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The Writing Challenges of an Uneventful Life

What should I write about? What should I write about? (image via wikimedia)

What should I write about? What should I write about? (image via wikimedia)

“My life is too boring to write about,” my oldest daughter said.

I knew what she meant.  Compared to other people, my family and I probably lead boring lives.  We stay at home most of the time.  We don’t travel much.  I have a monotone voice, so even when I do something exciting, it sounds boring, ( but that trait hasn’t been passed on to my kids).

To compensate for our boring lives, my daughter has a wonderful imagination and can make things up.  A couple years ago, I caught her lying in a memoir that she had written for a class assignment.  She had created a fictional brother and then killed him off, and her memoir was about the feelings of loss she had experienced.  It made her teacher cry.  It would have made me cry too, but I knew it was a load of crap.

Every year, my daughter’s school has a memoir/personal narrative writing contest, and she has come in second both years.  She probably would have come in first place a couple years ago, but I had told her to write a true story and not use the tale of her fictional dead brother.  Instead of a story of tragic loss, she wrote a narrative about  overcoming her fears, and the story came in second.  Last year, she wrote another humorous story that came in second as well.

I think coming in second twice is a pretty noteworthy accomplishment, but my daughter wants to win.  Next year is her last year at this school, and she knows this is her last chance (though there will be other writing contests at other schools).  I have confidence in her writing abilities, but if the wrong family member of a talented competing writer has something tragic happen, my daughter might not stand a chance.

“It’s not fair,” my daughter complained.

Then she corrected herself.  “You know what I mean.”

I allow my daughters to use the sentence “You know what I mean” to get themselves out of bad situations caused by poor phrasing.  They can’t stop with “You know what I mean.”  They have to find better ways to express the thought that wasn’t as bad as what they originally said.

“I don’t want anybody to die!” my daughter said.  “But I want to win the contest.”

I kept silent.

She paused.  “So…” my daughter said, “Can I just lie?”

“I don’t know,” I finally said.  “Can you?”

She rolled her eyes.  “May I lie?”

“You probably shouldn’t if the story is supposed to be true.” I said.  “But you can embellish.”

Writers have to embellish, I explained.  Most people have boring lives most of the time, so it’s okay for a writer to focus on the mundane and try to make it interesting.  It takes talent to write about the mundane.  Even reality shows focus on the mundane most of the time.  If you take away the fancy editing and background music, reality shows are filled with boring stuff.

My daughter will have to figure out how to compensate for the lack of tragedy in her life.  That’s what successful people do; they compensate for their disadvantages.  My daughter is smart.  I was confident she would figure something out.  She might not win the contest (school hasn’t even started yet), but she will come up with a good strategy.

It didn’t take long.  A few hours later, my daughter burst into the living room.

“I know what I’m going to write about,” she said with a smirk.

I asked her what her topic was, and she wouldn’t tell me.

“I’ll let you read it when I’m done,” she said.

“When will that be?”

“In about three months.”

Normally, I’m all for keeping a writing project to myself until it’s done, but in this case, I think I deserve a bit more information.  After all, I helped her talk out her problem (I think).  I should be able to know what her solution was.  Now I have to wait three months.  I’m looking forward to reading whatever it was she came up with, but I don’t think it’s fair that I have to wait until she’s done.  At least she won’t wait until the last minute.  I’m glad she thinks she has this figured out.

Now that she has her idea, the school will probably change the rules and mess it all up.

*****

If you’ve ever had a tough time deciding what to write, you might enjoy this ebook .

Independent Author Cheats and Gets Book Deal

Snowman needs a bigger carrot.

Sigh!  Some snowmen will do anything for attention.

There are a lot of ways to cheat when you’re trying to sell a book.  You can put cleavage (or a hot shirtless guy) on the cover.  You can put profanity in the book title.  You can put a humorous vulgar image on the cover.  You can give yourself a gimmick pen name, or you can even pretend to be the opposite gender.

I’m not saying that cheating is wrong when it comes to selling a book.  New authors have to do what it takes to grab readers’ attention, so I don’t have a problem with an independent author cheating to sell books.  I call it cheating because these gimmicks often have nothing to do with the quality of the book, but the cheating isn’t necessarily bad.

The book Diary of an Oxygen Thief  by some guy named Anonymous took a few years to sell enough books to attract a major publishing company.  You can read more details here , including some strategies that are NOT cheating.   Remember, I’m not reviewing the content of the book.  I’m reviewing the process the author went through to sell enough copies of his book to get noticed.

First, the author called himself Anonymous.  This was before Anonymous the hacker (I think), but there have been earlier versions of Anonymous authors.  Anonymous wrote a controversial diary(?) called Go Ask Alice back in the 1970s.  Another Anonymous back in the 1990s (who turned out to be a journalist named Joe Klein) wrote the book Primary Colors about a presidential campaign that mirrored the Clintons.   Anonymous is the pen name authors sometimes use when they write stuff so controversial that they don’t want to attach a name to it.  It’s a gimmick because the stories usually aren’t true but the author wants to pretend they’re true.

Next, the cover of Diary of an Oxygen Thief  has a snowman with a carrot in a provocative place.  Some people would say that it’s the perfect place for a carrot.  It depends on one’s perspective, I guess.

The cover ticks me off, not because it’s vulgar, but because I came up with that idea back in 1973, and I’m sure somebody else came up with it before me as well.  Anyway, I was eight, and we’d just gone through a blizzard, and some friends and I had just built a snowman.  We put a baseball cap on it, and used buttons for eyes and a carrot for a nose.  In a moment of genius, I moved the carrot to a lower spot and pointed it out to everybody.

Nobody seemed offended, so I went inside and brought my older brother out.  He nodded his approval, went inside the house, and came back out with a bigger carrot.  If I’d had foresight, I would have photographed the snowman and used it for one of my ebook covers decades later.

Getting back to the book, Anonymous made about 1,000 copies and got a few of them inside a local book store.  Once copies of his book were distributed in small bookstores, the anonymous author supposedly pretended to be a publishing company to get his book into Barnes & Noble.  Lying is really cheating.  I don’t like lying.  But book publishers can be unethical too, so maybe it’s okay for an author to lie by pretending to be a publisher whom everybody assumes would be unethical anyway.

Anonymous also pretended to be a hot chick in an online dating service and mentioned the book in “her” profile as a book that she loved.  Yeah, it’s clever, but it’s also dishonest, and I feel bad for all the lonely guys who bought his book thinking they had a chance with a hot chick who liked books.

I’ve never been a lonely guy, but I’m a writer, so I’m empathetic and would never intentionally put a lonely guy through that experience.  I guess Anonymous is NOT empathetic.  I too thought of posing as a hot chick to get people to read my blog and buy my books.  I could have done it and chose not to.

Over time, Diary of an Oxygen Thief sold enough copies to get a publishing company’s attention, and now Anonymous has a book deal.    It’s great that Anonymous no longer has to pretend to be a publishing company and a hot chick.  On the other hand, I don’t think he ever got punished for pretending to be a publishing company or a hot chick.

As an aspiring author, I’m torn about this Anonymous.  I like to read success stories, but I don’t like to see bad behavior rewarded.  His success teaches writers bad lessons, like lying to Barnes & Noble and giving lonely guys false hope is justified.  I’m a little uncomfortable with that.

At least the lesson my older brother taught me decades ago was harmless:  When you’re building a snowman, use the biggest carrot.

*****

What do you think?  What’s worse, pretending to be a publishing company or pretending to be a hot chick?  How unethical are you willing to get in order to sell your books?  What other examples of Anonymous authors are out there?

*****

Just so you know, I’m trying to sell my own ebooks without resorting to bad behavior, so if you enjoyed this blog post, you can find my ebooks  here  and here.

Old Things That Are Tough to Explain: You Could Only Watch It Once

(image via wikimedia)

If you were lucky, this was in color.  (image via wikimedia)

“It won’t fast forward!” my youngest daughter complained as she waved the remote control at the television and dvr box.

“That’s because the show is live,” my oldest daughter said.

My youngest looked exasperated.  She has been accustomed to watching recorded programs or videos uploaded on sites like YouTube.  The concept of a television show being broadcast sometimes doesn’t make sense to her.  She understands it, but she forgets every once in a while, and then she gets mad.  I don’t know if she gets mad because she can’t fast-forward or because she forgot she can’t fast-forward.

“That’s stupid,” she said and flung the remote onto the couch.

When I was a kid, I told her, we didn’t even have remotes.  You had to get up and change the channel.  And that wasn’t even the worst of it. There was no vcr or dvr.  If you really enjoyed a scene on TV, all you had was the memory of it.  You couldn’t go back and rewatch it.

If somebody at home interrupted the show, or stood in front of the television, you couldn’t go back to see what you missed.  If you disagreed with another viewer about something that happened or what a character said, you couldn’t go back and replay it to prove who was right.  All you could do was argue.

I would have stopped there, but my youngest had lost interest and was staring at her phone.  It rubbed me the wrong way, so I kept on lecturing.

Once a television show was broadcast, that was it, I kept explaining.  You weren’t ever going to see it again, unless it was on syndication years later or you caught in during a rare rerun.  I once missed the second part of a two-parter of Welcome Back Kotter, and I never saw it.  At the time, I was probably eight, I really wanted to see it.  It’s going to haunt me until I… not really.  I don’t care now.

You had the same problem with movies too.  Once the movie left the theater, it was done.  You might never see it again.  It was frustrating hearing about great movies that I’d never see. I was certain I’d never see The Godfather.  I’d never see Animal House.  Nobody knew that cable television was just a few years away.  When we finally got cable, the first thing everybody watched was Animal House.  It was great, but the nudity had been exaggerated.

At the time, theaters had only one screen, and a movie might stay for one or two weekends, and that was it.  When the multi-cinemas started getting built, that was a big deal.  Our multi-theater (when our area finally got one) had four screens.  We could select from FOUR movies on any given night!! That was awesome!

The first movie I saw more than once was the original Star Wars in the late 1970s.  A lot of people saw that movie twice.  That might have been the first movie that lots of people saw more than once.  Now I can watch it on my phone whenever I want.

While I was speaking to my daughter, I thought of a movie my older brother used to describe scenes from, a 1970s classic called Flesh Gordon.  I didn’t mention this one to my daughter.  The title Flesh Gordon tells you most of what you need to know.  My brother’s descriptions of the movie were hilarious.  I’m sure I could watch Flesh Gordon now if I wanted to, but I won’t.  It won’t live up to the expectations that my brother built up in me.

I explained to my daughter that the television networks would run movies during prime time, but those had lots of commercials.  I think I saw my first James Bond movies on network television.  They always went to commercial when the movie was getting interesting.  Late night, you could watch old black-and-white movies, but I wasn’t interested, and it was past my bedtime.

I was going to explain that back then we honed our story-telling abilities by retelling what we’d seen on television and the movies.  We used our imagination to picture what our friends and siblings had seen and what we had missed.

My daughter hadn’t looked at me the entire time I was lecturing her.  I knew I had overdone it, but I was making a point.  My daughter was holding her phone up in my direction so that it blocked her face, but then she’d peek up at me and then stare at her screen again, and I finally realized what she was doing.

“Why are you recording me?” I said.

She tapped the phone and set it aside.  “So you can watch yourself talk about how when you were a kid you couldn’t watch anything more than once.  I’ll send it to you, and you can watch this whenever you want.”

My oldest daughter laughed (I’d forgotten she was in the room) and said, “That’s very meta.”

I haven’t watched my video, and I’m not sure I ever will.  My lecture probably wasn’t as good as my memory of it.

*****

What do you think?  What movie or television show did you miss out on watching when you were a kid?  Has anybody seen Flesh Gordon?

*****

Back when I was a kid, I couldn’t write my own ebooks, so I waited until now to write them.

Here’s one of them.  If you enjoyed this post, you’ll probably like this ebook too.

Why Is Shit a Bad Word?

Shit might be a bad word, but nobody's bothered by a turd.

Shit might be a bad word, but nobody’s bothered by a turd.

Most people don’t want to think about shit.  It’s kind of gross.  Some people might be fascinated with their own, but almost everybody is disgusted by other people’s.  Even though shit might be natural and necessary, it’s still gross.

People don’t like to think about shit, but we’re not supposed to say it either.  The word shit is considered rude and improper among most people.  If you’re a kid, you get in trouble for saying it.  If you’re an adult and you say shit in public, people look at you funny.

I have to admit, “Shit!” feels good to say.  When I crack my head against the cabinet, or hammer a nail into my thumb, or forget my wallet and don’t realize it until I’m at the airport, yelling “Shit!” always makes me feel better.  It’s my favorite profanity.  It’s not as bad as f#ck or modgammit, but it’s bad enough to get self-satisfaction from yelling it.

The word shit has a couple things working against it to make it a bad word.  Shit is a body function, and in much of society, it’s rude to discuss such things.  A lot of profanity comes from body parts and body functions that people aren’t supposed to talk about, and shit fits that profile.

Plus, shit is one syllable.  It’s okay to say the word defecate.  It’s okay to say defecation.  Those words are technical and multi-syllabic, so it’s sophisticated to use that terminology.  But shit is a one-syllable body function, and that often makes a word considered inappropriate.  That’s why it’s okay to say defection but not shit.  If I hit my head against the cabinet and yell out “Defecation!” I get no satisfaction from it.

A lot of people don’t know the word shit has a history.

Shit was from the Old English word scite and the Old English scītan which mean “to defecate” and is traced back to the early-to-mid 1500s.  Shit isn’t ancient like Greek Mythology, but it’s as old as Shakespeare, so it’s kind of old.  It’s not like some guy in the 1900s made up a new word and it suddenly became profane.

Shit has been around for a few centuries as a low-class word, and it’s earned its status.  For centuries, the word shit has been uttered in anger, pain, frustration, and other various forms of negative emotions.

There are several alternatives to shitPoop is not profanity, even though it means the same thing as shit and is only one syllable.  Poop is cute, much too cute to be profane.

Shucks is a better alternative because it starts the same way as shit and almost rhymes with f#ck, the ultimate profanity, but it doesn’t have the same meaning as shit.

Crap is the best alternative because it’s one syllable, and it’s not a bad word, but people think it is.  So if you want to be thought of as a rebel but still want to conform to social norms, use crap.

There are numerous variations of the word shitShit is usually a noun because it’s a thing, but shitty is an adjective because the word shitty is usually used to describe a noun.  For example, some readers might think this was a shitty topic for a blog post.

There are also a bunch of common phrases and terms that use variations of shit.

“You don’t know shit.” – That’s an insult because everybody knows what shit is, and it implies that you’re so stupid that you don’t know something that EVERYBODY knows.  It’s almost as bad as “You know nothing.”

“Piece of shit”- That’s an insult because shit is pretty low on the totem pole of status, and you’re not even complete shit; you’re merely a fraction of shit.

“You shit head.”- That means that your brain is made of shit (you’re stupid), and since you’re whole head is shit, your breath is probably bad too.

“I’m gonna beat the shit out of you.”- You’ll be pummeled so much that you shall lose control of your bowels.  You will probably urinate on yourself too, but that’s implied.

“Talking shit”- What you’re saying has no positive or productive value whatsoever.  In fact, what you’re saying is quite negative.

*****

When I write about profanity, I usually replace a vowel with a sign, like sh#t or f#ck, but I might stop doing that.  I’ve been censoring my own blog because I know that sometimes kids might read it.  However, I’ve seen what my daughters watch on YouTube, and I think I’ll stop censoring myself.  At least when I use profanity, I use it responsibly.

*****

What do you think?  What is the best alternative to the word shit?  Should a family-friendly blog use symbols as a form of self-censorship, or should I go ahead and spell out the profanity?  What variation of the word shit do you like the best?

*****

When I was a kid, I was punished for saying the word crap.  Looking back, it kind of ticks me off because now I know…

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

And here is the true story of my one moment of high school glory!

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Now only 99 cents each on the Amazon Kindle!

Divorce Ruins Love Story

Insert clever comment here.

They couldn’t make a couple commas for the cover?

In most circumstances, nobody would care if a famous author got divorced.  Famous authors aren’t like other celebrities, where every move is videoed and critiqued.  Nobody knows what most authors look like anyway.  So if a famous author gets divorced, who cares?

But what if the famous author became famous because of the love story she wrote about the guy she just divorced?

Huh?

About 10 years ago author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the huge best seller Eat, Pray, Love, and millions of women read it (and forced their boyfriends/husbands to see the movie).  The book has inspired a lot of women to travel, eat while they’re traveling, meditate while they’re traveling, and have lots of… uh… I’m not sure if the book really inspired women to do all of that, but a lot of women really loved this book.

I hope it doesn’t sound sexist to say that women read this book.  Just because I haven’t read it doesn’t mean that other men haven’t read it, but I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of people who have read Eat, Pray, Love are women.  The point is, men know what Eat, Pray, Love is about, even if we haven’t read it.  It’s that huge of a book.  If I’m sexist for expressing this thought, this sexism demonstrates how prolific and influential Eat, Pray, Love was.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago, Elizabeth Gilbert announced that she and her husband are getting divorced, and she wants privacy, and she’s staying off social media for a while.  Reaction to this has been almost nonexistent.  Social media didn’t blow up.  I accidentally came across this story while I was reading about something else.  I almost missed this story entirely.

Maybe it’s good that there’s little media attention.  There’s nothing wrong with Gilbert treating this privately.  It’s better than treating her novels like Taylor Swift treats her songs.  If I were single, I probably wouldn’t want to date an author because I’d know that all my flaws would show up in her writing eventually.  A guy who marries a writer like Gilbert knows that millions of readers are going to know him too.

I’ve defended Elizabeth Gilbert in the past, even though she probably doesn’t know it.  A few years ago, she got into a literary disagreement with author Phillip Roth over whether writing  was like “torture” or “f#cking great.”   Most people would automatically choose to side with Phillip Roth just because he’s Phillip Roth, but I agreed with Elizabeth Gilbert, even though I didn’t think she had a lot of credibility on the issue.

It’s easy to say writing is “f#cking great” when you’ve gotten rich by writing.  I have more credibility saying that writing is “f#cking great” because I make almost no money with my writing, and I do it anyway.

I’m not going to ever read Eat, Pray, Love.  It’s just not my kind of book.  I’m more likely to mock it or roll my eyes at the book than read it.  But Elizabeth Gilbert wrote it herself (unlike some famous authors), and she managed to get a fan base, and I respect that a lot.  And at the very least, a divorce means a possible sequel.

A couple online comments from this article complained that Gilbert’s divorce ruins the whole love story.  I don’t know.  12 years of marriage is a significant love story.  At least it wasn’t a one-night stand.

If Elizabeth Gilbert ever writes a sequel based on her divorce, some people will complain that she’s monetizing her divorce.  Of course she would be!  That’s the whole point of writing, to monetize our personal problems.  Maybe that’s not the entire point, but it’s part of the point.  The only problem is that Gilbert claims the divorce is amicable.  That would make a crappy book.  Nobody would want to read that kind of book.  If she wants to maintain her privacy, she’ll keep the divorce friendly.  That way, nobody will be interested.

*****

What do you think?  Does a divorce ruin a love story?  Should people who bought Eat, Pray, Love demand their money back?

University Library: State School

(image via wikimedia)

This is a university library, but it is not the university library that this story is about. (image via wikimedia)

Every college graduate has that unique story to tell.  It could be about getting drunk and waking up in a strange place, or cramming for exams, or pulling a prank, or seducing a professor (or getting hit on by a professor).

I’ve never told my unique college story.  Nobody knows about my college story, except for a bunch of people from college, none of whom I’ve kept in touch with.  My wife, my parents, my siblings, none of them have heard this story yet.  I’m quiet but not secretive, so you know if I haven’t told this story yet, it has to be kind of bad.

First of all, I was supposed to go to a private university.  It wasn’t as prestigious as an Ivy League school, but it was (and still is) very much respected.  It’s also expensive, and though my high school grades were good, they weren’t stellar and my extracurricular activities were weak (I had an after school job), so I didn’t get the scholarship money that I was hoping for.

My family was in that middle ground where my parents made enough money to make me ineligible for most financial aid, but we couldn’t afford to pay the private university’s costs, not without some outside help.  So at the last minute, I decided to go to the state university.  With a reasonable student loan and by working part-time jobs, my parents could help me out enough for me to go there.  It was better than nothing.

The state university was okay, but we called it the state school.  The state school had a decent reputation, but almost anybody could get in, and I’d never had a desire to go to there .  I was proud to have been accepted to the private university, and I had wanted to prove that I belonged there, so I was disappointed.

Looking back and considering the profession I chose, it’s a good thing I went to the state school.  The private university wouldn’t have given me much of an advantage (except for the possible networking), so I saved myself a bunch of student loan money.  Back then in the 1980s, you paid off your student loans or else.

The only reason I mention this is that I went in to state school as a freshman without a prearranged roommate.  My high school friends going to the state school had already worked out their roommate situations.  Since I had waited so long to enroll, it was too late for me to make my own roommate arrangement.  My roommate was going to be picked by the school at random.

I’d heard a bunch of horror stories about random roommates.  It didn’t matter what gender you were, a random roommate could make college a living hell.  My roommate (once I got to know him) didn’t make me miserable, but he had an impact, and this story wouldn’t have happened the same way without him.

I’ve written a story about my high school days (“Long Story” AKA The Writing Prompt ).  I’ve written a romantic comedy blog serial from my days as a young professional ( The Literary Girlfriend ).  I’ve even written a marriage story (Nice Things, which is kind of a sequel to “The Literary Girlfriend”).  But I haven’t written any complete stories about my college days.  I’ve avoided writing too much about my college days, and as this blog serial continues, it will be obvious why I avoided writing about it.

I remember the stuff that happened in college, but I’m not sure about the chronological order of a lot of it, so this story might seem jumbled.  Some of the anecdotes might seem unimportant, but context is crucial.  Context explains why people believed the accusation made about me later on in this story.  Context will hopefully also demonstrate that I’m not the kind of person who does what I was accused of doing.

This story is going to take a while to tell, and it’s going to be all over the place because I remember the stuff that happened, but I don’t remember the order it happened in.  There were too many people involved for a reader of a blog serial (or even me, the author) to keep track of, so I’m making some composite characters.  I don’t remember word for word everything that was said, so some of the dialogue might not be accurate, but hopefully I capture the right tone.

I won’t intentionally try to make myself look better than I really was.  I’ll look bad a few times in this story, and some (not all) of what happened to me was my fault.  I won’t try to hide that.  I’ll also try not to make myself look worse than I really am either.

A lot of this story takes place in the University Library, and I don’t even remember what it looked like.  I searched it online, and the building was unrecognizable to me.  Remember, this happened over 30 years ago, and it does not feel like it was just yesterday.

I’ve heard a lot of strange stories of weird stuff that goes on during college.  But I’ve never heard of anybody else going through what I experienced.  And I’m going to tell you all about it over the next few months(?) in the blog serial… University Library!!

*****

To be continued… and it hasn’t even started yet.

Print Is Not Dead

At least he's not staring at his phone. (image via wikimedia)

At least he’s not staring at his phone. (image via wikimedia)

“Print is dead,” I said as my family entered the book store.  It was a stupid thing to say, I admit, and probably rude.  I’ve never said “God is dead” while walking into a church.  It’s just that the first thing I noticed was a bunch of people staring at their phones.  Staring at their phones in a book store?  What else was I supposed to say?

Print isn’t dead.  Not yet, anyway.  According to Nielson BookScan  (I didn’t know Nielson kept track of book sales too!), sales of print/real books are up 6% for the first half of 2016, even though there hasn’t been a blockbuster this year.  A few years ago 50 Shades of Grey was the blockbuster, and everything that was 50 Shades related sold well.  There hasn’t been a blockbuster like 50 Shades since, but real books are still being bought anyway.

Five years ago, a lot of people thought that print was dying, that young people would prefer digital, even as they got older.  Maybe kids do/will prefer digital, but real books might still be more useful.  Research shows  that readers who use a real book will retain information better than  somebody who uses a digital format.  I don’t know if these studies are accurate.  They could have been rigged, or they might be biased, or they might have been paid for by the educational publishing industry so that they could justify overcharging for printed textbooks.

It’s too bad that sales for fiction are going down, despite the overall rise in book sales.  According to other recent studies , which may or may not have been accurate, people who read fiction, especially literary fiction, are supposed to be more empathetic than people who don’t read fiction at all.  There are a lot of narrow minded people out there who can see things only from their points-of-view.  We need more empathy in this world.  Therefore, we need more people to read fiction.  Maybe studies will show that people who read print fiction become more empathetic than people who read digital fiction.

I let my daughters buy a couple books each month, but I don’t let them buy magazines, especially teen celebrity magazines.  My daughters can find anything they want about teen celebrities on the internet.  The internet is great simply because I’ve never had to spend money on a teen celebrity magazine.  Somebody must be buying them, though.  There were a bunch of teen celebrity magazines in the book store, and my youngest daughter wanted to buy them all.  Print isn’t dead until the teen celebrity magazine is dead with it.

Even though I let my daughters buy their own books, I use the library.  We can’t afford to have everybody in my family buy their own brand new books.  New books are expensive.  Plus, I pay for the library with my taxes, whether I use the library or not, so I might as well use it.  On some days when I don’t even feel like reading, I go to the library and check out a bunch of books, just out of spite.

A 6% increase in book sales over the first six months of the year is a blip in the larger scheme of economics, but it’s better than a 6% decrease.  Even though I like reading books digitally, especially when I travel or am standing in a long line, I’m glad that print isn’t dead.  There’s a lot of value in print.

As we drove home, I kept my eyes on the road like I’m supposed to, but while we sat at a red light, I glanced at my daughters in the back seat.  I’d been expecting them to be reading the books I’d just paid for.  Instead, they were staring at their phones.

“Print is dead,” I said quietly to myself.

*****

What do you think?  Is print making a comeback?  Was print ever truly threatened?

July 2016 Fiction Best Sellers: A Review

Stephen King could rewrite the phone book, and it would be a best seller, and nobody reads phone books anymore.

Stephen King could rewrite the phone book, and it would be a best seller, even though nobody reads phone books anymore.

There are a lot of good reasons to study best seller lists, even if you’re not going to read the best sellers right away.  For one thing, it’s a good idea to keep up with trends in the publishing industry. Plus, you might find an idea for yourself to write about, as long as you make enough changes to avoid being accused of plagiarism.

On the other hand, you might discover some ideas NOT to write about, since a best selling author has just taken the idea.  Finally, you automatically seem more literate and sophisticated if you know what novels are currently selling well.

Below are the best selling novels for the second week of July 2016, according to the New York Times:

  1. End of Watch by Stephen King

This is the third book in the Bill Hodges trilogy, which also includes Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers.   The problem with trilogies, though, is that the story has to be really compelling for readers to put the time and energy into reading three books, even if they are written by Stephen King.

Stephen King has been writing books since I’ve been in junior high school.  Now my daughters are in junior high school, but they haven’t read any Stephen King books yet.  Maybe I should start them with Carrie.

      2.  The Girls by Emma Cline

A teenage female gets drawn in to a cult in the late 1960s.   It’s supposed to be like a fictional retelling of the Manson story from the viewpoint of one of cult’s followers. Those cult leader dudes like Manson tend to have some character flaws, but they can always attract women.

When I was younger and going through a romantic drought (I was getting turned down by a lot of women), I thought about becoming a cult leader.  I decided against it because things usually get out of control and end badly.

     3.  Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand

Three women are married to the same man (and I think they know they’re married to the same man), and when he dies they must endure a weekend together.  I don’t understand why a guy has to marry all three women.

I thought the proper thing to do was to marry one woman and then have affairs with the other two.  The title makes it sound like the women will get along by the end of the book.  But at least the married guy wasn’t a cult leader.

     4.  Tom Clancy: Duty and Honor by Grant Blackwood

Tom Clancy has gone from being an author to a title.  It’s not unusual for popular/iconic characters to be written by somebody who is not the original author, but I didn’t know Jack Ryan was an iconic character, and I don’t know if I like the deceased author becoming part of the title.  When somebody who was not Ian Fleming wrote James Bond books, the cover said Ian Fleming’s James Bond in… BOOK TITLE.  I don’t think Ian Fleming ever became the actual book title.

Maybe author Grant Blackwood should write a novel where Tom Clancy is the main character.  Then I wouldn’t mind the name Tom Clancy being in the title.

     5.  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train remains in the top ten!!

Every month when I review the best seller lists, I marvel at the appearance of The Girl on the Train.  Will it be a best seller in August?  If the author hurries, she can have a sequel out before her book drops out (because I have no idea when it’s going to drop out).

     6.  Foreign Agent by Brad Thor

What does Brad Thor think about a Tom Clancy book written by somebody who is not Tom Clancy?  Thor and Clancy compete for the same kind of readers, so it might irk Thor that he still has to compete with Tom Clancy after Tom Clancy has died.

I’m jealous of Brad Thor for having a cool name, but his books are a lot shorter than Tom Clancy’s, and sometimes contain just as much story.  And Brad Thor hasn’t put himself in the title yet.

     7.  After You by Jojo Moyes

This is the sequel to Me Before You.  Author Jojo Moyes has a lot going on right now.  Me Before You recently came out as a movie, After You is still selling really well, and she has a book of short stories coming out in October.  At least, I think it’s a collection of short stories.  After all, it’s called Paris for One, and Other Stories., so that makes it sound like a collection of stories.  At any rate, that’s a pretty good year.

     8.  The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

One of the main characters is a con man named Nick Fox.  A con man named Fox?  Ugh.

     9.  Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

This was also in June’s best seller list!  I was surprised a book about a mysterious plane crash would stay in the top ten.  Critics are still angry at the television show Lost.  I didn’t even watch Lost, and I’m still angry about it.  It’s not fair to plane crash novels that a television show ruined the premise of the mysterious plane crash, but at least that hasn’t seemed to affect Before the Fall much.

     10.  Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Congratulations to new author Stephanie Danler for her debut novel staying in the top ten for July.  There might have been a lot of pressure on her because of her highly publicized huge advance, but sales of her novel seem to remain strong.  Maybe there are a lot of food fiction fans out there who like titles where compound words are reversed.  Maybe the sequel (if there is one) will be called Taste After.  If it’s After Taste, then it sounds like a Jojo Moyes book.

*****

What do you think?  Is Brad Thor a real name?  Should deceased authors be used in book titles?  When will The Girl on the Train fall out of the top ten?  What should the title of the Sweetbitter sequel be?

Maybe This Book Shouldn’t Get Published Yet

Just so you know, this isn't the peeping tom. This is the author who wrote about the peeping tom. (image via wikimedia)

Just so you know, this isn’t the peeping tom. This is the author who wrote about the peeping tom. (image via wikimedia)

It’s a creepy premise for a book.  A motel owner peeps at a bunch of people in his establishment over several decades.  Supposedly, it’s a true story, and it’s creepy that it happened.  It’s creepy that an author wants to write a detailed book about it.  It’s creepy that a publishing company wants to put this book out there.

The potentially creepy book is The Voyeur’s Motel by Gay Talese.  Talese has been a respected writer for a long time. Decades ago, what he wrote (according to this Washington Post article) was considered New Journalism, where the author combines reporting with writing techniques used in fiction.  A lot could go wrong when you combine journalism and fiction-writing techniques.  I prefer the facts in journalism, and the fiction-writing techniques in fiction.

Now, just before the book’s release, Talese has found out that the primary source for The Voyeur Motel, notes taken by the voyeur himself, might not have been truthful about all the details.  I’m not a journalist (and I don’t want my blog to revel in creepiness), so  you can read the details here and an update here  if you want.  Instead of delaying the book and making sure there are no other surprises, the publishers are going ahead with the July 12 publishing date.

It’s probably not a good idea for an author, even a New Journalist, to rely on one source for a story.  I’m no reporter, but I always heard that a story was supposed to corroborated by two or three sources.

When I was growing up, a common saying was: “Trust but verify.”

To me, that meant “distrust but verify,” but I understood.  You don’t want to act like you’re distrustful.  You act like you believe your witness/note writer/interviewee and then go back and check things out.  That way it’s non-confrontational.

A few years ago, Rolling Stone magazine got burned by a rape story where the reporter didn’t verify some facts.  The reporter lost her credibility, and so did Rolling Stone.

Last decade, news anchor Dan Rather blew his whole reputation on a document that turned out to be forged.  If he’d verified instead of just trusting, he might not have damaged his career.

It’s a lot easier today to check facts than it used to be, so I’m puzzled why professionals don’t do it.  I can understand why students don’t do it; students are supposed to be lazy.  But professionals are getting paid.  When money is on the line, you want to get it right… unless there’s a deadline to meet or an agenda to set.

Once a journalist is caught getting sloppy, it’s tough to trust him/her again.  The first goal of the journalist should be to get it right.  When the journalist gets caught getting sloppy once, it’s natural to wonder how many other times the author got careless but didn’t get caught.

Even if we knew for certain that The Voyeur Motel was 100% accurate, I’m not sure I’d want to read it.  This is one of those situations where it’s okay to be aware of the basics that something bad happened but we don’t really want to know the details.

I’m not saying this book shouldn’t ever be published.  I’m just suggesting that since it’s so creepy that they’d better make sure it’s accurate.

This is a candidate for my  Books Too Embarrassing To Read In Public list.  There’s no way I’d want to walk around carrying The Voyeur Motel with me.  I don’t want to be the guy who’s seen reading a book about a peeping tom.  It’s not as bad as being a peeping tom, but no man wants to be associated with the idea of being a peeping tom.

If I were a publisher, I’d use this controversy as an excuse NOT to publish this book.  This book just seems like a bad idea, and now there’s proof that this bad idea has been poorly executed.  Sometimes poorly executed bad ideas can work, but usually not if the ideas are creepy, and especially if the facts might be wrong.

*****

What do you think?  How accurate should a New Journalist be?  How creepy can a book be before you decide not to read it?  Would you read The Voyeur’s Motel in public?

Is Ain’t A Word?

If it's in the title of a song, it has to be a word. (image via wikimedia)

If it’s in the title of a song, it has to be a word. (image via wikimedia)

40 years ago, nobody thought ain’t was a real word.  After all, it wasn’t in the dictionary.  At least, ain’t wasn’t in any of the dictionaries that we students looked in.  The conventional wisdom back then was that if a word wasn’t in the dictionary, then it wasn’t really a word.  It never occurred to me then that a dictionary could change its mind.  Nowadays, if enough people start using words, then the dictionary will bend its judgement and include them, infuriating purists and grammarians everywhere.

If any non-word should become a word, it’s ain’t.  I don’t have proof to back this up, but it’s probably been one of the most commonly used non-words over several generations.

In elementary school, I had a friend who used to say, “Ain’t ain’t a word, so you ain’t s’posed to say it three times a day cuz it ain’t proper.”

The humor in that statement was that the word ain’t was used four times in one sentence when you weren’t supposed to say it three times in one day.  I had some rebellious friends.

In high school, I even remember a couple teachers who frequently said ain’t.  One was a science teacher, and when a bold student corrected her, the science teacher retorted:

“I ain’t a English teacher.”

After the bold student corrected the usage of the words a and an, the science teacher repeated:

“I ain’t a English teacher.”

If teachers were using ain’t in front of their classes, we thought, then it had to be a word, no matter what the English teachers said.  The English teachers were outnumbered by every other teacher.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary now states that ain’t is “widely disapproved as nonstandard and more common in the habitual speech of the less educated.”

I would love to have seen my science teacher’s reaction to that.

Even though the word ain’t is considered improper, there’s a logic to its usage.  Most (if not all) forms of the verb be have contractions.  Is not has isn’t.  Was not has wasn’t.  Were not has weren’t.

And a few hundred years ago, am not had amn’t.

Somewhere along the way, amn’t became ain’t.  And somewhere along the way, ain’t became improper.

Part of that stigma might be because ain’t is a contraction.  English teachers used to instruct us students not to use contractions in our writing.  As far as contractions go, ain’t is probably the most extreme because it’s often used in situations where am not should not be used.

For example, am not could be used after the pronoun I , but it shouldn’t be used after youhe, she, it, we, and they.  Most people use ain’t indiscriminately after any pronoun or subject.  I’m just speculating, but ain’t might be frowned upon more than any other contraction simply because it’s so misused.  There’s a correct way to use ain’t, and there are many wrong ways.

*****

Correct Example

am not going to read A Song of Ice and Fire until George RR Martin actually finishes it.

That is grammatically correct.

  I ain’t  going to read A Song of Ice and Fire until George RR Martin actually finishes it.

If ain’t is ever proper, the above sentence has the correct usage.  My science teacher was using ain’t correctly, and I didn’t know it.

*****

Incorrect Example

We am not ever going to read another James Patterson novel.

To be correct, the phrase should be are not instead of am not.

We ain’t ever going to read another James Patterson novel.

Since am not was not grammatically correct in that situation, then ain’t shouldn’t be either.

I kind of wish that the dictionary would outright state that ain’t is not a word.  We need higher standards in almost every part of our lives, and language is one of them.  That doesn’t mean I’d ever correct anybody for saying ain’t.  Correcting grammar is worse than using improper grammar.

No matter what the dictionary decides, ain’t might never become a universally accepted word.  It’s too controversial and has had too long of a history.  And, if it ever became proper, we’d have to find a new way to annoy grammarians.

*****

What do you think?  Should ain’t be considered a real word?  If ain’t did become a real word, how else would we annoy grammarians?

*****

The above article “Is Ain’t a Word?” was written by the author of the two fine ebooks below!!

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