Saturday, August 27, 2011

Souvenir Books

What is the role of the physical book?  A recent podcast interview with Tracy Hickman by the estimable Mur Lafferty raised the subject of books as souvenirs.  A souvenir is something that you hold to remind you of times past, of voyages taken, of friends no longer nearby, and of events you've attended.  We are surrounded by these - yearbooks, paperweights, programs, pressed flowers, bits of ribbon, and badges.  We also have on our bookshelf books that have been read.  The purpose of these is not to be used but to serve as touchstones to memory, to remind us of what surrounded that particular piece of otherwise worthless bit of junk.

In this day of electronic publishing novels and stories are ephemeral, no more than a scattering of electrons flitting across the screen, it source some distant server, and whose ownership more represents renting than ownership.  You know that you've bought and paid for this. You can clearly demonstrate ownership by displaying in on your device.  You can even show the receipt from your purchase.  But the only way you can "see" this is to bring it up on your device. You can't passively "see" it as you contemplate something in the quiet of your room. You can't "see" is as part of a lifelong collection on your bookshelf. You can accidentally and quickly open it to reread a favorite passage.

I think this attitude drives a significant part, estimated at 25% of the eBook market, to purchase print on demand, hardback, or trade paperback editions of things they've already read on their Kindle, iPad, Nook, or Sony reader.  They won't do this for everything, but they surely will do it for something memorable and pleasurable.

They want them as a souvenir of hours lost in another world.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Impressions of WorldCon

WorldCon is a circus of delights. Where else can you walk down the hall and meet a half dozen top notch writers in as many steps?  Where else can you watch the panelists talk about the writing life, the genre, and almost anything else that comes into their minds regardless of the panel topic? This randomness is one of the charms, especially when the panelists are seasoned pros and know how to frame their points of view. Sometimes arguments erupt, panelist correct one another, or (and this is my favorite bit) try to top each others outrageous statements.

Autographs? Lines form to the right, thank you please and no more than three (3) pieces at a time.  The worse part is sitting at the table and watching your neighbor's line reach beyond infinity whilst you have a pathetic few standing before you because you are only a short story writer.

Hearing the words streaming from the author's mouth at a short, half-hour reading, is wonderful, since they place the emphasis and intonations where they intended, not where your tiny reader's minds thought they should go.  This produces some surprises, a few disappointments, and always a pleasure.

Ah, the parties after the day's panels are done where you squeeze into incredibly crowded hotel rooms and move more by osmotic pressure than deliberate progress. In a moment you might be speaking to a physicist, an IT expert, a well-known writer or editor, or simply someone who loves the same thing as you. What conversations emerge are short, sometimes challenging, and always interesting. Breast surfing is allowed since badges hang low and the print is usually so tiny that you need to get close to read them.

The most wonderful thing is having a fan talk to you about something you've written. Such remarks are usually insightful, occasionally rewarding, and, having someone say that a story changed something in their life, is a blessing beyond anything you could have imagined when you wrote it.

But interaction with fans and other writers is not all social.  Deals are being made as expected whenever writers, agents, and editors crowd together.  For the professionals WorldCon is a business meeting as well as a promotional event. 

In summary: WorldCon is exciting, exhausting, draining, fun, interesting, challenging, and rewarding.  It is like nothing else in the world and, thankfully, only occurs once a year. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

It's a lonely job . . .

..but somebody's got to do it.

My writer's lonely life is full of self-inflicted misery.  I set arbitrary deadlines and worry constantly that I won't meet them. I worry that my production word rate is too low. I worry that all the other writers out there are spilling out volumes to my paltry few pages. I worry that what I write won't ever sell! I worry that my ideas have dried up. I worry that I won't get to all the ideas that pour into my mind.  I worry about ...well, damn near everything.

All of the above is done in a semi-darkened room as I fill the blank screen with words, words, words, and more words.  My eyes glaze over as I read the same line for the hundredth time (and still miss the obvious typo my editor will immediately spot.)  I look at each tiny check and wonder why it is so small in comparison with the effort expended.  I swear a half dozen times a year that I will give this up and quit, that the world already has too damn many writers and all of them are after MY markets!

But when the words I've crafted appear in some professional setting, when someone comes up to me and says they enjoyed the piece, or when I get an acceptance from the editor, all that angst disappears, at least for a moment.

I doubt that I am the only one beset with these internal conflicts, who curse their writer's affliction but cannot stop. Neither can I suggest any remedy to the problem.  For those trying to support themselves on their writing this must be hell.  For those of us to whom writing is a hobby, the hell is only of a lesser degree.

So for all my suffering comrades who are afflicted by the writing curse, who can't stop the flow of ideas or the doubts, those who  appreciate the well-turned phrase, and suffer in silence, know this:  The fears, doubts, and misery will never stop, not even if you write ten million stories.  It is the price of being what we are. It is the price of being a writer.

Friday, August 5, 2011

It's in the Air

We have an oak dining table, not one of the sandwich things made of particle board and a coating of oak veneer, but a solid slab of English oak, heavy, unyielding, and hard.  Last year, at Launchpad - that intensive astronomy course for writers in Laramie WY run by Mike Brotherton, posed the question about the source of my table's hard, heavy wood.  Was it made of dirt sucked from the bones of the earth by the Oak's deep roots, dust transported to deposit on the leaves from distant realms, or something else?

The answer, of course, is that only some of the above comes from the earth: the oak table is mostly carbon that its leaves extracted from the carbon dioxide of the air and stored, atom by atom, molecule on molecule in the tree's heartwood, transforming a gas into something solid and real.

The writer's research is often thought to be at the center of building a good story: Getting the facts as right as rain; getting the pace and timbre of dialogue to ring true; and getting the sense of place and time properly set.  Talent, that indescribable something that differentiates a writer from a journalist or casual diarist, provides the art for a good story, but training and experience also play a part. Sheer perseverance can also produce something worth reading.  How this is accomplished is explained elsewhere in great detail, supported by pages upon pages of explanation.  All of these contain biases and suppositions that support their particular theory of what makes a story a story.  And all of them have some validity, varied only by the methodology espoused, but don't mention the one key fact behind all writing.

We're not talking about the content of a story, nor even its structure, plot line, or anything that appears on the page.  This is about the story's essence, the idea behind the idea. A writer takes it in with every breath of air, every sound, and everything they eat/read/touch/smell. It's the heartbeat of life, the love of family and friends that infuse and illuminates every word put on the page, that helps frame the sentences, and informs the plots.  It is all about life, all of the time.

It's in the air.