Monday, January 26, 2009

do Web sites sell books?

Unlike many writers who lament the fact that their work-a-day lives steal time from their novel, poetry and short story writing, I love what I do. Extracting the essence of a person, a service, a product, and being part of a team that comes up with a Web presence for that entity is at least as fun as concocting fake people and perplexing conundrums. That is why I was thrilled to run across this New York Times article on Web sites for authors in my due-diligence perusal this afternoon.

(image is from "Sign Language for Infidels" from Sloan Crosley's Web site)
Seems that the verdict is still out on whether Web sites positively impact book sales, but, more and more, they're becoming a vehicle for setting the tone (or brand, if I may be so brash) that surrounds the gestalt of the book and/or the author. As Internet interactivity becomes increasingly a consumer expectation (and, I think we're just grazing the iceberg on this one), the original object associated with prose will need to evolve in order to compete.

Last week Time Magazine offered some food for thought on the digital age impact on books. It's not just about audience preference. As publishers fight to keep their doors open, they are considering revamping the age-old system of the "author advance," as well as the consignment arrangement publishers have with booksellers, where they finance shipping and overstock. Kindle is gaining traction, as more and more readers opt for immediacy, less bulk and greener ways to receive inspiration and entertainment.

Here's the most frightening (to this writer, anyway), development, the Time article points to ways that novels are being separated from the dollar, meaning, everyone's a novelist! Even if the medium is an iPhone, and even if the price is free. Yikes!

To sum up my thoughts on this, taking into consideration the following (from the Time article):"The novel won't stay the same: it has always been exquisitely sensitive to newness, hence the name," and understanding that if it's a choice between commodifying the novel (or short story, or poem etc...) via a stunning and creative Web interface, or just declaring the whole damn channel "open source," and, at the risk of sounding like I'm buttering both sides of my bread, I'm all for sexing up our marketing efforts to ensure that writers aren't forever relegated to the exit ramps of Interstates with their proverbial cardboard signs.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

more! more! more!

Five more notable blogs. And, I must warn you, these blogs are included purely for their entertainment value rather than the gravity of their prose or elegance of design.
The criteria here being: voice, humor, originality and reprieve from the doldrums of winter.
In no particular order, five fun blogs:
and my all-time favorite funny blogger, Jennifer Weiner (who, btw, has been blogging longer than almost anyone).
That's all for now!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

10 blogs of note

Here are 10 blogs worth following, imho:

Seattle a la mode

Book Square

Ms. Zig Zag

Laila Lalami

Pub Rants

The Gospel According to Marc

cake wrecks

Blue Mouse Monkey

Powell's Blog

Sara Nelson (Publisher's Weekly)

I've been challenged to come up with 15 blogs, actually, but will, for now, leave it at these 10 that I read with relative frequency. I will accept the challenge to find an additional five worthy of note (and time), but for now, above are 10 that I find diverse, entertaining, instructive and full of personality! (And good writing.)

the 44th president takes office

In an hour and a half, we'll all be watching our new president take his oath of office and give his inaugural address. There is a feeling of being on the lip of something—like watching the lunar landing in the late '60's. I was a few years younger than my son, Carson, when we took "one giant step for mankind," but I absorbed the multitude of adult expectation and enthusiasm that filled the air around me, and it is with me still.

Kennedy's assassination and September 11th were other occasions where the collective consciousness of a people permeated my sensibilities as an isolated figure. Well, maybe not Kennedy's killing, as I was an infant living in a foreign country—but certainly my frame of reference was influenced by that day.

What's different about this event today—than any event I can remember—is that unity has crossed the color barrier. As a six-year-old I joined my mother and younger sister, celebrating the life of a black man who had changed the lives of the people with whom we marched. The people in that marching mass were "colored," according to my father. He did not take part. Having just moved to this country from a very white, albeit internationally so, part of Europe, it was curious to me how people found their way in the pecking order of things. As a foreigner, complete with a Mary Poppins accent, I was keenly tuned to social stratification. Who was "better" than whom? Clearly, the demonstrators were "worse" than the onlookers.

"We shall overcome," we sang along with the colored people. Overcome what? I thought. My accent? My short hair? My smallness? (Having started school a year earlier than my American counterparts, my mother had enrolled me in the second grade, making my scrawniness all the more so.) The blackness of the marchers' skin unsettled me. They, like me, were "different," but I knew that I could lose my accent and grow my hair and get taller. All the things that made me "different" could and would change. I would overcome.

Today, millions of schoolchildren will be watching the Black Obamas as they move into the White House. I doubt that kids are going to feel a sense that the Obamas "overcame." If they feel anything, it'll be good old fashioned envy—like I had for the guy with the giant boots as he placed the American flag in a moon crater. "How cool," I thought—now that my rapid assimilation had allowed me that piece of slang. "How cool would it be to be that guy."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

revolutionary road

Since my friend David left for Houston, I'd gotten out of the habit of sneaking off to opening day matinees. Probably a good idea, actually, because Friday is, after all, a WORK day. Well, with the opening of Mendes' version of Revolutionary Road, one of my all time favorite novels, I clocked myself out at lunch time and zoomed off to the downtown theater.

The opening scene was lovely. DiCaprio and Winslet finding each other in a crowded room and connecting deeply, immediately. Perhaps that was the best scene in the film. From there, the movie roared through passionate bursts of emotion and passivity in turn, as the actors wrinkled their foreheads, chain-smoked, drank and generally behaved badly for what was, to me, completely undeveloped and clichéd reasons. Thing was, when Yates wrote the novel in 1961 (the year of my birth btw), questioning the normative world was outré, not cliché. Yates, who suffered from depression and alcoholism, wrote first hand of abject discontent and illusive dreams. DiCaprio, though pretty and functional on the screen, really didn't embody Frank Wheeler the way I'd envisioned the character. And Winslet may have overplayed April, who as I recall, was a bit mousier in the novel.

As I sat there watching the arc play out, I grew anxious. I felt like smoking and sipping a martini and expressing my own angst—which is not where I want to be with my art. Not by a long shot. In the end, I left the theater before the final scene—something I never do. I could guess at the ending having read the book and all, and just talked myself out of enduring it just because I'd paid the $8+ (when did matinees lurch into near double-digits?), and I strode through the clearing, very cool air of January, wishing I could recapture that hour and twenty minutes.

David, when and if the film gets to Houston, give it a look-see and tell me what you think.

Friday, January 02, 2009

aim high

After a tumultuous couple of weather and holiday-challenged weeks, most of us gathered at my house for workshop last night. Because it was the January 1st, the proverbial day of best intentions, we set aside some time to discuss our “writing resolutions.”

Around the table we went, declaring our writing and publishing goals and imperatives for 2009.

Cheryl, Jim, Diana, Chuck, myself, Lidia, Chelsea and Monica all resolved to finish various projects. And, for the most part, sell ‘em.

After our brain dump, Chuck brought up something very important. It’s his opinion that if a resolution doesn’t scare or embarrass you to some degree, you haven’t aimed high enough. You have to open the door to, “Who the hell are you to deign to declare such a thing?”, if you really want to push the boundaries.

I’ve been in workshop with some of these folks for 15–16 years now. Chuck recalled the resolution that precipitated “Fight Club,” when we were sitting around the table at Tom Spanbauer’s house. He was still unpublished, having had “Invisible Monsters” rejected, and he was fueled, rather than discouraged, by a publishing world that declared him too “outre” for the common market. He’d resolved to write and sell a book by year’s end. He claims that his declaration was met by rolled eyes. But then, during the course of conversation, I remember the other thing he resolved all those years ago. It had to do with the meta world of publishing: readers and writers and the power of language.

“I will write something that will change the book industry. I’m going to re-invent language,” he stated. “I want to bring books to a population that isn’t reading.” In retrospect, I think THAT was the object of scoffs all around. The brave statement he made that flew in the face of humility.

But, we all know how that story came out, right? Not only did Fight Club get written and published, but in the year’s that followed, due in large part to Chuck’s hard work and prescience, and a Zeitgeist that formed around his ability to speak to a demographic of non-readers, he set in motion the energy that created a meteoric cult following, and the market for the umpteen books published since.

So. My resolutions: In 2009, I will finish The Secret to Love. I will finish Sustainable Romance. I will build my platform and establish myself as an indefatigable explorer of love on the page.

Happy New Year.