Saturday, January 07, 2012

Pick Me, Pick Me!

Three more days until the end of the Preditors & Editors annual poll for the best of the best -- or at least the best of who knows about the site and nominates themselves or someone else's books, stories, articles, art work, and all things publishing online. What it really comes down to is popularity contest and often whether a book, article, etc. is good or not is secondary to who knows the most people.

All over the net where I spend most of my time writers, editors, publishers, and the industry people are hawking their wares and begging for votes. There is no blind judging panel sequestered in their cubicles or homes reading, making notes, and employing their hard won skills and literary acumen to decide the fate of the finalists. It's just like high school when the in-crowd and the popular people cozy up to the fringe sector to woo votes and influence the final outcome. Does that make the Preditors & Editors awards less useful or less worthy? No.

The award does garner attention for the independent (indie) authors, editors, publishers, and artists who spend the rest of the year working hard to produce books, magazines, articles, etc. that rival the slick print and traditionally published versions, and often surpass them, because it is a labor of love. Why shouldn't they be allowed to call on all their friends and fans to nominate and vote for them when in the end it's all about the fans and friends who buy their work?

While the awards may not have quite the clout or the sheen that a Pulitzer, National Book, or high profile prizes do, any award is proof that what the artist and writer have produced is notable.

Am I entered?

You bet, and you can wander on over, if you've a mind to, and vote for me for my novel Among Women. After all, I've used up all the oomph I gained from the awards I won as teenager and young adult. I need all the oomph I can get.

Vote and tell your friends. I'd like to be the most popular for a change instead of the most useful. 

Friday, January 06, 2012

The Path of Adaptation

People talk about reinventing themselves, making themselves over, but reinvention is what life is all about, and the journey from infant to adult to senior citizen is all part of the process.

A newborn infant grows and gets stronger, changing from immobile to mobile, but only in the sense of being able to crawl, walk, run, and race. Each milestone is a reinvention of the previous state, a constant state of flux until reaching a plateau from which more milestones are reached. Preschooler becomes a child going to school, learning, changing, embracing the lessons learned and new goals are chosen, or at least aimed for, as new paths open up. Elementary schoolers become middle schoolers (junior high schoolers in my day) and then high schoolers. Some high schoolers go to trade school, junior college, and university, and some go directly into the working world, reinventing themselves every step of the way. Some paths work out better than others and there are opportunities to switch paths -- or horses -- to find what works better or is forced upon us by circumstance or situation.

As a child, my dream was to go to college (university in European parlance) and become a writer and Supreme Court Justice. I didn't make it since my mother felt that their college dollars should go to my brother, the male heir, since he would have a family to support. He is five years younger and was six years behind me in school. By the time I had graduated with a degree, he would still not have been ready to go to college, and I would have been invested in my new career and making enough money I could help. That wasn't part of my mother's vision and thus not part of the deal, so I changed course, or rather it was changed by my choices.

I was my parents' child and then became someone's wife. I had been reinvented from college-bound student to wife and, soon after, someone's mother. I was also a military wife and that was another path that converged with the wife and mother path. Two more children followed and then came divorce. I was reinvented as single mother with children working two jobs and I had to adapt again. Children moved away and I was reinvented as divorced female moving into middle-age, single and alone, but at last following a part of the path I'd dreamed of long ago. I was still divorced, still living alone, still working, but the hours not working at a day job were filled with reading and writing. I wasn't going to be a Supreme Court Justice, but I was going to be a writer.

As a writer I have reinvented myself several times. I moved from freelance to stringer for newspapers to freelance writing for magazines to PR and writing newsletters for businesses and associations and writing a novel part-time. I have since reinvented myself as novelist and blogger and continue to adapt to a changing environment, hoping one day to be reinvented as award-winning, self-supporting, well known author selling millions of books. Choices and the changing industry may change my plans, or disrupt them entirely, but I continue to adapt.

Adaptation is another word for reinvention, or repurposing in the modern PC parlance. Basically, it all comes down to finding a way to fit in and finding a niche that suits for a day, a week, or a lifetime. Some people move from child to adult to marriage, children, and old age together and some people never get beyond having arrived in adulthood still clinging to their childhood. Men are good at that; just look at the size and price of their toys. Substitute 'adapt' for 'reinvent' and it's the same thing.

I have adapted many times, being a military wife moving from base to base and state to state (sometimes even from country to country) makes it easy for me to fit into life's currents and swim, sometimes even to surf, snorkel, dive, and hydroplane. I've had many different jobs, starting off in sales and moving to cashier and then to keypunch and data processing and IT. Those skills allowed me to reinvent/adapt to become a transcriptionist and then a medical transcriptionist to keep the lights and phone on and a roof over my head to keep the rain, snow, sleet, and wind off the food, but I have remained always a writer, and sometimes an artist. I've managed offices and businesses and been a worker bee buzzing about someone else's hive. I've always adapted to reinvent myself again and again in an ever changing environment, hitting the ground running with very few stumbles. I am the same child born over fifty years ago and I am the new and improved, although somewhat battered and scarred, me that will continue on whatever life throws at me, adapting and reinventing myself as I go. Where I will end up even I don't know, yet it has been and continues to be a rollercoaster ride with surprised around every bend.


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Skimming the Cream

Yesterday, I received a newsletter from Powell's Books to choose the best of 2011. There's a lot of that going around -- choosing the best of the previous year now that we are firmly ensconced in the new year. I decided to play along. After all, $250 in books is going to save me at least $250 in books that I will buy this year, or more accurately, this quarter (and sometimes this month).

I briefly flirted with choosing The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, which would be a first for me since I seldom choose literary novels as my favorites, but there I was flirting. Then it dawned on me which was the best book I had read last year (always excepting my own Among Women, which I thought was a very good and notable book, but I would since I wrote it). The best book was The Help by Kathryn Stockett for its humor, social themes, writing, and mostly for its characters. I absolutely adore Minny's smart mouth and Aibilene's common sense and courage. Skeeter reminded me of me, ever on the fringe of the right people and the right causes but discontented with that place and questioning everything and everyone.

In the end, it's all subjective and my favorites might have been different had I read more books or read different books. I read a lot of good books, but very seldom stellar books like Barnes's and Stockett's, books that engage and surprise me, but most of all entertain me and enrich my life, and Barnes's book was barely a novella.

What I look for in other authors' books is the same thing I look for when writing my own -- integrity and courage. The themes and plots aren't as important  except as they bring the story together, as being true to the characters, setting, and heart of the novel. I can find that in any genre or literary novel and good writing is good writing whether it's for young adult fiction or adult fiction. Just give me something true and honest; just give me integrity.

Maybe that is what has stalled my own writing of late, lack of integrity. No, that's not it. What has stalled me is disappointment. I thought my book would be more widely read and people would talk about what I created, but no. Just no. If people are talking, they're not talking to me or anywhere else I can find outside the core of fans and good people (writers really) who keep touting my book, and that's one of the hardest pills to swallow in writing.

It takes some screenwriter or director optioning a book they've read or creating a show based on a book to get the masses interested. Take George R. R. Martin, for example. He wrote a marvelous series of books that are amazing in its breadth and scope, unforgettable characters, and themes that resonate in all parts of the world, yet it wasn't until HBO decided to make Game of Thrones that readers sat up and took notice. The geek world had been on fire as Martin created his series and waited a bit impatiently for each new piece of the Westeros puzzle, but The Song of Ice and Fire series didn't take off until HBO's version of the show. The same thing happened for The Help where people sat up and took notice when the movie was announced and released. Barnes's The Sense of an Ending didn't need to be made into a movie since it won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for fiction -- literary fiction, no others need apply.

The problem is that most people are followers and they look for the leaders to tell them where to go and what to read or watch, or watch and read. The authors keep plugging away at their day jobs, unless they already have created a following by writing tome upon tome like Martin, and I get that. I don't want to wait for some bright screenwriter or director or producer to decide that my book is ready for its closeup so the masses will see what they are supposed to watch and then read. I haven't made enough of a name for myself yet, and I'm getting impatient with being disappointed. I also don't want to work for someone else when I could be writing more books and getting paid for the writing alone, be able to live on my writing alone without the help of a regular 2 pm to 8:30 pm job. I want my closeup now.

While I wait, I read and read about 80 books last year, give or take a couple, and it may have been more. I read and review a lot of books, and the best book I read last year was Kathryn Stockett's The Help. I also watched the movie and it was very good and, for once, stuck to the book and didn't change the ending or combine characters or anything else that Hollywood usually does to jazz up the material. The Help stood all on its own.

If you're interested in weighing in on your favorite book of 2011, go to Powell's and cast your vote. If not, check out  Julian Barnes, Kathryn Stockett, and George R. R. Martin and then check out writers you've never read and your favorites, your literary comfort food, in whatever format is your favorite. The best advice I can give you for 2012 is read, read a lot.

Although 2012 is just beginning, it too will end and you'll have a chance to choose your favorite at the end of this year, but only if you read. Good luck and good reading.