Gendered Reading: What It Is and Why It Matters

I have to admit that I’m not a huge podcast fan.  IMO they tend to be a bit long and I’m not interested in a 30 minute blog that starts with a 10 minute ad.

But I love Shannon Hale’s work and Grace Lin’s as well. So when I saw the podcast KidLit Women had recorded one of Hale’s essays for discussion, I clicked through to listen.  You can find the podcast here.  In it, Hale discusses her experiences doing school visits and what she has learned about gendered reading.

Gendered reading is when we make the gender of the characters the most important aspect of a story.  We define the story as appropriate or inappropriate based on the gender of the reader.  As Hale noted, girls were encouraged to read her book, Princess in Black.  Boys?  Sometimes but not always.  In fact, at one school visit, only middle school girls were encouraged to attend her talk.  The assumption was that she would have nothing to offer the boys.

Think about how you buy gift books?  Is your first thought whether the young recipient is a girl or a boy?  If so, you gender reading at least to an extent.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  I am working up a proposal for Puke-ology: The Science of Vomit in People and Other Animals.  Me?  I think of it as a book for 2nd to 5th graders who like gross things and learning about animals.  But a lot of people try to narrow this definition.  They think they are helping me out.  “That’s a book boys would love.”  I’m glad they think so but I also know a lot of moms and girls who would also love this book.

Gendered reading.  I think it tells us a lot more about the expectations of adults than it does about the preferences of young readers.  At least the preferences they start out with.  We adults are still putting effort into skewing them whenever possible.


Getting to Do Unexpected Research

Things do not always go as planned.  I knew that I would be out-of-town for three days last week.   So I wrote the posts for last week but surely I would get some more done.  If nothing else I would do it when I got home Saturday evening.

Bwa-ha-ha.  A storm rolled through as we were driving home.  We drove through rain. Not too bad.  And then this greeted us as we entered the neighborhood.  Winds and rain that tip trees mean no electricity.  So, we came home, showered, drove far enough out to eat dinner someplace with electricity and then came home.

But going out to eat meant getting dressed.  Is my shirt inside out?  Frontward?  These shoes match.  Don’t they?  I went with sandals since I only have two pair and they are easy to tell apart.  So we ate and then came home to play games together.

First we tried to play a game with different colored tiles by lamp light.  Not regular lamps.  Kerosene.  When you read that you cannot perceive colors in the dark, believe it.  We could tell which ones were yellow but green, blue and red?  Sometimes red was discernible but green and blue were interchangeable.

So we switched to cards.  We played one game of kings in the corners and then garbage.  Then everyone else gave up and I shifted the lamp and played solitaire.  Even that only lasted about 30 minutes.  There is a reason that historic cards are big and boring.  That white background is 100% essential when it comes to telling what is what.

When your character has to carry on and do something in the dark, remember how hard it is to see.  Colors are iffy although you can tell light colors (white and yellow) from dark (red, blue and green).  Detail?  There is no such thing although you can tell a black cat from the shadows.  It helps that she’s meowing like mad because she doesn’t want you to step on her but seriously.  Darkness is a lot trickier than I had thought!




5 Minutes a Day: Sensory Detail

Bringing your setting alive is often a matter of including true-to-life details. But they have to be more than realistic.  They have to be real.

What are the things that you would notice if you were there vs if you simply researched your setting?  I contemplated this last weekend as I took part in my first Pickle Making Party.  Simply put, three days of rain led to rapidly growing, monster cucumbers.  No one wants to eat one cucumber that big let alone 35 pounds of huge cukes.  So we pickled.  This was my first time making pickles and I drank in the details.

The good thing is that there details don’t have to go into your first draft.  Or your second draft.  There are the kinds of details that you can add into draft three or five.  When you have a few minutes, take a look at one page of your story.  If you don’t have three sensory details on that page, add one or two or even three.  And mix things up. These should all be sights.  Go for the more difficult touch and motion.

To show you how, I will brain storm sensory details for five minutes.

Sight:  Dark green peels.  Feathery dill.  Ivory garlic.  White cucumber flesh.  Shiny pepper flakes.  Billowing steam.

Smell: The tang of vinegar.  Pungent garlic.  The freshness of orange (someone had a snack).

Sound:  The swish of  water going into a pot.  Bubbling.  The purr of the dishwasher.  The hum of the exhaust fan.  The clang of the pot lid.  Hissing pressure cooker.

Taste: The tang of the brine.  Mellow cucumber.  The bite of garlic.  The green taste of dill.  Yes, to me dill tastes green!

Touch:  Rubbery cucumber flesh.  Prickly cucumbers straight off the vine.  Papery garlic skin.  Lava hot jars.  Cool tap water.

Motion: The whirlpool motion as you stir the brine. The subtle motion as the lid is sucked down and seals.  Billows and swirling of steam.

Not great but I got this many in five minutes.  What could you come up with if you only had to think of three?


Bulleted Journal

Are you one of those writers who journals merrily each and every day?  Do you write page after morning page, detailing your thoughts and plans?  Joys and sorrows?  Then this just is not for you.  This post is for the writers who can’t seem to journal for more than a week or two.

I’ve been keeping my journal now since February.  It isn’t page after page of text but a bulleted journal.  I’m sure that other people do their journal differently, but mine is an elaborate to-do list.  It doesn’t have the cute graphics that so many people incorporate.  I played with color for a while and I even fiddled around with hand lettering.  This was about the best that I managed.

As you can see, it is not a thing of beauty.  It is functional.  Hmm.  Functional.  I do that really well.  Let’s strip down the letter and have just enough color to keep me happy.  Other people?  They can keep their own journals.  But I’ll also paste in a star each time I complete a category.  That gives me a feeling of accomplishment.  Ahhh.

So now I have this. Not terribly different but stripped down works for me.

As you can see, it is dated this week.  But it is clean.  And there room to add things that I didn’t know about on Monday when I made the listing. The sections with the open bases?  That’s so that I can pick one to work on and go wild.  The one on the far right?  That’s the proposal that I finished this week.  Woo-hoo.

The funny thing is that a bulleted journal done right is whatever you need it to be.  Need a page to keep track of the billable time spent on a project?  Than do it.

I’ve got lists of books read, movies seen and story ideas.  So far I’ve read 89 books, watched 30 movies, and I have 184 story ideas.  The best thing is that this is not a computer file.  I can tuck this notebook into my purse when I travel.  I took notes in this when I went on retreat and when we were in the Smoky mountains.

This may not be what works for everyone but for someone who has issues with conventional journals?  It seems to be the thing even if it is, like so many things, a work in progress.


The Nonfiction Proposal: What to Include

Of course, one of the agents that I’m approaching requires a proposal for nonfiction.  I’d rather send the entire manuscript than pull together a proposal. I’m not sure why they intimidate me so much.  I think the problem is that every write-up you find has a slightly different list of “things to include.”  Ugh.  I’m melding them together and will include:

  • Title.  Yes.  It seems like a no brainer but I’m afraid that if I don’t write it down I will forget it.
  • Book Description (sometimes called Overview).  Start with a hook and then go into the nuts and bolts.  Include word count, the target reader (age, gender, interests) and why the book is necessary.  Does your book include quizzes, sidebars or activities?  Also mention all the research you did.
  • Competing Books.  Other books on your topic published in the last 5 years.  How does your book differ?  My book covers a greater breadth than other titles and is more scientific.  Given the interest in STEM titles, I’m going to emphasize that aspect.
  • Bio/About the Author:  Why are you the ideal author for this book?  Include a brief resume.  Not everything but list the publishing credits that will help get your foot in the door. I am going to mention how many books I have as well as various types of educational writing that I have done.  But I will only list my STEM titles including those not yet in print.
  • Promotion: How to get your book into the hands of those would-be readers. What are you willing to do to promote the published book?  I can put my name out there as someone willing to do school visits.  I can also volunteer to do library programs.  Posting activities on my web site would also be a possibility.
  • Outline: List your chapters and summarize each.  In my Abdo outlines, most chapters are outlined in 12 lines or less.   For this book, I will include which animals are discussed in each chapter, why they were chosen, and what the sidebar is about.
  • Sample Chapters: Some agents want to see 3 chapters.  The one I am approaching wants only one.

How long should all of this be?  I’ve heard everything from 12 to 25 pages.  Now off to get to work.  I think I can, I think I can…


Research: Primary vs Secondary Sources

Primary sources are eye-witness accounts.  If you are reading the words of an eye-witness, listening to a tape, or checking out photographs or artifacts, these are all primary sources.  You can find primary sources in museums and archives.

But you can also find primary sources in print.  Diaries, letters and even articles written by the researcher who collected the data (see scholarly journals and National Geographic) are primary sources.  This is true even if the published collection of letters lists an editor or the published diary includes a translator.

How is this possible?

Primary sources are uninterrupted.  A good translator isn’t interpreting the text of a letter or journal, but simply making it available to those who read a language different from the original document.  An editor who selects which letters go into a print publication is not altering the letters’ content.  There is no interpretation. Because of this even excerpts are considered primary sources.

I have recently been told that some people say that translations and published letters that list an editor are considered secondary.  To be certain, I googled it.  First I searched “translations primary sources.”  Then I searched “translations not primary sources.”  Everything I found, I’ll provide a brief selection below, so that translations, edited collections and excerpts are all primary.

What if your editor says, “No, I don’t include those as primary sources.  You have to see the entire letter or read the diary in the original Italian”? Fine.  Then I would try to find a different source.  Or I just wouldn’t list it as a primary source.  In all truth, most often I just include a bibliography.  I don’t generally divide it between primary and secondary.

Here are the sources I mentioned:

The Harvard Library Research Guide section, “Knowing a Primary Source When You See One.

The research guide for The University of Wisconsin – Madison library system.

A PDF research guide created by the Saint Mary’s University Twin Cities Campus Library.

If any of you know of a source that says translations, excerpts and published collected works are not primary, please let me know!


Highlights: Changes in the magazine’s submissions policy

For the first time that I can remember, Highlights magazine is closed to submissions.  But don’t panic!  This closure is not permanent.  They have simply closed from 6/16/18 to 9/16/18.  During this time they are reading anything received before they closed their doors.  They should be done reading and reached a decision on all manuscripts in process by 8/31/2018.

When they re-open after this reading period, they will only be taking manuscripts on very specific current needs.  You will be able to see what they want here on Submittables.

If you submit anything to Highlights before they re-open, ,your work will be returned unread.

If you have something ready to submit to Hello Magazine, the Highlights family magazine for ages 1-2, or High Five Magazine, these two publications are taking submissions.  But be sure to check out their Submittables pages as well.

I’m curious to see specifically Highlights will be looking for when they reopen.


5 Minutes a Day: Getting Back into a Project

When I work on a book or article daily, it is easy to get back into it.  The voice and style are accessible and handy.  But this week I’m trying to get back into two projects.  As you know, last week we were in the Smoky Mountains.  I came home to a request for more information from one editor and a rewrite request from another.  By the time I dealt with those two weeks had passed before I worked on either of these books.  Here are five five-minute methods to get back into a story after an absence.

Read what you have.  If you’ve written several chapters for a longer book or several spreads for a picture book, reread what you’ve already written.  Don’t read silently.  Read it aloud so that you can literally hear the voice.

Revisit your inspiration.  What inspired you to write this piece in the first place?  Perhaps it is something you were inspired to write after hearing a news story on NPR.   Listen to this piece again.  Or reread the news article that made you want to cover this topic.  For me this is often enough to renew my enthusiasm and get me going again.

Visit the time or place.  If you are writing a piece set in a specific time period.  Get back into that period.  Listen to music.  Maybe you can find a recording of a news cast or other period material.  Visit Youtube and see if someone has posted a video of your location.  Get a feel once again for the time and place of your story.

What’s been going on?  Ask your character what it has been like waiting for you to get back.  Why does she want you to get going again?  I know this sounds hokey but this technique always brings new insight into my story and makes me want to dive back in.

Engage in a writing or rewriting ritual.  Do you have something you do every time you sit down to write?  Mine isn’t a writing ritual but when I do hard copy rewrites, I set things up in the dining room.  I have my print out, an automatic pencil or nice pen, my licorice candle, and a cup of coffee.  I have no clue why this works, but it tends to get me going when nothing else does.

The next time you are trying to get over a long absence from a project, see if one of these techniques doesn’t get you started again.


Characters: Avoiding Group Think

Last week when my family visited the Smoky Mountains, we went to The Museum of the Cherokee Indian.  One area focused on the various perspectives on plans for the Cherokee of leave their ancestral lands on go to Oklahoma.  The part that may surprise some people is that there were Cherokee speaking for removal, against removal until forced, and pro-combat.  There was no one voice.  They were not thinking en mass.

Throughout the museum it was emphasized that there was not one Cherokee response to the idea of sharing their stories, acculturation, moving, or whatever else they faced as a people. There wasn’t even on perspective within a family.  Nanyehi, or Nancy Ward, was a Beloved Woman who spoke against war.  Her  cousin, Tai-ya-gansi-Ni or Dragging Canoe was a respected war chief who wanted to join with the British in fighting colonists.

This isn’t meant to be a history lesson but I do hope that it shows you how complicated people are.  So often when we speak or write about a group of people, be they real or fictional, we tend to write about them as if everyone agrees on a variety of key issues.

I understand why this is tempting because reality is sloppy and hard to describe for a young reader.  But people don’t all agree even on key issues.  One person’s attitudes and ideas may even change over time.  It’s funny that when we speak about individual characters, we talk about growth and change.  But when we speak about a people we want things to be more clear cut.

Yes, some of the displays at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian were a bit confusing but that wasn’t their fault.  I didn’t have a strong enough base of knowledge to file away all of the information that I was reading.  Whoever created these exhibits did not talk down to museum patrons.  That’s something to keep in mind as we create our own characters and societies.


4th of July: The Unpredictable Life of a Freelance Writer

I know that not all of my readers are from the US but I am.  That means that today is a holiday.  Everyone has the day off.  Yes, I just got back into town but I am spending time with my family again.

We will be cooking.  We will be eating.  We might go see fireworks.  It is kind of hard to say because we are under a heat warning with thunder storms predicted through the 4th.  We will also be hanging curtains because not everyone is tall and older, short people should not be getting on step stools to hang curtains over the kitchen sink.

Dealing with an unpredictable schedule is part of the average work week if you are a freelancer.  I was out of town last week, Monday through Friday.  Cell service and wifi were iffy.  Mountains are inconsiderate like that.  Thursday, one editor e-mailed me asking for a rewrite.  On Saturday I was finally able to e-mail her back.  Friday, one of my Redline editors e-mailed me wanting a rewrite by Tuesday.

On the drive back, I noodled over working on my mystery.  Oh, joy!  I can start writing!

But first I have to rewrite a nonfiction book for fourth graders.  And then I need to iron out some details on an article for the first editor. You grow accustomed to having people rearrange your schedule or you don’t last long in the business.

Fireworks, no fireworks, record heat or thunderstorms.  I know I’ll have family time.  I’m just not certain what we’ll be doing.  Flexibility is key.