Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Social Media Faux-pas

I will assume that anyone commenting on a followed blog, or a Facebook page, or a tweet, means well. Almost all do. And let me tell you, sending thoughts out there and not getting comments is a very lonely thing. So they are not only welcome but wanted and appreciated.

But there are the well-meaning ones that manage to be remarkably unhelpful. Remarkable because they mean well. I’m not referring to the few that do not mean well, the trolls, or the ones coming out of folks who just got bad news and think misery loves company is a social commandment.

I have been the unlucky recipient of two of the examples below. But most come from others, friends and acquaintances, who either shared their pain with me or I was there to witness it. Even as they said nothing in retort, it was painfully obvious this was a backhanded compliment.

“You never age!”
“You’re a miracle of preservation”
“How do you manage to stay so young looking?”

Nice, but what they really say, and in a public forum, (like commenting on new Facebook profile picture) is that you are in fact old. Thanks.

“Nice haircut. When will you grow your hair back?”
“I love what you did with your hair. I’ll send you my stylist’s number. You’ll love her.”
“Looks great. Is it Nice and Easy?”

Lovely, but what they really say is that your hair has suffered a misfortune in incompetent hands.

“I loved, just loved, your other book. When will you write another one like that one?”
“I got your book a year ago!” (No other comment. Yup, that’s it.)
“Your book is good for people interested in the subject.”

Sounds positive, but what they are really saying is they can’t recommend it, and need to post a public warning to that effect.

And then there are these doozies. If you’ve ever been in the vicinity of such utterances, you could feel the silent hissing:

“You look wonderful! Are you pregnant?” (Never a good idea to say this, especially to a man.)
“We’ve got to have you over. Maybe next May when our garden is blooming.” (Said in early June.)
“It’s nice that you write for children. Have you thought of writing a book for real people?”

This last one is one of only two that I actually received myself, and from my father. Ouch. Not telling which of the others was also given to me.

Okay, good people. Let’s not do any of that. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


I was thinking the other day about the first time one of my children’s teachers called us in for a conference. Our kiddo was in kindergarten.
“Mr. & Mrs. Breen,” said she. “No matter what I tell your child to do, the answer is 'I don’t have to.'”
We were baffled. We never got that at home from this child.
“I had to meet you,” said the teacher. “I had to see what sort of parents raised a child who feels they don’t have to do what all the other children do.”

We did not raise our kids to start a revolution. We didn’t set an example of obvious non-conformity. There was nothing we could point to that explained it.

When we returned home, our progeny got a talking to about respecting authority, and leaving any sense of entitlement in the drawer, for later. Much later. Like until they reach the age of majority, and pay their own bills to boot.
Deep down, I realize now that I was alarmed and concerned about how my kids will navigate their school years and later function in the work force. But I also understood them in the deepest way. There are so many “have to” thrown about, and the line— to question and accept or chart a different way— can be a fine one.

I didn’t want my children to exercise this discernment too early. But I hope we planted a seed that will let them do it as adults. Blind obedience to conventional wisdom robs any person of their full humanity.

I think about these lines from Huckleberry Finn, one of the greatest American novels. Conventional wisdom in that time and place said that a runaway slave was property that must be returned. Huck Finn is conflicted between what he was told was right, what everyone he ever knew insisted was right, and something inside that said, do I have to? Do I REALLY have to?
He resolves it thus:

I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right, then, I’ll GO to hell”—

As we write stories for younger readers, we need to introduce the idea of this conflict. Gingerly, carefully, thoughtfully. But I feel a duty to bring it in, because it is important, and no full character, no full story and no life can be full— without learning to ask, do I have to?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Let’s Talk About…


I’m in a self-indulgent mood. I don’t want to think too hard. Goodness, I’m doing that with my WIP.*  *(WIP= Work In Progress)

I don’t want to delve into deep emotions. My WIP is draining my reservoir of that, too.

I’d rather not pour out yet another preachy wisdomism. Yea, that WIP is taking what I’ve got in my teachy-preachy arsenal right now.

I just want to hang out for a bit. I hope that’s all right.
And maybe not even talk.

Monday, November 2, 2015

What EBooks Could Be

Some bloggers have been lamenting the EBook bust.

As one who writes for younger readers, I observed that the EBook boom never happened for them. Neither picture books nor novels for pre-teens have been great sellers in that format.

Why? Aren’t young’uns crazy about devices? Don’t they want their books on a handy-dandy virtual page, like the rest of their social life?

A writing friend commented that the problem with EBooks is that they fail to use, really use, the electronic features they are capable of having that would have made them different.

EBooks, as they are now, are just computer files with nothing more than the print text and the ability to enlarge it, or even find certain words.
The capability that we have come to expect from any website or digital article would make books better, in ways, than print. Digitized text could be made to have "extra layers" not only in the way DVDs contained more features than the film, but so much more. EBooks could have highlighted words that would take the reader to side videos, moving clips, or extra material, which includes sound.

This would mean higher production costs, but publishers get a near-free ride with EBooks as they are now. No warehousing, shipping, printing or dealing with worn returns. For a single process of file conversion they have a product that costs pennies, with a few more to the distributor, (mostly Amazon) and is “in print” forever. It behooves publishers to make a different and distinctive product if they really want to make true “electronic books,” or EBooks.

But we are so not there yet. As it is now, there is no compelling reason to read on kindle even if the price is right and you can haul a whole bunch of books in one light device. Few kids read a whole bunch of books at once anyhow.

Where they do use it, increasingly, is for textbooks. As school systems force this conversion, kids don’t mind not having to haul those books. But this is different from pleasure reading.
And no matter what, you can’t hug your favorite volume, your most beloved book, if it’s a file on an E-reader. That is why they need to give us something more in exchange.