Regarding How to Read and Consume E-books: Like I Have A Clue

It appears likely that I will be the author of at least one book, maybe more, that will be available in an e-book edition. As a result, I started considering how I should consume said e-books, because I’m not really doing that right now.

I was going to make this an in-depth study of e-book readers and formats, but guess what, I didn’t make the time to go ahead and research any platforms that I could use to read them. Instead, I decided to make this a quick piece about my (very brief) history with ebooks and the pros and cons I have with them.

Either my wife or my mom got my an ebook device who knows when from who knows what company. After a few years of sitting on my desk at home, I wound up stowing it in the big plastic tub where I store all of my old electronic stuff I no longer use but might remotely have a possible use for later. (All the kids out there, mine included: Don’t buy a lot of stuff. After a couple of decades at least half of it is going to either be in storage or cluttered junk, and you won’t remember most of it, anyway. Save your money and go on vacations instead.)

So, I’ll just list my pros and cons for each media, and let the chips fall where they will.

The Wood Books (just books)

Pros:

  • I can pick them up and read them anytime anywhere, except in the rain (naturally) or the dark.
  • No loading times.
  • Can be a nice decorating touch for a home office or library.
  • A pretty straightforward gift for people.

Cons

  • Heavy as hell and inconvenient to pack up and move.
  • Take up too much space once you get a whole bunch of them.
    • I might have mentioned before that I’ve had to get ruthless at culling my current collection, and I probably haven’t been as ruthless as I’ve needed to be.

The Metal and Plastic Books (ebooks)

Pros

  • Easy storage.
  • You can get a bunch of them and not break any of your shelves.
  • Portability is pretty nice, too.

Cons

  • No power, no reading.
  • Difficult to figure out all of the ins and outs of the programs.
  • Different formats – why can’t I buy one ebook and have it read on different platforms?
    • If any readers know if this is possible, let me know in the comments.

Well, regardless, I’m going to take another dive into this brave new world and see what is up with it. Wish me luck, and I’ll write more later.

 

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A Writer’s Biography, Volume I, Part 7: The Old Library

Yesterday was the last day that I checked out books from the library of my childhood.

 

It’s not like my community (Muscatine, Iowa) is losing a library, like too many others have in this country and others. In about two weeks, the current location you see above will be closed for four weeks. That’s why I decided to stock up while the getting is good – and got all of my library fines forgiven, as well! Classy move from the librarians. (I admit I am an inveterate book hoarder who has been fined by libraries in four different Iowa counties.)

Afterwards, the Musser Public Library will reopen as the HNI Community Center and Musser Public Library. (HNI makes stuff like office furniture, so if you work in a cubicle you might be sitting on or working on something they made.) This is what it’s going to look like:

HNI Musser Public Library

I mean, it looks classy, at least. HNI had an old headquarters building that was just sitting around and said why not let the city have it, since the older place was getting a bit run down. Here’s some info on the project if that kind of thing interests you.

I think there were things like roof issues, foundation issues, and some other things that required the old place to get retired. They first built the library that I used nearly 50 years ago. I mean, it looks ultramodern and slick from the outside, but it was built in the past century… like me.

Musser isn’t like a nickname for Muscatine or anything – it was the name of one of the old families here in town beginning in the 19th century that were some of the first to make some money – I think in the lumber business. The original library, build around the start of the 20th century, looked like this:

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If I went to libraries in Illinois and Texas when I was a young child, I do not remember them. I remember the first school library I had at Grant Elementary, a modest room overlooking the parking lot where I first started sorting for books. Central Middle School had a third-floor library, tucked away from everywhere else. I managed to plow through all the books they had of interest before I left.

The library of Muscatine High School, where I spent four years, was an ultra-funky layout that spoke to the building’s 1970’s origins. It was and is located in the center of the main building, on a mezzanine level between the ground and second floors. Back in the days when I went to school there, the sides of the library were open to the walkways of the ground floor below. A few years after I had graduated. apparently some students had thrown some smoke bombs from the library down below into those walkways to cause some consternation among the faculty. Well before the time I returned to the high school as a substitute teacher, they had walled off those open areas with paneling to prevent that from happening again.

However, it was the Musser Public Library that soon became my home. It’s a little difficult for me to recall how I first started getting there. I have to assume that my parents were willing to take me there as a child, to drive me there. After all, the location was catty-corner from the building where my engineer father spent the vast majority of his professional life as an engineer.

What I remember about those times, both before and after I started hauling myself to the library on a moped and then in a car, was how every topic I wanted to read about was there, open for me, at the library. That was where I was able to indulge my love of Stephen King, and, years later, Richard Laymon. I started learning about how good biographies could be, and how a book about building a castle could keep my attention until it had finished explaining how such a structure could be built. That’s where I learned about tourism guides and how they could become useful tools in my research. I believe that’s also where I learned about young adult writers like Julian F. Thompson, on Koertge, Paul Zindel, and others. I also got into Michael and Jeff Shaara and more historical fiction than I could shake a stick at.

I also remember the big comfy chairs, either over on the side or in the new additions area, where I hunkered down and started reading stuff. I would spend hours there, and had to make sure that I had enough quarters there to feed the meters or I would have to pay paring as well as book fines. (That didn’t always work out.)

That library was one of the main influences on wanting to write. I wanted to see if I could create something that could sit on the shelves along with all of the other works. I still might manage that.

 

The Road Ahead

“When you don’t have something interesting to write about, write something, even if it is boring.” I might have just as easily heard that quote somewhere as made it up myself, but I’m going ahead with the idea.

Yeah, it’s going to be one of those posts.

So, let’s try for starters…. Random Thoughts! OK:

  1. My Facebook feed is getting clogged up with writer’s group posts (good; it waters down all of the political posts) and many of the writers are making political/religious posts (not so good). Do you know you can opt out of notifications of posts you have made or contributed to? It’s a cool way to get your life back. Also, did you know I’ve got a writing Facebook page? Feel free to visit it, although I do have the feed on the sidebar.
  2. I’m going to make an effort to send out or put together at least one query letter tonight. My goal is one letter per week. I have already put together a general letter; all I need to do is rework it for the intended audience. Doing the grunt work like that can be hard.
  3. I am going to get something written tonight. If all goes well (and even if it doesn’t go the best), I am planning to breach the 60,000-word mark tonight.
  4. As for the title of the post… I’ve been doing the math. All of the genres I would conceivably write in would call for manuscripts of around 80,000 to 100,000 words.

    Now let’s do the math together. I am shooting for a minimum of 500 words per day of writing. That is about 3,500 words per week if I am working every day. Let’s further say that I am not as ambitious as that goal. Let us say, for example, that I wind up in 2018 with a per-day average of 300 words. However, that is still formidable. You want to know why? Because if you divide 100,000 words by 300, you realize that you could complete a 100,000-word novel, even at this glacial pace, in 334 days. If I did manage to keep to my basic minimums, averaging 3,500 words per week, I’d have a 100K first draft novel ready in just 200 days.

    When I saw those numbers, people, it took my breath away. After years of screwing around, not getting on with my writing, I seem to have a road forward. For your information, I have only missed the 300-word rate (about 2,100 words per week) four times during the 18-week stretch that I have been monitoring my word count. The last time that happened was in mid-October, and that was the only time it’s happened since August.

    For the first time in my life, I have a consistently working writing instrument. It’s a good feeling to have.

Getting Started on the Publishing Journey

Even as I am continuing on the new project, getting The Holy Fool into publication is now a priority. Given the story itself is set in 2008, it would make a lot of sense from a marketing and general interest standpoint to release the story on that 10-year anniversary.

I’ve been taking a look at some query possibilities, including both agents and publishers. Personally, it’s nice to see that many of them are accepting email queries now rather than expecting people to pay postage. Computer files take up a lot less space than reams of paper, as much as I’ve been a fan of paper in the past.

Right now, the first necessary step seems to be to put together a main query letter that I could use in most circumstances. Naturally, I’d modify it as need be to match the particular recipient. I think having the query ready to go would help speed up the process, especially as I plan to send out and keep track of multiple queries.

With a meeting of my writing group coming up, I’m seriously considering having the query letter reviewed by them to see how well I’m selling the book. A couple of them have already been published, so the advice would be useful, maybe more so than looking at my new manuscript.

Of course, if any reader of this blog happens to be an agent or publisher that might be interested in a journalism-based thriller, feel free to contact me as soon as possible.

Reading Like a Writer, Continued; The Dialogue 

Over the week, I’ve been going over this idea I had about what I notice in other people’s writings, what I skim over unless I make an effort to pay attention, and what I’m automatically drawn to reading.

As I started to review some of the books that I’ve read over the years, there’s a couple of items that I tend to skim over, such as extended descriptions of movements, like the setup of a battle or a location, and the physical description of some characters if they are extended. The one thing that always catches my interest, however, the thing that always inspires me as a writer, is dialogue.

The minute I start reading about people verbally interacting with each other, it starts to spark my imagination. This interplay between people tells me about who they are, how they relate to others, and the world they live in. Reading dialogue in a story immediately tells me whether the characters are going to be people I want to get to know.

As you might figure, I immediately find myself attracted to writers who do well with dialogue. Doug Adams and Stephen King did pretty well at the art of having their characters speak. I also remember reading On Writing by King and him saying that some guys had talent writing dialogue (Elmore Leonard) and some didn’t (Lovecraft). I mean, read this:

‘You wear your shades at night,’ Chili said, ‘so I’ll think you’re cool, but I can’t tell if you’re looking at me.’
Raji put his glasses down on his nose, down and up. ‘See? I’m looking the fuck right at you, man. You have something to say to me fuckin say it so we be done here.’

  • Be Cool, Elmore Leonard

I’ve also come to be impressed with Cormac McCarthy’s dialogue, as well.

As I wrote different works of fiction, I was surprised that one of the positives that people pointed out about my writing was how I handled dialogue. Now, however, maybe it might not be much of a surprise.

Do I read like a writer?

As I’ve begun to revive my interest in fiction writing, one of the things that I have begun to analyze more closely is how I read other people’s writing, specifically fiction.

This might sound weird at first. “What does how I read have to do with how I write?” Our boy Stevie King always said that the only way that you could be a good writer was to read a lot and write a lot. But how does the way that you read affect how you write? I’ll try to explain this concept as I understand it, or at least how I would define it.

In the photo I included with this post is a book by Jeff Shaara, one of the writers I got interested in several years back. I’d seen the film Gettysburg on TV, then decided to check out his dad Michael Shaara’s book that the film was based on, The Killer Angels. From there, I learned his son was writing a ton of historical fiction books, and I’ve been reading them ever since. Jeff Shaara does historical fiction, almost all of them based on past American wars. It’s a topic I’ve long been interested in, so I was all over those books.

It was just a year or so ago, however, as I started to analyze how I write and put together scenes, that I started examining the writings of other people. I realized how much I skimmed over scenes when I read because the level of detail just bogged me down. Shaara is a pretty good example of that.

What I am trying to do is be more of a writing reader, analyzing how my favorite authors take care of scenes and see if I can incorporate some of those skills in my own work. Although, it has also made me see that maybe I write the way I do because that’s what I prefer in storytelling. If I don’t like to read through massive, overly detailed descriptions, maybe that’s just not my style as a writer.

On a related note, I took one of those “What type of writer are you?” quizzes where you input your writing and they described what writer you most resemble. I took it twice; the first time, it told me I resembled Arthur C. Clarke, and the other time it said I wrote like Agatha Christie. Guess I’ll have to strategically read a few of their books over again…