Friday, February 24, 2012

How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore?

I’m always amazed when people abandon their book orders.  I don’t mean the folks who buy books and then never pick them up, which happens more often that you’d think; we’ve got shelves of prepaid titles that have been taking up space for years.  We hang on to them because people not only show up years after the purchase, but get livid if their book isn’t waiting for them years after the purchase.  Moral of the story?  Book lovers are special.   

That’s a different kind of person, one who spends so much they have no idea what they’re buying.  I can make that judgment because I’m on a budget.  I don’t care how disorganized or forgetful you are, if you abandon a $25-$35 hardcover - or a stack of them - it’s because you can afford to.Not them, though.  I’m talking about my internet customers.  As I write this, I realize the phenomenon I’m about to explore probably happens because people who are interested in books are primarily (ha-ha) bookish types who'd rather just let things die by ignoring them than confront anything, but I’m going to go right ahead and write about it anyway because it took me a long time to figure out how to get that screen shot.  Check the dates if you don't believe me.


Handling internet orders for Books & Books coming up on eight years, it’s always a little hurtful when I find myself begging for communication with people who seem to have ordered something they don’t even want.  I can empathize when people complain about a great date who never called back.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Five Year Anniversary

Over the days that followed, his pain became increasingly familiar to him.  It would come over him while he was reaching for the push-buttons on his bed or crossing the floor to the bathroom, when he was watching the sun bounce off the TV, watching the rain leave its cat’s paws on the window, a response he realized he’d been waiting for all along, as if he and his wounds were having a conversation at bedtime, interrupted by long moments of insensibility.  Oh, yes.  Where were we?  You were asking me a question, weren’t you?  He did not court the sensation, but he did not shrink away from it, either.  Whenever he felt it diminishing, a brief feeling of regret settled over him.  The fact that he was healing meant that he would be returning to his real life soon.
-Kevin Brockmeier, Illumination.  

I copied that wonderful quote on pain from the mighty Kevin Brockmeier’s Illumination because it spoke to me.  Every anniversary of the accident, the rainy season has passed and the worst of my pain with it.  Rather than struggling to cast my mind back, I decided to record those complaints so I’d have some fresher memories.  It also helps me keep my complaints to myself.

Friday, July 15th, 2011 - It’s a restless day for that creature.  You know what it looks like, the thing which lives inside your thigh, mouth wrapped around the end of your femur where it meets your hip: at the end of The Incredibles, Jack-Jack morphs into a little demon of flames and big teeth.  The end of your femur rests in it’s mouth like a dog sleeping with a chew toy.  The heat tingling from this creature’s mouth is like your nose in the corner of your vision, always there but forgotten unless you think about it.

Then a movement you’ve made a thousand times startles it for some reason.  It’s not quite awake, but it still bites.  Once, twice, three times, before settling back into that low heat.

Monday, July 18th - The aching bones in your leg bring to mind a rotten tooth.  Not a fresh nerve jangling pain, but something brittle you’d see in a skull in a museum.  No longer a tool for biting, but an object to gingerly ease from place to place.

This is not the case, obviously, but it feels so true you actually test holding your entire body with your leg.  You push up and down a few times for good measure, proving your leg is strong, solid, that the weakness is all in your mind.  Even this doesn’t convince you.  Your hollow bones ache like buzzing filament in a lightbulb, warning you to tread softly on what’s left.

Thursday, July 21st - It’s a day to lean forward in your chair because of your rib, the high one toward your back.  You’re a child, and a cruel adult is digging a thumb and forefinger into your back and side like a pincer.  The angle makes your hip worse, of course, so you lean back after a time.  Since most your day is spent in a chair the day passes this way, moving the pain back and forth between your hip and your rib.  

Friday, July 22nd - Your rib, the low one this time, toward the front.  It’s like sleeping on a fold-out cot, the metal hinge digging into your side.  You forget it’s there, and you slouch.  The weight of your upper body pushing down increases the annoying pressure into a deep throb.

You straighten up, which is fine.  You shouldn’t be slouching anyway.

Wednesday, August 23rd - Nothing which cut through the rush of work and wedding prep severely enough to report for a month, which is good.  A day with no relief, which is bad.

No standing position is comfortable, no sitting position is comfortable, laying down relieves the worst of the aches but it’s not an option.  Grit your teeth, get through it, hope tomorrow is better.

Thursday, August 24th - The day begins with some kind of object left inside your left buttcheek, something shaped like one of those trivets you leave on a stove for resting spoons while you cook.

As the day progresses, the object moves south.  It rests against your hip socket, then in your knee joint, and finally your ankle.  The ankle and knee pain always mystifies you.  Nothing happened to your ankle or your knee.  Supposedly getting in an accident is like jumping off a building, six stories for sixty miles-an-hour, seven stories for seventy miles-an-hour, etc.  Your legs absorb the shock of the car’s sudden stop.  But that only applies to head-on collisions, and if it had happened with you, the pain should be in both ankles.  Besides, what bruised bone still pains four years after the injury?

That’s another reason to keep the pain to yourself; the idea that it might be all in your head.

Friday, August 26th - Ribs poking the muscles in your back all day long at work.  Hip at a level you haven’t felt in years.  Blame it on the sudden temperature shift brought by the passing of hurricane Irene.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 (the Five-Year Anniversary) - You get the idea.  I stopped at that point but I realize this year that cold snaps in the winter aren’t any picnic, either.  Maybe last year’s rainy season was just extra-bad.  Here are two images I didn’t use but which I also see on certain days: my hip as a sea shell, or a two-by-four blackened and brittled by fire.

Yesterday I helped set up Books & Books’ booth for this weekend's South Beach Wine and Food Festival.  Lugging heavy cookbooks about led to a painful evening, but you know what?  No one likes a whiner.  I popped some Aleve and walked to Cub Scouts with Dylan.

I made a promise to myself after this accident that I'd never take my body for granted again.  The aches last night were worth getting out of the chair and doing something physical.  I should remember that.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Secret Handshake: Do You Really Need an MFA to Get Published?

If you answered "no" then click here.
Quotidian. Why use quotidian when mundane works just as well?  Don't try citing some subtle shade of connotation, because there isn't one; they mean the same damn thing, except ninety-five percent of the English-speaking world could tell you what mundane means.  Barring mundane, why not give everyday, commonplace, or ordinary a day in court?  Too quotidian?

Using quotidian, you're not trying to tell us what the office is like, or describe Chester's workaday habits, or what materials an artist used for his pieces - unless you're Lionel Shriver, you're being deliberately obscure to add mystery to your piece, to make the reader work a little harder and invest more of herself.

I see the word all the time.

"Look out! The Quotidians are behind you!"
That, and words like it.  Elegiac ("expressing sorrow") is one.  Anodyne ("uncontentious or inoffensive") is another.  To me, it's all grandiloquent ("Pompous or extravagant in language, style, or manner, esp. in a way that is intended to impress").

I think my vocabulary is better than the average bear's.  If you're not David Foster Wallace, it ain't right to have me running for the dictionary (well, for Google).  It's also no comment on my lack of education (I hope) because it's the same words over and over.

I remember a poster in my sixth grade English class, back in the days when it was called Language.  Flying in the face of the Mighty Elmore Leonard (see Rule #3), this poster declared, "Said is Dead; Use These Instead."  An alphabetical list of words which wouldn't make it past an AP writing class followed- Argued, Berated, Chided, Declared, etc.  Seeing elegiac in four different books I've read in the last two months makes me imagine a spreadsheet handed out at creative writing programs across the country; Simplicity is Dead; Use These Instead.

Leonard says, "if it sounds like writing, re-write it."  John D. MacDonald says, "Author intrusion is, 'Gee, Mama, look how nice I'm writing!'"  John Dufresne says, "thou shalt not be obscure."

Look, I'm all for high fallutin language if it serves the voice of a piece.  I like learning new words, particularly from a Shriver or a Wallace who knows how to use them.  But most of the time these words just seem underlined.  If you tell me your book is a "bildungsroman" rather than "a coming-of-age novel," you're proffering the secret MFA handshake.

McWriterface, listen closely: shake off all those fancy words you discovered pursuing your degree.  They are weighty words and you need to build up your muscles before you can lift them properly.  I see intransigent ("unyielding") and suddenly you're not trying to tell me a story, you're waving your MFA in my face.  You can't expect editors to stop these words because they all have their MFAs, too.  So it's up to you, Authorton.

Only you can prevent grandiloquence, Authorton... only you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Girl with the Pigeon Tattoo & Anna Dewdney, Too

Yesterday at Dylan's after-care program, two girls with eyes and a flair for the obvious told Becky she was the most beautiful girl they'd ever seen.  As Becky walked away, one of them pointed.

"Llama llama!  Llama lama!" she shouted.

This led to a tour of Becky's arm, a few minutes of book talk, and the near kidnapping of two girls from Dylan's after-care program.  

I'm sorry, kidnapping is never funny.  There was nearly a Forceful Non-Blood-Related Family Expansion, but we had to leave in a hurry to beat traffic.

Llama llama is a character from a beloved series of picture books that have been flying off the shelves for about seven years now.  Is it llama llama's sweet naivety?  The fact that llama llama can always count on Mama?  Or some magical combination of charming rhymes and gorgeous illustrations?  Whatever the secret, llama llama is one of Dylan's most-requested bedtime stories.  When author / illustrator Anna Dewdney came to Books & Books, Becky had the spot on her arm all picked out.

The tattooing has already been covered in depth by Publishers Weekly.  I love the picture I took with Llama Llama Red Pajama in the foreground, tattoo artist Dicky Magoo in the center, and the Miami Dolphins playing in the background.  I especially love that we just returned from our honeymoon and the last name "Curtis" was all over the place.

But since Shannon Maughan was so thorough, I'm reduced to this:

Look how cute!  Buy it.

I said, BUY IT.

Please buy it?

I'll also share some pictures which weren't in Publishers Weekly.

Signed by the artist; that arm is worth money.
There was a good deal of blood involved, but Becky was determined to get llama llama picture-ready.

All that scrubbing was worth it to see the look on Anna Dewdney's face.

This is why Dewdney looks so pleased; sweet job, Dicky Magoo.