Friday, January 28, 2011

What's in a Name?

A lot.

And just like people judge books by their titles, I judge books by the characters' names.

I understand that authors want memorable characters.

I understand that a name says something about a character, such as how old they are, or what their parents are like.

But I hate, hate, hate it when characters have weird names.

I'm not talking about names from languages other than English. Those are cool.

I'm talking about the HUGE number of YA books that have female protagonists with traditionally male names, like "Max" or "Eddie" - which honestly hardly ever happens in real life, but seems in fiction to be an every day occurance.

Or the more unusual, such as characters who explain that they were named after bottles of alcohol, or the diner where their parents met, or whatever.

I don't know why it bugs me so much. Some of my favourite names in real life are rare and unusual. And Taiton and Destiny were kind enough to "loan" me their names for Definitely Not Camelot, so I guess I've done it, too.

But Taiton needed a name from an unspecified non-English speaking place (more on that later). And Destiny was a minor character.

When I'm reading about an unusually named main character, it distracts me.

And it makes it feel as if the author is trying too hard to show how unique and special his or her character is.

Kind of like parents who give their kids long, fancy monikers with Roman numerals at the end.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Movies, Martinis, and Manicures

On Thursday, I attended my second Movies, Martinis and Manicures event at The Roxy theatre in Uxbridge, Ontario.

It's a fundraiser which they theme around a chick flick. This year's movie was the 1997 flick My Best Friend's Wedding. We received mini veils with our tickets, and garters upon arrival. Guests were encouraged to send in their actual wedding photos in advance for inclusion in a slideshow on the big screen before the event, as well as to dress up in wedding attire.

I did send this wedding pic (circa 1994 - the glasses betray the date, but I think my dress and hair still have a classic feel). It's one of my faves, because a) it's casual and b) my eyes are actually open.

But I have to admit that I caved on the costume factor, for a number of reasons: I didn't want to wreck any of my good dresses, some of them don't fit right now, and I just really, really, really hate being cold. This is not me acting like an old lady. This is me being honest about who I am, and always have been. Even in high school, when everyone else was wearing running shoes through th snow and pulling their hands inside their sleeves and their shoulders up to their ears thinking that looked "cooler" than dressing properly for winter weather, I was the exception in boots, mittens, and hats or earmuffs. So let's just say that the other night I wore "Vegas wedding" attire:

(that's my friend Mary beside me).
So, pre-show, we ate wedding themed hors d'oeuvres, bit on silent auction items, had our pictures taken, and got our nails done by a number of local manicurists who donated their own time. Then they set us up with popcorn, a dessert table, and a "candy buffet". The candy buffet got me to thinking about the differences between children and adults. When you are a kid, it sounds like a dream to have enough money and independence to go to the candy store whenever you want and buy as much as you want. When you are an adult, you can. But most of us don't. And then when you find yourself at a fundraiser filling small paper bags with Glossettes, licorice, gummi bears, etc., you get crazy excited! At least, the women I saw did.
Anyway, the biggest gasp of the night came during the opening scene of the movie, when Julia Roberts' character reached into her handbag and pulled out a GIANT cell phone which she not only had to flip open, but also raise the antenna on. Crazy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Four Things I Wish I'd Known Years Ago

(Ahem). Allow me to share with you the wisdom of my years, and pass along four bits of knowledge that have been LIFE CHANGING for me.

1) You can freeze lemon slices. This way, you always have them ready for a glass of water or a cup of tea. They act as ice cubes to cool down your drink. And you don't end up with a bunch of shrivelled up half-used lemons in the back of your fridge.

2) A disposable razor stored in a lidded jar of rubbing alcohol stays sharp and lasts ten times longer. Seriously - it does. And you only need enough alcohol to cover the blade.

3) Bacon is easy to cook - and far less messy - if you do it on parchment paper in the oven. Obviously, you need to use a cookie sheet with sides. Line it with parchment paper (I like to double up the thickness). Lay bacon out in strips. Cook in low oven - about 300 degrees F. for 20 - 30 minutes. Comes out cheaper and better than the pre-cooked stuff, there's no splattering, and it's easy to do a whole package this way in advance for a brunch. (I got this tip, and a lot of great recipes, by attending a cooking class with a humble chef. Check out his blog!)

4) Everyone should have a laundry hampers with separate sections for different colours. Mine has three removable mesh bags. I didn't think I spent a lot of time sorting laundry before, but this one makes it super fast and super easy to guage whether or not you have enough of one colour to run a load, grab it, and get it in.

You're welcome!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

If only there was a way to work some chocolate into this...

I just stumbled upon the coolest contest, featuring many, many things I love!

1) Cats
2) Black cats
3) Funny pictures
4) An excuse to surf the internet
5) The opportunity to write
6) Books!

In my world, that's almost a perfect evening!

Author Sean Cummings has posted an LOL Cats contest, featuring Gary in a pink bathtub.

(Exhibit A)

All YOU have to do to win a copy of Sean's book UNSEEN WORLD is come up with the funniest caption for Gary's photo.

Here's my submission:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

All Hail the Digital Age of Publishing!

Key Porter Books announced this week that it has "suspended publishing operations and is considering selling off parts of its backlist. "


Canadian publishers have had a rough couple of years, and there's been a lot of speculation about how digital publishing, e-books, etc. are going to change the industry. Yes, some traditional publishers will fall away in the shuffle. But I'm not sure that the digital reading revolution is going to be as terrible as some think.

Consider the music industry.

Back in my day - aka, the 80's - the sharing of music was very uncommon. You might copy an LP onto a cassette tape for yourself, to play in your oh-so-tiny (see my tongue in my cheek?) Sony Walkman, or receive a mixed tape from your boyfriend if he really liked you, but it wasn't a common thing to share and trade the albums you'd purchased. For one thing, they were pricey. And volatile. Tapes could get "eaten" by rogue equipment; albums were easily scratched/dirtied/warped. Copying things was also time consuming, as making a mixed tape using several LPs meant you had to sit through each song, pausing the tape recorder after each selection. It used to take all day.

Fast forward to 2011: all I have to do to get new music is click a couple of buttons. If I'm clever, I don't even need to pay for it. I also don't need cumbersome tapes or discs, because I can store it all on my hard drive, or an mp3 player. And even though I'd be breaking copyright, I can post that music on other file sharing sites, providing it for free to millions of others.

Digitization, then, for the music industry, has probably meant lower sales, and lower revenues.

But for the publishing industry, it may work in the opposite way.

Let's go back to the 80's. Or even 2005, before I had the inside scoop on royalties.

Books were the original victims of "file sharing". If I got a book I liked, I would recommend it to someone else. And then I'd hand it to them. And they'd hand it to someone else. And so on, and so on. In fact, I'm pretty sure that my friend Karen's $5.95 copy of Flowers in the Attic made it's way through every girl in my grade seven class without one of us ever going out to purchase a copy. Books are easy to share, because unlike albums, we aren't as likely to revisit them, even if we love them. Besides which: the more we love them, the more we want other people to read them, so that we can talk about them. And so they have traditionally been passed around, person to person, in much the same way that digital music is shared today.

Digital books will actually reverse this trend. Perhaps having learned from the music industry, e-readers don't make it easy to share files. And the equipment required to read an e-book is expensive - and personal - enough that even when I enjoy something, I am NOT going to hand over my Kindle to someone else to read. Instead, I'll recommend it. And they will buy their own copy, so both publisher and the author will receive the royalties that they deserve.

Here's another little secret that I learned years ago, but have been amazed to discover that so many others don't know: the publishing industry has traditionally had a ridiculous, environmentally irresponsible model that needed to be overhauled. Here's how it works: books are printed and shipped to bookstores. Six months go by. Bookstores need more space. They return unsold books to the publishers. Who else does that? Seriously. Can you imagine a grocery store sending unsold lettuce back to the farmer who grew it? There is absolutely no pressure whatsoever on the bookstore to research its product or order responsibly, because they aren't going to get stuck with anything unsold. And they don't even have to pay for return shipping, because massmarket paperbacks just get the covers ripped off of them and then get destroyed. The covers are much lighter and less expensive to ship, and tearing them off for return proves to the publisher that they actually went unsold, so the bookstore doesn't get billed for them. Picture the same system in a jewelery store:

Hmm..this batch of diamond rings didn't sell! Oh well!
We'll just rip the gemstones out of their settings and send back the gold to
prove it....then we don't have to pay our supplier for any of the
unsold rings, and the publisher can just absorb the manufacturing costs themselves! <>

Pretty dumb, eh?

If ebooks can eliminate that kind of waste and stupidity then bookstores and publishers can both get paid for the things that sell, and
nobody has to take any extra hits for things that don't.

Best of all, trees don't have to die for my art.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Where does inspiration end and Copyright Infringement begin?

I've been thinking about art, and copyrights, ever since Boxing Day, when I read about this issue in The Toronto Star. They had a cover contest for an "emerging artist," promising to publish the winning entry - themed around Christmas in Toronto - on their front cover on Christmas Eve. And pay the winner $2500! (One wonders what might have happened if there had actually been BIG NEWS that day. But I digress.)

The winning illustration was BEAUTIFUL - an impressionistic "streetcars-in-snow" painting that captures the beauty of the season amidst the hustle and bustle.

The problem, however, was that the winning artist may have been "inspired" by a photo she saw on Flickr. She didn't mention it to anyone until the photographer approached The Star, at which time she claimed to have looked at a lot of photos for inspiration. You can see the comparison here, but to me, the composition and tones are so similar that there is no question that her work is based on his.

So is it copying? Or being inspired? Would it have been different if she had contacted the photographer, or acknowledged him in the original article?

And just when I was feeling completely indignant on behalf of the photographer, my friend Kirsten Koza sent me this very cool website, wherein artist Dave Devries embellishes children's drawings to look like professional illustrations. So magnificent. Or so awful. Maybe he's enhancing their work to make it appear the way they envisioned it. Or maybe he's saying that the way they did it themselves wasn't actually good enough.

As an art teacher, I struggle with that concept all the time. The "less-is-more" part of me (which, I'm sure you've noticed, is only the part that does my hair, and cleans my house, and creates visual art - not the part that tries to write short blog entries and then can't stop....) wants my students NOT to write their names in giant letters on the middle of the page. NOT to make fifty snowmen floating on the page at all sorts of weird angles. NOT to entirely cover their shiny silver ornament, carefully decorated with a handprint that becomes snowmen, in red Sharpie marker. But I don't want to squash their creativity, or make them feel that their work isn't valid.

On the other hand, when they ask, and I can help by suggesting we move a line a little to the left, or by making it more symmetrical, I love to see how delighted and proud they are as their art becomes more like that which they imagined.

I think we all - young and old - would love to have an art makeover by Dave Devries.

As long as we know he's doing it.