Tuesday, September 27, 2016

New Book Child Born Today

My new middle grade novel, Write This Down, enters the world today. All my book children are dear to my heart, but this book might be especially dear because it's about a seventh-grade girl who is an aspiring writer, and I was once that same seventh-grade girl, give or take. I loved to write the way that Autumn does, and I sought publication in every venue I could find, though back then the only serials I was familiar with were The Reader's Digest and Ideals Magazine: both sent me plenty of rejections.

In writing the book I also drew on my philosopher/ethicist self by giving Autumn the moral dilemma most authors face at some time or another in our careers: how much should we write about our own lives, where this also means writing about the lives of our loved ones? If we don't draw on material from our own experience, our stories can feel artificial and contrived. But if we do, they can feel like - and be? - a betrayal. "To publish or not to publish?" is the hard choice Autumn faces at the end of the novel.

I'm lucky enough that the wonderful publicist at my publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux has organized a blog tour for Write This Down, which begins this week. So I'll be sharing all kinds of thoughts about the creation of the book - including snippets of my own childhood writing - on the sites of six generous bloggers who will take turns hosting me all week long. I'll post links when I have them!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Being My Whole Self - And on a Beach, Too

Definitely one of the best things about my former job as a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder was interacting with graduate students. I had the privilege of teaching and mentoring them. In return, they enriched my life in so many ways, from teaching my younger son to ride a bike to inviting me to visit them once they were "grown up" and settled in jobs of their own. I ended up teaching at DePauw because of two former grad students, Jen and Rich. Right this minute I'm in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina because of two former grad students, Renee and Dennis.

Today I'll be giving a talk on immigration ethics to philosophy students and ethics center fellow at noon. At 1:00 I'll be giving a guest lecture in an adolescent literature class. Later in the afternoon, after lunch with students and faculty, I'll be a guest speaker in a creative writing class, talking about my career as a children's book author. Tomorrow I'll spend the whole day as a visiting author at Renee and Dennis's fifth-grade daughter's elementary school.

I love when I get to be my whole self: philosopher, children's book scholar, children's book author.

And I love it best when I can be my whole self somewhere beautiful.

Yesterday Renee, Dennis, Amelia, and I had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the ocean.
As we ate - and gazed - I pumped Amelia for information her school robotics club - book research!

Then we were off to Brookgreen Gardens, almost 100,000 acres of beckoning paths, live oak trees draped in Spanish moss, lush greenery, riotously colored flowers, and serene fountains.

I'm so grateful to Renee for organizing this wonderful trip for me. I can't wait to talk to the students at Carolina Coastal University today and at Carolina Forest Elementary tomorrow. I have seashells to take home to Kataleya and Madilyne. And even though I've washed away the sand between my toes, I'll remember the soft feel of it beneath my feet for a long, long time.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Coming Back- Not as a Ghost

I'm back at DePauw University for two delicious days, attending the Young Philosophers Symposium hosted by the Prindle Institute for Ethics. I'm done now with my frequent gigs as a visiting professor here (six semesters over the course of the last five years), or at least I think I am, but I'm not done with loving DePauw, or the little town of Greencastle, or the farmland of western Indiana. It's so wonderful to be back.

But I didn't want to come back as a ghost. In Maud Hart Lovelace's wonderful novel Emily of Deep Valley, orphaned Emily has graduated from high school but isn't able to go away to college because of obligations to her aging, widowed grandfather. Lonely, as her friends depart to new adventures, she finds herself haunting the halls of Deep Valley High School. When she sees a flash of pity in a favorite teacher's eyes, she finally realizes: "She wasn't still a high school girl. And she couldn't keep on pretending to be one forever. She didn't belong here. She was a ghost."

I'm grateful that I didn't have to come back to DePauw as a ghost. Andy Cullison, the extraordinarily energetic and effervescent director of the Prindle Institute, invited me to serve as one of three outside blind reviewers for the Young Philosophers Symposium. We were charged with reading the forty or so submissions - full-length papers in a wide range of subfields of philosophy - and ranking each one on a 10-point scale. The four Young Philosopher competition winners - "young" meaning "early career scholars within six years of receiving the Ph.D." - were then invited to campus to present their work in a series of eight talks, each one giving both an introductory-level talk and a research-focused talk, over the course of a very full two days.

And - this is the best part - the three outside reviewers were invited, too. So here I am, not as a ghost but as a guest, staying right on campus in the lovely Inn at DePauw and attending stimulating talks with titles like: "The Power No One Should Even Have," "How Much Should You Believe in Your Friends?", "Achievement - What Is It and Why Does It Matter?" and "Who Owes What to War Refugees?" I've also had time for long, leisurely chats with many dear friends, a meeting of the Honor Scholar thesis committee of a beloved former student (I get to serve on her committee despite no longer being a current member of the DePauw faculty), early morning walks on the quiet streets of Greencastle, and hugs from multiple chance encounters with former colleagues.

I still belong! I have a contribution to make, a role to play, and all the intellectual and personal fun that comes from continuing to be a small but real part in a small but real way of this community I love.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Time Management: The Power of Five

I like to switch up my time management strategies occasionally. As one self-motivation tool starts to lose its efficacy, I try out a different one, hoping that its sheer novelty will do the trick of getting me back in a productive gear. If, after a month or two, or a week or two, or a day or two, it loses its ability to prod me into action, well, at least I had that month, or week, or day of getting something done.

My current favorite is one I read about somewhere recently, but alas, can't remember where (and couldn't find it through Googling). I'm calling it "The Power of Five." It's remarkably simple. Just put five things on your to-do list for the day. Then do them.

The beauty of the five-item list is that it's vastly less daunting than the usual hundred-item list that leads only to paralysis and despair. It's a fun early morning challenge to decide which five items make the list for each day. Obviously you'll want to start with the single most urgent and/or important task, the one that, if you managed to accomplish it, would in itself give you a glow of satisfaction for the rest of the day. But what should the other four be?

I like my list to have a mix of at-my-desk jobs and errand-type of jobs. Errands, of course, are terribly seductive, as you can get lovely little check marks with relatively little effort; errands can be accomplished somewhat mechanically. So beware of too many easy items on the list. But an errand or two can be a nice way to round out a day of desk sitting. Best of all, for me, is to have one little teensy thing that takes hardly any time at all and yet has been lurking in the corners of my mind for months or years and driving me quietly crazy.

So a couple of my recent lists:

1. Work for an hour groping toward the idea for my next book.
2. Work for an hour getting a rough draft done of a recommendation letter for a former grad student.
3. Write one promised guest blog post.
4. Go buy a surge protector at Home Depot that I've been meaning to get for ages.
5. Have a fun outing with my toddler grandchild.

1. Finally finish my overdue work on a certain task for the Phoenix Award Committee (this would have been in itself TOTALLY enough for one day, but why not strive for five?).
2. Organize my thoughts for an article I've been assigned to write on "birthdays in children's literature."
3. Go to the bank and get the money I need in order to make change for books I may sell (or fail to sell) at a children's literature festival in Denver this weekend.
4. Read at least one and preferably two of the birthday-themed books I had gotten from the library the previous day as one of that day's five tasks.
5. Mend the small tear in a blue top that has been waiting for my attention since last summer: as in summer of 2015.

The five-item list also has the power of getting me to make one extra push at the end of the day if an item on the list remains undone, staring at me reproachfully. After all, I only had to do five things today. Am I really going to wimp out after four? No!

Scrambling around to find one small, doable, but enormously satisfying item to serve as number five has led me, in the week now that I've been using this system, to have a surge protector I should have had five years ago and a newly mended top!

Yay for the Power of Five!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Avoiding Work Panic!

My besetting work-related sin, and maybe yours, too, is panic - that sinking, suffocating feeling of being totally overwhelmed, staggering under a too-long to-do list as the too-fast clock ticks its frantic beat into my desperate ears.

I thought September was going to be the month when at last - AT LAST! - I would have time to tackle all my accumulating work projects. My darling little granddaughter will start preschool, attending three days a week, MWF, 8:30-2:30. All of a sudden I'll have 18 reliable hours a week just for me!!

But then I remembered: I'm actually going to be gone mid-month on a week-long trip, first to Indiana and then to give three talks in South Carolina, leaving a week from Wednesday, that is to say, a week from the day that preschool begins on September 7. So now I have not a whole month but one week to prepare all three talks, write a children's book article promised with a September 20th deadline (now a September 13th deadline, as I leave on the 14th), face my overdue work on the Children's Literature Association's Phoenix Award committee, and also try to work up a proposal for a new chapter book series in the wake of another rejection, a few weeks ago, of my latest project. If I don't do it soon, I'll have zero - that is to say, ZERO! - books in the pipeline, and my career will be over, and I'll never be a children's book author ever again.

That was my panic last night.

This is my talking-myself-off-the-ledge post this morning.

1. Take a deep breath. And then another. And then another.

2. Remind myself - well, actually, I have my husband handy to remind me of this - that I always feel this way about my work schedule, and I always get it all done, and it always turns out just fine.

3. Don't make things sound/seem worse than they really are. Those three talks? One is on the ethics of immigration policy, for which I can recycle a good bit of my lecture notes from teaching last spring at DePauw. One is a creative writing talk, talking about what I know best in the whole world, which really needs only an hour or two of preparation. One is my standard school visit presentation, which just needs some updating of my Power Point slides. Why did I feel the need to make it all sound so huge?

4. Don't make tasks bigger than they need to be. The children's book article that is now due in a week and half? The person who asked me to write it did so because he had heard a talk I gave on the subject. He isn't expecting me to rip up that talk and start anew, just to tweak and embellish. And, frankly, maybe I shouldn't say this, but I don't expect the article will be read by more than a few dozen people. I want to do a good job, but I don't have to turn this into a whole year-long research project. Especially because I don't have a whole year.

5. My Phoenix Committee work isn't actually overdue (see #3 above); it's just that others on the committee (well, two of the four others) have done lot more than I have so far. So I'm now officially in the slower half of the committee. So what? Stop comparing myself to others. Yes, two members have done more than I have. One hasn't. Last year I was the eager beaver. This year I can let that honor go to others. Do I always have to beat everyone else to the finish line? Um, no.

6. That said: it really will be a problem if I don't start working on that new chapter book series idea. It's true that it doesn't have to be done this month, or for that matter next month, or really ever. If I don't get it done, I've broken no promises to anyone else on earth. But it means a lot to me to keep on writing and to keep on being published. This task is less urgent than the others, but of all of them, it's the most important. At least, it's the most important to me. So I need to find an hour here, a half hour there, to keep plugging away on it. Here I have to remember two things: Prioritize what matters most. And: Enough little bits of time add up to a lot. But I have to keep those little bits coming.

There! Panic dispelled! And off to work....