What is "Doom Eager"?

Lorrie Moore, from "Better and Sicker"
"Martha Graham speaks of the Icelandic term "doom eager" to denote that ordeal of isolation, restlessness, caughtness and artistic experiences when he or she is sick with an idea. When a writer is doom eager, the writing won't be sludge on the page; it will give readers -- and the writer, of course, is the very first reader -- an experience they've never had before, or perhaps a little and at last the words for an experience they have."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hope for the Beginning Writer

I believe in the new year, we beginning writers need all the inspiration we can find. Today's writer's quotation is for the beginning writer worried about the current trends and what agent and publishers want and don't want.

Be persistent. Editors change; tastes change; editorial markets change. Too many beginning writers give up too easily.
-John Jakes

In 2010, let your motto be "Persist. Persist. Persist."

For an inspirational story on sticking with it, check out this article from writersdigest.com by Jordan E. Rosenfeld, "The Power of Persistence."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Best Reads of 2009

Slate.com has come out with their Best Reads of 2009, as recommended by the site's writers.

Slate.com's Best Reads of 2009

Slate's range of suggestions, from the highbrow (Blake Bailey's Cheever: A Life) to the unconventional (Bank Notes, a compilation of notes employed in bank heists), provides something for everyone.

Personally, I was glad to see Alice Munro's short story collection Too Much Happiness make the list. Munro is commonly called a writer's writer.

After I saw her work on this list, I pulled out my copy of Writers & Company (1993), a wonderful collection of interviews conducted by Eleanor Wachtel, to reread her interview with Munro. In the interview, Munro speaks of happiness, how it is "muddled up" in life with sadness, depression, elation. She speaks of how she would never set out to write a story that was depressing, but how so many stories she loves have been described by others as depressing.

Much of the interview I didn't remember reading. It had been ten years since I read it, afterall. Remarkably, I do remember how intrigued I was by one line of the interview. Munro is speaking of the nature of happiness and remarks, "As I said, the constant happiness is curiosity." I've been studying brain chemistry lately and the brain's role in happiness (for anyone interested, I recommend The Science of Happiness by Stefan Klein, PhD) and find it telling how accurate, when it comes to the chemistry of our brain, Munro's statement is.

I think one of my New Year's resolutions this year should be to exercise my curiosity more. I may begin with Munro's newest collection. Maybe later, I'll check out Bank Notes. You never know, with as hard as it is to make a living as a writer, it might do me good to brush up on my note-writing skills if I need to knock over a bank or two.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 100 Children's Books of All Time

My favorite gift to receive has always been a book. This holiday season, I'd like to encourage everyone to give books as gifts, especially to children. What other gift can transport one through time and space to distant lands, where adventure awaits with every suspense-laden turn of the page, where we can exist in the mind of compelling, provocative, even dangerous characters, where we can lose ourselves or petty problems for a brief time, all for under $25?

If you're still looking for a gift for the special child of any age in your life, check out this Top 100 Children's Books of All Time list at childrensbookguide.com.

At the top of the list is my favorite children's book, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. I remember being about seven or eight and reading Sendak's classic, wishing I could travel from my small room in Cleveland, Oklahoma to a wild fantasy land where I could be the Queen and romp through the forest. I wanted to be Max on an adventure.

Also, making the list are two more of my favorites, The Lorax

and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Here's hoping this Christmas, children eagerly unwrap the latest toy, the sweater from Grandma, and, also, the book they'll look back fondly on as an adult and say that was the best gift ever. In the spirit of giving, please shop your independent, local bookstores. For a list of your local independent bookstore and to find out more about the need for shopping locally, check out indiebound.org.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Amazon's 'Predatory' Pricing Practices

I've got to stand up and applaud Bob LiVolsi's comments at the recent MediaBistro E-Book Summit, accusing Amazon of "predatory pricing."

LiVolsi Calls Amazon Pricing 'Predatory'
By Calvin Reid -- Publishers Weekly, 12/17/2009 6:50:00 AM

The comments came in regard to Amazon's decision to charge $9.99 for many frontlist e-books. I'm not in the publishing industry and have yet to finish the first draft of my novel; however, as a former bookstore owner, predatory pricing is a practice of which I am painfully aware.

When my husband and I opened our bookstore, we were seven miles or so from the nearest big box bookstore, a Books A Million, so I figured that local folks in the beach town area in which we lived would come out to support an independent bookseller. If nothing else, we'd get area residents that didn't want to drive out to the somewhat rundown BAM or over the intercoastal and into town to Borders and Barnes & Noble. For the most part, I was partially correct. What I underestimated were the number of folks that were happy to walk into our store to browse for books and then go home to buy them cheaper on Amazon, often telling us how much they loved our cute, up-scale bookstore/gallery and how much we added to the community but how they could say a few dollars online.

So, when LiVolsi, founder of the independent e-book retailer Books on Board, says that customers will change their minds about the $9.99 price once they understand the consequences of the pricing strategy on authors and, we presume he hopes, small, independent retailers, I say don't hold your breath, Brother. Walmart has conditioned shoppers to expect low prices. I could rant all day about the effect that BJ's, Costco, Walmart, Target, Amazon and the like have had on independent retailers but I'd be wasting my time. Better to get another cup of coffee and try to pound out some pages of my book draft. I've given up on focusing on "literary" fiction, opting for "contemporary" (commercial) fiction instead. With all the predatory pricing in the book business, I'll be lucky if I make enough money as a novelist to pay for the printer ink to send off query letters and manuscripts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Defining "In Book Form" and E-books

Tensions are building between Random House and the Authors Guild with Markus Dohle's recent letter to agents, concerning the rights to reprinting backlist books in e-book form.

Authors Guild Calls Dohle Letter "Regrettable and Unhelpful"
By Jim Milliot -- Publishers Weekly, 12/15/2009 7:50:00 AM

Random House chairman Markus Dohle may have sent this letter to agents in the spirit of collaboration, but that isn’t how the Authors Guild is seeing it. In a message sent to its members this morning, the Guild said it was “regrettable and unhelpful that Random House has chosen to try to intimidate authors and agents over these old book contracts.” The Guild rejected RH’s argument that its older contracts that grant rights to publish “in book form” or “in all editions” is a grant of electronic rights. (The Guild has no problem with RH’s interpretation of more recent backlist contracts since over the last 10 years electronic rights have been licensed with print rights).

Read the entire article at the link above.

I'm not sure I can blame publishers for trying to claim rights to publish a book in any form they can, existing or not-yet existing, in perpetuity under the guise of the "in book form" clause. If I were them, I'd probably try it, too. However, I take exception to the notion that e-books can be considered a printing "in book form." A book is words printed on paper and held in one's hands. I don't understand their logic for e-books, bits and bytes transmitted electronically into a computer, even if the hardware is flat and shaped to resemble a book. An e-book isn't a book, anymore than an e-zine is a magazine, the picture of an apple is an apple, or paying an escort for "the girlfriend" experience makes her your girlfriend.

Even if Random House could win the "in book form" argument, it's sort of prickish for a publishing house to hold onto rights for technology not-yet invented or specifically named in past contracts. What if they decide not to publish a backlisted book in e-book form? The author and agent can't sell the rights to anyone else. Does that mean that in the future the the rights to any non-existent, non-imagined form of publishing exclusively belongs to the publisher? I would suggest in light of Random House's letter, authors and agents tighten the language of book contracts. Though, I guess this is good news for the lawyers. They're needed now more than ever.