The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ideas Are Like Stars

Now that Amazon has replaced the Macmillan buttons and life in the publishing world has almost returned to normal – or as normal as it can be in 2010 with the electronic book wars far from over – I thought I’d throw in my two cents. Well, my two cents on books vs. e-books. If you want to know more about the whole thing above and which pricing model should/could/would be used I highly suggest the following blog post by YA author Scott Westerfeld, which is the most comprehensive/insightful take I’ve read so far.

The more general question out there is: Are e-books a good idea or a bad idea for the book industry? Are paper books, and thus, libraries and bookstores (including school media centers) going to become extinct? It boils down to the age old question about technology and industry (man vs. the machine) – are we getting ahead of ourselves? I don’t think e-books are going to bring about Terminator like apocalypse or anything, but the question is a serious one. Are books disappearing? Maybe. Is that scary? Yes.

I realize that the argument I’m about to lie down is really not logical, it’s just how I feel. As you will discover (or perhaps you already know) I’m messed up and all over the place, so be patient. I promise I have a point. I haven’t weighed in before now because I’m a writer and not a publisher; as long as I can produce words, I hope somehow people will read/pay for them.

My DO list:
I DO have an iPod with the Barnes & Noble book reader app and books downloaded on it.
I DO author a blog (this one).
I DO freelance for websites.
I DO have a mother who is SO excited about the different book readers out there that I’m sure she will own one shortly.

My DON’T list:

I DON’T want to see independent bookstores go away.
I DON’T want to see mass market bookstores go away.
I DON’T want to see libraries go away.
I DON’T want to see school media centers filled with only one medium (just the computer…or just the book for that matter. It’s called a media center for a reason people – as in plural)

My WISH list:
I WISH everyone in the book industry would get paid for whatever it is they do (i.e. editing, publishing, marketing, agent-ing, or writing). I’m pretty sure our system (capitalism) fails if we don’t buy and sell things. Just saying.
I WISH every child in America got to experience the Scholastic book magazine – ordering and receiving real life books! (I actually wish this for the children of the world, but that would make Scholastic a monopoly. Please see my note above about capitalism…psst – monopolies don’t work in that sort of economic structure)
I WISH everyone reading this blog goes into a library or bookstore this week and just smells some books. Or browses (not on your web browser) through some paperbacks, you know flipping pages, running your hand down the spines of titles, watching other people experience the written word in a tangible format).

What I KNOW: Words are power and ideas are like stars!

The sepia tones of a lost afternoon cradled a curio storefront
And inside the air was thick with the past, as the dust settled onto his heart
And here for a moment is every place in the world and ideas are like stars

They fall from the sky, they run round your head
They litter your sleep as they beckon
They'd teach you to fly without wires or thread
They promise if only you'd let them

Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Ideas Are Like Stars”

I just simply can’t imagine a world without tangible words on a page. No matter how many things I see in the world, how many countries and cultures I witness, I can count on one hand the moments in my life that have completely awed me into speechlessness. Those moments include the ancient library at Ephesus in Turkey and the Trinity College Library where the Book of Kells is housed. I can’t imagine not every smelling the musty paper smell in a used bookstore, not feeling the ink words under my fingers as I run m finger over a favorite verse or passage. I can’t imagine never feeling the silent awe that hits you when you walk through an old library or the feeling of adventure and excitement I felt when I checked out my first book from the school library. I know this is where my logic fails. I am saying I want people to pay for books and yet use the free ones in the library. eBooks, paperbacks, books on tape, blogs and all (YES, even newspapers and magazines) – I want people to have the options, all of them.

I’ve worked myself up into written word frenzy! I may be old fashioned – I don’t have a microwave or cable/TiVo, but the written word is sacred and not just because it’s my chosen profession. I actually can’t find words to describe how I feel on this subject. I want everyone to experience heavy book bags and breaking the binding on a new book. I want everyone to love (or hate) dog-eared pages and notes written in the margin. If life really is measured by the moments that take our breath away then I want everyone to experience Trinity College Library and the Celsus Library at Ephesus. I can’t imagine an iPad manuscript will take your breath away like an illuminated manuscript.

And that’s my two cents plus about a buck and half more. Thanks for letting me work through that rant.

If you’re still with me, I’m leaving you with a section of my first novel (the one that I still go back to time and again but have yet to finish). The protagonist, Aria is on a research mission in Ireland and has made her way to Trinity College. Yes. If something affects you that strongly, write about it!

She was still thinking about the rude woman when she turned the corner and entered the library. Instantly tears welled up in her eyes as she stopped short with her mouth open in awe. Aria had no idea, no conscious thought, she was utterly overwhelmed. It was the most magnificent emotion she’d ever felt. All of the books, rows and rows of really old books; it was absolutely unbelievable. Time stopped for a full minute as Aria looked around the room, taking in more than most when they first walk through those same doors.
Slowly Aria became conscious of the voices around her, the people streaming by her, the smell of the old books mingled with the perfume of the woman standing next to her. She heard foot steps as people walked down the long room; she saw the dust drift through the air as the sunlight from the windows highlighted each speck. Aria was completely intoxicated by her surroundings. She walked down one side of glass cases all the way to the end and then walked up the other side. She took time to read at least 400 book spines along the walls on both sides of the room. Some books from as far up as she could clearly see and some books she had to bend down to catch the writing on.
Almost an hour later, Aria left the room behind and walked back into the glaring reality of a tourist gift shop. She was still a little dazzled from her almost religious experience in the library, so she didn’t even hear the man walk up behind her.

Monday, February 8, 2010

HP Monday – Expelliarmus! An Extremely Close Read

Today I am mind-boggling obsessed with this one word: Expelliarmus. Why you ask? Well, we all recognize it as a word for one. I mean before 1998 it didn’t exist, did it? One day maybe a billion people will know what Tweety-Twatting is too, but will my made up word really have the same impact?

And that’s it right there. Reading book 5 I had this epiphany – one word sums it up. Expelliarmus. Words are ridiculously powerful things in our world and the wizarding world – words are a call to action and a cease and desist as well. If you have the right words you have power. And as simple as Expelliarmus is; it’s the most powerful thing in Harry’s arsenal – in Rowling’s arsenal really. Without Expelliarmus there would be no story, no books, no Harry. I mean, I know it’s no Avada Kedavra, but in the end (and I’m foreshadowing all the way to the very end here) it’s all that’s needed.


I bring this up now because of the following passage found somewhere in the middle of the great vastness that is book 5:
“Right,” said Harry, when she had sat down again, “shall we get practicing then? I was thinking, the first thing we should do is Expelliarmus, you know, the Disarming Charm. I know it’s pretty basic but I’ve found it really useful – “
“Oh, please,” said Zacharias Smith, rolling his eyes and folding his arms. “I don’t think Expelliarmus is exactly going to help us against You-Know-Who, do you?”
“I’ve used it against him,” said Harry quietly. “It saved my life in June.”
Smith opened his mouth stupidly. The rest of the room was very quiet.

And then I really thought about all the times – past and in books yet to come – where this one simple charm is used. I’ll give you all a few minutes to think about it. YEAH, I KNOW!

This is how close of a read book 5 is for me this time. I know I complained about the weight and thickness of this daunting novel last week. If you read my blog or know me at all, you know I have a problem with many, many books needing another edit before they go to print. This is a different story for a different time, but basically this is a lot to do with the current economic crisis and the world of publishing; it doesn’t mean I have to like it. But this book is different. Rowling wrote a very long book, but every word and every action is perfectly placed. I’m not saying there aren’t plot holes, like Anna suggested last week – I really do think there are. But the writing itself is just so close – every sentence of dialogue exists for a reason and most scenes play for back story, foreshadowing and action all together. Expelliarmus is the key.

What do you think? Have I jumped off the deep end now? Is there another word, charm or counter-curse out there you think means more? Let us know what it is this week. Next week we’ll discuss the movie and why I just may like it more than the book…

Oh, and there was no Buffy this week, but I’m leaving you with a clip from another one of my geeky addictions. If you haven’t seen Doctor Who, I highly recommend this episode “The Shakespeare Code” from season 3. Hey, you already knew I had a small obsession with David Tennant; this should not be surprising at all.

Monday, February 1, 2010

HP Monday – Book 5 – Angst, Dementors, and yet more FIRE

First I would just like to give a shout out to Danny and his Jeopardy appearance today. I’m excited to have one of my blog followers on a game show. You are just SO knowledgeable! Wow, teachers, students, game show contestants, published authors and almost published authors – my blog is really pulling in the stellar readers. Color me impressed and extremely happy about all of this.

Enter your own transition to Harry Potter here…

Um, book 5 is really big. I mean it is David Copperfield and Hawaii big. One semester of my undergrad career, I had to purchase a ridiculously expensive, really old book of plays and the complete works of Ibsen. I wish I remembered exactly which classes these books belonged to. I don’t, but they weren’t for the same class and I DID have both classes on the same day – which meant lugging a folio-sized, hard cover thick and ancient book around with a mammoth paperback copy of all of Ibsen’s plays. I think I threw my back out 5 times that quarter. Book 5 is like carrying both of those massive things in a backpack for a day (three jobs, school and home and a few bus connections in between all lugging tomes equaling the weight of a second me). So that’s BIG and a little daunting. And yet, millions of children (I have no concept of numbers, so if millions isn’t accurate, please ignore the oversight. I mean A LOT of kids!) have read this book. I’ve only read book 5 once before and it’s the main reason I started HP Mondays on my blog. I’ve really wanted to reread 5, 6 & 7 but I’ve always had an excuse in the past. All of this leads up to the very momentous occasion of me actually picking this great big book up and (gasp) reading it again.

And what exactly did I think of my second read of book 5 seven years (SERIOUSLY?!) after reading it for the first time? Well, first (and this one is silly) Scholastic didn’t change much – if anything – from the Bloomsbury version. I doubt American kids know what a budgie is or what exactly Ron means when he asks Luna if she is “taking the Mickey?” and yet both of these things go unchanged. I’m just fine with this as I never quite got over the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ debacle. I think I’ve mentioned before that I grew up reading authors like CS Lewis, Mary Stewart, and Tolkein – and I was able to figure out all on my own that a ‘torch’ is a flashlight, ‘trousers’ are pants, and a ‘biscuit’ is a cookie (those British tots like their sugar just as much as we do). I did think the flashlights in England looked like Olympic torches for awhile, but I figured it out by my early twenties.

Impressions of the first few chapters (I’ve only read up to the Sorting Hat’s New Song – which is barely anything but also over 200 pages in) mostly include the crazy, angst-full Harry. I get it, I get it. I’d be pissed too (and in the American sense of the word, Harry hasn’t been driven to drink yet…although there is an awful lot of butter beer consumption in the first part of this book) if I’d witnessed a murder, been attacked, seen my dead parents and then was left to rot for the summer. But I still want to slap him. And slap him hard. Get over it dude: “Embrace the pain, spank your inner moppet, whatever, but get over it.” Did I say I wasn’t going to reference Buffy anymore? I lied.

My husband says the re-cap section gets longer and longer for each book, and at first I was incensed because no, it doesn’t. But then I calmed down and thought about what he was saying. Yes, the part of each book before Harry gets to Hogwarts does get longer in each book. And yes, some of that section is recapping what’s happened previously, but wow, does Rowling do a good job of this. It’s not all boring back story, all flashbacks and all telling; she intertwines feelings and showing, flashbacks and back story with new ideas, new places and new people. I mean we know so much more about Sirius and what happened the first time Voldemort was in power before we get to Hogwarts. We get back story on the Weasleys, the Blacks, The Ministry of Magic and the Order of the Phoenix, presented through things like a tapestry in an old house and a boggart in a desk. Nice.

Each book introduces a few more or different characters, how have we not met Tonks and Luna before?! Side note: Luna’s in Ravenclaw. Why did I always think she was in Gryffindor? And Umbridge; creepy, frog-faced Delores Umbridge – where’s she been hiding before now? Somewhere in the ministry, biding her time I guess. I just don’t know many book series where so many pertinent and intriguing characters are introduced so far along in the plot. Even though the beginning is longer in each book, I still feel like I’m already on a ride.

I like the juxtaposition of Number 12, Grimmauld Place with the Burrow. Both are wizarding houses (pure-blood wizarding houses if you want to go that far) yet one is more like a headquarters and the other is more like a home. Money and servants be damned, even Sirius doesn’t like his family home. Everyone would be much more comfortable at the Burrow, but it just isn’t as safe there right now. Writing Harry in his current snit at Grimmauld Place doesn’t tarnish the happy memories/times he’s had at the Burrow either. His dark mood matches his surroundings and neither one needs to over-compensate for the scene. Both houses – along with Number 4, Privet Drive – are potential abodes for Harry throughout the series. Remember, although we’ve never been to the Black home before – Harry’s wanted to move in since book 3 when Sirius offered and then there is book 7.

I don’t want to blow over the Ministry of Magic scene, the trial, the dementor attack, or Dumbledore’s apparent nonchalance towards Harry. Well that last part I think we can agree is mostly in Harry’s head – Dumbledore may not want to be in the same room as Harry for Dark Lord reasons, but he’s never exactly nonchalant when it comes to Mr. Potter. But I don’t want to just rehash the first 10 chapters of the book in my blog. So, basically the only important/unnerving thing I want to point out is Dumbledore’s speech about the dementors being under ministry control. I just love the way Rowling makes you wonder who’s really worse here – the government that lets the Dark Lord rise again without even acknowledging it or Voldemort himself? What’s right and wrong? Where’s that gray line we’ve discussed so much before. Harry’s world is topsy-turvy and I would guess it is hard for him to know who to trust at all.

And that’s what I have right now for you. Thoughts, comments, random ponderings? Oh, yeah. FIRE imagery. Hi. Order of the Phoenix – the firebird! OK, now I’m done.