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Series loyalty or just insanity? June 28, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Book Series, Critiquing, Musings, Rants, Urban Fantasy.
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I noticed, recently, that a new Anita Blake book had come out. This one was entitled Hit List. Anita Blake was one of my first “urban fantasy” series and can be argued as one of the first that created the genre. Therefore, those of us who enjoy reading and writing in the genre are indebted to her. As well, the first 5 or 6 books were very good, the characterization was intriguing and the mysteries were engaging. Before the werewolf/woman/vampire triangle of Edward – Bella – Jacob there was the Anita – Jean Claude – Richard triangle, which spurred just as many vehement book-lover’s debates!

But then Hamilton decided to change her novel from paranormal fantasy to pointless pornography. I’m not a puritan when it comes to book content, but if it’s in the book have a danged point! You can write a pointless scene about baking a cake or a drawn out pointless sex scene and I’ll snarl equally, because I feel scenes in a novel should always advance either characterization or plot.

Which leads me to my point, why are people still reading Anita Blake? The reviews I see on amazon are negative and decry the lack of plot, novels of pure filler information, the dreadful characterization, the incomprehensible scenes and yet… they KEEP BUYING THEM? Why? Every author can have 1 or 2 duds in a series, but when you have 6 or 7 duds it’s time to give up the series and find something new.

There are so many aspiring, and GOOD, authors out there, after all. Use the money you would spend on a series you dislike and buy something you’ve never read before. You can always keep following the previously good, now bad, series at the library  on the slim chance it gets better.

This does, of course, lead me to a final question. When is series loyalty just too far? Do books really manage to get better after a set of duds, like tv series can sometimes do? (Case and point –> Battlestar Season 3, Farscape season 3 and Star Trek: TNG, season’s 1 and 2, they got better later). But at least, for tv, it’s generally free. Not so with new “episodes” of books.

Electronic versus Paper April 9, 2011

Posted by Realitybypass in Musings.
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I love the written word.  I really do.  I like writing.  I like reading.  I prefer communicating in email or IM over telephone for the most part as I can take a moment to think about what I’m saying and how I want to say it.

I like books.  I like books to the degree that dear hubbie and I must buy yet another bookcase because we already have books double stacked and now a pile is growing next to his bead and it’s possible it may eat someone soon.

I like ereaders.  I like the convenience of having the newspaper on my computer screen.  I love my Kindle app and quick access to books when I’m on the go.  I love the idea of being able to have a print on demand option at my local bookstore.  Select what I want, hit the button and have a book pop out, or ready to download to a thumb drive.  It’s an exciting world we live in.

Sometimes I’m asked which I love best and which bandwagon I belong on.  Shall I cling to my paperbacks until someone pries them from my fold dead fingers?  Or shall I dance around a book bound bonfire while praising the name of Kindle and Jeff Bezos?

Honestly…neither.  I see a place in my home for both at least at this time.  For me the swing factor, if there must be one, hinges on three factors.

1:  Size and carrying convenience.  My favorite paperback size is mass market and we’re seeing a swing towards releasing books in trade size (around 12 bucks) or this obnoxious size somewhere between trade and mass market (around 10 bucks).  This size does NOT fit conveniently anywhere.  It takes up too much space in a purse and won’t go neatly into a jacket pocket or coat pocket.  It’s not quite as much pain as a hardback, but I want the convenience of pocket books: lightweight, sized to carry and simple to fit in two layers on a standard bookshelf.  On the other hand an ebook reader is lightweight and easy to carry, but the nice woman on the airplane makes me turn them off for the first and last parts of a flight.  And if I’m somewhere without immediate access to a power cord and my batter runs out I’m simply out of luck.  No amount of begging will make the machine turn back on and give me my book back.  Both formats can work well…but still leave me wondering.

2:  Price.  I am as price conscience as anyone else out there, at least I believe I am, and when it comes to selecting my entertainment I do watch where my dollars are going.  As far as I’m concerned buying books is rarely a bad use for good money and I don’t mind a reasonable price where I feel like I’m receiving a good value for my money and that the author and publisher are both getting their cuts.  The reason I worry about these folks is that they are the ones who keep producing the content I want to read.  If authors are too poor to eat they’re not going to write and then I can’t have their books.  Likewise if publishers are too broke they stop taking chances on new authors, which I’m hoping to be, or midlisters that I love and we see a focus on more celebrity books and popular culture offerings that bring in good money but which I will never personally read.  The right price point for me ranges between 4-8 bucks on a paperback book and or an ebook.  I don’t mind paying less than that, but I don’t insist on the 0.99 model to be happy.  I’ll do the dance of joy when I find a great book for less, but I don’t fuss over picking up my ‘must read’ authors at normal price.  I don’t buy hardbacks for the most part because I don’t like carrying them around, see point one, and I do not see enough value in an ebook copy of something to pay hardback prices for something I download to my computer, using my internet connection, which I may or may not be able to lend to my friends or give away for a contest or sell.  I just won’t do it.

3:  Availability.  This is a place where ebooks tend to shine.  For most books finding them available in many different ereader formats is easy.  Takes a few minutes to download and you’re curled up on the couch with a new option.  Paper books are available at my local brick and mortar based on what they think I might like or what’s seen as hot and new.  Sometimes this works out and I can walk out of a bookstore with a pile of books.  Often, however, I end up frustrated because for each series I want I can get books 2, 4 and 62, but nothing inbetween.  I hit this when I was getting a book for a gift and could get 2, 3 and 4 of the series, but not 1.  I can’t start someone halfway through the series.  That’s…mean…and it doesn’t make much sense.  If I’m not in a hurry I can order a lot of books online through indie places, the big two, ebay, or at wonderful trade places like paperback swap.  This appeals both to my sense of not wanting to go out in the snow and I can often get a deal on my books, but it does mean waiting, so only works when I don’t need a book for myself or others right now.

In the long run I think everyone involved in the publishing industry is in for interesting times.  I don’t think we’ve reached the end of life for paper books, not by a long stretch, but I do think things are changing.  I think the most important part though is that we will always crave things to read and the experience that comes from being immersed in a story.  People have always craved stories and the things they teach and the escapism they offer.  That won’t change…whether it comes from the mouth, on a scroll, in a paper book, or written between the stars…if you write it they will read.

Love letters and literature… March 10, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Inspiration, Life, Musings, Romance.
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I’m taking French, one of the many requirements for the PHD. I recently was able to read a passage from L’education sentimentale by Flaubert in its native language and found it captivating. It got me thinking, though, of a lost art: the love letter. With the speed of e-mail and texting, we have a lot of electronic-flirting, but some of that is the ‘gut instinct’ communication. But… do people still write love letters? I know a few friends who try to do love notes in their relationships, but what about actual letters. We see romance on tv, we read about it in books, we sing about it in songs, we celebrate it on Valentine’s day, but in our personal lives do we truly take those risks?

I know that I pulled over on the freeway to listen to love letters read on NPR from an author to his sweetheart. I don’t remember the author, but I remember the letters were so compelling I couldn’t focus on the drive. Working in Special Collections I have discovered the power of reading letters between friends and lovers, and the beauty of the prose and turn of phrase you can find in them. People used to read them as literature, as well, but I don’t recall being given any in my education. In Women’s Studies there is an argument that the ‘letter’ and the ‘diary’ is a form of literature that has been ignored because it may have been more the province of ‘the sentimental’ rather than the ‘cerebral’ which is celebrated in literature.

How many of you have written or received a love letter? In my life I’ve received one, when I was 15 years old. I kick myself for not keeping it, even though it terrified me. I wasn’t emotionally ready for such a thing at the time. I have now, at 28, written my first love/goodbye letter. It was liberating, it was fun in a way, it was self-educating… and it was terrifying. But it was also gratifying to hear from the few close friends I asked to ‘edit it’ for me, that they found it touching. What more can a writer ask for?

And… as writers and artists, aren’t we asked to fearlessly bare our subconscious to the world? So… if you haven’t written a love letter, why not try it! If you don’t have someone in your life right now that you’d write to, why not try to writea “friendship” letter to a friend, explaining the value of your friendship? And I’d love to hear about some of the best/worst love letter experiences others have had.

Timpanogos Storytelling Festival August 24, 2010

Posted by Realitybypass in Life, Musings.
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I have always had a love for the written word.  I like writing.  I like reading.  I like the texture and the scent and the feel of books.  However, I also love listening.  I love stories told outloud and performed by those who know them well.  I grew up with stories about ancestors and farming life and stories are the only way I know the paternal grandfather who died before I was born.  All of this a long way to just say I love stories.

Once a year in Orem, Utah, not far from where I was raised, national and local storytellers get together for two days of telling.  They tell personal stories, twisted fairytales, cultural mythos and everything around and in between.  And for a few days we all sit in big tents and we listen and live stories of times and places and thoughts.  I always come away from the Timp Festival inspired about my own stories and knowing I have something to share.  If you’ll be in Utah around Labor Day you really should join us (details at http://www.timpfest.org), and if you don’t look for storytelling opportunities in your area.  I truly believe listening to others makes me a better writer and it’s good for the soul.  There’s just something uplifting about gathering around in the quiet and letting go and being told a story.

Jana Brown

Love in the Library August 19, 2010

Posted by Realitybypass in Musings.
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The husband and I are both voracious readers, him even more than me which is a pretty impressive feat.  So to keep ourselves from bankruptcy we only buy a few books a month and then spend quality time with our local library.  The library is a short walk away from the house and they have a nice selection.  We like it there.

A couple of days ago we returned our latest haul and were browsing for new reads.  We’re both fans of science fiction and fantasy books and so ended up in the same aisle, though I was going down the way and he was coming up.  This meant eventually we were going to pass like the fabled ships in the night.  I stepped in front of him and instead of just stepping by laid a smooch on him.  Yeah, I have no problem with Public Displays.  However, I hadn’t noticed that there was another patron of the library in the aisleway.  It was a kid in his early twenties, yes you know you’re getting old when you call someone old enough to drink a kid, and after the kiss he just stood there in shocked silence.  Finally he got his brain about him enough to say, “I did not expect that…”

My husband didn’t miss a beat and replied, “That’s how you pass people in the library now.”

Our observer blinked a few times, grinned and walked out the other way.  The dear husband and I believe we gave the kid hope.  You can browse the science fiction section and still get the girl, and if you’re lucky she’ll be right there browsing with you and sometimes lay one on you.

~J

(cross posted on livejournal)

Random collection of thoughts… August 3, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Life, Musings.
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On the Today Show today they mentioned a story about a woman who got a rescue after falling off her bike by tweeting “Help” because the phone had too few bars to actually make a phone call. They also mentioned how narcissistic it can be to update everyone on what you’re doing every moment of the day. I was also thinking about the new Verizon campaign of “Rule the Air”. All of these seem to be encouraging this high level of communication and expression of ideas, which can be good, but at the same time shouldn’t there be some censorship of the strange thoughts that flit through our minds day in and day out? So in honor of that, here are several random thoughts that wandered through my head this morning.

  • I like my job. I work in Special Collections at the library. Librarians really seem to be happy people, in general. I suppose as “service” oriented jobs go, people who come to libraries really aren’t that cranky as a rule, unlike hungry people or people calling tech support. Not to mention you get the benefit of working as part of a large group with a lot of autonomous projects to work on.
  • People really haven’t changed. I read a letter from 1917 declaring the downfall of the United States would be caused if women got the right to vote. Family values would be destroyed… the church as we know it would disappear from the planet… and freedom would disappear from the Earth.
  • On that same note… trolls existed even in 1915! Another letter I found was filled with misspelled profanity laden blubbering directed at one of the female suffragists. Type it up and stick it on any new blog online and you’d never realize it was from 1915.
  • Women do still want heroes. You don’t have to go out and save kittens from trees and rescue damsels, all while wearing tight fitting tights and a cape, but you do have to face the world with self confidence, honesty and a sense of purpose. (Being chivalrous is nice too… there’s a big difference between chivalry and chauvinism!)
  • Why doesn’t Subway advertise its yummy breakfasts?
  • Isn’t it strange that the Sandwich Board sign is coming back? You know the ones where people stand outside in 100 degree heat wearing a sign. Aren’t billboards enough?
  • Michelle Obama seems very nice. Some people just have a “nice guy” (or gal) aura about them. I’d love to meet her, not because she’s the First Lady, but just because she seems like she’d be a lot of fun to talk to.

There you go, random thoughts. What are your random thoughts of the day?

Suffragettes in Texas June 15, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Historical, Musings.
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I’ve been working lately in the Special Collections and archives at my University which has been a unique treat. Reading letters and articles from 50 or 100 years ago, or more is an interesting insight both into history and a fertile source of new ideas for writing. For instance I always dithered on what my character Benjamin’s job would be during his non-vampire days, and reading and learning about the jobs of the wealthy but still working, crowd of exiles in the United States let me give him an authentic job: poetry and running a personal newspaper. It seemed to be a popular passtime for educated men with money in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

I’ve also been working with the documents of suffragettes in Texas and one thing that particularly stood out to me was naming. All of the women were named Mrs. John Doe, or Mrs. Harry Smith, other than a few. I found it intriguing how these women were working for equal rights and were pioneers of feminism but many of them we don’t even really know their names, they became simply the “Mrs” to their husbands. It also lead me to wonder if I’d have been a suffragette in that time and to examine my feelings towards voting. It was a 60 year fight for women to earn the right to vote, something we take for granted now. In fact in the documents some of the states permitted non citizens to vote, while women could not.

2am posting… May 9, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Inspiration, Life, Musings, Writing Craft.
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The writing process is always an interesting journey. I very diligently sat down under the light of the sun in order to work on my term papers, the final one due on Tuesday. I told myself I would finish them, and leave the evening for goofing off and more importantly, the night time for sleeping. But for some reason… I keep getting jolted out of bed at 12 midnight to do my best writing. I agonized over 5 pages all day, and just breezed through the edits of those first five and an additional 6 in the last 2 hours. I’m going to be exhausted at church tommorow I’m sure, but all I want to do is keep working on it now that I’ve gotten into that writing groove.

This is why I tell people my muse is a big blue tiger, similar to Hobbes (only blue), that hits me with strange ideas when I should be sleeping. Are there any other midnight to 3 am writers out there?

Whatever happened to pick-up lines? March 6, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Life, Musings, Rants.
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I played hooky from my work, my house cleaning and my class-reading Friday night to test a theory. What is the theory? Well dating advice suggested that single women will never meet men out and about if they’re even with one other woman. The suggested reason? According to the study, men are too uncomfortable to be rejected in front of even one other person.

Fie I cry! If men are allowed wing men, why can’t we have wing women? Fie! More Patriarchy! (Said in her most saber rattling voice!)

But more seriously, I decided, why not. The study suggested to bring a book to a bar  to go read, and I brought my new Mini-laptop instead and settled down at my favorite upscale coffee and wine bar and began working on grading exams. There were 5 men around my age, several rather good looking. 3 were enmeshed in a cutt-throat game of Connect 4. I watched them a little and smiled and kept working. After 30 minutes one of the men on the other couch in the far corner approached (unsteadily) and drunkenly sat down. Already swing…. and strike out. But the conversation wasn’t even an amusing attempt at drunken pick-up lines. He asked if he was bothering me, asked me my job… and then promptly asked me for my age. His even drunker buddy returned and asked me how much money I make. They then inform me how bad the Carpentry industry is currently, otherwise they’d have more money and thus be drunker. In the space of 5 minutes they’ve informed me they’re complete lushes, rude when drunk and have no money. I am grateful when Less-Drunk-Harry (names changed to protect the inept) tells More-Drunk-Dave that they should leave and they stand to leave. More-Drunk-Dave however leans in and grabs for my computer, asking me if it’s a ViOS. I move it out of the way. I don’t even like my FAMILY to touch my computer! AGH! He asks me, “What’s your name again and can I call you some time?”

Maybe when hell freezes over! (So that’s what I should have said, according to my girlfriends… I just politely informed him I was seeing someone, but I was flattered thank you.)

So then another young man walks over, this one is tall, dark haired, swarthy looks and I’m wondering if the night has improved. He asks if he can sit down at my table, and I agree. The moment he sits down I get a lungful of stale cigarette smoke. Ugh! I hate cigarette smoke period, but stale…unwashed out of clothing… smell is just awful and I can smell it from across the table! Swing and strike.  But maybe he’ll be an interesting conversationalist, even if I don’t date smokers.

But Smoke-stack-Joe (name changed) manages to completely move from ‘smoker I won’t date’ to ‘complete loony’ when he informs me in the space of 5 minutes that:

 1) He’s jobless and highly sensitive to being asked, and not really looking.

2) He dropped out of college because of personal reasons

3) He really shouldn’t go out because he “hates f* people”

4) He uses highly rude expletives every other sentence (he calls them explicatives and feels they give his speech emphasis. I feel more like my great-grandfather, cursing shows a lack of vocabulary)

5) His family is involved with the mob and he feels that the mob has the right idea, we’d not have so many “f* idiots if the credit card companies killed people for defaulting on loans.

6) His father, who was in the mob, went crazy and had to be committed.

While I have some sympathy and the PHD in me was analyzing how father issues would definitely cause a lack of direction in adulthood, the woman in me was screaming in terror. Bad manners, no ambition, bad language, bad genetics and violent tendencies…. um no.

Maybe the pick-up-line was created to allow women to gauge a man’s verbal skill and creativity! Or at least… maybe they have to be sober enough to remember it…

But the moral of the story, I was very happy to go home to my computer, my cats, a nice book about a man with manners, and some Angry Chick music on my Ipod. My question for blog-land though, is there a ‘too nice’ when it comes to obnoxious bar flies?

Oh…. yes, forgot to mention, earlier I met a charming 64 year old at my favorite sushi place. He was good company, shared stories of eating oysters in his childhood and suggested some nice upscale clubs downtown. And that…. was the best conversation and prospect of the night, someone my grandfather’s age.

No more bars for … maybe… ever. Jeez.

Friday flashback: Youthful chills and thrills March 5, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Book Series, Children Books, Friday Flashback, Musings.
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Today I wanted to start one of our new “regular”, or in our case “semi-regular” postings. Wednesdays have always been our book review days, and Friday is going to be a Friday Flashback. We’ve noticed that our previous blogs from past years are being commented on over on blog.com, so Jana and I decided to re-run some of the former blogs on Fridays.

So without further ado, the first Friday Flashback: Youthful thrills and chills.

I was thinking the other day about how I ended up with a fascination for sci-fi, fantasy and the darker side of literature. My Dad reads mostly John Grisham and Michael Crichton political thrillers. I read them too, but in a book store my feet just naturally carry me into the fantasy section (or the mystery section too, but we’ll get to my other addiction another day.) Now Dad will watch fantasy and sci-fi with me, but it’s not his first choice. My mother describes all science fiction as “It’s all depressing, with all those ugly people!” Vulcans! Ugly!? Gasp!

So how did I end up loving Star Trek and tales of vampires?

It just happened.

In his book, On Writing Stephen King wrote “I was born with a fascination for the unquiet grave” (paraphrased). That really rang true with me. My youthful reading consisted of Bunnicula (a vampire bunny rabbit) and as many ‘Scary Stories to tell in the Dark’ as I could get my hands on. It didn’t matter that I spent as much time with the covers pulled over my head as sleeping, I couldn’t get enough of the thrills and chills.

One book I particularly remember was called ‘Wait til Helen Comes’. I read it 5 or 6 times as a kid, and it scared me every single time. I should go back and read it again, see if the youthful terror still gets me!

Inevitably reading turned to creating and my younger siblings became research subjects as I experimented with my own ghost and goblin creations. They, and the neighborhood kids, soon joined me in my terror filled sleepless nights and I found that being the agent of that terror was fun! Apparently they did too, since they kept coming back for more.

There’s something magical about a “scary story” that brings us back to Halloweens of our youth when familiar trees became a little more sinister, every bridge might just hide a troll and the strange house down the street hides witchy secrets. It bypasses the mundane and makes reality just a little more fantastic.

So my ‘writer’s advice’ or ‘reader’s advice’ for today is pick up some of those children’s books and young adult books you loved as a child (or some you managed to miss out on).

My list:

  • Scary Stories to tell in the Dark (Horror, elementary)
  • Wait til Helen Comes Mary Downing Hahn (Horror, upper elementary)
  • Bunnicula series James Howe (Horror, upper elementary)
  • Anything Roald Dahl, Especially The Witches (Horror/Macabre)
  • The Redwall series, Brian Jacques (Fantasy)
  • The Wild Magic series Tamora Pierce (Fantasy)
  • The Dark Moon series Meredith Ann Pierce (Fantasy)
  • Anything RL Stine. (Maybe not the best writer, but definitely some creative work) (Horror)
  • In a dark dark Room Alvin Scwartz (Children’s ‘spooky’)
  • I’m Going to Eat You Matt Mitter (Children’s ‘spooky’)