What I learned at Barnes & Noble Today

  • Time flies when you are looking at books.
  • There are way more books to read than I will ever have time for in my life.
  • For fiction books, all you need to read is the first page to know if you’ll like the book.
  • My fantasy-adventure story is still relevant. The “does it matter?” slump/doubt has been completely erased, and fed with new inspiration. Thanks to the teen & young reader’s section, and re-visiting some of the classics.

classic books

  • My read-aloud bedtime book is very relevant, and I can do my own illustrations. Even though I’m totally getting into unleashing my artistic side, I’ve been overwhelmed by my lack of experience. I keep thinking: How can I illustrate this story while fooling everyone into thinking I know what I’m doing?

With the recent nudging of a very good friend, some inspiration from Neil Himself (watch this video, and if you already have, watch it again), and today’s hours spent in the children’s section, now I know: art is art. Everyone has a different approach, and like Mr. Gaiman says, no one  can tell my story but me. No one can create the art that’s in my head but me.

So.

Off I go.

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I am Leo Hear Me Roar (or) Why I Quit My Job

I am a Leo. I totally connect with it. I’ve always loved cats, the color yellow, and the warmth of the sun on my face. And a big fluffy mane.

I’m super-creative, super sensitive, I love being the center of attention. The biggest compliment you could give me is to appreciate something I’ve made or laugh at something funny I’ve said. It makes me happy to make others happy. And recognition. Just say,

Hey, Heidi, you did a great job.

In other words: I do it for the applause.

oscar applause

The biggest insult you could give me is to assume that I can’t do something. In which case I will most likely treat it as a challenge to prove you wrong.

I also have a cat named Leo.

In this, my birthday month, a lot of changes have been taking place. First of all, I left my job as a magazine merchandiser. I have to say, it has been a great job for me the past three and a half years. The hours were flexible & the pay decent. I will miss the people at my two stores, the employees as well as the customers. Even though I worked for an outside vendor, the people at the store always made me feel I was part of the team. I absolutely LOVED making sure all of the magazines looked JUST SO: perfectly spaced, stacked evenly, and easy for the customer to browse, and appealing to buy. It helps to be crazy-detail-oriented and slightly OCD when making a magazine rack look so AWESOME.

But my greatest pleasure of the job was helping a customer finding something to read. I love selling books.

My biggest frustration with my job is that I had absolutely no control over what books we stocked. They came pre-ordered, shipped in cardboard boxes every week. Most were your big-name sellers: James Patterson, Nora Roberts and the like. We did get a few literary treasures, and I did my best to help guide people to new and noteworthy authors, and try new genres (like YA! – see my little YA section in the front there?)

But every week, I’d have folks asking for something that we didn’t carry. And I’d read Publisher’s Weekly, hear about all of these great new titles out there, and on our shelves, in pre-plan-o-grammed slots, stood the same sorry old titles, month after month, collecting dust. Why? Is it someone meeting a sales quota? Does Nora Roberts have evil geniuses hitting the “buy” button at distributing warehouses? Who knows. All I know is, in the great scheme of things, I was simply the schlub unpacking the box in the backroom, and getting merchandise out to the sales floor. And then I’d walk into Barnes & Noble or even (shudder) Costco, and see the titles that PW wrote about that week. I mean, even the book page in People magazine had better titles than we had a t the store. Ugh.

Once I had a customer ask me:

Are you the book BUYER?

I wish.

Besides my frustration at my limited amount of input, I began to have physical problems. Today, in fact, I am going in for an MRI so the doctor can see a nice pretty picture of the disk in my neck that has bulged out enough to pinch a nerve, causing numbness and tingling through my arm to my fingertips, and a baseball-sized knot in my shoulder. Ouch.

Thanks, in part, to:

This is how magazines come shipped to the store. Each of those bundles* weighs approximately 25 lbs. They get delivered in these red plastic totes, and each tote weighs 40-50 lbs each. A typical delivery at my biggest store averaged 25-30 totes. I figured on a good day, unpacking new magazines, lifting and stacking the totes, and carrying stacks and stacks of magazines to the checkouts and the main aisle and then packing up all of the old magazines, for about 6+ hours, I would move about 1,500 lbs of merchandise in a day.

30 totes of magazines, 11 boxes of books, and a large floor display.

So, while it is a very good workout, it’s also a little hard on the ol’ bod. And when my company announced that they were no longer going to have the accounts of the stores I serviced, I figured the timing was just as well. So I decided to move on. But I am very grateful for the experience. I learned so much in the past three years—not only about work, but about people, and a lot about myself.

I do have a couple of ideas in mind about where I want my future to go, career-wise, but for the immediate future, I’m going to concentrate on some yoga & physical therapy, get back to nesting, being a mom, playing with my horses and writing a lot. (Insert happy face here)

Which brings me to the last thing I wanted to share with you: pictures of our latest outing. You may recognize one of our favorite get-away spots in the mountains.

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*BTW: Shame on Oprah. For some reason, her magazines are some of the heaviest. I like Oprah, I think she does some really great stuff. But for someone who preaches how to make everything better all the time, she should really be printing her magazine on recycled paper. REAL SIMPLE is printed on recycled paper, AND they don’t use that heavy-duty plastic wrapping either, and they are the lightest weight magazine I have stocked. THANK YOU, REAL SIMPLE! Rachael Ray also prints on recycled paper. Oprah, your magazine needs to get in shape.

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P.S. In brief: In recognition of one of the true pioneers of the feminist movement, and the founder of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown, who passed away this week at the age of 90.

Here’s a piece from NPR.

50 Shades of Grey – Why Readers Will Love It and Writers Will Hate It

I first heard of 50 Shades of Grey when one of my customers asked for it, before it had even been released. The book and its sequels, 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Freed, have been the biggest literary blockbusters since Harry Potter or Twilight, pushing sales upwards of (reportedly) 10 million copies in six weeks. Since its release, I’ve had a difficult time keeping copies in stock at the grocery store where I merchandise books, and every week, for every one that sells, more and more copies come in.

As the hype grew, so did my curiosity. I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I picked up a copy, along with a young adult fantasy novel as backup. Good thing I got the backup. I can usually tell if I’m going to like a book as soon as I read the first page. Right away, 50 Shades had me rolling my eyes, much like its main character, Anastasia Steele does, a reported 41 times throughout the book with her cohort, Christian Grey.

Why readers will love it:

  • Cinderella-familiar storyline (regular girl meets extraordinary boy who sweeps her off her feet and showers her with expensive things);
  • Easy plot & characters to follow. You don’t need to hold a timeline of events & a roster in your head like you had to do with The Millennium Series;
  • Why, the sex, of course!

Why Writers will hate it:

  • It’s an easy read—a little too easy. Nothing flows, It doesn’t take you away to another place. More like this happened and then that happened and here’s what I was wearing, and OMG he is so HOT!!
  • It is rife with repetition. If I had to read one more time how she bit her lip or how his pants hang on his hips just so, or how they call each other by their surnames (“Miss Steele;” “Mr. Grey”)…I’m tempted to get out my red pen and edit my own paperback copy, just for the hell of it.
  • It is rife with two amateur writing mistakes: 1. adverbs—tons of them—which is a rookie error, usually caught by an editor; and 2. Cliché: the aforementioned Cinderella-esque storyline, punctuated by scenes stolen from Pretty Woman (the bathtub scene; the piano scene). And I’m not the only one who noticed. See this article at The Daily Beast for more.
  • keep reading for the #1 reason writers will hate 50 Shades of Grey.
Hey that was a pretty good scene, I think I’ll put it in my book.

In fact, if I were describing it to someone I’d say it’s like Pretty Woman or Cinderella, only Prince Charming is into kinky sex. Really kinky sex. And OMG, he’s really hot.

I must admit, I got drawn into the steamy scenes—you’d have to be a eunuch not to.  But I would find myself halfway through the page saying, “wait, what? That just doesn’t happen…” I mean you have to give her props for imagination, but a lot of it just doesn’t play realistically. I could go into gory detail, but it would cause major spoilers, and would be a bit TMI, even for me. (Seriously, how many of you out there had multiple O’s your first time? Guys, put your hands down.)

And—disclosure—I didn’t even finish the book. I tried, but I kept getting so frustrated. Not that kind of frustrated either. One of the main things that bothered me is that here you have this main character who is supposed to be a smart, intellectual woman—however young and sexually inexperienced—making really stupid decisions. Dan Brown does the same thing in his books; writes these incredibly intelligent women, who for whatever reason can’t seem to do anything for themselves until the dashing Professor Langdon sweeps in to save the day.

Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon. Hey Tom? Never ever let Ron Howard talk you into that straight-hair-blowout again, okay?

Now, I have to say, pretty much my entire life, if I picked up a book and started reading it, that meant I would be reading it ’til the very end, no matter what. I have no idea where I came up with this philosophy. Probably some sort of teacher-infused guilt, or Norwegian stubbornness from somewhere along the line, but I always believed that if you started a book, you HAD TO FINISH IT.

But I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I’ve decided not to waste my time trying to read a book I don’t like. There are SO many books out there that I would like to read. Why sit and stew and turn pages that frustrate the hell out of you, one after the other, when there is a whole pile of books on your nightstand, just begging for their spines to be cracked?

At the same time I bought 50 Shades, I also picked up a YA softcover by Kristin Cashore, called Fire. Not that I needed any new books—I have a ton on my shelves that I still haven’t gotten to yet (like that’s ever stopped me from buying a book). But when I got so frustrated with Miss Steele and Mr. Gray, I picked up Fire, just to take a peek.

And that’s when I realized I didn’t need to read all about the Steele/Gray tryst. Because the other book was so. much. better. And it has nothing to do with genre (50 Shades is adult contemporary erotica fiction; Fire is young adult fantasy fiction), it’s all about the quality of the writing. See for yourself in the following excerpts (no spoilers):

Excerpt from 5o Shades of Grey, by E.L. James:

“Ready?” he asks. I nod and want to say, For anything, but I can’t articulate the words as I’m too nervous, too excited.

“Taylor.” he nods curtly at his driver, and we head into the building, straight to a set of elevators. Elevator! The memory of our kiss this morning comes back to haunt me. I have thought of nothing else all day, daydreaming at the register at Clayton’s. Twice Mr. Clayton had to shout my name to bring me back to Earth. To say I’ve been distracted would be the understatement of the year. Christian glances down at me, a slight smile on his lips. Ha! He’s thinking about it.too.

“It’s only three floors,” he says dryly, his eyes dancing with amusement. He’s telepathic, surely. It’s spooky.

Three adverbs! Really? In little more than one paragraph?! Who edited this?? Okay, Heidi, don’t sweat the small stuff, don’t sweat the small stuff…

Excerpt from Fire, by Kristin Cashore:

It had been easy once, taking Archer into her bed; not so long ago it had been simple. And then, somehow the balance had tipped between them. The marriage proposals, the lovesickness. More and more, the simplest thing was to say no.

She would answer him gently. She turned to him and held out her hand. He stood and came to her.

“I must change into riding clothes and pull a few more things together,” she said. “We’ll say our goodbyes now. You must go down and tell the prince I’m coming.”

He stared at his shoes and then into her face, understanding her. He tugged at her headscarf until it slid away and her hair fell around her shoulders. He collected her hair in one hand, bent his face to it, kissed it. He pulled Fire to him and kissed her neck and her mouth, so that her body was left wishing that her mind were not so stingy. Then he broke away and turned to the door, his face the picture of unhappiness.

Now, I’m sorry, but that is some good f*ing writing. Where James over-explains and over-punctuates her character’s every thought, lip-bite and groin-pull, Cashore paints a picture for you to observe from a distance, the characters explaining how they feel with their actions. Kind of goes back to the old “show, don’t tell” lesson I learned from my library critique group.

Okay, okay, so who am I? Right? Who am I to be sitting up here on my high horse, critiquing something that has been so lightning-in-a-bottle successful?

get off your high horse, Heidi

I don’t want to knock Ms. James. I don’t want to sound as if I think I’m somehow better, or above. I mean, not only did she finish her book, but two more, got them published and is now enjoying great prosperity because of it. I say, good for her! I can’t even finish one book, and I’m embarrassed to tell you how long I’ve been working on it (or not working on it, as the case may be. That’s at least part of my problem). And she seems like a pretty cool person. My biggest admiration for her lies in the fact that she negotiated complete control when she sold her movie rights. Now that’s a genius, ballsy move. I bow humbly to that. I wonder if she whipped out some handcuffs when talking to Universal, and gave them a little spanking? ;)

I wish her all the success in the world. I mean, she’s kind of a Cinderella story herself, isn’t she? It’s a great inspiration to the rest of us schlubs hacking away at our blogs, adding to our page counts and red-penning our own manuscripts. It’s proof that with a little talent, and a whole lot of determination, anyone can make it happen. You know what they say, the most successful writers aren’t necessarily the best, they are just the ones who didn’t quit.

And as to that #1 reason writers will hate 50 Shades of Grey? Like most other things creatives hate:

They didn’t think of it first.

So…did you read it, or are you avoiding it on principle? Did you love it? Hate it? Read it while hiding in the ladies room? :) Please, let your voice be heard! Converse! Click reply (below).

Midweek Mish Mash

Well, folks, I have a few different things I want to let you know about, so I’m giving you a Wednesday quickie! ;)

1. Books!

First, I have to do some friendly promotion. My friend and mentor, Deb Ledford, has just released her second novel in a series.
Deb was one of the first people to encourage me to write – not only that, but to take it seriously, and to treat my writing professionally. I am indebted to her for her guidance and enthusiasm regarding all aspects of my writing, as are the other members of the Scottsdale Writer’s Group, of which she is the moderator.
I was honored to have been a part of Deb’s editing team, and proud to see my mentor reach her goal of publication. And now, as a cherry on top of her sundae, not only is she published, but has been honored with an award nomination! For anyone out there who likes a good, tight mystery that keeps you up at night turning pages, please take a look at Staccato and Snare, by Deborah J. Ledford, available through AmazonKindle, and Second Wind Publishing.
The first, Staccato, is a thriller set in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and follows a piano prodigy as he pieces together the clues to find his girlfriend’s killer, and the deputy who is trying to solve the case.

“Deborah J Ledford’s thriller tears through mountains and music with a steady rhythm in perfect time with the maestro Alexander’s music room metronome … as readers turn STACCATO’s pages, quickly, crisply, sharply throughout Ledford’s Toccata-like virtuoso performance.”

    ~ Malcolm R. Campbell, 5 star review: “Knight of Words” Book Reviews

The second book, Snare, follows the same deputy, Stephen Hawk, as he helps a Native American pop star find the person who is trying to kill her. Snare has been nominated for the Hillerman Sky award:

“Performed against the backdrop of the picturesque Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and New Mexico’s mysterious Taos Pueblo Indian reservation, SNARE is a thriller fans of Tony Hillerman will appreciate.”

“White-knuckle suspense at an electrifying pulse.” ~ Suspense Magazine

“Deborah Ledford’s expertly crafted SNARE is a gripping story of the price of fame and the haunting and deadly power of long buried secrets. It’s also a valentine to the landscape and people of New Mexico’s Taos Pueblo. A terrific read.”

        ~ Dianne Emley, L.A. Times bestselling author of Love Kills

They are both great reads and I highly recommend Staccato and Snare for you and the readers in your life.
In today’s tumultuous publishing environment, getting a book sold is more difficult than ever. Please support up-and-coming authors. I have provided a link to published friends on my left sidebar.
Disclosure – I receive nothing for promoting Deb’s books, other than good karma.
2. Update!
Second I wanted to give you an update on Chroi’s icky dermatitis condition. It had gotten to the point to where it was bothering her so bad that she was kicking her foot on the ground, and hurt herself. I think she bruised her hoof. Yes, that can happen. None of the idiot home remedies that I tried worked, and the itchiness and scabs just got worse. So the vet came out, and his recommendation, which I had feared, was to clip her feathers.

I know. Ugh.
So here’s what a Gypsy Horse looks like with shaved legs:

who wears short shorts?
Awww.
Luckily we just had to clip the feathers on her hind legs because she didn’t have any issue on the front legs. In addition to clipping, I have to wash her legs with a prescription-grade anti-fungal shampoo, and gave her antibiotics twice a day for five days. If any of you ever have to give your horse medication, here’s a good method:
  • dissolve the tablets in a couple tablespoons of water,
  • mix with a couple handfuls of sweet feed (oats and grains mixed with molasses)
to make it extra yummy, follow Mary Poppins’ advice, and (see below)
  • add a generous spoonful of brown sugar.
For Chroi, this worked so much better than trying to force the medicine down her throat – she actually loved it!

 

So she’s feeling much better, her infection is clearing up and even though she’s lost some feather, it will grow back. And she still looks pretty.
3. Baby Watch!

Which brings us to our next subject: BABY!!

 Chroi is due to foal in two weeks! She’s getting super fat, uh, I mean, great with child. As we get closer to the delivery day, her body shows signs that she will be ready:
  • Udder filling up with milk (already happening)
  • “waxing” of the teats, which just means some of the milk is starting to flow.
  • softening of the pelvis, right above the tail
  • slight decrease in appetite, which is a big one, especially for a pig like Chroi. When she’s not hungry, I know something’s going on!

I will keep you posted. Last time we had babies, they were both born during a rain storm, so we will also be keeping an eye on the weather.

Now, I just have to think of a name… any suggestions?

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Chroicoragh is a perfect example of how “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” I loved Mary Poppins as a kid. We had the soundtrack on vinyl, and used to sing along to it all the time. I miss the days when Disney just wanted to put out great films. And I mean how can you top Julie Andrews? She’s the best. Enjoy!