books, community

A Question of Ethics?

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I’m having a bit of a crisis here. In the last few months, I’ve heard numerous reports about Amazon.com and the corporate bully it’s become. Workers in several states and even foreign countries have gone on strike to protest unsafe conditions in the processing centers. Staff have been seriously injured on the job, and Amazon’s response was to basically pretend it didn’t happen.

Indie authors are struggling with Amazon, too. Recently, the website’s review policy changed, and many reviews were taken down without warning or consent of the people who posted them. Others (trad pub authors as well) have had their Kindle version ebooks hacked, and Amazon didn’t seem to care or be ready to do anything about it.

Customer service for many — writers, readers, and purveyors of other sorts of goods — has either been nonexistent, or so unhelpful it may as well not have occurred. More and more frequently when you turn on the news, there’s another interview with a former employee, a report on another business sector the conglomorate giant is trying to acquire, or statistics of how often we use this company.

And it concerns me. Because here we are in a supposedly civilized, advanced society, that has ethics and laws, and apparently we’re ready to forget all of this with a click of the mouse. Because of the savings. The great bargain. The quick shipping. Heaven’s sake, ordered something from Amazon last month myself.

But, if when we place our order, an employee — a hardworking person with a family to support — is then thrown into a system of tumult and chaos, just to ensure our item is located, packed, and ready to mail in the time it takes a cheetah to chase down its dinner, is it really worth it?

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Plus, aren’t we in a free market? With fair trade regulations? Shouldn’t we relish the fact that we live in countries (appealing to all Westerners, and even non-Westerners, here) where we do have choices? And order from some of these other businesses?

Every time you comparison shop for a book, a DVD, a video game, pet food, running shoes, school supplies, a set of tires, Amazon automatically comes up in the search engine. It’s taken a bit of extra time and energy, but I’ve started deliberately finding alternatives. Barnes & Noble sells books, movies, and CDs. Target and Walmart, CVS and Walgreens sell plenty of household wares and school stuff. You can go to Old Navy.com and find clothing for your whole family at reasonable prices. Overstock.com for that new duvet or shower curtain. Zappos for those Nikes.

And a lot of these companies have reputations as good employers.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but as I see Amazon attempting to build their corporate empire more and more, I can’t help but think: “And one ring to rule them all.”

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Although as a freelance author, I’m an independent contractor, I feel more comfortable having my publications associated with Barnes & Noble. I’m very pleased with Nook Press, they’ve been efficient and helpful, and my books look lovely, and they’re a company I’m proud to be connected to.

I could’ve gone with Amazon for self-publishing. So many folks do. But there was just something about the idea that made me nervous. Very unsettled. And I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts.

Do I fault my fellow indie authors who chose Amazon? No. It’s a big name, it’s well-known, it’s easily accessible. I heard the siren song myself.

For me, though, self-publishing is the culmination of a life-long dream. To have my books in my hand, and be able to show them to other people and say, “I wrote this!” Throughout my youth, I’d walk into bookstores like Barnes & Noble and imagine finding a cover with my name on it.

In an actual, brick-and-mortar bookstore.

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Probably this is one of the things about Amazon that bugs me the most. It’s encouraging a trend towards doing everything online, less and less in person. Going into a B&N, or a Waterstones, picking up the book, sniffing the ink, rubbing the pages… No, it’s not a weird book geek thing. It’s amazing. A part of life no one should be without.

And as a writer, who deeply appreciates the craft and art of creative writing, I honestly feel that this experience is something that should always be available to authors as well.

So, what to do now? I don’t approve of flatout boycotts. I don’t want to call for one, because of all the indie authors I know or know of who use Amazon. Or the staff who like their jobs.

And yet…

And yet, we do have other options.

And some of those other options seem to come without heavy ethical debate.

Do I have concrete answers? Not all the way around.

Do I want people to start thinking about this stuff? Yes. Absolutely yes.

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books, community, Mental Health

It’s Time To Stop Being So Neurotic About Goodreads

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Yes, you read that title right. This post is a public service announcement about the health of readers.

Now, before I go any further, it needs to be clarified: This is nothing against Goodreads. I love Goodreads. (With a couple of minus exceptions, which I’ll reach soon here.) Please do not think I am slamming the website. I’m a Goodreads author, for the love of Pete. This discussion refers much more to the attitude and mindset many users of the site have adopted — and here’s why we need to change that.

First, let’s list the problems I’m going to address:

One: People develop a serious fear of missing out syndrome by viewing their friends’ TBRs.

Two: Readers add books to their TBRs in numbers that hit digits scientists exploring the vast outreaches of space cannot fathom.

Three: Reading (and the subsequent) reviewing becomes a chore, a burden, or actually hazardous to your health.

Okay, time to tackle all of these bit by bit. With nice pictures of cuteness and beauty thrown in to alleviate the pain. Of course. Because it’s me, and I’m kind.

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One: People develop a serious fear of missing out syndrome by viewing their friends’ TBRs.

One of my minor quibbles about Goodreads is the fact the entire world can view your TBR (also known as To Be Read list). (Also known as “These are the books I feel I must finish reading before I die so that I will be assured I lived a whole and fruitful existence.”)

Anyway, the reason add titles to my GR TBR is quite simply so that I won’t forget I came across an interesting-sounding novel. Rather than spending countless hours sitting in front of my open library account, wailing, “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT CALLED?!”, I can just check my GR TBR, and within minutes, have placed hold requests for all the books released in the past year that I think I’ll want to read.

Every once in a while, titles are removed from my list, because either I changed my mind (yes, that IS permitted), or I switched the title to another list (like the “Save for later” in my Amazon or Barnes & Noble carts). I like the idea of “divide and conquer” that this tactic provides. It makes me feel that I am accomplishing massive tasks in bite-sized chunks, and that in itself is satisfying.

However, what I don’t care for regarding the TBR feature is the fact anyone who is your friend or follows you on the website can see which books you’ve added. Most people honestly will not take the time to browse their friends’ selections — but, still, I don’t think this feature is beneficial. Whenever I’ve taken a gander, I can concretely say that two things occur: A) I feel like I don’t know these people’s reading tastes very well (which can draw me closer to, or farther from, their page), or B) I am absolutely dumbstruck by how many great books are out there that I haven’t read yet.

The latter actually does present a very valid problem. “Fear of missing out syndrome” is a real psychological thing, which has increased in our collective consciousness in the internet age. We see that 1,849 random strangers are enjoying this new movie, that we have never even heard of, but now immediately need to find a cinema that’s showing it, and attend the first available viewing. If we stay home and watch reruns of The X-Files, we’ll worry that we’ve missed out on some fantastic cultural experience.

Something similar happens for bookworms, bookwyrms, or bookdragons. We begin adding multiple titles to our TBR that we have no genuine interest in reading…but “everybody else” in our sphere of online life is reviewing it, excited about it, or mentioning it approximately 6 times an hour. Hence, we don’t want to “miss out.”

Now, here’s why this is a bad pattern: Taste is subjective. Some people love mystery novels, others sci-fi, others fantasy, others still romance, others still unapologetic erotica, or horror, or political memoirs, or the autobiographies of hedgehogs. It’s why determining what makes “good” and “bad” literature is so difficult — everyone has varying preferences for style, genre, content, and content rating (G, PG, etc.). It’s one of the precious and important marks of a free society — that we’re allowed to write and publish and read pretty much whatever the heck we choose to. And I wholeheartedly support it.

But what has happened to the part of a free society that pushes aside the crowd-think mindset, and encourages individuals to form their own opinions?

Readers, this is what I suggest: STOP adding a particular title to your TBR purely because 1, 4, or 279 people you know did. Wish them well in their literary endeavors, and concentrate on your own. Do NOT feel guilty or ashamed about this decision. Own it. Be proud of it.

And just don’t peruse your internet neighbors’ TBRs. Check out new releases by authors you love, read reviews on titles that catch your interest, be happy if a friend (or 279 of them) agree a certain novel or manga or author’s grocery list sounds amazing. But don’t stare at your computer screen and click the mouse until your eyes go bloodshot, intent on turning your TBR into an exact replica of someone else’s in the community.

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Two: Readers add books to their TBRs in numbers that hit digits scientists exploring the vast outreaches of space cannot fathom.

There are many registered users of Goodreads who legit have a TBR of hundreds, even thousands, of titles. To compare, mine usually hovers around 30 to 40. For one thing, this is so that I don’t become overwhelmed. For another, I personally follow the sage advice that 42 is the most complete number of all creation (being the answer to life, the universe, and everything), so that’s my limit for a lot of things I undertake.

But others may feel they can handle greater numbers, even triple digits, when it comes to their reading adventures. To which I say, good for them. Except. Except the lack of practicality enters it. Assuming it takes you about a week to finish reading a book, and there are only so many weeks in a year, and humans are only supposed to live about 75 years, and we don’t even learn to read until we’re about 6…

When would you sleep? Would you actually skip school or call in “sick” to work to tick another box off your reading list? What about vacations, illness, emergencies, times when you’re stranded on a desert island or edge of a volcano without any access to a library? Or attendance at weddings, christenings, funerals, graduations — when it’s just plain rude to have your nose stuck in a book? (No matter how good said book is.)

I’m sure this part of the discussion starts to border on ridiculous, but I am relaying, quite honestly, my concern for my fellow bookdragons. What if (in all seriousness) you died suddenly, and the biggest unfinished portion of your life would appear to be your TBR? Not, like, the fact you were planning to become a scientist who found the cure for cancer.

There are people who joke on Twitter about being crushed to death by their TBRs. The numbers racked up by these individuals could apparently give the national debt a run for its (ha) money. Astronomers who are peering into super-powerful telescopes, hoping to discover the exact spot in the universe where the Big Bang took place, have in fact seen these incredibly tall stacks of books waiting to be read, stretching through people’s roofs, into the stratosphere.

(Okay, yes, I made that last part up. Hopefully.)

And borderline-silly debate aside, while reading is always good, collecting books can grow out of control. We’ve all seen the photos on Instagram of people whose bookcases have taken over their house, and they own dozens of copies they haven’t even opened, and in some cases have flatout forgot why they bought it to begin with. This is nearly an addiction. The act of having plenty of paperbacks, hardcovers, used, new, shiny, pretty, unattractive, worn, mint-condition, loved, hated, hyped to others, in one’s general vicinity giving more of a sense of comfort and excitement than just, you know…reading a book and enjoying it, does not seem healthy.

Again, none of this is Goodreads’ fault. Their system is soooo easy — the “want to read” button is right there underneath every single title. BUT. That does not mean you have to click on it. When GR sends you recommendations, you don’t have to pay attention to them.

What I’m suggesting here is: Develop and exhibit self-control, folks. The world will not end if you limit yourself to reading 10 new books a year. Reading is absolutely fantastic, sharing stories and information that way is something I will never oppose. But so is life, and family, friends, pets, and there’s value in taking 3 weeks and 4 days to reach the last page of a 7-chapter middle-grade novel. We need to stop competing with each other. Reading for pleasure is meant to be just that.

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Three: Reading (and the subsequent) reviewing becomes a chore, a burden, or actually hazardous to your health.

Book blogging came out of nowhere to become a thing less than a decade ago. It is just as rapidly becoming not a thing, as bloggers are vanishing from the internet, either literally disappearing without a trace (are we to assume alien abduction??), or stating they are shutting down their website because of too much stress.

Too much stress? From discussing your favorite books with people?

Yupper. Whereas in the early years, like-minded folks would gather together and happily flail over their shared love of a specific author or genre, nowadays there are way too many vicious trolls around. Individuals who evidently will wither and perish unless they inflict nastiness on ordinary people who simply stated an unpopular opinion.

Here’s what I say to this: The trolls deserve to wither and perish.

We are supposed to be civilized. As civilized human beings, BE NICE. If you vehemently disagree with someone and feel a pressing need to say so, BE POLITE. I’ve had mature and tactful discussions with people who felt I was dead wrong on what I thought of their favorite book or author. I welcome the debate. When there’s no foul language, personal attack, or nearly-illegal threats involved, I’m totally fine with it.

Again, this isn’t at all to be chalked up to Goodreads allowing free and open discourse. (Some users would claim this is true.) I applaud GR for not automatically shutting down dissent. (Remember, folks, democracy, we literally bleed and die to have it.) And everybody has the option to remove offensive comments from their own account, or to block a specific person that just is refusing to learn the Golden Rule.

So that’s how we can take care of ourselves. And we can take care of our friends by supporting an online environment where free thought is permitted to flourish, and where trolls are not. I really hate to see people leaving a website or internet space they previously loved because of a few bad apples — but I hate it even more when those bad apples are rotten to the core. That’s bullying, and it’s just wrong. Period.

So, there are my reasons for everybody to rein in their burgeoning Goodreads addiction. Remember, my fellow bookdragons, read and LOVE it. Read BECAUSE you love it. Use the website as a tool to streamline and make your life easier. Connect with each other. Take care of one another. Stay beautiful.

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books, entertainment, movies, Science fiction

Virtual Unreality

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So, last night we watched Ready Player One. (I attempted to read the book as part of The Great American Read challenge at our local library, and did not get past page 100). While I’d like to think of myself as still “cool” (hopefully people still use that word to describe the state of being, otherwise my entire argument shall be moot), I found the idea of this story very, very difficult to get into.

It had nothing to do with the video gaming or virtual reality aspects, or the 1980s references. I’m a child of the 80s myself, I get most of those references. (See, I’m cool — I’m retro.) But what I struggled with was the very premise — apparently the world has finally gone to hell, the economy has tanked, the country is poverty-stricken…but everybody spends 90% of their time in an online VR world, that is supposedly offered free of charge to get started? To the general public, in a nation that now has no jobs, no GDP, evidently no trade or exports, and civilization nowhere other than…Columbus, Ohio?? Erm, o-kayyyy…

With the book, I had major issues with the narrator, too; I didn’t find him sympathetic or a kid that I could root for. I honestly found him stuck-up and arrogant, and a crude little knucklehead, and wanted him to fail. And the writing style got on my nerves; when a novel begins in a first person deep POV format, but within 10 pages strays to a journalistic-type article — including footnotes! — to explain all the background behind the VR game and why everybody wants a piece of it… Well, my eyes glazed over, and I began losing any hope of this book and I getting along.

However, that aside, I knew the rest of my household was excited about seeing the movie, and I was outvoted in that regard. Plus, last night, I was tired, and grumpy, and didn’t even feel like trying to read. I was in one of those funks, after having had a frustrating week. So, Ready Player One it was.

Now, my quibbles about the (extremely flawed and somewhat unrealistic) premise put on the back burner, the film is absolutely stunning to watch. Purely from a graphics perspective, it is eye candy art in its highest form. And I didn’t even know Simon Pegg was in it; I am utter trash for Pegg’s geek work, so once I discovered that, my mood immediately began to lift. And once you get past all the (unnecessary) info-dumping that’s in the novel, the storyline is decent.

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But I had to keep forcing myself not to focus on the extremely unrealistic aspects of the setting and plot. The story is only set in 2045, which is not so far in the future that it could be entirely unrecognizable to us modern humans. The Oasis, the online server, was, according to this tale, developed and released around 2025. Less than 10 years from now, the chances of the next big tech thing coming out of anywhere other than Silicon Valley or Tokyo is downright laughable.

About 6 months ago, I watched a program on, I think it was the National Geographic channel, or one of their affiliates, about the present and future of Silicon Valley, and the CEOs for Microsoft, etc. that they interviewed announced, firmly and without doubt, that the days of nerds developing revolutionary hardware in their garages is gone. Nowadays, college students who want to become IT engineers are falling all over each other to get to New York and Los Angeles.

The novel was published in 2012, which was after Zuckerberg became one of the youngest billionaires ever by changing our world with Facebook. Microsoft and Sony and gaming companies in Japan are working really hard at making virtual reality as advanced as it was in Ready Player One. But it is expensive, and takes time, and hardworking and well-trained staff. While I’m not ruling out that someone could come up with a way to crack the barrier on their own (as happens in the story), it’s highly, highly unlikely. Also, the notion of it being a socially awkward middle-aged nerd (as the author’s tech genius is) really doesn’t seem plausible.

Since the new generation (teenagers now) have grown up with the internet and technology advancing at a consistent (almost frenetic, to some) pace, I just can’t see, in the year 2025, someone releasing a VR gaming server being utterly shocking and taking over society. The idea behind this modern fiction feels so…flimsy.

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And then there are…the 80s references. I can say with a fair amount of certainty: The 80s are not considered “cool” anymore. I truly cannot envision fashions, music, or movies from that decade coming back into style. The 80s are something that make our kids look at us in confusion or roll their eyes disdainfully. Nobody gets the significance of standing outside somebody’s house holding up a boombox these days; in fact, who even knows what a “boombox” was? And that behavior is no longer viewed as an out-of-the-box way to apologize to your girlfriend; now it’s referred to as stalking.

This is one of those stories where it pays to just sit back and go along with the ride, and not dig too deep under the surface.

But that gets me wrapped in a knot, too — who exactly was the intended audience? I can’t help but wonder if Ernst Cline (the author of the novel) was aiming for an atmosphere of nostalgia, rather than near-future realism. You can’t even classify this tale as dystopia, since we’re not given enough information on the surrounding world, the government, the problems existing outside of where the narrator is immediately located. It’s so concentrated on the Oasis/VR/tech giant conspiracy motif as to be myopic.

I wouldn’t call this great fiction that’s designed to really make you think.

But it made the list of the top 100 books recommended for everyone to read at least once in their lifetime. (According to who? We haven’t figured out yet just how PBS determined what made the list and what didn’t.)

Stuff like that irks me. Sorry, folks.

And then, for all my effort, Simon Pegg was only in 20 minutes’ worth of the film. Oh, well. His performance was sterling (as he so often is).

A big component of the story does revolve around the digital world versus the real world, and I did like that the point was made: The digital world does not necessarily win out, no matter how appealing or enticing it may be. Temporarily escaping all your real life problems online does not make those problems go away; they will still be there when you log off. And the people you meet online might be very nasty in real life. Or they could be awesome — but you might never know if you don’t occasionally shut down the server.

In this age of global connectivity with the press of a button, we need to reshape our views on what makes a friendship, a community, a hobby. The world that we knew even 20 years ago is pretty much consigned to the history books. Whether that’s good or bad in the long run, we have yet to see.

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But since so much of the internet and building connections across the planet could be used for good, let’s start thinking of it that way. Let’s stop being the naysayers of the future, grouching about the fact “things aren’t how they were,” and accept that life is how it is now.

Instead of ruminating over what we’ve “lost,” think about what we could gain — greater understanding of each other, more friends and colleagues and a bigger human family.

And work on maintaining the stuff we really shouldn’t lose — like respect, dignity, trust, decency, and common sense.

The biggest takeaway, I feel, of a film about virtual reality should not be that technology is the enemy. Rather, it’s how we choose to use that technology that could let us down, or build us up.

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books, community

We Need Libraries

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What has happened to the world? Seriously, where are all these discussions about public libraries being “obsolete” and “a waste of money” coming from?! Last week, I saw the link to an opinion piece in newspapers, the thought that “Amazon.com should start running libraries, because it would save the taxpayers a ton of coin.” And my brain just kind of exploded.

EXCUSE ME?! In what universe does this concept make any sense!?? Amazon is first and foremost a business, and it does not put profits above serving the community. No, it doesn’t. While there are businesses that effectively do both, most large corporations would happily throw things like employee satisfaction and “giving back” to the wind in favor of ye old almighty currency. Sad but true.

Libraries, on the other hand, were never intended to be moneymakers. Libraries were meant to be places where knowledge could be shared with the masses, whether rich or poor, native or immigrant, young or old. Turning a high profit is not the goal. And that’s okay, for the love of Pete.

Since we live in a culture that has increased literacy but not financial stability or easy access to all forms of technology across the social classes and geographic areas, libraries are more important now than they were 200 years ago, when a lot less people knew how to read.

In a world that’s rapidly changing some aspects of our lives, libraries remain one of the few public institutions that are working tooth and nail to keep up, and stay relevant.

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And, oh, my, yes, how relevant they are! Libraries still provide safe and free shelter to after-school and college students from the inner city, who need to do their homework without worrying about being in a violent and possibly unstable neighborhood. Libraries provide computer training to older adults who aren’t sure about using these “new-fangled” mechanisms. Libraries employ people in your community, and train young volunteers in marketable skills.

It’s not just about the appeal of lending free books to well-read individuals. It’s about helping families stretch their budgets further, and still getting to expose their kids to a wide variety of fiction, non-fiction, films and music. About encouraging communities to come together to discuss important themes of our day as we find them in literature and arts.

It’s about keeping kids off the streets. Sharing culture and history with citizens of all economic backgrounds. Passing down information from generation to generation.

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Our ancestors took this stuff seriously. There’s a reason The Great Library of Alexandria was considered a nearly sacred building.

When the pursuit of knowledge must be tied into whether or not it makes money, this shows a distinct decline of decency in our society.

No, I am not being too dramatic.

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How can you help? If you’re an author, support your local (or the nearest) library — give them free copies of your own work to circulate, and regularly check items out of their system. Indie authors, especially — do this, and share your friends’ publications this way, too.

If you’re a reader, film enthusiast, or music fan — Before you dash to Amazon.com, Redbox, or Pandora, try the library for those new releases. If you have to put an exceptionally popular item on hold, so what? Learning a little patience is a good thing.

Before you consider attending a low-cost movie night or crafts class at a rec center or town hall, check out your regional library. As budgets have shrunk within many areas of the public sector for such things, libraries have sought grants and funding to increase their offerings.

For example, I live in a town with around 13,000 people — but this summer our library has daily free kids’ programs (including lunch), weekly events for teens (registration only, no cost), board games clubs and painting classes for senior citizens, and family storytimes at least once a week. They’re also handing out prizes all summer long to kids who meet their reading goals. (Muffin already has a coupon for free ice cream and a free restaurant meal.)

And write your Congressperson, your town or city council, smart rich people who know how important this cause is. Don’t give in, or give up.

Libraries MATTER. They are an integral part of civilized society. Without them, rather than advance into a utopian ideal, we would surely backslide towards the Dark Ages.

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books

The Bibliophile Sweater Tag

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Hello all! I’ve been tagged by Jameson @ LovelyWhatsoevers to give my take on “The Bibliophile Sweater Tag” — which, yes, equates reading to different types of sweaters. Personally, I love sweaters (although I like the snow I do not like the cold), so this will be fun.

Fuzzy Sweater (a book that is the epitome of comfort)

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This may seem like a slightly odd choice, considering the subject matter (magical killer sea horses), but re-reading this title always feels comfortable. Even the first time I read it, I never felt like the tension turned to actual peril, and I was always confident everyone who needed to survive would (Maggie Stiefvater is really good about not gratitiously killing off her characters), and I knew a satisfying ending was coming. This novel just plain makes me happy.

Striped Sweater (you devoured every line of this book)

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Honestly, sometimes I re-read whole sentences or even entire paragraphs in this early Discworld title, because it is just THAT GOOD. Pratchett was the master of subtle foreshadowing and wry, droll, and spot-on poignant (rather, tearjerking) comments about life and love. After reading it all the way through about 4 times over the past dozen or so years, I still get all choked up at particular scenes.

Ugly Christmas Sweater (book with a weird cover)

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My apologies to anyone who gets scared by this bizarre little creature. This was one I had a really hard time looking at (my ex-husband owned it). I am not a fan of horror, so I never was able to read anything by HP Lovecraft, though for some reason the depictions of Cthulhu don’t scare me (whereas this cover did).

Cashmere Sweater (most expensive book you’ve bought)

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Cheating slightly, because this is the most expensive edition I own, but it was a gift. The art is just astounding, beautiful and graceful, sometimes haunting and quite otherworldly. The stories within are definitely more for adults (not the Disney-ized stuff), but they carry so much Old World charm and just a bit of sadness. Truly captivating.

Hoodie (favorite classic)

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Not a huge fan of classics to start with, but I will always give Dickens a chance. A Tale of Two Cities is positively my favorite; the intense and ultimately beautiful arc of compassion and redemption in spite of human failings and suffering does me in every time.

Cardigan (book you bought on impulse)

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Complete impulse — I was pre-ordering the latest Warriors title for White Fang and saw that Stiefvater’s newest had just been released. I knew it was coming out in 2017, but I was going to wait until my local library had it. However, with one click, that was changed forever…

Turtleneck (book from your childhood)

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Although this was published even before I was born, I read it for the first time around the age of 9 or 10. It’s a great, realistic adventure that ordinary kids find themselves in the middle of, totally by accident, so there are no “chosen one” tropes or too much danger or unnecessarily harrowing moments. It’s appropriate for MG readers in any decade, and the main characters are normal, truly likable kids.

Homemade Knitted Sweater (an indie-published title)

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Since I can’t do my own (but many, many thanks to Jameson for the gorgeous shot of Rulers and Mages on her blog!!!)… Kyle Shultz has created such a fun and engaging series set in an alternate history/universe, full of mythical creatures and magic and a unique twist on fairytales. If you haven’t started reading these novels yet, get going!

V-neck (a book that didn’t meet your expectations)

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I had such high hopes for this one. I wrote a full review on Goodreads and highlighted it in my February mini-reviews. To say it certainly didn’t meet my expectations is an understatement.

Argyle Sweater (book with a unique format)

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Usually I just read text-only books (apart from some MG choices with illustrations, like The Familiars), so The Illuminae Files is definitely one of the most uniquely-formatted titles I’ve encountered.

Polka-dot Sweater (a book with well-rounded characters)

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One of the things that drew me in right away about this series was the characters. They always felt so real — and yes, these are talking cats. Among my favorites in the very early tales are Firestar, Bluestar, Yellowfang, and Spottedleaf.

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books, community, writing

The Invisible Moth Self-Publishes: The Hows and The Whys

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Hello all! So, I’ve had a request to create a post on why I use the publisher/distributor I do. (And really, it’s part of a much bigger, more involved discussion, that I’ve been wanting to go into at some point, anyway.)

Also, I promised myself recently that I’d use more Supernatural gifs in my postings. (You’re welcome.)

So, when I first started on this journey… It was December 2016, I’d just won NaNo, and I wanted to take that leap and self-publish. Hopefully get some sales. After I finished dying from nerves, I began investigating the possible routes for doing this.

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I looked into Amazon.com, and got CONFUSED. There was too much fine print, too much I didn’t understand about the software CreateSpace uses, too much regarding the process of editing and formatting that made my head become way too ouchy.

So, shedding a fair amount of tears, I began Googling alternatives. Turns out a lot of small companies (at least in America) that print your wedding invitations/vacation scrapbook pages/independent business cards are also getting into self-publishing. (Especially for people who aren’t sure about entering the sellers’ market, and may only want to print 50 copies of their passion project for family and friends.)

Anyway, I found a local printer that has connected with Amazon and offers you the chance to buy an ISBN, and will provide copies of your book to Amazon for sale on the website, if you wish. Or they’ll just print however many copies you want to pay for, and then you can do what you want with them.

Given the intimidating process (to me) of working with Amazon directly, this sounded freaking amazing.

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As of spring 2017, I was finished with the proofreading, and deemed my document ready to print. (There were a few minor things I really wanted to make 110% perfect, but honestly, it wasn’t worth getting all wigged out about.)

At the time, I didn’t have the money to obtain an ISBN. (It’s why the first edition of Masters and Beginners — with the Toby cover — doesn’t have one.) But this little local storefront was SO helpful in terms of formatting, being patient as I proofed, designing the cover, answering my many questions, and not getting ticked off that it took me a couple of months to feel satisfied. They were awesome for a first-time indie author on a steep learning curve, and I am immensely grateful for that.

Now, the only downside of choosing this method was that I had to pay upfront for printing. And then if I sold books to, say, readers of my blog who live far, far away from me, I had to pay for shipping myself.

While, of course, I LOVE my readers, and was happy to make sure they received their orders, it made my initial earnings quickly dwindle.

So, as I was drafting Volume 2, and losing my mind a bit over the idea of further expenses, I wanted to find a more affordable way.

But I did NOT want to go through Amazon.

As I’ve come to meet other indie authors and hopefuls, I’ve been part of a lot of talk about the pros and cons of doing this yourself. One of the major cons seems to be (interestingly) Amazon.com. The consensus is apparently: When Amazon works well, it’s great. But if it messes up, wow, is it a mess.

Every time I Googled “self-publishing,” Amazon immediately came up. Gah.

Then, one day, when I was placing a pre-order for White Fang on Barnes & Noble, I saw an advertisement for Nook Press print services.

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I thought Nook Press was only e-books. Personally, I don’t have anything against e-books, but I prefer to have the hardcopy option (as I am a traditionalist in this regard, and nothing beats a physical novel in your hand, turning the pages, sniffing the ink….).

I digress. At some point, Nook expanded and now includes hardcopy as well as digital.

*happy dance moment*

Barnes & Noble has a reputation for good customer service, encouraging indie authors, and will provide you with an ISBN free of additional charge.

My experience with Nook Press has been thus:

Their formatting software is very straightforward, with plenty of tutorials and tips. If you get stuck on something, contact the support department, and they’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

They charge a commission upfront for printing and shipping, so your royalties are based on what’s left after that. You get to decide how much to sell your book for. After submitting your final proofs and cover, your finished product should be ready to go within 4 days.

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In the interest of keeping costs down, I choose paperback, but through Nook Press you can have your title created in hard cover if you so desire.

Your publication will have its own spot on the Barnes & Noble website, and online customers can purchase it just like anything else the store offers. (You don’t need an account to order; guest checkout works well, too.)

Your friends and readers can post reviews on B&N.com, singing the praises of your work. (I believe there is a word limit, so just keep that in mind.)

Compare this to the most recent grouch I saw about Amazon — that if you’re friends with an indie author on Amazon, they may take down your review “because it is more likely to be biased.”

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Yes, this came from an actual Tweet I saw yesterday. The Tweeter in question prompted me to make this post.

This is one of many reasons I decided not to use Amazon.

I am very happy with the choice I made to self-publish through Barnes & Noble.

I greatly support brick-and-mortar bookstores in an era when so much is digital or available with the click of a mouse. Although my titles are only obtained through a website purchase, I totally love that Barnes & Noble has real, tangible buildings that writers and readers can walk into, pick up a paperback or hard cover, turn the pages and sniff the ink.

I encourage others who are considering getting into indie publishing to select Nook Press.

(If you do use Amazon and are content with that, rock on.)

These are just my (requested) reflections.

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blogging, books

The Writer’s Book Tag (Not To Be Confused With The Last Tag I Did)

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Yes, I am on a tag spree! Well, such nice people keep tagging me, and every now and then, I need to write a little bit of something that does not count towards NaNo, so, here we go.

The last post I did was The Writer’s Tag — this is The Writer’s Book Tag, meaning it’s about books that writers read.

First Draft: A book or series that you’ve never read before.

I have never read anything by Brandon Sanderson (though he seems to be big in the fantasy lovers’ camp), and I never picked up the Percy Jackson series — any of them.

Second Draft: A book or series you didn’t like as much the second time you read it.

I’d have to say Charlotte’s Web and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And I know these are both classics and very important to a lot of readers, and please don’t hurt me! Maybe there’s something about approaching some children’s tales with the innocence of a child’s perspective. While I loved Wilbur and Charlotte’s story as a youth, somehow re-reading it as an adult made me feel like, “Oh, please, spare me the bleeding heart!” (And I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool right-winger by any means.) And while I completely understand that the demise and return of Aslan is totally a metaphor for the events of the first Easter, re-reading this novel again in my adulthood absolutely broke my heart for Susan and Lucy — so young — having to witness all of that. I think if Lewis had made their characters a little older (say, 18 and 16), I wouldn’t have found it so traumatic.

Final Draft: A book or series that you’ve liked for a really long time.

Harry Potter. It’s one of the few recent series that I feel easily has the potential to become a classic, that I’ve re-read all the books and not found their impact to be diminished, and I can’t wait to share them with my own kids.

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Killing Off Your Characters: A book or series that made you cry.

Do I get to mention Harry Potter again so soon? So. Much. Crying.

Plot Holes: A book or series that disappointed you.

The sequels to Jackaby are at the top of this list. I really enjoyed the first, the second was pretty good, but seemed to have nothing to do with the whole arc, and the third totally killed my interest. A real shame.

Writer’s Block: A book or series you never finished.

Wow, there are plenty of these! I’m probably the queen of DNF (and usually have no qualms about it!). One that really digs at me is Jackaby, though — see above — I’ve decided not to even read the fourth and final novel.

Feedback: A book or series you’d recommend to anyone and everyone.

For fantasy, I’d say The Scorpio Races. For non-fantasy, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and if you need a contemporary, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella or Girl Online by Zoe Suggs.

Per tradition, I won’t be tagging anybody else, but if you need a blog post and fancy this one, have a great time!

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blogging, books

The Totally Should’ve Tag

Hello, all! What, another tag, you may say? Well, yes, it is — I’ve been tagged by the lovely The Orangutan Librarian — and, truth be told, I am pouring all my creative energy into Volume 2 and 3, so here’s to having no ideas left over for blog posts!

Totally Should’ve…Gotten a Sequel:

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I’m so going with The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater here. It’s interesting, because on the one hand, I appreciate a YA author actually determining to write a standalone and stick to it. However, since I also honestly feel that The Raven Cycle could have been condensed into a duology (no one hurt me!), and that The Wolves of Mercy Falls seriously could’ve been a standalone (just Shiver), it shows that while I like this author, I don’t always agree with her choices. Whereas in her other series I thought she got too long-winded, in The Scorpio Races there was SUCH a rich and vivid worldbuilding that I wanted to know more about. I think a sequel, say, in 10 years or something, maybe with an adult Kate/Puck or with her kids, would be great. It could explore things like, do the Races continue indefinitely or will they eventually get shut down? Did Kate and Sean stay together? Did anybody who intended to leave the island ever come back? All the good stuff.

Totally Should’ve…Had a Spinoff Series:

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Definitely Harry Potter! I would happily read anything about Hogwarts, more about secondary characters like the Weasleys, the history of Voldemort’s war on other wizards and the start of the Deatheaters, what happened to people like Neville and Luna after school… (Sorry, Ms. Rowling. I do actually respect her decision to write about other subjects. I know that if I felt ready to wrap up a series, I wouldn’t want folks bugging me for more.)

Totally Should’ve…Ended Differently:

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All right, John Green fans, don’t throw stuff at me. These are the only two novels of his I’ve read, and I think it’ll stay that way, because I take issue with how he chose to end them. This author apparently has a real talent for twisting the last 50 pages, so that what I anticipate will happen so does not, and not in a good way (in my view).

I know this will be a bit controversial, but I seriously thought it would be Hazel who died in The Fault in Our Stars, and in Paper Towns I really wanted Quentin to tell Margot to go bleep herself after he went through all this stuff to find her and she was just like, “Oh, hey, what the heck are you doing here, go away.” I’m very aware that most people who read John Green think he can do no wrong; but this is just my opinion, so, there you go.

Totally Should’ve…Had a TV Show:

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Given alllll the information about the Faction System that’s only hinted at in this trilogy — especially the massive twist on its origins — I think a TV series could’ve done better justice to explaining all the complexities of this than squeezing an action-based plot into 2-hour movies.

Totally Should’ve…Had a Film Franchise:

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White Fang and I are of one mind on this — a set of Warriors movies would be awesome.

Totally Should’ve…Had One Point of View:

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This is a novel I really struggled with, anyway; the multiple POV did not make it any easier. I don’t think Auggie’s POV should even have been focused on; I would’ve liked to read the whole thing from, say, his sister’s perspective, or one of his classmates.

Totally Should’ve…Had a Cover Change:

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Yes, I know I am The Invisible Moth. But the little flitty things on the U.S. cover for Strange the Dreamer just made my skin crawl. Why can’t we have the more elegant and mechanical drawing-ish UK version here, too? That I wouldn’t have felt the need to hide every time I tried to read more of this title.

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Totally Should’ve…Stopped Reading:

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Yup, this is me, bashing the Shadowhunters series. I simply felt it’s gone on too long. I finished City of Glass and loved the resolution — Jocelyn was awake, she and Luke were finally getting together, Clary and Jace were free to be a couple, Valentine was dead, Simon would’ve been a great nerdy vampire and Izzy was fantastic with him, Alec and Magnus were established — BOOM, perfect, wrap it up. The 4th, 5th and 6th books weren’t necessary at all, in my view, nor the spinoffs. Sorry, fans.

Totally Should’ve…Kept the Cover:

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Okay, this is an old book, that I don’t know if it’s even still in print in the USA *sobs*, but this is the original cover on the copy I first read from a library *cough, cough* a long time ago. I like the almost art deco look to it, because it perfectly fits the 1950s setting of the story. But when I tried to order a paperback from Amazon a few years back, this is what arrived:

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In my opinion, too cheesy, too modern, too trying to make it a YA Mills and Boone (which this story is not). Big sigh.

Totally Shouldn’t…Have Pre-judged:

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After getting about 75 pages into this and returning it to the library (twice!), finally I finished it, and was super glad I did. The first few chapters of this novel are kind of plodding, and a bit depressing, and I really wasn’t hooked. But when I embarked on the re-read-to-the-completion, the style got me going enough to continue (personally, I love Holly Black’s style, even if most of her subject matter isn’t to my taste), and in fact that the dark and dreary setting serves well to set up all the twist-to-positive-character-growth by the end. I’m really glad that I went back to The Darkest Part of the Forest in spite of my earlier misgivings.

And there we have it! As usual, I won’t be tagging anybody specific, but if you’d like to tackle this, go for it!

 

 

books, Young Adult fiction

Discussion: Presenting What We See Versus What We Hope For In YA Fiction

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So, last night we watched the movie version of “Everything, Everything,” and while I haven’t read the book (and realistically, I wouldn’t, because it’s a contemporary and a romance and I don’t read those), I’m certainly capable of reading reviews and finding out if the book was different from the movie.

Now, after doing some research, I have a bunch of “interesting” thoughts to share. (Cue a big rant.)

Alert: Massive spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I will ruin it all for you. Hey, at least I warned you.

Okay, here is the premise of the story: Meet Maddy, nearly 18 and stuck in her house, because she has an autoimmune disorder, meaning that she’s allergic to the world (and, yes, this is a real, complex condition). Her mom is a doctor, she gets all her treatments at home, via a visiting nurse, and she takes online classes. Then one day a lovely young lad moves in next door, and attraction happens, and of course they try to find ways to have a relationship in spite of Maddy’s situation.

(My first thoughts as we watched the early scenes of the film were comparisons to an episode of the TV show “Scorpion,” but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

Maddy’s mom is super overprotective — yet, can you blame her? The mere fact that her daughter will probably get pneumonia just by going outside and being exposed to germs would be enough to make most parents in those circumstances overprotective. However… This is where the spoilers start. As the movie progresses, you begin to get the idea that something is up.

You never see any of the medicines Maddy must have to take. You never see a list of her food restrictions, which there must be. She doesn’t have an oxygen tank or an epi-pen or protective medical gear anywhere in her house. All the nurse has to do, apparently, before examining Maddy, is wash her hands. This does not seem to make much sense.

The episode of “Scorpion” I mentioned earlier had a girl “in a bubble” — the poor thing was so autoimmune that she wasn’t allowed human contact (they had to wear those CDC suits to get close to her), her room had to be temperature controlled, she couldn’t be in direct sunlight, etc. From the criticisms I’ve read of “Everything, Everything” it sounds to me like “Scorpion” has the more accurate portrayal.

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Well, there is a very good reason for this — SPOILERS DON’T GET BIGGER THAN THIS — it turns out Maddy isn’t actually sick at all. Her mother is a complete whacko who has been keeping her daughter trapped in a clean house, because after Maddy’s dad and brother died suddenly, she couldn’t stand the thought of something happening to Maddy.

Now, from a writer’s point of view, this is an incredible twist, and as a viewer/reader, I thought it was such an impactful choice for plotting. And I thought that the ending — Maddy abandoning her mother after she learns the truth, to go live the life she’d never had and deserved — was perfect.

But on the other side of the coin, I was also furious. To say that what Maddy’s mother did was unethical is merely the tip of the iceberg. Not only should she lose her medical license and go to jail, but it would also be fitting for Maddy to never speak to her again. And for someone to start a foundation for kids who really do have the autoimmune condition that crazy witch faked for Maddy. (If I was the author, that’s what would’ve happened.)

I can see why this novel has garnered extreme criticism from people who actually are ill with what Maddy is supposed to have. It’s like this story is trivializing such a serious medical issue because, surprise!, Maddy’s in fact healthy and can just run out of her house to go live a normal life. Although I imagine this was not the author’s intention, I can totally understand how this perspective could be misconstrued. And I get why it would make people mad.

As White Fang and I watched the movie, we kept expecting something to happen to Maddy, basically that she’d quickly pass away, and we were ready for that to be the ending. And the point would be, “Hey, she took a chance and died with no regrets, and hopefully her mother would see that.” (And for anyone who has issues with that, yeah, I get you, too.) But for the big reveal to be what it actually was…

Well, that makes me bring up this: Why is it that the parents in YA fiction always have to be such complete !@#$%^&*. (You can mentally fill in your impolite word of choice there.) This story is a MESS on steroids when it comes to the adults. Maddy’s mother is certified mentally unstable. Olly’s father is drunk and a wife-beater, and his mom is too afraid to leave, so she stays in a situation that threatens her own kids’ safety. Maddy’s nurse — well, the movie didn’t make it clear whether she knew the truth or not, but if she did, OH MY GOD, why didn’t she tell Maddy and turn in Maddy’s mother to the authorities?!?! As a parent myself, I simply cannot imagine what the point is of having such horrific role models presented to the very impressionable audience of teenagers.

Yes, there are some adults in the world who are piss-poor examples of adults. I know that, but I don’t accept it. If we’re really going to teach our kids how to be decent adults, we have to give them good role models to follow.

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When did it become totally okay for fictional parents to be everything from low-key neglectful to downright vile, sub-humans, with none of the other characters calling the police, contacting Social Services, going to teachers or ministers for help? In real life, we tell kids all the time that if they’re being abused to go to a trusted adult. Well, how are they going to do that if they think there are no trustworthy adults?

When did it become the gold standard in publishing for 16-year-olds to have to save the entire world? I’m specifically thinking of dystopias like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, in which anyone over the age of 20 is a complete schmuck (or gets killed if they’re not). Compare this to Harry Potter, where the kids are indeed going forth to battle evil — but their parents and teachers are right there beside them.

There are major reasons I don’t read contemporary YA romances — this is one of them.

This is also why I write parents who care, who can be trusted, who make sure the kids finish their chores and homework and eat their greens.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. We need MORE adults like this in YA. Period.

Okay, rant over. Any thoughts, fellow readers and writers?

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books, reading

Either Or?: Bookdragons Weigh In

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Here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately — we’re all told that compromise and being able to negotiate is good. Not willing to bend our possibly strict and unrealistic goals can make life hard. In many ways, I can understand (and even agree with) this. For example, when your 4-year-old is throwing a total tantrum over your insisting they take a bath complete with hair washing, nail clipping, and having the dog jump in for a quick grooming, in the interest of getting the most important stuff accomplished, you’ll probably have to re-think your plan. Start by identifying your major hopes: That the child no longer has spaghetti in his hair or up his nose. That he goes to bed clean-ish. Are any of his nails poking holes in other people? No? Then it can wait until he’s quiet and cooperative. And the dog can stay in his spot and chill.

Anyway, after this kind of long and not-at-all-related-to-the-post opening analogy, let’s approach what I’m really after here. When is it not okay to relax your plans and ultimate goals? I’m not even talking major philosophical or theological matters. I’m simply discussing the idea that authors compromise far too much when it comes to their writing.

(By the way, if you have a 4-year-old who doesn’t like to take baths, and a dog, follow the above advice. I am winning at bargaining with kids and pets.)

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of selections — by several different authors, and in different genres — that have made me wonder if the publishing market is rife with recent releases (within the last couple of years) that were evidently passed over once by an editor and thrown into the consumer arena to serve their major purpose of making money. At the expense of the readers’ satisfaction.

And, here’s a hint, publishers, since we do pay your bills — our satisfaction should really be considered during the whole preparing-to-print process.

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This is where I get the thought of “either or.” It makes me wonder if the editors feel that they need to choose between plot progression and character development, and that somehow it’s become impossible to include both in the same novel. That an author can have a longer book with more minor, unnecessary characters and tons of irrelevant dialogue — but they can’t have a longer book with more backstory of the world and explanation of the main character’s past.

Apparently, either a YA novel can have dead parents or bad parents, but not living, good parents. (This is beginning to change, thank God.) An adult fantasy novel can have a female lead that’s a complete kick-butt sword-wielder who’s a horribly nasty person to everyone supporting her, or she’s a near half-wit who collapses with a (poorly-depicted) panic attack at the very mention of having to ride the second-best horse in the kingdom. No in-between. Dystopians always feature a revolution and a fight to the death where somebody’s a sacrificial lamb — or there are zombies. The list goes on and on; you get the idea.

As a reader, I’m really getting tired of it.

Recently, I started reading A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin. Usually adult fantasy is near the bottom of my recommendations list. But I was driven by a strong curiosity to find out what the big deal was about this series. As someone who did not like the cable show, I thought I’d give the books — the source material, after all — a fair shot, since adaptations are just that, and not always faithful. Yes, Martin’s writing still includes violence and sex and profanity — but I’ve noticed it serves a purpose (which seems to be lacking from the show). Martin uses all these factors to establish his setting, the mindsets of his characters, and the world they live in. While he uses more of it than I personally would find necessary as a writer, I don’t hold it against him.

Especially since his story includes so much more than shock-and-gore tactics.

For one, there actually is a story. A rather complex one, with a huge, varied cast of characters; it’s all plotted out pretty well, and there are no obvious gaping holes that make me squint and yell at the pages. There is tons of worldbuilding — it’s clear from the start of this ambitious series that Martin knew his fictional world’s history and why it is where it is when he brings the reader to it. Most of the characters are two-to-three-dimensional and feel relatable, and therefore we want to know what’s going to happen to them. And we get more details about them in relevant, 3-to-4 page recollections or musings or discussions, not massive infodumps that have us struggling to stay standing after absorbing them.

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This is such a drastic change from 90% of the novels I’ve read in the past two years. And, sadly, no, that’s not an exaggeration.

Martin is an established author with a lot of writing credit and experience. This on its own doesn’t mean he’ll never produce mediocre work. But what encourages me that he won’t fail is the fact that his work ethic is clear. He strives to tick all the boxes: the characters and the plot and the pacing and the worldbuilding. It’s obvious he went for balance, and took care to make it happen.

While I’m not saying no other author does that (I know it just isn’t true), after getting a bunch of disappointing flop my way, this is a refreshing change.

Here’s the major crux of this whole rambling: When did it become acceptable for “either or” to take center stage for authors and editors?

How many authors have said they didn’t like people who claimed what they did “wasn’t real work,” because they indeed worked very hard? How many authors who received awards for their novels had every right to be proud of their efforts? How many kept writing out of the sheer joy of seeing their words come to life on paper? Of hearing readers say, “I loved your book!”

Rather than just to make money?

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This certainly isn’t true of every current New York Times bestseller. Seeing the reviews of many other unsatisfied customers, though, it seems that I’m far from the only one having these thoughts and feelings.

Books are special. We should use them to create characters who teach us something, ideas that help us grow, ponderings and musings that fuel the imagination.

And high numbers on a royalty check wouldn’t change my opinion on that.

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