Regarding Intentions

Photo courtesy of psychicdonut.com

One of the classic but seldom mentioned quirks of human nature is that we can’t read the intentions or thoughts of others, yet expect those same people to perfectly understand every nuance and twist of whatever we mean to say or do. I am probably ten times more guilty of this than you are, but it affects everyone to one degree or another. We expect to be understood, then make up our minds about someone regarding their words and deeds.

My latest example of this double standard involves another writer, who has published a series of novels. He is understandably frustrated that a number of reviewers are calling the series “Christian fiction,” even though he wanted it to be accessible to non-religious people. Given how it’s normally just Christians who read books with that label, this would be a legitimate gripe…if he hadn’t let it get published under the “Christian” section of a large publishing house. In his dissertation-length explanation to someone else who pointed out the reason why his books are being called religious, his best excuse is that he and the publisher intended to give readers a book that all people, Christian and otherwise, could appreciate. But we all know what the road to Hell is paved with.

Obviously there is that whole “splinter in your neighbor’s eye, a plank in your own” situation to look out for. I fell into the same trap when I developed a harsh and glowering attitude toward him, thinking Well, maybe he should realize that others won’t care about his intentions if the label turns them away from his books! What an idiot. Why didn’t he just go with another publisher? Of course, this isn’t a very charitable thought to have about another human being. And I should realize more often that I can’t read minds, and I never know the whole situation. Maybe something else happened that I didn’t know of — his agent zealously recommending he go with that publisher, a close friend he had in the publishing house wanting to print his work, or an affection he might have had toward the company. Since I don’t know, I should shut up and give this writer the benefit of the doubt.

There isn’t much advice or wisdom I can offer to you here. I still have to learn to (1 not read too much into someone else’s situation, and (2 not get too frustrated when someone misinterprets something I did or said. If they misunderstood me, I can answer them graciously and humbly, or I can shrug it off entirely and keep going. A harsh/lengthy/scathing response is unwarranted, in any case. The best I can do on my side of the fence is try to say and do exactly what I intend the first time, and hope that not too many people will draw the wrong conclusion. And if they do, it’s not the end of the world. Normally you’ll have an easier time becoming a millionaire than you will convincingly explaining “what you really intended” after-the-fact.

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Pikes Peak Writers Conference: Coming Up Fast

Well, as I have stated before, the Pikes Peak Writers Conference is coming up fast. Slightly under two weeks until we are there. Right now, it costs about $450, but I’m passing along the word that it’s one of the top ten writers conferences in the country, and is the friendliest overall. Seriously, a Marriott with a great view of Pikes Peak, you’re surrounded by professionals – writers and agents and editors with years of experience – and quality dining and service from the hotel. What’s not to love about that idea?

There’s still time to register. If you are a writer who wants to expand their career, make connections in the business, and meet with hundreds of other writers, this is the place to be.

With people like Robert Crais, Jeffrey Deaver, Donald Maass, Susan Wiggs, Kevin J. Anderson, Bree Ervin, Ronald Cree, Angel Smits, etc., there will be hundreds of fellow writers, either going for the first time to give their professional careers a shot of adrenaline, or returning veterans who have stayed with the conference since it was formed twenty years ago. And you will be hard-pressed to find a more pleasant city to hold an event like this.

Hope to see you there!

Physical Books vs. Kindles — Your thoughts?

Carrying on the spirit of my last post, I wanted to post some thoughts, then ask you to weigh in on that famous cultural wrestling match: Kindle vs. Book. I guess you can include e-readers in general, but Kindle seems to be their poster child at the moment.

“In this corner, weighing a few ounces, storing thousands of books and accessing them at the touch of a button, it’s the e-reader! And in this corner, at the weight of the Library of Congress, written by thousands of hands over the centuries, it’s the physical book!” In some wings of the internet, the fight has gotten nasty, a tooth-loosening, nose-breaking brawl of convenience and quick gratification against nostalgia and history.

And small wonder. Books, thank God, are still igniting passion in our hearts. We know that much from Philip Pullman and many other Brits coming unhinged at the U.K.’s recent bureaucratic treatment of libraries, threatening to close down most of them for the government to save a few quid. They are right to be upset. Books are too valuable to lose or abandon; they have carried ideas and words to generations of people, handing down the worthwhile thoughts of men and women long after they have been lain to rest in the earth.

When e-readers started popping up a few years ago, I confess I had my doubts about them. Sometimes I acted like the stereotypical book snob. Why trade the crinkle of pages and the smell of paper for a sterile white screen that doesn’t let you feel the book itself? I thought.

Sometimes our instincts are more powerful than we realize. Tradition is a hard thing to abandon. And we have loved the almighty Book for thousands of years. Those tomes of paper, ink, and binding are almost alive, in a sense. Once they are read, they carry seeds of characters, of thought, of story, of personal accounts, to germinate in new minds. And in an almost reproductive act, some of those new minds will go on to produce books of their own. But it’s not just writers who produce and live off of books. Whether they be generals or artists, poets or politicians or academics, world-changing thinkers cannot thrive unless their minds are pollinated with the written words of others.

Then came the digital revolution. E-readers asked us to adopt a new model of reading, hundreds of works able to be digitally stored on a fancy little device that we still were unfamiliar with. I am not surprised people got defensive of paper books, as if the extra effort in reading “the old-fashioned way” made them better than those who hopped on the Kindle wagon. Heck, for a while I was one of them.

(“Kindle wagon.” Huh. Nice term. I’ll have to hang on to that.)

And then, just for kicks I got the Kindle app on my new smartphone, and I saw what all the hype was about.

Kindles are the newer medium, so it’s difficult to say how they stack up against physical books. (Get it? Books getting stacked? Yeah, when online I have about as much of a sense of humor as a badger deprived of his morning coffee.) But for now, I can already report that my reading picked up because of that app. Since November, I have made great progress on many of that app’s offerings, and already read through Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Invisible Man. Both books are awesome and exciting, but it was a double-hitter of classic science fiction which, based on my slow reading habits, would have likely taken me a year to finish if they were physical books in my hand.

I offer you the idea that in a digital age, where distractions abound and attention spans vanish into the fog of cyberspace, we need e-readers. The Kindle and Nook might not be able to replicate a real book in your hands (which is a fantastic sensation), but they do let me get through books faster, absorbing them quicker than my ADHD brain will allow with a stack of bound paper. Both of them have inestimable value to me, and both will surely play a pivotal role in my reading life in decades yet to come.

How about you? Have you tried the e-readers yet? Do you prefer them over paper books, or do you find yourself drawn to that scent of old paper and the crinkle of a page when you turn it?

Books and Storytelling

Just about everyone loves a good book. Writers love them, of course, or else they wouldn’t be dedicating so much time, blood, and sweat to creating them. Readers love them because of the chance to find escape, or romance, or comfort, or bravery, or beauty. Whether you love stacks of dusty tomes or the efficiency of a Kindle, royal biographies or serial mysteries, books that are like hundred meter dashes or like long winding trails through a primeval forest, books and the stories they tell are so beloved because there are so many ways they can appeal to us.

We all recognize the import of a great story, even if we can’t quite understand why something so intangible could be so vital. Even if we don’t read them or understand them, stories as varied as Beowulf or The Grapes of Wrath, from The War of the Worlds to Pride and Prejudice, carry something that we sense humans want to create, and need to create.

The stories that will last are labors of love, combined with excellent craft and the sharpest of wit. A storyteller raises his tale like a child, ages it like wine, and sculpts it like art. He will work at that story, his heart straining with its emotions and his mind tinkering with its components, until it becomes a living thing that will shine and sing. Stories can be cranked out quickly, their pages splattered with ideas and interesting angles, but thankfully there are still many authors who will take the time to give their work a soul.

And the strangest quality of a soul is its immortality. Orson Scott Card has said that the greatest books stand the test of time. I am quite certain that every author should strive to place such books into their readers’ hands, books that will not only be enjoyed but cherished. The world still needs imagination and passion in its stories. That need has never lessened with time, even though it can be ignored or pushed to the sidelines once in a while.

To every writer and reader who reads this: I pray for the very best for you tonight. May your stories be timeless, may your minds and hearts always be ready to create, and may you never lose touch with the power of books and storytelling.