Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Is Cursive Handwriting Doomed For Extinction?

I was one of those wicked homeschool moms -- albeit snappily dressed -- who forced her kids to learn cursive. Yeah, I know. Children today will enter a workforce that's more than ever dependent upon typing and texting, so why bother with the little curly-ques and sweeping lines of cursive? Why can't people just write in block letters and call it good enough?

Because to me it's the death of a skill that requires hand/eye coordination and involves a bit of thought. . . and that's what separates us from the apes, folks. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the simian flu virus. In that case, never mind.

Back to cursive. Why am I taking a stand on this debate? Because, duh, I'm a writer. I write in cursive. Well, not entire manuscripts anymore, but I used to. This issue is near and dear to my heart (yes indeed, I do have one). I'm on a mission to shed some light on this often maligned art form.

5 REASONS WHY CURSIVE IS CRUCIAL

1. It connects us to the past.
Okay, so not everything about the past is romantic. No toilet paper. Lack of potable water. And for crying out loud, Pop Tarts hadn't even been invented yet. But, like it or not, cursive writing links us to a heritage that would be impossible to read first-hand if one were not able to decipher such script. Most historical American documents are written in cursive. Deal with it.

2. Cursive develops motor skills.
No, I'm not talking idiot drivers who cut you off because they happen to think they own the freaking road. Cursive writing requires and uses different hand muscles than printing, which in turn activates a different part of the brain. It's all scientificky and neural and other goofy-butt Latin terminology.

3. You can capture thoughts faster.
A professor at the University of Washington, Virginia Berninger, PhD, reports findings that elementary-aged children wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand vs. with a keyboard. I could've told you that, but I don't have any letters after my name so this is way more valid.

4. Disabilities are disabled.
Because cursive letters vary in shape much more than block letters, this gives dyslexic students other options to learn language in a different format. 'Nuff said.

5. You'll stomp on the competition at Spelling Bees.
In the earliest grades, handwriting is linked to reading and spelling achievement. When children learn how to form letters, they are also learning its sound. It's like a complete package deal, dude.

I'm not saying we need to go back to the dark ages with quill pens and bottles of ink. Way too messy, plus I'll never part with my handy dandy G3. But let's keep cursive alive and well, or we won't be able to mock doctors handwriting anymore.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Are You a Re-Reader?

“To quote French author Francois Mauriac, ‘Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are’ is true enough, but I’d know you better if you told me what you reread.” 

 ~ Sarah Wendell, American author and reviewer

Do you ever re-read a book? Sometimes when I admit this out loud, I get the same reaction as if I'd said, "I haven't washed my underpants in three weeks." Yep. That combination slack-jawed frowny face type of look. But come on, folks, I can't be the only freak out there.

Turns out I'm not. In fact, there's an entire page on Goodreads devoted to books recommend to re-read. What's up with that? With all the bajillions of books out on the market, why pull an oldie off the shelf?

One study based on interviews in the U.S. and New Zealand reveals that a 'second run' (techno term for rereading a book) can offer "profound emotional benefits." But that warm and fuzzy feeling isn't the only reason why people pick up a title for the second or third time. . .

TOP 5 REASONS TO RE-READ A BOOK

1. To Run Away
Everyone needs to press the eject button now and then and escape from a nose-diving schedule. When you open a favorite book, it's like running away to Happy Land because you know exactly what will happen with characters you feel safe with. . . which can be the polar opposite of reality.

2. The Movie Version is About to Hit Theaters
You remember loving the story, but you want to make sure you don't sound like an idiot when you tell your buddies how Hollywood got it all wrong. Think of this as the research approach to re-reading.

3. It's Tradition
My girls, though they're now in their twenties, still read The Christmas Puppy every Christmas Eve. It's for preschoolers. Sheesh. But they can't have a proper Christmas unless they read it together.

4. Go Deeper
Maybe you missed a theme the first time around. Even if you didn't, there are always nuances and things you didn't notice before because guess what . . . you're older. You're not the same reader you were the first go around. You're bound to get something different out of a re-read.

5. You Don't Like a Particular Author's New Style
Writers change over time, but that doesn't mean you'll like the changes. Some fans are die-hard, old school, gotta-have-the-same-old-same-old. And that's okay.

Some of my favorite titles to re-read are Jane Eyre, Lisa Mangum's Hourglass Door series, Robin Hardy's Streiker's Bride trilogy and L.A. Kelly's Tahn books. What are some of yours?


Monday, July 28, 2014

What Makes a Book Cover Good?

I've been thinking a lot about book covers lately, mostly because I don't want to think about balancing my checkbook.

So . . . what in the world makes a great looking book cover? A hunky shirtless guy with six-pack abs? A Picasso type of abstraction that makes people go, "hmmm?" Bright colors? Or a minimalist look because our world is crazy enough as is? No, really, have you been on Drudge lately? Seriously cray-cray.

Sorry for the whiplash. Back to covers. Design is subjective, but that doesn't mean there aren't some basic principles to consider when choosing a front for your book . . .
The cover must communicate what the book is about AND what it's like.
Text and graphics need to deliver a message (either subliminally or all-up-in-your-business) that clues readers in to what is contained on the inside pages. The cover should suggest the tone, mood and narrative quality.

A book's front plays a critical role in giving a book an identity different from the crowd.
Thousands upon thousands of new titles hit the shelves every year. To stand out from the rest, a fresh cover has to reach out and grab a reader by the throat.

A great book cover evokes emotion.
Whether through color, design, or typography, a potential buyer should "feel" something when they set their eyeballs on the cover of a book -- and hopefully that's not nausea. Oh yeah, and a cover's only got about a second to do that.

Don't make the reader work.
If the font is too fancy and frilly, a reader isn't going to take the time to decipher it, no matter how cute you think it is. If it's too small and they have to squint, nope. That won't work either.

The spine is the backbone of your book.
An equal amount of attention should be given to the spine. Think about it. How many books are displayed with their covers fully exposed on a shelf? Most are crammed in there with only the spine showing, hence the importance of an easy-to-read yet stunning spine.

Think big AND small.
When shoppers are perusing books online, they're probably going to see only a very small picture of the cover--an inch tall, if you're lucky. That one inch better be bright and legible or yours will be the one a reader skips over.

Think of the cover of a book as an entrant in a beauty contest. There are plenty of gorgeous covers out there. What will make yours different?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mailman Dog Biscuits Anyone?


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tidbit: Endorsements


You know those sweet little this-is-the-best-book-I've-ever-read kind of comments that are usually found on the first few pages of a book? Or sometimes highlighted on the front or back cover? Yeah, those are endorsements. Marketers figure that if famous people have something nice to say about a book that it will sell like crazy-go-nuts. So . . .  guess what I'm doing this week.

Yep. I'm knocking on cyber doors with my puppy dog eyes and fluttering lashes trying to scare up some big names to endorse Brentwood's Ward. It's not as tough as it sounds.  I simply sent out email queries to authors that write in the same genre. Some of them I know. Others not at all. I've had years of experience with rejection, so a big fat "No" or a "Get lost" doesn't make me all teary eyed.

The thing that really ramps up my emotions is when someone asks me to read their book for endorsement, I do, and then I discover I really don't like the story. That's tough. Should I put my stamp of approval onto mediocre writing? How will the author feel if I admit I think their book is a stinker? Why is it easier to take rejection than to dish it out?

Here's a word of advice next time you have to humbly ask someone for potential words of praise: let them know ahead of time that it's okay if they don't want to, even after they've read it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#MeMyShelfandI

Psst . . . hey buddy! Want to win a hundred dollar gift card to Half Price Books? No need to slip into a trench coat or hang out in dark alleys. All you have to do is snap a pic of your bookshelf with our without a selfie. Here's mine:


Okay, so that wasn't really a selfie. Cut me some slack. I only have a stupid phone so I had to yank a teenager off the street who had a phone with a real camera.

So the deal is that you show off your bookshelf anytime between now and August 4th, 2014 by submitting your "shelfie" on social media. Here are the full details:
  • Follow Half Price Books on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram
  • Upload a photo of your bookshelf, (with or without self-portrait) showcasing your collection (books/music/movies/collectibles)
  • For Twitter & Instagram users, entrant must mention @HalfPriceBooks and use the hashtag #MeMyShelfandI within a photo caption
  • For Facebook, users must post photo directly to the Half Price Books wall, using the hashtag #MeMyShelfandI within the photo caption
If you'd like to know more, you can always go directly to Half Price Books.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Just Because You're Buddy Buddy With Oprah . . .

I recently read in a HuffPo article that New York publishers don't really give a flying rat about the crafting of words inside a book but are more interested in the crafting of a marketing plan for the dang thing. That it's not really about how great of a writer you are, it's about how big your tribe is and how much moolah they'll pocket because of your potential to reach out to that tribe.

Yeah. I get it. They're corporations and making money is why and how they stay in business. But should quality suffer because of that? Do the ends justify the means? Is it fair to shove fourth-class books down readers throats just because the author has a first-class media presence?

Uh . . . a big fat resounding unh-unh. I don't think so, Hoss. Leastwise not in the perfect world I want to live in.

I submit that great writing, consistently put out in the public realm, will eventually rise to the top. It may take 10, 20, 40 years or more for that to happen. The author may well be mouldering in his grave before it happens. But it will happen.

As for the other writing, that which is pumped out because of a current market, I doubt that any of those books have the potential to become classics.

Time will tell, of course. But I'm confident enough to bet an iced caramel macchiato on this issue. Any takers?