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Showing posts from July, 2011

Thought for the Day:Plan B

It's no secret that publishing is a tough business. The path is nearly always littered with naysayers and rejection, with soul-crushing setback and seemingly-impossible obstacles. And that's just breaking in. Staying in the business can be even tougher.

I've watched a lot of people set out on their journeys with bright eyes, big dreams, and hearts brimming with hope. And I've watched a huge number turn away in despair, as I've been tempted to myself on more than one occasion.

It's the people who can't quit, the ones who always have a Plan B and then a C, a D, and so on, who get to experience the joy of the breakthroughs. Sometimes they live to hit it big, and other times they just live to fight another day.

In the end, you have to ask yourself if the fight is worth it to you, if the journey for the journey's sake is enough to slake your dreams. Because the success part's mostly out of your control. All you can do is keep putting in the sweat equity …

Buy This Book x 2: "In Malice, Quite Close" by Brandi Lynn Ryder and "Mice" by Gordon Reece

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Last week, Colleen mentioned being a bit fatigued by women-as-victim books, and I definitely inhaled the cure for that over the weekend with these two August releases from Viking.

In Malice, Quite Close is a complex and beautifully written debut novel by Brandi Lynn Ryder, a finalist for Amazon's 2009 Breakthrough Novel Award. The title comes from a poem by Rimbaud (yes, one of the ones that got him in trouble) and sets the perfect tone of vaguely perverse literary suspense. If you read the first chapter (which should be featured in a 400 level creative writing class called "How to Write Your Arse Off in Your First Chapter"), you'll be dragged kicking and screaming under the surface of this sophisticated mystery in which the lines between abduction and seduction are blurred, time and POV keep deftly shifting, and the authenticity of the soul-sick main characters is nothing less than chilling.

Tristan, a wealthy French dilettante, becomes fixated on disaffected all-Ame…

Buy This Book: Read "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay before you see the movie

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Can't wait to see this movie based on Tatiana de Rosnay's beautiful novel Sarah's Key. She's an amazing writer, and this is her 10th novel but (amazingly) the first one she's written in her native language, English.

Sarah's Key is a fiction take on actual WWII events in France. In 1942, thousands of Jewish families were rounded up, held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver, and transported to Auschwitz. In 2002, American journalist Julia Jarmond (married to philandering French jerk Bertrand) is assigned to write about the 60th anniversary of the Vél' d'Hiv' roundups. She discovers that Bertrand's family has a dark history connected to the events and becomes engrossed in a search for the little girls who once lived in their apartment. All the complications of tangled loyalties and twisted truth ensue. Totally gripping and beautifully written.

Killer Nashville--a writing conference for the whole community

One thing I think that it's important to have in life is community. The Internet has facilitated the building and shaping of many communities, but sometimes we all just need to sit down together face to face and say hello. For the writing community, conferences and trade shows provide one of the easiest ways to connect more personally, and I wanted to mention one I think highly of (full disclosure: I'm helping them to spread the word about this year's event). It's called Killer Nashville, and while it has an emphasis on mystery and thriller titles, what I most love about this show is that it has opened its doors to everyone--any writer, any genre. A children's book writer attended this conference and met her agent, for instance (actually, as young as the conference is, they have a remarkable track record for connecting writers with agents and/or publishers). The conference runs on five tracks, each track about a different aspect of the writing and reading life. The…

Hip! Hip! Hooray! It's Another Bloody Awful Bulwer-Lyton Winner!

For me, one of summer's guiltiest pleasures has been in the announcement of the annual winner of the Bulwer-Lyton Award for the most godawful opening lines in creation. Named for the first Baron Lyton, he of the "dark and stormy night fame," the Bulwer-Lyton award inspires many to do their very worst each year.

Without further ado, I bring you this year's Grand Prize Winner from University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction (and part-time punster) Sue Fondrie.
Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

But wait, wait! There's more! Much more, in fact, if you'll just drop by the Bulwer-Lytton Awards site, you can check out this year's category winners, honorable and dishonorable mentions. After all, you wouldn't want to miss out on gems such as one of the latter, this howler from Basil McDon…

Buy This Book: Read the first four chapters of Colin Meloy's "Wildwood"

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Anticipating a bombastic release for one of the most enticing books of the summer for children of all ages. Colin Meloy's bucolic YA adventure Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I arrives in bookstores in August.

Far be it from me to offer anyone a way to avoid work on a Monday morning, but Like the Wildwood Facebook page to unlock the first four chapters.

Buy this book if you are even thinking of going to graduate school

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Sunday Groove: 3 versions of Amy Winehouse live "Back to Black" (the good, the superbad and the ugly)

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Remembering Rue McClanahan

Originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle June 4, 2010

Two weeks ago, I sat with Rue McClanahan at the slatted patio table in her sunny little backyard on Manhattan’s upper east side. A lifelong dancer, voracious reader, uninhibited artist and deliciously garrulous conversation maker, she’d been fighting hard to regain her mobility and speech since suffering a stroke in January. Her eyes were bright, full of things she wanted to say, but every syllable was an act of will. It took a long time to ask if I wanted lunch, even longer to fill me in on “all the drama.”

She thanked me for not jumping in to finish sentences. People kept doing that without knowing the specific word she was grappling with. They’d interject “lucky,” she told me, where she wanted to say “serendipitous,” and she forged that word — serendipitous — with the painstaking tenacity of a glassblower.


Words were important to Rue. The first day we met to work on her memoir, My First Five Husbands … and the Ones Who Got Away…

#BuzzThisBook: The Mistress Contract by She and He

Coming to bookstores in October. I got a look at the galley and couldn't take my eyes off it. Apparently Rebecca Schinsky of The Book Lady's Blog felt the same way. (Look for her on our FeedMe bar under "Shakin' It Like a Polaroid".)

Pre-order and/or buzz accordingly.

Buy This Book: Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

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I've been reading a lot about abducted women recently, from the gripping and creative Room:A Novel, by Emma Donoghue, to the unputdownable real-life story that I believe inspired it, Jaycee Lee Dugard's A Stolen Life.

So when I read the description of Chevy Stevens' Still Missing, which revolves around the abduction and year-long captivity of a young Realtor taken from a house showing, I have to admit I nearly passed, thinking I'd had enough of this type of dark, woman-as-victim story. But the book had just been named the International Thriller Writers' Best Thriller of the Year-First Book, so I decided to download the first chapter to see what had impressed Ms. Stevens' colleagues so mightily.

Told in the form of heroine Annie O'Sullivan's first-person narration to her psychologist after escaping, Still Missing grabbed me from the opening lines, deftly blending past and present to tell a gripping, harrowing, and brilliantly-crafted story, not only of …

Why?

Earlier today, I was talking with one of my consulting clients about the book she was writing. She was talking about her lack of motivation to continue working on it, and saying that she had gotten to the point where she just had to decide either to move forward or "pack it in and forget about it." She was frustrated and bored, and trying to move from a head full of "shoulds" (I should write this book, I should write it this way, I should use this voice) back to a place of "want tos."

I told her that she was absolutely right to have this reality check with herself about why she was writing her book, and whether or not she wanted to continue. After all, the writing process is hard enough even if you do want to do the work. So I asked her what her reasoning was behind writing the book in the first place, and what was her motivation. She told me, and as we talked more and more, we realized she already has a lot of her book written--but in posts from her …

Should indie authors pay for book reviews?

In the words of Spiderman: "With great power comes great responsibility." Indie authors are getting a taste of freedom, a taste of what it's like to call the shots, and (not quite as tasty) a taste of what it feels like to pay our own way. We're shelling out for editing, copy editing, cover design, trailer production and PR.

Now BlueInk Review invites self-pubbed authors to submit their books for review for a mere (brace yourself) $395 for a 7-9 week response or $495 if you want the review in 4-5 weeks (wryly observing that PW and Kirkus pay less than fifty bucks). You are promised an extremely well-qualified reviewer from a pool of folks who've written reviews for mainstream media outlets. What you are not promised is that the review will be favorable, and a glance at the first ten reviews listed today on the BlueInk site breaks down thusly:
Positive: 3
Negative: 5
Mixed (reviewer managed to hold nose): 2A lot of word count was devoted to 6th grade book report syno…

Should indie authors pay for book reviews?

In the words of Spiderman: "With great power comes great responsibility." Indie authors are getting a taste of freedom, a taste of what it's like to call the shots, and (not quite as tasty) a taste of what it feels like to pay our own way. We're shelling out for editing, copy editing, cover design, trailer production and PR.

Now BlueInk Review invites self-pubbed authors to submit their books for review for a mere (brace yourself) $395 for a 7-9 week response or $495 if you want the review in 4-5 weeks (wryly observing that PW pays less than fifty bucks, and venerable Kirkus also lowballs writers with double digits while charging indie authors up to $575 for a review.) You are promised an extremely well-qualified reviewer from a pool of folks who've written reviews for mainstream media outlets. What you are not promised is that the review will be favorable, and a glance at the first ten reviews listed today on the BlueInk site breaks down thusly:
Positive: 3
Neg…

Lonely Planet's "Volunteer: A Traveler's Guide to Making a Difference Around the World"

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Last year my daughter Jerusha made a life-changing voyage to Cambodia. She traveled by herself (she's 21) but joined up with Habitat For Humanity in Phnom Penh and worked with a team of people from around the world to create an entire neighborhood. They worked side by side with a number of families who'd been living in a garbage dump. Jerusha was humbled by how much they'd endured, how hard they were working to improved life for their children, and how grateful they were for her willingness to come from the other side of the world to help them.

We're not wealthy (by American standards), but Jerusha's life has been pretty comfy for the most part. She started working at Starbucks as a teen and is an industrious sort by nature, but I think she amazed herself with what she was capable of on this journey. She laid bricks, built walls, climbed over obstacles and reached across language barriers. What she gave in time, resources and sweat was returned to her a thousandfold…

Lifehacker looks at the top 5 ebook sellers

Interesting article on Lifehacker discussing their favorite five ebook stores with results of their reader pole. Not surprisingly, here's how the numbers break down with over 3500 readers weighing in:

Kindle Store = 45.01%
Kobo store = 27.26%
Barnes & Noble = 12.41%
Project Gutenberg = 9.11%
Google ebooks = 6.22%

I was kind of stunned by the Kobo and B&N numbers, which may reflect their readership more than the general population. I really love Project Gutenberg, a go-to source for me for years, but I've downloaded four books since they started offering Kindle interface, and all of them had formatting problems that were pretty annoying/ distracting for my taste. Hopefully that will improve.

I think the lesson here for ebook publishers is that the venues are expanding.

The thinking man's storage unit: an adventure in literary dumpster diving

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Originally posted on Boxing the Octopus, 4/2/08. This came to mind when I saw that reality TV has now taken on the art of Dumpster Diving.

Yesterday, I posted about Lily Koppel's discovery of a red leather diary that sparked her new book, and I promised to share my own less dramatic but still fruitful dumpster diving, which began a few months ago when Gary shared with me the startling news that if a storage unit is abandoned by the drug lord or dead person or illegal alien or otherwise tragic figure who leased it, the contents are auctioned off after a certain period, and any enterprising or morbidly curious individual who shows up can purchase the contents, usually for a relative pittance.

The catch is, you may not cross the threshold until you are declared the winning bidder, so you can look at the stacks and piles and stacks and more stacks from the doorway but not peek inside, behind, or under the actual stuff. It’s a grab bag gold mine for flea market moguls who see dollar sig…

Huge dose of kwitcherbitchin: "Souvenir D'enfance" played by pianist with no fingers on her right hand

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Thanks to the fabulous Dr. Wendy Harpham for drawing my attention to this astonishing video of GuiGui Zheng playing Clayderman's "Souvenir D'enfance". You'll notice just a few moments into the video, GuiGui has no fingers on her right hand. Perspective, people. Perspective. Artists do their art, come what may.

A wonderfully creative, hardworking, undaunted work week to all!

Buy This Book: The Money Book for Freelancers

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Per the PR:
We make our own hours, keep our own profits, chart our own way. We have things like gigs, contracts, clients, and assignments. All of us are working toward our dreams: doing our own work, on our own time, on our own terms. We have no real boss, no corporate nameplate, no cubicle of our very own. Unfortunately, we also have no 401(k)s and no one matching them, no benefits package, and no one collecting our taxes until April 15th.

It’s time to take stock of where you are and where you want to be. Ask yourself: Who is planning for your retirement? Who covers your expenses when clients flake out and checks are late? Who is setting money aside for your taxes? Who is responsible for your health insurance?

Take a good look in the mirror: You are.

The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed describes a completely new, comprehensive system for earning, spending, saving, and surviving as an independent worker. From interviews with financial experts to anecdo…

Sunday Groove: Tina Turner "Private Dancer" ('Nuff said.)

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What NOT to Do While Waiting

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Last week, I posted about the agony that is waiting for publishing news and what constructive, positive uses the writer can make to that (glacially-slow, interminable, torturous) time. Today, I thought I'd take a few moments to examine the flip side, so here's my list of wasteful or destructive things NOT to do while waiting. Recognize yourself here, anyone? :)

1. Check out the gushing reviews, glowing fan-mania, and/or awe-inspiring sales stats of an author you secretly consider less deserving. Especially not one who's a friend.

2. Chew out your own liver (with or without liquid support) over the fabulous publisher support of a debut author.

3. Allow yourself to think in terms of fairness or karma, neither of which have any damn place in publishing.

4. Try to make deals with Fortune, the Muse, God, or the Devil. None of whom give a rat's patootie about your little endeavor.

5. Drive your family and/or significant other either crazy or away with your alternating bouts …

Media Overload

I just had coffee with a book editor I'm friendly with, and we talked about (among other subjects including driving in bad weather and our interest in birds) the sheer volume of media we are now keeping track of in our jobs. For publicists, the game has really changed since I started out. It was never easy to listen to all the shows or read the many magazines and newspapers that might matter for our books, but now the media has exploded with blogs and websites and twitter and FB. Some days, I just sit for hours and touch base with publications and blogs, catch up on conversations. The volume of material to absorb only grows, especially for a publicist who works in multiple genres. What to do? Well, first, breathe. Breathing helps. And then set aside time to stay on top of things. And realize, too, that it's impossible, really. So always check in before you pitch.

Buy This Book: Humiliation by Wayne Koestenbaum (and enjoy this helpful video on Book Party Shame)

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"Repeatedly, I watch clips of Liza Minelli on YouTube. I want to see her humiliation. And I want to see her survive the grisly experience and turn it into glory," says Koestenbaum.

Per the PR: "Wayne Koestenbaum considers the meaning of humiliation in this eloquent work of cultural critique and personal reflection."

From John Waters: “This literary ‘topping from the bottom’ is the funniest, smartest, most heartbreaking yet powerful book I’ve read in a long time.”

No, really. Being hilarious doesn't make it not true. I notice Amazon "Vine" reviewers are hating on it, and that makes me want to read it even more. From the bit I've seen, it's very funny, and frankly, if everybody loves you, you're not doing anything interesting.

An Interview With Author Karen McQuestion Reveals a Bit of a Cinderella Story

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Ebook publishing is a hotly debated subject these days with rhetoric pouring in from all sides. But that aside, the stories and the authors who write them remain the key. One author who has quietly found her charmed path along this heated trail is Karen McQuestion. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing for Boxocto her wonderful novel A Scattered Life. She has other work as well including essays that have appeared in Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor and several an-

thologies. In addition to A Scattered Life, she is the author of three other novels, one children's book and one collection of humorous essays. But here’s the Cinderella part: She originally self-published A Scattered Life as an e-book for Amazon's Kindle. Then within a few weeks, the novel caught the attention of a L.A. based production company and became the first self-published Kindle book to be optioned for film. And on August 23rd, two of her titles, Easily Am…

Morning Bell

The other day my local library was having a book sale, and I found a stack of Graham Greene books--light green paperbacks, as it happened, together thick as grass--and bought them all.  I haven't read much Greene in my life and have just begun Journey Without Maps.  I'll share with you the opening sentences, which speak to me both as a reader and as a writer:

"The tall black door in the narrow city remained closed.  I rang and knocked and rang again.  I could not hear the bell ringing; to ring it again and again was simply an act of faith or despair, and later sitting before a hut in French Guinea, where I never meant to find myself, I remembered this first going astray, the buses passing at the corner and the pale autumn sun."

Keep ringing, my friends.

--MD

Buy This Book: Ben Loory's strangely cool "Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day"

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Okay, I have no idea how to sum this up except to say that I stood on a kitchen chair for about an hour yesterday, watching a walking stick amble slowly along the angle where the wall meets the ceiling, and every once in a while he'd reach out and grab a little bug -- sometimes a bug too small for me to see -- and he'd devour it and amble on again. It was completely bizarre and beautiful and engrossing, and the experience of reading this book was pretty much just like that.

Here's a bit from the first story, "The Book":
The woman returns from the store with an armload of books. She reads them quickly, one by one, over the course of the next few weeks. But when she opens the last one, the woman frowns in surprise.

All the pages in the book are blank.

Every single one.



The woman takes the book back to the store, but the manager won’t let her return it.

Right there on the cover, the manager says, This book has no words and is non-returnable.

The woman is angry. She …

A Leap into the Unknown: Laura Harrington on the unexpected twists and turns of the writing life

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Last month, I posted a Buy This Book nudge for Laura Harrington's lovely debut novel Alice Bliss which grew out of her off-Broadway musical "Alice Unwrapped." We invited Laura to share some thoughts on the writing life, and here's what she had to say:

I went to grad school thinking I would write a novel. My first semester I took a playwriting class with Arthur Kopit for the electrifying reason that the class description, which said we would have to read each other’s work out loud, terrified me. That class changed my life. In the three dimensional world of the theatre, I found an art form that was built from language and image and often, music. The three loves of my life. I dropped my attachment to the novel like a hot potato even though I continued my lifelong habit of reading. In fact, I still read plays dutifully without enjoying them much, whereas I read books – both fiction and nonfiction – with intense, almost guilty pleasure.

For the next twenty-five years I w…

What to Do While Waiting

Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers truly had it right. The waiting really is the hardest part. Whether you're waiting to hear about a contest or submission or waiting to find out whether a new release is going to sink or swim, what I call Author Purgatory can be excruciating.

Since I'm in that particular spot at the moment, I thought I'd start a list of positive actions to keep from angsting yourself (and your poor, long-suffering family, friends, and/or agent) crazy. After all, if you've chose this career path, you're going to find yourself in limbo often. You might as well learn to handle it in the healthiest way possible.

While waiting you can...

1. Work on an exciting new and different writing project. Whether it's something you eventually hope to sell or what I call a "play project" in another form/genre, a shiny new toy offers an outstanding distraction.

2. Find a different modality to vent your creativity. Garden, draw, sculpt, decorate, play an …

Sunday Groove: Guess I'm Doing Fine (You really are, you know.)

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Releasing Attachment to Results. Yeah, Right. Me, Neither.

One of the biggest issues I face as a writer is doing the work and then, as the Bhagavad Gita advises, releasing my attachment to results. As a philosophy, it makes a boatload of sense. If I could manage this, I could simply concentrate on doing the work and quit angsting over all the stuff that's out of my control, such as:

1. blowing the socks off some editor or other (or better yet, every single one of them. In the known world!)
2. making everyone at the publishing house so excited they not only make an offer, but get behind the book in a huge way
3. notching up sales, awards, royalties, etc.
4. meeting and exceeding my readers' expectations
5. earning the affection of every person on the planet (as if any author ever born has done that!)

The problem is, to successfully write a novel, you really, really have to care. You have to live it, breathe it, cry and bleed it. You have to plot and scheme and parse and anguish over every character, each chapter, every single sentence.…

Buy This Book: A Scattered Life

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I so admire this for an opening sentence: Skyla’s earliest memory of Thomas was linked with the smell of beer and the taste of blood. This is how Karen McQuestion begins her novel, A Scattered Life. I was hooked from the start. Skyla ends up marrying Thomas and within a few years, they have a daughter Nora and settle into regular life. But life is never regular and neither are people and Skyla and Thomas are no exception. They watch with interest, and a good deal of consternation on Thomas’s part, as a new family, the Bears, Roxanne and Ted and their crew of five kids, moves in next door. Five boys, no less, and counting if Roxy has her way. She’s longing for a girl. Skyla has always been a bit reserved. Her life until Thomas was troubled--scattered, is how her mother-in-law, Audrey, describes it--her upbringing uncertain. Skyla has never experienced anything like the freewheeling lifestyle the Bears engage in and she’s drawn to it. Roxanne’s raucous laughter, her near-bawdy ways, the…

An Author’s Declaration of Independence (Me and Jefferson on One Author's Decision to Indie Pub)

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When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for craftspeople to dissolve the business models which have connected them with the marketplace and to assume the separate and equal station to which the Nature of Art and Nature’s Creator entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:
That all writers are not created equal. Talent is innate and a matter of opinion. Craft skill is hard-earned and subject to interpretation. Artistic integrity is a personal choice.

That writers are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. And that among these are a Publishing Life, Creative Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Publishers are instituted, deriving their powers from the supply of writers and the demand of readers.

That whenever any Publishing Model becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Writers to alter or to …

Buy This Book: Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

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I'll admit, when I first received an unsolicited copy of this very slim hardcover for possible review on the blog, I was less than thrilled. Written by Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby (a website that has since sold for millions), Anything You Want, appeared to be a business book--not something I would normally read. But it was published by Seth Godin's upstart The Domino Project, and I'd so liked their last offering, Stephen Pressfield's Do the Work, that I thought I'd go ahead and give it a few pages...

An hour later, I had wolfed down the book. (Did I'm mention its thinness?) I came away inspired by Sivers' grounded, happiness-first approach to his business, enlightened by the lessons he had learned (including those arising from his biggest blunders), and genuinely impressed by his smart and grounded approach to life.

An accomplished, working musician, Derek describes how he accidentally fell into his business by recognizing and responding to his own unme…

Modifying an E-reader for an Older or Low Vision Reader

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To surprise my mother-in-law for her 91st birthday, I decided to make an attempt to return to her the gift of reading, which has become difficult due to macular degeneration issues. The first part was simple enough, since you can change the font size of any popular e-reader and/or change the orientation to landscape to get the maximum amount of words per line while still making the text comfortable to read.

The buttons on the e-reader itself were another issue because of their small print size and low contrast. I tackled this by taking a white Kindle 2 (which has larger buttons than the newer model and comes in white) and color-coding the keys as seen on the photo. (Sorry for the fuzziness. Speaking of low vision, my cell phone camera's a bit myopic!) Using fluorescent file folder labels cut into quarters and a bit of bright red nail polish for the top of the toggle switch, I settled on green for Next Page, yellow for Home, and orange for the Prev Page key. What I was looking for…