June 28, 2010

A Neighborhood...or a World...Away

"I owe the success of AAR to the hard work of a highly talented, intelligent, funny, and creative group of volunteers...Blythe, Sandy, Rachel, and Lynn will be splitting the publishing and managerial responsibilities, with the able support of the incredibly talented and hard-working AAR reviewers and staff."

"I have no doubt whatsoever that these terrific women will continue this site's commitment to quality. Indeed, my guess is that the changes they make over time will improve All About Romance, and I look forward to watchintg them do so. And I will watch...from entirely on the outside. I can't imagine anything more difficult than moving into a house and having the old owner constantly peeking through the windows."

~At the Back Fence, my final issue, October 2008

The strong management team I left in place at AAR in 2008 has taken the site in some terrific new directions. Thanks to Rachel the site has an RSS feed, something I couldn't figure out how to do throughout my last several months. New reviewers brought renewed vigor, and existing staffers felt rejuvenated and brought new ideas into fruition. TPTB re-started the advertising program I'd cancelled early in 2008 (in an attempt to regain joy from the site by returning to reviewing), which allowed for further possibilities, including the purchase of a dedicated server, and apparently, a site re-design. In other words, what I'd hoped would happen - an improved AAR - did happen, and for that I am proud.

Many websites simply cease to exist when it's time for the owner to move on. The thought of that happening when I'd decided I needed to leave distressed me to such an extent that I actually remained on board longer than I'd have liked because my need to leave actually preceded my final decision to do so by months. By the time I'd discussed my unhappiness with my AAR colleagues, I seriously considered either pulling the plug or simply abandoning the site so that all the content would remain online like a virtual ghost-museum of romance novels.

Because of the expense and effort involved in owning AAR, I wasn't sure what would happen with the third option of transferring ownership to one or more existing staff. It didn't take long for Blythe, Rachel, Sandy, and Lynn to develop a plan, and within two months I quietly left.

Although AAR had long since ceased to bring me joy, the thought of letting it go after more than a decade was excruciating. It required me to face hard truths and make a tremendous change in my daily life, but the changes I saw my daughter willing to commit to in a castle in the Berkshires gave me the strength to give up what I'd struggled to build for so long.

The last day I owned AAR was a horrendous one. The owner of AAR's host had recently died and the new host company was a large one located states away. Everything went wrong that day, and because I was determined not to leave the new owners a broken site, I stayed up almost all night, in constant phone contact, nagging and nudging tech support along so that when it came time for me to turn over the virtual keys, I could do so with a clear mind. And then, the night of the first day of my new, un-encumbered life, my husband took me to a celebratory dinner, after which we walked to a Barnes and Noble nearby and I picked up a job application. Several days later I'd applied to every Barnes and Noble and Borders in the area, and a week and a half later, the sole store that called me in for an interview offered me a job.

* * * * *

Last night my husband and I went to Toy Story 3 - great movie, btw - with a small group of B&N friends. Allie, who works solely in the music department, drove with us from the store to the theater. Because of a naturally reticent sensibility, I only slowly allowed my personal life to mix with my working life. I think I shocked Allie when I told her I'm not the extroverted person in real life that I am at the bookstore.

In real life I am happy to be on my own, or with my husband or daughter for company. Though I imagine I'll pay for it at some point down the line, and recognize that I am not the poster child for emotional health, I simply am not a person "who needs people" beyond my very small circle. Which means when I walk into the bookstore to work, I consciously press an internal "on" switch that allows me to easily engage with customers, shrug off being yelled at unreasonably by people having a bad day, and actually try and improve the mood of the people I serve.

All of this has been good for me. Unlike Michael Gates Gill, author of How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else, I hadn't lost it all before getting an entry-level retail/service job, but B&N did allow me to re-join the human race after being stuck in my study for a decade. Because people who work at bookstores tend to love books or music to an almost uncomfortable extent, almost none are "regular folk," and given my own "offness," the self-confidence to become more open built as self-consciousness faded. Still, working tires me easily because that "on" switch expends a lot of energy; on the other hand I now can attend a party without feeling the sense of dread that once accompanied invitations to large gatherings.

In other words, I've moved on. I work part-time at Barnes and Noble. I belong to the National Book Critics Circle, review for Publishers Weekly and Amazon Vine, and over the weekend was asked to take part in a new reviewing venture. In less than a month we'll be taking our first family vacation in years, after which we'll settle our daughter at college. Now seems to be the perfect time to let go of the last tentacles of the past.

* * * * *

When my husband and I sold our first house, the man who bought it was an asshole. Rather than working through a realtor, he simply rang the door one day to have a look. He barged in. He made rude comments. He was unreasonable throughout closing - so much so that my husband wanted to back out of the deal just because he was such an ass - but we needed to move on, which Harold understood after we talked about it. Although the sale left a bad taste in our mouth, we moved out of our old neighborhood and into our new house in a different neighborhood.

Our daughter met her first "friends" at local parks, and one in particular lived in the old neighborhood, so I frequently drove by the old house. First the shutters changed color, then they were removed entirely. Landscaping in the front yard changed drastically and the driveway, which need it, was re-paved. While we lived there for the first several years of our marriage and loved our little starter home, as it changed and we changed and the years passed, I felt less of a need to periodically re-visit, and I can't remember when I last drove by.

* * * * *

Blythe and I "met" a long time ago, way back when Prodigy and AOL were how most people experienced the Internet. Rachel I've known less long, but still...a long time. Sandy came to AAR a couple of years after Rachel after having spent time at another romance novel website, one which folded. It was not one that I held in very high esteem because of its cheerleader attitude, but her writing skills were strong and she adapted easily into our anything-but-cheerleader style of review. And a year and a half after that, Lynn joined.

Though Blythe and I don't talk often, there is a closeness there that I've often relied upon. And while Rachel's religious and political views are a world away from my own, we share some struggles and have enough in common emotionally that when she left AAR earlier this year, I felt it deep in my bones. It wasn't until last week, though, that I thought to check into a feature she edited for many years at AAR, the Special Title Listings - the second oldest feature at AAR and one of the reasons for its existence - when it hit me, hard, that with her retirement the lists either went on hiatus or were cancelled.

Aside from my connections with Blythe and Rachel, my strongest AAR relationships over the years have been with Robin and Marianne. Just last night I learned that Marianne's eldest daughter, a Marine decorated for her courage and bravery under fire in Afghanistan, is pregnant. Robin's son, also a Marine, just returned from his deployment, also in Afghanistan. Apropos of nothing, really, other than that I'm incredibly thankful that both are safe and sound, at least for now.

Robin and I talk in fits and spurts, not as much now as when we were co-writing At the Back Fence, but ever since I made my decision to leave AAR and she learned At the Back Fence (the raison d'être for the site way back when) would be no more, our conversations always include an AAR component...mostly our disconnect with it that has everything to do with us and little to do with the capable people writing there. That's not to say AAR's culture never changed; over a decade we experienced several upheavals that served to bring many of us closer while pushing others apart. Through it all I appreciated everybody's talent and believe I respected it, but I can honestly say that some of us mixed like oil and water. In other words, we didn't.

I started this rambling blog entry with a quote from my final ATBF column, including the metaphor that I saw AAR as a house, and when I left the site, vowed not to peek through the windows to make the new owners uncomfortable.

Over the past nearly-twenty months, I've maintained that distance. I visited the site a few times a week to see what's new, but by keeping that necessary distance I hastened my disconnect. I thought I could come back as just another reader and earlier in the year posted a few times, but quickly gave up - it just didn't feel right. And with the site re-design that officially debuted a week ago, it's as though I've not only moved out of the old house and into a new neighborhood, but then the old house was moved, foundation and all, across country, so that it's too far away even to drive by.

I will continue to wish nothing but success for AAR and its owners, but it's time for me to finish the process of letting go.


June 27, 2010

Congolese Conflict...in a Different Way

For those who think diamonds are the only mineral causing conflict, death, and destruction in the Congo, check out today's Op-Ed piece by Nicholas Kristof in the NYT.

Then, after you read his article, watch the new video referenced therein. It's an eye opener - at least it was for me.


June 24, 2010

What...A Mess!

Interestingly, although I'm messy by nature, I've always been a book Nazi, which makes for a strange dichotomy at work. I still find it difficult to get the bed made each morning and hang up my clothes. I make sure the former gets done, whether the latter occurs is no better than a fifty-fifty proposition at best.

But since working at Barnes and Noble, whenever I'm in a bookstore, even one in which I do not work, I constantly straighten up, put things where they belong, and otherwise behave like a cleaning-crazed person. And no longer do I visit a clothing store without re-hanging each item before leaving the dressing room - and I won't let my daughter leave without doing the same.

That doesn't mean, though, that messes no longer overwhelm me. Indeed, when I walked into Kids last night at 9:10 (and then again at 9:20 after being called to Cashier back-up almost immediately), I went into a panic. There had been no coverage in the department for hours, and with school out, a sweltering hot day, and the bookstore the perfect, air-conditioned place for parents to let their wild spawn run amuck, the place looked as bad as you might imagine.

Because I am not neat by nature, messes do overwhelm me and I become less efficient than usual as the fear I won't be able to clean it all up in time invades my head. Last night I tried a different tact and thought to myself, "Screw this...I'll do what I can, but I'm not going to let this job get the better of me. The store isn't paying me enough or offering me enough hours to justify my making myself crazy being Super Employee."

What a pep talk!

But you know what? It worked. By refusing to take on responsibility for making things perfect, I actually got through recovery quicker than usual. I tackled it methodically...when I found four "lunch-box" style kits emptied all over the floor, I put 'em back together and stuck 'em back on the shelf. When I found an expensive pop-up book destroyed, a touch 'n' feel book with a cardboard page ripped out, and a tween girl's nail kit that I'd already put back together the week before destroyed once again - but this time beyond repair - I simply damaged them out and continued.

By ten o'clock, when the store closed, I wasn't finished, but I didn't go into apology mode for needing help. Nobody could have put everything back in the time I'd been given. Not with two tables filled with books and kits - and magazines and computer books from thoughtless adults who are as selfish as their children - stuffed animals all over the floor, and a desk already stacked high with books that other staff during the afternoon and evening had placed there for recovery.

So Allie came in, I told her I still had a desk full of items to put away, and she started dusting and organizing. By the time James came in, I had just one toy left to put away before handing him two final books for recovery elsewhere in the store and taking the "due-outs" to the back for processing. Then I returned to Kids for a final walk-through, making sure that the basics were done (all items put away and no obvious violations of shelving rules). As I told my manager a few minutes later, "It's done, but it's not pretty."

It's that change in attitude that helped me last night not to get hysterical about finishing on time and by myself. A few weeks earlier I'd been unable to finish a "Sunday night in Kids," and when the cavalry rode in, I spent the next half hour apologizing for needing help. My guess is that both messes were comparable, yet I actually accomplished more - and more quickly - by myself when I took the "I don't give a shit" attitude than when I donned my Super Employee costume.

Of course, it didn't hurt that earlier I'd sold three memberships in an hour and a half cashiering, but still...


June 22, 2010

Business as Usual?

In another sign that our nation is veering headlong into corporate facism, both the FCC and Congress are engaging in closed-door meetings with ISP's to re-write telecom law, most likely to limit effects of Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality, for those of you who have heard the term but are uncertain as to its meaning, is precisely what it says: that there be no restrictions used by those who provide the "pipes" for the Internet. In other words, An ISP must be neutral in allowing content through its pipes and cannot slow down access to or prevent users from access to online content.

Let me give you some personal, historical perspective. Years ago when AOL was still preeminent, AAR was not available to all of AOL's users. There was nothing as a content provider I could do about it. Indeed, I remember being stunned after speaking with somebody at AOL who told me, "We are not required to provide access to all websites online." Several years later, when a router in the Mid-West broke, AAR became unavailable for a good chunk of the country and the company that provided that router was not required to fix the break. Instead I was forced to pay AAR's host to create a fix around the break, and in the interim weeks, we lost untold thousands of users temporarily...and the number of users who simply thought we'd gone offline permanently remains unknown.

Let's jump to the future now, where Time/Warner exists and NBC and Comcast may be merging. Without Net Neutrality, when owners of the pipes that bring us content also own companies that generate large amounts of content, they can, quite legally, either slow down or stop the competition. In a case brought by Comcast against the FCC earlier this year, a federal appeals court stated that the FCC lacked the authority to require Net Neutrality, leading both the FCC and Congress scrambling to create some level of authority by regulation or law.

As public agencies do when preparing to enact regulatory changes, the FCC asked for public comment regarding Net Neutrality. Although 85% of respondents asked for Net Neutrality, these closed-door meetings signal yet another Obama administration deal limiting real change. Similar opaque, revolving-door meetings on Capital Hill - where nearly 3/4 of telecom lobbyists are former federal employees - are yet another sign of business as usual.

While I understand that changes are incremental and evolutionary rather than revolutionary, it pains me to say that Barack Obama's efforts to avoid conflict and create compromise too often benefit the industries in need to regulation. It's one thing to hold meetings with telecom companies, but closed-door meetings stink of back-room deals.

Where's the sunshine?



A problem with my family - and it works in reverse with my husband's family, and may be equally detrimental - is a lack of boundaries. Even though I've attempted to create the proper boundary balance throughout my adult life - at work, in my personal life, and with family - sometimes I'm not entirely successful, and yesterday I experienced that when I went to the movies with my 18-year-old daughter.

We saw Get Him to the Greek because both of us wanted to see it, just like a couple of years ago I'd agreed to see Borat with her, my mom, sister, and my sister's two kids, who are two and five years older than Rachael. Although I'd wanted to see Borat, my suggestion for that Thanksgiving weekend was the more appropriate, and also hilarious, For Your Consideration, but I was out-voted. Talk about embarrassment...sitting in this very funny but very inappropriate movie not only with my daughter, then just 15, but also my mother.

Other instances where my judgment was not the best in terms of movie viewing with my daughter: Jarhead and Brokeback Mountain. Rachael was 14 when we watched those films, and I felt the content was important enough to balance my embarrassment. Was I mistaken? I don't think so, but with boundary issues, it's hard to say.

Get Him to the Greek was mostly very, very funny, and I thank God that Rachael decided to get a soda during what I believe was the most inappropriate scene, but let's face it...she still witnessed the aborted threesome during which Aldous Snow goes down on Zoey Bartlet.


My Favorite New Commercial

Okay...I tend to skip most commercials. Just last night I told my husband about watching an oddly catchy ad before a movie my daughter and I went to see yesterday for a Kia, starring rapping hamsters. He could not believe I'd never seen the ad before, but generally when the TV is on, I'm either doing something else, or watching something I've TiVo'd. When I do the latter, I skip commercials entirely.

For some reason, though, last week a new ad for the Amazon Kindle came on TV and I watched it. I loved it. It points out the ease and simplicity of the device, illustrates that you can read content on your Kindle in bright sunlight - which cannot be done with backlit devices that shall remain nameless, and used the whimsical music of their first stop-motion ad. A simple, highly effective ad likely more effective now that they've cut the price to $189. Enjoy.


June 19, 2010

I Won!

I used to tell people at conferences that I was like the cobbler's children who had no shoes. Because Blythe received books for review at her home in Colorado and I banned myself from reviewing for most of the years I ran AAR in order to maintain a total disconnect between editorial and sales, I bought just about all my own books, save those I reviewed for PW. Which meant that the biggest perk that goes along with owning a book website just didn't exist for me. Boo hoo.

The Internet exploded during my tenure as AAR's publisher, and included in that explosion were author contests. At AAR authors sent in hundreds of books for our weekly giveaways, but they also gifted books through other websites, and later, their blogs. While I was at AAR, I could not participate in these contests. Boo hoo.

That didn't stop me from occasionally reaping the benefits of website ownership. Jill Barnett gifted Blythe and I an entire signed set each of her backlist, Jillian Hunter sent me two hard-to-find beanie babies, and Kate Douglas included a plush wolf with the book I agreed to review when I had my first blog. Seeking out freebies when I ran AAR was unseemly, so I avoided the temptation except when in attendance at RWA conferences, when I proudly announced my book whoredom.

Now I work at a bookstore, so it's assumed I get lots and lots of free books. Not so, particularly since most of what I read outside of reviewing for PW are ebooks. Occasionally we're allowed to visit the strip pile, but far too much of my salary, even with my employee discount, ends up in the store's cash register. Boo hoo.

So I've embraced my "civilian" status over the past year and a half by entering author contests, and yesterday I won a large package from Marjorie Liu. Earlier in the year I won the Australian release (pictured here) for one of the historicals I loved from 2009, Anna Campbell's Captive of Sin, which I'd reviewed very positively for PW. Although I'd already read it and had my review copy, as well as a digital version for my Kindle, the cover art was so gorgeous for the book - and I'm not one who generally cares about covers - that I coveted it - that's right, coveted. And was thrilled when I won.

Earlier this week I noticed a tweet from @marjoriemliu about a contest on her blog celebrating her sixth anniversary as a published author, and being a fangirl for her Dirk & Steele series, entered it. Last evening she emailed to say I was one of two random winners. Here's what I won:

  • Christian Kane’s new music, via iTunes, because she's a fan
  • A signed arc of A WILD LIGHT, the next Hunter Kiss novel
  • A signed arc of IN THE DARK OF DREAMS, the next Dirk & Steele novel
  • A signed trade of DARK WOLVERINE (#75-77)
  • A signed Dirk & Steele novel
  • A signed Hunter Kiss novel

When Liu publicly announced the winners, she also shared that she just signed for three more books. Two are part of her Hunter Kiss series; the third is, at this point, a stand-alone. Though to this point I've only read her Dirk & Steele books, I imiagine I'll soon be trying her other series. Less likely is that I'll become a graphic novel reader, but I've learned to never say never.


June 17, 2010

Beating a Dead Horse

I imagine many of you are tired of my constant bitching about publishers and ebooks, but this morning, after reading two things - a blog entry from LibrarianinBlack about publishers making it difficult if not impossible for libraries to easily provide usable audio books and ebooks to customers (thanks, @madpoptart for the link), and an invitation from PW for a webcast entitled Enhanced Ebooks Today - I thought to myself that, once again, publishers have got it wrong.

Many of us who read a lot are able to feed our habit because as a general rule we read paperbacks rather than hardcovers. I bought an expensive electronic device because I can store my entire library on it...and because, at the time, it was actually cheaper to buy ebooks than paperbacks. Now, of course, with the agency model that I've already bitched about, unless I buy an ebook published by Random House or Harlequin, I am paying as much as print customers for digital paperbacks, and more than I would pay for print versions at B&N with my membership (yes, I have a membership even though I get an employee discount) because the agency model disallows discounting.

That was a mouthful, so let me put it more succinctly: I buy a lot of books and want to get the best price I can for them. Publishers using the agency model would prefer I buy print over digital, so much so that while they allow discounting of print versions, they don't with digital versions, which means that I can generally buy a print paperback for less than I can a digital paperback. Further, I am not the only Kindle (or Nook) owner who bought an ebook reader because it allowed us to keep feeding our reading habit while giving us a handy-dandy, small device on which to store our ever-growing libraries.

All along I've said that publishers are behind the times. I think I shared the incident at the Atlanta RWA conference in 2006 during which a highly placed executive was shocked to learn the Internet impacts readers. This was 2006, mind you, not 1996 or even 2000. Their being behind the times is among the reasons they refuse to let go of old models that aren't forward-looking. Even though the ebook market is the fastest growing, they see it as the enemy, and as one commenter to LibrarininBlack's blog wrote, they see all ebook readers as thieves and pirates, which is why their DRM rules and requirements are so onerous that many librarians want to throw in the towel entirely on audio books and ebooks.

Because, in the immortal words of Pogo, "the enemy is us," publishers would rather cling to old-fashioned models of delivery, leading to the agency model and higher prices. And now, to justify those higher prices, they plan to sweeten the pot with ebook enhancements.

No, no, no!

I don't want no stinking ebook enhancements.

I want the same book I can buy in print, but for less money because it costs less for you to deliver that book to me...and I'm guessing I'm not the only reader who feels this way.

Since the agency model went into effect, the two big publishers that did not embrace it - Random House and Harlequin, experienced a marked increase in ebook sales (for Random House it was 40%). For now I'm going to pay with my pocketbook and try to not buy books published by the big five who went with the agency model, particularly Penguin/Putnam, whose recent pricing increases are most egregious. Instead I plan to make better use of my local library, and spend extra non-work hours at the bookstore reading quietly in the corner.

It's really hard to envision a business plan that encourages customers not to buy their product. Since prices increased, though, that's been the result for this customer. In March, the month before the agency model went into effect, I bought seven ebooks. I've finished buying for June, and bought only five in comparison. They just don't get it.


June 16, 2010

Pathos: Surreal and Shocking, Yet Not Wholly Unexpected

Since Season 6 of Deadliest Catch began a couple of months ago, it's been like watching the Bataan Death March because we as viewers knew that Captain Phil Harris died early this year. As always, he's had boat issues, but the Jake Switch of the first episodes between the Cornelia Marie and the Northwestern showed Phil's humanity and a care for his crew underneath the bluster. Comparatively speaking, Sig's single-mindedness may serve him well as a skipper, but even his brother, always his biggest supporter, is tiring of the constant, unrelenting grind on the Northwestern.

Though Captain Harris' hapless moments are more than occasional, this season we also saw major triumphs for him as a fisherman. His understanding of crab digestion, shall we say (okay, fart bubbles), led to an early strong haul, and the precision fishing he engaged in over the last two episodes is something that apparently few skippers try, let alone succeed in doing. Through it all his sons have brought him great joy, and annoyed the hell out of him. Jake, the younger son, joined the crew of his dad's ship a season before Josh did, but clearly Josh has always had it more together than his little brother, and as the seasons have progressed, we've seen him grow into more of a man while his little brother never seemed quite able to set aside his childish ways.

In last night's episode, his lackadaisical behavior turned into incoherence when his dad tried to use a more positive approach to instill a greater sense of responsibility...to no avail. Later, with just a few moments left in the episode, Captain Harris' vision blurred, his back ached, and he seemed ready to pass out. He left the bridge to get his pain pills from his bunk - only to encounter son Jake stealing them.

What followed was a blistering set-down of son by father, including disowning on one side and pleading on the other. As a parent who's lived through some dicey periods and experienced this sort of ranting and raving out of fear for a child's life, I could not turn away from the TV even though I felt uncomfortable watching such an intensely personal tragedy. At the end of the yelling, Jake confesses he is an addict, and the episode ends.

I understand that in next week's episode, Captain Harris will have the stroke that eventually kills him, and the remainder of the season will continue the long death march. Reality TV has rarely been so poignant and real as the last few moments last night on Deadliest Catch. Pathos-filled, surreal and shocking, yet not wholly unexpected as a result of the episode's structure, the pain took my breath away.


June 15, 2010

Classic Sequels and Mash-Ups

Over the past few years I've reviewed for PW several sequels to classic novels and, earlier this week tackled my first classic monster mash-up for the magazine. It has not gone well.

The vast majority of classic sequels have been for Jane Austen novels. Save one, they've been disastrous, and the sole non-disaster was, at best, no better than "not bad." I try to maintain an open mind for every book I review, but must admit that I am not predisposed in favor of these sequels because I'm a purist. I refused, after all, to watch Clueless for years after it was released to critical and popular acclaim, after all, because no matter how much Amy Heckerling loved Emma, she dared to update what for me already is a perfect story.

As for the myriad of sequels published over the last several years, I find it incredibly presumptuous for any author to believe she knows what Austen might have done with her characters after the books she wrote. Had Austen wished to further their stories, she would have. My guess is that she would not be pleased that Darcy hid his erections from his jovial, knowing father-in-law any more than she would want Lady Catherine DeBurgh to continue plaguing future generations of Bennetts and Collinses and Bingleys. Why these books sell really surprises me; that one author has parlayed Pride and Prejudice into eight sequels to date astonishes me, particularly the one I reviewed, which featured the children and grandchildren of a secondary character in the original. A less annoying read was one of the Sense and Sensibility sequels, but it still frustrated me. While it tackled a social issue I can imagine Austen taking on, Austen's sensibility was sorely lacking in the sequel's prose style, resulting in a mostly plodding effort.

Those are my thoughts on classic sequels. While you might think I harbor similar ideas about monster mash-ups, I don't. I love parody, which is the reason why at AAR I created our annual Purple Prose Parody Contest that in its later years encouraged mash-ups. When Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out last year and received a high mark from Entertainment Weekly (which propelled it from a minor release into a major one that eventually spawned other monster mash-ups), I loved the idea of it so much that I pushed it like mad at the bookstore, although my own effort to read it ended with chapter three. Had it been any mash-up other than P&P, I would have soldiered on. On the other hand, what I've read so far of Sherri Erwin's Jane Slayre has whetted my appetite for more. I love Brontë's original, but it's not at the top of my all-time keeper list, so I'm less invested in it retaining its purity. Erwin's love for Jane Eyre as well as her skills as an author come through so strongly that it's easy for me to get into the fun of a Jane plucky enough to slay vampires and the idea of Rochester's crazy, attic-bound first wife as a monster.

That said, the review I sent in to one of my PW editors yesterday was for a book lacking in any of that sense of fun. The book was such an unmitigated disaster that it took me an entire week to get past the first hundred pages. I can't get into more detail until the book is released, at which point I'll provide a link to my review, but right now it's in serious contention for my worst book of the year.

While both of my PW editors know that I'm probably not the reviewer for future Jane Austen sequels, I remain open to the idea of classic mash-ups, although I wonder about their shelf life - for every Jane Slayre there's a Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Of course, I remain happy to read and review humorous paranormal historicals. Not only am I a fan of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, both Jill Barnett's Bewitching and Rebecca Paisley's Basket of Wishes, which were released in the early/middle 1990s, sit on my all-time keeper shelf.


Shits and Giggles

I've decided to keep my toe in the water for the time being; I have some ideas percolating in my brain that I'd like to follow through until fruition.

Yesterday, in the heat of a Texas day - five in the afternoon - my husband and I walked into the American Airlines Center with hopes of moving the seats for our Dallas Mavericks half-season tickets perhaps one section to the left to be more or less smack dab center court - albeit pretty high up. I'm not sure why we bothered.

Every year season ticket holders are invited over a three or four day period to show up at a specified time (ours being 5:20 - 5:40 last evening) to possibly exchange seats. Available seats are taped off in various colors, so we were looking for two pink seats that were better than ours. They didn't exist.

We've gone now three or four times out of all the years we've held partial season tickets, and the only time we've had success in moving to a better section came not from moving within our pay-range, but moving up to the next pay-range. So we knew it was likely a futile adventure, begging the question: Why the hell did I go when I was well into day two of my monthly headache, this time with nausea included? Well, as I told my daughter before leaving home, it hurts and I feel the need to hurl regardless of location, whether at home in a dark room or standing in line for a useless cause in downtown Dallas.

One good thing came of it, though; I realized that the reason my Droid didn't take pictures as clear as my Blackberry even though the camera is supposedly better is because I hadn't realized there was a small piece of plastic film covering the lens. When I bought the phone, the salesman put the protective silicone cover on it immediately, and it wasn't until I peeled it off for shits and giggles that I realized its existence. Hooray for me.

When I woke up this morning, my headache was gone.


June 12, 2010

In or Out?

I started this blog slowly and tentatively, with just a toe in the water. Then, as is my way, I dove right into the deep end, where the water can be coldest. Quite a fitting metaphor, actually, because as I write this, our swimming pool is empty. The water drained out on Wednesday in preparation for re-tiling and re-surfacing, then flowed down a groove in the middle of our alley before hitting the storm drain at the end of the street and disappearing with a loud splash.

My first blog lasted for more than six years. I don't think this one will see six months as currently formatted because my life just isn't interesting enough to sustain it, and because I don't know what I want. Late last summer a restlessness set in and to alleviate it I began to review for Amazon Vine. At the end of 2009 the fate of Publishers Weekly became uncertain, and as December turned into January...then February and March, I panicked. As one reviewer among thousands at Amazon - currently my "new" reviewer rank is 6,071 and my "classic" rank is 5,112, a marked improvement over the past several months - I felt my voice slipping away, even though my reviews for fourteen years at PW have always been anonymous.

It was within this mental framework, then, that I decided to dip my toe back into the online waters in a more tangible fashion. And it satisfied me for a couple of months, particularly my book and work-related posts, but then self-doubt set in. My exposure into the world of retail, while infinitely interesting to me, is likely infinitely interesting only to me. And I began to wonder...should I review this book at Amazon where more people might read it - and buy or stay away from the books reviewed - or here on my blog that nobody reads? The more I asked myself that question, the more depressed I became.

At the start I honestly believed that I could write a blog essentially for myself and that would be enough. But I don't think it is. Then I started to have all these ideas for content to add here, so that I could bring together under one "roof" all sorts of reviews and lists...and then I realized I'd already done that before, at All About Romance. The benefit of blogging for an audience of ten or fifteen is that I can write without feeling a bullseye target on my back, which is how I felt for much of the time I ran AAR. But the flip side is something that becomes more obvious with each passing day: I believe I must be a glory whore, and to write for an audience of fifteen isn't quite the kick I thought it would be.

When I sat down to blog today, I was all set to relate my shift last night at the bookstore, then to search online for a few more reviews to add to my PW reviews page. But as I started to write, I stopped myself. Even though it's been almost a week since I blogged, and taking such a lengthy break in-between is something bloggers are not supposed to do, I need to re-evaluate. If I can find a way to use this "home" online in a meaningful way, I will, but if not, I'll sign on one last time in a day or so and say goodbye to blog number two.


June 6, 2010

Blogging Barnes and Noble

For the last two nights we've been slammed at the bookstore, which is a good thing. And last night was particularly fun in that, right off the bat I sold the Phoenix Chronicles quartet, and not much later, convinced a woman already buying Leila Meacham's Roses into adding Mary Alice Monroe's Sweetgrass to her purchase.

Later on, though, I was presented with a dilemma: A returning customer asked me to look at what she planned to buy and give her my advice. I went through her stack after she added Sebastian Junger's War at my suggestion, and in it I noticed Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil, which to my knowledge has not been well-received by critics.

I never say a word or so much as change facial expressions when customers buy right wing screed after right wing screed. I don't know if it's just our location in conservative Plano, Texas, but it never ceases to surprise me when I walk through our Current Affairs section to see all the far right books from authors including that 15-year-old "wunderkind" Jonathan Krohn, Michelle Malkin, and multiples by Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly. I'm going out on a limb here, but unless liberals start hammering out books by the dozen, they will never be able to counteract what's floating around out there.

But I digress...

The point I'd begun to make before rudely interrupting myself is that while I'm easily able to suggest additional books for customers to buy, I try to refrain from comment when it comes to books they're already planning to buy. I will admit that some months ago I convinced a guy not to buy that Diana Palmer bargain hardcover - he had no idea what it was, and I could tell that he didn't - but we're a bookstore, we're here to sell books in order to make money, and telling people not to buy books doesn't accomplish that.

There's a gray area, though, when it comes to providing what I think is good advice and strong customer service. If a customer comes up to me as cashier with a $30 hardcover when I know we also sell a $15 trade paperback, I'll ask them if they know they have a choice. Sometimes they do...they just prefer hardcovers...but when they don't and they're amenable, I arrange for them to buy the cheaper version. I don't know what a manager would say if witnessing me do this, but I figure that the customer will remember we saved them money and treated them well and will return because of it. Sometimes it even allows me to sell more, as with the woman not long ago who planned to buy three of the four Twilight books. She didn't realize that two of them were available as mass market releases as opposed to the trade paperbacks in her hands. I convinced her to switch those two out and add the fourth, hardcover-only book, and she walked out a happy customer. She'd spent oh-so-slightly more than originally planned, but left with the entire series in her hands rather than settling for part of it.

So the question for me was: Do I tell my returning customer that I've read only ho-hum or downright negative reviews of Beatrice and Virgil or do I tell her I haven't read it and can't advise her one way or the other? Because she'd asked for my opinion due to a level of trust we'd built in previous transactions, I decided to tell her what I'd heard. She did not buy Martel's book as a result. On the one hand, the store made more money on Junger's book than it would have on Martel's and I don't think she would have bought both, but on the other, I talked a customer out of a book she'd considered buying. In the end I'm not sure I made the right choice, but I think I did.

I asked my husband about it this morning, and this was his response: "Suppose you went to the butcher and bought an expensive cut of meat and told him you planned to boil it. What if he didn't say anything and you actually boiled it? Wouldn't you be angry that the butcher didn't stop you?" While I'm not quite sure that's the same thing, he and I are obviously on the same page...but then, he doesn't work retail.


Dr. Hook

When I walked in the door last night near midnight after work and proudly relayed this terrific tidbit of trivia - that Shel Silverstein had written Dr. Hook's Cover of the Rolling Stone - to my husband, he knocked the stuffing out of me by responding, "I know."

In this life two things are true: 1) I am a fount of useless knowledge; and 2) My husband is an encyclopedia of music. But encyclopedia of music be damned, this one was a shocker...how in the hell had my husband known this? Heretofore unbeknownst to me until midnight last night, my husband is a long-time Dr. Hook fan.

This morning over breakfast we discussed it again...why was my husband enamored of a band whose one-hit wonder was a goofy novelty-esque song? He replied, "Because their claim to fame is a parody of their failure." To which he added, "And they had more than one hit, like Sylvia's Mother. To which I responded, "Play it for me."

Him: "I don't feel like it."

Me: "Fine...let me find it on Youtube with my phone." And I did.

Me: "They look like..."

Him: "They look like pirates. They look like fucking pirates.


June 3, 2010

An Open Wound

I've never been a huge fan of overly confessional blogs as they can reflect self-indulgence on the part of the writer and voyeurism on the reader's part. It's a fine line to walk, but with strong self-policing skills developed throughout my entire adult life, I like to think I've limited my public displays of self-indulgence. Have I always been successful? Hell no, and as a result I've made a spectacular ass of myself upon occasion, both online and in real life. Probably four years into my old blog's six-year run, I began to password-protect certain entries as a way to increase the personal nature of my online writing while at the same time maintaining the illusion of privacy. It wasn't something I did often, but in the end it satisfied my needs.

As this blog is not the blog of a person who once published a large and influential website but is instead one of hundreds of thousands of blogs by individuals whose circles are substantially smaller, I have the "luxury" of sharing, upon occasion, some intimate details of my life without fear that they are being read by a great many people. In fact, on a daily basis there are maybe 15 who will read what I write here. Which is why I can relate a recent incident in my life that once I would have been too embarrassed to share with anyone. Indeed, only my husband and daughter...and three people at work...know about it. Until now. If my daughter, husband, and I had not worked as hard as we've worked in the past three and a half years to better our lives, I would not have learned the lesson that I am often embarrassed not by the things I do, but by the things that are done - or not done - to me by others. In other words, I accept shame that belongs to others because I somehow "deserve" what they did or did not do to me.

That fine line I mentioned earlier still applies, and I will attempt to give some history without doing damage. My father died when I was in my mid-20s. While we were never as close as he was with my older sister, I thought we had resolved outstanding issues during the last several months of his life, during which time my husband and I worked all week, got on a plane Friday evening, flew to Los Angeles, and spent the weekend (usually at the hospital) visiting before returning to Dallas late Sunday to do it all again, and again, and again, and again...

A couple of years ago it was made painfully clear to me that none of that mattered; although I was unaware of it for years, my father did something in the last months of his life that expressed his displeasure with me in a way that tied into what was most important to him. My mother apparently did not know what my father had done for some time and in recent years has tried to fix it as best she can, but regardless of whether or not it all works out as she promises in the end, what I am left with is something every child secretly fears: the knowledge that they are loved less than a sibling by a parent.

Since I came into this knowledge two years ago, it's effected my relationships with my mother and my sister. Because of my pain and anger, I began to communicate less with both. It's not their fault, it's mine - just as what my father did was his fault and not mine because he was the adult and I was the child and any "fixing" of relationships should have come from him.

This pulling back didn't happen all at once. The realization occurred during a time when my mom needed her daughters to help her through a painful surgery with a long recovery period. We came together as a family because we needed to...and I treasure that time of closeness. But then my life got messier and my sister's life got messier and I could no longer deal with her messes and instead pulled inward, which is what I do.

That's my sister...what has that got to do with my mom? For starters, she's a difficult person. I'm a difficult person too. Anyone who knows me knows this - it's no surprise. But she's also been incredibly generous, paying untold thousands for private schools and wilderness programs. When I began to hold my sister at arm's length, it automatically, by default, happened with my mom as well, because of their co-dependent relationship. And the more I heard, "Why don't you call your sister?", the less inclined I was to call either. Throughout a series of unfortunate family events in 2009 it became apparent to my husband and me that we needed to further disengage from my sister. But because of all of my family's intertwined screwed-up-ness and boundary issues, I also pulled back from my mother...again...some more.

All of which fed into the existing anger I had over my mother's forgetting my wedding anniversary, my husband's birthday, and my own birthday last year. She called and apologized the day after my birthday, explaining that because of her surgery the year before, she'd never properly organized her calendar for 2009. Because she'd been having some memory problems and because she was still at the tail end of her recovery from neck surgery, I let it go. But while continuing to feel immense gratitude for her help in paying for school, I unfortunately held onto some of the anger.

This year my wedding anniversary occurred while we were visiting our daughter in Utah. Because I hadn't been calling my mom frequently enough, I tried to let it slide when she once again forgot to call or send a card or gift. That was in March, and though I tried to let it slide, I took out my anger by continuing to call only infrequently. I did talk to her the day before Mother's Day when she received the flowers I sent her, at which time I wished her a Happy Mother's Day a day in advance, discussed with her the plans she had with my sister's family the next day, and told her I'd be working Mother's Day. I did not call on the day itself. Should I have called? Honestly, at this point I'm not sure. But a week later my husband's birthday came and went, again without recognition from my mom.

My mother has two daughters and one son-in-law. She has precisely one child's wedding anniversary and the birthdays of two children to remember. While all this anger in me built and built (beginning with our missed anniversary), I continued not to call my mom even though I've been blessed by her generosity, but on Sunday I finally called, found out how she was, talked about her macular degeneration, her plans for a vacation shortly after ours later this summer, which includes a visit with her, and put her on the phone with Rachael for a few moments. I gave her plenty of opportunity to remember that the next day was my birthday, but Monday came and went without a phone call from my mom. I heard from all of my husband's relatives, and lots of friends, but nothing from my mom. And nothing on Tuesday and Wednesday as well - no call, not even a card in the mail.

Obviously I brought part of this on myself because I chose to pull back from family out of pain and instead avoided sharing my true feelings. My need for self-preservation caused me to avoid my family without explaining myself because, like most of us, I don't enjoy confrontation. I know this hurt them, but I've not quite figured out how to pull back appropriately without pulling away entirely. Perhaps I even set myself up for it by talking to my mom the day before Mother's Day but not on the day itself, and maybe I confused her when we spoke the day before my birthday. But I hold certain things sacrosanct, and birthdays of siblings, parents, and children are among them. If this was a test, she failed.

The old me would have been horrified to share this information, with the thought process something like this: "Wow...Laurie must have been a really bad daughter for her mother not to remember her birthday. I can't imagine what kind of things she's done if her mother forgot her birthday." I am no longer that person. Yes, she made it possible for us to care for our daughter. Yes, I know her memory isn't what it used to be, but she does keep a calander. When I told Rachael how upset I was - all the while realizing I don't want her to have bad feelings about my mother because of it - she tried to appease me and suggested, "Maybe she thought she said happy birthday to you on the phone Sunday and so didn't call Monday," but that only works for the call...what about a card? As for my husband, his, "I thought you already accepted the reality of how your mother feels about you" made me want to lash out at him. Yes, intellectually I understand this, but emotionally, stupid, sad little me wants mommy to remember the day I came out of her birth canal and into this world. My guess is that if his mother forgot his birthday, it would screw mightily with his head.

And so, I sit here with an open, raw wound, sharing it with you in the hopes that writing it down will allow me to put it out there in the world and forget about it. I risk being amazingly, incredibly self-indulgent (and conflicted because of all the monetary help she's provided over the years) because I want to know...is it too much to ask that a mother not forget her daughter's birthday?


June 1, 2010

Fighting as Foreplay

I just emailed one of my PW editors a review for an upcoming contemporary romance that's like Lost in that the rules governing time don't always seem to apply. It's almost as though the author, who's been published for a couple of decades, decided that what seemed new 20 years ago continues to be new and fresh. Hence, a whole boatload of clichés, chief among them a hero who viewed verbal sparring as foreplay.

Heroes and heroines who fight their chemistry by arguing with each other is a time-honored literary tradition. Shakespeare put it to good use in The Taming of the Shrew, centuries later Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis perfected it on Moonlighting, and, in fact, the Atomic Shakespeare episode is one of my favorites from the series. Not long ago my husband and I watched Kiss Me, Kate, engendering our usual "they just don't make 'em like that anymore" refrain.

The Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me, Kate were of different eras. Watching the latter is a very retro experience. The 50s in film were a time when "making love" was necking on a couch. Frank Sinatra may have hoped for more with Debbie Reynolds in Tender Trap, but he settled for the "necking."

Moonlighting wasn't retro, but David Addison worked for Maddie Hayes. Their opposite sides of the track conflict, like that on The Nanny, gave creators a second reason for having these couples hold out for so long. But if a grown man without a genuine attachment to somebody else is attracted, and work doesn't get in the way, I expect him to act like a man and not a boy. Teen-aged boys think about sex every couple of nanoseconds, and many are sexually active. But none behave like grown, adult men, and most don't know what to do with their feelings. I understand the mind-set of being 15 and taunting a girl if she drives you crazy. A man, on the other hand, especially one in his mid-30s, ought to have many years of sex and relationships under his belt. His behavior should be confident and self-assured, and not that of his 15-year-old, pimple-face former self.

Hey, I know there are lots of adult men out there more like The Forty Year Old Virgin than they are suave and debonair with women, but these are not the men of our dreams. Our fantasies, which include sex, depend upon confident men who know what they're doing. It's sexy when a confident man knows what he wants and goes for it. Boys will be boys but men should be men - and if they aren't, I don't want to read about them.