Thursday, January 31, 2008

Uh-oh, another book tour

This is Carrie, one of our spaniels. She's sulking because the new book has arrived which means her master (that would be me) is about to head out on the road.

Starred Review of Hell's Bay

Well, here's the last pre-publication review. Not bad.

Advanced Review – Uncorrected Proof
Issue: February 15, 2008

Hell's Bay.
Hall, James W. (Author)
Feb 2008. 320 p. St. Martin's/Minotaur, hardcover, $24.95. (0312359586).
Starred Review *

Thorn, the crime-solving Key Largo recluse, keeps taking chances, trying to expand his narrow comfort zone, but inevitably, those chances backfire, supporting his core belief that civilization should be avoided whenever possible. This time, he agrees to help a friend lead a fishing expedition into some off-the-map mangrove swamps, where the fish have never been touched by human hands. Nice idea,even if it means
having to socialize with the paying guests, but as it turns out, it means much more than that: two of the guests, offspring of the recently murdered Abigail Bates, matriarch of one of Florida’s leading aristocratic families, claim that Thorn is a long-lost relative and ask for his help in finding the killer. Thorn’s not buying it until it becomes clear that the killer doesn’t need to be found: he (or she?) is on their tail and intends to kill them all. So begins a white-knuckle thriller that draws on our deepest fears. When Thorn must slip into the swampy muck in the pitch-black night to seek his adversary, our blood pressure soars the way it did when Gregory Peck climbed into the water for his showdown with Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear. But Hall, able to mix thrills with more subtle character concerns as well as any crime writer, combines the action with a fascinating exploration of Thorn’s sense of self, as he ponders what it means if he really is related to Florida’s bluest bloods. There is no such thing as a bad Thorn novel, but this is one of the best of an excellent bunch.
— Bill Ott

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More on Kindle

More on the Kindle in the Times today.

I know some readers have a dogged affection for paperbacks and hardbacks (as one comment so thoroughly outlined below). So do I. I'm just experimenting with this thing to see its strengths and limitations. My guess is that the Kindle or some form of it might be playing a significant role in the future of reading.

But dogged is good.

Well, most of the time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What my wife does

Beside editing my books, that is, reading them first and giving me the hard truth, this is one way she spends her time. Amazing stuff.

Here's that magnified:

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ethics of the Kindle

There's a lot of discussion going on about the Kindle. Some of it here.

I'm enjoying my Kindle and can see many benefits to it, personally and otherwise.

Generally I'm giving it a provisional thumb's up. Provisional because I haven't lived with it long enough to be certain how much I'm going to use it.

I have a few problems with the design, as I've said earlier. Some of those problems I've found work-arounds for. The issue of holding it without unintentionally paging forward or backward has been almost resolved. It still happens, however, and it's a bit annoying.

Imagine buying a book and finding that some imaginary wind is dogging you, blowing the pages out of your grip at unexpected moments, forcing you to relocate your place again. This too may pass, but it hasn't yet. Not entirely.

The design doesn't really stir passion and lust as the iPod does. Or the iPhone. Those are simply beautiful creations. Compared to the Mac designs, the Kindle is clunky and unlovely and about as sleek as a Nash Rambler.

Then there are the uber-questions I keep circling back to.

As a writer I have one set of questions and as a book lover I have another set. They overlap a little and generally have to do with the ethics of owning such a device and encouraging others to join the Kindle revolution. For it does feel revolutionary in several ways.

The following questions assume the growing use of the Kindle.

1) What is the long term effect on libraries? Would libaries become places where the Kindle units are loaned? A tricky problem, to trust the return of a 300 dollar item. Could libraries make a deal with Amazon that they'd supply Kindles to public libraries around the country? Libraries could cut their own book budgets significantly by wirelessly downloading only the books their customers wanted. And trim shelf space as well. The wait for new books might also be shortened by having more copies available. More copies could be available because the cost of each copy would be so dramatically reduced. If unexpected demand for a particular title was high, downloading multiple times could solve that on the spot.

2) Bookstores seem the most threatened by a growth in Kindling. I assume that the current number of regular online book-buyers would grow just as the online music buyers grew as the iPod took hold. Buying music online simplifies the shopping process and allows for easy purchase of single tracks, and easy sampling of music. Kindle provides this too with simple downloads of sample chapters. (several short chapters in many cases) So whatever threat online bookselling already poses to conventional brick and mortar stores would inevitably grow.

3) Bookstores (2) I love my local bookstores (Books and Books in Coral Gables is legendary, and a mecca for book lovers. A gorgeous location as well, and great staff.) I feel disloyal in my fling with the Kindle. But I've been imagining and anticipating such a device for so long that I feel it's my duty to sample it.

But the impact on booksellers has fairly dire implications. With the cost of new hardbacks downloaded to the Kindle running about ten dollars, it's a far better deal than the 18 you'd pay at a discounted chain. And less than half of the price you'd pay at a non-discounted Independent.

Sure, the older set will resist such a change in book buying habits. But I can see all kinds of reasons why wirelessly shopping for books will be attractive to the younger generation (that fraction that reads), and to some older readers who don't want to fight traffic or navigate the malls or aisles of Borders or BN.

How can the bookstore fight back against this? They fought back against the coffee shop/mega bookstore by getting bigger and adding their own coffee shops. That's worked to an extent, I suppose. But this is a new front in the war on bookstores, and I'm not sure how it'll play out.

4) Green issues: Printing, packing, shipping, then returning unsold books. All that is avoided with the Kindle. The storage costs, the labor of opening boxes and shelving books is saved. Trees, wood, paper, ink. On the green side, there may be a downside to the Kindle I don't see. But I doubt there's a downside as deep as the upside.

5) Economics Pirating ebooks seems inevitable once a unit such as this grows in popularity. Hackers will find a way to make books available to multiple Kindle users--(an irritating handicap now--there's no way to loan to a friend a bought-and-paid-for Kindle book)

What are the publishers charging Amazon for ebooks? I'll be in New York next week visiting my publisher, agent, and others and plan to research this side of things.

I can't help think as I said in an earlier post that the Kindle will act as a further downward pressure on profit margins for publishers and inevitably for writers.

Sometimes I get a wave of doomsday sensation ala Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" and think maybe I should haul out my typewriter, toss all the electronics, and hunker down in a cave somewhere and wait this out.

But the truth is, I'm enjoying my first reading experience on the Kindle and have solved most of the little logistical problems of using it. I think it's going to eventually play a larger and larger role in my reading habits. And I'm convinced that it will play that same increasing role in the book business.

Here's a personal note: Magic City, which comes out in paperback next week, will be selling for 6.99 in paperback, and 9.99 in Kindle edition. The sales of paperbacks have already dropped dramatically in the last few years as the price of hardbacks have dipped and the cost of paperbacks has climbed. Why wait for the paperback if it's not going to be that much cheaper than the hardback? (goes the logic) But if people start Kindling hardbacks, that would seem to suggest a rise in early purchase of a book, and even a steeper decline in paperback sales.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Parallels--Writing Novels--Magic City

Okay, so explain this. Why does this crop circle (obviously created by aliens)

look exactly like Cobra Woman:

And then there's this to consider. The strange parallels between this owl in flight

And Joyce Carol Oates

And here's two otherworldly fellows who know the sound of one hand clapping.

Robert Frost used to say that poetry is one of the acceptable ways of "saying one thing and meaning something else." I believe this is also one of the fundamental building blocks of good fiction. Metaphors, symbols, those secondary resonances, echoes.

It's tricky business to care about these issues, and to write with such principles in mind. Tricky because, for one thing, most readers don't care about "secondary meanings" or can find such stuff downright snooty.

But such techniques keep me interested in the process of writing.

Take Magic City, for instance, my last novel, which is coming out in paperback in a couple of weeks. The similarities, or parallels, between the events that were unfolding in Miami in the mid-sixties and the events that have been unfolding in the last few years was striking to me. I wanted to write about a government that was willing to go to any lengths to achieve its political agenda. Sound familiar?

After doing some research on that period in Miami's history (which also happened to be the time period when I first arrived in Florida) the parallels between our approach to Cuba in the mid-sixties and our approach to Iraq in the last seven years struck me as strangely similar. There are other times in US political history when our politicians have crossed moral and legal lines to achieve their ends. I can think of several off the top of my head.

This political aspect of Magic City wasn't all I was interested in, but it certainly helped me keep my focus.

Saying one thing and meaning something else. The trick is to say the one thing that's on the surface of the story well enough so that the narrative is absorbing to the reader whether or not they see or feel the secondary significance.

But, personally, it's hard for me to conceive of a book that I'd be interested in writing that operates only on that surface level. I like metaphors. I like parallels. I've always had a thing for analogies.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tsunami Tuesday

Forget about Super Duper Tuesday--Now they're calling it Tsunami Tuesday.

Whatever it is, it's still February 5, Primary voting day in lots of big states, but more importantly it's pub date for Hell's Bay.

A little more than two weeks from the book tour, I find myself doing what I do with every book about now. I go back and skim through it to remind myself what it's about and to try to find a passage here or there that I might want to read in public.

You'd think that a writer would remember their novel vividly. It's only been since August that I finished it and turned it in. But since then I've written a good deal, and started a new book with all the research and false starts involved in the process, and that's sort of blacked out my memories of Hell's Bay.

One thing I do remember with great clarity, though, and the thing I plan to talk about a little on the tour is something that's kind of technical. Point of view.

For the first time in twenty years of working with Thorn, I tried to render him in first person. I had to find his voice, how he sounds, his rhythms. And for the first time I tried to blend first person with third person. All the other characters are rendered from the third person, he, she. So there's something of a clash in points of view. I've preached against this for years. As a traditionalist in many ways, it seems like a real violation of the standard way point of view should work in a novel.

But once I let myself do it, I found it pretty appealing. The intimacy of first person gives Thorn a level of exposure he's never had before. And this is a book in which Thorn learns a great deal about who he is and where he came from, so that intimacy seems appropriate.

I usually tell funny stories on the tour, and probably will this year. So I'm trying to find the humorous angle on this literary feature. Haven't located it yet. Any help would be appreciated.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Amazon's Reviewers

Thanks to Harold for this interesting piece in Slate on Amazon's "amateur reviewers."

Who Is Grady Harp?
Amazon's Top Reviewers and the fate of the literary amateur.
By Garth Risk Hallberg
Posted Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008, at 7:33 AM ET
Full disclosure: It was late at night, in a fit of furtive self-Googling, that I discovered the first Amazon customer review of my debut book of fiction. "Superb," wrote Grady Harp of Los Angeles. "Fascinating ... addictive." Not to mention "profound." Such extravagance should have aroused suspicion, but I was too busy basking in the glow of a five-star rave to worry about the finer points of Harp's style. Sure, he'd spelled my name wrong, but hadn't he also judged me "a sensitive observer of human foibles"? Only when I noticed the "Top 10 Reviewer" tag did I wonder whether Grady Harp was more than just a satisfied customer. After a brief e-mail exchange, my publicist confirmed that she'd solicited Grady Harp's review.

Read the rest here...

Miss South Florida Smeared

Not to be outdone by other beauty queen sabotage attacks...South Florida strikes back with our own absurdity..

Ah, but good triumphs over evil...

and she prevails.

Kindle Field Test Part 3

Okay, okay, I take it all back. Well, most of it.

I've spent a few hours reading on my Kindle and I've now read the User's Manual and some websites done by hackers who "Reverse Engineered" the Kindle and found all kinds of cool, completely useless (to me) stuff buried in its code.

Like this one.

Holding it. Well, I've found ways, comfortable ways, to hold the unit now. Part of my breakthrough in this area came from reading the manual. (Hey, I'm a guy. It's the last thing we do, after fiddling with the new toy for a few hours.) There's a metal clip on the leather binder and that clip holds the Kindle snug inside the leather cover and makes reading it while lying down a whole lot easier. Finding hand holds that don't trip the page turn or page back buttons is a whole lot easier now.

I've also downloaded my first book. It took about ten seconds or maybe twenty. It's a book I've got somewhere on my shelves, but I wanted to read it again on the Kindle. An old Raymond Chandler novel. It's kind of funny to read the somewhat archaic tough guy speak on this modern device.

The battery life is pretty good. I can read for several hours without a recharge. They've made that part very easy.

I wish the on/off switch were on the front so I didn't have to take the Kindle out of the leather binder to turn it off, and back on.

I've now made notes in the text, which is pretty easy, though the keyboard is ridiculously small (an inevitable thing, I suppose) and I have trouble pecking out the note because I forget where all the letters are on a keyboard when my fingers aren't actually on the keyboard. When you just look at those letters and have to hunt down an A or B, it's harder than just touch-typing.

The note feature is cool, though, and answers one of my worries, that the book wouldn't be interactive enough. I'm a habitual margin-writer in whatever I'm reading, finding phrases I like, or things that stand out and noting them. Or writing down an idea that is jogged by some passage. All that you can do on the Kindle.

I've also gone online with the unit. Getting onto the web is easy. You simply hit the Search key, then type @web in the search line and you're there.

I've looked at a couple of websites, but it's all in black and white and has pretty poor resolution. But I can see it's possible to check a weather forecast, or even to google something, as long as the graphic needs are minimal.

Anyway, I'm starting to find I prefer reading off the kindle more than off the page. It's easier on my eyes and there's a feeling that the thing is alive in a way that a book isn't.

More later.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Way to Go!

Way to go, Vicki.

Vicki Hendricks' Cruel Poetry is nominated for an Edgar Award in the best paperback original novel category. The awards will be handed out in March of this year in New York City. Maybe Vicki will skydive in.

Vicki was a student of mine long ago and wrote her first novel, Miami Purity, as her MFA thesis at Florida International University.

You can see the rest of the nominees right here.

Powerful piece

A powerful piece in the Times a while back by Jared Diamond. I devoured his book Collapse, a non-fiction treatise on why some cultures have survived and why some have disappeared. Including some very powerful, very wealthy, very well-educated societies.

One of the main reasons for collapse is deforestation, or depletion of resources. Another is isolation from trading partners.

Saving Indie Bookstores

Thanks to Ken for this interesting story about saving independent bookstores.


Everyone knows that Florida is paradise, especially in January and February...So is it any wonder that Stephen King has migrated here. But rhododendrons???
(read the article)

And say hello to another new next door neighbor:

Will it ever end?


For his next novel, Tom Wolfe samples Miami's complexity

Posted on Sun, Jan. 20, 2008

So this time the guy with the bespoke white suits and dazzling spats is wading through the cultural intersections of Miami. Already, Tom Wolfe has visited several times as tourist, sponge, anthropologist and journalist. Always journalist.

He has done lunch at Versailles, dinner at The Forge, drinks at the Setai, culture at Art Basel.

At 76, the bestselling author is writing a novel about Miami, peering through his vintage magnifying glass at a place easy to misinterpret, a place at once colorful and mired in grays. Miami is growing, still writing its narrative and permanently changed by immigration. Here, more than half the population is foreign-born.

''A big writer like Tom Wolfe who is interested in big stories with big themes would be attracted to the story of Miami in all its complexity,'' Mitchell Kaplan, co-founder of the Miami Book Fair International, offered one recent afternoon as word of Wolfe sightings spreads.

Back to Blood, Wolfe's new work, will explore race and crime, sex and class, plus immigration, a complex issue the author has been hankering to tackle since the 1980s when he pounded out The Bonfire of the Vanities, the electrifying saga that skewered New York's pageant of Wall Street millionaires, street shysters and race warriors.

''I would tell people I was working on a book about immigration,'' Wolfe told a Miami audience in October, 'and they would say, `That's fascinating,' and then their heads would go, pffft. Now, suddenly, it's a big thing.''

Wolfe has made an astounding career of watching, absorbing, then testifying on the human condition. In bestsellers such as Bonfire and A Man in Full, he has chronicled intriguing tales from along the great fault lines of race, class and wealth.

''It's Tom Wolfe writing the kind of novel that only Tom Wolfe, among the living American writers, can do,'' Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown and Company, which bought North American rights for a reported $7 million, told The New York Times. ``He's looking at a society in huge flux and the combinations of ambition and class and all the different human drives that make cities fascinating places.''


Over the years, Wolfe has become famous for parachuting into a city and interpreting its ethos, wonders and flaws. He characteristically writes about people who struggle with their morals, ethics and prejudices. Wolfe carries a reporter's notebook but takes few notes. At day's end, he pours his observations and impressions into a journal. A notoriously laborious writer, he worked on A Man in Full, set in Atlanta, for more than a decade.

'I think it's great that he has chosen to focus on Miami. As Andy Warhol said, `Press is press,' '' said prominent art collector Mera Rubell.

Last month, Wolfe joined the parade of contemporary art enthusiasts who descended on the city for Art Basel to undertake what was unmistakably Back to Blood research.

The art fair clearly made an impression.

''This is the end of capitalism as we know it,'' Wolfe told The Art Newspaper as he took in the Basel droves, ``waiting for the doors to open like some half-off sale at Macy's.''

Paul George, historian and Miami Dade College professor, was among the first to witness Wolfe at work during his Basel visit, after the writer ``reached out to me and wanted to talk about Miami's history and its ethnicities.''

George joined Wolfe at the Standard Hotel for breakfast. Wearing his signature white suit, Wolfe ate slowly, cereal with milk along with a cup of coffee.

''He is a gentleman, very low-key, kind. He doesn't say much,'' George said. ``But he already knew the basic Miami story, all the demographics. He was looking for the color, looking for someone to fill in the blanks.''

That Saturday, this odd couple -- George, the tour guide and consummate talker; Wolfe, the reporter and consummate listener --

cruised Biscayne Bay for three hours on the Island Queen. After lunch at Versailles on Eighth Street, George took the writer on a driving tour of ethnic neighborhoods with stops in Coconut Grove, Overtown, Little Haiti, Wynwood, Allapattah and Little Havana. By the day's end, George said, Wolfe's interest seemed to have winnowed down to Cubans and Haitians.

''It was clear he wanted to get to the ground zero of immigration,'' George said.

Not that Wolfe offered any details. He is mum about the plots of his books.

Mary Rose Taylor, whose airplane conversation decades ago about real-estate developers in Atlanta became A Man in Full, didn't know for sure what that novel was about until she began to read Chapter 1. And they were friends, close since the 1960s.

When Wolfe came to Miami in October to lecture about urban renewal, an announcement promised some mention of the book. It never happened.

''He is a man who plays it close to the vest,'' said Miami Police Chief John Timoney, another old-school friend who was on the New York police force when he met Wolfe. ``He's not much of a talker.''

What we do know: Back to Blood characters include a young nurse of Cuban ancestry married to a famous French-émigré sex doctor; a freshman journalist on the trail of a Russian-mobcomes-to-Miami story; his wary editor; a second-generation Cuban police officer; a woman of Haitian descent who passes for Anglo.

A bit more: Wolfe has been here at least three times, and he has been hosted by some of the city's top players.

In March, Timoney, a friend for more than 25 years, ushered him around town. During that visit, Wolfe met Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who stoked his curiosity about immigrant experiences.

''I started talking to him about Miami and how we do what we do,'' Diaz said. ``And I started to see a twinkle. Like, wow, if you're going to write a book whose theme is immigration, how can you do it anywhere else but Miami? The more he has come down, the more excited he has become about Miami. But, he doesn't get into details with me.''

Goldman said he is confident that Wolfe will get Miami right and that his book will be more of a love letter than a slam.

Still, Wolfe missed some marquee names.

Sometime during his visit, Wolfe stopped by The Rubell Collection in Wynwood, but it was closed for installation.

''I am told he popped in, but we were preparing for Basel,'' Mera Rubell said. ``I wish I had had a chance to talk to him. I would love to give him some insights into Miami and share what a wonderful city this is.''

Miami has been down this road before, of course -- and not always fared well. In movies, television and other books, the city is often painted, perhaps tainted, as steamy, glossy and unrestrained.


So far, these Miami visits are not unlike Wolfe's dance with Atlanta before A Man in Full, an ambitious and unsparing Southern Gothic portrait of the city's real-estate world.

There, his tutor was Mary Rose Taylor. They had met in the 1960s, she a college student and he an emerging literary voice.

It was Taylor who told Wolfe about the developers in Atlanta. Seduced by the idea of a swaggering real-estate mogul's romp through the New South, cakewalking racial politics, and -- of all things -- quail-hunting, Wolfe called Taylor and her husband, developer Charles McKenzie ''Mack'' Taylor.

Mack Taylor, who always denied that he had been the inspiration for Wolfe's Charlie Croker, died this month. Wolfe attended his funeral.

Before the 742-page bestseller was finished, the Taylors would host three dinner parties to introduce Wolfe to Atlanta's image makers, escort him around South Georgia's hunting plantations, and match him up with the city planner.


''Through the creative process, he discovers the reality,'' Mary Rose Taylor said. She paused, as if rewinding the whole sordid Tom-Wolfe-does-Atlanta matter through her head. ``And you know, he can hit too close to home. Truths are sometimes uncomfortable.''

Wolfe's relationship with Atlanta was awkward, complicated. Here was a city just two years beyond its Centennial Olympics-hosting duties, a city that stood tall under the banner ''Too Busy To Hate,'' that suddenly found itself challenged on matters of race and class and money.

''The book was controversial in all sectors of the community,'' Taylor said. ``No one was spared.''

Tempers erupted, and Wolfe was snubbed by some of Atlanta's elite. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution launched ''Wolfe Watch,'' an obsessive daily report paired with a caricature of the author.

Still, much of the city was happy for the ink.

''Atlanta is one of those cities that is sort of flattered by attention, even the kind that is tongue in cheek,'' said Rick Beard, then head of the Atlanta History Center. ``Atlantans are less concerned about what is said about them than they are worried that no one will be saying anything at all or that their names will be misspelled.''

With A Man in Full a decade-plus deep in the rear view, Taylor offered this advice to Miami:

''Don't be scared. Just let it flow,'' she said. ``People look back at the book and the situation and laugh at it now. It's like getting burned or cut. At first it stings, and then you are OK.''


Some snowbirds you just can't help loving.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Watching Your Numbers

Another post from (a very nice site for publishing matters)

The Most Useless Widget Devised By Human HandsSome time ago, GalleyCat reported on the timesucking properties of Sales Rank Express, a company whose reason for existing was, as reported in the NY Times, "[letting] authors check their Amazon rankings instantly." Never mind that those sales rankings are widely acknowledged to be meaningless for all but the steadiest of high-selling properties, and even then not much of a reliable guide for actual sales numbers—for that, masochistic authors beg their editors or agents to run Nielsen Bookscan searches—or that even staffers were willing to concede from the onset that the rankings were implemented as attention-grabbing bells and whistles, not conveyors of genuine information. (Full disclosure: I was an employee at the online bookstore when the sales rankings were introduced to the site. Oh, how we laughed and laughed.)

Now the company has introduced a free widget that people can stick on their websites that will automatically display the Amazon sales rank of any book, CD, or DVD, with constant updates. No, really, that's what it does. The company presents itself, and the widget, as "the premier sales rank tool for authors and publishers," which, personally, seems like claiming to market the most prominent earwax removing candle: Sure, it looks like you're being productive, but it's all just smoke and mirrors. But if you really need to know there's 810,811 items selling better than your book, knock yourself out!

A political moment

Been thinking a lot about politics lately. All the turmoil and anger and divisiveness of the last seven to eight years (starting with the Hanging Chad period). Until now mean-spirited, pissed off debates about issues are the norm.

Not since the Viet Nam era can I remember a time when people were so angry, and so extreme and intransigent in their political positions. The uniter turned out to be a divider. And now we have to figure out a way to fix a whole long list of problems that the next Prez will inherit.

Big problems, very big.

A lot of what George Herbert says in this piece from the New York Times, makes sense to me, especially the Manhattan Project idea, and dedicating ourselves to rebuilding infrastructure.

It's nothing new, of course, for image makers to demean and diminish and ridicule the best among us, cutting our leaders or potential leaders down to size.

Is this what W meant when he promised he'd jawbone the Saudis when necessary? Apparently.

Makes me want to get back to good old Thorn, who has no TV, no Internet, and lives in cultural isolation next to his version of Walden Pond.

Friday, January 18, 2008

More on Kindle

This from

Steve Jobs: "People Don't Read Anymore"Blogging from MacWorld, NYT techmeister John Markoff discovers Steve Jobs's disdain for the Kindle:

"It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore," Markoff quotes the Apple CEO. "Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."
Actually, that's not true: The statistic cited in the National Endowment for the Arts white paper "To Read or Not to Read" was that, in 2002, 43 percent of Americans over the age of 18 did not read at least one book not required for work or school. But that's not the point. The point, as I've said before, is that negative attitudes like that won't save literacy. If we want people to start believing that reading is a fun way to spend one's leisure time, defeatist statements about how nobody reads and nothing's going to change that are exactly the wrong way to go about doing it.

You could also argue that the Kindle is good for reading other things besides books, or that it'd be a swell tool for the school or workplace, if you really wanted to nitpick.


The Chinese-made leather folder that is supposed to support the Kindle and give it the feel of a book is sloppily constructed. The small leather like slots that the Kindle fits into are too pliable and don't really support the device.

Clearly if the Kindle catches on, and I think it will, boutique designers will crop up to supply alternatives to the holder, as they've done with the iPod.

But it seems odd, and a little annoying, that such an expensive piece of equipment that is designed nicely in so many ways, has this awkward holder.

Also, another quibble. With the page forward and page back buttons prominently placed on either side of the Kindle, it's hard to find a place to hold the unit without accidently advancing the page.

Note the forward and back buttons that rim the unit on either side of the screen.

See how this guy's holding the Kindle. It's about the only way you CAN hold it without inadvertantly changing the page.

But I have to say, the wireless capability surprises me. I'm no techie, but somehow this little box can download sample chapters (that's all I've done so far) cruising along on I-95, or in my office at the university, inside massive amounts of concrete. Everyone I've shown it off to so far is suitably impressed.

And it's so small...and can hold 200 books, and each book costs half of what the hardback in a bookstore would cost. Whoa. Does that put an additional downward pressure on the publisher's, (and my) income? Well, I'm no economist, but hey...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Another teaching day--The Plot Thickens

Here's the story we're reading and discussing today in class.

I read it last summer in the New Yorker and thought it would make a provocative story in my Writing Fiction class this semester. These students are undergrads who've had a couple of creative writing classes before.

So much of the time, in classes like this, they read more traditional stories by writers who are well-established in anthologies--Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, Bobbi Ann Mason, Flannery O'Conner. All great writers. But I thought it would be interesting to discuss a story that was published within the last year in a major U.S. magazine.

We're going to try to talk about plot in the story, asking the question: "What is the glue that holds all these events together?" Or another way to put it: "What sets off the story in the first place, what lights its fuse and what keeps the various scenes and moments in the story connected to each other?

Plot isn't the most important thing to master in story writing, but it's up there near the top with character development, theme, dialog and development of a relevant setting, just to name a few ingredients.

If the connective tissue between events isn't there, or it's implausible, or if one action follows another action because of some coincidence, eventually the whole story can lose credibility. It's a tough discipline to master, and one even professional writers struggle with.

Notice, for instance, how the music Jack listens to on the car radio(a random song) sets off a chain of recollections that are both relevant and revealing, and ultimately cause Jack to reach a small ephipany, or revelation.

And when he starts to watch the film itself, the narrative of the movie pushes him to further discoveries about his past and his relationship with his vanished lover.

I'm not sure how the students are going to react. This is always part of the excitement of teaching. When I'm using a completely new story in class to illustrate a point, walking on brand new ground, rather than using a tried and true story that I've taught a dozen times before, I'm always a little anxious. And since this is only the second class, and since I talked way too much last class, I'm going to depend on the students to carry the discussion tonight--and one of my objectives is simply to get to know who they are, and allow them to learn about each other. To bond.

The other story we're doing tonight is Alice Munro's "How I Met My Husband" a jewel of a story, and one in which the plot is much more easily described. It's often said that there are only two plots: A stranger comes to town. And: A person goes on a journey. Munro's story is about the stranger coming to town, and how his sudden appearance changes peoples' lives. It's wonderful story.

As luck would have it, Dybek's story features a Kevin Costner movie, Open Range, a cowboy yarn. And last night we watched the first half of 310 to Yuma (before we got sleepy and had to shut it down.) It's a rough and violent movie with Russell Crowe and Chistian Bale. It uses a lot of the same cowboy cliches that Dybek's short story makes fun of, but those cliches are beautifully acted and made original through little flourishes in dialog and plotting.

Good movie. Can't wait to finish it.

And then my Kindle arrived yesterday. I started playing with it and have mastered the basics already. I read some sample chapters from various books downloaded from Amazon. The wireless system works better in my thick-walled house than my super duper cell phone does.

It looks very promising, but already I can see a little problem. It's super slim and easy to carry. But there are page forward buttons and page back buttons running down each side, just where you would ordinarily hold the unit.

I was constantly turning pages forward and back when I didn't mean to. And the leather folder (made in China) isn't crafted as well as it might be, so I haven't quite found the best way to hold the unit while reading.

Otherwise, I'm still very excited by it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fishing without a Boat

There's lots of ways to do it. Some smarter than others.

I prefer other kind of bait. Hey, but whatever works.

Then there are the times when the tables turn and the fish fishes for you.

Now This

Now this is a bonefish...

Caught by angler Marilee Kishner on Capt. Geoff Colmes' Hell's Bay Whipray, a 16 footer, somewhere off Islamorada. (He's never going to tell where.)

You can learn more about Hell's Bay Boatworks here. As I said in an earlier post, it's the best flats boat out there. Light as a cork, stays dry in bumpy water and has a very tough hide, and built with great craftsmanship.

And oh, by the way, I'll be signing copies of the new novel at Hell's Bay booth during the Miami Boat Show. Sunday, February 17th. Come buy a book and take a look at a great boat. More info on the show is right here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's coming, it's coming

Only three more weeks--Super Duper Tuesday--Pub date for Hell's Bay
Everyone is waiting---everyone is looking expectantly at the horizon. Everyone is just killing time till that golden day.

Soon, soon, soon.

I think I hear it coming now. I think I hear it, Vladimir.