Sunday, December 27, 2009

Antiques and Traditions

My husband and I have a Christmas tradition. Every year, we go to a holiday show and purchase a new nutcracker for our mantle. This year we saw David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries, but what we discovered in historic downtown Petersburg, Virginia was not just the cozy Sycamore Rouge Theatre.

What won me over about Penniston’s Alley Antiques was not the blue and white china, the antique secretary desks, or the Staffordshire porcelain dog figurines that I felt like I knew all about from Emyl Jenkins’ latest mystery The Big Steal. What won me over was that scattered throughout the entire shop, on shelves, on counters, on tables, and on chairs, were small stacks of books. We found our perfect Santa-clad nutcracker, but we uncovered so much more. As I said to my husband, my weakness could be so much more dangerous than old books.

As I debate whether I’m okay with the idea of e-books, there is something so comforting and personal about holding ninety year old leather binding in my hands. The gold font on the cover is slightly cracked with age, but the printed fleur-de-lis on Rostand’s Cyrano De Bergerac gives it strength. My new book was copyrighted in 1920, and a faint sticker inside shows it once sold for ninety-six cents.

Whose hands did this play pass through? Did an actor practice these lines in the Roaring Twenties? Did these words distance a reader’s mind from the Great Depression? Was this blue cover hidden and covered in dust for decades? The stories of tangible books are almost as intriguing to ponder as the stories contained between the covers. I can’t help myself.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sony Plots Death of Amazon Kindle

Doesn’t it sound like some corporate sponsored thriller? The Sony Corporation lurks in the shadows, watching Amazon’s every move, waiting, watching, breathing as softly as possible to avoid detection. Amazon has an eerie feeling it’s being watched, but every time it turns around, there’s nothing in the shadows but dust.

I can’t take credit for this blog’s title. This article is where it came to my attention:

Now, I, myself, will forever be a collector of tangible books. I love the strength of black letters on an off-white page, the dry smoothness of each piece of paper, the way pages stick together, the musty smell of a used-book store, the unique atmosphere of each independent bookseller’s shop, and the desire since childhood to see my own name printed on that hard-covered work. But I would be kidding myself to say that this should be the only form we as readers and writers should cling to.

Books are no longer bound by hand or bound in leather; perhaps we need to summon the courage to accept that our tomes can also be bound in bytes. I have an aversion to the Kindle in the same way that I have an aversion to that first colored leaf of autumn - the first note to break my delusions of an eternity of delight, be it hard-back books or summertime. However, I’m willing to admit that e-books could be a possibility of the future. If the next generation of readers wants digital, we can go digital. If that’s what it takes to keep an interested audience for books, by all means, let’s keep our readers happy.

I vote, though, to keep all readers happy. I’m willing to go digital if we still have those special editions still on paper – recycled paper.

Amazon’s in on the game; Sony’s fighting for their share; Google’s getting involved; how about you?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Call my name, Bastian! Call my name!

The Neverending Story, one of my favorite movies as a kid, was on television last night. I won’t lie. Long ago, I created a mix tape that started with its theme song, and I had a crush on Atreyu. However, the subtleties of that film went straight over my head as a child. I was more concerned with the courageous adventure, the sadness of Artax’s death amidst the fog and mud of the Swamp of Sadness, the wind blowing through the fur of the flying luck dragon, the fanged terror of G’mork, and the idea of being a character in a book I was reading.

Those details alone entranced me, but watching it now, there is so much more to appreciate. Much like the clapping to save Tinkerbell and the mailing of letters to Santa Claus, the importance of imagination drives The Neverending Story’s plot. Indeed, if the dreamers stop their dreaming, the Nothing will take over and destroy Fantasia.

“But I can’t,” screamed Bastian. “I have to keep my feet on the ground!”

Do we really? To an extent, of course, we all cannot forget our daily responsibilities, but that’s the fun of life as a writer. Our feet touch down on occasion, but they aren’t tied down with the restraints of gravity.

The Southern Oracle tells Atreyu, “If you want to save our world, you must hurry. We don't know how much longer we can withstand the Nothing.”

The ominous black swirling clouds and thunder crashes of the Nothing scared me as a child. The symbolism of it echoes my passion for writing today. The Nothing is the lack of imagination, the lack of people who wonder and of children who find the world “curiouser and curiouser” to borrow a line from Lewis Carroll.

But as the Rockbiter said, “They look like big strong hands, don’t they?”

His hands failed him, but yours don’t have to. Pick up your pens or stretch your fingers over that keyboard. What are you going to write? Racing snails? Ivory Towers? Grains of sand that can create new kingdoms? As I’m ending a semester of teaching an overload and having little time to play with language, I’m thinking about diving back into a new project.

It’s funny how a childhood favorite film can act as a call to arms. We must all do our part to fight the Nothing. Meanwhile, what is the name that Bastian gives the empress at the end of the movie? That's been bothering me for years!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Readers and World Records

Does it really take a mention in the Guinness Book of World records to be noticed and interesting to the masses as a writer? I ask this question after a particularly telling class with my students last week. Sure, it’s nearing the end of the semester. Their minds are off past exams, into their winter break and whatever holiday adventures might ensue. I understand those moments. I have them myself. Yet as a writer, standing in front of a class, introducing an internationally best-selling author, my students’ apathetic eyes told the story of how hard it is to capture the attention of the public.

When I mentioned how Paulo Coelho was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the author that has been translated into the most languages (67), some heads tilted in thought, eyes awakening with interest.

This is what we as writers need to achieve. What is that detail that we can say about ourselves that will grab the attention of the public? What makes you different than the others? It’s what we need in those query letters to agents, in those sells to editors, in capturing the minds of our potential readers.

How’s this? I’m working on a present-day thriller based on historical American secrets not even included on Wikipedia. Intrigued? Maybe? Hopefully? This is true, though I’m not quite giving out details yet.

Paulo Coelho has been one of my favorites for years. He’s a writer that’s struck a chord with audiences and apparently his Guinness Book of World Record title gathers even more attention.

We all need to find our angle, though. Do you have any schemes, plans of action, or killer opening lines? If anyone has any ideas how to get into Guinness, definitely let me know.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Rustle of Webpages turning

I’m absolutely torn to shreds on this issue – something that newspapers and other paper publications might not be able to say for much longer. Are we really losing the rustle of newspaper pages turning? Are magazine stands soon to be a destination of the past?

To be absolutely honest here, while I loved doing crossword puzzles on lazy Sundays with my mom, perusing local stories, international news, and the funnies, I haven’t bought a paper newspaper myself in years. As an avid reader and writer, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that. The loss of the paper reading world scares me, but I am just as at fault as every other reader of Google news. I’ve done nothing to stop the trend beyond lament the change.

I bring up the topic this week after seeing (on yes, the paperless blasphemy of Google news!) the following article: The publishing giants are joining forces to find a new means of survival in this age when everything is changing, and perhaps, so should all of us. My heart and soul shudder as I type these words, but it is my brain that writes them.

If the writers among us cling only to paper, we will be left behind, not immediately perhaps, but within our lifetimes. If the readers among us, seek variety, quality, and innovation, sticking to paper will limit our scopes.

Will the term 'newspaper' itself become outdated? Will we read the 'news' alone as no 'paper' will exist to hold in our hands?

I’m only on the brink of acceptance here. Perhaps recognizing the future of newspapers and magazines online is my baby-step to accepting ebooks.

What do you think?

Hey Richmond! Go to the movies!

Richmonders (and everyone else for that matter), celebrate the latest hometown success! Go to the movies, and check out Richard Kelly’s The Box.

My husband and I went to see The Box on opening night with some friends. We didn’t realize how little people knew about this film and its Richmond connections until Cameron Diaz, who stars in the film, says the line, “Are we ever going to leave Richmond?” The entire theatre gasped around us, and suddenly all of the little clues began to be noticed. In the kitchen, a 1970-something Ukrops Christmas calendar hangs on the wall. The country club is called Maymont. The skyline of downtown Richmond and the I-94/64 interchange with the Main Street Train Station flash between scenes…

This may be screenwriter and director Richard Kelly’s third film – the award winning, cult classic Donnie Darko and Southland Tales were his first two – but you can tell he’s still a Richmonder at heart. Check out his full story, a la Richmond Magazine:

To give you an idea of the genre, The Box is based on a 1970 short story by Richard Matheson called “Button, Button,” which was also made into a Twilight Zone episode. Thoughtfully done, suspenseful, eerie, and intriguing, you’ll walk out of the theater chatting. Existential philosophies of Jean Paul Sartre, moral dilemmas, suspense, humor, and lots of Richmond make it a must see.

That ever-important first line

"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages will show."

Coming up with that first line - the line that defines you and sets the tone for all musings and imaginings to come, the line that grabs the readers attention like a blast of cold, January air, the line that can be the source of sleepless nights and tossing and turning and annoyed husbands because of the aforementioned tossing and turning - can be difficult.

Therefore, I'm borrowing from Dickens in this first blog. I'm hoping he won't mind. It just seems such a fitting beginning. Kudos to Charles for that! I just wonder how many insomniatic evenings were the source of it.

For those that don't know me, welcome to my new blog. For others, feel free to follow my old blog, but nothing new will be added there; so I suppose it would be a rather dull pastime.

Happy reading and writing everyone!