What's this all about

Chronicling my steps to becoming a published novelist, and the randomness of my life.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

This Is London

Okay, so I have decided to go out on a limb and share some of my writing with you. I need to get practice in letting others read my work and receiving feedback, so I figured why not do it now? We're among friends here.

This is a short non-fiction piece I wrote in the Intro to Creative Writing class I took the last semester of my senior year at university. I have very little experience with non-fiction. In fact the only experience I have besides this are those ridiculous TAKS test essays we had to write in high school, which were more like fiction works for me anyways because I never had a personal story that fit the topics. Anyways, this here piece of work was critiqued once by my classmates and then I revised it and turned it in for my final. As such, I never received any more feedback on it. If you'd like to leave some constructive criticism, I'll be sure to read it and consider your observations. I want to become the best writer I can be, but I can't do that without a little help from others.

Alright, I won't - as my mother would say - dwaddle any longer. Happy reading!

This is London
It’s the middle of July and I’m wrapped up in my green jacket as I walk a long the river bank.  I can’t get over the novelty of being cold in the summer; never in my life have I been cold in the summer.  A smug grin pulls across my lips. It’s probably a sweltering 107 degrees back home in Midland, Texas and I’m not there to suffer through it.
It’s Thursday morning in London which means the South Bank of the Thames has transformed into a sort of carnival.  Every ten feet there are street performers. There’s a young couple beating a collection of household objects like a drum set, a little further down is a Jimi Hendrix impersonator, and all around are people who have been painted bronze or silver and are standing perfectly still, living statues. One performer has quite a crowd gathered around him as he juggles entirely too many bowling pins.
            “Alright ladies and gentleman, this is what I call juggling in America. It’s just the same as juggling anywhere else, except I think I’m doin’ it twice as betta as anyone else.”
            The crowd laughs and applauds. They don’t know that this is only the first of many more “stupid American” jokes to come. Or that they will be expected to pay their entertainer when he is finished.
I’m four weeks into my study abroad adventure and I’ve seen this all before by now. No longer do I feel the need to stop for pictures to show my friends how crazy, cool, eclectic this city is.  I make my way through the tourists with the care and precision of maneuvering through a mine field.  Step left, a swift dash to the right stopping short to avoid being in the frame of a Japanese man’s photo of Zorro.  I’ve got tourist-dodging down to an art.
            I emerge from the human mine field in one piece and jog up the gray stone steps to Waterloo Bridge. I’m on my way to a little appliance shop on the other side of the river to purchase a battery charger for my camera. The one I had brought with me blew up last night when I plugged it into the wall despite using a converter.
            “Yes, this happens a lot, I’m afraid.” Sunny, the security guard behind the front desk at my dorms told me this morning. “It’s best to just buy the thing when you are here. Here, have a biscuit.”
            Sunny always had what the English called “biscuits”. I called them cookies.
            Half-way across the bridge I stop to soak in my favorite view of London.  It is the same place I stood two years ago on vacation when I first fell in love with the city.  The place where I looked out across the river and beheld Parliament and Big Ben and the massive, white London Eye.  Where, for the very first time in my life, I felt like I belonged.  That feeling resounds inside me again as I take in the mix of old and new buildings.  Red double-decker busses flow through the traffic of taxis, good looking men in pin stripe suits briskly pass by, and on the dirty brown water below a boat is blaring Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”  These are the images that have pulled at my brain like a magnet from across the Atlantic Ocean for two years. I take a deep breath inhaling exhaust and the cold, sharp smell of the Thames. I love this city.
            I love the rushed, busy people who’d rather not make eye contact with you.  I love the tall, ornate buildings each one with a special history.  I love that there is music in the subway stations and art on the side walks. I love the sound of laughter and the smell of beer when I walk past a pub at any time of the day.  I love the sexual innuendos in all the advertisements. A meat delivery truck drives past me with the slogan “Well hung and lean” written across it in red letters.  But most of all I love feeling like I am a part of something else. I am not alone here.
            I continue on against the strong wind, playing my favorite game of “spot the tourist.” I’ve gotten pretty good at telling the difference between the locals and the tourists, and I’ve tried my best with the clothes I brought to blend in with the natives. Today I’m wearing a plain, white shirt under my jacket, fitted dark blue jeans and a pair of black boots. I’ve abandoned my screen printed T-shirts and tennis shoes, or trainers as they’re called here.  The wind wraps my curly hair around my face, destroying all the work I had done earlier to make sure each curl was in the right place. Normally this would irritate me beyond belief, but I’ve found that letting the wind have its way with me gives my hair that messy, I-don’t-care look that’s so popular with the London youth.
            A quarter of a mile later I’m in the appliance store. It’s no different than any RadioShak I’ve ever been in back home. Wall to wall gadgets and cables and the same familiar brand names. I even find the exact same battery charger as my old, burned up one from the States, except that its plug is a different shape. I grab my item and take it to the check-out counter.
            The girl working behind the counter looks to be the same age as me. She is dark skinned with long, straight, black hair and apparently completely bored with her job. “Hiya,” she greets me casually as she scans my purchase.
            I give a tight lipped smile and nod “hello” to her.
            “Right, do you have the frequent shoppa discount card?”
            She asked it so nonchalantly that I hesitate before answering, trying to remember if I do have that card. Of course I don’t. “Um, no. I don’t have one.”
            “Oh!” She exclaims, looking surprised. There’s an awkward pause as she studies me very closely for a solid minute. She looks at me like I had just played a trick on her that she didn’t appreciate. “That’ll be 10 pounds.”
            Did she think… I wonder as I hand over the money. She thought I was like her. She didn’t peg me for a yankee. My smile is ear to ear as I walk out the door. I was mistaken for a local. Goal achieved.
            I take my time crossing the bridge back to my dorm at 27 Stamford Street. I’m feeling even more resolute in my belief that I am where I belong. I’m so happy and comfortable here in London. I never really felt like that back in Texas. Here, I am apart of something.
            I am as much a part of the city as the stone bridge I stand on.  I am one with the gusts of wind that tear across the Thames.  I am that missing jigsaw piece, the one that had accidently been put into a box with the wrong puzzle, but has finally been found and fits so perfectly.  The picture is complete.  I am found.  This is home.  This is London.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Search, Research, And Repeat

The very first thing The Guide tells me to do is research. Find out what books are being sold, how much they're going for, who's publishing and who's buying. With this information you should be better suited to come up with an awesome, salable story idea. I already have an awesome, salable story idea that's already been written from start to finish and revised once - so I guess I'm kind of back-pedaling here now, but that's okay. I don't think there is any possible way I could write a book, read The Guide, follow The Guide, make it through a full work day and manage my online social life all at the same time. In this case I don't think it's such a bad thing that I put the proverbial cart before the proverbial horse. I always did do things sorta backwards anyway. Proverbially.

So, I've spent this past week searching for other books about the same subject as mine and writing down how much amazon.com and B&N online are selling them for. Seems like the going rate for paperbacks is right around  7 - 8 bucks. I've also clicked on every single book that came up on the first 3 pages for amazon and eagerly scribbled down the names of the publishers. I have a list of 16 publishing companies so far, most of them I had never heard of. 2 of them have since been mentioned in The Guide, so that's good.

I"m also supposed to go to the bookstore and the library to scope out how many books similar to mine are out there, and to talk to the people who work there about which books are being moved off the shelves (and back on the shelves, then off the shelves, then on the shelves in the case of the library) the most. I have two major issues with this task.

      1) I find it hard to believe that the hippies at Barnes and Noble's are going to be willing and able to just tell me what selling trends they're seeing and which books they're choosing to stock and why. Don't get me wrong, those hippies are super nice and super helpful when I'm trying to find books like Are You There Vodka, It's Me Chelsea, or if I linger near the Nook table too long. But can they divulge the tricks of their trade? I'm not so sure. (And I'm not saying that all people who work at Barnes & Noble's are hippies, either. Just all the ones that work at the B&N in Denton.)

 and B) I fear librarians. It's true. I have since I was a child. Public Libraries in themselves are creepy. Huge, cavernous, blandly decorated...no public place should be that quiet. And librarians are the harbingers of Shhh! that lurk among the bookshelves. Whatever good was in them has been Dewey Decimalled out.

Maybe I'm being unfair to those of the librarian persuasion but let me just tell you, let me just tell you what happened the last time I visited the Midland County Public Library. I was 18 and it had been probably 10 year since I had been there last. After I found my book about Geoffrey Chaucer I went downstairs to check out. I went up to the only person behind the counter and set my book down. The woman just stood there and stared at me. I stared back. Seconds passed with the two of us in a staring contest and me thinking she would take the initiative to do her job and check the book out to me. But nay.

I finally broke the awkward silence and said, "I'd like to check this out."

To which she replied with a nasty little smirk, "Good for you."

I was shocked and offended. What kind of customer service was that?! Had this been a place of business I would have walked out right then, only to return later with an armful of books to have myself a Pretty Woman moment. But I was at the library and I was too frightened to move. Eventually this woman did check out the book with much indignation, but not before she charged me $15.00 for a new library card because I no longer had the one I had been issued when I was 6.

But I suppose it's high time to put aside my preconceived notions of hippie booksellers and cold librarians, as I have sworn to follow The Guide as closely as possible. My mission is to muster up some courage and go and speak to someone who works in the book world and ask some business questions. But, in the meantime, if you know anyone who sells books or works in a library and you think they'd be willing to share some inside information, please let me know!

On another note, I'm trying to come up with a good posting schedule and I'm thinking one post a week (unless multiple posts are necessary) posted on Sundays. Maybe that will be enough to keep you coming back and even give you something to look forward to. Whatdya think?

Thanks for reading!