Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spring cleaning ... sort of

I’ve been away from my blog for a few days, not because I’ve run out of ideas or topics. It seems my laptop decided to take its own little vacation—a long one. Fortunately, I am a backup fool so everything I’ve fed into the trusty Toshiba was duplicated on my nifty little removable backup drive that ensures the safety of all my files.

When I retrieved my folders, documents, files, photos, illustrations, and other sundry items, I decided to do a quick count of all the notes, articles and stories I’ve fed to my computer in the last three years. The final tally? Six-hundred and thirty-two.

Sadly, my documents folder looks about as cluttered and messy as my bedroom closet.

Some of the contents had very weird titles. I had to open more than a dozen just to see what was going on in my head when I composed them. I trashed three and combined four into a single file of notes. I don’t even remember writing a couple of them. Two went into the trash.

There’s a good part to the whole exercise. I found some gems, some thoughtful and insightful paragraphs that will fit nicely into a current project.

There’s also a downside to this experience. In order to figure out what many of these files have to say, I’ll have to open them one by one, read them, and decide whether or not they have value. (I guess this is akin to—gasp--spring cleaning.

I just hope when you read this, you’ll remind yourself that your writing is important and you’ll make sure you back it up… often.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Great used, collectible and antiquarian books in Las Vegas

On your next visit to Sin City, think about taking a break from the tables and machines to visit one (or all) of these great book emporiums. You won’t be sorry.

How I learned to love Amazon and why that might change

From the day Amazon first appeared on the web, I disliked the company. I didn’t care for the whole concept of selling books at a deep discount. I had this smug “principle” thing going; I believed Amazon was out to destroy the independent bookstore.

I guess the attitude came from my youth.

Many years ago, folks in my hometown bought their meat at the local butcher shop, their vegetables, their baked goods from the side door of a house where a little old lady baked things daily, their bread from a local baker who delivered by truck every day, and their canned goods and other foods from the locally owned market. One day a big sign went up three miles away, on the main highway, announcing the groundbreaking for A Big Supermarket. This was a huge deal for a small town. The advent of a one-stop shop with low prices was the topic of conversation for months, and the words were not always encouraging for A Big—at least the words from the mouths of the butcher, the baker and the little bread maker and friends. The people feared their personal relationship with the local vendors would disappear because A Big would drive them out of business.

They were right.

Sales at the A Big were slow to start but within a few months, residents were driving the few miles every couple of days to purchase all their food. Not long after, the butcher closed his shop, the bread maker laid off most of his help, the general grocery too, and the baker stopped baking. (To be fair here, I think she died but some blamed A Big for that.)

In essence, A Big drove the independent businesses out of business.

I missed getting a free cupcake; I missed watching the butcher make sausages in the middle of the store; I missed the handful of red cherries the grocer let me sample while picking up our orders. I missed walking to the store every day.

Then something tragic happened.

A Big decided traffic in their big store wasn’t good enough. After about two years, they closed the store.

This is why I disliked the idea of Amazon.

Smugly, I relished every report of losses Amazon suffered in the beginning days, months and years. I hoped the experiment would result in a total failure.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Bit by bit, the company grew, diversified, grew some more and eventually turned red ink into black, making investors very happy.

And bit by bit, as Amazon flourished, independent bookstores began to fade into the proverbial sunset.  And turned to Amazon for titles my local library didn’t carry.

Eventually, I learned to like Amazon. Good prices, great selection, fast delivery—what’s not to like, especially when there’s no independent (new) bookstore in this city? 

Then, I read an eye-opening blog post about how Amazon is “banning” books. Well, not books, per se but ebooks, and not banning, exactly. These aren’t necessarily the kind of books I would read but the idea of removing them from inventory doesn’t sit well with me, especially since this is being done without clear guidelines or reason.

What’s even scarier to me is that after delisting certain titles, Amazon might also have removed the titles from consumer kindles. (This information came from a comment on the blog post noted above so I can’t confirm that it actually happened. However, kindle owners know they are just paying to borrow their titles.)

I know. I know. Amazon is a business and as such can decide what to sell and what not to sell, and that’s what they’ve done. They’re not banning; they’re just not selling.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

If I want to read any of the delisted titles, I’ll surf over to Barnes and Noble where the authors report their Amazon-delisted books are selling better than ever.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A new use for an old word

Sunday evening, after dinner with friends, I learned a new word. Actually, I knew the definition before I knew the word it to which it belonged. We were discussing how people in groups interact with each other and I wondered how we might interact with a person in our own group who recently had fallen into our disfavor. One of my friends suggested that our next get-together, I should use the sociogram to see how the evening plays out.

(By the way, I’m not the only entity that didn’t recognize the word sociogram. Microsoft Word noted it as a mistake but couldn’t find an alternate suggestion.)

I thought this might be an interesting experiment.

Take all the characters in your manuscript. Without regard to seating arrangements and without your own preference, put them at a table. Then see who focuses on whom, who speaks to whom and who seems to float alone without interaction.

I think this might point to some better plotting and character development and might point out some flaws in your writing.

Then I thought of taking the experiment to the next step – rearranging the seating according to how the characters actually interact in the manuscript. Who would choose to sit with whom (and why)? Who would avoid whom (and why)? Who might eventually stand up and exchange his or her seat (and why)? And who might not even belong at the dinner (and why)?

(It's rather pricey, but here's a book that goes into great detail about the
sociogram. It might be useful to writers.)

I have a feeling these two experiments will prove useful. Any thoughts?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Zane Grey and my brother

In his youth, one of my older brothers was an avid reader. I should qualify that. Paul read and read the same books over and over, constantly.

I can picture him still, decades and decades later, his skinny body perched on a wooden stool next to the refrigerator, his feet set firmly across the rung, his head down close to the paperback in his lap and his fingers close to his mouth. (He was a nail biter.)

It’s not so much the image that evokes memories as it is my brother’s focus on his reading. He read nothing but Zane Grey novels and it didn’t matter if this was his first, second or fifth reading. There was no way to divert his attention from that damned book – short of smacking him somewhere.

We could call his name, ask a question, call his name louder, make a statement, call his name even louder, ask another question, shout his name loud enough to wake every baby in the complex. Paul never heard. (That's where the smack came into the picture.)

Thinking about this now, there’s a lesson to be learned. I realize I have to read something by Zane Grey. I have to find out what it was about Grey’s characters and his plots that consumed Paul to the point of deafness to the world.

Amazon has a number of Zane GreyZane Grey titles titles in print version and for the kindle. (I’ve already selected two.) Now, all I need is the time to read them. (Sigh.)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Finding time to write

I’m guessing that a lot of writers don’t have my problem – too much writing? Right?

I read a half dozen writing-related blogs regularly, as in daily. At one time or another almost all the bloggers covered the subject of “how to find time to write” in detail. This concept stymies me. Even when I worked two jobs I found time to write. I might not have been pounding the keys on my laptop but I did write.

Until I got smart and started carrying both a tablet and a recorder, I’d find myself jotting notes on the back of grocery store receipts while waiting for a traffic light to change. Once, while standing in line at the bank, the people in my head were engaged in this lively conversation and since I didn’t want to put the words on the back of my deposit, I actually jotted them down on the palm of my hand.

I keep my laptop powered up at all times but if I’m involved in another project in some other area of the house and an idea or thought materializes, I can’t just dump what I’m doing, run to the computer, and put it down. Besides being inconvenient, this move can be counter productive. How many times do you go from one room to the next to take care of a task but forget what the task was when you arrived? My solution?

I keep three things in every room of my home, a radio, a notepad and a pencil.

The radio isn’t too germane. But the other two items are.

In essence, the notepad and pencil mean I can always squeak out a minute to write.

My crazy method might not work for everyone. I just point it out to illustrate how I worked around the problem of finding time to write.

(If you're still searching for your own solution, try these books.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

I made a cartoon video of my last post

This site is a hoot. It lets you make a video ... free at first but you can dress the videos up if you register and pay a fee. I edited it three times and ran out of free publishing minutes so the final product is in the can but not ready for release.

Take a look.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Query letter from the Holy Ghostwriter

(In my last post, I wondered how the authors of the Old Testament might query an agent regarding publication. I’m sure this isn’t an original question but since I’ve never heard it asked before, I think I’ll just make a feeble attempt to guess—with apologies to whomever—how this might work.)

Dearest Agent:

The Old Testament is the story of how a superior entity, who goes by the name of God, created the world in just six days, seven if you count His 24-hour coffee break.

In the beginning, He just wants to create Earth but somehow that doesn’t seem like enough. After all, what good is this big round beach ball if it’s just rotating around the sun? God has this drive, this need to populate His universe, to see where his invention goes. Maybe He is just playing a game; maybe it’s an experiment; maybe it’s for real.

If God knows, He isn’t telling.

As the hours and days go by, God tinkers with His project, adds a little day and night to the mix, some firmament, a bit of fruit, even a couple of human beings and a creature that lurks around apple trees.

It’s hard work, creating the earth. After six days and nights, God was a bit on the weary side so He takes a day off -- and when he does, all hell breaks loose.

The Old Testament follows up on God’s creation as it progresses from those early days to the birth of His Son, ages later. Between the two events, we experiences a horrendous flood, watch towers being built, learn how to worship idols, get some important commandments, discover a Holy Land, and realize how God’s children had to come to terms with their sins.

The Old Testament is a fast-paced 500,000 word (more or less, depending on which version will be submitted) mystery manuscript, part of a two-book series, the second of which (titled The New Testament) is in the rewrite stage.

We respectfully await your response.


P.S. I think the ebook version will be a gangbuster!

Shoot the messenger or ...

I’ve queried agents a mere three times in my writing life so my actual experience with these individuals is rather scant. However, I’ve been reading about agents for ages so my vicarious experience is monumental. I think of myself as an armchair expert, and as an independent observer, I think I qualify as a person who has a right to comment on the subject of agents.


We know the drill: take that Great American Novel (GAM) (yours, not mine), break it down into a 500-word summary, and slip it in the mail with your manuscript and sufficient funds to have it returned to you (in other words, for the inevitable rejection), and then wait (how long before the finality of the Mayan prediction?) for a response

Right away there’s a certain sense futility you have to overcome when you engage in this process. You’ve spent how long(?) putting that puppy to bed, what with writing it, rewriting it, editing it and repeating the process, and now you have to tell someone what you’ve written – in 500 words. I’m thinking here it didn’t take but a couple hundred words more for God’s Holy Ghostwriter to get to the last sentence of the introduction to His Great Not-Necessarily-American Novel … “And on the seventh day….”

Let’s pretend for a moment that Holy Ghostwriter had to convince an agent to rep the Old Testament. How the heck would that query letter read?

Here’s what I’m wondering:

If an agent can read a 500-word synopsis of a novel, why can’t he or she just read the first 500 words of the manuscript?

Same number of words, same writer, different slant. What comes across in a novel is fiction; what has to come across in the query letter is nonfiction. So to satisfy an agent, a fiction writer has to step out of that pair of working shoes and step into a pair that probably doesn’t fit.

Here’s what I’m next wondering:

Who came up with these agent submission guidelines, 
when did they come into existence, and why has no one broken with the tradition?

Surely this isn’t the only way for a potential representative to decide whether nor the act of welcoming a particularly good query-letter writer into the stable will profit her or him. 

The publishing industry is changing almost as rapidly as the technology industry. Publishers have fought (ignored?) the change but how long they can continue the battle is the question of the day. Observers say that soon, publishers will accept work only from individuals who have already established a name for themselves -- former presidents, wives of former presidents and writers who have already penned a best seller, I suppose.

This means the agent business will change as well – if it hasn’t already started to change.

Doing something just because it’s always been done that way won’t cut it in near future.