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Author Gail Gauthier's Reflections On Children's Books, Writing, And The Kidlit World
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What's With The Danes And Time?
I think Brigid Schulte
's big interest in Overwhelmed: Work, Love, And Play When o One Has The Time
is seeking support for her struggles with time, which means support for others like her. She contacts a number of groups of women who are doing things like trying to simplify their lives or managing to function comfortably as high achievers.
I'm more interested in going right for the skills. When Schulte wrote about Denmark, seeking out a culture where time studies show that women workers have more leisure time than in other countries, I wanted to hear more about how they did it.
The Minimalist Thing
Schulte says, "I am struck for the first but certainly not the last time as I began to visit more Danes' homes that there is no junk...I was assured again and again that Danes simply do not buy, produce, or save as much stuff." She only gave one paragraph to the issue of material possessions' impact on our use of time, which just happens to be one that I'm interested
in. Does lack of stuff really have an impact on the Danes' overall use of time? If they really aren't into acquiring and keeping, why not?
How Do They Stay On Task At Work?
Schulte is assured by the couple that is the main focus of her Denmark chapter that Danes "work in a very focused way. Lunch is usually no more than half an hour...In Denmark, there isn't a whole lot of joking around the watercooler or Facebook checking in the office, they explain. You do your work and you go home." That's how Danes are able to stick to a 9 to 4:24 schedule and get home without bringing work with them.
How, how, how? How are they able to deal with interruptions from clients and supervisors with surprise assignments? What about chatty co-workers? Do Danes not get chatty at the office?
I'm not questioning whether or not these people are doing these things. I just want to know how so I can do it, too.
I'm on vacation most of the rest of the month. I'm hoping to do a couple of Time Management Tuesday posts so I can finishing blogging the overwhelm. Otherwise, OC is resting.
I'm hoping to read a lot of the on-line material I've bookmarked these last few months or more. I'll be tweeting about that and posting responses to my reading at my professional Facebook page. Every few days, I'll be posting about our stops for biking at my personal Facebook page. You're welcome to follow me at any of those places.
That is, of course, assuming I can get on-line wherever we are. In my experience, that doesn't always happen the way it's supposed to.
Yesterday I was in the Market Street Bookshop
at Mashpee Commons
in Mashpee, Massachusetts. My traveling companion and I were discussing the book about trucks or trains that we wanted to find for a very young family member. We did see a truck book on a shelf, but we both agreed that there was too much text for our young one.
I saw a bookseller come out from behind the counter, and the next thing I know she's bringing us a copy of Trucks
, a "slide and find" book from Priddy Books
. It's a board book, which works very well for our guy, and there's no lengthy text for him to sit through. It's mainly "What is this?" type stuff with some color matching thrown in. It also has a little something for little fingers to do. Instead of the small lifting sections you usually see in kids' books, which often end up torn by those little fingers I was just talking about, this book has sliders. We'll see how those hold up.
I was incredibly impressed with the way that bookseller hit the nail on the head for us. I've never experienced real bookseller handselling like that. I also know a lot of people have never heard the term "handselling."
Well, if you haven't, that's what it is--matching customers/readers with books. I thought it was exciting.
I've been reading Overwhelmed: Work, Love, And Play When No One Has The Time by Brigid Schulte and began blogging about it last week. This week I bring you up to speed with my reading.
What is Overwhelmed Actually About?Overwhelmed
is not a time management book. The "overwhelm" is Schulte's term for that feeling of being buried with things to do. Her book, so far at least, is not about how to deal with the overwhelm but how it comes about, particularly for women. How does the workplace contribute to this? How do perceptions of what mothers should be contribute to it? Are there workplaces/countries where things are different?
Writers Have Some Experience With Working At Home
Schulte writes of companies that put performance and production before "face time," having to be in the office where managers and co-workers can see you. These particular employers allow their employees to work from home, where parents can Many writers work in that way
. What many of them find, though, is that without the external structure of an office and "traditional" hierarchy, "the boundary between professional and personal time is very thin and very wobbly. It is all too easy for personal time to bleed into work time." What I'm talking about ends up being a lot like the overwhelm, it's just that now you're working at home.
That's not to say there isn't a way of dealing with this situation--bringing some kind of childcare into the home where parents are working might be a huge help, for instance. But if writers' experience is any indicator, just shifting work from an office building to a home isn't necessarily going to solve the overwhelm problem.
I picked up A Mad, Wicked Folly
by Sharon Biggs Waller
as a sort of return to my teen reading when I was into historical fiction. Mad, Wicked Folly
was a bit of a roller coaster experience in which I went "I'm loving this," "No, it's a torn-between lovers scenario," "Wait, something different is going on here," "Yes, I love the art stuff."
Vicky is the child of upper middle class parents in 19 ought England. These are rigid folks who have specific expectations of their daughters. Vicky, however, has a talent for art and a willingness to study it. I loved the art aspect of this book. I don't have any desire to create art, myself, my interest is in its historical and cultural aspects. I loved all that in this book. I knew nothing about the pre-Raphaelites
. Now I'm beginning to know something about them.
Vicky also becomes involved with the suffragist movement in England. Loved that, too. Waller uses the term "suffragette" instead of "suffragist," which always annoys me because I learned that the "ette"ending is derogatory. However, in her end notes she explains the suffragist/suffragette issue, definitely to my satisfaction.
The torn-between-two-lovers thing, which was a little predictable to this experienced reader, was far more palatable to me because of the great art and feminist world that it existed in.The teenage Gail who read historical romances would have been far more appreciative.
Reading this book made me realize that there is a way to get me to read romance. Have some really good content of another nature in the book.
I'm working on the eleventh draft of a middle grade mystery because you just can't write something over too many times.
I'm paying attention to scenes this time around, inspired by Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. I never gave any thought to scenes in the past. I just wrote. Was writing like that a good thing? A bad thing? Something you can only do for a while?
Let's put that aside for a few minutes, or months, or years.
Anyway, what I've been seeing is that in some chapters I have material that doesn't appear to be part of a scene at all. It's what I'm thinking of as narrative connector. And I'm finding that I'm not that crazy about a lot of it. Look at this stuff, I keep thinking. It's just hanging here.
I'm cutting some of it down and moving some into existing scenes. It's kind of fascinating.
I'm a season late with the post Nine Environmental Summer Reading Books for Kids. However, I don't care a lot about reading according to a schedule. So go ahead and check out those books from SCGH, which used to be known as Sierra Club Green Home.
Several months ago, I stumbled upon an article about Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time
by Brigid Schulte
. Then I stumbled upon another. Of course, I was attracted by those words "No One Has The Time." But I also was interested because both the articles included information about John Robinson
, a sociologist who has studied how people use time through "time diaries." Robinson told Schulte that people have an average of 30 hours a week of leisure time, far more than most of us believe we do. This made me wonder if how we perceive
what we're doing comes into play here, and, if so, can we writers use that somehow.
So I'm reading Overwhelmed
So far, the book reminds me of Welcome to the Lizard Motel
and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
. All three books take a memoirish angle to nonfiction. And all three authors have a personal issue that they're trying to support with their books. (I am not the only reader to get the introverts/good, extroverts/not so good feeling from Quiet
.) In my early reading of Overwhelmed
, for instance, Schulte really isn't having any of Robinson's contention that she has so much leisure time. She seems determined to prove him wrong.
The portion of the book I've completed has a lot of information about the traditional work world. A lot of it will sound familiar to anyone who has been reading about women and work for the last few decades in terms of women's treatment in the workplace. The new information is that this is still going on and that men, too, are now negatively impacted by what Schulte calls our culture's commitment to a retro "Ideal Worker," one who can live at the office.
Her point is that work life has an impact on how we spend our personal time, which I certainly agree with
. I still have to see if Schulte will give some advice on what to do about it.
Check out blogger Becky Levine's response to Overwhelmed
Yes, I'm a day late with Time Management Tuesday
. I was having problems last night
Blogger is not recognizing paragraphs for me this evening, and I refuse to publish without them. Blogger is behaving in other objectionable ways as well. So Time Management Tuesday will be coming tomorrow. Yes. On Wednesday. See? This was three paragraphs. As of 10:19 Tuesday evening, it's only one.
Back in the Dark Ages, when I was getting started writing, I never heard anything about beta readers. I barely heard about critique groups. But everyone seems to have BRs these days, and, since I like to maintain the mind of a beginner, I decided I wanted some, too. So when I finally finished a draft of a piece of scifi flash fiction that I'd worked on for the better part of a month, maybe more, I contacted a couple of family members who are science fiction readers and asked them to act as my beta readers. I even used the term, thinking it would make what I was asking them to do sound very professional and technical. Here's what happened:
Beta Reader 1 told me that no one would know what two words in the first sentence meant. I was able to fix that. Evidently the other 898 words were golden.
Beta Reader 2 didn't have time to read the story. I think he might have been afraid to.
I find the whole beta reading thing awkward. Remember all those times people asked you to read something they wrote and it was dreadful and then what were you supposed to do? Yeah, now you're the one asking someone to do the reading, and the people you're asking want to run for their lives. Maybe your writing is as wonderful as you think it is, but your potential beta vict--readers don't know that. Because I like to maintain the mind of a beginner, I'm open to the possibility that maybe I'm wrong.
Additionally, critiquing writing is an acquired skill. The ground isn't thick with trained beta readers.
So this wasn't a particularly successful experience. However, I met with a critique group in August, and I'll be going back in October. Things are looking positive with that, and after a couple more meetings, I'll report on my progress.
I liked Alice, I Think by Susan Juby very much, but I'm not sure what the story is here. This may be one of those books you have to be zenny about and just experience.
Alice is the offspring of crunchy parents who homeschooled her because on her first day of traditional first grade (she didn't attend kindergarten), she showed up dressed as a character from The Hobbit. Things didn't go well for her. One could say that learning to read early leads to no good.
I was never a hundred percent sure why Alice was seeing a therapist, unless it had something to do with poor socialization because she was homeschooled. It was probably one of her parents' ideas. Alice heads out to regular school at fifteen, inspired by her younger brother who has always attended school. He may have been too bright for their parents and had some instinctual knowledge that you just don't dress up in costumes for school. Alice says outright that she has no problem with playing favorites. She definitely prefers her brother to her mother and father.
Oh, and Alice aspires to be a cultural critic.That is a fantastic aspect of the book.
Juby describes Alice, I Think as a Teen/Adult book, and I think that's very apt. There are aspects of this book that adults are going to find more entertaining than I think teens will. The section on the people holding some kind of memorial to the late, lamented Princess of Wales, for instance, is probably far more meaningful to adults than the younger than seventeen-year-olds who don't remember the world-wide mourning at her death. As much as I liked the cultural critic business, that might be for your more sophisticated teen readers, too.
Some of you may remember that my first Juby book was Home to Woefield, definitely an adult novel published in 2010. Next I read her teen book Getting the Girl, published in 2008. I thought the main character was wonderful, "like a younger, less raunchy, undamaged Seth from Home to Woefield." Alice, I Think was published in 2003, and I think the young girl in the 2010 Woefield might be a variation on her.
Interesting to read so much of an author's work and see her world.
Alice, I Think has a sequel. In addition, a one-season TV series was made in Canada. Yes, I may try to get hold of it. If I watch it, you can be sure I'll let you know.
Updates have been spotty at OC this past week because we're experiencing laptop woes here at Chez Gauthier. My laptop didn't actually start smoking earlier in the week, but the noise it was making and the message that appeared on the screen suggested that it could happen. It has gone off to my computer guy's computer guy. This is one of these deals where Computer Guy #2 must be contacted in some mysterious way and then have the laptop passed on to him by Computer Guy #1 with great amounts of e-mailing and computer talk following.
I've always tried to blog after my workday was over to avoid using creative day time for blogging/marketing. (This is like a Time Management Tuesday post, but different.) Since I've had my laptop, I've fallen into blogging in the evenings while sitting in front of the TV. So last night I tried to work with another family member's laptop. I spent half an hour or so just trying to get on-line and to Blogger. I wonder if Computer Guy #2 gives discounts?
While I am a TV viewer and don't care who knows it, I rarely just watch TV. What, you may wonder, is Gail going to do if she can't find a laptop to use in the living room to blog and read blogs and articles? Well, last night I hemmed pants for one of the elders.
What am I working on now? We have a number of desktops in various stages of life. I don't believe we have any dead ones, anymore.
Book festivals are continuing in September.
Sat., Sept. 13 Local Authors Expo, Mystic & Noank Library, Mystic, 1:00 to 4:00 PM. No idea if there will be any children's authors involved.
Sat., Sept. 13 Jeanne Rogers, Newtown Arts Festival, Newtown, 3:00 PM. Presentation, Festival admission
Sat., Sept. 13 and Sun., Sept. 14 Sheila Murphy Adams, Dawn Aldrich, Catherine Gibson, Jason Marchi, Newtown Arts Festival, Newtown, 10:00 PM to 5:00 PM each day. Admission
Thurs., Sept. 18, Randall Enos, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Westport, 7:00 PM
Sept. 21 Jack Jones, Diane's Books/Tudor Investments Corp, Greenwich, 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM. Book launch
Wed. Sept. 24, Phil Nel, UConn Co-op Bookstore at Storrs Center, Storrs, 4:00 PM. Speaking on "The Genius of Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon."
Sept. 30, , Cheshire Public Library, Cheshire, 7:00 PM. Hour-long Picture Book 101 presentation for beginning writers
"No matter how organized we are, we must continue to care for the stuff we organize, sorting and cleaning our meticulously structured belongings."
You'll find that line in A New Memoir About What Happens When You Get Rid of All Your Stuff , an excerpt from Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus that appears in Slate. The point Millburn and Nicodemus are making is that so long as you keep the stuff, you have to continue to take care of it.
Taking care of stuff takes time.
Dealing with life's stuff may seem beyond the focus of this blog series, which is time management for writers. But, remember, "the boundary between professional and personal time is very thin and very wobbly," particularly for writers who often work without workstations outside the home and function as their own supervisors. The less we have to deal with in our personal lives, the more we'll have to give to our professional lives.
Millburn and Nicodemus say that organizers accumulate things, they just think they have control of the situation because they're organized. But organize is a verb. It's something you have to do. Minimalizing, simplifying, not having a lot of possessions to handle may be the more time and energy efficient way to go.
You can minimalize your work world, too. I tossed some writing books a month or two ago. And then there was the file purge I did a couple of years ago.
Of course, minimalizing takes time, too. But once things are gone, they're gone. Keeping them organized, on the other hand, goes on forever.
The Horn Books are piling up around here, so it's time to review one of these review journals. In this case, the May/June 2014 issue. I didn't rush to get to May/June because it was dedicated to Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I am a member of that minority of people who are not Harriet fans. I didn't read it until I was well into adulthood, which may have been too late. I can't recall whether I read it aloud to my sons or not. What I do remember is reading the last page and thinking, What? I may have found the book overtly literary. But I'm talking a long time ago, so don't hold me to that.
You can understand why my favorite article in this issue was Becoming a Book Detective by Cathryn M. Mercier. She wasn't crazy about Harriet, either. Plus, both Mercier and I read Reader's Digest Condensed Books when we were kids. Hmm. Is this nostalgia I am suddenly feeling? I have so little experience of it, I don't know.
Horn Book Reviews That Caught My EyeThe Islands of Chaldea
by Diana Wynne Jones, completed by Ursula Jones. Because I have a thing now for Diana Wynne Jones
.We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart. The reviewer calls this a "taut psychological mystery" and says "The ultimate reveal is shocking..." I like being shocked.Dreams of Gods & Monsters
by Laini Taylor. I've read the first two books in this trilogy. This review explains why I wasn't crazy about book two. It moved from urban fantasy to high fantasy. I was hoping the end of that volume suggested that book three would be back to urban fantasy. But, no, reviewer says we'll be going on to "epic
fantasy." I'll try it, anyway.The Boundless
by Kenneth Oppel. I'm reading this now.Fighting Fire!: Ten of the Deadliest Fires in American History and How We Fought Them
by Michael L. Cooper. Fire. History.Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
by Patricia Hruby Powell. Read it
. The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery
by Peter Sis. I'm a Saint-Exupery groupie
, and I've liked Peter Sis's work.Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud & Divided a Nation
by Sally M. Walker. A feud. History.
I think I was on the page 3/4 spread of Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman with illustrations by Beth Krommes when I gasped because of the fantastic concept. I know this business about spirals in nature is something I should have known about, and I had heard of it. But I know a whole lot more now and in such an incredibly easy way.
Sidman explains in an afterward that a spiral is "a shape that curls around a center point. Spirals occur over and over in nature because they work so well in so many ways." In her marvelous picture book she organizes her information around various kinds of natural spirals. Some expand, some protect, some reach out.
What is particularly impressive is that this really is a picture book for the very young. There is only a modest amount of text. In fact, I can imagine sitting with this book and a child and not even reading the text, simply hunting for spirals on the pages.
I'm kind of excited about all my new spiral knowledge.
The Cybils folk sent out the call for judges
this past Monday. I can't find anything about a deadline.
Can't commit time to judge? If you're a blogger, you support the Cybils in other ways
Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote a post at her website last winter on procrastination called How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don't Want To. Among her suggestions and my take on how they apply to writers:
Promotion vs. Prevention Focuses
A promotion focus
encourages someone to work to better themselves. Will working today mean meeting a deadline or enable you to make a submission? Will studying today enhance the quality of your writing? Will just putting in time writing enhance the quality of your writing? That's all about promotion.
A prevention focus
encourages someone to work to maintain what they have and prevent loss. Will working today help me to maintain my tenuous place on the writing career ladder? Will it help me to stay published? That's about prevention.
Halvorson argues that choosing a focus can keep you working.Do You Have To Feel Like Working In Order To Work?
This is a question of particular interest to writers and other creatives because there is a stereotype that we have to be inspired in order to work. There are muses that are supposed to visit us. Personally, I think this is a very old-fashioned attitude, at least as far as creative people are concerned. I never hear it from published writers or anyone serious about publishing. Actually, I only hear it from people who don't do creative work, and even then rarely. I don't hear about writer's block, either. The realities of publishing have moved most of us past that.
If-Then Planning Timothy Pychyl also talks about if-then statements
, calling them implementation intentions
. You plan ahead to deal with problem situations--form an intention and plan how you'll implement it. I, for instance, plan to keep working until a timer goes off. Halvorsan says, "...if-then plans dramatically reduce the demands placed on your willpower... In fact, if-then
planning has been shown in over "200 studies to increase rates of goal attainment and productivity by 200%-300% on average."
Diana Wynne Jones' Reflections On the Edge of Writing includes a transcript of literary critic Colin Burrow's BBC essay, Fantasies for Children, which you can listen to. Burrow just happens to be Wynne Jones' son.
Burrow says that Wynne Jones fused the ordinary and the magical, which may be why I've liked what I've seen of her work. I can only take so much magic. He also says that Fire and Hemlock is her best book. What!? Not Chrestomanci?
Burrow talks about Wynne Jones' feelings about her childhood and how they impact her writing. If you read Reflections On the Magic of Writing, you hear a lot about that from her, too.
You may recall that I blew the better part of a month on a piece of flash fiction I still haven't finished. I have written flash fiction before, and I know it took me a while to write it. But my recollection is that I worked on it now and then over a long period of time while working on other things. It didn't keep me from other projects the way last month's short story did.
Several years ago I heard a couple of writers leading a workshop on nonfiction say that they determine how much time they'll commit to getting a new project started before they get going. I e-mailed them to ask if they'd like to elaborate on that. They didn't. This past week, I threw a question out on this subject at Facebook. Again, no one wanted to discuss how they decide to let a new project go or at least put it aside on simmer.
I would like a formula, an equation that I can plug numbers into. Something very linear. (I did a little research on linear and nonlinear systems for that 1,000 word project.)
The amount of time I put into this story, which I can't even name because it doesn't have one yet, made me feel I needed to put more time in so I wouldn't have wasted all the time I'd already used up. Just a little bit more, then I'll get my payoff. Hmm. Does that sound like gambling? In the meantime, I was loosing a big chunk of the time I'd wanted to use on the project I'd made progress on during May. I'll be on vacation a large part of September, so that stinks. I also was drifting away from the new writing process I was working on in May. This was all for a 1,000 word story that I had no market lined up for. If I had been able to publish it, it might have ended up being with a publication that doesn't pay.
Now my work provides a very small portion of our family's support. But there are writers out there who have to generate income. They can't use their time like I used mine last month.
I had a flashfic obsession, and others could tell. My husband used the word in relation to my writing behavior and constant discussion of the story. Now that it's over, I feel confident that in some point in the future, I'll finish that piece and be able to submit it. But I also feel I should have been able to get to that point with a normal work method.
Knowing when to lay off may be a matter of knowing. Without the knowing, I'd like something else to push the Put It Away Button.
The July/August issue of The Horn Book (which I believe is somewhere in this house) includes a review of Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America’s Own Backyard by Mary Kay Carson with photographs by Tom Uhlman. The review says the book introduces readers to scientists who conduct research projects on geology, ecology, and biology at three state parks.
You may read about this one here again.
A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk on the traditional vs. self-published experience for writers. I discussed covers, but had to stick to those with new art created by artists, since I had no experience with photo covers. If only I'd been quicker about reading the May/June 2014 SCBWI Bulletin, I would have had some good info I could have included.
In that issue, author Chris Eboch had a great article called Photo Cover Design for Self-Published Novels. She uses a case study of an author who found the main photo for her cover herself and still needed a photo artist and a designer (that's two different people, folks) to finish her cover. I mention this to make sure everyone understands how involved creating a cover is.
Finding this article will be worth the effort for anyone thinking about creating their own book cover.
Writing a novel is the gold ring of publishing. But realistically speaking, you might want to start out by writing something more manageable, something for magazines. How do you get started writing for magazines? According to The Renegade Writer, you start writing for magazines by reading them.
Roger Sutton recently had a post at Read Roger in which he expressed frustration over reading books and finding out, without warning, that they aren't complete. They're the first in a serial. Oh, yes. I've had that happen so many times. He concludes, "Thank goodness Tolkien had already finished The Lord of the Rings before I got to the end of The Two Towers and “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.”
I didn't have that experience with The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood. I had that experience with The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling, which was the first book in this serial. The Interrupted Tale is the fourth. I've liked them all, but The Interrupted Tale took a long time to get into. These books have a very distinctive voice, one I enjoy, but it's not a very natural one.
I enjoy binge-reading adult mystery series. While I was reading The Interrupted Tale, I started thinking that binging might be the way to read serials, too. How great it would have been if I could have read all The Incorrigible Children books one right after another. There would have been no "getting to know you" period for each book. I could have just lived in the serial.
So what do those of us who enjoy binge-reading a serial after it's concluded or a series after there's plenty to binge on need to do? As Roger pointed out, we often don't know that a book we're reading isn't a complete story. Once we've accidentally stumbled into a serial, do we just put reading the rest on hold for years until the serial has been completed? And when we are aware of a "new trilogy," do we avoid it and make a list for sometime in the future?
Hmm. Perhaps I'll have more on this in the future.
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Author Lynda Mullaly Hunt will be making an appearance at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Glastonbury on Sunday, August 31st at 2:00 PM.