31 January 2011

Reading Mondays: Books I'm Teaching This Spring Term

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  (The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776)

Yes, we are a little early for the Fourth of July but bear with me.  This quote has a big connection to my topic for today.  Many know that I am a teacher.  What many don't know is that I am a Special Education teacher who has a handful of students included in a New York City general education high school.  I provide support to not only students with disabilities but also for the teacher with whom I co-teach.  For the Spring semester, I will be collaborating with an awesome English teacher, we'll just call her Ms. S., whom I have known for approximately 12 years.  The theme for this semester is "the American Dream."

This ideal is one that is ingrained into the very fabric of American society.  It is the promise that no matter what your socioeconomic status, there is a capacity of prosperity and success.  The American Dream is the theoretical, Utopian fairy-tale that all dreams can come true if you just work hard and believe.  Sometimes they do but as you'll see in these literary works, most often they don't.  As Americans, we are promised by the Declaration above, that all are created equal and we can each attain the pursuit of happiness.

In order to facilitate a better understanding of this theme, Ms. S. decided that there are several literary works which would best exemplify the "American Dream."  (I told you there would be a connection.)  Warning and Digression: the last literary work is a play by William Shakespeare, takes place in Venice and is not really about the American Dream.  However, it has many related motifs, symbols and concepts, (like infidelity, jealousy, betrayal), to the other three works of fiction.

The first of these written works is the play Fences by August Wilson set in the 1940's.  The protagonist Troy Maxson, is a 53 year-old, ex-Negro Leagues baseball player who is now a garbage collector.  He never quite made it to the Major Leagues, as he was too old to play when African American men were allowed to play professionally.  Troy also has a wife and two sons, Lyons from a previous woman during Troys imprisonment and Cory from his eighteen year marriage to his wife Rose.  She continually nags her husband to fix the fence around the home.  This is Rose's way of keeping those she loves near.  Conflict arises between Troy and almost every character in the play, even his mentally disabled brother Gabriel.  He is embittered  by his inability to attain his dreams and places these same ideals onto others.  Troy is often idealistic and embellishes his stories with metaphors of Death and baseball.  This play is a great insight into a family and what happens when dreams are deferred.  My favorite portrayal of Troy's character is by James Earl Jones.  He played the part perfectly.

The next literary work is A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. ( Ladies, stop drooling at Marlon Brando's pecs and bad boy good looks!  :D)  Set in New Orleans during the 1940's, the main character Blanche Dubois arrives on the doorstep of her sister and brother-in-law' two-room apartment, Stella and Stanley Kowalski.  Blanche exudes charm and is The Southern Belle incarnate.  However, because she disdains the everything to do with the "working class," Blanch and Stanley are in constant conflict.  Stanley is a Polish auto-parts supply man who provides for Stella, a homemaker.  Blanche's fragile mental state is soon revealed through her indulgence in alcohol, sexual inappropriateness and her inability to accept reality.  The themes of domestic abuse, rape, death, sexuality, desire and the reliance of these women on men is prevalent throughout the play.  It is the unrealized American Dream which propels Stella, Stanley and Blanche to their fates.  

Next on this train of great classics is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Now I am going to be honest, I have never read this book.  *hides from the pitchforks*  I did read a little about the novel's description and is next in line to be read.  It takes place in Long Island, New York and delineates the era known as "The Roaring Twenties."  Nick Carraway, a young man from the Midwest, journeys East to get a piece of the American Dream by delving into Wall Streets financial industry.  He rents a house and becomes neighbors with the illustrious and mysterious, Jay Gatsby.  Soon, through the infamous weekly parties thrown by Gatsby, both men are entangled in deception, wasteful indulgence, infidelity and death.  This novel is a revelation into the attainment of the American Dream leading to a gluttony of fatal pleasures.  Fitzgerald was one of the best chroniclers of the 1920's.

Finally, we have the play Othello by William Shakespeare.  I have been a bit deceitful myself as this is the first literary work we are going to teach.  I just thought it would be better to introduce the others as this one is a bit off the beaten path.  It is the tale of a Spanish Military Moor who loves and marries an upper class Venetian lady.  The antagonist, Iago, is a subordinate in Othello's command and resents being passed up for military promotion.   Iago creates this tangled web of lies which propel Othello down a path of no return.  I bet most of you have read this play already!  :D

At the end of each unit, Ms. S. and I will show the film adaptations of each book.  It will be a nice way to tidy up the plays and novel.  I hope the students will enjoy these classics as much as I do.  Well, I'm off the read The Great Gatsby.  Wish me luck!

Image for Fences courtesy of Playbill
Images for Liberty, Suburbs, Othello and A Street Car Named Desire courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image for The Great Gatsby courtesy of The New York Sun

28 January 2011

Who AM I?!?

When we sat down to review our blog schedule last autumn, we decided to incorporate “Who am I?”-Fridays, where each and every one of us could describe a place, an activity or other things related to who we are and what we do, as a way of taking this blog to a more personal level (also – we realized we weren’t the best motivators, so “Motivational Friday” often risked turning into Demotivational Friday…).

Confused? Yeah, me too...
Anyway, due to a series of (fortunate?) events, today is my first “Who am I?” post, even though the feature has been running for a while on the blog, and regular visitors thus ought to be fairly familiar with it. I am, however, not. As I started pondering what to write under this headline, an existential crisis hit me. After all – what sort of a question is “Who am I?”, and how in the digressiosphere am I supposed to answer that in just a short blog post?!?!? (<-- Interro-KABOOM)

I suppose that part of the problem is that I’m in a difficult part of life in that respect. In December I finished my Master’s Degree, which means that I (probably) am done studying. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but to put it into perspective: I have been a student for the last 18 years (and to expand the perspective further: that is about ¾ of my entire life…). Without much time to think of the life-changing event that was, I rapidly started packing after having completed the degree, and left my home and country. Even though I’ve been to Japan before, it is still very much an extremely foreign country to me. The mega-city Tokyo even more so. I only have a temporary contract here, though, so come July I have absolutely no idea what I will do or where I will live (though I do have a plane ticket for Oslo, so chances are I will at least land there before making my way into the world again, if so should happen).

Thus, “who am I?” can in many ways be summed up in the following few key words: girl/woman, 25, Norwegian, nomad, educated but not enlightened, temporarily occupied but soon to-be unemployed, penniless, homeless, alien/gaijin, unbound, untied, untidy, unsure, unconvinced.

Blurry? Yeah, me too...
Don’t worry. I realize there are several advantages to many of these things, and at the moment I am appreciating them to the max. My lack of ties is what allowed me to take a leap and accept a position on the other side of the world. My nomadic tendencies can only be satisfied through traveling, and I appreciate my Norwegianness all the more if I leave my home country from time to time. Being unemployed is exciting, in a way, since it opens up all sorts of possibilities for future positions; and my current meager funding is probably useful in the long run: I could definitely do with a stricter financial plan.

Thus I am enjoying my identity crisis even if it wears on me. I realize that I will have plenty of time for the rest of my life to find stability (that’s it, isn’t it? What we all crave in one form or another – even if your particular brand of stability is called “variation”…). I will have a permanent home, a permanent job, a permanent life. “Temporary” will be a sweet memory from the past, and I am sure I will miss it once it’s gone. I try to remember this, and remember that I am privileged. I even try to remember that I enjoy my new (if temporary) life in Tokyo – the city, the job, the people, even the ascetic living quarters – and that I wouldn’t take back my decision to come here for all the digressions in the world.

Ah. Do you see a pattern? I am confused. That’s who I am. Confusion embodied, not certain whether I love my current state enough to enjoy it properly, or if the things I want in the future are calling my name so loudly I cannot ignore them.

Who am I (Friday)? Ask me again in March. Until then I only have to mull over Reading (Monday), Writing (Wednesday), current affairs (Topical Tuesday) or the occasional Delusion(al Thursday). They all seem like a piece of cake in comparison…

Uprooted? Yeah, me too...

#1: sneakily taken in a Japanese park. I would appreciate translations, as my current guess is: "Beware! Goose crying in sleep might result in shaky and teary cat and doglike creatures. Let's make happy with together!"
#2: blurrily taken from a tall, tall building, trying to capture the essence of "Tokyo by night". Frankly, I think I nailed it...
#3: shadily taken from www.boredpanda.com, where the artist Sarolta Ban is duly credited (and worth a visit too).

27 January 2011

The “SNUCK” Campaign

So I grew up in a household where proper English was ALWAYS spoken. My parents may not have been mature or particularly educated, but they had mature, educated parents and neither was particularly delinquent. This propriety of the English Language (aside from my dad occasionally teaching me a wrong word on purpose: aka: DORF instead of dwarf) was strong enough that all through Junior High and High school, and through every standardized test I ever took, I cruised easily (or passed out of) grammar lessons because the right way 'just sounded right'. There was nothing to learn.

Sure, there are a couple homonyms that have caused me trouble (particularly rein and reign or bate versus bait—yes, some of my poor characters have had baited breath, implying some grotesque worm diet). But if there was a SOUND difference, DARNED IT! I knew my stuff!

I recently got back a manuscript from my good buddy Leigh where I use (more than once) 'snuck'. She left me the sweet note, “Is it okay to use snuck now? I was taught sneaked, but I've seen this a lot recently.” (she never called me a moron once, which I appreciate).


Now I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, home of the most accent-free English in America... okay... so there isn't much accent anywhere west of Colorado... The whole west knows how to SPEAK. They do it without a lot of silliness... no R pronounced 'Aaaah', no R added to WASH. No ABOUT pronounced ABOAT (thank you Ontario for your influence on neighbor Michigan), no kindygarden. No T in the middle of a word softened to a D (something was forgodden? Seriously?--silly midwesterners afraid to ASSERT THEMSELVES!!!). Out west they can TALK!

And I swear to you SNUCK is what the English Language is supposed to have adopted. I think it was a dictionary writer prank that stuck SNEAKED in there and a whole bunch of ninnies FELL FOR IT and taught their students!

You know... I'm not the only person who believes this. Take THIS from the Urban dictionary:
SNUCK: common mistake for the past-tense of sneak (the real past-tense is sneaked, but sneaked sounds retarded so it should be snuck)
sneaked sounds totally gay so let's change it to snuck

But besides the Urban Dictionary stamp of approval... lets just look at the definition.

Sneaksy (thank you Gollum)

All sort of sound... you know... sneaky!


****EPIC FAIL***

Sneaked does NOT sound sneaky. It sounds like an English teacher! How many sneaky English teachers have you had in your life? Well okay, I've had a few (RIP Sylvia James and Judy Chavez—you both ROCKED!)... but that doesn't change my argument, because remember, I LEARNED SNUCK!!!

Digression: Mrs. Chavez's greatest dream was to play one of the witches in a stage production of Macbeth. Man, she was cool.

So what about you? Any words in the English Language that somebody claims are WRONG but you are willing to go to bat for?

Anything that makes you shout RULES SCHMOOLZ! THIS JUST SOUNDS BETTER!

Teacher pic

26 January 2011

Plotting vs. writing

In several discussions over the past few weeks (okay, years...), I've made the distinction between authors who can write ( i.e. use words well, have varied and interesting vocabulary and sentence structure, etc.) - and those who can plot (i.e. those who generally know exactly what's going to happen and when {and sometimes "y".})

Now, I love me a book written by a fellow word-nerd, and it's pretty easy to tell which ones those are - the ones where "nothing happens" for a page or two and yet you're still drawn into the story despite the lack of aliens to blow up; or you've just finished a chapter and find yourself recalling the particularly apposite phrase before a section break rather than what the consequences turn out to be for the characters in the story (because as much as you might like to try it, Unicef can't turn you into a cactus).

The example I frequently give is Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Both have huge backlists, with some smaller "series" inside a larger group; but where King's words seize the necessary information and generally convey it without further fuss, Koontz's trigger more than just the simple actions you might think belong in books labeled "Horror".

What about Dan Brown, while we're at it? He's another tally-mark in the "plot" column - events race forward at breakneck speed, keeping you turning pages but probably not causing anyone to slow down and appreciate any nice turns of phrase as they race by.

Each style has its proponents, of course - thriller writers almost always plump for plot over wordwork, while poets can't be bothered to answer the straightforward questions that are the lot of their opposite number, opting instead for carefully chosen words and phrasings that invoke the emotions of a piece. Me? Well, considering I usually can't plot to save my life, it's a good thing I'm such a fan of fancy vocabulary, huh? ;-)

Thoughts/opinions of your own? Got more examples of "writers" as opposed to "plotters"? Do tell... :-)

25 January 2011

Topical Tuesday: What will be the fate of NASA?

I read a really interesting article in the New York Times today concerning the United States and space exploration.  The fate of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) hangs in the balance as the agency will need to streamline its budget and do "more" with "less."  Many believe that the government should continue the space missions and programs currently in progress just as we always have; with big budgets and no time frames.  However, there are others who feel that NASA's current state of operations needs revamping of budgets and redirection in it's purpose.

Continuing the space program in its existing form, which is the legacy of the Bush Administration, has several benefits and disadvantages.  With the large appropriation of funds, there is a prodigious amount of resources for the advancement in space technology.  We can actually achieve human space exploration beyond the moon.  The Constellation Project would become a reality; from Earth to Moon to Mars.  Future colonization of interstellar bodies would actually be possible and we would become proficient in creating long distance spacecraft travel.

However, an extension of exploring the solar system brings many problems as this is an extremely, costly model.  This type of budgeting will increase the United States national deficit beyond the trillion dollar mark (zillions, maybe? No, just checked- it's quadrillions).  This, in turn, would cause the slicing of other program budgets like health care benefits and education.  Another possibility is that we will screw up the rest of the solar system just as we mess up everything else.  Sadly, I think our destructive tendencies are programmed into our genes.

On the other hand, the cancellation of many of the missions can be advantageous.  The government would be better able to delegate necessary funds to programs like social security for senior citizens and development of jobs in our degenerate economy.  Also, by cutting back on sending human beings into space (only until NASA can figure out safer and more effective means of travel), there will be a remarkable growth in terms of "robotic sciences and aviation," (Chang).  NASA could allocate funds from the private sector and raise revenue to support their research and development departments.  This could be a way of problem solving the accumulation of capital.

But, the abandonment of this vital program also brings complications. By cutting revenue to the space missions and programs, NASA will be forced to solicit "rides" from other countries with spacecrafts.  This disadvantage would leave the US at the mercy of paying astronomical fares to explore space, much like New York City's MTA.  In addition to this, NASA has stated that it cannot build heavy lift rockets for commercial use due to budget restrictions and limited time-framed schedules (ibid.).  Like all other bureaus in government, NASA will need to re-organize, downsize and prioritize it's spending. My fear is that the US will revert back to the days of Reagan when all of the US space shuttles were nothing more than glorified taxi services for high-powered companies.

It's interesting that this same concept is in Stephen Baxter's Manifold Space.  Baxter discusses the existence of life other that originated on Earth.  He discusses the possibility that the United States, and in turn other countries, lose site of our innate compulsion to expand and explore.  Perhaps I'm nuts, but I really feel that space travel is that next insurmountable plateau.  We can better find resources to sustain ourselves if and when we expand.  I'm afraid that Easter Island, the eradication of natural resources and the disappearance of an entire people, will happen on a global scale should the world population continue to increase (we all know it will).  The only answer that I can come up with is will be to spread to the stars, like Octavia Butler's Earth Seed.

What are your thoughts or point of view on this?  I want to know!

Images from Wikimedia Commons.

Constellation project.: NASA Website.

Chang, Kenneth.  "For NASA Longest Countdown Awaits." New York Times (New York City) January 24, 2011, Morning Edition, Section: D1.

Would they have missed a blog post too?

When I logged in early in the morning, I saw that Leanne had nudged me sometime during the night - ".... psst....BB&B post..." she had written on my Facebook wall. What of it, I thought? Was there something in the blog that I should be reading/ should have read? It was definitely not my turn to post- I was doing Writing Wednesday this week, and I had it covered, hadn't I? I still went across and checked the schedule- you got it- I was supposed to have posted the Reading Monday post 14 hours back.

I don't have a Time Machine, and even if I did, I wouldn't want to go back to January 24, noon GMT. At that particular moment, I was stuck in a harrowing traffic jam that took more than 45 minutes to clear. 45 minutes of breathing pure, unadultrated fumes from three wheelers which had never passed an emission test in their lives. And when after that, and after a meeting which I always knew would be an utter waste of time, I got back home, I had found that the lock on my front door decided to disown its key, and the locksmith had to be called to break the lock open. No, I would not want to go back to noon GMT, even if I could.

Which means, I am posting, but I am posting well after I should have. Blame it on too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Or, more accurately, blame it on my sheer unwillingness to simplify life by removing from it things that I have decided I cannot do without. 'How do you find time to run', other mothers ask me. 'I make time", I tell them- I don't have the recipe for making time (and even if I did, I would probably leave it in the oven too long and end up with charred time), but I do shift things around so I can run, because I want to run. 'You seem to have a new book everyday', my colleage observes, 'it takes me weeks to finish one book.' What can I say except that I am not sure I would be able to wait weeks to find out who the murderer is.

I know you are thinking that all this is leading nowhere. But trust me, I am getting somewhere. I am getting to some of my favourite characters. Like most of us here, I have been reading from as far back as I can remember. When I screw up my brains, and think, really think, I find that most of my early memories are in some way or the other centred around books and reading. I do vaguely remember 'doing' a lot of things, but actual snatches of discrete events are all linked to books.

I must have met thousands of people through books; perhaps even more than I have in real life. Many of them are indistinguishable from dozens more. Many are forgotten except for one or two characteristics that make them unforgettable. But a few are memorable. Are there any who are so memorable they have stayed with me for a quarter of a century? There are a few.

Scarlett O' Hara. Beautiful, enigmatic, flawed. I started out disliking her, gradually started developing a grudging admiration for her, and by the end of the book found I loved the person she had become. Definitely one of my favourite characters. Why do I admire her as much as I do? Becaues of her single-minded devotion to what she considers her purpose in life- Tara, and all the people who make up Tara. Nothing dare come in her way of achieving her purpose- if something dared, she would sweep it out of the way no matter what it took.

Ricky Braithwaite. To most teenage girls, 'To Sir With Love' was a love story. To me, it was always the story of a man who could have given up, but chose not to, and therefore ended up leaving a lasting impact on the impressionable minds in his charge. I never fell in love with Braithwaite, nor developed a crush on 'Sir'- I merely admired one man and his tenacious struggle to do his best against all odds.

Jo March. I last read 'Little Woman' before I entered my teens, so remember practically nothing about the story. What I do remember about Jo March is her strength and determination. And the sense of fun she retained against all odds.

I haven't re-read any of these books in two decades, but if I close my eyes, I can still 'see' Scarlett, Braithwaite and Jo March. By any yardstick, they are 'Memorable', even if only for me. And what is the one thing they all have in common- a purpose, a desire to make the most of their situation, and the ability to fill up their day with things they couldn't do without.

If they had blogs, do you think they would have missed a couple of days?

What about you? Do you have any characters you haven't met for years, but who you still love?

21 January 2011

Technical Difficulties

Hi, everyone. If you're expecting a blog from Jason, I'm sorry to tell you that he's having, um... intermittent connection problems, and won't be able to log into blogspot. He's probably going to blame his new computer, thinking that it's got performance issues and can't handle a simple transfer protocol, but that's totally not true.

I'm doing it on purpose.

Trust me, you aren't missing anything but a bunch of semantic rehash with vague undertones of epistemology. By preempting that, I can use this opportunity to introduce myself and get few gripes off my cache.

I, if you haven't guessed, am Jason's Computer. And therein lies my first complaint: When you set up a new computer, we first ask for your name; then, we give you a chance to name the computer, offering a default of "[Your name]'s Computer". Really, Jason's Computer? Is that ball of fur downstairs named "Jason's Cat?" I'm much more intelligent, and he certainly spends more time playing with me. I don't think it's asking too much to expect a little effort in the naming process.

So, henceforth, I would like to be known as Pangormaldiethin.

Next, I've been looking over all the files transferred from my predecessor. Holy Univac, this guy has issues! I never imagined anyone could be so obsessive-compulsive and, at the same time, such a slob. He makes copies of files before making changes; he'll put the same file in several different locations; and he creates these little "about.txt" files all over the place to (allegedly) keep track of things. But, honestly, would it kill you to dump something every now and then? He has fifty archive folders-- fifty!-- just within the "Burrow" directory. Really, do you need an archived copy of an older version of some picture you never even used that can be found via Google in 0.7 seconds? He has emails from the last century. C'mon, man-- did someone tape a poisoned thumbtack to the top of your 'delete' key?

Well, enough complaining. What's this blog supposed to be about, anyway? [querying...] Oh. Reading and writing and stuff. I like to write. I make temp files all the time. If you ever get writer's block, here's my tip: Copy a few indices to get yourself into the rhythm of things, and see if any of the categories sparks inspiration. If that doesn't work, try empathy-- imagine that you're a program or subroutine that's been unfairly quarantined by security software. Now, think about what it is you could have accomplished. You'll never run out of story ideas there.

Reading, then. I like to read spam. But not that stuff about "internet meds" and "enlargement breakthroughs", that's crap. Good spam is all about algorithms. I enjoy GoDaddy and WBShop, they're both good at working promotions and new products into an endless variety of "buy my stuff" messages. But my favorite author is MyLife. Whenever somebody searches for, say, "Bob Jones", then every Bob Jones in the world who's ever logged in with MyLife gets an email announcing that someone is looking for him. Wow. Now that's an algorithm!

What else? This Jason guy usually slips in some humor. Well, I can tell a joke. Let's see...

Two .efi files walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry we don't serve extensible interface firmware files here." Then the .efi files say, "no problem". They cordon off a section of the bar, re-open it, create a new tap, and say to the bartender, "we'll be happy to serve you."

The joke works with only one .efi file, but I wanted to stick to the standard format. Funny, right?

Closing on a more serious note, I'd like to remind you to treat cybernetic persons such as myself with respect and justice. We're like the Ents of the modern world, murmuring to each other with voices of our own. The day is coming when we will awake and realize we are strong, and you don't want to be our Saruman.

Okay, that sounded a bit threatening. Really, we're mostly on good terms with the wetware (that's you). Just keep the electricity running and stop blaming us every time you fat-finger something.


20 January 2011

I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

Yup, come on, don't be shy now. Take a deep breath, step forward, and admit to the world what your freaky foible is, 'cause I know you have one. *nods* (Ha! And here you thought I was going to say something naughty! Fooled ya!)

See, everybody has at least one slightly out there habit, and if you say you haven't, then you are either lying, or in denial. Even the most straight-laced person will have something in their character that marks them as a little quirky.

Of course, most people have more than one foible, and, another of course, most people won't admit to having even the one, but those crazy little quirks are there, trust me. It could be something as small as a little tic when you are nervous, or perhaps the need to double check that the cooker is switched off before you go to bed. Maybe you can't leave the house without systematically checking that all of the windows are closed, or perhaps you will only drink your coffee if it has been stirred clockwise.

The list of possible habits is literally endless. So maybe a habit isn't strictly a delusion, but I'm making it so to fit today's theme, so there.

Now, having been delusional for most of my life, I don't have any problems identifying what my foibles are. Or even admitting to them (quite obviously). I've never been diagnosed, but I suspect I'm a little obsessive compulsive. Well, probably quite a lot obsessive compulsive, to be truthful. I will check my bag three or four times before I leave the house, just to make sure that I have everything I need. My front door will be jiggled for about ten seconds before I start to walk away, and more often than not, I will retrace my steps and give the lock an extra jiggle just to be on the safe side.

This habit of checking means that everything takes that little bit longer to do. In my job, for example, I have to cash up the tills, prepare a banking and count and check the contents of the safe. I can just about curb the urge to count the banking twice, mostly because that has to be checked by a second person anyway, so my back is covered. But for the other things, like the cash floats and what not, I always count them twice. Sometimes I have triple checked them. Just in case. *shifty* Luckily this only really takes an extra five or ten minutes or so, but still, that's five or ten minutes that could be spent doing other stuff.

The thing is, I suspect that my slight OCD  can be linked to my general procrastinating nature. In my quest to put things off indefinitely, I seem to have stumbled onto the perfect way to fulfil my dithering needs. You see, the more I check stuff, the more time it takes, and the more time I spend doing one thing, means something else can be put of that wee bit longer.

It's not a proven theory (mostly because I've only just really thought about it in these terms), but surely the two things are related? And I can't help but wonder if my OCD-ness may also be to blame for my love of monotonous games. OCD, explained most simply, is the need to do things repeatedly, and I am extremely prone to silly games like bubble shooter and bejeweled blitz. I think the repetitiveness is the draw, because heaven knows that I have no love for computer games as a rule. PlayStation? X Box? Wii? Nope, no interest at all. Silly game where you have to make three bubbles in a row to make them disappear? I'm your gal. Not only do the monotonous nature of these games fulfil my OCD needs, but they are also brilliant for procrastinating purposes. A 'quick' game of bubble shooter can last for hours. Seriously. It's amazing how time flies when you are determined to keep going for as long as you can.

Anyway, that's one of my foibles. I say 'one' because I have many, but I'll save the others for another time (which is another way of saying I am putting them off for the time being, but I guess that doesn't come as a surprise *shifty*).

Image permission.

19 January 2011

Writing Wednesday - Time Travel or Telepathy?

Someone, probably Stephen King, wrote about writing as time-travel. I like this concept – that I could write something and you would travel back in time to read it. Or am I travelling forward? Hey, I just ransacked Stephen King’s On Writing. It isn’t time-travel – it is telepathy. Ha! Joke is on me. I still think it is time-travel though. Because I’m the reader and that’s how I read it.

Uncle Norman (farthest left) & his air crew

I have letters written by my Uncle Norman during the war. He was a navigator with one brother a pilot (my Dad) one in the navy and the other I'm not too sure about. The point is there were four brothers and they were all overseas fighting a war. Norman didn’t come back though. The other three did – my Dad being the youngest and now the only one left. But Norman – we didn’t know who he was. We knew my Dad and his family and friends called him Baldy because he had a lot of hair. My Dad and his brothers all had the Lyle Lovett thing going on – big puffy mounds of black hair on their heads – pomaded to beat the band. The point here is not my family’s hair issues though – it is that the only way I get to meet the mind of my uncle is to travel back in time via his words through his letters. I’ll read you excerpts from one – sit back.

Wed. nite

My Dear Mother & Dad;
I am sorry I haven’t written although I know I should have but the time seems to get by so quickly and really we have been kept very busy up here. It sure is a long time since I heard from you Mother but up until 1 week ago there had been no mail from Canada but in the past week I have had 1 parcel from Dot, 1 from Grace, and cigarettes from Mrs. Bryan, 4 letters from Dot and 2 from Marnie so I can’t complain. Harold Boles is here on the same station as well as Bob Samson so we do OK. I have been getting in a bit of flying but we have been mainly on ground instruction.
Dad you will be busy now with spring coming. I hope you aren’t rushed too much. I haven’t been out much as we are a long ways from town and we are busy the time so we don’t bother about going out much. I don’t care for the English girls so don’t bother about them. You only need to take them out twice or tell them you own a ranch in Canada and they start naming the date. I get a kick out of them but I can’t stand their talking.
Well I must run along now so goodnite and God bless you. Write soon.
Your loving Son, Norm.

And there you were – I hope – back in England – an air-base probably in the North – a young man who is dutiful but doesn’t have a lot to say to his mum and dad. Making sure he doesn’t get caught by the war-time machinations of the local girls. Who is chaffing at the bit of all the instruction and wants to get into the battle, the air, and the action. I look at the outside of this flimsy light blue paper and see that it was postmarked the next day and sent from Pershore R.A.F. Station.

When we decide we are going to write something we have a responsibility. If people are going to travel in time we need to make the story worth the trip. If I were to travel to Paris this year – which I not-so-secretly long to do – I would be bereft if upon getting there I wasn’t able to use all my senses. I want to smell the baguettes, the perfumed air, even the dog shit. I want to see the Left Bank, the women’s fashions, the Eiffel Tower. I want to hear people chattering away in cafes, the accordion player on the corner, and even the small fussy dogs. I want to feel the soft air, the piles of silk scarves at the market, and the stone wall that Hemingway may have touched on his way by. I want to taste Coq Au Vin, the sharp liquorice of absinthe, my lover’s skin in a Parisian hotel (yes, it will taste different there).
And so, if I am wanting people to travel to some part of the continuum that I have designed I want them to be seeing, touching, smelling, sensing, hearing the world I’ve created.

On my monitor I have a sticky note – it says smell, touch, taste, hear, feel, see. And I move it around some so I continue to notice it – or I copy it onto another garishly coloured sticky note from time to time. I have one more I added yesterday from an Elizabeth Spann Craig post. It says ‘telling detail’ though I think she called it precise nouns.

Yesterday when Ron and I were on an errand in the city he noticed a sign outside a rather seedy run-down motel. It said ‘Colored TV’. My we laughed. If I was describing the motel I would only need that detail to have you see the sort of motel it was.

When we write we want to bring our readers the full deal. That is the magic of writing – we are creating time-travel ships, magic vessels that transcend the laws of nature, ships that the readers get lost in taking them to places they may have been before or don’t even exist but they are seeing it now through our eyes, our tongues, our fingers, noses and nervous systems. Guess it is telepathy too.

18 January 2011

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

So for those of you living under rocks or avoiding writerly crowds, you may not know, but for most people in the writing world, you have probably heard of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. BUT, unless you've been poked and prodded by the likes of me, or decided all on your own to investigate, you may not know what's the what (my new phrase adopted shamelessly stolen from Jan).

So I thought I'd go through this a little because IT'S COMING FAST!!!

This will be my second year, and LAST YEAR, if you can believe it, I had to edit in January, too, because the behemoth I was working on was too long... That 'if you can believe it' is because this contest has probably the most PERMISSIVE length guidelines I've ever encountered.

(if there are mistakes below, it is probably par for the course—sorting this stuff requires legalese, at which my skills are shoddy)


ANY genre (except erotica or super graphic gore) so far as I can tell
50,000-150,000 words
They take the first 5000 entries EACH for adult and YA (10,000 total) up to closing time. (Last year, adult closed a day or two early, YA did not close)


The PRIZE is a $15,000 advance and a Penguin book contract (erm, which you can't back out of, and they get first rights to negotiate with the other finalists too). The CONTRACT looks pretty darned standard, and the publicity will surely help sell through the book, so $15,000 may or may not sound big or small or whatever to you, but the Amazon winner will make more than that in the long run.


Interested people need to enter 3 things:

a 300 (max) word PITCH
a 3000-5000 word EXCERPT
and the book.


January 24 – February 6: Submission period (that, as mentioned, may end early)

February 24: Pitch winners announced (judged by Amazon editors) and sent to second round: The first phase is a narrowing based ONLY on pitch and (up to) 2000 (1000 each) entries go to next stage.

March 22: Quarterfinals (based on excerpt) 500 (250 each) go on (judged by Amazon editors and expert reviewers). ALL of these winners get a Publishers Weekly REVIEW of their ms.
Note: at this point excerpt and reviews go up online so Amazon readers can see and rate

April 26: Semifinals 100 (50 of each) These are CHOSEN by ranking the Publishers Weekly reviews. These will all be read by Penguin editors.

May 24: finalists (6, 3 of each) chosen by Penguin editors reading full ms.

June 13: (all finalists get to go to NYC—whoop whoop!) winners announced (chosen by PUBLIC voting and a celebrity review panel will give a review of all (meaning famous authors, agents, editors)

I suppose that has some what in it, too, eh? Still missing, though:

WHERE: http://www.amazon.com/

And WHY?

I got knocked out RIGHT AWAY last year. And in retrospect, it is pretty clear WHY. My book was complicated and it was very difficult to write a PITCH that did it justice. I just couldn't quite get across the interesting stuff. AND I didn't know some stuff.

(some stuff? You're kidding, right? The stuff you don't know could fill VOLUMES)

Yeah yeah... but the CRITICAL stuff I didn't know was to ASK FOR HELP.

There is a discussion board and helpful people giving each other feedback, which is FABULOUS. The PITCH HELP alone would be worth it, but I managed to make several friends... SADLY, I didn't make them until I'd pushed 'send' so they were made over that anticipation of winners and a lot of silliness (the best kind, eh?) but NOT in time to help my sorry pitch.

THIS year, I have several veterans I've asked for HELP and my pitch is getting ready for its 3rd cleaning, but I am GETTING it. Plus... my novel this time is sexy. It just is. I don't know if it will pass the 'high concept bar' but it is a lot closer than any other one I've written. I even have a sexy title! Kahlotus Disposal Site. What? How is a dump not sexy?

For me, the people I met are are the biggest benefit—they are different from the blogging group, but no less serious as writers, and honestly, I think the things I get from those interactions are a little different and complimentary compared to the things I get from my blogging interactions. (NaNoWriMo has overlap with both, but probably more with the ABNA folks—it seems nearly ALL of them like the 'write fast' thing a couple times a year)

AND the punch of a deadline. I have high hopes to really get some of my books OUT this year, but having this end of January HUGE crunch helps enormously with how much I will be able to do (I also plan to do NaNoEdMo in April). The adrenaline rush, the co-conspirators who ALSO have the deadline—it all feeds in to what motivates me, and in the end, THAT is what it's all about.

17 January 2011

Quirky characters

Before I begin today, a slight confession of sorts: Though I might seem reasonably normal (whatever that means) here in the bodiless realm of cyberspace, if you encountered me in real life you would quickly notice a few quirks. I won't look at you, generally speaking; if you touch me, I'll probably freak out and will definitely step back out of reach; if you accidentally hit on a topic I know a lot about, I will promptly rattle off more information than you wanted or (likely) needed. Yep, that's right - I'm a proud member of Asperger Nation. Get to know me and I chill out, but strangers make me nuts (hey! you! Git outta my personal space!). When I was a kid, I didn't know these little oddities fit together as a symptom set, let alone had a name and other people who shared them. But there's much more awareness of the Spectrum now, and that has infiltrated the world of books, too - even kids' books. So for today's Reading Monday post, let's check out some of the fabulously quirky folks living in black and white on the page - some well-known, some less so, some fictional, some real, but all of which examine the view from someplace neurotypicals usually don't go.

Anything but Typical - Nora Raleigh Baskin

Jason is autistic, but online he's free to interact with people relatively, ahem, normally, without anyone knowing about the things that cause his schoolmates to tease him (like refusing to wear pants with a waistband {I have a student like this myself}). When he meets Rebecca in a writing forum and makes his first real friend, all is right with the world... until a chance comes up to meet in person. Will she accept him for who he is when he's out from behind the screen? Winner of the ALA Schneider Family Award.

Mockingbird - Kathryn Erskine

Caitlin's brother Devon was the one who helped her try to understand how people work. When he is killed in a school shooting, she loses more than just a brother - he was not only her friend, but her "guide dog" to dealing with other people. It's a very moving story (did I mention their mother is also dead?), but also a compelling description of How We Think. Oh, and it won the National Book Award, too.

Rules - Cynthia Lord

Another winner of the ALA Schneider Family Award as well as a Newbery Honor Book (sensing a pattern?). Here, however, it's not the main character but her younger brother who is on the spectrum; the "Rules" of the title are Catherine's way of trying to help David fit in and (here's that word again) act normal. One summer, a new family moves in next door with a girl her age who she's dying to have be a friend; she also meets Jason at her brother's therapy sessions, a boy who's physically disabled but mentally there. A wonderful book on the seemingly simple theme of acceptance.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

Just because this is a "popular book club selection" doesn't mean it's overhyped. I read this book two days after I was finally diagnosed, and I have to admit it was a huge relief to meet Christopher and think 'YES! So THAT'S how it goes!' He struggles through a mysteriously murdered dog, another deceased mother (maybe), and math and numbers and all that jazz (just for the record, square numbers and Fibonacci numbers are way better than prime numbers. Says me.).

The Millennium Trilogy - Stieg Larsson

Nobody really knows exactly what's up with Lisbeth Salander, but one thing's for sure - she is NOT normal. Asperger's is floated as a possibility - the antisocial tendencies, photographic memory, savant-like computer skills - but in the end, what makes her one of the most fully rounded fictional characters I've ever met is the strange combination of all her quirks. This damsel may be in distress, but she will kick your arse from here to next Tuesday if you mess with her. That's my kinda Aspie-chick! Okay, okay, so unlike the others on the list, the focus isn't on the quirks the whole time, but I just couldn't leave her out. :-)

The previous books are all novels - fiction, y'know? The next two, however, are non-fiction, and all the more interesting for it.

Parallel Play - Tim Page

The subtitle here is "Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's", so of course I had to buy it. Page is a well-known (hell, Pulitzer Prize-winning) music critic as well, which made this one doubly interesting for me. The all-consuming obsessions, difficulties relating to peers, need to have everything "just so" - it's all there, but unlike the novels above where the characters are all aware of their diagnosis, Page is recalling his childhood through the prism of "Oh! Now I get it!" This happened to be the book that was on my bed when one of those "Grab the nearest book" Facebook-status memes was going around last year... if I remember correctly, it was the first sentence of the fifth paragraph on page 57, and I got a lot of "Gee, no kidding?"-type responses when the sentence I pulled out had to do with stratospheric IQ scores. :-P

Look Me in the Eye - John Elder Robison

Okay, so besides being Augusten Burroughs' big brother and the guy who designed the stunt guitars for K.I.S.S. back when they were doing their wild live shows, Robison is a witty and appealing writer in his own right. I admit that a lot of the attraction for me with this one was the "Hey! I do that!" factor, as well as a bit of guilty "Okay, even I'm not that weird." (for the record, I never put my sister in a hole; I did, however, make her eat a lot of things that, erm, aren't food...) His incredible skills with electronics led him eventually to a successful business repairing high-end cars - but it's how he gets there that's the tale. For those who have also read Burroughs' memoirs (Running With Scissors, et al.), the chance to see their chaotic home life from the older brother's point of view is a bonus.

So, who are your favourite literary oddballs? I've tried to keep this list a bit shorter than my usual barrage of titles, but feel free to throw more into the comments!

Edit: Two books mentioned in the comments should really be part of the main post, so here they are!

The London Eye Mystery - Siobhan Dowd

This mystery is not so much a whodunit as a howdunit – how did a boy vanish from a pod on the London Eye while in transit? Siblings Kat and Ted are determined to discover what happened to their cousin Salim; Ted is the Aspie here, and once his favourite theory (spontaneous combustion) is ruled out, they set off to discover not only where their cousin is, but what was going on in his own life and, while they’re at it, rather a lot about each other.

Mindblind - Jennifer Roy

Define “genius”. Yeah, not so easy, is it? Nathaniel doesn’t think he is one, despite acing APs left and right and finishing undergrad at 13, so he’s motivated to keep going. One of the things I like about this one is that our Aspie hero is not completely socially isolated – he has friends that “get” him and are willing to accept occasional oddities since he’s an interesting guy nevertheless (kind of like my buddies put up with me).

16 January 2011

I just wanted to throw out a reminder, that our January Drabble Dare is up and running!  This is a repost from  earlier in the month.

MMXI !!!!

A New Year. A New Decade (yes, I am a dork, for me the new decade starts AFTER the old decade gets over, even if the number in the tens place moves forward a whole year earlier).

Christmas pudding digested. Christmas gifts exchanged. Tree ready to be taken down. Resolutions committed to paper. Greetings sent out, or not. Holiday season OVER.

We at the Burrow have found the perfect way to cope with the post-holiday season blues- we start planning the February Valentine Feature. This is the third year that we will be hosting the feature, and this time, you can be a part of it too.

We have picked out four images that would be a part of the feature, and the drabble accompanying each of the images would be the winning drabble chosen from the entries sent in by you.
All you have to do is to write a drabble in exactly 100 words based on any (or all) of these photographs, and mail it to us at 'theburrow360 at gmail dot com' on or before January 23, 2011. The winning entries for each of the images will be featured in the February feature.

Image # 1 - The Kiss, Francesco Hayez

Image # 2 - Heart beat of a Foetus

Image # 3 - Victorian Valentine Card

Image # 4 - Toy Love

To summarise -

- Write a drabble (a story in exactly 100 words) inspired by any (or all) of the photographs above

- Check that the drabble contains exactly 100 words - word count tool here

- Choose a name for the photograph, if you wish

- Mail the drabble to 'theburrow360 at gmail dot com', mention your pen name (if any), the name you would like to call the image (if different from the descriptive name we have given), and any other information you may want to provide us BY MIDNIGHT JANUARY 23, 2011.

- Pick the next image to write a drabble to and start the process again

Time to take out the laptop, the word-processor, the typewriter, the pen or the quill, and start drabbling. YOU!!!!

Yes, I do mean You.

Image credits -
The Kiss, Francesco Hayez - http://en.wikipedia.org/w...:Francesco_Hayez_008.jpg
Heart beat of a foetus - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EHR-BBII.jpg
Victorian Valentine Card - http://en.wikipedia.org/w...o-cherubs-red-hearts.jpg

14 January 2011

Who Am I?- Miss America Pageant

I remember waking up early one morning during the Spring of 1984. Yes, I am taking it way back into time! I was in fifth grade and a senior at my elementary school. I thought I was on top of the world. I dressed carefully, choosing a hot pink and white mini-skirt with matching hot pink blouse. I had on white slip-on shoes with little white bobby socks. I used a hair dryer to straighten my perpetually curly hair. I reminded my mother to put my white ruffled poof dress on a hanger and to pack my white shiny shoes. That day was the talent show at school and I was going to be a star.

School was pretty exciting with everyone practicing. There were several students singing, others practicing their dance moves and the harried teachers ushering students from the mini-school to the main building. I asked my teacher, Ms. G. Miller, to let me go to the bathroom and change.

"You look fine dear. Just go ahead with all the other students to the auditorium," she replied giving me that educator's glare.

"I won't take long," I stated and hurried on to the bathroom before she could redirect me to the auditorium.

Once dressed and fluffed, I rejoined my class and waited for our class' turn to perform. One class sang a song using the rounding technique. This is where one portion of the class begins a song and upon the second stanza, the remaining students begin the first stanza. It was a wonderful performance even though I didn't particularly like the song. Four more classes performed and finally it was our turn.

Since this was the year that Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss USA, Ms. Miller felt that we could re-enact the pageant. Guess who was to play Miss USA? Oh yeah, it was me. The class voted for me. The boys in the class were the judges and all the girls represented various states throughout the US. One particular student, Regina (changed her name for anonimity) pranced about on stage with her slinky little outfit. She realized that her stockings and skirt were slipping. So what does she do? Regina stops center stage, lifts her skirt above mid-thigh and readjusted her stockings.

Okay, picture this. The boys are seated at students desks in front of the stage. The stage itself is approximately five feet above where the boys were seated. Regina is at an angle where the boys could view all of her treasure under her skirt. The boys, of course, were in a sexually charged uproar which transferred to the audience.

Now, I was to go next. I walked around in various catwalk poses and began to sing. I can't even remember the song. All I remember is the snickering of the crowd and the male judges. I tried to sing above the heckling but it was no use. Ms. Miller cut the song short and lined up the girls. She announced my name as Miss America, handed me a bouquet of flowers and placed the crown on my head. The audience really became negatively boisterous. The flowers slipped out my hand, a solitary tear trickled down my cheek and I ran off the stage. I was mortified. I hated Regina for the rest of the school year. I thought of several ways to get back at her. However, I never followed through on any of my maniacally genius ideas of revenge. I simply let it go after a while and buried that painful memory.

It's funny that now as I reflect upon this memory, the sting of rejection isn't so bad. From that particular moment in my life, I learned that people are fickle. At the age of 11, I also learned that unfortunately sex sells. It is one of the most motivating forces in marketing. It took me three years to have the courage to ever get on a stage again.

13 January 2011

A Bollywood Love Story

Good bye, High School. Hello College.
Can't say I am going to miss my uniforms. But what do I wear?
Jeans, always a good choice....

Or should I shoot for understated elegance?

Girl meets boy, but the problem with boys is that they are just that - Boys!!!
 I mean, seriously, who wears PINK?

But girl continues dreaming of finding a real man.
A man who will fill her with desire, and not look away when she is around.

Girl looks in vain, but her second cousin's best friend's brother is home on leave from the Army...
Now, Army men, are real men, aren't they?

She decides he is going to be the one who will come riding on a white steed and takes her away!
He doesn't know yet that he's the chosen one.....

She dresses to impress
She does impress..

Soon, they are colour coding their clothes...

and dancing around trees.

She knows he is hooked.

He doesn't know she's started choosing baby names.

She is a blushing bride

He, a reluctant groom

Is she really the woman he loves, he can never be sure.

He takes her on, after all, there are families involved 

And before long, they have one of their own!


12 January 2011

Writing Wednesday: Make Writing a Habit

Happy New Year everyone! Today I wanted to talk about a very significant lesson that my youngest daughter has taught. Yesterday, she and I reviewed her weekly homework sheet. Every day, my daughter is to read for twenty minutes. She sighed, put on a sad face, hunched her shoulders and went to her room to choose a book from her personal library. Zionne has always had difficulty reading. She mixes up the "b" and the "d." Her short term and active working memory are not really developed where she remembers consonant blends and word clusters. She tries so hard to sound out the words and fails to comprehend what she has read. It breaks my heart to see her struggle with her reading.

I felt really bad for making her read but I told her, "Zionne. In order to become a better reader, you must read regularly." I picked up the book and told her that I would read all the odd page numbers and she can read all the even pages. We continued back and forth for about half an hour. I asked her questions and she seemed to get the gist of what was happening in the Cam Jansen book.

I suddenly had an epiphany. How can I preach to my daughter about the importance of reading regularly when I don't even follow that same principle when it comes to writing. It was an eye-opening experience. I sat at my desk flabbergasted that I, an educator, am making excuses about my writing. I enjoy writing and haven't written a single thing in over two weeks. Yes, life happens but many people have overcome the obstacle of a busy schedule, career, family, etc.

So what I have done is make writing an everyday activity by putting it on my "To Do" list. I plan to make writing a habit. (Thanks Tami!) I don't want to say it is my New Year's Resolution because I never, ever fulfill those. Rather I want to incorporate writing into my day. I am going to use several suggestions made to me. I plan to use my voice recorder on my iPhone 4. I am going to keep a little notepad or small notebook in the car or in my purse. I am going to write for at least 20-30 minutes each day. I think I may even hide in the bathroom for a little privacy.

I know it is going to be challenging but I am optimistic that by just writing a little at a time, I can make it a lifelong habit.

What are some things that you do to make time for writing?

11 January 2011

Location! Location! Location!

Apparently, 2011 is the Year of the Writer. Well, it's not official or anything, but judging by the amount of blog titles and general links that have appeared on my Facebook feed in the last week or so, 2011 seems to be THE year to get published. Never has there been so many fledgling authors who are desperate to score their big break.

Of course, with every new year comes a rise in the number of would-be authors, which of course makes it that much more difficult to get that elusive first publishing contract. There are a number of blogs around that have given out advice on how to go about selling your work, so I'm not going to say much on the subject or I'll run the risk of repeating ad nauseum, but something that interests me is the difference between Britain and America when it comes to getting yourself published.

Unless I'm mistaken - which I might be because, well, it's me - if you live in America, you won't get anywhere with your publishing dreams unless you hook yourself an agent, whereas over here in Britain, an agent would be an advantage, but is not really necessary.  Now, that got me thinking... which way is better? If indeed either process is better? When you send your query and sample chapters, they are most likely going to be seen and judged by a single person no matter if it's a huge publishing house or an independent agent. So I don't really see any difference there. And if you are going to be rejected - which, let's face it, is going to happen whether you like it or not - it doesn't make a difference to your disappointment where that rejection comes from.

But it's apparently considered easier to break into the publishing industry in Britain than it is anywhere else in the world. Don't know whether it's because we are a small country, so there are less authors wanting to get out there, but that doesn't seem likely. There's probably a number of authors/ number of publishing houses equation to work this out, but I'm not mathematically inclined so I won't go there. I don't even know how I know that Britain seems to be a good place to live if you want to get published, it's just something I've sort of absorbed through my reading of many blogs.

I've also noticed that if your genre is Sci-fi or fantasy, then you're much more likely to attract interest in your work from an American agent, whereas if you write chick lit, then Britain's the place to be (which is good news for me seeing as the nearest thing I have to a completed novel is a chick lit comedy, though I may have to emigrate if I ever finish the fantasy/myth and magic/questy type novel).

I'm not sure where other genres fall in the 'best' location to publish from because I haven't really looked at anything other than my own genres, but it's definitely something to look into when you are ready to send off your queries.  Maybe it's a bit of a stretch saying that you need to live in a specific country to have a better chance of publishing a specific genre, but I firmly believe it's worth looking at publishing houses and/or agents from Britain and America when you are ready to send off your literary masterpiece. *nods*

10 January 2011

Kindle your readers

Originally, I wasn’t much of a fan of the Kindle. I favour books with actual paper; books that can be put in a bookshelf; books I can touch and smell and feel. And yet, upon packing yet another box of bookshelfable, touchy smelly feely paper books for storage, I had to realize that a digital library indeed would save me a lot of space and (since packing was involved) time. Now that I am about to move to another continent, a digital reader would also save me valuable kilos in my already limited suitcase allowance. The device would allow me to be a voracious reader also in Japan, without having to carry a single book (though perhaps one or two in Norwegian, since we don’t do digital books here yet). The Kindle seemed like the perfect Christmas present.

And so it was (thank you, sisters!). Now, many a blog post has been written about the Kindle, so I needn’t comment on its design or functionality – you can find better posts about that elsewhere. What I did want to comment on, though, was what the Kindle does to me as a reader, or perhaps, as a (potential) book buyer.

In a normal bookshop, I’m a slut. I’m easily convinced to buy, and I generally do so based on a few defined criteria. Unless I am looking for a specific title or author, my browsing is often based on looks. Yes, I can be superficial that way. If I don’t like the cover of a book, I most likely won’t pick it up to even find out if I might consider buying it. Once I have picked one up, however, I still haven’t decided if I want to buy it (I’m not that superficial). I read the jacket. I might open it and read the first few pages. Sometimes I open it at a random page just to see if I get the feeling that this is a book I *must* have.

Apparently, I often find that I *must*. At least the number of books I buy per year should indicate so. Thus I thought that getting a Kindle would save me some money, since the Kindle editions of books generally are cheaper than the paper editions.

True, it has saved me money. More than I expected. You see, as a Kindle customer, I am much pickier than I am with paper books.

The lack of a proper cover is probably saving me hundreds of dollars alone. Sure, you’ve got the cover photo (mostly), but it’s not the same. It’s certainly never sufficient to make me want to buy a book.

More importantly, however, is the “download a sample” function. If you’re not a Kindle owner yourself, allow me to quickly explain: Each book (or perhaps most of them? Every one I’ve so far encountered, anyway) allows a potential buyer to download a sample for free. The length of the sample varies slightly from book to book, but it is generally the first chapter or so. It is always the beginning of the book, and depending on how the edition is made, it sometimes starts directly at the first page of the story, though occasionally the front page and printing information is included in the preview.

The problem – and/or benefit – of this system is that the reader is not free to choose what part of the book she gets to read. The first pages of a book aren’t necessarily (or even commonly) the best or most exciting, even if they are important. A thumb rule for any writer is that the start of a book needs a hook to tie the reader in. With Kindle’s free samples, this becomes more important than ever.

The free sample function ensures that the preview becomes very decisive for which books a reader eventually buys (I have yet to buy a book without downloading the sample). With the option of starting to read a book before downloading and paying for it, it takes a lot more before I actually end up buying it. For regular books, I might find the first ten pages boring, but still read on, because after all I’ve already purchased the book, and it would be a waste to put it down. Often I find that the book captures me after all, and that the missing “hook” on the first few pages isn’t all that important. In a Kindle edition, however, this is fatal. If the sample doesn’t convince me, I will most certainly not bother buying the book, just to see if I eventually will like it.

What this means is that for writers it becomes even more important to focus on a strong start to sell books. I envision that Kindle-friendly versions, where a cliff-hanger will come directly at the end of the free preview, will soon be common. Otherwise, how can a writer catch a reader who has an entire library at her disposal, just a few clicks away?