Friday, April 26, 2013
Another fictional offering from a prompt (If my mother could see me now!) from my Writers' Group:
If my mother could see me now she'd give me a piece of her mind . . . and it would take her a long time to do it. She had opposed my marrying Louis, right from the start. 'A dreamer' had been her pronouncement after meeting him. What was wrong with Kristan, the shoe clerk, she had asked.
"Hush, now, Marie, let the girl make up her own mind. Louis is a fine man--look at the chickens his family farm raises."
My father was ever the pragmatist. They had enjoyed the one Louis had brought to the house, instead of flowers, all dressed and ready for the oven. The chicken had won her over--that and the fact that I was twenty-seven years old.
I'd dreamed of being the lady of a fine estate--paid for by the ever-increasing flock. Not that I planned to do any chicken work; they scared me with their beady little eyes. But when Louis's father died, from the stress of keeping track of the egg production, the farm went the older son, Raymond.
Louis had always resented his bossy older brother and a recruitment poster in town had persuaded him to emigrate to Quebec, across the ocean and far away from Mama and Papa. The chickens I could live without but what was a good Catholic girl to do? And now this war has sent my poor brave Louis off to fight--back in France of all places. I just hope he doesn't meet up with that hussy, Olivia; she always had her eye on him.
Meanwhile, I must be father and mother to our four little ones and work every day the good Lord sends us - except Sundays, of course, trying to clear this rocky land. Oh, Mama, why didn't I listen to you and marry the shoe clerk!
Friday, April 19, 2013
I ready today in the Passive Voice that bookstores in Venice are closing at an alarming rate. A half dozen of them have closed recently. But, with a population of only 60,000 it seems that the tourist-oriented city cannot and does not support the number that it currently has. The reason given by the booksellers association is the rising rents.
I don't know if it is the case in Venice or for that matter in Europe, but in North America, book profit margins are thin. Can you think of another product that has its price permanently imprinted on it? I can't and there's a reason for it. The retailer buys a product, any product, not just books, from a wholesaler. The desired profit is then factored in, taking into account retail expenses. For example, for clothing the typical mark-up is one hundred percent. The wholesale price of a dress is $75 and the price tag in the store gives $150 as the price (sometimes higher) This allows the retailer the ability to put the dress on sale at 25% off or $112.50 and still make a profit. Businesses have to make a profit to stay in business.
But books are only marked up 40%. The retailer pays 40% less than the price printed on the back of the book. In exchange for this, they are able to return the book, if unsold, to the publisher within a certain time frame, usually less a re-stocking fee. During a brief stint in a book store I was surprised to discover that, with paperbacks, only the cover is torn off and returned. The rest of the unsold book is recycled. I'm not aware that this ability to return for credit (for a non-defective product) applies to any other item but I stand to be corrected.
But back to Venice: I suspect that people who open and run small independent bookstores, such as the type found in Venice, do it for a love of books, not a love of money. But they still need to pay the bills and for that they need sales. I've been in Venice a couple of times and I must confess I did not visit a book store. Venice is a maze of narrow pedestrian streets and it is easy to worry about getting lost. As well, since a couple of hours may easily be spent in line ups with other tourists at the the Basilica San Marco, the Doge's Palace, and the Galleria dell'Accademia this impinges on time that could be spent browsing in bookstores.
As a final point, I could mention that with the trend towards charging for luggage and hefty surcharges for overweight bags, bringing home books may be a costly proposition.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
More writing advice and suggestions from Nathan Bransford, author and former literary agent. Any of you thinking of picking up a pen or opening your laptop, study and memorize these pointers first!
It's important to grab a reader with a good opening, but inadvisable to grab them and start punching them in the face.
In great novels, every character has their own set of goals, vices, and motivations and no one is purely good or evil.
Every protagonist has to want something big. The plot is how they overcome the obstacles in their path to get that thing (or not).
When writing dialogue, dialect is kind of like salt. Used sparingly it can add flavor, but you wouldn't want to construct a dish around it.
I like my prologues like I like my dental appointments: short, painless, necessary.
Great settings in books are just as alive, changing, and memorable as the characters themselves.
Remember your successes when your fail and your failures when you succeed.
In writing, pacing is the average interval between moments of conflict.
It's important for writers to be self-critical enough to spot errors but not so critical that you're paralyzed with doubt.
A great first paragraph establishes the tone/voice, gets the reader into a flow, and builds trust in the author.
Great writing feels effortless and is the result of an insane amount of effort.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
I love those occasions when I have time to let the internet lead me to places I find both topical and unusual. Usually the first few websites or blogs are ones I have visited before but when I let myself follow links, then that site or link leads to yet another--well, that's when it really starts to get interesting.
The problems arise when I want to re-trace my steps the next day and find one of the later sites or blogs again. First, I check 'history' to see if I perhaps didn't delete the record of my travels. If I was more efficient than usual then I just might be stuck. There's a lesson there.
The internet is not just entertaining but also informative. On another author blog I read today how to disable the annoying Captcha hoop that commenters must jump through. Too many times myself, I've had to make several attempts to decipher scribbled non-word and numbers when I've wanted to contribute a comment. I have, stubborn person that I can be, given up several times.
I have now followed the steps (too simple, really) to disable the feature. I understand that it can be necessary to keep it in place for bloggers that receive a lot of spam. But until that happens I will allow all comments. I will trust my readers to be thoughtful and respectful.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
I read a post this morning from a journalist who attempted air travel with her dog. When I read her complaint I have to confess my first thought was that things hadn't been too bad. I suppose my expectations have been lowered over the years. It could have been worse. Yes, she was on hold for too long trying to make arrangements. She was mis-directed a few times both trying to board her dog and afterwards when she went to retrieve it. But at the end of the journey her dog was well, albeit anxious, yelping and whining once it saw her. There have been worse stories about dog air travel.
The writer revealed further that she had never received a response to her written complaint to the airline. I could relate to that. Over the course of my adult life I have not infrequently wanted to write a letter of complaint and at times I have given in to that urge. Sometimes my letter has been ignored. I read once that for every letter written to a business, a hundred people felt the same but didn't get around to writing a letter about it. Some businesses take complaint letters seriously, it seems. Some do not. Government monopolies, I suspect, have complaint boxes that empty directly into the trash. It's not like you can go anywhere else.
There is probably a certain type of person who writes complaint letters, particularly when there is nothing that can be done about the situation at that point in time. Firstly, it has to be a person who is comfortable with the written word and their ability to write a coherent and cogent letter. That eliminates some. There is also a certain type of person, I postulate, with qualities found in a parent and/or teacher (a great need to point out errors and what would correct it) and a strong sense of justice. In combination this allows for the outraged indignation that will cast aside inertia and take pen, or more likely, keyboard in hand and proceed to address the shortcomings.
Oops, that's me!
But one thing I've come to realize is that the person on the receiving end of your complaint is usually not in a position to do anything about it and has no control over company policy. This is no doubt a source of aggravation to them. I had cause recently to query my cable bill (which I have decided to cancel shortly but that's for another post) and was initially heartened by the entreatments at the bottom of my online bill to give my feedback, to 'please, let us know how we are doing.' I realize now that the company doesn't really care about my opinion and what they are seeking is the appearance that they care.
The young man who answered the phone, after my ten minutes spent on hold, had no control over the time I spent on hold, did not design the confusing cable account log-in system, and did not make the decisions that kept adding and subtracting channels from our package. Although I have no way of proving it, I very much doubt he was making notes to hand up to upper management regarding my oh-so-helpful suggestions. I was left wondering why I had bothered to waste twenty minutes of my existence on earth in this fruitless endeavour.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Today, I read something which gave me pause. It seems someone came up with the idea of purchasing items on Amazon and then attempting to auction them on eBay at a higher price. If the item didn't sell it was returned to Amazon for a full refund.
I was almost shocked until I recalled a relative telling me about a contemplated purchase of a particular men's shirt, manufactured in the relative's home country. It was a little pricey and he wanted to wait to see if it would go on sale. Sure enough, within a few weeks a newspaper advertisement for the major department store touted a thirty percent off sale on all men's shirts. Back he went to the department store and found that this shirt had been re-priced and re-labelled with an original selling price of--you guessed it--30% more. The sale price just put the cost back to the original price.
Ethics can be in short supply with vendors and purchasers, both large and small.
Friday, April 5, 2013
I like to support other writers and bloggers from time to time by purchasing their book(s). No, I'm in denial! I love to travel and couldn't resist How to Travel the World on $50 a Day by Matt Kepnes, otherwise known as Nomadic Matt. Although I've travelled a lot, and probably some would say, more than is reasonable, I have never done one of the 'take a year off and see the world' journeys. That I've read Matt's blog and that of fellow wanderer, Rolf Potts, demonstrates to me that I probably wish I had taken this leap of faith. I've also signed up to receive regular e-mails from BootsnAll, which designates itself as a one-stop Indie travel centre. Wait, there's a pattern here: Indie author . . . indie traveller. Hmmm.
It's probably no coincidence that these world travellers are single or in a relationship with a like-minded fellow traveller. I can foresee considerable difficulties in travelling with children and it's not likely you'd leave them behind. Then there are your pets. Our lives become complicated with locked-in mortgages, four year car leases, cell phone contracts.
Nowadays, I find I take tours more often than I travel independently. When I look back over my years of independent travel I must confess that I spent too much time getting lost, waiting at bus depots for delayed transportation or, in one situation, heading towards Moscow instead of Copenhagen when the train I had boarded in Paris divided into two sections, unbeknownst to me. I was, of course, in the wrong section.
But, in the end, it all makes for a good story to tell friends and acquaintances or perhaps to use as a plot-line in a book.