Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Kindle Experience

My kids gave me a Kindle for Christmas. (I might have mentioned a few hundred times that I wanted one.) As an aspiring novelist I obviously have an interest in books and publishing. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the future – and not the distant future. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO believes that there will be a market for a special purpose reading device – i.e. something that just reads books, not play games or videos or give you stock quotes. Apple has just unveiled their new tablet computer and it will read books and do all sorts of other stuff. Critics have suggested that it will have an advantage over a Kindle because of its multimedia capabilities.

I’m not convinced that’s true. Most of us, when we read a novel, don’t require pictures and sounds to put us into the writer’s “dream.” Many people who haven’t tried to use a Kindle say they like the experience of reading a paper-based book. Holding the book, the feel of the paper, the tactile experience. That’s how I felt, too. But after using the book for a month, I have found that for me the Kindle is in many respects a superior reading experience.

I took it with me on my two week vacation to Kauai. Before I left I downloaded, Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherlands: A Novel.” I'm not a slow reader, but I tend to develop “book fatigue.” I don’t read for long stretches. I get to the end of chapter and I put the book down.

But with the Kindle I read the whole novel on the flight from LAX to Lihue. It’s a five hour flight and I read most of the way. There’s about 150 words on every screen and I found that’s a real easy packet of words to absorb. I don’t find my eyes wandering to the next page, or farther down the page; I don’t lose my place; I read the screen and hit the page button and read the next screen. It’s almost like a long distance swim, you get into a rhythm and before you know it you’ve completed a mile-swim or read a whole book.

The Kindle’s lightweight, and the regular font-size is easy on the eyes. So neither my eyes nor my hands get tired. And once you get into the book, you forget about the word delivery system – paper or electrons – it’s irrelevant. It’s the story that matters.

While I was in Kauai, I took advantage of Amazon’s free two-week trial subscriptions for the newspapers and journals. Amazon offer hundreds of newspaper and magazine subscriptions. They’re not inexpensive, the Wall Street Journal cost $14.99 per month. But they offer a two-week free trial – which is perfect for a two week vacation. I tried out both The Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune. Especially with the Journal, it worked really well. I could navigate to all the sections I’m interested in and I found I actually read more of the articles. Sometimes when I’m reading a real newspaper I don’t feel refolding the paper to page 22 to finish an article. Especially if I’m reading on a crowded train. That’s not a problem with the Kindle.

On the flight back, I read Patrick Somerville’s “The Cradle.” It was a great book, but unfortunately I finished it with four hour left on the flight (Honolulu to O’Hare) and I hadn’t downloaded another book. I did however, have chapters from my own novel-in-progress which I had emailed to the Kindle so I read those. They were great, too.

That leads me to my last point on the benefits of the Kindle. This Saturday I’m reading an excerpt from my bike story, “Riding Home,” to a Men’s breakfast group. I’ve downloaded the excerpt to the Kindle. It’s almost like a teleprompter. I’m much less likely to lose my place, and I won’t scare the audience fumbling around with my thirty page manuscript.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dalton's Good Fortune

My short fiction piece, Dalton's Good Fortune is online at the literary ezine Bartleby Snopes and is one of eight stories nominated for story of the month.  Everyone is invited to cast their vote.  The polls close at the end of the month.

From the Bartleby Snopes website:

Bartleby Snopes is an online literary magazine with several goals in mind. We want to publish the best new fiction we can find. We want to give the many writers out there an opportunity to publish their best work. We want to inspire you to create great works of fiction.

We currently publish two stories per week and end each month with a Story of the Month contest. We also publish our favorite stories in a semi-annual magazine format available as a free pdf download every January and July.

Bartleby Snopes takes it name from two wonderful characters in American Literature. Our inspiration and love for short stories comes from Herman Melville's Bartleby, The Scrivener and William Faulkner's Barn Burning. If you haven't read these magnificent stories, please do so when you get a break from your own work.

If you would like to contact us for any reason, we can be reached at For our submission guidlines, head over to the Submissions page. Home Current Stories Archives Submissions About Us Story of the Month The Magazine

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kauai Adventure - Day 3

Kauai Adventure – Day 3

The weather has been perfect here. And because it is four hours behind Chicago, it is easy to get up early. I’ve been running every morning and then going for an easy swim in the ocean. I’m trying to build up to the 12 miles I’ll need to run for the half-Ironman and yesterday I ran 8.5 miles in 1:17. Not a very good pace, yet, but my endurance is good.

The first day here we went for an easy bike ride along the bike path on the north east coast. The second day we took a hike up into Waimea Canyon. And yesterday we took an ATV tour through Kipu Ranch.

None of us had ever driven an ATV before, but Nicole wanted to drive one, so we booked two tandems – Suzanne and I on one, and Christie and Nicole on the other. There were 16 of us on the tour and the guides, Randon and Lombo, gave us a five minute driving lesson in the parking lot and then we headed out for the trail. Randon explained that we would get our trail lesson on the training hill about a mile away. On the way to the training hill we ascended the “bunny hill”. As we neared the top of the hill, the woman in the ATV in front of us, all of sudden veered to the left and then sharply back to the right and then bounced off the trail into a ravine and out of sight. We all stopped as the guides ran into the ravine. We couldn’t see or hear anything but a few minutes later the woman emerged, shaken, with bruises and a bite in her tongue, but otherwise okay. Her ATV – not so good – so I hoped that she took that insurance that at that moment I wished I had not declined.

She continued on the tour, riding along with one of the guides. Next we got our training on how to drive down a steep trail without turning over the ATV. Randon stressed that the number one rule was “Keep your legs inside the ATV. Don’t stick your leg out when you think the vehicle is going to tip over.” Nicole and Christie were the second ones down the mountain. We watched as they made it through the first part of the hill then Nicole over-steered to the left and the vehicle started to tip, so of course Christie immediately jumped out, followed a micro-second later by Nicole. This was their patented technique that they had honed when they were learning how to ride a bike. They both avoided injury, but the ATV did flip over and Nicole flunked the driving test. I guess Christie flunked the riding test, too. They were assigned to ride along with the woman who bashed up her ATV.

After that the tour proceeded without further incident, but by the end of the three hours my hands were stiff from gripping the handles. My daughters pointed out that I was the slowest driver on the course. But at least I kept the ATV upright.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Flying to Kauai

Friday morning we got up at 5 AM to fly to Kauai. I shoveled the driveway one last time and decided I probably wouldn’t miss snow and ten degree temperatures. I used to fly 50,000 miles a year and I didn’t mind it. Most of those miles were to Phoenix and I had enough miles accumulated that I could usually upgrade. Flights into Phoenix were seldom delayed and I generally had good luck flying. Or through some complicated form of cognitive dissonance I convinced myself I enjoyed flying. Once I stopped flying and lost my preferred status (no upgrades, no decent seats) I quickly learned to not like flying.

But it was going to be different for this trip. I had used up the last 30,000  of  my 980,000 air miles and we had first class upgrades all the way to Lihue. I imagined myself kicking back in my first class seat with a couple of Bloody Marys on the flight to LAX and then a brief stopover and then a pleasant five hour flight to Lihue with a chance to enjoy the Kindle which the kids gave me for Christmas.

It didn’t work out as I had planned.

United cancelled our 8 am flight and put my wife and I on the 8:50 flight and our two daughters (who agreed to vacation with us for one of the weeks since well it is Kauai and they live in Chicago) on a 10 am flight. They have only 50 minutes between connections and so we cleverly decide to have their bags checked on our flight (we don't have to pay because we're "first class"). But United because of the cancelled flight can’t check out bags through to Lihue. We have to recheck them when we get to LAX.

So as I settle into my bulkhead seat with no leg room for anyone over 5 feet, I calculated how much time I would need to race through LAX, grab the bags, drag them back up to the floor where they check the bags and then go back through security one more time. I decided it was doable because, after all I am a triathlete in superb physical condition and my wife and daughters' bags can't weigh more than two hundred pounds.

Then they start deicing the plane. And deicing it. And deicing it. By the time we lift off I know our bags will never make it on time. But if I don’t identify them for the baggage people they will just sit in LAX forever. So I will have to try and get them and I’ll probably miss the plane along with the bags. The one thing I am certain of is that the flight to Lihue will depart on time.

Suzanne waited for the girls while I raced to baggage claim. Last time I was here it took a half hour for our bags to arrive. I had nothing to do but wait, so I decided to do something totally unthinkable – I ask one of the baggage claim supervisors for help. He listened to my situation and understood immediately. He told me that I needed to alert him as soon as I got the bags and meanwhile he was writing up luggage tickets. He said he’d take care of checking the bags.  He said the most important thing was for me to not miss that plane.

Then he retrieved a cart and grabbed one of his colleagues. And then the bags arrived iin record time and the second miracle – our four bags were the first ones down the chute. The baggage supervisor and his colleague took my bags and showed me how to get back to security. There was no line in security and I got back to the gate just as they started to board.

 It was a great flight to Lihue and I wish I had thought to get the man's name because he has temporarily restored my faith in United Airlines. I was going to include my Kindle experience in this post but that will have to wait because we are going on an ATV excursion shortly. The temperature is 78 degrees and the water is great. I run every morning. I may not come back.