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I Spy, Almost

I wanted to write spy novels. Yes. I mean it. Cloak and dagger, assignations in misty alleys, the whole bit.

One day I tried my hand at it, and this is what I produced:

A frog who was a successful espionage agent decided one day while sitting on his chilly pad that it was time for this spy to come in from the cold.

"Wart'll I do?" moaned his Chief in dismay. "Without you, we'll be toadally at the mercy of The Enemy."

"Send me a youngster," proposed the frog, "and I'll train her in the art of espionage."

So the Chief assigned a young polliwog apprentice. Months of training followed, but the polliwog was such a slowpoke that the frog despaired of ever making her into a good spy.

Then, tactics of The Enemy made a mission necessary. "Speed is of the essence!" cried the Chief as the three of them rushed toward their checkpoint.

"Alas!" wailed the frog. "All is lost! This polliwog'll dawdle all day!"

The Enemy was hard on their heels, the frog dragging the slow polliwog every step of the way.

"Quick!" panted the Chief. "Holler something to distract them!"

At that the frog stopped abruptly, dropped the polliwog, and resigned himself to being captured. "This is the end. I can do no more," he proclaimed bitterly. "I can't possibly croak and drag 'er, too."

That's the end of my story, and it was the end of my career as a writer of espionage novels. Robert Ludlum, you have nothing to worry about. Happy New Year, everyone.  Read More 
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Why Read?

It's a relevant question now that we have so many other ways to use our eyes and our imaginations. TV, movies, video games. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. IPad. Smart phones. Surfing the Web. Have I left something out?

I posed the question "Why read?" to my friends at lunch. They don't want their identities revealed,so I'll call them Sasha, Tamsin, and Morissey, names that I've never used in any of my books (see previous blog post).

"I want to immerse myself in a story," Sasha said. "It's about losing myself in another world."

"One world is enough to handle. For me, reading is a way to connect with characters I like. Who make no demands on me." This was Morissey, who is dealing with an untrainable dog, nieces who dug up their dead hamster and stuck it in her freezer, and a husband who - well, you don't want to know all that. Or maybe you do, but I'm not telling.

Tamsin stirred her tea. She only drinks Earl Grey. "It's not so much the story or the characters," she said after a while. "It's how you get from Point A to Point B. All stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. The way the author handles it is what interests me."

"Ah," Morissey said knowingly. "The workings of the author's mind."

"I'm surprised you think about the author at all," I said. Being an author, I focus on the characters I create. I try to leave myself out of it.

"Oh, we always think about the author," they chorused, nodding and then blinking at me as they waited to see what I'd say.

"I think about the reader," I told them. "All the time. Kind of like he or she is looking over my shoulder as I write."

Tamsin wrinkled her nose, whether at what I said or at the pungent steam rising from the Earl Grey, I couldn't tell.

"That's creepy," said Sasha. She thinks everything is creepy. She doesn't like spiders either.

"Having an imaginary reader around doesn't bother me." I shrugged and ate some pound cake. "I'm writing for the reader, so it seems as if she should be there when I do." I expected more questions about this, but nooooooo. There are two questions I get over and over again. One is "Where do you get your ideas?" The other usually follows fast upon the heels of that one. And so it did.

"Didn't you once tell us you write in your pajamas?" Tamsin asked with interest.

Inward groan. Outward nonchalance. "Must have been some other writer. Not me." I always say that. I'll leave you to guess if it's true or not, but remember, I write fiction for a living.

"I like the feel of the pages as I turn them. The paper and all," said Morissey. "It's soothing."

"Not me! I love my e-reader." This was Sasha.

"Me too," Tamsin said. "I hate paper books. They take up too much space."

"I'm never getting an e-reader." Morissey shuddered.

"Can't we like both? E-readers for convenience, book books because - well, because." I can't imagine not having book books all over the place. They make home seem like home.

"Okay, we can like both," one of them said, and the others nodded and passed the pound cake.

I started thinking: Are we witnessing the end of the book book? Those heavy volumes that we lugged home from the library every week when we were kids? Books that promised adventure, romance, information, and many happy hours with people we'd never forget? Scarlett O'Hara, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anna Karenina, Heathcliff, Steinbeck on the road with Charley the dog. Anne Frank. Jody and the yearling.

With all the new technology available, maybe we are witnessing the demise of books as we knew them.

Only I don't think it really is all that tragic. A book is still a book whether it arrives from the library between covers or in a flash on my e-reader. The people in the stories are the same people, and we'll be forever fascinated by the thought processes in the author's head. We're still going to discuss good stories over pound cake with friends.

Everything is the same. Just different. And maybe it's better. I love being able to adjust the print size in my e-reader to a size that doesn't give me eyestrain. It's great to download the book I want to read in less than 30 seconds. Also, my e-reader talks. It reads stories to me.

So I'm embracing new technology. It's great. I like having options. Plus it gives me great comfort to know that no matter how my stories are delivered to my readers, one thing will remain constant. There will always be people around who ask if I write in my pajamas. Read More 
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