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Author Gail Gauthier's Reflections On Children's Books, Writing, And The Kidlit World
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1. The Weekend Writer: What Aspiring Children's Writers Need To Know

Marlo Garnsworthy, an illustrator, editor, and teacher who has been working with writers for over fifteen years, has a very good post at her blog, Wordy Birdie, called So You Want to Write for Kids: The Least You Need to Know. Read every word.

The parts I found particularly interesting:

Know Your Audience--Know the Genre. It's not unusual to hear of writers with a new children's book who know little about children's literature, itself. I've read recently about people wanting to write children's books because they enjoyed it as a child, but they don't read it now so they just don't know what's happening in the field. I really love hearing about authors of YA books who say in interviews that they just wrote what they wrote and their editors/publishers decided it was YA. You really can't depend on something like that happening. On top of that, my gut feeling is that people should know what they're doing, no matter what they do for a living. That includes knowing that you're writing YA.

Think Story, Not Message. How many adult readers tolerate reading message books? Why do so many people think it's a necessity for children's books? Teachers teach. Preachers preach. Writers should stick to stories.

Learn. Marlo says, "One of the things that always surprises me is that newer writers think they should automatically know how to write a publishable story." I'm extremely embarrassed to admit that that was probably the case with me when I was getting started. But I was wrong. Even before I finally got my first book published, I realized I needed to learn more. I needed to learn more after the first book was published and after the second book was published, too. My seventh and eighth books have some structural problems I regret. I should have known more. I have spent the last ten years studying and changing how I write.

I am quite taken aback when I am in elementary schools and teachers ask where their students can submit work for publication. A few years ago I was in a school and students were telling me their parents thought they should publish. To tell children they they know how to write a publishable story, to let them believe that, is such a disservice. Show them how they can learn how to write.

Get to Know People. This is more necessary now than it was when I was getting started, in large part because so many more people are trying to get into writing. Especially in children's writing there is all kinds of networking going on, and gatekeepers will remember names of people they've met or heard about through others they know. It won't get a bad manuscript published, but all things being equal, it could get that last bit of attention that makes a difference in who gets published or who moves up the ladder because s/he is known. On top of that, nowadays if you have a network of literary friends/contacts, those people will help promote your newly published book in many ways.

Marlo covers a lot of material in her post, and there's a reason for that. You really need to know a great deal in order to have a chance of getting into the publishing world.

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2. What Did You Do This Week, Gail? May 15th Edition

I finished a chapter on my May Days project and started a new one. I also did some planning for the next two chapters. That's new work instead of revision. Hurray. And it's new work on my major goal for the year. Hurray, hurray.

However, I'm not working very much. Definitely wasting time. I got off to a bad start this month because I was traveling the first three days, and then had days during the next week when I needed to deal with family. So while I have worked all but two days this month on the May Days project, I often was working short amount of times because I only had short amount of times. Staying on that task under those circumstances seems like a very positive thing. I may, though, have gotten used to working like that. Except for two small administrative things, I only planned to work on the mummy book this week. But instead of committing big chunks of time to it, I figured, "Hey, I can finish this chapter easy," and dragged the work out.

Next week, I'll try to step up the pace. I do planning for the week on Monday. I'll plan to do more than just working on May Days this week and see if that will help keep me moving.

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3. A "Horn Book"...Postview?

The May/June Horn Book has arrived in my home. Yes, I am still reading the March/April issue. You know me so well. So this is hardly a preview.

Some Favorite Horn Book Articles

Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson This was Nelson's keynote address at a Horn Book at Simmons colloquium last fall. It deals with the issue of diversity in children's literature. Why is it needed? "Children believe in story only if they've experienced the magic of living in one. This may never happen to young readers with few opportunities to see themselves in the books they read." Nelson raises a wonderful point. It's not enough to publish diverse books. Those books need to get to child readers. Do they? (I'm asking that last question.)

Designing Woman: The Achievement of Atha Tehon by Leonad S. Marcus This is another one of those "women in children's publishing" articles that The Horn Book does from time to time. I sometimes find them a little, well, Cult of the Childlit Woman Warror for my taste. But this one was written by Leonard Marcus, who should be the center of a cult himself. He does more than just place Tehon on a pedestal. While writing about her, he writes about why book design matters.

Some Favorite Horn Book Reviews


Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman

I Don't Like Koala by Sean Ferrell with illustrations by Charles Santoso

Grandma in Blue with Red Hat by Scott Menchin with illustrations by Harry Bliss 

The Tight Rope Walkers by David Almond


And that is as far as I've gone with my reading.


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4. Time Management Tuesday: "The Organized Mind" Reading Project

I haven't done a time management reading project in a while, so I'm psyched for this one.

I stumbled upon The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin at the library and picked it up because it has a chapter called Organizing Our Time. I was reading that when I decided I'd better go back and look at some of the earlier chapters. So I'll be seeing what I can pick up from this book that could relate to writers managing their time.

Cognitive Psychology? What's That?

Levitin is a cognitive psychologist. He describes cognitive psychology as "the scientific study of how humans (and animals and, in some cases, computers) process information." Among the areas of study cognitive psychology covers are memory and attention. Attention relates to staying on task, an issue for managing time. I'm wondering if memory won't be a factor for organic writers, which, I know, veers off from the time management topic. I may be addressing that more later as I'm reading and thinking about this book.

In his introduction Levitin says that "successful members of society" have "learned to maximize their creativity, and efficiency, by organizing their lives so that they spend less time on the mundane, and more time on the inspiring, comforting, and rewarding things in life." Yes! Get me some of that!

An Evolutionary Theory For Writing Process

He has another interesting line in the intro: "Evolution doesn't design things and it doesn't build systems--it settles on systems that, historically, conveyed a survival benefit (and if a better way comes along, it will adopt that.)" This sounds to me like a way to think of writing process and managing time.

There is no grand design or system we can learn in graduate school or at conference workshops. Instead, individuals have to settle on a system that has, within their personal history, worked for them. And if they're smart, they'll maintain that zenny mind of a beginner I'm so fond of and adopt any new, better systems they happen upon, too.

Writing process and managing time evolve over the course of our work lives.

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5. Here's Something I Don't See In Many Children's Books

I picked up the adult novel 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino because the flap copy begins "Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer."

As my faithful readers are well aware, I enjoy reading adult fiction with child main characters. I liked The Cat's Pajamas a great deal. However, because Madeline is one of three main characters (it's an episodic book that you may have to be kind of zenny to get into--and I am) and the other two are adults, I can't say this is really an adult book with a child main character. (Wait. Pedro gets a lot of time, so maybe there are four main characters. Pedro is a dog.) 

Why am I mentioning this book at all, then? Because of this wonderful passage:

"Madeline has no friends: Not because she contains a tender grace that fifth graders detect and loath. Not because she has a natural ability that points her starward, though she does. Madeline has no friends because she is a jerk."

I finished that last line and thought, Why don't I see things like this in kids' books? Wouldn't child readers appreciate this kind of observation?

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6. The Weekend Writer: New Writers, Please Look Before You Publish

I began the Weekend Writer project a little over two years ago, because I was upset when a friend from high school was being pressured by a salesperson from some kind of pay-to-publish company. Last month in my local newspaper, I read about someone who had just published her first book. She had considered self-publishing, she said, but thought it was too expensive. Then she found a traditional publisher interested in her subject.

I had never heard of this publisher, but I'm not queen of the publishing world. I haven't heard of everybody. So I googled the name. Guess what? It was a pay-to-publish company. There's nothing wrong with that. Some self-published writers do use them. The issue here is that according to the interview this woman gave to the paper, she didn't know. She thought this company was a traditional publisher. A librarian friend who had seen the article said, "Isn't she going to get a bill at some point?"

What makes this story more disturbing is that when I googled the company name, the fourth site that came up was one at which writers who had paid the company to publish for them were reporting problems they'd had. We're talking a pay-to publish company with unhappy customers.

Don't Rush To Publish

You hear the expression "rush to publish" now in relation to self-publishing authors who want to get their book out right away. Speaking from experience, I can say that preparing a manuscript for publication can be nearly as much work as creating it in the first place. Writers need to learn nearly as much about publishing these days as they need to learn about writing. The difference between traditional vs. self-publishing seems as if it should be the very minimum writers should know. However, I've heard of other authors being asked questions by self-publishing authors that indicated that those particular self-publishers didn't have even a basic understanding of what traditional publishers do.

Wouldn't you know it, I have covered this issue here before: The Difference Between Traditional Publishing And Self-Publishing. If you are a new writer beginning to think about publishing, please read it.

But Let's Add To The Confusion

The line between traditional and self-publishing has become wobbly because some major traditional publishers have added self-publishing services, and many of them are all using the same company to provide those services. Check out Author Solutions and Friends: The Inside Story by David Gaughran at Let's Get Digital.

The bottom line here, folks, is that writers who plan/hope to publish need to educate themselves about publishing.

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7. What Did You Do This Week, Gail? May 8 Edition

  • It's been all Mummy May Days all the time this week. Getting any work done on Wednesday and Thursday was a major achievement because of family stuff. Today I finished up what I wanted to do this week and have a plan lined up for the next chapter. This addresses my first goal for the year. I've written about the value of regular work over and over again here, though I'm a big believer in doing what you can do and not beating yourself up over perceived failings. Nonetheless, I'm thinking writing every day would be a terrific habit to have. I've heard it takes six weeks to form a habit. May Days only lasts four.
  • I also watched this terrific presentation on content marketing by Jane Friedman.  There are a lot of on-line conferences out there, with a lot of presenters. As with all kinds of conferences, quality varies. This was pretty amazing in terms of the quality of the information, the slides, and the presentation. Turns out that what I was doing last month for Saving the Planet & Stuff was content marketing. And I didn't know. This would have related to my sixth objective for the year, marketing STP&S, if I'd seen it before last month. Though I'm thinking this is news I can use in some way, at some point.

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8. Environmental Book Club

Heroes of the Environment: True Stories of People Who Are Helping to Protect Our Planet by Harriet Rohmer with illustrations by Julie McLaughlin is a terrific collection of  minibios. No big names here, at least, none I'd heard of. These are stories of people who became immersed in an environmental situation. One of the things that's so good about this book is that in writing about the people, Rohmer writes about the issues they deal with.

I was grabbed right away by the first story about Will Allen who works with city farms. There are also stories here about people who are making use of salvaged materials (I learned about deconstructing buildings instead of demolishing them), bringing solar power to a Hopi reservation, and treating sewage with plants. This is an ethnically diverse group of people, giving readers the feeling that environmental concerns are shared by everyone. As, of course, they are and should be.

I also picked up a number of little scientific/technical details from this book in a painless way, which is how I like to pick them up.

The publisher suggests this book for older elementary school students.

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9. Time Management Tuesday: Keeping Your Head In The Game

I am using my May Days to put a lot of time into one project, something I've done the last two May Days. The same project, I'm sorry to say. But, once again during this May Days I am experiencing the value of trying to write every day on the same project. It's incredibly helpful for organic writers like myself. We have trouble isolating plot and planning out what we're going to do for an entire story. We deal with stories as a whole organism. If we have to stay away from that organism too long, it takes us a while to come back up to speed, because while we have a feel for our whole story, we aren't good on the details that are coming up. It's hard for us to pick up where we left off.

The May Days project forces us to write every day. For me, this meant spending some time at my laptop in a motel room between biking excursions this past weekend. Writing every day increases chances of having a breakout experience (at least it increases my chances), and I had one on a bike the next day. This led to taking notes on it while having lunch in a sandwich shop (my work for the day) and that led to a much easier transition back to work on Monday.

Whenever I find myself in a situation where I'm writing every day, even a tiny amount, I think, I've got to keep this up! Not because I accomplish so much (I did mention that I've been working on the same May Days project three years in a row, right?) but because it keeps my head in the game.

That is a huge plus for time management.

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10. You Know I Love "Jane Bear?" I Mean, "Jane Eyre."

I was intrigued when I read a review of The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville and snatched the book off the shelf when I saw it at my local library. I mention this to make the point that sometimes reviews actually do get readers. Or, in this case, a reader.

The Cottage in the Woods has been described as Jane Eyre meets Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It certainly is. Jane Eyre fans can have a fantastic time picking out the connections. A young, powerless, single female enters a large house as the employee of a wealthy man. This is a wealthy, married man with a family, which is one of the ways this book is different from Jane Eyre. But he's also a bear, as is the young female, Ursula. (Relating to ursine, I'm guessing.) Ursula is there to act as a governess to the bear's son, Teddy. (Oh, my gosh. Teddy Bear!!! No, actually his last name is Vaughn.) Ursula has a love interest, and, shades of Mr. Rochester, he's not free to love her. There is a mystery in this house, as there is in Jane Eyre. And it's related to a female, as is the mystery in Jane Eyre. This female, though, is young, with golden hair.

However, there is a whole nonJane plot involving human bigotry toward enchanted animals like Ursula and the Vaughns. I've read that some reviewers found that aspect of the book didactic. To me it was distracting, because it wasn't part of the Jane Eyre/Three Bears premise. It seemed unnecessary. What was going on with Goldilocks was so clever and unique that I would have liked a plot sticking much closer to that, which could have been closer to the Jane Eyre source material.

But, then, I know Jane Eyre. Readers who don't could feel differently. Since this is a middle grade novel, there will be many readers who don't know Jane.

While reading this, I wondered what Ms. Yingling would think of it. Sure enough, she read The Cottage in the Woods and weighs in on the subject. I agree that while I enjoyed it, it may have trouble finding an audience. 

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11. The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" After Party

Yes, the Annotated Saving the Planet & Stuff project is done. You can access every post for some kind of total reading experience.

 But What Was The Point?

The original edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff went out of print in 2006. Print books go out of print because publishers make the decision that the sales the books are generating aren't large enough to justify warehouse space. That's why so few even traditionally published books are found in bookstores, too. Shelf space goes to books believed to sell. Print books are expensive to sell because of the real space they take up. The window for marketing a print book isn't very long. I've read more than once that after three months, authors should give up marketing efforts and work on the next book.

The edition of Saving the Planet & Stuff that I self-published is an eBook, however. No warehouse or shelf space required. Theoretically, you should be able to market eBooks indefinitely. Theoretically, you should always be able to find new readers because there are always new people who missed earlier promotions, who are growing into your book's age range, or who are discovering your subject as a new interest.

This theory gives me an opportunity to indulge my obsessiveness. Saving the Planet isn't my passion. You don't hear me going on about how much I love this book, believe in it, must give it its chance in the world. No, STP&S is much more of an obsession, probably because it straddles the YA and adult reading group and is so many things. It is fiction. It is humor. It deals with characters at different stages of life. It is connected to time and place. That wide net gives me opportunities to experiment with so many things.

What Was I Trying To Do This Time?

I had thought of putting up STP&S book excerpts at my website, but, seriously, I couldn't see myself going to a website to read an entire chapter of anything. Why would anyone else? Something briefer in a blog post was another story. And I love annotations and those behind the scenes features you see on DVDS. I'm always looking for ways to do Earth Day tie-ins. The annotated excerpts became my Earth Day month tie-in.

What Did I Actually Do?

Sold a few books. That's what you want to know, right? It really was just a few.

Learned that these days you have to promote blog posts. I got the idea to tweet the Annotated STP&S posts at the marketing program I attended in March. I also posted them to Google+ communities when the content was appropriate for them. On days I didn't do Annotated STP&S posts I tweeted the guest blog posts I'd done over the last two years. This past month I got the best blog stats I've had since back in the Golden Days of Blogging, around 2005-06. I suspect that that won't lead to a lot of new, regular readers. However, I will be more proactive from now on about promoting blog posts as a result of this experience in order to extend my reach.

Twitter has it all over Facebook for getting the word out. There's nothing to discuss. But I will. Facebook author pages, in my experience, reach barely anyone. Personal pages involve a finite group of Friends. Posts are liked, but rarely shared. You're not going to reach new people, and your friends are primarily interested in hearing about your kids and vacation. On Twitter I could use hashtags to attract people beyond my own followers, people who were interested in what I was hashtagging. I got some retweets by environmental groups, one with a lot of followers. I could see results there, and those results presumably led to the leaps in blog page views. 

Confirmed that Google+ communities don't get the credit they deserve. Links posted to a community could end up getting shared days after they went up. I've often seen a little boost in blog stats here after posting at a Google+ community.

Definitely An Experience

This last month's work has changed how I'll be doing my posting. I've blogged in the evening for a long time, then posted as soon as I was done. For this project, I blogged in the evening, then posted early the next morning so I could tweet and retweet during the day. I'll be continuing with a similar system.

Also, the next time I have a new book come out, I would far prefer doing a lengthy blog promotion than a blog tour. I've done one traditional blog tour for a book and a nontraditional one, over a long period of time, for the Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook. I think this past month's promotional work was more effective.

For now, I am looking forward to blogging about other subjects. I'll be taking a rest for a while from Saving the Planet & Stuff promotion. But I do have a couple of ideas to try sometime in the future, because who just drops an obsession?

Next up: A weekend off from blogging. I've got some biking planned, and any time I can squeeze in for work I'll be using for my May Days project. Then next week--new material!

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12. The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Twelve: The Romance Edition

A number of years ago, a YA agent or editor (I really don't remember which) announced at her blog that YA fiction required romance. She got a lot of attention for that. Then it all blew over, and I've heard no more about it.

So that's not the reason I included a little romance in Saving the Planet & Stuff. I included it because I think that out in the real world, teenagers hope for romance. It's part of what they're looking for in life. It's part of what teenagers look for in a summer experience.

I'm not a big reader of romance, though, so these two final scenes in the Annotated Saving the Planet & Stuff project, are not going to bring the Romance Writers of America beating a path to my door.

     "Hey, listen," Michael said as he followed her. "You want to do something?"
     Amber stopped suddenly and turned to look at him.
     "Okay, we need to get something straight," she said. "I don't date guys."
     Michael gasped. A lesbian! I've never met one before! At least, I don't think so. Wait until everyone hears about this. I wonder if there's some way I can send a postcard to Marc. This would cheer him up for sure.
    "I'm not a lesbian, if that's what you're thinking," Amber went on.
    "I meant I just don't date. And I don't date because I don't want to get involved with anyone from East Branbury. You get involved with someone from your hometown and then you're stuck there or else you're stuck going where he wants to go. I have one more year of high school, four years of college, then a master's program and a Ph.D. program before I can practice psychology. What do you think the chances are of my doing all that if I have a boyfriend back home? Zilch."
     She's going to be a senior this year. So she is older than I am.
     "I'm not from East Branbury," he reminded her.
     "Oh. Well. That's a minor point," Amber said quickly.
     "And I don't want to be your boyfriend or anything," he added, thinking he sounded very reassuring.
     Amber didn't look reassured.
     "I thought that was what you wanted—to not have a boyfriend," he said as he rushed to follow her along the balcony to the stairs. "Aren't we perfect for each other?"
     "What kind of standard for perfection do you have?" Amber snapped over her shoulder.
     "I don't know. All I did was ask if you wanted to do something. I'm not interested in going shopping for rings or anything."
You can understand why Michael finds the story of how Walt and Nora met a big improvement on how he and Amber set up their first date.

     "She took a big chance on me. I was drunk the first time she saw me. I was so shitfaced, I went into a coffeehouse looking for beer. They had a guy there sitting on a stool, reading poetry, so, as you can imagine, there were lots of empty tables. But I went and plopped myself down next to this woman who was sitting all by herself. She had a black cardigan sweater on that was buttoned all the way up to the neck. Her hair was red—not that orangy red like Bozo the Clown, but a dark, brick color, and it was in this twist along the back of her head. She turned and looked at me, and she didn't seem surprised to see me sitting there. She just smiled."
     "Why were you drunk?" Michael asked.
     Walt groaned and rolled his eyes. "I knew you were going to ask that. You always zoom in on something insignificant. I don't remember why I was drunk, okay? Wait! Yes, I do! I was drunk because Nora and I were meant to meet that night. It was Fate. But since I would never have gone to a poetry reading in a coffeehouse sober, Fate had to make sure I was drunk."
     Michael sighed. I want to meet a woman that way, he realized. Except for the poetry. I really don't like poetry. And except for being drunk. I've never been drunk, and what if I were drunk and went to the wrong coffeehouse or the wrong table? But otherwise I'd like everything to be the same.
Walt met a woman who wanted to save the planet. By the end of Saving the Planet & Stuff, it's pretty clear that Michael could deal with that, too.

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13. May Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

An active month. Not overwhelming, but plenty to do.

Fri., May 1, Joshua Jay, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:30 PM

Sun., May 3 Michaela MacColl, Barnes & Noble, Westport 4:00 PM

Sun., May 3, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Barnes & Noble, Glastonbury 2:00 PM 

Mon., May 4, Neal Shusterman, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:00 PM

Tues., May 5, Bob Shea, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM Story Time

Tues., May 5, Dave Barry, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 5:00 PM

Fri., May 8, Tommy Wallach, Westport Public Library event held at Toquet Hall Teen Center, Westport 6:00 to 8:00 PM

Sat. May 9, Janet Lawler, CT Authors and Publishers Association 12th Annual Conference on Writing, Publishing & Marketing, Hartford  11:00 AM Registration and fee

Sat. May 9, Katie Davis, CT Authors ad Publishers Association 12th Annual Conference on Writing, Publishing & Marketing Hartford 11:00 AM Registration and fee

Mon., May 18, Michaela MacColl, Westport Public Library, Westport 5:00 to 6:00 PM

Tues., May 19, Mac Barnett, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

This calendar is available in a pdf suitable for copying and posting. 

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14. Time Management Tuesday: Yes, Yes. Another May Days Project Is Coming Up

My May Days Facebook group is powering up again. You remember May Days? I've been talking about it here since 2012. Part of what I like about taking part in this event, as I've said before, is that it gives me an opportunity to indulge in obsession. Sort of the way I did this past month with the Annotated Saving the Planet & Stuff. I think of these blocks of time as set-aside time to work on specific projects. Like the An--you know.

I've written here before about the significance of the beginnings and endings of units of time. I'm really feeling that significance right now. I've been worn out from this STP&S promo month for a while. How much have I been looking forward to the end of this project? A little more than a week ago, I thought the month ended this past weekend, because it was the first weekend I didn't have any family commitments. Commitments done, month done, right? Imagine my disappointment when I realized I had another four days to go.

So while I'm anxious for this April set-aside time to end, I'm also looking forward to the beginning of the next set-aside time, May Days. As far as new work is concerned, this month I've mainly done revising. I'd really like to move forward. That's my plan for May Days.

What I want to move forward with is the mummy book that I worked on last May. And the May before.  I'm not foolish enough to think I can finish it next month. (Though I did meet a writer this weekend who can do a rough draft in six weeks, and I already have five chapters.) But it would be terrific to get it done by fall. Making some serious progress in the next few weeks would go a long way toward getting there.

Note that with both these monthly projects, the Annotated Saving the Planet & Stuff Earth Day Promo and  Mummy for May Days (a name!!), involve two of my six  goals for this year.  I am staying on task!

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15. The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Eleven: DIY Recycling

One of Michael's tasks for The Earth's Wife is to research "second lives," so to speak, for the waste that had been diverted to Walt and Nora's spare bedroom. He uses 1001 Ways to Give New Life to Old Things (Northampton, Mass.: The Free and Open Press, 1973) for this task.

     On Monday morning, Roberta asked him, "What kinds of things have you been finding in your room? You said you made a list."
     "Butter containers," Michael said. "There are hundreds of butter containers under the bed. They're all different sizes and colors and brands. And then there are lots of those artificial-whipped-cream containers."
      "Someone must have given Nora those. She would never buy anything in a plastic container herself. And she wouldn't buy artificial whipped cream no matter what it came in."
      "Plus, there are empty bleach bottles all along one wall," Michael said.
     Roberta groaned. "I swear, when I was in college, people were making purses out of bleach bottles. Or maybe that was just one of those urban legends, because you never actually saw anyone carrying one of the things. I did know a guy who made himself a vest out of the ring tabs on soda cans, though."
     "There are only a half dozen soda cans. I brought them in yesterday," Michael admitted.
     "Fortunately that's not enough to make anything out of. Whatever you do, don't buy any more. What else have you got?"
      Michael looked at his paper. "There are some used beach towels."
     "Are they nice?"
     "Maybe we can make pot holders out of them. What's that you've got written there? 'Blue jeans'? Are there a lot of them?"
     Michael nodded. "But they have holes."
     "Now those we can use to make a quilt. I've seen a few of those. They're actually attractive."
     "A quilt!" Michael repeated. And then he thought, What does she mean by "we"?
I think my Aunt Tessy really did make one of those bleach bottle purses. I don't know if she went out in public with it.

When the original edition of this book was in the editing stages at G. P. Putnam's Sons, someone there told my editor that no one would cut up old blue jeans for a quilt. They were too valuable. Well, I would. I don't have any kind of emotional attachment to my old Levi's. Or those of any of my family members.

And so, folks, I have, indeed, made a denim quilt out of old blue jeans. I think it was done either just before I was writing this book or soon after. It went away to college with someone and is now in his house. I also made a cute little bag for a girl out of denim with a denim patch work side. Don't have a picture of that.

What I do have a picture of is all the denim, some of it already cut into squares, that I've collected for another quilt. A couple of weeks ago a family member was visiting and told me he had a bag of denim for me but had forgotten to bring it. So there will be more squares and more quilts and maybe more denim bags.

Wow. Little denim bags. I could have cranked out a bunch of those and used them for swag. I could make a little denim bag and put a copy of the original paper STP&S in it for raffle donations! Got to think seriously about my ROI on that idea.

This whole recycling old things business was a bigger deal in my college days, so this is another example of an autobiographical element making its way into my work. Recrafting recycled items still has its advocates, however. Team EcoEtsy is a group of sellers on Etsy who reduce, reuse, and recycle. This past month they ran a trash-to-treasure challenge to celebrate Earth Day.

Nora would have done an article about them for The Earth's Wife.

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16. Conference Day

I spent yesterday at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators spring conference. A very good day for me. In the past when I've attended professional events, I've reported on the people I knew who I ran into. Well, I seem to know quite a few people now. Reading a list of them wouldn't be that fascinating. So I will go one to other things.

Workshops Attended

Crafting Short Stories with Trisha Leaver. I may spend a month later this year revising a number of my short stories because of this program.

Show Me the Money with Chris Eboch. This workshop dealt with what I've heard called "income streams" for writers. There are a number of options, but they require so much work! I came up with some pitches for someone else I know while I was in the class. And this workshop was a good lead-in to the afternoon workshop I attended, which was on school visits. School visits, you see, are an income stream for writers.

Bringing Books Alive During School and Library Visits with Marcia Wells and Kwame Alexander. Interesting story here. When I signed up for this workshop, I'd never heard of either of these people. And then Kwame Alexander won the Newbery Medal! Marcia and I have already become Twittermates. I'll be doing a separate post early next month on school visit workshops.


The New England SCBWI regional conference is huge in terms of attendance. Computer Guy went with me a few years ago when we were preparing to republish Saving the Planet & Stuff so he could take a workshop on making e-books from scratch. He was stunned by the crowd then, and amazed by the lunchtime picture to your left.

That is why it was terrific that Jill Daily, a member of my writers' group, somehow snagged a table for the nine of us. It was great not to have to negotiate a ballroom full of people on my own. I am afraid I was not a great lunch companion, however, because I was seated in such a way that I had to turn my back to everyone to see the lunch speakers. And I also was busy taking notes and pictures.

During lunch Deborah Freedman received the Crystal Kite Award for the New England region. This was for her book, The Story of Fish and Snail.

Kwayme Alexander spoke during lunch, too. Extremely charming and charismatic. I actually read a book of poetry this year, and I think I'm going to ask for one of Kwayme's (I went to his workshop, so I can call him Kwayme, right?) adult books for my birthday.

The lunch panel discussion was a surprise for me. I wasn't looking forward to it, because it was on nontraditional publishing. I've spent a lot of time on my own nontraditional publishing effort, and this past month I've been promoting the living daylights out of it. I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about hearing more on this subject right now.

But I was totally taken with this discussion. I think what made it good was the variety of viewpoints of the panelists. There was a self-published writer who is very encouraging on the process, someone who runs an editing company that also helps authors self-publish who recognized that some people are going to need help, someone who had been involved in some kind of self-publishing company that wasn't successful, and a traditionally published author new to self-publishing. I appreciated that they didn't all speak with one voice.

The panelists: Chris Cheng, Laura Pauling, Erica Orloff, and Steve Mooser. J. L. Bell, from the NESCBWI was the moderator. There is a reason for that. He's very good at it.

I'll be doing another couple of Conference-related posts later this week.

I am finishing today with a picture of lunch because Kwayme Alexander used a food slide in his lunch talk. It was terrific. People love looking at pictures of food. It is a universal truth.

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17. What Did You Do This Week, Gail? April 24 Edition

More whining. It's been a rough month with a lot of prepping for family events, three medical appointments during the work week for an elder, and this Annotated Saving the Planet & Stuff promotion I've been doing. That is exhausting. How exhausting? Last week I didn't do a weekly check in on Friday night. I did my nails instead. I kid you not.  And, for the first time, I understood why women like doing it. It's a very zenny experience. I'll have more about this next month.

Goal 1. Mummy Book. I have been revising early chapters in an excruciatingly slow manner. However, some things are coming together that will...should...I hope...maybe...make later work easier. Or at least possible.

Goal 2. Short Pieces. I finished an essay I actually started this year! And I submitted it! This evening, so I just barely made it into this week. And I think I may write a writerly piece about NOT finishing a draft before you start to revise. Everyone says we should do that, and as you can see from what I said in Goal 1, I can't manage it. I have never managed it.

Goal 5. Community Building. The May Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar is ready to go next week. I also found my registration material for the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference tomorrow and now I know what workshops I registered for! Good work, Gail!

Goal 6. Marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff. Ayup. One week left to go.

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18. The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Unplanned Post: Ripped From The Headlines!!!

Oh,  my gosh.  The  Saving the Planet & Stuff storyline involves Michael discovering that a major store chain has been selling insulation with mold. The Earth's Wife, the magazine he's working for,  has the opportunity to blow this story sky high, but the new managing editor has kept the story from publisher Nora Blake because he wants to take The Wife in a different direction. Michael finds himself in a dilemma that involves one of the book's major themes--how do we decide what is the right course of action, the right thing to do?

Well, just now I read that Home Depot is phasing out toxic vinyl flooring from its stores! Now moldy insulation that causes hallucinations isn't toxic flooring "linked to a laundry list of ailments." Plus it sounds as if Home Depot is acting pro-actively in requiring the the chemical in question no longer be used in flooring it carries while the company in Saving the Planet & Stuff doesn't. But except for all that, I see a parallel. It's there! I'm not hallucinating. (Well, not much.)

Man, what luck that I republished Saving the Planet & Stuff  a mere two years before this happened so everyone can ooh and aah over how prescient I was, huh? Also, what luck that I still haven't replaced the flooring in my kitchen. When I go shopping, I'll be checking out the chemical content of those vinyl squares I'm looking at.

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19. The Environmental Book Club

Yesterday was Earth Day, which means the Green Earth Book Awards were announced by The Nature Generation.

Fiction Winners

  • The Promise by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Laura Carlin  Picture Book
  • Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly Children's
  • Threatened by Eliot Schrefer Young Adult

Nonfiction Winners

  • Plastic, Ahoy!:  Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman with illustrations by Annie Crawley Children's
  • Eyes Wide Open:  Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman 

Honor Winners

  • A Bird On Water Street by Elizabeth O. Dulemba 
  • A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz with illustrations by Catia Chien
  • Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate with illustrations by G. Brian Karas
  • Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade by Beth Handman, Kenny Bruno, and Antonia Bruno
  • Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet
  • Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle
  • The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees:  A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle
  • The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature by the Education Staff of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Sarah Schmidt, editor, and Laszlo Veres, illustrator
  • The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans by Elizabeth Rusch
Notice Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla is an honor winner. We were just talking about that book.

And you can check out the list of all nominees.

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    20. Great Interview With Jane Yolen

    Years ago, Jane Yolen was my on-line, secret mentor, which means I was kind of stalking her. I'm over that, but I'll still snatch an opportunity to take a look at an article about her.

    Kirsti Call interviewed Jane Yolen at Writers' Rumpus, and both interviewer and interviewee were terrific. "How do you decide what to work on?" Great question. Yolen's response to the "What is your favorite book that you've written?" question. Excellent.

    It was an interview that made me feel I was reading something new. Well, I was.

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    21. The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Ten: Do Environmentalists Play Well With Others?

     Every Day Is Earth Day

    Environmentalists have specific interests. They are interests that not everyone will appreciate. I am not a particularly serious environmentalist, yet I had a bit of a rep with my older son's first grade teacher because I wouldn't send disposable items into school. Little Will volunteered to bring in spoons for Ice Cream Sundae Day in the spring. "But your mother will want to send real spoons instead of plastic," Mrs. F. objected. "I'll fix it," Little Will promised. And he did, because I felt guilty about making problems for my child. Then I felt guilty because, sure,  I could have made my kid hand out stainless steel spoons, pick them up after they were used, and bring them home dirty in one of the  grocery bags I save to reuse. I wouldn't have made him wash them. I would have done that. Instead, I bought plastic spoons and sent them directly into the transfer station with just a brief stop in a first-grade classroom.

    It's hard to have fun, even with your family, when you believe everything you do matters so very, very much. That's a point made in the following excerpt from Saving the Planet & Stuff

         "Aren't golf courses already environmentally friendly?" he asked. "You know, green grass and no buildings. And I bet those little golf carts get terrific gas mileage."
         Nora rolled her eyes. "Golf courses are ecological disasters—all those chemicals to kill weeds. Plus, they're a terrible drain on the water table. But one of my daughters-in-law plays golf with her parents, and I have a grandson who is on his high school golf team. I could play with them, if I knew how. Golfing is just awful, of course, but my kids and grandchildren don't want to go on wildlife tours with us or visit native craftspeople or travel to the desert to view lunar eclipses. We have nothing to do together. And it's amazing how quickly you run out of small talk about drilling for oil in national parks." She sighed. "We need to do a multigenerational eco-recreation article for The Wife. Other people must be having these problems."
         No one I know, Michael thought.
         "There isn't anyone in your family who wants to take the alternative-energy tour with you? Your kids don't want to visit strange worlds?" he asked. "Because a windfarm has got to be a really strange place."
         "Their idea of visiting strange worlds is walking through those foreign pavilions in Epcot at Disney World," Nora said sadly.
         "Oh, those are good."
         A guilty look flashed across Nora's face. "I went golfing while we were on this last vacation. Just once. My son and daughter-in-law took me along when they went to play with her parents. Now, of course, I didn't really know what I was doing because I'd never done it before, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was like going for a walk with friends on a nice day, but at the same time playing a game."
         "Yeah, I think that's what golf is supposed to be."
         "Then we went out to lunch. I wish I could find a golf course with a vegetarian restaurant. At least if there were a restaurant at a golf course that wasn't involved with destroying other life-forms … well, maybe that would help to make being there seem less wrong."
         Michael stared at her. "Being at a golf course is lame and uncool, but it isn't wrong. Wait. What am I thinking? Of course being lame and uncool is wrong."
         Nora gave him a patient smile. "If we want to see changes made in our world, we can't support and use the very things we want to change. What reason would there be to change them?"
         Michael shrugged. "Microsoft changes Windows every couple of years even though tens of thousands of people use it just the way it is. And I bet Bill Gates doesn't refuse to use Windows while his employees are working on it."
         "I suppose change can come from the inside," Nora said thoughtfully.
         "Or not at all, because golf is just a game."
         Nora laughed. "Nothing is just a game," she said as they got up and started to clear the table together.

    Environmental Theme

    I've said here before that I'm not sure what an environmental theme is. "Climate change" isn't a theme, to me. It's a topic. The same with "the environment" or "the rain forest." In my humble opinion, theme needs a verb.

    Saving the Planet & Stuff has more than one theme. But its environmental theme is that environmentalism is hard. Environmentalism is a lifestyle that requires thought and choices every single day. Michael doesn't become a big-time environmentalist as a result of his experience with Walt and Nora. But he comes to understand what their lives have been about.

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    22. Time Management Tuesday: Decision-making

    Last week's Time Management Tuesday post dealt with an article from the Coaching Positive Performance website. So I went back to take a look at what other time management bits I could find over there and, lo, I came upon this post on decision-making. I promised back in August, 2012 that decision-making would be a long-term study topic here. And, look! I'm carrying through with that!

    Why Is Decision-making Part of Time Management?

    Decision-making takes time. And it's time when you're not doing anything except thinking about what you're going to do. It's time that doesn't produce much.

    You want to spend as little time deciding what you're going to do as possible, so you can spend more time on real work. How to do that?

    How To Decide What To Do?


    The CPP folks talk about knowing which of the tasks you have to do will give you the biggest payoff. That means knowing your goals and objectives. You have to have those in mind all the time. I like to make them at the beginning of the year and check in with them regularly. I've been doing it weekly this year.

    The CPP people also talk about figuring out what you can do and how much time you have available. That's always going to change. And why? Because everything is situational. Our situations are always changing, so we always have to work out what we can do with the time we have available.

    A case in point? Last week's Time Management Tuesday was about managing sick time. With that we're definitely dealing with a specific situation, different from the situation we were dealing with before we got sick, and different from the situation we'll be dealing with after we're back to what passes for normal. Getting anything done in that particular situation requires making some decisions.

    If All Else Fails...

    Do something. Anything. Again as the CPP writer says, the only way you can fail is to do nothing at all.

    Remember, that's the reason decision-making is an important part of time management. You don't want to spend too much of your available time thinking about what you're going to do instead of doing something.

    I decided what I was going to do this week yesterday morning. So now I'm off to do it.

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    23. The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Nine: What Does An Environmentalist Do For Vacation?

    It's hard to take time off from environmentalism. Is it okay to forget about your carbon footprint for a couple of weeks each year? Souvenirs are just pre-trash, aren't they? How many motel towels would you have to hang up and reuse to offset all the energy those places use?

    Early on in Saving the Planet & Stuff, Michael and Nora describe their different takes on getting away from it all.

         "I've been to some terrific malls when we've been on vacation. Huge ones."
         Walt dropped the newspaper onto his lap, took his glasses off, and looked across the room at Michael. "You go to malls while you're on vacation?"
         The indignation in Walt's voice brought a grin to Michael's face. "Sure. Doesn't everybody?"
         "You shop while you're on vacation?" Walt asked, sounding horrified.
         Mostly they just walked around in malls in the evenings or on rainy days, but Walt's reaction was more than Michael could resist. Air conditioners, sixty-five-mile-an hour speed limits, malls … was there anything that didn't tick this guy off?
         "Well, sure," he told Walt. "What if Abercrombie & Fitch runs a sale and you're out of town? That's the beauty of malls. They have the same stores all over the country. You never miss a thing."
         Walt laughed, shook his head, and appeared ready to go back to reading his paper. Michael, however, didn't give up easily.
         "So, what do you guys do while you're on vacation?" he asked just to try to keep the conversation going.
         "Now our vacations are usually planned around visiting our grandchildren," Nora explained for Walt. "But when our sons were living with us, we used to do things like stay on a farm for a couple of weeks and work with the farmer and her family. Once we stayed on an island that could only be reached by boat. That was a great vacation. Let's see. What other things did we do? Well, one summer we went out west and volunteered at a school on a Native American reservation. Then there was the year we did a tour of the birthplaces of our favorite authors—Henry David Thoreau … Rachel Carson … Wendell Berry—have you read any of their work, Michael?"
         Since Michael never remembered authors' names, he could truthfully say, "I don't know. Maybe …"
         "They're nature writers," Walt said, his voice indicating he wasn't taken in by Michael's evasiveness. "I'm sure we've got some copies of their books around here somewhere. If you read a few chapters, maybe it would refresh your memory."
         "We took turns reading them out loud in the car that year," Nora recalled, smiling. "That was another great trip."
         Michael tried to picture the scene: Younger versions of Walt and Nora would be sitting in the front of a car, probably the same car they still drove, with a couple of kids comatose from boredom in the backseat while Nora read from a very thick book.
         "The buttercups in the meadow were my only neighbors. And fine neighbors they were! Sometimes, while visiting with an acquaintance in the polluted, nasty town, I have thought of my old friends the buttercups and longed to be with them. They never have a harsh word to say of another, be he buttercup or man, nor do they take from another, living totally on what they get from the sky—sun and rain. And perhaps some nutrients from the earth. Oh, but if only we could be as simple as the buttercups."
         I'm definitely going to start treating my parents better, Michael promised himself. They're nowhere near as bad as they could be.
    The older Nora looks forward to a few months off so she can travel to Iceland. Why?

         "In Iceland they're working on converting their transportation system to hydrogen power," she explained eagerly. "They'll have filling stations where you can buy hydrogen gas to run electric motors in cars. It will be clean. It will be quiet. It will be made from their own natural resources—hydrogen extracted from the steam in their geysers and the water all around them. Imagine that, Michael. An entire country doing something no one else is doing. It will be like stepping into a movie or a book, and in our lifetimes we can do it."
         "I usually don't want to do something no one else is doing, but maybe going to Iceland would be like going into an alternative universe," Michael said. "Which could be really neat. Especially since you could leave whenever you wanted to—or when your vacation was over, whichever came first."

    Remember, this book was originally published in 2003. I couldn't predict that Iceland would become one of the coolest places to visit this year. It probably isn't because of the hydrogen fuel, though. My sister-in-law said she went because of cheap air fare.

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    24. What Was I Dreaming?

    Last night I dreamed that I wrote an essay comparing...something, I don't know what, though I think it was related to writing...to the I Ching. I didn't know what the I Ching was in the dream, which makes sense, because I don't know what it is when I'm awake. In the dream, I just read a few screens worth of information about it, maybe the equivalent of a Slate article with a short film. Really short. Then I wrote the essay. I didn't get to the point in the dream where I was submitting the completed piece of writing. That's too bad, because I'd really like to know if there's a publication that would even consider such a thing.

    Well, it appears that only in a dream would you find a short piece on the I Ching that would make it possible for you to write anything intelligent about it. (Though I'm trying right now.) Even the I Ching Wikipedia entry made my eyes glaze over two-thirds of the way through the second sentence. 

    The best I can work out, the I Ching, known as The Book of Changes in English, is an ancient Chinese text used to tell the future. This makes it different from the zenny stuff I'm usually interested in reading, which deals with staying in the moment so you are not anxious about the future or regretful about the past.

    As a general rule, you don't have to have completed psych 1 to analyze my dreams. But I'm at a loss as to where this I Ching business came from. Yes, I attend a tai chi/kung fu school, and those are both Chinese martial arts. And, yes, next Saturday is World Tai Chi Day, and I'm not taking part with my school because I'm going to a conference. And I did get a couple of e-mails about it.

    But nobody mentioned the I Ching.

    So, today I've been thinking about this and wondering what I could have written that essay on, even though, of course, I didn't really write an essay, I only dreamed I did. In dream world it happened. Here is what I came up with: If the I Ching is about telling the future, maybe I connected it to plotting a piece of fiction. Maybe I came up with a way to use it to work out the future, the plot, of a story.

    How easy my life would be if I could find an ancient Chinese text that would do that. 

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    25. The Annotated "Saving the Planet & Stuff" Part Eight: Eco-Style And Conflict

    I was thinking of a few glossy magazines when I was writing the eco-style thread for Saving the Planet & Stuff. Maybe a couple of stores in Vermont. In the years since the hardcover edition was published, the Internet has exploded with eco-stylish websites and blogs.

    So the farcical aspect of the eco-style business is a bit undermined because eco-style is so mainstream now. But there is still the conflict between the old-time, hardcore environmentalists like Walt and Nora and the eco-chic followers of style like Todd Mylnarski. Have I mentioned that conflict can be funny?

         "The informing-and-changing-opinion mission is so 1960s. It's so old. Nowadays readers are more interested in lifestyles, how they're going to live their lives," Todd said.
        "But that's exactly what The Earth's Wife does," Nora objected. "It's all about how to live an environmentally sound life."
        "He means people want to read about biodegradable fashion and decorating instead of those god-awful stories about farmers contaminating groundwater because they've been using too much fertilizer," Maureen explained enthusiastically.
        "Eco-style. It's the next generation of the environmental movement," Todd announced. "The editorial staff has been talking, and we think we should be doing articles on things like how to furnish your living room environmentally and how to buy environmental back-to-school clothes and—"
        "Environmental music!" Michael exclaimed.
        "That stuff that's supposed to sound like the wind in the rain forest or something?" Walt sneered.
        "Actually, I was thinking the Dave Matthews Band," Michael said. "Those guys are supposed to be into saving the planet."
        "And what about that guy from U2—Bono?" Todd suggested.
        Michael shook his head. "He's only interested in saving poor countries. You know, debt relief?"
        "Oh, that's right," Todd said. "Too bad. He would have been worth a cover story. He looks very good on magazine covers."
        "Stop everything for a moment. Did anyone read last month's issue of The Earth's Wife?" Nora asked.
        "Of course."
        "I did."
        "Me, too."
        Michael silently shook his head no.
        "You realize it was about just what you're talking about—not Dave Matthews and Bono, but buying things? And how this need for things and owning things is destroying our world?" Nora said.
       "Well, that's one man's opinion," Todd told her.

    I don't know if the eco-style people are big on humor. Todd certainly isn't.

    Within the context of the Saving the Planet & Stuff world, the battle between the anti-material save- our-groundwater crowd and the shoppers looking for the latest organic cotton and hemp clothing is a generational conflict.

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