The Job Experience

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Being silent for a while has been a lesson about myself. Even when I was working 50 or 60 hours a week this past few months, my mind would write incredible verses, sentences, opening lines for a possible book. And as soon as reality came crushing, the words so craftily arranged on the back if my eyes would dissipate and be lost forever.

I started paying attention to people around me for the sole purpose of creating interesting, top notch characters. I saw my body detaching from the moment and moving backwards, like I wasn’t experiencing everything that was happening in front of me and my body was just a shallow robot following mechanic orders. Then again, I was working 60 hours a week, I was so tired it might have been the only way I found to cope with it all. Cope with the 10 hour work shifts, the low paying job I had.

I started working for Limited Brands at their warehouse last september thinking I would be the only one with a degree. Presumptuous, I know. I quickly realized some people there had BAs in Creative Writing and Masters in Marketing. It didn’t make me feel any better that I wasn’t the only one overeducated.

Single moms and teen moms were going after money to raise their children, hoping the seasonal position would became a full time job eventually. That would be ideal, because then they would have access to benefits, health insurance, security. Sometimes, that can be an overrated concept, but not in their situation. Substitute teachers looked for stability, an extra source of income, anything to help them pay their house mortgage and their holiday expenses. Married moms were looking for a way back into the job market.

When things got rough, women cried, picked fights or ran away, never coming back. They were either fired or just resigned, backed up by Ohio work laws. Here, differently than in Brazil, you are allowed to abandon your job without notice. You can also be fired and loose everything overnight.

It was certainly an emotional, stressful experience. But maybe, just maybe, it was the first step I had to go through to have a better job next time.

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Language as a persuasion tool – this is Lexicon, by Max Barry

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Book lovers, twitter addicts, we all occasionally reply those game tweets that publishing houses are constantly posting about book give aways for top answers. So, I won this book called “Lexicon”, from australian author Max Barry, and somebody (I can’t recall his name, so sorry about that) twitted me asking for my input on the book. I finished the book last night and, well, decided to take upon that request, mainly because it was a good entertaining reading. It hooked me up since the opening scenes, it took me to a fantastic world about secret language schools and world wide companies with the knowledge to compromise regular people, persuade them to do whatever it is they want or need us to do. It is cleaver, thrilling, entertaining, but it is not a book that you will want to reread, search for hidden meanings and universal truths. It is not a contemporary classic, it is just another entertaining book with a cynical view on society and a happy ending.

I even had this feeling the book was wrote to become a movie, one of those summer blockbusters with a lot of deaths and an underlying love story, that as expected will end well. I could see someone like Kristen Stewart playing Emily Ruff/Woolf, being embraced by her lover, portrayed surely by Robert Pattinson, and looking at the sunset together in the end.

Emily Ruff is the main character, a young poor con artist who was recruited to study to  become a poet, although she proves herself to be a little too wild and inconsequent for the structured, stiff and disciplined poet lifestyle. After committing a serious mistake, she is banned for years into a city in the middle of Australian desert, Broken Hill, before being restated to the company. Missing her lover, life in the US will never fulfill her again.

Meanwhile, Wil Parke and Eliot, one of Emily’s teachers, try to understand what happened in Broken Hill. Apparently, all it’s 3.000 citizens are presumingly dead after a nuclear attack. Will Emily have something to do it? Read it, and you’ll understand.

Book Curiosities from Brazil – What books are inmates reading?

Federal Prisons in Brazil have a program called “Remission through reading” [Remissão pela Leitura], that rules that every time an inmate reads and writes a review of the book their sentence is 4 days shortened. The program library has 124 books enlisted so far. This are the inmates favorite books of 2012, according to the Ministry of Justice:

Cover of "The Book Thief"

Cover of The Book Thief

1) The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

2) The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, John Boyne

Cover of "The Kite Runner"

Cover of The Kite Runner

3) The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

4) Nunca desista de seus sonhos, Augusto Cury – The first Brazilian book featured in the list is also the first self help book. The translated title would be Never give up on your dreams. 

I wonder what sort of books are read by american inmates… It would be interesting to see the cultural differences between the two countries.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

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I finished reading The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, by Neil Gaiman, a few weeks ago, but I had to give myself some time to process emotionally and rationally what the book had done to me. Being so talkative about books, this time I was strangely silent.

First, I have to admit, I had this little disdain for it, stuck with the idea I had already read something like it. I couldn’t remember where, so I moved on, thinking to myself how foolish I have been and focussing on how creative people can be when it comes to fantastic fiction. It seems the possibilities open up to a broader range, making the narrative more fluid, poetic, complex. And there I was, stuck again, this time with all the concepts of literary analysis I had studied at school. I got caged in the theory, without properly looking at the novel itself.

Then came a very nice blogger review, talking about how the book made her cry about the lost childhood, the home she would never be able to go back. I felt like there was something missing in my interpretation of the book, perhaps the sentiment of the book. It was running through my fingers, I was letting it scape. It was urging me to revisit my own childhood, teasing me.

I spent most of hot summer nights in a beach called Barequeçaba, a couple of hours away from São Paulo. The only thing I could count on was that I would reunite with cousins and friends that I haven’t seen all year. We would have long walks on the shore, philosophical talks at moonlight. We would swim on the ocean at the end of the lane, the real ocean.

I met my first love on that ocean in my teens, when we first exchanged kisses in between the waves. Both of us liked walking to the end of the beach and swimming to the other side of the mountain, following the rocks, where we would find a small inhabited beach. We had fun, but we grew up and those days became a sweet memory. It has been years since we managed to get together again.

After getting engaged, I went back to that same beach to visit the house my grandmother had sold a couple of years ago. I think the last time I had been there was when I met my husband. I wanted to show him that part of me that was gone, but I couldn’t translate into words what I wanted him to see. I wanted him to see the old me, the one that had run up and down those sand rocky streets in her swimming clothes and bare foot. The teenager that could sneak out of her house to see a loving friend at 2am, sometimes bringing beers under her arm. The woman that had taken a couple of friends for a Carnival (or Mardi Gras) at the beach and ended up at a party at the club a couple of miles away that one day she met him. Afterwards, she returned home, slept and woke up the next day to see a phone with an incredibly big number of text messages. What I now realize, though, was that I went there to show myself I had grown and the past was gone, remaining only the memories and the good feelings. I guess you could say I wanted to show the ocean where I swam so many times how I was doing without him.

Little Women versus Pride and Prejudice

L.M. Alcott. Little Women. Boston: Roberts Bro...

L.M. Alcott. Little Women. Boston: Roberts Bros, 1868. Illus. by May Alcott. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just finished reading Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, for the very first time. I have to admit it has been a long process. Just when I started reading part II, I felt really engaged in the story and concerned about the girls distinct characters. They seemed all so amiable, diligent and so annoyingly sweet and proper that it took me a while to realize that I wasn’t giving themselves credit for being young, poor little women fighting and working to make their means. Something not quite common back them, I would imagine. Also, they seem to be acutely aware of their constrains as women, what makes them even more fascinating, specially Jo, who openly defies social conceptions of how a woman should dress, look or behave. Well, Jo is also someone who is so dedicated to writing and reading that I couldn’t help but feel closer to her, since we had so much in common.

English: Image at the beginning of Chapter 34....

English: Image at the beginning of Chapter 34. Darcy proposing to Elizabeth. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London: George Allen, 1894. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a battle between Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott, though, when it comes to how they portray poor women, marriage and social conventions, Austen wins in my opinion. While Alcott writes a book embalmed in morality and virtue, often times preaching the value of work, love and family against the luxuries of money, Austen seems to have a more realistic point of view. In Pride and Prejudice, money is a big issue. It is what drives some people to act as they do, like the pushing mother, Mrs. Bennet, who wants all daughters to get married for money, or the young Mr. Darcy, who loves Elizabeth Bennet but avoids marrying her because of her family attitudes. The Bennet family, excluding Elizabeth and her sister Jane, all behave frivolously, always seeking for social status, money.

Although Jane and Elizabeth end up marrying for love, and becoming rich as a consequence, the other characters of the novel illustrate different aspects of marriage a social contract. Lydia, Elizabeth’s younger sister, rans away with George Wickham, an officer at the militia, to marry him, causing her family disgrace. She doesn’t seem to  feel any remorse about it, showing a dismay for social conventions and moral. Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth’s friend, marries William Collins at 27 years old because she was afraid of being a burden to her family. In that sense, she marries for financial stability, but she doesn’t appear to be judged for her decision. This different situations serve two purposes: they show the customs of a the 19th century english society, and women’s dilemmas when it comes to marriage, but it also reenforces the importance of love in marriage, giving Jane and Elizabeth as the ultimate examples.

In Little Women, the March girls marry only for love. Meg falls in love with John Brooke in the end of the first part, and the second part is devoted to their life as newly weds and parents of the twins, Demi and Daisy. There is one episode where you see Meg struggles for being poor and not being able to have all the luxuries her friend has, so she buys expensive silk to sew herself a dress. When she tells John what she did, she realizes what a mistake that was, sells the silk and everything is back to normal. From that moment on, the couple is portrayed as being happier than ever in their lovely cozy home, a feeling that no money in the world could buy. Jo marries Professor Friedrich Bhaer and, after inheriting a state from Aunt March, opens her school for boys. Her dreams come true and she is as happy as she can be, although they also are poor. Amy is the only one that thinks that she should marry for money in order to be able to help her sisters, but that is momentary. She ends up falling in love with Laurie, a family friend who happens to be rich, and they too live as happy as they can be. The sisters story are, therefore, only about virtue, love and family, not bringing to the surface other examples that would add meaning to their resolutions. It is almost like moral speaks for itself, not requiring a counter argument to makes its first argument stronger.But, at the same time, the result is that you don’t have a critical view of society and marriage in all its multiple aspects, you have a statement confirming the importance of moral over money, which makes it a little dull.

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Does Brazilian writers need to start self-publishing e-books?

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Brazil has shown some indications that the market for e-books still has a lot of room to grow, with an estimate market share of 2,63% until the end of 2013 according to Publish News Brazil and the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo. On the other hand, the United States recent studies indicates the american revenues growth is slowing down, although, so far in 2013, 25% of the publishers profit comes from e-book sales.These numbers were taken from a study conducted by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and published by the website Digital Book World.

Taking a closer look at the numbers, one might wonder if it isn’t time for Brazilian writers to start self-publishing e-books. A few factors weight in: Brazil only has 25.000 e-book titles available, amazon.com.br was recently launched and, gradually, companies start presenting self-publishing as an option, taking for example the recently launched website Publique-se from Livraria Saraiva, a major Brazilian bookseller. A small research online shows that costs of publication, writers royalties and rights vary from one company to the other.

Darcie Chan, american writer and New York Times bestseller, saved her first book for 7 years after her literary agent contacted editors and none were willing to take a chance on it. The Mill River Recluse would have its chance with the raising of e-books, reports Chan. “I started reading articles about writers who were so successful with their e-book sales and that they established readerships and attracted attention of trade publishers. (…) I wondered whether, by releasing it as an e-book, I might be able to get some valuable feedback from readers and gradually (…) sell enough copies that I would no longer be a complete unknown when I had a second novel ready for submission.”

The writer described the experience as “nothing like she expected”. “During the first month my novel was for sale, I sold about 100 copies. I was thrilled with that – to think, 100 people had my book.” Three months after uploading the novel, she was already featuring on NYT bestsellers list, after having 100,000 copies sold. The latest numbers shows that close to 700,000 copies of The River MIll Recluse was sold and seven foreign countries bought translations rights (Germany, Italy, UK, France, Spain, Denmark and Czech Republic). Her second book, by the way, will be launched in 2014 by Ballantine, a publisher part of Random House Group. 

Darcie Chan’s story is just one successful example of how writers can get readers recognition when choosing to self-publish, even after having their books rejected by Publishing Houses. In the United States, she is only one example of a self-published author featuring in a bestseller list. Maybe an author more familiar to Brazilians would be William P. Young, and his The Shack. 

If the numbers itself doesn’t make a good enough case for Brazilian writers to start self-publishing, maybe stories like Chan’s can provide them a more solid, convincing argument.