Coffee Shop Chronicles: Coffee, books and the end of an era

img_7200Borders Bookstore

Canton, MI

April 2011

I came here because I have a coupon.

The coupon is for 33% off one item or 20% off your entire purchase.  I’m upstairs sampling the vanilla bean loaf, and there’s this weird aftertaste.  The black tea is helping only so much.  I’m glad I have a peanut butter sandwich with me.  It’s not gourmet breakfast, but I do feel like a queen as I look over the café railing down upon the bookstore.

It’s 9 o’clock on a Saturday, and it’s a bustling morning.  I stood at the door as the store opened, and now I’m in my favorite seat here, a table along the railing.

I think, dream and wonder…why do I have only one coupon?  I want to walk out with the whole bookstore.  Right now, I want one particular book.  I’ll go tease myself and see if the paperback is out yet.  The vanilla loaf taste is still hanging on my tongue anyway.

Tongue.  Teeth.  Fangs.  Vampire fangs.  Vlad the vampire.

I’m into Young Adult books, but I don’t like hardbacks.  Hardbacks are heavy to carry and you can’t fold the covers back to make it comfortable in your hands.  I got sucked into this vampire series by…oh, I don’t recall how or who introduced me to it.  The first book was in paperback, I know that, and maybe the smiley vampire face on the cover caught my eye.  I’ve read eighth grade through eleventh grade, but Vlad’s senior year is still a mystery.  It hasn’t been a year yet–the standard time between hardback release and paperbacks–but a girl can hope and think, dream and wonder.

I walk instinctively to the right side of the store and look under “B” for Brewer.  My eyes jump from bookend to bookend, shelf by shelf.  Hardback–hardback–hardback–paperback.  There it is!  Paperback!  Tucked at the edge of the shelf, hidden in the shadows of overhead lights, is The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Twelfth Grade Kills.

I grab it and drop it on the floor.  I’m so excited I can’t even hold it!  I dash over to my husband who wanders the CD racks, of course.

“Oh, this trip was so worth it!” I say.  I have waited so long.  I smile, I gleam, I may even be glowing.

How many more times will I feel like this?

How many more times will I be this excited about a book series–so excited!–so excited for a paperback because it’s cheaper and lighter and more flexible than a hardback?  How many more times will I be able to walk into a bookstore, pick up a book made of paper and walk out with my treasure?

A purchase.

The glisten of a glossy cover.  The ruffle of pages flipping through them.  The smudgy fingerprints in margins from cheap ink.  The triumph of finding what you want.  To leave with the treasure.

There’s joy of being able to flip through a book for a sample; through the entire book, not just some random chapter.  In fact, by doing this now, I find another YA novel to buy.  That book is here but more expensive at $9.99.  I’ll wait for another coupon.

An actual purchase.  Even the smell.  I pull it up to my nose, to make sure.  There’s that musty, raw dusty smell.  Yes.  The delicious anticipation.  Page One awaits.

With the dying brick-n-mortar stores going the way of the Dodo, I will probably not have many more moments like this.

I walk by the shelves one more time to relive the glorious moment.  It’s the only paperback there.  Or it was.  It’s mine now.

Vlad is $8.99.  I use the coupon, but I would have bought it without one.

Even the receipt is a bookmark.

 

Reflections on Resolutions and Writing

‘Tis the season.

What does your season look like?

It’s December, and I’m running around with holiday madness. I don’t have the time to remember my gift list let alone what I did or didn’t accomplish this year. In fact, if hadn’t written them down, I’d have forgotten I even had thoughts to change my world.

I don’t believe in resolutions. Too often they’re wishes without a specific plan for success. That’s why I embraced my writers’ group commitment to three Non-Resolutions for 2015. The challenge was to identify the “specific and concrete” steps to “improve yourself as a writer.” I did this thinking it a simple challenge something specific and easy it’s the end of the year, tis the season to look ahead while looking back. so I share my successes and failures in life, the universe and everything else.

How did I do? Let’s just say I take ownership of my actions and my non-actions. These were my commitments:

1.(A) Find an editor and (B) publish my memoir before June 2015.

Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Not even close. Every time I sat down to edit, thinking the book just needed some tweaking, I found a jumble of sentence fragments and missplelled words instead. I suspected that organizing the non-chronological series of vignettes was the problem. I came up with creative ways to procrastination. I read blog posts by fiction and nonfiction writers to learn how they handled organization. I read a memoir to see how it was organized. I found checklists to follow, but still my story didn’t flow.

That got me thinking about format and tools to ease my struggles. I purchased Scrivener, a software program has a “corkboard” to organize my thoughts and scenes so I can rearrange as often as needed with a swift swipe of my mouse. This is a useful procrastination, I told myself. I spent two weeks slugging through the detailed tutorial and then hit a snag with the program. I set it aside in frustration to continue after November’s NaNoWriMo. It’s December and is still untouched.

2.Explore at least one new book/genre and revisit an old favorite.

This was a flop. Aside from reading that one memoir early in the year, I didn’t finish another book.

 

I started what I presumed was “an old favorite” but it wasn’t as interesting as I remembered. I found a sci-fi book that both Mom and I read. I committed to read it at night, maybe not every night, but I put it and a spare pair of reading glasses on my nightstand for convenience. The only space available was at the edge, so the book is too far to reach, and my clumsy, ill-fitting dollar store glasses are awkward to wear. I have made reading more complicated than it should be.

3.Set aside time to journal at least once a month.

I accomplished this! I may have skipped weeks at a time, but I wrote more, that I know. That I feel.  I mingled my thoughts with blog posts and ideas, sprinkled between to-do lists and notes from writers’ conferences and meetings. I rediscovered that I write more fluidly by hand, so I spent more time journaling just for the fun and love of writing on paper. Writing by hand is organic to me, so I will keep journaling.

Nothing is truly a failure. These commitments did not need to be complete, nor did they need to be completed for me to succeed. I learned about myself and gained some valuable perspectives and insights into my actions.

What did I learn?

I need to break my writing and editing tasks into smaller snippets and set a timer. Tell myself “Tuesday morning, research editors” and allot 27 minutes only. I’ll know at the end of the timer I’ll either need a break or feel inspired to keep working. It’s how I survived and won NaNoWriMo.

In 23, 27 or 33 minute segments, I wrote 50,721 words in the last 20 days of the months. I started on November 11, so this equaled 2500 words/day which for me was about 1 1/2 hours per day. That means I can find the time to write because I have the time when I’m not distracted by Major Crimes on TV or Angry Birds on my phone. I remind myself of this daily because not only is it motivating but because in the madness of the month, I discovered a 25,000-word story, a complete one that I can actually work with and interests me. I consider the purchase a distraction and a success. I can use Scrivener to organize this book as I edit to publish by the end of 2015, a swift spellbinding sequel to my initial Jimmy the Burglar book.

Getting back to my roots of handwriting gave me the opportunity to see what I was thinking. Words on paper, written by my hand, helped me focus on what I want to do with my writing. I will change the focus of my blog to include more writing, insights, interviews and inspiration. Posts on Deadwood Writers Voices may change. I want to entertain my readers, offer them something worthwhile, while writing topics that excite my passion and enthusiasm. I’m exploring what those topics may be.

As for reading books, I will purchase a better pair of reading glasses.

Read Books, Review Books, Remember Books

FullSizeRenderOn this blog, I’ve written about journal writing.  I’ve written about reading books.  There was a time when I did both: I read books and journaled about them. Go figure.

After last month’s journal expedition, I wandered through my bookshelf and discovered a journal wherein I reviewed books for myself as a reminder of what I read and what I thought.  I forgot I had done that.

My inspiration came from those funky “record your recollections” books found in your bookstore’s gift section.  The fun titles and decorative covers invite you to review wines, where you drank them and save the wine labels. You could write about the places you traveled and significant snippets of the journey. Journal titles encouraged memories of meals and restaurants, favorite songs, meaningful quotes, garden plantings, lists and more. Since my two main interests were books and movies, I decided I would chronicle my impressions of each.

Rather than pay for a fancy-schmancy, pretentious book with pages too small for a proper review,    I could make my own book better than any preprinted book. Besides, I found a pair of regal spiral bound notebooks, elegant in their 8″x10″ stature. The simple black hardcover was perfect for a funky, relevant, inspirational postcard. I clipped identical, important-looking blue gel pens in the rings.  I was set to write whether at home or on-the-go.

I recorded each book in the same look, manner, and design: “The Title” by Author; Month and year I finished reading, and my review.

It was the prehistoric equivalent of modern day Goodreads.

FullSizeRender2I tabbed four sections. The front main pages were reviews of the books I read. The second tabbed section I reserved for books recommended to me or that I wanted to read. The last section has some pencil scribblings on the first page; it looks like I planned a “books I borrowed or loaned.” I didn’t know enough people who read books. There is a third section tabbed off but with nothing written on those pages I have no clue what I intended.

I reviewed books from July 1999 through September 2002. My first reviewed book will remain nameless because it is so horrible. I wrote: “College life…here was my chance to see how someone else does it. I’ve learned how not to do it. I have no idea what any of the characters look like. Everyone swore, drank and got drunk. C’mon, a keg at your final? A torture to read but I had to finish it for story’s sake. I forgot that there had been a framing structure at the beginning. Events just end and everything is summed up neatly, compactly, and smoothly like the end of the stereotypical sitcom. Now writing about it, I can put it out of my mind.”

That book was my first exposure to self-published books, often called vanity press back then. This book had to be good. After all, it was a hardback book, with a colorful cover, I discovered at an independent book fair in New York City. That gave it validation. Ever since I read it, this is the book I refer to anytime I need an example of poor writing and the desperate need for an editor.

The General’s Daughter by Nelson DeMille. July 1999

“Print from this ‘old style’ trade paperback dirties my fingers. I like the movie better than the book. Narrator often sounded like the author, not the character.” The ending was given away too soon. Very few ‘he said’ in text and was often confused by who was speaking. Movie was more coherent, flowed better.”

The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. November 5, 1999

“Never was I so glad to finish a book!”

I developed a fascination about writing the true story of a real person. I moved away from fiction and desperately sought solid nonfiction. I read a series of disappointing memoirs after that. One review included my insightful comment: “In the last two memoirs, the struggle is established at the beginning but then the readers never reap the benefits of success.”

Good advice to remember as I finish my memoir.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. November 25, 1999

“This book made me uncomfy [uncomfortable]. That was wonderful! I want to read it again.” In January 2000, I did just that. “The second reading as powerful as the first. Real writing, honest and true yet not sappy. There’s a reason this has been on the best seller list for over 100 weeks.”

Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah. Saturday, March 4, 2000

“A tragic memoir wonderfully told. Her words: simple, and I got so caught up in her storytelling I didn’t notice.”

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. June 2000

“Good example of a story told through many smaller, seemingly unrelated stories. I’d like to see how the movie translated this fine book.”

As of this writing, I have not yet seen the movie.

The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. August 13, 2000

“What a quick read! Recommended by Jane, I echo her thoughts: I wish I’d written this book.”

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. March 2001

“It has been so long since a book snagged me so completely. I was up nights swallowing every word until way past my practical bedtime.”

I wrote about the Harry Potter series from December 1999 to 2002. Interesting how my opinion has changed since those initial readings.

My last entry is Diary of a Mad Bride by Laura Wolf. September 2002

“B-day gift from Dawn, I read it in about one week. Funny, and a lot more truth in there than any bride would care to admit. Written in short journal entries, it’s easy to read. I must read this closer to my wedding 🙂 again!”

I never did read that book again, but maybe I will now, especially since I am married.  One part of my New Year’s Non-Resolutions is to revisit and reread an old favorite book.  I’m faced with a dilemma: which one do I choose?

Do you have any recommendations of good books to read, or ones to avoid?

Do You (Still) Read Books?

When is the last time you read a book?

My answer to that question is: late February.  But my real answer should be: I don’t read enough.  And that’s a sad thing for a writer.

I talk a lot about the way we wrote as kids, just for the fun of it, no expectations, just playing with words.  I should also be dancing with books, traveling through other worlds to experience the words of others.  I should be reading not necessarily to learn from or to study with an eye towards technique, but really, just to pass the time.

“Should” is an evil, passive excuse of a word.  Anything that “should” be done “needs” to be done.  That is so much easier to say than do because there is so much more in the world to do.

Welcome to the world of social media.  We pass our time with heads buried in our phones or tablets, getting neck cramps from looking down too much, missing the scenery we ride by and not hearing the people around us.  Given that, who wants to carry a book when you’ve got hundreds downloaded onto your Kindle or Nook app?  Further frustration:  who wants to open those apps when you can have the three-star-rush of Angry Birds or discovering five new Pinterest recipes for banana nut bread?

The world of electronic gadgets and the bright shiny oooooooh of it all do suck me in.  I don’t spend my time reading books.  That makes me sad, but I don’t see myself changing my routine.

The most recent book I finished was a memoir recommended to me.  I bought it—a physical copy—because that person said, it sounded like the type of memoir I was writing.  I bought it to study and learn from it, the story being a secondary aspect.  It turns out that the approach worked for me; the story was not a great one and I didn’t connect with the character, but there were lines of brilliant emotion that struck my heart.  I wonder: would I have bought that book just off a bookshelf, physical store or otherwise, if I didn’t have that writing connection to it?

I’m writing this in a Starbucks, and what a twist of coincidence just now.  I overhear a conversation between two women where one says, “Have you read the latest James Patterson novel?”  I’m pausing to listen.  The music’s loud enough and the women are far enough away that I’m only hearing snippets.  “He has a team of writers.”  “He’s always on top of it.”  “It’s always a mystery story.”  “Reading Wall Street Journal,” at which point I think the discussion has moved on to other topics.

I am thrilled to hear this conversation.  Angled towards each other, these women are still a community of two.  What are they doing?  I have to get a closer look.  I’m a terrible judge of age, but they look the age of people who still prefer reading paperbacks.  Do they have a roughed-up paperback between them?  That’d be so cool.  I tell myself I need to sweeten my coffee more, so I shuffle by and peer over their shoulders.  They’re both looking down at large smartphones or small tablets.  I am actually disappointed.  I tell myself that regardless where or how they read it, they read it.  Together.

They’re doing more than I am.

Months ago, I made reading a priority and set goals for the year.  I contributed my part to my writers group’s list of our New Year’s Writing Non-Resolutions.  You can read everyone’s lists here. One of my non-resolutions is what I think is an achievable reading goal for me.

As a writer, I feel a need to be more involved on Goodreads, so I updated my pathetically outdated account.  I enrolled in the 2015 Reading Challenge.  The number of books that I think is achievable for me is…well, check it out here and form your own opinion.

My list of books “currently reading” or “want to read” include two that people want me to review and/or critique.  Now I’m a reviewer.  Now I’m reading with a purpose, an obligation.  It’s more like a job.

When was the last time I wandered a bookstore with the intention of finding a book to read for selfish pleasure?  I don’t know.  I really don’t know.  There’s a lack of bookstores in my part of southeast Michigan.  There are two Barnes and Noble bookstores located a short drive from me.  There is one nice local independent store of new and used books, and then there’s one junky, cluttered used bookstore.  There’s a fabulous large used bookstore on the edge of Detroit, but it’s just far enough away for me to think of it as out of the way.  Nice excuses soothing my guilty conscience.

I guess I should stop making excuses for not reading.

Paper’s First Mass Extinction

The digital age is upon us, it’s everywhere we look today. Literally, no industry is safe when doctors can now print 3-D parts for a heart valve repair minutes later. What possible chance do printed books have by the year 2025? Slim to none, sorry to say.

By then, publishers will only print Limited Edition books that authors and illustrators will sign and that collectors and fans will treat like trophies. Books will only be purchased – and thus printed – for their beauty or their collector appeal by 2025. Attractive, leather bindings with inlaid gold designs touting popular titles will command hundreds of dollars, but the “trade editions” will all be ninety-nine cent digital versions.

Text books – all learning material for that matter – will fall like dinosaurs during the first mass extinction of pulp. These books will die out because of their sheer weight alone, but so, too, will all sci-fi, suspense, mystery and romance stories. Novels will lose out because they hold no advantage on paper. They are more expensive and take longer for everyone involved, from author to publisher to seller to readers. In the end, economics rule. Without some other inherent value, there will be no reason to keep a novel once you’re done reading it. If that’s the case and e-books remain cheaper, then print is dead. Long live E!

Some genres should survive until 2025. Children’s books will still be in print because they are illustrated, but their days are numbered, too. Biographies with their childhood photographs, documents, maps, and other such supporting evidence have a home on the future bookshelf for those very reasons, at least for a while longer. Religious material will continue in print because you take this Book with you to Church to read along with the faithful. Even so, at some point, churches, too, will be distributing prayers, sermons and missals on e-readers left in the pews.

Cookbooks and other reference material – the kinds of books that people dog-ear and write in the margins of – will continue to be printed because we treat them like tools while working on related projects. It’s hard to see other formats surviving, though. How are you going to convince today’s youth to put down their iPhones and pick up something printed on paper?

The year 2025 is only a decade away. For the first mass extinction of paper to come true by then, all these dire predictions will need to travel at the speed of light.

Exactly!

A decade from now, authors, Amazon, and the publishers who are sure to follow, will be too busy translating their e-novels into other languages without making embarrassing mistakes. That will be everyone’s main concern. The war over “cover price” will be long over. Free market enterprise will set the price. It always does in the end.

I think third world countries will be the new marketing frontier ten years from now, not just for books but for e-everything. Authors and publishers could thrive with the Polaroid Theory of Marketing in those countries by providing them with cheap e-readers and free internet.

Dr. Edwin Land’s marketing strategy in the 1960s was to effectively “give away the camera to sell the film.” This was akin to financial suicide in an industry where cameras cost hundreds of dollars and the photographic film costs pennies to turn into pictures. But Land had a theory, which was this: people will pay dearly for instant gratification.

Land priced one version, the Polaroid Swinger,  under $20.00. Cameras were not household items in the 1960s until Land’s affordable entry pricing made them popular. But, where 35mm film was cheap – $4.00 to develop a roll of 36 photos – it had to be mailed to a company to be turned into pictures. It took about a week to process, and sometimes you got someone else’s pictures back instead of your own. That could get embarrassing. Polaroid sold ten pictures for $7.00, but you held your Polaroid picture in your hand one minute later, while the moment was still fresh. It was our first taste of instant gratification, and we showed great marketers like Edwin Land, Bill Gates and Steven Jobs just how much more we were willing to pay for it.

Create a $20.00 e-reader today and the Polaroid Theory guarantees that everyone of age in Africa, Asia and the poorer parts of the Americas will have access to all kinds of books. With today’s technology, all it requires is a few drones parked in the sky to gain access to millions – billions – of potential e-book buyers. This means instant global gratification for e-books and global extinction for print. A $20.00 e-reader could conquer the world with ten books for seven bucks instead of ten pictures. Everyone from author to publisher makes more money with the Polaroid Theory because millions of more copies are sold. The costs to create more copies spiral down with the economy-of-scale, and if the novel never catches on, the cost of failure is survivable.

Think bigger than that. It is possible bilingual e-books could give rise to English as Earth’s common language by 2025. It almost is now. Think of what that means to all fiction authors, regardless their native tongue.

Printed matter’s second life is destined to become firewood at some point during in the next decade. Even something as sought after today as a first edition of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I’m sorry to say. As an antiquarian dealer, I worry about this a lot. I’ve stopped investing in modern classics produced after 1980.

Tomorrow’s bookshelf is today’s trophy cabinet. By 2025, we’ll keep our treasured tomes locked behind glass and out of direct sunlight. When someone asks if they can take one out, we’ll smile and say, “I’ve got that book on my iPad, too, if you’d like to read it.”

Next Month: Back to the topic of writing. If the future of fiction novels is strictly digital, how will that affect the way authors pace their stories? Are we headed for the 140-character novel? Will an author need to work with an illustrator to have any chance of success? Is writing a novel morphing from solitude to team project? And, if so, then whose e-voice is this, anyway? Stop by next month and explore these thoughts with me.