Innovation

Innovation.

One of the things that all the hoopla surrounding Amazon vs. Hachette is obfuscating is that the internet isn’t just changing publishing–it’s changing every type of commerce. I’m not all that interested in the controversy surrounding the negotiations, for all the same reasons that I wasn’t interested back when Barnes and Noble did the same thing to S&S… we cannot know what’s really going on, who’s doing what, who’s pulling PR stunts to sway the public vs. who’s the “victim” here. And honestly, if a corporation has to resort to “victim” status to win the war, they’ve already lost. Not necessarily because their customers will leave right away, and not necessarily because they’re going to lose money immediately… but because “victim” status means they have not innovated. They have not gotten out ahead of the curve. In the world of business competition, there are thousands of businesses who fail because their business models are stagnant. They fail to innovate, they fail to see that others are innovating and take advantage of that, and they fail to see that the customer base’s expectations are changing. You cannot stay in business in today’s technological world by doing everything the exact same way you did it forty years ago. Not if you really want to be here forty years from now.

I read a couple of interesting articles yesterday in Entrepreneur Magazine about innovation, and one specifically about three brands that are dying — Quizznos, Sbarro, and Radio Shack, and of the three, the two latter brands depended heavily on mall traffic — traffic that is down by more than half in a lot of malls. And it’s not just Amazon that’s the culprit. People buy online directly from the companies, now — they buy their Apple or Dell computers online. (No one screamed that we should boycott them and stick with Radio Shack.) Sbarro’s sales have fallen through the floor (they’re in bankruptcy) because pizza-by-the-slice has gone by the wayside; people can call in for delivery, or go online for delivery, or buy plenty of very good cook-at-home options. Or they’re eating healthier. The world changed around Sbarro–offering better quality, better ease-of-use–and Sbarro failed to change with it. Worse, they failed to anticipate change and did not innovate within their own model.

Yesterday, I picked up my mail and had tennis shoes from Zappos, a yoga mat from the mat maker, a t-shirt from a small Etsy vendor, a gift for someone that I ordered from a printer in Michigan, and some gadget that my husband wanted from a binocular store. All purchased directly.

Now that the malls are dying off, a lot of small towns are seeing the resurgence of mom and pop stores, because when people can get all of the generic stuff from online shopping, and they save money, they have more to spend locally. (At least, that is what I’m seeing here.) Those stores which are doing really well have a unique service angle to them, that lagniappe (something extra) that keeps their customers coming back. There’s my favorite children’s store in the Quarter (NOLA Kids) which always has unique toys / clothes for kids that I can’t find elsewhere. Her prices are slightly higher, but I think it’s worth it for the unique factor.

There are some fine indie bookstores that (at least, from the outside) seem to be holding their own — like Seattle Mystery Bookshop, and Murder by the Book in Houston, and here in NOLA, Garden District Book Shop. They have all carved out a voice for themselves, offer unique services, and really pay attention to their customers. They are innovating within their models, and they’re catering to their customer’s needs.

That’s the only really interesting thing about the Hachette vs. Amazon battle going on–will Hachette come out of this having figured out how to better innovate, how to improve their own model, to better serve their customers, the readers. (Their customers used to be the bookstores–especially the big chain stores. They had to satisfy one buyer from B&N, one from Borders, etc., and then buyers from the smaller chains. Now, they have to think more globally–the customers, the readers.)

I like Hachette. I particularly like Grand Central, one of their imprints–they put out a lot of good books. They have terrific editors there. I want to see them last. But “winning” against Amazon isn’t where the focus should be, in my humble opinion. It should be, “how can we do what Amazon is doing, but better, smarter, within our own model?” And again, we don’t know–maybe they are trying to innovate to better serve their customer without destroying their own producers. That’s their challenge, now, and I think the outcome will signal a sea change for the industry as a whole.

Sometimes, you’re the bug.*

I thought I’d tell you a… fairytale. Something completely made up. Totally not related to anyone who may or may not be a member of this blog. Okay? Fiction. Totally.

Once upon a time, there was this woman named…er… Tonya. Tonya was married to a guy named… Cal, and they were very happy, young, hip, good-looking people who were just blessed with patience. (Hey, it’s fiction. Run with it.)

One day, Tonya and Cal, who’d purchased a building in a famed historic district, in a southern state somewhere… needed to paint said building. They had jumped through many many fiery hoops of the local historic committee in order to get a multitude of things approved, and they were pretty accustomed to the routines and personalities of said committee. First, they had to send in a request to the staff trolls for any changes to the exterior of the building. Any. Changes. Some of these changes, the trolls could approve without taking it to the full committee (which was comprised of the trolls and local evil architects sorcerers), and in those moments, Tonya and Cal rejoiced, drank a great deal of wine, and there was dancing. Probably. The trolls claimed that they had the power to approve the paint colors, and they would be very happy to do so. Tonya was suspicious, but so far, they had not been too evil, so there was hope. She was young and very very naive.

When it came time to paint said building, Tonya was nervous. It was big, and expensive to paint, and she wanted to do it once, and get it right, because once the colors were chosen, that’s what she would have to live with for the rest of her life, because you just don’t go changing colors on a historic building willy nilly. Plus, you know, expensive. So she dithered and kvetched and wallowed around with potential colors for months, and even asked some trusted friends to weigh in, once she had narrowed it down to a couple of color schemes, and then finally, chose a palette of deep greens, a white trim for the window sashes, and a oxblood red for the muttons (which she had always called “mullions” — the cross-pieces of the windows, but she lived in a very strange world, so she just went with the flow and called them muttons. Although she kept expecting to see little lambs up there.)

Anyway, just picking out the colors wasn’t enough. The trolls and evil sorcerers had to approve of the colors, which turned out to be a little more complicated than Tonya had realized. Like seven levels of hell complicated, with monsters at every level ready to munch.

First, the trolls told her she had to send in actual samples painted (which she did) and give them the formula (which she did), because God forbid she told them a color and what went up on the wall was 1% different. Then the trolls told her that they were confused, and she needed to label a photo with all of the colors, showing the placement of the future colors, so they could argue amongst themselves. So she did that, too. Then the trolls (who had assured her that they could handle this decision, this did not need to go before the evil sorcerers) complained that they were still confused, and wanted Tonya to go paint the colors on the building, especially the windows, so they could see how the colors would look. Tonya pointed out to the trolls that the windows were on the second floor, not the first, and Tonya, being all of 5’2″, could not exactly comply. However, she offered to paint the colors on an upper portion of the building, which mimicked the front of the building (a third floor rooftop addition, because there was a terrace she could stand on to reach those windows), and they said, “Wonderful! This will work!”

And so, she did.

Then the trolls said, “Wait, wait! This will not work. We are still confused, because that addition doesn’t have all of the same molding as the front of the building, and we need to know where alllllllll of the colors are going to go, so you’re just going to have to paint down the front of the building. So pick one section (a slice of the front of the building) and paint that. Then call us, and we shall prance our dainty selves down there at our whim, when you’ve begged enough times (but we’re not going to tell you how many is ‘enough’, ha! you fool!), and then we may–or may not–approve.”

Then Tonya said, “Oh good fucking grief,” and thought seriously about hacking some of those trolls to death, but decided she didn’t look good behind bars, and so she said, “Fine. I will hire a painter and I will pay for a man lift, and he will paint a slice of the building for you to come view. On the understanding that I will have him for that week, and you’ll need to come when I call and tell me yes or noand, if no, then why not, so I can make adjustments and get the damned thing painted.”

And the trolls said, “Oh, sure, absolutely!”

So that’s what Tonya did, because Cal had to go out of town for a while to slay another dragon, and Tonya was determined that she was going to get the effing castle painted before a big ball that was planned for many many people who would be traveling many miles, and she wanted the castle to not look like it had leprosy. The day came, a couple of weeks later, when the weather cooperated, the man lift was rented, the Knight of Painthood showed up with his serfs to help him, and he did a beautiful job painting one entire slice of the building, top to bottom, for the trolls to come view and approve.

Tonya called the trolls’ office and spoke to the assistant troll, the one in charge of paint colors, named… Shara, and Shara said, “Oh, why, yes, we can come this evening. We’ll be there sometime after five.”

Now Tonya, who knew a thing or two about trolls and their truthiness, said, “What time exactly? I’d like to meet you there. That way, if you have any problems, I’ll know and we can make adjustments tomorrow morning.”

“Oh,” Shara said, “I’m not sure. I’ve got to get my boss to meet me there, and we will be coming from another job.”

“Well, can you call me? We have these new fangled things called cell phones, and since I live not far away, I can hie myself over to you as soon as you get there.”

“Oh. No. We don’t know how to use cell phones,” Shara said, completely ignoring the fact that she was, at that moment, using one.

“How, then, will I know that you’ve gone and viewed and approved of the colors?”

“Oh, I’ll call you.”

……

“Okay, fine,” Tanya said, because logic apparently wasn’t going to do a damned bit of good.

She waited and waited and waited, and then, when there was no call, she thought, “hmmmm. Can I be so lucky that they actually went?” And Logic laughed and laughed.

The next morning, Tonya called and got Shara’s voicemail, and asked her to return her call, to make sure the colors were fine. This went on for two more days, and when Shara finally called, she said, “Oh, we didn’t go.”

Tonya had brief fantasies of explosions and bazooka fire, and then asked, “Really? So… you didn’t call me to let me know as you had assured me you would. And the painter is almost finished.”

Shara made all manner of excuses, and promised to go that evening. The next morning, she said, “Oh, we loved the colors. Except for two small things–the white letters–too white. They look… white. Maybe you can do them off-white? or green? So that they can’t be seen? And the dark part of the doors? Not so dark?”

“So… the white that we picked out for the lettering… confused you when we had the plans? Because white is so ambiguous?”

“Right! It contrasted.”

“It tends to do that when it’s against a dark color.”

“Exactly. It needs to not contrast.”

“Then people won’t be able to read the name of the building.”

“Right!”

Tonya’s head exploded.

Then Shara said, “Don’t worry. It’s a technicality. All is well–I can write up the permit for you.”

And Tonya thought, huh? permit? But I thought the color approval was the permit. But she didn’t ask, because hey, she was getting it, and she could appeal the issue over the white lettering, apparently, so all was well.

Until it wasn’t. The head troll called Tonya and Cal’s own personal not-evil sorcerer (instead of Tonya, who was a female, and apparently the head troll didn’t know how to speak to a female because females had cooties) and said, “we have to issue an order of violation, because Tonya painted the building without a permit.”

And Tonya had to go before the entire committee and apologize. And agree to change the white lettering to light green, which was stupid, but Tonya was fast losing her patience.

So the day came forth, and the committee of evil sorcerers were tormenting everyone in line before Tonya, and she thought, Thank God mine is a minor issue. I will concede the damned white, and the dark green doors, and be done.

When it was Tonya’s turn, the head troll had the violation read off, and whoa, Nelly, it didn’t sound anything like, “just change the white lettering to light green” and “change the dark green of the doors to a lighter green.” It sounded like Tonya had raped and pillaged the trolls own village in her pursuit to paint the building a set of colors they had never seen before, in spite of the fact that one of them was holding the submitted colors in his hand and his neighbor was holding the labeled drawing. It conveniently omitted the part where she had called and called and the trolls had not shown up, and the assistant evil sorcerer said, “Oh, well, you’re in violation! We get to be mean to you now.”

Then, the head evil sorcerer spoke, and said, “Verily, because I am the biggest evil asshole in this place, and can torment anyone I want to, I have decided to torment you. You shall have to repaint your building, choosing all new colors, because your colors are all wrong for the time period of your building. Your building was built in 1906–after the turn of the century, when the colors had all lightened up. You have, unfortunately, painted your building in Victorian colors, for shame, for shame, and so you shall suffer my wrath.”

“Wait,” Tonya said. “The building was actually built post 1838 and before 1876, so the dark colors are correct.”

“Oh, did I say built? So sorry, that isn’t what I meant,” said the evil sorcerer. “The building was purchased in 1906 and remodeled then, so you have to go with the colors that match the era of the facade as it is.”

“Why?”

“Because… I said so.”

“Where is it written that I have to do this?”

“Nowhere! Muuuaaahhhahaaaaaa.”

“No worries,” said another evil sorcerer, “there are millions of colors to choose from.”

“Well, if there are millions, I pick those,” Tonya said, pointing to the helpful photo the sorcerers had plastered up on the wall.

“Tough noogies, you can’t. We’re done. Next!”

And Tonya, who was actually a very good shot, thought this is why I do not carry concealed, because really, it would have been too tempting.

So now, my fair friends, Tonya and Cal will have to choose new colors, and get the stupid evil sorcerer to show up and give them his blessing, so they can do the whole painting process all over again.

Assuming Tonya is not in jail for murder.

[to be continued…]

*from the saying, “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.”

A few writer-type questions (and answers)

Recently, Tiffany Dailey sent me a few questions for a blog tour type of thing, and they seemed like fun, so I thought I’d answer them.

1) What am I working on?

Currently, I have two projects on the front burners, so to speak, and several projects that circulate on the back burners.

I know, that’s vague and unhelpful, but right now, the two front burner projects couldn’t be more different if they tried, and it may turn out that I don’t do one of them (if they just don’t gel like I expect, or contracted work gets in the way). The back-burner projects are spin-offs of my Bobbie Faye series, and another short-thriller series I’m working on. In my copious spare time.

As for those front burner subjects, I can only vaguely tell you that they’re both historical thrillers in their way, but one is of this world… and one is not.

 

 

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well, really, if a writer has a voice and a point of view, their work should be different from everyone else’s work by default. I tend to write very cross-genre stories, mostly because that’s what appeals to me, but also, that’s just how the stories beg to be told. Or rather, maybe it’s that I can’t not write them that way, and the fault lies in my voice.

 

3) Why do I write what I do?

Again, we’re back to voice and choices, and who I am determines what I do. I’m interested in misfits, and how we do (and don’t) fit in, and how that shapes us, forces choices on us. I’m also interested in honor, and what we’ll sacrifice for it, how we handle those challenges to our morals, to our beliefs and principles, and what we’ll give to uphold those principles. Combine the two, and threaten them both, and I’m in story nirvana.

 

4) How does my writing process work?

Very messily. I tend to circle around a project idea, poking at it, doubting it, watching it flare with bits and pieces of inspiration, ’til it catches fire and I have to tend it, care for it, work at it to fan it into something useful, real, full of burning passion (to beat that metaphor to the ground).

Once I have settled on a story, and it’s living and breathing in me in such a way that I can’t not think about it, I tend to start hearing the voices of the characters, see the settings, see scenes snap open in front of me as if I were watching a film. These scenes aren’t always chronological, and don’t necessarily always make it into the book, but they often do.

I tend to have to get the opening to a satisfactory point before moving on. That doesn’t mean it’ll stay the way I’ve written it–it often changes in subsequent drafts as I’ve gotten to know the characters better and their world and dilemma, and the fury and passion they have for what’s at stake for them. But I get something on the page that feels like a beginning, like the right place to jump off, and then I tend to write chronologically.

Somewhere along the way of the brainstorming, though, I tend to storyboard the book, using what I’ve learned from when I was a screenwriter to get the structure to hang together. Storyboarding tends to keep me from losing track of pacing and helps me see the book as-a-whole, and that tends to help me deepen those character issues, building a world that resonates for even the minor characters. Sometimes this act of outlining in storyboard form is just quick sketches on a whiteboard, (sketch in the sense of brief one-sentence descriptions of major turning points), or it can get detailed, with scene cards (in Scrivener) and photos and links, all tucked into a file where I can find what I need.

Mostly, though, it’s just butt-in-chair, writing. I’ll get a good rough draft, and it may be ugly as sin, but it’d a draft, and from their, I can edit.

I love the editing process, because it’s where I take something lumpy and homely and start carving away, adding in what’s needed, and refining and refining and refining until the story starts to evoke what I had hoped for back when I poked at it and doubted it in the beginning. And I fret and worry and talk to friends, and send it out for reads with friends, and listen to their feedback when it resonates, and discard what doesn’t work for me (which is probably the most difficult thing to learn to do as a writer–when to listen, and what to listen to).

Eventually, I send it to my agent, get her feedback, polish some more, and then, with fingers crossed, hope like hell it’s done, because by then, I’m generally fairly ready to move on.

 

Littlest bridesmaid in a second line parade…

One of the really sweet things about living in the Quarter is that almost every weekend, someone has a second line parade. It’s usually arranged when a group or club hires a brass band (and gets the appropriate permits and parade route approval) to march through the Quarter. The brass band itself is called the “main line” and everyone who follows it is the “second line.” This is especially apparent after weddings (and funerals–but in the Quarter, much more often for weddings).

Not every second line parade is created equal–some are super short, some hire a sort of eclectic bag of performers who call themselves a band (and while are fairly decent, aren’t usually great). This particular second line had an amazing band, with every band member in their crisp white shirts, their black pants, shiny black shoes, and band cap, and they clearly knew how to play many favorites, exceptionally well.

I love the wedding second lines most when there are tiny bridesmaids having what you know will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience of helping to lead the second line (following the band) all the way from the wedding to the reception venue.

Littlest bridesmaid

Lake Verret

I have long loved Lake Verret and the surrounding area (particularly Pierre Part). I was never an early morning person, unless my dad woke me up to go fishing, and then I’d bound out of bed and be dressed and ready to go in a nanosecond–something I’ve never mastered for anything else in my life, except photography. This morning, I was at my parent’s fishing camp, and got up before sunrise to take some photos. The best part about the morning was (a) beating my dad up and (b) him joining me out on the end of the pier with his cup of coffee and Sam, his dog.

 morning through the cypress trees

Our building project…

I actually did not fall off the planet, though it felt like it at times. I’d volunteered to host a party for the RT Convention when it came to New Orleans, and as the weeks counted down, I realized I’d been absolutely insane to think I could get the to-do list done in time. We had to wait for permits from the historic committee for so many things that everything got pushed back and back and back to the point where we knew we weren’t even going to come close to getting the upstairs done in time. I’m a contractor. I’m used to factoring in delays and craziness. Sometime in January, we punted, and changed the plan to have the party down in the bottom of the building (the future commercial space), because (a) it would fit everyone and the food and seating and (b) it was the space I could light the best, and air condition the best for the party. Temperatures in New Orleans, in May, can be horrendous… and with added humidity, a crowd of 150 in one room, and there was the potential for misery. Not exactly the formal for a great party. By moving everything downstairs, we only had one room to a/c and light. Still, lots of things did get done, due to my husband’s herculean efforts. Nowhere near what we’d hoped, but the party turned out great, and I think everyone had a wonderful time. I’m tremendously relieved.

When I last blogged about the colors of the building over on Facebook and Reinventing Fabulous, I tossed out color combinations for everyone to vote on, and that proved to be super helpful. I ended up going with… Continue reading Our building project…

Composite photography and creating cover art…

About 3 months ago, my friend, CJ Lyons, asked me to create a piece of art for her cover for her new book (coming out soon), titled Farewell to Dreams. She then interviewed me about the process, and that interview is up live on USA Today’s blog.

The photo/image is completely composited–I shot the violinist here in the Quarter, and layered in everything you see. It was the first time I’d done this much composite work, and the goal was to evoke the sort of gritty surreal landscape of Fatal Insomnia that this character suffers–she’s dying (you learn this on page one), and she’s in denial about how bad it’s going to get. Meanwhile, her music (she’s a doctor) keeps her grounded and sane and able to survive. She works in a world rife with corruption and the desperate, the poor who are fighting to survive, and the criminals preying on them, and she’s trying to save lives before she loses her own. I was thoroughly moved by the story.

Here’s the artwork:

 

FAREWELL TO DREAMS artwork

Ticket Purgatory…

So, bright and early this morning, I end up on the phone with United Airlines because their computer wouldn’t let me check seating for an upcoming flight. The error message said something like, ‘hahahaha, you fool! We have your money and you are so screwed!’ (Well, it actually simply said, “Error, this flight does not exist,” but I know what it really meant. I’ve seen this tree before.)

“I have a confirmation number,” I tell the attendant, who annunciates every third word clearly enough for me to almost understand her, and at this point, having been on hold with various people and completely failing to manage to communicate, every third word is a flipping blessing, and I’m scared I might get transferred again.

She looks up the flight and says, “Yes, we have it here.” Or sort of says that. I’m not entirely sure.

“You see it? The reservation?”

“Yes. It is on the computer. Except that it’s not ticketed.”

“It’s on there? But it’s not? Like… it’s invisible?”

“No, I can see it. Except not.”

“Not?”

“Yes. It is not there.”

“But you can see it.”

“Yes.”

“So….. invisible?”

“Exactly.”

“Okay. Well, how do I fix this?”

“It is not there.”

“Did it go somewhere? Off to talk to people who have a clue, maybe?”

“It is behind the scenes.”

“Where would that be, exactly?”

“In moderation.”

“Was it behaving badly?”

“It is messed up.”

“Was it partying with all the other tickets a little too much over the weekend? Drinking heavily? What?”

“It is not here. It is here, but not. Behind the scenes. You can pay to have it here, if you want.”

“But I already paid for it. I think it is having way too much fun without me.”

“You can pay again.”

“Twice the amount for the same ticket?”

“Yes. I mean. No. I mean, yes, if you want me to help.”

“Is this like ticket bail money? Did it mug someone?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Join the club. Is there someone who can get my ticket out of ticket jail so that I can use it?”

“Yes. You can call Travelocity. They can fix it.”

“No they can’t. They sent me to you. They said it was on your end.”

“Because it is here. But not?”

“Right.”

“It is behind the scenes.”

“I know. Invisible. Except not. There, but not. In moderation.”

“Yes! Exactly!”

“It is scary how I am starting to understand this.”

“Good! Have I answered all your questions today?”

“All except for how can I use my ticket if it’s there, but not, invisible, because it’s in moderation.”

“Oh. I see. You want to use the ticket?”

“Call me crazy, but yeah.”

“Oh. Okay. You need a supervisor.”

“I’ve been told that before.”

[two hours later, there is a ticket, which is actually there, not invisible, out of moderation, behaving itself, and not throwing tantrums in the corner… I’m calling this one good enough]