Thursday, January 31, 2013

Books for the End of the World

For two nights running, I was busy preparing for the end of the world as we know it. My nightmares may have had something to do with the crazy weather - from the 70s into the 40s in one day - but I like to think it's my subconscious preparing for any eventuality. While in my dreams I busily planned how to convert the shed into an efficient living space (the shed?!), I stocked footlockers with food and quilts, loaded up on cans of gas for the generator (why? What will be around to see/hear? I doubt TV or radio.), and cut wood for the woodstove we ditched last year. Yes, it had reappeared in the yard to be used in this dream. I dragged mattresses into the shed's attic and tried to decide what books to take with us. I don't know what happened to our house, but that's a nightmare for you.  Details don't matter.

I was stumped on the books.

My dilemma was that I was allowed only ten books. I guess there wasn't going to be much reading after the apocalypse, and I wanted them all to be keepers. It was easy to start with the Bible, and then three paperbacks I cherish jumped onto the list. Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale, Pat Murphy's The Falling Woman, and Penelope Williamson's The Outsider were easy picks. Then the five Harry Potter novels jumped into my hands, and there I was, with one slot open and no idea what book to choose.

I think I was sweating bullets in my dream. I almost settled on a Bible concordance, because those are really handy creatures, or an unabridged Oxford dictionary, but I kept wanting to add another novel. Instantly, I knew. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird wasn't going to be left behind. My list was complete.

You'd think I'd forget this nightmare 48 hours after it's over, but I'm still reviewing my book choice. Who needs food or heat? What you really need to survive an apocalypse is books.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Good bye, Chad Everett

Watching the SAG awards last night, I was shocked to see the list of deceased personalities/stars I was unaware we’d lost. I knew about Andy Griffith (sob!), but Chad Everett? Oh my stars. Those blue eyes. Those dimples. As a young teen, I was drooling. How could he be dead? It’s like I lost my youth when I heard he’d passed on.

I was thinking about the Maggie Smiths, the Vanessa Redgraves,  the shining stars of theater and film who almost guarantee I’ll see anything they’re in because they’re who they are. What happens when they’re gone? As I watched Jennifer Lawrence accept her best actress award, I wondered if she, and other actors of her generation, will have the chops to be the greats of the future. And what was Nicole Kidman, with her botoxed face, thinking as she watched Lawrence climb the stairs to the stage? Actresses over forty aren’t exactly the hot ticket in filmland. Such a shame. Maggie Smith is proving in Downton Abby that age just makes you better as an actor.

The same can be said for writers. We get better (well, I hope I am) as we age. We don’t have as many distractions (rug rats, diapers, picky eaters, etc.) and our experience alone makes us better observers of life. Watching and translating that into fiction is key. We have less to lose by being honest, and an honest writer is a good writer on the way to being great.

Good-bye Chad Everett.  You created a lovely illusion of gentle sexiness for a na├»ve girl. I will remember you fondly. Now I have to think how I’m going to use you in a story. That’s what writers do.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bling it up

A group of fellow writers has been discussing the ups and downs of offering prizes to readers. The practice has been used for quite a while - I remember years and years ago,  RWA authors talking about professional "prize-hunters" who troll the Net looking for ways to win stuff. The trollers didn't care about the books or the authors, just the bling at the end of the rainbow.

There will always be that faithful group of readers who eagerly await a new book by their favorite authors. For them, a free book is a great reward for entering a contest. Real readers don't crave a $200 necklace or an iPad (well, they might crave them, but they don't expect one) as the prize for entering the author's contest. The books are the real goody bag.

So what has happened? The consensus seems to be that the droves of self-published ebooks has created a monster. Standing out from the crowd is crazy hard, and authors figure bling is just a cost of doing business. The better the bling, the more traffic is driven to the author's site and therefore, the ebooks. I'm not sure the logic follows. While I hope they're right, for their sakes, I doubt it. Better and more expensive prizes make for more money shelled out by writers who probably can't afford it. The authors who can take the financial hit, don't do any of this stuff and nonsense.

Writing a great book isn't enough these days, I hear via the omniscient grapevine. Unfortunately, that's been a truth of publishing forever. Marketing does matter, and it matters even more in these times.  So how do you strike a balance? Reward the faithful readers who truly care, drive more people to discover your book, and entice those who normally wouldn't look twice?

If you figure it out, let me know. But I won't send you an iPad for your response.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

And the rains came. . .

It's been raining for two days, and it's not lessening. Last night, the pounding was so loud, I couldn't sleep. It sounded like a thousand clog dancers on the roof, having a good ole time.  After trying to convince myself I shouldn't put on my wet suit and flippers and inflate a raft, I gave up and went to work. That's the nice thing about working from home, as well as its curse. You can't get away from it. Sometimes, you don't want to.

Well, I don't. At long last ( it's a long story, involving painting the dark wood in the family room, oil-based primer, malfunctioning Internet, and a third TV), I was able to sit down and write without interruptions. This Nirvana lasted only about an hour, but let me tell you, I was in hog heaven. My Beloved fielded the phone calls, the workmen, the wet dogs who don't like going potty in the rain, you name it. He covered all the bases while I regained some semblance of sanity. The man deserves a medal. But only when he's not snoring.

This new year has brought changes that have been brewing for a while. Grateful as I am to have them under way, I can't wait for normalcy to return. I love my boring life. May it find its way back to me.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Time Travel?

I just finished reading TIME TRAVELER by Dr. Ronald Mallett, a physicist on the faculty of UConn.  Dr. Mallett's father died suddenly when the physicist was only ten years old, and his life became a long, introverted, and not always happy journey to find a way to see his father again. Science fiction like H.G. Well's The Time Machine and Star Trek encouraged him to research the science behind the theory of time travel, and research he did. Using the GI bill, he delved into topics and math that sound incomprehensible to me. Yet he has a knack for explaining theories in simple terms that give me glimmers of the brain power behind his work.

Parallel universes, bending light, tensor calculus, all seem more important to Dr. Mallett than real people interaction. Driven, and I mean driven, by his desire to see his father, he suffers periodic depressions and a divorce.  When he's deep into his work, he's clearly the happiest. I feel sorry for him in a way, particularly since he's painfully aware he's unable to form friendships as a youth, and romantic attachments as a young man. Living in his head produced brilliant science, though not an especially happy life, it appears.

He does find a measure of peace when a scientist he respects a great deal tells him that while he may not see his father again, his father would be very proud of him. The story of his journey to discover how to time travel is both human, melancholy, and triumphant. Give it a read.