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Author Gail Gauthier's Reflections On Children's Books, Writing, And The Kidlit World
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Early on in my time management study I became interested in discipline, how becoming disciplined can help us manage time. (It probably would help us manage just about everything else in our lives, but I only discuss time management at this blog.) What I didn't do when I was mulling over discipline was carefully define it. That is always a mistake in my experience. Discipline, as it turns out, involves training and maintaining behavior through control. That is a disturbing idea if you're applying it to others. Personally, I love it when applying it to myself. I love the whole idea of training. I'm shakier on the control part, as in self-control, but, hey, that's something I can train for, right?
Which brings us to The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More Of It by Kelly McGonigal. I mentioned McGonigal's name so frequently in the Situational Time Management Workshop I led earlier this month that I finally suggested we could use the name as the basis of a drinking game. The fact that I would even think of such a thing indicates that I need a whole lot more discipline and self-control.
McGonigal never actually writes about time management. She writes about goals of all kinds, especially those involving changing behavior, and using willpower to achieve them. Well, managing time is both goal and behavior. There are a number of things she has to say that can apply to managing time, particularly for writers.
A few examples:
- People who are distracted have poor impulse control and are less likely to be able to stay on long-term goals. Many writers work out of their homes and have trouble maintaining a strong barrier between their professional and personal lives. Personal life distractions undermine our ability to stay on task.
- Thinking in terms of being "good" or "bad" relating to a goal undermines willpower. For instance, having been "good" and accomplishing a great deal this morning can be used as justification for being "bad" and not working this afternoon.
- We tend to think of the future as a wonderful place where we will accomplish great things. Thus, believing we'll feel more like working tomorrow or will get a lot done tomorrow justifies taking today off.
- Willpower failures and successes are contagious. A strong argument for writers' groups and group writing projects like NaNoWriMo.
- Giving in to the What-the-Hell-Effect when experiencing setbacks. We actually lose valuable work time when that happens.
McGonigal even explains why meditating helps with self-control and attention, something I've been hearing about for years, though no one felt a need to explain why it would work. Meditating, it appears, develops the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain that deals with impulse control. Good impulse control helps people stay on task with goals. Find meditation difficult because your mind keeps wandering and you have to keep bringing it back to the breath? That's actually good, according to McGonigal. The effort to do that develops the brain just as physical effort develops muscles.
This book has masses of material that can be applied to managing writing time, even though it's not about managing writing time at all. It's a marvelous aid for those of us who are interested in training for self-control.
My May Days project involves coming up with an outline for a book I've been thinking about writing for, maybe, ten years. I got started with research and a few notes twice. But with my last few writing projects, I've been trying to get away from the organic writer thing and do more pre-writing plotting. So that's what's happening this month.
Sometime before I wrote my last, for the time being, unpublished book, I invested in a copy of Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. As a result, I've been very interested in plots starting with a disturbance to the main character's world. I really don't care for the give characters a problem thing that I've heard so much about, but a disturbance to their world makes all the sense in the world to me. In fact, that's how almost all my books began before I'd even heard anything about disturbing a world. Disturbing people may come naturally to me.
Needless to say, that's how my May Days project is starting, with a disturbance.
Looking at my Plot & Structure notes this morning, I saw that Bell talks about plot patterns. I have three significant characters, and I'm going to try to give each one of them a different pattern, which is more or less their goal. For instance, one character's plot pattern/goal is revenge, the second's is a quest, and the third's is what Bell calls "one apart"--a loner who is forced to act.
Now, sometime in the past I found the following story structure at a website called Storyfix:
Think in terms of four-parts to your plot.
Part 1. Set up.
Part 2. Collecting information. Either the author, or the protagonist Some people will talk about complications at this point in a story, but as an organic writer, that leaves me wondering “What complications? Where am I supposed to get those?” Sending my character out to collect more information about what’s happening to her or her world, makes more sense to me and it’s phrased dynamically.
Mid-point—Plot Twist or maybe where Protagonist Changes
Part 3 Protagonist uses information
Part 4 Ending
I like that structure because it is so simple. And it tells me what to do. And it is a structure, not a formula, like the give-your-character-something-to-want-and-then-keep-it-from-her thing that I have also heard a lot of in the past.
So this is what I'm working on this month with my May Days project.
So you've probably all seen that gas pump video from the Tonight Show by now. Old news. And you've probably heard that there is some question as to how authentic it was. If not, check out How Much Lying Is OK on Late Night? at Slate. Why does this make my Weekend Links post, you're wondering? The author, David Haglund, claims that "... when humor’s involved, people grant a lot more latitude. David Foster Wallace’s unacknowledged use of composite characters in his very funny pieces for Harper’s and elsewhere disappointed some people, but it has not really besmirched his reputation. David Sedaris fictionalizes his “nonfiction” considerably, and yet when this is pointed out, most people shrug." This is of interest to me because I write essays, though they aren't all particularly funny. Haglund also says "that people seem to hold writing to a higher standard than storytelling on screen or on a stage." Which may be true, but it didn't seem to fit in with the rest of his essay.
In When Fanfiction Took Over Children's Publishing at Oz and Ends, J.L. Bell comments on Peter Rabbit and the Tale of a Fierce Bad Publisher in the new issue of The Horn Book. (This is a really good article, by the way.) He concludes, "...it appears the British children’s literature establishment has turned to fanfiction."
Also on the subject of fanfiction: 10 famous authors who write fan fiction at The Daily Dot.
Tanita Davis did a link roundup Friday at Finding Wonderland, which is how I found Diversity 101: Who's That Fat Kid? at CBS Diversity. I do have an overweight character in an unsold manuscript, and I'm going to be rethinking how I deal with him as a result of reading this article.
I got started on Google+ a couple of months ago. As with every other form of social media that isn't blogging, I'm finding it underwhelming. Seven Ways Writers Can Build Online Authority with Google+ makes me feel that perhaps I'm the one who's underwhelming.
Jules at Seven Imps writes about a picture book she hopes won't be written off as another book about bullies, Ben Rides On.
I'm going to write a little more about hunting for your story (something that happens to somebody and its significance) with setting, because I recently finished reading a book that illustrates my point. Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley is the most recent of the Flavia de Luce books. They're written for the adult market, but their protagonist, Flavia, is eleven years old, making them appropriate material for Original Content.
These books are very, very dependent upon their historical setting. As I wrote after reading the first one:
"Setting this book in 1950 was a stroke of genius. Flavia is a bit over-the-top. Oh, hell, she's a lot of over-the-top, which is what makes her so marvelous. But no one could begin to believe she could exist in the twenty-first century. Her extensive knowledge of...all kinds of things...could only be acquired in a world without TV, malls, dance lessons, sports, and, it would seem, traditional schooling. (School is never mentioned.) And, for me, a big stumbling block with child mysteries is the fact that kids can't get around places on their own. But Flavia's always jumping on her old bike and pedaling off all over the place. It's believable in a pre-suburban world. I have ridden my bike to the library and even a church tag sale, but it's a huge undertaking, taking a big chunk out of my day. Traffic being what it is, I'm taking my life in my hands every time I do it. But in Flavia's world, it works."
Readers accept this quite unbelievable child because her stories are set in the past, and we believe things were different in days of old. We're more willing to accept Flavia's apparently self-taught brilliance because we can accept that children in the past may well have worked harder on their own and achieved more that way. If these books were set in the here and now, Flavia wouldn't work. Her wandering all over town on her own wouldn't work in the twentieth century, either, because in our culture we would fear for unsupervised children. But the past, we think, was safer--even though in every book Flavia is nearly killed. We Americans also have this image of England, especially England in the past, as being a small place with villages close together. We believe a child could bike from one village to another. Could she bike from one suburban town to another in 2013? Not where I live.
Placing those books in 1950's England has a big, big impact on the story and what can happen in the story.
Think, also, of eleven/twelve-year-old characters in fantasies. They do ridiculously unbelievable things--lead others in battle...defeat gods...escape from repressive governments. But the fantasy settings are ridiculously unbelievable to begin with. Once that setting is established, the writers can make things happen that they couldn't make happen in a real-world setting.
Related to setting is place. Check out The Five Pillars of Place at Ploughshares.
So, the point here is work on your setting to help you determine what is going to happen to whom and its significance.
I've had a very up-and-down relationship with the Artemis Fowl books
. I was enthusiastic about the first book
. Though I loved Holly Short in book two, I thought there were issues with point of view
. Third book...disappointing
. Evidently I didn't even want to write anything here about the fourth book
. With the fifth book, I was happy again
. Happier, anyway. It appears that I missed book six and wasn't crazy about book seven.
Was there a book in which Artemis went into space?
Oh, well, the series/serial is done now, and the wrap up, The Last Guardian
, is quite good. We do have the choppy story line in which we swing back and forth between worlds/characters, which has appeared in earlier books. The side trip regarding Foaly's wife seemed totally unnecessary, for instance. It did give us a chance to be with Foaly, though, and who doesn't like Foaly? I also liked Artie's little brothers. Does anyone else see potential for an early reader series about criminal genius preschoolers?
The Artemis Fowl books are fantasy thrillers with humor, and with this concluding volume we are provided with a big thrilling threat for Artie to overcome. I think the actual ending of the book gives readers a chance to have their cake and eat it, too, which I'm not complaining about.
A few years ago, the Nature Conservancy ran an article at its website on a "green book club" that had been meeting for ten years. As a former member of a book club (I was one of the two people who started it), I can say that the ten years part is pretty remarkable, particularly since the group read
It has come to my attention that May is Short Story Month. Unfortunately, the month is half gone. If I'd only realized this was coming up, I would have planned my May Days project around writing short stories. I must make a note for next year. And put it someplace where I have a prayer of finding it.
The Emerging Writers Network is getting into this in a big way. The Oxford University Press provided a reading list. The Missouri Review is highlighting a short story every day at its blog. In fact, Short Story Month is all over the Internet.
This seems like an appropriate time to remind everyone of my short story publication this year, Rosemary and Olive Oil, at Alimentum.
Well, my May Days experience has not been all I'd hoped for.
The conference I attended at the beginning of the month didn't cut into my May Days project work time all that much, since I was home one day and worked on it during a three-hour workshop at the conference on Sunday as well. However, those five days I spent getting sicker and sicker last week were definitely not part of the plan. I did May Days work three of them, at least once with a laptop in bed, but then lost the rest of the week, any hope of squeezing some time in on the weekend, and yesterday, too. As our May Days leader pointed out yesterday at our Facebook page, we've reached the halfway point for this project. I think I have nearly four pages of intro and a number of pages of notes for characters and scenes.
Back in February, I wrote here about the What-the-Hell Effect. My understanding of the phenomena suggests that guilt over willpower/discipline setbacks is the big instigator in the "What-the-Hell Effect"--individuals feel guilt and frustration, a little self-hate, maybe, over what they see as their lack of ability to stay on task and figure, What's the point? What the Hell, this initiative is shot, I might as well give in.
I'm not feeling guilty over picking up a bacterium. However, losing time for any reason is always a frustrating setback. In this case, the loss isn't just related to The May Days, but to every other work and personal task I needed to do these past six days. This May did not work out the way it was supposed to. Things are not the way they were supposed to be. Since The May Days can't be what I'd planned, should I accept that they're a lost cause?
Well, that's a pointless question for me, because I'm too obsessive to give up on a short-term project like this. I said I was going to do this for a month, and I'll do it for a month, if I have to finish it on my knees. Or in bed, as I did last week. But for those readers who want to make a more rational decision, consider this:.
I still have a half a month.
Yes, we can do some rah-rah talk here, get a little Zenny about putting last week into the past (which, you know, is where it is), but the hard fact is that giving in to the "What-the-Hell Effect" in this case means losing half a month of work. When we're talking about time management, giving in to the "What-the-Hell Effect" always means losing the time we would have worked if we had picked ourselves up off the mat after our discipline slip and kept going.
To make a long story short, I'll be working for a while on my May Days project today.
I haven't posted for a few days, because I "haven't been well." I spent around four hours this morning in an ER and was happy to be there. The best part of my week by far. I'll continue not posting while I recover.
Posted on my iPhone from my couch where I am watching an old Big Bang Theory.
In her book The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, Kelly McGonigal (Cheers! My workshop participants will get that joke.) says, "Willpower failures may be contagious, but you can also catch self-control."
According to McGonigal, studies show that "behaviors we typically view as being under self-control are, in important ways, under social control as well." We are influenced by others in any particular group we are part of at any particular moment. Are you trying to control your eating or drinking? How does that work for you when you are out with a group of people who are really, really enjoying their food and drink? Trying to control your spending? You might want to be careful about whom you go shopping with. If you're with someone who either doesn't live with the same financial constraints you do, or just doesn't care, you can easily find yourself spending more than you wanted to because when you're with others who are doing it, it can seem like a great idea. But maybe not so much later when you're by yourself again.
This is one of the reasons obesity seems to "run" in families. In fact, McGonigal claims that a woman with an obese sister has a 67 percent increased risk of becoming obese herself. It's not so high for men with obese brothers--their risk is just 45 percent. (No, I do not know why.) Additionally, though, having a friend become obese increases an individual's risk of becoming obese, too. By a whopping 171 percent. Thus we're not just talking genetics here. It's the influence of a group. Willpower failure spreads among people.
We have mirror neurons in the brain that keep track of what others are doing. You can see why this would be a good survival mechanism for evolving humans who wanted to be part of a group to increase their chances of survival. Mirror neurons are part of the spread of willpower failure because they make us unintentionally mimic others who are not staying on task with their willpower goals, they mirror and spread emotion (poor moral in an office, for example--"Let's close up early and get out of this place."), and they mirror and spread temptation ("Everyone on Facebook is talking about that book. I should read that today to keep up instead of working.")
On the other hand, though, goals can spread from person to person, too. Yup, there's a term for this. "Goal Contagion." McGonigal says that research indicates that we can catch another person's goals and change our behavior by doing so. Some of this can come about just by reading or thinking about someone. Fortunately, goal contagion is limited to goals we already share somehow. We're unlikely to "catch" goals to invest heavily in stocks or throw over our workaday lives and take a couple of years to travel the globe unless those were things we'd wanted to do somewhere at the back of our minds, anyway.
What does this have to do with managing time, particularly managing time for writers? The May Days, people! National Novel Writing Month! Your writers' groups. All these group initiatives involve setting aside time (a month, a meeting every week or two) and pulling people together with the hope that we will "catch" initiative, work ethic, etc., from each other. That we will catch each others' goals.
When the groups don't work, it's because not enough individuals were able to stay on their goals, giving others something to mirror. Remember, willpower/discipline failure spreads. But when they do work, it's because a big enough percentage of the group stayed on task--to any extent--and contributed to the discussion, and those people were able to provide something for others to catch. Because, remember, goals are contagious.
That's my weekend at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference. And you are all waiting to hear, right? I hope so, because that's what's coming.
First off, the workshop I led on Friday, Situational Time Management, appeared to go very well. Dinner was soon afterward, and I did not feel a need to spend every cent I had with me at the cash bar. Though I did spend some.
Earlier in the day, I attended a workshop called Keyword By Word: Create a Plan to Brand, Sell, and Promote Your Novel, which was led by A.C. Gaughen and Hilary Weisman Graham. This was notable because, in my experience, dual presenters don't always work that well. They can sound awkward and uncomfortable. In this case, they worked very well indeed. I think the difference was that Annie and Hilary had plenty of material and good mastery of it. They also clearly had a plan. They weren't just up there winging it. Keep this in mind, people, if you are ever tempted to offer to run a workshop with a friend.
I am including this shot of the Faculty Dinner on Friday night just to prove I was invited and was there.
Oh, and get this! I am seated at a table and, there, across the room, I see a familiar face. Our eyes lock. It was...Leila Roy from bookshelves of doom! I shoved my way through all the other diners so we could meet in the real world. I actually had someone take our picture together. Unfortunately, in it I look like, well, let's say I look like Leila's hip aunt who is much younger than her mother but way shorter than Leila. Yeah. Let's say that. So we're not publishing that.
Later that evening, while doing my version of mingling, I met Charlotte from Charlotte's Library. In this case, she recognized me, probably because I look like Leila Roy's hip, short aunt.
Seriously, I was delighted to run into both of them.
I am including a shot of the interior of the Sheraton in Springfield. This was the view from the door of my room. Marlo Garnsworthy, a Facebook friend whom I met for real in the elevator this past weekend, has a much better picture of this scene on her Facebook page. I love the view because it looks like something out of a sci fi movie.
Friday night roommate Erin Dionne and I met on Facebook after we got our room assignment, so we weren't total strangers. An absolutely lovely woman.
I headed home on Saturday morning for a number of reasons. Late Saturday afternoon, I started a 4-hour shift doing some ground work for my May Days project, which I wanted to take back to the conference the next day for the three-hour Advanced Plotting workshop I was signed up for. Chris Eboch led this. It was the best craft workshop I've ever taken. We ended up doing a short, on-the-spot writers' group during it. It's been years since I've been able to be part of a writers' group. This one was fantastic. At some point I'll cover writers' groups as part of my Weekend Writers series, and I'll discuss why this one was so good.I finished the day with Lynda Mullaly Hunt who led the workshop Researching Agents in Order to Find the Right Match for You. This was another excellent workshop because, like everything else I attended this weekend, the leader actually knew her subject and had lots of material participants could walk away with.Are you seeing a recurring motif here? I mean, as far as the workshops are concerned, not as far as my meeting and greeting people and hitting the cash bar goes? Yeah, I like workshops with lots of material organized in a meaningful way.One last piece of info to pass along--images of the faculty member's book covers kept coming up on two screens in the ballroom where we ate lunch. Yes, yes, that's right. I got up and stood in front of the screen until mine came up again so I could get this picture. A few other blog posts on the conference (many with better pictures):Jeannine Atkins Sarah Albee Kelly RamsdellJo KnowlesThese are just the blogs I could easily find on my Facebook wall. Feel free to add your NESCBWI conference posts in the comments.
On Friday, May 3, I taught a Situational Time Management workshop at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference. This post contains information related to the writers and people I referred to during the workshop and is here for the benefit of participants and anyone else who is interested. The author materials are listed in the order they appeared in during the workshop.
Francesco Cirillo, The Pomodoro Technique
Ellen Sussman, A Writer's Daily Habit: Four Steps to Higher Productivity, Poets & Writers, Nov./Dec., 2011
Herbert Benson, The Breakout Principle Article about: Oprah
Dorothy Duff Brown Post about with links to videos: Original Content
Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
Kelly McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct Articles and book excerpts Psychology Today blog
Timothy Pychyl, The Procrastinator's Digest Psychology Today blog
Alan Lakein, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life About the Swiss Cheese Method of Time Management
Susan K. Perry, Writing in Flow
Frank Gilbreth Lillian Gilbreth Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, Cheaper by the Dozen
Hersey Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory
Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit
I am leaving in a few hours to attend the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators regional conference, where I will be running a workshop this afternoon on situational time management. Sometime this weekend I'll be putting up a post dealing with references for the workshop. Beyond that, I don't expect to be active here.
I guess I'd better go finish getting ready.
In Saving the Planet & Stuff there is a recurring storyline about all the things Walt and Nora have been saving in their spare bedroom because they were dead certain that it was all useful. (Like hoarding, but different.) Michael is set to work finding useful and attractive projects to turn what he believes to be trash into...something else.
This isn't some far-fetched idea or an old one from back in my wish-I-were-a-hippy days. This kind of thing is going on right now. As I right these words, someone is making something out of plastic bags.
Check out Danny Seo turns trash into treasures in "Upcycling Celebrations" in the Los Angeles Times.
I made a few appearances around the Web last month.
Finding Wonderland: The Writing YA Weblog An Author's Take on Self-Publishing
City Muse, Country Muse April 2013 Carnival of Children's Literature
The Book Designer Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #31
The Bibliophilic Book Blog Interview with Gail Gauthier
Thank you to all these bloggers.
The Bibliophilic Book Blog has just posted an Interview with Gail Gauthier, author of Saving the Planet & Stuff. Notice the framed picture at the top of the blog? Our blog host's name is Star. Many thanks to her for featuring me today.
Last year, I took part in The May Days, a Facebook group in which members encouraged each other to write two pages a day. On May 8th, 2012, I explained why writers might actually need a push to get them writing--a lot of the work writers do isn't actually writing. After I finished my month, I decided I liked what I called this set-aside time for specific projects, or binge writing.
What I liked about The May Days was the way it appealed to my own joy in obsessing on a project or topic. I don't have the endurance to obsess indefinitely, but a set-aside time--Oh, I'm there. Seriously, I once did one of those week-with-no-TV things. I made two kids do it with me. I love this stuff.
Since last May, though, I've been reading The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McConigal. She talks about willpower (and lack thereof) spreading through groups. I'll do more on that next week In the meantime, I will just say that there appears to be some support for group writing initiatives like The May Days helping writers stay disciplined.
Well, tomorrow is May 1st, and our group is starting another May Days project or binge. Last year I didn't even hear about this until the day before, so I had done no preparation at all. This year as part of my New Year's planning I actually had a May Days goal and objectives:
"Goal 6. Work on an outline for "mummy book" during May Days (I wasn't prepared for May Days last year. I hope to be this year.)Objectives:
- Finish reading Wired for Story because I think we organic writers often don't know what our story is prior to writing, which makes plotting difficult.
- At least skim The Plot Whisperer for same reason
- Go over old research for this project and continue with more."
I did finish Wired for Story
, though I've only read a few pages of The Plot Whisperer
. (This is not a comment on the quality of the book. I just haven't been able to get to it.) I didn't go over the old research I've collected over the years that I've been thinking about this book. What I did do:
- Visit UVM's Fleming Museum, because right now a college museum figures into the setting/story
- Read half of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking for character development research
- Register for a 3-hour plot workshop this Sunday at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference
- Realize I can use the find-the-story posts from OC's Weekend Writer series to help with early find-the-story work
- Make a few journal notes over the past year for this project
While it can be argued that I am better prepared for May Days
this year than last, I am still not in great shape. For one thing, I'm going to have a lot of trouble writing on May 2 through 4 because of family and conference commitments. That's really early on in the project to be veering from the program. The plotting workshop on May 5 seems like a great idea, particularly since it comes early in the set-aside period. However, the workshop description asks participants to bring a work-in-progress to which they can apply the information we'll be taking in. I am going to be scrambling the rest of today and in whatever time I can find tomorrow to scratch up enough material to be able to say I have a work-in-progress.
Hey, a work-in-progress is in the eye of the beholder, n'est-ce pas
Stay tuned to learn what Gail has to show for her May Days
experience at the end of the month.
Last week I briefly mentioned a blog post I'd read called Eisler on Digital Denial. Author Barry Eisler wrote about his contention that the one major benefit traditional publishers can offer writers is distribution to "real" stores. Some folks disagreed with him. Tweeting was involved. It was all quite exciting.
While eating lunch just now, I stumbled upon Self-Publishing is for Control Freaks at the Forbes website. It appears to have been published a couple of days after Eisler's post at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. The article is about a report on what authors look for when deciding whether to self-publish or seek out a traditional publisher. It concludes with this: "However, according to the report, distribution is far and away the most important factor and that should be comforting to publishers because, at this point, established publishers are the only reliable path into bricks-and-mortar bookstores, where a large proportion of sales are still made."
Only four comments follow the Forbes article. Eisler's article at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing got 185. Not that it's a competition, but either one readership found the concept waaaay more interesting than the other, or one site has more readership to begin with. Or something.
I usually do an environmental post on Thursdays, but today is Earth Day, and, hey, I can adapt. So I'm getting all environmentalish with a climate fiction post on Monday this week.
Climate fiction? you say. Yeah, I just heard about it a couple of days ago, too. Climate fiction, according to NPR is a genre, well, an "emerging" one, anyway, in which writers "set their novels and short stories in worlds, not unlike our own, where the Earth's systems are noticeably off-kilter." That's how it differs from dystopian or apocalyptic novels in which a futuristic world is suffering because of (usually) human-made environmental disaster or just a human-made "oops." Climate fiction is set in a contemporary world.
This article at Grist looks like a review of a couple of cli-fi novels, though one seems a little futuristic/apocalyptic.
I suspect that NPR's definition of cli-fi as being something separate from the dystopian/apocalyptic stuff isn't generally known. Here someone uses the term "cli-fi thriller" to describe the same book set 75 years in the future with climate disaster that Grist included in its review column.
Climate Change and Contemporary Fiction appears to be a blog that deals with this very subject.
I'm going to admit that though I have an interest in environmentalism, as a reader I find environmental/climate change disaster stories cliched. The first few were interesting, sure, but now they leave me with a feeling of, "Oh. I've read this. Several times." Or, "Of course. The tech people/scientists are the bad guys. Again." It's not that the problems aren't real or serious, but they've become formulaic as far as literature is concerned. I also wonder if there isn't a message quality to some of these books, a lesson that readers are supposed to be learning. There's sometimes a propaganda quality to some of these stories. This preaching issue is discussed in Few A-List Novelists Tackling Climate Change in Their Plots at Climate Central.
Novelists Try Climate Change Story Telling: A Critical Review of Two Recent Entries published at The Yale forum on Climate Change & The Media ends with "Are there other ways that climate change can make for good reading? It’s a question more than a few hope to see answered in the affirmative. As Bill McKibben wrote in 2005, climate change still lacks resonance in American culture. “Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” he asked. “Compare it to, say, the horror of AIDS in the last two decades, which has produced a staggering outpouring of art that, in turn, has had real political effect.”"
I am not knowledgeable about AIDS literature, but I think the question being raised here is is climate change being used in literature other than in novels? Certainly a different form--poetry or opera, for instance--might help to break the formula of human-made disaster leading to woe.
Happy Earth Day.
Look at all this lovely World Book Night news at WBN's Facebook page. Sites where books were passed out. People involved. Al Roker doing his WBN thing. Why, Gail, you're probably thinking, what about your World Book Night experience? How did that go for ya'.
I spent the evening of World Book Night huddled on my couch, wearing the same pajamas I'd been wearing for twenty-four hours, and hoping I'd keep down the broth I'd had for dinner. World Book Night was kind of a bust for me.
However, my event went on without me. One family member delivered the books to the skilled nursing facility where I was supposed to do the distributing, and another family member took over the job of actually handing them out. She was the one who had recommended The Language of Flowers as my WBN choice, anyway, and she's a book club member. She is definitely World Book Night material.
Now, choosing to distribute books in a skilled nursing facility that offers both long-term and rehabilitative care was risky. A percentage of the population in any of these places suffers from some degree of cognitive loss of one sort or another in addition to their physical issues. So we're not just talking about people who are light or nonreaders because they've never had the opportunity to be exposed to good books or own any. But it's also a population that could benefit from being encouraged to read.
The recreation director got behind WBN in a big way, planning a flower arranging activity for the evening rec event, flowers being a big part of our book. Recreation in these places is hugely important, in my humble opinion. It is a form of therapy that offers residents an opportunity to interact socially and mentally, often just to move around, all of which are factors in maintaining cognitive abilities. However, residents have the option to take part or not, and only 3 showed up for the flower-arranging event and at the book station set up there.
However, my family member who was running this for me, remained steadfast and on task. She went up and down every hallway with our books, handing them out to various residents we knew and hitting the rehab-wing where there were short-term patients whom we wouldn't know. I believe she said she gave out a half a dozen books to staff, one of whom she believes feared she was being handed a religious tract.
It was probably not the best World Book Night experience we're going to hear about this year. (Certainly not for me, though I did get a very good night's sleep afterwards and am much better now.) But I am a great believer in ripple effects. I think it's possible that I may go into this place tomorrow and hear something about this book from people who received it. Or maybe it will be next week or the week after.
And if I do, that is what World Book Night is about, not whether I had a good time that evening or whether it went the way I thought it was going to or whether I went to an after party (I did get an invitation!) or whether someone else had to run the whole thing for me. So how my World Book Night went still remains to be seen.
I'm still recovering from a day of illness and hoped to stretch out with a couple of different kinds of research, which is like resting but different. But then I became glued to my desktop reading Eisler on Digital Denial at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. And I scanned all the comments as well, which is where I read M.J. Rose's line, "It's the wild west out there."
That makes the exhaustion I've been feeling over publishing and marketing and everything I'm doing other than writing seem at least a little more interesting and exciting. A little pep me up.
This May is not a busy month in Connecticut as far as children's/YA author appearances are concerned. Is this due to a seasonal variation related to the school year winding down? Are authors focusing on next weekend's sold-out NESCBWI Conference?
At any rate, here's what I have for you:
Mon., May 6, Alex Morgan, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM
Tues., May 14, Sara Zarr, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 6:00 PM
Wed., May 15, Paul Ferrante, Westport Public Library, Westport, 7:30 PM
Thurs., May 23, Jane O'Connor R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM
Wed., May 29, Gregory Galloway, Westport Public Library, Westport, 7:30 PM
Fri., May 31, Lincoln Peirce, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM
I am reading a tedious book and want to vent. So we're going to take a break from hunting for our stories, so I can use this teachable moment to warn new writers about the risks involved with writing description. Description, you see, is part of what is making the book I'm reading tedious.
I suspect that there is a school of thought that argues that descriptions in books should be "evocative," causing readers to feel something, and that descriptions should be beautiful in and of themselves. They should be beautiful for beautiful's sake. However, what they really ought to do is support your story, once you know what your story is. Readers shouldn't notice descriptions. Not everyone can write description well enough to be evocative and make a reader shed a tear over great-aunt Bet's bracelet that was given to her by the only guy she ever loved before he went off to war and never came back because he deserted, went over to the other side, assumed another identity, married, and lived happily ever after without her. And those who can write well enough to make a reader shed a tear over a description of a bracelet in its box under the stack of crap Aunt Bet has been hoarding, shouldn't do so if it means stopping the forward movement of the story and making readers literally wait to get through all this verbiage before they get going again.
I can recall reading a well-known novel set in France that shall remain nameless. A character is going down a street in Paris, and we all had to stop while the author described a building. Then a while later, we all stopped while he described another. And, you guessed it, we made another stop and waited for him to do another description. I know he was trying to create atmosphere and prove that he'd been to Paris. But those individual buildings, and particularly their appearance, really didn't have anything to do with the story. I became impatient and started skimming.
What I'm talking about here hits two of Elmore Leonard's ten rules of writing: "9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things" and "10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." Readers tend to skip detailed description of places and things.
Okay, I am now going to give a couple of suggestions to help new writers avoid taking readers on lengthy, detailed tours of parking lots and offices.
1. When you're describing a place, try to show a character moving through it or interacting with it instead of doing a straight narrative description. If a character is involved in some way with this place, there's a greater chance that the place has some significance to the story.
2. I think these long, drawn out descriptions of places occur more frequently in books written in the third person. If you're writing in the third person, as a first draft of a description try writing it from a first-person point of view. You might get a more natural sounding description that way, since a speaker describing something is less likely to go on and on about it than omniscient narrators seem to. When you switch back to the third person, leave out everything the first-person narrator didn't say.
There. I'm feeling better about that book I'm determined to get through.
I'm part of this month's Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies at The Book Designer. I'm under Marketing and Selling Your Books. I mention the sub-category because this is a big carnival.
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The Greenhouse Literary Agency is offering the Greenhouse Funny Prize, with a U.S./Canadian winner and a UK winner. The prize is representation, and the deadline is July 29th.
The most recent Poets & Writers includes Digital Digest: Algorithms for What to Read Next. The subject is the reliability of on-line reviews. The juicy bit: "Estimates about the proportion of phony reviews to the overall total run as high as 30 percent, with Gartner research predicting that paid endorsements (deemed illegal by the Federal Trade Commission unless disclosed) will account for 10 to 15 percent of product feedback by 2014." At lunch today I told a family member about that 30 percent estimate, and he said, "That's all?" He would have thought the percentage of fakes would be higher.
Blog anniversaries: A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy is eight and Teaching Authors is four.
I like the idea of a slow writing movement, which I stumbled upon at the American Society of Journalists and Authors. So I googled the term and found slow writing movement pieces at Rock Your Writing, Another Word, and a few other spots. I suspect it's a movement that will be, uh, slow moving.
Another World Book Night recap at The Book Wheel. Be sure to check out the comments and note the number of givers who ran into people worried they were peddling religious tracts.
Tanita Davis reviews Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger at Finding Wonderland.
The Emerging Writers Network will be observing Short Story Month in May. This is a neat idea, and if only I'd known about it much, much earlier, I would have planned my May differently.