The Nook Makes Me A Better Reader

While attending a young adult workshop at the SDSU Writer’s Conference, I gleaned an interesting tidbit. Someone in the audience brought up the idea of a protagonist in his early twenties at college. Our presenter nixed it. College bound folk are inundated with textbooks and studies. Often, they don’t have time to read.

That was the case for me. College killed my reading instincts. Before that, I read like a fiend. Afterward, I hardly picked up a book. Magazines drew me in, mostly because of the brevity of the articles. I remember distinctly my first serious novel that I read form cover to cover: The Alientist.

I continued to write, yet my reading suffered. Finally audiobooks came to my rescue. I read, or listened, while commuting. This worked well, but I yearned for that actual visual experience. (Try writing down a clever quote from a spoken text. Not as easy as it seems.)

Then my wife purchased an iPad for my last birthday. I checked out the ebook options. There were limitless. Trouble was, the iPad as so heavy. (I have and iPad 1, but even the iPad 2 is weighty.) Meanwhile, my reading had picked up. I am addicted to several young adult series. My latest favorite is Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.

Much like other YA books, this one is a tome. Reading it makes my arms hurt. I tend to read in bed with the book held above me. So my mind drifted back to ereaders. I checked the whole spectrum. I didn’t need all the fancy web-browsing and apps. (I have an iPad, after all). What I wanted was a basic ereader that was very light. Enter the Nook.

I adore this product. The eink is amazing. It reads just like my paper book. The buttons make page turning easy and my arms never grow tired. Finally, it’s created a renaissance in reading for me. Just as the iPod revitalized my love of music, so has the Nook spurned me to be a more voracious reader.

Long live the ereader.

Tim Kane

View of Rain and Cheese

My wife and I celebrated Valentine’s day early. We both hate crowds. As we nibbled on amazing French cuisine, I noticed two things.

Firstly, about me. I’m a foodie. At least I try to be. When I eat out with my wife, I sample new foods. A few months back, with a gift certificate to Olive Garden, I tried mussels for the first time. I liked it. So for my Valentine’s day feast, I had mussels and fries (a north French staple). Delish.

I will also go umami over sweet every time. We opted for the cheese plate for dessert. Not disappointed. Though there was a slice of fig and a hunk of honey comb to sweeten things up.

Finally, I’d like to point out how everyone was seated. This was a Saturday night at prime dining time. My wife and I were seated in the couples section. I scanned left and right. Every guy sat with a view out the window and the rain washed streets. Every girl faced inward, with a view of her man. Me? The same. Is is an unconscious decision? Has this happened to you?

Tim Kane

Camp Hunger Games

Tired of that outrageous tab at Ralphs? I mean, $3.50 for a gallon of milk? Seriously. Time to cut your loses. Send your little bundle of joy to Camp Hunger Games. Let that grocery bill of yours fight for survival. Think about it, it’s a win-win situation. If your child vanquishes the other children, clawing and scraping her way to the top, then your family is heaped with glory and honor for years to come. (Not to mention the free grocery trips). And if not…? Them’s the breaks. At least you can set one less place at the table.

Tim Kane

Geek Speak: A Twenty-First Century Disease?

Often my mind works in quotes. “My friends, you bow for no one.” or “How about a magic trick?” These sorts of things bounce through my brain like pin balls. Sometimes I tilt, and get sucked into pop-culture mayhem. I don’t know if this is a twenty-first century disease, but I do know that it plagues me.

I sat down at the table with a plate of mash potatoes. My very first thought, even before butter or salt or silverware was: “This means something.” Then I formed the potatoes into a replica of the Devil’s Tower. My colleague sitting next to me had no idea what I was going on about.

Then, when I heard a friend of mine issue a tiny little squeak of a cough, I instantly thought: “I think I have the black lung.” He got it, and a series of Zoolander quotes ensued.

I’m lucky in that my wife gets most of these. We have the same humor level and watch mostly the same films. Likewise, my fellow teachers at school are geek inclined. Yet when did conversation turn into requotes from movies or television? It’s almost like my mind has become a twitter stream and I’m in constant retweet mode.

I find this frustrating as a writer because I dare not let this stuff slip into my pages. First, this stuff is so dated that it becomes obsolete within a few years. Second, this type of trivia is specialized. Only a few close friends will get all the references. Not an idea situation for young readers who don’t understand how cameras can work with film.

Tim Kane

Addicted to Pinterest

Gah, yet another social media site to drag me away from writing. If you’ve haven’t visited this site, you might be frustrated when you do. It’s by invitation only. Granted, you simply apply and a few days later get the invite in the mail. The site will give you a sample, but, the waiting is hard to deal with.

Once you’re in, kiss at least three or four hours of life goodbye. (I was fortunate enough to have this happen while holed up in a cabin in the woods, so the time drain wasn’t nearly as detrimental.) The idea is this: remember all those amazing pictures you download from the internet and then stick in a file and forget? Pinterest lets you post and share them. You can comment and repin pics you see from friends. The topics are endless.

Most of the pinners seemed to concentrate on products and people. I guess folks find that time worthy. Me, I went to all the amazing art I’ve always loved, yet could never find a way to catalog. Illustrators, steampunk artists, comic book art, you name it. I also plan to add all those spelling and grammar goofs I constantly see, yet seems wasted when seen individually.

I suggest you check this site out, but be warned, you may never return the same.

Tim Kane

The Myth of Writing in a Cabin in the Woods

Jonny Depp from Secret Window

It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Granted, my cabin was also full of other teachers and the whole place is surrounded by sixth graders. However, I do have certain conveniences you wouldn’t associate with cabin life: a constant stream of hot coffee, blistering hot showers, and wifi. So writing up a whole new novel should be a snap, right? Not so much.

I find that I’m a solitary person. I like to write alone. Blog posts and the like, sure, I can do that anywhere. Writing on a fiction manuscript, for that I need total concentration. It’s true, there were bits and times where I was completely alone in the cabin, and I could have worked it in. Yet those times were never reliable. What I mean is, you never know when a colleague will wander in and want to talk.

Add to this the lack of any kind of desk or table. Not too bad if you’re typing out a 250 word blog post. But if you intend on crunching 1000 or 2000 words, you’ll find that neck cramps ensue. Trust me, I know. I got them midweek just working on curriculum.

Finally, there’s the lack of structure. Sure I need to show up at meals and there’s a recess block to oversee, but between those my time is mine. Yay, more time equals more writing. Try it sometime. I think you’ll find it’s the opposite. At home, I can carve out one or maybe two hours a day. Always at the same time. Reliable. Both before and after are filled with things to do. It makes my writing charged because I know if I don’t get it done, then I’ll have to wait another day.

This is not to say I got nothing done. Since I could tell that formal words-on-page style writing was going to be a challenge, I tackled things that I typically have a hard time doing at home. Plotting. I plotted out the whole dang novel. Start to finish. Not every scene, but the milestones. Seeing it as a whole allowed me to fix some plot problems. One particularly pesky one dogged me for a while. I stepped into the cabin shower for forty minutes and worked out the solution in my head (without having to pay for the water bill).

So the next time you dream of being alone in a cabin in the woods, think again. It’s not the best environment for writing. Try writing every day. Repeat until the novel is complete.

Tim Kane

Day After Month After Year After Story After Book

The best thing I ever did as a writer was to move on.

I had struggled with the same manuscript for five years. It was my life. My master work (or so I thought). I couldn’t let go. I wrote a first draft and revised it. Then I joined a critique group and restarted the book again. The new version was even better. Then I went to the Big Sur Writing conference, I realized my protagonist had no backstory. No emotion. Back to page one.

I rewrote that manuscript again. From scratch. Entirely new plot. Things were going well. Both my critique groups grooved on it. Ten months later, I began revising. When I sent out queries, I received two requests for a full manuscript.

Then the hammer fell. One agent gave me a great critique. Trouble was, I agreed with it. My character was true. The premise worked. But the plot was convoluted and the story sagged in the middle.

I had a choice. I could revise that story yet again. I even had a plan for what to fix. But I asked myself: “Am I going to be the sort of writer that reworks the same story over and over again?”

No.

I’m done with this book. Let me write a better one.

And I did. When I finished that book, I was tempted again. This time with revisions to the new book. Now I’ve made the choice to move on again. Write another book.

It reminds me of a quote from Harlan Ellison:

The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer. Day after month after year after story after book.

I plan to live as a writer, and that means writing. Better and better books.

Tim Kane