December 9, 2014

              Readers, Writers, and…well, Normal Folks

As a reader, have you ever wondered what made writers… writers?
What compels them to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys, as the
case may be) day after day, year after year? What gives them the
talent, the skill and the drive to crank out novel-length fiction in the
face of almost certain failure? Is it something in their genetic
makeup, some special hard-wiring others don't have?

Well, I did. I knew what compelled me to write, but I didn't consider
myself their peer. I was "just a writer." These people were actual
authors.

"Author." What a magical word that is to a writer. I remember being
at a friend's book signing not so long after I was first published,
someone said to me, "I never met a published author before." "Me
either," I said. Then I realized he was referring to me. That could
be the first time I realized I was no longer "just a writer." I'd
snagged the gold ring.

Now, don't think I'm putting anyone down with my "just a writer"
label. I know firsthand what a struggle it is to break into print. I
guess I'm a slower starter than most, because it took me nearly
thirty years of hard hot work and cold rejections before I was
picked up for publication. By then, I'd written seven novels. For all
of those thirty years, I wasn't "just a writer" as I thought. I was an
aspiring author.

Authors seemed such an exotic breed to my "just a writer" persona,
somehow high above the common crowd, floating on intellectual
clouds of creativity. Nothing could be further from the truth. These
days, I know a whole lot of authors, many of whom are New York
Times bestsellers, and I can tell you most of them are just folks,
down to earth and friendly. Not that forced kind of friendly you get
from someone anxious to hawk their wares, but genuinely
interested in something besides themselves. If they seem aloof at
times, it's probably because most authors are a bit (or more than a
bit) reclusive. Most of us would rather be pounding away at our
laptops in a locked closet than out in the public eye.

Writing was an insular profession for a long time, which suited most
writers just fine. Lonely, others called it. Solitary and soothing, we
countered. But times have changed. Today, when your first book is
accepted, the publisher e-mails you a to-do list. It "strongly
suggests" you meet with a website designer and set up a website
immediately. It includes a half-dozen social media groups on which
you have to make yourself known. It instructs you on having your
business cards and bookmarks printed for distribution. It tells you
how to behave at book signings and conferences, which they also
strongly encourage. Nearly all new authors find themselves pulling
at their hair, screaming, "When will I ever have time to write?"

But write we do, after that initial flurry.  

Often, even at book signings, readers are shy about approaching
an author, but let me put your mind at ease. Authors LOVE to talk
to readers, and not just about their own books, but about the
readers themselves. Where do you think we get our stories? So
the next time you attend a book launch or signing, walk on up to
the author and tell him or her all about yourself. That author may
be me, and you may just end up in my next book.
  __________________________________________________
November 25, 2014

 
Miss Jane Austen, Somewhere in Heaven

Dear Jane,

Okay, that's a bit presumptuous. I have no right to call you by your
given name. I mean, you called your betrothed "Mr. Darcy." I'll bet
you didn't call him that after you were married, but I'm off purpose
here.

I want to thank you from the depths of my being for writing your
"little stories," as you called them. I wish you were here today to
see how popular they still are, especially Pride and Prejudice.
People still love Elizabeth Bennett and her love/hate relationship
with Mr. Darcy. I, personally, have read it so many times that I can
quote large sections of dialogue verbatim. You don't know, but
they made it into a movie, not once, but three times! My favorite is
the six hour BBC/A&E production because it follows your novel
almost word for word. I know, because I've sat with the book in my
lap following each character's words on the screen. They only
changed one scene―the one where Elizabeth comes to Pemberly
for the first time and meets Georgiana―which isn't bad if you know
what screenwriters are doing to novels these days…but those
words won't mean a thing to you.

They made your other books into movies, too. I'm afraid this is the
day of the visual media, but if it introduces people to your
wonderful works, that can't be so bad. I've seen all the movies, and
read all your books. I even have a volume of your letters to
Cassandra. How she must have grieved when she lost you! I also
have your early works, the ones you wrote for your family, and
your last, unfinished novel, Sandition. I so wish you'd finished it.
I've done so in my mind many times.

I'm an author, too. Although I don't have your skill with words or
your sardonic wit, I strive to write novels that you would read and
enjoy. I guess you could say that you're my hero, and I can't think
of another more worthy. I'll keep trying to get better, and maybe
someday I'll develop just a smidgeon of your writing skill.

You taught me one thing that has shaped my writing: no matter
how good the plot, if the author doesn't develop her characters
until they're as real to her as someone sitting in the next chair,
she's failed. Plots are good, complications essential, but nothing is
more important than the people. Thank you for teaching me that.
And thank you for being you. There are no others like you,
although many have tried. I'll keep working to make you proud of
me.

Yours with deepest affection,

Lynda Fitzgerald

p.s. Did you know that my books are selling well in England? It's a
point of pride with me.
  ________________________________________________
July 29, 2014

           Dare I say it?

I'm going to step out on a slippery limb here and announce that I
LOVE MY KINDLE. I know. That's a scandalous thing for a
published-in-print author to say. And I don't even have an official
Kindle. I have the app on my iPhone.

Before you ask, no, the print isn't too small to read, although I have
to flick to the next page pretty often since I'm a fast reader. But
think of it. One device. On it, I can read innumerable books, pay
my bills, check my email, play games with friends, take and share
photos, order prescription refills with a swipe, check the weather,
manage my calendar, surf the net, organize my grocery list, and
listen to music. Oh, and make phone calls.

Maybe I should say I love my iPhone, which I do, but this is about
the Kindle.

When the Kindle first came out, I like many authors, felt a sense of
impending doom. The world was changing too fast. Technology
was taking over. Soon print books would be only a vague memory,
much like typewriters and dial telephones. When was the last time
you saw one of those? It was the end of the print world as I knew it.
Of course, it wasn't, but that's how it felt. There are still dinosaurs―
uh, I mean, people―who prefer holding a print book in their hands.
Let me assure you immediately that I'm one of those. I resisted the
Kindle for years as if it were the devil's spawn. Then I went on
vacation for two weeks.

Normally, I have to pack an extra suitcase full of books to satisfy
my reading lust while I'm away, and I almost did this time, too. Then
I remembered the airlines charge for baggage these days, and I
had this free app on my phone I'd never used. Yes. Kindle. As a
test, I downloaded a fellow author's book I'd been wanting to read,
skeptical that the experience would come close to reading a print
book. How wrong can you be? Don’t tell me. I already know the
answer.

So I downloaded twenty more. All those books (and my bank and
pharmacy, et. al.) fit into a small side pocket in my handbag. How's
that for packing efficiency?

And cost efficiency? Her book in hardback cost $24.99. Paper was
$9.99. It was $4.99 on Kindle. All my worries about her royalties
(and mine) dropping because the book cost less were unfounded. I
don't know about other publishers, but our publishers pay higher
royalties for Kindle sales. Less overhead = more money in the
author's pocket.

Yes, I still order print books. I love to browse book stores looking
for just the right book. My bookcases at home runneth over. So
does my Kindle, and it still fits in the same little pocket in my purse.
So, here I am, a print author who's unashamedly singing the
praises of the Kindle. I don't believe for a moment that print media
is a thing of the past. There will always be those who want that
signed first edition. There will always be those, like me, who gain a
sense of well-being from walking into a room lined with overflowing
bookshelves. I'm even comforted by the smell of paper and glue
and the dust that loves to collect on my books. That won't change.
But when I travel, when I need something to read and there isn't a
bookstore within a hundred miles, I'm glad to know I have an
alternative in my Kindle.

Did I mention all my books are on Kindle?
 ________________________________________________

And speaking of guy/chick magnets…

Why is it that so many writers are dog lovers? Lots of
reasons, I think. For one, writers are, generally, as a group,
sensitive, reclusive, and introverted. While the writer may
not be the life of every party, they can appreciate what
animals have to give them.

Sensitive – who is more sensitive than your dog? They are
the ultimate co-dependents. They sense your moods and
react accordingly. When you’re moody, they don’t take it
personally, become offended, or make you feel guilty for
neglecting them. When you’re focused on your writing, they
are content – more or less – to flop on the carpet beside
your desk and give you the uninterrupted concentration
time you need.

Reclusive – a dog is good for you because they will only
allow you to be so reclusive. They demand dog parks,
walks, and attention. Try being cold and reclusive while you’
re petting your warm, furry dog. Yeah, right!

Introverted – Go ahead and try to be introverted. A dog is
not only a guy/chick magnet, as most dog owners will attest,
but people magnets. People who would never approach you
otherwise will stop and talk to you about your dog. They’ll pet
him or her. If said person has a dog of his own, you have an
instant connection.

And on the subject of people magnets, if you haven’t yet
met that certain someone, don’t throw yourself into the bar
scene or web dating site. Just get yourself a dog—
preferably a cute and furry one—and go to the dog park on
Saturday or Sunday. You’ll meet a dozen or more folks
there who love animals. You know immediately they’re at
least responsible, sensitive, giving, caring, and kind.
Otherwise, their dog (or yours) would bite them.

Writers and dogs. They just go together.
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