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Showing posts from August, 2011

BuyThisBook: Barbara Taylor Sissel's The Ninth Step

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Barbara Taylor Sissel crafts a sure-handed, beautiful garden of a novel on ground tilled by Jodi Picoult and Anita Shreve. Firmly confronting issues of human frailty, redemption, and letting go, The Ninth Step is a story about what is, but it aches with the stories of what might have been as one man's quest for forgiveness leads him to the impossible task of forgiving himself, and the lives of the people he's wronged are drawn into a shattering spiral of events.

Barbara Taylor Sissel's vibrant voice, rich characters, and deft plotting draw the reader in and keep pages turning to the gripping, unexpected end.

Respecting the Reader

I hear a lot of novelists talking about writing to entertain themselves. While I agree that the author herself is the first audience and you can't write a good story if you're getting no enjoyment from it, I also believe that the end consumer, the readers most likely to plunk down their hard-earned money and invest their valuable time, should be the writer's most important consideration.

Yes, that sometimes means putting their tastes ahead of your own personal preferences. Sometimes, it may mean back-burnering your personal point of view on controversial topics so as not to jerk the readers out of the story and alienate them--or at least not clobbering them over the head with your agenda when you're writing the kind of story people pick up to entertain them. Always, it means being aware of the reader's emotional investment in the characters and story and not abusing it.

All of this, of course, depends on the audience you're dealing with. When I'm working on…

Mrs. Martineau's babies (an excerpt from The Hurricane Lover)

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As part of my research for The Hurricane Lover, I slogged through thousands of emails to and from Michael Brown, who was head of FEMA at the time. ("Heck of a job, Brownie!" Yeah. That guy.) A prominent figure in those pages is Craig Fugate, who was appointed by President Obama to take over FEMA in 2009. Fugate, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management at the time, was one of the unsung heroes of Katrina. It wasn't his responsibility, but he understood the magnitude of what was happening, and more important, he cared, and he seriously stepped up. Brownie... not so much. He'd already planned to tender his resignation after the Labor day weekend.

The day after Katrina, while Fugate frantically scrambled to get ice and body bags, Brown and his secretary exchanged the following email, which was later made public through the Freedom of Information Act. This was one of many exchanges that literally brought tears to my eyes. My goal in this particular chapt…

Hurricane Katrina August 29, 2005 (an excerpt from The Hurricane Lover)

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As Hurricane Irene moved up the coast last week, I blogged about my forthcoming novel, The Hurricane Lover, which is set during the epic hurricane season of 2005. Six years ago today, Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, killing almost 2000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

As part of my research for the book, I slogged through thousands of emails to and from Michael Brown, who was head of FEMA at the time. ("Heck of a job, Brownie!" Yeah. That guy.) A prominent figure in those pages is Craig Fugate, appointed by President Obama to take over FEMA in 2009 and getting a lot of face time last week with his calmly knowledgeable presence. Fugate, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management at the time, was one of the unsung heroes of Katrina. It wasn't his responsibility, but he understood the magnitude of what was happening, and more important, he cared, and he seriously stepped up. Brownie... not so much. He'd already planned to …

The Beauty or the Book? Vintage Dell paperback ad breaks it down

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What's Your Story's Conflict Quotient?

Most everyone would agree that a good story starts with good conflict. This week, as I've been working on a newly-contracted (yea!) tale of romantic suspense, I've been giving a lot of thought to the fact that a truly dynamic opening--one strong enough to carry a whole novel--consists of not just a single conflict, but a layered raft of obstacles our intrepid (or not-so-intrepid) protagonist(s) must face. In the case of a dual-viewpoint (typically hero and heroine) romance, the author is doubly challenged by the necessity of setting up the all-important romantic conflict between the leads in addition to developing a workable external plot.

As I write my books' openings, I often have to go back and layer in different opportunities for conflict. You don't necessarily want to hit the reader over the head with all of them at once, but you do want to slip in hints of potential trouble on the horizon. And here's a radical thought: You don't have to actually have all …

Perhaps this is a good time to announce my forthcoming novel: The Hurricane Lover

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Hunker down, East Coast! We on the Gulf Coast feel your pain. A hurricane is an incredible experience. Scary, fascinating, beautiful, terrible and (pardon the pun) mind-blowing.

When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, my husband and I were among the volunteers who helped care for evacuees arriving at mass shelters in Houston. As I carried water to the long lines, a weary New Orleans police officer said to me, "This is a great day for news people and con artists." I was instantly smacked by the story hammer, and that initial inspiration evolved as I wrote, revised and did serious deep-dive research between ghost projects over the next five years.

Set on the Gulf Coast during the epic hurricane season of 2005, The Hurricane Lover is a tale of two cities, two families, and two people who find each other in a storm. A firebrand environmentalist from New Orleans and the whip-smart, self-determined daughter of a Houston oil baron come together to track a con artist who'…

Perhaps this is a good time to announce my forthcoming novel: The Hurricane Lover

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Hunker down, East Coast! We on the Gulf Coast feel your pain. A hurricane is an incredible experience. Scary, fascinating, beautiful, terrible and (pardon the pun) mind-blowing.

When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, my husband and I were among the volunteers who helped care for evacuees arriving at mass shelters in Houston. As I carried water to the long lines, a weary New Orleans police officer said to me, "This is a great day for news people and con artists." I was instantly smacked by the story hammer, and that initial inspiration evolved as I wrote, revised and did serious deep-dive research between ghost projects over the next five years.

Set on the Gulf Coast during the epic hurricane season of 2005, The Hurricane Lover is a tale of two cities, two families, and two people who find each other in a storm. A firebrand environmentalist from New Orleans and the whip-smart, self-determined daughter of a Houston oil baron come together to track a con artist who's u…

The Secret Sisters (aka "The Dirty Dirty Dildo Sex Book")

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The Secret Sisters was my fifth book, originally pubbed in hardcover by HarperCollins in 2005 and now available on Kindle with added bonus content, including reading recommendations from my own fabulous sisters. It's a bit of a departure from my previous work. I've always been a happy and optimistic person by nature - and I still am - but this novel definitely leans more toward tragedy than comedy. It's darker, more erotic, and more message-driven than anything else I've ever written.

An agoraphobic (Pia) is taken by a con artist. A party girl (Lily) goes to jail for vehicular homicide. A bereaved mother (Beth) is forced to confront the fact that her cherubic child was actually a little pain in the patootie. Each of the sisters has constructed a private prison for herself. They each serve hard time searching for redemption.

My prime directive is always to tell a great story, but deeply saddened by what I saw happening in the world after 9-11, I wanted to tell a deeper, m…

New and improved Red Room could be a great opportunity for midlist authors going indie

I love the idea of Red Room, and I've tried to participate as both reader and writer over the years, but candidly, I've been frustrated (as both a reader and writer) by the cumbersome site and opposite-of-user-friendly blogging platform.

This week Red Room announced their first redesign since the launch of the site, which promises a "much better-looking, more secure, faster, and easier to use" Red Room, and I'm eager to give it a try. Founder Ivory Madison did an astonishing thing creating all this out of thin air, and if the redesign lives up to her vision, it could be a fantastic opportunity for midlist authors going indie. Plus I instantly want to have coffee with a woman who lists "radical feminist politico and torch singer at the Plush Room" on her CV.

Check out the new Red Room via this crash course from senior editor Huntington Sharp.

Buy (the Heck Out of) This Book: Christie Craig's Don't Mess With Texas

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One of the nicest, most supportive, and outright funniest writers I know is Christie Craig, who's become a go-to author for those looking for a fast paced, frothy, sexy romance that will leave you laughing off the day's stresses. If you're in the mood for a romp and have enjoyed authors such as Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Cruisie, and Rachel Gibson, I highly recommend my good friend Christie's latest, Don't Mess with Texas (Grand Central, $5.99).

Or if you need a better reason, do it to support an author whose state government has zero sense of fun. You see, TX DOT, the Texas Department of Transportation, which turns out to have trademarked the phrase "Don't Mess with Texas" for an anti-litter slogan years back, has filed suit against Ms. Craig, Hatchette Publishing, and even Barnes and Noble, because they fear the (oh, the horror!) naughty bits will weaken their brand. Interestingly, I've learned there are dozens of songs (not only country, but--c…

The Drought Busting Writer

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Here in hot, hot Texas, there's been a lot of talk lately about the critical drought that's devastating the area. We sit here stewing over dying yards and crops, horrendous power and water bills, and the unhappy knowledge that there's not a damned thing that we can do about it.

It's horrible feeling so helpless, as any writer who's ever faced a publishing drought can tell you. Watching your carefully-tended career wither as you listen to what sometimes feels like an endless stream of accomplishments from others (as people tend to celebrate their successes and bury their disappointments) can lead to envy and depression, not to mention a serious bout of career re-examination as savings dwindle down to debt.

Yet over and over again, I've seen writers (present company definitely not excluded!) revive their seemingly-desiccated careers after months or years, even a decade or more--long after the point at which most "rational" human beings (a.k.a. those not…

Laura Harrington: Why Read?

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Laura Harrington is tracking copies of her debut novel Alice Bliss via an ingenious summer promotion, Where's Alice Bliss? (more on that below), but she took a moment from her busy schedule to answer the question at the heart of what we do: Why read?

On the first day of every playwriting class I have ever taught I tell my students that I will share the secret of how to be a good writer. They sit forward in their seats. Read, I tell them. Read like your writing depends on it.

We have all heard this before. Many of us have said this before. But this week I’ve read two books that illustrated this point for me in a delightful way.

I read A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano and so loved the writing, the story, the depth and ambition of this book that I didn’t want it to end. When it did, I craved more good writing. The next book of brand new fiction on the pile was going to be interesting, even fun, but did not promise that kind of depth.

So I picked up Fools of Fortune by William Trev…

A Poet in the House

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Friends, I want to share with you a lovely blog post by the poet Jessica Garratt, a former student of mine as well as a fellow Fellow at the McCullers Center in Columbus, Georgia (don't you love it when those we root for root and bloom?).  Jessica is the first poet to have been selected for a residency at the McCullers House, the childhood home of Carson McCullers and the birthplace of some of her best work, including The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding.  Jessica writes eloquently about the latter novel, as well as shedding some light on what it feels like to take up a residency that is both solitary and surrounded:

When I wrote each day, I opted not to sit at the big desk in my office, or at the smaller desk in my bedroom, but out on the front porch, where I set up a small collapsible card table and rolled out a desk chair.  There I felt like I was withdrawn from the world enough to concentrate, but still, in a way, part of the life of the street and ne…

Define What You Want to Be

Just stumbled upon this list I made 12 years ago in response to my first literary agent telling me: "You need to clearly define on paper what you want to be." I hope it will someday multi-task as my epitaph.What I Want To Be

thoroughly loved
deliciously laid
consistently working
handsomely paid
smart in my business
true in my art
wise at the finish
brave at the start
occasionally humbled
appropriately proud
prone to be quiet
allowed to be loud
wholly welcome
sorely missed
predominantly peaceful
righteously pissed
rich without bitching
famous with reason
restful on Sabbath
productive in season
aware of my weakness
in awe of my power
profoundly grateful
alive every hourAn interesting meditative exercise. Give it a whirl and post in the comment section, if you feel so inclined. (It doesn't have to rhyme.)

Buy This Book: Bent Road by Lori Roy

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Part Southern gothic, part family mystery and haunting suspense, Bent Road, Lori Roy’s emotionally evocative, 1960’s era, debut novel takes your breath from the first page and I mean that literally. Painted against the beautiful but often brutal backdrop of rural Kansas, the setting might have been rendered by Norman Rockwell himself, but a Rockwell idyll wouldn’t include the troubling presence of a red pick up truck crawling the road’s curves at the edge of evening. It wouldn’t show a man running, the vapor of his breath trailing after him in the inky dark. But was he really there? It isn’t clear. At least not as clear as the fear on folks’ faces when a child in this remote community goes missing. Celia Scott had qualms about moving with her husband, Arthur, and their three children back to his family’s farm in Kansas even before she left Detroit and learning on their arrival that a child is missing, that there is a possible kidnapper in the area, only serves to deepen her distress. …

Doris Lessing Puts It All into Perspective

Thought I'd share this brilliant item from "Along Publisher's Row," the wonderful odds & ends column featured in each issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin:

Before she became a Nobel Laureate, Doris Lessing wrote, "And it does no harm to repeat, as often as you can, 'Without me the literary industry would not exist: the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the sub-sub-agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the departments of literature, the professors, the theses, the books of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages--all this vast and proliferating edifice is because of this small, patronized, put-down and underpaid person."
Well, out hat's off to you today, Doris Lessing, for putting it all into perspective. Nicely said!


Apropos of overworking a manuscript?

Okay, I know, but it's Saturday, right?

Vote for Neal Pollack's SXSW panel "Self-Publishing: A Revolution For Midlist Authors?"

A while back, the NY Times featured a piece by Neal Pollack, who shared some thoughts on why he decided to indie pub his forthcoming novel, Jewball. Pollack has organized an interesting panel discussion for SXSW, Self-Publishing: A Revolution For Midlist Authors?, and I think it's going to be packed with substantial discussion that will benefit both established authors and those beginning careers in the brave new biz.

The panel, moderated by Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times, features Neal, yours truly, Marty Beckerman (whose indie pubbed The Heming Way was recently optioned for film) and Joshua Tallent of Ebook Architects.

Per the PR:
Self-publishing's moment has arrived. Authors both famous and obscure are releasing their own ebooks,cutting out the middleman, bypassing the gatekeepers of a notoriously hard-to-break-into industry, and sometimes making huge profits. But it's midlist authors, established but not bestselling, who stand to benefit the most from the self…

The Daily Show's take on Border's closing

Into Your Dreams Contest Winner~

Two weeks ago, I posted a wonderful interview and Q&A with Dr. Janece O. Hudson on Into Your Dreams, her amazing new book on dream interpretation. What I failed to do was announce the winner of the drawing for a free signed copy. Sorry about my absentmindedness, and congratulations, April Kilhstrom! I've sent and e-mail to your privately regarding mailing information.

For those in the Houston area, this Saturday, Dr. Hudson will be signing copies of Into Your Dreams at Barnes and Noble Champions Village on FM 1960 from 2:00-4:00 PM on Saturday, 8/20. Please stop by and meet her! She's an amazing resource and a wonderful writer.

On the topic of author headshots

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Yesterday, Dr. KatPat raised some interesting questions about marketing oneself. Here's my two cents on the subtopic of author headshots:

First, while it may sound trite, be yourself. Middle-year mom, aging punker, chippy college girl, thirty-something preppy striver - whatever. Rock it. If that's who you are, it's a waste of time trying to market yourself as something else. Second, author headshots should be individualistic portraits as opposed to generic corporate photos or the malleable blank canvas you try to achieve with an actor's headshot. You're trying to look like an authentic human being, not a JC Penney catalog model. It's not an image that says "hire me"; it's an image that says "date me."

Consider these photos of Stephen King. First there's the Manager of the Month photo:

King might be able to get away with that, but for the rest of us, a stiffly staged author photo does not bode well for what readers hope will be welco…

Revisiting the decisions that successfully transformed my writing strategy for 2010

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My dad always said, "Plan your work, work your plan." We in the business of reeling and writhing - I mean reading and writing - especially need the structure of a yearly business plan and five-year vision plan. My policy is to get that sucker on paper by the last day of December so I can get up January 1st, load the Christmas tree out the door and hit the ground running. I mean writing.

Last year, I saw an item in Scott Jeffrey's Enlightened Business blog that blew my mind a little. "5 Powerful Decisions to Transform Your Business" radically changed my 2010 business plan. Scott's original post makes great sense for any company, but I tweaked it for writing, applying the same principles to the soul proprietorship that is the corporate body for most working authors.

When I posted it on the blog here, I optimistically said, "These transformative rules have seriously adjusted my thought process and just might make 2010 my best year ever." As it turns …

Women, Writing, and Self Promotion--Or How Do I Market Myself Without Feeling Like I'm Selling Leptoprin?

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I knew it would happen someday. I'd just hoped it wouldn't be yesterday. But sure enough, there it was, an email from my new boss asking for a headshot of me that looked "more corporate." "It should be in color," she said, and I should wear "a dress shirt."

Of course none of that should have been a problem. I have tons of "dress shirts" and even suit jackets and I wear them to teach all the time. But for some reason the email sent me into a tailspin, bringing up all those old, familiar feelings of "I'm not ready" and "I'm not good enough" and "but I'd wanted to lose 10, 15--okay 30--pounds before I got professional headshots." I'm perfectly fine dealing with people in person, in writing, and over the phone, but with all of this skype and twitter and globalization, I actually have to consider my image??? My physical boobs and hips and hair and lips and not so white anymore teeth?

Glas…

The Writer Editor Relationship

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I’m working with Barry Burnett on his novel, HOW TO LIVE FOREVER (A Very Fictional Guide),and in talking with him about why he chose to self-publish and to pursue an original ebook only, he made a point I found fascinating. I had asked him what advice or thoughts he’d pass on to other writers who want to self-publish, and among his observations was the following:
There’s a reason editors exist. And why, perhaps, they should not be working directly for you. I’ve tried it…but I’m too foolishly enamored with my own style, and could too easily say ‘Nope’. Friends and reading groups help, but time turned out to be my editor – cutting out the stuff that turns stupid in a week or a month. Still limited by your own ear, but that may be part of what makes indie authors interesting.There has been much said about the importance of editors in publishing, and Barry’s comment caught me off guard. Editors most certainly have their place and play an important role. They help bring good books to the ma…

Monday kickstart: Marilyn Manson "The Fight Song"

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Apply to your publishing week as needed: "I'm not a slave to a God [self-imposed deadline/ outmoded query guideline] who doesn't exist. I'm not a slave to a world [imaginary mass audience] that doesn't give a s#*t. Fight! Fight! Fight!"

GOFIGHTWIN AUTHORS!

Why Real-World Alliances Still Matter

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Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the West Houston Romance Writers of America, a fabulous group that continually reminds me of why, in the days of long-distance Internet networking and (alas) way too much electronic book and self pimpage, real-world relationships are what matter most.

After dispensing with the business stuff as quickly as possible, the group moves onto the first component of its real business: introductions. Newbies are encouraged to share their names, what they're writing (or just thinking about writing, since we come to the table at every level of experience), and are welcomed to the group with not only applause but a small stack of beribboned books written by members. Afterward, we each have a moment to state out names and any writing news we might have have that month. In a business with so many negatives, the group's collective positives remind us of the good that can and does happen when we persevere. Among this month's announcements were contest wi…

The art of defining what you want to be

Recently stumbled upon this list I made 12 years ago in response to my first literary agent telling me: "You need to clearly define on paper what you want to be." I hope it will someday multi-task as my epitaph.What I Want To Be

thoroughly loved
deliciously laid
consistently working
handsomely paid
smart in my business
true in my art
wise at the finish
brave at the start
occasionally humbled
appropriately proud
prone to be quiet
allowed to be loud
wholly welcome
sorely missed
predominantly peaceful
righteously pissed
rich without bitching
famous with reason
restful on Sabbath
productive in season
aware of my weakness
in awe of my power
profoundly grateful
alive every hour
An interesting meditative exercise. Give it a whirl. (It doesn't have to rhyme.)

Join me and Topo Gigio wishing Colleen a Happy Birthday (and buy her book while you're at it!)

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Bust out the sopapilla cheesecake and the guitarron, it's Colleen's birthday! May I recommend giving yourself a present? If you scurry, you can get a copy of Colleen's fantasy epic The Night Holds the Moon (written with buddy Parke Roberts) on Kindle for just $1.99 this weekend. TNHTM is a story-telling, world-building tour de force. Magic flute! Wayward maiden in the opposite of distress! Dark Highlander Count just begging for a serious kick in the kilt!

Happy Birthday, Colleen, and a delicious reading weekend to all!

Buy This Book: "News of the World" by freshly anointed US Poet Laureate Philip Levine

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The Library of Congress announced yesterday that 83-year-old Philip Levine will succeed W.S. Merwin as US Poet Laureate this fall. Levine won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for The Simple Truth.

After WWII, Levine worked the graveyard shift at the Chevrolet Gear and Axle factory in Detroit and wrote during the day. "I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own. I thought too that if I could write about it I could come to understand it; I believed that if I could understand my life — or at least the part my work played in it — I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life."

Read the work of past PoLaus in The Poets Laureate Anthology and click on NAPOMO in the label cloud (below left) to revisit Jerusha's National Poetry Month series on the Poet Laureates Greatest Hits.

Buy This Book: "Milkshake" is a smart, funny fiction debut for Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss

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What makes me happy as a reader: a book that makes me think, a book that makes me laugh, a book that makes me care. Milkshake, the refreshing, thoroughly enjoyable debut novel from Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss did all three. It's takes balls to write a satiric novel about breastfeeding, and when I heard the high concept, I think I was smiling one of those frozen, vaguely baffled smiles that basically says, "Gahfwah?" I couldn't wait to get my hands on the manuscript to see if Weiss actually pulled it off, and I'm delighted to report that she did.

Milkshake strongly reminded me of two of my all time favorite sass-in-a-box books: Jane Smiley's brilliant academia send-up Moo and My Year of Meats, Ruth L. Ozeki's hilarious spoof on reality TV and the meat-packing industry. Plus a smattering of Primary Colors.

Like all of the above, Milkshake satisfies with bright wit, fast-paced story, zingalicious dialogue and engaging characters. For those of us who …

Have You Ever Imagined...

Ever fantasized about how it would feel to have your novel optioned for TV or the big screen? Thanks to author and RWA chaptermate Amanda Stevens, whose wonderfully spooky Gothic tale, THE RESTORER, has just been picked up by ABC TV for series development (by the writers of OFF THE MAP and PUSHING DAISIES, no less), you, too can have a hilariously-illustrated picture.

So go ahead, check out her LOL blog and say congratulations. Or better yet, read a book I've been highly recommending to my friends for months.

Way to go, Amanda, and thanks so much for sharing your experience!

Don't confuse the rise of ebooks with the death of books

In a great overview of the new Kindle app, The Book is Dead, Long Live the Kindle App, Vince Font says:
I'll admit, I'm a latecomer to eReaders, and I came to their appreciation grudgingly. I'm a reader of books, and I always have been. I'm a fan of good binding... of colorful dust jackets… of awesome cover art… and I think that the smell of a freshly cracked book comes second only to the "new car smell" in the great olfactory list of aromas. So I only begrudgingly endorsed something as blasphemous as an eReader – or, in this case, an application that only serves to further strengthen the already booming eBook market...I really tried to find fault in the Kindle app, because I just figured "It's free. How good could it possibly be?" The answer, as it turns out, is: pretty darn good.He goes on to discuss the sweet price tag (free!), syncability, and general handy-dandiness of the app.

Last week over coffee, Colleen showed me how to sync my Kindle t…