Thursday, February 19, 2009

Be Kind to the Kindle

It looked like a wet dishrag in the driveway, but it was, in reality, my newspaper. The rain had been steady since early morning and even though my San Francisco Chronicle had been carefully bundled in plastic, it had turned into an unreadable, heavy mess. I could have called and had it redelivered, though even regular delivery is not always reliable where I live. But I didn’t want to bother. And I could have read it online, but I spend so much time on the computer that I look forward to taking a break when I eat breakfast, and enjoy feasting my eyes on another medium for a change.

I don’t get my hard news from the Chronicle and I don’t get it from TV. I peruse the Web news sites throughout the day, where information is instantaneous and reading in short bursts is doable. But I like the leisureliness of reading my hometown paper. I enjoy the human interest stories, the horoscope, the Jumble, the movie and book reviews, the articles about food and technology. And with the Chronicle’s recent redesign, I am finding the paper even more pleasurable to read.

But everyone knows that newspapers are dying and can no longer make money with the dwindling demand for classifieds and advertisements. And books are supposedly dying too along with the general publishing industry, the book review sections in the dying newspapers, and the demise of independent bookstores. Even the chain bookstores are in questionable shape.

So what are the remedies to these situations? I’m no expert, but I hope the newspaper and book publishing industries are looking at and thinking hard about what happened to the recording industry. Traditional books (especially hardcovers) and newspapers may be the new vinyl. Music delivery is virtually all digital, to be played mainly on iPOD-type media. There are no independent record stores anymore, other than those that sell used CDs and records, or specialize in hard-to-find, niche items. Those who still buy CDs purchase them at Target, Wal-Mart, or through Amazon, but I imagine those numbers are dropping each year.

I don’t believe traditional books will disappear. Nothing usually completely disappears (well, maybe 78s, 45s and albums). Television killed radio, but mainly dramatic radio programming -- we still listen to radio today, but in different forms with different playlists and with competition from satellite radio. And video did not kill off going to the movies as predicted back in the day, yet the number of independent movie theaters is scant and they require at least two screens to survive. The multiplexes predominate and the idea of opening up a video or DVD rental store these days is laughable in this age of Netflix and on-demand movies via TV and computer. There are rumblings that TV-on-demand and cable and satellite will cause the demise of network television.

I am not one to resist change -- in fact, I usually embrace it. My husband has ordered the newest version of Kindle and I’m excited to try it (and I’m happy to say that my novel, Midori by Moonlight, is now available on Kindle). I’ve heard from many people that reading via Kindle is not the same as reading on a computer, and they can’t say enough good things about it. And as a writer I am heartened to hear that statistics have shown that those who read via personal electronic readers actually purchase and read more books. I could envision myself reading my San Francisco Chronicle at breakfast on a Kindle -- I’d even pay for the privilege because the experience would be so much different from reading on the computer, and it would eliminate the worry over soggy or undelivered newspapers, and not mention the hassle of stopping delivery during vacation time.

Hopefully independent bookstore owners and the publishing industry will look to creative solutions to their economic woes and avoid the fate of those tied to the music industry who had the rug pulled out from under them. Some independent movie theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area have banded together to survive. Independent bookstores like Book Passage in Corte Madera and Bookshop Santa Cruz seem to thrive by offering community along with books.

None of this is easy or a sure thing and the demise of certain things is unavoidable. But I choose to be positive in this time of gloom and doom, embrace the changes, and look forward to the future.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Simple "I Love You"

The National Chauvinistic Husbands Association, founded in 1999 by Japanese writer and editor Shuichi Amano out of Fukuoka, Japan, has garnered much publicity in the West in recent years with articles in the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle, and coverage by CNN, among others. The group’s membership is up to 5,000 and has been instrumental in preventing a number of Japanese marriages from dissolving into divorce.

The still male-dominated society has contributed to the dissatisfaction that many Japanese women find in marriage and a divorce rate that has gone up, although one that is still low by U.S. standards. It has also contributed to the trend of younger women delaying or even foregoing marriage. So the formation of this small group and its consciousness raising among men is a good start toward making progress. "My wife says I have changed, that I am more sensitive," a member has been quoted as saying. "She even smiles at me, which she never did before."

In many Japanese marriages today the norm is still for the wife to have dinner and bath ready for her husband no matter how late he gets home from work. The man’s primary role is his job, which leaves little or no time for paying attention to his spouse and children, or helping with domestic chores. There has been a lot of recent lip service from the government and media pundits about work-life balance but, as usual, change in Japan can be slow to come.

To help men become better husbands and to attempt to repair the damage this culture has wrought upon their marriages, members of The National Chauvinistic Husbands Association are asked to reflect on the following ten questions:

-- Are you still in love with your wife?

-- Do you help with domestic housework?

-- Have you ever cheated on your wife?

-- Are you comfortable with a "ladies first" policy (allowing women to enter a car, door, elevator, etc. first)?

-- Can you solve a domestic problem with your wife in a single evening?

-- Do you hold your wife's hand when walking?

-- Do you seriously listen to your wife?

-- Are you able to say "thank you" without hesitation?

-- Are you able to say "sorry" without fear?

-- Are you able to say "I love you" without embarrassment?

These are all worthy questions, but the last one struck me most, perhaps because Valentine’s Day is around the corner (and did you know that in Japan, Valentine’s Day is celebrated by women giving chocolate to men? Yes, there is White Day on March 14, where the roles are reversed, but apparently sales statistics for White Day do not compare with those of February 14).

I met my Osaka-born husband in the San Francisco Bay Area, not in Japan. He’d been living as an expatriate in the U.S. for many years and there was a lot about Japanese society he could not tolerate, which fueled his escape. And, even though I’ve spent time living and visiting and studying Japan, its language, and its culture, it is safe to say that as an American woman I would have had a difficult time living with a traditional Japanese male. So we have been a good match and he has had no problem saying, “I love you.” In fact when we first got married, I found that he said it almost too much!

I’d heard stories about how hard it is for a lot of Japanese men to utter this phrase. Was it because in Japanese you often leave out pronouns such as “I” and “you?” I wondered. Or because so much of Japanese communication is “understood” or “assumed” without the need for crass explanation? I surmised that I’d have to leave this to the sociolinguists.

But I did find out one reason why my husband was so proficient and prolific with his “I love you’s.” He explained that before he went to the United States, his mother advised him that American women, unlike Japanese women, expect to be told “I love you,” and one could not say it enough. How did she know this? From many years of watching Audrey Hepburn and Deborah Kerr movies, I suppose.

She gave her son some good advice, but I wonder if she ever heard “I love you” from her own husband.

Monday, February 2, 2009

SCANDAL by Carolyn Jewel

Microsoft SQL Server Database Administrator by day, historical and paranormal romance novelist by night. So goes the intriguing double of life of Carolyn Jewel, my guest today on the Girlfriend’s Cybercircuit Lit Blog Tour and author of the new book, Scandal, published by Berkley Sensation and available now.

The earl of Banallt is no stranger to scandal. But when he meets Sophie Evans, the young wife of a fellow libertine, even he is shocked by his reaction. This unconventional and intelligent woman proves to be far more than an amusing distraction-- she threatens to drive him to distraction. Unlike the women who usually fall at Banallt's feet, and into his bed, Sophie refuses to be seduced. And soon Banallt desires her more than ever-- and for more than an illicit affair.

Years later, the widowed Sophie is free, and Banallt is determined to win the woman he still loves. Unfortunately, she doesn't believe his declaration of love and chivalrous offer of marriage-- her heart has already been broken by her scoundrel of a husband. And yet, Sophie is tempted to indulge in the torrid affair she's always fantasized about. Caught between her logical mind and her long-denied desire, Sophie must thwart Banallt's seduction-- or risk being consumed by the one man she should avoid at all costs...

An intense, beautiful love story and a most rewarding read.
--Sherry Thomas, bestselling author of Delicious.

Jewel plays readers' emotions like a virtuoso, ensuring they will eagerly follow her characters into dramatic, intensely passionate and gripping love stories that will steal your heart and make you beg for more. She grabs you at the first word and never lets go.
-- Kathe Robin, Romantic Times

Carolyn lives a little over an hour north of me in Northern California’s Sonoma County with her son, border collie, three cats, several chickens and other various critter friends. She took some time from her varied schedule to answer some questions.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?
Typically, I start with characters. I spend a lot of time brainstorming them and how they might interact in a story. Then I do an absolutely bare bones outline. It's probably lying to say it's an outline. There is no point (for me -- many other writers are completely different on this), in spending a lot of time plotting. I have a general notion of what will happen but this changes dramatically as I write and discover my characters. I update my outline to match what's happening in the chapters and often review that for arc and pacing. Eventually I reach a point where I no longer need the outline (at roughly 60% of the way done). I brainstorm in the morning what I intend to write that night. Working much further ahead than that is usually a waste of time, for me.

Who are the top three writers who have influenced your writing style?
Perhaps a better answer for me is to identify three writers who have inspired me. Chinua Achebe for his ability to take a distasteful character and show us his honor. Brilliant. Ever since I read Things Fall Apart, I've been fascinated by characters with a dark side. Mary Balogh for her ability to pack everyday moments with an emotional wallop and J.R. Ward for her ability to make a story HUGE.

What are you reading now?
At this exact moment (mid-January 2009) I am reading books for RWA's RITA award and so cannot reveal those titles. However, other books I am reading include, The Earl and His Butler in Constantinople (non-fiction based on the diary of a butler in Constantinople in the 1600's), Orc by Stan Nicholls. A Mercy by Toni Morrison.

What is your writing schedule like?
5:00 am to 5:45 am: notebooking at the gym. If I am behind, then I also work during my lunch hour. Evenings in between family responsibilities from 4:00 pm to 10:00pm

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Sleep. I should try to come up with a better answer, but I'm often sleep-deprived so that's that true answer. But I adore martial arts movies and love action films in general.

View the book trailer for Scandal HERE and find out more about Carolyn at her Web site, including lots of tips for writers.

Carolyn, best of luck with Scandal!