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Author Gail Gauthier's Reflections On Children's Books, Writing, And The Kidlit World
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1. Time Management Tuesday: The Unit System Lifeline During That Time Of The Year

Two years ago, I wondered if the unit system would get me through the holidays. My concern was "Losing time to the holidays, in and of itself, is a problem. What also happens, though, is that we can damage our work habits while not working and lose any carry-over flow we might have been experiencing." A week later I was reporting a major failure of will, self-discipline that had gone down in flames. Last year I wondered if sprinting and a new laptop would enable me to stay on task through the December holidays. It looks as if I never addressed how I did with this issue here at OC, probably because I was engulfed in a moderate health care crisis from the middle of December until the end of January.

So, two points:

My Major Problems With The End Of The Year Holidays


My control of my time is so tenuous that anything new that enters the playing field, like a holiday that requires hours and days and weeks of preparation, like two of them coming a month apart, is overwhelming. December/the Christmas season packs a double whammy, because in addition to being very time consuming, it involves an emotional toll. Christmas the secular event is supposed to be magic, whatever the hell that is. We're supposed to be creating magic. Yeah, we're talking a whole other level of time with the magic thing.

And we're supposed to be creating magic while we're maintaining a day job. Those of us who don't have traditional day jobs, who work for ourselves, in our homes, often have trouble controlling the boundary between home and work, anyway. It's all too easy to justify slipping over the border into work time to finally get started on cookies or get those gifts wrapped because cookies and gifts are magical. Magic is worth it, isn't it?

The Unit System


As the magic bleeds all over our days, sucking our work's life blood, small units of work time become more and more important. If we try to think in terms of a work week, we run the risk of hitting the What-the-Hell Effect. Oh, we don't have all week because of one holiday problem after another. What the Hell? We might as well forget about work then. The same is true of thinking in terms of a workday. At some points in December, we can't get many of those. So what the Hell? Why work at all?

But if you think in terms of forty-five, twenty, and even ten minute units of time, suddenly work options appear. Forty-five minutes at least a few times a week will work for editing a draft or maybe even progressing with  a new one. Twenty minute sprints each day can help keep you in a new project, even if you can't make a lot of forward movement with it. It can make a dent in blog posts or take care of some professional reading. Ten-minute sprints on a laptop set up in whatever room you're working magic in can allow you to knock off all kinds of work

So far, this is working for me. At least, it's working as far as work is concerned. I don't seem to be getting much magic done, though.

Hmm. I might use a tiny sprint this weekend to plan a rerun for next week's Time Management Tuesday post on the 23rd. On the 30th, I'll be doing a recapitulation post for my 2014.  


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2. Going Out On A High

I have liked some of M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales/Pals in Peril books better than others. (I know I'm nitpicking on this, but the name of the series changed for some reason.) I had to be won over by the first book, Whales on Stilts, but the second one, The Clue of of the Linoleum Lederhosen, was a hit. The third one I read (there are supposed to be six; I seem to have missed a couple), Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware wasn't a favorite. But the final book in the series, He Laughed with His Other Mouths, is an absolute gem.

The basic premise for all these books: A Tom Swift-type character named Jaspar Dash and a spunky girl (younger and spunkier than the 1930's era Nancy Drew) existed in their own book worlds that reflected the eras that created them, the 1920s/30s and the 1980s/90s. And yet, at the same time, they are existing in our own twenty-first century where Jaspar, in particular, is both having adventures but out of place.

In He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Jaspar is now that classic/stereotypical character, the young male in search of his father. Jaspar will go to the ends of the universe in search of dear old dad. He will accept some pretty outlandish behavior from his father figure. However, Jaspar is a young hero, and he recognizes evil when he sees it. Maybe he doesn't recognize it right away and maybe he needs a little push from his spunky girl companions, but he does recognize and behave as a hero should.

All of the books that I've read in this series operate on more than one level. You have the basic contemporary adventure. You have characters from an older book world trying to function in a contemporary one. You have the knowledge that children who are now old, if not dead, read the older books back when they were new and shiny.

With He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Anderson does something quite marvelous with footnotes. Using footnotes for witty asides has become a cliche since Terry Pratchett perfected doing that back in the day. But Anderson uses his clever footnotes not to be witty but to tell another story entirely, this one about a kid during World War II who was a Jaspar Dash fan. This is a complete story, a piece of serious historical fiction embedded in a fantasy satire/comedy.

As with all these books that I've read, I wonder how much of this wonderful stuff child readers will understand. Assuming they enjoy the layer with the contemporary adventure, will they get the jokes that are part of it? Will they get the nostalgic elements?

Kid readers aside, for those of us who do get He Laughed with His Other Mouths, it's pretty damn brilliant.

He Laughed with His Other Mouths is a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category.


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3. Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar Update

Nancy Tafuri will appear at the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington this Saturday, December 20th at 2:30 PM.


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4. Sunday Sentence

A contribution for the  “Sunday Sentence” project, a sentence I've read this week, no explanation or commentary.

"But I am a scientist, and like all scientists, I am trained to deflect heat rays, escape space dragons, and safely land a lifeboat capsule on the cooler parts of the sun." M. T. Anderson, He Laughed With His Other Mouths, A Pals in Peril Tale.

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5. The Environmental Book Club

Not every page of Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More by Etta Kaner with illustrations by Stephen MacEachern contains Earth-friendly content. Nonetheless, this is quite a marvelous book about the work that goes into building a variety of structures and how many of them are being built greener.

Though this is a nonfiction work, the basic premise is that an imaginary girl has been traveling with her engineer parents, and we are reading her scrapbook. She is one enthusiastic kid. Among the things I liked about Earth-friendly B, B and M:

  • While there is certainly content related to large buildings being made more green, there's also material about designing buildings to withstand earthquakes and storms. It's as if technology is working with Earth, not against it.
  • It gives readers a good idea of the number of people, the variety of engineers, for instance, necessary just for the planning of a big construction project. This is important because it helps to explain why building takes so long and is so expensive.
  • Technology has had a bad rap for many years now. The 1950's were filled with movies about science gone amock. I've read that The China Syndrome was a turning point in how science was perceived by the public in the '70s, that technology would lead to very bad things. First some guy is messing around with creating life, and the next thing you know, dinosaurs are coming back and eating people. But in Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More, technology is portrayed as a good thing. Mom, Dad, an uncle, and a cousin are all engineers, all involved in creating or fixing things. Even if you're not a fan of tech, this is different.
The stereotype about environmental living involves natural fibers, whole grains, and funny light bulbs. But it takes technology to make real environmental progress, to find ways to heat and cool enormous buildings, for instance. Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More can help young people recognize that.


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6. "Devil's Intern" Kindle Edition Available Free Today

The Devil's Intern by Donna Hosie is available free TODAY for Kindle. It's a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.

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7. Time Management Tuesday: Are Writers Ahead Of The Curve In Integrating Work And Life?

If you visited CNN's website today, you may have read an article today called Work-life Balance is Dead by Ron Friedman, a social psychologist who has a brand new book out, The Best Place to Work. He says that the idea of work remaining something that's done outside the home is a fairy tale. Well, it certainly is for writers. "Until we come to terms with the fact that separating work from home is a fantasy, we can't begin to have an intelligent conversation about what it means to create thriving organizations," he writes.

He's talking about traditional work sites where people go to work, to do something that they don't do at home. For writers, our work sites usually are in our home. Which is why you sometimes hear about writers heading out to coffee houses and libraries for mini-retreats. They're trying to escape the home demands or the home habits so they can work more. Or, as Friedman might say, they're trying to get some control. "...placing employees in control of their schedules encourages them to work during hours when they are most effective." Or perhaps where they are most effective?

Friedman writes that for "many of us, compartmentalizing our work and personal life is simply not possible and not just because of the ubiquity of email. In a growing number of companies, work now involves collaborating with colleagues in different time zones, making the start and end of the workday a moving target."

I would argue that many people can't compartmentalize their work and personal lives because their work is so much a part of their identity that it is their personal life. Of course, I'm going to mention writers here, who are always working, if for no other reason than that they are constantly taking in information that can become a new idea. But if you've known engineers and people in many medical and technical fields, anyone whose job involves solving problems, for that matter, they are often integrating what they're seeing around them with whatever is going on in their work lives.

"Instead of endorsing the work-life balance myth, organizations are far better off empowering employees to integrate work and life, in ways that position them to succeed at both," Friedman concludes. Integrating work and life is pretty much what writers are already trying to do.

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8. Wouldn't This Make A Neat Little Sitcom?

When I picked up The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy from the library, I told the librarian that I'd heard the book was like The Penderwicks but with boys and two gay dads. She said, "Ah, bringing the story into the present." I think that is the case. I liked The Penderwicks very much and found it contemporary, probably compared to/contrasted with Little Women, which it is a spin on. But I also thought "This book, simply by being a throw-back to Little Women and, perhaps, other pre-nineteen-fifties stories, is different." It had a retro thing going for it, it was "a story about sisters who worry about the family's honor and don't even mention a TV."

The Fletcher boys may be viewed as a little innocent and other-worldly not because they're retro in any way but because their stories and lives are very rooted in traditional child issues. This in spite of the fact that they are not genetically related, they are not even all the same ethnic background, and they are all the children of two men who are living and raising a family together. Each boy has his own storyline with his own issue:

  • Boy One is a popular athlete who is considering trying something different 
  • Boy Two is dealing with growing apart from a friend and moving on, as well as trying to interview the crotchety old guy next door for a school project
  • Boy Three is highly intelligent and has begged Dad and Papa to let him go to a school for the gifted
  • Boy Four has the "stereotypical" imaginary friend. Or does he?
You know the one problem none of these kids have? Those gay dads. The men are just there, doing any kind of dad stuff. There's nothing didactic or instructive here about accepting families with nontraditional parents. These guys have had children in the school system for a number of years now. People know they're there. Halloween parties are held. Ice rinks are made. Holidays are celebrated. Life goes on.

This is not to say that no one ever raises an eyebrow over the gay family. When they are attending an open house at a new school, oldest brother Sam feels compelled to address questions. "We were all adopted as babies. Our dads have been together for ages. They got married two years ago"..."Do you have any other questions? Want to know our birthdays? Height and weight?"

That was a neat way to handle back story, by the way. The newspaper article written by an eighth grade student about the Fletchers and their annual Halloween party is also a clever way to get the back story on how the Fletcher kids became brothers.

As I was reading this book, I thought this premise would make a charming sitcom. The various chapters here could be the first season's episodes. Then the story could expand with episodes about the gay dads dealing with their boys going to camp, getting babysitting jobs, heading to high school, getting jobs, dating girls. 

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is a Cybils nominee in the Middle Grade Fiction Category.

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9. Sunday Sentence

A contribution for the  “Sunday Sentence” project, a sentence I've read this week, no explanation or commentary.

"Alien abduction is part of the American poetry of loneliness." M. T. Anderson, He Laughed With His Other Mouths, A Pals in Peril Tale

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10. The Weekend Writer: An Opportunity For Children's Writers In And Near Connecticut

Write Yourself Free, a creative writing workshop in Westport, Connecticut that offers writing instruction, will be offering an eight-week Writing for Children program (scroll down) in January and February. There are three options for times. Author Victoria Sherrow is the instructor.






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11. My Word Count Is Higher Than Your Word Count

Toward the end of last month, I began to see "I Won" badges being shared by Facebook friends who had hit their NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words during November. It was neat to get a little buzz off their excitement. But then I began to see links to blog posts that included variations of "I Lost" in the title. Not so buzzy. It's been many years since I've taken part in NaNoWriMo, but I don't recall this Win/Lose thing. I may not have a good grasp of the word "lose," but I can't imagine a universe in which having started a book length project and worked on it at all makes anyone a loser.

Having those "I Lost" images in my mind left me particularly interested when I stumbled upon When Did Writing Become A War? by Lev Raphael at the Huffington Post. Raphael says, "The sensible suggestion that beginning writers should try to write something daily to get themselves in the habit has seemingly become interpreted as a diktat for all writers all the time. What we write doesn't matter, it's how much we write every single day... As if we were the American war machine in 1943 determined to churn out more tanks, planes and guns..."  "There's nothing wrong with having a daily goal if that works for you as a writer," he goes on, "but why should you be ashamed or crazed because you don't reach that daily goal -- what's the sense in that? Why have we let the word count become our master?"

Focusing on word count as a way to help stay on task or get more done in a specific amount of time are logical work strategies. But the shame thing is counterproductive. Feeling bad about ourselves undermines willpower, and willpower is necessary for that staying on task business.


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12. And Now For Something Totally Different

I just finished three fantasy books in a row, mainly because I needed to get them back to the library in a certain order. You'd think fantasy would be different, wouldn't you? As in, it's not real world stuff, so it should be different. But when you read so much of it, there's a certain sameness. And then real world YA is often very similar in its own real world way.

Which is why The Tyrant's Daughter by J. C. Carleson is so exciting. It's real world, but very different YA real world.

Laila is a princess, daughter of the murdered king of an unnamed, presumably Middle Eastern country. Except after she has resettled with her mother and brother in a seriously modest two-bedroom apartment outside Washington, DC she realizes that no, she's not a princess at all. Mainly because her father was never a king. He was a third-generation strongman tyrant and when he wasn't being Dad at the palace, he was behaving in a typical tyrannical way.

Laila has a terrific voice, slightly reserved and stiff as she describes, for instance, her appreciation of her new American friend's kindness even though she can't help noticing that she dresses like a prostitute. She's a kind person, herself, recognizing that a classmate is suffering because her parents are divorcing and becoming attracted to that nice guy who works for the school paper. But  those traditional YA experiences pale compared to those of a fifteen-year-old whose father was gunned down in his home on her uncle's command, who saw her mother covered in her father's blood, whose life was saved by a CIA operative. The Tyrant's Daughter isn't about the world of teens. It's about a teen in the world.

What's missing from this novel is cliched nasty teenagers. There are no mean girls. There are no bullies. There are no jocks trying to force themselves on girls. Adults might find the CIA operative familiar, as well as the brilliant, manipulative widowed tyrant wife. But I don't think they appear often in YA.

So that's just the basic set-up to this thing. As the truth about Laila's family is slowly revealed to her, the fact that this book is a political thriller is slowly revealed to readers. Why is that CIA op hanging around? What's he paying Laila's mother (but not very much) to do? With whom? Why is her mother talking to Laila's uncle, the tyrant who had her tyrant father killed?

And what will Laila's involvement in all this be? She is a tyrant's daughter, after all.

This is a marvelous book, extremely well written. But it's undercut a bit by the essay on women in the Middle East that follows. Even though the essayist ties it to The Tyrant's Daughter by questioning what will become of Laila after the end of the action of the novel, I think most readers are going to wonder why it's there and feel that this great reading experience is being turned into some kind of lesson.

The Tyrant's Daughter is a Cybils nominee in the YA Fiction category.


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13. Time Management Tuesday: What Kinds Of Work Are Best For Sprints?

I've written here a number of times about sprinting. Perhaps you've read about my plans for sprinting. Or my speculation as to whether or not sprinting would get me through Thanksgiving, 2013. You may remember that creating a morning sprint habit wrecked my morning office management habit, something that I never recovered from, by the way. And, quite honestly, the whole sprinting thing had pretty much disappeared from my radar recently, possibly because of that lengthy vacation I took in September. But, then, there was last month's excitement over ten-minute sprints on the hour!

Well, I used that ten-minute on the hour thing during the lead-up to Thanksgiving with some good results. Last month I was on a submission binge. During those pre-Thanksgiving days I had my laptop on the kitchen counter and while I was by myself prepping for the Big Day I would stop every hour (at least several times a day, anyway) and do a ten-minute market search. I found two journals appropriate for submissions and submitted manuscripts to them.

This was a revelation, of which I have so many.

In the past, I thought the best part of sprinting on days when writers can't maintain a normal schedule is to allow them to work just enough so they can stay in their projects. Then it won't take them as long to get up to speed again when they can get back to work. That probably is the best part of sprinting. But in the chaos of family and day jobs, getting into a real work project for even just twenty minutes (the traditional sprint time) can be way too much, in my experience, at least.

But what about using some ten-minute sprints for some of the many other tasks writers need time for?

  • Market research
  • Submissions
  • Getting started on blog posts
  • Twitter work--those welcomes to new followers and thank yous for retweets and favorites, following new people yourself. There's masses of Twitter work
All these chores suck up time we could be using for work. If we can find a way to knock some of them off during periods when we can't do traditional writing, that should free up our traditional writing time for writing.

Well, shouldn't it?

We will see.



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14. December Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

I apologize for the unfinished nature of next month's calendar. No images, and I haven't completed all the links. What I have done is come down with another post event illness. In 2013 I was sick for six weeks after the NESCBWI conference  and for a month after Christmas. Last night I got blasted with fever, chills, ya-da-ya-da-ya-da, two days after Thanksgiving.

I think it's more important to get the basic information out than it is to make it look perfect, so I'm publishing this as is. I'll come back and edit this when my fingers don't hurt and I'm not working from bed with a laptop truly on my lap.

Wed., Dec. 3, Michaela MacColl, Barnes & Noble, Westport 3:30 PM

Wed., Dec. 3, Christine Pakkala, Barnes & Noble, Westport 6:30 PM

Thurs, Dec. 4, Martha Seif SimpsonTemple Beth Sholom, Hamden 7 to 8 PM Signing with proceeds to benefit TBS Sisterhood

Fri., Dec. 5, Martha Seif Simpson,  Wilton Library, Wilton 4:30-5:15 pm Storytime for ages 4 and up, followed by a book signing. Town's annual Holiday Stroll follows

Sat., Dec. 6, Stratford Library, Stratford 10:30 AM Storytime and signing

Sun., Dec. 7, Andrea West, Bank Square Books, Mystic 2 to 4 PM

Sun., Dec., 7, Martha Seif Simpson, Greater New Haven Jewish Community Center Arts & Crafts Fair, Woodbridge 10 AM to 4 PM Book program at 11:30, book sale during rest of event
Sun., Dec. 7, Peter Sis, Pequot Library, Southport, 4 to 6 PM

Sun., Dec. 7, Patricia Dunn, New Canaan Library, New Canaan 2 PM

Wed., Dec. 10, Robie Harris, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4 PM

Wed., Dec. 10, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Barnes & Noble, Canton 5 PM
Mon., Dec. 15, Martha Seif Simpson, Barnes & Noble, Milford 6:30 PM Proceeds to benefit Jonathan Law High School.

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15. A Lot Further Down The Romance Road

Back in 2012, I found Daughter of Smoke and Bone to be both romance and fantasy, two genres I'm not fond of in and of themselves. I need something more in those genres, such as a strong character, or, in the case of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a mystery. Who was the main character, Karou? Why was the guy with the wings always hanging around her? There was a journey thing going on, as Karou discovered who and what she was. I can't find a post on Days of Blood and Starlight, the second book in the trilogy, but I recall feeling it was a connector, which second books in trilogies often are.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the last book in the trilogy, is more clearly a romance. There's various other things going on, but the real significant storyline here is all about Karou and Akiva. Their eyes meet across a crowd. There are many paragraphs about kissing. Lots of relationship stuff. There are teases for the reader, too. Will they kiss? Someone shows up at the cave opening and No! The kiss is off! Will they get together for some real hot and heavy stuff? Oh, they're getting closer...closer...No! Akiva has disappeared!

You can probably tell I'm not that keen on Karou and Akiva anymore. No, Liraz was my big interest in this book. I won't tell you who she gets together with because that's the best surprise.

The Significance Of Romance And Marketing "Gods And Monsters"

 

I happened to read A Billion-dollar Affair in the Oct. 24 issue of Entertainment Weekly while I was reading Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Sales of romance are huge, there's an enormous market. At the same time, though, author Karen Valby says the "long-ridiculed" genre is "dismissed by the critical mass." As a result, I started wondering how Dreams of Gods and Monsters is being marketed. Is it being promoted as a fantasy or paranormal romance, which could bring it to a large and appreciative audience? Or is it being marketed as something else, perhaps to avoid the romance label?

In a USA Today interview, Taylor talks about working on a short story for a romance anthology, so she thinks of romance as a genre she works within, at least some of the time
. I think there is a romance thing going on in the publisher's marketing of the book, but it's subtle. The publisher's copy at its website includes the line "They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love." There's also talk of various beings fighting, striving, loving, and dying.

Wait. I just realized. My romance reading is limited to historical mysteries with couple characters. I don't read advertising copy for romance novels. "They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love" may be exactly how a romance novel is marketed.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.
From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera, and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc

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16. Time Management Tuesday: The Just Say No Thing

Over scheduling is a classic time suck. It's also a big reason writers have trouble finding time for their work. We commit too many hours to various professional and personal activities. Our time is gone. Sometimes it disappears because we take on too much all by ourselves. Sometimes it goes because we're asked for it and say, "Sure."

Christine Carter has a blog post, 21 Ways to "Give Good No", at Greater Good in which she deals with this issue. I wasn't so interested in the "21Ways" that appear in Part Two of the post. Parts One and Three were another thing.

Plan How Much Time You Can Take Away From Work


In Part One of her article, Carter says it's easier to say no "when we have a concrete reason for doing so—a way to justify our refusal." "...we need to create the reason for saying no before we need it—we need a decision making structure, or “rules” to guide us so that we don’t have to agonize over every invitation." She talks about planning ahead for how many social invitations you can accept during the course of the week, then saying no to the rest. Also plan when you're going to work and say no to any requests that will conflict with your work time.

I've written here about writers working for free and being asked to work for free. If you want to be able to support some organizations with free work or appearances, you can plan ahead for how much of your time you can afford to give away. When you've reached your limit, say no to additional requests.

Your Decision Is Made. Move On.


In Part Three, Carter says, essentially, say no and stop thinking about it. "...when we make a decision in a way that allows us to change our minds later, we tend to be a lot less happy with the decisions that we make." Perhaps because the decision isn't really made if we can make a different one down the line? Forget about being happy with a decision. If the door is left open, the decision is still hanging over you, is it not? How time consuming and energy depleting is that?

So make your plan so you can make a decision. And when you've made a decision, get back to work.
 

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17. More On Children's Lit People Working For Free

Freelancing for Free? by John Shelly at Shelly Scraps. This time we're talking illustration.

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18. Little Too Traditional Fantasy For Me

I've probably bored people to death with how much I liked Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books. I liked Howl's Moving Castle for Howl. Mystical, changing buildings aren't much of a draw for me. I wasn't as enthusiastic about other Jones' books. I've had the same experience reading Terry Pratchett. Some I liked a great deal, some not so much. I think when writers have a big output, the way Jones and Pratchett do, there's going to be some up and down. Even if the quality doesn't vary, when there's a lot of work dealing with different characters and situations, readers' taste/commitment is going to be greater for some characters/situations than others.

That's how I felt about The Islands of Chaldea, the last book Jones was working on when she died. There wasn't a stand out character like Howl or Christopher Chant/Chrestomanci, though I think that if Jones had had all the time in the world, Aunt Beck or the captive prince she loved from afar might have become one. But they are both adult characters. I found Aileen, the child/teen main character, not very strong, though she does come through at the end. That may be a significant aspect of children's fantasy books, that the child protagonist transitions through the magic, the way real life children transition through adolescence. But my knowledge of fantasy isn't deep enough to know if that's the case or if I just made that up this minute.

I think you really have to enjoy magic to enjoy The Islands of Chaldea, and there are going to be young people who do and will. For me, though, the best part of the book is an author's note at the end in which author and actress Ursula Jones describes her efforts to finish her sister's book after Diana Wynne Jones's death.

The Islands of Chaldea is a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Category.


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19. Sunday Sentence

I heard about Sunday Sentence from Erika Dreifus. It's supposed to be a sharing of a "best sentence" read during the week, without context. It seems like a quick and easy way to do a little promo for a book.

I started to write some explanation of how I came to choose this, but...no context!!! So:

"It wouldn't take much digging for an interested party to ascertain the...depths of abnormal...upon which she'd built this life."  Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor.

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20. How Do We Feel About Writers Writing For Free? Is There Something To Be Gained For The Individual, Maybe Not So Much The Group?

Last weekend, The Toronto Star carried an article called Can You Afford to be a Writer? The situation it describes for writers in Canada is similar to what you'll find here in the states.  "... most writers are not likely to break $10,000 a year from their writing." Articles like this should be part of the reading for any writing program. Maybe they are.

I think Kate Gace Walton's blog post at Work Stew, Should I Write for Free? is related for a couple of reasons:

  • A lot of your traditional literary journals don't pay their contributors or pay only in copies.  Some very highly regarded writers publish in these things. These are the journals whose stories are often contenders for awards. Having published with them helps get the attention of agents and book editors.The Internet has made possible a multitude of new on-line journals, many of which don't pay contributors. While many of them are new and newish and don't build reputations the way some of the older print journals do, they could serve as stepping stones to more publication in the future. Yet writing for them doesn't add to anyone's income.
  • Walton says in her post that "The proliferation of people writing for free in recent decades (by self publishing fee-free content or contributing work to non-paying sites) has definitely made it harder for those who write for a living to get by." Does writing for free, she asks in a note to her essay, "degrade the market for professional writers?" She links to Tim Kreider's NYT's essay (which I hope he was paid for), Slaves of the Internet, Unite,  in which he talks about being asked to work/write for nothing. He's not the first writer this has happened to.
I can recall hearing something similar years ago about writers making appearances in schools. If some writers do a lot of free work, it undermines the earning ability of the writers who need an income stream from schoolwork . Because, as the Toronto Star article pointed out, they probably aren't making enough from their writing to support themselves.

But, at the same time, free work, as in publishing with established lit journals, has been a traditional way for writers to get exposure so that some day they might be able to get paid. Plus, the whole marketing issue throws a big curve into the question of whether or not writers should give their work away, because we're giving away enormous amounts of work for guest blog posts, interviews, essays, etc. when we have a new book coming. It's part of promoting that new work. We're advised to do so by book marketers. Marketing, whether it's free work or some other kind, is expected by publishers.

To be transparent here, about an hour ago I submitted a 700+ word guest post to a blog. I've never received payment for any essay I've published.  I've generated a lot of free material for guest posts and blog interviews while promoting the eBook edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff. The benefit to me of the promotional work is obvious, but even the essays fill a hole in my publishing history. I also hope they will serve as stepping stones to getting future essays published in paying publications at some point.

Free work can help individual unpublished or underpublished writers develop a following. At least it can help give the publishing industry the sense that these writers are a presence of some kind. But while individuals are giving away work hoping for some benefit for themselves, is the earning power of writers as a group suffering?

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21. Time Management Tuesday: Taking Another Shot At Sprinting

I've written about sprinting a couple of times here. Then in the mad rush of life, it sort of drifted out of my consciousness as a regular time management technique.

This weekend, however, I was nursing a mild cold I wanted to get rid of (and pretty much have) and noticed that the 10-Minute Novelists Facebook community I belong to was doing a Saturday sprint event. This was to help NaNoWriMo participants punch up their word counts. Their plan was to sprint at the top of each hour and then do what they had to do on a Saturday until the top of the next one. Then they'd sprint again.

I was lolling around on a couch next to a wood stove with my laptop, anyway, so though I'm not doing NaNoWriMo, I decided to go with it. It was ten minutes before one when I heard about this, so I didn't have a lot of time to prep my mind. So I went to work on blog posts. By the end of the weekend, I had done one for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Now, in hindsight, I believe the other members of the group were doing twenty minute sprints. I only did ten minutes each hour because, well, I was sick and this was a 10-Minute Novelist group. Nonetheless, over the weekend I finished yesterday's somewhat lengthy blog post, which is terrific because I'm killing most of my evenings on blog posts. I'd like to be doing some reading then.

Today (Monday) I had to be away for a chunk of time on family business. I worked in a bit better than ten-minute sprint on this post for Tuesday before I left this morning, and I'm back for another ten minutes (and more, as it turned out) this afternoon.

Now, I wouldn't like to work like this all the time. Of course, I can get a lot more done in forty-five-minute units than in ten or twenty. Twenty- or even ten-minute sprints are a situational time management technique for those days when you're going to be hard put to find forty-five minutes because your work and personal life are out of balance and your personal time is bleeding into your work time. For those people who want to write every day, to encourage their creativity and keep their minds in their projects, as well as make progress on them, sprinting could make it possible.

I'm going to try to pay more attention to sprinting in the weeks ahead, both on Saturdays and Sundays and those weekdays when my personal life is overwhelming my work life. (Next week, for instance, which includes Thanksgiving prep, Thanksgiving, and some overnight guests.) For the immediate future, I'm going to focus on getting ahead on blog posts, trying to free up some evening time for other things. That would be nice. Creating some kind of sprinting work habits would be nice, too.

As usual, at some point I'll let you know how I do with that.

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22. Come On. No One Else Gets A "Jane Eyre" Vibe Here?

When I was a teenager, I was a big fan of historical romance. In college, I would read Georgette Heyer during exam weeks to relax. As an adolescent, I really liked that "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, Well, maybe you're not so bad" storyline in a historical setting. So I picked Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge off the Cybils Young Adult Speculative Fiction nomination list for one reason and one reason only: The main character has been raised to marry and murder a demon who has had control of her country since before she was born but falls for him before she can complete her task. Okay, it was paranormal and not historical, but I was dealing with a speculative fiction list, after all.

Now, though I seem to read a lot of fantasy, it's mainly because a lot of children's and YA books are fantasy. It's not because I'm so fond of it. I don't get excited about fantasy elements, as a general rule.  I'm not crazy about houses that are always changing, for instance, as the one in Cruel Beauty does. I was kind of mystified about who the Kindly Ones were in this book, especially since there seems to be an alternative Greek mythology thing going on here and where do the Kindly Ones fit in? But that didn't matter because the demon was very witty and clever and our protagonist wasn't a particularly nice person, which I like in a heroine.

Yes, Teen Gail would have loved this thing. Cruel Beauty should be on a list of teen vacation reading that is totally inappropriate for school papers. 

But If You Want To Write A School Paper On It, Try Talking About Jane Eyre


However, if someone really wants to sell this as a subject for a high school paper, I think they might be able to do a Jane Eyre comparison. Cruel Beauty is being marketed as a Beauty and the Beast meets Greek mythology tale, but I kept thinking of Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre was not assigned reading for me when I was a teenager. I read it on my own, as I read a great many things back then. I did not find it particularly memorable, except for the scene where poor Jane sits on the sidelines during an evening event at Mr. Rochester's house. That probably speaks volumes about my adolescence. I didn't become a fan of Jane's until I re-read it in 2003 after reading The Eyre Affair. The Good Reading Fairy had hit it, and I've become a bit of a Jane Eyre groupy, looking for and reading retellings. Cruel Beauty may not be an intentional retelling, but I still think an enterprising student could make a case that would convince a teacher to at least accept a Beauty/Jane Eyre paper.

Jane Eyre is about a prickly young woman who doesn't inspire affection in traditional relationships, such as the one with her aunt. In the course of acquiring what is by the standards of her time a good education, she is not treated very well. She enters a wealthy (wealth is power) man's home as a governess. Said wealthy man is unhappy and bitter over the life he has been forced to live. These two damaged, unromantic people find something in each other.

Cruel Beauty is about a bitter, angry young woman, her father's least favorite child, the one he bartered away to a demon. He provides her with what is by the standards of her world a good education so she can kill the demon he's marrying her off to. The plan will mean her death as well, explaining her bitterness and anger. She enters a powerful male's home as his wife. Said powerful male is amusing and attractive but resigned to a fate he brought upon himself, one we're not aware of for a while. These two damaged, I can't say unromantic because I'm sure we're supposed to think they are, people recognize something in each other.

In Jane Eyre, there's a madwoman in the attic. In Cruel Beauty, there's a little something in one of the house's many rooms.   

Jane and Mr. Rochester's story in Jane Eyre is framed with a beginning piece about Jane's rough youth with her family and boarding school and an ending bit about her suffering after she leaves Rochester. Nyx and Ignifex's story in Cruel Beauty is framed with a beginning piece about Nyx's rough youth with her family and an ending bit about her suffering after she and Ignifex are separated. Some have argued that Mr. Rochester's blindness is a punishment for what he planned for himself and Jane, a punishment that was alleviated when Jane returned to him. A clever high school student could argue that Ignifex was punished for all he had done, a punishment that was alleviated when Jane returned to him.
 
There you've got it, folks, the beginning of a Cruel Beauty/Jane Eyre English paper.

Wait! There's more! It's kind of a stretch, but if enterprising students wanted to, they could claim there's a bit of a torn-between-two-lovers thing going on in Jane Eyre what with Jane being proposed to by both Mr. Rochester and that creepy minister named St. John. The author of Cruel Beauty does something interesting with the torn-between-two-lovers cliche.

Okay, lads and lasses. You're welcome to this material, but put it into your own words.

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23. Environmental Book Club

The Green Earth Book Awards were announced in September.  The Nature Generation has been sponsoring them for ten years. This year's winners:


Picture Book: The Eye of the Whale by Jennifer O'Connell








Children's Fiction: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt










Young Adult Fiction: Washashore by Suzanne Goldsmith





 





Children's Nonfiction: A Place for Turtles by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Higgins Bond




     





Young Adult Nonfiction: Inside a Bald Eagle's Nest: A Photographic Journey Through the American Bald Eagle Nesting Season by Teena Ruark Gorrow and Craig A. Koppie







Honor Books:

Ellie’s Log:  Exploring the Forest Where the Great Tree Fell by Judith L. Li with  illustrations by M.L. Herring

Frog Song by Brenda Guiberson with illustrations by Gennady Spirin

Mousemobile by Prudence Breitrose with illustrations by Stephanie Yue

Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trombore with illustrations by Susan L. Roth

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

The Tapir Scientist:  Saving South America’s Largest Mammal by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop



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24. Promo Friday: On-line Holiday Book Fair Next Weekend

The 10-Minute Novelist writers' community will be running a Holiday Book Fair on Facebook starting November 28th, Black Friday. Dozens of authors are scheduled to take part, posting sales links to their books, organized in seventeen categories. I'll be there with Saving the Planet and perhaps one or more of my other eBooks.

The sale starts November 28th and runs through Wednesday, December 3.

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25. Sunday Sentence

"Writing is about finding out who you are, what you have to say that is not the same as what everyone else has to say, and how to express it in the strongest possible terms."  The Point of Writing by Meg Rosoff at Writer Unboxed.

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