The Pros and Cons of Self-Checkout

Yes, today is a book giveaway. But first . . .

Have you noticed more and more self-checkout lanes recently? I have. I used to think self-checkout lanes were the next best thing since the invention of Reese’s peanut butter cups. After all, I could check my groceries quickly and go home to eat my Reese’s peanut butter cups. (Who am I kidding? I usually start on those as soon as I reach the car.)

walmart-self-checkout Reeses

But Self-checkout Lanes, I’m no longer feeling you, know what I mean? Because now I wonder if your population has increased to allow a company to get away with hiring fewer employees or laying off some. 😦

I recently walked into the branch of my bank and saw three employees. This branch had five times that amount a couple of years ago. Of the three, one quickly steered me toward using the ATM to make a deposit, instead of expecting him to do it. I’m not sure what else he planned to do, since I was the only customer in the bank. Perhaps give his full attention to the businesses making deposits in the drive-thru? Only people with business accounts are allowed to use the drive-thru. Makes me feel like a valued customer.

ATM Machine

Afterward, I shopped at a store with a ton of self-checkout lanes. The express lanes were closed to push people toward the self-checkout lanes. Meanwhile, a dozen employees raced about. Some stocked shelves. Some simply stood there, speaking into walkie-talkies. But none asked me if I needed help. So if the self-checkout lanes were set up to allow employees more time to help shoppers looking for items in the store, well, let’s just say I found Siri to be more helpful. I’ve had retail jobs. I know how difficult working with the public can be. But when a store seems to go out of its way to avoid dealing with me, I’m tempted to shop elsewhere.

The library installed more self-checkout machines. A librarian quickly pointed one out when I approached the circulation desk. I wanted to ask her, “Are you trying to point your way out of a job?” But I decided not to. I’m fairly certain I would be told how much more important other tasks are than checking out books. But if checking books out for a patron means one more librarian keeps his or her job, I would be all for that.

(By the way, I am aware of how hard librarians work. I have friends who are librarians. Believe it or not, I have applied for jobs at libraries and would have been more than happy to be the book checker.)

I’m reminded of a scene in the 2005 movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In that scene, Mr. Bucket lost his job to a machine at the toothpaste factory.

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If you’re thinking, Don’t guilt trip me. I love using self-checkout lanes, rest assured that no one is interfering with your right to use those lanes. Labor-saving devices may save time and money. But I have to wonder if in the long run they’ll cost us more than we save.

Now let’s move on to the winner of Kate Sparkes’s fantasy novel, Torn. Click here for the interview with Kate.

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That winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

Congrats, Charles! Please comment below to let me know if you’d like a print copy or an ebook!

Thank you to all who commented.

Peanut butter cups image from thehersheystore.com. Wal-Mart self-checkout lanes from merchandisingmatters.com. Noah Taylor as Mr. Bucket from Rotten Tomatoes.com. ATM machine from classroom clipart.com.

Check This Out: Torn

If you follow Disregard the Prologue, then you’re already aware of the clever and cool Kate Sparkes and her fantasy trilogy named after the first book, Bound. She’s here today to talk about Torn, book 2 of the series. Ready? Let’s rock and roll!

Kate author photo 4  torn_full

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Kate: Hmm. . . . Okay. One: We bought our first house this summer, and I finally have my own office space. It’s just as amazing as I imagined it would be, but I will be forever grateful for the fact that I had to write my first books in a stinky basement.
Two: I’m not a dog person, and I’m really not a small dog person, but I have a chihuahua snuggled on my lap right now, and it is most excellent.

Kate Dog

Bruno, Kate’s dog

Three: I just took up running, and can’t believe how much I’m enjoying it. It’s amazing what not being able to do something for years will do for your motivation.
Four: I’m a little obsessed with paper products, specifically planners. I use one for home and one for work, plus a lined journal for tracking productivity.

El Space: So, Torn is out in the world, along with his sister, Bound. And your editor has Sworn, book three. Now that your trilogy is coming to an end, how are you feeling? Sad? Elated?
Kate: Nervouscited? Bitterswelated? I’m not sure any real word captures how I feel. I think Sworn is the best and strongest book of the series, and I’m excited to finish writing a story that I still adore almost five years after I started it. At the same time, I’m sad to be finishing it. And happy to be able to move on to new things. And terrified, as I always am before I release anything. And tearing my hair out over deadlines. And . . . you get the idea.

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El Space: I do! Without giving a spoiler, was there a character whose development surprised you the most as you wrote this series? Perhaps you started off thinking, I’ll only include this person in a scene, but the character wound up getting more book time.
Kate: I guess Nox would be the obvious answer. I didn’t know she existed until well after I’d finished the first draft of Bound, and she ended up being a major character in books two and three. Her development and involvement in the story has really surprised me, too, ending up fairly far off from what I’d anticipated.

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There are others, too. There were a few characters in Bound I never expected to see again, but who have come back to play a larger part in the story. One of them really shocked me, and another made me squeak with excitement when her wee face popped up again. Wow. This is really hard to do without spoilers!

El Space: How long did it take you to write each book? How much research did you do as you created the world?
Kate: Bound took me 3.5 years from first draft to publication. Torn was a little less than 2.5 years, and when Sworn comes out it should be about sixteen months. I’m a fairly quick first drafter, but I take my time over revisions.

I don’t do a lot of research for my world building. Most of the research I do is on things like, “If someone got stabbed in X, how long would she live?” or “Oops—how far away did I say Y was from Z?” My internal record-keeping systems could use a good overhauling.

El Space: Are you a plotter or a pantser? When you started writing Bound, how much of the end of the trilogy did you know? If you already knew the ending, did you find the outcome different or relatively the same as you envisioned?
Kate: I’m very much a plotter at this point. I’ve tried diving into a story with nothing more than an amazing character and a cool concept, and ended up writing myself straight into a brick wall. I do leave plenty of room for wonderful surprises along the way, but I like to have most of the major twists and turns—and the ending—planned out before I start. I think plotting and pantsing are quite similar, actually. It’s just that I do my exploring and experimenting in my head and in quick notes, whereas a pantser works it out in the first draft.

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I didn’t have this whole trilogy plotted out before I started, though. I had a vague idea of the ending, but when I started Bound, it didn’t seem like I’d actually finish one book, never mind three of them.

Most of Sworn was a mass of fog and vague ideas until after I’d finished the first draft of Torn. I had the ending quite solidly in mind, but the road that led there was quite an interesting experience as I explored it while outlining and drafting.

El Space: Were you always thinking you’d write a trilogy set in this world and maybe some shorter pieces? How did you decide whose stories should be told through a sequel, a prequel, a short story, or a novella?
Kate: I didn’t initially plan to write more than the main novels, but I think I always knew I wouldn’t want to limit what I could do in this world. I have a set of characters I adore who constantly surprise me, a deep and rich world that still has so much to explore, and a story with a long history and more events that could play out in the future. I do have other worlds and stories to work on, but I don’t think this well will ever run dry.

Deciding which stories to tell is quite easy. Though I do listen to reader suggestions, the deciding factor is always whether there’s a full story there—a solid plot rather than just a series of events that a few people might find interesting—and whether the idea lights a fire in my imagination. Out of ten ideas, one might really make me want to sit down and start writing. Some stories just beg to be told.

Stories-at-Work

J.K.-RowlingEl Space: Many readers wanted J. K. Rowling to continue writing books set in the world of Harry Potter. But she wanted to tackle other genres. What would you say to readers who want you to continue writing this series to the exclusion of all others?
Kate: I’d say I completely understand. There’s a part of me that’s scared to leave behind what works and what readers already love, but I can’t let myself get burned out on one story or one genre. I want to keep my love of this world alive, and that means that sometimes I need to work on something else. I drafted an urban fantasy novella after Bound, and it refreshed me for Torn. I played with a different, more steampunk-esque version of fantasy between Torn and Sworn, and it helped me get the distance I needed to fall in love with my world and characters again.

I will work in other genres. I will write for other age groups, with more adult content or maybe even something for younger folk some day. And I’ll be a better writer for it when I come back to this world and these characters.

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El Space: What are you working on now?
Kate: Right now, I’m at an awkward stage. Sworn is with my editor. I’ve drafted and revised a prequel novella over the past few months that I’m excessively excited about, and that’s gone to a new editor. Now I have a week to wait before Sworn comes back, which means I have time for business. . . . But really, I know I won’t be able to help picking at my next project. It’s an idea that came to me during a night of insomnia—totally worth it—a semi-dystopian YA fantasy involving vengeful gods, human sacrifice, rebirth, and some characters I can’t wait to explore.

Sounds exciting! Thanks, Kate, for being my guest.

You can find Kate at her blog, website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Torn is available here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble

And one commenter will get a free copy of Torn. Remember, this is book 2. You should read Bound first! Winner to be announced on October 6.

Author photo and covers courtesy of the author. Character sign from sophia.org. Pants/plots image from rinellegrey.com. Fantasy world image from wallpaperpassion.com. Stories sign from transformleaders.tv. J. K. Rowling from inquisitr.com.

And the Winners Are . . .

Just a quick post to announce some prize winners. (Isn’t it nice to have some good news?)

torn_full  author photo 3

The winner of a preorder of Torn by Kate Sparkes is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Sue Archer!

The winner of the $25 (or some equivalent atAmazon.uk) is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Beatthemtodeathwiththeirownshoes!

Congratulations, winners! Please email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to confirm. Once again, thanks for commenting. Have a great weekend!

Cover Reveal: Torn

It is my pleasure to participate in the cover reveal for Torn, book 2 of the Bound trilogy by the delightful Kate Sparkes. You know her, you love her from her blog, Disregard the Prologue, and from Bound, book 1 of her trilogy. Now, gaze in wonder, people:

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Gorgeous isn’t he? Er . . . the cover, I mean. Yeah. It was designed by the amazing Ravven.

Here’s a synopsis of Torn:

Aren Tiernal knows that safety is an illusion, that his cruel and powerful brother will never forgive his betrayal. Still, returning to Tyrea to challenge Severn for the throne would be suicide. It’s not until Severn himself comes to collect what’s owed to him that Aren decides to risk everything in an attempt to bring down the most powerful Sorcerer Tyrea has ever known. The mission seems doomed to fail, but it’s Aren’s only chance to save himself, his country, and the woman who thawed his heart.

Rowan Greenwood has troubles of her own. Though she should be a great Sorceress, years of being closed off from her magic have left her unable to control her incredible power. When a pair of ominous letters arrive from her home country, Rowan has to choose between her new life and a chance at saving her family—and just maybe changing an entire country’s beliefs about the evils of magic.

Torn apart by separate quests, Rowan and Aren will have to discover untapped strengths and confront their darkest fears in order to overthrow a ruler determined to destroy them both.

AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER ON AMAZON.COM.

Release date: March 31, 2015. Limited time launch price: $2.99.

I’ll be giving away a copy of Torn to one commenter. The winner will be announced later this week. When you comment, tell what you would do if you suddenly learned that you had magical powers. Oh and be sure to tell Kate happy birthday.

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Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, ON. She abandoned the mainland to live in Newfoundland, where she spends way too much time looking for merfolk among the ocean waves. She lives with her wonderful husband, two children, and far too many pets.

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Happy birthday, Kate!

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Birthday cake from glutenfreeluv.com.

A Place for Everything

A place for everything, everything in its place.
Benjamin Franklin

My bosses at various jobs over the years have made subtle hints about my messy office desks. (For example, “How can you find anything on this desk?”)

Messy desk

This is not my desk.

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This is my desk. Some writers, like Jill Weatherholt, Sharon Van Zandt, and Kate Sparkes have lovely work spaces. Welcome to your worst nightmare, kids.

Yet whenever I worked in-house, every time a boss requested a file or a book, he or she was always surprised when I plucked it instantly from beneath a pile of papers or other books, rather than having to search for it at least an hour. I’m messy, but I have my own weird storage/filing system. If you like, I’ll give you a window into that system via a little quiz. Answers are at the end if you want to skip the quiz and go eat gelato or something. (I would.)

1. You’re in my apartment and want a cup of coffee with sugar. Where would you look for the sugar?
A. In a canister on the counter
B. In the refrigerator
C. That was a trick question. I ran out of sugar.

2. You want to watch the blu-ray of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, because there’s a song in it you’re dying to hear again. Where would you expect to find it?
A. In the DVD/blu-ray case in the living room
B. In the refrigerator
C. In a Christmas box on the floor

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3. For some reason, you need a clean, but mate-less gray sock. Where would you look for it?
A. On top of the dresser
B. In the refrigerator
C. In the garbage where it belongs

4. A freezing wind kicks up (you’re in the Midwest after all) and you want a scarf (or muffler, if you prefer) to wear. Where you would you look for one?
A. In this basket in the living room closet, bearing this label

006B. In the refrigerator
C. On top of some DVDs

There. Welcome to my world. I’m one of those people for whom the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” was coined. For some items, if I can’t see it, I forget I have it (hence the piles of books in my living room at eye level). For others—reference books for example—if I’m working on a project, I need to have them in a pile nearby for immediate access, instead of having to hunt them up in a bookcase.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m glad I don’t live with her. You wouldn’t be the first person to think that. Some people are good at keeping their environments neat and clutter free. I worked with people with pristine desks—desks so clean you could eat off them. But looking at their lovely, clean desks made my head hurt. No books, no strewn papers—not even a single hand puppet for that lived-in look!

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A hand puppet on my computer desk

Or one of these babies:

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The robot doin’ the robot. Work it. Work it.

Who could resist a robot??? But having a clean desk, my coworkers told me, gave them a sense of accomplishment, like marking something off on a checklist. I can respect that. And I tried to live like that, especially when guests were due for a big meeting and all of the cubicles needed to look ship-shape and uniform. But usually that resolve lasted for only a day or so, and then I was back to the strewn papers and hand puppets.

I used to drive my mother absolutely crazy when I was a kid. She’s very neat and organized and greatly despaired at the thought of having to use a machete just to enter my room. My locker in high school was pretty much the same as my room at home. And don’t get me started on my undergraduate dorm rooms. This aspect didn’t change in grad school either. Yet I could always find whatever I needed.

Right now, I need to find a library book that will be overdue unless I turn it in soon. I think I remember where I left it: somewhere near the refrigerator . . . or in it.

Clean or messy—which are you? How does this work for you?

In case you’re wondering about the answers to the quiz, they’re here: 1. B; 2. C; 3. A; 4. C.

If you comment below, I’ll tell you the why behind some of the answers.

Messy desk (first photo) from theguardian.com.

Cover Makeover: A Gift of Wings

Today on the blog is the fabulous Stephanie Stamm, who is here to talk about a cover makeover for her novel, A Gift of Wings. Here is the old cover:

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Now feast your eyes on the new cover by the also fabulous Ravven, who also designed the cover for Kate Sparkes’s Bound.

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Continue to feast away while I talk to Stephanie.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Stephanie: (1) I just got a Smart TV and have recently become a Netflix addict. (2) I’m afraid of spiders and falling off ladders. (3) I don’t have any tattoos. (4) I love avocados and cilantro, which pretty much makes guacamole the perfect food.

El Space: Guacamole is pretty awesome! Tell us about your book, A Gift of Wings. How many books will there be in the Light-Bringer series?
Stephanie: A Gift of Wings is an urban fantasy set in Chicago about a girl named Lucky who, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, starts seeing wings on people and gets drawn into a world of angels, demons, and ancient gods. As she joins what is to her a new world, she also pulls half-angel Aidan back into the life he’d walked away from two years before. The book gives us both their stories as they come to understand who they are and what they are capable of.

I envision the series as a trilogy. But I’ve also thought about writing additional novellas exploring the stories of some of the supporting characters.

El Space: Why angels? What do you find inspiring about them?
Stephanie: (1) I’m fascinated by winged beings. I once created a shadowbox art piece for a charity auction that I called “Luna Venus” where I gave Bouguereau’s Venus Luna moth wings. Wings are an ancient symbol of power. Plus, who doesn’t want to be able to fly? (2) I find something compelling about combining the human with the angelic “other.” Playing with the mythology of the angel-human hybrid Nephilim is great fun, because they are both human and more than human. Different angels have different traits and abilities, so I get to play with those as well. (3) I love mythology and fairy tales, and the Judeo-Christian tradition is the one I know best. I decided to create my fantasy world out of that tradition.

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Luna moth

El Space: How did you come up with Aidan or Lucky? Who are you most like? Least like?
Stephanie: It’s funny, but Aidan (then unnamed) first occurred to me as a joke. I was just contemplating the bare idea of the story, and I thought, Oh, and one of the characters could be the front man for a band called Icarus. You know, because of the whole flaming wings, falling from the sky thing. My next thought was, Yeah. Why not? I ran with it. And then Aidan had his own ideas about where his story should go.

Lucky took her time in coming to me. I knew some of the things I wanted to have happen to her, but I didn’t know who she was or what her overall story was for a while. That came to me in bits and pieces.

Between Aidan and Lucky, I’m more like Lucky. I’ve lost loved ones—in my case, a much older sister and my mother—to Alzheimer’s, and I lived in Hyde Park—though I was older than Lucky when I did. But her background is different than mine, and she’s braver than I am. Maybe that’s why I found it easier to write the scenes from Aidan’s perspective. The words flowed more easily when I was writing in his voice.

El Space: Now tell us about this beautiful cover and how it came about.
Stephanie: I have you among others to thank for this beautiful cover! 🙂 Awhile back you did a cover reveal for Kate Sparkes’s Bound—an awesome book, by the way—and then later did an interview with Kate. That cover blew me away. It’s just stunning. I had been wanting to get a new cover for A Gift of Wings, because I knew the one I had didn’t really speak to the novel’s genre or target age group. So, I checked out Kate’s cover credit and then contacted the multi-talented Ravven about doing some covers for me as well. She did a gorgeous job with this one and the cover for the sequel, A Gift of Shadows.

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El Space: What brought you to the urban fantasy genre?
Stephanie: Reading Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, and Holly Black, among others. In some ways, my attraction to urban fantasy is the same as my fascination for hybrid beings. It’s that sense of the extraordinary hiding or barely hidden right behind the ordinary, everyday world we inhabit.

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El Space: How would you finish this sentence: “In the urban fantasy genre, I’d like to see more ______________”? Why?
Stephanie: I know it’s a current buzzword, but I’d like to see more diversity—not just in urban fantasy. I tried to include diverse characters in A Gift of Wings, but I know I could do more in future work. No one book or series will ever be able to include all possible variations, but we could do better at avoiding common tropes and learning about other cultures, etc., so we can write outside our comfort zones.

El Space: Amen to that! What books/authors inspire you as an author?
Stephanie: I have a huge writer crush on Neil Gaiman. I love Neverwhere and American Gods. The man knows mythology better than anyone. Good Omens, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett, is also a favorite—well, it is about angels and demons. I find Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift series—A Madness of Angels, The Midnight Mayor, The Neon Court, and The Minority Council—completely compelling. Talk about urban fantasy. In her novels, the urban is fantastic and the fantastic is urban. I’m in awe. On the YA front, the Harry Potter books, of course, and the Hunger Games, and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

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El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to write urban fantasy?
Stephanie: Read it and read it and read more of it. Then, let your imagination run. What kinds of places and images do you find evocative? And who do you want to people your world? What kind of characters do you love? Mostly, I think, whatever genre we write in, we need to read it. And we need to write what we love. There’s no point in trying to write urban fantasy if cozy mysteries are what light you up. That’s not to say that we can’t explore or write in multiple genres, just that we shouldn’t try to force ourselves into being who we aren’t.

El Space: What writing project are you working on now?
Stephanie: I’m working on the second volume of the Light-Bringer series: A Gift of Shadows. It’s with beta readers now. I’m hoping to be able to release it at the end of the year. My mind is also churning with ideas for the third book.

Thanks, Stephanie, for stopping by the blog!

Looking for Stephanie? You can find her at her blog. A Gift of Wings is available here:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Smashwords

In honor of her cover makeover, Stephanie is giving away a paperback and an ebook of A Gift of Wings. Comment below to be entered in the drawing! Winners will be announced on Monday, August 18.

A Gift of Wings cover courtesy of Stephanie Stamm. Other book covers from Goodreads. Luna moth from fwallpapers.com.

Have a Nice Day, Somebody

The day started off in a not-so-great fashion. I needed to say that right off the bat so you’ll understand. But as I headed to the mailbox at my apartment building (trudged is probably a better word), I discovered a random act of neighborliness:

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Someone had gone out of his or her way to leave a little bit of beauty outside the main door. Just seeing that made my day. I couldn’t help thinking, Awwwwwww.

In a day when many of us increasingly feel distant from neighbors due to the transient lives some of us lead, it’s nice to know that people sometimes make an effort to reach out, even in gentle ways, without expecting anything in return.

Speaking of having a nice day, I’m glad to do the neighborly thing by giving away two copies of Bound, a fantasy novel by the delightful Kate Sparkes (see interview here).

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The winners, thanks to the random number generator are

Andy of City Jackdaw and Professor VJ Duke!!!!

I can’t argue with the random number generator. It chooses whom it will! Winners, please comment below to confirm. You can also email me at lwashin301(at)comcast(dot)net. Please make a note of the change in email address from my usual blog address. When you email me, please provide the email address you use with Amazon.

Getting back to random acts of neighborliness, back when I wrote textbooks full time, the designer on my team told me that she made a habit of purposely dropping change on the ground. (Not all of the time—just occasionally. And no, I won’t tell you where she lives.) When I questioned her about that (and no, I wasn’t trying to find out when she planned to drop some change), she said she did it to give a kid the thrill of discovering money on the ground. This was another Awwwwww moment for me. Recalling how much fun it was for me to find money on the ground back when I was a kid, I was touched by her desire to make some kid’s day.

We have the power within us to make or break someone’s day. Which will you choose? How has someone made your day with a random act of neighborliness?