worth the effort for anyone thinking about creating their own book cover.
The July/August issue of The Horn Book (which I believe is somewhere in this house) includes a review of Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America’s Own Backyard by Mary Kay Carson with photographs by Tom Uhlman. The review says the book introduces readers to scientists who conduct research projects on geology, ecology, and biology at three state parks.
You may read about this one here again.
You may recall that I blew the better part of a month on a piece of flash fiction I still haven't finished. I have written flash fiction before, and I know it took me a while to write it. But my recollection is that I worked on it now and then over a long period of time while working on other things. It didn't keep me from other projects the way last month's short story did.
Several years ago I heard a couple of writers leading a workshop on nonfiction say that they determine how much time they'll commit to getting a new project started before they get going. I e-mailed them to ask if they'd like to elaborate on that. They didn't. This past week, I threw a question out on this subject at Facebook. Again, no one wanted to discuss how they decide to let a new project go or at least put it aside on simmer.
I would like a formula, an equation that I can plug numbers into. Something very linear. (I did a little research on linear and nonlinear systems for that 1,000 word project.)
The amount of time I put into this story, which I can't even name because it doesn't have one yet, made me feel I needed to put more time in so I wouldn't have wasted all the time I'd already used up. Just a little bit more, then I'll get my payoff. Hmm. Does that sound like gambling? In the meantime, I was loosing a big chunk of the time I'd wanted to use on the project I'd made progress on during May. I'll be on vacation a large part of September, so that stinks. I also was drifting away from the new writing process I was working on in May. This was all for a 1,000 word story that I had no market lined up for. If I had been able to publish it, it might have ended up being with a publication that doesn't pay.
Now my work provides a very small portion of our family's support. But there are writers out there who have to generate income. They can't use their time like I used mine last month.
I had a flashfic obsession, and others could tell. My husband used the word in relation to my writing behavior and constant discussion of the story. Now that it's over, I feel confident that in some point in the future, I'll finish that piece and be able to submit it. But I also feel I should have been able to get to that point with a normal work method.
Knowing when to lay off may be a matter of knowing. Without the knowing, I'd like something else to push the Put It Away Button.
Diana Wynne Jones' Reflections On the Edge of Writing includes a transcript of literary critic Colin Burrow's BBC essay, Fantasies for Children, which you can listen to. Burrow just happens to be Wynne Jones' son.
Burrow says that Wynne Jones fused the ordinary and the magical, which may be why I've liked what I've seen of her work. I can only take so much magic. He also says that Fire and Hemlock is her best book. What!? Not Chrestomanci?
Burrow talks about Wynne Jones' feelings about her childhood and how they impact her writing. If you read Reflections On the Magic of Writing, you hear a lot about that from her, too.
I've spent the better part of a month obsessing over a 1,000 word flash story, not one I was reading, one I was writing. I thought I was going to knock it off fast because I had a goal for my character, and I actually had an ending for the story. Or so I thought.
Flash Draft and Flash Revision
I wrote six or seven drafts before I got almost to the end of one. I'm at a point where I can put it away for a while. While I was going through this ordeal, I wondered if writing flash fiction could be a way to train to write other forms. Because flash is so short, you go through drafts faster and you can try different things faster, the way scientists use mice because their life cycles are shorter than humans so they can work faster. Over the course of my drafts, I worked on eliminating build-up and focusing specifically on the climactic moment.
Flash Addresses Writing Problems
Christopher Ramsey in Why I Teach Flash Fiction
says, "In my class, flash has been a valuable teaching tool because it addresses all the issues a new writer might have in the context of their own writing." He says "the usual problems with new writers" include "too much backstory, too much filtering, authorial intrusion, and too many adverbs." Limiting yourself to 1,000 words addresses all kinds of "too much" problems.
Getting Started With Flash
Flash Fiction What's It All About?
at The Review Review
Last year I discovered climate fiction, also known as cli-fi, a term coined by Dan Bloom. Earlier this week, Kelly Jensen at Stacked did a post called Get Genrefied: Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) on climate fiction for YAs.
Is Cli-Fi Apocalyptic?
Notice that a lot of these books appear to be apocalyptic. Is that a requirement of this genre-like category? Why does a story about climate change always involve society falling apart? We experienced a Little Ice Age
as recently as the early 1800s. Did the Earth's citizens go, "Life as we know it is over?" I think not. And if someone had told them, "Hey, it's going to get a lot hotter over the next century and a half or so," would they have gone, "Well, that sucks" or would they have said, "Thank you, God!"
Why can't we have a cli-fi book that involves a snow world and a society has evolved in which everyone skates and cross-country skis and it's Christmas all the time? No, seriously, why not a winter world where a culture has simply evolved to function there? Or a desert world that has been made livable by way of technology. ("Better living through science!")
Climate As The Story Vs. Climate As The Setting
I suspect what's happening here is that, as Kelly says, cli-fi is "fiction that features climate change at the core of the story." Making the climate change some kind of negative change provides the storyline. Whereas the kind of thing I'm talking about is a situation in which the climate is the setting of the story. The story is about something else. Would that be climate fiction?
Coming UpThough I most definitely am not a fan of apocalyptic fiction, I'll grit my teeth and try to pick one of these books from Kelly's list for a reading effort. She also refers readers to Eco-Fiction & Cli-Fi Books, which I've just started following on Twitter. I should have more in the future on this subject.
...as I was in my last post, Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn has an excellent description of three business models for writers.
Notice that none of them are "Write a bestseller and become rich."
I met Jerry Craft last week at Avon Free Public Library's Children's Authors Night. Very soon thereafter, Publishers Weekly included him in an article on a book he illustrated that is being published this month by Scholastic.
Here's what I find interesting about this: Jerry self-published his first Mama's Boyz book in 1996. And now he's illustrating a book for Scholastic and getting written up in Publishers Weekly! But it's not 1996 anymore. It's 2014. Jerry didn't go directly from self-publishing to working with a traditional publisher. In between he's worked as a cartoonist on graphic novels for Marvel and Harvey Comics, his cartoons have have been syndicated through King Features, where he also worked in sales, and he was the Editorial Director for the Sports Illustrated for Kids web site. He's also done covers for other authors' self-published books.
My point is, he did not self-publish a book and become some kind of over-night sensation. He maintained creative day jobs while working toward success. To me, this is a great and realistic career model.
I try to blog in the evening, so I'm not using primo creative day time on what is essentially marketing. The last two Tuesday evenings I've been making appearances. And that's where my time went the last two weeks.
Last week during my tai chi class, I trained with a more experienced student. At the end of the class, my instructor informed me that I should tell my classmate, "Thank you, older sister" (in Chinese), not because Susan is older than I am, but because she's more experienced. I will spare you the details of how meaningful I find this in terms of the distinction between taekwondo and tai chi culture. I'm just mentioning it to explain why I was dwelling on the sister issue while reading Reflections on the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones this past week.
Reflections is a collection of Wynne Jones' short nonfiction pieces written for magazines, speeches, and professional groups over several decades. She collected them herself a few months before she died, meaning these articles were ones she felt had particular significance. One of the things I like about this collection is that because it isn't written and edited all in one piece, there is repetition here. The repetition creates recurring themes related to Wynne Jones' attitudes about her work.
But I really like about this collection is that so many of Wynne Jones' attitudes are ones I share. She talks about creating experiences with her writing. I've thought of writing as creating worlds. She objects to writing that is supposed to instruct. Dear heavens, how I hate that. Over and over again I'm finding things in this book that make me feel that I've found some kind of soulmate.
Oh, and though there are a couple of chapters here on heroes, if Wynne Jones even mentions The Hero's Journey, I missed it.
And, finally, the book concludes with an address one of her son's gave at her funeral in which he talks about the tweets they'd seen recently about his mother's books being comfort books for this one or that one. Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci novels are my Number One comfort books.
There's just been an amazing amount for me, personally, in this book, making me feel an incredible connection to this woman I will never know.
Quite well. Thank you very much for asking.Jerry Craft
Tuesday night, I was one of four authors speaking at Avon Free Public Library's Children's Authors' Night. This was part of the library's summer long Local Author Festival. I've noticed a drop in children's author appearances in this state recently. Avon Free Public Library really stepped in to fill a gap.
was the evening's first speaker. He's a cartoonist and graphic novelist
whose work has been featured in Ebony
and The Village Voice
, among other publications, and distributed by King Features. He published a collection of his comics in Mama's Boyz
, has illustrated other authors' books
, including The Zero Degree Zombie Zone
, and has written middle grade books, including The Offenders
's Maddie and Beanie's Magical Journey
was inspired by her work rescuing horses. This is a fascinating subject she's also written about for journals. Stacy DeKeyser
is the author of an intriguing YA novel called Jump the Cracks,
which I read about five years ago. Very unique story. On Tuesday, she spoke about where writing ideas come from in general, and how she came up with the idea for her most recent book, The Brixen Witch
And what did I do at Children's Authors' Night? Well, I didn't take a picture of myself, that's for sure. What I did do was discuss my experiences with both traditional and self-publishing, with particular emphasis on Saving the Planet & Stuff
, since it is my self-published eBook.
Last week I did a Time Management Tuesday post on using time during dry spells when you're not making sales. One of the things I suggested doing was studying, including the possibility of working on a MFA. I wanted to include a link to Karin Gillespie's New York Times' essay, A Master's in Chick Lit, but I'm embarrassed to say I couldn't remember Karin's name, so couldn't find the essay.
Seriously, I should be embarrassed not to have remembered her name, because we were both members of an on-line writers' community years ago. Karin had a blog at that time, which was what got me interested in starting Original Content.
Check out her experience with an MFA program in creative writing.
Two big events this month, thanks to libraries.
Fri., Aug. 1, Sarah Albee, Elise Broach, Jeff Cohen, Jennifer Donnelly, Valerie Fisher, Wendell Minor, Burleigh Muten, Marc Rosenthal, Eighteenth Annual Sharon Summer Book Signing and Dinner With Authors, Hotchkiss Library, Sharon 6-8 PM
Mon., Aug. 4, Chris Weitz, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM
Tues., Aug. 5, Marilyn Davis, Stacy DeKeyser, Gail Gauthier, , Local Author Book Fair (30 authors), Avon Free Public Library 7:00 to 8:00 PM
Tues., Aug. 12, Josh Chalmers, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM
Sat., Aug. 16, Jane Sutcliffe, Tolland Public Library, Tolland 10:30 AM Book launch
Thurs., Aug. 21, Bob Shea, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM
Tues., Aug. 26, Dav Pilkey, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM
Firefly July, A Year of Very Short Poems, which was our Environmental Book Club selection earlier this month, has won the 2014 New England Independent Booksellers Association New England Book Award in the children's category. These awards are given for books either about New England, set in New England, or by an author living in New England.
Firefly July is an anthology compiled by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
I've only read the intro and first chapter of The Planet Hunters
by Anita Silvey
, but I have great hopes for it. I found myself getting excited while still on the first paragraph:
"One got eaten by tigers in the Philippines; one died of fever in Ecuador; one drowned in the Orinoco River; one fell to his death in Sierra Leone. Another survived rheumatism, pleurisy, and dysentery while sailing the Yangtze River in China, only to be murdered later. A few ended their days in lunatic asylums; many simply vanished into thin air."
Silvey isn't talking about the work of some kind of curse. She's talking about the consequences of amateur scholars following their passion for...plants. The nineteenth century appears to have been full of these kinds of people. Paleontologists. Egyptologists. And now botanists. I love them all. Well, not those guys who took boat loads of men to their deaths hunting for a pole. Trying to get some place doesn't grab me. Trying to acquire knowledge about the world most definitely does.
I'll keep you informed on this selection as I make my way through it.
It's been a rough couple of weeks at Chez Gauthier as far as work goes. Lots of family stuff eating away at my work time. I have, however, been able to focus what time I have on specific goals:
Goal 2: Writing short pieces. I've been working on a new piece of flash fiction.
Goal 3: The mummy book. A little rereading of chapter one.
Goal 4: Submissions. I made one this past week. (It was rejected within a few hours. Now that's time management.)
Goal 6: Marketing the Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook. I've been preparing the slides and presentation for the Avon Free Public Library event.
Staying on task with goals helped me make a little progress these past few weeks. I expect my situation should improve by Monday.
As usual, the weekend was brutal, which is why you haven't heard from me. I will admit I had some time for blogging Sunday afternoon, but I used it for recovery.
So, let's see, I believe that last Tuesday we began talking about the time problems involved when writers are working but not making sales. We said they came in two flavors: problems related to how others perceive us and problems related to how we perceive ourselves. Today we'll cover some ways to try to deal with them.
Problems related to how others perceive us. When we aren't generating income because we're not making sales, others perceive us as not working, and thus available for everything.We can't control what they believe or how they behave toward us. We can only control ourselves. So what we can do to better manage our time:
Problems related to how we perceive us
- Set blocks of time when we aren't available to others, even if it's just a couple of days a week. They can call us, but we don't have to answer the phone. This will work better if you have Caller ID. All I have is a Caller ID Box, no answering machine. The calls I need to take for work or to make sure there are no family emergencies, I can take. Without an answering machine, the callers I don't respond to can't leave messages for me to hear coming in. That can be just as disruptive as calls. If you feel uncomfortable about this, you can spread the word about what you're doing so family and friends understand. My experience, though, is that the people who believe I'm on call for them don't believe me. This really is a case where controlling ourselves is probably our only option.
- Be quick to adapt to each week's situation. If, say, you're loosing an extra day of work time to elder care, you just can't accept that invitation for lunch. I speak from experience. This happened just a couple of weeks ago. I didn't think ahead and adapt quickly enough. I accepted the lunch invitation on top of that extra day of elder care and lost a lot of work time that week.
. We give up a lot of personal life to find time to work. Time with friends, time for book clubs, time for volunteer work, time for other creative activity. Going without the reward of publication for too long can eventually lead to big time discouragement, making it hard to stay on task. What can we do to get the energy up we need to keep making good use of time? And make good use of time while we're doing it? If you follow me.
- Consider yourself a novelist? Use some of your writing time to try generating shorter material so you can submit more widely. The more you submit, the better your chances of publication. Even if you get published in nonpaying journals, the publication fills gaps in your publishing history and gives you something to show editors and agents.
- Try finding a writers' group. If the writers' group advocates are correct, this will provide work feedback as well as networking. You have to be careful, though. Writers' groups can be very time consuming, if they meet often and require a lot of work from individual members. You have to balance benefit and costs here.
- Try doing some studying. There's always a possibility that there's a reason for the publishing problem, one that you could address through education. There's no one way to do this. You can do a do-it-yourself MFA type thing with self-study. You can take workshops and go to conferences and retreats. I know of published writers who experienced a publishing drought post 2008 who used the opportunity to go to graduate school. Again, you have to be careful to make sure you're balancing study with writing. Also, keep in mind that some critics believe that MFA programs turn out uniform, cookie cutter writers.
To some extent, you can consider a period of not publishing an opportunity to do some different things like those I suggest above. Because once you've made a sale, particularly of a book, you're going to lose a lot of your writing time to the publishing process and marketing.
Yeah, writing's a trial.
The Plant Hunters by Anita Silvey turned out to be as marvelous as I thought when I started it last week.
The Plant Hunters deals with the naturalists who went all over the world hunting for new plants. While Silvey brings her book up to the present day, for the most part, she's dealing with seekers from the past, particularly the nineteenth century, a period when the search for new knowledge sent lots of people out into the unknown.
What Silvey does here that's so terrific is that she doesn't just write bio per chapter after bio per chapter. I thought that might be the case, after reading Chapter One, which is about Alexander von Humboldt. Instead, she organizes her chapters around topics. Say, Chapter 2 Why Did They Do It? While explaining why these people faced danger and made tremendous efforts to bring huge numbers of plants over long distances, she uses real people to illustrate her points. Every chapter is like that. They each are on a subject and the people involved get pulled in that way.
And the nineteenth century illustrations and the black and white photographs are so perfect.
The Author's Note has a great bit on how Silvey got the idea for this book while reading The Orchard Thief by Susan Orlean.
There's also a chapter on thieving westerners robbing other cultures of the crops they depended on. Well, no, that's not how Silvey put it. That's me. Those nineteenth century scholar/adventurers had a dark side, in my humble opinion.
This is a terrific book for older grade school students. It could even function as a quick introduction to this subject for much older readers. It might encourage a few plant hunters
A couple of weeks ago, Facebook Friend Jeannine Atkins posted that she was getting ready to tack items on a character's refrigerator in a work-in-progress. I thought, Wow! Why don't I post items from one of my works-in-progress on my refrigerator? It would help keep me in the WIP's world
I suggested in Jeannine's comments that we do that. Someone pointed out that first we'd have to clean off our refrigerators, which is definitely the case.
As you can see in the above picture, I've overdone it a bit with the art magnets. They're now crammed onto the side of the fridge.
Look to the left, and you'll see what I replaced those magnets with--material related to my mummyish book. I have a timeline for my somewhat real historical figure, Nebetah, daughter of Amenhotep III, leading to my made up nineteenth century Egyptologist family leading to the museum they funded in the 1920s leading to my present day story. I have family trees for the pharaoh's family and for the Egyptologist's. I have a picture of the statue of Amenhotep, Queen Tiye, and their daughters, the only one in which Nebetah appears. I have pictures of the university museum that I'm using as a model for the Elliot Randall Gardner museum.
You might recognize a picture of Nefrititi. She appears to have been Amenhotep's daughter-in-law, which would have made her the sister-in-law of my sort-of mummy, Nebetah.
I haven't worked on this project in weeks while I've been taking care of smaller works. We'll see if having these details in my face every day helps me get back to it faster.
I suggested to a family member that my fridge story panel was similar to a Pinterest board, except that being on my fridge, I would actually look at it. He thought it was more like one of those Major Crimes case boards.
The two writers taking on the question of the necessity of book promotion in The Demands of Book Promotion: Frivolous or Necessary? are pretty much in agreement that it definitely isn't frivolous. They just don't/can't get into the subject much beyond that. The comments are a little more nitty gritty.
But, you know, it's rare to find a promotional essay that offers a whole lot of help and hope to writers.
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I like books that stay on task, as I always put it. It may be that as a reader I get distracted if there are too many different things going on. I found the cookery part of Getting the Girl, A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery by Susan Juby distracting.
Sherman Mack is a wonderful character, like a younger, less raunchy, undamaged Seth from Home to Woefield. The mystery he's investigating, who singles out girls to be turned on by the general population, is a serious one, if maybe a little over the top. Sherm's interest in cooking ties in to the mystery by the end, but it seems unconnected until then. Same with his out-there Mom and the neighbor guy who serves as a father figure for Sherm.
Juby does a couple of interesting things here. First, she does a neat twist on the cliched mean girls stereotype. She also has created a world in which every popular kid in school, whether they earned their popularity with their looks, their athletic prowess, or something else, isn't hateful. They certainly aren't heroic or particularly positive in their behavior, but, again, they aren't the evil stereotype we're used to seeing.
I have another one of Juby's books here that I hope to get to in the next few weeks.