Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Art of Effective Dreaming

by Gillian Polack -- coming soon -- to a bookseller near you (or at least near your computer).



Murdered Morris Dancers

You heard it here first.

Kindle or Kindling

Kindle or Kindling

The topic of the week last week was the release of the new Amazon Kindle. Newsweek devoted their entire cover to it as well as a major article.

Though the Kindle is at heart a reading machine made by a bookseller—and works most impressively when you are buying a book or reading it—it is also something more: a perpetually connected Internet device. A few twitches of the fingers and that zoned-in connection between your mind and an author's machinations can be interrupted—or enhanced—by an avalanche of data. Therein lies the disruptive nature of the Amazon Kindle. It's the first "always-on" book.

I have to admit that the idea of being able to download a new supply of reading materials instantly, and for a significantly lower price, is pretty enticing to this reader. If they hadn't sold out within 5 hours, the Kindle might have been on my list to Santa this year. But funnily enough, despite what all the "death of printed books" pundits are predicting, I can't see it having a huge impact on printed books -- at least not in the near future.

Why? There are several reasons, and I've considered all of them pretty seriously. I have, for example, tried ebooks in the past, and though I found them useful for nonfiction because of being able to search, they're a pain in the kazoo in other ways. Like, say, when my house was struck by lightning and we were without electricity for several days. Once the battery of the reader runs out, then you're out of luck. We had another long power outage last winter, and having a decent supply of real books was critical to my survival!

Another thing is that I often read for pure enjoyment -- and that can mean while I'm eating; or sitting out on the porch sweating; or at the beach. I doubt very much that the Kindle can offer much protection against greasy fingers, sand, or sweat! Another thing I do is read on planes -- obsessively -- because I'm afraid of flying. I cannot get on a plane without a minimum of two books, and it's usually more. The Kindle would be fabulous for reducing weight in my tote bag, except you have to turn it off while taking off and landing -- the times at which my flying fears are most likely to rear their heads -- so I'd have to take at least one book too, which utterly defeats the purpose.

There was one other feature that would have made the Kindle a slam-dunk for me had it been included, but it wasn't: a backlit screen. That would have allowed me to read in bed with the overhead lights off, sparing DH some frequent misery.

I'll probably get a Kindle someday, or one of its competitors, when it has a backlit screen and a battery that can last at least 60 hours and it costs $99. When that day comes, bring it on. Till then, I'll stick with my expensive, heavy, dog-eared pages. They're reliable and they look nice on the bookshelf.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Accounting for Myself

I love NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated). That might seem odd since I'm not participating, but I love the idea of all that writerly angst spilling out into the world. I know it's warped, but I feel a sense of camaraderie with all those fingers clicking on the keyboard -- because it means others are doing the same thing I am, although it's to a different purpose. It also means that for one month of the year, my dirty little secret -- writing lots and lots and lots of words -- is not a vice.

I can trace my initiation into the guilty pleasure of verbosity to a book with blank pages that my parents gave me for Christmas when I was nine years old. Bound in pale pink leather, it had metallic swirls on the front and a brass lock. It was larger than the typical little-girl diary and it didn't feature the word 'diary' anywhere; the title page was headed with the words, ' An Accounting.'

I'm not sure why, but rather than using the book as a diary to record what happened each day, I took my 'accounting' to heart and felt I should use it to account for myself -- to write about whys instead of whats -- and that's what I did, and still do. Instead of writing about winning the tether-ball championship in the fifth grade, I wrote about the carpet of violets that grew by the creek in the springtime -- because that accounted for the reason I was partial to the color violet. Instead of writing about what happened in school, I wrote about a teacher who answered students' nosy questions about her age by telling them she was '21 plus' -- because I thought it was a good example of the mysterious demarcation between being a child and being an adult. My entries nearly always took the form of an essay and they became longer and longer, filling the pink journal and dozens of others as the years went by.

When I was fourteen, my mother gave me a battered Brother typewriter, and my essays grew even longer. Since I didn't always have the typewriter to hand, I started carrying around notebooks as well. I squeaked through Algebra class, writing about the way dust motes and the remembered scent of my grandfather's pipe smoke seemed to hang in the air in my grandmother's house. In Sociology, I wrote about the agony of getting snow into my boots. I rarely wrote about anything in the present, unless there was a crisis at hand, and then, I wrote reams of impressions and descriptions -- of everything.

And I still do it. Every day. Sometimes I write with my computer; sometimes I use one of my ubiquitous notebooks. Sometimes, the spill-over even makes it into this blog, the entries of which tend to be a little on the long side. :-) There are times when I wish I could stop the flow, or at least turn it into something useful, like one of the countless novels that will be produced during NaNoWriMo, but long years of trying to subvert it have taught me that I simply cannot do it. I write things with purpose nearly every day; sometimes I even plumb my journals for help in adding color to my purposeful writing, as I did with the story I wrote about Hurricane Rita, but those are apart from the daily word-vomit I call life.

And so, although there is no plot in my words, my fingers are happily clicking on the keyboard this month, along with all the NaNoWriMo participants.

Word Count: 608

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Since we're not going anywhere interesting for Christmas this year, we decided to have a Christmas party on December 22nd. This isn't something we commonly do; in fact, we haven't had a real party in years. I expected that most people would have other plans, but to my surprise, lots of people have already agreed to come -- before the invitations have even gone out. Uh oh. This is going to take major planning.

We live in the middle of nowhere, so to give people time to arrive and get home at a reasonable hour, it seemed logical to invite people to come at 3:00 pm. Except that presents a dilemma -- it's not early enough to be a luncheon, but it's too early to be a cocktail party -- so what the heck should I wear? I expect most everyone will be casual, and I want to be too, but my normal version of casual is ancient blue jeans and a twinset or a button-down, and that's not going to work. My closet is worse than useless because it's full of blue jeans and party dresses that are too formal. I don't live near many stores, so I have to deal with the what-to-wear issue now. Sigh.

What I want doesn't seem that complicated -- not too short, not too tight, not too low cut, not too sheer. Just a nice comfy dress with a fitted top that I can wear with tights and flats. My first thought was to order something from that bastion of middle-class dowd: Nordstrom. They have dresses separated into the seemingly helpful categories of 'occasion' and 'day'. The day dresses are further separated into 'casual' and 'wear to work' categories. Easy as pie, right? What I need should be in the casual day section. They have a lot of dresses, but I seem to have a teensy difference of opinion to what constitutes casual (not to mention 'day')! Like this, for example:

I might wear that dress; it's cute. But casual? And what about this one?

You could wear this to a barbecue? Really? My horizons are way too limited!

I proceeded on to the 'occasion' dresses in hopes of finding something on the plainer side of festive. Maybe something in a dark velvet, but with no sequins or whatnot. My choices there ranged from Yikes! to Mother-of-the Bride.

I don't think so!

I suppose this means I have to cast a wider net. My best hope is probably at a shop called Elle in Little Rock, where I'm going next week. Cousin Socialite introduced me to it a few years ago, and it generally stocks everything from Oscar-dress knock-offs to Jolly Hockey Sticks dresses (description courtesy of Gillian as I can't think of a better way of describing the type).

I wonder why the common choices seem to be involve dressing like a pole-dancing stripper, a prom queen, or an ancient cow.

Cocktails anyone?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Winds of Change

It's the time of year when I start obsessing over things like whether I need a pair of cowboy boots and how to avoid looking like a reject from 'What Not to Wear' at holiday parties, and when -- no surprise there -- the book world begins to issue prophecies of doom. 'O woe is us,' say they.

But what do they do about it -- outside of moaning and groaning about discounts and returns, about distribution or lack of it, about the commoditization of books?

"Books aren't like cans of soup you buy in the grocery! They're DIFFERENT. It's all So Unfair!"

Yeah, but what are they (we) doing about it? If the answer is "business as usual," then I think they (we) ought to shut up -- everyone is tired of hearing about it. I mean, really, if you don't like the way something is, then why wouldn't you try to CHANGE it? If you don't try, then somebody else will, and maybe they'll roll right over your tired old bones in the process. Can you blame them?

I've been thinking about this for a long time, and I've come to the conclusion that the book world needs to change or get out of the way. I happen to like publishing, so for me, the choice is easy: CHANGE.

One important aspect of change is to get a grip on the bottom line. I've met a surprising number of small publishers who haven't the faintest clue about how they're doing financially. I suppose that's understandable; most accounting software doesn't handle returns well, and it sure as heck isn't good for calculating royalties, so the result seems to be a wing, a prayer, and an Excel spreadsheet. Unless you're a pro at Excel, you might as well bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.

I was at that point myself when I got a chance to work on a project to develop software for small publishers. The resulting product, DashBook, is now in beta, as of yesterday. The DashBook beta is just the first step in a larger project to help small and self publishers band together to sell books and (Wahoo!), it is going to be fantastic. Present company excepted, of course, but the other developers of this software (and the larger project), Gregory Carrier and Steve Bezner, are the smartest people I've met anywhere.

If you are a small (or self) publisher, and you are interested in change, you're welcome to try our Windows beta (free, for now).


Because DashBook is still in beta, we can possibly incorporate suggestions and feedback in the version we release.

More to come!

Monday, November 12, 2007

It was a dark and stormy ... day

My giant battery is hanging in, but if I owe you an email, it may be a while before I can reply. I'm truly sorry.

I just love winter.