Readers and Writers

Writers are readers. We can’t help it – what draws us to words is love. Sometimes I end up thinking about the writing side and neglecting the reading side, but not this week.

This week I went to a book club. It’s called Dagobah, and they focus on science fiction books. At least, I think they do. It’s a small group and they meet once a month to discuss the books they read. It’s different from what I often think about for a book club, where you choose one book and everyone reads and discusses it. 

[I know a friend currently trying to force herself to the end of her book club’s selection, and I hope she makes it. I also hope nobody has to do that with one of my books!]

The cool part about sharing books this way is that I get to hear about books I might not have chosen and I get to share books I love. It’s also a great way to keep me reading, because with limited time sometimes that is what falls by the wayside. 

It shouldn’t be, I know. It’s hard to keep up with a genre when so many books are published (traditional and indie). 

One thing I thought interesting: most of the people seemed to read older novels. It might just have been this month. And I can’t say much for myself, I’ve been listening to the BBC production of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

For the future: watch for news of The Art of Science ebook!

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What Color Was That?

I started thinking about this as a friend of mine used a color to describe some different kind of person in his story. Jim Butcher had white, red, and black vampires in his Dresden Files. Jacqueline Carey used a deep blood red called sanguine for her character Phedre and to represent her distinguishing feature of being an anguisette. Vulcans from Star Trek have green blood. (Though doesn’t that make you wonder about a half-Vulcan half-Human – shouldn’t he not have either red or green blood? or both? I’m sure that’s another topic for another day…)

As long as we’re doing colors, why isn’t it cerise instead of just red or cerulean instead of just blue? I rarely hear anyone talking about aubergine. Is it the one syllable quality of red and blue and green that make them so common? Yellow simply doesn’t have the same impact. Yet it can’t simply be about the name, because pink will never have the impact of a neon orange – and that never rolled easily off anyone’s tongue.

When I ask someone’s favorite color, often I get a generic blue or purple or brown. The aforementioned aubergine ranks for one friend of mine, and another told me burgundy. It made me think about my own response, which is much more vague since I am fond of too many colors to pick just one. It’s very dependent on what it is for (a car or a purse or the walls of my bedroom)  and my particular mood.

How does color affect how you write? Do you search for a specific shade like chartreuse or will bright green work? Do you work to figure out the perfect color for everything or do you leave a few to the reader’s imagination?

Does having all that information conflict with your own ideas when reading? I’d love to know!

Criticism or Ridicule?

Free speech is a beautiful thing. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and has the ability to express it.

But, sometimes, I wonder what the point of expressing an opinion in a certain way is. I love to read. I love to write. I love this form of expression – and many of you who follow me on Google+ or Facebook will have noticed the YouTube video Words Are My Sandbox.

I learned from reviewing other authors and from working in critique groups that often it’s good to sandwich the bad stuff inside the good things you find about the piece. There are some where it can be difficult to find something nice. There are also venues with spoken-only reading and critique where it is easy to focus on just one flaw and miss all the rest of the beauty of that segment. Many groups implement rules about how to treat other writers and others try to focus on how professional the advice may be – but nearly all of them are not about tearing down an amateur. I know I never would want to be the reason someone decides to stop expressing opinions through words.

How does that change when someone becomes a big name professional? Why is it that I hear conversations where people discuss only the bad aspects of some series and trash the author for it? There are so many examples, but here are two:

1. Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight series seems to take a bad rap from a lot of people. I know many who love the novels and read them again and again. I read them and enjoyed them, but they’re not something that will draw me to read them 50 million times. I’ve heard people call them nothing but a teenage romance and think it’s awful for a 110 year old man (or however old Edward’s character was at the time of publication) to be after a 17 year old girl. Whatever else you say about them, didn’t Meyer make some interesting characters?

2. J. K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter series has throwbacks to the British boarding school novels. Sure. I’m sure there were other critics, possibly about the whole good versus evil thing. But there were rich things in the story, too, that some of the amateur people won’t admit.

Maybe it boils down to jealousy or something else I can’t easily name. I don’t think a single novel will fit every reader out there – which is why we have so many different genres and subgenres and points of view on everything. I wonder if that’s how you know you’re successful – that there are people out there trying to trash your accomplishment. Perhaps I’m just too thin-skinned and I worry what people will say about my work if it’s out there more. It hasn’t stopped me from pursuing publishing yet, and it isn’t likely to in the future.

I can acknowledge that many of the authors I read and enjoy have flaws. Some of them take much less flack than others, but some are much better known than the rest, too. It doesn’t make anyone more discerning to burn another in effigy.

Next time you want to stomp all over someone else’s expressed art, think to yourself- did I even try to see the good in it? What is it about this that so many people find fascinating? We don’t have to “agree to disagree” (don’t get me started on the wrongness of this phrase) or agree on anything at all, but it might be nice to acknowledge that not everyone who disagrees with you is completely wrong. And, also, that the tired, worn-out, dog-eared copy of whatever your favorite novel is has its own baggage. Peace!

With New Distraction

My husband gave me my mother’s day gift last night: a new pink Sony e-Reader. I didn’t expect pink. He said they were out of silver.

So I spent a good while last night, this morning and again this afternoon looking at books and putting some in there. Some meaning 60 – a few I had on my laptop and the rest downloaded classics.

The pink is growing on me.

Classics might be a broad term. Everything from Wuthering Heights to Frankenstein to Alice in Wonderland to War and Peace to “2 B R 0 2 B” (a short story I’d never heard of by Kurt Vonnegut stuffed in the science fiction section). How’s that for jumping in with both feet?

I think the pink did it to me.

Now that it’s loaded and charged, I’m ready to go. I think I’ll try to read at least one book on there before I peruse more titles. The size and feel is pretty good; all I have to get accustomed to now is the interface. Silly me, yesterday I was changing the time while I was trying to navigate off that. Maybe it’ll teach me to read the directions.

Then again, maybe it won’t. It really isn’t that complicated.

It was probably just the pink messing with my head.

Growing a Reader From Birth

It was difficult to process the information in this book, simply because there was a lot of it.

Diane McGuiness explains a lot in this book about children 0-5 years and makes her cases with scientific studies. It makes sense that when infants like something, they use their sucking reflex to share that.

Most of the book was dedicated to speaking to babies, what they understand, and how they learn to speak. The author explains each stage and what the parent is likely to see, not just based on age, but also on ability. For example, there’s a language explosion around 18 months, but it is less about the age of the child and more when he hits 50 words in his spoken vocabulary.

Toward the end of the book the Author first mentions the child reading. She asserts children may be distracted by pictures in  books and not understand the essence of the story. Also, she talks about the importance of telling stories to the child along with having him tell stories to the parent.

The last chapter dealt with a whole world, whole language and phonics dissertation. I’ve never been a fan of whole world teachings, and she gave concrete reasons why it doesn’t work to learn to read: basically, the mind can only memorize so many words if they are treated as random strings of letters. She used history to show that the languages that have a ‘whole word’ concept maxed out around 2000 words, compared to the approximately 50,000 words needed to carry on an adult conversation.

Every language that survived has used a method of breaking down the words into a “Basic Code” to decipher written material. English has 40 sounds, and only 26 letters – which she says could have been used more effectively. I don’t know anyone who could argue that.

I think the most out-there argument was at the very end, talking about how dyslexia is not a real disability. The author stated her reasons for believing this, but I do not know enough about dyslexia to know.

Don’t jump all over me – but here is her argument:
She states dyslexia does not exist except in English-speaking countries who have used whole word or whole language strategies to teach reading. It must not be a brain disability if it doesn’t exist in nearly the same percentages around the world. Therefore, dyslexia is a created problem that can be fixed, in her argument, with phonics.

It definitely gives something to think about. My one-year-old makes me understand her, and I know she gets more of what I say than she can say back to me. How much? That is always the question.

Looking Forward

The way to progress is to keep looking forward. Yes, you can go over the things you missed, the stuff you’d change, but the most important part is to is to keep going.

So, I want to post about books I’m reading here in May. I have posted books in here before, especially ones that have been helpful writing-wise, but – I want to bring some of my focus back to reading.

One of my purposes is to give myself time to figure out all the revisions that my latest novel needs, and another is to just do something I really love. Don’t be surprised to find some picture books in here, since I’ve been checking out a ton of these to read to my daughter.

… not self-published

Really, I’m not. Which is why I was so surprised to read this: http://www.thonline.com/article.cfm?id=262529

Most of the information is no surprise. I do reside in Des Moines, I am going to be reading from my novel on Saturday, but my publisher would be shocked to hear she doesn’t exist! (Right, Vivian?)

I sent a note to the paper, and I think I’ll also contact the bookstore. Just so my readers know: I won a contest at a small press publisher. I entered my manuscript in January 2008, and I found out in March that it won.

Since then, my small-press publishing company has editors who helped me improve the novel, and it was published in March of 2009.

It’s available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and through my publisher’s website. And if you don’t want to order online, I believe you can walk into any Barnes and Noble and ask them to order it for you.

Meanwhile, I’m contacting the paper and the bookstore. I’m even thinking about writing a letter to the editor about self-published vs small press authors.

I’m also gearing up for a reading at River Lights 2nd Edition. I’m really excited to make an appearance at another bookstore!

Prairie Lights

It’s so hard to believe it’s already tomorrow! I think I’m ready. How do you prepare for something you’ve never done before? I haven’t seen many authors do readings.

It’s on the website for the bookstore. I’ve informed as many people as I could get to listen to me (which is always fun). It’s great to be able to say that I’ve done what I could to pull this together.

And tonight, I’ll practice. I know what I want to read, but I don’t want to stumble in front of family, friends, and strangers!

Hope to see you there, if you’re in Iowa City.

Reading

The more I read these days, the more I’ve begun looking for the pieces that hold the story together.

This type of analysis is good, except sometimes it gets in the way of the reading for pleasure I did for so long. It’s almost impossible to read without looking for things to tweak, though I reserve most of that for my own pieces.

The writing is going slowly since I need to focus during naps, but at least I’m attempting it.

Reading

A lot of writers I know talk about how important it is to read. We don’t always make distinctions on whether it should be good or bad pieces, or in our genre or not.

One of my friends started a goal to read a book in print every day. Then it started catching, and we’re all trying to remember that reading is a great way to learn. It isn’t just about emulating an author – we all have our own styles. It’s also about being inspired to be better, and keeping an example around to remind us what we’re working toward. It just makes sense, because books are what led us to want to be writers anyway.

I’ve read there is a time where it isn’t the best idea to be reading, but it’s only during a certain time period when writing a novel. The point was not to get discouraged because someone else wrote something better (that’s always going to happen) and not to give up. I think everyone who’s attempted a novel knows that point, and if reading changes how you feel at that point you should definitely give it up for a time.

Sometimes, however, I feel we get too wrapped up in our own stuff and forget to read the other things out there. How do we stay in touch with our target audience if we don’t know what else they’re reading?

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