Friday, January 28, 2011

To Buy Or Not To Buy: Amazon Kindle

To Buy Or Not To Buy: Amazon Kindle
(Do You Really Need One?)

Everybody and her sister, it seems, own an E-reader of some kind. There are Nooks for those who shop Barnes & Noble, Kindles for those who shop, plus Sonys and I-Pads and many others. There are color E-readers, black and white E-readers. Which one do you need, if any? Why would you need one?

Those of us who love books usually have enormous collections of books, and there is no question about it, books take up a lot of space. I have books stored in plastic totes, numbered, with a book listing the contents of each numbered tote. I have books shelves stashed full, with books stuffed in sideways on top of the correctly-shelved books. With all these books, why do I need an E-reader?

Answer: Because I can’t take them with me. But if you have them on an E-reader, you can take them with you. Indeed, this seems to be the chief attraction of E-readers: You can have a whole library right there in your purse. If you travel a lot, or spend a lot of time in your car running errands, you always have your current reading material with you in case of down time.

In a related aspect, the writers on the Romance Writers of America PAN loop are discussing the feasibility of judging the organization’s major contest, the RITA awards, on E-reader. Many would like to see this option because they prefer to read in places other than in front of their computers, carrying physical books is often inconvenient, and with an E-reader, all the books to be judged could be with them all the time. Some even bought the e-editions of the books they were to judge in order to make the judging easier on themselves.

According to Dr. Gary North, an economic historian, the Amazon Kindle, in particular, is an excellent repository for “free books.” Amazon has a large amount of free and promotional titles it offers at no cost. Many of these free books are old, out-of-copyright books, such as Gene Stratton Porter’s works (Freckles, A Girl of the Limberlost), and classics like Seventeen and Tom Sawyer. This aspect attracts many voracious readers who can’t afford to spend as much on books these days.

So, whether or not you need an E-reader depends on you and your reading habits. If you have an I-Pad, a smart phone like a Blackberry or I-Phone, or even a netbook or laptop, Kindle had a downloadable E-reader program. This literally turns your computer into a Kindle, and you can download all the free books Amazon has to offer, plus any of the other titles for sale. If this satisfies your needs, you don’t need a standalone E-reader. You have one already.

But if you want that portability, plus the readability of a screen larger than an I-Phone but smaller than your laptop, you might need an E-reader. That decided, here is my take on the Amazon Kindle.

I started off with the downloadable Kindle program on my laptop computer. After I had built up a huge collection of all the old books I love, plus free books, and a few new ones, I decided I had to have a Kindle, so I bought one and promptly transferred all my titles to it. The Kindle connects to your computer like a USB external drive, and you can transfer items to it just as you would to a USB drive. Then I studied the Kindle on-screen manual and learned a few more things you can read on it.

The Kindle will read PDF files, so you can transfer PDF articles or e-books to it. It will also read text files, which means that if you are a writer and you “just happen” to have one of your own works -in-progress available, you can save your manuscript as a text file and transfer it to your Kindle. Then you can read through your own chapters in search of problems or ideas.

The good thing about all this is that it’s all on a small device about the size of a thin paperback book, and you can load things on or take them off with relative ease. So if you think you might want an E-reader, my suggestion is, start with a Kindle application on your computer or smart phone. If you find yourself constantly using it, then–you might need a Kindle.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Creating characters we should hate but can't.

My inner editor no longer whispers to me while I'm reading or nudges at the back of my brain when I see a poorly devised commercial. She screams at the top of her voice. Not long ago I learned several writing lessons while watching the movie Gran Torino, starring Clint Eastwood.

This article isn't a movie review. Gran Torino came out in 2008 and if you haven't seen it yet, you probably weren't planning to. The point of this article is to tell you what I learned watching it, and how you can glean good and bad techniques from watching good movies or reading good books, the same as you can learn from watching and reading drivel.

I can’t help noticing when I see a story that works, or equally when one doesn’t. For now I’ll stick to the topic of creating believable characters since the writers and directors of Gran Torino managed to make a character as bigoted, bitter and hateful as Walter Kowalski so darn lovable.

If you’ve seen the movie, you already know it follows Walt Kowalski, a recently widowed Korean War veteran who is alienated from his family and angry at the world. Walt's young Hmong neighbor, Thao, is pressured into trying to steal Walt's prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino by his cousin for his initiation into a gang. Walt develops a relationship with the boy and his family.

Sounds straightforward enough. Except there wasn’t a reason to root for Kowalski. All writers know if you want readers or viewers to care about your characters, thus following your project through to its satisfying conclusion, they must empathize with the character, even if he's horrible.

And Kowalski was horrible personified. He hated everybody, and I mean everybody. He was an equal opportunity bigot. He had a negative, profane slur to throw against the Irish, Italians, Jews, African Americans, the young, the old, women, men, Asians, auto mechanics, religion, the Church, and his own children, just to name a few.

Picture a bigger, meaner, more opinionated Archie Bunker having a really bad week.

His reactions to the world were so mean and over-the-top, I couldn’t keep from laughing out loud. I could also understand why he felt the way he did. The movie's writers knew they had to make him funny and relatable or viewers would throw bricks through theater screens. Of course the character was played by Clint Eastwood, and you expect certain things from a Clint Eastwood movie.

Once viewers got to know Kowalski, they realized there was a reason for his bitterness. There must be a logical explanation why your character is the way he is or readers won't forgive you. And they won't keep reading. I won’t explain here, but the story would’ve been downright insulting if Kowalski been a sweet old gentleman who passed out candy and witticisms to neighborhood children.

The point is Kowalski’s character was multi-layered. Underneath the bigotry and bravado was a heart. I won’t go so far as to say a heart of gold. It was Eastwood after all, but we saw cracks in the veneer he presented to the world.

At one point in the movie he gazed at a picture of his dead wife and asked the dog; “We miss Mama, don’t we, Daisy?”

Who wouldn’t get a catch in their throats at a question like that? That’s probably why Gran Torino's writers gave Kowalski a dog. American viewers—and readers—will forgive almost any sin if the jerk doing the sinning loves a dog enough to talk to it as though it understands.

What about your villain? Why does he hate his mother? He can't be mean just for the sake of being mean. Your heroine must have a reason for her crippling distrust of men. Even if the dog bites, something must've happened to make his suspicious of the meter reader.

All characters--good and bad--must be multi-dimensional. No one is all bad or all good, and they shouldn't be that way in your work. We want to empathize, even with the bad guy, and we want to relate to your heroine. It's a lot easier to do if she's not rip-roaring perfect.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


by Molly Noble Bull

The photo above is of a rainbow in the sky above the Dead Sea in Israel and was taken on November 23, 2010 at around 2:00 pm Israel time. Notice the treetops at the bottom right.

According to the Book of Genesis, chapter nine, the Rainbow appeared in the sky after the flood as a sign of God’s covenant–His promise that never again will He destroy the whole earth by the waters of a flood.

Dead Sea Rainbow

Another rainbow was described in the first chapter of Ezekiel as being around the throne of God, and in the Book of Revelation, chapter 10 and verse 1, we are told that a rainbow appeared above the head of a mighty angel that came down from heaven.

Rainbow Angel

Most of the rainbows that I have seen start at the horizon-line, arching upward in bands of color and stretching halfway across the sky. I can only recall seeing one that arched from horizon-line to horizon-line.

Yet none of these rainbows touched the horizon-line, and all three photos were taken on the same day on the banks of the Dead Sea during my friend Dana's recent visit to Israel. All three photos were taken on November 23, 2010 around 2:00 pm Israel time, and the one called "rainbow angel" reminds me of what is described in Ezekiel, chapter one.
Apparently, photos of rainbows like these from ground level are very rare, and I can't help wondering. Are these photos a sort of sign of the end time?
Maybe not.
Note: Read more about Upside Down Rainbows called Circumzenithal Arcs at the address below.
Please leave a comment so I will know what you think.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book Review: Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby

Book Review: Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby

Fanny J. Crosby, observes author Edith L. Blumhofer, deserves study for many reasons, and one of the most compelling is the fact that, as I observed as a child, she wrote almost every other hymn in the Baptist Hymnal. During her life, she wrote some 8,000 hymns.

In addition she was involved in the beginnings of blind education in New York state (she was blind), and she was involved in many benevolences and rescue missions. Since she lived through a time of huge cultural change, and in spite of her blindness kept up with events in society and was an amazingly independent woman in spite of her blindness.

According to Blumhofer, a myth has been cultivated around her, thanks to her blindness and her prolific output of hymns, a myth that ignored the real woman and dwelt on her supposed sanctity, that she was a “Protestant saint.” She was trained as a child to listen and memorize long passages, which stood her in good stead as an adult, and the good books her parents read to her gave her an excellent vocabulary. She was practical and learned many marketable skills, such as needlework and speechmaking, and after training at the New York Institution for the Blind, began to teach.

Her Heart Can See is a fascinating book about a real woman, not glamorized as most other biographies of Fanny J. Crosby have been. This is a story of a real woman, a pioneer in many ways, who made the most of her God-given talents and overcame major obstacles while she was at it.

If you are a fan of classic hymns, as I am, you will enjoy this book.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Favorite Books About The Craft Of Writing

I thought I'd mention two of my favorite books about the craft of writing. The first is Self Editing For Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I recall this book giving a good foundation for the basics of writing. I recommend this book to those who are just beginning the writing process and they long to pen a novel. The book also contains writing exercises, which is nice. Self-Editing covers subjects like "show, don't tell" and other topics that beginning writers need to know. I no longer have my copy and I'll probably purchase another. I loaned my copy to somebody and they never gave it back.

The second book I wanted to mention was Stephen King's book On Writing. WARNING, THERE'S SOME PROFANITY IN THIS BOOK, BUT IF YOU CAN GET PAST THAT, THE BOOK GIVES GOOD, SOUND WRITING ADVICE. This book is a memoir that tells about Stephen King's journey to publication and it also talks about his life. The book even tells about his problems with substance abuse. He also gives good, solid writing advice that most writers need to follow if they want to seriously pursue publication. I read this book several years ago and I still recall passages where Stephen talks about his pre-writing days, about how he'd be at work or doing a task and a scene from a novel would come into his mind. I was mesmerized by this book and I've often recommended it to aspiring writers.

What are your favorite books about the craft of writing? Please share those titles with us in the comments section!

~Cecelia Dowdy~

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011-Time to get serious

Every blog, every article, every social networking site is full of opinions about setting and keeping New Year's Resolutions. Haven’t we heard all this since we started marking time with calendars? I doubt there’s a bit of advice on anything that we haven’t heard before and tried to put into practice. How to lose weight, quit smoking, improve your life, all the stuff we want to do but never think about except for the week preceding and the week following January 1st.

I didn't make any New Year's Resolutions this year. Maybe I should have. Especially where my writing is concerned. I'm currently between writing contracts. The bane of a writer's existence. When you have deadlines, you're stressed and irritable and a pain to live with. When you don't have anyone chomping at the bit to see your stuff, you're stressed and irritable for a whole different set of reasons.

So I thought it would be a good idea to come up with a few resolutions to help keep me on track, especially since I finally have a few nibbles of interest and some possibilities have presented themselves lately. I’m afraid you won’t find a whole lot new here. No resolutions writers haven’t made every year since the first printing press was made available to the masses.

1. Write more. Talk about it less. It’s tough for me not to talk about everything. Tough for most writers I imagine. We prefer to talk about our writing over actually sitting down and writing something. This year I’m not going to verbally express every idea and nugget that crosses my mind. Instead I’m going to capture them with my pen and see what comes of it.

2. Recognize time wasters and eradicate them from my life.
A big time waster for me is DVR on my TV. Now that I can capture the few shows I deem viewer worthy and watch them whenever the mood strikes, there is always something on. In the old days if you missed your favorite show, you had to wait and tune in the next week. Eventually everything would be repeated. Not so anymore. There’s always something ready to waste my time. My resolution is not to give in to the temptation of wasting an entire afternoon on something that doesn't improve my life in any way.

3. Finish something, for crying out loud.
In my writing I tend to pound out my first draft and then walk away from it. I’ll start rewriting, come up against a roadblock or plot hole, think about all the editors who are grossly under-whelmed by my talent, and stop working on it. I have some really good half finished novels in my hard drive. My goal for 2011 is to finish all my half-done manuscripts. Maybe even create something new. Wouldn’t that be a hoot.

That’s enough resolutions for one writer for one year. What about you? Please share your writing or personal resolutions. Let’s keep each other accountable as we move toward published work.