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Monthly Archives: May 2012

What About the Writing? New York Times on Pushing Writers to Produce

Recently, the New York Times featured an article by Julie Bosman, “Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year is Slacking,” that described new ramped-up expectations on 

writers.  Previous to the digital literary bonanza, a genre writer (romance, mystery, thriller) could whip up one book a year and keep her audience satiated.  These days, that amounts to hardly a snack.  In the interest of satisfying impatient readers habituated to instant gratification, as well as nervous publishers who want greater exposure for their authors, Bosman reports, “authors are now pulling the literary equivalent of a double shift, churning out short stories, novellas or even an extra full-length book each year.” 

In order to keep up with the increase in demand, authors have found various ways to assist their productivity.  There’s the nose-to-the-grindstone approach of author Scottoline, who endures a self-imposed, grueling 2,000 words a day schedule, keeping her busy from morning to late night.  Then there’s the clever marketing approach of writing a short story directly to ebook and selling it for 99 cents, with the hope of enticing readers to fork over $15 or, better yet, $25 for a hardcover novel released shortly thereafter.  And finally there’s the hire-another-writer approach–popular author James Patterson produced 12 books last year, with the assistance of co-authors.  British thriller writer Lee Child comments, “it seems like we’re all running faster to stay in the same place.”  

Though Fuze shares in the excitement of the digital age, we have to ask ourselves, what’s happening to the quality of the writing?  Under such pressure, it doesn’t seem possible for writers to maintain the same caliber of craft, which for us is the main point of it all.  At Fuze, we prioritize skillful storytelling at the expense of a time line.  We work hard to get our writers into the public eye, but we don’t shackle them with creativity-draining demands.  Steve Berry, thriller writer, said it best when discussing the new writing expectations:  “It does sap away some of your energy. You don’t ever want to get into a situation where your worth is being judged by the amount of your productivity.”

Read the entire New York Times article.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Saving Effort, One Blog at a Time

Saving Effort, One Blog at a Time

Last March, I participated in what’s known as an online book blog tour. It’s sort of like giving a reading at a book store, only in your pajamas and from home. Basically, I contracted with a service (Thank you, Tribute Books) and they arranged for me to write guest posts for a select number of book sites. In my case, the number was 14. I thought it would be fun to recycle, ahem, repost a few of my favorite blog posts. I’m keeping it to five blogs, starting with the first one I did, which was for The Book Connection.

Recycled Blogs, #1 in a Series (Collect ‘em all)

Book Blog Site: The Book Connection

Their request:
Let’s have Mark write a guest post about anything funny that happened with the pets either during the trip or after they arrived

My post:
Making a road trip with pets is much like making the same trip with kids, except pets never complain about your choice of music or pinch each other when you’re not looking. Furthermore, you can’t leave your kids behind in the car with a window cracked while you go inside to get something to eat.

In my case, we were making a six-day drive with a dog who had a bladder the size of a caper, a Standard poodle named Cassie, as well as a cat named Sadie, who believed a cat’s reach should never exceed its claws. We were traveling from Portland, Oregon, to San Miguel de Allende, in the middle of Mexico. By the end of the trip, we were all tired of the road and of each other.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

In an amazing feat of both endurance and stubbornness, our poodle stood the entire way, in the backseat just behind the driver. Not only that, she had to have the window rolled down, at least halfway, so she could stick her head out. We suspect Cassie was prone to motion sickness and required deep breaths of whatever was passing for fresh air at the time. By the end of a typical 10-hour day of standing in the car, our black poodle had usually turned green.

Sadie was a different story. Once she was inside the car, you barely knew she was there.
The catch was getting her in the car, a cross between a Herculean task and a Three Stooges routine.

The morning after our first day on the road, Sadie hid under the bed, hanging tough on a carpet that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since Y2K. When my efforts to grab her failed, we tried Plan B and began sweet-talking her with soft chants of “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.” When that inevitably failed, it was back to Plan A, only this time I used a long piece of wood, sweeping it under the bed like a broom, which worked.

The second morning gave Sadie new hope, since the night before we had upgraded to two beds. She scurried back and forth, from bed to bed, until I tipped one of the mattresses on end. She hit the mattress, scaled it like a rock climber on amphetamines and reached the top, just as I grabbed her.

The third morning, we checked everywhere, from under the bed to behind the armoire, as well as all points in between. I turned on the closet light to find Sadie crouching inside a trough of transparent plastic that served as a tacky storage unit above the closet rod. Cat nabbed, case closed.

Three weeks after we arrived in Mexico, Sadie disappeared. We searched every corner of our house, inside and out. We walked up and down the street, calling her name as if a cat would ever deign to respond.

We found her, of course. Sadie had burrowed her way inside our bed’s mattress batting. Even with six days of cat retrieval experience, it took me twenty minutes to extract her.

But now, with the mystery solved, we knew Sadie’s hiding spot and the next time she crawled in there, we let her stay.
###

I’ll post another “recycled blog” soon and it’s a doozy. The site asked me how we handled the issue of racism in Mexico. Stay tuned for my answer.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Parents Pressured into Skipping Picture Books?

Recently, The New York Times ran an article by Julie Bosman, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” which discussed a downturn in picture book sales.  Speculation as to the cause mentioned economic hard times, but focused mostly on the pressure parents feel 

to advance their children academically, beginning well before kindergarten.   Bosman said parents “are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.”   Dara La Porte, manager of the Washington D.C. independent bookstore Politics and Prose, comments on the bizarre connection:  “It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”

Literacy experts, however, don’t agree with the bypass.  Chapter books, Bosman reported, have more text, but don’t necessarily offer a more complex story or vocabulary.  “From picture to picture, as readers interact with the book,” Karen Lotz, of Candlewick Press points out, “their imagination is filling in the missing themes.”

Within hours of the NYT article release, more experts in the field chimed in on the value of picture books and decried their supposed “death.”

Picture books offer “the precious chance for the child…to talk about the pictures and how they make him feel; to turn the pages backwards as well as forwards; to get to know the characters through the way they are represented in art as well as the way they are described in words.” -–Tessa Strickland, Founder of Barefoot Books Publishing

Picture books “inspire children not only to find answers but to ask their own questions.” -–Tami Lewis Brown, author of Soar, Elinor!

“What greater gift can we give our children than to open the door to words and pictures? What greater gift than to show them the power and wonder of imagination, which keeps us company in the loneliest and darkest of hours–-and is there for all the good times, too.” -–Holly M. McGhee, President of Pippin Properties

As our first picture book, The Pepperoni Palm Tree,  by the father-son team Jason Killiam Meath and Aidan Patrick Meath (age 9), takes shape in pre-production under the skilled hand of illustrator Kirk Parrish, we appreciate how the visual panels enhance and expand the text, allowing for that space in between the words where images and symbols simmer and gestate.   Our children need books like these, this space to activate their imaginations and daydreams.

Fuze is excited to reveal a sneak peek at illustrations from The Pepperoni Palm Tree in the weeks ahead — stay tuned!

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

We’re Getting the Band Back Together, Dude

I was thinking of getting one of those rock band tour tee-shirts made, the kind of shirt that features a crazy, wild-eyed, horned and drooling creature with blood-dripping fangs on the front, and lists the dates and locations of the band’s latest tour on the back, to promote my own recent book tour. But, alas, I only had four cities to list and, with the possible exception of our dog, Duke, I don’t have any groupies. So onay to the tee-shirt idea.

Instead, I’m going to share a few photos.

The first photo is of the amazing, incredibly talented Melinda Pittman holding a copy of my book and mugging for the camera. This took place at my Portland book party, where I gave three readings and more than 75 people attended. The turnout warmed the cockles of my heart, which needed warming since the weather was both cold and wet, a chilly combination I rarely experience in the middle of semi-arid Mexico. However, thanks to Foster Church, who generously hosted my book party at his house, warm cockles were had by all.

My Portland book party took place on a Sunday; two days earlier I had been interviewed by Jody Seay, in Corvallis, for her televised show “Back Page,” an Oregon Public Broadcasting series about authors. My interview hasn’t aired yet, so stay tuned. That is to say, do not stay in front of your television set waiting for the show to suddenly appear. It’s okay to go outside, get in your car, and drive around a bit. I’ll let you know when my interview is available. I asked the producer to “photoshop” the face of Matt Damon over my face, which might account for the delay. Apparently, acquiring the rights to use a movie star’s image is not as easy or as cheap as it used to be.

The second photo is of the backs of a bunch of lovely people who attended my Ashland reading at Bloomsbury Books, where it was standing room only. Well, at least I recall standing while reading. Truth be told, it was, indeed, a packed and enthusiastic house and I would like to thank Bloomsbury Books, as well as the fronts of those lovely people, for making me feel so welcome. Ashland rocks!

I also want to thank Geoffrey Riley and the Jefferson Exchange of Ashland, a radio program on the regional NPR station, for interviewing me live (which is always preferred to being interviewed dead). Geoffrey is a true pro and has a mellifluous voice and infectious laugh. As mutual bonus points, we learned that we are both huge Robert Benchley fans (Las Los rocks!). Geoffrey performed feats of on-air magic and made me sound taller than I am. If you don’t believe me, here’s a link to the interview:

http://hw.libsyn.com/p/2/3/f/23f21837f5a2dc77/The_Jefferson_Exchange_5_03_2012_Hour_2.mp3?sid=2719cd978df0f4329dbc18db0563ed17&l_sid=31985&l_eid=&l_mid=2996427&expiration=1336322271&hwt=9059f2bd75ebd2206e81dae1a863ee57

And the third photo is of my long-time friend, former neighbor, and relative by marriage (my sister married her cousin), Annette Rodriques of San Jose, who hosted a book party for Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak at her gorgeous house. Annette has a beautiful singing voice and opened the reading by leading us in a round of the popular Spanish song De Colores. Unsurprisingly, my Spanish isn’t any better when I sing. (In fact, I believe I am the only gringo in all of Mexico who has been told not to sing in the shower because of his voice, instead of for that other reason.) What was surprising, however, was meeting someone who has a close friend in the Bay Area who owns a condo unit in San Miguel de Allende. After the reading we conversed with her friend via text messaging and learned that her friend owns the condo above two of our closest friends in San Miguel. It is a small world, after all.

Corvallis, Portland, Ashland, San Jose: thank you, one and all, for your support! And thank you, FUZE, for making it all happen.

Maybe that’s what I should put on the back of my book tour tee-shirt. The names of those who cheered me on, laughed at my corny jokes, bought copies of my book, and struggled to decipher my handwriting after I autographed their copy. Now that shirt makes perfect sense to me. I might even put Matt Damon’s image on the front.

Questions, suggestions, objections?  Feel free to contact author Mark Saunders (Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak) at: msaunderswriter@yahoo.com

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Uncategorized