I feel as though I must preface this post with a few facts:

  • I love to read. I also love to write about what I’ve read.
  • This is going to be a post about something I’m passionate about rather than something I’m irritated about.
  • I spent many years analyzing literature for a grade. Now I just do it because I can’t help it.
  • I’ve written a novel. This post describes part of the basis for that novel.
  • Please try not to be too upset if this is boring. I’m pretty sure my life will spiral out of control again very soon and posts will return to the self-deprecating hilarity this blog was always intended to be.

And now…onward.

The Mirror is, in literature, one of the most basic of devices available to an author. Literal and figurative mirrors show up in almost every work of fiction you can lay your hands on. I’ve always been interested in how characters mirror one another, how events are foreshadowed by subtle mirroring. I think this is largely unintentional in most writing, or else not viewed in terms of mirrors. Since I started working on my novel two years ago (almost exactly), I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about everything I read through the lens of the mirror (try to get past the awkwardness of the image that presents…I guess what I mean is, from the perspective of the mirror, or with the mirror guiding my thinking…but the ‘lens’ or the paradigm seems to best express what I am trying to say). I see mirrors in everything I read, in varying degrees.

My novel is based around the Victorian poem “The Lady of Shalott,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In this poem, the tragic character Elaine of Shalott (described in multiple tellings of Arthurian legend), is cursed. The Lady is trapped in her tower room by a curse that predicts her death if she looks out from her window onto Camelot. She spends her days weaving scenes she sees only through a mirror reflecting the beauty of the world beyond her window. Elaine experiences life only as it is reflected through this mirror. Until she sees Lancelot’s image, Elaine, though dissatisfied, is willing to observe the world outside in this distanced way. When Lancelot appears in her mirror however, the Lady accepts the curse and takes the risk in order to see him for herself. The poem ends with her floating down the river in a broken old raft from Shalott to Camelot, dying.

I first read this poem my senior year of high school. I can say with absolute confidence that it has changed my life. Among other things, this poem began my interest in mirrors in literature. I knew that I wanted the mirror to play a central role in my own novel. As I shaped my novel around this image and Elaine’s poignant story, I began to think of ways to extend my own character’s story. What better way than to shape the continuing saga of my character around other works of literature where mirrors play a key role. My brain sort of exploded when I made my first list of such works.

  • “The Rape of the Lock” – Alexander Pope
  • Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll
  • “Snow White” – the Grimm brothers
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling (an idea I won’t be legally allowed to shape my story around for a reeeeeeeeally long time because of copyright laws)
  • “Beauty and the Beast” – no idea

I’ve read extensively but I know I’m barely touching the surface of literary works where mirrors are of vital importance. The mirror motif is strong throughout the works of Shakespeare, but mostly in a figurative way – literal mirrors only show up here and there (most notably in Richard II). My brain is constantly processing all of the prose and poetry I’ve read that might possibly contain mirrors. It’s like a game for me.

Perhaps more fun, though, comes after I’ve located a work fulfilling my requirements. I love to consider all the different uses to which these mirrors are put. In “The Rape of the Lock,” the mirror represents vanity. Similarly in “Snow White,” the magic mirror is a symbol of vanity, but also of truth. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice’s journey inside the mirror explores the opposite nature of a reflection. The Mirror of Erised in the first installment of Harry Potter is the mirror motif used to represent the ‘ideal’ image. The magical mirror that connects Beauty to the Beast in their story is a tool to help Beauty ‘see’ the Beast in a different way. So many different uses for one symbol.

Its versatility makes it an ideal candidate for a over-arching image for a series of novels. While “The Lady of Shalott” and its inspiration stuck with me for eight years before I starting working in earnest on my story, I’m hoping that the mirror motif stays fresh in my mind until I feel ready to create the next installment of my Mirror Series. Frustratingly, I’m hesitant to proceed until I find an agent for the first novel. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another eight years. Of course, I have a feeling I won’t mind, in the end. More time for practice and blog posts in between.

The Advance Reader Copy (ARC) is a miracle. If you love to read, working at a (indie or buying office of a chain) bookstore is, logically, the best place to work. But perhaps not for the reason you’d think – being surrounded by books day in and out is fantastic, to be sure. The biggest perk, however, is the free books. The books that publishers never expect to see a profit on. The ARCs.

Sometimes called galley copies, the ARC is an important marketing tool for publishers. About six months prior to the publication date, ARCs are produced and distributed via multiple venues – trade shows (attended by buyers), sales reps (who take the ARCs to the buying offices), and to the media for review. Setting the media aside (as that’s not my area of expertise), the buyers who are given or pick up galleys generally do not expect to read them. It’s their responsibility to read the ones that interest them and hand off the ones that don’t.

That’s where the store/buying staff come in. There are usually so many ARCs floating around a buying office that one’s reading supply is potentially limitless. The reading does not come without responsibility, however. One of the goals from the publisher’s perspective is to win advocates for the book. And there’s no better advocate than the bookseller. Hand-selling a certain title to customers can make a tremendous difference in the overall sales of a book. The other goal of the publisher is to get bigger buys for books where galleys have been printed. For example, if the buyer enjoys or hears that a colleague enjoyed reading a forthcoming title, they may be encouraged to increase their buy quantity. The two goals work hand in hand – if the buyer takes in a large quantity, it’s because they are confident in the hand-sale-ability of that title.

There are so many facets of the publishing world that make this a complicated industry. ARCs make the inherent complications totally worth it. Obviously, there’s a sense of “specialness” associated with being allowed (nay, requested) to read a book before it’s even been published. And it isn’t like you’re reading a stapled crappy paper copy of the book. Galleys look almost identical to a finished book – with the exception of the back cover copy (which usually contains marketing, publicity and detailed title information as well as the ‘blurbs’ that usually appear there) and somewhere on the front it usually says “Galley” or “Advance Reader Copy — not for resale.” So you’ve got a nice looking book that you didn’t have to pay for, and if the publisher was willing to shell out funds to print galleys, you can expect them to be the best books in the upcoming season’s selection. So you can expect a quality read. And you can add to the feeling of importance by giving the book a good or a bad review to the buyer making the ordering decisions.

And if you work in a really major store or for a big chain, you have built-in Christmas presents that you didn’t have to pay for! In my experience, this is an acceptable gift for family and close friends — who are appreciative of what they can get, especially if they are even vaguely familiar with how very little one makes working in this industry. It’s these little perks that keep us coming back to work (in some instances… in others – like my new situation – there are so many perks you can’t keep up with them) for so little compensation.

Really the only downside I can see to this process can be illustrated using my own three years of experience in the industry: Five Full Bookshelves. Makes moving a SERIOUS pain.

Something happened between middle school and high school. Sure, sure puberty and all that. But something else, something far more mysterious: I started to be creeped out by libraries.

I’m not opposed to the idea of the library – it’s nice that people can have access to books without having to spend money to obtain that access. I don’t begrudge peeps from checking out all the library books they want. I just really don’t want to have much to do with it. Today, however, I got my very first library card in at least fifteen years. And I am still just as grossed out as ever by the whole thing.

Why do I have a problem with reading “used” books? This makes me feel like 1) a germaphobe (which I am NOT) or 2) a snob (which I probably am). In chatting with Dear Friend about my library book phobia, my  main word choice was “gross.” I explained that I don’t like touching books other people have touched, unless I know the other people. She asked me what I thought was living on these books. My response: “gross things.” She replied by saying that most “germs” have died by the time I get my hands on it. To which I replied, “gross. dead germs.” This is logical to me, but only made Dear Friend laugh at my absurdity. Reasonably, she questioned my motive in getting a library card to begin with. Honestly, I felt I had no choice. As I have literally $0 to allocate to book purchases and the book is a recommendation of my father’s called Financial Peace (Dave Ramsey), I figured it would show a little maturity to do the library thing.

Gross.

It took me awhile to find the book in question because I’m just not used to the Dewey Decimal System. I find it absurd that non-fiction books are categorized by subject and then by author but the subjects aren’t labeled on the shelves! Take a note from ANY bookstore, libraries! Luckily “Finance” wasn’t a difficult subject to locate on my own (once I found the astoundingly large “Faith” section) but come on. How hard is it to print and laminate a sheet of paper that has a list of categories on it, cut it up, and tape it to the shelves? I don’t feel like waiting in line for use of a computer just to check where in this place a book might be. Make it easier, please (and not just for me, a rather erratic library user – for everyone else!)!

But mostly I feel like I need to go buy a box of medical gloves before I read this newly checked out book. I don’t like the plastic covering. I don’t like greasy fingerprints. I don’t like unrecognizable stains on the pages. I don’t like being distracted from the reading experience by anything, and most definitely not by my fingers sticking to the cover. Ick.

In the end, I’m willing to do it to save a buck. But I think the world would benefit from some sort of book cleaning dip or something. Like dry cleaning! Or something! Other than sticky book covers! Please!

It’s that time of night* when I’ve usually settled in with my book (currently: re-reading Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood) but I’ve been writing for three hours (by hand, still) and though I’ve tired of the story I was telling, I still have some primal need to keep moving pencil across page.

For some reason I feel compelled to discuss the fact that I’ve created an actual, physical reading list for  my unborn children. I first composed this list at fifteen and  have since added even more fantastic  works of fiction. I wonder now if it’s an oversight to include only fictional works? I can think of maybe  two non-fiction books (outside of text books) I read growing up, and another handful of character building books my Dad assigned me. Maybe I’ll just let my Mom and Dad make a list of  such books and they can attempt to enforce the reading of said books. Fiction is generally much more agreeable.

Not to mention that once my kiddos have read a few of my selections, they’ll come to trust my excellent taste. I’ve  even considered the fact that my son(s) will be opposed on principle to reading The Little Princess so I’ve added (where necessary) some “boy” selections. Only where the ones I’d prefer them to read are just unbearably girly. They’ll grow out of this, of course, so by the time Pride and Prejudice shows up on the list, they don’t get to opt out.

Mostly I’ve included books  I managed to avoid in English classes over the years (can you believe I never had to read Pride and Prejudice as an English major??) but books (or rather plays, in these instances) like Hamlet and Oedipus Rex were quite influential in my education as a person and a writer that they found their way onto the list as well.

I have such strong and vivid memories of being read to as a child, I can’t deny my children the same experience. I’ve included most of the  books that were read to me, like The Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time. I can remember being amazed by these books, completely absorbed in the characters and action, never being satisfied when whichever parent happened to be reading to me at the time got tired and quit for the night. I couldn’t wait until I could read and thought it would be beyond awesome if I could create something equally magical.

Not that I want (or expect) my children to be struck by the writer bug (it’s a poor living, so far), but I do know my life would be so much smaller without  books and I want a big, vivid, book-filled life  for my kids. And because I’ve put so much forethought into it, I know they’ll be reading quality literature instead of Tiger Beat and Harry Potter (JUST KIDDING! All seven volumes feature prominently on the list!).

* Note: This was written around 11:30 pm, not at 3:30 in the afternoon as the time stamp might suggest 🙂

For too long I have let my best and most easily manipulated tools languish unused (at least, unused for good) in my mind. I’ve scoffed (and honestly, still scoff) at books like The Secret  – which tout the power of thinking – as total hocus pocus meant to delude the masses into believing in some magical ability to ‘think’ a desire into being. Absurd. Obviously an evil plot by the author to sell books to gullible people with more money than sense.

As I said, I still scoff, having gotten the impression from the publishing world that The Secret was a farce (and I didn’t have the money to buy a copy just to scoff with more ammunition). But somewhere in the preparation for this book, I’m sure the author read As You Think (originally titled As a Man Thinketh upon its first publication in 1904). And this book, as it is VERY small and was loaned to me by my ever well-meaning father, I have read. In about an hour and a half.

If the book had been mine, I’d have turned down at least five of the 88 pages (about 18% of the book!) for having been struck by the power of James Allen’s words. Even if Mr. Allen is completely BSing, I can still see no harm in turning my thoughts in a more positive direction and being careful to guard them against negativity, much less focusing said positive thoughts on a purpose or goal. If it works, FABULOUS! I’ll be a happier person who has reached the goals I’ve set for myself. If not? Fine. I’ll still probably be more content with my lot and I’ll be spending more time working on something I’m passionate about. Not seeing a down side.

Firstly, in the cleanup of my brain, I’m aware that I complain far too much. While last year was a miserable one, I spent a  good  portion of it bemoaning my disastrous fortunes. Tell me, what’s the point in that? What a waste of  my time and thoughts, that both could  have been put to much better use.

I’m happy to say that I’ve read this  book at a time when I’m already in fairly good spirits. I’m sure I’ll find the “Great Brain Cleanup” to be exceptionally difficult at times, but  like I said, there really is no good reason not to strive for better.

To all my friends, please don’t go out and buy a copy of The Secret. It was far from my intent to suggest that thinking is magical, but DO buy and read As You Think at your  earliest convenience. It’s possibly a result of years of negative thinking, buy I’m sorely tempted to “forget” to return the copy sitting on my night table to Dad. Oops!

I am a (mostly) unashamed fan of Twilight. But maybe not for the same reasons that most lady-folk love it. Edward is certainly appealing. Jacob has a special place in my heart. The stories are interestingly plotted with pretty good pacing (except for the last book which is great in a lot of ways, but is way off pacing wise, IMHO). Bella makes me insane because she doesn’t deserve Edward or Jacob.

But what has drawn me into this series is one simple question: why do I like this so much? Meyer does something with a great amount of skill, otherwise these books would never have taken off as they have. Nor would I have given in to the media hype surrounding it and read the whole thing. Twice. But you can’t compare these books to the Harry Potter series. They aren’t in the same league – not even close. Rowling has nailed character, plot, pacing, dialogue, imagery, description… every detail works. And while I can’t say that Meyer has nailed every aspect of her writing, it does seem to work, in some strange way.

So what is it that makes me want to emulate my career after hers (let’s be honest, Rowling’s career is like Nirvana, which I don’t believe in, so how can I strive for it?)? Putting aside the jillions of dollars Meyer is raking in, I’d still want to be like her. She’s got fully imagined characters that, despite being creepy on multiple levels, are still incredibly desirable. We readers are able to completely suspend the “ick-factor” that would, under normal circumstances, send bells ringing in our minds – A ninety year old unintentionally seducing a seventeen year old? Totally creeptastic. A controlling and manipulative boyfriend somehow inspires legions of fans to suggest they’d like a boyfriend just like Edward Cullen. Seriously? In real life that would be totally lame and potentially abusive. But in Twilight world, it’s sexy. And Bella Swan is in many ways one of the most unlikable characters I’ve read who is entirely intended to be quite likeable. And the crazy thing is, despite her inability to make a decision, her constant heart-breaking, her ridiculous clumsiness and her strange and semi-suicidal tendencies, I still root for the girl. I still want her to find happiness. She doesn’t deserve it, but gosh darn it, she should have it anyway.

I think Stephenie Meyer has taken a set of characters and circumstances and created a cultural phenomenon where another author wouldn’t have been able to pull it together without coming across as totally screwed up . Honestly, I think it’s her style. Meyer’s language is calculated to seem both innocent and sensual, playful and intense. As a writer, I can tell you that being able to walk this fine line is a gift. I basically wrote an entire novel as an homage to Stephenie Meyer’s style. I don’t know if it’s a skill that can be learned, but by jove, I’m going to keep practicing until I get it right!

So, Thank You, Stephenie Meyer – for writing, for publishing, for showing me that perfect writing is one thing, but sometimes that’s not the most important requirement for a successful career. Cheers!

Welcome to the mind of an overly literate, book-loving, impossibly voracious reader who also happens to sell books for a living.

But I don’t just sell the books, I have to learn them. I have to be able to answer wild questions that come from nowhere and convince book buyers  that this is the book they need in their store.

Today was my last day at sales conference, where all this learning was to take place. At the very end, right before I hopped onto the subway for the final time this trip, I was speaking to another new rep who said, “I feel so…full.” I said something silly in return about how I’d skip dinner because I’d consumed so many books this week and felt a bit like I’d made a bad pun. And maybe it is a silly play on words, but for some reason I started composing a poem around it in my head (which I almost never do – I’m no poet).

I’m at the airport now and I wanted to share the result with you, rough though it may be. I hope you enjoy!

Book Eating

Overflow of content
where does it all go?
Those first few bites
like a crisp turn of phrase
with a sprinkle of salt
to keep it fresh –
crinkle as the paper tears
bursts of flavor on my tongue.
With each greasy word
Times New Roman coats my lips
somedays full color, mostly
black on white
no color for this dry-run
run-down
down and dirty
sales pitch for the salesman.
Like a street corner lunch on the run
they cram it down my throat.

Book eating –
thought, text, ink, paper
consuming words all wrapped in a bun,
for easy handling.

No one cares I’m full –
overflowing –
I have to shove it in;
every last bite
each crucial tidbit
every savory morsel
each crumb that threatens
to fall unnoticed to the ground.
I have to condense the pages
spit it out
make it sound worth buying,
worth reading,
worth consuming
            with relish

            and mustard.