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Author Gail Gauthier's Reflections On Children's Books, Writing, And The Kidlit World
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1. Why I Can Never Benefit From Groupie Groups

Literary crushes and book boyfriends--they're a thing. I was kind of stunned when I first heard about them a few years ago. Various bloggers would carry on about their book boyfriends, a popular one being Mr. Darcy, that narrow-minded stick-in-the-mud, from Pride and Prejudice. Crushes, I always thought, were sort of shallow, not something anyone would admit to. Especially crushes on imaginary people. Especially if you were an adult.

But book people do enjoy them and do like to talk about them, and writers can talk about theirs in Special Features that will get shared on social media and everyone will love reading it. And I will never be able to be part of that because I don't do crushes particularly on imaginary people.

And when I like a really terrific character I don't crush on them, I want to be them. But not Mr. Darcy. And not Elizabeth Bennet, either. Jane Eyre, okay. Jo Bhaer in Little Men, not Jo March in Little Women. I wanted to be Sherlock Holmes when I was a kid. Not so much now.

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2. If This Had Happened This Week, We Wouldn't Have Been Dancing In The Road

John Rocco has a picture book out called Blizzard that's been getting a lot of attention the last couple of months. It would have been terrific if I read that this past week and could write about it now after the events of the last couple of days here in New England. Yeah, well, that didn't happen.

I did pick up Rocco's earlier book, Blackout, from the library a while back. It would have been terrific if we'd had a power outage this week, a threat that was hanging over our heads this past weekend, and could write about it after reading Blackout. Yeah, well, that didn't happen, either.

But I'm still going to tell you about Blackout because it is beautiful. I am not the only person who thinks so, because it was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2012. It is beautiful looking with a lovely, simple story of people having a great time when the lights go out. That simple story is told without a lot of text, something that doesn't happen as often as you'd think with picture books.

By the way, Rocco also illustrated How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaton, which happens to be a big hit with a member of my family.

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3. Time Management Tuesday: A Goals And Objectives Guest Post

As of 7:45 AM, we still have power. Some significant snow is coming down right now, and it looks as if we've had 8 inches or more. So far so good.

Today I'm directing you to my guest post Ditch Resolutions for the New Year and Create Some Goals and Objectives for Your Writing at 10-Minute Novelists. I go over the difference between goals and objectives and why they're both better than New Year's resolutions.

The post appeared on January 8th.

I'll be shoveling snow soon.

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4. A Writer Prepares For A Storm

As I was saying yesterday, this week's expected New England blizzard was a bit of a surprise for me.  Today was committed to preparing to get through the next few days, which could mean a power outage in cold weather.

I spent a great deal of time preparing food that could be reheated on the wood stove. During a power outage after a hurricane, we ate pretty well. We also have 10-plus gallons of water for 3 people, one tub full of water, another tub with pails of water, pots of water in the kitchen, baby wipes to use for cleaning hands, flashlights, candles, oil lamps... We've done this before.

What I also did today was some work prep. First off, I posted the Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar in case I can't do it later this week. Additionally, I printed out some material related to the short work I'd decided on last week. The plan, and I have one, is to find some moments to at least outline some of these things. In the event that there's no power, I'll go back to working in the old paper journal. The best part of this scheme is that it directly addresses one of my goals for this year.

Maybe we won't lose power after all, and everything I did today was for nothing. One can hope.  Hmm. Perhaps I should be thinking about an essay regarding why we worry so about the lights going out.

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5. February Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

A so-so month for author events. Note that we have more library events than bookstore. I've been seeing this kind of thing over the last year.

Notice that I'm getting this calendar up before the snow devil hits? Well, it is snowing, but not in a particularly devilish way.

Sun., Feb. 1, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, West Hartford Public Library, Bishops Corner
Branch 2 to 4:30 PM  Please note that this event is at the Bishops Corner Branch, NOT the Noah Webster. The site was changed.


Wed., Feb. 4, Wendy Rouillard, New Canaan Library, 3:30 PM

Thurs., Feb. 5, Eric Walters, Bank Square Books, Mystic 4:00 to 5:00 PM

Sat., Feb. 14, Cindy L. RodriguezWest Hartford Public Library, Noah Webster Branch 12:00 PM

Sun., Feb. 15, Jane Sutcliffe, UConn Coop, Storrs 3:00 PM




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6. This Doesn't Sound Good

Last Friday I was concerned that I wouldn't get much done this next week because of various appointments. As recently as this morning I was planning what I would concentrate on with the work time I did find myself with.

Ah, those were the good old hours.

I live in that part of the country that's expecting the snow devil to descend upon us sometime tomorrow. I've got an elderly family member moving in with us tomorrow and expect her to stay until at least Wednesday, depending on what happens with power. She'll be bringing a cat. At the very least, I'll be shoveling snow. At the worst, I'll be dealing with preparing food without power, keeping the woodstove fed, working out where we'll sleep, bringing in firewood, and shoveling snow.

If this blows out of the state by Thursday? I have appointments on Thursday and Friday.

My storm prep tomorrow morning should include some work-in-the-storm prep. We'll see how I do with that.


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7. What Did You Do This Week, Gail?

My second attempt at making sure I'm working on this year's goals:

Goal 1. Mummy Book. I continued working on the mummy draft, but I didn't continue on from chapter three, which was what I was working on a couple of weeks ago. Instead, I'm eliminating chapter two, all back story, and threading some of that material into chapters one and two. I really have to be satisfied with the beginning before I can move on.

Goal 2. Short Work. I had picked out a couple of earlier short projects to work on this year, then came up with another in the car on Thursday. I actually have a few notes.

Goal 4. Make Submissions. I made the Fletcher Farm Body submission I wanted to make this month.

Goal 5. Community Building. I worked on the Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar, did some work on planning some website changes that will affect the CCLC newsletter I'm hoping to get going in a few months, did my Friday Twitter work, and started going over the offerings for this spring's NESCBWI Conference.

Goal 6. Marketing STP&S eBook. I contacted the Connecticut Authors' Trail group about taking part in its summer program.

I have so much to do next week and three days are messed up with appointments. Yikes!

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8. The Environmental Book Club

No, I am not going to claim that The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is an environmental book. Though, I suppose I could. When I'm looking for environmental books, I look for experienceThe Snowy Day is all about a child's experience of winter, of a snowy day. Peter is immersed in a winter environment.

What I'm going to do, instead, is argue that environmental children's books need a The Snowy Day.

Back in 1962, The Snowy Day broke the color barrier in mainstream children's publishing. Little Peter is African-Amercan. But nowhere in this book is there anything that says, "Oh, this is an important story I'm telling here. Here is a lesson for us all--we're all alike when it snows!" Deborah Pope of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation said in a NPR interview that Peter's ethnic background "...wasn't important. It wasn't the point." She said that Keats "wasn't necessarily trying to make a statement about race when he created Peter." He was a white illustrator who had never used a child of color in his work and decided he would. The Snowy Day is the story of a kid having a good time in the snow. He just happens to be black.

So many children's environmental books are heavy with lesson. The mini-lectures undermine whatever story is there and destroy the experience of being immersed in some natural element. I'd love to see an environmental equivalent of The Snowy Day, in which child characters simply go about their business recycling or composting or living in a solar house or living as a part of some ecosystem or another without hammering readers about the significance of what they're doing.

Maybe for the time being I'll settle for The Snowy Day as an environmental book and read and watch little Peter  surround himself with winter.

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9. Time Management Tuesday: What Are Your Bad Work Habits Doing For You?

My sister subscribes to numerous magazines that get passed on to me. Oprah is included. I find Oprah odd because it carries articles on how to be your best you along with others promoting purchasing quite expensive things. I feel there's a mixed message in there. Pricie stuff is inspiring? You can ignore that part, though, and just read the multiple pages on books the mag carries every month.

While I was making my way to the book section in the January issue, my eye was caught by some  lengthy material that seemed to be about dieting. Dieting is not managing time. However, remember that procrastination, a major aspect of time management, is a self-regulation issue and similar to overeating (as well as gambling and trouble with managing money). I've found that a lot that's written about these other problems with self-regulation can be used to address managing time.

Say, for instance, the shortie Oprah article Bad Habits? They're Actually Solutions. (Sorry, the Oprah Magazine website doesn't carry a lot of its print content, so no link for you.) Deborah Grayson Reigel is referred to in it. Grayson Riegel argues that bad habits are solutions we come up with for dealing with some other problem. They're just not very good ones. "Diet Coke provides energy when you're tired; fast food saves time when you're too overscheduled to plan, prepare, and cook a meal;" The trick is to identify the problem your bad habit is solving and then come up with something better to replace it.

A True Life Example From My True Life


Don't think this bad-habits-as-solutions-to-problems business can possibly relate to time management? When I read that article, I immediately recognized a former bad habit in myself. And, of course, I'm about to tell you all about it.

I used to spend an hour to an hour and a half in the morning going to a couple of news sites and Salon and then playing several hands of on-line solitaire before I started to work. I would often play solitaire until I won. A couple of times. This was pre-Facebook and Twitter, by the way. I rationalized this by describing it as being part of my pre-writing process. I needed this to relax. Then I would work, work, work.

I was unable to shake that behavior until I was working on the Time Management Tuesday project and started reading about transitional time. Transitional time is that time we need to move from one project/activity to another, especially if it requires a big mental shift. Spots of transitional time occur off and on all day. If you work outside the home, you need to transition to the workplace once you get there and then transition again when you get back home after work. If you've ever dealt with kids getting home from school, you've probably seen big transition issues with either unpleasant behavior or exhaustion.

In my particular case, that bad morning work habit wasn't so much about procrastination as it was about difficulty making the transition to work. I was able to replace all that on-line reading and game playing with fifteen minutes of office clean-up each day. I seem to like that and appreciate the benefit. It got something positive done, and I was able to slip into work afterward.

This past year, I tried replacing the fifteen minutes of office clean-up with a twenty-minute writing sprint. Disaster. Everything fell apart, and I was back to a troubled transition. I'm doing office administration again now and much happier with it.

I still need to come up with a new behavior for the end of the work day, when I tend to blow off time checking out various sites on-line. This month I'm trying to "reward" myself for the end of the workday with a short yoga practice. I've been having trouble fitting that into my life, anyway, and I find transition time to be one of the few ways we really "find" time that we can do something with. Jumping up from the computer to get onto the yoga mat may take care of my afternoon transition.

So, think about your bad work habits. You know you have at least one. What is it actually doing for you and how can you replace it with something better that will do the same job?
 

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10. Another Series That Ends Well

I got the last Skulduggery Pleasant book, The Dying of the Light by Derek Landy, in from England a few months ago. I didn't rush to read it, because I'd found the last few Skulduggeries a little slow and long. Not this one. This one moved along, I kept wanting to find more time to read it, and I would have been happy to have read still another book about the bony one.

The last few books, including this one, jumped around with points of view. With the other books, I felt that slowed everything. With this one, not so much. I began to feel with this book that when you're using multiple points of view in a book, the book may not be one person's story as much as it is the story of some kind of event in which many people have a point. That was a bit of what was going on here. Instead of being just Valkyrie Cain's story (these books have never really been about Skulduggery Pleasant), The Dying of the Light is the story of how a group of magical folk battle the seemingly unbeatable Darquesse. Valkyrie is a significant part of that, but it's not just her, which is why the point of view switches seemed workable.

Two particularly interesting bits:
  • Every now and then, the scene in Dying of the Light switches to what appears to be a totally different story involving an unnamed Irish woman in the U.S., a mortal, and a couple of evil types we know from an earlier book. Oh, and a dog. We're not even sure who the woman is until the end. This is the kind of thing that I would usually become very impatient with. I loved it. Who is she? What's going on here? And when?
  • Unlike many fantasy authors, Landy addresses the issue of Christianity. As in, if there is a magical world with gods, as there is in the Skulduggery Pleasant universe (most are insane and Valkyrie has punched one), what about the Judeo-Christian concept of God? I've wondered about that with, say, the Percy Jackson books. If the Greek gods are real, does that mean Baby Jesus isn't? In The Dying of the Light that issue is discussed. "Is there a God?" Valkyrie's mother asks Skulduggery. And her uncle says, "My wife and I go to mass every Sunday...Don't you sit there and tell me there's no God." And Skulduggery doesn't. He just can't tell him that there is.
So, great stuff in this book, which I'll be passing on to my niece. Sigh. We've finished our series. What's next for us?

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11. A Snowshoeing/Book Writing Analogy

Many people who have not written a book may wonder what it would be like to just knock one off. I think if you took a  journey up a mountain on snowshoes, you'd get a pretty good idea of what it feels like to write a book.

Okay, say you're going to head up a trail, and just to make this piece of writing specific, let's say it's the trail to the Slayton Pasture Cabin in Stowe, Vermont. You've been up to the cabin a few times before, and you know it's one of the tougher outdoor activities you take part in. You feel some anxiety about this whole thing. But then you figure, What the Hell? I've done this before.

So you start out and things are pretty easy at first, and you're thinking, What was I worried about? Yes. I have done this before. I've done it successfully. People have liked what I've done in the past. Of course, I can do this.

Then you hit that Hellacious, straight up climb, the part of the job you'd really feared. It is horrendous. You think it will never end. You'll never get through it. You think, I cannot do this again. This has got to be the last time. Is that my heart I feel thumping away in my chest? Have I ever felt that before? Is it going to explode? Is there any cellphone service here?

Then you take that turn and things get better. Since you've done this before, you know some landmarks. You know that nothing will be as bad as that part of the job you just did. You know that the snowshoe trail crosses a ski trail at the X minute point, so you can think of this job as a series of short tasks instead of Oh my God I'm, going to be on this trail for two hours. And that's just one way!

You actually experience one of those break through the wall things that you've heard about with marathoners. You might actually be okay.

And, then...And then, you see the cabin. A chorus of angels begins to sing Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. They all sound just like K.D. Lang. You're going to make it!

Except...you still have to get through the pasture. Sure, this part is easy. But you're exhausted. You still have a ways to go. There's a fire in the cabin. There's food. Can you do it?  "Maybe there is a God," as Lenny Cohen says, because you can!!! You stagger up onto the cabin porch.

And that is what it's like to write a book.

But what about when you're in the cabin? Well, once you're in the cabin, you find that all the other writers, I mean, showshoers aren't wearing old thermal undershirts that are kind of too big for the shirt they're wearing over them. Nor do they wear hats their sons refused to wear. And they're talking about all the great places they've snowshoed and how long it took them to get to the cabin and how awesome it was, and it's always less time than it took you, and it's always far, far more awesome.

And that is what it's like to have published a book.

You come down off the mountain and feel pretty damn fine because it's always way better to have snowshoed than it is to snowshoe.

Just as it is always better to have written a book than it is to write it.

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12. Reading By The Pound

We have friends who traveled in Great Britain and Europe last year carrying only backpacks weighing fifteen pounds. I need way more than that just for my books. Last week the book bag I took on retreat weighed 22 pounds. To be honest, I had a couple of small puzzles in there, some oversize playing cards, 2 DVDs and a few CDs, so not every ounce was reading material.

Nonetheless, I got home today and pulled the reading I'd finished from my big black bag. That included some magazines I'll be blogging about here, a couple of books I'll also be blogging about here, and a book on Ethan Allen I blogged about at Goodreads. I also was distracted by the new purchase of a book of poetry by Billy Collins, meaning it hadn't been part of the original haul, which I also blogged about at Goodreads.

When I was done sorting read from unread, my bag and remaining reading, mostly magazines and books I've begun but not finished, came in at 4 pounds. I'm going to be generous and estimate that those DVDs, puzzles, etc., weighed five pounds. So let's say I read thirteen pounds last week.

I like that method of tracking reading. Seriously, when you're talking books, magazines, maybe some literary journals, pages won't be comparable. Weight may be the way to go.

Hmm. Should I try to keep track of the weight of my reading this year, the way some people keep track of their number of books?

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13. Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar Update

Thursday, January 15, YA Authors Chris Lynch, Caragh O'Brien , and Jason Reynolds, Student Center Theater, Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic
4-6 pm Presentation, conversation, and book signing.



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14. Retreat Week Starts Tomorrow

Our annual personal retreat week starts tomorrow. No writing except for journal work and no blogging. I have a bag full of 22 pounds of books, magazines, DVDs, and I don't know what else. I started packing it a while ago, so I don't remember. I also have a bunch of Internet articles bookmarked that I hope to whittle down. After vacation I stopped promiscuously bookmarking but these last couple of weeks, knowing I was going to have a reading retreat, I started loosening up again. I may tweet about some of that reading, but otherwise I'll be quiet on-line.

Have a good week. Read furiously.

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15. What Did You Do This Week, Gail?

Last year I had a final, sort of soft goal to " make an effort to check up on myself each week to make sure that a good chunk of my time went toward objectives to meet my goals, an idea I got from Peter Bregman's 18 Minutes." I don't think I did it even once. But the last couple of days I started thinking that maybe I should check in with my goals quarterly instead of just half way through the year. And then I jumped from that to, hey, weren't you going to do a little checking every week?

  • Goal 1. Mummy Book. Revised Chapter Three. I made some significant changes in one section that I think bring important stuff early on. What I'm trying to say, I'm happy with that bit of work.
  • Goal 5. Community Building. I did a blog post on Sunday on The Great CT Caper and a CCLC update today, also relating to The Great CT Caper. I got an e-mail today that gave me an idea that I might do something about in a couple of months.
  • Goal 6. Marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff. I did an Environmental Blog post yesterday and posted it to two Google+ communities today.
Hmm. This was a good exercise. It suggests I'm getting goal-oriented use from this blog.

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16. Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar Update

A New Haven Launch Party is being held for The Great CT Caper. The location is the Peabody Museum, the date is Wednesday, January 28th, and the time is 5:00 to 7:00 PM. This is an adults only event for educators, librarians, and parents to meet The Caper authors and illustrators. There is no admission, and light refreshments and wine will be served.  It does look as if this is a ticketed event.

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17. Environmental Book Club

The picture book Winston of Churchill: One Bear's Battle Against Global Warming by Jean Davies Okimoto with illustrations by Jeremiah Trammell teeters between being preachy and instructive and clever and witty.

Winston is a polar bear near a town named Churchill in Manitoba, Canada. He wears glasses and is always holding a lit cigar, much like another Winston named Churchill. Bear Winston is in a position of polar bear leadership, much like British Prime Minster Winston was in a position of human leadership. The polar bears are facing the melting of ice in Hudson Bay due to human pollution, much like the Brits were facing invasion by the Na...No, that's kind of a stretch. But when Bear Winston rallies his bears, he does sound a lot like British PM Winston rallying his people.  '"We will for fight ice," boomed Winston. "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender."'

That's what makes this book clever and witty, the whole whole bear-doing-Churchill thing. Because a polar bear isn't Winston Churchill, and the incongruity is funny.

But then you get to the lesson stuff. '"Ice is melting because it's getting too warm around here and people are doing it with their cars and smoke stacks. And cutting down trees."' I'm not saying that's not true, but instruction is awkward, to say the very least, in fiction. Winston of Churchill even includes a page from a book Winston of Churchill wrote on global warming to make sure to get the educational stuff across. Though I'm going to take a wild guess that I'm not the only person who skipped it.

But here's the clever and witty thing about that book written by Winston of Churchill--Winston Churchill wrote books, too!

The illustrations in this book are marvelous and very engaging, and I think kids will be attracted to the bears and some of the humor. Some will be left recalling that human actions are wrecking ice for those neat bears. It will probably be adults with some knowledge of a World War II historical figure who will enjoy this book the most.

Winston of Churchill won the Green Earth Book Award for Children's Fiction in 2008.


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18. Time Management Tuesday: And Now Goals And Objectives For 2015

It is the first Tuesday of 2015, an appropriate time, in my mind, to be talking about this year's goals and objectives. If it feels as if I'm late to this topic, it's because I've seen more talk about goals from writers this last month than I think I ever have before. Go! Go! Goaaaaals!

One year's goals should be influenced by what happened the year before. Even though my first three goals last year involved generating new writing, I am not pleased with how successful I was with reaching them. I'm going to be more careful about creating objectives for those writing goals this year. I'm far more specific about how many things I'm going to do and when I'm going to do them and even when I'm going to work on them.

Notice also that I have six goals, as I did last year. Half of those goals don't involve writing but, rather, the business of writing. This is a big issue for writers. A writer can be very busy while doing little writing.

And, finally, I cannot say this too often: Goals are what you want to do. Objectives are the tasks you undertake to meet those goals.

Goal 1. Generate New Work: Complete a draft of the so-called mummy book

Objectives:

  • Commit the bulk of each week's work to this project for the first quarter of the year.
  • Revise the first nine chapters that I completed last year in order to bring myself up to speed with this project.
  • Plan scenes and chapters ahead in order to speed up the work and make it generally easier.
  • Plan scenes around action, character, theme, revealing new information, and moving story forward.
  • Bring pages of this project to my monthly writers' group.

Goal 2. Generate New Work: Complete two to three short pieces

Objectives:
  • Set aside a few days a month specifically for this type of writing
  • January--Go through files and journals and pick a few pieces to work on 

Goal 3. Generate New Work: Do another revision of adult Becoming Greg and Emma

Objectives: 
  • Shoot for starting this in June. A summer unit.

Goal 4. Make submissions

Objectives:
  • Submit The Fletcher Farm Body to a specific editor by the end of January.
  • Commit a few units of time every Friday (limiting this kind of work to Fridays) to researching short story/essay markets.
  • Maintain a Friday Marketing Research file in journal to speed up work on preceding objective.
  • Submit a short work every month to avoid binge research/submissions. (Binging takes time away from writing and requires a big effort to bring myself back up to speed with the writing projects I've put aside in order to binge.)
  • Follow short story writers and essayists on Twitter to note where they are publishing.
  • Begin agent search for Becoming Greg and Emma.

Goal 5. Continue to work on community building

Objectives:
  • Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar
  • Get Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar newsletter going by March.
  • Attend Marketing Your Brand (NESCBWI) program on March 7.
  • As part of Friday promotional work, find new ways to promote workshops I offer. (I try to limit promo work to Fridays.)
  • Continue activities with 10-Minute Novelists groups
  • Continue building Twitter presence.
  • Now that the Facebook Author page is gone, be more proactive with blog, content and promotion.
  • Improve my skills as writers' group member.

Goal 6. Continue marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook

Objectives:
  • Use Twitter to make a presence for myself with groups with environmental interests.
  • Continue the Environmental Book Club whenever possible.
  • Look into taking book down from Barnes & Noble and Kobo to take advantage of Kindle. marketing for books exclusive to that company.
  • Look into the expense involved with printing a paper edition. (This would involved negotiating with the cover artist, since our contract only involves a digital edition.)
  • Check out 10 Tips for Selling Your Book on Amazon 
  • Contact more bloggers/sites for promotional opportunities when appropriate.

So that's pretty much what I expect to be doing this year. Oh, wait. But not next week. Next week I'll be on retreat.

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19. The 2014 Recapitulation Post

For the last couple of years, I've been doing recapitulation posts at the end of December. I got the idea from an article in Yoga Journal. These posts are opportunities to go over the goals and objectives I created at the beginning of the year and to determine how far I got in reaching them. This is not a beat-yourself-up opportunity. It's all about time. Assessing what we've achieved during a particular unit of time (say, a year) is useful in helping to plan what we're going to do in another unit of time (say, next year).

Remember, the goals you'll see here are what I wanted to do. The objectives were the actual tasks I planned to do that would lead to achieving the goals. Notice I only had six goals. How hard could it be to do six lousy things?

Goal 1. Finish the revision of The Fletcher Farm Body
 
Objectives:
  • Continue revising to enhance the brothers' relationship to support the control theme
  • Continue revising to eliminate as much material that doesn't relate to plot, character, or theme as possible
Assessment: I met this goal. I think I met it twice. I believe I did a second revision halfway through the year relating specifically to scenes and chapters. I've revised this thing a lot. It's kind of a blur.

Goal 2. Write a number of short pieces

Possible Objectives:
  • Statics and Dynamics for Writers essay. This was originally a workshop proposal. The proposal wasn't accepted, but the organization running the conference required such an extensive outline that I think I can flip it into an essay.
  • Walking for Writers essay
  • The Northeast Children's Literature Collection essay
  • Promoting eBooks for Traditionally Published Writers essay
  • Relic Hoarding essay
  • Becoming Part of Blog Culture essay
  • The Value in Becoming Part of a Local Writing Community essay
  • Hannah and Brandon short story (held over from last year)
  • Your On-line Friend short story
  • How to Make Friends and Live Longer short story
Assessment: I was dreading assessing this goal, but the results may not be as bad as I thought. I did write the Statics and Dynamics for Writers essay and even submitted it a couple of places, for what good it did me. I also spent way too much time on a piece of flash fiction and wrote a guest post for another blog. I just didn't pick up on many of these possible objectives that I had in mind last year. Quite honestly, I don't even remember what my thinking was regarding the Your On-line Friend short story. I hope I made some notes for that somewhere. Did I meet this goal? Define "number of short pieces."

Goal 3. Complete a draft of the so-called mummy book

Objectives:
  • By February get back up to speed with this project
  • By February start assigning a few 45-minute units a week to this project  
Assessment: I got nine chapters into a draft for this one. Didn't meet the goal, but made progress. And since I'm working on this project again now, I'm feeling warm and fuzzy about it.

Goal 4. Make submissions

Objectives:
  • Submit The Fletcher Farm Body to a specific editor
  • New agent research
  • Research markets for short works
  • Submit short works
Assessment: I did seventeen submissions this year, which wasn't bad for me. This included submitting The Fletcher Farm Body to agents, at least two of whom asked to see more of the project, and submissions of short work to journals. I really went on a submission binge in November. For my efforts I have one guest post coming up next month. I'm going to say this goal was met, though I'd like to spread submissions out more over the course of the year and do less binging.

Goal 5. Continue to work on community building

Objectives:
  • Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar
  • Attend other authors' marketing events
  • Attend a few professional events
  • Prepare a new workshop to offer at libraries and bookstores
  • Try to find a writers' group 
Assessment:  This one I made some real progress on, though not necessarily with the objectives I have here. I didn't make it to any other authors' marketing events or any professional events (that I recall), but I prepared two new presentations, one that was prepared for and given at a library this past summer and one on preparing for NaNoWriMo that I gave at an elementary school in November. I also found and joined an incredible writers' group. I joined the 10-Minute Novelist Facebook group and was invited to join  The Connecticut Women Writers Facebook group. I make use of Google+ communities whenever I can and am kind of into Twitter. Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar continues, so let's call this one done.

Goal 6. Continue marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook

Objectives:
  • Check out the blogs and sites I've been collecting for possible contacts
  • Start researching blogs to contact again
  • Continue the Environmental Book Club at Original Content whenever possible
  • Get trailer up at Twitter page
  • Consider a price reduction for a limited time and promoting same
  • Consider pulling eBook from Barnes & Noble and Kobo to take advantage of Kindle marketing for books exclusive to that company
Assessment:  Well, I hit all but the last objective. My blog contacts resulted in coverage for Saving the Planet & Stuff at Connecticut GreenScene and Reduce Footprints. There's a possibility of a third blog giving it some attention. I'm using Twitter to network with environmental groups. And I ended up making two appearances this summer that were all about promoting STP&S. So while there isn't a lot of movement with this book, I'm going to call this goal met, too.

    An Overall Assessment Of My Year


    I did a lot but not that much generating of new work. I struggled with time early in the year because of health issues, then I had an opportunity to make an appearance that required a lot of preparation. And then I had another. And then a workshop I proposed got picked up, so I had to actually plan and prepare it. Those appearances could lead to more work, but they still took time away from writing. I was on vacation for nearly three weeks in September. I came up with a few ideas that could lead to writing in the future, but I wasn't writing while I was on the road.

    This assessment of how I spent my time last year will have an impact on the plans I make next week for how I spend my time next year.


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    20. The End Of My Cybil Season Reading

    I finished the last book I'd taken from the Cybils lists last night, and not a moment too soon. The finalists for the Cybils Award will be announced tomorrow.

    I love the premise for The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods. Violet Diamond is an eleven-year-old biracial child whose black father died before she was born. She has never met his family because his mother originally objected to her son marrying a white woman and later, we learn, was so devastated by her only child's sudden death in an accident that she couldn't deal with the family he created with his wife. Once she'd recovered, staying away from them had become a habit.

    I find that believable, by the way.

    Violet's loving maternal family is extremely white,  and she lives in a very white, upper-middle class world. Her mother is a neonatologist, and her late father was a medical doctor as well. Her white grandmother runs some kind of on-line business and her white grandfather is enjoying retirement, cooking and playing golf. Violet wants for nothing, materially or emotionally. Except that half her identity is missing. Just not there.

    She is aware that her black grandmother is a well-known artist, and when she finds out that grandmother will be in a neighboring city for an exhibit, she gets her mother to take her to the opening. Violet and grandmother meet, and Violet ends up being exposed to the half of her family history she's never known.

    As I said, I love the concept and love the artist grandmother. I felt as if the story of Violet's exposure to her family took a while to get started, though.

    For another take on biracial children meeting an unknown grandparent, check out Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It (Hmm, similar title.) by Sundee Frazier.

    The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category.

    After a couple of months of Cybilizing, I feel more up-to-date on recent children's lit than I have in quite some time.

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    21. A Different Kind Of New Year Planning

    Author Erin Dionne does a different kind of planning for the year. She chooses themes and then plans how she'll implement them into various aspects of her life. Twenty-fourteen's theme was Be Deliberate and 2015's is going to be Compassion.

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    22. Cybils Finalists Announced

    The big New Year's event in the childlit blogosphere is the announcement of the Cybils Award finalists. I have two New England SCBWI colleagues on the Nonfiction for Elementary & Middle Grades list, Melissa Stewart and Loree Griffin Burnes. One of the books I read during my Cybils reading binge, The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern, made the Middle Grade Fiction list.

    Congratulations to all the nominees and finalists. The winners will be announced Valentine's Day.

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    23. Promo Friday: Why I Deleted My Facebook Author Page Yesterday

    Yesterday I deleted my Facebook author page (not my personal page), though it may still be up for a number of days while Facebook waits to see if I change my mind.

    The short story: I deleted my Facebook page because I wasn't reaching enough people to make it time and energy efficient to maintain it. There was also very little engagement there, which, people often forget, is the point of social media.

    The long story:

    First Off, The Difference Between A Facebook Page And A Profile

     

    Facebook pages are used for professional reasons. Pages are Liked not Friended. At the time I set up my author page, people who weren't part of Facebook could find it with an Internet search. I was interested in it because I wouldn't be posting to a finite group of people within Facebook but to the entire Internet. I saw the page as a place to post information about publishing, events, and maybe do a little literary salon-type stuff, discussing reading, for instance.

    Facebook profiles are personal and far more social. Lots of pet and kid pictures there. Profiles are Friended, not Liked. People may post work-related information on them just as they would share work-related information with personal friends. My writer friends will post on their profiles that they've made a book sale, have a new cover, or will be making an appearance, just as they would tell that information to their friends if they met them in the store, at church, or got together with them in a social situation.

    The Famous Facebook Formula/Algorithm


    Facebook doesn't send out every post made on a professional page to every person who has liked it. The story goes that Facebook doesn't want individual users overwhelmed with masses of posts on their newsfeeds/walls, making individual professional posts less effective because the receivers are...ah...overwhelmed. So it only sends page posts to a percentage of the people who have liked the page. I've read that it's 17 percent of the total, I've read that it's less. The Likers in that percentage are supposed to be those that have interacted with the page, meaning, presumably, that they are more interested in the page and more likely to act upon any information they receive from it.

    And What Does This Have To Do With You, Gail?


    Well, if you are Target and have in excess of 20 million likes, 17 percent is still a lot of people getting your posts. If you are a mid-list writer with 116 likes, 17 percent is only 19 people. Facebook kindly let me know how many people I reached with each post I made. For whatever mysterious Facebook reason, more often than not I was reaching far fewer than 19. I was generally coming up with unique content for that page, even if it was links to reading. I don't do automatic broadcasts of this blog to all my social media platforms to avoid hammering away at people who are connected with me in multiple ways. So, to get back to the short story I was telling you at the beginning of this post, maintaining that page wasn't worth the time and effort.

    Additionally, there was very little engagement there. I have some kind of interaction with someone on my personal page nearly every day. I get some retweets and follows on Twitter every week. I get more +1s on Google+ than interaction on that Facebook page and when I post to Google+ communities, I usually see a bump in my blog stats. Everything does better for me than that Facebook page did.

    To Conclude


    I can do what I was doing at the Facebook page at my Facebook profile, and I can use the kind of material I was posting at the page here at the blog. Though my Facebook profile is only available to my friends on Facebook, I have far more friends than I had likes at that page and far more engagement. I like Google+ and Twitter where I actually see content I'm interested in. That was impossible through the Facebook page.

    So I'm thinking there's nothing to lose and plenty to gain in terms of time and energy from dropping that Facebook page.

    If you had liked me on Facebook, you're now welcome to friend me there.

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    24. The Great CT Caper

    The Great CT Caper is one of those classic add-on stories, the kind where a number of authors take turns moving the narrative along. Pressure! The Caper is sponsored by The Connecticut Center for the Book, which is part of  CT Humanities. This project was inspired by The Exquisite Corpse Adventure

    A new chapter will be published every two weeks at The Connecticut Center for the Book website. The chapters will be written and illustrated by twelve different pairs of Connecticut authors and illustrators. I believe they had to "audition" somehow in order to be selected. One of the very cool aspects of this project is that among the talent working on The Caper will be both published and unpublished authors. I know several of the published writers through the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and Facebook and one of the unpublished ones is in my writers' group. Yay!

    Katie L. Carroll, a Facebook friend and Caper author, will be running a series on Caper author and illustrators at her blog. The series will begin tomorrow with Yelizaveta Renfro, author of Chapter One and continue with the following schedule:

    Mon, Jan 5-guest post from chapter 1 author
    Mon, Jan 19-guest post from chapter 2 author
    Mon, Feb 2-guest post from chapter 3 author
    Fri, Feb 6-guest interview with chapter 3 illustrator
    Mon, Feb 16-guest post from chapter 4 author
    Mon, March 16-guest interview from chapter 6 author
    Mon, April 27-guest post from chapter 9 author
    And speaking of Chapter One, it went live today. All Aboard the Becky Thatcher was written by Yelizaveta Renfro and illustrated by Kearan Enright. 

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    25. No New Stories, Just New Writers' Reactions

    Last Wednesday I had to do some baking--New Year's Eve and all--and while I was working away at that, I listened to a terrific podcast of Colin McEnroe's radio show. In Connecticut, McEnroe is like...like...well, maybe our James Thurber, a James Thurber who writes for the local big city paper and Salon and is on his second local radio program. He's all over the place. I, myself, have been to two writer festivals at which he appeared, and he and my son sat at the same table at a Christmas party this past year. I'm not kidding you. The guy is everywhere. Probably everyone in the state has had a McEnroe sighting.

    Anyway, the podcast he did on December 3, Why We'll Always Need New Books, was terrific. His guests were Brian Slattery, Lev Grossman, and Ruth Crocker.

    What Was Said


    Many juicy things were said during that program. I'm going to focus on three:
    • Are our lives stories?
    • Are writers' books an attempt to explain their lives?
    • There are a limited number of stories. So most writers aren't dealing with new material. It's how they react to the material that can make work different.

     

    Hurry Up And Make A Childlit Connection, Gail


    A lot of children's lit is...um...well, repetitive. New and different isn't a huge issue in children's literature because there are always new readers coming up who will find this year's book about the quirky small town girl surrounded by eccentric adult characters and maybe a dog new and different because they weren't reading the quirky small town girl surrounded by eccentric adult characters and a dog book from last year and the year before and the year before that. And publishing, particularly children's publishing, is like TV and movies. If something does well, the way the Georgia Nicolson books did a decade ago, there will be dozens of copies.

    There really are a limited number of stories in children's literature.

    I think The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern is a perfect example of what McEnroe was talking about on his program when he said that while most writers don't deal with new material, how they react to their material can make it different. The autobiographical Meaning of Maggie starts out with a stereotypical childlit situation. A clever, spunky girl is beginning to keep a journal and is dealing with a parent's tragic illness. But Sovern's reaction to that material is what makes it different, and her reaction is all about her life's story. She is, indeed, explaining her life to us.

    So I guess maybe writers should ask themselves if there is something in their lives that can bring something new to whatever story they're thinking about writing.

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