Brilliant bit of time-lapse photography showing off the Burren in all its atmospheric majesty. I could watch this for ages.

[I try to keep this as personal blog, but by trade I am a book promoter. As most of the people I engage with both in real life and online are writers and book people, I thought I should share a few observations about the trade. This is the first in an occasional series of posts.]

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Local Bookstores vs. “Local” Authors.

One thing that comes up over and over again when self-published or small press authors responsible for their own publicity/marketing discuss bookstores is a level of anger that it’s often difficult to get their books into indie bookstores (either on the shelves or for an event). I often see writers comment online (and hear it at festivals) that “even” their local stores “make it hard” for them and that local stores should want to work with local authors, and somewhere along the way I’ve realized there’s a disconnect between many fledgling writers and bookstores about what exactly a local author is.  Newsflash: it’s about a lot more than your ZIP code.

Let’s start with the obvious factor: physical proximity. Do you live a short drive or walk from the bookstore? This is an essential part of the equation, but it’s not the only relevant consideration. Another question is even more vital: do you shop at this bookstore regularly?  The key difference is between someplace being a local bookstore and it being your local bookstore.

From there the questions go on: How many booksellers do you know on a first name basis? Do they smile or grimace when you walk in? How many events have you attended there? Have you ever ended up in a bar, after hours, boozing it up with a touring author friend, a couple of booksellers from the store, and a sales rep for a publishing company who you still can’t see at a party without blushing?  How many times has the manager pulled a book from under the counter and said, “You’re gonna love this!” the moment you crossed the threshold?

I’m not saying you have to be best friends with the owner and blow your kids’ college savings at the bookstore, but you have to use it. You should be a known face — not necessarily a confidant — and part of the local literary community. If you’ve been working away in beautiful isolation and ordering all your own reading material from Amazon, then how can you expect your local bookstore to regard you as a local author? You’re a local, certainly, and you’re an author, but neither alone is a compelling reason for any bookstore to want to work with you. (They are swamped with authors asking them to carry their books or host events.) They need to know you the individual, and know you have a level of respect and support for their mission before they might consider supporting yours.

Your local store should be the one in the community where you live, where your children go to school, where you and your friends shop, the one with the cafe where you meet for safe first dates, and the place you bring out-of-town family when they visit. If you do not have a local store like this, find one. Pick a store, shop there, chat with the booksellers, ask for recommendations, buy birthday gifts there, attend events, get to know the staff and let them get to know you. It’ll make your literary life more interesting, more varied, and more eventful, and when you finish your manuscript and finally have a book to promote, your local booksellers will be much more enthusiastic and supportive because your success will be personal for them. During the writing process there’s a time for isolation and contemplation, for quiet work and freedom from distractions, but everyone needs a literary community to present their work to, and your local bookstore can be the cornerstone of that.

Bear this in mind: one of the criteria bookstores use in deciding whether to carry your book or to host an event is the question “Does this author have a local network to mobilize in support of their book?” If you haven’t even bothered to get to know people at the area bookstore, this doesn’t suggest you’ll be any better at networking in any other aspect of your life.

Bottom line: No bookstore is compelled to work with an author, especially not one who claims to be local, but whom they’ve never seen or heard from before. Take the time to get involved in your local literary community and support your local bookstore, your life will be the richer for it, and the booksellers will be more inclined to support your book in turn.

This is not to say that cultivating a good relationship with your local bookstore is the only thing you need to make a successful book. It’s just one part of your overall marketing plan — I’ll try to write about some of the others shortly. But, it’s a key relationship, and new writers should not take it for granted.

President Higgins nails the #1 virtue of the Irish people in his Christmas message:

“We are, for example, a country with a network of communities, that are increasingly active in responding to their own, and their society’s, difficulties.”

Unfortunately, it’s also the thing that enables successive governments to get away with inefficiency, lax regulation, and poor policies: the people will take care of other people, both at home and abroad. Still, it’s a virtue seeming to grow scarce in this world and should be celebrated.

Link: President issues Christmas message – The Irish Times – Sun, Dec 16, 2012.

My daughters are obsessed with Doctor Who. Besides the show itself, they love the trading cards and magazines. It’s their latest obsession, and one I’m very happy to support because — unlike Japanese Erasers or Silly Bandz — I actually credit this with turning my youngest from a very reluctant reader into an avid reading machine.

It all started with a trip to Easons this summer. I have fond memories of reading comics and kid magazines when I was a child, but the paltry few we have to choose from in the US are sheer drivel, and seem to have not a single redeeming quality. So, knowing Easons has the widest selection of magazines in my hometown, I took them in to see if anything caught their interest. After steering our youngest away from a predominantly-pink magazine with free chemical-laden make-up, she spotted an issue of Doctor Who Monster Invasion and decided that was her choice. The magazine came with a pack of trading cards, and when they opened it in the car, it was infatuation at first sight.

Each week all summer they waited for Wednesday with a quivering excitement usually only seen at bedtime on Christmas Eve. They each saved their pocket money to buy a copy of the magazine and studied the cards and read the magazine for days. They were in absolute nerdy nirvana. We had to scour the newsagents in Dublin to find one that sold the packs of cards, but find them we eventually did, and we stocked up and now use them as bribes rewards for reading. Finishing a book earns the girls 3-4 Doctor Who cards, and they are currently powering through books at a great rate — initially motivated by the reward, but increasingly by the enjoyment of the books themselves. (Our older daughter has been a great reader for years, but our younger needed all the encouragement she could get.)

After we came back to NC, we took out a subscription to the magazine. The day the monthly shipment comes is drop-everything-and-read day — and there can never be too many of those.

 

After almost 7 years of living in our “forever” house, we finally have a working fireplace. The fire bricks were too old and damaged to be safely used, so we decided to install a woodstove instead of rebuilding the whole firebox. By the time we got serious about dealing with it, we also had to get some repointing and re-flashing done on the chimney itself. After having the masonry work done in the spring, we laid a new hearth after returning from Ireland and had the woodstove installed in October.

To save money I built the hearth, but we decided to leave the chimney liner and stove installation to the pros.

Ms. Elsie was my curious assistant through the tedious tile-laying process.

She has enjoyed the fruits of her labors ever since. Elsie certainly understands the old Irish saying níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin (there’s no fireside like your own fireside).

There’s a revealing interview with Salman Rushdie over on BBC Radio 4. His memoir of the many years he spent under police protection after the fatwa was declared comes out in a week or so.

Looks like Stonehenge will be getting a new visitor’s center and some of the encroaching modern civilization is going to be removed. Sounds like a good idea to me. After a lifetime of pretty open access to many Irish megalithic sites, I didn’t realize Stonehenge was kept at hand’s length like this.

Link: Stonehenge: a new dawn | Travel | The Guardian.

A Cursing Stone (c) National Trust for Scotland

A “Cursing Stone” found in Scotland. Not sure why it’s called a cursing stone: a prayer stone would seem to be more apt, at least going by the use described in this article.

Link: BBC News – ‘Cursing stone’ found on Isle of Canna.

Two guys found a hoard of ancient Celtic gold coins weighing three-quarters of a ton. Must buy myself a metal detector.

Link: Iron Age coins discovered in Jersey after 30-year search | Culture | The Guardian.

The front, or sunrise-facing, wall of Newgrange: white quartz, “river-rounded” granite/aka beach cobbles, and huge greywacke boulders.

We visited Newgrange recently, and paid more attention than usual to the walls of white quartz and “river-rounded granite” cobbles — rounded, gray rocks that look something like cannonballs embedded in the walls — because the day was very windy and we appreciated the shelter of the high walls. I idly wondered why they were part of the construction, what purpose they had, but didn’t have any ideas. Today, I came across an intriguing theory regarding carved stone balls found around large stone circles in Scotland.

More beach cobbles in among the quartz surrounding the roof box.

It seems these stone balls could have served as “ball bearings” when placed in a shallow wooden track, and allowed a relative few people to move heavy stones with economy. The method may have been easier than log-rolling, although the construction of the trackways would have taken time. Perhaps the left-over stone balls could then have been incorporated in the walls of Newgrange? But maybe the river-rounded granites of Newgrange aren’t regular or round enough to facilitate this? It’s hard to tell as they are now part of the walls, and secured in concrete. Some do appear slightly flattened, more like normal river rocks, while others look quite round. They apparently came from a different part of the country to the huge greywacke kerbstones and orthostats used at Newgrange, which raises the question of why these rounded granite stones were used, and not other river-rounded rocks.

Link: Feature: British Archaeology 117, March / April 2011.

Link: Nova special: Secrets of Stonehenge, a documentary which contains info on this theory of transporting huge stone slabs in the stone age.

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