Bye Bye BAM: The Silver Lining

Every cloud has a silver lining. I combed the ashes of the local Books-A-Million with dozens of bargain seekers looking for that lining. The store hadn’t had that many customers at one time since its opening. Stacks of pallets now occupy corners of the store and wait for the remains. I flipped through some interesting paperbacks on the promo isle, but they were $16 – $20+. For perspective, you can buy an ad-sponsored Kindle for about the price of five or six of those books. I did my share of parsing and settled on the two books above. Score one silver lining. RIP BAM.

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My Local Book Store Closes

Twelve years ago Books-A-Million opened in my town. We already had a B. Dalton in the mall, but the superstore meant more magazine and book selections, as well as coffee, snacks, and a place to sit and read. Wi-fi came later. For a town that still considers tobacco a source of pride, a proper book store offered some much needed intellectual balance. Before they opened, the nearest comparable book store was 45 minutes away.

Last week the local BAM announced it’s closing this Saturday. Despite the misleading banner in the picture, this is actually one of four stores across North Carolina to shutter its doors. A glance at the company’s 2011 Annual Report reveals two familiar trends: significant decreases in retail sales and increases in electronic commerce sales (driven by Nook e-readers and e-book sales) compared to 2010’s numbers. Second quarter 2012 results continued the slide with a 26-week net sales decrease of 11.2% from 2011. But entertainment and kid’s titles continue to perform well. I think the depressed economy has forced parents to retask their shrinking entertainment and gift budgets. To save money, many are sharing their childhood love of reading with their children. At least that’s my theory and hope.

Regardless of the cause behind growing e-book sales, it’s encouraging news for new writers and others who haven’t cracked the traditional publishing market yet.

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Eric-Blues Gets A Facelift

Although I’ve been testing the new theme for a few days, today is the official launch of the redesign. It’s nothing earthshaking as far as redos go. But I did separate writing from the other shiny objects that capture my attention, and I also added a contact form. For now, there’s a 55-word flash fiction nibble that I posted on Austin Briggs’ website last month. I’ll add more soon.

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Young Adult Grows Up

Photo: “Teen Romance” is CC Licensed

Research is the first step to learning a subject. I’ve always enjoyed the process of discovering arcane facts, unknown nuances, and useful statistics. Yesterday, I began rediscovering Young Adult fiction at Barnes & Noble. It’s been years since I’ve explored the genre, but some of my writing is veering in that direction.

Romance and fantasy were popular when I was a teen, but the splashy covers that lined the dark shelves reminded me that time moves on with or without my permission. Cover after cover offered variations on one theme: two attractive youngsters with their lips poised perilously close to consummating their teenaged dreams. There was even a special “Paranormal Romance” section. Those two sub-genres, romance and fantasy, seemed grossly over-represented, but I feel the same way about adult fiction too. Evidently my tastes don’t always intersect with the profit-making machine that is mainstream publishing.

However, I’m still interested in writing for a YA audience. Rather than disappointment, I felt encouraged after my field trip. I thought about my favorite childhood authors. Usually, Paul Zindel cuts to the front of the line. Zindel’s quirky and psychologically unbalanced characters don’t resemble the posed models airbrushed onto glossy romance covers. His characters’ realism attracted me. The abstract energy in Zindel’s books inspires me to write. My audience exists, and they’re as eager to read my work as I am to discover them.

I left with two books. Edited by Judy Blume, Places I Never Meant to Be is a collection of stories from censored authors, including Paul Zindel. Black Box, by Julie Schumacher is a first-person novel about a teenager coping with the fallout from her older sister’s depression and subsequent hospital stay.

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Perils of Public Writing

cappucino

Yesterday at lunch I was writing a short story. Before I returned to work I began this post about how annoying people can be in public places. For many, coffee shops offer an inviting environment for writing. The cozy atmosphere, background music, and easy access to the nectar that feeds our muse keeps us returning despite uncontrollable personality conflicts with other customers. Maybe you’ve encountered one of the following stereotypes. Or perhaps you know one. If so, please give them a link to this blog.

Starbucks is my remote office.

I understand the allure of free internet and tasty snacks, but that’s no excuse to commandeer three tables for your multi-applicant interviews. Also, simple decency demands that you refrain from running a ream of paper through your 1970’s dot matrix printer, which was yesterday’s annoyance.

Speaking of free internet…

Headphones are the perfect gift for the loved ones in your life who enjoy streaming loud music over the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi.

Friends, relatives, strangers…

Lend me your eyes. See me banging furiously on my laptop’s keyboard. I’ve become a cliche, but when the fingers are flying, I’m a happy cliche. And did you notice how I didn’t close the lid when you began explaining the myriad ways your day had gone wrong. It’s not that I don’t care; it’s just that I’ve finally hit the zone where fingers and brain have a direct connection. For writers blessed with a full-time job other than writing, it’s a blissful state. To experience it within the confines of lunch is pure nirvana.

Pretty women…

OK. They’re not annoying in the least, only distracting. And if there’s one thing writers need, it’s more distractions!

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Back It Up or Lose It

Most of us are reminded to save a backup of our documents after we lose a sizeable chunk of work. Few things suck the creative life from a writer like having to recreate paragraphs or even pages of work. We complicate matters by writing on multiple computers. Bouncing from desktop to laptop creates out-of-sync versions of stories and scripts. Using a thumbdrive to maintain sync between computers is an option, but without syncing software it’s up to the user to determine which files are newer and copy or overwrite in the proper direction. Plus, memory sticks are small and easy to misplace (or wash and dry… don’t ask!).

Cloud storage is now feasable, and many products offer free storage and syncing services. But I’m not comfortable with cloud storage and I know some others aren’t either. That leaves us on our own to address the problems mentioned above. My current software choice is Allway Sync, which is free for moderate, non-commercial use. I should note that Allway Sync is available for Windows only.

I chose this software because of its ability to securely connect to WebDAV folders. Many who develop and maintain their own websites are familiar with WebDAV, a remote file storage system well suited for document syncing and retrieval. Vista and Windows 7 have problems initiating secure WebDAV connections. Allway Sync solves this problem. The software also enables connections to regular and secure FTP sites, and a few other systems as seen in the folder setup dialog below.

Click for larger image

Basic operation involves choosing the folder on your computer that has your writing. Next, choose the location where you want to copy that folder. This may be a thumbdrive, your web server, another computer on your network, or several other options. If the remote destination is web-based, you’ll have to input user login and password information. Once the remote connection and folder are set up, click analyze and the software compares the two folders’ contents, and then shows what changes will be made in each folder.

Now, you’ll see the beauty of using sync software instead of manually updating changed files. If you’ve previously sync’ed the two folders, the analysis will show the differences between all changed files, and arrows will show which direction files will be copied when you click “synchronize”. If you’ve deleted a file from either folder, you have the option of copying it back or deleting it from the target folder as well. Subsequent syncing operations are speedy, as they only consist of copying changed or newly created files.¬†Running the software with the same setup on another computer allows you to keep your writing folders on both devices in sync, with the benefit of having a current remote backup copy.

Anyone who manages their own website can figure the software out. While it may lack the sex appeal of¬†the cloud, it more than makes up for that lack in configurability, robustness, and by offering viable alternatives to cloud storage. However you choose to backup your work, make sure to do it soon after making major changes. If you don’t, it’s not a matter of if, but when you will lose something you may never get back.

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The Future of Digital Books is Here

Compared to today’s computer technology, electronic devices of the late 80’s to mid 90’s tech revolution resemble products from the Flintstone era. Cell phones alone give that impression. And the desire for more power in devices smaller than laptops is fueling a growing market. Increases in microprocessor speed coupled with reductions in size and power requirements position tablets on the leading edge of the current tech explosion. Understanding changing technology is only part of the struggle. The greater challenge may be envisioning new uses for that technology.

It’s unfortunate the leaders of Borders couldn’t figure out how to incorporate these advances. CEO Mike Edwards’ letter to the employees made it clear the leadership there considered the “rapidly changing book industry” and “eReader revolution” external forces. I don’t understand that thinking when your company sells books. Surely considering how the customer wants to purchase and receive your product is intrinsic to one’s business surviving.

The lessons are clear. If you write or publish you need to capitalize on the technology available. The truly prescient are already imagining what’s next. That description fits software developer Mike Matas. Mike demos an electronic version of Our Choice, Al Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth in the video below. It shows a few of the ways digital books are evolving. There are many more possibilities. It’s up to us to figure them out.

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Where Ideas Come From

I’ve blogged for several years. When asked what I write about I usually say whatever interests me. As I concentrate more on fiction and less on blogging I’m anticipating the next round of “where did you get that idea” questions. Where did you come up with your characters? Like drum solos, those questions are inevitable. But the more you think about a paradox, the more the answer escapes you. So rather than wasting the newly taxed “writing” side of my brain to come up with words, I did an illustration.

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Three Departures, My Spring of Goodbyes

Having to say goodbye to people you’re just getting to know is painful. The already steamy days of spring promise a torturous summer in the south. Bidding farewell to friends will make it even longer.

First is a South African couple I met through shared friends. In a baffling display of bureaucratic stupidity the government has refused to renew their visa. Knowing that America is losing an artist and a well-credentialed teacher only rubs salt into the wound. I thought about blogging their plight, but haven’t out of respect for their privacy. Besides, I am epically frustrated with proposed immigration policies that forgo investing in the country’s intellectual infrastructure to reward millions of undocumented immigrants who flaunt the law. My duly noted anger is ineffectual in solving the problem but at least my friends have made it safely home.

Next is an amazingly warm and funny guy I met at a charades party. Here’s a tip for aspiring charades professionals. You want someone with a Master of Library and Information Science degree for a teammate. It’s like playing Battleship with a transparent board that allows you to see where your enemy’s ships are! He’s moving away but has a promising job and the love of friends and family waiting for him.

Finally, the mother of a dear friend passed away. It evoked memories of a similar time in my life three years ago. Hamlet described death as the undiscovered country, but I think that honor belongs to grief. Death, at least in the corporeal sense happens only once. Every grief is like a new frontier. Suffering the loss of someone so close really is like waking up in a foreign land. The language is different, the ground unyielding, the horizon unsteady. No familiar currency has value in the somber land of sadness. But beauty can be found in even the most extreme climates. Even the frozen tundra gives way to new life. And so it is with grief.

All three departures have begun. The inevitable goodbyes finish unfolding over the next few days. The number of people affected seems grossly disproportionate to the number of people leaving. It’s going to be a long summer.

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