Fiction, Memory, Reading, Writing

Alone in our heads

In my earliest memory, I am lying on my stomach in the kitchen looking through the square holes in a grate. I am eighteen months old. My parents and I live in the upstairs apartment of an old house converted into a duplex. Our kitchen lies above the kitchen of the downstairs apartment. Our only heat source is radiant, meaning the heat from downstairs rises into our apartment through open grates in our floor. My mother warns me not to drop anything through the holes, but that was never my intention. The family who lives downstairs is eating dinner, their table is directly below the grate, and I am watching them and listening to their conversation. That’s the extent of that memory, but I now see it as an early indication of my interest in observing people, what they do, what they say, how they act and react.

Yesterday, I followed a link to a video interview with John Irving. In one segment1, he mentioned an early indication he knew he could be a writer: he desired and needed a lot of alone time. Aha!, I thought. Sometimes, when I look back on my childhood, it seems sort of like those Charlie Brown cartoons where adults are unseen and their voices are muted. I had parents, two sisters, and a fair amount of friends, but I preferred to spend a lot of time alone with my imagination.

At this point, I can’t say if that choice was strictly my nature or if it had been enhanced by circumstance. I was labeled early in my school career as one of the “smart kids.” That designation sets you apart in ways both good and bad. You may be given free time while other students work on a subject that you breezed through. You may also be assigned extra work. In both cases, you’re alone.

If you’re a writer, then you are a reader. And I presume, like me, as a child you gobbled up books like candy. I don’t know about you, but reading time was alone time for me. And then, inspired by what I read, I wanted to act out my own stories in the backyard with my baby dolls in my “covered wagon” or behind the living room sofa where I sat up an “apartment” for my Barbies. Alone. Whole conversations carried on in my head.

Of course, I played games with other children, but I preferred make believe to sports or most physical activity. I would try to act out some of my stories with friends, but it was frustrating for us all. I always wanted to be the star and director—“now you say this and then you do that and then I say …” It was just easier to play alone.

When I got a little older, the ultimate isolator struck—illness. I spent only nine months of my seventh, eighth, and ninth grades actually in school. The rest of that time I was either bedridden, in the hospital, or recovering from surgery. Except for three months with a visiting teacher, I taught myself and took tests by phone. Needless to say, I didn’t fare well in the social skills usually developed during this period of life. But I can remember only a few times feeling lonely. And never was I bored. I had my imagination.

In light of all this, do I mind that writing requires me to spend a lot of time alone? Of course not. I think I was destined for this life. Only now, I don’t lay on my stomach. I just close my eyes to watch and listen for the story to unfold.

1 The whole interview is here: http://bigthink.com/johnirving  If you want to hear just the portion I referenced, click the segment titled: How to Tell if You’re a Writer

(Previously published on this blog on 7 November 2009.)

Reading

How to Be a Better Goodreads User

Actually, the title of this post is a little ambitious because I’m still learning how to use Goodreads. For a couple of years, I’ve used Goodreads to catalogue the books I read. Of course, my shelves don’t include all the books I’ve read in my lifetime. Wouldn’t that be fantastic if I had such a list? My shelves show many of the books on my home shelves, plus books I don’t own, but remember reading in the last few years.

I haven’t caught up on rating all my books, and I don’t list books I couldn’t give at least three stars or didn’t finish. I haven’t reviewed most of the books on my shelves. It’s something I never gave much thought to until I became a published author. I thought reviewing should be left to professionals. Now, I realize I value more the opinions of readers like me.

Sometimes I’m incredibly slow to catch on. Personalized shelving is one thing I just caught on to at Goodreads. By default, your account has three bookshelves: Read, Currently-Reading, and To-Read. Until recently, I shelved my books only under these choices, but I noticed that readers had placed my book on other shelves. Finally, it dawned on me I could do the same thing with all the books I’d read.

When you look at your list of all books (My Books) you’ll see a list of your default bookshelves and below that the words add shelf. Duh! So now I have twenty-six specialized shelves and I’ll add more if needed. I’m in the process of sorting my books on these more descriptive shelves. You can place a book on several shelves. For instance, I shelved Anne Tyler’s latest, The Beginner’s Goodbye, as Read, Contemporary, and Literary.

If you haven’t done this, and would like to, just add appropriate shelves, then click on the book title. In the section labeled My Review, you’ll see where you’ve shelved the book already (probably read or to read) and you’ll also see the option to edit shelves. Click that and a drop down menu will show you all the shelves you’ve created. Select as many as appropriate.

There are other fun things to do on Goodreads. Befriend or become a “fan” of your favorite authors, attend author Q&A’s, enter book giveaways, join groups, vote for your favorite books on Listopia lists, compare your book lists with others, etc. Someday, maybe I’ll discover it all and be an excellent Goodreads user.

Books, Reading

The Stack

I’ll bet you have one. The size haunts you, and you yet you can’t resist growing it. At times, you may look at it with a logical eye and know you’ll never reach the bottom. You know what I’m talking about. I didn’t need to add a visual aid this time, right?

For those of you who’ve gone digital, you have an extension to that stack, hidden away, where you don’t have to think how high it would stand if it wasn’t virtual. You’ll never reach the bottom of that one either—even if you live to be 109—because it grows monthly. Weekly. Daily?

Yeah, we’re talking books. So many books and so little time. I’ve had a very small book buying budget for over a year, so my literal stack has remained static except for three books I won in giveaways. Then again, my to-be-read stack was already three feet high.

And on my Kindle? Classics and freebies galore. That doesn’t count the list I’ve been making of digital books to download from my local library system. Add to that my regular library book list. If you consider how slowly I’ve added to my total books read in the last four years, and you’ll have an idea how far my TBR stack towers above reasonable.

My lists are flexible. Some books have been on those lists for two years. They’re good books. I really want to read them someday, but bright and shiny new books lead me astray. I never force myself to read a book I’m not connecting with, but when I feel the disconnect is not the book’s fault, I shuffle that book lower in the stack. On another day it might be just the book I’m looking for.

How do you manage your TBR stack? Are you disciplined, setting a size limit, staying loyal to the order you added the books and reading the next one in the stack no matter what? Or do you add unlimited books, willy nilly, and choose which to read according to your mood? And do you feel guilty when you realize a book has been waiting its turn for ages?

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.