Thursday, June 21, 2012

One More Page & Alma Katsu

I love bookstores. Whenever I go on trips, I am quick to check to see if there are any bookstores in town worth checking out. So I was delighted when I heard a new independent bookstore had opened locally, One More Page Books. The bookstore hosts a number of author events and reading groups; they also carry a unique array of chocolate and wine.

The six block walk from the Metro is accurate but it's a winding trip through some of Arlington/Falls Church's residential streets. Fortunately there are also bus routes that run fairly very close. That proved useful tonight. The June weather was hot and humid beyond belief, so walking was out of the question.

So I went to Alma Katsu's book launch for The Reckoning, the second book in her Taker Trilogy. I'd heard about the books from following the bookstore owner's twitter feed. The beautiful covers intrigued me enough to learn more about the books. I think I was one of the few at the signing that had not read the first one already though.

Alma Katsu was a delight, though. A petite woman, she worked in intelligence for thirty years before making the break to a full time writer. Rather than doing a reading, Katsu told us what the last year has been like since her first book came out. Her third book is actually due at the same time her second one is being released, so I can only imagine the planning and coordination involved. Some of it sounded like a cautionary tale to go with the old "So you wanna be a writer?" question. She made the comparison of feelings towards a first book as similar to a first child; for the first, you have great plans, everything will be coordinated and planned. By the time the second one has rolled around, you’re just ready to get on with it and you have no delusions whatsoever.

One thing Alma Katsu talked about that surprised me was quitting the day job. Most writers I know caution against that idea completely. Her publisher/editor reacted to that decision with "Uh, okay, right, hope it works for you." Honestly I would be a little nervous about that prospect, too. But she had good reasons why it made sense. As she pointed out, working for the Alphabets (i.e. CIA, NSA, etc) includes a lot of very strict non-disclosure statements and rules about interacting with the media. That doesn't translate very well for publishing purposes, especially for interviews. But she also added it took some adjusting to life outside those confines. Her schedule now is a far cry from a normal eight hour day, sometimes coming up for air in the middle of the day, before working late into the evening.

The funniest story came from a book trip overseas. Katsu has been fortunate to have her books already translated into several languages already, including Spanish, Polish, and Italian. Her Italian publishers brought her over for a few days. She’d thought it’d be the usual "meet and greet" when it was a steady block of interviews, including having her picture taken by several paparazzi. (That they could have gotten photos from her website apparently hadn’t occurred to anyone.) So she had these photo shoots with these typical older Italian photographers that didn’t speak English very well and mostly suggested poses with gestures and such. Katsu demonstrated some of them and they were the silliest of silly. What was funnier was when she received the links for the photos later and saw they’d done photos for most of the major authors that went through from Salmon Rushdie to Isabel Allende – all making the exact same quirky set of poses.

The One More Page’s owner was celebrating her birthday, so there was cake! Both a small ice cream cake before the signing and a large sheet cake with the Reckoning cover on it for afterwards. They also had a choice of Spanish sparkling wine and a Zinfandel/Shiraz blend.

The signing line was growing longer and longer as I was leaving. I was delighted to meet Alma Katsu and get my books signed, but also needed to head for home. I will caution people, if they want to browse at length, check their schedule on the website to make sure there isn’t an event. It is a smallish shop, so they have to move some shelving and block other sections to make enough space, so some places are hard to access. The store does offer a free frequent buyer program and will special order/ preorder books for you.

Honestly I love the bookstore. It’s a great alternate option to have available, even if I can’t get to it regularly.

Halfway up Pike's Peak

I've stalled a bit on my TBR challenge to be honest. I'd blame those dratted library books, because they’re so distracting. I seem to be stuck midway through several likely suspects. So I'm huddled in a nice section of the mountain, taking a break before tackling the next round. I am pleased, though, that I discovered the Goodreads' Mt TBR Reading Group for sharing our experiences/war stories/book discoveries.

The current list:
Strong Poison
In the Garden of Iden
Staying Dead
Dagger Magic
Blue Bloods
Affinity Bridge

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).

I've finished seven books in my TBR Challenge, only three since the last update. To try my hand at the weird math, Pike's Peak is 14,115 feet. I've completed 7/12 books or 58% of my goal. That means that I'm 5,928 feet up currently. (Did I do that right? I'm lousy at math.) Oh, I do hope I brought enough supplies...

2. Compose a poem using the titles from your list (lower case words are what I added):

In the Garden of Iden
Staying Dead
is a
Blue Bloods

B. Who has been your favorite character so far and why?

I could be obvious and say Lord Peter Wimsey, but to choose from the last three books I read, I'd say Lawrence van Alen in the Blue Bloods series. He first appears in Masquerade and I liked how De La Cruz played with the usual expectations of vampire lore and changed it around a little with Lawrence's abilities. Lawrence is old and frankly set in his habits. He has certain expectations of how people should act that are rather contrary to the current crop. He makes for a different kind of contrast. I would have loved to have seen Lawrence in his prime, rather than as a fairly broken spirit.

C. Have any of the books surprised you -- if so in what way? (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you've read all year?)

Dagger Magic surprised me in a bad way. I reread the earlier Adept books leading up to that one and they weren't stellar but they were good for they were. At Dagger Magic, all the charm and energy seemed to have disappeared, along with the copyediting. It wound up being a slough to get through. I still have Death of an Adept left in my TBR shelf and I'm not all that keen to get to it.

D. Bonus question: What am I reading now from the TBR pile?

I did manage to read a few chapters of Seanan McGuire’s An Artificial Night today. I’m hoping that will spur me on to finish that for book #8.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Armchair BEA recap - Better late than never?

For the second year, I joined the ArmchairBEA (#armchairbea) twitter parties. Over 600 book bloggers signed up for the Armchair BEA event; I had to adjust the refresh rate several times to allow tweetchat to keep up with the conversation.

Like last year, the topics ranged far and wide. Fifty Shades of Grey was the "controversial" topic du jour, but I had the impression most book bloggers were tired of hearing about it by now. We discussed whether we are attracted to pretty covers and whether it bothered us when publishers changed formats or trade dress for series. We discussed which books and genres we were drawn now compared to when we were younger. Strangely I had an easier identifying what influenced me as a child than guide me now as an adult. I read so widely it's hard to pin down what influences me. I can point to which topics or books influenced certain writing projects, but not necessarily my professional or personal life.

But blogging wasn't far from our discussion either. Everyone traded their tips and advice for social media and interacting with publishers and authors. The conversation made me look critically at what I've done or not. I realized I'm a bit of social wallflower when it comes to book blogging standards. I have twitter/tumblr/pinterest/etc but I’ve never integrated them or made them part of my book blog. I'm horrible about replying to comments on my blog, unless there's a direct question. I enjoy twitter's give and take, especially being able to let an author know I’ve enjoyed their book. But I’m always worried I put off the non-comics/non-geeky crowd with my usual topics.

What I enjoyed about the twitter parties was seeing the range of the responses and usually the emotion they conveyed. One thing was quite clear: book bloggers are very particular about their books and their habits. I also really appreciated interacting with new people outside the comics blogging sphere. Sometimes you need to gain some perspective, especially when you’re feeling tapped out.

Every time I hear that reading is dead, I think about the e-readers I've seen crop up on my Metro commute. And most iPads I've seen have been used for reading, whether books, comics or magazines. Libraries are struggling to keep up with the demand for e-books. And then I look at the strong book blogging community and the countless readathons/readalongs/challenges I can’t keep up with. I remember all the young girls in line for the YA event a few months back, happily clutching their books and discussing their favorites at length. Booksellers, yes, are having troubles, it's true, but I don’t see reading losing any steam any time soon.