Archive for 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010 That Went Kaphooey

About a week late into NaNoWriMo, I decided to do a flash story collection that consisted of 100 flash stories of 500 words each. How hard was it to write four 500-word flash stories per day for a month? Writing was the easy part if I had the idea for a flash story already in my head. I certainly didn’t have 100 shovel-ready ideas to go in my head, and the few that I did have weren’t that great to start with. Kaphooey.

I then decided to re-start my third novel idea and wrote 1,040 words in a few days. Unfortunately, that’s all I had of my proposed third novel. I had a great opener that excited me but no actual story to hang the rest of the novel on. Double kaphooey.

My first serious attempt at NaNoWriMo was a failure.

In some ways, flash stories—especially at 500 words—are the prose equivalent to writing haiku poems. You need to master the form and let the form master you. Once you have reached that level of writing, a flash story or haiku poem is relatively easy. But it does require preparation. An idea must be in my head for a while before I can transform it into a flash story.

I tend to write four flash stories in a two-week period. I had written three in the past week and will write one more before New Year. Each one inspired by a brief news item that I could spin a story around. Each idea floats around in my head for several nights before I decide to put pen to paper. Writing the story itself takes about two hours, and another two hours to edit the story into the proper form.

Was the concept of writing 100 flash stories in a month unreasonable? Not at all.

Remember that purpose of NaNoWriMo is get everything written and worry about editing later. All I needed to do was focus on writing four 500-word flash stories every day for a month. If only I had the ideas to make that work. November and December became a dry spell where nothing came forth from the creative well.

For flash story writers, writing and editing one per day would be a reasonable challenge. It’s something I could do, if I wanted to and wasn’t being a lazy writer. (Writing can hard work if the creative well is bone dry.) But, like writing haikus, they often come in sudden, unpredictable bursts. It’s not your job to force them into existence but wait for them to arrive before you start writing.

As for the third novel, I had a great opener and no preparation for anything beyond that. Alas, that great opener had the making of a prologue that would’ve been cut in revision. It described who the main character was but doesn’t really contribute to the overall storyline (if there was one). I might have done better by picking up where I left off with the second novel and running with the detailed Post-It Note outline on back of a poster board.

The one successful aspect that I did learn from NaNoWriMo was to edit on the computer. I’m something of a traditionalist with a typewriter on my desk, where I start and revise everything on paper, and using the computer only to store drafts between printed edits. Although my various plans for NaNoWriMo went kaphooey, every attempt was on the computer and became a struggle to break the revising on paper habit. I eventually started revising the current draft of my first novel on the computer, where the characters and plots are still in a state of flux. I’m looking forward to getting that revision done in the New Year.

As for NaNoWriMo next year, I might give completing the second novel a chance—if I’m prepared for it and not being a lazy writer again.

A NaNoWriMo Flash Story Collection

Last year I had planned on participating in the 2010 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) competition by completing the remaining 50,000 words for my second novel this month, which 1/3 done at 25,000 words. I also expected revising my first novel would be done by now, but that didn’t happen since editing a novel-length manuscript is really, really hard. Abandoning the revision of my first novel to continue the second novel wouldn’t be right. Besides, I haven’t reviewed what I had previously written and outlined for the second novel. Skipping NaNoWriMo like I had in previous years was the only option I could see as I wasn’t in the mood to start a new novel to gather dust next to my second novel. Two days into the competition I had an idea: why not use NaNoWriMo to create a collection of 100 500-word flash short stories?

Here’s my “Flash In The Pan Short Story Collection” for NaNoWriMo:

This is a fantasy/horror/science fiction/supernatural collection of 100 flash short stories of 500-word each. The collection itself will never be published. Each flash short story will be edited, lengthen or shorten where needed, and submitted for individual publication in 2011.

Why are writing 100 different 500-word flash stories easier than a novel?

I have written 53 short stories of various lengths over the last five years, with 18 short stories published or slated for publication. I think I will always be a short story writer since it’s easier for me to focus on something shorter than longer. I’m also one of those people who would prefer to see a long credit list of short projects than spending years creating a long masterpiece.

Writing four 500-word short stories for 2,000 words per day will be easy to do. Each story idea will exist in my mind only long enough to write in longhand and put aside without interfering with my novel revision. The writing itself doesn’t take the most time; I can pop out a flash story in a half-hour. Editing the flash story to stay under the 500 word count while telling a good story can take up to three hours to complete. I plan to edit and submit all these flash stories for publication throughout 2011. If I get stuck on revising my novel or run out of ideas for short stories, I can pull out a flash story to finish working on.

The trick for writing 100 flash stories in one month is to make sure I don’t run out of unique ideas. One way to avoid that is to have serial characters.

The first four flash stories I wrote featured the cannibalistic restaurateur owner Charles Goodwin of The Giggling Mongoose (“Salt of The Air,” “Swine of The Earth,” “Honey of The Fire” and “Rice of The Water” published in Elements of Horror anthology). I have since written a 5,000-word short story about Mr. Goodwin and an old goat with three young things following him (“Scarlet Hearts” is still floating in the slush pile).

Writing another set of flash stories would be a good way to explore his character further before plunging into another longer piece. I had also written about two computer science students using Jewish mysticism to create a computerized golem for their class project that ended with a blue screen of death (“Golem Got The Blues” published in Daily Flash 2011: 365 Days of Flash Fiction anthology).  If you fail once with Jewish mysticism and computer technology, try again. Or is that, rinse and repeat?

Tonight I’ll do some brainstorming to line up the first set of story ideas and tomorrow I’ll start writing my flash short story collection. Perhaps the creative rush will help me finish revising my novel.

Hitting A Brick Wall In Revising The Novel

October was a lousy month for writing. I blame the flu shot that I got for making me feel lousy and giving me a serious case of the blah’s. I didn’t feel like editing, revising or writing for most of the month. It wasn’t writer’s block. It was more like that I lacked a clear motivation to get anything done. Especially since revising my first novel was like banging my head against a brick wall. Nothing worked. The story was stillborn after the first three chapters. Something was missing but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

After watching “Stephen King’s Rose Red” DVD this past weekend about a haunted mansion, I realized what was missing from my story: a brick wall.

My first novel is about a video game company with a mischievous ghost that develops a homicidal streak. Wherever you have a ghost, you must have a place for the ghost to haunt. I spent a year writing the 700-page rough draft by focusing only on the main characters who reacted to the actions of the ghost, but the ghost and the building were a mere afterthought in the heat of composition.

I spent year trying to figure out how to revise the thing. I came to the conclusion that I had to painstakingly develop the rest of the novel that I had put off for several years. The main characters became sharper and less knowing about their circumstances; minor characters became real and more knowing about their circumstances. The ghost took a more active role than before. I was putting in new material that added to the word count that I desperately wanted to shrink, and rearranging the material to develop a better narrative flow. Then I hit the brick wall and couldn’t proceed further.

The story mythos for the “Red Rose” mansion came from the Winchester Mystery House, a nationally designated “haunted house” in San Jose that I had never visited even though I lived in Silicon Valley all my life. (Another item added to my never-ending to do list.) Sarah Winchester, heiress to the family fortune that came from the Winchester repeating rifle, became convinced by a Boston medium that the spirits of the people killed in the Indian Wars and the Civil War by the rifles that her father-in-law had created were haunting her, and moved out to California in 1884 to start building a massive mansion that never got finished in thirty-eight years to keep the spirits away.

The producers for “Rose Red” wanted to film at the Winchester Mystery House. Unfortunately, located next to the busy I-280 freeway and across the street from the Santana Row shopping center that was under construction at time (where one building would catch on fire by accident to become the largest structure fire in San Jose), and the Winchester House was too small to accommodate a film crew, it wasn’t practical. They ended up filming the exterior shots at the Thornewood Castle, a 400-year-old Elizabethan mansion relocated brick by brick from England to Tacoma, Washington, in 1908, and creating 20,000 square feet of interiors at an abandoned naval base in Seattle, Washington.

The one thing that caught my attention was the level of the detail that went into the Red Rose sets: the brickwork of the exterior shots, the library with the mirrored floor, an arched hallway that appear to extend to infinity, and a 1950’s office built upside down.

Although the ghosts were lurking in every shadow, it was the mansion that stood out the most with its ominous presence. Since this was Stephen King’s take on the “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson, the Red Rose mansion was a bad place. But it wasn’t the ghosts that made the building a bad place. The building itself was inherently evil from being built on a desecrated Indian burial ground, becoming a larger-than-life character that influenced the events in the miniseries.

That was the brick wall I kept banging my head against.

The building that my ghost haunted was an old brick warehouse converted to an office building. I was drawing upon the three years that I worked as cook at The Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown San Jose in the mid-1990’s, which occupies a converted warehouse made from brick. But the only reference to the brick building in the entire manuscript was after the good-versus-evil confrontation at the end triggered the collapse of the building into a heap of bricks. I needed to peel back the plaster in the first chapter to reveal the brickwork and introduce the building as a character.

Since description is my greatest weakness as a writer, I spent four hours last night working on this one paragraph :

Amy crossed her legs underneath the table and folded her hands in front of her, looking prim and proper, and expecting someone to come in shortly to interview her. When five minutes went by without the door opening, she turned her attention to the floor-to-ceiling window that cut across the outer corner of the interview room at forty-five degree angle. Red bricks and gray mortar lined the inside of the window frame, with the headers protruding past the drywall on all sides, the shiners lying flat at top and bottom, and the stretchers stacked on the side. Beyond the narrow double-pane window that separated the inside from the outside, the brickwork repeated itself. It was like looking out the arrow slit of an ancient castle.

Although I spent two years working in masonry construction with my father, incorporating the brick terminology into description was a challenge. The most important descriptive detail about the building in this paragraph was comparing it to an ancient castle. Since my fictional video game company has its roots in the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, an ancient castle was a suitable place for a ghost to haunt. (As to whether or not that this is a bad place, the ghost hasn’t told me yet.) With the beginning motif of an ancient brick castle in the heart of Silicon Valley done, I can go back to revising my novel now that I’m not banging my head against that particular brick wall.

Letting Short Stories Lie Fallow

This summer I took a break from the boring admin task of keeping 35+ short stories in circulation by letting them lay fallow after coming back with rejection slips. My tracking spreadsheet turned red over the last three months as I revised my first novel. A few recent short stories that garnered positive feedback from editors were kept in circulation. All the rest I didn’t bother with when they came back.

Although it took me a year to write a 120,000-word, 700-page rough draft manuscript of my first novel, it took another year to figure out how to revise it. The next draft after a three-month break had split the book into two volumes and removed all the material that didn’t work or wasn’t developed enough. And then I got stuck. I spent the remainder of the year on a speculative fiction bender that saw many of my recent short stories being accepted for anthologies. Meanwhile, I kept waiting for my novel manuscript to revise itself (not surprisingly, it didn’t).

What was the problem? The rough draft was crap. Unlike the rough drafts for many of my short stories, it wasn’t even brilliant crap. Just plain old crap that I couldn’t motivate myself to finish revising. The nagging doubt that haunted me was that the manuscript was too long for a first novel, and, even if it was split into two 80,000-word volumes, was still a hard sell for a first time novelist.

The solution to this problem became clearer over the summer: 1) revising a novel is hard work and not for the faint of heart; and, 2) I’ll need to write a shorter novel to increase my chances of finding an agent and/or publisher.

I spent three weeks summarizing each chapter on a notepad and outlining the first volume in Post-It Notes on a poster board to visualize the overview of the story. This is what I should have done a year ago. I started revising each chapter as many times as needed until it was good enough for me to move on to the next chapter, and update the outline—now spread out on four 30″ x 20″ sheets of mouse-colored paper pinned to a wall—with a breakdown of each chapter. I’m averaging two finished pages a day. If I’m lucky, I’ll finish revising the current draft by the end of the year.

Another reason to let short stories lie fallow is that many literary publications affiliated with universities don’t read the slush piles during the summer. If you sent a bunch of submissions at the end of the school year, don’t expect a response until September or October. Waiting for snail mail responses in the dog days of August is a painful exercise in patience when checking the post office box every week.

If you’re dependent on writing to pay the bills, taking the summer off to focus on a big project wouldn’t be wise. If you’re writing only fiction, you’re not making that much money anyway. (I’m lucky to get $20 USD here and there over the last five years.) The long-term payoff for fiction writers is having a successful career as a novelist. As much as I love to write short stories, I had to get serious about revising my novel this summer. If you’re successful enough to make a living from writing, you need a paid vacation anyway.

Now that summer is almost over, it’s time to get those short stories back into circulation. With The Iowa Short Fiction Award accepting submissions until September 30th, I’m reviewing my first collection manuscript as a way to focus my attention on the 32 short stories therein. I should have that done within the next 10 days. I’ll be assembling my second collection from October to December to submit for the 2011 Prairie Schooner Book Prize Series next year, reviewing all 21 speculative short stories that I wrote in the last year. The boring admin task of keeping so many manuscripts in circulation has returned.

It’s Back To School Season

If you haven’t noticed yet, it’s back to school season. This is the perfect time for struggling writers to pick up some office supplies on the cheap. OfficeMax sent me a grocery bag with a 20% off discount in the mail. I braved the horde of back-to-school zombies to fill the bag with items that aren’t regularly on sale: a box of 9×12 manila envelopes (50-count), a 9x12x3 cardboard mailer box, Sharpie markers (four pack), and clear packing tape. All the stuff I need to get my snail mail submissions back into circulation after taking the summer off to revise my first novel.

A few weeks ago OfficeMax had composition books on sale for $0.50 USD each (limit 3). Some writers might be terrified of the composition book because a tyrannical teacher in a sophomore English class made them write God awful essays about the symbolic meaning of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I never had that fear since I dropped out of high school and never read Moby Dick while taking English lit courses in college. (Since I wasn’t an English major, I never got around to taking a course in nineteenth-century American literature.) Composition books are useful for developing the big story idea that I can turn into a novella or novel someday.

Before I wrote the rough draft for my first novel about video game testers and a homicidal ghost, I filled three composition books with hundreds of Dilbert cartoon strips that I printed out and pasted in. Each strip reminded me of a particular incident from my six years as a video game tester that I wrote down in a short description. (Since most first novels are autobiographical, I went for the obvious source material.) I’m still glancing through them to find ideas to incorporate into the revision of my novel.

OfficeMax is having the same sale for composition books this week, along with one-subject 70-page spiral notebooks for $0.05 USD each (limit 3). I’ll be going to different stores to pick up as many of these sales as I can to stock up my office supply cabinet.

Updated 28 August 2010 @ 5:00PM: I ended up getting 18 composition books ($0.50 USD each), six spiral notebooks ($0.05 USD each) and six filler paper ($0.01 USD each) for under $10.00 USD. OfficeMax had increased the limit from three to 12. I now have enough handwriting material to write two novels. The 700-page rough draft of my first novel was handwritten, with 2/3 being written behind a steering wheel. One of these days I’ll embrace the paperless office.

Ye Olde Short Story Collection

Last week I got notification that my short story collection wasn’t a winner in the 2010 Prairie Schooner Book Prize Series. A real disappointment, but I knew the contest was a long shot. The winner was “Destroy All Monsters” by Greg Hrbek, who has such an impressive literary resume that he makes me look like a penny dreadful pulp writer in comparison.  (The title was also that of a 1968 Godzilla movie, so figure out what that prize-winning shot story collection is all about.) Why did I enter this contest that I have no hope in winning?

If you’re a short story writer, you will eventually put together a short story collection. Entering a contest like the Prairie Schooner Book Prize Series is a good motivator for putting a collection together if you have enough short stories to exceed the minimum manuscript requirements.

After I got a postcard four months before the contest opened for submissions in January 2010, I pulled together a 186-page manuscript with 27 short stories written from 2006 to 2008, with the shortest being 350 words and the longest being 6,000 words. I learned how to be a better editor after extensively revising each short story before adding to the collection. Some of the revised short stories that got rejected a dozen times before got accepted for publication after being submitted elsewhere. That made the $25 entry fee a worthwhile investment.

Besides, what writer doesn’t want to win $3,000 USD in cash and a book contract?

The biggest challenge to putting together a short story collection was the lack of information on how to put one together, probably because short story collections are the bastard children of the publishing industry. The days of writers making a living on writing only short stories are long gone. Most publishers will not consider a short story collection unless you have several novels that appeared on the bestseller lists, and even then will reluctantly publish one if only as a teaser for the next novel. When looking at various short story collections, the organization of each one is about as idiosyncratic as the author who put it together.

When I put my short story collection together, I kept each short story stapled together in a three-ringed binder. I used a 3×5 card with the title, word count and short description for each short story. The sorting process was the hardest to figure out. Alphabetical (too many titles started with “The”) and chronological (suck more to suck less) sorting orders weren’t considered. I ended up splitting the cards into four broad categories—family, people, spirituality, weird—and shuffling them all together. I further re-arranged the order to ensure a proper balance with alternating categories and length sizes. Satisfied with the order of the short stories inside the binders, I put the final manuscript together on the computer.

That arrangement worked well for me. But keep in mind that some editors and/or readers will reject reading unrelated short stories that don’t have an overriding theme to tie the whole collection together. I selected these stories from the first two-and-a-half years that I started writing, representing my “literary” period. After I put this collection together, I went on a non-stop “speculative” writing bender that will form my next collection for the 2011 Prairie Schooner Book Prizes Series. That collection will fly or sink on the whims of the evaluating editor.

What will I do with my “rejected” short story collection manuscript? Nothing.

I’m still circulating the unpublished short stories to find a home for them. I could find a publisher to publish the collection, but I’m going to hold off until I have an agent for my first novel that I’m working on. Since I started selling my short stories to the anthologies, the contracts I’d signed often contain a year-long exclusivity clause that prevents the short stories from being reprinted elsewhere. Timing becomes a huge factor when pulling a collection together. Having an agent to double-check all those contracts and perhaps negotiate waivers will be useful.

Of course, winning a contest to catch the attention of an agent wouldn’t hurt either.

Write, Revise, Submit, Repeat

Note: This is a special blog post for the “My Best Advice to New Writers” blogfest organized by Peevish Penman.

If you want to be a prolific short story writer like Ray Bradbury, who wrote 400+ short stories during his long career, you need to write, revise, and submit your short story. And then write the next short story and submit that. You need to keep on writing and submitting your short stories until you have so many manuscripts floating around in the slush piles that a handful of rejection slips in one day won’t faze you. If you’re going to be a short story writer, rejections will always be waiting for you like a dear old friend waiting for you to buy him a drink on payday.

Most new writers stop writing after the first submission and wait to be discouraged by the inevitable rejection slip that arrives six weeks later in the snail mail—or the next morning, if submitting by email. Discouragement will make writing the next short story more difficult. Unless you’re one of those literary writers who must take ten years to write that next prize-winning masterpiece, you can outrun discouragement by writing and submitting as often as you can.

I wrote a dozen short stories each year for the last five years. Sometimes the stories came one at a time, with a month or two going by before the next one demanded to be written. Other times I have short stories raining down like fish from out of the sky, which can be quite overwhelming if you’re not ready for the deluge. No matter how fast or slow a short story arrives, I get it written and submitted ASAP. If a short story returns home with constructive criticism on the manuscript page or rejection slip, I make the revisions and kick it out the door.

My first short story wasn’t accepted until two years after I started writing. By then I had a dozen short stories in circulation and a hundred rejection slips. My second short story wasn’t accepted until a year-and-a-half later. By then I had a four-dozen short stories in circulation and another hundred rejection slips. And then something happened. My writing and editing got better. The floodgates were open. I had a dozen short stories accepted for publication in magazines and anthologies in the last nine months.

Even now I still have 35+ short story manuscripts in circulation. I’m still too busy with writing—and sometimes trying to keep track of everything—to be discouraged by rejection slips. That doesn’t mean I don’t take the rejection of some submissions more personally than others. Whenever I’m disappointed that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or Weird Tales haven’t accepted my wonderful short story, I allow myself a fifteen-minute hissy fit. But only for fifteen minutes. I’m too busy with writing, revising and submitting my short stories to do anything else.

Recovering From A Disappearing ISP

The ISP hosting my three websites and a dozen email accounts disappeared from the Internet for 36 hours last week, starting on Thursday morning at 10:00AM and ending Friday night at 9:30PM. If the outage was less than 24 hours, I would’ve shrugged my shoulders and went on with life. Internet outages do happen from time to time. When 24 hours came and went without a peep from my ISP, I started looking for a new website host.

I soon discovered that my domain registrar, DirectNIC, could host my websites for half the monthly fee I was paying. By the time the outage was over, all my websites got transferred over. This was purely a business decision. When you’re a writer who sends short stories and receive payments through email, being off the Internet for an extended period of time is bad for business.

What happen to the ISP? The separate data lines that the ISP had to the data center weren’t redundant and both went down at the same time. The ISP owner made alternative arrangements that was both expensive and time-consuming.

I’m sorry that I found it necessary to take my business elsewhere. I’ve been with this particular ISP for 15 years, starting with a shell account to view web pages in Lynx (a text-based web browser) over a dial-up modem back in 1995. The extended outage reminded me that this ISP was a successful one-man operation. That’s fine for hosting a personal website. Not so fine when you’re running a business with multiple websites and email accounts.

Fortunately, I had recent backups and retrieved the current data after the old ISP came back up. Since DirectNIC doesn’t offer a shell account for web hosting, I couldn’t upload and decompress the backup file on the server. Uploading all the files uncompressed took a long time with the DSL upload speed being slower than the download speed. Restoring the databases took a few minutes, chasing down the various glitches took a few hours. Having gone through a few of these backup transitions over the years, this was the smoothest to date.

I didn’t suffer too much from being off the Internet for 36 hours. My writing productivity was the biggest casualty: no blogging on any of the websites, no revisions on my first novel, and forget about writing short stories. All my time got focused on getting my websites up and running without any glitches. Queued email found its way home and web traffic soon resumed to normal levels.

The biggest benefits with the new web hosting are the reduced monthly cost, a finer control over the backend for each website, and a much more responsive support team. Otherwise, everything remains the same as it should be. If there is an outage next time, I don’t think it will take 36 hours to fix.

The Non-Universal RTF File Format

Over the past year or so, I have switched from submitting my short stories via snail mail to email. That decision was driven by both economics and practicality. Being without a full-time non-writing job for 16 months had forced me to reduce expenses to live on my unemployment benefits. Fewer snail mail submissions means buying fewer reams of paper, envelopes and stamps. Since I’ve been on a speculative fiction writing bender for the last nine months, many of those markets accept submissions only by email. The manuscript is submitted either in the body of the email, or attached as a Word (.doc) or RTF (.rtf) file. Of the two file formats, RTF (Rich Text Format) is the universal format that should open in any word processor on any system.

Several editors had recently informed me that wasn’t true. They could view the contents of the RTF file on the screen without problem. When they try to format and/or print out the text, strange symbols appear on the end of each line. Two things became quite obvious: I’m using a Mac and the editors are using Microsoft Word 95 or another older word processor.

My primary word processor is Pages (Mac) for creating and maintaining my manuscript files. I also use Microsoft Word 2004 to double-check my manuscripts against the grammar checker (expect a rejection slip if you don’t do this) and ensure that the Word file exported from Pages work without problem. The only reason why I don’t use Word by default is that it runs slower than molasses on my MacBook, which uses Rosetta to emulate PPC CPU software on the Intel CPU. I might switch to Microsoft Word 2011 when it comes out later this year. I’m overdue to upgrade my writing tools.

Why are some editors still using Word 95 that came out for 15 years ago? Beats me.

I can’t imagine an editor being more cash-strapped than a writer when it comes to writing tools. Perhaps these editors are working for bootstrap publishers that haven’t let go of the bootstraps yet. The full version of Microsoft Office is always expensive, but the student version is quite affordable.

Some academic editors still use WordPerfect because their colleges upgrade software at a glacial pace. I very much doubt I’ll ever run into a hard-core WordStar fanatic who lives and die by the 1980’s word processor. An instructor warned me that I might encounter such a person when I took a technical writing course San Jose State University in 1994. These older word processors have problems reading the newer RTF files that have unsupported features such as character encoding and password protection, and don’t recognize that files created on the Mac have the end of line encoded differently than Windows.

What’s the solution for this problem?

Export the file from Pages as an RTF file, open the file in Word, and re-save the file as a Word 95-compatible RTF file (you will need to select this option from the pull-down menu). You could also use TextEdit to re-save the file, but that would be a Word 97-compatible RTF file and I’m not sure if that would be compatible with Word 95.

If I submit a manuscript to a market that requires an RTF file attachment, I’ll send it out as Word 95-compatible RTF file to avoid having problems. Some editors are willing to work with you on a file compatibility issue. Most editors will find it easier to reject a submission for having a “corrupt” file attachment.

A Dead Tree Traditionalist Among E-Readers

The big story this week is the price war among the various e-readers. Barnes & Noble cut the price on their current Nook 3G + WiFi e-reader to $199 from $259 USD, and introducing a new WiFi-only version for $149 USD. Then Amazon followed with a similar price reduction for the Kindle, dropping the price to $189 USD. That leaves Apple iPad at the high-end price range. Will I go out and get one? Nope. I’m a dead tree traditionalist still sitting on the fence when it comes to e-readers.

My reluctance to jump on the e-reader bandwagon has nothing to do with the technology.

I was a contractor at Sony in 2005 when I led a group of ten QA testers to test what eventually became the Sony Reader in the United States. The hardware was Japanese with Kanji characters on the buttons, the Linux-based software was in English, and the English-language book files converted to HTML were on memory sticks. We glanced at three books a day for three weeks, looking for formatting issues with the conversion process and the display hardware. The e-ink display technology was fantastic. I very much wanted one. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford the price when released the following year.

I’m still price sensitive today. The new Nook is tempting at $149 USD. However, I’m not yet sold that I need a dedicated e-reader. I have the Kindle app on my iPod Touch (a first generation that doesn’t support Apple’s iBooks) for reading ancient texts—”The Rise and Fall of The Roman Empire (six volumes)” by Edward Gibbon—and out of print books—”Shakespeare (PBS Companion Book)” by Michael Woods—that are hard to find elsewhere. E-readers are excellent for these kinds of books.

But for brand new books, I prefer holding the dead tree edition in my hand. Especially if the author does something stupid that makes me mad enough to throw the book against the wall. I did that with the paperback copy of “Cell” by Stephen King when my favorite character got killed off. The book stayed on the floor for a whole week before I picked it up again to finish reading. A good book can provoke powerful emotions in the reader. E-readers aren’t built for hurling across the room against the wall.

I’m a dead tree traditionalist who hasn’t converted over to the paperless office. My short story manuscripts often start off as handwritten with ink or on the typewriter before being entered into the computer. Revisions are done with multiple printouts and red ink spilling everywhere. Every draft is kept in the filing cabinet or storage boxes. I have numerous shelves of dead tree books in my personal library.

If the price was right and I have a good enough reason, I’ll get a dedicated e-reader. Until then, I’ll keep flipping my dead tree pages.

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