Writer’s Platitude for the Weekend

Typewriter“There are two kinds of writers: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.” Actually there’s a third–Those that make you wonder what they were thinking.

Original quote (in quotes) by Brian Aldiss

Photograph by Munhitsu © 2009 Creative Commons

Barnes and Noble

bookstorePlease forgive my gray mood. You see, I’m in mourning.

The Barnes and Noble in town is closing at the end of February.  I went there at least twice a month. I’d get a coffee and wander up and down the aisles, looking at book covers like the labels on wine bottles. I would have no idea what was inside, but I knew what kind of covers had potential. I never walked out without spending less than $50, loaded up with everything from bestsellers to the quirky novels of first-time authors. My string quartet even played music there. It was a perfect blend of my many loves–writing, music and coffee.

Their space is being taken over by the Container Store. Containers of knowledge to be replaced by containers of nothing.

I have nothing personal against the Container Store. Being an anal-retentive, violin-playing Virgo, it’s not surprising that I prefer a world organized into well-labeled, stackable boxes. If they are pretty, even better.

I was perfectly happy, however, with the old Container Store location. I wouldn’t think a Container Store would generate more revenue per square foot than a busy bookstore, but I could very well be wrong. After all, we have a television show about hoarders. We don’t have one about compulsive readers.

When it comes to technology, I’m a little slow on the uptake. A year or so ago, I took my husband’s Kindle for a trial run, and rejected it pretty handily. It was hard for me to see the letters, and dang thing kept turning the pages every time I clicked the handle by accident, which happened almost constantly if I held the Kindle like a normal person. More then that, I missed the feel of the book in my hands. I love to kick back with a book and a cup of tea, snuggle into the sofa and while the hours away turning page after page. How could an electronic device suffice?

With the bookstore closing, however, I had to move out of my Luddite zone. More and more books are available solely in electronic form. My own very well might be. Breaking down and getting some type of electronic reader was a necessity. The mall bookstore only handles bestsellers, and we don’t have any good independents close by, or I would have gone there in the first place.

Knowing that I was unlikely to do it for myself, my husband bought me a Kindle Paperwhite. I’m sort of chagrined to say it.  I love it.

The Paperweight feels much more like a book than the original Kindle. And I love, love, love,  the adjustable font size and the backlit screen. I will be 49 this year. My vision was bad to begin with. Age has only made it worse.  The Paperwhite’s bright screen and enormous letters make me swoon. I feel so efficient, swiping page after page like a speed reader. I can even tuck it in my purse, which is a godsend while waiting 45 minutes in the parking lot for my son to finish practice.

If I want a book, I just push the little shopping cart, search, and bam, there it is. It’s immediate gratification. It’s like streaming video. I don’t want to have to wait two days to get my fix. I read tons, and have a read-me list a mile long. I have the world of print at my fingertips. But the best part? The very best part?

I can read while my husband sleeps.

I don’t have to go downstairs. I don’t lay in bed staring at the back of his head. I don’t even mind the cat sitting on my legs like a bowling ball. I’m reading a book.

I will still miss perusing covers. I purchased so much on impulse, and I suspect that I be missing some gems with great covers, not to mention art books with beautiful pictures or poetry books which utilize space as an alphabet unto itself, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

Unfortunately that’s a lot of nothing which means a lot of something. Luckily I can buy a container for it.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Martin Cathrae © 2009 Creative Commons

Chill Woman. It’s a big bookstore.

A friend recommended a book, suggesting that I’d love it because it had yin/yang sisters that fought just like the ones in my WIP novel. One even had the same name. I recall my reaction being something like crap, crap, crap, crap. I sent her an email to that effect–crap, crap, crap, Coffee Tuesday? Hugs!

I thought my book was unique, despite the fact that I was having a hard time writing a synopsis that didn’t sound like the lovechild of a cliché and an APB description that matches half the people I know. Believed to be a male, approximately six feet tall, with brown hair. Last seen wearing tennis shoes and a white tee shirt.  It’s about  figuring out the difference between.  It’s about listening to your own. It’s about maintaining your integrity when.  It’s about a woman.

I’m so screwed. I need a hook.

My friend was surprised I was so unhappy. She thought if people found the themes and relationships relevant enough to buy the book  she’d recommended, wouldn’t they find mine just as appealing?

I buy a lot of books.  I can’t get out of Target without at least 3 or 4. It makes me feel better about the 5 lb bag of M&M’s.  Barnes and Noble opens an extra register when I walk in.  My shelves of my nightstand are already packed, so I’ve taken to stacking books on the floor. There are a lot. My room looks like Hoarders, the PBS version.

How different are they? In the details, very. But at the core, there are universal stories we all experience — falling in love with the right, or the wrong person. Confronting what you thought you knew for sure, finding that nothing is certain. Having to choose paths, knowing that taking one will separate you from those on the other.

There are far more books, magazines, websites, chapbooks, and ebooks than I could ever stack next to my bed. The industry is broad enough to hold both David Sedaris and the Dali Lama, Stephen King and Danielle Steele. Still, every time I hear a plot line that seems close to mine, it doesn’t feel that big. It’s hard not to get obsessed with “The Hook.”

My wise friend brought off the ledge. I thought about all of those teen vampire books and I smacked myself on the head so she wouldn’t have to. A hook is no guarantee of uniqueness, nor is it synonymous with quality. I don’t need a better hook, or a better book. I just need a better synopsis.  Lucky for me, I’m a writer.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Callum Scott

One Lump or Two – In defense of women’s fiction

I love women’s fiction.  I’m not ashamed to admit it, even if literary critics, college professors and Jonathan Franzen don’t agree.

There have been times when my life sucked.  Really sucked.  Maybe for a day, or a week, but sometimes longer.  There were days when I’d tell my husband I was going to drop an iron on my foot just to avoid going to work.  My husband, ever the pragmatist  would say, call in and say you did.  You don’t actually have to do it.

Invariably, when I would take a mental health day, I’d spend it on the sofa, a cup of tea by my side, a cat, a bowl of popcorn, and a really good read.  It would take me away from my problems, and into someone else’s messed up life.  It was like the story held my hand, and told me it would all be okay.  If I could just hold on until tomorrow, I’d get another shot at it.

Got the scene in your head?  Flip the book over.  It doesn’t have text on a plain background.  It has a porch swing, or drying laundry, or shy little girls, everything literary critics decry as “women’s fiction”, and Meg Wolitzer dissed in her NYT article.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love to chew on a great work of art.  There are literary authors whose words I feel in my bones, that resonate like a perfectly tuned A string.  Margaret Atwood, Richard Russo, Barbara Kingsolver.  But Jennifer Weiner’s books are like blankets, warm from the dryer.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

I’m sure it’s nice to be known among the pantheon of great writers.  But I don’t long to be on the syllabus of an MFA program.  I just want to make someone’s day better.  Given the huge size of the women’s fiction market, I’m not alone.

So why all of the snobbery about where the book is shelved, or sold?  I don’t care if it’s Target, if it’s in someone’s hands it’s all good by me.

I want to write books that change hands so many times you can’t remember who it belongs to, that get dropped into bathtubs and covered with sunscreen.  I want the pages velveted from being turned and folded and bookmarked with random receipts.

So Mr. Publisher, if you want to put girls in white dresses, or mittens, or a pair of high heels on my book. Go ahead.  Just make sure you put my name in nice big letters, and spell it right.  I promise I won’t complain.

If you like my writing, check out my sister blog – momaiku, where I share the experience of parenting in seventeen syllables.  Behind every great mother is a child, pushing her buttons.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Key Lime Pie