The Reading Corner is a place where books of all genres are examined and reviewed. Comments, questions and disagreement are welcomed. Grab some coffee and a comfy chair and make yourself at home.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lorem Ipsum Books or, Why Indie Bookstores Aren't Always as Great as You Think

Wait, what?
Image: the internet.

I love indie bookstores. Locally owned stores, like my dad's store Galaxy CDs, are awesome. The best bookstore in Ohio is located in my hometown (I'm not just saying that because I like the place, either -Ohio Magazine declared it to be so, and obviously, OM knows all).

That being said, being an indie store does not excuse poor customer service or a badly run store.

A friend of mine on Twitter -someone who introduces me to lots of lovely contests and people -recommended the store in question today: Lorem Ipsum Books. They're located in Cambridge and trying to move. The rent on their place is too high, etc. I can sympathize with that, since I worked in a great locally owned bookstore that closed because it was horribly mismanaged, the rent was too high and no one ever bought any books (with myself and my family as the possible exceptions to that rule).

The difference between Gallant's Books & More (where I worked) and Lorem Ipsum Books (aside from the latter having a website) is that when a customer couldn't find something or we didn't have it in, we'd make sure that they got it.

Lorem Ipsum, as I said, was trying to move. They had a sale wherein you could buy $10 coupons and redeem them for any books up to $20. That, my friends, is what I call a good deal. I bit, and bought one of the coupons.

Here's my beef with Lorem Ipsum. Their website is awful. It's relatively easy to navigate, but it's plain, unattractive and does not aid the reader in finding books.

When I first got on to find a book to use my newly purchased coupon on, I tried using the search feature. It's bad. Even with specific information, not once did it turn up the book I had wanted. Even when I entered an author's name, it used a keyword search and pulled up books by authors whose names were similar to the one I had searched for. To find a book, I eventually had to go through each category (pages and pages and pages in each one), scanning each title as I went by.

I could write an entire post about what an awful that experience that was and how it relates to selling books, but suffice it to say that I found a book I wanted. It was about Frank Lloyd Wright. If you hang out with me more than once, odds are, he'll come up. I like him a lot. The book was about $15. Huzzah!

I placed the order, and put the whole thing in the back of my mind -but each time I received a package in the mail, I hoped against hope that the book would be there.

Then, I got an email. A nice email, don't get me wrong, but not an email I wanted. It was telling me that the book I had ordered could not be located, and they were sorry, would I like to choose two books for my trouble?

Sorrowfully, angrily, I began picking my way through the categories again before I found two somethings I wanted. It took me an hour and a half to find two books. Two books I wasn't totally pleased with, but could accept nonetheless. As the days passed, I became more excited about receiving these books.

I love Dr. Who, so the Dr. Who Technical Manual was satisfying to my geeky side. I've loved the movie Coraline for ages, and as an avid Gaiman fan, I was really (if I may say it: reallyreallyreally) excited about that particular book. A technical manual is good mostly for geeking out over, conversing about and putting aside. But a Gaiman book is one I'll get out over and over again and just absolutely fall in love with every time.

Well, the mail came today.
The Dr. Who Technical Manual was in it. And yeah, sure, it's almost as cool as I thought it would be. Shorter than I expected, but still cool.
And Coraline? The book I had pinned all of my already-disappointed-hopes on?
Yeah. It wasn't there.

What I got instead is a massive, slightly musty smelling copy of the screenplay for Beowulf. Apparently Gaiman helped write it. His picture is on the book.

That's all well and good and whatnot, but it's not what I ordered. I'm not going to read a screenplay...that's why they make the movie. This book holds zero interest for me (plus, it smells bad).

Here's the point for today, kids. Indie bookstores rock, but they're not going to stay in business if this is the way they operate. I shop at the Stately Raven here in town frequently -I like supporting local businesses, and the people in the SR are always really nice. The selection isn't superb, but it's a nice enough store. I don't mind spending my money there.

What I mind, and mind very much, is spending money that I really shouldn't have spent on a bookstore in which I have no real personal investment and then getting screwed. Twice.

That's not cool. That's a problem. That's a problem for me (since now I'll probably go buy a copy of Coraline to soothe my irritation), and it's a problem for Lorem Ipsum Books -if they're this sloppy with all of their customers...well, no wonder they couldn't pay their rent.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

'American Gods'

I read a lot of blogs. In fact, I think I spend too much time reading other blogs and neglect my own. Sorry. In other news, new colors! Get excited.

Before I get to the promised review, there was something I wanted to discuss: why we read.
Recently, a teacher in Kansas had to rewrite her curriculum because a bunch of (stupid) parents complained. I think this is ridiculous, but it led me down a different sort of thought process.

The books the teacher had initially chosen were defended because they were books that not only get teens interested in reading, they also help them make sense of their lives (the books were, by and large, about teens in real-life situations). I thought that was an interesting concept -reading to find sense in life. Life is a pretty senseless thing, I think. We have to give meaning to our lives, and no one else can do that for us. Books can definitely help, though, I agree with this teacher.

Books give us a sounding board for our own lives. They let us compare ourselves to other people without envy, malice or pride -characters in books are what they are, and we can read stuff into them until the cows turn blue, but they're not real people. We don't have to be afraid of hurting their feelings when we say that we hate one character for whatever reason, or love a character for another.

We can place ourselves in a spectrum of lives and situations and make an assessment about what we might or might not do, what our reactions would be, whether or not we would ever have gotten into such a situation -and so on, etc. into infinity.

Books help us make sense of ourselves, and it's hard to know the world if you don't know yourself first.

But books serve another purpose -in the above, I'm mostly talking about fiction and novels. They entertain us, but they also educate us about ourselves. However, there are also books that purport to educate us and make us raise our own mental standards, and there are books that serve to entertain us without making much of a social or personal message.

And sometimes escapism is just escapism.

Book review:

In brief, 'American Gods' is rocking my socks off (and I'm not even wearing any socks). It is awesome. I have come to expect this from Gaiman, and rightfully so.

I'm not done with the book yet, so it will be a day or so before I can give a full report, but allow me to ramble a bit now.

The characters in this book will not get out of my head. I've been thinking about Mr. Wednesday all day (I'll try not to give away any spoilers), and I still can't decide whether I hate him, love him and, either way, I don't know if I want him to survive the story. He's a rascal, but he's also kind of sad, and I love how he's unfolding and yet becoming more confusing as the story develops.

Same for Shadow -Shadow is a great character, and I think he's fascinating. He's a relatively passive character: he found a course and he's sticking to it, come hell or high water (and probably both), but he's also a compelling moral study. There's a lot of back story that's still coming to light, so I'm enjoying watching everything come together.

I can't get over the plot, either -I have long wanted to write a short story about what happens to the old gods, the discarded and forgotten gods. Gaiman got there first, and he did a much better job than I could ever hope to. It doesn't mean I won't write something of my own someday, but 'American Gods' is more than satisfying right now.

One last thing about Gaiman before I sign off for the evening: the man knows how to write a good sex scene. The thing I don't like about romance novels/erotica/whatever is that sex generally does not move the plot forward in any way other than that it's just a bunch of inevitable bawdy, lewd, overly descriptive scenes filled with vapid purple prose (and for some people, that's fine -I'm just not one of them). What I admire about Gaiman is that he can make a scene erotic and sensually charged, but it still serves the plot in a big way. His sex scenes reveal something about the characters that you didn't know, but needed to, and they're still...well, sexy, while the plot goes chugging right along. Big points for that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I am a terrible person

Jonah saw one in New Orleans that said "Blessings be poppin', and Satan can't stop it"
Image credit: internet.

I haven't updated in forever. My dad guilt tripped me about it earlier today, so here you go; an update!

I changed my mind about what I wanted for Christmas. The Sony e-reader is a lovely, slick little thing...but this is so much better: The enTourage eDGe.

No, I don't know why they chose to capitalize random letters, and yes, I think that's stupid. However, the e-reader-meets-netbook combo is just too delicious and juicy to resist. I have to wait until February until I can drool all over it, but I think it will be worth the wait. Santa loves me enough to make an extra trip to my house.

In other news, font jokes are hilarious. Font jokes that are also parodies of Lady Gaga's 'Poker Face' are gut-busting.

That's really all I have for right now...a lame update, I know. Next time, I'll have read a book and I'll give you a review about it. Scout's honor. Not that I'm a scout, but you know. Whatever.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Wow. I have been writing a ton these past few days (at least it feels like it to me), just not on here.

I am so tired of staring at my computer screen today...I'm thinking about taking the rest of the night to just read and "write" write, like, in a notebook and stuff. Crazy, I know.

I just keep thinking about all the stuff I'll miss on Twitter and I get a little panicky. :P

More when I have something interesting to say!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Leaves & Flowers, second issue

Get excited. Right now. It's time for submissions for the second issue of Leaves & Flowers! The first journal turned out spectacularly -it was a major learning curve for me (I've never published anything myself before), and I think the second issue is going to be even better.

On top of my experience, I also have a lot more time to work with for the second issue -issue 1 was part of a project for my literary editing class; from now on, it's solely my project. I'm hoping that eventually I will be able to set up a website for L&F (at the very least I'll be setting up a blog within the next month -if I forget, someone remind me).

The next issue will be published in April of 2010. It's not an eternity away, but it gives me so much more time to get L&F just how I think it should be.

On to the exciting part: the submission process and the prompt!

The goal of Leaves & Flowers is to bring together creative writers, artists, sculptors and designers in order to explore the ways that each individual person interprets the same basic idea. Each edition will feature pieces that are all centered on a prompt given out to interested parties. One of the things that fascinates me about the writing process is how different people have such widely different takes on the same subject, and collecting those various forms of expression into one literary journal is a way to explore and show off those differences.

For the first publication of Leaves & Flowers, the prompt is this: Everyone has experienced fear of some kind; sometimes it’s as easy to hide from fear as it is to address it. Create a piece in which fear is a central element, whether that fear gets addressed or not.

As far as submissions go, any work will be considered, so long as it can be represented on the printed page. Writing can be prose, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, essays, short stories –anything you can write down, I will consider. Artwork is welcome also well: photography, painting, sculpture, collage –whatever you can create and transmit to me on the page, I will consider. Videos and sound are obviously impossible to put on paper, but whatever still images or other multimedia forms you can incorporate into something I can print, I will consider.

All artwork must be based off of the prompt above –what I’m looking for is your interpretation of that prompt. Take it and run with it. Let your imagination be in control, and send me whatever it is you create.

The submission process is simple. I need an e-mail, sent to with Leaves & Flowers in the subject line. Your piece of work needs to be sent as an attachment to the e-mail. I have a Mac, so if you’re using an older version of Windows, make sure it’s saved in a format that I’ll be able to open (and if it’s not, I’ll get in touch with you so we can work something out). The body of your e-mail should contain a very brief cover letter: your name, a bio of 150 words or fewer, a short description of the piece of work and, if you want, an explanation of how you interpreted the prompt (solely to satisfy my curiosity).

Make sure you tell me exactly what your piece is –if you write a fictional story that seems like it could be true, I won’t know where to place it in the journal; spare me the time and effort of contacting you more than I need to and let me know from the start what sort of work you’re including. Feel free to send multiple pieces and types of artwork.

And that’s all there is to it! Once I have the pieces, I will be working with format and design principles, I may send pieces back to you with revisions or rewrites and in some cases, I may ask two or more authors/creators if I can make their pieces work together on the page (and you can say no to me, don’t worry about that). Although I can’t afford to pay for your time and effort, I can make the journal available for purchase by you, your parents and grandparents and anyone else you think would enjoy your work. Once L&F is published, I will let you know where you can find it, how much it will be and if I can get you any discounts.

The deadline for submissions is April 1, 2010.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas List Roundup

As I'm sure many of you could guess, my Christmas list is composed almost entirely of books. The rest is composed of fierce desire for a Sony ebook reader. They're so pretty and neat! I want one. I'm hoping Santa has been paying attention this year because I'm awesome.


There are a ton of books I am looking at.

Additionally, these books would make superfantasticcooltacular Christmas presents for other people.

For example: Alberto Manguel wrote a book called The Library at Night (which I blogged about over the summer and which gave me the inspiration for my second tattoo, should I ever decide to get it*). He has another book out called A History of Reading, and it looks just as fabulous as TLaN, so I'm hoping that one shows up.

Richard Dawkins is an author I used to complain about vociferously, until I read his books with a lot less animosity going into the process. I came to (begrudgingly) respect and, eventually genuinely admire him. His latest book is called The Greatest Show on Earth, and I'm really interested in checking it out. I read The God Delusion for the first time straight through -I've read pieces before -and found myself enjoying it much more than my previous read. He's a funny, smart, persuasive man and I really enjoy his stuff. He was involved in a really interesting debate recently, which you can watch here if you're interested.

One of my favorite books of all time has to be The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It's sweet, sorrowful, erudite, beautifully written and translated (it's originally French), funny, heartbreaking and just very real. I can't recommend it enough. Muriel Barberry has another book out, called Gourmet Rhapsody, and it centers on one of the minor characters from The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I'd love a chance to read GR, because if it can even hold a candle to TEotH, I will be a very happy reader indeed.

Shameless plug: Leaves and Flowers. It's my baby, but I would read it even if it wasn't. I didn't write it, after all, I just put it together. (Speaking of L&F, I'm open for submissions again -I'll be posting about that soon. If you really really can't wait, leave a comment with your e-mail address and I'll get in touch with you). L&F features some incredible work by some absolutely fantastic people, and I am so privileged to have been part of it. It's a great gift for anyone who likes literary journals and off-beat stories.

God Hates You, Hate Him Back frankly just looks hilarious. I read the first chapter for free online (what a world we live in) and although I wasn't totally taken by the writing, the humor had me laughing, smirking and thinking. Oddly enough, at the time I opened the chapter to read, 3 of the tables directly around me were occupied by evangelicals attempting to convert fellow college students. I darkened my screen while I read because the campus crusaders or whatever they are at my school tend to be aggressive and obnoxious and I wasn't in the mood for a theological altercation (rare for me, but it happens).

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman (who is one of my literary heroes, btw) won just about every available award this year. Aside from its accolades, it just looks like a kickass story. I am, right now, listening to Gaiman read it -you can listen to him read the entire book! I'm a visual person, so I'd rather read it than hear it, but hearing it is very awesome.

That's all I can think of right now (I'm tired, tired, tired), but any of these would make awesome Christmas gifts for the various readers in your life.

*If I get another tattoo, it will read habent sua fata libelli, which means 'books have their own fates' in Latin.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Brief entry


Pardon my yelling, but this really makes me sick.

Why is this so hard for some people to understand? If teachers are adding books to a curriculum in an attempt to interest their students in reading, the complaints of a few narrow-minded parents should in no way dictate the curriculum of the entire class.

At the high school age, students should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want to read something. If their parents are still unhappy with the subject matter, the teacher should offer alternative titles to the student.

However, a few parents should never have this level of control over an
entire group of students whose lives they otherwise never influence. It's stupid, it's wrong and it's censorship.

Stop doing it.

School systems have to stop bending over backwards to accommodate whiny parents who want to restrict students' access to information. If they don't want their child reading it, fine -home school them. Get them put in another school or class. Ensure that there are other ways the student can meet the basic requirements of the class. Maybe...ask the kid if they want to read it. But stop, stop, STOP interfering with teachers' work.

If you are not the child's parent, you have no place saying what that child can read or can't read.

Just because you pay taxes to the school doesn't mean you have the right to dictate what goes on -all the parents of all the other students who go there pay taxes too.

Schools cannot continue forcing teachers to censor the material they present to classrooms based on a few people who feel it's "inappropriate."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Mmmm, ulterior motives*.

I mentioned the comic Wondermark in a previous entry.
I have ulterior motives* for writing about it again... but it's also a good excuse for me to write a review again, which is something I haven't done in a while.

Wondermark is awesome. It's exactly the kind of bizarre-but-witty social commentary that I look for in my webcomics (that and good artwork, funny characters and artists with personality -Wondermark satisfies all of these needs).

Additionally, David Malki ! once sent me a huge packet of paper from an incredibly old German book for the cost of shipping it to me. I cut out the shipping label and stuck it on my corkboard of coolness. I still haven't decided what to do with the paper, but I distinctly remember talking to him via Twitter and e-mail (I was very excited. I paused the documentary Helvetica solely to acquire pieces of old paper from an artist I like). He is cool.

The comic itself features short strips that show some of the most random, bizarre or hilarious situations imaginable -usually it's a combination of the three.

One of my favorite things about Wondermark is that despite its overt weirdness, it's still relevant. It's still showing me, as a reader, something to laugh at and simultaneously making me realize that I'm laughing at myself (and the people around me). I am frequently laughing out loud in public places about the latest Wondermark strip, even when I'm not reading it. Then I definitely resemble the people at whom Malki ! pokes fun.

Wondermark updates around twice a week, and each issue deals with a different bit of weirdness or some obscure fact (i.e. the speed at which digesting food moves). Each comic also features hypertext, which is always fun (xkcd does that as well). The comics just aren't complete without it, and I am always slightly disappointed when I come across a comic that does not utilize it.

He also makes awesome T-shirts. I own this one. I wear it around people I don't like (for example: bad professors and drunk people around campus) and to prevent other people I have the potential not to like from talking to me. It works quite well, and I am always pleased by it.

No one who creates an entity called Piranhamoose can be anything less than awesome. It's a simple fact of nature.

Friday, November 27, 2009

How to tell if you're in a Disney movie

How cool is this? See the others here at Not Your Logic

There are several important signs that point to Disney movies. It's important to recognize them for your own well-being.

  • Large groups of people are suddenly bursting into choreographed song and dance for no apparent reason
  • You are compelled to join in with the singing and dancing and don't find anything unusual about it
  • Animals and inanimate objects begin to talk and you are able to understand them
  • A fairy, genie, wizard or witch appears and offers you wishes, magic spells, strange items or threatens you with imprisonment or harm
  • You suddenly have romantic feelings for a beastly animal and are not worried about your sanity or well-being
  • You are placed into a position of authority and a kingdom is suddenly under your control or you become responsible for its welfare
  • After a lifetime of poverty, abuse or homelessness you find wealth, love and a family
  • The person you most despise falls in love with you and/or you with them
  • An adviser, close but sarcastic relative or cruel employer suddenly turns on you, kidnaps you or kills/attempts to kill you or a member(s) of your family
  • You fall in love with someone you've known for only a few days
  • Expressing yourself through long music montages is much more suitable than just talking about it
  • You are a woman and the only way you can resolve an issue or save yourself is by getting a man to fall in love with you
  • You are a man and you are suddenly attracted to a woman you met under bizarre circumstances (examples include: meeting a voiceless woman on a beach, imprisoning a provincial villager in her father's stead, seeing a princess-turned-servant over a palace wall, dancing with a servant-turned-princess at a ball, saving a runaway princess's hand from being chopped off by an apple vendor or coming across a princess in hiding as she sings to woodland creatures)
  • Seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be easily overcome with the help of a fairy, a genie or the power of true love/group singing...
Then you may be in a Disney movie. Be vigilant.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On the subject of final exams

Final exams can be a hassle. For example: I studied for about 3 hours for an exam that I finished in 40 minutes.

That, however, was the point of the studying. I knew the material like I know my own computer screen (i.e. really, really well), and so I finished the exam quickly, efficiently and without any panic. Someone sitting near me, however, seemed to be suffering from "fuckexamitis," which is a condition common among college students.

What happens is the student puts off studying, reading, paying attention in class and doing most of the assignments, all the while cruising on the thought that a cram session the night before the final will somehow see them through and magically raise their grade. During exam week, they are suddenly struck by the paralyzing side effects of fuckexamitis, which include the emphatic cursing of exams and a sudden amnesia regarding all facts and terms learned in class.

Despite a frantic night of studying, purloining notes or old exams and essays from the internet (which, by the way, is a disgusting example of the easy light in which people regard plagiarism. Do your own work and succeed or fail on your own merits; don't try to sit on someone else's laurels), these are the people who come to the exam feeling panicky, exhausted and gassy. This last condition is the most obvious to everyone around the fuckexamitis sufferer, and it's quite pungent.

The cure to the dreaded cases of fuckexamitis that crop up at the end of every quarter/semester/academic term?

Stop being lazy.

You know you're doing it. I do it (I even admit to it, regularly. Procrastination is a bad habit, but one that I'm working to break. You know what I have to show for it? A 3.9 GPA, that's what). Everyone wants to be lazy, to some extent. That doesn't mean it's a good idea.

You know when you have projects due, papers that need written or tests during the quarter -that's why teachers give you a syllabus. Read it. Highlight it. Treat it as though it is your only road map through the treacherous path of the quarter...because it is. Love it, treat it well and pay close attention to it.

Do your work.

Get up and go to class. Even if you don't take the best notes, you'll benefit just by being in class. My business law professor gave us answers and hints to three out of four essay questions for our final exam just for showing up to class. You never know what you'll be missing in class if you don't even bother to show up. And if you don't go to class, don't do your work, don't study and don't participate in academics...why are you even in school? Seriously. Address that issue, then stop whining about how early your classes are, make some coffee and go.

Ask for help. If you don't get it, yes, some asshole in the front of the room is going to think you're a moron (it'll probably be me, let's be honest. Especially if it's a literature class)...but someone else in the back of the room who was too afraid to ask the same thing you were thinking will be really grateful that you raised your hand so they didn't have to.

Fuckexamitis is a serious condition. It can make or break your grade, and I get really sick of hearing people whine about how hard their finals are when all they did all quarter was complain about how much work they had to do...and then not do it anyway.

Fuckexamitis is a self-inflicted condition. Learn how to avoid it. It's really not that hard.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I know I don't usually update on weekends, but there's something that's been getting under my skin for several days now.

There are billboards around the country that advertise the existence of secular groups. They all say something along the lines of "Don't Believe in God? You're Not Alone." Another says "Are You Good Without God? Millions Are."

These signs are vandalized, often within days of their being put up. And more than that, the people on whose property they are placed have been threatened. One man asked that the sign be moved from his property to a different location because he'd started receiving death threats.

Classy, Christian/Muslim/Jewish people who are doing this. Real classy.

People who claim their religion promotes peace, understanding and acceptance shouldn't be out threatening people and defacing a group's billboards solely because it presents a viewpoint they don't agree with. If you don't want to be in an atheist group, don't join it. But don't threaten the people in it just because they don't believe in your god. That is, first and foremost, immature.

It also violates the First Amendment, in the event that someone would try to prevent the existence of such a group or atheists themselves.

That isn't precisely what I wanted to write about, although I find it profoundly annoying.

What's gotten to me this weekend is the labeling I'm noticing.

I don't refer to religious people as anything derogatory. I might refer to extreme whack-outs as such, but I don't generalize an entire system of belief based on one or two examples of deranged behavior.

Despite the fact that I think religion is a force for a lot of negativity and evil in today's world, I don't call the religious believers evil, negative people unless I'm pointing to a specific example. Incidentally, if you'd like to see more than a few examples of the crappy side of religion, check out this blog called Deep Thoughts. Or read the news about how the Catholic church in DC is threatening to stop feeding the homeless if gay marriage becomes legal.

What gets my figurative goat is when someone calls me a religion-hater because I'm an atheist. There was a news story someone posted in my Twitter feed directed to "all you religion-haters" about the different levels of religion (I actually went and read the story, and it was nonsense anyway. A lot of justification and no actual logic whatsoever. That somehow made the insult worse -couldn't they have at least picked an article that made a good argument?).

My immediate reaction to being called a religion-hater is to say, "I'm sorry, excuse me, what did you just call me?"

I don't hate religion. I don't like most of the things religion does, and I do have some serious problems with the ideas espoused by religion, but I'm not a religion-hater. I resent being called that on a very personal level, too.

Labeling me as a religion-hater instantly puts me on the defensive in the conversation. I come into whatever discussion is being opened up feeling as though I have already been attacked, and my guard is up. I'm less willing to concede any ground in the conversation, and I'm far more likely to turn my back on it and just walk away. I won't have a discussion with someone who has no respect for me from the outset.

It assumes a lot about someone to label them that baldly without any recognition of their individual personality.

Another offshoot of that is the sudden surge in pro-Christian groups I see on Facebook -maybe it's just the people I'm friends with. I don't really care if you're "A CHRISTIAN AND PROUD." Good for you. That's your business. I'm not going to tell you not to be a Christian or that you should be ashamed of it.

I don't have a comment on your religion until it starts interfering with my life, my rights and/or the rights of other human beings. Outside of that...worship your left shoe if you want to. Be proud of that. I would have the same reaction to shoe-worship as I do to any other religion.

The thing that bothers me about the Christian-and-proud-of-it thing is that whenever I go to the groups and snoop around (because I'm nosy and that's what I do), I don't see fellowship. I don't see welcome. I don't see spirituality, friendliness, joy or giving. What I see is in-fighting, exclusion, nastiness and petty, very petty behavior.

I see discussion topics that say "Christian girls are more beautiful than atheist girls because..." with responses like: Christian girls have long hair, Christian girls aren't sluts, Christian girls don't hate, Christian girls are better people, Christian girls are more submissive to their men/God, Christian girls are virgins, Christian girls are more beautiful than atheists because atheists are immoral and wicked, etc. etc.

These comments are not coming from extremists or whack-jobs. These are coming from everyday people. Allow me a moment to dissect the above comment by comment.

  • Long hair. First off, I can see this one from a purely Biblical standpoint...but that also assumes that all Christian girls consider themselves unclean for the week of their periods, never eat shellfish or talk back to their parents, keep the Sabbath holy and stone those who don't and follow every single other outdated Biblical command for men and/or women. I know plenty of beautiful women, Christian and otherwise, who have short hair. Saying someone is going to hell or is spiritually flawed for having short hair is like saying they're going to hell for wearing a blue shirt on a Tuesday. It's ridiculous.
  • Hahahahahaha. Oh excuse me, was that inappropriate? Sorry. I went to a Catholic school, I had friends who went to a Catholic high school and my town has a lot of Catholics in it. I'm not singling Catholics out for the slut label, it's just a solid example. As a feminist, I object to the term slut on a very basic level, so I'm including guys in my reckoning of the promiscuity tally. Personally, what someone does with their body as far as sex goes is their own business -if someone wants to have sex, then I'm no one to judge them for it. However, from the standpoint of "promiscuity is bad/Satanic/unchristian," there are some people who are sadly misinformed about the sexual habits of their children and peers. If having sex outside of marriage gets you labeled as a slut, there are a whole lot of Christian sluts out there...and I don't think giving people guilt complexes about sex is healthy or moral. I think it's sick and wrong.
  • I have received more hatred from Christians (girls or otherwise) than any other group of people. Christians can be very open and accepting people, but they are every bit as capable of hating people as anyone else, regardless of what the issue is. I once got flipped off in a parking lot by someone who was going to Church (and happened to be in the wrong as far as the driving went), to give you a ridiculous example of Christian girls and their supposed lack of hatred. I'm not saying all Christian girls hate, just that they're capable of it -and many of them do it.
  • Christian girls are often no more moral than anyone else. That's a very subjective standard to hold people to, and I'd like to know what it means on a more specific label. Speaking from my own experience, however, as far as basic morality goes, no one group has the higher ground in everyday life.
  • Christian girls are virgins. Oh really? Since when. All of them, all the time, always? See the above comments.
  • The whole idea of submission makes me sick. I'll devote an entire post to that soon, so check back.
  • I'm an atheist. I'm neither immoral, evil nor wicked. I like to think I have a wicked sense of humor, but that's not really what they're going for. Atheism =/= amoral, evil behavior and it's that stereotype that drives so many of these groups.
I can't understand it, personally. Why am I, as an atheist, perceived as being Antichrist Jr.? I don't kill, steal, lie, rape, pillage, covet, deface, stone or otherwise harm anyone else. I don't encourage women to bow down before a man or anyone else, because that's dehumanizing. I consider myself to be a pretty moral person...I just don't worship your god.

If you want to have a conversation with me about religion, don't start it off by assuming that you can throw insults at me and not get a response to that. Making the assumption that because I don't believe your god exists also means I have no ethical code is going to set a very unpleasant tone for the conversation.

I don't hate your religion. I'd like it if you didn't hate me for not buying into it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Earning money by writing

This is something that comes up a lot. Writing is a business, and anyone who says different is lying to you or they're talking about writing only for themselves (which seems like the weirdest thing to me -I write so people will read and hopefully purchase what I write. If I'm going to write something that I don't want anyone to read but me, I'll either keep a journal [which I do] or sit around and pretend I'm Emily Dickinson [which I don't]). Writing for publication is a business whether an individual writer likes it or not, and it needs to be treated that way.

I'm not saying that you'll be getting a nice 401(k) unless you happen to be JK Rowling or Stephen King, and I'm not saying you need a business degree to be a writer.

What you do need is common sense and a little bit of human decency. Writers have a tendency to be weird -we revel in it as our birthright as writers. We're socially inept, awkward and often dress inappropriately. Caffeine junkies, winos, addicts and surfers of 4chan make up our numbers. But then again, so do mothers, teenagers, teachers, doctors, stock brokers and any number of other types of people some writers would be tempted to look down on as "ordinary."

Writers are everywhere, and that means competition is fierce. That means if you're eccentric, great! But don't let that be your entire personality. You still have to be able to connect with the rest of us if you're going to sell us your writing successfully.

So much for human decency, then: act like grownups when you need to. Save your super-weird and/or inappropriate behavior for a place where it won't cost you your career. Protip: This is not anywhere public.

As for common sense, this has been said before and it will be said a billion times in the next 5 seconds, but I'm going to say it anyway: play to your strengths. And don't.

Find what you're good at and do it. Do it a lot. Do it badly sometimes, and learn from that. What you're good at should make your blood boil and tingle and make you jump out of your chair with excitement. It should make you passionate in both good and bad ways. If you're good at research, do research. Write about research. Blog about research. Teach other people how to be good at researching.

Find what you're not good at and do that too. Do it frequently, because it's going to teach you what your limits are, and then allow you to look those limits in the eyes, shove them down and take their lunch money. Doing something you're bad will teach you how to be good at it or at least how to be good at something. It will force you to change and grow and reevaluate yourself. Doing something you're bad at will also help you be better at the things you're good at.

Experimenting with your strengths and weaknesses will teach you what portions of your writing you'll be able to sell. I'm a college student -I am, right now, very good at writing opinion and fact-based pieces. So I do. I do a lot of that (here and elsewhere). I am learning a huge amount of information about writing, so I write about that. I am very good at writing BS, so I do. I write a lot more BS than pretty much anything else...but it's the BS I spew that's making me the most money right now. It might be boring, meaningless or uninteresting to me, but someone out there wants it, and they'll give me money in the process of getting it.

Writing requires marketing. For example, if I include a link to my newly published literary journal, Leaves & Flowers, someone might click on it and buy it -they might not, too, but they could. Additionally, if I include a link to an article about why Twilight is an awful series of books, someone might click on that, too.

Twitter, Facebook, blogs, word of mouth, friends and family, Myspace, StumbleUpon, Digg...all of these things are becoming indispensable tools for marketing writing (well, maybe not Myspace, that's kind of died). The point is, in an age where almost all of your readers will be connected to the internet very, very need to be marketing on the internet.

This post has been fueled by caffeine, and therefore may not make much sense. However! let's recap.

  1. Don't act like bizarro-writer in situations where you'll lose writing opportunities. It's okay to be weird, but control yourself. Be weird in constructive ways.
  2. Write what you know.
  3. Write what you don't know.
  4. Kick your limits in their most tender parts and move past them.
  5. Market yourself as though your paycheck depends on it (because it does).

Seem simple? It kind of is...people just don't do it, for whatever reason.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Leaves & Flowers

Today is a short but rabidly excited post: my literary journal, Leaves & Flowers, is now officially published and available for purchase!!

I received the fabulous, glossy, lovely proof copy in the mail and I am thoroughly pleased to be able to present it to you.

Ladies and gentleman, the product of many hours' work (both mine and my wonderful contributing writers'), Leaves & Flowers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Writing in the right atmosphere

This is what happens sometimes. I'm learning to be okay with that.

Today I set myself a goal -I wanted to write 5 articles and complete a useful blog entry. So I sat down at my desk with a cup of coffee, a bottle of water and the Intertubes...and absolutely nothing happened. Normally, sitting at my desk in my room is the absolute best way for me to write. There are no distractions that I can't control (although honestly, Tweetdeck is a little bit ridiculous sometimes), it's guaranteed to be quiet and I can get up to make more coffee any time I want to. My desk is also conveniently right next to my bed, in which I have spent an inordinate amount of time sleeping lately (I blame laryngitis. And laziness).

Ordinarily, my room is the best place for me to work.

And yet today, when I opened up all of my little research windows and the form in which I write my articles, nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. There was no speedy tapping of keys, and I was listlessly looking through the tabs of research I had open. My eyes had glazed over and I knew that I was absorbing less information than I normally do.

This is a rare occurrence for me (like I said, I really like working in my room. It's like the batcave, only less technological and filled with posters of Audrey Hepburn).

After about half an hour of sitting in front of my computer and accomplishing absolutely nothing, I finally gave up. Not on writing, just on writing in my room. I had to admit that I needed a change of pace, and some new scenery.

I came to the student center here on campus (despite the bomb threats that keep popping up here, I feel pretty comfortable coming to Baker. The dogs didn't find anything, so I'm okay with spending a couple hours here if it lets me get some work done). Things began looking up immediately -I have become aware of the fact that I will not be able to write unless I have ample access to caffeine. I got a hazelnut latte from the coffeeshop, and the girl accidentally put an extra shot of espresso in it. Woe is me.

So with that jolt of energy coursing through my veins, I came up to the 5th floor and sat back in a corner. Plopped down, plugged in and caffeinated, I pounded out 3 articles in about an hour (and the only reason it took that long was because of research for one of them). Bam, said the lady.

I'm trying to be more attentive to my writing needs -I think it's important to know what factors influence the Muse and get my energy up.

For instance, after some experimentation I know that:

  • I write better and more quickly if I am listening to something like Antonin Dvorak or Andrew WK than something like Owl City or Jack's Mannequin
  • I have to have adequate back support. If I can't lean back in the chair, I'm not going to get along with it.
  • Putting my feet up is awesome (although my knees get stiff pretty quickly -does that mean I'm getting old?)
  • Caffeine, obviously, is required for the writing process
  • I work best in spurts -write one article, then catch up with Tweetdeck updates and read some other articles, check Facebook, then write another article. Lather, rinse, repeat
  • If I don't feel my best, I don't write my best. I can't write before I've had a shower and eaten breakfast. I don't write well in pajamas or sweatpants -I have to feel like I'm presenting my best face to the world in order to present my best writing to the world. Sloppy me = sloppy writing.
  • Other people are a distraction. Distractions are not always bad. Texting while writing does not break my focus (if it does, the text can wait). People-watching is fun (although I'm starting to think fashion-impaired androids are taking over the world. Put on some pants, please. Leggings + Ugg boots + short t-shirts = BAD. If I can see your cellulite or your lady bits, your outfit should never have left the house).
  • Driving in a car with the windows down and the music up is usually the only inspiration I need.
  • Sometimes, I just can't write as much as I want to, and I need to get over myself. I'm not all-powerful (but don't tell anyone else I said that). Sometimes I just need a break.

What atmosphere do you write in? How do you deal with changes in your writing space? What do you do to shake things up when you're feeling stagnant? Do you ever feel stagnant, and if not, how do you avoid it?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Remember way back in the day when I told you about the lovely Renda Dodge and her book Inked?

Well, it's out! Go order a copy here.

I was excited to read Inked for a few reasons -first being that the concept of the story really intrigued me. Inked is about a young woman named Tori who has an undiagnosed personality disorder. She deals with it by getting a new tattoo every time there's a major shift in her life.

As someone with a tattoo and who is considering another one, that in itself was enough to pique my interest in the book. Tattoos are cool -what a person has, where they have it and what they tell you about it can give you an immense amount of information about that individual.

As a publisher, I was excited to learn that Renda used CreateSpace to publish Inked -I used CS to publish L&F (which, by the way, should be up for sale soon, so get your wallets ready for that, too).

Speaking solely as someone who's going to be using the same type of technology to publish something, I am really impressed with the way Inked turned out. Clearly there was a lot of design work that went into it, and that alone takes skill. However, the book itself is also really high quality (which, unfortunately, is not something your average Joe reader associates with self-publishing yet. Key word: yet). Sales of books like Inked will go a long way towards improving the general conception of what it means to self-publish. This is a professional book, and it comes across as one.

And then there's the story. Granted, I was trapped in a hotel room by myself at the time I first started reading Inked (laryngitis sucks, just fyi), but I couldn't put it down from the moment I picked it up. The entire book is around 210 pages long, and I read it in one sitting (and several cups of tea).

Tori is a fascinating character. She's rebellious, she's angry, she's scared -and she knows it, which makes the story even more interesting. Tori acknowledges her own faults throughout the story, but she's still too pissed off and frightened to allow herself much room for changing the parts of herself she doesn't like -not to say she doesn't, because she certainly does, but I got a feeling that Tori isn't ever going to totally break out of certain aspects of her personality (nor did I want her to). Tori isn't a character I could see undergoing a traditional growth pattern in a novel -and that's definitely one of the strengths of the book; keeping Tori very much herself keeps the book human. This is not a hero story, this is a story of someone who is just a person trying to deal with their life and getting a little lost doing it. We've all been there in one way or another, and Tori reflects that back to the reader.

In addition to the development of Tori's back story (her early life, first relationships, etc. -I don't want to give anything away because you should just go buy the book, it's worth every penny), there's the mystery of her present. Tori's mother is dying of AIDS and Tori reluctantly returns home to care for her mother. It's not a pleasant reunion. In addition to her strained relationship with her mom, there is the complication of Blake, who lives next door.

There's an instant attraction, albeit a reluctant one on Tori's part, but there's a lot more going on behind the surface of Tori's connection with Blake than is evident at the outset.

Inked is much more than the story of Tori and her tattoos, although that particular component adds a great deal of interest, and it's definitely one that I'm keeping around to read again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday mornings

I am really glad I don't have class on Mondays, I'll be honest. I will next quarter (in fact, next quarter I'll only have Fridays off -that will be quite a change), but for this week I'm still free on Monday mornings. I planned on being asleep until 9:30. I woke up at 7 (the lingering effects of laryngitis), and that's been okay. I'm getting a lot done.

For instance...I ordered the proof copy of Leaves & Flowers! I submitted it last night and by this morning it was ready to go. I don't think I need to tell you how excited I am, but I will: I'm really really really really excited.

I spent a good 3 hours on it last night -last minute changes, formatting problems, double checking spelling/grammar/punctuation and generally being my perfectionist self. I guarantee you there are still a few errors in it, but I did my best to make sure that it looks the way I want it to.

It should be here on Wednesday. I'll be taking pictures of it as though it's a child or a new puppy. It should be up for sale by Thursday, maybe Friday (depending on whether or not I want to make any changes).

Anybody else out there self-publish anything and feel this awesome combination of fear and exhilaration? It's a really cool sensation. The most interesting part, for me, is that I'm not the author of this piece -I'm just the publisher. My job was to get the work out there, and that's exactly what I'm doing.

How cool is that?

Tomorrow: a book review of Renda Dodge's self-published book, "Inked"! :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Barnes and Noble Nook

Things are not well in the world of e-books and e-book readers. Cool as they are, and as much as that technology is useful, we can never forget that the business world is still full of people who are going to try to rip off consumers, business partners and one another.

Barnes & Noble is currently being sued by Spring Design over their e-reader, the Nook. The Nook, I have to admit, looks superdupertacular. It's got color on the screen, really cool technology -you can share books with other Nook users, and it's got all the bells and whistles we are coming to expect from e-readers.

However, B&N stole the technology from Spring Design. They engaged in "talks" with SD about the technology used by SD to create something like an e-reader without ever telling SD that they were planning on using said technology for the Nook. Read more here.

I've read a few blog posts and many more tweets (on Twitter) lately about acting professional when you get a rejection or go about networking. Spiteful comments about editors, other authors, agents and publishing houses aren't going to get you anywhere. All of the blogs/tweets are solid. They have good examples and the points are valid.

However, I finish reading them and I have an overwhelming sense of, "Well, duh."

I should think it would be self-evident to anyone that if you're trying to get a book published, acting like a spoiled, privileged child isn't going to be the route you want to take. And yet people seem to need to hear that. Why? Why is that a lesson people should need? I'm a n00b in the world of publishing and online networking despite growing up in the internet era, and I still know better than to fight with other professionals or step on toes if I get upset.

I don't understand why good manners are something that we need to be reminded of so frequently.

And then I start reading about things like the lawsuit between Barnes & Noble and Spring Design, and I think perhaps everybody should be looking over some etiquette manuals.

Monday, November 2, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

I have laryngitis, so please excuse me if I'm light on posting -last week was bad. This week might be better, since I was required to skip all my classes today and I'll be going home for the weekend again on Thursday.

I fail at updating as regularly as I'd like.

Here's what I want to talk about today: National Novel Writing Month.

It's awesome. If you're not doing it, you should be. Get on it. If you are doing it, we should be friends.

The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. It actually sounds much harder than it is -it's all about quantity. Quality control is what December is for! I am busy bashing out about 2K words each day that I know are going to be hacked, slashed, destroyed and shifted at some point in the future. The point is that without NaNo, those 2K words every day would never have even come into existence. I never would have created this intense sci-fi novel that I'm now working on (and sci-fi is kind of a leap for me, as a writer, so it's cool to experiment with it).

See how fun it is? You can write whatever you want! You can write to novel you always wanted to read, or you can experiment with different types of prose fiction writing. November is the most stressful month out of my year, and also my favorite for that same reason.

I am too busy writing my action-filled science fiction novel to tell you anything else.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Luv Ya Bunches

Scholastic reversed their decision!

So, it's been a bad week for this blog -I posted, what, once? :( Sorry. I have strep or something a lot like it, so I've just been trying to keep my head above water more than anything else. It sucks, but it is what it is.

Tomorrow I'm going home. Halloween at OU is not my cup of tea. I don't drink, I hate crowds and drunk people frighten and annoy me...the population of Athens doubles and then some for Halloween, and almost everyone is drunk, crowded and in costumes.

Right now I want to talk about Twitter and writing.
It's awesome.

If you took a bunch of cool, mixed it with some brevity and then gave it to people who know how to get the word out there, you'd get the writers and editors I follow on Twitter. They are some of the most brilliant, creative, talented, informative, funny and caring individuals I've seen on the internet. I argue a lot on the internet, so coming across an arena where everyone is building one another up as opposed to tearing them down is really cool.

I busted into the Twitter writer seen in my usual way -blindly and without much forethought. I started hastagging* things about Leaves & Flowers and before you knew it, my follower count started growing (and, to my knowledge, has continued doing so). I don't know these people, I'm obnoxiously self-promoting and yet they're spreading the word for me, offering me awesome links to check out, making me laugh and improving my writing skills all at the same time.

Who are these people?! They are so cool!

Seriously, if you use Twitter and you're a writer, you need to start following other writers. It is an immense help to your craft, your network and your state of mind.

*Hashtagging is this: #amwriting

If you put a hashtag and follow it up with a word or phrase sans spaces, it becomes a link that allows you to search for other people using that hashtag. #amwriting and #writing are some of the best to check out for good writers to follow (I'm not handing out names because you can all do your own grunt work, or just check out who I follow and jump on my bandwagon).

Twitter got me more than half of my submissions for L&F, and in addition to that, I made new friends. That is super cool.

Next time around I'll be talking about Twitter chats (and I will, eventually, be writing that Golden Compass article I promised. Just not yet).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Short one today

I love Fizzgig. He is the best.

I appear to have developed the flu (dun dun DUNNN), but don't worry -I'm recovering quickly. I spent yesterday in bed with a ridiculously high fever and finally got some Motrin (thanks again, Laura!), took a long nap and woke up feeling only crappy, instead of thinking I was on the edge of death. I've continued taking Motrin every few hours, and right now I'm only feeling yucky -sore throat, earache and wooziness. Much better than yesterday, when I couldn't even get out of bed to get a bottle of water without needing a 45 minute nap afterward. Yesterday was awful. Today I have felt good enough to go get food and coffee, despite having everything be really weird tasting and sounding. It's sort of like I'm in an aquarium -everything is echoing and tinny. Blah.

Okay, enough about that, onto books.

How many of you have heard that Scholastic books has asked an author to rewrite portions of her book before they'll consent to sell it due to offensive material? How many of you know what that offensive material is?

One of the main characters has lesbian parents, that's what.

Here's what the author, Lauren Myracle, says about it:
“A child having same-sex parents is not offensive, in my mind, and shouldn’t be ‘cleaned up.’” says Myracle, adding that the book fair subsequently decided not to take on Luv Ya Bunches because they wanted to avoid letters of complaint from parents. “I find that appalling. I understand why they would want to avoid complaint letters—no one likes getting hated on—but shouldn’t they be willing to evaluate the quality of the complaint? What, exactly, are children being protected against here?

“Over 200,000 kids in America are raised by same-sex parents, just like Milla. It’s not an issue to clean up or hide away,” says Myracle. “In my opinion, it’s not an ‘issue’ at all. The issue, as I see it, is that kids benefit hugely from seeing themselves reflected positively in the books they read. It’s an extremely empowering and validating experience.”

I'm pretty appalled at Scholastic. For a group that aims at getting kids to read, censorship seems way out of line. If a kid's parents don't want them reading about gay people, don't let them buy the book -but an author should never have to change their work because someone is afraid of getting an angry letter. That's censorship, and it's ridiculous. I give mad props to Myracle for standing up for her work.

There's a petition, which you can sign here (although the site's been down for about an hour, probably due to large numbers of people trying to get in on it since it's all over Twitter right now), and I encourage you to do so -even if you don't support gay rights, at least support an author's right to write what s/he wants to without fear of being censored for it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad!!

Regular posting will resume tomorrow or Monday.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The best and strangest day

Shoes. This will all make sense soon.

I am having the best and strangest day, seriously. First off, I'm still a human as far as HvZ goes (well, and as far as being human goes, as well). No kills as of yet, but there are 430+ people playing and only 20+ zombies. I also feel like someone spent all last night trying to tear my legs off, because running around campus for all hours of the night makes me very sore. I'm out of shape. It's a beautiful fall day here, and I'm hoping it will be warm-ish again tonight.

On another note, a more footwear related I note, I won a beautiful pair of shoes! I'm not sure how many of you read A Cup of Jo, but I suggest you start reading her stuff yesterday. She's awesome -I do most of my blog reading in the morning before I go to class, and ACoJ is always a nice way to start out the day (generally with a cup of Joe in hand as well). Every Wednesday she does a giveaway of some really nice products, too, and I just so happened to win this Wednesday's. Since I'm a Shoemaker by name and a shoe lover by nature, I fell in love with the shoes on sight and I'm unbelievably excited to wear them around campus once they get here!


Book time.

I wanted to write a little bit about the act of writing. Why I do it, why you do it, why it matters, etc.

In all honesty, the best piece of writing advice I've ever received was pretty simple: "You want to write? Shut up and write." I couldn't tell you who said it, but that statement hits me over the head like a frying pan every time I start thinking I have writer's block, or I'm too busy to write, or blah blah blah excuses. None of that -you want to write? Sit down, shut up and put words on a page.

Granted, there is so much more to writing than the actual act of it -the more I learn about writing both as an industry and as a craft (which requires patience, work and training) the more I realize I have been charging into the writing world with blinders on. It's a very, very intricate place to be in, and I love it.

Why do you write? Tell me in the comments if you do, in fact, write. If you don't, tell me why not.

I write because I cannot not write. If I didn't write, I would wither up and blow away- a useless and uninteresting husk of a person. Books and words and writing are more vital to me than caffeine. Writing is my center. It also keeps me caffeinated and in school so I can continue learning about writing. (And I should probably just shut up and write.)

Writing is awesome, in whatever form it takes -bad, good, transcendent, puerile -it all has its value. Right now, for Leaves & Flowers, I'm typing up the writing of a group of seventh and eighth grade competitive writers. And I'll be honest, some of it's not that great. It's at or about what I would expect, as a professional writer and creative writing major, but it's nonetheless surprising to me in that I don't remember my writing being bad in the ways this writing is bad (and I mean no disrespect to these kids; they've poured their hearts into these pieces for me, and I love it -as bad as the writing is, it has so much potential).

What I mean is that I don't remember using "feeled" when I meant "felt," and I don't remember starting every sentence but 3 in a two-page story with the word "I." The writing is rough beyond what I expected, but it's also candid in a way that I like. There's not a lot of coy wordplay going on; everything is on the surface. After one or two paragraphs I'm craving some subterfuge on the part of the writer, but there's something nicely disarming about young writers.

It was amazing to me, last night as I sat editing a few pieces (before I went to run around campus carrying a bright orange plastic gun and hunt zombies -take everything I saw with the requisite salt here) that my own writing could have, at one point, very closely resembled the pieces I had before me. I forget sometimes just how much we have to grow as writers -as our vocabularies mature, so does our writing. As we mature, so does our writing. Granted, much of that maturation needs to be self-made, but look at where it can take go once that is done.

One of these kids might write the next great American novel, or one of them might write something in Sharpie on a bathroom wall that gives someone pause and makes them think for a moment, but whatever it is that's done with writing, it's more important than we know.

This turned into more of a paean to writing than I had intended, but hey -it's true. Writing is culturally significant no matter who you are or what you do; language and words will infiltrate every part of your life. Is that positive or negative? Does it matter? It is what it is. Make it what you want. What better reason could there be to write?

/philosophical rant ;)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Zombies and a preview

So, I found out last night that Humans vs. Zombies begins on my campus today. For those of you outside the undead loop, HvZ is a week-long game of madness, Nerf guns and pretending to be living in the zombie apocalypse. I won't go over the rules in detail, but basically it's this: humans wear an arm band and carry Nerf guns or balled up socks. If a zombie grabs a human's arm band, that human is dead and has to become a zombie. Zombies are killed when shot with a Nerf dart or hit by a sock. Zombies wear bandannas around their forehead or neck and "respawn" after each time they are killed (once a specified amount of time has passed or a certain point in the day is reached).

It is, hands down, the most awesome game ever in the history of both awesomeness and games. It's played 24/7 and generally takes place during the week leading up to Halloween (not too cold + creepy holiday = perfect).

I am so excited.



Anybody ever read His Dark Materials? Has anyone seen the movie based off of the first book, The Golden Compass? (If you have, I am so, so sorry -I saw it too. I was so upset when I left that I almost threw my cell phone across the movie theater's parking lot; it was a bad movie. Totally missed the point of the book. Daniel Craig did a good job, though.)

Well, recently I found an article written about the movie/books and "arguing" with Philip Pullman and his ideas... I use the term arguing really loosely.

Like I said in the title of this, what you're getting is a preview. I am, at a later date this week, going to be going through that article and ripping it a new one/respectfully disagreeing with basically every point they make (probably at the same time). Before that happens, I need to try to find a copy of said article on the interwebs so I don't have to type the whole thing out for you. Give me a couple of days and we'll get that ball rolling.

In the meantime, if you haven't read HDM, go get started. Christian, atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, agnostic, Jewish, Pastafarian, whatever -it's a great series. Absolutely one of my favorites. :) Jonah has my copy of The Golden Compass right now or I'd be quoting it at you already.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ebooks and ebook readers

You know what's disgusting? Making a cup of coffee and, after said cuppa is made, realizing that the milk you put into it has gone bad -and went bad several days ago. Curdled milk is gross. Ruined coffee is tragic. But I did go uptown and buy some coffee and soup, so we'll all survive and get on with what I wanted to write about today.


Namely, ebooks and ebook readers. If you've been following along, you know my mom's birthday was yesterday (she claims she's 29. I think she's just bad at math). We got her a Kindle (she lost her shit for a second after she opened it, too; it was pretty cool).

When the Kindle first came out, I barely registered it, and that registering was mostly one of disgust. I didn't think ebooks were going to be anything major, and I thought the idea of an ebook reader was pretty appalling. "You want to take my paper-and-ink books from me? I don't think so, pal." But I was wrong (it happens sometimes. Take note, because this is a very rare occurrence).

Ebooks are pretty much the shit. The future. The next big thing in publishing. And, as I remarked in a writing chat about ebooks, if you bet against're going to lose.

I'm not saying paper books are going to go the way of the dinosaur, however. More like the buffalo -they won't go extinct, but they'll be rare, intentionally cultivated and taken care of and newer, faster, flashier things will catch the international eye. This is neither good nor bad, in all honesty. It just is.

Ebooks are fast, convenient, cheap, easily marketed, save on production costs, open up incredible avenues for authors and readers -and they're already taking over. No joke. I'd post the sales figures I saw at one point but I lost the link (if anybody has info on this, feel free to leave it in the comments) -let me put it this way: phenomenal. Unbelievable.

The cost of an ebook is low. Really low (generally speaking). No paper, no ink, no distribution costs to speak of. That takes a huge amount of cost out of making a book. Ebooks are a wonderful answer to technological questions about books.

Ebook readers still have a bit of a way to go, though, I'll be honest. The technology is relatively new and still has some bugs. And, admittedly, there are things a paper book can do that an ebook reader cannot. I would not take a Kindle into the bathtub, ever. That's an expensive piece of equipment. Books can, more or less, survive a bathtub experience -and one book is not 1,500 books, which a Kindle can be. Real books can't get viruses or be mysteriously reclaimed in the middle of the night when a publisher decides they didn't want people having electronic copies of a certain book. Anybody remember that? That was nuts. They can't really do that with physical books.

The main reason I had resisted ebook readers up until recently was that you can't write on the ebooks. If I can't write on a book, I don't want it. Sorry, no thanks. I have to be able to highlight passages, underline descriptions, write awful things about incompetent editing in the margins and generally make my mark on a book to really enjoy it -and now I can. Sony ebook readers come with a stylus and the ability to mark up ebooks.

I'm so sold you don't even know how sold I am. If the devil appeared to me and said, "I'll give you a Sony ebook reader in exchange for your soul!" I would tell him, "Thanks, but I'm waiting for Santa to bring me one. Try me again after Christmas, just in case Santa doesn't come through." That's how sold I am.

Seriously, though. As a writer/publisher/editor/reader, ebooks are awesome.

As a writer, you can write, publish and sell your product directly to the public (which is made vastly larger by the Internet) and make a much greater profit than by going through traditional channels.

As a publisher, you can reach a huge market of people while dramatically reducing the cost that goes into creating a book. Not only does this allow you to publish more (and hopefully maintain a high caliber of talent), you can do it inexpensively.

As an editor, you can work with electronic texts anywhere without carrying huge manuscripts around with you -and that is awesome.

As a reader, you can access a bazillion books cheaply and quickly and without losing more storage space. I want my own library someday, because I'm a book fetishist (not in a weird way), but for practical purposes, an ebook reader will be what I'd use on a day-to-day basis.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom!!

Normal posting will resume tomorrow.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Early mornings

I am usually a fan of them (within reason). This particular morning isn't really one I wanted to make friends with, since I don't have anything going on until noon, when Jonah is picking me up to take me home again. However, here I am, wide awake (well, awake anyway) and preparing to make myself the first of many cups of coffee.

A few more followers have showed up over the past few days, which is nice! I went from 8 to 11 all at once -hi, guys! How are you? Welcome to this corner of the Internet. I hope you know what you're in for. What brought you this way?

Book time:

Anyone else ever read "Hard Times" by Charles Dickens? I told Jonah yesterday that I like it better than I like "Great Expectations" -and that statement means very little. I've never been able to get into "GE." Perhaps this represents a failing on my part as a reader. I liked the Wishbone version, but whenever I actually go to read the book I hate it almost immediately. I'm not sure why.

So, yeah. "Hard Times" is better than that, although I'm still not sure how much or if I really like it. Fortunately, my good opinion isn't actually necessary. As long as I can analyze it effectively, I'm in the clear.

I think it's something about the way Dickens crowds descriptions with almost identical sentences and kind of beats parallel comparisons into the ground. For example, from "A Tale of Two Cities" -most people know "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" and yet how many of us know that the rest of that paragraph is like half a page of that in the same format? It's brilliant -I won't deny that. It's a brilliant paragraph. But Dickens uses that same concept in almost every other thing he wrote (at least what people read academically). I know it's a part of Victorian writing, and Dickens was an amazing Victorian writer, but I feel like I'm reading the same story on repeat when he does that. It's bizarre.

What are your thoughts?

Sorry for the short post, I just got a Google Voice invite thing and I'm busy playing with it! :)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Arguing effectively

Case closed.

In case none of you have ever noticed this, I'm a tiny bit hot-headed. I like to argue, especially about topics that I think are of relevance to my everyday life (for example: writing, grammar, religion, evolution and whether or not Han Solo shot before Greedo [he totally did]). Arguing is a fun and constructive way for me to take out my aggression on things that are worth fighting about -but when I say "arguing" and "fighting" I mean something very specific.

I regard fighting and arguing as constructive things. These are avenues to discussion, exploration of ideas, discovery, research and dialogue. An argument is not one person expostulating at length on their opinion, it is a vibrant and respectful conversation between two or more people (or someone with multiple personalities -I'm looking at you, Gollum/Smeagol). When I argue with another person, I take a very specific route. Since a lot of my arguing is done via e-mails or messages, there are certain writing tactics that play into it. These are important tactics, because when you use them effectively you can win an argument by default (what, you thought I was going to teach you to play fair? Come on).

Example: I came across an article, the subject of which was, "What's wrong with American morality today?" The article's only two points were that pornography and gay marriage are destroying the country and taking everyone with them. My mouth fell open as I read it, and I got pretty hot under the collar. While I'm not a fan of porn myself, making the argument that it's destroying the moral foundation of America based on Christian standards is an extremely weak argument at best -what is pornography? Is it just video? Wouldn't that make a whole lot of Discovery channel shows porn? What about art, music and writing? Those topics deal explicitly with sex, often with the intent to arouse. If you look at the case that establishes the laws surrounding obscenity, you can see that proving something obscene (which this writer calls porn several times) is difficult, if not impossible, especially given his lack of defined terms. (The case, by the way, is Miller v. California, [1973]).

Then there was the gay marriage issue. I am pro-gay marriage. If you're not, I'm sorry. I think your position is wrong and untenable, but in the end it basically boils down to this: if you don't want gay marriage, don't get one. Prohibiting gay marriage is against Constitutional law and a violation of the First Amendment (if that prohibition is based on religious reasons, which it often is). On religious grounds, there is no foundation at all for prohibiting gay marriage. If a church refuses to marry a couple, that's their right -the couple simply has to find a church that will marry them; but on legal grounds, forbidding gay couples from getting married is unconstitutional and therefore illegal.

Back to the arguing -I wrote the guy. I explained that his article was biased, intolerant and cited evidence that had been distorted or misinterpreted. I also told him that I felt that of all the things wrong with the country today, porn and gay marriage are way down there on the list. I received a series of more and more irrelevant, offensive and angry e-mails. What could have been a constructive argument about the respective merits of our viewpoints (which I'll get to in a moment), it turned into him calling me names and deliberately twisting anything I said without actually addressing the point I made.

His defenses were this: gays do not have any long-standing tradition of being discriminated against, and allowing gay people to get married and/or have children is "playing pretend" and therefore violates the sanctity of marriage. Porn causes rape and homosexuality.

Um, yeah. Even for people who agree with the guy on gay marriage, those are extremely weak arguments. Without getting snotty, I replied that:

1) Gay men and women have been discriminated against for centuries, both in this country and across the world. There are still areas, even in America, where being public about homosexuality is dangerous to an individual's health, well-being and livelihood. In some countries, being gay is illegal. How does that constitute a lack of discrimination?

2) So, by his logic regarding gay parents, it would be better for a gay person to marry someone of the opposite sex and, oh hey, "pretend" to be straight for their entire lives? What's the difference, other than the misery, bitterness and lies that will cause? Isn't lying a sin?

3) Since when has marriage been sacred? The Biblical definition of marriage allowed Jewish men to marry multiple women (in the Old Testament) and contained information on how much a woman could be beaten, how much children should be sold for and the ways in which women should be subservient to men. In addition, in America alone, theist couples divorce almost twice as often as atheist couples -and (transitioning to porn), the rates of illegally downloaded pornography, unplanned teen pregnancies and STDs are highest in the Bible Belt, where the "traditional marriages" this man lauded are so highly regarded.

4) Porn does not cause rape or homosexuality; that argument is fundamentally flawed from its premise. No research done on the subject has ever shown a link between those things. Porn is used to generate arousal and satisfy weird fetishes that I really don't want to write about, not to encourage people to be gay or to rape one another.

In response to those points, the guy claimed that gay men and women are "unworthy of civil rights" and claimed that I was calling him a bigot based on the fact that our opinions differed.

At that point, the correspondence totally derailed and I lost all interest in even having a discussion with him (to clarify: I did call his viewpoints bigoted, because, according to the dictionary definition they are -he is obstinately prejudiced against anyone who holds a differing viewpoint. I'm not prejudiced against him, I just don't agree with what he said; he, on the other hand, is prejudiced against those who don't follow his opinions and would like to see them stripped of their legal rights. That is textbook bigotry).

So how does this all apply to writing?

If you're not too steamed by the whole conversation I just outlined, I'll tell you: arguing effectively is vital, whether you're simply writing an opinion piece or trying to defend the Constitution from predation by fundamentalists -or writing a fictional story. Characters argue, they're people too. Check it out.

There are a few things that you need to remember when writing an argument (or even speaking).

-Stay on topic. The guy I wrote about earlier could not decide what information he wanted to twist to use in "arguing" with me. He chose to focus on trying to use confusing terminology and refusing to address the legal and moral points I offered to him. Arguing that way is a great way to troll someone, but a truly awful way to actually make a point. If your topic of discussion is, for instance, Gandhi's vegetarianism, don't start writing about the specifics of the Indian tea trade instead -it's not relevant, so why bring it into an already complex discussion?

-Don't name-call. It's not polite and it makes your argument weaker: if you have to insult someone to get a point across, your point is probably unable to stand on its own legs without the crutch of anger. Passion is vital to arguments; anger becomes a detriment if you don't check it. The guy I argued with resorted to calling me, in essence, a Commie hooker (he didn't use those exact words, but he accused me of being an amoral socialist on more than one occasion) -when I said he was bigoted, I directed it at his arguments, not him. Which leads me to my next point...

-If you need to tear something down, tear down an argument and not your opponent. If you start insulting the person you're having a conversation with, you're no longer having an argument, you're being mean. Your issue is with the points they made, not the individual (in some cases it may be personal, but go re-read the first point). Don't let an argument end a friendship or relationship because you began insulting the person instead of focusing on the issue at hand.

-Support your own arguments before tearing apart someone else's. If you don't have a strong argument to begin with, and you start ripping away at the points someone else made, you have to be able to back that up. If you can't, you just look wrong from the get-go. Come to an argument prepared: know the topic, know your opinion, know some relevant information that you can use (without twisting it or lying, because that's shameful and lame and makes you look shady).

-Be willing to listen. You cannot, cannot, cannot have a discussion with someone if you aren't hearing what they say and understanding what they mean. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification. I got into another (much friendlier) discussion with the author of an article about why evolution is bad and wrong (a whole other can of worms, that is) and I asked him to clarify what he meant by his claim of being a proponent of intelligent design. There are as many interpretations of intelligent design as there are interpretations of the Bible, if not more, and I didn't want to argue about the wrong issue. Instead of just barging ahead with my points, I took the time to read and address what he had said before I gave my own reasoning. Not only did that prevent me from addressing the wrong ideas and being redundant, it also gave me a chance to really understand what this guy was saying -and it set an intellectual, friendly tone to the entire conversation.

-Finally, and this applies to writers of fiction, break every one of those rules. An argument that begins and ends with the dismissal of one or more of the above guidelines will be much more heated and reveal a lot more about your characters. When people get angry, really angry, they let things slip. Those slips can move a story forward in awesome ways, so break rules like there's no tomorrow when you're writing a story.

Unless you're actually trying to anger your opponent in an argument, however, following those rules will (hopefully) help keep a lid on things.

And remember what I said about winning an argument by default? What if you manage to keep your head on, make your points in a reasoned and respectful manner, support your argument with solid evidence and logic...and the person you're talking to flies off the deep end anyway? You totally won.