Friday, February 26, 2010

Trapped Between Centuries

by John Gilstrap

I've mentioned before that I have a day job with a trade association in Washington, DC, and I've alluded to the fact that the job keeps me on the road a lot. I might not have been clear, however, on the definition of "a lot." During the month of February, for example, I have not spent a single day in my office--every day has been on the road somewhere. The first two weeks of March aren't looking much better, although a chunk of that will be spent at Left Coast Crime in Los Angeles.

I get to spend most weekends at home, though, and I genuinely love what I do. Airports, airplanes and hotel rooms provide ample opportunity to take care of the writing side of my life, so for the most part, when I'm home, I'm there in both body and spirit. Good times.

Reading, books, on the other hand, is a pain in the neck when you have to schlep books on and off of airplanes. But there's a solution.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I finally broke down and bought a Kindle, and I'm already in love. Each morning, for the bargain basement price of $11 a month, the Washington Post is delivered directly to my briefcase, where it takes a spot right next to the books I've purchased, and one outstanding manuscript that a friend of mine asked me to take a look at. It's thinner than a children's book, weighs virtually nothing, takes up no space in my briefcase, and holds more books than I have probably read in my entire life. I've also subscribed to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and heaven knows what else I'll find enticing.

Really, the Kindle is the coolest toy in years. And yes, in case you've got a good memory, I am in fact the man who wrote an entry on this very blog about a year ago entitled, "Kindle Schmindle." I am man enough to admit that I was way wrong before.

So, with that side of my brain and persona slogging ever so slowly into the 21st century, I now confess that the other side--the creative one that tells stories--is moving back toward the 19th century. I'm handwriting my manuscripts more than I ever have, fountain pen to quality paper. I think I probably wrote 50% of Hostage Zero (July, 2010) by hand, and thus far, I've written every word of my next novel by hand. Barnes & Noble sells really nice leather-bound lined journals made of quality paper, and I take one with me wherever I go. No batteries to run out, no switch to turn off during takeoffs and landings, and a solid, tactile connection to my writing. It could be a passing fad for me, or it could be the future; only time will tell. For now, though, it feels right.

Sooner or later, of course, I have to type what I have written into a submittable form, and when I do that, I make many, many changes and corrections, so I don't want to overblow the intent here. Still, it occurred to me as I put down my Kindle and picked up this computer for the first time to write something other than an email, that even as things change on the surface, maybe important things never change much at all.


  1. John, just think what all those frequent flier miles will get you.

    Congrats on the Kindle conversion. So far, everyone that I know who has bought one loves it. And the handwritten first drafts can work to your favor. When you go to type them into your PC, you're forced to consider every word with an eye for improvement.

    BTW, Happy Birthday a day early!

  2. John, just don't accidentally use the pen ON the Kindle.

    It seems to me the Kindle is ideal for someone like you, who is on the road a lot. It's also ideal for fiction readers (fiction dominates when it comes to ebooks)

    Query: For someone who speed reads and heavily marks up non-fiction, isn't a book still preferable? IOW, once I'm done with non-fiction, I like to go back and whip through the pages just looking at my notes and markings.

  3. This is nice to read. I work in an IT-related field, and I'm sometimes kidded about how I'm the most low tech high tech person my co-workers have ever seen. Everyone has different ways they work best, and they should probably always be evolving, as yours are. That shows you're still learning, which is the secret to everything.

  4. I got a Kindle for Christmas, and I love mine too! I'm terrified of leaving it someplace, though. Then I would lose all my books and a very pricey electronic. I love hearing that you're writing on paper now. I think there must be a "return to one's roots" feeling about that. I remember making the transition from longhand to computer. I never thought I'd be able to create in pixels, and now it would be hard to go back.

  5. What if one likes to read in the, er, bath?

  6. Every one I know who has a Kindle adores it. I think if you travel a lot, it's a great idea.

    As for reading in the tub, maybe the manufacturer needs to be told to make it waterproof!

    I haven't purchased one yet. Still waiting for the dust to settle (and the price to come down some more).

  7. I really want an e-reader but being a late adopter I keep dithering over what to get. The iPad has me intrigued but I've heard so many great things about the kindle...maybe I need to get into this century too! I do however type all my drafts on the computer - only handwritten scrawls for revisions and inserts - though I still have to print out hard copies to review (I cannot quite give up the printed page...)

  8. Thank you all for the birthday wishes. May they keep on coming!

    Jim, the Kindle actually allows you to take notes as you read; there's a keyboard at the bottom, and I find it reasonably intuitive. On the bath thing, well, you have a point.

    As for the iPad, it's getting surprisingly mixed reviews, as is BN's Nook.

  9. Clare, one nice thing about the Kindle is that it's a dedicated reading device. You can't do a bunch of stuff like on a laptop, so it gives that relaxing sense of "just reading," that a book does. (Maybe the Kindle can do more than be used for more than just reading, but I'm too much of a Luddite to figure out how. And I'm happier not knowing.)

  10. Well John, at the Ball State conference last summer you did say that your crystal ball was made of wood because you are a Luddite, this post only proves it!

    I am waiting for the e-reader wars to settle out a bit before I make the jump.

    I got my husband a netbook while he was in the hospital. He still bitches about the little keyboard, but takes it with him from room to room as he goes around the house.

    Happy Birthday! Coming to any conferences in the big flat fly-over states this year?

  11. Welcome to the dark side, John- I'm so pleased that you finally decided to drink the Kool Aid with the rest of us.
    I love my Kindle, although of course now that my first generation one is hopelessly out of date (ie: bulky) I'm lusting for the new one.

  12. This whole thing is in such a state of flux. iPad, who knows? And by 2013 50% of all phones in America will be some form of smart phone.

    Yet e-books are still only about 2% of the market.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. I am waiting for the cerebral implant e-book reader. I live with a little understood condition similar in an opposite way to ADD. The official medical term for it is Bilateral Rapid Uptake Hyper Attentive Hyper Active, its acronym is "BRUHAHA".

    Therefore with a cerebral e-book reader I could ingest half a dozen books a day while doing things that currently require the full attention of my hands and eyes like driving and avoiding bolts of radioactive plasma while protecting the solar system from invasive Alien "medical experimentation".

    Multitasking is not just something I do, its what I eat with tea.

  15. Basil, this was nicely covered in the movie Total Recall. We will be able to inject into you a "memory" of reading a good book. It will only take a second, and you will have the experience right there in your brain, no muss, fuss or bother.

    You will be able to select what kind of memory you want, too. "Enjoyed the book." "Didn't enjoy, but admired the style" etc.

    For an extra few bucks, we will include the memory of meeting the author. For a few bucks more, you will have been in a bar fight with him. Or her.

    The possibilities are endless.