I had to share this. Had to.
Gotta share this: Smashwords.
Smashwords’ founder, Mark Coker, featured me … sort of … in the Smashwords blog!
Santa brought me a Kindle Fire for Christmas. He got one for my husband, too, so I don’t even have to share it. Amazon automatically christened it for me: “Diane’s 3rd Kindle.” Which is a little embarrassing. I mean, really, how many Kindles does one pair of eyes need?
What’s even more embarrassing is, I am lusting after yet another Kindle — one I don’t have. The Kindle Touch.
Oooh. Aaah. I got one for my sister-in-law so I can live vicariously.
I have SUCH a crush on Amazon.
The Kindle Fire, if you happen to be wondering, is a different animal from your garden-variety Kindle. It’s Kindle-like, but it’s also iPad-like, and sort of phone-like as well. There’s a bit of a learning curve while you figure out how to navigate to where you want to go and how hard to touch the screen. Too vigorous, and your book jackets go flying by in a blur. Too dainty, and your commands are ignored. You feel like Goldilocks at first, struggling to find the place that’s juuuuust right. But, oh my, the things it can do!
I sat up in bed beside my sleeping husband with headphones on and watched three hours of Downton Abbey — the most exciting bout of insomnia I’ve ever suffered. I subscribed to Newsweek and the New York Times, which are now downloaded to the palm of my hand, essentially, in full-color glory. I updated my Facebook status while waiting for a plane at the Los Angeles airport. I played Angry Birds while in line at the cafeteria at work. There is, basically, no earthly reason why I should ever be bored again.
Aren’t you glad you lived long enough to experience 2012? I am.
Someday, I am going to learn all about blogging. (Should have done that before I began, eh?) I know there are ways to link my blog to other people’s blogs, but I’m not only unsure how to do this, I suspect that there is some sort of protocol — a secret handshake or other ritual — required before one takes such a step. So, since I don’t know how else to do it, I’m going to paste links to a couple of blogs I have been featured on lately:
Romance Novel News (they interviewed me about self-publishing, but if you’re already reading this blog you’re probably heartily sick of the subject) and Heroes & Heartbreakers, who posted an absolutely lovely article about my work called “The Return of Diane Farr.”
Okay, I’m diving back into my writing cave now. For all of you who were expecting a sequel to Wicked Cool prior to Halloween, all I can say is … believe me, I’m disappointed too. Augh!!
Yes, it is January 3rd and I’m writing a New Year’s post. Such is the life of a procrastinator.
Today is the last day of my 5-day vacation. My kitchen is still full of the clutter I intended to clear two days ago, the writing that I did over the past few days improved a book I’m pretty sure I’m going to ditch (instead of the book I should actually be working on), and I’m sitting here in my jammies at 11:00 a.m. I think I am uniquely qualified to write this particular blog post.
In my defense — and notwithstanding the fact that I missed the New Year by a couple of days on this one — I will say that I rarely miss deadlines. I do, however, spend a portion of every day stressing over the fact that I am not writing. I could easily alleviate my suffering by, um, writing. And yet I dread the task so much that I would rather feel guilty and depressed than write. Writers call this lamentable state of affairs “block.” (Non-writers, I am told, call it “nuts.”)
I received a book for Christmas that made me feel ever so much better: THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield. Evidently the sinking sensation I experience whenever I contemplate sitting down at my keyboard to write is not only common, it’s well-nigh universal. He says anyone who ever bought a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic is up against the same thing: resistance. Resistance rises up to thwart us whenever we attempt to do something really worthwhile. Alcoholics fall off the wagon, dieters gain the weight back, and writers stop writing — all encountering much the same thing: a mysterious force of negative energy that fills our souls with reluctance and our brains with excuses.
So is writers’ block (and all the rest of it) really a matter of insufficient willpower? Is it sloth, one of the Seven Deadly Sins? Are we under attack by evil spirits? Or what? Why can’t people DO the things they want so badly to do? Why will most of those New Year’s Resolutions people made a couple of days ago be just a bad joke in another few weeks, if they aren’t already?
While you are contemplating all the excellent things you planned to do and somehow never did, here’s a tip from my playbook: Procrastinate. Put off your New Year’s Resolution(s) until everybody else has already made theirs. By the time you take your personal bull by the horns, everyone else will have left the field. You can resolve in private and fail in private, skipping the humiliation. Because nobody is going to ask you: “Hey, what’s your Lincoln’s Birthday resolution?” And, later: “So, did you KEEP your Lincoln’s Birthday resolution?”
I am reading (and reading and reading) Anna Karenina. I downloaded it to my Kindle. There are advantages and disadvantages to reading it on a Kindle: it certainly weighs less than the book would, and is much easier to handle. But I can’t actually see where the heck I am in the book. I can’t mutter, “Holy cow, I’m only a third of the way through it!” as I’m reading. There are no markers.
I keep trying to figure out where I am in the narrative based on plot pacing, and I can’t. The book is following no pattern that I can perceive. It just goes on and on and on. People do this, people do that. They go here, they go there. We spend a while in one character’s POV, then switch to another, then another, and then another. Tragedies occur and are recovered from, first by this character, then that one. I’m utterly mystified as to why the book is titled Anna Karenina and where it is going. Perhaps at the end, Anna Karenina — one of a whole boatload of equally-important characters, as far as I can tell — will blow up Moscow or something. Then I’ll say, “Aha, THAT’s why he named the book after her.”
Or perhaps he named it Anna Karenina because, of all the characters, hers was the only name that would fit on the spine. Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya just wouldn’t have the same ring.
If you know, don’t tell me.
The Kindle has a little fill bar at the bottom of the screen that informs you, sort of, how much of the book you have read. According to the little fill bar, I’m only about halfway through the thing. I can’t tell you how tempted I am to stop. We are at the scene of a singularly beautiful wedding, and I’m so happy to see poor old Konstantin Dmitrievitch finally marrying the girl he has loved for years and never thought he’d win — the romance novelist in me is screaming, “Stop! Stop right here! This is the happy ending!” But no, according to the little fill bar, Tolstoy plans to go on. And on and on.
People who sneer at romances often claim our books are unrealistic, but that’s not true. Our books are just as realistic, or unrealistic, as everyone else’s. We just wrap everything up at the happiest point. In what is loosely referred to as “real life,” every love story is a tragedy because they all, without exception, end in separation or death. In life, you have no choice. In fiction, you do. So don’t go there. Awful things will happen to your beloved characters eventually, so stop at the proposal, or the wedding, or the birth of a longed-for child, or whatever. If you’re writing a mystery, solve the crime and wrap that sucker up. If you’re writing a Western, run the bad guys out of town and ride off into the sunset. If you’re writing horror, kill the monster and let the sun rise. If the monster comes back, let him do it in the sequel. Those are the rules, O spinner of tales. Break them at your peril.
Tolstoy had the advantage of writing before the rules were carved in stone, so I have no earthly idea where he is taking this thing. He’s got so many plot-balls in the air, all being carried by characters with unpronounceable polysyllabic names, that I marvel at his ability to keep it all so clear. Apart from the political conversations and Russian farming theories, that is, which I am skimming — I hardly ever skim anything, but I guess everyone has limits.
I do wonder what it’s like to read it in the original Russian. If this were my first experience with Russian literature, I’d think this was a lousy translation, but actually it’s very like the Chekhov plays I encountered in college. People seem to have different names depending on who is in the room, and they burst out with odd exclamations that ring completely false to an American ear. “Ah, my dear Darya Alexandrovna! I understand you perfectly. No, no, we mustn’t speak of it.” (OK, I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea. We’re left muttering, “What? What do you understand, and why can’t you speak of it?”) People burst into tears or laughter for no discernible reason. You know, the usual. The usual Russian stuff.
And my goodness, there’s a lot of snow.
Note: This blog entry was written in October of 2010. In 2011, everything changed. Please enjoy, for its historical interest, this “blast from the past.” – Diane
I wouldn’t say I’ve had a bad experience in the brave new world of e-publishing. “Bad” would be too strong a word. My editor was easy to work with, I was pleased with the cover art, and it’s always better to have a book out than to not have a book out. On the other hand, would I recommend e-publishing to my fellow authors?
No. I recommend it wholeheartedly if you are a hobbyist, because the overall experience was much more pleasant than print publishing. But if you’re a professional? No.
And I hate to say that, especially since there exists a certain sensitivity (dare I say touchiness?) on the part of e-book authors who feel that their work is too often dismissed as second-class. Their work may well be first-class. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t read it.
And this, gentle reader, is what I am writing this blog entry to confess. I am an e-book author. And even I do not read e-books.
It’s not that I don’t have an e-reader, because I do. I have a Kindle. But so far the only books I have downloaded to it (with the exception of my own) are books that first appeared in print. E-versions, therefore, of “real” books.
“Real” books! Ouch.
I’m afraid my fellow e-authors are going to have to grit their teeth and live with the stigma. Not forever, one hopes, but certainly for now. Because the truth is, as of 2010, e-books are still for amateurs.
There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur. Amateur, remember, comes from the Latin root “amat-,” which means that an amateur pursues a passion. Does something for the pure love of it. Would do it whether s/he were paid or not. It’s not a judgment on whether or not the person does it well. Often — I would even say usually — an amateur does it well. When I say “e-books are for amateurs,” trust me, I’m only referring to that “for the love of it” thing — because an amateur does not get paid.
Which is why e-books are for amateurs.
E-publishers pay no advance against royalties. This is supposedly “made up for” by the generous royalty percentage you will earn when the book comes out. And the books are published at least twice as quickly as they are in the print world. Plus, you get your royalty checks promptly — even monthly, in the case of my publisher. No years-long wait for your book to arrive in stores, sell or not sell, etc. The book is out, spit-spot, sold, done, here’s your check. No warehousing, no shipping, nothing whatsoever to wait for.
Except for the fact that your book never shows up in a store.
Well, as it turns out, “that” carves a pretty big hole in the e-publisher’s business model. You lose the browsers. Most people, when they wander into a bookstore, have only a vague idea of what they are looking for. They go to an interesting section and browse until they see something that grabs them. Even if they go with an actual title in mind, they tend to browse the books around that title. People who go to bookstores love books. They love the way they look, and feel, and smell. A sense of pleasurable anticipation fills them as they step into the shop. They will leave with a book — or two, or more — that promise hours of enjoyment. And if yours is an e-book, it isn’t there.
Not only is it not in the stores, it’s not being reviewed by the usual suspects, or talked about, or passed from friend to friend, or advertised. None of the normal channels to generate “buzz” are open to it. I couldn’t even get the library that had awarded Wicked Cool first place in its statewide competition for YA novels to carry Wicked Cool.
So who buys an e-book? People who know you, or are related to you, or who are die-hard fans who buy anything you write. And even some of them won’t buy it. Even people who appeared on the Acknowledgments page of Wicked Cool didn’t buy it. Some of my own sisters didn’t buy it. People who have read my books for years didn’t buy it.
Because — let’s not kid ourselves — it wasn’t a real book.
There are exceptions, I am told (indignantly). There are authors of e-books — those who write erotic romance, for example — who claim to make a living at it. All I’m saying is, don’t count on becoming one of these possibly-mythical beings. Because the cruel truth is, the best way for an e-book author to make a living at writing e-books is … have your e-book series picked up by a real publisher. (Oh, dear! Did I say “real” again?)
God bless Romance Writers of America. They have drawn a line in the sand and stubbornly stand behind it. They let their e-book authors storm and rail and claim discrimination because their publishers are not admitted to the elite ranks of RWA recognition — and still they stand firm. (Or at least they did the last time I checked.) You cannot hold yourself out as a trade organization interested in promoting the careers of authors unless you insist that authors get paid. RWA says, in essence: If you can’t even pay a utility bill with your royalty check, I’m sorry, nothing against you, no judgment on whether your work is good or bad — but your publisher is not on our list. Not yet. We cordially and sincerely hope it may get there, and the sooner the better, but it isn’t there yet. Please let us know when you receive a royalty check that enables you to quit your day job.
The day is not far off, I’m sure, when e-books pay real money and authors submit their work to e-publishers in actual preference to working with a print publisher. I am personally acquainted with at least one author who grew so sick of the hassles inherent in print publishing (and it is, truly, a maddening industry) that she has written nothing but e-books for several years. But even she, writing prolifically and working with several e-publishers at once, has struggled to keep the wolf from the door. She is now submitting to print publishers again.
And why do I bring all this up now? (I hear you ask.)
Because Wicked Cool will no longer be sold by Cerridwen Press after the first of the year. Cerridwen Press is in the process of re-naming itself and re-positioning itself in the marketplace. As part of this process, it has decided that its new incarnation will only offer romance titles. Wicked Cool is not a romance. So the rights to it revert to me on December 31st.
And I’m smiling as I type that. Not with unalloyed joy, mind you — I had hoped that my relationship with this publisher would be terrific and that we’d both make money off Wicked Cool. But since we didn’t, I will now go out on a limb and GUARANTEE you, faithful readers, that a print version of Wicked Cool will one day be obtainable. Even if only seven people buy the darn thing. That’s right — my sisters, and the people on the Acknowledgments page.
So stay tuned.
I love reading classic literature. Books become “classics” for a reason. They’re usually great reads, decades and even centuries after they were written. So I plunged into CAMILLE by Alexandre Dumas, fils (not to be confused with Alexandre Dumas, père) with high expectations. After all, this is a tale that has been made into multiple movies, plays, at least one opera — surely this must be a riveting and romantic book. Right?
Okay, this review might contain some spoilers. But since the author announces on page one that the heroine dies, I can’t imagine what bits of information I could accidentally impart to top that whopper. Indeed, the heroine dying seems to be the whole point of the book, since the author spends the first 20% of the story apologizing to the reader for writing about a prostitute (although he is too squeamish to use that word). It’s important that she die. The author assures us at the outset that she will die, because he obviously believes that the horrific suffering of the sinner is the only justification for our reading the book. In the 19th century, you weren’t allowed to just enjoy a story. It had to be “improving” in some way, or vast swathes of the reading public would refuse to read it. I thought this attitude prevailed only in Victorian England and, to some extent, in America. Imagine my amazement when I discovered that it also, all too clearly, prevailed in France — of all places.
Okay, let’s get past the opening spoiler. I can see that an up-front announcement of tragedy might work in some books. You know, it could, in skillful hands, lend a poignancy to everything that follows. But when the author then launches into a series of apologies and justifications along the lines of “I know I shouldn’t be writing about a fallen woman, and you certainly shouldn’t be reading a book about a fallen woman, but I promise to appease your nasty Victorian prudery in the end, so feel free to take all the salacious pleasure you want in reading this book” — he’s now annoyed me so much that I have to read something else for a while.
When I pick up the book again, it gets worse.
CAMILLE is written entirely in the first person. At first, it is narrated by a fictional guy — not Alexandre himself, heavens no; he’s ashamed to feature a fallen woman as heroine, so it has to be narrated by some fictional guy who pities them — who wanders through Paris, attending estate sales, expressing morbid curiosity about the recently-dead Marguerite (who is inexplicably NOT named Camille), pontificating about morality, and making excuses for the book he is about to inflict on us. Then, through a series of improbable events, this guy encounters a distraught young man who was Marguerite’s lover. And now, incredibly, we are subjected to that clumsy device that no writer worth his/her salt would ever dream of using: the double narrator.
Please don’t make me open the book and find the passage where he switches voices. Trust me. He doesn’t really switch voices, just narrators. It runs something like this: “So I sat him down, and this is what he told me. ‘I first met Marguerite when …” And off we go, into the rest of the book, which is now being told by a guy to another guy, who is, in turn, relating it all to us. Ai yi yi.
Since there is absolutely no discernible difference between the two narrators — they have the same attitudes, the same warped morality, the same blind spots, the same tendency to speak in endless paragraphs — why did the author put us through that exercise? For a while, I hoped it was because the dimwitted “hero” also died. That would make sense. A dead hero couldn’t narrate his story. But no, the hero survives. ??!!
Some of the book is autobiographical, based on the author’s relationship with the stunning Marie Duplessis, who died
at the age of 23. (I’m inserting her portrait so you can see what a loss she must have been.) You can sort of tell what part is autobiographical. The dunderheaded
author/hero (for the two are interchangeable)
devotes only a paragraph or two to the charming quirk that gives the book its name: the
fact that the heroine surrounds herself with camellias. Usually they are white camellias, but for five days every month they are red. The author mentions this unique signature and calls it puzzling, claiming that nobody ever knew why, for five days of the month, she carried red camellias instead of white. Gentle Reader, can YOU think of a reason why a woman who made her living by having sex with rich men might adopt a signal of some sort to indicate when she was, um, unavailable for commercial transactions?
Alexandre Dumas, fils, you are an idiot.
The camellias never appear again, mind you. After announcing the camellia thing at the beginning of the book — and titling the book based on the heroine’s camellia habit — we are immersed in a story where the heroine never touches a camellia, never mentions a camellia, and never explains why she seems to have lost her professed passion for camellias.
As a novelist, I would be ashamed to make such a mistake. And I’m very sure my editors would insist that I fix it. They would also insist that I ditch the “double narrator” device. And probably the dead heroine. And the TSTL hero. (That’s “too stupid to live,” in case you haven’t seen the acronym before — and nowadays, it’s the kiss of death that ensures your book will never see publication.)
Example: The hero adores the heroine, who sacrifices pretty much everything for him. He swears up and down that he will love her forever, promises he will never leave her — and wonders why she seems melancholy and troubled and keeps asking him to repeat his promises so often. This is another point that strikes me as autobiographical, because despite faithfully relating it, neither the fictional character nor his creator seems to have a clue what the underlying cause of this behavior may be. Can’t this moron take a freakin’ HINT? She’s hoping that if he says it enough times, it will finally … somehow, some way … hit him like a thunderclap that he ought to MARRY HER. How can he “never leave her” unless he marries her? But no, it never so much as crosses his mind. In fact, he eventually points out to his father that he has toed the line in this regard — he considers it a VIRTUE that he has not, and never will, commit the horrifying, unspeakable sin of giving this woman his name. This “noble” soul who adores him, and whom he supposedly adores, is, even in his besotted eyes, a whore. And his actions guarantee that she always will be. Some hero, eh?
So how, how, how, did this book become a classic?
It has to be the opera, the plays, and the movies — none of which I have seen. Maybe if we were freed from the idiocy and cruelty of the 19th century Frenchmen who control the book’s narrative, and perceive the story from the outside, as it were — just the characters, enacting the story — yeah, that would have to be better.
Even so, I doubt if we’ll be seeing any remakes of CAMILLE in the near future.
That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.
I am amazed, bemused and baffled by those programs they keep coming up with — like “Reading is FUNdamental!” — trying to tempt children to read. “Try sugar! You might LIKE the way it tastes!” makes about as much sense. I’m sorry, but some things just don’t need a catchy slogan. Reading, like sugar, is one of those self-evident and addicting pleasures.
And it can be just as harmful. You don’t hear that talked about so much. Everyone is so anxious for children to read, those of us who were helpless junkies from the day we first encountered Pat The Bunny or Goodnight Moon were actually encouraged to wallow in our addiction. We were held up as models for other children — children doubtless far more active and healthy than we were. We sat through recess with our noses in books. I walked home from school holding a book in front of my face, navigating the streets with my peripheral vision. And, once home, flopped on my stomach on my bed to continue reading. And reading. And reading.
Now that I am an adult, subject to an adult’s perspective on the company of little children, I wonder whether encouraging a child to read is partly self-interest on the adults’ part. I must have been remarkably easy to quiet. I was never bored at my parents’ parties or dinners or meetings or other dull events to which I was dragged at a tender age. I brought books. All I needed was an out-of-the-way corner with some light, and I no longer cared how dull the meeting was, or how far over my head the conversation. I was also pretty easy to buy presents for. “What do you want for your birthday?” “Books!” “What do you want for Christmas?” “Books!” “What should I bring you from Canada?” “Books!”
Granted, if there is such a thing as a healthy addiction, reading might be it. My point is, there is probably no such thing as a healthy addiction. Every addiction has the power to steal important chunks of your life, and reading is no exception. A good book removes you from reality just as effectively as any drug — and even has a hangover effect. If I am in the middle of a good book, do not be deceived by the fact that said book is not in my hand at the moment. I am not with you. I hear you with only half an ear. Watch carefully, and you will catch me walking into furniture or putting the milk in the cupboard and the cereal in the refrigerator. Because if I’m in the middle of a good book, I do not wholly emerge until I finish the last page. And if it’s a really good book, sometimes not for days after that.
Seriously, there are entire weeks when I shouldn’t be allowed to drive.
I was given a Kindle for my birthday. Look out.
There are apparently two types of people in the world — and by “people” I mean avid readers, because really, what other kind of people do I know anything about? — those who read a book once and never pick it up again, and those who read books over and over.
I fall into the latter category. But I rather envy the “hey, I’ve already read that” people. After all, there are so many wonderful books in the world. You can’t possibly hope to read them all, even if you read voraciously and read each book only once. It’s a terrible waste of your valuable reading time, I suppose, to pass the new books by in favor of a book you’ve read so many times you almost have it memorized.
I have entire shelves full of Georgette Heyer novels. I “discovered” her books right around the time she died, and there were a couple of nasty decades following her demise wherein her books were difficult to find. I therefore acquired multiple copies of the ones I did find, and became a Heyer hoarder. I liked to have a reading copy and a keeping copy, you see. Ebay had not yet been invented, used book stores were scarce, and laying my hands on a tattered copy of, say, FRIDAY’S CHILD made me feel like Indiana Jones uncovering the Ark. Now she has, thank goodness, become a “classic” and her books are as ubiquitous as Jane Austen’s or P.D. Wodehouse’s (to name the two authors to whom she is most often compared). But my anxious desire to have two copies of each of her titles was firmly rooted in the fact that I was reading my single copies to tatters.
My husband is hinting about getting me a Kindle for my upcoming birthday. I couldn’t resist peeking at the Kindle store. I’d heard that many titles issued prior to 1923 were available for free in Kindle editions — imagine having Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Darcy at my fingertips! — and I simply had to check. I almost fell off my chair when I found all the E. Nesbit titles I had loved in my childhood, there in the Kindle store …. FOR FREE. The thought of re-reading them brought tears of pure excitement to my eyes. What a treat! What a treasure! Hours of delight stretched before me, days of bliss, weeks of wallowing in her gorgeously put-together language!
Oh, dear. The fabulous new books I am also dying to read will simply have to wait. I cannot deny myself the pleasure of revisiting E. Nesbit.
Now, if my taste for re-reading lies at one end of the spectrum, my mother’s tastes lay at the opposite end. She was mystified when I, at the age of eight or ten, wanted to go with Tracy-next-door to see the movie Pollyanna. “You’ve already seen it,” she said — in her “I’m talking to an idiot” voice. TV’s summer re-runs were torture to her. I actually witnessed her once watch ten minutes of a movie on TV, really enjoying it, before she realized she’d seen the movie years before. Disappointed, she immediately changed the channel.
“It’s a good movie!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, but I’ve seen it,” she replied. And in case you’re wondering: Yes, she would rather invest two hours in a mediocre movie that was new to her than a really good movie she’d already seen.
What is this strange quirk that leads us to be revisitors or … or … non-revisitors? Because the preferences seem to be strong, either way. And they are obviously not genetic. I am closely related to many people, not just my mother, who read a book once and then shelve it forever. And to me, that would be like … I dunno … promiscuity. (“This is a great book! How can you want a different book? Why do you need something NEW all the time?! What’s WRONG with you??”)
I wonder if it has anything to do with being a writer?
Actually, I suspect it doesn’t.
It may have something to do with being a certain KIND of writer, however. I am the slow kind of writer. And it might very well be that I’m so darn slow because I spend way too much time going over what I’ve already written. I go over it, and over it, and over it. I guess I like to go over it. And over it and over it. Because that’s what I do, and why else would I do that?
Some writers write quickly. They create a mysterious product called a “first draft.” I have never written a first draft. When I reach the end of a book, it is done. But that’s probably because I have already gone over it, and over it, and over it …
I certainly waste a lot of time. Oh, the hours I have squandered, reading books I have already read and watching movies I have already seen! I hate to think of all the wonderful books I now will never get around to, and the great movies I will never see, because I have carelessly frittered away my chances, revisiting stuff I already knew by heart! Sad.
On the other hand, E. Nesbit … oh, I can hardly wait.