Month: August 2013

Talking With Myself

Today I intended to write a “state of the garden” post, but instead took advantage of a new Smashwords feature — the author interview. It’s easy to use and surprisingly realistic — except that you are your own interviewer. The interview appears on an author’s main Smashwords page and is cross-linked to all their books. Mine can be viewed here.

I also did some work in the garden and took pictures, so that post is forthcoming soon.

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Thinking Out Loud About Writing and Reading

My blog posts are usually about a specific topic, with a beginning, middle and end. Or at least that’s my intention. This time, I’m going to do some more musing. I tried it a few weeks ago and decided it was a useful approach (when I really have no idea what to say as I apply fingers to keys).

Pieces of writing — novels, stories, memoirs and expository pieces — are sold, bought, lent and borrowed, just like manufactured products such as clothing or tools. But what is it, exactly, that the reader buys or borrows?

A book, of course. But what is a “book?”

Several ounces to a pound or two of paper, glue (or other materials) and ink. Or a text block and cover bearing an image and title. A disc containing a sound file. A text file accompanied by a “cover image.” These are all “books” — hardback, paperback, audiobook, ebook. The intending reader forks over a sum of money and acquires one of these items. Just like selecting and buying a pair of shoes. Or  is  it?”

Hardly anyone buys a book for its paper or typeface, and even though the cover may be an initial attractant, I suspect it’s rarely the deciding factor in the acquisition process. A book, ultimately, is words. Words strung together in a specific order, which, when read, cause images to appear in the reader’s mind, generating emotions and ideas.

But wait — people sometimes acquire a book because someone has said that it is “brilliant, thrilling, heart-stopping” or some other superlative. Or because it has been awarded a prize. Or because someone in the media raved about it. Or because “everyone is talking about it.” Just what is that “it?” A thing or a mind-movie or a fleeting phenomenon to be dropped into conversations?

The more I think about all this, the more complicated it seems. And yet — is it so different from buying a pair of shoes? Shoes are complicated too, when you think about them. They are certainly more than mere “footwear,” just like books are more than paper and glue and words strung together.

This is definitely a path worth moseying along. Moseying, musing, paths, shoes, boots, books. Who knows where I’ll end up?

Publish and Punish

Why do so many people think they can write? I’m not talking about text messages here, but novels, poetry or memoirs. My own theory is that writing is one of the few areas where lack of talent isn’t immediately obvious, as it is in singing, dancing and sports. If you don’t have the looks to be a model or the coordination and musculature for sports, there isn’t much you can do about it. But writing — anyone can string words together in the privacy of their own home. Successful writers can become celebrities, or at least rich. And now that self-publishing is so easy, almost everyone has found the writer within and is busy cranking out stuff.

But by what standard should success be judged, especially by the writer him- or herself? Right now it seems there is only one standard — number of copies sold. Million-copy sellers are unquestionably successful. Every other situation has a “but,” as in, “Yes, my sales are small, but I’ve had some really good reviews.” Or, “I’ve sold hardly any books, but as soon as readers discover them, that will change.”

How many of us self-published authors are willing to reveal our sales figures?

Maybe we need a different standard: the amateur writer, like the beer-league hockey player or community theater actor. Instead of judging all writers by one standard, which makes 99.999% of us abject failures, some of us can be respectable amateurs.

I don’t expect this to happen soon, if at all. It’s that magical, delicious word “publish.” To most, it means acceptance by the established league of experts, who will take you under their wing, polish your work and promote your brand to stardom (never mind that this is rarely the case  with most first-time authors). Any other kind of publication is qualified (the big BUT) — it’s self-publishing, or vanity publishing or print-on-demand publishing. Not the real thing. If a self-published author manages to sell large numbers of copies, the  big door may open, but only then. The rest of us come to realize that the real challenge is self-promotion, to which most of us gave no thought while in the throes of creation.

So here’s the question I’ve lived with for the past three years, while watching my less-than-stellar sales numbers:  Is my writing deficient, or my ability to sell it? I can live with the latter, but may also have to live with the uncertainty.

The Garden in July

In July the garden starts to look tired. Individual plants put on a show as they come into bloom, but enough things are past their best that the whole thing gets a bit rough, like someone who got all gussied up for a party but stayed too long. And of course, July is one of our driest months (along with August and sometimes September). The watering can and hose can’t replace real rain. A couple of days ago we actually had 4 mm., ending a drought of several weeks, but the next week is predicted to be sunny and dry again.

Lavender and Thyme

Lavender and Thyme

Visits by urban wildlife have added to the roughing-up. A few plants were nibbled by bucks who arrived via the driveway, but the real damage, especially near the pond, has been done by a family of raccoons. Deer are like burglars who take valuables such as rosebuds, hosta leaves and other choice delicacies, but raccoons are like vandals who break in, drink your booze and trash the place. Despite my weekend repair and cleanup jobs, the place is soon a mess again — groundcovers stomped, taller plants broken and flattened, rocks around the edge of the pond rolled into it. Out come the clippers and rake and another cleanup begins.

But there are always some good things…

Daylily "Lucky Leland"

Daylily “Lusty Leland”

and unexpected delights…

Santolina in bloom

Santolina in bloom

It’s still prime time for bee-watching.

Lavender with bee

Lavender with bee

Even the most common plants, lit up by the sun at just the right angle, look great.

Fireweed (Epilobium) with bloom stalks of Stipa gigantea

Fireweed (Epilobium) with bloom stalks of Stipa gigantea

So all the deadheading, edge-clipping, raking and watering are worth it. Onward! (Hoping for more rain, though).