Saturday, February 25, 2012

Boycotting Barnes and Noble

Earlier this week I spent the last money I will ever give to Barnes and Noble.

In a way, this is somewhat painful. I have so many good memories of Barnes and Noble. For a long time my little area of Upstate New York had only small bookstores. A Walden's in the mall, a few independent bookstores. But mostly I just got my books from the library. Then a nice, big Barnes and Noble came to our area right around the time I hit my teenage years and started to have more spending money. My friend and I used to spend hours there, browsing, enjoying the atmosphere, and usually left with a bag or two. It was one of our favorite places to spend time.

I always just loved the feeling of being surrounded by wall to wall books. And I've always enjoyed the feel and the smell and the look of books. Barnes and Noble was like a paradise.

A few years back, I came to a place in my life where I just didn't have the luxury of buying books anymore. We've been very poor for a long time and so going to Barnes and Noble became an exercise in futility. I just stopped going altogether for the most part. But this Christmas we got our usual $50 worth of Barnes and Noble gift cards from my grandmother, always one of my favorite gifts in times past. My husband and I ventured to B&N one night to find something to spend them on. We ended up leaving the store empty handed.

You see, it wasn't my Barnes and Noble anymore.

The place was filled with toys and games and gimmicky books and gift items. It didn't feel like a bookstore anymore. It felt like a vaguely book related gift shop. The smell of the books wasn't there anymore. The first thing that your eyes saw upon entering was a giant Nook display. I don't begrudge them their Nook kiosk. Ebooks are totally the future and I LOVE my Kindle Fire, but man, when I walk into a bookstore I want to see books.

In addition to all that, we legitimately couldn't find anything we wanted to buy. Granted, we didn't have a ton of time to browse, we were wasting time before a movie. But who does anymore? How many people can afford to spend an hour in a bookstore so that they can find just the right thing to buy? Oh sure, I had that time to spare when I was a teenager. But I'm a busy mom of four now. My opportunities to get out alone with my husband are so few and far between that we certainly can't devote a whole evening to book shopping.

I decided to just find something online later on. Later on, I tried browsing their site for books. Wow. What a pain. Has anyone here tried to browse the B&N website? It's got to be one of the most poorly designed shopping experiences from a major retailer I've ever seen. I finally filled my shopping cart by just typing "Miyazaki" into the search engine. Knowing what you were looking for seems to be the only efficient way of navigating their website. My order went a little over the $50 on the gift cards I had. And as I pushed the button to submit my order I thought to myself, "That's the last money I give to them."

All that was before I saw this little news item:

Bookseller Barnes & Noble volleyed another shot at rival  by announcing that the chain will stop selling books in its stores published by the Internet retail giant.

Jaime Carey, chief merchandising officer at Barnes & Noble, said in a statement Tuesday that Amazon had “undermined” the book industry by pushing for exclusive deals with authors, agents and publishers.
. . . .

“Their actions have undermined the industry as a whole and have prevented millions of customers from having access to content,” Carey said. “It’s clear to us that Amazon has proven they would not be a good publishing partner to Barnes & Noble as they continue to pull content off the market for their own self interest. We don’t get many requests for Amazon titles, but if customers wish to buy Amazon titles from us, we will make them available only online at”


 You think Amazon is "undermining the industry" by preventing customers from having access to content and so you're going to respond to this by... preventing your customers from having access to Amazon's books by highly popular authors. 

 I'm sorry, Barnes and Noble, but now you're going too far. You see, unlike you, Amazon has given me an absolutely fantastic shopping experience. I ordered a new camera before Christmas and the estimated delivery date was between Dec. 27-30. You know when it came? DECEMBER 22. My husband ordered a packet of fountain pens and when it came found that it only contained 9 of the 12 pens it was supposed to have. He looked into it a bit, and decided it would just be too much trouble to try to contact them to get the missing pens. Several days later we received a package in the mail containing 3 fountain pens. And their website is one of the easiest websites I've ever used. Shopping there is a JOY.

So, Barnes and Noble, you had your chance, I know you've been trying to adapt to this new digital world. But you're doing a terrible job. You're screwing over your customers in an effort to get back at Amazon for doing everything better than you. So that's it. Amazon is getting all my business now.

Goodbye, Barnes and Noble, from the bottom of my heart, goodbye.

Update 3/5/2012: So I ordered three movies from Barnes and Noble online around 22nd or 23 of February. As of today, we still haven't received them. The latest info we can get from online tracking is that they arrived in Philadelphia recently. (We're about 4 hours north of Philly.) They sat in Kentucky for several days before that. Really, Barnes and Noble, really? It's been well over a week now? I order something from Amazon and I know I'll get it in 2 days. Sometimes sooner. This is ridiculous. Never, never again.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More About Me Than You Ever Wanted To Know

I've been writing some heavier posts this month. So today I'm breaking away from that with a little fluff.

A few weeks back T.B. McKenzie of Magickless passed on to me the Kreativ Blogger Award which I am honored to receive. Thanks, T.B.! One is supposed to list 10 things about yourself upon receiving this award. Here goes...

1. I've always hated my name because it is so common. Going through middle and high school there were 13 other Sarahs (or Saras) in my grade alone.

2. To compensate for this, I like to give my children unique names. Possibly too unique sometimes. No one can spell or pronounce my oldest son's name: Maedhros (It's pronounced My thros.) 

3. In high school I had two close friends who were also named Sarah. We called each other Los Tres Sarahs (And yes, I know that's not proper Spanish grammar, but I wasn't the one who took Spanish and came up with the name.) and we "fought crime on the side".

4. Los Tres Sarahs was also in the habit of randomly handing out coconuts to people during our lunch hour. It was always highly amusing to see their faces when you just walked up and handed them a coconut. By our senior year there was a waiting list to receive a coconut.

5. It may already be apparent, but I have a serious obsession with Middle-earth and J.R.R. Tolkien's writings set therein. I have a ridiculous amount of knowledge about that world and in particular about the Elves. For instance, I can rattle off the names of the seven sons of Feanor without a second thought: Maedhros, Maglor, Curufin, Caranthir, Celegorm, Amrod and Amras. I can also greet you in Quenya, the High Elven tongue: Suilanyel! or in Sindarin, the common Elven tongue: Mae govannen!

6. If I could trade places with any character in Middle-earth it would be Galadriel. She was the only main character that actually lived happily with the love of her life for thousands of years. Everyone else was either relatively short lived or had a tragic fate.

7. Despite my love of Middle-earth and all things Tolkien, my favorite book to read (and reread and reread) is actually Dune by Frank Herbert. And if I could write prose like anyone, I would want to write the way Frank Herbert wrote Dune.

8. In fact, I've always had a bit of a literary crush on Leto Atreides II from Children of Dune. Which is kind of creepy, because he's a kid. But he's also an adult. It's complicated.

9. I tend to get crushes on fictional characters far more easily than real people. (For which my husband is grateful.) Currently it's this guy...

Renji Abarai of Bleach.

10. I'm totally obsessed with the anime Bleach and everyone should go watch it. (Or you know, start watching it. There are 300+ episodes.) I'll be posting a writing lesson from Bleach later this week.

Whew. Ok. But wait, there's more. Miss Cole of Miss Cole Seeks Publisher tagged me to answer 11 questions.

1. When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

Fall of 2010. I've written since childhood, but it was never with the aim of becoming a published author. (I would often joke about "when I'm an internationally bestselling author..." but I never took it seriously.) It wasn't until fall of 2010 when I finally began to think to myself that hey, maybe this could actually be something I could do professionally.

2. What books inspired you to write?

In my younger years, it wasn't any specific book. I was just a constant reader and that naturally spilled over into writing as well. As a teenager I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and that made me realize that fantasy was my true love and from then on I wrote fantasy stories.

3. What are your other hobbies?

Reading, of course. Though I do less of that now than before I had four kids. I also love to sew, particularly costumes. I most recently made a princess dress for my daughter to wear to a Princess Ball at school. I am also a casual MMO gamer though I exclusively play The Lord of the Rings Online. From LOTRO stems my hobbies of making music to play in game and creating role playing events based on the lore of Middle-earth. (I know. Major geek.) You could also say that because of this I'm an amateur Tolkien scholar with a focus on Quendology. (I just made up that word. It means study of the Elves.)

4. Favorite film?

Wow. Tough question. I'm not really a movies person. I'll just go with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That's been a favorite since I was a kid.

5. What is the worst film you have ever seen?

That's a hard one too. I used to work at a movie rental place for a while and we got to take home New Releases the weekend before they came out for free. So I've seen a good many horrible movies. I'd have to say The Scorpion King. Its general badness was heightened by the fact that The Mummy is a pretty enjoyable movie and while The Mummy played around with Egyptian mythology and history a bit too leniently, Scorpion King completely divorced its self from reality and common sense.

6. What would be your ultimate fictional crossover?

Harry Potter and Bleach. Hijinks and hilarity ensues.

7. What's your dream house like?

I used to think it was a castle. But now I think it's a Hobbit hole

8. Best trip you've ever taken?

Easily, the month I spent in Egypt the summer I was 17. Oh the places I went, the things I did, and the wonders I saw.

9. Got a favorite kind of cake?

I'm not much of a cake person. Though I like to get little chocolate ice cream cakes occasionally. Yum.

10. Are you sporty? What's your sport? And if you're not sporty, is there a sport you wish you were really good at?

I'm a champion at long distance chasing toddlers around.

11. What's your one hope for the future?

Only one? I'd say my primary hope is simply to live to a very old age with my family around me.

And I'm spent. That's already too much thinking for one day. So, if you comment on this post consider yourself tagged to answer the questions above (I can't think of 11 more right now.) and if you're on my blogroll consider the Kreativ Blogger Award passed your way.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Very Late to the Origins Blogfest

This is a very late entry for the Orgins Blogfest. Alas, I was not able to find the time to post this Monday, but I felt the subject worth exploring in a post all the same. So I decided to just post my entry today.

As I contemplated my origins as a writer I was forced to dwell not on authors who inspired me (Tolkien, Herbert, Powers) or my silly childhood attempts at Mary Sue fanfiction (me as a female Indiana Jones, no joke) or my desire to create something beautiful in the world... No. My origins as a writer go deeper than all of that.

The simple truth is that I began writing for the same reason that I was always a voracious reader: to escape.

This is an aspect of storytelling that is often looked down upon. And yet, it is central to humanity. There is an element of escapism in all storytelling. Whether you're escaping briefly from the grind of a desk job by coming home to a good thriller or allowing yourself to give in to the unspoken desires that daily life doesn't afford you with a steamy romance. No one has a life so perfect that they don't sometimes need to take their mind to another time and another place and life another life for a while.

Such experiences are refreshing to us. We gain renewed energy from stories and we learn things about ourselves that allow us to approach life in new and possibly better ways. The escape of a good story is essential to life.

Yet these aren't quite the reasons for my own need to escape.

It's not exactly an uncommon occurrence anymore, but you could say that I had a very bad childhood.  It involved divorce and physical and emotional abuse that has scarred me for life. I won't go into details, because that's not what this is about. Suffice to say that as a child I desperately needed an outlet for escaping my life. I was powerless in the real world. There was nothing I could do about my situation. Bur I could go somewhere else in stories and I could be someone else at least for a short time. I developed the habit of getting so deeply involved in the books I read that I tuned the rest of the world out completely. I would finish the last page, close the book, look up... and wonder where I was for a minute or two. I got lost in stories.

But eventually books weren't quite enough. I didn't only want to experience the worlds and the people and the stories that others created. I wanted to create my own as well. I wanted to create another world for myself, a world where everything was just the way I wanted it. A world where I could feel beautiful and loved and important. That's how my writing career began. I wrote terrible Mary Sue fantasy stories for years. I never took it very seriously. It was just for me, my escape.

It wasn't until I grew up and got married and had a good life that I realized that all those years of writing drivel might just have prepared me to be able to write something worthwhile for a change. I realized that I had quite a creative mind and wasn't terrible with words and maybe, just maybe I could create something lasting and beautiful. Something that could help others to escape briefly to lands of wonder and mystery. Perhaps I really could write stories that would help renew and refresh others, as so many wonderful books had done for me.

That is now my fondest dream. To create stories of beauty and truth. To bring something good into the lives of others.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What is Love?

The question of the nature of love is something of significant importance to many writers. Even those of us who do not write books where romance is central, usually cannot help but include a little of it in our stories. We have romance subplots or love interests or something of the kind. Love is too much a part of being human to avoid altogether when writing stories about people.

But what is love? Various answers are always being give in various media. Some talk about hearts skipping beats and butterflies in stomachs and call that love. Some talk about the joy of being with a certain person and call that love. Some mention loss of appetite and weak knees. Some maintain that love is not love unless there is physical passion to accompany it.

In almost every circumstance, I find the definitions of love given by books and movies and such to fall far short of what love should be. So I would offer a definition myself:

Love is putting the welfare of another person above your own. 

All those other things I listed above are either symptoms or side effects of true love. They are not the thing its self, and yet they are continually mistaken for love. And because of this, real love has largely been lost to this modern age. No one is willing to place another person's well being entirely above their own anymore. Most people don't even seem to understand the concept. 

We are all too concerned with our own pleasure and our own happiness to truly love another the way we are meant to. And we don't even realize that to do so, to love another before yourself, is the only way that lasting happiness can be achieved.

Today is Valentine's Day and popularly it is a day for making expensive and romantic gestures based around cards, candy and flowers. It is a glorification of everything superficial in romance. It is an insult to the Saint which it is named after.

You see, Saint Valentine, or Valentinus, was a Christian martyr. There is not much known about his life, but tradition says that he was a Roman priest who was condemned to death by Emperor Claudius II for aiding Christians under persecution. You see, he put the welfare of others before himself. In my opinion, that is the only kind of love worth celebrating. 

(Aside: I'm very sorry for signing up for two blogfests on Saturday and Monday and not participating. I seriously over-committed myself and ended up being too busy to post. I'll try not to do that again!)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Is it Getting Emotional in Here? Hearing Voice Pt. 3

So we come to the last day of the I'm Hearing Voices Blogfest. I've had a lot of fun writing these entries. I suppose the whole point of "voices" was that we shouldn't focus on just one character all week, but ever since writing his interview on Monday Bulsara's voice has been very strong in my head. And as I am currently trying to write his story, this has been very helpful to me. So thank you, Cassie and Angela for hosting this blogfest. It's been a great help to my writing.

Today we are to write a piece of flash fiction focusing on emotion. And yes, I will once again be featuring Bulsara. Here's your last glimpse of him until I finish his own tale:

My Dearest Bulsara,

Yesterday I heard a little songbird outside my window trilling sweetly. As I listened I soon realized that I had heard its music before. You sang it to me, the night before we parted ways. Did you develop a song from the music of the birds? Or are the birds imitating you? I doubt I shall ever know. You never did like to give your secrets away.

Do you think of me at all, I wonder? Did you shed any tears for me as I did for you? Music was ever your true love, I know, but I flatter myself that I was a distant second. Do you ever think of what we shared?

I thought I had sealed my heart away, yet still it beats. For you. It yearns to cry out “Come to me, Bulsara! My love, my own!” But I daren't. I daren't. So I do not say it, and yet the words are there between us.

Your Asteria
"What's this? Another of your conquests?" Khrusostom asked.
"No," said Bulsara in a whisper. "She's the one that got away."

Thanks to everyone who has read and commented on my posts this week and welcome to my new followers! Tomorrow I'll be posting for Rebecca Kiel's Books We Love Blogfest and it will be my one year blogiversary. How exciting!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Double the Voices, Double the Fun

Another day of the I'm Hearing Voices Blogfest. Today our task is to introduce two of our characters using strictly dialogue. I'm featuring the character Bulsara again. But while his interview on Monday would have been accurate before the events of the story I am writing, this bit of dialogue would take place after. Let me know what you think. Without further ado...

"Tonight is going to be a good night for us."

"You say that every night."

"I can feel the excitement sizzling below us, floating up through the floor boards."

"The common room is below an entirely different part of the building."

"I can hear the crowd murmuring in anticipation."


"Word of mouth has been spreading through the region. They've heard about us."

"About how we were run out of the last town after you seduced that farmer's daughter?"

"Our reputation as musicians of the highest caliber. They've heard the story of how we inspired the grim court of the Dire King to dance through the night."

"My fingers bled for days."

"And how our comic songs made the brokenhearted Princess Kana laugh for the first time in years."

"After which you promptly broke her heart again."

"They've heard the tale of my daring escape from the ravening hordes of the Formori through the power of music."

"A tale that changes every time you tell it."

"They're ready for us. They're panting for us. And we're about to give them a performance like no other."

"You are certainly a... unique performer."

"Come, Khrusostom, let us entertain!"

"I follow where you lead, Bulsara."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Oh no! I'm hearing voices!

Character is possibly my favorite aspect of Story. Sure a compelling plot is great and a well built setting is a joy, but who cares about any of that if there aren't any good characters to root for? So I've signed up for my first blogfest in some time: the I'm Hearing Voices Character Blogfest, which lasts all week. This fest is being hosted by Cassie Mae of Reading, Writing, and Lovin' It and Angie of Live to Write... Edit When Necessary

Day One has us asking one of our characters a series of rather personal questions. I've chosen to ask them of Bulsara, who is the star of the short story I'm trying to write. A little background on him first. Bulsara is one of the denizens of the fantasy world I've been building for the past year. He's a minstrel with the itch to travel and at the beginning of the story is he thousands of miles away from his homeland, in a part of the world that is so vastly different from his own that he finds he can't even get a decent job. The poor guy is a fish out of water who is about to find himself on an adventure like he's never experienced before. Let's make him even more uncomfortable, shall we?

Sit down, Bulsara, and have a drink. I've got a few questions for you. 

Thank you, my friend! Sure you wouldn't rather have a song instead?

Not today. There are some things I'm very interested to know about you. 

Ah, well, of course. I'll tell you all about myself... for another drink.

Have as many as you like. I can easily conjure them out of the air. 

Good trick. So, what can I tell you?

What is your biggest vulnerability?

Who says I have any?

You must. I created you and I know better than to make a character without any flaws.

If you must know, as a minstrel I'm a bit limited.

Limited, how?

My voice has always been my instrument. I have dedicated many years to perfecting my tone and timbre, my diction and resonance. If I may say so, mine is surely the finest voice to come out of Naqada, my home city, for at least one hundred years. And yet...


It does me no good here in this wilderness trap! I traveled to see and experience things, to improve myself and my songwriting. Now I find myself in the most dismal corner of the world and not a soul here cares that I have cultivated the most impressive vocal range for generations! They just want me to pluck or blow their primitive noise makers. Their pipes and their lutes. But I... I just can't get the hang of them. 

I see. Do others know or is it a secret?

Well, every single person who has turned me down knows, obviously. I can't get a performing job anywhere. Though if anyone from my homeland ever learned... oh, my pride. 

So perhaps the real vulnerability is your pride?

I suppose. Also women. But everyone knows that.

What do people believe about you that is false?

A better question would be what don't they believe about me that is false? I'm a minstrel. A performing bard. I am trained and paid, sometimes, to create a persona that people can believe in. A persona that excites them, that brings out their emotional responses. Who can say which parts are true and which are false? Not I. That's a secret I'll keep.

Fine. What would your best friend say is your fatal flaw?

My, my. You're really focused on the negatives aren't you? Are you sure that doesn't say more about you than me?

I'm doing the analyzing here. And I expect an answer or that mug of ale just might disappear.

You do play dirty, don't you? I like that. Well then, the truth is that I don't have a best friend. I don't really have any friends. I travel too much, you see. There's just no time to form any sort of relationship. 

I'll put down that you fail to form real attachments. Imagine then, that you do have a best friend. What do you think he or she would say is your one redeeming quality?

One? That's being a little judgmental, isn't it? I have many good qualities. But if I must restrict myself to one... I'm a good judge of people. You have to be, in my line of work. You need to be able to read the reactions of the crowd and adapt your performance to their moods. Sometimes I like to think that being a minstrel is the best job you can have if you really want to understand the human condition. People respond to music like nothing else.

Very interesting. Last two questions. What do you want most? And what would you do to get it?

What I want... Renown. I want every land and every country in this whole world to know me as the greatest minstrel of the age. I want them to tell stories of my musical prowess for generations. I want them to remember my contributions. I want my songs to be sung for centuries to come. What would I do to get it? Just about anything, I imagine. 

Thank you, Bulsara. You've been a very good subject. 

Ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. The innermost thoughts of Bulsara, minstrel extraordinaire, hopefully coming to a kindle near you very soon. Come back on Wednesday for the next post in the I'm Hearing Voices Blogfest. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

IWSG: Why I Haven't Finished a Novel

In my posts thus far for the awesome Insecure Writers Support Group, I've tried to mix discussion about worries and fears with encouragement. And I've tried to keep as much of the focus off of myself as possible. There's a very good reason for this. My insecurities could drown the world.

All right, that's sounds a bit melodramatic. But the truth is that I suffer from anxiety and depression. That probably sounds like nothing strange. Lots of people get anxious and depressed from time to time, right? Well, mine is serious enough that I have sought out medication in order to stay functional.

You see, anxiety is a strange beast and it affects everyone differently. For me, it starts with a vague, gnawing worry. Not about anything in particular. Sort of about everything in general. I can't think without worrying and seeing the negative side of everything. (I used to believe that I was a natural pessimist. Now I've realized that it was a symptom of my anxiety.)  Then it starts escalating to the point where I get so overwhelmed by the worry and the pressure that I become paralyzed by fear. I'm afraid to do anything and I'm afraid to not do anything. This heightens the anxiety and often leads to a full blown panic attack. That's one of two ways it could go. Either panic attack or bout of serious depression.

This is something I've been struggling against for years. And this is the reason that I have yet to finish writing anything.

My mind churns with ideas, there are times when I can see the stories I want to write so clearly and I get so excited, I plot, I worldbuild, I work out the details, I sit down to write and for a scene or two or three the words pour forth.... and then the anxiety kicks in. What if it's not good enough? What if it will never be good enough? Is it really interesting enough? Is it only interesting to me? Why is my prose so... blah? What happens next? OH GOD WHY CAN'T I THINK OF WHAT TO WRITE NEXT???

Cue total lock up of the cognitive and creative functions.

But some time ago I finally came to the conclusion that it was not shameful to seek out help. In fact, it was necessary if I wanted to actually be able to function normally and achieve my goal of publishing.

That's my story. It's not an excuse. It's a message to anyone else out there that suffers anything similar that you don't have to try to overcome it alone. You don't have to deal with it yourself. It's not shameful to seek out help. You're not the only one.