Economic Downturn: I Joined a Book Club

Moonrat wrote an excellent post last week on the problems facing the publishing industry. These are troublin' times that we're living in here in America, and the news only grows a bit bleaker as retailers are bracing for a lean season. Barnes and Noble CEO Leonard Riggio is quoted in the linked news story as saying:

"Never in all my years as a bookseller have I seen a retail climate as poor as the one we are in."

I think Jeanne and I are going to find ourselves in that 40% of Americans spending less on Christmas this year. In our situation, it's primarily due to shipping. I do sincerely enjoy shopping for others, and I try to send things. You know, honest to goodness items? Gift cards always felt lazy, somehow.

Not anymore, my friends. I hope everyone likes Barnes and Noble...

But last night I did something I never thought I would. I joined the Book of the Month Club. I was looking for Stephen King's Secret Windows. That little gem is hard to find, let me tell you. Not a copy in all of Jacksonville's fine public library system. I had to track that tome to its source, and they had me at hello with the five books for a buck deal.

Now, I like rare books. I like first editions, and these BotM items have no collectibility or resale value. I know that. But here's the rub: I don't care. I'm going to read them and then pass them along. I only need to buy four books in two years, and the discounts are pretty good. I buy twice that many books in a month sometimes, so it's a pretty nice deal.

There's none of that sending-the-card-back nonsense, which in and of itself is a mark in the internet's favor. So why did I have a stigma about the club? I guess I was a bookstore snob. There--feels good to say it out loud. I do love bookstores, and I won't stop visiting, but in these rough times, I can buy books for everyone on my list and ship them directly from the club.

That's pretty sweet, I think. So how is this economy affecting your book buying? You grabbing 'em in stacks or peering over shoulders?


Writing Theory: Embedded Narratives

I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for a good embedded narrative. An embedded narrative is a story within a story, often used for expository purposes. These stories work well in folksy narratives. Stephen King's works are riddled with secondary speculations that color character and advance narrative. Salem's Lot, Needful Things, Bag of Bones, Duma Key--these novels make good advantage of this practice and would serve as useful examples if you're in the market for a longer read.

And there's the rub if you're writing a novel. How long should I go with this? Well, by all accounts King's work is far longer than the industry average (which seems to be trending toward slimmer books). His next novel is projected to round out the first draft at 1800 pages.

That's right, 1800 pages. Not a typo there, folks.

And, admittedly, the man has free reign to take his time. It's his style, and I imagine that his publishers love it. But what about the rest of us, who've been told time and time again to keep it moving? Well, I try to keep the embedded narratives short and sweet. I don't dally over chapters, though that's ok if you do. I've found that most of my use of this technique is contained to a few short paragraphs, and usually it's weighted toward the first third of the text.

Have a character with a short temper? Tell a story about a time he or she lost it (i.e. Greg Stillson in King's The Dead Zone; he kicks a dog to death). Got a character with a fragile ego. Illustrate a time in the character's life when he or she was berated (Carrie gets pelted pretty good with tampons early on in Carrie, though I can't remember if that's an embedded narrative or an actual plot point).

I'm reminded of another quote from a King short story: It's the tale, not he who tells it. Don't lose sight of that little nugget of truth as you're developing your characters.

They have things to say. They have life experiences. Those embedded narratives are the way to let them shine through on the page...

I'd love any input from those writing this type of thing. Also, readers--yea or nay on the embedded narrative? Any examples?

By the way, for a textbook example of the embedded narrative (and a foundational horror text in its own right) I recommend Straub's Ghost Story. Those fellows in the Chowder Society have that story-telling thing down to a science.


The Shadow Year, by Jeffrey Ford

Readers of genre fiction have known for years that Jeffrey Ford is a wordsmith. I'm only recently coming to the catalogue of this fantastic writer, but I'm pretty excited about the library of stories that awaits me as I look further into his work.

I just finished The Shadow Year. It's the type of novel that makes you marvel at the comfort and ease of captivating storytelling. Ford's prose is clear and perceptive and very fluid. This story is told through the eyes of a very young first-person narrator, a young man whose observational powers and imagination are clearly complementary to his passions: investigating a prowler and recording his thoughts in a dog-eared journal.

When you're in the presence of a master storyteller, the yarn seems to transcend the boundaries of time. As I read The Shadow Year, I kept telling myself just one more chapter. An hour later I'd look over at the clock and see it was after midnight. As I said, there's a purity and cadence to the prose that is worth studying. Consider this passage:

The antenna cried mercilessly all night, and I tossed and turned, thinking of the man in the white car, my fear in the library, and spying Mrs. Hayes's tit. I could sense the evil as it crept forward day by day, dismantling my world, like a very slow explosion. I woke and slept and woke and slept, and it was still dark. The third time I awoke to the same night, I thought I heard the sound of pebbles jangling in soda cans. The plan had been to send George out after whoever it was who was taking the ladder, but I didn't move, save to curl up into a ball.

Ford tells a story of a year in the life of a boy, but this is no ordinary life. The tale is filled with ghosts and villains--both of this world and outside of it. The whole thing is draped in a palpable quality of menace, a sense of dread that seems to come off the pages in waves.

The piece moves well and is a satisfying overall read. This book, and American Gods, are the best of what I've read in the long form this year.

Here is Jeffery Ford's blog. Pay him a visit and read his novels and short stories. You'll thank yourself for the investment.


Editorial Ass--A Light in Dark Places

Writing can be a bit of a slog. You know it and I know it. Sure, when things are going well it can feel transcendent. It makes the days seem brighter.

But there are dark days also. There are the days of waiting. The days of revision. The expiration days, when a story finally shrivels on the branch and passes into the ether.

There are the rejections. There's that damned blogosphere and all of the snarky comments on the intertrons.

There are the naysayers, shouting from the rooftops about the death of one of the world's most vital technologies: the book.

We have the queries and the proposals and those danged synopses.

It's a lot to consider, and that's all before you find a home for your writing project.

Whenever I need a brace against all the work that accompanies the joy of writing, I visit this blog. That's right, it's called Editorial Ass. Don't worry, it's safe to look at in the workplace.

Moonrat's website is truly a beacon in the sea of information that is the world of publishing.

She's an entertaining writer with a lively voice. She's a stern educator on publishing industry standards. She's generous with her time and with her opinions, and she's passionate about promoting literacy and an appreciation for books.

I'm impressed with the attention and support she provides to her clients. One of the common complaints about the publishing industry is that editors no longer labor over the books they purchase. Just a few minutes on Moonrat's website shoot that myth to pieces.

If you've written a novel and you're serious about pursuing publication, check in at Editorial Ass and educate yourself. You'll find yourself in the company of a fine group of supportive working writers, and it won't be long at all until you think of yourself as part of the editorial mischief.

Happy Second Anniversary, Moonrat!

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...