More Things to Be Thankful for in 2013

In a continuation of my post on extending my thirty days of thankfulness into the new year, here are a few more reasons to give thanks.

Friends_titlesI am thankful for my friends. Since I moved away from my family to attend graduate school in 1997, an ever-changing cast of characters has become my second family. And though the names in the credits have changed over the years depending on my location and theirs, there are more than a few I could call any day for solace and shenanigans that would put sitcom script writers to shame.

I am thankful for books. Books offered a window into the wider world beyond my tiny northeast Arkansas town. They also gave me fodder for the longest-lasting and best independent study course I will ever have. The self-selected syllabus included core texts like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Little House on the Prairie series early on and has since expanded to encompass everything from Jude Deveraux romance novels to the brilliant nonfiction 150px-Among_the_Thugsof Bill Buford.

I am thankful for the American education system. That might be a rare and unexpected assertion from a former K-12 teacher, but it is true. To be sure, the American education system has its flaws, and its far from fair and equal. However, it did equip me with the tools and desire to earn a degree from one of the best-respected universities in the country and go on to work at one of the largest daily newspapers in the nation. And my sister did as well or better, earning a medical degree and completing a residency in the heart of the Research Triangle. Not bad considering neither of our parents even earned their eighth grade diplomas.

Promoting Books on Pinterest

Here’s a link to my latest article in WOW! Women On Writing about how authors and others in the publishing industry are using Pinterest to promote their work. Now, all I need to do is write my own prose to pin.

I’d Love to Meet That Deadline, but I’ve Got to Bake Some Cupcakes

My best friend and I recently attended book tour events by two very different authors whose presentations had a surprising number of factors in common. They also made me wonder whether I should learn to bake my own high-end cupcakes, force myself to write a book a year, start developing a monologue for a future book tour or wake up at 4 o’clock every morning to try accomplishing all those things at once.

The two authors, Alexander McCall Smith and Jennifer Weiner, both write fiction that appeals mostly to women, but that’s where the surface similarities end. McCall Smith is best known for The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series which stars “Mma Ramotswe, the endearing, engaging, simply irresistible proprietress of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, the first and only detective agency in Botswana.” Weiner is famous for novels with plucky and plump protagonists who, she says, often “are a lot like me and have an ex boyfriend a lot like Satan.” In contrast, Satan doesn’t come into play in McCall Smith’s novels, which feature protagonists that seem to bear no resemblance to the 60-something Scotsman who created them.

That said, both seem to see their fictional characters as living, breathing people, and it comes through in their work.

During his presentation, McCall Smith frequently amused himself as much as he did his audience while recalling the exploits of six-year-old Bertie, a bilingual, saxophone-playing prodigy who is the constant victim of his pushy mother’s aspirations in the author’s 44 Scotland Street series.

During her talk, Weiner responded to a question about her first fictional protagonist, Cannie, by saying that “she definitely has a future,” and that future depends much on where the author’s own life journey leads.

Both are incredibly prolific.

Including her first novel, released in 2001, Weiner’s published 12 books and collaborated on countless other projects between book tours and birthing babies. Weiner has 11 events on her schedule this month alone, including the one where I saw her in the Saint Louis area. I’m not sure when she finds time to write, but I’m pretty positive she cranks out copy a lot faster than I can.

McCall Smith, a retired medical law professor, has penned more than 50 books since his first, published in 1978. That’s better than a book a year. And McCall Smith’s latest promotional tour has six stops in seven days in October. I know rock bands with members in their 20s who can’t keep that pace.

Both treat their readers with respect.

Each author answered questions they must have heard hundreds of times before with a quick wit that made their responses funny and fresh. Weiner even referred one reader with a question on how to write her own novel to a section on her website that conveniently breaks the process into 10 stages, the first two being “The Unhappy Childhood” and “The Miserable Love Life.” Clearly, she’d been asked the question before, but she didn’t mind answering it again or sharing her insights with readers who might never make it to one of her events.

Both were incredibly engaging.

I went to these events expecting a reading, a signing session and maybe an audience Q and A. What each author offered was a full-on, laugh-out-loud monologue that simultaneously explained their popularity as writers and made me want to friend them on Facebook. I’d like to be able to say the two writers were equally engaging, but Weiner dropped the F-bomb in an upscale mall store at least twice and provided gourmet red velvet cupcakes. Given that, McCall Smith just couldn’t compete.

If a Post is Published in the Forest

As some of you may know, I recently started this blog to share my thoughts on writing, the media industry, teaching and life in general. But I came across some statistics that make me wonder, if a post is published in the forest, and no one is around to read it …

According to the most recent comprehensive study of our reading habits by the National Endowment for the Arts, 43 percent of adults did not read a book for pleasure in 2002. If you look at  U.S. Census data, there were about 215  million adults in the U.S. that year. Doing the math, that means an astounding 92.7 million Americans over 18 did not read a single book for enjoyment in that year — not one. The 2002 statistics marked a 7 percent decline from 1992, the last time the NEA surveyed reading habits. If those trends have persisted over the last decade, that would mean nearly half the adult population will not read a book for enjoyment this year.

Now take into account that the number of print books published in the U.S. rose by 5 percent from 2009 to 2010, an increase of more than 14,000 new titles. Non-traditional publishing more than doubled its number of published titles from 1,033,065 in 2009 to 2,776,260 in 2010, the most-recent year for which numbers are available. “These books, marketed almost exclusively on the web, are largely on-demand titles produced by reprint houses specializing in public domain works and by presses catering to self-publishers and ‘micro-niche’ publications,” according to Bowker, which tracks the publishing industry for publishers, booksellers and libraries.

So, if frighteningly close to half of U.S. adults don’t read for fun these days,  who is reading all these books? Why, other authors, of course.

The blog clearinghouse currently has 1,295,372 blogs in its directory. Of those, 16,846 fall into the site’s BOOKS category. That’s just one indication that the people who do read books are clearly reading, and writing about their hobby, at a pretty furious rate. Add to those the number of blogs about writing and those that, like this one, mention writing, reading or books occasionally. I would venture to say these blogs indicate that a growing number of avid readers are writers as well.

This essay from The New York Times Book Review* touches on some of these topics, but some other reading I have been doing seems to indicate the brief romance between blogging and books might be morphing from a passionate affair into an established marriage or, worse, an incestuous morass that has a growing number of writers competing for the same, shrinking reading public. That thought leads me to the following questions  I would like to put out there for all you readers and writers. Please pass them on to others who might offer some insight:

How many blogs do you read daily?

Do you have a blog?

How many of you bloggers have written, are writing, or are thinking about writing a book?

How does your blogging relate to those book projects?

.Hopefully, this dispatch will make a sound.

* This New York Times essay cites the same NEA study, but uses some interesting new math to highlight its findings.