Influences and Impressions

bookworm monterey
The SF room, Book Worm Bookstore, Monterey CA

With the recent passing of genre giant Ursula K Le Guin, and the hundreds of remembrances of fans and fellow authors who were introduced to science fiction and fantasy via her novels and short stories, I got to thinking… I don’t think I’ve ever read any of her work!  I do now own one of her recent short story collections, The Unreal and the Real, that I’ve yet to crack open.  I’m well familiar with the titles, of course.  She’s one of the list of authors I will almost always find in bulk at used book stores.

So what did I read when I was first starting out as a teenage writer?  Well, that’s a good question.  I tried and failed at reading The Lord of the Rings in junior high because I had little patience for it.  I read some YA here and there, a lot of music books and magazines.  Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine was one of the few reading assignments I adored.  My freshman year I devoured Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.  I went through a short spell reading Vonnegut and Asimov.  Some comics.  But that was about it.  I spent more time enthralled by radio and records, as well as visual outlets like MTV, Miami Vice and the various movies we’d rent on the weekends.

And it kind of stayed that way, to be honest.  I read books here and there, but not nearly as voraciously as I do now.  I went through a Stephen King spell in the early 90s, maybe a few other authors here and there.  Douglas Coupland was probably the only mainstay for me then.  Instead I watched a lot of movies (and anime, whenever I could find it).  It wasn’t until maybe the late 90s, right about the same time that I started taking my writing a hell of a lot more seriously, that I decided that maybe I should start reading more, especially in my genre.

Occasionally I’d head to a book store and pick up one or two paperbacks.  By 2000 (right about the time I switched jobs and started the trilogy), my visits to Barnes & Noble and other book stores were becoming more frequent.  For a good couple of years I’d do a run to Leominster (about 30 miles east of my home town) that started at Newbury Comics for a cd run, and ended with a three-hour browse at the B&N up the road.  That was when I finally started finding my own literary influences; Kate Elliott, CJ Cherryh, Richard Paul Russo, Lyda Morehouse, Anne McCaffrey, and so on.  Interestingly, a lot of female genre writers and not that many male writers.  I looked for writers that jumped out at me, that did something unique that fascinated me in some way.

I didn’t read The Lord of the Rings until around 2007, to be honest.  And I finally read Neuromancer around the same time.  I still don’t think I’ve read any Philip K Dick, Alfred Bester, Harlan Ellison, Brian Aldiss or many of the old-school classics, many of whom had movies made from their books by that time.  Some, but not nearly that many as others.

Still, I’ve found my influences in my own way to get where I am today, and I’m still discovering more.  Haruki Murakami is a big current favorite of mine, for instance.  I’m fascinated by storytelling from different angles and avenues, different cultures and points of view.  Just like my avid movie watching back in the day, it’s all about a story that makes me stop in my tracks and think two things: How the hell did they make that work?, and Okay, I need to get back to my computer RIGHT NOW and start writing!  Whether it’s a movie, a book, a manga or an anime, if it moves me just the right way, I’m hooked and inspired.

State of Independents

green-apple-books
Our local indie bookstore in the Richmond

This past Saturday was Independent Bookstore Day, and so of course we made our way over to our local indie bookstore, Green Apple Books, to spend some time and a bit more money than normal.  Sure, we go there at least once a month anyway, but it’s always fun to join in the celebration.  [And to be honest, I’ve kind of given up on Record Store Day, which was a few weeks previous, as it’s become more a Come Buy Our Overpriced RSD Collectibles Day for me, but I digress.]

A and I will always find a reason to head there to browse the shelves.  They have a stellar collection of all kinds of new and used titles, and if they don’t have it, they’re more than happy to order it for you.  A lot of the music bios I’ve read over the last six or seven years have come from that store, in fact, as has most of A’s history books.  And as I’ve mentioned before, they sell e-books on their website via Kobo, as well as ordering self-published books through CreateSpace…which means this store carries my trilogy!

Which brings me to a conversation A and I had earlier today when we were out for a walk around the neighborhood.  One of our internet friends had tweeted her concern about the state of e-books, having read an article somewhere online about how Kids These Days are leaning towards Good Old Fashioned Paper Books or something of the sort, and I replied saying that e-books really weren’t dying a horrible death at all.  It was just stabilizing.  Having followed Publishers Weekly on this very subject for a good couple of years now, I think I can say that with conviction.

We got to talking about how, just like the music business, the excitement and shininess of having a new platform in which to enjoy something has leveled off.  Just like CDs, just like mp3s, e-books have matured as they’ve become more prevalent.  Sidetracking ideas and not-quite-successful failsafes (like DRM) have slowly faded into the background.  You don’t need to buy a Nook when you can download an app (and on your tablet, PC, or phone at that) instead.  And for every person who swears by physical books and loves them like children, there’s another person who swears by e-books because they save a hell of a lot of space.  [And like music: I used to be a physical-copy purist and my collection took up a sizeable chunk of a room in my parents’ basement, but it’s now 99% digital and takes all of one external drive the size of an index card.]

This is partly why I don’t take sales too seriously.  Sales teams are there to push the latest toy into your hands…as well as push the latest version of the toy you already have.  They’re there to say This Version Is Better.

Which is all well and good, when the thing your selling is constantly evolving.  Back in the 90s, with computers getting smaller and stronger, CDs being more durable and travelworthy, and so on, Sales had their work cut out for them.

Nowadays, I think the reading public is at a point where they’re just as happy reading a book as they are reading something on their tablet.  The product excitement wore off some time ago; they just want to enjoy the actual text at this point.  Which means that if you look at the sales graphs just for e-books alone, they’ve sort of leveled off, maybe gone down a bit.  But if you take book sales as a whole — books, e-books, audiobooks, and everything in between — it’s still a pretty stable and vibrant business.  It might not be skyrocketing the way Sales wants it to, but it’s moving at a damn healthy walking pace.

When we lost Borders Books & Music a few years back, and now that we’ve also lost a number of Barnes & Noble storefronts, there’s a justified worry that there’s no available bookstores in a lot of towns and cities.  Some of them had gotten run out of town by those two chains, others had simply given up.  Or didn’t bother.

But I’m starting to see a return to that, really.  The ‘big box’ stores are indeed becoming a thing of the past, for multiple reasons:  internet shopping, unrealistic sales forecasts, and even a small resurgence of small stores.  Some companies aren’t quite sure how to handle that, but others are finding new ways to make it work; some are even flourishing.  The Bay Area is blessed to have a high number of independent book stores and small local chains (such as Copperfield’s and Books Inc), so this area is more of an exception than the norm, but I’ve heard tell — again, via Publishers Weekly — that that’s slowly turning around.

Viva independents! 🙂