All Hail the Independent Book Store!

Some of us can envision a time in the not-too-distant future when decisions about what we read are made exclusively by a few big corporations. Personally, I have nothing against big corporations. In one sense, I love to see them be successful. That is, in the sense that my 401K is doomed to get mediocre returns without the help of Coke, Wal-Mart and IBM.

But I don’t want those companies, and others like them, deciding what kind of books I should read. I believe if it were left up to the big five publishers, the only books available would be written by mega-authors like, Patterson, Grisham, and King or by celebrities, like Fallen, Cher, and Oprah. Excellent books are being written by unknown authors who, for many different reasons, don’t garner the attention of Penguin Books or Random House.

Last year, the world of TV and movies came under fire for lack of diversity. Actors from many different ethnic groups, racial backgrounds and orientations began to speak against the lack of recognition for anything but main stream (read white) offerings.

Who stands up for diversity in the realm of fiction novels?  I don’t really have an answer for my own question. But I do know that I have gotten a lot of help from independent book store owners.

But first I want to say that diversity to me, means more than an equal helping of black authors and white authors. It means more than an equal dose of straight and LGBTQ characters.

To me diversity in literature means that, and more. Diversity in literature means books about real people from all walks of life, not just lawyers, doctors, cops and super heroes.  Diversity in literature means there ought to be books about people who are actually people, not vampires, wizards, witches or zombies.

Major publishers are happy to keep giving us the same books over and over again. They just keep changing the titles and tweaking the book covers. Thankfully, there are still some book stores out there that welcome books by unknown authors, printed by small publishers, even if their books might be print on demand.

I owe a great deal of my first book’s success (however minor) to several independent book store owners. Debbie Beamer, owner of the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop (Pennsylvania), gave me my first unvarnished critique. She had nothing invested in my book, nevertheless she was willing to read it. From her I learned that my book was VERY GOOD (her words and capitalization) but the cover was very poor (she was kind enough to break this to me via lower case letters). Through book signings, my novel has gained some publicity. For that I can thank Christine from Winchester Book Gallery in Winchester VA and Sandy from Pages Book Store in Mount Airy NC.

Here is hoping that the big 5 don’t tighten their grip on literature to such an extent that they choke out the independent book seller and author alike. If you feel like I do, you can help, by visiting your nearest independent book store and actually looking through the shelves for an author new to you. Read book covers. Don’t automatically fall for the glitziest book cover (so says the guy whose book has the dull cover).  Look for books about real people. Not just more of the same kind of stories you have been steered toward for years! Most of all, ask some of the good people who work at these stores. They actually read many of the books at their stores! Hail to the independent book store!

Feeling Like a Kid Again

Last Saturday, I participated in my first-ever book festival as an author. To say the least, it was a humbling experience. The annual Bookmarks Book Festival is advertised as the biggest book festival in the Carolinas. With forty well known authors on hand to talk about and sign their books, the crowd was very large. At my table, in the area designated for the not-so-well-known authors, I had a great vantage point.

The best analogy I could come up with for the situation I found myself in was that of eating Thanksgiving dinner at the kid’s table.

It’s been forty some years since I ate at the kids’ table for a holiday meal. Before I became a teenager the kids’ table was a fine place to eat. Normally, we got served first, and when we were done we could get up from the table and go play. As a teenager, though, I felt I deserved better. Truth be told, there were only so many seats at the adult table, and I knew my turn was a long time coming.

Over my right shoulder, not less than 50 feet from my table, bibliophiles of all ages lined up to get their books signed by their favorite authors. While the well knowns signed, I did my best to smile at the occasional passer-by, trying not to look too desperate.

Like when I was a teenager, I realized my time is a long time coming, if ever. However, I did enjoy the fact that hundreds of people queued up to get an author’s signature. Maybe one of these days such a line of book lovers will line up for one of my books.

The brightest moment of my day came when I was visited by six wonderful friends who made a fuss over me, and graciously bought copies of my book. The rest of the day was uneventful. I did sell a few more books, and had several great conversations.

After some thought, I want to thank Bookmarks for allowing me to sit at the kids’ table. It was a great experience.

Back to School…to teach!

Time to go back to school…to teach.

 I began teaching high school after retiring from the Air Force. Summers off! This is the benefit of teaching in the public school system. I have been at the teaching gig now for eleven years and I always feel like I fail to take advantage of my summer off. In a few weeks I will return to work and my colleagues will brag about their vacations to Ireland or the Bahamas or Disney. Some of them will be golden brown from time spent at the beach. I know for sure many of my teacher friends have spent long summer days golfing.

What did I do? Wrote a book. How silly of me. I will return to school pasty white from sitting in front of a computer screen, with tired eyes and a tingling sensation running through the carpal tunnels in both of my wrists.

But I have written a book. At first, I wanted to hide this fact from everyone but the closest of family. Until, that is, my wife announced it on Facebook and I was doomed. I had to fess up. I wrote a book.

On purpose, I began asking people to read my book. At first, I was timid about making the request. Then I got bold, even approaching strangers over the Internet, which sounds creepy, but apparently this is acceptable if you are only asking someone to read a book. Hey little girl want to read my book? That sounds creepy!

So now I can call myself an author, but not without giggling. I have had a couple of author events. I don’t believe they turned out well, but I don’t have anything to compare them to. Imagine going to a book signing and talking to an author with pasty white skin, bad eyesight and weak wrists.

No matter how this book turns out, I have made up my mind to write another one. But to keep my family fed, I believe it is best to keep my day job: high school teacher. Which is not nearly as bad as civilians believe it to be.

I will admit that twenty-five years in the military did not prepare me for the battleground that is public education. I will also admit that I am not overly anxious to return to the classroom. In part that is because I have spent the summer in my pajamas but it also has to do with the stamina required to teach at a public high school.

It would be easy to vent about teenage boys and girls, and say today’s generation is not as accountable or responsible as the baby boomer generation. But I don’t think that is the case nor the problem.

Poverty, is more the culprit than generational characteristics. While in the military I had the impression that poverty was not real. Back then it seemed poverty was just a term lobbed at the incumbent in an election year as if it were a hand grenade. As a school teacher, I can testify that poverty is real. I see how it affects students every day.

Over the years, I have become very familiar with three North Carolina high schools, one in the inner city, one in the country, and one a mix of both city and country kids. The three schools are vastly different in terms of race and ethnicity. However, the majority of students, at all three schools, come from poor families. I know this because all three schools are categorized as Title 1 by the federal government.

Title 1 is an education program which provides federal funding to schools with high concentrations of students who live in poverty. The number of low-income students is determined by the number of students enrolled in the free and reduced school program.

Title 1 provides students from impoverished families more than free meals. It provides more teaching tools and in some cases even more teachers. All this is good but it is not enough.

Many of the kids that I teach have jobs. Serious jobs. Some of them work almost every day after school and on weekends. They don’t have time for homework or studying. Many of these kids give their earnings to their parents so mundane things like the utilities can be paid.

For years I was a card carrying Republican, admittedly a little right of center. After eleven years in public schools, I am still a Republican but I lean far to the left now. I pay my taxes. Always have always will. I complain about it. Always have always will. But there are poor people out there who need help. And closer to my heart, their kids need help.

When I hear someone lament about how bad kids are today, I shake my head. I believe kids today, at their core, are just the same as kids were in the 1950s. The students I teach are smart, funny, compassionate, hardworking, inquisitive, and resilient. If you don’t see these kind of qualities in today’s teenagers you are not looking very hard. You should go back to school…to teach.

Desperate Time Desperate Place

BOMARC Missiles

Imagine being so afraid of someone or something, you are willing to hide at a location where deadly plutonium had been spilled. In the novel, Hiding in Third Person, two teen boys do just that. To escape a killer they take refuge at BOMARC, the site where plutonium spilled out of an anti-aircraft missile and spread across several acres. The killer knows the boys are hiding somewhere inside the BOMARC fences, however, signs warning of hazardous radiation make him tread cautiously. The once deadly venue becomes a haven for the boys while they devise a plan to escape.

 

 

Disaster in New Jersey

In June of 1960 a small part ruptured inside a nuclear warhead starting a fire at the missile launch site known locally as BOMARC. Initially, the disaster was blown out of proportion. British newspapers would report that 200 square miles were jeopardized by the explosion. As it turns out, the damage area can be measured in acres. The missile set in a shed, known to some as a coffin. When activated the roof of the shed would open and out would come the missile.

Book Reviews!

I have started the process of soliciting book reviews for Hiding in Third Person.  To tell the truth the process is daunting.  At first, I felt like a panhandler begging for food money while standing in the rain. After receiving my first reviews, I now feel like a lonely panhandler chopping down trees deep in the woods. The first three book reviews were glowing…wee!  But I don’t know what to do with them.  If you get book reviews and nobody sees them are they still good?

Beginnings

Yikes!  The most difficult thing about writing a book is marketing. And the hardest part of marketing is knowing where to begin. Typically, I start a project by diving in with my eyes closed. I am one who finishes step 3 and then realizes the two steps preceding it are vital. Advice for indie authors is everywhere on the internet.  They say: do this, do that, be apart of this group and join that group. They all say…get your own website/blog. Well this is it.  I am in my “writing room” on the floor typing this out pretty sure that no one will read it. They also say that I should have a picture of myself on my site. This means I have a choice to make…use a picture of someone better looking; use a picture of a younger me; or scare off any potential followers with my own face.  Beginnings suck!