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Monday, June 28 2010

Apple rules the world. If you doubt this, take a look at the ridiculously long lines outside any Apple store when a new product is released, the fanfare over Apple's annual convention, or the news coverage that was generated when an iPhone prototype slipped out into the world after an employee left it in a bar.

So I can't help but wonder what impact the iPad will have on e-readers. While e-books represent a small percentage of annual sales, they are the fastest growing division. And book sellers like Borders and Barnes and Noble want to corner the market with their own e-readers. Just this week, Barnes and Noble announced a major price drop in its Nook. Hours later (or was it only minutes?) Amazon dropped the price of the Kindle. One analyst speculated that the price of these e-readers will drop to only $99 by the end of the year. And personally, I think they'll have to if they want to survive.

An e-reader is just that. A reader. A device that allows you to read books. You can't surf the web. You can't check your email. Heck, you can't even type up a quick note. You can only read books. The main selling point of an e-reader is the price. $499 vs. $99 would be a significant difference, should e-reader prices drop that low. And, of course, e-readers don't require a monthly service fee. But while I cringe at the intrusion of more service fees into my life, most people don't even notice. What's $15 a month in the scheme of things? Why, that's only about 50 cents a day. Mere peanuts.

At this point, I should mention that I own neither an e-reader nor an iPad. But I know, some time in the distant future, I'll break down and buy one. I refused to believe that CDs would one day replace cassette tapes. And if you're about to tell me CDs are on their way out, please save your breath. I won't listen. I even plugged my ears when my husband insisted DVDs would make VCRs obsolete. But I was wrong in both cases. Do I think e-readers will forever replace the fantastic experience of curling up in a comfy chair with a paperback? Will everyone start using their fingertips to change pages on a screen rather than that lovely tactile experience of gripping a piece of paper and turning it over? Not likely in my lifetime. But already some books are only available on e-readers. And if I want to read those books, I'll need to purchase a device.  But once I have my Kindle, will I regret my choice when my friends show me the latest awesome trick their iPads can do? Will I set my e-reader aside to collect dust while I run out and buy an iPad after all?

Lucky for me, I have a whole stack of unread books haunting me every time I walk by my bookshelf. A stack that will take me months to read. So I can save my decision for another day. And if I wait long enough, e-readers will become obsolete on their own, saving me the trouble.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 09:36 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, June 21 2010

NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org/http://www.nanowrimo.org/), takes place every November. The general idea is to write 50,000 words in one month without reviewing your work or stopping to edit. Just write and write until you hit that fifty thousand word mark. They don't have to be brilliant words. They don't even have to be coherent words. But it wouldn't hurt if you had a little plot thrown in there. And at the end of the month, even if you don't have a complete novel, you'll have a large portion completed and an excellent chance of finishing.

A former coworker turned me onto NaNoWriMo (the same guy who encouraged me to write a book in the first place) when he decided to attempt this 50,000 word feat and wanted some company. After laughing and telling him how crazy he was the first year, I decided to give it a try the next November. That October, not wanting to wanting to run into a giant wall of terror, I decided on a plot, the characters, and the killer, then prepared myself to write like mad. Only one problem. November has that pesky Thanksgiving holiday at the end of it. A holiday my husband and I generally host. Only one solution. I'd have to write additional words on other days so I could guarantee that I'd have Thanksgiving available. So I decided to write my 50,000 words in twenty-five days, mostly because the math was easy. Fifty divided by twenty-five is two. I needed to write two thousand words a day. At first, I couldn't imagine I'd actually succeed. Two thousand words sounds like so many. But I just kept reminding myself that I wasn't writing two thousand words every day forever, just for twenty-five days. And I did. Mind you, I didn't have any kids at this point, so I could devote each evening to writing, plus my lunch hour and most of the weekend. If I missed my two thousand word mark one day, I'd just bump up my writing the next. And at the end of that November, I had a short novel. Not too shabby.

While I used NaNoWriMo to write my first book, one of the women in my writing group has used NaNoWriMo when she fell behind on her deadline. She had written her synopsis, knew exactly what she was going to write, but lacked that final motivation to get started. Enter NaNoWriMo. Though her book is much longer than 50,000 words, the process got her started and over that initial hump.

So if you've been thinking about writing a book but don't think you have the time or ability, now's your chance. November is still many months away, which gives you ample time to plot and outline. And don't forget to tell everyone you know that you're going to participate so that you'll be too ashamed to back out when November rolls around. And if November doesn't work for you, pick the best month for your schedule and commit to it. Then type like mad, don't look back, and Voila! At the end of the month, you'll have your very own novel. It really is that easy. Well, maybe easy isn't the correct word, but you get the idea.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 04:32 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, June 14 2010

My oldest son swooshed down the slide, waved to his buddy, and headed for the parking lot. And so marked the last day of school. The end of nine straight months of writing opportunities, three days a week, two and a half hours at a time. All I can see ahead of me now are three months of constant interruptions (that is, whenever I can sneak away to the computer to be interrupted) and requests of, "Mommy, watch this. Mommy, watch me again. Mommy, look at me."

Back in September, when school first started up, the potential seemed unlimited for how much writing I could accomplish. Two and a half hours. Imagine the possibilities!  Of course, driving and sign-in times shaved a good thirty minutes off the total. No worries, two hours was plenty of time to write.  But, then, I had errands to run most days, taking away another clump of time. Still, that gave me an hour. But I had to feed the baby. And finishing the newspaper would only take a few minutes, so I might as well get that out of the way. And let's not forget my snack. The baby isn't the only one who needs to eat. Now I'm down to twenty minutes. No point in starting now. I'd only crank out one sentence before time would be up. Besides, I need to check email first. Oh, look at the clock. Time to head back to school for pickup.

I'm a bit ashamed at how I frittered away that precious time, all the while reassuring myself that school wasn't over yet. I could always do better next time. But it's too late now. And I don't even have the illusion that I'm going to have time to write this summer.

I could always write in the evenings after the kids are in bed, but those pesky networks have finally realized that not everyone plays outside until dark or goes on vacation for weeks at a time. They're now airing new shows during the summer, shows I want to watch.

I could always get up an hour early but my kids get up as soon as I do. If I sleep in, they sleep in. If I get up early, so do they. The sound of running water when I jump in the  shower seems to be my oldest son's personal  alarm clock. I could sneak downstairs in my pj's, but starting my day without cleaning up first kind of grosses me out.

So, instead, I'll spend my summer whining about how I don't have time to write. Maybe I have my priorities out of whack. Maybe I should skip those silly reality TV shows and hone my craft instead. Maybe I should type away as the sun rises over the hill, morning breath be damned. But hey, I'll have to think about my priorities tomorrow. Last Comic Standing is about to start.
Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 10:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email
Monday, June 07 2010

My approach to planning my first two books couldn't have been more different. The first book is so much more than just a mystery. As part of a series, it's the world's introduction to my main protagonist, Gwyn Lewis, and her hometown of Blossom Valley. I had to determine every aspect of Gwyn's character. How old is she? Single or dating or even married? What kind of car does she drive? Would she purchase a reliable, economic sedan or a flashy, expensive speedmobile? And what of Blossom Valley? How many residents claim that town as their home? Are the residents beer drinkers or wine sippers? Do they visit art museums or tractor pulls? Would readers believe that people in such a place are constantly being murdered as Gwyn stumbles over a body, sometimes two, in every book?

 

And I had to decide all these details at the outset because once I'd cemented the information in the first book, I couldn't change it. I mean, sure, Gwyn can move to a new town with a new set of victims, but Gwyn herself will never change, except to learn from her experiences and mature. But if I said she has one younger sister in the first book, a brother can't come home for Christmas in the second one. Unless I write a subplot of long lost siblings and extramarital affairs, which is unlikely.

 

Book two didn't involve nearly the same amount of planning. All the basics were already decided and I could  focus solely on the murder plot, outlining how the victim dies, creating a list of suspects, and determining the identity of the killer. The experience was surprisingly relaxing ,as if I was writing the book while sitting on the sofa at an old friend's house. I already knew Gwyn, her mother, and her sister. I was familiar with her curmudgeonly boss and attractive coworker.

 

I feel a certain fondness for these people, a feeling I hope carries through to the reader. But I can't get too comfortable with Gwyn and her family. No one likes characters who are the same in every book. They need to grow, to try new things. So as I plan out the third Gwyn Lewis book, I have to keep an eye on the future for these secondary characters and figure out where their lives are headed. And whether the reader will want to go along for the ride.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 06:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email