Friday, April 29, 2011

Still More about Book Covers

Barry Eisler was sorely aggrieved this week by the cover his French publisher put on one of his books. Most of us have thoughts about our covers. Few of us utter them, for fear of annoying our publishers, who believe they know best. For most of us, no cover can be as attractive as the book inside, any more than a baby bunting can be as attractive as the baby.

Still, there are good covers and bad covers. My own feeling is that a good book cover is like a good poster.

First of all it should be clearly legible, if nothing else. Believe it or not, this is not true of all posters or book covers. The cover of Barry Eisler's book is at least clearly legible. His French fans will pick it up even though the color is yucky and the artwork conveys no sense of excitement, because his name is on it in large print.

Some wildly successful posters, like this one for a Cream concert at the Fillmore East, cannot be read and understood unless you are stoned out of your gourd. But, whaddya want, that was the sixties.

Secondly, after legibility, posters and book covers should convey a sense of what is on offer. Barry Eisler's book cover fails in this respect, although some say that the French like their book covers deadly dull. The French are said to be an excitable race, after all; it may be that the sight of a garage door and a couple of security cameras on the cover of a book can drive a Frenchman half-mad with anticipation.

Drama is good, if the book is meant to be dramatic. Lovers kissing, killers murdering, dead bodies lying there like a lox, noble cowboys preparing to face the challenges of the West; just as a poster should entice you to go see the show, a book cover should entice you to pick up the book.

We like to think that a poster or a cover would also be reasonably truthful in its enticements. This lurid cover was probably not what Elizabeth Barrett Browning had in mind when she penned her Sonnets from the Portuguese, but, hey,  somebody at Random House liked it.

Third, a good poster (and by extension a good book cover) should be visually simple. Or so my high school art teacher, Mrs. Bockius, used to say. Rest her soul, she didn't live to experience posters from the Fillmore East. I can't imagine what she would have made of them.

I could do a whole other post on spines. The spine of a book might be all that most people ever see of it. What do you go for, when you reach for a book's spine?

Kate Gallison

Monday, April 25, 2011

Not Just Bunnies and Jellybeans

When my children were small they were always losing things -- a shoe, a toy, their homework (like I do now). And I would always chant absently, my familiar refrain, “Don’t worry, it’ll turn up.”

One Good Friday I was shopping with my youngest daughter, Anne. She was five or six at the time. And we passed a church. The door was open, lovely music was pouring out, and I thought piously, Anne should know that Easter isn’t just about bunnies and jellybeans. I decided to stop in for a few minutes, as you are allowed to do on Good Friday. After we had been in the pew, listening to the minister, for about ten minutes, I guess I looked a little depressed. (Good Friday tends to do that to me). Suddenly, Anne leaned over and whispered, “Don’t worry, Mommy, He’ll turn up.”

That night I called our minister, who was also an old friend, and told him the anecdote. He had a good chuckle.

On Easter Sunday as we approached our church all decked out in our Easter best, I glanced at the placard near the front door. The title of the sermon read, “He’ll Turn Up!”

On the way in, the minister’s wife took me aside and said, “He stayed up late last night revising his sermon.” Then she winked and said, “This one’s much better.”

Robin Hathaway

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Covers: Legibility for Low Vision Readers

For those of you keen-eyed young folks who may find yourself designing covers for large print books for weak-eyed old folks, an excellent resource is the site maintained by Lighthouse International, an organization dedicated to fighting vision loss through prevention, treatment and empowerment. Readable book covers are part of the empowerment that the Lighthouse fosters. The Lighthouse's site explains the principles of accessible type design -- not only what looks good, but what a low-vision person, the sort who reads large-print books, might actually be able to see, even to read.

The Lighthouse offers ten rules for making text legible:

  1. Text should be printed with the highest possible contrast. (Black and white is recommended, but colors can be effectively contrasted; see the Lighthouse's instructions for effective color contrast.
  2. Type color is important for achieving contrast.
  3. Point size: Type should be large.
  4. Leading, or spacing between lines of text, should be at least 25 to 30 percent of the point size.
  5. Avoid complicated, decorative or cursive fonts. Condensed fonts are less effective.
  6. A roman typeface, using upper and lower cases, is more readable than italics, oblique or condensed.
  7. Text with close letter spacing often presents difficulties for readers who are partially sighted.
  8. Extra-wide binding margins are especially helpful in bound material because it makes it easier to hold the volume flat.
  9. Paper with a glossy finish can lessen legibility because many people who are older or who have partial sight also have problems with glare.
  10. distinctive colors, sizes and formats on the covers can make it easier to find a book or other document that is buried among similar publications.

If you think about it, these rules make perfect sense, the more so if you're over forty and have begun to notice vision changes. The book cover above was the cover that the large-print book publisher put on Irene Fleming's first book, The Edge of Ruin. The lady's face is sort of pretty but the text is nearly illegible.  I can't imagine anyone with low vision pulling this off the shelf. It's mighty hard for them to see.

Kate Gallison (Irene Fleming)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Don’t Know Much About History

Today I move over and make space for a new and up-coming mystery writer, J.J. Murphy, a fellow Mystery Writers of America/New York Chapter member. J.J. is an award-winning health care writer in Pennsylvania. After the birth of twin daughters, as an escape from toddler television, he started writing MURDER YOUR DARLINGS, a historical mystery set in New York City in the Roaring 20s. Dorothy Parker finds a dead body under the famed Algonquin Round Table. Along with her best friend Robert Benchley and other members of the Round Table, they have to find the murderer — preferably before cocktail hour — and before the killer turns the tables on them.

I can attest that the first in his Roundtable Mysteries is witty, face-paced, and lots of fun.
— Annamaria Alfieri

History was one of my worst subjects in school. So, it’s comical that I’m now writing a series of historical mysteries. (Then again, it’s not only a historical mystery series, it’s also a comical mystery series. I guess it all works out.)

Still, I’m not talking about the history you might associate with musty schoolbooks and boring high school quizzes. No confusing Spanish explorers, such as De Soto and De Leon. (One of them searched for the Fountain of Youth, and one of them was the name of a car.)

The history I’m talking about is Prohibition-era New York City. The Roaring 20s. The Jazz Age. Flappers, bootleggers, speakeasies and Tin Lizzies. (Lots more fun than the Treaty of Ghent, right?) The people I’m talking about are acid-tongued writer Dorothy Parker and her fellow editor Robert Benchley. They were two founding members of the famed Algonquin Round Table — a group of quick-witted writers and editors who gathered daily for lunch at New York’s Algonquin Hotel.

I’m really enjoying this history. And I love it most when the past intersects with the present. Here’s my favorite historical factoid: One of Dorothy Parker’s favorite speakeasies was a place called Tony Soma’s. It was located on a quiet street of brownstone townhouses in midtown Manhattan. Tony’s and all the surrounding houses were knocked down to make way for Rockefeller Center. So today, you can almost draw a straight line between the humor of Dorothy Parker and that of Tina Fey at “30 Rock.”

And a bonus factoid: Tony Soma was the grandfather of Academy Award-winning actress Anjelica Huston (on her mother’s side).

For me, I guess the old saying holds true: Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it. Now I’m happy to repeat it to anyone who’ll listen. Just don’t ask me who discovered the Hudson River. (I’m joking, of course. It was De Soto.)

— J.J. Murphy


Monday, April 18, 2011

Letting Go…

. . . of your characters is not easy. Right now I’m working on my first stand-alone novel, Trace. Until now, I’ve always written series novels, and I’m experiencing a strange sensation. I’m reluctant to let my characters go. The reason is—I know this time it will be for good. There will be no second or third book in which we will meet again and share new adventures. This makes me sad. There are at least three characters who I’ve become fond of and I keep thinking up new chapters to write because I don’t want the book to end. This is not good, because the book is getting too long, and everyone knows short books are in. Have other writers had this experience? Do they miss their characters, like old friends, when they are gone?

The three characters I like best are: Eric Palmer, a widowed orthopedic surgeon and single parent; Benjamin, his ten-year-old son; and Gertrude Bloom, his mother-in-law (Ben’s grandmother). These three form a family, of sorts, in which irritation, exasperation, admiration, and love mix in equal parts.

Eric is trying to fill the role of two parents while pursuing a demanding career; Gertrude, helps out, but her well-meaning efforts sometimes look like butting in; Ben blithely lives his life, unaware that he is an object of concern to his father and grandmother Of course, Eric also has two women interested in him—a social worker and a police chief--but I’m not as fond of them (I’d rather keep him to myself.)

Now, the fact that I like these people is no guarantee that other people will—my readers, for example. I can only hope. But, if they do, I suppose I could turn a stand-alone into a series, if there was a demand—that is. Who knows?

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kick-Ass Women On the Case

I participated as a panelist at my first ever Book Festival/Conference/Convention two Saturdays ago, and I liked it. It was called the Second Annual Empire State Book Festival and, as you might guess, it was held in Albany, my new hometown. According to the press release, 2,000 people crowded into the underground caverns beneath the Empire Plaza (the space is called ‘the Convention Center, but in no danger of competing for business with the Jacob Javits Center in my former hometown). But enough caviling; I was grateful to be picked as a panelist.

Our subject was “Kick-Ass Women On the Case: Female Detectives in Fiction” and the room was packed. We were: the always-witty, best-selling, globe-trotting S. J. Rozan (just off a plane from Tokyo where she was honored with the Japanese version of our Edgar); popular Chatham novelist, Julia Pomeroy; the well-reviewed Kinderhook author and UAlbany Professor Hollis Seamon; our Moderator, the Woodstock Editor/Anthologist Michele Slung who over the years has handled all the greats in the mystery field; and myself (new to Albany, late of the City). I once told a Judge up here that I was from The City, and you know his next question: what city? Duh!

I had the distinction of being the only male appearing with these estimable women authors. Although, to be candid, that had more to do with my having invented the panel and chosen the panelists and, with the indispensable help of Hollis Seamon, sold the idea to the Librarian-in-Charge. The Festival, like last year’s, was the brainchild of the New York Library Association, and the participants, I assume, selected by librarians.

Now, I love libraries and librarians, but their choice of marquee names as Keynote speakers to draw the crowds left me a bit cold. I don’t doubt that Roseanne Cash (Johnny’s daughter) has written a fine memoir, and Ann M. Martin, best-selling Children’s Book author, is equally good. In fact, Ms. Martin’s recent novel, “A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray” won the ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award. Last May 2nd, however, the keynoters were the novelist/memoirist Mary Gordon and the fantasy writer Gregory Maguire, the author of ‘Wicked”, the runaway best-seller described by John Updike as ‘an amazing novel’. A bigger crowd as I remember. But maybe the librarians are trying to level the playing field: they don’t advertise in advance of the Event . . . ever.

Yet, I really have no cause to complain. I sold books. My friends at Blackwood & Brouwer Booksellers, Kinderhook, had brought along the twelve hardcover copies of my out-of-print novel that had been a drug on their market.

Robert Knightly

Friday, April 15, 2011

Social Media: The Next Bubble?

I sat down at the breakfast table this morning and booted Twitter on the Macbook. As the familiar cerulean page came up I found myself facing that eternal question: What the @#$% am I doing on Twitter? Why am I writing two blogs a week, free for nothing, when I could be working on my next book, the book my agent is waiting for, the book my readers are waiting for, all three of them, book one of a thrilling new series whose name I won't even make public for fear someone will steal this terrific title before my book comes out?

And, lo, there in the Twittersphere was the answer. Someone had tweeted a link to a blog post entitled "4 social media lessons from the world of book publishing." Eagerly I opened the page and began to read. Now I would find out what I was doing on Twitter.

The first thing that occurred to me was that social media is a career now. An industry, even. The publicity department of one of my own publishing houses employs a social media expert full time. That's her job. Social media. It pays her a good living. It pays a good living to the people who put the social media blogs together. The social media advice books, maybe not so much. Books, you know.

So here we have yet another instance of the American economy sliding into the production of nothing but services, which is to say the production of nothing. Social media is a bubble. It is the real estate boom of the twenty-first century. The social media experts sell you the means to make hundreds of artificial friends, very few of whom will actually say hello to you on the street, meet you for lunch in Doylestown, bring you a casserole when you get out of the hospital, show up at your signing, your wedding, or your funeral, tell you when you have spinach on your teeth, or stand by you in times of real trouble.

But the blog looked slick, maybe even helpful to folks who buy the concept. So I retweeted the link to the post. I could tell you what the four handy tips were, but I would have to charge you money.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Covers

Publishers get to choose, not writers. Sometimes we are happy, sometimes not. Except for folks like James Patterson and Mary Higgins Clark, authors have little, if anything to say about book cover design.

I was thrilled when saw the original cover for City of Silver. I had dreamed what it might be many times. During the long years of looking for an agent for the book and then waiting while it worked its way through the publication process, I imagined what the published book would look like. I had the cover of a favorite history used in my research in my mind's eye. The final design for the novel surpassed all my expectations. It was totally beautiful to me, perhaps because it was my first novel. But it really is a lovely physical specimen of a book. (By the way, its interior is also a knockout. The front pages and the chapter beginnings are all designed to look like a seventeenth century book. What a gorgeous touch!)

When Felony and Mayhem Press acquired the paperback rights, they thought the original cover too staid for what they considered a lively story. They decided to replace it with a cover they thought did the story justice. When I first saw the new design, it was so different from its predecessor, I was nonplussed. But everyone I asked liked it a lot. This week I announced that the paperback will launch on April 16. I presented the new cover and asked readers to weigh in on their reactions. Only one person said she preferred the original. Others liked both. Marjorie Weiss, a dear friend who is also an accomplished and successful artist, offered this opinion, "Loved the cover of the hardcover, but the paperback is equally beautiful and alluring."

This issue is not confined to fiction. My nonfiction went through similar choices. Never Work for a Jerk started with a jackass in a business suit, a splendid choice in my estimation. But the paperback publisher thought it, guess what, staid. They came up with something much more lively. The foreign rights publishers had their own ideas. I just LOVE the elegant Japanese version.

Only once did I try to influence what a book looked like. Both my agent and I tried our very best to put the kibosh on the cover for my latest nonfiction book: Monster Boss. Except for the fake tear, it looks to me like the cover of procedures manual on water heater repair.

Do you think a book's cover influences sales? Does cover design make a difference in what you buy?

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, April 11, 2011

Library Memories

Recently I confided to a friend that I was stumped for a topic for my next blog. She came up with a magic word. “Libraries. Why don’t you write about your library experiences?” Needless to say, I started musing on this subject and was amazed at how much I remembered.

I have no memory of my first library card. This was because when I was six my parents bought a house that came complete with a library. The old doctor who had lived there with his wife had left their library intact, complete with most of the Harvard Classics and an enormous encyclopedia (which I still have). Also, my mother was a great reader. Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope were her favorites, but she usually managed to get her hands on the latest fiction, too. So you see, I had no need to go to a library.

However, there were two libraries at my school: The Children’s Library, where I discovered The Boxcar Children, the first and best of that series. It had a battered orange cover and was illustrated with black silhouettes. The Friend's Free Library, also connected to the school, was strictly non-fiction, and where my friends and I used to gather down in the basement and read The Kinsey Report. Hot stuff in 1945!

The next library I remember was the Morgan Library where I had my first glimpse of a Jane Austen manuscript. Mansfield Park, I believe it was. Her neat, cursive handwriting inscribed in a lined copybook was a marvel. Did she never cross anything out or make a mistake? It seemed not.

Then there was the 3rd floor room in the New York Public Library and an exhibit of original manuscripts and first editions of the works of romantic British poets. The most thrilling was a first edition of “The Ancient Mariner” in which Coleridge had made a correction in ink in his own hand. In the line, “The horned Moon, with one bright star within the nether tip,“ he had changed “the” to “its,” and the black ink, because of its iron content, had turned a glossy copper. Oh, my!

Once my husband and I did a tour of towns with old libraries. The one I remember best was at Milford, Pennsylvania, on the Delaware River. The building was stone, solid, and gray on the outside, but inside the sun slanted through the windows, catching the dust motes, filling the interior with a golden, gossamer haze. I headed for the Children’s section because I love old children’s books. The stacks were open, and what a treasure trove I found. Copies of St. Nicholas, Chatterbox, fairy-tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham, A Child’s Garden of Verses illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith, and Treasure Island, illustrated by N. C. Wyeth. I could have browsed all day, reliving my childhood, dreaming old dreams.

Robin Hathaway

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Charming Appearance of the Surface of Things

Adam Weiss
(played by John Gilbert)
Those of you who have read The Edge of Ruin may have noticed that Emily Weiss's husband, Adam, is something of a rotter. I got an argument over that from Dr. Art, my chiropractor, who felt that Adam's consistent neglect of his wife was the sort of thing most men engaged in back then, one, and two, he was a hard-charging entrepreneur, and could hardly be faulted for putting all his energies into his nascent moving picture business. Don't you love it when one of your characters comes so completely to life that people feel compelled to gossip about him?

I, too, feel that Adam is a real person, although I hasten to add he is no person that I've ever known in life. Rather he is the personification of selfishness, or of the Selfish Man, a character well known to many women of my acquaintance. A whole book club full of women accepted Adam as a typical man the other day. "Yes," one of them said, "They're all like that."

I wouldn't go that far. I know lots of good men. Harold, for example, is a perfect sweetie. Dr. Art is the nicest fella you ever want to meet, even though he comes to Adam's defense. And I know many more excellent men, just in Lambertville alone. But you do have to wonder, or the women in the book club had to wonder, why Emily stayed with this man who treated her so inconsiderately.

Emily Daggett Weiss
(played by Billie Burke)
And stay with him she did, for another five years, until the opening of the next book in the series (The Brink of Fame, available in August of this year). Well, as I explained to the book club women, those were busy years. The couple were building their business, both of them working very hard. And it was, as I mentioned, the moving picture business. Physical beauty, the glossy surface of things, is what the movie industry concerns itself with, and being a movie person Emily loved physical beauty. She loved Adam for his beauty, not looking too deeply into his character or examining too closely the way he treated her.

This is what young women do. Women who are older, like the book club women, develop intelligence, or at least a sense of self-preservation, so that they will take a kind man with plain looks over a handsome rotter. So there you have it, children, my sermon of the week. Remain alert and marry late. And if you want to know what Emily did when the scales finally fell from her eyes, read The Brink of Fame. You can pre-order it from Amazon if you like.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Crime in O'Keefe Country

Left Coast Crime is my favorite mystery writers' conference. This could be just because of timing: At Bouchercon 2009, as a newly-minted author of fiction, I got to participate in a round-robin speed dating event, presenting my book 12 times in minute-and-a-half spurts to twelve tables of potential readers. I attended panels, which I enjoyed very much but otherwise, frankly, the throngs of strangers intimidated me. I felt like a dope doing so but wound up spending a lot of time alone in my room working on my next book. A few months later, at last year's Left Coast, knowing better what to expect, I was able to participate more fully and finally found last month's LCC most collegial and lots of fun.

Location may also have something to do with my preference. Bouchercon 2009 took place in Indianapolis, a town my lawyer calls Indian-No-Place. Though I revere it as the birthplace of a literary god--Kurt Vonnegut, it seemed unwelcoming. (That could have been me, I admit.) LCC, in LA last year and in Santa Fe this, was, by contrast friendly and warm.

A HUGE benefit of LCC being in Santa Fe was a chance to visit the home and studio of Georgia O’Keefe in Abiquiu, to see the landscape that inspired her, and to see her works in the O’Keefe Museum. She claimed that her paintings were not abstract, but accurate renderings of the places around her, which seemed disingenuous until I saw what she saw; thrilling visions of Mother Earth dressed for the high desert. My photos of New Mexico that accompany this post in no way capture the striking nature of that terrain, any more than seeing a photo of the Empire State Building reproduces the effect of standing on Fifth Avenue next to it and looking up.

O’Keefe’s paintings impressed me before, but my appreciation for them quadrupled after seeing them in the context of her chosen environment.

Annamaria Alfieri

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hey, Sue THIS, Pal!

Today we welcome E. J. Copperman, the author of the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series, including Night of the Living Deed and An Uninvited Ghost, published April 5 by Berkley Prime Crime.

Well, this just about cuts it.

Apparently, a man who worked at Elie Tahari stores in Manhattan is suing the company for $2-million. Sexual harassment, you think? Refutation of collective bargaining rights? Discrimination against him for race, gender or sexual orientation?

Nah. He wants his $2-million because (avert your eyes if you have trouble dealing with cruelty and brutality) he was transferred out of his Manhattan store to work in . . . New Jersey.

"It was the smog. It was depressing driving to Jersey," The New York Post reported the plaintiff as saying. "The traffic was horrendous on Route 4, and they are pretty bad drivers. The stores are kind of cheesy for the most part. New York City has everything when it comes to fashion, especially Saks. And when it comes to styling, let's just say Jersey is difficult. Fashion it is not! . . . Mentally, I just started going crazy (editor’s note: Is there another way to go crazy?). I had a breakdown. I was crying to my partner. Depression set in. I couldn't go to work anymore. I'm presently seeing a psychologist and [I'm] on Zoloft."

By that type of mathematics, I am currently owed at least $16-billion. I’ve lived and worked in the Garden State all my life.

We here in America’s punchline have had to endure quite a bit. We have to pay tolls to get out of our state, but it’s free to come back. We live in the shadow of a governor who is beloved by everyone outside the state, and whose first targets upon entering office were schoolteachers and librarians. We are considered by the general populace to live in a toxic waste dump run by the mob.

One word: Snooki.

And now this. Apparently Thomas Horodecki has filed suit against his former employer because he suffered “mental anguish” when transferred to my home state. New Yorkers claim to be the mentally toughest population in the country, but this guy is on Zoloft because he had to come to the place where I’ve spent the last 53 years without so much as one panic attack?

Apparently, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere—except in New Jersey.

I know; you’re wondering what all this has to do with my new Haunted Guesthouse Mystery novel, An Uninvited Ghost. I can understand that. If I were you, I’d be wondering about that myself. But there is a connection, and I can prove it. I’m pretty sure.

An Uninvited Ghost (being published TODAY!) is the second in the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series, which follows Alison Kerby, divorced mother of ten-year-old Melissa, who decides to open a guesthouse on the Jersey shore only to find that the place is—you guessed it—haunted by two ghosts, Paul and Maxie. In the first book, Night of the Living Deed, Alison helped solve the two ghosts’ murders, and now she’s gotten herself a private investigator license, which she intends never to use.

But Paul has other plans. He talks to Scott McFarlane, another ghost, who thinks he might have unintentionally and unwittingly have harmed an octogenarian philanthropist and beloved figure in Harbor Haven, Alison’s hometown. Scott’s not sure what happened exactly, because he’s blind, and has been since sometime in the 1920s.

Hang on; I’m getting there.

Things get complicated when the crew of Down the Shore, a reality TV show, invades Alison’s home to film its new season. And that, dear reader, is where the whole anti-Jersey sentiment gets, let’s say, a gentle ribbing in the book.

That’s as much plot as I’ll give away (it’s only $7.99—or less—to buy the whole thing). Suffice it to say, those who think certain “reality” shows depict what life truly is here in my home state might want to rethink their positions after reading the book.

Call it the message beneath the story.

Don’t think, though, that this is an “issue” book. An Uninvited Ghost is there to tickle the mystery solving part of your brain, and perhaps to hand you a laugh or two. Okay, hopefully more than one or two.

But if, while you’re trying to figure out who done it (and perhaps who done what), and hopefully having a couple of chuckles, maybe you’ll think—just a tiny bit—about my home state, which has given you Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Zach Braff, both Abbott and Costello, Eva Marie Saint, Ernie Kovacs, Nathan Lane, Frank Langella, Queen Latifah, Jason Alexander and Dionne Warwick.

Perhaps then we can put all those Jersey jokes—and ridiculous lawsuits—to rest. But probably not.

E. J. Copperman

Monday, April 4, 2011

Serendipity and the Writer

This word has always fascinated me. I finally located its source in a Persian fairy-tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip.” There once were three princes from Serendip (also known as Shri-Lanka) who set out to find something and always found something they weren’t looking for. After reading this tale, Horace Walpole, a British literary figure of the 1700s, coined the word “serendipity”, meaning, according to Webster, “an assumed gift for finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”

Examples of this gift are many, especially among scientists. Sir Alexander Fleming, the bacteriologist, discovered penicillin while looking for something entirely different. It was his powers of observation and the preparedness of his mind gained through his work that enabled him to notice that a certain mold had a deleterious effect on bacteria. Another less dramatic example of serendipity was the employee at Procter & Gamble who mixed up the formula for Ivory Soap and caused it to float. He was criticized for his mistake and probably fired, but another employee realized that this attribute would be an asset to the product, and the company has been making hay out of it (er…soap) ever since.

But how can serendipity help the writer? That is the question I asked myself. This is what I came up with.

A writer has an idea for a book. He or she begins to write. As he writes in one direction, he bumps into an idea that takes him in another direction. The new direction is an improvement over the old. But the writer would never have run into the new direction if he hadn’t started out in the old direction. In other words, you have to take action—travel, work or write before you can benefit from serendipity. You can’t sit around in a vacuum and do nothing. You have to begin the journey before you can stumble on a new or better direction.

The reason Fleming was able to notice the beneficial effect of the mold  was because he had a prepared mind, honed by hours working in the laboratory. He had enough knowledge and experience to recognize and understand what was going on in that Petri dish. Another person might not have. As writers we also have to have prepared minds. We have to know the language, have the vocabulary and the writing skills to make use of the new idea when we stumble on it. We have to understand that even though we didn’t plan it that way—it wasn’t in our outline or our synopsis—we should grab it, and use it, to make a better book.

Robin Hathaway

Friday, April 1, 2011

More about Shoes

Inspired by a discussion on Facebook, I put up a post on my personal blog page last Monday musing and meditating on shoes. Shoes I have known, and shoes I have desired. Sounds almost like blogging about men, doesn't it? Actually there are parallels, if you think about it. Not for nothing do we say, "So-and-so is as comfortable as an old shoe." And we all know men who are desperately attractive, but we don't want them because we know they will hurt us too much.

But I digress. I was talking about shoes. One of the Facebook friends mentioned Fluevogs and included a link. Naturally I followed it. I was truly impressed.

The Fluevog people will not only sell you the shoes, they will sell you parts for the shoes. These babies are built to last for many seasons. The Toyota of shoes. Replace the lifts, change the points and plugs and you're good to go for another 3,000 miles. Do Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo do that? I don't think so. By the time their soles and lifts wear out they're out of style, either that or you've fallen off them and turned your ankle, so that you vow to wear nothing but Birkenstocks for the rest of your life, and the hell with Anna Wintour.

I'm tempted. Fluevogs are a bit pricey, but they're about two-thirds of what you'd pay for Chie Mihara shoes, my other secret lust. I ask myself: do they pass the Life Test? Could I stand up in them and sing in the church choir for two hours? Could I keep smiling through a three-hour cocktail party? Could I get them on and off easily in an airport security line? Could I run from one terminal to another fast enough to make my connection?

Of course they're cute. Kinky, in a comfortable way. It might be that I'd want to spend time with them for years to come. Kind of like my man, come to think of it.

Kate Gallison