Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More about e-books & stuffed animals

I have discovered something terrific with Adobe Reader! They have a wonderful full screen option. But it's hard to find. When you open the pdf file, look at the very bottom left hand corner. (Yes - LEFT - I made sure, lol.) Bottom. Small icon, looks like a TV screen. When you hover over it, it says 'Full Screen View'. Click on it, and the result is a GREAT page for reading e-books, similar to the microsoft reader page.
I'm amazed. I never noticed that before. That'll teach me to read directions.

I am packed. My suitcase, though small and complete with wheels, weighs a ton because of all the French soaps I'm bringing back with me. French soaps are really nice. But they're heavy.

My daughter's suitcase (a school bookbag with wheels) is packed too. She is bringing her stuffed bunny with her. The bunny has been travelling back and forth with her since she was six. My son Sebi has a small stuffed seal called Lightning. He still has it, (he's 21 and he got the seal when he was 3). He's carried the seal back and forth from France to the US, to Argentina, and England. Lightning was once forgotten in the stables, and a big white horse named Ajax 'took care of him'. (My son had left him in the horse's stall during a game of hide and seek when the grooms had taken all the horses out to exercise.) Sebi was always attached to his stuffed animals. He had a stuffed rabbit named 'Apple' and a sort of yellow monkey named 'Saucisson'. Apple, Lightning, and Saucisson went everywhere with us for years and years. And my son still has, like I said, Lightning the small seal. (And like the old rocking horse in the Velveteen Rabbit, his eyes are gone, his nose has been rubbed off, and his fur has gone bald in spots - but he's still perched next to my son's bed.)
My daughter's bunny 'Jumper' is rag-worn, shapeless, and his ears have been sewn back on twice. But she loves him. She loves him better than the plush, new stuffed animals she got for Christmas or her birthday last year. Like Sebi, who pushed away a brand new rabbit with howls of "I want my Old Bunny Back!" when Apple was lost, my daughter prefers her careworn creature.
She looks at Jumper through eyes of love.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I'm finally packing for NY. Well, actually, I already finished. I pack in about three minutes. Then I leave the suitcase at the foot of the stairs and add things to it as I remember them. My daughter still hasn't packed, but she's said to me at least a hundred times, 'I wish I was in NY already!'. She's tired of school. In France, we have the longest school day of all European countries, and yet we're not the top performer - Finland is with the shortest day of all European schools, but they have a higher teachers per student ratio, and they offer lots of after school tutoring. My daughter loved the Finnish school system (she went there on a class trip). I wish they would shorten the school day here, but although our new president has said he wants to reform the education system, there haven't been any concrete propositions.
I haven't been blogging much - sorry. Busy with the garden (summer means lots of work outside - I love it!) And my son is on vacation from the university, so that means he's often on the computer during the day. I've been busy with Calderwood Books (and again, loving it. I enjoy reading the query letters and delving into the slush pile. I'm still excited about finding new books. I am waiting for one author to send in his contract, but he's hesitating because he's not sure he really wants to publish an e-book (he's holding out for a bigger publisher). In one way I'm disappointed. I fished his book out of the slush pile and loved it. But I understand an author's reticence. E-books don't have the best reputation of making tons of money for an author. And as much as I try to say that regular books don't do much better, it's true that even a small advance is often more than an e-book ever earns out over its lifetime.
I keep hoping that there will come an inexpensive and perfomant e-book reader. I think that books DO pollute. The industry is terribly wasteful. (But most industies are, come to think of it.) E-books are a good economic and ecological choice, but it's hard reading on a computer, even a laptop, and not many people have e-book readers yet.
I keep hoping...
And hoping.
A good, cheap e-book reader.
No bells and whistles.
Just a paperback size.
Thin, with good lighting.
Able to read several file formats.
Rechargeable battery with a long charge.
And then e-books will finally catch on. Imagine, you can carry a whole library in your pocket!
OK - time for lunch.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


I was writing some letters to find review sites for Calderwood Books. I have to run them through the spell checker because I'm a terrible speller. When I concentrate, I can usually spell most words right. Some I can never get right, so I avoid them. Mideival is one. I write it at least three ways before giving up and putting in Middle Ages. I have LOTS of words on my 'can never spell' list. And yet, I look the word up. I will spell it right by accident, then delete it because it doesn't look right. But I can't remember it.
I also can't tell my left from my right. I'm clumsy, bang into things a lot, and although I speak French, I'll never learn to write it. I'm dyslexic. It runs in the family. My mother can't tell her left from her right, and my daughter is so dylexic she didn't learn to read until she was 7, and she had to go to an orthophonist to learn to 'see' the difference between a d and a b. It was slow going. At first, she was at the bottom of her class. The school had a special teacher come in twice a week to work with her for almost two years, and her teachers only gave her half the amount of homework the other kids got. And yet, no one ever scolded her or told her she was 'slow'. We explained to her what dyslexia was, and told her she had to learn to live with it. She did, and now she's third in her class and has excellent grades. She's doing so well, we're thinking of putting her in a more challenging school. She wants to be a veterinarian. We're very proud of her. She worked hard and it paid off. She never got discouraged, and her teachers were all great and encouraged her to do her best.
My dyslexia never kept me from reading, although it does hamper my spelling, and if I meet a new word it takes me a while to get used to it. The best thing to happen to me as a kid was to be crazy about dinosaurs. Sounding out and then memorizing their long names helped tame my fear of multi-syllable words. I was never very good at sports - for some reason I can never catch a ball. I'm not great in math. I turn left when someone says 'go right!' and it took me years to catch the notion of 'early' VS 'late'. Time really does have no meaning for me. My most important helpers are my watch, my calendar, and my weekly planner. I use color-coded stickers, and yet I'm always forgetting what day it is, and when my friends invite me for lunch, they know they have to call me in the morning to make sure I don't forget. I didn't forget, I just don't know what day it is!
Weekends are the only times I feel like I can relax. There's no school, no schedule, no lessons, no lunches. And yet, I love having a full schedule. The more I do, the more energy I have. But sometimes I wish I could be organized. I wish I could put everything in neat piles, fold clothes (I can't fold clothes) and just organize my house. I know where everything is, but it looks like a rat's nest. But I am incapable of organizing my space. Dyslexia, for me, means having no concept of left-right, up-down, straight or crooked. I have three calendars on my desk, a yearly, a weekly, and a monthly. And I still get things wrong. Last week I arrived at the dentist a day early. (At least it wasn't a day late!)
Anyway, For those without dyslexia, it must be frustrating to deal with us sometimes. My husband mostly laughs it off, but he can't understand how I can get lost going somewhere I've been at least thirty times before. My sons can't understand how I can always be late picking them up from school. We don't do it on purpose. I look at my watch and see 'quarter to' instead of 'quarter past'.
Which reminds me - time to go to the pony club picnic! I'm riding today and my daughter is already mortified, just sure I'll fall off and humiliate her. I will be sure to get pictures if I do!

Friday, June 15, 2007

my rugby man calendar

When I went to play golf the other day, my daughter and her friends examined my rugby man calendar with much interest. I know because they hung it back up with Mr. September in view, instead of Mr. June. I suppose it might shock some people to see my 'nekkid guys' hanging on the wall but I've never thought of nudity as something shameful. In fact, I love the human body, even when it's not perfect. (But the rugby men are pretty near perfect, lol.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Authors, pay attention!

Authors, pay attention.

I have been reading the slush pile again, and here are the problems I found. One book had too many heroes. The story was well written. I was hooked right away by a lovely description and some interesting action. And then the story went awry. Every character was a hero. The family - father, mother, and baby were all equally important. The neighbor's family - father, mother, and baby were important! And the secondary characters kept taking over the action.
If you have several heroes (thinking of Lord of the Rings here) then you need a strong, simple framework to carry them. The story has to be simple. "Take Ring To Volcano". What is simpler than that? Then you can have several different heroes. But be careful - don't overwhelm the reader. Each hero has his chapter. Each chapter has its structure. In the book I just pulled from the slushpile, the plot is complicated, the characters many, and I cannot get attached to any of them. I'm Overwhelmed.
I pulled a second book out of the slush pile. I read three chapters. Not once did I get into any of the character's heads. It was written in what I call third person omniscient. It's a good way to start a novel because you can introduce the setting and characters quickly. But it puts a certain distance between the reader and the characters because you're never deeply in their heads. So I read on, hoping that the second chapter would give me a clue as to who the hero was, and on to the third chapter, where the tone stayed the same. Good, clear writing. No connection at all with the characters. I needed a hero I could connect with, and I got comments on the weather.
POV is terribly important. Head-hopping is not bad if it does not confuse the reader, but it's a rare author who can pull it off. When I read the slush pile, I'm aware that most of the authors are just starting out. That's why we try to make our rejection letters as constructive as possible. We also invite the autors to resubmit if we like their writing and think they can fix the problems. Sometimes they are OK with our suggestions, and sometimes not. It's up to them. But I've never subbed a book anywhere without knowing that it will have to be edited. And my goal is to make the editor's job as easy as possible, and authors should keep this in the back of their minds. Their books WILL need editing. If the book needs too much, we can't afford it. Time is money, as they say, and if the book takes too long to edit, it's not worth it. So pay particular atention to POV. And count your heroes. (And heroines.)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Been Busy

Good news! My son passed his exams and he's admitted to the second year in his university. In France the universities are free, which means there are a lot of students in the first year. You have to pass tough exams to go on to the second year, and only 30% are admitted directly, so we're proud of him!

You know how it is. The calendar starts filling up, the days becoming crammed with appointments and 'things to do'. I'm leaving for the US on the 22nd, and suddenly there is a ton of stuff I have to take care of before I go. And then my husband got his job in Spain, so we'll be there for the whole month of August, and that means more frantic organising as I realize I'll probably be without internet for that whole time. (*gasp!*)

I threw a birthday party for my husband Wednesday and we had a great time. A golf tournament followed by dinner. The weather was wonderful, and we all had a great time.
My car, however, is falling apart bit by bit. It doesn't start well, the window is broken (it fell over when I lowered it the other day, and I had to prop it back up and close it to keep it from falling out again. Now I have to be careful not to open it. It's aslo making strange noises. I'm glad my husband got the job in Spain - it's paid well and hopefully we'll be able to get another car when we get back in September. Argh. As my son once said, 'Why does everything have to cost so much?' He was four at the time and was trying to buy an expensive stuffed hedgehog with only fifty pence - but I know exactly what he was feeling.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Happy French Mother's Day!

I had a lovely day. I spent it with good friends, in the sunshine, with lots of wine and song...Well, not any songs, actually, the group was not very musical, but it was a lot of fun.

When I got home, I found my son had made a batch of chocolate chip cookies!!!
(Happy Mother's Day?)
I ate two.

Yesterday there was a small tournament nearby. There were knights in shining armor, flags, a tavern (a tent, but it was quaint.) And there were people in costume but I didn't get a photo because my batteries wore out. Argh. I wanted a picture of the little boy in the musketeer outfit, complete with plumed hat and cape! It was very hot, so we didn't stay long. But isn't the barn fascinating?
Ye olde barn with ye strangely shaped round roof. (Probably an old pigeon coop)
Ye Olde Taverne (Perrier & Mead)

Applauding the winners

Friday, June 01, 2007

City life, country life

I used to live in the city. I was in NYC before I moved to Paris. In my apartment building, most people knew each other and said hello if they passed each other in the halls or in the elevator, but that was it. In Paris, we hardly spoke at all. I lived in my Paris apartment for three years and never saw my neighbors. In Lyon, it was a much more friendly. We had dinners with our neighbors, our kids walked to school together, and the mothers left the strollers in the nook next to the elevator. The apartment in Lyon was a big complex, with a pool, a park, and a wonderful view over the valley. Unfortunately, my husband couln't find work nearby, so we moved back to the Paris region.
We found a small house in a tiny village. I was used to city life, so I didn't rush out and knock on my neighbor's doors to introduce myself. My daughter, age 5, had no such qualms, and knocked on Everyone's door, so soon everyone knew us. I was used to a friendly nod as I passed a neighbor. Here, you stop and chat about the weather. I was also used to not knowing anyone, and not really paying attention to the poeple around me. What was considered polite in the big city was considered rude and stand-offish here. I had to learn to 'chat'. It was not easy.
Some of the people in this village have been here for generations. Their grandparents and great-great-ever-so-great grandparents lived here. Some just arrived, like us. The locals are friendly, but seem to have a rivalry between themselves. There is a veritable war going on between the two egg farmers, for example, and between the people on the hillside and the people on the valley side there is a sort of constant snipping. It's a war that has been going on for ages, I suppose. The village is divided into clans. The village fĂȘte commitee, for example, imploded because of the clan war, and they had to elect a whole new village fĂȘte commitee.
It may sound trite, but the people who live here and whose families have lived here for centuries, remind me of goldfish in a bowl sometimes. They peer out at the world, but to them, this village is their world.
For someone who has moved from one hemisphere to the next throughout her life, it's very strange. I can't imagine being so rooted to one place.
Recently the war escalated into a nasty graffiti written on the walls of a new house. The house was new - the family in it was one of the village's own. But the house was built on a spot of land that for a long time had been declared non constructable, the law (somehow) changed, and the house was built, which angered more than one person, obviously. Someone wrote a nasty slogan on the wall. The mayor issued a bulletin. People clucked and shook their heads. But for me it's obvious that the war is simply continuing along age-old lines. The hill people against the valley people, jealousy sprouting from a building permit and a covetted peice of property.
Does it make me wish I was back in the city?
No. Not at all. The villagers have drawn their lines of battle, but I'm not a villager. And most of them are caring, wonderful people. Graffiti is cruel, and the words were mean, but not harmful. And I'm pretty sure things will be smoothed out. Perhaps another building permit on another peice of land. We'll see. Life in a small village is never boring, despite what you may think.
I just have to be careful to buy my eggs from both farmers.