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.

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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.

The Market Says

Discussing the magazine market with my friend, she said there was a bigger market for ‘how to write’ especially in the speculative fiction field than there was for the fiction. She’s been researching for her own magazine, and I don’t doubt it.

But it’s a little funny, since in order to write for any genre you need to be familiar with the genre. Of course, they’re probably buying books instead of magazines, but why?

If we’re out for the short story market, it’s best to get our hands on the actual publication we want to have purchase our work. (I’m sure that’s best in every market.) Wouldn’t that make the demand equal for both products?

Are we trying to write in a vacuum?

Maybe we’re listening to the characters in our head. What’s to stop them from taking over the story? Not that it’s bad for them to take over the story, that’s part of what happens when they become real to the author. I guess I’m asking: How do we know they have the best plot possible, if we have nothing to compare to?

Not that we want to redo a plot. I know I’ve heard Twilight has a lot of similarities to Wuthering Heights (can’t be bad to be compared with a classic), but I wonder sometimes where the line can be drawn between using an old plot with newish characters, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the arguable every plot can be traced back to one of [insert number of plots below 50 you think there are].

Have you ever wondered what the true fascination with Zombies really is? I think if I get around to reading those re-makes, I’ll choose Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters instead…

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

All right, I’ll admit it: I browse writing books like kids browse candy aisles. I read a bunch of rules from well-known writers prompted from Elmore Leonard’s book and found interesting things, so when I ran into it at the library (a place I am found frequently) I popped it into my check-out bag.

What surprised me most about this book is that it’s heavily illustrated. Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing took me about half an hour to read. A lot of that time was spent absorbing the words and the pictures. The reviews on Amazon are extremely mixed, and I can understand why.

While there is good advice in here, most of it could be found other places. If a writer is looking for a how-to book, only a few things are going to be stated and none of this is in the detail required for a beginner to grasp the nuances of the craft. There are other books for that.

What I liked about this was the feeling of a picture book aimed at adults about a subject I love. I agree with many of Leonard’s Rules, and it’s nice to have them put in front of my face here and there: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” I’ve been writing some poetry lately for a challenge put on by an acquaintance, and I struggle to configure the words properly for the forms. On the other hand, it might mean I’m just so accustomed to writing with the clarity of prose that it’s a struggle to pull out the poetic license.

Tuesday

Okay, today isn’t Tuesday… But the book is. I checked it out of the library, doing a random run-through with my daughter looking for more books to read to her.

David Weisner wrote this 1992 Caldecott Medal Winner. It has 32 pages and very few words. Amazon says Tuesday‘s aimed at children 4 to 8. In this book, it catalogs many terrific happenings beginning on Tuesday around 8 pm.

In my opinion, picture books are to help parents talk to children and show them stories. It doesn’t matter how many words are on the page – I can describe the pictures to begin a conversation with my daughter. (Okay, it’s a one-sided conversation since she doesn’t have enough words to chatter back in a way I understand.)

I am excited to share it with her again as she gets older.

In other news, I entered two contests that ended at midnight last night. Cross your fingers for me.

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