Ebook Sales Are Down: It’s My Fault


Well, not really.  But I am one of those people who’s not reading as many ebooks as before.  The thrill is gone.

In the beginning I was excited to download books instantly whenever, wherever.  Forget two-day delivery with Amazon Prime.  If I wanted a book on my iPad at 3 AM, voilà–and the font and page color could even be adjusted.  How cool was that?

But then the books started massing and I lost track of how many there were, unlike being able to see and sort the TBR pile in my study. I know, not a problem the Pope had to address at the UN, but still–


Then I noticed that far too many ebooks, from all sorts of publishers, seemed badly proofread, if at all.  Spacing was off, typos were bizarre, sometimes whole sections or chapters were in italics.  As an author and reviewer, I know errors creep into books, but this was a level of sloppiness that felt new to me.

Dealing with insomnia after a car accident, one solution recommended by experts was to avoid e-readers (and laptop or PC screens) at night because of the light, so that forced me to cut down.


But I had found myself drifting away from ebooks anyway by that point.  I’m an extrovert and can be easily distracted.  I turn to reading as a form of meditation. I want to be completely lost, mesmerized by storytelling whatever the genre.  Holding a device where I can check my email or the news can break the spell.

More than that, I still enjoy the physical feel of an open book in my hands, especially a hardcover.  I relish the sensuous experience of turning the page, marking passages I enjoy, making notes, comparing pages–things that are totally different experiences with ebooks.

However, I rely on ebooks for trips at home and abroad.  Back in the day, I could never decide what exactly to take with me and either packed too many books or the wrong ones.  That never happens anymore.  And if it somehow does and there’s absolutely nothing that interests me left on my iPad, I can still browse wherever I am.

If the WiFi is good.

So what about you?  Are you reading more ebooks than you used to?  Are you reading fewer?  Or about the same?  Why?

Lev Raphael is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books in genres from memoir to horror.

A Great Place To Spend Time on a Saturday Afternoon

By K.K. Beck

Tipping the Valet by KK BeckI’ve just published my first mystery novel in years—Tipping the Valet—and yesterday I went to sign copies at Seattle Mystery Books. It reminded me how delightful specialty mystery bookshops are. They are staffed by people who really love the genre, and any business with such a motivated staff is a great place to do business. Adele at Seattle Mystery Books started out as a customer. It’s a friendly, enthusiastic atmosphere.

I had enjoyed this store for years, all the way back to its founding by Bill Farley, who sadly died recently. He was such a terrific man—always so kind and cheerful—one of those very rare thoroughly nice people! Adele, who visited him often during his illness, told me she had given him a copy of Tipping the Valet, which was so nice to hear.

It was fun to sign books for two people who took a class in mystery writing from me years ago. I was delighted to learn that one of them, Jeanne Matthews, now has her very own series featuring ethnobotanist Dinah Pelerin who travels the planet solving mysteries, so I bought two of her books.

It was also fun to talk to a man named Phil, who said he’d wanted to meet me for a long time because back in 1994 I wrote a book called Electric City featuring a clipping service. (I got the idea because I once interviewed for a job at a clipping service, with a woman whom I judged to be one of the scariest and most authoritarian bosses I ever encountered.)

Phil has worked at that clipping service for many years, and had me sign the office copy they keep there. There is a different boss now, but he had also worked for the one I had met and we also chatted about her. I had assumed that clipping services were gone because of the Internet, but Phil tells me readers and cutters are still at work in downtown Seattle.

I asked him with some trepidation whether I had got the clipping service details right, and I was thrilled to hear I had. Electric City was part of a series of books I wrote featuring a sleuth named Jane da Silva, but I love writing about workplaces, hence the clipping service angle. Tipping the Valet is about the valet parking business and solves the mystery many people have wondered about—what happens to my car after they drive off in it? But be assured, there are some other mysteries to be solved in it as well.

The Space Available

Stuff expands to fit the space available – plus two boxes.

That’s what my cousin says.

I have lived in my condo for over 20 years. When I first looked at the place, it was empty. One of the things that sold me, in addition to the location and the large patio with space to garden, was the closet space.

Lots of closet space – large closets in each of the two bedrooms, two hall closets, a linen closet in the bathroom, and a walk-in closet off the living room.

All those closets are full now. My stuff has expanded to fit the space available, and then some.

This is why I periodically go into decluttering mode. My available space, all 860 square feet of it, would be a lot more livable if I didn’t have so much stuff.

Getting a larger place, with the cost of real estate in the Bay Area, is not an option. Besides, as I get older, I’m not sure I want to take care of a larger place. It’s all I can do to keep up with this one.

Besides, it’s just me and a bunch of cats. How much space do I need?

Well, it’s more than that. There are the books, the papers, the collections, the furniture. I’m not a hoarder. Believe me, I’ve seen hoarders and I don’t belong in that group. But I will admit to some pack rat tendencies.

I’m a writer, a paper magnet. If I ever had an idea for a novel or story and wrote it down, I have that piece of paper. Who knows, I might use that idea some day. That’s not like saving yogurt containers because I might use them again. At least I don’t think so.

There are fewer books than there used to be, but still a lot. I go through the books regularly. I’ve even shed several bookcases.

Sometimes it’s hard to part with books, but I ask myself: Will I read this again? Do I need it for research? Do I keep this for sentimental or emotional reasons? Depending on those answers, the book goes into the box that’s destined for the Friends of the Library book sale. I tell myself, I read that book, I enjoyed it, and now it’s time to pass it on to another reader.

The latest iteration of my decluttering derby involves clothing and shoes. It’s been two years since I retired. I don’t dress up to work outside my home any more. I never dressed up that much anyway, since my day jobs were on the casual side when it came to work attire. But since I retired, I can work at my computer in anything I please.

I’ve been meaning to tackle my overstuffed clothes closet for months. I finally got to it this weekend. After several hours’ work, I have three large shopping bags full of clothing, ready to be donated. Much of what is going hasn’t been worn for quite a while. Many items no longer fit my body, or my lifestyle.

So it’s time to pass that clothing on to someone else who will enjoy it.

Next up, the coat closet and the chest of drawers. At the end of my labors, my available space will be much more livable.

The Funeral Baked Meats

Sorry this is late.

In a novel I’ve been working on lately, I found myself looking for gatherings that could be used to introduce and/or develop a bunch of characters in one scene.  I get tired of reading narrative fiction iin which only two or three characters develop to the point of being interesting people.  Still, side plot can interrupt and slow the pace of a story.  I opened my most recent mystery with the hero and heroine having dinner in a restaurant without even the interference of a waiter.  With a busier setting I could have brought half a dozen characters onstage at once.  Far more interesting.

With mysteries, half a dozen scenes are almost obligatory.  For instance, the interrogation of a major suspect by (usually) two investigators, or the autopsy with its gruesome narrative and sick jokes, the come-all-ye scene near the end when all the suspects are gathered together in a room and the solution to the crime is revealed.  Those scenes almost narrate themselves, but, for the rest of the story, it can be difficult to find situations where the array of suspects and bystanders will interact sufficiently to create the imaginary community that serves as the setting for the crime.

A French film I saw recently, Barbecue, deals with multiple friendships with wit and charm.  A game of boule involving most of the friends becomes a vivid metaphor from emotional shots they take at each other, but the best development of all the characters occurs at meals.  The serving of a strip of rare beef and the pouring of a glass of sangria assume and underline emotional meaning in a way that words alone cannot.

When I think back on the mysteries I’ve written, some of the best character development and, oddly, the best action came in a memorial service, a ride on a crowded subway car, a picnic interrupted by a killer, and a funeral meal, group scenes all of them.  While the funeral baked meats didn’t actually furnish forth a marriage feast, I did manage to present a bevy of folks revealing their true colors under ritualized stress.

Religion and Politics; Oil and Water

Religion first intruded into presidential politics in a big way in 1960, when John Kennedy, a Catholic, became the Democratic candidate. He wasn’t the first Catholic to run for the office, but Al Smith, the Democratic nominee in 1928, never raised enough of a challenge to Herbert Hoover for his religion to become a major issue. In that year the US was at peace and the economy was booming. Smith lost, 444 electoral votes to 77. In 1960 JFK—young, popular, and rich—posed a greater threat to an uncharismatic Richard Nixon and faced far more media scrutiny than Smith had. My grandfather, a yellow-dog South Carolina Democrat and a Baptist deacon, told me he was going to “hold my nose and vote for Nixon.”

Today religion impinges on the presidential nomination process, especially among Republicans, in a way that causes me increasing concern because it shouldn’t be an issue at all. Religion and politics don’t mix, any more than oil and water, if you’ll pardon the cliche. Article VI, paragraph 3, of the Constitution says, “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” And, of course, the first amendment prohibits the establishment of any official religion. That should be the end of the discussion.

But we have one candidate who says he couldn’t support a Muslim as president and we have others who seem to want us to vote for them because of their religious views. We are in danger, I fear, of losing sight of one of the fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded: freedom from any form of religion imposed or supported by the government.

That freedom can be seen as one side of a coin. The other side is the freedom of all religions to practice openly. Even before the Constitution was written, that principle was enunciated in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1777 but not passed by the state legislature until 1786. Jefferson considered the statute one of his three accomplishments worth mentioning on his tombstone. (Being President of the United States didn’t make the cut.)jeffersontomb The document contains some striking passages which ought to be required reading for all sides in the current debate.

Remember that Jefferson and many of his contemporaries were Deists, who had little use for Christianity or any other religion. That’s why they could say “. . . the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil and ecclesiastical . . . setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time.”

Or how about this zinger: “. . . to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty . . . .”

In the final clause the statute grants that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

In sum, everyone should be free to believe what they want. But what if they believe in, and advocate, violence or aggression against others? The statute does provide that “it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order.” So, no one has the right to kill someone else in the name of their religion.

Jefferson was writing, of course, against the backdrop of state-supported religions in Europe. The founders of this country were determined to free themselves of that oppression. But, like freedom of speech, freedom of religion is a tricky proposition. To insure it for myself, I have to guarantee it for everybody, even if I don’t agree with them. That is what we’ve tried to do in this country for over two hundred years. In his autobiography Jefferson wrote that the statute was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

So why are we having some of the discussions we’re having today about political candidates’ religious views? Or about whether the US is “a Christian nation”? The founders intended for it to be a secular nation where all religions could be freely practiced. But they lived in an isolated world. There probably weren’t a hundred “Mohammedans” or “Hindoos” in the entire country at that time. They could not foresee a day when 30% of the population of a city like Dearborn, Michigan, would be Arab. In 1750 the Jewish population of New York City was 300; in 2012 it was over 1,500,000. In that same year the Jewish population of Jerusalem was 497,000.

I believe we’ve taken the right stance on this issue. Freedom for anyone requires freedom for everyone. Unfortunately, other countries and other religions don’t share that philosophy. Muslims can come to this country and build mosques and demand that their employers provide accommodations for their daily prayers. In most Muslim countries, however, the public expression of any religion other than Islam is strictly forbidden, under Sharia law. Muslims who convert to another religion, and the people who persuade them to convert, are guilty of apostasy and are subject to severe penalties, including death in Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and the Sudan. In Saudi Arabia you can’t even display a Valentine’s Day decoration because it’s considered a Christian holiday. Several international bodies acknowledge that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today.

This is an insoluble problem, I’m afraid. We must remain who we are and guarantee freedom of religion to everyone, but we now live in closer and closer contact with people who look at the world quite differently. Europe is already seeing an influx of tens of thousands of non-Europeans from the war-torn Middle East. No one can accurately predict its long-term impact. I think much of our political discourse about religion is a reaction to a perceived threat that is only going to increase over the next couple of decades.

The Police Blotter

Wendy Hornsby

One day, when my husband and I were out exploring our new neighborhood, we came across an old cemetery tucked into a dense wood, and went in for look. There were graves that dated from early 1850s—during the Gold Rush—and some that were less than a year old. Among the elaborate memorials and simple stones, there was one that caught our attention, and my imagination. There was a ten-year-old handmade wooden memorial that did not mark a grave, but instead the spot where someone was shot, and died.

Intrigued by this discovery, when we got home I set about researching who did what to whom, and what the repercussions were, and are. The further I got into the details, the more interesting the story became. I had been thinking about writing a stand-alone mystery set in our new community, and now I had a poignant story that belongs to this place and its people around which to spin a set of fictional events and characters. Which leads to a bit of conundrum. We live in a small town. Many of the people who were involved in the event are still around. The question is, how much do I need to fictionalize an actual event, and how much may I keep before the locals come after me with pitchforks and torches?

I’ve talked this over with friends here, some of whom remember the event, and some who know a person or two who was caught up in it. The consensus is, write the story, and of course, I will. In fact, I’m already several chapters in. I like the this book, so far, though now and then I still have qualms because, unlike the big city we fled, in our small town, like most small towns, very little happens that isn’t widely noticed and discussed.

Generally, this is a peaceful, low-crime place. And when anything happens, everyone hears about it. Every morning when I pick up the local newspaper from the end of the driveway, I turn first to the police blotter column to see what sorts of bucolic mischief has occurred. The majority of calls seem to have something to do with alcohol, drugs, and/or disappointed love; domestic disputes abound. There are transients who set up camp in private woods and make a mess or set a fire or break into something. Bears get hit by cars or won’t leave a swimming pool. Herds of goats, random horses, cows, and llamas get loose and wander into someone’s field or stray down the road, or look neglected. Cars and trucks go over the edge and down into canyons or get wrapped around trees. But shootings? Very rare.

I have a fair idea what happened in the cemetery one night. And a vivid imagination. Qualms or not, when I put them together, I have a story too good not to tell.

Fall, Beginning Again

Lea Wait, here. And today is the first full day of Fall. Or Autumn. Or (in my part of the world, northern New England) Leaf Peeping Season.

This past summer was much warmer than usual here, and, although we tried not to complain (with visions of last winter’s record snowfall in our collective brains,) temperatures in the 80s and humidity almost to match, although considered comfortable in many parts of the country, were difficult to deal with in a world where fans, not air conditioners, are the norm for warm days in all but the newest buildings. Since my house was built in 1774, we depend on open windows for our cool air, and when nature doesn’t provide … we drink a lot of iced water.

So, fall is most welcome. The summer tourists, most of them families with children, have left. Our current visitors from away are what many here call (quietly) “the newly wed and the nearly dead.”  People for whom back-to-school only means having to brake for school buses. For many Maine stores and restaurants and motels, it also means people who have more cash to spend on themselves, on their homes, and on gifts for others. (Christmas can be a year-round season in galleries and craft shops.)

As a writer, I’m glad I have a book with “Maine Christmas ” in the title; local book stores are stocking it.

People who visit Maine in the summer may think life here stops at Labor Day, but, instead, in many ways it speeds up then. Of courses, schools and all their activities are back in force, from kindergartens to high school  to colleges to adult education.  Other organizations start planning their fall activities.  Last weekend I was part of a mystery writers’ conference in Bar Harbor, and tomorrow night will speak at a library in Rangeley. Later this week I’ll do a signing at a bookstore in Bath. And in October there’s a children’s literature conference, and a craft festival I’ve been invited to be part of, and by November, besides Crime Bake, a major mystery conference in the northeast, I’ll be signings at galleries and antique malls, hoping to attract book buyers to get their Christmas gifts early.

And – oh, yes. There are new books to be written.

The colors of trees along roads and rivers are getting more dramatic every day. They’re beautiful, and tempt me to stop, and exclaim, and inhale and relax. In many ways, this is the best part  of Maine’s year: neither too hot nor too cold; visitors in smaller, quieter, numbers; and time to prepare for what we know will be coming.

By the end of November it will be time to hunker down, put wood in the woodstove, and enjoy the books and movies we missed during the rest of the year.

But, for now, I’ll just enjoy the seasonal colors. The calm before the storms.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,578 other followers