The other day I went to my favorite indie bookstore in the nearby town of Marianna, FL, to drop off some copies of my new book Stepping Out of Time.What I found was a big sign in the window that said, “Going Out of Business Sale,” and a normally meticulous store in disarray inside.
I did some browsing, bought a box full of interesting used books and gave a copy of my book to the owner, Mike Downum, to read while flying to a funeral in California the next day. I also got a brief history lesson about a Civil War battle that I never knew had taken place right in front of the store 150 years earlier.
In mid-September, 1864, US Brigadier General Alexander Asboth learned that some Union soldiers were being held prisoner in the tiny town of Marianna, FL, several days to the east of his position near Pensacola. Assembling a force of about 700 men, cobbled together cavalry units plus the 82nd and 86th US Colored Infantries, Asboth headed east along the Gulf coast.
The mission was to retrieve the few prisoners, loot the rich plantations of cattle, free slaves and destroy property in the town. Several days later, on the morning of September 27, 1864, Asboth’s force prepared to take the town from the north with a flanking unit to the west.
The town’s defenders consisted of a small force of regular cavalry plus the Home Guard, a local militia of several hundred elderly men and school boys either too old or too young for the regular army. Added to that was a handful of wounded Confederate soldiers recuperating from battles further north. Despite being badly outnumbered, the ragtag group fought bravely for their homes and families, down the main street and into a church cemetery.
The battle ended after fierce, in-close fighting that resulted in both sides losing about a quarter of the men they started with. That was the furthest incursion into northwest Florida ever made by the Union army.
More than a century later the second battle of Marianna is winding down. Chipola River Book & Tea will be closed in another two weeks. Mike, a woman by the way, told me that a continuing bad economy and competition from Amazon forced her to finally surrender after many years of being an established fixture in the small town. She resisted closing for a long time, but like the Home Guard years earlier she found herself surrounded and outgunned by a larger and more powerful force.
Small town businesses live a precarious existence in today’s world and they have to rely on a small population of regular customers to survive. Mike, like her forebears, will attempt to rebuild but with an entirely new business model. She is already retired and it will not be an easy transition, but I admire her tenacity and drive. She hopes to reorganize her inventory and sell used books on Amazon. I wish her every success possible as she endeavors to restart in a whole new direction.
If you have a small independent bookstore near you, please help to keep them open by shopping there. I had hoped this article would be to announce that my book was now available in Mike’s shop, but like her I have to adopt the Amazon model as well. However, I will donate free copies to any other indie in this area to sell as they see fit. And of course I will never slow down buying books as long as there are brick and mortar stores to buy from.
USA Today just reported that over half the book titles in their bestseller list for the first half of 2014 are aimed at teens or kids. Anyone see a problem with that? Voracious reading by young people? Books competing with video games, TV and the internet?
Best news I've seen in a long time!
(Photo: James Bridges, 20th Century Fox)
USA Today Top 25 Bestsellers List for year-to-date 2014:
1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
2. Divergent by Veronica Roth
3. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
4. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
6. Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
8. Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson
9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
10. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
11. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
12. Divergent Series Complete Box Set by Veronica Roth
13. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
14. Shadow Spell by Nora Roberts
15. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
16. Sycamore Row by John Grisham
17. The Target by David Baldacci
18. Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss
19. Looking for Alaska by John Green
20. City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
21. Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
22. Unlucky 13 by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
23. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney
24. Inferno by Dan Brown
25. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My latest book is just out and available on Amazon. It's called Stepping Out of Time, and it is a story about youth, aging, friendship, hate, love, time, life, death, identity, demons, sex, smart people, dumb people, cops, cats, angels, more sex, World War I, good people, bad people, modern life and beings from an ancient Middle Eastern legend that come to life with devastating effects on a small suburban town....DEEP BREATH....but most of all it is just a fun summer read.
Or so I've been told by readers who finished the pre-release version that came out this past May. I would love to hear what everyone here thinks of the story, and to help that along I've set up a half-off price code for the print edition. All that info is on my regular blog at www.ricktownley.com. I hope you will visit and take advantage of the offer and, if you do, please come back here to Booklikes and let others know.
I will also soon make the e-book version available completely free (for a limited time) exclusively to my blog followers and everyone here in the Booklikes community. Details to follow. Unfortunately I can't do the same for print, but I would if I could.
As some of you may know I spent a long career on the publishing (e-publishing mostly) side of the business and wrote a lot of non-fiction over the years. After being sidelined by a physical handicap, and taking on responsibility for raising my now 8-year-old granddaughter, I took to writing as a hobby in between laundry, cooking and trips to the school. The transition from one side of the aisle to the other has been truly eye-opening, and I will share some of that with all of you in article I'm writing exclusively for the Booklikes Blog.
Of all the book communities on the internet today, I hope you agree that Booklikes is a truly warm and friendly place to visit thanks in no small part to the ongoing efforts of the site owners. Amid the turbulence of today's publishing industry, it's very comforting to have a place where there are so many people who share the same love of books and reading that I do. Also, a tip of the hat to those of you who write informative reviews that help guide the rest of us through the maze of new book titles available each month.
Thanks for reading all this and I look forward to hearing both good and bad reviews in my new role as writer versus publisher. And apologies for this shameless bit of self-promotion but as someone once said, "...even penicillin would be useless if no one had ever heard about it."
Two very savvy Booklikes colleagues guessed correctly that the author in my last post was Susan Howatch. The photos were taken in 1974 at a signing party for the release of her (then) new novel, Cashelmara.
Ms. Howatch is noted for her expansive historical fiction and has amassed an amazing list of books since that picture was taken.
High-five to: http://nitchslapd.booklikes.com/ and http://cplesley.booklikes.com/ for their answers. Considering how knowledgeable they are you might want to visit their blogs for some more great info on books!
As soon as I stop sneezing from the dust on my old photo albums I'll post some more oldies but goodies about authors from "back in the day."
Susan Howatch at B. Dalton Booksellers, Paramus Park, NJ, 1974
In my previous post there were covers of two books by this author. This photo was taken of her at a book signing in 1974 in New Jersey, before she became a household name among gothic romance fans. Can you guess who this is? (the covers are deliberately blurred to keep the suspense, but come back soon and see the answer).
Despite the old cliche "Don't judge a book by it's cover," the fact remains that many people who buy books do just that. During the 20th century, cover design and artwork became an important factor in book sales, especially in genre fiction like gothic romance and mystery novels. Many times the illustrators became better known than the authors and some of their work today sells for thousands of dollars.
Here is a fun site to start digging into work by American illustrators who did covers for magazines, books and advertisements (warning: some artwork was considered very risque and may still be offensive to some) http://paintings-art-picture.com/American-illustrators/index.htm
Author and illustrator James Gurney, noted for his book Dinotopia, has also done a host of non-dino illustrations. This one was for the National Geographic centennial. He has illustrated animals, scenes from history and fantasy stories. Enjoy checking out his work at his website http://jamesgurney.com/.
Around here, summer starts when school ends and ends when school starts. That makes summertime officially from end of May to mid-August. There was a time when summer vacation elicited in me visions of long, lazy days filled with playtime activities, swimming and biking. Now it pretty much means catching up on neglected writing projects due on an editor’s desk by August.
I do however get my fill of not-so-lazy summer activities from my eight-year-old granddaughter. She plays, swims and bikes. I fix the scrapes and bruises, play lifeguard and enforce bicycle rules. In my five or ten free minutes a day I write.
A topic that comes up every summer has to do with shadow people. A quick survey of geeky sites on the internet shows a prevailing belief that shadow people are creepy and come out only at night. However, real shadow people come out during the day. They are not scary, they our friends and constant companions all summer long.
You will never be lonely on a sunny day, when the shadow people come to play.
In the interest of shining light on some dark things, and hopefully encouraging a brighter, happier outlook among some of our young people, here is a short poem on what the real shadow people are like. I didn’t make this up, I just put the words down. A little eight-year-old shadow told me what to write.
I hope everyone has a wonderfully bright and happy summer this year. I will be back here soon, but first we hope to spend some time outside with our shadowy friends.
The number of new book titles released each year has more than doubled over the past decade. Agents and publishers are becoming dinosaurs as writers take their materials directly to the public.
The gates are open. No longer does an author need to struggle with a critical editor or deal with a lengthy and arduous print publishing cycle.
Well that’s fine, but the new digital world has also put a lot more pressure on fiction writers to write stuff they would probably prefer not to, like blogs and social network posts.
The prevailing wisdom from internet marketing gurus is that an author needs to have a blog and post at least 250-300 words twice a day on weekdays and once on weekends. That is over 3,000 words a week or approximately five to six typed pages of fresh, insightful, interesting and eye-catching new material. Considering that the average novel runs between 70,000 and 120,000 words…click, click, click on the calculator….writing a blog would be the equivalent of cranking out a new novel every three to six weeks. It’s exhausting just to think about.
Of course just putting words out on the internet is no guarantee that anyone will read them, or be interested enough to spend actual money to read the author’s books. So, in addition to blogging, the publishing pundits also recommend putting pithy posts pertaining to particulars on at least a half-dozen social networks as well. Turning again to our trusty digital calculator…click, click, click….that now puts said author into the equivalent of a six-day work week with no salary, benefits or paid holidays.
If authors really wanted to live that way they could apply to work at…wait, we don’t want a libel suit, so suffice it to say that kind of lifestyle is probably not what most writers aspire to.
So, for any bright, new graduates who seek to make a career of writing, always remember these three words: be a doctor.
Harper Lee just turned 88 on 28 April. She says she may prefer "dusty old books" but agrees that the time has come for her book, To Kill a Mockingbird, to be released in digital format. HarperCollins Publishing will release an e-book version of the Pulitzer-winning novel on July 8, 2014.
Over 30 million copies of Lee's book have been sold worldwide since it was first published in 1963, and she is amazed the book has remained popular for so long. Part of the book's longevity is attributable to it being included in many school reading lists. Lee describes the e-book format as "Mockingbird for a new generation."
The Toronto Public Library recently announced that one of the patron complaints they received over the past year was to remove Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss. The reason? It "encourages children to use violence against their fathers."
The complaint goes on to say that the library should apologize to Toronto fathers and even pay for any damages resulting from children reading the book. Whoever made the complaint must not have actually read the book which, at the end, has a disclaimer from Dr. Seuss to not really jump on pop in real life.
This was just one of several books the library was asked to remove over the past year. Other "offensive" selections included:
Lizzie's Lion by Dennis Lee, about a girl's pet lion that saves her by eating a would-be robber. This was described as "violent and disturbing."
Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot, Bill O'Reilly, about the JFK assassination. The complaint was that the book concludes there was only one shooter, not a group.
A dvd copy of That's My Boy, starring Adam Sandler, that was described as "sick and illegal behaviour."
The library just released on its website the full list of "objectionable" materials along with explanations of how they were reviewed and why they were kept on the shelves.
While it has always just been assumed that literature with rich language and metaphors is a good thing, science is now proving that fiction can in fact stimulate the brain and even trigger behavior modification. In 2006, Spanish researchers used an MRI to scan the brain of subjects while they read various types of words. They found that words associated with the senses, such as “coffee” or “perfume,” can trigger a response in the primary olfactory cortex.
French and Canadian researchers, using similar methods, have found that reading fiction rich in metaphor stimulates more than just sensory responses. The brain also interprets the social interactions of fictional characters as real-life, which helps explain how and why some readers react emotionally to what they read.
One wonders how long before savvy publishers instruct writers to deliberately load their writing with key words specially chosen to invoke emotional reactions. That tactic would not be new however. Political writers long ago discovered the value of inflammatory words to elicit emotional responses. In the computer world, search engine optimization (SEO), is a method of using key word embedding to elicit higher ranking results from internet search engines.
Perhaps one day fiction authors will have corporate sponsors as was done in the early days of radio and television.
Amazon will soon start collecting sales tax from Florida residents. That is expected to bring an extra $80 million a year to the state coffers for politicians to squander on whatever program du jour meets their fancy. Florida residents might remember when gambling was supposed to bring new tax revenue for schools. The new funds did indeed to schools, which suffered matching cuts in funds from other areas for a net gain of about zero. Politicians in the state are quick to justify new revenue schemes by pointing out that the state has no income tax. So how about taking the new tax revenue and putting it toward much-needed books for schools? Maybe the state politicians aren’t aware that Amazon sells books at discount prices.
Meanwhile, rumors abound that Amazon is considering buying Sears and K-Mart. Well rumors at Forbes Magazine anyway. It is suggested that Amazon would benefit from such a move because it would pick up roughly 2,400 stores it could use for distribution and on-site pickup by consumers. Then, like Walmart, it could advertise “free delivery” (to a store they would ship to anyway) and become the darling of the big box stores. The average size of a K-Mart store is between 80-120,000 square feet, Sears stores run up to 225,000 square feet. That’s a lot of square footage (and rent) for a retail operation that was built on keeping overhead low by not having storefronts. Instead, perhaps Jeff Bezos at Amazon would consider buying Barnes & Nobles outlets and running them like bookstores.
Amazon purchased the discovery site GoodReads a while back and basically left it alone until now. It was just announced that a new feature will allow you to automatically roll your Amazon e-book purchases into your GoodReads list. While many people like the idea that no one can tell what they are reading on their daily train or bus commute, this new feature will let everyone you know on GoodReads see every embarrassing title you’ve purchased. One possible solution to this worrisome problem might be to shop at a bookstore and use a protective cover when traveling by public transport. Then again that might be far too simple.