Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: Vacation Packing Tips from Aim 4 Order

Facebook friend and professional organizer Cindy Bernstein's July email was very timely, as usual. Though I wish I'd read her packing tips before I packed for the beach, I really do use most of them already.

But Cindy's comment about clean and dirty clothes getting mixed together made me wonder: Do you toss it all in together, or do you have a system for separating dirty from clean for the trip home? I'm wondering if there are differences along gender or age lines…or if it depends upon who does the packing?

In our family, we all pack for ourselves, and dirty clothes and clean clothes travel home separately -- and that's true for the man, the woman and the teenager (I think). What system (if any) does your family use? Any tips you'd like to share for those whose summer vacations still lay ahead?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How to Make an Author's Day

Last night, I had my first bookstore signing in over a decade. Prior to yesterday, all of my signings for Casting the First Stone had been at Starbucks locations near my home. Each of them had been fun -- and completely different from the others.

But last night, I was stationed at a table at Bethany Beach Books on a beautiful summer evening. My husband took an evening out of his vacation to join me as I set out to say hello to everyone who entered the store, and to follow SuzyQ's advice to stand, not sit, and bring my own Sharpie.

After my second signing at Starbucks last May, I wrote a post about being the person behind the table at a book signing, and last night, as I moved from T minus 1 hour ("Why did I think this was a good idea? What on earth was I thinking??") to the end of the event ("Hey, that was fun!"), I had lots of time to think about what I wished the people on the other side of the table would do (besides buy books, of course).

So, here, inspired by my latest foray into book appearances, I present "Lisa's Suggested Etiquette at a Book Signing," a.k.a. "How to Win an Author Over (Even if you don't Buy her Book)."

Option #1 (for the faint of heart): Overcome the urge to avoid eye contact lest the author leap over the table, knock you unconscious and put a carton of books on your credit card without your knowledge. Seriously, just say hello -- or respond to the author when she does.

Option #2 (for those who are a little braver): Smile and say hello before the author does. And then keep walking, if you must.

Option #3 (for those who feel self-confident): Exercise option #2 and congratulate the author on her accomplishment. And then keep walking, if you must.

Option #4 (for those who are courageous and/or potentially interested): Greet the author (or respond to her greeting) and ask about the book. Asking does not obligate you to purchase anything, and shame on any author who makes you feel as though it does. Give the author a chance to participate in an actual conversation with an actual human and she will be grateful. Even if you don't buy a book. Your genuine interest in her book will make her night -- yes, even if you don't buy a book.

Option #5 (for those who are writers, but have no intention of buying the book) Greet the author (or respond to her greeting) and engage in a conversation about writing. Give the author a chance to participate in an actual conversation with an actual human and she will be grateful. Even if you don't buy a book. Your genuine interest in her book will make her night -- yes, even if you don't buy a book. (Yes, I know I said that already. It bears repeating).

Option #6 (for fairy godmothers, publishers with unlimited budgets and other fictional creatures): Greet the author warmly (or respond to her greeting) and shower her with lavish gifts and offers of a lifetime of publishing contracts that carry six figure advances, frequent, excessive royalty checks and a marketing team that frees her up to write more than she promotes.

I can't speak for all authors everywhere, but I'm realistic. I know that you may not want to buy my book for a variety of reasons. It's not in your budget. You don't like the genre. The storyline doesn't grab you.  Trust me when I tell you that I feel the same way about other people's books. And no sales pitch (which I hate as much as you do, by the way) is going to change your mind.

So, that's not what book events are about for me. Sure, I'd love to sell a few (dozen) copies of my novel, but if I'm going to spend a couple of hours at a bookstore doing something besides browsing and sampling the inventory, I'd like it to include pleasant conversation.

I'm happy to say that last night offered just that. Those who did not respond to my greeting and/or avoided all eye contact entirely were few and far between. Most people returned my greeting, and many appeared to visibly relax when they realized I wasn't going to launch into a high-pressure speech. Some said hello first, and a few others -- complete strangers -- congratulated me. That's always nice to hear.

But the best parts of the evening were the people who stopped to chat. The teacher from Delaware. The  man from Virginia whose wife just scored a book deal with a big NYC publisher. And, of course, my dear friend of nearly thirty years who lives in the area. Neither of the first two people bought a book, but they were fun to talk to. And now they know a little bit about a book they never heard of twenty four hours ago.

The real highlight of the evening, though, was the kids. First, two boys and a girl who looked to be about middle school age (the girl might have been younger) who decided to "go talk to the author," sharing favorite subjects (PE and gym from the boys, reading from the girl), authors (John Green) and titles (Paper Towns) with me. Then, the two thirteen-year-old girls who examined the book and asked me questions, but apologetically declared they had no money, then later returned to ask me questions about writing and to ask for my autograph. Both love to write and want to be authors.

And though it makes my husband shake his head in disbelief, that almost trumps making a sale.

Word Count Wednesday: 5044 :-)

Monday, July 28, 2014

So Many Books, So Little Time

As writers, we often hear the same tired advice dragged out time after time. Write what you know. Show, don't tell. If you want to write, you have to read.

Good advice, all, but there are exceptions to those first two -- plenty of them. Writers who stretch themselves beyond what they know often find themselves transported to new and exciting places, which they then share with their readers. And showing is good, but too much showing drags a story down, leaving readers skimming the page in search of action, or at least a promising stretch of dialogue.

But that last one? That bit about reading what you write? It's true without exception. Writers must be readers first.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't read enough. Oh, sure, I read posts on social media. Texts. E-mails. I skim magazines and newspapers and online articles. But real reading? The kind where I sit down with a book and let the world drift away? I don't do nearly enough of that.

This week, I am on vacation. Because of this, I can voraciously and unabashedly read. I always take magazines with me when I travel because I can read them and dispose of them, which means more room in my travel bag for the trip home and less clutter when I get there. I also pack my Kindle with its wide variety of books and samples.

But the thing I look forward to the most (unless I'm in the middle of something really riveting on my Kindle) is the small stack of real  books I take along. Most of them are novels, but a good non-fiction book usually makes it into the pile as well. And when I go to the beach and camp out under my umbrella, these are the books I focus on first.

I read a statistic the other day that said that "57% of new books are not read to completion." I don't know if that's true or not (the chart was bright and clear, but I don't recall a citation), but I must admit to feeling a guilty little twinge of identification when I read that piece of information.

As much as I hate being part of that 57%, I subscribe to the the "so many books, so little time" philosophy. No longer do I feel obligated to finish a book that's not fascinating. The whole thing doesn't have to be entirely fascinating, mind you -- I will also read a book all the way to the end to find out what happens to a character who takes me by the hand and bids me to follow. But something about the book -- the people, the voice, the pace, the story -- must grab me and pull me along for the ride.
And on vacation, the stakes are even higher. I have one week to get in four times the amount of material I can realistically read in that time. If a book doesn't grab me quickly, it gets set aside because there's another promising candidate right there to take its place. (And if there isn't, that's all the reason I need to make a trip to one of the bookstores at the beach). On this trip, I couldn't wait to finish the so-so book by a highly acclaimed writer that I'd started a few weeks ago (the characters bid me follow, even if the story was not as inviting) so that I could get to the ones I'd checked out of the library to read on vacation.
Like most writers, I read what I write, or at least a close approximation thereof. So, when a book in "my" genre grabs me, it becomes more than a good read. It becomes an education.

I love the folks in my critique groups, and the feedback they give me is invaluable. But all of it -- every single piece -- needs to be measured against the books that are succeeding in my genre. If I don't read "what's out there," it's easy to be swayed against my own instincts by a simple majority. If that majority consists of writers who read and/or write in my genre, then the validity of their input is substantial. But changing voice or language or style to match another writer or another genre can be a well-intentioned mistake.

Years ago, I couldn't imagine reading like a writer. Back then, it seemed to me that reading in that fashion sucked all of the joy out of the reading experience. Now, after more than twenty years as a writer, I can't imagine reading any other way. I discard a lot more books than I used to, but when a book succeeds in pulling me in, I revel in it on an entirely new level.

And sometimes, I even get to go back to my critique group and say "I told you so."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Celebrations: You've Got to Have Friends (The Final Installment)

Since you've already heard the stories, I'm limiting this one to (mostly) captions. Beach bookstore signings coming up….more pictures to follow!

I always have fun setting things up, and
the wall at the Gettysburg Starbucks
provided a great backdrop.

A grande (at least!) iced chai is a requirement
at a Starbucks book signing :-)

Don't I look official?

Wasn't it nice of Holly
to dress to match me
at my Bookiversary Party? 
It's hard to believe that Karen and I have known each other for over a
decade…or that our friendship started when our teenagers
were preschoolers…..
With my current neighbor, Lonna...

…and my former neighbors, Joyce & Kimberlyn
(with my sister and brother-in-law in the background).
Saved the best for last. No way I could have done any of this
without my husband, Steve. :-)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading Now in Ten Minutes or Less: The Aroma of a Good Book

Tokyo Milk Paper & Cotton 17 Perfume
As I prepare for my beach vacation, I face the recurring question: paperback or Kindle? I know I'll toss at least one paperback into my beach bag (along with the library book I checked out yesterday), but I also know the lightweight convenience of a Kindle can't be beat when I'm lugging a week's worth of necessities to the car -- or the beach.

R. Nichols Read Candle
Since I'll have the smell of sand, surf and salt air for atmosphere, I won't miss my new book smell on the beach. But would it perhaps be worthwhile to pack one of these for my reading back at the condo?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Word Count Thursday :-p
Posted yesterday's blog ahead of time so I could enjoy a lovely, if hot, visit to Muhlenberg College with my daughter…but forgot my Word Count Wednesday total. Took a bit of a hit with two college visits within the week, but I ended up with 2294. Hoping to double that this week :-)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Writer's Notebooks
I am a notebook nut. In fact, I imposed a moratorium on my notebook purchases after a recent organization of my office revealed just how many brand new notebooks I already had in my possession.

In addition to my new, just-waiting-for-the-right-project notebooks and the many others in various stages of usage, there are three notebooks I use daily.

My Word Count Notebook. I chose an old steno notebook to record my daily word counts when I began Word Count Wednesday last spring. The two-column format is perfect for this: the date and the task go in the left-hand column and the number of words I wrote goes in the right hand column. In addition, I note writing tasks that did not yield new words (such as revisions) in the left hand column. For these tasks, time spent goes in the right-hand column.

This notebook has a place of honor on the right hand side of my desk. I leave it out because its very presence serves as a nudge to tackle my writing and revisions.

My Sprint Journal. Ever since I attended Ramona DeFelice Long's workshop at the Pennwriters Conference in May, I have been trying to do a writing sprint at least five days a week. Ramona advocates sketching each sprint out in a notebook, but pantser that I am, I like keeping my options open, so I journal after I sprint. Weird, I know. Ramona's planning makes a lot more sense from a logical perspective, but I've found that journaling post-sprint works better for me.

I'm repurposing a calendar as my sprint journal, so each entry includes the date, the length of my sprint(s) and the number of words accomplished during the sprint. Because I make sure that I write in my sprint journal daily, this journal also includes what I did on the days I didn't sprint (e.g. class planning, family responsibilities, etc). This notebook is a companion to my word count notebook, and as such, sits underneath the WCN on my desk.

My Catch-All Notebook. Decades ago, when I took my first course through the Institute of Children's Literature, I was taught to carry a notebook everywhere I go to jot down ideas as they occur to me. Decades ago, this wasn't necessary. As I prepare to celebrate my 53rd birthday, it has become essential.

My catch-all notebook is just that -- a little bit of everything. Slightly smaller and much more beat-up than my WCN or my SJ, it goes almost everywhere I do. As a matter of fact, when I make my daily trip to Starbucks, I often have to remember which bag I used the day before so that I can locate it. Right now, it contains lists of boys' names (I am struggling to find character names I like for my work-in-progress), samples of my daughter's handwriting (guess what traveled to a medical appointment with us last week), lists, class planning notes, and partially written blogs…among other things. I buy these basic notebooks three to a pack at Staples when they go on sale because I like the size and the fact that the pages are perforated.

I don't think I'm alone in my notebook peculiarities; I think proper notebook selection is a quirk many writers (and students) share. It's all part of finding the right tool for the job. To some, the overlap among my notebooks might seem inefficient, but it's a system that works for me.

How about you? Are you picky about your notebooks? Big or small? Top spiral vs. side spiral (or no spiral at all)? Lined or unlined?