Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Crap Blurbs?

I live in fear that one day I will have an agent or editor who will insist that I grovel for blurbs for an upcoming book. And what hope will I have of getting any after I've bashed them for years here at Original Content? Plus, will anyone buy a book written by a total hypocrite? (Not to be confused with a partial hypocrite.)

Nonetheless, lads and lasses, I feel compelled to direct your attention to What's the Point of Blurbs in The Guardian because the author, Daniel Kalder, describes himself as "a connoisseur of the crap blurb." He also asks " many readers reject a book because they loathe the authority endorsing it in a blurb?"

A penetrating question.

Now, I hate to think of myself as "loathing" anyone (though I really like the word), but, yes, I have rejected books with blurbs by authors whose work I don't care for on the theory that if I didn't like her own writing, I probably won't like any writing that she thinks is good. I also tend to avoid books with blurbs by blurbers who might be described as promiscuous--meaning you see their blurbs on covers all over the bookstore. Come on. Did they really like all those books? Did they really read them all? And, if so, have they ever read a book they didn't like?

I'm in for a really awkward time when I'm ordered to find blurbs. But I burned my bridges behind me blurbwise years ago.

How's That Desk Cleaning Going For You, Gail?

The thing about cleaning the desk is that you really have to address the things you find there. You need to read this stuff that's been piling up for months, then file it away, or toss it or decide that you no longer recall why you kept the thing and toss it without doing anything with it. (Much the way you get rid of the mending once everyone in the family has outgrown the item in question that you never fixed.)

So I found some materials on bookstore appearances that I believe I've had since a NESCBWI Salon last spring. I read them. I felt badly because I won't be doing any bookstore appearances for a while and when I do do them, they are pretty much dreadful and while these things I read were full of ideas so that they won't be dreadful, they were pretty much like reading handouts on how to dance. Reading this stuff won't make it happen. Should I hold on to these handouts? If so, where?

Then I came upon the book on literary agents that I bought probably ten years ago and only started reading last year. And haven't finished. And should I, since the book is ten years old and nowadays you can get more info about literary agents on-line than anyone could possibly absorb and some of that info will actually be good? And up to date. Should I just get rid of the book?

I'm definitely getting rid of the two small cassette recorders I found in a draw a couple of weeks ago and left on top of my desk. I will be old one day, and I refuse to be one of those old people whose house is filled with outdated technology. So I placed those things on someone else's desk. He can deal with them.

Yippee! I was able to put the WWI toy soldier that had been lying on its side on my desk for months with the others that came out of storage for Christmas. I don't know how that guy got separated from his unit last year.

A kids' book I never read has been packaged to send to a family with children who might appreciate it.

The copy of Tae Kwon Do Times that my buddy at the dojang gave me and that I may or may not have read was stacked with all the materials for that black belt book I plan to write some day should I live long enough.

The remains of the sketchbook that I was going to use to create visual aids for works in progress went back into the stationery cabinet because it's been maybe half a year that it's been sitting on my desk and clearly I'm not doing anything with it. I know where it is if I want it.

Oops! And then the desk cleaning went to hell, so to speak, because of a laundry emergency! When I start my new workweek, there will be no laundry done on any of my three workdays. No laundry, no laundry emergencies.

Catching The Scent

I am cleaning my desk today. It's not so much end-of-the-year housekeeping as it is a transition into working again after six weeks of tending to family and Christmas. I'm hoping to be able to start working three-days a week soon, which is going to be the best I can hope for for years to come.

Anyway, I've noticed over the last couple of weeks that I've been getting all kinds of ideas. Primarily, they're ideas for the 365 Story Project, but other things pick at my mind, too. I've got piles of newspaper clippings that I accumulated on the couch and a dresser and there's a short list next to my bed that I need to go over.

The ideas have been coming more and more frequently, and they make me feel just a bit of excitment about the possibility of working again. They do make me think of an animal that's attention has been caught by a scent it doesn't quite recognize but finds intriguing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Am I Doing?

Just yesterday I was telling you about the books I received for Christmas. Christmas. Less than a week ago. I've only started reading one of those books.

So I really shouldn't have ordered three more, which is what I just did. What's more, I've already read library copies of two and a half of them this past month. I just felt I needed to have them. By that I don't mean I needed to own them. I felt I had to keep copies nearby in case I need them some day. What if they go out of print? What if I do need them years from now and can't find them anywhere?

You'll be hearing more about this after I finish that last half volume.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Stats

The best part of Christmas is the week of recovery afterwards. And then the month of January when Martin Luther King's Birthday is the only holiday. MLK's Birthday--a holiday that requires no shopping or cooking. It's rapidly becoming a favorite for me.

What follows is the lowdown on my book presents, both those I gave and those I received.

Those I gave:

Unsold Television Pilots, Vol. 1 for our archivist.

How to Play Popular Piano In 10 Easy Lessons. We have, I believe, five pianists in our family. Soon I expect we will have six.

The Read-Aloud Handbook for one of our teachers.

Gregor the Overlander for my niece. In fact, I gave her a subscription to what I call the "Paperback Book of the Month Club," meaning that I will be buying her a paperback book every month in 2010.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for a hosting gift. The hosts sent me a thank you note, but I haven't heard if they've read it or how it went over.

Dead Until Dark for my hairdresser who loved Twilight. Actually, Katie hasn't received this yet because I have a hard time finding time to get my hair done these days. And I look it.

Those I received:

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I have been baking bread for decades. But I've been relying on a bread machine (I'm on my second one) for the last few years because, like having my hair done, I don't have much time for it, anymore. The one recipe I tried from a library edition of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day was fantastic. I thought it seemed well worth making someone buy the book for me.

A pricie self-published history of the town I lived in that I've wanted for a while, but was way too cheap to pay for. I didn't even ask for this. Some thoughtful soul took it upon himself to buy it for me.

Life Among the Savages, which I've wanted to read as part of my Shirley Jackson obsession.

And...and...Yes! Yes! I got it! I got Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer!

Now I must go read something.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Quotation Mark Shortage?

Laura Miller has a piece at Salon called All I Want For Christmas Is Quotation Marks in which she describes the lack of same in some of your more literary works.

For those of us who believe that writing is a form of communication, and thus writers should never do anything that will make it difficult for readers to receive what we're trying to communicate, refusing to use quotation marks works against what we're trying to achieve. Yes, you want to leave your readers with ideas, but you don't want to make them have to struggle to find them. You don't want to risk them not being able to find them at all.

Leaving out quotation marks seems like literary pretension to me. Does pretension ever assist communication?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hoping To Get This For Christmas

David Elzey reviews Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer.

And Now For A Bit On Author Websites

When the hell that is this Christmas season is over, I plan to do an update of the ol' website. No big changes, just bringing things up to date. Once again, it is time.

What luck. Cynsations has a post up on author websites, in which she interviews someone who designs them for children's and YA authors. Among the things Lisa Firke has to say: "...a site shouldn't be too fancy for its own good... Think of it this way: as a writer you work hard to make your meanings clear and valuable. Your website should reflect the same kind of care."

Yes, yes, yes, a hundred times, YESSS! I can't tell you how many times I have been to an author website full of bells and whistles that I left immediately because it took so long to load. I'm too old to waste precious time waiting for a website to load. In fact, it doesn't matter how young you are. Almost everyone has more important things to do. If there are any clear and valuable meanings at those places, we don't see them. And what about those homepages that have the links hidden in all kinds of arty crap, and viewers are expected to guess where they are? What do the authors and designers think we're there for? To play on-line arcade games? Pas moi, that's for sure.

I'm a little overwrought today. After writing that last paragraph, I'm feeling somewhat better. I'll have to see if there's something else I can jump on.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

And They Say Men Don't Read

Well, maybe men don't read books. But according to a new essay in The New York Times Book Review, they steal them.

Margo Rabb, author of the Missing Persons Mysteries and Cures for Heartbreak, wrote said essay, Steal These Books, in which she describes the most popular books lifted by lovers of literature. It's heartening to read that one bookstore general manager believes that it is mostly younger men who are doing the stealing.

Because I try to think well of people, I have decided to believe that after they get their hot little hands on their ill-gotten books, those younger men do read them. It could happen.

Congratulations To Chris Barton

Chris Barton's book The Day-Glo Brothers was just reviewed in The New York Times. The review is part of one of those round-up columns that covers three books at once, but Day-Glo received plenty of attention. The kind of attention you want your book to get from The New York Times, too.

I think this review, Alarmingly Bright Futures by Rich Cohen, illustrates what's so great about traditional analytical reviews. Cohen says of the books he's discussing, "Each follows the reliable three-act structure of Horatio Alger or “Rocky”: the early breakthrough, the reversal, the triumph." Read and learn--that's what I did with this kind of review when I was a young writer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thoughts On Book Reviews From An Editor Of Same

Edward Champion of Reluctant Habits interviewed Keir Graff, a senior editor at Booklist, on the future of book reviews.

I do hate the use of positive and negative when discussing reviews. Graff's explanation regarding Booklist's original policy regarding so-called "positive" reviews makes sense, though--as a publication for librarians looking for information regarding what to purchase, what was the point of publishing anything but solid recommendations? He says that now, though, "there are books we recommend because there will be patron demand, but that we think are horrible, and we say that — hopefully helping larger libraries know how many copies to buy."

(I think, myself, that there are books that fall well between horrible and requiring a real recommendation that many librarians and readers would be interested in. Just a little aside.)

Graff makes a good point later in the interview: "Much is made of the web’s ability to give people exactly the experience they’re looking for, and that’s exactly why people should be wary of it. So it’s my belief that niche or specialist or genre blogs are terrific but should be balanced by some more general-interest reading, which, at least in terms of book reviews, is what we offer."

An example of what he's talking about--I read a tremendous number of kidlit blogs. My knowledge of what's being published in adult fiction is nowhere near as great as I'd like it to be. I'm guessing the same is true for readers of scifi litblogs, mystery litblogs, or any other specialized blog.

So we need to find review sources that deal with both analytical responses to books as well as a wide variety of types of books. Hmmm. Sort of like Kirkus Reviews. Except, of course, that's gone.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Poetry Friday Post. Seriously.

So I was talking with my mother yesterday afternoon, and she tells me that her friend, Marion, wrote a poem that very morning. This was noteworthy news in that Marion and Shirl are those best friends from high school that you read about in books, so I've been hearing about her for a while (as in all my life), and never has the subject of poetry ever come up. Forget about writing one.

"She ever done this before?" I asked.

"Not that I can recall," Mom replied. "It was good, though. It was about a dog running down the street. She got the idea when she woke up and started writing. And by the time her sister came into the kitchen for breakfast, she was done."

I found this very touching. The idea of someone who is closing in on eighty-two years old suddenly being moved to write her first poem is incredibly fascinating. I should write a short story about it, since a poem would be quite beyond me.

Really, I respect the creative urge. And I love the idea that absolutely anyone at absolutely any time can feel the need to create. I'm not talking about quality, I don't care if it was good or bad, I just am intrigued that this happened at all.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

This Could Be Hysterical

I am sure many people will think the suggestion that Santa needs to go on The Biggest Loser is taking fitness too far. Not me. Not only do I believe ol' Nick is at risk of a multitude of health problems as a result of his BMI, I think a story about his taking off the pounds has great potential for humor.

Personally, I don't care about the important lesson children would learn from such a tale. I want to laugh.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Just Heard About This Today!

I kid you not. I picked up a family member at a train station outside Boston, and after he slept in the car for a while, we got to talking about self-publishing. (I can't remember why. But it's terrific to have a family member to talk to about these things.) Back to our conversation. Said family member asked me if I'd heard about Harlequin Horizons, which I hadn't.

If only I'd been keeping up better with my blog reading, I would have known what he was talking about because Greg Pincus mentioned it at The Happy Accident last month.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Demise Of The Book Tour Isn't Exactly New News

Author Book Tour Turns Endangered Species reports on something I believe I've been hearing about for a while. It does cover some new material relating to "new models" of book promotion--authors appearing at corporate offices, for instance.

Found by way of Arts Journal.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Different Standards For Different Books?

Roger Sutton has some things to say about the demise of Kirkus Reviews. He says, '"But kids like it" is a defense mounted in our field all the time, an argument that would be laughed right out of any critical conversation about books for adults. As well, preachiness is tolerated in children's books (because preaching to children comes second nature to adults) even while grownups won't stand for it in their own recreational reading. What Kirkus did was to treat books for children and adults the same in the same publication.'

When Roger says that Kirkus Reviews treated children's and adult books the same, I think he means that it didn't treat children's books as being inferior and thus requiring lower standards. For those of us who don't want to be good for a children's writer or for a woman writer or for anything else, that's a good thing. Expecting us to play by the same rules that everyone else plays by is a way of treating us with respect.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holy Moses!

I literally have my coat on and am about to leave the house. But, having that little obsession problem of mine, I checked one of my listservs first. Thus I have just heard that Kirkus Reviews is on its way out. Or maybe it's already out.

This means that the funnel through which books come to the attention of the reading public has grown even smaller. I'm sure we're going to be hearing that book blogs make traditional review journals unnecessary, which may or may not be the case.

A lot of people didn't like Kirkus, anyway, though the people there usually treated me pretty well.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Yeah, Accident Governs What's Going On In My Mind All The Time

I recently joined UVM professor Huck Gutman's poetry listserv. I received the first message yesterday or the day before, and it begins with a comment about "how much of our emotional lives and our desires are governed by accident." And then Gutman explains that the e-mail we're about to read involves Elizabeth Bishop's Sandpiper because he was on a beach, saw a sandpiper, and thought of the poem.

I was just reading Why Readers Crave The Risk Factor, in which the author, Robert McCrum, contends that readers like writers who have personal backstories that "show a bit of leg, and...have an air of romance about them." This caught my interest because, quite accidentally, I'd been recently reading some of those author bios that describe their subjects' past work experience. It seems as if not being able to hold a job is something to brag about if you're a writer, and I've seen people give long lists of former occupations, such as short order cook, wait staff, taxi driver, dog walker, telemarketer, housecleaner, checkout clerk, animal trainer (which can mean anything), and apple picker.

I guess the point they're trying to make is that they have varied life experience to call upon in their writing. These work histories sometimes left me feeling a little inadequate because I have held very few jobs at all, forget about anything that would give me varied life experience. (Not very inadequate, though, because I'm very much a "What, me work?" type of person.)

Do any of these jobs involve a risk factor, though? Do they include the bit of leg McCrum says readers crave? I think not. I can't say I have much leg in my background, either, but at least I am no longer feeling badly about never having worked as a carnie at the fair.

And I can thank accident governing my emotional life for that.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I Find This Hopeful

Being a Connecticut resident, as I am, and a reader of newspapers, as I also am, I've been aware for a while that authors occasionally make appearances at our casinos. Sure, they're usually bestselling adult authors. However, YA author Eric Luper will be at Foxwoods this weekend signing two of his books.

Okay, these two books have a gambling connection. But, come on, a casino recognizing that its customers are interested in reading--that's got to be a good thing.

Learned about this through the NESCBWI listserv, not the local press. But if I see it mentioned this week, I'll let you know.

Hmmm. I haven't been to Foxwoods in a long time. I wonder if there's a bookstore there? That would be interesting.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Problems With Book Reviews

Salon is getting ready to resurrect a feature I don't remember, What to Read. "Every Monday, I'll present a book selected from an assortment of related new titles, tell you why I found this book exceptional and, when warranted, explain why others didn't make the cut. What to Read will regularly recommend a book we think you'll really love."

The columnist, Laura Miller, is being totally upfront that this feature will not be a traditional book review. It sounds as if it's going to be more like a blog recommendation. I, of course, am most interested in reading about the books that "didn't make the cut."

In the Salon article announcing the coming of What to Read, Miller discusses some problems with traditional book reviews that go beyond the fact that they don't generate advertising revenue and are thus being dropped from newspapers. Two of them:

1. The assignment process (editors doling out books to reviewers) can't guarantee that the reviewer will find a book "noteworthy," and thus many reviews don't make for great reading. A reviewer who is a fan of an author's earlier work may be biased regarding a lesser work under review. Reviewers who are also authors may pull their punches.

2. Readers usually know nothing about reviewers' tastes and how they shape their judgments. (My own example--reviewers who don't read widely in children's literature raving about an adult writer's first foray into the field because they aren't aware that the book under review isn't ground breaking because they have so little knowledge of the "ground.")

Presumably What to Read will avoid the first problem by publishing recommendations ("what to read") instead of regular reviews, which could go either way. A recommendation suggests the person doing the recommending does, indeed, find the book noteworthy for some reason or another. It will avoid the second problem because, after a while, readers will learn Miller's tastes and biases and judge her recommendations accordingly. (Though I suspect regular readers of her book writing for Salon have picked up on that already. I only read her reviews if the book interests me, so I have limited knowledge of her work.)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

If She Has The Book, That Means I Can Get It

Reading Fool is a librarian not far from my own personal stomping ground. She's read Liar. That means her library has it. That means I can read it, too.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Replacing Wine With Books

Last year at Christmas time I gave a book instead of wine as a hosting gift. (How's that for a nongender specific way of putting it?) I'm doing the same thing this year and to the same couple. I wanted to get them The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen because I got them something by M.T. Anderson last year, and I thought I might eventually make them into groupies. Plus I think Linoleum Lederhosen would make a great crossover book because of all the references to books adults read back when they were not adults. In fact, I wonder if it might go over better with adults than with kids for that very reason.

But the bookstore I was in didn't have it. It did have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I think is an excellent choice for a male/female couple because it is a truth universally acknowledged that women like Austen and men like zombies, right?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Don't Drink And Blog

We have a family member in a nursing home right now, the second time a family member has been in one in the last five months. This has led me to mull over my own future and to try to plan for a Zenny, mindful, live-each-moment-lifestyle when I make the move into a care facility, myself. (Which may be sooner rather than later, at this rate.) Roger Sutton linked to Now We Need A Drink, and I realized that so long as my kids find me a place with Internet access and can prop me up with whatever passes for a laptop by then, I shall always have reading material to keep me occupied. So I have a plan.

Our Jane Is Still Making The News

My computer guy says that the question of what killed Jane Austen should be filed under the category "Who Cares?"

We do!