October 29, 2010

Reader fatigue (leads to writer breakthrough?)

Lately I haven't really felt like reading. Is that weird?

I mean, I love books. I couldn't live without them. But for some reason... For some reason I'm having a hard time coming up with the last book that just blew me away. Oh, right. That was months ago.

None of the books I'm reading right now are really captivating me, pulling me in -- and part of me wants to think that they're just not that good, and part of me suspects that it just might be time for a reading break. Because some of these books? Well, they're on the list for a reason, and I know that on a different day I'd find the acerbic puns absolutely delightful, but today (right now) they're just not working. (There may be a post on different book-moods some other time.)

So what is it, if the books are good, but I'm just not interested? (For those who need a glimpse into my book-life, I can say honestly that I have at least 75 books piled (literally) around my desk, not to mention those wiling time away on my Kindle -- and I'm not really interested in any of them.) Maybe it's just reader fatigue. I tend to read a lot, and hold this bizarre notion that if I can't finish a month having read at least 20 books, I've somehow failed. So my Goodreads page has been getting kind of depressing for me to even look at...

But I do have a suspicion. And that suspicion, while perhaps bad news for my reading life in the short run, may turn out to be just the thing for my writing life. And that suspicion is based on this observation: Lately, I've been dreaming of writing, of being a writer, of holding a finished draft, of marking it up countless times, sending it off to agents like a parent sends her first baby to school... Sometimes (and increasingly all the time, nowadays) I want to be a writer so badly it affects me physically -- I lie awake and just think about it, dream about it, hope for it. And I think that's why I haven't been that interested in reading lately. It's because my brain is trying to make me divert all possible energy into writing.

It's perfect timing, really -- NaNoWriMo starts on Monday (go buddy me! (by clicking on the sock!)), and I have an outline that, while not perfect, is probably the most planned I've ever gotten on a serious project. So, I must tell myself this: There will be time to read later. Now is the time to grasp that manic write! energy and ram words down its throat. Who's with me?

October 28, 2010

Naked Books

(This only applies to hardcovers.)

How many of you take off the jackets of your book as you read? I never used to, but then I started thinking about things like longevity of the jackets, and how I wanted them to line up prettily on my custom-made bookcases someday, so I started taking off the jackets of books while I read them, replacing them once I'd finished. And boy, what a difference.

For those of you who are not in the habit of defrocking your books, I have to tell you: You should be. Some books, admittedly, are boring on the inside. But many books have been meticulously designed (both the jacket and the cover), so that once you remove the jacket, an entirely different side of the story is revealed. Maybe you can think of it as books going out to a party. When in the bookstore, they dress to impress. Every little detail counts, and everything is designed to grab attention and keep it. But once they get home the jacket comes off, and you are sometimes met with a shockingly different look. (But keep in mind -- this look is also designed to attract, even if it's not quite as flashy.)

I say it's interesting (but not essential) to defrock your books. What say you?

October 26, 2010

Adventures with the Kindle (Week Two)

On the flip side...

This post is all the things that annoy me about the Kindle. There aren't many, but there are a few.

1. It's in black and white. Okay, that's not something that annoys me, per se, but it's a limitation that I feel should be addressed. The Kindle is in black and white, so no one is going to see excellent illustrations or pretty covers. (I hear the iPad has pretty shocking color -- if that's something that matters to you, you might want to check that out.)

2. Lack of backlighting. I want to be able to read in the dark, people! Backlight! Backlight!... Okay, I should temper my call here, because after reading some reviews it's pretty easy to see that the designers made a calculated move here. Sure, you don't have backlighting. But you also don't have the added weight that a lighting feature would have added. All told, I don't need my Kindle to be backlit -- I just think it would have been kind of cool. So I'm okay with the Kindle not being backlit.

3. The Kindle store on the Kindle. I think it's cool that you can order books through the Kindle, but I wish the store layout were better. There's no real way to browse -- since the screen is so small, you pretty much have to know what you're looking for, and search for it directly. Which is fine when I know what I want. Bad when I'm just puttering around, which I usually am.

4. This one actually annoys me, and annoys me a lot. (In fact, it's pretty much my only big complaint that I have at this point.) The Kindle does not have a cover. For those thinking of getting a Kindle, I have to say it is imperative to have a good cover. I do not yet have a cover, and for the last two weeks have lived in fear of dropping my Kindle, smudging it, cracking it, whatever. In fact, I rarely take it with me places, and when I do, I actually put it back in the Amazon shipping container to avoid it banging around haphazardly in my enormous bag with the rest of my junk. Okay, read that again. I actually put it back in the shipping container. Because I am that scared of messing it up. So -- a cover is absolutely necessary if you actually want your Kindle to be functionally portable. I will be buying one shortly, as soon as I can decide which one I should get...

5. The audio voice. I don't do text-to-speech -- never have, even the actual audio books which are meant to be listened to. But this text-to-speech thing, while a nice idea, is just creepy. It's like there's a homicidal robot reading to you, with no understanding of pauses or paragraph breaks. While I understand this could be a useful feature, it definitely needs to go through some new iterations before it'll be functional and pleasant.

(The actual reading is going quite well. I approve. It's a good reading experience. Yay.)

October 21, 2010

Reasons why this week rocked

1. Ann Kingman commented on my blog.

2. I got a copy of The Autobiography of Mark Twain. Oh, I want to read it, but I am afraid to ruin its pristine condition by taking it out of the shrink-wrap. Err...

3. After two months of temping, I was officially offered the job. Hello, employment. Hello, job in a publishing house.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Back on Monday.

October 20, 2010

Notes from the (noveling) front: The montage

So the writing's going. The countdown to NaNoWriMo is on -- ten days (depending on how you count) to go, and the big question is: Am I done with my outline? The answer is no, but come on! I still have a third of the month.

Anyway, the outline is coming along, but I find myself at the moment in the part of the outline inevitably referred to as "the montage."

You know, that part of the movie where the hero/ine has met the main characters and settled into the training/romance/whatever sequence, set to a bunch of music (before the big conflict blows up, which will inevitably lead to the dramatic climax). If it's Say Anything, then there's a bunch of kissing and some rain. If it's Mulan, there's a bunch of manly man-stuff and manly singing. (By Donny Osmond too! Who knew?) And if it's my book, it's the heroine learning a bunch of stuff at the castle, and I find myself not really being that enthusiastic about outlining it. Because it all reads like this:

...and then she met up with the awesome spy.
...and then she found the secret tapestry language.
...and then she discovered the god underneath the castle.
...and then blah blah blah.

Set to some creepy music, of course. It's the montage sequence. Which will be interesting when I get around to writing it, but while outlining, I'm fed up with the mounting tension. I want the BIG stuff to happen already! There are some really, really wrenching scenes in my head from the end of the book, and I am just itching to set it all out prettily on my yellow legal pads. (Yes, my outline is currently on yellow legal pads. I'm just that old school.)

Of course, the wrenching scenes won't be nearly as wrenching without the necessary foundation of the montage. Which is why every scene of your book is (and should be) important and necessary. Because every step should lead to the next, should lead to the next, should lead to the (ultimately astounding and powerful) climax and ending. The fact that I can't wait to get there is good, I think...? But it still means slogging through the montage. Wish me luck!

October 19, 2010

Books on the Nightstand

So does who here listen to book podcasts? Anyone? Anyone actually do a book podcast? Because if you do, I want to know about it...

Anyway, even though I've been blogging (both successfully and unsuccessfully, at times) for ten months, I still sometimes feel like there is WAY too much stuff on the internet to wrap my head around. Blogging? Okay, I can write some stuff every so often. Tweeting? Hmm... Might be able to pull that off. Goodreads, of course, is just an extension of my massive to-read list. But book podcasts are beasts I hadn't really heard of for a while, and I still think I'm just scraping the surface in terms of what's out there to be seen.

I've tried out about eight or ten podcasts, and have come to the general conclusion that I don't really have the time. Too much stuff going on, too much work, too much to read and write without adding more hours into the day listening to people talk about books. So I don't really listen to book podcasts. Except...

Except Books on the Nightstand, of course. Who can say exactly what it is about this particular podcast that hooked me, except that it is just head and shoulders above all other podcasts I've tried out so far. It's awesome. Just awesome. It feels like your best friend is in your head, giving you delicious (delicious!) book recommendations at the drop of the hat. I've added pretty much every book they've talked about on that show to my list, because they always sound so good.

There's also that sense of community -- BotNS is very much a listener-participation show, where listeners regularly call in and comment, and the founders, Ann and Michael, actually talk up many of those comments.

Anyway, there's my two cents for the day. If you're listening to book podcasts and you haven't tried this one, you should. And if you don't and you're looking to try it out, do this one. Books on the Nightstand is available to subscribe via iTunes, or you can listen on their website (link above). They also have Goodreads and Facebook groups, if you want to get that into it...

October 18, 2010

Adventures with the Kindle (Week One)

I've had the Kindle for a week now, so I figure it's about time for an update on how things are going.

Things, as it turns out, are going swimmingly. Remember when I was that skeptical girl with the raised eyebrow and the "Okay, Kindles are fine, but I love me my print books"? Well, I still love me my print books. But as it turns out, I love my Kindle too.

I LOVE it. I LOVE it. I'd bring it to work and read all day if only it were easily mistakable as an in-house book I was referencing for some work-related reason, instead of being what it obviously is, which is a Kindle. (Duh.) As I'm a list-maker, I figured I'd do a handy-dandy list of what I've been up to.

1. Downloading books. Downloading is so nifty! Especially with that new 3G feature that enables you to access the Kindle Store from everywhere. I've downloaded a number of the free classics (all those public domain works you hated in high school), just because I wanted them. (And also to show off to friends just how FAST I can get a book sent straight to my inbox. And yes. It is FAST.)

2. Reading books. Of course! Because that's what you need to do once you've downloaded them. I've read Frankenstein for the first time ever, although Pride and Prejudice was my test download (because one's first download should always be Pride and Prejudice). Then I moved on and read two galleys from NetGalley (more on that below), and right now I'm highlighting and barreling through Northanger Abbey.

3. NetGalley. I first joined NetGalley a while ago, thinking that I'd (maybe) use it, since at the time I had no interest or inclination in an e-reader. Then, of course, the stars aligned and a Kindle fell into my lap. At approximately the same time, I got a notification from NetGalley that there were some hot new books available to request, so I tentatively made my first requests from NetGalley. Which were answered pretty much instantaneously. And then (here's the magic) I figured out how to download them onto my Kindle. For free. Awesome? Awesome.

4. Highlighting. I have to admit, I'm not a notetaker, underliner, or highlighter when it comes to my print books. I tried it once -- there was a phase in middle school where that was the thing to do, and yes, I know we were a pretentious bunch back then -- but I could never get over that feeling of desecration. Well, guess what? This feeling is nonexistent when it comes to the Kindle, because it's NOT PAPER. You can just delete a highlight later, and there will be no record of it having ever existed at all. Poof! So I've been trying it out on the hilarious Henry Tilney. Everything that comes out of his mouth is just so hilarious and awesome it's ridiculous.

In short, I love my Kindle, and I would highly recommend it for all insatiable readers. (This does NOT mean, however, that I believe the Kindle will or should supplant the print book. More on this later.) The last thing I really need to do is name it. Right now it bears the obnoxious assembly line name "Rebecca's Kindle." Anyone have a better suggestion?

October 13, 2010

Progress Report #3

So how's the writing going, Rebecca?

The answer is that I am SO a plotter, but I was trying and trying and trying to make myself into a pantser. (I will let you in on a little secret: That is the biggest reason none of my NaNo novels have gone anywhere other than into a sad little Word document hidden away on the archives somewhere. Somewhere without light.)

So now that I've figured this out, that I can't just write and produce a story without some kind of PLAN, what's next? Well, NaNoWriMo is next, and I've been taking October to plan. So far, I have a vaguely outline-shaped thing. My latest addition is an enormous character interview (sketch/meme/questionnaire?) to fill out for all of my characters. Because the main three or four? We're getting along. We've been friends for a couple months, maybe. But the rest of the supporting cast is shadowy. Example: Two princes are among my main characters. Since they are princes, there must be a king or queen around, right?

Umm... Yeah. I know absolutely nothing about the king. And gaping holes like these are keeping my plot from moving forward on the outline. So that's where I'm headed now. Character interviews.

What are you up to? Gearing up for NaNoWriMo? Mourning the loss of summer? Making some new book-friends?

October 12, 2010

September (Coughingly)

Yes, that's right. I have a nasty cold, and it is beating the snot out of me, keeping me home from work and from eating and breathing like a normal person...

In the meantime, September! I read 23 books, and would especially recommend the following:

House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones.
Come on, it's Diana Wynne Jones! What's not to love? This is the third book involving Wizard Howl, and I didn't know it existed until about two months ago. More Howl is always appreciated.

 Blameless, by Gail Carriger.
I think we all know how much I like Gail Carriger. Come on -- vampires, werewolves, Victorians and parasols? It's really a no-brainer. I got the chance to see Gail Carriger, and she is awesome. Very, very fun and lovely.


Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal.
This one is blurbed as Jane Eyre + Beauty & the Beast + Jane Austen. I'm not sure it's quite as awesome as you'd expect that combination to be, but it certainly comes close.


Quatrain, by Sharon Shinn.
I reviewed this book here. Put simply, this book is for everyone who has read Sharon Shinn, and everyone who hasn't. Especially for people who enjoy well-built science fiction and fantasy worlds.

Room, by Emma Donoghue.
There were moments where I wasn't sure I could finish the book, although I'm glad I did. Definitely recommended for those who enjoyed Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl, although this one is written for an older audience.

Let's Take the Long Way Home, by Gail Caldwell.
The subtitle of this book is "a memoir of friendship," and that is exactly what it is. A story of deep, lasting friendship, and the profound bond one can have with one's dog. If you like friends or dogs, this book, and its sadness, poignancy, bittersweet hope, is for you.

October 11, 2010

Well hello, gorgeous!

It's official: I received a Kindle for my birthday.

It's an interesting thing, having a Kindle. I've always been pro-print, and while I have seen the usefulness of having an e-reader (not lugging around ten pounds of books everywhere, good to travel with, etc.), I hadn't considered buying one. Not now, and not even in my wish-list "wouldn't it be nice to have this" future.

And yet here I am, with a Kindle. First impressions? Pretty. It's a pretty device, sleek, smooth, nice. The basic commands are pretty easy to learn, although more complicated stuff (highlighting, notes, etc.) I haven't quite figured out yet. (Probably because I generally don't highlight or make notes in my print books...)

Anyway, so far I've downloaded a few of those free classics from Amazon. Today I read Frankenstein for the first time, on the Kindle. Reading experience? Takes some getting used to, but acceptable. We'll see how it goes in the future.

In short, I'll definitely be using the Kindle (probably mostly for those free e-books in the near future), but what I want to hear now are your Kindle stories. Like I said, I hadn't even thought of having one, and now that there's a Kindle in my lap, I almost don't know what to do with it. Do any of you have Kindles? What do you do on them? What features do you find the most useful? Also, do any of you have a favorite Kindle cover? I definitely need to get one -- I'm not trusting my overstuffed bag to keep the Kindle intact without one.

October 7, 2010

NaNoWriMo

It's that time of year again, isn't it? The scent of wet leaves is in the air, umbrellas are coming out, and look! Is that pumpkin pie on the distant horizon? Not to mention, of course, that something is creeping quite quickly up on us.

Ah, NaNoWriMo. For those who know, this needs no further explanation. For those who don't, here's a quick summary: Thousands of people write novels in November. (Or, you know, draftish things vaguely shaped like novels.) This will be my fourth year participating, and what a year! I have big plans for the next month, plans that involve my first ever outline-before-November-has-begun. (Which, as you know, means things have gotten serious.)

Yes, friends -- that thing called progress has been eluding me for the past few months, as many readers know. But no more! I have picked my spot, squarely in the plotter camp, and I intend to remain, scribbling away on my outline for the rest of the month. (Let's hope the outline doesn't dwarf the actual draft, once that gets going...) Once November begins, beware! The apocalypse may be nigh, because I (for real now, seriously, absolutely, with no holds barred and no return) will be starting (and finishing) a complete novel draft by November 30. You think I've been serious before, but that just goes to show you that nothing beats serious in November.

Who's with me? (In text, it doesn't quite have that level of manic energy that Gaston had in the mob scene, but I suppose it will have to do.)

PS: Please come be my friend! I'll cheer you on! I'm "aandune" on the website, a name chosen before I had any idea I'd be starting a blog ever, so please forgive me. I'll be keeping an eye out for each and every one of you.

October 1, 2010

BBW: An actual true story

Once upon a time, fairly recently, I was in middle school.

For those of you who do not know me personally, it may help to set the scene if I describe the school itself: a quirky private school billed as a place where girls could be themselves and class sizes were strictly limited - my graduating class, in eighth grade, was 38. The school was built to scale, including a library that must have been (I swear this is true) roughly 10 feet by 10 feet. (I made it my mission to read that entire library from A to Z during my exploits as a middle schooler, and I actually succeeded. But that's a digression.)

As is characteristic of quirky schools, we had a quirky librarian. Some people remember teachers with fondness; I remember my librarians. On the particular day I am about to describe to you, however, my love for this librarian was sorely tested.

It was about a month after school had begun, and my friends and I met outside of the library, as was our norm, only to halt in the mid-morning air in horror. Our books, our favorite books, our beloved books, were locked in a glass cabinet across the way from the library. After storming into the library in a rage, our librarian  said only that some parents had objected to the material in those particular books (each one of the commonly banned books in the United States), and so the books would be locked away until further notice.

Well. We were intrepid middle schoolers, I must say, and faced with such a challenge, the removal of exceptional books from our already miniscule school library, we buckled down and got to work. First on the order of business was a petition we circulated among our classmates, accompanied by personal letters both to our librarian and the parents of the school, arguing for the release of certain prisoners of war, namely those locked behind glass. As the week progressed, we got more serious. Picket lines outside the library, with homemade signs proclaiming our right to read what we wanted, and in some cases costumes that expressed our love for these books. And of course, we thumbed our noses at the authority by bringing in our own copies of those banned books to school throughout the week.

And then it was Friday, and an impromptu assembly was held, purportedly to address the issue that had come up (that of inappropriate material in our school library). We held our breaths and marched to battle, our signs held high, and were met, surprisingly, by the sound of loud applause from our librarian. (Character description here: our librarian, musical-theatre-inclined, male, 6'7", and altogether wonderful.) The wind fell from our sails as we looked at each other, confused. We had passed a test, it seemed - but for what?

As it turned out, there had never been offended parents. Our librarian had locked up the books by himself, had pulled the proverbial wool over our eyes, had gotten the entire faculty to go along with it, all to demonstrate what happens when books you love get taken away. Why? Well...because it was Banned Books Week.

Nowadays it seems banned book awareness is everywhere, especially on the blogs, and increasingly (thankfully) in schools and other public places. But nine years ago I didn't know that much about the issue of banned books, not to mention Banned Books Week. I'd been shocked to discover that someone could take away something I took so much for granted, and depended upon for so much in my life.

What if the situation we found ourselves in that school morning had been real? What if a school parent really had protested, and books I truly loved (including the immortal Harry Potter) had been removed from the school library forever? Our relief when we discovered the hoax was palpable, but in all honesty not good enough, because things like this actually happen in school libraries across the country. Regularly. And so I have to be eternally grateful to my middle school librarian for opening my eyes to the issue, and, of course, for nurturing my love for books.

In closing, I must say that I have been so impressed by the amount of attention banned books are getting these days, but of course that doesn't go all the way toward solving the problem. So I implore you - pay attention to banned books (and all books in general, for that matter). Read them, love them, and don't let anyone tell you what you can and cannot read. You will be a better person for it.