Tuesday, August 15, 2006

One of the coolest sites ever

Paperbackswap.com gets you free books!

From the website:

What is PaperBackSwap? We are a group of real people who have formed a Club to swap paperback books with each other. No gimmicks. No spam. No advertising. No kidding. We are not a large corporation trying to sell you something. We're just a group of real folks who wanted a way of trading paperbacks with each other through the U.S. mail. Please read the testimonials and you will understand that this book club is for real.

When another member requests one of your books, you mail it to them. Yes, you pay for the postage. But then another member returns the favor when you request a book from them and they mail it to you. And that way the books are always free because we are all trading books with club members!

Once you have registered, simply list your paperback books that you would like to share with other Club Members. Once you have listed at least 9 of your books, we will give you 3 book credits to get you started trading books with other club members. However, the more books you post, the more likely you are to receive requests. And that means more books for you. So post as many books as you can!

I've received a bunch of great books from them already including:

E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel
Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers
Dai Sijie, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress


I haven't been posting much lately because I've been trying to finish up a bunch of projects for the end of my summer classes. I'll probably continue to be on and off the blog for the next 2 weeks or so as try and finish up all these papers and projects.

Thursday, August 10, 2006



Yay! Mangosteens might be available in the U.S. soon! I had my first bite of them traveling around in S.E. Asia. (you can see my post about it on my travel blog from back then here.

Yum! My day has just been made!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Going where few Romances have gone before

I confess being troubled over the recent discussion of how foreign settings don't sell novels in the romance genre.

So I'm in the middle of taking a Cultural Geography class through the University of Texas online, and recently I had to do an assignment on "mental maps." Mental maps are essentially the way in which you perceive the world. For example, even though you may have never been to inner city Detroit, London, or Dubai, Qatar, you have already have certain impressions which may be negative or positive about whether these are desirable places to live/visit.

This knowledge is generally shaped by second-hand knowledge in determining the favorability or unfavorability of an area, such as letters and emails sent home, television and newspaper reports as well as pop culture. For example, many in the United States might jump at the offer of free house and land to move to sunny California because of positive perceptions in pop culture. Fewer might take the offer if it were offered, say in Belize or Guatemala because of either lack of knowledge or perceptions of these tropical areas as poor third world countries, even though the climate, environment, social class and economy may be similar to that of a California suburb.

Very have the time nor resources to actually journey to particular places in order to discover the differences between first hand experience and second-hand knowledge. Instead, we find out about the outside world through what people tell us, like PaperBackWriter's recent blog where she writes:

Bad thing about leaving the USA: having to pretend to be Canadian so no one will spit in your food, or your face, or . . .

Now I'm not trying to say that her experience is not valid; it totally is, but reinforces the idea of "dangerous scary foreign lands" for many Americans who may have never been abroad. Countries as disparate as France, Russia, Senegal, Brazil all with different attitudes toward Americans are lumped into the "foreign" and "exotic" outside.

As a result, alot of Americans go to the Caribbeann for vacation, but far fewer might go to Thailand or Sri Lanka, based on perceptions of desirability and safety. In this way, perception based on second-hand knowledge rather than truth based on first-hand knowledge can play a greater role in determining factors in human migration. NYTimes columnist Thomas L. Friedman a few years ago, did a traveling column around the world to examine the effects of globalization. He went from all over the place from Asia to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, to Latin America. The only place he experienced anti-Americanism? In Iran, but not from Iranians (who were uncommonly polite) but from random French tourists sitting in a restaurant.

We generalize from a few anecdotes because that's all we hear and know. Yet if I were to generalize that Americans hate French people based on the anecdotes of hate mail and vandalism some of my French friends have received living in America, we know that that wouldn't be fais.

You can read a quick summary of mental maps here.

What does this say about insular Americans who only read about stories in America? Well you can read my take on the bottom of this post here. But I don't think it bodes well for the future of America at all. Women who read romance novels are the ones raising the next generation of kids. If we reinforce their sense of America as a singular entity, unconnected with the rest of the world, we are ill-preparing our children to deal with a globalized world. The fact is, every decision an ordinary American makes, from buying a t-shirt made in China, to buying organic soy milk made from beans grown in Brazil, to has a huge effect on people thousands of miles away. The world is only going to become more connected.

I'm going to continue setting my stories in Asia, Africa, and other "foreign" places. However, I'm going to have to work with the double-duty of luring the reader in, perhaps via the worlds of paranormals. I think that readers who read paranormals set in other worlds, should be more open to foreign settings. But I suppose we shall see won't we?

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a post up today about romance novels featuring exotic settings here.

Teach me Tonight, a scholarly blog about romance has a post here about the branding romance novels and of the conservative conneissur-ism (not even sure if that's a word) of romance readers.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Stupid Craigslist things that make me procrastinate

In case you missed it, Craigslist is totally a Generation Y /Hip hop Generation / whatever-we're-calling-ourselves-these-days. Not only is it a place to get stuff you want, unload stuff you don't want, but it's a place to find dates, chat, talk and rant. Few things make me laugh the way the Best of Craigslist section does.

Here's one recent post:

Things I Have Done That I Really Should Have Been Sacked For By Now

Date: 2006-07-12, 2:05PM EDT

Today marks my two year anniversary at my current job - the longest I have ever held continuous employment at one company. Earlier, I had one of those "Remember when you did that thing with that bloke..." conversations with a colleague and I came to one inescapable conclusion - My Bosses Are Fucking Idiots.

No way should I still be employed here after some of the shit I've pulled.

In two years, I have had 2 disciplinaries, one formal written warning, a 42% lateness rate, countless verbal warnings and 17 performance improvement plans (Where they 'monitor' your performance for a set period and point out everything that you did wrong), with my initial 3 months probation period (which was then extended to 6) - this means that at no point have I been employed here without having some suited twat looking over my shoulder with a clipboard 'observing me in my work environment'

And STILL they haven't twigged that the best thing for them would be my instant dismissal.

Which brings me to the point of post - Things I have done that my company should have sacked me for a long time ago:-

1. Sent an e-mail to myself from my bosses PC implying that she was sexually harassing me, and then used it as leverage against her to escape a disciplinary.

2. Twice felt the need to go spend a 20 minute 'toilet' break on a hot summer's day after a morning spent ogling the female population of my office dressed in their skimpy outfits

3. Edited a chain E-mail to imply that reader should end their own life and then forwarded it on to a mailing list that included somebody that recently had tried and (unfortunately) failed to commit suicide.

4. Almost got my friend sacked in a prank gone horribly wrong after I used http://www.sharpmail.co.uk/html to send an e-mail that appeared to be from him to one of the office juniors. It read something along the lines of:

"Nice strappy shoes Gemma, I really like the way they show off your painted nails..... It makes me want to run my hard penis in between your toes and cum on your shin."

(realistically, I should have anticipated the shit-storm, that followed).

5. Racked up about 6 hours internet time a day, despite the company policy that anything over 1 hour is considered excessive.

6. Shot the Financial Director in the face with an elastic band gun, after seeing my friend about to come through the door and failing to notice the suited gentlemen walking one pace ahead of him.

7. Hid for an hour in the post room whilst said director tore the place to pieces interrogating people in an effort to find "That Cunt who shot me"

8. Sat at my desk for an entire morning happily munching a box of hash brownies, whiting out a few hours later and then being sent home by boss-lady because she was worried that I looked 'really pale'

9. Used the opportunity of looking very ill in public to take a further two weeks off work.

10. Not realised that an incoming call was actually from somebody in the Houses Of Parliament (one of our A-list clients) and answered the phone "What's up MotherFucker?!"

11. Outright lied to the same MP when he asked to speak to the manger by telling him that he had called a residential number - A fact he accepted despite having spent 5 minutes on our hold system listening our company's god awful theme music.

12. Put on a dodgy accent and pretended to be called 'Raoul' when said MP called back and, against all laws of probability, ended up speaking to me again.

13. Told a colleague whilst very drunk at office party that "I wouldn't fuck you if you were on fire"

14. Spent the next few days trying to work out exactly what the above sentence means

15. Ignored 30 minutes worth of phone calls to write this horse-shit.

no -- it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

Thursday, August 03, 2006

looking back at the Southampton Writers' conference

I've been meaning to post my thoughts on the recent Southampton writes' conference, but haven't had much time due to conferences, so I'll just give you a short breakdown.

Speakers I enjoyed the most: Melissa Banks (Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing) Matthew Klam (Sam the Cat and Other Stories), Megan Wolitzer (This is Your Life), David Rakoff (Fraud), Gary Trudeau (Doonesbury), and Roger Rosenblatt (Children of War).

Frank McCourt gave the intro to the conversation between Gary Trudeau and Roger Rosenblatt, which really made me laugh, and regret that I couldn't make it to his reading.

What I learned from this lecture/reading series? 'Funny' is a difficult thing to do. I have the utmost respect for people who can write well and write funny (even though that wasn't the topic of the conference).

Some of the other writers there are award-winning writers; and yet, despite considering myself a widely read person, I didn't recognize most of the writers there. Again, reinforcement of the lesson to all wannabe writers: there are easier paths to fame and fortune.

This was my first writers' conference. Will I go to this again? I'm not sure; I think it would have been more helpful had they had the workshops like they normally do (but there's a campus buy-out and moving story that I'm sure you can google around and find out about if you're really interested). It's normally a 12-day conference that they shortened to 5 days, and next year it's expected to go back to normal.

Speaking to other wannabe writers, what quality did they like most about the authors? Down-to-earthness (not even sure if that's a word).

Thing I wish I did most? I should have not been so shy and been more open and asked questions. I really wanted to introduce myself and ask Megan Wolitzer some questions, and I had my opportunity when people were standing around outside during one of the breaks chatting, but I lost it, when Matthew Klam started talking to her. I didn't want to be rude and interrupt, and I lost my chance when my cell phone rang. Stupid cell phone

I enjoyed myself though and if I have money next year, I'll probably go back for one of the workshops.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

We don't want no foreign lands

In a recent post from the literary agent better known as Miss Snark, there was a recent post about a workshop at the recent RWA convention where people brought their first 2 pages, read them aloud in front of 2 literary agents and an editor. The agents would tell them to stop as soon as they found a reason to reject them.

Surprisingly enough, two of the strangest reject reasons (which the agents readily admitted were subjective) were:

1) The story had a dog
2) The story was set outside in a foreign land.

You can read more about it here (And definitely don't miss the comments).

Now, what concerns me is number 2. The more I think about it, the more it makes a lot of sense because the majority of genre novels are set in white bread America featuring "white" characters. At the same time, the more it annoys the hell out of me because this only reinforces the sense of an insular white America to insular American readers. Yes there are great books by Iranian, Chinese, Japanese writers speaking of the human experience in gorgeous ways, but the people who read those are not the great majority whose reading habits are more Dan Brown and Stephen King. By making white America the norm (which it is not), you only serve to exoticize the rest of the world, and by default non-American people.

Hmmm. This bears some rethinking of my writing strategies and goals.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Great Reasons to be a Guy

As I've been trying to write better male characters, I found this posted over at the message boards on All About Romance novels to be quite funny:

Great Reasons To Be A Guy...

1. Phone Conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.
2. You know stuff about tanks.
3. A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
4. You can open all your own jars.
5. Dry cleaners and hair cutters don't rob you blind.
6. You can go to the bathroom without a support group.
7. You can leave the motel bed unmade.
8. You can kill your own food.
9. You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
10. Wedding plans take care of themselves.
11. If someone forgets to invite you to something, he or she can still be your friend.
12. Your underwear is $10 for a three-pack.
13. If you are 34 and single, nobody notices.
14. Everything on your face stays its original color.
15. You can quietly enjoy a car ride from the passenger's seat.
16. Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
17. You don't have to clean if the meter reader is coming.
18. Car mechanics tell you the truth.
19. You can quietly watch a game with your buddy for hours without ever thinking: "He must be mad at me."
20. Gray hair and wrinkles only add character.
21. Wedding dress - $2,000. Tuxedo rental - 75 bucks.
22. You can drop by to see a friend without bringing a little gift.
23. If another guy shows up at the party in the same outfit, you just might become lifelong friends.
24. Your pals will never trap you with: "So, notice anything different?"
25. You are not expected to know the names of more than five colors.
26. You know which way to turn a nut on a bolt.
27. You almost never have strap problems in public.
28. You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes.
29. The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades.
30. You don't have to shave below your neck.
31. Your belly usually hides your big hips.
32. One wallet and one pair of shoes, one color, all seasons.