Fiction, Reader, Television, Writing

The Role of the Storyteller

I watch Harry’s Law, partly because the character Harriett (Harry) Corn is not young and whip thin. She’s a criminal defense lawyer, who also owns the shoe store on the street level of her building, and is feisty as all get out. Sure, the story lines often stray from reality—no, on second thought, they’re probably as real as the scripted shows disguised as reality TV.

Anyway, I’m particularly glad I watched this week. One of the two cases in the episode concerned a British man under threat of extradition for a crime he’d committed twenty years earlier. In the years since, he’d moved to Cincinnati and bought a tea shop in a depressed neighborhood where he entertained his customers with tall tales.

Many of these customers came to court and testified in the shop owner’s behalf, saying how much he’d enriched their lives with his stories. In a moving defense to the judge, one of Harry’s associates illustrated how the man provided a humanitarian service to his community. He pointed out that the shop owner had taken his customers to places they’d never be able to go, given them adventures they’d never experience, made them laugh and given them hope.

I took that to heart. Since I published The Brevity of Roses, a  few people  have insinuated the book was beneath them, it was only a love story, fiction for the masses. Yeah. It’s fiction for real people. I won’t apologize for that. I’m real people. I won’t apologize for that either. I’m proud that I told my story to so many who let me know they liked it—loved it, even—and I’m happy I could transport them out of their life and into my imaginary world for a few hours.

So, I raise my cup to all the storytellers who’ve enriched my life. How small it would be without them. Won’t you join me?

Advice, Fiction, Novel, Opinion, Reader, Short story, Writing

It has to end somehow

If you’re a writer, I’m asking you to forget all the writing rules you know, and think like a reader for a few minutes. How do you like stories and novels to end? I realize your answer will probably depend on the genre of the read, so feel free to give me multiple responses.

I know if the book is one of a series the ending will wrap up parts of the story, but leave something open-ended. I expect there are other factors, besides genre, that influence types of endings.

When I write, it’s almost impossible for me to end on a truly negative note. As a reader, I don’t need a happily-ever-after ending, but a miserable-ever-after ending is likely to leave me wishing I hadn’t bothered to read the book or story. Also, in my writing, I have a tendency to want to wrap things up—most things. And I suppose I have those same preferences I when I read. I’ll be frustrated if I’m left asking, “but what about …” too many times.

That’s not to say I don’t like to wonder what might have happened a day, or months, or years after The End. Sometimes, as with the ending of my novel The Brevity of Roses, one might assume things will go smoothly, but one could be wrong. I don’t mind entertaining the possibilities of future story after the last page, but I expect the author to have finished the story they’ve just told me.

I’m told literary journals love ambiguous endings. What exactly does that mean? I don’t mind a twist or a bit of surprise at the end to make me think back through the story for clues I missed, but you leave me cold if you leave me screaming, “What the heck?!”

I’m reasonably intuitive. I like nuance. I don’t need everything spelled out for me, in fact that annoys me. But an author needs to respect my trust.  I’ve read stories that kept me guessing, a bit confused even, but I read along expecting it would all fall into place by the end. When it didn’t, that author made me one angry reader.

Of course, I’m asking about endings because I’m struggling with writing one. That’s why I’m asking you AS A READER, how do you like your endings served?

Author, Book Reviews, Fiction, My Books, Novel, Reader, Writing

Does what you bring to a book matter?

If you give a group of writers a prompt, you might be amazed at the variety of tales that result. The same photo of a rose might inspire one to write about a first love, another to write about his mother’s funeral, and still another to write of a serial killer who leaves one in the hand of each victim. Your life experience influences what you write. In the same way, it influences how you read a book.

My novel The Brevity of Roses has received a number of reviews, mostly at Amazon and Goodreads, and I’ve read them all. I didn’t think I would. I said I wouldn’t. I should have known I’d be too curious not to. I know reviews are meant for other readers, not the author, but the varied responses to the book I wrote interests me.

The latest reviewer wrote:

For the record, I am a 100% male reader. I am not a love story genre fan but I found this love story to be compelling.

The Brevity of Roses is NOT a romance novel. It is a thought provoking story of the love between people of different age groups and social backgrounds.

The writing is very well crafted. The characters are developed carefully and seem to spring to life. I felt like they were staring back at me from the page.

This fine debut novel is a story of complex relationships. The complexity level is dependent on the amount of thought given by the reader.

The emphasis on NOT was his. I assume he was disagreeing with the previous reviewer (on Amazon) who titled his review “A good romance novel”. I didn’t set out to write a romance novel, so I don’t view Brevity as one, but if some readers do, I understand that. And maybe it’s only a contradiction of terms; what one calls a love story, another calls a romance novel.

One thing I love about reading is the individuality of the transaction between the author and myself. I ask for a story, and the author gives me one, but I might not be able to drink every drop of the story the author tells. The author can only fill the glass I bring to it. To some extent, the size and shape of that glass determines the story I imbibe.

As a reader, I suspect that sometimes part of a story ran over the side of my glass and dribbled off my chin. What can I do? I drank what I could. As an author, certainly, I’m thankful for all my readers, dribblers or not, but I admit that the deeper they drink, the more gratifying that is.

Author, Books, Opinion, Read, Reader, Reading

Should authors have concerns about e-book lending?

Part One of this article received so little response I’m doubtful there’s reason to post the second, but for the one or two people who might be interested, here you go. As promised, I’ll tell you why I had doubts about two of the e-book lending sites I found. In a word … money.

I won’t name these two sites, or link to them, because I don’t want to publicize sites I have reservations about. If you search out e-book lending sites, I suggest you read their policies carefully and make up your own mind.

One site uses a credit system: each book you lend entitles you to borrow one book. BUT, if you don’t want to lend your e-books, you can buy a credit for $2.99. Wait! Isn’t that an illegal resale? What about the licensing agreement you make with Amazon and Barnes & Noble when you purchase an e-book? Well, you see, the site owners didn’t buy the book, they didn’t “sign” that agreement. They’re just acting as the middleman.

And never mind that thousands of authors, myself included, have e-books priced at $2.99, and by the reader paying the owners of the site for the book instead of Amazon or B&N, the author gets cheated out of a royalty. Hush, silly author. Quit being petty. Just consider the word of mouth potential.

The other site I have bigger doubts about. I’m not concerned about the way they operate the actual book loan, which uses the lending features of the Kindle and Nook, but I have questions about their policy of asking the lender to request the borrower pay for this loan—not pay the lender, but the site owners. The borrower has the option to pay the requested amount, or more, or less, or nothing at all.

The homepage blurb states that “100% of profits in 2011 go to charities promoting childhood literacy” and in one section of their Guide it tells the lender to enter “the amount you’d like to see a borrower contribute to charity for this book.” However, I could find no statement of what percentage of the money they collect is considered profit. What if you pay $3 for the book and only 3 cents of that goes to charity? Would you feel deceived?

Sprinkled throughout this site’s user guide and FAQ are statements that are somewhat misleading, such as these (emphasis mine): “We hope that you’ll be willing to pay something to support our cause, support the authors who bring us such great books, and do some social good!” And, in answer to the question why they don’t set a price for borrowing, they say, “Because it would likely lead to market fragmentation as other markets arose to compete on price, decreasing the benefit of secondary markets to consumers searching for a specific book and authors who deserve compensation for the content they create.

Am I wrong, or does that sound like they are sending the deceptive subliminal message that authors receive a portion of the fees borrowers pay?

If you read their FAQ, you’ll see that their aim is to see Amazon and B&N change their policies to allow reselling of Kindle and Nook books. They say (emphasis mine): “By contributing to eBook Exchange when you borrow a book, you’re helping us work to change that.” My question—how? How would my paying eBook Exchange any amount of money to borrow a book change the licensing agreements?

Again in their FAQ, they state: “Ultimately, by opening up the ebook licensing restrictions that publishers currently impose, we’ll be able to make ebooks available to an expanded number of markets. We’ll be able to reduce ebook prices to many while helping authors earn more.” Truly, helping authors earn more sounds good to me, but I find it hard to believe a third party is interested in helping me earn more. Helping themselves earn money off my work … yeah, I believe that.

Am I missing something? Please, if I’m too dense to see how this is in my best interests as an author, help me understand.

To be clear, I am NOT identifying the above sites as bit torrent piracy sites. For now, they only exchange books through the authorized lending features at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But the whole issue of e-book lending or selling makes me nervous for one good reason—abuse. How so?

E-books are intangible.

If you buy a print book, you have the right to loan it out. You buy one book, you loan one book. Of course, assuming it’s returned, you can loan it out more than once, but look at the most popular print book you own and tell me how many times you’ve loaned it out over the years. Three, four, ten times? Fair enough. An author would consider that word of mouth.

Now, consider the forums where, via email attachments, people trade files copied directly from their e-readers. Disregarding the licensing statement they agreed to when they purchased those e-books, they say, “I have the right to loan out my print books to as many people as I want, so what’s the difference?”

Let me tell you the difference. If you share your “e-book shelf” on one of these unscrupulous trade sites, how many times do you think you’ll be “loaning” each of those books? Not three or four. Not even thirty, forty. A hundred times? A thousand? Where’s the limit?

Bit torrent (peer-to-peer) sites essentially force e-books into public domain—meaning the authors receive not another penny for their hard work after that initial sale. And yes, people do that with music files too, but most musicians make the bulk of their income from live performances and merchandising. Only the big-time authors make real money from public speaking engagements.

As for reselling books, that’s a bit different. Reselling a print book is still within the realm of word of mouth. Books deteriorate after awhile, so its resale can continue for only a limited time. BUT e-books don’t deteriorate. If sites spring up to resell ebooks with no licensing limits, they could duplicate and sell as many copies as they want.

How is that fair to the author? That goes beyond “word of mouth”. That’s theft.

I perused one of these bit torrent book sites once and read an author’s plea after finding her e-book available for unlimited free download. She asked that it be removed and tried to explain that writing was her career and unlimited “sharing” deprived her of income. The response? They told her to go f**k herself!

What say ye?

Author, Books, My Books, Opinion, Read, Reader, Reading

E-book lending libraries—the good?

This is the first of a two-part article on e-book lending. Today I’ll state my opinion of the good side, so I guess you can figure what part two will cover. I’ve known for a while about the Overdrive lending system, which works through the brick and mortar library systems throughout the country. My book is not available through that system—at least, not yet—but I recently discovered that it is available through at least some online e-libraries.

For all the time I spend online, somehow I missed hearing about e-book lending libraries. Yesterday, I signed in to Twitter briefly and checked my “lists” to see what’s been going on in my absence. One of the columns I watch in Tweetdeck is a search for any mention of my novel The Brevity of Roses, and when I checked, I saw the following had been tweeted by @BLFeed a few days ago:

REQUEST: The Brevity of Roses by Linda Cassidy Lewis

I clicked the link and found myself at Booklending.com an e-book lending site for Kindle owners. Some member had agreed to lend their copy of my book in exchange for the privilege of borrowing a different book from another member. Naturally, my next step was to google “e-book lending” to see if there were other sites like that one. Indeed there are. I found eight.

Half of those eight allow you to search their database without being a member. I found my book available on three of the four that do. Seven of the eight lend Kindlebooks, but only four of them also lend Nookbooks. One lends only Nookbooks. Most of them require you to be a lender in order to borrow.

Today, I’m listing only six of the eight lending sites I checked out because I have reservations about the policies of the other two. I’ll tell you about those two in my next post.

How is e-book lending a good thing? For a moment, when I saw my book listed on these lending sites, my inner cop frowned. As I read the lending policies on the sites listed above, I relaxed. They use the lending feature of the Kindle and Nook, so each person who buys a book for their own reader can only lend it once—legally. (More on that in Part Two). So you buy my book, you read it, and then you share it with someone else. Maybe I’ve made two fans of my work. That’s good.

If my books were in physical libraries, either as print or e-book downloads, any number of people would have access to them. As one who’s made great use of libraries my whole life, I can hardly criticize that process. In the seven months Brevity’s been published, I’ve given away nearly as many copies as I’ve sold. Just last month, I gave away fifty Brevity e-books at LibraryThing. Yet, I’ll confess, it makes me nervous to know people are freely trading my book at these sites. Why is that?

I want as many people as possible to read my writing. Yes, I lose money every time someone borrows rather than buys my book, but eventually I’ll have more books out there and if they liked the first, maybe they’ll buy the second. (Gosh, does that sounds like I’m a drug dealer, handing out freebies to get you hooked?)

Maybe it’s just the perceived loss of control. Perceived, I say because for all I know, someone might have bought Brevity in e-format and already given copies to ten thousand people. And I have to be honest, there are books I’d like to read that I can’t afford to buy and my library system doesn’t have, so I’m tempted to see if they’re in any of these online libraries. But if I wanted to borrow, I’d have to lend, and that means I’d be lending some of your books.

Your turn: What say ye about these e-book lending sites? Do you use them? Do you want your books available there?

Read Part Two of this article.