Explaining the “significant editorial changes” to Twenty-Somewhere

Some people may have received a notification from Amazon about “significant editorial changes” to the Twenty-Somewhere Kindle book. Unfortunately that message is a bit misleading.

To clarify: I did update the ebook (almost a year ago) to take advantage of Amazon’s improvements in formatting. Mainly I wanted to add a usable Table of Contents for readers’ convenience. I also decided to include an Author’s Note and dedication at the beginning, in the hopes that more people would understand they were about to read a compiled web serial — not a novel — because several reviews mention the “strange” episodic format and screenplay vibe (even though the narrative style is mentioned in the product description).

Those are the “significant editorial changes” to which Amazon is referring. As far as the writing goes, everything is the same. I may have cleaned up a typo or two, but I’m not interested in revising the episodes into a “real” novel at this time.

I purposely didn’t ask Amazon to notify anyone about the changes, because anyone who had already read 20SW probably wouldn’t care, and anyone who had downloaded but not read 20SW probably wasn’t going to anyway. I was content knowing that new readers would get the updated version.

But then Amazon introduced Automatic Book Update.

Opt in for automatic book updates to receive new versions of your books when we have confirmed that improvements were made. In order to retain your notes, highlights, bookmarks and furthest reading locations, ensure that all your Kindle devices and reading apps have the “Annotation Back Up” setting turned on.

I activated the new feature on my own Kindle account, and I assumed that my copy of 20SW would get updated. It did not. Disappointed, I contacted Amazon and asked if 20SW was eligible and could be included in the Automatic Book Update program. They said they would look into it.

I still did not intend for anyone to be notified of the changes, but I guess that’s how Amazon decided to proceed. I assume it’s only for people who don’t have Automatic Book Update activated? Because instead of a message, I simply received (at long last) a fresh copy of 20SW in my Kindle library.

So that’s the story, and I’m sorry for any confusion or bother!

(Big thanks to Anthony for letting me know about this.)

TV Talk: Across miles and timezones

Grey’s Anatomy
9.05 – “Beautiful Doom”

Spoiler level: Zero.

This opinion may go against the grain, but I thought Thursday night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy was… fun. Refreshing. Borderline amateur, but at the same time — and maybe even as a result of that roughness — very real.

Despite the cheesy dialogue, the hammed-up subplots, and the terrible green screens, I liked that the episode was actually trying to say something. About working women. About modern-day friendship. About realizing that you are really and truly on the verge of becoming what you were always striving to be.

I didn’t necessarily know it when I started, but those are the same themes I was after when I wrote Twenty-Somewhere.

One of my not-so-secret fantasies is that 20SW will get picked up for a TV show. That someone, somehow, will translate Sophie, Claudia, and MJ’s adventures to the small screen. I know there would be challenges, with each of them living in a different city, but to me, the miles and timezones that separate them are just as important to the story as the parallel trials, troubles, and triumphs that the girls experience and support each other through.

So although it took me a while to adjust to Meredith and Cristina’s split-screen phone calls last night, I ended up enjoying them. Because they echoed the feel of my story, of my 20SW girls and their long-distance friendship. Because they echoed my own life, my own friendships. Because they were, as I said earlier, real.

Confession: I really like Girls

Yes, Girls. As in, the HBO show! What did you think I meant?

Now, I know everyone and their mom is talking about Girls, and I really, really didn’t want to add to that noise… But I have to. I have to, because after watching Lena Dunham’s movie Tiny Furniture, I thought I was going to hate Girls. (To be fair, I didn’t hate the movie. I just didn’t enjoy it either.)

But I was wrong. I didn’t hate Girls. In fact, I kind of love it.

What’s it about?

Girls is an insightful look at the lives of a certain type of twenty-something. It’s smart more than funny, sexual more than sexy. The best part is, Lena Dunham (creator, writer, and star of Girls) isn’t afraid to “go there.” She isn’t afraid to go anywhere the characters take her. Even if it’s awkward or uncomfortable. Even if it’s “unlikable.”

As a writer, I really admire that. Like, I’m not as square as my mother thinks — although I am square relative to a lot of people — but I’m not always brave enough to write about my “rounder” experiences.

Naturally, people keep comparing Girls to Sex and the City. An HBO show about 4 women in New York vs. an HBO show about 4 women in New York — yeah, it’s inevitable. And I think it’s a fair comparison. I can even map the character types to their counterparts. Hannah = Carrie, Marnie = Miranda, Jess = Samantha, Shoshana = Charlotte. But those equal signs are deceiving.

Girls is like Sex and the City, but without Photoshop. It’s the model without makeup on. It’s life as seen without the rose-colored glasses. It is not cute, hopeful, or romantic. It just is.

(Note: I’m a big SATC fan. I’m not saying Girls is better or worse, just different.)

Oh, and for everyone who keeps saying Girls is about “hipsters,” you really need to learn what a hipster is.

Girls sounds like a bunch of privileged white girls worrying about boys…

A) Well, in a way, yes.

B) So what?

C) Don’t most of us, regardless of age, race, or income, spend a decent amount of time on relationships?

D) Anyone can write a dismissive one-line summary like that. As Patricia Wrede pointed out (in a completely unrelated but excellent post): “The Lord of The Rings” is about a short guy with hairy toes who throws a ring in a volcano.

Okay, but who cares about these “girls”?

I do. And I’m not alone.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: New Adult stories are in demand. Why? Because people in their 20s, like me, want to see art and entertainment explore this awkward transitional time in our lives. Just like people in their 30s want to see family life, or people in their 40s want to see midlife crises, or people in their teens want to see high school and first love.

Everyone wants to see themselves reflected in art and entertainment. That’s the whole point.

(So please stop telling us that we’re so much more self-involved than other generations. We’re not. We just have the tools to rub it in your face now.)

On a related note, a band of intrepid New Adult writers recently launched the site NA Alley. I’m not affiliated, but they did quote me in a few places, and I definitely want to support their endeavor.

I’m still not interested in Girls

That’s fine. Really. No one says you have to be.

Closing thoughts

• It’s still early. Only 3 episodes have aired. Yes, I like Girls now, but I’m also curious and hopeful about how it will grow. I mean, does anyone remember the first season of SATC? With all the interviews and the talking directly to the camera? Yeah, shows can evolve. Sometimes they need time to grow into themselves. (Which is a particularly ironic statement when you apply it to a series about New Adults.)

• Part of me thinks it would be a dream to write for the show. Part of me wants to email Lena Dunham and tell her about TWENTY-SOMEWHERE and beg/hope for an opportunity. The rest of me realizes how ridiculous that would be and figures I’m better off just enjoying Girls as a viewer. (I will not tell you which part of me is winning right now.)

• Favorite lines:

Marnie: “He’s so busy, like, respecting me, you know? That he looks right past me, and everything that I need from him.”

Hannah: “Okay, you are a 23-year old girl who’s had the same boyfriend for 4 years. You’re also allowed to be bored. That’s an okay excuse too.”

Jonathan: “I want you to know, the first time I f*ck you, I might scare you a little. Because I’m a man, and I know how to do things.”

Writerly Wednesday

Right about now, I am lying perfectly still in a tiny chamber, listening to muzak while being resonated with magnets. Or something. I don’t really know how it works, but my doctor ordered an MRI to check out my knee. I still can’t fully straighten or bend it, but after two weeks of RICE — rest, ice, compression, elevation — I can finally “walk” in a way that looks normal. Well, mostly normal. As long as I’m going slow.

(Yeah, I do know how pathetic that sounds. That’s why I’m getting the MRI.)

While I spend my morning bored and claustrophobic at the hospital, why don’t you enjoy these lovely links? They’ve been sitting in my Drafts folder for a while. I keep thinking I’ll write full posts about them, but then it never happens. Oops…

“Literary vs. Commercial Fiction” by S.E. Sinkhorn

Some stories are pretty clearly commercial, but still contain great character development. However, developed characters don’t make a story character-driven. Likewise, a functional plot does not necessarily make a story plot-driven. It’s all about the point of the story. Is the point to tell a tale, or learn something about a character or the human condition? Neither is superior to the other and both have their place in literature.

“Do You Know What Business You’re In?” by Rachelle Gardner

Analysts seem to agree that Kodak operated as if they perceived themselves as being in the film business, long after film had been pushed out of the way in favor of digital. … In fact, Kodak was really in the business of “moments.” The Kodak Moment. Had they embraced this larger truth, they would have been asking themselves “How can we continue to help people capture and share their Kodak moments?” But instead they were asking “How can we get people to continue printing out their photos using our products?”

Publishers, agents and authors need to start from this very important truth: We are not in the “book” business. We are in the business of storytelling.

As we figure out ways to move into the future, we will only be successful if we stay focused on remembering exactly what our business is.

“Experimenting With Serials For Fun and Profit” by Jane Friedman (via Shari)

Bring up the topic of serials in the writing community (either online or off), and it doesn’t take long for someone to invoke the success of Charles Dickens. But does a strategy that surged in popularity during the Victorian Era still have relevance to today’s writers and readers?

Both new and established authors are finding the answer is a resounding yes, and point to a growing demand for serial work, in part due to a burgeoning number of e-readers and new distribution methods for the form.

Not all serials are alike, however. While you can find many practitioners of the traditional serial that Dickens was known for — writing installments on deadline and taking audience feedback into consideration — authors are also slicing and dicing a complete work into segments as a marketing tool.

“Feedback from readers has solidified my feeling against this practice. Books as a unit or package of media work well in the long form, and readers by and large want to immerse themselves in the experience of reading long form.” Coker says this applies to full-length novels divided into chunks after completion, or works in progress.

As you may remember, I originally wrote Twenty-Somewhere as a weekly serial here on the blog. When Amazon opened up their epublishing platform, I decided to see if people would pay to read 20SW on their Kindles. They did, but they made it clear (through reviews, reader forums, and eventually sales) that they would prefer to have it all in one chunk as opposed to having to buy the episodes separately.

So while I do think serial fiction has a place, and a future, I’m not sure the correct mechanisms are in place. I would love to see someone experiment with a subscription model, where a reader pays by the episode, but is not responsible for checking back for new episodes all time. Maybe a notice is automatically delivered to their e-reader, and then they either approve or reject the download.

Spread the holiday cheer

This is a re-post of my holiday episode of Twenty-Somewhere. You can find the full story (all 40 episodes) in ebook form at Amazon, iTunes, BN.com, Sony, Kobo, and Smashwords.

Ah, the holiday season. A time of joy and laughter and relaxation. Days full of mirth and miracles and magic. A period of reflection, introspection, and appreciation. The most wonderful time of the year!

Until you turn twenty.

After that, it’s the rigors of end-of-term exams, or the hassle of traveling home via crowded airports and interstates, or the stress of finding fabulous gifts for all your family and friends – without zeroing out your bank account. Growing up is the difference between believing in Santa Claus and being Santa Claus.

MJ begins her holiday journey stranded in the UK. Her flight to Newark has been canceled, and if she doesn’t get another one soon, she won’t make it home in time for Christmas.

Claudia decides to drive from her new home in the Midwest back to Texas. Since Eli is flying to see his family, she’s in charge of their puppy Max, who whines incessantly for thirty miles. Her nerves are shot by the time she crosses the first state line, and there are still twelve more hours to go.

Sophie, of course, is working on Christmas Eve. Technically it’s a holiday, but in reality their biggest international client could care less. A deadline is a deadline.

Rather than crowd the service desk with all the other disgruntled Americans, MJ sits patiently at what was supposed to be her gate. Airline staff discuss the remaining flights over their walkie talkies, and MJ realizes there are just four seats available for nearly a hundred passengers. She sighs and stands, headed for the pay phones to call her parents and deliver the bad news. Just then, a nearby elderly man loses his grip on the armful of packages he is carrying. MJ quickly catches them before they crash to the floor.

“Oh, thank you! These are toys for my grandchildren. I guess I got a little carried away buying so many…” He smiles sheepishly. In no rush to catch a flight, MJ helps carry the gifts all the way to the Arrivals area, where the man’s daughter is waiting with her twin boys.

When MJ returns to her gate, one of the airline staff members motions for her to come over to his desk. When she gets there, he hands her a ticket. “I saw what you did for that old man,” he says. She starts to protest, feeling guilty as she thinks of all the other people at the service counter who surely want to return to their families too, but he cuts her off. “You started the holiday cheer. I’m just following your lead.”

Somewhere in Oklahoma, Claudia feels a weird bump as she drives over an old bridge. Suddenly her car tilts and begins to make an awful thumping noise. She pulls over on the side of the interstate and sees the flat tire. She wants to cry, but Max is already making more of a fuss than she ever could.

She remembers an exit not too far back, with signs advertising food and gas. She is debating whether or not to walk back when a car pulls off the road and stops in front of hers. As it reverses, she discreetly slips her cellphone into her pocket and hits 9-1. She waits to see what else will happen before dialing the rest.

A man emerges from the car and says, “Need a hand?”

Wary, she shakes her head.

“You’ve got a flat,” he says. “I can change it for you.”

She’s about to say no again, but a small voice interrupts her. “Daddy, where are we?” A little girl pokes her head up from the back seat of the man’s car.

After he explains to his daughter that he’s going to help this nice young lady whose car has a problem, Claudia hangs up her phone and shows him the spare in her trunk. When he finishes, Claudia wonders if it would be inappropriate to give him money as a thank you for his assistance. She reaches for her purse, but he shakes his head. “That’s not necessary,” he says. “When I saw you on the side of the road, I pictured my own little girl.”

They both look over to his car, and are surprised to see not just his daughter, but Max as well. The girl heard his puppy cries and came over to let him out. She holds his leash firmly as they play carefully away from the road, and he licks her hands and face enthusiastically.

At the office of Arden Advertising, Sophie rubs her eyes and glances at the clock. MJ should be landing shortly, and Claudia is probably settling in at home. Meanwhile Sophie is facing another hour or two at work.

The only silver lining is that she isn’t alone. Among those assigned to her project is the new and gorgeous copywriter Diego. He’s very talented, but she can tell he is still nervous about his new setting, his new country. Throughout the night, the team members stray off-topic, discussing their upcoming holiday or new year plans. Only Diego stays silent. And Sophie notices.

As they are finally wrapping up, she approaches him in the corner of the conference room. “Diego, are you doing anything special for the holidays?”

“No… My family is all in Venezuela, and it is too expensive and too late to fly back to be with them.” The wistful look on his beautiful face breaks Sophie’s heart.

“Do you want to come to my place?” she asks. His hesitation prompts her to clarify. “For Christmas dinner! Tonight. I’m having a few friends over to celebrate.”

In reality, it is just supposed to be her and X, who is back home for the holidays. Their plan was to have a quiet night together catching up, and then she would drop him off at his parents’ house in the morning on the way to her own. But she knows of a couple other people she can call in a pinch, and she figures X won’t mind – too much – that she wanted to make a new coworker feel welcome.

Diego smiles, and this time Sophie’s heart melts.

“Yes,” he says. “Thank you. I would like that very much.”

Some do it for strangers, some for their children, some for just a smile. Santa does it for cookies and milk. Whatever your reasons, be sure to spread some holiday cheer this season. It’s the best gift you can give.