Archive for March, 2013

Today is the oddest Easter choice you’ll likely come acrossbookworm. But check it out anyway. It’s a good one.

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I received way too many emails yesterday with “Great savings for Good Friday!!” type messages. (“It’s a Good Friday For a Great Sale” was another.) Frankly I found this a little bit rude and insensitive to devout Christians. Before your mind goes there, no, I’m not saying it’s a culture war. One person’s misstep in an ad department doesn’t a war make.) I wonder how Jews would feel about emails that say “It’s hard to pass over prices as great as these!” or if Muslims would be bothered by something that read “You can have your Prophet and your profit when you shop our terrific Ramadan Deals!”

Again, I don’t believe in the culture war. I don’t think this is designed to make Christians the brunt of a joke or an excluded class or any of those other things. I really do think it’s just someone letting their cleverness run away with them a bit too much. It seems like the kind of thing a person would do in their mid-20s.

I am not sure exactly WHY it bothered me, and it didn’t bother me enough to send an angry letter to the stores’ proprietors. It just left me feeling kind of…morose.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are deeply sacred to me. I respect that they aren’t sacred to most people. Even a lot of Christians consider them excuses for a half-day off and a new dress. But I do take them seriously and it kind of feels a bit raw to have them treated glibly.

It leads me to wonder how folks of other faiths feel when their sacred days are treated with disregard.

I felt really horrible because when I had all the business going on with our house flood and unscrupulous mitigation contractor I lost sight of the fact that this past week was Passover and I neglected to send Blessed Passover wishes to all of my friends who celebrate. It was only when one of them sent me a “can’t talk now–having Passover” email that I realised. I suppose maybe this whole Good Friday Junkmail Farrago is my Karmic Retribution for that.

I wonder if in saying that I’m making light of Karma. I really do.

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Yesterday afternoon when the news came out about Amazon acquiring Goodreads–a late in the day announcement preceding what is for many people a three-day weekend–there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. People who chuckle at all the Google Doodles are wailing “Monopoly” and the GoodReads comments are filled with dirges.

1. Amazon is trying to put the brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business.
2. There are other e-Readers besides Kindle.
3. Amazon already owns Shelfari and ignores it.
4. Amazon won’t let us self-publish erotica.
5. Amazon is trying to kill the publishing industry.

The comments over on Otis’ (GoodReads founder and CEO) blog post are skewing heavily negative.

I’m a GoodReads Librarian, which means that I can add and edit book information. That’s no big deal, really, because there are thousands of us. But it does mean that when Amazon pulled access to their database after years of willingly sharing with GoodReads many of us spent hours upon hours recreating the lost information one book at a time. The fact that there has thus far been no apology from Amazon regarding this is my only complaint with the purchase.

Let’s look at those other points one at a time.

1. Amazon is trying to put the brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business.

From where I sit, the brick-and-mortars are doing themselves out of custom. The bookstores have decided to sell everything but books. If I want a cool coffee mug or a really neat fountain pen I know where I can get it. If I want some quippy magnets for my fridge or the side of my filing cabinet I’m sure to find them at my local book retailer. What I seldom find are more than two titles per author. Chain bookstores decided to be in the Big Box Retailing business and that doesn’t mix well with books, a notoriously low-margin product. They have narrowed the selection of reading material to an island of stacks and filled the rest of their massive square footage with higher-margin detritus. People who want books know that we have better luck going on our computers and requesting the exact material from an online retailer or our public library. Independent bookstores are doing somewhat better, having contented themselves with smaller spaces, smaller profit margins and selling books they love or books with a niche appeal. (eg. East Side Story, Nashville’s independent bookstore which caters to local Nashville authors.)

2. There are other e-Readers besides Kindle.

It’s true, there are. There are also other smartphones besides iPhone. If you make your choice to go with whatever the non-number-one product in any category is then you also make your choice to deal with the consequences. In this case, owning a Nook or other non-Kindle ereader means you don’t get a seat at the bigger table. Just like having an android phone means you don’t get access to all the products developed for iOS. (That’s a long-standing peeve of mine. Go into any iOS developer’s product announcement and see 90% of the comments whining about “where’s the Android version?”) Bucking the trend comes with consequences. You can’t be both a Think Different cool kid AND get all the shiny benefits available to the hivemind. (Years of being a Mac user in a PC-world taught me that.)

3. Amazon already owns Shelfari and ignores it.

What a coincidence. I ignore it too. It’s useless beyond the parts (X-Ray) Amazon cannibalised for its own presentations.

4. Amazon won’t let us self-publish erotica.

Oh boo-hoo. You wanted to get rich writing porn–something that is in short supply on the internet already–and found out that it isn’t easy. Why, exactly, does Amazon or any other publisher owe you a platform for creating and selling what you want to sell? I know you think you have churned out the next 50 Shades of Gray book, but really. Cut it with the narcissism. Here’s your opportunity to go start your own business. Call it “Cramazon” or “Trimazon” and make it all about a one-stop epublishing for erotica. As I said already, there’s a huge shortage of porn on the Internet so you should make a go of it easily.

5. Amazon is trying to kill the Publishing Industry

This is sort of an echo back to the first complaint, that Amazon is trying to kill bookstores. The ACTUAL publishing industry has been in trouble for years. They’ve been drawing from an increasingly limited talent pool, cutting costs on their biggest differentiators (how many books get editing oversight anymore?) and ever stingier with paying for content.

Different doesn’t automatically mean worse. There are a lot more people reading now, a lot more people reading a lot more things and a lot more people making money off what they write than there were even three years ago. The Publishing Industry is in flux. That’s not Amazon’s fault, but it HAS been Amazon’s blessing. They were in place to see the holes and patch them up, thereby profiting mightily off the weakness of mainstream print publishing.

None of these things have anything to do with GoodReads, really. The objections to Amazon taking over GoodReads seem mainly to be because people have decided We Don’t Like Amazon. Call it “Wal-Mart Syndrome.”

Well, I love Amazon. I love being able to buy a book at three a.m. and have it in my hands instantly. I love finding new authors by using their recommendations and the “users who bought this also bought” feature. I love paying reasonable prices for new things to read. Amazon isn’t eating the world, they’re just riding the tidal wave of change into shore.

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The Supreme Court will soon be deciding on whether or not to overturn the Defense Of Marriage Act, thus paving the way for the legalisation of marriage between couples of the same gender. In an effort to support that, many people have turned their profile picture into the Equality Symbol. Since I do support the State-Sanctioned marriages to be available to any two people regardless of gender or relationship* I truly considered using a nice Purple and lavender version.

Then I got to thinking about it.

This is Holy Week for Christians–today is Maundy Thursday, the day that marks the Last Passover Of The Christ and his Trial in Gethsemene. Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day that marks the crucifixion. Sunday will be Easter and Christians around the nation will celebrate the resurrection. The last enemy to be vanquished is death, and Sunday marks the day we all remember that Christ’s sacrifice vanquished that enemy for all time.

For every body. Every person.

As I Christian I believe that God loved the world so much that he humbled himself to become a man, lower than the angels, and submit to a painful, torturous death in order to bring the gift of Grace that bridges the divide between humanity and God. Jesus did this for every person, because God loves every person equally.

When He was on earth, Jesus told us that the greatest Commandment was to love our neighbour as much as we love ourselves, and to treat everyone with the same kindness that we would like to be treated. This is the fundamental tenet of Christianity because God is love and by showing love to others we are showing the face of God.

My profile picture is a detail of Grunewald’s Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altarpiece. It is a closeup of the nail piercing the feet of Jesus and affixing them to the cross. This is the exact view I would have as I humble myself before the Cross in supplication. It is the view that reminds me that this horrible thing was done out of love for ALL people.

I cannot believe that to be true–that Christ died for everyone–and then insist that some people are not equal to others.

For that reason I think that the State Marriage and attendant benefits should be available to any two people who consent to the binding contractual relationship. I don’t think that it’s right for a government to discriminate against a portion of its people for any reason.

Now, I know a lot of people, especially some very dear friends of mine, aren’t Christians. I don’t expect everyone to become a Christian. I know that other faith traditions–and many of those who abjure all faiths–hold others in esteem just as Christians are taught to do. My goal here is not to belittle or reduce those other points of view at all. My goal here is to state that since these are my beliefs I believe that I must maintain an internal consistency with the teachings of my beliefs.

*I think that the ultimate good of a State Marriage should be offered to any two people who want to be in a Domestic Partnership for the tax and insurance benefits. There are many folks who are not pairbonded with someone but who share a household with another person. Some common examples include widowed sisters, two platonic friends, a child caring for an elderly parent.

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I should write about my authorly discouragement more often. I believe in prayer, I believe prayer works, and I believe that last week a few people prayed for me when they saw my post about the dead characters. (I believe that because they told me they had.) Between the prayers and the wise council, my creative side saw some spiritual drain-o hit it and now the pipes are flowing.

If you’re worried that this is just going to be a post about writing, don’t be. Because while it is about writing in this instance, it’s also about Life In General. My life just happens to be about writing. Yours may be about building tables or designing spreadsheets or rearing a child.

For years–decades, even–I’ve had certain assumptions about myself. I’ve believed that I can’t do a thing or I can’t do a thing a certain way. When it came to this book I approached it the same way. I believed that I couldn’t write a particular type of story. I thought I wasn’t good at it and that it wouldn’t be something people wanted to read.

I told my husband last night on the way to dinner that this novel has become a jigsaw puzzle for me. I’ve had all the edge pieces nicely stuck together, and I’ve built in from a couple of the corners. But lately I’ve found myself staring at the blank table in the center of the puzzle and pawing confusedly through the scattered inner pieces. There was just no way to make them fit together.

Last week after I spoke aloud the words “I’m tired of writing and I don’t think I can do it” I think somehow that voice that told me that I could only write the book one way got shouted down by all the other voices saying “no. This is the story she needs to tell and it happens like THIS.”

So I’ve changed the direction of the book. I’ve changed my writing habits–I no longer write only at my desk. I’ve been sketching and jotting ideas on my iPad whenever and wherever they hit me. The regimented process was put to death. In that I realised that I was trying to make every piece an edge. I wasn’t leaving any room for the completely random cuts of the middle shapes. Now that I figured that out, the puzzle is coming together beautifully.

How does this relate to Life? Only insofar as I think it’s a good thing to occasionally look at your presumptions about the way things should or ought to be. Many times they’re just rooted in the ingrained habits of your world and have no real significance beyond the degree of comfortable reassurance they provide. Looking at the thing from a different point of view may actually make the stuff fit together a lot better.

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Ask anyone here in the States what they think of sexual slavery and they’ll most likely react with shock and pity and a little bit of denial. “It’s horrible, but I don’t want to think about it.” That’s pretty much my reaction; I think about it enough to be very sad and enough more to do what little I can to see that it goes away. Things like literacy, birth control, open borders, nutrition and respect for the individual go a long way toward turning the ship away from sexual slavery. Whenever I hear someone griping about “all the jobs going overseas” I find myself thinking that the jobs that go overseas take opportunity with them. That opportunity brings changes in the community that mean daughters no longer have to be sold into prostitution.

We abhor sexual slavery here in the West. Or at least we say we do.

Because when I hear about things like the Victoria Secret Bright Young Things line it occurs to me that we tut-tut over selling daughters into prostitution when it happens in India or Pakistan or Shanghai or Estonia. But when it happens here–when we trade our young girl’s innocence for commerce–it’s nothing more than Business As Usual.

Selling underwear to middle school-aged girls (10-13 last time I checked) with “Call Me” on the pubis is definitely not the same thing as chaining the same girl up in a cold, dirty trailer and forcing her full of heroin to keep her docile enough to service male customers three and four times her age. But it’s very nearly the same principle, as it asks a young girl to consider herself objectified into a being designed for sexual servitude and supplication.

Any money that a girl that young gets to buy those panties comes from her parents or the adults her parents allow her to babysit for. Or maybe it comes in a birthday card from Grandma.

The Limited Brands that operate Victoria’s Secret also operate Bath and Body Works, Henri Bendel and other stores I’ve never heard of. (I think I’m outside the demographic for “Pink”–whatever that is.)

On their webpage the Limited Brands Corporate strategy talks about

In order to mirror our associates’ and our customers’ values, Limited Brands supports community programs that focus on empowering women, nurturing and mentoring children and improving education.

Last time I looked, female empowerment meant more than marketing underwear to children with “Feeling Lucky” written on it. Nurturing children, to my way of thinking, does not include enticing them to mimic college students’ sexual behaviour.1

I guess this should be what I expect from a company that considers “beauty” and lovable bodies to have so narrow (literally and figuratively) a definition.

Women are reporting sexual dissatisfaction and dysfunction in ever-greater numbers, as the marketing campaigns for Victoria’s Secret and their ilk fail to live up to the reality of the variety of body types that self-identify as female. I blame part of that on the objectification of sexuality in children. In CHILDREN. And today I’m holding Victoria’s Secret partly responsible.

1. Business Insider Magazine

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It’s Palm Sunday. There was a recent Papal Selection. Today at Book In The Bag I’m waving away the white smoke and writing about reading about one of the most fascinating Papal legends in history.

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Deja Read

I started reading Pope Joan the other day, hoping for a book that didn’t have a rape in it, since every other piece of fiction I’ve read in 2013 has had either a rape or a character’s recounting of her past rape. I thought I’d be safe reading a book about a woman everyone thought was a man.

Not so much. But that’s not my point. (By the way, there’s a GANG RAPE in this book as well as the murder of a pet. Fun times.)

My point is how weirded out I was to get to the part where the character, a smart little girl, is taught to read by an older brother who scratches her lessons out in the dirt of the pig pen.

I was weirded out because one of my unpublished novels has the exact same scene. Granted, my character isn’t a pope. But she does, like Pope Joan, grow up to become a doctor.

I’ve never read this book before, in fact I hadn’t heard of it until about three days ago. So I didn’t copy her scene. Nevertheless I can’t deny how many similarities there are between that book and the book I was writing a few years ago. For the record, that’s also the book I’ve set aside when I found out that everyone was writing books about the Amish. I wanted a book about an Amish girl who grew up to become a doctor, so it’s different from all the “will she leave the church and marry the Mennonite farmer next door?” that’s out there now. But I still felt derivative.

I think these two things–the constant rape and the oddly similar dirt alphabet scene–are part of why I’m having trouble writing. Because everything feels the same. I don’t know that I have anything new or interesting to say. I don’t know if my Amish are any more value to society than Beverly Lewis’ Amish or if my Welsh physician/mermaid is any different from any other Welsh physician/mermaid. I do know that there is no way I’m putting a rape in any of my books and so I think maybe that violates some modern rule about publishing.

I’m also staying away from Facebook because I’ve been told that people do not enjoy reading my Facebook Status Updates. Which seems, in the main, to be an odd complaint when they could just unfollow me. But whatever. This society and its ettiquette are all foreign and mostly peculiar. At least to me. I still live in a world where people aren’t getting raped every time they turn around. I also live in a world where people don’t use rape as an entertaining diversion. Most people, anyway, I hope.

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I love that song.

Although I’m not lying in a burned-out basement. I’m sitting up in a water-damaged basement. I don’t feel like getting high, but I would like some relief from the pain of the latest kidney stone, a small fellow who decided to make his presence known this morning. Until he showed up I thought i had some serious indigestion. Well, I didn’t. But I suppose it’s nice that either the AI disorders or the stones have me so conditioned to the place where I can confuse a kidney stone with indigestion. Anyway. Enough with the whining; it does seem like all I do of late is whine. But in reality I’m not whining so much as sitting back staring bemusedly at the bits of chaos my life is splintering into and wondering at the kaleidoscopeness of it all. It’s absurd and funny and sad and real all at the same time.

Anyway. I wasn’t coming here to whine. I was coming here to ask what the bloody hell is up with folks. Earlier this week one of my Christian writer friends reported that a woman in her writing forum declared that she was only buying books by non-Christians from the Used Bookstore so that non-Christian writers wouldn’t profit from her and then spend the money on non-Christian things. (Like food, I presume.) Then this morning another Christian writer friend came to Facebook seething because when she approached an acquaintance for employment for a non-Christian friend in dire straits she was told that this man “only helps Christians.”

This little light of mine….hide it under a bushel? NO!

Maybe everyone else forgot that song. Maybe they were too busy singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” It seems like we’re marching as to war everywhere. That’s what this “culture war” has done. It’s turned the open arms of Christ into a sort of martial arts combat stance.

I’m reminded of this book I just finished reading, set in the Florida wetlands. The characters have a ranch which is threatened by a developer’s housing project. Much of the book centers on contretemps between the two, while the rest of the book glories in praising the old Florida of Cross Creek. The rancher was the hero, the developer the cad.

I couldn’t help wondering whose land the rancher took.

We’re acting like that, those of us who are so thrilled to be in the Jesus Club that we don’t want to taint it with the heathen. We’ve gotten our gold. Now we want everyone else out of Deadwood. We’re lying in our burned out basements, the full moon in our eyes. I guess we’ll be flying our silver spaceship to a new home in the sun one of these days. We chosen ones with the colours flying all around us, deaf to the children crying outside our perimeter of safety.

Nevermind whose land the rancher took. It’s our pasture now, I guess.

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I don’t feel like I have any stories to tell. That urgency that used to compell me is gone. The characters who live in my head are all sleeping.

I suppose it’s a good thing I say “sleeping” instead of “dead”.

What happens to a writer who is tired of writing? Do they become breathers? Sleepers?

I’m still working on the answer to that.

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