Piles of Books

In my home, I have a small library. By this I mean one and a half walls are lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. I’d keep covering them, but I run into resistance from my husband and the vents on the floor. This library also houses my desk (complete with computer setup and printer), two filing cabinets, and two smaller bookshelves.

It is a blessing and a curse to have so many books on so many topics. Okay, seriously, this is me. It’s all blessing. The only curse is trying to figure out how to organize them. I’m a little too obsessive to let them populate the shelves as they may, and I’m also not forward-thinking enough to leave room on shelves where I may or may not purchase more books.

Who am I kidding? I always purchase more books. Yes, I read ebooks, too, but I have this thing about print books. I love paper and everything associated with it – books blank or printed, office supplies (I have to stop myself from buying index cards until I use the ones I have), graph paper, bookmarks…

So this week I decided it bothered me enough to make a new system. The old system is still there, not yet dismantled as I figure out what I’m dealing with. Two major systems of organization are Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress. Both of them are probably a little too hardcore for me, though it’d be so much fun to figure it out. I asked my book-loving friends, but most of them organize by author and title. I just haven’t figured out how to happily associate fiction and nonfiction and the various topics and still find the exact book I’m looking for when I want it.

I look at the backs of the nonfiction books. Some of them proclaim different subjects to be filed under like Health or Science / Astronomy or Psych / Self-Help. It seems to be the start of a system, until you look at one subject and wonder why they’re not lumped together. Would you classify a book about intelligence tests (filled with exercises to increase your brainpower) under Health, Body Mind Spirit, Games / Humor, or Reference? Because I have at least one in each category.

These discrepancies from the back of the book bother me. It bothers me enough to explain the piles everywhere as I figure out what books I have and where I want them to go. I have a further constriction of shelf and book size to manage.  I’ve had all my writing reference books together for a while, and it’s nice that if I have something I need to figure out, I only go to one spot.  I love being able to find what I need.

I’m excited my science books seem to fit on one shelf. I have applied technical books and natural science books mixed together, but if I ever snag the rest of my engineering books from storage, that would account for another section entirely.

Anyone else have interesting ways to make their book organization system (or lack thereof) fit their needs? Do you randomize them occasionally to mess with visitors (like me) who need to have certain things in order? Do you pile them sideways on the shelves as you run out of room?

My other project will be putting all those owned books into GoodReads. I’ve been meaning to do it for some time, but it’s one of those things that gets away from me. I may be ready to get some of them on the swap list to see if someone wants books I’m willing to part with in exchange for something else I’m ready to read. One step at a time, however.

It’s always good to figure out what’s there first. And I’m well on my way to that.

Bird by Bird

Anne Lamott wrote Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It’s a book I’ve seen on many lists for writers to read. I doubt anyone can read all the writing books out there and still manage to find time to write, but many find inspiration or small gems of wisdom between the covers.

Lamott made me think in several places. Her tone is very conversational and lends itself well to letting the reader think she’s confiding directly. She amused me when she talked about her successful writer friends and how she felt she couldn’t be friends with them after their success and dealing with her own jealousy.

Some things resonated deeper, though. How do you think your life will change after you’re published? Maybe it seems like the stars will shine down and everything will sparkle, but it’s not going to give you inner validation. She’s definitely right when she says it isn’t going to change who you are. If you’re not enough before, you still won’t be.

[This is not saying it isn’t awesome. It just isn’t everything.]

There’s always going to be someone better, too, or more successful, or even less deserving. But there’s also a reminder there about why we write. It wasn’t just to be rich and famous, was it? Because there seem to be a hundred easier ways to become rich and/or famous besides writing.

Like many others who advise writers, she advocates to write. She employs examples from writing classes and conferences she’s led that illustrate how she handles things like criticism and motivating others. How many of us know how to dish out or receive a critique? Have you thought about what you would say to someone who’s a much less accomplished writer (and likely new to it) that would help them improve and yet not discourage them? It’s one thing to not think you can simply send the story out to be published, but if you crush a beginning writer, what good is that?

After finishing the book, I read the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I think the people who commented either loved it or hated it. Someone gave it a bad review because he (or she, who knows?) received several copies of it. Is that a reason to give a book a bad review? I’m not exactly sure if the commenter even read the book. That seems unfair to me.

But I guess I’d be glad for a lot of reviews on a book of mine. That would mean it was getting read. Like having it in the bargain bin in front of the store – it might be like having the store be completely unconcerned if it got stolen, but it’s much better than being remaindered in the dumpster out back.

I’m glad I read the book. I understand why it’s recommended for writers to read. I definitely see why many believe it to be inspirational. Something about finding someone who understands our feelings can make us more dedicated to the work. Whatever makes us keep writing seems like a good thing to me.


The beauty of science fiction conventions are friends, new and old, participating in the geekiness we generally get sideways glances for from the rest of the population. Case in point: chatting with some costumed people in the hotel lobby Friday night, we saw several groups in town for the Drake Relays staring at us. We can tell them by their matching track outfits, several with school logos emblazoned on them.

I suppose they can tell us by our nontraditional attire. You don’t see belly dancers, Klingons, steampunk, and other costumes mingling together on normal days, I suppose. Too bad!

My daughter went with me for a couple hours. She charmed everyone with her antics, but naptime came fast. Which was good for me, because I was getting tired of chasing her around.

I got to spend time with some authors, I’m sure I didn’t remember all of them running around the Con, but here’s a short list: Lettie Prell, Tom Ashwell, Sarah Prineas, Glen Cook, Karen Bovenmyer, and Mary Eagan. I know I’m missing a few, but I’m sure they’ll forgive me.

Part of the programming was “Speed Dating for Authors” – and I got outed as an author just in time to participate. A lot of fun, but I think it needs a little better description. I think everyone who participated would do it again. Thought it makes me wonder what’s the best way to give them something to remember me by – is it a flyer, a card, a bookmark, or something else I haven’t considered? Space considerations also factor in. You can certainly put quite a bit of information on an 8×11 sheet of paper, but what’s to stop someone from folding it and sticking it somewhere she won’t find it again? A business card has the advantage of being easy to put in a pocket and not getting left somewhere accidentally. And a lot of Con-goers have nice badge holders that allow for the tucking in of business cards.

Such a nice weekend, but all good things must end. It’s good to be reminded to come back to the blog. I got a lot of ideas at the Con and a few afterward, too. Can’t say they’re good yet, but at least something’s percolating in there.

When was the last time you attended a Con? What did you take away from it?

Closing and Changing

The Borders bookstore near me is closing. It’s across the street from Half Price Books and a block down from Barnes & Noble. The HPB moved down the street last year (maybe half a mile), but otherwise all of them had occupied close quarters for years.

It’s sad to have it close. I love the coupons from Borders Rewards that kept me going in and out of the store more often than I would have. So what is it that’s changed for the rest of the store that means it has to close? Is it just more of the “future” of the publishing industry where we’re moving toward e-books and away from printed paper books? I know Borders isn’t closing everywhere, but it’s more than just here.

And what does this mean for those of us who still want to get those traditional publishing contracts – to be in the brick and mortar stores?

What about the libraries? Do you still go check out enough books for them to keep buying? Are we going to get to a place where you need to read everything online? How will we share that with the kids too small to care for the electronic devices? How will we keep the rich detail from the picture books on such small screens?

Do we expect the toddlers to not dismantle the devices? Just yesterday I found the keys my daughter ripped from my laptop at 6 months of age. Who needs home and control, right? I must admit the iPad is nice for her to play around with, except for the excess of fingerprints and other marks she leaves over the surface.

I suppose one thing to look forward to is the child-centered devices may begin reading the stories to kids. Then there will be studies upon studies about how it isn’t the best way for them to absorb the language (without a native speaker to show how the words are formed with the mouth and to keep the child’s attention focused) until at least the age of 3. We’ll begin the debate of whether it’s better to have the child with books rather than yet another animated movie and point fingers at each other for the digital babysitters. (Really, how else do you manage to shower when you’re alone with a small, mobile, curious child?)

The change also hits the authors in their marketing. Marketing is a struggle no matter how you look. Word of mouth about your words, whether in the bookstore or online or any other manner, doesn’t work the way you intend. Somehow a few of us have recognizable names and the rest of us languish in obscurity.

Do future writers still dream old ideas for success? I’m sure some of us do – just as I’m certain some of us are floundering among the changing landscape, searching for the best path to take. Self-publishing has never been easier, but it’s difficult to stand out from the masses and their largely disappointing reputation.

P.S. I apologize for the extended absence. One of my part-time jobs takes more time than I like to admit. I’m enjoying my break and working on getting organized – which includes more time writing and blogging.

The Book or the Movie: My Sister’s Keeper

I finally got a chance to see the movie. I read the book by Jodi Picoult a few years ago. Both are good, and both have different endings. I’m a little disappointed by Hollywood’s changing of the end, but it’s good to know that the author has nothing to do with it.

I must remind myself to read that again if I ever have a book that gets made into a movie. Or the next time I go see a movie after reading the book.

My husband told me the new ending made the movie open to a larger audience. I’m still wondering why. He didn’t read the book; he had only my explanation of the differences.

One thing I really enjoyed from a writer’s perspective about this book was that each chapter has a different point of view – and all of it is written in first person. Sometimes, especially during the first chapter of a character we haven’t read, it takes a moment to adjust. I found it intriguing, and it kept me hooked throughout the book.

The central theme is devoted to Anna’s medical emancipation. Her sister Kate had a rare form of leukemia and their parents created Anna as a medical match. What began as a reach for cord blood became a seemingly endless list of other procedures until Anna begins a lawsuit to take control of her body.

I imagined someone very different from Alec Baldwin as the attorney. Not to say he didn’t do a good job- the entire cast sparkled.

Then my husband’s comments come back to me, and I wonder why Hollywood wouldn’t keep the original ending. Who knows what they really want? Both endings were happy and bittersweet in their own ways. And in both of them, Anna wins her lawsuit.

The differences don’t stop me from recommending them, though. They’re thought-provoking and touching.

Blueberry Girl, by Neil Gaiman

Blueberry Girl was a gift to my daughter by a friend of mine. It was written by Neil Gaiman, and illustrated by Charles Vess.

It’s a beautiful book with full-color illustrations. A little repetition keeps her attention and large words (I hope) spark her vocabulary.

I know she’s only one, but she listens to everything. She says more words every day, and though they’re not completely clear, she’s getting more expressive.

I haven’t let her pick this one up and carry it around the house yet. It’s not a favorite of hers, but I like reading it to her. The words are calm and the pictures don’t excite her, which makes Blueberry Girl a great choice for bedtime.

The Little Engine That Could

My mother brought a copy of this book for my daughter. I’m glad to share with her books I loved as a child.

The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper, is a great book to help anyone know that they can do something only if they try. The mantra of the Little Blue Engine is “I think I can – I think I can!” all the way up to the top of the mountain.

Do you ever wonder what you can do, if you just think that you can?

A lot of people tell me I do a lot of things. Okay, I do. Is it because I have superhuman abilities? Haha, I wish. Sometimes I wonder if I get things done because I think I can squeeze them in.

Somehow, I think I can squeeze in some time to learn Mandarin, and the time is there. I think I can squeeze in time to write a novel, even after having a child, and I managed a rough draft in about seven months. I think I can scale buildings in a single bound!

… Wait, I still haven’t managed that one.

I enjoy reading the book to my daughter, though. One day she may attempt things just because she thinks she can. It might even be because of this book we are reading together. Then again, it might also be due to me not letting little things like time crunches get in my way.

What obstacles threaten what you want to do? Can you get rid of them?

Series Incongruities

I’ve been reading books by Scott Westerfeld: Uglies, Pretties, and now halfway through Specials. I like the world he’s created for Tally Youngblood and her friends, and it shows her character changing throughout the three books.

But I also noticed the little bit about SpagBol, his word for Spaghetti Bolognaise dehydrated, then re-created with a purifier.

In Uglies, Tally runs out into the wild with a bag created by [evil] Dr. Cable, and every single packet of food in her bag was SpagBol. After that, she’s had trouble looking at it. Can’t blame her, since that’s all she ate for three meals a day for a few weeks.

In Specials, Tally reacts to another character eating SpagBol with some revulsion. Months have passed since Uglies, but this is still a strong reaction.

So why does Tally have SpagBol in her own hand-packed bag when she escapes to the wild in Pretties? And why doesn’t she react when, admittedly another character, eats it?

Those kinds of questions sometimes keep me up at night. I found the little inconsistencies even toward the end of editing The Art of Science, and I hope to find them all with my current projects.

I’m only human, though. I must take into account that I will not fix everything, even if I have help.

Scott Westerfeld couldn’t find all the tiny details with all of Simon Pulse behind him. It wasn’t a pivotal point. It was just part of the minutiae.

I’m sure a series bible would help, but it’s also difficult to accept that as a writer I might not be able to create a perfect story. I suppose I’ll just hope enough people read it to discern the things I missed.

We all do the best we can. I’m loving the books in spite of that – extremely small – detail.

James Stevenson

I’ve been reading Corn-Fed and Cornflakes.

These books are both written and illustrated by James Stevenson, and both are full of fun poetry. My daughter only kind of looks at the pictures at this point – they’re not the full-page illustrations in the books she carries around with her – but she listens when I read them to her.

All right, she listens when I read just about anything. She is quieter when someone else is holding her when I’m reading, though.

I really enjoy his short poetry, though. They’re small things about garbage bags or snow-covered cars shown through a different perspective with a humorous effect. I see a ton of them on the Amazon page, and now I’m wondering if I can find a few others to read to her.

It makes me want to write poetry. I just finished a poetry challenge and I’ll not brag about it because I know I’m not that good. It’s fun, and that’s the important part to me. I think I’m better with prose. It might be because I’ve had more practice.

Children’s picture books often seem closer to poetry than books aimed at older audiences. I think it’s because the economy of words forces the authors to say so much more. It’s a good exercise for any writer to try to say more with fewer words.

I do have one poem from the challenge I really like and will be attempting to send it to magazines once I smooth out one last line. Wish me luck.

Digging Into Plot

Yesterday I pulled out my synopsis and I started making notes. Finally!

I’m really glad I wrote the synopsis now. It makes it easier to figure out where to change things. My notes are in dark blue, littering the typed pages.

Today I think I’ll add green or purple, whichever I can find first. I like adding a different color to show different kinds of work, and today I’ll be making a new line for the plot. It might take two or three times to get where I need to go and changing colors in the notes helps me see which direction I’m going.

As opposed to all black and white- then I’ll forever be scratching things out that don’t work.

Makes me think I should’ve done all this work before I wrote the book, but I didn’t develop the synopsis first.

Why oh why didn’t I do the synopsis first?

Well, I suppose I haven’t yet outlined a book before I’ve written it. The Art of Science might have been the exception because I had a chapter guide before I wrote it – but that one changed away from the outline version completely, too.

Do any of those writing books out there mention the people who have to write the rough draft before being able to look at the plot structure and make it better? I wonder if I might be one of those people.