Decision Time

When I moved, I drastically reduced my book collection.  Since then, I’ve made sure that I only purchase books that I know I will read again.  Otherwise, I get them from the library or borrow them from friends.  The idea is to keep my shelves under control; if I didn’t put a limit on it, I’d have to buy bookshelves all the time.

I’ve loosened on that rule a bit with my new e-reader, but now I find myself facing a dilemma.  There is a book that I’ve read before, which I borrowed from a friend.  I want to re-read it, and I know that it is one I want to add to my collection.  I could get it for the Nook, pay a few dollars less, and have it right now.  Or I could work on acquiring it in paper form.  This might mean ordering it online, buying it at the nearby book store, or hoping that the used book store eventually has a copy. 

This really comes down to a question of why I want to own the book.  If the only point of getting the book is to be able to read it whenever I want, then the Nook version should be sufficient.  If the reason I want it is not only to have it readily accessible, but to also have it displayed on my shelf and available to loan to friends, then I need the paper version. 

Childlike Reading Habits

When I was a kid, I never read one book at a time.  I might have one book I was reading at school, another in the living room, a third by my bed, a fourth…  Well, you get the picture.  My usual number was three, the most I remember at once was six.  On top of that, I never used a bookmark, or marked my place in any way.  I just picked up the book, flipped to where I had stopped, and kept reading.

Of course, once I switched from young reader and young adult books to adult fiction, I had to start using a bookmark.  And I tried to stick to one book at a time.  (Occasional National Geographic breaks don’t count.)

I find myself falling back into the habits of my youth with the Nook.  It remembers where I am in a book, so I don’t need to use a bookmark.  I can flip back and forth between different books without a problem.  I’ve recently been alternating between Theodore Rex and Pride and Prejudice, with occasional forays into book samples when I feel like shopping.

It feels like a return to my childhood.

The Benefit of Free

In the past two weeks, I’ve seen the advantage of offering a free sample.

When we were on our trip, my parents and I went on a free tour of a Black Hills Gold jewelry maker.  Before the tour, while we perused the display cases of the store, I noticed several pieces that were quite lovely.  However, as I told my parents, while I appreciate the artistry of jewelry, I just don’t wear it often enough to justify buying any.  Then we went on the tour of their factory (a word which somehow doesn’t seem to fit the work space we were in) and I learned very cool things about the way the pieces are made and the traditions of “Black Hills Gold” jewelry.  Returning to the showroom, I had a new appreciation for the product and ended up splurging a necklace for myself.

I had a similar experience with my new Nook.  When it comes to e-books, the free sample concept is how I’ve been deciding if I want to pay for a book or not.  My first official purchase was Theodore Rex, which I saw in a bookstore but didn’t buy.  It was pricey on my Nook (although cheaper than the hard copy), so I didn’t purchase it right away.  Instead, I downloaded a sample.  After about 50 e-pages, I was hooked, and the price no longer seemed too steep.

If you are going to self-publish as an e-book, you should have the option of providing a sample, typically set as a percentage of the novel.  My advice is to do it.  Even if you aren’t charging a lot for your book, that sample may be how people decide if they want to risk a couple of bucks on a story by a new author.


I  thought about spelling a couple of times on my recent trip. 

On our way out west we stopped at an overlook of the Missouri River that had a very cool Lewis and Clark display.  My dad pointed out a spelling error on a sign, which I then realized was part of a quote from Lewis’s journal.  If you’ve ever read any of the writings of Meriwether Lewis, you know that there are lots of words spelled oddly.  At the time of the Corps of Discovery voyage, spelling wasn’t standardized.  You can’t really criticize someone for misspelling a word that didn’t have a correct spelling, even if it does now.  And to be accurate, a quote has to include the original spelling.

Later in the trip I found out that Theodore Roosevelt was a poor speller.  Now, I like TR.  He is my favorite president, and the trip made me more interested (perhaps obsessed?) in learning more about him.  He did a lot of good things for our country, but I’m not sure how I feel regarding his effort to simplify the spelling of words using an executive order.  Most people at the time weren’t fans of it either, and it didn’t last very long.  The way we put letters together into words has become even more entrenched since then.

Spelling can be a challenge, especially when our language has so many weird exceptions and odd ways of lettering.  Have you ever been asked how to pronounce GHOTI?  My foreign language teacher in high school wrote it on the board as an example of the oddities of English.  His pronunciation was “fish” – GH as in laugh, O as in women, and TI as in education.  Obviously it’s a linguists trick and not a real word, but it does illustrate how inconsistently we use letters.

Isn’t English fun?

As if the bookstore wasn’t bad enough…

I love my new Nook.  It’s a very fun way to read, and once I have my cover I’m sure I’ll be carting it around with me everywhere.  I also love the “sample” feature that lets me read part of the book before I commit.

But if living a few blocks away from a bookstore wasn’t bad enough, now I have one in my living room.  So far, the particular books I’ve searched for are pricey enough that I haven’t been willing to buy them, but today I finally gave in today and paid for one.

Hopefully the combination of library e-books and real books will help me stay smart about my book purchases!

Fact Checking

Even though I write fantasy, I try to be accurate with facts when it is appropriate.  There are many things that we use in fantasy that are based on historical periods in the real world, and these can and should be accurate.  I’ve written about this before relating to falconry, but it applies to weapons, clothing, and travel as well.  For example, if you’re including a trebuchet in your story, you need to remember that it was a huge piece of equipment that was around 60 feet tall.  It wasn’t something that was mobile, or that could be worked by a handful of people.

There’s a reason to be sure that you have things correct: there are other people out there who know the information.  If you totally mess something up in a novel or story, some people will forgive you.  Some will be irritated enough to put the book down.  There is also a slight risk that someone will tell you that you have it wrong, either politely or publicly.

When I was a teen I went to a Shakespeare festival in Canada.  The group I was with toured the prop and costume warehouse, and one of the items we saw really brought this home.  For a play about Saint George and the dragon, they needed a mauled body.  The prop people took the time to make sure that it was anatomically correct, just in case there was a doctor in the front row.  I’ve remembered that ever since.

(I was also reminded of the importance of fact checking this week, when a museum we visited had two taxidermy raptors mislabeled.  I was polite, but I did let them know that their birds were identified incorrectly.  There’s no way that I’ll be the last birder to visit.)

If you don’t know the details about something you’re writing, take the time to find it out.  Your readers who do know the info will appreciate it.


Setting the Tone

This week, my family and I visited Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore.  In comparing the two, I found a lesson for writing.

In many ways, these two places are similar.  Both are large-scale carvings in the sides of the Black Hills, which you can see without actually visiting the sites.  Both cost money to visit (although the price and purpose of the charges are different).  Both include a museum, visitor center, sculptor’s studio, and of course, gift shop and café.  Both tell two stories: that of the sculptor, and that of the people memorialized by the monument.

Even with all of these similarities, the two feel very different.  My mom and I discussed this at length, and my general impression is the tone, and the way in which the stories are told.

Crazy Horse is busy, and not because of the number of people.  You can see the sculpture from the parking lot, but the first thing you do on arrival is go into a building and into a theater to watch a movie about the making of the monument.  After the movie, you come out into a beautiful room with windows that look over the memorial, with a scale model of the finished sculpture.  Even in that space, designed to encourage reflection, the walls are covered with pictures of donors, paintings of Native American scenes, display cases full of artifacts, and a model of how the entire space will look when complete.  The other viewing area, where the larger scale model is kept, is a lovely outdoor deck with a great view of the mountain.  In order to get there, though, you have to go through rooms filled with Native American artifacts, not to mention the gift shop.  Even the sculptor’s home and studio are visually noisy, with paintings, art, furniture, and other pieces sculpted by the artist.

Crazy Horse is trying to tell too many stories at once, so none of them come across effectively.  My strongest takeaway impression was that they depend on the public to pay for the project, and unfortunately that registered mostly as a request for money.

Mount Rushmore feels like a monument.  As you park, the presidents are visible above trees, next to a large stone entry.  Walking through the archways, you can see the sculpture framed by trees and marble.  The path, lined with flags, leads directly to the large viewing terrace.  Even though it’s filled with visitors, the experience is breathtaking.  There are also trails that lead to the base of the mountain, with additional viewing areas and signs about each of the presidents on the mountain.  The gift shops and café are literally peripheral to your experience; they are on the side of the path, behind you, and below you as you first walk out to see the mountain.  The sculptor’s studio houses only models of Mount Rushmore, with information about the process, and every building possible has windows with views of the heads.

Mount Rushmore is also telling many stories, of each of the presidents as well as the artist and the politicians who supported and funded the project.  Here they are all told as echoes of the same story: America is awesome.  I walked away feeling patriotic, inspired by the people who are represented on the mountain and the people who made it happen.

There’s a lesson here for writing, too.  We want to tell many stories, in order to make the novel layered and interesting, but we need to be careful.  The stories we choose, and the way we include them, should all work together to tell a bigger story.  We don’t want our readers feeling overwhelmed by the noise, possibly even putting the book down before the end.


Tiny Life Update

Hello everyone!

I have just returned from an excellent trip to the western part of South Dakota with my parents.

We went to Mount Rushmore, of course, and several parts of the Black Hills.  We also took a little side trip through the Badlands on the way back, and hit the kitsch heavens of the Corn Palace and Wall Drug during the drive.  We called it our Americana Road Trip vacation.

I have several fun post ideas that have come from the trip, and I am excited to share them with you.  However, it’s been a very full, very tiring week and tonight what I want most is to sleep in my own bed.

Thank you for your patience!  More vacation-inspired posts to come…  (And yes, they will be writing related!)

Grover Got Elected Twice

When I was a teen, my mentor would occasionally sing a funny song with all the US presidents in order by first name.  I didn’t learn the song, but one particular line stuck with me.

“For some unknown reason, Grover got elected twice.”

This is a reference to Grover Cleveland, who was elected our 22nd president, lost to Benjamin Harrison (23) and was then re-elected to be our 24th president.  He is the only president to date to serve two non-consecutive terms.

It’s amazing how facts put to music stick in our brains more effectively than facts that aren’t sing-able.  I have now learned the presidents in order thanks to a rap from a great CD that was put together for this exact reason.  (I’ve also learned the state capitals and the first 50 digits of pi from the same set of songs!)  As a kid I learned a song with the states in alphabetical order, and I still use the Animaniacs’ song Nations of the World to get through quizzes on my favorite quiz website.

Fortunately, people have taken advantage of this quirk of our brains and put together many songs to teach kids (and adults) the things that they need or want to know.

Any good songs you’ve used to learn information?


There are very few movies, television shows, or books out there where one person is totally alone and interacts with no one.  I’m not saying they don’t exist (I can think of a few examples just off the top of my head), but they are by far not the norm.

Because of this, there are lots of places to turn to see both the good and the bad of how to develop a relationship between characters.  I’m not just thinking of romantic relationships, although many male/female pairings that don’t start out with that intent end up with at least sexual tension if not an outright relationship.

In this case I’m thinking more about friendships, partnerships, co-worker relationships and family bonds (or lack thereof).  Our main characters may be solo actors (although often they are not) but they still interact with the people around them.  While these secondary, tertiary, and peripheral characters may not be as developed as the main character, the interactions still need to feel genuine and human.

I don’t necessarily use fictional relationships as my base to develop those between my characters.  More often I pull from my personal experience; most of us have some type of interaction in our lives that can be used, even loosely, to create the dynamic between characters.  Even so, it is still interesting to think about books or movies you enjoy and the examples they provide, especially if the relationships feel forced or awkward.

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