Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

Top Ten 2013 Reading Goals

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

I do have some goals for reading this year:

  1. Read 52 books. That was also my goal last year, but I felt short by about half.
  2. Read at least Game of Thrones in the Song of Ice and Fire series.
  3. Read at least The Pillars of the Earth in whatever that series is called. I Googled it, but did not find an answer. Maybe I didn’t Google hard enough.
  4. Read at least two books set in France. If I can’t go there in person…
  5. Take advantage of free books. I need to use my school library, public library, Kindle book lending, Overdrive, PaperBackSwap, and NetGalley more.
  6. Read at least ten books in my back catalog of to-read books. Including some books I had to have that are still untouched on my shelf several years later.
  7. Complete the reading challenges I joined (and participate more actively on the challenge websites with comments and reviews).
  8. Figure out a way to listen to audio books now that I’m not commuting.
  9. Finish Les Misérables on DailyLit.
  10. Make more time for reading.

Do you have any reading resolutions?

Related posts:

Our Books

Moving Books

Our Books

We (finally) received our belongings after two weeks of waiting. A word to the wise: Never use Summit Van Lines. The estimate was well below the final cost, and while I understand an estimate is an estimate, I think it should be close to the cost. They were hard to communicate with. Sometimes it took multiple tries to reach them. Our goods were only delivered after I complained. Finally, our boxes were all crushed, and I attribute the fact that nothing (so far—still unpacking) was broken to the fact that I packed the breakables myself. Had they done it, I’m sure it would have been broken. They also tried to charge us for having stairs, but their boilerplate specifically says there is no charge for stairs, so we put our feet down.

One of our movers asked us why we had so many books.

As if that’s weird or something.

We have more book boxes than anything else. Steve took the picture above of our book boxes. We haven’t unpacked them yet because we have a plan for organizing them, and I imagine they’ll be the last things we unpack. So far we have the kitchen and bathroom done, and we are making serious headway on the master bedroom.

I went to San Diego for an educational technology conference with my new colleagues at Worcester Academy, and I won a [amazon asin=B0051VVOB2&text=Kindle Fire]! I am trying to figure out how I will best use it. I like the idea of putting mainly books with color images on it, or perhaps using it for periodicals. I want to share it with family, but I’m also concerned that will be hard because one or the other of us might be using it for a book and not want to hand it over. Anyone try to share a Kindle? Did it work? If you have a Kindle Fire, how do you use it? What do you like about it?

Related posts:

Divergent, Veronica Roth

[amazon_image id=”0062024027″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Divergent[/amazon_image]Veronica Roth’s novel [amazon_link id=”0062024027″ target=”_blank” ]Divergent[/amazon_link] is the story of Beatrice Prior, who lives in a future dystopic Chicago. After a cataclysmic war that Beatrice, the first-person narrator of the story, doesn’t know much about, Chicago divided into five factions: Abnegation, who believe that the cause of war is selfishness and seek to be as selfless as possible; Dauntless, who believe the cause of war is cowardice and seek to be as brave as possible; Erudite, who believe the cause of war is ignorance and seek knowledge; Candor, who believe the cause of war is deception and seek to be as honest as possible; and Amity, who believe the cause of war is unkindness and seek to be as kind as possible. At the age of sixteen, each member of this society takes an aptitude test that partly determines which faction they will join. Some people are best suited for the faction into which they are born, but those who are not leave their families behind because in this society, faction comes before family. Beatrice has always felt out of place in Abnegation. She doesn’t feel selfless enough. When she takes her aptitude test, the results are inconclusive, and her test administrator explains that she is something called “Divergent,” which is a very dangerous thing to be, though Beatrice doesn’t know why. All she knows is that she must keep her test results quiet. The day after the aptitude test, Beatrice must choose which faction she will join, and she shocks everyone by choosing Dauntless.

After joining Dauntless, Tris, as she is known, undergoes a tough initiation that hardens her mentally and physically and prepares her for her role in the faction that protects the society. Even in this competitive environment, she manages to make friends and develops an attraction to Four, her instructor. As she becomes more deeply involved in her initiation, she discovers something is not right about her society, which is perhaps not as invested in peace as she has grown up believing.

Fans of Suzanne Collins’s [amazon_link id=”0545265355″ target=”_blank” ]Hunger Games[/amazon_link] series will find much to like in Divergent, the first book of a planned trilogy. Tris is a tough-as-nails heroine not too different from Katniss, though with perhaps a little less confidence. Four is an interesting counterpart and love interest, too (more interesting than Peeta or Gale, in my opinion). The craziness of the Dauntless initiation will remind some of the Hunger Games, and certainly the dystopic future set in a world where people divided based on some arbitrary factor will look familiar, but the factions are more interesting than the districts of Panem. Your station in life in Panem depends so much on which district you are born into, and it seems fairly difficult to change your stars in Collins’s series, but choices determine everything about who you are in Roth’s dystopic Chicago, which I liked because it puts more responsibility into the hands of everyone. Rather than a ruthless Capitol victimizing everyone, Roth writes about a society in which everyone is responsible, to some degree, for the way things are, and are also ignorant of some facets of the society. I haven’t seen a lot of people compare this novel to [amazon_link id=”0547424779″ target=”_blank” ]The Giver[/amazon_link], but I thought of that book often as I read. In Lois Lowry’s novel, the society seems perfect, but Jonas discovers that they systematically execute those who are weak or ill or old. Feelings are suppressed. No one can see color. The weight of discovering what his society is drives him to escape, an event which might destroy his society, given that he has been chosen to the the society’s Receiver. I suspect something similar will happen with Tris. I can’t help but feel she’ll upend the whole society. Unlike Katniss, who knows her society is corrupt and unfair, both Jonas and Tris discover the darkness in their society when they both come of age and choose their role or have it chosen for them.

Divergent is a gripping, edge-of-your-seat read. I read it on the bus, which was a mistake because it nearly caused me to miss my stop several times and actually did cause me to miss my stop once. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, [amazon_link id=”0062024043″ target=”_blank” ]Insurgent[/amazon_link], which is due out in May. The book leaves open several questions that I hope I learn the answers to before the end of the trilogy:

  • How did the society get like this? Lake Michigan is nothing more than a marsh. I want to know how that happened.
  • What is going on outside of Chicago? Are they the only people in the world, or just cut off from everywhere else?
  • If there are other people, do they have factions too, or is that just Chicago? If it’s just Chicago, what the heck is going on there?

I have other questions, but they’re a little spoilery.

I love dystopian novels. So much fun to read, and with the success of The Hunger Games, it looks like we’ve been seeing a lot of them lately.

I was glad I recently visited Chicago as it helped me visualize the scene much better than if I hadn’t, but I suspect Google Images and a good map would be nearly as helpful.

Oh, and I’m totally jealous of Veronica Roth, who wrote this debut novel when she was only 22 and studying creative writing at Northwestern.

Rating: ★★★★★

Other reviews of Divergent:

This one’s been on my TBR pile for a little while and qualifies as the children’s/YA choice for the Mixing it Up Challenge. Actually, it qualifies for sci-fi/fantasy, but I can’t double-dip.

 

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Sunday Salon—October 9, 2011

Apple mug

Since I write mainly about books over here, I haven’t had much occasion to discuss what a huge Apple fan I am. I write this on my MacBook, which I use to write almost all of my posts. Steve Jobs was a creative genius and a brilliant leader. Believe it or not, I’m beginning to see posts to the effect that we shouldn’t be sad, or that the outpouring of grief over Jobs’s death is inappropriate. To those folks, I say, don’t tell others when and how to grieve. That is unseemly. If you are so inclined, you can read my post at my education blog, where I talk about technology much more often. I am not ashamed to admit that I did cry a little. I know I didn’t know Steve Jobs, but I think, like a lot of people, that I felt like I knew him at least a little.

In any event, I think Jobs was poised to change the world of reading as much as he did music. I think the Kindle is still quite a strong competitor for the iPad, particularly as the Kindle Fire recently released is much cheaper than the iPad. However, I think mostly readers will purchase the Kindle Fire, whereas the iPad has appealed to people who are looking for a tablet computer. I could be way off in that prediction. Without the iPad, I don’t think we’d ever have seen the Kindle Fire. We may also be able to blame the iPad for the boom in popularity of e-books. The Kindle came out earlier, and the Nook may have also (I’d have to check that date), but the iPad ushered in a great deal of interest in e-books.

[amazon_image id=”B0037KN05C” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignright”]Jane Austen: The Complete Collection (With Active Table of Contents)[/amazon_image]A colleague actually asked me last week if I ever read paper books. I don’t know when owning a Kindle became this all or nothing proposition, that it means I don’t read paper books. Sometimes, I actually prefer them. It depends on the book. Certainly if I have any notion I might have the book signed, I will buy a paper book. And sometimes, the paper version is a better value. On the other hand, I just bought a Kindle version of all of [amazon_link id=”B0037KN05C” target=”_blank” ]Jane Austen’s works[/amazon_link], including all six complete novels, The Watsons, Sanditon, and Lady Susan, and selected letters and juvenilia. For 99¢. I’d never be able to buy a paper copy of all of that writing for 99¢.

It has occurred to me before that it would be smart to grab a public domain book, compose notes or an introduction, and format it in Scrivener for the Kindle Store and sell it for 99¢. I have had friends who have done this, and it’s such a smart idea. I think you need to add some functionality, such as a working table of contents or annotations, to make it worth the buyer’s while because so many of those books are available for free. Of course, the free versions are often not well formatted and have no working table of contents.

Speaking of Jane Austen, I have been spending quite a lot of time this week curled up with [amazon_link id=”9626343613″ target=”_blank” ]Sense And Sensibility[/amazon_link] this week. Juliet Stevenson is a fabulous reader. Have you heard that quite a few actors are lending their voices to new audio books? Including our favorite Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth. He’s not on this list, but I can only find one audio book read by Alan Rickman: [amazon_link id=”1572705701″ target=”_blank” ]The Return of the Native[/amazon_link] by Thomas Hardy. I tried to read that book, and I never got far. If Alan Rickman read it to me, I just might finish it. Heck. I have four Audible credits. I ought to give in and just get it.

I am rereading Sense And Sensibility for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge, but I am having a little trouble deciding which other book to read for the challenge. If you have an opinion on either of this books, feel free to vote in the poll.

[amazon_image id=”0385340869″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Cookbook Collector: A Novel[/amazon_image] [amazon_link id=”0385340869″ target=”_blank” ]The Cookbook Collector[/amazon_link] by Allegra Goodman. Emily and Jessamine Bach are opposites in every way: Twenty-eight-year-old Emily is the CEO of Veritech, twenty-three-year-old Jess is an environmental activist and graduate student in philosophy. Pragmatic Emily is making a fortune in Silicon Valley, romantic Jess works in an antiquarian bookstore. Emily is rational and driven, while Jess is dreamy and whimsical. Emily’s boyfriend, Jonathan, is fantastically successful. Jess’s boyfriends, not so much—as her employer George points out in what he hopes is a completely disinterested way.

Bicoastal, surprising, rich in ideas and characters, The Cookbook Collector is a novel about getting and spending, and about the substitutions we make when we can’t find what we’re looking for: reading cookbooks instead of cooking, speculating instead of creating, collecting instead of living. But above all it is about holding on to what is real in a virtual world: love that stays.

[amazon_image id=”140222267X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Willoughby’s Return: A tale of almost irresistible temptation[/amazon_image] [amazon_link id=”140222267X” target=”_blank” ]Willoughby’s Return[/amazon_link] by Jane Odiwe. A lost love returns, rekindling forgotten passions… In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, when Marianne Dashwood marries Colonel Brandon, she puts her heartbreak over dashing scoundrel John Willoughby in the past.

Three years later, Willoughby’s return throws Marianne into a tizzy of painful memories and exquisite feelings of uncertainty. Willoughby is as charming, as roguish, and as much in love with her as ever. And the timing couldn’t be worse—with Colonel Brandon away and Willoughby determined to win her back, will Marianne find the strength to save her marriage, or will the temptation of a previous love be too powerful to resist?

[amazon_image id=”1402253893″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Expectations of Happiness[/amazon_image] [amazon_link id=”1402253893″ target=”_blank” ]Expectations of Happiness[/amazon_link] by Rebecca Ann Collins. International bestselling author of the Pemberley Chronicles series explores the beloved characters of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Acclaimed for historical accuracy and emulation of Jane Austen’s voice as well as the depth of her depictions of the complex and evolving society of the day—especially what life was like for women—Collins imagines three sisters dealing with what happens when a spirited girl grows into a scandal-prone young lady who defies society’s rules and must then pay the consequences.

So which one do you think? I already own the first, but it doesn’t have high reviews on Amazon (hence my indecisiveness). Its reviews on Goodreads are about par for the course on that site.

Which Sense and Sensibility spin-off should I read?

  • Willoughby's Return, by Jane Odiwe (100%, 2 Votes)
  • The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Expectations of Happiness, by Rebecca Ann Collins (0%, 0 Votes)
  • I have another suggestion for you (please leave a comment) (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 2

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I hope you are curling up with a good book and a warm beverage on this fine fall Sunday. Happy reading!

The Sunday Salon

photo credit: re-ality

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Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Trends I’d Like to See More/Less Of

Top Ten Tuesday

More, Please!

  1. Supporting indie bookstores. I don’t have a good one nearby, but if I did, I’d be there all the time. We used to have a really cute one called Coffee Buy the Book, but they closed (not shocking, but sad). Very cute little store, and really convenient to my house. There is an awfully cute one in Decatur called Little Shop of Stories, but dang, that’s far away clear on the other side of all that Atlanta traffic. Sigh. We always go when we hit the Decatur Book Festival, though.
  2. Great book blogs. The more the merrier! I love reading about other people reading.
  3. Including book bloggers and Goodreads members in ARC’s, galleys, and free books like other reviewers. I love to read, and I review every book I read. Sometimes it’s nice to get a free book. It doesn’t influence my reviews, but it does ease the strain on my pocketbook.
  4. Witches. I love books about witches. Keep writing them, writers! Witches are so cool, whether they are witches with real powers or just misunderstood women accused of witchcraft in historical fiction. You know, Salem was kind of kitschy with the witches, but I would totally live there if it were feasible. I loved it.
  5. Pottermore! It’s fun to once again be waiting on tenterhooks for new stuff from Jo! I scored an early registration. Have you tried to get one yet? I think you have four more chances!

No, Thanks!

  1. Vampires with no fangs. Vegetarian vampires? Really? I don’t mind scary vampires who actually suck blood and might be dangerous. But vampires would wouldn’t hurt a person because they suck animal blood? Meh. That’s weak. I understand it. You don’t want your hero to be evil. But sucking blood is evil! Make it a plot point, like Lestat and Louis, who wrestle with their consciences about being vampires (a little bit—Louis, more than Lestat).
  2. Harry Potter fanfic pr0n. Don’t get it, never will. Slash or straight or whatever, it’s not right, especially when students are paired with teachers.
  3. Overpriced Kindle books. Kindle books used to be reliably cheaper than paper books. Now publishers are driving up the prices. Having manufactured a Kindle book myself, I can tell you it involves almost no cost. I am all for supporting the authors, but somehow I don’t think they’re the ones profiting from the high cost of Kindle books.
  4. Amazon hate. I understand it. I think I know where it’s coming from. I know folks blame stores like Amazon for Borders closing (Borders made several mistakes that contributed). I know supporting independent stores or even chain brick-and-mortar stores is good. I would do more of it if I had one nearby, but I have to drive quite a ways to reach one, and I live in the suburbs of a large metropolitan area. If brick-and-mortar stores could offer me the same services as Amazon, I might be a more frequent customer. Amazon, however, offers me free shipping (most of the time), allows me to download books instantly on my Kindle, replaced my Kindle with no questions asked when I broke it, and gives me a small commission in gift certificates as an Amazon Associate (which helps me support my book habit). They have been good to me, and I’ve been doing business with them for about thirteen years or so.
  5. Book banning and censoring. You heard that Wesley Scroggins managed to have Kurt Vonnegut’s [amazon_link id=”0385333846″ target=”_blank” ]Slaughterhouse Five[/amazon_link] and Sarah Ockler’s [amazon_link id=”0316051586″ target=”_blank” ]Twenty Boy Summer[/amazon_link] removed from school curricula and libraries in Republic, Missouri, right? He is far from alone. I absolutely support a parent’s right to make decisions about what his/her own children read, but that parent has no right to tell me what my kids can read. Teachers always, always, always provide alternatives to individual students who cannot read a book either due to parental objections or their own. As Vonnegut himself said about censorship:

    And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

    So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

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WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays—July 27, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading Susanna Kearsley’s [amazon_link id=”1402241372″ target=”_blank” ]The Winter Sea[/amazon_link]. I am close to half way finished with it. Incidentally, there is a really good deal on the [amazon_link id=”B004DCB32K” target=”_blank” ]Kindle version[/amazon_link] of this book right now. I was glad I happened upon that sale price because I had wanted to read this book for a while, but I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to get it at its full price (either on Kindle or paperback).

I recently finished reading [amazon_link id=”B000BLNPIW” target=”_blank” ]More Than You Know[/amazon_link] by Beth Gutcheon, which was OK, but did not light my fire (review).

I am not sure what I am going to read next. Last week, I said it would be Tracy Chevalier’s [amazon_link id=”0452289076″ target=”_blank” ]Burning Bright[/amazon_link], but that was before the Kindle book deal I snagged on The Winter Sea. I may still go ahead and read it next, or I may read [amazon_link id=”0312304358″ target=”_blank” ]Moloka’i[/amazon_link] by Alan Brennert, [amazon_link id=”0152053107″ target=”_blank” ]A Northern Light[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly,  [amazon_link id=”0060791586″ target=”_blank” ]The Widow’s War[/amazon_link] by Sally Gunning, or [amazon_link id=”0679781587″ target=”_blank” ]Memoirs of a Geisha[/amazon_link] by Arther Golden, all of which I received in the mail this week via PaperBackSwap. Lots of good books to choose from! But do you know what book I’m dying to read? [amazon_link id=”0312558171″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Tom Dooley[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb. Alas, it doesn’t come out until around the end of August. She had such a smart idea, creating novels out of those old Appalachian murder ballads. (I love murder ballads, by the way. I made a murder ballad playlist on Spotify, which you can listen to if you have Spotify.)

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Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—July 18, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks

What is the last book you struggled to read through to the end, even though you weren’t really enjoying it? What made you keep reading?

The last book I had to force myself to finish was Dexter Palmer’s [amazon_link id=”B003A7I2PU” target=”_blank” ]The Dream of Perpetual Motion[/amazon_link] (review). I think the review covers why I didn’t like it, but the reason I slogged through it anyway, even though I wasn’t enjoying it was that I had purchased it on my [amazon_link id=”B002Y27P3M” target=”_blank” ]Kindle[/amazon_link]. I bought it a long time ago, and I am not sure if you can/how to return books you don’t like. The positive side of reading paper books instead of e-books is that if you don’t like them, it’s very easy to unload them. You can donate them, trade them at used bookstores or PaperBackSwap, or give them to someone else who you think might like them. With Kindle books, it’s a little harder to unload them. You can delete them, but there is no way to get any satisfaction, either of feeling like you handed it to someone who might enjoy it or to get books in return.

I read the book because I paid for the book, and I had been telling myself I wanted to read it and would probably like it for a year. I can tell you, I will be less hesitant to take a chance on books on my Kindle in the future. I will probably only buy Kindle books I am reasonably certain I will enjoy, and I certainly won’t try a new genre. This was my first steampunk book, and while I am still willing to give the genre another try, it wasn’t a great introduction to steampunk (at least not for me). I am usually pretty good about putting aside books I am not enjoying, but this time, I slogged through because I didn’t want to feel I had completely wasted my money (one could argue I wasted my money and my time in the end).

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Booking Through Thursday: Interactive?

Numerique - papier - un texte est un texte

I detect a bias in the way this week’s Booking Through Thursday question was asked:

With the advent (and growing popularity) of ebooks, I’m seeing more and more articles about how much “better” they can be, because they have the option to be interactive … videos, music, glossaries … all sorts of little extra goodies to help “enhance” your reading experience, rather like listening to the Director’s commentary on a DVD of your favorite movie.

How do you feel about that possibility? Does it excite you in a cutting-edge kind of way? Or does it chill you to the bone because that’s not what reading is ABOUT?

I know that there is a dedicated group of readers who seem to be anti-ebook and are worried about the direction reading is going in. I am not among their membership. I think ebooks are great. I think the possibilities for books are opening up. Who knows what ways we might be able to interact with them? I have an app on my iPhone that is a version of “The Three Little Pigs” (iTunes link) illustrated and read by a six-year-old boy in Texas. I also have another app based on “The Velveteen Rabbit,” (iTunes link) one of my favorite stories as a child because oh! I wanted my toys to become real. The app allows me to watch a video based on the book, read the book, listen to Meryl Streep read it, or read and record myself. I have a Sherlock Holmes Vook (video book—iTunes link) on my iPhone that allows me to view videos that contain insights into Sherlock Holmes and Victorian London. My [amazon_link id=”B002FQJT3Q” target=”_blank” ]Kindle[/amazon_link] has a feature that allows me to see what passages other readers like enough to highlight. I can share my own notes and highlights with others and access them online later with a secure link. It sure beats thumbing through a book trying to find that passage again. I love being able to move my cursor to look up words I don’t know in the dictionary.

If you haven’t guessed the answer to my question, I’m excited about the possibilities that ebooks and devices like the iPad and Kindle offer readers. Who says that reading has to fit some narrow definition or be confined by some idea that a book isn’t supposed to be a certain way? If you don’t want to interact with your book, you have the option not to—paper books have not gone anywhere and won’t go anywhere soon. I for one think that now is an exciting time to be a reader (and a writer—ebooks are opening up the closed world of publishing to indie writers like me).

I am starting to see a trend among readers who want to stop any sort of change. The most disturbing aspect of this trend to me is that these types of readers seem to believe that they are somehow more authentic readers or love books more because they don’t like ebooks. That’s snobbery. Why be so judgmental? So it’s not for you. Don’t do it. You can avoid ebooks if you want. But to insinuate that interactive features that are now available with the advent of ebooks detract from reading and are not what reading is ABOUT is a fairly antiquated opinion to hold. It rather reminds me of folks who insist graphic novels aren’t real books or that one should not read books like romance novels, mysteries, or chick lit. Bottom line? People should be able to read what they want, however they want, and other folks should have better things to do than stick their noses in the air about it.  Put your nose back in your paperback where it belongs. I guess I am getting a little tired of these snobs telling me I shouldn’t read ebooks.

The subtitle of the photo I chose for this post is “un texte est un texte.” Translated into English, that means “a text is a text.” Exactly so.

Edited to add:

I forgot to mention ebooks on the iPad and Kindle and just about every other reader I can think of allow readers to change the font size, which opens up reading to people who couldn’t. So there is also that.

photo credit: Remi Mathis

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Indie Writing

Be seeing you

Writing is hard work, but finding a publisher for your writing in this market might be almost as hard—maybe harder. And yet many people frown on writers who self-publish. Even some of the best writers of classic literature have paid to have their books published in the past—Jane Austen’s father sent First Impressions, an early version of Pride and Prejudice, to Thomas Cadell in London and asked if it might be published at the author’s expense. All of her novels, with the exception of Pride and Prejudice, were published “on commission,” or at the author’s own financial risk. But paying for publication through so-called vanity presses isn’t necessary anymore, either. Nowadays, writers can take publication in their own hands. They can create books using services such as Lulu and Kindle Direct Publishing, and software such as Calibre. Writers can publish their own books in print or e-book format.

Self-publishing requires a shift in thinking, and I had to change the way I viewed it as well. Several years ago, I decided that I wouldn’t have time to keep sending my manuscript out to publishers, to find an agent, or to keep at it the way I knew I should if I wanted my book published. I have a demanding full-time job (if you read this blog, you know that because you probably have the same job—and I’m convinced that there are at least three Jim Burke clones). It’s not that I don’t want my book published by a large house—it’s just that the whole process is frustrating when I just want people to read my book. Enter the concept of the indie writer.

I wish I had made up the concept of the indie writer, but I did a Google search, and of course, there is nothing new under the sun. Thinking of myself as an indie writer shifted my perception of self-publishing. When I was in high school and college, my crowd included a lot of musicians. One thing musicians do is try to find gigs wherever they can and create their own CD’s (nowadays, I suppose they create mp3’s) and sell them at their gigs or on sites like CD Baby. No one looks down on them for that. It’s considered a great way to put your music in the hands of listeners. Of course, if a record company (is that term outdated now?) comes calling with a big contract, then you’ve made it. Some people actually prefer indie music because they love supporting local bands or musicians who are working to generate publicity for their art. But you know, we frown on writers for trying the same thing. What is wrong with publishing your own books, just to put them in readers’ hands? Writers can and have spent decades working to publish their work. John Kennedy Toole’s mother famously spent eleven years trying to attract publishers’ attention for her son’s classic A Confederacy of Dunces. Once it was published, it won the Pulitzer Prize. Publishers are notoriously leery of unpublished writers. Publishing a book is a huge risk for a company in an industry that is struggling. But just as indie bands can attract attention to their music through making their own CD’s and mp3’s, writers can also attract attention through self-publication. Brunonia Barry’s novel The Lace Reader was self-published and became a book club favorite. Eventually, it was picked up by HarperCollins.

Does it necessarily follow that an indie writer’s work will find a home at a large publishing house? No. Not all indie bands make it big, do they? But more people will read my work if I put it out there than will if it languishes on my laptop. To that end, if you want to support an indie writer, you can download my book A Question of Honor in the following formats:

It is the story of a young woman in medieval Wales who takes on her mother’s healing practice and finds herself in over her head the first time she delivers a child. When she is accused of a horrible crime, she runs to her father’s homeland in Scotland. She meets a ragtag group of minstrels on the way, and she wonders if she will ever see the young man she’s in love with again. Meanwhile, her grandfather in Scotland has definite plans for his granddaughter, and it turns out she has a sister she never knew about, too. She begins to wonder if she might be better off returning to Wales and facing the music, but she fears the consequences.

Look for another book soon. I need to do some editing. Also, I am trying to prepare an e-pub version of A Question of Honor, so look for that soon if you need e-pub. The print and PDF versions will give you the nicest layout. I am still learning how to lay out a book for Kindle, and while the book file is readable, it has a few quirks that I am working on fixing.

This post is cross-posted at my reading blog, huffenglish.com.

photo credit: Olivander

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La Ghirlandata

A Question of Honor: May Day

La Ghirlandata

Gwenllian opened her eyes and blinked in the blue dawn light. God’s teeth, another May Day, she thought, rubbing her eyes. She heard the faroff crow of a cock. Gwen pulled the wool blanket over her face. It was a tradition in her village, as in so many others, to arrange marriages on May Day. Gwen’s poor uncle Iorwerth had tried—and failed—to arrange a marriage for Gwen these past three years. Gwen sighed. Best to rise and meet the day.

Gwen glanced across the room at her uncle’s empty straw pallet. Of course he would be up and about his business long ere now. Gwen threw off her blanket and trudged out the door. Nervously, she peered down the way. Good, no one in sight. She scampered down the way and broke a few wet, flower-laden branches from the hawthorn tree in front of Huw the miller’s cottage, then rubbed the dewy flowers over her face. She knew it was a silly tradition, bathing in hawthorn flowers—as though May Day dew might bring color to her pale eyes or give her silky, flaxen locks like Tangwystyl had.

Gwen tore a green shoot from the small hazel tree that grew near the cottage and methodically began cleaning her teeth with the twig. One thing Iorwerth always told prospective husbands with pride—“She does have all her teeth.” Once inside, she dressed hastily, grabbed her small harp, and set off for her rock by the lake.

In the middle of the village stood the brightly decorated maypole, mocking her, the symbol of her failure. Gwen scowled as she thought of last year’s disaster. She was to announce her betrothal to Owain the Shepherd. She had had no particular objections to the match, aside from the notion that Owain was about as intelligent as one of his sheep. Still, she had little enough hope of catching another husband. She was seventeen, and the oldest maiden in the village. She had no dowry to offer. But her chief drawback was her temper, or so her mam used to say, and because of her temper, Owain had married Angharad at Lammastide. Angharad was now great with child. And she is a full two years younger than I am, Gwen thought. Gwen shook her head as if to rid herself of the memory.

Soon the maypole dance would begin, but Gwen decided to practice at her harp. Gwen’s harp traveled everywhere with her. She thought her small harp finer in tone and more beautiful in craftsmanship than many of the larger harps played by the bards. Iorwerth had given it to her after her parents had died. She often invented excuses to come to the lake, her favorite place to play.

Gwen had never been far from Llangors, but she could not imagine that a place more beautiful than Llangors Lake existed. Her favorite spot was the massive moss-covered rock, which lay beneath an apple tree, fragrant with apple blossoms and honeysuckle vines. The tree’s limbs seemed to spread across the sky like arms outstretched to the heavens. Soon the water lilies and buttercups would be in full blossom and the dragonflies would be darting among the reeds.

It was hard to believe a full year had passed since that day last spring. Such a rainy day that was, Gwen thought as she began to play her harp. The village had been coated in mud. Owain had plodded toward Gwen as she drew water from the well.

“Gwen, I have a request,” he had said cheerfully, taking the bucket from her hand.

No, do not think on it any longer, Gwen told herself. But the image of Owain sprawled across the ground refused to be pushed from her mind so easily. She had shamed him, unmanned him, and he had said … he had…

She should have cut out his tongue for what he had said. No, the song, she thought. She concentrated on making her fingers pluck the strings. She closed her eyes and there was nothing in the world except her fingers and the sound. In time, Gwen thought she heard the dreamy, faraway strains of a pipe. It must be the maypole dance, she thought with a sigh. She opened her eyes and dropped her harp with a start. There was a pipe, right in front of her, attached to the mouth of a young man with green eyes.

No, sage. His eyes were more of a sage color—gray-green with specks of brown. They turned down slightly in the corners, making him appear somewhat sad. His long golden-brown curls shone like honey with the sun behind him. He looks like one of the Tylwyth Teg, the Fair Folk, Gwen thought. A dusting of fine, unshaven hairs covered his cheeks and chin. He was dressed as a traveler, in a coarse tunic and breeches. His boots were worn and dusty. Though he was crouching, his long limbs disclosed he was a man of considerable height. He was no fairy—he was real.

“Pray continue. I should not have intruded,” he said, his lips curling into a faint smile.

He was familiar. Gwen shaded her eyes and looked more closely. Then she drew her hand to her mouth in shock. It was Owain’s cousin, the minstrel. “I thought you played the harp, Elidyr,” she blurted.

“So you do remember me,” he said with a smile. He reached for her hand and kissed it softly. Gwen felt a blush creep over her cheeks. He had grown taller since she had seen him last.

“Why have you come to Llangors?” Gwen asked. “Surely not to see our pitiful little festival.”

“Why, I came to see you, of course.”

If he does not stop smiling at me, I shall melt in a puddle at his feet, Gwen thought.

“Why did you not come to Owain’s wedding?” she asked.

“I was still under the mistaken impression that he was wedding you—and I hated to see such a beautiful, charming creature wasted on Owain,” Elidyr said with a wink.

He had not changed, thought Gwen. Curse his silver tongue. “You have not been seen about for some time. Where have you been wandering?” Gwen asked, changing the subject.

“All over Wales. I have been playing with a troupe of minstrels. Have you made your garland yet?”

Gwen shook her head. “I intend to stay here until the revels are over. I want no part of them.”

“What? You would miss the maypole dance? Who will they choose for Queen of May if you will not dance? Come, now, Gwenllian, let me help you.” Elidyr began picking wild purple orchids.

“What are you doing?” asked Gwen.

“You need a garland, do you not?” Elidyr said with a smile. Gwen could only nod dumbly in reply. “Well, help me find some flowers.”

Gwen pulled a vine of honeysuckle from a lowhanging branch. She inhaled deeply. How she loved the scent of honeysuckle. Gwen wove Elidyr’s orchids around the honeysuckle vine. She held the finished product at arm’s length and examined it for flaws. She brushed the leaves and stems from the skirt of her kirtle. Elidyr took the garland and placed it atop Gwen’s mass of unruly, red curls. His fingertip brushed Gwen’s ear. Gwen blushed.

Elidyr grinned broadly. “Tell me why my foolish cousin did not wed you.”

Gwen stood abruptly and grabbed her harp. “I would rather not discuss it,” she said.

Elidyr laughed. It was not possible he knew … was it? “You served him justly, Gwenllian. He should never have made such a request,” Elidyr said.

“I should not have shamed him so,” Gwen said quietly. Owain’s jaw had hardened and his neck grew red. “You’re to be my wife,” Owain had said quietly. “And you will obey me. You’ll do as I ask, you stubborn wench!”

And then she had done it, in front of the whole village, she had done it. It was as though her hands had moved of their own accord, colliding violently with his chest. Before Owain could collect his wits, he was sprawling in a manure pile, bravely trying to ignore the giggling maids at the nearby well. She had turned on her heel and stalked off, water sloshing from her bucket. And then he called after her…

“Gwen? Hello,” said Elidyr waving his hand in front of her face. “Did you hear what I said?”

“I am afraid my mind was … elsewhere,” Gwen said.

“I was saying that Owain should never have asked you to sell your harp. And for what? More sheep?”

Gwen smiled. “You understand,” she said. “My uncle did not. He told me it was such a simple request and that I should have done as Owain asked.”

“We must hurry. I hear music,” Elidyr said. He bounded off toward the village. For a moment, Gwen watched his honey-colored curls slap against his back, then followed him.


From A Question of Honor available via Kindle, Kindle UK, and Lulu.

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