Friday, June 29, 2012

In Praise of Independent Book Sellers

As many of my blog readers may recall, I am married to an extraordinary woman who just happens to be a school librarian. I say extraordinary because her life is dedicated to passing the love of reading onto children, and if there is a hope for the future, it will be found in a book.

Recently she invited me to an event held at the Lake Forest Book Store, in Lake Forest, Illinois, where she would be speaking on the subject of the importance of Author visits to schools. In the audience were several school librarians from the greater Chicago area as well as representatives from Scholastic and Harper Collins. The greater purpose of the event was to foster a partnership between the book store and the librarians, much like my adorable wife has participated in since 2003. Here are my reflections on the evening and the topics presented.

First things first, an interesting factoid. The Lake Forest Bookstore is the last independent seller of new books in Lake County, Illinois. I grew up in near Chicago in the suburb of Elmwood Park and I remember as a small boy taking trips to the Lake Street Mall in Oak Park with my sister to visit the Krock's and Brentano's bookstore. It was a narrow storefront just east of the Marshal Field's and the experience was incredible. Unlike the now-late Border's and Barnes & Noble stores, this was a single level storefront with narrow aisles and books crammed onto every available shelf. All around was the fragrance of the printed page and the patrons were truly interested in looking through the books to find a treasure to take home with them. Sadly, the K & B is no longer there. However, the closest experience I have ever had to that magical feeling is in the Lake Forest Book Store. For the curious, here is their facebook page. I am sad that more stores like this do not exist, so sad in fact that I am telling everyone I can to stop by and visit.

Now, back to my beautiful wife who loves to teach children about reading. As she explained, it was in 2003 when she was first contacted by the Lake Forest Book Store asking if she would be interested in an Author visit at her school. Seeing the learning potential an actual Author at her school speaking to the students, she agreed, starting a teaching experience for her students that continues to this day. Certainly Authors are not always easy to deal with, but the children are usually awestruck and the Lake Forest Book Store profits from book sales tied to the arrangement. As her husband I am privy to the details of the Author's needs and how they drive her crazy. Certainly they are not rock-star crazy needs, but some are very particular. In the end, the students are enriched, the local economy is bolstered, and the art of telling the story goes on.

After my wife was done speaking, I retreated to a corner of the store while the sales reps pradled on and on, as sales reps of any industry are known to do. I found a comfy chair and started reading the first book my hand fell across, Fahrenheit 451. I started reading and got about half way through by the time the reps were done (by the way, Scholastic has a book coming out that seems to be a rip-off of the TV show Quantum Leap). My wife came over to me with a stack of swag (free books) for me to carry. As I took them to the car my mind kept drawing a comparison between the crushing depression of a world without books envisioned by Ray Bradbury, and a world where books are only electronic and not available in stores.

By the way, there is no WI-FI internet access at the Lake Forest Book store.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The prolific Chuck Wendig is hosting a flash fiction contest at his website

Recently I've steered away from writing flash fiction as I am consumed with a MG novel I am working on and as I see it, if I have time for 1,000 words a day, I would rather dedicate it to the novel. 

As usual, however, Chuck's topic caught my eye and set the keys to clicking. In this particular challenge he presented options of setting to writers. In my judgement writing solely about the setting was too easy and if real writing is to be done, the setting must be the most minor of set dressing. 

Thanks for the challenge CW. Here is my entry.

Margaret bit down on her lower lip, trying not to think about the feeling of despair that overcame her in the grocery store. Her life had always been cataloged and defined by a mildly delusional feeling that she was being judged by every one. Places where strangers shared aisles with her and hid around corners pretending not to see her opened up dark places in her mind. She knew they were focused on her as they pretended to have gentle conversations with each other or spoke softly into their cell phones. What they were actually saying was that her pants made her look fat, and the pimple just above her hairline was looking infected. She wished Steve hadn't gone.

When she was with Steve, it all felt better, more natural for her. As he walked by her side, those who would mock and jeer turned and scattered. Steve was in her life for a very short period of time. When he left, her feelings of paranoid self criticism returned. Alone now, Margaret struggled to deal with her 48 years of age, bags under her eyes, poorly fitting bra, and mismatched purse. Margaret felt terrible.

Pecan Sandy, sometimes called Peekaboo or Peeks, was Margaret's cat. Like her, Peekaboo was middle aged and without a like-species companion. Although not particularly modest, if he cared about what other cats thought of him, his looks, and his personal hygiene, he didn't show it. Peekaboo was happy laying on the carpet and getting waited on by Margaret. Like most cats, Peekaboo was a demanding master. If the water in his bowl was more than 12 hours old he would vomit on the floor. If the litter box was excessively pungent, he wet the laundry basket. And when there was no moist canned food in his bowl, he howled as if passing a moon-sized kidney stone until there was.

Steve hated Pecan Sandy and Pecan Sandy hated Steve right back. Their acrimony hit its peak just as Steve and Margaret's physical involvement was climaxing. The long anticipated consummation happened in her apartment, in full view of Peekaboo. Like a trench coat concealed pervert at a twenty-five cent peep show, Peeks stared at them during their lovemaking. Sitting on the covers at the foot of the bed, he watched as each participant took turns climbing on top of the other. The grunts and groans of luke-warm passion did little to alter his expression of ambivalence. The rhythmic back and forth rocking of the bed brought to Peekaboo the motion of a shaking bowl of gelatin, but it did not unseat him from his spot.

Peeks watched the thrusting, grabbing, and sweating, all the while tolerating the nauseating coital dialog of 'oh, yea' and 'God, you're the best'. Peeks knew he was the best and that everyone else was a distant second. The termination of the sex act was followed by a prolonged period of panting for recovery, during which time Peeks walked delicately up the covers between the couple and sprawled out around Margaret's head. Once situated, Peeks beat his tail across Steve's face until he dislodged a clump of litter concealed in the fur, sending it into Steve's left nostril.

Margaret thought Steve over reacted when he scurried out of her bed and tried blowing the foreign object from his sinuses using the closest small article of clothing he could find, her panties. No pleading in the world could get him to stay. The feline feces and aggregate ball was the wedge that would drive them apart. Margaret spent the rest of the night weeping on the couch with Peekaboo sitting next to her, exhibiting the outward appearance of a man who won.

Margaret pulled back with her left hand and swung the shopping cart into aisle 9. The cat food was on the far end. She pushed the empty cart, straining as if it was filled with bricks. Each step she took became shorter and more labored. She thought of Peekaboo in her apartment, staring at a clock, wondering what was taking her so long. Margaret became weak, her legs barely moving now. Her back grew stiff and a tightness seized her chest. She gasped for air but none would come. She fell on the floor, the force of her body's decent sending the cart careening into a display filled with cat food cans. Margaret lay sprawled out in aisle 9. A can, dislodged from the cat food display by her runaway cart, teetered and rolled into her outstretched hand. As her vision faded, she fumbled with her fingers across the tiny cylinder. Aisle 9 is where Margaret's heart beat its last.

One week later, Pecan Sandy, starved and neglected, still in Margaret's apartment staring at the clock, joined her on the other side.

Monday, June 4, 2012

one thousand words...

I am an internet news addict. I love obscure stories and life's observations from a thousand different viewpoints all at the same time. The flood of information feeds the deep down ADD 12 year old that I really am and my ability to recall obscure facts and anecdotes faster than the state capitols is self-validation of my desire to be a writer.

Recently I saw a story about a seventy-year-old Scottish railway experiment. The inventor's attempt was to double the use of existing railroad right-of-ways by constructing an elevated track over the pathway of the existing rails. Brilliant! The added transport system consisted of an aerodynamically shaped passenger car supported on over-and-under monorails. Brilliantly Brilliant! To top it off, the car is transported by air pressure developed by twin propellers mounted  both fore and aft of the passenger car. Holy Shit, that's infinite number of angels on the head of a pin Brilliant!

The original photos from the 30's are nostalgic yet uninspiring, depicting the test of the train system on the incredibly short portion of track. Even with the hazardous position of a large diameter propeller blade in close proximity of passengers on the platform, the photos depict a world in control and without options.

On the other hand, photos taken 20 years later, just prior to its dismantling for scrap, show the rusted prototype towers and the deceased transport system dangling listlessly by an elevated passenger platform.

It was this image that resonated with me like the dickens and sent my mind supersonic in the direction of a world that never existed except between my ears.I imagined a time and a world where the unconventional was inspiring and worthy of at the least giving it a try even if the evidence of failure hung literally right over the heads of the inventors. For me this is gold. Instantly the abandoned train car inspired a vision for the world I am currently writing about and kept my subconscious transfixed until I could start describing it in words.

I am becoming more familiar with this metamorphic writing process even though its sentient nature still scares the crap out of me. With my ABNA finalist novel out of the running, I was planning a different story and really starting to get into it. Then a new idea popped into my head and I wrote a couple of pages swearing I was going to get back to the other story as soon as I had the notes done. My new WIP now consumes me. I have five chapters written so far and unlike my previous novels, this time I am abandoning the seven point plot outline and going with the three act scene outline method. Wish me luck, I have to get back to writing.