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Posts tagged as “The Musty Smell of Books”

I can’t afford to be embarrassed

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I'm a published urban fantasy author with two novels on the shelves, one of which, FROST MOON, won an award. I have two more novels in the can and I've just finished coediting an anthology with twenty stories based on an idea I proposed. I've read extensively on writing theory and even have written a few articles on the subject.

So what am I doing with a copy of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES?

Doing whatever I can to get better at what I do, that's what.

Once a friend saw the huge stack of theory-of-fiction books in my Library, one of which is "Novel Writing for Complete Morons" or some title a lot like that, and he remarked "wow, it's probably been a long time since you had to look at that one." Well, that happened to be true, but not because I read the book, then wrote some novels, and then grew beyond it.

The truth is, I'd already written one novel - and chunks of six or seven others - when I got "Novel Writing for Complete Morons." Heck, I may have already written FROST MOON at that point. But I'm a book hound, and I look at everything. I came across the book, probably at a bargain bin. And I saw a chapter I can use. So I bought it.

I actually love reading overviews. I can dive deep into a technical book, but sometimes it's only stepping back and summarizing the text - either by reading a summary, or writing one yourself - that enables you to hang the details upon a coherent whole. Even when the overview isn't interesting, sometimes the book itself has details you simply can't find elsewhere.

In the case of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, I saw it in a bargain bin, flipped through it - and found a section in a chapter on editing scenes, a task I'd just been struggling with on my third Dakota Frost novel, LIQUID FIRE. So I bought it, and tonight read a few chunks, some of which are good for structuring scenes, others of which were helpful in overall novel structure.

Some of that information is review; other parts are completely new. It doesn't matter. It helped me move forward.

Creative expression is driven by ego, but it's stifled by snobbery. Don't get embarrassed by what you need to do to improve. If you were trying to climb out of a pit, would you hold your hand back from a rung that was candy colored and clearly intended for children? No. As long as the rung is solid, you grab it and pull yourself up.

Anything else is just hurting yourself in an effort to look good.

-the Centaur

Pictured: WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, atop THE POETICS OF THE MIND'S EYE by Christopher Collins, a study of visual imagination in literature and cognitive science. See how hard it is to be honest with yourself and do what needs doing? Here I had to bring along a technical book I'm reading and use it to prop up the For Dummies book in an absurd attempt at credentialing.

No, I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen: I may have happened to have picked up THE POETICS OF THE MIND'S EYE at about the same time as WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, and I may have had it in my reading pile because I was evaluating whether to recommend it to a friend who works in the field of visual imagination, but the one has little to do with the other.

I, a published author, picked up WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, and it had useful information for a problem I was trying to solve. Don't be embarrassed about things like that: do whatever you have to to help yourself get better. End of list.

My Labors Are Not Ended

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lenora at rest in the library

But I am going to take a rest for a bit.

Above you see a shot of my cat Lenora resting in front of the "To Read Science Fiction" section of my Library, the enormous book collection I've been accumulating over the last quarter century. I have books older than that, of course, but they're stored in my mother's house in my hometown. It's only over the last 25 years or so have I been accumulating my own personal library.

But why am I, if not resting, at least thinking about it? I finished organizing the books in my Library.

lenora at rest in the library 2

I have an enormous amount of papers, bills, bric a brac and other memorabilia still to organize, file, trash or donate, but the Library itself is organized, at last. It's even possible to use it.

How organized? Well...

Religion, politics, economics, the environment, women's studies, Ayn Rand, read books, Lovecraft, centaur books, read urban fantasy, read science fiction, Atlanta, read comics, to-read comics, to-read science fiction magazines, comic reference books, drawing reference books, steampunk, urban fantasy, miscellaneous writing projects, Dakota Frost, books to donate, science fiction to-reads: Asimov, Clarke, Banks, Cherryh, miscellaneous, other fiction to-reads, non-fiction to-reads, general art books, genre art books, BDSM and fetish magazines and art books, fetish and sexuality theory and culture, military, war, law, space travel, astronomy, popular science, physics of time travel, Einstein, quantum mechanics, Feynman, more physics, mathematics, philosophy, martial arts, health, nutrition, home care, ancient computer manuals, more recent computer manuals, popular computer books, the practice of computer programming, programming language theory, ancient computer languages, Web languages, Perl, Java, C and C++, Lisp, APL, the Art of Computer Programming, popular cognitive science, Schankian cognitive science, animal cognition, animal biology, consciousness, dreaming, sleep, emotion, personality, cognitive science theory, brain theory, brain philosophy, evolution, human evolution, cognitive evolution, brain cognition, memory, "Readings in …" various AI and cogsci disciplines, oversized AI and science books, conference proceedings, technical reports, game AI, game development, robotics, imagery, vision, information retrieval, natural language processing, linguistics, popular AI, theory of AI, programming AI, AI textbooks, AI notes from recent projects, notes from college from undergraduate through my thesis, more Dakota Frost, GURPS, other roleplaying games, Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, more Dakota Frost, recent projects, literary theory of Asimov and Clarke, literary theory of science fiction, science fiction shows and TV, writing science fiction, mythology, travel, writing science, writing reference, writers on writing, writing markets, poetry, improv, voice acting, film, writing film, history of literature, representative examples, oversized reference, history, anthropology, dictionaries, thesauri, topical dictionaries, language dictionaries, language learning, Japanese, culture of Japan, recent project papers, comic archives, older project papers, tubs containing things to file … and the single volume version of the Oxford English Dictionary, complete with magnifying glass.

lenora at rest in the library 2

I deliberately left out the details of many categories and outright omitted a few others not stored in the library proper, like my cookbooks, my display shelves of Arkham House editions, Harry Potter and other hardbacks, my "favorite" nonfiction books, some spot reading materials, a stash of transhumanist science fiction, all the technical books I keep in the shelf next to me at work … and, of course, my wife and I's enormous collection of audiobooks.

What's really interesting about all that to me is there are far more categories out there in the world not in my Library than there are in my Library. Try it sometime - go into a bookstore or library, or peruse the list of categories in the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal System Classifications. There's far more things to think about than even I, a borderline hoarder with a generous income and enormous knowledge of bookstores, have been able to accumulate in a quarter century.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

-the Centaur

My Favorite Borders, Closing …

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Two of my favorite bookstores are closing ... along with many other Borders in the Bay Area:
(ABC News) A list of store closings planned by Borders as it tries to reorganize in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, state by state. Closings are due over the next few weeks. Some clearance sales are expected to start this weekend: For the full list look here.
Or put another way, the closest 3 stores to my address are closing; check out these search results:
  • San Jose - Oakridge Mall: Closing
  • Los Gatos: Closing
  • San Jose - Santana Row: Closing
Which goes back to ... fffffffffuuuuuuuuuuu! Some of you may be thinking "ah, the e-reader and Amazon have killed the bookstore at last." Uh, no, though that may still happen. The fate of Borders can be laid at the feet of giant discount stores like Walmart, Costco and Target, who can sell books up to five bucks cheaper than a typical bookstore. Contributing to this is the recession, of course, and American corporate culture, which tends to think of businesses as interchangeable moneymaking commodities and not living organisms that need to be helmed by people who understand the business. Don't get me wrong - the management of Borders puts together superb bookstores. They've been my favorite chain for years. But a fair number of analysts of Borders have suggested that a lot of its recent management hasn't had the handson bookstore experience to make the right choices. It was owned by K-Mart for a while, for instance. Ugh. And I'm not critiquing K-Mart, but perhaps there wasn't quite enough skill transfer there. (Full disclosure: I'm a former Borders shareholder). I've seen many other bookstores go: the Science Fiction Mystery Bookshop and the legendary Oxford both of Atlanta. Many other bookstores have survived, and will no doubt continue to survive. But they're going to have to change, and consolidate - the industry is changing. I love my e-readers, particularly my Nook Color, and I love the selection and choice of Amazon and to a lesser extent Barnes and Noble online. (Full disclosure: I'm an Amazon shareholder). Some online publishers are particularly attractive, especially O'Reilly, which will typically sell you a DRM-free PDF of your book for an extra ten bucks. And I, personally, as an author sell ten times as many e-books as physical books. But there's something wonderful about going into a bookstore, browsing the shelves, and flipping through books. I could blame it on the idea that for the time being, at least, the technology does NOT exist to make flipping through books as fast on the web as it is in real life - to see why, check out the High Performance Web Sites site and look carefully at the latency that goes into rendering a single web page. You're looking at second-level latency at best. Then go pick up a five hundred page book and flip through it rapidly. You're looking at second-level latency at best. See the problem? But if that wasn't a problem, the physical layout of a bookstore, the related books sections, the browasbility has a real value - as do the omnipresent coffeehouses found in many bookstores. I could see bookstores evolving into showrooms, with much more varied content, single copies of most books, and people wandering through them with their Kindles and Nooks and Kobos and what have you, reading a book and then waving their e-reader at it to add it to their collection. The physical books will often be printed in the stores themselves with cheap on-demand presses. But even in this blissful world, there will be a need for fewer bookstores-as-showrooms than the bookstores we have now. Places like Recycle Books (a kind of micro-Oxford Used Books in the making out here in the San Jose area) Bookbuyers (a solid competitor to Oxford Used Books), Kepler's, Books Inc. will survive both as community centers and as online presences - they're quickly making the move to selling e-books through Google Books. And cultural institutions like City Lights will also survive - it's also a publisher. But how many of the big box bookstores that I love will survive? Not certain. And their closing will have side effects: on authors and publishers, on communities, on books and reading in general. It isn't the end of the world ... but it's the beginning of a tectonic shift. -the Centaur Pictured: the Borders at Oakridge Mall ... its cafe unusually deserted for a Wednesday night.