Friday, June 30, 2006

Grinning Death Down

I read this item in the comments over at Miss Snark today. It made me laugh out loud. I did a little research and thought I'd share the story with you today.

This is an actual death notice that appeared in the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer (N&O) one year ago on July 2, 2005. I'll tell you more about it after you read the notice.

On June 3, 2005 at 10:45 p.m. in Memphis, Tenn., Dorothy Gibson Cully, 86, died peacefully, while in the loving care of her two favorite children, Barbara and David. All of her breath leaked out. The mother of four children, grandmother to 11, great-grandmother to nine, devoted wife for 56 years to the late Ralph Chester Cully and a true friend to many, Dot had been active as a volunteer in the Catholic Church and other community charities for much of the past 25 years.

She was born the second child of six in 1919 as Frances Dorothy Gibson, daughter to Kathleen Heard Gibson and Calvin Hooper Gibson, an inventor best known as the first person since the Middle Ages to calculate the arcane lead-to-gold formula. Unable to actually prove this complex theory scientifically, and frustrated by the cruel conspiracy of the so-called "scientific community" working against his efforts, he ultimately stuck his head in a heated gas oven with a golden delicious apple propped in his mouth. Miraculously, the apple was saved for the evening dessert. Calvin was not.

Native Marylanders and longtime Baltimore, Kent Island and Ocean City residents, Ralph and Dot later resided in Lakeland, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Va.. Several years after Ralph's death, Dot moved to Raleigh in 2001, where she lived with her son David.

At the time of her death, Dot was visiting her daughter Carol in Memphis. Carol and her husband, Ron, away from home attending a "very important conference" at a posh Florida resort, rushed home 10 days later after learning of the death. Dot's other children, dutifully at their mother's side helping with the normal last-minute arrangements -- hospice notification, funeral parlor notice, revising the will, etc. -- happily picked up the considerable slack of the absent former heiress.

Dot is warmly remembered as a generous, spiritually strong, resourceful, tolerant and smart woman, who was always ready to help and never judged others or their shortcomings. Dot always found time to knit sweaters, sew quilts and send written notes to the family children, all while working a full-time job, volunteering as Girl Scout leader and donating considerable time to local charities and the neighborhood Catholic Church.

Dot graduated from Eastern High School at 15, worked in Baltimore full time from 1934 to 1979, beginning as a factory worker at Cross & Blackwell and retiring after 30 years as property manager and controller for a Baltimore conglomerate, Housing Engineering Company, all while raising four children, two of who are fairly normal.

An Irishwoman proud of and curious about her heritage, she was a voracious reader of historical novels, particularly those about the glories and trials of Ireland. Dot also loved to travel, her favorite destination being Eire's auld sod, where she dreamed of the magic, mystery and legend of the Emerald Isle.

Dot Cully is survived by her sisters, Ginny Torrico in Virginia, Marian Lee in Florida and Eileen Adams in Baltimore; her brother, Russell Gibson of Fallston, Md.; her children, Barbara Frost of Ocean City, Md., Carol Meroney of Memphis, Tenn., David Cully of Raleigh, N.C. and Stephen Cully of Baltimore, Md. Contributions to the Wake County (N.C.) Hospice Services are welcomed. Opinions about the details of this obit are not, since Mom would have liked it this way.

This death notice created a sensation in Raleigh. Most people recognized the dark humor being expressed by David Cully, the 60-year-old son of the deceased. However, some readers assumed there was a rift in the family and complained to the News & Observer for publicizing it.

There was so much fuss over the story that the N&O's Public Editor, Ted Vaden, did a column on the death notice a week later on July 10th. He explained that it was a "paid" notice, similar to a classified advertisement. When he contacted David Cully, the son assured him that "the Cully family harmony was fine."

Vaden also quoted the N&O's obituary manager saying he "regretted that the notice had not been edited before publication because it may have not met the paper's standards for taste, decency and appropriateness."

The story didn't die there though. Two weeks after the notice was published, the Chicago Tribune ran a column on Mr. Cully's tribute to his mother.

I've mentioned more than once that I am the result of a marriage between an Irish woman and an Italian man. That--plus the Catholic Church's attitude toward birth control--meant that I spent a fair amount of my childhood either at baptisms or wakes. Although the family did not approve of children at funerals, we were always a part of the wake held in the days before the actual burial.

These events were the only times that both sides of my extended family came together, and I was endlessly amused by the wary way in which they eyed each other.

The fact that we were talking and eating and drinking with an open coffin in our midst was treated as so commonplace that I never feared death. Everyone knew that Uncle Paddy (or Uncle Vito, as the case might be) would have felt left out had he not been a part of his own wake.

The aunts always made an effort to keep liquor out of these events, and the uncles always managed to get around that prohibition. More than once, I was recruited to play whiskey runner and carry a small bottle past the aunts into the wake in a pocket of my dress.

I remember those events with fondness. It was sometimes hard to tell if the tears that fell were from sorrow or laughter. And maybe that's as it should be.

Mr. Cully's humorous tribute to his mother provided a measure of immortality to a woman whom, I suspect, would have appreciated her son's Irish levity.

Over this holiday weekend, a year after the notice ran, raise your glass and toast Dorothy Gibson Cully.

And for the rest of us:

May the road rise up to greet you
May the wind be ever at your back,
And may you get to Heaven thirty minutes
Before the Devil knows you're dead.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Power of The Word

This week, a writers' loop to which I belong had a crisis.

The fuss started on Monday when one of the members asked for help in finding an agent for her novel, which was set 74,000 years in the past. Instead of responding to her question, another member replied, "It's been 2006 years since the first coming of Jesus, but I don't think there was 72,000 years of earth prior to that time. Maybe I'm wrong, but...where did you get your documentation?"

That's all it took, and we were off to the races. Of course, one of the more literally minded members responded, "The geological age of the earth is approximately 4.55 billion years...Sponges appeared about 600 million years ago...and mammals sometime before 160 million years ago...The first homo sapiens appear in Africa about 100 thousand years ago."

That posting brought out the inerrancy folk.

An aside here: I was brought up in an Italian/Irish family, which means I was raised as a Catholic. And I do mean CATHOLIC. My mother goes to mass daily, I attended parochial school, said the rosary every day after lunch, and went to confession every Friday.

For those of you who are not Catholic, Church doctrine teaches that the Pope--when speaking officially is inerrant. Inerrancy means "without error, infallible." Interestingly enough, my catechism classes did not dwell on the inerrancy of the bible. I was raised to regard the Old Testament as a parable similar to the parables told in the New Testament. Therefore, I'm always slightly bemused when confronted with people who insist that the bible is the literal truth. However, it would never occur to me to question their beliefs. First of all, that would be rude. More importantly, however, how do I know they're wrong?

Back to the controversy. Along with the inerrancy folk, we got the alternative history folk, which--of course--led to the Book of Mormon. Then someone brought up the Torah and...I'm going to stop here; you get the picture.

When someone who self-identified herself as a Christian who believed in the bible responded to another poster's belief system by saying, "That's just BS," I decided it was time to abandon the loop. I don't want to associate myself with people who denigrate others--no matter how foolish they think that person's beliefs are.

And that brings me to the power of the written word. Here we had dozens of people passionately espousing one point of view or another. And each and every one of them pointed to a written text somewhere to support their argument. Someone even made a disparaging comment about someone else's beliefs, referring to them as "mythology."

There was a time when I wanted to study archeology, and I still have a strong interest in the subject. Therefore, I know that "mythology" refers to a culture's belief system for how they came to be. Mythology is a culture's collection of stories explaining what made the universe and the rules by which it functions. The word "mythology" means "spoken word or story or thought." Using that definition, even the bible is mythology.

What I'm trying to say here is that writers wield tremendous power. And as Uncle Ben taught Spiderman [grin], "With great power comes great responsibility." If a writer expects to have his/her work treated with respect, s/he must treat the work of others with equal respect.

I am looking for places to inspire me and support my efforts at writing. What I saw this week on that loop was the furthest thing from inspiring that I've ever seen. I hope never to see such ill will and vituperation expressed in the name of the Almighty again.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Thrill A Minute

Tomorrow is the beginning of Thrillerfest, the first annual event for thriller writers, readers and booksellers. Thrillerfest will take place this weekend in Phoenix at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa. On Saturday night, there will be a banquet at which they will present the organization's first Thriller awards.

An article in Saturday's Arizona Republic (AZR) claimed that "Thrillers are easily the most popular category in fiction today, dominating the bestseller list: Eight of the top 10 hardcovers in this week's New York Times list are thrillers."

So this seems as good a time as any to talk about thrillers. What is a thriller insofar as a novel is concerned? I find it fascinating that there is no definition of the genre on Thrillerfest's website. What the heck??? An article by David Morrell on the site refers readers to the home page to read "What is a Thriller," but apparently that definition has since been removed.

To try and define thriller, I started out at Wikipedia, my favorite place to begin research. Here's what it says: "The thriller is a broad genre of literature...that includes numerous, often-overlapping sub-genres. Thrillers are typically characterized by fast pacing, frequent action scenes, and plots in which a small number of resourceful heroes must thwart, often violently, the plans of more-powerful and better-equipped villains. Thrillers typically emphasize plot over character development, and make extensive use of literary devices such as suspense, red herrings, and cliffhangers."

Whew! That's a mouthful. In addition to its being overlong, I have a problem with Wikipedia's definition in this line: "resourceful heroes must thwart, often violently, the plans of more-powerful and better-equipped villains."

What about those thrillers where there is no villain? I'm thinking of a book like "The Perfect Storm" by Sebastian Junger. While you *could* describe Nature as the villain, I tend to think of a villain as having evil intent. Do we really want to ascribe the role of villain to the wind or to God?

At another site dedicated to publishing terms, I found this: "A thriller is a novel of suspense with a plot structure that reinforces the elements of gamesmanship and the chase, with a sense of the hunt being paramount. Thrillers can be spy novels, tales of geopolitical crisis, legal thrillers, medical thrillers, technothrillers, domestic thrillers. The common thread is a growing sense of threat and the excitement of pursuit."

That Arizona Republic article included an interview with Dana Stabenow (whose book Blindfold Game was on my shortlist for a Thriller award this year). She suggested this definition: "In a mystery, Aunt Ida is at risk, and in a thriller, Aunt Ida's nation is at risk."

While Stabenow's definition gets points for cleverness and brevity, it's far too weighted toward spy novels and political thrillers to serve our purpose.

David Morrell, already referred to earlier, also had some comments on the subject. I should note that I have been a huge Morrell fan since the early '80s when I read First Blood and The Brotherhood of the Rose. First Blood was the book that spawned the Rambo film series.

Morrell says high stakes are common in thrillers, but are not the most important aspect. "There is one theory that says genres can be defined by the emotions they evoke...Thus, science fiction evokes awe, romances evoke sentiment. Mysteries evoke puzzlement, whereas thrillers evoke a sense of excitement. . . . Basically, it's about intensity of pace, intensity of emotions." (AZR)

We could go on like this all night. I suspect there are as many definitions of thrillers as there are thriller writers.

Using everything we've read so far, my personal definition is: A thriller is a novel genre that may cross other genres. It is characterized by suspense, fast pacing, a growing sense of threat and intense emotions.

Works for me.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Making the Scene

These past few days have been rough ones. I started a sore throat on Friday that graduated to a raging inferno by Monday. I finally capitulated and called a clinic yesterday evening around 7:30.

The Care Now clinic was professional and speedy. In less than thirty minutes, I was back on the road, on my way to the pharmacy, where I was informed that twenty (that's 2-0) antibiotic pills would cost $70 (and this is WITH insurance). I actually stood there debating whether I preferred death to ponying up the $70.

On the writing front, my critique partners (CP) and I have been discussing scenes.

A scene is the building block of a novel. I like to think of a scene as a single pearl. In the same way that loose pearls strung together can create a necklace, each scene can stand alone, or be strung together into a comprehensive narrative we call a novel.

When jewelers string pearls, they look for beads of similar quality and size. Sometimes, they choose graduated pearls for dramatic effect. Writers do the same thing, seeking to ratchet up the suspense level and the tension of their scenes.

I have one CP who can always be counted on to ask the question, "Why have you included this scene?" After several years of answering that question, I have come to believe there are only three reasons to include a scene in a novel:

1) To move the storyline forward
2) To throw an impediment into the forward motion of the story
3) To reveal more about the characters and their relationships

I've seen lists and definitions that include myriad other secondary purposes for scenes such as:

Create atmosphere (suspense, humor, etc.)
Introduce characters
Show setting
Impart information
Develop theme
Introduce a subplot or plot twist

While I agree that all these things are important, none of them is important enough to deserve an entire scene devoted to it alone. I still harbor bitter memories of trudging through scenes that did nothing but introduce a place. While beautifully written and wonderfully lyrical, NOTHING happened.

In my opinion, you should create a scene to promote one of the three primary purposes. Then you weave into that scene your secondary purposes. So you might have a scene in which the plot is moving forward and in which you are also showing the setting. Or a scene in which the characters are deepening their relationship by sharing stories from their pasts (imparting information) and introducing a subplot.

During editing, ask yourself what primary purpose each scene offers. If you cannot identify a primary purpose, consider deleting (or expanding) the scene. Sometimes a couple of choppy small scenes can be blended into one coherent, meaningful scene.

Be willing to delete any scene, no matter how fond you are of it. I recently quoted M. Night Shyamalan in an interview on "The Sixth Sense" DVD. He said a good director must be willing to cut his favorite scene if it does not further the plot. Shyamalan spoke of having to do just that in "The Sixth Sense." It killed him, but deleting the scene strengthened his story.

Be ruthless. To paraphrase Hamlet, "The story's the thing."

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Creative Process

The Washington Post periodically offers a column called "The Writing Life." Yesterday Monica Ali was the guest columnist.

According to her bio on the British Council of Arts, Ali is the daughter of English and Bangladeshi parents who brought her to live in the UK when she was three years old. Her first novel, Brick Lane, was published in 2003 and explored "the British immigrant experience." That novel was a finalist for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Ali was asked to discuss how she creates her fictional worlds. She began by talking about the two extremes of authors' relationships with their characters. She quoted Harold Pinter who said, "characters . . . are not easy to live with. . . You certainly can't dictate to them."

At the other end of the continuum is Vladamir Nabokov who said, "My characters. . .are galley slaves."

So which one is it? Do your characters control the story, dictating what they will do, and where they will go? Or do your characters obey your every whim, mindlessly diving into danger or a sexual tryst without hesitation?

I have often described myself as a "pantser," meaning one who writes by the seat of her pants. My ideas for novels are almost always plot-driven. I will have an idea of a situation into which I callously dump my characters. At the outset, I usually have only a vague sense of my characters and their GMC. Part of the fun for me in writing is to watch the characters come to life and begin to dictate the shape of the story. Frequently, my intention will be to have a character do one thing only to find, when we reach that point in the story, s/he could not possibly do that thing--it would be out of character.

AN ASIDE: One of the marks of a newbie writer is dialogue that includes, "As you know, Bob." The character then gives an lengthy explanation of something that all the characters already know. The only purpose for that stilted conversation is to impart knowledge to the reader. "As you know, Bob" is a perfect example of the writer imposing his/her will on the character and forcing the character to do something that does not make any sense at all.

As for Monica Ali, she said, "I approach writing through character." Her column suggests that she falls between the two extremes of Pinter and Nabokov--sometimes driving her characters and sometimes being driven by them.

In an interesting commentary on the issue, J.K. Rowling was interviewed Monday on television in Great Britain. She explained that she is well into writing the last book in her Harry Potter series. She wrote the last chapter of that book in 1990 before she had even sold the first book in the series. iWon News quotes her as saying, "The final chapter is hidden away, although it's now changed very slightly. One character got a reprieve. But I have to say two die that I didn't intend to die."

Sunday, June 25, 2006

This Thing Called Conflict

Among the blogs this site links to is Kristen Nelson's Pub Rants.

Kristen is a literary agent working out of Denver, Colorado. She has a straightforward style that I appreciate enormously.

Kristen's posting on Friday was entitled "Conflict Is Not a Lifetime Movie."

After I picked myself off the floor and stopped laughing, I read the rest of her blog. The essence of her post can be summarized in the following quote:

"I have a lot of recent queries lately...where the writer has confused conflict with dramatic plot elements. I just want to clarify here that these two things are not the same. Conflict is what motivates and drives your character (and can be internal and well as external). Dramatic plot elements are simply events that occur in the story."

I absolutely agree with Kristen that conflict is not the same as dramatic plot elements. But I want to discuss the issue in greater detail.

My introduction to "conflict" as an element of writing came via Debra Dixon and her book Goal, Motivation and Conflict. On October 14, 2005, I posted a blog entitled "My Reference Shelf." I explained at that time that Dixon's book is one of my essential reference books.

Dixon maintains that you must know the goal, motivation and conflict (GMC) for every character you write. GMC covers those questions that are the building blocks of any story: "Who? What? Why? And Why Not?"

"Who" is your character. "What" is your character's goal. "Why" is the character's motivation. "Why not" are the conflicts the character faces.

As Kristen says, conflict does include both internal and external issues. So do goal and motivation.

To explain internal and external issues, Dixon uses the example of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy's external goal is to return home to Kansas. Her internal goal is to find her heart's desire. Her external motivation (why she wants to go home) is that Auntie Em is sick. Her internal motivation is that she is desperately unhappy. Her external conflict (preventing her return to Kansas) is the witch. Her internal conflict (preventing her from finding her heart's desire) is that she doesn't know what she wants. By the end of the story, she has accomplished both goals--returned home and realized what she really wants in life.

Obviously all of these elements have sub-elements. Before Dorothy can get home, she must first get to Emerald City and see the Wizard. Then she has to obtain the ruby slippers. Finally she must confront the witch.

I found Dixon's formula so useful that I initially began each manuscript by drawing up a chart with boxes for internal and external goals, motivations and conflicts for all my main characers. I no longer have to draw the chart; I can now work out the GMC in my head.

Invariably, when I am having a problem with a story, it's because either I have not established a valid GMC for the character, or my manuscript does not reflect the GMC I established.

When you look at your manuscript this way, you can easily see that the dramatic plot elements Kristen talks about are simply events occurring in the story that either work toward the character's goals or against the character's goals. You can also see that the dramatic elements do not have to be enormous in order to create tension. They simply have to provide conflict, preventing the protagonist from reaching his/her goals.

One last note: I tried to purchase a used copy of Dixon's book for several months online. I had three different used book services alert me whenever a copy came available. Unfortunately someone always beat me to the book. I finally broke down and bought a new copy through Gryphon Books for Writers (

Happy writing!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Something for Newbie Children's Writers

If you've read this blog before, you know that I write for the adult fiction market. I know absolutely nothing about the children's market beyond having a love for the stories.

I had a friend years ago who collected children's books. Martha had a long hallway that stretched the length of her house with waist-high built-in bookshelves filled with her collection. Since she had owned an independent book chain, many of the books were signed first editions. One of my favorite things to do during a visit was to sit on the hardwood floor in the hall and read the children's books.

Two things happened today to make me want to devote a blog to children's writers. One was a plea on a loop I belong to, asking how to find a children's illustrator. The other was an article on the Writing World website ( on the various ages of children's literature.

I don't know about you, but I'm in the habit of calling anything under the age of 12 children's lit and anything over the age of 12 young adult. Fortunately, Eugie Foster was out there to provide additional detail.

Eugie wrote an excellent article in which she breaks down the various ages of children as follows:

Pre-readers: These are infants through preschoolers
Emergent readers: These are 5- and 6-year-olds in kindergarten and first grade
Early readers: These are 6- and 7-year-olds in first and second grade
Fluent readers: These are 7- and 8-year-olds in the third and end of second grade
Middle-graders: These are the 8- to 12-year olds from third to sixth grade
Young adult: This is anything over age 12

If you're interested in children's literature, I urge you to read Eugie's article. She gives the characteristics of readers at each age and the things they are looking for when reading. The link to her article is:

For the writer seeking an illustrator, I emailed the loop with the one bit of solid information I had. That is, SCBWI or the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. There is a chapter near me in north Texas, and a number of writers I respect are members. SCBWI has chapters all over the country and are very pro-active in their field. Their website can be found at:

Now that I've done my good deed for the day, I'll bid you a great weekend.



Friday, June 23, 2006

The ThrillerFight Before ThrillerFest

If, like me, you love thrillers, you are no doubt aware of the organization called ITW, the International Thriller Writers. Their website can be found at:

According to their website, the ITW was founded on 10/9/04. I think I first became aware of its existence about six weeks later because I used a giftcard I'd received for Christmas that year to purchase a book by an author recommended on their website.

Next week, from 6/29 to 7/2, the ITW will host their first ThrillerFest in Phoenix at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa. On Saturday night, they will hold a banquet at which they will present the organization's first Thriller awards.

Unfortunately, excitement about this debut event has been marred by controversy over the past few days. On Wednesday, writer Elaine Viets posted a blog over at The Lipstick Chronicles ( lambasting the ITW awards.

Her post began: "It’s tough to define an award-winning thriller, but the new International Thriller Writers has succeeded:

It’s anything written by a man."

Viets was incensed because all of the five nominees in each of the ITW awards categories were men. There wasn't a single woman nominated.

Confession time: When I first read the list of the ITW nominees three months ago, I, too, was a little disconcerted by its overall maleness. I immediately went to the ITW website and checked the list of judges. Of the judging panel, a third of the judges were female.

Then I considered my own literary choices. I closed my eyes and made a mental list of the thriller writers I would have named as the ten best. Nine of my choices were men. The sole woman on my list was Carol O'Connell (Dana Stabenow was on the runner-up list).

There are probably two reasons my list was so heavily weighted in favor of males: The thriller industry is dominated by men, and--from talking with fellow readers--my tastes are probably harder-edged than 75% of women. The harder-edged stuff *tends* to be written by men.

At that point, my internal fairness meter satisfied, I forgot all about the issue. Until Viets raised it again this week.

Everyone and his brother has an opinion on this subject. Some of the posts I'd recommend include:

My bottom line: The best novels should win. That's the only criterium that matters. Otherwise, we start talking about quotas, and that's an ugly slippery slope.

One last point. If I had to list my favorite erotic romance writers, the list would be 100% female. Men just don't write sex scenes that turn me on. Does that mean I'm sexist? No. It means my individual tastes lean toward women romance writers and men thriller writers. Nothing wrong with that.

I hope this controversy settles down before next week. The winners should enjoy their awards without any hint of bias to spoil the moment.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Independents vs Chains (Or Something Else)?

I'm switching topics midstream. I had planned another blog for today but, hey, flexibility is the sign of a healthy mind.

Among the sites you'll see linked to this one is the Bookseller Chick. She had an interesting blog today, talking about Barry Eisler's recent contretemps with the son of an independent bookseller who'd recently hosted a signing for the author.

According to Eisler's blog, he did a three-author booksigning at the Midwestern bookstore. By all accounts, the event went well, and the bookseller hosted a dinner afterward for the authors and the store's employees. At the close of dinner, someone offered to give Eisler a ride to his hotel. He demurred, saying that he needed to do a stock signing at a nearby Barnes & Noble and, by the way, where is that store?

For anyone not familiar with the book business, a formal signing is usually a major event for a bookstore. They advertise the date and notify their regular customers. The authors generally spend several hours in the store: greeting customers, signing purchased books, answering questions and posing for photos.

By contrast, during a stock signing, the author slips into the store and signs a stack of books that have not as yet been sold. The writer does not interact with any customers, and the bookstore hopes that the autograph will help sell the books in question.

Back to Eisler: Apparently the bookseller's son, an attorney, took offense either because Eisler mentioned B&N in his hearing, or because Eisler was going to autograph a competitor's books. Whatever, the annoyed lawyer later sent an email to Eisler. You can actually read their entire exchange on Eisler's website because the writer chose to bring the incident public. He did remove all identifying information.

There has already been an enormous amount of chat on the Internet about this incident. Some suggest that the bookseller's son (identified as G) was having a bad day when he sent the email. Others say that Eisler was thoughtless to mention a competitor to his hosts and their staff. Many more talk about the antipathy between indie bookstores and chain stores.

Frankly, I saw it as a pissing contest gone bad. G made not-so-subtle threats to Eisler--which he shouldn't have done--and Eisler retaliated by bringing their email exchange public--which he shouldn't have done without express permission. Despite Eisler's removing the identifying information from the emails, it took me two clicks to identify the bookstore by checking his tour schedule.

G had a good point in his email when he complained about the other stores in his town ignoring the official release date for Eisler's latest book and setting it out for sale early in order to get a jump on the competition. However, that point is one that needed to be addressed with the publishers, not with the author.

Eisler had a good point when he said he was offering value to both the indie store and the chain. The indie got the benefit of his presence interacting with clients and the chain got the benefit of signed stock. His job as an author is to promote his book, and he was doing exactly what he should have done.

G was out-of-line for sending the emails. Eisler's written responses were gracious and appropriate. His posting the exchange was a take-no-prisoners act in my humble (and unrequested) opinion.

If you want to read more, go to Bookseller Chick at:

or to Eisler's blog at:

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I just finished critiquing the first two pages of a young writer friend's thriller. That exercise reminded me of all the things to remember about opening scenes.

The first page of your novel is the most important. No, I'm not exaggerating. That page will be the one that agents, publishers and readers look at to decide whether or not to continue reading. That page needs to do three things: (1) offer a hook to make the reader want to read on; (2) provide a sense of your writer's voice; and (3) begin to offer clues to the world you have created.

Some Do's:
Do start on a moment of action with SOMETHING happening. Set the pace.
If you start with dialogue, make it interesting dialogue (I began Dying to Do It with the line, "Put the gun down, Wayne.")
Use action words.
Use sensory words: Don't limit yourself to describing what is seen. Describe smells, tastes, sounds and touch as well.
Limit the number of characters you introduce in the first chapter. Don't overwhelm the reader.

Some Don'ts
Do not start with a long, lyrical description of a place or the weather.
Avoid "ing" words or forms of the word "to be" (was, were, been, have been). Say "ran" instead of "was running."
Avoid a lot of backstory (what happened before the story starts).
Avoid extended narrative.
Use adverbs ("ly" words) sparingly.

A good exercise for writers is to read the openings of some of your favorite books. Decide what it was about those openings that engaged you.

Keep writing.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

When Should I Self-Publish?

Several times a week, I get emails from newbie writers seeking information or commenting on posts.

I received two emails today on the same subject, prompting this blog. Both talked about self-publishing. One complained about something I'd said on the Internet, which she'd interpreted as a condemnation of all self-publishing. The other just asked for advice while he readied his proposal to be submitted to a subsidy press (vanity press).

Let me address the complaint. Far from being opposed to self-publishing, I actually look forward to the day when it makes more financial sense for writers to self-publish than to go through a traditional publisher. However, that day has not yet come.

The reason that day has not yet arrived is NOT due to a lack of technology. The technology exists today to print books economically. It is called POD (print-on-demand). This digital printing process makes it possible to print as few as one or two books or as many as thousands in a single print run.

The problem is not in the printing. The problem comes up after the printing: in the marketing/selling of the book.

Yes, we have Amazon and e-Bay through which writers can sell their books. You can also create your own website. However, without major buzz, it is unlikely that people will flock to any of these sites in search of your book. More importantly, when you self-publish, you will not have access to the venues through which most new releases find homes: Libraries and retail outlets like Wal-Mart or Barnes & Noble.

There are tons of vanity presses out there offering to print and market your books. They are scams. They will overcharge for the printing and not deliver on the marketing. Sure, they might display your book for a week in a small bookstore thousands of miles from your home (for which you will pay the bookstore dearly). That's not marketing.

Having said all that, let me also say that I can think of five reasons for a writer to go the self-published route. The first three are dictated by the personal needs of the writer; the other two are legitimate professional reasons:

1) Impatience: A writer who is so anxious to hold a bound volume of his/her work that s/he cannot bear to go through the laborious process of seeking representation by an agent or submitting to traditional publishers. The writer is willing to pay to be able to say, "I'm a published writer."
2) Artistic Control: A writer who is unwilling to surrender editorial control of his/her work or who refuses to accept feedback on possible changes. This frequently--although not always--involves a 200K-word manuscript that cries out for editing while the writer steadfastly refuses to consider pruning a single word.
3) Sentiment: A writer who has produced a work that is not intended for commercial consumption. An example might be a family history, which the writer wishes to share with her loved ones.
4) Niche Market: The writer has produced a work on a subject that is not commercially viable for a traditional publisher. There is a market for this work, but it is very limited in size or scope. This frequently involves academic works in some arcane subject.
5) Cross-Genre: The writer has produced a work that traditional publishers simply do not know how to market. This is usually a work that crosses multiple genres.

All of the above are legitimate reasons to seek self-publishing. The common thread running through the list is that--in the vast majority of cases--none of these books will likely be of interest to a traditional publisher.

None of these books is likely to return a profit either. In the case of the impatient writer or the writer unwilling to relinquish artistic control, the writers are trying to circumvent the traditional process through self-publishing rather than concentrating on making their books commercially viable.

In the case of the sentimental work, the writer's intent was never to return a profit. Therefore, self-publishing makes perfect sense. However, the writer would be better served to find a printing operation as opposed to a setup that advertises itself as a subsidy press or publisher. These self-professed "publishers" will charge far more for the same services than an ordinary printer would.

In the case of the niche book or the cross-genre novel, the writers know ahead of time that they face an uphill battle. While there is a market for their works, the entire effort of marketing the books will rest on the writers' shoulders. If the niche writer is well connected to his market, he may make a profit through a lot of sweat equity (self-promotion and selling out of his car trunk).

The cross-genre writer is an interesting character. I am thinking here of Jaid Black and M.J. Rose. Both women were writing in the new cross genre of erotic romance before anyone had a term for erotic romance. They both opted for self-publishing. Jaid Black founded her own publishing house, Ellora's Cave, while M.J. Rose (who had extensive experience in marketing) set about to develop her own publicity campaign. Both women have been very successful in creating a genre and in forcing traditional publishing to accept and acknowledge that new genre.

Caveat: Most writers who believe they have created a new genre are simply so lacking in focus that their manuscripts are all over the map--this is very different from creating a new and distinct genre.

So, you see, I am not opposed to self-publishing. I just believe that the writer must know exactly which of the five reasons apply to her. AND, she must be prepared to lose money if she chooses to go that route.

If you want to read other posts on this subject see my blogs for 3/23/06, 3/24/06 and 5/1/06.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Revisiting Chick Lit

Today's New York Times (NYT) had a book review that started out, "Chick lit appears to be in its death throes. At the very least, the form has bred copycats and lost its novelty and sense of humor."


Three months ago today (3/19/06), I did a post entitled, "Is Chick Lit Dead?"

That post was prompted by a talk Shanna Swendson gave to my RWA chapter. Shanna, a chick lit author, was frank about the market, saying it was much harder to get a contract for a chick lit book these days.

Shanna identified the three essential elements of chick lit novel: An interesting, sympathetic heroine with a growth arc; female relationships; and a wry or sarcastic voice.

She said that, as the books became popular and everyone jumped on the bandwagon, later writers copied the superficial elements of the earlier books and turned those elements into cliches: bad dates; an obsession with shopping; the gay best friend; and a low-level job in a glamorous field. Those elements have been so overdone that publishers will no longer touch them.

Shanna offered the following advice: If you want to write a novel with a chick lit voice, write it with a real "attitude." However, she considered it vital that the genre be the prime focus with the chick lit voice as the filter. She said a lot of voice and no genre cannot sell in today's tighter market.

So, here comes today's NYT review of "Literacy and Longing in L.A," published last month in hardcover by Dell. The authors of the novel, Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack, "write about a newly single, well-heeled character whose secret vice is binging on books." The Times describes the novel as a "fusion of bilbiomania and romantic comedy" and judges it "appealingly offbeat."

In reading the review, it appears that the new novel contained all three of Shanna's essential elements.

The review prompted me to think about the books I've read in the three months since that first post. There are two that would fit Shanna's definition of the new chick lit: Janet Evanovich's "Eleven on Top" and Charlaine Harris' "Definitely Dead." Evanovich's book would probably be classified as a mystery while Harris' book is a paranormal. Both did exactly what Shanna suggested in that they stayed true to the conventions of their respective genres while infusing their heroines with lots of voice, a growth arc and a variety of secondary female relationships.

I was never a particular fan of chick lit since I tend to prefer strong plot-driven novels, but I purchased both "Eleven on Top" and "Definitely Dead" in hardback, which says something about my expectations for both authors.

So perhaps chick lit is merely insinuating its voice into other genres as Shanna suggested. Isn't evolution the way most species survive?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day

I woke up this morning remembering my father.

He died (I dislike my mom's description of "we lost him." It sounds as though we've simply misplaced him) in early September nearly seven years ago.

My father was a scrappy little man. He was pugnacious and frequently difficult to live with. His parents and older siblings were born in Italy, and he grew up in New York City straddling two cultures. At age twenty, he risked alienation from his family by marrying an Irish girl he fell in love with one night at a birthday party for his best friend.

For most of my childhood, Daddy was a raging alcoholic. I had already left home by the time he decided to get sober. Many of my early memories are colored by alcohol.

It took years for me to recognize that my father's demands for perfection grew out of his own insecurities. If I came home with a report card with five "A"s and one "B," he'd scold me for the B. He was never satisfied.

I can still see him looking at one of the four of us, shaking his head and saying, "Quando gli sciocchi hanno continuato la sfilata, lei portava la bandiera." Translation: When the fools went on parade, you were carrying the flag.

His employment record was checkered. He was never unemployed, but--until middle age--he rarely stayed anywhere for very long. I suspect employers had to balance his considerable skills against his personal issues.

Despite having only a high school diploma, he saw to it that all four of his children graduated from college. My paternal grandparents were appalled that he insisted on sending me to college when he had three sons to educate. They saw no point in higher education for a daughter.

He never hesitated. "She goes to college."

Daddy could always be counted on in a pinch, or when things were really mucked up. After I put his car through the wall of the house, he never blinked. His only concern was that I was all right. After only one attempt at teaching me to drive, he paid a small fortune to put me through formal driving lessons. When I had four accidents in my first few years of driving, he just shook his head and helped me to replace yet another car.

Years later, when I made the decision to quit a job where I was making over $100K to go back to graduate school, he was the only person who supported my decision. Family and friends suggested I think about it before resigning. Only Daddy said, "Do what you believe is right." That encouragement in the face of so much disproval meant a great deal to me.

When I earned my Master's degree, he was very proud.

He remained married to his first love, my mother, for fifty-one years and was sober for the last twenty of those years. He insisted on celebrating their fiftieth anniversary six months early because he didn't think he would live long enough to make their anniversary and didn't want to cheat my mother out of the celebration.

He surprised himself by living another whole year. He managed to live to see three of his four grandchildren born and to delight in all of them.

Thank you, Daddy. God bless and keep you close.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Wikipedia Revising Its Policy

This is my 301st blog. I mention that information because Blogger's internal "retrieve" function only includes the last 300 postings. That means my first entry dropped off the list tonight when I saved this one. However, further investigation revealed that I can still pull up that first posting by clicking on the month of September, 2005.

We haven't talked about Wikipedia in quite some time. Since December 16th in fact. So, it's time we visited Jimmy Wales and company again. Our visit coincides with an article in today's New York Times (NYT).

For anyone not familiar with Wikipedia, it is an online encyclopedia where the entries are created by anyone in the online community who has an interest in a particular topic and wants to write an entry on it. The Times estimates that Wikipedia's English language site contains 1.2 million entries.

I'm sufficiently intrigued by Wikipedia that I posted my ninth blog entry ever (9/22/05) on the subject. Here's a quote from that blog: Wikipedia is "'written collaboratively by volunteers and operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation based in St. Petersburg, Florida.' Pay attention here: its entries are written 'collaboratively by volunteers.' That means that anyone with knowledge on a subject (or even without knowledge) can write an entry and have it posted under the Wikipedia byline. Again quoting from Wikipedia's own description of itself: 'Wikipedia is built on the belief that collaboration among users will improve articles over time, in much the same way that open-source software develops.'"

The Times says, "The system seems to be working. Wikipedia is now the Web's third-most-popular news and information source, beating the sites of CNN and Yahoo News, according to Nielsen NetRatings."

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has been famously resistant to putting too many controls on his social experiment. He has said, "What does define Wikipedia in the volunteer community and the open participation." (NYT)

After six years, however, even Wales has been forced to admit some controls are needed. There have been several scandals in which pranksters have sabotaged Wikipedia entries. I covered one of these during December (see posts on December 5th and December 14th).

"Repeated vandalism" and "disputes over what should be said" have led to Wales creating a list of entries that are now either protected or semi-protected from editing. The 82 protected entries do not permit any outside editing while the 179 semi-protected entries can only be edited by someone who has been registered on the Wikipedia site for more than four days. "A cooling-off period is a wonderful mediative technique," suggests an observer in the Times article.

Protected sites include the "2004 election voting controversies," "Islamophobia" and "freedom fighter." Semi-protected sites include "gay," "Jew," and "Afghanistan."

I have frequently posted on an "open source" approach versus a "proprietory" approach. Wikipedia is a huge example of open source theory at its best: making information available to everyone and allowing everyone to participate in the project.

The same caveats I first posted about still apply. Wikipedia is a great place to get quick information IF the user remembers that the information is NOT guaranteed to be correct. I use it mostly as a means to start my research. However, I always check the validity of the information gleaned there with at least one other source.

Wiki on!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Children's Reading Trends

On Wednesday, Scholastic (the children's publisher) and Yankelovich (the company that tracks consumer trends) released a new national study.

The study revealed that while 40% of kids between the ages of 5-8 are high frequency readers (reading for fun every day), only 29% of kids aged 9-11 are high frequency readers. The percentage continues to decline through age 17.

When parents are frequent readers, kids tend to read more. However, only 21% of the parents surveyed said that they themselves are high frequency readers.

Lisa Holton of Scholastic summarized it this way: "Parents excel when it comes to introducing their very young children to beautiful picture books and bedtime stories, but when their kids start reading independently, parents need to become more, not less, involved."

One of the most interesting points made in the press release was: "The study found that 53% of children whose parents are high frequency readers are reading books for fun every day; however, among children whose parents are low frequency readers (reading 2-3 times a month or less), only 15% read for fun daily."

Even if a parent is not a high frequency reader, he/she can impact his/her child's reading habits by directing the child toward good books to read. This is important when you realize that the number one reason kids give for not reading more is that they can't find books they like. Dr. Hal Quinley from Yankelovich said: "Parents may be underestimating the difficulty kids have finding books they like."

Children's reading attitudes change as they grow older. While only 14% of the kids aged 5-8 identify themselves as low frequency readers, almost half of the kids aged 15-17 identify themselves that way.

Another interesting finding: Three times as many boys as girls said they thought reading for fun is "not at all" important.

Even if a parent does not enjoy reading or does not have time to read, the study makes it clear that the parent can positively impact the child's habits and attitudes toward books.

You can read the entire report at:

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The AFI's Top Picks for Inspirational Films

Periodically the American Film Institute (AFI) does a top 100 movie special. I can recall earlier shows highlighting the 100 most romantic movies and the
100 top movie quotes. It's always fun for me to try to put together my own list ahead of time and then see how many of my picks are included.

On Wednesday night, the AFI telecast a show highlighting the 100 top inspirational movies. The rules were that the movie had to be an American
film released prior to 1/1/05 and had to display adversity, triumph and a legacy. The methodology was for the AFI staff to select 300 movies and then send that list out to 1,500 directors, screenwriters, actors, editors, cinematographers, critics and historians. The voters were each permitted to select up to five write-in" candidates.

The results were interesting. I did have issues with some of the picks. Chief among them was the selection of the teen biker movie, Breaking Away, as #8. That movie didn't even make my list. My #8 was the Spencer Tracy film,
Inherit the Wind.

Smaller quibbles included the animated films. I had selected two: Dumbo and Bambi. Neither one made the top 100 although Pinocchio did. I had three Westerns on my list. Shane and High Noon made the cut; The Magnificent Seven did not.

In terms of film-making decades, the films were remarkably evenly spaced
with a couple of exceptions. Most decades had about a dozen representatives. The oldest film was Charlie Chaplin's City Lights (1931). The two newest films were Hotel Rwanda and Ray, both released in 2004.

The two notable exceptions to the about-a-dozen-per-decade rule were the
'30s with only nine films selected and the '80s, which for some strange reason had 22 films on the list--more than a fifth of the total.

The '80s was the decade when we failed to rescue our hostages from Tehran, when both the Pope and President Reagan were victims of failed assassination attempts, when Charles married Diana, when AIDS first surfaced and the Challenger exploded. In the second half of the decade, Chernobyl occurred along with Iran-Contra. Pan Am flight 103 went down over Lockerbie and the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened. The Berlin Wall fell and the Tiananmen Square Massacre occurred.

Perhaps we just needed more inspirational messages than normal to get
through the '80s. Among the ones we got were E.T. (#6), The Right Stuff (#19), Field of Dreams (#28), The Color Purple (#51), Silkwood (#66), Driving Miss Daisy (#77) and Fame (#92).

There were other points of interest. Religious movies--which one would hope could provide inspiration--were not especially popular picks. In fact, E-Online's headline was "AFI Praises Spielberg, Snubs Jesus." The Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ were not selected. The Ten Commandments did make the list at #79, ahead of Babe, but behind Thelma and Louise.

Sports movies did better than religious ones with a total of nine. Rocky came in at #4, Breaking Away at #8, Hoosiers at #13 and The Pride of the Yankees at #22. Field of Dreams logged in at #28, with Seabiscuit at #50. I counted another three in the second half of the list.

There were only five musicals: The Wizard of Oz (#26), The Sound of Music (#41), Fiddler on the Roof (#82), Yankee Doodle Dandy (#88), and Fame (#92).

The director most frequently represented was Steven Spielberg with five
movies. The actors most often seen were Gary Cooper and Sidney Poitier,
each with five. Three actresses tied for most frequent with three movies each: Jean Arthur, Sally Field and Katherine Hepburn.

I was gratified to nail eight of the top ten movies (However, I only got #1
and #2 in the correct order). As mentioned earlier, I completely missed
Breaking Away. I also missed The Grapes of Wrath.

Here are the top ten: It's a Wonderful Life (#1), To Kill a Mockingbird (#2), Schindler's List (#3), Rocky (#4), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (#5), E.T.:
The Extra-Terrestrial (#6), The Grapes of Wrath (#7), Breaking Away (#8), Miracle on 34th Street (#9) and Saving Private Ryan (#10).

For the complete ballot of 300 movies, go to:
For the complete list of all 100 films, go to

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Today's Second Post--Industry Matters

Once a quarter, I write a column for the newsletter of Passionate Ink, the erotic romance chapter of RWA. The column is called "Industry Matters" and summarizes the latest developments I've noted in the publishing industry over the previous quarter.

I just got around to forwarding the April column to my webmistress, Karen McCullough. She's posted it on my website at

Feel free to visit and read the column.



A Moment of Nostalgia

This morning’s USA Today contained a brief article that caught my attention:

“Eminem will return to the big screen in an updated version of the television Western ‘Have Gun, Will Travel.’”

I was instantly transported back to the small living room of my childhood, where I can still see the one television set my family owned.

The political balance of our household was heavily weighted in favor of testosterone. Mom had ceded ownership of the television to my father and three brothers. My single vote was ignored when it came to determining what our family would watch during prime time. Westerns and military dramas dominated our television viewing seven nights a week.

This macho experience left me with an odd talent and a fondness for only two shows. The talent is the ability to sing the theme song for virtually every Western that aired from the time I was a toddler. The fondness was for two shows: “Maverick” and “Have Gun, Will Travel.” In their separate ways, both were anti-Westerns.

Everyone remembers “Maverick,” perhaps because of the 1994 Mel Gibson film. “Maverick” was my first experience with satire. Bret and Bart Maverick were not the typical cowboys. They avoided gunfights whenever possible and gently mocked the stereotype of a Western hero.

“Have Gun, Will Travel” had a single star, Richard Boone, who played a hired gunslinger in the years immediately after the Civil War. A graduate of West Point, his character was extremely literate and lived in a luxurious hotel in San Francisco. His business card displayed a white chess piece--the knight (hence the hero’s name, Paladin) and contained only the words: “Have Gun, Will Travel, Wire Paladin, San Francisco.”

Each week, in exchange for $1,000, Paladin would head out to assist someone in need. In anti-hero style, he dressed all in black except for the white knight chess piece embossed on his holster. He liberally quoted from the classics and sometimes turned on the one who hired him if he discovered his employer was victimizing others.

I was surprised at how complete my memory was for a show forty years old. I suspect that Paladin somehow tapped into my anti-authority streak, which was very well developed before I even hit first grade.

All I can say is that I hope Eminem doesn’t screw the film up.

Have Gun, Will Travel reads the card of a man.
A knight without armor in a savage land.

His fast gun for hire heeds the calling wind.
A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.

Paladin, Paladin, Where do you roam?
Paladin, Paladin, Far, far from home.

Postscript: A reader emailed me to point out that I forgot to mention Roger Moore as Beau Maverick.

Moore only joined the show after James Garner walked out in a contract dispute years later so I viewed him as a supporting character, not a star.

A funny thing about the theme song for "Maverick." The chorus goes:

Riverboat ring your bell
Fare-thee-well, Annabelle,
Luck is the lady that he loves the best.
Natchez to New Orleans,
Living on jacks and queens
Maverick is the legend of the West.

I was a small child living in New York at the time and assumed that the fifth line referred to the neighborhoods I knew: Jackson [Heights] and Queens. For YEARS, I assumed the Maverick brothers originally came from New York.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Product Placement in Books

Yesterday's New York Times (NYT) and today's Publishers Weekly (PW) had articles on product placement in books.

By now, everyone is familiar with product placement on television and in movies. From the soda can that sits in front of Randy on "American Idol" to the cereal box in the breakfast scene of the latest movie, we all understand that companies pay to have their brand prominently displayed during scenes.

According to the NYT, "product placement in books is still relatively rare. The use of even the subtlest of sales pitches, particularly in a book aimed at adolescents, could raise questions about the vulnerability of the readers."

This issue is moving to the forefront of everyone's attention with the upcoming publication of "Cathy's Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233," which is due out in September. Cover Girl, a division of Procter & Gamble (P&G), has signed a marketing partnership with the publisher. While Cover Girl has not paid the authors, Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman, or the publisher, Running Press, for having their makeup mentioned in the book, they have agreed to promote the book on, the P&G website for adolescent girls.

Stewart and Weisman, the authors, have backgrounds in marketing and helped to create the promotional campaign for Steven Spielberg's movie, "Artificial Intelligence: A.I."

The new novel will have additional enhancements to enrich the reader's experience as Cathy tries to figure out why her boyfriend Victor has dumped her. Mr. Weisman created an "evidence pack" with photos, phone numbers, post-it notes and letters that will be included with the price of purchasing the book. In order to add to the interactive experience, readers can also call the phone numbers and access website addresses for more material.

The publisher told the NYT, "What we are selling here to the customer or the reader is an experience that transcends the book itself." In line with this, the authors refused the suggestion that they include references to P&G's feminine hygiene products. The authors are conscious of the delicate balancing act they are maintaining between entertainment and "crass" commercialism.

"Many popular young adult novels, of course, already spread references to brands throughout their pages in series like "The Gossip Girl" and "The A-List," although there are no actual product placement deals." (NYT)

Bob Arnold, the interactive marketing manager for, said that this was Cover Girl's first promotional relationship with an author or publisher. " will begin promoting the book in banner ads on the site in August . . . with links to cartoons drawn by Cathy's character." (NYT)

Booksellers are responding well to the idea of the extras like the "evidence pack" and the additional phone numbers/websites. The planned 30,000 initial print run has now been increased to more than 100,000.

Of the seven "feedback emails" on PW, four of the writers were violently opposed to the idea of product placement in books, while three either supported it or were less concerned by it.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Are Women's Reading Habits Changing?

Saturday's Wall Street Journal had an article that interested me for two reasons: (1) It discussed one of my favorite authors, Lee Child; and (2) It made assertions about the reading habits of women.

I've written about Lee Child before; most notably when his previous novel, One Shot, came out in October (see blog dated October 15, 2005). At that time, I said, "Child's hero, Jack Reacher, is a modern day Shane, the loner who rides into a troubled situation, utilizes his special skills to bring about resolution and leaves. Jack Reacher has replaced the spot in my heart once held by Robert Parker's Spenser."

Well, apparently I'm not the only woman who feels that way about Reacher. In the WSJ article, Jeffrey Trachtenberg says, "[D]espite his brutish ways, Reacher is doing something surprising: winning the hearts of many women readers. Of the 20,000 fans world-wide that have joined the Reacher Creatures fan club, an estimated 65% are female."

Then, the article loses me. Trachtenberg writes that booksellers "say the 9/11 terrorist attacks, coupled with the war in Iraq, have changed what women are willing to read."

I don't know about other women, but I've been reading Lee Child since his first book (The Killing Floor) came out in 1998. Before that, I read the Spenser novels and Andrew Vachss who, if anything, is more violent than Child. I also read female thriller writers--when I could find them. Carol O'Connell leaps to mind.

I do agree with Trachtenberg that women are more accepting today of violence in their books, television and movies. However, far from associating it with the aftermath of terrorism, I believe it is part of a much larger trend in women's fiction. I would describe that trend as women's fiction broadening to include all of the options available to women today.

Thirty years ago, fiction for women was pretty much limited to bodice-ripper romances and the "true" magazine. Today, women's fiction includes such diverse genres as erotic romance, inspirationals, paranormals, fantasies, mysteries and thrillers.

Today's woman has many more choices in her life: professionally and personally. Why should we be surprised if she demands the same range of choice in her reading material?

That same dynamic that has women buying more violent thrillers also has women buying erotic romances. Both describe action in specific, graphic terms rather than using euphemisms to gloss over plot events.

On the opposite end of the literary scale, we also find more women buying inspirational novels--those with less graphic language and violence. I find it interesting that these two polar opposites in genre fiction are gaining in popularity at the same time. I can't help but compare this dynamic to the recent press about the chasm between the red states and the blue states--between conservatives and liberals. Perhaps it's no accident that fiction trends are mirroring social trends.

At any rate, the WSJ article does make one stop to think.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Remember Sophie???

Back on April 7th here, I posted a blog called "Do You Know Sophie?"

I was talking about The Institute for the Future of the Book (IF:B). The IF:B website is here.

The Institute is a project of the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California and is based in Brooklyn, New York." The Institute is funded by two very large foundations: MacArthur and Mellon.

I explained that the Institute is working on its own vision of the future; a vision that it calls Sophie.

Sophie is no less than a plan to reinvent the book. Not satisfied with an electronic book that can be read on a computer screen, Sophie is a social engineering experiment as well. Recognizing the success of such websites as My Space, Sophie is an attempt to create documents that could live and breathe on the Internet and where readers could interact with each other and with the author.

Last week on June 5th here, the New York Times had an article called "Digital Publishing is Scrambling the Industry's Rules." As I read it, I thought of Sophie.

The article opens describing a book called Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski. During his editing process, Danielewski created a private forum on his website so that fans of his work could read and add suggestions online. When the book is published in September, those hundreds of margin notes will be included in the finished product.

Such interaction between a writer and readers would not have been possible a decade ago. Now the social networking possibilities related to reading a book seem limited only by the imagination's boundaries.

The Times says:

Hovering above the discussion of all these technologies is the fear that the publishing industry could be subject to the same upheaval that has plagued the music industry, where digitalization has started to displace the traditional artistic and economic model of the record album with 99-cent song downloads and personalized playlists. Total album sales are down 19 percent since 2001, while CD sales have dropped 16 percent during the same period, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Sales of single digital music tracks have jumped more than 1,700 percent in just two years.

Most writers and publishers live in fear that technology will rob them of revenue. Others, like thriller writer Lisa Scottoline, are learning to make the latest developments work for them. Scottoline provides the first chapters of each book on her website to tantalize readers.

Despite the doom and gloom of people like John Updike, who insist that technology will lead to the breaking up of books, others are not so fatalistic. Yochai Benkler, a Yale University law professor, believes that, "The service has to be sufficiently better and the moral culture needs to be one where, as an act of respect, when the price is reasonable, you pay." He believes low prices will still attract readers and that "without the costs of paper and physical book production, publishers could afford to give authors a higher cut of the sale price as royalties." (NYT)

Benkler's stance is, of course, what has been going on with e-books for some time. Writers working for e-publishers are making between 35% and 40% in royalties compared to the traditional 7% to 15% in print books.

IMHO, the most important thing to remember is that technology is never stopped by opposition. It may be slowed down or diverted, but only for a short time. Technology always wins out in the end. We as writers can choose to establish a new beachhead, or be swept away by the tides of change.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Mom, Do You Have a Minute to Look at This?

Somehow I'ved ended up belonging to an ridiculous number of writers' loops. On most of them, I lurk although there are one or two where I am more active.

Today I saw a post on a loop from a writer who was getting ready to query her first manuscript. She pointed out that everyone who had read it (her parents, siblings and friends) raved about it. I winced because I knew what was coming.

Sure enough, several writers responded, "Don't ever trust your loved ones to do a 'real' critique."

Funny, isn't it? The people you trust the most are the ones least able to provide an unbiased critique of your work.

I've come to think of this as a learning curve. Most writers start out being complimented for their creativity by their teachers in school. They then begin to write outside of school. For some, that's as far as it goes. They never find the courage to show what they've written to anyone else.

The more determined writers begin by sharing their work with the people in their lives--spouses, parents, friends. It's the rare loved one who can offer a helpful critique. Most want to encourage us and, therefore, say wonderful, non-judgmental things.

In order to make the leap to become a professional author, writers need to suck it up and submit their work to people who don't have a stake in the outcome. This is hard to do. I can still remember gathering copies of my chapter and carrying them to my first critique group--a roomful of complete strangers. It was terrifying.

The good news is that it gets easier with time. Gradually, you become more able to withstand criticism--your hide toughens--and you start looking for more detailed analyses of your work. That's when most of us find individual critique partners (CPs).

I've said it before and I'll say it again--nothing is more helpful than having a group of CPs whose judgment you trust and whose abilities you depend upon. I firmly believe that CPs make the difference in who succeeds as a writer and who does not. If nothing else, CPs get you ready to be professionally critiqued by an agent or an editor.

If you haven't done it yet, gather up your courage and find a critique group: at your library, at a bookstore, wherever. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A Prairie Home Snooze

Two of my favorite things came together today and conspired to put me in the way of a new experience--one that I'm in no rush to encounter again any time soon.

I am a long-time fan of National Public Radio (NPR). Since I work from home, the radio is frequently on during the day. I listen to Diane Rehm every morning at 9:00 and take my lunch break with Terry Gross of "Fresh Air." When I run errands on the weekends, I listen to "Car Talk," "This American Life" and "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on my headset.

I have also been blessed with a number of long-time friends--some of whom I've known since junior high. My friends are caring and supportive, and I try to return the favor whenever I can.

On Wednesday, a dear friend called and asked me to take the afternoon off today to go with her to see the new Altman film, "A Prairie Home Companion" (APHC). Even though I winced, I said yes because she is a dear friend. A quick look at the critics' rave reviews of the film weren't enough to ease my sense of dread.

Of all the programs on NPR, the one show that I absolutely, positively can't stand is "A Prairie Home Companion" (APHC). Garrison Keillor's slow drawl is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. All that folksy humor just makes my skin crawl. Whimsy doesn't usually give me hives, but there's something about that show that just screams "smug" to me.

Robert Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said of APHC: "What a lovely film this is, so gentle and whimsical, so simple and profound."

That alone should have been my first clue that things weren't going to go well.

The plot is simple and mirrors the radio program that has already celebrated over thirty years on the air. In the film, the radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion," which is broadcast live from the Fitzgerald Theatre, has been cancelled. The theatre has been sold to a conglomerate out of Texas and is going to be razed to build a parking lot.

I grinned when I heard that line because I like the classic Joni Mitchell song:

"Don't it always seem to go that you
Don't know what you've got till it's gone.
They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot."

Unfortunately, that was the last time I grinned for a while.

The show is an odd mix of the real APHC and Altman's fictional one. Keillor stars as the emcee GK. His real-life cast members are there along with a few of his fictional characters like PI Guy Noir and the Singing Cowboys, Dusty and Lefty. The latter three are played by Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly respectively. Meanwhile new characters are played by Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and Lindsay Lohan.

Most jarring is Virginia Madsen's appearance as The Angel of Death, come to take one of the cast members with her to Heaven after the last performance. This subplot is bizarre, and Madsen, a veteran actress, overacts like a beginner.

Another of my favorite actors, Tommy Lee Jones, was wasted as the Texas executive come to shut the theatre down. Like Madsen's Angel, his role never seemed to go anywhere.

Within minutes of the opening credits, it was unclear whether I would succumb first to a sugar overload from the film's saccharine sweetness, or drift off to sleep from sheer boredom.

Every time I turned around, Keillor was singing again. Maybe that was a treat for his diehard fans. For me, it was akin to Chinese water torture.

When Keillor wasn't singing, Streep and Tomlin, playing a pair of singing sisters, were yodeling.

Kevin Kline, as the bumbling, prideful PI, was a breath of fresh air. The only time I laughed out loud was when Dusty and Lefty, the Singing Cowboys, sang a bawdy, raunchy song toward the end of the movie. By then, I could see the end in sight and was beginning to entertain hope that there was life after this movie.

I will readily acknowledge that perhaps I'm too young to appreciate the music of APHC. Additionally, my antipathy for Garrison Keillor probably plays a part in this negative review. However, I will be watching the box office receipts for this film. No matter how well received by the critics it is, I cannot believe it will be a financial success.

P.S. While in bed last night, I read the review of the movie in the latest People magazine. The reviewer nailed it: "Fans of the real Prairie--that would be me--will enjoy the film; non-fans will likely be puzzled--is anything ever going to happen?--if not downright irked."

I wasn't puzzled, but I sure as hell was irked.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Author As Celebrity

Today's post is the result of a couple of articles that had me reflecting on the celebrity of authors.

The first article, a book review in the New York Times, was about a new unauthorized biography of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM).

Self-disclosure first: TKAM is one of my all-time favorite books. I've probably read it from cover-to-cover at least a dozen times over the years. I even blogged about Harper Lee back on March 11th.

Harper Lee has long fascinated readers everywhere. She was only 34 when TKAM was published in 1960. After participating in promoting both the book and the subsequent Oscar-winning film released in 1962, Lee withdrew from public view and has rarely been seen or heard from since. Although forty-six years have elapsed since the release of TKAM, Lee has never published a second book. The Times quotes her explaining to a cousin, “When you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go.”

Instead of spending the past five decades teaching and lecturing, Lee has maintained a dignified silence. She divides her time between Monroeville, Alabama (where she was born) and New York where she keeps an apartment.

In contrast, the Arizona Republic had an article this morning that says, "bookstores ‘are all dealing with the rise of the author as a celebrity and we are all dealing with these events [booksignings] getting bigger and bigger.’”
The Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, Arizona has been looking for a larger space, which will permit them to host signings. The business has begun charging as much as $35 per person for admission to signings “because of the growing demand for a scrawled signature by an author who may have to sign up to 1,000 books in one sitting.”

Cindy Dach, the events director for Changing Hands, explained: “We have only charged about half a dozen times, but it is going to increase because more celebrities are writing books, and more authors are getting movies made out of their books.”

The notion of the author as celebrity is a bit alien to me. While not wrong, it doesn’t sound quite right.

Access to books has always seemed such a democratic thing. As a child, I can remember my mother loading my younger brother and I up in a red wagon once a week and carting us two miles to our local library. We would fill the wagon with books and then the three of us would walk all the way home again. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we always had books. To expect readers today to pay to see their favorite authors seems flat out wrong.

On the other hand, I cannot imagine not writing either.

Of course, Lee may be writing and not submitting for publication, but that just seems sad. To love the printed word as much as she must to have written such a magnificent novel and to be afraid to share your gifts is like a bird refusing to fly for fear of heights.

That must be the flip side of celebrity: To be so fearful of looking foolish that you don't dare make a wrong move--or any move.

The problem is, when we don't step forward for fear of falling backward, we can't make any progress. So what if you look silly for a moment or two? Someone else will be along soon to take your place. Think of how strange the Wright Brothers must have looked to their neighbors that day on Kitty Hawk. But if they hadn't been brave enough to do what they did, we might not be able to traverse the air today.

Then, again, maybe I’m just being fanciful.

Just musing . . .

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Keep an Eye on the Upcoming Vanity Fair

I'm reporting on this item simply because I find it so interesting.

Both Publishers Weekly (PW) and Publishers Lunch (PL) issue a daily email to subscribers on weekdays, summarizing news in the industry. Late Tuesday afternoon, after their regular email had already gone out, PW issued a special "alert" on the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair magazine. Wednesday morning's PL also included an item on the forthcoming Vanity Fair.

What's all the fuss about? According to PW: "A cover story set to go on former Newsweek writer...Seth Mnookin called 'The Da Vinci Clone' reexamines the lawsuit writer Lewis Perdue filed in the U.S. claiming his 2000 novel, Daughter of God, was strikingly similar to The Da Vinci Code."

Huh? Didn't Perdue lose that case in New York last August? Wasn't that initial loss followed by a second loss in the Second U.S. Court of Appeals this April?

Let me be clear. I am NOT talking about the widely publicized case brought against The Da Vinci Code publisher Random House (RH) by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, who had claimed that Dan Brown stole the "architecture" of their non-fiction book. A judge in London ruled in favor of Random House in early April, 2006.

No, the Vanity Fair article refers to an earlier claim of infringement against Dan Brown by a fiction writer.

Back in 2004, the San Francisco Chronicle described a thriller: "[C]urators slump to the floor dead, and the hero and heroine elude secret brotherhoods and Vatican renegades across Europe to find a secret that will destroy Christianity. Da Vinci is mixed up in the plots, as is the idea that the early role of women in the church was suppressed."

The book the Chronicle was describing was not The Da Vinci Code written by Dan Brown and released in 2003 by Random House. The book was The Da Vinci Legacy written by Lewis Perdue and released in 1983 by Tor.

After The Da Vinci Code was published, thriller author Lewis Perdue contacted Random House, complaining of infringement. In an interesting preemptive strike, RH sued Perdue, asking a New York judge to issue a declaratory judgment against him. Perdue then turned around and counter-sued RH for $150 million in damages. As I mentioned earlier, Perdue lost his suit in August, 2005. Undeterred, he took the case to an appeals court where he was dealt a second blow in April, 2006, the same month RH won the non-fiction infringement case in a London court.

"Perdue's accusation against Brown is not a case of straightforward word-for-word borrowing," which meant that he had to prove "substantial similarity" between the two thrillers according to the SF Chronicle. Two U.S. Courts did not find the evidence to support his claim.

So, why are we revisiting this again? According to PW talking about the Vanity Fair article, "The most interesting and eyebrow-raising tidbit involves 'mysterious' e-mails Perdue received from someone called Ahamedd Saaddodeen. Perdue told Mnookin he thought the messages were being sent by Brown's wife (and chief researcher), Blythe."

Despite the fact that PL said "Count Me Baffled" about all the interest in the Mnookin article in Vanity Fair, they still devoted three paragraphs to the story.

Guess I'm going to have to read the article when it comes out.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A New Publishing Strategy

There was an article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that I found very interesting. The writer, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, has written on other publishing trends, which I've reported on here in the past.

The article talks about a popular thriller writer, James Swain, whose five previous novels have been issued in hardback. Mr. Swain agreed to a deal that would discourage many writers. His next two novels will be issued as $6.99 paperbacks, and they'll be released five weeks apart.

In an industry where readers are accustomed to a release-a-year by a popular author, Swain's latest deal represents a considerable change of tactics. "Some publishers are tweaking the formula further with a strategy that evokes the serialized 'pulp' publishing of decades past. They're commissioning two or more books at a time from an author and then releasing them within months of each other to get readers hooked. And they're publishing them as 'rack sized' paperbacks."

Trachtenberg says this strategy is aimed at "addictive" genres like mysteries where readers purchase books frequently. It's a great tactic for quickly building readership--especially for an author that the publisher believes has enormous potential. Ballantine released original trilogies in successive months by romantic suspense writer Mariah Stewart and fantasy writer Naomi Novik. The books include advertisements at the end, promoting the upcoming sequel and offering sample pages from the next book.

Ballantine was pleased to find that, with three books being issued in three months, bookstores offered prominent placement for all three months. The owner of a mystery bookstore in New York said that she has clients who read "as many as five books a week" and preferred the paperbacks. "It's about price and convenience." At the same time, when Ballantine offered cardboard displays of Swain's thrillers, the bookstores turned the offer down, not wanting to give up the space.

The "rack sized" paperbacks are the smaller versions popular in airports and on newstands where commuters shop.

Trachtenberg says, "Writers and their agents are wary of the format...
Writers typically earn a royalty rate of 7.5% on fancy paperbacks and 10% on rack-size paperbacks, compared with 15% of the retail price on each hardcover that is sold. In theory, writers can make up the difference by selling larger quantities."

Swain's quote puts the discussion into perspective: "The key is reaching readers. You need them to try you at least once. All the advertising in the world won't accomplish anything if a person won't pick the books up."

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Gift To You

Yesterday began the one-month countdown until the Capitol Steps perform one of their quarterly shows on public radio. Because they are so wonderful, I am going to tell you all about them now so that you can begin looking forward to the show, too.

According to their biography, the Capitol Steps began 25 years ago when a group of Senate staffers set out to satirize their employers. What began as an amusing way to entertain their friends turned into a professional troupe of thirty satirists and musicians who perform around the country and do four shows on public radio a year.

Their hallmark is to take an issue (political, social or just newsworthy), set it to music with a well-known song and let fly. They're equal opportunity offenders, going after both parties and all social strata with abandon.

Here's one of their ditties about Hillary Clinton (set to the tune of Frank Sinatra's "My Way"):

Hillary begins:

And now my time is here.
For Bill's career,
I was the right spouse.

My friends, one thing is clear.
If I should hope
To win the White House.

My past is not my own.
All hopes were blown
In such a "guy" way.

Still it's not fair.
If I declare,
He'll be in my way.

Bill chimes in with his own verse:

Well, I
Did things
I ought
Not have done

And am I sorry?
You bet.
Cause I got caught
When I said things
To that grand jury

Regrets, I have a few
Like leaving clues
The DNA way.
I stood tall,
I did 'em all
Don't care what they weighed.

Then they sing in chorus:

Hillary: Now all that's done,
Stick in a fork

Bill: I'm just the spouse
Of Miss New York.

And if I cross my Hillary
She'll treat me like a dog
You'll see.

Hillary: To keep him here,
To save my career
I'll see that he's spayed.

Visit their website ( to listen to an audio download, to buy an album or to check what station you can listen to their upcoming show on.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Why Horror--or Genre Fiction At All?

Today's New York Times had a book review by Terrence Rafferty. He prefaced his review of five horror novels with a discourse on the whole genre of horror.

Rafferty's premise is that "[M]ost right-thinking — i.e., literate, educated, professional-type — people consider horror fiction repulsive, juvenile or plain stupid . . . The emotion horror stories strive to evoke — fear — is one that civilized folks are inclined to think of as low, primitive, animal."

He goes on to say, horror is "pretty determinedly nonaspirational, which is perhaps why it appeals so strongly to teenagers, slackers and fatalists, and hardly at all to normal, functioning adults, who are busy keeping the more pressing everyday anxieties — disease, financial ruin, loss of love — at bay and who may fail to see the benefit of adding vampires and zombies and poltergeists to the list."

I've read and enjoyed horror novels since I discovered my first Edgar Allen Poe story when I was about eleven. I overheard my mother and father talking about movies that had scared them, and they mentioned "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and Poe. Of course, I was at the library the very next day looking for the book.

Since reading Rafferty's review, I've spent some minutes wondering why I like horror fiction so much. I've concluded that, when I was a child, it was a standard by which to measure what I could stand. My home could be a scary place when I was young. Horror fiction actually represented an escape--a place where I could wallow in fear without it actually being able to harm me. Each time I tolerated a scary book or movie without flinching, I felt better equipped to handle the scary things in my own life. Horror fiction provided a constructive outlet for me. Nowadays, of course, I'm like an adrenaline junkie. I've spent so many years reading the stuff, I need a periodic fix.

Having said that, I wonder whether the same thing applies to all genre fiction. I mean, when you pick up a romance novel, you can usually count on a HEA--happily ever after--ending. So, by extension, a romance novel--no matter what challenges the heroine faces--leaves you feeling optimistic about the outcome and, perhaps, about the world in general.

As for sci-fi, there aren't any guarantees. Sci-fi deals with possibilities, and the outcomes are never certain. You might say it appeals to the uncertainty in our lives, a generalized anxiety, which sometimes--but not always--progresses to out-and-out fear.

In addition, since there frequently is a "hidden truth" or "secret knowledge" possessed by a select few insiders in sci-fic, perhaps the genre also appeals to the conspiracy theorists (read here: the paranoid) among us.

By extension, mysteries appeal to control freaks (including me). Mysteries offer the promise that--with enough information--you can make sense of your world and neatly solve all the problems facing you. When finished, if you figured the mystery out before its end, you can lay the book down and walk away feeling empowered and proud of yourself.

Since I'm on a roll, let's tackle literary fiction next. Using the same rationale I've based the rest of this post on, literary fiction is an emotional grab bag. You never know what emotions a literary novel will evoke: sadness, inspiration, grief, joy. It's a literary crapshoot.

So maybe, instead of thinking of those who read literary fiction as intellectuals, we need to begin thinking of them as more emotionally adventurous, more willing to take chances on a novel that may not satisfy their immediate emotional needs.

Just musing . . .

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Pitfalls Facing Newbie Writers, Part IV

Today we continue our series of the most common craft errors newbie writers make. Again, this is not the first place you'll see these errors mentioned. They are the mistakes that critique groups and writing instructors point out again and again.

1) Traveling Body Parts--You find this mistake when a writer "separates" a body part from the body proper. For example, "Her eyes traveled up the long length of him." Can't you just picture those detached pupils scurrying along on little legs?

What the writer meant to say, of course, was, "Her gaze traveled up the long length of him." Do NOT fall into the traveling body parts habit. Once established, it is a very hard habit to break.

2) Incorrect use of "as"--The word "as" is for comparisons. It does NOT represent simultaneous action. Newbie writers frequently use the word "as" when they should be using "when," "while," or "then."

Example: As they watched television, he petted her cat.

What the writer really meant to say was: While they watched television, he petted her cat.

3) Do not separate your subject and your verb with a comma--This mistake happens because writers get confused about the rule regarding the use of commas to separate two independent clauses that are joined by a coordinating conjunction such as "and", "but," and "or."

Newbie writers read this rule to mean that every "and" needs a comma in front of it. That is NOT the case. Notice I bolded the words "two independent clauses." An independent clause is one that has a subject and a verb. Because of this, it can stand on its own.


He was in his mid-forties, and he wore glasses. This is an example where you would put a comma between the two clauses because they are independent; they can stand alone. He was in his mid-forties is a sentence in itself. So is he wore glasses. Each has a subject and a verb.

She braked for a light and turned to look at him with reproach. This is a sentence where you would NOT put a comma in front of the "and." She braked for a light is an independent clause, meaning it can stand on its own. However, look at what happens when you separate the second half of the sentence: turned to look at him with reproach. There is no subject. This is NOT an independent clause. The subject in the second half of the sentence is the "she" at the beginning of the sentence. By putting a comma before "and," you are separating your subject from your verb: In effect, it becomes She, turned to look at him with reproach.

If the two halves of the sentence cannot stand alone, do not put a comma between them.

Happy Writing.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Upcoming World eBook Fair

My original plan was to post another in the series of "Pitfalls Facing Newbie Writers" today, but the latest edition of Publishers Lunch (PL) changed my mind. We'll return to the pitfalls tomorrow.

There was a piece in PL about Project Gutenberg's ambitious initiative scheduled for next month. Called the World eBook Fair, it proposes to put as many as 300,000 books online for free download. The books will be available for a one-month period from July 4 to August 4 at

According to today's Boston Globe, "The catalog of available works will include fiction, nonfiction, and reference books, mostly those that are no longer protected by copyright." Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, says, "'It will include the oldest books in the world, including every author you have heard of in your life, other than current ones'... The fair also will offer classical music files, both scores and recordings, as well as films." (Boston Globe)

You'll recall that Project Gutenberg is the oldest digital library. It was founded in 1971 and is manned by volunteers who type, digitize and archive works that are in the public domain. In 35 years of operation, they have assembled 18,000 items.

Michael Hart, has said that, "The mission of Project Gutenberg is simple: 'To encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.'" (Wikipedia) The World eBook Fair is in line with that initiative.

While the 2006 goal is 300,000 books, future years are more ambitious:

2007 500,000 ebooks
2008 750,000 ebooks
2009 1,000,000 ebooks

For the World eBook Fair, more than 100 e-book libraries are donating books for download during the month of July. Among these is the World ebook Library (, which normally charges $8.95 a year for access to its library of over 250,000 ebooks.

Mark your calendars for July 4th.