Tuesday, December 29, 2009


2009 has been more than just the year of Tiger. It's also been the year of the e-reader. E-reader sales have tripled this year amid a torrent of new devices. And the device to kill all other devices, the Apple tablet computer, isn't even out yet. So it's an opportune time to mention that e-readers are back in my good graces. A month ago, I was lukewarm on the gadgets. But I have since re-kindled my enthusiasm for the Kindle.

I've been traveling a lot recently, and the Kindle has been the perfect companion. Before a recent trip to Miami, I didn't frantically scan my shelves for a book to take along. I didn't have to worry that I'd take the wrong book and then have to lug around a useless paper brick the rest of the trip. And I didn't have to make the agonizing decision I often face on long trips: one book, or two? I mean, what if I only bring one book and I finish it somewhere over Dallas and I'm forced to watch Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince? Or that eerie American Airlines pseudo-TV channel that's always featuring something with Charlie Sheen?

But not with the Kindle. While sitting on the tarmac, I bought and downloaded two books, a magazine and a newspaper. On the way to Miami I read half of the novel Gilead. But on the way home I was tired and hungover, so I had to switch to The Lost Symbol (another great thing about the Kindle is you can get the new "hardcovers" for 10 bucks). And when even Dan Brown was more than my taxed brain could handle, I switched to the magazine -- all without ever reaching for the overhead bin.

The Kindle is also improving my vocabulary. I love the built in dictionary. It was especially helpful while reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Although many of those unknown words turned out to be Spanish slang.

There are still a few e-reader quirks I haven't gotten used to, and I don't know if I ever will. Since the font size is variable, there are no page numbers, just "locations" and a "percentage-complete meter." I still find myself doing conversions in my head (if the book is about 400 printed pages and I have 10% left on the e-version, that's 40 pages, and so on). As I've gotten used to it, however, the page thing has faded to a minor nuisance, just a small con against a long list of pros.

But today brings a new challenge for the age of e-ink. Today I leave for Hawaii. Let's see how the Kindle does on the beach.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Years Resolution (really)

As the year draws to a close, I've been finding less and less time to work on my novel. First came Thanksgiving. And now there's Christmas shopping, holiday parties, end-of-the year deadlines, performance reviews, cookies, eggnog... writing killers, all of them!

I'm feeling better about the direction of my book than I did a few weeks ago, but I just have no time to work on it. I need to make it a priority. I need to make time in 2010, or I'm never going to finish it. If you really want to finish something, you have to set a deadline and announce it to the world. Or at least to The Leaf Blower readers. So, here it is: I will complete the Double-blind manuscript by March 21, 2010.
There. Three months. I can do it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Stanley and the anatomy of a bestseller

Last week, at a Miami hotel pool, I ran into Stanley from The Office. The actor (whose name isn't actually Stanley) waddled around the pool for a while and then plopped down to read a magazine. With his eyes half closed and that sour look on his face, he could have be sitting at his desk at Dunder Mifflin.

While we were staring at the popular actor across the pool, my friends and I started hypothesizing about how much money Stanley makes per episode. We threw out numbers like a million a pop, or $500K. Now, after doing some research on the Internet, I would bet it's closer to $30K. It just shows how, when we think about successful actors, our perceptions are skewed by the rarities we hear about in the news -- like the "Friends" actors each making a mil an episode.

When it comes to authors, our perceptions are even more skewed . We hear about the Stephen Kings and Stephanie Myers of the world making tens of millions of dollars on their books, and we assume that all authors are rich. In reality, most published authors -- if writing is their day job --are dirt poor. But what if you reach the top, the holy grail, the New York Times bestseller list? Surely it's time to roll out the private jet, right? Not exactly. In this fantastically revealing post, Lynn Viehl breaks down the financial reality of her NYT bestseller, Twilight Fall. She even shares her actual royalty statement. After expenses and commissions, she made about 25K profit on her book. She's a NYT bestselling author, and if this book were her only source of income, she'd be floating just above the poverty level.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

This is an unfriendly reminder.

I took a business writing class at work -- a nice melding of my personal and professional interests, I might say. One of the topics we covered was cutting out "deadwood," or unnecessary words. In case you haven't noticed, this is a gargantuan problem in corporate email. I could write a thesis about this, but time is short, so let me just mention my two biggest pet-peeve email phrases:

Feel free (or do not hesitate) to contact me with any questions or concerns.
Never once in the history of correspondence has this phrase compelled anyone to do anything they weren't going to do anyway. And if you're going to mention both questions and concerns, why stop there? What about suggestions? Or issues? I have issues!

This is a friendly reminder.
As opposed to an unfriendly reminder? You're telling me again to do something because I didn't do it the first time you asked me. Seems pretty unfriendly to me.

LB Readers, what email phrases annoy you?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I’m stuck. Progress on my book has been slowing for months, and now it’s stalled completely. All four wheels spinning fruitlessly, engine sputtering, mud up to the floorboards -- stuck. I could blame it on the holidays, my ever-encroaching day job, or Tiger Woods, but the real problem is I still don’t know which direction to take my rewriting. Every time I think I’ve made a decision, I write a scene, scrap it, and change my mind.

The way I see it, I have two options. Option One involves keeping the plot similar to how it is now and making some significant character changes. A healthy amount of work, but not as bad as Option Two, which requires me to get rid of one character and bring another character back to life. If I go this route, I have to throw out about 50 pages and write a hundred. Which at my current rate of prolificacy would take me a year. Painful -- yes-- but it’s not uncommon for writers to have to throw out hundreds, even thousands, of pages to make a piece come together. It’s one of the reasons writers are generally miserable people.

I think Option Two may allow for a greater character change (a stronger narrative arc, to be fancy) and a more powerful ending. But I’m not sure. I’m worried that I’ll put all that time into a new direction and my book won’t end up any a better. I know I need to pick a road and just move forward -- and not look back. There’s a fine line between finessing and obsessing, and at some point, I just need to do the best I can, finish that first novel and send it out -- or throw it in the proverbial desk drawer -- and move on.