Jeremy J. Jones – Stranded in Thought

July 12, 2010

Borders eBooks: anything but easy

Filed under: Opinion — Jeremy @ 5:53 pm

I am a huge fan of Borders. At least their bookish sections. I could really do without the coffee and other stuff they sell in their stores, but I understand why they offer all that stuff: to bring people in. I get that.

Yesterday, I traveled to my local one to buy a gift certificate for a friend, and I got a coupon from them advertising their currently running “Free eBooks” promotion.

I am not enamored with the idea of eReaders at all. I don’t like to read on an electronic screen. There’s glare, it’s too small, I can’t really be comfortable while I do it, et cetera. But I decided, since Borders was offering me five free eBooks, I would give them a try. Their advertising worked on me.

So I downloaded the Borders eBooks app (to my PC; there is no option for the BlackBerry Storm), and went to get the titles. I was pleased to find I’d already been provided with five titles: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; .

“That’s pretty cool,” I thought, and went about downloading the advertised five titles.

Here is where it became problematic and mildly irritating. First, I learned that I had to enter a $0 transaction for each book. I didn’t like that very much, but I understand that the system is set up for purchases, and probably the only way (they can think of) to provide free titles is to provide them in a no-cost transaction. “Fine,” I thought, and I went about purchasing the first, and here’s where the real trouble began that ended in my writing this post.

Despite having a preexisting account with Borders.com that contains billing information, I had to enter all this information again. That was a bit annoying.

The form requires a phone number, and that phone number cannot contain any dashes. No information is given that explains that, other than that at the time of purchase, a notice is given that the phone number “appears to be invalid.” In honor of Baseball’s All-Star Game, and the passing of the legendary Bob Sheppard, I’ll use a baseball analogy; that was strike one.

After I figured that out, I checked the box that indicates I can click to save all my entered information for future orders, and shortly thereafter realized that it was not possible to purchase more than one title at a time, meaning I would have to enter five transactions. Strike two.

On attempting to purchase the next title (for no charge), I learned that the billing information was not recorded and I would have to reenter it, and do it three more times after that. Strike three.

By now I was pretty pissed. But I quickly realized I could work it all out in words, so here we are.

I’ll probably flip through some of the titles, but the fact remains that I hate reading on a computer, which is odd since I’ve been working with them for about thirty years. Nonetheless, I prefer a real book in my hands. I would never discount the market potential, and I’m sure some day I’ll come around, but right now the technology is just not my cup of tea.

And Borders’ eBook app, while a great idea, didn’t work very well at all, for me.

July 5, 2010

Daft About Craft: Plot

Filed under: Craft,Fiction,Writing — Jeremy @ 10:17 pm

During the past month or so, I’ve begun my study of the elements of writer’s craft. Having completed a perfunctory examination of my first chosen element, Plot, I thought it time to post some observations. This is by no means an exhaustive, end-all-be-all guide to plotting. I am working through it to learn, and encourage dissent and discussion.

First, the obvious. Plot is that mechanism that moves a story from beginning to end. But it’s also more than that. We are all taught in high school that a plot summary consists of a point by point telling of the story, such as:

  1. Henry is at work, and he’s a hardass. He’s rude to his coworkers, and somewhat unlikeable.
  2. After work, or on his lunch break, Henry feels bad for an old woman and helps carry her groceries.
  3. He meets a woman in a bookstore, and he’s smitten.

Et cetera.

But plot is so much more useful than just a telling of the tale. It creates conflict and tension, drama, and suspense. It is the element by which the writer makes the reader’s heart race. It also can be used to pull at the heartstrings, but characterization is a strong contributor there (Character is next on my list).

We use plot to grab the reader’s attention in the opening. That initial hook is plot, definitely. And in character development, which often follows the opening, we would be wise to use plot — that is, dialogue and events — to exhibit our characters’ attitudes, rather than exposition, which can put any reader to sleep.

After we’ve grabbed the reader’s attention and got her enamored with the characters, the complications begin. This is all plot. We show the problem. (Actually, it can be better to start this very early, especially in a mystery, where the “who did it” is the whole point of the story.)

And so on.

Of course, skilled writers move plot around to create new, more exciting methods. Quentin Tarentino comes to mind as one of those who masterfully alters the traditional chronological plot to wonderful effect. And literary fiction often abandons plot altogether in favor of creating a surreal setting or feeling. But that’s not the point here.

In the past few weeks, I’ve learned more than I can explain at this point, because it’s all still swirling around in my head. But what I have learned, I am applying in reading some of my earlier stories, where I can see errors. Not terrible ones, but definite areas for improvement. And that is really the whole point of this exercise.

For anyone seriously considering a career in fiction writing, I strongly recommend study. You must learn your craft. Some of it you will already know, seemingly innately, though in reality you’ve just automatically attuned yourself to it. Studying it will teach you what you already know, so you can recognize it when you see it, and what you don’t know so that you can improve on it.

Growth leads to success. Apathy to failure. I’ve been on both sides of that fence, and I’m sure I will be again. But for now, I am solidly on the growth side, and plan to stay there as much as I can.

 


Copyright © 2010 Jeremy J. Jones


10 minutes to Oregon

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Jeremy @ 12:41 pm

Willamette River from Parrot Mountain, copyright © M.O. Stevens

After my morning workout in the gym this morning I decided to head out for a drive, searching to find Snake Den State Park in nearby Johnston, Rhode Island. I drove around it for a bit, never finding the parking lot and access to the trails. (This appears to be because the directions from the site are inaccurate; I believe the entrance to be on another road than the one named in the aforementioned directions.)

But what was interesting was what I did find. I drove up Route 6 (the ever-winding highway that travels east from Bishop, California to Provincetown, Massachusetts), and turned onto Brown Avenue.

Once I did that, I nearly immediately came across farmland and felt transported 3,000 miles to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where I grew up. I felt a sense of nostalgia as I drove along that country road for a few minutes.

Eventually, I gave up trying to find the entrance to the park and instead resolved to find it another time. But that was a great start to my day, and sent me off to find this great shot from M.O. Stevens.

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