Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Don't Cross Me

Cinema's Greatest Writer Villains.

Alpha female...writer villain. I'll settle for either one.

Grammar Monkeys And The Subjunctive Mood

Grammar Monkeys is a blog that's brand-spanking new to me, and it's exactly what I was talking about when I posted about changing the blogs you follow in order to bring some spark into your own.

You're probably thinking, But, Gail, seriously, how can a grammar blog inspire a post for your own blog? Oh, easily, easily, dear ones.

Note this Grammar Monkey post on the subjunctive. Now, my grasp of the subjunctive is very weak. However, I feel warmly toward it because it always makes me think of my father-in-law. When I first met him, his son, my boyfriend, warned me that his father, a civil engineering professor and textbook author, was going to ask me about the subjunctive. "He knows you're an English major, and he's always asking people about the subjunctive, anyway. Be ready."

My response was, What the Hell? Be ready for what?

Well, sure enough, soon after meeting, my future father-in-law did bring up the subjunctive. "It is my favorite mood," he said.

I've never known anyone else with a favorite mood. Actually, except for an editor at Putnam, I doubt anyone else I've known knew what a mood was.

So, there you have it, a blog post inspired by a grammar blog. Go forth and look for those new blogs!

Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for the link.

UPDATE: Oops. I've told the subjunctive story here before. About four and a half years ago. Well, this just proves my original point, that if you've blogged long enough, you'll have read it all and blogged about it all.


Keeping The Magic In Blogging

Original Content's eighth anniversary was the beginning of this month, and instead of doing an anniversary post, I blogged about Sally. Social networking masters would point out that I missed a golden opportunity to generate some traffic at my blog with some book giveaways, maybe a blog tour, something. Anything.

My only excuse is that when anyone has experienced a great many anniversaries of any type, it's hard to get up a lot of energy for another one. Or sometimes even notice. (Though if Civil Guy sees this, be warned--we're getting out of town the weekend of July 23rd. At least, I am.)

I wouldn't have even noticed the eighth anniversary at all, but Greg Pincus did a post at The Happy Accident on what he described as The Blahgs--"the feeling you get when you lack the desire to keep on blogging." I've been hearing about this for a while now. It's not unusual to read of bloggers needing to take a break, needing to redefine why they're blogging in order to go on. I wanted to respond to Greg's post, the reponse involved figuring out how long I've been doing this, and there you go.

Meandering along here, I think a big part of litblogging is responding to material on the Internet--other blogs, literary columns, etc. I follow--superfically--a great many blogs, and something I've been noticing happening is that I often have days when I've waded through as much as I can without feeling a lot of excitment about anything I've seen. I've been doing this for eight years (See? This is the point where I checked to see how long O.C. has been around and learned I'd missed an anniversary), and what I think has happened is that I'm beginning to feel as if I've read it all before. Certainly, I have read a lot of it before. I have responded to a lot of it before. Yes, I can never read too much about Shirley Jackson and will probably always have a response. But another book controversy...another so-called celebrity author...another vampire story...another barking award...another list of some kind...I think anyone can see that if bloggers have been around long enough, they may very well get to the point that they just don't have anything more to say on a wide variety of subjects.

Now, I actually do have a bit of an assist for this problem--start reading different blogs. Because I'm a writer and not a pure lit blogger, I have some different interests I can call upon. In addition to kidlit blogs, I follow some author blogs, some writing blogs, and right now I'm following some editor and agent blogs. So I do get exposed to a little more variety of thought than someone who follows only one kind of blog. I've also had to drop some blogs over the years, usually because I felt the material covered was covered in other blogs, sometimes in many other blogs. You can't keep taking on more and more blogs because of that thing about time--within an individual life, anyway--being finite. You have to cull the pack every now and then.

So I would like to suggest that change may be what it takes to keep a blog going.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Margo Lanagan. Short Stories. Margo Lanagan And Short Stories.

Margo Lanagan did a guest post at Cynsations relating to writing short stories. And writing Tender Morsels. She did a blog tour last week, which I hope to read this week.

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My Own Nominees For YA Books With Adult Appeal

Earlier this month, The Spectacle did a post on YA books with special appeal to adult readers. When I say "earlier this month," I mean much earlier this month. Since I didn't see the post until yesterday, I felt I was way too late to add my two cents. So I decided to do it here.

YA books I think would be good reading choices for so-called grown-ups:

The Night Road

Tender Morsels


Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation

How the Hangman Lost His Heart

Ptolemy's Gate

What I Saw and How I Lied

Criss Cross

Other titles readers would like to nominate?


Sunday, March 28, 2010

That Probably Wasn't Good

Speaking of not doing everything I need to do, as I was, this at Mitali's Fire Escape nudged me into going over to Amazon to update my blog there. Whadayaknow? I hadn't updated in two and a half months or thereabouts.

I know I could link this blog to Amazon, but I want to keep Original Content totally independent. Also, I have this vague plan to make the Amazon blog about more nonprofessional interests.

I considered doing Goodreads or Indiebound, as Mitali suggested in her blog post, but who am I trying to kid? I'll never keep those things up to date.


What To Do? What To Do?

My work life involves one main writing project, historical research for another, this blog, occasional posts for an Amazon blog, occasional business e-mail, short story and essay submissions, a writing meditation thing, and professional reading. Yet I can only work three days a week. Needless to say, many things are not getting done. In fact, I have two white boards in my office, one for a business To Do list and one for a personal To Do list. I haven't had time to update either one of them since February 21.

This afternoon I had a couple of hours I was going to use for cleaning my desk and doing three submissions. I have this long-term fantasy that if I were just tidier and more organized, I would be able to do anything. I have another long-term fantasy about getting manuscripts out of my office.

What to do? What to do?

I moved a stack of books and found a file I was looking for. I made one submission.



Friday, March 26, 2010


So I've just read two books in a row that have referred to characters as alpha and beta males. Soulless included a werewolf who was the alpha for his pack and had a beta buddy who made the top dog more tolerable to be around. So Punk Rock was written from the point of view of a character who considered himself a beta buddy to an alpha.

Now, the alpha in Soulless is a romantic figure, if you don't mind all the yelling and the occasional ripping people to shreds. The alpha in So Punk Rock is a shallow self-centered babe magnet.

It was interesting reading one book right after the other because while one alpha was more attractive than the other, we're only talking a matter of degree here. My own feeling has always been that alpha males are figures to avoid, and these two books didn't do a whole lot to convince me otherwise.

However, they also didn't discourage me from my new ambition to become an alpha female, myself. I may be up for third dan at the ol' dojang later this year, something I was not feeling a lot of enthusiasm for because of the testing involved. But if I consider third dan an objective toward my alpha female goal, it doesn't seem so grim.

Though if you're going to be an alpha, I suppose you should be able to do grim.

Hey, Man! Kosher!

So Punk Rock by Micol Ostow with illustrations by David Ostow may be, when all is said and done, a bit of a generic, "Let's start a band!" book. Main character wants to be cool, pulls a group of kids together, finds a little success, has the big gig, realizes that the things he thought he wanted are not what he wanted at all. What makes the book different is that it is so...Jewish. And if you're not Jewish, it is such a pleasure to read about a contemporary real teen world you don't know a whole lot about.

If there are dozens of YA books out there about the teenage Jewish punk rock scene, please let me know. I'm sure not aware of them.

Our narrator, Ari Abramson, has a very laid back, dry wit. He is into irony. He's a junior at Leo R. Gittleman Jewish Day School where around sixty-four percent of the student body is "religious enough to find ourselves in a school where learning Hebrew, Torah, and Rabbinics is valued as much as learning English, history, and math--but not, you know, hard core about it." Since something similar can be said about the Christian church I sort of attend ("We're Christians, but let's not get ridiculous about it."), I definitely felt some common ground with this boy.

I don't see a lot of kids' or YA books that recognize the fact that many, many young people are involved in religious practice. I'm not even talking about what kids believe, just the fact that they attend services, receive religious instruction, etc. I found that here in a book with the words "Punk Rock" in the title.

While I enjoyed the graphic elements, I didn't pick up on their significance (a character was creating them), until the end. I may have stumbled with my reading (which has happened before) or they may not have been integrated into the story as well as they might have been.

Nonetheless, an enjoyable read.

Check out an interview with the author and illustrator at Cynsations.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Teen Angel, Teen Angel, Teen Angel, Ooooooh"

The author of Teenage Fiction's Death Wishes asks why teenagers are into reading about buying the farm. I don't think this is a particularly new interest. I can recall my high school creative writing teacher telling us that he was sure he was going to hear from parents regarding a morbid piece written by a student for the school literary magazine because he'd been in that situation before. And this may be tipping my hand regarding my seriously advanced age, but I can just barely remember when dying adolescents were a Top 40 staple.

I guess it's a sign of improved literacy if teenagers are reading books about dying instead of dancing to music about it.

Link from Cynsations.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Maybe More Than You Want To Know About Snow White

Snow, Glass, Apples: The Story of Snow White by Terri Windling was a little overwhelming for someone like myself, whose knowledge of the tale is limited to a Little Golden Book rendering of the "Disney version." I've never seen the movie.

In reading Windling's article, I was struck by the older woman/younger woman relationship, unpleasant though it may be. I kept wondering if the Snow White figure's fate was to become a middle aged woman who will, in turn, hate a younger woman. And what are we to make of those princes who like their women dead?

The link came from Bookslut, of course.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oh, My Gosh! Oh, My Gosh! I Am So Glad I Saw This!

My Shirley Jackson obsession is well-documented here at O.C.. So imagine my delight when Blog of a Bookslut referred me to The Strange World of Stanley Edgar Hyman and Shirley Jackson in the Wall Street Journal. Be sure to read the comments.

Though I have been to Bennington, Vermont a number of times in years past, and one of my sisters lived there for a little while, I cannot lay any claim to knowledge of Bennington College. To Vermonters of my tribe and era, Bennington College was...another world. Out of state. Beyond our grasp and understanding. We could not imagine the wealth or fathom the intellect.

If Shirley Jackson had not been connected with it, I would barely have known Bennington College existed. Because she was, I've paid attention to anything I've read about the place. For her sake.

Coincidently, today I had lunch with my mother-in-law who was a faculty wife during the same period (and beyond) as Jackson, though at much techier colleges. How did those women maintain their sanity?



Does Gail do any real work, you may wonder? She certainly doesn't say anything about doing anything that could pass for real work.

Well, since the end of January, beginning of February, I've been revising the first four months of 365 Story Project entries I did last year before everything went to Hell at Chez Gauthier. The revision was going well until a couple of weeks ago. I was getting (and still am) overwhelmed with the various storylines for the various arcs. I had colored notecards. I had lists. I was spending enormous amounts of time trying to manage information. I was reaching that point that comes in all writing projects at which the writer goes, What was I thinking? I'm ashamed to even have had this idea, forget about working on it all this time.

I was driving in the car one day, when I thought that perhaps the whole thing should shift to a traditional book format, that perhaps I had many book possibilities in the material I'd generated.

Nah, I told myself. That can't be right. And I continued struggling on.

Then yesterday I started reformatting from the beginning into a narrative for just one storyline, keeping only those things that will support that one storyline. Two chapters fell right into place.

I am cannibalizing the earlier work. I must say, cannibalizing feels good.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Everyone's Been In Monet's Garden

I stumbled upon The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt, a story based on a real incident.

The book made me think of Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork. Then I learned that Philippe has been there, too.

Everyone has been in Monet's garden. My sister has been in Monet's garden. That would make a great picture book. Constance in Monet's Garden and Why Gail is Bitter.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Something More Specific Regarding Archetype And Stereotype

Today, folks, we will be discussing Soulless by Gail Carriger, for two reasons.

1. It is one of the 2010 Alex Award winners. That means it is a book written for adults that has special appeal to young adults, twelve through eighteen years of age. Once again, I just don't get this. This is a paranormal romance, mainly, about a twenty-six-year-old spinster living in a steampunk Victorian London who is warm for the form of a much, much older Scottish werewolf. What we have here is essentially a Georgette Heyer novel with vampires and werewolves and lots and lots of hot, steamy almost sex. Sure, plenty of teenagers will like it, just as I liked Georgette Heyer novels when I was a teenager. But I don't see how there's anything here that is of particular interest to teen readers. (Except for the almost sex.) No adolescent characters. No adolescent themes.

The people I think will really like this book are the adult women who've been reading the Twilight books for the sexual frustration. The sexual frustration in Twilight is really lame compared to what they'll find in Soulless.

2. Leila at bookshelves of doom brought up the familiarity of the characters. I, too, thought of the Amelia Peabody books in the opening chapters of Soulless. Both Amelia and Alexia, the main character in Soulless, are powerful Victorian outsiders partnered with powerful, highly cranky, if not close to violent, men with insatiable sex drives, and both women even carry umbrellas they use as weapons. But Leila's bringing up the characters in Soulless as "types" reminded me of my archetype vs. stereotype musings earlier this month. Is Gail Corriger merely tossing off some stereotypes in Soulless or is she messing with archetype? While Alexia- and Lord Maccon-type characters appear in plenty of Heyer and Heyer-type novels, is placing them in a steampunk werewolf story playing with the archetype or just plodding along with the stereotype? And while Lord Akeldama is a very stereotypical gay character, isn't he also the aristocratic fop from any number of Regency romances cranked up a great deal?

As J.L. Bell said in a comment, "Readers have different experiences, tastes, temperaments." Meaning that whether a character is viewed as a archetype or stereotype is subjective on the part of the reader. Or, as I said, "tomato/tomahto."

I don't know if I'll be reading any of the Soulless sequels because I don't know how long I will enjoy the male-lover-dripping-testosterone scenario. It seems like something that will get old really fast to me. (The same goes with the Amelia Peabody books.) However, I know one hairdresser who will be getting Soulless for Christmas this year.

Plot Project: Oh, definitely, this is a plot all about woman wanting werewolf. All the evil goings on are the obstacles to her getting him.

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Oh, Please. What Century Is This?

Why Are Bloggers Male? asked columnist Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail. Well, they aren't. Not all of them, anyway. And Wente heard about that in an on-line debate.

In the debate Wente says, "This was a lighter piece about opinions and sex differences in expressing them." Personally, I could tell she was trying to be light-hearted. Here's the thing, though--that oh-isn't-it-amusing-the-way-men-and-women are-different essay is so old. It is so 1970's. It has been done to death. So even if you're right and you actually have hit upon some way that men and women are actually different (say, because most women have noticeable breasts and most men don't), you're not going to get a lot of laughs with it because the structure of the humor is so old and predictable. We've been done laughing about that for a long time now.

And if you're blatantly wrong, well, yikes.

Check out Salon's response to the news that blogging belongs to guys.

As A General Rule, I Hate Writing Tips.

Practicing Writing directed me to 21Tips to Get Out of the Slush Pile. As a general rule, I find writing tips superficial and manipulating the material to make the sale. But these had a lot more depth and really seemed to address writing issues.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Embody The Abstractions

Isn't that a lovely phrase? M.T. Anderson used it in an interview at Cynsations. Pay attention when he talks about how writing nonfiction helped his fiction.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Good Interview

Nancy Sondel with the Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop did an interesting interview with agent Edward Necarsulmer. The best information is on page 2 under "Novel Genres and Trends."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Eternity Stinks

I picked up Night Road at the library for one reason--A.M. Jenkins wrote it. Jenkins is the author of Repossessed, a book I liked a great deal.

Night Road is terrific, too. It involves a hemovore named Cole. Hemovores are humans--and Cole does consider himself a human--who live on blood. Though Cole looks like a teenager and always will, he is worn down by life experience. Lots of it. He's been walking the Earth for over a hundred years. He's pretty much a broken man, burdened by the knowledge of what he failed to do for his brother over a century ago and what he did to the woman he loved a few decades back.

Think some kind of lone noir hero, adhering to a code that keeps him alive but not really living.

Cole is contacted by the leader of the hemovore community because a new heme was "accidentally" created by the funny, kind Sandor. Sandor and Cole take the newby, a real teenager, out on a road trip to help him acclimate to his new existence. If the kid can't make the transition, Cole is charged with seeing to it that he meets a fate that Cole believes will be worse than death since he believes people like them can't be killed.

The journey provides Cole for a chance at redemption, a redemption he wasn't looking for.

This is a great book, but, as often happens with me, I don't see why it's YA. Cole may look like a teenager, but he sure isn't one. This guy is world weary. He isn't trying to separate himself from family. He isn't trying to determine his path in life. This poor guy isn't trying to do anything when we first meet him. In my post on Repossessed, I said that while that book was definitely YA (imho), it could just as easily have been an adult book if the devil had been placed in an adult body. With Night Road if Cole had become a heme at twenty-five or thirty or thirty-five get my drift...the book could have worked just as well without changing anything.

The Plot Project: Is this a book that's plot was generated by a character wanting something and meeting obstacles to getting it? I don't think so, because Cole doesn't seem to want anything at the beginning of the book. Yes, he seems to have moved on to a better situation by the end, but it wasn't one he was seeking. This book might have begun with a situation--the classic road trip on which older characters guide a younger one. As with any situation, the author would then have to decide which character her book would be about. It sure isn't the real teenager who truly does have something he wants--to go back to his old life.

A marvelous book, whatever it is.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

For Those Who Like Heroic Children And Slideshows

10 of the Best: Heroes From Children's Fiction, a Guardian slideshow.

Thank you, Jackie, at child_lit.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Going Places And Seeing People

Today I finally made it to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, in spite of the best efforts of my GPS to keep me from getting there. The New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators sponsored an event there called Overcoming Challenges. The morning session covered career challenges, and the afternoon session covered what I would call craft or process challenges.

Panelists: Elise Broach, Lita Judge, Grace Lin, and Sara Pennypacker (She has a website, but I couldn't make it open.)

I had lunch with Karen Pandell. She'll be getting a website sometime in the future.

I heard some thought-provoking stuff. Provoking thought is good.


Friday, March 12, 2010

I Particularly Liked The Part About Personal Shame Being The Writer's Most Common Accessory

Author Ben Esch (that is the best author photo ever) wrote a blog post called The Journey is the Inn that:

1. Makes Chaucer sound zenny, and

2. Is all too true.

Seriously beginning authors, you'd better like sitting alone with your computer screen in a room piled with paper and junk and collecting research books and professional journals you'll probably never have time to read and trying to avoid letting your teenage kids find out that their after school jobs pay better than yours because that's what Esch is talking about when he says, "Try to enjoy the process of writing."

I'm always complaining because I don't have more time to do those kinds of things.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

So Is Starting School Like Dying?

I'm going to admit that I sometimes have trouble grasping what's really going on in books. Sometimes I think too much while I'm reading. Sometimes I don't think enough.

I think I get Garmann's Summer by Stian Hole. I think it's about fear--everybody's scared. I was just left feeling, Well, okay. And?

Garmann is a six-year-old boy who will be starting school soon. The coming event frightens him. Three extremely elderly aunts, who, as illustrated, would probably be his great-great aunts, come to visit. Garmann asks them if they're afraid of anything. He also asks his parents. Each adult is afraid of something. Grown-ups, too, feel fear, and I guess that's supposed to be comforting.

But one of the aunts, it turns out, is afraid of dying, and Mom is afraid Garmann will be hit by a car while crossing the road. And, you know, those fears just aren't on the same level with being afraid of starting school. Okay, maybe I'm not taking Garmann's fears seriously enough. But I think a fear is serious even if it isn't as big a fear as the fear of death. It doesn't have to be on a par with death to be important.

For a much more positive response, check out Fuse #8's review.

I'm guessing the plot for this book began with premise--the idea of a child fearing the unknown of starting school.

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More On Evil Plots

I found a transcript of an interview on plot at Oz and Ends. Deborah Lynn Jacobs is the author being interviewed. It's a long transcript, and if you skim, you'll need to do a lot of it. But Jacobs talks about starting her books with a premise and then coming up with a character.

In an earlier post I told about Cynthia Lord's workshop presentation in which she gave a talk on a classic plot structure involving giving a character something he or she wants and then creating obstacles to that character getting it. Jacobs' description of starting with a premise involves the question "What if?". She appears to keep asking it throughout the plotting process. "What if?" is another classic method for creating plots. It's probably closer to what I do.

Earlier this month, I considered doing a self-study program here at O.C. that would involve creating scene cards for books I was reading. Yeah. Like that's going to happen. Plus, it would be giving away too much of other writers' work. But what I may try to do here is determine how the plots of books I'm reading are created--do they have plots that are driven by a character's wants and inability to get them or did they begin with a premise?

So you can look forward to that.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Many Times Have You Thought About This While Reading?

Nathan Bransford had a post recently on Archetype vs. Cliche. I would also throw the word stereotype in there. Also trope and motif.

If writers can claim that they're working with archetypes, that's a good thing because it implies that somehow they're working with the original pattern. Stereotypes, no. I often read that some author's work indicates her knowledge of the tropes of her genre. But if you're using the tropes of your genre, aren't you running the risk of using cliches?

I think what we're talking here is connotation. Some words connote better things than others. Archetype and trope connote something good. Stereotype and cliche connote something bad. I like motif, myself. Motif, as it turns out, is good. Very, very good. You've heard it from me.

But is the author saying she works with motif and maybe archetype enough? Doesn't someone else have to say it, versus saying that you work with stereotype and cliche? Who makes the decision? Do writers get to say to reviewers and readers, "You've got that all wrong! This is not a stereotypical schoolyard bully story. It's archetypical!" Or "No, no, no. I was using the evil mom motif that turns up frequently in children's literature. My character is part of that archetypical pattern!"

I suspect that one person's archetype is another person's stereotype. Tomato/tomahto.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Desire Is The Source Of All Unhappiness And, Possibly, The Source Of All Plots

Cynthia Lord's plot talk on Saturday involved what might be called the classic structure of giving characters something they want and then throwing obstacles in the way of them getting it. The characters overcome the obstacles and, voila, you have a plot and a book. I've heard elementary school teachers talk about a variation of this, advising students to give characters a problem and then give them obstacles to solving the problem.

While I have been trying to generate plot ideas by working out character desires for my recent books, I've always felt uncomfortable with the Wants/Obstacles/Resolution writing plan. I used to think it was formulaic, that you'd end up with one of those inspirational overcoming-adversity things that are all so much alike. But that's not fair because this kind of plot structure would also work for thrillers and mysteries ("I want to find the murderer"), survival stories ("I want to live"), romances ("I want to love somebody"), journey stories ("I want to go home"), and any number of other types of books, depending on the characters' wants. Any plot structure can probably be described as a formula. One person's structure is another person's formula.

A more reasonable reason for being uncomfortable with this plot creating format is the fact that it still doesn't help you come up with the various plot points. What will my character want? What will the obstacles be? Come on. We're still talking about pulling those out of thin air.

On top of that, for some of us a story begins not with a character but with a scene or situation. We may not even know who in that scene is the main character, forget about what he or she may want. I'm into ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Coming up with a desire for those ordinary people may not be easy because they are in situations they've never been in before. All of a sudden they're supposed to want something?

I am giving this a great deal of thought, and you can be sure I'll be getting back to you on it.


Agency And Wholesale Models

I have been vaguely aware of what's been going on over at Amazon relating to the sale of e-books. Perhaps that's the way to approach anything, because it has slowly become clear(er) to me. Pimp My Novel has an explanation and brings us up to date on the players.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

I Missed A Sequel

I liked N.D. Wilson's 100 Cupboards, so imagine my surprise when I learned at Eva's Book Addiction that the third book in the series has been published. Meaning, of course, that I totally missed the news when Book Two came out.

Hmmm. 100 Cupboards might make a good gift for someone I know. I'll have to remember it.

I found this information after visiting last month's Carnival of Children's Books at Whispers of Dawn.

Retreat News

Yesterday's retreat at Whispering Pines was not as retreaty as the one I do each January. There was no snowshoeing, yoga, or reading in front of a window while night falls over a mountain meadow. But I did get lunch and a thirty-minute walk, so I can't complain.

Cynthia Lord was the author/mentor and the reason I went because she was giving a talk on plotting, which is hell on earth for many writers, myself included. Now, Cynthia Lord has only written three books, and two of them are just coming out this year. Yet she's a very popular speaker at both schools and literary events. Some jaded types might say that happens when your one novel is a Newbery Honor book. I think it's more likely due to the fact that she is a very fine speaker. She was remarkable with both content and presentation. She also made the best use of PowerPoint of anyone I've ever seen. I'm talking both in terms of slides supporting content and ability to use the program.

Now the group critique I took part in during the afternoon was very interesting for a couple of reasons. First, I have to say that the material I heard yesterday was much better than I expected. I was a member of a writers' group for a few years earlier in this decade. That group was made up primarily of unpublished writers, which I suspect was the case yesterday, too. The quality of what I was hearing yesterday was better than what I often heard in my old group. I don't know if this was because there are many more options for beginning writers to learn craft now and I'd see that in any group critique situation or if these were all SCBWI members and, as such, were more likely to avail themselves of such opportunities. Second, these people were also very sophisticated readers and could express themselves confidently. (Probably more so than I did.) I know that at least three of the people there were members of writers' groups and were experienced at giving feedback.

As a result of the discussion of my offering--a few pages from the 365 Story Project--I am going to make some significant changes on Day One, which shouldn't be too difficult to do. I'm also going to change the name from Middle Ridge Road to A Year on Middle Ridge Road. So it was a productive day for me.

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An Unfortunate Coincidence

While I was at a writers' retreat yesterday, I learned about a new book called Happy Face by Stephen Emond. The cover and title couldn't help but catch my eye, given how similar they are to Happy Kid!.

Then I read what the book is about--"a shy, artistic boy who decides to reinvent himself as a happy-go-lucky guy after he moves to a new town." Happy Kid! is about a boy who is "friendless, mistakenly taking super-difficult accelerated courses, and infamous for allegedly being involved in a violent "incident" on the bus" "...but a self-help book from his well-meaning mother changes all that. Magically, the book seems to know all about him. And it wants him to improve his life."

Happy Kid! was published four years ago, which is probably a generation in publisher years. Nonetheless, it's hard not to be frustrated.

Happy Face's author even lives in my state.

UPDATE: After fifty minutes or so of exercise and a hot shower, I have started moving on. Also, is the Happy Face cover supposed to be a paper bag? Because that would make it different. Let's say it's a paper bag. Yeah. Ommmm.


Friday, March 05, 2010

If You Have All The Time In The World... might want to look at The Top 100 Creative Writing Blogs and Top 100 Blogs to Improve Your Writing in 2010, which I found at a month-old post at Practicing Writing. I look at a few of the editor/agent/writer business blogs I follow three times a week while I'm eating. I eat more than three times a week, but I do other things during other feeding times. What I'm trying to get at, here, is that the three-times-a-week schedule explains why that post is so old. Not being seriously insane, I'm not even going to try to look at those 200 blogs. At the rate of a few blog posts a day, three days a week, I'd be stuck on the January/February 2010 posts until...ah...ah... I don't have time to do the math.

Maybe if Civil Guy sees this, he'll do it.


As a reader, I must say I agree with Why Prologues Often Don't Work at Pub Rants. I feel the same way about epilogues.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Ah, Yes. Time Suck.

Varian Johnson, who appears to be a structures guy (a term you'd be familiar with if you belonged to a civil engineering family) as well as a YA novelist, did a guest post at Justine Larbalestier's blog on the subject of time suck.

Ah, yes. Time suck.

Back when I had more time, I wasted so much of it. Back ten months ago, the Internet was my major time suck. I had to kill an hour or more each morning before I began work. I called it my transition time or prep time. Then I kept going back to news' sites and e-mail over and over again during the day.

Because of the family problems that arose last year, I have much less time. As a result, with the three days a week I have left to work, I've had to set up office hours just as Johnson describes. The Internet and e-mail are not part of office hours, at least not the morning office hours. I don't do any of that until after I've gotten some work done. When my family members call me on those days, I keep telling them I'm working. I sometimes e-mail people in the evening to tell them, "I'll be working tomorrow. I'll get back to you tomorrow night" as a little hint that they should leave me alone. (People who need hints rarely take them, I've found.) I don't do Internet research for other family members' health problems during office hours. I don't do personal paper work during office hours. I don't do personal financial work during office hours. I must have been spending a lot of my work time on these kinds of tasks because I'm doing them in the evenings now, and I find that I don't have anywhere near as much time to read blogs and listservs, which is what I used to do in the evenings.

Oddly enough, though, now that I have less time to work, I find that I'm staying on task much better. I can't get everything done, but at least I know I'm working.

Johnson talks about making time however you can. The thing you have to accept about that is when you make time to do one thing that means you aren't going to be able to do something else. I made time to work during the day by doing personal stuff at night, which means I can't be as connected to the kidlitosphere as I used to be.

I am confident that someday someone will find a way to get more hours in the day and more days in the week. I hope I live to see it.

Again, I found the Varian Johnson post through Cynsations.

This Speaks To Me

Strong Writers Do This at Writer's First Aid could have had my name on it. In it Kristi Holl talks about self-study programs, an idea she says comes from a book called The Art of War for Writers. I've done self-study programs in the past, and I can totally get behind the idea of writers as warriors.

In the comments to this blog post, someone talks about creating scene cards for novels you're reading, not writing. I've read about that. It's supposed to help writers develop a sense of how plots work. (Hmmm. A little muscle memory for plot, since we were talking about warriors in the last para?) I was going to do it a while back. I was going to use a notebook, had it next to my bed so I could make scene notes while I read. And that's as far as I got with that particular self-study program.

Hmmm. Maybe I'll try doing this particular self-study program here at Original Content. I could try working out the plot points in some books I'm reading, trying to develop some plotting muscle memory.

I found Writer's First Aid by way of Cynsations.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sally Goes Everywhere

Recently I happened upon some of the late Stephen Huneck's picture books about Sally, a dog that really got around. Though Huneck did attend the Massachusetts College of Art, according to a New York Times article, more than one account says he taught himself to carve and do woodcut prints, making him more of a folk artist than you usually find these days. The Times article called him an outsider artist and said that at the height of his success he was running a multi-million dollar business.

My favorite of the Sally books that I've seen so far is Sally Goes to the Farm. Sally's Snow Adventure would have beat it, but it has a strange shift in the doggy point-of-view from first to third person, something the publisher should have caught.

You don't see much in the way of humans in these books. The dogs take part in human activities--driving tractors, riding on sleds--but they're always dogs. They never wear clothes or hold jobs. These are simple stories that are illustrated with a strong style. I can imagine a family collecting all of them and wearing them out with repeated readings.

Sally's Great Balloon Adventure will be published next month.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I'm Probably The Same Person No Matter What I'm Doing

Today at taekwondo I was training with Gen, who is a lovely woman, very sensitive to others' needs, very caring. She is one of those martial arts students who is always encouraging others during drills and even when sparring. In spite of the fact, by the way, that she is an imposing, if not frightening, sparring partner.

Anyway, I am not any of those things. I am not an imposing, forget about a frightening, sparring partner. I'm also not the kind of martial arts student who encourages others with comments about how well they're doing. I'll offer to stop if I think someone is going to pass out or ask if people are okay if I think they're injured. I'm not a monster. But I'm not the kind of training partner who goes, "Good! Good! You're doing great! Don't forget to breath! Only another half minute! You can do it!" My attitude tends to be, "Breath or not. I don't care. When do we get to do poomse?"

While training with kind and generous Gen this morning, I started worrying that my sucky attitude in the dojang might be representative of how I behave in other parts of my life--say, during group writing critiques. This is significant because this Saturday I'm attending the day program of the Whispering Pines Writers' Retreat, which includes informal group critiques in the afternoon. It's been years since I've been in a group critique. In fact, I haven't done it since I was one of the speakers at Whispering Pines four years ago. I'm very fearful I'll sit there with a mindset that will be the group critique equivalent of "Breath or not. I don't care," and everyone will be able to tell.

I may have to leave early to pick someone up at a train station. That might not be a bad thing.

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Should We Start With Theme? Can It Even Be Done?

I've been going through some old writers' workbooks gathering my thoughts for a project I'm getting started on. I keep finding notes I took on various books on writing that I read over the past few years. I often don't even remember the titles of these things. I'm hoping I absorbed something that I'm not aware of consciously.

I do recall Rust Hill's Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. Today I found a note I made while reading Hill: "The theme of the story--begin stating it from the very beginning."

I've been thinking about theme a lot this last year because of a discussion at the child_lit listserv. In a discussion of what makes a book YA, some people said that theme was as important, or even more so, than point-of-view. This, then, would justify classifying a book as YA even when main characters are adults speaking of their adolescent past. I had always believed that that point-of-view was a factor that made a book adult because the main characters were recalling experience through the filter of an adult's mind. YA, I thought, was from the point-of-view of characters who were in the midst of living their young adult lives.

So over the past year I've been thinking that maybe writers should have a good grasp of their theme(s) while they're writing. That note I made sometime in the past reminded me of that. "The theme of the story--begin stating it from the very beginning." Maybe that should be the case with novels as well as short stories, which was what Hill was primarily concerned with in his book.

Here's the thing, though...I've read (and heard) authors say that they're only aware of their themes after they've finished a work. That was certainly the case for me with my early books.

If there are any writers out there, do you think starting with a theme would be a good jumping off point for writing a book? Better than other jumping off points?

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Monday, March 01, 2010


How do you write a book? The answer, by way of Practicing Writing, is:

"The only way to write a book, Iím fond of telling people, is to actually write a book. Thatís how you write a book."

Quoting Anne Enright.