The Whole Library Digitization Thing

I’ve been thinking recently about Google’s campaign to digitize the libraries of several major research universities, and so have a lot of other people.

I’m not sure if there’s really a threat here, at least not yet. Some writers and publishing industry types are very worried that the book biz is going down the same path as the music biz and the movie biz. But people don’t read books on their computers. At least not yet.

Will there be a time when it’s as pleasurable to sit with an e-book as it is to sit with a paper book? Sony has apparently developed an electronic reader that uses a new display technology that will utilize less battery power and will (eventually) realize the ‘dream’ of a little slab of electronics that will hold thousands of books that could be purchased cheaply (good for readers, bad for publishers), but still I wonder if that could ever take the place of a book.

Jonathan Franzen once wrote in an essay that he regards books as one of humankind’s greatest creations (I’m paraphrasing from memory here but I think it was in the very fine collection linked to above). I agree with him. Come to my house and you’ll see books everywhere. As my father-in-law once put it, books are on every flat surface in the house. I can’t imagine ever deriving the same pleasure from an electronic reader.

Although, to be fair, before I purchased my laptop (with it’s easy-on-the-eyes LCD) I never thought I’d do much reading on the computer at all. Now I can spend hours surfing blogs and reading newspaper and magazine articles.

That experience, though, does not make me think I’ll someday read a book on my computer. The way I read online is wholly different from the way I read a book. Online, I’m jumping around, following links, rarely finishing a whole piece.

Which raises another question: are we heading for a new literary form? Will the novel morph into an interconnected, multimedia narrative? I can almost imagine a novel online with a web interface, a non-linear story with flashbacks and tangents that could be read in conjunction with the main story line or as stand-alone features. Would such a ‘novel’ have any ending?

It seems all a little ‘Choose Your Own Adventure-ish’ to me right now, but interactive entertainment seems to be ‘where it’s at’ right now. Look at the Matrix storyline that incorporated a videogame. Look at what Lost is doing with websites and now a novel.

Comments Fixed!

Well, the recent upgrade to WordPress 2.0.3 seems to have fixed the problem with the comments. Give it a try now.

Would you read this?

Here’s my first attempt at a query letter. Tell me what you think in the comments section.

10 June 2006

M_. Agent Soandso

1000 Fifth Ave.

New York, NY 10010

Dear M_. Soandso,

I am writing to query Lithium, a 70,000 word complete novel. Lithium centers on the character of Marianne Caxton, a poet and novelist who suffers from manic depression. I became interested in manic depression after reading Kay Redfield Jamisonís memoir An Unquiet Mind.

Marianne abandoned her son Mark at the age of three after discovering his father Quentin was having an affair. The story is told from Markís point of view. The action begins with Mark returning home to his fatherís house in Seattle and learning of Marianneís murder.

Mark sets off to the Midwestern college town of Ann Arbor where Marianne spent her last days. He is searching for the answer to the questions, ďWhy had she left? Where had she gone? What had she done? Whom had she met, lived with, gotten drunk with, fucked, broken the heart of (besides the obvious)? Whom had she loved? What goes into nineteen years of life?Ē During the process Mark must fight through his own severe depression during the summer of 2001. He learns of his fatherís affair with Marianneís sister Laura, and he entangles himself in two separate affairs as he discovers the story of his motherís life and death.

Lithium spans the last quarter of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. It is a story about renewal, about rising from the wreckage.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Thomas Litchford

Who’s Reading This?

That’s the really interesting question. I have the address in my signature file, so everyone I e-mail could click on it and check out the site, but who else?

For instance, the other day, a couple days after the “Impatience” post, one of my readers assured me that, yes, she was reading the book, and she didn’t want me to get nervous, leading me to wonder if she’s reading the blog.

Oh, this intarweb, what a strange and wonderful “place.”

To any of my volunteer readers who are reading this: Thank you.

Self-Indulgent?

I guess there’s something inherently self-indulgent about weblogs. I sort of wish I had something more interesting to talk about than myself, but there are plenty of other bloggers doing that already, so, what the hell?

My wife’s ship deployed yesterday, so I’ve got all this damn time to kill. Based on feedback from several voluntary torture victims — I mean, readers — I’ve started what I hope will be the final revision of the book before I start looking for an agent.

That’s when the fun will really start here at the Lithium weblog: all my friends and family will get to see how many rejections I get from the lit agents I query! Stay tuned! (for the next month or so, if you can bear it.)

Finally, I Can See the Street Signs

I eventually started seeing the street signs through the fog and started getting an idea of where I was and where I was going. It was like finally deciding to open up the map when you’re lost.

The first, and most essential, was the idea that the narrator’s mother had abandoned him. This provided a massive amount of characterization for all my characters at that time. Another major piece was the idea that she was manic-depressive.

I started fleshing out these characters, realizing they needed careers and interests (this perhaps seems obvious, but for some reason I thought these things would just manifest themselves as I wrote the story. I didn’t realize I would have to sit down do some actual thinking about these characters. These are two very separate processes for me: thinking about structure and doing the actual writing.).

That was how I spent 2004. I owe great debts to Kay Redfield Jamison for introducing me to the world of manic-depression and to all the wine I was drinking for the idea of making the father a winemaker.

The Foggy Path

While Lithium is in ‘the bottom drawer’ I thought it would be interesting to record the history — the process — of the thing. It’s maybe a little presumptuous of me to think anyone will be interested in this, but, for the sake of posterity…why not?

(I will here forcefully hold myself back from offering an in-depth history of myself as a writer.)

The working title for the early chapters of the novel was The Things We Leave Behind, which sounded rather grandiose and sufficiently all-encompassing, which is why I abandoned it. It was going to be an earnest, cinematic novel. The first sentence was going to be something like:

We open on Main Street, early morning. Parked cars line the silent street. The lights are on at the cafe.

I wanted to capture the energy of film somehow, but this proved difficult to sustain and I soon lapsed back into less stylized prose. Throughout much of 2003 I was stuck with this idea, though. I was just writing. I had no idea of character or plot, though these things slowly developed as I daydreamed about the narrator I’d created.

Impatience

Oh, how difficult it is to wait quietly for someone to read a manuscript! Several friends of mine have copies of the first completed draft, and I’m getting antsy. Someone else, a writer and more of an acquaintance, has a copy, and I’m really anxious to hear what she has to say.

Why? I need to know what other people think about it, people who haven’t been living in the story for a year and a half. I’m not sure how unbiased my friends will be, hence the curiosity about the writer’s thoughts.

I can only imagine this gets much, much worse when the submitting process begins. When an agent has it, or an editor…O God…

The End of One Thing and — well, you know…

I keep getting phone calls from people that end with, “If I don’t talk to you before…” etc., etc. That’s when you know something is ending, whether it’s the year, your job, or your stay at a particular locale. In my case, it’s the latter two.

Ever since we first moved to Norfolk Danielle and I have known, or at least had a strong suspicion, that we wouldn’t stay longer than four years. (That’s life in the Navy.) But we’ve been able to ignore that for the most part. I got a job, we made friends, indulged in a sense of community.

And now that’s all coming to an end.

Time to departure: 54 days.

The 20 Worst Literary Agents

Courtesy of Miss Snark

* The Abacus Group Literary Agency
* Allred and Allred Literary Agents (refers clients to “book doctor” Victor West of Pacific Literary Services)
* Capital Literary Agency (formerly American Literary Agents of Washington, Inc.)
* Barbara Bauer Literary Agency
* Benedict & Associates (also d/b/a B.A. Literary Agency)
* Sherwood Broome, Inc.
* Desert Rose Literary Agency
* Arthur Fleming Associates
* Finesse Literary Agency (Karen Carr)
* Brock Gannon Literary Agency
* Harris Literary Agency
* The Literary Agency Group, which includes the following:
Children’s Literary Agency
Christian Literary Agency
New York Literary Agency
Poets Literary Agency
The Screenplay Agency
Stylus Literary Agency (formerly ST Literary Agency)
Writers Literary & Publishing Services Company (the editing arm of the
above-mentioned agencies)
* Martin-McLean Literary Associates
* Mocknick Productions Literary Agency, Inc.
* B.K. Nelson, Inc.
* The Robins Agency (Cris Robins)
* Michele Rooney Literary Agency (also d/b/a Creative Literary Agency and Simply Nonfiction)
* Southeast Literary Agency
* Mark Sullivan Associates
* West Coast Literary Associates (also d/b/a California Literary Services)

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