Monday, March 29, 2010

Once More on the Dance Floor

Today is the release day of Ten Cents a paperback, with a brand-new look!

My first reaction on seeing it? OOH, PRETTY!

This brings up a question that ikw asked in the comments on a previous post: "i was wondering why your latest novel has two different covers. do you, as the author, ever get to have any input on cover design?"

It's true that a paperback often has a different cover from the original hardback. The paperback cover is an opportunity to change the focus on the book; to attract a wider or a different audience; to help bring new attention to a title that's been out in the world a while. But whether or not to design a new cover isn't up to the author. The publisher is the one who makes that call.

As far as author input, that's also up to the publisher. Some authors get no say about their covers at all. In that regard I'm really lucky, because my editor at Bloomsbury has always asked my opinion about the cover designs for my books. (For more insight into the process, check out my previous post about the Ten Cents a Dance hardcover here.)

New edition. New cover. It's like my book is all grown up and leaving home...for the second time. And I'm the mom waving from the doorway, dabbing my eyes, calling, Have fun! Make lots of friends! Be sure to write!

(OK, maybe not that last one. But you get the idea.)

So, blog readers, what do you think? Do you prefer the old cover,* or the new? Vote in the comments by 12 AM Wednesday, April 6th, and you'll get a chance to win a copy of your choice: either hardcover or paperback! (No fear, I'll be picking the winner randomly--so be free with your opinions!)

*old cover:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

To Kindle, Or Not to Kindle? THAT is the Question

This year, for my birthday, I got an unexpected surprise: my friend Walter sent me an Amazon gift certificate. In the amount of a Kindle. Get yourself one, he said. Or, if you'd rather, spend it on books instead.

Cue dilemma.

I love physical books. Can't imagine life without them. Can't imagine me without them. And yet I find e-readers fascinating. Hundreds of books at one's fingertips? The ability to travel without half my luggage weighted down with paper? (Because of course I can't take just one novel. There are the two or three I'm currently reading. Plus an old favorite, in case I need a comfort read. Plus the one I always buy in the airport bookstore, because no matter how resolved I am not to buy a new book, invariably one will beckon from the shelves, cooing, "See how shiny I am. How intriguing. Come to me, and discover in my pages a new world of depths and delights," and it's not my fault that Powell's Books has an outpost in the Portland Airport, and yes I suppose I could just not go in, but then this blog would be written by a completely different person in an alternate universe and that seems, I dunno. Unlikely.)

So back to what I was saying. Fascinated. And yet torn. Because of course when you get a Kindle, you need to download books onto it. E-books. From Now, I don't dislike Amazon. In fact, I harbor a kind of distant fond admiration for it, the way you do something that's all gee-whizzy and technical and really, really good at what it does, and yet is essentially soulless. (Like Avatar. But that's a whole different post.)

And yet...

...every e-book I might buy would be one less actual book bought from a real, live, independent bookstore. And I love indie bookstores. I adore the hand-written shelf cards telling me which books are staff favorites. I look forward to seeing the same people every time I go in, and getting to know them, and picking their brains for book recommendations. I love the sense of timelessness that envelops me as soon as I walk in the door. The feeling that all cares and worries belong to another world, and here, in this small place, the only important things are the stories. Best of all, though, is noticing a cover, or a title, and I've never heard of the book before or the author, but something about it catches my eye so I lift it down. Turn it over. Scan the blurbs and the back copy. Open it and read the first sentence. Sometimes I think "meh" and I move on. But sometimes that first sentence flicks over me like a noose and cinches tight and I'm thinking yes yes yes I must find out everything now please and I buy the book and take it home and immerse myself in its world and then go out and rave about it to everyone I know.

How would I have found A Suitable Boy on Or Babe in Paradise? Or An Instance of the Fingerpost, or A Northern Light, or Wives and Daughters, or The Man in My Basement, or The Once and Future King? How do you stumble across a gem that's not in the top 50 in sales rankings and not by an author you've previously read and not the latest book club fad? When you don't know a book exists, how can you type its name into a search box?

You can't. Which is why you go to your local bookstore and wander the stacks to discover the next unknown book you're going to love. Which means that the bookstore has to be there, and the only way it can be there is if people keep going and buying books.

And yet...

And yet...

Back and forth. Up and down. And finally Walter was like, what are you doing, and I'm like, I dunno, dude, and I realized I just had to decide. So I did.

When the Kindle arrived, it happened that I was re-reading one of my favorites, a 1946 edition of Pavilion of Women by Pearl Buck. I'd bought it used from an indie bookstore a few years ago. The dust jacket is long gone. Some previous owner had amused herself by penciling over parts of the cover illustration. Its edges are worn and dented in places. It feels handled and much, much read, and its pages have that sweet, dusty, woody scent of old book paper. (Old book is like puppy breath--one of the great, immortal aromas of life. Whatever happened to it? I miss it.)

The Kindle isn't flashy; like the book, it doesn't draw attention to itself. I charge it, turn it on, and navigate to the Kindle store. There on the home page, practically the first thing I see: Margaret Atwood's latest, The Year of the Flood.

IwantIwantIwant. I click. Less than a minute later, the book is here in my hand. I won't lie to you: that is beyond cool. I start the first chapter, but it's hard to lose myself in the flow; I'm too aware of what I'm reading it on. But after a while, the words catch me and I go under, immersed in Margaret's world, and it's not until I finish the second chapter that I realize: the Kindle has disappeared. The same way a physical book disappears, when the story takes hold and we slip into the dream the author has created.

So here I am: a lifelong book lover, with overflowing bookcases and teetering stacks all over my house, eleven novels on my nightstand right now, a passionate believer in bookstores...and a Kindle owner. The Atwood novel is the only one I've bought. All the others I've downloaded are free. They're works in the public domain--classics--that I've already owned or already read.

If we vote with our dollars, I've decided that mine will continue to vote for bookstores.

I'm still reading two to three books at a time, but now, one of them is on the Kindle. (Current pick: Tess of the D'Ubervilles.) Every time I turn it on, the idea of reading 19th century literature on a 21st century device makes me smile. But then the words appear, everything in the real world vanishes--including the device that brings me those words--and I'm in England, on a summer evening, slipping into the dairy with Tess.

P.S...Many thanks, Walter, for the shove into the future!

Friday, March 19, 2010

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

How to Become a Hepkitten in 5 Easy Steps

On Sunday, I had the honor of giving my Hepkitten* presentation as part of the Winter Reading and Arts Festival at Cedar Mill Community Library. A hepkitten what they called a girl who was crazy for dancing, back in the day--like the main character of my novel, Ruby. The Hepkitten talk is a blast to do, and what makes it even more fun is dressing the part.

Now, as anyone who knows me will attest, I am not a girly-girl. Makeup and I are barely acquainted, nail polish and I are strangers, and most days, my hair runs rampant. But after some practice, I've mostly got the process down. So here, for the first time ever, I present to you:

How to Become a Hepkitten in 5 Easy Steps

Step 1: Gather raw materials: big round brush, rat-tail comb, foam rollers, long & short bobby pins, setting lotion, hair spray, setting lotion, artificial flowers, freshly scrubbed face and a head of frizzy hair. Oh, wait. That last bit might just be me.

Step 2: Make a deep side part (de rigueur for 1940s hairstyles); then gather hank o' hair for first victory roll. Use big round brush and setting lotion to get it all nice and smooth and ready to roll. In theory. Some days, my hair behaves. I love those days. Most of the time, though, the dynamic goes like this:

Me: Okay, hair, remember how we do this? Remember how much fun it is? Whoo-hoo, here we go!

Hair: Oh, yeah. That thing you make me do sometimes. I'm not doing that.

Me: You start behaving right now, or... *threatens hair with hairspray*

Hair: Now you've made me mad. You're gonna be sorry.

*Scene deleted due to graphic violence*

Ah, victory! Big roll on the left: Done.

(Tip: If you're seriously interested in learning vintage hairstyles, search YouTube for tutorials. People have posted instructional videos for everything from finger waves to beehives.** My fave for victory rolls is here.)

Step 3: Roll the right side. This is a smaller roll, and goes much better when you use the setting lotion instead of super-hold category-5-hurricane-proof hair spray, like I accidentally did on Sunday. (Can I help it the bottles are the same color?) Too late to wash my hair and start over, so (mild cursing deleted)...

...I remind myself that this is why God made artificial flowers.

Step 4: For the back: If I have time, I'll set pin curls, let them dry and brush them out into '40s curls. If not, then a little setting lotion, foam rollers, sit 20 minutes, then swirl into one big uproll. Quick and easy.

Another tip: If all else fails, this is why God made snoods. Also 1940s authentic and perfect for almost any hair disaster.

Hmm. Rolled, flowered, made up and mascara'd. Seems like I'm forgetting something, though...

Step 5: Ah, yes...that red, red lipstick. If you ain't got a red lip, you ain't 1940s. Wartime, baby--it was all about the bold.

Add a vintage suit jacket, vintage skirt, seamed stockings and high-heel oxford shoes...

...and voila! You are now a bona-fide hepkitten.

Many thanks to the Cedar Mill Community Library for hosting me, and also to the folks who came to hear me speak on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We had a great time and the audience was fab!

Full title: A Hepkitten's Guide to the War. Oodles of vintage photos, video clips, and stories about what it was like to be a teen in the 1940s, with jitterbugging, taxi dancing, and the upheavals in homefront life brought by WWII.

**Click here to see the horror that is the making of a beehive. If I ever write a historical set in the early '60s, I am NOT doing this. Just watching makes my scalp whimper.