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I just returned from a workshop in Key West led by Margaret Atwood, the focus of which was story openings. The intimate size (12 participants) combined with the setting (the back patio of Ms. Atwood’s vacation house) created a cozy atmosphere and helped ease our first-day jitters about being read and critiqued by a rock star of the literary world.

The workshop was part of the Key West Literary Society’s “In Other Worlds” 2012 seminar. The criteria for admission were two-fold:  1) our stories must set on Earth in the near future, and 2) Ms. Atwood must accept us based on a writing sample.

My novel-in-progress (“Underneath Us”) opens in the ruins of Las Vegas in 2069, so I was excited to learn of this opportunity, and—subsequently—of my acceptance into the workshop.

The first morning we gathered quietly around the poolside table, awaiting the start of the workshop and making chit-chat, unsure what to expect. When Ms. Atwood joined us, she offered a brief “good morning,” then laid five white cards on the table with “STOP TALKING” printed on them. These were for us to use, she explained, if we felt anyone was becoming long-winded. We chuckled and, after brief introductions, embarked on the business of workshopping.

As it turned out, we had a great group and no one tried to dominate the discussions, so the white cards disappeared after that first morning. The workshop was comprised of readings, group commentary, line-editing, and examining the internal consistency of our world-building. Ms. Atwood also recounted many summaries of books and movies that might be relevant to our stories (including “The Head That Wouldn’t Die” and “The Creeping Eye”).

My turn came on the last day, by which time we’d grown comfortable as a group—and I’d observed the grace and kindness with which Ms. Atwood offered her criticisms of our work—so I wasn’t feeling too nervous. I received useful feedback and line-edits, as well as a wonderful compliment when Ms. Atwood said, “You know how to open a story.”  [*Insert happy dance here.*]

As souvenirs of my experience, I returned home with an autographed copy of my marked-up manuscript, a “STOP TALKING” card, and—most importantly—new friendships with people who care about books and writing as much as I do.

Thank you, Ms. Atwood, for having us.

(Gratitude and credit for the fabulous photos to Cat Sparks.  http://catsparks.net/ )




Forced Sterilization in the USA

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

Did you know that thirty-one States carried out Eugenics sterilization programs on the poor, often without their knowledge or consent? The bill legalizing this practice in North Carolina wasn’t revoked until 2003.

MSNBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams produced a segment about this travesty:

State of Shame: N.C. sterilization survivors fight for justice

KINDLE LENDING LIBRARY: a good thing for authors?

Last week, Amazon.com introduced the Kindle Lending Library, a benefit for Amazon.com’s Prime members that allows Kindle-owners to borrow certain e-books for free. In most cases, the titles included in the lending library have been contributed by the publishers for a fixed fee. However, the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) quickly issued a statement in response to the discovery that some titles are being included in the lending library without the publisher’s consent that this “…new sort of use of authors’ copyrighted material…is not covered nor was anticipated in most contracts between authors and publishers….” Amazon’s press release states that it is acquiring such non-contributed books under their wholesale terms with the publisher on a per use basis.

Legally speaking, the AAR is probably correct that Amazon.com doesn’t have the contractual right to lend books without their permission, even if they are acquiring each lent copy under wholesale terms. It will be interesting to see how this power-play on Amazon.com’s part falls out as it receives push-back from publishers who perceive this move as further evidence of the mega-retailer’s lack of fair-dealing when it comes to intellectual property compensation. That said, I think it’s unlikely a lawsuit will come of this, so the situation will probably shake itself out according to the relative power of the parties in the marketplace.

I’ve been reading some pretty grumpy author posts about the lack of fairness in this situation, and I understand that sentiment. Legalities aside, though, I think there’s an upside for authors to the Kindle Lending Library that’s worth voicing too.

Most readers stick to writers they know when selecting new books, making it tough for new and mid-list authors to expand their audience. However, when buyers do discover new authors, it is often by borrowing a recommended book.

One of the things Amazon does much better than brick-and-mortar stores is enabling readers to find books based on specific preferences and key words, and providing customer reviews that point them toward the books they are likely to enjoy. In this sense, the Kindle Lending Library may be an opportunity for readers to find and sample books they were otherwise unlikely to buy.

We all know there’s no marketing campaign as powerful as positive word-of-mouth recommendations. Perhaps, as authors, we should consider that a Kindle-lent book may not represent a lost sale at all—but rather a found reader.

Neil Gaiman voiced similar thoughts relative to book piracy, and you can hear what he has to say about that topic here: Neil Gaiman on Copyright