Chapter Books?

(re-blogged from BookLikes)

I’m probably about to get myself in trouble with a lot of you by saying this, but I’m getting grumpy about this new chapter book phenom. I’m not talking about books written in chapters. I’m talking about “books” that are chapters.

Just to be clear. I don’t mean entries in a trilogy or whatever. Plenty of stories legitimately require being broken into multiple pieces. It may take the combined volumes to tell the full scope of the story, but each book in such a series (take The Hunger Games trilogy for a contemporary example) has its own complete dramatic arc and feels satisfying to read. Nor am I pointing a finger at series fiction. I would never! I love series fiction. Am kind of addicted to it. When a book plunges me into a vivid world and introduces me to wonderful characters, I’m delighted to think that world and those characters are going to continue beyond the one story. When a series ends, whether or not the end was forecast, it’s a special kind of torture to reach the last book and understand that the door to this world has closed.

No, what gets me grumpy is this marketing phenomenon whereby a single story arc is broken up and published as multiple books.

Maybe I’m wrong to fuss. After all, in the 19th century, serial novels were the epitome of storytelling. What we’re seeing now is simply one more instance of the 21st century recycling culture. Except, back when Dickens was a bright young thing, readers knew they’d only be getting a bit of book each month or quarter. And each chunk of a 19th century serial wasn’t asked to stand on its lonesome; they were published in periodicals that offered readers plenty of other food for thought.

I guess I’m a relic of the 20th century. I was trained to expect my novels to come complete. I can read them at my own pace, but all the bits and pieces the author had planned are delivered to me in one parcel. I like it that way. When I accidentally wander into one of these new modular novels, I feel I’m being manipulated into one of those marketing schemes where I’m assured “you can cancel-at-any-time!”

If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about, take Elizabeth Hunter’s “Elemental Mysteries” as an example. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed A Hidden Fire tremendously, and I think Hunter is a good writer. But the rest of the story, carefully disassembled so that there would be a book for each element and padded out with battle and sex scenes of ever-increasing redundancy, was only enough for one more novel. Not three. Oh, it’s smart business, this chopping things up! And, if Hunter weren’t a good writer, the ploy it wouldn’t have worked, at least not on me. I can respect this, even as I say that, despite Hunter’s talent and my enjoyment of much of her story, I feel like a mark.

I published my own 500 page novel this year. One novel. It’s the first entry of what I have every intention of building into a series. A trend-savvy friend actually advised me to break up this book and market the digital version as four pieces. Her logic was that “people today are intimidated by long books.” I objected, holding fast to Diana Gabaldon. I also observed that my book has no reasonable break points for this kind of packaging; The Upsilon Knot has multiple characters, and the various arcs aren’t synchronized. My practical friend said it didn’t matter; if anything, this would help sales, as people would get to the end of one piece and absolutely have to grab the next one. She assured me I’d have more readers; and by selling 4 pieces at $1.99 rather than the whole book for $6.99, I’d be making more money off of each one. I appreciate her marketing wisdom as much as her friendship but, pragmatic as it is, I can’t swallow it down. I’ve analyzed the table of contents for potential breaks but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I imagine someone reading part 1, coming to the end of what is really Chapter 7, and feeling let down because, well, it’s clear that the story is only just beginning!

Am I wrong in this? Do readers honestly prefer to have a story broken up into bits?

Early New Year’s Resolution

How’s this for a lack of procrastination? I’m posting my New Year’s Resolution in early December.

As Resolutions go, it’s not much.  All my life, I’ve set goals and standards for myself; and I continue to work hard to try to meet these benchmarks. So why feel guilty when I’ve fallen short? While I’m obviously still too immature to be content in accepting that it’s the process that matters, I should have at least grown enough to acknowledge that lack of attainment is no reason for self-castigation.

So, to kick off 2014, I’ve decided to take that first step and eliminate gratuitous self-reproach from my life. Starting with a statement about blogging.

If you’re reading this, then you’ve already noticed that I don’t blog regularly. And that I periodically apologize for this. Why? Fact is, this state of being isn’t likely to change. I’m not a speedy writer. Any blog that I do write requires a decent chunk of time to draft, as well as surprising large time-&-effort to shift my focus away from whatever WIP otherwise currently holds my attention.  Moreover, there a zillion blogs out there already, and no one’s life is depending on the contents of mine. Why beat myself up over not sustaining a spurious schedule?

It’s just too tough to blog for the sake of blogging. I only want to post occasionally, when I have something I honestly feel compelled to share.  And you know what? That’s okay. If you’re one of my readers, I’d hope you’d rather have me finishing stories. Well, whether or not you would, I would; and I’ve decided that’s okay, too. We’re only immortal through the memories we leave behind. As a writer, what I want to leave behind, for better or worse, are my stories.

So I don’t know when I’ll be posting to this page again. It might be weeks, it may be months.  Whenever it is, there won’t be any apologies or explanations attached.

Until then, I wish all of you a very happy new year. And may all your resolutions be as liberating as mine!

What is it about playlists?

Today I put together a playlist for the current WIP.

Understand that the only time I listen to the radio are those few morning seconds before I turn off the alarm. I do own a goodly amount of music, but I can go weeks without hitting ‘play.’ Even at the gym, I’m more likely to watch (sort of) the TV. When I take a long walk, I do find songs popping into my head; but there’s generally a connection between the lyrics and some phrase cropping up in my interior monologue, so that’s more like word association than musical craving.

So no, I’m not someone who lives with a constant soundtrack. And yet, whenever I work on a story that has a contemporary setting, I find myself compelled to craft—and I do mean craft—a complementary playlist.

“What kind of playlist?”, you might ask. Is it about the characters, favorite music that might give them more dimension in my mind? Or are these maybe songs associated with the time and place of the story, the music that might be playing in the background while the characters live out their lives? To a small extent, both of these. But mostly the collection is a kind of emotional synopsis of the undercurrents in the story. Just being able to put together a list means that, albeit subconsciously, the shreds and patches I’ve been toying with have settled into the shape of a story. It’s an actual milestone in the writing process! And once it’s done, I know that regardless of the bit I’m working on—or trying to—at any given moment, that playlist is there to call on whenever the overall shape and texture of the story need some help seeping into the cells and dendrites that push the writing out.

Not that it’s more than a tease at this point but, since you’re probably curious right now, here’s the playlist for the current WIP (and yes, sequence counts!):

  • Flaming Lips:  Fight Test
  • Feist:  1234
  • Adele: Chasing Pavements
  • Jay-Z: Empire State of Mind
  • White Stripes: We are Going to be Friends
  • The Ting Tings: Great DJ
  • Gogol Bordello: 60 Revolutions
  • Marina and the Diamonds: I am Not a Robot
  • Scissor Sisters: Night Work
  • Lady Gaga: Born This Way
  • Original Broadway Cast of “How to Succeed in Business…,” featuring Robert Morse: I Believe in You
  • Vampire Weekend: The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance
  • Coldplay: Viva la Vida
  • Amy Winehouse: Tears Dry on Their Own
  • Fatty Gets a Stylist:  Are You Ready?
  • Lily Allen: F**k You
  • Florence and the Machine: The Dog Days Are Over
  • Regina Spektor: Us