Monday, March 28, 2011

Treadmill desks: can you really exercise and write at the same time?

Suddenly I'm reading lots about treadmill desks (or vertical workstations), which allow you to write and exercise at the same time (see selected articles below*). This seemed like the perfect solution for me since exercise/writing is often an either/or choice with me and sitting in one spot for several hours gives me lower back pain.

But the smallish bedrooms of my 1960s split-level house aren't big enough to accommodate a 6'-long treadmill (unless I want to put a mattress on top of it at night). And I don't want a treadmill in the middle of my living room.

The obvious solution was to put my laptop or notebook on a higher shelf and to simply walk in place. The results? Illegible handwritten prose. A lack of control at my laptop, even after repeated tries. And the loss of the meditative state I like to be in while composing. Perhaps I could type while walking in place if all I was doing was typing.

So it looks like I am not going to join the growing number of "treadheads."

However, I've come up with a different solution that is working for me, and which cost me only the $29 for a good pedometer. I've started to walk or jog in place while doing other things, in an effort to get up to 6,000 steps a day even when I'm working inside all day. Washing my hands and brushing my teeth? 300 steps. Loading the dryer? 500 steps.

It feels a little silly to jog in place when I'm in the bathroom, but like Vegas, I figure whatever goes on in the bathroom stays in the bathroom. Sillier to jog downstairs to the laundry room, or to march in place while cooking. Yet the pedometer is an antidote to embarrassment; it keeps me moving.

It also helps that I read recently that William Shatner runs in place for 30 minutes every morning (in addition to swimming and other types of exercise). The man looks pretty dang good for 80.

* Here are some recent articles/blog posts on treadmill writing:

Next stop: MEGA Treadmill Desk

Pound the Keys and Drop the Pounds (includes a funny clip from Woody Allen's "Bananas" on the prototype exercise desk—the pic above is a still from it)

The Amazing Treadmill Desk (includes a "Good Morning America" clip on office workers on treadmills)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The non-virtual books that will remain

In a recent post, I gave my five arguments about why (some) books should continue on paper. But the reality is that the non-virtual books that are likely to survive may not be the picture books and beach paperbacks I advocated for, but books for collectors.

This week CBS devoted a Sunday Morning segment to Taschen Books, which publishes large and beautiful books, sometimes costing thousands of dollars. (Their limited edition Muhammad Ali book costs $15,000). The books are sold online and in their dozen Taschen bookstores. 

Until someone figures out how to create value and exclusivity in e-books (which I can't envision happening ever), art/collectible books—and comic books—will continue to be published on paper.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The digital picture book takes hold

A week after I wrote my post, Five Arguments Against the Total Inevitability of E-books, the Washington Post Book World arrived with this article on the popularity of iPad picture books. So popular, in fact, the article states:

Earlier this week, eight of the top 10 paid book apps on iTunes were picture books. Today’s digital-native children seem keenly interested in a story told to them on a 10-inch screen with a finger’s swipe to reach the next page.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Writer Profile: Amy Bonaccorso

If it hadn’t been for The Sun magazine, I probably would never have met Amy Bonaccorso—Amy and I joined the same Sun discussion group a couple of months ago. When the conversation turned to e-books that first day, I made my usual “E-books, yuk!” refrain. But Amy didn’t agree with me because, she said, e-books can offer higher royalties for authors. She knew, because her book, How to Get to 'I Do': A Dating Guide for Catholic Women, is available in both Kindle and hard copy editions. When I told her that I wanted to know more about her publishing experiences, and how she has been marketing her book, she graciously consented to this email interview.

Amy is a senior communications specialist within the federal government, where she manages an internal newsletter, arranges big events, and works to improve communication. For more information on Amy and her book, see her web site.

How did you get the idea to write your book?

When I dated in my twenties, a lot of the guidance I got was unrealistic and not very helpful. Much of it was written by unmarried people or concerned parents. After I became engaged, I could see what I did wrong, what I did right, what advice was worth taking, and which words should have been ignored. It was something I wanted to capture in writing. I am sure lots of people have great moments of hindsight like I did...they just don't write anything down. I thought I should publish my lessons learned for others, though.

I had a diverse dating portfolio by the time I met my husband on And that’s the point I try to get across in my book. Women, even very traditional Catholic women, need to put themselves out there in a variety of ways. A man can’t find you if you aren’t anywhere to be found. I also think some Catholic women need to relax a bit and not be so hyper-pious.

The blurb for your book says, “…plenty of good men are waiting for a woman like you to throw away the checklist of idealized mate material.” What was on your original "list"? What did you find instead?

Here is the list:
- Catholic, like me
- Devout
- Chaste
- Building a good career
- College educated
- Marriage minded
- Physically attractive
- Willing to support a full-time mom/housewife role for me

My husband was not incredibly devout, and although he had a good career plan, he made less than me when I met him... so I couldn't expect a quick 1950s lifestyle. He is a lot more secular and "modern" than the man I thought I was looking for. I couldn't see it then, but I have a rather bohemian background and a sometimes contradictory set of interests, personality traits, goals, and beliefs. I could probably drive a cookie cutter Catholic man crazy. One ex, for example, wanted me to quit going to acupuncture because it weirded him out. I got to talk to an old Andy Warhol protégé in New York City a few months ago, and it was one of the thrills of my life. Discerning religious life at a Carmelite convent was also one of my most memorable life experiences. Not everyone can accept that kind of dichotomy. (We’ve been married nearly three years now.)

Since you work full-time, when/where did you write the book?

I wrote during my lunch breaks, in the evenings, and on weekends. I'd sometimes write on the backs of receipts or little pieces of scrap paper when I was out at lunch. Or, I would eat at my desk and write my thoughts in an email message. The book came very quickly. It only took about six months. I credit my muses for that.

How did you find your publisher?

I didn't have an agent. I looked at books that I was reacting against and saw who published them. They were small Catholic publishers. Since I could easily refer to other books on their list when pitching mine, I targeted them with a book proposal. Within weeks, I had an offer.

Why did you decide to do a Kindle edition?

My husband recommended that I suggest a Kindle edition to the publisher. I also had people around me who were into their Kindles and weren't buying paperbacks anymore. I had a feeling that some women would want the book quickly too if they were having a dating crisis. It's the first e-book for Servant Books.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Five arguments against the total inevitability of e-books

Surprisingly, many writers I know are starting to embrace e-book technology. They cite their portability—parents can load up a bunch of kids’ books for long car trips (which might mean more book sales); their paper-bag potential (no one will know you’re reading a romance novel on the subway); and their prospects for generous royalties (anywhere from 25 percent to nearly 100 percent, for self-publishers).

Perhaps the most persuasive argument is that they save trees.

As I’ve said in a past post, I’ll probably be the last person in the United States to buy an e-reader* because they're expensive and I lose things.  But there are still broader, compelling reasons to continue publishing things on paper, including:

1. Longevity. I've had some of the books on my shelves for more than 30 years. If they were in bygone electronic formats (like 8-track tapes or 5-inch floppy disks) they would be useless now. This year's e-book probably won't be readable a decade from now. Good books meant to last still need to be on paper, even if also available electronically.

2. Tactility. Babies need board books they can grab and chew on, and which can offer smooth, rough and fuzzy elements.

3. Sturdiness. Small children need books they can fling and sit on without parents screaming at them. At the same time, the perfect vacation book is not something worth $100+, which must be vigilantly guarded against theft, sunscreen and drops of water. (I've never figured out how the sunbathers in the recent Kindle commercial are going to swim since they can't leave it on their towels).

4. Accessibility. More and more e-editions will mean fewer book titles for the poor. Even if libraries begin to lend e-readers, their cost will limit how many customers can be serviced at any given time. Many families won't be able to buy multiple e-readers, meaning that if newspapers go entirely electronic, sharing the Sunday paper will be a thing of the past—everyone will have to wait their turn.

5. Locality/serendipity. I'm a trained librarian, but I still find many books in my house by the color of their spines, their placement on the shelves. An html search has its value (for finding recipes online, etc.), but it's not the same as browsing a physical space. Many is the time I've stumbled upon an interesting book simply because of where it was in the library—on an adjacent shelf or left on a table. And I would miss bookstores. People who love books need a place where they can go and see one another occasionally. The virtual bookstore is a silent and lonely place.
* My resolve is not entirely firm since I have the Kindle App on my iPod now (pictured above)—but it gives me a headache if I read on it for more than ten minutes at a time.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Writers' organizations and communities

Lists of/Links to Writers' Organizations Organizations - An alphabetical list of selected writers' organizations. This list is easier to navigate than other WM databases since it's only six screens. However, it is not comprehensive; for instance, the Maryland Writers' Association is not on its list.

Local Writers' Associations and Groups by State - This page offers a comprehensive list of state and regional writers' organizations and associations, but [WARNING] it's on Squidoo, which means it's a web page maintained by an individual and not an organization, so it may disappear or be altered at any given time.

Poets and Writers Literary Organizations -A short/selected list of major writers' organizations.


Individual Organizations/Associations of Note
[Note: Inclusion here does not mean an endorsement on my part; I am just noting their existence/availability.]

American Independent Writers

National Writers Union (NWU) - The only labor union that represents freelance writers.

The International Association of Writers -  (Scroll down their home page, and you'll find a list of "Best Writer Organizations," which includes themselves, SCBWI, NWU (see above), and the American Society for Journalists and Authors.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The challenge (and joy) of writing picture books

I’d never thought about writing a children’s picture book until I heard Pam Smallcomb speak at a SCBWI-sponsored ABC (Author Book Club) event this week. (I’d assumed that children’s picture book authors do their own art and I knew that my own doodle-y art would never sell.) But Pam has sparked my interest in writing within this concise and often humor-filled form.

Not that she made it seem easy—writing a 250- to 600-words book is like writing a really good poem. You can’t just sit down and write something brilliant; you have to pare it down, then be willing to revise and/or rewrite it again and again until it says only what needs to be said and says it as perfectly as possible.

Pam compared picture book writing with advertising: you have to be aware of your target audience, know your message, and work on deadline. Like a TV commercial or ad campaign, she said, a good picture book crams a lot of story into a short amount of time and space. And you have to make it fresh, figure out a new way to say something that’s probably already been written about before.

As ad people do, Pam suggested using brainstorming techniques to come up with story ideas. (When brainstorming, don’t self-edit but let the ideas flow). Some of her suggestions included:

Blend two unlike things: Make a column of nouns, a column of verbs, then a column of nouns (or just two columns of nouns). Then crisscross them for incongruous combinations that can be used for titles and/or to spark story ideas.

Ask yourself the question: What was a bad/good day in my childhood?

Recycle. Revise and retool old ideas with new characters, settings or messages.

My friend, Mary, and I tried the first technique the next morning and came up with: "tomato-ottoman" (a garden that grows furniture instead of vegetables?) and "Beethoven-shoes" (the shoes of famous people through history? putting yourself into Beethoven’s shoes—too tragic?). I’m not sure these are books that will ever get written, but it was a fun way to get the (collaborative) creative juices flowing.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Writers' conferences and residencies

Here are a few sites to get you started. Writers' organizations will list annual (and, sometimes, regional and smaller) conferences on their web sites, so be sure to check the pages of those organizations in which you have an interest.

Writers’ Conferences and Centers - A (.org) web site sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs

Poets and Writers Conferences and Residencies Database

• Writers Market Conferences database