Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fun!

This is still not relevant to anything whatsoever, but it's fun!





I pestered DH into doing it too; here's his. It's a miracle we haven't killed each other! -- I said I heart my dog. I heart my sweetie too.



Friday, March 23, 2007

Blame it on the Rain

Sorry. This is all just so irrelevant.

We made it through the winter, but everyone we know here is depressed. Everyone. Even the old-timers who work with DH. The topics of the day are full-spectrum lighting, Hawaii, and doughnuts; not necessarily in that order. My vitamin D tablets aren't cutting it; I need sun. I NEED sun.

It's time for drastic action, but I have a plan. This weekend, I'm going to mine my TBR for books with sunny settings; I'm going to whip up some margaritas; and I'm going to indulge in a little retail therapy. That part of the plan depends on the cheerworthyness (is that a word?) of the books and margs.

  • Level 1 cheerworthyness probably only calls for some ridiculous Lily Pulitzer shoes:



  • If that doesn't do it, then I may need to advance to the next level: a sparkly palm tree. This has the added value of being sure to annoy the neighbors in the crack-house next door -- installed in front of the rusted nonfunctional car they left at the very end of their lawn (closer to my house than theirs).



  • If ridiculous shoes and pissing off the neighbors haven't picked up my spirits, then it's time for the big guns:




Sorry. This is all just so irrelevant.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Should Women Authors Drop Domestic Themes?

Muriel Gray, one of the judges in this year's Orange Prize for Fiction appears to be on the verge of stirring up a hornet's nest:

As a judge in this year's Orange prize, it's hard to ignore the sheer volume of thinly disguised autobiographical writing from women on small-scale domestic themes such as motherhood, boyfriend troubles and tiny family dramas. These writers appear to have forgotten the fundamental imperative of fiction writing. It's called making stuff up.

As much as I hate to say it, I think she may have a point. There is only so much of this stuff anyone can be expected to read.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Pie is Falling?

I've given some additional thought to the subject of declining author wages since I posted about them on Friday.

As novelist Elizabeth Chadwick noted in the comments:
...it's a pretty crap situation for many and that with the threat to copyright from online abuse set to become crappier in many, many cases.

Even so, she concluded:
...it ain't all doom and gloom!

I've decided I agree with her, and not because I think she's a terrific author (although I do) or because she's my friend (she is); I agree with her because the situation for authors is more nuanced than what is implied in the study I originally posted about. To be sure, poor pay and copyright infringements have a negative effect, but I suspect some of the perceptions of gloominess stem from a lack of understanding of the ways in which the publishing industry is changing.

For one thing, more books are being published now than at any time in the past. This appears to be particularly relevant to the UK, as this article indicates:
UK publishers issued 206,000 new books in 2005 compared with 172,000 in the United States, which saw an 18 percent drop in production, according to the New Providence, New Jersey-based firm's preliminary figures.

The volume of new books has been steadily increasing since the mid-1980s as the popularity of superstores required more titles to fill their shelves, and then later the advent of online retailers made greater choice even easier to supply.

The number of annual new titles from U.S. publishers has increased 51 percent since 1995, but the growth may have hit a peak.

Even taking into consideration the decline in the US, the number of books published each year has grown immensely since the mid-1990s -- this obviously implies more authors and ever-shrinking slices of "the pie". That argument has merit, but it fails to acknowledge some important realities, the most important of which is that the bar for publication is lower now. In fact, with the advent of outfits like iUniverse there are hardly any barriers at all. There are also more tiny companies like my own, which don't publish more than a book or two a year, and which, unfortunately, don't sell enough books to offer a decent living to anyone (although I live in hope).

As EC noted in her comments, she is doing fine, and so are some other authors she knows. This seems to fly in the face of the hand-wringers; it also highlights something so basic that it ought to be obvious, but, apparently, is not: these authors have not only built an audience, their audience continues to grow.

This is not about unfairly grabbing a larger share of the pie; it's about working to increase that share. It recognizes the fundamental truth that even authors who are eyed with envy are rarely the overnight successes others assume they are. Oh sure; it happens -- we've all seen it. But celebrities aside, authors who command the highest wages do so because of their track records.

Publishing is, after all, a business -- even small companies like mine are searching for the very best books and authors we can get. We'll always lose to the Randoms and Penguins, but that's OK; we do our best anyway. It's also worth noting that even down here at the bottom of the food-chain, it's pretty competitive; there are lots of would-be authors looking for a chance to build their own track record. Some will succeed; some won't, but unless your name is Victoria Beckham, the brass ring is equal opportunity.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Depressing But Not Surprising

I've been sick this week, so this news from the UK was just what I needed to cheer me up (not). I have to say that based on the miniscule (note to blogger; miniscule is a word) margins publishers are seeing, this isn't a surprise. I don't know who's getting rich from all the books that are published, but it obviously isn't authors (unless they're named Brown or King) and it sure isn't publishers!

THE AVERAGE AUTHOR earns 33% less than the national average wage, according to new research commissioned by the Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society. The study, conducted by Bournmouth University's Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management and based on surveys of 25,000 authors in the UK and Germany paint a bleak picture of authors' earnings. The top 10% of authors earn more than 50% of total income, authors' earnings are deteriorating in real terms and only 20% of writers earn all their income from writing. Less than 15% of surveyed authors receive any payment for on-line use of their work and authors between 25-34 typically earn less than £5000.

Read the rest at Publishing News ...

Friday, March 2, 2007

And the Bride Said NO!

My earlier post about my ggg grandmother started me thinking about the debate that seems ever-present in discussions of historical fiction: accuracy.

I'v always have trouble with the concept of accuracy in fiction because by definition, fiction is ... well ... fiction. To me, a better way of describing what I think makes for good historical fiction is "believability." Of course, depending upon the worldview of the reader, even that is open for debate. I was reminded of this issue by my earlier post because the most frequent criticism I see of historical fiction runs along these lines:

"Women didn't..."
"Women were..."

The conclusion often seems to be that an author introduced a modern (and often feminist) worldview into an earlier time period. That can indeed be a problem, but an equally vexing (to me) problem is that those who make these criticisms often have a limited understanding themselves; one that's based on common stereotypes.

Take, for example, the stereotypical "rebellious heroine" -- a type of character that frequently leads to criticism for introducing a modern viewpoint into an historical novel. I'm not particularly fond of these characters myself, but using them does not instantly introduce inaccuracy. Why not? Well, consider the clipping below, which appeared in the December 19, 1760 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette:

[Note: Click on the images for a larger view.]



These types of things were printed endlessly and repeatedly. Now why do you suppose anyone would waste paper and ink on that if women were so docile? Perhaps because there is a difference between "shoulds" and "dos" -- merely because a law existed, or because the church, the newspapers, or someone's mother said they should behave in a certain way, doesn't necessarily mean they did.

It's also important to consider that fiction is often written about "extraordinary" people, or average people who did extraordinary things. If everyone did the same things in the same way, then why would anyone wish to read stories about them? For example, this item from Edinburgh, which appeared in the August 17-24, 1738 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette:



I somehow don't think it was terribly common for women to play golf in those days (although I could be wrong), but I'll bet they'd make for an interesting story, no?

Since I've been writing about the South a lot lately, I've noticed some assumptions about southern women being stereotypical "doormats." But here, for example, is something from the July 1, 1847 edition of the New-Hampshire Sentinel about a woman from New Orleans who was clearly not a doormat!



It's a bit extreme, but neither was this one [1882-10-03; Macon (Georgia) Weekly]:



Nor was this Kentucky lady [1853-10-06; The San Antonio Ledger].



Now, I'm not suggesting any of this was common behaviour (nor advocating it!), I'm just sayin' that a rebel in a red dress isn't instantly inaccurate. It may be, but it isn't automatically so.

Coming soon: Lady guerillas of the American South.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

One Woman's Story

I've never been keen on the history of the Civil War because it makes me uncomfortable. For one thing, my ancestors (as far as I can tell, just about all of them) were Confederates and I am sad and ashamed that they were not on the side of the angels, so to speak. In their defense, if there can be one, I have not found evidence (and I've looked for it) that any of them owned slaves. For each line I've traced, I've found them to be a fairly uniform group -- the owners of small farms. Today is the first day of Women's History Month, so it seems like a good day for a story about one of them: my great, great, great grandmother, Elizabeth Grimmette.

Arkansas isn't known for having many famous Civil War battles, but it had quite a few skirmishes. Most of those in the northern part of the state were in 1862. Little Rock fell in 1863, and the Confederate army retreated south -- to the area in which ten year old Elizabeth Grimmette lived with her mother, her little sister, and her two little brothers. Elizabeth had a heavy load on her shoulders for such a little girl because her father was a Confederate soldier. Her uncle and male cousins were as well, so Elizabeth, her mother, and the other women in the family nearly starved when their crops were trampled or stolen by armies passing through.

Elizabeth experienced one trauma after another. Her father was killed at Chickamauga in September 1863; her uncle was seriously wounded and months went by with no word on whether he'd survived. The ultimate horror, however, happened when her cousin Richard came home on furlough to visit his wife and six year old daughter. Federal troops reached Benton, the nearest town, and someone told them Richard was at home. They dragged him out of his house, took him to Little Rock, and executed him.

Elizabeth's mother died when she was seventeen, leaving her alone with a fourteen year old brother, an eleven year old brother, and a thirteen year old sister. She married her seventeen year old neighbor (my great great great grandfather) and went on to have twelve children herself. She lived until 1922, so she had plenty of time and children to tell her story to. In the photo below, taken around 1904 in front of the house her father built, Elizabeth is the woman in the black dress standing to the left of the porch. My ggg-grandfather is next to her. The others are their children and grandchildren.



Elizabeth Grimmette's life was hard, and not particularly happy, and the whispers my grandmother heard (and told me) about her trying to drown herself in the Saline River seem believable. She was, however, one tough lady to have survived all of that, and I am proud to call her "mine".