Monday, May 10, 2010


Since I didn’t really get a chance to talk about the program I attended in class, I thought I would write about it on the blog. One program that looked interesting was a budget gourmet type of program. I like food, and I spend too much money on it, so I thought that would be perfect. I called the number listed to register and it took two transfers to get to the person who could sign me up, and she kind of acted like it was a pain. When I told her why I was calling she sighed and said she would have to stand up and go get the sign-up sheet, and then she paused, as if I would change my mind based on the misfortune she would have to endure if I continued my request. I said nothing and she put me on hold, then came back and took down my name. I thought that they could have made it a more simple process if they wanted people to register for the program, and that her attitude was a bit off-putting. I was still going though.

I arrived early for the program and asked at the circulation desk where it was being held, and they didn’t know. That too, seemed inappropriate to me. Circulation was right in front at this library and there was a large sign advertising the program right next to the desk. Surely they are often asked about the programs and it would not be difficult to keep abreast of where things were happening in the rather small building. Luckily as I walked further into the library I saw chairs set up and handouts on a table, so I didn’t have to ask anyone else.

As people began to show up, I noticed most of the people attending were retirement age. I was expecting from the title of the program more of a mom-type crowd, but the library was not my local one and I didn’t really know the demographics of the area. Based on the handouts the presenter seemed to be expecting more of a family age crowd as well. There were some interesting strategies in the handouts about how to make leftovers stretch and how to coordinate your family’s activities to all have mealtimes together more often.

While we were looking over our handouts, the presenter began setting up her table. She had a little hotplate and had several ingredients out for the dish she was going to show us how to make, Skillet Lasagna. We were actually set up kind of in the middle of the library, rather than in a conference room, so there was quite a bit of traffic going around us. Sitting next to me was a retirement age man, we will call him Floyd, who knew everyone in the library and kept yelling out names and saying hello while people were walking by.

The presenter started by telling us what the program was about, and then remembered to introduce herself, and talked about the recipe she was going to create. She did this while working on the recipe. It was kind of like a cooking show but less organized. Also, she kept talking about budget cooking for families despite there only being a couple of people there who were of the age to still have families at home, me being one of them and I don’t have children. Finally Floyd mentioned to her that he lived by himself and he knew “Ethel” and “Sophia” did as well, so all of this would make too much food for them. She responded that he could freeze parts of it, and then went on with the program.

She didn’t do a poor job, but I did feel like she could have tried to adapt a little more to her audience. To make up for that, Floyd just started yelling out his own tips from years of single living, like that a toaster oven used less energy and who needs a full oven when you live by yourself? You can often buy spices for a dollar at CVS, and turkey bacon is just as good as regular bacon. If he gets his walk in every day why he can just eat whatever he would like anyway. Though I thought that perhaps the presenter should have tried a little harder to wrest control of the program back from Floyd, I found him more interesting than her, so I didn’t mind too much.

When the food was done she invited everyone up for samples. Since the recipe had meat in it I didn’t partake. Floyd assured me it would be easy to pick out, and even offered to do it for me, but I declined. I did however, make the recipe at home with Boca crumbles, and it turned out really good.

To be honest, I didn’t learn much about budget cooking in the class. Her main advice was based on meat and buying generic brands, and I try to buy fresh or local foods and I don’t eat meat. But I did learn some things that will be useful in running programs in the future. Knowing your demographic and making sure your presenter knows it, making sure your staff are up to date on what is going on, streamlining a registration process and maybe learning to take aside the Floyd’s and ask them to please next time let the presenter speak (though that would have taken a lot of fun out of the presentation for me) all seem like they would make for a smoother presentation. Even with all of the flaws though, I don’t think it was a bad presentation or a waste of time. Here’s the recipe we learned:

Skillet Lasagna Serves 4

½ pound lean ground beef, pork or turkey (I used Boca)
½ cup chopped onion
1 can tomato sauce (15 ounce)
1 ½ cup water
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon basil
3 cups noodles, uncooked
1 pound fresh or frozen (thawed) chopped spinach
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
½ cup low-fat shredded mozzarella (I used more mozz, like a LOT more. Yum)
Note: Spaghetti sauce may be substituted for tomato sauce and spices

1. Brown meat in a large skillet. Drain and rinse to remove some of the fat.
2. Add to skillet onion, tomato sauce, water, and spices.
3. Cover and bring to a boil.
4. Add noodles, cover and simmer for five minutes.
5. Stir in spinach and simmer another five minutes. Stir again.
6. Spoon cottage cheese on top and sprinkle with shredded mozzarella.
7. Cover and simmer 10 more minutes. If mixture gets too dry, add a little more water.

Fiction and Gaming

A few days ago I bought a video game based on a paranormal romance novel by Marjorie M. Liu. Marjorie did many signings at our store so I have read most of her earlier novels – I always read the novels of people who were doing signings so I could hand sell them. She is a talented writer and her series about the Dirk and Steel paranormal detective agency is really great if you can handle the romancey part of it. She also writes comic books and has written an X-Men novel. She is nice, and beautiful, and has a law degree of all things. So, she’s pretty much the perfect woman but is nice enough to make me want to support her endeavors and support the idea of fiction in gaming in general.

Great stories can make great games. I am a gamer. I love playing games with friends or alone. I also love fiction, especially great fiction. When great fiction and great games come together wonderful things happen. In this age of constantly evolving technology the fiction world needs to grab on to the idea that readers being able to interact in a conscious way with their world can make their world better, and make their readers love it all the more. I think librarians, who stereotypically shun video games, need to take a hard look at emerging trends in interactive fiction and be on the forefront of what’s going to come out of it.

Games like Dungeons and Dragons, though blamed for everything from suicides to murder and devil worship, encourage collaborative storytelling and require critical thinking. More recent online versions of these tabletop role-playing games still ensure that people are working collaboratively but often take the more interesting narrative aspect either out of play or out of the player’s hands. I think as librarians we should encourage the creation of games that reward creative thought and storytelling as much or more as they reward figuring out the rules and how to apply them. Fiction in games is a great gateway drug to reading, and with librarians becoming more and more tech savvy, we can be at the forefront of helping to create the next generation of interactive fiction.

Jane McGonigal, of the Institute for the Future, gave a great lecture at last year’s TED conference on how gaming can save the world. I think her premise is awesome and she is brilliant – and she just might be able to do it. As a future librarian my ambition is maybe more mundane: I think we can learn a new way to tell some really good stories.

Publishing is Not Going to Die

A couple of weeks ago we had a reading called, “Self-Publish or Perish? The Implications of Digital Book Production.” The assumption of the article was that traditional publishing was going to go by the wayside shortly and that the wave of the future was self-publishing. I am afraid that Fenton is full of crap. He makes several poorly researched points and uses logical fallacies to try to sell his opinion – that great authors are going to come out of the woodwork and self-publish their books in SPITE of the mean nasty editors who keep turning them down, we are all going to read them and be happy- voila! Thank you, digital revolution.

Fenton makes a logical leap in one of his big assumptions – that publishing books digitally will somehow result in the demise of publishers. Let me ask you – has the surge of affordable camcorders resulted in the demise of Hollywood? No, it has resulted in a bunch of crappy YouTube videos. Self-publishing is the YouTube of the book world except it has some bigger and more damaging pitfalls.

Fenton states that with today’s technology, “anyone can publish and market a book, produce it and order it cost effectively with Web-based services.” And that is perfectly true! Yet, how many of those books are ones we want to read? Very, very few.

One of his illogical assumptions is that all a publisher does is print a book. If someone is a good writer, does that also make them a good copy-editor? How about a great graphic artist? Do they have marketing skills? Do they know and understand the process of getting a book on the shelves of a bookstore? How about the legal implications of things they have written? If not, do they have the cash on hand to hire all of these people and to live on while they write? These are all things that a publisher helps to take care of or does. Yet Fenton doesn’t even mention these services, which are necessary whether a book is printed or an e-book.

Another mistake Fenton makes is ignoring one of the biggest trends in self-publishing: getting ripped off. Fenton looks at one of the good and honest self-publishing agencies, Yet a lot of self-published authors are not using Lulu, because Lulu is straight-forward about what it can provide. On demand books are hard to sell. They are more expensive than normal books, a bookstore cannot return them, and they are often terrible and full of typos. Self-publishing companies like Publish America, which claims to be America’s most prolific publisher, pretend that they are a “traditional” publisher but that THEY are willing to give your manuscript a chance. They charge exorbitant rates for services that they do not perform, like copy editing and marketing. If they did perform these services, the manuscripts submitted by several different writers’ advocacy books that did things like repeat the first 15 pages 15 times or try to write the worst novel in the world Atlanta Nights would not have been accepted.

Publish America and companies like them are ripping people off while pretending to fulfill their dreams. It makes money by charging people to print their books, charging them for non-existent services, and then selling them said copies of books that people try to hawk to bookstores themselves. It recently had a promotion in which it they would submit up to five copies of your book to Random Houses submission editors. What a great deal! You only had to buy ten copies to get them to do it! And surely, if they get FIVE copies, someone will read at least ONE of them, right? Except, if one wanted to be published by Random House, why not just send your manuscript to them yourself? Oh, because they don’t accept manuscripts from writers without agents. What did they do with all the unagenteded manuscripts that flooded in from PublishAmerica authors? They threw them away. Fenton and PublishAmerica are making the same leap here. The only “success story” Fenton mentions in his article is a woman who self-published, was noticed, and then picked up by a regular publisher. But, if the whole publishing model is coming to an end, why use someone published in the old-fashioned way as a success story?

The whole point is, despite the huge amounts of people self-publishing, we aren’t reading their books. They aren’t selling and they aren’t being reviewed. Mostly because they are bad – if they are good, they are generally able to find a publisher that will pay the author, not the other way around. The ease of producing books digitally does not make publishers less needed – just like the ease of finding huge amounts of information does not make librarians less needed. If we want to support a new model and change the way books are published we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, support smaller presses like Subterranean Press, Mercury House, or Small Beer Press. These are discriminating presses who publish very talented writers, and I like that. I like having experts wade through the slush pile and pick out some books for me. Sometimes, there is a reason for experts.

John Scalzi wrote a short play in three acts on the issue here.